13 December 2012

Slow shorts

Art Design card no. 0259.484; purchased from our local post office.

This Christmas card is how we'd like you to picture Russia during this season. And in fact there are actually some similar landscapes within walking distance of where we live.

"Walking distance," however, implies walking. It implies staying more or less upright. It implies knowing the difference, sometimes in semi-darkness, between the more or less safe snowy zones, the less safe normal ice, the strips of dark pavement that can lull you into a false sense of security, and the sudden treacherous stretches of ultrasmooth black ice. For those who have grown up here, this doesn't seem to present a challenge; children in particular run and slide effortlessly, and we've even seen women in high heels making it all look easy. In embarrassingly stark contrast, I'm reduced to a sort of very deliberate, flatfooted gait. Furthermore, we have taken the drastic step of buying walking sticks (mine's at right) to increase our chances of remaining vertical between apartment and bus stops and destinations.

All my life I've loved walking and running and, in a word, exertion. I like to feel myself applying effort and gaining speed. I still enjoy the treadmill in the gym. But out on the unforgiving ice, I'm learning a new discipline: slow down. Each moment is a juicy unit of reality to experience and enjoy and give thanks for. There'll always be another bus. In my slow progress toward the bus stop, I can hear and see more, and relearn the earthy reality of praying without ceasing. It's both mystical and utterly practical (what a Russian combination!)--if I don't adopt a more prayerful pace, I doubt I'll stay in balance!

Since I wrote "A time to die" back in June, more friends have died. Not coincidentally, I also picked up some books purporting to be reports on heaven from near-death experiences: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent; and 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey. I wasn't planning to say anything about these books--I found them both interesting and even plausible, but neither seemed to merit urgent recommendations. But a few days ago I read David D. Flowers on "Heaven is not our home," and went on to view the brief video featuring N.T. Wright. That reminded me of a talk Tom Sine gave at Friends United Meeting's board meetings back in 1993, in which he reminded us that our folk heaven to which our dead friends and relatives go to begin immediately their eternal fellowship with God, is more platonic than biblical.

Honestly, I don't know how important it is to be settled on these matters--although, God having given us brains, it's inevitable that we would want to speculate on our ultimate destinies. What will be, will be. And what is the value in one-upping our grieving friends who are comforted by heavenly visions, with our insistence that the sentimental version may differ from the earthier biblical view that we are truly dead until the ultimate resurrection of all? Especially since we're all working with only the tiniest hints. But I do love David Flowers's and N.T. Wright's implication that, at the culmination of history, heaven and earth are somehow united and renewed together.

One more nagging question. When we talk about "a new heaven and a new earth," are we literally referring to Planet Earth? Where does the rest of the created universe fit in?

Chances are that the answers to these questions won't come precisely on December 21, the last day of the current Mayan epoch according to those who predict either a planetary catastrophe or the birth of a new reality on that date. I've not detected much worry about this date among our friends here in Elektrostal, but in some parts of Russia December 21 is being taken very seriously. There are Russian-language Web sites with countdown clocks (that don't necessarily agree--compare #1 and #2 and #3) and links for purchasing everything a sensible survivalist might want to have on hand when the day comes. (I haven't bothered to check English-language sites; how are things where you are?)

I'm reminded of a comment made years ago by Russian satirist Mikhail Zadornov in his book This Mad, Mad, Mad World.
I've just recently figured out why for centuries, for generations, we've lived such an uncomfortable life. We Slavic peoples have been given a supreme mission on this earth: to preserve life on this planet after the world ends!

For example, after any cataclysmic event, Western people simply won't survive. Naturally, there will be no money after the end of the world. How can Westerners possibly live without money? But it's all the same to us! We've lived that way before, and we'll do it again.

"Prayer for peace in Belfast," Saturday, 8:30 a.m.

"On being distinguished" rather than extinguished.

Rachel Held Evans predicts that "patriarchy won't survive the information age," and wants to know what you think.

Friends House Moscow's latest newsletter is available for download at this page.

Raids in Ramallah.

From an interview with Parker Palmer: "Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering."

"Rules of Verbal Engagement: Sex Offenders and Quakers Part III" from Susanne Kromberg.

Holiday decor in Russia...and the advantage of celebrating New Year first.

Hans Theessink and Guy Stroobant, "Trouble in Mind"...

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