"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Musings at Summer's End

Friday, September 06, 2013

Musings at Summer's End

Please take a moment to read Valerie Tarico's interview with Ed Suominen about his exodus out of Laestadianism. While my experience does not mirror Ed's (the Bible has always been primarily allegorical for me), and we don't agree on everything, I admire his desire to follow the truth where it leads him. His respect for his childrens' intellectual and spiritual independence is also commendable. And believer or nonbeliever or quasi-believer, regardless of where we tumble in the kaleidoscope of ideology, I think we can all work toward common goals. This quote by Scotty Mclennan, in a comment after the article, is germane:
“All of us—bright atheists and committed religionists—need to wake now and hear the earth call . . . . We need to give and receive as love shows us how, join with each pilgrim who quests for the true, give heed to the voices of the suffering, awaken our consciences with justice as our guide, and work toward a planet transformed by our care.”
85-year old Lule Sami reindeer herder Apmut-Ivar Kuoljok, forcibly removed from protest in Kallak, Sweden, August 25, 2013. Photo by Per-Eric Kuoljok.
Recently, I have been active with Sámi and Sámi-Americans in arguing against a prospective large scale mine in Swedish Lapland near Jokkmokk, where the annual winter market has been in continuous existence for over 400 years (one of my ancestors traded at the first market in 1605). Since Laestadius' time, it has been a significant meeting place for his followers. A mine there would not only negatively impact reindeer herding but put the entire watershed at risk from pollution and dam collapse. You can read the letter we sent to Obama here, and follow its links for more information. Please consider signing the petition against the mine here.

We've had a beautiful summer here in the Pacific Northwest. Unusually warm and sunny. I'm not ready for it to be over, but our enormous katsura tree—that we planted 20 years ago as a twig—is scattering heaps of gold heart-shaped leaves in the back yard, and spiders are seeking refuge in the house, and the kids have returned, a bit grudgingly, to school. Last Saturday, the skies dawned clear, so we drove to Mt. Rainier to soak up the beautiful views and lay down sense memories (pine scent, wildflowers, towering peaks, waterfalls) that would feed our spirits. Mt. Rainier's native name is Tahoma, "mother of waters," as its glaciers irrigate the rivers, lakes, and lush forests of our region (I wish we could go back to calling it by that name. Peter Rainier, the rear admiral friend of George Vancouver, does not deserve the honor). I grew up with a view of the mountain from our living room, and I've been up close many times, but somehow I'd forgotten that near the tree line, the alpine firs look remarkably like those in a model train set. So tiny! The heavy snows that fall here nine months out of the year clearly don't favor breadth or height in a tree. This fact made me muse on adaptation, and how the attributes that protect life in a hostile climate can become superfluous—even counterproductive—in a new habitat. Maybe once transplanted, those same trees would grow tall and broad; at warmer altitudes, they would branch out, leaf out, and exhale, without their limbs snapping in an avalanche. I suspect many former Laestadians can relate.

On Sunday I drove south to spend time with "exOALC," a dear friend whom I met years ago through this blog. Another refugee from the OALC joined us, and we all enjoyed a delicious dinner at Teote (a Venezualan restaurant in Portland), then stayed up late talking. The great thing about meeting people with whom you share a common history is the almost instant sense of comfort. It allows you to bypass the small talk and go straight to the heart of things: joys and struggles, hopes and regrets, dreams and plans. Maybe this is what we miss most about our old communities. It is incredibly gratifying to see us "formers" form our own community.

The next day, Labor Day, I went to the heart of OALC country to meet another former Laestadian, a woman who has blessed this blog with her wisdom for the past decade but whom I had never met in person. I was a bit nervous. I have a lot of respect for her; what if she didn't like me? With one warm hug, my worries vanished. (I would soon discover that her aunt was my mother's bridesmaid, and her grandfather played an important role in my dad's life.) Her husband showed me a sign on their house that reads: "Bigots, homophobes, racists, fundamentalists, etc., please leave your attitudes at the door. This home welcomes everyone regardless of persuasion. Tolerance, civility, and friendship will be observed at all times." They certainly walked their talk, too. Talk about healthy boundaries! There in the middle of an OALC community, such boundaries need frequent defending, and is another reason I am content to live where I do, a three-hour drive away. Close enough to visit, but not too often.

We had a wonderful chat and then my daughter and I took off for an OALC family reunion up in the hills. As we drove winding roads flanked by green and gold fields, with the occasional cows, horses, or alpacas grazing, I felt a profound sense of serenity. The love and acceptance of others is enjoyed in the muscles, I think, like music. It relaxes. It stretches out the knots. I mused on the fact that I no longer dread my family reunions, but look forward to them. I have become comfortable with my status as an oddball, a black sheep, a "worldly." My relatives no longer try to change me, and I don't try to change them. That comfort goes deep.

Our annual reunions are now in the summer rather than the holiday season: it makes the roads less icy and dicey, requires no room rentals, and is more fun for the little kids. There was delicious food (check out the cake by my sister-in-law!), energetic tugs-of-war, sack races, and lots of laughter. I was having so much fun taking photographs, giving underdogs on the swingset, and enjoying my grandnieces, that I was reluctant to leave when our daughter pointed out that it was past the time I'd promised her we'd go. She takes priority.

Of the many foreign words with no equivalents in English, the German word "schadenfreude" is a common example. It means delight in another's suffering. I much prefer it's antonym, the Sanskrit word "mudita," which means delight in another's happiness, or sympathetic joy. As I looked around me at my relatives, all of whom seemed healthy and prosperous (with such beautiful children!), I felt happy for them. Of course I can't see into their hearts. Perhaps some are suffering invisibly. Or perhaps those who are suffering did not come to the reunion. Many, after all, were missing.

As we drove off, I glimpsed a few young people in parked cars. Perhaps they were listening to music, smoking, or just hanging out. Maybe they are talking about their futures, and the future of the planet. I would like to think so. I would like to think that the newest generation of Laestadians can find a way to be more loving, more inclusive, more tolerant of differences, and more accountable to society—and to our shared future.

Maybe this will be the generation that branches up and out without splitting. What are the chances of that, do you think?


  1. What a delightful collection of assorted thoughts! It’s sort of a Summertime wrap-up with Laestadian connections here and there, plus pretty pictures.

    Thanks for mentioning Valerie Tarico’s article. There has been a lot of interest in it, now that it’s running on Alternet.org. Even Richard Dawkins (no hero to many here, I understand, but a prominent figure nonetheless) noticed it and sent out a tweet yesterday. There’s been a corresponding surge in sales of the evolution book, but also of An Examination of the Pearl. The LLC should thank me for spreading awareness of their church far wider than they ever have!

    I think readers of this blog will relate to the article somewhat, even if they have different views than I do now about Christianity in general and evolution. In particular, this response to Dr. Tarico’s question about whether I ever regretted opening “Pandora’s Box” with my studies:

    My old church had its annual nationwide summer services right near our home this July. Here I was, within 20 miles of a gathering of around 2,000 members of “God’s Kingdom,” which considers itself the only true church on earth. There were people I’d grown up with, people I’d been with in the pews and on camping trips for my whole life. They stayed in their place, and I stayed in mine, an outsider now. I certainly felt some pangs of longing. But it was only about the people, not the institution that envelops and controls them.

    Then I go on to talk about listening online to the sermons preached during those services, and wondering how I’d ever taken any of it seriously. Yet I certainly did, for decades. So I understand the conflicted emotions experienced by people who follow this blog and my own about what they know versus what they are supposed to believe, and what it means for their entire social structure, in addition to the less tangible eternal worries they have grown up with.

    With this reflective and hopeful post, Free, you’re providing encouragement for these troubled and former believers. They can see how you are easing into a new sense of comfort with your OALC relatives and look forward to some of the same with their own Laestadian loved ones. I do think there might be a bit more acceptance of that possibility happening within the LLC now. It’s certainly not a change being advocated by the preachers, at least not in the fearful and exclusionary sermons I continue to hear. Rather, it’s coming from some everyday people in the pews who just plain want to be decent to others and enjoy their company regardless of church affiliations. We had a visit with some LLC friends recently that was just as pleasant as the family reunion you describe.

    Good stuff. There is so much more to life, so much more that we all have in common, than just squabbling about invisible things.

    1. Ed,
      I have to say that I love your style of writing, I love that you seem to welcome and encourage a wide variety of opinions on many subjects. You recognize thoughtfulness at the very least if you find nothing else good to say. I love that you are not afraid to voice the good experiences and the things you enjoyed while a part of the LLC or within its community after leaving, and, also, you are not afraid to voice your personal "bad" or "unusual" experiences. However, I sometimes find some of your comments quite rude, and it has been bothering me enough that I can no longer keep quiet about it..."The LLC should thank me for spreading awareness of their church far wider than they ever have!"? Of course, you are an intelligent man, and can recognize that your publicity is a far cry from the kind the LLC would ultimately desire. You are probably simply being a bit sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek, but I find it to simply come across as rude. I do hope that if we should meet someday we could find that common ground and enjoy a good chat, even if we are not of one mind, religiously speaking. I like to think I am able to converse happily with a wide variety from all religions and walks of life, especially since I am currently in a situation slightly removed from other LLCers. I hope that you can respect my opinion enough to remove these types of rudeness from your conversations. I do not object to you stating any bad experiences, or things you have learned that have lead you away from the LLC, I always find your experiences interesting and worth a read and a consideration, but wish you could refrain from this occasional sarcasm.

    2. JAT, point taken! Thanks for making it so thoughtfully. I'll try to dial back on the sarcasm.

  2. Thanks for reading and responding, Ed.

    I am hopeful that a more evolved, informed, and empowered generation will bring the church into the 21st century, toss the fundamentalism and focus on the gospel of love.

    To the extent that we can facilitate that work through our writing, it's a privilege. Maybe even a duty.

    Recently I saw a Facebook meme that said "Celebrate what you love instead of bashing what you hate." First I thought, gee, that sounds like great advice for Laestadians. And then, hey, that's good advice for me. Thus the post.

  3. Two comments: 1. Ed, and Laestadians, are becoming famous! Ms. Tarico's interview has now been picked up by Salon.com.

    2. I really enjoyed your end-of-summer wrap, Free, and wanted to relay my own recent experience. At our annual family get-together over Labor Day, several of my FALC cousins and I stayed up until 4 in the morning talking around the campfire, the last several hours of which were spent discussing religion. I'll admit I was a bit nervous -- as some of you know, even though I waver between deist/pantheist/atheist I remain "in the fold", and I have no interest in making waves (at least by splashing. I prefer a gentle stir).

    But I also generally don't shy away from debate, and neither does my extended family. My initial reticence soon faded as the night wore on, and once I got to talking about all I've learned over the last two years studying religion and Laestadianism, I couldn't stop. I think a couple of times I might have mildly shocked my kin; but they were also genuinely curious and open-minded, continually peppering me with questions, ideas and thoughtful objections to concepts and facts they most likely had rarely considered.

    Eventually, we simply wore ourselves out (4 a.m. used to be nothing when I was a Kyd; now it takes me two days to recover). But it was well-worth it. There was never a hint of animosity, and afterwards I felt closer to my cousins than ever. To echo Free, it's moments like these that make me hopeful for future generations.

    1. That's a wonderful story, Freethinker. (I am impressed by your endurance, having not seen 4 am awake since I was a new mother.)

    2. FreeThinker,
      Don't think that the conversation ended at four, I heard rumblings of it the next morning!

    3. Uh-oh. I was wondering if there would be fallout or ramifications. I noticed a few younger ears that were possibly close enough to the fire to catch our discussion.

      I'd be interested to know what happened. How can I contact you? My email is my name (firstnamelastname)@live.com (I'm assuming you know who I am).

  4. Thank you for this blog and the many posts. I really like what you had to say in the end of your post "I would like to think that the newest generation of Laestadians can find a way to be more loving, more inclusive, more tolerant of differences, and more accountable to society—and to our shared future". I have often wondered why there is much hatred and seperation in the world and what part can I play in creating a better tomorrow. So, I have done a lot of soul searching and realized, as a result of my upbringing, that I am a part of the problem. I am walking around thinking that all these unbelievers don't have a clue and I am doing everything I can not to engage with them. Rather than trying to connect with people and appreciate what they have to offer, I am automatically dismissing them. Hopefully, by changing the way I view others and trying to be more open to humanity as a whole, I will play a part in a better tomorrow.

    1. Wonderful comment and insights!

    2. Trying to be more open to others is just the ticket, so simple, and so easy to begin. When my children were small and they asked me why it was not okay to intentionally kill bugs, I would say: because it will make you a better person. You will build up your love muscles. You will make the world better, because it needs more lovers, not fighters. (Now, the same message would elicit dramatic teenage eye rolls, but I'm happy to report they are less prejudiced about difference -- and kinder to creepy crawlies -- than I am.)

  5. LLLreader here--What a beautiful post "Freeda". Right now, as I am worrying about the news in Syria, I want to speak for peace. I would like that peace to extend to people both in and out of the church. I can't think of what else to add.

    1. Thank you, dear friend. I too am sick with grief for the suffering in Syria.

  6. Flora says:
    I loved the post Free--just really a great piece and fine summer wrap up as others have mentioned. I hope for that friendly tolerance as well so we can be with and enjoy our relatives and friends without so much angst between "believers and unbelievers".

    In defense of Ed's comment--I don't think he's being sarcastic, I think he's being ironic, which makes a difference from a tone perspective. And even if he was being a little sarcastic, so what? I mean a church that preaches constantly about spreading the word, without really trying that hard to spread it all these years, can't really get upset if it gets spread in a way they don't like. They could have gotten ahead of it, but were too insular. C'est la vie.

    1. Well, to me, sarcasm is often the use of irony to make a derogatory, scathing, or witty attack on someone, or in this case, a group of someones...so in a way it can be one and the same. Perhaps he meant to just leave it at irony, but that's not the way it comes across to me. As an LLCer it feels like an attack on the church....things get construed in writings and I know I could be wrong. AND, if we are looking for peace and tolerance...how can you expect respect and tolerance from me, if you cannot respect my opinions and decisions, too? I understand that I am on a site directed for those who have left the church, and I truly do not complain, or feel attacked, when people say bad things or relate bad experiences about the church as long as it is done a fairly nice/respectful/polite way.

    2. What makes JAT's concern so valid and significant to me is that she (just a guess on my part as to gender) has written such thoughtful stuff in other comments here, and seems like a genuinely interested participant in dialogue. So if I am turning off someone that engaged and open to discourse, I need to take stock of the situation. Perhaps irony suited what I'd said better than sarcasm, but I've written plenty of sarcasm, too. I think it has its place, but frankly, I'm just tired of harping on and on about issues with this one of thousands of churches. I've largely gotten it out of my system, people can read all they want to about the real issues and problems, or not.

      JAT and other thoughtful believers here might like the review I just did of a book on interfaith dialogue, written by an atheist who really goes out of his way to be a decent human being. I like and am learning from his approach. It's on my blog.

    3. Great discussion, and Flora, you bring up a good point. We should explore again (in a future post) the "Great Commission" as different Christians sects interpret it. Many former Laestadians could not reconcile a doctrine that says (1) outsiders are going to perish in everlasting hell, and (2) it is not our duty to stop them.

  7. EOP, I would enjoy talking with you but my time is limited due to many other commitments so I'll have to do with occasional comment every now and then. What made you turn away from LLC? I am wondering because I have studied the Laestadian history for years, would bet I know more than you do, but still haven't found anything that would seriously threaten my faith. (If I had the time, I could critisize parts of your book for lack of depth, and discuss certain interpretations). - Finnish believer (LLC/SRK)

    1. To Finnish believer (LLC/SRK):

      If you "had the time" you could critique parts of Ed's book?! Even the simple title of the book, a derivative, had you enough time to notice it, would have given you a clue as why he would turn away from the LLC. In fact, a simple google search should take you to the sentence it came from and if you weren't too busy judging him on taking things too literally, or not literally enough, you'd get the idea. I am responding as I hope Ed does not feel that your comment is worthy of a response, hopefully he is a more matured person that I in the sense that he could leave it and not sink down to your high holy place.

      One could draw many conclusions about you, based on your four typed sentences.
      Firstly, you have grammatical and spelling errors that cause it to be difficult for me to believe that you have studied anything literary for an extended period of time. Next, you would "bet" that you know more than Ed? Since you made this statement, I assume that you don't proofread or take time to examine exactly what it is you are trying to say, or you would have noticed that you used the word "bet," which is as far as I know wrong to do in the LLC. Since it is wrong in the LLC, (and heaven forbid you say something that would be in opposition to their doctrine,) I would guess that you are spouting off without considering the bigger picture. If you cannot consider the larger scale of life, while including the smaller details that make the whole, then I doubt you would be able to find much realistic fault with Ed's suppositions. Personally, I think the real reason that you wrote your post is that you took offense to one of his comments, had nothing to refute it with, and thought that on behalf of the LLC you would try to get a jab in. Fail.
      I think you have plenty of time to discuss things, but you have no readily available answers to dispute his claims, no new ones, at any rate, aside from the ones that you've heard repeated so often you now use them yourself even if they don't apply.
      I also am amazed that you would say none of Ed's arguments would cause you to question your faith. Aren't humble Christians supposed to acknowledge that they struggle every day with threats? It kind of sounds like you're putting yourself on a bit of a pedestal. Ok, ok, I'll stop.
      In conclusion, I am not an English major or a current LLC member, and I have no clue who you are, so I can't say any of these things with certainty. If you really feel that you are so strong in your faith, I challenge you to actually READ the text with somewhat of an open mind. Wow. I bet you'll have more questions than "occasional" comments afterward.

    2. The humblebrag is strong with this one; reading comprehension not so much, since s/he claims to have read Ed's book but can't figure out why he left the LLC.

    3. Thanks, guys. It just isn’t worth the time or annoyance anymore. I will just address a few points, with the warning to gentle souls that there’s no way for me to do so without sounding a bit strident. It’s just the nature of the subject matter and the comment to which I’m responding.

      The information is out there for believers to learn if they want to, and they have never refuted any of it. There have only been character attacks, warnings against the use of human reasoning (i.e., anything goes when it comes to “faith”), and some fogging of the air with snide dismissals. “Finnish believer’s” comment sounds a lot like the remarks made to me by a highly educated individual with a prominent position in the SRK. It’s the closest thing I ever got to a substantive critique of the book. But all it looks like to me is a series of vague insults that morphed each time they were addressed.

      I do understand why this happens. The stakes are just too high for most Laestadians to accept the conclusions that would otherwise leap out at them from the text on the page. And you know what? That’s fine. As long as they have the freedom to accept or reject those conclusions, and they allow others that freedom, how much difference does it actually make in any of our lives what they profess to believe?

      Now, I have a new episode of Breaking Bad to watch...