Saturday, March 25, 2017

My Christ has Risen, Yours is Next Week?

Russians celebrate everything twice, I like to joke. I don’t make it up, though; we do celebrate everything twice! Christmas is celebrated on December 25th by the conventional calendar and is repeated on January 7th, according to the ancient Russian Gregorian calendar. We grew up happily celebrating the New Year twice: first time as all Westerners, on New Year’s Eve, and second time, on January 13th. The first time is with family; the second time with friends.
Still, Christmas is not as important in the Russian Orthodox tradition as Easter. We were raised eating colored eggs and Easter cakes even under the fear of being caught. I am not sure how it works, but my body knows when Easter comes. It took me a while to understand the reasons behind my irritability and frustration each spring, when I prepare Easter services for my members. Holy Week in America is the worst time of the year. I see colored eggs in every store, I smell Easter cakes and I want to scream, “It is too early.” This is the time to fast, not to eat eggs. When it is Easter in America, it is Verbnoe Vosckresenie in Russia, like Palm Sunday, but with pussy willow branches instead of palms. 
I can’t color eggs and bake Easter Cake before my Russian Orthodox Easter. So I celebrate Easter twice: the first time with my church, and then second time with my family. We color eggs and eat Easter Cake.
I hold a hard-boiled egg in the morning of the Russian Orthodox Easter. We have something like an egg fight. The one who cracks the egg of another person wins. Then we say, Khristos Voskres! Voistinu Voskres! – “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And we kiss each other three times.
Then, I know that I have celebrated Easter and finally calm down, until next year. The problem is when we celebrate Easter on different days, someone will say, My Christ Has Risen! When is Yours?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lacking Self-esteem? Have a Happy Period!

When I hear that some American girls and women lack self-esteem, I can’t help but wonder. How can a young American girl have low self-esteem or lack confidence in this country of abundance?
I never liked when my parents used phrases like “When I was your age, I walked to school five miles, under the snow.” I rarely tell my story because it starts very similarly, “When I was your age, I had no Tampax during my periods!” This is when I get the sympathy that my father was looking for but never received from me. It is easier to imagine walking on snow than a period without pads or Tampax. 
“That can’t be true! Everybody has Tampax!”
“We did have pads, but we had to make them out of cotton ourselves.”
“Were you poor?” One girl finally began using her brains.
It didn’t matter how wealthy or poor we were - our drug stores were empty. It was a lucky day when you could get one or two rolls of pressed cotton or bandages to make those pads at home. Very seldom could we buy something specially designed for those challenging days.
The trick was not just to find sterile medical material but to find the right one, because not all cotton was equally absorbent, making the blood flow around the pad rather than going into it and staying there.
That was half of the problem; the real problem was to make those pads stay in place, especially during the warm season. American pads not only stick to the inner lining of the pants, but even have wings. Our self-made pads were bulky and long and didn’t want to stay between our legs. Dressed up as ladies, we had to move from one building to another, making an emergency stop at the first sense of a pad sliding down and adjusting it quickly under the dress.
When I listen to the whining of a seventeen-year-old that her Dad isn’t buying her a new Mustang, and because of that she has no confidence, I want to tell her about walking on high heels and being possessed by fear of losing a huge pad between the legs.
It is not just about pads but, at the same time, it is. Our beautiful, educated Russian women and young girls had to walk like ducks, trying to hold those hygiene items with their thighs.  How much self-respect, confidence, or self-esteem is left after that? And still, we had confidence!
When I visit young mothers in American hospitals, I am amazed at how fast they start laughing after the horrific experience of pushing a huge baby’s head through their vaginas. Maybe the difference is in after-delivery care? In Russia, we were handed an old baby wrap, folded into a huge “pad” the size of a small pillow. We were expected to get around the hospital with those pillow-like pads between our thighs sticking out from underneath our extremely petite hospital robes, covered with hospital seals and old blood spots so that no one will try to steal them.
It was summer of 2007 in my new Shawnee home. I opened a package with female pads one morning and I noticed that every pad had a sticker, “Have a Happy Period!” You won’t believe it – I was walking even prouder that day. No, I was not walking. I was flying, jumping as a girl - I am having a happy period! 

How is it that girls here lack self-esteem, I do not grasp.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to Ignore the Secondary

One day my sister and I went to the woods to pick wild berries on a very hot day. To tell the truth, I did not want to go, but I said, "OK, Irina, let’s go. Some fresh air will be good."
"What is this?" I suspiciously pointed at something looking like an old rug that my sister put on as soon as we left the car.
"This is my raincoat. You should put one on too. Mosquitoes could be really bad in the woods at this time of the year." I forgot all about nasty creatures! I put the raincoat on. 
"What is it now?!" My older sister handed me a can. "Lydia, now you have to spray your face and hands with repellent."
"Oh, no! I’d rather die. It is enough that I wear this ugly raincoat. I can hardly breathe in it!” I hated even to touch the bottle! But you can’t argue with my sister - a chemist and a wild berry guru. We always had the most fragrant jam at her popular parties.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What Dostoevsky Can Teach Us About the Suffering Church

Feodor Dostoevsky is the author of one of the most profound dialogues about sin and evil in his book The Brothers Karamazov that reflected on his unrest over injustice. Reading the book, one begins to understand that it was not God, who Dostoevsky had a problem with, but evil and disingenuous Christians. Elissa Kiskaddon claims that Dostoevsky’s disappointment with God was not only “confined to religious persons, but extended to the entity of the church itself and its excesses.” Walter Wink's concern is that the condition of the Church is far from ideal. “These churches are riven by strife, factionalism, backbiting, and heresy. As human communities, they have little to commend them."[1]
The recent resignation of Bishop Robert William Finn in Kansas City after he was convicted of failing to report child abuse in his Diocese left many Kansas City-area Catholics to feel betrayed. Susie Evans, a lifelong Catholic, shares, “I find it unacceptable to embrace something I don’t agree with. I don’t think that’s what Jesus wanted. People have to stand up and say what’s right, and what’s wrong. And that wasn’t happening.” Child abuse is inhumane and should be considered one of the worst evils. Dostoevsky names children's suffering as the most irrational and unjust sin and struggles to reconcile it through Ivan and Alesha’s dialogue in the attempt to reconcile such abuse with the loving God. This example serves as a good illustration of Dostoevsky’s view of the human heart as the battlefield between good and evil.[3] Dostoevsky’s frustration was caused not only by his observation of evil in the world but by immorality and incivility done in and by the church.
Pastors respond to their calling with pure hearts but gradually end under double pressure from their congregations and their denominations. This is when pastors' personal “inner demons” get exacerbated by “church-growth pressure," local church politics, performance reviews, family expectations, and isolation. When it comes to pastors, their spiritual health suffers from pride, envy, greed, anger, and unhealthy ambitions. Bishop Robert Schnase describes in his book Ambition in Ministry, calling them  as “ardent desires and deadly appetites.”[4] Wink calls them “inner personal demonic” tendencies for evil. 
In his letter to N. L. Ozmidov, Dostoevsky writes: “Now assume there is no God or immortality of the soul. Now tell me, why I should live righteously and do good deeds if I am to die entirely on earth.” 
What will be your answer to Dostoevsky's question?

[1] Wink, Walter. Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986, 72.
[2] Dostoyevsky, Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Ed. Frank and Goldstein. U.S.A.: Rutgers University, 1987. 446.
[3] Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. III, 3.
[4] Schnase, Robert. Ambition in Ministry: Our Spiritual Struggle with Success, Achievement & Competition. Abingdon Press, 1993, 42.
[5] Wink, Walter. Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986, 53.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Courage is required

“Hope has two beautiful daughters their names are anger and courage;

Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain

the way they are.”   (Augustine, Summa Theologica)

In the world of greed for power there is little space left for morality. Robert Fogel, University of Chicago economic historian and winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for economics, said on the day his award was announced, "intense beam of morality... can change history."[1] To start and nurture that “beam of morality” requires courage, knowledge of history, sharing stories, and patience in pursuing the truth.

Every family in the Soviet Union lost at least one member in the World War II. Intelligent and well-educated Germans became obsessed Hitler-phrenics and followed their leader, who promised them Europe and Asia, as their dominion in exchange of loyalty. One man-dictatorship created an army of soulless human machines that experimented on children and women, burnt people in concentration camps, and exterminated village after village, and town after town. The insanity of one man was    not resisted and it cost Europe millions of lives. It cost Russia 20 million lives. The   scariest part of that time in our history was that Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin–two communist dictators­–brutally murdered another 20 million Russians in Gulags.

So many people in the former Soviet Union have been hurt and humiliated unjustly. Many died without being rehabilitated.  Many are still keeping family    secrets, afraid of sharing them, though everything is supposed to be long forgotten. One day, the KGB archives in Ekaterinburg, Russia were opened and the dismayed residents learned that just near the town gates there was a nameless burial ground. Thousands of guiltless people had been secretly shot, the dead and those left to die were pushed into ditches and covered with earth.  Relatives who had been patiently looking for their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters lost in prisons, went hopefully to this    place. Thus a new "cemetery" was born.   People began to nail the photos and names of their relatives to the huge trunks of the trees that had grown in the area since the   night of massacre.  All tablets with names had the same date of death. When my father took me there one afternoon, the spirit of violence shook me, and I felt horror hovering over the burial ground.

Vladimir Lenin[2], the Father of the Soviet System, came up with a postulate, required for change: “Change (revolution) is possible when the top (the powerful) cannot rule in the old way, and the mob (the powerless) cannot live in the old way.” Modern Russians reinvented the old postulate: “When the top cannot rule in the new way, and the mob doesn’t want to live in the new way.” Unfortunately, I observed   similar attitude among Americans.

Oppressed people are fatalistic and passive. They do not want to get involved. They don't understand that they are oppressed.  Courage doesn't come until we get angry at how things are. But anger is not popular. We all want to be nice.

Hope has two beautiful daughters.... And hope dies last.

[1] Longworth, R.C. Morality:  It's Time for a Closer LookChicago Tribune, 
17 October 1993, 1, 4.
[2] Lenin, Vladimir – Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, 1870-1924 (later known as 
Lenin), leader of Bolsheviks, a politician, one of the Russian dictators -