An Aside. I picked up the book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, several years back when I was in college. The author, Jared Diamond, was kind enough to do a book signing and I toted my copy to the bookstore and waited in line to get his autograph. The line was embarrassingly short and I waltzed up to him with little wait at all. Perhaps to be cute and perhaps because I spotted an opportunity that had the makings of a great “story”, I asked Mr. Diamond to write some personal wisdom, some parable, some story, something profound, but something personal. He took the book from me unamused, looked at me for just a second, scowled, and scrawled something on the back of the front cover and handed it back to me. I thanked him and excitedly ran off to find out what he wrote. I turned to the front cover and saw in the most illegible script simply, “Jared Diamond”. His handwriting was hideous…and he had completely ignored my little request. What…an…ass! To this day, I haven’t read one page (and don’t plan to) … but I know what it’s about.
My father is in town. We’ve had some great conversations about the state of Christianity in Korea and in the US. When we got to the subject of the origins of Korean Christianity’s dysfunction, my father took an angle I hadn’t heard before — geographical determinism (paging old, rude know-it-all Diamond).
Japan, for example, has a collective character that is known for its solidarity, precision, and collaboration. According to my father, that comes from the fact that Japan is an island nation, and the physical limitations of the geography limit the arena for human conflict and increase the aptitude in diplomacy and resolution. This means that if you have a problem with someone on an island, you’d better work it out, because you eventually will have nowhere to run with only the sea at your back. My father spoke highly of Japanese etiquette and social mores as testimony to respect that is paid because relationships are a high value.
China on the other hand, is a broad country with a long history and endless resources. They’ve become characterized to other Asian nations as disciplined, pragmatic, and confident. Longevity is valued and loyalties run thick.
But Korea…stuck between these two great nations on that little peninsula, you are more temperamental. Not on an island, you can always run and hide if you wanted to (historically, that plays out in truth when Korea was three kingdoms). Relationships? –only if you can have what you want. Resolution? Survival is resolution. Authority is short-lived and respect is always a two-way street. We’ve always want what someone else has got, and when we get it, we’re sure to flaunt it. And guess what we got? Religion…we have the largest churches in the world. We ship out LCD’s by the truckload, more cell phones than you can dream up, and more missionaries than even the big ole’ U.S. of A.
My father wants to know if we will ever have the deepest Christians. Or if that little peninsula can show that we can respect one another, submit to others, and maybe forgive a little. Or are we going to keep running?