Sunday, April 27, 2008

Love to Markus

I've been meaning to post this for a week, and now I realize it is hours away from the actual event. But you don't have to be in the Twin Cities, or at the event, to help.

If you don't know Markus, he is a courageous young (age 25) graphic designer who grew up in the LLC. was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (at the time he was without medical insurance), and is now in hospice care. Donations will help defray the costs of his care.


Markus Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction

Sunday, April 27, 2008
4:00 - 8:00 pm

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
8115 Highway Seven
St. Louis Park, MN 55426

Donations can be sent to: Markus Wuollet Cancer Fund, 8944 Norwood Lane N, Maple Grove, MN 55369 Checks can be made payable to "Markus Wuollet Cancer Fund."

Or donate online by going to www.markuswuolletcancerfund.org

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fan Mail

I received this anonymous "fan mail" over at the How to Leave the OALC wiki site.

Message 1: "Just was directed to this by a helpful anon. in 'extoots'. This is extremely helpful, pertinent, and gentle. It has no trace of bitterness or hostility, instead it focuses on the healing aspects of leaving, and the ways one can use it to positivly impact life. A thousand thanks. You have helped more than you can know. : )"

Message 2:
"i want to thank u t's for making up such bullshit about our church. u ppl piss me off so bad. i can't believe such one would make up such horrific shit about this precious christianity when u know how wrong u really are. u ppl make me so sick. maybe u should not write anything else about our church or u might find yourself in serious pain. thanx"

Friday, April 18, 2008

How Young is Too Young?

A former OALC member called to say she felt physically ill watching the news about the polygamist sect in Texas.

"I think the children should be with their mothers," she said. The women on TV, with their plain dresses and upswept hair, remind her of OALC women. She thinks they are probably terrified of "the world" and what it will do to their children. I sympathize, but if the allegations are true (and there is good reason to think they are) these are the same women who are allowing, or actually facilitating, the sexual abuse of their daughters.

Leaving aside the question of polygamy, at what age do you think a child can give consent to marriage?

I know of several teen couples who were advised to marry by the OALC preachers, apparently in order to prevent sex outside of marriage.

In one case a 15-year old girl was urged to marry her teen boyfriend. They had to do so in a different state. Long story short: many children, much strife, a nasty divorce, and many damaged lives.

Are teen marriages less common now in Laestadian circles? I hope so.

This is from a recent article about the sect:

A Houston child psychiatrist testified today in the custody hearing for 416 children from a polygamist sect that the group's sheltered environment makes members more immature than children in the outside world.

Dr. Bruce Perry said the adherence by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to underage marriage and underage sex puts all children at risk.

"I think that young girls — 14, 15, 16 (years) — are not mature enough to consent to a marriage," Perry said, testifying for the state of Texas.

Raised in a highly authoritarian culture, girls grew up believing that marrying early and having multiple children was their only option, Perry said. Boys grew up to perpetuate the abuse. Perry said he found even adults to be much less mature and less capable of making their own decisions.


What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Seeds of Compassion

I have just come home from my alma mater, the university where (as a fearful young woman from the OALC) I was schooled in critical thinking, literature, philosophy, top ramen and rock and roll. Like a fern frond, little by little, my tiny worldview curled open.

Today, much older (as well as happier and healthier), I went back to the University of Washington to be schooled in compassion. With a lucky center seat not far from my teachers, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it was easy to see the affection between these old friends, one in maroon robes and the other in a hot pink cassock. Both are winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, both tireless advocates for peace and justice, both beloved for their warmth and humor.

With Tibet in the news, the presence of the Dalai Lama seemed even more momentous, more historical. I'll tell my kids about this someday, I thought to myself. Then laughed to realize that "someday" would be this afternoon, when the kids got home from school. I had momentarily regressed there on campus, into the young FREE dreaming of her future. That was a hallelujah moment, let me tell you.

My stomach growling (too excited to eat), I hung on every word and bugged my seatmates to repeat what I couldn't hear. This was not a boring lecture but a dynamic discussion, and occasionally there were stutters, awkward pauses, laughter. A moderator posed questions (submitted by students) to the panel. I didn't take notes, but plenty of comments stuck in my memory. I suppose there is nothing quite so awe-inspiring to a former OALCer as an interfaith discussion marked by love and respect.

As I often do at the opera or symphony, I wished I could teleport my relatives to sit beside me for a moment, to give them this experience.

From memory:

The essence of all religions is love, said a student.

Any religion that abstains from showing compassion to the world is not worthy of the name, said a rabbi.

Life is a journey, not a destination. Our responsibility is for the next step, to do the "next right thing," said an evangelical pastor.

Interfaith dialogue makes us all stronger, like a spiritual Olympics . . . we can all aspire to the patience of the Dalai Lama, and the forgiveness of Desmond Tutu, said a Muslim scholar.

As a parent, whom you cry for, your children will also, said a Catholic nun.

To decrease the emotion of anger, increase the opposite emotion, said the Dalai Lama.

We are made for God. Only God can satisfy us. We are all God-carriers, said Desmond Tutu.


After the forum, I learned that Tutu once said: "I give great thanks to God that he has created a Dalai Lama. Do you really think, as some have argued, that God will be saying: 'You know, that guy, the Dalai Lama, is not bad. What a pity he's not a Christian'? I don't think that is the case - because, you see, God is not a Christian."

Tutu headed the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. His clear-eyed approach to forgiveness holds a lesson for us all:

"Forgiveness is not turning a blind eye to wrongs; true reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring healing."

This forum was part of a five-day "Seeds of Compassion" event series. You can watch some of the events via webcast and learn more at the Seeds of Compassion website.

If you had a question for the panel about compassion, what would it be?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Wrestling with God

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to her friend, Val Tarico , who is a former fundamentalist, a psychologist, an author, and a knowledgable, compassionate force of nature. Enjoy this letter by Dr. Tarico:

Recently a fellow traveler asked me how he could explain to his children the changes that he is going through. I realized, as I wrote out some thoughts for him, that I had never shared these same thoughts with my own family members who have grieved and feared for my soul. If they could understand the following, perhaps they might worry less:

One of the most central themes of Judaism and then Christianity is an ongoing hunger, a quest to understand God more deeply and completely. For over 3000 years, our spiritual ancestors have been working hard to figure out answers to life’s most important questions: What is good? What is real (often framed as what is God)? And how can we live in moral community with each other?

Each generation of our ancestors received a package of handed down answers to these questions. This package contained the very best answers their ancestors had to these questions. But those answers were always imperfect. They had bits of timeless wisdom and insights, but they also had bits of culture and superstition that had somehow gotten God’s name on them. In order to grow, our ancestors took these received traditions and asked: What here is mere human construction, what is superstition, and what are my very best judgments about the divine realities that lie beyond the human piece?

The first Hebrew scholars, the writers of the Torah or Pentateuch did this. They sifted through the earlier religions of the Akkadians and Sumerians. They kept parts (some of which are in the Bible to this day), and other parts they discarded as mere culture, superstition or even idolatry.


In the New Testament, the same thing happened. In the gospels, Jesus says that the Law has become an idol in itself. What is an idol? An idol is a something man-made, something that seeks to represent or articulate god-ness and thus to provide a glimpse of that Ultimate Reality. But then, the object itself gets given the attributes of divinity: perfection and completeness, and it becomes the object of absolute devotion.

Instead of simply accepting the old package of answers, the writers of the gospels offered a new understanding of God and goodness. They didn’t throw away everything; in fact they kept quite a bit from the earlier Hebrew religion and from the religions that surrounded them. But they took responsibility to sort through it. They gathered the pieces that that seemed truly wise and sacred to them, and they told a new story about our relationship to God and to each other.

During the Protestant Reformation this process happened again in a very big way. Even thought Martin Luther and John Calvin had some horrible bigoted and violent ideas, in their own context, they genuinely were trying to cleanse Christianity of what they saw as accumulated superstitions, things like worshiping saints and relics, paying indulgences, the absolute authority of the Pope, and the church putting God’s name on the political structure that kept kings and nobles at the top with other people serving them. They scraped away these superstitions, until they got back to a set of religious agreements that had been made a long time before, in the 4th Century when the church decided what writings would go in the Bible and what the creeds would be. Then they stopped there, thinking they had found the most true understanding of God.

But inquiry continued both outside of Christianity and inside. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, scientific learning mushroomed with discoveries in fields as diverse as linguistics, anthropology, psychiatry, physics, and biology. By the beginning of the 20th century, with all this new information about ourselves and the world around us, many Christian theologians said, “We need to rethink our understanding of the Bible, Jesus, and the Christian faith.” A new phase of Reformation was born. This generation decided that they should examine every bit of Christianity for signs of human fingerprints. They went way back and opened up even the agreements that had been made by those Church councils of the 4th century. the ones who decided what would be in the Bible. They even began looking at other religions with new eyes and seeing bits of wisdom there.

When this happened, some people fought back in defense of the fundamental doctrines that had dominated Christianity for almost 1500 years, the doctrines that are laid out in the creeds: one god in three persons, original sin and universal sin, the virgin birth, the unique divinity of Jesus, cleansing of sin through blood sacrifice, salvation through right belief, a literal resurrection, a literal heaven and hell. A series of pamphlets entitled "The Fundamentals" said that these beliefs were absolute and off limits to questions. From the title of these pamphlets we get the word "fundamentalism." The fundamentalists said, “If you don’t believe these things, then you can’t call yourself a Christian and besides you are going to hell.” They said that their kind of Christianity was the most true because it was the closest to the religion of our ancestors.

I used to think that, too. But now I think I was mistaken. By trying to keep the same beliefs as our ancestors, fundamentalism forced me to betray the very heart of Christianity: the quest to better know and serve a God who is Love and Truth. To keep the traditional beliefs of our ancestors we have to abandon their tradition of spiritual inquiry, of “wrestling with God.” We can accept their answers or we can accept their quest, but we cannot accept both

Now I affirm that the best way to honor the Christian tradition, to honor the writers of the Pentateuch, and the writers of the gospels and the reformers—and ultimately to honor the Ground of Love and Truth-- is to do as they have done. We need to take the set of teachings they handed down to us, their very best efforts to answer life’s most important questions. Then, just like them, we need to continue examining those answers in light of what we know about ourselves and the world around us. For each of us this is a sacred responsibility and a sacred gift, the gift and responsibility of spiritual growth.

It might seem like I have abandoned the path I was on, to love and serve God. But I haven’t. I am still on that very same path, only my understanding of God has grown deeper and wider. That is why the songs and preaching and churches that used to fit for me don’t fit any more. And, in fact, even the word “God” seems terribly humanoid and limiting as a term for the astounding Reality that spiritual and scientific inquiry allow us to glimpse.

I am sorry that my changes have been hurtful and confusing. For a long time, I have known that the answers I had were not quite right. But I didn’t really know how to explain this whole process or how to articulate a better set of answers, so mostly what I talked about was the flaws in the old way of thinking. Now that I have a little better understanding of the journey, I wanted to express that understanding to you who have been upset or worried for me.