Kim Il Sung and Grace Before a Meal

I have been meaning to write something on the increasing shift in Russia to appreciating the positives of the Soviet era. Or rather, the increasing numbers of Russian scholars at Chinese conferences drawing upon the Soviet experience for common ground with China. However, that will have to wait, for my bed-time reading of late has been none other than Anecdotes of the Life of Kim Il Sung, the founding president of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. So here is the first of a selection, called ‘Arranging Grace Before a Meal’:

On July 3, 1981, Kim Il Sung met the Rev. Kim Song Rak, a Korean resident in the United States.

Kim Song Rak was the president of the Society for the Promotion of National Reunification, an advisor to the South Korean Churches Association and a member of the Corps of Chairmen of the Asociation of the Overseas South Koreans for Democracy and National Reunification in the United States. He had previously served as president of Sungjon University in South Korea.

He had received religious education in the United States and obtained permanent residence there: he was influential in US religious circles and was widely known among US politicians. He was the only Korean to be receiving an annual salary from the US government. In short, he was deeply immersed in anti-communism.

As soon as he arrived in the north, he asked the relevant officials to make arrangements so that there was no news coverage of his activities there, saying that he wanted to return to the United States soon, after a quiet visit to his home-town, Pyongyang.

President Kim Il Sung met him and called him a patriot, praising his national conscience out of which he had made up his mind, though belatedly, to devote himself to the reunification of the country. The President arranged a luncheon in honour of his guest.

Kim Il Sung advised him to say grace before eating.

The Rev. Kim Song Rak was completely taken aback at his host’s advice. His face turned red and his heart beat faster.

His face beaming, his host again urged him to say grace, arguing that he should not violate the rules of Christianity he had observed for his whole life.

The guest’s deep-seated fear and doubts about communism disappeared in an instant.

In fact, he had decided not to say grace on that particular occasion, even if it meant violating the rules of his faith. Moved by his host’s broad-mindedness and magnanimity, he said grace, just as he had done for decades. However, the grace he offered there was totally different from anything he had done before.

He prayed for the good health of President Kim Il Sung, a peerless great man, and for the country’s independent reunification and complete sovereignty.

Before his departure, the Rev. Kim Song Rak asked for a press conference to be convened, contrary to his previous request made upon his arrival. He talked about his feelings when he had said grace before the luncheon: ‘I offered grace because I could not reject the President’s advice. I earnestly prayed for him’ (Anecdotes II, pp. 18-20).

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A revolutionary prayer of confession

Our worst sin with regard to organisation consists in the fact that by our primitiveness we have lowered the prestige of revolutionaries in Russia. A person who is flabby and shaky on questions of theory, who has a narrow outlook, who pleads the spontaneity of the masses as an excuse for his own sluggishness, who resembles a trade-union secretary more than a spokesman of the people, who is unable to conceive of a broad and bold plan that would command the respect even of opponents, and who is inexperienced and clumsy in his own professional art – the art of combatting the political police – such a man is not a revolutionary, but a wretched amateur!

Let no-one take offense at these frank remarks, for I apply them first and foremost to myself.

Lenin, Collected Works, vol 5, p. 466.

Leninist exegesis: on prayer and the narrow way

Lenin is not usually thought of as one to give advice on prayer, but he is certainly not into outward shows of piety:

This reminds us of the saying about those who, if they are compelled to pray, do it with such zeal that they bang their foreheads against the ground. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 136.

And Lenin’s liking for expanding Gospel sayings of Jesus shows up again, now with the contrast between the wide and easy way versus the narrow gate and the hard way of Matthew 7:13-14:

Well then, if you do agree to follow this road, make an effort to proceed along it independently; don’t make it necessary to drag you; don’t let the ‘unusual’ appearance of this road frighten you, don’t be put out by the fact that in many places you will find no beaten track at all, and that you will have to crawl along the edges of precipices, break your way through thickets, and leap across chasms. Don’t complain of the poor road: these complaints will be futile whining, for you should have known in advance that you would be moving, not along a highway that has been graded and levelled by all the forces of social progress, but along paths through out-of-the-way places and back-alleys which do have a way out, but from which you, we or anyone else will never find a direct, simple, and easy way out. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 6, pp. 126-7.

Makes me wonder whether an article on Lenin’s exegesis of the Gospels isn’t a bad idea …