Week 1 – Quarantine in Ukraine

Life continues somewhat normally here in this 700 year old village. I drove by the market today, it was bustling with old folks and their bags full, or half full of essentials. I wondered out loud if they even know what is going on in the world. The ‘at-risk’ elderly were not deterred to go get their eggs, bread and milk. It’s the young hiding at home, obeying the rules and responding to fear. Some of these seniors have lived through WWII as children, right here in their backyard. They’ve seen governments come, and go, including one iron fist. A virus, a flu, whatever it is named, might not impressed them enough to break tradition.

A few masks down on main street. I wonder if they are sick, or just wanting a sense of safety. Our cafe wrapped up our 2nd day of ‘to-go’ only.. but hardly anyone came. I don’t blame them. Times are uneasy, the last thing you do is spend it on a coffee when you might not have enough for bread next week. We were however able to bless a few dozen folks with free drinks, we posted on social media if you come and say “God’s Health” in Ukrainian, a common expression when someone sneezes.. you were awarded with a warm treat for free. It brought some smiles – but we’re going to close up until this thing blows over – We are going to try delivery pizza, I think, this Saturday.. been thinking about that for a few years and now seems about as good as time as any to try it! It would be the very first type service in our town’s history, something still quite new even for Kiev. Sort of fun being the first at something..

Weather is warming up. Been nice watching our girls play outside. They are growing so quickly. Abbey’s teacher called today and said they have homework on Viber (Russian messenger type app). She’s been enjoying doing homeschool with the boys. Deb has ramped up schedules and expectations with the older ones. They seem to be adapting well to her efforts.

It’s hard to not be checking my phone every hour, wondering what new laws might be passing, and panic it might instill. So far the stores have food. Most of our neighbors have gardens, but it’s spring and nothing to eat yet. We’ve always joked the world could end around us and our little town would be just fine. I believe that to be mostly true but the problem is I don’t have a garden! I thought today about what skill or trade-able service I could offer the town if push came to shove and I needed to provide for our family. It was a humorous few moments as I considered a few things.. I could teach english, but who needs it if the West was wiped out economically and no longer the power it is? I soon realized many of the ‘talents’ I possess aren’t really essential to living. I don’t weld, I can’t construct, I’m not an electrician, butcher, I don’t cut hair or fix teeth. I am formed by the modern world, living on the backs of my predecessors. Oh, I can type fast.. maybe I could be a secretary.

I believe this event will reveal, when the dust settles, a new uncertainty. I wonder if that’s going to be a good thing. The West has felt so secure, systems immovable.. sort of lends itself to a false sense of superiority. Will there be more empathy among the rich? Will there be more of a collaborative effort among the global powers to work together, or will this move immediately to the blame game and heightened tensions? Time will tell.

I’ve been embarrassed by the Christian response online. “God knows” and other trite, well intentioned but callous religion floating around. Other believers ignorantly quoting ‘prophetic’ pundits who are anxious to cash in on some ego feeding and followership. Why do believers think asserting certainties encourages unbelievers? Loving folks is too hard for shallow religion, relying on parrotted ‘certainties’ without the embodied love in action only looks like we are trying to convince ourselves.. like someone clinging to their life vest and affirming its value as others drown around us.. ‘you should get one of these, look I’m not afraid!” How bold of you Christian! If only you were confident enough to give your vest to others, then, perhaps the world would take notice. The church grew in Acts as faith was met with sacrificial, generous, eternal focused love. It’s not bold to type things, it’s bold to be present, to come alongside and listen and love as the Spirit leads.

Thankful Brent and Bronwyn are in Canada with my parents. Borders locking up for the next few weeks or more. If you are going to be surrounded by a chronically anxious system, you may as well be with those you love! I feel the Lord rebuking and challenging me to pray, I have too been caught up in the sensationalism of this event. I know where my life is hidden, and it’s not in this world. There’s a supernatural love I think that can emerge through uncertainty.. there’s a vulnerability to come alongside our fellow humanity and care, give, support. I don’t know what this whole thing has been revealing in me – but I ask the Lord for grace to adjust and bear His name with more clarity.

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What Covid-19 is teaching me about?

As a Parent

  • my children are excellent listeners. They are picking up more than I realize about the state of our anxious world and are not fully capable of discerning truth from reality. Their resulting fear is real, which they are equally incapable of navigating properly. They need our intentional, loving, and calming reassurance as parents.

My Neighbor

  • I don’t just live on my street, I live in my town. Many streets, many neighbors, I’m a part of a whole. We function in relationships like our bodies and when we work in harmony. The whole of our community, like our bodies, flourishes when we seek the greatest good together.

The Church

  • When forced to adapt, religion is more agile than it realizes. Millions gathered this past Sunday online, forced out of their comfortable buildings. This adaptive opportunity might be an opportunity for declining religion in the West to consider it’s own self-quarantining nature – so you can do ‘services’ online among yourselves. Now what?

The Media

  • We can’t blame the media. Every industry constructed in the West is a reflection of consumer demand. That’s the nature of capitalism. Consumer society is chronically anxious, media is simply feeding up and reinforcing the symptom. The unhealthy, reactionary public controls the policy, the stories, and now the economy through connectivity. I’m not sure capitalism ever saw this coming.

Mission

  • Thankfully, Jesus mission is unchanging. To love, to heal, to rescue the oppressed, give sight to the blind, and heal the broken-hearted. Wars, famine, revolution, and yes, disease will test our participation in this mission, but believers throughout history have risen to the occasion and passed to us a heritage.

My Opinion

  • Though i’m writing my thoughts and opinions here on my blog, the reality is that my opinion really doesn’t matter for the rest of the world. It’s simply one among a billion, and that feels oddly humbling. Yet, it’s also somewhat liberating. Among the thousands of thoughts, are there a thousand actions? I think our greatest gift to our social system is that of an emotional immune system, bringing peace in the storm, living for eternity, embracing death daily as the better thing. The sting is lost, outward wasting away, inwardly renewing by the mercies of God. I believe, I really believe. Perhaps many can find their own deep meaning as they are forced off the treadmill of life. Perhaps they’ll lay hold of something that gives their own life more meaning than what they’ve known before the chaos of these times. Adapting is necessary for all growth, regression leads to death. Those that adapt and flourish provide a hope and a pathway for those drowning in fear. Salt, light, Jesus help us be creative and come alongside the Father’s loving heart in each season.
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Serving At-Risk Kids

In Kiev, there are special government run programs that take children away from their parents for reasons of substance abuse or other harmful activity. These parents often find themselves in courts trying to regain their rights and children, while others are so far gone they need a miracle to ever get to that place and their children end up in orphanages and adoption lists.

This week one of our leaders, Aleksa, in conjunction with our children’s partner High5 was able to purchase and furnish some of these places with hygienic items such as toilet paper dispensers, hand sanitizer, floor mats for playing. In addition to these items, we were able to sock their library with some fresh encouraging books and some creative materials.

This month we are also sponsoring some projects for at-risk children in Belarus which we’ll update soon with photos as well.

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Differentiated Leaders in an Anxious World

Dear Friends!

One of my favorite authors on leadership is the late Dr. Edwin Friedman. This Jewish rabbi was a family counselor turned international speaker who went against the grain suggesting that leadership was not based on inborn traits or learned knowledge, but rather an emotional process he called ‘differentiation.’ 

Differentiation is essentially knowing where one ends, and another begins.

He suggested that we, as biological creatures, are not only made up of of differentiated cells, but we function like them. We navigate naturally towards community, whether it’s our biological family, our church, community or nation. A healthy individual is one that doesn’t get lost in the system, or the emotional stress of the structure but rather maintains their integrity or shape, and grows to become comfortable with the discomfort or stress of others without taking it on themselves. In fact, all of human progress, and even survival depends on recognizing and remaining differentiated from outside, foreign contagions.

If you get the corona virus for example, you’d better hope your immune system is differentiated enough to recognize it, and fight it, otherwise the host becomes the virus which ultimately results in death. Our bodies, thankfully come built with an immune system which preserves the integrity of our ‘selves’. To know what that we are not the virus, not the chronic anxiety around us, is the first step in becoming differentiated in an anxiety filled system.

He suggested that our post-modern age, much like in the 14-15th Century when the world was shifting and mental models of reality were coming unglued through discovery (e.g. Galileo, Magellan), is chronically stuck in old mentalities which work against the explorer and progress itself. In times of mass migration, global virus fears, and a host of other changes, chronic anxiety enters the social system, like a cancer, and reveals itself through a variety of characteristics:

1. Herding: a tribal, group-think over individuality. Those that go against the herd will be resisted and shamed. A “are you in or out” way of seeing things which produces a host of false dichotomies.

2. Quick Fix: instead of dealing with the root of the issues, anxious social structures have a low threshold for temporary pain for long term gain. Just give me a pill, a new political leader or pastor, anything but require me to under go adaptive growth!

3. Blame Displacement: In unhealthy systems, nobody wants to take responsibility for themselves and finger is continually pointing to the other.

What was once considered immovable in Western society is moving, the pillars of ‘sound reason’ seems to be shifting like sand. Conversation, especially online, has become theater and nobody seems to remember how to listen. In chronic anxious systems, learning, which is requires vulnerability and an acceptance that we don’t in fact know everything, suffers the most.

Friedman talks about this unhealthy grasping for certainty, versus open handed learning, when the ground begins to shake. We seem to avoid the adaptive pains at all cost. When the new world was discovered, instead of excitement, mass fear gripped the hearts of villagers and they migrated to the city centers. It’s incredible to read the history of the explorer’s, the resistance and blind ignorance in the system. Even Galileo, who was ultimately imprisoned for suggesting the earth wasn’t the center of the universe, couldn’t even get his detractors to look for themselves through his telescope! Real progress takes risk, upsets systems, and goes against the grain. We need more explorers.

When anxiety rules the day, we have to ask ourselves what does real leadership look like?

I believe Jesus of Nazareth was the most differentiated example in the history of the world. This man stood against the fierce hatred and coercive power structures and remained calm, spoke truth and was perfectly confident in His identity to do so. He knew where He came from, He knew the Father, and as the political and religious systems began to crack open, not even a Roman cross was enough to deter Him. In fact, He turned the system upside down by using that very cross of suffering, revealing love as the most influential power.

Jesus didn’t run or hide, but became an emotional immune system everywhere he went. He didn’t take on the stress of the system, but allowed it to tremble, ache, and eventually topple as it was forced to give way to a better and more beautiful reflection of how we should be as a people – enter the Church!  This missional, family-centered community that undermines the anxious structures of the world, must remains calm, centered, and bring hope through the very same suffering, patient love. When we take on the structures of the world, the victory is lost. When we put on Christ, we lay down worldly weapons for something much greater.

We don’t need to be right. We are loved. We aren’t defined by our beliefs, we are valued by the Father as seen clearly in the Son. There’s such freedom on the other side of certainty. Salvation is a Person and knowing Jesus is eternal life, not fact believing or belonging to the right herd. I think this will only get worse, and those who are differentiated will be increasingly persecuted for ‘lacking empathy’ or ‘causing division’. Friedman says when the anxious system reacts, it’s actually a sign that you are doing well as a leader – causing people to take responsibility for themselves verses taking on the enmeshing anxiety of the group.

So stay calm. Deep breath. The stress of others is an opportunity for them to grow, it’s their gift, not yours. You have enough troubles of your own without taking on someone else’s unhealthy anxiety. Your gift to the world is to remain differentiated, loving folks toward growth. This results in a beautiful unity of differentiated individuals who relate to one another meaningfully – versus this unhealthy herding that robs individuality.

Let’s remember who we are, and who we are not. We are sojourners who are not to be infected with the world: the herding, the anxiety, the quick-fix mentality around us. Our God calls us to shine as lights, we must not lose our saltiness. The Father’s love over each of us brings peace to our storm, and like Christ, allows us to stand in resistance to the worldly forces around us. We can’t do it on our own, this is about surrender and the dangerous duty of believing the love of God over your life. We cannot give to those around us something we are not experiencing ourselves.  We are the spiritual and emotional immune system this world needs – we cannot allow ourselves to be absorbed into the cancerous forces attempting to invade the integrity of our individual and communal faith.

You can read his book too: Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman. Let me now what you think!

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