Wednesday, July 17, 2013

FISU, World University Games & national anthems

After fielding multiple questions about why there are no national anthems at the medal ceremonies and instead only the FISU Anthem, I asked. Here's what I know.

FISU is committed to putting on a cultural and educational event and to stay away from as much politics as possible. Therefore, it will only be the FISU Anthem that is played. It's actually a fairly depressing song - from what I can tell it's based off an old drinking song. But that could be wrong - remember, you can't trust everything you find on the Internet!

What I saw on the final day of competition, I think, was the epitome of what FISU wants. Sure, the Russians far outstripped the rest of their competitors in medals. It's their home turf and they should bring out their best, as long as they are within the boundaries of being eligible to compete. Did every swimmer want to win? Absolutely. Were there national rivalries - you bet! But it was the last day that summed it up for me. No pictures to show that I know of. Perhaps that's the way it should be.

It was after the final medal ceremony for the Men's 400 Medley Relay. 1st was Russia - 2nd was Japan - 3rd was the United States. The athletes received their medals, came down off the podium, stood under the large screen for pictures, then marched down the far side of the pool. There, lined up, were the U.S. coaches and the Japanese coaches and many of their swimmers. There could have been others but I was sitting in the opposite corner.

The teams were marching in 2nd, 1st and 3rd order, per their position on the medal stand. The U.S. coaches began high-fives with the Japanese, then the Russians, before getting to their swimmers. Then the Japanese formed one of those tunnels. It appeared to me that the Russian swimmers weren't going to follow the Japanese through, but with some encouragement, they did. So did the Americans. That was it. The language of sport transcending politics and things that might divide us.

I read this afternoon a silly news article about one politician suggesting a boycott be considered for the Sochi Olympics. Hogwash! Never should anything like that be considered or done again. Sport can go above and beyond the things that divide us. I experienced it as a swimmer - I've seen it as a coach - I've observed it as a parent and now as an official.

I was proud of the way the U.S. swimmers and coaches conducted themselves but never more so than in that final gesture. Many probably did not see the U.S. men congratulate the Russian relay behind the blocks. Few outside of the Aquatic Palace saw the congratulatory tunnel and hand slapping. Swimmers were glad, coaches were smiling.

Then of course, the Special Olympics athletes who swam a 50 free at the very end. It's great to get gold. It's wonderful to be recognized. Who doesn't enjoy that? It's sport that bridges a gap, communicates across cultures, helps us mend some fences and move forward.

I'm by no means a proponent of "everyone think happy thoughts at the same time and the world will be a better place." I am a believer that our commonalities are far more than our differences.

Here in Russia I've seen the same things I've seen around the world - couples holding hands, people waiting for a bus, shopping malls with the same things we have in the U.S., restaurants, parks and grandparents enjoying grandchildren as they play around a fountain. The people want the same things. The politics and approach to life are different. 

We bridged gaps as officials. We couldn't speak the same language with our tongues but we did speak the same language around the pool deck. There are significant implications in that for the follower of Jesus. That's for another post.

It's been an awesome journey - so far. Off to St. Petersburg for a couple of days, then onto Tallinn, Estonia for 2 days where I'll get to share in a church service, touch base with a Seminary, spend time with my friend Taavet (a student at Asbury Seminary) and then finally home, which I miss. 

Monday, July 15, 2013


Every trip it seems I compose at least one blog about the food I've eaten. I'm pretty adventuresome, will try most anything once - once being the important term when considering things like haggis!

So here are some photos of some of the foods with as much explanation as I can remember

This is a salmon medallion with round fries. That is not asparagus but some kind of garnish for presentation.

Here is a top notch and simple dish of rice with seafood, topped with sesame seeds. Very delicious

We've visited a particular restaurant twice, and probably will return tomorrow for one last good meal. This is 5 kinds of sushi, including: salmon, eel & squid. Very delicious.

A salmon strip on a bed of vegetable salsa. Nicely spiced.

Steak tournedo with mashed potatoes and a few "fat chips." Literally called "fat chips" in the menus - probably why I pulled them out and didn't eat them!

This is the "national soup" of Tartarstan. Simply vegetables and some lamb. Nice spices.

We stumbled upon a really nice Italian place. We were the only two people there for a late lunch and I got this "sea gift pizza." The crust was delicious as was the meat: shrimp, squid, octopus tenacles, a fish (forget the name) and olives. It was good. I ate all but one piece. But I wouldn't get it again. Too "fishy" for pizza for me.

A nice cheese plate with some walnuts and grapes. The dish in the middle is honey, which was very good on the brie, which my companion wasn't as fond of. :)

A marvelous brownie with a liquid chocolate filling with ice cream. The grape-like fruit is apparently good for mental acuity as well as your heart. It was powerfully tart but I still don't know its name.

A chocolate covered mousse with some banana cake inside. Very good.

So that's some of the good food so far. Another week's worth to come and you can bet it'll be something different each day.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Men & Women - the same all around the world

I've noticed something in my travels - so many things are different in different cultures. I've been reminded here in Russia, relationships between men and women are far more similar than different. Let me give you some simple examples:

Last night before Finals, as the officials were lining up to march out, some of the ladies took it as their responsibility to make sure I looked my best. They straightened my collar and my tie and insisted that for the marching out, I had to button all 3 buttons on my suit jacket. I didn't want to but I did after they insisted, all the while talking about me and laughing a little. When I looked down the line at the other men, the ladies promptly got after them......and the men complied!

Is that not what happens around the world? Maybe men generally have less awareness of fashion or perhaps presentation. Women see it as their duty to make sure everyone is in line.

Then afterwards, when most people had changed out of their uniforms and into street clothes, I noticed something else. Shoes. Women around the world are all about their shoes. Tons of different styles and each checking out the others shoes.

God has created us with some internal wiring. Imagine what we men would look like if the women around us didn't see it as their personal duty to make sure we look presentable?

But seriously, we see it in creation, back in Genesis. There is an order to our world. He created them "male and female." Even in the curses of the Fall in Genesis 3 there is an order and we see it at work every day.

God's world has built-in ways and consequences. We violate His created boundaries at our own peril. When we choose God's ways, then He is able to bless us. Able to....He always wants to but when we make a choice to live outside what He has set up, we live in trouble and peril. For instance, when someone chooses to smoke there is a likelihood they will contract lung cancer. God didn't cause it but there is a "built-in" (is judgment too harsh a word). We "reap what we sow." I don't mean to imply that bad things only happen when we do something bad. Bad things can happen when others around us choose to injure or even destroy us through no fault of our own.

Imagine a world where there was fidelity in marriage, where honesty, transparency and integrity were high values. These are some of God's boundaries. Violating them creates bad things in and around our lives.

We may not understand or even always like God's created order but try living within its boundaries - that's where He can bless us. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Clearing it up

I had a great time yesterday officiating in Lane 2 for these World University Games. It was at the beginning of finals that something became clear. The official in lane 2 who was sort of "in charge of me" was trying to tell me something about the clipboards we each had. When I didn't get the hand motions, the lady behind her chimed in with the same words. They each said the words slower and with more defined hand motions. I still didn't get it. We laughed and then I called Evgeny over for some interpretation. They simply wanted to communicate that the clipboard should stay at the seat since we'd be walking back and forth between each heat, whether a semi-final or a final.

No matter how clearly the words were said. No matter how slowly or how emphatic the hand motions. Whether it was said with a smile or not didn't make a difference. I simply couldn't understand the words. An interpreter became the medium through which I was able to understand.

I began to wonder about how I communicate the Good News of Jesus. Do I sometimes just try to say it slower, more deliberately and with greater hand motions? But what's needed is an interpreter. That interpreter has to be me - it is the call of every Christ-follower. The main goal is that the Gospel is understood not that we use certain words or means to communicate. If Jesus is not understood then we have not communicated.

In 1 Corinthians 9:22b-23, Paul lays out the goal and challenge of communicating the Gospel:

"I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings."

I have often found myself committed to a certain method or approach rather than the need to communicate. It can't be about where I'm most comfortable. It always has to be about the one who needs to hear. I certainly know my strengths and where I am best but I should never become so rigid that I'm not willing to be flexible. I am called to be the one who shifts words and methods in order for Jesus to be known.

At The Park Church, (, we have above the main doors: "Come as you are." It's a commitment to meet people where they are. So many churches say the same words, each week trying to be more clear and precise with them (or not) but communication doesn't happen. We are called to adapt for the sake of the Gospel. We are God's interpreters to the world in which we live.

At work, at home, in the gym or at school - the location doesn't matter. As Christ-followers we are all interpreters for the Gospel. It's not the exclusive realm of the Church or of Pastors. I could be in a totally different career and be just as passionate and effective for Jesus. 

What will you do today to communicate more clearly?

My Canadian friend, Paul, and I are off deck today, planning to see some of Kazan. I'm sure I'll have stories to tell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 1 - WUG - Kazan 2013

Took a good long walk today between sessions, enjoying some of the city on a breezy, nice afternoon. Walking past lots of shops and a few restaurants, I decided to walk into a store. First surprise was not being allowed to carry anything in, including my water bottle, which was kindly locked up in the lockers at the entrance. Second surprise was it was all women's clothing! I didn't stay long. I'm not too smart about some things but one thing I know, it's dangerous for a man to buy clothes for a woman.

There seems to be the usual excitement side and normal day side of life as in any city hosting a large sporting event. Many workers going about their normal day and many stopping in the official Universiade kiosks at a couple of street corners.

Being in a city with a radically different alphabet gives me the feeling of being alone. I recognize very little, although am learning a few words, such as those that indicate a restaurant. At least I know where to eat - and apparently buy women's clothes!

Life goes on. I could feel like "we" at the Universiade are at the center of city life in Kazan. The busses and cars for transportation are all around. The shields that surround construction sites are themed with the Games. The big new venues stand in contrast to the older apartment buildings which used to be the last things from the road to the river. Now the Universiade is.

"In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty." (Proverbs 14:23)

Idle hands did not build these venues, and they are the ones keeping this city buzzing. Hard work beings great reward, God reminds us over and over in His Word. I saw it today. How is it in your life? I was told, as you were, growing up that "idle hands are the devil's workshop." I've seen it in my life. Hands can be busy on technology, but really idle and get us into trouble. One of the values we wanted to instill in our children was a good work ethic. It's a central part to a Godly life. As is paying attention to a Sabbath rest.

Back to "work" I go for finals. The U.S. did well today, qualifying every swimmer back for finals. Team USA cheered loudly each time. They were good proud moments for me, as was the Russian cheering when they're relay teams both set Universiade records for them.

Here are some photos from yesterday. Thanks, Tim, for the tip.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Catching up

Today's phrase has been "catching up."

6 a.m. to bed is not something I think I even did in college! Maybe a High School Prom night but definitely a strange time for me to turn in. I had some sleep to catch up on, especially after giving my heart a start in the Frankfurt airport. I had to catch up to my phone, which I walked away from to find some food.

When I couldn't find it, I pulled out the iPad and FaceTimed my phone. A nice lady from Lufthansa answered, we laughed (me somewhat nervously), she told me where to meet her and after 15 minutes of walking through that humongous airport, I hugged her, said "Thank you," and sat down.

The Organizing Committee (OC) has done a great job preparing for us, uniforming us and providing great transportation. Volunteers are everywhere and have been very helpful. I even had my altered suit jacket and pants delivered to my room today. Now they're looking for shoes that fit even though I told them I brought other white shoes, "just in case." But I feel like I've been catching up the whole time so far.

Paul, from Canada, is the only other English speaking swim official. A few of the head referees can converse with us but the majority of officials speak only Russian and since we speak only English, I think we're going to get to know each other well this week.

Kazan (emphasis on the first syllable) is a city of contrasts. The vestiges of the old Soviet society with rows of similar buildings is here and then the stark contrast to these fabulous new facilities. Paved streets lead into mud ones after the rain today. Exquisite dining next to high end shopping, bistros (where we ate tonight) and small stores line the Main Street in a similar fashion to most European cities.

We did some catching up on our directions and didn't get lost once, my family might be surprised (but I was with Paul the whole time).

Paul and I will be Reserve officials tomorrow, the first day of swimming, meaning a lot of sitting, being ready to step in if there is a disaqualification call, but otherwise observing the Russian  Federation protocols so we are more prepared to be part of the team for the balance of the meet. We both agreed that was a good call on their part! We'll be catching up with what to do so we don't stick out but can blend in.

Still waiting for my bag to catch up with me. It may be a miracle if it does.

I haven't figured out how to add photos from this iPad. Check out my Facebook page for those.

More tomorrow after prelims.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Over the River & Through the Woods

The first leg of my journey to Kazan, Russia, and the World University Games, was full of excitement almost from the get go. It included my first run through an airport. After all flights on United we're cancelled to Chicago, Polk Travel came to the rescue with a seat on Delta - of course in a different terminal. Downstairs, upstairs, across canyons and chasms to reach a desk, to meet up with a nice young lady, who asked for my boarding pass - the ones I left at United as I sprinted away! The one with my baggage claim number on it. The bag which as of last night had gone nowhere, we think.

Once in Chicago, everyone was very helpful until Lufthansa announced their policy of 1 bag per person and under 10 kg. So I had to check my carry on while still having my backpack. And my first thought was: "I sure hope the clothes I'm supposed to get in Kazan fit!" With the difference in European and U.S. sizes my size 10 shoe could be a child's! Perhaps at least the one bag will arrive safely.

The best part perhaps so far - scoring an exit row on a 747! A very restful nights sleep ensued.
Now a 7 hour layover in Frankfurt. What things to eat - where to find power - make sure I don't sleep through boarding!

For your viewing pleasure, some video from Kazan and the 2013 Universiade. I tried to locate the Opening Ceremonies.......this will have to do.