Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Known Universe by AMNH

Kind of puts Laestadius in perspective.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to the Pale Blue Dot

Wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas, readers. I hope you enjoy this video. Please reach out to strangers over the holidays . . . those of us who have left a faith community know that the holidays can be a lonely time, and the smallest of gestures can be an enormous comfort. Be well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Does Religion Subjugate Women?

President Jimmy Carter addresses the Parliament from Parliament of Religions on Vimeo.


From a Speech by Jimmy Carter to the Parliament
of the World's Religions, Melbourne, Australia, Dec. 3, 2009

Most Bible scholars acknowledge that the Holy Scriptures were written when male dominance prevailed in every aspect of life. Men could have multiple sex partners (King Solomon had 300 wives and 700 concubines), but adulterous behavior by a woman could be punished by stoning to death - then, in the time of Christ and, in some societies, 2009 years later.

I realize that devout Christians can find adequate scripture to justify either side in this debate, but there is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he never condoned sexual discrimination or the implied subservience of women. The exaltation and later reverence for Mary, as Jesus' mother, is an even more vivid indication of the special status of women in Christian theology.

I have taught Bible lessons for more than 65 years, and I know that Paul forbade women to worship with their heads covered, to braid their hair, or to wear rings, jewelry, or expensive clothes. It is obvious to most modern day Christians that Paul was not mandating permanent or generic theological policies.

In a letter to Timothy, Paul also expresses a prohibition against women's teaching men, but we know – and he knew – that Timothy himself was instructed by his mother and grandmother.

At the same time, in Paul's letter to the Romans, he listed and thanked twenty-eight outstanding leaders of the early churches, at least ten of whom were women. "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church … greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus … greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you… greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was … greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them."

It is clear that during the early Christian era women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers, and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

My own Southern Baptist Convention leaders ordained in recent years that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors, chaplains in the military service, or teachers of men. They based this on a few carefully selected quotations from Saint Paul and also Genesis, claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin. This was in conflict with my belief that we are all equal in the eyes of God. The Roman Catholic Church and many others revere the Virgin Mary but consider women unqualified to serve as priests.

This view that the Almighty considers women to be inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or tradition. Its influence does not stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.

Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views and set a new course that demands equal rights for women and men, girls and boys.

At their most repugnant, the belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo. It also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair and equal access to education, health care, employment, and influence within their own communities.

...we are calling on all those with influence to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices – in religious and secular life– that justify discrimination against women and to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of equality and human dignity.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bike Lanes a Religious Threat?

Check out this article about Hassidic Jews getting PUBLIC bicycle lanes removed because Spandex-wearing bicyclists were a "threat to their religion." I've been told that OALCers have been successful in removing sports and theater programs from public schools their children attend. Is there a difference?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Finlandia

Thanks to Vanhapiika for sharing this link. My grandfather grew up near Savonlinna, I'd like to think he heard this in concert and that the rousing music fixed his resolve to avoid conscription in the Russian Army. Although one could argue that leaving for America (e.g, draft-dodging) is not the sentiment intended!

Finlandia became so popular that it could only be performed in disguise under false names. This video says it was labelled "Impromptu" to avoid the Russian censors. According to Wikipedia, "Titles under which the piece masqueraded were numerous, a famously flippant example being Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring.

Far from the country and context that gave it birth, I would grow up singing the Finlandia Hymn as "Be Still My Soul" (without musical accompiment, of course) in the OALC. The lyrics were written in 1941 by a non-Laestadian Finnish poet.

Since then I have heard the hymn performed many ways. I love the version by Joan Baez, and cherish the memory of a dear friend playing the tune on bagpipes. However, I have yet to experience the power of a live performance by an orchestra. What about you? What are your connections to Finlandia?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, readers. A bout of laryngitis keeps me from talking (or enjoying food) today, but the pie is baked, the turkey brined, and the potatoes about to be peeled. The show must go on, for our kids' sake. They LOVE tradition.

My husband will roast a small heirloom turkey from the farmers' market. Our son will make his traditional cranberry sauce with candied ginger. Our daughter will mash the potatoes and set the table with our fancy dishes. I'll make green beans with shallots and mushrooms. Together, at some magical hour this afternoon, we will light the beeswax tapers, sit down and smile at each other. Take in the beauty and abundance. Reflect on our good fortune.

Itadakimasu, we'll say. Japanese for "I humbly receive."

Growing up in the OALC, we never gave thanks at meals. Sometimes, the men would begin eating as soon as they were seated, and the women, who had labored -- for hours or days -- preparing the food, would wait until after the men and children were done, and eat whatever was left. Perhaps this practice dates from farming life, with men coming in from the fields for dinner and going right back out again. Also, in huge families, there is not always room to sit together at one table.

But still. It bugged me.

Fortunately, as adults we can start new traditions. And keep tweaking them.

This year, there is cornbread in the stuffing and the pie is made from a weird, bumpy heirloom squash. Our conversation will be seasoned with Japanese and French because the kids are studying those languages.

Whatever the words, we will acknowledge the food, the farmers who grew it, the earth, rain, sun, air, the family and friends, everything that sustain us. Including this blog and the wonderful people here.

For this I whisper my thanks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Healthcare & the OALC

I just received this email and am hoping we can help. I've asked the writer to read this blog for your responses.

Hi, I am a nursing student at Clark College. As a class, the students here are doing projects about the importance of adapting health care to different cultures, religions, and ethnic groups. The main purpose of this project is to create awareness and improve future health care delivery. I am writing this email because I would like the opportunity to learn some of the values and belief of the Apostolic Lutheran faith that should be considered by health care professionals when providing care to members of the church. For example, some religions abstain from the use of pharmaceuticals, birth control, and life support. Any information that is willing to be shared would be greatly appreciated. Again, the purpose here is to increase awareness and respect for all patients in a health care environment.

I have tried to contact members of the OALC, but I have had little success. I was reading your blogs and thought you might be able to provide some beneficial information.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Leaving home

I recently finally made the resolution to give up my membership in a Laestadian church, the result of two decades of soul searching. My immediate family is no longer speaking to me, although I suspect this, too, shall come to pass. They speak to my brother, who "ran away" to another city and left the church as well.

If you met my family, I am sure you'd think they were about the nicest people you'd ever met, and they probably are...if you're not part of their family and especially not a family member trying to leave the church. I sat drinking coffee one Sunday morning when it dawned on me at about 10 a.m. that just because I will no longer go to THAT church, it doesn't mean I can't go to church. Almost impulsively, I searched the Internet for service times of churches in my immediate area. Most of the services had already started, but one, the ELCA, had an 11:00 service. If I showered quickly, I could make it on time.

I bounded out the door at quarter to eleven, drove about half a mile, and walked into the church. It was the first time in my four-decade life I had been outside my LLL church for services of my own volition. Once, in high school, I slept over at a "worldly" friend's house when the next morning her parents insisted I go to church with them before they dropped me off at home. I tried to explain to them my parents wouldn't like me to go to another church, and then they asked me what church I went to. When I replied, "Apostolic Lutheran" they insisted I go, since it was a Lutheran church they go to, and how different could it be? So I went, but made a concerted effort not to hear anything in the sermon, lest I be tempted. Later in college, I was given a mandatory assignment to attend a place of worship different from my own, and then compare and contrast both experiences. I selected a Catholic church, since it seemed in sermons I had heard in my LLL church that the Catholics had things so screwed up I for sure would not be tempted by any of their dogma.

I sat in a back pew, alone. I recognized the neighbors down the street as the wife used to provide before-school care for our younger child in elementary school. There were maybe about 20 people there, in contrast with the great mob that attends Sunday services at my LLL church.

The pastor was dressed simply and casually, in a black mock-turtleneck and black pants, no robe or finery for him. Ironically, the parishioners were dressed much more casually than in my LLL church. Only one very elderly woman wore a dress.

A hymn was started, accompanied by organ music. My own church sang a cappela, with several people (men only) serving as hymn leaders, or lukkaris as we say in Finn. There weren't enough people to really carry the songs, and I could not join in because I was so lost. "Geez, they could really use some lukkaris, I thought to myself, before I censored that thought as being too judgmental. That was what I was trying to get away from!

The song was about the steadfastness of Christ's love, and a torrent of tears released from me. I so needed to hear that. I know it will take years, maybe forever, to erase my Laestadian mindset. My husband is unemployed right now, and he is very worried about his ability to get a job, and it has crossed my mind that maybe he cannot find a job because I am being punished for leaving the church. Then I dismissed the thought. Ridiculous. According to that mindset, only LLL'ers would have jobs, and there are plenty of non-Godly people who are employed and successful.

The sermon was about the importance of service and giving to others, using the Biblical story about the widow who gave two coins (all she had) and the rich folks who gave more, but their personal impact was much less, so her gift meant so much more. I contrasted that with the LLL-sermons that rarely mention giving, although I do know Laestadians who give both time and their resources to people and charities outside their faith communities. I also know Laestadians who justify their non-giving and non-volunteering by saying that those things are but "filthy rags before God."

I was amazed at how few people there were, contrasted to the many at my old church. How could that be? Then I started to think: Would I have attended church as often as I have if there had not been those annoying phone calls to my house when I elected to stay home?

What if no longer attending church didn't place me automatically in hell? Or on the flip side, attending church no longer put me in heaven? What if some other criteria was being used, things you can't see but you can feel, such as kindness and the love in your heart for God and for your fellow human beings?

What if the few people that were there were holier and closer to God than the thousand or so folks who regularly attend my urban congregation, because they were not there out of pleasing their relatives or to earn their way to heaven, but they were there simply to praise God?

There are a lot of what if's. It is amazing, but since I left the church, I am able to effortlessly find myself thanking God and talking to him, and I didn't as much before. Was I too frightened of Him? I know my mother would say that it was the devil I am now speaking to, not God, since He doesn't exist outside our branch of Laestadianism. I know not all believe as she does, but she is my mother and it's from her lap I learned all of his.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Healthcare Reform

Yesterday the U.S. House voted narrowly (220-215) to pass healthcare reform. While this vote is indeed historic (it is the first time since Medicare a healthcare bill has passed either chamber), it's future is uncertain. The Senate must pass its own bill and the two must then be reconciled before the changes become law.

This summer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) passed a resolution saying that “each person should have ready access to basic health care services that include preventative, acute and chronic physical and mental health care at affordable cost.”

Last week, Catholic bishops threatened to pull their support unless federal funding for abortions was explicitly forbidden (this provision was cited by the sole Republican, a former Jesuit seminarian, as allowing him to cross the aisle to vote for the bill).

Jim Wallis of Sojourners writes:

For decades now, the physical health and well-being of our country has been a proxy battle for partisan politics. When Truman tried to pass a national health insurance plan, the American Medical Association spent $200 million (in today’s dollars) and was accused of violating ethics rules by having doctors lobby their patients to oppose the legislation. In the 1970’s when Nixon tried to pass a national health insurance plan, strikingly similar to what many democrats are proposing today, the plan was defeated by liberal democrats and unions who thought that they would be able to pass something themselves after the mid-term elections and claim political credit for the plan. In the 1990’s the “Harry and Louise” ads misrepresented the Clinton health care plan but was successful enough PR to shut down that movement for reform.

Walis encourages the faith community to "step in and speak for the interests of the common good and those who would not otherwise have a voice."

Certainly there have been many doing just that, as well as many others who use their voices to shout down others, or spread misinformation.

It seems everyone who has an opinion, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, feels there is a moral component to healthcare. How about you? What are your thoughts?

(Please, no anonymous comments, and mind your manners. Let's debate like adults.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Do Laestadians celebrate Halloween?

I think we may have discussed this before, but in honor of Halloween weekend I thought I'd bring it up again.

Growing up in the ALC, my family had a very ambivalent attitude towards Halloween. We were allowed limited trick-or-treating, but we could never dress up as anything "supernatural." No ghosts, witches, vampires, demons, etc. allowed. I was a cowboy one year, and a clown another. There was never anything church-sponsored for Halloween. As far as the church was concerned it didn't exist.

As a teen I remember my parents being invited to a Halloween party being put on by some fellow Laestadians. It was billed as a "Reformation Party" even though people dressed up in Halloween costumes, there was bobbing for apples, etc. However in the middle of the party someone gave a little talk about Martin Luther, his 95 theses, and how even in the middle of a party we needed to be serious about our faith. This, I believe, was considered progressive.

Since my childhood, Halloween has become fodder for the culture wars in the United States. Many of my former Laestadian friends and family have left for conservative evangelical churches that associate Halloween with Satanism, neo-Paganism, and other feared isms. I find it ironic that they now have an even more reactionary view towards Halloween now than we did growing up.

I'm interested in hearing about what other branches of Laestadianism do or don't do for Halloween. Is it celebrated in Scandinavia at all?

As someone wise once said, what WE make of it is what matters.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Milla Clementsdotter and the Readers

Matt Perkins has a new post about Mary Lapp, the Reader movement, pietism, and Laestadianism out on his blog this morning. I think it's worth checking out.

Lapin Maija, by Matt Perkins

Since I finished reading Lars Levi Laestadius and the Revival in Lapland, by Warren H. Hepokoski I've gotten more interested in the Reader movement. Many of the on-line sources place Laestadius within the Reader context. What I find fascinating about the Readers are the extremes of their belief, with Hepokoski reporting that some Readers actually thought they were Jesus Christ, and that their pronouncements superceded Scripture.

The more I read about Laestadian history, the more I can sympathize with why Laestadius would start his movement, but I also sympathize with why the established church found it so troubling. It's fun to imagine myself back in the 1850s in Finland. Would I be a Reader, a Laestadian, or would I support the state church? Would I come to the same conclusions my ancestors did?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Boundaries, and those who cross them

I read an interesting article this morning by Carl McColman about boundaries which reflected upon a couple of mutually paradoxical points.

On the one hand every community, religious or otherwise, has boundaries that determine who is in and who is out of the community, define norms for acceptable behavior, etc. Sometimes boundaries are helpful, but other times (and here I'm thinking about my own Laestadian upbringing and the stories many others have shared on this site) boundaries can be very damaging, promoting fear of "the other," conformity, and stifling creativity.

On the other hand, Christians have the example of Jesus, who constantly got in trouble with the religious and secular authorities of his day for crossing boundaries. Looking at the theology and the stories the church tells about Jesus this theme is even more pronounced. Jesus violates the boundaries between human and Divine, between body and spirit, between heaven and earth, between death and life.

from That which is different by Carl McColman

[W]hile there may be boundaries that separate believer from non-believer, love -- true love, the love that comes from God -- knows no boundaries. So we who live inside the boundaries have to learn how to love through the boundaries. I’m not sure what that looks like, because it sounds like something that could easily be condescending or "second rate." But I don't think love operates according to a caste system. Jesus didn't say, "Love your Christian neighbors as yourself," nor did he say "love your neighbors as yourself, and of course this means different things depending on whether your neighbor is a believer or not." So here's the paradox: the boundaries of Christianity remind us who we are: a people who have given our lives over to love. Remove the boundaries, and our identity is in jeopardy. But it is that very identity that calls us to cross the boundaries with the lavish, prodigal love of God.

As ex-Laestadians, we've all crossed a pretty large boundary. What has it meant for you to be a boundary crosser? Has it changed the way you think about boundaries in general? What boundaries, if any, are still meaningful?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Three Free E-books about Laestadianism

Warren H. Hepokoski's research on the Laestadian movement has been mentioned here before, but I thought I'd highlight these links to his writings again since being recently made aware that his books are also available as PDF files for off-line reading.

Lars Levi Laestadius and the Revival in Lapland, by Warren H. Hepokoski (HTML) (PDF)

The Laestadian Movement: Disputes and Divisions 1861 - 2000, by Warren H. Hepokoski (HTML) (PDF)

The Laestadian Movement: Background Writings and Testimonies, Warren H. Hepokoski (PDF only)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Communion, Laestadian Style

Some recent comments from Pyhä got me thinking about Laestadian communion again. :-)

See also Sacrament of Communion, by cvow, and Laestadian Communion, by free2bme for previous posts and comments on this topic.

One thing that I didn't see described in the previous posts was a detailed description of the communion service, which I will now do from an ALC standpoint.

These services were always long. Typically an ALC church service lasts an hour, but subjectively seems a lot longer. This is because the congregation plays such a passive role, and the sermon lasts such a long time (at least thirty minutes, often longer.) Because so much time is dedicated to the sermon, very little time is dedicated to anything else. The typical order of service would include an opening hymn, a prayer, another hymn (accompanied by passing the collection plate), the sermon, another hymn, and you're done.

The sermons were generally incoherent and spontaneous, because writing the sermon in advance was thought to "quench the Spirit" and King James phrasing was not always limited to the Bible reading, but also to the pastor's own utterances. Even as an adult with an education I still often cannot discern the point of any given sermon. At best, it is a stream-of-consciousness free association of Laestadian theological and moral sentiments.

Communion was not every Sunday. It was typically once a month, and on special occasions such as Holy Week. Communion added time to the service, as it was generally tacked on the end of the hour-long service described above. Depending on how many people were in attendance, this could add another 30-45 minutes to the service. Confirmation Sunday (worthy of a blog post in its own right) was a marathon in pew-warming, with larger than usual attendance, all the confirmation specific stuff, plus the long sermon, plus communion!

The Communion part of the service started with the congregation reciting the Apostle's Creed. Then we'd launch into "O Jumalan Karitsa, joka pois otat maailman synnit, armahda meille päälemme..." Sometimes we kids would call it "the Mailman song." I never knew this was the "Agnus Dei" or what any of the words meant until I was an adult and left the church. All I knew was that it was a moment of great solemnity, with the a capella drone of the words as the elders in the congregation slowly made their way up to the communion rail.

I had mixed feelings about Communion. On the one hand I liked it because it was a more interesting service. We got to sing more, and there was always the possibility that a member of the congregation would stand up before us and publicly confess their sins, sometimes very emotionally with cries and tears. Usually they were pretty general about what they had done, but once a man confessed to cheating on his wife in front of the whole congregation! One would hope that he had talked to his wife about this beforehand, but no matter what the offense, the congregation would always respond "you are forgiven in the name and shed blood of Jesus Christ." Whether this is touching or trivializes the whole idea of forgiveness and absolution I do not know. As far as I know there was never any pastoral follow-up regarding what got confessed in front of the congregation.

On the other hand, Communion was an anxiety producing event for me. In confirmation class I had learned that if you take communion "unworthily" you were "drinking damnation unto oneself." Therefore it was very important to make sure that you had no unconfessed sins (confessed to God, or to the confessor, according to Luther's Small Catechism). I would usually try to solve this problem by doing a blanket "forgive me for everything" prayer (in addition to specific items) right on the rail before taking the elements. I did this in my head, not out loud to everyone. :) Yet I also worried that this wasn't good enough, and felt guilty about confessing for the same things over and over again. It was as if a slate of sins would accumulate through the month, then they would get "wiped clean" after confessing and taking communion. But then the sins would start accumulating again, sometimes moments after having them wiped away!

In addition to the theological/existential anxiety of Laestadian communion, there was also the logistical anxiety. Typically old people would commune first, followed by "the youth" contingent, and then all other adults. Young children were not allowed to receive. It was entirely up to you to decide when to come forward, and as a teen I was often worried that if I went up "too soon" or "too late" that there would not be room for me at the rail and I'd look like an idiot. I'd have to time my approach just right to make sure that I could get a spot at the rail before it filled up, but arrive too soon and you'd have to stand there before the previous group got dismissed.

Once at the rail and in the kneeling position, the elements were consumed in the most submissive posture I've ever seen in any church. We weren't allowed to touch either the communion cup or the wafers of bread, instead keeping our heads bowed until the presider came by, when we would tilt our heads upward with our mouths open, very much like a baby bird looking for a worm. The wafer would be placed in our mouths, and the wine would be poured from the communion cup directly into our mouths as well. Given how submissive this posture is, is it any surprise that there are no female Laestadian pastors or communion assistants?

There were times when all of this needless anxiety made we want to skip communion altogether. But if you were in attendance, eligible, and didn't take communion, it would prompt questions from the pastor and whispers from the rest of the congregation. So not partaking was not an option. With communion only once a month, though, one could arrange to be out of town, or sick, and manage to go a few months without the sacrament.

I attend a church with a liturgical tradition now, and as such the Eucharist is the high point, climax, and focal point of every Sunday service. There is a feeling of celebration, and an expectation of meeting Christ in the sacrament. I can't imagine trying to avoid communion now, and there is no anxiety surrounding it. I still take communion seriously due to my upbringing, but I can't imagine placing the strictures on it that we did as Laestadians, and I still don't really understand the Laestadian approach to communion.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Authoritarians

This week I've been reading The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer. Altemeyer is an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. His book is a study of right-wing authoritarianism, with a focus on religious fundamentalism in the United States and Canada. Many of his observations about right-wing authoritarian followers (RWAs) and their leaders (social dominators) rang true for me viz. my experiences with Laestadianism growing up and the stories that many have shared on this blog.

Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want--which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.

The "right wing" in right-wing authoritarianism does not necessarily refer to someone's politics, but to psychological preferences and personality. It means that the person tends to follow the established conventions and authorities in society (or in their sub-culture.) In theory, the authorities could have either right-wing or left-wing political views.

A few things make this book different from other works I've read on the subject. First, Altemeyer writes for a general audience, with folksy humor peppered through the work. It's an easy read (although still properly footnoted.) For a more scholarly treatment of the same material, read Altemeyer's 1996 book, The Authoritarian Specter

Secondly, his findings are based on firsthand research experiments he's performed with his university students, identifying the RWA and social dominator personalities through the use of standardized questionaires and putting mixed groups of students through various scenarios to see how they react. The questionaires are printed in the book. I was able to take them myself and see how authoritarian I was on Altemeyer's scale.

Finally, while you can buy this book on Amazon, it's also available as a free e-book PDF file. Altemeyer wants to raise awareness of the role authoritarianism plays in our world, so he's giving his book away!

See also the Wikipedia entry for Right Wing Authoritarianism, which had this helpful definition:

Authoritarian submission — a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one's society should also be required to adhere to these norms

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Nightmare of Christianity

I recently read this article about Matthew Murray, the deeply disturbed young man responsible for opening fire on parishioners at New Life Church in Colorado Springs on December 9th, 2007.

The Nightmare of Christianity (editor's note: link no longer active)

While I don't agree with the authors premise that this incident is related to the death of the Religious Right or the Republican Party (both are alive and well), I was amazed at Matthew Murray's deep involvement in some of the premier far-right religious organizations of his day (Bill Gothard homeschooling, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), etc.) and how his violent acts seemed to be the result of being unable to successfully deal with the rage and disillusionment he had about the Christianity of his childhood and early adult life.

Some of the descriptions given about Murray's early life reminded me of Laestadianism and the conversations we've had on this site about cults and high-control groups
under the rules, "large homeschooling families abstain from television, midwives are more important than doctors, traditional dating is forbidden, unmarried adults are 'under the authority of their parents' and live with them, divorced people can't remarry under any circumstance, and music has hardly changed at all since the late nineteenth century."

Obedience is listening attentively, / Obedience will take instructions joyfully, / Obedience heeds wishes of authorities, / Obedience will follow orders instantly. / For when I am busy at my work or play, / And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away! /I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile / As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma am!" / Hup, two, three!

Just to make myself absolutely clear: I do not consider Laestadianism to be a cult, or even as extreme as many other groups out there like the one Murray was raised in. It's also an open chicken-and-egg type question for me whether high-control religious groups create psychologically fragile individuals that act out in later life, or if it begins with such an individual who might have acted out to greater or lesser extent even under better circumstances.

I'm left with questions: What kind of intervention in Murray's life might have prevented him from acting out? Does it help to blame Christianity, high-control groups, demonic possession, Satanism, pornography, the individual, or any of the other targets mentioned in the article? How might we offer a welcome to people leaving high-control groups?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Centering Prayer

I've dabbled in contemplative practices like Centering Prayer a bit over the years, and thought I'd share this short video which does a great job of describing Centering Prayer, what it is and what it does with a minimal amount of fuss and technical jargon. After seeing this video you know enough to try it if you want to.



Some biblical verses Centering Prayer practitioners point to are listed below. I think it's interesting that Pentecostals (and maybe even Laestadians who experience "the movement") also point to the first one.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. -Romans 8:26

and

Be still and know that I am God. -Psalm 46:10

One quote from the video that resonated with me as a former Laestadian was, "Centering Prayer can give you an awareness of how much God loves you." This really struck me because as a Laestadian the awareness of God I received was that God was angry, upset, ready to find fault and announce the verdict "Guilty!"

Any practice that can help me find a more gracious God is helpful in this context. :-)

SEE ALSO: Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, by Thomas Keating.

Centering Prayer: New Testament Scriptural and Theological Inspirations from Contemplative Outreach

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Lars Levi Laestadius' Sermons Online

Theoforos originally pointed out this site back in 2006 on the Merry Christmas Everyone thread, but I think it got lost in the holiday cheer. ;-)

Anyway, I recently bumped into this site again, and thought it was worth posting in case you missed it the first time. It's a comprehensive collection of Laestadius' sermons in Finnish, English, Swedish, and Sami.

http://www.laestadiustexter.se

Welcome to Internet-adress www.laestadiustexter.se. On these pages You will find both original manuscripts, old copies and printed books, preliminary translations and other texts. It is allowed to freely use and share all this material.

It is allowable to copy any part of the books by means of the PC printer and photo copier for education and other kind of purposes. All kind of commercial use of the texts on these pages is prohibited.

You can download the files into your PC and read them by means of Your Web browser or Acrobat Reader.


Growing up in the ALC, I knew about Laestadius but never heard or read any of his sermons. I've since learned that Laestaduius' sermons play a much more central role in some of the other branches of Laestadianism, such as OALC, where they are frequently read from the pulpit.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Biblical Dreams and Schemes

I recently ran across this "long, but worth it" article by Dr. James D. Tabor (Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte) entitled What the Bible Says About Death, Afterlife, and the Future. I think it's worth sharing because in no other article I've read on this subject to date have I seen both modern biblical scholarship and Bible verse citation used to such dramatic effect to convincingly show how biblical concepts have changed over time, resulting in a Bible in which competing and often contradictory claims about death, afterlife, and the future coexist.

There is no simple and single response to the question of what the Bible really says about the future. What one finds is just what one would expect in any book composed of documents from many times, places, circumstances, and authors–variety and development. . . My treatment presupposes no particular valuation of the various dreams and schemes regarding the future.

What is most remarkable about all these images and views of the future, taken from all parts of the Bible, is their amazing flexibility. They were, and continue to be, applied to all kinds of situations and circumstances, always shaping the way readers ask and answer some of their most profound questions.

I increasingly see Laestadtianism in this context. It arose in a specific historical and cultural situation as a meaningful response to valid issues at that time. As evidenced by some of the posters to this site, it remains meaningful to some people today. However to me and many others, Laestadianism fails to address the present day situation. This disconnect causes many people to leave.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Pietism, Baptism, and Laestadianism

Yesterday at church a new baby was baptized. The sermon leading up to the baptism tied in well, discussing the meaning of the sacrament from a mainline protestant/Episcopalian perspective.

Without getting into too much detail on the theology, we believe that in baptism we bear witness to and make manifest God's action, washing the baptized from sin and welcoming him or her into God's beloved community. We make promises, "with God's help" to support the family and the newly baptized so that they can grow and mature in their faith journey, a life-long process.

As I sat in my pew, I couldn't help but be struck by how opposite this was from the pietism I grew up with in the Laestadian tradition. Sure, we baptized babies in the ALC as well, but it never really made much sense to me there and seemed to be in conflict with the rest of Laestadian theology, such as it was, which to me seemed to take all the emphasis off of what God has done or is doing, and put all the onus on what individuals must do, under fear of losing ones salvation.

Of course, if you corner a Laestadian pastor and put the question baldly, they'll say that salvation is by grace through faith and certainly not through works. But the pietism in Laestadianism belies this. Without the outward marks of piety, one's faith was called into question. If one didn't dress properly, speak properly, greet properly, act properly, think properly, or feel properly you were skating on thin ice at the very least, and probably headed down the road to hell.

Yesterday's baptism was the joyful expectation of another child starting down life's path, a journey of possibilities and adventure, full of wonder about life, God, and other people. It seemed such a contrast to Laestadian baptisms, where the feeling was much more somber, full of fear and trepidation about whether the child would be "saved" when he or she got older, and the dangers and temptations of the world.

I, for one, am sick and tired of fear based religion. Any religion or religious sales-pitch that preys on people's insecurities or fears is not worth following, in my opinion.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Do I Wear At An Old Apostolic Lutheran Wedding?

Maybe some of you can help savethewhales, who posted the following question on Yahoo Answers, but doesn't seem to be getting much helpful advice over there:

What do i wear to an old apostolic lutheran wedding?
im going to a wedding in a couple days. the wedding is at an old apostolic lutheran church. i know i have to wear a scarf on my head during the marriage. but can you please tell me want an acceptable outfit is? and should i carry a purse? i am 15 years old.
20 hours ago - 3 days left to answer.
Additional Details
oh, and no jewelry, no nail polish, no make-up. and i have to wear my hair up, and wear a skirt.


What Do I Wear At An Old Apostolic Lutheran Wedding?

Please post your answer both there and here. :-)

Monday, August 24, 2009

How we Understand Scripture is how we Understand Reality

Some recent comments from Laestadianinfo and Norah got me thinking yet again about this topic.

Laestadianinfo, your posts never cease to amaze. While it make perfect sense for Laestadians who are against abortion to use appeals to natural law and other Catholic teachings, I would never have imagined it. Maybe the situation in the United States is more polarized regarding Laestadian/Catholic relations. :-)

I also found these comments of yours interesting:

This is a little off topic, but everyone knows that laestadianism is more founded on Church tradition than solely on the Bible.

and

Christianity relaying solely on the Bible is hard to defend.

I agree with both these statements, mostly because I think any reading of the Bible is going to be influenced by the culture the reader lives in, their community of faith, their history, etc. I don't think it's possible to have a reading of the Bible that is free of any "metaphysical distance" or that this is even necessarily a goal one should strive for. In my view part of the Bible's power is in its ability to speak to us afresh within constantly changing situations.

Some groups, and especially some Laestadian groups will deny this vehemently. They will insist that their interpretation is merely "what the Bible says" and others who differ are either willfully or through ignorance distorting the clear message.

I think misunderstanding this point is the cause of many splits. What's obvious to me is that interpretations will change over time because the Bible is being read in a different historical and cultural context. For early adherents of Laestadianism, for example, it was perfectly obvious that drinking alcohol was sinful because they could see the destructive impact it was having on the Sami people, and the evil way the traders would use it to keep the Sami in debt.

Fast-forward 150 years to the present, and we find ourselves in a different context and suddenly such a harsh interpretation doesn't make as much sense. The verses are the same, but many people interpret them differently. Suddenly they don't seem to speak against all forms of drinking.

The same could be applied to other points in Laestadianism. What seemed very compelling to the original adherents seems silly in a new context. I.e., no music in church, head coverings for women, etc. Yet while the idea that there is only one normative reading persists, such differences in interpretation will always result in splits, because the groups involved have no way of seeing beyond their differences to the greater unity.

Which dove-tails nicely with Norah's point:

It's like building a house - you need a firm foundation and structure to begin with, before you do anything else. How you finish it and decorate it can vary, but your foundation must be sure or the whole house will topple.

My assertion is that any form of Christianity that is built on a foundation that doesn't acknowledge the "metaphysicial difficulties" of interpreting Scripture is bound to factionalize, polarize, and split through time. What is especially sad about this is that the adherents won't even realize why this is happening. To them it will be a righteous purge, holding on to the truth, etc.

I think part of the solution is to emphasize the paradoxical within each religious tradition. The truth that comes from paradox can broaden ones view. And any religious tradition that has been around for awhile has paradox.

For instance, while I'm familiar with and understand the five solas that Norah posted, isn't it a little paradoxical that there would be five things that are to alone constitute the firm foundation? ;-)

Personally, I think the 5 solas of the Reformation are essential: by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, glory to God alone. We can test any tradition by these fundamentals and see how they hold up...

I think Scripture, faith, grace, Christ, and God are great lenses through which to view theology and practice. Part of why I think they're great is becaue there are five of them, and inevitably each one will give a different vision of Divine Reality, and hopefully a greater awareness of the complexity and diversity within that reality.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

God, Game theory, and the moral order

I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard a very interesting talk by Robert Wright, author of the books Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny and The Evolution of God. I found two premises of his fascinating.

One, that "the moral order" we see in human history may hint at the existence of God.

God defined as the moral order:

Though we can no more conceive of God than we can conceive of an electron, believers can ascribe properties to God, somewhat as physicists ascribe properties to electrons. One of the more plausible such properties is love. And maybe, in this light, the argument for God is strengthened by love’s organic association with truth—by the fact, indeed, that at times these two properties almost blend into one. You might say that love and truth are the two primary manifestations of divinity in which we can partake, and that by partaking in them we become truer manifestations of the divine. Then again, you might not say that. The point is just that you wouldn’t have to be crazy to say it.


Two, that the game-theory concepts of zero sum (conceiving of interacations with "others" in terms of winners and losers) versus non-zero sum (conceiving of interactions with "others" in terms of win-win) can explain the darker and lighter impulses within the three great monotheisms.

from One World, Under God

For all three Abrahamic faiths, then, tolerance and even amity across ethnic and national bounds have a way of emerging as a product of utility; when you can do well by doing good, doing good can acquire a scriptural foundation. This flexibility is heartening for those who believe that, in a highly globalized and interdependent world, the vast majority of people in all three Abrahamic faiths have more to gain through peaceful coexistence and cooperation than through intolerance and violence. If ancient Abrahamics could pen laudable scriptures that were in their enlightened self-interest, then maybe modern Abrahamics can choose to emphasize those same scriptures when it’s in their interest.


I found the second point especially provocative in light of Laestadianism. If Laestadiaism is a "darker" manifestation of religion, did it arise in a historical context when adherents saw their world primarily in terms of a zero sum game? If Laestadians had seen their neighbors (i.e., the world) as people who could help them instead of hurt them, would Laestadianism have taken on a less negative form?

Wright's ideas gave me a lot to think about!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is Health Care Reform a Moral Imperative?

Health-care reform is an economic, political and medical issue. Evangelical leader Jim Wallis says it's also a "deeply theological issue, a Biblical issue and a moral issue." Do you agree? Why or why not?

Three Moral Issues of Health Care, by Jim Wallis

With an issue like health, deeply personal but of great public concern, I believe that the faith community has a unique and important role to play. That is, to define and raise the moral issues that lay just beneath the policy debate. There will be a lot of heat, maybe even a few fires, over the weeds of the policy, and the faith community has the opportunity to remind our political and national leaders about why these issues are so important — why they speak to our values.

There are, I believe, three fundamental moral issues that the faith community can focus on and call our political leaders back to, lest they forget. They are: the truth, full access, and cost.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tornedalsbloggen --in English

For those who liked the book Popular Music from Vittula, here's an English language blog from the Torne river valley in northern Finland/Sweden. According to Google Translate:

This Haparandabo writes in the local newspaper under a pseudonym on local political issues and other irritations in the Torne Valley and has now taken the step to continue to speak out on the Internet with this blog.

While this is a general interst blog, the author has posted about Lars Levi Laestadius and the Sami people within the last few months.

I'll be watching this blog with interest!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Intelligent Design, redux

I'm creating a new thread to discuss evolution, ID etc. Out of respect for those readers of this site who do not wish to discuss this topic, please post all comments on this issue to this thread, leaving the other topics open for other issues.

See also: Intelligent Design, Laestadian Style

Expelled Movie Official Site

Ben Stein's Expelled: No Integrity Displayed

Six Things in Expelled that Ben Stein Doesn't Want You to Know

Norah asked some questions on a previous thread, which I'll re-post here:

The questions I have are these:

-are there cases where educators, scientists, and reporters have been silenced in some way simply by acknowledging that there are other theories besides evolution.

-if so, how does this impact not just science, but also politics, ethics, philosophy, theology, and education.

-is there a connection between evolution, atheism, and human rights.

-if 'inalienable rights endowed by our Creator' are not accepted as true or valid, how does that affect public policy.

-what have historically been the steps that led to suppression of human rights.

-what can we learn from history.


I invite your responses, and I'll post mine as well.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A little Sunday irony

Here's a little irony for this Sunday:

ABSOLUT Vodka Brand Director Looks To The Future With Optimism
Interview with Anna Laestadius, Director Global Brand, Absolut Vodka

I don't know if she's related to our Laestadius or not, but after our recent conversation about Laestadius' descendants in Sweden from the Facebook thread, I couldn't resist posting this. Plus, it's great vodka. :-)

. . .promoting responsible drinking is a part of our heritage. We have a code of business ethics and conduct and a responsibility program. This focuses on promoting responsible drinking and responsible marketing. We are also active in the European Forum for Responsible Drinking (EFRD) and in Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) to drive important issues in this area on a global basis. We are sincere in our commitment to a responsible use and marketing of our products. . .

It just goes to show that no matter what your background, your heritage, your religion --no matter what bad things have happened to you in the past, today is a new day and you can choose a new direction in life.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Gospel in 10 Words or Less

Someone I follow on Twitter put out a challenge to sum up the gospel in 10 words or less.

It got me thinking. Here's my try. What's yours? What is the good news in a sentence?

In Christ God reconciles me with God, neighbor, and myself.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Psalm 67

Elizabethan English as you will never hear it in an American Laestadian church, courtesy of the Westminster Abbey Choir:



Psalm 67
1 God be merciful unto us, and bless us *
and shew us the light of his countenance, and be merciful unto us;
2 That thy way may be known upon earth *
thy saving health among all nations.
3 Let the people praise thee, O God *
yea, let all the people praise thee.
4 O let the nations rejoice and be glad *
for thou shalt judge the folk righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.
5 Let the people praise thee, O God *
let all the people praise thee.
6 Then shall the earth bring forth her increase *
and God, even our own God, shall give us his blessing.
7 God shall bless us *
and all the ends of the world shall fear him.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Laestadians on Facebook

Someone recently brought these links of Laestadian groups on Facebook to my attention. I thought they were worth sharing:

Apostolic Lutherans (ALC) Description: Finally...a group on facebook for all us APs. The site contains pictures of various "youth," the biggest bonfire I've seen, and the 2009 Convention.

Laestadian Lutheran (LLC) Description: Welcome to all who believe! Note: this is not the official Laestadian Lutheran site. Please visit laestadianlutheran.org for the Laestadian Lutheran Church website. Not much activity here, but there was a conversation on movies and temptation that reminded me of my own youth.

Lars Levi Laestadius Description: This is a group for all people influenced by the christian revival movement of Lars Levi Laestadius. His abbreviated name is LLL. Laestadius was a botanist and a preacher that created a christian revival in northern Sweden and Finland in the mid to late 1800's. Today, those that follow his doctrine are known as Apostolics and/or Laestadians. You do not have to be a member of a Laestadian or Apostolic group to join this site. This site is open to everyone, as I do not believe in exclusion. Disclaimer: This site has not been endorsed by any specific church group and is not attempting to promote any specific church group. The "Extoots" of Facebook. A couple of years ago the Admin of this group posted the link here, but it may have been lost in all the noise of a conversation on conversion.

Interestingly, I did a search for "Laestadius" on Facebook and came up with all kinds of people who shared that last name. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Laestadius had familial as well as spiritual descendants. I wonder how common a name Laestadius is back in Finland/Sweden?

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Tale of Two Conventions

Two denominations dear to my heart had their conventions last week. The ALC annual convention, covered brilliantly and personally by our own Norah, and the once-every-three-years Episcopal Church General Convention in Anaheim, California which is winding down this week.

While these two denominations could not be more different, reading the online coverage of both I was struck by a few weird similarities. They both have conventions, both have delegates, both have controversies, both have been bad at evangelism, both have a shall-we-say "reserved" style of worship, both are increasingly using information technology to spread their message, and both are small, distinctive denominations within a much larger Christian universe.

Scratch the surface, however, and similarities give way to radical differences. While the ALC denies the vote to some congregations over King-James-Onlyism, the Episcopal Church debates gay bishops and same-sex marriages. One denomination has only 7,000 members (according to Laestadianinfo's video) while the other has over 2 million. The ALC proceedings are closed to outsiders in the sense that there is little information online about resolutions voted upon, while the Episcopal process is very public.

What really prompted this post, however, is a sermon Brian McLaren gave at the Episcopal convention on the subject of evangelism (full text PDF here). For those of you not familiar with McLaren, he was listed by Time Magazine as one of America's top 25 most influential evangelicals, and is part of the emergent church conversation, which among other things is seen by some as a way to move past the conservative/liberal Christianity divide.

This ministry of reconciliation gives us a vibrant new identity, according to Paul. We are not merely religious insiders huddled in our stained glass ghettos, nor are we religious outsiders living without reference to the living God, but instead we are God's peace ambassadors, insiders who intentionally move outside to invite – actually, plead is Paul's word – to plead with others to be reconciled to God.

Heh. He said "God's peace." ;-) Minus the stained glass, I thought these words could apply to the ALC and other Laestadian traditions just was well as it applies to the Episcopal Church. I also thought his message of reconciliation was also applicable to the fragmentation that has occurred both in Laestadianism and among all of us who count ourselves as ex-Laestadians.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

2009 Apostolic Lutheran Church Convention

Based on some of the comments, I thought it would be useful to start this separate thread for discussion of all things related to the 2009 ALC Convention, currently underway in St. Cloud, MN.

Sounds like Norah and ex-falc will be attending the convention. I'd like to hear your impressions.

I'm also re-posting some information from A.L.:

ALC has an annual convention which is held in a different location each year. This year it will be in St. Cloud, MN, hosted by the Kingston, MN congregation.

Last year it was held in the Twin Cities (Plymouth Apostolic Lutheran and North Apostolic Lutheran Churches co-hosting). 2008 marked the 100th ALC annual convention. And I believe Minneapolis wanted to host because the first ALC convention was held in Minneapolis. (I may be wrong about this, but I think it is so.) The 2008 convention was held on the campus of Bethel University, St. Paul, MN. Numerous photos and other artifacts documented the history of the ALC, particulary the convention history.

Laestadian movement history was also represented. I seem to recall that they displayed the panels documenting the history of the Laestadian movement which were created by the LLC for the 200th anniversary of the birth of L. L. Laestadius in 2000. I believe this display traveled about the country during 2000 and perhaps after. It may be permanently housed at the Finnish American Heritage Center and Archives, Hancock, Michigan. I'm not absolutely certain about this.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Something Laestadian, or Just Me?

The following is the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah, presented as a Godly Play script.



I've posted before about Godly Play, and what a great Sunday School curriculum I think it is. What I haven't said is that I have a certain reaction to this way of presenting the story, and I've long been curious about whether my reaction is "just me" or something from my Laestadian upbringing.

So in the spirit of experiment I invite you to view the story, and post your reactions in the comments. Maybe your reaction will be the same as mine, maybe it will be different. Maybe it will give me some insight into myself, my Laestadian upbringing, or both.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What Has Laestadianism Contributed?

I found a cool web site yesterday called World Prayers - Prayer Archive. According to the site description, it exists to gather "the great prayers from all spiritual traditions around the world into a unified nonprofit archive; for the purpose of inspiration, study and cross cultural appreciation."

I especially got a kick out of the Prayer Wheel. You can click to "spin" the wheel and get a random prayer.

I was struck by the similarities of prayer across very different religious traditions, as well as the differences.

The site has many Christian prayers from different cultures, and this of course made me wonder if there are any distinctively Laestadian prayers that could be added to the archive.

One of the things I find disappointing about Laestadianism that it hasn't created any great art or literature. It hasn't seemed to me as if it has created anything of beauty for the ages.

I would love to be mistaken on this point. So if you know of any examples of distinctively Laestadian prayer, art, or anything else, please post a comment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Apostolic Lutheran Church Makeover

No, they haven't started holding classes on the proper application of mascara or the best way to fasten a huivi. As far as I know they haven't told the men to stop smoking out front after services. ;-)

The Apostolic Lutheran Church of America (Federation) official web site has had a makeover. High time, I'd say, as the previous version of the site looked very much like a product of 1993.

The new site recycles a lot of content from the earlier version, but I did notice a few points that I thought were interesting.

On the Find a Church page, there is now an entry for each listed congregation called "online services," which will tell you if a particular congregation offers such 21st century amenities as a web site, video streaming, audio and video archives of sermons, or other multimedia.

Back issues of the offical ALC publication Christian Monthly are available going all the way back to 1998.

The Sunday School curriculum is available as a PDF download. I thought this was especially surprising, because when I was in Sunday school there was no curriculum that I could see, other than flipping open the King James Bible and preparing for boredom. For the kids the "flannel graph" was a big hit. :-) I wonder how long the ALC has had a national, standardized, official Sunday School curriculum?

A box of 1,000 communion wafers is only $15.00. That seems like a pretty good deal. Fifty copies of The Sinner's Plea for $3.50? I think I'll pass. ;-)

Seriously, though, I wouldn't mind seeing PDF or web versions of some of the foundational ALC documents such as the catechism and the constitution/bylaws.

Nice update to the site!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Laestadian adventures on Youtube

Thanks to an Anonymous commenter, my attention was drawn to these Laestadian related clips on YouTube. Unfortunately, I don't know Swedish or Finnish so I don't know exactly what these clips are saying. Can any of you Scandinavian language speakers out there provide a brief paraphrase or summary translation of what is being talked about in these clips?

The first one had a description, which I ran through Google Translate to get this mangled rendering of the Swedish: The movie is a description of Laestadius' birth and .... Laestadianism is the largest revivalist movement and active in the Lutheran churches. The film tries, in contrast to most other youtube snippet makers, to describe Laestadianism in a positive spirit.



I couldn't help but feel a certain sense of irony watching this clip, with the beautiful organ and accompanied choral arrangement --wouldn't these be musical forms that many of Laestadius' followers (especially in the United States) would condemn as sinful? Yet here they provide the musical backdrop to the pictures and Swedish captions. I'd love to know if the singers are Laestadians...they certainly sing a lot faster and more in tune than most of the Laestadians I ever heard in church. :)

The next clip is in Finnish. Google translated description: A detailed description of Laestadianism origins and current status. The film goes through Laestadian early stages, distribution, and trends report. The film seeks to describe the positive wake-up movement, unlike many other products in this Youtube Code.



It looks to be virtually identical to the first clip, but in Finnish and a little more recent footage. I'm curious about what look to be large gatherings of Laestadians. Are these the Finnish equivalents of the Fall Services, Conventions, and Youth Rallies that existed in my ALC (Federation) youth?

Last clip, apparently in Swedish: Film and photos from laestadianernas meeting in Bosund 5-7.6.2009 with a pension song as background music.



What's a "pension song," or did Google Translate mess that up? :-) The people singing in this shorter clip sound more like the Laestadians I grew up with. Our services were often translated from Finnish to English, and we sang a lot of music out of the Finnish hymnal. So this singing, in a language I don't understand, has the same slow, soulful mournfulness of that music. The clips of large families, children playing in the parking lot, and the cadence of the preaching (used here as a voice over the music) all transported me back to similiar services during my childhood.

Anyway, I enjoyed watching these. Thanks, Anonymous!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Laestadian Family Values: Caring for an Aging Parent

LLLReader recently wrote: On both sides of my family there is one person in need. I have carried the financial responsibility for both of them for years. Also on both sides of the family there are people who could help share the load--but refuse even though they could easily do it. I have had it with that, and laid it out there about their selfishness. My sweet daughter-in-law said that they see my kindness as weakness and have taken advantage. My belief is that family looks out after each other.

Reading this quote, I was immediately touched by LLLReader's generosity, but it also prompted another question: Is there an expectation in Laestadianism that children will take on the financial responsibility for their aging parents?

As our population ages, medical advances allow people to live longer, and the recent stock market and financial market turmoil erode retirement savings, this becomes an issue not just for Laestadians. However, do Laestadians expect more in this regard than the general population?

I know a Laestadian who had a very large family with the explicit expectation that "they are his retirement plan." He has not saved a dime for retirement, expecting his children to take him in when the time comes. Is this fair? The particular case I'm thinking of is made even more interesting by the fact that I know he has been very irresponsible with jobs, money, and saving --far beyond just the expectation he has of his children.

Should his kids have to "bail him out," and if so, is this part of the Laestadian mindset?

Monday, June 22, 2009

What is sin?

What is sin, and why does it matter? Growing up Laestadian, how we saw sin affected how we saw God, and each other. This short video outlines some of the ways sin has been defined in the past, and presents a different way of conceptualizing sin based on Kathryn Tanner's 2001 work, Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Systematic Theology.



Sin as breaking the rules/laws. Drawback: encourages us to see God primarily as a judge or lawgiver; prone to abuse when hijacked by power-hungry authority figures. See also Luke 12:14, where Jesus seems to reject being set up as a judge.

Sin as separation from God. Drawback: if we believe that God truly is everywhere, how can we ever be truly separated from God?

Sin as pride. While a longstanding Christian view of sin (400-1950 A.D.), how can this apply to people who are downtrodden, depressed, or in unhealthy co-dependent relationships?

Sin as "blockage." This is Tanner's view. It conceptualizes sin as analogous to the blockage in an artery. As such a blockage stops the flow of lifegiving blood to the body, so sin "is the blocking of the abundant flow of God's gifts, to ourselves and to others."

What do you think? I think that the Laestadian tradition focused on sin in an often counterproductive way, focusing too much on sin as rule-breaking and pride, throwing up unnecessary stumbling blocks for some, while giving a pass to some very destructive behaviors if they were "repented" of for others.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Extoots, the E-Book

Have you ever wanted to take this site with you to the beach, or somewhere you didn't have internet access? Have you ever wanted to be able to search the comments, or by author? Have you ever wanted to print out some or all of this site in a format better suited for paper?

Presenting, Extoots, the E-Book! :-) I've created a PDF e-book version of the entire site, available for immediate download at the following link:

View and/or Download PDF

This PDF is current as of January 12, 2010 10:00AM PDT

For any techies interested in the details, this file was created using WinWGet, EcoByte ReplaceText, and HTMLDOC.

Please direct all questions about this file to Tomte.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Laestadian Films

I'd like to start a list of films that are about Laestadianism in any way. If you know of any, please post them in the comments, and I'll add them to the list.

So far, I only know of these:

Popular Music from Vittula (Populärmusik från Vittula) (2004)
Forbidden Fruit (Kielletty hedelmä) (2009)
The Kautokeino Rebellion (Kautokeino-Opproret) (2009)

Can we add to this list?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I wonder if the birds have names?

If your church, like mine, uses the Revised Common Lectionary, it's very likely that you heard The Parable of the Mustard Seed in church today, either as a scripture reading, or maybe as the text for the sermon:

Mark 4:30-32 (NRSV)


[Jesus] also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."


Our priest gave this "sermon" in the style of a Godly Play script. (Godly Play is the Sunday school curriculum we use for young children). So she called all the childen up to the front, sat down on the floor with them, and opened up a golden box which contained the visual elements of this parable while she told it and asked open ended "wondering" questions about the story.

One of the questions was, "I wonder if the birds have names?" One little boy piped up right away and said, "No, they don't." That got a chuckle out of some of the adults watching, but in Godly Play, unlike Laestadianism, children are not told who God is. An environment is created in which children can discover who God is. Children are encouraged to wonder about the questions posed, without being told "the answer."

I've been wondering too. "I wonder if the birds have names?" I think they do. I think some of their names are cvow, Anonymous, hp3, PS, Tomte, Norah, Free2bme, LLLReader, Stranger in a Strange Land, Sisu, YM, Outtathere, Anonymous, Hibernatus, Older-understanding one, mia from the llc, Anonymous, daisy, Pretzel and many others I have forgotten.

I've also been wondering: I wonder what it means that the birds have names? For me, it means more than I put in a single post, more than I alone can imagine.

But for today, for me, right now, what it especially means is that I'm sorry, PS, for riding you so hard. While we will probably never agree on facts, let alone opinion, I realize that at times I let it get more personal than was appropriate, and I apologize.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reindeer and Fighter Jets

It's not everyday that reindeer, fighter jets, NATO, and the Sami people are all mentioned in the same article. So I couldn't resist passing along this article from the Christian Science Monitor (a source I highly recommend for balanced and thoughtful international news.)

In Sweden's far north, a convergence of fighter jets, reindeer, and hurt feelings

'Lapistan,' where NATO is conducting war games, is fictional. But the exercises are testing real-life relations with the Russians as well as the indigenous Sami people.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Is change inevitable?

Like many readers of this site, when I was growing up there was no such thing as the internet, or the world wide web. The main source of media during that time was television, but like so many Laestadians "of a certain age," in our congregation no television was allowed.

In some branches of Laestadianism, in some congregations, this has changed during the last 10-20 years. Some Laestadians have TVs now, and even some of the ones that still don't have internet access. So I am always interested when a Laestadian church decides to put up a web site. Remembering how the internal politics of these congregations work, I think we can safely assume that if a congregation has a web site, use of the internet is not a major "controversy" within that congregation.

This weekend someone sent me a link to the Apostolic Lutheran Church of Kingston. It's a very nice site design, professionally done. It has an RSS feed, sermon podcasts, the pastor's blog, and the promise of constant updates with new content of interest to the congregation or visitors.

Housed within all that technological newness, however, are the very old ideas that most of us are so familiar with. One page in particular jumped out at me:


In Jerusalem, Israel, in the year 33, the Apostles Church was established upon the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the authority of God, our creator. This was the beginning of our present church.

In Germany, in 1517, Martin Luther fathered the reformation, hence we use Lutheran in our church name.

Within the Lutheran Church of Sweden, in the 1700's and 1800's, the quickening and awakening work of God began to stir the hearts of men. . . By 1845, in the Northern parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway, the Apostle Church experienced a revival by Lars Levi Laestadius.


On one level I fully realize that this capsule history is a cute way of unpacking "Apostolic Lutheran Church" in a few short paragraphs. On the other hand, it also perpetuates an idea that was certainly alive during my youth and lives on today in many fundamentalist protestant denominations --that nothing of any real theological or spiritual relevance has happened in the last 2,000 years.

This understanding of church history would have us believe that Jesus died, the apostles lived, skip ahead to the reformation and Laestadius (or insert your own sects founder's name), and here we are today. It completely hides the wealth of riches to be found in all the myriad and diverse understandings of the faith that have arisen between then and now, as well as the dark and shameful episodes of the tradition we call our own.

Thankfully, we live in an age where information has never been more freely available. It was easy to remain in the dark growing up, but it's much more difficult to control the message today. It's all here for anyone who cares to look.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dealing with real differences; Islam, Christianity, and Laestadianism

I recently read President Obama's speech at Cairo University. It's quite lengthy, but worth reading in full. It really sets a different tone than what I've heard before from any American President when speaking to the Muslim world. Gutsy, to say the least.

Regardless of how successful one thinks this attempt at outreach to the Muslim world will ultimately be, I think the speech can raise some interesting questions about how we on this blog can deal with the real differences between us. There has been a lot of heat lately. I have participated in that heat. Maybe there has been some light too, but I'm much less certain on that score. ;-)

I've excerpted some of the passages that are especially relevant to us below. I hope this post will serve as a jumping off point for further discussion.


So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.



But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground.


Growing up Laestadian, it seemed like saying "openly the things we hold in our hearts" was very difficult when those things were things that questioned, or revealed difference. It seems to me like it was encouraged to keep those things very private indeed, in order to avoid offending.

Therein lies some of the problem. How can differences be shared openly without it causing conflict and hatred? How can "a sustained effort to listen" happen when people truly and widely disagree?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Open Thread

Readers, I need to take a bit of a break from the blog. My husband is recovering from an ankle sprain, which sounds minor but boy, does it ever impact our lives, nearly immobilizing him just as my job is requiring 12 hour days. We're making sure the kids get fed, but everything else is sliding.

So I'm stepping out of the dining room, so to speak, but not for long. Save some dessert for me!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Enough

One of my favorite quotes is by Lao Tzu: "He who knows enough is enough will always have enough." Here is author Bill McKibben on the subject:

Last evening, on the longest day of the year, I took a walk in a meadow near my home.

At the edge of the meadow a path opened into the woods, and I followed it perhaps a hundred yards to the bank of a small stream where I rested on a rock and watched the brook flow. Then I walked back.

Nothing spectacular happened. No large animal jumped out to demonstrate its majesty. The flora was beautiful, but unremarkable: buttercups, Queen Anne's lace, daisies, lupines. The sky didn't crackle with summer lightning; the sunset was only streaks of purple, some rosy glow on the underbellies of the clouds. A few mosquitoes made their presence known. It was simply a lovely night.

And simply the sort of scene that we have evolved with for hundreds of thousands of years, that has made us who we are, that we can't be fully human, or at least fully sane, without. The sort of scene whose absence in our lives is now making us slowly crazy. If there is a pertinent modern question, it is “how much is enough?” The consumer societies we have created posit that the only possible answer is “More.” And so in pursuit of more we have turned ourselves into tubby folk, raised the temperature of the planet one degree with a further five degrees in prospect, countenanced the ever deeper gulfs between rich and poor, and so on. And in process made ourselves . . . happy?

But say you're in a meadow, surrounded by wildflowers. Do you find yourself thinking, “They could do with some more wildflowers over there”? Do you glance up at the mountains on the horizon and think, “Some more mountains would be nice”? Do you lie on the rock by the brook thinking, “This brook needs more rocks”? Does the robin in the tree chide herself for not tripling the size of her nest? I think not. Nature schools us in sufficiency–its aesthetic and its economy demonstrate “enoughness” at every turn. Time moves circularly through the natural world–next spring there will be wildflowers again. Not more wildflowers: second quarter output for 2005 will show no year-on-year gain. Growth only replaces, since the planet is already accomplishing all the photosythesis that is possible. It offers the great lesson of being simultaneously abundant and finite.

Interdependent, too. The emergent science of ecology is easily summed up: everything's connected. Field biologists using sensitive detectors have discovered that the needles of trees near Alaskan rivers owe their nitrogen to the carcasses of salmon that die along the banks, the same salmon that feed the bears whose pawing aerates the soil that . . .

We know now that this is true, but interconnection is anathema to a consumer notion of the world, where each of us is useful precisely to the degree that we consider ourselves the center of everything. We believe that pleasure comes from being big, outsized, immortal; now our zealots imagine genetically engineering us for greater greatness. But the testimony of the rest of creation is that there is something to be said for fitting in.

And because of that, the natural world offers us a way to think about dying, the chief craziness for the only species that can anticipate its own demise. If one is a small part of something large, if that something goes on forever, and if it is full of beauty and meaning, then dying seems less shocking. Which undermines about half the reason for being a dutiful consumer, for holding aging forever at bay. Six months from now, on the shortest night of the year, this field will be under two feet of snow. Most of what I can see will be dead or dormant. And six months after that if will be here again as it is tonight.

Advertising, hyper-consumerism, ultra-individualism – these are designed to make you crazy. Nature, like close-knit human community, is designed to help you stay sane. You needn't be in the wilderness to feel in balm: a park, a container garden on the patio, a pet dog, a night sky, a rainstorm will do. For free.

– Bill McKibbon, originally published in Resurgence, March/April 2005

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Left the Laestadian Revival Movement . . .

I just found this essay online and am very eager to share it with you. It is by a Finnish woman from Ostrobothnia who left the Laestadian faith ten years ago. I hope she finds comfort and healing. I love her candor and sense a kindred spirit.

Here is an excerpt:

It was emphasised at services that it is not about rules, but rather the fact that a Laestadian wants to operate in a certain way. I recall how I preferred to speak about desires, rather than rules. I was pained to read newspaper articles about things that Laestadians “were not allowed to do”. The question was about what I wanted to do or to choose!
But whose desire was it really all about?
I was not asked what I wanted, or what I felt was important. For instance, the negative stance on birth control was taken in the late 1960s at a meeting of preachers, where only men were present.

I knew already at the age of 13 that I did not want to be the mother of a big family. It was not until I was over the age of 20 that I said out loud that I cannot stand the idea of a big family. My friends answered that “you can’t know in advance what it will be like”.
I was supposed to simply trust that God would give me exactly the right number of children, even if I did not use birth control.
I knew that my mind could not handle such an experiment. I simply did not want to become pregnant reluctantly. My thoughts did not find resonance, because they resounded with the voice of reason, not that of faith.

Some felt that faith is that people are encouraged to push their reason aside in big matters. For me rejecting reason would have been an abandonment of my own psyche.
I was not ready to bend at all in the birth control question, or to hide my opinions. The security of the Laestadian community began to turn into insecurity.