Traitors, doubters, lovers, pragmatists, self-righteous, dreamers at God’s table

 

Is Simon Peter famous or infamous? To be proud or to be ashamed of? Two sides of the same coin? Every year around Easter (and any other time of a year) his famous ‘infamous’ story of denying Jesus three times is told and retold. The moral lessons to be learned; the wisdom and compassion of Jesus knowing our human weakness; the humiliation of self-righteousness; the bitter repentance; the encouragement and strength that ultimately comes out of this failure.

We know the story. I know the story. All four gospels tell this story. I was reading the gospel of Mark this week and comparing the parallel passages between the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John. And again I had the question why do they all tell the story of Peter. Especially John who has his own perspective on many things. There are so many other important details that could be told but this just had to be included.

Last year while visiting Ireland I saw this public artwork called “Dublin’s Last Supper”. The author of the large photographic modern-day re-enactment of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ is the Irish artist John Byrne. It catches your eye for so many reasons. First of all, Jesus. He is portrayed by an Indian student from Trinity College. Then the disciples. Different ages, races, female included, traditional and contemporary dress. All interacting and reacting to life, God, each other.

Original “The Last supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for portraying the moment when Jesus tells his closest disciples that one of them will betray him. Collaborate with the authorities. Make money from this betrayal. Save his own skin only to lose it few days later. And the disciples are shocked and puzzled: “What are you talking about? Surely not I? Surely not one of us?”  The only one who does not act surprised is Judas and in Dublin’s version he is the guy in business suit.

The artwork in Dublin is reflection of a “changing society and the growing cultural mix in Dublin” and the artist expresses “positive politics and faith in ordinary people“.

That’s it! Ordinary people. That is why I could not take my eyes of this scene and kept thinking which person reflects me. One of the traitors? Calculating Judas or self-righteous Peter? Doubting and skeptical Thomas?  Dreaming idealist John? Confused Matthew?

So ordinary and extraordinary because they are brought together by Jesus. And they have walked with him and talked with him and watched him. In the pubs of Dublin, the slums of Bangkok, the refugee camps of Mae Sot, the skyscrapers of New York, the streets of Cairo, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the beautiful beaches of Khao Lak.

The Last Supper is a moment of truth and God’s love. And in the end Peter could not deny that he had been at the table.

Happy Easter!

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude

This nugget of wisdom comes from the book of Proverbs (18:13). In the same chapter you will find that “Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.”

I can be both. Stupid and rude. And few other adjectives if you ask people who know me the best. My mom would have probably never admitted to others that she found me arrogant and too opinionated in our conversations. (Simply because she was the kind of mom who always ‘covered my sins’.) And don’t ask my husband. It is a given.

Why the confession? Because it is hard to practice what we preach. There is a general universal lament that we need relearn the basics of good, respectful, well-mannered, thoughtful conversations, dialogue, discussions, debates. Anything that falls under human communication. And the crucial skill of listening and actually hearing what the other person or group are saying and why do they see things differently from us.

Recently I attended a large meeting where the stakes were high and the main goal was to deal with polarization within an church organization and for two groups of opposite views to have a dialogue. I considered myself a neutral observer (since I was not from this church) who came to learn and listen and in the process I realized a few things.  How  I identified with one group or the other and how easy it would be to take sides. How difficult it was to listen respectfully to those who expressed views I did not agree with. Still, being a neutral person has one advantage – it helps to hear better what each side is saying. This is what mediators do – they help each side to be heard and sometimes step in as interpreters.

I also realized that booing and jeering is an understandable emotional response when you feel misrepresented, threatened or attacked (which happened at the church discussion I attended) but it is not a way to communicate effectively. If the goal is dialogue and understanding, booing only communicates “thumbs down” and the speaker will either ‘flee’ or ‘fight’ back more. And how can you listen and hear while booing?

There are too many examples of bad or non-existent communication. The mouths are moving fast, words are spoken but the ears seem closed and the meaning is lost. Just watch some of the talk shows or expert panels on TV. Much of the time there is no dialogue, only opinions. Even when the participants are polite and don’t interrupt. Or read many of our social media threads where you can observe the same thing. Are the people actually interested in understanding the ‘other side’ or do they simply care to win?

That’s just it. Our driving desire is to be “right” and for our “truth” to have the upper hand. We feel that our very identity is threatened if we are somehow “wrong”. The urgent contemporary question each one of us has to answer. Is it more important to be right or to relate rightly and righteously?

Without emphatic listening we cannot relate to others rightly. Full stop.

Latvian:

“Ja kāds atbild, pirms uzklausījis, – tā viņa muļķība, tas viņa negods!”

Šis gudrības grauds atrodams Bībelē, Sakāmvārdu grāmatā (18:13). Turpat ir teikts: “Netīko muļķis pēc saprašanas – ka tik izrādīt savu prātu!”

Man padodas gan muļķība, gan negods. Un vēl daudzas līdzīgas lietas, kuras mani tuvākie cilvēki var viegli raksturot. Mamma drošvien nevienam nebūtu atzinusi, cik augstprātīgi un visgudri es ar viņu bieži vien runāju (jo viņa bija viena no tām mammām, kuras ‘apklāj savu bērnu grēkus’). Un manam vīram var pat neprasīt, jo viņam nebūs ilgi jādomā 😉

Kāpēc šī atzīšanās? Jo ir viegli pamācīt, bet grūti izdarīt. Mani, tāpat kā daudzus,  satrauc zemā sarunu kultūra, it sevišķi tajās jomās, kur darbojas sabiedrībā ievērojami un iecienīti cilvēki, kuriem būtu jārāda piemērs. Acīmredzami mums ir jāatgriežas pie daudzām pamatlietām, lai prastu cieņpilni, pieklājīgi, saprātīgi sarunāties, diskutēt un debatēt.  Un viena no visbiežāk iztrūkstošajām praksēm ir klausīšanās ar mērķi tiešām sadzirdēt savu sarunu biedru, pat ja viņam vai viņai pilnīgi nepiekrīti. Pirms nedēļas piedalījos praktiskā nodarbībā sarunu skolas “LAMPA” ietvaros, un tur tas tika ļoti labi pasvītrots. Lektore Ilze Dzenovska aicināja padomāt, kāds ir labs klausītājs, kāds ir labs stāstītājs, kādas ir mūsu reakcijas sarunās, un kādas ir mūsu vajadzības.

Nesen apmeklēju arī šobrīd aktuālo diskusiju LELB vidē, kura tika rīkota Lutera draudzē Torņakalnā. Saruna, kurā ir sajūta, ka daudz ‘likts uz kārts’, un uzstādījums divām (vai vairākām) pusēm uzklausīt vienam otru, patiesi sadzirdēt un atrast veidu, kā būt labākās, draudzīgās, cieņpilnās attiecībās. Es neesmu LELB draudžu locekle, un varētu uzskatīt sevi par neitrālu novērotāju, kura vēlas labāk izprast kaut kādus šībrīža procesus sabiedrībā. Tovakar es atzīmēju sev dažas lietas, piemēram, cik normāli ir identificēties ar runātājiem un cik viegli nostāties vienā vai otrā pusē. Cik grūti ir klausīties ar cieņu cilvēkos, kuri liekas nosodoši vai agresīvi. Cik ļoti šī saruna jeb sarunas nepieciešamība nav par LELB, bet par Latvijas (un ne tikai Latvijas) sabiedrībai svarīgiem jautājumiem kopumā. (Vērtīgu komentāru uzrakstījusi Bella Briška, Lutera draudzes locekle. Lasīt šeit)

Tajā diskusijā man bija tikai viena priekšrocība. Tā kā mani tas neskar tik personīgi kā LELB draudžu locekļus, arī manas emocijas bija mazāk iesaistītas. Žurnālists Aidis Tomsons godam pildīja savus moderatora pienākumus. (Jā, moderatoriem/mediatoriem parasti ir iespēja sadzirdēt labāk, ko abas puses vēlas pateikt, un palīdzēt veidot komunikācijas tiltu.)

Par emocijām karstās sarunās runājot ir saprotama cilvēciskā vēlme izrādīt neapmierinātību ūjinot, utt, kad jūties nesaprasts un/vai apdraudēts, bet tas neder un nepalīdz. Ja vēlēšanās ir tiešām saprasties, tad ūjināšana vienkārši apzīmē ‘īkšķi uz leju’, un runātājs vai nu padosies un apklusīs, vai vēl vairāk centīsies aizstāvēties un cīnīties. Ūjināšana der, ja vispār nevēlamies uzklausīt kāda viedokli. Ja esam tik dusmīgi, ka “aizbāžam ausis”.  Jo kā cilvēks var vienlaicīgi ūjināt un klausīties?

Šodien vardarbīga komunikācija nav tālu jāmeklē. Var uzgriezt kādu TV raidījumu, kur tiek aicināti pretēju viedokļu pārstāvji. Var palasīt (vai labāk nelasīt) komentāru palagus Facebook, kur neuzklausīšanu un nedzirdēšanu var redzēt ik uz soļa. Tāda kārtīga virtuāla klope! Mēs pārāk bieži esam kā Sākamvārdos minētais muļķis.

Nāk prātā trāpīgie M. Lutera Kinga Jr. vārdi: “Mums jāiemācās dzīvot kopā kā brāļiem, vai arī iesim bojā kopā kā muļķi.”

Tā ir viena no iezīmēm mūsu nesaprašanās un konfliktu problēmām. Vēlamies, lai mums būtu taisnība, lai tā uzvarētu, un attiecību kvalitāte tiek nostumta zemāk. Mums liekas, ka mūsu dziļākā būtība un identitāte ir apdraudēta, ja neuzvarēsim vai ja mūsu uzskati izrādīsies ‘kļūdaini’ vai, pasarg Dievs, ‘nepareizi’. (Par idenitāti reliģioziem cilvēkiem vispār vajadzētu uztraukties vismazāk. Galu galā kristiešu identitāte ir Kristus, nevis pareizība.)

Tātad… vai mums svarīgāka ir ‘mūsu patiesība’ un ‘mūsu pareizība’, vai taisnīgas, labas un mierpilnas attiecības ar līdzcilvēkiem?

Bez ieklausīšanās un sadzirdēšanas nu nekādi. Punkts.

 

Facebook and the conundrum of hate speech

“As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media”, said Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

“I can’t live with or without you”, I considered such title but decided it would be too much. Facebook is a thing, not a person. Simply a social media platform and, most of the time, a useful one for certain interaction with friends, colleagues and work.

As we know, it easily connects people and just as easily breaks them apart. I usually ‘flee’ from the latest controversy, debate, back-and-forth comments because I 1) don’t think as fast as other respondents 2) think too much what words to choose and to use because words are important 3) would rather join face to face conversation 4) want to engage with friends and people I know because only they will value my opinion 5) don’t think I can actually change someone’s mind with few short comments 6) don’t want to get in ‘cross fire’ if the conversation is aggressive 7) and don’t want to spend time creating more and more ‘hot air’. If there is anything this world has more than enough, it is “hot air”.

But unfortunately and tragically this virtual ‘hot air’ can become real, violent and simply evil fire. Last week again there were two instances where Facebook as a community platform had to acknowledge it has been used effectively in stirring hate and prejudice. Facebook removed the pages of the anti-Islamic group ‘Britain First’ and its leaders because of repeated violations of FB community standards. I would say not just FB but most of the British society’s standards. I know friends in the UK who are working very hard to foster relationships and bring healing to hurting communities and they have criticized ‘Britain First’ for long time.

The other story was even more painful and more personal since it involved Myanmar/Burma. When I started ‘peaceroads’ blog three years ago, it was inspired by many years of working with refugees from Myanmar and living on Thailand – Myanmar border. And now U.N. human rights experts investigating abuses and violence against the Rohingya Muslim people in Myanmar say that Facebook has played a major role in spreading the hate messages and inciting the violence. I cannot read Burmese but I do know one racial slur which Facebook had already banned in 2017.

Fortunately I have not had to ‘censor’ any of my FB friends for hateful comments but many of us have expressed loads of stereotypes, fear of different groups and called for certain ‘exclusion’. There have been a few situations where I wrote my friends (in a personal message) and tried to explain why I thought their comments were not helpful, but harmful. And I have ‘unfollowed’ few people because their posts were too frequent and too zealous in their desire to prove their point. But I have never ‘unfriended’ anyone just because they have different opinion and views from mine. I don’t want to insulate myself with people who all think alike because that is exactly one of the big problems of our day. These group ‘bubbles’ we live in.

The people with ‘bad’ intentions do not hesitate to take advantage of social media while people ‘good’ intentions often wonder if it is worth it. It can also be very difficult and scary to express your opinion when you already know what possibly aggressive and angry reaction your posts will get. For example, if the Christians who are a religious minority in Myanmar were to stand up for the Muslims who are even smaller religious minority, they would be in a very difficult position. If the Karen or any other people who are an ethnic minority were to stand up for the Rohingya who are ethnic minority, they would be in a very difficult position.

In Myanmar, UK, Latvia, Russia, Nigeria, USA, (you name the country)… social media has been and will be used used to enforce prejudice, stereotypes and to incite discrimination against certain groups. Based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, social status, ideology and any other way we like to define the ‘other’.  As long as people (with growing robot enforcement) communicate, this issue of hate speech stays with us and we have to discern what contributes to it and what does not. And what to do about it.

My hope and desire is to use this blog as one of many tools to suck out some of this ‘hot air’ from our online interactions. What are your tools? Suggestions?