Monday, June 26, 2006

When I in Breathless Wonder

Last week we went on an orca-watching tour in the San Juans. Here's a photo from the trip (see the dorsal fins of the orcas beyond that research vessel? You might need to click on the photo to enlarge it).

What does this have to do with Laestadianism, you may ask. Nothing much, but I'm plumb out of ideas and energy at the moment. Hope you are enjoying your summer!

(Does anyone want to discuss our changing views of nature? I grew up catching and eating sealife, not observing it, for example.)

"Orcas are at the top of the marine food chain, and have large, complex brains. The Puget Sound orcas have a unique greeting ceremony, and the matrilineal pods have languages all their own. They feed about half the time — but also indulge in all kinds of play: chasing, splashing at the surface, breaching, fin slapping, tail lobbing, head standing, rolling over other animals and playing with objects, including kelp and jellyfish."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

From Taboo to Wahoo!

What is your favorite LLL no-no? Reading scripture on your own? Reading People, or Jung? Wearing earrings? Going to the movies? Enjoying a nicely-aged cabernet? Hanging out in an art museum? Volunteering at a foodbank? Joining a political protest? Exploring other religions?

I know some OALC think people leave to seek "worldly" pleasures. That's (1) hogwash and (b) a cop-out. It protects them from confronting their own doubts about the church. The truth is that we leave for a wide variety of reasons, and "worldly pleasures" are the least of them. (If that's what we were after, we'd stay put and repent every seventh day, like so many others.)

That said, it seems to me that strict churches (and parents) actually promote compulsive/extreme behavior, simply because they do not foster moderation and ethical self-reliance. I've known a few who left the OALC and went off the deep end. Sometimes, it seems, the pendulum swings far enough away in order to find its rest in a reasonable middle.

That was not my experience. Nonetheless, it took me years to learn moderation. Exposed to TV, music, movies, art, theater, parties, travel, and other religious and cultural traditions for the first time, I had a good time exploring them. I loved daytime talk shows (such a wide variety of heretofore unseen humanity!). My college roomies found this odd but endearing. They took me to movies and out dancing, exposing me to many kinds of music. (Finnish at the core, I found myself drawn to the blues, the sadder the better!)

Oddly, I did not like theater at first, because I was embarrassed for the performers for their physical and emotional exposure. But later, I fell hard for Shakespeare and never recovered. There is a kind of truth that can only be shown on stage.

Because my first few years of experience in the world were full of loving, wonderful people, I remained naive about danger. I dismissed normal, instinctual fears as OALC-induced paranoia, and took risks I would not take now. For example, one of my jobs during college was waitressing at a Chinese restaurant near the airport. The lounge was pockmarked with bullet holes from gangfights. Years later I would learn -- with a shiver -- that the route I bicycled or walked home each night was where a serial killer found many of his victims.

What else did I explore? Movies. A movie-loving friend (who found it appalling that I had not seen the classics) introduced me to old movies, mostly on VHS, which I liked for the ability to control the volume. Even now, I feel physically sick if a movie is too loud, or there is any threat of violence. Later I became a huge fan of indie movies, especially quirky stuff from other countries. One of my favorites is "Man Without a Past" by the Finnish director Aki Kourasmaki Kaurismäki. I like to think that my late exposure to cinema makes me less inured to its delights. I weep, I cackle. Certainly there is a kind of truth that can only be expressed in film.

There used to be a billboard on Hwy. 99 entering Seattle. It showed a musical staff without any notes on it, and asked "What would life be without art?" Laestadian, perhaps? was my silent answer.

But enough about me. Tell me about you.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Dating & Marrying as a Former Laestadian

Thanks to Ilmarinen for suggesting this topic: "What was your family's reaction if you dated or married someone outside the LLL church? Did you worry about not having the same type of relationship your parents had (more or less divorce, different gender roles, different ideas on reproduction, etc.) How did your worldly significant others react to your family, the LLL church, and the Laestadianisms still within you?"

I'll set the tone here and answer in detail, which makes much juicier more interesting reading.

At 16, I became besotted with a "worldly" boy, the handsome college freshman son of our neighbors. My parents forbade me to see him, which a parenting expert might have told them (they wouldn't have listened), is counter-productive. I snuck out. I lied. I invented "special projects" that kept me "at school." That first love was so intoxicating, it is a wonder I was able to finish high school, because I thought about him constantly. He felt similarly. He was a good boy, and was really tormented about seeing me against the will of my parents, even though all we did together was hold hands, gaze at each other soulfully, study the Bible, take walks, and listen to the Commodores. "Three times a lady" seemed dangerously exotic to my inexperienced ears.

He tried to ingratiate himself with my folks, offering to help haul firewood and whatnot. They were civil and I suspect they actually liked him (my grandmother positively melted when he showed up with a dozen red roses on my 18th birthday), but he was absolutely not welcome in our home. His family adored me, and the contrast was not lost on me.

Finally, I was allowed to see him one weekend, to bring him to church. This required a long drive and an overnight stay, with me, ostensibly, at a cousin's house and him in a hotel room. Need I say more? Risky, defiant, exhilerating, memorable. And stupid. If I had become pregnant, I probably would have married that young man, who was so eager to make me his wife. My life would have taken a very different course.

That same year, in some kind of weird quid pro quo, I agreed to go out with an OALC boy on a date arranged by our mothers. What a disaster. I can't remember what we did (restaurant, bowling?) but I remember in detail his brand new truck and how the evening ended, with me fending off his sudden lunge and demanding to be dropped off. Years later, I would find out that my older sister had experienced something similar with his older brother! Turns out these boys had reputations my parents probably knew about, but given the stakes (heaven/hell), they had decided they could live with.

I never dated another boy from church and rarely talked to any, as we lived so far away. From a distance, they all seemed too wild or too backward. Unfair generalizations, and I suppose I had already made up my mind. But surprising even myself, after I left home and started college, I broke it off with my forbidden paramour. Why? Ironically, he was too . . . OALC! By that I mean traditional. He wanted lots of kids, soon, and did not think it was necessary for me to go to college and travel and explore the world. As I proceeded to do, with fits and starts.

After that, I dated just about whenever I was asked (not often enough) but rarely spoke about my upbringing. I was worried, I suppose, that it would be a great turnoff, and furthermore, I hadn't processed it very much. A guitarist I befriended in a church youth group became closer than most. He dashed my hopes by marrying someone else (a decade later, he kindly came to my wedding as a surrogate brother!). I am still good friends with a Finn (extract, that is) whom I dated a few times before we realized we were too alike for sparks to fly. He is now godfather to our kids. His large family had never heard of Laestadius, and they like to think of me as "the country girl who came to the city."

While I defiantly dated outside my race, religion, and class, and enjoyed friendships with a wide variety of people, I despaired of finding anyone with whom I could really connect. I was a stranger in a strange land. Just when I had resigned myself to solitude, I met someone whom I couldn't (resist though I tried) get out of my head/heart. It felt like destiny, and after a while we moved in together, prompting some very upset phone calls from the folks. He wanted marriage, but why did it terrify me? I was afraid of ruining what was the most wonderful relationship I'd ever had. Eventually I would introduce him to my folks (a funny memory: he was going to put on a suit and tie to meet them, but I insisted that he wear his old jeans, knowing that fancy would not make as trustworthy an impression as axle grease!). We were together so many years that everyone assumed we were married, and finally I knew we must be. (When I try to remember exactly what I feared about marriage, I can't. A therapist once suggested it was fear of losing my identity again to an institution. Maybe.)

Sadly, when we sent wedding invitations to my OALC kin (with postage-paid response cards), they didn't reply. Their silence spoke volumes. (Later, when I opened a wedding package from my parents, inside was an OALC hymnal. I already had two . . . but you can never have too much of a good thing, right?) Fortunately, my exOALC sisters and their children helped us celebrate that day, and pledged -- as we asked all our wedding guests to do -- their support through the ups and downs of our marriage. They've honored that pledge.

As for my spouse's reactions (to my family and whatever shreds of Laestadianism I retain), they have always been mild, sometimes bemused, sometimes upset on my behalf, but always encouraging of a respectful relationship with my family. He finds my history unusual and interesting, but no more or less so than his own. He willingly visits my family but doesn't invest emotionally in what would be a very one-sided relationship. It is not really an issue for us.

Except in this: I've often thought that just by being in my husband's loving presence over the years, I've gained an immunity to unhappiness. By osmosis, I've absorbed some healthy attitudes that serve as antidotes to all that Laestadian fear. Perhaps this would have happened without him. Regardless, I feel blessed.

Okay, your turn!