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…

bk24_barricades_in_riga_boriss_kolesnikovsx

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…

Tale as old as time: My tribe against yours

So, I was thinking about our tribalism in Europe and elsewhere and suddenly remembered one of my favorite children’s stories, “Ronia the Robber’s Daughter” by Astrid Lindgren. It is truly one of my favorite books and I have read it many times. I can still experience the same emotions I had when I read it as a child.

Sorry to spoil the plot for those who have not read it, but it is a beautiful metaphor or parable about something we can all relate to – my tribe is not your tribe, my family is not yours and sometimes there is a big schism between them.

Ronia is a girl growing up among a clan of robbers living in a castle in the woodlands. As the only child of Matt, the chief, she is expected to become the leader of the clan someday. Their castle, Matt’s Fort, is split in two parts by a lightning bolt. Ronia grows up with her clan of robbers as the only company, until a rival robber group led by Borka moves into the other half of the castle, worsening the longstanding rivalry between the two bands.

Don’t many of us feel like we live in a castle that is split in two? Or three? Or four? There have been events and global trends that have the same effect as the lightning bolt. The wars that have re-drawn the borders of nations, colonial and imperial powers deciding who will live where, people being exiled and moved from one land to another, people without a home, new neighbors (of different language and culture and faith) arriving and moving in… Truly a split castle where often one side does not interact much with the other. And the less we relate to each other and the less we interact, the schism gets wider and wider.

I am reminded of a comment by  Vladislav Nastavsev, a talented Latvian/Russian stage director, who dares to talk about the schism that still exists in our Latvian ‘castle’. His family is ethnically Russian and he just directed a play called “Lake Of Hope” to address some of these deeply personal and dividing issues. I read a quote by V. Nastavsev, comparing what happened in Latvia during the occupation by USSR to a nuclear explosion. It happened, it changed our life in profound ways, we cannot go back but how do we live forward?

And no, I am not saying that all our ethnic and national families are like feuding clans of robbers, but I do know what ‘my people are not your people’ means.

Something happens that changes Ronia’s life completely. She meets a little boy and it turns out that he is Birk, the only son of Borka, the rival chief. He is the only other child she has ever met, and so she is sorry that he is a Borka. They start a game of jumping across the schism and later on become friends.

Ronia jumping

Have you ever been in her shoes? Where you think that he or she is not ‘one of us’? Where you look at each other wondering what the other is thinking about you? What have they been told in their family or tribe about my tribe? They look like me, but are we really the same? I have been there… standing with some trepidation… wondering how to bridge the gap.

Ronia and Borka keep their friendship secret. (It means they do not post it on Facebook) The climax of the story happens when Ronia’s father captures Birk and thinks that now their clan has won. Then unthinkable happens –  Ronia jumps across and gives herself to the Borkas so she must be exchanged.  Her father disowns her and refuses to acknowledge her as his daughter.

I remember feeling so sorry and sad for Ronia and her dad. His heart is broken because his daughter is ‘a traitor’. Or is she?  And what about her mom who is torn between her husband and her daughter? There is a point in most peace building and reconciliation  efforts when peacemakers get labeled ‘traitors’. They dare to reach out to the ‘others’. They dare to listen, they dare to become friends, they dare not to follow their father’s and chief’s ways and make a new way.

I will not spoil the ending with details in case you want to read it now, but it does end well.

Are you ready for some big and daring jumps? Start practicing…

Ronia and Birk

Illustrations by Ilon Wikland

Latviski:

Bieži domāju par mūsdienu ‘ciltīm’ Eiropā un pasaulē. Pēkšņi atcerējos vienu no saviem mīļākajiem bērnības stāstiem “Ronja – laupītāja meita”, ko sarakstījusi Astrīda Lindgrēne. Tā tiešām man ir ļoti mīļa grāmata, pārlasīta vairākas reizes. Vēl joprojām atceros tās bērnības emocijas, pārdzīvojot par varoņiem.

Piedodiet, ka pastāstīšu priekšā tiem, kas nav lasījuši, bet šis stāsts ir brīnišķīga metafora mūsdienu pasaulei, un mums visiem pazīstamajai pieredzei – mana cilts nav tavējā, mana ģimene nav tavējā, un reizēm starp mums ir liela un dziļa plaisa.

Ronja ir meitene, kura uzaug laupītāju dzimtā, un dzīvo pilī mežā vidū.Viņa ir Matisa, dzimtas vadoņa vienīgais bērns, tātad kādu dienu viņai būs jākļūst par dzimtas jeb cilts vadoni. Naktī, kad Ronja piedzimst, zibens sašķeļ pili jeb Matisa cietoksni divās daļās. Ronja aug bez citu bērnu klātbūtnes, līdz kādu dienu pils otrā daļā ievācas cita laupītāju dzimta, kuru vada Borka. Abas dzimtas jau tā ir naidīgas, bet šī ‘kaimiņu būšana’ vēl vairāk saasina šo konfliktu.

Vai daudziem no mums neliekas, ka mēs dzīvojam tādās sašķeltās pilīs? Ne tikai divās, bet pat trīs vai vairākās daļās? Pagātnē un tagadnē ir notikumi un pagriezieni, kuri ir gluži kā negaidīts zibens spēriens. Kari un konflikti, kas pārzīmē valstu robežas; impērijas, kuras izlemj, kur cilvēkiem būs dzīvot vai nedzīvot; bēgļu gaitas un izsūtījums; cilvēki bez mājām; jauni kaimiņi ar ‘svešu valodu, kultūru un ticību’, kuri iekārtojas blakus… Tiešām kā sašķeltā pilī, kur bieži vien abas puses dzīvo atsevišķi, katra par sevi. Un, jo mazāk mēs satiekamies un tusējamies un draudzējamies, jo dziļāka un lielāka top plaisa.

Tas man atgādina salīdzinājumu, kuru izteica Vladislavs Nastavševs, talantīgais Latvijas režisors. Viņš nebaidās runāt par šo plaisu, kas eksistē Latvijas ‘pilī’. Kaut vai nesenā JRT izrāde “Cerību ezers” (kuru vēl neesmu redzējusi, bet ļoti gribu), kurā viņš runā par šiem pretrunīgajiem jautājumiem ļoti dziļā un intīmā veidā. Kādā rakstā es lasīju, ka Nastavševs salīdzina to, kas notika Latvijā padomju okupācijas laikā, ar atomsprādzienu. Tas notika; tas atstāja smagas un sāpīgas un paliekošas sekas; tas izmainīja mūsu dzīves pašos pamatos. Mēs nevaram atgriezties pagātnē un to mainīt, bet kā lai dzīvojam uz priekšu?

Lūdzu, nepārprotiet… Es nesalīdzinu mūsu etniskās un tautiskās ģimenes ar naidīgām laupītāju dzimtām, bet es zinu, ko nozīmē ‘manējie nav tavējie’.

Atpakaļ pie stāsta. Kaut kas pamatīgi izmaina Ronjas dzīvi. Viņa satiek zēnu, un izrādās, ka tas ir Birks, pretinieka laupītāju vadoņa Borkas vienīgais dēls. Viņa nekad nav satikusi citus bērnus, un tāpēc viņai žēl, ka viņš ir no Borkas dzimtas. Viņi sāk sacensties un mēģināt pārlekt pāri plaisai, kas arī izdodas, un pamazām abi kļūst par draugiem.

Vai tu esi kādreiz bijis vai bijusi Ronjas ādā? Tu satiec kādu, un izrādās, ka viņš vai viņa nav ‘savējais’. Abi skataties viens uz otru, un mēģinat uzminēt otra domas. Vai arī iedomāties, kas ir stāstīts un mācīts otra ģimenē vai dzimtā vai tautā vai ticībā vai TV? Izskatamies līdzīgi, bet vai tiešām tādi esam? Es esmu bijusi šādās situācijās… stāvu uztraukusies… domāju, kā lai tiek pāri tai plaisai…

Ronja un Birka slēpj savu draudzību no savām dzimtām (viņi neraksta par to Feisbukā). Stāsta kulminācija pienāk tad, kad Ronjas tētis noķer Birku un domā, ka tagad ir uzvarējis. Taču notiek neiedomājamais – Ronja pārlec pāri uz otru pusi un nodod sevi Borkas rokās, lai notiktu gūstekņu apmaiņa. Un tētis atsakās no savas meitas.

Es atceros, ka raudāju, lasot šo epizodi. Man bija tik ļoti žēl gan Ronjas, gan viņas tēta. Viņam ir salauzta sirds, jo meita ir ‘nodevēja’. Vai tiešām viņa ir nodevēja? Un ko darīt mammai, kurai sirds plēšas uz abām pusēm? To var piedzīvot, strādājot pie miera celšanas un cenšoties panākt izlīgumu. Kāds tiks nodēvēts par ‘nodevēju’, jo uzdrīkstas iet pie tiem ‘citiem’. Uzdrīkstas klausīties, uzdrīkstas iedraudzēties, uzdrīkstas nesekot savam tēvam vai vadonim. Uzdrīkstas piedāvāt jaunu ceļu.

Es nesabojāšu stāsta beigas tiem, kas tagad vēlas izlasīt šo brīnišķīgo bērnu grāmatu, bet viss ies uz labu.

Vai esi gatavs vai gatava lieliem un drosmīgiem lēcieniem? Jāsāk trenēties…

Define ‘happy’ and ‘new year’

A Rwandan friend of mine posted a question on Facebook: “what does ‘happy new year’ mean?” He inspired me to write my own response.

It is January 1, 2016… the first day of a new year. We measure time by counting years but I like to think more in terms of ‘seasons’. There is no magic line that gets crossed just because the date changes. Most things carry over into the next year.

What will carry over from 2015? Thinking globally, I will say that most of the events and responses of last year will continue to have ripple effect on our future. I remember a song from 1991 that was relevant to my generation. Yes, Generation X.  The British band Jesus Jones sang:

“A woman on the radio talks about revolution
When it’s already passed her by
Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about you
You know it feels good to be alive
I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now, there is no other place I wanna be
Right here, right now, watching the world wake up from history
I saw the decade in, when it seemed
The world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything then there’s your sign
Of the times

I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now”

I wonder how many of us still feel this way?! I wonder what kind of song would Jesus Jones write right here and right now? I cannot count how many times I have heard the words “the world has gone crazy” this last year. Mostly from my friends in the so called ‘Western countries’. One of the lines stuck in my mind are the words of a well-known Russian TV host and journalist, Vladimir Pozner, “I get an impression that the world has lost its mind. I want to say: Stop the Planet! I want to get off…”

This is an understandable way to respond. Wanting to withdraw. And many people are choosing to do just that. The other option is to call to arms and try to fix it. Usually by force because ‘people just don’t obey’ or ‘don’t know any better’. There are plenty of people who believe that the end justifies the means and trying to build their visions of  ‘happy new era’ by violent force. (yes, I am speaking of the extremists – ISIS and such)

So, the common options for making the ‘happy future’ is fight or flight. Personally I don’t choose either because I believe in another way. This is what my friend also mentions in his post. And this is also the way I am trying to learn from Jesus whom I consider the greatest example of how to bring a radical change around us.

André Trocmé, a French minister who helped to rescue thousands of Jewish people during the Holocaust, wrote: “Jesus’ refusal to use force was therefore not some extra historical dream of a mystic trying to forget the concrete realities of this world. He did not ignore the human condition. His way was a step-by-step journey through the obstacles, mountain passes, snares, and cliffs of history. Jesus carved a new path into the hardness of human realities, a path he trod first, carrying on his shoulders the way of the cross and all the requirements of the kingdom of God: social justice, radical transformation, commitment to truth, and personal regeneration.”

When I think of next year, I can see lots of these ‘obstacles, mountain passes, snares, and cliffs of history’. Or to use the words of my friend Noel, “I am not going to promise you that this year will lead you on smooth roads, but you will be reminded that you got shock absorption abilities.”

What are our shock absorption devices? What is our definition of ‘happy new year’? What are we going to do make this next year happier for those around us?

The answers will come day by day if we are willing to search for them. And I will have a very happy year if I take each step with more love and more courage…

DSCN1485

 

Best wishes for Latvia

What can I wish my country on this anniversary? Latvia is celebrating 97 years of independence which was declared on November 18, 1918! My grandmother is almost as old as our republic. At 92 years, she has lived a long and eventful life together with her nation. When it was new and developing fast; when it was ravaged by the war; when it was denied its freedom for many decades and when it was free again.

But life of one generation is so short. By the standards of world history, our country is still so young. Do I wish Latvia another hundred years? Or thousand years? I don’t know if I think in these terms.

We just don’t know the future… still, we are the ones who make it. And what kind of future I wish for Latvia? Here is my short list of birthday wishes.

I wish for Latvia to remain as beautiful as it is. With the sandy beaches, green forests, many lakes and rivers… fresh air, blue skies, wild berries and mushrooms. May we always enjoy the gift of ‘countryside’! May we always be good stewards of this little corner of our planet!

I wish for Latvia to be a good neighbor. Of course, our immediate neighbors but also our global neighbors. I want us to be generous in our relationships. To be outward looking and thinking. Especially I want Latvia’s people to support those nations that are struggling and longing for their freedom. We know what it is like to be trampled on and to be oppressed. May we always show compassion in words and actions! May we give others the same kind of support we were given in our time of need!

I wish for Latvia to be a good home for everyone who lives here. Our nation has always been diverse. Tragically we had times when this good life was denied. Even in our short history we have experienced too many times when different groups of people in Latvia were forced to leave their home. They were denied flourishing life (or the right to live, period) and their dignity and their future. May we never experience it again! May we always do for others what we would like them to for us!

Finally I wish for Latvia to continue growing up. We have gone a long way already but this is just the beginning. Yes, we look to the past to see where we have come from; to see how much was sacrificed to get to where we are now; to see where we don’t want to go. We look at the present to be thankful for what we have; to continue those things that bear good fruit; to be self-critical about things that bear bad fruit; to have the will and courage to change what we don’t like. We look to the future to remind us of where we want to go because we are not there yet. May we get there!

My country

One of my favorite statues in Riga… It is called “My country”

Ko lai novēlu šajā gadadienā? Latvija svin 97 gadus kā neatkarīga valsts. Manai vecmammai ir gandrīz tikpat gadu, cik mūsu republikai. 92 gadu vecumā viņa var atskatīties uz garu un notikumiem bagātu dzīvi kopā ar savu tautu. Kad Latvija bija jauna un strauji attīstījās; kad to postīja karš; kad tai tika atņemta brīvība uz daudzām desmitgadēm un kad tā atkal šo brīvību atguva.

Bet vienas paaudzes dzīve ir tik īsa. Ja skatos uz pasaules vēsturi, mūsu valsts ir vēl tik jauna. Vai es vēlu Latvijai vēl simtu gadu? Vai tūkstoš gadu? Es laikam nedomāju tādās mērvienībās.

Mēs nezinam nākotni… taču paši esam tie, kuri to veidojam. Un kādu nākotni es novēlu Latvijai? Te būs mans īsais saraksts ar dzimšanas dienas vēlējumiem.

Es novēlu, lai Latvija vienmēr paliktu tikpat skaista. Ar baltajām pludmalēm, zaļajiem mežiem, daudzajiem ezeriem un upēm… ar svaigo un tīro gaisu, ar zilajām debesīm, ar meža ogām un sēnēm. Lai mēs vienmēr varētu baudīt savus ‘laukus’! Lai mēs vienmēr rūpētos par šo mazo zemeslodes stūrīti!

Es novēlu, lai Latvija vienmēr būtu labs kaimiņš! Ne tikai tiešajiem kaimiņiem, bet arī citiem pasaulē. Es novēlu, lai Latvija būtu atvērta un devīga savās attiecībās! Īpaši vēlos, lai Latvijas cilvēki atbalstītu tās tautas, kuras cieš un vēl gaida savu brīvību. Mēs zinām, ko nozīmē būt samītiem un apspiestiem. Lai mēs vienmēr parādītu līdzjūtību un solidaritāti gan vārdos, gan darbos! Lai mēs atbalstītu citus tāpat, kā paši tikām atbalstīti mums grūtajā laikā!

Es novēlu, lai Latvija būtu labas mājas visiem, kas šeit dzīvo! Mūsu valstī vienmēr ir bijusi dažādība. Traģiski, ka reizēm šī labā dzīvē tika liegta. Mūsu īsajā valsts vēsturē ir bijuši pārāk daudzi brīži, kad Latvijas cilvēkiem (ne tikai latviešiem) bija jāpamet savas mājas. Viņiem tika liegta auglīga dzīve (vai vispār tiesības dzīvot) un cilvēka pašcieņa un iecerētā nākotne. Lai mēs vairāk nekad to nepiedzīvotu! Lai mēs vienmēr darītu citiem to, ko vēlamies, lai darītu mums!

Visbeidzot es novēlu Latvijai republikai turpināt kļūt pieaugušai. Jau tāls ceļš noiets, bet tomēr tas ir tikai sākums. Jā, mums vajag atskatīties uz pagātni, lai redzētu, kas jau ir bijis; lai novērtētu un pieminētu to, kas ir upurēts; lai zinātu, kurp mēs negribam iet un ko nevēlamies atkārtot. Mums vajag skatīties uz tagadni, lai būtu pateicīgi par to, kas mums ir; lai turpinātu tās lietas, kas nes labus augļus; lai kritizētu un atmestu tās, kas nes sliktus augļus; lai būtu griba un drosme mainīt to, kas jāmaina. Un mums vienmēr vajag skatīties uz nākotni, lai atgādinātu, uz kurieni mēs vēlamies iet, jo mēs vēl neesam tur nonākuši. Lai mēs tur nonāktu!

Freedom from fear in Myanmar

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” This conviction by Aung Sun Suu Kyi, a Burmese leader and former political prisoner, highlights an important truth. It also describes a life that is lived in a non-violent and courageous resistance to this kind of fear.

Last week Myanmar (Burma) held first democratic elections in 25 years. The votes are still being counted but it is already clear that the National League for Democracy (NLD) has won an overwhelming majority. Estimated 70% of the votes. The people have chosen and now the world is watching whether the military rulers will respect their own people’s will.

I am rejoicing together with my friends. They have been waiting for this day for a very long time… I have been waiting for this for many years, too. Ever since my husband and I started working on Thai-Burma border helping refugees from Burma, we have believed together with our friends that one day they will be able to return home, that one day their nation will be truly free.

There is lots of joy but also awareness that there is still a long and hard road ahead. The government cannot be fully democratic while 25% of the seats in the national parliament are reserved for the military and the military appoints three government ministers.  The most popular national leader to become a president would be Aung Sun Suu Kyi, but it is not possible under the current Constitution. It disqualifies anyone whose children have foreign citizenship and Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s sons have British passports because she had a British husband.

Also, there were millions of people who were not able to vote – people who live in areas where there is still armed conflict, internally displaced persons, refugees in the camps on Thailand/Burma border, migrants working in other countries, the Rohingya ethnic group…

Sill, this is an amazing and big step towards long-awaited freedom and peace. The elections were peaceful and the results make a very loud and clear statement what kind of country people want to live in. My memory flashes back to 1990 when in my own nation, Latvia, we celebrated a similar moment when the parliament voted to reinstate the independence of Latvia. My grandparents had waited for 50 years. Honestly it did not seem possible that we would experience it in our life-time, but the ‘miracle’ happened.

Then began the process of learning to live in freedom and there were many many challenges. Latvia is still dealing with some of the residue from our Soviet past. When you are not used to being free, you have to learn to be free. Physical freedom does not mean automatically a psychological and emotional and spiritual freedom where you have peace with yourself and your neighbor.

When I exchange stories with our friends from Burma, I realize that I experience an amazing journey together with my nation. Journey of hope and dream that became reality, journey of freedom from fear… Now I watch my friends making the same kind of journey and I want to help them in any way I can. This is just the start and now the real work of developing, re-building, healing and transforming begins. But today is the day of celebration!

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Latviski:

“Nevis vara mūs samaitā, bet bailes. Bailes pazaudēt varu samaitā tos, kuriem tā pieder, un bailes no varas posta samaitā tos, kuri tai pakļauti.” Tā domā un saka Aung San Su Či, politiķe, opozīcijas vadītāja un bijusī politieslodzītā Mjanmā (Birmā). Šajos vārdos ir izteikta kāda svarīga patiesība. Un savā dzīvē viņa pati ir turējusies pie šīs pārliecības, izrādot nevardarbīgu pretestību šādām bailēm.

Pagājšnedēļ Birmā notika pirmās demokrātiskās vēlēšanas pēc 25 gadu ‘pārtraukuma’. Balsis vēl tiek skaitītas, bet jau ir pilnīgi skaidrs, ka Nacionālā Demokrātijas Līga ir guvusi pārliecinošu uzvaru. Tiek prognozēts vismaz 70% atbalsts. Cilvēki ir izdarījuši savu izvēli, un tagad visa pasaule gaida un vēro, vai militārā vara cienīs savas tautas gribu.

Es priecājos kopā ar saviem draugiem. Viņi ir gaidījuši šo dienu ļoti, ļoti ilgi… Arī es to gaidu jau daudzus gadus. Kopš mēs ar vīru sākām strādāt uz Taizemes – Birmas robežas un palīdzēt bēgļiem no Birmas, mēs ticam kopā ar saviem draugiem, ka kādu dienu viņi varēs atgriezties mājās, ka kādu dienu viņu valsts būs patiesi brīva.

Ir liels prieks, bet arī skaidra apziņa, ka priekšā garš un grūts ceļš ejams. Valdība un valsts nevar būt pilnīgi demokrātiska, kamēr militārajiem spēkiem ir atvēlētas 25% vietas parlamentā, un garantēti trīs ministru posteņi. Vispopulārākais kandidāts nākamajam Birmas prezidentam ir Aung San Su Či, bet, saskaņā ar patreizējo konstitūciju, viņa nevar ieņemt šo amatu. Tādēļ, ka prezidentam nedrīkst būt bērni ar citas valsts pilsonību, bet Su Či dēliem ir britu pases, jo viņas vīrs bija Lielbritānijas pilsonis. (Šis likums tika pieņemts tieši tādēļ, lai viņa nevarētu kļūt par prezidentu.)

Vēl viena liela problēma ir fakts, ka vēlēšanās nevarēja piedalīties vairāki miljoni cilvēku. Tie, kuri dzīvo karadarbības zonās; tie, kuri ir bēgļu gaitās gan iekšzemē, gan citās zemēs; tie, kuri strādā ārpus Birmas; Rohinga mazākumtautības cilvēki, jo tiem vispār netiek piešķirta pilsonība.

Tomēr šis ir milzīgs un liels solis uz ilgi gaidīto brīvību un mieru. Vēlēšanas noritēja mierīgi, un rezultāti ļoti skaidri un gaiši pasaka, kādā valstī cilvēki vēlas dzīvot. Atceros 1990. gadu, kad mēs Latvijā svinējām Neatkarības atjaunošanas deklarāciju. Mūsu vecvecāki un vecāki bija to gaidījuši 50 gadus. Daudzi neticēja, ka kaut ko tādu piedzīvosim savas dzīves laikā, bet notika ‘brīnums’.

Tad sākās grūtais un sarežģītais process mācīties dzīvot brīvībā. Latvijā joprojām mēs izjūtam PSRS laika un sistēmas sekas. Kad ilgu laiku nav piedzīvota brīvība, to jāmācās no jauna. Fiziska brīvība vēl nenozīmē psiholoģisku, emocionālu un garīgu brīvību, kad mēs mākam mīlēt sevi pašu un savus līdzcilvēkus.

Sarunās ar draugiem no Birmas, es arvien vairāk sāku aptvert, cik apbrīnojams ceļš iets kopā ar manu tautu Latvijā. Ceļš no cerībām un sapņiem uz realitāti, ceļš uz brīvību no bailēm… Tagad mani draugi iet šo pašu ceļu, un es vēlos viņus atbalstīt, kā vien varu. Ir pats sākums lielajam darbam, lai atjaunotu, dziedinātu, pārveidotu un attīstītu valsti, bet šodien ir diena priekam un līksmībai!

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!

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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!

My nominee for Nobel Peace Prize 2015 is …

The laureate of Nobel Peace Prize will be revealed this Friday, October 9. As usual, the nominees are kept in secret and it will be a secret for next 50 years. So, we will not know who were the people and organizations to choose from.

Having just visited Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, I was thinking about the previous awards. Some amazing people who have given their lives to makes this world a better place. I have my own list of favorites. The official website of Nobel Prize also lists the most popular laureates and there are three Peace Prize awards in the top 10. Can you guess who?

The most popular from all categories is Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not surprised. His life and work continues to speak and challenge us today. We can think of the famous speech in Washington, ” I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” There are many places in the world where it has not become a reality yet. So, the work continues. He also said and believed that “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe it.

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One of the people who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr, but never received the Nobel Peace Prize, was Mahatma Gandhi. Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, “The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question”.

Another one of my absolute heroes on the list is Mother Theresa. She needs no comments. Just couple of my favorite quotes from her, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love” and “Live simply so others may simply live.”

Any guess who is another popular laureate? It is the young girl from Pakistan who advocates for female education. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest laureate ever at the age of 17. When she was 11 years old, Yousafzai wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban occupation, their attempts to take control and her views on promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley. One afternoon in 2012, Malala boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani. A gunman asked for her by name, then pointed a pistol at her and fired three shots. She survived and went through intensive rehabilitation. Her advocacy work has become an international movement.

This is what Malala said  at the UN, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”

So, who will be awarded this most prestigious prize this year? I have no idea but I do know many people I would certainly nominate if I had the authority to do so. There is one person I want to write about but it will have to be the next post. So, I will keep it a secret just like the Nobel Prize committee does. But don’t worry … just for one more week, not 50 years.

Meanwhile, who would you nominate?

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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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Burma road continues… by train

Just returned from two wonderful weeks in Burma (also Myanmar) where I was invited to teach. It is a beautiful country with great people. Yes, there are lots of challenges and problems and the country has a long journey ahead toward restoration and development and peace. Still, the energy and hope and times of change are in the air…

Here is a short photo journey from our train ride around Yangon, the capital city. The train makes a full circle in approx 3 hours and gives a glimpse in the daily lives of people and the city. Train is a great place to get some rest or take a nap. I love sleeping on trains. Except this time I kept my eyes open to catch all the sights.

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People work very hard to earn daily income. Some of the train stops were busy vegetable markets.

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The farmers are gathering one of our favorite vegetables to eat – watercress. Most of the vegetables in Southeast Asia are the green leafy kind.

There is a popular song from 70’s, written by a British musician whose stage name was Cat Stevens. It is called “Peace Train” and some of the lyrics come to my mind:

“Out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too
Cause it’s getting nearer, it soon will be with you

Everyone jump upon the peace train
Come on now peace train”

Restoration and stability is longed for in Myanmar and it is one everyone’s lips. We feel privileged to be a small part of the peace building process there.

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I imagine differently than John Lennon

Music is a powerful communicator and musicians have a beautiful way of connecting their message with the audience. There are thousands and millions of melodies that speak without lyrics… Still, I like words. I like musicians who are good story tellers. And I like the ones who use their voice and art for something good.

Sometimes I hear a word and immediately think of a song. Hearing about zombies, makes me think of ‘The Cranberries’. Even though their hit song has nothing to do with zombies, but speaks about violence in our hearts and communities. The official video highlighted the conflict and pain in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It is one of the popular cover songs all around the world but how many people actually pay attention to the deep message inside?!

For me, ‘U2’ is in a category of its own. Often Bono is described as part preacher, part politician, part social activist and musician. And when he hangs out with another Irish musician, Bob Geldof, watch out… the Irish can be very passionate and persuasive.

All this came to my mind when I was watching the movie “The Killing Fields” about Cambodia and the soundtrack included John Lennon’s “Imagine”… People call it the ‘peace song’ but I realized that I actually disagree with his imagined version of peace. John Lennon said:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

So, basically if we got rid of religion, national borders and all possessions, we would become united and loving and selfless. Lennon said that he was not only one with this point of view and he was right… many people feel that way. But their dream has a major flaw – what about the question of human heart? Yes, violence and selfishness and greed can be taught, exemplified and encouraged, but even without any of that – it comes naturally to all of us.

Christians call it the problem of ‘sin’ or missing God’s ideal; Buddhists call it the problem of ‘suffering’ which comes from our desires; Muslims call it the problem of disobedience if people are not submitted to God…

I don’t know of John Lennon’s worldview but it reminds me in some ways of the Marxist ideals. I grew up in a society where we told that all problems come from religion, nationalism and capitalism. So, telling your children about God was forbidden; being Latvian or Armenian was discouraged because we would create a new international person and things were owned by the state. And that was a ‘dream’ that most of us were very happy to wake up from.

I choose to join another dream. Desmond Tutu put it like this: “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. God has no one but us.”

South Africa