Enough of Supersize Fear

If there is universal word and emotion in 2015, it is Fear. Phobia. Anxiety. Paranoia. This is nothing new for humankind even if we somehow think that the challenges are unique to our times and situation. Just study history, autobiographies,  ancient literature like the Bible and see that people and nations have always struggled with fears and have chosen many different ways of dealing with it. Some wise, some foolish and even dangerous.

Still, it seems that for our generation the events of 2014-15 and reactions to these events have taken a whole new level. This year I have been on three continents – Asia, Europe and North America – and fear is ‘in the air’. In people’s conversations and minds, publications, newspapers, internet, TV, radio, politician’s statements… and on and on.

I am not immune to fear. You know, the common childhood fear of the dark, of ghosts, of snakes under my bed, of strange people, of unknown, of deep waters and hidden creatures.  I also grew up in an atmosphere of fear during the Cold War which is a long story in itself. Then I started to travel the world because of my job and I have been in many ‘scary’ situations, but that is also another story.

What I want to talk about is our current obsession with all kinds of ‘threats’. Inside and outside enemies. We are afraid and anxious but we keep feeding these fears until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. For example, many of my friends in Thailand are afraid of ghosts and evil spirits, but they love going to horror movies. (As I often tell people in the US, the horror movies in Thailand make Hollywood-ones look like PG rated.) OK, I am not an expert but let me tell you – they are very disturbing. So, my Thai friends get even more afraid of evil spirits. Our neighbor across the street always left the room lights on during the night.

Fear (2)

True, many people can distance themselves from fiction but what about so called ‘non-fiction’? Like the news? We get into arguments how much of the news is actual facts and how much is ‘fiction’. My point is though that I don’t understand how people can feed themselves with this steady diet of fear. It is like the documentary “Supersize Me” but this time we are not talking about food but our phobias.

Don’t misunderstand me. I follow the news. I watch the international news channels; I read stories online; I do my own research. I want to be informed but I don’t want to be formed by it. I want to be formed by those things that are Christ-like.

Recently in Latvia I attended some very interesting lectures about our most common phobias. For Latvians, here is the link to Zanis Lipke Memorial Museum and the recordings of these lectures.

All of us could give lists of names and things and global trends that we are afraid of. What are Latvians afraid of? At the top of the list would be Russia and the migrant crisis in Europe. What are Russians afraid of? I would have to ask my Russian friends but from previous conversations I know that there has been a steady diet of fear of the West, NATO and special mistrust of the US. I am sure that terrorism is on people’s minds, too, and fear of getting on airplanes now.

Of course, Islamophobia is wide-spread. As evidenced by the shocking fact that Donald Trump can make bizarre statements and not feel like he has completely disqualified himself from leading a nation. We all have some very embarrassing (mildly speaking) politicians but he must be going for the prize.

All of us – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists… Latvians, Thais, Russians and Americans  – are afraid of the exact same things: conflict, war, terrorists, unemployment, poverty, instability, fast change, the unknown, many of the aspects of globalization like migration, climate change.

So, my question is – how much more afraid do we all want to get? How much more do we want to Supersize These Fears? Personally, I have had more than enough. Some fears and anxiety are reasonable and need to be addressed and discussed and wrestled with but the excess I want to vomit out. It is not nutritious for my soul. It poisons my whole being.

Fear affects our mind, emotions, physical well-being, but worst of all, it erodes our relationships. It causes us to isolate ourselves or to start acting like mean dogs who attack and bite out of fear. Fear is a horrible and dangerous adviser and motivator.

Who is your adviser in these challenging times? What is forming your reactions and actions? Next week I will tell you what brings me peace of mind and heart and helps me sleep at night…

Klaipeda 22

 

Latviski:

Šajā, 2015. gadā ir viens vārds un emocija, ko piedzīvo visā pasaulē. Bailes. Fobija. Trauksme. Tas nav nekas jauns, pat ja mums liekas, ka patreizējās problēmas un izaicinājumi ir kaut kas īpašs. Pietiek pastudēt vēsturi, autobiogrāfijas, senos rakstus kā, piemēram, Bībeli, lai saprastu, ka cilvēki un tautas ir vienmēr saskārušies ar bailēm. Un cīnījušies ar tām daudzos un dažādos veidos. Gan gudri, gan negudri un pat bīstami.

Un tomēr 2014.-2015. gads ir nesis lielu izaicinājumu mūsu paaudzei, un cilvēku reakcija uz notikumiem ir pacēlusi šīs bailes jaunā līmenī. Esmu bijusi trīs kontinentos – Āzijā, Eiropā un Ziemeļamerikā, un bailes virmo gaisā. Gan cilvēku sarunās un prātos, gan plašsaziņas līdzekļos un sociālajos medijos, gan politiķu runās un darbos… un tā tālāk.

Man nav imunitāte pret bailēm. Bērnībā piedzīvots viss – bailes no tumsas, no spokiem, no čūskām zem gultas, no svešiniekiem, no dziļa ūdens un visa, kas tur dziļumā čum un mudž. Arī bērnība Aukstā kara atmosfērā bija pilna baiļu un trauksmes, bet tas ir atsevišķs stāsts. Vēlāk darba braucienos esmu bijusi daudzās ‘bailīgās’ situācijās. Arī par to kādā citā reizē.

Kam es gribu pievērsties šodien, tā ir mūsu pašreizējā apsēstība ar visāda veida ‘draudiem’. Gan iekšējiem, gan ārējiem ienaidniekiem. Mēs baidāmies un esam uztraukušies, bet turpinam barot šīs bailes, līdz pravietojums pats sāk piepildīties. Piemēram, daudziem maniem draugiem Taizemē ir ļoti bail no spokiem un ļauniem gariem, bet viņiem ļoti patīk šausmu filmas. Neesmu eksperts, bet Taizemē tās tiešām ir baismīgas. (Bieži esmu teikusi amerikāņiem, ka Holivudas šausmenes ir salīdzinoši vieglas.) Un lūk, mani draugi taizemieši vēl vairāk sāk baidīties no ļauniem gariem. Mūsu kaimiņiene pa nakti vienmēr atstāja istabu gaismas ieslēgtas.

Protams, lielākā daļa cilvēku prot atšķirt izdomu no īstenības, bet ko darīt ar šo “īstenību”? Piemēram, pasaules ziņām? Mēs gan strīdamies, cik daudz šajās ziņās ir faktu un patiesības, un cik daudz ir izdomas vai pus-patiesības. (Arī tas ir labs stāsts citai reizei.) Mani nodarbina jautājums, kāpēc cilvēki sēž uz šīs baiļu diētas. Gluži kā tai dokumentālajā filmā “Palielini mani” jeb “Pārbaro mani”, kas rādīja ātrās ēdināšanas sekas. Šoreiz mēs nerunājam par ēdienu, bet gan par savām fobijām.

Tikai nepārprotiet. Es sekoju ziņām – gan vietējām, gan pasaulē. Skatos starptautiskos ziņu kanālus; lasu rakstus internetā. Veicu savus pētījumus. Es gribu būt informēta, bet negribu būt ietekmēta vai iebīdīta vai iebaidīta. Es vēlos, lai mani ietekmē tās lietas, kuras mācīja un darīja Jēzus.

Nesen Latvijā es apmeklēju dažas interesantas lekcijas par mūsu tipiskajām fobijām. Šeit būs saite uz Žaņa Lipkes Memoriālā Muzeja mājas lapu, kur ir šo lekciju ieraksti.

Mēs visi varam sastādīt sarakstu ar vārdiem, lietām un pasaules procesiem, no kā mums bail. No kā latviešiem bail? Sarakstā būtu gan patreizējā Krievijas politika, gan bēgļu krīze Eiropā. No kā cilvēkiem Krievijā bail? Man vajadzēja pajautāt saviem krievu draugiem, bet no iepriekšējām sarunām zinu, ka viņiem ir bijusi pamatīga baiļu diēta – bailes no Rietumiem un NATO, it sevišķi no ASV. Domāju, ka arī terorisms ir cilvēku prātos, un negribas kāpt lidmašīnā.

Ļoti izplatīta ir islamofobija. Kaut vai nesenie amerikāņu politiķa Donalda Trampa izteicieni un izlēcieni, un fakts, ka viņam nemaz neliekas, ka jau ir sevi diskvalificējis no iespējamā valsts vadītāja amata. Mums visiem ir politiķi, par kuriem (maigi izsakoties) kaunēties, bet Donalds Tramps cīnās par zelta medaļu.

Mums… kristiešiem, musulmaņiem, budistiem, ateistiem… latviešiem, krieviem, taizemiešiem, ameikāņiem…bail no viena un tā paša: konflikta, kara, teroristiem, bezdarba, nabadzības, nedrošības, straujām izmaiņām, nezināmas nākotnes, globālās migrācijas un klimata izmaiņām.

Tāpēc jautājums – cik vēl vairāk mēs gribam baidīties? Cik daudz vairāk gribam uzbarot un pārbarot savas bailes? Es jau esmu atēdusies. Bailes un trauksme ir normāla un saprotama reakcija, un mums par to jārunā un jāpārdomā un jālemj, kā rīkoties. Bet to, kas ir pāri veselīgai normai, es gribu vemt laukā. Tas man nedod nekādu labumu. Vienīgi visu saindē.

Bailes ietekmē mūsu prātu, emocijas, pat fizisko veselību, bet visļaunākās sekas ir izpostītas attiecības. Bailes liek mums norobežoties un pašizolēties, vai arī kļūt par nikniem suņiem, kuri savu baiļu dēļ metas kost. Bailes ir slikts un pat bīstams padomdevējs.

Kas ir tavs padomdevējs šajā laikā? Kas ietekmē tavu reakciju un rīcību? Nākamnedēļ es uzrakstīšu par to, kas man dod mieru prātam un dvēselei, un palīdz naktī mierīgi gulēt…

 

Lessons from Ukraine: peacemaking can be counterintuitive

My current ‘office’ is a nice coffee shop in Riga where I enjoy the warmth and tasty treats. The days are getting shorter and the evenings darker. The air is much colder, too. Is it just me or the autumn is a perfect time for reflections?

As promised in my last post about Nobel Peace Prize laureates, I will continue my thoughts on people who are peacemakers. People who should be honored and supported and imitated. And my mind is in a country not too far from Latvia. Where the days are also getting shorter and the weather colder – Ukraine. I think of people in eastern parts of Ukraine who are bracing for another winter without all the things we appreciate so much. Heat, electricity, food, accessible healthcare…

The global community, including Europe, is facing many challenges and it seems that news headlines change very fast. But the issues and conflicts don’t go away just because the attention shifts elsewhere. I wish I could think of Ukraine as “yesterday’s news” but I cannot. The war in the two eastern provinces – Donestk and Luhansk – is still there. Yes, there is ceasefire (mostly holding) and negotiations and different initiatives but there is no peace. Not yet. And it will not come easily.

One of the things I have learned and start to experience in the times of tension, pressure and conflict is that everyone talks about “peace” but not everyone wants to be a “peacemaker”. Because honestly – real peace is counter intuitive. It goes against our emotions and our normal thoughts. It is much easier to get angry and hateful when you get hurt then to do the hard work of searching for some grace and forgiveness deep inside. It is much easier to blame. It is much easier to seek justice as in ‘eye for an eye’ but it has to be ‘my’ justice. Or even revenge as in “your whole head for my eye’.

In the times of war, the peacemakers can be some of the most ‘unpopular’ people. Admired by many but hated by others. I want to honor all the men and women in Ukraine who are committed to non-violent and sacrificial resistance to any kind of oppression, corruption, aggression and hatred. I hope to meet some them in person in the future. Meanwhile one of the ways we can support peace and restoration in Ukraine is by sharing the stories of love and compassion and great sacrifice.

Through social media and some personal contact I know one of these remarkable men. A local pastor from Donetsk who was forced to leave his home city and his church in 2014 because his humanitarian work was putting him and his family’s life in danger. Sergey Kosyak would not like to be singled out but he has inspired and encouraged thousands of people. In Ukraine and beyond. I love his motto “Do good. It is possible.”

11034265_10153188979282754_3357672451886801251_n

Last year when the violence and conflict broke out, many cities organized prayer tents, including in the Constitution Square of Donetsk. The tent was there for many months with the banner “Pray here for Ukraine” and it united people from all Christian denominations and even other religions. A local Muslim imam joined. They faced harassment, violent opposition, eggs, bottles, even rocks. Eventually the tent was removed by force and destroyed and the prayer movement had to go “underground”.

Here is a story from his FB posts which Sergey Kosyak gave me permission to share. (Also all photos in this post are from his personal archive.) On May 23, 2014 he wrote: “Friends, today was a tough day, but for me very difficult. To begin with, representatives of Donetsk People’s Republic destroyed our tent, and then there was the following story.

Several times I have gone to the city administration building to talk with the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, so I went once again. I didn’t find the person I had talked with earlier there but happened to see someone who attended my church. I was glad when I saw him, but he didn’t seem too glad we met. He began to yell that I was manipulating the people and things like that. In short, the negotiations failed, in the eyes of these people I had become the enemy. You tend to have short conversations with your enemy.

People are very angry, because, first of all, their hearts are empty and not filled with God. I told them that God loves them; I harbored no anger or hatred towards them in my heart, even when they beat me. I will not describe the beating itself, but that I am still alive, is just by the grace of God.

Among them were people who knew about our prayer tent, they cursed the others for what they did to me. After that, they gave me my things back and my money, then asked for forgiveness from me and that I would not be offended.

Before they started beating me I told them about Christ, called them to turn their hearts to God, and while they beat me I just prayed. I couldn’t make it to the prayer meeting in the evening because I had to go to the hospital.

Dark times have come to our region, people hate each other, they’re ready to kill, beat for a preposterous idea, and to die for those ideas. And they cannot see Him for whom it is really worth living and dying. God save the people, turn their attention to You.”

Since my post is getting long, I will continue with other stories later. But let me finish with the same encouragement that is even truer in the dark times… Do good! It is possible!

Volunteer team

Latviski:

Mans patreizējais ‘ofiss’ ir jauka kafejnīca Rīgas centrā. Te ir silts un garšīgi smaržo. Dienas kļūst īsākas, un vakari tumšāki. Gaiss arī daudz aukstāks. Kāpēc rudens vienmēr mani vedina uz dziļām pārdomām?

Kā jau solīju iepriekšējā rakstā par Nobela Miera Prēmijas laureātiem, es turpinu savas domas par cilvēkiem, kuri, manuprāt, ir miera veidotāji. Cilvēki, kurus jāciena, jāatbalsta un jāatdarina. Un manas domas ir valstī, kas nav pārāk tālu no Latvijas. Tur arī dienas kļūst īsākas, un laiks aukstāks. Ukraina. Domāju par cilvēkiem Ukrainas austrumos, kuri gaida kārtējo ziemu bez visām ērtībām un pamatvajadzībām. Siltums, apkure, elektrība, veselības aprūpe…

Pasaulē šobrīd ir daudz grūtību un izaicinājumu, un ziņu virsraksti strauji mainās. Taču problēmas un konflikti nekur neaiziet un nepazūd tikai tāpēc, ka mūsu uzmanība ir vērsta citur. Gribētos, kaut Ukraina būtu ‘vakardienas ziņas’, bet diemžēl tas tā nav. Karš divos austrumu apgabalos – Doņeckā un Luhanskā – turpinās. Jā, ir pamiers (kas pārsvarā tiek ievērots), tiek vestas sarunas, un ir dažādas idejas, bet miers vēl nav iestājies. Un neiestāsies tik drīz, jo smags darbs priekšā.

Es sāku arvien vairāk ievērot un piedzīvot, ka ‘juku’ laikos, kad ir liels sabiedrības spiediens un konflikts, daudzi runā par “mieru”, bet ne visi vēlas kļūt par “miera veidotājiem”. Jo atklāti runājot – īsts miers nav pašsaprotams. Tas ir pat pretrunā mūsu tā brīža emocijām un domām. Ir daudz vieglāk un ‘loģiskāk’ ļauties dusmām un naidam, ja tev kāds dara pāri. Nekā cīnīties ar naidu, un meklēt sevī spēju sniegt kaut kripatiņu žēlastības un piedošanas. Ir daudz vieglāk vainot. Ir daudz vieglāk dzīties pēc taisnības, lai būtu “acs pret aci”. Vēl vieglāk dzīties pēc atriebības, lai būtu “visa tava galva pret manu aci”.

Kara laikā mieru turošie var kļūt ļoti nepopulāri. Vieni viņus apbrīno, citi ienīst vai nosoda. Es gribu izteikt dziļu cieņu visiem cilvēkiem Ukrainā, kuri izvēlas cīnīties pret visa veida agresiju, korpupciju un naidu, bet ar nevardarbīgiem līdzekļiem. Tas prasa no viņiem ļoti daudz. Es ceru kādreiz satikt viņus personīgi, bet šobrīd es vēlos atbalstīt šo pašaizliedzīgo miera celšanas darbu Ukrainā, nododot tālāk stāstus par mīlestību, žēlsirdību un cerību.

Caur soctīkliem un saraksti, es pazīstu vienu lielisku cilvēku, kurš ir šajā komandā. Vietējais mācītājs no Doņeckas, kurš 2014. gadā bija spiests pamest savas mājas un dzimto pilsētu, jo viņa labdarība apdraudēja viņu pašu un ģimeni – sievu un bērnus. Sergejs Kosjaks negribētu, ka viņu īpaši izceļ, bet viņs ir iedvesmojis un iedrošinājis tūkstošiem cilvēku. Gan Ukrainā, gan ārpus tās. Man patīk viņa motto: “Dari labu. Tas ir iespējams.”

Pagājšgad, kad spriedze pārauga vardarbībā, daudzās pilsētās tika uzceltas lūgšanu teltis. Arī Doņeckas centrā, Konstitūcijas laukumā. Telts tur stāvēja vairākus mēnešus zem plakāta “Šeit aizlūdz par Ukrainu”, un lūgšanas apvienoja cilvēkus no visām kristīgām konfesijām. Pievienojās arī vietējais muslimu kopienas vadītājs. Viņi tika nosodīti, apsaukāti, pat apmētāti ar olām, pudelēm akmeņiem. Beigu beigās telts tika ar varu nojaukta, un aizlūdzēji nogāja “pagrīdē”.

Šeit viens īss stāsts no Sergeja Kosjaka Facebook lapas. (Viņš man deva atļauju izmantot gan stāstus, gan foto.) 2014. gada 23. maijā viņš rakstīja tā: “Draugi, šodien bija smaga diena, bet man pašam ļoti grūta. Iesākumā Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvji iznīcināja mūsu telti, un pēc tam sekoja šis notikums.

Vairākas reizes esmu gājis uz pilsētas administrācijas ēku, lai runātu ar Doņeckas Tautas Republikas pārstāvjiem. Tāpēc gāju arī šajā reizē. Nesatiku cilvēku, ar kuru runāju iepriekšējās reizēs, bet satiku kādu, kurš agrāk bija manā draudzē. Es priecājos viņu redzēt, bet viņš nelikās pārāk priecīgs. Viņš sāka kliegt, kas es grozot cilvēkiem prātus, utt. Vārdu sakot, nekādas sarunas nesanāca, jo viņu acīs es biju kļuvis par ienaidnieku. Un ar ienaidniekiem ir īsas sarunas.

Cilvēki ir ļoti dusmīgi. Pirmkārt, viņu sirdis ir tukšas, un tās nepiepilda Dievs. Es teicu viņiem, ka Dievs viņus ļoti mīl, ka es nedusmojos un neienīstu viņus. Pat tad, kad viņi sāka mani sist. Es nestāstīšu daudz par savu piekaušanu, bet tā ir Dieva žēlastība, ka paliku dzīvs.

Tur bija arī kādi, kuri zināja par mūsu lūgšanu telti. Viņi nolamāja tos, kuri mani piekāva. Tad viņi atdeva visas manas mantas un naudu un lūdza piedošanu. Lūdza, lai es neapvainojoties.

Pirms tiku sists, es stāstīju viņiem par Kristu. Aicināju vērst savas sirdis uz Dievu. Lūdzu Dievu, kamēr tiku sists. Vakarā gan es netiku uz lūgšanu sapulci, jo braucu uz slimnīcu.

Mūsu pusē ir pienākuši drūmi laiki. Cilvēki ienīst viens otru, ir gatavi nogalināt un sist kaut kādu iedomātu ideju dēļ. Ir gatavi arī šo ideju dēļ mirt. Un viņi neredz Personu, kura dēļ tiešām ir vērts dzīvot un mirt. Dievs, izglāb ļaudis.”

Vēl ir daudz stāsti, bet tos vēlāk. Nobeigumā es gribu citēt vēlreiz šos iedrošinājuma vārdus… Dari labu! Tas ir iespējams!

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

The old man who is still looking for peace

You never know who you may meet while traveling. Last week I spent some long hours on the plane from Riga – Moscow – Bangkok. Sometimes you have an encounter and think, “Interesting timing! Why am I meeting this person here and now?”

When boarding the plane in Moscow, I noticed that I would sit next to an old man. I thought to myself, “He will probably sleep most of the way, so not much talking here.” I don’t mind to talk to strangers; I like to meet new people but sometimes it is nice to put the headphones on and just watch movies. The old man had an English newspaper and I asked if I could borrow it after he finished reading.

He answered in English with an American accent and asked where I was from. “Latvia”, I answered and heard the common reply, “I have never met anyone from Latvia.” As I had guessed, he was an American but living in Thailand. And we started to talk… and continued for many hours.

Read on and you will understand why he is still on my mind. He was traveling back from Russia where he had attended the Victory Parade on May 9 in Moscow. Then he had traveled to Crimea, the peninsula of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia last year. Why so interested in Russia? All four of his grandparents had lived in parts of Russian Empire before the communist revolution of 1917 and had emigrated to the USA because of pogroms and persecution. So, I discovered he was Jewish…

Why live in Thailand? Well, he was trying to be a Buddhist and wanted to spend more of his life in meditation. As we talked though I discovered that he was still very far from finding that inner peace. He was a very angry and frustrated man. Mad at so many things – mad at his own country which he considered the most evil nation messing up the world, mad at his family which he blamed for being pro-Zionist and conservative, mad at his friends in Thailand who wanted live a relaxing life without worries… basically he was mad at the whole world.

Except Russia. He respected Russia and felt like this nation is totally misunderstood. He went to the Victory Parade out of gratefulness that Russian people had sacrificed so much to defeat the Nazis. Then he went to Crimea to see it for himself and to hear the stories. He came away convinced that Russia today again was protecting people against the great evil of ‘Fascism”.

My mind was racing… If you read my reflections from two weeks ago, you will understand why. What to say? We had to travel together for many hours and I could tell that he would get very angry if I disagreed with him. I told him that he was obviously a seeker. Seeking peace and truth… Well, I am a seeker of peace and truth also. I told him that actually I teach about peace building and reconciliation. He was very attentive now. I said that I cannot speak for Russia or Ukraine but I can speak for Latvia. I shared my family’s story and he admitted that he had never heard this side of the story. Story of the small nations that were caught in the middle of power struggle between two totalitarian regimes and two totalitarian leaders – Stalin and Hitler and how people in Latvia suffered under both.

I talked about ‘Shalom’ – peace with God, with yourself, with others and with creation. He asked, “Are you Jewish? How do you know about Shalom?” I said that I am a Christian, that I read the Bible and that I believe in the vision of this universal, cosmic peace. Then he started talking how Jesus was a ‘communist’ since he gave food and healthcare for free, stood against the establishment and rich classes and then was killed for it.

During our conversation I realized that he was very leftist in his thinking and had a positive view of former Soviet Union. Now you know what I mean… what a mix of ideas. An American Jewish guy who thinks like a communist but tries to be Buddhist. No wonder his inner person was in such a turmoil. As we left the plane, he looked so lost and lonely… still not finding what he is looking for. I wish him to find ‘Shalom’ that is so incredibly close to us that we too often miss it.

plane31

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

The threat of listening

Are you a good listener? Have you ever felt threatened by listening to someone’s story? I have a good friend from Siberia, Russia and she helps me to be a better listener. Here is how…

First a little side note: Have you ever been to Siberia? I have and I loved it! Some years ago together with a small group of friends I traveled to Krasnoyarsk region. Mind you it was in the winter! We took the train from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk… leaving on December 31 and arriving on January 1. One of the most memorable New Years – celebrating 6 times over 6 time zones. The whole train was one big party. Hopefully there was someone at its controls…

krasnoyarsk

The famed Russian hospitality was as real as described. Especially in the small Siberian villages all doors were open to us – the strangers from Latvia. The tea was set… Also, being able to speak and read Russian opens a big world of great literature and art; rich history; beautiful country and people…

My friend and I did not meet in Siberia but in Thailand of all places. We were introduced by a mutual friend who knew that I can speak Russian. How fun! We were both excited until one simple question, „Where are you from?”

„I am from Latvia”, I answered and her face fell. I was shocked and puzzled. What did I say? What did I do? It was an awkward silence and then she explained, „Oh, I am sorry. I know that in Latvia you don’t like Russians.” My immediate thought was, „Have you ever been to Latvia?” but what I said was, „Who told you that?” The answer, „We hear it on TV in Russia.”

Most people in the world don’t even know where Latvia is. Usually I am the first Latvian they met. Better make a good first impression, right? What impression could I make on my new acquaintance? What to do about this „invisible” wall that had come up before we even knew each other?

The small but strong voice in my head said – get to know each other! Find out where these feelings and perceptions come from. Above everything – listen! Listen carefully.

I believe we became friends because we took the time to listen to each other. There were many moments in our conversations when I felt myself getting emotional and wanting to interrupt. It is much easier to listen while thinking of my reply than to listen for understanding. Also, there was a lot of shocking revelations. When I asked about the mood of people she knew, my friend said that people were expecting a war. War? With whom? She said that people were afraid of Russia being attacked by NATO. This was in 2009…

What is one of the basic first steps in overcoming our fears and perceptions? Encounter the ‘other’. Listen to the opposite narrative! Even if you strongly disagree, you have to encounter the story of your ‘enemy’. We have to learn to listen carefully and without a sense of danger and threat. Many people in a conflict situation have very little opportunity to hear the others side.

Let’s take the first step…

6314325249_eefe9365d9_z