When we're in your classroom, it's like we're in a different world. (One of our students in Elektrostal, Russia.)
If we wanted to regard Russia from a "worldly" point of view, we would have no lack of material, both positive and negative -- a sublime spiritual heritage, for example, which is reflected in elemental human decency, hospitality, incredible capacity for friendship ... and a deeply dysfunctional relationship between ordinary people and the structures of power and wealth.
But we're not in Russia as political scientists -- we serve as educators and believers. We want to see the country and its people in a way that is somehow connected with the way God sees God's beloved creations. Furthermore, we want to do this not just when we're listening to incomparable choral music, or walking through the State Tretyakov Gallery, but even in our most routine and tedious daily interactions.
To develop this capacity, the first step is to learn how to regard Christ himself. The early Quakers (among others) understood and asserted that Jesus, God with us, is NOT a figurehead, trademark, brand, or symbol wholly owned by the religion industry. Christ does not represent a technique or metaphor or model to reach up the mountain to God, alongside any number of other metaphors or models. We are not dependent on ceremonies or priests or subtle adepts of any kind to accept his offer of reconciliation with God. He is already at our door, knocking, waiting for us to hear his voice, so that he can dwell in us and we in him. He actually wants to use us, the reconciled, to continue his reconciling work among those who might not yet have heard his voice.
Being able to see Christ first-hand in this way was not the work of a day. Coming from an atheist family, I had no practice in seeing Christ in any way other than a figure of other people's piety, at best a distant historical figure, until the day I felt him tell me that I could trust him. (Story here.) I believed him immediately, but actually putting weight on that trust took much, much longer. Learning to keep regarding him, listening to him, believing his promises more and more, has been the work of most of my life.
But it's been that process of learning that I now draw on to "regard" Russia. Here's an example. I regularly have to bring documents to immigration officers, who must approve those documents in order for us to continue to work in Russia. Sometimes these documents are incorrect because the laws have changed -- but, no matter how gruff those officers appear initially, they always turn out to be kind and understanding. The last time, we actually received our visas before some required translations had been completed, on the strength of our promise to make up the deficiencies as soon as possible. With each unexpected kindness, I'm confirmed in my intention not to regard officials and bureaucrats from the worldly, cynical point of view that often prevails in Russia.
But it is our students who give me the best practice in not relying on a worldly point of view. Through eyes that I'm training to regard Christ, I try to learn to see students' strengths, weaknesses, and potential, to cherish the time I spend with them, to sharpen my ability to evaluate their classroom progress in ways that improve my teaching. When they graduate, I rejoice that the world will be a better place because of their competence, cross-cultural sensitivities, and dedication. They are highly unlikely ever to become Quakers (we do not proselytize in the classroom!), but they too will likely be influences for reconciliation in this fractious and combative world.
Remembering Elie Wiesel, who inspired Kali Rubaii to write about Palestine.
The bridge of Christ in the heart's prayer...
Awakening can be enlightening and exhilarating, but the really shocking aspect comes from awakening to the fact that it will ultimately entail a death of some kind. Some part of the old familiar self must be given up and its abandonment can be as traumatic as death.... Those missing Muslim voices denouncing terrorism.
Another fascinating Sean Guillory interview: The stillbirth of the Soviet Internet.
Another thing that you will never see
Is a monkey builds a fence around the coconut tree.