Wrestling with the antisemitism of the past and of the present

I have wanted to write this for a while but kept postponing… and tried to understand why?! One of the simple explanations is that it is extremely difficult to write about national shame, inhumane ideologies, ordinary people with extraordinary hatred or indifference. It is difficult to say something about all of this without too many cliches, too much moralizing and too little personal reflection. But I will try to put my finger on a few very important and timely things…

November 30 is coming up and in Latvia it marks another remembrance day – the mass killings of Jewish people on November 30, 1941 in Rumbula forest near Riga. I don’t want to give the facts and statistics of how it happened or how many thousands got killed. There is plenty of information available online, plus I have written before how we as a society in Latvia are still in the process of talking about, reflecting upon and learning from these very painful and shameful events of our past.

In many ways here in Latvia we are on a very steep curve of learning and remembering while it seems that many people in Europe and around the world are on the downhill slope of unlearning and forgetting. Of course, not everyone in Latvia wants to know, to understand and to change their views or assumptions, but it is getting harder and harder to ignore it. There are more museums, more books, more media attention, more and more people who care to know.

This year we even have the first Latvian feature film about the Holocaust in Latvia which tells the true story of one amazing family, Lipke, in Riga who risked their lives to save more than 50 Latvian Jews during WWII. There were many others who were rescuers but Lipke family has their own unique story. (The English title of this new movie is “The Mover“.)

So, the movie is in the theaters, the remembrance day and lighting the candles at Freedom Monument takes place on November 30… meanwhile I turn on the news and watch programs about the rise of new kind of antisemitism in Europe and elsewhere. It is on the far-right and the far-left and many shades of it in-between. And I ask myself what is going on?!

The experts – sociologists, psychologists, political analysts, historians, journalists, etc. – have their own wise explanations and we can easily find the research and survey data. But what does it tell me personally? For one, it tells that we live in a very fragile time filled with so much anxiety where many of the old mechanisms of dealing with insecurity, instability, rapid global technological and cultural change are being used. One of the classical methods is finding the scapegoat whom to blame for everything. “The Jew” is just so familiar and easy to revert to, but it can be “the Muslim”, “the Russian”, ” the immigrant”, “the black”, “the Mexican”, “the Christian”…

That is why I think antisemitism is also on the rise in those countries where the governing parties are very pro-Israel but very prejudiced against many different groups of people. In this sense any rise of nationalism is a rise of antisemitism. When we talk about ‘making our countries great again’ by which people often mean going back to some kind of ‘ideal’ past and ‘romanticized’ cultural identity we used to have, we are already on this downward slope. It is a whole package where it is very hard to pick and choose our prejudices for this kind of pride comes with strings attached.

The experts mention that many people would be classified as ‘antisemitic’ because they hate the policies of the current state of Israel, especially toward the Palestinian people. I do not support this hatred in any way. Still,  I understand a little bit about not liking a certain countries policies and the struggle to separate the issue. For example, I have many negative feelings and strong opinions about the current politics, ideologies and state of affairs in Russia and it is not easy for me to look at the Russian flag as something neutral or accept people who are very proudly Russian and nationalistic. I immediately start wondering if they support Putin or “Make Russia great again” which would put them in the ” other” camp. Some years ago I would have never imagined that my generation will have to have these inner struggles again of how to love the Russian people from our neighboring country while strongly opposing that country’s political direction.

I am very concerned that we forget so quickly… we forget the Holocaust, we forget Rwanda, we forget Cambodia, we forget the Apartheid.. We forget that every generation has their own ‘demons’ to face which often try to appear as the ‘angels’ or ‘idols’ of ethnic, religious, racial or national identity, infallibility, stability and self-protection…

As we continue to pray in our own brokenness: “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil…”

(The heading photo was taken at Riga Ghetto Museum and this exhibit tells the story of European Jews who were transported from various countries to  be shot and killed in Latvia)

Image result for teva nakts photos

Photo from “The Mover” (2018), a movie about the Holocaust in Latvia


Rohingya and soul searching in Myanmar

Myanmar is making international headlines again and the news is not good. Tragedy for the thousands and thousands of people who are losing their homes, ancestral land, possessions and fleeing to neighboring country Bangladesh… hundreds are also losing their lives and their loved ones. The story of Rohingya ethnic minority has repeated through the years but the current crisis is a new low.

Myanmar (Burma) holds a special place in my heart. Peaceroads was inspired by my friends from this beautiful but broken country. We have spent many hours talking, working and praying for peace, freedom, restoration and reconciliation in this nation. Many are already experiencing peace and freedom but not everyone. Not yet … and it will take even longer now.

It is racism but this is not just about race. It is religious but this is not just about religion (most Rohingya are Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country). Nationalism, economics, politics, military power, etc… It is complicated, yes, and long story. There are violent and angry people on all sides, yes, and someone’s freedom fighter is someone else’ terrorist. We don’t know all the facts, yes, and Myanmar government accuses international media of misinformation (while not allowing them access to the conflict area!). Still, many facts are too obvious, stories are real, pictures speak for themselves and there is suffering for the whole world to see.

This is why international community is reacting with such sadness, criticism and challenge to the current leaders of Myanmar. For decades and decades people and governments in democratic countries supported the long journey toward freedom, dignity and rights of the people of Burma, including demand to release Aung Sun Suu Kyi from house arrest and let her lead the nation. Now many of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates are challenging her to speak out, act fast and defend the rights of ALL people.

I deeply care about real and lasting reconciliation in Myanmar and right now it is facing a dangerous moment. There are plenty of evil forces that are ready to exploit this fault line and make it even more violent (Al Qaeda, ISIS and other such groups are looking at this as a new cause to support). It is like a perfect storm brewing if there is no immediate and courageous national leadership and brave decisions. It also requires a deep soul searching in the whole society – who is this country for, who is my neighbor?

I am no expert but I know enough about Myanmar’s pain of the past, the struggles of today and the hopes for the future. This is not just about human rights; this is about right human relationships. How will these communities live? What will happen to these displaced people? If they are allowed return, how do they rebuild their lives? What will make them feel safe, protected and wanted? What about justice? What about forgiveness?

I want to copy an open letter by Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, which expresses many of my own thoughts…

“My dear Aung San Su Kyi

I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya.

In my heart you are a dearly beloved younger sister. For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people. You symbolised righteousness. In 2010 we rejoiced at your freedom from house arrest, and in 2012 we celebrated your election as leader of the opposition.

Your emergence into public life allayed our concerns about violence being perpetrated against members of the Rohingya. But what some have called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and others ‘a slow genocide’ has persisted – and recently accelerated. The images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread.

We know that you know that human beings may look and worship differently – and some may have greater firepower than others – but none are superior and none inferior; that when you scratch the surface we are all the same, members of one family, the human family; that there are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims; and that whether we are Jews or Hindus, Christians or atheists, we are born to love, without prejudice. Discrimination doesn’t come naturally; it is taught.

My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country.

It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain.

As we witness the unfolding horror we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again. We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness again.

God bless you.


Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Hermanus, South Africa”


photos from internet


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…


Hill of Crosses in Lithuania


“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…

Sons and daughters… kings and queens of love

It was a hot and humid evening in Kuala Lumpur. Our friend Darren is a good driver and I am glad because the traffic here gets bad. I don’t mind sitting in a passenger seat though when it gives more time for good conversations. And in Malaysia there is lots to talk about. People, the city, music, art, faith, history, current affairs… Darren is a good source for all these topics.

We were driving to a show featuring local bands. Seriously, there is so much musical talent in Malaysia! And the venue was really cool. “Merdekarya” is a combination of words for ‘independence’ and ‘art’. It prides itself for being a place of free expression and creativity and providing platform and support for local poetry, music and storytelling…

One advertisement that stuck in my head from years of watching CNN International news is “Malaysia Truly Asia”. It emphasized the natural beauty and the cultural, ethnic and racial diversity and it had a very catchy tune. I guess this ad worked… at least for me. No doubt it is one of the most diverse places and also this tropical land is one of 17 Megadiverse countries on earth, estimated to have 20% of the world’s animal species.  Most of the country is covered by tropical rain forests.

Malay, Chinese, Indigenous, Indian. I am glad that for my friends, English is a common language. Otherwise I would be lost. Still, I do get lost when they switch to Manglish, a mix of English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil… wow , they can talk fast! It is like listening on “fast forward”.

Our friend Darren used to teach English to foreign students in Kuala Lumpur. It gave him another deeper insight into cross-cultural living. Especially interesting for me were his observations about young people from the former Soviet republics like Russia, Tajikistan, etc. Most come from wealthy families and many are not as interested in their studies as they are interested in having a good time. Also, Darren had become aware of different prejudices and conflicts between these groups. For example, the prejudice toward people from Central Asian countries. For those of us who grew up in the USSR, all the derogatory terms are so familiar. And here they made it all the way to Malaysia.

I am aware that even in such a beautiful country like Malaysia not everything is ‘paradise’ and the rich cultural social tapestry has its reverse side. The advertisement of Malaysia Truly Asia leaves out these kind of things. There is a history of tensions and from time to time it comes to violence, aimed at ethnic or religious communities. I am no expert on Malaysian history or all the current causes for these fractures, but I do know that there are fault-lines in all our societies.

At the show I was listening to an amazing young band from the south of Malaysia, accordingly named “South and The Lowlands”. Music is a very powerful tool in peace building and reconciliation.  One of their songs “Sculptures” (lyrics by Daniel T.) has a beautiful message and a story to tell that is very relevant to all our lives…

“Many faces and places… Many hopes and dreams shattered                                                              Many hurts and bruises… Many roads and paths taken

Different colours, covered by the same blood… Different shades, but after one heart

Sons and daughters… Kings and queens of love                                                                                      More than sculptures… Crafted by God

Shine bright tonight… One heart… One soul… One mind ”

Malaysia has words, songs and stories to tell the world. I am blessed by friends like Darren and Daniel  and others who are passionate about challenging our prejudices. They use their talents while inspired by faith in God who rains Love, Truth and Forgiveness on everyone – good and bad.


A must-visit venue in Kuala Lumpur


Kualalumpūrā ir karsts un sutīgs vakars. Mūsu draugs Darens ir labs šoferis, un es to novērtēju, jo te mēdz būt pamatīgi satiksmes sastrēgumi. Turklāt man nav iebildumu būt pasažierim, ja ir daudz laika labām sarunām. Malaizijā ir ko pārrunāt – cilvēki, pilsēta, mūzika, māksla, reliģija, vēsture, jaunākie notikumi… Darens labprāt runā par visām šīm tēmām.

Mēs braucam uz koncertu, kur muzicēs vietējās jaunās grupas. Goda vārds, te ir tik daudz labas mūzikas! Un pats mūzikas klubs ir superīgs. “Merdekarya” ir vārdu salikums, kas malaju valodā nozīmē ‘neatkarība’ un ‘māksla’. Ar to arī šis klubs lepojas, ka veicina un atbalsta neatkarīgo mākslu un vietējos dzejniekus, mūziķus un rakstniekus.

Tā kā daudzus gadus skatos CNN starptautiskās ziņas, tad galvā iesēdies viens reklāmas rullītis. “Malaizija Patiesa Āzija”. Tur tika reklamēts dabas skaistums, un lielā kultūras, etnisko grupu un rasu dažādība. Turklāt šai reklāmai bija ļoti lipīga melodija. Tātad šī kampaņa nostrādāja. Vismaz manā gadījumā. Nav šaubu, ka te ir šī liela dažādība. Turklāt Malaizija ir viena no 17 valstīm pasaulē, kuras tiek uzskatītas par supervalstīm dabas daudzveidības jomā. Te ir apmēram 20% no pasaules dzīvnieku sugām. Lielāko daļu valsts sedz tropu meži.

Malaji, ķīnieši, aborigēni, indieši… Es priecājos, ka mūsu draugi savā starpā sarunājas angļu valodā, savādāk es apjuktu. Es jau tā apjūku vai arī atslēdzos no sarunas, kad viņi pāriet uz vietējo angļu sarunvalodu (Manglish), kur sajaucas angļu, malaju, mandarīnu, tamilu, hokienu un citas valodas. Turklāt viņi runā tādā ātrumā! Liekas, ka kāds būtu ieslēdzis pogu “paātrināt”.

Mūsu draugs Darens agrāk mācīja angļu valodu ārvalstu studentiem, kuri mācās Kualalumpūrā. Viņš daudz ko uzzināja un iepazina dažādas kultūras. Konkrēti mani interesēja stāsti par studentiem no bijušajām PSRS valstīm, piemēram, Krievijas, Tadžikistānas un citām. Lielākā daļa ir bagātu ģimeņu atvases, kuriem gribas ne tik daudz studēt, kā labi pavadīt laiku. Zīmīgi, ka Darens ātri uzķēra dažādos aizspriedumus šo studentu starpā. Piemēram, attieksmi pret tautībām no Centrālās Āzijas. Mums, uzaugušajiem PSRS, šīs iesaukas un citi apzīmējumi ir labi pazīstami, bet tagad tie atceļojuši līdz Malaizijai. Darens man ļoti precīzi izskaidroja, kas ir ‘čurkas’.

Taču es zinu, ka arī skaistajā Malaizijā nav “paradīze”, un krāsainajam sabiedrības tepiķim ir otra neglītā puse. Protams, ka reklāmas rullītis to nerādīs. Arī šeit ir vēsture ar konfliktiem starp rasēm un tautībām un dažādas reliģiskas neiecietības izpausmes, kas reizēm pārvēršas vardarbībā. Skaidrs, ka šīs plaisas ir visur pasaulē.

Koncertā klausījos vienu jaunu un ļoti talantīgu rokgrupu no Malaizijas dienvidiem, kuru attiecīgi sauc “Dienvidi un zemienes” (South and The Lowlands). Mūzika vienmēr ir bijis spēcīgs intruments, ko izmantot miera celšanai. Viena no grupas dziesmām “Skulptūras” pildīja tieši šādu uzdevumu caur savu skaisto vēstījumu…

“Daudzas sejas un vietas… Daudzas cerības un sapņi

Daudzas sāpes un brūces… Daudzi ceļi un gaitas

Daudzas krāsas, ko apklāj vienas asinis… Daudzi toņi, bet viena sirds

Dēli un meitas… Mīlestības valdnieki un valdnieces

Vairāk kā skulptūras… Dieva radītas

Lai deg spoži… Viena sirds… Viena dvēsele… Viens nodoms”

Malaizija dod vārdus, dziesmas un stāstus visai pasaulei. Paldies Dievam par tādiem draugiem kā Darens and Daniēls un citi, kuri cīnās ar mūsu aizspriedumiem. Viņu instruments ir mūzika un māksla, un viņu motivācija ir ticība Dievam, kurš izlej savu Mīlestību, Patiesību un Žēlastību pār mums visiem – labiem un sliktiem.