2019… what do I see

It is time for New Year’s resolutions and I will confess… I usually don’t make them. I am not good at keeping promises to myself because most of  my time and energy is spent trying to keep promises to others and that is difficult enough.

But if I was to have my way, I would ‘plan’ more fun. Like dancing, swimming, reading classic novels, live concerts, hikes in the woods, museums and traveling around! Maybe this is how every student feels in the final year of his/her studies when Facebook becomes really annoying 😦 It somehow gives a (hopefully false) impression that others have all the time in the world.

So, what do I see when I think about 2019? In a larger, even global sense. Nothing rosy! Things used to be more predictable, forecasts more popular and every new year promised to be different and somehow better. And for some odd reason I have the feeling of ‘same old but more of the old’ to come. What I mean is that every new year, in fact, every month, week and day brings new challenges which also provide great new opportunities. Yet we stubbornly miss those opportunities again and again. (Don’t even get me started on sustainable global development issues!)

Here I am speaking of my sentiment over current affairs. Not gloomy but simply sad. Sad that many of our countries have become so consumed by domestic concerns and politics that our interconnection with the rest of the world and the global ecosystem is neglected, ignored or even bemoaned. Why should we care about other’s problems? Look how many problems are right here and right now!  Why should we think critically and use our brains when we can just go on social media and stop caring for facts and find people who will tell us what to think? Especially what to think of those “others”! Much easier and much more pleasant  is to live in our imagined ‘Whoville’ and get all upset when we are told it simply does not exist!

I know that this sounds like a broken record and we, especially in the West, keep going in circles with our discussions of politically divided communities and nations. But not until we are really fed-up with circling our ideological, theological, national ‘wagons’ and desperate enough to enlarge our hearts to love all our neighbors, we will just keep muddling through and keep up the frequent ‘mud-throwing’.

What we need in 2019 are more prophets! Not as fortune tellers or social protesters, but as people who, according to theologian Walter Brueggemann, “understood the possibility of change as linked to emotional extremities of life. They understood the strange in-congruence between public conviction and personal yearning. Most of all, they understood the distinctive power of language, the capacity to speak in ways that evoke newness “fresh from the word.”

I do not claim to have this kind of prophetic voice but I do know people who speak, write and, most importantly, live with this prophetic ‘newness’. I gravitate toward them because they see something that most of us do not see yet. They themselves do not claim that they ‘know’ or that they ‘see’. To me this is actually one of the marks of a prophetic person – they are never know-it-all or the expert. They are simply on the road less traveled which requires more courage and trust in hope…

So, here is my New Year’s resolution – I want to walk on the road less traveled! And I see a small, winding path and it probably goes uphill…

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Along the Thames (photos from personal archive)

 

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!

Considering the flowers…

My grandmother is almost 92 and, to tell you the truth, I cannot keep up with her. Yes, she does not hear so well and moves slower, but she has so much zest for life. On her good days her energy is overflowing and I still cannot keep her pace while working in the garden. She is like a human tractor – the weeds are flying, bad roots are dug up and the ground is turned…

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The photo with waterlilies was taken on her 90-th birthday and she really wanted this picture. She loves her waterlilies and cannot wait for them to bloom and then to watch them open up in the morning and close in the evening. This photo describes my grandmother and her passion!

She is a Gardener. Her greatest love after God and people is flowers and beauty. Wherever I am in the world, I think of her when I see a beautiful flower or unique plant. She would stop and look at it closely and try get some seeds if possible. (It is impossible to have a quick walk through the park when I am with her.) I have brought her different seeds from around the world but most of the tropical plants do not grow well in Latvia.

My grandmother taught me a lot about beauty. She would show me a little flower from the field or the garden and say, „Look at it! Isn’t it beautiful? Why did God make it so special? Do you notice how every flower and plant is so unique? Why did He want so much diversity?” She can spend hours just looking at the designs and colours.

It teaches me to slow down and to stop and to look. Look closely! See it, touch it, feel it, smell it… The creation has a message which is much louder than any loudspeaker and much brighter than any billboard or neon sign. It is all around us. It gives us assurance and peace and joy.

There is a story that compares us to the flowers of the field and tells us that we are beautiful and special and loved. If these flowers which are so fragile and temporal are created so beautiful, how much more are we… the very image of God.

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Rwanda’s road of thankfulness…

Few days ago our friend tagged me in his post #TURASHIMA. It is a Kinyarwanda word that means “We are thankful”. Rwandans and friends of Rwanda are invited to reflect on Rwanda’s last 21 years and express why they are thankful. My friend invited me to join this campaign!

I feel blessed to be considered a friend of Rwanda, ‘Land of a thousand hills’ even though I have not had the chance to visit this beautiful country yet. I met my amazing Rwandan friends during our reconciliation studies in England and they have impacted my life in so many ways. It is April and it is the time of the year when Rwanda grieves the terrible tragedy of 1994. My friends survived the genocide and each has an incredible story.

DSCF0467With their permission I hope to share some of their stories in the future. But they are not ‘survivors’… they are artists, story tellers, peacemakers, leaders, advocates, truth seekers, brothers, sisters and dear friends and simply beautiful people.

Olivier is Olivier! Just like his famous saying, “Life is life”. He is very wise and deep thinker and a good leader. He is a true advocate for the voiceless and becoming a very thoughtful filmmaker. His experience of surviving the genocide as a street kid gives him great compassion for the fatherless. He encourages me when the hard questions of life get too heavy. I will insert the link to his short video #Turashima

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Antoinette is too much fun. She is beautiful inside and out, strong and passionate. Her laugh is contagious and she knows how to celebrate life. She is a great dancer (well, all Rwandans are great dancers) and she gives the best hugs. I know Anto gets very sad in April, missing her loved ones who were killed in 1994. I am so thankful for the way she loves God and people.

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Noel is a man of so many talents. Artist, filmmaker, songwriter, worshiper… and a smooth dancer, too. He even tried to teach Gary some moves with no success but we had great fun. He can get anyone to join, to sing and to smile. But he also likes to dig deep and ask provoking questions others are afraid to ask. And guess when is Noel’s birthday? Christmas, of course!

Then there is Immaculee, Michael, Fidel, Innocent and Godfrey. Everyone has taught me so much about life, relationships, God’s faithfulness, joy, pain, forgiveness and hope against all hope. These things you cannot learn from the books or lectures.

‘Murakoze’ (thank you!) for being who you are! ‘Murakoze’ for being a part of these ‘peaceroads’! Cannot wait to dance with you, my friends, again and have some great celebrations. Bring out that African drum… because there is so much to be thankful for!  #Turashima