Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Some Cages Don't Have Bars

A guest post by a friend:

I learned tonight a cousin, near my own age, was found dead, evidently of an overdose. I saw him only once in the past thirty years; our lives diverged long ago. I know few details about his life except this: that while I was wrestling with single parenthood, disability, and a return to university, he was wrestling with a severe drug addiction that no one would talk about, much less deal with, in our Laestadian (Old Apostolic Lutheran) family.

Why the silence?

Why the negligence?


Is it because seeking help requires engaging with "the world," so distrusted and shunned? Is it because appearances -- of righteousness, of “having it all together” -- mean more than the Christian mandate to love, to help one another?

Laestadianism began as a 19th-century Sami mission religion. To learn its history is to see how, like other colonial institutions, it damages the people it purports to “save.”

That my cousin was self-medicating his  pain, and got in over his head, is an all too-familiar story, and while I will never know his particular demons, I know enough of our family history to know that they were powerful, especially for someone of his tenderness and integrity.

To honour his life, I’d like to share a kindness he showed me, when as a teenager, I had a child “out of wedlock." It still stings to recall that relatives my age were instructed they could not visit me anymore. Shunned and shamed, I was struggling to hold it together in every way possible. But my cousin defied the fatwa. A teenager himself, he found the funds to buy a sleeper for my baby, and brought it over with a message, that what our family and church were doing was wrong.
His action took the rare kind of moral courage that empowers people to move from mere feeling to concrete steps.

I will never forget it, or him.

That we both struggled with the church, and that he never made it out, breaks my heart.  So does the fact that there are many loving people in the church who choose to be paralyzed, silent, stifling any moral courage that would lead them from feeling to action.

I am so grateful for my new life.

I wish my cousin peace on the rest of his journey, wherever that is.

-- T. Paunonen

8 comments:

  1. T. Paunonen, I used to think of modern day Laestadianism as a prison without bars when I was considering whether to leave it. The enforced indoctrination was so encompassing that people grew up thinking that there was no way out and that the backwoods, Ostro-Bothnian religious lifestyle was the only way to live. The frustration your cousin must have felt was certainly an ingredient for his depression. I also noted years back that some of the kindest and most compassionate were also those who were in turn ostracized and sort of isolated from the 'in' group and yes I also witnessed various ones who were conquered by alcohol in particular and still a few others by drugs. But one of the ignored but accepted methods of dying from a vice was from cigarette smoking. I knew of a fairly large number of relatively young Laestadians who died in their 50's from the effects of their youthful smoking. What was surprising to me is that some of the most dyed in the wool fanatics condoned smoking and chewing snuff with the lame excuse that 'Laestadius smoked'. Laestadians almost seem to have a religious chant or mantra about the 'forgiveness of sins' until someone was actually tripped up by sin. Then they all seemed to circle the victim with glee trying to be the first to fling a stone. Old AP

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  2. "So does the fact that there are many loving people in the church who choose to be paralyzed, silent, stifling any moral courage that would lead them from feeling to action." This. Is the paralysis I went through growing up in the oalc. It takes a strong heart to go beyond the limits of those mores and reach out to a "worldly" person. Thank you for sharing the beautiful tribute to your cousin.

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  3. To get a better understanding of the Laestadian mind set it might be helpful to read up about 'Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorders' on the net as it is a well researched topic. The root of this disorder is a strong internalized conflict over one's nature and what one wants to do versus what one is told or obligated to do. There is even a variant of this disorder where a person feels compelled to overdue their own shortcomings and confess their faults to others.....sound familiar? The constant demand for congregants to conform to narrowly interpreted and embellished Laestadian norms are certainly factors in making people depressed and eventually outcasts. Old AP

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  4. So true, long term depression is certainly an outcome of that church!

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  5. The immigrant Laestadian Finns were tolerant of an oppressive church as that is what they had experienced in Finland. Often times the local church parish owned a fair amount of land with a portion of it lived on and farmed by landless tenant farmers or 'torparlaisets' as they were called. The torparlaisets were often exploited by the local parish to work for nothing by providing free 'work days' for the minister who stated that it was God's will for them to be exploited. So the immigrant Finns were already mentally conditioned to putting up with an oppressive church. I have always felt that they carried this mindset with them to America where they continued to put up with the Laestadian Church that preached a punishing type of doctrine versus a healing/refuge type of church. Old AP

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    1. If you do not mind, I carify some features. It is "torppari - torpparit" (singularis, pluralis). These tenants did not work for free on the fields of the parish, but paid their rent by their participation in the work. Torppari comes from the Swedish word torp, a small hut belonging to the main house.
      Moreover, that was not the life on the fields of the local parish, but all over in Finland. The reason was the rapid increase of the population in the country side. This excess population and labor needed land. On the other hand, free peasants needed labor power. So, the solution was there.

      It is this same reason, the rise of population, which sent so many farmer sons to America, because they did not means of living in their traditional business, the farming. Another solution was that of a torp. As the land was not divided, that means the life of a tenant, torppari.

      The Finns have always been against any, who is above them and collecting taxes and fees, so the local vicar was not a exception.

      The problem in the Finnish country side was understood, but all reforms were prevented by independent farmers, and by the Emperor. Finland had a very modern legislative and parliamentary system, but 9 times before March 1917 the Emperor dismissed the parliament and announced a new elections. That prevented any legislative work for the country. This is the time of so called. I am sure, St. Peter for make him some questions on the gate.

      So, never did all the Finns oppose or hate their parish or the vicar. Vice versa, as they were part of if, took part of its administration.

      Moreover, the State Church (as you often say) has been offering a good Christian infrastructure for the Finns, also for the Laestadians, so they never went down that kind of primitive level, as their brothers and sisters in OALC. They had information and the congregation was much more tolerant in her thinking. A sheep in a wolf' s skin

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  6. The torparit also worked for other landowners, to whom they worked a certain amount of days each year in exchange for rent for land to farm as well as living quarters. I agree that the church they knew was focused on the law -- sort of an Old Testament mentality. However, my recollection from the 50s and 60s was that it was stern, but not the fault-finding, finger-pointing, let's make it even more difficult church it is today.

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  7. Immigrants who first came to Northern Michigan, came form Norway mines in Finmark. Moreover, Finns have always been very active politically, so they brought the socialist ideas with them to America. There, in the land of freedom, it was not so free to be a socialist and fight for their rights. In the year 1917 March, 50% of the parliament seats were in the hands of socialists. So, if they did not like the priests or church, they had just learned very well what writes their newspaper Työmies (Working man). That dd not much differ in Pohjanmaa, among their farmers, as every Finn is very aware of his or her rights. That is the reason of our survival as a nation. A sheep in a wolf s skin.

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