Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Peace of Wild Things

The Peace of Wild Things

BY WENDELL BERRY

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Makes a Good Support Network?


One of my semi-developed opinions (I have lots, free for the taking!) is that Laestadianism's superpower is its support network. I think about it whenever someone says "I would leave if I could." Well, why can't they? Nobody is holding a gun to their head. They aren't held captive by Spiderman's web.

Not physically, no.

But those of us who have broken those chains know very well their strength.

We did not evolve to live alone. None of us was born or survives without the help of others. Those who leave their old social group must find a new one or risk "failure to thrive," like Harlow's baby monkeys who were isolated for months and emerged broken, or died.

Isolation, even when chosen, can make us sick, depressed, and stunted in our growth. Yet so much about our modern lives keeps us from connecting to one another in any significant way.

I've been thinking of this as I prepare for major surgery later this month. Medical studies show it is not just practical support (information, care, nutrition, etc.) but social support that leads to better outcomes for the surgery patient. I have asked friends for help, for positive thoughts, for prayers.

Prayer works not because it moves the hand of God (or we wouldn't need surgery at all) but because it moves the hearts of patients. When we know there are people pulling for us, we are more optimistic about the future and more committed to self-care. Love is powerful medicine.

I found this advice from the Mayo Clinic relevant to us exes:

Benefits of a social support network

Numerous studies have demonstrated that having a network of supportive relationships contributes to psychological well-being. When you have a social support network, you benefit in the following ways:
  • Sense of belonging. Spending time with people helps ward off loneliness. Whether it's other new parents, dog lovers, fishing buddies or siblings, just knowing you're not alone can go a long way toward coping with stress.
  • Increased sense of self-worth. Having people who call you a friend reinforces the idea that you're a good person to be around.
  • Feeling of security. Your social network gives you access to information, advice, guidance and other types of assistance should you need them. It's comforting to know that you have people you can turn to in a time of need.

Cultivating your social support network

If you want to improve your mental health and your ability to combat stress, surround yourself with at least a few good friends and confidants. Here are some ideas for building your social network:
  • Volunteer. Pick a cause that's important to you and get involved. You're sure to meet others who share similar interests and values.
  • Join a gym. Or check out the local community center. Start a walking group at work or at your church. You'll make friends and get some exercise.
  • Go back to school. A local college or community education course puts you in contact with others who share similar hobbies or pursuits.
  • Look online. The newest generation of social networking sites can help you stay connected with friends and family. Many good sites exist for people going through stressful times, such as chronic illness, loss of a loved one, new baby, divorce and other life changes. Be sure to stick to reputable sites, and be cautious about arranging in-person meetings.

Give and take: The foundation of social networks

A successful relationship is a two-way street. The better a friend you are, the better your friends will be. Here are some suggestions for nurturing your relationships:
  • Stay in touch. Answering phone calls, returning emails and reciprocating invitations let people know you care.
  • Don't compete. Be happy instead of jealous when your friends succeed, and they'll celebrate your accomplishments in return.
  • Be a good listener. Find out what's important to your friends — you might find you have even more in common than you think.
  • Don't overdo it. In your zeal to extend your social network, be careful not to overwhelm friends and family with phone calls and emails. Save those high-demand times for when you really need them. And while sharing is important, be wary of "oversharing" information that's personal or sensitive, especially with new or casual acquaintances and on social networking sites.
  • Appreciate your friends and family. Take time to say thank you and express how important they are to you. Be there for them when they need support.

The bottom line

Remember that the goal of building your social support network is to reduce your stress level, not add to it. Watch for situations that seem to drain your energy. For example, avoid spending too much time with someone who is constantly negative and critical. Similarly, steer clear of people involved in unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol or substance abuse, especially if you've struggled with addictions.
Taking the time to build a social support network is a wise investment not only in your mental well-being but also in your physical health and longevity. Research shows that those who enjoy high levels of social support stay healthier and live longer. So don't wait.
Start making more friends or improving the relationships you already have. Whether you're the one getting the support or the one doling out the encouragement, you'll reap a plethora of rewards.
******************
What is your experience with support networks? Do you have advice for those who are worried about leaving the church?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Surviving the Holidays

While the holidays are stressful for everyone (even good stress is stress), being around relatives whose religion you’ve left can be uniquely challenging. 

How does a former Laestadian cope? 

Drawing on my own experience and others, I've come up with some tips that may be helpful. Mileage will vary, of course. Feel free to disagree and add your ideas in the comments.


1. Consider Your Options

You have no obligation to be with relatives over the holidays. If you left the faith recently, opting out of family holiday may be the best option, as it takes strength to stay unruffled among people who consider you lost (or wicked, or crazy). They haven’t had time to get used to the idea that you are gone, and may still harbor hopes that you'll return with a well-timed rebuke. Nurture yourself instead. Coddle your emerging identity until you feel settled, and can actually look forward to seeing them. 

If you want to be around some relatives and not others, or go to one gathering and not another, it's your choice. Don’t feel bullied into being with people who mistreat you. Honor your instincts; they are there to guide you. 
Honor your instincts; they are there to guide you. 
On the fence? You might consider travel, or celebrating at a friend’s house, or volunteering with a service organization. After leaving the church, I spent a few holidays alone and then, a few with friends, a valuable lesson in diversity. If you're like me and felt a bit cheated by the somber holidays of the church, embrace your freedom to deck a tree, listen to schmaltzy carols, attend the ballet, go to a candlelight service, or just eat Thai food and watch a movie.

However, consider that even if your family disapproves of your leaving, they haven't lost their love for you. Now that you are no longer in church on Sundays, they may truly long for the chance to be with you. My favorite thing about the holidays as a little girl was when my big sister came home. The happiness and lessons I would have missed out on, if she had stayed away! 

If enduring a little discomfort lets you lavish love on younger siblings, or see a relative from out of state, that may tip the balance for you. Only you can decide.


2. Set Limits

If you decide to see your relatives, set a time limit and make a back-up plan, in case you want to leave early. I've found that two hours is a good limit for my husband and kids, who (not being as familiar with Laestadianish), get tired thinking of small talk that won’t offend. If going solo, a couple of days is perfect for me. It's okay to be begged to stay, and it's okay to say, sorry, I can't. 

You may want to set a limit on how much to spend on travel and gifts. The reciprocity that Laestadian families regularly practice, trading phone calls, texts, visits, photos, cards, gifts, and favors, often stops abruptly for those who leave the church. That will sting, but don’t wreck your sanity trying to figure it out or fix it. Just remember that they are protecting themselves more than punishing you.
Just remember that they are protecting themselves more than punishing you.
Give only when you can do it with a full, free heart, with no expectations of return, and refuse to become a martyr. The Laestadian training in self-denial is unlearned this way (slowly, alas, I'm still working on it).


3. Let Go

There is a Buddhist saying that hope and fear are two sides to the same coin, and both cause suffering. Instead of fearing the worst or hoping for the best, shoot for equanimity. Then come what may, you'll be okay. 

If you have not “come out” yet as a nonbeliever, the holidays may present the opportunity. There is no right time or way. Only you can know when it feels both safe and worthwhile. Perhaps you will feel compelled to correct someone who mistakes you for a fellow believer or asserts as universal a personal truth, or condemns non-Laestadians to everlasting hell.

Some people are direct in self-outing; others less so. Some never come out. Some decide to forgo or alter the traditional greeting, some say "I no longer believe" or "I don't go to your church anymore” or “I would rather not talk about it” or any number of things. One friend, in revealing his heart, asked a missionary simply, "Do you think Gandhi is in hell?"
Unless you are being personally attacked, don't take Laestadian-talk personally. 
Stay grounded. Unless you are being personally attacked, don't take Laestadian-talk personally. Resist what we were taught as Laestadians: to judge. Everything. 

Try to relax in the knowledge that there is so much more to a person than ideas, and in any case, you are not responsible for theirs. With patience and creativity, you will find things to talk and laugh about.

If you find yourself trapped in a gossip session, find the nearest escape route: "Sorry, I have to pee" is a common one. So is "I'd rather not talk about that." In a religion with rigid standards for conduct and the attendant hypocrisy, gossip is valuable currency. Coated with concern for those being discussed, it is embarrassingly easy to slip into. Resist! Indulging in gossip is like holding onto anger: it's as if you're drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

4. Don’t Try to Fix Them

Sharing our views without judging those of others takes a level head and practice. We represent by our very presence, as an "ex," a rejection of Laestadianism. We don't need to rub it in. We can be kind. It would be nice if our loved ones affirmed our reality, or felt safe enough to confide their own doubts, but it isn't necessary. 

Martha Beck says: “Don’t violate your own code of values and ethics, but don't waste energy trying to make other people violate theirs. If soul-searching has shown you that your mother's opinions are wrong for you—as are your grandfather's bigotry, your sister's new religion, and your cousin's alcoholism—hold that truth in your heart, whether or not your family members validate it. Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same."

Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same.

Resist the urge to argue.  If you can't keep yourself from arguing, excuse yourself. This is where your back-up plan comes in handy.

Be true to yourself. Be loving.

This is your responsibility and privilege as a member of your family, which you will always be, even if you are never invited back. Even if you lose them all tonight in a flash flood. Being true and being loving are actions you will never regret.

5. Make Peace

Whatever our beliefs, we can define the season so it creates peace in us and in those we encounter. We are wonderfully fortunate, as 21st century Americans, to have a choice in how to celebrate, when countless billions throughout history have not, and many still, around the world, are bound by custom and law. 

With so much to experience and be thankful for, the dumbest thing would be to sit at home and wallow in self-pity (but I'll confess, I've done that, too). 

So let's feed someone. Sing. Be of use. Visit family or not.

Make peace in unlikely places, because we can.

We're free!


Friday, September 19, 2014

Dance Like a Former Laestadian


"I grew up in a culture that does not permit dancing. Why, I can’t reasonably explain to you, but it was unacceptable so I never did it. I was uncomfortable moving my body, had no idea how to shake my hips, and didn’t know what to do with my hands. Armenians, on the other hand, love dancing. They dance at every occasion—for hours on end."
I've been meaning to post an excerpt from Traveling Ev's engaging post about her learning to dance while in the Peace Corps, but it slipped my mind until today's news story about the seven Iranians sentenced to six months in prison and 91 lashes for making a "Happy" dance video.

Seriously.

A Tehran court found the video "vulgar." (Watch it and judge for yourself.)

Then go to Ev's blog and read her story. I love how she is using her new skills in her new life, and am quite envious. One to four times a week?! I love Zumba, and dancing with my husband to live music, but neither are frequent occurrences. I need to work on that.

What was your first experience with dancing?



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kay's Story (The Voices Project)

Thanks to Kay for sharing her story. Please consider sharing yours.

Hello, I am a long time lurker on this blog, I would say probably since about half a year after I chose to leave the LLC. As I have broken my foot and have three weeks left of healing time, I figure it’s about time to share my story. Whether this is posted or not, it has been very cathartic to type my story down, to realize and remember why I chose to leave, and to think about what I have to look forward to in the future.

Both of my parents were born into Laestadianism, as were their parents and their parents before them. As both of my grandfathers were prominent ministers in the LLC, discussions of the church were common in the home and faith was always an integral part of life. When I was small, I remember enjoying going to church, and have fond memories of my parents and of being in a large family.

When I was almost six, my grandfather molested me when my mom and grandma were away shopping. He cried afterward and was angry and told me never to tell anyone or else I would go to hell. He died a year later, and I did not tell anyone, first for fear that what he told me would become true, and secondly that no one would believe me because he was a minister. When I grew older, I knew that what he did was wrong, but I did not want to hurt my mom. I didn’t and still do not want her to know that her father did that to me because she speaks of him fondly from time to time and I don’t want to ruin that bond she had with him.
I didn’t quite believe what I as being told. 
When I was about 12, I developed a large amount of anxiety about going to church, mostly because I was quite introverted and didn’t enjoy a large amount of social interaction, and partially because I didn’t quite believe what I as being told. I had a lot of questions with certain bible stories that no one could answer satisfactorily, and I found it hard to really TRULY believe my sins forgiven when it was preached. I figured there was something wrong with me and that if I just asked for a blessing every night before I went to bed that I would go to heaven, just in case I died in my sleep. From that time onward I dreaded going to church and would avoid it if possible.

I often felt that some believers were being so self-righteous (the very thing they say they are not!) that they said they believed without question all those bible stories which could not possibly be true word-for-word. At the same time, I also had self-righteous feelings, though I did not recognize it at the time. I would think: “Look, I am such a good believer that I don’t enjoy listening to country music on the bus” (I have since discovered I enjoy other “worldly music”). Or I would think “Look, I am such a good believer that I have no real friends at school” since my family and I were the only believers at our school. The thing was, I didn’t feel like I had any real friends at church either.
With a lot of sadness I decided that only one could be true. 
In high school I discovered that I loved science, and I rapidly devoured any scientific information that came my way, not realising this would cause me problems later on. As I continued to learn, it bothered me a little that my church did not agree with the most fundamental of scientific ideas. I decided to leave the church when I was 20. I saw what was ahead of me if I decided to stay. At some point I would get married, have a lot of children and settle into the same sort of life my mom has. I also had continued questions and no satisfactory answers from the church about science and I felt that I couldn’t commit to a life within the church and have these questions at the same time. I knew I could never be happy if I did so. I felt that my faith was dear to me, but I couldn’t reconcile how evolution and facts about astronomy, the beginning of Earth which have no other reasonable explanation could be true in regards to my Laestadian faith. My parents and siblings had left for a trip to summer services, but I stayed behind because I had to work that whole week (never mind that I had purposely not gotten the time off because I didn’t wish to go and my parents would have never taken that as a suitable reason). I decided to solve this problem once and for all and spent the week reading all of the LLC literature in my parents’ house and reading about science. With a lot of sadness I decided that only one could be true. When they came back, I told my parents with a feeling of numbness, “I am not a believer."
My grandma pleaded, “Why can’t you just try to believe?”
It felt like a hole had been physically ripped through my chest, and it ached for weeks. There was an immediate rush of phone calls, letters, emails and visits. My grandma called and pleaded, “Why can’t you just try to believe?” and I couldn’t get her to understand that a person cannot force themselves to believe something, otherwise the person does not truly believe. You believe something or you do not, and whether you have doubts or not, there is no middle ground. I learned that though I thought I had no true friends in the church, I do have one. She is the only one who continues to stand by me, and though she is busy with her new family, she respects my decision and remains friends with me anyway.

On some level, I still feel guilty when I go to my parents’ house and they have company over and people say “God’s Peace” to everyone except me. I still feel left out, but it is no different than feeling left out as a teenager. Sometimes my mom will make comments about my nail polish or my recently dyed hair, but she doesn’t seem to realize that while these things are superficial, they make me feel free. It’s so freeing and amazing to be able to do things because I want to, to have friends from very different backgrounds but still have a deep connection, to learn and not worry about whether learning things will be detrimental to my faith. It’s freeing to know I am not required to spend my life having many children and taking care of them. I can have a relationship and know that I can still keep my career in science if that is what I wish to do. I have a lot of my life ahead of me and I am so grateful I chose to leave sooner than later.

I am glad I chose to leave at the stage in life when I was still attending university, because it was at a time in which I could make new friends. Friends from school have become closer to me, and while from time to time I feel like they don’t understand where I’m coming from, they are still there for me. For those who are considering leaving, I would say having a group of friends outside of the church is very important. It would have been more helpful for me if I had built my group of friends outside of church first before leaving. After leaving I had no support system and it was very hard at times.
Sometimes I feel strength from knowing that while my family has hurt me, I will not hurt them back.
I have heard many stories through the years about how “unbelieving” family members don’t come around anymore, and I understand why they don’t. Most of my extended family no longer talks to me, it seems to be a sad reality of leaving the faith. If cousins see me at my parents’ house, they avoid me, but I don’t blame them for it. I know how awkward it is for them, because it used to be very awkward for me when I was in the same situation. I have a mostly good relationship with my close family, and I’m glad for that as I have seen how many people who leave are shunned completely. Sometimes I wish I could tell my family how my grandfather molested me, but I do not wish to hurt them. Sometimes, the decision I’ve made regarding that bothers me, and sometimes I feel strength from knowing that while my family has hurt me, I will not hurt them back. 

I don’t regret leaving the church, I only regret not leaving sooner, but I also feel I left at the time that was right for me. It wasn’t easy but I’m happy I did so.

Thank you,

"Kay"

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Questions About the OALC



A reader in Finland has some (unedited) questions about the OALC. Could someone help answer these? I'm afraid I've forgotten more than I ever knew.
1) On sunday they gather to listen word of God, what is term they use about this event? In Finland word is “seurat”, best translation is “revival meeting”.
2) OALC don't have liturgy in their services, but what is its structure?
In Finland it is following:
Psalm - prayer - psalm - reading of Rev. Lars Levi Laestadius' sermon - psalm - sermon by preacher - psalm - prayer - final psalm. Then is announcements and coffee.
But OALC have Holy Communion, so they have to have some elements of Divine Service (for example Creed). What is different? What is whole structure?
How often they have Holy Communion?
3) Is Creed, which Johan Takkinen altered still in use?
4) Here in Finland Firstborns uses Luther's Small Catechism and Olaus Svebilius' explanation of Small Catechism. What catechism OALC uses? Own Catechism or ABC book? And what other own books they have?
5) OALC has preachers, but what is their self-understanding, are preachers pastors? Or ministers or priests? What other terms they use about preachers?
6) Who administers sacraments (baptism and Lords Holy Supper) inOALC? And who officiate at the weddings or officiate at the funerals? If preachers, is it so that always only preachers?
7) Have OALC preachers ordination to the ministry by the laying on of hands and prayers?
In Finland preachers are just named as preachers. Not even blessed to their work.
8) Have OALC official documents about their faith?
a) Are they explaining what their relation to three ecumenical symbols is? (Nicene Creed, Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed).
b) Or official document about relation to symbolical books of Lutheran Church, gathered in Book of Concord? Or if they don’t accept whole Book of Concord, even parts of it? For example Luther’s Catechisms? Or Augsburg Confession?
Or is it so that they just draw from their tradition, but they don't have write things on paper?
9) What kind of polity OALC have? Synod or church assembly for example.
In Finland Firstborns are organized as association, it has board but it makes decisions about secular things: property and Rauhan Side -periodical. Firstborns deals spiritual things in preachers’ assemblies (two levels of preachers’ assemblies) and emphasizes that Spiritual Board is in Swedish Lapland.

Across the Divide

Last week we went "home" to the Alpine Lakes Wildnerness (as the poet Gary Snyder said, nature is not a place we visit, it is our home). It was blissful to pass the time with nary a thought beyond "should I swim or hike or canoe or sit here and read with both feet in the water?" I reveled in the openness, became right-sized by the majestic peaks, was mesmerized by dappled light, exhilerated by icy swims, and made quiet by bird chirps, sunshine, breezes, then (on the last day) thunder claps and torrential rain. Nature, such a drama queen. I haven't yet unpacked the car and already, I'm longing to go back.

But first, a few blog posts. I'll separate them so the comments are easier to track, and sprinkle them with photos, just because.

Please check out the interesting exchange over at Ed Suominen's blog -- two men seeking common ground while remaining true to themselves, and that's pretty wonderful.

At the heart of every religion is compassion, and at the heart of compassion is listening. Pema Chodron gives a beautiful talk about what it means to listen to ourselves without judgment or blame, allowing for a response that exists "in the gap between right and wrong." That is the source of compassion for others. Note how different this idea is from "love the sinner, hate the sin." Yet this middle way happens quite naturally by people of all faiths (and none) when they prioritize kind over right.

Being kind to ourselves enlarges our capacity to be kind to others.

I had a challenge last week. After we had settled into our campsite overlooking the lake, a family arrived that I came to think of as the Bickersons. They squabbled about who should carry what, then where to settle, pitching their tent and then lifting it up, like a turtle shell, shuffling it from site to site while disagreeing about the best view. I grew resentful. I tried to listen to my resentment, look at it, sit with it. How irritating they are! What pests! But so are the chipmunks and woodpeckers, right? Why don't I resent them? I wondered if the woodpeckers were bickering, blaming the tree, the bugs, the heat. If the chipmunks were right now lurking in the bushes, eyeing bitterly our closed food bins. This made me happy.

Later that evening, I heard flamenco, beautifully played, sweet and sad enough to melt a brick. I saw Mr. Bickerson bent over his guitar, playing with his whole heart, as his family watched.

What a gift, I thought. Humans are amazing!

****
(Ed does not accept comments on his blog, but I know he is listening, so feel free to leave them here.)

Friday, August 08, 2014

Tomorrow's Memories

With the headlines on infinite bloody repeat, it has been a summer of shocking sectarian violence (Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Burma, China), on top of no-longer-shocking violence in US homes and streets. Add to it the doomsday reports of arctic methane, ebola, wildfires, etcetera, and it seems the only sane thing to do is unplug. After a futile debate on Facebook, I wonder what use am I to the suffering? Why am I even talking about this?

Yes, I need to unplug.

I need to close the digital firehose and open the garden hose, and tend to my tomatoes, where drones are honey bees and there are actual fruit to my labors. Or go jump in a lake, or pet the dog for a really long time, or rock a baby to sleep. I do wish I had a baby to rock! Please young families, move to Seattle and let me babysit. Seriously.

I need to fill the well.

Some former Laestadians are at Finnfest and Siidastallan in Minneapolis this weekend (I hope you get the chance to gather around a campfire). I'll be camping with my family and treasuring the few years we have before college and adulthood spins our kids off into other orbits. There's a full "super" moon on Sunday and a Perseid shower peaking on Tuesday. Better than Christmas gifts.

Several readers here are struggling with the church's grip on their lives. I talked recently to a 14 year old and a 70 year old, both of whom need encouragement. Thanks to longtime contributor Old Ap for posting the following advice, which I think both of them will find useful. If you have additional insights, please share them below.
"My 'cure' for Laestadian-induced bitterness is as follows:
  1. Honestly admit how the person/parents/events/church affected you focusing on the bad but also realizing that there was some good, too. Maybe not much but some. Admit to the damage!
  2. Admit to yourself how you were compelled to act out and/or adopt beliefs/indoctrination that you intuitively knew were wrong.
  3. Realize how your personal aspirations were trampled on by the group's norms.
  4. Acknowledge how the 'fear of God' was used as a weapon against you for control purposes and that it may have included emotional, sexual, verbal and physical abuse.
  5. Acknowledge how so-called 'religious people' acted in wicked ways behind a facade of goodness to suppress a person's individuality.
  6. Understand that the past did in fact shape you but that it was in ways that you are not now happy with. 
"Once a person has gotten to the roots, one should also realize that one NOW HAS A CHOICE about one's future life's pathway. Laestadianism seems to rob people of their internal gyroscope. We all have a chance to remake ourselves and claim or re-claim our internal sense of being. Start making positive life plans for oneself and start taking concrete steps to map out a life that is meaningful to you. The only person MAKING you stay is you." (Old Ap)
Shalom, friends.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Race and Gender

Will Mormon women change the church from within? Mormonism is vastly larger than Laestadianism, but there are many parallels, and when I heard this story on the radio, I felt a surge of hope for people of all religions who are working within to push for humanitarian reform. 
Earlier this week Kate Kelly, the founder of a group advocating for women to be ordained into the Mormon priesthood, was excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for apostasy.
“For Mormons it’s really the equivalent of spiritual death,” said Natalie Kelly, a Seattle-based member of that group, Ordain Women. She is not related to Kate Kelly.
She explained to KUOW’s David Hyde onThe Record that to be excommunicated from the church means that a person is stripped of the blessings of the church and the sealing covenant that Mormons believe allow a person to live with his or her family after death – a central tenet of the religion.
Apostasy, Natalie Kelly said, is believing in false teachings or falling away from the church. In the case of Kate Kelly’s excommunication, she said the decision about whether a woman seeking equality was apostasy was made entirely by a group of men. Women are never allowed into the disciplinary process of the church because they do not have priesthood.
Priesthood is essential for taking part in the administration of the church, including budget decisions, rituals such as baptisms and blessings, and speaking at church.
“So when women are excluded from the priesthood that means they are excluded from the entire decision-making of the church from the very top, down to the bottom. Every woman’s decision is always subject to a man’s approval,” Natalie Kelly said.
Ordained men of the church also influence the curriculum taught.
"You might have lessons for teenage girls about chastity teaching that a girl that has been sexually assaulted is ‘like a licked cupcake,’" Natalie Kelly explained.
“There’s an incredible emphasis on women’s modesty, covering women’s bodies, that women’s bodies are a source of temptation for men – and it’s all driven around a male-centric view of the world because men are the people in charge making all of these decisions.”
Natalie Kelly said that the role of women in the Mormon religion has decreased since the church’s founding in the early 19th century, when women had more ritual authority. She said even in Seattle, where Mormons are often more progressive about issues such as female ordination and gay marriage, the church leadership still receives instructions from Salt Lake City.
But she thinks that the church, which until 1978 would not allow the ordination of blacks, will evolve to include women more.
“I absolutely believe that women will be ordained into the priesthood someday,” she said. “There’s no way my children’s generation is going to pass without that happening. And I think that when that day comes, the excommunication of Kate Kelly and other feminists in previous generations that have been excommunicated is going to haunt the church in the same way that previous priesthood restrictions currently haunt the church.”
What do you think? What changes do you think you'll see in your lifetime?

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Margaret's Story (The Voices Project)

I want to thank "Margaret" for sharing her story. Please consider telling yours.

IF IT'S NOT OKAY

My father was not from the church originally, but joined later on (mainly because he met my mother, who he wanted to marry, and saw that the only way to marry her was to join the religion). So he joined, dated my mother for a year or two, got engaged, and as is typical with OALC (Old Apostolic Lutheran Church) couples, got married a few months later and then nine months after that, I was born. Now what my mother couldn't know and what she couldn't see—because she was so naive and so fully inundated with the message that marriage is what a young woman should aspire to—was that my father was troubled.

He was controlling (which she likely mistook for love), he was arrogant, he was opinionated, but because all of this fit within the ideal that the OALC sets for women—that the husband is the protector, that the woman should listen to him and obey him, that the woman is merely the helpmate—she wasn't able to spot the red flags. What ended up occurring was years of abuse not only of her but of me, her daughter. It was verbal, it was physical, and there were times that he was sexually inappropriate. 

Amongst all of this, my brother and I were being raised in the church. I went to high school desperate to fit in with the OALC youth, but just couldn't. Among other things, they were racist, they were rude, they were so concerned with materialistic items and who was dating whom that it made me nauseous—nobody cared about doing anything besides sitting in the Fred Meyer parking lot and smoking a cigarette (or five). It was so frustrating that at the age of sixteen, even though I was abused at home and terrified to my core, I refused to go to church.
 . . . even though I was abused at home and terrified to my core, I refused to go to church.
Of course, there was fallout. There was a lot of talks with my parents, who were disappointed. Then there were the meetings with the preachers, several of whom told me that my desire to play sports and to go to college was foolish, and that I should focus on being a good helpmate for my future husband who would, as one put it, "just be paying off your college debts while you raised the children anyway. Why would you want to put a good man through unnecessary debt?"

But the most important thing about my story—and what I desperately want people to know—is that after I left, I went to college. I graduated, and am a nurse, making good money at a job I love. When I left, it gave my mother the strength to leave, too. She now has a college degree and a new husband who is not from the church and makes her brilliantly happy. My little brother just went to his first prom and couldn't have had a bigger smile on his face. The struggle is unimaginable when you are going through it and there is a depth of pain that is almost unbearable. You feel like a failure because you couldn't fit in, you feel embarrassed of yourself and your desires, but the truth is, you were just strong enough to stand up for yourself when what you knew what happening was wrong. 

You saw a group that was fervently bent on a religious ideology that was fundamentally wrong in the way that it was executed and you chose not to stand for it. Instead of standing for constant judgement and rigid rules that somehow dictate whether or not you will be saved, you realized that there was a way to live life with love in your heart for everybody. It is terrifying to leave something that was completely your way of life, but now the choice is up to you. 
. . . you realized that there was a way to live life with love in your heart for everybody. 
I chose to go to college and get a nursing degree. I chose to get engaged to a wonderful man. I chose to be a nondenominational Christian and have never been stronger spiritually. I realized the joy that going to a really good movie can bring. The overwhelming amount of choices you can make is amazing, and though daunting at first, soon you realize that your life is your own. 

You can be free of abuse, you can create the life that feels good for you, and you can still be a Christian. The poisonous lie that exists in the OALC that that church is the one way to get to Heaven is just that, a lie. It can be difficult to realize that those you thought were your family and friends will not recognize you and will still be believing that lie but understand this: they cling to it because they were too weak to see that there is good in all people, not just the OALC, and the word of God is good, no matter what Christian denomination you might be.
Learn to live free, and remember: "If it's not okay, it's not the end."

***

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why We Need to Tell Our Stories

Recently I was asked why I remain interested in Laestadianism, with the implication that I should have "moved on" from my quirky upbringing, as it has so little relevance to my life now. I found this TED video relevant to that question. It is by forging meaning out of our struggles that we make sense of our lives, and by telling our stories that we give permission to others to live authentically. 

"Oppression breeds the power to oppose it, and I gradually understood that as the cornerstone of identity."

"It took identity to rescue me from sadness. The gay rights movement posits a world in which my aberrances are a victory. Identity politics always works on two fronts: to give pride to people who have a given condition or characteristic, and to cause the outside world to treat such people more gently and more kindly. Those are two totally separate enterprises, but progress in each sphere reverberates in the other. Identity politics can be narcissistic.People extol a difference only because it's theirs. People narrow the world and function in discrete groups without empathy for one another. But properly understood and wisely practiced, identity politics should expand our idea of what it is to be human. Identity itself should be not a smug label or a gold medal but a revolution."

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Right to Education

Growing up, Helena Lucia didn't realize a science technology career was an option for a woman.
But on Saturday Lucia, 38, will receive her Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Washington State University Vancouver. She's one of 915 students who will participate at WSU Vancouver's commencement exercises.
Lucia is the recipient of the Chancellor's Award for Student Achievement in recognition of her love of learning, overcoming barriers in pursuit of academic goals, leadership potential and involvement in campus life.

What do you think of when I say "education rights for girls"? Malala Yousafzai, the teenage human rights activist who nearly paid with her life for going to school? The Nigerian schoolgirls, whose kidnappers' name Boko Haram means "Western education is a sin"? 

Please read this article about my friend Helena, a single mother of four who is graduating this Saturday with a degree in Computer Science and launching what promises to be a rewarding career. I am so proud of Helena, and hope every young woman in the newspaper's territory, which is home to so many OALC families, reads this article. While the journalist chose not to mention Helena's upbringing, the biggest obstacle she faced was a cultural inheritance and indoctrination in dependency and self-denial.  (In conservative OALC families like mine, those of us who desired higher education had to go it alone, without emotional or financial support, and often with active disapproval and shunning. The only sanctioned choice was marriage and childbearing. Pretty much like some conservative Muslims in the news!)

I met Helena through this website seven years ago, and it has been a privilege to become her friend and watch her nurture the genderless qualities of courage, curiosity, and imagination, not only for herself but her wonderful children.

May she continue to inspire and support girls seeking an education. And may the kidnapped girls be quickly rescued, reunited with their grieving families, and allowed the self-determination that makes us fully free and human.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Letting Go




Thanks to Daisy for the following excerpt from "The Language of Letting Go" by Melody Beattie. I hope it is helpful to readers who are struggling with how to deal with their loved ones.
Picture a bridge. On one side of the bridge it is cold and dark. We stood there with others . . . doubled over in pain. Some of us developed an eating disorder to cope with the pain. Some drank; some used other drugs. Some of us lost control of our sexual behavior. Some of us obsessively focused on addicted people's pain to distract us from our own . . .   
We did not know there was a bridge. We thought we were trapped on a cliff. Then, some of us got lucky . . 
We saw the bridge. People told us what was on the other side: warmth, light, and healing from our pain. We could barely glimpse or imagine this, but we decided to start the trek across the bridge anyway,
japanese_bridge
Photo by John Mueller
We tried to convince the people around us on the cliff that there was a bridge to a better place, but they wouldn’t listen. They couldn’t see it . . . they were not ready for the journey. We decided to go alone, because we believed, and because people on the other side were cheering us onward. The closer we got to the other side, the more we could see, and feel, that what we had been promised was real. There was light, warmth, healing, and love. The other side was a better place.  
But now there is a bridge between us and those on the other side. Sometimes, we may be tempted to go back and drag them over with us, but it cannot be done. No one can be dragged or forced across the bridge. Each person must go at his or her own choice, when the time is right. Some will come; some will stay on the other side. The choice is not ours.  
We can love them. We can wave to them. We can holler back and forth. We can cheer them on, as others have cheered and encouraged us. But we cannot make them come over with us. If our time has come to cross the bridge, or if we have already crossed and are standing in the light and warmth, we do not have to feel guilty. It is where we were meant to be. We do not have to go back to the dark cliff because another’s time has not yet come.The best thing we can do is stay in the light, because it reassures others that there is a better place. And if others ever do decide to cross the bridge, we will be there to cheer them on. 
Today, I will move forward with my life, despite what others are doing or not doing. I will know it is my right to cross the bridge to a better life, even if I must leave others behind to do that. I will not feel guilty, I will not feel ashamed. I know that where I am now is a better place and where I’m meant to be.  
What about you? How do you let go?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Do You Travel?


When I graduated from college, I took my first trip to Europe with a borrowed backpack, a Rick Steves' guidebook, and a head full of poetry. That trip changed my life, and I returned with a very different view of myself, my country, the world, and my future.

Listening to Rick Steves in this interview, I wondered if people who love travel are unlikely to remain in Laestadianism. What about you?

What role has travel played in your life?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Open Thread

Have any questions you'd like answered, or topics you want to discuss? Please fire away!

To start things off, here's a question from a reader:
I was wondering if anyone has any idea what the reasons were for the split in the OALC church in Minneapolis in the early 70s. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What We Choose to Emphasize

This came across my Facebook page yesterday, shared by several friends.

I thought it worth posting here.
"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. 
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. 
If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.  
The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
-- Howard Zinn

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Limits of Labels

"She's a narcissist."
"He's totally ADD."
"I'm depressed."
"You're OCD."

We all do it, but when it comes to armchair diagnosing, proceed with caution. This is a helpful article explaining why.

As a parent, I have to consciously fight the urge to "explain" my kids as shy, outgoing, hyper, or whatever, when trying to analyze the cause of some action or mood. Labels limit and inhibit, because we tend to seek evidence that fits, ignore evidence that doesn't (confirmation bias) and act in ways that make the labels self-fulfilling. I know that labels can reduce them, in my mind and more dangerously in theirs.

When our kids diagnose themselves, e.g., "I'm no good at math," instead of simply commiserating, I try to remind them how well they learn when they apply themselves. This doesn't come naturally, but after reading the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, I am persuaded that kids who are told the truth, that their brains are constantly evolving and capable of growth, do better and feel better.
"In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits . . . In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment."
If only this was common knowledge when I was young! As a Laestadian in a public school, I was labeled as a loner and a snob (and no doubt much worse); after all, I didn't hang out, or go to football games or parties. My teachers, grateful to have a compliant student who turned in her work, a pleaser, pegged me as smart. The bar was very low. Because I could win friends by drawing sketches, I got a reputation as an artist. My mother, adapted to a life of cooking, cleaning, and sewing (not disappearing with a book or drawing pad) warned me that I was lazy and not good marriage material. When I questioned the teachings of the church, my father called me disobedient, proud, and self-righteous. Each of these labels I absorbed, as children do, and also questioned, but they all bit me on the butt in different ways, limiting my perceptions of who I was and what I could do, and whether I was lovable.



But the most insidious label was the one I gave myself, without quite realizing it: victim. That one is a soul killer, and I'm glad that it has been replaced in recovery literature by survivor, but the truth is that whatever we say to ourselves about our past, if our self-perception stays rooted there, in circumstances that were out of our control, we are stuck. We are passive, reactive, the audience rather than the creators of our lives.

Infinitely better than surviving is thriving. This chart describes the difference, and while simplified, I think the comparisons may resonate for you as it did for me (you may even recognize voices from this blog over the years). But -- as with everything -- eat the chicken and leave the bones. Take what helps, toss the rest.

Walt Whitman, that wonderful courage-giver, wrote: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."

That is where I am now, accepting myself as a infinitely complex and always evolving. I am sometimes a loner, snobbish, smart, artistic, lazy, not good marriage material, disobedient, proud, self-righteous, and a victim. I am also gregarious, unassuming, dumb, unoriginal, productive, a decent spouse, servile, humble, and an instigator. There is truth in all of these labels, but the larger truth is that they don't define me. I want to offer that same grace to others, especially those in my past, who are so easy to label and so difficult to understand. I'm trying.

What labels have helped or hindered you?