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?