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……

Living Without Permission

 

book of kells

A wise teacher once told me that to truly live, you must do so without permission. Seeing myself as a free spirit and natural rebel, I couldn’t imagine he didn’t see that I had already mastered the concept. “Think about it for a moment”, he then said, “to whom or what do you seek permission?” I just looked at him blankly, wondering what the infernal hell he was talking about. “Total up all the, ‘Don’t think that’, ‘Don’t say that’, ‘Don’t Be that’, or ‘A good Christian says or does’, ‘An attractive woman is’, ‘A successful person is’ and don’t forget all the ‘You have too’s’, and ‘you can’t do that’s’, and you can see that your life is more restrictive than need be. Except no one can define you, restrict you…without your permission. You have all the power to decide, no one else. You decide who or what enhances your life. And it isn’t always easy…because we can’t always choose who the people and circumstances are that surround us and fill our heads. But personal survival depends on those you choose to submit to.” He then gave us an assignment to list what permissions must be extended, and those that must be denied. I cried for a long time while doing that assignment. When challenged to do so, I felt the terrible weight of the shackles that I had the key to unlock all along, and that meant letting go of some people and ideas and learning to see others in a new light. Change sucks, and I certainly understand why people talk themselves into staying in a situation that is toxic, and they are bound, because once the shackles are off…you have to walk on your own.

The reason I bring this lesson to light has much to do with my year of clarity. When I get lost in the business of living it’s easy to hand over your life in pieces without even being aware of it until suddenly, voila, my journey is weighted down by those shackles again. Except this time, no tears, just resolve. I choose, once again, to live without permission. I’m not talking about anarchy here. There will be always be rules and laws that I submit to because I understand that in the long run they will be as much a service to me as to those that I love, live, work and play with. But to those voices, people and structures who try and rewrite the blueprint that is me because it serves their purpose, I respectfully decline. I know my heart and with clarity I can see who is helping me become and who is keeping me from becoming all that I can be. I decide.

I also know that when I live without permission, I must extend to others the same accord. I must let them live according to their rhythm too. That means dancing a careful dance between support and control, and between fear and love. I am as guilty as any person of treading too far, of overpowering instead of graciously offering, and yet I won’t let myself be punished for trying too hard, even if I am sorry I overstep. And to those who have grown and expanded under my tutelage, I know that is because they have also brought out the best in me too. Because when you live without permission and allow others to live with out permission, everyone benefits. We all get to be our bigger and better selves.

So let me now extend a request. In the comment section on wordpress, share with me one way you would like to live without permission, and I would gladly pray for that to be extended to you. If you wish your comment to remain unpublished, I will submit to that too, (but I will still pray for you). The benefit of throwing it out there for all to see though, is that you will have many more wonderful people out there praying for you too.

Of Purity and Principle

 

constitutionOf purity and principle…I’ve included the definitions of both words below because I, for one, believe that definitions matter. Too often words are used without the necessary respect for what, in purity and in principle, they actually mean causing confusion and misunderstanding. I hate that. In my commitment to clarity I will try my best to stay in tune. So, take a moment and become acquainted with pure and principle.

Full Definition of pure

purer purest

  1. 1a (1) :  unmixed with any other matter <pure gold> (2) :  free from dust, dirt, or taint <pure spring water> (3) :  spotless, stainless b :  free from harshness or roughness and being in tune —used of a musical tone c of a vowel :  characterized by no appreciable alteration of articulation during utterance

  2. 2a :  being thus and no other :  sheer, unmitigated <pure folly>b (1) :  abstract, theoretical <pure research> (2) :  a priori <pure mechanics>c :  not directed toward exposition of reality or solution of practical problems <pure literature>d :  being nonobjective and to be appraised on formal and technical qualities only <pure form>

  3. 3a (1) :  free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes (2) :  containing nothing that does not properly belong b :  free from moral fault or guilt c :  marked by chastity :  continent d (1) :  of pure blood and unmixed ancestry (2) :  homozygous in and breeding true for one or more characters e :  ritually clean

  4. 4:  having exactly the talents or skills needed for a particular role <a pure shooter in basketball>

Full Definition of principle

  1. 1a :  a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) :  a rule or code of conduct (2) :  habitual devotion to right principles <a man of principle>c :  the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device

  2. 2:  a primary source :  origin 3a :  an underlying faculty or endowment <such principles of human nature as greed and curiosity>b :  an ingredient (as a chemical) that exhibits or imparts a characteristic quality

In particular, I want to focus on 3a (1) of pure: free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes. And from 1a of principle: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption. OK, now let’s look at the four principles of our American Constitution:

  1. All people are created equal,
  2. All people are endowed with basic rights that cannot be taken away,
  3. The power the government has to make decisions and protect the rights of people comes from the people, and
  4. When the government does not protect the rights of the people, the people have the right to change or remove the government.

In order to keep these principles pure, that is free from what vitiates, weakens or pollutes them, we have to master and appreciate them in order. Any politician who would work against these fundamental principles, cannot in the purest, most principled sense of the definition represent the people effectively. You don’t pick someone for office to defeat someone else. You pick someone who is best suited for the job.

Section 4 of the definition of pure states:having exactly the talents or skills needed for a particular role. Anyone running for office, in order to defend our most sacred principles, must embrace and defend ALL of the citizenry. If a primary goal is not to unify and work with the entire populace, then they don’t have the requisite talent for the job. Campaigns should be based on the habitual devotion to right principles, those laid out in our constitution, the hows of which should be defined by now…and are not.

America, we are a diverse and free people. We will never all think alike or agree. A two party system is one way to balance that diversity. But I wonder, though, how many people are actually acquainted with the principles that define these parties. Both have some noble ideals, and it is those ideals that need to remain pure, especially from the standpoint of a campaign. Because if the behavior of those running for office, run contrary to the purity of those principles, then no one wins.

It’s about time we hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need problem solvers, visionaries, peace makers and dreamers. We need someone who inspires us to face difficulty without fear, because we know we are not alone in this. We all need to trust that anyone charged to be our commander in chief knows that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The sacred trust that they hold in purest principle is that they must be devoted, in service to us.

 

 

 

 

The “Be” Attitudes

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890After Jesus faced and withstood the temptation by the devil in the desert, he was ready for ministry. He called his first disciples, Simon, Andrew, James and John and set forth preaching and healing the sick and the lame. His fame grew. When he saw the crowds following him, he went to the top of the mountain and started teaching them. He began one of the greatest sermons of all time: the sermon on the mount. Beginning with the beatitudes, or blessings of supreme happiness, he laid down promises to those who would submit to a moral conduct in conformity to God’s will. He lists those necessary attitudes that will result in heavenly blessings: poor in spirit, which refers to those who don’t rely on worldly possessions, but on God: those who mourn, which refers to those who genuinely feel loss, the meek, or humble, those who hunger for righteousness: those who are clean of heart (nothing to hide): peacemakers: and especially those who have the fortitude to stand firm in the face of persecution for righteousness and for all that Jesus stands for. Only when these internal qualities are embraced can a disciple move onto the kind of outward behavior that is expected. He akins those behaviors to being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. If salt goes flat or the light hidden, they are of absolutely no use whatsoever.

What follows the promise of these blessings of supreme happiness is the adamance that Jesus did not come to abolish the law or quash the prophets. He honed and perfected the expected and often extended behaviors of the ten commandments, which on its face appear to demand an almost super human and impossible fortitude. Do not kill isn’t enough, you are subject to judgment even if you are angry with your brother or sister, so make sure that reconciliation comes before worship. He understood the mindset to kill, festers over time, so nip it in the bud so it cannot grow to such evil proportions. He ups the ante on adultery as well, and includes lustful thoughts, which is an inevitable mind-set that always comes before the actual sin. He challenges those writs of divorce which basically allowed men to throw away their wives for any reason and goes on to say that they will force their wives to commit adultery and any other woman they choose to marry afterwards. He concludes with commanding them to not make false oaths.  Say yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no.

Only when we understand the moral code of God, and the internal fortitude necessary to be a true disciple, does he then venture onto what will distinguish his disciples from any other. A true disciple must offer no resistance to evil, when slapped turn the other cheek, when asked for a tunic, give your cloak as well, when asked to go a mile in service go two, to give to those who ask of you…and the most challenging of all; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. With out the necessary attitudes, the above actions would seem almost cowardly, a person who is a pushover. But to one who embraces the prescribed characteristics listed above, one can only see the strength of God breathing through and pure defiance of evil which cannot thrive in the midst of love. Remember what Jesus learned in the desert; One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God; Don’t put God to the test; The Lord your God shall you worship and to him alone shall you serve. And since we all know that God is love,it is love that we worship serve through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus knew what he was doing. He understood the difficulty of the behavior he was expecting, which is why he started with the blessings first. The road to the Kingdom is clear, submission to the code is non-negotiable. Somehow we have forgotten these essentials and why there is definitely not a lot of supreme happiness out there in the world today. We have the power to change that. Here is my challenge, do the leaders who stand before us in the world have the attitudes necessary and the internal fortitude that are prescribed to be his disciple?  Can they love even in the presence of evil? If they claim to be Christian and yet do not exert these expected behaviors, then like salt that has gone flat, or a light hidden, they are nothing and are to be avoided as clearly as Jesus avoided temptation in the desert.