More than a Wikipedia fact in postcard from Latvia

Do you have a wish list of influential people you would like to meet? High on my list is Vaclav Havel. I wish I could have met him as his prophetic wisdom is on my mind …

This goes out to everyone flirting with authoritative regimes and ideas where truth does not matter, where freedoms can be traded for economic stability and security, where all the problems is someone else’ fault and the rest of the world is threatening place to be isolated from. I wish I could transport you back in time to Latvia on May 4, 1990… There are some hard and painful lessons learned that Latvians can teach!

Today is a national holiday in Latvia. We celebrate and remember the events of May 4 in 1990 as the anniversary of Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia which was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of Latvian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic)

It sounds like a paragraph from Wikipedia but for millions of people from Europe it means something profound, life changing and universally important. It also means the experiences and lessons of the past, the realities and understanding of the present and the dreams and challenges of the future.

Talking about the past, one of our common and real experiences was living in a ‘post-truth’ and often ‘invented truth’ world. I want to quote Vaclav Havel from his famous essay The Power of the Powerless: “Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.”

Even the name – Latvia Soviet Socialist Republic. This was not real ‘republic’ with freedom, democracy and the rule of law. This was not real ‘socialism’ where social justice actually means something. And it certainly was not ‘soviet’ which literally should mean that it is the council of the people.

Another experience of this past is again well-expressed by Havel: “The essential aims of life are present naturally in every person. In everyone there is some longing for humanity’s rightful dignity, for moral integrity, for free expression of being and a sense of transcendence over the world of existence. Yet, at the same time, each person is capable, to a greater or lesser degree, of coming to terms within the lie. Each person somehow succumbs to a profane trivialization of his inherent humanity, and to utilitarianism. In everyone there is some willingness to merge with the anonymous crowd and  to flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudo-life.”

On May 4, 1990 there was such a wide-spread and irreversible feeling that people are tired of living this pseudo-life. There was a large crowd gathering for demonstration and support but it was not anonymous anymore. Each face had a name, each voice mattered, each person felt important realizing that freedom and regained dignity is possible. This truly was the power of the powerless.

These experiences define who I am today. Even though I was very young and don’t remember details, it has a direct link to how I view the world.  We call the year 2016 as the year of ‘post truth’. It is tragic and dangerous and many other adjectives I could add. Havel wisely wrote that “Living within the truth, as humanity’s revolt against an enforced position, is, on the contrary, an attempt to regain control over one’s own sense of responsibility. In other words, it is clearly a moral act, not only because one must pay so dearly for it, but principally because it is not self-serving.”

Truth is not self-serving. It answers to a higher master and it serves a higher purpose and it calls everyone to personal responsibility. And this where the future challenge lies – we succumb again and again to pseudo-life, pseudo-justice, pseudo-plurality and other convenient lies.

Today in Latvia we remember where we were and who we were and we talk about where we are and who we are now. And we reflect on where we want to be and how to get there.

Celebrate with us! With love from Rīga

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Latvian:

Šoreiz es netulkošu burtiski, bet pārstāstīšu galveno domu, jo šis ieraksts latviešiem nozīmē pavisam kaut ko citu, kā maniem draugiem un lasītājiem ārzemēs. Mani turpina iedvesmot Vaclavs Havels un viņa pravietiskie vārdi un pasaules redzējums. Plauktā ir viņa grāmatas angļu valodā, un man nav pie rokas latviskais tulkojums (gan jau kāds ir iztulkojis), un pašai nav laika un spēju izdarīt to pienācīgi labi. Tāpēc Havela tiešos citātus lasiet pirmajā daļā.

Es gribēju uzrakstīt kaut ko par 4. maiju, un ko tas nozīmē šodien un tagad. Un tad sāku domāt, cik tā ir tik svarīga un joprojām aktuāla vēstures mācību stunda šodienas sabiedrībai visā pasaulē.

Parasti manu blogu lasa līdzīgi domājošie (kā jau tas mūsdienās pieņemts, mēs lasām to, kas mums glāsta pa spalvai, bet negribam lasīt to, kas izaicina vai aicina paraudzīties no cita skatu punkta), bet mans dialogs jeb saruna ir ar tiem, kuri domā savādāk. Man gribētos, lai šo rakstu izlasa tie, kuri flirtē ar autoratīviem režīmiem, kuri gaida “īsto glābēju” vai “stingro roku”, kas visu sakārtos un atgriezīs vecos labos laikus. Kuri ir gatavi pievērt acis uz patiesības un faktu nomelnošanu un uz vārdu un jēdzienu devalvāciju. Kuri ir gatavi apmainīt brīvību pret ekonomisko ‘labklājību’ un stabilitāti.

Tie vecie labie laiki ir pasaule, kurā var izlikties, jo tā ir norma, un visi izliekas, ka neviens neizliekas. Pasaule, kurā pie visa vienmēr vainīgs kāds cits, un nevienam nav jāuzņemas personīga atbildība. Vecie labie laiki, kuros ārpasaule liekas nedroša un bīstama vieta, no kuras vajag izolēties.

Es vēlētos ielikt manus sarunas biedrus laika mašīnā un atgriezties Latvijā 1990. gada 4. maijā, lai ļautu izjust un piedzīvot to, ko nozīmē atteikties no šādas pseido-dzīves, pseido-patiesības, pseido-drošības un pseido-brīvības. Šie ‘vecie labie laiki’ (jeb Padomju Savienības variantā ‘jaunie labie laiki’) tika Latvijai uzspiesti ar varu, bet cilvēki ar laiku pielāgojās, lai varētu izdzīvot.

Tā mēs izdzīvojām, bet pienāca brīdis, kad ar to bija stipri par maz. Cilvēks nav radīts tādai dzīvei, kaut gan viņš ir spējīgs tā dzīvot. Par to Havels rakstīja sava slavenajā esejā “Nespēcīgo spēks” (The Power of the Powerless). Katrs ir spējīgs kļūt par daļu no anonīmā pūļa, kas vienkārši peld līdzi dzīves straumei.

1990. gada 4. maijā arī bija liels pūlis, bet tas vairs nebija anonīms. Katram cilvēkam bija sava seja, gaidpilna, cerību pilna, un katram bija ko teikt, un katrs būtu gatavs balsot. Es biju skolniece un daudzas nianses neatceros, bet atceros to, ka šo dienu iezīmēja pavisam cita realitāte. It kā tu aizgāji gulēt vienā pasaulē, bet pamodies pavisam citā.

Un pilnīgi skaidrs, ka tajos ‘vecajos labajos laikos’ es nevēlos atgriezties, un nevienam neiesaku. Un esmu gatava brīdināt pa labi un pa kreisi, ka līdzīgus ‘jaunos labos laikus’ arī nevienam nenovēlu. Ne Eiropā, ne Amerikā, ne citos kontinentos… nekur un nevienam.

Priecīgus 4. maija svētkus! Ar sveicieniem no Rīgas

 

 

 

 

Dear Latvia, I love you

This is my dear grandmother Margaret who is only 5 years younger than the Republic of Latvia. Born in 1923, she has seen and experienced many things, lost much but also gained much. She teaches me how not to take things for granted. She also teaches me about courage, sacrifice, creativity, gratitude and hope.

Today on Latvia’s Independence Day we will walk around Riga and celebrate together with the crowds of people. My grandmother loves people, but she can get lost in the crowd. She is so small and frail and half-deaf. I will take her to see the Freedom Monument which is a very special place for her and for many people. In the days and months and years when Latvia was re-gaining its independence, I knew that I could find her there, standing proudly with placards and posters. Demanding justice and freedom.

We are very close but we also have our differences. She has annoyed, upset and patronized me, but I have always felt that she has my back, that she is on my side. Even if she disagrees with me, she wants the best for me and she will give everything for it. She wants me to flourish and have a good life. Now I want to be on her side and by her side.

I am also on Latvia’s side and I believe it is on mine. Do we have our differences? For sure. Has my country annoyed and upset and patronized me? For sure. Have I rebelled and criticized and said that “I will never become like you”? For sure. Still, I love Latvia and I believe that Latvia loves me. Very imperfectly but nonetheless.

When I think about the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, I try to apply it on a national and international level as well. It is hard to love your (national and international) neighbors if you don’t love yourself. It is hard to respect your (national and international) neighbors if you don’t respect yourself. It is hard to cheer for your (national and international) neighbors if you don’t cheer for yourself. 

Also, I know that these are challenging days. There are trends in the world that question the idea of self-sacrifice, self-control, common good, justice, rule of law, vision beyond ourselves and truth. And more than ever we are reminded that we cannot take these values and understanding of good life for granted. Peace and justice and freedom is not something that just happens. It is very hard work and it takes long time but it can be destroyed and lost if we don’t cultivate and nourish  and guard it with all our will.

I think of my friends from Syria (who want peace in Syria) living in Latvia now. I think of my friends from China (who want democracy and freedom of religion in China) living in Latvia now. Or friends from Ukraine (who want justice and rule of law in Ukraine) living in Latvia now. If I start whining about Latvia too much, I think of them and most complaints stop. My mom used to tell me her life was not so bad and difficult as millions of people around the world who would love to trade places in a second (yes, my mom was amazing).

Latvia is not perfect but it is my country. Every person who lives here is not perfect but every one is my people. So, I will continue to learn what it means to love them in words and actions.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Paul the Apostle)

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Someone in Latvia loves you very much (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Te es esmu kopā ar savu mīļo vecmammu Margietu, kura ir tikai 5 gadus jaunāka par Latvijas Republiku. Dzimusi 1923. gadā, viņa ir redzējusi un piedzīvojusi daudz, zaudējusi un arī ieguvusi daudz. No vecmammas es varu mācīties, ka neko nevar pieņemt kā pašsaprotamu. Mācos arī drosmi, radošumu, pateicību un cerību.

Šodien mēs iesim pastaigāties pa Rīgu un svinēsim Latvijas valsts 98. gadadienu kopā ar tūkstošiem cilvēku. Mana vecmamma ir ļoti sabiedriska, bet pēdējā laikā viņai ir grūti atrasties pūlī. Viņa ir tik maza, trausla un puskurla. Mēs aiziesim līdz Brīvības piemineklim, kas ir ļoti īpaša vieta. Dienās, mēnešos un gados, kad Latvija atguva savu neatkarību, zināju, ka varu atrast vecmammu pie Brīvības pieminekļa. Stāvam ar plakātiem un zīmējumiem.

Mēs esam ļoti tuvas, bet mums ir bijušas arī daudzas domstarpības. Viņa ir reizēm mani aizkaitinājusi, apbēdinājusi un centusies mācīt “kā dzīvot pareizāk”, bet es vienmēr esmu zinājusi, ka vecmamma ir manā pusē, ka viņa vēl man to labāko, un gatava upurēties savu bērnu un mazbērnu dēļ. Tagad es vēlos būt viņas pusē un viņai blakus.

Es esmu arī Latvijas pusē. Vai mums ir bijušas domstarpības? Protams. Vai Latvija ir mani aizkaitinājusi, apbēdinājusi un centusies mācīt “kā dzīvot pareizāk”? Protams. Vai es esmu dumpojusies un kritizējusi un teikusi, ka “iešu savu ceļu”? Protams. Taču es mīlu Latviju, un ticu ka Latvijā mīl mani. Nepilnīgi, bet tomēr.

Domājot par bausli “Mīli savu tuvāko kā sevi paši”, es cenšos to piemērot gan nacionālā, gan starptautiskā līmenī. Ir grūti mīlēt savus tuvākos un tālākos (gan nacionāli, gan starptautiski), ja tu nemīli pats sevi. Ir grūti  cienīt savus tuvākos un tālākos (gan nacionāli, gan starptautiski), ja tu necieni pats sevi. Ir grūti atbalstīt citus un priecāties par viņu panākumiem, ja tu nepriecājies par savējiem. Un otrādāk.

Skaidrs, ka ir ļoti daudz izaicinājumu. Šobrīd pasaulē ir spēcīgas tendencies, kas apšauba tādas lietas kā pašuzpurēšanās, paškontrole, kopīgais labums, taisnīgums, likumība, vīzija lielāka par tevi vai tavu valsti, cieņa pret visiem cilvēkiem un patiesība. Un mums tieši acīs tiek atgādināts, ka šīs vērtības un labas dzīves izpratne nav pašsaprotami. Miers, taisnīgums un brīvība neiekrīt klēpī paši no sevis. Tas ir grūts un apzināts darbs, un tas prasa ilgu laiku. Taču to var ātri iznīcināt un pazaudēt, ja mēs to nekopjam un nekultivējam, vai vairs negribam no visas sirds.

Domāju par saviem draugiem no Sīrijas, kuri dzīvo Latvijā (un ilgojas pēc miera Sīrijā). Domāju par draugiem no Ķīnas, kuri dzīvo Latvijā (un ilgojas pēc demokrātijas un reliģijas brīvības Ķīnā). Vai arī par cilvēkiem no Ukrainas, kuri dzīvo Latvijā (un ilgojas pēc taisnīguma un likumības Ukrainā). Kad sāku pārāk sūdzēties par Latviju, iedomājos par viņiem, un vairs negribas sūdzēties. Mana mamma parasti teica, ka viņai nemaz neesot tik grūti, salīdzinot ar miljoniem cilvēku visa pasaulē, kuri būtu gatavi mainīties vietām nedomājot.

Latvija nav perfekta valsts, bet tā ir manējā. Cilvēki, kuri dzīvo Latvijā, nav perfekti, bet tie ir manējie. Un es neesmu perfekta, bet esmu savējā. Tāpēc turpināšu mācīties, kā mīlēt šo valsti un šos cilvēkus.

“Mīlestība ir lēnprātīga, mīlestība ir laipna, tā neskauž, mīlestība nelielās, tā nav uzpūtīga. Tā neizturas piedauzīgi, tā nemeklē savu labumu, tā neskaistas, tā nepiemin ļaunu. Tā nepriecājas par netaisnību, bet priecājas par patiesību. Tā apklāj visu, tā tic visu, tā cer visu, tā panes visu.” (Sv. Pāvils)

 

 


 

Shape of my heart

September 21 is the International Day of Peace. So, what? The world does not seem very peaceful; many relationships strained or broken; armed conflicts and rumors of wars in too many places; resources and environment being fought over; refugees in millions; fundamentalists clashing with libertarians; anxiety and fear in the headlines; elections becoming so divisive for societies… should I go on?

“Peace” has become such a cheap word. “Peace” sign can be such a cliche. “Peace agreements” look like a joke. “Peace building” often feels impossible and futile. It reminds me of the ancient prophet Jeremiah who said, “They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace.

There comes a moment when you become still and start to think  – where does peace start? It seems that we are good at “ceasefires” but where is the source of true peace? Where does the will and the choice and the ability to be peaceful come from?

Few years ago in a group of friends we wrote a song, “Where does peace start? With God enlarging my heart!” I want to quote one of my favorite authors on spirituality and relationships, Henri J.M. Nouwen. He wrote that “We tend to run around trying to solve the problems of our world while anxiously avoiding confrontation with the reality wherein our problems find their deepest roots: our own selves. … To build a better world, the beginnings of that world must be visible in daily life. … We cannot speak about ways to bring about peace and freedom if we cannot draw from our own experiences of peace and freedom here and now.” (“Creative Ministry”)

I realized this early in own my journey. One friend from Thailand-Burma border sent me an-mail some years ago. “I like this subject of peace very much but I feel that a trainer of the course should have a clear mind. I am good at solving other one’s conflict (I think) but I myself am violent.” His honesty made me look at my own heart and my daily interactions. There are many stories to tell of what I have experienced.

We would like to think of ourselves as open-minded, friendly, inclusive, welcoming, accepting, non-judgmental, reaching out, respectful, humble but these ideas get tested daily and how often we fail the test. Like H. Nouwen said, it is the “here and now “that matters the most.

I realize that I started a subject that is too deep and too wide for this blog but I wanted to remind myself that peace starts with me. Peace with God, with myself, with others and with the created order. How to have this peace in all these relationships? Well, that’s the real art!

And just because it rhymes and I love this song by British artist Sting:

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

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Peaceful place in Latvia (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

21. septembrī tika atzīmēta Pasaules jeb Starptautiskā miera diena. Nu, un kas par to? Pasaule galīgi neliekas mierīga; visāda veida attiecības sabojātas un salauztas; bruņoti konflikti un kari daudzviet; cīņa par resursiem un strīdi par vides aizsardzību; miljoniem bēgļu; sadursme starp fundametālistiem un libertiāņiem; bailes un satraukums ziņu virsrakstos; vēlēšanas, kas sašķel nācijas… vai vēl turpināt?

“Miers” daudziem ir kļuvis tukšs vārds. “Miera simboli” kļuvuši par klišejām. “Miera sarunas” bieži vien izrādās nenopietnas. “Miera celšana” sāk likties neiespējama un veltīga. Man prātā nāk senā pravieša Jeremijas vārdi: “Tie grib pavirši dziedināt Manas tautas meitas dziļo brūci un saka: miers, miers! – kur taču miera nav.”

Un pienāk brīdis, kad tu apstājies un sāc domāt – no kurienes nāk miers? Mums tik labi padodas “pamieri”, bet kas ir īsta un paliekoša miera avots? Kur rodas griba, vēlēšanās un spēja būt mieru mīlošam un mieru nesošam?

Pirms dažiem gadiem mēs kopā ar draugiem uzrakstījām dziesmu, kuras galvenais jautājums bija, kur sākas miers? Un mēs atbildējām, ka “manā sirdī, kuru maina Dievs.” Gribu citēt vienu no saviem mīļākajiem rakstniekiem un teologiem. Henrijs Nouvens rakstīja, ka “Mēs skrienam apkārt, mēģinot atrisināt pasaules problēmas, bet tajā pašā laikā drudžaini cenšamies izvairīties no konfrontācijas ar mūsu problēmu visdziļāko sakni: sevi pašiem. … Lai veidotu labāku pasauli, šīs pasaules pamatiem ir jābūt mūsu ikdienas dzīvē. … Mēs nevaram runāt par mieru un brīvību, ja mēs nevaram smelties šo mieru un brīvību no savas pieredzes šeit un tagad.” (no grāmatas “Radoša kalpošana”)

Šī vienkāršā patiesība man atklājās pamazām. Pirms dažiem gadiem kāds draugs no Taizemes – Birmas pierobežas atsūtīja e-pastu. “Man ļoti patīk miera tēma, bet man liekas, ka šīs tēmas pasniedzējam jābūt ar skaidru prātu. Man pašam izdodas risināt citu cilvēku konfliktus (vismaz tā šķiet), bet pats esmu diezgan vardarbīgs.” Viņa atklātība lika man padomāt pašai par sevi, ielūkoties savās sirdī un savās ikdienas lietās. Te būtu daudz ko stāstīt par pieredzēto.

Mums gribētos domāt, ka esam ļoti atvērti, ar plašu domāšanu, iekļaujoši, laipni, viesmīlīgi, nenosodoši, cieņpilni, pazemīgi, utt, bet šie pieņēmumi tiek pārbaudīti katru dienu, un tik bieži mēs neizturam šos pārbaudījumus. Kā jau Henrijs Nouvens teica, vissvarīgākā ir mana pieredze “šeit un tagad”.

Apzinos, ka esmu pieskārusies tēmai, kas ir pārāk dziļa un pārāk plaša šim blogam, bet gribējās atgādināt pašai sev, ka miers sākas ar mani. Miers ar Dievu, miers ar sevi, miers ar citiem un miers ar pārējo radīto pasauli. Kā šo mieru iegūt un paturēt? Tas jau ir tas lielais jautājums un dzīves māksla!

Un vienkārši tāpēc, ka man patīk Stinga mūzika, viens neliels citāts no dziesmas “Manas sirds veidols”

Es zinu, ka pīķi ir kareivja iesmi
Es zinu, ka kreici ir ieroči karam
Es zinu, ka kāravi apmaksā to
Bet manas sirds veidols tas nav

Why is Angelina Jolie causing a traffic jam in Battambang?

It turns out I have a few things in common with Angelina Jolie. She is in Cambodia and I am, too. She was in Battambang and I was there, too. She was shopping at the Night Market in Siem Reap and I was, too. She is researching the Khmer Rouge regime and the genocide of 1975-79 and I am, too.

I guess that is where our commonalities end. She is spending much more money and actually making an important movie about the history of Khmer Rouge, based on the autobiography “First They Killed My Father”, written by a survivor Loung Ung. Angelina Jolie has been interested in Cambodia for years and one of her sons was adopted from here. So, obviously with such a high-profile global celebrity in town, the people of Battambang have noticed the presence of film crews and other entourage.

I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. It is a sobering place. The Khmer Rouge (or Red Khmer) were a very radical Communist group with a utopian idea of restructuring the whole society. To create a class-less society,  they turned against education, religion, private ownership and any kind of freedom. Here are some of their slogans: “If you wish to get a Baccalaureate, you have to get it at dams or canals” or “Study is not important. What’s important is work and revolution.” (Mind you, many of the leaders were highly educated and had studied in Paris. Including Pol Pot himself.) The cities were emptied and the whole country was turned into a big labor camp with starving and suffering people. Almost 2 million died.

The Tuol Sleng or Security Prison 21 (S-21) had been one of the best high schools in the city before it became a place of torture. This was a special prison for mostly Khmer Rouge cadres and their families and many other random people. Approx 17, 000 people were held, tortured and killed in this place. The torture was meant to extract ‘confessions’ of what kind of traitor are you and who are you spying for – Americans (CIA) or Russians (KGB)? Men, women, teenagers and children, even babies… all were killed.

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The Khmer Rouge had photographed every victim at the time of arrest and many after their executions. Now there are thousands of photos of faces… smiling, sad, angry, confused, beaten, hopeful, hopeless and scared. I look at these faces and I think, it could have been me since I was born in the 70s. These could have been my parents, my grandparents, my brothers. I was fortunate to be born in Latvia and they were unfortunate to be born here.

I met on the survivors of this horrible place. His name is Bou Meng and he is 72 now. What saved him? His skill of painting and ability to draw portraits of the Khmer Rouge leaders. His wife and two young children perished. Bou Meng has written his testimony and advocates for justice and truthful remembering of Cambodia’s past.

One researcher said, “Wartime brutality, Marxist fanaticism, obsessive and threatened nationalism – these seemed to be three of the principal elements that had contributed to this totalitarianism. … I was disturbed not by the banality of evil but the intellectual pretensions behind it.” Words to reflect upon since these kind of ‘intellectual pretensions’ still exist. How to vaccinate yourself against it?

And no, I did not meet Angelina Jolie… but I will be waiting to see her new movie.

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Meeting Bou Meng, one of the survivors of S-21

Latviski:

Izrādās, ka man un Andželīnai Džolijai ir šis tas kopīgs. Viņa ir Kambodžā, un es arī. Viņa bija Batambangā, un es arī. Viņa iepirkās Siemrīpas nakts tirdziņā, un es arī. Viņa pēta Kambodžas vēsturi, konkrēti Sarkano hmeru (Khmer Rouge) režīmu un genocīdu no 1975. līdz 1979. gadam.

Te laikam kopīgais beidzas. Viņai ir daudz vairāk naudas, ko tērēt, un šobrīd viņa uzņem spēlfilmu par Sarkano hmeru teroru. Stāsts būs autobiogrāfisks, balstīts uz grāmatu “Vispirms Viņi Nogalināja Manu Tēvu” un Lungas Angas atmiņām. Andželīna jau daudzus gadus interesējas par Kambodžu, palīdz dažādos humanitāros projektos, un viens no viņas dēliem ir adoptēts no šejienes. Tāpēc saprotams, ka tādas pasaules mēroga slavenības un filmēšanas grupas uzturēšanās mierīgajā Batambangas pilsētā rada lielu burzmu un sastrēgumus.

Kambodžas galvaspilsētā Pnompeņā es apmeklēju Tuol Sleng Genocīda muzeju (S-21). Ļoti traģiska vieta. Sarkanie hmeri bija radikāla un fanātiska komunistu organizācija ar utopisku ideju par visas sabiedrības pārkārtošanu un ideālas zemnieku valsts izveidošanu. Tika likvidētas, skolas, rūpnīcas, nauda, privātīpašums un aizliegta jebkāda reliģija. Viena no šī režīma devīzēm bija “Ja vēlies iegūt bakalaura diplomu, dari to, būvējot dambjus un kanālus.” Vai arī “Izglītība nav svarīga. Svarīgs ir darbs un revolūcija.” (Tas nekas, ka paši ‘revolūcijas’ vadītāji bija guvuši augstāko izglītību, piemēram, Francijā. Arī pats Pols Pots bija studējis Parīzē.) Pilsētas tika iztukšotas, un visa valsts pārvērsta par vienu lielu darba nometni ar izsalkušiem un nomocītiem cilvēkiem. Aptuveni 2 miljoni bojāgājušo četru gadu laikā.

Paaugstinātas Drošības cietums Nr.21 (S-21) tika izvietots vienā no galvaspilsētas labākajām vidusskolām. Bijušās klases kļuva par cietuma kamerām. Pārsvarā te turēja, spīdzināja un nogalināja ‘savējos’ – Sarkanos hmerus, kuri tika apsūdzēti nodevībā. Arī viņu sievas un bēŗni, pat mazuļi, un ģimenes locekļi tika nogalināti. Apmēram 17,000 upuru. Spīdzināšanas mērķis bija noskaidrots, kā labā tu spiego – vai amerikāņu (tātad CIP agents), vai krievu (tātad VDK)?

Sarkanie hmeri fotografēja visus apcietinātos aresta laikā, un daudzus arī pēc nāves. Tagad piemiņai un liecībai ir tūkstošiem fotogrāfiju. Sejas, kas raugās uz mums… ar skumjām, ar smaidu, ar dusmām, apjukumu, cerību un reizē bezcerību un lielām bailēm. Skatos šajās sejās un domāju, kā tā varēju būt es, jo esmu tās desmitgades bērns. Tie varēja būt mani vecāki, vecvecāki, brāļi. Man bija tā laime piedzimt Latvijā, un viņiem bija tā nelaime piedzimt šeit.

Muzejā satiku vienu no nedaudzajiem, kas izdzīvoja. Šo vīrieti sauc Bou Mengs, un viņam tagad ir 72 gadi. Kas viņu izglāba? Spēja zīmēt un gleznot Sarkano hmeru vadītāju portretus. Viņa sieva un divi mazi bērni gan tika pazudināti. Bou Mengs ir pierakstījis savu liecību un atmiņas, un aktīvi piedalās taisnīguma un dziļas pagātnes pētīšanas procesā. Viņš bija liecinieks tiesas prāvā pret vienu no bijušajiem Sarkano hmeru vadītājiem, kas notika visai nesen. Šie tiesu procesi sākās tikai pēc 30 gadiem. (Taisnīguma meklēšana Kambodžā ir garš un sarežģīts stāsts.)

Viens no Kambodžas pētniekiem nonāca pie šāda secinājuma. “Kara laika brutalitāte, Marksistu fanātisms, milzīgs un it kā apdraudēts nacionālisms – tie bija trīs no galvenajiem elementiem, kas noveda līdz šādam totalitāram režīmam. … Mani satriec nevis ļaunuma banalitāte, bet gan tā ‘intelektuālās pretenzijas.” Svarīgi pārdomāt šos vārdus, jo līdzīgas pēc dabas ‘intelektuālas pretenzijas’ jeb pamatojumi pastāv vēl šodien. Kā iegūt imunitāti pret šādām idejām?

Un, nē, es nesatiku Andželīnu Džoliju, bet es gaidīšu viņas jaunāko filmu.

 

Thinker, believer and one of Latvia’s best kept secrets

Few days ago I heard some sad, bitter and sweet news. Sad because I found out that a very special person has passed away. Bitter because I was hoping to meet him again this year. Sweet because I am happy for him… at 88 years old, he has gone to the Big World as he called it. I know he was looking forward to it.

Paulis Klavins – Latvian human rights activist, politician, theologian and social thinker – lived his life well. Sadly I only met him two years ago, but I am very grateful for those meetings. Glad that I recorded our talks and that I got to discuss his views and rich experience in person.

Is it just me or it seems that there is a shortage of people with good common sense? That basic wisdom of how to live responsibly and well in relation to yourself and others. Paulis had such wisdom and it was contagious. I was reading an interview in a respected intellectual magazine “Rigas Laiks” in Latvia where the journalist gave this introduction, “I think in Latvia or at least in its public space there is a lack of people who are brave enough to speak their mind. Even less people who are not only brave, but thinking; and very few who are both thinkers and believers.”

Paulis Klavins was a very significant person in Latvia’s contemporary history. He was born in Latvia but his family became refugees after WWII. They ended up in Germany and there Paulis eventually made his home. His love for Latvia and also his strong faith in Jesus brought him back to Latvia for visits in late 1960’s when Latvia was still behind the Iron Curtain and very much oppressed by the Soviet system. He and his wife became involved with a Christian human rights organization led by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who had suffered torture and many years in Communist prisons.

As a person of action and strong conviction, Paulis asked the question that such people ask, “what can I do? what can people do when they feel so powerless?” There was strong darkness in the form of Soviet ideological lies and system that robbed people of their basic freedoms, even freedom to live. What overcomes any darkness? The Light!!! (The Czech dissident and writer Vaclav Havel wrote his famous essay called “The Power of the Powerless” where he talks about the same struggle – the struggle to live in the Light and resist the Darkness.)

These concepts can seem so abstract and lofty. Like something from “The Lord of the Rings” saga or “Star Wars” movies. Light vs Darkness… but it has very real forms and very real consequences. It is amazing how quickly we forget things. Even about our life in the USSR. I know people who were sent to prison as late as 1983 because of their Christian faith and their free thinking. These were some of the main crimes against the system… To have your own thoughts… To speak Truthfully… To disobey the Communist Party… To promote human rights and freedoms… To honor and protect your conscience…

Paulis, his family and like minded friends in the West organized an amazing (and also underground) network of people on both sides of the Iron Curtain. He made connections and built friendships with believers and people of conscience in the USSR who were suffering and persecuted. It is a long and incredible story and he has written a book, chronicling the history of this Christian human rights group called “The Action of Light” (“Gaismas Akcija”)

Gaismas_akcija_Minsteres_stacija-500x300

I love the motto of the group. “To Shine the Light on Everything and Forgive – the Light Will Win!” These prisoners of conscience did not use military weapons or any kind of violence. Their main resistance was their testimony (not only religious) which revealed the Truth – this was their weapon of Light! The principle and value of forgiveness also revealed their conviction that the highest judge is God because he is Light. His justice will come. It gives a strong and firm foundation – to know that there is an absolute moral clarity and goodness in His judgement.

I talked with Paulis about these concepts and values because one of the crucial things that was destroyed in Latvian society during the years of Soviet system was our belief in justice and righteousness. We were taught to be ‘hypocrites’ – our public actions and private thoughts and conversations did not match. I told my teachers what they ‘needed’ to hear; I gave the Communist pledge even though I didn’t believe in it; I sang the Soviet anthem even though it reminded the tragic fact of Soviet occupation. As one of my friends said it, “we were all pushed down on our knees”.

Paulis Klavins will be missed. As a Latvian, as a Christian, as a thinker, as a truth-seeker and simply a great person. I never felt patronized because he was truly a brother of faith and someone who was always learning. Never claiming that he has ‘arrived’ but always pressing forward in his search for truth and good life. I call him one of Latvia’s best secrets because there are so many people in Latvia who have not even heard his name. Especially the younger generation who was born in free Latvia.

Nobody can fill his shoes but we do need to know what kind of shoes they were! We desperately need to promote this design, this brand. Actions of the Light!

Paulis Kļaviņš

Photos from my personal and P. Klavins archive

Latviski:

Nesen uzzināju skumjas, bēdīgas, bet arī labas vēstis. Skumjas, jo ir miris brīnišķīgs cilvēks. Bēdīgas, jo es cerēju viņu šogad atkal satikt. Labas, jo es priecājos… 88 gadu vecumā šis vīrs ir aizgājis uz Lielo pasauli, kā viņš pats to sauca. Un viņš to ļoti gaidīja.

Paulis Kļaviņš – latvietis, cilvēktiesību aizstāvis, politiķis, teologs un domātājs. Žēl, ka mēs iepazināmies tikai pirms pāris gadiem, bet esmu pateicīga par mūsu tikšanām. Priecājos, ka ierakstīju mūsu sarunas un varēju pārrunāt viņa uzskatus un bagāto dzīves pieredzi.

Vai tikai man, vai arī jums liekas, ka ļoti pietrūkst cilvēku ar patiesu dzīves gudrību? (angļu val. ‘common sense’) To veselo domāšanu, kad tu māki dzīvot savu dzīvi atbildīgi un līdzatbildīgi. Paulim bija šāda gudrība, un tā bija lipīga. Es lasīju interviju žurnālā “Rīgas laiks” 2011. gadā, un A.Rītups raksta: “Manuprāt, Latvijā vai vismaz tās publiskajā telpā trūkst drosmīgu cilvēku, kuri nebaidās teikt, ko domā. Vēl mazāk ir tādu, kas ne tikai ir drosmīgi, bet arī domājoši; pavisam maz ir tādu, kas ir gan domājoši, gan ticoši… Paulis man šķita brīvdomātājs šī vārda vēl nesagandētajā nozīmē, kas paredz, ka patstāvīgas domas brīvībai, nemitīgai gatavībai mācīties un ticības drosmei ir lielāks svars nekā savas taisnības, savu interešu un savu metafizisko bildīšu aizstāvēšanai.”

Paulis Kļaviņš bija un ir ļoti nozīmīga persona Latvijai. Dzimis Latgalē, bet kopā ar ģimeni devies bēgļu gaitās Otrā Pasaules kara laikā. Viņi nonāca Vācijā, kas kļuva par mājām. Bet mīlestība uz Latviju un arī stiprā ticība Dieva dotai brīvībai mudināja braukt uz Latviju 60-tajos gados, kad vēl bija spēcīga Padomju sistēma. Kopā ar sievu Zeltīti, viņi iesaistījās Palīdzības akcijā martīru baznīcai, kuru dibināja Ričards Vurmbrands. Mācītājs no Rumānijas, kurš pats bija daudz cietis un vajāts savas pārliecības dēļ.

Kā jau darītājs un domātājs, Paulis uzdeva jautājumu, ko parasti uzdod aktīvi cilvēki. “Ko es varu darīt? Ko var darīt, kad liekas, ka neko nevar darīt?” Bija sajūta, ka tumsas vara, kas piemita Padomju ideoloģijai un sistēmai, ir liela un stipra. Kas var uzvarēt tumsu? Gaisma!!! Arī čehu politiskā disidenta, rakstnieka un prezidenta Vaclava Havela spēcīgā eseja “Nespēcīgo spēks” (“The Power of the Powerless”) apraksta šo cīņu starp Gaismu un Tumsu.

Šīs idejas var likties tik abstraktas un gaisīgas. Kā no triloģijas “Gredzenu pavēlnieks” vai “Zvaigžņu kari” filmām. Gaisma pret Tumsu… bet tam ir tik reālas izpausmes un reālas sekas. Apbrīnojami, cik ātri mums viss aizmirstas. Pat dzīve bijušajā PSRS. Pazīstu cilvēkus, kas vēl 1983. gadā tika notiesāti, ieslodzīti, izsūtīti vai ielikti ‘trako namā’ savas ticības un brīvo uzskatu dēļ. Tas jau bija tas lielākais noziegums… domāt savas brīvās domas… runāt Patesību… aizstāvēt cilvēktiesības un brīvību… cienīt un klausīt savu sirdsapziņu…

Paulis, viņa ģimene un līdzīgi domājošie izveidoja apbrīnojamus ‘pagrīdes’ sakarus un kontaktus, un rezultātā tapa kristīga cilvēktiesību aizstāvības programma “Gaismas Akcija”. Kā raksta Paulis, visus Gaismas akcijas dalībniekus pavadīja apziņa par savas rīcības dabisko tiesiskumu — uzzināt visu par jebkuru cilvēku, kam tiek apdraudēta dzīvība, brīvība, tiesības un cilvēka cieņa. Tas ir garš un spēlfilmas scenārija cienīgs stāsts, un ir izdota grāmata par “Gaismas Akcijas” vēsturi. Te būs viena informatīva saite.

Mani iedvesmo šīs akcijas devīze. “Visu apgaismot un piedot – gaisma uzvarēs!” Vēl viens citāts: “Tiesa atstājama augstākajam, jo Dievs pats ir gaisma un var vienīgais būt taisnīgs tiesnesis. Šāda devīze šķīra garīgo cīņas lauku no militārā, un tas bija svarīgi mūsu partneriem Latvijā. Ikviens, kurš vēlējās piedalīties un atbalstīt patiesības lieciniekus, kļuva par brīvprātīgas garīgās kopības Gaismas akcijas dalībnieku.”

Mēs ar Pauli daudz pārrunājām šīs idejas un pieredzi, un ko tas nozīmē mūsdienu Latvijai. No intervijas žurnālā “Rīgas Laiks”, “Padomju laika apziņā cilvēks bija pieradis lietot šādu formulu: vienu domāt, citu runāt un trešo darīt, savā veidā trešās pakāpes šizofrēnija. Tas atstāj pēdas. Un viens no satraucošākajiem faktiem, kas ir mūsu sabiedrībā palicis, ir neticība taisnīguma principiālai iespējamībai. Šī ticība ir tik pamatīgi apkarota no padomju sistēmas, visā tanī ietvarā, ko darīja ar cilvēku, kā viņu virzīja, ko viņam lika teikt, kā viņam lika piedalīties melos – tas ir tik pamatīgi izkopts, ka jābrīnās. Kad es sāku strādāt Saeimā, es biju optimists. Pazinu Vācijas demokrātiju un domāju: nu tad tagad uz priekšu kristīgo demokrātu līnijā, un mēs tagad darīsim un veiksim, un uztaisījām pamatprogrammu, visi piekrita. Taču tas neiet. To nevar uzbūvēt tik ātri. Tas prasa laiku.”

Uzdrīkstos teikt, ka mums visiem ļoti pietrūks šis cilvēks. Kā domātājs, kā patiesības meklētājs, kā latvietis, kā kristietis. Kaut gan viņam bija tik liela pieredze, erudīcija un zināšanas, nekad nejūtos ‘pamācīta’. Kāpēc virsrakstā pieteicu Pauli kā vienu no Latvijas labāk slēptajiem dārgumiem? Jo tik daudzi no mums pat nezin viņa vārdu. Vai arī nezin šo vienreizējo un drosmīgo stāstu.

Katram cilvēkam ir savas kurpes un to izmērs. Neviens nevar aizstāt Pauli Kļaviņu, bet mums Latvijā jāzin, kas tās bija par kurpēm! Mums ļoti nepieciešams zināt un atdarināt šo dizainu, šo zīmolu, un mums ir ko eksportēt. Gaismas akcija!

Don’t talk in maybe’s… Sing it like it should be

There is this one guy I would like to meet. He is very tall, very skinny, very bald and very cool. Well, he is kind of intimidating, too, but in a good way. His name is Peter Garrett and he is an Aussie.

He also happens to be the lead singer of my favorite Australian rock band. No, not AC/DC or Jet… I am talking about Midnight Oil. My teenage music library and first introduction to MTV would not have been the same without this passionate and intense band and the beautiful but deep songs with a strong anti-nuke, anti-corporate and pro-environment message.

It was a very catchy song and easy to sing along. “How can we dance when our earth is turning? How can we sleep while our beds are burning?… The time has come to say fair’s fair… To pay the rent, to pay our share” I was trying to understand whose beds are burning? what’s not fair? Then I found out that Midnight Oil were active supporters of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and protection of the environment.

Years later I saw Midnight Oil perform this song “Beds Are Burning” at the Sydney Olympic Games and they were wearing suits with the word “SORRY” in front of 2.5 billion worldwide audience. It was a strong and bold message to a new generation. I felt challenged, inspired and convicted and I’m not even Australian. This is the power of art and music and lyrics that speak of our human brokenness and search for hope.

This is what I meant by him being intimidating in a good way. To make more sense of Peter Garrett, it is good to remember that he describes himself “a sporadic, occasional, very ecumenical, spiritual sojourner” who is committed to Christian social justice. He said that his Christian faith is his personal moral compass. Besides being a successful musician, he is also a former politician who served as Australian MP and member of the Cabinet.

One interviewer asked him, “How do you as someone with such a big profile, fame and commercial success, answer the call of humility as Christians are called to do?” Peter’s answer, “I have been around long enough to know that it is not about me. I have always believed in working with others to get things done. I have been fortunate to experience that in my time with Midnight Oil and working with my colleagues as conservation activist. To me public politics is public service. It may sound naive but I have always seen myself as someone who has chosen public service in whatever shape or form it comes.”

January 26 is Australia Day and I have very fun memories celebrating it together with friends in Perth, Western Australia. It is truly a beautiful land with breathtaking landscapes and great beaches. I have never seen sky so blue… I have also never met people who are more laid back than Aussies. No worries, mate!

So, maybe one day I will get to meet Peter Garrett and tell him in person how much I appreciate people like him. The ones who work for the healing of a nation… as in the song “One country”

Who’d like to change the world?
Who wants to shoot the curl?
Who wants to work for bread?
Who wants to get ahead?
Who hands out equal rights?
Who starts and ends that fight?
And not rant and rave,
or end up a slave.

Don’t call me baby,
Don’t talk in maybe’s,
Don’t talk like has-beens,
Sing it like it should be.

one vision, one people, one landmass
be our defenses
we have a lifeline

one ocean, one policy, see bad light,
one passion, one movement, one instant, one difference,
one life time and one understanding.

Transgression, redemption
one island blue, our place (magic),
one firmament, one element,
one moment, one fusion,
is so on time.

MidnightOilGarrett

Photos from the Internet

Latviski:

Ir viens džeks, kuru es vēlētos satikt. Viņš ir ļoti garš, ļoti kalsns, ļoti plikpaurains un ļoti foršs. Un man no viņa ir mazliet bail, bet labā nozīmē. Viņu sauc Pīters Garets, un viņš ir austrālis.

Turklāt viņš ir manas mīļākās Austrālijas rokgrupas solists. Nē, nevis AC/DC vai Jet… man patīk Midnight Oil. Mana pusaudzes gadu mūzikas izlase un pirmā iepazīšanās ar MTV nebūtu bijusi tik iespaidīga bez šīs dedzīgās grupas un viņu skaistajām, vienlaikus dziļajām dziesmām ar spēcīgu vēstījumu – pret atomieročiem, korupciju, ekonomisko nevienlīdzību un par dabas aizsardzību.

Viena lipīga dziesma, kurai viegli varēju dziedāt līdzi… “kā mēs varam dejot, kamēr pasaule griežas? kā mēs varam gulēt, kamēr mūsu gultas deg? Ir pienācis laiks teikt, kas ir taisnīgs… Laiks maksāt īri, maksāt savu daļu” Es gribēju saprast, par kādām gultām ir runa? Kas nav taisnīgs? Tad uzzināju, ka Midnight Oil aktīvi iestājas par Austrālijas pamatiedzīvotāju – aborigēnu – tiesībām, un arī daudz darbojas dabas aizsardzības jomā.

Pēc vairākiem gadiem es un vēl kādi 2,5 miljardi cilvēku redzējām Midnight Oil dziedam šo pašu dziesmu “Beds Are Burning” Sidnejas Olimpisko Spēļu ceremonijā. Viņiem bija tērpi ar uzrakstu “SORRY” kā atvainošanās, kā lūgums pēc piedošanas. Tā bija spēcīga un drosmīga vēsts jaunai paaudzei. Tas izaicināja, iedvesmoja un pārliecināja, kaut es neesmu austrāliete. Tāds spēks piemīt mākslai, mūzikai un dzejai, kas runā par mūsu cilvēces salauztību un cerības meklējumiem.

Tāpēc šis cilvēks mani baida… labā nozīmē. Lai labāk izprastu Pīteru Garetu, ir vērts atcerēties, ka viņš pats sevi sauc par “izkaisītu, dažreizēju, bet garīgu ceļotāju”, kura vērtību pamatā ir kristīga izpratne par sociālo taisnīgumu. Savu kristieša ticību viņš sauc par personīgo morāles kompasu. Būdams ne tikai populārs un veiksmīgs mūziķis, bet arī bijušais politiķis gan Austrālijas parlamentā, gan kā ministrs valdībā.

Kāds žurnālists jautāja, “Kā tu savieno savu atpazīstamību, slavu un komerciālos panākumus, ar Kristus aicinājumu būt pazemīgam?” Pītera atbilde, “Es jau ilgi ar to visu nodarbojos un zinu, ka lieta negrozās ap mani. Vienmēr esmu ticējis, ka tikai strādājot kopā var kaut ko panākt. Man ir paveicies gan ar Midnight Oil, gan ar kolēģiem dabas aizsardzības organizācijās. Būt politiski aktīvam man nozīmē kalpošanu sabiedrībai. Varbūt tas izklausās naivi, bet es vienmēr esmu uztvēris sevi kā tādu, kurš ir izvēlējies kalpot sabiedrībai vienalga kādā formā vai veidā.”

Katru gadu 26. janvārī ir Austrālijas Diena. Man ir foršas atmiņas no šo svētku svinēšanas kopā ar draugiem Pērtā, Rietumaustrālijā. Tā tiešām ir skaista zeme ar elpu aizraujošiem skatiem un vienreizējām pludmalēm. Nekur citur neesmu redzējusi tik zilas debesis… Nekur citur neesmu satikusi tik atbrīvotus un nesteidzīgus cilvēkus. No worries, mate! (Nav par ko, draudziņ!)

Varbūt kādu dienu satikšu Pīteru Garetu un varēšu pateikt viņam, cik ļoti cienu tādus cilvēkus. Tos, kuri cenšas palīdzēt dziedināt savas tautas pagātni… kā grupas dziesmā “Viena valsts

Kurš grib izmainīt pasauli?
Kurš grib braukt uz viļņa?
Kurš grib pelnīt maizi?
Kurš grib izrauties?
Kurš grib vienādas tiesības?
Kurš pabeidz iesākto cīņu?
Nevis trako un ārdās, vai vergo
Nesauc mani par mazo
Nerunā varbūtībās
Nerunā par izbijušo
Dziedi par to, kā jābūt
Viens redzējums, vieni ļaudis, viena zeme
Tā mūsu aizsardzība,
Kas ļaus mums dzīvot
Pārkāpums, izpirkums
Viena zila sala, viena pasakaina vieta
Viens avots, viens elements
Viens brīdis, viens savienojums
Tieši šim laikam
 

Peek into my library…

One of my New Year resolutions is to read even more books. I love reading and through the work and travels I have collected a small library. Unfortunately my library is scattered – most books are in Latvia, many in USA and a few in Thailand. I have a dream that one day I will be able to have a proper office with a nice big desk and all my books within a reach.

I have friends in Minnesota who have this great book-reading tradition called “Theology Pub”. They read one book per month and then meet at a local pub for discussion and reflection. If I lived in Minnesota, I would join them. I love a good discussion and thought-provoking books. The last book they read in 2015 was “Jesus and the nonviolent revolution” by André Trocmé.

I was not able to join the discussion. (So, if any of you have read it, I would love to hear your thoughts.) Timely and relevant book even though the author died in 1971. André Trocmé was a French protestant minister who led a nonviolent resistance in south central France during WWII. The people of the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon saved thousands of Jews by hiding them in their barns, farms, homes. Their actions were very much inspired by their theological beliefs that every human being has a God given dignity and worth and no system or government has right deny it.

Here is a glimpse into André Trocmé’s writings: “Every nation is inclined to equate its fundamental values with the institutional shell built to protect and express them. Consequently its leaders are tempted to use lies to defend the truth, violence to protect the peace, and persecution to save charity.” He talked about (and practiced) nonviolent resistance to evil. God is love, so André Trocmé argued that we have to use different kind of weapons – the weapons of the Spirit.

Continuing the thought: “The state – the way of power – can only work from the past to anticipate the future and determine its course. As long as the church abandons its calling, that state will know nothing of repentance. But the church in its midst does know repentance, and it knows only that, and it bears witness to that before the state, for the healing of the nations. If Christ’s followers do not surpass the state in justice, they do not belong to God’s kingdom; they leave the world to fend for itself in the agony of its abandonment.”

I like reading autobiographies of people who either inspire me or give me something to reflect upon. For example, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” by Gandhi or “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton, an American writer/monk. Also, “Light Force” by Brother Andrew, telling the story of his work in the Middle East.

Last year I read “I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel laureate, and “A Journey” by Tony Blair, the former prime minister of UK. Regardless of what you think of Tony Blair, I was very interested in his experiences in the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. It gives a lot of insight into mediation and conflict resolution processes and challenges.

Then there are lots of books on forgiveness and reconciliation. At the top of the list would be “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace”, “Exclusion&Embrace” and “The End of Memory” by Miroslav Volf, a Croat theologian and thinker who teaches at Yale University. I highly recommend anything he has written.

Since I promised only a peek, this is a short list. I look forward to more good reading this year. Also, friends in Latvia, my ‘library’ is open for anyone…

Next time I am in Riga, I intend to spend some time at the National Library which, besides a great collection of books and resources, has the best view of Old Town. Who would not want to enjoy it?!

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