Monday, February 27, 2012

Thoughts on The Alchemist

The Alchemist, by Paulo Cuelho, was the first physical book with pages that I bought in years.  Lately, I've been downloading ebooks, but my debit card from the States expired last January, so I can no longer make purchases on it, and I've yet to figure out how to make online purchases with my Korean bank card, much less link it to Itunes.  I've also tried to download the pdf, which is free, but for some reason, I haven't been able to do it.  My coworker, Kelsey, was raving about it, so I became intrigued.  I grew impatient, as I always do when I really want something, so I went to the English section of one of the bookstores here in Gwangju, and purchased a copy.  I guess, for some reason, I was meant to possess it.

The Alchemist was a wonderful read.  It chronicled a shepherd boy in his refusal to settle for mediocrity in life, as he pursued his dreams.  In his pursuit, he learned numerous lessons, and encountered a lot of interesting people, and situations.  The main concept that the book portrays is, "When you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."  It's a beautifully encouraging message that reveals that, contrary to popular belief, attaining your deepest desires is a possible endeavor.  The book explains they appear in it's purest form during childhood, and as a person grows older, they become suppressed and discouraged for many reasons.

I don't know whether or not Paulo Cuelho is a believer in Christ.  It can even be argued that The Alchemist has some pagan undertones.  Regardless, this book teaches a beautiful lesson, which states that the pursuit of our dreams is a God given right.  God also gives each of us the choice of whether or not to make them a reality.  

God puts all of us on this earth for a single purpose, and that is to please him.  He gives each of us a unique way to do so.  Much like the noble man who gave a different amount of talents to each of his servants in the Parable of the Talents in Luke 19:12-28, God gives each of us different portions of "talent," and it's up to us, as his servants, to make the most of what he gave us to make a profit for his glory.  And the best way to do that is to pursue our dreams, and deepest desires, as they are clues given to us by God as to what he put us on this earth to do.  And as we begin to understand those clues, and make the decision to actively pursue our dreams, how could the universe not conspire to make it become a reality when the one who created the universe sees a piece of his creation actively pursuing that which he/she was created to do?

Paulo Cuelho states in the introduction that a dreamer will encounter four major obstacles in achieving his/her dream.  The first one being that a person is told from "childhood onward that everything is impossible."  The second obstacle is love, in the form of a fear of abandoning everything and everyone in order pursue it.  The third obstacle is the fear of defeats that will be met along the path.  The fourth obstacle is the fear of actually realizing that dream.

The first three are all obstacles that most dream pursuers would expect to encounter along their respective paths.  The fourth obstacle isn't.  It's rather perplexing to think that a person would feel unworthy after experiencing all the pain and sacrifice associated with such a decision, and to feel unworthy when the dream is within grasp.  Cuelho suggests that the mere possibility of receiving what we want fills us dreamers with guilt, as we "look around at all those around us who have failed to get what they want, and we feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either."

The first three obstacles can only be defeated by the combination of sheer determination, and a dissatisfaction with living a life filled with discontent, unhappiness, and untapped potential.  The fourth obstacle seems to be the most difficult, and also the most unexpected, but can be overcome through a trusting in the forgiving power that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We all have that which is worthy of causing us to experience extreme guilt.  Christ frees us from that, and enables us to feel worthy of grasping God's most wonderful gift for each of our lives, the possible reality of our dreams.  Moreover, Jesus is the one who enables us to not only feel worthy, but to "go boldly to the throne of grace" and expect the best of what God provides.  Through him, we are able to feel free of our guilt and fear, and feel entitled to blessing, provision, and moreover the deepest desires of our hearts.

The shepherd boy honestly acknowledged his deepest desires, and mostly nurtured them, rather than suppress them.  Through his honesty with himself, he was able to recognize omens given to him by God in order to direct him, which made remaining determined and motivated easier.  Through Christ, we are free of all the guilt that clouds our ability to see the true desires that we have for our lives, and are free to be honest with ourselves about them, and to thus feel worthy of pursuing the notion of making them a reality.

Christ does more than encourage us to pursue our dreams.  He mandates it.  As portrayed in the Parable of the Talents, the servant who was afraid to invest his only talent had what little he was given taken away from him by his master.  He was left with nothing, and his only talent was given to the servant who had the highest return.  The fourth obstacle to achieving our dreams is rooted by that same fear that Christ warned us about, and was put on this earth to enable us to overcome.  

Paulo Cuelho states, "If you believe yourself worthy of the thing you worked so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, and you understand why you are here."  To become one of those instruments is the greatest desire that I have for my life, and that is a wish that I have for you as well.                  

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I am antipop in most realms of modern media.  I dislike most popular movies.  I have never seen Wedding Crashers.  Nor have I seen Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, or The Hangover.  With the exception of The Office, I dislike most popular TV shows.  I hate Friends.  I think it's extremely corny and trendy.  I've never gotten into Seinfeld, nor have I ever seen an episode of Lost.  Honestly, I don't regret having missed out.  I am a self-admitted elitist regarding modern media.

I can understand people's sentiments regarding my taste in movies.  Not everybody understands the genius behind Wes Anderson's work.  Not everybody can enjoy a good movie by the Cohen Brothers.  A lot of my friends found Lost in Translation to be boring.  Not everybody likes Lord of the Rings.  These movies are for a certain type of person, and not everybody gets it.  

The realm of media that I feel the most strongly about is music.  I realize that you can't get away from an extremely catchy song, no matter how moronic it is, but I do my best to shield myself from the everything associated with the mainstream popular music industry.  

I don't understand why people are so closed minded regarding their taste in music.  Most of my friends don't like music that isn't played on the radio.  They dislike anything that is heard for the first time via an avenue other than the radio, a movie, a tv show, or a tv commercial.  I especially don't understand people's closed mindedness in this modern age of the internet where everything is at our fingertips.  There are an uncountable amount of artists and bands out there who are more talented than those who are part of the mainstream.  There are all types to suit all tastes, so regarding music, people have no excuse in being so closed minded.  

It is such a good feeling to play something amazing for somebody who has never heard it before, and to hear them say, "I'm going to download his/her/their music when I get home."  It's even better when they begin to talk further about it in later conversations, and to have them later recommend good artists that they discovered, because their minds were opened, and they were exposed to something artistic and intelligent that opened their eyes.

Currently, I am feeling like such a hypocrite, because I have grown to kind of...  sort of...  (gasp)... enjoy K-pop.  And as I've stated in a previous post, it goes against everything I stand for musically.  I still fight it, but I can't help it.  The songs are so catchy, even though I don't understand most of the language.  I like it despite the fact that the music is corny, generic, manufactured, and overproduced.  I can't help it.  With some of it, I can't help but like it, despite fighting the feeling.  By "some," I mean the music sung by artists that are extremely attractive.  

I was hooked the moment I saw the music video for the song, "Gee" by Girls Generation.  That particular video is absolutely ridiculous in terms of how beautifully its extremely attractive members are portrayed.  It possesses the deadly combination of an extremely catchy melody matched with a group of femininely gorgeous women.  The melody in that song is uniquely Asian.  It is something that would be impossible for somebody from the west to create, and that contributes heavily to its likability.  There is no doubting the fact the the members of Girls Generation are all extremely alluring.  Any man with a pulse would agree with that.  But the addition of a catchy song makes them very likable, and I find myself singing their music more and more.  I really do hate myself sometimes...  

The funny thing is that in Korea, groups like Girls Generation are mostly popular with the men.  Men openly listen to this.  I've been in the cars of some of my male Korean friends while they blasted songs like "Gee."  On one such occasion, because I hear a lot of my female students talk about them, I asked my male Korean friend, "Do you have anything by Beast?"

He gave me the strangest look.  It was one that screamed, "Why would I have anything by them?!  What kind of man do you take me for?!"  And this was despite the fact that the song that he was blasting with his top of the line stereo system was a little less than masculine.

In America, men would never openly admit to enjoying music by girl groups, or feminine artists, no matter how beautiful they are.  Back home, females are the ones who openly listen to such music.  Men would only blast such music in their cars when they are alone.  They would only play such music on their ipods when the chances of somebody asking, "Hey, what are you listening to?" are as slim as possible.  When they play it on their computers, they would erase the history, so nobody would see that they were actively searching for such music.  They go to such lengths because they know, if caught, they would be made fun of by friends who share the same guilty pleasures, and do the same exact thing when nobody is around.  

In Korea, generally speaking through my experience, the men enjoy the girl groups, and the women enjoy the boy groups.  As with everything, there are exceptions, and correct me if I am wrong.  Men openly enjoy girl groups like Girls Generation, and the Wonder Girls.  Women enjoy boy groups such as Beast, Big Bang, and CNBlue.  An exception to the rule is the group, 2NE1 (pronounced 'twenty-one').  They have sort of a rebellious "bad girl" image that really appeals to Korean girls.  I like them too.  I find them to be the most unique, and artistic of all of the K-Pop artists.   

I'm really hating myself at the moment...  I need to blast some AC/DC to remind myself of my manhood...  like, now.