Friday, July 03, 2015

A Friend to Man

It's hot here in Seattle. This morning we were sitting on the porch drinking coffee and enjoying a brief hiatus from the heat. A siren wailed in the distance and the dog tried to imitate it, as he does, which is not very well. It's a dog falsetto. We laughed out loud while inwardly hoping that whomever or whatever beckoned the siren would turn out to be okay. Yesterday, an electrical failure in an apartment resulted in an enormous fire. It was so hot the firefighters had to be rotated out frequently to recover. Thankfully, the only damage was to property.

As we sat and sipped, a neighbor ambled by and asked if we would recycle a plastic container she'd found in the street. She was on her way to the hardware store. As I put the container in our bin, a fragment of poetry arose from the cobwebs of memory.  Something from long ago, when I lived in a remote house in the woods, far from any friends.

"I'll live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man."

At the time, I thought of the poem as being contrary to what I was taught in OALC. After all, most of the church people I knew lived in the country, and invested only in loving their own kind, certainly not their neighbors.

But I'm sure that was a limited view. What were your experiences?

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)
There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Amazing Grace

Did you know this hymn was written by an English clergyman once involved in the Atlantic slave trade?

Was Amazing Grace sung in your Laestadian church?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Witches Now and Then

In the news is a Norwegian monument dedicated to the memory of the 91 people in Vardø who were killed for sorcery between 1593 and 1692. More than 40,000 people were persecuted for witchcraft in Europe in the 16 and 17th centuries, but the number in Vardø is disproportionately high given the small, remote population. 
" . . . about a third of these trials were specifically targeting Norway’s indigenous Sami population who arose suspicion by practicing traditional healing rituals."
Pause for a moment and consider that both accusers and accused were likely to have Christians, baptized in the same church. They not only knew each other but were probably related, given the isolation of the community. What would inspire such terrible suspicion and betrayal of compassion?

As with the Salem witch trials, there is plenty of speculation -- disaster, disease, vendettas, hysteria, something that caused a schism in the social fabric. One possibility in the cited article, offered by historian Liv Helene Willumson, is that the accusers were acting on a mainstream European fear of the North as evil. This was no doubt fostered by the efforts of both state and church to force the Sami to abandon their way of life, language, religion, and culture. 

Some Sami cooperated, some resisted, all were affected. 

It is out of this traumatic history that Laestadianism arose a century and a half later. How much risk did the first Laestadian noncorformists take? What did they think of their pewmates on Communion Sunday in the church. We can't know for sure.

In her compelling paper (starting on page 22), religious history scholar Anna Lydia Svalastog of Uppsula University says:
"Instead of searching for a pure tradition, we ought to investigate the processes that lead to continuation, renewal and change. Some old and new elements are adopted, while others are rejected; others again are integrated afresh, or combined in new ways. A good example of this is the Laestadian revival in the nineteenth century. Laestadianism does not cover all the Sámi regions, and where it becomes strong in an area, there are variations from one place and family group to another."
This is also true today in America, as readers can attest.  What is "preached against" varies by sect and location and family. When my OALC aunt was young, engagement rings "were taught a sin," so she was given a horse by her new husband. Sounds like a useful adaptation! The newer OALC idea against women wearing pants, not so much.

How are Laestadians nonconformist today?  

How do Laestadians treat noncomformists in their villages?

I think about those 91 men and women in Vardø who were tortured, and what it must have felt like to know that nobody could save them once judgement was passed. Anything they said could be used against them, as "the Devil talking." Even their virtues were suspect, because the Devil comes disguised. They knew, as they screamed in pain, that their children would now be suspect, as virtue and sinfulness was thought to be inherited -- "good families" and "bad families."

I think about their accusers, devout souls who may have believed they were saving wretches from hell, first by "rebuking" them, then by giving them "an opportunity to repent." Every last one of them knew the Ten Commandments (it was required for confirmation).  They knew the Greatest Commandment.

And yet. Their fear was greater than their love.

I think about the onlookers who remained silent, wh
o wanted to throw water on the flames, but didn't.

How are we nonconformist?  

How do we treat noncomformists in our villages?

When do we throw water on flames?