01 January 2009

Keeping warm

This afternoon on Yalagin Street, about 3:50 p.m.
Our corner of
(photo by Judy)
Mozart's Requiem
at the Church of
Cosmos and Damian
(photo at
Ivan Sokolov and
his bayan
Our cats know how
to keep warm
(photo by Judy)
Any port in a
At this moment, the comment counter for last week's post has reached 28, which I think for me is a record. I hope that the discussion of Friends United Meeting's future continues, and that it continues to take place in other forums, especially within FUM itself.

Mary Kay Rehard is right. "Give me a church--any church--that cares more about discipleship and mentoring than identity." At this moment of searching questions, temptations to institutional defensiveness, and important debates about "what" and "how," will we remember to ask the central "why" questions?

Winter has arrived. It's time to learn how to keep warm. True, Russians agree with the Norwegian saying (or is it the other way around?), "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad outfitting." But when the temperature is 10 degrees F. and the wind is searching for every opening in your outfit, and every step has the potential of skidding into an ungainly sprawl on the icy surface, you put your head down and keep trudging on toward the promised spring.

Sources of warmth, however, are everywhere! (Even discussions about Quaker institutions can heat things up!) For example, one icy Moscow Sunday evening after meeting for worship, Judy and I went to the Church of Cosmos and Damian, just off Tverskaya Street, to hear a wonderful performance of Mozart's Requiem. The church was completely full; Judy and I arrived just five minutes before the concert began, and we somehow seemed to have found the last two seats--and they were by sheer chance (?) right next to a Friend from Moscow meeting!

Our host for the evening, priest Alexander Borisov, reminded us that we were still in the forty-day period after the death of the Patriarch Alexii II, and the concert was dedicated to his memory.

Three days later, we were back in Moscow--along with a busful of others from the New Humanitarian Institute--to see the Turner exhibition at the Pushkin Museum. I was shocked by how little I had known about J.M.W. Turner, and thankful that I could gain much respect for his paintings through the appreciative eyes of Russian museum curators.

Next, having been educated to the similarities and distinctions between watercolor and oils by the Turner exhibit (including the controversial hierarchies within the art world--which was the more sophisticated and truly artistic medium?), we were invited to an evening at Elektrostal's Central Exhibition Hall--the opening of an exhibition of watercolors from the Sergei Andriaka School. The school not only advances the art of watercolors, but is known for its methods of teaching art to young people of all apparent abilities. It was great to see some familiar faces at the opening.

Last Monday we were back at the Central Exhibition Hall for an amazing concert by Ivan Sokolov. He plays a Russian instrument, the bayan--a descendant of the accordion, developed just a century ago. His version of the bayan, developed in the 1960's, has, in effect, three sets of keys, allowing the musician to play amazingly complex arrangements, as Ivan Sokolov demonstrated by playing classical pieces from Chopin, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, and others. My favorite was an amazing piece written by Glinka while in Berlin toward the end of his life.

The next morning, we served on a jury for an all-city English competition at Gymnasium #4. Fifteen of the city's 22 public schools took part. The day ended with a New Year's party back at the Institute--a hilarious and very moving talent show by students of Gennadi Utyonkov in the school division of the Institute.

With friends and networks and events like this, there is not much excuse for staying cold in Elektrostal.

However, before I get accused of too much sentimentality, I do have to report that we spent a nervous night when a heating pipe running through our bathroom burst a leak. The emergency repair people did not arrive until eighteen hours--and many buckets--after we first called them.

It's not just warmth we have to remember, it's light. The sun rose today at 9 a.m. and set just after 4 p.m. But the days are gradually getting longer.

Righteous links: Almost the full range of Christian leaders in Jerusalem issue a joint plea for an end to the fighting in Gaza. See here for follow-up suggestions from Churches for Middle East Peace. ~~ And in an area of the world where nuance and balance sometimes seem impossible, read this. ~~ "Heaven for the Godless?" Whatever you think of the proposition that all will someday be saved, or (a more limited interpretation) that more will be saved than have made an explicit commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior, it's interesting to see how much functional universalism there is in the church. Even evangelical scholars and missiologists are divided; I remember being fascinated by concessions to universalism in Peter Cotterell's excellent book Mission and Meaninglessness: The Good News in a World of Suffering and Disorder. I should return to this another time, perhaps with a comment on Charles Blow's jaundiced treatment of evangelicals' "velvet ropes"; but it's getting very late....

Not too late for dessert. Winter is a perfect time for the Iceman to heat things up.


Anonymous said...

How do you say "cat" in Russian, Johan? I forget.

And is that really an American bald eagle they're nesting with?

Johan Maurer said...

Кошка--koshka; these 2 кошки are sisters.

Yes, and if you squeeze the eagle, it squawks....