Our vacation to Eastern Europe was a celebration of our 60th wedding anniversary. Jeny had some problems walking. She has not fully recovered her stamina from chemotherapy. She was slow and had to make frequent stops. But with her inner strength and the understanding and support from a lot of people we were able to make it through most of the excursions.
Our actual anniversary date is next month but we felt like we celebrated in a memorable fashion.
I am glad to be home. I am very pleased I did not gain weight. Now that I have 800 emails down to 300, my major issue is my body has been slow to adjust to the time change. I will get back to normal.
Our tour began with three days in Prague, Czech Republic. Then we took a bus to Budapest, Hungary, where we spent a day before boarding a Viking River Cruise down the Danube. After a week, we left the cruise for a for a final day in Bucharest, Romania, before flying home.
We ate well, visited castles and cathedrals, saw big cities and small villages, saw miles of sunflowers and wheat, heard great classical music as well as local music and dancing and we learned the history of the region. I will not give extensive details, but the region has frequently been in conflict and often dominated. In every country, the Romans, Turks, Ottoman empire, Nazis and Russians were discussed. The war in Ukraine is a cloud hovering over everyone.
The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches had more complex sanctuaries than the churches to which I am accustomed. They featured a lot of beautiful art. Even in the villages, the small churches were covered in painted scenes of saints and biblical events.
We were with long-time, good friends. We also made new friends and the fellowship made for an excellent time.
Once again, travel to foreign countries made me appreciate how blessed our lives have been and added to our celebration.
Over the next few blogs, I will reflect on things I learned during our tour. I will just cover one today. The first is a very challenging idea. I was shocked to learn that even with the advantages freedom and capitalism bring, some of the people believe they had a better life under communism/socialism. I was intrigued to consider the implications of that claim.
Before going further please carefully note two things. First, I am not suggesting communism/socialism is a better way of life. I am suggesting it is worthwhile to think about why some people believe they were better off under communism/socialism. Second, a dictatorship is different from socialism. Many people like to point to the failure of socialism using examples of dictatorships — such as in Venezuela. No one who favored socialism expressed an interest in being under a dictatorship.
The challenge for me was to consider why anyone who had lived under communism/socialism would prefer it to the freedom they now have. The primary answer seems to be economics. Under Tito, the Czech Republic developed a substantial middle-class. With the change to capitalism, the current situation is a two-tiered economy – rich and poor with a shrunken middle-class. Some people were better off under Tito.
In Bulgaria, the withdrawal of Russia resulted in the withdrawal of manufacturing, resulting in poor economic conditions in the country. Many were better off under the previous regime. Hopefully progress will change these conditions in the near future.
In addition to economics, some people saw communism/socialism as caring about people because they tried to provide housing, jobs and medical care. I see that idea as a challenge for people of faith. How are we perceived? Do we really care about the basic needs of others? I think we care, but could we be doing a better job? Could we pressure corporations to create jobs rather than eliminating jobs to increase profit? We need to ask ourselves — what can we do in order to improve the church, so it is seen as a caring institution by more people.
Again, I am not promoting communism/socialism. I am challenging myself and the church by thinking about why some people would prefer that approach.
I have all of my needs met. What am I doing to see to the needs of others?
More next time.