Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Some Cages Don't Have Bars
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
Posted by Free at 7/25/2017 01:09:00 PM