Wednesday, July 31, 2013


[T]he chief pride of Maui is her dead volcano of Haleakala—which means, translated, “the house of the sun.” We climbed a thousand feet up the side of this isolated colossus one afternoon; then camped, and next day climbed the remaining nine thousand feet, and anchored on the summit, where we built a fire and froze and roasted by turns, all night. With the first pallor of dawn we got up and saw things that were new to us. Mounted on a commanding pinnacle, we watched Nature work her silent wonders. The sea was spread abroad on every hand, its tumbled surface seeming only wrinkled and dimpled in the distance. A broad valley below appeared like an ample checker-board, its velvety green sugar plantations alternating with dun squares of barrenness and groves of trees diminished to mossy tufts.
—Mark Twain, Roughing It
Clouds upwelling on the lower slopes of Maui’s central mountain  [Flickr page]

I am standing on the roof of the House of the Sun, just over 10,000 feet above the sea that is visible in the distance. This is a pinnacle of earth, rising impossibly high above the water and then the beaches and grazing lands, and it is flying eastward away from the sun.

Looking into the vast maw of Haleakala Crater  [Flickr page]

There is a monk’s tonsure of clouds around the mountain, and earlier we stopped to look at their upper reaches mingle with a narrow fringe of pine trees. There was sun, shadows, vivid green, and tendrils of white mist snaking magically in between.

Upcountry Conifers on Maui  [Flickr page]

Now the sun is setting into a distant sea and a bed of brilliant clouds. Desperately I want to capture the stunning beauty of everything around me at this instant, this brief and glorious snapshot of my life. But the moment, I know, will soon blow past me as the wind.

Sunset at 10,000 feet  [Flickr page]

It is a thin and cold wind. The sparsity of this air’s gas molecules causes it to register just over 50 degrees Fahrenheit while the beachgoers far below sweat their way through 90 degrees. There is an odd sensation about breathing noticeably faster while just standing in place, which has an exhilarating slight edge of panic to it. The cool sharp air licks around the edges of my clothes, carrying faint, living scents of plants even up here.

Silversword at sunset  [Flickr page]

Silverswords and jagged dark brown rock fade into the rapid dusk. When I turn around to look away from the sunset, I see a looming triangular shadow that this mountain casts on the clouds to the east. A rainbow plunges into barren lava rock, far below it distant ocean swelling unheard.

Who arrayed this glorious outrage of vision? I do not fault those who see behind it the face of God. I am in as much awe as they are, as deeply uncomprehending of any mundane explanation when standing mute before such majesty.

Sunset Rainbow in Haleakala Crater  [Flickr page]

Now, now, now! It is the moment: Standing atop this little bit of rock near the summit, I am falling backwards from the sun, the wispy clouds with me, turning purple and orange with the fading light from a sun that will not dally for anyone’s meditations. And yet, I have already seen such beauty today. Is there room in my mind for still more?

Quiet, chattering voice, writer of mental drafts! I must hush even the student of mindfulness. Quiet, quiet, all of you! Rush and rustle, wind, go on. I will listen, I will watch. Eyes open wide, drinking in the sight, holding back tears that are not just from the wind.

I gasp with a sudden determination to just be, here, now, as the saying goes. This is the time! I will seize its wispy tendrils, gather them in, store them. Even though I know that, like the manna in the wilderness, it will have lost its freshness by the morning. That day will require its own gatherings, of good or ill.

Too bad! Pause. Gape. Heartbeats, breaths, wide open vision. My camera is now in its pack; I will not share these seconds with its little screen. The best of the colors, the moment when the sun finally slips beneath that distant horizon, are for my eyes alone.

A deep breath, the edge of a sob: This is raw, this air has moved high across an ocean to reach me. Why must we move so relentlessly away from the last fringes of even the most beautiful of days, the same as all the rest?

Listen, feel, lean backward into the wind. Watch the colors redden, darken. Watch, hear, feel. Quiet.

No, it won’t last. It never does, neither moments of ecstasy nor days of beauty, nor a lifetime of all of those strung together along a thread of hopes and dreams and work. Nor even of generations, civilizations, the eons that this mountain required.

It all fades and flies with the wind. But for now, at least, I am—deliciously, joyously, incomparably—alive.

Click on individual images to enlarge, or check out my entire set of Maui photos (and others from Hawaii) on Flickr. All are Copyright © 2013 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Looking in the Faith Mirror

Book review: The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True. John W. Loftus. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books (2013).

John Loftus is an insightful critic of religion—especially the Christianity he formerly professed as a seminary student and pastor—and an excellent writer of his atheist views. (With his public and private encouragement of my own co-authored work, including a very nice blurb, he has also proven himself a gracious friend as well.) The book I consider John’s masterpiece, Why I Became an Atheist, had a profound impact on me.

I still remember the evening when I almost bought that book; the little black paperback was hastily set aside when a young couple from church and I spotted each other in the checkout line. Then I got a Kindle, which lets you buy evil atheist books with nobody watching but Amazon and perhaps the NSA. You might add God to that list of unwanted observers, at least before you start reading. But then the devastating lucidity of John’s writing and that of other notables like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daneiel Dennett, and Sam Harris clears out what Dennett calls the “pious fog of modest incomprehension” in your brain, reducing your anxiety about some celestial Big Brother frowning over your choice of reading material.1

The fear can run deep, though, if you’ve been indoctrinated into the double standard of accepting with “childlike faith” a bunch of crazy propositions that would never stand up to scrutiny outside a fragile doctrinal bubble, as I was. It is breathtaking but a little unnerving to finally let your mind roam free.

Many people resolutely forbid themselves from ever doing so, heeding warnings like the ones I heard in a recent sermon by an intelligent but pious lay preacher with a notable technical career and numerous patents. The Spirit of God, he said,

keeps us away from the vain philosophies and the rationalizations of the people of this world, of the prince of darkness, by which he attempts to ensnare us. It keeps us away from those former travelers of the Kingdom of God who have fallen from faith and decided that there is a more rational way to attain heaven.2

Even to many followers of this sort of blinkered faith, these words must have a suspicious odor to them. The most important matter of one’s life is—with no justification whatsoever—simply off-limits to “rationalization.” Anything goes: The preachers can make whatever claims they wish.

It’s a point on which the preacher and atheist would seem to agree. In his new book The Outsider Test for Faith, John says that

adopting and justifying one’s religious faith is not a matter of independent rational judgment. Rather, to an overwhelming degree, one’s religious faith is causally dependent on brain processes, cultural conditions, and irrational thinking patterns. [pp. 15-16]

And why is it “that most believers cannot think rationally in assessing their culturally inherited faith” (p. 172)? Not because of some divine protection for the faithful against a spiritual bogeyman like “the prince of darkness,” but our evolutionary origins.

Believers and heathen alike, we are all the genetic legacy of pre-human ancestors who had survival rather than salvation as their primary concern. The resulting “human mind is a belief engine,” whose owners were prone to suspect some unseen agency behind every rustling noise in the brush and “are not really rational about religious faith” (p. 15).

In the animal world, where any hesitation in fleeing from a predator could lead to being eaten alive, these senses … are beneficial for survival. Human beings transformed these survival mechanisms into seeing divine beings active behind the scenes, orchestrating such natural and human-made phenomena as thunderstorms, droughts, victory or defeat in war, births of sons, bumper crops, and so forth. Anthropological data have shown us that we overwhelmingly adopt what our respective cultures teach us and that we are unable to see our own cultural biases because we are completely immersed in our inherited culture. [p. 16]

John extensively but skillfully cites the book of a professor of psychology to remind us how inherently unreasonable we are with these tacked-together, evolved brains of ours. He sums it up with a humbling list of limitations:

We accept that which is familiar. We seek to confirm what we have accepted as true on other grounds. We cling to our treasured truths despite evidence to the contrary. More often than not we fail to consider disconfirming evidence. [p. 65]

Those of us outside the doctrinal bubble, from whose dangerous company the preachers would have the faithful “keep away,” can readily recognize these as tools of the trade in religious fundamentalism.

John Loftus. Photo by Randy Tyson

As I’ve written about in an earlier post, though, even we religious skeptics have our own blind spots in many other aspects of life, which the limitations of our evolved brains keep us from fully recognizing. What John lists are not necessarily deliberate tactics exercised by clerical power brokers, at least not in most cases of my old church. They are, rather, coping strategies for people who will never leave their childhood faith, no matter what, because the “more that a person has commitment to an idea, the more it’s virtually impossible for him or her to take a different path” (p. 66).

At least considering the possibility of taking a different path is what John wants believers to do with his “Outsider Test for Faith” challenge. This book is all about that test, thus adopting that as its title. It’s subtitled How to Know Which Religion is True, to which you might as well add Or None at All, because no religion gets a free pass with the Outsider Test. Not even your religion, the One True Faith that was ingrained into your innocent little mind drawing pictures of Jesus with purple crayons in the earliest grades of Sunday School, whose oversimplified cartoon capsules of doctrines and cherry-picked, familiar Bible passages you now hear repeated in sermon after sermon, week after week.

And that’s the whole point. John challenges believers to look at their own “culturally adopted religious faith” as the rest of us do: “from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject” (pp. 16-17). He makes a brilliant parallel to Jesus’ own words in The Golden Rule: The Outsider Test “simply asks believers to do unto their own faith what they already do unto other faiths*” (p. 169, emphasis added).

You don’t lie awake nights worrying about the hell to which various branches of Laestadianism, the local Church of Christ, Iglesia ni Cristo, or many other finger-wagging exclusivists are condemning you? You don’t think the Pope is really Christ’s vicar on earth? You aren’t buying the story about Mohammed being God’s prophet, exalted over all other men? Well, then, John Loftus has some words for you: Why the double standard, one for your own religious faith and a different standard for the religious faiths you reject? (p. 169).

There are many other words in this excellent work; John really knows how to turn a phrase. If you haven’t dared expose yourself much of anything other than the copy-and-paste piety of your preachers and church newsletter, start with this book. It will lay the groundwork for all of the examination you do going forward.

If your halo has started to slip a bit and you’ve been doing some of this sort of unauthorized reading, add to it with this book. It’ll remind you not just to accept a raft of new craziness to replace the old. And if you are already hopelessly, irredeemably lost to “the vain philosophies and the rationalizations of the people of this world,” you will probably still enjoy this book. It will remind you why you made a courageous and principled move, and probably paid a very real social cost for doing so.

See the Prometheus website for more information. Get the book from in trade paperback or for the Kindle, or for the Barnes & Noble Nook.


  1. Dennett, Daniel. Breaking the Spell, p. 10. 

  2. The recording previously linked to here, dated May 12, 2013, has been removed from the LLC’s web site along with all the others in the z_Older_Archives directory. For reference: the quoted material began at the 22:52 minute:second mark in the sermon, given by Russell Roiko in Minneapolis. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Drinking Deeply

The forest encompasses a mountainous area consisting of the Kettle River and Selkirk mountain ranges, and the upper reaches of the Columbia River. Wildlife include Grizzly and black bears, grey wolves, bighorn sheep, Cougars, bald eagles, lynx, moose, beaver, loon, and the last remaining herd of caribou in the lower 48.
Grazing Fence, Colville National Forest  [Flickr page]

A day of backcountry exploring in the million acres of the Colville National Forest: My friend and I bounce along desolate roads, through a joyous riot of green life that strains and stretches under a sky cycling between moods of blue and grey. His sons and mine play in a bracing cold creek. We sniff at the pine and meadow grass, gape at the looming trees, and comment over and over to each other how beautiful it all is.

Blazer  [Flickr page]

Branches scrape past our open windows. The wheel spins in my hands, back and forth, as we dodge jagged rocks that oil pan and tire manufacturers have cleverly placed in the road. The hills and ruts beckon us ever onward. While the boys play and fight behind us, my friend and I venture down branches of conversation as long and winding as the dusty miles now between us and the last town we saw.

We drive and talk, stop, and drive some more. We have a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and cashews, bland and practical but eaten on a hillside with a vast reach of forest and mountains spread out before us. There aren’t any reservations for this restaurant; nobody is around for miles but the deer, moose, and coyotes that we saw running on and near the roads.

Contemplation  [Flickr page]

Over and over, I try to make my new camera capture the trees and flowers that are constantly framing themselves in my mind, and sometimes it seems to happen. Mostly, though, the images are jumbles of brown and green, stale flat echoes of what I experienced as my senses swam in three moving dimensions of summertime air, with all its scents, sounds, and breezes.

Lily  [Flickr page]

Warm sunlight turns to sudden rain. We come to damp dark woods that call out for a quick walk, and see toadstools under a cathedral of fir and cedar. All around us, new wood is silently forming beneath tree bark, by the ton.

The trunks thicken and push ever higher the needles that feed them, each tree clambering above the others to get at the day’s sunlight. Little of it will reach the ferns and spindly stuff on the forest floor, even when the clouds move on. Telephone poles contain the DNA of plants that have evolved to overcome that problem, thriving in the arms race for photons. The result has proved useful for a certain species of primate that would evolve much later to harvest them.

Needles  [Flickr page]

We wind up at a lake, too shallow and muddy at the shore for swimming. The boys run around instead, while my friend and I add footnotes to our daylong conversation. We operate on a much shorter timescale than all the mountains and valleys we have seen, and the topic of hamburgers in town comes up. We will be heading back soon, on fast paved road. Miles will come between our families again.

One of Many  [Flickr page]

I stand before the grasses and marshy waters, grasping at the moment, drinking deeply of the cooling air. And then it’s time to go.

Click on individual images to enlarge, or check out my entire set of these and other photos from the Colville National Forest on Flickr. All are Copyright © 2013-14 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Doing Unto Others

Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.
—Jesus of Nazareth, in The Gospel According to Luke (NASB)

One of the young people I know and admire who left the Laestadian Lutheran Church before I did, facing up to its vicious eternal threats and doing a reset on their social lives, is a recent law school graduate named Emerson Beishline. [Edit: Now a lawyer; congratulations on passing the bar!] He left the church while I was still a struggling believer, and was an understanding voice on the other end of the phone as I confronted my doubts and those who judged me for expressing them.

Emerson attended a Laestadian cousin’s wedding this past weekend in Minnesota. A preacher went up to him before leaving and, in front of the entire extended family, told him that he prayed for Emerson often, that he needed to come back to “God’s Kingdom” because he’s living a life of sin. Then, right after this uninvited bit of sugar-coated condemnation, the preacher warned Emerson that he’d better not be saying bad things about the church.

Emerson and his girlfriend at
the Fête 50 Gala, Guthrie Theater

Sitting at a table trying to enjoy a family occasion, Emerson didn’t even bother turning around to face the source of this hypocrisy and arrogance. He coolly asked over his shoulder if he was being accused of speaking ill of the church. This was denied, and Emerson pointed out that he’d been falsely accused of deconverting many former Laestadians. He didn’t appreciate being told how to live his life.

No less than three people that evening told him just how sad they were about him, how they wished he had a believing spouse, and how sad it was that he was living a life of sin, i.e., dating a non-Laestadian, watching movies, listening to non-Laestadian music. These same people warned him not to criticize the church. One person even went out of her way to tell him that she loved him even though “you’re pretty crazy” and “you should jump off a cliff.”

After taking this all in, here’s what Emerson did. It’s exactly the kind of thing that will be needed in order for this abusive behavior to stop:

I took the floor and proceeded to point out the hypocrisy in telling me how to live my “sad” and “crazy” life while bawling your eyes out about criticisms I haven’t publicly repeated since shortly after I left the church three years ago.

As dozens of kids and multiple sets of parents gathered in the room, the discussion quickly moved into one focused on the doctrines and beliefs of the church generally. They would come up with some stuff about childlike faith, etc. and continue to tell me how sad my life was. I would respectfully explain my positions about life and my understanding of their doctrines. I responded to everything they fired at me for the next hour.

He explained to them that he is an agnostic atheist, and what that means. They were naturally horrified and incredulous that he could possibly be happy with such a choice. When he said he found their uninvited criticisms of his “ungodly” lifestyle offensive in light of their admonishment to abstain from criticizing the church, they responded that they were doing it from a place of love. Well, he’d love to see everyone be an atheist, he said, but that would be unnecessarily selfish. It is also a massive waste of time on everyone’s part to pray for his soul, he pointed out, because

Luther’s predestination has already determined my fate. I told them that I’m comforted with the knowledge that if an all-powerful Lutheran God actually does exist, I have no power whatsoever to determine the fate of my soul. By definition, God can’t be all-powerful and all-knowing if my pathetic prayer could bring “salvation” contrary to his original, ever-unchanging plan.

This excellent point, which Emerson mentioned to me long before I had written much of anything about Laestadianism, is covered in Section 4.7.2 of my first book, An Examination of the Pearl:

Often the opening prayer asks God to allow those have left the fold–sometimes also the unbelieving world in general–to see the light. I have always puzzled over this entreaty, given the claims that God is both loving and omnipotent. Predestination means that God has already sorted out the sheep and the goats from the beginning of time. The preacher’s solemn intonation of a few words about the lost is directed to the caring and concerned ears of the congregation, not an omnipotent and omniscient God. On the other hand, if God isn’t happy about all the damnation that is going on despite his desire that all would be saved, is the public request of a preacher going to give God an extra boost of divine power to correct the situation? I can just picture him nodding his head with a thoughtful expression: “You know, that guy down there in the suit has a point–let’s inspire a few converts today.” Both cases are clearly nonsensical, and that is a direct reflection of the dilemma of predestination versus free will, discussed in 4.9.3.

In response to one question about whether or not he remembers how sweet the forgiveness of sins felt, he said, “Yes, it felt very powerful. However, we differ in our explanations of the source of that power.” I can attest to this, too. In Laestadianism, you are judged for a multitude of sins and then regularly hear a magic incantation that promises to wipe away every last stain of guilt.

For a while, that is. It is an absolution-delivery system with no less impact on the brain than the pulsatile nicotine-delivery system of a cigarette. For me, its effect is so ingrained that I still feel a slight glow of fuzzy relief when hearing the proclamation of forgiveness in the recorded sermons to which I still listen at bedtime. Obviously, there is no theological effect going on with me: This is more or less classical conditioning. I am one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at hearing the bell of forgiveness being preached.

There were inquiries about certain semi-public struggles of former Laestadians, to which Emerson readily admitted that almost all apostates have had major struggles leaving the church. He’s worked through it on his own, he said, but everyone who has ever left the church probably should seek counseling. He was, he said, “spiritually damaged as a child”:

I feared hell like crazy. I feared that I would commit blasphemy. I would wake up in the middle of the night as a child and find no consolation in the gospel because as a five year-old kid I didn’t understand what “name sins” were, and I thought I would go to hell for some stupid sin. They turned and pointed to all of the little children in the room and asked me if I thought these children were damaged. I said “not yet, but when they do eventually leave, the damage just manifests itself during the process of deconversion.” They essentially accused me of being ungrateful to my parents who did a very good job of raising me. I emphatically agreed that my parents did a fantastic job raising me, but I made sure to explain that my parents just didn’t know any better when it came to spiritual issues. I said that this was society’s fault more than anything.

The bottom line, Emerson told his shocked audience, is that

you are required by your faith to think that I’m proud; that I think too much. I’m not meek enough. My understanding is anything but childlike in your minds. In contrast, I don’t think you care enough about your doctrines and your religion. You don’t care enough because you don’t ask questions when it’s blatantly obvious that your doctrines are completely un-Laestadian. Laestadius wouldn’t recognize you if he were alive today. That doesn’t signify to me an unchanging church.

Nor, might I add, would Christ recognize them, either. At least not the one who is supposed to have said the words in the epigraph at the beginning of this essay.

I have heard many of these same sad experiences, from people who have left the church and even from some who hesitate to judge those who have left. This is not an institution that does as it would be done unto, nor one at all hesitant to judge lest it be judged.

Mountains Behind the Fence [Flickr page]

There is a positive note on which to end, though. Another ex-Laestadian, Brett Salahub, says this sort of thing has never happened to him:

Recently a believing couple who were very long-time friends from Canada purposely stopped in to visit me here in Finland while they are traveling around, after not seeing me for 5 years and they never once brought up faith matters.

A year or two ago, another believing couple from the USA visited with me, and they only asked me politely to explain where I stand on some doctrinal matters and that was it. No challenges or telling me how sad they were, and so forth.

It can be done, and it ought to be. Nobody is being led back into the fold by the frowning piety of condemnation and condescension. We have heard it all, found it unworthy of our belief for a hundred different reasons, and acted accordingly. And Emerson has made it very clear that any Laestadians who want to say how sad and pathetic his life is had better be comfortable with taking it as much as they dish it out. This is, he concludes memorably, “a two-way street. If you don’t respect my right to an ungodly lifestyle, I don’t want to hear you telling me that I can’t tell you exactly what I think about your religion.”


Update, July 16, 2013: Here is a response by Emerson’s mother. All I will add is that the love and respect Emerson and his family have for each other has been very evident to me, and I’m happy to give her a chance to express that along with various concerns about the posting.

As Emerson’s mother, I feel compelled to write a post here. I will preface it by saying that Emerson is loved very deeply by his family, and Emerson in return has great love for his family as he has expressed to me in so many ways. It is very difficult for me to formulate my words here, as I fear potentially offending either parties involved in this conversation. As a mother, and as any mother will testify, my heart sorrows when my children hurt, and my heart rejoices when my children are happy. So naturally my child’s hurt burns deeply in my heart in any given situation.

Having said that, I will also acknowledge, and painfully so, that I am deeply anguished and troubled that this type of deeply emotional and personal conversation has been placed here in a public blog setting for scrutiny by any number of individuals. I want to assure all readers of this blog that our family is not without faults, for we say things and do things that often may offend others even unintentionally, or perhaps even offend others by not saying or doing things that might be desired of us. I think this is the human experience, especially in family settings, where conversations and actions are not what one typically would present in a more public setting.

Who of us feels that we act exactly the same in public as we do in more personal family settings? Having said that, I don’t intend to excuse hurtful words or behavior on either side of the issue. But I really do feel that unfamiliar communication style and family dynamics coupled with cultural variables that influence message delivery can result in unfair scrutiny, thereby depicting our family as an entity of hatred and intolerance. I hope no one comes away from reading about our private family affairs here on this blog with a false impression like this.

In our family we have much love, deep-seated love in our hearts, such that we sorrow and rejoice with one another like other families do. Of course with variances in each individual’s decisions, choices and belief structures our personal experiences of what produces joy and sorrow are different from one another, but overall we all want the best and much happiness and success for all of our beloved immediate and extended family members. It troubles my heart and my soul very deeply that a sorrowful experience in our family is posted here in an unveiled attempt to intentionally propagate bad publicity and hurtful commentary.

It is my heart’s deepest desire that we could all choose to live a life of mutual respect and love. I would say especially to those who are in the church that Jesus teaches us to love and forgive, and as such it is our duty. To those who have left I would encourage you to love and respect in return, even if sometimes it feels like an insurmountable battle. I wish that all this hurtful dialogue could be turned into something more constructive, and that we could remain on loving and happy terms. Think how much that would decrease the angst and pain and hurt and wounds for both parties. Let us have love and respect, that is the good and decent human experience.

As I say to my children, take the high road and love and forgive, even if the person does not see their own transgression. Why live life in bitterness and pain? Why continue the battle that cannot be won? And I will again reiterate here, that Emerson is loved most deeply by his family. And I know, with great certainty, that Emerson deeply loves his family despite our faults and failures, mistakes and shortcomings. Let us have a new outlook on life here, one with peace, love, forgiveness, tolerance, respect. Let us stop tearing one another down and hurting and exploiting other people’s pains and sorrows. Would this not be the right thing to do? Please, I want anyone reading this blog to understand that our family has great and deep and unfaltering love for Emerson and all of our family members.

And it is my heart’s sincere desire that I can also be that person of whom I preach here: kind, respectful, tolerant, forgiving, gracious, honorable. I ask any reader here who finds my comments offensive or somehow reprehensible to forgive my grievances, and to carry me in their hearts with peace.

Update, August 15, 2014: See my positive review of a presentation at the LLC’s 2014 Summer Services, which advocated neighborly love and respect for others, even others of different beliefs. It was a huge step up from the behavior Emerson had encountered a year earlier.

For some further reading about the social issues ex-Laestadians have experienced, check out these older postings on the extoots blog: Amazing Grace (2005, 40+ comments); Delurk Thread (2007, 90+ comments); Unbearable Loneliness—No More (2007, 190+ comments); A Teacher’s Lament (2008, 25 comments); Coping with Laestadian Social Situations (2008, 40 comments).
Emerson’s story is based on comments he made to me and a few others, adapted and reproduced here with his permission. Some of the material is quoted from him, some is his writing reworked into the third person, and some constitutes my own observations. Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Turn Onward, Earth and Life, Turn

We who breathe air now will join the already dead layers of us who breathed air once. We arise from dirt and dwindle to dirt, and the might of the universe is arrayed against us.
—Annie Dillard, For the Time Being
Puget Sound Sunset  [Flickr page]

When I wasn’t looking, the midsummer sky finally darkened. It was light, and then it was not.

I remember when this happened a year ago. The earth turned, heedless of my attention, and the sun’s slanted rays slipped below the northern horizon. Now the earth has circled the sun once more.

Trunk Lines  [Flickr page]

Always turning, always circling, the sun itself making an ancient orbit around the center of a galaxy impossibly huge and old. It all laughs at my noting the passage of a single day, a single year, a single human life.

I must savor it while I can, grasp the waterfall of time as it flows before me. What else should I do? Where else should I be?

Nowhere. Watching my kids play in the water after a long day of making memories is enough. The water cannot be grasped, but its splash can be felt.

Turn onward, earth and life, turn. Meanwhile, it’s time for bed.

Click on individual images to enlarge. All are Copyright © 2013-14 Edwin A. Suominen. You may freely use them for non-commercial purposes, with attribution, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.