Thursday, January 31, 2008

Coping with Laestadian social situations

bunless writes:
Question I have been dying to ask the team. Not sure where to post it so I'll stick it here for lack of a better location. Now that you have left your LLL community how do you handle the customs - the secret handshake, asking forgiveness and all that. I just find it so darn awkward. I don't want to convey that I am still a participant in their religion. Yet what's the harm in wishing someone Gods peace? And what the heck, if someone wants me to forgive them, sure, I can be forgiving. And should I teach my kids the Gspeece greeting? My spouse? So that they fit in? So that they don't appear to be rude? What the heck! Please tell me the best way to deal with this. I have done so well creating a new life for myself and accepting my OALC history and family but I just can't nail this one down.

How do you deal with things like this once you've left Laestadianism? If you're in a social situation with Laestadians, how do you handle those awkward moments?

-ttg

Monday, January 28, 2008

Scripture

It's been great to see all the new comments from folks who are questioning Laestadianism, reading the Bible and forming their own conclusions. You are not alone. This blog is for you.

One theme that I hear time and again from people who are leaving, have left, or are considering leaving is this: "I started reading the Bible for myself, and it calls what I've been taught into question."

I think this is one of the great strengths of the Bible, no matter what branch of Christianity you come from. At least since the protestant reformation (and I suspect long before it as well) all kinds of people with widely varying beliefs have used the Bible to call the powers that be and the prevailing wisdom into question.

I can't help but chuckle a little bit inside when some established faith communities try to take the Bible and use it to support a rigid system of rules and power relationships. (Laestadianism being a major offender, but I can think of some others as well.) The Bible, with all its stories of the lowly being raised up, and the rich and powerful being brought down. It's a little bit like trying to build a jail out of bricks using plastic explosives as mortar. Sooner or later that ediface is going to blow sky high!

On a slightly different tangent, when I left Laestadianism I had to take a "break" from the Bible for awhile. Whenever I would read scripture, I would hear the preachers voices in my head. I was so familiar with how the preachers interpreted the Bible that it was hard for me to see anything there other than what the preachers had to say.

One of the great benefits of reading theological books and course materials in addition to just the Bible is that you'll get exposed to ways of thinking about the text that you could never imagine on your own. It has taken a long time, but I'm starting to be able to look at scripture and see a "surplus of meaning" instead of the limited meanings assigned by the preachers.

While I believe that we're each called to be our own theologian and "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" there are also great benefits to taking advantage of the wealth of theological reflection that has been done over the last 20 centuries. We can "stand on the shoulders of giants" and see much farther than we would alone.

I'll conclude this post with some discussion questions from a Bible study I recently ran across on my own denominations web site. I thought the questions were good ones for ex-Laestadians as well:


  • What were your early experiences with and understandings of the Bible? How has your understanding of the Bible changed over time?
  • What is your understanding of the authority of Scripture and the role of tradition and reason in your decision making? Do you see the Bible as containing the specific answers to all our questions and issues, or is it more than "just a simplistic rule book"?
  • What is your experience of the difference between reading and interpreting the Bible alone versus in a group? What is the role of the Christian community (past and present) in interpreting or communicating God's Word to us?


-ttg

Friday, January 18, 2008

Another look at Shunning

An anon commenter beat me to the punch on this post:

I read this in the Wall Street Journal today, and couldn't resist posting about it here. I knew that some Laestadians were into shunning, but I never imagined that the practice took place in some other churches as well, and that it seems to be growing in popularity within some quarters:

Banned From Church


71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.


It's an interesting read, which raises many issues. On the one hand I was gratified that the civil authorities finally put an end to this nonsense in Mrs. Caskey's case. On the other hand, shouldn't churches be able to conduct their internal affairs as they see fit, no matter how wacky it looks to outsiders?

-ttg

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Love to Markus

I have hesitated to post about Markus, our cyberpal from Finding a Home For the Journey: Living Gay, out of respect for his privacy as he battles pancreatic cancer. But Markus is in increasing pain, and I think messages, even from strangers, might be a source of diversion and comfort. Please, friends, post encouraging thoughts on his Caring Bridge Journal. (It appears that some members of his former Laestadian community are urging him to "return to the faith." Why they think that is that is the Christian thing to do, rather than offering him simple and unconditional love, is . . . well, all too painfully familiar. WWJD indeed.)

If you read this post, Markus, here's the electronic equivalent of a warm hug, a plate of cookies fresh from the oven, a cold glass of milk, and a view of the ocean. Peace be with you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Moral Instinct



There is a thought-provoking essay about morality by Stephen Pinker, the Harvard professor of psychology, in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Here is an excerpt:

People everywhere, at least in some circumstances and with certain other folks in mind, think it’s bad to harm others and good to help them. They have a sense of fairness: that one should reciprocate favors, reward benefactors and punish cheaters. They value loyalty to a group, sharing and solidarity among its members and conformity to its norms. They believe that it is right to defer to legitimate authorities and to respect people with high status. And they exalt purity, cleanliness and sanctity while loathing defilement, contamination and carnality.

My reaction was to ponder how some Laestadians seem to value "loyalty to a group and conformity to norms" above fairness, purity and sanctity. Could this be a minority group's insurance against assimilation?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What About Me


Free here. Thanks Amelia for the link to this inspiring video, which describes better than I can the happiness I've found. It is wonderful that people are still finding strength, support and challenges here. Many thanks to Tomte and to all of you who are continuing this dialogue.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Laestadian ignorance about Roman Catholicism

After reading some of the comments Precious has been making about the Catholic Church, I was reminded of identical inaccurate rhetoric growing up in the ALC. My how we hated those Catholics, and loved to hold them up as the prime example of a dead faith that got it wrong! (Looking back the irony is almost overwhelming. :-) I'll post some of my own thoughts regarding the relationship between Laestadianism and Roman Catholicism later on, but for now I thought cvow's succinct and accurate post clearing up some of the misinformation was worth repeating here.

cvow writes:

Precious,
You ask to be educated about various beliefs of the Catholic Church. Let's see if I can help a little.

You stated several OALC commonly held beliefs about the Catholic church. I know that when I was a member of the OALC I heard the same things, along with statements that the Catholics gambled in church, danced in the church aisles, worshipped statues, and all sorts of other outlandish stories. (I also heard lots of stories about other faiths as well, but since you zeroed in on the Catholics, that's where I'll focus as well.) The leader of the OALC congregation that I belonged to loved to pick on the Catholics, although I suspect he had never been inside a Catholic church in his life, as is probably the case with most of the OALC "preachers" who make similar attacks.

Just following your thread more or less in order, you stated that the Catholic Church teaches that you can buy yourself a seat in heaven through charity -- and that they "brag" about their charity. Now I don't really know where this idea got started, because there is nothing in the teaching of the Catholic church to support such a claim. I suppose it hearkens back to the Middle Ages, when the church was "selling" indulgences. I'm pretty sure the error of that was resolved several hundred years ago, but the perception still lingers on. Rest assured, you don't buy your way into heaven in the Catholic Church by charity or any other way except through acceptance and belief in Jesus Christ as saviour and redeemer.

Does the church "brag" about their charity work? Not as near as I can tell. Perhaps the fact that they do ask for donations to support their charitable work -- and it is considerable, believe me -- is what you perceive as "bragging". I will agree with many other posters here -- I was in the OALC for 35 years, more or less, and never, not once, did I ever witness or know about any charitable act to the poor, sick, or homeless by any OALC congregation. I am sure some of the members gave individually to charity as you say you do -- good for you, and I mean that sincerely -- but most did not.

Purgatory is probably one that we could go around on for a long time, since the primary scriptural foundation for that is found in the Old Testament, in Maccabees, which is not part of the KJV bible. If you are interested, in 2 Maccabees 12, the statement is made that King Judas made atonement for the dead, which is held as evidence that there is some kind of purging of sin even after death. In the New Testament in both Peter and Corinthians, the passages about cleansing fire are held as further evidence of this final cleansing. Here again you make the statement that based on money given to the church, a person's soul might be moved from hell into heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Period.

You ask why during the Catholic Mass only the priest partakes of the wine. Hmmm..., I went to Mass last Sunday and partook of both species -- bread and wine -- as did most of the people. I know that at one time, only the host was offered and not the wine, but that changed long ago. I did see that still being done in a very small church, and don't know why it was still done that way -- but there is no liturgical reason for the wine to be withheld. I suspect it was one of those man made traditions that come and go as our faith evolves. The church teaches that you can partake of either or both species and have received communion. As an example of this kind of tradition, people note the ringing of the bells during the consecration of the host and wine. The history of this is that in very olden days, the entire congregation in very large churches could not see what the priest was doing (there were no pews in those days so everyone stood) nor could they hear (no PA system, you know). Hence the bells were rung at important times during the consecration and prayers
so that the congregants could follow the order of the Mass, saying common prayers at the correct times, appropriately bow their heads, kneel, or whatever was called for. Many Catholic churches have abandoned the bell ringing, because obviously those needs no longer exist, but others still do it as a remembrance of those traditions. Eventually it will disappear, I'm sure, as again, there is no liturgical reason, only tradition.

And finally the molestation issue. This has been a shameful discovery and recognition of human failure on the part of some priests. We could debate a long time whether the church failed to act in a timely fashion, whether the official reaction was appropriate and swift enough, and whether the consequences have been just. I can only say that since it has come to light -- albeit much too slowly -- the Church has cooperated fully in the criminal prosecution of the sexual offenders, and has tried to make monetary restitution to the victims. Is it enough? I don't know that it ever could be.

Hopefully these explanations make some things clear, put to rest some old wives' tales, and give food for thought. If you ever really want to know what goes on in a Catholic Church, by all means attend Mass a few times. Believe me, this is a place where truly and absolutely, "All are Welcome". You will probably find to your amazement that you can recite most of the prayers right along with the rest of the congregation, with only a few word changes here and there.


-ttg

Friday, January 04, 2008

More stories of leaving

I hope everyone had a nice holiday season. :-)

Recent comments under Home for the Holidays reminded me that one of my favorite things about this site are the stories of people leaving Laestadianism. They remind me that I'm not alone, and they remind me that while we share many things in common everyone's path out of Laestadianism is a little different.

Feel free to add your story in the comments:


Anonymous:
This is very interesting, as I have been pondering the ramifications of leaving for quite some time now. My biggest concern is how to deal with my family. Do you talk about it our just leave it be? What works? How has leaving played out for other readers? Has the family given them the cold shoulder or have they been able to get back to a "more normal" over time? If so, how long did it take?
I find it sad, actually that so many Laestadians find it acceptable to shun people just because they do not go to the same church. They separate themselves so much from anyone who does not beleive as them, that even when it is a family member or a close friend that leaves, they think they no longer have anything in common. Because of the separation from anyone else I think they really do not know what to do with someone who doesn't believe as them. They are used to relating with people who agree with them on most things.
Anonymous:
I left, slowly, over a period of about 5 years. For a the first few years I was more or less 'riding the fence' and not knowing what life I wanted to live, but once I decided what I wanted and needed to do, I just quit going to church all together. Because my family had seen me come and go for some time, they didn't give me a very hard time, they just let me leave. I do occasionally get excluded from events that include my family and other OALC members, but other than that, our relationship is as good as I can hope for it to be at this point. Leaving the church can be a long, hard road, that rarely includes your family or anyone in the church's blessings, but having gone down that path and being who I am today, I am so thankful that I chose this path and I am where I am. Good luck to you.


See also some great posts by Free2bme on this topic:

High Control Groups
Unbearable Lonliness (No More)
One Reader's Journey
Cut and Pasty.com
At Last, a Place in Cyberspace

-ttg