Chernobyl: Tragedy, Anniversary, Memories

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. 1986 I was 24 years old and Ukraine was just a far away corner of the USSR. But last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Kiev, got to know some of its people and visited the Chernobyl museum among other things.

Our tour guide at the museum skillfully guided us through the exhibits and imagery. There were city signs hanging from the ceiling. As you entered you see the white signs with black letters that are similar to our “Welcome to…” signs. But when you are inside the museum and turn around the signs are black with white letters and red slashes through them. He explained these were all the cities, towns and villages that do not exist any more. They and their people are completely gone.

We stopped at a case that had two newspapers. One was the soviet paper. It was from April 29, three days later. On page three there was a small paragraph that said there was an accident at Chernobyl but they had it under control. Next to it was the New York Times from April 27, the day after. Its front page highlighted the disaster. The guide said while there were other forces at work (economic and political) this was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The people realized that the government did not care about them.

There was a monitor that displayed how the radioactive cloud drifted.

Mostly I will remember a woman named Galina that we had dinner with. She lost her husband because of the meltdown
and continues to care for her daughter who was effected by the radiation. She told us her story of struggle, loss and faith. It can be found here.

Today I am reminded of what happens when we can attach faces to things. It brings disaster close to home. It keeps us from making sweeping generalizations. It gives us pause before we pronounce judgement on a people or issue or cause. Today I am reminded of how easy it is to forget or dismiss the tragedies that happen far away from us, but how they become part of us when we attach faces to them.


A Very Good Friday

I attended an ecumenical Good Friday service today. It was held at a beautiful church in Flint. The sanctuary was ornate and formal. The choir was comprised of several choirs from around the area. The ministers were robed, distinguished and accomplished. The entire setting was very different than what I’m used to…which was exactly why I attended. Our environment can have a huge impact on our experience and I needed something dissimilar.

As soon as I quieted myself in the pew I noticed an inner desire to push ahead. I wasn’t bored and I didn’t have anywhere else to go. The readings were sorrowful and the music was slow and dark. I wanted to jump ahead to the end of the story but grief cannot be hurried. There is no celebration on Sunday with out Friday’s passion. And the heaviness of Good Friday joins me to all those who follow Chirst…those who have gone before…those who circle the globe today.

So I read, I prayed, I sang and I sat in sad silence.

After the service I took some photos of doors and thresholds. I found them in cemeteries and it seemed strangely appropriate for today.

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christians commemorate Christ’s Last Supper. But do you remember what happened before the meal? Jesus took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, filled a basin with water and washed the disciples feet. Then when he was finished he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)

I have had two experiences with foot washing. The first was when I was the wash-er. I was at a retreat with a group of high school students. At the conclusion of our last session I had them remove their shoes and socks and I washed their feet. I look back on that moment as one of the fondest times in youth ministry.

My other experience was much more difficult. I was the wash-ee. My friend Joel and I had met for lunch on Maundy Thursday. One of our topics of discussion was the foot washing service that would take place at his church that night. He was not looking forward to it. I tried to be encouraging but secretly was happier that it was him and not me. After lunch we went our separate ways. That evening I was sitting in our living room watching tv with my family. All of a sudden, Joel came through the front door came unannounced carrying a tub of water, soap and a towel. He didn’t greet anyone but rather went directly to me. As he knelt…putting his items on the floor…he said, “Jesus washed the feet of his friends and I want to wash your feet.”

We were all stunned. The tv was clicked off. My children watched this gift of love and friendship unfold. We all sat in a holy silence with the music of splashing water playing as a background score.

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Communities said, “To wash the feet of a brother or sister in Christ, to allow someone to wash our feet, is a sign that together we want to follow Jesus, to take the downward path, to find Jesus’ presence in the poor and the weak.”

When I think of Maundy Thursday that’s what I think of…a group of students who allowed me such a privilege and a good friend who showed me Jesus.

Not, Don’t, Won’t or Am, Do, Will

I was at a party the other night and I met some new people. The conversation started out well as one couple asked me about going back to school, the adjustments and eventually the degree I’m pursuing. The wife grew up in a very religious community full of churches, Christian colleges, and a couple seminaries which led to, “What kind of seminary is it?”

Because of what I assumed about the culture of her youth, I attempted to distinguish what George Fox was by describing what it was not. A few comments made sense but then I quickly and completely lost them. The glazed look followed by loss of eye contact was the sure sign. I don’t know why I did that but I know I’ll never do that again.

Articulating our beliefs by what we don’t believe, defining ourselves by who we aren’t, and explaining our mission by making clear what it isn’t – is a bad idea whether your motivation is to protect, include or win an argument.

  • It is a bad strategy because its a conversation ender. If I met you and my entire tone highlighted what I’m against, why would you offer what you believe? Conversations are give and take, speaking and listening. Very few people would put their positions out there for fear of landing on my list and become someone else I don’t agree with. They may start to listen but soon they will withhold their opinions and be looking for an out.
  • It is a poor testimony to our God and faith. Consistently speaking out of the negative makes me sound angry, cynical and judgmental. (BTW – Those are not fruits of the Spirit) Jesus engaged people with questions which opened them to hear what he had to offer: Life. Paul looked for common ground (Acts 17, 1 Cor. 9) in order to share the gospel = GOOD news.
  • It is a weak stance because most people expect more from us. Most of my friends are not looking for more things to avoid. They are looking for a compelling reason to live. Jesus offers that and commissions us to be salt and light, mixing in adding flavor and illumination. If this Jesus we claim to follow is ‘all that’ our words and life should point to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.

I close with a few things I’m pondering this morning…

Do my neighbors and co-workers know more about what I stand for or what I stand against?

Would my friends describe me as someone is for something or against something?

Does my family know what/who we believe in or just what/who we don’t believe in?

p.s. Jesus used both negative and positive language. In Mark 10:45 he said, “[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Maybe that’s a good ratio for us: 2/3’s of who we are to 1/3 who we aren’t.

Start Your Week Differently

Monday’s are notorious for being our enemy. Many of us develop this mentality as soon as school become routine and it continues to roll right on until retirement.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you reframe your idea about the first day of the week:

  • Begin with, “Thank you God that I have a job” instead of “I don’t want to go to work.”
  • Resist complaining about the weather.
  • See how many times you can say “Thank you” to the people you interact with today.
  • Try not to base your conversations with people about others. Ask them how they are, what they really enjoyed this past weekend and what they are looking forward to this week.
  • Every time you see a handicap parking sign thank God that you can walk from any space in the lot.
  • Tell someone you love them. (Tell all your kids you love them today.)
  • Open the door for someone or let someone go before you.
  • Look people in the eye and smile.
  • Avoid talking about your health problems and pets.
  • Tell someone you appreciate them and give them one reason why, ie their dependability, their friendship, their character, etc.
  • Find some way that fits you and your personality to celebrate Monday rather than dread it.

I hope you know I’m not suggesting these because I have mastered the Monday blues. I’m trying them right along with you. It’d be great to hear your stories this week. Feel free to share them in the ‘comment’ section.




PCP: Poland, Coffee and Purpose

I don’t usually post on Sunday but this morning I have some extra time. We have a special speaker in this weekend, a missionary from Poland. Outside the church world the idea of meeting a missionary may seem odd…like a bridge to a former time…a time of colonization, coercion and stripping people groups of their native culture. But these missionaries (and many others) are very different than that image.

These missionaries are connecting with people, and people with God, by starting coffee houses all over Poland. Last night they shared the story of their journey and showed us some photos and videos you can see on their web site. One was the night of a grand opening, a night they crammed 200 people in their 50 person shop. Their shops are gathering places for knitting groups, english classes, celebrations and education about coffee.

I left the gathering last night pensive. I thought back to the excitement of buying a coffee shop, relocating Rublev’s and dreaming of the possibilities. Then I’d flash forward to my current thoughts and feelings about the coffee shop. They are not as warm, idealistic or compelling. That saddened me.

We have a different ownership structure now. We have multiple voices shaping the culture. We have great people sharing the work load. Those are all good things. That’s why this morning I know I need to rediscover or redefine my role with Rublev’s. I still believe something happens when you hand someone a cup of coffee, sit across the table from them and share conversation. I still believe these are holy acts wired deeply and directly into the human heart. I still believe a cafe can be a sacred space where God moves and heals and connects and works. I still believe there is purpose for me in Flushing.

So………does anybody want to meet for coffee this week or discuss a book or have a Bible study or knit or talk about how in-over-our-head we are in ministry?

I know a great place.

Holding An Acorn but Wanting An Oak

I have a number of symbolic tokens and trinkets around my house; stones, photos, links of rope, etc. This acorn is one of my favorites. It sits on the edge of my mantle and I look at it multiple times a day.  It was given to me by my very best friend. There weren’t many words exchanged when she handed it to me but in that gesture I understood, “Let this be a reminder that all good things, all worthy pursuits and everything that stands strong in the long run starts small and takes a long time.” That is a beautiful, poetic and true statement…its just not fun to live out.

Whether it is your educational track, your vocational journey, your life of faith or your love relationship – waiting stinks. And currently I feel like I’ve hit the grand slam of waiting. I’m waiting in all four areas above. I was talking to someone about this the other day and he asked the question, “So are you just marking time until you can move away?” [BTW ‘marking time’ is a military term for mindlessly marching in place] He didn’t say it in a condemning way so it made me think…Am I…I could be…that’s one way to wait…that’s the temptation isn’t it?

But I really don’t want to wait that way, do you? Life is happening all around us. Opportunities are knocking on our doors. The gift of today has been giving to us so we can grow, learn, get healthier, heal, prepare, become and mature. When ‘someday’ comes I want to be at my best and ready, don’t you?

I don’t have an prescription for us to follow. We’re still holding an acorn and wanting an oak. But maybe that image will help us to remember there is a lot of dirt, rain, sun, wind, storms, pressure and time before one becomes the other. Maybe the one thing I would suggest would be to go out today and find something to put on your mantle that symbolizes that.