Friday, August 11, 2017

Leila's Story, Part Two

This is Part Two of Leila’s Story, a guest post. (For Part One, go here.)

In college, I blossomed. I created friendships with people from all walks of life, and debated subjects I had never been able to before. I began to attend regular therapy and am slowly healing from the emotional scars I carried around and hid for so long. While I felt guilt over causing my mother pain (a year later my father left the church, and my parents separated), I determined my own happiness was more important than going home. 

I began modeling, a huge boost to my self-esteem. I knew at last that my non-Scandinavian features did not make me any less attractive. 

I happened to fall in love with the most amazing man which was and remains the deepest, most genuine feeling I have ever experienced.

Two years ago, I graduated with a Masters in Economics (at the top of my class!). After graduation, my boyfriend and I moved to Portland, where I built a new relationship with my family. My mother may never accept my decision to leave the church, but I love her deeply, and — if her faith makes her happy, that is all I care about. I simply do not discuss religion with her.

This fall, I will start law school, and prepare for a field that is frowned upon in the OALC but which my peers and professors consider a good match for me, with my skills in rational-thinking and problem-solving. The adventures ahead excite me.

I feel free. The constant fear of hell has been lifted. 

Personally, I am no longer religious by any definition, but turn my beliefs towards science and the search for solid evidence before forming a decision. I believe in the need to continually educate oneself on the current world; the urge to gain knowledge is a very important part of personal growth and belief. However, I do not want to portray a message of hatred or bitterness towards the OALC community. Many are amazing, loving individuals, and I fully believe everyone should be able to practice whatever faith brings them satisfaction. My personal experience does not speak to all members. 

While my choice to leave was a painful and heartbreaking journey, it was the best decision I've ever made. I gained self-confidence, genuine friendships, and constant positive reminders from a community of people who are open to the idea that anything they hold as truth can change, given new information. I encourage anyone who feels trapped or has experienced any form of abuse to reach out to people on this blog, or anywhere in life. I am always open to talk if anyone were to want.

To those who remain the church, know that my decision to leave is concrete. I will never return. If you want to say I have "lost my faith" or how sad you are for me, you are more than welcome to; your opinions do not bother me anymore. The OALC is by all definitions a cult, and those who deny sexual abuse exists (and is covered up) are lying. I fear for their children. The denial is also extremely offensive to anyone, anywhere, who has experienced abuse. Aside from the moral aspects, abusers are dangerous and not reporting them is illegal. 

What happened to the person who abused me? He died without ever being required to atone for what he did.

With my law degree, I hope to bring sexual offenders to justice and make more people aware of the pervasiveness of covered-up sexual abuse. No child should experience the isolation and helplessness I did! 

Without books, I may not have survived this far. I am glad I did, and I am glad I can share my story, and remind people that everyone is important. You matter, you are beautiful in any form, and help is out there, so never give up. 

Thank you for reading. Feel free to talk to me in the comments section.

Leila

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Leila's Story, Part One

(Free says: This is the first half of a guest post. If you'd like to tell your story, use the form at the bottom of the page or send me an email. Thanks!)

Dear Free,

I just discovered your blog while aimlessly researching the OALC online. Thank you for this site, and for letting me tell my story, as even my friends cannot understand how I grew up. You can call me Leila (not my real name). 

I was born into an extremely proper OALC family in Washington State. My mother's mother and my father were not raised as members of the church; they joined as adults, and I am not primarily Scandinavian like most of the OALC. As a result of my Native American and Spanish ancestry, I do not look like the people I grew up around, and was often made fun of by my "Christian" friends -- who would say in a joking manner that I would never find a husband because of my dark hair. I always laughed it off but deep down, it planted a sense of being unattractive, and I struggled with my looks. 

I attended church every Sunday and was exposed only to those of similar faith, except in public settings such as school. From a very young age I was reserved, and preferred books to the company of others. I learned to read before kindergarten. While I was considered nerdy and weird, my friends accepted me because of my faith. As long as I can remember, I felt “different,” however, and questioned almost everything presented to me, but the fear of going to hell caused extreme guilt, and I became increasingly cut off from others. 

At age 13, I was sexually abused by an older male relative. I reported the incident to my mother, who took me to talk to a preacher. Of course, I trusted the adults around me as I had never known anything else. I was told by this church leader that the abuser had "asked for forgiveness," and I should find it in myself to forgive him. The subject was not brought up again — by my mother or the preacher. 

When the abuse recurred, I went to my mother again, and we went to the preacher, and I got the same advice — this pattern repeated itself again and again until I stopped talking about it altogether. 

The abuse and my increasing sense of alienation caused extreme depression to take hold. I devoted all of my energy to school and maintained a 4.0 GPA while isolating myself further and further from those around me. My depression deepened. Finally, the preachers advised me to see a therapist to "find it in your heart to forgive the abuser, for we all sin and all sin is created equal.” They believed my symptoms were the result of a guilty conscience.

After my first therapy session, I reported to my mother that the therapist recommended legal action and a reconsideration of my faith. Shocked, my mother called the therapist and said she had no right to speak poorly to a young, "mentally unstable" girl about her faith in God. She moved me to another therapist, and another after that, but they all had similar, unsatisfactory advice. 

When therapy “failed,” I was told to seek help from a medical doctor. My mother and a preacher accompanied me to the doctor visit, explaining my symptoms (without mentioning the abuse) and asked for me to be medicated. At age 14, I was prescribed high doses of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and antipsychotics.

This preacher was married to a retired nurse, a lifelong member of the OALC (some of you will recognize her by that description alone). After hearing of my depression, she "diagnosed" me with severe clinical depression, severe anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. I was told to turn my faith to God, and he would guide me through my “trial" of mental instability.

An important thing to add at this point is that my school work never faltered. I found comfort in my studies, and always enjoyed learning new things. Numerous teachers expressed their amazement at my mathematical and reading abilities. When they recommended I skip ahead a grade to be sufficiently challenged, my mother said no, on account of "mental instability." 

This so-called treatment continued for four years until I graduated high school and turned 18. By this point I had self-researched my alleged medical conditions -- and firmly believed myself to be sane! Shortly after graduating, I scheduled an appointment with a well-known Seattle psychiatrist and explained the entire situation. He offered to see me free of charge. Without telling anyone in my family or church, I drove the three hours north to Seattle to meet with him; we sat and talked for almost six hours. At the end of our session, he called my doctor, and expressed his concerns about my numerous medications, stating I showed no clinical diagnosis for any of my supposed conditions. 

I began the process of secretly weaning myself off of all medication. 

A year after high school, I applied in secret to an amazing university in California, which accepted me -- with a full scholarship on account of my high SAT scores and GPA. In most families, this would be a cause for celebration. When I gave the news to my mother, however, she suggested I talk with a preacher. I called a different one (not the nurse’s husband), and he said with absolute conviction that I should "stay close to home" and "remain close to your faith" to avoid the "dangers of the world" -- combined with my "mental conditions." Neither my mother nor anyone else was aware I had stopped taking medication.

I didn’t follow that preacher’s advice. 

While my mother cried, I packed all I could into my car and drove to California.

My new life had begun.

(To be continued.)

Thank you to anyone who reads this — feel free to leave comments or questions.

Leila

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Long Arms of Gällivare

Command Central for Firstborn/West Laestadian/Esikoiset/OALC
With news of widespread famine in East Africa, the calving of a giant ice shelf in Antarctica, and extreme weather after the globe's hottest year on record, the news of religious squabbling amongst a tiny portion of vast humanity is easy to dismiss. Unless you're affected by it, of course. 

Families are being wrenched apart, children alienated from their parents, loved ones shunned, the psychologically vulnerable isolated from critical support, for what, exactly? 

I will write more about Gällivare in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, my Finnish penpal (who will remain anonymous) has generously allowed me to post his correspondence below.  
Free,


Since the 1980s I have been observing the development from a distance — I guess much like yourself — which means my knowledge is uncertain and mostly based on second-hand accounts. Caveat lector.

As you know, a small group of Swedish Firstborn elders has adopted a role as a "spiritual central bureau" of the movement. While I do not know their number, or whether there have been splits among them, I am told that the Firstborn group in Sweden is in decline generally. There are fewer and fewer young people, some have left the movement, many moved out, etc. So it seems that this “core group of elders” in Sweden governs a flock whose great majority is abroad, in Finland and America.

One of the main stumbling blocks in the dispute in Finland (fermenting over perhaps 25 years) is the doctrine of this spiritual leadership in Swedish Lapland, considered the cradle of the movement. This same question has been a key element in the entire history of disputes and splits in the movement. The hassle started after the death of Laestadius in the 1860s, and in fact, the disputes in America played an important role in the splits that ravaged the movement in Sweden and Finland too, between 1880-1900, and later. 

There are very interesting historical records of early kingpins in the first decades of the Laestadian movement in America, e.g., Korteniemi, Roanpaa, Takkinen, and Heideman, of the traveling missionaries, and correspondence between Lapland and United States. Juhani Raattamaa (1811-1899), the companion of Laestadius, his main apprentice, and next in the line of authority, worked hard to maintain unity, peace, and tolerance. Already by 1900, however, disputes had fractured the movement.

In Finland there was a growing faction in the congregation who saw the “Overseer Board” as a questionable and unhealthy configuration. They grew in number and discontent when the spiritual tone of the elders changed following the death of the well-known and influential preacher Gunnar Jönsson (1905-1982), who was a broadminded, wise person with a vision that challenged some of the old, fixed, idiosyncratic ways of thinking. There was a gradual backlash and shift toward a strict, “anti-modernist” doctrine, in search of an old, untarnished Christianity with distinct separation from the normal average “worldly” life.

These elders have been the prime agents in fomenting the split in Finland from the Lutheran Church. Their advice was appreciated by many of the preachers and followers in Finland, and resulted in their setting up their own sacramental practices of communion, baptism, marriage ceremony, etc. in 2016-17.

The famous June meetings in the city of Lahti were organised in two separate locations this year (crowds about 4000 and 900 respectively).  http://www.sakramentit.fi/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/20170626_ESS_Juhannusseuroista.pdf

The American OALC structure, with small local congregations independent of the Lutheran State Church, has become – or so it seems — the idealized model.

I have heard that in Norway, splits of a similar nature to Finland’s have occurred in recent decades as well. I think it would be increasingly important and interesting to track the stories of people in Sweden (and Norway) who have been through similar experiences, and personal histories of distancing from or leaving the insider circles.
What makes these phenomena perhaps less interesting, however, is the fact that such disputes, quarrels, mutiny, and oppression of “wrong opinions” seems to be a prevalent feature among ALL groups within Christian religion (Protestant, Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Adventist, Pentecostal movements …. to name a few). 

I  imagine that Jesus would be sad, furious, and frustrated to come and see the havoc.

****

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Laestadius in a Top Hat

"The Minister Laestadius preaching" by François Auguste Biard, a member of the 1838 French research expedition on which Laestadius served as an expert on local botany and Sámi mythology. 

Since going online back in the Dark Ages of dial-up internet, I've made a hobby of searching for posts about Laestadianism, but I had never seen, or even heard about, this painting until reading an article by Anne Heith (professor at Umeå University, one of my favorite researchers) that popped up in my inbox. Turns out the painting wasn't acquired by the museum until 2002, so I'm only 15 years behind the ball.

I've excerpted Heith's article below, but follow the link to enjoy the entire thing; she is readable by us nonacademics (unlike many of her peers) and always interesting. Create a free account at Academia.edu to follow her there.

From Situatedness and Diversity: Representations of Lars Levi Laestadius and Laestadianism:
Today, Biard’s painting belongs to Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, where it is displayed with other more or less exotified images of the Sámi and the northern landscape. In the painting, Lars Levi Laestadius wears a top hat of the kind worn by the higher social classes at the time the painting was made. However, it is unlikely that Laestadius would have worn a hat like that when preaching to the Sámi and Finnish-speaking people in traditional Sámi land. It is well known that Laestadius lived in great simplicity, condemning worldliness, using vernacular language in his preaching, which was seen as vulgar by the social elite. For example, Laestadius frequently used expressions like ‘the devil’s piss’ for alcohol (Heith 2009: 342–361).4 Described with terminology from postcolonial and indigenous studies, Biard’s painting presents an outsider’s view (Smith 2008: 60; Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 2007: 154–158) of Laestadius, the Sámi and the northern landscape.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Some Cages Don't Have Bars

A guest post by a friend:

I learned tonight a cousin, near my own age, was found dead, evidently of an overdose. I saw him only once in the past thirty years; our lives diverged long ago. I know few details about his life except this: that while I was wrestling with single parenthood, disability, and a return to university, he was wrestling with a severe drug addiction that no one would talk about, much less deal with, in our Laestadian (Old Apostolic Lutheran) family.

Why the silence?

Why the negligence?


Monday, July 03, 2017

What Age is Too Young for Marriage?

The Elders of the Firstborn (OALC) have arrived from Gällivare and are crossing the United States from east to west, holding meetings -- morning and evening -- throughout July and August.

According to a member of an online support group, new rules regarding "Christian" weddings were recently shared, including:
  1. No engagement rings. 
  2. The engaged couple must wait until married to sit together in church.
  3. Wedding rings must be simple bands.
  4. No wedding dresses (preferably a skirt that can be worn again).
  5. The skirt should not be so long that it touches the floor.
  6. The bridal party will not walk up or down aisle. 
  7. The bride and groom will walk down the aisle only after they are married.
  8. No food at wedding receptions.
This illustrates a practical function of the Elders' meetings: to reinforce visual markers of faithfulness (faithfulness to the preachers, not the gospel) so members appear separate from "the world." (An equally important function is to retain members through intermarriage. Out-marrying is taboo, so these large gatherings are opportunities to meet non-relatives. Youth are encouraged to travel out of state to attend).

Suggested addition to the rules:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Seeking Help as a Laestadian

In Norway, Sami victims of violence seek help less often than non-Sami. No surprise, as this also holds in native communities in North America.

But in addition to the disempowering effects of colonization, Laestadianism is mentioned as a cause in this article.
"Laestadianism's influence on Sami culture and society also plays a part in strengthening the attitude that it is the victim who must bear the shame and guilt for the violence, not the offender."
"The tabooing of sex and body, the silence concerning everything private, and the idea that issues are solved within the family. We find such ideas everywhere in Norway, but there are indications that these taboos are stronger within Laestadian and Sami communities." 
"The view on women in Sami communities is often colored by Laestadianism: women should remain silent in gatherings and sexuality is not discussed."
Sound familiar? What can be done?


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Helena's Story

"What if you were told that reason and questioning can take your faith away? Contraception is a sin, homosexuality is a sin, wearing makeup is a sin, or even having a TV is a sin?"
In this Culture Chat with Mimi Chan podcast, Mimi talks to Helena (one of the bravest people I know, and a dear friend) about leaving Laestadianism, and healing from sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

A few quotes:
  
Control through fear:
"They have a belief that you can lose your faith in an instant. There is a solid amount of fear built in. I remember as a kid feeling scared, what would happen if I lost my faith and then I died, what would happen to me?"

On the need for integrity as the final straw:
"If you don't say anything, you're saying something. And if you do say something, you're going to have to go against your belief system unless your beliefs are in lockstep with theirs." 

On shunning:
"If you were in the church and you're gone, now you're not just a worldly person, you're an evil worker. You're treated with less respect than people who have never been part of the religion."


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Child Rapist Sentenced to Life

While not mentioned in the article, this serial rapist was raised in the Laestadian faith, whose doctrine of forgiveness has been discussed many times before on this site and many others.

I hesitated to write this, knowing the victim and his family must be eager to move on, but readers of this blog will know why silence only serves abusers. I salute this boy and his family for pressing charges and protecting other children. I hope they inspire others to do the same.


Saturday, April 08, 2017

Swinging Laestadians

I enjoyed this recent post by Mauri Kinnunen about a 1937 article in the Chicago Daily Tribune, in which joiking is compared to swing music, and cocktails prove disappointing to some Laestadians. It may be a stretch to compare joik to swing, but both are characterized by energy and improvisation.

Go read the article, then come back and enjoy these clips.

Instrumental "cocktail swing" recorded in Sweden in the same year as the article, 1937:


Marie Boine inhabits this spine-tingling "Goaskinviellja / Eagle Brother" at the Oslo Opera House in 2009:



Monday, March 13, 2017

The Right to Dance

A reader writes:
My cousin's wife shared this link. She is a folkdancer. This is a parish in Helsinki who took part of this campaign and they challenged every parish in Finland. This is an example of how dancing belongs to everyone, everyone can dance in some way regardless of physical abilities, and everyone has the right to dance. You can see the priests, some of them female, are dancing in this video!



Do you dance?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Women's Day



Today is International Women's Day, and I have been reflecting on the many ways in which we have more freedom, equality, safety, representation, and self-determination than our foremothers, and more than many of our sisters in religious states. These freedoms are always at risk of being curtailed or limited. Progress is not linear.



Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Tough love

This was posted on a friend's Facebook page.

What do you think of the dad's "tough love"?






Sunday, February 05, 2017

You Are Not Alone

The following discussion is excerpted from the Extoots group on Facebook. I thought it might help others, and asked permission to post it here with names removed.

Request:

My husband and I are both trying to figure out what we truly want and need in life. For a while now we have both felt an urge to leave the church and find out what else God has to offer us . . . we are both scared of fully leaving and being shunned by our families and friends. If anyone has some advice or support to share, it would be so welcomed! 

Responses:

You need too do what's best for you, you'll always be judged by someone. Let your inner rebel come out and really not care what others think. Don't let fear stop you!! You'll probably have some relief after.
Shunning is painful, and many of us lost friends and even parents and siblings after we left. But even more painful is spending one's brief time here on Earth accumulating self-loathing and regret for wasted opportunities, for a life not lived, for love not given. Sending you lots of strength as you navigate these waters.
It is truly hard and scary to leave. Just follow your heart. I prayed many nights before I finally left for good. Through many new experiences I found out that there was so much more to my relationship with God than the (church) teachings. I've never felt more at peace or closer to God than I do now. I was shunned by many of my family and the church members. As time went on my family became more accepting and some found the strength to leave also. Good luck with everything you decide to do, and know that we all are here for support
When you start living for yourself and not worry about what other think, you will be free, free indeed.
The day I turned 18 I moved out of the house. Mainly because I did not want to partake in going to church anymore. My parent knew that, and we did not talk for a few months. Never once though did I stop being myself, and my parents have now decided that they would like to have a relationship with me. It took time for them to get to this point though. I am lucky that they decided they with to have a relationship with me even if I chose something different than what they have taught me. There is hope for you as well. In all honesty going though this all some days are extremely hard! But I now got to a point where I don't care what others think and just do what makes me happy. It a blessing. Wish you the best. If you ever need any other support feel free to reach out to me. I recently went through this myself. There is always hope.
Praying you will find that peace with God . . . In His Word, you will find contradictions to what you hear in (the church).
Blessings on your new journey to freedom and real life!! 
Leaving the church and deciding to be your own person takes immense amounts of personal effort. I have suggestions and they may sound extreme. But honestly if you want to change your life . . . you have to do something life changing, right? So my suggestions are:
  1. Take a vacation or a job with your partner away from the isolated community for a few years. Go outside your comfort zone. 
  2. When you get to this new environment. Learn, if you haven't yet a few skills that allow you to tap into your inner most self. That core that is so sacred and peaceful that no trauma can ever touch. I suggest meditation, yoga, and spending lots of time in nature.
  3. Tapping into the inner self will bring an immense amount of wisdom, and desire to express yourself. Learn skills of creativity like painting and dancing or poetry and drama to share that beautiful content you hold in you with the world.
  4. This sort of experience, if you make it this far will draw people to you. No longer will you search for relationships that are meaningful, people will find you and want to spend time with you to develop themselves. 
  5. You will begin to be reminded of old relationships as new ones are forming and old guilt will develop. That's ego. Continue the course.
  6. See the connection between (the church) and the little peaceful place in you. See the good in it . . . even after all it's trauma see the good, be grateful for the experience. But never go back.
  7. Take time to cultivate a faith that builds on what's inside you rather than what's outside of you. These are purely my suggestions. Do either what you will. I have so much empathy for you. Breathe easy homie.
Leaving is tough. I was the first person to leave in my family and didn't know anyone else who had left before me very well. My family reacted very badly and we went through a time of deep mourning. But time heals. Eventually all (except one) of the relationships I was afraid I may be shunned from accepted who I am . . . I’m planning to go to the conference for second generation former members this year! Feel free to reach out to me! http://www.icsahome.com/events/workshopsgas
My family has left the church (other than father) and I have to say while it's difficult, it was the best thing we ever did. My siblings are happy and excel in sports and school and my mom is remarried and happy. PM me if you ever need someone to talk to!!
Praying for you. You've got us . . . We won't shun you. Moving far away works but it's not for everyone.
Always find what feels right for you - what makes your heart happy and your soul sing. It'll be hard, there's no doubt about it, but you get to choose and I promise it's worth it. I'm here if you need anything.
Know that we are always here for support!
One thing that was difficult for me was to accept "unbelievers." After being taught all my life how sinful they were and self-righteous etc., it took time to realize they're no different from me.
I wish you all the best as you navigate these next steps.
The most important thing to remember is that aside from all of the legalistic issues the church has... they did teach you that your salvation lies only in Jesus Christ, and what you will find that might surprise you is that there are very many dear, dear devout Christians away from the church--what they would call "in the world." They have separated themselves from the rest of the Church of Christ, which is very sad, but there IS a church out there--and many good churches . . . God be with you!
Everyone who searches for God/Jesus with a sincere heart finds Him. It's a promise...
Deuteronomy 4:29 (NIV) 29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Leaving two years ago was the best thing I have ever done for myself and my children. It truly wasn't easy dealing with the back lash, and feeling so incredibly lonely for quite some time, but time and working with a great counselor has helped immensity. My family has since decided to love me and I now choose to see them again. I now have friendships outside of the "church setting" and it's really great knowing we don't just hang out because we go the same church. Besides having more love and compassion for everyone in this world, my relationship with my husband has grown to a new level after leaving.
I also am enjoying watching my children grow up free to see all the beauty this world and all the humans have to offer.  I am fully enjoying my "new life"
Having support while going through it really helps. If you need anything, feel free to reach out. You are not alone.
Readers, if you have advice, or a question of your own, please share in the comment section. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 03, 2017