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,


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 is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) 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, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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