Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, readers. A bout of laryngitis keeps me from talking (or enjoying food) today, but the pie is baked, the turkey brined, and the potatoes about to be peeled. The show must go on, for our kids' sake. They LOVE tradition.

My husband will roast a small heirloom turkey from the farmers' market. Our son will make his traditional cranberry sauce with candied ginger. Our daughter will mash the potatoes and set the table with our fancy dishes. I'll make green beans with shallots and mushrooms. Together, at some magical hour this afternoon, we will light the beeswax tapers, sit down and smile at each other. Take in the beauty and abundance. Reflect on our good fortune.

Itadakimasu, we'll say. Japanese for "I humbly receive."

Growing up in the OALC, we never gave thanks at meals. Sometimes, the men would begin eating as soon as they were seated, and the women, who had labored -- for hours or days -- preparing the food, would wait until after the men and children were done, and eat whatever was left. Perhaps this practice dates from farming life, with men coming in from the fields for dinner and going right back out again. Also, in huge families, there is not always room to sit together at one table.

But still. It bugged me.

Fortunately, as adults we can start new traditions. And keep tweaking them.

This year, there is cornbread in the stuffing and the pie is made from a weird, bumpy heirloom squash. Our conversation will be seasoned with Japanese and French because the kids are studying those languages.

Whatever the words, we will acknowledge the food, the farmers who grew it, the earth, rain, sun, air, the family and friends, everything that sustain us. Including this blog and the wonderful people here.

For this I whisper my thanks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Healthcare & the OALC

I just received this email and am hoping we can help. I've asked the writer to read this blog for your responses.

Hi, I am a nursing student at Clark College. As a class, the students here are doing projects about the importance of adapting health care to different cultures, religions, and ethnic groups. The main purpose of this project is to create awareness and improve future health care delivery. I am writing this email because I would like the opportunity to learn some of the values and belief of the Apostolic Lutheran faith that should be considered by health care professionals when providing care to members of the church. For example, some religions abstain from the use of pharmaceuticals, birth control, and life support. Any information that is willing to be shared would be greatly appreciated. Again, the purpose here is to increase awareness and respect for all patients in a health care environment.

I have tried to contact members of the OALC, but I have had little success. I was reading your blogs and thought you might be able to provide some beneficial information.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Leaving home

I recently finally made the resolution to give up my membership in a Laestadian church, the result of two decades of soul searching. My immediate family is no longer speaking to me, although I suspect this, too, shall come to pass. They speak to my brother, who "ran away" to another city and left the church as well.

If you met my family, I am sure you'd think they were about the nicest people you'd ever met, and they probably are...if you're not part of their family and especially not a family member trying to leave the church. I sat drinking coffee one Sunday morning when it dawned on me at about 10 a.m. that just because I will no longer go to THAT church, it doesn't mean I can't go to church. Almost impulsively, I searched the Internet for service times of churches in my immediate area. Most of the services had already started, but one, the ELCA, had an 11:00 service. If I showered quickly, I could make it on time.

I bounded out the door at quarter to eleven, drove about half a mile, and walked into the church. It was the first time in my four-decade life I had been outside my LLL church for services of my own volition. Once, in high school, I slept over at a "worldly" friend's house when the next morning her parents insisted I go to church with them before they dropped me off at home. I tried to explain to them my parents wouldn't like me to go to another church, and then they asked me what church I went to. When I replied, "Apostolic Lutheran" they insisted I go, since it was a Lutheran church they go to, and how different could it be? So I went, but made a concerted effort not to hear anything in the sermon, lest I be tempted. Later in college, I was given a mandatory assignment to attend a place of worship different from my own, and then compare and contrast both experiences. I selected a Catholic church, since it seemed in sermons I had heard in my LLL church that the Catholics had things so screwed up I for sure would not be tempted by any of their dogma.

I sat in a back pew, alone. I recognized the neighbors down the street as the wife used to provide before-school care for our younger child in elementary school. There were maybe about 20 people there, in contrast with the great mob that attends Sunday services at my LLL church.

The pastor was dressed simply and casually, in a black mock-turtleneck and black pants, no robe or finery for him. Ironically, the parishioners were dressed much more casually than in my LLL church. Only one very elderly woman wore a dress.

A hymn was started, accompanied by organ music. My own church sang a cappela, with several people (men only) serving as hymn leaders, or lukkaris as we say in Finn. There weren't enough people to really carry the songs, and I could not join in because I was so lost. "Geez, they could really use some lukkaris, I thought to myself, before I censored that thought as being too judgmental. That was what I was trying to get away from!

The song was about the steadfastness of Christ's love, and a torrent of tears released from me. I so needed to hear that. I know it will take years, maybe forever, to erase my Laestadian mindset. My husband is unemployed right now, and he is very worried about his ability to get a job, and it has crossed my mind that maybe he cannot find a job because I am being punished for leaving the church. Then I dismissed the thought. Ridiculous. According to that mindset, only LLL'ers would have jobs, and there are plenty of non-Godly people who are employed and successful.

The sermon was about the importance of service and giving to others, using the Biblical story about the widow who gave two coins (all she had) and the rich folks who gave more, but their personal impact was much less, so her gift meant so much more. I contrasted that with the LLL-sermons that rarely mention giving, although I do know Laestadians who give both time and their resources to people and charities outside their faith communities. I also know Laestadians who justify their non-giving and non-volunteering by saying that those things are but "filthy rags before God."

I was amazed at how few people there were, contrasted to the many at my old church. How could that be? Then I started to think: Would I have attended church as often as I have if there had not been those annoying phone calls to my house when I elected to stay home?

What if no longer attending church didn't place me automatically in hell? Or on the flip side, attending church no longer put me in heaven? What if some other criteria was being used, things you can't see but you can feel, such as kindness and the love in your heart for God and for your fellow human beings?

What if the few people that were there were holier and closer to God than the thousand or so folks who regularly attend my urban congregation, because they were not there out of pleasing their relatives or to earn their way to heaven, but they were there simply to praise God?

There are a lot of what if's. It is amazing, but since I left the church, I am able to effortlessly find myself thanking God and talking to him, and I didn't as much before. Was I too frightened of Him? I know my mother would say that it was the devil I am now speaking to, not God, since He doesn't exist outside our branch of Laestadianism. I know not all believe as she does, but she is my mother and it's from her lap I learned all of his.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Healthcare Reform

Yesterday the U.S. House voted narrowly (220-215) to pass healthcare reform. While this vote is indeed historic (it is the first time since Medicare a healthcare bill has passed either chamber), it's future is uncertain. The Senate must pass its own bill and the two must then be reconciled before the changes become law.

This summer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) passed a resolution saying that “each person should have ready access to basic health care services that include preventative, acute and chronic physical and mental health care at affordable cost.”

Last week, Catholic bishops threatened to pull their support unless federal funding for abortions was explicitly forbidden (this provision was cited by the sole Republican, a former Jesuit seminarian, as allowing him to cross the aisle to vote for the bill).

Jim Wallis of Sojourners writes:

For decades now, the physical health and well-being of our country has been a proxy battle for partisan politics. When Truman tried to pass a national health insurance plan, the American Medical Association spent $200 million (in today’s dollars) and was accused of violating ethics rules by having doctors lobby their patients to oppose the legislation. In the 1970’s when Nixon tried to pass a national health insurance plan, strikingly similar to what many democrats are proposing today, the plan was defeated by liberal democrats and unions who thought that they would be able to pass something themselves after the mid-term elections and claim political credit for the plan. In the 1990’s the “Harry and Louise” ads misrepresented the Clinton health care plan but was successful enough PR to shut down that movement for reform.

Walis encourages the faith community to "step in and speak for the interests of the common good and those who would not otherwise have a voice."

Certainly there have been many doing just that, as well as many others who use their voices to shout down others, or spread misinformation.

It seems everyone who has an opinion, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, feels there is a moral component to healthcare. How about you? What are your thoughts?

(Please, no anonymous comments, and mind your manners. Let's debate like adults.)