Hello on an evening at the end of a long week,
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions, events, and the wondering of how we have created the world we have. I started a blog post about my older brother who has been gone for two score plus five years, which is still in process. How did so many years pass? Seems like so much longer at moments and simultaneously like merely a few. I can ponder that Thursday, February evening, and picture it in my mind and feel it in my heart as if it happened yesterday. What I remember most about my brother’s death was how tragic and compassionate it was, all at the same time. A second profound element of his passing was the experience of seeing my father cry for the first time. My attempt to hug him seemed so inadequate at that moment. I had never experienced a death in my family, and for the first experience to be a 26 year old man was not something I imagined possible. The hypothetical became real. And as significant, I had not even fathomed the hypothetical at that point in my life. The experience changed a number of things for me.
Since that time, between simple reality, experience as a parish pastor, and living for the spans of time I have, death is a part of life. It happens. That is not to understate it’s finality or our frailty when confronted, but it seldom shocks me anymore. I remember the first time I was in an emergency room with a deceased person or the first time I convinced a person to put a gun down in the waiting room of a hospital. The reality of death is something I never expected to know so well, but perhaps I am fortunate. I also realize some might interpret that statement as I have a healthy dose of morbidity, but fear not, I love life. Yet in my piety, I still am astonished by the ironic reality of the liturgical statement “this is the gate to eternal life.” It is pronounced as a casket or urn is readied to be lowered into the earth. Again, depending on one’s faith, there is an incredible questions about what happens on the other side of life. Beyond life is hypothetical, but life is something we hold on to ferociously.
The other thing astounding me presently are the actions of President Putin and his decision to attack his Ukrainian compatriots. I use this word intentionally because ethnically the connection between Ukraine and Russia is profound. Etymologically, they are strongly connected. Religiously, they belong to the same Orthodox family, under the umbrella of Christianity; and it appears they have the same profound sense of nationalism. This is something the Russian President seemed to overlook or misjudge. Since the actual invasion by the Russian military, my own images of streets in Lviv on an Orthodox Christmas, my sitting at lunch with four incredibly talented young musicians from Kyiv while in Kraków the summer of 2019, and my being blessed by the friendship of one who is unparalleled in both his brilliance and his kindness are real experiences. Therefore, my heart aches. As I read the news articles, by the dozens, consider the opinions of those much more learned than I, or as I have conversations with others, I am compelled to remember those who are ethnically and politically on the opposite side. Indeed, there are of Russians not supportive of their President’s decision. As I read about a fire at a nuclear facility, I am reminded of my former student’s mother who grew up around Chernobyl, and her life-long struggle for health. I am reminded of their dinner in my own home in Bloomsburg. I am reminded of three perfectly wonderful Russian students who are caught in the middle of this political and military morass. I visited them in Moscow the same summer I met the Ukrainian students. None of this is hypothetical. These are my life experiences; so the indiscriminate bombing and killing of so many is abhorrent to me on a personal level. As I read the morning news of increased shelling, even this is not something imaginary to me. I am frightened because my own military background informs me of the consequences of what is happening. Being a member of an artillery battery, I am well aware of the destruction of such firepower.
Furthermore, and perhaps even more disconcerting, I am embarrassed by my own country’s continued flirting with a past President, one who, in my opinion, exhibits too many characteristics akin to the Russian ruler, one who has noted the Russian’s authoritarian style or creating of rules to make him ruler for life is to be admired. And most recently said things about his genius, which might serve only to embolden this despot, as if that is needed. Information discovered and revealed by the Congressional Committee investigating the infamous January day should serve the populace, pushing us to see and ponder what the disregard for democracy does. The insurrection at the Capitol that January day should serve as a wake up call in a myriad of ways, and yet I fear it is used too often to drive the wedge of partisanship only deeper. I realize before I write this next section, there are those who will disagree with me vociferously, and I am fine with your disagreement, but I would simultaneously ask you to explain with facts why you disagree.
In the last week I have read opinions, focused on foreign affairs, on military strategy, or on global economics, those positing an argument I believed to be true as soon as Vladimir Putin crossed into Ukraine. Some have questioned the timing of this invasion. Why did he wait until President Trump was out of office? One might argue President Biden is weaker. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I believe that the current administration is managing this global disaster better than we managed Crimea. So again – why now? One could come to the conclusion he did not want to create an issue with President Trump. Surprisingly to some, I believe that is correct, but not for what would usually be a logical reason (you do not want to raise the ire of another super power). I believe the reason President Putin chose to wait until our former President was out of office is simple. Wait and see if the President you helped elect would be re-elected? Нет – did not happen. So NATO in concert with President Biden is a new concern for Russia. This means the unwitting ally President Trump was is no longer able to dismantle NATO as he inappropriately tried to do. If NATO is reinvigorated the likelihood of Ukrainian membership would be elevated. The weaker NATO, which played into Putin’s plan was no longer as likely. Even a hypothetical of a World War under our previous Commander in Chief petrifies me. While I am frustrated with prices, with other issues, President Biden has an extreme dossier of foreign policy experience. President Trump was unwittingly helping Russia (or perhaps there is more to Russia – or President Putin having the self-proclaimed master of “the art of the deal” over a barrel and consequently President Trump was being dealt) or he was a stranger bedfellow then we want to know. All of that is for another time.
As we move into the reality of present-day Europe, I believe we (or at least my parents) have witnessed this situation before. When Hitler invaded Poland in September of 1939, the world was stunned. Of course, from the time Hitler became chancellor until his actual blitzkrieg of Poland, the entire intervening period revealed how Hitler made pacts with various entities or governments to limit resistance. Additionally, he claimed the persecution of Germans living in Poland as a pretense for his decision to invade. The present parallel between Putin and Eastern Ukraine is impossible to overlook. Additionally, he accused France and Great Britain of moving to encircle Germany. The parallel of Putin accusing NATO of the same as well as enticing Ukraine to become part of NATO and the EU again is unavoidable. Third, the non-aggressive nature or response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 is similar to what Hitler did to the Sudetenland, that area of the Czech Republic earlier in 1939. What is referred to as Chamberlain’s policy of non-aggression, mostly out of fear of Germany, and our present resistance to militarily respond to Vladimir Putin is not again all that different. I am well aware of international norms and managing within parameters, but when is the time to be preemptive? As I write this, the latest news is that the Russians have cut the power to the Chernobyl nuclear plant. According to sources, 48 hours is the window until there are more profound consequences. This affects the entire world, but certainly all of Europe, including Russia will be immediately affected. I am not a war monger by any means, but it is time to act. Something needs to happen to save the world from a person who seems to have no regard for anything or anyone. During this week I have spoken with a friend, somewhat-colleague, and brilliant person I was blessed to work with in Kraków. Within a single phone call/video chat, she taught me more about Ukrainian/Russian history than I have ever known. I wonder how the Russian President can make the decisions he has, and she explained things more clearly than anyone. Bottom line or the ultimate consequence of what she shared is we need to be profoundly concerned about what Vladimir Putin is willing to do. In numerous ways, the seeming strategy of Russia pushes us back to medieval time. Indeed the idea of scorched earth is a more recent term, but the idea of siege goes back to Biblical times. It seems this is Putin’s strategy, and certainly the result is a Ukraine that will take decades and trillions of dollars to rebuild. What does Putin prove? That is a tougher question. While sources seem to indicate 50% of the country still supports him, it also appears that support is generational. The fact that the majority of younger people do not support the present policy is also of consequence.
This past week, almost daily, I have reached out to my young friends on both sides of this geo-political mess. It is at times difficult to remember I care for all of them. And yet, I do. I am continually astounded by the selfishness of our human nature. I want to hold on to an idealistic hope that we have some innate goodness in us, but as I see the pictures, listen to the news, watch the videos, it is hard to believe one person can convince so many that such disdain for life is appropriate. In the meanwhile, I will continue to reach out to those who matter to me: I will not cease in my raising of prayers, still hoping that a God might divinely intervene into our inhumanity; I will support as I can to make whatever small difference I can. It is the beginning of break for us. I am hoping to get some medical issues managed, get my semester squared away for the remainder of an academic year, and get ready for the whatever life might offer yet. The video below is something I have I posted before, but as thousands of young people, civilians, and soldiers are losing their lives because of a madman’s ego, this Sting song from his album Dream of the Blue Turtles seems apropos. For all who have lost their sons or daughters, my heart again aches. Indeed, the rich wage war, but it is often the poor who die.
Thank you as always for reading.