Saturday, September 14, 2013

Being a Stranger in a Strange Land and other (aimless) thoughts

It has been a while... Please excuse my absence. Also forgive me if the post if it seems to jump around a lot. I have been out of practice...
Since a child I have felt like a stranger in a foreign land, being at church seemed to accentuate that feeling. Observing the interactions of others as if it came naturally to them seemed strange to me. The circles start at a young age. It's interesting behavior really, an overt expression of the programming of individuals that organized, and especially fundamentalist religion, seems to do.
I never had a circle of friends but sporadic friendships with other "outsiders" as well as a few that chose to be part of circles. When I was very young this strange sense of being different really bothered me but after a few horrible experiences of artificial conformity I slowly began to accept that this was simply my nature.
I was encouraged very frequently to kumbaya and carry on with the rest of them aka socialize, but I could not find it in me to converse frequently and aimlessly about the weather, the latest Laestadian gossip, the ho-hum drum of "so what have you been up to lately" that contained an unspoken understanding of what not to talk about, so I largely stayed at home, which I'm sure concerned many. I didn't mind being alone, I had a few friends that I talked to about more significant matters, but as I began to question my faith more and more I began to feel less comfortable talking with them. We are encouraged to speak freely to trusted friends and family when we have times of doubt but I could not bring myself to do so because I knew I would be guilted back into to the same old same old; a lifeless existence that brought me no peace of mind or soul. Most likely I would agree and comply simply to avoid confrontation and keep the peace while my mind and spirit continued to wage war with itself. I knew this was a sure path to insanity for myself, so I began my social avoidance behavior.
This pattern of behavior gave me some perspective as I began to view the workings of the church order more and more objectively as I became less and less involved. I began to observe how the so called blessings a faith were not blessings of faith but blessings of being involved in a common society. A group of people intertwined not by faith or spirituality but by lifestyle. It grows more and more evident even now, as I watch children and teenagers begin to form their circles.
"Who can be in my circle? Only those people that are like me. Do you comply with the rules or do you push the boundaries? How do you dress? Do you smoke? Do you play sports? Are you a band camper? Are you a rebel? If you're not like me, I won't accept you. I will be friendly to your face but I will talk about you behind your back."
There's a circle for everyone. Except for thinkers. Which was me. I don't know what people said about me behind my back, but I generally got the feeling from most people that my curiosity and non-conformist ways were not accepted in their circles. There's a few people who were always beyond kind, always accepting, always loving but that was simply their nature. Those people hold a special place in my heart.
What I'm describing is definitely not particular to Laestadianism, this is typical human behavior and Laestadians are as human as everyone else, but it never failed to surprise me when I would read in the Bible about love and acceptance, kindness and understanding, that the words from the Holy Book seemed to fall on deaf ears. I heard over and over of the dead faiths of the world so what was it that made my faith alive? I saw that there were differences between Laestadian people and "worldly" people. We are taught that these are fruits of faith. However sometimes these differences were not good and the bible says the good tree cannot produce bad fruit nor can the bad tree produce good fruit. This confused me. I wondered more and more if these differences were not because of living faith but because of lifestyle. I began to look back at the times when I felt most alive in my faith and noticed a pattern. Those times in life when I felt strong and alive in my faith correlated directly with the times that I felt a sense of belonging, acceptance, part of the whole. This seemed to have nothing to do with God, faith, a spiritual connection, and everything to do with humans. Connection with other humans and a sense of belonging invokes warmth and security within humans. What if the infrequently stirring in my chest of "live faith" was simply this?
Of course I remained silent about these because they would have been dismissed as the devil, or doubts, (just as I had attempted to do) because they don't align with the fairy tale notion that these good feelings and blessings we experience are the proof that this is the one true faith, which is the justification for our conformity of lifestyle... How could this be justified if what we experience is merely natural and indeed experienced by many humans who are part of a working whole and common lifestyle?
I struggled with my curiosity, trying to repeat the mantra of "don't think too much, don't use your human mind to try to understand" but my entire being rejected my faithful attempts to correct myself and shut off my brain. Why on earth would God make intelligent beings if He wanted us to behave as simple animals? The answer to that question? There was no answer.. only admonishment not to over think. Another sure fire way to insanity.
I have come to realize that a person whose God-given nature is to wonder, to be curious, and to think cannot reject it without going entirely insane. How could this be Satan when I have been this way since a very young child? Didn't the disciples think and wonder? Didn't Martin Luther? If questioning was so terribly wrong why are so many "saints" revered for this exact thing, with many followers of their teachings?