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We all know a Putin

English rose garden
Courtesy of Lagard Smith

Through the front window of our Cotswold cottage in England a few years ago, we noticed a couple leaning over the gate, admiring my wife Ruth’s English country garden.  It wasn’t unusual to have guests from the Buckland Manor strolling down the village lane before dinner.  Inviting the couple to view the garden more closely, we quickly learned that they were Russians.  “We don’t have roses like these in Moscow!” exclaimed the attractive, well-dressed lady, struggling a bit with her English.  Her apparently-much-younger husband had a far better command of the language. 

The couple introduced themselves as Artur and Lyudmila.  Artur headed up a Centre of some kind, and Lyudmila said she had taught German in a university.  When I told them I had traveled throughout the Soviet Union during the Cold War, they asked how that was possible.  Mischievously, I said, “KGB!” which brought laughter.  Surprised that we were Americans, Lyudmila said, “I’ve been to Washington and Texas,” though she wasn’t sure where in Texas.  

As we bid them adieu, Ruth, the sleuth, thought Lyudmila looked familiar, and did a quick Google search.  Sure enough, we had just been talking to the former Lyudmila Putin, Vladimir’s ex-wife!  Where had she been in Texas?  At the Bush’s ranch, of course (complete with photos)! 

With such a cruel war now being waged against Ukraine, I can’t help but look back on that chance meeting and wonder what Lyudmila must be thinking.  One news article reports that she has described her former husband as a “vampire,” and yet a father who doted on their two daughters.  How can any doting father unleash weapons of destruction on maternity wards!

Debate rages over whether Putin has gone mad, possibly from some disease or mental defect.  Perhaps there’s something to be learned from what Lyudmila has reportedly said about their engagement.  Before popping the question, Vladimir seemed like he was breaking up with her, saying, “You know how I can be.”  Whatever he meant by that, now the whole world knows how he can be — the very personification of evil. 

If only it was just Vladimir.  Sadly, we all know one “Putin” or another.  Our lovely little Cotswold village has one.  Bad to the bone!  Is there a thing of beauty he can destroy?  Just give him the slightest excuse!  He takes pride in being a bully.  He loves to intimidate, knows that good people won’t retaliate, and is always testing the limits.  In his eyes, he gets no respect, and everybody hates him (unsurprisingly confirmed after each of his rampages through the village)!  

There might even be a “Putin” in your family.  While everyone else struggles as best they can to do the right thing, be loving, helpful, and get along cordially, this poor soul tries their best to disrupt, sow discord, and poke the bear at every opportunity.  Perhaps fixating on past grievances, like Putin, they’ve even convinced themselves that their cause is righteous!  As with Putin, it’s a mistake to think you could ever reason with them or appease them.  What all the “Putin’s” of the world have in common is a heart problem that only turning to God can fix.  

If you’re wanting to know how to pray in this current crisis, pray for changed hearts; for the love of one’s own children being extended to all children everywhere; and for the beauty of God’s creation to be seen in roses, passing friendships with strangers, and even our worst enemies.    

F. LaGard Smith is a retired law school professor (principally at Pepperdine University), and is the author of some 35 books, touching on law, faith, and social issues.  He is the compiler and narrator of The Daily Bible (the NIV and NLT arranged in chronological order). 

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