Thursday, May 19, 2022

These are the Generations by Mr. and Mrs. Bae


 These are the Generations:
The Story of How One North Korean Family
Lived Out the Great Commission
for More Than Fifty Years
in the Most Christian-Hostile Nation in Human History
Mr. and Mrs. Bae, as told to the Rev. Eric Foley
Published 2012
⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was another interesting true story about escaping North Korea. The other book I read like this was Yeonmi Park's In Order to Live. The obvious difference between both stories was the reason for leaving: Yeonmi fled North Korea because she was starving and wanted food to eat, whereas, the Bae family defected because they were Christians and feared for the future of their children. "Since we discipled [them] as Christians at home, we worried that they may make mistakes outside of the home." Christian lives were severely endangered in North Korea. 

This short book began with a forward by Rev. Eric Foley. He told how North Korea distorted Christianity and used its tenants to lift up the Kims. North Korea is the "most religious place on earth." Its religion is called Juche and means "self-reliance." Once a week 100% North Koreans gather together in "self-criticism meetings." Like Christianity, Juche has a trinity: Kim Il Sung, his wife, and son, Kim Jong Il. At the weekly meetings, the people praise and sing hymns to Kim Sung Il and pray by looking up at images of him. He is the immortal god of the North. His son, Kim Jong Il, was born in a "humble log cabin in midwinter." That night, a new star appeared in the sky. 

It is a fraudulent religion. This is why the government works hard to exterminate every Christian. Foley told of how there was an estimated three hundred thousand Korean Christians in 1941 - many persecuted by the Japanese. After Korea's liberation from Japan, the country split between North and South -- the North falling under Communist control. Kim Il Sung was made leader by the Soviets and realized he needed to eliminate Christians in order to establish Communism. Kim blamed the Americans for the Korean War, and proclaimed it proved why religion was bad. Most Christians end up in concentration camps and die there. 

By the 1980s, very few Christians remained. The Bae family (not real name) is unique because they are one of those families. It started with Mr. Bae's grandfather who became a Christian while he lived in China at the time of WWII Japanese occupation. He fled China, during the Cultural Revolution, before the time of Mao, and settled in the area that would become North Korea. His wife (Mr. Bae's grandmother) was also a Christian. And this story is about how they raised up generations of Christians.

Before his grandparents died, Mr. Bae was warned never to tell anyone that they prayed or someone would come and take him away. Since his own parents were practicing Christians, he was taught the "Ten Commandments" as really good advice, not the moral law of God. 

Unfortunately, because his family was from China, they were considered "dirty, bad" people. One day his mother took in and fed a destitute woman, and for being neighborly, the whole family was expelled to a farming village where they had less rations than before. Even the children had to labor hard and suffer. Mr. Bae's mother told him that they were being tested, and they should still live out their faith. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Bae's father decided he had to do something to save his family from starvation, and he taught himself mechanics and became a very essential person in the district. As "dirty immigrants from China," it was "miraculous" that they were able to move out of the village. 

Mr. Bae explained how he desired to join the Communist party as he grew up, which is almost impossible for an immigrant; but he knew if he could manage, he would have better opportunities. After high school he had to serve in the army for ten years. While in the army, he excelled at everything he did. Long story short, he managed to get approval to join the party. About this time, he also found a wife, Mrs. Bae. 

By 1994, Kim Il Sung died. And the Soviet Union collapsed. Electricity failed. And resources for food, too. The famine came. Death, starvation, and more death was all around. 

And then Mr. Bae was arrested for preaching about God to a friend who was struggling in his marriage. He had shared with him the Ten Commandments, repentance, and giving thanks when you have food. These were the things his parents and grandparents had taught him, but it cost him his freedom.

Mr. Bae spent seventeen months in prison, forced to sit for hours without moving. He should have been executed. During that time he thought much about his life, how he had sought excellence and respect from his superiors. He was prideful of his achievements and relied on his own intelligence. All he desired was admittance into the Communist Party. Therefore, he genuinely yielded to God and repented, even grateful for his time in prison. God did not abandon him; he released him from prison INNOCENT of all charges. He even got his job back. 

But now he had a conflict: "What was [he] to do now that [his] faith was in full flower?"

At this point in the story, Mr. Bae told about his mother. She was a courageous woman and was never afraid to talk to others about God. She knew God was with her and she always helped others in need. He said that it was impossible to evangelize in North Korea, "but Mom found a way to do it." 

Next, Mrs. Bae told her side of the story. She told about her own Christian upbringing and how her parents were very generous. Education was very important, too, and Mrs. Bae excelled in school. Then she met Mr. Bae and they married and had children. When her husband was arrested for sharing the Ten Commandments with a friend, she had to manage without him for those seventeen months. Her mother-in-law helped her to pray for him, and though he should have been executed, he was released. That was when the Bae's decided that they should evangelize others, a very risky business in North Korea, to say the least.

Since Mrs. Bae was also very intelligent and had excelled in school, like Mr. Bae, she came to understand God's grace. She said,
Throughout my whole life, I had thought that I was very wise and brilliant and had achieved great things through leadership. I thought I was good enough. But those kinds of thoughts came because I didn't know God. I had only a Juche education. As I heard the Gospel, I came to see that all the honors and everything I had received were gifts from God. Apart from him, I had done nothing. (In other words, she discovered God's GRACE.)
She said that she realized that all of North Korea's ethical education is based on the Bible! They copied and distorted what the Bible taught. From then on the Bae's eyes were truly opened and in their conscience they could no longer participate in the idolatry of the Kims. They began having home church and taught hymns and prayer, repentance and the Ten Commandments. They tithed by giving to others, even if they suffered a loss. They eliminated all sources of idolatry in their family. 

Mrs. Bae said: 
They understood that unbelief was the reason North Korea was so poor no matter how hard Kim Jong Il tried to make it prosper.
Mrs. Bae said that the reason her family decided to defect from North Korea was "for the future of our children." And they left in November 2009, following in the footsteps of her husband who defected first to prepare a way for his wife and children. It was a long and treacherous journey, but she and her two children made it to China. She recalled it being unbelievable that they survived, but she constantly reminded herself that God was with them. God arranged every situation and every person who received them. 

Mrs. Bae spent a short time in a Thailand jail, which she said was much better than living in North Korea. All the while, they evangelized and helped others in need, as best as they could. Finally they made it to South Korea, which is another process, but eventually she was reunited with her husband. Sadly, they tried to help Mr. Bae's parents to defect, but they never made it; they were arrested and taken to a concentration camp. But the Bae's knew that they were living out their faith in every moment and imagined "God loves his people so much that He will even send his. . . eighty-year old messenger into a concentration camp to tell [others] the good news."
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Monday, May 16, 2022

Beowulf

 Beowulf
Translated by John McNamara
Written 8th c. (?)
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I never get tired of this poem. I have read children's versions, and now I have read three different translated versions. The hero, Beowulf, demonstrates honor, loyalty, and bravery, ideals that were part of  the Anglo Saxon warrior culture. 

Beowulf, warrior of the Geats, killed Grendel (a hideous monster who had been tormenting the Danes) with his bare hands, and afterward killed Grendel's mother with a sword. He was revered and honored for his brave deeds, and he gave his rewards to his own King. Years later, Beowulf became ruler of the Geats and served the people faithfully for fifty years. 
Thus the son of Ecgtheow showed himself to be brave, a man famed for fighting, with heroic deeds, living ever for glory. He never slew hearth-companions, in drunken fury, nor did he have a frenzied spirit, but the brave-battle man guarded the generous gift, given him by God, of the greatest strength of all mankind. 
In his old age, he was faced with a challenge he knew he could not win: a dragon terrorizing the people, after it has been awakened while guarding its hoard of riches (think Smaug from The Hobbit). What made this challenge exceptional is that Beowulf was not afraid, and he accepted his fate that he may die. He first made a fair speech about how he had become king, before he faced the battle with the dragon. 

In his conflict, he struggled, and Wiglaf was the only warrior who came to his aid. Beowulf defeated the dragon with Wiglaf's help. As a punishment, none of the warriors were to keep any of the treasure; instead, it was burned in a great pile with Beowulf, "among all the world's kings, the mildest of men, and the most kind in giving, the most gentle of men, and the most eager for fame." 
For the decree of God ever governs the deeds of every man, even as it still does today.
It is possible that the original stories of Beowulf were not written with Christian overtones, though the version we have now is, as the Anglo Saxon world was becoming Christian at that time. The heroes took on Christian virtues and themes, like self-sacrifice, morality, and fate. It works for me -- I like it. 

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Dying Citizen by Victor Davis Hanson: Take California...for example

The Dying Citizen: 
How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization
Are Destroying the Idea of America
Victor Davis Hanson
Published 2021

(reading in progress)


Victor Davis Hanson, who lives in California, wrote about the problems with that state in his most recent book The Dying Citizen. I touched on this from my own experience on my other blog before I read this chapter. Hanson said (and I paraphrase):  

Twenty-first century California has a disappearing middle class. Soon it will be two classes: rich and poor. California is an icon of post modernism, where citizenship is extinguishing. It is a Progressive dream. The state is the leader in "awful things": it leads in high taxes, poverty, welfare, homelessness, gas taxes/prices, electricity, illegals/migrants, worst schools, worst roads, and highest ratio of inequality. 

Its green policies are expensive, unaffordable, and unreliable. One fifth of Californians live below poverty. Green power is the least of their concern. Regarding the state's excessive wildfires, it is known that controlled burns are discouraged, as well as removing dry brush and dead trees, grazing, logging, and the timber industry, whose policies are actually instrumental in controlling wildfires. The fires cause air pollution every year. 

The state has wasted billions on high speed rail to nowhere instead of fixing or repairing already troubled road projects. Open borders and hundreds of sanctuary cities throughout the state have permitted millions of abject poor with few skills to enter the U.S. They account for twenty-five percent of the state's population. 

Unfortunately, few of these problems affect the wealthy who politically support these policies and laws. The state's wealthy oppose charter schools while they send their children to expensive private schools for the rich. Meanwhile public schools are full of impoverished students, mainly immigrants from Central America and Mexico. 

Much of the middle class say nothing -- they leave the state. 

San Francisco has the highest economic inequality: the top one percent made $36 million, while the bottom 99% made $81 thousand. The state's income tax was the highest at 13.3% until New York decided to top it. One hundred fifty thousand households pay half the total annual state income tax, while forty percent pay zero state income tax. 

What do the middle class get for the income tax they pay? Poor schools, crumbling infrastructure, high crime, high fuel and food prices, some of the most expensive housing prices in the nation, high business regulations and taxes. 

Small businesses are leaving California for Texas, where the business environment if friendly, and retirees are leaving, as well. Mostly conservatives are leaving, enshrining the state in its destructive policies and creating a permanent monopoly. California can only become poorer. 

During the scamdemic, California was the first to lock down and the last to open up. (I would argue, it's still not fully opened. The governor has his finger on the button, ready for the next hit -- his hit. You should see what they are doing to young people!) Oh, but it paid out generous subsidies and fell short $60 to 100 billion. Now it is looking at an estate tax. 

California, the trendsetter, where bad ideas originate (see, I'm not the only one saying it), is transforming its middle class into a modern traditional peasantry. It rates at the bottom for education and infrastructure, suffers high crime rates for many of its cities, hasn't updated its freeways or dams since the 1980s. Dams would help the thirty million who live in the state's desert climate. Can you believe...the state restricts water to its Central Valley for agriculture? (BTW, I witnessed this on a drive through the CV to San Francisco about ten years ago, where farmers posted signs begging voters to tell Congress to send water!)

The state is dividing its people into Haves and Have Nots. Half of the nation's homeless live in sunny California. (It is a great place if you live outdoors most of the time because it never rains.) One third of Americans on public assistance live in California. One fifth (mostly immigrants) live below poverty, and one third of residents are on Medical. Medical paid for half of all births in the state; thirty percent of undocumented moms come without English or skills. Twenty-seven percent residence in California were not born in the United States. And this I do not get: 5.5 million California immigrants were eligible to vote in 2020!!

What is California's rationale? To tax the middle class to death and give, in return, poor state service? Why do citizens make poor choices in self-government? The wealthy are not harmed by these policies because they have ways out, loop holes, and influence. Meanwhile, the poor pay little to no taxes and receive generous entitlements. The middle class are left holding the bag. 

Now there is only a single party rule. The Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of government. California is the model for the wealthy medieval keep of the coastal elite. It's a filthy rich state, though their farms are vanishing. It's like a tale of two worlds: a highly sophisticated, regulated uniform costal gentry vs. an impoverished interior of immigrants, with little ability or desire to adhere to rules, living on welfare, healthcare, food, housing, transportation, and legal assistance, with little education. And they know all the programs. They're free!

It's a scary thought, but it could happen if California is the model for the nation: a one party governance, drive out the middle class, import poor from abroad, enable staggering levels of global wealth concentrated in the hands of a few and one power source forever. And if California is the model, well, you can see for yourself what the end result will be. 

Let's just say: you better hope you are part of the wealthy elite. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley
John Steinbeck
Published 1962
⭐⭐⭐⭐

If you read John Steinbeck, then you are familiar with his novels. If you have not read this particular title, it is a non-fiction, travelogue kind of book. In the fall of 1960, Steinbeck took a trip across America with his poodle, Charley, and wrote about his experience. They set out from Long Island, New York, to "see what Americans are like today."

Unfortunately, I borrowed a Kindle version from my library and highlighted it, but had to return it several days ago after finishing it, and I did not write down my notes. Now I cannot share quotes and ideas that I saved. I can only write about this from memory. 

Steinbeck and Charley drove up the rest of the East Coast through New England to Maine and back through upstate New York, then through the Great Lakes states, then North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Oregon, his home state of California, and then down through the desert of Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. He apparently had difficulties with Texas, Republicans, and rich people, especially rich Republican Texans. 

And then he drove through the Deep South, during a time when the segregated South was dealing with Civil Rights issues. According to Steinbeck, he witnessed (I think it was, but I could be wrong) little 6-year old Ruby Bridges being escorted into an all white school in New Orleans, while angry white mothers (no less) threw temper tantrums over it.


By this point in the trip, Steinbeck explained that he was so eager to get home, he was no longer seeing anything he meant to see on his journey. He had lost his appetite to discover and find out. (Those are my words.) Again, I wish I took notes. 

I gave Travels with Charley four stars because I found it very enjoyable -- not so much what Steinbeck had to say as much as how he said it. He was full of humorous, witty sarcasm about people and places, as well as about himself and Charley, and it was richly entertaining. Some of it could have been obviously  perceived as down right snarky though. 

But to be really specific, what I related to most was something that Steinbeck said regarding journeys. Journeys are different to everyone. People can take the same exact journey and see completely different things. Also, it is not so much that you take a journey, but rather that a journey takes you. Long after a journey is over, you will continue to go on that journey (or it continues to "take" you). It is my dream to one day take a journey across America, just like Steinbeck did, and I bet I was relying on him to visually share his experience until the day I can do this, too, God willing. 

Since I read this to my kids for literature that covered modern/post modern times and geography, our favorite part was how Steinbeck described Charley's encounter with a bear at Yellowstone Park.  First, he dreaded the idea that others would hound him if he admitted that he drove all that way and did not stop to visit Yellowstone. The self-pressure of avoiding an explanation forced Steinbeck to reluctantly visit the Park. 

Upon arrival, he was informed about the conflict between dogs and bears, and he was severely warned to keep his dog inside the vehicle at all times. Steinbeck was so confident about Charley's peace-loving and nonchalant demeanor, that he explained to the park ranger that this would not be an issue. Nonetheless, he was warned again. 

Within a few minutes of driving into the Park they had a bear encounter. What ensued next was the most hysterical description of a psychotic dog, lost of all self-composure over a bear; and it was so terrifying that Steinbeck had to immediately turn back and exit the Park; therefore, he genuinely never saw Yellowstone, and he had a good reason, guilt free.

I read the Afterward, in which Steinbeck and his wife were invited to the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy. I believe they attended, but they did not go to the ball, which my kids thought was unbelievable. Instead they watched it on TV (I assume in their hotel room), and Steinbeck felt like that justified their being there in case anyone asked how it was. After all, they went all the way to Washington D.C., and they were at the Inauguration. For sure they did not miss the ball, right? 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Translated by Bernard O'Donoghue
Written 14th c.
⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Well-Educated Mind (poetry)

My first time reading this was with my kids for our Medieval school year, and it was long enough ago that I did not remember the ending. This time I read it for my WEM challenge. I am simply fond of this romantic English poem for its themes, and the verse is charming as well. The author is unknown, but I found the translation agreeable. 

The setting is during the time of King Arthur's court at Christmastime.  After the narrator recapped Britain's founding and the purpose of the writer: "to describe an adventure," a monstrous green sight appeared before the court. Everything about him was green and he requested the most noblest knight to enter a challenge: to strike him and in a year receive the same in return. King Arthur believed it a foolish request, but he honored it, and Gawain stepped forward. 

source

Sir Gawain severed the head of the Green Knight with his blade; and the Knight picked up his head and carried it off, with no more instruction other than for Sir Gawain to "seek out the Green Chapel" on New Year's morning "to be promptly repaid."

A year proceeded and the narrator described the honorable character of Sir Gawain. On his shield was displayed a pentangle with five points because "Gawain was reputed in five ways faithful, and five times over; refined as pure gold, devoid of all sin and marked with virtue where he went."
The fifth five virtues that Gawain maintained were generosity and sympathy first of all, chastity and courtesy which he never failed in, and above all compassion. These five things were fixed more firmly in him than anyone else. And all five were rooted in this knight, each locked to the next so that there was no end or beginning to any: fixed and unwavering...
On his journey to find the Green Knight at the Green Chapel, he met many trials of bears and bulls, trolls and giants, and he defeated them all. Yet, icy weather was his greatest foe. He prayed for mercy and wept for his sins and soon came to an inviting castle and was gratefully admitted inside where he was kindly treated. Sir Gawain explained the reason for his travels, and when it was determined that he was very near the Green Chapel, the King requested Gawain stay with them until New Years. It was Christmastime again, and he had a week to spare. 

source

Sir Gawain spent his week resting, and three consecutive days the Lord's lady sought to tempt Gawain while her husband was out hunting. Each time he resisted her, to some degree. On the third day she offered him a gift of her belt. She told him it would offer him protection, and Gawain wore it around his waist.

Finally, the day arrived when Gawain must face his foe. The Lord tried to talk him out of it, but Gawain explained that he was not a cowardly knight. At the Green Chapel, he met the Green Knight. At first blow, the Knight struck Gawain, who flinched. He reminded the Green Knight that if he lost his head, he could not recover it, but would be dead. The Green Knight made a second attempt, but before making contact, he stopped short before striking him. After another exchange of words, Gawain told the Knight to just do it. The Green Knight struck again and this time nicked Gawain's neck slightly.

Surprisingly, the Green Knight revealed that he was the Lord of the castle and the challenge was a test in courage and chastity, in which Gawain had faltered somewhat when he agreed to take belt from the Lord's wife, imagining it would have spared him harm. For that he genuinely confessed his shame and continued to wear the belt as a reminder of his human weakness. 

Other themes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in which Sir Gawain faced were charity, faithfulness, trustworthiness, perseverance, and repentance. Especially when Gawain admitted his fault for keeping the belt, when he should have resisted, his repentance set him free and demonstrated maturity.

Lastly, the poem focuses also on themes in nature, such as renewal and rebirth or regrowth, like the Green Knight's head! This was a favorite section. I titled it a chapter on "climate change." It really was not an entire chapter -- just a couple of pages -- and it reminds me that purposefully there are seasons that follow each other, year after year after year. Always have and always will.
...a year passes quickly and changes its moods; the end rarely matches the spirit it starts in.  ...each season follows the other in sequence.

Then the earth's weather weakens the winter: the cold shrinks underground, the clouds draw up higher. The bright rain falls in warming showers, straight on to the ground so that flowers appear. Both meadows and fields are covered in green; birds hurry to build and sing with excitement out of joy at the summer that follows so sweetly all over the hills. Blossoms swell and bloom in dense...

After the soft breeze of summer season and the west wind that fans seed and grasses, the growth is abundant that issues all round, when the soaking dew drops off the leaves with the touch of heaven that the warm sun brings. But then comes autumn to harden the grain, to warn it to ripen ahead of the winter. 

The rough wind in the sky wrestles with the sun; the lime-tree leaves loosen and fall to the ground, and the grass turns grey that sprang in such hope. All ripens, then rots, that sprang in such hope. So the year passes on through its series of yesterdays and winter comes round again, as nature demands, ever the same. 



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