Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

If you are a parent, or spend any time around kids, you are aware of the ways young children "test" adults on a regular (often exhausting) basis. By the time they can talk, they are also hypocrisy-alert systems, eager to let us know when what we do does not matching what we say. Do they hear us lie or swear or hate? Do they see us litter, eat junk, or ignore the poor? Unless we punish or shame them for telling us, they'll let us know. What we do is far more visible to them than our ideas.

How we deal with that is largely a product of how we ourselves were raised; how we were "apprenticed" as parents-to-be. Only when we realize that we have options as parents, that we don't need to follow the status quo, and that how we interact with our children affects not only them, but us, do we become students as well as teachers. The myriad daily exchanges between child and parent (spoken and unspoken) are a sensitive biofeedback system in which we continually adapt to one another—parent and child possessing equal intelligence (more or less), though far apart in years of experience and physical power. Nonetheless, both parent and child are capable of nudging the system in the direction of kindness and wisdom. 

Those of us apprenticed in fundamentalist, authoritarian households can benefit from new parenting models, such as Brené Brown, mom, author, and research professor who studies (according to her bio online) "vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame." Below is her parenting manifesto (you can hear it read it aloud to Oprah here). If you haven't seen Brown's 2010 TED talk on the power of vulnerability, it is highly recommended.
The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto
  • Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions--the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself.
  • I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.
  • We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both.
  • We will teach you compassion by practicing compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honor hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices.
  • You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel.
  • I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude.
  • I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable.
  • When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life.
  • Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.
  • We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here.
  • As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly.
  • I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you.
How were you raised? Do you parent differently than you were parented?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mythbusters

In a recent dialogue here, two members of the LLC pushed back on common perceptions of Laestadianism. They do not feel brainwashed, or compelled to conform to church standards; they see their lifestyle choices (no music or movies, for example) as wholesome personal choices, and not at all a matter of salvation. They are not interested in foisting their choices on others.

That's cool. I'm glad they feel comfortable participating here.

We (and by we, I mean I) must remember that generalizations have exceptions, and any respectable discussion should address those exceptions, or it's just self-serving blathering, leading to an echo chamber that reinforces stereotypes instead of challenging us to grow. After all, it is far too easy, even in the multiverse of the internet, to isolate ourselves in ideological cocoons.

When I saw this article about the bullying of secular students by believers, I thought its list of myths seemed apposite to ex-Laestadians, and I've adapted it below. Let me say immediately that bullying happens by secular types against believers, too. It's a nasty phenomenon, among all groups, and facilitated by social media, sometimes with fatal results.

How we talk about others, in the home or outside of it, either contributes to peace or to conflict. Someone I admire once said:
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
(In that vein, check out Ed's very personal post on his blog about a book called Faithiest, by a Harvard chaplain who is making bridges between believers and nonbelievers.)

Common Myths About People Who Leave the Church

  • They are just angry at god.
  • They worship the devil.
  • They have no morals.
  • They're leaving is the product of a personal tragedy.
  • They are arrogant.
  • They are all atheists.
  • They love sinning too much to give it up.

Anything you want to add to the list? Want to bust some myths about those who stay?

Friday, September 06, 2013

Musings at Summer's End

Please take a moment to read Valerie Tarico's interview with Ed Suominen about his exodus out of Laestadianism. While my experience does not mirror Ed's (the Bible has always been primarily allegorical for me), and we don't agree on everything, I admire his desire to follow the truth where it leads him. His respect for his childrens' intellectual and spiritual independence is also commendable. And believer or nonbeliever or quasi-believer, regardless of where we tumble in the kaleidoscope of ideology, I think we can all work toward common goals. This quote by Scotty Mclennan, in a comment after the article, is germane:
“All of us—bright atheists and committed religionists—need to wake now and hear the earth call . . . . We need to give and receive as love shows us how, join with each pilgrim who quests for the true, give heed to the voices of the suffering, awaken our consciences with justice as our guide, and work toward a planet transformed by our care.”
85-year old Lule Sami reindeer herder Apmut-Ivar Kuoljok, forcibly removed from protest in Kallak, Sweden, August 25, 2013. Photo by Per-Eric Kuoljok.
Recently, I have been active with Sámi and Sámi-Americans in arguing against a prospective large scale mine in Swedish Lapland near Jokkmokk, where the annual winter market has been in continuous existence for over 400 years (one of my ancestors traded at the first market in 1605). Since Laestadius' time, it has been a significant meeting place for his followers. A mine there would not only negatively impact reindeer herding but put the entire watershed at risk from pollution and dam collapse. You can read the letter we sent to Obama here, and follow its links for more information. Please consider signing the petition against the mine here.

We've had a beautiful summer here in the Pacific Northwest. Unusually warm and sunny. I'm not ready for it to be over, but our enormous katsura tree—that we planted 20 years ago as a twig—is scattering heaps of gold heart-shaped leaves in the back yard, and spiders are seeking refuge in the house, and the kids have returned, a bit grudgingly, to school. Last Saturday, the skies dawned clear, so we drove to Mt. Rainier to soak up the beautiful views and lay down sense memories (pine scent, wildflowers, towering peaks, waterfalls) that would feed our spirits. Mt. Rainier's native name is Tahoma, "mother of waters," as its glaciers irrigate the rivers, lakes, and lush forests of our region (I wish we could go back to calling it by that name. Peter Rainier, the rear admiral friend of George Vancouver, does not deserve the honor). I grew up with a view of the mountain from our living room, and I've been up close many times, but somehow I'd forgotten that near the tree line, the alpine firs look remarkably like those in a model train set. So tiny! The heavy snows that fall here nine months out of the year clearly don't favor breadth or height in a tree. This fact made me muse on adaptation, and how the attributes that protect life in a hostile climate can become superfluous—even counterproductive—in a new habitat. Maybe once transplanted, those same trees would grow tall and broad; at warmer altitudes, they would branch out, leaf out, and exhale, without their limbs snapping in an avalanche. I suspect many former Laestadians can relate.


On Sunday I drove south to spend time with "exOALC," a dear friend whom I met years ago through this blog. Another refugee from the OALC joined us, and we all enjoyed a delicious dinner at Teote (a Venezualan restaurant in Portland), then stayed up late talking. The great thing about meeting people with whom you share a common history is the almost instant sense of comfort. It allows you to bypass the small talk and go straight to the heart of things: joys and struggles, hopes and regrets, dreams and plans. Maybe this is what we miss most about our old communities. It is incredibly gratifying to see us "formers" form our own community.

The next day, Labor Day, I went to the heart of OALC country to meet another former Laestadian, a woman who has blessed this blog with her wisdom for the past decade but whom I had never met in person. I was a bit nervous. I have a lot of respect for her; what if she didn't like me? With one warm hug, my worries vanished. (I would soon discover that her aunt was my mother's bridesmaid, and her grandfather played an important role in my dad's life.) Her husband showed me a sign on their house that reads: "Bigots, homophobes, racists, fundamentalists, etc., please leave your attitudes at the door. This home welcomes everyone regardless of persuasion. Tolerance, civility, and friendship will be observed at all times." They certainly walked their talk, too. Talk about healthy boundaries! There in the middle of an OALC community, such boundaries need frequent defending, and is another reason I am content to live where I do, a three-hour drive away. Close enough to visit, but not too often.

We had a wonderful chat and then my daughter and I took off for an OALC family reunion up in the hills. As we drove winding roads flanked by green and gold fields, with the occasional cows, horses, or alpacas grazing, I felt a profound sense of serenity. The love and acceptance of others is enjoyed in the muscles, I think, like music. It relaxes. It stretches out the knots. I mused on the fact that I no longer dread my family reunions, but look forward to them. I have become comfortable with my status as an oddball, a black sheep, a "worldly." My relatives no longer try to change me, and I don't try to change them. That comfort goes deep.

Our annual reunions are now in the summer rather than the holiday season: it makes the roads less icy and dicey, requires no room rentals, and is more fun for the little kids. There was delicious food (check out the cake by my sister-in-law!), energetic tugs-of-war, sack races, and lots of laughter. I was having so much fun taking photographs, giving underdogs on the swingset, and enjoying my grandnieces, that I was reluctant to leave when our daughter pointed out that it was past the time I'd promised her we'd go. She takes priority.

Of the many foreign words with no equivalents in English, the German word "schadenfreude" is a common example. It means delight in another's suffering. I much prefer it's antonym, the Sanskrit word "mudita," which means delight in another's happiness, or sympathetic joy. As I looked around me at my relatives, all of whom seemed healthy and prosperous (with such beautiful children!), I felt happy for them. Of course I can't see into their hearts. Perhaps some are suffering invisibly. Or perhaps those who are suffering did not come to the reunion. Many, after all, were missing.


As we drove off, I glimpsed a few young people in parked cars. Perhaps they were listening to music, smoking, or just hanging out. Maybe they are talking about their futures, and the future of the planet. I would like to think so. I would like to think that the newest generation of Laestadians can find a way to be more loving, more inclusive, more tolerant of differences, and more accountable to society—and to our shared future.

Maybe this will be the generation that branches up and out without splitting. What are the chances of that, do you think?