Table talk in crisis time – real people seeking real answers to real problems

I signed off last time with an urgent request for prayer, sensing that the situation in Kyiv was at a critical point. Since then, we saw an all-out violent assault on Maidan, in which scores of people were killed, the majority shot in the street by snipers, an abortive attempt at a “negotiated settlement” (which the crowds on Maidan didn’t want to have anything to do with) followed by the almost immediate withdrawal of forces, the abrupt fleeing of the President and many of his associates, an overnight about-face by the Rada which impeached the President, dissolved the government and which is now formulating a transitional government with elections set for May.

While I have tried to provide links to news stories covering the events (see my Facebook page), my main emphasis has been, and remains, to consider the spiritual significance of these events – for our brothers and sisters, for the city, the country and beyond. Since the observations in my posts to date, before the dramatic events of the last week, seem to have been solid, I am going to continue to share my impressions and experiences from my time there at the start of the month. If there are, indeed, lessons to be learned, they will remain there for us to discern and apply.

It was great to be back in our old apartment with old friends in the quiet old neighborhood of Podol; regardless of what was happening outside, we were together again.

However, recently things had begun to change. The streets along which I’d walked for years to take our daughter to dance practice, to swimming lessons had witnessed some ugly scenes. A few evenings before my arrival 200 to 400 “titushki” were roaming around the neighborhood breaking windshields, smashing cars, slashing tires. Residents – our neighbors – came out into the streets, and actually managed to collar perhaps a few dozen of the troublemakers. Having done this, they, of course, did the next “natural” thing: they called the cops… who did absolutely nothing. What I heard time and time again was that the police were coming to be seen as the biggest immediate problem of daily life… The bigger problems – the dissolution of government, the possibility of wide scale bloodshed – were further off… but not all that far away.2007-09 2173 No.23 851 podol courtyard balcony jim marina (Large)

Our dear sister, O., refilling the teapot, paused and commented reflectively, “One of the most painful things in all of this is that, because I speak Ukrainian, because I am from the west part of the country, and because I am for my people… I am considered a fascist. Even to my face, I am called that. But the police – who can viciously beat up people like me with impunity, throw us in prison for gathering on the street, stand aside while gangs of paid thugs raise havoc – everything they do is considered fine because it’s action taken against “fascists.”

This narrative of Maidan being motivated by some sort of neo-Nazi, fascist ideology had become one of many fronts in what was clearly a multilateral “information war.” It was becoming impossible to try to store all of this in one brain.

uzhgorod_residents_are_called_to_boycott_the_party_of_regions_members_goods_and_services_view_full_imageI asked whether there were any changes in the daily lives of people in the neighborhood, or whether everything was happening only on Maidan. “Here’s something we saw today,” our friend K. said, returning from putting her son to bed. “With so many of the government being “businessmen,” a lot of people thought it would be a good idea to just start a boycott – to just stop buying things that were produced by companies owned by the ruling Party of Regions. We have been asking other countries to consider imposing economic sanctions, so we figured we should do the same thing. And it looks like it must be working. For example, the price of milk has dropped from 11 to 8 hryven in the last week or so. We had popped into a local “independent” grocery shop, and talked to the woman who was running it. We asked why she was carrying these brands that we didn’t want to buy. She complained loudly to us that she had no choice but to accept these brands. She knew what could happen if she refused. The most she could do, she told us, was to take a little less from them. ‘What am I to do?’, she asked us. We told her that we had no idea. It has really become a vicious circle.”

We turned to catch the news on TV. Another representative of the government was coming out of a meeting at the Rada, stepping behind the microphones to make statements. Something politicians, noble and otherwise, do all the time, practically instinctively. But something interesting was happening: the journalists had called a one-day “boycott” of their own in response to the great numbers of press who had been beaten or worse, likely at the hand (or order) of this government. So on this day, whenever government representatives stepped behind the rows of microphones or in front of the cameras to make a statement, the journalists stopped their work. They left their usual places and moved to stand behind the government figures, each one holding one or more photos of bloodied, beaten journalists… dozens of them. It was brilliant. Most politicians tried to ignore them as best they could… this time, though, the legislature breathed a sigh, pursed her lips and in evident frustration blurted, “Of course, you know that journalists die every day…”0114_Ukraine_politics_maidan_presser_journalists

All admired the courage and ingenuity of these journalists. But it revealed a deeper frustration. What is a nation to do when its leaders come before the cameras and just flat out lie: about themselves, about their plans, about the nation, about us, its people, about reality? How is a country supposed to function under such conditions?

My friends, who study the Bible regularly, told me, “We began by wondering how to apply the verses about “submitting to authority” that have been quoted to us all our lives… Now we are wondering about what the Bible says about taking up arms. To whom can we turn for guidance now? Our “discipleship programs” (whether Navigator or Orthodox or Evangelical) didn’t teach us this.”

We sat in the apartment for hours, despite the spinning occurring in my head from the long day of travel, the results of a week of intense meetings and the cumulative effect of 7 days of staying up into the wee hours following events on the internet.

We wondered what people can REALLY do. It is easy enough for someone to say “I am against___” (violence, corruption, intimidation, anarchy, or whatever). But what does it mean to speak that way, but then refuse to do anything about it, refuse to act. At that point, such expressions become a matter of taste, “I don’t like coffee…” But that, of course, accomplishes nothing. Such statements are not seen as a valid option for those who truly care about their country.2014-01 UA22 769338  января, митингующий на памятнике основателям Киева. Фото Jeff J MitchellGetty Images.

One thing we can, and must, do (and what too few ex-pats seem to do well) is to form relationships. Sure, Americans are good at “making friends” – but that’s like Facebook “friends,” not “nastoyashie druzya” – real friends. This drove home to me the importance of building relationships that give, that empower, that are vehicles of service and sacrifice. This is particularly important for people, like myself, who are blessed(?) with a measure of power and privilege. However, it offers people like me the opportunity to follow the specific example of Jesus, who did the very same thing.

To say “I don’t like” violence, “I am against” injustice, but to refuse to act, makes one COMPLICIT, “woven together with” those who are doing evil. In the Old Testament, we read of how the Israelites were taken into captivity. Their neighbors, the Edomites, stood aside, but apparently took some measure of comfort in that they weren’t actively involved. However, God pronounces judgment on them, telling them though his prophet Obadiah, that “On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.”

We need not only to know where we stand, but how to take action. This has shown us that the Gospel is not just words in our minds, but God’s word that is relevant to everything that is important to his children– whether on a personal or a national level.

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