Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Free Traveler Tells Her Story (The Voices Project)

Thanks to Free Traveler for telling her story.  Please consider sharing yours.

I started questioning the church when I started college. Before that, I absorbed everything they told me and didn't ever doubt my faith. I had a very loving family, never really felt oppressed by the "rules," and never had a bad experience like some that I've heard about. I was one of those people who was shocked, horrified, and saddened when I heard of people who left the church. I never imagined that eventually I would become one of those people.

I went to college not far from home, but for the first time was around a lot of liberal thinkers for many hours of the day. Over the course of the next few years, the guy I was dating (also FALC) and I had long discussions about our beliefs, and eventually he decided it wasn't for him. When my family found out, they asked why I was still dating him.

I graduated from college and moved to the city, where I lived and worked for awhile. One weekend, when I went home to visit, I decided I wasn't going to go to church with my family on Sunday, so as they were all getting ready, I sat with my mom and told her that I don't know what I believe, but I knew that if I went to church, it would be just because people expected me to go. I told her that I wanted to figure out if I would go on my own, without peoples' expectations, so in order to do that, I had to first stop going so I could get over that feeling of "have to be there." I have never been very confrontational. This was one of the hardest conversations of my entire life. But I felt very strongly that it was necessary.

A few years later, I was at a personal development workshop that addressed many areas of a person's life, including work, health, money, relationships, and religion/spirituality. For each section, there was a chance for a volunteer to go up on stage and be in the "hot seat" to answer questions from the facilitator about what they would like to change in that area of their life. I volunteered to be in the hot seat for the religion/spirituality portion. (By the way, I have never told anyone about this.) So, with microphone in hand, I told an audience of probably about 100 people about my religious past, all the rules, and my struggles with leaving the church while maintaining a good relationship with my family. It was incredibly empowering. The audience was loving and respectful and in awe at my story. They gave me courage to continue pursuing my path and exploring other possibilities than the FALC.

The path has still been difficult (and I've left out a lot of my story) but it's getting easier, and I'm becoming more comfortable with myself and my decisions to pursue my own spiritual path instead of bowing down to peer pressure and conforming to something I don't believe in.

Feel free to ask questions. I'm happy to talk to you. And it feels really good to have a place to share my story, especially with people who can probably relate to a lot of what I've said. Thanks for being here, everyone.

Free Traveler

Monday, July 22, 2013

Elders' Syndrome and Doubters

I've been hearing from several affected people about a virus in OALC communities called "Elders' Syndrome" coinciding with the visit to the USA of church celebrities elders from Gällivare, Sweden. Symptoms reportedly include:
  • Increase in text messages and calls urging relatives to attend meetings
  • General decrease in TV and music consumption
  • Subtle competition among members for knowledge about, and access to, celebrities elders
  • Decline in OALC children at lakes and swimming pools despite sweltering heat
  • Uptick in pious expressions and use of the word "precious"
  • Rampant repetition of anything sage or amusing said by celebrities elders
  • Numbers of devoted groupies members following the celebrities elders across the country
  • Subtle shifts in what sins are considered important
  • Irrational fear of a "website spreading lies about the precious Christianity"
If you've been affected by any of these symptoms, wait a few months, as they will abate. 

In all seriousness, I am curious about the deference given these gentlemen, and suspect that the elders' meetings are, in addition to social and educational opportunities, a purification rite that helps keep the OALC functioning. This was validated today by a member's comment that she feels "so light and cleansed after the elder's visit, like a really good sauna."

I suspect that they also create an opportunity for doubts, in thinking members, at least, who are likely to turn to the internet for information about the church. In today's New York Times, there's a wonderful story about Hans Mattson, the former leader of the Mormon Church in Europe, who left after his superiors told him not to question the church and not to discuss his doubts, even with his wife. (I'll admit to a moment of schadenfreude that Sweden, which gave us Laestadius in 1800, has to was fertile territory for his American contemporary Joseph Smith, born five years later.)


Mattson: "My hope is that the church will grow larger in acceptance so you are allowed to have doubts . . .  you can go to Joseph Smith and ask, why did he pray? Because he was asking what to do. So he was a doubter, wasn't he? I think that's great. You find answers."


Of course, the same thing can be said of Laestadius. 


He was a doubter. A rebel, in fact.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Link Love

Summertime being what it is (glorious! magical! and much too short here in the Pacific Northwest), I have little time to write, and am taking this chance to refer you to other blogs. My dream is that someday there will be so many sites by Laestadians (current and former) that when the curious go to Google search, they will be overwhelmed by the wealth of information. For every student, a teacher, for every question . . .  another question. Wouldn't that be great? If you are interested in starting a blog and not sure how to begin, send me a note. I'm happy to help. It's easy to blog and doesn't cost a thing but an internet connection and time spent on a keyboard (which in the summer, can be painful). Some recommended reading:
  • Beth, who writes at Imperfect Lady, shared a link to this essay written by John Salveson, a victim of child sex abuse. Having appealed to the church for years without success, he concluded that what he considered a moral issue was considered a risk management issue by church authorities. A telling quote: “Cardinal Bevilacqua was asked repeatedly when he testified before the Grand Jury why he and his aides never reported these crimes to law enforcement. His answer was simply that Pennsylvania law did not require them to.” Salveson refocused his efforts and is now working on changing the law, not the church. I think there are important lessons in his struggles for all of us, not only about where to focus our advocacy but what to do with our frustrations.
  • On his blog, Ed recently shared the experiences of two former LLC members, one who ran into rocky shores visiting current members, and another who did not. How is tolerance of difference related to one's faith or principles? How does it demonstrate compassion?
  • "Blue Sky" is a former FALC member who has a blog called Prioritizing Happiness. Check out her poignant fable about a girl who is told the sky is blue and discovers it is much more. It made me smile, because I was that girl, and am now a rabid admirer of clouds (literally and figuratively). 
"It has slowly dawned on me that the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church follows beliefs that were specifically influenced by the indigenous people of the Far North, the Sami.  The Sami had been in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia since prehistoric times. Sami spirituality was traditionally natural. The gods were in nature: animals and plants had souls, and demons and ghosts were feared. Drums were used to call out ecstasies by the shaman who could make contact with the spirit world. As the Nordic population begins to colonize further north, the ways of the Sami were criminalized. Drums were outlawed and the Sami language was even outlawed in some areas. Land was less available and the Sami were forced to become more nomadic. Taxes were levied on the Sami and oppression of their culture became more intense. The disconnect with the world outside their culture became more pronounced. They needed to band together. They were different from anyone else.
"When Laestadius, the botanist, entered the ministry, he became superintendent of the elementary schools in Lapland. He was married to a Sami women, and was part Sami himself. He spoke different Sami dialects and understood the culture. At first he wasn’t very successful in changing the ways of the pioneer settlers or the Sami with his preaching or his teaching. He was an educated man who knew how to write for the educated elite. My thinking is that he looked at his audience and realized he needed to recraft his message if he was going to effect change.  
"He understood the Sami believed in signs and omens and incorporated them into his teachings. In 1847 he saw a bright light rise into the sky from the steeple of the church in Karesuando and sink to the south. This was "a sign from God" that Laestadius had come to light the fires of heaven in the hearts of the Far North people. A year later one of the churchmembers experienced the first release of sin. She heard God’s voice say “Your sins are forgiven you,” and at the same moment an earthquake was felt. In 1846, Raattammaa saw the devil, but the devil fled when God spoke, saying, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Lastadius' meeting with “Lapp Mary” takes on an almost mystical quality as she changes his heart. Laestadius’ preaching took on a harsh, coarse tone that was directed at drunkenness, adultery, and reindeer theft.  He spoke to the worst fears of his audience. They were used to fearing the underground people who could, at any moment, snatch away a child. They appreciated the danger that lurked. 
"The Sami ecstasies brought out by drums was replaced with the great emotional outburst (liikutuksia) that could last for hours within the Laustadius movement.  It was a comfortable experience for the Sami, something they had experienced for generations in their naturalistic beliefs. The mistrust of their oppressors (the world) was a point Laustadius made clear. The world, with its scholars, lawyers, and dead faith churches, was to be avoided. The message of being poor, simple, lowly, outcasts with no pride in oneself certainly fit into the Sami reality. Having this pointed out to be a positive must have been reassuring. As the movement swept through Finland the poor, simple, lowly peasants were also naturally drawn to the teachings.   
"I have come to the conclusion that the Sami themselves shaped the Laestadian movement, rather than Laestadius leading the way. He crafted a religion that would work for them.  What do you think?"
—LLLReader 

Feel free to comment below on these topics or any other. If I'm slow to respond, please have patience with me. I'll be back soon.

Happy summer!

—Free

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Time for Sunshine

Paris Achen, a reporter at the Columbian newspaper, is working on a story about sex abuse in Clark County, Washington, and would like victims to contact her. Their names and relationships will not be published. She can be contacted at 360-735-4551.

My understanding about what gave rise to this reporter's interest is her surprise at the number of supporters attending a hearing for a child rapist.

They were OALC churchmembers there to support him. Not the victim.

OALC Elders from Gällivare are in Clark County this weekend. Wouldn't it be beneficial if their attention was drawn to the harmful policies in the church regarding sex abuse? Their message to every locality needs to be: support victims, report abusers. If children are indeed a "precious gift," the fruits of that belief should be evident in how each one is nurtured and protected.

There is a sickness in the church that protects abusers.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. It will take more than publicity to stop the cycle of abuse, but this may jumpstart the process.