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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Beyond Grace

When you have a quiet hour to yourself, watch this beautiful little movie about two Conservative Laestadian sisters in Finland and their struggle with identity, faith, and family. It is in Finnish with English subtitles.

Produced by Mari P. Tervo, and shot in 2012 with volunteers, the film focuses on Elina, who has seven children and feels like she is losing her mind, and her sister Alina, who does not want to follow in her sister's and mother's steps, would like to become a minister, to have her own thoughts, and meet God on her own.

While the movie drags in spots, and the soundtrack is occasionally syrupy, I found myself moved. And hopeful.

Check out this blog for discussion of the movie.

This Finnish website has information about "spiritual violence," which is mentioned in the movie. The blogger Aila Ruoho is a consultant on spiritual welfare.
"In an unhealthy community, the more sensitive are vulnerable to a variety of mental health problems: anxiety, depression, fears, insomnia, nightmares, psychosomatic disorders, delusions, psychosis, and in the worst case, suicidal ideation." (rough translation of the original Finnish)
It's time for an American version of "Beyond Grace." I'm inspired. How about you?

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Time Changes Nothing, People Do



"The only task worthy of our efforts is to construct the future."

Men of conscience and women of courage, please carve out an hour, sit down with your teens (if you don't have any, borrow some), and watch this powerful talk by Dr. Joan Chittister. She is a Benedictine nun, author, and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

She believes in a God who is not sexist and will make you wonder why so many don't.

Afterwards in the Q&A, you can hear the list of countries that rank highest in living conditions for women. Before you listen, where do you think the United States falls on the list? Top five, top ten, or top twenty?



Sunday, November 03, 2013

What Makes Monsters of Men



At least 130 women and children drugged and sexually assaulted in their own homes, by members of their families and religious community. A community that perpetuates ignorance and unquestioning obedience to the authority of a few men, that places a low value on the human rights of women and children, that socially enforces a doctrine of forgive-and-forget, that values appearances over character, that nurtures a conspiracy of silence, stigma, shame, and lack of accountability . . . sound familiar?

When tradition trumps morality, this is what you get. And as we know all too well, it exists all over the world, not just among a few old-order Mennonites in Bolivia. The only cure is education.

Please share widely.

From the Jezebel article.
Over the course of four years, 130 females of a Mennonite colony in Bolivia reported that they'd woken up with raging headaches, bits of rope in their hair, pain "down below," memory loss, and blood and semen stains on their sheets. For the townsfolk there was no other explanation: a demon was raping their women.
From the Time news report:
The formal indictments list victims ages 8 to 60 years old, including one who is mentally retarded and another who was pregnant and sent into premature labor after allegedly being raped by one of the men — her brother.
. . . entrenched, patriarchal seclusion, say those familiar with such communities, can breed behavioral rot and a culture of cover-up . . .
And finally, these quotes from the lengthy, must-read, Vice article:
Those under the age of 18 named in the lawsuit were brought in for psychological assessment as mandated by Bolivian law, and court documents note that every one of these young girls showed signs of posttraumatic stress and was recommended for long-term counselling – but not one has received any form of therapy since their evaluations. 
. . .  if one woman didn’t want to forgive . . .  he would have simply explained to her that if she didn’t forgive, then God wouldn’t forgive her”.
"In any other society, by elementary school a child knows that if they are being abused they can, at least in theory, go to the police or a teacher or some other authority. But who can these girls go to?” 
“Of course it continued after that,” Agnes said of her father. “He just learned to hide it better.” She told me she doesn’t have faith “in anyone who after one week says they have turned their life around”, before adding, “I have no faith in a system that permits that.”
What can you do, where you're at right now, to help educate children in Laestadian communities?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Music from the Old



Sound haunting and familiar?
“The world of the hymns has been with us right from childhood,” recalls Wimme. ”I’m from the part of Sámiland where the Laestadian movement is strong: even in our homes we had meetings for worship and sang hymns. And on church festivals such as Christmas and Easter, we sang hymns continually from morning till evening, we listened to sermons and we sang. The hymns are deep inside me, just as yoiks are.“

This is an excerpts from a description of the new album Soabbi by reknowned Sami joiker Wimme Saari (who partners with Tapani Rinne). Read the whole thing and listen to the sample above.

There is much I do not miss about Laestadianism, but I do miss the singing. This is one way to reclaim it, with a most soulful voice and a bass clarinet (on high quality headphones borrowed from my son the technonerd).

Right now I'm listening to the familiar, plaintive hymn Children of the Heavenly Father (reinterpreted in the track as "Mii leat dorvvus buoremusas") and hearing it in an entirely new way, as if standing by a mountain stream with a couple of friends, reminiscing about bygone days. But this doesn't just take me back to the OALC. It takes me way, way back. I feel as if I'm joining hands with my ancestors, sharing in their grief (there is so much sorrow in these notes). I want to tell them "it gets better." And I imagine them saying the same thing to me, and smiling.

Heartfelt gratitude to Wimme and Tapani.

The album is available on Amazon for $8.99. If you decide to buy, please go through the Extoots Amazon page, as this blog gets a few cents for successful referrals.)


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unity of Love

A friend, also from the OALC, writes:
So my mom just left tonight  I bought her a ticket out here to help me out with organizing my house etc and I missed her! She stayed for 4 nights and 5 days!  It went really well. I didn't hide anything and there was not one problem or one thing mentioned which I was glad about! On Sunday her sister picked her up for church and no one preached or asked "Aren't you going?" Very thankful for my loving family! Even if they're thinking and feeling things they aren't saying Im glad its not shown and they just show love without involving religion. My kids also enjoyed grandma, except my youngest was a little upset he could watch a movie lol I was trying to be respectful of her beliefs so I let him just watch something in bed with my at night in bed  He did at one point ask her to put a movie in for him and she laughed and said I don't know how to do that. — feeling Thankful and Happy, I love my family!
For those of us feeling a leetle bit jealous (okay, ME), how about we just acknowledge that and then feel grateful that things are improving in some families. That grace and generosity is possible. Perhaps too late for some of us, but still . . . wonderful.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Breaking the Cycle



If you have ever been betrayed, personally or professionally, you know how tempting it is to seek revenge, to "do unto others" what was done unto you. If you're lucky, you have principles, family, and friends who help you process these feelings; people who commiserate (literally are miserable with you), while reinforcing (giving power) to the good in you and others.
Seeing others positively reveals your own positive traits. On the other hand, your words could reveal negative perceptions of others that are linked to narcissism, antisocial behavior, and even neuroticism.—Dustin Wood, PhD, Wake Forest University
They prevent you from going over to the dark side, so to speak. If you are unlucky, your natural desire to hurt is given juice and you join in the vicious cycle of hurt. Such are my thoughts as I reflect on this blog, after a relative recently suggested that the purpose here was to "punish" my family and the church.

Punish? I rejected this out of hand. I don't condemn or exclude here; I encourage conversation and multiple points of view. Right?

This blog helps further understanding and connection, not hatred or rejection.

Most of the time, at least?

Punishment is what THEY do, I said. It's pure projection. All that alienation and gossip and disinheritance. No wonder they think I'm punishing them. That that is their stock and trade! I even reasoned that retaliation could be the primary psychological basis for Laestadianism: its exclusivism, its emphasis on "hating the world," its shunning of apostates. They had good reason to be mad, those Sami and the poor Finns who met in the tundra and fanned the flames of the early church. They could not be blamed for wanting retaliation for the state's onerous taxes, the church's excesses, the colonizers' disdain, the alcohol trade that wreaked havoc on Lapland, the maltreatment of the poor and dispossessed, the condescension and self-proclaimed authority and superiority. Or simply for Laestadius' supreme jerk of a father, who made his family life so intolerable.
We see in others what we fear in ourselves. —Psychology Today 
Certainly there is abundant cause for the abused to create a religion—or even a mindset— in which they assume the upper hand, at least in their own minds. I'm sure that's a survival mechanism, like a protective sheath around a seed, so that it can literally pass through the belly of a beast unharmed, so that once it has landed in nourishing soil, can awaken and grow.

And as much I'd like to think I'm above revenge, the waters we swim in become part of our being, and only by becoming aware of them can we choose to disrupt the cycle. While we learn with our mother's milk whom to love and whom to hate, what to encourage in ourselves and what to suppress, it is never too late to learn anew.

That is my hope.

And that is the answer to "why the blog." My writing is not intended to punish, though that may be the perception among certain people who have been trained to see enemies where there are none.
When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.—Desmond Tutu 
Yesterday our daughter pointed up into a canopy of trees and said: "Mama, look at the pretty holes that the insects made."

It hadn't occurred to me to find them beautiful until she did. They look like tiny galaxies!
We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.—Anais Nin  
What do you think?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Three Women and a Girl, Considered

Photo from Wikicommons.
Here are My View's thoughts about her story of the girl in the church restroom.
This story is like the Bible story of the Good Samaritan, where a person was left beaten, and people passed by. But who was doing the beating here? Is it not the very people who claim that they, and only they, are favored by God? 
Did they hear this girl's cry? Do you? Those in the church, can you still walk away as if you don't hear? As if she doesn't matter? After this girl "gets picked up and dusted off," what is next for her and her family? You know that she will always carry this with her. You know that this isn't the last beating that she will take. Not by a long shot. She and her baby will continue to be beaten by the very people who claim that they love her and tell her that all her sins are "forgiven and forever washed away."
Are they really? How is it then, when it comes time to baptize this little one, they say: "Not in church." 
How is it then, when she wants to marry a man from the church, they say: "Not in church. Church weddings are for obedient ones." 
This is what "forgiven" looks like? 
How is it then, when the baby grows up and goes off to school, he comes home in tears because his cousin called him a "bastard child" and told him he was "conceived by the devil?" 
Is that what "forever washed away" looks like? 
How is it then, that the one who introduced her to sex by molesting her when she was a little child, now walks through the church unbeaten, even admired. His "sins" forgiven, forgotten, never to be spoken of again.

I am not trying to destroy the church. There are people I love in it, and I cannot sit by and watch another be beaten down.  I wrote this story to give a voice to a girl who was silenced, to call attention to the hypocrisy, so that maybe another girl, another child, could be spared. Someone must speak up for them. 
But I know my voice isn't enough. What will it take to stop the beatings? Who will be the Good Samaritan?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Three Women and a Girl

Photo by Kinnéidigh Garrett, used under CCA 2.0 Generic license
Thanks to "My View" for sharing this fictionalized account of what happened to a teen she knows.
They don't know that I am in one of the bathroom stalls. The church ladies. They don't realize their voices echo around the huge bathroom. They would have realized, if they had stopped to listen. They would have heard my gasp, my stifled sob.  
They are talking about me. The fallen one. The unmarried teen who is pregnant by a worldly. They are speaking in hushed tones, but didn't they know that hushed voices can be heard the furthest? I will find out later that hushed tones can be heard from coast to coast within a few days.  
The loudest woman is saying that she won't let her daughter Sara hang out with me anymore. "Who knows how that girl will influence her?! I always knew she was trouble." 
Another woman says, "I heard that she don't even know who the baby's daddy is. The parents should have kept better control. Shame on her and shame on them! I don't think I want any of my children hanging around any of their kids. Who knows what could happen!"  
A third voice chimes in: "Exactly! It wasn't long ago that my little sweet Billy, he's five now ya know, anyway I overheard him telling his buddy that their Emily kissed him at recess. I was shocked but now I know — it runs in the family. I told Billy to stay far away from her and to never talk to her again." 
Their voices fade as they leave the rest room. My tears come rushing out now. I can't hold them back. I rage at myself:  
"What did I do!? My younger brothers and sisters are going to be shunned because of me. Because I fell for his stupid lies! Because I am evil! Because I am carrying a baby! How will I ever look them in the eye again?"  
I pray: "If you still hear God please don't allow them to be shamed! I will do anything! Just please leave them peace. Shame me, but please, God please, don't let my family suffer."  
I stay in the bathroom until there are no tears left, and my heart feels dry and empty. Only a few people are still in the church as I leave. Over the months my baby grows within me, his strong body shoving aside their words, but they remain, like pieces of shrapnel, leaving permanent wounds.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Laestadian Parenting Manifesto?

In response to the Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto post, reader "mouse in a corner" has offered a Laestadian Parenting Manifesto:
  • Above all else, I want you to know that you are lower than dirt because we are all worthless in the sight of God. Do not expect special treatment from me—you will learn from my words and actions that your natural wants and needs are to be subdued, and that you are here only because God put you here. You are a burden, but since I have to accept the gifts God gives me, I cannot let anyone know, especially you, that I am overburdened with “gifts."
  • I want you to engage with the world from a place of humility and superiority at the same time. You are special because God has chosen to put you in this family, in this church, in this faith, and you are going to heaven, unlike most of the other people in this town/state/country/world. But you are not worthy of this gift. You will learn to beat yourself up on a regular basis as you watch us adults constantly complain that we are unworthy and do everything we should not, and do not do those things we should.
  • We will practice courage in our family by choosing to stand out from the rest of the world by not participating in the normal everyday activities that are so sinful. Makeup? How dare you think you can improve on the way God made you. Jazzy music? It might make you want to swing your foot to the beat. And pretty soon it will be your legs, and then your whole body. Dancing is from the devil, and we avoid the things of the devil. He is stronger than we are and we have to avoid him at all costs. He can even take us away from God. 
  • We will share our struggles of feeling unworthy with each other, and this will bring us renewed strength to keep being strong. We will bravely tell people that we don’t practice birth control, even though we can’t afford the children we already have. We will remind people that we don’t watch the TV shows they are talking about because we don’t believe in having one of those sinful boxes in our houses. If they ask you, you can tell them that they, too, are going to hell because they don’t haven’t had someone from your church forgive their sins.
  • We will teach you selflessness by making you share everything you have with your siblings because there is not enough to go around. We will shame you if you try to set boundaries, because we are in charge, and you are not. Sharing and giving up what you want will be your family values and family practices.
  • You will learn accountability and respect or I will beat it into you. You will ‘fess up if you do something wrong. I will tell you when to say you are sorry, and teach you to ask for forgiveness whenever I think you need to. I will make sure no opportunity goes by without pointing out your vulnerabilities and telling you what you did wrong.
  • When uncertainty and scarcity visit, we will suffer the blessings of God with each other and draw strength knowing that we must bear this cross to get to our eternal reward.
  • Together we will cry and face fear and grief, but I will tell you that God’s ways are not our ways, and our suffering is in His hands.
  • We can laugh and we can sing, as long as the songs we sing are church songs. We will not dance. (See third point above) No matter what happens or how bad it gets, you can always count on me to tell you that God won’t give you more than you can bear. 
  • As you begin your journey, the greatest gift I can give you is to put so much fear into your heart that you will never think of leaving the church. Should you choose to give up this precious faith, I will kick you out of the house because I don’t want your unbelief to contaminate the other kids. 
  • I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly because I am a faulty believer and my faith is weak, as a flickering candle. I will only accept you when you are heaven acceptable—otherwise, when we interact, it is my job to make you as miserable and as uncomfortable as I can so that you will want my love so badly that you will do anything to get it.
What's your take? Does this resonate? If you are a parent who left the church while raising children, how did it change the way you relate to your kids? (Thanks Ed, for suggesting this as a separate post. I look forward to your input!)

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?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Opting Out

Recently I asked a Swedish visitor to our city if she knew of Laestadians.

"Oh, yes. Very strict." She said. She added that Laestadians had been in the news recently over dance classes in the schools. Not surprisingly, the incident happened in Pajala — a hotbed of Laestadianism.


Citing European human rights law, a family of strict Lutheran faith in northern Sweden have managed to overturn a decision by their daughters' school, which had refused to allow the three girls to skip out on "sinful" dance class during PE.

Here's the article.

It seems reasonable that the arts be a part of every child's school curriculum, and also reasonable that a child be able to opt out of an activity that conflicts with his or her religious beliefs. I remember in my small public school that Jehovah's Witnesses would leave the room during birthday parties. If my parents had known that there was dancing in gym class, I'm sure they would have required the same of me. (Square dancing as a gateway drug?). My children tell me that some students "sit out" the dancing in their gym classes.

But there's an obvious problem here. Schools are at risk of losing their arts and sports programs when children opt out of them. This was a concern of teachers in Davenport, Washington, when large OALC families began making their preferences known to the school district there. Teachers in some conservative towns are leery of "controversial" subjects such as evolution because of backlash from parents.

The family cited human rights law to make their case. Should the rights of children include freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Free Traveler Tells Her Story (The Voices Project)

Thanks to Free Traveler for telling her story.  Please consider sharing yours.

I started questioning the church when I started college. Before that, I absorbed everything they told me and didn't ever doubt my faith. I had a very loving family, never really felt oppressed by the "rules," and never had a bad experience like some that I've heard about. I was one of those people who was shocked, horrified, and saddened when I heard of people who left the church. I never imagined that eventually I would become one of those people.

I went to college not far from home, but for the first time was around a lot of liberal thinkers for many hours of the day. Over the course of the next few years, the guy I was dating (also FALC) and I had long discussions about our beliefs, and eventually he decided it wasn't for him. When my family found out, they asked why I was still dating him.

I graduated from college and moved to the city, where I lived and worked for awhile. One weekend, when I went home to visit, I decided I wasn't going to go to church with my family on Sunday, so as they were all getting ready, I sat with my mom and told her that I don't know what I believe, but I knew that if I went to church, it would be just because people expected me to go. I told her that I wanted to figure out if I would go on my own, without peoples' expectations, so in order to do that, I had to first stop going so I could get over that feeling of "have to be there." I have never been very confrontational. This was one of the hardest conversations of my entire life. But I felt very strongly that it was necessary.

A few years later, I was at a personal development workshop that addressed many areas of a person's life, including work, health, money, relationships, and religion/spirituality. For each section, there was a chance for a volunteer to go up on stage and be in the "hot seat" to answer questions from the facilitator about what they would like to change in that area of their life. I volunteered to be in the hot seat for the religion/spirituality portion. (By the way, I have never told anyone about this.) So, with microphone in hand, I told an audience of probably about 100 people about my religious past, all the rules, and my struggles with leaving the church while maintaining a good relationship with my family. It was incredibly empowering. The audience was loving and respectful and in awe at my story. They gave me courage to continue pursuing my path and exploring other possibilities than the FALC.

The path has still been difficult (and I've left out a lot of my story) but it's getting easier, and I'm becoming more comfortable with myself and my decisions to pursue my own spiritual path instead of bowing down to peer pressure and conforming to something I don't believe in.

Feel free to ask questions. I'm happy to talk to you. And it feels really good to have a place to share my story, especially with people who can probably relate to a lot of what I've said. Thanks for being here, everyone.

Free Traveler

Monday, July 22, 2013

Elders' Syndrome and Doubters

I've been hearing from several affected people about a virus in OALC communities called "Elders' Syndrome" coinciding with the visit to the USA of church celebrities elders from Gällivare, Sweden. Symptoms reportedly include:
  • Increase in text messages and calls urging relatives to attend meetings
  • General decrease in TV and music consumption
  • Subtle competition among members for knowledge about, and access to, celebrities elders
  • Decline in OALC children at lakes and swimming pools despite sweltering heat
  • Uptick in pious expressions and use of the word "precious"
  • Rampant repetition of anything sage or amusing said by celebrities elders
  • Numbers of devoted groupies members following the celebrities elders across the country
  • Subtle shifts in what sins are considered important
  • Irrational fear of a "website spreading lies about the precious Christianity"
If you've been affected by any of these symptoms, wait a few months, as they will abate. In all seriousness, I am curious at the deference given these gentlemen, and suspect that elder's meetings are, among social and educational opportunities, a purification rite that helps keep the OALC functioning. This intuition was validated today by a member's comment that she feels "so light and cleansed after the elder's visit, like a really good sauna."

I suspect there are just as many feeling doubts, however. They may turn to the internet to answer their questions about the church. In today's New York Times, there's a wonderful story about Hans Mattson, the former leader of the Mormon Church in Europe, who left after his superiors told him not to question the church, and not to discuss his doubts, even with his wife. (I'll admit to a moment of schadenfreude over the fact that the Swedes, who gave us Laestadius in 1800, have to deal with the insanity of his American contemporary Joseph Smith, born 1805.)


Mattson: "My hope is that the church will grow larger in acceptance so you are allowed to have doubts . . .  you can go to Joseph Smith and ask, why did he pray? Because he was asking what to do. So he was a doubter, wasn't he? I think that's great. You find answers."


Of course, the same thing can be said of Laestadius. He was a doubter. A rebel, really.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Link Love

Summertime being what it is (glorious! magical! and much too short here in the Pacific Northwest), I have little time to write, and am taking this chance to refer you to other blogs. My dream is that someday there will be so many sites by Laestadians (current and former) that when the curious go to Google search, they will be overwhelmed by the wealth of information. For every student, a teacher, for every question . . .  another question. Wouldn't that be great? If you are interested in starting a blog and not sure how to begin, send me a note. I'm happy to help. It's easy to blog and doesn't cost a thing but an internet connection and time spent on a keyboard (which in the summer, can be painful). Some recommended reading:
  • Beth, who writes at Imperfect Lady, shared a link to this essay written by John Salveson, a victim of child sex abuse. Having appealed to the church for years without success, he concluded that what he considered a moral issue was considered a risk management issue by church authorities. A telling quote: “Cardinal Bevilacqua was asked repeatedly when he testified before the Grand Jury why he and his aides never reported these crimes to law enforcement. His answer was simply that Pennsylvania law did not require them to.” Salveson refocused his efforts and is now working on changing the law, not the church. I think there are important lessons in his struggles for all of us, not only about where to focus our advocacy but what to do with our frustrations.
  • On his blog, Ed recently shared the experiences of two former LLC members, one who ran into rocky shores visiting current members, and another who did not. How is tolerance of difference related to one's faith or principles? How does it demonstrate compassion?
  • "Blue Sky" is a former FALC member who has a blog called Prioritizing Happiness. Check out her poignant fable about a girl who is told the sky is blue and discovers it is much more. It made me smile, because I was that girl, and am now a rabid admirer of clouds (literally and figuratively). 
"It has slowly dawned on me that the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church follows beliefs that were specifically influenced by the indigenous people of the Far North, the Sami.  The Sami had been in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia since prehistoric times. Sami spirituality was traditionally natural. The gods were in nature: animals and plants had souls, and demons and ghosts were feared. Drums were used to call out ecstasies by the shaman who could make contact with the spirit world. As the Nordic population begins to colonize further north, the ways of the Sami were criminalized. Drums were outlawed and the Sami language was even outlawed in some areas. Land was less available and the Sami were forced to become more nomadic. Taxes were levied on the Sami and oppression of their culture became more intense. The disconnect with the world outside their culture became more pronounced. They needed to band together. They were different from anyone else.
"When Laestadius, the botanist, entered the ministry, he became superintendent of the elementary schools in Lapland. He was married to a Sami women, and was part Sami himself. He spoke different Sami dialects and understood the culture. At first he wasn’t very successful in changing the ways of the pioneer settlers or the Sami with his preaching or his teaching. He was an educated man who knew how to write for the educated elite. My thinking is that he looked at his audience and realized he needed to recraft his message if he was going to effect change.  
"He understood the Sami believed in signs and omens and incorporated them into his teachings. In 1847 he saw a bright light rise into the sky from the steeple of the church in Karesuando and sink to the south. This was "a sign from God" that Laestadius had come to light the fires of heaven in the hearts of the Far North people. A year later one of the churchmembers experienced the first release of sin. She heard God’s voice say “Your sins are forgiven you,” and at the same moment an earthquake was felt. In 1846, Raattammaa saw the devil, but the devil fled when God spoke, saying, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Lastadius' meeting with “Lapp Mary” takes on an almost mystical quality as she changes his heart. Laestadius’ preaching took on a harsh, coarse tone that was directed at drunkenness, adultery, and reindeer theft.  He spoke to the worst fears of his audience. They were used to fearing the underground people who could, at any moment, snatch away a child. They appreciated the danger that lurked. 
"The Sami ecstasies brought out by drums was replaced with the great emotional outburst (liikutuksia) that could last for hours within the Laustadius movement.  It was a comfortable experience for the Sami, something they had experienced for generations in their naturalistic beliefs. The mistrust of their oppressors (the world) was a point Laustadius made clear. The world, with its scholars, lawyers, and dead faith churches, was to be avoided. The message of being poor, simple, lowly, outcasts with no pride in oneself certainly fit into the Sami reality. Having this pointed out to be a positive must have been reassuring. As the movement swept through Finland the poor, simple, lowly peasants were also naturally drawn to the teachings.   
"I have come to the conclusion that the Sami themselves shaped the Laestadian movement, rather than Laestadius leading the way. He crafted a religion that would work for them.  What do you think?"
—LLLReader 

Feel free to comment below on these topics or any other. If I'm slow to respond, please have patience with me. I'll be back soon.

Happy summer!

—Free

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Time for Sunshine

Paris Achen, a reporter at the Columbian newspaper, is working on a story about sex abuse in Clark County, Washington, and would like victims to contact her. Their names and relationships will not be published. She can be contacted at 360-735-4551.

My understanding about what gave rise to this reporter's interest is her surprise at the number of supporters attending a hearing for a child rapist.

They were OALC churchmembers there to support him. Not the victim.

OALC Elders from Gällivare are in Clark County this weekend. Wouldn't it be beneficial if their attention was drawn to the harmful policies in the church regarding sex abuse? Their message to every locality needs to be: support victims, report abusers. If children are indeed a "precious gift," the fruits of that belief should be evident in how each one is nurtured and protected.

There is a sickness in the church that protects abusers.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. It will take more than publicity to stop the cycle of abuse, but this may jumpstart the process.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Midsummer Musings

The kids are out of school and we're enjoying these first weeks of summer by sleeping late, playing tourists in Seattle, and going for short trips, most recently to Oregon for Astoria's Scandinavian Midsommer Festival, where I met up with some "extoots" for a few meals and long talks. Despite our various ages and stages of life, we felt instant comfort with each other. It was a great feeling.

It occurred to me that this is why immigrants seek each other out in their new countries. As an exile among exiles, there is no need to explain the customs of "the old country," or the reasons for leaving, or the challenges of acclimating to a new culture. Of course, it's fun to do so, so you spend a lot of time laughing about all of these things, comparing sect to sect (who knew that some OALC call ALC "Lips"?) and gaining new insights into the ongoing riddle of your existence.

Curiously, the Scandinavian Festival itself did nothing for me. Other than the Sami stuff, the costumes, music, dancing, and merchandise held scant interest. Even the familiar foods—Swedish meatballs, lefse, prune tarts—held little appeal. And while the sea of Nordic faces was warm and welcoming, it felt peculiar to be among so many pale people . . .  I've been away so long I've reacclimated to the multi-ethnic reality that is my city.

From Wikipedia:
The celebration of Midsummer's Eve (St. John's Eve among Christians) was from ancient times a festival of the summer solstice. Some people believed that golden-flowered mid-summer plants, especially Calendula, and St. John's Wort, had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southward again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other powerful beings.
On Friday evening, there was a "hex-burning," apparently a Danish Midsommer tradition in which revelers throw crudely-made dolls (hanks of straw bound by yarn and black cloth) into a bonfire (the bonfire was a trash barrel in the parking lot). When I asked what this ritual signified, I was told that it was "throwing away bad luck," but when I saw this gentleman hosting a large straw witch about to meet her doom, I wondered if more was going on. When I came home, I looked it up, and discovered the ritual commemorates the witch burnings of history. Creepy!


A more modern justification can be found here, in psychological research that indicates there is value in the act of writing down negative thoughts and throwing them away (or "moving" them to an onscreen trashcan). The findings are not surprising. Ritual is effective because it concretizes the imaginary, but of course, it is only effective for those who surrender to it. The desire and ability to do that is highly situational.

Maybe we make our own luck. I certainly felt lucky, leaving Astoria with new friends, happy memories, pants that still fit (having passed on all but a few prune tarts), and the resolve to plan an extoots reunion. Perhaps next summer in Minneapolis? It could coincide with Finnfest, August 8-10.

Friday, June 21, 2013

We ALL Need Leadership Training

This is one of the best talks I've heard on the issue. Please give it a listen. May it embolden all of us, men and women, to challenge disrespect when we hear it or see it.

 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Making It Safe to Speak Up

It seems a month cannot go by without my hearing of another case of sex abuse in Laestadian churches. An OALC member was recently arrested for child rape. Over at Imperfect Lady, Beth writes about another sex abuse case in the FALC.

It takes incredible courage for victims to speak up given the is enormous pressure in Laestadian communities to save face, and "just forgive."

If I could, I would have this video, posted on the "Child Friendly Faith" Facebook page, shown to all children. But the sad truth is, not all parents would respond like those in the video. Some would doubt, blame, or accuse the child of lying.



What do you think? What can we do to help make it safe to speak up?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

With the Lapps in the High Mountains

Those of us from the OALC are familiar with the words of Lars Levi Laestadius, as his sermons are read from the pulpit each Sunday. The facts of his life are less familiar, however. When I was growing up, he was called "the Prophet," and I childishly assumed he was a figure from long ago, perhaps even Biblical days. It came as a surprise to discover that he was a contemporary of my great-great-grandfather Erik's, and the two men knew each other living in Pajala, where Lars headed the parish from 1849 to his death in 1861. Erik was a year younger, and Lars evidently recorded Erik's family events in the parish records.

I wish I could talk to grandfather. What did this revival offer to him that was missing in the church? In its ascetism, did it give his poverty dignity? Did Laestadius, as a highly-educated half-Sami preacher, give the lie to racist myths of inferiority? Did his fire and brimstone bring freshness to church ritual? Did he encourage stolid Nordic men to hug and express emotion?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Footsteps to Freedom

"What does it take to move on when your entire life has been controlled by your faith?" Katie Couric interviews women who have left restrictive religious sects "in an attempt to break free and chart their own course for their lives."

In the last interview, she talks with the director of an organization called Footsteps that serves those leaving ultra-orthodox and Chassidic communities. Their website says those "who choose to enter mainstream America do so as new immigrants in every sense. They face cultural disorientation and isolation coupled with a lack of practical and marketable skills." Wouldn't it be great to have such an organization for former Laestadians?