The English language is an exceptional way to communicate. While I am no linguist, it pleases me to be able to use a language rich in meaning. Malleable in ways that allow emotions to permeate the soul. A stretch from precisely defining something to painting connotative images in a human mind. Images that allow the message’s recipient to imagine and create.
So how can we examine the word “commune” as a root word for both supporting and, conversely, undermining the word “service.”
To commune is good when it is extended to mean interaction, connection, and meaningful collaboration. We commune with each other and God. We communicate to better understand each other. We take communion to cement our relationship with God through Jesus.
It is central to everything good about service.
On the other hand, to be a communist or one practicing communism is interpreted by Americans as being evil. Inappropriate and even disloyal. We have been taught appropriately to believe that way. To perform the correct kind of service, one that opposes both communism and those who practice it on an international scale.
In a previous blog post, I mentioned Dr. Zoya Malkova, a Russian citizen and educational leader. In World War II Zoya was a pursuit pilot for the USSR, shooting down Nazi planes. But she was much more than a national hero in the militaristic sense.
She became a marvelous public school teacher and education official in the nation’s bureaucracy.
I became friends with Zoya after the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), when she made frequent visits to the United States. The purpose of her visits was to explain to Americans what happens when a governmental system with a strong secular and pragmatic core collapses.
Zoya’s best analogy for Americans was as if our Constitution and government were tossed out. That everything we had been taught to believe is now disparaged. That George Washington, like Stalin, was a despot to be forgotten.
Questions asked by citizens of the now defunct USSR were hard to answer. The foundation of education was in disarray.
What is left for schools to teach? What is left for our families to celebrate? To what do we belong as a culture?
Such questions were hard to answer even before the USSR’s demise. The basic core of communism is economic collectivism, which can seem soulless and rigidly practical. Drab in regulated ways.
Even during the highpoint of the USSR’s existence, the ruling bureaucracy only marginally recognized the uplifting achievements of the union’s member nations. Their contributions in the world of literature, music, dance, and even technology.
Economic collectivism emphasized production and distribution of wealth. Believing in and becoming inspired by a gearbox in a tractor. By the statistics of industrial output.
The center point of national pride had less to do with what was valued spiritually or esthetically. National pride was based on industrial strength, military prowess after defeating Nazi Germany, and the expanding territorial achievements. Gaining dominance in nuclear and rocket science.
After the demise of the USSR the once mighty Stalinist empire, built on what remained after World War II, was real estate chopped into ethnic parcels of land. Pieces of territory reinvigorated traditional cultures that lived there. Or formed totally new cultures and nation states.
Zoya had belonged to the Soviet Communist Party. Not because of its allegiance to the teachings of Vladimir Lenin, or the dictatorial rule of strongman Joseph Stalin, but because she knew no alternative.
The political state ruled by the dictatorship of the proletariat (working class) was based on collectivism, an economic principle established by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. German philosophers, political theorists, and economists who lived and worked in England.
Marx and Engels never thought their ideas would be co-opted by a massive empire like Russia, but Lenin did. Lenin sold the idea that those who do the work should reap the benefits of their labor. He created a political system based on that idea.
Starting with a strong central government (“temporary” dictatorship) to ensure the system was correctly established and maintained.
Communism took the idea of “commune” to new levels of economic principles and political infringement on a culture. Earlier communes like those established by indigenous people (and many American villages of the 18th and 19th centuries) were small and interactive. Often glued together with pervasive beliefs associated with things spiritual and life affirming.
Communism, as envisioned by Lenin in the context of a large nation’s needs, had to become both bureaucratic and rigidly based on uncompromising rules. It was and is a prescribed economic set of beliefs superimposed on a misguided political arrangement. Powerfully enforced rules. Rules that allowed Lenin’s successor Stalin to incarcerate or kill hundreds of thousands who did not comply as prescribed.
Living in that kind of culture makes service mandatory and without any kind of spiritual or altruistic base.
My friend Zoya intensely worried about that cultural mandate. The school curriculum, once supported by teachers and resources as training to be comrades in a collective system, had to be turned into something with no validity or overriding reason for existence.
Communism had corrupted the good connotations associated with communal human relations. It had changed our basic needs to commune with one another for the good of each person. Communistic thinking and acting had corrupted the good definition of communing with each other.
The word and function of service must be based on thoughtful introspection and an insight into how it will benefit others. Service has no meaning if it is designed to be obligatory. Forced on us by a bureaucracy or organization with dubious motives.
Service is neither valuable nor good if it is based solely on the strong proclamations issued by a self-proclaimed leader who appeals to our basest instincts and subliminal biases.
Vladimir Putin, an administrator who once served in the security branch of the USSR’s bureaucracy, finagled himself into gaining dictatorial power in Russia. Putin admired the USSR and achieved power as Russian’s current president. A position unlike the American presidency because it allows almost unlimited authority to the holder of that office.
Putin has used his position and the goal of regaining national pride to initiate aggression against nations that were once members of the USSR. To bring them back into the Soviet fold Stalin created after the upheaval caused by World War II.
To serve Russia now is to serve Putin’s personally held ambitions to make Russia great again.
Putin’s way of unthinking and morally untethered service is an abomination in meeting the real needs of humankind.
To authentically serve is to offer our ability to commune with each other in love and charity. To fulfill our life’s purpose in ways God intended.
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