Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What is a Bulgaria? Part II

After telling people where Bulgaria is, the next question many people ask is “what language do they speak there?”

The answer is that they speak Bulgarian.  Yep, that’s right.  Bulgaria has its own language.  Bulgarian is part of the Slavic language group, which makes it similar to Russian, Polish, and Serbian along with several other languages.  The Slavic language group is a pretty tight-knit group, so if you learn one of the Slavic languages, other languages in the group come much easier.  For example, my sister speaks Russian.  She has never taken formal Bulgarian lessons, but she can often understand what Sasha and I are saying to each other when we speak Bulgarian in front of her.

Bulgarian uses the Cyrillic alphabet.  It is the same basic alphabet used in Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, and several other Slavic languages.  (Polish, Czech, and Slovakian are among the Slavic languages that do not use this alphabet.)  

This alphabet was developed by two missionary brothers from Greece named Cyril and Methodius to create a written Bible for the Slavic tribes in modern day Bulgaria.  To this day they are celebrated national heroes in Bulgaria, much like Martin Luther King Jr. is in the United States.

Cyril and Methodius are remembered throughout Europe.  This statue of them is from Trebic in the Czech Republic

Bulgarian is very easy to read once you know the alphabet.  It is almost entirely phonetic, so once you know the sounds you can read the word even if you have no idea what the word means.  Our daughters find English a bit frustrating to read because the letters don’t always make the sounds they are supposed to make.  For example, in English “ough” is pronounced differently in different words like “tough,” “through,” and “drought.”  They like reading in Bulgarian because it is more predictable.  Spelling in Bulgarian is also easier for the same reason.  Each word is spelled exactly like it is pronounced and you never have two spellings for the same pronunciation (as opposed to English where we have to, too, and two; read and reed; for, four, and fore; and so on).

That’s your lesson for the week.  You can now tell your friends that you know where Bulgaria is, and what language they speak there.  You’re getting smarter by the week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What is a Bulgaria? Part I

2015 has arrived, and we in the Bliss household are starting to make plans for our return to Bulgaria.  Our oldest daughter is frustrated by the fact that almost no one in America knows anything about Bulgaria.  She may be a bit hyperbolic in her commentary on American ignorance, but she does have a point in that the small country in southeastern Europe that we call home is not well known in America.  So I’ve decided to share a little something about Bulgaria every week for the next few months as we count down to our departure.

This week I’m going to start with where Bulgaria is.

This is Europe.

If you look at down to the lower right, you will see Turkey and Greece.  Bulgaria is just to the north of them.  (On this map it is brown.)

Here is a closer map.

As you can see, it borders 5 countries (Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey) and the Black Sea.  This put it on the communist side of the cold war in the 20th century, and on the Ottoman side of Europe for most of the 500 years before that.

So now that you know where Bulgaria is, I can tell you more about it.

Next week.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Are you Happy?

The other day, Sasha and I were watching a show called Vikings.  The main character in the program is a Viking named Ragnar Loghbrok.  In this episode, he listened to his son complain about not being happy.  Ragnar used this moment to teach his son:

“I know it is hard for you to accept, but unhappiness is more common than happiness.  Who told you you should be happy?  You have come to an age where you must grow up and be responsible about such things.  When I was your age, I had many friends.  All are dead.  Their happiness is neither here nor there.”

Ragnar is a fictions portrayal of a typical Viking.  He is practically illiterate and is prone to acts of violence.  He is not exactly the picture of academia.  Yet his views on happiness display a wisdom that many highly educated men and women in the world today fail to understand.

In the western world, personal happiness is seen as one of the highest virtues.  According to the U.S. constitution, happiness is something that we all have the right to pursue.  There is nothing inherently wrong with trying to be happy, but too often in the world today we elevate happiness to such a point where we consider unhappiness to be wrong.

Happiness has been used as an excuse for all kinds of sins.  A boy pirates a video game because he hopes the game will make him happy.  A teenaged girl starves herself because she thinks it will make her beautiful and that will make her happy.  A woman has an adulterous affair with a man because it makes her happy.  When confronted by the man’s wife she justifies herself by saying, “He’s not happy with you!  He’s happy with me!”  Men marry men and women marry women all in an attempt to find happiness.  Happiness seems to be an explanation with such power that we assume the logic of it is unassailable.

I have even heard it used in religious terms.  “It is ok if I do such and such because God want me to be happy.”  I have met people who have caused much pain to their friends, families, children, and spouses because they have disregarded God’s commands in pursuit of their own dreams and declared that they were actually worshiping God by becoming the happy people He intended them to be.

Such people have confused the God of the Bible with a god made in their own image.  If my personal happiness is the means by which I determine morality, then I am the determiner of good and evil and my god is me.  I am not a theist.  I am a me-ist.

Yet even we in our lust for happiness recognize that happiness as an excuse has its limitations.  Most of us would never accept the theft of a car because it made the thief happy.  Nor would we accept the happiness of the plantation owner as an excuse for slavery.  We are quick to break moral laws when it makes us happy.  Yet, we are equally quick to condemn when someone else sins in a way we find unacceptable.  If happiness can excuse my actions, why doesn’t it excuse everyone else’s actions?

There is another problem with making happiness the highest objective.  It doesn’t work.  We make our happiness the alter on which we sacrifice everything else, yet we soon find that we have lost the very happiness we seek.  We focus so much on what we need to be happy, and when we get it we find that our happiness quickly fades.  We then sacrifice something else on happiness’s alter and again our happiness quickly fades.  Soon we have nothing left to sacrifice and our unhappiness is complete.

When we come to the end of our lives, we may tragically find that by worshiping the god of our own happiness, we have given up everything to gain what we wanted.  We may find our heart’s desire and find despair.

There is another road if you have the wisdom to take it.  It is a road where we pursue happiness, not using our own desires as guidance, but God’s will as guidance.  God has given us His moral law.  By following it, we can take a road that leads to something far beyond happiness.

Many people don’t like this road.    The road offered by the god of happiness seems too appealing in its simplicity.  I think this is because we don’t understand what God is actually offering.  C. S. Lewis put it well:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
If you want to get on the right path, now is the time.  Jesus is waiting for you with open arms and no condemnation.  He is ready to take you down the road that leads to something greater than happiness.  It leads to infinite joy.  And the good news is you don’t have to struggle to get it like you struggle for your happiness.  You need only surrender yourself to His will and let Him take you to the place you were made for.
Regardless of which path you chose, remember the words of Ragnar:

“Who told you you should be happy?  You have come to an age where you must grow up and be responsible about such things.”