Israel-Palestine conflict and my personal challenge

This one is hard. Not because I have nothing to say or because it is too complicated. No, it is because I am a Western Christian and also student of theology/religion. And there is no other international geopolitical issue which can divide Christians as sharply as the Israel-Palestine past, present and future. No matter how gentle or blunt, informed or ignorant, rational or naive, well intentioned or foolish I try to express myself.

This is such a controversial conversation about a long standing conflict, historical justice, human rights and relationships, identity, understanding of the Scriptures and the importance of the land and so on. It is also very emotional because it touches people’s religious feelings in three major world faiths and makes an honest and open dialogue hard to achieve. But dialogue we must. Especially those of us who don’t live in Israel-Palestine but still have some impact through our personal connections, churches, religious organizations and also our governments which represent us as citizens. For example, if Latvia had decided to move its embassy to Jerusalem to follow the USA example (which it hasn’t) , I would form an opinion as a Latvian.

Few days ago in downtown Rīga I was approached by a reporter and her camera person. I had to think fast about the question, “What is your opinion about Crimea?” What is she trying to ask between the lines? I assumed she was asking me about the latest news and how I felt about the newly built bridge between Russia and Crimea which is supposed to cement the Russian claim on this peninsula. How do I feel about it? Quite simple! That Russia is in the wrong and that Crimea was illegally annexed and there is historic injustice happening right before my eyes. And that most people around the world don’t really care because “out of sight, out of mind”. Plus, how are we going to make Russia give it back to Ukraine?

It made me think if I would ever be asked by reporters in Latvia what I think about Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is never “out of sight, out of mind”. That small corner of the world regularly makes  the world headlines, mostly with stories of division, violence and suffering. And that is one of the big problems –  the stories we hear are often superficial and tailored to ‘our’ ears. Or it’s very one-sided depending on our preferred news source and our own political and religious views.

Here I come to the Christian part. I cannot count how many times I have heard other Western Christians say, “I had no idea there are Palestinian Christians. I assumed that all Palestinians are Muslim”. It is amazing how for some of us things change when we start thinking about Palestinians not only as fellow human beings but also as brothers and sisters in Christ. And how ‘inconvenient’ it becomes. When we find out that there are actually churches in Gaza and that when people suffer hardships in this overcrowded and besieged strip of land, everyone is suffering together – Muslims, Christians, others…

Before someone jumps in, “here we go… talk about objectivity… she is so one-sided”, I strive to be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli. I don’t know many things, I am no expert and I have never been to Israel or Palestinian territories in West Bank and Gaza, but I have met and learned from many people in that land. I have met musicians from both backgrounds who formed a band called “My Favorite Enemy”and wrote songs in Arabic, Hebrew and English, expressing common pain, fears and hopes. Here is a link to one of their songs called Stones written from a perspective of a stone being thrown…

I have met, listened and read theologians from both backgrounds. One of the books on my shelf is “Through My Enemy’s Eyes: Envisioning Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine” written by Salim J. Munayer ( a Palestinian Christian and faculty member at Bethlehem Bible College) and Lisa Loden (an Israeli Messianic Jew and faculty member of Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary). I have met them in person and listened to their amazing, challenging and deeply moving journey as friends.

The point I want to make is that if we really care, we need to seek out these local voices. People who actually live there and deal with this conflict on day to day basis as they have a much closer view on what is helpful or unhelpful to the peace process and reconciliation efforts. On things that our governments do or don’t do. On views that our churches support or don’t support. On what is loving and what is not. On what is just and what is not.

Here is another book I recommend. “Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire” by Brother Andrew, the passionate old Dutch minister.  Who was very popular in the West when he wrote “God’s Smuggler” about taking Bibles behind the Iron Curtain and sharing his faith with the communists. But not so many Western Christians were interested when he started ministering in the Middle East, even meeting with leaders of PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah and other such groups. Brother Andrew is very open about his own preconceived ideas and Western Christian approach as an outsider trying to fix the problems in the Middle East. But nobody can criticize him for living out his passion for the good news of God’s love.

It has to be good. It has to be news. And it has to be love for all people. Brother Andrew often asks what kind of people does the Book produce? Speaking of the Bible.

Finally… some Christians (or non-Christians) may say that we should not get political. Only focus on the spiritual. When it is us, Westerners, speaking while enjoying the freedoms and peace which did not come without political will, I find it ironic. When Latvian Christians supported the independence of Latvia from Russian and German empires and later from the USSR, was it political or spiritual? Was Martin Luther King and non-violent civil rights movement in the USA political or spiritual? I could give many more examples like South Africa, Northern Ireland, anti-slavery, anti-human trafficking but then I would be getting really really political 🙂

We may have many strong opinions on who is to blame for failing peace efforts in Israel – Palestine and we may have strong beliefs about the eschatological future of this region, but we should never forget that this is not some theory for the people there. If I had been born in Gaza instead of Rīga, I would want the world to think of me as someone who matters. I certainly would not want to live in Gaza, a virtual prison controlled by air, land and sea. If I was a member of Gaza Baptist Church, I would want the brothers and sisters around the world to think of me and pray for our little, struggling fellowship who are caught in the crossfire.

We have to make much more room in our hearts… this is what the Book says and does.

Shared European identity? Being proud and embarrassed together

Recently in Amsterdam I was invited to join a small group at a local pub. I am not a fan of beer, so my choice was a glass of red wine. But the rest of my new acquaintances knew their local beers – Dutch, Belgian, German… You gather a few Europeans and they can have a whole long discussion of the flavors and origins and colors. We can get very patriotic when talking about our national exports. I guess there is no such thing as European beer.

Our group of six people was diverse – Latvian, Dutch, Greek, Belgian and Indian. Enjoying some free time after a very inspiring session and discussion on the state of Europe at a Christian forum, we were getting to know each other and asking questions about current issues in each of our countries. There were many things I learned about Greece and Belgium and the Netherlands.

One big question of the night was asked by the only non-European in our group (even though he has lived and worked in England for many years). What is a shared European identity? Is it even possible to have one? He pointed out that we were so good at describing the complicated histories and issues in our nations or even in regions within the countries. We like to defend and explain ‘our group’ to ‘others’ in case they seem ‘misinformed’ or ‘ignorant’. This is one of my favorite topics, too. Our identities!

Yes, we can be very clear on which is ‘our group’ and ‘our beer’ and ‘our borders’ but somehow we are also able to identify ourselves under this common name of “Europeans” and talk about shared values. I totally understand our friend’s question because it is difficult to explain. If we are struggling with our national identities (just ask people living in Latvia) and, in some cases, identity crisis, how can we even dream of saying that we have a common European identity?

Especially in the current political and social atmosphere in Europe where there is such a polarization to the right (those who say that every country is on its own and let’s go back to our forts and fortify them even more)  and to the left (those who say that we should have no national borders and internationalism is the future).

I realize I feel very European. When my American friends tell me, “You dress European”, I take it as a compliment. When I am in Asia, they say that I am from Europe (and not just because most people don’t know where Latvia is). I even write to my friends in Latvia and tell them when I am coming to Europe! I talk about European movies, European cities, European issues… Yes, this is my identity also!

What do I identify with? Obviously Europe has showed its best but also its worst through the history and even today. Why is it that I am not ashamed to say that I am from Europe? I think one of the big reasons is that we work hard to keep peace with each other. We have fought and hated and destroyed and we are tired of it. We have desired what others have and taken it by force and demoralized ourselves in the process and we are tired of it.

Guess what? I am not even shamed of our European Song Contest called Eurovision. Even though I get embarrassed by many of the songs and costumes and some participants. And the funny thing is that we take turns producing these ’embarrassing’ performances, so we are in the same boat. During the last contest, the event hosts reminded us that Eurovision was created in 1956 to unify continent torn apart by war and now once again Europe is facing darker times. (Again, let’s ask Ukrainians about peace and unity within the country and with their neighbor Russia)

Maybe one way we create our shared European identity is by sharing our embarrassing moments like dumb, brainless songs and by showing that we care about each others pain like supporting the story of Crimean Tatars, represented by this year’s winning song from Ukraine.

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Eurovision Song Contest – being proud and embarrassed together (photo from the web)

Latvian:

Nesen Amsterdamā neliela draugu kompānija uzaicināja mani uz vietējo krogu. Neesmu alus cienītāja, tāpēc izvēlējos glāzi vīna. Toties mani jaunie paziņas pārzināja vietējās alus šķirnes – holandiešu, beļģu, vācu… Tā ir taisnība, ka eiropieši var ilgi un gari apspriest alus šķirņu garšu un krāsu un izcelsmi. Mēs esam lieli patrioti, kad runājam par savu nacionālo eksportu. Šeit nav tādas kategorijas kā vienkārši Eiropas alus.

Mūsu mazā kompānija bija ļoti multikulturāla – latviete, holandieši, grieķis, beļģiete un indietis. Atpūtāmies pēc garas un labi pavadītas dienas, kurā piedalījāmies kristīgā forumā, veltītam svarīgiem jautājumiem Eiropā. Varējām labāk iepazīties un pajautāt par aktualitātēm citās valstīs. Es uzzināju daudz ko interesantu par Grieķiju, Beļģiju un Nīderlandi.

Vienīgais ne-eiropietis mūsu kompānijā (kaut gan viņš jau daudzus gadus dzīvo un strādā Anglijā) uzdeva vakara lielo jautājumu – kas ir Eiropas kopīgā identitāte? Vai tāda vispār ir iespējama? Viņš norādīja uz to, ka mēs tik ļoti turamies pie savām nacionālajām un etniskajām identitātēm. Mēs aizstāvam un izskaidrojam ‘savējos’, lai ‘citi’ mūs zinātu un saprastu, un lai uztvertu mūs ‘pareizi’. Man arī patīk pētīt šo tēmu. Mūsu identitātes!

Jā, mēs labi zinām, kura ir ‘mana tauta’ un ‘mans ēdiens’, un ‘mans alus’ un ‘mana vēsture’, bet tomēr mēs spējam sevi identificēt zem šī vārda ‘eiropieši’, un pat apzināmies kopīgas vērtības. Es saprotu, kāpēc mūsu paziņa no Indijas uzdeva šo jautājumu, jo Eiropas identitāte ir sarežģīta būšana. Ja mēs vēl skaidrojamies un definējam savas nacionālās identitātes (kā, piemēram, Latvijā) vai piedzīvojam identitātes krīzes, kā mēs varam runāt par kopīgu identitāti kā eiropieši?

It sevišķi patreizējā sabiedrības noskaņojumā, kad politiskie spēki velk uz pretējām pusēm. Pa labi, kur saka, ka katrai valstij jādomā tikai par sevi, un jāiet atpakaļ savos cietokšņos, un tos vēl vairāk jāstiprina. Pa kreisi, kur saka, ka valstu robežas un nācij-valstis ir savu laiku nokalpojušas, un internacionālisms ir mūsu nākotne.

Es sapratu, ka jūtos ļoti eiropeiska. Kad mani draugi Amerikā saka, ka es ģērbjos kā eiropiete, man tas ir compliments. Kad esmu Āzijā, draugi uzsver to, ka esmu no Eiropas (un ne tikai tāpēc, ka Latvija ir maza un nepazīstama). Pat draugiem Latvijā reizēm rakstu, kad braukšu uz Eiropu. Jā, Eiropa ir daļa no manas identitātes.

Ar ko tad es īsti identificējos? Skaidrs, ka Eiropā ir ar ko lepoties, bet arī daudz, no kā kaunēties un ko nozēlot – gan pagātnē, gan tagadnē. Kāpēc man nav kauns būt eiropietei? Varbūt viens no iemesliem ir tas, ka mēs tik ļoti cenšamies uzturēt mieru savā starpā. Mēs esam daudz karojuši, ienīduši viens otru un iznīcinājuši, un tas jau ir līdz kaklam. Mēs esam iekārojuši to, kas kaimiņam, un nēmuši to ar varu, un pazaudējuši paši sevi, un tas jau ir līdz kaklam.

Atzīšos, ka man nav pat kauns no Eirovīzijas dziesmu konkursa. Kaut gan varu nosarkt par daudzām dziesmām, tērpiem, šova elementiem un dažiem izpildītājiem. Smieklīgais ir tas, ka šajā ziņā visi esam līdzīgi – katra valsts ir sagādājusi šādus brīžus, ka tautiešiem gribas izslēgt televizoru vai aizbāzt ausis. Šī gada finālā vakara vadītāji atgādināja, ka “Eirovīzija tika radīta 1956. gadā, lai palīdzētu vienot kontinentu, kuru bija sašķēlis karš, un šodien Eiropa atkal skatās acīs tumsai” (cilvēki Ukrainā var pastāstīt, ko šie vārdi ‘miers’ un ‘vienotība’ nozīmē viņiem gan iekšējās, gan ārējās attiecībās)

Tātad viens no veidiem, kā mēs radām savu kopīgo Eiropas identitāti ir kopīgi pasmieties par savām smieklīgajām, dumjajām dziesmām, bet arī kopīgi skumt par citu sapēm, un tāpēc tik augstu novērtēt Ukrainas dziesmu par Krimas tatāru traģisko vēsturi.

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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Mitsubishi and three little words that make grown men cry

Most of us would be quick to point out that there is lots of media coverage of the brokenness of our world – stories of corruption, pollution, conflict, wars, extremism, human trafficking, injustice, etc. It is because the world is broken… so the media does their job and shines the spotlight on the ugliness. I thank them for it but even more I thank those who put the spotlight on stories of forgiveness, healing, restoration, humility and hope. For the common knowledge says that ‘good stories’ do not sell.

One of the international headlines that made my day was coverage of an event at Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles last week. Japan’s Mitsubishi corporation made an official and public apology for using US prisoners of war as forced labor during WWII. It was described as the first such apology by a Japanese company.

One of the former US prisoners, who had survived the inhumane and terrible conditions without food and medicine (basically slavery) in the copper mines when he was a young man, was present to receive the apology as a 94 year old man. James Murphy said that he had forgiven his captors but he still wanted to hear an apology.

So, 70 years after the end of the war and even without any offer of money or other restitution, this was a very important event. This was Mitsubishi but also the Japanese government officially apologized to US prisoners of war five years ago.

Why is it such a big deal? Why would someone wait 70 years to hear an apology? Why not “forgive and forget”? And why would the company wait 70 years to apologize?

Sometimes I think what my grandmother would do if someone she knew came to her and said, “Back in 1948, I was working for the Soviet system that took away your family’s farm and sent your family, your parents and grandmother, to the labor camp in Siberia. I was part of the system that sentenced your brother to hard labor in prison camp because he tried to get back the family’s farm. I am so sorry for your grandmother who died near Lake Baikal and was buried there. I am so sorry for your younger brother who perished.”

My grandmother is loving, joyful and creative person. She is not eaten by bitterness and unforgiveness. She has forgiven a lot but she still misses her family. I think she would cry if she heard an apology like that. No, let me be honest – I would cry if someone apologized to her.

Acknowledgment of truth is the first step in reconciliation process but repentance – apology, remorse, sincere regret – is crucial. Without it you cannot have a true healing and restoration of relationship.

There are also times when it is appropriate to apologize on someone’s behalf. I doubt that the Mitsubishi owners, managers or employers are old enough to have been working for the company during WWII. Still, they recognized the stain and guilt of their company and are seeking to deal with its legacy. Often to go forward you have to go back to the past.

It is amazing how difficult it is to say these three little words, “I am sorry”

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Photo from movie “The Railway Man”

Part One: Unfinished business with our neighbors

Have you noticed that once you start paying attention to a certain thing or topic, it seems to appear everywhere? When I started my journey of ‘peaceroads’ and started thinking and studying about forgiveness and restored relationships in a deeper and intentional way, suddenly I heard the word “reconciliation” a lot. Is it just me or is this actually a common goal that people struggle with and long for? Issue that nations talk about? Or is it just a nice word, a trend?

I hear it in the news and media of all kinds… all around the world. I hear politicians, social activists, religious leaders, educators talk about the need to reconcile people. This message is even stronger in the arts. There are movies that focus on reconciliation in personal lives, in families, in communities and between nations. There are songs, paintings, books, plays… I feel like artists are often the ones who express things that many of us feel or think but either are afraid to talk about or don’t know how to talk about it.

Often we are afraid or hesitant to talk about it because it may stir emotions and opinions and narratives that seem opposing. We feel like by saying it aloud that ‘we have a conflict’ or that ‘we have unresolved issues’, we are adding to the conflict and making things even more complicated. So, we pretend it is not there; try to ignore; whitewash it; downplay it. We say ‘harmony and unity’ where there is tension and division. We say ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace. Yes, maybe there is no war but there is no peace either.

It sounds like my favorite way of dealing with a conflict. Keep it inside, keep it to myself. Even if I start to become bitter and miserable, I feel like I have done the right thing by not confronting it. Until I get headaches and stomach pain and sleepless nights. Until I cannot ignore that person any longer and actually have to communicate and try to fix the relationship. Until I bring it into the light!

In one of my earlier blogs I talked about a friend from Russia who helped me to understand how many people in Russia felt towards the West. I remember her words when she said that people in Russia talked about the Cold War now being ‘Cold Peace.’ What is the difference between the two? And is it OK to have ‘Cold Peace’?

What I hear in the words “Cold Peace’ is that our relationship is cold and distant or that we don’t have a relationship. That we either don’t trust each other or don’t like each other. That we that we are not ‘enemies’ but we are not ‘friends’ either.

My immediate reaction to this description was, “This is not good. This is actually very dangerous.” Because if relationships are full of mistrust and resentment and bitterness and ignorance and prejudice and unforgiveness, this is a fertile ground for bad seeds to bring bad fruit. Much more dangerous than getting a stomach ulcer or sleepless nights.

My friend knew that in relations between Latvia and Russia there are issues. That is why she thought that I may reject her. And yes, she was right… the relationship between our two nations is not the best. And one of the main reasons is some unfinished business between us as neighbors. Things from the past that keep affecting our present.

Unfortunately now in 2015 our relations are even worse and the ‘Cold Peace’ feels even colder. So, it is more than timely to talk about it. Also, as a Christian I feel very passionately about our responsibility to work towards restoring and healing relationships in this fragile and volatile world. It is not optional.

So, let me start a conversation about our neighbors… and how can we change this ‘status quo’.

Canada ballet

“Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation” by Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Tale of two cities

What does Coventry, England and Dresden, Germany have in common? Beauty, life and forgiveness out of ashes and destruction!

I like history. Blame it on my dad who should be a history teacher. I just wish I had my dad’s memory for facts and dates and names and places. You know how they say that “one thing we can learn from history is that we never learn from history”. I guess I am not the only one with memory problems…

During my studies in the UK, we discussed a lot of history. Events and actions that become a part of our story. And I learned about some of these moments that have shaped the story of England. Here is one beautiful story.

Coventry was once described as the most well preserved medieval city in Europe, but it was all but destroyed during the German bombing in November 1940. One of the many buildings hit was the 14th century cathedral. Few months before the end of the war in February of 1945 Allied forces decided to replicate the Coventry Blitz. The bomb attacks were planned by looking at how Coventry was destroyed and trying to repeat it in Dresden, Eastern Germany, a city almost untouched by the war until that point. Well, the Allies succeeded in their mission… an eye for an eye… a city for a city…

Coventry

But this is not all that these two once beautiful but horribly scarred cities have in common. Following the destruction of Coventry Cathedral, its Provost Dick Howard made a commitment not to revenge, but to forgiveness and reconciliation. From the Cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over they should work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’

The words ‘Father Forgive’ were inscribed on the wall of the ruined church. Not ‘Father, forgive them’ but simply forgive. Forgive us all.  Two charred beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were bound and three medieval nails were formed into a cross and the Cross of Nails became a sign of friendship and hope in the post war years, especially in new relationships with Germany. Few years later Coventry became a twin-town with Dresden in Germany.

I visited Coventry and I was struck by how special this place is. Especially the Cathedral. May I say that these are the most beautiful ruins I have ever seen? These walls tell a story that I cannot forget or ignore…

The million dollar question – can we learn to learn from history? An eye for an eye… a city for a city … or ‘Father, forgive’

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