Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in prison. Not just an ordinary prison, he was born in a North Korean political prison, a labor camp, a death camp. These places are designed for one purpose: to destroy human beings. An estimated 200,000 people live there in perpetual, gnawing hunger, squalid filth and numbing cold. They do hard labor 18 hours a day, 7 days a week until they die at an astonishingly young age.
But as horrible as these conditions are for the human body, the real design is to break the human spirit. Privileges and beatings are used to condition every mind and heart to see itself as totally alone. Fellow prisoners are viewed as competition for food and as snitches when you break the rules. You are trained from birth to take and hoard for yourself and earn favors by accusing fellow inmates, to view all, even your own parents, siblings and children, as enemies. It is this attitude, more than the filthy conditions, that turns human beings into animals.
Shin’s story is told in a newly published book by Blaine Harden: "Escape from Camp 14." It is difficult to read this story, but impossible to put down. For it is a profound lesson in the meaning of freedom and the meaning of humanity. It gave special meaning to my Memorial Day weekend and the Festival of Pentecost which we marked last Sunday.
On Memorial Day, we gathered with family and friends to remember the 1,343,812 American soldiers who gave their lives in defense of the inalienable rights endowed upon all by their Creator. In the exact opposite of selfishness, these brave human beings gave their very lives to spare you from the conditions that Shin and so many others in places like Korea, Germany, Japan and Russia experienced. I hope that this memory leads you to go out of your way and thank a soldier for his selflessness and willingness to pay the ultimate price not for himself but for you.
I also hope that thoughts of selflessness lead you to see more clearly than ever that human freedom is never a freedom to live for self. Rather, it is the freedom to live for others. To be a human being is to care for others. It is for this you were created, for this you were born. When God created Adam out of the dust of the ground, he remained a mere shell of a man until God breathed into him His life-giving Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit of the God who gives what makes you unique and different from an animal.
Examine your own actions and feelings honestly and you will find plenty of examples of the kind of selfishness that takes from others and accuses others for your own gain. These attitudes and actions reveal our own great need to be freed. Even as our bodies are free to be human, our minds still linger in that captivity which makes us like animals, living apart from and against the Spirit of the Living God.
Today the Church celebrates "Pentecost Tuesday." Today we rejoice that Christ has made His Spirit available to all the world through the voice of His Church. This voice of Christ calls us back to true humanity, the selflessness of God Himself. And this voice is more than a demand. Through it, Christ actually gives the freedom that His own death has bought us. It is the freedom to live as vessels of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus says to all who hear and receive Him, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10).