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…

Sons and daughters… kings and queens of love

It was a hot and humid evening in Kuala Lumpur. Our friend Darren is a good driver and I am glad because the traffic here gets bad. I don’t mind sitting in a passenger seat though when it gives more time for good conversations. And in Malaysia there is lots to talk about. People, the city, music, art, faith, history, current affairs… Darren is a good source for all these topics.

We were driving to a show featuring local bands. Seriously, there is so much musical talent in Malaysia! And the venue was really cool. “Merdekarya” is a combination of words for ‘independence’ and ‘art’. It prides itself for being a place of free expression and creativity and providing platform and support for local poetry, music and storytelling…

One advertisement that stuck in my head from years of watching CNN International news is “Malaysia Truly Asia”. It emphasized the natural beauty and the cultural, ethnic and racial diversity and it had a very catchy tune. I guess this ad worked… at least for me. No doubt it is one of the most diverse places and also this tropical land is one of 17 Megadiverse countries on earth, estimated to have 20% of the world’s animal species.  Most of the country is covered by tropical rain forests.

Malay, Chinese, Indigenous, Indian. I am glad that for my friends, English is a common language. Otherwise I would be lost. Still, I do get lost when they switch to Manglish, a mix of English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil… wow , they can talk fast! It is like listening on “fast forward”.

Our friend Darren used to teach English to foreign students in Kuala Lumpur. It gave him another deeper insight into cross-cultural living. Especially interesting for me were his observations about young people from the former Soviet republics like Russia, Tajikistan, etc. Most come from wealthy families and many are not as interested in their studies as they are interested in having a good time. Also, Darren had become aware of different prejudices and conflicts between these groups. For example, the prejudice toward people from Central Asian countries. For those of us who grew up in the USSR, all the derogatory terms are so familiar. And here they made it all the way to Malaysia.

I am aware that even in such a beautiful country like Malaysia not everything is ‘paradise’ and the rich cultural social tapestry has its reverse side. The advertisement of Malaysia Truly Asia leaves out these kind of things. There is a history of tensions and from time to time it comes to violence, aimed at ethnic or religious communities. I am no expert on Malaysian history or all the current causes for these fractures, but I do know that there are fault-lines in all our societies.

At the show I was listening to an amazing young band from the south of Malaysia, accordingly named “South and The Lowlands”. Music is a very powerful tool in peace building and reconciliation.  One of their songs “Sculptures” (lyrics by Daniel T.) has a beautiful message and a story to tell that is very relevant to all our lives…

“Many faces and places… Many hopes and dreams shattered                                                              Many hurts and bruises… Many roads and paths taken

Different colours, covered by the same blood… Different shades, but after one heart

Sons and daughters… Kings and queens of love                                                                                      More than sculptures… Crafted by God

Shine bright tonight… One heart… One soul… One mind ”

Malaysia has words, songs and stories to tell the world. I am blessed by friends like Darren and Daniel  and others who are passionate about challenging our prejudices. They use their talents while inspired by faith in God who rains Love, Truth and Forgiveness on everyone – good and bad.

DSCN3126

A must-visit venue in Kuala Lumpur

Latviski:

Kualalumpūrā ir karsts un sutīgs vakars. Mūsu draugs Darens ir labs šoferis, un es to novērtēju, jo te mēdz būt pamatīgi satiksmes sastrēgumi. Turklāt man nav iebildumu būt pasažierim, ja ir daudz laika labām sarunām. Malaizijā ir ko pārrunāt – cilvēki, pilsēta, mūzika, māksla, reliģija, vēsture, jaunākie notikumi… Darens labprāt runā par visām šīm tēmām.

Mēs braucam uz koncertu, kur muzicēs vietējās jaunās grupas. Goda vārds, te ir tik daudz labas mūzikas! Un pats mūzikas klubs ir superīgs. “Merdekarya” ir vārdu salikums, kas malaju valodā nozīmē ‘neatkarība’ un ‘māksla’. Ar to arī šis klubs lepojas, ka veicina un atbalsta neatkarīgo mākslu un vietējos dzejniekus, mūziķus un rakstniekus.

Tā kā daudzus gadus skatos CNN starptautiskās ziņas, tad galvā iesēdies viens reklāmas rullītis. “Malaizija Patiesa Āzija”. Tur tika reklamēts dabas skaistums, un lielā kultūras, etnisko grupu un rasu dažādība. Turklāt šai reklāmai bija ļoti lipīga melodija. Tātad šī kampaņa nostrādāja. Vismaz manā gadījumā. Nav šaubu, ka te ir šī liela dažādība. Turklāt Malaizija ir viena no 17 valstīm pasaulē, kuras tiek uzskatītas par supervalstīm dabas daudzveidības jomā. Te ir apmēram 20% no pasaules dzīvnieku sugām. Lielāko daļu valsts sedz tropu meži.

Malaji, ķīnieši, aborigēni, indieši… Es priecājos, ka mūsu draugi savā starpā sarunājas angļu valodā, savādāk es apjuktu. Es jau tā apjūku vai arī atslēdzos no sarunas, kad viņi pāriet uz vietējo angļu sarunvalodu (Manglish), kur sajaucas angļu, malaju, mandarīnu, tamilu, hokienu un citas valodas. Turklāt viņi runā tādā ātrumā! Liekas, ka kāds būtu ieslēdzis pogu “paātrināt”.

Mūsu draugs Darens agrāk mācīja angļu valodu ārvalstu studentiem, kuri mācās Kualalumpūrā. Viņš daudz ko uzzināja un iepazina dažādas kultūras. Konkrēti mani interesēja stāsti par studentiem no bijušajām PSRS valstīm, piemēram, Krievijas, Tadžikistānas un citām. Lielākā daļa ir bagātu ģimeņu atvases, kuriem gribas ne tik daudz studēt, kā labi pavadīt laiku. Zīmīgi, ka Darens ātri uzķēra dažādos aizspriedumus šo studentu starpā. Piemēram, attieksmi pret tautībām no Centrālās Āzijas. Mums, uzaugušajiem PSRS, šīs iesaukas un citi apzīmējumi ir labi pazīstami, bet tagad tie atceļojuši līdz Malaizijai. Darens man ļoti precīzi izskaidroja, kas ir ‘čurkas’.

Taču es zinu, ka arī skaistajā Malaizijā nav “paradīze”, un krāsainajam sabiedrības tepiķim ir otra neglītā puse. Protams, ka reklāmas rullītis to nerādīs. Arī šeit ir vēsture ar konfliktiem starp rasēm un tautībām un dažādas reliģiskas neiecietības izpausmes, kas reizēm pārvēršas vardarbībā. Skaidrs, ka šīs plaisas ir visur pasaulē.

Koncertā klausījos vienu jaunu un ļoti talantīgu rokgrupu no Malaizijas dienvidiem, kuru attiecīgi sauc “Dienvidi un zemienes” (South and The Lowlands). Mūzika vienmēr ir bijis spēcīgs intruments, ko izmantot miera celšanai. Viena no grupas dziesmām “Skulptūras” pildīja tieši šādu uzdevumu caur savu skaisto vēstījumu…

“Daudzas sejas un vietas… Daudzas cerības un sapņi

Daudzas sāpes un brūces… Daudzi ceļi un gaitas

Daudzas krāsas, ko apklāj vienas asinis… Daudzi toņi, bet viena sirds

Dēli un meitas… Mīlestības valdnieki un valdnieces

Vairāk kā skulptūras… Dieva radītas

Lai deg spoži… Viena sirds… Viena dvēsele… Viens nodoms”

Malaizija dod vārdus, dziesmas un stāstus visai pasaulei. Paldies Dievam par tādiem draugiem kā Darens and Daniēls un citi, kuri cīnās ar mūsu aizspriedumiem. Viņu instruments ir mūzika un māksla, un viņu motivācija ir ticība Dievam, kurš izlej savu Mīlestību, Patiesību un Žēlastību pār mums visiem – labiem un sliktiem.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Asylum seekers should know us by our love, not our fear

To begin with I want to tell my friends who are of different faith or no faith; this blog is mostly directed to those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ. Some parts may feel like an internal family debate, but in reality these are crucial questions for everyone.

Also, as I write this, Europe is on my mind. Again, I welcome everyone else to join the discussion because this topic is truly a global issue and a global challenge. It is the same ‘hot topic’ in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. Except maybe in some small islands in South Pacific… (no, I have not been to all these places but I do travel a lot for work and have lived in three continents)

And don’t worry; I will keep this blog short even though there is much to say. As we know, the issues are very complicated. There is already lots written and said in media, government, workplaces, family… One of my friends in Latvia commented, “On this issue everyone in my family has an opinion.” This is truly a debate that involves the society as a whole. Many of the opinions and arguments are thoughtful and respectful and helpful, while many others are simply xenophobic and unhelpful and very very fearful.

What I want to focus on this time is FEAR! People express many views and emotions when they talk about immigration, refugees, asylum seekers. Common ones is anxiety and fear. I can relate to it very well because I have struggled with many fears in my own life. Some of them are now gone; others are still lingering. So, I try not to judge other people but I can be a judge of myself. And I can speak as a Christian who is called and commanded to follow a higher law.

Jesus was constantly opposed by people who did not like his way of building God’s Kingdom or the people He included. They had their own ideas of what it means to be a godly person and what it means to have their national identity and morality and religious authority. Keep everything ‘impure’, ‘unknown’ and those ‘others’ as far away as possible. Wash your hands after you come home from a public place because who knows what or whom you have been touching.

Once Jesus answered them like this, “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. (…) You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Harsh words but how many times I have felt that this is exactly what I have done; I have focused on many important things but have gotten completely blindsided but missing the main point.

The question of receiving asylum seekers is a matter of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness! The fair treatment of the immigrant and the host community is primarily a Justice issue. Having compassion and empathy for asylum seekers is Mercy. Believing and trusting God when He talks about the love toward our fellow human being is Faithfulness. There is so much to say about each of these but I will leave that for other blogs.

What are we afraid of? Let us think about our fears and anxieties! Let us deal with them! One of my teachers said, “Holiness is moving towards darkness.”  Those fearful corners of our hearts are truly dark but everything brought in His light becomes light. And then we can love anyone who becomes our neighbor freely and practically and sacrificially!

We Care 17

Latviski:

Iesākumā es gribu pateikt saviem draugiem, kuriem ir cita reliģija vai arī nav nekādas ticības, ka šis raksts ir vairāk domāts tiem no mums, kuri sauc sevi par Jēzus Kristus sekotājiem. Tāpēc manis teiktais daļēji izklausīsies kā ģimenes saruna, bet patiesībā tas attiecas uz jebkuru.

Vēl, man rakstot, prātā ir Eiropa. Protams, visi var piedalīties diskusijā, jo šī tēma un problēmas ir patiešām globālas. Tā pati ‘karstā tēma’ Āzijā, Austrālijā, Āfrikā, Eiropā, Amerikā. Varbūt vienīgi kādās mazās Klusā Okeāna salās par to nedomā…

Un neuztraucieties; šis raksts nebūs pārāk garš, kaut gan teikt var daudz. Mēs jau zinām, ka šie jautājumi ir sarežģīti. Daudz jau ir rakstīts un pateikts gan plašsaziņas līdzekļos, gan no valdības puses, gan darba vietās, gan ģimenē… Viens mans draugs no Latvijas ieminējās: “Par šo jautājumu katram manā ģimenē ir savs viedoklis.” Šīs diskusijas iesaista visu sabiedrību. Daudzas domas un argumenti ir pārdomāti, cieņas pilni un palīdz domāt un rīkoties, bet citi ir vienkārši noskaņoti pret svešiniekiem, nepalīdz meklēt risinājumu un veicina arvien lielākas bailes.

Par to es arī gribu šoreiz parunāt – par BAILĒM! Cilvēki izpauž savus uzskatus un emocijas, kad runā par imigrāciju, bēgļiem, patvēruma meklētājiem. Bieži redzama reakcija ir uztraukums un bailes. Es to varu saprast, jo man pašai dzīvē ir bijušas daudz un dažādas bailes. Dažas no tām ir izgaisušas, dažas vēl mēgina turēties. Tāpēc es cenšos nenosodīt citus, bet pati sev gan varu būt soģe. Turklāt es varu paust savas domas kā kristiete, jo mēs esam aicināti sekot augstākai pavēlei un likumam.

Jēzum vienmēr nostājās pretī tie, kuriem nepatika Viņa pieeja Dieva Valstības celšanai, vai arī tas, kādi cilvēki tiek aicināti šajā Valstībā. Šiem kritiķiem bija savas idejas, ko nozīmē dievbijība, vai ko nozīmē nacionālā identitāte un tikumība un reliģiska autoritāte. Turēt visu “nešķīsto”, “nepazīstamo” un “citādo” tālu tālu prom. Atnākot mājās mazgāt rokas, jo nevar taču zināt, kam vai kādiem cilvēkiem tās pieskārušās.

Reiz Jēzus atbildēja tā: “Jūs atmetat to, kas svarīgākais bauslībā – taisnīgu tiesu, žēlsirdību un ticību. (…) Aklie ceļa vadoņi! Jūs knišļus izkāšat, bet kamieļus norijat!” Skarbi vārdi, bet neskaitāmas reizes esmu sapratusi, ka tieši tā esmu rīkojusies. Esmu pievērsusi uzmanību labām lietām, bet esmu bijusi gluži akla pret pašu svarīgāko

Jautājums par patvēruma meklētājiem ir Taisnīgas Tiesas, Žēlsirdības un Ticības jautājums. Taisnīga izturēšanās pret imigrantiem un pret vietējo sabiedrību ir Taisnīgums. Spēja just līdzi un sirds, kas iežēlojas par bēgļiem, ir Žēlsirdība. Uzticēšanās Dievam, kad Viņš liek mums mīlēt sev tuvāko cilvēku kā sevi pašu, ir Ticība. Par katru no šīm lietām var daudz teikt, bet tas nākamajiem rakstiem.

No kā mēs baidāmies? Pārdomāsim savas bailes un bažas! Skatīsimies tām acīs, un tiksim ar tām galā! Viens no maniem skolotājiem teica, ka “svētums ir tuvošanās tumsai.” Tie kakti mūsu sirdīs, kas pilni bailēm, ir tiešām tumši, bet viss, ko Viņš ceļ gaismā, top gaišs. Un tad mēs varam mīlēt tos, kuri kļūst par mūsu līdzcilvēkiem, brīvi un aktīvi un upurējoties!

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

The suffering of ‘unwanted’ people

This week I returned to my current home in Thailand and to the news headlines about the human tragedy in the Andaman Sea. This tragedy has been going on for many years since I have lived here. The story of suffering starts in Burma (official name – Myanmar) and it affects the whole region of Southeast Asia.

If you watch the news or read the headlines, you will see the boats crowded with starving, desperate people who nobody wants. Nations send their navy ships to pull them back out to sea. Thailand does not want them, Malaysia does not want them, Indonesia does not want them… but the source of tragedy is that their home does not want them. The Rohingya people are a large ethnic group, living in the western state of Rakhine. Most of them live in Burma and their religion is Islam.

International human rights groups describe them as one of the most persecuted people in the world. Since 1982 they are denied citizenship in Burma and the current government continues denying them citizen’s rights. They are not allowed to travel without a permission. There were even previous restrictions on marriage and children – allowed to have only two children, even though not strictly enforced. There has been communal violence in previous years, based on ethnicity and religion and a widespread sentiment in Burma, fueled by a few very nationalistic Buddhist monks, that these people do not belong there.

Thousands of them are forced to live in camps in terrible conditions they are not allowed to leave. In their own country! So, in desperation they attempt to make the dangerous journey across the sea. This becomes another huge tragedy of human trafficking, abuse, corruption and suffering. I will not go into all the details as you can read about it in any major international news source.

The challenges in Burma are complicated but one issue is very simple and clear. As I see the photos of these beautiful people… yes, poor… yes, uneducated… yes, Muslim and not Buddhist or Christian… yes, dark skinned… Rohingya are our neighbors. Human beings created in God’s image with exactly the same value as a Latvian, a German, a Thai, a Karen, a Chinese, a Barman, an Australian, etc.

Who is my neighbor? And do I love my neighbor as myself? Firstly, this is the difficult and important question for the communities in Burma. Secondly, this is a question for the neighboring nations and thirdly, this is a question for all of us. For me as a European, I think of our governments who are willing to ‘close their eyes’ and not bring up these questions in favor of economic trade since Burma is so rich with resources.

Many of my friends in Burma are wrestling with this most important question God asks of us. Also, to help Rohingya people can mean to become persecuted. Even big international NGO’s have been told by Burma government to stay away and not get involved.

This is time for serious and deep soul searching and time for brave and real neighborly love…

1

Photo from news headlines

The weapons of peacemakers

This title may sound strange – does peace and weapons go together? Let me explain what weapons I have in mind…

Last week I participated in an international forum called “State of Europe” which focused on many of the issues and challenges facing Europe today. It took place in Riga, Latvia on May 9 which is celebrated as Europe Day (I talked about the roots of Europe Day in my last blog). Also many people in Latvia but mainly in Russia and a few other nations of former Soviet Union celebrate it as Victory Day. Victory in WWII over the power and aggression of National Socialism…

As I reflect on these two celebrations, I come to personal conclusion… Victory Day celebrates winning the war because people sacrificed and the Nazi Germany was overcome and ‘destroyed’ … Europe Day celebrates winning the peace because the foundations were forgiveness and reconciliation.

Tragically in Latvia the victory over Nazism did not bring peace because Latvia was then ruled and oppressed by another totalitarian regime and ideology – totalitarian communism. The ‘war’ was won but peace was not… In some ways we are still catching up.

Winning peace is much harder then winning a war. Because peace is a state of mind and heart. Peace is restored relationships. Peace is a strong will for common good. Peace is embrace and inclusion. Peace is repentance. Peace has no personal or national selfishness. Otherwise the hatred, bitterness and the old grievances are just buried and can be re-resurrected again and again. Sadly we can see this through the history of humankind.

The peace in Europe for so many decades is an amazing achievement and we should not take it for granted. But there is still some unfinished business and we talked about it during the forum in Riga.

One of the most significant historical persons whose lifestyle was a personification of winning peace was Jesus. Even people who do not believe in his divine claims or who do not follow his teachings know that he is famous as a peacemaker. We know that he talked a lot about inner and social peace. He also taught and showed people how to do it. How to be at peace with God, with ourselves, with others and with the created order…

And one of the important weapons in this process is acknowledging the truth. The truth that we are not at peace in many areas of our lives… The truth that our brother has something against us and it is our responsibility to go and reconcile… The truth that there is a much better way than becoming fearful, aggressive or pretending that there is nothing wrong…

But the strongest weapon is love. There is no fear in love. Love is sacrificial. Love loves enemies. Love binds everything in unity. Love is not self-seeking. Love fulfills the law.  Love rejoices with the truth. Love hates evil.

If we care about winning the peace, let us choose our weapons very carefully.

IMG_2136

When we look for someone to blame

Last week there were international headlines from Durban and other cities in South Africa. Any story about Durban catches my attention since I have been to this beautiful city on the Indian Ocean. South Africa is a country with amazing people. I remember sitting on the airplane watching a sunrise over the green rolling hills around Durban. Where are the lions, right?

Unfortunately last week’s headlines were sad and described tragic events. There were violent attacks against foreign immigrants. This is not the first such outburst of hatred, but the most recent one. The stories spoke of rising xenophobia in South Africa. The definition of xenophobia is „unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture”. As we know, it is not a South African problem; it is universal. Let’s think of our own countries…

After spending time in South Africa, I know it is very complicated and there are many challenges in this ‘rainbow nation’. Lots of bad governance, homicide, unemployment, poverty, growing in-equality between those who have and those who have not… From the news, the attacks are mainly in the poor townships and directed towards people from other African nations (with some exceptions of Asians)… That raises many questions.

Whatever the possible answers, it is clear that this anger and frustration is directed at the wrong people. Also, there are powers who can manipulate these feelings. It is easy for those who have power to start pointing fingers. The leaders can blame the media, the media can blame the leaders or the poor. Meanwhile many poor blame the immigrants… and so on. Lots of scapegoating. But the most important question becomes, „Who is my neighbor?”

I was so encouraged to read in international news about our friends in Chatsworth. Many churches, including Good News Center (a mixed Zulu and Indian fellowship), are responding to this difficult situation. Bringing food and aid to thousands of people who are sheltering in makeshift camps in one of the football fields in Chatsworth. Dennis John is a local pastor and a man of peace whom we enjoyed partnering with. He told the journalists that those behind the attacks were becoming more meticulous, driving away South Africans in relationships with foreigners.

There are peace marches and other statements of solidarity. There are many religious and civil society groups and NGO’s who are showing compassion and neighborly love. I don’t need the journalists to tell me; I know it because I have been to South Africa. I know the people there and I know that there is lots of light in the darkness.

I can only try to imagine the hardship and suffering of the people who are now afraid and so uncertain for their future. Coming from poor or conflict ravaged countries and hoping for a new and better life. I hope that the friendship of their true South African neighbors will bring them the assurance that they are ‘welcome’.

Xenophobia

The danger of being a peacemaker

If you lived in unjust and oppressive circumstances, what would you do? If you were desperate to change the life around you, what kind of movement would you join? What kind of leader would you follow?

I think about the events that took place 2000 years ago but are as relevant today. During Easter we reflect on the story of Jesus death by public execution. The people of Israel were living under occupation, oppression, corrupt rulers and poverty. The land was occupied and ruled by the Roman Empire which had brought the so-called Roman Peace (Pax Romana). The occupied nations and people were pacified and controlled and kept ‘in order’. There were plenty of crucified bodies on a display as an ‘encouragement’…

One way I can relate is for those of us who grew up in the former USSR and in a occupied nation like Latvia. We were living in ‘peace’ in the most ‘peace loving Union’ of the world and the large Soviet military force that was stationed everywhere was a great reminder how this ‘peace’ was kept and enforced.

peace001

I believe that life without communal and individual freedom, equality and justice and trust and good relations is no peace. And the land of Israel was no exception. There were always rebellions led by those who were not accepting this Roman version of Peace. Barabbas was one such rebel who took part in insurrection.

Jesus was also accused of being a revolutionary, of leading a movement that will upset this “peace”. Accused by whom? By the powers that be! His lifestyle, message and popularity were too threatening to them. Mostly the religious and political leaders who were trying to negotiate this difficult life under the Roman occupation and passionate about keeping ‘us’ and ‘them’ apart.

In fact Jesus was leading a ‘revolution’ but of a very different kind. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” He was turning the world upside down but without any weapons and violence. Even without wealth and political power. Remember what Jesus said when the soldiers came to arrest him, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?”

But in the end he was deemed more dangerous than Barabbas who actually killed some of his “enemies”. Pontius Pilate was confused. Not because he cared but because he did not see Jesus as a potential danger for the Romans. Even more – Jesus was telling people to love their enemies. Who would not want to keep him around, right?

(Have you ever wondered what happened to Barabbas? Did the Romans really let him go back to his freedom fight?)

So, why were the leaders more afraid of a peacemaker than freedom fighter? Why were they so against this non-violent transformation and healing of society? But then I have a personal choice, too. If I was standing in that crowd, looking at the hated Roman representative who has the power and is asking me to choose between Jesus or Barabbas, who would I choose?

Selma 1

When fear drives out love…

Sometimes I look like this. At least mentally and emotionally. Like the little frightened and confused Gollum with voices in my head. One voice that talks about love, trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, hope and the other voice – full of fear, mistrust, hopelessness, bitterness, unforgiveness…

I talked about being a good listener but there are times when it is good to shut your ears . We are surrounded by narratives – our own or others. The other narratives come from media, family members, friends, schools, political and religious leaders and so on. When we want to build bridges, we discover that not everyone wants it. Some even try to prevent others from walking on this bridge.

Musalaha, an organization that promotes reconciliation, posted a good reflection on the so called ‘Gatekeepers’: “Gatekeepers” are described as a type of thought police. They often perceive themselves as key people who control the conversation by countering any new information or blocking it altogether. This is because any challenging information threatens their group identity and therefore questions their leadership, which is based on a certain power structure. But they are only as powerful as perceived by the group. (…) The language used is often dramatic and deals in absolutes: Light vs Dark, Good vs Evil, Outsiders vs Us, Enlightened vs Blind”

 

I remember those gatekeepers from my childhood and teenage years growing up in the former Soviet Union. It was very clear message (propaganda) of who the Good and the Evil were. We did not have just thought police; we had actual gates to keep the Evil out and keep us in.

If Gatekeepers are powerful, there is another group that enters the battle over our minds and hearts, especially on the internet and social media – the ‘Trolls’. The invisible groups of mostly anonymous writers and bloggers and commentators who want to start a fight or provoke. Does that sound like the Lord of the Rings now? Gatekeepers, trolls…

For example, when I read an article about the conflict and war in Ukraine, I see the ‘trolls’ are already in the conversation. Most of their posts look copy-pasted and a favorite opening line is “Are you really an idiot or just pretending?” And what they achieve… Well, they make lots of noise, confusion, bitterness, frustration, get some fights and basically they shut down a discussion. Anyone who truly wants to become a good listener leaves the conversation. As they say, “Do not feed the trolls!”

Wisdom of Solomon is an amazing book about speaking and listening. Here is a relevant proverb, “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked… Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” It also says that “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”

Have you encountered these ‘gatekeepers’ and ‘trolls’ in your community? How do you recognize them? If we truly want to become good listeners, we cannot hang out in their company. And we also cannot let them silence us!

metal gate