Sunday, January 27, 2013

Who Is Your Neighbor?

When you think of Jesus' admonition to "love your neighbor as yourself," who qualifies as a neighbor? If we are to use his life as an example, it would be "anyone." Full stop.

The insularity of the OALC (giving charity only to others within the church) bothered me so much growing up that when I was chosen to speak at high school graduation, I devoted my speech to "loving thy neighbor." (I wish I had saved a copy of it. Silly me, I thought I would always remember it, and gave my only copy to my first roommates' parents, liberal OALCer's who kept a copy of "As a Man Thinketh" on their coffee-table, and encouraged my friendship with their daughters, who were experiencing a wildly hedonistic rumspringa, but that is a different story.)

It turns out it wasn't just the OALC; religion in general doesn't make a dent in our tribalism. According to this study, being religious makes people more cooperative, but only when they are dealing with others of the same faith.
In one task people were given an imaginary sum of money and given the option of sending some to another participant.They were told that whatever they did not send they would be able to keep but also that the participant could chose to send some of it back – which would then be tripled.They had to judge how “generous” to be.Participants included Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and non-religious volunteers.The team noticed that there was little difference between levels of co-operation and generosity when people knew nothing of the other person’s beliefs and when they knew that they were of different persuasions.But when told that the other person shared their religion they were markedly more trusting and generous with the money.Dr Robert Hoffmann, an Associate Professor of Economics at Nottingham University Business School and co-author of the report, said: “One would imagine the charity inherent in many well-known articles of faith might have some impact on everyday behaviour.“But we discovered no evidence of that when we examined what happens when people who are religious knowingly interact with those of a different or no faith."
In other news, lawmakers in Arizona have introduced a bill that would require students to swear an oath of loyalty in order to receive a high school diploma. I can't imagine it will get very far.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Visit

The building seems smaller now, as if its physical size somehow had shrunk along with its significance. This is no looming Mount Sinai, just a simple structure that is lovingly maintained by people who have grown up sitting in its pews. There is probably no other single place, outside the childhood home, in which a typical Laestadian will spend as many hours of his life. It is not just empty talk to call it a spiritual home, a sanctuary.

Just as pangs of nostalgia fill the adult believer who sees the humble house where he ran and played with a swarm of siblings and harassed parents, the sight of the church evinces its own memories grown fonder with time: beloved old preachers with their sleep-inducing sermons and funny habits, weekly gatherings of lifelong friends, hasty communal lunches with fellowship shouted over the squalling of fussy babies. God’s Kingdom nourishes the spirit with the unchanging Word, and the body with hot dish and Sloppy Joes, iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing. Variety is not a prominent feature of either menu, and that makes the memories uncomplicated, easy to come by.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reading the Old Testament in Iraq


Following is a guest post by Eric, a former Laestadian.

Let me say by way of a preface that many Christian churches do NOT teach that the Bible is inerrant, or that its "truth" lies in literal interpretation. Many Lutheran churches, including the ELCA congregation where I explored the Old Testament for the first time, encourage their members to use a critical approach to the authorship, translation, and interpretation of Scripture. Most mainline seminaries are entirely invested in this method, and not all their graduates emerge as atheists. Christianity is a big tent, and theism is even larger.

My hope is that this blog demonstrates the wide variety of responses to religious tradition and the quest for meaning. Please consider submitting a guest post of your own.

Eric writes:
(As a Laestadian) I shared the idea of the inerrancy of the Bible (it was given by doctrine) and the pursuit of truth. I reasoned that if the Bible is 100% true, then no matter how hard I tried to find it, I couldn’t ever find an inconsistency or contradiction. And, it wouldn't ever hurt to try since there’d be nothing to be afraid of. Either I find that the Bible isn't true (preposterous!), which would therefore mean that I have shed myself of untruth, or I’d find it is true and I’d have verified it for myself. Either way, it would be interesting.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Carl A. Kulla, 1920-2013

On September 22, 1920, a baby boy named Carl was born to Emil and Ella Kulla in Brainerd, Minnesota. Both Emil and Ella were of Laestadian background. Emil had come in contact with Laestadians–including Ella–in Helsinki, Finland around 1895.

Twenty years later, Carl acquired a set of the Lenker edition of Luther’s Works along with The Book of Concord, and began to serve as a preacher in the Minneapolis congregation of the Apostolic Lutheran Federation. He would continue in that office for sixty years. He also became one of the foremost historians of Laestadianism and a friend to many within not just his own Apostolic Lutheran Federation (ALC), but the other branches as well.

One of the many poignant stories Carl recalls in his book Reminiscence of an Octogenarian: On the Way to the Celestial City (2009) is his first encounter with racism, in the early 1940s. One Sunday, while off duty from his surveying work for the Army’s 30th Engineer Battalion, he decided to stop in at an African-American church.
I began to converse with the people, who then asked me to preach, which I did with my frail gifts. As I left the church, some of the men from my unit were passing by–among them some southerners who were very prejudiced against African-Americans. From then on I had to bear the name of being a lover of them whom they despised. That was my first experience with racism. [p. 22]
It would be going too far to say that Carl viewed all or even most types of Christianity with favor, but he certainly extended the hand of fellowship to all Laestadians who preached and accepted the personal proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. This sense of ecumenism is common in the Federation, the most tolerant branch of Laestadianism.