Faces of the Enemy. Faces of the Friend.

I’ve been troubled by the stories of the Volgograd bombings. More troubling to me are stories that additional suicide bombers may be fanning out across Russia. Reports are that Saratov is on high-alert right now.

capatobMany years ago now, I had the honor of visiting Saratov, Russia nine times over a seven-year period. These were mission trips with my former church, as we established friendships with Russians, in those first heady years after “the wall” had fallen.

One of the most important learnings from these trips is the danger of associating the kind, decent and average citizens of any nation with their government or leaders.

Our nation did that for all the decades of the Cold War. Most of us assumed “all” Russians were staunch “communists” and supportive of everything their government did in those days.

Once I got to meet actual Russians, and hear their stories of those years, I realized nothing could have been further from the truth. And a lot of the “stories” we told ourselves about Russians had never been true. (And vice versa).

This is an important learning to keep in mind right now, in our age of Vladimir Putin, his government, and specifically their treatment of LGBT persons. I’m angry with Putin and with what he is doing. And I’m pleased there’s so much push-back from Russian themselves.

Knowing Russians –and their history of living in the fear of autocratic leaders, extending back into the time of the Czars– I am also mindful that there are likely a great many Russians who support LGBT rights, but who live in fear of speaking out. This is a hard dynamic for we Americans, raised on the free speech and open ideals of democracy, to comprehend.

Finally, I’m troubled by the reports of terrorism. I pray for the good folks of Saratov, and hope that that they can find a way back to normalcy soon.

This picture was from one of our trips to Saratov. It’s a summer scene of pure joy,

VolgaPicnic

This was taken at the Malkov family Dacha, right on the Volga River. It was an incredible day of swimming, shiskabob, home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, and copious Vodka toasts to “Russian American friendship.” David Griggs and me were honored to get to spend family time with these Russian families.

One of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read was Sam Keen’s “Faces of the Enemy.” One of these days, I will write a much longer post about it, about Russia, and about why the book means so much. Briefly here, the gist is that Keen demythologizes the process through which governments turn groups of people into “enemies.”

The primary example of the book was the Cold War dynamic of the US verses Soviet Union…how we turned them into enemies, and vice versa. So, it spoke to me deeply, as I had the honor to move behind the rhetoric of both governments, and make “friends” with our old “enemies.”

The book, and all these experiences, became the inspiration for my song, “The Birches of Moscow.”

Again, I probably need to write much more about all this soon…

Given the shockingly high number of “enemies” we’ve been invited to create in the decades that have followed –Muslims, Gay and Lesbians, Immigrants, The Poor– the US/Soviet dynamic now seems like a quaint, almost innocent, relic.

But there was a time when it was revolutionary to become “friends” with Russians. And that history, it seems to me, can help us navigate the current day.

At least by reminding us that all these broad categories we use to stereotype and categorize people can keep us from seeing the beautiful human beings inside every category and “group”.

So, today I pray for the good, decent, average people of Russia living in fear of terrorism.

I pray that whenever we are invited to see the face of the “enemy,” we will instead find the way to discover the face of a “friend.”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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