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?

3 comments:

  1. I would love to give my name, but it would not be worth the fallout that would ensue... So call me Mikko Suomalainen..
    Fact is, they aren't about love. When they say they are coming to you in love, it's more like they are coming to you to rebuke you until you see the evil of your ways. That is not love. It's believe what they say and live like the leaders tell you to, or else you will go to hell. It is total hogwash. They are all about mind control. You are smart for thinking. You were born with a mind, so you need to use it. If that mind causes you to see through the lies and mind control (I won't call it brainwashing, since that is a little harsh). It is not your fault for using your own God-given brain!! There is so much wrong with this super small sliver of mankind that calls themselves God's chosen few. Don't walk away from them, run away. I liken someone who leaves that church to an escapee from a prison camp. Or perhaps similar to those girls that were rescued from Ariel Castro.. I am proud of you! Keep thinking and you will do great things in life!

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  2. I read what you wrote, and it resonates within me. The idea that questions, and an honest search for truth is bad, and we shouldn't engage in it is to turn our backs on one of the greatest gifts God has given us...our intellect. And why? Because of a (misguided) fear that we might question beliefs that the Church holds dear, and lose our Faith? Our Faith in the human institution of the Laestadian church...whichever branch....but too often in action if not in word, they equate faith in the church to Faith in God. I believe that the Holy Spirit acts in our lives... and I am coming to attribute those little questions that were shushed when I was a kid, and then the bigger questions that were more bluntly silenced...were not the "whispering of the Devil" but the Holy Spirit saying "There is More". I was recently reading a book by a Muslim who was struggling to move beyond his fundamentalist upbringing (it is surprising how similar various strains of fundamentalist thinking is, even across the boundaries of different religions) who wrote something to the effect of "In order to freely believe, I must have the ability to doubt".
    You asked whether the disciples thought and wondered. They not only thought and wondered, they challenged. Paul, after his conversion, challenged Peter in Antioch regarding preaching to the Gentiles (non-jews) and again at a meeting in Jerusalem, he further challenged the early "Christian" Church leaders (which was drawn from the Jewish population until then) with the question of ministry to the Gentiles. Had he not been open to the Holy Spirit, and challenged the "elders" who knows how long Christianity would have remained breakaway sect of Jewish people.
    "unbeliever"

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  3. You write so peacefully and succinctly. I find my thoughts echo yours, and I too as a child had many of the same qualities. A feeling of aloneness, conforming to keep peace all the while practicing cognitive dissonance. Living under the cloak of fear, And I find myself at peace now, having questioned everything and freed myself from the constraints of the legalism. I appreciate the blessings of that type of lifestyle, but there are emotional scars that have been left as a result of my upbringing. Many in the church would scoff at such a statement, and drop the tag lines that we all have heard, such as "No one has left God's kingdom with a clean conscience." Well, I beg to differ. God's kingdom is found among ALL who believe that Jesus Christ has completed the work and our sin debt has been paid. It is a kingdom of grace and peace. Not rules. There is no need to constantly preach why everyone else is wrong, or to tell people not to search for answers elsewhere. God is gracious and loving, He will guide us on this journey whether or not you go to the Laestadian Lutheran Church.

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