Living from the Heart


Living from the heart and not from the head, now that is hard. “What has gotten into todaystressyour head”, we’ll ask a flustered friend. Try as we might, but to convince them to adjust the dial from their scratchy frequency of being stuck in a worried narrative to finding the sweet spot of a resonant dance-step frequency is near impossible. “Such a head-case,” the brutal person says. A nicer person, like me of course, will show them that ruminating on their circumstances over and over will only make them suffer all the more. There’s a better way to live on this planet, not by ignoring the head, but taking more cues from the heart. But who can teach others this manner of living out of the heart space? I’m still learning it myself, this way of freeing my mind from negativity, resentment, and fear to the giving of myself cheerfully to others and living delightfully in the here and now.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”           —Proverbs 3:5

Have you noticed that the most powerful moments in life come from our heart and not the head.  Grace, for example, isn’t logical. It bypasses the head and goes straight to the heart and then is released back into the world from the deepest part of us. The experience of grace now becomes the building block of solid heart connections. And have you noticed how hard it is to forgive with your head? The hurt we experienced sticks to the ego like that one freak leaf hanging on to a branch after a windstorm. Mercy is needed to soften the stubborn hold of hurt. Mercy doesn’t make sense to our get-what-we-deserve minds. But mercy can be released, but only from a heart that has tasted mercy for itself.

I find it fascinating that the Bible described Saul as being a head taller than all others. Now here was a king with an ego! (And as a tall person myself, I better be careful here!) King Saul lived defending his higher-than-thou-standing among the people. Everything was a negotiation with him, to the point that he could no longer live from the heart space. His mind, like a monkey jumping from branch to branch, tormented him so much so that he needed the soothing singing of a young shepherd to get temporarily out of his head! He was a real head-case! His static mind frequency caused him to take the low road that lead to an early grave. In an untimely manner he got his directions from an old fortune teller. Not good. Dreadful thinking causes us all to live out life in bad form.

So, the question remains, is there a way to bring your thinking down to your heart? That’s our challenge, right? Can we find a way to trust our heart to be the decider, the mover and shaker of our lives? Franciscan monk Richard Rohr has a way of turning conventional thinking on its head. “You never think yourself into new ways of living,” he said, “Rather you live yourself into new ways of thinking.” Clever! But what does he mean? Like me maybe the difference for you isn’t obvious. I’ve read that phrase a hundred times and still wonder exactly what he means! But let me take a stab at it, (I should write to him and get to the heart of this!)

Anyway, here goes, so, I’ve tried to say that living out of your head and living from the Today I'm Living!heart can be competing  ways of doing life. Being informed is good, no sense being  saintly and at the same time stupid. But knowing your heart and trusting with your heart and living from your heart changes the way you think and see more than telling yourself stuff. I bring all my thinking down to my heart and ask it, “Hey, heart! Is this thought beautiful, helpful and worth pursuing for real?” Then when my heart resonates, I live that revelation or beautiful conclusion out with all that I am. Make sense?

Maybe I didn’t hit a bullseye with my interpretation. I’m fine with you trying your own. But watch how the head impatiently wants quick answers. Right? The heart on the other hand won’t settle for easy answers, but rather searches for the meaning of things. We all know the best teachers never give you the answers. Rather they show you how to find or view the solution to the problem. They are like wisdom teachers. They show us the path or the best way to get to the right destination.

Now in comes the wisdom teacher, Jesus, with a counter wisdom that he called the narrow way. The more I study it the more I see it as  a path of unconventional living. Just think about his upside-down teaching, what we call the beatitudes, and you have a model of living into new ways of thinking. He starts by congratulating those who have nothing to protect or project, the poor in spirit. But he tells they are not poor, they are the blessed ones, they have God’s kingdom already in them. “Live from there,” Jesus says! He then goes on to encourages the mournful, those that grieve the destructive ways our world operates. Jesus adds that God comes close and comforts us in the sadness, always giving us hope. Then He calls out the strength of the gentle. They never fly off the handle in responding to the unfairness of losing what is theirs.  From being peacemakers to pursuers of justice, everything comes from the heart he says. His wisdom concludes that only the pure in heart see properly, God himself, in all of life’s circumstances!

Living from the heart admittedly is no simple skill. Like I said I am still learning it. It is more than cleaning one’s lenses, it is the humble step of seeking a new place from which to see, a new standing from which to understand.  It is like walking on another planet all the while having our feet firmly planted on this one too!  This ground is the narrow way and the Kingdom of Heaven. And it can be ours here and now, gradually, like yeast. Yes, heaven invades our heart and slowly transforms us into new ways of thinking.

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Toilet Talk Never Trumps Truth


Donald Trump has done it again, he has managed to insult all eleven million people of Haiti and a pile more in some countries of Africa. He did it with a vulgar comment. He called those places “s…-hole countries,” (Pardon my french!) And then he actually made a comparison to show how much better Norway was and asks why can’t we get more of them to America? It is shocking to hear those kinds of descriptors from the president of a country that prides itself on being a melting pot of cultures and nationalities.Trump-6 Maybe that is another problem, melting!

Margaret Mead and James Baldwin once had a conversation on America that went like this:

MEAD: It isn’t a melting pot, is it?

BALDWIN: No, it isn’t. Nobody ever got melted. People aren’t meant to be melted.

MEAD: That old image from World War I is a bad image: to melt everyone down.

BALDWIN: Because people don’t want to be melted down. they resist it with all their strength.

MEAD: Of course! Who wants to be melted down?

BALDWIN: Melted down into what? It’s a very unfortunate image.

I love this conversation. It’s hilarious, yes, and I agree, people weren’t made to be melted down! People all have an identity. I carry continually around in me dutch ancestry. And its true of us dutchies: wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn’t budge! I am proud of my heritage. And you are probably too of yours. No one asked my permission though to be dutch or to like Gouda or to be anything? We are who we are. Every last one is uniquely made and shaped by many factors. Deep down in every person’s heart is a desire to be real, accepted, loved and to make a difference in this world.

Trump isn’t the first to show prejudice, it has been around as long as man has. A nice guy named Nathanael once heard about this new prophet in town and asked where he came from. Philip said, “Nazareth.” That was all Nathanael needed to hear to discount this new prophet guy named Jesus. He says, my paraphrase: “Are you kidding me! Can anything good come out of that shit-hole Nazareth?” (Apparently Nathanael spoke french too! Pardon!)

But Philip wisely said, “Come, see for yourself.”

The biblical record agrees that Nazareth was so obscure that it wasn’t even mentioned once in the Old Testament. It was a rude and crude place where they spoke with an accent belittled by the whole population. They even had a label for those who came from that area, ‘Galilean!’ That word was not a compliment, but a racist epithet. And guess what, this despised place is Jesus hometown for thirty years!

Isn’t it so much like God to do something like this? Mmhm. “Lets make sure that Jesus goes and lives in the fringes!” (Fringes = the backwater, the wrong side of the tracks, the trailer park, Hicksville, a s-hole of a place)! Paul reiterated this weird way of God, that is to chose men and women that the culture of the day overlooked and exploited and abused, the nobodies, and God does this why? This is the point: “To expose the hollow pretensions of the somebodies.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 Whoa! That’s God!

With one little word, ‘Nazareth’, Nathanael was immediately blinded to the amazing possibilities of the grandeur of Jesus.

I am sure that many Africans and Haitians today wished they could live in a country like Canada or France, (maybe not the USA right now). Life has not been easy for them. Earthquakes and poverty and famines… But imagine, to hear a man from the highest position of authority of one of the wealthiest countries say that they don’t count, that they come from an outhouse country; must be devastatingly humiliating. How can this president or anyone be so blind to the beauty of whole races and cultures? But yet, maybe, hopefully, his insensitive comments might have the opposite affect too. May it spur them on to greatness.

My first language was Dutch. I was so good at speaking dutch that when I went to school for grade one in New Brunswick I didn’t understand what was going on. I must have looked overwhelmed. The school told my parents to stop speaking Dutch in the home so I could catch up. But to this day I still have a slight accent when I speak English. I have often been asked if I come from Newfoundland or Ireland!

But though I experienced some language challenges young, I was taught well that I am a unique-never-to-be-repeated-creation of God! This God knew that one day the Dutch boy who barely passed grade one would speak for Him not only in English, but in Thai and now in French, (accent and all)!

I love this question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It reminds me that what God is after is not my pedigree, my nationality, my invincibility, nor my brilliance, my superpowers, my perfect accent, or my attempts to do great things, He is after the real me! He chose me, and He called me by my name.

So here’s the thing, this amazing guy that spent his childhood, teenage years and young adulthood living in the worst of place in Israel, from this, um, outhouse town, Nazareth, comes God’s very best. And before Jesus did anything significant, not a single miracle, not one public teaching, the Father breaks his silence and says, “I am so proud of this one, that’s my son (accent and all)!”

That’s why I believe that when God looks at you and I and every Haitian and whoever, you get the point, He doesn’t see us through the filter of disgust, disappointment or doubt. He doesn’t see our skin colour, eye-shape or hear our funny accent… He just sees us through grace and love. He knows you have His DNA and he knows that He can inspire you, develop you, and deploy you to be a blessing no matter where you were born.

Say Yes to 2018


Almost everyone I talk to says 2017 was the most stressful year of their lives and for our world. Not to be an Eeyor, but I doubt that the number of crises that the world will face in 2018 will diminish. One would hope there will be less crazy weather, but signs point to an increase. Scientists no longer have to prove we are at a critical point when it comes to Global Warming, we all get it, (except for the Donald)! And wouldn’t it be great if the terror attacks decreased as well? But humanity has a penchant for finding excuses and new ways to bring terror to the earth. And though we’ve always had poverty, it now touches all parts of the world, even where they have long lived the American dream.eeyore2

In the real world scores find themselves in a continual crisis mode, just  providing for their families is more than enough to bare. Where and who to lay blame  for the negative stress caused by today’s definitions of true success? We are being stretched to breaking points.

And, while we are still at it, the sexual liberty so long vaunted, too, is being challenged in the same way the AIDS crisis of the 80’s did, maybe more. Women have risen up in unison wanting, and may I add, deserving the respect that is their due. So “No” to your stupid little games of lust! “No” to our “body parts’ as your “plaything”. And we are just touching the surface on a malaise ignored for too long.

As we enter a fresh New Year, 2018, know the same old problems continue breathing down our necks. Though we try to be upbeat as the music at our parties, we cannot but know this new year will have more than its share of new fears. It begs the question, “Can there ever be a true revolution of thought and action on how we relate to the earth and to each other? Can there be peace on earth? Can we live our way into a new reality? Should we even try?” I’m just one person here writing, but I say, “Yes!” Just because our track record of late doesn’t seem promising, we cannot, must not, give up hope. I mean that. Just because politician’s promises have fifty shades of truthfulness, there has to be something true to believe in. If the universe is not against us, nor the gods, and if we humans can still do beautiful things, generous things, how much more, enamored by “unconditional hope” and new thinking can real change come to us.

As a believer in Christ, I hang on and pray daily the little “as-it-is-in-heaven” prayer and never forget to repeat the best part, “so let it be on earth!” I feel sometimes like shouting that last part as though the earth needs this reminder too! Heaven is not just a pretty idea, if it is anything, it is about dignity, worth, beauty, sharing, peace, and ultimately, LOVE. Heaven begins on earth when we discover our own beauty and worth. It continues when we see it in others. That’s a good step to understand that our neighbors to the east, west, south and north carry the same divine image or DNA or worth as we do. We are not that different. We really are “our brother’s keeper.”

“So do not say I am not able Yes!
That’s a lie, a kind of fable
All you need is a willing heart,
just say, ‘yes, and do your part!”

Recently someone said that we all need to find our deep inner “yes”. Although saying “No” to the evil impulses in our being is a step in the right direction, more powerful yet is a resounding inner “yes”. For sure, say “No” to the “Us and Them, mentality” and to bullying in all its forms, great, but better is a deep “yes” to “You’re my brother, my mother, my fellow human being and I see you.” Because we all want the same thing in 2018… the why we were created: to enjoy each moment in friendship, family and community on earth.

 

I invite you to let go of anything that keeps you from including, sharing, reconciling, and growing in love. I invite you to say yes to heaven, that is, heaven on earth.

Christmas Conspiracy


He sees the violence in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, Myanmar… and beyond. He sees the blazing fires in America and famines in Africa. He sees the systemic greed of big corporations with so many of the super rich hoarding wealth while the poor drown in despair. He sees the nuclear warheads being tested and others positioned to strike. He sees the destruction of the earth’s resources and many beautiful species of animals dwindling. He sees, not like Santa, looking to punish ‘the naughty’ with a gift of coal and ‘the nice’ with sparkling toys under the tree. He sees our planet, believe it or not, not through the lens of disappointment, but through eyes of hope that mankind would embrace an alternative world.

It is our belief that something cataclysmic already happened, a beginning of a new earth and a new heaven became a reality when some angel woke some sleepy shepherds in a field with an unbelievable proclamation….

“For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a saviour…”  (Luke 2:11)

What? A saviour! Call us believers gullible, or worse; no worries we can handle it. Call God a ceaseless romantic, a subversive strategist, a lover who will not relent and you have a better picture of who He really is! The merry message of Christmas is a divine conspiracy of hope and true peace for our threatened planet and for all those who live in it. It’s the greatest turn-around of all times.

In a tiny place called Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn for a pregnant young Threewisemenwoman and her fiancé, they found a spot in some stable. It began. The birthing of something so alternative that not many could believe. It went almost unnoticed but for a few. The unexpected, as described by Isaiah hundreds of years before, was birthed, (Isaiah 9:6). A new kind of King of a new kind of Kingdom, with glorious outcomes. Yet as Isaiah foretold, it was a study of the unobvious: He grew up as a tender healing plant, like a root out of dry ground, (Isaiah 53:2). His beginnings so fragile, a solitary voice with a message so radical that few recognized his beautiful revolution or took to his message of a generous benevolent forgiving God.

But some did and some still do. We were not hoodwinked by an institution threatening us with hell-fire. No we saw the beautiful reign of a prodigal-welcoming Father running to us, come to make all things new. This is the hope for mankind. And lo and behold, the turn-the-other-cheek-go-the-distance-Son-of-God/man brought it to us, an alternative way to bring about an alternative world. It is at hand. It is available to where we are and as we are in the ‘here and now’.

Christmas, it’s not over yet. Not even near. He sees all the chaos in our world bent on destruction and despair, but it doesn’t faze this Saviour. He has the patience and kindness to show us the folly of our tired old unworkable ways and bring us closer to His generous heart. This is the Christmas conspiracy. Do you believe it?

Provision


We all hope that our lives are extraordinary and bring meaning and hope to those we meet. Most of us start out wanting to be compassionate activists and creative peacemakers so that the world we live in can be a better place for all. I’m now edging towards the upper numbers that lead to the age of 60 and yet I still pray, “Make me an instrument of hope, mercy and light to this world!” It’s the same prayer I prayed when I was sixteen. It led me to studying theology as teenager, then marrying at the young age of 20 years. I was soon after on a path with my bride to start a community of faith in a language I just barely learned in Quebec. It was slow and a hard work. I cried many tears and moaned many prayers. I barely managed to keep food on the table at times for my growing family. I will never forget those humble beginnings. I still remember the fly we found embedded in a slice of bread and my Patricia calling the company to see if they would recompense us for this dead bug! And the manager that day came to our place. I was so embarrassed that I hid downstairs as Patricia tried to negotiate some advantage for our family. We got fifty bucks for that fly! Provision!

I remember humble beginnings wondering how provision would come to us. Those times of sleeping on the platform in a small church or living free in Marcel’s cabin in the wooded outback for a time as we waited for a home to open to us. Another time etched in my memory was going fishing hoping to put some meat (sole) on the table. Though these were lean times, especially as more kids came into play and bills had to be paid, I was young and I was in it for those promised eternal rewards. And the ‘just-in-time-just-enough’ provision always came.

Along the journey  many good people become friends and some became like family. I’ll never forget Jean-Marie who each winter brought us a load of wood for the stove and a quarter of beef to bless us. Nor will I forget the Paquettes who after becoming part of our community invited Patricia and I twice a year to their clothing store and said, “Try this on, try that on…” Happy were we as we brought home bagfuls of clothing without spending a cent.

Lives too were impacted for the better by the message we shared and the communities we help form and shape. In those days it was quite normal for people in my field to move from place to place, mostly in challenging new contexts. We would begin here and then again there many times. We never could buy a home, so we simply prayed, “God, move us as you will, and provide so we don’t have to fret or be anxious for anything.” When there was more month left than salary we hung on. God was gracious and provided through this one and that one. We were freed to do what we felt would make a difference in people’s lives. We allowed the river, so to speak, to push us. We never tried to force the river to change directions or flow according to our desires. We followed it’s flow.

The flow of God’s river led us to Quebec, Asia and then to Germany and now France. Thailand was our first stop over the ocean, so to speak, twenty-two years of learning how to swim and serve! The language learning was challenging and the temperature was hot and heavy. At times we ate food we didn’t want to eat, and we cried, “God where you lead we will follow, but what you feed, we can’t swallow!” There are so many stories of wonderful people who found new life and hope as we moved from place to place and shared ourselves in many different settings. Like the breaking and blessing of the bread, the Lord has multiplied his grace in sundry ways to and through us.

PeteMekhongThe river you see in this picture is the famed Mekong. Behind me is Laos and where I am standing is Nong Khai. We lived here for two years hoping for a community of faith to spring up and a way to touch people’s lives in Laos. We managed to see a small community of faith spring up. There were many visits to the two high schools teaching English and to a vocational school so we could be part of the greater community. Eventually we helped start a sponsorship program for poor children here. When one of the first families decided to follow Christ, weekly I would, with Pastor Manit, my Thai colleague, drive the dusty dirt road and sit down with them on their humble porch and teach. We had an old 1970’s van we used to pick up kids for Sunday morning. Slowly the faith community was formed.

This past November I returned with a small team of leaders and together we saw firsthand how the Laos vision has taken shape. Years ago when we lived in Thailand we held many Youth Camps in Nong Khai that usually included a few Laotian youth who joined the Thai. We would finish the camp with special prayers for the Laotian contingent. Over the years Manit and his wife Daeng made connections and saw the need to build a dorm and increase space in the house-turned-church to hold more people. God provided. Now they hold seminars for all kinds of groups regularly. During this last visit it was the first time we tried to do an all women Laotian camp. They had to cross the river Mekong and sleep in the humble dorm. There were about sixty Laotians present,  and they came hungry to hear God’s word. A beginning. After the conference we received word that one of the ladies present for the teaching had a chance to speak to a stranger in the market, before the conversation was over, the two were praying. Another new beginning in someone’s life.

So much of the work of making the world a better place has humble beginnings. Like the yeast, it seems insignificant and powerless to do anything. But add a small amount to the dough and in the right conditions it will rise and soon feed many. Or think of the tiny mustard seed, so small the human eye can barely see it, planted it humbly shoots up and grows to such a height that even the birds can find a resting place. Those two metaphors encourage us to never give up hope. As long as the Lord provides  I will continue to allow the river to push me. If and when the blessed provision stops I will listen and ask for the meaning, but I won’t ever regret how the river has swirled around me and taken me to the edge here and to the edge there, again and again.

When We Never Wanted to Escape.


I tried one of those short colored background posts on Facebook. It was a marriage post and it went like this:

FBPETE“It started when beauty captured you 😚 You married 😍 You saw flaws 🤨 Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”

It didn’t take long for the first comments to arrive, “Peter, are you okay?” My wife jumped in quickly to explain all was well with us and that I was simply preparing to speak at a marriage. The thread gave me and others a good laugh. Not as hilarious, though, is that I can attest also to the truth of my 86 character/ post including the emojis.

“It started when beauty captured you 😚

I fell hard for Patricia, she was so clever, had a great sense of humour, was athletic and her build reflected it. Not to mention her black shiny hair on her white freckled face, it all captured me. I joke with her about the time we decided to go to the indoor pool and I saw her in a bathing suit for the first time. My mouth dropped to the floor, hubba hubba, this was my girl!  And we had so much fun finding ways to be together in a school where holding hands was considered too much contact!

You married 😍

We did. We were passionate. We couldn’t wait for the day to hear the bells ring. I graduated from college. We married a week later. We were twenty.

You saw flaws 🤨

Too many couples call it quits because they begin to focus on the negatives. Patricia and I eventually lived out this scenario for a long stretch of time. I began to notice it, slowly, during our years in Thailand. (They are not years that we look back on fondly.) Patricia wasn’t happy being there. I told her that we would stay no matter what. It was the stubborn dutch blood in me speaking! And besides God told us to go there! We were obeying the call! That strong-arming approach did not help and I wasn’t listening to her heart. Her respect for me, as I went globetrotting around Southeast Asia to ‘serve the Lord’ and others, plummeted. I began to see her simmering anger in the forms of complaints and quick mood changes. At times it exploded all over me with shorter and fewer peaceful times in between.

You may have heard the axiom that says you will always see what you are looking for. For my part I  become adept to seeing the unlikable in my chosen partner. “Why is she so angry all the time? Why did she look at me like that? Can’t she ever be happy?” I got good at seeing what I was looking for and saw it all the time. Perhaps she did the same for me. I’ll let her tell her side of the story another time. Yes, our eyesight focused on the negatives, the flaws, and it became a deeply imbedded mindset that slanted towards the negative.

Slowly you forgot what made you fall in love😢”

The good Lord has seen it fit to keep the both of us on this planet into our fifties.  You can guess already by context that we are still together! I attribute that to two things; 1. my stubborn Dutch roots that went down deep enough to hang on to my wedding day commitment, and 2. fear. I thought I would lose everything I loved; my work and reputation. Ugh!!!

But we said those words, “Till death do us part…” That required an ungodly amount of stubbornness! And it called for hours and hours of long hard talks. Neither one of us really thought that killing each other was a good option, though we joked that it was the only way we would leave each other!  So what other options were there? Option One was the hard one: stick it out. There were days – long ones where our emotions ran amuck and  this option was stifling, at best, and completely joyless. We lost the beauty of Pete and Pat! We lost sight of each other. The raising of five kids in a polluted Bangkok crammed with cars, motorbikes and taxis didn’t help. The daily grind was grinding our love to smithereens. We forgot what made us fall in love. And we started not caring. “Oh God is this my life?”
Our tiny daughter Amanda mouthed this phrase (mimicking what she had heard her mother say over and over) “Oh God is this my life” one day while play acting with her two dolls.  Our life. Patricia longed for a better life. Years of resentment were eating her soul and identity. The lack of perspective, positivity and joy darkened the majority of her days with a blasé going-through-the-motions. Often I heard the words,”Oh God is this my life?” I felt it keenly.

PetepatinvadeThe kids felt it too. Amanda could repeat her words perfectly with the same tone. And I resented the joylessness of my option, stick it out. I would do it. I didn’t like where we were headed. But I would be a martyr if called for.

My facebook post didn’t allow me to add more characters. But there is an Option Two: Change the way you see. 

When you have tried digging yourself out of a hole that only got deeper with each shovel full change seems, well, pretty darn impossible. I know that feeling! We tried some digging with counselling. It helped some. But we found ourselves back in the hole again. Bouts of anger still flared, yes, less and less, but still some scary moments. Distance between us, like a phlegmatic sea and its uneven rhythms, increased and decreased and increased again. It’s hard to change.

But not impossible.

You may be reading this and asking for the key to, “How did you change?” Yes, the key. More like hours of honestly looking at ourselves and then hours looking for the good in each other.  Hours of being miserable and not wanting to repeat that.  And one of the turning points,  a key, was to go way back, try and graciously remember the initial attraction, those things that captured us in love’s grasp in the first place. When we never wanted to escape.

Those attractive things hadn’t disappeared completely. Our skin, of course, wasn’t as vibrantly taut and our hair began to thin and grey, but we were still essentially the same inside. We were different versions of the same. It was hidden for a long time from our eyes under expectation, resentment and indifference, but it could be resurrected! Our keen eyesight for the negative caused us blindness for too long. We dealt with the resentment and the anger and the indifference and stubborn selfishness. Slowly we rediscovered the beauty of each other. It rekindled a joy. This sounds simple. It is. But it’s not easy. And it took us a lot of time.
So my short little Facebook post was not so much prompted by preparing to officiate at a marriage as my wife suggested. I was thinking about some couples I know going through  staggering storms.  I stand with you and the many couples who wonder if it is possible for two people in our day and age to stay together until ‘death do us part.‘ I’d like to shout to you and them, “We made it through many storms, you can too!” Hope you can find some honesty and hope for you in this blog.

Recent PEter eand Pat in ParisSome of you cannot turn the page. “It is finished” is written on your marital story. There are probably good reasons for that. For Patricia and I, we are glad that we are still writing chapters as a couple. We had to learn to move past the flaw seeking and look again at what made us fall in love in the first place.  We had to forgive and then bury the awful, and learn from the lean years so we could again be that couple that laughs, talks about everything and nothing, and loves into the sunset.

Kiev


A midnight arrival to Kiev and my tired eyes were happy to see two smiling Canadian faces waiting for me. It would be my first time to be in Ukraine and I wanted to learn and be a blessing if I could. Driving through Kiev felt oddly familiar, like I was going through some downtown neighborhood in Toronto. It felt homey. I wondered if the many Ukrainians who had moved to Canada had similar feelings to the ones I was having, only in reverse.

The conversation in the car moved quickly to the main language spoken in Kiev, was it more Russian or Ukrainian? I tried to go over my knowledge of history about the Russians who made Ukraine part of the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. They changed everything, the signs, added nondescript buildings, but could not destroy the people’s hunger to be independent and Ukrainian. Now the Ukrainian language was coming back strong, signs and all. Some regions hung on to the old ways and of course old ways die hard. Cory, who spoke Russian, was convinced that Russian was spoken more but Ryan disagreed. They argued good naturally; I saw in them an example of today’s Ukraine being played out before my eyes.

Off to bed way past my bedtime but my mind was not able to shut down. I wondered again how I got to live in this history-filled Europe. Not just ‘my france’ but most of Europe brutalized by all its wars to extend or protect borders. So much bloodshed, bombs and bayonets. Religion played a  part at the heart of some of those battles. In a couple of days I would walk to a high point in the city overlooking the river a viewpoint well chosen by Russia’s elect to erect the Motherland Monument, proud and high. But Ukraine was independent, 26 years now, and actually my own country of Canada was the first to recognize their independence. (We Love Ukraine 🇺🇦 !)

Besides my ministry obligations, I had three full days to explore. The orthodox churches awed me with their artworks, architecture, and  history. We walked into a wedding like I’ve never seen, replete with symbolism that I didn’t fully understand. I will remember the walks through the old city and see where the Dignity revolution took place, about 100 innocents shot down by snipers at the order of the ex-president. Then there was that 62′ meter high Motherland Monument built by the Soviets and called by some of the locals MotherlandMonumentas ‘Brezhnev’s daughter.’ Some people wish it were torn down. Just below was an outdoor war museum consisting of statues and tanks and warplanes.

I remember Ryan pondering out loud about why we actually needed such monuments. We had talked about the USA wanting to tear down historic statues of men who impacted their world. Even Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, was under attack in Canada. “We need to be reminded of where we came from and how we got to here and now,” both of us agreed.

That led further to a conversation wishing that ethnic groups everywhere in the world could finally settle their past and move on with hope and respect. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every Canadian,” I added, “would join a movement to heal the wounds of our First Nations?” I listened carefully to hear Ryan’s response to my statement. “Yeah, but too many people are still misguided that our natives have been coddled, they would never jump on a healing train!” Maybe. I thought of the words of Christ, “You are in the right place when you are truly a peacemaker.” I want so much to be that.

Truer words - a fresh coat of paint won't make it go awayI had come to Ukraine to share something with young people. My topic dealt with walls. Walls do more than demarcate, they divide and isolate. They scream hateful words. The dreamer in me would say to those young souls “imagine all these people living in a world unwalled!” I wanted to point out the invisible walls between the Russian and Ukrainian but chose to go further than two nations.

Invisible walls don’t need blocks, bricks and mortar; all they need is for someone to bump your books all over the floor and then call you an idiot for their mistake… and inside of you an invisible brick is laid. It’s that easy! A harsh word is spoken by someone, another brick. Someone laughs at us, one more brick. Walls are made of a few bad experiences, a betrayal, a few foiled expectations,  biases passed down from parents, politicians and peers and the wall grows. There’s no shortage of material for us to build invisible walls.

If only we could be bridge-builders and not wall-makers. Thank God there are those doing that in our world. Ryan and Ashley from Canada are doing that in Kiev, so is Cory. I shared a small moment in their lives. Thank God that in a walled world that is increasingly biased, separated and isolated there is a growing group of people that can imagine another way to be in this world. We are the revolutionaries of love that understand that true worship is not simply raising our hands, eyes closed, to good music, but by walking hand in hand eyes wide open with love and respect for all other creatures on this planet. It’s that simple!

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