A month has gone by since I was on Maidan (and what a month!). However, I still am sorting through my impressions from that time – which are not built upon a single visit, but informed by a good dozen years of living “embedded” in the culture, sharing the heart of the marvelous people of Ukraine. Thus, while continuing to follow the news, I continue to reflect upon the deeper meaning of what we see.
We are still in the midst of an “information war” that describes the current government as a gang of neo-Nazi extremist bandits and the process by which they gained power as violent and illegitimate. (I am not going to honor such scuttlebutt by linking to it… check out “Russia Today” or any number of leftist, rightist or anti-“New World Order” types who seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of such fantastical propaganda). In that light, my experiences in Kyiv during the “revolutionary time” (in the context of our life there since the mid-90s) are a helpful antidote.
First, as when one is framing a photograph, the “focal length” is important. Americans seem to focus on the “big picture”: What will the future maps of Ukraine and Europe look like? How will the economic and geopolitical “equation” balance out? Or the “big picture” in the Hollywood sense: explosions, loud noises, big actions scenes, etc. The people we know who serve those on the “margins” of Ukrainian society, are, in that sense, not considering the “big sums” of these power equations, but in the “small change” of real human lives, particularly the lives of people who have been marked down, not considered as being “of full value.” They are more concerned with the “pennies” of the lives of those they are called to serve than with the billions of dollars (or rubles) that are so significant to that “big picture.”
The problem with the big picture (regardless of whether it’s the one painted by propagandists or mass media of any stripe) is that it factors out the human element. That’s what strikes me most deeply: not that I am privileged to be a first-hand witness to “big historical events.” It is that I have first-person access to that human element. I have lived for years in a country where divisions among those who claim to follow Jesus have defined the religious landscape.
What has appeared in the hearts, on the streets and on Maidan in something for which many have been praying for years: People coming together from all confessions; people looking forward to morning prayers and hymns… and wanting more. People are gathering together – by hundreds, by thousands, at times by tens of thousands to call upon God to manifest his presence in their midst, to bring his reign of justice and peace to the land they love. I have seen this and experienced this first-hand, and I will never be the same.
It is this sincere interdenominational unity – and that which can be built upon it if it is nurtured and grows – which could well be the key to providing the leadership – moral and spiritual – that can unify and prosper the country.
“What is at the heart of this unity?,” I asked one of our mission staff who has been working in partnership with an Orthodox priest in Kyiv. What drives this cooperation? “It is a heart for service” was the answer. We serve others, particularly those who are under-served in the current environment. And we serve each other. In this partnership, the American has chosen to submit to the Ukrainian Orthodox priest. Not as in accepting and saying “Yes” to all he says or does… in fact, sparks often fly between them. The key is that she recognizes, acknowledges and supports his authority, not for the sake of that authority, but for the good of the mission to which they have both committed themselves.
Again and again these days, along with the reality of the spiritual conflict that lies at the root of our human suffering, I am impressed by the power of empowering others. Because the one who has access to most of the typical (earthly) markers of power and authority has chosen to empower others, she has an impact – a deep impact – on him. He listens, he learns. The “manifold wisdom of God” seems more and more evident in their shared ministry as power and privilege has been relinquished.
We need to sit and listen and learn from our brothers and sisters. We need to recognize the power of relationships that empower and do not manipulate or “use” others. I am thinking here of mutual submission – the sort that we see in the heart reflected in the words and actions of Jesus, even though painful and hard (as we hear in his agonized prayers in the Garden Gethsemane) – which has as its goal serving (God, others… not self)
It is the lack of this in today’s world – and in many of our proposed solutions to the world’s problems – that is driving many aspects of the current crisis.
That drives us to repent – to change our heart and change our ways. To recalibrate our assessment of “power” as the ability to serve, not to dictate or control. And it drives us to pray.
We need to be praying in faith believing not just for the difficult, but for the “impossible”: that the evil behind the scenes will be crushed… we need to enter into the daily battles with the spirits of addiction, abuse, hard heartedness, corruption, violence, and pride which have sapped the life out of the spirit of the Ukrainian people for so long.
If there are opportunities for peaceful paths to justice and peace, then surely they must lie along such a path.