(I found this draft from last month that I forgot to post! I'm shocked that the summer went by so fast!)
National identity. I remember feeling self-conscious as an American first living abroad. It wasn't anything negative but just the realization that all eyes were on American brands, movies, public figures, etc. That's in a general context and then of course in church culture Americans had left their mark too, from prosperity preachers to missionaries. Not only was it jarring to see America's role in the world, but also to wonder which aspect of the USA came to mind when people met me personally.
As a resident of Russia, this country has become part of my identity, too. Russia has contributed much to the world, but sometimes it's like a slur. Let's be honest, the Russian team has become a pariah at the Olympic Games. There is always a scandal or controversy. I was so mad about the last games in Winter 2022. Young promising athletes (not even allowed to fly their country's flag due to doping issues) came under scrutiny and it only worsened Russia's reputation. Instead of focusing on skill and potential, rules and discipline came into the spotlight. I remember a tour guide once saying how Russia is like a family member. You love her even when she has embarrassed you and hurt you. My own experience is that when it comes to your country, family, or a team you're on, you can criticize it yourself, but outside criticism hurts.
I told my husband that the rumors of "Russiaphobia" were false; a ploy of the Russian State to boost nationalism and isolate itself even more. Surely MY corner of America wouldn't participate in the prejudice. Surely cultured Europeans wouldn't stoop to that level. No, Russian culture is not being canceled. But then again, I can see it happening in subtle ways. Part of the way it works nowadays is that with the help of social media, everyone jumps on a trend, according to their political party. Right now, support for Ukraine is popular in most western societies. Therefore, the opposite is anti-trend and must be shunned. Of course, in some parts of the world, this particular topic might be flipped around, with the "Z" popular to show support for Russia. At any rate, I know that pro-Kremlin shows have been canceled, but that's more an extension of "sanctions." The more subtle part is feeling awkward about writing in Russian, posting scenes of Russia (unharmed vs our neighbor in the war zone), or sharing about celebrations while others can't take part. And that doesn't feel quite right. Tact is important, but censorship hurts.
Russia and Ukraine; Ukraine and Russia. We had our sermon on the Good Samaritan, and it actually hit differently! Our pastor even recommended checking out the Wikipedia entry, and it's true that it includes extensive explanations, interesting to read.
(here my draft ended and I don't remember all of my initial impressions)
Now, the players are different. Picture the Good Samaritan, but with an injured Russian or Ukrainian lying on the ground. Who is more likely to help? Would you help if the person on the ground was from a hostile country? What if you were the one needing help? Would you be surprised if an enemy stopped to lend aid? Would you be even more surprised when a friendly party turns its head away?
It is easy to think in hypothetical terms, but this scenario is constantly repeated in daily life. The United States takes in many refugees, but they aren't all treated equally. This has come to light even more with the welcoming of Ukrainians vs those from other parts of the world.
As I write this, certain countries are closing their borders to Russian tourists, and I mourn the loss of connection and mutual discovery that comes from international travel.
Russia itself has quite the international population. Even though it doesn't have the same background of racial tension as in the U.S., stereotypes and biases are there in the background. Reactions to the current influx of refugees have been mixed. One story I read spotlighted a local summer camp that was receiving children from Mariupol. These very summer camps were "pioneer" camps during the Soviet Union. Later, American churches sent missionaries to these camps, and deep friendships were forged. I imagine young refugee children sitting on the bunks in those buildings where Christians prayer-walked and sought to share the Gospel. I don't discount the possibility that local camp counselors may be believers and seeking to serve!
As you can see, rereading a familiar Bible story unleashed a flood of emotions and ideas! And that was a month ago already....