Answering before listening is both stupid and rude

This nugget of wisdom comes from the book of Proverbs (18:13). In the same chapter you will find that “Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.”

I can be both. Stupid and rude. And few other adjectives if you ask people who know me the best. My mom would have probably never admitted to others that she found me arrogant and too opinionated in our conversations. (Simply because she was the kind of mom who always ‘covered my sins’.) And don’t ask my husband. It is a given.

Why the confession? Because it is hard to practice what we preach. There is a general universal lament that we need relearn the basics of good, respectful, well-mannered, thoughtful conversations, dialogue, discussions, debates. Anything that falls under human communication. And the crucial skill of listening and actually hearing what the other person or group are saying and why do they see things differently from us.

Recently I attended a large meeting where the stakes were high and the main goal was to deal with polarization within an church organization and for two groups of opposite views to have a dialogue. I considered myself a neutral observer (since I was not from this church) who came to learn and listen and in the process I realized a few things.  How  I identified with one group or the other and how easy it would be to take sides. How difficult it was to listen respectfully to those who expressed views I did not agree with. Still, being a neutral person has one advantage – it helps to hear better what each side is saying. This is what mediators do – they help each side to be heard and sometimes step in as interpreters.

I also realized that booing and jeering is an understandable emotional response when you feel misrepresented, threatened or attacked (which happened at the church discussion I attended) but it is not a way to communicate effectively. If the goal is dialogue and understanding, booing only communicates “thumbs down” and the speaker will either ‘flee’ or ‘fight’ back more. And how can you listen and hear while booing?

There are too many examples of bad or non-existent communication. The mouths are moving fast, words are spoken but the ears seem closed and the meaning is lost. Just watch some of the talk shows or expert panels on TV. Much of the time there is no dialogue, only opinions. Even when the participants are polite and don’t interrupt. Or read many of our social media threads where you can observe the same thing. Are the people actually interested in understanding the ‘other side’ or do they simply care to win?

That’s just it. Our driving desire is to be “right” and for our “truth” to have the upper hand. We feel that our very identity is threatened if we are somehow “wrong”. The urgent contemporary question each one of us has to answer. Is it more important to be right or to relate rightly and righteously?

Without emphatic listening we cannot relate to others rightly. Full stop.

Latvian:

“Ja kāds atbild, pirms uzklausījis, – tā viņa muļķība, tas viņa negods!”

Šis gudrības grauds atrodams Bībelē, Sakāmvārdu grāmatā (18:13). Turpat ir teikts: “Netīko muļķis pēc saprašanas – ka tik izrādīt savu prātu!”

Man padodas gan muļķība, gan negods. Un vēl daudzas līdzīgas lietas, kuras mani tuvākie cilvēki var viegli raksturot. Mamma drošvien nevienam nebūtu atzinusi, cik augstprātīgi un visgudri es ar viņu bieži vien runāju (jo viņa bija viena no tām mammām, kuras ‘apklāj savu bērnu grēkus’). Un manam vīram var pat neprasīt, jo viņam nebūs ilgi jādomā 😉

Kāpēc šī atzīšanās? Jo ir viegli pamācīt, bet grūti izdarīt. Mani, tāpat kā daudzus,  satrauc zemā sarunu kultūra, it sevišķi tajās jomās, kur darbojas sabiedrībā ievērojami un iecienīti cilvēki, kuriem būtu jārāda piemērs. Acīmredzami mums ir jāatgriežas pie daudzām pamatlietām, lai prastu cieņpilni, pieklājīgi, saprātīgi sarunāties, diskutēt un debatēt.  Un viena no visbiežāk iztrūkstošajām praksēm ir klausīšanās ar mērķi tiešām sadzirdēt savu sarunu biedru, pat ja viņam vai viņai pilnīgi nepiekrīti. Pirms nedēļas piedalījos praktiskā nodarbībā sarunu skolas “LAMPA” ietvaros, un tur tas tika ļoti labi pasvītrots. Lektore Ilze Dzenovska aicināja padomāt, kāds ir labs klausītājs, kāds ir labs stāstītājs, kādas ir mūsu reakcijas sarunās, un kādas ir mūsu vajadzības.

Nesen apmeklēju arī šobrīd aktuālo diskusiju LELB vidē, kura tika rīkota Lutera draudzē Torņakalnā. Saruna, kurā ir sajūta, ka daudz ‘likts uz kārts’, un uzstādījums divām (vai vairākām) pusēm uzklausīt vienam otru, patiesi sadzirdēt un atrast veidu, kā būt labākās, draudzīgās, cieņpilnās attiecībās. Es neesmu LELB draudžu locekle, un varētu uzskatīt sevi par neitrālu novērotāju, kura vēlas labāk izprast kaut kādus šībrīža procesus sabiedrībā. Tovakar es atzīmēju sev dažas lietas, piemēram, cik normāli ir identificēties ar runātājiem un cik viegli nostāties vienā vai otrā pusē. Cik grūti ir klausīties ar cieņu cilvēkos, kuri liekas nosodoši vai agresīvi. Cik ļoti šī saruna jeb sarunas nepieciešamība nav par LELB, bet par Latvijas (un ne tikai Latvijas) sabiedrībai svarīgiem jautājumiem kopumā. (Vērtīgu komentāru uzrakstījusi Bella Briška, Lutera draudzes locekle. Lasīt šeit)

Tajā diskusijā man bija tikai viena priekšrocība. Tā kā mani tas neskar tik personīgi kā LELB draudžu locekļus, arī manas emocijas bija mazāk iesaistītas. Žurnālists Aidis Tomsons godam pildīja savus moderatora pienākumus. (Jā, moderatoriem/mediatoriem parasti ir iespēja sadzirdēt labāk, ko abas puses vēlas pateikt, un palīdzēt veidot komunikācijas tiltu.)

Par emocijām karstās sarunās runājot ir saprotama cilvēciskā vēlme izrādīt neapmierinātību ūjinot, utt, kad jūties nesaprasts un/vai apdraudēts, bet tas neder un nepalīdz. Ja vēlēšanās ir tiešām saprasties, tad ūjināšana vienkārši apzīmē ‘īkšķi uz leju’, un runātājs vai nu padosies un apklusīs, vai vēl vairāk centīsies aizstāvēties un cīnīties. Ūjināšana der, ja vispār nevēlamies uzklausīt kāda viedokli. Ja esam tik dusmīgi, ka “aizbāžam ausis”.  Jo kā cilvēks var vienlaicīgi ūjināt un klausīties?

Šodien vardarbīga komunikācija nav tālu jāmeklē. Var uzgriezt kādu TV raidījumu, kur tiek aicināti pretēju viedokļu pārstāvji. Var palasīt (vai labāk nelasīt) komentāru palagus Facebook, kur neuzklausīšanu un nedzirdēšanu var redzēt ik uz soļa. Tāda kārtīga virtuāla klope! Mēs pārāk bieži esam kā Sākamvārdos minētais muļķis.

Nāk prātā trāpīgie M. Lutera Kinga Jr. vārdi: “Mums jāiemācās dzīvot kopā kā brāļiem, vai arī iesim bojā kopā kā muļķi.”

Tā ir viena no iezīmēm mūsu nesaprašanās un konfliktu problēmām. Vēlamies, lai mums būtu taisnība, lai tā uzvarētu, un attiecību kvalitāte tiek nostumta zemāk. Mums liekas, ka mūsu dziļākā būtība un identitāte ir apdraudēta, ja neuzvarēsim vai ja mūsu uzskati izrādīsies ‘kļūdaini’ vai, pasarg Dievs, ‘nepareizi’. (Par idenitāti reliģioziem cilvēkiem vispār vajadzētu uztraukties vismazāk. Galu galā kristiešu identitāte ir Kristus, nevis pareizība.)

Tātad… vai mums svarīgāka ir ‘mūsu patiesība’ un ‘mūsu pareizība’, vai taisnīgas, labas un mierpilnas attiecības ar līdzcilvēkiem?

Bez ieklausīšanās un sadzirdēšanas nu nekādi. Punkts.

 

I don’t want to be another brick in the wall

Few days ago I was giving a lecture on peace building and reconciliation and our group had a very good discussion about some of the issues and challenges that our societies are facing. It was in a religious context but the principles of good and healthy relationships vs bad and broken ones are the same whether you are religious or not.

One of the big issues seems to be a lack of good and healthy dialogue where people can express their views without being stereotyped or dehumanized or even demonized. Posting your thoughts on Facebook or other social media only goes so far. Very often it becomes just another platform for deepening our conflicts. Personally I do not get involved in discussions on social media because I feel that it is not very productive. Written words can be misunderstood so easily and people can say things with less responsibility than saying it to your face.

Many of my church friends have expressed that there is a lack of teaching on conflict resolution and lack of discussion about divisive topics in the Christian community. So, the conflicts rage and many of the words said or written are very ‘un-Christian’. Others who are the by-standers feel ashamed, confused, overwhelmed, unequipped and powerless to contribute something positive.

I have another problem. I tend to be so careful with my words that sometimes I say too little about things that really matter to me. I keep thinking about the proverb, “You cannot put out the fire if you keep adding more wood.” I don’t want to be a part of the problem but part of the solution. And we desperately need to learn being better listeners and better analyzers and better critical thinkers. I feel a sense of great urgency.

I have shared my thoughts on the topic of ‘listening’ in earlier posts and surely I will have to return to this theme again and again. Because this is truly one of the most difficult things in our communication with each other. Especially when talking about controversial or emotional issues. We do not listen because we don’t want to. We don’t want to change our views, our stereotypes and assumptions. We feel threatened.

There is a lot of suspicion going around. “When the other does not behave or speak according to our mental picture of them, we suspect their motives” or “we develop a “conspiracy complex”, anticipating that “they” want to harm us” (quotes from teaching by Musalaha)

We also fail to see a plurality on the other side. What group do you have stereotypes about? Religious groups? American evangelicals? Devout Muslims? Everyone in your government? Everyone in mainstream media? Ethnics groups? Russians? Latvians? Fill in the blanks…

This is where I dare to disagree with the man who currently dominates the global news. I am not talking about the policies or actual achievements because time will tell. But I am speaking about our words and blanket statements. American president Donald Trump often speaks in a way that enforces these stereotypes when using phrases like “dishonest media” or “drain the swamp”. The media has all kinds of people – honest and dishonest, professional and unprofessional, impartial and bias. The government also has all kinds of people – serving others and serving themselves, just and corrupt, professional and unprofessional.

To be fair – Mr. Trump is easy to criticize because he is saying things on a world stage for all to see. But what about us? What about me? My communication does not have the same affect but it matters as much.

If we are really concerned about the divisions and polarized views around us, then we need to make sure that we are not becoming bricks that build even higher walls.

hannovere-48

(photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Nesen vadīju nodarbību par miera celšanu un izlīgumu, un mūsu grupā izveidojās ļoti laba diskusija par dažādiem aktuāliem jautājumiem un izaicinājumiem. Saruna bija reliģiskā kontekstā, bet labu attiecību veidošanas principi, ko pārrunājām pretstatā sliktām un salauztām attiecībām un konfliktiem, ir vieni un tie paši.

Viena no nopietnām problēmām ir laba, gudra un atklāta dialoga trūkums, kur cilvēki var justies brīvi paust savus uzskatus un pādomas un nebaidīties, ka tiks ielikti stereotipu rāmjos vai pat demonizēti. Var jau rakstīt Feisbukā vai citos soctīklos, bet šī komunikācija ir stipri ierobežota. Pārāk bieži tā kļūst par vēl vienu kara lauku, kur puses rok dziļākus ierakumus. Es parasti izvairos likt savus komentārus un daudz neiesaistos tīmekļa diskusijās, jo man tas neliekas pārāk auglīgi. Rakstītos vārdus, īpaši no dažiem īsiem teikumiem, var viegli pārprast. Turklāt cilvēki atļaujas teikt lietas, kuras neteiktu tev sejā.

Vairāki mani draugi, kuri ir kristieši un pieder dažādām draudzēm, ir teikuši, ka arī kristīgās kopienas vidū trūkst gan labas mācības, gan labas prakses, kā rīkoties konfliktsituācijās, kā veidot labu dialogu un nenonākt līdz dziļiem konfliktiem. (Piemēram, par pretrunīgām grāmatām.) Domstarpības par “karstām tēmām” starp kristiešiem pārvēršas par diezgan ‘nekristīgu’ vārdu un viedokļu izvirdumu. Savukārt citi, kas stāv malā un cenšas neiesaistīties, paliek apjukuši, nosarkuši, apbēdināti un nespējīgi piedāvāt kaut ko pozitīvu.

Es parasti iekrītu otrā galējībā. Es tik ļoti cenšos uzmanīt savus izteikumus, ka daudzreiz nepasaku savas domas par lietām, kas man liekas svarīgas. Man galvā atskan sakāmvārds: “Mēs nevaram apdzēst ugunskuru, ja paši metam tam klāt malku.” Es nevēlos būt daļa no problēmas, bet vēlos būt daļa no risinājuma. Un mums tik ļoti nepieciešams būt labākiem klausītājiem un labākiem analītiķiem un jāmācās domāt kritiskāk. Tā ir tik steidzama vajadzība.

Esmu rakstījusi par ‘klausīšanos’ jau agrāk, un drošvien atgriezīšos pie šīs tēmas vēl un vēl. Jo ir viegli par to runāt, bet grūti to darīt mūsu savstarpējā komunikācijā. It sevišķi, kad emocijas sit augstu vilni. Mēs neklausāmies, jo negribam to darīt. Arī tāpēc, ka baidāmies mainīt savu viedokli. Baidāmies, ka mūsu stereotipi un aizspriedumi sāks šūpoties. Caur uzmanīgu klausīšanos varam justies ‘apdraudēti’. Gaisā virmo daudz aizdomu.

Mums ir jārunā par konkrētiem cilvēkiem un konkrētām problēmām, un jātiek vaļā no stereotipiem par veselām cilvēku grupām. Kura grupa tevi uztrauc? Reliģiozi cilvēki? Amerikāņu evanģēliskie kristieši? Pārliecināti musulmaņi? Valdība? Politiķi? Masu mediji? Krievi? Latvieši? Vari tukšajā vietā ierakstīt savu piemēru…

Te es pieminēšu, ka uzdrīkstos iebilst cilvēkam, kurš šobrīd dominē ziņu kanālus gandrīz visā pasaulē. Es nerunāšu par viņa rīcībpolitiku un lēmumiem, jo laiks rādīs, kas no tā sanāks un kas nesanāks, bet es klausos vārdus un izteikumus. Es iebilstu ASV prezidenta Donalda Trampa runas veidam, kas pastiprina stereotipus un aizspriedumus. Piemēram, “melīgā prese” vai “izsūkt purvu” (domāti politiķi Vašingtonā). Masu mediji un žurnālisti nav viens liels vesels. Ir godīgi un negodīgi, profesionāli un neprofesionāli, ētiski un neētiski žurnālisti. Tas pats ar valdību un politiķiem. Vieni kalpo sabiedrībai, citi kalpo paši sev. Ir taisnīgi un korumpēti, gudri un muļķīgi, utt.

Taisnīguma pēc piekrītu, ka prezidents Tramps ir viegls mērķis kritikai, jo viņa teiktais tiek pārraidīts pa visu pasauli. Bet kā ir ar mums? Kā ir ar mani? Mani vārdi nav tik nozīmīgi un neatstāj tik globālas sekas, bet tie ir svarīgi manā mazajā ietekmēs zonā.

Ja mūs tiešām uztrauc tas, cik sašķēlusies un polarizēta spēj būt mūsu sabiedrība, mums pašiem jāpārbauda, vai neesam kļuvuši par vēl vienu akmeni jeb ķieģeli šajās sienās.

Navigating through fake news, stupid news and no news

Honestly I feel very challenged. This is getting harder and harder and some days my brain simply revolts and screams at me. “Stop stretching me so thin! Stop feeding me this stuff! Give me something good to chew and digest that will bring life! Give me a break… period.”

We are taught to be critical thinkers and we know the importance of critical analysis. But the current atmosphere feels as if we have put things in reverse. The more advanced we become with technological skills, the more primitive we become in communication. The more we know, the less we care. The more we read and see, the less we understand. The more we scream, the less we listen. It is miscommunication on steroids.

First is the invasion and epidemic of fake news. Of course, we have always lived in a world with slanted and corrupted news, but it used to take some effort, time and money to spread false or fake stories. Now it does not cost anything.. Anyone can create a website or a news portal and simply copy and paste and alter photos and spread fake news. Plus, make money while doing it. It does not matter if those fake news are malignant or benign – they erode our trust in any news source.

Recently I spotted two fake news stories on my friend’s Facebook. One story was political and it looked like a deliberate effort to create bad image of the leaders in the Baltic states. Something did not add up and I checked the facts. It turned out to be a fake story. Then I noticed that some people had started sharing it and I decided to inform my friend. He quickly removed it from his wall. The second story was more innocent and it was posted on a Christian website as a story of some big miracle near Israel. I noticed the headline photo which I had seen in another story posted on CNN. It had nothing to do with Israel or a miracle. It had to do with Sudan and climate change. Again I decided to inform my friend.

I did not think that these friends of mine were knowingly spreading false or fake stories but I did not want for people to start sharing. I would expect the same reaction from my friends – if they see something I am saying/ sharing/ posting/ publishing  which is false or fake, they should let me know. It is impossible to stay truthful without the help of others.

Also, we see the invasion of “fake facts” or “no facts” in the mainstream media and politics. I am not talking about traditional empty campaign promises. I am talking about pure fabrications. Politicians can utter them and go unpunished. Media can publish them and go unpunished. In the end it is nobody’s fault and life simply goes on. Only people become even more disillusioned and pessimistic. And without trust our societies cannot be healthy and functional.

Secondly, we are bombarded with stupid news. This is the junk food that my brain complains about as I am guilty of consuming it, too. Let’s see “how is Brad and Angelina’s divorce proceeding? what are the experts saying about the experts about someone’s tweets? how to travel around the world and act stupid? how to be obsessed with food and only food?” Honestly, will I have to live with Mr. Trump as the biggest news headline for the next 4 years? Yes, he will be the president of the most powerful and influential country in the world, but he is not the center of our universe.

Which brings me to the last challenge. The challenge of “no news”. I have practically given up on the big TV channels like CNN and Fox News which used to be news channels. Now they are 24/7 talk shows. Opinion upon opinion upon opinion… Opinions are not news!!! Also, people tend to share opinion columns more than the actual news stories. It is boring to read and search for the facts, right? And who wants to bored in our exciting world of opinions, “hot air”,”world news in 60 sec”, “out of sight, out of mind”, etc.

I also have an opinion therefore I write this blog or journal but, sorry to disappoint you, this is not journalism. I am grateful and honored that you read my reflections on peace building but let us not simply recycle each others opinions. Let us search deeper and think harder!

4

This is my thinking face (photo from personal archive)

 

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

img_1883

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

Should I hang out with “wrong Christians”?

“There are some people I would rather avoid and never interact with. I wish they would not speak in public or social media. I wish they would just be quiet and keep their thoughts to themselves. And I wish they did not broadcast themselves as “Christians” because I do not want to be associated with them. Don’t they realize how difficult it will be for me to explain to my friends that this is not “Christianity” the way I see it?”

I confess … I am quoting myself. Just a short version of my thoughts at different times and in various situations. Or the conversations I have had where two or more of us will discuss someone else and happily agree that we are “not like them”. Since we “see more clearly”, we “understand God better”, we “interpret the Bible more correctly”, we are not “narrow minded” and obviously more “humble and self critical.”

In those moments I would say that I was concerned about the reputation of Christianity as a global religion or that I was concerned about a reputation of particular local church. Or that I was concerned about the reputation of Christians in Latvia. But I have come to realize that it often boils down to one thing only – I am concerned about my own reputation. My own PR or ‘public relations’ image.

Sociologists explain this urge to “bask in reflected glory” by associating with high-status people and “cut off reflected failure” by distancing ourselves from losers. Of course, I want to be associated with Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr and Desmond Tutu and I want to distance myself from… sorry, I won’t name them.

There are lots of identities, ideas, practices, political views and current issues that divide us. From theology, ethnicity, race, culture to gender issues (like women in church leadership), sexual orientation (LGBT), family, immigration, refugees… One “hot topic” replaces another and Christians engage as much as anyone else. On some topics we are gentle and rational and other times we are hostile, angry and irrational. Plenty of reasons to “Unfriend” and “Unfollow” people on social media!

I would even say that I was concerned about Jesus reputation. The question is – how concerned was Jesus about his own reputation? Did he even care? He did all the “wrong things” and hung out with all the “wrong people”. And in the end anyone was included but nobody could claim him as his own.

Jesus was ‘loser’ in many eyes. For the zealous Jews, he was not nationalistic and political enough (while for others he seemed too political). For Herod and Pontius Pilate, he was not ambitious and powerful enough (while others were afraid of his authority). For the religious leaders, he was not conservative and traditional enough (while others stopped following him because of high calling). For the people of Nazareth and his own family, he was not loyal enough. For the crowds, he was not revolutionary enough (when he resisted being crowned a king).

He loved us all and confronted us all. I try to imagine Jesus hanging out in Riga or Minneapolis or London today. I would be glad to tell him which ‘Christians’ or ‘churches’ to stay away from. Which topics not to talk about in public. Which places to avoid. Which groups to be suspicious of and which groups to praise.

I have the ‘unpleasant’ feeling that He would do exactly the opposite. He would hang out with me and then he would hang out with the guy whom I ‘unfriended’ on Facebook . Have you ever wondered about the conversations between Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector? One who fought the Roman occupiers and other who collected taxes for them. ‘Freedom fighter’ and ‘collaborator’ in the same room at the same table and in the same circle of Jesus’ closest friends.

What if Jesus goes to hang out with the “wrong Christians” and invites me to go with? What if someone takes a photo of us and posts it? I guess there goes my reputation…

DSCN0399

Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Latvian:

“Ir cilvēki, no kuriem es vislabprātāk izvairītos, un gribētos, lai viņi mazāk runā publiskajā telpā. Vēl labāk būtu, ja viņi vispār paklusētu, un paturētu savas domas pie sevis. Un vēl man nepatīk, ka viņi reklamē sevi kā “kristiešus”, jo tad es tikšu pielīdzināta viņiem. Vai viņi nesaprot, cik dedzīgi man būs pēc tam jāskaidro saviem draugiem, ka es izprotu “kristietību” pavisam savādāk?”

Atzīstos… šis citāts pieder man pašai. Tikai dažas no manām domām vai piemēri no sarunām, kurās kopā ar draugiem (protams, cilvēkiem, kuri domā tāpat kā es) mēs laimīgi nonākam pie atziņas, ka neesam tādi kā “viņi”.  Jo mēs taču “redzam visu skaidrāk”, “pazīstam Dievu labāk”, “izprotam Bībeli pareizāk”, domājam “plašāk un atvērtāk”, jo esam daudz “pazemīgāki un paškritiskāki.”

Tādos brīžos es teiktu, ka mani uztrauc kristietības kā globālas reliģijas reputācija, vai rūpējos par kādas konkrētas draudzes reputāciju. Vai arī man svarīga kristiešu reputācija Latvijā. Bet, ja es esmu godīga pret sevi, tad jāatzīst, ka visvairāk mani uztrauc manis pašas reputācija. Mans sabiedriskais imidžs.

Sociologi skaidro šo mūsu vēlmi “gozēties atspoguļotā slavā”, kad vēlamies tikt saistīti ar augsta statusa cilvēkiem, un vēlmi “nogriezt atspoguļotu neveiksmi”, kad mēs attālinām sevi no zaudētājiem. Protams, es vēlos, lai mani saista ar Māti Terēzi vai Martinu Luteru Kingu vai Dezmonu Tutu, un vēlos attālināties no … cilvēkiem, kuru vārdus neminēšu.

Ir daudz lietu, ideju un uzskatu, kas mūs var šķirt un dalīt. Teoloģija, tautība, ādas krāsa, kultūra, politika, valoda, dažādi sabiedrībā aktuālie jautājumi. Latvijas aukstajā klimatā par ‘karstām tēmām’ nevar sūdzēties. Piemēram, dzimumu lomas (šobrīd Latvijā lielā diskusija par sieviešu ordināciju), seksuālā orientācija (tikpat lielā diskusija par viendzimuma attiecībām), ģimene (kas ir tradicionāls un kas nav), Stambulas Konvencija, imigrācija (kas ir latvietība un kas nav), bēgļi… ‘Karstās tēmas’ mainās, bet diskusijas turpinās, un kristiešu uzskati dalās. Reizēm mēs spriežam lēnprātīgi un ar mīlestību, bet ļoti bieži ar naidīgumu, dusmām un galīgi neapdomāti. Pietiekami daudz iemeslu pātraukt “Draudzēties” vai “Sekot” sociālajos medijos!

Atgriežoties pie manām rūpēm par reputāciju, es pat teiktu, ka mani uztrauc Jēzus reputācija. Taču rodas lielais jautājums – vai Jēzus pats uztraucās par savu reputāciju? Vai viņam savs imidžs bija svarīgs? Rodas iespaids, ka viņs darīja daudz ko “nepareizi” un tusējās ar “nepareizajiem” jeb “zaudētājiem”.  Un galu galā ikviens jutās iekļauts, bet neviens netika izcelts.

Jēzus bija “zaudētājs” jeb “lūzeris” daudzu acīs. Radikālajiem jūdiem viņš nebija pietiekami nacionālistisks un politisks (kaut gan citi saklausīja viņa runās pārāk daudz politikas). Hērodam un Poncijam Pilātam viņš nebija pietiekami ambiciozs un varas kārs (kaut gan citi baidījās no viņa varas). Reliģiskiem vadītājiem viņš nebija pietiekami konservatīvs un tradicionāls (kaut gan citi pārstāja viņam sekot pārāk augsto prasību dēļ). Ģimenei un kaimiņiem Nacaretē viņš nebija pietiekami lojāls. Cilvēku pūļiem viņš nebija pietiekami revolucionārs (jo neļāva iecelt sevi par ķēniņu).

Viņš mīlēja visus, bet neglāstīja nevienam pa spalvai. Es tagad mēģinu iedomāties mūsu reakciju, ja Jēzus savā miesā ierastos Rīgā vai Mineapolē vai Londonā. Es labprāt viņu informētu par kristiešiem un baznīcām, no kurām labāk turēties pa gabalu. Par kurām ‘karstajām tēmām’ labāk nerunāt, it sevišķi publiski. No kurām cilvēku grupām izvairīties, lai tikai kāds kaut ko sliktu nepadomā.

Man tikai lielas aizdomas, ka viņš darītu tieši pretējo. Viņš tusētos ar visiem “nepareizajiem”. Viņš ciemotos pie manis, un tad ņemtu un aizietu ciemos pie tā džeka, kuru es izdzēsu no saviem kontaktiem Draugiem.lv vai Facebook

(Vai tu esi kādreiz iedomājies, kādas diskusijas notika starp Jēzus mācekļiem kanaānieti Sīmani Zelotu un muitnieku Mateju? Zeloti bija radikāli jūdi, kuri cīnījās pret Romas okupāciju. Viens džeks, kurš agrāk cīnījās pret romiešiem, un otrs, kurš tiem agrāk vāca muitas naudu. Brīvības cīnītājs un nodevējs vienā istabā pie viena galda un starp tuvākajiem Jēzus draugiem.)

Ja nu Jēzus iet tusēties pie “nepareizajiem kristiešiem” un uzaicina mani nākt līdzi? Ja nu kāds mūs tur nofotografēs un pēc tam attēlu publicēs? Skaidrs, ar manu reputāciju viss pagalam…

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?!

IMG_2150

 

 

 

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…

IMG_0664

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.

IMG_1831