Monday, May 31, 2010

The most dangerous profession

Have you ever noticed how teachers are often portrayed as martyrs? This was one of the main themes of La lengua de las mariposas, a Spanish language film I watched recently.

What can be more poignant than an educator pouring out his life for the sake of his pupils?

Dead Poet's Society, Stand and Deliver...classics! The teacher unlocks the imagination; sets new standards; brings the misfit out of his shell. And let's not forget the frontier schoolmistresses who could do everything: teach all the grade levels at once, keep the fire going, and handle a rifle to stave off wolves and other intruders...read more/-

Though dramatized by Hollywood, the expectation on a teacher is great. He must navigate a web of relationships. Parents want their children to succeed. Children want to be entertained. The administration wants those kids to be meeting national standards.

What is a teacher to do? If he sticks to the rules, he is boring. If he thinks outside the box, trying new approaches to teaching, he could create a scandal.

I had a substitute teacher for a few days at the university. She spoke very fast and sharply, and many of us in the group agreed that she was a bit intimidating. "Oh, no," said my friend in the group, a fellow missionary. "I had her last semester and she was one of my favorites. She just seems a little harsh at first."

We had her again today, and my friend was right. She was a good teacher. She got to the heart of confusion, answering all our questions. She encouraged us to use new concepts right away; to apply them in our speech. She managed to give compliments to those who were struggling, lifting their spirits.

In the middle of the class, the teacher told us, "Let's get away from syntax for a moment. What were your first impressions of me?" We squirmed, not wanting to reveal our collective mistaken opinion. "Many students think I'm too strict," she said. "But I'm really not. First impressions can be wrong."

Have you ever been touched by seeing the "human" side of a teacher? Or as a teacher, have you ever looked at a mischievous class of students and felt that they didn't even see you as a person?

For all the misunderstandings that teachers experience, comfort is found in the life of Christ. Here is one profession that we can say for sure was close to Him. We don't know all the details, but we know that as a teacher He was received sometimes with crowds and cheering, sometimes with ostracism. Sometimes He was admired; sometimes rejected as a radical.

The teachers in the movies are sometimes killed; or die a symbolic death as they risk much. I know many non-Christian teachers who pour themselves out to the same extent, while not knowing Christ. But the fact that there is a Savior who shared their profession and understands their challenges-this can be a point of conversation, and a source of hope.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Expressing intentions

When you are “planning” to do something, what is your degree of intent? I’m just curious because apparently in the Russian language, “planning” is tentative. That is, “planning” to do something means that you still aren’t sure. I don’t know if this is a linguistic distinction, or cultural, or both.

In class today we asked the teacher what the difference was between “thinking” about doing something and “planning” to do something. She said they were synonyms. We asked how you could express “planning” to do something, but when you are sure. She said that didn’t happen. Hmm, okay…

Here’s how I picture the English verbs working:

1)    I’m thinking about going/I might go to the beach tomorrow (tentative).
2)    I’m planning to go to the beach tomorrow if the weather’s nice (conditional: I’ll go IF x happens).
3)    I’m planning to go to the beach unless it rains (conditional: I’ll go UNLESS x happens).
4)    I’m going to the beach tomorrow (no question).

I would definitely view option 3 as closer to yes than no. But these are all assumptions from my own head. Maybe I’m wrong?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Menu fun

I suppose it isn't fair to criticize the Russians for their translation skills, because after all, they aren't the only ones, and Americans might make the same mistakes in their position...

And actually, this isn't really a translation problem; more of a context issue....



Just what is Daddy ordering?

This next one, though, definitely needed to be checked in the dictionary one more time. That's not tea we're ordering, it's chicken.... continue/-

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Conspiracy Theory?

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the topic that I'm about to discuss, but here are some initial thoughts, at least.

I was visiting a children's hospital the other day and someone handed me a pamphlet to read (in Russian) entitled "The Truth About Vaccinations." It seemed to be put out by the Orthodox Church and was all about how vaccinations are evil (literally).

The person who read it before me had helpfully done some highlighting, so I scanned those sections to get the gist of it. In addition to accusing the rest of the civilized world of deliberately leaving Russia in the dark about vaccination risks, it quoted some U.S. public figure as saying that we ought to reduce the world population by 90%... with the vaccination risks being a key part of that. read more/-

My first thought was, leave it to the Orthodox Church to accuse us of systematic extermination.

But the thing is that it isn't good to blindly believe (or doubt) any point of view. I needed to investigate.




Carelessness?
 
It's common knowledge that many medical treatments and other products are distributed without knowing what effect they could have on someone's body in, say, 10-20 years.

I suppose I even knew that some things were being tested in third world countries, but I had never thought of it as intentional malice. Just oversight, perhaps. Or haste...trying to get a treatment out there sooner, to prevent further spread of disease. But at a cost.


"Saving" the Environment

The more sinister side of "green" efforts is that many campaigning for using less resources point to population as a factor. Less people, less consumption...right?

I had always associated Planned Parenthood and other abortion methods with an effort to allow people shirk the responsibility that comes with having extra-marital sex (or with having married sex while not wanting children).

But maybe something bigger is at stake?

If pro-lifers usually quote abortion statistics to emphasize how many unborn babies have been killed, does that mean that advocates for "saving" the planet point to how many trees have been saved by aborting a life? I'm not trying to be cynical here, just trying to figure out the logic.




A Global Movement
 
I was actually a bit sickened to examine a "neutral" article on population control in wikipedia and notice some suspicious language. Though opposition to this effort, of course, exists, the examples given are often used in conjunction with concepts of success and progress.

"Iran has succeeded in sharply reducing its birth rate in recent years."

"According to government officials, the policy has helped prevent 400 million births." (in China)
-I wonder what they mean by "prevent" here. How were they able to count? How do they know how many children a family would have had if their fertility had not been tampered with?

"We two, ours two ("Hum do, hamare do" in Hindi) is a slogan whose meaning is that of one family, two children and is intended to reinforce the message of population control." (in India)

-Just what is the "message" of population control?

(And in the U.S., of course, the term "family planning" is used as a euphemism...)



Genocide?
 
I read some unsettling things about initiatives disguised as charity efforts actually being used to spread disease. Is it true that efforts are being made to target specific nations and/or socio-economic groups?

I suppose it isn't something new. But I don't want to think of my country as being responsible...


The Implications

We say that we want the Earth to still be around for our children and grandchildren, but why do we think that OUR children and grandchildren deserve that future more than another man's? That is really what the "message" is. Greed and selfishness.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.-Matthew 5:5


Monday, May 24, 2010

That time of year

It seems like such a shame to go to bed with that light streaming in the window!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Interceding for the dead

How are YOU celebrating the holiday?

I didn't remember, either. There are times when I'm more in tune with the church calendar, and times, obviously, when I'm not.

Today, many churches around the world celebrate Pentecost.

A cluster of holidays around this time in the Russian Orthodox Church include "Soul Saturday" and "Trinity Sunday/Pentecost."

Although I had heard bits and pieces, I finally decided to try to find out a little more about "Soul Saturday." Continue/-

It took me some time to even determine a proper search term, as in Russian it is called "Parents' Saturday." All I kept hearing was that everyone went to the cemetery on the Saturday before Pentecost, and I didn't see the connection.


"Saturday is a traditional day for prayer for the dead, because Christ lay dead in the tomb on Saturday...These days are devoted to prayer for departed relatives and others among the faithful who might not be commemorated specifically as saints." (wikipedia)

"Saturdays" above is plural because there are other Saturdays during Lent and at other times in the church calendar that have the same "purpose."

So as with other holidays on the Russian Orthodox Calendar, many nominally Christians in Russia have dutifully made their stop at the graveyard this weekend to visit granny or whomever else is buried there. This was a bit of a cultural shock for me, and I honestly cannot imagine how it must feel to be Russian and to observe such a tradition without knowing the hope of salvation.

I suppose the idea is that if so-and-so's been gone for awhile, you can go to the burial site on Soul Saturday and say a prayer, and maybe his/her soul will end up in a better place.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Surprise!

Okay, I'm just posting this for the shock value...this is what my new toothpaste looks like:



Hope I didn't spoil anyone's appetite! ;)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

ESL with a bunch of monkeys

I finally got out to the orphanage again. The kids had been out on one excursion or another the past several times.

I was a little early and made myself take a stroll through a small park in appreciation of spring. Yesterday it was sunny all day and in the 70's. The park was very clean and peaceful, what a gift!

We had to get the kids inside somehow for English. I know, it isn't nice to deprive them of sunlight, but we were just going to have a quick lesson. Besides, it would be a good lesson in patience and rewards.

Katya roller-skated back and forth between me and the counselor. "Don't you want to go to the park?" Did I want to go to the park? If the counselor was offering, I didn't have any objections.
continue/-


"Sure." She skated back to the counselor.

"She said yes! See?" Oh. I had been tricked into disagreeing with the counselor, who had suggested going inside. Eventually we got the tearful tykes inside, promising that they could go out again later.

The kids were suddenly attentive as their recess time ticked away, and we started out strong, getting acquainted with the new material. Then came the crucial moment...I had to leave them for two seconds to look for writing implements. The transition did not go well. During those few seconds, a fistfight broke out, and Katya immediately threw herself into hysterics. (I used to worry when this happened, thinking she was injured. But one time she was having a "fit" and the other kids left the room to complain. The minute they left, she stopped flailing, looked up at me, and winked. So I do not fall for her little routine anymore, but it is quite disruptive.)

We got calmed down a bit and moved on to practicing the new vocabulary with a worksheet. As they finished, I planned to work with each one a little individually to solidify the new words. But that backfired, and I ended up with a war over stickers.

Then it was time to go back outside. The counselor asked how the class went. "Frankly, they got a bit distracted," I said. The counselor told me that the young schoolteacher who had been teaching in the fall had only lasted 2 months. HA! I mean...poor thing. But clearly I am not the only one who has a rough time. I could do SO much more if we only had a little discipline...

I played with the kids outside for a few minutes more before heading on my way.

"Children, say goodbye to Liz," the counselor instructed.

"HELLO!"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Daily dose of paganism

Today in my Culture class we made little folk dolls. There was a lot of giggling as we tried to follow the directions in the book to make the proper Russian peasant clothing. We spent about twenty minutes trying to wind the kerchief just right around the head. Interesting how none of the guys showed up for class today...

Of course it's a fun craft, but then the teacher said, "Every Russian house had 12 dolls, to keep away 12 specific illnesses." Oh my.

Towards the end of class, we talked about the purpose of studying cultures in general...

Continue/-

Is it important to preserve cultures? It's an interesting question to consider. Of course in order to sound like respectable people we should answer "yes." But the follow-up question (Why?) stumped me for a minute. I feel the occasional twinge of sadness when hearing about a tribe that has become extinct or a form of folk art that has been lost. But I have to admit that I find it hard to express a reason why anyone would dedicate their lives to making sure these traditions are preserved. What does it add to life? Or what does it take away from life, to not know these ancient customs?

There were two main reasons given for studying culture: 1) In order to better understand others. 2) In order to rethink and evaluate one's own culture and reasons for doing certain things.

I think that a reason for studying history and current traditions in general is that we see the problems and questions that are common to all Man. Throughout history, people have been the SAME. The same instincts, thoughts, desires, goals in life.

Again, why does it matter? If I were to pour myself into studying as many ancient and modern civilizations as I can, would I really learn anything new, or would I come to the same conclusions as the teacher in Ecclesiastes?

Perhaps, I would confirm my belief that GOD is the SAME.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Consider it all joy

Doesn't it seem like joy is a very abstract concept? It is such a beautiful word, and there are so many nice things written about it, but... how about practicality?

So many songs about joy are upbeat and just make you want to clap your hands and stamp your feet, but is that because you really FEEL joy or because the songwriter did a good job with the tune? And that brings me to the question...is joy something you FEEL or DO or what?

For lack of a unified statement, I have here a collection of thoughts.

Joy in Children

Christ directs us to be like children (Matthew 18:1-4), so when tackling any sort of perplexing topic, why not simplify it by studying a child's reaction? read more/-

Joy in a child is momentary, based on an event. He has received a present; seen his favorite person; discovered something new. He is able to put aside other things and delight in this one thing. It is unplanned and it is temporary. But at the same time it is simple and the child does not analyze why he had this particular feeling. He just enjoys the moment and then continues with life.


The Emotions of Joy

How do you know when someone is joyful? You may see smiles or a twinkle in one's eyes; hear cheerful chatter; notice other signs of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, another person might be calm where he was previously anxious.

But what if you do not feel anything? Or what if there are no outward signs? Can it still be joy?


Evaluating our Joy Level

The Bible tells us in many places to rejoice and be glad. Therefore we take it on as our Christian "duty." I am going to be joyful, we tell ourselves. But how do we evaluate our "progress"? Did I rejoice today? Shall I keep a "Joyful" journal, right next to the list of "Good Deeds" and other things we like to keep track of to make ourselves feel better?

It seems to me that joy is something that other people should see in us, just like humility. If we are focused on serving Christ and others, we will be joyful, but we will not notice. We will not be able to boast if the joy displayed in our lives is pure.


There has to be a Reason

You will have a hard time finding a place in the Bible that mentions joy without giving the source of that joy. There is almost always some event or truth that is referred to. 

 Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. Lev. 9:24

-Why did they rejoice? Because the Lord accepted their offering.

Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you. Deut. 28:47, 48

-Why were they supposed to rejoice? Because the Lord had blessed them with prosperity.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:16-18

-Hmmm, this one is a little harder. It is possible to pray continually, and there is always something for which I can be thankful...but, joyful? Is it enough to imagine His voice saying "Be joyful, My child"?


A Fruit of the Holy Spirit

If joy is something that comes from the Holy Spirit, then it is not something we can manufacture. (See "Evaluation") It is a natural result of submitting to the Lord. So while we are commanded to be joyful, at the same time, there is no way we can force it to come about.


Joy and Eternity

I remember reading a story about Elisabeth Elliot after her husband's Jim death, waking up to realize once more that he was not in the bed beside her. She felt the grief all over again, but at the same time was overcome with thankfulness and wonder that he had died for God's glory and was now with Him in heaven.

The hope of eternity-that is a source of joy.


The Opposite of Grief?


You have turned my wailing into dancing. (Ps. 30:11)

...A time to weep and a time to laugh... (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Is it really possible to rejoice ALL the time? Is joy something that can be within us even when we don't feel it? Is it possible to rejoice in the midst of grief?

Job managed to praise the Lord during his suffering (13:15). But would you call his determination joy or simply an attitude of faith and trust in the Lord?

Maybe joy comes from knowing that we are allowed to grieve. Sometimes it is such a relief to turn to the Lord or even a friend and pour out our pain. The pain is still there and it hurts, but just knowing that we are not alone is the beginning of hope and relief.


A Way of Life

How is it possible to be joyful in ALL circumstances? We have to have a reason to rejoice. Therefore, we have to practice thankfulness during the good times, so that when the hard times come, we can say, here is what God has done for me and here is what He will do for me. And He will use what I'm experiencing in the present to accomplish it all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Russian emergency

I was helping the kids in the orphanage with their homework, when suddenly a siren began to wail.

“A fire has been detected. Go to the basement of the building,” said a voice over the loudspeaker.

Then I woke up, but the voice was still there. It sounded over and over again.

I roused Zhenya.

“Zhenya! What are they saying?”

“Huh?”

“What are they saying?”

“They’re saying….there’s a fire…please evacuate the building.” Continue/-

“So…should we leave the building?” I already had my bathrobe on, ready to follow instructions.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, how can we find out?”

“Call someone?” I gave her the phone, but she was drifting back to sleep.

“What should we do?” I repeated. We tried to figure out where the loudspeaker even was. Our window was open and it seemed like it was coming from another building.

I looked out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse of fire trucks and people fleeing in terror. There was not a soul to be seen. Nobody had business to do this early on a Sunday morning, when they had doubtless gone to bed just a few hours before.

The signal stopped.

At any rate, if it really had been an emergency, someone would have tried harder to get us out…

I got back in bed. The sun was up but it was only about 5:45.

I dreamed I had an attack of vertigo and was falling down the stairs.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Euro-fied (it's all in the name)

"Euro-." Often refers to the currency, but is also just short for European.

If you've stayed in a hotel while traveling abroad, you might have noticed their "Euro-standard" option. Or maybe, you've had the privilege of being a "Euro Traveller" on-board British Airways.

Russian marketers have taken this idea and run with it. Sticking "euro" in the front of any product or service suddenly makes it 100 times more appealing. I guess "Amer-" or "Am-" don't have that same ring to it. (Or maybe they have TOO many associations... Amway, perhaps?)

The term "Evro-remont" or "European-style remodeling" has become really popular, although from my observations, it refers more to giving a place a "face lift" than something more extensive. Faux wood paneling, anyone?

Then I was in the store the other day and caught sight of some cleaning supplies that had our new favorite prefix. "Euro-cloths for Euro-cleaning." Ummm, okay. How exactly does one clean his sink European-style?

I suppose it is supposed to distract people from the fact that everything is, after all, made in China.

Friday, May 14, 2010

You are (not really) special

There was something rubbing me the wrong way about some Sunday school play scripts we were looking at. The message of almost every scenario was either "You are special in God's eyes" or "Everyone is special in God's eyes."

I'm not sure why, but to me this seemed like an incomplete representation of God's love for us and of how we should relate to others.

For one thing, take out the “in God’s eyes” part and you could have any bumper sticker or maybe group therapy message.

The typical scenario goes like this:  
All the animals (flowers, letters of the alphabet, etc.) are arguing about who is more important.

A mediator enters the scene, tells everyone to hush and work together, then they collectively make a pretty rainbow/bouquet/picture, and finish with “EVERYONE IS SPECIAL!”... read more/-

Now, when the disciples were arguing about who was greatest, Christ said something a little different.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9:35-37)
To end an argument with “everyone is special” to me sounds like “it’s a tie, you all win.” But the point is that we ought not to seek victory OVER one another. Our response should not be “see, you’re not better than me,” but “It’s true, I’m not better than you.”  1 Corinthians 1:28 says, "He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."

However, I realize that there is another side to it. People do need to hear different messages, based on their life experiences and the condition of their hearts. I’ve never particularly felt unloved. Kids from an orphanage might feel differently. Anyone who’s faced rejection at one time or another might have really needed to hear “you are special.”

So it isn’t that the message of being special and unique and loved is necessarily false or unchristian. Overused, perhaps?

How much do children need to be told that they are “special”? What do you think? How can we teach them their worth for the Kingdom in such a way that brings glory to God? That demonstrates what a privilege it is to be called His child? That allows them to look at others not as EQUAL to but as BETTER than oneself?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How we choose books to read

Have you ever read a book (besides the Bible) that actually changed your way of thinking? I have a hard time thinking of examples for myself.

In the school days, there was a cumulative effect. We read a little here and there over many years and gradually it added up to what we know now.


But what about in adult life when we consciously make a choice to read certain books? What criteria do we use?

I came to the realization recently that I primarily choose books whose main point I can agree with. continue/-

That is, I avoid books with whose message I assume I will disagree. This is logical in a way, but it means that I limit my exposure to new ideas since I want to read something that I can nod in agreement with, writing down quotes to use in defending my personal philosophy. Maybe I'm not looking for a challenge.

What does this say about me? That I like to read thoughts which resemble my own? Am I closed to other viewpoints, or simply to other viewpoints which I disapprove of? Are there viewpoints different from mine that I would be able to accept as valid?

Maybe it's similar to only seeking advice from someone who will approve of everything you do. And we do it while reading the Bible too, selecting passages which conveniently address something other than our particular sin.

Or maybe it is just a desire to reinforce what we know and to learn how to apply it more effectively. Someone else's observations and experiences can be that missing link.

I was also wondering about why certain books become "bestsellers." I tend to run away from them, myself. Perhaps I want to rebel and be different, or maybe I just know that I already AM different and probably won't like what the general population enjoys.

I didn't read The Da Vinci Code.

I read a few chapters of the first Harry Potter... good writing, disturbing subject matter.

I read The Purpose-Driven Life... agreed, but didn't learn anything new.

I don't want to read The Shack.

And this brings me back to the original question: Are there any books that really change our lives, or do they only confirm (or contradict) what we already believe?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Are they waiting?

Oh, how confused we Christians are sometimes about evangelism! Do it this way, don't do it at all, follow these steps, follow the Holy Spirit, use these Scriptures, leave it to the professionals... 

Hope
Some conversations lately have renewed my hope that people out there are looking for Jesus. One girl testified that she had given her life to the Lord and had really been waiting for some Christians to come and talk to her....and then they showed up at her dormitory.

How many people are waiting for someone to knock on their door or look into their eyes and tell them about Jesus? Maybe a lot, maybe a few. But isn't it worth being rejected a few times to reach those few? Knocking on the wrong door a few times before we are actually invited inside?

read more/-

Futility
At the other side of the argument, it does often seem that people are completely uninterested and unreachable. To be more "efficient," we divide them into "open" and "closed" and don't go after the "closed" ones. The "closed" ones don't want to listen, and the "open" ones are also open to Islam, Buddhism, and everything else. Doesn't it seem that way sometimes?

Confusing teachings
We are in the end times, so decreasing numbers of people will be saved. We are in the end times, so there will be a great revival. Do either of these statements hold validity and/or application in our lives? Sometimes blanket statements made by fellow Christians confuse the way we formulate our goals and priorities.

Telling it like it is
It is discouraging when the very terms we use to define ourselves as Christians turn other people away. Church, Jesus, Sin, Born-again... Oh, you're one of those. And yet, we have to be clear and simple in identifying ourselves, for the sake of those who are searching. Would you like to visit my church? We might get tired of saying it, but for that one person, it will resonate. There is no need to invent a new term, which may lead to a false portrayal.

Making conversation
So how do you know what to do, what to talk about? If you aren't sure what someone is thinking or feeling, why not ask? It never hurts, and is far more friendly than giving someone a lecture or blabbing on about one's own faith.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sideways photos

Certain Blogger glitches have been driving me nuts.

-The new photo editor, as far as I know, does not let you adjust the size of the photo manually. Sometimes I choose "small," but there is no way to to click and drag at the corners to make it even smaller or to get a custom size in between the prescribed "small" and "medium."

-Photos sometimes upload sideways. If this has happened to you I'm sure you understand how aggravating it can be. They blame it on a Canon incompatibility, blah blah blah. I experimented with some file formats in Paint, and .PNG seems to fix the sideways problem. You can do your editing elsewhere and then just open the file in Paint and save it with the new extension. I'm sure there is probably a more sophisticated way to do it, but this works for me. :)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rumor or reality?

When Russians tell me that they have to pay for some sort of service, I'm not usually surprised. Pay for a trip to the doctor? Music lessons? It is hard for me to imagine that these things ever came free of charge.

Then I was having lunch with a friend recently and she said, "Did you know that Russian schools are going to start charging tuition?"

WHAT? It makes sense for higher education, since people take different paths... but public elementary school? Has someone gone insane?

continue reading/-

The particular proposal being tossed around suggested that a few hours of Math, Russian, Phys Ed, and "Religion" per week would be free, while additional subjects would cost a certain amount per hour. By one person's estimations, this would cost families about 5000-6000 rubles per month for a basic set of lessons. That's about $200.

Here are a few observations:

1) The Russian Constitution* states that "The basic general education shall be free of charge."**

2) $200 is 1/3 of the average salary (data is uncertain but you get the idea).

3) The country has been campaigning to raise the birth rate.

This may all just be speculation. It seems like there would be a lot of reasons for the bill not to pass. But who knows? Definitely something to follow in the news.

*The Constitution is actually worth taking a look at. For example, check out Article 38, point 3: Able-bodied children over 18 years of age shall take care of disabled parents. Interesting.

**I should point out that school is not entirely free at the moment, either. There are lots of unofficial fees that parents have to pay already if they wish their child to attend school: payment of the security guard, school uniforms, etc.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Times are changing

I had anticipated that the first half of this year would be fairly hectic due to applying for residency. I put some things on hold for that reason.

My normal policy had been, when I had a free day or half a day, to fill it with some sort of activity. And I usually didn't have to look for long, as there was always some task to do or a dear friend to spend time with.

For the past few months, however, I haven't been as eager to get out and do things. My classes are mid-day and it's a bit hard to work around that. I had to do some phone-calling and investigating related to getting my documents in order, and that took quite a bit of emotional energy, I guess. I think it was good for me, though. Maybe I've reached a new stage of independence. read more/-

So since handing in my documents I've been trying to go down that list of opportunities and start saying yes again.

-Last weekend, I had some friends over for a pizza party.
-I met up with some people during the week and e-mailed a few places to inquire about volunteering.

-I'm also looking into job opportunities and finding out how having residency will change my options.

-Today, I went to a scrap-booking class with some people I didn't know. I hadn't really done anything very creative since all the Christmas projects ended, but I think I'm getting ready to try again.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The truth about Russian orphans


I've been saying it for a few years now. It was the topic of a presentation that I gave at the university last month.

Russian orphans are well cared for in the facilities here. They love their counselors and group-mates; they pursue normal childhood interests; they give performances and create amazing works of art; they grow into beautiful young men and women.

And then they are alone. In fact, they always knew they were "alone," but the orphanage helped them to forget, at least for a little while.

My friends have been passing this article around. If you haven't read it yet, you should. It gives an excellent analysis of current conditions. Let me know what your impressions are...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/world/europe/04adopt.html

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Only time

Since when is 27 "almost 30"? I have been getting a lot of comments lately... but a lot can happen in three years! After all, you wouldn't call a 7 yr old "almost 10," would you?

Has time sped up?

I was marveling recently at college students' ability to keep a vibrant conversation going up until 10:30 pm. At first I attributed my bewilderment to personality differences. For some of us, it can be so draining to engage in hours of intense fellowship. Right?

But then I thought...wait a minute...I used to love to do that, back in my "youth." I recalled, particularly during freshman year of college, our habit of lounging in the dorm parlor until 4 or 5 am, mostly on weekends, but on weeknights too. There was so much to talk about, and it was so interesting to get to know new people.

Joie de vivre?

Maybe I don't have the stamina anymore for all-nighters, but this season of life must hold something special, too. Right?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dealing with weaknesses

“Accept him whose faith is weak.” (Rom. 14:2)

“Love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)

Rather than dividing the Body between the strong and the weak, we often talk about encouraging each other’s strengths and covering each other’s weaknesses.

What does this mean in a practical sense?

I think teaching tends to give more attention to the development of gifts, emphasizing the “building up.”

But what are examples of weak areas in a brother that we can protect, and how so? If we have weak areas in our own lives, how can we ask for help?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Yulia's gift

I had a little friend at camp who captured my heart, about 7 or 8 years ago. She was just this shy little thing that would always beam at me in greeting.


In “Russia-A Love Story,” I posted a photo of us together. That was a day when we were saying goodbye as our group left for the airport, and Yulia gave me a little parting gift. It was her own purse, with my name scrawled on a piece of paper. Inside, a note addressed to me said “Farewell.”  Continue reading/-




Just what was in that purse? An icon (Saint Tatiana), a hair elastic, and a 2004 calendar. I have no idea why this particular assortment was given to me. Were they her dearest possessions? Ones she thought I could use? Or the quickest ones she could find before running to see us off?

We met again at the orphanage in the fall. When you have a reunion with orphans, it’s not what you would expect. Yes, there is some joy and exchanging of hugs, but it isn’t like a happily-ever-after feeling. I was happy that I had the opportunity to see them again, but there is something about the camp atmosphere where you love and yet keep your distance. And here, we didn’t quite know how to be the kind of friends who saw each other regularly.

So some of the kids who were my little shadows at camp grew cold fairly quickly. Yulia would often come up to give me a hug, but I was working with a different group and without the sports and other mixers at camp, it was hard to find a reason to just “hang out.” The kids had school and were kept pretty busy after school. Well, I wouldn’t have minded just hanging out, but you have to be purposeful in relationships with orphans. Just like in any relationship, if you are going to involve someone’s heart, you had better be serious about your intentions.

Within the walls of the orphanage, I go months without seeing certain children. Whenever I would see Yulia, she had gotten taller. Her smile was now more flirtatious than innocent, although I wanted to believe she hadn’t changed.

The last time I saw her, she was standing outside with a group of…well, teenagers. Smoking, dressed like teenagers, conversing like teenagers. Yulia’s hair was dyed black and I wanted to yank her away from the other kids and return her innocence, and her little brown pixie cut.


The One God

Since ancient times no one has heard,
       no ear has perceived,
       no eye has seen any God besides you,
       who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

-Isaiah 64:4

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fortune telling- is it cultural?

Is your native culture superstitious? Do people rely heavily on fortune-telling? We might associate divination with certain cultures and religions, but I think there is evidence in all cultures to suggest that we all long to know what our future holds…

When I took a quick look at my own culture, I realized that there are quite a few forms of entertainment that have a link to fortune telling, and, directly or indirectly, devil worship.

American culture
-Ouiji boards
-Daily horoscopes and other forms of Astrology
-Chinese fortune cookies
-Tarot reading
-TV shows and other portrayals of psychics...
Continue reading/-

-“MASH” and other games to find out about one’s future spouse, etc.
-Chain games which involve uttering certain words; passing on a message to get a certain effect...
-Misuse of prophecy in the Church
-References to bad luck and bad omens
-Personality “tests” and a multitude of other attempts to analyze one’s behavior and chances for certain outcomes in life

Russian Culture
–having not grown up here, I miss a lot of the subtle references. But Astrology and other attempts at determining the future certainly abound.
-A woman in the metro once gave me a “gift” of an Astrology magazine.
-A few women (looking like they were from one of the southern republics) once came up to me asking directions and suddenly started speaking words over me about the future, which actually sounded more like a curse, but I ignored them and walked away without determining what they had said.
-I heard that the period of Yuletide (after Christmas on Jan.7th) are very popular for fortune telling.

Meanwhile, my teacher for Culture class is a very enthusiastic educator and tells about everything as though she is telling a story, with much description and emotion. But unfortunately, she seems just as passionate about paganism as about Christian traditions in Russia.

We had a very odd reading this last week about “evil spirits.” This was an article that she had written herself. She began by stating that the Russian understanding of clean and unclean spirits arose only after the advent of Christianity. With no apparent transition, the text then launched into a description of Russian folk traditions for keeping away evil spirits, including brandishing a cross, the most potent instrument of magic (!).

Okay, so we’re not quite sure where Christianity ends and “folk” traditions begin…not uncommon…
But that isn’t all.

A description of “Russian fortune telling” warned that it was dangerous and sinful, due to the fact that you are entering into contact with an unclean spirit.

The NEXT page gave recommended times and places for practicing divination, including instructions for calling up an evil spirit! I have run into paradoxes in Russian culture before, but it’s been awhile since anyone instructed me in witchcraft! Unless, of course, you count Massachusetts public schools, but that’s a different story…

I have to be fair and say that this isn’t about culture, and it isn’t even really about religion, as far as comparing them with each other. Yes, Christianity has the answer, but it is because only in Christ are we able to feel secure about our future without knowing all the answers. It is nothing to do with rituals.

Tendencies to find out the future can seem a little desperate, or even demonic. Indeed, any spirit that is not from the Lord is from Satan. But I do not think there exists a people group who worries about the future more than others, or on the contrary worries less. It is something we all seek and we can be sure that those around us who do not know Christ are looking for their future by way of other means.

Starting from Creation, we have gone looking for ways to learn more than we need to know at a specific moment in our lives. The Bible warns that this is not God's desire for us.


"Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come." (Rev. 2:24, 25)