11/25/2010

Honest, Authentic Encounters. Enriching Our Own Stories. Part Four


Our vacation in Poland was laced with encounters that warmed up the November aura, and included a few Golden Autumn moments with still plenty of color and fragrance. In Part Four, and final one of the series, a few musings about a TV producer and journalist, Dorota Jaslowska, and Jarek Wajk, a singer, lyricist/composer.

We go back to the early 1980s, Dorota Jaslowska and I. This alone suggests that we are past our thirties! She, and Piotr, her recently departed husband, can be described a solid pillars of friendships. We’ve covered the trauma of the post-Solidarity Poland, traveled to Pakistan and its Peshawar and Queta regions during the Mujahideen days of Afghanistan, went on vacations together, but also shared each other’s homes, and just generally being for each other. We also saw our children, Monika and Michal, grow up, each giving us a joy and a drama of parenting when they made their choices for life.

Piotr left an empty nest in the early days of January after a battle with a malicious brain tumor, and created a void for Dorota and for many of us. He left a “time and space” dedicated to a traditional Polish culture in which friendship, hospitality and values of being for each other, ruled. Dorota was quick to also say that there is an empty space in their once full of activity and entertainment home.

This place is far too big for me. Now, it’s only me, Fruzia [a mini-schnauzer], and two young cats, Dyzio [a Maine Coon], and Kacper [a roofer]. It’s actually their home, Dorota muses. When I come home after work, I see that they are using the space to their advantage. A mess? Demolition? What mess? It’s their place and they can do anything they want. The place looks like it’s lived-in, she adds.

Looking around, Grazyna and I, once again saw walls of the Jaslowski home oozing with nationally recognized works of art. Above all, one could not fail to admit, we were visiting a home of friends. That’s all that mattered.

We tried to remember when it was, but concluded that it must have been between 1987 and 1989, when she worked as the ongoing “Panorama” news review producer, when we partnered in producing a documentary entitled, “Poorest of the Poor.” It was a film about three girls from a local tribe in the Sind Desert, not far from Karachi, whose main job was to go to a water spring, fill-up goatskins, and carry them for several miles up the mountain to their sticks-and-mud desert village. It was in that setting where Dorota, a cameraman, Jerzy Ernst, and I looked into the very eye of poverty. Three girls, several kilometers of an uphill journey, hot, scorching sun, - carrying hope for the whole village – a day-in, a day-out. After our own trek back to the hotel, we talked about what is important in our lives.

Together with Dorota, a seasoned television journalist, and Jurek, as Jerzy is known, whose claim to fame was being a cameramen to then President Lech Walesa, we concluded that there is no other way but to stand by the side of the voiceless and speak for them. Dorota did her own report for TV, and together we produced a documentary on Christian responsibility and the way the Karachi Adventist Hospital responds to the needs of the poorest of the poor. Since then, Dorota went through a rollercoaster of her professional life, and now is the managing editor of Goracy Temat (Hot Topic), a news interview program of the Polish TVP2.

A visit with Dorota brought back a few memories about Jurek Ernst. He had his own “hot” experience in Iraq, working with Waldemar Milewicz, a war correspondent of Polish television. Wikipedia’s entry describes how on May 7, 2004, “the Polish TV crew's car, clearly marked as a press vehicle, was returning from an interview with the Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad to the Polish base Camp Babilon at Najaf. It was followed by a group of armed men in another car. The attackers caught up with them and opened fire from behind, riddling the journalists' car with bullets. [Waldemar] Milewicz was hit first and died instantly. Another member of his crew, Mounir Bouamrane (a Polish-Algerian editor and translator who had been working for TVP for about 15 years) was killed on site after he had left the vehicle. The crew's cameraman Jerzy Ernst, who was in the car while trying to remove the body of Milewicz, was wounded in the arm by the second volley of gunfire, while their Iraqi driver and guide Assir Kamel al Kazzaz escaped the attack unharmed.” I am yet to see Jurek again, after his traumatic Iraq experience. One of those encounters I am eager to have in the near future.

Today, Dorota’s presence in our lives has etched itself as that of a sister who welcomes you home no matter when and why, but also shares a feline bond – our Maia still to discover Dyzio and Kacper, her Polish siblings. Whether here or there, the cats teach us patience and forgiveness. And our memory of Piotr is reminding us about values that matter – being present to friendship without restraints – and caring about the finer things in life. And such is the essence of meeting a friend, and meeting her again, and again.

To Grazyna and me, Jarek Wajk is a very special person. He is our brother in law. But just if this was not enough, he is a singer, lyricist, composer and a social activist. I recall how his wife, Lidia, was anxious about all the groupies arriving at the entrance to their apartment building and all these people calling them in the middle of the night. He belonged to their world, it seemed. Then, he listened to her wife, and his love for her put him in touch with her worldview.

Even these days, Jarek's image as a frontman singer of Oddzial Zamkniety (Restricted Ward) lingers on. He is a recognized face. To his fans, he is someone that will be remembered by the energy of his performances in concert halls, in stadiums, and on several CDs. But, after reshaping his life to embrace a new worldview and a new life style, today he is recognized as a symbol of an anti-drug message. You will find him perform in a high school or in a church circuit. He describes how students come to listen to someone who used to be a role-figure for decadence and nonconformity, but now they “get a message about a better option: a clean life without drugs and distant from hedonism.”

We sat at their table in a small two-bedroom apartment in one of the well-known Warsaw residential district, Jelonki. There they were – Marta, their daughter who is studying psychology, Lidia and Jarek. The main feature of the visit was an abundance of their table – the pickled wild forest porcini, pickled farmer cheese, heirloom tomatoes, dark whole-meal breads… You name it.

But it was the conversation that mattered also. After all, we see each other infrequently. Visiting a home of someone who believes in changing the world, and who cares how God is perceived and experienced in today’s secular Polish milieu, awards one with an atmosphere of awe. Art is a way to communicate the values God offers to everyone, he believes. To illustrate, Jarek describes his currently evolving project. He calls it "S.U.W." Simply, it’s a trio composed of the country’s recognized instrumentalists: Ryszard Sygitowicz, Jan Urny and Jarek Wajk. They are currently on the road, playing gigs in schools and clubs. “We are three musicians with a message,” he explains. Their names draw attention, their craft speaks of excellence, and their passion adds a flavor often absent in today’s entertainment.

Jarek got excited when explaining last week he hinted on making a CD of church hymns, and then floating it through the mainstream music industry. “Why not doing something that has a meaning and offers a resonance in our religious community, and making it available to everyone,” he sounded like a convinced salesman. “My colleagues are for it,” he adds.

He is passionate about being present among those who are traditionally kept … outside the walls of safety the church has created for itself. “It’s time to demolish walls of isolation. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s show warmth to the orphans and widows. Let’s meet the homeless drug addicts at the Central Station and bring them to church.” And that’s what he does. He invites them. The come. The effects of such invitations turn into intersections where the world of needs meets grace.

Jarek Wajk is known as an inventor. A while ago, a report in the Adventist News Network described that the Wajk’s new public debut included an integrated group, Bogu [For God], a mostly vocal ensemble composed of a choir of the hearing impaired. They have traveled throughout the country, sung before the nation's leaders, joined the finest classical musicians in benefit concerts, and brought a new dimension to musical and artistic expression, while becoming part of the country's musical and spiritual culture. Media reviews and interviews were shared throughout Poland.

If not on tour, one can meet Jarek worshipping in the Warsaw Central Church. "One day a thought hit me when I saw a group of my brothers and sisters sitting in the front of our congregation. The worship service was translated to them through sign language. So I thought, let me join them. And I did. The rest is history," he reminisces.

Wajk invited himself to learn sign language and made an effort to understand the "life of silence of my fellow believers." The next thing was easy, he recalls smiling. "No, it was not that easy to enter into a world of silence and bring out a sound that would give meaning and that it would bring these people out of isolation of their church's corner, and bring them into the mainstream of the church's Sabbath service," Wajk continues. "The easy part was to make a decision to be inclusive and to make music that would bring meaning to thousands of listeners. I included them in my musical group. The words that two or three of us sing, they interpret it through sign language and do it all in unison. But of course there is more, there is more sound."

The lyrics of an acclaimed signature song, is also entitled "Bogu."

You think silence is my home

You say that I don't know music

Look, I am singing a psalm today

My voice ascending heavenward

Ascending to the stars.

(c) 2003 by Renata Piotrowska (words) and Jarek Wajk (music)

The Bogu phenomenon includes two components of making their appearances popular. "It's the message of Scripture delivered with professionalism of the form we use," Wajk explains.

How do you make music out of silence, I ask myself even now? Being a well-known music personality in the country Jarek’s successes as a rock singer made him an icon among the "where next? generation," as he put it. "Today, I give myself wholly to God and He does wonders. All that I am today comes from Him and there is nothing else I must do except to allow myself to be used by Him."

Jarek and Lidia, who is a psycho-therapist at the Warsaw’s Institute of Psychiatry, are serious about who they are as a people of faith. As we were stuffing ourselves with a genuine Polish home cuisine par excellence, both of them competed in explaining how they struggled one day to be serious and regular worshippers – week after week. “So, I told him: OK. Don’t go to church,” said Lidia. “But before you fix yourself in your resolve, read this text …”

So, she gave him a Bible reference, and left the house. “I took my Bible and looked up what it says. I concluded that if going to church as “it was his custom” was good enough for Jesus, it must be ‘a way to go’ for me, too,” he concludes. A few minutes later, they met in a church pew.

It’s a moment to remember when you meet someone who challenges your “business as usual” approach to religion. We come to church. We meet the usual friends. We have little to describe who they are, as long as they look like us. Besides the fact that we are … family, meeting The Wajk Family means a lot more. It means also being present to the world of needs, and repairing it in God’s name.

Vacation encounters. Honest, enriching, authentic. Fulfilling.

11/21/2010

Honest, Authentic Encounters. Enriching Your Own Stories. Part Three.


It was on November 5 when Grazyna and I met with Dr. Marek Wronski. He and I were waiting at the entrance to a shopping mall, and only connected after considering that waiting at an entrance may mean a few yards difference – inside the mall, or outside. Here is Part Three and another fascinating meeting with a medical doctor, journalist and a defender of Poland’s academic ethics, Dr. Marek Wronski.


Whatever you do, don’t get on Dr. Marek Wronski’s wrong side. Wronski is a medical doctor and a journalist, who after returning from 18 years of medical research work in the United States, nine years ago turned into a defender of academic ethics, and had become Poland’s top expert in hunting down, researching and exposing scientific fraudsters who lace their academic research with someone’s original work. “Plagiarism and scientific misconduct are to be hunted down and gotten rid of,” he told me as we sat down in one of the cafés at Warsaw’s Zlote Tarasy (Golden Terraces). As we were winding down our conversation, Grazyna arrived, and he said to me, "You did not say that you would come with your daughter." For a moment I wondered if I actually like him!

Wronski doesn't care where these fraudsters are from, and who may be behind them, he told me. An award-winning writer-historian and reporter of Forum Akademickie (Academic Forum), a monthly magazine that ends on the desks of all university professors in Poland, Wronski does not reveal how many academics, including university presidents, had their doctorates rescinded and be removed (or resign) from their academic posts because of his research. He takes his job as a Research Integrity Officer of Warsaw’s Medical University seriously, and that his interests reach into other corners of Poland’s academia.

He takes one case after another and feels legally obligated not to sweep fraudulent and unethical behavior under the proverbial carpet. He has little time to play games with academics who twist the facts, spin the truth and hide behind “old boys networks,” when the artificial smoke-screens prove to be a useful, but inadequate defense. In a recent article in a weekly popular magazine “Polityka,” Wronski explained that “plagiarism is a phenomenon similar to corruption and only a small number of them comes to light.” But those who generate the formal, and public exposure serve as a warning to members of the academia and the students.

The day we met will be remembered by many people by a removal of a Wroclaw Medical Academy president, Dr. Ryszard Andrzejczak for his act of plagiarism. The case was all over the media. As we talked, Wronski expressed his added concern that academic dishonesty referred to also as scientific perjury, adds a different flavor if discovered among religious academics or in theological doctoral dissertations. His current case involves a charge exposing a sizable academic misconduct with a majority of doctoral thesis text “borrowed” from authors of a historical symposium from 1976, whose research was later published in a book.

The case of Dr. Bernard Kozirog, principal of the Adventist Church’s College of Theology and Humanities was investigated by the Christian Theological Academy, and verification passed on in the early November for future decisions to state office that verifies academic degrees and title. It goes without saying that no-one wants any publicity that this case is generating, and the involved parties are interested in clearing the good name of the Church and its leaders. While the case continues, Wronski moves on with lobbying the government to establish a state agency that would monitor academic integrity in a similar manner to different countries.
After Wronski exposed the case in June, I checked the issue for myself. I knew about the topic Dr. Kozirog covered in his doctoral thesis which appeared also in a book he published a couple of years later. I wanted to look at the details with my own eyes. I didn’t need to wait for the Academy to do its investigation and render its verdict, and wondered why his employer was “waiting for Godot”? Wronski was right in his evaluation. As an author of my own original research into the topic covered by Kozirog, I was disappointed to see my own, and others’ words, research and references published under a different name. The case awaits a conclusion, and I suspect, the moral resonance of it will continue to haunt those involved for years to come.*

Meeting Dr. Wronski was like opening a window into the virtue of honesty in what one says and does. It was also a sharp reminder that if you cut corners, one day you will over-shoot one of them, details notwithstanding.

* Since posting this blog entry, the case was reviewed by the state Central Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles on November 29, with a decision to reopen Kozirog's doctoral process to be sent to his Alma Mater, the Christian Theological Academy. According to Wronski, the Kozirog's case is second such case in the country.

Next - Part Four: Dorota Jaslowska and Jarek Wajk

11/20/2010

Honest, Authentic Encounters. Enriching Our Own Stories. Part Two.


Among all of the fascinations of our vacation in the late October and early November was meeting old friends and geting to meet new people. Here is about meeting a painter, Joanna Majchrowska, and a journalist, Jan Kot.


Joanna Majchrowska is a painter and an art lecturer at the University of South Australia in Adelaide. We go back to the 1980s when she was studying at the Academy of Art in Warsaw and I was able to persuade her to illustrate for the magazines and books at the publishing house I was managing. We kept in touch but living on different continents obscured our direct contacts. A few years before deciding to study in Warsaw, together with her parents and two sisters, she emigrated from to Australia in her teens.

What a surprise it was to see Joanna again, and actually by chance. Someone said she was in town and we connected. On December 7 Joanna opens her exhibit of 11 oils at Galeria Sztuk Pieknych vW in Warsaw. Entitled “Fragmented” the paintings are based on a set of black and white photographs her father took about their emigration to Australia.

“I thought that it would be nice to do a set of paintings of what was a part of my childhood,” she commented as we ate lunch at “Zgoda,” one of our favorite “Polish Home Cuisine” restaurants in Warsaw. We will miss her exhibit, but it was between a herring in sour cream, and a sauerkraut pierogi (dumplings), we managed to cover a territory of our personal intersections over the last few years when we only briefly met and … casually commented on who was doing what in our diverse, yet intertwined social fabric.

In her unassuming demeanor, Joanna talked about such mundane things as her sister’s moving to another house somewhere in Australia, and how much we owe to our parents and their interest that we live lives of virtue, or that the windows in her rented apartment in Warsaw could not block a fight between lovers on the street below, and all under a street light. Her casual rhetoric about ordinary things was actually confirming how detailed she is in her art when everything matters, but much of it is not important, really. It just is to be absorbed and enjoyed.

Joanna is a fashionista. She knows where to dress, and where the cool cafés are. When in Joanna’s presence, one’s pretense gives-in to more lofty areas of existence, viewing the world with imagination and realism, and all at once.

Whenever I meet with Jan Kot, I am reminded that Polish Protestant journalism is in good hands. On top of this, he is passionate about what he does, and still interested in conquering the world! A well-trained and established as a television producer and writer, Jan is currently assisting the Adventist Church as a chief editor of the Voice of Hope Media Center. He frequently talks about “seizing the moment” and using the media “because that’s where we all see each other every day.” For a decade, a co-author and producer of a weekly show in TVP1, Case for a Reporter, among his other accomplishments, Jan Kot is well acquainted with what hurts in today’s society. In his earlier television work, he dealt with the topics which many viewers, including many confessed-Christians would only talk about privately, choosing (for whatever reason) non-involvement and not to get their hands dirty. I was reminded of my own days as a journalist in Poland of the pre-Solidarity years when it was not easy, but necessary to step-in and assist those who were in need.

Jan, whose family is a well-recognized name in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Poland, continues the passion and interest to be present with the “good news” and a helping hand. Contemporary, professional media journalism is his craft. Having an intuitive awareness in what new media can do for society, he is interested in making a contribution to build on values of better relationships, based on fundamental Christian ethic, “but without fanatical overtones and aggressive proselytism,” he comments.

On a number of occasions, we exchanged views about ways to be professional and intentional in church communication, especially when the church needs to be seen and heard is a secularized milieu. Is there any other way but be just that, he kept asking? The market place of ideas demands it. There are other Adventist Web sites, but easily, if you need information about what is happening in the Polish Adventist Church, you will find it on a freshly updated and rich in a multi-platform media Web site of his local church. One gets a feeling that one is looking through a window, where you are informed, inspired and motivated for mission. This is where you need to be, I reckon. [For the Polish-speaking public, see: http://www.adwentysci.waw.pl/]

Frankly, access to information and transparency offers a staple of our everydayness. And frankly-speaking, for a Christian faith community, it wins the day when people are offered hope, honesty and convictions, and the church's mission reaches its objectives.

Jan’s passion and professionalism is an asset to have and to enjoy!

Next - Part Three: Dr. Marek Wronski

11/19/2010

Honest, Authentic Encounters. Enriching Our Own Stories. Part One.


Someone said: Don’t call it a vacation if you are just visiting with relatives. She is right. I don’t call it that. Vacation is period of planned escapes and unplanned encounters when you leave your own home and do something other than the obvious routine of everdayness. Such was Grazyna’s and my three weeks in Poland and Germany, desiring to visit with our parents, siblings and other relatives, but to also become … tourists. Among the fascinations of our sojourn in the late part of October and early November was meeting old friends and adding encounters with new people. Here is Part One of a few fascinating vacation encounters.
Why them, you ask? Do you really care?

Bogdan Loebl. Bogdan is one on Poland’s well-known and respected lyricists and writers. Blues is his genre. My publishing years back in the 1970s and 80s would not be complete without Bogdan’s presence. Every visit to his home which each time includes a set of new pets is a treat, and a time for sharing. It was no different this November. In 1979 I ventured out with an idea – I said: Bogdan, will you help me with a project I am doing. I wrote a book Conversations With the Master. Please read through it, proofread it, and suggest what I should cut, add, and make it a sensible reading.

A month later I sat with Bogdan and saw a changed man. Look, he said, if you write in Polish, consider Polish grammar. Here is a new version. Red is a color of change, I noted and saw that there was plenty to improve. Now, the volume was a winner. The first printing was 10K, and was quickly followed by another. A friend and a literary master made me a better writer. A few years later, he told me that he hated the day I left Poland. There was a void in his life, he told me. As I reflect, my Conversations with the Master introduced him to the Master.

Last year, Bogdan published his own My Dialogs With the Master, in which Grazyna and I were honored to receive Bogdan’s dedication. Once, he reminded me that a challenge of my editorial work led him to write and publish a poem about the death penalty. It's obvious that being present in people’s lives leads to sharing … While Bogdan, a hugely sensitive human being and artist, continues looking for more answers, his spiritual journey introduced me to … my own life-changing moments.

In this latest volume of poetry, as he dialogued with the Creator-Master, he would level a charge at both Him and His creatures:

… but it’s the present kings

that amuse You the most

as they struggle to swallow

the planet Earth

and keep it in their bowels

every day they say: “if, in spite of my powers

I have to die, let the world perish with me.”

Indeed, Master

The man is the best of your pranks.

© 2009 by Bogdan Loebl; English translation by Anna Koczon

Bogdan talked with me last year about making this small volume of his poems available abroad. Finding a publisher is a challenge, but one must not give up to see it accomplished. Always a master of black humor, Bogdan was clear what he meant in his dialog with the Master when he shared his latest literary adventures. Even though it was a rainy afternoon during our November visit with Anna and Bogdan, the conversation was as we left it years, months ago. The topic was new – a new young black dog which someone threw-over the fence for them to look after just three days before, and the usual antics of Kasia and Parasia, once stray kittens, and now distinguished members of the family. In his Leoblesque manner, Bogdan briefed us about his new venture, a weekly column in a local paper about caring for the animals. “Don’t be a human being” is his column’s theme. In his latest piece, he was reminding the reader that forgiveness comes easier to a cat, than to a human being.

He was quick to introduce Grazyna to his newly re-published book, and just before we left, he showed me a CD entitled Radio Retro by Incarnations. The record includes his six new songs. The following week a reviewer in Polityka said that, “pulling him to this record was a fresh idea.” Bogdan – a fascinating fellow traveler in making our world a better place.

As we drove away from Bogdan and Anna’s home in Jozefow, Grazyna was adamant about the car’s performance. “We have a flat tire. We need to stop,” she insisted. A few kilometers later, in the rain and under a lamppost I changed the flat for a spare. We were on our way to see another of our friends: Ingeborg Nalecka.

With Ingeborg Nalecka conversation continues as if we were meeting a day before. It was more than 25 years since we saw each other and we chatted about stuff as if we had to continue building something we were passionate about then and now. Inga, as we call her, is a poet and a social activist. She was a staff writer at a publishing outfit I managed in Warsaw in the 1970s and 80s, and her other professional work involved her with rehabilitating prisoners as a probation officer, and reaching out to drug addicts.

“Jesus sent you to me,” said Marek Kotanski, an anti-drug guru whose organization Monar reached out to help drug addicts for now about 30 years or so. With him, Inga worked on a spiritual dimension treatment to bringing up those who were down. Inga is as authentic as her art allows her to be, or as it frees her to be. Deeply spiritual, she shoots pointed arrows where they need to land, obsessed with exposing hypocrisy and sanctimonious insincerity among people who claim to preach about virtue and values.

We reconnected after Inga reclaimed our friendship on Facebook. On a rainy November evening we met in her tiny Warsaw apartment and heard her mantra to … bend over and reach for a fallen child of God. Here is one of her freshly penned poems poignantly entitled, “Creeps.”

Wise men made of dry letters

Who sit in masonic lodges

Who dress God in shoes

Too tight

Hurting

So no steps could be taken …

Demanding He be theirs

At their service

On their account

On contract

On salary

Dance, says faith fraudster to God

Dance

Since I am paying

© 2010 by Ingeborg Nalecka; English translation by Rajmund Dabrowski

Her passion to be involved with drug addicts was influenced by the lyrics and music of Ryszard Riedel and a blues band Dzem (Jam). Rysiek, as they all referred to Riedel, was a “preacher” of his own struggle with addiction, but his road to becoming an iconic expression of nonconformity and struggle was born in the “darkest days of Communism,” Inga said. For Inga’s sensitivity, Riedel was an expression of someone who was “waiting in a queue. And speaking about it. Fighting. And not winning. Until the last time.”

Inga does not give up on her authenticity. “I don’t care what people say about me. That’s their problem. What is important for me is that I bend over anyone who has fallen and needs to be picked up.” She told us how a few years ago she would spend night after night holding a hand of an expiring man. “I held his hand, as he was slipping away, and I would silently be humming a lullaby, as if to a child. And then a smile would lock itself on his face, forever,” she said.

That rainy day etched itself in our memories with a moment to remember. A spare tire, which I changed just minutes before we saw Inga, went … flat and in the middle of nowhere, in a deep silence of the night. Next - Part Two: Joanna Majchrowska and Jan Kot