Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Magic in the Mess


It's past midnight, and having wrapped the last gift and put it under the tree, I'm eager to get to bed . . . but I felt the need to stop here first and wish you a happy Christmas. Having spent many holidays alone after leaving the church, I want to extend a virtual hug to anyone who finds themselves lonely, here in the darkest time of the year. The light is returning.

It will get better.

Meanwhile, may you find magic in the mess.

Merry Christmas and many blessings now and in the new year.




Monday, December 16, 2013

Healing from Hell Horror

“If hell is not a nice place for those who never have come to the knowledge of salvation, it surely is still hotter for those, who have once tasted the tribulations of hell and yet want to go there to eternal death. It must become still hotter for those who have had a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven and then return to the world from where the way leads to hell.”
—Lars Levi Laestadius, 1853

Hell Preacher. Composed from one of my photos along with a CC-licensed one by Michael “theparadigmshifter.”

Laestadians are raised to believe in and fear a place of eternal torment if they should die as “unbelievers” or with “unforgiven sin” on their consciences. Although LLC preachers have not been very explicit about the subject, at least not in recent years, a recent sermon from a preacher in the Rockford, Minnesota congregation reminds listeners of the unthinkably high stakes:
Even in a temporal sense, we can understand what the pain might feel like of the fires of hell. If you’ve ever burnt the tip of your finger lighting a candle or something, you know how bad that hurts. Imagine living in eternity in that kind of pain and agony, like the Bible describes, “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” So, it pays to believe, dear brothers and sisters. [23:00-24:32]
It pays to believe, he says, a phrase repeated in many a sermon. This reveals the essential cynicism of fear-based religion. “Belief” is tribute paid to a bullying strongman of a God in order to avoid horrific consequences down the road. It would be ridiculous to tell someone it “pays to hear” or “pays to see” that there is something in front of you. It can only pay to pretend to hear or see, like the townspeople cheering the fashion sense of a naked emperor just before an impertinent little kid spoils everything.

As time goes by, I spend less and less time thinking about Laestadianism or even religion, and even less time shouting at the curbside about it. Of course, the experiences and former beliefs of half a lifetime will always occupy a large portion of my brain, whether I like it or not. Those neurons are gone forever, along with the handful devoted to the term “twerking,” whose actual meaning I steadfastly refuse to learn. But I still sometimes drift off to the sermons on an iPod slipped under the pillow at night.

When I heard this little discourse on Hell during one of those sermons, I pictured how it must have put a little burst of panic into the hearts of those kids who’d listened to worldly music or had lust in their hearts or watched some inappropriate videos the night before. It seemed like a bit more writing might be in order, for the sake of the troubled and former Laestadians whom I know are reading my blog, so I spent some time writing a detailed posting, Healing from Hell Horror.

These currents of fear can run very deep indeed. That, along with all the social benefits of a close and comfortable little group huddled against the world, is why these churches manage to retain as many members as they do. I had to work very hard to overcome my own hell horror. There’s no shame in that, for me or for you. We are just overcoming what the church did to us, and a lifetime of indoctrination is not something everyone can reverse overnight, just like that.

The stakes, after all, are unthinkably high. As I told one of the few Laestadian friends who dared to discuss issues with me in depth after hearing I’d left the fold, I wouldn’t have left if I thought there were a 1% chance of it being true. I could probably work up that level of belief, given the consequences for being wrong about the other 99%. But it’s not true, not even a little bit, including the Hell part.

Take a look at the blog posting if this still has a hold on you, or still holds interest for you. There’s some discussion of the power of fear, a bit of history about Hell, and—believe it or not—a dog story. If you’d rather read something on a less dreary topic, I also have a posting there (with pretty pictures!) on that other long-dreamed of destination for a life beyond the grave, Paradise.

After you do, please come back and offer your thoughts. I’m not willing to deal with the hassle of comments on my own blog, but the thoughtful dialogue that takes place in comments from extoots readers has been a wonderful component of the reading available here. How have the Laestadian teachings about hellfire and damnation affected you? If you’ve left, how did you recover from the lingering fear? Or did it not linger much at all, as with a few fortunate people I’ve spoken with? What would you say to those troubled souls who lurk on these blogs wondering if they will ever be able to overcome the terror of leaving, or even questioning?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Hear No Evil, See No Evil

Carl Huhta gave me permission to repost his thoughts about his abusive father's enablers. (After decades of abuse and countless victims, his father was finally investigated, prosecuted, found guilty, and given a short prison sentence. He died last year, at age 82, as a registered sex offender, unreconciled with his victims, who included his own children.) This is an excerpt. Read the entire thing at Carl's blog, Messy Guru.
Nobody apologized from within the FALC organization for not doing anything for my family. We had zero value to them. Nobody went to the authorities when all 14 of us Huhta's were growing up. 
Victims told my mother. Neighbors told my mother. She went to church. He kept on molesting. It went on for generations. Victims told their parents. Their parents did nothing. Victims told the main minister in Calumet. He did a meek attempt at "confronting" my father. My mother did not ask what the minister came to "visit" about. He never went to the authorities. He got "involved" when it became personal to him. And that was years later. And it was not for my family.
I was met with "indifference" from the blood relatives and the FALC Chairman of the Board said he will not investigate their own. Keep in mind most of these people have known me and my family since I was born. They watched our family come in and out of Sunday School, Bible Class and Church.

Year after year.
. . . I also wonder how many other victims there are still in their organization. I wonder if they will get help. I wonder if anybody believes them. I wonder if they are left with the burden of an "untold" story. Forgiven and forgotten. 
Sex abuse has been discussed six ways to Sunday on this blog, and I have long been perplexed at how anyone (Laestadian, Catholic, Hindu, Vulcan, you name it) can feel justified in ignoring it. Until I read this thoughtful analysis of the many reasons abuse goes undetected and unreported. In a nutshell:

  • Overwhelming feelings (like fear, anger, or shame) caused by just thinking about the sexual abuse of children.
  • Confusion caused by incorrect stereotypes about what kinds of people sexually use and abuse children.
  • Physical, emotional, and financial dependency on an individual or group that would be lost (for oneself and the family) if such concerns are raised
  • Self doubts of various kinds (e.g., “I’m paranoid.” “What if I’m wrong?” “It’s none of my business.”).
  • Fears of various consequences (e.g., of acknowledging betrayal by a trusted and respected person, of being wrong, of being right).

Please read the whole thing and then come back and discuss. List the things that can be done, now, in the church and outside of it, to prevent abuse.