Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When Holidays Hurt

This can be a lonely season. You may feel emotionally alienated from friends and family. This may be your first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Or your first after a divorce. 

It may be the first without your children, or with a mixed family whom you find challenging.


You may be coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression, or poor health. 

You may be suffering financially.

When the holidays hurt, here are some ways of coping:

1. Try letting go of expectations. This is one year of many, and if you allow yourself to accept that it WILL be different, you can open yourself to pleasant surprises. All alone this year? Time to catch up that Netflix show, or discover a new author, or learn the guitar. Didn't get around to sending cards? A New Year's letter may be even better.

2. Be kind to your body so it will be kind to you. Take time to exercise, eat well, get outdoors, and breathe. Rich foods used to be rare and expensive, which is why they became associated with the holidays, but they do us no favors in excess. Salmon chowder and kale salad make delicious "special" foods. (Avoid alcohol altogether if you are feeling down. It's a depressant and will make you feel worse.)

3. Widen your circle. Invite a neighbor over, accept an invitation to a party, attend a local arts event. If you have never volunteered before, it's a powerful way of getting perspective, as there is always someone whose needs are greater than yours, and service is a sure cure for depression.

4. Give yourself permission to say no. If you are stressed by work or family gatherings, it's okay to limit your time at them, or opt out altogether. If unhealthy competition arises (sibling or otherwise), practice grace by benching yourself. Observe, admire (or not), but remain quiet. Don't take the bait! And remember that there you are not alone in your discomfort; it's the stuff comedy shows are built on.

5. Focus on the people you enjoy and who bring out the best in you. Minimize contact with faultfinders, gossips, and other toxic people in your family. Practice being pleasant but brief.

6. If you are feeling broke and/or fed up with consumerism, consider a "three hands" holiday: second-hand, hand-me-down, or handmade. We all have items that would bring more pleasure to someone else than us. Too late for gifts? Give a certificate that can be redeemed for a service, or for time together in the future. 

For loved ones, time together is the most valuable gift. The older we get, the more we know how limited it is.

7. Unplug more often. Turn off the news. For most of us, our active/passive, create/recreate balance could stand some recalibrating. As humans we are all creative beings (even if we never write a song or paint a picture) whose brains, if not solving puzzles or learning new patterns or concepts, can become depressingly dull, even to ourselves. So turn off the news and turn up some inspiring music and make something. 

Wishing you happiness and health now and in the new year. 

Thank you for the gift of your attention. 

Love,
Free


Thursday, December 03, 2015

A Culture of Encounter Not Hatred

Pope Francis called fundamentalism “a disease of all religions” while being interviewed last week on a trip to Africa.

“Fundamentalism is always a tragedy. It is not religious, it lacks God, it is idolatrous,” the pontiff told journalists.

The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics called on Christian and Muslim “brothers and sisters” to end sectarian conflict.

“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself,” he said.

On the need for inter-religious dialogue, Francis said in a radio interview in September that “in our weaknesses we foster a culture of enmity . . . from the horrors of war to damaging gossip in the workplace, we must work for a culture of encounter.”

How can we foster a culture of encounter in our daily lives? Ideas?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Looking for Wings

A reader writes:
Hello. I've really appreciated this blog. Not sure where to post, but I wanted to reach out. I could use some support. I have reached out to a couple others I know personally that have left. I'm in the "preparation phase" of leaving the IALC. Love the people, don't love the exclusivity. Greeting "believers" and then not greeting others in a room has never felt good to me. 
I grew up in this church, so the roots go deep. In fact, it's so much a part of me I've considered not leaving just because leaving seems like so much work and turmoil. But having just gone through a lot of other personal turmoil (and surviving and thriving), it seems silly to carry on with this. It has gotten to the point for me where I am feeling bitter about having to drive there, or wake up on a Sunday and get ready. Going through the motions for something I don't feel a part of. 
I appreciate the community, and I know I will miss the social aspect. The other major hurdle will be telling my family. My parents and siblings are very hardcore. I anticipate some major emotional outbursts, guilt trips, and the like. Basically, I'm scared. Any tips are welcome. I worry that I'll be like an animal that has been raised in a zoo, and is set free into the wild and just stands there, not knowing how to live free. :( 
– LookingForWings 
LFW, thanks for visiting. Many of us here can relate. You are wise to reach out, and wise to know that leaving is a process. Readers here will have plenty of advice. Mine is to practice listening to your instincts and then, honoring them. They count. You count.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Religion I Never Knew

A religion I never knew, but felt is a personal essay by Victoria Stoppiello about growing up in large Finnish family that she learns, on a trip to Finland. An excerpt:
I’d heard stories about the prohibitions that were part of my great-grandparents’ way of life: No smoking, drinking, dancing, card playing, whistling, wearing jewelry or make-up, or cutting your hair. (Those last prohibitions obviously directed at the females in the family.) Looking in the mirror was also prohibited. I knew all those behaviors were outlawed, but it never occurred to me that birth control was, too.

Before traveling to Finland I had some apprehension that all Finns would be like my mom’s emotionally cold family. On arriving at my grandparents’ home, a visitor might get a handshake, nothing more — certainly a contrast with my Italian-American in-laws. But in Finland, my Finnish cousins were quick to embrace my husband and me when we arrived at their homes. They were relaxed, lively and warm, so I was wrong about Finns being cold fish when it comes to greetings. I also assumed that my great-grandparents’ rigidity was typical of Finnish Lutheranism, but I was wrong about that, too. 
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Were You Raised into a High-Control Religious Group?

While there are good arguments for why Laestadianism does not meet the definition of "cult," few could disagree that even at is most liberal, it is high-control. That's pretty much the point, for better and for worse.

Thanks to a reader for sharing this link to an International Cultic Studies Association program that addresses the needs of second generation adults, i.e., those born or raised into high control religious groups.
Second-Generation Adults (SGAs) do not have a “precult identity” to which they can return. Raised in fringe subcultures, they frequently have educational and other skill deficits that interfere with adjustment to mainstream culture. Having grown up in high-demand, high-control groups, SGAs struggle with issues of dependency, self-esteem, and social conflict. They often have to deal with the trauma of physical and/or sexual abuse. SGAs have difficulty getting help because they tend to lack finances and be wary of other people, including helpers.
Two articles describe the program: Lessons Learned from SGAs About Resiliency and Recovery and My Perspective of Rosanne Henry and Leona Furnari’s Presentation to the Annual SGA Workshop.  The next workshop is in Chester, Connecticut next spring: April 15-17, 2016.

I fast-forwarded through much of the video, but even so, I heard a lot of parallels to my own experience.

This statement is pretty much the reason for this site:
"Former members are the most helpful piece for a lot of people recovering (from high-control gruops) . . . it's really the way to understand your own experience and to find out you are not the only one."




Readers, I hope you are finding the support you need, and helping others as you're able. Do you think things are easier now for those who leave Laestadianism, given all the resources available?


Friday, July 03, 2015

A Friend to Man

It's hot here in Seattle. This morning we were sitting on the porch drinking coffee and enjoying a brief hiatus from the heat. A siren wailed in the distance and the dog tried to imitate it, as he does, which is not very well. It's a dog falsetto. We laughed out loud while inwardly hoping that whomever or whatever beckoned the siren would turn out to be okay. Yesterday, an electrical failure in an apartment resulted in an enormous fire. It was so hot the firefighters had to be rotated out frequently to recover. Thankfully, the only damage was to property.

As we sat and sipped, a neighbor ambled by and asked if we would recycle a plastic container she'd found in the street. She was on her way to the hardware store. As I put the container in our bin, a fragment of poetry arose from the cobwebs of memory.  Something from long ago, when I lived in a remote house in the woods, far from any friends.

"I'll live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man."

At the time, I thought of the poem as being contrary to what I was taught in OALC. After all, most of the church people I knew lived in the country, and invested only in loving their own kind, certainly not their neighbors.

But I'm sure that was a limited view. What were your experiences?

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)
There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.
Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Amazing Grace


Did you know this hymn was written by an English clergyman once involved in the Atlantic slave trade?

Was Amazing Grace sung in your Laestadian church?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Witches Now and Then

In the news is a Norwegian monument dedicated to the memory of the 91 people in Vardø who were killed for sorcery between 1593 and 1692. More than 40,000 people were persecuted for witchcraft in Europe in the 16 and 17th centuries, but the number in Vardø is disproportionately high given the small, remote population. 
" . . . about a third of these trials were specifically targeting Norway’s indigenous Sami population who arose suspicion by practicing traditional healing rituals."
Pause for a moment and consider that both accusers and accused were likely to have Christians, baptized in the same church. They not only knew each other but were probably related, given the isolation of the community. What would inspire such terrible suspicion and betrayal of compassion?

As with the Salem witch trials, there is plenty of speculation -- disaster, disease, vendettas, hysteria, something that caused a schism in the social fabric. One possibility in the cited article, offered by historian Liv Helene Willumson, is that the accusers were acting on a mainstream European fear of the North as evil. This was no doubt fostered by the efforts of both state and church to force the Sami to abandon their way of life, language, religion, and culture. 

Some Sami cooperated, some resisted, all were affected. 

It is out of this traumatic history that Laestadianism arose a century and a half later. How much risk did the first Laestadian noncorformists take? What did they think of their pewmates on Communion Sunday in the church. We can't know for sure.


In her compelling paper (starting on page 22), religious history scholar Anna Lydia Svalastog of Uppsula University says:
"Instead of searching for a pure tradition, we ought to investigate the processes that lead to continuation, renewal and change. Some old and new elements are adopted, while others are rejected; others again are integrated afresh, or combined in new ways. A good example of this is the Laestadian revival in the nineteenth century. Laestadianism does not cover all the Sámi regions, and where it becomes strong in an area, there are variations from one place and family group to another."
This is also true today in America, as readers can attest.  What is "preached against" varies by sect and location and family. When my OALC aunt was young, engagement rings "were taught a sin," so she was given a horse by her new husband. Sounds like a useful adaptation! The newer OALC idea against women wearing pants, not so much.

How are Laestadians nonconformist today?  

How do Laestadians treat noncomformists in their villages?


I think about those 91 men and women in Vardø who were tortured, and what it must have felt like to know that nobody could save them once judgement was passed. Anything they said could be used against them, as "the Devil talking." Even their virtues were suspect, because the Devil comes disguised. They knew, as they screamed in pain, that their children would now be suspect, as virtue and sinfulness was thought to be inherited -- "good families" and "bad families."

I think about their accusers, devout souls who may have believed they were saving wretches from hell, first by "rebuking" them, then by giving them "an opportunity to repent." Every last one of them knew the Ten Commandments (it was required for confirmation).  They knew the Greatest Commandment.

And yet. Their fear was greater than their love.

I think about the onlookers who remained silent, wh
o wanted to throw water on the flames, but didn't.

How are we nonconformist?  

How do we treat noncomformists in our villages?


When do we throw water on flames?


***

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Amish: Shunned

This week PBS is offering several free documentaries online, including The Amish: Shunned, which features seven Amish people who have left the fold. I'm eager to watch it.

If you've already seen it, please let us know your thoughts in the comment section. What resonated with you? What would have made it a better documentary?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Wild Geese

Another poem for Poetry Month. 


WILD GEESE
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Dark Magic of Tribal Shame

Photo: A Child's Cry for Peace by D. Sharon Pruitt (cc) 
I am fearlessly copying this post from Elizabeth Gilbert's Facebook page as it is relevant to readers who have abandoned Laestadianism. It's long, but worth it. Put your feet up and dig in.

BEWARE OF TRIBAL SHAME
Dear Ones -
OK, my friends — this will be a long post!
In fact, this will be the longest post I’ve ever written here on Facebook — but I also think that perhaps it’s the most important.
I want to share with you some revolutionary new ideas I’ve heard recently about emotional health and wellbeing. I came upon all this information just a few months ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it and talking about it with my friends and family.
This has been some really life-changing stuff for me — some of most life-changing stuff I’ve learned in ages — and I want to tell everyone about it!
It will take a while to explain this theory, but if you have the time…stay with me, OK?
I think you may find it’s worth it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Random Stuff / Delurk Thread

Happy spring and World Poetry Day, readers. I know many of you come here looking for something fresh and leave empty-handed. My apologies. Below I've listed a few items that may tempt you to delurk and leave a comment, as the dialogue in the comment section is usually the best reading here.

1. Ed has a new post about exodus stories. Many of us take non-linear paths out of the church, some with a loop or two back in, for various reasons. But the guy who returned to the LLC to party? That had me SMH, as the kids say, shaking my head! Did you leave and return, and if so, why?

2. Another reader forward this link to Post-Cult Trauma Syndrome. Perhaps you recognize some of these symptoms? (I often feel "out of it" but have accepted it as my normal!)
  • flashbacks to cult life
  • simplistic black-white thinking
  • sense of unreality
  • suggestibility, ie. automatic obedience responses to trigger-terms of the cult's loaded language or to innocent suggestions
  • disassociation (spacing out)
  • feeling "out of it"
  • "Stockholm Syndrome": knee-jerk impulses to defend the cult when it is criticized, even if the cult hurt the person
  • difficulty concentrating
  • incapacity to make decisions
  • hostility reactions, either toward anyone who criticizes the cult or toward the cult itself
  • mental confusion
  • low self-esteem
  • dread of running into a current cult-member by mistake
  • loss of a sense of how to carry out simple tasks
  • dread of being cursed or condemned by the cult
  • hang-overs of habitual cult behaviors like chanting
  • difficulty managing time
  • trouble holding down a job
3. If you happen to be in Stockholm in June, check out the International Cultic Studies Conference. Surely religious scholars in the birthplace of Laestadius will be eager to discuss his legacy? Or not. I think Laestadianism may be the Rodney Dangerfield of religions and cults.


Monday, March 09, 2015

Guest House

Happy spring, readers. To celebrate, here's a photo by my son and a poem by the Muslim mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi, who in spite of having lived 800 years ago is the best-selling poet in the United States today. Enjoy!

Guest House
by Jalal ad-Din Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Monday, January 12, 2015

We and They

by Rudyard Kipling

Father and Mother, and Me,
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But-would you believe it?
--They look upon We
As only a sort of They!

We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
While they who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn't it scandalous? ) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!