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”.

Cornerstone 2010 030

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

 

Irish way of turning Darkness into Light

For those who noticed that I took a little break from writing… there are times when you just have to give full attention to the people you are with, seize the moment and enjoy it. So, I had put the computer away. And who wants to be on computer when you are visiting the beautifully green and ancient land of Ireland?

Now back in Riga I reflect on my favorite thing to see in Dublin – the Book of Kells. Probably the most beautiful book I have ever seen is Ireland’s most precious cultural treasure. It continues to amaze every time I visit the exhibition at Trinity College Dublin. This handwritten copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ which was completed around 800 AD is so beautifully decorated and hand painted that it continues to inspire artists and scientists on how the authors actually did it. Many of the illustrations are so microscopic and intricate.

Most academics believe that this ancient Latin manuscript was written in a monastery founded around 561 by St Colum Cille on Iona, an island off Mull in western Scotland. It became the principal house of a large monastic confederation. In 806, following a Viking raid on the island, the Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath, Ireland. Most likely they brought the manuscript with them or produced parts of it in Kells.

The famous paintings include symbols of the evangelists Matthew as the Man, Mark as the Lion, Luke as the Calf and John as the Eagle, the opening words of the Gospels, the Virgin and Child and a portrait of Christ. The Chi Rho page which introduces Matthew’s account of the nativity is simply stunning and widely considered the most famous page in medieval art.

Some years ago I read a book “How The Irish Saved Civilization” by Thomas Cahill. His main thesis was that the tradition of monasteries, including Saint Columba  and the monks on the island of Iona where ancient manuscripts were gathered, copied and cared for, helped to preserve the cultural treasures of Europe and other parts of the world. I know one thing for sure – there was much more happening in the Middle Ages than what we were told in  school. When I was growing up in Latvia, we were still taught the Soviet/communist version of the world history. Of course, no mention of monks, monasteries or any positive contribution of religion to our cultures.

I am glad that the term ‘Dark Ages’ is not used anymore… because there is Light and Darkness in all ages. People and communities make choices and respond to the times they live in. Some choose to take what is not theirs and destroy what they have not built. But other choose to give away what they have received and build for the future generations to be blessed and to enjoy.

Hopefully we don’t have to save civilizations anymore but we do know that the choice between the Light and the Darkness is always with us… Thank you, the Irish, for reminding us of these timeless truths!

chi-rho-page

Chi Rho page (photos from internet)

Latvian:

Vispirms sveicieni tiem, kuri ievēroja, ka es pāris nedēļas ‘atpūtos’ no rakstīšanas… jā, ir reizes, kad vajag veltīt visu savu uzmanību mīļiem cilvēkiem, nepalaist garām kaut ko īpašu un to izbaudīt. Un kurš tad grib sēdēt pie datora, ciemojoties tik skaisti zaļajā un senatnīgajā Īrijā?

Tagad atpakaļ Rīgā es pārdomāju vienu no lietām, ko ir tiešām vērts redzēt Dublinā – Kellu grāmata (saukta arī Ķeltu vai Kēlu grāmata). Uzdrīkstos apgalvot, ka šis Īrijas nacionālais kultūras dārgums ir visskaistākā grāmata, ko esmu jebkad redzējusi. Tā glabājas Trinitijas koledžā pašā Dublinas centrā. Ar roku rakstītais manuskripts satur četrus Jaunās Derības evanģēlijus par Jēzus Kristus dzīvi un ir krāšņi un meistarīgi izrotāts ar miniatūrām un viduslaiku ornamentiem. Tas turpina iedvesmot māksliniekus un zinātniekus, kuri pēta, kā to vispār varēja tik smalki un mikroskopiski izveidot un uzzīmēt.

Kellu grāmatu datē ap 800. gadu, un tā ir rakstīta latīņu valodā. Lielākā daļa pētnieku uzskata, ka tā ir sarakstīta klosterī, kuru 6. gadsimtā Aijonas (Iona) salā, Skotijas rietumu piekrastē, nodibināja Sv. Kolumbs. 806.gadā salai kārtējo reizi uzbruka vikingi, un daudzi mūki tika nogalināti. Pārējie atrada aptvērumu Īrijā, jaunā klosterī Kellas ciemā. Visticamāk mūki šo manuskriptu atveda sev līdzi no Aijonas, vai arī tas tika pabeigts Kellā.

Slavenās ilustrācijas attēlo četru evnģēlistu simbolus. Matejs simbolizēts kā Cilvēks, Marks kā Lauva, Lūka kā Jērs un Jānis kā Ērglis. Katra evanģēlija ievadā ir skaisti zīmējumi. Gan Kristus portrets, gan Jaunava ar Bērnu ir ievērojami mākslas darbi. Viena no slavenākajām un visskaistāk ilustrētajām lappusēm skaitās Mateja evanģēlija ievads par Jezus piedzimšanu. Patiess viduslaiku šedevrs!

Pirms dažiem gadiem es lasīju Tomasa Keihila grāmatu “Kā īri izglāba civilizāciju” (How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill). Viņa galvenā tēze bija, ka viduslaiku klosteru un mūku tradīcija, tai skaitā Sv. Kolumbs un kopiena Aijonas salā, kur tika savākti, glabāti un pārkopēti neskaitāmi senlaiku manuskripti, palīdzēja izglābt šos Eiropas un Tuvo Austrumu kultūras dārgumus. Katrā ziņā viduslaikos bija daudz vairāk Gaismas, kā Apgaismība mums apgalvo. Un daudz vairāk Gaismas, kā man tika mācīts skolā Padomju Latvijā, kur par mūkiem, klosteriem un vispār par reliģijas pozitīvo ietekmi uz Eiropas kultūras attīstību netika minēts nekas. Jo tā laika vēstures versija uzsvēra, ka reliģija ir ‘tumsonība, varaskāre, vardarbība un turklāt meli, kuros dzīvo dumjās masas’.

Tas ir labi, ka vairs nav populāri lietot apzīmējumu ‘Tumšie viduslaiki’… jo visos laikos un laikmetos ir bijusi gan Gaisma, gan Tumsa. Cilvēki, kopienas un tautas izdara izvēles. Vieni izvēlas ņemt to, kas viņiem nepieder, un iznīcināt to, ko paši nav cēluši. Otri izvēlas dot citiem to labo, ko ir mantojuši un saņēmuši, un celt tālāk, lai nākamās paaudzes var dzīvot labāku dzīvi.

Cerams, ka mūsu paaaudzei nav jācīnās par civilizāciju saglabāšanu, tacu mēs zinām, ka izvēle starp Gaismu un Tumsu ir vienmēr mūsu priekšā… Paldies viduslaiku mūkiem Īrijā, ka viņi mums atgādina par šīm nemainīgajām patiesībām!

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!

 

I will not give up on truth seeking

Few weeks ago Oxford Dictionaries announced the word of 2016 is “post-truth”. Followed by “alt-right” (alternative right) or “Brexiteer and others. It was chosen because this year there has been such a sharp increase in how and when this concept is used. Especially during the Brexit campaign and US elections.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, post truth is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Now I hear people, including my friends, say that “we witness post-truth politics” and “we live in post-truth society”. And there is long list of other expressions like virtual reality, fake news, polarization, etc.

This is not completely new but I will agree that post truth concept is looming large. Like a big, dark cloud over our society. It is in the social media, it is in the mainstream media, it is in the experiences, it is in the conversations, it is in the arguments… it is in the air. It is on my mind and it is definitely destroying the peace of my mind.

Because I believe in truth. I believe in searching for the verifiable facts. I believe in truthfulness and integrity. I believe in certain absolutes. I believe in truth seeking.

I try to choose my words carefully because I believe that we should call things as “they are” if we care to get to the point where things are as “they should be” (even the words “should be” imply something certain).

I believe in truthful politics. Yes, we all know that it is a dirty and complicated thing but we should apply the same standard we try to apply to business, education, media, science, family and especially the church. Without integrity we are doomed in every sphere of our lives.

I refuse to live in a post-truth world because such life would be foolish and meaningless and, of course, dangerous. It would be the survival of those who just want to survive or pure existence. But I want to live a good life that is God’s design for all of us.

If we are created in the image of God (Imago Dei), than we have God’s imprint of truth in us. It may be distorted but it is there and we are on a lifelong journey to discover these things which are true, good, just, honorable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8)

How to be practical about it? Well, this is the challenge. We live very busy lives and we don’t want to spend our time to research and verify everything said or published if it is true, partially true or false. Something true and something false can be stirred equally fast (unfortunately the bad news spreads faster). We are struggling to trust anything and anybody. We need to regain this trust because without it we will not make it.

I want to hear your thoughts, reactions and practical ideas about how to reverse this trend of post truth. Let us pursue “back to the truth seeking world”!

blogger-image-669135390

Preach it!!! (photos from personal archive and internet)

Latvian:

Pirms dažām nedēļām Oksfordas vārdnīcas paziņoja, ka 2016. gada ievērojamākais vārds ir “pēcpatiesība” (postpatiesība). Šo jēdzienu izvēlējās kā šogad arvien biežāk un plašāk lietoto. It īpaši Brexit kampaņas laikā un ASV priekšvēlēšanu cīņās. Sekoja tādi vārdi kā “alt-labējie” (alternatīvie labējie) and “Brexitietis”.

Saskaņā ar Oksfordas vārdnīcas terminu definīciju, pēcpatiesība (postpatiesība) ir apzīmētājs, kas “attiecas uz apstākļiem, kuros sabiedrības viedokļa veidošanā objektīvi fakti ir mazāk ietekmīgi nekā vēršanās pie emocijām un personīgiem uzskatiem”. Man visapkārt cilvēki, arī draugi, sāk lietot frāzes, ka “mēs piedzīvojam pēcpatiesības politiku” un “dzīvojam pēcpatiesības sabiedrībā”. Tālāk iet runa par puspatiesībām, viltus ziņām, viedokļu vienveidību, utt.

It kā tas nav nekas jauns, taču es piekrītu, ka šobrīd šis pēcpatiesības jēdziens ir pārklājis rietumu sabiedrību. Kā liels, drūms mākonis. Tas ir jūtams sociālajos tīklos, plašsaziņas līdzekļos, sarunās, debatēs… tas vienkārši virmo gaisā. Un tas ir ienācis arī manā prātā kā vēl viena aktuāla problēma, kas laupa sirdsmieru.

Jo es ticu tādam jēdzienam kā patiesība. Es ticu tādai lietai, kā faktu pārbaudīšana. Es ticu patiesīgumam un godīgumam. Tātad es ticu kādām absolūtām vērtībām. Es ticu patiesības meklēšanai kā vienai no dzīves prioritātēm.

Parasti cenšos izvēlēties savus vārdus ļoti uzmanīgi, jo mums jāsauc lietas “īstajos vārdos” (ja tos vispār zinām), ja gribam nonākt līdz tam, “kā būtu jābūt” (jau pats apgalvojums “kā būtu jābūt” kaut ko izsaka).

Es ticu patiesīgai politikai. Jā, mēs visi zinām, ka tā ir pelēkā, sarežģītā, korumpētā un netīrā zona, bet vienalga uz to ir jāattiecina tādas pašas prasības kā pret izglītību, biznesu, zinātni, medijiem, ģimeni un pat baznīcu. Bez patiesīguma un godīguma nevar nevienā dzīves jomā.

Es atsakos pieņemt pēcpatiesību kā normu, jo tāda sabiedrība būtu muļķīga, bezjēdzīga un, protams, briesmīga. Tajā izdzīvotu tie, kuri vienkārši vēlas izdzīvot. Taču es vēlos dzīvot labu un pilnīgu dzīvi, ja tāds ir Dieva dizains mums visiem.

Ja pieņemam, ka esam radīti Dieva līdzībā (Imago Dei), tad mūsos ir arī patiesības nospiedums. Varbūt tas ir izkropļots vai sagrozīts, bet tomēr tas tur ir, un mūsu dzīve ir meklējumi pēc patiesā, labā, taisnīgā, cieņpilnā, vērtīgā un slavējamā (Filip 4:8)

Ko tas nozīmē praktiski? Jā, tas nav viegli izdarāms. Mēs dzīvojam ļoti aizņemtas dzīves, un mums nav daudz laika meklēt, salīdzināt, pārbaudīt, vai lasam, dzirdam un saņemam patiesību, puspatiesību vai klajus melus. Kaut kas patiess un kaut kas viltots var izplatīties vienlīdz strauji (parasti gan viltotais izplatās straujāk). Vēl mums strauji zūd uzticība jebkam un jebkuram. Bez uzticības vispār mēs ilgtermiņā neiztiksim.

Gribētu dzirdēt jūsu domas un praktiskus padomus, kā nesekot šai pēcpatiesības modei. Dzīsimies pēc pasaules, kurā mēs vienmēr meklējam patiesību!

Giving thanks for my vivacious sojourners

I love this photo and I love the memory of this moment. Mae Sot, Thailand may be a small town (developing and growing fast) on the Thailand – Burma border where tourists go for border crossing and locals for shopping and business, but for me it is “home away from home”.

These kids from Mae Sot are my sojourners in life and part of my story of “peaceroads” and I am very thankful for them. I am not thankful that they were always on the streets begging or collecting plastic bottles. I am not thankful that they were not attending school or that they had to carry small babies to attract the foreigner’s compassion. I am not thankful that they were bathing in the dirty and smelly town canals.

No, my heart was sad and angry that these beautiful, smart kids were so adopted to the life on the streets that they thought this is normal and even kind of fun. Of course, it was not fun when they had to be out at dark or when their parents told them not to come home until they had collected a certain amount of money. It was not fun when they were hungry or yelled at or treated like some stray animals.

A little comfort but I was grateful that at least they were in a small community like Mae Sot where people tend to watch out for each other more than in the big cities like Bangkok or Manila with too many children-at-risk to count.

This photo was taken at one of my favorite tea shops “Borderline” which is a cooperative for women in refugee camps making handy crafts. Borderline also serves delicious vegetarian food and refreshing drinks. Whenever we could, we would buy the children something to eat and Borderline was one of their favorite places to go. It had a nice garden and calming atmosphere. An oasis of peace on a busy, dusty, noisy street.

The kids were so energetic, funny and savvy. They perceived things differently and they always looked out for each other. I realized that they did not like to be patronized (don’t we all) and they didn’t like to be pitied (don’t we all). But they wanted to be loved (don’t we all).

We communicated in beginner Thai and lots of signs and body language. The universal language of hugs, smiles, welcome, concern, pointing, nodding or shaking head… Sometimes I went home exhausted because in the West we are much less concerned with body language and much more concerned with the exact words. In Thailand and Burma it is the opposite and my brain was slow to adjust.

They read me. They read my walk. They read my talk. They read my eyes. They read my mouth. They read my hands.

However imperfectly, I hope that I was able to communicate the most important thing: ” I see you and I know that you see me. I am here because you are here. I am your teacher but you are teaching me things, too. I love you because I am loved. The image of God in you is the image of God in me.” Thank you for being you!

img_9302

Smile that spoke volumes (photos from personal archive)

Bubbles and simple beauty of joy

London is one of my favorite places in the whole world. I have visited many times but have never lived there. So, I am allowed to keep my “honeymoon” feeling 🙂 It is a city of stories. On every turn you feel like there is an interesting and important story. Buildings, bridges, parks, statues, paintings, museums, theaters, train stations, markets, underground.

But my favorite thing to do is people watching. Believe me if you have never visited London; it is one of the best places to do it. The world is here. Literary. And for that reason I love walking along the river Thames. The view of the city does not change but every time it feels different because of the people. The story of London has a new chapter each day.

This last time I experienced a chapter about joy. The art of bringing joy. How little it costs but how much it does.

Who does not like soap bubbles? Children and adults alike are mesmerized by them. How they form, how they start floating in the air, how they change shapes and how far they fly. Some we catch, some get in our eyes or mouth and some get away. I love the colours and the rainbow reflection and I try to catch a glimpse of our world looking through a soap bubble.

There was a guy making large amounts of soap bubbles. Hoping to make some money but also enjoying it. And so was everyone walking by. The children forgot about their tantrums and wishes for sweets or rides or toys. They just wanted to play and catch and wait for that incredible moment when out of nothing (well, some soapy water) comes something as incredible as these simple objects of beauty.

Joy is bursting out as these bubbles burst out. I realize that I experience something that is fleeting. We describe it as “having fun”. The bubbles burst or float away and disappear. The children walk away and after 10 min they can be unhappy about something. The adults take the photos and then promptly forget about it. But this is a small glimpse into something bigger, more beautiful and lasting.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”, said poet John Keats.

Famous German theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote on theology of joy. “Joy is enduring and puts its mark on one’s attitude to living. Fun is short-term and serves amusement. True joy is only possible with one’s whole heart, whole soul and all one’s energies. The feeling about life which underlies the party-making fun-society is, I suspect, more boredom with life than true joy. True joy opens the soul, is a flow of spirits, giving our existence a certain easiness. We may have fun, but we are in joy. In true joy the ecstatic nature of human existence comes to expression. We are created for joy. We are born for joy.”

For me, the simple fun with soap bubbles is like a door that opens for a short time to make us all stop and behold and then reflect why our heart so instinctively responds to it.

img_2225

Along the Thames (photos from personal archive)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

son-of-saul-319114

Images from the movie “Son of Saul”