Tuesday, December 25, 2012

O Holy Night

Dear readers, wishing you all a beautiful Christmas, wherever you are, whomever you are with, with whatever faith or curiosity calls you into a new tomorrow. At this darkest time of the year, our little blue planet continues its path around the sun; we know the light is returning.

Thank you for being here.

For sharing your journey, your faith, your doubts. By letting your light shine, you give permission to others to do the same.

That means more than you'll ever know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reach Out, Take My Hand

I know many of us have on our hearts the senseless tragedy in Connecticut, and many here in Washington State are mourning the loss of a sweet little girl to suicide. May these deaths inspire us to reach out to others, to listen to their pain, to offer solace, and to work toward a society that recognizes and treats abuse and mental illness of all kinds.

The powerful story below was submitted by a reader.
When I was 11 or 12, I decided I was going to commit suicide. I took a sleeping bag, a family sized bottle of Bayer Aspirin, and a canteen into the woods, where . . .  I lost my nerve after a few hours. I left all of these items in the forest, and if my mother ever looked for the sleeping bag, the aspirin, and the canteen, she never questioned why these items were missing. 
I lost my nerve because, according to church doctrine, I could not determine if I had reached the age of reason, and in taking my own life I would go to hell. Sermons gave conflicting opinions. Our believer friend “Lasse,” who we all consulted regarding spiritual matters, thought it was age 20, but some ministers said confirmation age, and another believer thought it could be as low as age eight. I did not want to take any chances on hell, so I did not kill myself. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Laestadian Christmas Memories

Christmas can bring up feelings of loss for former Laestadians, no matter how long we've been gone. Until I met my husband, I was either solo at Christmas, or an awkward, grateful guest at a friend's house. Whether I was dining on Chinese or Thai food, or sitting in quiet admiration of my friend's tight-knit families and unfamiliar traditions, I was unsteadied by grief, and couldn't wait for the new year to begin.

Christmas is all about family, and I didn't have one. Not one that wanted me, at any rate.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Christmas Program

Three years ago, I attended the Christmas program of my younger children’s elementary school, my head swirling with cognitive dissonance over what I was reading in the Bible and church publications. One of the issues that stood out in my mind, as it does for so many troubled believers, was Conservative Laestadianism’s outrageous exclusivity claims. (These claims are also made by the OALC, FALC, and IALC, who all point their bony fingers of condemnation at each other along with the LLC/SRK.)

Here it is in a nutshell: The church’s membership comprises about 0.002% of the world’s population. Everyone else who is mentally competent and has achieved some vaguely defined age of accountability it consigns to an eternity of screaming torture, a fate that eventually will be shared by almost all of the billion or so of the world’s children. There are even questions about many of those within the official membership nowadays. I suspect the old guard in the SRK and LLC have been waiting quite a while now for another “heresy” to come along and clean house, freeing them from having to deal with those annoying liberals, part-timers, and questioners.

That evening I sat with my wife and watched our kids up on stage, saying their pieces and singing their little songs among the beautiful children and parents of a rural, simple, and fairly religious community. As it is most everywhere else in the U.S. and the world, none of them has ever heard of Conservative Laestadianism. The closest most will ever come to a member of “God’s Kingdom” is in their cars as they drive through the area where most of our old congregation’s members live, on their way to do some shopping in town.

Here’s what I wrote when we got home. It is reproduced from my book (§4.2.1), as is some of the commentary that follows (pp. 82, 84‑85, 242 of the printed version).


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Danger of "Forgive and Forget"



Watch this powerful series to see what happens when "forgive and forget" victimizes the victims, and allows a culture of abuse to thrive in the dark.

In Brazil, the rapist of a 9-year old girl who became pregnant with twins remains a member of the Catholic Church while the girl's mother (and the doctors who preformed a life-saving abortion), were excommunicated. The girl escaped excommunication only because she is still a child in the eyes of Church authorities. 

In Portland, Oregon, a woman is suing the Apostolic Faith Church for abuse she suffered as a child, saying she wants to hold the church accountable for looking the other way and ignoring her pleas for help.

"I realized that one way to help a lot of the friends that I knew in this church that were also victims was to come forward and let them see my face and show them that I’m not scared to let people know what was done to me," she said. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Twenty Years Later . . .


It's been almost twenty years since I left the LLC.   Most of the time I don't think about it much, but lately I’ve been pondering about the things I miss and the things I don’t miss about the church. I have to say that the sound of dozens of voices singing in harmony is one of the things I most miss about the church now. Music has always been a big part of my life. Song services were my favorite church activity. Even now, almost twenty years after leaving the church, hearing people sing Christmas carols brings back a rush of nostalgia.

The thing I find so interesting about the songs, though, is that it seems like Laestadians quote song verses more often that they quote Bible verses. I’m guessing that this is because maybe they sing the songs so often that they have them memorized, but also because the songs speak of a shared experience that they can all relate to.  Maybe they sing the songs more often than they read scripture, and that helps it stick, too. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

To Marry or Not to Marry . . .

Thanks, Free, for the chance to write a guest post here. I appreciate the chance to put in my two cents’ worth! I always enjoy the discussion here, and even if it gets a little heated at times, I also appreciate the tone of civility that is expected.
Daisy is a former LLC'er who blogs at A Daisy a Day

I just wanted to comment on the recent election and the current lack of civility that I see, both generally in our society, and more specifically in the church. I think the animosity is there anyway, but the election seemed to bring out the worst in people. We are a nation sharply divided. There have always been opposing points of view in our country, but is it just my imagination, or do people seem to be getting more hostile?

I’m thinking in particular about one of the issues that was on our ballot here in Minnesota, a proposed amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. Now mind you, same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Minnesota. If this had not passed, that wouldn't change, but from the frantic posturing from many religious folks on this amendment, you would think life as we know it would come to an end if this amendment did not pass. (However, I think it’s fair to note that many churches did not endorse this amendment.) I’m really not trying to stir the pot here on my first post, but this has been on my mind so much lately. I don’t understand why some people think it is okay to discriminate against gays and lesbians. I can't see it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

News & Views

Here is a round-up of news from my inbox:
  • FALC member Ray Huhta of Hancock, who was convicted of child sex abuse in 2005 after being under suspicion for at least thirty years, passed away in Texas on October 11th. Please take a moment to remember his victims and to read Beth's blog here, on why abuse does not die with the abuser. 
  • There is almost daily news of how institutions have failed to protect children from abuse. Why? There are clues in this compelling PBS documentary called "The Silence." We must end the conspiracy of silence. To those still in the church, reject the practices that value reputations over a child's life. Put the shame where it belongs.
  • Does Mormonism seem weird to you? Scientology? Test Your Knowledge of Wild, Weird, and Outright Wacky American Religious Beliefs.
  • Congratulations to Hanna Pylväinen who, in addition to a steady stream of rave reviews, just won a $50,000 Whiting prize for "We Sinners."
  • Interested in exploring Sami history and culture? Check out the resources on my PSS blog.
  • You don't have to be an atheist to appreciate this "Matter of Doubt" podcast with Ed Suominen about his experience in leaving the LLC.  It has been downloaded over 3,800 times so far! You'll hear serious analysis but also some humor and uplifting thoughts. As Ed says in his conclusion: Reality isn't half bad. Life is amazing.
  • Last but not least, check out this music video. Some of you may recognize the surname of the talented artist. 



Got a video or link you'd like to share with our readers? Comment below or send me an email!

Take care,
—Free


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Maternal Martyrdom

Laestadianism’s rejection of contraception is an important topic, literally a matter of life and death for some women. There is no excuse for an institution to discourage its members from considering all viewpoints on such a grave matter, especially when it claims that those members are accepting life-threatening pregnancies in accordance with their individual consciences. Read on, and let others do the same. A copy of this essay is available at examinationofthepearl.org/mm.

Laestadian women need to open their eyes before any more bleed to death on the sacrificial altar of a faith that requires their fertility for its survival. 
Like the Second Temple Judaism that preceded it, Christianity is a religion based on blood sacrifice. That may seem like a jarring summation of a faith that is, for the average believer, less about theology than the happy commotion of little children playing, the smell of hot dish warming in the church kitchen, and the joy of singing songs that are as beloved and familiar as the hundred other voices ringing out from the pews alongside you. But it’s the harsh reality behind all the love and comfort: Jesus’ “blood of the covenant” was “poured out for many” (Mark 14:24, NASB), just as Moses took the blood of young bulls “and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:8, NASB).

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (Wikimedia Commons)
The sacrificial victims were not just animals or the one who was called the Son of God. Judges 11 tells us of Jephthah vowing to God that he would make a human sacrifice in exchange for permission to do a bunch of other killing, and fulfilling the vow with his own daughter. God even commanded the Israelites to give him “the firstborn of your sons,” the same as they were to do with their oxen and sheep. “It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me” (Exodus 22:29-30, NASB). Then there is the Old Testament’s most famous story of human sacrifice, where Abraham was about to slice open his 12-year old son until God stopped him.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Matter of Doubt

This week, the two co-hosts of A Matter of Doubt, “a podcast for atheists and people who are having doubts about their religion,” interviewed me about Laestadianism, the story of my initial questioning and eventual departure from the LLC, and some of the many issues involved. I really like the fun, conversational approach these guys take with their guests. They are very well-informed about the Bible and religion, and have some pretty interesting stories and discussions in their archive.

You can listen to the episode on the podcast’s website, download it, or get it via iTunes.

Another one I would recommend is Episode 20 with Chris Cherry, a brilliant and articulate, self-educated woman who left another “true church” group, the Keswick movement.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Memories of Good (?) Times

Note: This is a guest post by long-time reader CVOW. If you would like to write a guest post, please send an email to Free. Tell your story!

Friends, we've touched on this topic here and there, but I don't think in a dedicated thread.  Regardless of what particular branch of Laestadianism you were raised in, do you think that church is the same as you recall from years past?  How much did change in the church influence your decision to leave the church -- or perhaps enabled you to stay?

As I drift back in the theatre of my mind, I seem to recall a much different church (OALC) of close to 60 years ago.  I remember stern old Finns, who -- while they took their religion very seriously -- were also kind hearted (in a gruff old Finnish fashion).  I remember preachers who went out of their way to be gentle souls, trying their best to guide a flock in the best fashion they could . . . men who were good to me in every way. Sure, when W was preaching, you sat behind the biggest person in the church, hoping he wouldn't call on you to comment on what the sixth devil would do with the two edged sword on the slippery slope to hell or some such obtuse thing, but all in all, it wasn't unpleasant.  I remember evening services in a softly lit church during "meetings."  I remember my grandfather, who I suppose was the oldest of the "lukkari's," always leading "There's a land that is fairer than day," his favorite, as the last song, on the last night of meetings. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Q&A With Hanna and "We Sinners" Give-Away

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions (compiled below), thanks to Hanna Pylväinen for her thoughtful response, and thanks to MacMillan for sending 10 free copies of We Sinners. They will go to the first 10 readers to email me with (1) a suggested blog topic and (2) a mailing address (United States and Canada only, please). 

When "Learning to Live Free" began in 2004, it felt like a voice crying in the wilderness. There was nothing available, online or in print, about the experience of leaving Laestadianism. Is yours the first novel on this theme? How did you choose to write about it? Did you ever visit Learning to Live Free?

Toni Morrison said that she wrote The Bluest Eye because she wanted to read it -- and I remember, as someone who had turned so often to literature, wanting there to be a book that somehow caught at the turmoil of leaving a community that was not all bad, a community that had some very lovely things about it, but that, ultimately, was forcing me to leave them because I did not agree. So in some ways I wrote We Sinners because it did not exist -- because the literature on Laestadianism was limited to the pamphlets, novels, and dictums coming from within the Laestadians themselves. I did, in fact, run across "Learning to Live Free," which lessened somewhat my sense of loneliness, but when I began to see that I was interested, moreover, in writing qua writing -- in fiction, in arcs, in stories -- I began to see that, in fact, I could be the one to write about Laestadianism; it could be me. This revelation was slow to arrive, but once it did, I began to see that contemporary American literature was very much lacking in sincere discussions of faith -- and perhaps even I could add to that.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Who Will Sing for Me When I Die?

Check out this excellent interview with Hanna Pylvainen about her novel "We Sinners."

It helped me better understand her novel and why some people stay in the church.

Listen all the way to the end of it!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Live, and Be Alive

On this anniversary of death brought to us by the very worst of fundamentalist religion, how about a celebration of life that has absolutely nothing to do with religion?


Do you have two legs at your command? Walk through forests and neighborhoods, leap and run for joy. Climb stairs with loads of laundry as some climb mountains with backpacks and dreams.

Arms and fingers that bend and move to your wishes? Feel what they touch, note the textures of the world around you. Caress and sense, support, sustain. Is this intricate mechanism of muscle and tendons, bone and joints best purposed for a clenched fist or an outstretched hand of friendship?

Do your eyes convey the light and vision of what's around you? Look, then, and see. Find the beauty in every scene and face. Know that billions of neurons are locked in complex arrays of interconnection to interpret what your eyes have chosen to look upon. Make it worthy.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Reminder

Any more questions for Hanna Pylvainen? You can email me or post a question in the comment section below. You need not have read the book to participate!

Also, a heads-up if you are in the Seattle area:

Friday, Sept 28
2 PM, Finnish Film. Kiellety hedelmä (Forbidden Fruit), 2009A teenage girl from a rural Laestadian community decides to break out and test her freedom in Helsinki. $5 donation. Swedish Cultural Center.

Happy Labor Day,
—Free

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ask Those Questions, Sinners!

Readers, Hanna Pylvainen has graciously agreed to answer questions here on the blog about her book "We Sinners."

(Insert totally-worldly happy dance.)


So here's the deal. Email me your questions for Hanna, and I'll consolidate and forward the best, then post the Q&A here.

Her publisher is also offering a book give-away (details to follow).

— Free


Monday, August 27, 2012

To leave isn't freedom . . . or is it?

Yesterday, my sister called as I was playing tour guide to visitors from Lapland. She said she had heard an interview with a Laestadian on NPR. That's a first, I thought.

Later, I picked up my husband from the airport and he said "did you hear the interview on NPR?"

I came home and found it here. Have a listen.

It is Hanna Pylvainen, talking about her book with NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

"When I left, I was treated by my friends outside of the church as if I was liberated . . . I was free, I had thrown off the shackles of this oppressive church . . . actually I was going through tremendous mourning. It was this exact feeling . . . that to leave isn't freedom, that made me want to write the book."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"You've Just Got to Keep Your Mouth Shut"

Readers, I hope your summer is going well. Ours was supposed to be "lazy" -- no camps for the kids, lots of sleeping in and going to the beach -- but somehow we've managed to pack tons of activity into the past two months. We've taken road trips, hosted out-of-town visitors (including three former Laestadians), attended Sami-related events, and travelled to a family reunion. All of it very enjoyable, including our stay on an urban farm in Portland where we were wakened by roosters. (The sound was charming at first, and then . . . frankly, annoying.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Peace

Longtime readers of this blog may remember previous discussions of Sámi heritage, including this old post from 2006, in which I quote Ruthann Cecil as saying that a family history of Laestadianism is the surest indicator of Sámi roots. After all, Laestadius was half-Sámi, and the movement began in Swedish Lapland, where the OALC still gets direction from "the elders."

I am told some Laestadian Sámi use only reindeer bone clasps.
I was dimly aware that I was related to some of those elders, who would visit the United States every few years and even come over for dinner (when I was a girl, I asked them for autographs as if they were rock stars! Which I suppose they are in that sphere). 

Monday, July 02, 2012

Joy of (Not) Believing

The postings and comments on this blog over the course of its several-year history often speak about the challenges and difficulties of leaving Laestadianism. It is a move that many have had to make, from fundamentalist religions of all types, when the facts could no longer bear to be disregarded. Preachers are prone to caricature those who no longer show up to listen to their sermons as having been unable to resist the lure of “the world,” taking the easy way out, leaving the fold to pursue a life of sin. The reality I’ve seen from dozens of discussions with refugees from fundamentalist religions–and from reading testimonials by hundreds more–is quite different. What became important was simply a desire for the truth of the matter, and the result of their accepting that reality was often more difficult than remaining comfortably and conveniently sheltered within the bosom of the church.

That is not to say there are no positive results from making the transition. Of course there are! After a lifetime of repression, many ex-Laestadians find profound joy in expanding their musical and cultural horizons, discovering the amazing and powerful medium of cinema, and allowing themselves the freedom to engage in romantic relationships with (gasp!) the people who surround them in their day-to-day society. Life becomes worth living for itself–right here, right now–instead of being a grim march through a world that one must disdain as sinful. The attitude is expressed well in the opening lines of one old LLC song: “My home is not here where I journey, ah no it is far, far away.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Father's Day Sermon, Laestadian Style

If you want to experience a full dose of Laestadian scripture-twisting, intellectual suicide, biblical whitewashing, authoritarianism, moral equivocation, sectarian exclusivity, self-loathing, group emotionalism, and temporary guilt relief (roughly in that sequence), you can do no better than this Father’s Day sermon by the full-time pastor of the Rockford, Minnesota LLC. What follows are excerpts I’ve transcribed of the sermon, which are somewhat lengthy to address the too-often heard charge of “taking it out of context,” along with various images and videos that seemed appropriate to what was being said.

For some reason, I no longer get teary-eyed when listening to a preacher praise a man who kicked out the son he had conceived with a slave once he finally got himself a legitimate heir, and who “shut down his thinking” in preparation for slicing open his 12-year-old boy with a knife because he heard a voice telling him to. My patience has long since run out for the mindset that has so thoroughly surrendered itself to fideism as to assert, “If you don’t understand, you believe.” It’s certainly not a new attitude: Luther said “we must simply maintain that when we hear God saying something, we are to believe it and not to debate about it but rather take our intellect captive in the obedience of Christ” (Lectures on Genesis, Ch. 3, v. 5).

Even if you don’t understand what it is your are professing to believe, you must believe it nonetheless. It’s no less absurd a proposition than the absurdities that are being “believed” in this way. One example is the Real Presence of Christ in the communion wafer, which Luther held to as an essential point of doctrine. How, then, shall we understand those things which are beyond all our senses, in the Word alone? Thus it is in the Word alone that the bread is the body of Christ, that the wine is the blood of Christ. This must be believed; it must not and cannot be understood” (Id.).

Friday, June 15, 2012

Did Laestadius rob graves?

Bosse Johanssen, author
A friend in Norway sends this link about a new book casting light on Laestadius the scientist, who allegedly robbed graves of his fellow Saami for French scientists. My friend tells me this is "old news" but has been suppressed for so long out of respect for those who revere him. What do you think? Does it change your opinion of Laestadius to know he defiled graves in the name of research?
--Free

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gather with other Sami-Americans in July

Like Lars Levi himself, many Laestadians (former and current) have Sami roots, although we may not have grown up aware of them. Some of us may even have had forebears who denied "Lapp blood" despite the evidence. But that is a story for another time. What I want to talk about today is Siiddastallen! 

Hosted by the Sami Siida of North America, Siiddastallen is a semi-regular gathering of Sami Americans. This year it is in Stacy, Minnesota from July 6-8. I am so eager to attend, not only to see friends and make new ones, and to learn more about my heritage, but to see my home state again.

Siiddastallen will include educational seminars (including one about Laestadius by his great-great-granddaughter), films, workshops, crafts (duodje), shared meals, and campfires. Ellen Marie Jensen will be there with her book "We Stopped Forgetting," about the Sami American experience (the book includes, I am tickled to report, a photo of my daughter carrying the Sami flag). There will be several lavvus onsite, courtesy of Northern Lavvu. No reindeer, however (the park has a no pets policy, in case you were thinking of bringing one!).


The organizers have asked me to moderate a forum on spirituality, which is very intriguing. I look forward to hearing from other "Am-Sam's" about their practices and beliefs (or lack thereof), and expect to find a lot of diversity.

‎"Først folk, sia finna" (first people, then Saami), a North-Norwegian proverb

Do you have Sami heritage? If so, what does it mean to you?
--Free

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Bond Beyond Ideas

The last two comments on the last post are so timely for my life that I want to highlight them here:

"Jesus's strongest message was to love one another and he did not specify that we all had to believe the same things! So I cut my fellow travelers some slack and try to love them as I love myself." SISU

"When you take a look at the history of the the Laestadian movement and all the different splits, and all the people hurt in the process, I believe the majority of this would have been prevented if they put their focus on loving others, instead of judging someone else's faith and beliefs." EXFALC

Heck yes, I said upon reading that. But I asked myself, as I have many times recently: how have I shown love to my Laestadian relatives? How have I cut them slack? 

As a young woman, I distanced myself from family for very good reasons. (When you are told "you have the devil in you," leaving is self-preservation.) In leaving, however, I lost all the myriad and priceless things that come with the support of an extended family: the advice and stories, the shared adventures, lawnmowers, business contacts, childcare, celebrations, and memories. The hugs. The mementos. (The only tokens of my history I possess are a faded blanket and a baby rattle.)

Was it worth it? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fighting Words

Page from a Gutenberg Bible (1454)
This week I stopped at the downtown public library and saw an exhibition of rare religious texts. With permission, I photographed some of the treasures they had on display. The images you see here are presented in the order of the document’s dating, oldest first.

Witness to the Generations

I meditated on these centuries-old relics for quite a while, considering the many human lifetimes that have passed since the words were pressed and penned onto their pages. Even back then, the sources of those words were already ancient. Most of the books were Bibles, their text copied or translated from a succession of painstakingly hand-copied manuscripts whose original sources have been almost entirely lost in antiquity.

Two columns of clean, bold type stared out at me from the page of a Gutenberg Bible, 558 years after the ink went dry. So much history has passed since then, so many generations born into lives that were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Thomas Hobbes, 1651). The black and red of the letters seemed not to have faded at all, unlike the colors of whoever pressed the type onto the page in Mainz, Germany–and his child, and that child, and so on. At least twenty generations of lives blooming and fading: a succession of pink-faced infancy transforming into the gray of old age and death, or worse, a dark red death on the endless battlefields of crusade and conquest.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Power of "I'm Sorry"

As election year heats up and divisive politics rule the day, I hope you are as touched by this story as I was. Even though I can't, as an "ex," speak on behalf of Laestadians, let me say that I am so sorry for the pain the church has caused our gay sisters and brothers. So sorry.

(By the way, you don't have to register to make a comment anymore. Please leave a comment and tell us what's on your mind.)

Free2bme

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Truth Shall Make You Free

“The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” —Proverbs 14:15
According to John 18:37-38, Jesus told Pilate that the reason he came into the world was to “bear witness unto the truth.” As the story goes, Pilate replied dismissively with the rhetorical question, “What is truth?” Such evasions aside, truth is simply this: the inescapable reality that is established by a certain framework of indisputable facts. Whether Pilate liked it or not–whether you or your preachers like it or not–there is such a thing as truth, and you cannot exempt yourself from its rules.

If the facts are inconsistent with a claim I am making, then that claim is not true. If the claim is not true, then it is false, and so is every other claim that depends on it. It’s really that simple.
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead
know not any thing, neither have they any more a
reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”
—Eccl. 9:5

Buyer Beware

If I am trying to sell you a used car, it had better start when you turn the key. My statement that it “runs fine” will be proved false otherwise, and you will have little patience with my excuses. That spectacular failure of my claim to conform with the facts will make you inclined to distrust everything else I try to tell you about the car. There is no way for me to get around this problem. A protest that your “carnal understanding” cannot comprehend the qualities of the car would make me look just plain crazy. So would the assertion that it is only your “wrongful pride” that keeps you from truly considering the qualities of my non-functioning car. Your money would remain in your purse or back pocket, as you move slowly away.

“God shall send them strong delusion, that they
should believe a lie” —2 Thess. 2:11
It is a testament to the power of religion in the human psyche that it can exempt itself from the evidentiary standards of even a used car salesman. The same question you would be a fool for not asking–Is it true?–in the one case is considered downright offensive in the other. When you give the analogy just a little space to play out, you quickly realize how sad the whole spectacle really is: The car does not only fail to start, but by any objective indication seems not to exist at all. The salesman cannot get his story straight about what kind of car it is, claims it is the only car you could ever possibly own, and threatens you with sadistic tortures if you decide not to buy it. And if you walk down the street, you will find hundreds of equally impassioned salespeople selling their own invisible cars, all claiming to have the only one that actually exists.

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Stranger Among Them

First, I want to welcome Ed (his user name is EOP) to the blog and I encourage you all to read his book. It is well-researched, brave, and thoughtful, and I look forward to hearing more about Ed's journey as he posts here.

Cleaning up the house this morning, I picked up the New York Times Sunday Magazine from the sofa and skimmed through it, having read most of the articles online. A line on the last page jumped out: "Upon leaving the Finnish fundamentalist faith of my youth..."

What?! I sat down and devoured the story,  a charming essay by a former Laestadian (although she doesn't use that adjective, it's clear from the details). Hanna Pylvainen made a deal with her parents when she left the church to return at Christmas and Easter, and one Sunday she encounters a stranger, a black man, who makes her question her outsider status. You may have to register online to read the story, but please do: it's worth it. (I'm guessing she was LLC. Definitely not OALC because missions and Easter hats, my goodness!).

Pylvainen has a novel called We Sinners (doesn't that sound familiar!) coming out this August. Here is an Amazon review:
This stunning debut novel—drawn from the author's own life experience—tells the moving story of a family of eleven in the American Midwest, bound together and torn apart by their faith. The Rovaniemis and their nine children belong to a deeply traditional church (no drinking, no dancing, no TV) in modern-day Michigan. A normal family in many ways, the Rovaniemis struggle with sibling rivalry, parental expectations, and forming their own unique identities in such a large family. But when two of the children venture from the faith, the family fragments and a haunting question emerges: Do we believe for ourselves, or for each other? Each chapter is told from the distinctive point of view of a different Rovaniemi, drawing a nuanced, kaleidoscopic portrait of this unconventional family. The children who reject the church learn that freedom comes at the almost unbearable price of their close family ties, and those who stay struggle daily with the challenges of resisting the temptations of modern culture. With precision and potent detail, We Sinners follows each character on their journey of doubt, self-knowledge, acceptance, and, ultimately, survival.
Almost unbearable price of close family ties . . . that made me tear up.

Hanna, if you happen to read this, brava. I'm so proud of you, and I'm sure I speak for many readers here in saying we can't wait. Also, you are welcome here anytime.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Laestadian Theologian Lacks Penis, Gets Ordained Anyway

Ed Suominen has been invited to participate in this blog and, starting with this article, looks forward to a dialogue with those whose lives have intersected with Laestadianism. He is the author of An Examination of the Pearl, a study of the Conservative/Heideman branch of the Laestadian movement, and his articles here will often reference portions of that book by section number with links to the free HTML version. You can find Ed's own blog here.

An Extraordinary Ordination

Change is happening in the Lutheran church worldwide, but Conservative Laestadians in Finland have held tight regarding the ordination of women. Now one courageous woman, Mari Leppänen, has challenged the status quo by completing her theological study with ordination as a priest in the Finnish state church. She did so over the objections of the SRK leadership, yet without expressing any other disagreement or conflict with her long-held Conservative Laestadian faith.

Mari Leppänen
Omat polut, CC licensed
It was a historical event, as the Conservative Laestadian historian Seppo Lohi noted, speaking strictly as a researcher. But he noted that female priesthood is not accepted in the movement and that the ordination of women is seen as heretical (harhaopiksi) in light of the Bible. In view of that, he observed that Leppänen, “loads quite a bit of pressure on herself concerning her relationship to Conservative Laestadianism. She shows that she has a different idea about ​​the ordination of women than the Conservative Laestadian perception.” Regarding the question of Leppänen’s possible separation from the movement, Lohi declined to “use such drastic terms” as that, but says the ordination will undoubtedly lead to discussions and she must explain her action (§4.7.6, quoting Ijäs 2012a).

Mari Leppänen's Ordination Ceremony:
Omat polut, CC licensed.
Now that she has gone ahead and accepted the ordination, those “discussions” seem to have resulted in her being condemned as not being in the “Kingdom of God,” as reported by Johannes Ijäs in his March 3, 2012 Kotimaa24 article. One of the main SRK figures involved with that judgement is Kimmo Puolitaival, the chairman of the board of trustees in Leppänen’s home congregation (RY) of Turku. He expressed agreement with a statement apparently made by Matti Taskila, the SRK’s Deputy Chairman, that “a woman who takes the priestly ordination removes herself from the movement” (Ijäs 2012b). In response to questions from Kotimaa24 and concerns expressed about human rights issues, Puolitaival released a statement defending the Conservative Laestadian viewpoint as one of religious conviction grounded in the Bible. The closest the statement came to mentioning Leppänen’s spiritual status was this:
If someone acts in another way in the female ordination issue and takes ordination, she might have considered her act, and understands the penalties of disobedience against the word of the Lord. [Alastalo 2012]
“The word of the Lord” that is being invoked so gravely here is mainly
Apostle Paul’s declaration to comply with the proper form of worship: Women are to keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34-35). This instruction stems from a lecture, or sermon, which gave this charge to the Congregation’s shepherd, or priest, when implementing the framework of the worship process. Apostle Paul argues that he has “the Lord’s command” on this particular directive concerning worship. Unfortunately, we do not feel any closer to understanding the meaning of “the Lord’s command.” The reasoning employed by Apostle Paul is most powerful and authoritative because it is the word of the Lord.” [Nissilä 2012, from §4.7.6]
Even more unfortunate than the admitted lack of understanding is the fact that a woman is essentially being condemned to eternal damnation (§4.2.1) for desiring to do what is permissible, routine, and encouraged for most any man in the SRK. And let’s not sugar-coat what Paul actually says in his “powerful and authoritative” reasoning. Here’s the entire passage:
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. [1 Cor 14:34-35]
The new priest. Photo by a supporter at her
post-ordination reception. Used with permission.
The next time a woman raises her hand to offer a comment in a “congregational discussion evening” or Bible Class, or gives a presentation or teaches a Bible Class lesson, you can bet that she won’t be told to shut up and sit down, to wait until she gets home to ask her husband about that nagging theological question. No, the trouble is when a woman decides to really get out of line and put on a clerical collar, stepping across an imaginary boundary to stand behind a pulpit that Paul does not mention. Then the startled and threatened menfolk grab the Bible out of her hands and point indignantly to a passage that has been otherwise ignored.

Nothing to See Here, Move Along...

Conservative Laestadianism has a long history of not appreciating outsiders poking around with concerns about how its members are being treated. In the midst of the 1970s “caretaking” hysteria that even the SRK has now acknowledged involved “spiritual abuse,” a 1974 issue of the SRK’s Päivämies newspaper warned believers about airing or talking about the
faults of the children of God . . . among unbelievers. It is the casting of pearls before swine, belittling of God’s children within earshot of unbelievers. This is in effect a boomerang when consequently the unbelievers in turn berate the children of God. With this trampling, the one who spoke evil is trampled too.” [from §4.10]
Dr. Johanna Hurtig.
Omat Polut, CC licensed.
Another courageous woman, Johanna Hurtig, experienced her share of being trampled–not by the evil world but by some of “God’s children” themselves–when she refused to let the SRK off the hook about child sexual abuse by prominent members. She was called “an overgrown, fat sheep, unprofessional, in a false spirit,” who didn’t have their trust. Her conclusions from the experience are not flattering about the SRK leadership:
They don’t appreciate her attempts to advise them, her open criticism of the organizational culture, and her speaking out publicly about the community. And what she speaks about is “a shameful phenomenon that happens in a community that considers itself representing family values, decency, and respect for the law.” She says, “I defy their great power as I act in the issue without asking their permission or opinion,” having “shown in public many negative things about them: stalling, ignoring, and inconsistent public communications.” They “have to admit their faults,” and thus “a shadow is cast on the inerrant congregation” [§4.10.1]
In March 2009, society poked its nose into the sanctum of the “Kingdom of God” again, this time about contraception. The European Union’s Human Rights Commission
expressed concerns that the movement’s teachings–whether a “ban” is said to be in place or not–effectively infringe on the individual right to freely make a determination about contraception. That right, it said, is a matter of human rights protection. It noted that the term “contraception ban” is not used. But it pointed out that Laestadians have experienced “very real social compulsion” about the issue, and “failure to comply will have serious spiritual and secular consequences.” [§4.7.6]
Now, despite Puolitaival’s wish that the SRK “would have the right to teach and bring out the Word of God, based on religious conviction and declare the kingdom of God and the message of sin and grace, without having to worry about being accused of human rights violations” (from Alastalo 2012), the outside world is raising its eyebrows yet again:
The leader of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen, is saddened and worried at the attitude taken by the Conservative Laestadian revival movement toward those in the organisation who take a positive attitude toward the ordination of women. Mäkinen says in an e-mail message that he feels that it is a serious matter that a commitment to decisions of the Lutheran Church can lead to a person being silenced, marginalised, or excluded from the movement. . . . [T]he Conservative Laestadian movement decided that the Archbishop’s theological secretary Risto Leppänen would no longer be allowed to teach or speak at Laestadian events. The move was taken because Leppänen takes a positive view of the ordination of women, which [is] accepted doctrine in the Lutheran Church, but opposed by the Laestadians. [Helsingin Sanomat, Secretary Banned from Speaking]
Risto Leppänen is the new priest’s husband. His offense was supporting his wife’s desire to do the same kind of pastoral work that he is doing, without letting her gender block her path.

 

Cleaning House

The issue is not a new one, nor is it going away anytime soon. Mari Leppänen tells the Helsingin Sanomat, “The women theologians [in the 1970s] could not bring their wishes forward, and they were left completely outside the movement’s official debate on the ministry. They were bypassed because they were women, and because of their theological background.” Now, those in the younger generation “have grown both as Laestadians, and as members of this society, and they have seen how women in the church can function as equals among men. Many hope that they could ponder the ministry issue more openly without fear of being judged” (Women’s ordination divides Laestadian movement).

It is still an unrealized hope. Another SRK ordained priest who took the same stand in favor of female ordination, with the same consequence, writes that “the cleansings are continuing.” He hopes that what follows are not the same systematic and brutal excesses that were seen in the 1970s, but he is afraid that is just what is happening now (Alaranta 2012). Another ordained priest whom the SRK has decided to silence at its services is Stiven Naatus, who nonetheless does not believe that the situation will lead to the kind of fragmentation that has occurred at other times in the movement’s history (Ahonen 2012). Perhaps so, if the SRK follows what its Executive Board noted regretfully about the “excesses” of the 1970s: We should learn from the past” (from §4.10.2).

References

Friday, February 24, 2012

Unorthodox

"Later, in my adulthood, I will . . . understand that I wasn't equipped, as a child, to make room for arguments that would undermine every single choice made for me, that would shatter the foundations of my very existence. I would see that I had to believe everything I was taught, if only to survive. For a long time, I wouldn't be ready to accept that my worldview could be wrong, but I do not look back with shame on my ignorance. It was that innocence that (grandfather) tried to distill in me, the sweet, childlike naivete of my ancestors that is supposed to to last on into adulthood and even old age, and that I would eventually shed almost all of, except the very basic root of it at the heart of my nature. years later, even when I gazed at the world with eyes wide open, I would still be innocent in my heart." This is a quote from "Unorthodox, The Scandalous Rejection of my Orthodox Roots," by Deborah Feldman, which I've recently downloaded to my Kindle, where it joins "Leaving the Saints," by Martha Beck. (Is there a term for this genre? Heretic narrative?)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Monday, February 06, 2012

New Book on Laestadianism: An Examination of the Pearl

A reader recently brought this e-book to my attention. I haven't read it yet, but it looks like a very interesting and in-depth look at all the main branches of Laestadianism as well as a critique not only from a theological standpoint but also discussing sexual abuse within the church and other important issues.

The book is available for free from the author's web site, as well as for a nominal fee from Amazon and other e-book retailers.

While there have been a few English language books about Laestadianism in recent years (most notably A Godly Heritage and Hepokoski's research immediately come to mind) Suominen's work looks to be uniquely focused on critique as well as research.

For more information about An Examination of the Pearl, by Edwin A Suominen, see http://examinationofthepearl.org/

An Examination of the Pearl is a study of the doctrine and history of Conservative Laestadianism, a small, exclusivist Christian group that is organized in Finland and North America as the SRK and the LLC, respectively. The book also looks at the teachings of Martin Luther, early Christianity, Christian fundamentalism and sectarianism, and the Bible. ... This book is an honest and unflinching examination of the pearl that Conservative Laestadianism puts on offer as the Kingdom of God. It is a study not just of that obscure revival movement from 19th century Lapland, but also of Martin Luther, fundamentalist and sectarian Christianity, and the Bible itself. ... There are many such unexamined and fearful faiths competing in the marketplace of religion, some of them also claiming to be the truth outside of which no one will be saved. And without critical reflection like that found in this book, each one is a self-sustaining doctrinal bubble that quivers unsteadily in the air, vulnerable to being poked by the slightest intrusion of fact.