Friday, September 21, 2012

We Sinners Book Review

There are so many books and so little time! Yet when I saw the title and cover of We Sinners  I knew I just had to read this book.

We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen (NY: Henry Holt Publishing, 2012) tells the tale of the Rovaniemis family and their nine children: Brita, Tiina, Nels, Paula, Simon, Julia, Leena, Anni, Uppu. As you can see these aren't your average American names. The Rovaniemis family are Finnish and members of the Laestadian branch of the Lutheran Church. I have a very solid background in theology and in Church History and have been a pastor for thirteen years but this was the first time that I heard about this particular group of Christians.  Started in the 19th century by the Lutheran pastor Lars Levi Laestadius, the Laestadians are a very conservative community focusing almost exclusively on a personal confession of faith and belief and many live in Minnesota and Michigan.

This book is told from the vantage point of the children. The writing is crisp, flowing, and very sparse.  Plyvainen weaves her tales of sin and temptation  using minimal language, subconsciously perhaps, mirroring the minimalism in the Rovaniemis family? After all they have very little as far as material possessions and what little they do have they have to share with eleven people.  At one point, Pirjo, the mother takes her teenage son out to purchase their first TV and VHS. All of their friends already had a TV.

We Sinners is very startling. The book is about the family and normal family struggles especially since their are nine children. But it's also a story about identity, about balancing faith and life which it seems is not easy according to Laestadian teachings!

I read this book with a bit of horror. As a pastor I can see how people can take faith in Jesus to an extreme. I knew a family once who were adamant about getting cable television for their house but not just cable but a new "Christian cable" company that only showed G rated shows and only Christian oriented programs. How boring I thought. Or the family who fasts very so strictly that the mother gets herself sick. Or the father who will not let their children play sports because "Church comes first." And on and on it goes.

So many Christians have become so sectarian they have forgotten that Jesus himself didn't come just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, the non-Jews. He spoke and ate with outsiders like the Samaritans, he ate with prostitutes, he spent time with tax collectors and lepers. In other words Jesus came for the "life of the world and its salvation" not just a small group of people. We Sinners shows us how constricting life can become in a sectarian type of Christian community and how difficult it is to live up to standards that Jesus himself probably didn't and couldn't keep. The gospels themselves show us how he broke many of the Jewish rules and rituals to teach the point that love is the ultimate goal, not the rule, ritual, or regulation.

There are so many other wonderful themes in this book I could go on and on but I won't. I'll leave it up to you, the reader, to purchase a copy of We Sinners and start reading. You'll enjoy it!

For more information about We Sinners click here 

For Hanna Pylvainen's website click here