Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kay's Story (The Voices Project)

Thanks to Kay for sharing her story. Please consider sharing yours.

Hello, I am a long time lurker on this blog, I would say probably since about half a year after I chose to leave the LLC. As I have broken my foot and have three weeks left of healing time, I figure it’s about time to share my story. Whether this is posted or not, it has been very cathartic to type my story down, to realize and remember why I chose to leave, and to think about what I have to look forward to in the future.

Both of my parents were born into Laestadianism, as were their parents and their parents before them. As both of my grandfathers were prominent ministers in the LLC, discussions of the church were common in the home and faith was always an integral part of life. When I was small, I remember enjoying going to church, and have fond memories of my parents and of being in a large family.

When I was almost six, my grandfather molested me when my mom and grandma were away shopping. He cried afterward and was angry and told me never to tell anyone or else I would go to hell. He died a year later, and I did not tell anyone, first for fear that what he told me would become true, and secondly that no one would believe me because he was a minister. When I grew older, I knew that what he did was wrong, but I did not want to hurt my mom. I didn’t and still do not want her to know that her father did that to me because she speaks of him fondly from time to time and I don’t want to ruin that bond she had with him.
I didn’t quite believe what I as being told. 
When I was about 12, I developed a large amount of anxiety about going to church, mostly because I was quite introverted and didn’t enjoy a large amount of social interaction, and partially because I didn’t quite believe what I as being told. I had a lot of questions with certain bible stories that no one could answer satisfactorily, and I found it hard to really TRULY believe my sins forgiven when it was preached. I figured there was something wrong with me and that if I just asked for a blessing every night before I went to bed that I would go to heaven, just in case I died in my sleep. From that time onward I dreaded going to church and would avoid it if possible.

I often felt that some believers were being so self-righteous (the very thing they say they are not!) that they said they believed without question all those bible stories which could not possibly be true word-for-word. At the same time, I also had self-righteous feelings, though I did not recognize it at the time. I would think: “Look, I am such a good believer that I don’t enjoy listening to country music on the bus” (I have since discovered I enjoy other “worldly music”). Or I would think “Look, I am such a good believer that I have no real friends at school” since my family and I were the only believers at our school. The thing was, I didn’t feel like I had any real friends at church either.
With a lot of sadness I decided that only one could be true. 
In high school I discovered that I loved science, and I rapidly devoured any scientific information that came my way, not realising this would cause me problems later on. As I continued to learn, it bothered me a little that my church did not agree with the most fundamental of scientific ideas. I decided to leave the church when I was 20. I saw what was ahead of me if I decided to stay. At some point I would get married, have a lot of children and settle into the same sort of life my mom has. I also had continued questions and no satisfactory answers from the church about science and I felt that I couldn’t commit to a life within the church and have these questions at the same time. I knew I could never be happy if I did so. I felt that my faith was dear to me, but I couldn’t reconcile how evolution and facts about astronomy, the beginning of Earth which have no other reasonable explanation could be true in regards to my Laestadian faith. My parents and siblings had left for a trip to summer services, but I stayed behind because I had to work that whole week (never mind that I had purposely not gotten the time off because I didn’t wish to go and my parents would have never taken that as a suitable reason). I decided to solve this problem once and for all and spent the week reading all of the LLC literature in my parents’ house and reading about science. With a lot of sadness I decided that only one could be true. When they came back, I told my parents with a feeling of numbness, “I am not a believer."
My grandma pleaded, “Why can’t you just try to believe?”
It felt like a hole had been physically ripped through my chest, and it ached for weeks. There was an immediate rush of phone calls, letters, emails and visits. My grandma called and pleaded, “Why can’t you just try to believe?” and I couldn’t get her to understand that a person cannot force themselves to believe something, otherwise the person does not truly believe. You believe something or you do not, and whether you have doubts or not, there is no middle ground. I learned that though I thought I had no true friends in the church, I do have one. She is the only one who continues to stand by me, and though she is busy with her new family, she respects my decision and remains friends with me anyway.

On some level, I still feel guilty when I go to my parents’ house and they have company over and people say “God’s Peace” to everyone except me. I still feel left out, but it is no different than feeling left out as a teenager. Sometimes my mom will make comments about my nail polish or my recently dyed hair, but she doesn’t seem to realize that while these things are superficial, they make me feel free. It’s so freeing and amazing to be able to do things because I want to, to have friends from very different backgrounds but still have a deep connection, to learn and not worry about whether learning things will be detrimental to my faith. It’s freeing to know I am not required to spend my life having many children and taking care of them. I can have a relationship and know that I can still keep my career in science if that is what I wish to do. I have a lot of my life ahead of me and I am so grateful I chose to leave sooner than later.

I am glad I chose to leave at the stage in life when I was still attending university, because it was at a time in which I could make new friends. Friends from school have become closer to me, and while from time to time I feel like they don’t understand where I’m coming from, they are still there for me. For those who are considering leaving, I would say having a group of friends outside of the church is very important. It would have been more helpful for me if I had built my group of friends outside of church first before leaving. After leaving I had no support system and it was very hard at times.
Sometimes I feel strength from knowing that while my family has hurt me, I will not hurt them back.
I have heard many stories through the years about how “unbelieving” family members don’t come around anymore, and I understand why they don’t. Most of my extended family no longer talks to me, it seems to be a sad reality of leaving the faith. If cousins see me at my parents’ house, they avoid me, but I don’t blame them for it. I know how awkward it is for them, because it used to be very awkward for me when I was in the same situation. I have a mostly good relationship with my close family, and I’m glad for that as I have seen how many people who leave are shunned completely. Sometimes I wish I could tell my family how my grandfather molested me, but I do not wish to hurt them. Sometimes, the decision I’ve made regarding that bothers me, and sometimes I feel strength from knowing that while my family has hurt me, I will not hurt them back. 

I don’t regret leaving the church, I only regret not leaving sooner, but I also feel I left at the time that was right for me. It wasn’t easy but I’m happy I did so.

Thank you,

"Kay"

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Questions About the OALC



A reader in Finland has some (unedited) questions about the OALC. Could someone help answer these? I'm afraid I've forgotten more than I ever knew.
1) On sunday they gather to listen word of God, what is term they use about this event? In Finland word is “seurat”, best translation is “revival meeting”.
2) OALC don't have liturgy in their services, but what is its structure?
In Finland it is following:
Psalm - prayer - psalm - reading of Rev. Lars Levi Laestadius' sermon - psalm - sermon by preacher - psalm - prayer - final psalm. Then is announcements and coffee.
But OALC have Holy Communion, so they have to have some elements of Divine Service (for example Creed). What is different? What is whole structure?
How often they have Holy Communion?
3) Is Creed, which Johan Takkinen altered still in use?
4) Here in Finland Firstborns uses Luther's Small Catechism and Olaus Svebilius' explanation of Small Catechism. What catechism OALC uses? Own Catechism or ABC book? And what other own books they have?
5) OALC has preachers, but what is their self-understanding, are preachers pastors? Or ministers or priests? What other terms they use about preachers?
6) Who administers sacraments (baptism and Lords Holy Supper) inOALC? And who officiate at the weddings or officiate at the funerals? If preachers, is it so that always only preachers?
7) Have OALC preachers ordination to the ministry by the laying on of hands and prayers?
In Finland preachers are just named as preachers. Not even blessed to their work.
8) Have OALC official documents about their faith?
a) Are they explaining what their relation to three ecumenical symbols is? (Nicene Creed, Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed).
b) Or official document about relation to symbolical books of Lutheran Church, gathered in Book of Concord? Or if they don’t accept whole Book of Concord, even parts of it? For example Luther’s Catechisms? Or Augsburg Confession?
Or is it so that they just draw from their tradition, but they don't have write things on paper?
9) What kind of polity OALC have? Synod or church assembly for example.
In Finland Firstborns are organized as association, it has board but it makes decisions about secular things: property and Rauhan Side -periodical. Firstborns deals spiritual things in preachers’ assemblies (two levels of preachers’ assemblies) and emphasizes that Spiritual Board is in Swedish Lapland.

Across the Divide

Last week we went "home" to the Alpine Lakes Wildnerness (as the poet Gary Snyder said, nature is not a place we visit, it is our home). It was blissful to pass the time with nary a thought beyond "should I swim or hike or canoe or sit here and read with both feet in the water?" I reveled in the openness, became right-sized by the majestic peaks, was mesmerized by dappled light, exhilerated by icy swims, and made quiet by bird chirps, sunshine, breezes, then (on the last day) thunder claps and torrential rain. Nature, such a drama queen. I haven't yet unpacked the car and already, I'm longing to go back.

But first, a few blog posts. I'll separate them so the comments are easier to track, and sprinkle them with photos, just because.

Please check out the interesting exchange over at Ed Suominen's blog -- two men seeking common ground while remaining true to themselves, and that's pretty wonderful.

At the heart of every religion is compassion, and at the heart of compassion is listening. Pema Chodron gives a beautiful talk about what it means to listen to ourselves without judgment or blame, allowing for a response that exists "in the gap between right and wrong." That is the source of compassion for others. Note how different this idea is from "love the sinner, hate the sin." Yet this middle way happens quite naturally by people of all faiths (and none) when they prioritize kind over right.

Being kind to ourselves enlarges our capacity to be kind to others.

I had a challenge last week. After we had settled into our campsite overlooking the lake, a family arrived that I came to think of as the Bickersons. They squabbled about who should carry what, then where to settle, pitching their tent and then lifting it up, like a turtle shell, shuffling it from site to site while disagreeing about the best view. I grew resentful. I tried to listen to my resentment, look at it, sit with it. How irritating they are! What pests! But so are the chipmunks and woodpeckers, right? Why don't I resent them? I wondered if the woodpeckers were bickering, blaming the tree, the bugs, the heat. If the chipmunks were right now lurking in the bushes, eyeing bitterly our closed food bins. This made me happy.

Later that evening, I heard flamenco, beautifully played, sweet and sad enough to melt a brick. I saw Mr. Bickerson bent over his guitar, playing with his whole heart, as his family watched.

What a gift, I thought. Humans are amazing!

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(Ed does not accept comments on his blog, but I know he is listening, so feel free to leave them here.)