Juris Rubenis made his first trip to the U.S. this spring to talk about parables—Jesus’ and his own. His are compiled in a small book called Finding God in a Tangled World: Thoughts & Parables (Paraclete Press). It’s the first in English for the pastor of the 4,400-member Martin Luther Church in Riga, capital of Latvia, a country of 1.5 million with 250,000 Lutherans. (Translator is Paul Valliere, a longtime friend and professor at Butler University, Indianapolis.)
But it’s not his first book: Rubenis, 48, has written 20 in the last 18 years. Many have topped 100,000 in sales in Latvia, besting both Stephen King and John Grisham titles. All are issued by a secular publisher, which, the pastor-author believes, gives him the chance to reach more people. The legacy of Latvia’s Soviet domination during four decades following World War II is a generation raised without exposure to Christianity. He is one of them, though his parents also were openly anti-regime.
Rubenis was a well-known—and popular—political activist before he started to write. In 1988 he was a founder of the Latvian Popular Front, which worked to gain the country’s independence. Two years earlier he helped launch Rebirth and Renewal, an association of Lutheran pastors calling for religious freedom in the Soviet Union.
But he left politics behind after Latvia gained independence. “Some in the church think we must get more into politics to get new members,” he said. “It doesn’t work. People search in the church for answers to existential questions. If they don’t get them, they go outside. What they actually want and what we have to give is the fresh message of God.”
He writes for those secular, modern people who are searching for an experience of spirituality. During a visit to the Lutheran Center in Chicago, Rubenis said: “Some feel like they want to understand more about the meaning of their life, death, guilt, forgiveness. I look for some way to explain what God means for them. I feel God is very alive and would like to give this experience to others. But all our words cannot explain it.”
Parables can point the way. “If Jesus speaks in parables, it means they are a very important form,” Rubenis said. “Not only in the past but they can be used now to ask big questions.”
Rubenis finds Matthew 13:24-30 particularly important. He reminded that good seed is planted but evil takes over—in the form of weeds. The servants are ready to uproot them. “But we have to be careful,” he said. “The worst things are done by people who thought they were doing good. The best things are done by people aware they have done evil and acknowledge evil in themselves.”
He advocates the practice of not weeding—what he calls the “non-destruction of evil.” He said, “It’s simple to have the struggle outside. Then we talk about evil ‘out there,’ and we’re on the right side. Not everything in the world is meant for human beings to do.”
When people let God be God, they, in turn, can open themselves to finding God. “We can meet God every day, every minute in our life. That’s what parables teach us.”
Rubenis’ parables tend to be as paradoxical as the biblical stories and even briefer. “Modern people have not so much time to read,” he said. “They can read a parable in one-half minute—but think about it for two hours.”
Three parables of Juris Rubenis
Adam asked God, “What do you want to do with me?”
“Turn you into Jesus,” God answered.
“Who is Jesus?” Adam asked.
“I am Jesus,” God said.
“But I can’t become God!” Adam exclaimed.
“I can become you,” God explained.
Four angels were having a discussion:
“God has departed from the earth, for otherwise God would have to destroy the disobedient.”
“God would rather retreat than destroy.”
“The earth will think it has defeated God.”
“Victory over God is its punishment.”
Adam said to God, “Tell me a bedtime story.”
“You are and always will be,” God replied. “Sleep in peace.”