Archive for March, 2008

Entry for March 31, 2008

March 31, 2008

CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS

The other day Radio Liberty reported about a “professor turned farmer”: a university lecturer (a docent) from the Transcarpathian region in Ukraine gave up the gown for the spade: he went to his native village to be elected head of the village. Considering the beggarly state of Ukrainian science, the news cut no ice with me. More impressive was the first move made by the newly-elected head: he ordered that the village should be cleared of litter and the cleanliness should be regularly maintained – with a dustcart shuttling the streets and people raking the local beach.

It made me think about cleanliness.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness – This ancient proverb is said to have come from ancient Hebrew writings. However, its first appearance in English – though in slightly altered form – seems to be in the writings of Francis Bacon. In his ‘Advancement of Learning’ (1605) he wrote: ‘Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.’ Near two centuries later John Wesley in one of his sermons (1791) indicated that the proverb was already well known in the form we use today. Wrote Wesley: ‘Slovenliness is no part of religion. ‘Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.’ – ” From “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988). There are a couple more details in “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” (1996) by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996): “.According to the fourteenth edition of ‘Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,’ it is an old Hebrew proverb used in the late 2nd century by Rabbi Phinehas ben-Yair. First attested in the United States in the ‘Monthly Anthology and Boston Review’ (1806). The proverb is found in varying forms.”

What cultural differences are there in attitudes to cleanliness? In the first place, they are practical differences like dealing with dirt, access to clean water, the affects of extreme humidity, dust, animals living on-site, diseases, etc

 

Not that long ago, when Europe was in its Golden Age, civilization, it seemed was at its peak and perfection. It was also during this time of pomp and pageantry, that it was not uncommon for men and women of the aristocracy to wear lice and mouse traps on their bodies, because to immerse oneself bodily into water, (i.e., to take a bath), was deemed unhealthy. Powdered wigs covered shaved heads due to lice infestations, and heavy perfumes barely covered the pungent smells of unwashed bodies.

Cleanliness had very little to do with that civilization, but it has everything to do with ours.

 

As a kid, I wasn’t taught to take care of my teeth – the rural folk in the post-war years did not consider such “trifles”. As a result I often suffered from toothaches. When the ache became unbearable – usually at night-time– I was advised to climb the stove-bench and turn a pillow (a pillow usually lay there) the warm side up and place my cheek on it. The warmth soothed the toothache. Another cure was to take a wad of cotton, dip it in eau de cologne and stop the hole in the tooth with it. The aching tooth would get numb and the pain would go. If the toothache couldn’t be stopped, the tooth was simply pulled out in a clinic in the district center – another village some ten kilometers from ours.

I saw the first dental floss when I was more than thirty years old: an English friend visited my family in Ukraine and brought a spool of it as the latest “western” curiosity. Thirty years later one can buy an analogous home-made product here in Ukraine. However, I would not dare call it “dental”. The moment you start cleaning your teeth with it, you think it was made for some other purpose.

Our daughter also introduced us to the antiseptic mouthwash Listerine, which she keeps bringing from America and which is so far unknown in Ukraine.

 

Talk of America, and you cannot but marvel at its standards of cleanliness – at least among the people I communicated with during my two stays in the country which I would call a world leader in hygiene. The Americans brush their teeth faithfully, they use ergonomically designed tooth brushes, motorized or non-motorized and engineered by top designers. It’s a little known fact that the best toothbrush engineers can command a six-figure income. Lots of competition! Big profits ride on the latest technology. America is more serious about fighting tooth-decay than terrorism. J. You may also mention anti-bacterial soaps and herbal shampoos, deep-cleansing creams and moisturizing oils, whitening toothpastes and invisible anti-perspirants. Through the wonders of modern chemistry and Yankee ingenuity, the Americans can run the workaday marathon without breaking a sweat or emitting the faintest whiff of an offensive aroma.

 

Keeping our persons clean is very important, but our level of cleanliness should not be skin deep.

Cleanliness does not stop at the physical level; we must also strive to keep our minds, our hearts and our intentions free from what may be called “spiritual dirt”.

 

A quote from the Bible:

 

 

37Now while Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited Him to take dinner with him, so He entered and reclined at table.

38The Pharisee noticed and was astonished [to see] that Jesus did not first wash before dinner.

39
But the Lord said to him, Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside you yourselves are full of greed and robbery and extortion and malice and wickedness.

40You senseless (foolish, stupid) ones [acting without reflection or intelligence]! Did not He Who made the outside make the inside also?

41But [dedicate your inner self and] give as donations to the poor of those things which are within [of inward righteousness] and behold, everything is purified and clean for you

(Amplified Bible)

 

 

Jesus touched the untouchables. He befriended the friendless. He associated with outcasts. He did not hesitate to become filthy and sweaty and grungy in the dogged pursuit of God’s calling.

The Christianity of Christ is a topsy-turvy thing. Jesus insulted the Pharisees—called them fools—because they were too caught up in their skin-deep spirituality to hear God calling them to a holistic, transformational walk of faith. Jesus challenged his followers to reject gamesmanship, to put aside hypocrisy and to pursue an inner and actual holiness that comes from a pure heart, pure motives and pure thinking.

He has purified our hearts by the sprinkling of his blood, and that has made us clean. The essence of godliness is not about outward appearances—it’s all about a clean heart.

 

However… May I draw your attention to the quoted verse 40: “…He Who made the outside made the inside also” and re-phrase it like “He Who made the inside made the outside also”, which makes us aware that Anatoliy Lushchak did the right thing by encouraging the villagers of Staryi Lysets (Ivano-Frankivsk region) to be …just neat. Won’t it be the first step towards the cleanliness of their hearts?

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Entry for March 26, 2008

March 26, 2008

KILLING A MOCKINGBIRD

Senator Barack Obama’s speech on the racial issue in the U.S.A. he made a week ago was elegant and bold. It reminded me of the inspiration of the 1960’s civil rights movement. In those days the young people in the USSR used to sing “We Shall Overcome” and the portraits of Martin Luther King were on the front pages of almost every soviet newspaper. The assessment of the polarized America given by Mr. Obama more than 40 years after those events seems to me more mature and realistic than the “black-and-white” picture we always had in this country. What appeals to me is that Barack Obama, in his effort to reconcile the nation (the union, as he calls it), also brings up the “white viewpoint”: “So when they (whites) are told to bus their children to a school across town, when they hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed, when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentments builds over time”.

Traditionally, the issue had been avoided by candidates for the American presidency and, definitely, Barack Obama was rather unwilling to let the genie out of the bottle this time too, but that’s what’s happened and we must take out hats off to his courage and openness. Besides, Mr. Obama, being the son of a black man and a white woman, has more rights to be an arbitrator in this issue than any other candidate.

I don’t feel competent enough to analyze the racial aspects of the American social life: there are very good columnists’ reviews, rank-and-file American-born citizens will sound more authoritative on the point. I’d rather give a personal spin to this question and say that the speech made me compare the American situation with similar issues in Ukraine and also induced me to examine myself and reach deep down into my own psyche.

Kyiv is a cosmopolitan city. You will only rarely hear people speak Ukrainian in the streets. As for immigrants, (such are considered to be those who come from the countries others than the ex-USSR) there reside about a million of them in Ukraine every year, most of them coming from non-European countries. They have started forming their own communities in major cities – it’s easier to survive that way.

The recent tendency is the growing animosity between immigrants and locals (the latter being mostly hooligans). According to the latest statistics, there are about 500 skinheads in Kyiv, 30 of which have a previous conviction. 22 foreigners were murdered in 2007 and there were 8 murders in the first three months of 2008. Very often violent acts against immigrants are committed with the unconcealed connivance of the Ukrainian police. The Government has no policy regarding the integration of legal immigrants into the Ukrainian social organism, let alone the approach to the illegal ones.

What is my attitude to the influx of immigrants? Of course, considering my democratic principles and the content of character it can be no other than tolerance and general positiveness. However, in the way of self-testing, I ask myself a question: would I agree to live in a block of flats, which would also be a home for, say, a Gypsy community? My answer is YES and NO. YES if the Gypsies kept the corridors and stairwells clean, if they did not vandalize lifts and mailboxes, if they didn’t smear the walls with graffiti and kept quiet in the small hours of the morning, if they smiled when they met me – as I usually smile to my neighbors – and said “Hello!” NO if all those conditions mentioned were not met.

I ask myself next: would I prefer living with the Gypsies to living with the Ukrainians if the Gypsies lived the way I have just described and the Ukrainians violated all the norms of community life. The answer is: absolutely YES, the preference would be given to the Gypsies.

Yours truly may also be asked: shall it be understood that the block of flats you live in has clean corridors, stairwells and walls, lifts which are taken care of and the neighbors are a polite and considerate lot respecting you and knowing that you will respect them in response? Alas! Just the opposite! In actual fact, that’s another reason why I feel a stranger in my own country.

A fourth question: does it make no difference to me, then, what national group to live with? The answer is: yes, it makes a difference. Provided all the negative residential factors being equal, I’d rather choose the Ukrainians because I know what to expect from them and I know the limits they can go to in their “destructive” spirit. From what I find out about the Gypsies, by observing them here in Ukraine, I know that with them I might face even a more uncomfortable neighborhood.

It looks like human and moral aspects dominate over national and racial elements in our communication with one another. However, the trick is that if the rules (and there exist transcendent and everlasting rules of that communication, irrespective if our racial or national identity) are broken, the culprits are, like it or not, immediately categorized as “whites”, “blacks”, “Israelis”, “Arabs”, “Russians”, “Ukrainians”. Earlier I thought otherwise. Until 9/11. At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon that day I watched on TV the first two towers of the WTC collapse. Later in the evening news I saw Palestinian kids dancing with joy over the 3,000 people burnt and buried under the rubbles of the skyscrapers.

In my opinion it is right to inquire about a responsibility of ALL individuals who belong to the group in whose name the crime has been committed. There IS such a thing as a collective responsibility. And I also know that it takes somewhat longer for collective crimes to be forgotten.

The most widely read book dealing with race in America is probably To Kill a Mockingbird.

The titular mockingbird makes a moral point: it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird which is innocent and harmless. Each of us on this planet was created with an inner goodness that has to be cherished. At what point of our lives do we kill our own mockingbirds?

Entry for March 22, 2008

March 22, 2008

Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

Understanding the Passion of Jesus

by Ronald Rolheiser

The Agony in the Garden, Christ sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, is one of the great texts in Scripture. You’ll find it in Luke 22, Matthew 26 and Mark 14. Many will know it as one of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. It’s also one of the major Christian icons, one that’s just etched into our psyche. That’s because it’s a deep text, one loaded with meaning. In this Update, I’d like to break open this text a bit for us, and show how Jesus’ encounter with this sacred space can be a key for our own encounter with the sacred.

It’s a moment, the few hours after the Last Supper, that Jesus had to prepare for his death. That’s a lot of pressure, the kind that brings life sharply into focus. What would you do if you knew you were in your final hours? Or, better yet, how could that type of insight affect the choices you make between now and then? That’s what the Agony in the Garden is all about.

In this Update we’ll look at three major aspects of the scriptural text. First, we’ll talk about the Passion of Christ, the context for the Agony in the Garden. Then we want to enter with Jesus into the Garden. What is the real drama of the Garden of Gethsemane? Finally, we’ll take a look at some of the deeply moving images that are written into this text.

The Meaning of Agony

The word agony is not just a pious term from the Rosary or other traditions; it’s a term from Scripture. In Greek they talk about Christ’s agonia. We know what agony means in English, but in Greek, at the time of Jesus, it was also a technical term for what athletes did warming up for the Olympic Games. During that warm-up, the Greek athletes would produce a certain sweat which would warm up their muscles and ready them for coming combat. That sweat, that lather, was called their agonia.

Luke is telling us that Jesus does an agonia to get ready for his passion. In essence, Luke is saying, we don’t move from being self-pampering to dying on a cross without some preparation. The Agony in the Garden is the warm-up, the readying, the agonia for the Passion that follows.

But what is the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ? The English word passion gives you a false image. In English the word passion refers to something that’s very deep in terms of feeling love. But although you certainly can have passion and love, you also can have passion and suffering. When we think of Christ’s Passion, we think of all the suffering that Jesus did. It’s more a sense of passivity, or passiveness.

In Jesus’ passivity he gives his death for us, unlike during all his active life up until the Agony in the Garden, when he gives his life for us. We often lump these together and miss the distinction. Christ gave his life and his death for us. We give our lives for each other in our activity; we give our deaths for each other in our passivity.

When blood and water poured out of the crucified Jesus (see John 19:31-37), we see not only a sign of Baptism and Eucharist, though clearly that is part of the story. We see also another sign. What are blood and water? Blood is the life principle that flows between us, it makes us alive. Water washes us. So what the evangelist is saying at another level is that Jesus died in such a way that it makes us freer. We’re able to live life; life flows more easily and we’re able to live cleanly. That is when we are free of guilt

Drama of the Garden

Do you ever wonder why that drama happens in a garden? It’s the Agony in the Garden, it’s not the Agony in the Temple, the Agony in the Synagogue, or the Agony on a Mountaintop, or in the Boat at Sea. In Scripture, where something takes place is always much, much more than geography. At a deeper level, the geography is spiritual; it’s a place in the heart.

Why the garden? Gardens don’t appear that often in Scripture, but they’re very important. In spirituality, gardens have nothing to do with cucumbers, radishes, garlic. Gardens are where lovers go. That’s very important in getting to the drama of the Agony in the Garden. This is a drama inside of love. That’s why the beginning, where Scripture opens up, we’re in the Garden of Eden. In the garden you can be naked. There’s no shame in the garden.

Where does Mary Magdalene, who was the great lover in Scripture, find Jesus on Easter Sunday, in the morning? In a garden. Remember the wonderful old gospel hymn that Elvis Presley famously recorded: “I come to the garden alone, and he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we feel when we tarry there… .” That’s Jesus as a lover, and he calls us into the Garden.

Nothing against Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, but Jesus wasn’t a physical athlete. The evangelists don’t emphasize the whips, the beatings, the thorns, the blood, the nails. They emphasize he was alone, betrayed, humiliated, hung out to dry. Nobody stood up for him.

When you read Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is saying in the Last Supper that he is dreading what’s going to happen. He doesn’t speak about the ropes and the whips and the chains, he doesn’t say, “You know, I’m really going to get beaten up out there.” He says, “You’re all going to betray me. I’m going to be alone.”

Three Tests of the Garden

I remember a teacher I had in grade school who explained Jesus’ sweating blood as a kind of pious moment for a Jesus who knew how everything would turn out. But it’s more than that. Sweating blood in the Garden is about the drama inside of love—the drama that’s deepest inside of your loneliness. What’s happening in the Garden is a test of love. In essence there are really three tests that tie together into one test in the Garden:

1. Lose the Resentment The first test is: Can you give your life over in love without resentment and bitterness? Henri Nouwen says: “The sensitive world is not bound up between those who are bound to duty.” You know we have to take care of sick mothers and work inside the Church and take care of kids and take care of parishes and cook the holiday dinner because nobody else is going to do it. Now all sensitive people are bound to duty—some do it with resentment; others give it over freely. See, the first part of the major drama in the Garden of Gethsemane is that Jesus has to give himself over to this death, which is hard, which is suffering, which is sacrificial. But he has to do it without resentment. He has to carry the cross and not send the bill.

Jesus was going to die anyway. But his great gift was that he could die, he gave his life over without bitterness, without price tag, without anger, without resentment, with complete forgiveness. The Resurrection is all about forgiveness. Jesus came back and he never challenged anybody with, “Where were you when I needed you?” He came back just in pure grace, transforming suffering into deeper compassion.

2. Face Humiliation But tied to that, Jesus has to face a powerful humiliation. We don’t get the drama of the Crucifixion unless we really enter into this powerful humiliation of Good Friday. Consider what the risen Jesus tells the disciples on Easter Sunday in the morning on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24).

Luke says on that morning two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the Church. It was their faith dream but it was also the place of humiliation. And they are walking towards Emmaus, a spa. Today it would be like Las Vegas. The disciples are going for some human consolation and they meet Jesus on the road, yet they don’t recognize him. Why not? Because they have written him off, because they’ve seen him humiliated.

Then Jesus says to them: “Wasn’t it necessary? Wasn’t it necessary that the Christ should so have to suffer and enter into his glory?” What’s the necessary connection? Essentially what Jesus is saying to the disciples on the road to Emmaus is that you can’t get Easter Sunday if you don’t get the humiliation of Good Friday.

What suffering or humiliation does for us, if we get it right, is to give us moral intelligence. You learn it from your own humiliations. I remember one lecturer, James Hillman, who said, think of all the things that have made you deep in your life. In virtually every case, you know what brought that depth into your life? Some humiliation you wouldn’t want to talk about. You know, some powerlessness, whether it was being beat up on the playground, being the girl who was never asked to dance, having a fat mother or alcoholic father, being a victim of sexual abuse when you were a child, whatever—powerful sufferings. They have made you deep. They have given you character. We see the same in the lives of many of our saints who suffered. They, like Jesus before them, allowed suffering to bring them to compassion; not to bitterness. That’s the test.

3. Sacrifice for the Greater Good The final test is this: Can you give your life over and sacrifice today—your career, pleasure and everything else—for something that’s more long-range? Jesus had to die at age 33. That’s not easy to do: It’s not easy to die at any age. Yet to give his life over in trust for something long-range, where it wasn’t going to pay off today, is the opposite of despair. That’s what real hope is.

So many of our sins are sins of despair. They’re not sins of malice; rather, they’re what I call practical despair. They’re sins where we say, “Given my life, I’m going to settle for second-best or third-best because ‘first best’ is never going to happen for me anyway.” My dad wasn’t very educated, but he knew the Agony in the Garden. There was always a picture hanging in our house of Jesus in Gethsemane.

My dad always told me, “If you’re going to be faithful in anything, whether you’re going to be a priest, whether you’re going to be married or whatever, you better learn how to sweat blood because that’s what it’s going to take.” Truly, if you’re going to be faithful to anything—to marriage, to a priestly or religious vocation, to anything—learn how to sweat blood, because that’s what it’s going to take.

What we get in the Garden of Gethsemane, is Jesus, deeply. That’s because Jesus is our model. He is the person we all look up to when we suffer—we know we’re not praying to somebody who didn’t taste it in all its darkness.

Remember the old translation of the Our Father? In place of “and lead us not into temptation,” we used to say, “and do not put us to the test.” What is the test? We’re telling God something like, “God, in my life I know you can test me the way you tested Jesus. I know you can make me sweat blood, but cut me a little slack. Make these things a little easier for me in my life so I don’t have to taste that complete darkness.” See, though, that darkness is the test of the moral athlete, inside of our moral loneliness. It’s not the test of our physical capacity to withstand pain.

That’s why we need to move beyond the scourging metaphor of the Stations of the Cross. There’s much more to the Stations. The Passion is not about the blood and the ropes and the whipping and how much Jesus endured. It’s about something we’re meant to imitate. It’s about our moral and emotional athleticism the next time we have temptation. It’s about the test inside of love, and it happens in a garden.

The Sleeping Apostles

We have examples in Scripture of the rich things in the Garden. Luke’s Gospel, for instance, says, “Jesus went into the garden and he told his disciples, ‘Pray that you may not undergo the test’” (Luke 22:40). Rather than telling them to join in his prayer, we’re supposed to learn something by watching Jesus. Then he has this drama in the Garden and finally gives his life over to his Father. He says: “Not my will but yours be done.”

Then he turns around and, as Luke says, “they were all asleep.” Out of what? Tiredness? No. Luke says they were asleep out of grief (22:45), sheer sorrow. That’s an incredible line. They were asleep out of what? They were asleep out of depression. It was just too depressing to get the lesson. Most of the time when we’re asleep, we’re not asleep physically. When we don’t get something, it’s just too depressing to get.

The Moment of Grace

About a month before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered for his moral bravery, he recounted one of the many threatening phone calls he received. He said the phone rang and a person said, “If you come here we’re going to kill you.” And he said, in telling the story, that he had heard those life-threatening calls many times before, “but that night, for whatever reason, it shook me to my roots. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I brewed some coffee. I drank the whole pot.” He said: “I began to cry at the kitchen table, and I lost all my courage.” He said: “I put my head in my hands and I thought, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to die.”

And he said: “At that moment I felt this strength in me that I had never felt before. I knew what to do, what I needed to do.” You see the Agony in the Garden, and it’s only after the agony that the angel can come. See, then Jesus got up. Then he was the athlete who was ready. Then he could walk to his passion.

When Jesus left the Last Supper room, he couldn’t do it. That was the great transition. Only after he had broken down, had sweated the blood, had told his Father many times, “I don’t want to do this,” he finally broke down and accepted it. How many of us, in our own way, experience that frustration, that same sense of abandonment? Yet, at the moment of acceptance, God’s liberating grace flows. As Luke says of Jesus in the Garden, the angel comes. That’s a deep theology of grace

Entry for March 21, 2008

March 20, 2008

UKRAINIAN ROLLER-COASTING

The communist regime took possession of Taras Shevchenko’s literary heritage by claiming that he had been “a poet, a democrat and a revolutionary”

The emphasis was put on Shevchenko’s poems that were castigating the czar and rich landlords. Born as a serf, Shevchenko knew better than any other “aristocratic” man of letters the horrors of the Ukrainian life in the early 19th century:

…’Twas there,

In that wee house, that Eden fair,

That I saw hell…There people slave

Without a let-up night and day,

Not even having time to pray…

(Taras Shevchenko “Young Masters, If You Only Knew…”Ttranslated by Irina Zheleznova)

That type of Shevchenko’s poetry was canonized in soviet school programmes and learnt as a required course by pupils all over Ukraine.

With the regime gone and the Soviet Union disintegrated, new aspects of Shevchenko’s poems were activated. Beside his role in building the Ukrainian nation, scholars notice modernistic trends in Shevchenko’s poetry which appear long before the times of modernism proper. For instance, the poet’s manipulation with certain words within a narrow context really reminds us of what we read much later in the early 20th century. Let’s compare the two pieces:

1.

Beside the hut the cherries are in bloom,

And May bug’s o’er the cherries dance,

The plowmen with plows from the field return

…………………………………………………………………………….

A family at evening meal sit without…

Dusk slowly comes, the evening stars are out,

The daughter serves the evening meal, but seems to take too long…

(Taras Shevchenko. “Beside the Hut…” Translated by Irina Zheleznova)

2.

She walks before me along the corridor and as she walks a dark coil of her hair slowly uncoils and falls. Slowly uncoiling falling hair. She does not know and walks before me, simple and proud. So did she walk by Dante in simple pride and so, stainless of blood and violation, the daughter of Cenci, Beatrice, to her death:

“…Tie

My girdle for me and bind this hair

In any simple knot”

(James Joyce. Giacomo Joyce)

So much for it. I’ve got a story to tell.

Several years ago a big Ukrainian firm was launching its products and services and the presentation was arranged as a trip on a motor vessel down the Dnipro river from Kyiv to Kaniv and back (Kaniv is Shevchenko’s burial place: Shevchenko’s tomb is on a hill and the monument erected there towers over the Dnipro and the neighboring fields for many miles around – “I will lie and watch the cornfields, /Listen through the years/ To the river voices roaring,/ Roaring in my ears. – that’s from Shevchenko’s “Testament” as translated by Ethel L. Voinich). There were a lot of foreign partners on the boat and I was working as an interpreter “in the sweat of my brow”. Working sessions interchanged with entertainments: drinks and meals were consumed in big quantities both up on deck and down in the restaurant. My official hours finished later in the evening and, being fairly exhausted, I went straight to bed, leaving the businessmen “unattended”. From my earlier experience I knew that their command of English was quite enough to understand one another in the restaurant. Besides, the more shots of vodka were drunk, the easier the communication was.

I woke up early next morning. The sun had not risen yet and it was kind of dark. The motor vessel stayed already moored at the river station and the word “Kaniv” could be read on a big board there. Shevchenko’s monument was dimly seen high up on the hill about a mile away. The town itself was somewhat further off.

Before any
body else was up and I got immersed in interpreting again, I decided to visit Shevchenko’s grave. I splashed some water in my face, quickly dressed and ran to the gangway. And…I saw something which since then I remember every time when Ukrainian politicians start laying wreaths to Shevchenko’s monuments and pronounce patriotic speeches to celebrate his birthday. Down on the bank, in the dusk of the dawn, there was a huge crowd of people. They had definitely come from nearby villages. They were dressed in simple fashion, as villagers usually dress; women were wearing kerchiefs on their heads and a few men were standing aside smoking. One of the men had a national costume on and kept several sheep by his side. When I came down and began cautiously making my way through the people, they moved to me with embroidered towels, carved statuettes, some paintings in their hands. “Would you like to buy this thing? Just have a look…! It’s cheap” I felt awkward. I had nothing in my pockets. “Wait a little”, I said, “those on board will get up and will come down here…” – “It’ll be a long wait, a woman said with a sigh. They’d been carousing till four in the morning” …

They were drinking…and these people were staying here all night through… to sell their embroidery, carvings, paintings…for cheap… Once Leo Tolstoy jotted down in his diary: “Was passing a group of peasants. Got ashamed…”

How about re-introducing the required course about Shevchenko as “a poet, a democrat and a revolutionary”?

Entry for March 08, 2008

March 8, 2008

TEACHERS AND TEACHERS

According to statistics recently released by the American National Education Association (NEA), men made up just 24.4 percent of the total number of teachers in 2006. In fact, the number of male public school teachers in the U.S. has hit a record 40-year low. Research suggests three key reasons for the shortage of male teachers: low status and pay, the perception that teaching is “women’s work,” and the fear of accusation of child abuse.

Historically, a majority of teachers have been male; that began to change in the 1880s, when women pushed for their own education and the opportunity to teach. In the 1930s, after the stock market crashed, a big surge of men returned to education, as they did after World War II. In tough economic times, men looking for work returned to education, since there were always teaching jobs available.

Low salary levels have also proved to be a deterrent, especially for those men who value being the breadwinners of the family. The average U.S. public school teacher salary for 2005-2006 was $49,026, according to the NEA. There’s a long-entrenched idea that males are supposed to make lots of money and be a big-time breadwinner. But teaching won’t make anyone rich.

I do not have the latest statistics for men teachers working in Ukraine. Still, from what I know and see, the situation here looks very much the same as in the U.S.A. I may understand men shunning away from school, but I cannot comprehend why education authorities leave no stone unturned trying to recruit men into the classroom. As a student I was taught by very good instructors. It was generally recognized that the best among them was Samuel Rosenzweig, a wonderful connoisseur of English and an experienced methodologist. He was a squatty short man, “quick on his pins” and with fast reactions. Good-humouredly, we used to call him “Uncle Sam”. His native language was Yiddish, he spoke natural Russian and German. When you heard his English recorded on the magnetic tape, you wouldn’t distinguish it from that of a native Brit. Whatever he said about methods of teaching English was ultimate truth for all of us and it has remained such until now, when many of us have also matured into“experienced” and “wonderful”, honoured and recognized educators. I remember Uncle Sam saying once : “I do not understand why there’s so much fuss about men in school. Women make far better teachers”

Entry for March 06, 2008

March 6, 2008

RECENT CRAZE

A new sign appeared on the rear windows of cars. It’s a woman’s shoe in an equilateral triangle with a red border and a white background. I’m not sure how “official” the sign is: I haven’t found it on the list of accepted signs. At present there are only a few signs to be put on a windshield or a rear window: “Learner”, “Operated by a PhysicallyChallenged Driver”, “Speed limit” (with a figure in a circle), “Baby in the Car”/

Interpretations of the sign “lady’s shoe” and attitudes to it vary. My wife says she welcomes the sign: to her it means “I am a Woman – Respect Me”. I’m prone to think the sign typifies the gender stereotype that a woman is allegedly a less able/ skillful driver than a man – with the idea “I’m a weakling and should be treated with indulgence”. Otherwise, the lady’s shoe wouldn’t have been presented as a caution sign (in a triangle). Some people say we should read the sign as “You won’t overtake me”. Or if you see a man driver in a car labeled that way, it should mean: “Henpecked Husband”

Yesterday I spotted an advertising panel in which a Ukrainian company offers “special” autos for women. “UKRAUTO STANDS FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN DRIVERS” the caption says. Is it really about women asserting themselves or a case of furthering century-old social and gender patterns? There was the shoe pictured as a sign of warning. Some tart-tongued chauvinists say that the two side-mirrors in such cars and the rear-view mirror are set at the angles that allow women-drivers to see only THEMSELVES.

There’s another piece of news about the signs viewed from the positions of political correctness: in Vienna 50 per cent of all the signs where men’s silhouettes are represented shall be replaced by the same signs with women’s shadow-figures on them. Not a bad idea, in my opinion. However, the snag is that for the figure to be recognized as a woman, it is imaged as a skirt-wearing shape.

All that could seem a matter of minor importance if it weren’t for Ukraine orienting towards Europe. In this process European everyday values are gradually integrating in the Ukrainian system of values. So far we have been importing mostly negative trends: television violence, drug-addiction, “profit-before-people” attitude etc. No wonder, many are alarmed by real and imaginary perils. Recently I came across an “anxiety” of a reader who said with his tongue in his cheek that having borrowed American values” we won’t have to identify to a baby which of his parents is a father and which is a mother (or even whether the baby ITSELF is a male or a female) – until the baby defines ITS own sexual orientation later in life J

Entry for March 02, 2008

March 2, 2008

RUSSIAN ELECTIONS

Today the presidential election is held in Russia. In the run-up to the vote Russia’s main television channels gave generous coverage to Mr Medvedev, who refused to debate with his rivals. Why should he? He has already been “appointed” by Mr Putin to be his successor.

A popular joke here is: YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO THE BALLOT STATION TO VOTE FOR MR MEDVEDEV. JUST PUT MR MEDVEDEV’S PHOTO IN FRONT OF YOU AND MEDITATE FOR A WHILE. YOUR VOTE WILL BE COUNTED.


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