Posts tagged Mel Gibson

“Of GODS and MEN” and Kazakhstan

Last night my husband and I watched a French movie titled “Of Gods and Men” with English subtitles.  We learned many of the Catholic rituals that were followed by eight monks in the two hours of viewing.  They were living in Algeria back in the mid 1990s. Before what the rest of the world now knows after 9/11 about Muslim extremists and terrorists.  These priests made the tough decision to stay on for the benefit of the villagers who they cared for rather than leave to save their own skins.

Earlier we saw how the Croatians at a work site were slashed in their throats by the extremists.  The warning on was that “Of Gods and Men” was a volatile, extremely violent movie.  I was ready for the end to see all eight monks slashed to death because we knew that they would be martyred for their Christian faith.  Didn’t happen quite the way we thought but I don’t want this to be a spoiler for those who have NOT seen this slow-moving but good movie.  I recommend it highly.

How does it relate to Kazakhstan? I think you have foreign people who have gained the trust of the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis by learning the language (Kazakh and Russian). They live in Almaty or Astana sacrificing what could be an easier, “better” life in U.K. or the U.S. or other western countries. (Not many I know of are actually living in the countryside beside Peace Corps volunteers) However, people I know are following a higher calling. That is what keeps them living beside those who are struggling to make ends meet, those who are chaffing under tyrannical laws that make no sense whatsoever.

BUT, for all the complaining there might be about the Kazakh haves and the have-nots, the standard of living being so high in the cities while Kazakh people suffer in the rural areas due to high unemployment or alcoholism, they still have their freedom.  As we saw in the movie, women were brutalized for not wearing the full garments covering all of their body. Women were not able to have an education.  They were twisted up in fear about whether their children would survive because the Muslims terrorists who ruled the area wanted them to be afraid, very afraid.  The ongoing battle was against the corrupt, government armed forces against the terrorists.  The armed forces wanted the priests to join sides with them in their brutality against the terrorists.  They would have none of it.  So, the Christians were caught in the middle wanting peace. Turns out that the French people LOVED this movie because they are all about freedom.

That brings me to another movie we watched during the 4th of July weekend.  “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson. What is it about Mel and violence and blood?  I had to cover my eyes more than once because it was so brutal and terribly bloody.  Of course, war is all of that but Gibson took it to the next extreme level with some good principles in place. The French helped the early American settlers to gain their freedom from the British imperialists.  French are all about liberty, as are Americans!

Maybe that is what Kazakhstan needs to sort out. Who will really help them get out from under the former Communist past and to stay ahead or away from the terrorist element that would LOVE to come in to strike fear in the people.  Not to mention the other threat to the east, a very big country that is burgeoning with many young males who are a product of the “One Child” policy.  Kazakhstan is the country to watch to see how they can stay afloat in wanting peace.  That is what the eight priests in “Of Gods and Men” wanted but they were martyred for their faith.  What is Kazakhstan’s faith?  Is it in themselves and their past? Is it really Muslim? Is it materialism and a reaction against communism?  Time will tell…

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Postmodern “Thinking” in a Post-Soviet Country (Part II)

To continue what I started yesterday, this gets me to moral absolutes.  This same specimen of a recent graduate from a western university, pick almost any university in the U.S. and ask what they think of murder.  They will assuredly say that it is a dreadful crime.  What about rape? or slavery?  Yes, a crime and wrong also.  What about stealing or prostitution?  Wrongs against humanity, all. But what about if all of these things are portrayed on the movie screen, is it okay then? Yep, according to a postmodernist recent graduate, because anything goes these days.  Yes, we can put a rating next to it and if it is R or X rated, it is that person’s business what they fill their minds with by what they watch. What about when such movies are promoted to a young Kazakh audience?  That’s where I as an educator from the West feel great shame because the young people of this great nation need to see wholesome, uplifting things to encourage them in life’s competition.

I used to be a Tom Hanks fan but somewhere along the line he became arrogant, his success has brought him to think he knows what is needed for audiences. He produced and was the voice in “Polar Express.”  I watched it and could not believe how inane the story line was, there was NO evil in it. No antagonist, none!  Nice little cartoon about Christmas being stolen and all the toys were on a runaway train.  So perhaps the train was the villain but that is going the other direction of showing NO evil.  Then there is Mel Gibson’s “Passion” which I’ve seen twice and will never watch again. It was rated “R” for good reason, it is like being at the scene of a very bloody, messy crime. Which it was 2000 years ago.  I don’t need to fill my mind with that awful act that changed history because we know what happens every Easter morning that we celebrate yearly.

So the postmodernist may say that Christians are hypocrites.  I would tell that ill-informed person who claims that THEY are the hypocrites and second, they have never met a bona fide Christian, one who actually follows Christ’s example dying on the cross.  Here is a recent example of how postmodernists are hypocritical.  Take Tiger Wood who was golden boy on the golf course, he could do no wrong but apparently he WAS doing wrong to his marriage vows.  He had a wife and children and yet he found time to have sex with lady friends all along the circuit.  Do you suppose the media and other handlers of this former golfing great didn’t know this was going on?  Yes, they knew but they preferred to keep silent until his wife found out the very hard way.

So, even though this crime of adultery (yes, I know it seems an old-fashioned word in our postmodern day) was not fined or reported by the media, a kind of “gentleman’s understanding” that Tiger needed the extra sex while on the road.  No one told him it was wrong but just last week while he was golfing in Dubai, he spit on the green.  Here’s the hypocrisy, he can do whatever he wants with his sex life and ruin his family and hurt his children with the scandal and there is no fine.  However, he spits on the green and he is slapped with a $10,000 fine.  Now THAT’s postmodern hypocrisy!

My point, and I DO have one, is that Kazakhstan has known MUCH heart ache and misery.  Their history is replete with all they went through under the Russian tsars and then under communism.  Yet you have educators from the West who come to the universities here and they have no clue about the context of where they are teaching and to whom they are teaching.  They just do their subject matter and go home to prepare their next lessons for tomorrow.

Teaching in a post-genocidal society, such as Ukraine or Kazakhstan, means understanding first what happened and next to know why the people of these post-Soviet countries are wanting the West’s education.  But do our hallowed halls of learning in the West really have what is needed for these young people in Kazakhstan?  I think many of the dead white males from the Modernist times knew what was holy, they actually knew the definitions to the words like contrite, sin, purity and conscience.  Today’s generation are growing up pagan, schooled in godless principles and taunting anyone who gives glory to God as being stupid and ignorant.

I shudder and quake to see how Kazakhstan will look in 20 years when they achieve their goal of being in the top 50 countries by the year 2030.  Will Kazakhs be serving others, will they be giving to their own people and to others not their own who need help?  Will the Kazakhs know how to create original ideas or will they steal from others?

All I can write about now, coming to an impasse myself with all these questions is when are we going to get back to the basics and believe the following:  “In omnibus glorificetur Deus”  That would be Latin for “In everything, may God be glorified.”  When the final curtain is drawn on this world’s stage, we shall see who will be called stupid for NOT following the postmodern dogma that prevails today.  May it never succeed in taking hold in Kazakhstan, there are enough problems sorting out from the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union.  Oh, the postmoderns will insist that communism and socialism is and was a good thing.  I’d like to see them living here in Central Asia for ONE month and see how long they would last.

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“It’s a Dog’s Life” – Easter Weekend Recap

p41101981Khristos vos Kres!” Good Friday was a BEAUTIFUL spring day!!! So different from what transpired 2,000 years ago, a dismal day Christians choose to remember and I decided to fast to be reminded of the cross. (Horrid flashbacks of Mel Gibson’s horribly bloody movie “The Passion” reappear in my mind) After a morning class with my students and being interviewed by a former student in journalism with a big camera taping it, time for a much needed walk down hill to the Green Bazaar. My favorite places to shop (by necessity because of my meager budget) are the Second Hand stores just north of the Green Bazaar and I discovered there is a new one that just sprouted up. I bought several tablecloths, one is a perfect linen one for only $6. I found a dress my color and then as I was checking out the fourth store, my friend Brenda called. She wanted me to join her for pizza at Ramstor. I declined but once I finished shopping I hopped on a bus and told her I’d be there in 15 minutes to meet up with her after all. Once we met, we went shopping for foodstuffs at Ramstor and then parted ways. Good to catch up even if for just 20 minutes.

Walked up my five flights of stairs to dump off my loot from shopping and walk downhill to our university where the KELT play was about to begin at 7:00. “David and Lisa” had been much advertised. With a busy week, I hadn’t figured out who would go with me, so I went solo figuring I’d meet up with someone I’d know. I was pleasantly surprised to see the heavy marketing paid off, the Great Hall was almost full and I seated myself in the fourth row in order to hear the actors’ lines better. A cast of 20, mostly Kazakh university students or other nonnative speakers necessitates being close to stage in order to not miss any words. I’ve learned this from past experience of attending other KELT productions.

Other native speakers of English who are professionals in the city of Almaty and who enjoy community theater were also in the cast of characters for “David and Lisa.” However, the articulation and volume of most all actors was very good. I thought the best job was done by an Australian lady who sounded VERY American in her role as a doting, overbearing mother. Also, Elina who played the lead role of Lisa did a superb job, she was supposed to sound nonsensical in her rhyming sentences and her boundless energy was phenomenal. She had split personalities, one that was hyperactive Lisa, the other was morose Muriel who was gloomy, almost scary. The other lead who played David did a great job too, I think he had the most lines to memorize.

What was funny about the start of the evening was as I was shutting off my cellphone before the performance I noticed I had missed one call. It was my French friend Benedicte who lives near me. She too had decided to go to the play on her own at the last minute but I didn’t know that so when I returned her call I told her where I was. She said, “turn around.” I did and then five rows back she waved. After intermission we sat together and watched the second half of the intense play. The play ended well and so Benedicte and I walked up the hill together talking about the amazingly complicated play we had just witnessed. She had been fasting too, so we both ended our Good Friday on a good note.

Saturday I had invited the opthamologist’s daughter over to find out about her Kazakh family background. (tomorrow I’ll share what I learned from Leila) Before that I had bought an Easter lily for Brenda whom I’d see the next day for our Easter meal at her home. I then prepared Mexican tacos for my students who were coming for my final “make-up” class Saturday evening and we watched “Emperor’s Club” with English subtitles. We had a lot to discuss afterwards because it was about teacher-students relationships and integrity, character and honor codes. This movie deals with cheating and dishonesty which we unfortunately have to deal with all the time at our university.

Sunday morning was a very special Easter service where we sang all the usual Wesley hymns starting with “Up from the Grave He Arose!” An extra treat was having an African American woman, who is a professional jazz singer, do a rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” The worship team had some added brass, a sax and drums along with the guitar. Peyton’s sermon was wonderful and I’ll long remember the story about his wife’s Uncle Billy. At the beginning he told of Uncle Billy’s part of the D-Day operation in WWII where he was the pilot of one of the many American boats that brought Americans to French soil to fight and die for freedom. However, Uncle Billy’s boat was bombed even before they got to shore and recovering all the dead bodies, they were all put in a morgue. By the end of the sermon, Peyton finished the story about Uncle Billy waking up in the midst of all these dead bodies, having only been knocked unconscious. He was spared, he revived to live his life. Jesus whose death we honor and memorialize on Good Friday was dead, dead, dead. What we celebrate on Easter Sunday is that He is alive! It’s not a dog’s life after all but God’s LIFE!p4120213


What fun to go with my two university friends to finish off my Easter weekend at Brenda and Thom’s place. I played her piano, ate good food and mingled with new people and “old” friends over a ham, an actual sit down meal with carrot cake made by Julia to top it off. Thanks Molly and Zoey (dog’s names) for having us. It’s a dog’s life.


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Bleak Realities of Hurramabad (Part II)

My favorite short story from Hurramabad was the third one, “Sammy.” An old Russian woman has a garden snake live with her that slithered up from her basement. She domesticated it with milk and benign kindness only to find out later that it is a poisonous viper. Interesting ending which I thought must have a lot of symbolic meaning to it. If only the author would unwrap some of the mystery to this simple story. The others like “A Local Man,” “First on the List,” “The House by the River,” and “A Foreigner” are about men trying to fit into the society but because of war, prejudice and general chaos, the stories either have ambivalent or dismal endings.

Some quotes I found interesting from “Hurramabad:”

p. 20 – “The ills to which all flesh is heir.” [I wonder where that quote is from?]

p. 28 ‘ “Bud-nabud, iak kase bud…” Maybe it happened, and maybe it didn’t, but once upon a time…” Traditional beginning of Tajik fairtytales [Volos perhaps used much truth from his living in Tajikistan to build his fictional short stories]

p. 35 “Apparently, there is in this world a sophisticated pleasure to be derived from making a fool of a man, and knowing that not only is he unaware of what you are up to, but is actually under the impression that your derision is the height of hospitality. If Makushin had not later stayed in Tajikistan, if he had not insisted on squeezing himself into a foreign skin which rankled to this day, he would have remained in blissful ignorance of who they had crucified him, their drunk and happy guest, at the table of hospitality. He was a foreigner, an outsider, he didn’t belong. He failed to register even ten percent of the overtones with which their words resonated; he saw only what was on the surface. They played their game with him as if he were an insect blindly crawling over a puzzling glass surface which others could see through.”

p. 37 “In olden times, they say, at the feasts of the beks, there was one special little sheep’s bone they put in here for guests they did not approve of…Clever people say God created it specially for such a purpose…Do you see how? Yes, they would place a little, tiny bone so that the guest would surely choke and die…Oh, things like that the beks would surely do!

p. 49 “Then he heard the shrill voices of two old traders at neighboring counters and, coming closer, halted in amazement. To his ear it seemed that, however improbably, they were furiously reciting poetry, trading menacing, singsong lines from some infinite epic. Listening as carefully as he could, Makushin finally made out that this verse dialogue revolved around something called piez. He decided, upon reflection, that this must be the dawn, the beloved, a nightingale or some such entity. He had heard a lot about the beauty of oriental poetry. On the other hand, given the way those present periodically burst out laughing and slapped their knees, the poem might be of a humorous nature. When the recital finally began to pall, he sought clarification from a stocky greengrocer who, smiling courteously, explained that Shavkat and Fotekh were simply swearing at each other, piez being an onion. Fotekh was railing at Shavkat for selling his pathetic Reghar onions at the same price Fotekh was charging for his fine Danghara onions.

“But why are they arguing in rhyme?” Makushin asked in perplexity. Judging from the greengrocer’s expression he had no idea what rhyme was, but was not about to admit that to a stranger.

p. 66 “Farukh sits high on the back of a sheep. Bright shine the stars in the dark sky so deep.” [a kind of shibboleth/sibboleth test] So that was their game. They were making him recite this nursery rhyme in order to test his pronunciation. A Kulyab from the countryside would invariably come to grief on the sibilants in “sheep” and “shine.”

p. 218 “Muslim [that’s the character’s name] had called him brother since fate had set the two of them side by side in the ranks of one of the vigilante units, handfuls of frightened and unfortunate people who had joined together at the crossroads in tight little groups on a February night of pogroms. The crucified city was howling in fear and pain; the air itself seemed full of violence, rape and robbery.”

p. 228 “What kind of life are we living now? We’re like troglodytes!”

p. 232 “The past was open and comprehensible, but for some reason there was no future. In place of lively pictures of his aspirations he was seeing only a grey shroud in which there seemed to be no place for him at all.”

p. 237 “Beat your own people to scare the foreigners”

As we celebrate this Good Friday another “stranger” who came to earth and was beaten and brutally killed for our sins [just watch Mel Gibson’s “Passion” to know what bloody violence is], I pause to reflect on the hope that we have come Easter Sunday. Hurramabad has no hope though it is supposedly “the mythical city of joy and happiness where there is always an abundance of fresh water and shade.”

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Servant’s “Bit Part” in King Lear

Braveheart comes to mind when I think of the valiant efforts of western foreigners who are trying to make sense of our duties as university teachers in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  For those who have watched the three hours starring Mel Gibson, the major role he plays of William Wallace has you saying aloud in your head what Wallace yells at the end as he is drawn and quartered.  “Freedom!!!” 


Perhaps Braveheart may be easier to watch than reading Leo Tolstoy’s monolithic masterpiece of War and Peace concerning marriage, unity and disunity.  Fortunately, I have the long holiday weekend to plow through all 1455 pages of Tolstoy’s writings.  Maybe I’ll come to a better understanding about our teaching situation by the end of it.  I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina while I was teaching in China from 1986-88 and understood my Norwegian grandpa better who gave it to me.  Reading Tolstoy will be a major event for me, I’m accountable to my blog audience to achieve this goal.


Reading C.S. Lewis and his interpretation of King Lear got me to think about our institution of higher learning.  My Mom sized up our situation the other day in her concise way: It seems to me that it is hard enough to get along with people in the education business here in America but then to throw in people from many different cultures and make the mix work must be a real problem.”  Yes, that is it in a nutshell, unfortunately we are interfacing with people from various cultures who do not cope well with our present reality.  They are either dealing with their own past dysfunction or have grandiose ideas (read visionary) about the future.  See if Shakespeare’s King Lear character with a “bit part” according to C.S. Lewis, casts some light on our troublesome situation:


“…the idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience.  And it is a myth which distracts us from our real duties and our real interest.  It is our attempt to guess the plot of a drama in which we are the characters.  But how can the characters ina play guess the plot?  We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience.  We are on the stage.  To play well the scenes in which we are ‘on’ concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it…


In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely ‘First Servant’.  All the characters around him – Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund – have fine, long term plans.  They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong.  The servant has no such delusions.  He has no notion how the play is going to go.  But he understands the present scene.  He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place.  He will not stand it.  His sword is out and pointed as his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind.  That is his whole part: eight lines all told.  But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.”


I’m reminded of Job’s words, along with Braveheart’s, from 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him, Even so I will defend my own ways before Him.”

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