Wednesday, September 29, 2004

More Sins, In No Particular Order

From an ex-OALC correspondent, some additions to the Short List of Sins:
Boy Scouts
a career in Real Estate (have to work Sundays)
boys and girls traveling together to meetings
trimmed beards
sailing
working on Thanksgiving day
using scissors on Sundays
comic books
funny papers
playing pin ball machines, video games
musical children's books
melodious religious songs
traditional Christmas carols
Trick or Treating
cuff-links
praying out loud
referring to gatherings as parties
going to the races
becoming a policeman or fireman
playing catch on Sunday
recording a sermon

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Devil Made Me Do It

One of the great gifts I gave myself on leaving the OALC was the latitude to doubt anything and everything, whenever the impulse arises. I have what you might call provisional faith -- always open to adjustment with new insight. That's what kind of "believer" I am: uninterested in "the facts" that some would say are essential to belief -- but passionate about the metaphors we use to make sense of our world.

As much as I regret my own experiences with his adherents, I respect Laestadius for his work describing the Sami. (His book on Sami mythology is now available on amazon.com). There is no doubt he was modernizing and democratizing the Church in emphasizing personal understanding of Scripture (LLL was affiliated with the Readers sect that read the Bible in their homes) and by promoting the priesthood of believers (meaning Christians could be each others' confessors). While he can be blamed for banning the Sami drums and yoiking, he can be thanked for preserving their language and incorporating their trances into the church (now a pallid exercise called the "movement" -- at least I haven't seen any of the jumping and fainting described in the histories). Some writers credit him with profound psychological insight. I think he was insecure and felt rejected by academia and society, especially women -- he was rather obsessed with female sexuality -- and if he was on the couch today, he would probably be treated for manic depression. He was charismatic enough to attract devout followers, even to the point of murder (LLL fanatics killed a sheriff/whiskey merchant). He was certainly polarizing, and proud of it. When he refused communion to an unwed mother, the Princess of Norway and Sweden wrote to him, admonishing his lack of compassion for sinners. He remained defiant. (Of course, none of this history is taught in the OALC.)

The OALC emphasis on sin seems a perversion of Christianity, which offers an incredible model for "loving one's enemies," and follows repentance with reconciliation. It seems OALC encourages folks to repent continually, but not to reconcile what has been broken, through works of kindness, compensation or whatever. If there was an OALC court, the judge would be satisfied with a defendant's "I'm sorry." That "works alone" do not lead to grace does not undermine their importance.

You could call it an immature treatment of the human condition -- the-devil-made-me-do-it defense. It releases the person from the consequences of his/her actions and doesn't promote personal growth. To focus on silly transgressions such as nail polish is a grand diversion from the Elephant on the Table, i.e., the sin of being human, which is our participation (conscious or not) in the extinction of other life (human, animal, vegetable and mineral).

(Let me digress to muse about a Christian ritual: saying grace before meals. I think this is probably a universal ritual that finds many forms because it fulfills a need for us, as humans, to acknowledge that our sustenance depends on the sacrifice of other forms of life. In any case, it's a useful meditation on interconnectedness. I always found it odd that the OALC doesn't practice it.)

Imagine an alien reviewing our planet's history and trying to understand the different religions and how they deal with the problem of evil. Think of the long history of sacrifices (human and otherwise) that people all over the planet used to gain favor with fickle gods, who could punish them with earthquakes, drought, pestilence and famine. Or could, with appropriate sacrifices, be made happy.

Are not these gods externalizations of the human impulses for punishment and retribution and forgiveness? And weren't the sacrifice victims stand-ins for the people? To be human is to know that the capacity for evil is in oneself -- no one is exempt. And to be human is to know that the capacity for love is enormous. What is revolutionary about Christ is the profound personalization of that drama. He took this history of sacrifice and said, basically, it stops here. I am you (whatever your color or sex or status) and I paid the price, and you are forgiven, now and forever. Furthermore. . . . that enormous love you feel? THAT is God. God is love. God is in you. So act on it.

Now, to feel forgiven for being human (the original sin) and to feel the enormous love within: that is truly living in grace. It inspires us to be hopeful, compassionate, forgiving. Happy. Appreciative of our existence for this brief moment in the history of time. Intensely aware of the oneness of all life.

Perhaps the profound depression in the OALC -- both doctrinal and psychological (a dense fog hangs over the whole enterprise) -- is due to a wobbly faith in (1) one's own perpetual state of grace, and (2) God's indwelling. In psychological terms, the OALC continues to externalize Good and Evil. Until they are internalized, with Good/God/Love the victor, and the victory emphasized continually through worship and/or practice, the tendency is toward insecurity, depression, and passive-aggressive narcissism. (Does this make sense? I have provisional faith in the idea. Prove me wrong!)

Here is an interesting link to the psychology of forgiveness:
http://www.guidetopsychology.com/forgive.htm

And here's to the joyful life!

Friday, September 24, 2004

A Short List of Sins

Okay, I'm not up to date on what is being "preached against" in the OALC, but here's a short list:

neckties
shorts
beach vacations
hotels in lieu of staying with an OALC member
"you're welcome" in lieu of "Thanks be to God"
television
music, except vocal
movies
art
photographs hung on wall (albums are ok)
advanced degrees (leads to intellectual pride)
self-study of Bible (see above)
cosmetics
Internet
drugs (except nicotine, caffeine and prescription drugs, which are often shared)
attending services in a non-OALC church
trousers on women
long hair on men
short hair on women
self-esteem
sports
literature
jewelry, except wedding ring sets (for women only)
questioning the doctrine
pinball machines
hot tubs
card games
"light-mindedness"
doubt