Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Building Memories

First, a shout out to "exoalc," who I had the pleasure of meeting today, along with her splendid children. Our time together was too brief, but we felt like old friends, having shared the past two years online together. (Thank you, ex, for being a brave truthseeker.)

Every now and then I do a google search on the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church. Yesterday I was surprised to discover an online article about a synagogue, Bet Shalom, in Minnesota. Turns out Bet Shalom bought a former OALC-occupied building in Hopkins and stayed there 17 years before building their new facility.

Now the old Hopkins OALC building (described as long and narrow) is home to an Anglican group called Church of the Cross.

Shiver me timbers. When Bet Shalom took over the former church, they reportedly removed crosses and stained glass windows.

Doesn't sound very OALC, does it? Is anyone familiar with this building?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is American Christianity Powerless?

Not long ago, I had a chance conversation with an OALC preacher who lives in farming country. He told me how agribusiness is destroying the family farm, creating health crises (e.g., mad cow disease, obesity) and making it harder to buy local food. He seemed to suggest that the free market has taken us places we don't want to be. This suprised me. I had always assumed that he was a die-hard conservative, and maybe he is. But it was apparent that a web of negative consequences had revealed itself through the trials of the people he loves.

I wonder what he would think of this jeremiad by Jane Smiley. After detailing recent corporate crimes and abuses, she asks:

Are these CEOs and CFOs and COOs and managers and researchers and stockholders so beyond human that, let's say, the deaths in Iraq and the destitution of the farmers and the tumors and allergies and obesities of children, and the melting of the Greenland ice cap and the shifting of the Gulf Stream are, to them, just the cost of doing business? Or are they just beyond stupid and blind, so that they, alone among humans, have no understanding of the interconnectedness of all natural systems?

One thing you have to ask yourself, faced with American corporate culture, is, what is it about Americans, in particular, that makes them so indifferent to consequences, especially the consequence of doing harm to others, over and over and over? Why did those big tobacco folks persist, for fifty years, in poisoning their customers and attempting to get more customers? Was that what Jesus told them to do?

I bring up Jesus because many, if not most of these companies are headquartered in red states, states proud of their Christian heritage. Big tobacco is (or used to be) located in the south, big oil in Texas, big ag in St. Louis, Minnesota, and Iowa. If Christianity abounds in these states, and people working in these corporations, and running them, are professing Christians, and these people give themselves a license to steal and destroy every day of the year, what does that say about Christianity? Let me tell you. It says that Christianity, especially American Christianity, is the religion of death. Or it says that corporate culture is one thing and religious belief is another, and the religious side is powerless to confront any of the deadly sins perpetrated by the corporate side.


What do you think?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Age of Reason and Religion

Most people know of Isaac Newton, the great 17th century revolutionary thinker. He is, of course, credited with helping to usher in the age of science with his co-development of the calculus and his laws of gravitational attraction. What is not so well known is that he was intensely interested in religion and spent nearly all of this life reading scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments. Is this a contradiction? The “age of reason” is often portrayed as a battle against religion.

Rodney Stark in his insightful book “The Victory of Reason” makes the following case. “ The rise of the West was based on four primary victories of reason. The first was the development of faith in progress within Christian theology, the second… …faith in progress (as) translated into technical and organizational innovations.” The third that reason, thanks to Christian theology, caused responsive states to appear in medieval Europe. The fourth “involved the application of reason to commerce.” In other words we in western culture became advanced in large measure due to the specific characteristics of a theological doctrine, Christianity, that encouraged thinking.

Now, this is completely opposite of how I was taught to think about faith in the OALC. Realizing this fact was like a door opening and letting in the fresh breezes of knowledge and understanding. Christianity in all of its manifestations was actually a religion to be understood by thought and not simply by acceptance of dogma. On a larger level, I could celebrate the religion as a faith of progress rather than one of introversion. This concept appears to be paradox to the tenets of the OALC but also to the elitism present in our culture with respect to religion in general. It is my belief that faith is an important component to not only individual lives but also to society in general and that our educational system would be well advised to support this view because it is a tradition with a positive legacy. Your comments would interest me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sacrament of Communion

One of the things that I've puzzled about is in regard to communion in the OALC. The host and wine are distributed, with the statement that they are the "true" body and blood of Jesus Christ. I've heard OALC people talk down about some of the "worldly" churches because they say something about the wine "representing" the blood of Christ, while in the OALC they serve the "true" blood. I’m not sure how carting the bottle of Mogan David surreptitiously to the altar accomplishes the transformation, and when the bottle with the remnants is carried back out, is it transformed back to just wine?

The Roman Catholic Church professes to distribute the true body and blood as well, accomplished through the blessing and transubstantiation of the bread and wine by the Priest at every Mass. The RC teaching in this regard is that through the blessing of the bread and wine by the representative of Christ, they become "substantially" transformed into the body and blood of Christ, so that his presence is there in the elements -- the host and wine. Once these hosts and wine have been consecrated, they are treated with reverence until such time as they are consumed. Any remaining consecrated wine is either consumed on the spot by the Priest or a Lay Eucharistic Minister, or in some cases returned to the ground via a “dry well”. The consecrated hosts are stored in a tabernacle to be used at the next Mass.

What do you think or believe? If we get past the details of what constitutes a "blessing" or not, and if belief is present in the congregant, then is the true presence of Christ there?

Also, does anyone know what the official position is regarding this sacrament (whether OALC, or any other faith)? I always found the explanations I heard in the OALC to be pretty vague.

On a related note, some churches (many denominations) have chosen to start distributing wine in individual cups, rather than the common cup. (The RC Church rejected that idea completely.) I was present at the OALC down in BG many years ago -- can't recall why since I haven't been there that many times -- when the issue was brought up. Apparently some parishioners had expressed a concern, perhaps for health reasons, about the common cup. The preachers brought it up in church, and said something to the effect, that while it would incur an extra cost, they were willing to start doing that, but in order to keep communion orderly, they asked that those who wanted individual cups wait until the rest were served. Also, to help them plan for the impact, they asked that all those who wanted individual cups raise their hands. Not a hand was raised, and the preacher said that it appeared the problem had gone away!

One can argue that if you have a strong and true faith, you could drink from the common cup, and surely the presence of the Lord would prevent any disease from being transmitted through this medium.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Strong Drink

Leaving Laestadianism means questioning and re-examining a lot of the "rules" that one was raised with. Sometimes this is painful, scary, and even funny. Here is the story of my first experience with "strong drink" for your entertainment.*

As I've previously mentioned, I was raised Laestadian. As I haven't mentioned, however, I was very good at following all the rules. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink, I didn't chew tobacco, I didn't swear, I didn't have sex, I didn't listen to rock and roll, I didn't play sports, and most importantly, I didn't approve of those who did. :-)

I mention this not to boast, but only to assure everyone that my credentials were in good order. Like the apostle Paul, who was the perfect Pharisee and was thus was in the perfect position to criticize the Pharisees, I was the perfect Laestadian --nobody can accuse me of justifying giving in to my fleshly desires. I wasn't just drinking and looking for theological justification to do so.

The whole thing started with the woman I was dating. She was also a Laestadian (see, I was even following that rule :-). Despite being a Laestadian, she casually mentioned one day that she didn't see anything wrong with having a margarita every once in awhile. This just floored me, shocked me, offended me in that unique deep seated way that Laestadians get offended over the sin they perceive in others. :-)

I searched the Scriptures in frenzy. Found lots of verses about drunkenness, but none forbidding drinking in moderation. Still, I was very upset. Didn't she see that as a drinker she could become an alcoholic and ruin her life, hopeless addicted to the devilish substance? I very seriously considered breaking up with her.

Then she said something to me that was truly amazing. She said, "You know, drinking or not drinking is not that important to me. It's really a minor thing, and I don't see anything wrong with it. However, if it bothers you that much, I'm fine with not drinking while we're seeing each other."

I was so moved by the grace she extended toward me on this issue that I started to re-examine my fears and concerns with alcohol.

I had a lot of questions. Was drinking really a moral issue? Or was I just ingrained with something as a kid and not wanting to let go? More insidiously, was my attitude toward drinking just a way that I could feel superior to others?

What does drunkenness mean in a biblical context? Does it mean no alcohol at all? Does it mean you can drink, just don't get drunk? Does it mean you can drink moderately and even get a buzz once in awhile as long as you are not a chronic abuser of the substance?

After much soul searching, I decided that I needed real experimental data. :-) So at age 23 I entered a liquor store for the very first time. I was very self-conscious. Did that lady behind the counter think I was some kind of drunk being here? No, she works here, she must be used to seeing customers come in all the time. Heaven forbid I run into anyone I know!!!

I had decided in advance that I was going to purchase a bottle of wine for my experiment. After all, Jesus turned water into wine. But what kind of wine would Jesus drink? After looking at the bewildering array of champagne, whites, reds, domestic, and imports, I finally decided that Jesus would be most likely to consume a five-year-old bottle of domestic red, a cabernet sauvignon priced at $20. No second rate stuff for Jesus, right? ;-) I paid with cash and left in a hurry clutching my brown paper bag and feeling like a wino. I was shocked that I was not asked to display ID.

I brought the wine back to my apartment and attempted to open it. After a major struggle with the corkscrew on my Swiss Army knife I got the bottle un-corked. I didn't have a wine glass, so I filled a ceramic coffee mug half full. I smelled the wine, and swished it around in the mug. The odor seemed evil and boozy.

I remembered reading somewhere that the ancient Romans of Jesus' day would mix water with their wine. I poured some cold water into the coffee mug, filling it. Half wine, and half water. That seemed fitting. Now the odor was not as strong, although the color was still blood red.

I was almost ready to try my wine. I felt that a good precaution would be to move to the bedroom and lay on the bed while I drank the mug of wine. That way if I was to pass out in a drunken stupor I wouldn't hit my head on the floor and get a concussion. :-) I fully expected the room to start spinning, and wasn't sure I would be able to get to the bed in time if I merely stood by the bed while drinking the wine.

Lying on the bed, propped up with a pillow, I took my first sip. I didn't like the taste at all. It tasted like smelly, bitter, sour grapes. How could anyone enjoy drinking this?!? However I was determined to experience drinking, so I forced myself to drink half a mug of the substance. Then I set the mug aside, satisfied that I had consumed enough to feel some effects.

I lay there on the bed for quite some time, waiting for the room to start spinning, or to feel woozy. All I could feel was my heart hammering in my chest.

After awhile I stood up and took a few tentative steps around the room. I didn't feel dizzy, or tipsy. I could smell a bit of wine on my breath, but otherwise the same old me. No demon rising up from the wine bottle to torment me. No irrational and insatiable desires to guzzle the rest of the bottle in an alcoholic, addictive, frenzy. Just me.

As I stood there, I began to feel very deflated. My whole life I had been taught to loathe and fear alcohol. Now that I'd tried some, the reality did not live up to the hype in the slightest. I remembered all the times I had condemned others for choosing to drink. I remembered all the times I declined party invitations and avoided social events when I suspected alcohol would be served. I thought of the love that I was willing to deny myself over the issue.

What a waste. Enough to drive a person to drink. ;-)

-ttg

*Author's Note: I posted an earlier revision of this story to the XLLL Yahoo Group last February.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Fundamentalists: Present and Former

Sara Robinson, guest-blogger for Orcinus, uses her recent post to describe how people become fundamentalists and how they leave. Before presenting a list of seven common exit-routes, she powerfully expresses how difficult leaving can be:

We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them. Leaving the safety of the authoritarian belief system is a three-to-five year process. Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you've ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity. On the scale of relative trauma, it's right up there with a divorce after a long marriage; and it requires about the same amount and kind of grieving.
Many notes in this post ring true to my experience, but I need to make a few exceptions. First I would never characterize my upbringing as abusive. Second, I'm skeptical of pathologizing political opponents, and Sara may be falling into this problem when she echoes thoughts from James Dean's recent book Conservatives Without Conscience, which is "ideological comfort food" in the words of Nick Gillespie.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What is Laestadianism?

What does the word Laestadian mean to you? This question was raised on a post at the site ALC Discussion, where the poster took offense at the how describing negative aspects of Laestadianism tars the reputation of all Laestadians, even those who may not share those negative aspects.

To create a working definition, we need to take into account the history of Laestadianism and the strong influence of conservative Laestadians in the movement. My attempt is as follows: a strict Pietist form of Christianity descended from the movement created by Lars Levi Laestadius in the mid-19th century and characterized by a focus on the inherent sinfulness of humanity and the practice of confession and absolution.

The challenge in defining this term is the heterogeneity of what it tries to describe. The Laestadian heritage is characterized by a history of splitting and changing over time, creating at least five distinct groups in the US (the country I am familiar with). Further heterogeneity exists due to the geographical and cultural differences between groups. With the Scandinavian origin of the movement, the widespread emigration of early Laestadians, and the more recent missionary work around the world, there are Laestadians on every continent but one (anyone know of Laestadians on Antarctica?). With such a heterogeneous group, what unites all the members under the label Laestadian? Are we fair to smaller Laestadian groups when we use the word Laestadian to describe characteristics shared by the majority of Laestadians but not by the smaller group?

Taking this question a little further, is it possible for us to break Laestadianism into healthy and unhealthy groups? Based on the experiences of the majority of us here, we are fully aware of the unhealthy groups, but are we aware of any healthy Laestadian groups? In my experience, there are a few churches that have made some progress in distancing themselves from the unhealthy traits of Laestadianism. These groups include the ALC churches in Painesdale, MI and Lake Worth, FL as well as the Grace Apostles church near Minneapolis, MN (see the previous post FALC Issues).

Monday, August 07, 2006

Ex-Laestadians and the search for meaning

Many thanks to Free for inviting me to post an article on this blog. :-) This gives me an excuse to ask a question I've been thinking about for some time: Do any other ex-Laestadians struggle in their search for meaning and identity since leaving the church?

Being Laestadian was never easy for me, but there were a couple things about it that always gave me great comfort.

One was that I knew who I was (identity). I was one of God's select few chosen people. Especially in light of "the world" and its depravity, this seemed a great honor that made me feel unique, special, and superior.

Another was that I knew the meaning of life. Life was all about maintaining one's purity and superiority in the face of temptations and contamination, both from within and from "the world." It was about sacrificing the here and now for eternal rewards later.

In light of these two truths, life was certainly hard, but it was also simple and crystal clear.

Leaving Laestadianism has involved giving up a lot of those comforts. Life seems more nuanced now, but that means it is harder to see things clearly. Acknowledging that God has no favorites destroys any exclusive claim I might have upon God's favor.

Who are you, now that you are no longer Laestadian? What gives your life meaning and purpose? Has it been hard to come up with these things on your own now that you no longer are part of a community that defines them for you?

-ttg

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lapp Blood Will Out

Carl Jung called it synchronicity. I call it wonderful.

Last year with Theoforos' help, I corresponded with the utterly charming writer/professor/linguist/former Laestadian Bengt Pohjanen. He is the founder of Sirillus, a cultural center in Overkalix, Sweden. A prolific and protean talent, Poijanen has written several several novels and treatments of Laestadius, but alas, they are not yet translated into English. One title is Ropande röst or Huutavan ääni (Shouting Voice).

Shortly after we began our correspondence he wrote: "Your e-mail has started fantastic things. Two days ago a laestadian called me in an quite other affair than my novel, but he told me in the end of our call that he had heard about a laestadian preacher from our area, who hade preached and smoked cigars when Titanic was sinking. I didn't say a word, but I was exited because I have a laestadian preacher on Titanic in my novel. It is the first time when I looked on net for Titanic. I found Mr William Lahtinen, the preacher."

It's a good story. You can read about it here.

Later, Pohjanin wrote: "In my novel Pleasant Devils I have written about a totem that some relatives of mine and boys from Kuivakangas and Sattajärvi took from Haisla-Kitamat. Now I have found the tribe on (the) net. It is uncredible! The boys sold it to Mr Hansson, a Swedish diplomat near this area. This morning I found the facta about my story. I am happy! When a storyteller sees that he told true stories without knowing they were true, then he feels laestadian extasis."

The Haisla were selling t-shirts online to fund their repatration efforts. This was not one of them, but highly recommended for certain readers of this blog. You know who you are.

At FinnFest, I told this story to the Finnish-Canadian composer Ari Lähdekorpi (he wrote the score for the recent documentary Letters from Karelia. (Our conversation happened before I saw him perform in concert, and a good thing, as afterward I would have been stunned into silence by his other-worldly talent on the guitar.) He told me that the totem pole had been returned to the Haisla.

And so it has, just recently. The Swedes assert that the pole was taken via negotiation. The Haisla tell a different story, that it was stolen. A film Totem: The Return of the G'psgolox Pole tells the story of the repatriation project.

How can we get Bengt Pohjanen works in English? Could we importune Börje Vähämäki at Aspasia Books . He did a fine job with Laestadius' "Fragments of Lappish Mythology." If you haven't already, read the great review.

On a side note, I enjoy the pow wows at Discovery Park each summer, especially the grand entry where "united Indians of all tribes" dance in their resplendent costumes, from button blankets to apache feather crowns, with thundering drums and chants swirling among the tall firs and cedars. It is a rousing good time and has always moved me beyond words. I wondered recently if it would be acceptable to don a Sami outfit and enter the circle! To quote the freedom-seeking Lena Lingard in Willa Cather's My Antonia: "I guess that's what's the matter with me; they say Lapp blood will out."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ievan Polkka by Loituma



Hello! For my first post, I'd like to bring a little Finnish fun to the blog. This silly but hypnotizing song is Ievan Polkka, performed by the group Loituma.

I'm a former Laestadian, hailing from a group associated with the Federation but similar in many ways to the OALC. Free has asked me to share my thoughts and experiences with you in our ex-Laestadian community here.