Most difficult peace with ourselves

My claim to fame – meeting and talking with Brian “Head” Welch from Korn. I was never a huge fan. I could not relate to their darkness and anger and even less to the destructive lifestyle, but few years ago I heard Head perform his solo album “Save me from myself“.

Talk about a story of redemption! Now two books later, re-joined with Korn and traveling the world with a very different kind of message – one of brokenness, hope and more humility – Head caused some controversy when he reacted emotionally to the death of his good friend, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. On Facebook page he wrote “Honestly, Chester’s an old friend who we’ve hung with many times, and I have friends who are extremely close to him, but this is truly pissing me off! How can these guys send this message to their kids and fans?! I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sympathetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!!

I’m sorry, I know meds and/or alcohol may have been involved, I’m just processing like all of us and I know we are all having some of the same thoughts/feelings. Lord, take Chester in your arms and please re-unite him with his family and all of us one day. Be with his wife and kids with your grace during this difficult time.” Later he added, “I didn’t mean to sound insensitive about Chester. Just dealing with a range of emotions today. Love you Chester. I’m pissed that you did this, but I know this could have been me back in the day after getting wasted one night.”

That’s just it. It could have been Brian Welch, it could have been me, it could be many people I know. We come from very different worlds and backgrounds but there is something we all experience and struggle  with. The ability to forgive yourself or even harder – to love yourself. Self-hate and self-rejection, in whatever form it comes, is one of the most common human experiences. I have never had to battle a serious depression, mental issues and have been fortunate to avoid lots of self-destruction but I do know what I have felt or thought many times looking in the mirror or reflecting on my innermost thoughts and motives and past actions.

There is something else Head and I have in common – we are pursuing peace with ourselves, others and God. Started following the way of Jesus in very different circumstances but with the same desperate need – to be saved from ourselves. To be saved from my pride, selfishness and self-loathing among other things. We want peace in the world but this personal inner peace is the most elusive. To love your neighbor is often easier than loving yourself. To love yourself just as you are because you are loved by Someone who knows you even better yourself. To forgive yourself as you forgive others and are forgiven.

I was heartbroken when I heard of Chris Cornell‘s (of Audioslave and Soundgarden) death in May. Why did I cry and listen to his songs again? Besides coming from the grunge scene, why did it feel so personal? Yes, I liked all the bands he was in and I absolutely loved his vocal talent. More than that – I was touched by the lyrics Chris wrote. He had a special gift for raw poetry. I think of all “Audioslave” fans who have sung along these lines “You gave me life, now show me how to live… And in your waiting hands, I will land, and roll out of my skin”

Yesterday I was driving across the state of Minnesota and all radio stations were playing Linkin Park. The one I did not hear and my favorite is “What I’ve Done“. I really like the official video and the lyrics,

“So let mercy come
And wash away
What I’ve done

I’ll face myself
To cross out what I’ve become
Erase myself
And let go of what I’ve done

Put to rest
What you thought of me
While I clean this slate
With the hands of uncertainty

I start again
And whatever pain may come
Today this ends
I’m forgiving what I’ve done”

I pray for comfort to those who mourn the death of their idols, friends, family, parents, sons, daughters! And I understand the overwhelming emotions Head expressed when you want to say to dear friends… I don’t wish you to “rest in peace”. I wish you to “live in peace”.

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Brian “Head” Welch from Korn and Sunny from P.O.D. sharing about their fears, hopes and faith

 

What I learned from pilgrimage of trust in Rīga

Hope is on my mind. Hope is different from simple optimism or positive thinking because hope is living both in the reality of “now and here” and in “not yet and not there yet”. It all depends on the ultimate truth and purpose of life you believe in.

Few weeks ago the capital of Latvia was infused with lots of hope for Europe. ‘Invaded’ by 15,000 young Europeans who came on a pilgrimage. I don’t know what your idea of a pilgrimage is but this is a very unique one. Taizé, an ecumenical Christian community in southern France, has organized these annual New Year’s gatherings for 39 years. They called it “Pilgrimage of trust on earth in Rīga”

It was hard to miss it. The groups of young people everywhere; speaking in all kinds of languages; holding their Rīga maps and looking for venues to attend prayer events, seminars and worship gatherings. The Old Town was packed and the afternoon prayers in the churches were so popular that not everyone could get in.

If you read articles and countless Facebook posts, obviously this was one of the most amazing and unforgettable hospitality experiences for Latvians. To host these thousands in people’s homes is very unusual for our culture. Latvians are known for being reserved and not quick to trust strangers. Home is for family and close friends. I think we blew our own expectations and perceptions and realized that we are actually much more happy to open our homes and lives than “they” say.

This is one of Taizé communities main goals and visions – to be peace builders through helping people to connect across cultural, social and religious lines. At a time when everyone is concerned and talking about European disunity, challenges and possible disintegration, this gathering was a strong reminder that there are good and unifying things within everyone’s reach. You just have to be willing to go or to welcome. Portugal and Latvia will not seem distant anymore. Protestants and Catholics will not seem closed-minded and exclusive anymore.

I am privileged to work in a very international environment and also I am grateful to have friends from many different church backgrounds – protestant, catholic, orthodox, pentecostal, evangelical… whatever the label. Realizing that for many people this was a first time praying and worshiping together with other church traditions, I appreciate the vision and effort even more.

I was reminded of important truths. For example, the crucial thing of simplicity. We discussed how to “simplify our lives in order to share”. Whether concerned about environment, poverty, social injustice and conflicts around the world, we all need to learn to live in greater harmony with ourselves and the creation. The prayer booklet said: “Simplicity implies transparency of heart. Although it is not gullible, it refuses to mistrust. It is the opposite of duplicity. It enables us to enter into dialogue, without fear, with everyone we meet.”

What a beautiful way to celebrate New Year, new beginnings, new friends and new revelations! You can sit in front of your TV or computer or iPhone or iPad and get all anxious, mad and hopeless about the state of Europe, charismatic populists, powerful bullies, extreme nationalists or anyone else of this world or you can make (and keep) commitment to simple, generous and peaceful lifestyle… and you will discover a multitude of people on your side!

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Photos from  Taizé website

 

 

 

Have a brave and creative year 2017…

Rīga, Latvia… December 31, 2016 has turned out to be grey and misty. The sun has been hiding for weeks now and the snow is avoiding us, too. I guess there will be no New Year’s Eve sledding or snow ball fights.

I just re-read my first post of this past year and the predictions have come true. It was a bumpy ride with lots of wear and tear on my absorption capabilities. It became more and more uncomfortable as the year went on and I started reacting to the turns and twists more acutely. So, I am glad that 2016 is over even though for me personally it has been another incredibly adventurous journey. New places, new people, new lessons learned, new challenges – all the things I love about life.

But there was this cloud over my world. I would like to say ‘over the Western world’ but I think it has been a truly global feeling. That something has changed and ‘status quo’ is gone. That something got broken or twisted or even turned upside down. Most of us thought it was broken before but the glue was still holding. Suddenly the cracks were too many and truly tectonic shifts took place. I am not talking only about European and US political dramas; the tragedy in war in Syria and Ukraine; the big-mouth president in Philippines who believes in violence, not justice; the continued ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people; terrorist attacks or other ‘highlights’ of this year.

I am neither ‘gloom and doom’ person nor ‘happy go lucky’. I would like to think of myself as a realist who knows that lots of things are not as good and worthy as they seem but at the same time there is much more hope and love and peace and joy and good than we perceive.

Difficult, hard, even bad times are very important. I cannot be truly human without it. I cannot have compassion and generosity and gratitude and courage and determination if I don’t face the prospect of losing it all. If I don’t accept the frailty of my 92 year grandmother who is experiencing dementia and simply old age, I cannot love and support her in a way that she needs. If I don’t don’t accept the fact that people can and will start conflicts and wars and prefer violence over justice, I will take peace for granted and I will see it slip away.

Honestly I had many gloomy days this year. Many times my emotions were either too high (anger, frustration, disgust) or too low (indifference, discouragement, weariness). My view of humanity was fluctuating, too. I knew that this was not helping anyone and myself in the least. I felt unsettled but the good news is – I always had an anchor to hold onto.

“Faith is a simple trust in God. It does not offer ready-made answers, but makes it possible for us not to be paralyzed by fear or discouragement. It leads us to get involved, and sets us on the road. Through it we realize that the Gospel opens a vast horizon of hope beyond all our hopes.

This hope is not a facile optimism that shuts eyes to reality, but an anchor cast into God. It is creativity. Signs of it are already found in the most unhoped-for places on earth.” These are words from a small brochure printed for Taizé ecumenical gathering in Rīga which is taking place this week.

So, here is my New Year’s resolution… I want to be brave and creative! And I have hope because of God’s unlimited resources of truth and justice and grace!

Attēlu rezultāti vaicājumam “fireworks riga new year photos”

Best wishes from Riga! (photo from internet)

Latvian:

Rīga, Latvija… 2016. gada 31. decembris izrādījies pelēks un apmācies. Tāds ne šis, ne tas. Saule paslēpusies jau vairākas nedēļas, un sniegs mums arī gājis ar līkumu. Nebūs ne Vecgada vakara ragaviņu, ne pikošanās.

Tikko pārlasīju savu pirmo bloga ierakstu šajā aizejošajā gadā, un prognozes piepildījās. Gads bija diezgan traks, sakratīja ne pa jokam, un manas amortizācijas spējas tika pamatīgi pārbaudītas un noberztas. Jo tālāk, jo nēērtāk, līdz sāku reaģēt uz pagriezieniem un bedrēm arvien jūtīgāk. Tāpēc priecājos, ka 2016-tais ir beidzies, lai gan personīgajā dzīvē bija tik daudz kā forša. Jaunas vietas, jauni draugi, jauni izaicinājumi un jaunas dzīves atziņas – viss, kas man tik ļoti patīk.

Bet pāri manai pasaulei bija kaut kāds liels, drūms mākonis. Gribētos domāt, ka tas pārklāja konkrēti Rietumu pasauli, bet visticamāk šī sajūta bija universāla. Ka vēsture tiek rakstīta mūsu acu priekšā, un mēs knapi spējam pāršķirt lappuses. Ka kaut kas ir salūzis, aizgājis pa pieskari, apgriezies ar kājām gaisā vai nogājis no sliedēm (epitetus var atrast daudz un dažādus).  Liela daļa jau sen zināja, ka pieņemtajai lietu kārtībai ir milzīgi un bīstami defekti, bet līme vēl turēja. Pēkšņi spiediens kļuva pārāk liels, un plaisas aiziet uz visām pusēm. Es nerunāju tikai par Eiropas un ASV politiskajām drāmām; kara šausmām Sīrijā un Ukrainā; balamuti prezidentu Filipīnās, kuram patīk vardarbība, nevis taisnīgums un tiesiskums; etnisko tīrīšanu Mjanmā; teroristu uzbrukumus un citiem gada ‘spilgtākajiem’ notikumiem.

Neesmu ne pārliecināta pesimiste, ne nelabojama optimiste. Ceru, ka esmu reāliste, kura saprot, ka ne viss ir tik jauks, vērtīgs un vajadzīgs kā tiek reklamēts. Un ne viss ir tik bezcerīgs, tukšs un bezjēdzīgs kā izliekas. Pasaulē ir daudz vairāk cerības, mīlestības, prieka un labprātības kā mēs spējam aptvert.

Grūti, sarežģīti, pat slikti brīži ir ļoti svarīgi. Bez tiem es nespētu būt cilvēcīga. Žēlsirdība, dāsnums, pateicība, drosme, nepadošanās man rodas tad, kad zinu, ko varu zaudēt un cik ātri to visu var zaudēt. Ja es neskatītos patiesībai acīs redzot, kā mana vecmamma 92 gadu vecumā piedzīvo demenci, trauslumu un vienkārši novecošanu, es nespētu par viņu labi rūpēties. Ja es noliegtu patiesību, ka cilvēki spēj un pat grib izraisīt asus konfliktus un karus un izvēlas vardarbību taisnīguma vietā, es nedomātu par mieru, un cik neatlaidīgi tas jākopj un jākultivē.

Atzīstos, ka šogad piedzīvoju daudzas drūmas un pelēkas dienas. Pārāk bieži manas emocijas bija vai nu sakāpinātas (dusmas, aizkaitinājums, pat pretīgums), vai arī atsaldētas (vienaldzība, neizlēmība, pagurums). Arī mans skats uz cilvēci staigāja kā dzīvsudrabs pa termometra stabiņu. Apzinājos, ka nevienam no tā labāk nepaliks, it sevišķi jau man pašai. Biju sašūpināta, bet labā ziņa ir tāda, ka nekad nejutos atrāvusies no sava enkura.

“Ticība ir vienkārša paļāvība uz Dievu. Tā nesniedz gatavas atbildes, taču ļauj mums nesastingt mazdūšības bailēs. Tā aicina mūs iesaistīties un sagatavo mūs ceļam. Caur ticību mēs atskāršam, ka Evanģēlijs atklāj plašu apvārsni tādai cerībai, kas pārsniedz visas cerības.

Šī cerība nav vienkāršs optimisms, kas piever acis īstenības priekšā, bet gan Dievā mests enkurs. Tā ir radoša. Tās zīmes jau saskatāmas visnecerētākajās zemes vietās.” Šis citāts nāk no Taizē jauniešu tikšanās bukletiņa.

Te nu ir mana Jaunā gada apņemšanās… es gribu būt drosmīga un radoša! Un esmu cerības pilna, jo Dievam ir neizsmeļami resursi patiesībā, taisnīgumā un žēlastībā!

 

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes…

I miss her. Today, October 8, is her birthday and I miss going to her home, having a nice home cooked meal, watching some silly TV programs, talking about anything and everything, watching her laugh so easily… so many ordinary things that she made special.

My mom passed away a few years ago. Today she would have turned 67 and we celebrate her life. Without her physical presence but not without her love and legacy. I think about her very often and I know that her imprint is all over my life. I am who I am because she was.

Apostle Paul wrote one of the most beautiful passages about love. “Love is patient, love is kind…” My mom was both of these things. It just came to her naturally. She was even kind in my teenage years when my “normal” state was to be mean, sarcastic and arrogant. I have no idea how she did it.

Love always protects… Mom was a very petite woman but at moments she seemed larger than life. I remember her getting so mad at an older man who was threatening to spank me and my brother. Actually we had gotten ourselves in trouble because we had climbed over a tall fence to steal some flowers from his flower-bed.  We got caught and the old man was so angry. Then our mom leaned outside the window, yelled at the guy and threatened to come downstairs. I remember watching in amazement how this tall, big guy became so meek and changed his tone and even gave us some candy.

Love always trusts… Even when I was not trustworthy. Even when I lied and cheated. Even when things were going hard for my other siblings and there were many reasons for discouragement and disappointment. Something we always felt, never doubted and knew deep inside was that our mom trusts us. Trusts us to make good decisions, trusts us to have adventures and to explore, trusts us to grow up and live well.

“peaceroads” is a big tribute to her life. My mom was a peacemaker. Of course, she was not perfect and she made many mistakes in her relationships. Still, she showed me how to acknowledge the truth, how to repent and apologize, how to reach out and how to hope for reconciliation.

Love always hopes…

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Until we meet again (photos from personal archive)

 

 

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…

Living between ‘Now’ and ‘Not Yet’

Today is Christmas Eve and I am looking forward to celebrating it with the family in Minnesota. At the same time missing my family in Latvia.

Many of us have favorite Christmas memories, so let me share mine. Growing up in Latvia while still part of the Soviet Union, we celebrated Christmas behind closed curtains. We would light candles and have a nice dinner but it was kept as a very private affair. Remember, we were living in an officially atheist country and you never knew who was watching. Somehow it made Christmas even more special, though. I liked the ‘secrecy’ and ‘mystery’ and the ‘underground’ feel of it before it became so mainstream.

My parents were not Christians and I don’t remember any conversations about God or my parents ever explaining to me what Christmas was. I just knew that it was a time of the year when you go to church and when you think about God. And I started to piece it together by listening to Christmas carols I heard in the church or from my grandmother’s stories.

Yes, I went to church on Christmas Eve. And this is my favorite memory – my dad and his childhood friend taking us, children, to the Lutheran church in Sarkandaugava, Riga. Neither dad were churchgoing but this was something they decided to do. And I loved it. I liked sitting in the balcony, listening to the choir, looking down on the huge Christmas tree and enjoying the smell of pine and candles. It felt like I was in ‘heaven’.

But the greatest impression was the Story. Usually someone read from the gospel of Luke 2:14, retelling the message proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds. “Glory to God in Heaven, and upon earth Peace, Good News to the children of men.”

I would start to cry. As soon as I heard that there will be peace on earth, I felt something in me explode. Is it really possible? It seemed too good to be true – Peace on Earth. This was the best news to me.

As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, I grew up in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety because of the Cold War. As children, we heard about all the threats, including the possibility of nuclear war. Also, my dad liked to watch programs on politics and history and I heard about all the different wars going on around the world. It certainly looked like people just don’t know how to get along. Even the experts did not have any answers. It was frightening to feel like there is no hope.

Then I heard it – God has an answer and His answer is Jesus. I felt power and assurance and hope and joy in this proclamation. If God is truly intervening in human affairs, then this is for real. Then nothing can stop this because God is all powerful and keeps His word.

Fast forward to 2015 and I still feel the same emotions and have the same thoughts when I hear, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Yes, the conflicts and wars are still there.  We still live between that night in Bethlehem and the future day when there is truly Peace on Earth! That is why Christmas is not the whole story… later there is Easter and even that it is not the whole story…

We are encouraged to be like children because the children are simple. They know that God keeps His word.

Merry Christmas! God bless Us, Every One!

Ģimene 106

This is one of my younger brother’s Christmas memories

Ir Ziemsvētku vakars, un priecājos sagaidīt to kopā ar ģimeni Minesotā. Vienīgi skumstu pēc saviem radiem Latvijā.

Daudziem no mums ir mīļākās Ziemsvētku atmiņas, šoreiz pastāstīšu savējās. Manā bērnībā svinējām ģimenes Ziemsvētkus aiz ‘aizvērtiem aizkariem’. Ar eglīti, svecītēm un gardām vakariņām, bet bez liekas uzmanības. Tolaik vēl bija sajūta, ka dzīvojot valstī, kur oficiālā ideoloģija ir ateisms, labāk nereklamēt savu privāto dzīvi kaimiņiem. Turklāt klāt tāds nacionālais elements. Tas lika izjust Ziemsvētkus kā kaut ko īpašu, slepenu, kā ‘pagrīdes’ aktivitāti. Ja godīgi, tā sajūta man patika labāk nekā tagadējie komerciālie, vidusmēra Ziemsvētki.

Mani vecāki nebija kristieši, un es neatceros nevienu sarunu par Dievu vai šo svētku nozīmi. Es tikai zināju, ka tajā dienā daudzi iet uz baznīcu, un tur runā par Dievu. Un es pati sāku ‘lipināt’ savus priekšstatus, klausoties Ziemsvētku korāļus vai vecmammas stāstus.

Jā, Ziemsvētkos mēs pat gājām uz baznīcu. Un tā ir mana mīļākā atmiņa – vienreiz mans tētis un viņa bērnības draugs ved mūs, bērnus, uz luterāņu baznīcu Sarkandaugavā. Neviens no tētiem nebija baznīcā gājēji, bet viņi tā nolēma. Un kā man tas patika! Man patika sēdēt balkonā… klausīties baznīcas korī, kas likās kā eņģeļu balsis…patika skatīties uz milzīgo egli un baudīt skuju un sveču smaržu. Man likās, ka esmu ‘debesīs’.

Bet vislielāko iespaidu atstāja pats Stāsts. Kāds lasīja vārdus, ko eņģeļi pasludina ganiem Lūkas vēstījumā. “Gods Dievam augstībā, un miers virs zemes cilvēkiem, pie kā Viņam labs prāts.”

Es sāku raudāt. Kad izdzirdēju vārdus par mieru pasaulē, kaut kas manī uzsprāga. Vai tas tiešām ir iespējams? Vai varu ticēt savām ausīm? Tās bija vislabākās ziņas.

Kā jau rakstīju agrāk, es uzaugu Aukstā kara baiļu un nedrošības atmosfērā. Bērnībā mēs ‘zinājām’ par draudiem, ieskaitot atomkaru. Vēl mans tētis skatījās daudz raidījumus par politiku un vēsturi, un es klausījos par visādiem kariem un konfliktiem pasaulē. Man kā bērnam bija skaidrs, ka cilvēki nemāk sadzīvot viens ar otru. Pat eksperti bija neziņā, kā to atrisināt. Ir briesmīgi dzīvot bez cerības.

Un te pēkšņi dzirdu – Dievam ir veids, kā to atrisināt. Es sajutu spēku, pārliecību, cerību un prieku. Ja Dievs ‘iejaucas’cilvēces attiecībās, tad tas ir pa īstam. Tad nekas to neapturēs, jo Dievam viss ir iespējams, un Viņš tur savu vārdu.

Patinot uz priekšu, 2015. gadā es izjūtu to pašu, kad dzirdu vārdus: “Jo mums ir piedzimis Bērns, mums ir dots Dēls, valdība guļ uz Viņa pleciem. Viņa vārds ir: Brīnums, Padoma devējs, Varenais Dievs, Mūžīgais tēvs un Miera valdnieks.”

Jā, konflikti un kari nav beigušies. Mēs joprojām dzīvojam starp nakti Betlēmē un dienu nākotnē, kad patiesi pienāks Miers virs Zemes! Tāpēc ar Ziemsvētku stāstu nekas nebeidzas… vēlāk seko Lieldienas, bet arī ar to stāsts nebeidzas…

Mums atgādina, lai topam par bērniem, jo bērni ir vienkārši. Viņi zina, ka Dievs tur savu vārdu.

Priecīgus Ziemsvētkus! Lai Dievs mūs visus svētī!

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!