Friday, February 29, 2008

A New Blog for the OALC

Our OALC reader and commenter RWB is understandably upset by criticism found in these pages. I suggested that he create a pro-Laestadian blog but he prefers to "keep things simple" and declined.

In fact, RWB, blogs are super simple to create and maintain (as easy as commenting on one) so I've launched an OALC Discussion Blog, for you and any others who wish to celebrate the OALC.

I can't guarantee there will be no criticism or snide remarks, free speech being what it is.

However, I'm happy to hand over management, and comments can then be accepted or rejected as the owner sees fit.

(Update: the blog became a spam target, and was removed.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

American Faith in Flux

According to an article in the New York Times and another in the Associated Press yesterday, nearly half of Americans adults leave the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a broad new survey finds.

From the NYT: The report, titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations.

Highest retention of childhood members? Hindus (They keep 84%)

Worst retention? Jehovah’s Witnesses (37% stay)

Does anyone want to guess at the American Laestadian retention rate? Do you think it is increasing?

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Sacred Sauna

Growing up, Saturday night was sauna night. My father and five brothers (with help from me and mom) built an authentic Finnish sauna in the woods, with notched cedar logs and a wood stove, and a dressing room and an exercise area, and a shower room and cedar rounds leading up to the front door, and a map of Finland on the wall. Well maybe it wasn't authentic, but it was wonderful.

During the week we kids took turns chopping wood for the stove (I once split my big toenail in two with an errant axe) and on Saturday nights, the family took turns: guests, parents, girls, boys, usually in that order. I was the only girl, so it was a solitary affair unless relatives were visiting.

Lying on the cedar bench, I would listen to the crackling of the fire, the hooting of owls, the wind in the trees, and the hiss of steam as I ladled water on the rocks.

I could hear the crunch of gravel and creak of the exterior stove door as someone stoked the fire from outside. If the heat became too intense, I would shower and return. Sometimes I brought a book and read while the pages grew limp from steam. Eventually a brother's insistent knocking would end my reverie.

I learned how to be alone in that sauna, which was not easy for an extroverted adolescent girl. It was often lonely, a feeling I rarely encounter today.

Now, whenever I smell cedar, I am sent back to that state of lonely serenity. (Tea tree oil has the same effect, so I use a fancy pants hair conditioner for the scent).

While I would like someday to build a small sauna in my backyard, I make do with a less romantic version at the local gym. It is usually vacant on Sunday (one of the reasons I love my gym). After a good workout, I shower and take a swim in the quiet pool. After a soak in the hot tub, I finish my routine with a long sauna.

So last week I was surprised to find the sauna already occupied by an elderly man in running shorts and a dish towel draped over his head. He was facing a bench and doing knee bends, looking very serious and faintly ridiculous. I ignored him, took the top bench and closed my eyes.

When I opened them again, the man was frowning at me. In a thick accent, he said "one must MOOOVE to get benefit of the SAHna!" He made some bending motions.

I must have looked dumbstruck. You see, I am a nice person. I even look nice, the kind of person people are always stopping to ask for directions, or the time, or a spare dollar.

But this was really beyond the pale.

"Sir." I said. "YOU can't tell how to take a SOW-na. My people invented the sauna. I grew up in a sauna. I KNOW how to take a sauna. Maybe not a FRENCH sah-na, but a Finnish sauna."

But he was not deterred. Neither was he French. He went into great detail about his cardiovascular health and stamina, and whipped off his head towel to display proudly a full head of hair, suspiciously free of gray. He introduced himself as "Dr. John" and said he came here at age 18 from Roumania, and keeps up on all the American AND British medical journals, and knows what ails "you people" and it isn't just fast food and "quick carbos."

He stared pointedly at my middle-aged physique and said I should "stop the eating of milk."

I showed restraint. I did not demonstrate my newfound core strength (Nautilus-derived) and suspend him by his ankles, or his full head of hair. I did not MOOOVE a muscle. Nor did I tell him I am lactose-intolerant.

Instead I laughed and laughed and told him he was FUNNY. Then I quickly left the sauna, before the Devil got the upper hand.

But I may bring some birch branches next time.

That'll show him.

*****

Share your sauna stories!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

For The Bible Tells Me So

I just rented this extraordinary documentary and encourage you to do the same. Keep the Kleenex nearby.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Laestadians Online

Kiitos to the kind reader who sent me this article from Finland: "Conservative Laestadians' lifestyle debate boils over onto the Internet." (outdated link)

"Maybe you've started something," she joked in her email. But surely the online debate over Laestadianism predates this blog, which started in August, 2004. Maybe one of our European readers can give us a timeline.

Here is an excerpt:
Something of an upheaval is now going on within the movement, with an increasing number of people feeling that there is an overemphasis on the external rules of the religion.

As there is a resistance to expressing public criticism within the movement, debate takes place on Internet message boards and within small groups . . . Dissidents among the Laestadians want to emphasize pure Lutheranism without the lifestyle rules . . . (which) took root in the 1960s and 1970s - a time of pastoral care meetings and excommunications of wayward members. Increasing numbers of today's members are calling for a critical examination of the era.

Rules, such as the bans on television, the theatre, and birth control are no more than advice, according to the official teaching. However, individual members of the movement are not entitled to question them . . .

Conservative Laestadians often take part in on-line debates anonymously.

"They are afraid of being labelled. If an individual member of the congregation says something that goes against the official teaching, his or her faith is immediately is seen in a questionable light."

Been there, done that? I encourage you to read the whole article. There's a wonderful bit about a Laestadian pastor who got out of teaching confirmation camp by holding a press interview in a (gasp) theatre.

O tempora! O mores!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Another World (More Worldlies?)

Check out this fascinating article about the discovery of a solar system much like our own. I will never forget seeing my first photos of the earth from outer space as a child. I found them both fascinating and a little freaky, because I could not imagine that its creator would have chosen a tiny little portion of humanity for salvation. Here's an excerpt:

Astronomers said Wednesday that they had found a miniature version of our own solar system 5,000 light-years across the galaxy — the first planetary system that really looks like our own, with outer giant planets and room for smaller inner planets.

“It looks like a scale model of our solar system,” said Scott Gaudi, an assistant professor of astronomy at Ohio State University. Dr. Gaudi led an international team of 69 professional and amateur astronomers who announced the discovery in a news conference with reporters.

Their results are being published Friday in the journal Science. The discovery, they said, means that our solar system may be more typical of planetary systems across the universe than had been thought.

In the newly discovered system, a planet about two-thirds of the mass of Jupiter and another about 90 percent of the mass of Saturn are orbiting a reddish star at about half the distances that Jupiter and Saturn circle our own Sun. The star is about half the mass of the Sun.

Neither of the two giant planets is a likely abode for life as we know it. But, Dr. Gaudi said, warm rocky planets — suitable for life — could exist undetected in the inner parts of the system.

“This could be a true solar system analogue,” he said.

Wow! If there is anything that could enlarge our concepts of God and nature, it would be life on another planet. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How to Help a Friend

Okay, peeps, let's try to stick to the posted topic, and ask for a new one when needed. It is getting kind of crazy around here. (Don't make me turn on the moderated comments feature!)

W writes:

I am just learning about the OALC because I have a "contraband" close friend who is a member. Could somebody help me with some ways I can nudge him in the right direction? I don't want to be pushy and make him change his beliefs, but I want him to think about what he has been taught. I have asked him to explain his beliefs but he just avoids the subject. Its so hard for me to sit back and watch him be controlled by the church. Any suggestions on how to help him will be greatly appreciated.


Welcome, W! Thanks for posting. This blog does not represent a single point of view, but a place for many to be expressed. Some of us are religious, some not. My advice like anyone else's is based on my ideals and experiences.

You might ask your friend if you could accompany him to a church service. That will open the way to conversation about it. Or you could ask him about this site (check out the links for more info about Laestadianism). Be gentle with your friend, who may know less about his church now than you do! And realize the best thing you can offer anyone is your friendship. Your daily approach to life's mysteries and moral questions will speak louder than any words.

Readers?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Finger Pointing

When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.

Anonymous


Laestadian version:

When you point one finger at yourself, three fingers are pointing at someone else.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Obama on Economic Justice

Today I joined 18,000 neighbors at a the Key Arena to see Barack Obama. The stadium was a multicolored sea. From my perch in the nosebleed section, the packed stadium resembled an enormous multi-colored braided rug, the kind they sell in the Land's End catalog. When the "wave" came through, it was like a strong wind ruffling the human rug.

It was thrilling, to say the least.

And so was Barack Obama. His wide-ranging speech was constantly interrupted by roars of approval, and only later, in this video was I able to catch all his words. I recommend watching the whole thing if you have time.

I found this particularly interesting:

"I believe in the free market, I believe in entrepreneurship, and I believe in capitalism. It is the most dynamic economy ever devised. But when CEOs are making more in 10 minutes than ordinary workers are making in a year, and it's the CEOs who are getting the tax breaks and ordinary workers are left holding the bag, something is out of balance."

"We need to restore a sense of balance in our country . . . . if you work in this country, you should not be poor."

Here are some startling statistics:

In 2006, 36.5 million people were in poverty, and 35.5 million Americans lived in "food insecure" households, 22.8 million adults and 12.6 million children. On any given night in America, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless, according the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Poverty in America is considerably higher today than it was in the 1970s and children are especially affected. The U.S. lags behind other developed countries in this area. While Denmark and Finland lead 26 participating OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries with child poverty rates below 3 percent, Mexico and the United States are at the other end of the spectrum, both with child poverty rates of more than 20 percent.


The above is from this article decrying the media's silence about this issue.

I'm glad our candidates are talking about economic justice.

I'd like to know what you think about it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Growing up in the ALC, we had church services on Ash Wednesday, but we never had ashes put on our foreheads or anything like that. I also wasn't aware of anybody giving up anything for lent.

I'm interested in knowing how the other branches of Laestadianism handled (or did not handle) the season of Lent.

I'm also interested in what spiritual practices you might be doing now that you're an ex-Laestadian.

I usually go to Ash Wednesday services, but tonight I can't due to a scheduling conflict. Can anyone recommend any good online Lenten resources I might do in lieu of attending services?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Duper Tuesday

Since today is Super Duper Tuesday, and many of our readers will be voting in primaries or caucuses today, I thought I'd start this thread to discuss faith and politics.

As ex-Laestadians, do you see your spiritual journey as relating to your political views or affiliations? Has your politics changed or stayed the same since leaving Laestadianism?

Who do you like among the current field of presidential hopefuls, and why?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Understanding Religious Violence

In light of the recent suicide bombings in Iraq last week, I found this essay on the roots of religious motivated violence extremely relevant and timely. As part of the Trinity Round table on faith and violence convened at Trinity Church Wall Street (the church right across the street from where the World Trade Center used to stand), the author's provocative thesis is that religious terrorists are motivated by the same things that motivate ordinary religious folks, with a twist.

Here are some excepts, with a link to the full article below:

Understanding Religious Violence, by James W. Jones


What makes [religious violence] happen is the conjunction of nearly universal spiritual motivations – the desire for union with God, the desire for purification and transformation, the need for religious community, the need for meaning and purpose--with a certain psychological structure, the need to dichotomize the world into the all-good and the all-evil. Also, there is a specific theology that you find in the writings of religiously motivated terrorists across the spectrum, and it is the view of God as wrathful and punitive and demanding of blood sacrifice. It's the conjunction of those powerful spiritual motivations with that psychological constellation that is a precursor to religiously motivated terrorism.

What's unique to fanatical religions is not the desire for union with God, or the desire for spiritual transformation; it's the linkage of that desire for spiritual union and purification with violence, especially the violence of sacrificial killing, blood sacrifice, or apocalyptic purification. It’s the linkage of these virtually universal and powerful desires with the themes of blood sacrifice and purification through violence, that turns spiritual longing into terrorist action.


Laestadianism shares a number of the features Jones writes about. Laestadians certainly divide the world into good and evil. Why aren't there Laestadian terrorists? Maybe because Laestadianism doesn't play up God's desire for blood as much as other fundamentalist forms of Christianity do. Or maybe it's because Laestadianism seems to lack an apocalyptic emphasis. Certainly I have heard individual Laestadians vent righteous indignation / violent talk against groups they perceived to be especially evil, such as abortionists and homosexuals. Yet I've never heard violence advocated from the pulpit or officially wished for in any way.

-ttg