Ha Na Park Sermon ~ Looking Past The Surface

 May 24, 2014

Rev. Ha Na Park Ordination – “I am your neighbour.”

Romans 13:8-14

I came to Canada with my family eight years ago, in December 2006, the year when my first child, Peace, was born. We settled in a small apartment in Burnaby, BC. In January of the following year, there was a big snowfall, (snow doesn’t fall often in Vancouver, but when it does, it can really pile up!) and on my very first day of attendance at the theological school I had just registered at, the whole city was white. The whole city and the whole big campus – new and unknown – were covered with white. At that time, I was hopeful, I was struggling, and I was anxious. I had a great need to find my authentic self and become all that I could be.

Two years earlier, I was newly-married to a young man, a newly ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in Korea, called the PROK (Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea). This church is a lot like the United Church – they’re even in a partnership with the United Church of Canada. Their progressive and liberational theology, and the huge effort and sacrifice they have made to promote democracy in Korea are outstanding. However, the culture of most congregations of the PROK, I found, was fundamentally patriarchal. After our wedding, we moved into the manse, which was the fourth floor of the church where my husband Min Goo worked as an assistant minister. Everyone in the congregation was very loving, but it was quite clear that they would love me only as long as I stayed in my place as the wife of an ordained husband, a silent ‘smiling angel’. I was an independent and intelligent young woman, but during my first two years as a minister’s wife, trying to fit into people’s expectations of who I should be for them, rather than who I truly was, I found myself gradually losing my independent spirit and my confidence, becoming passive and depressed. In church, as the wife of a minister I was called Samonim, an honorary title for a ‘good’ supporting wife of an ordained husband. It was meant to be a compliment, but I came to see it as a repressive expectation that a woman is expected to be the moon, only reflecting the glory of her esteemed husband.

One summer afternoon, in 2006, two years after my introduction to being a Samonim, I had an epiphany. On a friend’s bookshelf, I happened to find a book, written by Chung Hyun Kyung, a Korean feminist and inter-spiritual theologian, entitled Struggle to Be the Sun Again and read the title poem. It changed the course of my life.

“In the beginning, woman was truly the sun. An authentic person. Now she is the moon, a wan and sickly moon, dependent on another, reflecting another’s brilliance.”

Reading that poem, I saw very clearly, in a flash of insight, that I had become the moon and that if I didn’t try to change the course of my life, I would only become like the waning moon, more shadow than light.

Min Goo and I had a good talk after this revelation, and as he was also a person of free spirit, keen to follow his heart, we decided to go abroad, and the destination that God led us to was Canada. I can’t forget the prayer I prayed on the airplane when it was taking off from Korea – praying for the new, evolving journey to find my own path and my own true nature. The past eight years since then have shown me how to be the Sun again which reveals its own brilliance, without depending on another’s reflected glory.

The greatest gift I received from UCiM is that you have made my dream come true. You have given me a place where I can use my whole self to help all the others who have become a moon to reveal their own truthful and beautiful light from the inside out. This is what I am committed to, why I have decided to walk the path as an ordained minister, and I hope that you are also proud that you have advanced so much ministry for the marginalized: affirming ministry, intercultural ministry, seeking social justice. You understand that ministry isn’t just about looking inward – we must look outward, too, and be prepared for honest and challenging encounters.

In Canada, I am still journeying. Journeying is what makes us grow and helps us become a spiritually enhanced, reflective person. First I explored the edges of Canada in BC, now I am finding the heart of this country here in Winnipeg. I am still on a journey, journeying to find the voice that God has given me to speak.

As many of you know, I was ordained in May, and on the ordination weekend, the Conference gave all the ordinands TWO minutes (two minutes is far too short) to respond to the question, “Who are you?” The ordinands were supposed to give the two minute speech as the answer to that question, concluding it with the line, “I am your neighbour.” The concept of this is that we all are neighbours to each other.

I didn’t want to just say my name and tell everyone some facts about my life. So, I was determined to speak for four minutes, when I stood at the lectern. The leader asked ‘Who are you?”, and I said, “Hi, I am a trembling heart in this sacred moment when one person meets another person and speaks from the heart.

I wonder whether you see me with particular perceptions, preconceptions, or questions – a Korean woman, an ethnic woman, a racialized woman, a young woman. … I’ll skip a bit here … I face my own fears: you may not see me for who I truly am, what I truly can contribute, what I truly hope to say to you, how truly I hope to be your neighbour.

Look past my surface, look past my youth, look past my race, strip off what you see on the surface, as I strip off my fears in the deepest part of myself. It is my hope, my affirmation that when we encounter one another, vulnerable and courageous, looking into each other’s eyes, with all social labels and prestige stripped away, we will only see, we will only encounter the radiant core of our beings – the Divine Nature of you and me. I am Ha Na Park. I am your neighbour.”

By speaking from the heart, I was hoping to overcome my innermost fear, one that arose from some experiences of being ‘invisible’; though I am a visible minority in Canadian society, I found out that I could suddenly be invisible to a group of people. For example, at the lunch table, or in small group discussion at theological school, I have found from many experiences that a group of people can talk to themselves only, as if I was not there, for the whole time, even though I had introduced myself at the beginning of the discussion. The memory of it still hurts.

In today’s reading, the apostle Paul advises, “Love never wrongs anyone – hence love is the fulfillment of the law. Owe no debt to anyone – except the debt that binds us to love one another. If you love your neighbour, you have fulfilled the law.”

Here, love does not just refer to emotional affections – like the affectionate love between a couple, or between mother and child. Sweet, natural. Here, love refers to the idea of love as charism, a gift which has a prophetic edge. Love is the gift which allows us to transcend our habitual, conventional thinking and way of interacting with each other in order to to truly encounter another human soul.

Love as charism defines the attitude, behaviour, and standards of a Christian community and makes it distinctive. This love has two bases: love of God and love of neighbour. It’s not that you must love God first in order to love your neighbour, but that the love of God cannot be separated from loving the neighbour, because GOD HAS BECOME THE NEIGHBOUR.

Sep 7 - God has become the neighbour.001

I believe that one of the essential and intentional practices we can make to achieve this goal of love is to look past the surface of things and people, to look past the obvious, in order to see what is under the surface, to truly hear the voice of another, to see what makes their heart beat, so we may know them as a brother or sister. Whether we see another person as a stranger or a neighbour really depends on how we see them in our minds.

Where the power of love shines, the power of human nature surfaces – brilliant, loving and divine – the radiant core of ourselves and others.

So, let us carry within us the desire to love and truly see – as we journey. We are here to embrace a love that is not only evolutionary but revolutionary. Love’s way, God’s way, to fulfill the law is just like the fierce love that lovers often develop – subversive, overwhelming. Give Love the voice it should have, to express its prophetic edge. Remember: God has become the neighbour and God has become you through Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate.

And the People Said

Growing up in the United Church is where I developed my passion for social justice issues which has really shaped my life.

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