Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Part Three: Some reflections on the practical outworking of Man-Centered Theology.

Christ is the head of the Church...that He may in all things have preeminence.”
Col. 1:14-18

As I reflect on the outworking of Man-Centered theology in my local church, my place of ministry for now, there is one question that repeatedly demands my attention:

Does a remedy really exist for this spiritual malady, this leprosy of the soul? 

When I refer to Man-Centered Theology, I mean this: making myself the meaning and center, foundation and focus of my Christian life. It is a view of Christianity where the overwhelming focus in teaching and practice is on self; on rule-keeping, outward appearances and performance... whether ‘to please God’, to ‘prove one’s salvation’, or to assure that we ‘make it to heaven.’

This legalistic focus inevitably leads to a system of spiritual bondage and condemnation every bit as harsh as the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament.

John Piper states it well,
“Let us not be deceived by outward appearances. Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He keeps his deadliest diseases most sanitary. He clothes his captains in religious garments and houses his weapons in temples. Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn't look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don't feel welcome in the church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.”

I see this so clearly displayed, so often.  Is there truly a cure for this man-centered rot in the church...?

I think there is. It’s God’s Ultimate Remedy, and it’s called the Gospel of Grace. In the Christian life expounded by the apostles it’s called “a Christ-Centered Theology.”

God’s way of deliverance is altogether different from Man’s way. Man’s way is to try to suppress sin by seeking to overcome it; God’s way is to remove the sinner. Many Christians mourn over their weakness, thinking that if only they were stronger all would be well. The idea that because failure to lead a holy life is due to our impotence, something more is therefore demanded of us, leads naturally to this false conception of deliverance.
...But this is altogether wrong; this is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. This is surely a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the Divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man, but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action.” (Watchman Nee)

During Jesus’ life on this earth, He repeatedly directed people’s attention away from their own merits and efforts, toward Himself and God’s promises to those who simply believed in Him. “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will have life eternally. Do you believe this?” (Jn.11:25)

The writers of the New Testament also directed the daily focus of Christians’ belief and practice to Christ again and again. “I live this life because of the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal.2:20) “Paul knows that Grace is a potent brew, and so in Romans 6 he anticipates the objection that is running around in the minds of thousands of evangelical preachers. “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?” In other words, how can we be sure people will live the way they’re supposed to if this grace thing is as a good of a deal as it appears to be?? What a great opening for a chapter on all the things we HAVE to do to really, really, really be serious Christians. Get ready to take notes!

Instead, we get a list of the miraculous accomplishments of grace, all done by Christ, for us, outside of us and in the past, accompanied by an expanded admonition to “consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Yes, I know he says to “yield yourselves” to God, which sounds like good works, but keep reading. “...As men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under the law but under Grace.”

Ahem. In other words, the entire sixth chapter of Romans says act like God has graciously done everything necessary for your salvation and you can’t do anything to save yourself. Grace, not legalism, not works, is the great motivator of the Christian life. Every appeal in Romans 6 is based on what God has done that we cannot do, and the greatest obedience flows from the grace of God.

The reason for this is clear. Grace magnifies the Giver. It’s not that obedience has no capacity to magnify God. It does - IF it comes from hearts ravished by Grace, and not from the accounting department.” (Michael Spencer)

It is grace at the beginning, and grace at the end. 

So that when you and I come to lie upon our death beds, the one thing that should comfort and help and strengthen us there is the thing that helped us in the beginning.

Not what we have been, not what we have done, but the Grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Christian life starts with grace, it must continue with grace, it ends with grace. Grace wondrous grace.

By the grace of God I am what I am. Yet not I, but the Grace of God which was with me.

(D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

(to be continued...)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Holy Week

Yesterday was Palm/Pussy Willow Sunday here. I am really enjoying seeing Bogdan get involved this year.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Piano recital and orphan ministry training

Last night was Jaan's end of the year piano recital. As he says, he panicked and forgot everything, but then he started over and did okay. I told him that we can try to redo the video later; I'm just posting this one for the cuteness factor.

On Wednesday we decided that Will should try to attend an orphan ministry training session that we had heard about. Thursday he left for Khmelnitsky. Raia hardly slept the first night that he was gone. So, it's been a little crazy here. But we got through the recital and the rough day after the sleepless night, and now we're doing better. Will will be back on Monday....

Friday, April 26, 2013

Part Two: Some basic reflections on the practical outworking of Man-Centered Theology.

Christ is the head of the Church...that He may in all things have preeminence.”
Col. 1:14-18

To begin, let me briefly recap what I mean by “Man-Centered Theology.”
Man-Centered Theology is a view of Christianity where the overwhelming focus in teaching and practice is on self, rule-keeping, outward appearances and performance; whether ‘to please God,’ to ‘prove one’s salvation,’ or to assure that we ‘make it to heaven.’ This focus inevitably leads to a system of spiritual bondage and condemnation every bit as harsh as the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament.

I find myself seeing things more and more as man-centered or Christ-centered as we enter our 5th year in this small church here. I’ve concluded that most of the people here really have a hard time even seeing the difference. All they’ve known is Man-centered religion. Even if I’ve preached three weeks in a row some months, that’s still one sermon out of three on any given Sunday, and whatever I teach isn’t quite enough to balance out the majority of the teaching. I end up listening a lot and trying to analyze what specifically bothers me about much of the preaching I hear.

This is what it boils down to, this question that I am faced with almost every Sunday:
How can we as “Bible-believing Evangelical Christians” in our church here claim to preach the Gospel of Grace, when we teach that the whole of Christian life, and eventually our eternal destiny, is at least 99% dependant upon our own efforts? 

I do realize that some of the cognitive dissonance that I see in my church here in rural Ukraine is entirely cultural. The Eastern mind is entirely comfortable with holding two mutually exclusive ideas as true and worthy of simultaneous reflection and application in daily life.
However, I am still left with the clear teaching of the New Testament, and on this topic, the message seems to be extremely clear: “if (salvation) is by Grace, than it cannot be by works, or Grace is no longer grace. Likewise, if (salvation) is by works, than it cannot be by Grace, or works are no longer works.” (Rom.11:6)

"The main thing between you and God is not so much your sins; it's your damnable good works.” (John H. Gerstner)

So what does it look like when we attempt to mix Grace and Law in the Christian life? Often, Christianity simply becomes a bewildering maze of do’s and don’ts, with new factors needing to be addressed weekly as we sink ever deeper into the quagmire of nit-picking introspection, self-condemnation, and rule-keeping... in the words of Jesus, swallowing those camels while straining out the gnats in our daily lives.

This is what it sounds like from where I sit (in the choir) on Sundays here:
-Jesus said “I never knew you” to those who said “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?” Therefore I must never repeat “Lord” in my prayers more than once unless I want to invite God’s condemnation and Jesus’ rejection of me. My eternal fate could depend on it.
-Will my Christian witness suffer if I wear a tank-top in my car (even if it’s over 100 degrees outside, and there’s no AC)?
-My lack of forgiveness toward other Christians could be what keeps me out of Heaven.
-Will people dismiss the legitimacy of our church if they see beer bottles and cigarette butts (thrown in by passers by) in our dumpster?
-By not wearing a head covering at all times, my wife could be removing herself from the protection of God’s guardian angels.
-Will God erase my name from the Book of Life if I stop going to church?
-God makes us His children once we have repented, began coming to church and promised to serve Him all of our lives.
-Believers who don’t keep reading the Bible - die!
-If we have any sins, even a lack of humility, when we die and stand before God, He will not let us into heaven.
-If our hearts are spotless, then God will accept us into heaven, since only ‘the pure in heart will see God.’
-Will my wife ruin my ‘Christian witness’ if she wears pants in public?
-Angels are recording every word we say. We know that we will stand before God at Judgement Day, He will judge us - our thoughts words and actions on this earth will be what determines our eternal fate.

Can you feel the Fear?

This is the natural result, the inevitable result of living by a Man-Centered Theology. A fear-filled life, every facet of which is saturated with self-centered introspection and myopic nit-picking, morbidly and sanctimoniously ‘doing everything I can to stay out of hell.’

I’ve actually been told that ‘that Grace stuff may be ok in the West, but Slavic peoples really need the Stick, not the Carrot... and the bigger the stick, the better!” I’m afraid that regardless of the cultural veracity of that statement, I simply cannot find the Fear of Hell in the New Testament as the main motivation for the Christian life. I also can’t seem to find the overwhelming message that “God gave you the gift of eternal life, now it’s all up to you and how you decide to live whether you make it to heaven or not.” 
Honestly, as far as I can tell, I would need to remove at least a couple of books from the New Testament to be able to give credence to such a statement. In Galatians, Paul couldn’t have said it much more clearly, “You idiots! What are you thinking!!?? Having accepted the gift of eternal life by faith, through the working of the Holy Spirit, you think that now you can live the Christian life and ‘make it to heaven’ by your own efforts?? Has someone brainwashed you, cast a spell on you, or what??” (Gal.3:2-3)

As author Tullian Tchividjian notes, “We make a big mistake when we conclude that the Law is the answer to bad behavior. In fact, the law alone stirs up more of such behavior. People get worse, not better, when you lay down the law. 
The fact is that the results of Man-Centered Theology are quite simply not at all pretty, not pleasing to God, and not representative of Christ, no matter how hard we try to look and be good. “The sinners to whom Jesus directed His messianic ministry were not those who skipped morning devotions or Sunday church. His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners. They had done nothing to merit salvation. Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them. On the other hand, the self-righteous placed their trust in the works of the Law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.” 
 (Brennan Manning)

Jesus’ harshest words were reserved not for those who lived in sin -
 but for those who held themselves up as the example of all things Godly; observance of their teachings, their traditions and their interpretation of Scripture was the only way to reach heaven. 
Blind leaders.” “Hypocrites.” “Fools.” “Sons of Gehenna.” “Evil.” “Adulterous.” “Snakes.” “Whitewashed Sepulchers.” “Rotting Corpses.”

I don’t want to be in that category of people. I don’t want that for my friends. I don’t want that for my church.
Man-centered theology is quite literally a dead end.

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A book about Americans, part 4

I'll jump ahead a little in my notes now. (I'm afraid Bogdan did something to my notes anyway. It looks like a bunch of them are gone?) This made me smile:
Air conditioners are absolutely everywhere: in any house and building. They work in elevators and in cars, in the metro and in public restrooms, in stores and offices. Summer is a time of widespread bronchitus and colds, brought on by sudden changes in temperature outside and, let's say, in the cars.
The fact that there is AC everywhere is definitely something that Russian visitors to the USA would be very interested in and should know. But Zlobin could have gone farther. He could have explained to those theoretical Russian visitors that Americans don't believe that their bronchitis and colds have anything to do with the weather or AC. Recently I was talking to a friend about that, and she asked, "But don't American doctors warn them, at least?" She was horribly shocked to find out that even American doctors are ignorant of the great dangers of changes in temperature and drafts.

Even though it's a little thing, it really is a huge cultural difference, and it has a really big effect on life in the other country (and least for Americans in Russia; maybe not so much for Russians in America) and understanding each other. I can't tell you how many times I've been in situations where someone wanted me to go tell an American guest that he's sitting by the AC/fan/open window or gate. They push and push. I finally give in and go tell him. He says, "Yes, it feels so nice!"  (Okay, that's a hypothetical conglomeration of something that has happened many times; maybe not an actual, factual report of any one occurrence.) Anyway, if I were writing a book about America for Russians, I would make a big deal about this part of life: if they complain to a waiter at a restaurant in America about the AC, they're just going to get a blank look. And it's going to be everywhere they go.

Oh, and as a Russian/Ukrainian cultural note, I recently learned a new problem that can be caused by a draft or exposure to cold. To the list of colds (of course), bronchitis, aches, strep throat, angina, hiccoughs, infertility, ring worm, kidney infection, and any other kind of infection, I can now add that cold can cause a potty trained child to revert!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Some basic reflections on the practical outworking of Man-Centered Theology

Christ is the head of the Church...
that He may in all things have preeminence.” Col. 1:14-18

First, what do I mean by “Man-Centered Theology?”

Man-Centered Theology is when I make myself the meaning and center, foundation and focus of my Christian life. That is, my faithfulness and commitment to God; my own discipline and holiness; my church attendance and my keeping whatever list of rules and traditions that my particular church or denomination holds to.

Man-Centered Theology is a view of Christianity where the overwhelming focus in teaching and practice is on self, rule-keeping, outward appearances and performance; whether ‘to please God,’ to ‘prove one’s salvation,’ or to assure that we ‘make it to heaven.’ This focus inevitably leads to a system of spiritual bondage and condemnation every bit as harsh as the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament. 
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul informs us of the purpose of the Mosaic Law. It was to hold up God’s holiness before sinful humanity in such a way that they despaired of their own ability to deserve anything before God and awaited the promised Deliverer. “Through the Law comes such an excruciatingly clear understanding of sin that the entire world, Jew and Gentile, stands condemned before God.” (Rom.3:19-20) 

Tragically, God’s own chosen nation of Israel almost entirely missed the point. They became indecently proud of the fact that God chose them - and began to focus more on their own goodness as Israelites, arguing over who best understood the Law and who applied it the most stringently. 
Paul says that his countrymen could not accept God’s gift of grace, that is, salvation offered through faith in Christ, because of their own pride. "Not understanding the righteousness of God, they tried all the harder to stand on their own goodness. In doing so, they rejected the righteousness of God that comes only through faith in Christ, for Christ has brought an end to the Law.” (Rom.10:3-4)

Just as sadly, this is every bit as true for many today who call themselves Evangelical Christians. There are many who say “of course we don’t have to keep the Mosaic Law; we don’t bring sacrifices to a temple or observe all those ceremonial rituals!” However, these same people often pick and choose parts of the Law that they incorporate into a system of rules and traditions of their own that they teach must be followed by all ‘true Christians.’

They have thus turned from a theology and practice that glorifies Christ to one that actually exalts man’s own efforts and goodness... a man-centered Christianity.

I have been in such churches (I’m in one now), and they represent a true problem found throughout great swathes of contemporary evangelical Christianity. They claim to teach salvation by the Grace of God, through faith in Christ, while teaching what is basically a ‘Christian life’ of law keeping. The problem is, whenever Grace and Law are combined, Grace takes a back seat and Law takes over in its ‘ministry of condemnation and death.”
 (2 Cor.3:7-9) 

“The ironic thing about legalism is that it not only doesn't make people work harder, it makes them give up. Moralism doesn't produce morality; rather, it produces immorality.” 
 (Tullian Tchividjian)

Why are we who claim to honor and glorify Christ so eager to accept the condemnation and spiritual death that law-keeping brings?

It is simply because the very concept of grace terrifies us and runs counter to everything in our human nature.


The complete power of the omnipotent God released to us in our weaknesses without our earning one ounce of it.

Grace. It is the essence of the Gospel... and it is the scariest word most Christians are ever forced to hear.” (Jeff Dunn)

Those who preach a Gospel or Christian life of “Jesus Plus” modern-day law keeping realize this very well. Grace terrifies them. There simply is no convenient handle for manipulating and controlling others for those who truly teach a grace-based, Christ-centered Christianity.

As Bill Gothard has so tellingly put it:
“Christians just can’t handle Grace.”

When you get down to it, the true problem with man-centered theology is that we are quite simply afraid to live by faith, to take God at His word and entrust ourselves to His grace.

“Have we been afraid to really believe God? Have some even been afraid to allow others to really believe Him? We must never forget that “God’s ways are not always Man’s ways. To some men constant peril is the only spur to action, and many religions and psychologies are dependent upon fear to keep their disciples in line. ...To promise a man the certainty of his destiny may seem, on the human level, like playing with fire; but this leaves God out of the picture. Those who have the deepest appreciation of grace do not continue in sin. Moreover, fear produces the obedience of slaves; love engenders the obedience of sons.”(J.W.Sanderson, jr.)

to be continued...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

School this week (concerts!)

I was going to write about homeschool and music school, but I took so long wrestling with this video that it will be all for now. Last night was the music school dance and vocal performance, and the ensemble that Jaan is in took part.

I might be able to post more later. We do have more videos and photos....

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A book about Americans, part 3

This quote goes in the category of complete and utter ridiculousness:
I even know a lot of American women who deliberately check into a hospital to imitate birth in front of everyone they know, then return from there with a baby, so that no one will know that he is adopted.
Okay, that probably has happened? (The author does say that he learned a lot of his English from TV. It sounds like a soap opera plot to me.) But to say "many American women" do this? What?!? Or maybe I'm completely ignorant?

Overall, I found his chapter on adoption to be lacking. Of course, I was reading it right at the time that Russia-America adoption relations were falling apart, and it isn't fair to judge a book written before an event for not covering it, but still.... He left out a lot of other parts of American life; he could have just not touched adoption, too, instead of covering it badly.

(I just reread the chapter, and it's really not that bad, but I still think it could have been left out.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What’s the point anyway? Or, Taking things by Faith.

I’m not one overly given to introspection. Still there are those moments when that insidious thought of “what’s really the point of what I’m doing?” insinuates itself into the forefront of my brain.

There has been progress.

I can look back and see how the young people I’ve worked with have grown as individuals. A large part of that is due to my getting them together twice weekly and refereeing their interactions, guiding them to more of a relationship of mutual respect and understanding. We don’t tend to have
hurt feelings, emotional blow-ups or people stomping out every other meeting anymore, and haven’t for a while. 


I can see how some of the foundational concepts needed for a Christ-centered and Grace-based Christian life have slowly been absorbed after hundreds and hundreds of repetitions. I have seen some grasp of the basics of true Bible study sinking in, attempting to actually apply textual analysis. (As opposed to the traditional approach of: “I think ____”, countered by “Well,
I think ______!” and then verbally slugging it out, as it were.)   

Progress, yes?

I have seen these young people begin to take an active role in ministering to others within and without the church, without needing someone to take them by the hand and talk them into it. That’s a good thing, since at this point, the median age of our ‘youth’ is 22 or so. 

Definitely progress...

That said, in every category I’ve mentioned, there are also tendencies to emulate the older believers around them. (Most of whom I haven’t been teaching twice a week.) Patterns of thought and behavior the complete opposite of what I have tried to teach and model still display themselves on a regular basis:
-The desire to argue others down once I have any smidgen of knowledge to lord over them.
-Demanding respect from others without having even attempted to earn it.
-Avoiding conflicts with others by simply avoiding them, not even trying to be a true friend.
-Trying to get others to adapt their behavior in accordance with my personal convictions.
-Approaching Bible study as a way to prove personal conclusions instead of trying to actually understand the plain meaning of the text, in its natural context.

Here’s one example that has both been a great encouragement and simultaneously a source of depression, frustration, and questioning for me:
One of the folks in the group, after attending Bible studies faithfully for a couple of years, made a comment one night that really thrilled me. Out of the blue, he said, “You know, the one thing that I’ve really appreciated that Will has taught us, and I’ll remember even when he’s not around is this whole 'Context’ thing. The idea that I can’t just take any verse and make it say whatever I want... it has verses and paragraphs, and chapters that surround it that help me understand it. That’s pretty important, and it’s really made a big difference in how I read the Bible!” Well, having talked about that very basic idea hundreds upon hundreds of times, it was a great encouragement to realize that it had hit home for at least one person.
However, this very same person has since that time floored me on several occasions with a complete lack of the concept of context regarding doctrine, not just individual verses. We were looking into passages that have been misused often enough that they don’t even really give them a second look. (As the Russian saying goes: ‘Repetition is the Mother of Learning.”) I was pointing out the larger context, contrasting what IS being taught with what wasn’t even in the passage, addressing the whole question of why introduce concepts to the passage that aren’t even present. 
All three times, there would be a pause, and this person blurts out “but Will, you’re teaching us Calvinism!! (A dangerous contemporary heresy that teaches that eternal salvation is indeed eternal.) I calmly replied that on the contrary, I was not teaching any one doctrine or understanding, simply trying to look at what the passage actually said. The passages in question were used to make believers question their eternal security, imply that they must at least in part earn their salvation, or threaten them with the possibility of eternal damnation. In all three instances the passages were not addressing the subject of one’s eternal abode one way or the other.

The problem was that I was the only one he’d ever heard actually address what the passages taught. When it sounded like I was challenging the only way he’d ever heard these passages explained, he assumed that I was subtly introducing a doctrine that is deemed heresy in this church. This person is a personal and family friend, he has nothing against me, has no criticism of the way I live or minister... but he does know that I have some differences of conviction doctrinally with the church, and therefore assumed that I was simply trying to influence them toward my own viewpoint.

That’s what most of the other church leaders would do, after all.


That’s largely what he hears Sunday after Sunday... one man’s opinions introduced into some verse or passage, three sermons in a row, then everyone else’ opinions as they discuss it after church. Then it’s argued out in home group meetings. Whoever is most eloquent, persuasive or intimidating wins, having convinced the others that “bro. Boris’s way is the Right way to understand ______.”

So speaking of context, I can’t help but wonder what kind of impact I’m having long-term here, progress or no progress. The whole context of the church here is almost diametrically opposed to what I hold dearest, and I have tried to teach and demonstrate what I believe are foundational concepts needed for a healthy, mature, loving and grace-filled and Christian life.

I can only hope and pray that Christ has indeed shown his grace through my imperfect representation, his love through my inadequate interactions, his strength in and through my weakness.

That is what He promised...
and that is what I have held on to, even as I’ve felt like just saying “I quit.” 
I know that we have done what we can here, and as a family we are praying and looking for another place to live and minister. Still, right now staying here, staying involved in the church seems to only drag me down and keep me from focusing on moving on as I should.

Lord, let me cling to you as my only strength in the face of my daily weakness. Let me truly live by faith, focusing ever more upon your beauty and not my context. I need your grace to fill me to overflowing just so I can move forward.

Your grace is sufficient. 


Friday, April 12, 2013

A good school week

I can honestly say that almost all of our school weeks are good. Still, I had been feeling off balance for a while. This week just felt better.

Raia finished exactly a week's worth of work--Year 1, Week 17--even though she took a day off on Wednesday. (She was just tired.) Today was one of those fun days where we went on a great rabbit trail, very related to what we were doing. I read one of Aesop's fables to Raia, and she said that she knew it already, so I looked it up in Russian. Her usual Russian reading book now is "Pages from Tolstoi's Alphabet," which includes many of the fables that he translated, but not this one. So, instead of her usual Russian reading, I printed out this one, and she read it. She's still in the beginning of her book, where it's just pictures and sentences, but she handled this reading quite well... and it's more like what is way further on!

Jaan will have finished a week's worth, too, if he comes home from music school in any shape for a little reading... and I think he will. We started Children of the New Forest last week, and he's in love with it already. This is one of the few AO books in the early years that I hadn't read before, and I think I'm going to enjoy it as much as he is.

By the way, I was quite proud of us, because Jaan and I did his music school homework without an internet connection and without any tears, and I even understood it! Memorizing all those intervals really did help with something.

And a note on why Raia already knew her fable: preschoolers in our family listen to audio books almost every day during quiet time. For a while, some of that was Krylov and Tolstoi, and apparently it stuck. I know that some organized AO mothers sort out and read the Aesop fables that aren't covered in Year 1 to their preschoolers. I didn't do that, but it's still working out beautifully. They get some in both English and Russian, and some in just one language. Although, both Jaan and Raia do refuse to accept The Ant and The Grasshopper. It's really The Ant and The Dragonfly, of course! (Fun link.)


Thursday, April 11, 2013

A book about Americans, part 2

The laws of a specific state, the actions of its officials, and the decisions of its own authorities have incomparably more influence on the lives of Americans than any action and decision of the president of the country.
The quote above is something of a theme throughout the book. At first I wasn't sure that I agreed with it. True, I really haven't lived in the states as an adult, but I just couldn't think of how which state I lived in could affect me more than overall fact that I'm American. Although, when he developed the idea more, and explained how driver's licenses and speed limits differ from state to state; taxes and schools are different, and so on. I came around.

If nothing else, it is very different from life in Russia and Ukraine! While they do tend to interpret some laws differently in different regions here, the actual laws are the same nationwide. Not much varies according to which part of the country you're in. (Well, except for language in Ukraine and even some regions of Russia, but that's a different matter.)

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Warming up here

Last time we went out to our dacha, it was still quite cold. Now it's starting to feel like spring! (Although, I must admit that my children are underdressed in the photos below; they suffer enough from me trying to keep them looking respectable in the city, so I let them undress as much as they want to at our dacha.)

Clearing around the peonies
Bogdan found a butterfly!
Playing dressup with dacha clothes.
Enjoying kvas.
Delicious lunch!
Planting spinach.
There's going to be a whole clump of it in the corner by where Bogdan is sitting in this picture.

Looking at Bogdan's huge earthworm.
Last time I wrote about how tired Bogdan was after his dacha adventures  This time Asya was the tired one. After walking home and getting a bath, she came to the supper table and announced, "It will be best if no one teases me tonight."

Monday, April 08, 2013

Prayer letter

In case you missed it, I sent out our winter prayer letter yesterday. If you want to get the next one in your email, you can sign up here. Those links will stay on our About Us page now. Thanks for reading and praying for us!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Boys and knives

A few days ago while I was out walking with our children, Jaan found a knife in the woods. Just a kitchen knife; don't get any crime scene ideas in your heads! But then he set it on the ground (in order to smash a vodka bottle.* Yes, I am a great mother.) Bogdan picked the knife up and cut himself immediately. So, we rushed home to Papa for cleanup and a bandaid. That was one day.

The next day we were walking again, this time in the city. Just as we got to the market entrance, where it's very crowded and busy, Jaan yelled, "I cut myself! All my fingers!" He had been walking behind me, apparently whittling while he walked. I had no idea what had happened, but I turned around to see him bent over, holding his hand tightly and a crowd starting to gather. Of course, it would be one of those times that I didn't have anything at all with me. So, he had to walk through the market and home like that. Papa cleaned him up, the second day in a row, except that it was the other boy this time.

Fortunately, neither cut was bad at all, and they're both almost healed already. But do you think I should hide all sharp implements around here?

(*Did I have a "deprived" childhood that somehow missed out on this, or do American vodka bottles not have little marbles in them?)

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

A book about Americans

I read this book review back in December, and found it so interesting that I grabbed the book as soon as I could. I finally finished it a few days ago. (Yes, I'm slow, but I read lots of books simultaneously, and I think the print version of this one has 400 pages?)

Anyway, it was quite an interesting and easy read. Somewhere I saw a comment  online, saying that the contents come out to about 90% exact truth and 10% blatant lies. Or something like that: a good, high percentage of very insightful observation and a bit that just makes you wonder who was putting that noodle on his ear. Er, that is, who was pulling his leg there. Still, most of it fits into the first category and makes me wish that more Russians/Ukrainians would read it and drop some of the myths about American life that they might have heard.

Probably the very best chapter was the one about babysitters in America and babushki in Russia. That, and the commentary on the educational systems in both countries was really good. I underlined and made notes throughout the whole book, so hopefully, I can come back and share some of those later. Maybe I can make it into a little blog series.

Here's the first bit I underlined out of the whole book. This is how I feel about my life here, too:
If you go to a foreign country for a few weeks, you can write about book about it. If you live there for half a year, you might risk writing an article. But it is worth staying there longer and digging into local life, history and culture, so that, if you're not a fool, you'll begin to feel that you don't have enough information and understand how little you know, how little you can judge the country and its people, their motivations and the logic of their behavior, psychology and mindset. The longer you are acquainted with a country, the harder it is to write about it.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A bit from Anna's visit

Will's sister stopped by for a short visit with us in the middle of her travels around Ukraine and Romania. It was great to see her!

I was going to crop the second photo, but then I decided that it shows how strong the wind is today: even Will's hands and the camera were blown to the side!

Anna will probably post more when she gets to her next internet connection. I'll come back and add a link to that then. Maybe I'll put up some more photos later, too....

Edited to add: Anna posted a few of her photos here.