My story runs like this: at the seminary I was a rabble-rouser. So, in order to silence me, they shipped me out to the wilds of rural South Dakota. When that didn’t shut me up, they took the most extreme measures. They exiled me to Siberia.
Actually, I was no great troublemaker at the seminary. The South Dakota years as a parish pastor were excellent. Wonderful people. A fair introduction weather-wise for what was to come. And then no one forced me to go to Siberia. When the opportunity arose, I could have said no, but said yes. I haven’t been sorry.
Why then the subtitle of this blog? Well, you’re supposed to hear a note of irony in the word “exile,” but in case this doesn’t come through on screen, I’m telling you plainly: it’s part of the standing joke. All humor aside, those of us who are Christians all live in exile, as strangers and sojourners in a foreign land. So, no matter where these notes were being written from, they would be coming to those who live in exile from one also in exile.
For this introductory post I add the “paradise” part because, in our Lutheran circles, the common wisdom for pastors is that, wherever God calls you, there is your “paradise on earth.” As well as I can recall, no one ever appended, “unless it’s Siberia.” Actually, when I was a seminarian, no one even conceived of the possibility that a minister of the Gospel might be sent to this place! But that’s neither here nor there. The Lord prepares his servants for the kind of service and for the place to which He sends them. He strengthens them to endure the bad with patience and humor, as well as to rejoice in the good. All this is true in my case. Siberia is my paradise on earth.
Are there difficulties? Of course. The winters are long and cold. Anyone here who hankers for hamburgers, tacos, or even soda crackers and peanut butter will just have to keep dreaming. I have no wheels, but walk everywhere and rely on public transportation—inconvenient at best. Sometimes there’s no hot water. Simple tasks such as banking or paying bills are not all that simple here. All of this gives life a certain piquancy. There’s always something new and unusual on the horizon. The real headaches more often are caused by the cumbersome turnings of church bureaucracy back in the States. In the meantime, the difficulties and even dangers of life here supply me with anecdotes and tales. In a few years I have accumulated a wealth of experience that many people never gather in a lifetime.
It’s just some of these experiences and impressions of Siberian life, gained over thirteen years and being added to daily, that I intend to write about on this blog. My goal will be to make it engaging and varied. As the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin said in the introduction to his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, it will aim to be half-funny, half-sad, simple, sublime …. I’ll try to distill for you the essence of the paradoxical nature of Russian life and the Russian character, to the extent that I understand them myself. Because it seems to me that most Americans have but a hazy idea of what life is like here, as well as an extremely limited understanding of Russia, I’ll attempt to serve as a “translator.” Yet what you’ll read about here will be presented as it is seen through my eyes and heard through my ears—Reflections of life in Siberia. The unsolved riddle of Russia and Russians may allow for other interpretations as well. Therein lies the fascination.