Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Friend Peter

Throughout the course of the year because of my various English students I have had the pleasure of reading the Gospel of Mark twice, John once and selections from Luke and Matthew. Throughout this year, I have come to realize that one of my all time favorite Bible characters is Peter.

Often when we say the name Peter, several things come to mind. The first is Peter the Saint. The guy with the keys to the kingdom who is responsible for letting people into Heaven. Another image is the guy who was insisted he'd never deny Jesus, only to do so quite effectively several hours after his statement. Sometimes his name also evokes the image of the guy who was brave enough to get out of the boat but didn't have enough faith to keep walking on water, or took his eyes off Jesus, and started to drown. Peter has been an object lesson for Sunday schools and sermons for years and years.

And I am pleased to tell you that since I have been following his escapades throughout three of the four gospels, I've gotten to know him in quite a different way the past year.

Peter suffers from the same terminal condition we all do -- humanity. I think sometimes Peter gets a bad rap in some of his stories because we don't look at the whole picture. Here was Peters issue. I think he was a guy who often spoke before he really thought things through. Look at the examples and it makes sense.

Jesus: "Hey you! Yeah, you! Come with me and you're gonna be catching some men."
Peter: "Okay!" *drops nets; follows Jesus*

On a mountain with James, John and Jesus:
*Elijah and Moses Appear. Everyone Shocked and Awed*
Peter: "What in the world?! Dude, we need to build these guys some shelters!"

Last Supper:
Jesus: "You're all going to abandon me"
Peter: "I'm never gonna leave you, bro!"
*Open mouth, insert foot.*

Deciding to go to Jerusalem:
Peter: "Are you insane?! You're gonna get killed if we go to Jerusalem!"

Sea of Galilee:
Peter: "If it's really you man, let me come out to you!"

By the way, this gave me a whole new perspective on the Bible lesson about taking your eyes of Jesus. The book of Matthew talks about Peter seeing the wind, and becoming afraid. Honestly, I think what happened during this event was all of a sudden, Peter realized what he was doing and started freaking out which shook the faith that was keeping him on the water in the first place. That seems pretty likely to me. I mean, that's how I'd feel anyway.

From what I can tell, Peter was a man of action. Look at how he reacted when Jesus was arrested. He cut off a guy's ear first thing. I think he tended to react before really thinking, before really taking the time to process. As a result, he was often sticking his foot in his mouth. But at the same time, deep down his intentions were good. Which is part of the Lord's patience with him I think. I mean never once does Jesus rebuke Peter for being so quick tempered and thoughtless. For being so passionate. Instead, I see their relationship almost as like someone teaching a child. "Well Peter, you are going to deny me. Three times actually." It's not like Jesus is like "Hey, you're an idiot. You have no idea what you're talking about." I mean not like Jesus would do that anyway, but it just amazes me the patience Jesus had with him.

And I can see why Jesus was tight with Peter, why he changed his name to "rock" in the first place. He saw Peters passion, his zealousness, his willingness to do what it takes, his desire and sure, Peter could be impulsive at times, but there were times it served him well. Besides, I imagine Jesus constantly teaching him lessons when he would burst out saying things for three years did a lot to temper Peter's reactions. Or maybe not because he and Paul did have that argument some years later. And I imagine, that could've stemmed from some of Peter's "speaking before thinking" nature.

I think that's why Peter's become one of my favorite characters. The same reasons Jesus probably chose him to deal with the Jewish expansion of Christianity. The guy has passion, drive, good intentions and just the fact that the things he says stem from his human nature, just make him more relateable. He's just an all around cool guy. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Learning to Love

I was thinking about love the other day. I never knew it was possible to feel so full of love. I think real love was something that was missing from my life back home.Not that I didn't love, I just didn't love then like I love now. Love that's a giving, a taking, a deep seated feeling. I was thinking about the love I have for the sisters here. Things aren't always good. It's been a rough time in St. Petersburg lately. Yet, things were talked about, discussed, dealt with and I find myself coming out of a distressing situation full of peace and love. Peace, love and contentment. We all make mistakes, we all fall, and there's this point where you have to recognize that everyone is human. We're not perfect. Sure, a situation might cause anger, pain and hurt and those are valid feelings. But if you work through them, on the other side you'll find a deep sense of calm.

I feel full of love in these days. The power and beauty of it makes me want to weep. The problem with the English language is that we only have one word to describe love, and that one word isn't a very good description in the first place because of the way our culture defines it. For our culture, love is a feeling. It's butterflies, roses and unicorns. It's flowers, chocolate and kissing in the rain. It's sex and orgasm. In our culture, love is a fickle thing. A feeling we become addicted to and then when it's gone we feel empty, lonely, broken and try to pursue it elsewhere.

But that's not true love. True love isn't just about a man and a woman. True love is still a feeling, but it's a feeling of calm, of security. It's loving people in spite of their faults. True love is a glue that binds people together. True love is not the same as compassion, though they are connected in a way. True love grows, multiplies and flourishes. It makes better whatever it touches. True love is warmth and light and shared experience. It's wanting what's best for those around you, though it isn't something that makes you feel put down and used. If you have true love it will make you better; make you want to reach out and share what you have with others. They always say that the more love you give the more you have, which is true in a sense. Love is not a selfish thing, it's meant to be shared. Yet I like to think of it a little differently. I've discovered that the more love you give, the deeper and more profound your own becomes. Perhaps bigger is a good word to describe it.

I think of it as an underground spring, bubbling from down deep and coming up to spread out and create a lake. That's how it feels inside of me. And you just want everyone to come and jump in and experience the same thing. To have their own spring of love inside of them. 

True love connects people. 

True love is Joy. 

True love is a Son sent to die for all of us. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Philosophies of Cranberry Gathering

I went to gather cranberries on Monday. It's a Russian thing to do, gather berries. It's cool actually, there's this whole aspect of Russian culture where it's a big deal to go out to the forest and gather berries and mushrooms. Everyone knows all the types of mushrooms and berries, everyone knows places to find them outside of the city and everyone is shocked that we don't do this sort of thing in the United States.

In some ways it's really sad that we don't. I know a little about berry picking and wild plant picking. As a child growing up on the family farm I remember mom showing me where to find the raspberry bushes, picking mulberries and sucking on clover as I wandered through the fields. Although, I definitely wasn't super intense about it. I remember one time I picked and picked mulberries only to realize it would never be enough to make a pie. I make ink instead and that combined with an opened paper bag, gave me several hours of entertainment.

So I went with some of my church family to the woods outside the city where Dima knew of a cranberry bog. My favorite part was tromping through the woods too and from the bog.

Russian nature has a wildness about it, a lot like places in America's west or in Alaska, I imagine. In any case, being a nature person I was eating it up. I was felt like a five year old, tromping behind Dima and Sergei, stopping to occasionally pick a berry and eat it. Pausing to take a picture and make sure Oleg and Natasha were still following behind me.

Eventually, what seemed like a long time of wandering, the trees thinned and we started spotting cranberries. Eventually the trees disappeared completely and opened out into a large field. A cranberry field. Bog. Whatever. Let me tell you, this isn't like the cranberry bog on the ocean spray commercials either where the guy in waders is standing up to his knees in water with cranberries floating all around him, just waiting to be scooped up. This was a field of, well basically swamp. There were cranberries, but you have to find the patches. The water wasn't too deep, but you had to be careful because if you stood in one place too long, it would make movement difficult. You'd have to pull your feet out and risk the chance of loosing your balance.

But let me tell you what, bending over in a cranberry field with water over the ankles of your rubber boots focusing on nothing but the little red berries in front of you can make you think some pretty philosophical thoughts.

I decided it's kind of sad we don't do this sort of thing in the States. Because getting out into nature feels really good and it's an earthy feeling. I'm not sure how to describe it exactly, but gathering cranberries connects you to people, if that even makes sense. Even though the people I was with were spread across the field and we didn't talk while we gathered, I still felt connected. Connected to them, to the strangers along side us, who were engaged in the same activity we were and connected to people I've never known. Connected to Babushki who supplement their pensions by gathering berries and selling them, connected to people from past years and past times. Though my ancestors weren't Russian, there was a connection to them as well. A connection that something as basic as gathering berries creates. I thought about how important this activity was to past generations and how it's important to Russians now, though maybe for different reasons. It's connected to tradition, connected to survival. It was a good feeling.

I was quite philosophical about the whole thing for the first two and a half hours. After that, I was ready to go do something else (wander the woods anyone?) we actually didn't stay much longer than that as everyone was getting tired. So we tromped back through the woods and headed back to the city. I gave my cranberries away to friends as I didn't really know what to do with them, and customs wasn't going to let me bring them home in a preserved state, but it's alright because just having the experience and the connection was an experience in itself.