Connection is the Key
Three weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting at the feet of an amazing woman named Chung Hyun Kyung. Twenty-five years ago Chung Hyun Kyung was tortured for her political beliefs. The day I heard her speak, she invited the man who tortured her into a conversation. I hope that someday he takes her up on her invitation, and they have that conversation. Dr. Chung’s story was also an invitation to me. Today I also share her invitation with you. It is an invitation to let the broken places in our own lives deepen our compassion for others, and help us to have the courage to reach past the deep chasms which divide us, to the things that deeply connect us, one to another. Dr. Chung says there are two kinds of brokenness. There is a brokenness which devastates us and breaks us apart. But there is a second kind of brokenness, a brokenness which breaks us open, which expands us and connects us. Dr. Chung invites us to let our own brokenness break us open to others, especially to those with whom it is most difficult.
I met Chung Hyun Kyung three weeks ago on a three-day retreat at Ghost Ranch, located in the achingly beautiful, take-your-breath-away landscape of Abiquiu, New Mexico. The Retreat was called Wisdom Sharing: A Deepening Retreat. It was led by three deep, wise women: Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, and Chung Hyun Kyung. Dr. Chung is a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and also at Ewha Women’s University, in Seoul, South Korea. She is both a practicing Christian and a practicing Buddhist. Her book is called “Struggle to Be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology.”
Her story is one of deep suffering, and deep forgiveness. Her story speaks to us who live in a world of televised ISIS beheadings, and fear-mongering. Her story is a key to connection, which she proposes as the way for peace. Since I heard her speak, not a day has gone by, when I have not reflected further on her words, and applied them to my own life.
Twenty-five years ago Chung Hyun Kyung was a student activist in Korea, then struggling under a cruel dictatorship. “One day,” she says, “I came home from the University, and there were five men in black suits in a cadillac. They took me somewhere. They said “If you die here, no one will care. You will never see your family, and they will never see you again. They will not know what happened to you.” Threatening her with torture, they wanted her to snitch on the leaders of the activist movement. She could not tell, could not turn in her friends. She was handed over for torture.
When her first torturer came in, she looked him in the eye and called him “Uncle.” “I asked him if I could tell him my story. I asked him about his wife, his daughters, his mother. He could not torture me. He left. The second day, the same thing happened. The third day, the same thing. He said, “I wanted to be a poet. What am I doing here at this job?” He left. Each day, she tried to connect with the eyes, with the heart , of the person sent to torture her. “If you connect, there is peace. If you disconnect, there is violence.”
She describes the fourth day: “I tried to connect with his eyes, but there was nothing there. His soul was empty, dead. The torture began.” She lost consciousness. The fifth day, he continued. This time, she clung to words, promises, which gave her strength and hope. “When I was a little girl,” she said, “as a good Presbyterian, I had memorized so many bible verses, because there was a contest and I wanted to get the prize.” As she was being tortured, the 23rd Psalm came to her: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” “In all things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
“I felt soft hands, holding my hands. I felt enveloped in love. I knew I was okay. I was held in love.”
As a pastor I see families broken apart by something petty. I see sisters and brothers in communities of faith who say they are Christian, but fail to see Christ in someone they find annoying, so treat that person as an anathema.
Then I see Chung Hyun Kyung, a brilliant beam of sunlight, showing us the way to peace: connection is the key.
But here is the thing you will not like. Gloria Steinem commented that a neurologist friend of hers insists that, neurologically, the “friend and befriend” bond can only be effectively created when all five senses are present. That means that Israelis and Palestinians need to sit down and break bread together. That means that North Koreans and South Koreans need to join hands. That means that sisters and brothers, and those people in my church who won’t speak to someone who annoys them, need to sit together, look each other in the eye, and hear each other’s story. Are we afraid that when we hear each other’s story, we might realize that we are really the same, underneath it all? Do we realize that we are just projecting our stuff onto someone else and calling them our “enemy?” It is much easier to fight a war against a nation we’ve labelled “the axis of evil,” than to realize they are mothers and fathers who love their children and long for their safety and fullness of life just as we do for our children.
When asked how to address terrorism, Chung Hyun Kyung said, ”Terrorism can only occur when we do not connect. When we meet another who is very different sometimes we react irrationally, we see no connection, we demonize them. We call them “The axis of evil.” That is bullshit. We are really projecting on them our own shadow. This is so different from the Asian logic of Yin and Yang: it is always circulating. You are what you hate. It is part of you.
Everyone I meet in the Islamic world says 911 was a fabrication. Thank you so much for thinking that we had the brilliance and technology to orchestrate that.”
Today, can we stop the madness? Can you stop projecting what you hate in yourself onto another? Instead, can you have the courage to look what you fear straight in the eye, and hear her story, his story? Can you share your story? Can we connect, on a soul level? Can we let ourselves be broken open for the sake of the world?
If you cannot, we will never know peace. Chung Hyun Kyung has convinced me: connection is the Key.
May you see the Holy in all you encounter;and may you reflect the Holy to all you encounter.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright November 11, 2014
Photo Credits: Chung Hyun Kyung and Linda Forsberg, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM, October 16, 2014; book signing, Ghost Ranch, NM; the Sun breaking through, Newport, RI; Quote from Dag Hammarskjold, Second Secretary General of the United Nations, on the wall at the UN; Eugenia and Sylvie; Sylvie and Grammy Linda; Sylvie and Grampa Ted; my father, Clifford Forsberg, with his grandson, John, and his first great-grandchild, John Luca, 2013