Thursday, February 11, 2010

Giving Up Fancy for Authentic

I don’t remember what we were watching when I heard it, but it was last week and it had to have been on the Food Network or the Travel Channel. During the course of the program, someone mentioned an interesting fact about food and hospitality in Asian cultures. When I heard it, my mind immediately went back to my experience traveling in South Korea with the Samford A Cappella Choir some 25 years ago. It was a fascinating trip and one that forever sealed South Korea in my mind as a place to which I would love to return some day. Dr. Billy Kim, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Suwon, and president of the Far East Broadcasting Company, helped organize the trip for us. His daughter, Mary Kay, was a graduate student at Samford at the time, and a member of the choir.

On several occasions during the trip, we were hosted for meals at which were served what we had been coached to call “very interesting” food. Among others, our hosts for these various occasions included the president of Korean Airlines (who helped us with our air travel expenses), the chancellor of Hanyang University (who I think also owned the hotel we stayed at in Seoul), the governor of Incheon province. I can’t remember everything, but at more than one of these the fare included such things as octopus, squid, and jelly fish. Mary Kay tried to explain to us that this was not normal Korean food, and that all this fancy, strange food was a Korean way of showing honor to the guest. When toward the end of the trip we finally had a real authentic Korean meal, there was a good bit of it (kimchi NOT included) that I found to be quite good.

I’m not criticizing our Korean hosts. What I heard explained on television last week reminded me of a wonderful trip and deepened my appreciation for their hospitality. It seems that, the fancier and more exotic the food, the greater honor to the guest. I understand it better now, but I really wonder what it would have been like if we had had more “normal” Korean food at those occasions. Not knowing our culture, they honored us in the way that was most meaningful to them. Not knowing their culture, we honored them by being appreciative guests. But what we experienced was not as authentic as it might have been. No, we wouldn’t have been served dog. According to Mary Kay, only Korean “rednecks” ate dog.

So what does this all mean? I’m not really sure, but I think it says something about the importance of remembering to be authentic when we’re tempted to try to be impressive … about the importance of being personal rather than profound (some of us can do both … I’m not sure I’m one of them) … of seeking more to be real than “relevant” … and of giving one another the grace that says, “You are more important that I.”

[Here's where I usually end ... but ... ]

More food for thought: After I had written the above (yesterday), I was reading again this afternoon in Harold Best's Music Through the Eyes of Faith (big surprise) and encountered a sympathetic vibration in the section on personal excellence. Best starts with an amplified list of what excellence is NOT (here are the unamplified points):
  1. Excellence is not perfection.
  2. Excellence is not being better than somebody else, nor is it even being like him, her, or them.
  3. Excellence is not winning, although it may include it.
  4. Excellence is not on-again-off-againism.
  5. Excellence is not assuming that my way of doing things is automatically excellent simply because I intellectually agree that I need excellence.
  6. Excellence is not just practicality and favorable results.
After a lengthy, itemized and amplified description of what excellence is not, Best answers the obvious question. If excellence is not all of those things, then what is it?
Excellence is authenticity. Excellence is temperance in all things. It is servanthood. It is loving-kindness. It is sojourn. It is esteeming another better than oneself. It is meekness, brokenness, personal holiness, greatness of soul. It is peaceableness, gentleness, perseverance, hunger and thirst. Wherever we are in the quest of these, there is more. Excellence is for everybody. It is commanded and we must pursue it. it is a process, not an event. And, in the final analysis, there are no earthly measurements for it. The pursuit of it is entirely personal and the final judge as to its validity will be a God whose wise creatorhood, sustenance, and expectations are worth far more than blue ribbons, accolades, recording contracts, or Grammys.
Now that's really enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.


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