On a recent trip to Korea, I watched a Korean movie on the plane. The heroine is a con artist. While getting off of a train, a young man mistakes her bag for his own and takes it with him. When she realizes this, she tracks down the man to a small village. The town people mistake her for being the man’s fiancee and she decides to play along, using her con-artist skills (this is the fun part!) until she recovers her bag. Eventually, she falls in love with the man and decides to start a new, straight life in the village.
The thing that makes her abandon her past and become an honest citizen is the love the man’s family members show for one another. They bicker and quarrel at times, but they clearly care for each other.
One member of the family is a grandmother who obviously has Alzheimer’s disease. She tells people that her grandson died when he is alive and well. She constantly complains that she is hungry and repeats the same old stories over and over. Although she is a nuisance, her relatives love her and accept her as a part of the family.
When I was growing up in Korea, things were like that. Every family had an elderly member who was losing their memory. Every village had someone considered a village idiot. People were sometimes annoyed by them and sometimes made fun of them, but they still accepted them as a part of their family. Things have changed. Nowadays, when people start to lose their memory or seem mentally ill, they’re sent to an institution.
Thanks to the influence of the American educator, John Dewey, “doing” has become more important than “being”. Prior to him, the major goal of education was training students to become good people. After him, the goal has become producing people who can make contributions to society. As a result, usefulness and competency became the measuring stick by which one could evaluate the worth of a person. And efficiency has become the catchword for every organization.
This worship of efficiency has infiltrated the Korean consciousness as well. In old days, virtuous men were honored and revered even if they were poor. Now they are scorned or laughed at if they are not wealthy. Conversely, if you are rich, popular, or powerful, you are admired regardless of your character.
Jesus championed the underprivileged. He treated women, children, and “sinners” as equals. If we want to become followers of Jesus, we must not value usefulness and efficiency too highly. We must not insist on efficiency at the expense of good relationships with our coworkers. Church should be a place where everyone feels at home, including people whom the world considers less able and less competent.
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