Bubbles and simple beauty of joy

London is one of my favorite places in the whole world. I have visited many times but have never lived there. So, I am allowed to keep my “honeymoon” feeling 🙂 It is a city of stories. On every turn you feel like there is an interesting and important story. Buildings, bridges, parks, statues, paintings, museums, theaters, train stations, markets, underground.

But my favorite thing to do is people watching. Believe me if you have never visited London; it is one of the best places to do it. The world is here. Literary. And for that reason I love walking along the river Thames. The view of the city does not change but every time it feels different because of the people. The story of London has a new chapter each day.

This last time I experienced a chapter about joy. The art of bringing joy. How little it costs but how much it does.

Who does not like soap bubbles? Children and adults alike are mesmerized by them. How they form, how they start floating in the air, how they change shapes and how far they fly. Some we catch, some get in our eyes or mouth and some get away. I love the colours and the rainbow reflection and I try to catch a glimpse of our world looking through a soap bubble.

There was a guy making large amounts of soap bubbles. Hoping to make some money but also enjoying it. And so was everyone walking by. The children forgot about their tantrums and wishes for sweets or rides or toys. They just wanted to play and catch and wait for that incredible moment when out of nothing (well, some soapy water) comes something as incredible as these simple objects of beauty.

Joy is bursting out as these bubbles burst out. I realize that I experience something that is fleeting. We describe it as “having fun”. The bubbles burst or float away and disappear. The children walk away and after 10 min they can be unhappy about something. The adults take the photos and then promptly forget about it. But this is a small glimpse into something bigger, more beautiful and lasting.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”, said poet John Keats.

Famous German theologian Jürgen Moltmann wrote on theology of joy. “Joy is enduring and puts its mark on one’s attitude to living. Fun is short-term and serves amusement. True joy is only possible with one’s whole heart, whole soul and all one’s energies. The feeling about life which underlies the party-making fun-society is, I suspect, more boredom with life than true joy. True joy opens the soul, is a flow of spirits, giving our existence a certain easiness. We may have fun, but we are in joy. In true joy the ecstatic nature of human existence comes to expression. We are created for joy. We are born for joy.”

For me, the simple fun with soap bubbles is like a door that opens for a short time to make us all stop and behold and then reflect why our heart so instinctively responds to it.

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Along the Thames (photos from personal archive)

 

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes…

I miss her. Today, October 8, is her birthday and I miss going to her home, having a nice home cooked meal, watching some silly TV programs, talking about anything and everything, watching her laugh so easily… so many ordinary things that she made special.

My mom passed away a few years ago. Today she would have turned 67 and we celebrate her life. Without her physical presence but not without her love and legacy. I think about her very often and I know that her imprint is all over my life. I am who I am because she was.

Apostle Paul wrote one of the most beautiful passages about love. “Love is patient, love is kind…” My mom was both of these things. It just came to her naturally. She was even kind in my teenage years when my “normal” state was to be mean, sarcastic and arrogant. I have no idea how she did it.

Love always protects… Mom was a very petite woman but at moments she seemed larger than life. I remember her getting so mad at an older man who was threatening to spank me and my brother. Actually we had gotten ourselves in trouble because we had climbed over a tall fence to steal some flowers from his flower-bed.  We got caught and the old man was so angry. Then our mom leaned outside the window, yelled at the guy and threatened to come downstairs. I remember watching in amazement how this tall, big guy became so meek and changed his tone and even gave us some candy.

Love always trusts… Even when I was not trustworthy. Even when I lied and cheated. Even when things were going hard for my other siblings and there were many reasons for discouragement and disappointment. Something we always felt, never doubted and knew deep inside was that our mom trusts us. Trusts us to make good decisions, trusts us to have adventures and to explore, trusts us to grow up and live well.

“peaceroads” is a big tribute to her life. My mom was a peacemaker. Of course, she was not perfect and she made many mistakes in her relationships. Still, she showed me how to acknowledge the truth, how to repent and apologize, how to reach out and how to hope for reconciliation.

Love always hopes…

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Until we meet again (photos from personal archive)

 

 

The age of information diarrhea

I took this photo in Berlin while sightseeing around Brandenburg Gate. It was one of those surreal moments when you have to get out your camera to prove to yourself that this is real. Most of us notice it and most of us do it. I knew that it would be a good photo for one of my blogs.

This autumn I am taking some classes at Latvia University and I love it. Yes, there is some homework that tortures my brain cells and gives anxiety but the joy of learning is greater and more lasting. Also, it is a university within the university because of my classmates. Every one of us is a small universe with life experiences, thoughts, beliefs, dreams, friends, families, talents…

For the title of this blog entry I borrowed the words of one of my new peers. During a discussion he said: “We live in an age with chronic diarrhea of information.” I have a good imagination and his words make a good sense. We take in so much information daily without processing. Since it is available and free, just take it. Whether it is worthwhile or simply junk.

What if it cost me more? If I have to buy a magazine or newspaper, I am very picky. I want to get my money’s worth. I want to read something that will enrich my mind and my life. I will pick up “Time” or “Newsweek” or “The Economist”… But if I am standing in the checkout line at the shopping mall or killing a few minutes at the airport, I will browse through some women’s magazines or tabloids. (It sounds better to say tabloids then gossip and sensational news, right?)

Secondly we don’t give enough time for reflection. (Here is that magic word – time. I said  the free information does not cost me anything but actually it does. It costs my time.) I remember my mom used to eat and chew very slowly. She firmly believed that it was healthier.It used to drive me crazy but I did think that she was right. Plus eating together had its many other wonderful benefits.

My own brain capacity is so limited. I find that even lots of the good information that I want to retain and digest and reflect on, disappears quickly. I think part of the problem is these horrible habits of taking in too much, too fast and too superficially.

There are many bad side-effects. Especially social. As if there is this invisible force that effects us in invisible ways. For example, the growing problem of polarization. People become more divided in their views and less able to dialogue and to have a polite and respectful debate with good listening skills. When I go on Facebook or other social media, it does the thinking for me. It “chooses” who my best friends are, which kind of news I “want” to read, what I want to buy, etc. It makes my life easier by grouping me with “like-minded” people.

Thanks for taking the few minutes of your time to read. A few more to reflect?

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The art of socializing (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Šis ir ar manu fotoaparātu piefiksēts dzīves moments netālu no Brandenburgas vārtiem Berlīnē. Vienkārši acīm neticējās, ka tā mēs tiešām tagad dzīvojam. Lielākā daļa to ievērojam, un lielākā daļa to darām. Zināju, ka būs kaut kad jāuzraksta.

Šoruden man ir iespēja mācīties Latvijas Universitātē, un man patīk. Protams, ir mājas darbi un lietas, kas mocīs smadzenes un šad tad bojās nervus, bet mācīšanās process kā tāds ir izbaudāms. Turklāt ir viens liels bonuss – mani kursabiedri. Katrs pats ir maza universitāte ar savu dzīves pieredzi, domām, ticību, sapņiem, draugiem, ģimeni, spējām…

Pārdomām es virsrakstā izmantoju viena sava kursabiedra teikto. Nesenā diskusijā viņš izteicās, ka “mēs dzīvojam laikā, kur ir hroniska informācijas caureja.” Iztēle man darbojas labi, un šī metafora tiešām liekas precīza. Mēs uzņemam tik daudz informācijas, bet pavisam maz vai nemaz to nesagremojam un nepārstrādājam. Šī informācija ir tepat ar pirkstu galiem sasniedzama, turklāt par brīvu, un tāpēc jāņem. Vienalga, vai tā ir derīga, vai mēsls.

Kā būtu, ja man par to būtu vairāk jāmaksā? Pērkot žurnālu vai avīzi, esmu ļoti izvēlīga. Gribu, lai mana nauda būtu ieguldīta vērtīgā informācijā. Piemēram, žurnālos “The Economist”, “Time” vai “Rīgas Laiks”… Bet, stāvot veikala rindā pie kases vai nositot kādas minūtes lidostā, pasķirstu arī dzelteno presi (labāk skan “prese”, vai ne? nevis aprunāšanas, tenku un sensāciju stāsti)

Otra problēma ir tāda, ka mēs neveltam pietiekamu laiku pārdomām. (Te ir tas astlēgas vārds – laiks! Varbūt informācijas uzņemšana man nemaksā naudu, bet laiku gan.) Atceros, kā mana mamma mēdza ēst ļoti lēni un visu kārtīgi sakošļāt. Viņa teica, ka tā ir veselīgāk. Mani tas tracināja, bet iekšēji ticēju, ka viņai ir taisnība. Turklāt ēst kopā ar draugiem vai ģimeni un darīt to nesteidzīgi ir pats par sevi viens liels ieguvums.

Manas smadzenes ir gan pamatīgi piebāztas, gan ierobežotas. Pat to labo informāciju, ko vēlos paturēt, pārdomāt un izmantot, grūti nepazaudēt. Varbūt te arī daļēji ir vainīga šī informācijas caureja? Un sliktais ieradums uzņemt par daudz, par ātru un par seklu.

Ir daudz citu blakusparādību. It sevišķi mūsu attiecībās ar apkārtējiem. Tāda sajūta, it kā neredzams spēks darbotos mums neredzamā veidā, bet ar lielu ietekmi. Viens piemērs –  pieaugošā polarizācijas problēma. Cilvēki arvien vairāk sašķeļas savos uzskatos (kas pats par sevi vēl nav problēma), un arvien mazāk spēj sarunāties un sadzīvot ar citādi domājošiem. Arvien sliktāk prot debatēt un nemāk klausīties. Mēs izmantojam Facebook un citus soctīklus, bet tie sāk domāt mūsu vietā. Caur saviem algoritmiem, utt. Tie izvēlas, kuri ir mani “labākie” draugi, kuras ziņas es “vēlos” lasīt, kādas reklāmas man “vajag”, utt. Tas “atvieglo” manu dzīvi, jo palīdz sazināties ar “līdzīgi domājošiem”.

Paldies par tām dažām minūtēm, ko veltīji lasīšanai. Varbūt vari veltīt vēl kādas, lai pārdomātu?

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!

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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!

Greece is on my mind and here is why

So, here I am – living in Asia – and every time I turn on the news, it is a story from Europe that dominates the international headlines. Greece and the debt crisis…

Yesterday Gary and I were on a long bus ride and, with lots of time to talk, I started venting. My poor husband, he has to listen to lots of my speeches! He said, “Why are you talking to me about this? Talk to Europeans!” Exactly my thoughts and hence this blog. Not just for Europeans, but for anyone following this complicated situation.

I am not an economist or a political scientist, but I see a big relational problem. Even if we talk only about the actual topic – the debt and bailout- it is very relational. With borrowing and lending, there are two sides relating to each other. Guy Brandon, Research Director at the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge, UK gives this simple explanation, “For the borrower, there is the obligation to repay their debt, to seek to understand the lender’s interests and to secure the best deal for them within the terms available. For the lender, there is the recognition that the world is an uncertain place. Repayment cannot always be guaranteed and default should not be forced unnecessarily.”

Also, I think we almost forget that we are talking about a nation here. Country with more than 10 million people in a very difficult, fearful situation. What if it is my grandmother who is afraid to lose her small social guarantees? What if it is my younger sister among the 50% of youth who are unemployed? What if it is my dad, standing in long lines at ATM to get his daily ‘allowance’ of 60 euro?

When the global financial crisis hit the world in 2007-2008, the bailout of banks and financial institutions was beyond ‘huge’. US and European governments spent trillions. We know that the crisis had many roots and complicated global issues, but no denying, that there were systemic and endemic failures and human greed that led to it.

So, yes, Greece needs to reform and there are endemic failures, but those without sin can cast the first stone. There is tax evasion in Greece? Yes, there is (but I don’t think Latvians can be a role model.) There are serious problems in public sector? Yes, very serious…

I will not talk about the current Greek government since I understand them very little. They may be very populist, but again, this is not anything new on European continent when it comes to some other serious issues like nationalism, immigration, etc. Like I said, it is all about relationships. I believe that both sides have made big mistakes  – Greece and the European creditors – and the language used is often harmful and isolating and judgmental. Lots of self-righteousness. This includes many of the Latvian politicians and media.

We are talking about the European Union here. If Greece had to leave euro zone, it basically would mean that they have to leave the European Union and from what I hear, Greek people want to stay in the EU. I cringe when media uses the words, “Greece may get kicked out… Grexit…” This is not some sensational story.  This is a very big deal. It would be a huge relational failure with unforeseeable consequences. There is already much bitterness and frustration between peoples. What do you think this would mean to the relations between nations? I am not talking only about Greeks and Germans. What about Latvians and Greeks? Is Greece ‘our neighbor’ or not?

For those who are interested in a deeper and better economic and political analysis, I will insert a link to an article written by a Christian think-tank Jubilee Center in UK. It was written in 1998 during the debate about joining European Monetary Union or euro. It expressed some of the main concerns which now seem very insightful. Here is what they wrote on the question whether euro will make Europe more peaceful and harmonious, “If a country faces an unsustainable fiscal situation, it may be forced to threaten default on its debt or request help from other members. If a transfer or debt guarantee is granted, those populations in solvent countries may resent their taxes being used to bail out irresponsible governments elsewhere. If these payments have no democratic mandate, resentment of neighboring countries within EMU may result.”

I encourage you to read the article but more than that – I want to encourage all of us, including the main decision makers, to think relationally. It is not about economy or money or even news headlines; it is about people and lives and social harmony in Europe!

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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’.

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