"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Poverty and LLLism

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Poverty and LLLism

Following are some considered and compassionate observations by Ilmarinen, who really ought to be hosting this site!):

Perhaps this has been covered before, but a topic I would find interesting to discuss would be poverty and the LLL community. Growing up, I didn't think too much about the folks around me actually being destitute, but the more I think about it now, the more I realize how close to the poverty line many families fell. The government figure for the 2004 Poverty Threshold was $37,983 for a mother, father, and seven children. In the 90's, I remember the husband/father of a large family saying he considered $35,000 to be a good wage.

I saw many families apparently doing well: new vehicles, huge houses, nice clothing. But I wonder how many are struggling to keep up with their uncontrolled fertility? Are the ones doing well getting the most attention, while those doing poorly are overlooked? Are the apparently well-off really doing that well, or are they spending everything without retirements or insurance? Some families despised welfare, but I know many qualified for it and some used it.

Realizing that many of the most conservative LLLers were impoverished helps me understand the vehemence and frustration I witnessed. Perhaps they could not understand how the young would scorn the life they had struggled to provide. They only saw that through hard work, they were able to feed and clothe their children, and they took pride in that accomplishment. It was beyond the scope of their culture to realize providing for nine children, on the one salary of an often uneducated man, was simply a lifestyle choice, not a commandment to be followed by all. If I believed the LLL dogma and was doing all I could to provide for a large family, I'd be sorely offended to hear people dismiss my grinding efforts as simply a choice, or worse, to hear people say I was doing a horrible job of raising my family. The difference in perspective is so great, I'm just now coming to realize how difficult it must be for LLL true believers to fathom my mindset.


  1. Poverty; how does one really define it? Webster's definition is: "the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions" My family would have qualified for welfare when I was a child. Yet I never really felt poor. Yes most of my clothes were hand-me-downs, (What fun when we got a box of those!)or from second hand stores. But I always had more than enough to go more than a week between laundry days. (that is rich compared to those who have two changes of clothes) We always had plenty of good food to eat, I never went hungry or had to eat the same cheap foods for weeks. I know my mother was very thrifty and had many tricks she used to get the most out of every dollar she spent and stretch what she had. I think living in the country and growing a lot of our own food made a big difference for us. Maybe I am proving your point here. However I really don't see any real difference in the quality of life between what I grew up with and what you are speaking of. I don't think one is any better than the other and there is certainly nothing wrong with having more material possessions. It would have been nice to buy new clothes instead of used, live in a house that my parents owned instead of rented, go out to eat for fun, go on vacations (other than just to visit relatives). But I think there are some very valuable lessons I learned from growing up without much money too. I think we would have been much 'poorer'if Mom had gone to work too. She did for a few years and it was not really worth it. "An 'uneducated father' as the only one bringing in the money? No, there were other factors that put us where we were. I guess what I want to say is you can do all you want to get ahead and keep your family out of poverty but there may be times and purposes that God may put you in that position anyway. (no matter how many children you have)

  2. "Perhaps they could not understand how the young would scorn the life they had struggled to provide. They only saw that through hard work, they were able to feed and clothe their children, and they took pride in that accomplishment. It was beyond the scope of their culture to realize providing for nine children, on the one salary of an often uneducated man, was simply a lifestyle choice, not a commandment to be followed by all. If I believed the LLL dogma and was doing all I could to provide for a large family, I'd be sorely offended to hear people dismiss my grinding efforts as simply a choice, or worse, to hear people say I was doing a horrible job of raising my family."
    Yes, and perhaps they felt they had done very well because the generations before them had even less than they did? Remember the depression? I remember hearing stories about starving Finns too. (During the wars with Russia?)

  3. One thing to remember, is that there is more money to spend on clothes, food, a nice home and travel, because so little is spent on entertainment. No tvs means no cable/satellite bill, no tickets to fun parks and fairs, no dollars spent on tvs,dvd players, playstations, cd players, sometimes computers, dvds/games/cds/,musical instruments, sports(whether played or watched) etc.

  4. Joy, I agree with you that money doesn't automatically buy happiness and that the people in my time are certainly better off than most of their recent ancestors. But, isn't it reasonable to say that poverty can bring stress on parents and perhaps contribute to the stern, stoic attitude many LLLers exhibit? When your child is dangerously ill and you bring him or her to the hospital, knowing you're uninsured and cannot afford medical treatment, you feel burdened. When your only vehicle is fifteen years old and failing, you feel pressure. When you're already struggling to make ends meet and you suddenly learn a new baby will soon join your already large family, you feel stress. Expressions of the concern and grinding toil many LLLers lives are filled with come often from the pulpit and in one-on-one conversations.

    Understanding that many LLLers are struggling financially helps me understand the motivation behind some of their ideas and actions, which in turn helps me move on past my bitterness and resentment over how they affected my life. For example, it helps me understand why some would disapprove of my heavy involvement in a sport I love. Being into a sport, even if just to stay in shape, is not serious labor to them. And when I understand how they absolutely must fill their lives with serious labor in order to feed their ten children on one income, I can accept their perspective for what it is.

  5. Over here the discussion is usually the opposite: why do Laestadians seem to be better off than others - better cars, homes, clothes etc. - and non-Laestadians often accuse Laestadians of "making children" in order to exploit the child benefit system (the government pays money for every child), which allegedly makes them rich at the cost of non-Laestadians who don't have as many children. I doubt the child benefit payments have any significant effect, but of course they certainly help along the way. Rather, my theory is that Laestadians save money by not spending it on certain things most other people spend a substantial part of their budget on: entertainment, jewellery, eating out, alcohol etc. Also many Laestadians are hard-working and successful entrepreneurs, making also their income higher. I never thought the situation would be the opposite in America. I've of course seen also less well-off American Laestadian families, but the vast majority seem to be doing quite well. Maybe there really isn't any big difference in absolute terms, there's just something that, in relative terms, makes the poorer families stick out more in America and the richer families stick out more in Europe?


    Someone mentioned the Finnish famines. Well, there have been quite a few of them. I think most of them were connected to bad weather, which destroyed the crop, but some were also due to wars. In the 1860s the cold weather made 15% of the population starve to death, which was the most recent real famine. There were also some less severe famines more recently during and after the civil war in 1917-1918 and during and after the wars with the Soviet in the 1940s, but I don't think many people starved to death then.

    The famines have impacted also migration, the Finnish speaking population in northern Norway is largely due to famines in northern Finland (I don't remember when, but I think it was probably earlier than the 1860s famine), which made people flee to the coast where they could eat fish from the ocean. The famines may also have played a role in the emigration to America.

  6. I didn't grow up in the LLL church, but I came from a rather large family. What we didn't have in money and material goods, we made up for in love. And how well God took care of us.

    Funny this topic should be brought up, since I just read an article on happiness and money. A recent study shows that someone making over $100K a year, has 7 minutes of happiness more a day than someone who makes $20K. That's not a whole lot. Give me the stress, poverty-level income, million kids, and love, time for family.

  7. Whenever I start to feel resentment in the way I was raised, I remember that I was raised in the only way my parents knew. For some reason the Holy Spirit has never enlightened them. I also hope that my children will be as forgiving to me for all of the many mistakes I have made on the way. The perspective of poverty is just that. If your social structure is filled with folks in the same financial category, you really wont know how poor you are. I'm thankful for my FALC upbringing in that it has made me who I am. It has given me morals and a work ethic. I also believe that it was the path that God laid out for me just as leaving the church and learning the truth about Christ was also in His plan. I would like to be free of the noose of cable TV but I'm not the only voting voice in my family. And as for growing up poor, the library was always free and very well used!

  8. As a single mother, boy, its sure hard to explain to your child(ren) that we cannot afford what some other children in our family have. But what they miss most is being part of a larger family, including more siblings and a father in the house. I think the large families and their ability to pull it all together is the most impressive and positive aspect of laestadianism. My children love to see their cousins when we visit on my grandparents' side of the family, as my father was one of 12 children. Laestadian children have learned to be loving and giving and to share. Of course, not all feel that way. I have a cousin who is eldest of 11 children who moved away from home and the church "into the world" bitter and resentful that his parents had so many children and could not spent the time he needed with them. Oddly enough, he was probably the most coddled and pampered one of the children, but in his teenage years he resented the time he spent taking care of the younger children. Also as a note--not ALL laestadian churches shun sports and civic and social groups. My son is a Scout and my nephews are heavily into sports but the idea is that chuch comes first and it has to be a pretty important tournament or something that would make you miss church. My parents who are now in their 60s were also in sports and other groups in schools, too.

  9. I find this conversation interesting -- but not because I agree that there is any correlation between poverty and the LLL faith. I doubt seriously that there is. I lived thirty years in a farming community and knew just as many poor "worldly" families as I did OALC or FALC families. A lot of those outsiders had just as large families as well and doubt there is much of a correlation between family size and LLL either. I admit, I have this problem -- I deal with facts and data and don't pay a lot of attention to emotion.

    When you start to talk poverty levels and income, you also have to normalize your data. $35,000 might be starvation wages in one part of the country, but provide a fine living in another. Here in Seattle where the median price of a house is something around $300,000, commutes are long, and everything costs a lot, thirty five grand won't cut it. However, in the upper midwest, where you can buy a decent house and land for $25,000 (No, that's not a typo), there's no commuting expense, entertainment is cheap, etc, etc, etc --it might do just fine. Do you like fine dining, the opera, and occasionally a good bottle of wine (I do)? If so, then the midwest won't do. But that has nothing to do with poverty -- it has to do with what each of us demands out of life.

    What I did see -- and continue to do so -- is that money doesn't buy happiness. I know poor families who seem to be doing just fine. I know wealthy families who are disfunctional shipwrecks. I've chosen to get an education and have worked hard to get to where I'm at. That works for me. Other people choose not to be that concerned with money or material things, and that's fine. That works for them.

    Some of my very best friends growing up were in a very large family. They never seemed to have very much, but they always seemed to have enough. Did they wish for more? Maybe -- but don't we all at times, regardless of our circumstances? What I've found is that as my income increases, it becomes easier and easier to think I want that level of lifestyle or just a little more. I think that's human nature -- or maybe it's American nature, or maybe it's just my nature -- I don't know.

    My grandparents all came to America from Finland, with very little but a dream. They homesteaded in some very unforgiving land, worked like dogs, and saw their children get 8th grade educations and a bit more. My parents continued farming - a very tough life if you haven't ever done it -- and worked like dogs to get "ahead" a little more and saw their kids get high school educations and a bit more (in my case, a lot more). We didn't have a great deal, but we made do and worked hard to improve our lot. I ran the ranch for ten years after my father passed away and decided it was not going to allow me to gain the ground I wanted, so I went back to school at age 30. I chose a profession that paid well, because I wanted to see my children do even better and have more opportunities -- and between my three children and their spouses, see they collectively have three Doctorates and three Master's degrees.

    Not everyone has that drive (for the almighty dollar, as I've been accused) and that's ok. I have a good number of current and former OALC friends who have achieved just as much and more both academically and financially, so saying there are no OALC members that want more than poverty is just so much horse pucky.

    The one thing that really frosts my backside is when someone -- be they OALC, Baptist, or aetheist -- say they can't send their kids to college because "they can't afford it". Now that is not being locked into poverty -- that is being locked into stupidity. While I greatly respect other people's opinions, I simply cannot abide stupid people.

  10. Ilmarinen, I agree that it is reasonable to say that such circumstances are stressful. But they don't necessarily make people stern and stoic. Some people can still be quite happy in those circumstances. Sometimes the hardest times are the most joyful because then we can really see how our heavenly Father cares for us in the littlest ways. I think it is more likely the constant focus on their sinfulness that makes the LLLers that way. If they would get ther focus off of themselves and on our wonderful Saviour they would be a lot happier!

  11. Hi cvow, I didn't realize we shared a city! No doubt we share some genes as well. Please send me an email at extoot(at symbol)earthlink.net if you don't mind revealing yourself. Sometimes I go to mass at St. T's . . . do you ever? I can envision us passing the peace without knowing we (virtually) know each other. How funny.

  12. I have question. For those who do not like birth control, why not use abstinence to ensure a healthy amount of children in families?

  13. Anon 10:50 ~
    Just curious what a 'healthy' amount of children would be?

  14. When you bawl and feel sorry for yourself every time you get pregnant you have passed the "healthy amount of children" point". When your heart soars with joy and you honestly thank and praise God for the new life growning inside of you, your not done yet.

  15. Wow. I didn't mean to offend you, I was simply curious. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was excited and thankful, as well as bawling and feeing sorry for myself. Those women hormones. Kapeesh?

  16. I am catching up again on my reading of this site. Poverty and the OALC members is an interesting topic.

    And the last comment...what number is enough children?

    When you can no longer afford them on your own. If you get free lunch, food stamps, subsidized housing, or government subsidized health insurance then the rest of the "worldly" people are supporting your religious belief system. That, in my opinion, is wrong.

  17. s.o., I agree to a degree with what you say about reaching the point where you can no longer care for them yourself as being the point to stop having kids. However, to go along with my earlier post, that's not a religion thing. I see a lot of "worldly" folks who are breeding like rabbits and relying on the dole to not only get necessities but also to buy their soft drinks, smokes, junk food, etc. If I have observed anything about a lot of OALCer's, it is that many of them are far too proud to go on the governement dole (even when they have a justifiable right) and just make do with what they've got -- and that's a whole different discussion, and has to do with social responsibility on the part of the giver as well as the recipient.

    Looking over the fence at the OALC and saying that they are all -- repeat all -- poor, have too many kids, are too closed minded, believe this or that, are judgmental, are cruel or dismissive of non-OALCers, or whatever is just being prejudicial. Typecasting is a dangerous trap to fall into, whether it be related to religion, race, education, or any other categorization. We need to look in a mirror carefully before we cast those stones.

    Many of us that write on this site have been hurt to some degree or another by the separation that we've experienced, for whatever reason. That however does not give us the right to collectively condemn everyone in the OALC or other Laestadian faiths into categories that are startlingly like those to which many races have been subjected.

  18. I agree with s.o. about when to stop having kids, and I would add to that list: "when having another will destroy your physical health, mental health, marriage and/or relationship with your other kids" and "when you can no longer provide the love and attention every child deserves."

    Cause every kid should feel cherished.

    Of course this can happen in a large family. Our Catholic neighbors growing up were dirt poor but full of love for each other, and to this day are remarkably close, with all nine sibs living near their parents and enjoying every excuse to get together. For that family, a wonderful choice.

    But it is critical for the future to recognize and debate the role of religion in birth control.

    Evangelicals and conservative Catholics are having a huge impact on birth control here in the U.S. and in the third world. They have effectively stopped U.S. aid to organizations that provide family planning to impoverished countries. They have effectively removed or changed how sex education is taught in our public schools. They have made it legal for pharmacists to deny birth control prescriptions based on their personal beliefs.

    Wrong. And way out of step with the majority of Americans, who believe woman should control her own fertility.

    (BTW, you might be surprised at the frequency and kinds of "birth control" among those who say they oppose it. Breastfeeding. Sex without coitus. To name two.)

    Ultimately, it comes down to "who gets to make that choice?" I won't go into the politics of birth control here, but I will say that we Christians could learn something from the Hindus. Many traditional Hindu texts praise large families, which was normal in the ancient world because the precarious nature of life required strong fertility. But there are also Hindu scriptures that praise small families. The emphasis on developing a positive social conscience was extended to the idea that family planning is a positive ethical good. Fertilty may be important, but producing more children than you or your environment can support is treated as wrong.

    Amen to that.

  19. In reponse to the OAL's not receiving help from the government.
    In my community that is not the case. I have found that those of us who have left the church, but have many family members who have stayed, we like to say that the members of the OAL church do not use the government doles. This is a pride thing. However, I have been finding that this is not the case. There is a rather larger contracting company owned by a OALC member in my area. It has been rumored that this company is only paying medical insurance to the guys working-not family health insurance. The pregnant mothers and the children can get government health insurance.
    I know a doctor in the western states who is a OB GYN. He is leaving his practice. He served alot of OAL church woman having their babies. He claims he is losing so much money because of the government subsized medical insurance that he can not stay in his practice.

    I agree with CVOW that a whole lot of "worldly" people are also using the system to survive. They are using children as a way to survive.
    I work in a profession that sees directly how having children brings in money to people in poverty. It makes no sense. But,if you have children you get the bennies. Housing, food, medical insurance, etc. all paid by you and me the tax payer.

    When I was growing up the OAL followers did not use the system to support their belief system. But, they are starting to do so now. NOT ALL. but it is happening.

    I could not collect welfare as an adult. We did as when I was a child. I feel bad for my family members who think that God wants them to have more children than they can afford without the government doles.

  20. Many Trails Home7/08/2006 02:29:00 PM

    Hi all, I just returned from Peru, where most peasants live in what we would consider poverty - dirt floors, no hot running water, etc. But they sure on the whole seem a lot happier than we do, at least if the looks on their faces and their sweet natures are any indication. I think we have a skewed definition of poverty.
    We almost got stuck there in Peru, due to a ground transp strike triggered by an impending trade treaty btw the US and Peru, which is expected to cause greater hardship for the peasants, from their point of view. You can guess who benefits.
    RE poverty and no. of children: A group of economists has determined that the Earth can sustainably support 1 billion people, whereas the population now exceeds 6 billion (or is it 8?) So you figure out what that means for your children and grandchildren. We are living on the global credit card, supporting this massive population by irrevocably consuming irreplacable resources, including of course oil but also topsoil, iron ore, etc. All you have to do is look at Africa and Haiti to see our own future - eventually. And if you don't care about "eventually," God help your progeny. My folks used to talk about the starvation of deer in the forest in winter when there were too many of them, never seeing any parallels (at that time) to their own reproduction. But "winter" is coming, whether we are willing to see it or not.
    Happiness, in my mind, is living sustainably, simply, respectfully, and lovingly, in harmony with the Earth, community, and God. MTH