Wednesday, November 24, 2004

You Don't Love God If You Don't Love Your Neighbor

Happy Thanksgiving. You can listen to this song, sung by Rhonda Vincent on Prairie Home Companion, by going to their archives via the link above.

There are many people who will say they're Christians
and they live like Christians on the Sabbath day
but come Monday morning til the coming Sunday,
they will fight their neighbor all along the way.

CHORUS:
Oh, you don't love God if you don't love your neighbor
if you gossip about him, if you never have mercy
if he gets into trouble and you don't try to help him
then you don't love your neighbor, and you don't love God

In the Holy Bible in the book of Matthew,
read the 18th chapter and the 21st verse
Jesus plainly tells us that we must have mercy,
there's a special wording in the 35th verse. (CHORUS)

There''s a God Almighty, and you've got to love Him
if you want salvation and a home above
if you say you love him while you hate your neighbor
then you don't have religion, you just toe the line. (CHORUS)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Virtues of Sin

I've provided a link above to a social analysis of Laestadianism by a Swedish academic. Sometimes the translation is a bit clumsy.

Some of the more interesting observations:

The emphasis of sin as omnipresent, and the strong emotional charge can cause collective discharge of great dimensions. In those cases sin almost gets an aura of virtue. In the moment of the emotional outburst one can forget all the problems of everyday life and conventions. One can reach a kind of social or religious intoxication which at once solves all the problems. Strong emotional ties are so formed among the followers. However, the followers are not led to an individualistic Christianity . . .

In the conflicts within Laestadianism the issue becomes how to justify and defend one's position. The debating Laestadians look for justification in tradition. The ones who consider themselves representatives of the original form, also think that they have thus proven their genuineness . . . the believing man is not supposed to wear a tie, and the believing woman is required to wear a head scarf . . . traditional clothes have thus been given symbolic value for religion, and made part of the religious tradition.

Monday, November 22, 2004

One Reader's Journey

A kind reader has allowed me to excerpt some of her writing here, with the hope of helping others. This is the story of her journey.

"My questions actually started . . . in my teens. At that time I guess I just didn’t have the maturity to understand my questions. I thought I was just being rebellious or not having faith. I don’t know that I ever really believed (in my adulthood) that the Apostolic Church was the only true body of Christ. The more I read the Bible the more it had been revealed to me that my path as a Christian was not (in that church)."

"I think the reason I stayed so long was mainly, not wanting to cause sorrow or worry. It was also very hard to leave the culture that I loved. I knew if I left the church I would also lose my cultural connection. There is also the pain of knowing that many people who I love would no longer consider me a Christian. That is a painful and lonely path to follow. But a far more painful path for me was to ignore the Holy Spirit speaking to me and revealing truths to me."

"I felt like I was starving for God’s word and wasn’t getting it . . . I needed truth from the Bible preached to me. I have always clung to a passage . . . in John or Romans . . . that we need to hold what we hear up to the test of the Bible. What I was hearing was only partially passing the test."

"The forgiveness of sins is available to all who believe and call His name. Nothing of our own works will save us “lest we should boast”. So my asking (others) for forgiveness will not save me, because that would require something on my part (or theirs). Only my faith in Christ and going to Him can save me. The forgiveness of sins is the confirmation of what He has already done. Otherwise, if it was required that I go to some other and ask my sins to be forgiven, that is saying that we can do better or add to what He already did on the cross. Since Jesus is the ONLY way to our Father and salvation then this cannot be so. Now though the declaring of the forgiveness of sins is a very wonderful and blessed gift, it is not what saves. Christ dying and my accepting (and believing) are all that will save me. My confessions I can make to God in my prayers or if I choose I can confess to another."

"So how can one be only saved in this one church? How can all others who teach that Christ died for all man’s sin, and all must believe and turn to Him be wrong? I agree that there are many false doctrines out there. There are many dead and lost churches that are trying to be so inclusive as not to offend anyone. I’ve visited many of these churches and put them to the test of the Bible."

"I never got a “yes” from God at any of the local churches I tried until I visited C___ Lutheran Church in S___. This was the first service I had been to for many years that I felt the Holy Spirit move me. I decided to stay and visit for a while. I’ve now been going there for over a year and have become a member."

"I’ve found peace, Biblical truth, and a living congregation. It is so hard to try to explain to you or others what the difference is. I’m more than willing to discuss it but now only with those that let me know they wish to have this discussion with me. I have no desire to insinuate my beliefs on those that think I can no longer possibly attain salvation since I no longer declare myself an Apostolic Lutheran. I don’t wish to negate anyone’s beliefs but I do know that I have been led to my new church and awareness. And no, I don’t believe that it is the only “right” church. It is the church where my Heavenly Father has told me He wants me."

"I guess I only feel that I need to be open and honest . . . I feel no shame, doubt or regret, only sorrow caused by the judgment of others.

"I’m just so thankful that I have been led to a place where I can worship. Some things are very strange to me. After going to a church for all of one's life, the way a service is run can be strange and foreign in another church. I had to learn that cultural rituals don’t matter. Only that what is spoken is Biblically true and pure. That the beliefs of man are not spoken as Word. That everything taught to us can be proven true by the Word He has left us."

Literature

Thank you, readers, for your comments, emails, personal stories, and OALC-related links. Oy, so much to read. But that's my passion. I studied literature in college just so I could read more books, and credit my tv-free childhood for propelling me there. (From cereal boxes to Reader's Digest Condensed Books, I read because there was nothing else to do.)

Yesterday after church we took the kids to a Yulefest, which turned out to be a clamorous three-story craft fair, with kringle, ebelskiver, accordions -- and a lot of pale people in claustrophobically tight quarters. But among the knitted whatnots, I found some Nordic books, including one on shamanism among the Sami. That should be interesting.

If anyone knows of other books featuring Laestadius or Laestadians, please let me know.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Holy Rolling Laestadians

In an OALC church service, the trained ear can detect the onset of "the movement" in an increasing gravity and humility in the preacher's voice. At last he repents, and some folks move toward the altar while others stand and reach for each other, and others look at their shoes, and still others (you know who you are) sneak out for a smoke or a chat. It wasn't always this, well, orderly. Read on:

"An especially salient feature of Laestadianism came to be the experience of ‘being moved’ (liikutus). It was these spontaneous and uncontrolled expressions of emotion that non-Laestadians most opposed in this movement. The liikutukset could take place during the sermon, singing of hymns, or, especially, the Eucharist . . . .Sorrow and grief were due to feelings of sinfulness that were so overwhelming that people were unable to talk, pray, cry, or even sigh; they felt as though they were suffocating and could only let out some unarticulated sounds of despair, feeling that they were going to die. As the preachers then powerfully proclaimed that all sins were forgiven in the name and blood of Jesus Christ, this resulted in such relief that it made people hop and jump and cry out loud . . . "

"The liikutukset were manifested most importantly in the form of sounds. They were preceded by heavy breathing and sighing. . . In a liikutus people sobbed, moaned, wailed, wept, howled, or sighed, hollered, bellowed, and cried out of pain of or of joy. Also laughing, hiccupping, and imitations of animal voices are know as signs of liikutus. Secondly, various bodily motions, such as clapping of hands, stomping of feet, and jumping and swinging around, are usual manifestations of a liikutus. Some even jumped on the table or bench, starting to dance or leap. Some were shaking, convulsing, and waving their hands; especially in the liikutukset of sorrow people could even fall to the ground. Liikutukset could set on all of a sudden, without any preceding signs, and people’s ability to control them varied both individually and according to the situation."

(Click on title for more from this scholar.)

A Happy Childhood

Dharma writes (under the topic Abuse) ". . . it is very likely some of us played together as young kids at church. I have been hoping someone else would stand up and be heard. I was also molested by a cousin in the church. When I finally told, NOTHING was done . . . . it was swept under the rug . . . I am so relieved to find others who have left and started over. Hope to hear from you soon."

Welcome, Dharma. It is never too late to have a happy childhood, as Tom Robbins said.

I'm happy you found us. What would you like to talk about?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Something About Mary

I've been musing about Mary. Did you know that Lapp Mary, the woman through whom Laestadius found enlightenment, was actually named Milla? He met her in a parish in Asele, Sweden when he was 44 years old (and the father of 15 children with his wife Britta). Milla was 31, unmarried, a Sami, a Lutheran, a member of the Readers (devoted to self-study of the Bible), and passionately spiritual.

Why did he call her Mary? Did he wish to evoke Mary, mother of Jesus? Or was this skilled mythographer attempting to draw on something even older and more meaningful to the pagan Sami: the power of the feminine divine. If so, it would not be the only way in which Laestadius incorporated Sami traditions into his new religion.

In the history of humanity, goddess worship is the very earliest, symbolized in the Venus of Willendorf around 3,000 BCE. Later, she was revered as Inanna in ancient Sumeria, Ishtar in Babylon, Anat in Canaan, Isis in Egypt and Aphrodite in Greece. According to Joseph Campbell, remarkably similar stories of the sacred feminine are common to all cultures. For the ancients, The Great Mother was the Earth, growth, fertility, death and regeneration, and experienced in the flowers and trees, moon and ocean, cycles of life and nature. She was life itself.

Even as monotheism and patriarchal religions gained sway (often at the point of a spear), goddesses like Ashera, Ishtar or Anat retained a great following among the Israelites, particularly among women. (See Jeremiah 44:15-19). With Christianity came a retelling of an ancient tale of the goddess and her divine child who is sacrificed and reborn. As Hans Kung wrote in "On Being a Christian," the Virgin Birth is a "collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary" narratives. Yet it has a power, metaphorically, that cannot be overestimated.

We are so immersed in the patriarchy of the Judeo-Christian tradition that it is difficult to imagine a worldview in which the divine was feminine. But for the Sami, whom Laestadius worked so diligently to convert, goddesses were natural and their names familiar: the mother Mátaráhkka with her daughters Sáráhká, Uksáhkka and Juksáhkka, who took care of the family and guarded the home.

No doubt for many Sami, even those already converted to Christianity, the demands of Laestadius were severe. They were compelled to give up goddesses, shamans, drums, joiking (singing), dancing, unmarried sex and whiskey. However, he allowed them a vestige of their ecstatic trances in "the movement" of repentance, and in the gift of Lapp Mary, a new kind of shaman or spirit guide, pointing not only to the Virgin but beyond, beneath, behind, to the eternal feminine.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Birthdays and Martin Luther Quotes

Our daughter wants a "teddy bear tea party" for her fourth birthday, and as we chat about cake and balloons and party games (pin the tail on the donkey, drop the clothespin in the jar, musical chairs), I'm reminded of Jane Austen's line "the anticipation of happiness is happiness itself." But on a parallel track, I'm trying to remember why the OALC is against birthday parties . . . or was that just my family's quirk?

Perhaps parties are considered too lightminded. More so than, say, bowling, smoking or snowmobiling?

Last week it was the birthday of Martin Luther, who happened to enjoy bowling, chess, lute-playing and um, getting drunk. That's right. Interesting guy. Can't imagine that he and Laestadius would have hit it off. (Click on title above for PBS special on Luther.)

Some Luther quotes:

"If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there."
"Some (preachers) plague the people with too long sermons; for the faculty of listening is a tender thing, and soon becomes weary and satiated. "
"Who loves not women, wine and song remains a fool his whole life long."
"My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary."
"God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Write to Evald Larsen

Anonymous below wrote:
"I certainly understand why a face to face meeting with Elder Larsen isn't in your plans for the weekend . . . but if you don't make contact with the Elder, it may seem to the preacher you spoke to that you backed down from the challenge because you weren't confident enough about what you were saying to go "as high" as the Elders with your comments. Give Larsen the truth!!!"

Let's do this together, readers. Post your personal letters to Larsen as comments below and I will print them out and FedEx the package so he gets it Saturday.

Perhaps together we can make a difference.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Phone Call to the OALC

This site is averaging 53 visits a day, with the average visit lasting five minutes, 40 seconds. When I started this, I didn't know where it would go or why I felt called to do it, but it seems to be finding an audience, and I hope it helps where help is needed.

The recent posts about abuse were upsetting to me. Thinking of the kids who are suffering, I felt a call to action. Last night, I sat outside the house in my car and summoned up some courage and called an OALC preacher on my cell phone.

If it took him by surprise, he didn't show it. We traded small talk and then I told him about my blog and expressed my concerns over how the OALC is handling child abuse (in addition to the posts here, I've received emails and phone calls from ex-members about their experiences).

He asked for names. (Of course, I gave none.) He suggested some people make "false accusations." He decried the use of the internet to spread lies, and said people should go directly to the preachers with their concerns and added "there are bitter people out there."

When I told him that it was his moral and legal responsibility to tell victims to report abuse to the authorities, he reassured me that "the preachers know the law." He continued: "we can only pray that God's will be done" (is this a defense of passivity?), and that abuse is a "terrible, terrible sin" and that some people even go to jail for it (Catholics, maybe).

I suggested he help protect the children in his church by preaching about the issue, by telling them that they can say no to adults and that they can report abuse without being ashamed. I said abusers should be prosecuted and given psychiatric help, not simply allowed to repent and forget, and reoffend.

Did he hear me? Did he stop listening three seconds into the conversation? I don't know. There was some commotion in the background, perhaps he was double-tasking. He suggested I come visit with Elder Evald Larsen and another preacher this weekend and I demurred and we rang off.

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, as they say. Readers, did I do the right thing?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Abuse in the OALC

This is from a post on pasty.com in a discussion about the OALC:
"In this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, many abuses take place. From spouse to spouse, parent to child, child to child and from leaders to congregation. The average person in this group deals with at least one source of abuse, some suffer many. I know, I was one of them, and I know so very many more who cry silently for help from somewhere, and because of the exclusivity in this group, no outside counciling or intervention is allowed the church members. Many of the older people in this church know what is happening, but claim that all answers are found "in this Living Christianity"."

This is an incendiary topic and I implore you to remain calm, refrain from personal attacks and consider what the OALC could do to improve its handling of this issue.

Obviously, abuse is a global problem, not just the OALC's. But certain conditions can make it more likely to occur and harder to prevent. (I'm talking about physical abuse here and I know of what I speak. So don't say it isn't happening.) Are church leaders obstructing justice when they ask victims not to report abusers to the authorities? Are they putting the victims at risk for further abuse? Are victims believed when they report abuse? Are victims afraid of reporting because they are afraid of being blamed? What role does gossip play in keeping people mute? Are wives expected to be subservient to their mates? How are children in large families supervised? How are they taught to respect boundaries?

Benjamin Franklin said: As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A Few Rules, A Poem

Caveat emptor: this blog is not a place for personal attacks, vulgarity or unreasoned rants. (Reasonable rants are just fine.)
Don't be one of those about whom Ben Franklin said: ""Many have quarreled about religion that never practiced it." I will delete anything determined to be outside the bounds, because it's my blog and I get to do that.

Also, if you'd like to post a message, it is more likely to be read under the most recent topic (don't worry if it doesn't relate). You can choose to post anonymously.

Now for a some relief from meaness and politics, one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him