Greetings Friends & Partners,
It seems the news inside Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus is getting increasingly unpredictable. One theme seems to be emerging, that Putin’s internal grip on power is in question. The humiliating defeat two weeks ago in the Kharkiv western regions cannot be underestimated. The global theater is shifting, allies once beholden to Putin beginning to distance themselves, especially in Central Asia. Russians respect power, and the seemingly unquestioned narrative that Putin has spun is being questioned, even overtly among former supporters of his regime.
As I write this update, +1,500 protestors have been arrested in the past 24hrs for opposing the mandated new conscription inside Russia. The Russian government suggests 6,000 of their soldiers have been killed in battle, but most outside of Russia recognize this number to be well over 40,000! Imagine the mothers, fathers, and countless grandparents who’ve yet to hear from their sons, week after week, month after month. Now, with the recent ‘partial mobilization’, thousands of young men are fleeing Russia by plane, train and automobile, as this ‘special military operation’ comes-a-reckoning.
I’d like to be writing about something other than the war. However, it’s impossible to paint a legitimate picture of life and ministry without the backdrop that continues to permeate everything. Even I have what they call, “Ukrainian fatigue.” What’s helped me, especially in the past few months, has been to more intentionally root myself in the meta narrative of Scripture.
Our western narratives, as you’ve likely noticed, are quickly deconstructing. We’re quickly losing the binding, unifying story that cultures rally behind. National ideologies are held together, for better or worse, by heroes and rituals. When those heroes are exposed, or the rituals questioned, we lose the glue that unites us. Those same narratives can begin to divide. Whether it’s the Slavic story of origins, or the American/Canadian founding narratives, the story tellers seem to be the power brokers. The victor, as they say, gets to write history. In Russia, it’s a desperate fight for control of the narrative, as it is in Ukraine.
Controlling narratives, now a popular buzzwords, is nothing new. It’s as old as God’s question to Cain after he killed his brother, “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Instead of answering truthfully, “He’s over there, I killed him” Cain answers, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” Our stories can serve our self-interest, as much as they elevate lofty virtues. The dizzying perspectives spun by masters of the trade from these political leaders seems designed only to confuse, divide and make us throw in the towel in any pursuit of objective reality. Many of us come away from news outlets these days scoffing like Pontius Pilate, “Truth? What Is Truth?” (Jn 18:38).
What is our truth? We can all agree it’s a mess, but what’s the solution? What’s our uniting story we can bring to this world? Are we simply to run around sharing a message, hoping some accept it so they can get a ticket outta here? When I watch some of the ministries inside Ukraine, you’d think that was why Jesus came, to get us out of here. Packages of food are being exchanged for church attendance, scores of heads bowed, prayers prayed, boxes checked. Sigh. This is not our story, is it?
In times of distress, our theology gets actualized, it comes out. I confess my own faith was sadly lacking in the first months of the war. As we ran along in hero mode, my own personal story came unglued. However, it forced me to wrestle afresh with my own ‘over-arching’ gospel story narrative. Stepping back, and seeking God in solitude brought me back to the grounding narrative that ushered in a refreshed sense of peace, and ultimately, joy.
But what’s our story as disciples of Christ? Do we have a vision of the world the way it should be?
Scripture’s Meta-Narrative: Creation. Fall. Recreation.
This world is fallen, but it’s being mended, healed, restored. Jesus loves this world, that’s why he came to it, and us. We, not just me, are the joy of his heart. He’s coming again, and all things will be renewed, not destroyed and burned up. Until then, we are part of the Creator’s great renewal project. It’s the story of the Father, in the Son, and now through the Spirit.
Through this narrative lens, I see Putin as a godless hoarder of power, much like Lukashenko in Belarus who began this week jailing pastors again for holding prayer meetings. Power is so ugly when it’s not divested in the pattern of the Son. Power is a gift to be shared, to co-create culture together. Throughout history men, in particular, have continued to look for ways to dominate one another by force. As much as the the humanistic mind would like to celebrate progress, figures like Putin only undermine the utopian fantasy and hurl us all back to an important reality check; we humans are desperately broken, fallen, and quite easily do, and permit terrible things when we disregard Christ as our Creator who’s come to earth to save us.
How quickly we forget both Russia and Ukraine are equally God’s; it’s his dirt, we create nothing ex nihilo. The earth is the Lord’s and ALL it contains, right? When God comes to earth, through His people, He comes in the same pattern of the Son. When we serve one another through awareness and compassion, restoration happens. Neighbors reconcile, and nations experience peace. We, the church, are not to be wrapped up in national identities to the point we are unable to traverse the manufactured and temporary boundaries between them.
The way of the cross moves towards those that oppose it.
So let’s get back to the story.
There’s a why we do what we do as believers. Doing good things is not enough. It’s never enough. This is why Jesus said many will come expecting heavenly rewards for their good deeds, but sadly rejected.
The why of Christianity defines our values and tells or story.
As a Christ follower, I’m not for Ukraine and against Russia any more than I can love the neighbor to my left while hating the one to my right. I love my Ukrainian friends, but I love my Russian ones as well. God has created each and every soul and determined us eternally valuable! Only God knows the depth of the demonic power structures in place that have oppressed and pillaged the imago Dei for generations within Slavic culture. Now it seems to be Putin’s turn to play the puppet of ugly power. We can see the same strings being pulled in Western nations, where history seems to be neglected and democracy hangs in some cases by a thread.
Yet, I believe what we’re experiencing in 2022 has as much in common as the year 1022, or in Christ’s day. Things are not getting worse, as crazy as this past season of Covid and war have been. History is a treasure trove of humanities continued plight of bring broken, being mended, and moving to restoration. The story continues, by God’s loving mercy, and while we might throw our hands up in anger with our lot, the very act of being alive to be defiant is a showcase of His enduring love over us.
One day soon, the garden of God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy will blossom fully. If Christ indeed resurrected, as the Slavic community loves to recite with each Easter Sunday morning, than He will return. Until then, God’s story continues in our day. It can seem quite hidden, I admit, but as we detach ourselves from the political narratives of nations, I believe we can navigate this world like the body of Christ before us. The grand narrative of Scripture can help us, as we each experience this life changing love in Christ, and enlist in God’s recreation trilogy.
The first Adam has been restored in the person of Jesus. Let’s not get tangled up in the corruption of the first. Adam’s story of brokenness and oppression is all around us still. His legacy is found in the sham elections in Eastern Ukraine and lies of a corrupt thug currently hoarding power in Russia. As a follower of Jesus, I choose to move with God’s story line. My vision for the world comes through the eyes of Jesus, and it is good, and it’s going to get even better.
May His story continue to unite us as His global body. The world sure needs us all.