The pastors at Korean churches are the first-contacts with the globe, in a way.
It makes sense.
How did Korea become this bizarre portal country that mixes up and alters established or existing politico-economic expectations (and yet, the country is, ironically, extremely obsessed with conformity)?
I was at a UC Berkeley event where Professor Erica Vogel discussed her book Migrant Conversions: Transforming Connections between Peru and South Korea.
Dr. Vogel spent many years in South Korea documenting the migrant experiences of Peruvians who immigrated there in search of capital gain.
Quite a few of her subjects wound up in Korean protestant churches, found salvation, and spiritual freedom.
Right there. Can we stop for a second there?
Peru (formerly the Inca Empire) was first invaded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Peru’s indigenous spirituality and religion was suppressed and Christian coloniality began to wipe out ancient modes of spirituality.
South Korea (formerly known as just Korea) first encountered Christianity in the late 19th century, then a little more impactfully during the Korean War in mid-20th century. Even prior to that, during Japanese colonization, there were short stories written about shamanism in Korea. Shamans were accused of greed from the community because they charge money for their services (which isn’t immoral but a basic necessity since that is their occupation) but this disdain for shamans did not emerge UNTIL the white Christians came to Korea. White Christian missionaries brought free food and medicine for free. On the Lord’s dime! And made shamans look completely absurd.
As Park Chung-hee’s military dictatorship brought on South Korea’s economic transformation, a part of him also waged a battle against Korean indigenous religion/spirituality for fear of it making Koreans appear wayward and uncivilized (again, compared to how WASPs would conduct themselves in a church). Literally, watch how a mudang conducts a ritual versus how a Catholic priest conducts a service…and THEN watch how a protestant Korean pastor conducts a sermon during a “revival” retreat).
Korean shamanism and indigenous spirituality isn’t gone. It’s just flocked over to other parts of the cultural realm.
South Korea now has Peruvian migrants who enter the country—this country that was once in the position of being a labor-export has now recently transformed into labor-import; “allelujah amen” cry the Korean church congregation.
As Christianity keeps gaining power and spreading (through its evangelical methods), South Korea keeps on dying; keeps on confusing; keeps on abusing; keeps on suffering.
Buddhism is still prominent but Christianity has successfully taken on its hegemonic position in the nation.
Indigenous spirituality is increasingly going forgotten, hidden, erased, lost, removed, smudged, mixed up, tossed into a pile somewhere then dragged out onto the street for the garbage truck to pick up (and where does that garbage then go?! Lord, help us. Buddha, guide us. to what “underdeveloped” country that suffers the consequences of the material greed and waste of a “developing/developed” nation completely obsessed with trends, e.g., fashion, cosmetics, media, etc.)
Korean pastors in South Korea are some of the first people who encounter migrants from other countries.
Pastors are spiritual leaders. They meet and convert the folks who come to them seeking monetary salvation.
Just as the white missionaries did for indigenous/pre-Christian Korea, present-day Koreans do onto the migrating Peruvians seeking greater financial gain/relief/stability in Korea the land of…rice? and red peppers? (placeholders until I can think of a more clever way to adapt “milk and honey”).
Peruvian migrants find salvation in the Korean church. Some get community funding to help with their daughter’s heart surgery back in their motherland.
They attribute this to god’s work. But the fact is, wherever there is a community, there is god regardless of religious boundaries.
Meanwhile, Koreans continue to die. They continue to suffer the plague of “first world” nations; the mental/emotional/spiritual barrenness that drive them to their own demise at their own hands. Drive them to drink. Drive them to abusing others and themselves.
Meanwhile, the country that is mostly responsible for South Korea’s Jesus-freaked state has some of its most wealthy members taking their own trips (micro-migrations/temporary retreats) to Peru in search of—get this—PERUVIAN INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY in the form of shamans and their psychedelic medicines.
Political scientists and economists point to the 1970s as South Korea’s economic “miracle.” I wonder what spiritual awakening was taking place during this time as well. Did any South Korean influencers/leaders take psychedelics during their travels around the world? I mean, they MUST have.
When a South Korean corporate friend of mine told me that she and her design company attended Burning Man one year for “research,” I asked if she or any of her colleagues took any psychedelics. She said, “No.” I said, “What was the point of your trip? You guys did zero research. What a waste of money.”
It’s so interesting how Peruvian migrants in South Korea look to South Korea for Christian salvation and associate it with goodness when Peruvians were already colonized by Spanish Christianity centuries before Korea was.
South Koreans are down with trends and image (hence Park Chung-hee’s suppression of shamans in the country… and what a detriment that was…! think of the money you’re missing out on with spiritual tourism from WASPy nations, Chung-hee!).
The WASP nations and their people are now turning their gaze towards the East for its spirituality, and Latin America for its spiritual medicines. In the meantime, governments of the “global South” are always striving for its economic status to mirror that of the white countries.
Don’t you see the message? There is nothing there. Economic stability = spiritual barrenness and therefore greater chaos, disillusion, confusion, sadness, emotional and mental instability, and death. South Korea should already know this. (It already knows it—just forgot it); these bodies are temporary vessels that we shed; in the end, all we have is consciousness and a desire to connect and make something new that is good and fair.
Even SK’s hang up on Confucian hierarchies. Man! There is no hierarchy! There is no taller than or shorter than, bigger than or smaller than, greater than or lesser than! There is nothing. There is nothing.
But there is something in the colors that you see at your temples. There is something in the thousand year trees in your land. There is something in the records left behind at your temples by those deep meditators—your ancestors and teachers.
And there is something beautiful in the way that Korean spiritual leaders meet these Peruvian migrant workers. Both of them need something from each other and find it. And in that sense, the Christian dogma becomes, almost, irrelevant. They are just finding each other naturally like a mother would find its child or a child would find its father. They just find each other. Across the seas and lands. Past the gates and borders. The way they find each other and meld these histories or dissolve them like sugar in warm water. Like honey in jasmine tea. I find that righteous. That is something to witness (with gratitude).
But I now want for Peruvians to re-enter their own spiritual spheres of history and find that COSMOPOLITAN GLITZY STATUS that they really truly are seeking. Man. It’s right there! You didn’t need to go anywhere! It was right there! You’re the one with all the good shit! These white spiritually lost souls are paying GOOD MONEY to go to your land! Chasing money takes us nowhere! Chasing love, life and light take us everywhere.
I want for Koreans to re-enter their own spiritual hemispheres of ancient wonder, ritual and connecting. Man. It’s RIGHT fucking there. Whenever we chase money, we only always find death, chaos and confusion. Look at us now. After accepting the…I dunno, was it Tylenol? Was it a piece of bread?…look at us after accepting those substances. What is Tylenol and a free piece of bread compared to the prayer of a shaman mother for her shaman daughter and the dreams you have of your great grandmother? What is that compared to you as parents NOT condemning or demonizing your daughter when she gets marked with her spiritual calling to be a mudang?
Why does everything need to get reduced to Jesus or Satan? What good does that ridiculous binary do in our ability to understand the ancient spiritual teachings that were already given to us a millennia ago?
It just blinds us to those words. Just covers up our ears. Turns them into a loud rumbling noise like the sound of a plane engine going off right inside your ear drum—a sound I hear sometimes as I fall asleep at night sometimes, and a sensation that I do not fear, but a sensation that Western medicine pathologizes and reduces to a “seizure” and which Christianity reduces to Satan.
Hey man! We already know what these things are. We’re already connected to the eons that our flesh and blood relatives lived. They’re all in us. Their information and memories and joys and traumas are in us. Live in us. We live them out.
We have the knowledge. It’s just about accessing them.
We do not need to cross land and sea to get to them. They are in our skin, hair, memory, dream, chair, window, across the street at your neighbor’s house, in the sunset you look at around 5:30PM in the mountains in the late winter/early spring in the hills of wherever you are.
It’s all there, man. It’s just about accessing it with the right keys.
The right keys are in you. They are in the whispers down below where status/image obsessed dictators drove them to. They are in the Amazonian treasures that Peruvians have known for eons already. It’s there. Just seek them out. Just like those WASPy people are just starting to discover them now, even though we ourselves have forgotten our own indigeneity.