(Entry 1 of 2)1a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : DELIGHTb: the expression or exhibition of such emotion : GAIETY2: a state of happiness or felicity : BLISS3: a source or cause of delight
When in doubt, I use the dictionary…otherwise its too easy to become mired in word use that doesn’t reflect its true meaning, at least for me anyway (words matter). Merriam-Webster has always been a good springboard to start. Words like well-being, getting what I desire, delight, gaiety, happiness, rejoice and bliss aren’t really in my wheelhouse right now. So here it is, the sad truth…I am not feeling the joy.
When I started a “theme for the year journey” 6 years ago, King David dancing before the ark of the covenant was the scripture verse I picked that exemplified my faith. Since then and six themes and years later: walking my path (opening my eyes to see and my ears to hear), speaking a loud about faith, clarity, fruits, truth and love have rebuilt me practically from the ground up, and in all truth most of the time I didn’t feel much like dancing. I don’t necessarily believe there was anything wrong with the verse I chose back then, not to dismiss my past self, but when God answered my prayers on my quest, my movement included a lot more rough and rocky terrain that was and continues to be difficult to dance along. There was a lot more climbing, and leaping, falling down, and scrapes and bruises as well as navigating over new terrain with no visible path than I expected. I learned that whenever a person is serious about a prayer, like mine have been for the last 6 years without qualification, you are afforded an answer. I may not have liked every answer, but, as I reflect, I know the answers were spot on. While I never could have imagined the direction life has taken me, hindsight shows me a great deal of proof that my prayers have been and will continue to be answered. The real qualifier is whether or not I can absorb, understand and apply everything at all…hence the rebuilding of my body and soul.
So, if evolution is to become a reality and not just a blog story (this is in direct reference to all the bullshit that is out there, i.e. saying one thing and doing another), this must be central to my discovery of joy this year:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. John 15:7-12
The journey continues, right now its hard to experience joy according to the definition and Scripture’s promise. So my bliss is the hot cup of tea I am sipping, delight in the people I encounter, the happiness I find in my art. I am focused on rejoicing in putting one foot in front of the other and bearing good fruit on my journey as a disciple.
My stomach grows increasingly tight, often triggering my autoimmune symptoms as I move forward in my year of truth…and I’m not even half way through. “Be careful what you pray for”, is a statement that I find both disconcerting and freeing at the same time. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to move fearlessly into the future with truth as my primary weapon of choice to break down the lies and illusions that seem to be well, just everywhere…and I’m certainly not just projecting the lies that exist in the outside world because I face my own every day, I have to say, just in case you see me as some self righteous lunatic. I know it is hard to come face to face with personal truths, but as Jesus said: “how can you point out the speck in another’s eye when you can’t even see the plank in your own”. I am also aware of an intrinsic flaw in my character of being so intense about something that I can get in my own way. I hear my fathers voice daily telling me to lighten the hell up…and breathe, for God’s sake. And then say, “All will be well, and the manner of all things will be well” (Julian of Norwich) and try to move on and forward. We are all works in progress, right? So here goes…
We are surrounded by lies. There are powerful people in the world that are making it their goal to obfuscate the truth almost everywhere you turn, often to avoid being held accountable for their own actions, even if it ruins lives. And, based on a dream I had last night, we are all complicit if we don’t take every measure to verify and fact check what we are hearing every day. If you only get information from one source and use that source to bolster the unchecked rhetoric flying around out there because it validates your world view and personal bias, blame and bent (and it can come from just about everywhere, from politics, to healthcare, to education) then you are being complicit in the attack on truth. There is no justification for the willful blindness that perpetuates itself throughout the media. And yet I am astounded everyday at the next new attack on the truth and how easily people are willing to just comply with or ignore it.
Try and think of it this way…God is the truth, and in my faith, Jesus is truth as well and even died for it. So, every time you believe a lie by your complacence and not by naivete or ignorance, you act in defiance of God, and when you condemn the truth because it challenges you, you condemn yourself and you turn from God. It. Is. As. Simple. As. That. For if believing in and following some self serving myth that feeds ones basest desires is more important than working hard to find the truth of the matter at hand, then you are being complicit in those lies. What good are the moments in scripture when Jesus rails against the liars and hypocrites if none of us are willing to stand in those very same shoes as if he is railing against each of us individually? Love of God is expressed through word and deed, which is why Jesus was so hard on those in leadership positions who looked so holy on the outside but were full of evil on the inside. My original post for today was about truth and love, which will have to wait until a later date. In truth, I didn’t want the backlash of what my heart really needed to say: if you can’t stand up for truth, you don’t stand up for God. It sounded just too mean. and talking about love is much nicer…and then I had a dream:
I was in a crowd of people who were basically talking crap and spreading rumors with no questioning of their validity or factual basis. I felt I had to say something, and it was a bit lame or innocuous, like “you really shouldn’t be talking about people like that”. I left the room and then I became the one they talked about…and I lost it. I went back in the room and railed against all I know from all I’ve learned in my life and I made them answer my questions about whether what they were saying was accurate, good or kind. They said nothing and sat there stunned. I felt better.
I don’t really think deep down most of us want to be complicit in a culture of lies…but it has become too easy to do so. When life is good financially, or when a lie benefits you personally its too easy to look the other way. That is simply unacceptable. For our actions and inaction have consequences. And if you’re like me, you want to be on the right path, and never become complicit in perpetrating lies and illusions. So when I am unclear (which is a lot of the time) I always use a prayer of Thomas Merton to give me solace when I’m unclear what to believe:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone
Veracity is the habitual observance of truth in speech or statement, a conformity to truth or fact. I sat and read over that statement about a million times. Veracity should be one of the top qualities of any person of integrity. Most people I know would consider themselves veracious…and I would agree, most of the time. So here is when it becomes difficult for me, when I become almost speechless with incredulity; what does it mean when typically veracious people buy into and align themselves with blatantly untruthful, biased, and morally questionable people? Is it ever acceptable to disregard a person’s behavior in support of the ideology or an agenda they represent? Can one claim a path of truth which is sullied by lies and deception? I don’t believe that is remotely possible. The onus is on the person who is committed to the truth, to align with those who are also committed to truth. It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? But when there are entities who engage in a war of liar, liar, pants on fire…what do you do to find the truth? I would say the first step is to go back the to first statement I made: the habitual observance of truth in speech and statement, conformity to truth or fact. Find those kind of people. Finding veracious people doesn’t necessarily mean they will think exactly like you do, or have the same ideology, but it matters how they behave in the pursuit of those ideas. It’s all about behavior people, and paying attention to and holding them accountable to it.
Truth is hard enough individually, so why forsake it by putting trust in someone who is not? The foundation of truth rests not in just what comes out of a person’s mouth, but how that person behaves. Words are held up by behavior, not by claim or title. Jesus is very clear about this in Matthew 23: 25-28:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
Given that the very thing that drove Jesus crazy was hypocrisy, this is the behavior he expects from his faithful servants:
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely 29 and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
So as I struggle with standing on my soapbox, I remember to act as if Jesus is coming today, and try and emulate his final command: “they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another”
Here’s the thing about truth, at its core, it is consistent, as in it is consistently evolving. When someone comes to know something, based on experience, information, or revelation, it remains true until altered or changed by a greater truth. Sometimes it’s simply seeing a new facet to, or an expansion of a truth long held, and sometimes because of insufficient knowledge or faulty logic a truth is exposed as a fallacy. The truth that has been expanded by greater understanding should still remain consistent at its core, because we are the change agent and not the truth itself. As you evolve, your life should change in accordance to greater knowledge and understanding, that is what Paul, in 1 Corinthians, meant when he said that when he was a child he thought, reasoned, and talked like a child, but when he became an adult he put childish things aside. Holding on to to an idea, or truth and refusing to allow it to be challenged or tested by time and maturity is not being consistent, it’s just being childish.
I feel the same way about the truth of my faith. My father always taught me that our faith always evolves, and in order to grow theologically I had to be willing to put presently held truths to the challenge and to test them. The hard part was to be willing to put them aside after they fell short:
To me theology is a process of change which goes on continually in a life time. One must continually grow by learning new things, theologically. As you learn more, your life changes in accordance. Everything you learn, in turn, must be challenged and tested. This is how you arrive at growth, or truth. I do not judge how others believe because ultimately we are responsible for our own Christian lives and we must act according to what we know to be the Truth at the time. Over a time we may prove to be wrong but only because we had insufficient knowledge or our logic was faulty. There is always so much we don’t know but we have to have faith that somehow God will reveal to us how right or wrong we are, and that way we grow.
I have always held onto his words, and the words of the scripture passage mentioned above so I wouldn’t stand too rigidly on any one thing, with one exception. What creates an evermore solid foundation for the truth of my faith, however, is that as I’ve evolved there may be inconsistency in my ability to live out truth I’ve grown in to, whether it is because of fear, public scrutiny, confusion and a host of other factors, but there is not and has never been an ounce of inconsistency in the truth that is the foundation of my faith in God. While theologically my faith has evolved to a wonderful kaleidoscope of color, it is rooted in one thing: love. No amount of evolution has changed that. The words of the Bible, particularly the Gospels, are even clearer and more nuanced then ever before, strengthening my resolve and commitment. Not one word has ever failed a challenge or a test because there was always a greater revelation of what love means that came as a result.
So when the world becomes confusing and its hard to decipher what is true, I choose from the most basic tenets of my faith:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:16-22
No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24
That which you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me. Matthew 25:40.
So really, it isn’t about a political ideology at all…but more behavioral. It isn’t too hard to recognize when someone thinks and reasons and behaves like a child. Name calling, becoming immovable, willful ignorance and rapier like judgement, and most importantly actions that are not based in love, are not being consistent with truth, ever. And as for those of faith who throw scripture at someone as a weapon or means to stop another’s perspective? Well, the devil can quote scripture too.
Deception is heavy. Lies breed more lies. Illusions feed on fear. All together, deception, lies and illusion are the weights that keep us down, immobilize and prevent us from standing on the highest ground, having sight to see what’s up ahead and how to move forward. I know and understand this, yet why does it seem so daunting at times?. When Jesus said my yoke is easy and burden light, I believe he was speaking of being free from the burdens that lies bring and the deception of covering our sins, that living in truth brings true freedom. When you live and walk in truth, there is nothing to hide. But that’s the rub, isn’t it, being in a place where you have nothing to hide. Standing naked while the rest of the world seems to be clothed in any number of costumes to cloak who they really are underneath is the purest form of vulnerability. And yet, if I am to be a follower of Jesus, whose very purpose is to testify to the truth, then naked I must be. The rest is pure logic…if you do not walk in truth, and testify to truth, you really aren’t a disciple of Christ, or any other faith who holds truth as a central tenet of its dogma. Getting rid of all the subterfuge is the first step, and the second is the exposure of ones flaws.
When I worked in ministry, I had the honor of being a 5th step counselor for an adolescent treatment center. The fifth step in AA is: “Admitting to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” It was a step often feared, but once accomplished always left the participant (that I saw anyway) with such relief, lightness and often joy. It’s hard to walk around the world with the heavy burden of guilt and past acts of hurtfulness, but once released, it was as if they were standing on higher ground. It is an instrumental step for people in recovery, and I have learned so much from those who are in the program.
So in the early steps of my year of truth, I feel strength in standing on higher ground, not in a way that is better by any means, just lighter. I’ve learned to appreciate that being born without filters has proven to be quite a gift. I am who I am, flaws and all unburdened by lies or deception. The scarier step is to continue to walk in the world and be seen and judged by those flaws. I always believe that when people see me what they see is what they get, and while that is mostly true, I also know the nature of my sensitive heart and the length to which I have gone to close it off to the angry sentiment, deceptions, betrayal and judgments of the world. In doing so I also closed myself off to the support, love, acceptance and joy that comes when my heart is open. Trust and truth go hand in hand, of than I am sure.
Today I walk unhindered and exposed, naked and at times afraid, and yet in full sight of the goodness and hope that higher ground offers. My prayer is that you too will join me on this journey.
Don’t worry, I’m not going all horror story, but I do think the biggest block to recognizing truth are our own personal demons, deep seeded fears, and dark secrets that we keep putting layer upon layer of subterfuge on so we don’t have to deal with their often painful realities. I consider myself lucky in this regard because over the last three years I have ripped off enough of that subterfuge, like ripping off a band aid, to warrant a transfusion. I am proud of all the work I did recognizing and coming face to face with myself, both flawed which I was already good at noticing and unrecognized beauty which I often never saw at all. In hindsight, I’m glad that there seemed to be a plan from above because I’m not sure if I could have withstood it all in one fell swoop. And no, there will be no details. We all get to deal with our own demons, and keep them private from those who care more to relish in others discomfort than face their own…I’ve learned that the hard way too. I think God has always understood that my deepest desire was to use my talents to the best of my ability and so put me on a path to do just that. The blessing about God being the only omniscient one in our relationship is that if I would have had that kind of foresight, I’m not sure I ever would have taken the journey.
In learning to see myself, and love her…I’ve learned to be more accommodating and accepting of others. That last statement seemed so silly and obvious when I wrote it…and I’ve heard it in a million ways at a million different times. The difference lies in taking it out of the conceptual level and really do it in practice every day. On my most difficult days along this journey, the anger I felt toward (excuse the expletives) every mother f***ing person who deceived, lied, hurt, ignored, talked about, underestimated, or didn’t see, me was as much a result of my own sadness at my place in the center of it all. I know the ones closest to me felt much of that wrath, and I am sorry for it. And still, I am fine with who I am at the center of my world today because I finally see and understand, (through my family, whom I love) at my deepest core I know that I am a good person, who only wants to do good in this world. I am honest, spiritual, and exceptionally powerful in my own way. And I know my power comes from this simple belief: When God is for me who can be against me. When this unbounded love, (God and love are the same thing for me) flows in, around and through me, I am the truest version of me, and the most powerful.
So, for truth to mean anything at all, one must look at oneself first. Uncover what you’ve been hiding all this time, see it, own it and only then can healing happen. More probably you’ll see just as much beauty too…and that is God’s best truth. Then, and only then can you learn to also see the world for what it truly is, and go from there.
I’ve been quiet. I’ve been busy. I’ve been stretched. I’ve been focused. I have lingered on this beatitude for awhile. Mercy: I have yearned for it, received it, exercised it, celebrated it, and embraced the hope it brings. I have also, at times, stood with an aching sadness at the lack of it in the world in both small and large ways. Mercy was at the heart of my spiritual awakening and is the sustenance for my soul. And it is mercy both in its effort and absorption that keeps my house clean when I am tempted to throw it by the wayside and rage against the lies and cruelty and ignorance and ego and judgement and entitlement and fear. In desperate moments I remember Jesus in the garden sweating blood because his fear and anxiety was so deep yet was still willing to give his Godly heart for my flawed human one. My life transformed because he augmented my broken heart with his heart. And it was then that I became his fruit, a viable product of his extraordinary life and sacrifice, a means by which the power of mercy can live and stay palpable in our often sad and desperate world. When I allow his heart to be my heart, mercy is air, it is breath, it is life, it is everything.
My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.
It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.
I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.
We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.
There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.
I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.
Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.
My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.
We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.
Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.
Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.
That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.
Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.
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
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?
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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……
None of us share the exact same gifts, nor will we produce the same fruits. What is necessary to cultivate and sustain them may be different too. To take it one step further, we are not always aware of the impact of fruit shared. Confused? Let me share a story. While a teacher at the Academy of Holy Angels, I had the benefit of working with the theater department (cheers to Gregg Sawyer) to create a one-act play about the homeless. Because I was in campus ministry at the time, I coordinated experiences about the homeless with students who were writing the play. Working with a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis, many of our students got the opportunity to volunteer and gain some insight into the plight of the homeless. On one particular evening when I was volunteering with some students, I had a somewhat confrontational interaction with a woman who didn’t like that we were there “spying” on them. I continued the conversation with her for quite awhile, and learned many things about her struggles. She was an educated woman who struggled with mental illness and alcohol. I don’t really remember the specifics of the conversation, but I think we parted on good terms having listened to one another.
Over a decade later, in my small little town 60 miles away, we had a patient scheduled that my husband had known from high school who was down on his luck and had lived in Mexico and had struggled with drugs there. He was in rough shape and needed a chiropractor desperately. He arrived for his appointment, and his companion was the woman I had met in the shelter all those years ago. I knew who she was right away, ( I never forget a face), and I could tell by the look on her face that she recognized me too, because she complimented me on my eyes, just like she had done in the shelter. Neither of us brought it up, but she paid for his visit and the one the following day. She wanted to help her friend, she said. She had at one time fallen on hard times, and she wanted to be able to give back, she said. I smiled and said something about the ripple effect. She smiled, and I never saw them again. Was it divine providence? Cause, seriously, what are the odds of that happening? What lesson did I learn? Perhaps we had influenced each other in a simple but powerful way, and God threw us together for a moment to illustrate that we should always be ready and willing to put ourselves out there, extend a hand or a word because we may never know the impact it has on someone’s life.
What would have happened if I had gotten all defensive and just blown her off? I wondered about that a lot. Bearing fruit doesn’t have to be magnanimous to be miraculous. That can’t be said enough. The alternative is true as well. The one ingredient that I know is essential regardless of the size or breadth of the fruit is kindness. I remember that woman often as my encouragement to never underestimate a simple gesture…and I hope she remembers me too.