Monday, July 31, 2006

My Summer Vacation (Long Version)


It's our first day back and I'm staying up w-a-y too late, so pardon any incoherence or flubs. Our vacation last week was a fine one, alternating between nature and culture, family and friends, rest and activity. On Monday we drove south to Astoria, set up base (a KOA cabin), and ventured the following morning south on Highway 101. Terribly scenic. We stopped in the charming seaside town of Manzanita to enjoy the beach and build sand castles in the marine breezes. We toured the Tillamook factory and watched thick orange blocks being diced into bricks and weighed and wrapped and conveyed in a mesmerizing display of machinery. Further south, we visited my vacationing sisters, dined on homemade shrimp pizza (surprisingly good) and Betty Crocker birthday cake (ditto), then rewound our route on the dark, empty highway, listening to Leo Kottke's 12-string virtuoso while the children pointed out constellations. Actually, just one constellation. Over and over.

The next day, I attended R. Cecil's lecture, arriving a little late (the signage at FinnFest left much to the imagination). Cecil was a warm, engaging personality, eager to share her considerable knowledge of the Saami with her rapt audience. She shared photographs, artifacts, and some recorded yoiking. She described the political history of the Saami and their "disappearance" at U.S. customs, where their country of taxation, rather than their nationality, was recorded.

For Americans wondering if they have Saami ancestry, Cecil provided a list of indicators. Topping it: a family history of Laestadianism.

Given the enormous cultural losses of the Saami, Cecil suggests that part of the appeal of Laestadianism was that it helped them recover a semblance of that prior, simpler life of harmony with each other and nature. This was a novel concept to me. I've read that Laestadius is credited with saving the Saami from alcoholism, and could imagine his legalism as a kind of prophylactic against illness, poverty, neglect, etcetera, but had not considered that his rejection of the state church offered his adherents a return to identity. Perhaps this is a stretch, but could not the new communities of Saami converts be a return to the cooperative siida of their parents and grandparents? Could LLL's legacy of exclusivism be seen in its most positive light: a desire to hold on to the siida?

Cecil also has an idea about the Saami apropos of our depression discussion. Those who are familiar with the history of Holocaust survivors, Native Americans, Hmong hill people (the "sleeping sickness"), and other displaced peoples will recognize the term: intergenerational trauma. She asserts that the Saami continue to suffer from it, having lost their land, livelihood, religion, communities, language, and sense of self.

On hearing this, my thoughts cascaded thusly: Laestadius, depressed himself, forms a sect imbued with negativity, which is taken up by the depressed Saami, for whom it validates a sorrow-full life while also providing the balm of community or "like-mindedness." Peasant farmers sign on for similar reasons. It spreads, attracting in rural America the poorest Finns, for whom it validates a simple life and offers a reward for following its ascetic rules: cooperative community.

Case in point. Two of my Finnish immigrant ancestors apparently had no interest in the church until desparate financial need required that they reach out to Laestadian in-laws for help. Was "repentance" a condition of that help? I would guess so. And it must have seemed a good bargain.

I know of a more recent case in which a Laestadian girl who had left the church as a teen returned, playing the prodigal daughter long enough to get much-needed help in raising her children (she was a single mother) before leaving for good. She is not embarrassed about the bargain she made; it was a matter of survival.

Well, moving on. In addition to Cecil's lecture, I saw the Suomalainen Sisters, a delightful comedic trio in huivis and aprons and luscious UP accents. "One rutabaga shy of a pasty" is one catchy line. "We don't dance with poikas with black shiny shoes" is one of their ditties. Yukking it up afterward, I promised to send them some inoffensive LLL material (not an oxymoron, I hope). Certainly something could be made of hidden radios and TVs? Or smoking outside church?

While wandering around looking for nonexistent signage, I ran into two Gackle sisters I'd met years ago at a family wedding, and decided to join them for a kantele concert. They are in their 70's and very classy ladies, but that didn't keep us from belting Edelweiss and improvising silly lyrics. It was great fun. I think a certain kind of Finn shows up at these cultural events, and it isn't the shy ones. The kantele player, Wilho Saari, was skillful, even though he played a lot of corny unFinnish tunes. His wife quoted from the Kalevela something along the lines of "if the kantele doesn't fill you with joy or put you to sleep, throw it in the fire." Well, there is a third alternative, "make you laugh til you weep," but that could be due to Rogers and Hammerstein.

Thursday afternoon, we went to Fort Stevens to see the shipwreck and I captured this family in a huddle. They were looking at a sea creature or praying, or perhaps both. I half-expected them to greet me, as the girls had long hair and an air of LLL.

Earlier that day, our kids had run in from the playground shouting "our cousins are here!" and sure enough, we discovered OALC relatives camping at the same KOA. The boys, who see each other once a year maximum, bonded instantly and ran all over the campground in high spirits, having a grand time. The girls hung back and watched quietly, already little ladies. (I gave them some M&M's and they disappeared and brought back a bag of hamburger meat and buns. What is potlatch protocol, I wondered. A blanket next? I settled on more M&M's and that seemed to go over well).

I was impressed when our son checked to make sure it was okay to show his cousin a home video on my laptop "because, you know, he can't watch tv?" I assured him that it was not the same as tv, and he looked at me like I was splitting hairs, and I suppose I was. They cackled maniacally while watching, over and over, the kids' "science experiment" with Diet Coke and Menthos, an explosive combo.

That night we went to see "My Only May Amelia" at the River Theater under the lovely Astoria Bridge. We'd just finished the book and the characters were still fresh in our minds, and the kids were rather disappointed that their stage versions did not match up, that there were no dogs or pigs on stage, no log dams, boats, or Naselle River. There was some splitting of kindling, however, and when our son was asked by an actor for his favorite moment, after the show, he said "the axing." He had to repeat himself a few times before it sunk in. I felt kind of sorry for the actor, who had to memorize all that dialogue.

On Friday the whole whizbang moved to Naselle's high school, where we had the guilty pleasure of taking a free, open-sided trolley to and from the parking lot immediately across the street. A matter of a few hundred feet! Methinks we Finns could use a bit less trolley and a lot more walking, if you know what I mean. They otter spend that trolley money on signage next year. We did manage to find the room in which Jennifer Holm, the author of May Amelia, was holding court. She had some Finn-Am aunties with her to help answer questions about the old days and her aunt's journal, on which her novel was based. Per usual, I asked a lot of questions, and Ms. Holm graciously answered all of them, even my thickheaded inquiry about the probability of a farm girl having enough free time to have all those adventures. Ms. Holm said something to the effect that "chores are not very interesting to write about." Oh, yeah, fiction. You'd never know I studied it in college!

Technology was iffy at Finnfest but I lucked out with my cell phone and succeeded in meeting "Anonymous from Minnesota," as she asked to be called on the blog. She is a kind, funny and thoughtful "former" who helped me understand the differences between the OALC and the Federation, and gave me some good pointers on LLL resources on the web, as well as on the hoof, as it were. She pointed out a tall man in the Tori as the professor who had translated LLL's "Fragments" (from Swedish to English), and encouraged me to chat him up.

Which of course I did. Börje Vähämäki has some ideas about Laestadius' psychologically subverted affection for Lapp Mary that would not fly in the OALC (if indeed it could be understood but which to my admittedly inexpert ear ring authentic. Rereading the history around his conversion event is recommended. I'll post it here soon.

I asked the professor how one could reconcile LLL's obvious intelligence with his superstitions (crows, earthquakes, etc.) and got the rather unsatisfactory reply that any book of mythology, whether the Kalevela or the Bible, must be understood symbolically, "as poetry." When I suggested that LLL manipulated (artfully or deviously, you pick) Saami and Christian mythology in his postilla, he wholeheartedly agreed. One cannot underestimate the intelligence of LLL. I haven't verified this yet, but Vähämäki seemed to say that LLL considered himself to be THE apostolic successor to Luther. I had thought this was his adherents' aggrandizement, not his own! Can anyone enlighten me? (If a preacher were to claim such today, would he be called delusional, or a narcissist?)

On our way back from Finnfest, we managed to sneak in lunch with my parents (very pleasant) and an overnight visit to our church's campout at Millersylvania State Park, where we pitched a tent, gathered around the campfire for songs and s'mores, played some mean Scrabble and Uno, washed a ton of dishes, held babies, watched a skit, and slept like logs. After a quiet morning watching sunbeams through the stately firs, we had "church" around the campfire, and a great sense of peace prevailed. As we sang our last hymn, "Shine, Jesus, Shine," there was a sudden shower of rain. That laughter, as we ran around gathering hymnals and kids and taking shelter, felt so right. The siida, the sangha, the body -- what is it but soul food.

That evening, when we returned to the city and bought a newspaper and scanned the headlines with dismay, I was glad we had "come away to a quiet place" and I look forward to going again. Even if it's just to bed. Like right now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More on Depression

I'm here in Astoria enjoying ocean breezes, sunny skies, and sporadic internet access. As I type this, I'm sitting on a stack of logs at our campsite, pointing my laptop in the direction of a wifi antenna and squinting to read the screen. FinnFest is in full swing, and I snuck away from my family for a couple of hours this morning to hear Ruthann Cecil. Her lecture provided an overview of Saami culture and included an intriguing idea about the appeal of Laestadius, about which I'll post later, when I'm not sitting on a stack of firewood.

Ironically, it relates to depression. Her idea, I mean, not the firewood.

Following are some posts that were buried in another topic, so I'll repost them here.



sisu said...
Dear Stylux and MTH,
I would like us to have more discussion about depression. I believe all my siblings and I suffered from it at one time or another, and I have attributed it to genes. I'd like to follow up on this possible OALC connection. I hadn't thought of that before.


Stylux said...
Sisu,

I have suffered from depression all my life and officially have been diagnosed with dysthymia. This is a fancy word for a constant low grade "sort of all the time" form of the disorder. I researched my family and its patterns and found a number of varieties existing in various members from "manic" to "bi-polar" and others. To the extent that I could I included deceased members as well. In addition there exist examples of attempted suicides, hospitalization and such. So it is an ongoing and large problem and one that is not often discussed for various reasons. This has changed in the past 20 years in a positive direction so things are easier today. One of the perplexing things about depression is that it is often accompanied by anxiety in all of its forms as well as ADD and ADHD. The PET scan literature on these conditions is interesting. I am not sure if there is any proven connection but it is anecdotally connected in my family both immediate and extended. So what to do... I can tell you what I have done. I have taken various med's such as the SSRI's etc., amphetamine derivatives and other combinations (not all for depression but most for depression and anxiety combined). I have been to a host of counseling sessions etc. and been involved in various types of therapies specifically for depression. I have become a firm believer in the field of "cognitive therapy" as espoused in the famous book "Feeling Well" by Burns. Basically the approach involves reprogramming irrational thoughts because they (University of Pennsylvania) feel that depression is a result of irrational thinking. In my case I agree with this assessment. Now to the OALC. I have come to the conclusion that in my case my depression is mixed both psychogenic and physiological or genetically acquired and learned. The doctrinal approach tends in my case to exacerbate the condition. Growing up in a critical family has an impact as well. I have to be careful here... Folks, I am not making the case that the OALC causes depression. I am speaking very specifically and these things are hard to tease out and isolate. I have been helped enormously by using cognitive therapy and no longer take meds. The basic research from Burns demonstrates that the therapy combined with meds is far more efficacious than meds alone. The secret to the Burns approach is writing, writing and more writing. The book is available in any bookstore in paperback and is a considerable step above the pop psychology level. I live with the problem and do better some days than others but feel grateful for the progress that I have made and encourage anybody who suspects that they suffer this way to start asking and doing. As I have often written… Depression hurts.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Depression: Let's Talk

Some of you interested in talking about depression and it deserves its own heading. I'm on my way to Astoria, so I don't have time to talk about my own struggles, but suffice to say that I know the beast.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Summer Reading

If nothing else, our last exchange yielded some reading recommendations. Here's a list:

Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann, Neale Donald Walsch, and Joseph Chilton Pearce
Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble by Lester R. Brown
The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies by Richard Heinberg
The History of Christianity by Paul Johnson
Modern Times by Paul Johnson
Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton
The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine series by Jaroslav Pelikan
Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius

That thar is some heavy lifting, folks. I'm eager to order a few of those books from our library, although they will probably sit on my nightstand gathering late fees while I wallow in fiction. I'm in an escapist mood. Currently I'm reading Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm to the kids, as we're going to the theatrical version during FinnFest. (It's about a Finnish-American girl with seven brothers on a farm in Washington state at the turn of the century, and her struggles with tradition and freedom.)

Let's talk about books. What books have been especially important to you?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Ruthanne Cecil: Finns, Saamis, and Laestadian

That last topic didn't get its full day in the sun, so please weigh in before it gets too buried. Just had to post this photo and link, because I finally got around to registering for a few FinnFest events, and one of the offerings is a lecture titled "Finns, Saamis, and Laestadians: Delving into our Past" by a Ruthanne Cecil. If she is one-and-the-same as the Ruthanne Cecil I found via Google, what an interesting and knowledgable person, with a J.D. Law, UC Hastings, and a job at as "a well-known expert on financing sustainability." She "speaks widely on how fiscal policy options can create the necessary funding pools for urgent global needs" according to the Center for Environmental Economic Development. She also wrote the source material for the Saami of Alaska exhibit I saw at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle last year, about which I posted here. Doesn't she look Saami?

(The catalog doesn't say whether her lecture falls on Wednesday or Thursday. Either way, it's a must-hear.)

You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country

Thank you, friends, for heating up this blog, which had become kind of humdrum. If you are new here, please don't be put off by all the disputation (how's that for an LLL word?).

My view is that in conflict we clarify our own views and explore new ones. So join the fray, just be respectful of differences. I also encourage you to read some of the earliest posts to get a sense of the range of topics we cover here, and then to suggest a new one if you get bored with the status quo.

For the person who asked for the derivation of "toot," is from the Finnish word for Christian, and apparently not as common as I thought when I started this blog. Growing up, it was slang for anyone who belonged to the OALC. The other slang word was bunhead, which others tell me is still in currency (for males, too?) although it sounds derogatory to me. Hereabouts, a bunhead is a ballerina.

I had the great good fortune last week to receive a nonvirtual visit from Sisu, someone who already seemed like a familiar friend from our online correspondence. I confess I was a bit nervous in anticipation but it was as easy as falling off a log and much more rewarding. And warmer. Sisu, remind me to ask you why you left the OALC! Funny how that didn't come up with all the things we talked about. I hope that was the first of many visits. And next time I'll serve you a proper meal.

Speaking of . . . if you want to meet at Finnfest and haven't already done so, email me your cell number at extoot (at symbol) earthlink.net (no spaces, of course, I've included them here to fool spambots). I'll call you with a time and location. At this point, it looks like Friday midday. Don't be shy about meeting . . . I will not publish your identity and we'll all be as discreet as you wish. And feel free to just be yourself, okay? Whether you are Ex- or still LLLish, whether you are fattish (like me) or thinnish, greenish or reddish, Rightish or Leftish, there is a place for you at the table, and a slice of pulla.

Finally, our topic. You can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy. Can a tiger change its spots? Of course. But Is it easier for women who leave LLLism to make fundamental changes in their worldview? Because LLLism is so patriarchal, is it possible that women who leave tend to question not only LLLism but the patriarchy beneath it, while men are less inclined to go that far? Let's explore that.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

FinnFest is a'Comin'

Hoo. What a crazy week it has been. Relatives visiting, cars kerplunking, noses sniffling, plans unraveling. It was a little too much. To get away from it all, I saw two movies recently. They were of such disparate quality that the first is among the absolute worst I've ever seen, and the second among the best.

Both had top-flight actors. But Bill Murray could not lift "Garfield" from utter crassitude (although the kids thought it was hilarious), while Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Lily Tomlin gave beautifully-crafted turns in "Prairie Home Companion." It was a real treat to see Jearlyn Steele and Tom Keith and the other familiar voices from the radio show, and although Garrison Keillor has a face made for radio, he did not ruin my fond feelings toward him and the whole PHC universe. Beneath the movie's humor (often occasionally crass) and musical bits, a poignant theme gathered power: Savor this life, as soon we'll be leaving it. (It is a movie made by a director on death's door.)

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Oh, and you friends who know this song so well, when you hear "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling," it will get you good. Bring Kleenex.

On another note, Finnfest is fast approaching: July 26-30. I'll be there for the kantele Mass on SundayThursday and possibly Friday. If you are going and would like to meet up, please send me an email at extoot (at symbol) earthlink.net (make sure there are no spaces and extoot is singular).

Maybe we can break pulla together.

Is the Tide Turning?

This following is from a CBS news story:
At a church in Washington, hundreds of committed Christians met recently and tried to map out a strategy to get their values into the political debate. But these are not the conservative Christian values which have been so influential lately. This is the religious left.

"Jesus called us to love our neighbor, love our enemy, care for the poor, care for the outcast, and that's really the moral core of where we think the nation ought to go," Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches told CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell.

The National Council of Churches represents about 50 million Christians in America — the majority of them mainline Protestants.

"Jesus never said one word about homosexuality, never said one word about civil marriage or abortion," Edgar said.

He calls this movement the "center-left" — and it's seeking the same political muscle as the conservative Christians, a group with a strong power base in the huge Evangelical churches of the South.

But the left has its own Evangelical leaders, such as the Rev. Tony Campolo.

"We are furious that the religious right has made Jesus into a Republican. That's idolatry," Campolo said. "To recreate Jesus in your own image rather than allowing yourself to be created in Jesus' image is what's wrong with politics."

The Christian left is focusing on:
Fighting poverty
Protecting the environment
Ending the war in Iraq

"Right now the war in Iraq costs us $1 billion per week," said Rev. Jim Wallis, a Christian activist. "And we can't get $5 billion over ten years for child care in this country?"

To try to attract young voters and the attention of politicians who want their votes, leaders of the religious left are promoting issues like raising the minimum wage.

"Nine million families are working full time," Wallis said. "Working hard full time, responsibly, and not making it."

Three decades ago liberal religious leaders had a powerful influence on politics.

In the 1960s and 70s they led demonstrations against civil rights abuses and the war in Vietnam. But when those battles were over, the movement seemed to lose energy, while the Christian right had become well organized and committed to having its voice and concerns heard.

After years of sitting on the sidelines, it will take more than meetings and talking points to make the liberals into a political power again.

"The Christian right has a ground game," said Mark Silk of Trinity College's religious studies department. "Thus far the Christian left mainly has an air game: they want to throw positions, they want to talk to the media, but do they have the networks in place on the ground to get people out to vote?"

So, it remains to be seen whether there's any action behind the words. But there's no doubt they're on a mission.

"I've watched a generation die. And I watched them shift from idealism to a 'me' generation that was only orientated to consumerism and it hurt, and I wondered whether we ever would come back." Campolo said. "But the pendulum is swinging."

Well, what do you think? Here in Seattle, so-called mainstream churches are struggling to deal with homelessness (from prevention to tent cities), even as their congregations are dwindling. Meanwhile, suburban megachurches with that charming God-wants-you-to-be-wealthy gospel are adding hair salons and basketball courts and other amenities as their congregations swell..

I see no evidence that the pendulum is swinging.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Poverty and LLLism

Following are some considered and compassionate observations by Ilmarinen, who really ought to be hosting this site!):

Perhaps this has been covered before, but a topic I would find interesting to discuss would be poverty and the LLL community. Growing up, I didn't think too much about the folks around me actually being destitute, but the more I think about it now, the more I realize how close to the poverty line many families fell. The government figure for the 2004 Poverty Threshold was $37,983 for a mother, father, and seven children. In the 90's, I remember the husband/father of a large family saying he considered $35,000 to be a good wage.

I saw many families apparently doing well: new vehicles, huge houses, nice clothing. But I wonder how many are struggling to keep up with their uncontrolled fertility? Are the ones doing well getting the most attention, while those doing poorly are overlooked? Are the apparently well-off really doing that well, or are they spending everything without retirements or insurance? Some families despised welfare, but I know many qualified for it and some used it.

Realizing that many of the most conservative LLLers were impoverished helps me understand the vehemence and frustration I witnessed. Perhaps they could not understand how the young would scorn the life they had struggled to provide. They only saw that through hard work, they were able to feed and clothe their children, and they took pride in that accomplishment. It was beyond the scope of their culture to realize providing for nine children, on the one salary of an often uneducated man, was simply a lifestyle choice, not a commandment to be followed by all. If I believed the LLL dogma and was doing all I could to provide for a large family, I'd be sorely offended to hear people dismiss my grinding efforts as simply a choice, or worse, to hear people say I was doing a horrible job of raising my family. The difference in perspective is so great, I'm just now coming to realize how difficult it must be for LLL true believers to fathom my mindset.