Saturday, June 11, 2016

Rape Culture in Tysford and Elsewhere

Odd Fagerjord spokesman for the L├Žstadian church in Norway.  Photo: TERJE MORTENSEN, VG
Odd Fagerjord spokesman for the L├Žstadian church in Norway. Photo: TERJE MORTENSEN, VG PHOTO: TERJE MORTENSEN , VG
Rape culture, an academic term referring to the normalization of sexual violence, is all over the news since the Stanford rape case went public, and not a moment too soon. Perhaps this is a watershed moment, when our country is finally waking up to the fact that sexual assaults, even with eyewitnesses, DNA proof, and unanimous felony convictions, are still considered "minor" offenses by many, including those we've vested with the power to render justice, like the Santa Clara County judge who is facing a recall effort.

The Stanford victim's statement to her attacker has been shared widely online; if you haven't read it, I encourage you to do so. Given what we know, who among us would recommend a victim pursue justice through the courts?

I don't know what the court system is like in Norway, but in the village of Tysford (a largely-Firstborn Laestadian community), a series of articles on sexual abuse speaks to a similar desire to stop the insanity. The victims' stories are so familiar, and heartbreaking.

Will a public conversation help Tysford's Laestadian leaders reconsider their role in interviewing victims and reporting crimes?

Will the Stanford case help us consider how we ourselves contribute to rape culture?

Or will we shrug and say "it happens everywhere."

That sexual abuse is universal does not mean it is insoluble. That we are not abusers ourselves does not absolve us of a responsibility to prevent abuse.

We can take a clue from the two Swedish bicyclists, Peter and Carl-Fredrik, on the Stanford campus that day. They did not look the other way, they questioned what was going on, they prevented the attacker from escaping, they did not accept his explanation, they did not suggest he consult a spiritual authority. They didn't debate among themselves whether it was legal to force oneself on someone else. They called the police.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Lei and Ukelele

I'm reading Mikael Niemi's Popular Music from Vittula again, with its hilarious and often moving "magical realism" that dresses hard truths in colorful clothes. Here's an excerpt about a funeral in Pajala attended by far-flung relatives.
As usual at Tornedalen heroic burials, the preachers spoke mostly about Hell. They described in minute detail the endlessly burning charcoal stack where sinners and heretics were fried like pork in tar in the Devil’s red-hot skillet, while he prodded them with his trident to bring out the juices. The congregation cowered in their pews, and the old lady’s daughters, especially, shed many a crocodile tear into their permanent waves and fashionable dresses, while the men who had married into the family shuffled uneasily with their hardened hearts. But here was an opportunity to sow the seeds of penitence and mercy over almost all the globe, and it would have been unpardonable not to try. 
(Read a longer excerpt here.)
Have you had any unusual funerals in your family? One of the more remarkable in mine was for an uncle I'll call Fred. Born "outside the faith," Fred was married several times, lastly to a widow in the OALC.  They had two happy years together before Fred's heart gave out. His children hardly knew him, having become alienated over religion, and did not attend the funeral. The wife of Fred's son, however, came all the way from Hawai'i to bring flowers and music as offerings.


The preacher said sorry, no. Not wanted. Take them away.

But you see, in Hawai'ian tradition, it is a grave error to refuse a lei. An insult. It isn't done.

Who would refuse a lei?

The poor woman, shocked, never quite recovered, and told the story many times. It became a rune, a Zen koan, an enigma.

Who would refuse a lei?

Naturally, the OALC folks there tell it differently. They remember a lady from Hawai'i, but say nothing of a lei or a ukelele. Only that she cried. That she had never heard of the living Christianity. That she made repentance.

But sadly, it didn't stick, and soon after, she died (unsaid but implied, she went to hell).

Oh, you lovely relations, uncles, aunts, cousins.

Next time, if there is a next time, please accept the lei.

Because the spirit of aloha is grace, and vice versa, against which nobody should go. Grace is where it's at. It's where we want to be.