Shape of my heart

September 21 is the International Day of Peace. So, what? The world does not seem very peaceful; many relationships strained or broken; armed conflicts and rumors of wars in too many places; resources and environment being fought over; refugees in millions; fundamentalists clashing with libertarians; anxiety and fear in the headlines; elections becoming so divisive for societies… should I go on?

“Peace” has become such a cheap word. “Peace” sign can be such a cliche. “Peace agreements” look like a joke. “Peace building” often feels impossible and futile. It reminds me of the ancient prophet Jeremiah who said, “They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace.

There comes a moment when you become still and start to think  – where does peace start? It seems that we are good at “ceasefires” but where is the source of true peace? Where does the will and the choice and the ability to be peaceful come from?

Few years ago in a group of friends we wrote a song, “Where does peace start? With God enlarging my heart!” I want to quote one of my favorite authors on spirituality and relationships, Henri J.M. Nouwen. He wrote that “We tend to run around trying to solve the problems of our world while anxiously avoiding confrontation with the reality wherein our problems find their deepest roots: our own selves. … To build a better world, the beginnings of that world must be visible in daily life. … We cannot speak about ways to bring about peace and freedom if we cannot draw from our own experiences of peace and freedom here and now.” (“Creative Ministry”)

I realized this early in own my journey. One friend from Thailand-Burma border sent me an-mail some years ago. “I like this subject of peace very much but I feel that a trainer of the course should have a clear mind. I am good at solving other one’s conflict (I think) but I myself am violent.” His honesty made me look at my own heart and my daily interactions. There are many stories to tell of what I have experienced.

We would like to think of ourselves as open-minded, friendly, inclusive, welcoming, accepting, non-judgmental, reaching out, respectful, humble but these ideas get tested daily and how often we fail the test. Like H. Nouwen said, it is the “here and now “that matters the most.

I realize that I started a subject that is too deep and too wide for this blog but I wanted to remind myself that peace starts with me. Peace with God, with myself, with others and with the created order. How to have this peace in all these relationships? Well, that’s the real art!

And just because it rhymes and I love this song by British artist Sting:

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

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Peaceful place in Latvia (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

21. septembrī tika atzīmēta Pasaules jeb Starptautiskā miera diena. Nu, un kas par to? Pasaule galīgi neliekas mierīga; visāda veida attiecības sabojātas un salauztas; bruņoti konflikti un kari daudzviet; cīņa par resursiem un strīdi par vides aizsardzību; miljoniem bēgļu; sadursme starp fundametālistiem un libertiāņiem; bailes un satraukums ziņu virsrakstos; vēlēšanas, kas sašķel nācijas… vai vēl turpināt?

“Miers” daudziem ir kļuvis tukšs vārds. “Miera simboli” kļuvuši par klišejām. “Miera sarunas” bieži vien izrādās nenopietnas. “Miera celšana” sāk likties neiespējama un veltīga. Man prātā nāk senā pravieša Jeremijas vārdi: “Tie grib pavirši dziedināt Manas tautas meitas dziļo brūci un saka: miers, miers! – kur taču miera nav.”

Un pienāk brīdis, kad tu apstājies un sāc domāt – no kurienes nāk miers? Mums tik labi padodas “pamieri”, bet kas ir īsta un paliekoša miera avots? Kur rodas griba, vēlēšanās un spēja būt mieru mīlošam un mieru nesošam?

Pirms dažiem gadiem mēs kopā ar draugiem uzrakstījām dziesmu, kuras galvenais jautājums bija, kur sākas miers? Un mēs atbildējām, ka “manā sirdī, kuru maina Dievs.” Gribu citēt vienu no saviem mīļākajiem rakstniekiem un teologiem. Henrijs Nouvens rakstīja, ka “Mēs skrienam apkārt, mēģinot atrisināt pasaules problēmas, bet tajā pašā laikā drudžaini cenšamies izvairīties no konfrontācijas ar mūsu problēmu visdziļāko sakni: sevi pašiem. … Lai veidotu labāku pasauli, šīs pasaules pamatiem ir jābūt mūsu ikdienas dzīvē. … Mēs nevaram runāt par mieru un brīvību, ja mēs nevaram smelties šo mieru un brīvību no savas pieredzes šeit un tagad.” (no grāmatas “Radoša kalpošana”)

Šī vienkāršā patiesība man atklājās pamazām. Pirms dažiem gadiem kāds draugs no Taizemes – Birmas pierobežas atsūtīja e-pastu. “Man ļoti patīk miera tēma, bet man liekas, ka šīs tēmas pasniedzējam jābūt ar skaidru prātu. Man pašam izdodas risināt citu cilvēku konfliktus (vismaz tā šķiet), bet pats esmu diezgan vardarbīgs.” Viņa atklātība lika man padomāt pašai par sevi, ielūkoties savās sirdī un savās ikdienas lietās. Te būtu daudz ko stāstīt par pieredzēto.

Mums gribētos domāt, ka esam ļoti atvērti, ar plašu domāšanu, iekļaujoši, laipni, viesmīlīgi, nenosodoši, cieņpilni, pazemīgi, utt, bet šie pieņēmumi tiek pārbaudīti katru dienu, un tik bieži mēs neizturam šos pārbaudījumus. Kā jau Henrijs Nouvens teica, vissvarīgākā ir mana pieredze “šeit un tagad”.

Apzinos, ka esmu pieskārusies tēmai, kas ir pārāk dziļa un pārāk plaša šim blogam, bet gribējās atgādināt pašai sev, ka miers sākas ar mani. Miers ar Dievu, miers ar sevi, miers ar citiem un miers ar pārējo radīto pasauli. Kā šo mieru iegūt un paturēt? Tas jau ir tas lielais jautājums un dzīves māksla!

Un vienkārši tāpēc, ka man patīk Stinga mūzika, viens neliels citāts no dziesmas “Manas sirds veidols”

Es zinu, ka pīķi ir kareivja iesmi
Es zinu, ka kreici ir ieroči karam
Es zinu, ka kāravi apmaksā to
Bet manas sirds veidols tas nav

Should I hang out with “wrong Christians”?

“There are some people I would rather avoid and never interact with. I wish they would not speak in public or social media. I wish they would just be quiet and keep their thoughts to themselves. And I wish they did not broadcast themselves as “Christians” because I do not want to be associated with them. Don’t they realize how difficult it will be for me to explain to my friends that this is not “Christianity” the way I see it?”

I confess … I am quoting myself. Just a short version of my thoughts at different times and in various situations. Or the conversations I have had where two or more of us will discuss someone else and happily agree that we are “not like them”. Since we “see more clearly”, we “understand God better”, we “interpret the Bible more correctly”, we are not “narrow minded” and obviously more “humble and self critical.”

In those moments I would say that I was concerned about the reputation of Christianity as a global religion or that I was concerned about a reputation of particular local church. Or that I was concerned about the reputation of Christians in Latvia. But I have come to realize that it often boils down to one thing only – I am concerned about my own reputation. My own PR or ‘public relations’ image.

Sociologists explain this urge to “bask in reflected glory” by associating with high-status people and “cut off reflected failure” by distancing ourselves from losers. Of course, I want to be associated with Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr and Desmond Tutu and I want to distance myself from… sorry, I won’t name them.

There are lots of identities, ideas, practices, political views and current issues that divide us. From theology, ethnicity, race, culture to gender issues (like women in church leadership), sexual orientation (LGBT), family, immigration, refugees… One “hot topic” replaces another and Christians engage as much as anyone else. On some topics we are gentle and rational and other times we are hostile, angry and irrational. Plenty of reasons to “Unfriend” and “Unfollow” people on social media!

I would even say that I was concerned about Jesus reputation. The question is – how concerned was Jesus about his own reputation? Did he even care? He did all the “wrong things” and hung out with all the “wrong people”. And in the end anyone was included but nobody could claim him as his own.

Jesus was ‘loser’ in many eyes. For the zealous Jews, he was not nationalistic and political enough (while for others he seemed too political). For Herod and Pontius Pilate, he was not ambitious and powerful enough (while others were afraid of his authority). For the religious leaders, he was not conservative and traditional enough (while others stopped following him because of high calling). For the people of Nazareth and his own family, he was not loyal enough. For the crowds, he was not revolutionary enough (when he resisted being crowned a king).

He loved us all and confronted us all. I try to imagine Jesus hanging out in Riga or Minneapolis or London today. I would be glad to tell him which ‘Christians’ or ‘churches’ to stay away from. Which topics not to talk about in public. Which places to avoid. Which groups to be suspicious of and which groups to praise.

I have the ‘unpleasant’ feeling that He would do exactly the opposite. He would hang out with me and then he would hang out with the guy whom I ‘unfriended’ on Facebook . Have you ever wondered about the conversations between Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector? One who fought the Roman occupiers and other who collected taxes for them. ‘Freedom fighter’ and ‘collaborator’ in the same room at the same table and in the same circle of Jesus’ closest friends.

What if Jesus goes to hang out with the “wrong Christians” and invites me to go with? What if someone takes a photo of us and posts it? I guess there goes my reputation…

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Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Latvian:

“Ir cilvēki, no kuriem es vislabprātāk izvairītos, un gribētos, lai viņi mazāk runā publiskajā telpā. Vēl labāk būtu, ja viņi vispār paklusētu, un paturētu savas domas pie sevis. Un vēl man nepatīk, ka viņi reklamē sevi kā “kristiešus”, jo tad es tikšu pielīdzināta viņiem. Vai viņi nesaprot, cik dedzīgi man būs pēc tam jāskaidro saviem draugiem, ka es izprotu “kristietību” pavisam savādāk?”

Atzīstos… šis citāts pieder man pašai. Tikai dažas no manām domām vai piemēri no sarunām, kurās kopā ar draugiem (protams, cilvēkiem, kuri domā tāpat kā es) mēs laimīgi nonākam pie atziņas, ka neesam tādi kā “viņi”.  Jo mēs taču “redzam visu skaidrāk”, “pazīstam Dievu labāk”, “izprotam Bībeli pareizāk”, domājam “plašāk un atvērtāk”, jo esam daudz “pazemīgāki un paškritiskāki.”

Tādos brīžos es teiktu, ka mani uztrauc kristietības kā globālas reliģijas reputācija, vai rūpējos par kādas konkrētas draudzes reputāciju. Vai arī man svarīga kristiešu reputācija Latvijā. Bet, ja es esmu godīga pret sevi, tad jāatzīst, ka visvairāk mani uztrauc manis pašas reputācija. Mans sabiedriskais imidžs.

Sociologi skaidro šo mūsu vēlmi “gozēties atspoguļotā slavā”, kad vēlamies tikt saistīti ar augsta statusa cilvēkiem, un vēlmi “nogriezt atspoguļotu neveiksmi”, kad mēs attālinām sevi no zaudētājiem. Protams, es vēlos, lai mani saista ar Māti Terēzi vai Martinu Luteru Kingu vai Dezmonu Tutu, un vēlos attālināties no … cilvēkiem, kuru vārdus neminēšu.

Ir daudz lietu, ideju un uzskatu, kas mūs var šķirt un dalīt. Teoloģija, tautība, ādas krāsa, kultūra, politika, valoda, dažādi sabiedrībā aktuālie jautājumi. Latvijas aukstajā klimatā par ‘karstām tēmām’ nevar sūdzēties. Piemēram, dzimumu lomas (šobrīd Latvijā lielā diskusija par sieviešu ordināciju), seksuālā orientācija (tikpat lielā diskusija par viendzimuma attiecībām), ģimene (kas ir tradicionāls un kas nav), Stambulas Konvencija, imigrācija (kas ir latvietība un kas nav), bēgļi… ‘Karstās tēmas’ mainās, bet diskusijas turpinās, un kristiešu uzskati dalās. Reizēm mēs spriežam lēnprātīgi un ar mīlestību, bet ļoti bieži ar naidīgumu, dusmām un galīgi neapdomāti. Pietiekami daudz iemeslu pātraukt “Draudzēties” vai “Sekot” sociālajos medijos!

Atgriežoties pie manām rūpēm par reputāciju, es pat teiktu, ka mani uztrauc Jēzus reputācija. Taču rodas lielais jautājums – vai Jēzus pats uztraucās par savu reputāciju? Vai viņam savs imidžs bija svarīgs? Rodas iespaids, ka viņs darīja daudz ko “nepareizi” un tusējās ar “nepareizajiem” jeb “zaudētājiem”.  Un galu galā ikviens jutās iekļauts, bet neviens netika izcelts.

Jēzus bija “zaudētājs” jeb “lūzeris” daudzu acīs. Radikālajiem jūdiem viņš nebija pietiekami nacionālistisks un politisks (kaut gan citi saklausīja viņa runās pārāk daudz politikas). Hērodam un Poncijam Pilātam viņš nebija pietiekami ambiciozs un varas kārs (kaut gan citi baidījās no viņa varas). Reliģiskiem vadītājiem viņš nebija pietiekami konservatīvs un tradicionāls (kaut gan citi pārstāja viņam sekot pārāk augsto prasību dēļ). Ģimenei un kaimiņiem Nacaretē viņš nebija pietiekami lojāls. Cilvēku pūļiem viņš nebija pietiekami revolucionārs (jo neļāva iecelt sevi par ķēniņu).

Viņš mīlēja visus, bet neglāstīja nevienam pa spalvai. Es tagad mēģinu iedomāties mūsu reakciju, ja Jēzus savā miesā ierastos Rīgā vai Mineapolē vai Londonā. Es labprāt viņu informētu par kristiešiem un baznīcām, no kurām labāk turēties pa gabalu. Par kurām ‘karstajām tēmām’ labāk nerunāt, it sevišķi publiski. No kurām cilvēku grupām izvairīties, lai tikai kāds kaut ko sliktu nepadomā.

Man tikai lielas aizdomas, ka viņš darītu tieši pretējo. Viņš tusētos ar visiem “nepareizajiem”. Viņš ciemotos pie manis, un tad ņemtu un aizietu ciemos pie tā džeka, kuru es izdzēsu no saviem kontaktiem Draugiem.lv vai Facebook

(Vai tu esi kādreiz iedomājies, kādas diskusijas notika starp Jēzus mācekļiem kanaānieti Sīmani Zelotu un muitnieku Mateju? Zeloti bija radikāli jūdi, kuri cīnījās pret Romas okupāciju. Viens džeks, kurš agrāk cīnījās pret romiešiem, un otrs, kurš tiem agrāk vāca muitas naudu. Brīvības cīnītājs un nodevējs vienā istabā pie viena galda un starp tuvākajiem Jēzus draugiem.)

Ja nu Jēzus iet tusēties pie “nepareizajiem kristiešiem” un uzaicina mani nākt līdzi? Ja nu kāds mūs tur nofotografēs un pēc tam attēlu publicēs? Skaidrs, ar manu reputāciju viss pagalam…

Inspired by the World’s Most Liberal City

Arriving at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam can be exciting and also overwhelming for it is three-in-one. Airport, shopping mall and train station. Leaving the customs area, you enter a very busy arrival hall. Straight from the airplane to the shopping plaza and straight to the trains located underneath.

I speak English and have traveled a lot but even I get overwhelmed with all the choices to make. Self-serve kiosks and other conveniences somehow make it more stressful. I always think, “what if I was an old lady from India who does not speak English?” Forget India… even my mom would have felt lost in this high efficiency world.

I spent two days in Amsterdam but did not see much of the city. “Next time”, I comforted myself since I came to attend the State of Europe Forum which is held annually in the  EU presiding country. Last year it was Latvia; this year Netherlands. (The rotating EU presidency goes for 6 months. Yes, my American friends, EU is visionary but complicated with 28 nations.) The forum is held on Europe Day, May 9, and you can see my post from last year talking about the story of Europe Day.

State of Europe Forum promotes a dialogue on Europe today in the light of the vision of Robert Schuman for a community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values.  Lots of great professional and academic content, lots of great discussions and opportunity to network. I was inspired, challenged and motivated.

The venue of the Forum was so cool. Zuiderkerk was the city’s first church built specifically for Protestant services. Constructed between 1603 and 1611, the church played an important part in the life of Rembrandt and was the subject of a painting by Claude Monet.

This year’s theme was The Paradox of Freedom. Key topics included Refugees in Europe, Security and Terrorism and Reframing the EU.  Yes, this is the age old question how freedom works because it certainly needs boundaries. Your freedom should not hurt my freedom and vice versa. For example, we live in a free market society but how free is this market? One of the devotions reminded us that “freedom to buy and sell without restrictions leads to buying and selling human beings.”

Amsterdam, the so called ‘world’s most liberal city’, has an amazing story of freedom. Especially the 16th and 17th century, the Golden Age. From William of Orange to Modern Devotion Movement to Erasmus (whose translation of the Bible prepared the way for Reformation) to Baruch Spinoza. Amsterdam was a haven and destination for people fleeing religious persecution – Jews from Iberia, Huguenots from France, Flemish, Wallonians, English dissenters… the city attracted many groups searching for economic, political and religious freedom.

Of course, we all know that unrestrained freedom has its evil side. Including slave trade which was also a part of Amsterdam’s economic boom during the Golden Age.

Nothing could capture these reflections better then listening to a local African choir inside Zuiderkerk, singing the famous Gospel tune:

Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last

 

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Opening celebration at Zuiderkerk (photo by Cedric Placentino)

Latvian:

Ielidošana Amsterdamas lidostā ir gan patīkama, gan uztraucoša, jo te nav tikai lidosta. Te ir gan lidosta, gan iepirkumu centrs, gan vilcienu stacija. Iznākot no muitas, nokļūstu lielā burzmā un troksnī.  Liekas, ka pa taisno no lidmašīnas esmu ienākusi Centrālajā stacijā.

Pat ar angļu valodas prasmēm un ceļotājas pieredzi te var apjukt. Pašapkalpošanās kioski un citas ‘ērtības’ reizēm dzīvi tikai sarežģī, un rada lieku stresu. Iedomājos, ja būtu veca tantiņa no Indijas, kura nerunā angliski. Kāda tur Indija… pat mana mamma apmaldītos šajā ātrajā un ērtajā pasaulē.

Amsterdamā pavadīju divas dienas, bet nesanāca apskatīt pilsētu, jo šoreiz bija cits brauciena mērķis. Mierināju sevi ar domu, ka gan jau šeit vēl atgriezīšos. Biju atbraukusi piedalīties forumā “Stāvoklis Eiropā”, kas katru gadu notiek ES Padomes prezidentūras valstī. Pagājšgad forums bija Latvijā, šogad Nīderlandē. Datums gan katru gadu viens un tas pats. 9. maijs jeb Eiropas diena, par kuru rakstīju agrāk.

Forums “Stāvoklis Eiropā” piedāvā dialogu starp kristīgiem dažādu profesiju pārstāvjiem un vadītājiem. Sarunas galvenā tēma ir patreizējais stāvoklis Eiropā, ņemot vērā Roberta Šūmana redzējumu par ‘tautu kopienu, kas ir dziļi sakņota kristīgās vērtībās’. Daudz profesionāļu un akadēmiķu, daudz labu paneļdiskusiju un daudz iespēju sadarboties. Mani šis forums gan iedvesmoja, gan izaicināja vairākus manus pieņēmumus, gan motivēja tālakai darbībai.

Pati norises vieta arī bija iedvesmojoša. ‘Zuiderkerk’ bija pilsētas pirmais dievnams, celts konkrēti protestantu draudzei. Celtniecība ilga no 1603. līdz 1611. gadam, un dievnams ir ap stūri no Rembranta mājas. Tāpēc Rembrantam šī bija svarīga vieta, un arī Klods Monē to ir iemūžinājis gleznā.

Šogad foruma tēma bija Brīvības Paradoks, un īpaša uzmanība tika veltīta bēgļu krīzei Eiropā, terorisma un drošības jautājumiem and Eiropas Savienības pārvērtēšanai. Kopš cilvēces iesākumiem svarīgais jautājums par brīvību un tās robežām. Jo tava brīvība nedrīkst darīt pāri manai brīvībai un otrādāk. Kaut vai fakts, ka dzīvojot brīvā tirgus sabiedrībā, redzam, ka šis tirgus nav nemaz tik brīvs. Vienā no svētbrīžiem tika atgādināta patiesība, ka “brīvība pirkt un pārdot bez ierobežojumiem noved līdz cilvēku pirkšanai un pārdošanai.”

Amsterdama tiek dēvēta par pasaules visliberālāko pilsētu, taču tai ir apbrīnojama vēsture, kas palīdz saprast daudzus brīvības pamatus. It sevišķi 16. un 17. gadsimts, tā sauktais Zelta Laikmets. Gan Orānijas Vilhelms; gan Jaunā Pielūgsmes Kustība; gan teologs un domātājs Erasms, kura Bībeles tulkojums sagatavoja ceļu Reformācijai; gan filozofs Baruhs Spinoza. Amsterdama bija patvēruma vieta, uz kuru pārcēlās savas pārliecības un reliģijas dēļ vajātie – jūdi no Ibērijas pussalas, hugenoti no Francijas, flāmi, valoņi, angļu protestanti… pilsēta pievilka ar savu toleranci un ekonomisko, politisko un reliģisko brīvību.

Protams, mes zinām, ka šai brīvībai bija ļaunā ēnas puse. Ieskaitot verdzību un cilvēku tirdzniecību, kas veicināja ekonomisko izaugsmi tajā pašā Zelta laikmetā.

Tāpēc mani ļoti iespaidoja atklāšanas vakars un vietējais koris, kurā dziedāja āfrikāņu izcelsmes holandietes. Vecajā un skaistajā Zuiderkerk dievnamā skanēja senais un pazīstamais gospelis:

Beidzot brīvs, beidzot brīvs
Paldies Dievam, beidzot brīvs
Beidzot brīvs, beidzot brīvs
Paldies Dievam, beidzot brīvs

 

“Son of Saul” is hard to watch but so worth it

There are good movies and then there are special movies. There are stories and then there are powerful stories. I love movies that tell a good story and engage my emotions and imagination. A good story draws you in and helps you to relate to the main characters. It helps you to try to imagine yourself in their shoes.

“Son of Saul” (2015), movie made in Hungary, is a heartbreaking story. Sometimes we may think – why another movie about the Holocaust? We know the history, we know the suffering, we know the banality of this evil. What else can we say about this evil? What else needs to be said that has not been said already?

I must say that “Son of Saul” moved me more than most movies about the Holocaust. It follows two days in the life of Saul, a Hungarian Jew, who is forced to work as Sonderkommando. These were prisoners in extermination camps like Auschwitz who were made to dispose of the bodies. Saul tries to give a proper Jewish burial to a young nameless boy who could be his son.

What makes this story different from others? Many things. The soundtrack is haunting – there is no music but only the every day sounds of the camp. People, shovels, doors, prayers, screams, commands, whispers. Also there is no melodrama. The camera blurs the background where you can see the indescribable things but the focus is on the faces of main characters. It is a beautiful and unforgettable portrait of one guy trying to keep his humanity in this hell.

Saul is trying to survive but more than anything he is trying to survive as a person. He is desperately trying to hold on to something higher and deeper and eternal. He is fighting to keep his soul and not caring anymore if he loses his body. Looking in his face, I try to imagine his thoughts.

I like that the director found native speakers (sorry but I often don’t get convinced by an American or British actor) and all the characters speak in their own languages. Hungarian, German, Russian, Polish… I don’t know what it is about the language but it is such a part of who we are. There is a scene in the movie where a German SS officer who is deciding whether to keep Saul alive or not, says, “Hungarian is such a nice language.” The paradox of evil – to like the language and maybe even the culture but to kill the people who belong to that culture and language.

It is more than just a story about the Holocaust and I find it very relevant.

For me it is difficult to relate to Oscar Schindler or Władysław Szpilman but here I felt I could put myself in the time and place. Saul could be anyone. Saul is anyone and everyone. He could be speaking Latvian or Armenian or Rwandan or Arabic or Farsi or Hebrew or Rohingya… son of men.

 

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Images from the movie “Son of Saul”