"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


The following request for advice arrived in my inbox over the holiday. 
I have recently met two people who became very important in my life, who are both apart of this church. Both of whom have expressed either a desire to leave, not agreeing with all of the "rules", a confusion of what is right and wrong, and generally how they are to live their life. It seems like they are torn between what they are told to do and what is truly right for them, what they personally feel and believe vs how they were raised, etc, and frankly it has been very painful to watch. 
I am just wondering what is the best way I can help this person who is "stuck on the fence"? They are obviously in a very difficult spot that I will never fully understand, not sure if they are staying or leaving, risking losing the love of their family and church friends, basically all they know, etc. 
I'm not sure the best way to go about this other than to offer my friendship and support.
Readers, what say you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Your Roots are Calling

Please watch this short film of Mari Boine talking about her Laestadian roots. If you aren't familiar with her music, this is one of her more famous songs, Kuula Kuule (hear, hear).
Hear hear girl, boy  
Your roots are calling for you.
This summer, my roots called and I answered, big time. It was life-changing. How exactly, remains to be seen.

I planned to stay three weeks, and ended up staying four. After two days in Stockholm, I visited Luleå, Boden, Övertorneå, and Pajala (where I toured the Laestadius museum and met the town's first female Lutheran priest), Jukkasjärvi (where one of my ancestors was a Sàmi shaman), and Kiruna (where my great-aunt, a nurse who never married and devoted her life to the poor, has a street named after her). In Tärendö, I had the joy of listening to a jazz pianist play in the very room my ancestors were baptized and married in. I stopped briefly in Gällivare for Indian food, and spent two magical days in Jokkmokk (with a midnight-sun drive to Nattavaara) before heading south again. After several days in Uppsala, I took the ferry to Helsinki, and did a grand tour of Mikkeli, Savonlinna, Kerimäki, Heinävesi, Seinajoki, Ylistaro, and Vaasa.

The only thing I'd change? More time.

I found both countries, and all of Sàpmi, breathtakingly beautiful. The weather, mid-July to mid-August, was perfect, with just enough rain to make rainbows. It seemed sometimes as if I were in a dream, where anything could happen. More than once I was taken by surprise, being in the right place at the right time to see something delightful. As if the ancestors were sprinkling fairy dust and opening doors wherever I went.

If your roots are calling for you, listen. If I can help you plan a trip (or better yet, be your tour guide) send me a message.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Rape Culture in Tysford and Elsewhere

Odd Fagerjord spokesman for the Læstadian church in Norway.  Photo: TERJE MORTENSEN, VG
Odd Fagerjord spokesman for the Læstadian church in Norway. Photo: TERJE MORTENSEN, VG PHOTO: TERJE MORTENSEN , VG
Rape culture, an academic term referring to the normalization of sexual violence, is all over the news since the Stanford rape case went public, and not a moment too soon. Perhaps this is a watershed moment, when our country is finally waking up to the fact that sexual assaults, even with eyewitnesses, DNA proof, and unanimous felony convictions, are still considered "minor" offenses by many, including those we've vested with the power to render justice, like the Santa Clara County judge who is facing a recall effort.

The Stanford victim's statement to her attacker has been shared widely online; if you haven't read it, I encourage you to do so. Given what we know, who among us would recommend a victim pursue justice through the courts?

I don't know what the court system is like in Norway, but in the village of Tysford (a largely-Firstborn Laestadian community), a series of articles on sexual abuse speaks to a similar desire to stop the insanity. The victims' stories are so familiar, and heartbreaking.

Will a public conversation help Tysford's Laestadian leaders reconsider their role in interviewing victims and reporting crimes?

Will the Stanford case help us consider how we ourselves contribute to rape culture?

Or will we shrug and say "it happens everywhere."

That sexual abuse is universal does not mean it is insoluble. That we are not abusers ourselves does not absolve us of a responsibility to prevent abuse.

We can take a clue from the two Swedish bicyclists, Peter and Carl-Fredrik, on the Stanford campus that day. They did not look the other way, they questioned what was going on, they prevented the attacker from escaping, they did not accept his explanation, they did not suggest he consult a spiritual authority. They didn't debate among themselves whether it was legal to force oneself on someone else. They called the police.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Lei and Ukelele

I'm reading Mikael Niemi's Popular Music from Vittula again, with its hilarious and often moving "magical realism" that dresses hard truths in colorful clothes. Here's an excerpt about a funeral in Pajala attended by far-flung relatives.
As usual at Tornedalen heroic burials, the preachers spoke mostly about Hell. They described in minute detail the endlessly burning charcoal stack where sinners and heretics were fried like pork in tar in the Devil’s red-hot skillet, while he prodded them with his trident to bring out the juices. The congregation cowered in their pews, and the old lady’s daughters, especially, shed many a crocodile tear into their permanent waves and fashionable dresses, while the men who had married into the family shuffled uneasily with their hardened hearts. But here was an opportunity to sow the seeds of penitence and mercy over almost all the globe, and it would have been unpardonable not to try. 
(Read a longer excerpt here.)
Have you had any unusual funerals in your family? One of the more remarkable in mine was for an uncle I'll call Fred. Born "outside the faith," Fred was married several times, lastly to a widow in the OALC.  They had two happy years together before Fred's heart gave out. His children hardly knew him, having become alienated over religion, and did not attend the funeral. The wife of Fred's son, however, came all the way from Hawai'i to bring flowers and music as offerings.

The preacher said sorry, no. Not wanted. Take them away.

But you see, in Hawai'ian tradition, it is a grave error to refuse a lei. An insult. It isn't done.

Who would refuse a lei?

The poor woman, shocked, never quite recovered, and told the story many times. It became a rune, a Zen koan, an enigma.

Who would refuse a lei?

Naturally, the OALC folks there tell it differently. They remember a lady from Hawai'i, but say nothing of a lei or a ukelele. Only that she cried. That she had never heard of the living Christianity. That she made repentance.

But sadly, it didn't stick, and soon after, she died (unsaid but implied, she went to hell).

Oh, you lovely relations, uncles, aunts, cousins.

Next time, if there is a next time, please accept the lei.

Because the spirit of aloha is grace, and vice versa, against which nobody should go. Grace is where it's at. It's where we want to be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Old Ways

Sàmi faith and mythology
In preparation for a visit to the land of my ancestors, I have been reading about Sàmi history, and ran across this interesting website. Have you been to Sàpmi? If so, where did you go, and what did you see?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lars Levi's Cousin, Mor Greta

I stumbled across this fascinating article about Mor Greta, a cousin and contemporary of Lars Levi Laestadius. It helps contextualize the distrust of authority in the North.
Margareta Sophia better known as "Mor Greta" (1804-1883) . . . took part in the movement against the Swedish state church. Mor Greta and the group the “New Readers” protested against usage of the new church books that were introduced in 1819. These manuals gave the priests monopoly on preaching and other church ceremonies, something that was very impractical when emergency baptism was sometimes needed in the north of Sweden and the priest could be miles away. Those who did not obey the law were persecuted; and if it was repeated they were banished for two years. 
Mor Greta and the New Readers protested against that . . .​ were punished, and the police force tried to imprison them. Mor Greta, being a woman, was not imprisoned, but taken to Umeå hospital for the insane as punishment. But the doctor at the hospital did not find anything wrong with her, refused to hospitalize her, and released her immediately.

How did a woman in the north of Sweden dare to oppose the powerful Swedish state church in the 1830s? 
One explanation is that Mor Greta and Nils had eleven children, but five died before the age of one. That must have been a trauma and the family had need for emergency baptism. Before they had been able to do that without a priest present, but after the new churchbooks, that became illegal. The families had to take the newborn from the mother and go (by ski in winter) 10 kilometers to the church and then back for the baptism. Not many newborns survived those journeys.
Read the rest of the article here, and another, in Swedish, here.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Not Here

The following just showed up in my Facebook feed from author Elizabeth Gilbert, whose The Signature of All Things I read last year and can highly recommend. It is a well-researched, globe-trotting, rollicking tale about a fictional 19th-century botanist who couldn't be more different than the 19th-century botanist whose career change gave rise to Laestadianism. Both were champions, however, at saying NOT THIS. Let me know what you make of Elizabeth Gilbert's in the comment section.


Dear Ones -

Most of us, at some point in our lives (unless we have done everything perfectly...which is: nobody) will have to face a terrible moment in which we realize that we have somehow ended up in the wrong place — or at least, in a very bad place.

Maybe we will have to admit that we are in the wrong job. Or the wrong relationship. With the wrong people around us. Living in the wrong neighborhood. Acting out on the wrong behaviors.

Using the wrong substances. Pretending to believe things that we no longer believe. Pretending to be something we were never meant to be.

This moment of realization is seldom fun. In fact, it's usually terrifying.

I call this moment of realization: NOT THIS.

Because sometimes that's all you know, at such a moment.

All you know is: NOT THIS.

Sometimes that's all you CAN know.

All you know is that some deep life force within you is saying, NOT THIS, and it won't be silenced.

Your body is saying: "NOT THIS."

Your heart is saying: "NOT THIS."

Your soul is saying: "NOT THIS."

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Blasphemous Pasties

As regular as clockwork since I posted it in 2008, the user-edited advice at Wikihow's "How To Leave the Old Apostolic Church" is discovered by readers who take great offense. With a few clicks, they make the content disappear, or replace it with their own. But like Wikipedia, changes to Wikihow posts are monitored, and eagle-eyed volunteers quickly restore the page.

The cycle repeats itself, over and over, month after month, year after year. A friend's comment compelled me to review the page today, to see if the advice still seems valuable (it does) and whether any complaints had been registered (yes, plenty). A sampling:
  • Blasphemy. Go back to OALC, it is the one true faith full sheepfold!
  • This article is not something you should be searching for, because you should not want to leave what is the truth. But you should not leave anyway because the OALC is the only living faith church and that is where you will find God.
  • The OALC is a place of truth! Do not be deceived by that small whispered doubt the devil spews into your ears!
  • Expounded blasphemy from satan.
  • This article is false and misguiding. please don't believe any of it.
  • Garbage.
Not to nitpick, but can a whisper be spewed? Blasphemy expounded?

In a creative twist, one culinary-minded critic tried to replace the page with recipes, twice. That is a lot of effort to be lost to the ether, so I'll post his or her recipe for pasties here, even though it verges on the blasphemous (e.g., baby carrots).



2 lbs ground beef (uncooked)

3-4 good size potatoes

½ large onion

4-5 celery stalks

½ rutabaga (optional, but I suggest at least trying it)

½ turnip (optional)

12-15 baby carrots

Salt and pepper to taste


Makes 8-10 pasties
  1. Chop potatoes into small squares. About the size of a French fry, cubed.
  2. Chop rutabaga, carrots, and turnip into smaller squares. Chop onion into small pieces.
  3. Combine everything in a large mixing bowl. (By hand is easiest.)
  4. Roll out pie crust to approx. 9” diameter circles, one for each pasty.
  5. Store-bought pie crust works fine too, and is much easier. Mom’s pie crust is the best I’ve had, but I don’t make it anymore, since a major ingredient is lard. And I’ve found the name-brand refrigerated pie crusts from the grocery store are a good substitute.
  6. For each crust, put in about 1 cup of the mixture of veggies and ground beef, onto one half of the crust.
  7. As you scoop it into a cup, it’s easy to see that you get a good variety of all ingredients.
  8. Fold over the crust. Pinch together the edges.
  9. Place small slits in the top of the crust.

Bake at 375 for one hour.
They are ready to eat! Enjoy. I like ketchup with them (and this is about the ONLY thing I like with ketchup. Brown gravy is good too. But, they are a complete meal in themselves, so the ketchup or gravy isn’t even needed to enjoy your pasty!
They can also be frozen if they won’t be eaten in the next couple days.
For frozen pasties, they can be heated in an oven at 350 for about 40-45 minutes. After about 20 minutes, I cut them in half, to help the middle of the pasties thaw and heat thoroughly.
As a variation, my sister adds a can of Cream of Celery soup to the beef and veggie mixture to help moisten it.


If any of my Wiki critics happen to be reading, here's a suggestion. Rather than altering or deleting someone else's speech, how about adding more of your own? Perhaps a Wiki called How to Stay in the OALC, with practical advice for making it work.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

They Do Not Dance

This came across my desk, a clipping from a 1939 Pennsylvania newspaper that was based on a longer article by Mason Warner of the Chicago Tribune and shared widely in newspapers across America. One wonders what was made of it among American Laestadians.

The original article included this observation: "Their religion allows the Laestadian Lapps and Finns to enjoy nothing that will give them joy or pleasure. Even comfort is denied. They have no curtains in their homes; no nice furniture. They wear no rings, no bracelets, no jewelry. They eat the plainest foods. They drink no wines or liquors. Eternal happiness is their reward for obeying the laws of Laestadius; eternal damnation if they disobey."

Monday, March 07, 2016

Trouble in Finland

A section of Jukkasjärvi church's altarpiece. Photo: Marie Enoksson.
I’ve heard from several readers in Finland that a split is possible among the esikoislestadiolaiset in Finlandthe Laestadians who call themselves Firstborn or Old Apostolic Lutheran here in North America. (For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to them as the Firstborn in this post).

The controversy stems from a recent directive from the Firstborn elders in Swedish Lapland to take the sacraments “into your own hands," in essence to separate from the state Lutheran church. It is my understanding that this would result in the loss of church facilities and other resources (as well as responsibilities, such as fees that fund charitable work) and the gain of full autonomy to perform the holy sacraments (communion, baptisms, confirmations, weddings) however and by whomever they choose. Naturally, this goes against church law and possibly against Lutheran doctrine (although the Lutheran church in Sweden and Norway don't seem to object). However, it is not the least surprising to this American, who grew up listening to Firstborn preachers rail against the "dead faith" of the state church in the Motherland. 

For those who read Finnish, there is a lot of information about the controversy, and many links to documents, over at this site.

This news report says a split would result in 10,000 leaving the Church, but there is a significant faction of Firstborn who disagree with their elders. At least one community has rejected the missionaries assigned to them at a January "preacher's meeting," opting for preachers of their own preference. Some communities have even (gasp!) "uninvited" the Swedish elders who will be visiting Finland this summer. That is some serious insubordinance.

“There are a lot of us that do not take the advice from elders in Gällivare as the word of God, even though we are taught to obey, and that disobedience is against God and the Holy Spirit," explains a member who has decided to stay in the Church.

In Mikkeli, Finland, some Firstborn have determined that the directive to remove the sacraments from the Church is illegal (warning: link is a pdf, in Finnish). Such decisions cannot be made in Sweden or Helsinki at a preachers' meeting, they must be made at the local level, argue: 

“It is essential to note that in Finland, the legal and social situation is significantly different than in North America, Norway and Sweden. Esikoislestadiolaiset associations’ local branches are autonomous.”

(Update: this was apparently a mistranslation or misunderstanding. Please refer to the linked document and comments below.)
Not long ago in America, Laestadian immigrants relied on ordained Lutheran clergy (although other denominations would do in a pinch) until their lay preachers were granted the right to perform the sacraments under the laws governing that locality. My grandparents were married by a Presbyterian minister and my parents by a Justice of the Peace. Nowadays, of course, Firstborn lay preachers, all male, none with divinity degrees, are large and in charge.

I suspect the ordination of women priests by the Finnish Church was very challenging to Finnish Laestadians (there are stories of Firstborn refusing to take the sacraments from women), but it was the legalization of same sex marriage in 2014, a move celebrated by the Archbishop, which galvanized some to leave. Finland was the last of the Nordic countries to legalize same sex marriage.

(Update: this theory is rejected in the comment section below.) 

I asked a Finn what he thought the future would hold:

"It's impossible to know what the outcome will be, but I think this might be the moment when something that has been boiling under the surface since the 1990's will finally result in a split. It hasn't been this serious before, so many missionary preachers removed, and congregations refusing to receive missionary preachers sent by the Finnish preachers' meeting and to receive the elders of Swedish Lapland. It will be interesting if the liberal party will be able to remain united or if they will split into several groups over some other issues as soon as they get outside of the control of the 'elders.' And it's also possible that many people will start looking for a place to go in non-Laestadian groups or other Laestadian groups. Some people already have done it."

Some are even changing postal codes.

"We will soon move to a new community," writes one grieving member. "We are leaving the esikoislestadiolaiset, but not the Church. We have wonderful, Christian priests and I have never believed that only the esikoiset are real Christians."

One wonders what Laestadius would think. After all, he remained a priest within the Lutheran Church his entire life, a burr in its hide, corresponding with bishops, arguing doctrine, objecting to rebukes, but never leaving the umbrella of the Holy "catholic" Church. Nor did he advise his followers to leave.

What do you think?

(Please use a nickname when commenting so we can track the thread. Kiitos.)

Friday, February 19, 2016


Recent comments on an old post are worthy of a new post. How best to prevent bullying? (Please be constructive in your responses, and include a nickname so the thread can be easily followed.)

Image from "Help Prevent Bullying"
"I want this to be a non-religious post. I am a medical provider in Clark County and have had many adult and child patients that have complained about bullying related to their religious differences from the majority in the Yacolt, Amboy area. Generally the story includes bullying related to Apostolic Christians (Bun Heads, Bunners, etc) creating an unbearable environment in school for children that are not of the same religion. Since the stories are so frequent, and span time, it seems like an epidemic. It certainly does not show any qualities of Christ. I've had patients move school districts and finish high school at Clark College because the problem is so bad. I actually have sympathy for the bullies because their families can be so large, that these children are raised by their siblings and not their parents. The result of this isn't always good, acting out is inevitable and Christ-like qualities of love, patience, and kindness are not natural when biologically competing for nurturing to an unavailable parent."
Dear Medical Provider in Clark County:

The youth bullying issue has been discussed on this blog many times, and it's a concern in just about every community in which a single Laestadian group becomes the population majority.

One of the issues, I think, is that when a single Laestadian group becomes more visible, you begin to see its inner workings and the behavior patterns. I grew up as sort of an insider-outsider of a Laestadian environment, and the inner-group bullying and social relational aggression I saw rivaled any high school anywhere. You see this in strict sects such as the Amish. Believe me, being an insider in this group and among the bullied is no picnic. I've seen it with my own eyes of Laestadian children bullied and ostracized by their own group members and as teens they try to drift away, only to be shunned by their families for leaving their religion. It takes a lot of rebuilding to overcome this. I can't imagine what this kind of bullying might manifest itself when the Apostolics become the majority. Most of the time Apostolic kids are in the minority and fill the position in their schools of banding together in a tight pack and not making waves, flying below the radar and waiting out graduation when they tend to get married within a few months to a couple of years.

As an outsider, it must be very difficult to witness. It is even harder to do anything about it. Talking to the fathers of the bullies might be a first step, but many times, this community would see the correction as proof that their community is being persecuted. Or that their child is righteous and above the others as being part of this spiritual elite.

I also suspect that any teacher or administrator who takes on the bullying issues might find themselves in hot water with the local school board, as often the school boards are comprised of the group in majority areas.

What do you think could be some first next steps?"

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Swedish Church Apologizes

The Church of Sweden has admitted to running segregated schools for ethnic Sami “based on racist ideas” as it seeks to atone for its part in Sweden’s long repression of its indigenous population.

The church on Friday released its two-volume “White Book” which painstakingly details its treatment of Sami people, in particularly dwelling on the chain of ’Nomad Schools’ it operated between 1913 and 1962.

“It was a form of school whose ideology was based on racist ideas of superior and inferior races, and that took away from many Sami their language, culture and human dignity,” Archbishop Antje Jackelén told Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper.
She said the book was part of a “reconciliation process” between the church and the Sami, many of whom are Laestadian, part of a highly conservative Lutheran Christian movment. 
“One must describe where the pain persists, and what the abuse was,” Jackelén said.

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sápmi, the Motherland

This Friday is the opening of the 2016 Jokkmokk market, which occurs the first weekend in February as it has for over 400 years. One of my Karelian ancestors (and perhaps yours, if you have roots in Swedish Lapland) traded for many years at the Jokkmokk market, having traversed the long distance from Lake Onega on skis with loaded sleds. His son Mykel Ryss, on one of their trips, fell in love with a local girl, and they became the first residents of Nattavaara, a village in Gallivare municipality.

The name Gallivare is familiar to anyone who attended the OALC: it is the "mother church," where the elders reside and preach. I found it interesting that in 1992, there were three bronze pillars installed not far from the church by a local sculptor who titled them "Tre Seitar," referring to the ancient sacred stones, or holy sites, of the Sami. The syncretism of Sami (stone seiti) and Christian (the number three) continues.

This Saturday is Sami National Day, or Álbmotbeaivi. Here, at last year's Jokkmokk market, the crowd is singing the Sami anthem. (It is even lovelier with a choir, in this formal version.) In addition to the usual ceremonies, there will be a demonstration against the mining companies that are devastating the Arctic, and the Swedish government that allow it.

In the Pacific Northwest, we'll be celebrating at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Our Sami Day celebration will include singing the anthem, snacking on reindeer sausage, and meeting Sami/Blackfoot filmmaker Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, who will screen her award-winning short film.

Please join us if you can.

As I am unable to monitor comments for a while, that feature is turned off, but you are welcome to contact me directly if you have any questions. Just use the form at the bottom of the right hand column.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Love is Wise, Hatred is Foolish

This is silly season in American politics, during which the essentially powerless (most of us) are targeted by the enormously privileged with expensive, intricately-engineered appeals to our fears and hopes. It is tempting to tune out, or rely on old, unexamined assumptions about our political preferences.

I've been doing some of both.

But when this advice came across my screen, it seemed worth sharing. It isn't new; it has been said by many others in myriad ways, but I'm fond of old Bertrand Russell, whose wisdom helped steer me clear of extremes as a young person in college. Here he is, speaking to future generations, in an interview in 1959:
I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral.
The intellectual thing I should want to say to them is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.
The moral thing I should wish to say to them is very simple: I should say, love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way — and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.