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.


My old friend and I walk together from the parking lot of vans into the foyer, curious but friendly heads turning in recognition. On the way in, there are smiles, waves, hands outstretched in greetings of as much welcome as one could ask for, even without the spiritual-acceptance catchphrase of “God’s Peace.”

Certainly, eyes widen with surprise to see the erstwhile brother in faith in this place, after he has written so many critical words about what is taught from pulpits like the one nearby, which waits mute and empty for a preacher to sit at it and convey this Sunday’s message from the Spirit. But the smiles reach the corners of those eyes, too; there is love and friendship here, despite everything that might be expected to stand in the way. None of it feels like a show being put on for the dangerous author and blogger, even if the possibility of reading or hearing about yet another posting is in the back of a few nervous minds.

Examination of the Pearl: The End
But this is no fact-finding mission I am on, nor a yearning visit by a wishful prodigal son to be awoken by the sting of God’s two-edged Word, the opposite edge from the one experienced for the first four decades of my life. It is just one item on the agenda for a weekend visit to my friend’s home, a pilgrimage to the place that is of such prominence in his life. It was in my own, too, but the shouting in the spiritual marketplace has been fading into the distance, quieter still since I wrote the closing lines of my book. What has not faded is a friendship that goes back two decades, and in honor of that, as well as the wish to see some familiar faces, I have come to church.

I certainly enjoyed the singing again. These old songs are in my head forever, along with a full catalog of Laestadian-approved classical instrumentals, even if they must now share space with an overflowing variety of new and newly rediscovered sound. So I sit in the pews happily belting out the verses, vibrato and pitch still intact after a year of disuse. My heart soars as my voice swells with praises to the Father Almighty who, the lyrics promise, will begin frying me in an eternity of torment someday. The emotion and beauty of it is no less moving, in its straight-backed old way, than the gritty industrial beats and electronic spectacle of trance or the throaty golden voices I now hear in all their variety of genre and era: Adele, Bob Marley, Bryan Adams, Dido, Ellie Goulding (yes, I’ll admit it), Enya, Neil Young, Sting, U2. It’s all good. Let the music play on, even if it is with an organ and hellfire.

As for the rest of it, I am not much more inclined to discuss that morning’s sermon here than I was with my friend, which was not at all. I was a guest in that house (both of them), after all. It seems in better form to criticize what the church puts out for us all to read and hear in publications and online sermons. The one from that day is indeed available online, as are most of the others from around the country, adding to an ever-growing archive of monotonous and repetitive Laestadian oratory. I’ve listened to a lot of them in the past year, actually. Truth be told, I’ve found no better way to get to sleep than playing one on my iPod slipped under the pillow. It is soothing in a way, against all intentions of the ministers charged with preaching the law to unbelievers. The inflections are familiar, the content unsurprising.

Speaking generally, my feeling is that the low point of a Laestadian church service is the actual sermon. If all the preachers called in sick and no suitable recordings could be found to play for that disorienting ghost-pulpit experience of “tape services,” the best parts of the churchgoing would be left intact. Put in your appearance, bow your head in the Lord’s Prayer, sing a few songs, pray the Benediction, and then catch up with your friends while your kids catch up with theirs.
I will offer one specific comment to the preacher who surely knew that there was a goat among the sheep that morning. I am certainly not one of those whom you claim are aware that “this [Conservative Laestadianism] is really God’s Kingdom,” but alas, have not received the gift of repentance. Nor have I ever heard of such a person, or any biblical justification for supposing one to exist. What I have heard about, over and over again, are those stuck in the opposite situation. They know, deep down, that the church whose pews they have warmed Sunday after Sunday since their little feet dangled above the floor is not what it claims to be. But, because of unimaginable social pressure and deeply ingrained fears, they remain in those pews, and most of them probably always will.

24 comments:

  1. Great post, Ed. Glad you were able to go back and share love with others. That is the essence of all the wisdom traditions, to love and be loved.

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  2. Well said, Ed. I love your mix of warmth, humor, and bitingly realistic irony. All true.

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  3. above anonymous post was from Flora.

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  4. LLLreader sez: Oh Ed, that was just great. You put the words together that absolutely define how I feel. I have been to two of the OALC churches lately. How I love the relatives I see there, and how I wish we could sit in the same pew and worship together with mutual beliefs. It can never happen because I will never believe they are the only ones saved and they cannot believe otherwise. It's a loss for both sides, but maybe it's enough for me to just love them.

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  5. The things you describe apart from the "actual sermon" are the reasons I keep going to church; family, friends, and love. I've made peace with the fact that listening to an hour of droning once in a while (I'm more of a once-a-monther instead of every week) is the price I have to pay to remain part of the community. Now, I just use it as time to meditate or bussa my little girl.

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  6. LLLreader to FreeThinker--sounds like you have gotten it just right. You have peace with yourself, with your family/friends, and still keep your spiritual life alive. You may want to do some reading and study about said spiritual life to sustain yourself. I say, "Carry on". Not everyone can manage to balance life as you are doing. God loves you.

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  7. I have tried to listen to some of the online sermons but turned them off as soon as I tuned in and I heard the same old dirge from years gone by. I really have to say that what I am hearing sounds like it is coming from the lips of a person who has never actually experienced a new birth in Christ. Instead, what I hear is a speaker talking ABOUT a Christian faith which consists of a regurgitation of rote memorization of some superficial Biblical teachings. It is as though the speaker is speaking in the third person versus preaching a relevant sermon to a person's daily life. One cousin of mine who is a member related the same conclusion to me but said that he stays for the fellowship, friends and family. I am also sure there are still others in the crowd who honestly feel they are being told the pure essence of the gospel. So each person's motive for enduring the sermon vary. In my case I would say, like my cousin did, that fellowship and friendship are the two biggest draws to a Laestadian lifestyle. However, fellowship and friendship do not outweigh the need to have the freedom to think and seek out the truth. Old AP

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  8. Old AP, you're right. Fellowship and friendship are indeed important -- as evidenced by even the stories of Jesus and his disciples. However, fellowship and friendship in earthly relationships are not what ensure salvation, even though they may be a byproduct of a Christian life.

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  9. CVOW, fellowship and friendship amongst non-Laestadians has a very different tone as people in the so-called 'world' tend to have more distance and interpersonal space between each other than those in an Apostolic Lutheran/Laestadian type church. Perhaps it can be explained by the outlook of the church itself-in the church I attend people are not allowed to enter heaven as a group. Instead an individual salvation is taught where the individual is accountable to God him or herself versus being held accountable to the Laestadian congregation. In addition, people on the outside seem to have a better sense of 'self' as well as a better sense of individual direction in life and there is nowhere near the amount of peer pressure to conform to church norms that I grew up with. On top of all that in the church that I presently attend people seem to be more content about their lives and there does not seem to be the high level of 'worrying' that I recall growing up with in Laestadian churches. So fellowship and friendship takes on a whole new meaning if one attends a non-Laestadian Church. On the outside people do not think that they 'own' you & one is not under obligation to conform to some type of group norm. The disadvantage to that is that one does not have that close sense of family that one would have within a Laestadian Church, but the advantage is one is free to live one's own life without having to worry about being hen pecked by a neurotic, neither does one have to put up with nasty false stories being spread about by the rumor mill. Old AP

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  10. Old AP, the OALC is a poster child for that kind of love. I remember so well love being tossed about, as in "Christian Love." It was only after I had left it that I came to understand the true meaning of love and recognized how neurotic their definition is. And now in my senior years, I'm still struggling with it. The heart and mind work in different spheres! SISU

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    1. SISU said, "And now in my senior years, I'm still struggling with it." I would say that it is probably normal to have a few deep struggles as I remember some of the hellish Laestadian upbringings that I saw children going through. Some of the events that happen with victims of childhood trauma are so overwhelming that the child literally locks the emotional event internally as a type of muscle tension or glandular tension within the body as the child does not have the capability of dealing with such overwhelming fear such as being told how they going to hell, physical beatings, neglect, sexual abuse etc... Sometimes this can lead to ulcers and other autoimmune disorders. The events sometimes have to be unlocked with the help of a trained non-judgemental therapist. As far as love goes...well in our house it was conditional to be sure. So my experience was that it was important for me as an ex-member to find a network of friends where they are accepted and loved. Old AP

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  11. Ed
    Though i cannot understand what made you give up faith and go on to criticize the kingdom, i do respect your new way of life. All i ask though is this; Do you really believe what you are saying? Do you really believe that this is not the way to heaven? I have many struggles to keep faith, but i have never questioned whether this was god's kingdom or not. I hope and pray that your eyes can be opened again and that you can repent.
    You are always welcome.
    SCB

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    1. SCB, whether it was your intention or not, your questions and prayer that I somehow come to see things your way seem more than a little condescending. If you want to understand what made me "give up my faith," as Laestadians like to put it, all you have to do is read my book. You know, that 700-page book I devoted a year of my life to researching and writing so that I could figure out just what it is I believe. I'm guessing you would never consider doing one tenth that amount of honest inquiry about your beliefs, yet you are the one praying for my eyes to be opened?

      You even admit how blinkered you are when you say that you "have never questioned whether this was God's Kingdom." Does it seem a bit uncomfortable to have that pointed out to you, to see that perhaps you might be the one with a 2x4 stuck in his eye as you talk about the mote you see in mine? I'm sorry, especially if you are the S.B. whose years of friendship I treasure, even if now only as a memory.

      Anyhow, if you really are interested in the answer to why I did what I did, you can get a pretty good feel for the story just from the Introduction. Happy reading. As far as the other question goes, the stakes are so high (eternity and loss of a lifetime of social connections) that I would be an idiot or lunatic to have left the LLC if I thought there was the slightest chance it really is "the way to heaven." I assure you that I am neither of those things.

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    2. Wow Ed!.....body slam. I was waiting for your reply as SCB left herself wide open in that she actually told the truth about what she and her church believe. It would not matter if a Godly missionary forsook this world, healed the sick, raised the dead and converted 1/2 of the African continent to Christianity....in the eyes of 95% of Apostolic Lutheran/Laestadians, he would be viewed with dark suspicion at best BECAUSE that missionary did not have 'living faith' from the RIGHT Laestadian group. Ed, of anyone who has exposed the parody of Laestadian divisions it has been you, yet even though you have put it all there in black and white they still can not see it. 'See what?', some one might ask. Let's see if I can simplify it; all the splits and divisons in the Laestadian groups were caused by a bunch of spiritual charlatans and the divisions remain because the members still hold onto the spiritual and dogmatic idiosyncracies of their particular splinter group which are not founded on a Biblical faith in Jesus. Ed, they can not see things because real living faith is actually something granted by God himself. You have done your part Ed.....but opening up their eyes spiritually has to be done by God. Old AP

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    3. My only quibble with your post, Old AP, is that for many of us Ed has further exposed the spiritual charlatanism of Christianity in general, not just Laestadianism. I'll let Ed speak for himself, but suffice it to say my spirituality has very little to do with Biblical faith in Jesus.

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    4. FreeThinker....I realize that more than a few ex-Laestadians have left a Biblical type of Christianity altogether. Some have become proponents of what are termed 'higher levels of criticism' of the Bible while still others have pursued other non-Christian faiths. I view that as sort of a throwing out the baby with the dirty bathwater analogy as I have embraced a Biblically founded Christianity versus the rubbish I had to put up with growing up. However I do realize that some ex-members are so soured or indifferent to their experiences within Laestadianism that they have pursued other spiritual paths or sometimes none at all. But it is nice that we can all gather on this one web site sharing our common experiences. Old AP

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    5. We'll have to agree to disagree on Christianity in general, Old AP. The Bible is filled with too many contradictions, errors, and ridiculous laws from a petty, violent (man-like) God to be of much value for me from a religious or spiritual standpoint. Jesus laid down some pretty good stuff, for the most part, but I don't believe he's the literal Son of God or any such nonsense.

      But I certainly agree about this web site, and just because we disagree on Christianity doesn't mean we can't continue to have interesting and thoughtful discussions. :)

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  12. What exactly is gods kingdom? A church building with the words that say "Laestadian Lutheran Church"? I can't speak for Ed, but I really do not believe attending the Laestadian Lutheran church is the way to heaven.

    -EXFALC

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  13. SCB,

    Read Ed's book, if you dare, and you will find your answer.

    “If our faith is such that it is destroyed by force of argument, then let it be destroyed; for it will have been proved that we do not possess the truth.” -- Clement of Alexandria, quoted from "Examination of the Pearl."

    I'm not holding my breath though.

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  14. Also, Ed, apparently you conducted your years of intensive study with your eyes closed. Imagine what you could have accomplished with your eyes open!

    Just once, JUST ONCE, I'd love to see someone from the LLC refute ANYthing in Ed's book with something resembling evidence, instead of some meretricious concern for his soul.


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  15. Freethinker, there will be no refuting of EOP. It has been strongly discouraged as 'work of enemy of souls, why would you read it?' I know many have been quite vocal about its evils without ever having cracked it open. And those of us who have read it, certainly do not broadcast that fact. There is much damage control taking place, with emphasis on not using reason or logic in matters of faith. For me, its too late. And I'm finding out there are many more like me...
    NWPonderer

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    1. NWPonderer,
      The ludicrous nature of the LLC's response is both amusing and saddening. Amusing that they would conduct such a witch hunt without even bothering to read the book, and saddening because by daring to ask, "What exactly is it I am supposed to have faith in?" Ed is now apparently a minion of Satan or something in the eyes of those who supposedly once loved him as a Brother.

      Placing the emphasis on not using reason or logic in matters of faith (blind obedience) is all they can do at this point. Because using even a modicum of either quickly exposes the fraud.

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  16. You can't make a good decision on what to believe until all the facts are in front on you. Everyone has one life to live, don't live it under the control of others. May the truth set you free.

    -EXFALC

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  17. Growing up in the life as a lastaedian I have had many doubts that this is true way to heaven. Even looking at this page gives me doubts but yet looking at some of these comments realized that you guys are lost sheep and that our congregation is the true kingdom. It says in the bible that there is only one true living faith. But I believe, exfalc, that you do not believe by understanding with you mind. living in true faith, you do not believe by facts and understanding by mind but only by faith. It is sad to see you guys criticizing our congregation, but the reason for it is because of your bitterness against the laestadian lutherans. I pray that one day you will realize you all are traveling on the wrong road. I go to a school full heresy descendants and it is definitely a temptation for me to follow there beliefs but then I realize..how is this the true way to heaven? When there is so much leniency. Many wear makeup, listen to worldly music, looking like the models of this world, gambleing, drinking ,etc where it seems to be ok. How is this what god wants? Many of these are temptations of mine but it is only the devil tempting you. I pray that one day you guys will repent. I have nothing against you people as it is your choic. You haven't given up faith but god has taken it from you as you are not believing correctly. but I hope one day you will see the path of god and god grants you repentance and true faith.

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