Martin Luther, Krišjānis Barons and my claim to fame

My parents could not pick the day I was born but my mom was always very proud of the date – October 31. She used to tell me that I was born on the same day as Krišjānis Barons (1835-1923), one of the most influential people in forming Latvian national identity and shaping cultural history. He is considered the “father of Latvian folksongs” to honour his work in collecting, researching and preserving this cultural heritage. A wise looking man with long white beard and glasses… I used to look at his image and wonder what kind of wisdom he would impart if we had met.  I felt that my mom’s pride about the special date was supposed to inspire and encourage me to learn, to explore, to gain knowledge and then pass it on.

The example was set… Be intelligent and visionary!

I was born when the USSR still existed and my family were not particularly religious (except my grandmother). Scientific atheism was the official “faith” and certainly there were no celebrations for significant religious events. Like Reformation Day which also happens to be on October 31. I had never heard of it even though the skyline of any Latvian city is dominated by churches, especially Lutheran ones. Even many non-church people like to think of themselves as “Protestants”.

Today, Oct. 31, 2017 was the 500th anniversary of Reformation movement. I learned about the Reformation and 95 Thesis and Martin Luther much later and there is still so much I wish I knew. It does not matter if Luther actually nailed his thesis to the church door in Wittenberg or mailed them, the fact is that these thoughts, questions, critical analysis, challenge to the institutions and powers-to-be spread like a wildfire and continue to impact all of us today. Especially in Europe. I have a feeling that, just like me, many of us still have no clue what actually happened and why is it such a big deal?!

Certainly Luther’s challenge to the highest civil and religious authorities of his day continues to inspire those who struggle against corrupt power systems and those who claim to hold “the keys to eternity”: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

 

The example was set… Be courageous and always seek and speak the truth!

It really is a big deal if we get it. Today we had another discussion in our university where my professor shared his passion and also deep frustration that Reformation is still undervalued and underestimated. Certainly Martin Luther was no Jesus when it comes to changing hearts and minds and some of his views, especially in later life, are very controversial. Many of his views I do not share. But history is made by imperfect people since perfect people simply do not exist.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “Extraordinarily, God the omnipotent One depends on us, puny, fragile, and vulnerable as we may be, to accomplish God’s purposes for good, for justice, for forgiveness and healing and wholeness.”

The example is set… Be just, compassionate and above all loving person!

DSCN4184

 

Thinker, believer and one of Latvia’s best kept secrets

Few days ago I heard some sad, bitter and sweet news. Sad because I found out that a very special person has passed away. Bitter because I was hoping to meet him again this year. Sweet because I am happy for him… at 88 years old, he has gone to the Big World as he called it. I know he was looking forward to it.

Paulis Klavins – Latvian human rights activist, politician, theologian and social thinker – lived his life well. Sadly I only met him two years ago, but I am very grateful for those meetings. Glad that I recorded our talks and that I got to discuss his views and rich experience in person.

Is it just me or it seems that there is a shortage of people with good common sense? That basic wisdom of how to live responsibly and well in relation to yourself and others. Paulis had such wisdom and it was contagious. I was reading an interview in a respected intellectual magazine “Rigas Laiks” in Latvia where the journalist gave this introduction, “I think in Latvia or at least in its public space there is a lack of people who are brave enough to speak their mind. Even less people who are not only brave, but thinking; and very few who are both thinkers and believers.”

Paulis Klavins was a very significant person in Latvia’s contemporary history. He was born in Latvia but his family became refugees after WWII. They ended up in Germany and there Paulis eventually made his home. His love for Latvia and also his strong faith in Jesus brought him back to Latvia for visits in late 1960’s when Latvia was still behind the Iron Curtain and very much oppressed by the Soviet system. He and his wife became involved with a Christian human rights organization led by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who had suffered torture and many years in Communist prisons.

As a person of action and strong conviction, Paulis asked the question that such people ask, “what can I do? what can people do when they feel so powerless?” There was strong darkness in the form of Soviet ideological lies and system that robbed people of their basic freedoms, even freedom to live. What overcomes any darkness? The Light!!! (The Czech dissident and writer Vaclav Havel wrote his famous essay called “The Power of the Powerless” where he talks about the same struggle – the struggle to live in the Light and resist the Darkness.)

These concepts can seem so abstract and lofty. Like something from “The Lord of the Rings” saga or “Star Wars” movies. Light vs Darkness… but it has very real forms and very real consequences. It is amazing how quickly we forget things. Even about our life in the USSR. I know people who were sent to prison as late as 1983 because of their Christian faith and their free thinking. These were some of the main crimes against the system… To have your own thoughts… To speak Truthfully… To disobey the Communist Party… To promote human rights and freedoms… To honor and protect your conscience…

Paulis, his family and like minded friends in the West organized an amazing (and also underground) network of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain. He made connections and built friendships with believers and people of conscience in the USSR who were suffering and persecuted. It is a long and incredible story and he has written a book, chronicling the history of this Christian human rights group called “The Action of Light” (“Gaismas Akcija”)

Gaismas_akcija_Minsteres_stacija-500x300

I love the motto of the group. “To Shine the Light on Everything and Forgive – the Light Will Win!” These prisoners of conscience did not use military weapons or any kind of violence. Their main resistance was their testimony (not only religious) which revealed the Truth – this was their weapon of Light! The principle and value of forgiveness also revealed their conviction that the highest judge is God because he is Light. His justice will come. It gives a strong and firm foundation – to know that there is an absolute moral clarity and goodness in His judgement.

I talked with Paulis about these concepts and values because one of the crucial things that was destroyed in Latvian society during the years of Soviet system was our belief in justice and righteousness. We were taught to be ‘hypocrites’ – our public actions and private thoughts and conversations did not match. I told my teachers what they ‘needed’ to hear; I gave the Communist pledge even though I didn’t believe in it; I sang the Soviet anthem even though it reminded the tragic fact of Soviet occupation. As one of my friends said it, “we were all pushed down on our knees”.

Paulis Klavins will be missed. As a Latvian, as a Christian, as a thinker, as a truth-seeker and simply a great person. I never felt patronized because he was truly a brother of faith and someone who was always learning. Never claiming that he has ‘arrived’ but always pressing forward in his search for truth and good life. I call him one of Latvia’s best secrets because there are so many people in Latvia who have not even heard his name. Especially the younger generation who was born in free Latvia.

Nobody can fill his shoes but we do need to know what kind of shoes they were! We desperately need to promote this design, this brand. Actions of the Light!

Paulis Kļaviņš

Photos from my personal and P. Klavins archive

Latviski:

Nesen uzzināju skumjas, bēdīgas, bet arī labas vēstis. Skumjas, jo ir miris brīnišķīgs cilvēks. Bēdīgas, jo es cerēju viņu šogad atkal satikt. Labas, jo es priecājos… 88 gadu vecumā šis vīrs ir aizgājis uz Lielo pasauli, kā viņš pats to sauca. Un viņš to ļoti gaidīja.

Paulis Kļaviņš – latvietis, cilvēktiesību aizstāvis, politiķis, teologs un domātājs. Žēl, ka mēs iepazināmies tikai pirms pāris gadiem, bet esmu pateicīga par mūsu tikšanām. Priecājos, ka ierakstīju mūsu sarunas un varēju pārrunāt viņa uzskatus un bagāto dzīves pieredzi.

Vai tikai man, vai arī jums liekas, ka ļoti pietrūkst cilvēku ar patiesu dzīves gudrību? (angļu val. ‘common sense’) To veselo domāšanu, kad tu māki dzīvot savu dzīvi atbildīgi un līdzatbildīgi. Paulim bija šāda gudrība, un tā bija lipīga. Es lasīju interviju žurnālā “Rīgas laiks” 2011. gadā, un A.Rītups raksta: “Manuprāt, Latvijā vai vismaz tās publiskajā telpā trūkst drosmīgu cilvēku, kuri nebaidās teikt, ko domā. Vēl mazāk ir tādu, kas ne tikai ir drosmīgi, bet arī domājoši; pavisam maz ir tādu, kas ir gan domājoši, gan ticoši… Paulis man šķita brīvdomātājs šī vārda vēl nesagandētajā nozīmē, kas paredz, ka patstāvīgas domas brīvībai, nemitīgai gatavībai mācīties un ticības drosmei ir lielāks svars nekā savas taisnības, savu interešu un savu metafizisko bildīšu aizstāvēšanai.”

Paulis Kļaviņš bija un ir ļoti nozīmīga persona Latvijai. Dzimis Latgalē, bet kopā ar ģimeni devies bēgļu gaitās Otrā Pasaules kara laikā. Viņi nonāca Vācijā, kas kļuva par mājām. Bet mīlestība uz Latviju un arī stiprā ticība Dieva dotai brīvībai mudināja braukt uz Latviju 60-tajos gados, kad vēl bija spēcīga Padomju sistēma. Kopā ar sievu Zeltīti, viņi iesaistījās Palīdzības akcijā martīru baznīcai, kuru dibināja Ričards Vurmbrands. Mācītājs no Rumānijas, kurš pats bija daudz cietis un vajāts savas pārliecības dēļ.

Kā jau darītājs un domātājs, Paulis uzdeva jautājumu, ko parasti uzdod aktīvi cilvēki. “Ko es varu darīt? Ko var darīt, kad liekas, ka neko nevar darīt?” Bija sajūta, ka tumsas vara, kas piemita Padomju ideoloģijai un sistēmai, ir liela un stipra. Kas var uzvarēt tumsu? Gaisma!!! Arī čehu politiskā disidenta, rakstnieka un prezidenta Vaclava Havela spēcīgā eseja “Nespēcīgo spēks” (“The Power of the Powerless”) apraksta šo cīņu starp Gaismu un Tumsu.

Šīs idejas var likties tik abstraktas un gaisīgas. Kā no triloģijas “Gredzenu pavēlnieks” vai “Zvaigžņu kari” filmām. Gaisma pret Tumsu… bet tam ir tik reālas izpausmes un reālas sekas. Apbrīnojami, cik ātri mums viss aizmirstas. Pat dzīve bijušajā PSRS. Pazīstu cilvēkus, kas vēl 1983. gadā tika notiesāti, ieslodzīti, izsūtīti vai ielikti ‘trako namā’ savas ticības un brīvo uzskatu dēļ. Tas jau bija tas lielākais noziegums… domāt savas brīvās domas… runāt Patesību… aizstāvēt cilvēktiesības un brīvību… cienīt un klausīt savu sirdsapziņu…

Paulis, viņa ģimene un līdzīgi domājošie izveidoja apbrīnojamus ‘pagrīdes’ sakarus un kontaktus, un rezultātā tapa kristīga cilvēktiesību aizstāvības programma “Gaismas Akcija”. Kā raksta Paulis, visus Gaismas akcijas dalībniekus pavadīja apziņa par savas rīcības dabisko tiesiskumu — uzzināt visu par jebkuru cilvēku, kam tiek apdraudēta dzīvība, brīvība, tiesības un cilvēka cieņa. Tas ir garš un spēlfilmas scenārija cienīgs stāsts, un ir izdota grāmata par “Gaismas Akcijas” vēsturi. Te būs viena informatīva saite.

Mani iedvesmo šīs akcijas devīze. “Visu apgaismot un piedot – gaisma uzvarēs!” Vēl viens citāts: “Tiesa atstājama augstākajam, jo Dievs pats ir gaisma un var vienīgais būt taisnīgs tiesnesis. Šāda devīze šķīra garīgo cīņas lauku no militārā, un tas bija svarīgi mūsu partneriem Latvijā. Ikviens, kurš vēlējās piedalīties un atbalstīt patiesības lieciniekus, kļuva par brīvprātīgas garīgās kopības Gaismas akcijas dalībnieku.”

Mēs ar Pauli daudz pārrunājām šīs idejas un pieredzi, un ko tas nozīmē mūsdienu Latvijai. No intervijas žurnālā “Rīgas Laiks”, “Padomju laika apziņā cilvēks bija pieradis lietot šādu formulu: vienu domāt, citu runāt un trešo darīt, savā veidā trešās pakāpes šizofrēnija. Tas atstāj pēdas. Un viens no satraucošākajiem faktiem, kas ir mūsu sabiedrībā palicis, ir neticība taisnīguma principiālai iespējamībai. Šī ticība ir tik pamatīgi apkarota no padomju sistēmas, visā tanī ietvarā, ko darīja ar cilvēku, kā viņu virzīja, ko viņam lika teikt, kā viņam lika piedalīties melos – tas ir tik pamatīgi izkopts, ka jābrīnās. Kad es sāku strādāt Saeimā, es biju optimists. Pazinu Vācijas demokrātiju un domāju: nu tad tagad uz priekšu kristīgo demokrātu līnijā, un mēs tagad darīsim un veiksim, un uztaisījām pamatprogrammu, visi piekrita. Taču tas neiet. To nevar uzbūvēt tik ātri. Tas prasa laiku.”

Uzdrīkstos teikt, ka mums visiem ļoti pietrūks šis cilvēks. Kā domātājs, kā patiesības meklētājs, kā latvietis, kā kristietis. Kaut gan viņam bija tik liela pieredze, erudīcija un zināšanas, nekad nejūtos ‘pamācīta’. Kāpēc virsrakstā pieteicu Pauli kā vienu no Latvijas labāk slēptajiem dārgumiem? Jo tik daudzi no mums pat nezin viņa vārdu. Vai arī nezin šo vienreizējo un drosmīgo stāstu.

Katram cilvēkam ir savas kurpes un to izmērs. Neviens nevar aizstāt Pauli Kļaviņu, bet mums Latvijā jāzin, kas tās bija par kurpēm! Mums ļoti nepieciešams zināt un atdarināt šo dizainu, šo zīmolu, un mums ir ko eksportēt. Gaismas akcija!

Don’t talk in maybe’s… Sing it like it should be

There is this one guy I would like to meet. He is very tall, very skinny, very bald and very cool. Well, he is kind of intimidating, too, but in a good way. His name is Peter Garrett and he is an Aussie.

He also happens to be the lead singer of my favorite Australian rock band. No, not AC/DC or Jet… I am talking about Midnight Oil. My teenage music library and first introduction to MTV would not have been the same without this passionate and intense band and the beautiful but deep songs with a strong anti-nuke, anti-corporate and pro-environment message.

It was a very catchy song and easy to sing along. “How can we dance when our earth is turning? How can we sleep while our beds are burning?… The time has come to say fair’s fair… To pay the rent, to pay our share” I was trying to understand whose beds are burning? what’s not fair? Then I found out that Midnight Oil were active supporters of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and protection of the environment.

Years later I saw Midnight Oil perform this song “Beds Are Burning” at the Sydney Olympic Games and they were wearing suits with the word “SORRY” in front of 2.5 billion worldwide audience. It was a strong and bold message to a new generation. I felt challenged, inspired and convicted and I’m not even Australian. This is the power of art and music and lyrics that speak of our human brokenness and search for hope.

This is what I meant by him being intimidating in a good way. To make more sense of Peter Garrett, it is good to remember that he describes himself “a sporadic, occasional, very ecumenical, spiritual sojourner” who is committed to Christian social justice. He said that his Christian faith is his personal moral compass. Besides being a successful musician, he is also a former politician who served as Australian MP and member of the Cabinet.

One interviewer asked him, “How do you as someone with such a big profile, fame and commercial success, answer the call of humility as Christians are called to do?” Peter’s answer, “I have been around long enough to know that it is not about me. I have always believed in working with others to get things done. I have been fortunate to experience that in my time with Midnight Oil and working with my colleagues as conservation activist. To me public politics is public service. It may sound naive but I have always seen myself as someone who has chosen public service in whatever shape or form it comes.”

January 26 is Australia Day and I have very fun memories celebrating it together with friends in Perth, Western Australia. It is truly a beautiful land with breathtaking landscapes and great beaches. I have never seen sky so blue… I have also never met people who are more laid back than Aussies. No worries, mate!

So, maybe one day I will get to meet Peter Garrett and tell him in person how much I appreciate people like him. The ones who work for the healing of a nation… as in the song “One country”

Who’d like to change the world?
Who wants to shoot the curl?
Who wants to work for bread?
Who wants to get ahead?
Who hands out equal rights?
Who starts and ends that fight?
And not rant and rave,
or end up a slave.

Don’t call me baby,
Don’t talk in maybe’s,
Don’t talk like has-beens,
Sing it like it should be.

one vision, one people, one landmass
be our defenses
we have a lifeline

one ocean, one policy, see bad light,
one passion, one movement, one instant, one difference,
one life time and one understanding.

Transgression, redemption
one island blue, our place (magic),
one firmament, one element,
one moment, one fusion,
is so on time.

MidnightOilGarrett

Photos from the Internet

Latviski:

Ir viens džeks, kuru es vēlētos satikt. Viņš ir ļoti garš, ļoti kalsns, ļoti plikpaurains un ļoti foršs. Un man no viņa ir mazliet bail, bet labā nozīmē. Viņu sauc Pīters Garets, un viņš ir austrālis.

Turklāt viņš ir manas mīļākās Austrālijas rokgrupas solists. Nē, nevis AC/DC vai Jet… man patīk Midnight Oil. Mana pusaudzes gadu mūzikas izlase un pirmā iepazīšanās ar MTV nebūtu bijusi tik iespaidīga bez šīs dedzīgās grupas un viņu skaistajām, vienlaikus dziļajām dziesmām ar spēcīgu vēstījumu – pret atomieročiem, korupciju, ekonomisko nevienlīdzību un par dabas aizsardzību.

Viena lipīga dziesma, kurai viegli varēju dziedāt līdzi… “kā mēs varam dejot, kamēr pasaule griežas? kā mēs varam gulēt, kamēr mūsu gultas deg? Ir pienācis laiks teikt, kas ir taisnīgs… Laiks maksāt īri, maksāt savu daļu” Es gribēju saprast, par kādām gultām ir runa? Kas nav taisnīgs? Tad uzzināju, ka Midnight Oil aktīvi iestājas par Austrālijas pamatiedzīvotāju – aborigēnu – tiesībām, un arī daudz darbojas dabas aizsardzības jomā.

Pēc vairākiem gadiem es un vēl kādi 2,5 miljardi cilvēku redzējām Midnight Oil dziedam šo pašu dziesmu “Beds Are Burning” Sidnejas Olimpisko Spēļu ceremonijā. Viņiem bija tērpi ar uzrakstu “SORRY” kā atvainošanās, kā lūgums pēc piedošanas. Tā bija spēcīga un drosmīga vēsts jaunai paaudzei. Tas izaicināja, iedvesmoja un pārliecināja, kaut es neesmu austrāliete. Tāds spēks piemīt mākslai, mūzikai un dzejai, kas runā par mūsu cilvēces salauztību un cerības meklējumiem.

Tāpēc šis cilvēks mani baida… labā nozīmē. Lai labāk izprastu Pīteru Garetu, ir vērts atcerēties, ka viņš pats sevi sauc par “izkaisītu, dažreizēju, bet garīgu ceļotāju”, kura vērtību pamatā ir kristīga izpratne par sociālo taisnīgumu. Savu kristieša ticību viņš sauc par personīgo morāles kompasu. Būdams ne tikai populārs un veiksmīgs mūziķis, bet arī bijušais politiķis gan Austrālijas parlamentā, gan kā ministrs valdībā.

Kāds žurnālists jautāja, “Kā tu savieno savu atpazīstamību, slavu un komerciālos panākumus, ar Kristus aicinājumu būt pazemīgam?” Pītera atbilde, “Es jau ilgi ar to visu nodarbojos un zinu, ka lieta negrozās ap mani. Vienmēr esmu ticējis, ka tikai strādājot kopā var kaut ko panākt. Man ir paveicies gan ar Midnight Oil, gan ar kolēģiem dabas aizsardzības organizācijās. Būt politiski aktīvam man nozīmē kalpošanu sabiedrībai. Varbūt tas izklausās naivi, bet es vienmēr esmu uztvēris sevi kā tādu, kurš ir izvēlējies kalpot sabiedrībai vienalga kādā formā vai veidā.”

Katru gadu 26. janvārī ir Austrālijas Diena. Man ir foršas atmiņas no šo svētku svinēšanas kopā ar draugiem Pērtā, Rietumaustrālijā. Tā tiešām ir skaista zeme ar elpu aizraujošiem skatiem un vienreizējām pludmalēm. Nekur citur neesmu redzējusi tik zilas debesis… Nekur citur neesmu satikusi tik atbrīvotus un nesteidzīgus cilvēkus. No worries, mate! (Nav par ko, draudziņ!)

Varbūt kādu dienu satikšu Pīteru Garetu un varēšu pateikt viņam, cik ļoti cienu tādus cilvēkus. Tos, kuri cenšas palīdzēt dziedināt savas tautas pagātni… kā grupas dziesmā “Viena valsts

Kurš grib izmainīt pasauli?
Kurš grib braukt uz viļņa?
Kurš grib pelnīt maizi?
Kurš grib izrauties?
Kurš grib vienādas tiesības?
Kurš pabeidz iesākto cīņu?
Nevis trako un ārdās, vai vergo
Nesauc mani par mazo
Nerunā varbūtībās
Nerunā par izbijušo
Dziedi par to, kā jābūt
Viens redzējums, vieni ļaudis, viena zeme
Tā mūsu aizsardzība,
Kas ļaus mums dzīvot
Pārkāpums, izpirkums
Viena zila sala, viena pasakaina vieta
Viens avots, viens elements
Viens brīdis, viens savienojums
Tieši šim laikam
 

The barricades and my experience of nonviolent resistance

It is January and it is another cold one in Latvia I am not in Riga but I do know what a cold winter day or night feels like. And in 1991 it was a cold January. Still, most people in Latvia (including me) remember it with special warmth because it was also a time of campfires and hot tea and passionate living.

I wish I had the kind of good memory my dad has. He always fills me in with details since some of those events 25 years ago are starting to blur. In January 1991, my beautiful city of Riga was filled with barricades – all around the Old City, around any important government building, around the national TV and Radio stations… The barricades were built with an amazing speed and determination, using anything that could create an obstacle. Huge blocks, tractors, public buses, piles of wood…

We were in the middle of Latvia’s peaceful independence movement. The previous year in 1990, the Latvian government with the overwhelming support of the people had voted to restore the independence of Latvia. It had been occupied by the USSR for many decades but everyone could sense – now is the time for freedom! For many people it felt like ‘now or never’.

People were also afraid the Soviet power will not go without a fight. Nobody knew what to expect. It was a critical time and it was obvious that there will be provocations to restore the control of Moscow. The worst provocations came that month, January of 1991, when the Soviet tanks attacked the main television tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. 14 people died and the news went around the world. As the news reached Latvia, Latvian government and the people reacted quickly and started building the barricades to protect government buildings. Thousands of people gathered in Riga.

I remember watching the news from Vilnius, shocked at seeing a tank run over a young man. Was this really happening? Will this happen in Riga, too? Everyone knew that the people stand no chance against the mighty Soviet army. What do you do when you are so powerless? Nobody had taught us about non-violent resistance. Most had never studied the methods of Gandhi  or Martin Luther King Jr but somehow we all knew what to do. We knew that the barricades are no obstacle for the tanks. We would be a human shield and if the tanks came, then the whole world would see what kind of regime was the USSR.

There were many Western journalists in the Baltic Sates. This was before cell phones, internet and social media but the communication was swift and effective. I asked my dad how did we communicate back then? He replied, “Don’t you remember there were pay-phones everywhere? And people used land lines?”

My mom was the activist in the family… If you ever knew her, you would know what a gentle woman she was but she could get really passionate when it mattered! I don’t think I had ever seen my mom so determined and unafraid. My grandmother told me that in one of the meetings where things got rough with the police and she could get arrested, my grandmother tried to talk her out of it. Telling her to go home because she had three children to raise. My mom had replied that she is not worried because my dad will do a fine job raising us. I doubt if she had asked my dad for his opinion…

So my mom and I went to Riga as soon as we heard that something needed to be done. I don’t remember the details but I do remember that we walked around the streets, talking to other people, watching the campfires being built, people starting to bring out food to those who were out of town. Big tractors appeared on the small streets and the barricades were built. We spent the whole night and next day went home.

Then it was my dad’s turn. The men from our village got organized to ‘protect’ the national television tower. They would stay there day and night, sitting around the fire and trying to keep warm. I visited him once or twice and remember thinking, “This is like the movies. Women visiting the men on the front lines and bringing them food and drinks and news from home.”

Well, it was not a movie (even though it sometimes seems so unreal) and I was just a normal high school student. Guess how much time did I spend studying that year? It helped that the teachers were ‘distracted’ from their responsibilities, too…

And then there is another important detail I remember. The churches! They were open day and night and served as the place of rest, refreshments and, most crucially, the place of prayer. Many people who had never stepped inside a church, were there. Riga has many beautiful old church buildings and they really served their purpose then. Places of peace and hope and faith in the One who is above all this ‘madness’. Peace in the midst of fear and anxiety. Hope and prayer that it will not get violent and that freedom will come peacefully. Trust in God Almighty because there was nobody else to trust.

And our trust and hope was not disappointed…

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Photo by Boris Kalesnikov

Latviskais variants:

Ir kārtējais aukstais janvāris. Šobrīd neesmu Rīgā, bet varu iedomāties aukstas dienas un naktis. Un 1991. gada janvāris arī bija auksts. Taču mēs to atceramies ar zināmu siltumu, jo domājam par ugunskuriem, karstu tēju un dzīvi ar pilnu krūti.

Žēl, ka man nav tik laba atmiņa kā tētim. Viņs vienmēr atgādina kādas detaļas , bet man šie notikumi pirms 25 gadiem jau sāk zaudēt nianses. Atceros, kā mana mīļā Rīga piepildījās ar barikādēm. Turklāt tas notika tik ātri. Betona bloki, traktori, autobusi, malkas grēdas…

Atceros arī to sajūtu, kas virmoja gaisā – tagad vai nekad. To neziņu, kas būs tālāk.

Mājās skatījāmies ziņas (man liekas, toreiz televizors gandrīz netika izslēgts), un sāka rādīt kadrus no Viļņas. Tur bija kāds jauns puisis, varbūt pat mans vienaudzis, kuru sabrauca tanks. Vai tas tiešām notiek? Vai tas notiks arī Rīgā? Visi taču saprata, ka pret vareno Padomju armiju vienkāršā tauta nevarēs nostāvēt. Ko darīt, kad jūties bezspēcīgs? Neviens mums nebija mācījis par nevardarbīgu pretošanos vai Gandija, vai Martina Lutera Kinga metodēm, bet pēkšņi cilvēki zināja, kas jādara. Zināja, ka barikādes nebūs nekāds šķērslis tankiem. Bet aiz šīm ‘barikādēm’ būs cilvēku vairogs, un ja tanki brauks virsū, tad visa pasaule redzēs, kāda ir PSRS vara un sistēma.

Rīgā bija rietumu žurnālisti. Bet nebija mobilie telefoni, internets vai sociālie mediji. Tomēr ziņas izplatījās ātri un efektīvi. Es prasīju tētim, kā mēs toreiz sazinājāmies. Viņš atbildēja: “Vai tad tu neatceries maksas telefona automātus uz ielām? Un to, ka katram mājās bija telefons?”

Mūsu ģimenē vislielākā aktīviste bija mamma… Tie, kas viņu pazina, zin, ka mana mamma bija ļoti mierīga un maiga, bet viņa varēja kļūt ļoti dedzīga, ja kaut kas likās svarīgs. Nekad nebiju redzējusi mammu tik mērķtiecīgu, apņēmīgu un bezbailīgu. Pat vecmamma (kura ir vēl lielāka aktīviste) stāsta, ka vienā no mītiņiem, kur varēja izcelties kautiņš vai arī policija (toreiz milicija) kļuva draudīga, viņa mēģinājusi atrunāt mammu no iesaistīšanās. Lai ejot mājās, jo tev taču trīs bērni! Mamma esot atbildējusi, ka viņa neuztraucoties. Viņa uzticoties mūsu tētim, ka viņš mūs labi izaudzināšot. Šaubos, vai viņa prasīja tēta domas…

Mēs abas ar mammu braucām uz Rīgu tikko, kā dzirdējām, ka kaut kas ir jādara. Atceros, ka staigājām pa Rīgas centru, runājām ar cilvēkiem. Vērojām, kā rodas pirmie ugunskuri; kā rīdzinieki nes siltu tēju un ēdienu tiem, kas uz ielām. Mazajās ielās iebrauca lieli traktori un mašīnas, un visur barikādējās. Mēs pavadījām to pirmo nakti pilsētas centrā, un nākamajā dienā braucām mājās.

Tad bija tēta kārta. No Ķekavas un no tēta darba vietas tika noorganizēts, ka viņi ‘sargās’ televīzijas torni Zaķusalā. Tā viņi tur pavadīja vairākas dienas un naktis. Arī šēžot pie ugunskuriem. Mēs aizbraucām apciemot (lai gan bija tāda kā neizteikta pavēle, lai sievietes un bērni paliek mājās). Atceros, ka man bija sajūta, it kā es piedalītos kādā filmā. “Lūk, sievietes apciemo savus vīrus un dēlus frontes līnijā… aizved ēdienu un pastāsta, kas notiek mājās.”

Bet tā nebija filma, lai gan reizēm liekas tik nereāla pagātne, un es biju vienkārši viduskolniece. Skaidrs, ka par mācībām es toreiz daudz nedomāju. Izglāba tas, ka arī skolotāji daudz ‘nedomāja’ par saviem pienākumiem…

Un vēl viena ļoti svarīga lieta, ko atceros. Baznīcas! Tās bija atvērtas dienu un nakti. Kā patversmes, kur atpūsties, pagulēt, pasildīties, iedzert kaut ko siltu, un galvenais, aizlūgt par Latviju un mums pašiem. Daudzi, kas nekad nebija kāju spēruši baznīcā, bija tur, un vecie, skaistie Rīgas dievnami vistiešākajā veidā kalpoja savam mērķim. Vietas, kur rast mieru, cerību un ticību Tam, kurš ir augstāks par šo ‘trakumu’. Miers baiļu un uztraukuma atmosfērā. Cerība un lūgšana, ka nesāksies asinsizliešana, un ka brīvība atnāks mierīgā ceļā. Paļāvība uz Dievu Visspēcīgo, jo nav cita, kam uzticēties,

Un mūsu cerība un paļāvība un uzticēšanās nepievīlās…

Lessons from Ukraine: peacemaking can be counterintuitive

My current ‘office’ is a nice coffee shop in Riga where I enjoy the warmth and tasty treats. The days are getting shorter and the evenings darker. The air is much colder, too. Is it just me or the autumn is a perfect time for reflections?

As promised in my last post about Nobel Peace Prize laureates, I will continue my thoughts on people who are peacemakers. People who should be honored and supported and imitated. And my mind is in a country not too far from Latvia. Where the days are also getting shorter and the weather colder – Ukraine. I think of people in eastern parts of Ukraine who are bracing for another winter without all the things we appreciate so much. Heat, electricity, food, accessible healthcare…

The global community, including Europe, is facing many challenges and it seems that news headlines change very fast. But the issues and conflicts don’t go away just because the attention shifts elsewhere. I wish I could think of Ukraine as “yesterday’s news” but I cannot. The war in the two eastern provinces – Donestk and Luhansk – is still there. Yes, there is ceasefire (mostly holding) and negotiations and different initiatives but there is no peace. Not yet. And it will not come easily.

One of the things I have learned and start to experience in the times of tension, pressure and conflict is that everyone talks about “peace” but not everyone wants to be a “peacemaker”. Because honestly – real peace is counter intuitive. It goes against our emotions and our normal thoughts. It is much easier to get angry and hateful when you get hurt then to do the hard work of searching for some grace and forgiveness deep inside. It is much easier to blame. It is much easier to seek justice as in ‘eye for an eye’ but it has to be ‘my’ justice. Or even revenge as in “your whole head for my eye’.

In the times of war, the peacemakers can be some of the most ‘unpopular’ people. Admired by many but hated by others. I want to honor all the men and women in Ukraine who are committed to non-violent and sacrificial resistance to any kind of oppression, corruption, aggression and hatred. I hope to meet some them in person in the future. Meanwhile one of the ways we can support peace and restoration in Ukraine is by sharing the stories of love and compassion and great sacrifice.

Through social media and some personal contact I know one of these remarkable men. A local pastor from Donetsk who was forced to leave his home city and his church in 2014 because his humanitarian work was putting him and his family’s life in danger. Sergey Kosyak would not like to be singled out but he has inspired and encouraged thousands of people. In Ukraine and beyond. I love his motto “Do good. It is possible.”

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Last year when the violence and conflict broke out, many cities organized prayer tents, including in the Constitution Square of Donetsk. The tent was there for many months with the banner “Pray here for Ukraine” and it united people from all Christian denominations and even other religions. A local Muslim imam joined. They faced harassment, violent opposition, eggs, bottles, even rocks. Eventually the tent was removed by force and destroyed and the prayer movement had to go “underground”.

Here is a story from his FB posts which Sergey Kosyak gave me permission to share. (Also all photos in this post are from his personal archive.) On May 23, 2014 he wrote: “Friends, today was a tough day, but for me very difficult. To begin with, representatives of Donetsk People’s Republic destroyed our tent, and then there was the following story.

Several times I have gone to the city administration building to talk with the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, so I went once again. I didn’t find the person I had talked with earlier there but happened to see someone who attended my church. I was glad when I saw him, but he didn’t seem too glad we met. He began to yell that I was manipulating the people and things like that. In short, the negotiations failed, in the eyes of these people I had become the enemy. You tend to have short conversations with your enemy.

People are very angry, because, first of all, their hearts are empty and not filled with God. I told them that God loves them; I harbored no anger or hatred towards them in my heart, even when they beat me. I will not describe the beating itself, but that I am still alive, is just by the grace of God.

Among them were people who knew about our prayer tent, they cursed the others for what they did to me. After that, they gave me my things back and my money, then asked for forgiveness from me and that I would not be offended.

Before they started beating me I told them about Christ, called them to turn their hearts to God, and while they beat me I just prayed. I couldn’t make it to the prayer meeting in the evening because I had to go to the hospital.

Dark times have come to our region, people hate each other, they’re ready to kill, beat for a preposterous idea, and to die for those ideas. And they cannot see Him for whom it is really worth living and dying. God save the people, turn their attention to You.”

Since my post is getting long, I will continue with other stories later. But let me finish with the same encouragement that is even truer in the dark times… Do good! It is possible!

Volunteer team

Latviski:

Mans patreizējais ‘ofiss’ ir jauka kafejnīca Rīgas centrā. Te ir silts un garšīgi smaržo. Dienas kļūst īsākas, un vakari tumšāki. Gaiss arī daudz aukstāks. Kāpēc rudens vienmēr mani vedina uz dziļām pārdomām?

Kā jau solīju iepriekšējā rakstā par Nobela Miera Prēmijas laureātiem, es turpinu savas domas par cilvēkiem, kuri, manuprāt, ir miera veidotāji. Cilvēki, kurus jāciena, jāatbalsta un jāatdarina. Un manas domas ir valstī, kas nav pārāk tālu no Latvijas. Tur arī dienas kļūst īsākas, un laiks aukstāks. Ukraina. Domāju par cilvēkiem Ukrainas austrumos, kuri gaida kārtējo ziemu bez visām ērtībām un pamatvajadzībām. Siltums, apkure, elektrība, veselības aprūpe…

Pasaulē šobrīd ir daudz grūtību un izaicinājumu, un ziņu virsraksti strauji mainās. Taču problēmas un konflikti nekur neaiziet un nepazūd tikai tāpēc, ka mūsu uzmanība ir vērsta citur. Gribētos, kaut Ukraina būtu ‘vakardienas ziņas’, bet diemžēl tas tā nav. Karš divos austrumu apgabalos – Doņeckā un Luhanskā – turpinās. Jā, ir pamiers (kas pārsvarā tiek ievērots), tiek vestas sarunas, un ir dažādas idejas, bet miers vēl nav iestājies. Un neiestāsies tik drīz, jo smags darbs priekšā.

Es sāku arvien vairāk ievērot un piedzīvot, ka ‘juku’ laikos, kad ir liels sabiedrības spiediens un konflikts, daudzi runā par “mieru”, bet ne visi vēlas kļūt par “miera veidotājiem”. Jo atklāti runājot – īsts miers nav pašsaprotams. Tas ir pat pretrunā mūsu tā brīža emocijām un domām. Ir daudz vieglāk un ‘loģiskāk’ ļauties dusmām un naidam, ja tev kāds dara pāri. Nekā cīnīties ar naidu, un meklēt sevī spēju sniegt kaut kripatiņu žēlastības un piedošanas. Ir daudz vieglāk vainot. Ir daudz vieglāk dzīties pēc taisnības, lai būtu “acs pret aci”. Vēl vieglāk dzīties pēc atriebības, lai būtu “visa tava galva pret manu aci”.

Kara laikā mieru turošie var kļūt ļoti nepopulāri. Vieni viņus apbrīno, citi ienīst vai nosoda. Es gribu izteikt dziļu cieņu visiem cilvēkiem Ukrainā, kuri izvēlas cīnīties pret visa veida agresiju, korpupciju un naidu, bet ar nevardarbīgiem līdzekļiem. Tas prasa no viņiem ļoti daudz. Es ceru kādreiz satikt viņus personīgi, bet šobrīd es vēlos atbalstīt šo pašaizliedzīgo miera celšanas darbu Ukrainā, nododot tālāk stāstus par mīlestību, žēlsirdību un cerību.

Caur soctīkliem un saraksti, es pazīstu vienu lielisku cilvēku, kurš ir šajā komandā. Vietējais mācītājs no Doņeckas, kurš 2014. gadā bija spiests pamest savas mājas un dzimto pilsētu, jo viņa labdarība apdraudēja viņu pašu un ģimeni – sievu un bērnus. Sergejs Kosjaks negribētu, ka viņu īpaši izceļ, bet viņs ir iedvesmojis un iedrošinājis tūkstošiem cilvēku. Gan Ukrainā, gan ārpus tās. Man patīk viņa motto: “Dari labu. Tas ir iespējams.”

Pagājšgad, kad spriedze pārauga vardarbībā, daudzās pilsētās tika uzceltas lūgšanu teltis. Arī Doņeckas centrā, Konstitūcijas laukumā. Telts tur stāvēja vairākus mēnešus zem plakāta “Šeit aizlūdz par Ukrainu”, un lūgšanas apvienoja cilvēkus no visām kristīgām konfesijām. Pievienojās arī vietējais muslimu kopienas vadītājs. Viņi tika nosodīti, apsaukāti, pat apmētāti ar olām, pudelēm akmeņiem. Beigu beigās telts tika ar varu nojaukta, un aizlūdzēji nogāja “pagrīdē”.

Šeit viens īss stāsts no Sergeja Kosjaka Facebook lapas. (Viņš man deva atļauju izmantot gan stāstus, gan foto.) 2014. gada 23. maijā viņš rakstīja tā: “Draugi, šodien bija smaga diena, bet man pašam ļoti grūta. Iesākumā Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvji iznīcināja mūsu telti, un pēc tam sekoja šis notikums.

Vairākas reizes esmu gājis uz pilsētas administrācijas ēku, lai runātu ar Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvjiem. Tāpēc gāju arī šajā reizē. Nesatiku cilvēku, ar kuru runāju iepriekšējās reizēs, bet satiku kādu, kurš agrāk bija manā draudzē. Es priecājos viņu redzēt, bet viņš nelikās pārāk priecīgs. Viņš sāka kliegt, kas es grozot cilvēkiem prātus, utt. Vārdu sakot, nekādas sarunas nesanāca, jo viņu acīs es biju kļuvis par ienaidnieku. Un ar ienaidniekiem ir īsas sarunas.

Cilvēki ir ļoti dusmīgi. Pirmkārt, viņu sirdis ir tukšas, un tās nepiepilda Dievs. Es teicu viņiem, ka Dievs viņus ļoti mīl, ka es nedusmojos un neienīstu viņus. Pat tad, kad viņi sāka mani sist. Es nestāstīšu daudz par savu piekaušanu, bet tā ir Dieva žēlastība, ka paliku dzīvs.

Tur bija arī kādi, kuri zināja par mūsu lūgšanu telti. Viņi nolamāja tos, kuri mani piekāva. Tad viņi atdeva visas manas mantas un naudu un lūdza piedošanu. Lūdza, lai es neapvainojoties.

Pirms tiku sists, es stāstīju viņiem par Kristu. Aicināju vērst savas sirdis uz Dievu. Lūdzu Dievu, kamēr tiku sists. Vakarā gan es netiku uz lūgšanu sapulci, jo braucu uz slimnīcu.

Mūsu pusē ir pienākuši drūmi laiki. Cilvēki ienīst viens otru, ir gatavi nogalināt un sist kaut kādu iedomātu ideju dēļ. Ir gatavi arī šo ideju dēļ mirt. Un viņi neredz Personu, kura dēļ tiešām ir vērts dzīvot un mirt. Dievs, izglāb ļaudis.”

Vēl ir daudz stāsti, bet tos vēlāk. Nobeigumā es gribu citēt vēlreiz šos iedrošinājuma vārdus… Dari labu! Tas ir iespējams!

Hannover and Hiroshima and the church without roof

So many reflections after my recent trip to Hannover, Germany. I had the most unusual tour of the city. It told a story of significant past, diverse community, powerful kings and fascinating facts, but also tragedy, violence and beauty from the ashes. In the literal sense.

In just one night of October 8, 1943, more than 200,000 bombs were dropped on the city of Hannover. Not much was left standing. I think of my own city, Riga, and what it looked like after the war. I think of Sarajevo in Bosnia, Aleppo in Syria, Gaza in Palestine, towns and cities in eastern Ukraine…

Now you walk around and enjoy beautiful buildings and parks and street-side cafes. You see people enjoying a good life. You see diverse cultures welcomed here. Hannover is a very nice place to be. Still, the scars remain and I appreciate how people in Germany do not hide from these scars. As painful and ugly as they are. It speaks about healing and restoration.

There is a church without roof, now covered by our beautiful sky. Aegidienkirche originated in the 14th Century. It was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1943 and has not been rebuilt. Its ruin is now a memorial to the victims of war and violence. Like many other people before me, I stood there thinking, “If these ruins could speak…”

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The church has a Peace Bell, which the city of Hannover received in 1985 from its partner town of Hiroshima. The bell has a twin, which hangs in Hiroshima. Every 6th August a special memorial service to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima is held in this church. As part of this service the peace bell is rung at the same time as its twin in Hiroshima chimes.

There is a statue of person who embraces. The person is on his/her knees. To me it shows humility, brokenness and longing to embrace and to be embraced. When we speak about forgiveness and repentance and redemption, there are many powerful and beautiful symbols. During workshops on reconciliation I ask for mental pictures and commonly people see ’embrace’ or ‘handshake’.

‘Ubuntu’ is an African thought and expression which is usually translated as “humanity toward others”. No wonder my African friends love to hug and to hold hands. There is something deep within us that tells us that an act of embrace is the acknowledgement that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa describes it like this, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

And one more thought as I reflect on this embrace. Theologian Miroslav Volf from Croatia said it the best: “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”

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European and grateful? Let’s see…

We are getting better and better at the blame-game, anxiety, complaints and arguments. Those pointing fingers are growing longer and longer. “It is Germany’s fault… it is Brussels’s fault… it is those Eastern Europeans who want the benefits of EU, but not sharing its burdens…”

As a European, who spends a lot of time outside of Europe, I have noticed that outsider’s  perception of Europe is changing. Our reputation as the region of stability, peace, hospitality,  solidarity, compassion, rule of law, social justice, humanitarian values is suffering. Here I am addressing the failures of Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations in their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and now the spotlight is on my own nation and region.

Not that I am worried about our “moral high ground”. All of us have fallen short in so many ways. Still, I am privileged and blessed to be a European and I do not take for granted the good life we can enjoy. I have been to too many places around the world where people just cannot understand how Europeans can be so ungrateful for what they have.

We, Europeans, are very very privileged and one of our big problems is trying to deny, ignore or downplay it. We are the ‘rich club’ of the world. I remember some of the conversations in my own family. My mom who was definitely in the category of ‘lower social status’, would say, “I am ‘poor’ compared to rich Latvians, but I am very rich compared to people you visit and help.” And she was not talking about money and things only. She was talking about safety, security, healthcare, roof over her head, beautiful country, loving family around her… ‘Man does not live on bread alone’, right?

Another personal example – I received a last-minute invitation to attend a conference in Germany next week. I had to make a decision very fast and within one hour I had an airline ticket, registration for the conference, information about train times to get me from Lubeck to Hannover… As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking to myself, “This is incredible. I don’t need a visa for Germany; I just had the money for this trip; I speak English and even some German and will not feel lost traveling by trains. This will be a good trip.” How many people around the world would love to be in my shoes!

But there are problems with this good life and too often it comes at the expense of others. “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Wise words by Gandhi. I could say a lot but another time.

I want to encourage those of us who feel like we don’t have enough or feel threatened that those ‘immigrants’ or someone else from outside will take this good life away. That we will have share our goods and privileges with someone. We have more than enough, but we act like we don’t. Many of my friends around the world feel ‘poor’ compared to Latvians. Latvians feel ‘poor’ compared to British. British may feel ‘poor’ compared to Norwegians. Hmm, who can Norwegians compare themselves with?

I guess, Norwegians are the most grateful and therefore the most generous and welcoming people in the world! Are they? Are we?

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