1984

russia-1984

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my visits to Russia, once when it was the USSR, and once after it dissolved. I was reading through my journals about the trip the other day, and I thought I would honor that young girl by first sharing some of her insights about the trip. I was the youngest member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches, being only 24. I had to study extensively before hand as well as attend briefings for days at Columbia University in New York City before we left. It was 1984, and there was still a cold war, but I believed that this opportunity was a God-given one that I couldn’t pass up. There are so many more stories that I can’t print here, but I want to offer some of the insights that shaped my future thoughts

Notes during our briefings

Like America, there seems to be a big difference between the people and those in power. The big difference is the sense of futility of the Soviet people feel in overtly doing anything about the injustice they are forced to live with. I was also amazed at the structured and networked way people work around the system. I’ve always believed things are not always what they seem to be, that we live in a time of Olympic level charades-the feeling that things are not what they appear to be. In the USSR it must be overpowering. Again, the difference between the two countries is not just ideology but one of survival. All the bullshit in America is who can get ahead-who can accumulate the most. The feelings in Russia are to survive, to beat an unfair system-yet Hedrick Smith says they’re very generous people-they love to share gifts with people. We are not allowed to bring any denim and the woman have to wear skirts or dresses. Clothes of the west are a hot commodity. They asked us to bring pins to share, I am completely unprepared.

about the Olympic boycott

I’ve just heard about the boycott of the Russians to our Olympics. I’m sad that our two countries keep egging each other on.What will this do to my trip? I’m beginning to realize the seriousness of what I’m about to do. I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect, but don’t want to push any preconceived ideas into my thinking.

On the the trip    the-children      russia-friends

After our city tour, we went to a small village church. The pastor’s name was Basil and I know what will have been the highlight of my trip was the children, it was wonderful! There is no way I can explain it in words…just freedom. Fr Basil took us to his “home” where we had another “gala” dinner-we made many toasts (too much vodka). During one of the toasts by Fr Innocent (irony of the year) I started to cry, partly because I’m tired, but mostly because of the double speak, the secret language of the heart and the language of the mouth, or party line, which I’ve had pretty much enough of by now. My eye contact with people has become quite piercing…and they don’t like it, not at all. But you see, you have to look so deeply for the truth and when they deceive and you’re looking deep into their eyes, they can’t hold your gaze. It started having a bad effect on people…not speaking but just forcing eye contact. I hoped my eyes say “I see YOU”. It was when we visited the collective farm I wanted to scream “Do you really think we’re that stupid?” It doesn’t matter to me that you’re trying to impress me, what I want is the truth…a rare commodity here. I’m tired of the press, people taking our pictures and the presence of the KGB. Do they think I can’t tell the difference between a real seminarian and a Soviet officer, especially the way they look me up and down?

Zagorsk    zagorsk-2  zagorsk-3   zagorsk-4

Celebrating the high holiday for Russian Orthodox-Pentecost, at Zagorsk, which is their equivalent of Rome was beyond words. When our many buses drove into the monastery, there were thousands waiting to greet us. Walking through all those people just staring at us made me realize that we were definitely on display. The whole experience was beautiful and breathtaking and yet completely freaked me out.

The cantata at the Baptist Church   cantata

There was quite a bit of excitement at the Baptist Church. They had prepared a special cantata for us and it was really beautiful. But after the music was over, some people held banners over the balcony claiming in English that many pastors of Baptist Churches were being imprisoned. I was astounded, everything had been so “perfect” until this point. Our leaders avoided it and we were basically told from everyone, what you saw, you didn’t see. Afterwards, I could see one of the wives giving an interview with journalists. I am impressed by her determination and guts and will pray for her protection.

Gala Dinner Menu (one of many)          gala-dinner

Cocktail/Salad: rolled ham stuffed with eggs, stuffed hard boiled egg with tomato, salmon and white fish, tomatoes, and breads with caviar. This served with vodka, also for toasting.

First course: crepes and black caviar. Served with red wine.

Second course: Chicken Kiev, with vegetables and rice in a puffed pastry. Served with white wine.

Dessert: Ice cream and filled cake. Served with Champagne.

Coffee: biscuits,cheeses. Served with cognac.

Dancing, and most were a bit drunk…Cheers to my Irish tolerance (and I did toastes with water, not vodka)

Leaving the USSR  propaganda   soldiers

I’m in the Moscow airport ready to board the plane for Amsterdam. My feelings are mixed. I’m sad to leave because I feel like I haven’t seen enough-but the tension of this society is so oppressive that I can’t breathe. I’ve also felt disillusioned about this trip. It seemed to be so much media hype for our Leader—– I don’t like to be part of diplomatic niceties which I feel most of this trip was, especially near the end. There were times when I felt like I was on the mountain being tempted by the Devil with all the fanfare, pampering and “gala” dinners. Everything. was. just. too. nice. It makes me wonder what the results of our trip will really be. Will all the frosting hide justice? i.e.the women at the baptist church.

Amsterdam     amsterdam

The lay over in Amsterdam was a needed break. My wild side came out, and I’m sure a bit of repressed anger too. I waltzed some of the ministers down to the red light district..he he. Their faces as they looked at the prostitutes in the store fronts doing their best come hither, is something I will never forget.

Home     breifing

They said everything was a perfect success. I began to panic because I knew I had to tell people about my experience-that was part of the deal. While going to the USSR was a dream, I had to borrow against my next year salary to do this, with the little I make working with the church it was such a risk. I thought I would be making a real difference, and now I wonder. One of the youth group members committed suicide just as I was arriving home. Physically her life was nice, like our peace mission. Nice isn’t enough, it just can’t be. Christianity can’t always be nice. Peace should be defined by more than nice. It means pain, sacrifice, being vulnerable, being scared and letting go in the face of it. I didn’t get that from the leadership of either country. I felt those things personally and I’m angry that those feelings were never supported by a group speaking in my name too.

We Americans and the Soviets are different, I accept that. I accept protocol and diplomacy are very important. We depended too much on behaving “appropriate” and not enough on being Christians. Our connection was our mutual faith. The Church’s route just has to be different than a political one, it has to be. Politics is rooted in a struggle for power, Christianity is rooted in the spread of the gospel and love. Human beings have proven through history that they are incapable of bringing about lasting peace by their own initiative. It doesn’t matter how good and noble the intentions are if they become egocentric somehow.

Because I am young, the youngest that went by far, my insight and intuition isn’t quite as keen as it will be some day. God has blessed me with much potential, though. So I will listen to how deeply disturbed I feel. There was so much going on in the Soviet Union on a completely different level. I could tell by eye contact, body language, atmosphere-the shadow language. It was all very subtle, but clear enough to demand attention, because when added to the whole picture, my impressions were radically altered. My struggle will be to create an honest picture without embellishment.

Afterwards, I was relieved when a journalist called to get my opinion of the trip. Excited to tell my truth, we talked for a long while. When the article came out in a national paper, not only wasn’t I mentioned, but it “nice.” In my mind, I had been censored and rendered insignificant. I became depressed and disillusioned after that. I spoke three times about my trip, the bare minimum and I continued to worry and pray about the baptist ministers wife and what the truth really was….so I went back, four years later……

Walking on Water

walking-on-water-prank.jpg

Let me begin by saying this post is indeed political and may indeed seem polarizing, but it has nothing to do with political parties or the election per say. As part of my year of clarity, which is almost at an end by the way, I remain committed to see the world as Christ intended when he said blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Having come so far, I certainly am not going backward now. In many ways, this year has been a torturous stripping away of every illusion, every chain and old belief that I held onto as an appeasement to my fears, insecurities and those beliefs that limit my personal evolution. I never anticipated what asking for the eyes to see and ears to hear would do to my life. It was upended. Be careful what you pray for, I’ve heard. And as much as I had no idea how naive my request was, I remained stalwart through every point of this journey, sometimes to the detriment of my health and personal psyche. I also want to say, while not everyone is a Christian like I am, I hope you will appreciate the conclusions I’ve come to anyway. Today, I am Peter, when Jesus was walking on water:

Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, Jesus came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified, “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Even after all I’ve learned and how deep my faith has become having answered Jesus when he said “Come,” now that I am here standing amidst the turbulence, I am trying not to be afraid, trying not to sink into the depths. I have the benefit of hindsight that Peter didn’t. I already know Jesus response, “oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.” In this moment of such turbulence, I will not let fear falter my journey. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be afraid, I just simply reject the doubt so I don’t sink. I will walk on water regardless of my fear. I will respond to Jesus command when he says come. So what does that even look like? This may take a moment, so please bear with me until the end.

For that last few weeks, I have pondered, and worried a bit over Jesus words in Matthew 10 when he describes the world they, as disciples, would venture into:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more that me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his/her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses her/his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he/she is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous person because she/he is righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of theses little one’s to drink because he/she is a disciple-amen, I say to you, surely he/she will not lose their reward.

Life as a disciple is often life shattering. It is an ultimate test of loyalty and faith. If we succeed, we can walk on water. Call it whatever you will, a metaphor, a means to make the unfathomable, fathomable…I really don’t care. What I really care about is that regardless of the fear that holds many of us paralyzed right now, we must keep walking, we follow Jesus command to come. We refuse to doubt and be one of little faith. We do what seems at the moment to be the impossible. Because with God, all things are possible…right?

Now, here is where it gets tricky for me. As many of you know, I have friends who are democrat and republican. I embrace and accept that different ideologies exist. We’ve all walked different journeys and have embraced our own conclusions about what we’ve seen. I have friends who are religious and non-religious alike. So, my beef isn’t about that, hence the latter scripture that speaks about peace vs the sword. Here is my beef. Political ideologies, in essence, belong to Caesar (see last post), and we give to Caesar in our own way. How we express those ideologies most definitely leaks into giving to God what is Gods. So this is when the fear grips me most deeply. When you use an ideology to set others apart, to demean or demoralize them, to treat them disrespectfully you are not a being a disciple of Christ. When you cross the line in defaming your opposition, someone who doesn’t support the candidate you do, you are not being a disciple of Christ. That doesn’t mean the conversations about ideas won’t be difficult and painful. Where it became appalling to me in this election cycle was the deeply vicious and slanderous way people shared their opinions and almost never to anyone’s face. I always thought that to the people who know me, they know I’m a good person and so would listen to things from my perspective as well as their own and  that they wouldn’t dismiss me or talk about me behind my back because I thought differently than they did, or get angry when I expected truth beyond salacious innuendo. I am not a bad person because I voted a certain way. Winning this election doesn’t give you God’s stamp of approval, God doesn’t give a shit about who won this election. But losing this election doesn’t give you the right to give up all hope or hate the other party either, God has clear opinions about those kinds of judgement too.

Being immersed in an environment that often is diametrically opposed to my most core beliefs has at times been difficult for me, but I’ve adapted because I’ve learned to see the deep goodness in the people who surround me. It has always been my prayer that others would offer me the same accord and it grieved me when that didn’t always happen. This year of clarity has given me freedom from that concern. I don’t care if you judge me, because my journey is sacred. I’ve said this before, that until you walk in another’s shoes you can never understand or judge their journey and I’ve worked hard to try and do that. So I implore people to listen to, and most importantly actually see those who are hurting right now and try and understand why. Sometimes seeing life through another’s eyes isn’t pretty, especially since it challenges our assumptions. There are people of color, sexual orientation, ethnicity, different levels of education and economics, who are devastated by the situation they are in today and the implications they may face come with deep feelings often times fear and rage. But when you take time to really see them and hear them, and break the confines of a limited perspective, fear diminishes and the walk gets easier, kind like gliding on water.

And yet to those who remain convinced that the problems we face are someone else’s fault, or that your “side” has the license on righteousness or God’s imprimatur, or that the answer lies in one person’s judgement against another, I choose to stand against you, whatever side of the aisle that puts you on. To refuse to recognize that we are all of us together, citizens who should all enjoy the the same self evident truths that are the cornerstone of this great country: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is simply unacceptable to me. So, as a Christian, my sword will be lovingly raised, and wielded in every moment the Spirit deems fit. Go ahead hate me, reject me, whatever. I choose to answer the call and walk on water.

 

Rendering Unto Ceasar

caesar

Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census to Caesar or not?’

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.’ Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, “Caesar’s,’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’

Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s is found both in the gospel of Mark and the gospel of Matthew. The two parables are different, but important in understanding the lesson that follows. In one parable we come to understand what belongs to God, and in the other, who controls the timing and invitation to God’s Kingdom. The phrase “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s” is not mutually exclusive, one guides the other.

In Mark, Jesus tells a story about a man who labored and built a vineyard and leased it out to tenants and went on a long journey. At the proper time, he sent his servants to obtain a sample of the produce of the vineyards. Some servants were beaten, others killed, all were sent away empty handed. When the owner sent his beloved son, thinking that they would respect him, they killed him desiring his inheritance. When Jesus posited to the crowd what the owner would do, they said the owner would kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. To which Jesus responded: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

So in this story, what belongs to God? The tenants believed that the fruits of their labor were theirs alone. How many of us still believe that? We forget that all we have comes from God. When God asks us for something, a mere sample, we are expected to give it, but not to show how generous we are, but as a sign of gratitude and a reminder that it was never ours to begin with. Remember in the story all the owner is asking for is for a sample of the produce, not enough to ruin the tenant but simply as a reminder of what they owner gave them since he labored and built it up to begin with. Celebrating all that God has built for us should be the only incentive we need to share our good fortune. The rejection of the Owner’s son happens every time we fail to understand that all our gifts come from God and when we refuse to share with the least of our brothers and sisters, we are refusing God. It is the least among us that the Kingdom is built on. Face it, we are all tenants on this earth at the grace of God.

In Matthew’s version, he likens the Kingdom of God to a King who gave a wedding feast. When the feast was ready, he dispatched his servants to invite the guests to share in his celebration but they wouldn’t come. He dispatched other servants and implored them to tell his guests that the banquet was indeed ready, the fatted calves were prepared for the feast. Some ignored the invitation, others went on to their businesses or farms. Still, others took the servants and killed them. The King was enraged and destroyed the murderers and their city. He declared the feast was ready but that those who were invited were no longer worthy to come. He told his servants to invite anyone they could find. The hall was filled with the good and the bad. And yet when he saw someone who was not dressed in a wedding garment and and was silent when questioned about it, the servants were instructed to throw him out. Jesus ended this story with “Many are invited, but few are chosen”

In this story, it is important that we realize embracing the Kingdom of God is not only being invited into God’s grace, it is actually showing up for the celebration…in God’s time. It is so easy to become so involved in our daily comings and goings that we have no time for God. That is just unacceptable. God’s time is just that…God’s time. We are here at His pleasure, not ours. We need to be ready, in the appropriate garb, at all times. So what does that actually mean?

When Jesus says “give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is Gods,” I think he is making a clear distinction of what belongs to a worldly view and what belongs to a Godly one. These stories help illustrate what belongs to God. In the first, it is clear that God is the owner of the vineyard…and we are only tenants. When God asks us for our talents, we don’t have the right to say no. He rejects the idea that the tenants have no obligation to give back. The selfishness, insolence and ultimate disrespect by the murder of his son is their undoing. In the second story, when we are called to celebrate at the wedding feast, at his appointed time, he is so put off by the disregard of his invitation that he effectively dis-invites them by burning the city and he opens his doors to anyone who would come, yet still expecting wedding attire…our best selves put forward. I used to be more confused by this parable…how could the invitees act so horribly? I understand it better now. Jesus is the bridegroom, we are already joined to God, by his grace. We should know that every moment of every day we should be celebrating with God. You don’t accept God’s invitation and continue to live on your own time, and on your own terms.Too many people think that being on the right team is all that is what is expected of us, that there is no demand on how we live and carry on in the world, that we can do what we will in the meantime. That is so much bullshit. We come when we are called, every day and in every way.

What belongs to God is sharing the fruits of our labor, and putting all else aside to celebrate the Kingdom when we are called. I can’t help but believe that those who dwell in the muck of this election, by perpetuating the vitriol and pointing the finger of judgement are behaving just like the protagonists of these two parables. Behavior I never thought possible from those who claim to be Christians. I am so tired of it, and I know many of you are too. Giving to Caesar is nothing more that the price of living in a human created construct. Giving to God is a declaration and expression of what is expected of us when we accept God’s invitation and all the gifts He has shared with us. So lets embrace each other as God’s people and celebrate all we have been gifted with and put our best selves forward as if we were celebrating at a great wedding feast everyday…and worry less about Caesar.

 

 

 

In the Wave of all the Vitriol, Here are some Baby Birds

There reaches a point when I just have to turn off, or I will take a header down the rabbit hole. Whether it is social media, the TV, or random conversations. I can’t stand the blind polarization…and it is blind, because I spent all of yesterday just checking out the many links, and total SHIT put out there to see if everyone is as off base as I thought they were. Don’t hate me because I fact checked. Don’t hate me because I am shoving all of the hateful, paranoid, holier than thou, I’m more American than you, or I’m in tune with the real truth rhetoric back in your face. And I am calling out EVERYBODY. You know the one thing that will destroy our country?…your own self interest. You hate Trump, because he’s a racist, thin skinned, narcissistic hack. (More than anything I do believe he is an unfiltered opportunist). You hate Hillary because she is a liar and a woman (I checked, I can’t say she is anymore a liar than those who are doing such a good job at convincing you she is a liar…I was one of the few people who actually watched all 11 hours of the eighth Benghazi hearing) and she is a career politician that is ruining Bernie’s chance to bring down Wall-street (who you believe she secretly supports),  You hate Bernie because he’s a socialist and wants to give everything away for free and is ruining Hillary’s chance to be the first woman president. So, instead of perpetuating all the bullshit, and don’t send me a bunch of links that support your “stance” or call me blind-fully ignorant (which I am soooo not), or a typical liberal (which I am soooo not), or one of those Intellectuals who think they know more than the average person (which I sooooo am), let’s stop seeing just what we want to see and try our damnedest to try and be more objective. So let me put my big brain to work and try to appeal to the real you that usually exists until someone starts talking about politics. We are all passionate about the future of our country. It just shouldn’t be so polarized and so desperately mean. To support one candidate doesn’t mean we have to vilify another.

Let’s look at it from another angle. Trump seems to attract people who are tired of politicians, they are enthused by his “I say what I want” and want to feel proud of a country that honors hard work and patriotism, and I think are really afraid. Hillary has been a career politician, but one who has constantly worked for women, children, and stands for many women as an example of breaking the glass ceiling. Bernie gave a voice to young people, who just want a chance to reach their dreams without debilitating student debt. He also called out the money makers who have been bailed out and yet suffered few consequences for the devastation they caused. Regardless of who you vote for, cause we all have issues that matter more to ourselves than others, comes the responsibility to speak about them in a way that honors what America stands for. There can be civil disobedience and peaceful revolution, there can be respect even with clear disagreement. There can be tough debates without name calling and character assassinations, that focus on issues. We, the people, can define the tone of this election. So next time you feel compelled to lambaste someone, or share an unchecked link that focuses more on smear than issue, conspiracy over truth, watch the baby bird video I posted first. How can you hate after that?