Saturday, December 31, 2005

Epiphany Is Coming

My apologies for neglecting this blog. We've been busy visiting friends and family, which cuts into my computer time but gives me a buoyant sense of belonging, as if the home I'd always dreamed of was around me, made of invisible bricks and mortar, warmed with kind words and fond smiles. I'm so happy to be here, alive.

This week we went to the annual OALC-family gathering, where I chatted up several relatives, joked around with my little brother, and introduced our daughter to an uncle she'd never met. This brother is a preacher now and was asked by our dad to "say a few words." The women present were not wearing scarves and made no effort to find any. I wondered if this was a new development. In past years, the women brought scarves and put them on for singing hymns and listening to the prayer.

In any case, I resigned myself to the inevitable: a mini-sermon that would conclude an exhortation to the fallen star or wayward sheep or what-have-you to return to the precious, one, true, living Christianity.

But no. My soft-voiced, golden-eyed preacher brother spoke simply of gratitude -- for the blessings God has given our family, for seeing his sisters again. Of his hope to meet again in heaven if not here on earth.

That was all. I was moved to tears.

Could it be that preaching has changed? It is evident that my OALC kin are raising their kids differently than how we were raised. It stands to reason that they preach differently too.

As we drove home that night with the children sleeping in the back seat, I wondered how many more times we would be making this trip down the interstate and back, going to these relatives who will not come to us. As long as possible, I suppose.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Teach, Don't Preach, the Bible

This is from today's New York Times.

By BRUCE FEILER
YESTERDAY'S ruling by a federal judge that "intelligent design" cannot be taught in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district has the potential to put the teaching of the Bible back where it belongs in our schools: not in the science laboratory, but in its proper historical and literary context. An elective, nonsectarian high school Bible class would allow students to explore one of the most influential books of all time and would do so in a manner that clearly falls within Supreme Court rulings.

In the landmark 1963 Abington case (which also involved Pennsylvania public schools), the Supreme Court outlawed reading the Bible as part of morning prayers but left the door open for studying the Bible. Writing for the 8-1 majority, Justice Thomas Clark stated that the Bible is "worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities," and added, "Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistent with the First Amendment."

Though the far right may complain that this academic approach to teaching the Bible locks God out of the classroom, and the far left may complain that it sneaks God in, the vast majority of Americans would embrace it. But the devil, as some might say, is in the details. School board officials in Odessa, Tex., for example, have been embroiled in a running controversy over their choice of a curriculum for an elective high school Bible class. While the board's choice is now between two competing curriculums, pressure from civil liberties groups has prompted changes in even the more conservative alternative.

By helping to design an academic course in the Bible, moderates can show that the Bible is not composed entirely of talking points for the religious right. In fact, on a wide range of topics, including respecting the value of other faiths, shielding religion from politics, serving the poor and protecting the environment, the Bible offers powerful arguments in support of moderate and liberal causes.

In the story of David, the ruthless Israelite king who unites the tribes of Israel around 1000 B.C.E. but is rebuked by God when he wants to build a temple, the Bible makes a stirring argument in favor of separating religion and politics, or church and state to use contemporary terms.

In the Book of Isaiah, God embraces the Persian king Cyrus and his respect for different religions, even though Cyrus does not know God's name and does not practice Judaism. By calling Cyrus "the anointed one," or messiah, God signals his tolerance for people who share his moral vision, no matter their nationality or faith.

In the Book of Jonah, God offers a message of forgiveness and tolerance when he denounces his own prophet and spares his former enemies, the Ninevehites, when they repent and turn toward him.

In recent decades, the debate over religion has been characterized as a struggle between two groups that Noah Feldman calls "values evangelicals," like Roy Moore, who placed the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court, and "legal secularists," like Michael Newdow, who attacked the use of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. This debate does not represent reality.

The Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics, completed in 2004 by the University of Akron, shows that only 12.6 percent of Americans consider themselves "traditionalist evangelical Protestants," which the survey equates with the term "religious right." A mere 10.7 percent of Americans define themselves as "secular" or "atheist, agnostic." The vast majority of Americans are what survey-takers term centrist or modernist in their religious views.

These mainstream believers represent to their religiously liberal and conservative neighbors what independents do to Republicans and Democrats in the political arena. They are the under-discussed "swing voters" in the values debate who, the survey shows, are slightly pro-choice, believe in the death penalty, support stem-cell research and favor gay rights but oppose gay marriage.

Above all, they welcome religion in public life but are turned off by efforts to claim exclusive access to God.

At a time when religion dominates the headlines - from Iraq to terrorism to stem cells - finding a way to educate young people about faith should become a national imperative. Achieving this goal in a legal, nonsectarian manner requires Americans to get over the kitchen-table bromide, "Don't talk about politics and religion in public."

The extremists talk about religion - and spew messages of hate. Religious moderates must denounce this bigotry and reclaim Scripture as the shared document of all. When flamethrowers hold up Scripture and say, "It says this," moderates must hold up the same text say, "Yes, but it also says this." The Bible is simply too important to the history of Western civilization - and to vital to its future - to be ceded to one side in the debate over values.

Bruce Feiler is the author, most recently, of "Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion."

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Mindful Advent

Happy Advent, friends. Here are excerpts from a wonderful sermon last week (by our seminary intern):

I don’t remember much Latin but I do remember that phrase “Veni Vidi Vici” -- I came, I saw, I conquered. I think of it every year when we come to the season of Advent and I try to re-remember what the word “advent” means. It comes from the Latin: Julius’ Caesar’s “veni” (I came) together with the prefix “ad” meaning “to” or “toward.” Thus "advent" means “come to.”

Advent is a season of waiting for Christ’s coming to us. More precisely, it is a season of waiting for the comings of Christ to us.

Julius Caesar came, saw, and conquered – all in past tense. Once. Done. Finished.
Jesus Christ came to us – once long ago as a baby born of Mary;
Jesus Christ continues to come to us daily in the Word of God, in Communion, among our brothers and sisters of faith; and
Jesus Christ will come once again to us in glory.

Advent is a season of waiting for all these comings of Christ.

Not all waiting is the same, however. There’s waiting… and there’s Advent waiting. Waiting is standing in the long snaking line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles on a Friday afternoon. Advent waiting is the 16 year old in that same line, waiting to sign up to take her test for her learner’s permit. She’s waiting, but she’s waiting with something more. She’s waiting with hope, with anticipation, with expectation.

Waiting is lining up behind the ranks of passengers heading out of Boston’s Logan Airport as it seems security ever-so-slowly checks ID’s and carry-on baggage. Advent waiting is the businessman set to fly out on that plane on his home trip, returning to his family after being gone for over a week. He’s waiting, but he’s waiting with something more. He’s waiting with hope, with anticipation, with expectation.

There’s that whole room established for the purpose of waiting at the doctor’s office. Waiting is sitting in one of those upright chairs with a two-year old magazine trying to figure out how many people are ahead of you. Advent waiting is the young couple in that waiting room waiting to see if it’s true – if they are indeed going to have an addition to the family. They’re waiting, but they’re waiting with something more. They’re waiting with hope, with anticipation, with expectation.

There’s waiting…and there’s Advent waiting. Advent waiting is waiting with a twist – with hope; with anticipation; with expectation.

In this Advent season we wait the comings of Christ. How do we wait? Is it true Advent waiting – with hope; with anticipation; with expectation? Or is it with anxiety and frustration and maybe even a little bit of boredom – same old, same old?

We know the story . . . how do we keep the Advent sense of hope and anticipation and expectation – when we know the ending? . . . . it is precisely because we do know the ending that we await with hope and anticipation and expectation. . .
the ending is not the candles or the tree or the poinsettias or the carols . . . the ending is Jesus.

What do we do with ourselves during this period of Advent waiting? Jesus gives three commands. He says, “Beware! Keep alert! Keep awake!” We are to be vigilant and watchful in our Advent waiting. Not looking for signs from above like stars falling or the sun darkening or other such things – not looking for evidence about the timing of Christ’s coming. That is a futile search as our text tells us, for no one knows!

The only hint we get from Scripture is that the time will be soon. How soon is soon? If you have read the Chronicles of Narnia . . . you may remember this conversation between Lucy and Aslan, the lion who is the Christ-figure in the story.
“Do not look so sad,” Aslan says. “We shall meet soon again.”
“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy, “what do you call soon?”
“I call all times soon,” said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away.

No need to watch the skies. We live in these “soon” times -- now. Christ is here! In Advent we don’t pretend that Christ has not yet come to earth. We don’t pretend not to know the ending. We acknowledge his presence now even as we look to his future coming. And as we look to his future coming, we keep awake. We watch. We keep ourselves alert and aware of God’s presence in the world – Christ who came and Christ who comes.

A former colleague of mine calls this sense of awareness of God “mindfulness" . . .

When the Buddha was asked, “Sir, what do you and your monks practice?” he replied, “We sit, we walk, and we eat.” The questioner continued, “But sir, everyone sits, walks, and eats.” And the Buddha told him, “When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.”

Most of us live our lives apart from the present . . . apart from this knowing. We are distracted from the present by memories of the past or by future projects and concerns. When we are mindful, we are truly aware, we are alert, we are watchful, we are fully open to the present. Wherever we go – there we are.

When we are mindful of the comings of Christ, we are awake and alert to the presence of God all around us. We are awake and alert for opportunities to follow Christ who came once as a baby in Bethlehem – calling us to love one another, to offer compassion to others, and to work for justice and peace. When we are mindful of the comings of Christ, we are awake and alert for the coming of Christ to us every day in Scripture, in baptism, in Holy Communion. We live our lives knowing the ending – that wherever we go – there we are – and there God is.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The World Changes, and They Die

On Saturday, I spent an hour getting a deep-tissue neck and shoulder massage (I'm still stiff from the accident). At some point during the therapist's manipulations, my sinuses popped open and air rushed in. I was stunned. I hadn't realized how stuffed up I'd been.

Then on Sunday, I went to hear retired Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong, who was in town for a series of talks on Christianity. He acquainted us with the OT's "minor" prophets, talked about humanity's evolution away from (and return to) tribal gods, about spirituality without theism, and about a "nonpersonal" sense of God (beyond our family / power concepts of Father, Lord, Master,etc). God as source of life, of love, as the ground of being.

When he said that we can worship best by "loving wastefully," the audience erupted into applause and I felt a rush of air, my spiritual sinuses clearing.

After the lecture, a young man asked him how to persuade some fellow Christians to see beyond their legalisms.

"Tell them you disagree," he said. "And love them the best you can." He shared his experience of growing up among staunch Christian racists in the South. Many went to their graves with their racial hatred.

"Some people never change. But the world changes, and they die."

I recommend this recent interview with Spong at belief.net (the following is an excerpt):

What's the best verse in the Bible?

The text with which I close most of my lectures is from John 10. They are words attributed to Jesus that members of the Jesus Seminar don't think he ever spoke. I don't mind accepting that. But to me, they are so true to who he is. And that's the phrase, "I've come that they might have life and have it abundantly."

The way that I see Christianity is that its role is to enhance the life of every person. My basis of morality is this: does this action enhance life, or does it denigrate life? Does it build up or does it tear down? And if that's your basis, then you can't possibly be a sexist because sexism diminishes women. You can't possibly be homophobic because it diminishes homosexuals. You can't possibly be a racist because you can't tell people they are lesser because their skin is black. Or any of the other things that have discriminated against people.

Monday, November 14, 2005

FALC Issues

". . . it might be helpful if Free2bme chose to create a post on the FALC issue . . . in the hope of helping FALCers as they search for healthy faith . . . iIt appears to me that the FALC is splitting under the weight of many pathologies that we have already discussed as being all too common in Laestadian history--exclusivism, Groupianity as opposed to Christianity, and personal egos/grudges. I pray this time of turmoil within the FALC leads to the shedding of those Laestadian pathologies and a resurgence of healthy faith."

You ask, you get! Please use this thread to discuss FALC issues. Click on the title above to join the Yahoo group and to get to the letter by Bob Pieti.

A Buddhist Perspective on Science

Some of you may be interested in this recent article:

Our Faith in Science

By TENZIN GYATSO

SCIENCE has always fascinated me. As a child in Tibet, I was keenly curious about how things worked. When I got a toy I would play with it a bit, then take it apart to see how it was put together. As I became older, I applied the same scrutiny to a movie projector and an antique automobile.

At one point I became particularly intrigued by an old telescope, with which I would study the heavens. One night while looking at the moon I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.

But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I'm sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

For many years now, on my own and through the Mind and Life Institute, which I helped found, I have had the opportunity to meet with scientists to discuss their work. World-class scientists have generously coached me in subatomic physics, cosmology, psychology, biology.

It is our discussions of neuroscience, however, that have proved particularly important. From these exchanges a vigorous research initiative has emerged, a collaboration between monks and neuroscientists, to explore how meditation might alter brain function.

The goal here is not to prove Buddhism right or wrong - or even to bring people to Buddhism - but rather to take these methods out of the traditional context, study their potential benefits, and share the findings with anyone who might find them helpful.

After all, if practices from my own tradition can be brought together with scientific methods, then we may be able to take another small step toward alleviating human suffering.

Already this collaboration has borne fruit. Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has published results from brain imaging studies of lamas meditating. He found that during meditation the regions of the brain thought to be related to happiness increase in activity. He also found that the longer a person has been a meditator, the greater the activity increase will be.

Other studies are under way. At Princeton University, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a neuroscientist, is studying the effects of meditation on attention. At the University of California Medical School at San Francisco, Dr. Margaret Kemeny has been studying how meditation helps develop empathy in school teachers.

Whatever the results of this work, I am encouraged that it is taking place. You see, many people still consider science and religion to be in opposition. While I agree that certain religious concepts conflict with scientific facts and principles, I also feel that people from both worlds can have an intelligent discussion, one that has the power ultimately to generate a deeper understanding of challenges we face together in our interconnected world.

One of my first teachers of science was the German physicist Carl von Weizsäcker, who had been an apprentice to the quantum theorist Werner Heisenberg. Dr. Weizsäcker was kind enough to give me some formal tutorials on scientific topics. (I confess that while listening to him I would feel I could grasp the intricacies of the full argument, but when the sessions were over there was often not a great deal of his explanation left behind.)

What impressed me most deeply was how Dr. Weizsäcker worried about both the philosophical implications of quantum physics and the ethical consequences of science generally. He felt that science could benefit from exploring issues usually left to the humanities.

I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.

Rather, I am speaking of what I call "secular ethics," which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.

Today, our knowledge of the human brain and body at the cellular and genetic level has reached a new level of sophistication. Advances in genetic manipulation, for example, mean scientists can create new genetic entities - like hybrid animal and plant species - whose long-term consequences are unknown.

Sometimes when scientists concentrate on their own narrow fields, their keen focus obscures the larger effect their work might have. In my conversations with scientists I try to remind them of the larger goal behind what they do in their daily work.

This is more important than ever. It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with the speed of scientific advancement. Yet the ramifications of this progress are such that it is no longer adequate to say that the choice of what to do with this knowledge should be left in the hands of individuals.

This is a point I intend to make when I speak at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience today in Washington. I will suggest that how science relates to wider humanity is no longer of academic interest alone. This question must assume a sense of urgency for all those who are concerned about the fate of human existence.

A deeper dialogue between neuroscience and society - indeed between all scientific fields and society - could help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and our responsibilities for the natural world we share with other sentient beings.

Just as the world of business has been paying renewed attention to ethics, the world of science would benefit from more deeply considering the implications of its own work. Scientists should be more than merely technically adept; they should be mindful of their own motivation and the larger goal of what they do: the betterment of humanity.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author of "The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality."

Monday, November 07, 2005

Open Thread

At our church, I sit on the "intern committee" that is responsible for supporting our pastoral intern, who looks like a plump, mild Midwestern farmgirl but in fact is a former physician with a booming voice and considerable chutzpah. Yesterday was All Saint's Day and with many concrete examples (from folks we know), she gave us this message. It's still ringing joyfully in my ears: I am God's beloved now, and I am a work in progress. I don't know how or when my gifts will be used. Confident in God's love, I can offer myself up to love others. Ain't that great? We can be bold, even in our ignorance of the future.

Readers, you are coming from:

California
Colorado
Florida
Illinois
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
New York
North Carolina
Oklahoma
South Dakota
Texas
Washington
Wisconsin
Canada
Finland
Sweden

I pray that this blog is helpful in some way.

Please use this thread to post anything you'd like, and thanks for visiting.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Food & Fables

Yesterday I searched our local supermarket for lingonberries, as I didn't have time for an Ikea run (where we get the $10 buckets that last for months). No luck. The cashier said that Safeway no longer carries the product except during the holidays. This surprised me, because given our large Scandinavian population, you'd expect a pretty constant demand. Fortunately, the fancier market down the street still carries little jars of the stuff.

I didn't grow up with lingonberries, but now we eat them in PBJ's, on waffles and over the kids' favorite pudding. So it tickled me when Theoforos shared the berry's role in Kalevelan and Kanteletar nativity stories. I would love to learn more. (Theo, just what is the Kanteletar tradition? Are there English translations available?)

For his cultural studies project in first grade, our son needs to come up with: a description, painting or model of foods from our cultural tradition. I was keen on making Swedish Christmas cookies out of felt or clay, but he wants to build a miniature lavvo, based on this photograph I took at a Sami exhibit.

Readers, please help! What kind of food should be in that pot?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The World As It Is

"We see the world not as it is but as we are." Sisu included this gem in a recent post.

I was about 25 when I heard this idea for the first time. I thought it was dumb. Later it hit me like lightning.

I was a very young 18 when I left the OALC and my family, and I wandered in a parched emotional Sinai for several years, unsure of my future. I had been taught to see the world as a dangerous place and the evidence was certainly there, if only in the newspapers. I went to college by day and waitressed by night, walking to and from work on the very strip where the Green River Killer prowled for victims.

My antennae were tuned to fear -- not horror-movie fear but the garden variety, more like a low-grade flu. The kind of fear that makes you a tad more ALERT than you need to be, no matter where you are. That turns innocuous remarks into poison darts. That prevents one from being curious about others, because one is so busy defending oneself.

I met wonderful people, but when I encountered any rudeness or dishonesty, it loomed larger than the million kindnesses that preceded it.

And I was still attached to having OPINIONS about everything, as if it was possible and important to have the RIGHT thoughts.

But I was fortunate. As the years passed, I became more and more acclimated to the human race, in all its dizzying variety.

One spring day I was walking in the city, passing strangers on the sidewalk, meeting their gazes briefly and walking on -- watching long lines of drivers cooperating with each other to get to their destinations -- hearing the familiar noise and bustle without really hearing it, When I noticed that almost everyone was smiling. At me.

That's because I'm smiling, I thought. That's when I felt the thunderbolt: Love has changed me. Love sees differently.

I'm sorry . . . really there are no words to express this. You can understand if you've been there, and if you haven't, it seems a bit ridiculous.

I still struggle with my fears (hence the blog's title). But I'll always remember that insight, and I'm grateful for it.

Anyway, thanks for listening.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Crashes & School Boards

My apologies for being slow to update. I've been catching up on the posts (thank you lots!!!! to you who keep the dialogue going!).

This morning I was in a car accident. Waiting to merge onto a busy highway, I was rear-ended by a gentleman who probably had other goals for his commute. In that string of unconscious calculations one makes while driving, he saw the traffic opening up, my brakelights go off -- and assumed I was accelerating. So he stepped on the gas. Smack. Because I was only inching forward, getting ready to punch the pedal of our 10-year old Corolla, which is more turtle than hare. I know its limits.

So now I hurt. My head throbs. My back is stiff (thank goodness for insurance). The gentleman and I exchanged numbers, inspected bumpers, called our agents. Chalk it up to the price of driving.

It occurred to me that some of the blips on this blog are similar. Bumpers get dented, but no one is seriously injured. Let's hope so, anyway. We can chalk it up to the price of talking.

TOPIC TWO: Yesterday I heard from two ex OALC members who are concerned because of the school board elections in Battle Ground. Apparently there are two candidates from the OALC who are on the November ballot. One source said that they were handpicked by the preachers.

This astounded me, because I've never known the OALC to get involved politically. Can they, legally? Don't they risk losing their tax-exempt status?

In any case, someone needs to tell the voters that the candidates' church actively preaches against (and prohibits for their own children) music, athletics and art, all programs funded by the district. The candidates should share with the voters just what they intend to do when conflicts arise between their personal beliefs and the boards' commitment to serve all the children of BG.

Weigh in, please.

(Just remember to buckle up first.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kalevala: Dream of the Salmon Maiden

Today while baking cookies with my daugher and her friend (small, noisy princesses in tulle and taffeta), I popped in a new CD, borrowed from the library. The girls dropped their icing spoons, ran into the dining room and began to dance. It was a sight. They begged me to play the first track over and over again. It is called "Salmon Dance" bt Ruth MacKenzie. Follow the link above to learn more about her and to hear some music clips.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Secretly Sami

A reader recently provided this link (above) to an essay by James Kurtti, who reports that many Finns have Sami blood.

I'm looking forward to seeing this exhibit:
The Sami Reindeer People of Alaska
Friday, Oct. 7, 2005 to Sunday, Nov. 13, 2005
Nordic Museum, Seattle


This traveling exhibit honors the Sami reindeer herders who came from Norway in 1894 and 1898 to teach reindeer herding subsistence skills to the Yup’ik and Inupiaq Peoples of Alaska at the bidding of the United States Government. Included are items such as a Sami Lavvu (traditional tent), vintage photographs of herders, Sami tools, household items, men’s and women’s hats, and writings documenting the arrival of the herders, settlements and the Reindeer Act. This exhibition is coordinated by the Saami Baiki Foundation with guidance from other experts.


Some of the reindeer who were shipped to Seattle (en route to Alaska) met their end in Woodland Park, where our zoo is now located.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Morality

Lively discussion lately! (Thanks for keeping it civil.) What accounts for our differences in determining what is ethical?

According to psychologist Carol Gilligan, women and men process moral decisions differently, with women reasoning from an ethos of care, and men from an ethos of justice. Some folks think that ethnic groups and even nations can be similarly divided along these lines.

Above is a link to a fascinating article about the latest cognitive science on morality.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Finland Diary

Robert G. Kaiser, in an interactive diary in The Washington Post, has some interesting observations about Finland. He says "for a patriotic American like me, the Finns present a difficult challenge: If we Americans are so rich and so smart, why can't we treat our citizens as well as the Finns treat theirs?" I look forward to reading his diary entries and the blogger comments.

Here is an excerpt of his interview with Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen:

Q. American society is divided on a number of contentious issues. Can you tell us briefly what the situation is in Finland in regard to:

* Abortion?

A. The Finnish view is that women have a right to decide on their bodies. There's no controversy on abortion.

* Euthanasia?

A. Passive euthanasia--that is, not keeping people alive hopelessly--would be acceptable to many Finns. Active euthanasia would be more divisive.

* Prayer in schools, and the separation of church and state generally? Does religion play any role in public life?

A. No prayer in school. Finnish politicians don't refer to religion. You would never hear a Finnish politician say "God bless Finland." Finns want these things to be separated.

*The teaching of evolution or creationism in the schools?

A. All schools teach the evolution theory, the Christian theory of creation is naturally also taught but not as an alternative to science but rather as an allegorical story.

* Gay marriage, and gay soldiers in your military?

A. Gays can marry but not in the church. They don't yet have all the same rights as heterosexuals do. No issue on gay soldiers.

* The death penalty?

A. Finland is strongly against death penalty, which is not part of our system.

* Gun control? Can citizens own rifles? Pistols?

A. We don't think that owning a gun is a constitutional right or that it would have something to do with individual's freedom. The Finnish thinking is that the number of guns is linked to having a more violent society. But you can own guns on certain conditions, for example, for hunting, which is quite popular in the countryside.

* Immigration. Do you have immigration? From where? How are immigrants treated? Do foreigners seek to become citizens of Finland? Is that possible?

A. We have immigration in relatively small numbers so compared to the US Finland is a very homogeneous society, which I think is a limitation. Immigrants can become citizens of Finland but here our attitudes should get much more open.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

FinnFest 2006?

Calling all former Laestadians: Let's meet in Astoria, Oregon next July. We can attend the FinnFest, do a little genealogy research, and share stories. The dates are July 26-30. Anyone interested?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pop Quiz

Can you guess who is being talked about here?
This is about conflict . . . with a fundamentally different view of the nature of truth . . . (they) believe they have the truth, that everybody who agrees with them is good, and everybody who doesn't is evil.
. . . nobody has the absolute truth . . . . we have the responsibilities of a free people because we believe that life is a journey, an effort to move closer and closer to the truth. But because we are finite, limited human beings, we never will achieve it.
. . . . we have very different views about the character of community. We believe we all do better when we work together. And all you have to do . . . is to accept the rules of engagement, our rules about everybody counting, everybody getting a voice . . . about showing up every day to do what is right. We have the freedom to celebrate our diversity because we are grounded in our common humanity. Their community is not united by common humanity. It is defined by what it is not.

Fanatics are defined by their hatreds; free people by their humanity.

Extra credit if you can identify the writer.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Exclusivity: A Theory

One of my cousins (from a "worldly" branch of the family tree) is a psychologist. She has a theory that our grandparents joined the OALC during the Depression because it made a virtue out of their sudden poverty. Well, I was stunned to hear this. Could it be true? Or did their joining the OALC prevent further decline?

Apparently our grandfather, a kind and generous hardworking giant who played the accordion (it reportedly paid for his passage from Sweden) lived near apostolic Finns all his life. He was not compelled to join them until the hard times hit. Was this his way of keeping the kids (and any OALC workers) down on the farm? His older children had already left for the city. If so, it worked. The younger children became -- and still are -- avid OALers.

I bring this up because I've been pondering the psychological basis for exclusivity. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism. If you have made a painful sacrifice (giving up intellectual and spiritual growth and inquiry, higher education, travel, music, sports, art, freedom from unwanted children, an egalitarian marriage, whatever), your psyche will want to defend that sacrifice against all criticism or doubt. The LESS faith you have that your sacrifice was warranted, the MORE stridently you will defend it, and to denounce outsiders as "other." The LESS secure one is, the MORE needy of affirmation, which is received by others in the group.

What I see in the message of exclusivity is a little child begging to be assured that he/she is special.

That's my two-bit theory. What do you think?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Amazing Grace

Thank you, exLLC, for your post under the previous topic. I'm reposting it below with a name removed and some typo corrections (because I think it is better that we keep personal identities private, and for ease in translation for our non-English readers). I was surprised at the methods and words of your LLC brethren. It still stuns me that this kind of behavior is seen as compassionate! You handled it very well, and I'm thrilled that you've found a new faith community and are thriving. Bless your Granny! Her love is certainly flowing through you. And now, who knows how many you will help with your story? Thank you for sharing. (Please let me know if I erred in my edits.)

It was July 30, 2005 when I was first considered an unbeliever by the LLC. That was one month and 18 days ago. I would like to share my experiences. I wrote the following on August 4, four days later.

My church teaches that we should be like a open book and talk freely about our trials in faith. I think this is a healthy thing to do. I see other people talking about their troubles freely, and I wished I could do the same. The problem was that I have rejected the church's teachings that have no basis on the Bible, and I wanted to keep it a secret (for now). I've never talked to anyone inside the church about my views and what I thought was wrong in the church. The result was that I became like a closed book, and I hid many things from my loved ones that I so badly wanted to share. Living like this can be very frustrating. I have been praying A LOT for this to change. I asked God that He would make me like an open book again, and to be around people who I could be open with. God has answered my prayers.

I posted a part of my diary on the Learning to Live Free blog, anonymously. Apparently the church elders read the blog too. Even though I was anonymous, there were enough hints in my posting for someone who was determined to find out who I was. Apparently there were some people who where determined. It was the last day of July when a group of Laestadians confronted me.

I was asked “How are your matters of faith?”

“Good,” I replied.

“Have you been thinking about leaving the church?”

I lied: “No”

“I don't think you completely understand my question, have you been thinking about leaving the LLC?”

“Umm, no . . . I really don't want to leave.”

“Are you the one who has been writing online about how you don't like the church?”

“Ya, well, i did post one thing, if it's the same thing you're talking about.”

Wow, this was the moment I had been dreading for years. And to make things worse, they where talking about what I wrote in my journal. I looked around the room and wondered if everyone in it had read that part of my diary. I was so embarrassed. But this moment that I had been dreading wasn't as bad as I had feared. This was the first time that I told a Laestadian my discontent with the church. We had quite a discussion, and it felt so good to share with these people what I have learned from the Bible and kept secret. It was like a heavy burden was lifted off me. I realized that I was now being like an open book, and that is exactly what I had been praying for, I then rejoiced knowing God had answered my prayers, even though it was not in the way I had expected.

It was a discussion that I will never forget. We talked a lot about how big the kingdom of God is. I shared with them that the one thing that I don't like about the church is that it teaches that we are the only Christians. I said that if that wasn't taught, then I really wouldn't have a problem with the church.

Harsh words where said, like M-- telling me “Well, we can't pretend that that you are a believer any more.” Hearing that was hurtful, but I expected it, and I felt no anger towards the man. We talked about why I am not considered a believer, and as far as gathered, it is because I disagree with some things in the doctrine. I am "not a Christian" because I think that attending church at the LLC is not a requirement to get into heaven (even though I've been receiving the forgiveness of sins their way).

I think I rattled those folks. I think they where expecting me to do one of two things when they confronted me: 1. to conform and repent or 2. to become angry and reject my faith. I did neither one. I definitely didn't conform, I didn't deny my faith but said I disagree with you, and instead of being filled with anger I showed love. I don't think
anyone knew how to handle this, for M--, the one who had been leading this whole talk, suddenly left without any explanation. We continued the discussion without him, but then I noticed a chair of another preacher suddenly became empty. They kept leaving until there was just one other person in the room, then she had to leave also.

I was questioned a lot if I was going to leave the church. I kept on saying “I don't know what I'll do. It's true, I really don't know what I'll do now, but it isn't worrying me. As for the very near future, I think I'll do about the same thing as before. I will go to church, sometimes at the LLC, sometimes at different churches. I will tell other people my situation and hear their advice, from Laestadians and non-Laestadians. My grandmother told me that nobody can kick me out of the church. I am not going to start a reformation or go around telling people that the church is wrong and they need to leave. So I think my granny is probably right.. My grandmother also told me that she still considers me a Christian. It is really wonderful that the person who I love the most in my church still accepts me.

If there's anyone out there who is going through a situation similar to mine, I have some advice.

--Remember that most of the people in your church are Christians. I know that it is easy to think otherwise, but they serve the same God you do. Judge not lest you be Judged.

--God does not want a division in the church.

--If you are angry or bitter with the people in the church in general, do not confront them. Acting out on your anger can really screw things up.

--Visit other churches, talk to the pastors about what you are going through. At the very least, just find someone to talk to.

--Pray . . . every day. God will answer.

--Oh, and be careful of what you say on this website. It's being watched.

Fast forward one month and 18 days, and I have only been to the LLC once since then. I have been going to another church which has turned out pretty good for me.

I had another spiritual experience Labor Day weekend. I went to a camp-out with my new church. This was my very first church-camp I have ever been to outside of the LLC. I had so much fun there. We were out in the pines trees overlooking a meadow. At first I only knew a couple people there, but everyone was so nice to me that by the end of the weekend everyone seemed like family. I was able to make some great new friends and get to know some of the people in the new church. I taught the youth some campfire games, and provided them with marshmallows and i personally made as many s'mores as I could for the youth. I organized kick-the-can games and flashlight tag, then I stayed awake until the morning just chatting with a couple newly-made friends. We had a Hawaiian luau, and held Sunday services. The entire weekend was a blast for me. It gave me a sense of "I belong with these people," something I've been longing for. The entire weekend I was at peace. My intention was to take lots of pictures and post them on-line, but the brand-new batteries i bought only had enough juice for one picture. I'll try to post it here.

A month from now, I will be going to a youth convention. This convention will be huge. There will be a battle-of-the-Christian-bands, plus a gigantic worship service involving thousands of youth. We will be transported 100 miles into the big city and we'll rent a bunch of motel rooms for the weekend. I'm so excited, I've never been to anything like this before, hey, worshiping is kind of new concept to me. This time I'll be sure to buy Duracells for the camera, and I'll tell you guys all about it. God's Peace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mysterious Book

I can't remember where I purchased this lovely little Swedish guide to theatre vocabulary, but I'm sure I was intrigued by the name Lars-Levi Laestadius on the cover (he authored the foreword). Could this writer be a descendant of the Dean himself? With theatrical inclinations? Hmmm . . . . Please help me out if you can. The publication date is 1951.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Walking the Talk

Veni, vidi, amici. We came, we saw, we made friends. Lovely friends. Our visit to Walla Walla (the town so nice they named it twice) could not have been better. Whether from familial recognition or my cousin's considerable charisma, our 4-year old threw her arms around him within minutes of our meeting. We spent many enjoyable hours sharing stories, going to the county fair, visiting the old family farm, touring a winery, feasting on home-cooked meals, singing around the piano, poring over photographs of ancestors, kibbutzing with more cousins, and on Sunday, attending church.

Looking at the barn that was put together without nails, peering into the root cellar where the summer's fruits were stored for the cold winters, surveying the wide swaths of farmland that was once plowed by horse, I felt such respect for my Finnish forebears. Their lives were wicked hard, and often short. It is no wonder that some considered this earth a vale of tears, and clung to a religion that emphasized earthly suffering and heavenly rewards. But how was it that some of them taught their children grace and generosity and tolerance?

Our visit was over too soon.

I teased my cousin about his horns, and joked that I would make sets of them to wear to an OALC function. He was surprised but good-humored about his OAL status as a "worldly" . . . his only memories of "apostolic" relatives are good ones. (Meeting his mother, who radiates warmth and acceptance, I saw the source of his generosity. Being well-loved makes one loving. Isn't that really the heart of Christianity?)

As I listened to their pastor encourage aid to the hurricane victims last Sunday, I wondered what OALC preachers were saying about this tragedy. Tonight a former member phoned and shared some rather disheartening reactions she'd heard from OALC kin. I hope they aren't true.

We can all afford to be loving.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Family Lost and Found

A few months ago, someone saw my post on a genealogy website and shot me an email: "Hi, we are related." It was a second cousin from the "non-OALC" side of the family. Fast forward to this weekend. We're piling into our trusty Corolla and driving east to visit him and a whole passel of mystery relatives in Walla Walla, Washington.

It seems this cousin's grandmother (sister to my grandmother and 12 other siblings) left the Finnish Lutheran church of her South Dakota childhood and thereafter attended a Presybterian church, in which she raised her children. If she suffered from the shunning of her siblings who remained OALC, she didn't talk about it with her grandson, who thought the OALC was just a "Finnish branch of the German Lutheran church."

Hmmm. Not quite. In any case, we're delighted to have found each other.

I'm kind of giddy about meeting these rels, and a little anxious, too (I hope they aren't disappointed in me! Thankfully I have my husband and children along to compensate in the charm & good looks department.)

Wish me luck.

(And check out the new link up there beneath my eyes -- please click on it to go to the Red Cross. Babies are dying for lack of water, in the richest country in the world.)

Monday, August 29, 2005

It's No Joik


One of my more tender childhood memories is harmonizing with my dad on car trips, not only Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art but Red River Valley and other folk tunes. I was dismayed to learn that the OALC has dropped Amazing Grace from its repertoire. It is a lovely song. However, this antimusical action is very much in keeping with Laestadian tradition. Here is an excerpt from a master's thesis by Rebekah Moore. You can read the whole thing here.

"As an adult, Læstadius blended together elements of Sámi cultures, such as the four Sámi languages in which he was fluent, as well as supernatural figures from Sámi spiritual practices with Christian spiritual practices. He conducted extensive research on Sámi spirituality, and used the knowledge he gleaned to attack the “old ways” in his teachings. As a Christian leader and a Sámi, Læstadius affectively criticized the Sámi worldview because he understood it. His activities were exceptionally successful; to this day many Sámi are still practicing Læstadians. Læstadianism had a great impact on the performance of joiks. In fact, joiks were the central cultural expression attacked by Læstadius. Many Sámi today still view joiking as a sin. . . . "

". . . . Læstadius and his followers successfully alienated joikers from the 19th century forward, which subsequently led to a decline in the practice of joik. In the 1960s when Arnsberg, Ruong, and Unsgaard set out to make a collection of joiks they encountered many Sámi who were also Læstadians and condemned the practice of joiking; but they also encountered Sámi Læstadians who practiced joik in secret. They met one man in their journeys through Swedish Sápmi who refused to perform when he heard there was a chance the joiks would be broadcast. He said he was a strict Læstadian, and would have been willing to do it “for scientific purposes,” if his joiks were not made public. Evidenced in this encounter is the fact that, despite the absorption of Læstadius’s teachings regarding the joik, this indigenous music-making survived underground. Additionally, hymn singing in Sámi Læstadian parishes, as in other denominations, maintained many of the aesthetics of the Sámi joik, even as the actual tradition was condemned by worshippers."

If you want to hear some joiking, listen to clips of Marie Boine (photo). She was raised in a strict Laestadian home.

No doubt Amazing Grace will continue to be sung in strict Laestadian homes. Here is a nice folk version.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Translation Please?

Please, would one of you brilliant bilingual types translate the Finnish post (click on above)?
Muchas kiitos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Lutherans Do Vary

Tonight we joined some friends from church for a Los Lobos concert at the zoo, where we and oh, a thousand others picnicked on the meadow in front of the stage, and then sat or swayed or danced to a rocking show. The children were so much fun to watch. At one point I found myself in a conga line.

With Lutherans. It was a splendid moment.

Sorry about the mess-up with the comments (they were unreadable earlier today). Next time I'll try to show the names of the archive posts without destroying any other functions.

By the way, I've been invited to an OALC wedding next month. I don't think there'll be any conga lines.

Lurkers Please Post

I'm feeling so much better. Thanks for the prayers. Now if any of you are feeling a strange "stitch in the side" that lasts for months on end, please go get it checked out. My surgery and recovery would have been easier a year ago. (Doh!)

This week the children made recycled-paper fish in church camp. (In addition to being a Christian symbol, these "koi nobori," symbolizing courage and endurance, are traditionally flown on Children's Day in Japan.)

SPECIAL REQUEST: Now that the site is getting spammed regularly, I would like to know how many of the 70-plus daily visits are actual live human readers. If you've been lurking but not posting, would you please write a line today? Just a hello is fine. Anonymity guaranteed.

Muchos gracias.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Forgiveness

Here you go, MTH.

And thanks for the suggestion.

On a personal note, I barked at my son today over some egregious error on his part (I think he was slow in getting his seat belt on). The sound of my own voice appalled me. I apologized to him and kissed him and he looked up at me with his beautiful brown eyes and said, "Oh, Mom, even when you don't say you're sorry, I forgive you." This set me to musing about all the ways we say we are sorry that go beyond words. Overemphasing the words can mean that contrite behavior gets short shrift.

Hello, all you deep thinkers. I think the subject of forgiveness of sins deserves a heading of its own, it being the "KEY" on which the entire exclusivity of the OALC (and apparently other Laestadian churches) is based. I had an epiphany on this subject some time ago, namely: We were taught that "Christians" held the keys, and "whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted, and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained." So therefore, in order to be forgiven and have a shot at "eternal life," we had to have our sins forgiven by another "Christian." Period. But this forgiveness is hollow, if the forgiver does not also have the right to refuse to forgive. By this reasoning, mere humans have the right and power to consign other humans to everlasting hell and damnation. Poppycock, I say. That cannot possibly be the correct interpretation. God forgives. We ONLY need God to forgive us. And we can ask him directly, as you say. Of course, if we wrong someone, we should ask their forgiveness AND ATTEMPT TO RIGHT THE WRONG (not part of the OALC teaching, and an error, in my opinion). But this wailing and carrying on on the necks of other "Christians" about "being such a poor example, hardness of heart" and whatever are the "generic sins du jour" is, well, mostly a contrived attempt to guarantee entrance into heaven. In my opinion, there is very little true remorse, even less real sin, perhaps some self-indulgent purging, plenty of mis-placed guilt, an escape from consequences, and a diversion of our attention away from LOVING EACH OTHER. It may sound extreme, but I think OALC has elevated the forgiveness of sins into a false god. Repentance uber alles. What about loving our neighbor, visiting the sick, alms to the poor, inviting your local prostitute to lunch? Do we REALLY do what Jesus enjoined us to do? Not by a long shot, but we think wailing and carrying on gets us off the hook. (As a classic Laestadianism, my sister-in-law said that God knew we could not actually carry out the injunction to LOVE EACH OTHER and so he gave us forgiveness of sins as an alternative way to get into heaven).
I could go on and on. I would be curious to know your thoughts on this most central subject.
May we be blessed with great wisdom and forgiving hearts. MTH

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Fences

Fence


They drew a circle that shut me out -

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win -

We drew a circle that took them in.

(Edwin Markham)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Randy Korpelians?


This is from an essay about author Mikael Niemi, whose "Popular Music from Vittula" was an international hit and is apparently the only novel available in English that features Laestadians. (You can read more by clicking on the link above).

"Lestadianism is known for emotion and charisma. Laestadius took this Sami tradition skillfully in the use of his religion. Niemi says emotion is more introverted and melancholic nowadays. The women do not jump and scream as before, but cry their sins copiously. Strong sexuality, which is connected with the Korpela movement, lives on only as a rumour of people with a strong need to look for love and ecstasy in sex."

Let me say right now that I have no idea what that last sentence means. Perhaps our Finnish friends can tell us?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Turn of Faith

OK, I've been feeling a bit uncharitable toward my OALC relatives, but this morning when I opened the New York Times Magazine and found this essay (by a former Jehovah's Witness), I got a needed reminder that many actions are based on fear not malice, and they are more to be pitied than scorned. In church today, our seminary intern told an Ole and Lena joke: Ole tells Lena how much he adores children, their children, all children, and what a blessing they are. Out of the blue, a pack of neighborhood tykes run through his flower beds and over his newly-poured patio. When Ole is done cursing, Lena reminds him of his "love for children."

"Ya, sure, I love them in general," he says. "Just not in the concrete."

God help me love people in the concrete. Warts and all.


August 14, 2005
Turn of Faith

By JOY CASTRO
Adopted at birth in 1967 by a family of Jehovah's Witnesses, I was asked from an early age to behave as much like an adult as possible. Three times a week in the Kingdom Hall in Miami, my brother and I strove to sit perfectly still in our chairs. Our mother carried a wooden spoon in her purse and was quick to take us outside for beatings if we fidgeted.

At 5, I sat onstage in the Kingdom Hall in Surrey, England, where my father's job had taken us. Nervously pushing my memorized lines into the microphone, I faced my mother, who was seated across from me. We were demonstrating for the congregation exactly how a Bible study with a ''worldly'' person, or non-Witness, should go.

I had played the householder before -- the person who answered the door. That was easy: you just asked questions that showed you didn't know the Truth. Portraying the Witness was harder: you had to produce the right Scripture to answer any questions the householder might ask.

But we had written our parts on index cards and rehearsed repeatedly at home. I was well dressed and shining clean. I said my lines flawlessly and gave looks of concern at the right times. Finally, the householder agreed with everything I had said: her way of life was wicked, and the Bible clearly proved that Jehovah's Witnesses were the only true Christians who would be saved at Armageddon. Her look was grateful. Then she smiled, becoming my mother again. Everyone clapped, and she glowed with pride. At last I could go out in service.

From the age of 5 until I was 14, I knocked on the doors of strangers each week with memorized lines that urged them to repent. I didn't play with worldly children. I didn't have birthday parties or Christmas mornings. What I did was pray a lot. I knew the books of the Bible in order, by heart, and could recite various verses. My loneliness was nourished by rich, beautiful fantasies of eternal life in a paradise of peace, justice, racial harmony and environmental purity, a recompense for the rigor and social isolation of our lives.

This bliss wasn't a future we had to work for. Witnesses wouldn't vote, didn't involve themselves in worldly matters, weren't activists. Jehovah would do it all for us, destroying everyone who wasn't a Witness and restoring the earth to harmony. All we had to do was obey and wait.

Shortly after our return to the States, my father was disfellowshipped for being an unrepentant smoker -- smoking violated God's temple, the body, much like fornication and drunkenness. Three years later, my parents' marriage dissolved. My mother's second husband had served at Bethel, the Watchtower's headquarters in Brooklyn. Our doctrines, based on Paul's letters in the New Testament, gave him complete control as the new head of the household; my mother's role was to submit. My stepfather happened to be the kind of person who took advantage of this authority, physically abusing us and forcing us to shun our father completely.

After two years, I ran away to live with my father. My brother joined me a tumultuous six months later. We continued to attend the Kingdom Hall and preach door to door; the Witnesses had been our only community. Leaving was a gradual process that took months of questioning. I respected all faiths deeply, but at 15 I decided that I could no longer be part of a religion that condoned inequality.

After she finally divorced my stepfather, my mother moved out of state and married another Witness. Our occasional correspondence skates over the surface of our strained deténte. I feel for her struggles. A smart, capable woman, she subjugated her will and judgment, as the Witnesses teach, to her husbands'. If she damaged my brother and me or failed to protect us, she did so out of fear and belief. She wanted to save us from certain destruction at Armageddon, from a corrupt and dirty world. She wanted nothing less for us than paradise.

I love my mother, but I also love my ''worldly'' life, the multitude of ideas I was once forbidden to entertain, the rich friendships and the joyous love of my family. By choosing to live in the world she scorned -- to teach in a college, to spare the rod entirely, to believe in the goodness of all kinds of people -- I have, in her eyes, turned my back not only on Jehovah but also on her.

It's strange when Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door now. I know discussion is futile; they have a carefully planned response for any objection. Finally, I say, ''I'm an apostate,'' and their eyes widen at the word: someone who has willfully rejected Jehovah, far worse than a worldly person, who is simply ignorant of the Truth. A threat to the faith of others, an apostate deserves to be shunned, as we were forced to shun our disfellowshipped father. The Witnesses back away from my door.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Gall


Dr. Juha Pentikäinen
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
Did anyone go to FinnFest this week? I'd love to hear about it. Esp. Dr. Pentikäinen's lecture. Here's his photo again for the fan club.

Now, in the "it only hurts when I laugh" department: I'm currently on a steady drip of ginger ale and percoset, recovering from a recent cholecystectomy. That's when three or four impressively-credentialed but frighteningly youthful persons put you to sleep, incise your abdomen in several places, pump it up like a balloon, and with expert timing and prestidigital magic (one imagines), extract a mad-as-hell, stone-throwing gallbladder.

Which, as the source of one of the "four humours," was once considered the locus of anger and even sin. So its removal would seem to assure a more peaceful future. Free cholecystectomiess for everybody.

Starting with the toddlers. Our sweet four-year old is getting more skillful at expressing herself. Recently she brought me a post-it pad and asked me to help her write her brother's name. I did. Then she asked how to spell "STU."

"The name or the food?"

"The name," she said.

She wrote it carefully per my instructions.

"OK, Mama.' (Her pen poised like a reporter's.)

"Yes."

"How do you spell PID?"

I did not want to laugh, readers.

Now here's the real gall: her grandparents, who have never (not even once) paid her a visit in her short life, are flying all the way to Delaware to see the Elders again before their return to Sweden. I won't call those priorities stupid, because I have better manners than that.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Passion of the Reformed?


Laestadius
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
I'm reposting Virginia's latest message here so it won't be missed. My understanding is that LLL's father was an alcoholic. From his letters, it appears he himself took only the occasional drink, but decided to quit for fear it would cause others to stumble.
Virginia said...
Hi all, I would like to share with you a description of Laestadius from the Saami Spirit Calendar 1999 (tomten publications, Bloomington MN). This is from a Saami cultural organization, not a Laestadian group. I will quote it completely, as it is not very long (the caps are mine):
LAESTADIUS
"By the 1600s missions were established throughout northern Scandinavia and the Saamis were heavily pressed to abandon their ancient customs and convert to Christianity. Young Saami men were educated by the state to become priests, and one of these was Lars Levi Laestadius (1800-1861), a man many credit with saving Saami culture. A powerful orator who wrote and preached in the Saami language, Laestadius founded a christian revival movement in the 1830s which spread quickly throughout Sammi. He attracted a large following by preaching a message more in tune with Saami temperament and tradition. Scorning modernity - especially the use of alcohol - and the authority of church and state, his followers held fast to social traditions and language at a time when the Saamis were being strongly pressured to assimilate into modern Swedish or Norwegian society. LAESTADIAN REVIVALS WERE FIERY AND CHARISMATIC, AND PARISHIONERS OFTEN FELL INTO WILD STATES OF ECSTASY AND SPOKE IN TONGUES. Laestadian churches were established in the United States by immigrants from the Scandinavian countries, where they become known as the Apostolic Lutheran Church."
I thought this was pretty wild. Can you imagine "states of ecstasy and speaking in tongues" now? When I originally read this, I had the suspicion that Laestadianism was initially quite lively but that element got squelched when the Finns got hold of it and turned it into a morose, self-flagellating enterprise. Incidentally, my sister says that Laestadius was an alcoholic, and that's why he has the passion of the reformed. I'm not sure where she got that info.
V

Friday, August 05, 2005

Lovely in Eyes Not His

We're off camping, so I won't be reading or posting for a while. Please feel free to start a conversation without me and don't worry about keeping on topic. There are very few rules in blogland.

Here's a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins you might enjoy.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
     As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
     Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
     Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
     Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
  Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is—
  Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
  To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Garden Musing


Daylily
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
What you don't see in my garden photos is the bright turquoise wading pool, the yellow inflatable duck and blue whale, the purple tricycle, silver bicycle, pink doll stroller and a red wagon. These lurid objects, courtesy of our children, distract considerably from the tranquility of our urban sanctuary. It looks like a daycare.

But yesterday, as I drew an exasperated sigh over the abandoned menagerie of stuffed animals, plucked a Tinker Toy from the lady's mantle and freed a Hot Wheel the birch tree, I saw the future in a flash: my husband and I will be taking our ease in a lovely, serene, plastic-free garden. And we'll be talking about how much we miss the kids.

Do you have fond memories of childhood? I have no memories of the activities my own children enjoy. Because there were no "Christian" children in our area, I never had a playdate or sleepover. No bicycle or scooter, no lessons of any kind. I didn't visit a zoo or aquarium until I was an adult.

It puzzles me: how did I spend the days, especially in summer? Sewing? Baking? Reading? Nothing memorable, apparently.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Christian Paradox

Here is a paragraph from "The Christian Paradox" by Bill McKibben, in this month's Harper's magazine.

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation’s educational decline, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Advice?

I've reposted this message here so it wouldn't be missed.

Leah718 said...
Thank you to the woman who has been married to an OALCer for over 30yrs. The posting on this site and one other have helped me tremenously. I am a Chrisitan woman "of color" who has dated a man for two and a half years that belongs to this church. Many of the questions that have gone unanswered have now come to light. This explains the unusual coldness I have felt by the his friends and family that belong to the church. How could this have gone on so long? Because of our careers and lifesyles, it was once easy to live a life separate of that of the church.
I am saddened when I feel his pain. He is torn between family, the church and me. I don't feel it would be fair to ask him to leave the church; this is something that he needs to do on his own. He is a well educated man who has tasted life apart from the church for a while, and although he never discusses this with me, I know he has serious doubts about the church's claims.
Part of my role to him is the love that can exist outside the church; my biggest fear is that he will never leave the church. You are right in saying that attending church alone is very lonely, even if you are still single.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Leah, it is wise of you to consider these things seriously. Your guy is lucky to have you, because a lot of dates would run (fast) after seeing an OALC family up close. (Thank God my husband didn't.)

Even if your man leaves the church, he will never be completely free from it, socially or psychologically. It doesn't sound like he wants to be, though. If your biggest fear is that he won't leave the church, and he has yet to talk to you about his commitment to it, I think that's a big clue.

If you choose to have kids, your children will grow with a significant number of their relatives considering them "bad" or "unChristian" or worse. (Our six-year old is very sad that his grandparents and cousins never visit him.)

There is no appreciation of diversity, racial or otherwise, in the OALC. Why put yourself or your kids through that?

Leah, have the big conversation with him. Then "don't waste your pretty" if he can't make accommodations or understand your concerns. There are many wonderful men in the world.

Don't settle.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Married to the OALC

What is it like to be married to someone who is still in the OALC? No doubt it varies a lot. But my heart goes out to all those who are feeling the barbs and arrows of the OALC's unloving dogma. Read the comments
here
and also here (on the Left the OALC blog).

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

New Forum for Former Laestadians, XLLL

In response to the suggestions for a forum, I've started one over at Yahoo -- click above or the logo in the sidebar at right. When you subscribe to the forum (with a real or assumed name), you can choose to have your email address hidden. Please sign up and launch a topic.

Any Change Here?

Incredibly, this blog is almost a year old. It seems like just last week when I was wondering if anyone "out there" would find me. Well, you did and I'm glad. It is gratifying to know that I am not alone and that other folks are finding validation and information and support here. (As well as unsolicited prayers, hehe.)

Perhaps because I'm getting to know some of you, and because traffic is increasing (upwards of 60 hits a day, yikes), I feel newly motivated to improve this blog. Nothing major. I'm not THAT motivated and I have about two minutes a day I can spend on it. But! It would be nice to have categories for old posts, so if you want to look up the list of Sins, you don't have to search. And it would be helpful to have a "recent comments" section because y'all keep responding to stuff that is in the archives. These features are available with hosts other than Blogger (should I be whispering? Am I guilty of blog apostasy?!)

Oh, and what about the url? While "extoot" was kind of fun and insiderish -- "toot" was another term for bunner in my particular OALC milieu -- it is more confusing than descriptive.

Or should I leave well enough alone?

Help me out here, readers.

(No, that is not my photo and that pathetic person is not a relative. I'm pretty sure.)

Monday, July 25, 2005

New Link, Personal Post

Thanks to Exoalc, I've added a link to Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources over in the right column.

Today under "A Lily Grows" there is a new note from Anonymous that reads:

I will continue to pray for you, as you still have a soul. A dying relative of yours told you repeatedly, "I love you". She is not alone in that thought. She loved all of you naturally and had a love and concern for your soul salvation. She was following Jesus own words when he said, "go out quickly, into the highways, hedges, streets, and lanes, and compell them to come in, that my house may be filled. We are still a house of the maimed, halt and blind.

Were these words intended for me? Or for Virginia?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

ALC History

Thanks to the reader who provided the link (above) to this book about ALC history. Anyone willing to read it and post a review?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Creeds

There are some intriguing new posts about Christian creeds (click on link above). Thank you, readers, for increasing my understanding of the Nicene Creed. Personally, I have problems with creeds of all kinds -- which are loyalty oaths, basically, engineered to encourage conformity -- yet I understand their importance in the history and their continuing function as foundations for action. I guess I consider religious creeds like marriage vows and your homeland's Pledge of Allegiance: they are pale, inadequate descriptions of true faith, fidelity and patriotism.

What is your experience? What do creeds do for you? Or what have they done for you lately? :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Knot, Seen


Wood Knot
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
My husband took this photo of an interesting pattern in the deck of our Mendocino rental. He has an eye for detail and an appreciation for beauty in common things. I was extraordinarily jealous of that ability until I discovered it was contagious.

We can't see what we don't look at.
We don't know what we don't know.

Even now, years after un-put-up-withable cognitive dissonance compelled me to leave the OALC, I'm aware that my usual, my default mode of response is, as Tomte described it, binary. I am one big evaluating machine, judging thoughts, experiences, words, people, things, places, etc. as to their significance, utility, rightness or wrongness, up/down, place in the bigger scheme of things, etc, etc.

Isn't this what we all do? Well, yes and no.

There is bigger way, a deeper, more profound, more holistic way of experiencing life . . . and God.

Perhaps it is not only contagious (so it helps to hang out with folks who practice it) but a muscle you can exercise.

Like prayer.

When you are done reading this, close your eyes. Imagine that death will arrive in three minutes, and everything you ever needed to know, you know now. Nothing is left to be said or done. Put your arms around your body (it has carried you so far!), then open them wide. Just be.

Feel that perfect love.

Highway One


View from Hwy One
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
It was the ideal road trip: four good friends, perfect weather, eye-popping scenery, good conversation, splendid music (including U2, ColdPlay and Phillip Glass, with frequent requests for "Puff the Magic Dragon" from our youngest rider). This photo was taken from Highway One north of Mendocino. If you've never taken this road before, put it on your lifetime to-do list.

And thank you, readers, for all the interesting posts.

Glass Beach


Glass Beach
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
North of Mendocino -- where we spent a lazy week with morning fog, afternoon sunshine and velvety night skies -- there is a beach that is unmarked and unadvertised, perhaps because the local Chamber of Commerce can't quite find the right spin. Called Glass Beach by the locals, it is a treasure trove of glass pebbles, mostly clear and green but some brown and very rarely blue, mixed in with the sand and rocks, deposited there by the tide which continues to refine the detritus of previous residents. It used to be the town's garbage dump. Don't worry, I won't stretch for a metaphor here. I just wanted to share this photo with you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Lily Grows in Battle Ground


Casablanca
Originally uploaded by Free2beme.
I took this photo in my sister's lush garden in BG, just before heading south to California for a week on the coast. I'm told the OALC has rented the fairgrounds for its summer meetings, and indeed I saw a sign nearby that said: "OALC Elders Meetings." On our way out of town, I saw a carload of long-haired girls at an intersection and had a strange feeling of looking into my own past, and felt so much gratitude for the roads I've travelled and the distance I've come.

I wondered if they were happy.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Tell Truth to Power

There are new posts under Benefits of Leaving and Elders. I want to thank everyone who writes, and keeps this blog afloat.

I know it takes a measure of courage to put your thoughts out here, particularly if you've been warned not to "find fault." Let me assure you that telling truth to power is essential for living free lives . . . in every sphere.

Now, if you don't want your message to be buried in the archives, you can post it under the current topic -- don't worry it doesn't relate.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Rise Up

Just in cased you missed it:

Today, millions of people attended or watched the Live8 series of rock concerts in nine nations around the world. More than 26.4 million people from around the world have sent text messages in support of the Live8 campaign, a world record. The goal? To pressure world leaders at the G8 leaders' summit, taking place next Wednesday in Edinburgh, to agree to a package of aid, debt relief and trade reform to help lift African nations out of poverty. (Every single day, 30,000 children die, needlessly, of extreme poverty. Every three seconds is the death rate of African children.)

"So this is our moment. This is our time. This is our chance to stand up for what's right. We're not looking for charity, we're looking for justice. We cannot fix every problem, but the ones we can, we must." Bono

"Today we hold this truth to be self-evident: We are all in this together." Will Smith

"History and the generations to come will judge our leaders by the decisions they make in the coming week. I say to all those leaders: Do not look the other way, do not hesitate ... It is within your power to prevent a genocide." Nelson Mandela

"Sometimes it falls upon on a generation to be great. You be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up." Nelson Mandela

"We can do this, and when we do it will be the best thing that humanity has ever done." Bill Gates

If you are compelled to add your voice, click on the title above to go to Live8's website.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hotter in Hell

A friend writes:
Once an OALC Finn lady told my mom, when my mom was wearing a sleeveless cotton house dress on a hot, summer day, slaving away in the kitchen preparing a meal for a carload of hungry Finns, that my mom should cover up and wear something more appropriate. My mom told the happy Finn lady she was sweltering. The Finn lady retorted that it was "hotter in hell."

LOL. A good retort might have been that as Americans, we have the constitutional right to bare arms.

But not, apparently, a quarter inch of mammary gland. Barbara Walters complained to millions of TV viewers that she was made "uncomfortable" by a mother next to her on the plane who was breastfeeding an infant. In solidarity the next day, our local TV commentator Ken Schram compared breastfeeding in public to "urinating in public."

What the?

Ken, breastmilk is food. Urine is waste. There are public places devoted to the latter and precious few to the former. I can still remember as a new mom trying to find an empty bathroom stall at a fancy restaurant so I could breastfeed without scandalizing the couple sitting next to us. Who were eating. Something was/is wrong with that picture!

Ken's own wife told him he was being idiotic. She breastfed their children and remembers what it was like. He backtracked and is now making feeble pleas for modesty. Okay, we forgive you. But not Barbara.

When you see a woman nursing, give her a big smile.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Son of AP Preacher Killed in Iraq

My heart goes out to the Kilpela family. Last night as I listened to the president persist in linking 9-11 and the war on Iraq, I considered how human it is to want to believe his authority. It absolves us from responsibility and it is so much easier than thinking for ourselves.

"Naturally the common people don't want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. Tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and endangering the country. It works the same in every country."
Hermann Goering

Monday, June 27, 2005

Virginia Writes

I'm pasting this recent comment up here so you won't miss it. Thanks, Virginia, for writing so compellingly about your experience. Please come again.

Virginia said...
Hi, I am an ex-OALCer (NOT ex-"Christian" as "they" would consider me) and thrilled to have discovered this blog. My sister found it, actually. We are granddaughters of Sandra Simonson Uskoski (Axel's second wife), nieces of Walfred and Eino Simonson, etc, etc and grew up in Hancock - so anyone doing even a bit of sleuthing could easily figure out who I am. And to reply to your question only (as I could write books): As a teenager, I discovered that I just did not believe. I could not believe that every last Asian and African and South American and Australian (to say nothing of 99%+ of Europeans and Americans) who was older than 7 years and 1 day at death was destined to eternal hell and damnation. Even tho it scared me to death, I knew that God "saw into my heart" (that teaching, at least, rang true) and He knew that I didn't believe, so I had to take my chances "in the world" because I was destined for hell anyway. There is no way to force oneself to believe. So I went through 20+ years in the "Dark Night of the Soul," looking but finding no substitute for the all-encompassing-ness of the OALC. In the meantime, I became first a computer programmer and then a medical doctor (OB-GYN), was married, divorced, re-married and had 3 children. At age 40, as I had foreseen, I received an "awakening" into the reality of who we ALL are, which is children of God and heirs to His unconditional love. (No, God is not an old man with a long white beard, sitting on a cloud in judgment, but it is easier to use the male pronoun rather than "its" ). The only purpose for all that focus on sin, hell, devil, etc is "crowd control." Of course, I still have an occasional "what if they're right" worry, but those are few and far between now, and I know based only on fear. It isn't easy to leave, emptiness of one sort or the other bound to follow. Staying isn't necessarily wrong either. Integrity, listening to OUR OWN hearts and following their dictates, is what counts. No one can go wrong there, because that is in fact what God reads - not whether we follow someone else's rules. "Love God and Love Your Neighbor" - that's it, no contingencies. I'll leave the topic of forgiveness for perhaps another posting. Many blessings to you all. May God shine his light of acceptance and understanding and tolerance and, yes, love, on all the suffering ones. Virginia