Pachinko

Min Jin Lee came to the United States in 1976 at the age of 7, with her family, of course. Her first novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was listed as a top ten book by the Times (London). She is currently working on her third book to finish a Korean Trilogy.

I have not read the first book, so can only comment on Pachinko. I checked the National Book Awards website and selected this book because of its setting in Korea by a Korean author. I had no idea how good the story is.

First, let me clear up a couple of things. Pachinko is a unique form of gambling in Japan. I had never heard of it and it was not mentioned in the story at all until about halfway through the book. It was a children’s game in the 20’s & 30’s set up in stores to keep kids entertained. Those were simple pinball games.

After the war, Japan had a few billion leftover ball bearings. Someone decided to redesign the old game to use the balls. That was when the gambling feature was added. See the website below for details.

What does that have to do with the story of Koreans? I’m glad you asked. The story begins in 1910 near Busan (what we wrongly called Pusan), but moves quickly to 1932, literally chapter 2.

1910 was important to Korea because it was the year Japan decided they could run Korea better than the Koreans (not too far from the truth at that time). 1911 was important because Sunja’s parents were married and Sunja was born a few years later.

Sunja is the central character of this family saga. She was hard at work as chapter 2 opened and she was still active in the last paragraph of the story in 1989.

Sunja was taken in by a wealthy Korean who traveled between Busan and Osaka, Japan. When she became pregnant, he wanted to set her up in a fine house and send their child to school. Why not marry? His Japanese wife in Osaka would not allow it.

A Christian minister passing through agreed to marry her and they sailed to Osaka. They lived with his brother and wife. Sunja birthed two boys. The two were like Esau and Jacob, but they loved each other, unlike the two Biblical brothers.

The six of them struggled to survive in a city and country that considered Koreans to be only slightly better than pigs, if not as smart.

I knew in general terms that the Japanese look down on Koreans, but I had no idea how bad it really was. Those attitudes are still present, much like the American racial divides.

What does the story have to do with Pachinko gambling? You will have to read the book to find out.

I must confess that the first couple of chapters put me off a bit. As suggested, chapter 1 covered two decades with people being named just in time to die. Lee also likes to head-hop, a technical term for the writer entering the minds of several characters to give us several points of view, often in one paragraph. That settled down as the story progressed, and as I got to know the main characters.

What characters. Lee created people so real they could hardly be contained on the pages.

At 485 pages it is a long read, but well worth it.

Mike Lawrence

 

A Redeeming Kinsman

 

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Psalm 127

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12:38-44

 

A quick word about the lectionary. If you don’t want to read about it, skip to paragraph 6. Having a standardized reading of the Scriptures throughout the year is older than Christianity. We read about Jesus in the Synagogue being asked to read the Scriptures. Luke 4:16-17: He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to himNIV

I don’t want to prove the point now, just note there is other evidence for Jewish lectionaries, called the miqra. There are hints in the New Testament and other early church writings of the development of common daily readings. It makes sense that the early Christians were nearly all Jewish (likely for a couple of decades) so would have continued the miqra practice.

The lectionaries in use today were put together about fifty years ago. Understand that they were rewritten then, having been rewritten untold numbers of times since Jesus’ day. The Roman Catholic lectionary is the standard, and other denominations rewrite theirs for their own purposes. The one I have been following is from the Episcopalian site. I have seen several different sites, but I like this one because it includes a daily lectionary.

If you read every daily lesson, you will have read the Bible in three years. That completed, you start over. The years are called A, B, and C. Each begins with the first Sunday of Advent, the Christmas season. The readings are moved around to fit each new calendar, especially around Easter.

I give all that to say that in the four years I have been posting weekly commentaries, this is only the third time the book of Ruth has cropped up. This is year B, and in the 2015-year B, Ruth appeared only once while in 2018 it has appeared for the second time. Rest assured that if we had started the daily readings on November 4 and we completed them on November 10, we will have read Ruth.

In today’s reading we see Ruth and Boaz getting together and producing the grandfather of King David; therefore, the grandfather of Jesus. Yet, the reading is not that simple. Gleaning in ancient times was part of a poverty program. The poor could always follow the harvest and gather enough food to feed their families. Having your harvesters strip the fields bare was considered a sin.

In this passage, the grain in question was barley, a grain similar to wheat, but ripening in early spring. Over the centuries, simpler methods have developed, but in Ruth’s day people walked through the field and pulled the heads off the stalks and stuffed them in bags. The days were long and hard. Barley is a particularly dirty grain to handle, making it even more unpleasant. Gleaners followed in the trail of the harvesters and picked up what they missed. Occasionally a harvester would leave a head on the stalk, but mostly the gleaners were looking for what had fallen on the ground.

Even today, with half-million-dollar combine harvesters, you could follow behind and fill a five-gallon bucket in an hour. Just so you know, the best machines today collect 99% of the grain in the field, but the yields are so large that the 1% would be several hundred pounds per acre.

It seems clear from reading the whole story that Boaz saw Ruth and decided he liked her. When he found out she was the daughter in law of Naomi, he decided to push along the right of redemption.

We know from Deuteronomy 25:5-10 that Elimelech’s brother might be expected to marry Ruth, but he had no brother. Boaz seems to have made up a new requirement when he said to the unnamed man, “When you acquire the property from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabite, you must also acquire the wife of the deceased.” JSB

Leviticus 25:24-55 describes the redemption of the land, but there is no mention of taking the widow as a wife. The business of redeeming the land is vital to the widows because it is, in this case, the only way to support themselves. Remember that Hebrew women could not own property in those days, so the redemption was their salvation.

It should be no surprise that the Christian concepts of redemption and salvation are rooted in this process. It is also important to note that the next great religious celebration came fifty days after Passover. It is called Shavuot, or Pentecost for us. On that day, reading the book of Ruth was central in the Temple worship, and today in the synagogue.

I love how all these little things line up so neatly. God did some of His best work in preparing for the appearance of his Son on earth.

No surprise, Boaz and Ruth live happily ever after.

Notice finally that in 4:17, the women neighbors gave him a name, saying, “A son is born to Naomi!” JSB Even here, Ruth is marginalized. Indeed, Luke’s list of ancestors of Jesus lists Boaz, not Ruth, while Matthew reads, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was RuthNIV Both Matthew and Luke were trying to show that Jesus was of the proper lineage, so the line officially came through Boaz in both cases, rather than trying to explain the position of a Moabite in the line. In total, Matthew lists five women in the genealogy, but that’s a lesson for another time.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence