"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Sweet Land

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sweet Land

I hope everyone was able to spend Valentine's Day with their loved ones.

I'd like to heartily recommend the movie Sweet Land. Not only did I find it an excellent film and a poignant love story, but I found myself coming out of the theater thinking, "this is how Laestadian community could be, and should be."

Sweet Land is not about Laestadians. The main characters, Inge and Olaf, are immigrant farmers in 1920s rural Minnesota. However, their simple values, ties with the land, and the power of their tight knit church and community were all things that resonated with my Laestadian upbringing.

As unique individuals who remain true to their hearts over and against rigid and provincial community values, Inge and Olaf face many of the same issues that folks thinking about leaving the Laestadian community might face --including shunning and ostracising by the only community they have.

Unlike the bleakness of Laestadianism, however, this film promises hope and reconciliation. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that this movie affirms the notion that listening to one's heart --while bearing a high price-- yields a bountiful harvest in both self and neighbor.



  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Tomte. Looking at the web site, the film sounds worthwhile and I intend to see it. I have my own recommendation for all at the end of this post. Through my studies of religion and society I have discovered that ethnicity probably had a lot to do with what we experienced in the Apostolic Lutheran churches of our youths. The need to combine religion with ethnic identity is not unigue to toots (if my terminology, which I just learned, is right; I call Apostolics "Apos," as in apple) and the toot experience. In fact, it has been quite common across the world, in many kinds of religions (Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism, for example), and in American immigrant experiences of many kinds (the PA Dutch and the southwest MI Dutch, for example). I felt very strongly as a youth that being Finnish and being Apostolic were somehow deeply welded to each other, and that somehow the breaking of the welds that made me Finnish (by marrying a non-Finn and leaving the fellowship of other toot Finns) was a breaking of my bonds to salvation itself. But many religious institutions have made similar bonds, some tighter, some looser, as my examples show. There seems to arise in human affairs under certain conditions almost some sort of desperation to maintain ethnic identity by keeping pure the faith, that institution of religious belief connected to the ethnic group. And this desperation appears to lead in many cases to many of the spiritual and religious errors of those institutions, such as the Apostolics, in my opinion. It is a subject that needs thought and discussion. I don't know whether I have expressed it well enough here. But you know how it goes: I'm writing quickly and loosely.

    My Film Recommendation: Barry Levinson's film about his family's experience as immigrant Jews in Baltimore "Avalon." This excellent film bursts with insights into that expedience, which has many parallels to Apostolic experience and to the connections of ethnic and religious identity in general.

  2. Ben, I agree with you about the film Avalon.. I bought it years ago on VHS. Great post!

  3. Thanks, Norah. You know, I've been thinking about this subject all day long, the subject of ethnic shunning and religion. It really helped me in my later years, perhaps when I was about 40 (I'm now 51), to have reached a point at which I had come to know so much about so many other ethnic church movements in America and elsewhere in the world. Once I had hated, or thought I hated, the Apostolics. But learning, through films like "Sweet Land," that what they think about identity and religion, even those thousands of Toots who still think this way to this day, is a mostly "natural" consequence of various sociological conditions that so many other human beings down through history have undergone and responded to in the similar ways -- learning this, as I say, really helped me to let go of my hatred for Apos and to forgive them and to live and let them live. I know what many of them think of me, that I am terrible danger to all they hold dear, their mixed sedimentary rock of ethnicity and religion, but I can now let them shun me and think ill of me with an open heart, free of the anger that so consumed me. I see now that the desperation that pushes people into views like this, into fearing me and so many others who have left the world of the Toots, could have once pushed me to the same response if conditions had been right. I do not know entirely why I was rescued from the power of this fear of change. My "liberal" Apostolic parents played a large role, surely. But many tens of millions of human beings have faced and still face at times the desperation of keeping things as they are. They thirst to prevent new ideas and fear change itself because it can sweep away the world that they know so well and hold so dear. Knowing this, I can let the Toots have the world they've chosen and forged, and I can leave my anger against them behind. It took a long time, but it happened, and it happened for me by learning more and more and more about religous movements like the Toots. Sure, I wish they could be free of their fear of me and all those good Finns who left their society. But if it is fear of non-Toot-ness that keeps the world that is precious to them solid and whole, then I'm willing to let them have their fears and keep their world, which is so much like so many other ethnic-church movements that have arisen down through all the ages of humankind.

  4. A short essay by the director is here.

  5. Is there a way to send you an email privately and not have it posted on the blog?


  6. You can email me (Free2bme) at extoot (at) gmail.com

    You can also click on our profiles in the lower left of this page to get contact info -- at least for those of us who have provided it!

    Please email mail me if you want to get in touch with each other. I can serve as your broker, so to speak.

  7. Yahoo. I'm going to see Sweet Land in a few minutes. Wish you could all join me!

  8. Here's a quick tip regarding Email addresses. If you want to stay anonymous, use a free web based Email account like hotmail or Gmail.

    Also, instead of posting your Email address here as written, do what free did above and obscure it a bit so automated spambots don't harvest your Email address.

    Another nice option is to post the link to a graphic of your Email address created using something like the Email Icon Generator

    My Email Address

    free's Email Address

  9. People are using email so much nowadays I fear they are becoming anti-male.

  10. Ben,
    the issue of ethnicity/culture versus true 'living' faith was something that I struggled with mightily, especially in my 30's. Eventually I found that this struggle is not something exclusive to Laestadian culture. I began to see this culture as something that was part of the 'old country' lifeways that I was still very much steeped in. Where did it end and where did I begin? And raising children in the 70's when the entire culture was in a revolution away from traditional standards and values.. whew.. I felt like a fish swimming upstream. Eventually I began to embrace it as something that would soon be forgotten. We who are of the third generation remember the immigrants and now we have grandchildren who know nothing of their heritage. There is bound to be this dichotomy, or disconnect between what was, and what is. And then the question is this - what is it that we want to pass down to them. What, if anything, of that time, that culture, that faith, that is of value that should be transmitted to the younger generations. I would submit that there is much that should be salvaged, by the grace of God. At its best, our faith heritage is God based, not "us" based as so much current religious practice seems to be. It provided generational and faith support and knowledge from the older generations to the younger. At its worst, our faith heritage and the culture surrounding it was dysfunctional in so many ways - poor boundaries being one of them. For example, among married couples and the choices they make - at what point are they free to make the break from interference from family and church to make their own decisions and be themselves and not feel the pressure to conform to standards that others set for them, which in my opinion is truly God's plan for them!? It's taken me a very long time to come to this place of freedom to be myself. I'm 55 and still learning!

    Enough for now, except to say that studies of ethnic generational conflict has always been interesting to me.. as in the movie "Avalon". Change is going to happen, that's a fact of life.. What's worth saving and what's worth tossing - that's the question!

  11. Another movie which addresses this is 'The Fiddler on the Roof" - and the anguish of the papa as his children break with tradition. I love that movie.

  12. I'll have to check out these films--somehow I've missed these. I agree with what you said, norah, about looking at the bigger picture. I had to work through the conflict at a personal level, and having done that to some extent, it is fascinating to look at it from a larger perspective. When I can understand that we are not unique in this and realize that we are not the only ones who have undergone this struggle, I can more easily choose to not take any of their actions personally. Even having someone confront me in an antagonistic way at my mother's funeral can be put into perspective. As you said, Ben, I can choose to live and let live. My reaction to their beliefs and actions is a choice. Through understanding comes peace. I'm so grateful for the connections and perspectives expressed here...thanks, everyone, for contributing and for just being here. :)

  13. Fiddler on the Roof is one of my all time favorite movies, and it has a lot of parallels to the experiences discussed on this forum. Tevye the father has to first struggle with the fact that hsi oldest daughter Tzeitel does not want to accept the time honored tradition of an arranged marriage, although she wants to marry a well thought of Jewish tailor -- but at least they ask Tevye's permission.

    The second daughter Hodel then announces her plans to marry a pretty radical (although still Jewish)boy who travels away to promote his political positions. Remarkably they are not asking Tevye's permission -- only his blessing -- which offends Tevye's sense of tradition even more -- but he comes around.

    Through both of those events, Tevye conducts his discussions with God (which are pretty hilarious) and comes to acceptance.

    However when the third daughter Chava announces she is marrying outside the faith and to a Russian, Tevye finally hits a point where he feels he cannot turn his back on his faith and tradition and must "shun" Chava. In the last scenes though, even that wall is showing signs of crumbling, albeit slowly.

    How many Tevyes have we known -- who sometimes try hard to accept change, but do hit very high hurdles along the way? I know my father was disappointed when I married a Catholic, although he never shunned us in any way, shape, of form.

    What we can only pray for is that the Tevyes do come around -- sometimes more slowly than we'd like -- but that the ingrained tradition that is a part of all of us does not get in the way of love. Some are more successful at that than others, unfortunately.

  14. I think we actually have Fiddler on the Roof. Maybe I'll watch that tomorrow, when I'm not falling asleep. {;-O

    I went to see Sweet Land today--I would add my recommendations to the others. I laughed, I cried, I didn't get bored, and yes, it had meanings relative to my experiences. I walked out smiling...it was great! Thanks everyone.

  15. Daisy, I'd like to see that movie too, it sounds like something that we all can relate to!

    Cvow, thank you so much for that synopsis. I am moved just thinking about Tevye and especially his relationship with Chava.. and I come to the realization that I am a Tevye. My heart has been broken. But God has picked up the pieces and shown me that my way is not His way, and brought people into our lives who have been such a blessing. My preaching and hard-heartedness drove my loved ones away, but love and acceptance drew us back together again. Learning about boundaries. Learning when to let go. Learning to let them make their own mistakes and enjoy their own successes. Learning that what was expected of me is not something that I must expect of them. They've done this without the generational and family interference that I thought was a natural part of life, and they are doing just fine! A very wise pastor gave me some advice when I complained that my words only made things worse and not better..he said there is a time to stop talking and start taking it to God and leaving it there. My job is simply to love them. It's true!

  16. I loved "Fiddler" as well. :)

  17. Thank you, Tomte, for recommending Sweet Land. It is an extraordinary film about the American immigrant experience by the son of an Egyptian immigrant.. First and foremost, however, it is a feast for the eyes (and unless you are fluent in German and Norwegian as well as English, your ears may go hungry in parts. But you won't mind).

    The eye behind the camera sees beauty everywhere, like a person in love, inhabiting windblown grass, bleak horizons, barn shadows, ducks in flight, a fresh pie, a faded photograph. The heroine is beautiful both young and old, and all of the characters -- even the least attractive -- are allowed a dignity that is very out of vogue in Hollywood, but deftly illustrates this story's theme of respect for differences.

    It is said that there are only two plot lines in fiction: someone goes on a trip, or a stranger comes to town. Sweet Land has it both ways. You see through the eyes of the traveler Inge (the German immigrant) and through the town (Olaf and the Norwegian community). But the plot is just the platter: there is so much to chew on in this movie, from the love story to the relationships between generations to their relationship to the land.

    What compromises does an immigrant make to assimilate? To forge a new identity? I found my mind wandering down unexpected paths, reviewing my own family history. My Tornedalen rancher grandfather raised his first children outside the OALC, joining the church when he needed its support during the Depression (according to one relative). My genteel, entrepreneurial Finnish grandfather hated farming, but had no choice during the Depression, when he sold his shop in town and moved (with many others) to a relative's farm (reportedly modernizing it with the county's first Caterpillar). During those hard days, he joined the faith of his in-laws. What he felt about that choice is unknown.

    When the pastor in Sweet Land says "see you in church," there is both invitation and threat in those words. Fiends, if we still worked the land, or in family businesses, the factors in our decision to leave or stay would be quite different.

    I found myself wondering how my grandparents would have reacted to a stranger in their midst. Kindly, I think. My Swedish grandfather played the accordion, my Finnish one cut a dashing figure in a suit and tie and spats, and his wife was a vegetarian before it was cool. Would they even recognize the OALC as it is today? Perhaps their legacy to me is not the Laestadian tradition so much as a courageous individualism. I like the idea.

    One of films strange after-effects for me (leaving a theatre near the Space Needle in the dark of a Thursday night) was the sudden urge for manual labor. I dearly wanted to scythe wheat, bundle corn, thresh grain, slop hogs, crank a motor, burn slash, and wash up at an outdoor pump. (Thankfully the desire passed by morning, as there is no handy outlet!).

    Stories, like strangers in town, can expose us to "different kinds of happy," a repeated phrase in Sweet Land. Different kinds of happy, different kinds of people, ideas, beauty, coffee.

    Tomte wrote "this is how the Laestadian community could be, and should be."

    What a revolutionary thought. It never occurred to me that such a softening could happen, but isn't it inevitable? Certainly it could be helped along by us "strangers" -- who, rather than taking the next train out of town -- can keep on making our coffee dark and cranking up our Victrolas, and loving the fear out of the fearful.

  18. "Fiends" should be "friends" above. Deepest apologies :-)

  19. LLLreader sez: Bless you free2beme for the line, "loving the fear out of the fearful".

  20. Many Trails Home2/19/2007 03:04:00 PM

    You got it, LLLreader. I loved that line as well. It is said that there are only two forces, love and fear, and they cannot coexist. So which shall we choose? Love is infinitely stronger, but fear is very very very very seductive. So shall we choose love? MTH

  21. Very nice "chewing up", there, Free. You did that very eloquently, and it makes me a little melancholy thinking about what was, and what is, because the two seem so far apart for me. But I would not trade back. My faith is a keeper.

    I love that line, too. That's a little of what we do here, as well. Nice going.

  22. I bought another interesting book today, "Think Again" by Dr. Gary Cox. This will be a good read, if the intro is anything to go by.


    My prayer is that this book will offer encouragement and hope to those who struggle with their faith. It is okay to wrestle with God! We are commanded to love God with heart, soul, and mind. We cannot love God with our mind if we are afraid to think or frightened to ask honest questions.

    That paragraph went straight to my heart. I look forward to reading the rest...

  23. Hello! I just found this website yesterday. I'm a former IALC member (born into the group) and have been having a rough time of, I guess, psychologically adjusting to life outside the group for the past few years. It's great to find there's a community of walkaways on the net, even if I don't share a lot of your current beliefs (I'm a pagan).

    One offhand question I'm interested in, because of some research I've done when in college, is whether any of you are familiar with "liikutuksia" or rejoicing? The jumping around and screaming during services, basically. The IALC always used it as an indicator of the faith's truth, and I am curious if it still persists in the other branches of Laestadianism. I know it still is rumored to exist in some Finnish Laestadian churches because of conversations I had when I visited Finland a few years back.


  24. Welcome koivutar. There is a wealth of information here...take some time to read the archives if you are interested. There are people of many beliefs represented here. Stay a while and chat with us.

    I've seen the liikutuksia mentioned, but don't remember exactly where off the top of my head. I don't think it is as common as it once was.

  25. There is mention of it in the "unbearable loneliness (no more) thread, I think as LLL's letter in the 1800's. The branch I grew up in was such a sombre bunch, that actions like that would have been deemed as posession by satan. Interesting.

    Welcome indeed! If you are interested in reading through, you wont be able to help staying quite awhile :)

  26. LLLreader sez: Greetings koivutar! Until I was introduced to this blog, I had no idea about the roots of this church. I agree with hp3--do some reading, stick around. As for "unbearable loneliness", you need a new name. You could go by "ul" but it should stand for something like "ultimate love"--God loves you, and loves your seeking heart. Just take good care of yourself Child of God.

  27. Koivutar, hello, you are the 3rd IALC (2nd ex) (also referred to as Pollarites)on this site. The rejoicing always was something that scared me when I was a kid, then I grew to be suspicious of it as an adult. I know that there are some legitimate rejoicers, but I knew of to many who were rejoicing for show. It felt like some kind of "my faith is stronger, then yours" showing off. It is also interesting that although hymns were sang in a very droaning manner, the singing was quite boisterous. Many of the other ALC church branches have little if no musicality in there churces.

    I wonder what it is about the IALC that made you a pagan and me a Jeffersonian Deist. Hmmm... I will have to think about that.

  28. Many Trails Home2/28/2007 10:41:00 AM

    Tomte, I recently confused you and Troll, then got to wondering if you might be one and the same. Tomte is "troll" in Norwegian, is it not? Not that you need to reply, of course, anonymity being valued on this site.
    Mr Smith, interesting that you should call yourself a "Jeffersonian Deist." I'm not quite sure what the "Deist" part refers to, but I am definitely an advocate of the "Jefferson Bible" - I've long since said that I am only interested in the "red parts," which of course the Jeff Bible is essentially reduced to. MTH

  29. Many Trails Home2/28/2007 10:41:00 AM

    Tomte, I recently confused you and Troll, then got to wondering if you might be one and the same. Tomte is "troll" in Norwegian, is it not? Not that you need to reply, of course, anonymity being valued on this site.
    Mr Smith, interesting that you should call yourself a "Jeffersonian Deist." I'm not quite sure what the "Deist" part refers to, but I am definitely an advocate of the "Jefferson Bible" - I've long since said that I am only interested in the "red parts," which of course the Jeff Bible is essentially reduced to. MTH

  30. MTH,

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deist

    I defer to a cosmological argument for the existence of god. I have no faith or belief in the supenatural or in miracles. I believe that Jesus was a man who led a good and moral life, who had some very positive moral lessons to teach, and is a not a bad example to follow in ones daily life and decision making. I believe in reason, science, and logic. I understand how the US is based on a judeo-christian ethic, and have no problem with that.

    Hence a Jeffersonian Deist.

  31. Many Trails Home2/28/2007 04:00:00 PM

    Well, Mr Smith, I think I misunderstand you. Why are you then a JEFFERSONIAN deist? He was a Christian, as far as I can tell, as he had his own edited version of the Bible. In those days, intellectuals were still generally religious, unlike (for the most part) today. MTH

  32. Was he a Christian? That is left to much debate. Most historians would say he is a deist. He used many deist and naturalist phrases in the declaration of independance.

    From wikipedia

    On matters of religion, Jefferson in 1800 was accused by his political opponents of being an atheist and enemy of religion. But Jefferson wrote at length on religion and many scholars agree with the claim that Jefferson was a deist, a common position held by intellectuals in the late 18th century. As Avery Cardinal Dulles, a leading Roman Catholic theologian reports, "In his college years at William and Mary [Jefferson] came to admire Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke as three great paragons of wisdom. Under the influence of several professors he converted to the deist philosophy."[22] Dulles concludes:
    “ In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death; but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson's religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day. ”

    Biographer Merrill Peterson summarizes Jefferson's theology:
    “ First, that the Christianity of the churches was unreasonable, therefore unbelievable, but that stripped of priestly mystery, ritual, and dogma, reinterpreted in the light of historical evidence and human experience, and substituting the Newtonian cosmology for the discredited Biblical one, Christianity could be conformed to reason. Second, morality required no divine sanction or inspiration, no appeal beyond reason and nature, perhaps not even the hope of heaven or the fear of hell; and so the whole edifice of Christian revelation came tumbling to the ground.[23]

    Clear as mud, huh? History minor in College. Jefferson, Locke, and Mill are my Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

    I like using wikipedia for quotes because it is easy to navigate.

  33. Troll and I are two separate people. :)

  34. Many Trails Home3/01/2007 09:09:00 PM

    Thanks, Tomte. And thanks, mr smith, I rather like that. I think I might consider becoming a "Christian deist" myself; seems to conform to my "take" on the Bible etc. MTH

  35. Thanks for the welcomes, everyone!

    Mr. Smith -- I had never heard IALCers referred to as Pollarites. Of course, they kinda have this simplistic version of even Laestadianism as a whole: "believers" and "the other side". It took some research on my part to even establish the relationship of LLL to the group I grew up in.

    I wonder what it is about the IALC that made you a pagan and me a Jeffersonian Deist.

    Heh, personally, I think it was my growing up around hunters and visiting black spruce swamps. Although Deism is interesting to me for historical reasons...and for a while I toyed with the idea of gnosticism. I think I am more of a tinkerer-with-ideas rather than a devout adherent of paganism. All this intellectual freedom, after all, what else could I do with it? :)

  36. Who am i?

    "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

  37. One final note on "Sweet Land." I finally got the Will Weaver short story on which it is based, "A Gravestone Made of Wheat" through inter-library loan. It was fascinating how different the short story was from the movie.

    For one thing, in the short story it is Inge who dies, and Olaf who buries her. Also in the short story the couple, once denied marriage, wants nothing more to do with church. The movie was much more hopeful on this point.

    To sum up, I think I liked the movie better than the short story, but perhaps the short story is more true to real life experience in a depressing sort of way.