Thursday, December 23, 2004

An Exmember's Lament

Above is a link to a some new comments under the Levity Ahead topic. (Readers, please post under the latest topic if you want others to see your post. Don't worry about being off-topic . . .talk about anything you want.)

I just started "The God We Never Knew" by Marcus Borg, a writer recommended by my pastor. So far, so good. Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Cardamom and Tchaikovsky

This week I baked pulla using some ground cardamom that must be, um, 15 or 20 years old. Oops. It gave no flavor whatsoever. I gave the bland pulla to my husband to bring to work (his coworkers will eat just about anything) and vowed to use pods next time. My mother knew a Finnish woman who would crush the pods and blow away the chaff in her hand. Charming.

A cardamom memory: I was 9 or 10 and couldn't sleep one night. My dad was awake, too, and made me some hot cinnamon milk "just like his mom used to do." In the morning, mom asked why the cardamom was out on the counter. We had a good laugh.

Did you know that cardamom is a mild stimulant? I wonder if coffee and cardamom are effective against Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Today is the shortest day of the year, so the light is returning, bit by bit. Happy advent.

I hope you, dear readers, are enjoying the sacred and secular delights of the holidays. Today our four-year old and I are going to the Nutcracker ballet, with its delightful sets by Maurice Sendak. Not long after I left the OALC, a wonderful woman for whom I was babysitting introduced me to her Christmas traditions. The Nutcracker was one of them, and I am eternally grateful.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Flowers, Paintings and Pants

These intriquing comments, posted at http://lefttheoalc.blogspot.com, are from a member of the Finnish church:

"It is true that there are some dissensions here, in some localities the situation is actually quite distressing. There is disagreement about the position of the so-called Elders of the Swedish Lapland (supreme authority or not) and certain practical things in a Christian's everyday life. There has been also some disagreement about the doctrine of baptism (regeneration or not) and about the communion (is the communion in the Lutheran state church according to the new service books OK or not). And there is also disagreement about whether there is salvation outside of the Firstborn Laestadian/Old Apostolic Lutheran system."

"The things I was referring to as practical things in everyday life is probably what you meant when you asked about the different things that are taught to be sin. I'm not using the word "sin" here because you often hear people say that "it is inappropriate" or "it has been preached against", without actually saying that it is directly sin."

"The practical things that there is disagreement about include, among others, the following things: music (listening to music, playing instruments, singing in choirs), flowers (is it ok to have flowers at home and church), art (is it ok to hang paintings on the walls), women wearing pants (e.g. is it ok for girls to come to young people's gatherings at the church wearing pants), tv (is it ok to have tv in your home), watching movies (is it ok to watch movies at home or at a movie theater), Christmas tree, scarves, hairstyles. You name it... "

"I think the vast majority of the Firstborn Laestadians in Finland accept musical instruments, listening to hymns, singing in choirs (by the way, just a couple of weeks there was a concert of a Firstborn Laestadian choir with hundreds of Laestadians and even some preachers in the audience), flowers, paintings and pants, while tv and movies may not be as widely accepted, but many people do that too. Most people have no problems with a Christmas tree if you have it in front of your house (even many preachers have it), but it is not so common to take it inside the house."

I've read the "sin lists" somebody wrote either on this blog or some other blog, and I was actually amazed by some of the "sins" because I never heard about them before. I think some of the mentioned things are local and might not be considered bad everywhere in America either. There is some local variation in Europe, too.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Dead Faith

Thank you, exoalc, for your informed comments. I found this by googling "laestadius dead faith" . . .

Melvin Riutta
The Daily Mining Gazette 4.9.2001.
Church hostages?
To the editor:
The Apostolic Lutherans and all the other churches of the Laestadian movement, regardless of which faction, teach it was their ancestors who brought true Christianity to America in the 1870s.
And now it is their church alone that has the power and authority given from God to proclaim sins forgiven, and all other churches are of dead faith! This teaching distorts the very nature of God and manages to poison relationships and divide families. This is evidenced by the more than 30 feuding factions that make up the Apostolic Lutheran Laestadian movement today.

Woohoo

Yesterday the children and I were shopping for fleece at Fred Meyer (for the homeless men and women who use our church as a shelter) and we ran into Pastor Carol, who was doing the same thing. The kids, who had been restless and whining for a treat or toy, perked up. They adore Pastor Carol and wanted to chat.

Looking at their happy faces, I had a woohoo! moment. The contrast between my childhood and theirs stuns me.

As a child, did I babble with happiness when I saw a preacher? Not likely.

Was the preacher ever a woman? Ha.

Did I participate in helping the poor? Never.

The poor, if mentioned at all, were dismissed as lazy -- or cursed. Charity was a hand-out, and good works were ridiculed as the futile attempts of the faithless. Christians were obligated to give only to Christians.

WHAT? It takes a very selective reading of Scripture to elevate buns over alms, but the OALC manages it. Next time you drive by an OALC church, check out the parking lot. Row upon row of shiny new SUV's. Those are the toys of children who have been poorly instructed on the use of their mites. Am I wrong?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Lutheran Christmas Tree

I've never understood the OALC ban on Christmas trees. So it amused me to read recently that is was Luther (according to legend) who brought us the lighted Christmas tree.

"Luther was returning home one wintry night when he saw the stars twinkling in the sky through the tree branches. Luther was amazed by the sight, and when he arrived home, he was eager to tell his family about it. To help them understand, he went to the woods and cut down a small fir tree. Luther brought it indoors and decorated it with candles, which represented the stars he had seen."

Annual Visitation

The family visit went just as predicted. Well, almost. We decided to take advantage of a promotion at the Heathman Lodge so the kids could swim. Located near the Vancouver Mall, the Lodge is a suburban version of the rustic Quinault Lodge, which has the enormous advantage of being on Lake Quinault. Setting aside, all was excellent -- great food, comfy beds, nice pool -- until three in the morning. That's when the painfully loud bleating of the hotel's fire alarm propelled us out of bed and into the dark and damp. Fortunately there was no fire and we were soon back in bed. The next day, the Heathman not only gave us a refund, but breakfast and another night's stay. (We'll most certainly be back.)

I really enjoyed seeing my clan again. Many familiar faces, a few new ones. (Next year I will insist on name tags.) While our children are used to "passing the peace" in church, they were suddenly bashful and tried to hide in our shoulders. It wasn't long before they ran off to play, however. Ensconced at the dining room table, eating familiar food, surrounded by familiar faces, I felt such affection for my family. Watching their aged faces, hearing their wry comments, I felt a sense of time, gently sweeping us all along, carrying us away from each other and back again. All these different personalities and vocations and ideas, but we share in common a love of family.

After dinner my husband brought out the pinata we'd stuffed earlier at the hotel. In order of height, the children took turns whacking the paper star with a croquet mallet, which broke in two, to the delight of the little tough holding it. Eventually the goodies poured out and there was enough for everyone -- bubbles, toy cars, plastic sunglasses, bouncy balls, whoopie cushions, balloons, play-dough, markers. The children were SO well-behaved. Perhaps too well-behaved! Earlier, conversing with a group of girls upstairs (while our daughter jumped on the bed and sang about princesses), I was struck by how STILL they were, how demure, how alert. It was like pulling teeth to get someone, anyone, to say what she wanted for Christmas. Well, I was that way as a girl, too. Very self-conscious. May our daughter escape that burden even if (sigh) it is inconvenient for me. Jump away! Chatter away! Be silly and free!

Soon it was time to go. We were due at a local restaurant to celebrate a "wordly" nephew's birthday. It was an opportune moment -- the hymnals and scarves had not yet appeared. But I wished I could stay and sing, and catch up with each brother on their latest news. I hadn't learned the names of the all the new babies. I wanted the recipe of the pink jello salad that our daughter was lapping up. But we were running late, and although I was momentarily tempted to say individual goodbyes, in the OALC tradition (which can take a v-e-r-y long time), I sufficed with a few embraces and a Merry Christmas to all. "See you next year," I said.

Later at the restaurant, I was amused by the differences between the celebrations. Not as many as you'd think. Both featured babies, food and small talk. However, at the "worldly" one, we went on to discuss religion and politics and history and travel, moving easily from one to the other without fear of judgment or need for consensus. Oh, and there were other races present. Maybe those are pretty big differences?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Real Women Wear Pants!

This weekend we'll be driving south to attend a Christmas gathering with my OALC relatives. There'll be lots of small talk, loads of carbs, sweet new babies to cuddle, a few verses of Matthew and a couple of carols (sung at a pace that would surely disconcert their composers).

The little tikes will stare at us like the oddities we are, but we'll have a pleasant time and eat way more than we should. At least one little girl will say "why are you wearing earrings?" The children will adore their cousins and their aunties -- even the ones they haven't met, because there is something familiar in the shape of their brow or the smell of their skin.

Soon it will be time to go, and our relatives will encourage us to visit again, ANY time (it is understood that they "don't like the city" so they can't reciprocate). Then we'll leave in the dark and the kids will sleep on the way home, and we'll marvel at all the family resemblances, and I'll feel a little sad and a great deal relieved, that I have found my way.

Oh, my sister called to ask what I planned to wear. Sweater and pants, I suggested.

She laughed, and I remembered: pants not okay! Well, I love to wear dresses and heels, and dress up regularly for church and the opera and whatnot, but give me a break. There isn't anything Biblical (or practical) about pantyhose in December.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Happy Advent

Last week the children made Advent wreaths: wood rings adorned with pinecones and four white candles for the four Sundays of Advent. They are thrilled to begin the holidays and I become like a child again, seeing the wonder and beauty of the season through their eyes.

What are your memories of Christmas in the OALC?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

You Don't Love God If You Don't Love Your Neighbor

Happy Thanksgiving. You can listen to this song, sung by Rhonda Vincent on Prairie Home Companion, by going to their archives via the link above.

There are many people who will say they're Christians
and they live like Christians on the Sabbath day
but come Monday morning til the coming Sunday,
they will fight their neighbor all along the way.

CHORUS:
Oh, you don't love God if you don't love your neighbor
if you gossip about him, if you never have mercy
if he gets into trouble and you don't try to help him
then you don't love your neighbor, and you don't love God

In the Holy Bible in the book of Matthew,
read the 18th chapter and the 21st verse
Jesus plainly tells us that we must have mercy,
there's a special wording in the 35th verse. (CHORUS)

There''s a God Almighty, and you've got to love Him
if you want salvation and a home above
if you say you love him while you hate your neighbor
then you don't have religion, you just toe the line. (CHORUS)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Virtues of Sin

I've provided a link above to a social analysis of Laestadianism by a Swedish academic. Sometimes the translation is a bit clumsy.

Some of the more interesting observations:

The emphasis of sin as omnipresent, and the strong emotional charge can cause collective discharge of great dimensions. In those cases sin almost gets an aura of virtue. In the moment of the emotional outburst one can forget all the problems of everyday life and conventions. One can reach a kind of social or religious intoxication which at once solves all the problems. Strong emotional ties are so formed among the followers. However, the followers are not led to an individualistic Christianity . . .

In the conflicts within Laestadianism the issue becomes how to justify and defend one's position. The debating Laestadians look for justification in tradition. The ones who consider themselves representatives of the original form, also think that they have thus proven their genuineness . . . the believing man is not supposed to wear a tie, and the believing woman is required to wear a head scarf . . . traditional clothes have thus been given symbolic value for religion, and made part of the religious tradition.

Monday, November 22, 2004

One Reader's Journey

A kind reader has allowed me to excerpt some of her writing here, with the hope of helping others. This is the story of her journey.

"My questions actually started . . . in my teens. At that time I guess I just didn’t have the maturity to understand my questions. I thought I was just being rebellious or not having faith. I don’t know that I ever really believed (in my adulthood) that the Apostolic Church was the only true body of Christ. The more I read the Bible the more it had been revealed to me that my path as a Christian was not (in that church)."

"I think the reason I stayed so long was mainly, not wanting to cause sorrow or worry. It was also very hard to leave the culture that I loved. I knew if I left the church I would also lose my cultural connection. There is also the pain of knowing that many people who I love would no longer consider me a Christian. That is a painful and lonely path to follow. But a far more painful path for me was to ignore the Holy Spirit speaking to me and revealing truths to me."

"I felt like I was starving for God’s word and wasn’t getting it . . . I needed truth from the Bible preached to me. I have always clung to a passage . . . in John or Romans . . . that we need to hold what we hear up to the test of the Bible. What I was hearing was only partially passing the test."

"The forgiveness of sins is available to all who believe and call His name. Nothing of our own works will save us “lest we should boast”. So my asking (others) for forgiveness will not save me, because that would require something on my part (or theirs). Only my faith in Christ and going to Him can save me. The forgiveness of sins is the confirmation of what He has already done. Otherwise, if it was required that I go to some other and ask my sins to be forgiven, that is saying that we can do better or add to what He already did on the cross. Since Jesus is the ONLY way to our Father and salvation then this cannot be so. Now though the declaring of the forgiveness of sins is a very wonderful and blessed gift, it is not what saves. Christ dying and my accepting (and believing) are all that will save me. My confessions I can make to God in my prayers or if I choose I can confess to another."

"So how can one be only saved in this one church? How can all others who teach that Christ died for all man’s sin, and all must believe and turn to Him be wrong? I agree that there are many false doctrines out there. There are many dead and lost churches that are trying to be so inclusive as not to offend anyone. I’ve visited many of these churches and put them to the test of the Bible."

"I never got a “yes” from God at any of the local churches I tried until I visited C___ Lutheran Church in S___. This was the first service I had been to for many years that I felt the Holy Spirit move me. I decided to stay and visit for a while. I’ve now been going there for over a year and have become a member."

"I’ve found peace, Biblical truth, and a living congregation. It is so hard to try to explain to you or others what the difference is. I’m more than willing to discuss it but now only with those that let me know they wish to have this discussion with me. I have no desire to insinuate my beliefs on those that think I can no longer possibly attain salvation since I no longer declare myself an Apostolic Lutheran. I don’t wish to negate anyone’s beliefs but I do know that I have been led to my new church and awareness. And no, I don’t believe that it is the only “right” church. It is the church where my Heavenly Father has told me He wants me."

"I guess I only feel that I need to be open and honest . . . I feel no shame, doubt or regret, only sorrow caused by the judgment of others.

"I’m just so thankful that I have been led to a place where I can worship. Some things are very strange to me. After going to a church for all of one's life, the way a service is run can be strange and foreign in another church. I had to learn that cultural rituals don’t matter. Only that what is spoken is Biblically true and pure. That the beliefs of man are not spoken as Word. That everything taught to us can be proven true by the Word He has left us."

Literature

Thank you, readers, for your comments, emails, personal stories, and OALC-related links. Oy, so much to read. But that's my passion. I studied literature in college just so I could read more books, and credit my tv-free childhood for propelling me there. (From cereal boxes to Reader's Digest Condensed Books, I read because there was nothing else to do.)

Yesterday after church we took the kids to a Yulefest, which turned out to be a clamorous three-story craft fair, with kringle, ebelskiver, accordions -- and a lot of pale people in claustrophobically tight quarters. But among the knitted whatnots, I found some Nordic books, including one on shamanism among the Sami. That should be interesting.

If anyone knows of other books featuring Laestadius or Laestadians, please let me know.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Holy Rolling Laestadians

In an OALC church service, the trained ear can detect the onset of "the movement" in an increasing gravity and humility in the preacher's voice. At last he repents, and some folks move toward the altar while others stand and reach for each other, and others look at their shoes, and still others (you know who you are) sneak out for a smoke or a chat. It wasn't always this, well, orderly. Read on:

"An especially salient feature of Laestadianism came to be the experience of ‘being moved’ (liikutus). It was these spontaneous and uncontrolled expressions of emotion that non-Laestadians most opposed in this movement. The liikutukset could take place during the sermon, singing of hymns, or, especially, the Eucharist . . . .Sorrow and grief were due to feelings of sinfulness that were so overwhelming that people were unable to talk, pray, cry, or even sigh; they felt as though they were suffocating and could only let out some unarticulated sounds of despair, feeling that they were going to die. As the preachers then powerfully proclaimed that all sins were forgiven in the name and blood of Jesus Christ, this resulted in such relief that it made people hop and jump and cry out loud . . . "

"The liikutukset were manifested most importantly in the form of sounds. They were preceded by heavy breathing and sighing. . . In a liikutus people sobbed, moaned, wailed, wept, howled, or sighed, hollered, bellowed, and cried out of pain of or of joy. Also laughing, hiccupping, and imitations of animal voices are know as signs of liikutus. Secondly, various bodily motions, such as clapping of hands, stomping of feet, and jumping and swinging around, are usual manifestations of a liikutus. Some even jumped on the table or bench, starting to dance or leap. Some were shaking, convulsing, and waving their hands; especially in the liikutukset of sorrow people could even fall to the ground. Liikutukset could set on all of a sudden, without any preceding signs, and people’s ability to control them varied both individually and according to the situation."

(Click on title for more from this scholar.)

A Happy Childhood

Dharma writes (under the topic Abuse) ". . . it is very likely some of us played together as young kids at church. I have been hoping someone else would stand up and be heard. I was also molested by a cousin in the church. When I finally told, NOTHING was done . . . . it was swept under the rug . . . I am so relieved to find others who have left and started over. Hope to hear from you soon."

Welcome, Dharma. It is never too late to have a happy childhood, as Tom Robbins said.

I'm happy you found us. What would you like to talk about?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Something About Mary

I've been musing about Mary. Did you know that Lapp Mary, the woman through whom Laestadius found enlightenment, was actually named Milla? He met her in a parish in Asele, Sweden when he was 44 years old (and the father of 15 children with his wife Britta). Milla was 31, unmarried, a Sami, a Lutheran, a member of the Readers (devoted to self-study of the Bible), and passionately spiritual.

Why did he call her Mary? Did he wish to evoke Mary, mother of Jesus? Or was this skilled mythographer attempting to draw on something even older and more meaningful to the pagan Sami: the power of the feminine divine. If so, it would not be the only way in which Laestadius incorporated Sami traditions into his new religion.

In the history of humanity, goddess worship is the very earliest, symbolized in the Venus of Willendorf around 3,000 BCE. Later, she was revered as Inanna in ancient Sumeria, Ishtar in Babylon, Anat in Canaan, Isis in Egypt and Aphrodite in Greece. According to Joseph Campbell, remarkably similar stories of the sacred feminine are common to all cultures. For the ancients, The Great Mother was the Earth, growth, fertility, death and regeneration, and experienced in the flowers and trees, moon and ocean, cycles of life and nature. She was life itself.

Even as monotheism and patriarchal religions gained sway (often at the point of a spear), goddesses like Ashera, Ishtar or Anat retained a great following among the Israelites, particularly among women. (See Jeremiah 44:15-19). With Christianity came a retelling of an ancient tale of the goddess and her divine child who is sacrificed and reborn. As Hans Kung wrote in "On Being a Christian," the Virgin Birth is a "collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary" narratives. Yet it has a power, metaphorically, that cannot be overestimated.

We are so immersed in the patriarchy of the Judeo-Christian tradition that it is difficult to imagine a worldview in which the divine was feminine. But for the Sami, whom Laestadius worked so diligently to convert, goddesses were natural and their names familiar: the mother Mátaráhkka with her daughters Sáráhká, Uksáhkka and Juksáhkka, who took care of the family and guarded the home.

No doubt for many Sami, even those already converted to Christianity, the demands of Laestadius were severe. They were compelled to give up goddesses, shamans, drums, joiking (singing), dancing, unmarried sex and whiskey. However, he allowed them a vestige of their ecstatic trances in "the movement" of repentance, and in the gift of Lapp Mary, a new kind of shaman or spirit guide, pointing not only to the Virgin but beyond, beneath, behind, to the eternal feminine.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Birthdays and Martin Luther Quotes

Our daughter wants a "teddy bear tea party" for her fourth birthday, and as we chat about cake and balloons and party games (pin the tail on the donkey, drop the clothespin in the jar, musical chairs), I'm reminded of Jane Austen's line "the anticipation of happiness is happiness itself." But on a parallel track, I'm trying to remember why the OALC is against birthday parties . . . or was that just my family's quirk?

Perhaps parties are considered too lightminded. More so than, say, bowling, smoking or snowmobiling?

Last week it was the birthday of Martin Luther, who happened to enjoy bowling, chess, lute-playing and um, getting drunk. That's right. Interesting guy. Can't imagine that he and Laestadius would have hit it off. (Click on title above for PBS special on Luther.)

Some Luther quotes:

"If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there."
"Some (preachers) plague the people with too long sermons; for the faculty of listening is a tender thing, and soon becomes weary and satiated. "
"Who loves not women, wine and song remains a fool his whole life long."
"My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary."
"God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Write to Evald Larsen

Anonymous below wrote:
"I certainly understand why a face to face meeting with Elder Larsen isn't in your plans for the weekend . . . but if you don't make contact with the Elder, it may seem to the preacher you spoke to that you backed down from the challenge because you weren't confident enough about what you were saying to go "as high" as the Elders with your comments. Give Larsen the truth!!!"

Let's do this together, readers. Post your personal letters to Larsen as comments below and I will print them out and FedEx the package so he gets it Saturday.

Perhaps together we can make a difference.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A Phone Call to the OALC

This site is averaging 53 visits a day, with the average visit lasting five minutes, 40 seconds. When I started this, I didn't know where it would go or why I felt called to do it, but it seems to be finding an audience, and I hope it helps where help is needed.

The recent posts about abuse were upsetting to me. Thinking of the kids who are suffering, I felt a call to action. Last night, I sat outside the house in my car and summoned up some courage and called an OALC preacher on my cell phone.

If it took him by surprise, he didn't show it. We traded small talk and then I told him about my blog and expressed my concerns over how the OALC is handling child abuse (in addition to the posts here, I've received emails and phone calls from ex-members about their experiences).

He asked for names. (Of course, I gave none.) He suggested some people make "false accusations." He decried the use of the internet to spread lies, and said people should go directly to the preachers with their concerns and added "there are bitter people out there."

When I told him that it was his moral and legal responsibility to tell victims to report abuse to the authorities, he reassured me that "the preachers know the law." He continued: "we can only pray that God's will be done" (is this a defense of passivity?), and that abuse is a "terrible, terrible sin" and that some people even go to jail for it (Catholics, maybe).

I suggested he help protect the children in his church by preaching about the issue, by telling them that they can say no to adults and that they can report abuse without being ashamed. I said abusers should be prosecuted and given psychiatric help, not simply allowed to repent and forget, and reoffend.

Did he hear me? Did he stop listening three seconds into the conversation? I don't know. There was some commotion in the background, perhaps he was double-tasking. He suggested I come visit with Elder Evald Larsen and another preacher this weekend and I demurred and we rang off.

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, as they say. Readers, did I do the right thing?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Abuse in the OALC

This is from a post on pasty.com in a discussion about the OALC:
"In this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, many abuses take place. From spouse to spouse, parent to child, child to child and from leaders to congregation. The average person in this group deals with at least one source of abuse, some suffer many. I know, I was one of them, and I know so very many more who cry silently for help from somewhere, and because of the exclusivity in this group, no outside counciling or intervention is allowed the church members. Many of the older people in this church know what is happening, but claim that all answers are found "in this Living Christianity"."

This is an incendiary topic and I implore you to remain calm, refrain from personal attacks and consider what the OALC could do to improve its handling of this issue.

Obviously, abuse is a global problem, not just the OALC's. But certain conditions can make it more likely to occur and harder to prevent. (I'm talking about physical abuse here and I know of what I speak. So don't say it isn't happening.) Are church leaders obstructing justice when they ask victims not to report abusers to the authorities? Are they putting the victims at risk for further abuse? Are victims believed when they report abuse? Are victims afraid of reporting because they are afraid of being blamed? What role does gossip play in keeping people mute? Are wives expected to be subservient to their mates? How are children in large families supervised? How are they taught to respect boundaries?

Benjamin Franklin said: As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A Few Rules, A Poem

Caveat emptor: this blog is not a place for personal attacks, vulgarity or unreasoned rants. (Reasonable rants are just fine.)
Don't be one of those about whom Ben Franklin said: ""Many have quarreled about religion that never practiced it." I will delete anything determined to be outside the bounds, because it's my blog and I get to do that.

Also, if you'd like to post a message, it is more likely to be read under the most recent topic (don't worry if it doesn't relate). You can choose to post anonymously.

Now for a some relief from meaness and politics, one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Faith or Fanaticism?

As we near November 2nd, it is hard to think of anything but the election and what it will bring to our country and the world. This weekend I've been chasing the kids, puttering at my computer, sewing Halloween costumes and taking frequent detours to read the news. I just found this article, by Arianna Huffington, (click title) that expresses my own frustration with political and religious zealotry.

Excerpt:
", , , great thinkers throughout history have extolled the virtues of doubt. As Paul Tillich put it: "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith." But not in the Bush White House, where doubters are treated as traitors, and inconvenient facts are the work of the Devil — because facts can lead to questioning, and questioning undermines faith. And that would be blasphemy in an Oval Office where unbending resolve has become a holy sacrament."

"What the president calls faith is actually nothing of the sort. It is fanaticism, pure and simple. The defining trait of the fanatic is an utter refusal to allow anything as piddling as evidence to get in the way of an unshakable belief."

Hmmm. Try re-reading above excerpt, substituting OALC for Bush. Does it work?

On Tuesday, my own faith-based initiative is to vote for Kerry. I trust someone who is willing to change his mind, and his actions, based on new knowledge.

You can disagree with me, cancel my vote, unbookmark my blog. it's a free country. So far.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Mr. Laestadius


Laestadius
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
This is the engraving I saw at the Nordic Heritage Museum. Soulful eyes, doncha think?

Click on the title above to get more info about the man.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Do Laestadians Love Sects?

At age 15, I went to confirmation classes in the OALC. Granted, I was paying more attention to boys than to my uncles who taught the class, but I don't remember any history lessons. If I thought about Laestadius at all, I suppose I considered him to have existed "back then" -- WAY back then, in Biblical days. Years later I was surprised to discover, in an exhibit in Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum, a likeness of Lars Levi Laestadius with a long face and high collar, a postilla and a placard identifying him as a botanist and leader of a Finnish religious sect. Wow. There are many times in my life when I've realized how little I know about a subject, and that was an important one.

Thank you to the reader who posted the Laestadius links (click on title above to go that informative site).

And just for fun, here are some of LLL's contemporaries, born between 1800 and 1810.

Brigham Young
Victor Hugo
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Robert E. Lee
Charles Darwin
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Edgar Allan Poe
P.T. Barnum

Thursday, October 21, 2004

OALC Elders

The elders are the leaders of the OALC from Finland and Sweden. They make occasional visits to the United States for "Elders' Meetings." How do elders become elders? Unlike many Christian sects, the preachers in the OALC do not learn Greek or Hebrew, or formally study Scripture or pastoral counseling (although Laestadius did as an ordained Lutheran pastor). They are all men, it goes without saying. Apparently young men are given test-runs during gatherings, where they are asked to speak about points of OALC doctrine. I don't know of any preachers with college educations. I've been told it is different in Sweden and Finland, where the OALC is still under the Lutheran Church. Can anyone lend some light to this subject?
OALC Elders
Gunnar Jonsson, Johan Stockel, Isak Niku, Frans Parakka, Isak Kuoksu, K.R. Erlandsson, Viktor Bjorkman, William Erickson

Sunday, October 17, 2004

You Say Tomato, I say Tamata

Thank you, dear readers, for the interesting and civil exchange of comments about whether the OALC is a cult. Personally, I don't think labeling gets us very far. Like calling someone liberal or conservative: convenient, perhaps, but not very revealing. It says more about the labeler than the labelee.

I looked around online and found a checklist that seems useful. It indicates that the OALC is NOT a cult, but has a lot of characteristics in common with one. Please feel free to disagree. Exercise your civil liberties!

1. The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment. (No, Laestadius died in 1861.)

2. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. (No.)

3. The group is preoccupied with making money. (Ha! Some more than others.)

4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. (Yes.)

5. Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader. (Not to my knowledge, unless you count sitting through a sermon.)

6. The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act and feel. (Yes.)

7. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members. (No doubt about it.)

8. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality which causes conflict with the wider society. (Yes.)

9. The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities. (Hmm. Do preachers report illegal activities to authorities?)

10. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group. (Depends on what you consider unethical, I suppose. Is shunning ethical? Is racial discrimination in hiring ethical?)

11. The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them. (Yes.)

12. Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group. (Yes.)

13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group. (Depends on what you call inordinate, I suppose.)

14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members (Yes.)

Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Little Tolerance Goes a Long Way

Guess what? I get to see my mom on Monday. An OALC sister-in-law has offered to drive north for 90 minutes if I drive south for 90 minutes so we can all meet at a roadside restaurant for lunch. Our oldest child will have to miss some school but he's okay with that :).

I'm very excited. But those of you exers will know what I mean about the offense-check I'm doing right now: short hair, earrings, imported car, Kerry sticker, all bound to offend. Because I love her dearly and want her to enjoy our visit, I'll watch my tongue closely. But how do you keep children from talking about their dance classes and favorite music and gymnastics lessons and what they made in Sunday School last week? No. They get to be their bright beautiful selves, and if they get shut down, I'm afraid it is going to be a very short lunch. Wish me luck.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Warning: Levity Ahead

So St. Peter is letting the souls into heaven, and a guy walks up to the gates. Per standard procedure, St. Peter asks him his religion. Catholic, says the guy. So St. Peter tells him to go to room 15 but he has to be very quiet when passing room 11. Soon another man walks up and St. Peter asks him his religion. This man replies Methodist. So St. Peter directs him to room 20. And once again he tells him to be quiet when passing room 11. Then a woman walks up to St. Peter. Having overheard what was said to the last two applicants, she asks him why they had to be quiet while passing room 11.

St. Peter replied "Well it's like this. Room 11 is reserved by the Laestadians, and they think that they are the only ones here."

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Cut and Pasty.com

This is a post from www.pasty.com by "Exodus member, Wa" on Monday, May 5, 2003 - 11:08 pm:By Exodus member, Wa. on Monday, May 5, 2003 - 11:08 pm:

"As a recovering OALC member, I can assure you that the members of this "church" believe that they are rightous before God, and that they and fellow church members who have "living faith", are going to be the only people in heaven. They feel free to exclude any and all peoples based upon the doctrine of their church.(This exclusion can be based upon heridity, prior church attendance, education level and the most horrifying- Skin color).

"This doctrine as was stated previously by Unworthy, has taken the word of God, and twisted it to meet the needs of the church men and women. Ask any member of this group why they belive what they do? They can't answer this question for many reasons.

"1. They don't know the word of God themselves- it has been preached in the church that it is actually a sin to pick up your Bible any try to read it for yourself- because God can only really talk to/through the preachers.

"2. They have replaced the importance of God's word, with the sermons of a man, Lars Levi Laestadius, who preached in Europe, long ago. The sermons have been compiled into books, or "Postulas", and the majority of any church service is spent reading these sermons and commenting/teaching alongside of the sermon just read. Unworthy mentioned that God does not want man to plan what he is going to say in his sermon, because it is not truly from God when it is planned out. What about the sermon reading of L.L.Laestadius? When an actual Bible verse is read, it is one of the same 20 or so places that all of the preachers choose, when they are called upon to speak. I once asked why the whole Bible is not studied and the reply was that these places are understood best, and it is good to stay with something that is familiar.

"3. The OALC church has taught, throughout the many years I was in the church, that seminary/college is a sin, and that when you go to these places, satan takes over your mind, and you will loose your simple belief in the" True and Living Christianity". To apply any advanced knowledge to reading/studying the Bible is a Heresy in the OALC church. Undoubtly, knowledge can be sought for it's own sake, but, this church assumes all knowledge is detrimental. The children are not encouragedd to plan for college, and it is a very small percentage of the population who goes on to any post-high-school training of any sort. Many of the young people don't even finish high-school, as they are eager to begin making money, so they can move out from home and get married. Many of my friends and family from that church, were married before the age of 18. The church encourages early marriges, rather than having the kids sin.

"4. When you as a church member begin to evaluate what your personal views on any subject may be, you have to be very careful to/with whom you speak. If you raise any doubts through actions/words, your fellow church members will pounce upon you, bringing the fear of •••• and damnation right to your face. They then, may or may not tell the preachers about their knowledge, and then you will have some real explaining to do! The church belives you can "loose your salvation in a twinkling of an eye", even though God's word teaches that not one beliver can be snatched from his hand. I, personally was told that" I was going straight to ••••!". Of course, I was assured that my condemnation to •••• was said in love, and that if I could just put my faith back into the preachers and Elders, everything would be fine again. Fear is used to twist the arms of men, women and children.

"In this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, many abuses take place. From spouse to spouse, parent to child, child to child and from leaders to congregation. The average person in this group deals with at least one source of abuse, some suffer many. I know, I was one of them, and I know so very many more who cry silently for help from somewhere, and because of the exclusiveity in this group, no outside counciling or intervention is allowed the church members. Many of the older people in this church know what is happening, but claim that all answers are found,"in this Living Christianity".

"I have read the questions asked by many people interested in knowing more about this OALC church group. I have answered from my personal experience. In a church where no Bible study is allowed because it may cause disagreements and cause splits in the church, the atmosphere is at best suffocating, could it even be leading to spiritual death by those proclaiming to have the" One and only True Christianity?" I cannot make the leap to condem anyone to ••••. Only God knows whom he will save, for he has known us since before time, is he not capable of saving his own?"

Feeling Positive?

Last year, my husband and I took a parenting course on "Positive Discipline." The class uses an Adlerian approach to teaching effective ways to parent. With two toddlers, we wanted to make sure we didn't unconsciously imitate the dysfunctional parenting styles of our own parents: in my case authoritarian and in his case, neglectful.

Recently it occurred to me that how we envision the family, that small social unit of parents and children, is a key to how we envision our society, the world as a whole and our relationship to God. What is the proper role of parents: authorities or nurturers? Are children inherently devious or innocent? Or they to be molded into a shape, or encouraged to discover their unique gifts? What works best to teach limits, encouragement or shaming? Is the parent-child relationship characterized by power and control . . . or dignity and compassion?

There's a saying: to know all is to forgive all. When I see how my parents were raised, and what kind of parenting was reinforced by the OALC, I can understand why they became who they are. That helps.

To the commenter below from the OALC: please ask a preacher if you are supposed to shun (i.e., not associate with) worldlies or exmembers. Then write back, okay? I'm very interested in the response. Maybe things have changed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Shunning the Sun

Shunning is intentionally neglecting, avoiding or marginalizing someone. From the ordinary (neglecting to visit) to the extreme (legal disinheritance), shunning seems to be promoted by the OALC.

It surprised me to learn that not everyone in the OALC chooses to shun. My cousin told me recently about a local preacher and wife who regularly drive upstate to visit their ex-OALC daughter. They even go shopping together. Boy, was I jealous when I heard that.

Perhaps shunning is practiced to protect those who stay. To protect them from their own doubts, which would naturally be provoked by contact with loved ones "outside."

It protects them from the reality of reasonable, loving, nondemonic non-OALC Christians. Growing up, I thought people who left the church were interested in pursuing SIN on a fulltime basis. If I'd actually spent any time with them, I might have noticed that they were lovely people. Hmmmm.

Shunning is a wall to keep out the sun.

Talking Helps

It is gratifying to read your comments and know that this blog is reaching people. Thanks to all of you who have written. To those of you lurkey-loo's -- consider posting a short note. I'm told that traffic raises the profile of the blog so it will be seen more quickly in searches. Consider it a gift to the OALC searchers out there.

CJ wrote: "I wish we could meet and talk. I have family members who won't speak and haven't spoken to me for years because I left the church and got divorced." That's a shame, CJ. They're not looking to Christ for this model of behavior, that's for sure.

Monday, October 11, 2004

GOD'S PEACE: One Word or Two?

Not only is there a distinct lexicon in the OALC regarding religious matters, but a style of delivery that could be described as modest, meek, humble or depressed (you choose).

OALCESE
wordlies (anyone not in the OALC)
unbelief (whatever worldlies believe)
dead faith (ditto)
lost sheep (ex-OALC)
heresy (same as above)
fornicators
whisky merchants
whores
bastards (the kind of children the above beget)
arms of Satan (what all the above are in)
fires of hell (what all the above will get)
church of the first-born (OALC)
one, true and living Christianity (ditto)
toots (slang for OALC members)
speece (greeting between toots)
precious (how to describe another toot)
poor example (how to describe oneself)
right understanding (available only in the OALC)

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

Monday, August 30, 2004

Hair

As a girl my hair, dark and thick, and contained in heavy braids, reached down past my waist. I had to elbow it out of the way when I sat down. It took all day to dry after bathing and in cold weather even longer, so that in winter I was loathe to shampoo. Sometimes my head hurt from its weight and I would ask permission to unbraid it. Then I would lie down and fan it out around me like a shawl or the rays of a dark sun. The family brand was Prell but sometimes I used my mothers' Herbal Essence and I remember its flowery scent and the pleasure of shaking out my hair still damp and wavy from braiding.

My grandmother was as Finnish as you can get without actually having been born there, and she would switch between languages without warning. Her hair was thin and yellowish gray, and she wore it in a peculiar fashion that I've never seen repeated. It was parted down the middle and wound up in two small flat buns at the back of her head, like tail-lights. She wore a hairnet and a lot of bobbypins and never seemed to have her hair down. Perhaps she slept with it like that but it couldn't have been comfortable.

My mother's hair was also very long although I knew it had been short when she was a girl because I'd seen a photograph. It was silky and brown, and she marcelled the front a little, faintly Elvis-like, with some kind of pomade, and swept the rest back into a French twist which was secured by bobby pins and a mist of AquaNet. She could do this all by feel, if necessary. No mirror needed. When she took the pins out at night before bed, I would touch the tight curl left in the tail of her hair. I loved that curl.

In high school I was known as the girl with the longest hair, and having nothing else to be boast about, became rather proud of it. On the schoolbus I would release my braids, fluff out my enormous shroud of hair around my shoulders, and wait for the comments. Once a boy in Algebra class remarked that I looked like Juliet. He had just seen Olivia Hussey in the Zefferelli movie. I didn't care for the boy at all, but I savored his compliment for years before I actually saw the film and even more so afterward. Ms. Hussey was luminous, divine. (And my chubby adolescent self bore no resemblence to her -- other than the long, dark hair.)

One of my first acts of self-definition, on leaving the OALC as a teenager, was a haircut at a beauty salon. Not short, but shorter, with layers and wisps and a completely novel sense of movement. Afterward, I kept tossing my head like a mare and smiling. I was Samson in reverse, fortified by lightness. I didn't think to ask for a lock, a keepsake.

That first haircut was rebellious but also a concrete way of claiming my identity as a person, not a symbol. I had been taught that my hair was of vital importance -- it was not to be shorn or adorned, it was my crowning glory, and it was to be covered in church by a headscarf. I never could make out the logic in all that, but the implication was that a woman's hair is so alluring that it might divert attention, and that it was the woman's responsibility to hide it. Later I would learn that this practice of covering the hair is not unique to OALC or to fundamentalists such as the Mennonites or Amish that I would occasionally glimpse in long dresses and scarves, fellow tourists usually, at places like Yellowstone where we vacationed in the summer. Nor is it unique to Christians, of course.

Why? Why is female hair such a potent symbol? Is this not a perversion of power, all around? Why can't women choose to cover or not cover their heads as they see fit?

I now have shoulder-length hair that is easy to wash and dry and carry around all day. I don't think much about it, but when I do, it seems satisfactory. Of all my attributes as a human being, it ranks quite low. There ARE times when I want to cover it from the sight of others, such as when I haven't had time to shower, or on the third day of camping in the woods. Then a baseball cap does the trick.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

At Last, a Place in Cyberspace

When I left the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church at the age of 18, I gave up not only my religion but my family, my friends and my support network. There was no way of knowing who else had left the church or how to contact them if I had known. I was on my own without a 12-step program, support group, or therapist trained in the particular psychological issues of leaving this fundamentalist sect, which teaches its adherents that salvation is possible only within its walls, and the price of leaving is to be shunned by members and indeed, by God.

It took me years of therapy and the love of many, many good people to deal with my past and create a healthy, happy family of my own. Over the years I have searched the internet for information on the OALC. I learned more online about its founder, Lars Levi Laestadius, than I ever did from the church, and I still remember my surprise at discovering that this revered "prophet" was a botanist turned revivalist who lived in the 1800's -- not the time of Christ.

But I've yet to find information on "my" OALC online (although there is information about related churches and about Laestadius). Recently a google search led me to a heated dialogue on pasty.com (you can find it in their archives).

This blog is a beginning.

Let me say here that my experiences in the church are just that, mine. No doubt there are former OALC members with very different experiences. Even happy ones.