23 April 2015

Home, part two

OK, you may have noticed that during our recent travels I've developed the habit of heading these posts with scenic photos from the places we're visiting. The photo below is equally authentic -- my load of clean dishes this evening:


To tell you the truth, I get just as much pleasure from this scene as I do from beautiful landscapes and seascapes. I'm no Brother Lawrence; dishwashing is not a time I usually spend in conscious prayer. Instead I totally enjoy the physical process of scrubbing and rinsing and placing the dripping dishes in the drainer as compactly as possible so that I can do as many dishes as possible in one session.

Two things are especially helpful: first, I use rubber gloves because the water is extremely hot. I like the way that our hot water makes light work of dirty dishes, but not at the expense of my skin. Secondly, with the right music in the background, the job can go by almost too quickly!

One thing I like very much about our kitchen: the working area is a straight line from the sink on the left to the stove on the right, with a decent length of countertop in the middle. In many small kitchens, it's hard for two people to work together without getting in each other's way, but we work easily side by side. When Judy is making a lot of things for our guests and needs to use the same bowls and implements over and over again, it's super-easy for her to hand them to me for a quick cleaning.

In many American homes, the kitchen is definitely a work area, distinct from the more social parts of the home. Many ways have been developed to make sure there is plenty of open space between the kitchen and the dining area so that those in the kitchen can join in the social life going on in the dining room. But ours is a Russian kitchen, the heart of our social life. Although our relatively rare formal dinners take place in the living room, we've been known to fit ten or eleven people into our kitchen on a regular basis. (Truthfully, when they're all sitting it's a bit hard to open the refrigerator, but it's totally worth it!)



During the Portland-Amsterdam flight I finally saw the Russian film Leviathan, one of the foreign-language nominees in the last Oscar awards. Aware of the controversies around this film (sample one, sample two), I've put off watching it. One reason is my sympathy for the irritation expressed in Pushkin's famous words, "Of course I detest my homeland from head to toe -- but it really bothers me when a foreigner shares this feeling with me." Is there any other country where the capacities for thorough self-criticism and fervent patriotism are so tightly interwoven? And how do I interpret this complexity to westerners accustomed to having to choose between vilifying or romanticizing Russia?

In actual fact, the film serves neither vilification nor sentimentality. On a perhaps more trivial level, it is a master-class in film-making. Its sheer stunning quality is a good enough reason to see the film and celebrate what a good director and team can do. But to go beyond its stunning quality, it is very much NOT a "Russia is crap" film as some of its critics here have charged. Its themes and dilemmas are universal. The heroes and villains are very complex -- certainly the main hero's own flaws contribute to the mess he's in.

Yes, corruption is very much part of the plot, but as a Chicago boy I cannot claim that Russia has a monopoly on corruption! Furthermore, the elemental decency that is so characteristic of the Russians we know is portrayed with lovely directness in this story. Finally, while it's true that the film confronts puzzles of church-state enmeshment, it doesn't do so in a simplistic or tendentious way, and it's also true that the Gospel is preached very directly. As in every country where the church has a toehold, and every real ethical situation confronting believers worldwide, the issue of faithful implementation of the Gospel message is left unresolved, or rather it's left for the viewer to resolve.



Good marriage advice. Don't try to be humble. Just Try to Be Yourself. At some point I may blog about my own experience, but not just yet....

A Jolly Quaker writes thoughtfully about Ben Pink Dandelion's Swarthmore Lecture at the Britain Yearly Meeting sessions last year. (This post is the third in a series of reflections on that lecture; there are links at that page to the two previous posts.) I've not read the lecture, but watched the video of the lecture on the same flight as the Leviathan movie! --  and that lecture provided a very interesting commentary on Ben's QuakerSpeak video I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in my post on "The ecstasy of worship is connected to pure intention."

More about ecstasy in worship: we sang this unusual song at Twin Rocks last week.



Two Hound Dogs, nearly fifty years apart -- one with Buddy Guy in the audience, the other with him on guitar:


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