Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wise Words

"It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world, as pastors teach, but idealism. Men get into trouble by taking their visions and hallucinations too seriously."

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wasted Years, Really?

"Do you really think your years in the cult were wasted?" a friend asked.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say, "Yes! Of course they were." But on reflection, I find I need to qualify that.

From my years in the cult came:

  • The children born to me. I surely would not have had so many children had I not been in TFI. 
  • An appreciation for the little things in life. Having gone without such things as fresh food, clothes that fit, daily vigorous exercise, I am now deeply thankful for them.
  • The ability to live on a shoestring and to feel real empathy for those who live in poverty.
  • An appreciation for freedom, most of all, freedom of the mind - to read, study, learn, or waste time, as I choose. 
  • The ability to speak with confidence in front of a crowd. It is possible I could have learned this elsewhere and with more proficiency, but I learned it through experience in the cult.
  • Similarly, I learned how to teach children and developed the ability to make learning fun.
  • Again, I could have learned this without having joined a cult, but as a result of my years living abroad, I now have a sensitivity and understanding of culture and cultural differences. I have learned, as the Japanese say, "to read the air."
So, although I would have preferred to have made wiser decisions in my youth, I guess I must conclude that not "everything" was a complete waste.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Post-cult Experiences

Here are a few things I never knew until leaving the cult:

  • There is such a thing as face soap and using it is better than using whatever bar soap is laying around.
  • Face moisturizer is a thing. I should use it. 
  • People actually put sunscreen on their faces everyday, and I should, too.
  • Hair conditioner and/or treatment, when used, will make my hair look like hair, rather than Einstein's frizzy fro.
  • It's possible to buy clothes that fit and flatter. I no longer need to wear donated, cast-off, or men's clothing and shoes.
  • Makeup has expiration dates.

Things I can now do without feeling guilty:

  • Read books
  • Surf the internet
  • Watch TV
  • Not feel I must be busy every single second of the day
  • Buy good quality food
  • Drink a glass of wine with dinner
  • Get my hair cut by a professional
  • Not pray

Things that other people do, but I have not been able to do yet. Either such things are not options for me, or I am not courageous enough:

  • Spa day (I hear that's a thing.)
  • Get a massage 
  • Shop for fun and buy stuff for myself
  • Eat at a restaurant or coffeeshop by myself
  • Go to a movie by myself
  • Hang out with friends
  • Go to a bar or other drinking venue
  • Girls' night out
  • Go on vacation by myself or with someone for whom I am not acting as a tour guide
  • Stop worrying about money

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Travesty of Being a "Bible Women"

Before, I surmised that abusive parents must have a disconnect with their future selves. They must be blind to the fact that the children they treat so harshly will soon be adults who remember. That seemed to me the only way to explain the abuse of vulnerable children.

What I hadn't considered was the quieter damage done by mothers in their striving to be "Bible women." That sickeningly self-abasing behavior implanted destructive mores in the psyches of the girls in the cult, and also likely taught the boys a Scriptural type of misogyny. Good "Bible women" were supposed to "submit to their husbands, as unto the Lord." Females were taught that it was their God-given duty never to refuse a man.

Girls were not taught a thing about boundaries. They never heard that it is OK to say "no," nor that their body was theirs. They learned these wrong ideas from the Mo Letters and, sadly, from observing their own weak, beaten-down, often exhausted, mothers.

Women, like myself, felt unworthy, "deserving of nothing but hell," as Berg wrote. "The only thing good about us is Jesus." There was no room for self-confidence, self-respect, strength, or growth. Submission was the rule. No need to question or try to get out of a bad situation. Just endure. We deserved nothing better.

Step out of that cult, and besides the myriad of other shocks and changes, we were faced with the challenge of overcoming that behavior. But first we had to notice it. It was part of our thinking, our unquestionable "normal" - the water we "fish" swam in - and thus, pretty hard to see. People continued to walk all over us. It took hard experience for us to, hopefully, learn that our concept of normalcy needs serious alteration and that it was all right, even necessary, to stand up for ourselves.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Experience Machine*

Imagine you are given the opportunity to plug into a virtual reality machine that would be preprogrammed with all your dreams, creating for you an imaginary life where you can be and do whatever you want. If you have noble ideals, perhaps your world would be programmed so that you, through trial and error, much work and research, discover the cure for cancer. Maybe you would write the greatest novel ever written. Maybe you would go full-hedonism and just lay around on a beach, drinking pina coladas. That would be your entire reality.

You would have no idea that your body was really floating in a vat of liquid with electrodes attached to your brain. Your reality was what you were experiencing in your brain.

Would you do it?

Or what if you woke up today and found out that your life has been lived in an experience machine, and nothing is real? How would you feel?

Is there value in living an authentic life, striving to be honest with oneself? Or is a pretend life better if it means one can be "happy"?

* The Experience Machine is a thought experiment developed by American philosopher, Robert Nozick.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Endless Road of Loss

Lost opportunities. Lost years.

The list of missed experiences has no end: college, friends, my own apartment, lunch out with girlfriends, dinner and drinks, vacations, travel, unconditional love, dating, a wedding, freedom, books....

But it takes just one thought for all that to evaporate: our children. They had no choice. 

My loss, though painful, pales into insignificance.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dear FGAs

I am sure, you, like me, joined the COG filled with zeal and enthusiasm. We were going to make the world a better place - to win the world for Jesus. With the best of intentions, we sacrificed, gave up everything. As the years passed, and more and more "strange truths" entered our canon, our "radical prophet" led us down paths that were harmful to ourselves, and more egregiously, to our children. But we didn't notice, so twisted was our sense of normalcy.

Today, our children are grown. Tragically, some have felt they had to take their own lives. Some struggle, not fitting in anywhere. Some have gained a measure of success. Some have been very successful.

If your children have succeeded, perhaps you're tempted to pat yourself on the back, "it's because of the way they were raised, the opportunities the 'faith life' afforded them." Maybe others realize, like myself, that if they succeeded, it was in spite of how they were raised, not because of it.

Maybe you don't want to look back at your life. "It's in the past," you think. "We should 'forget those things which are behind.'"

But, could that just be an excuse for denial? An unwillingness to face the horrible truth? A resistance to dealing with the cognitive dissonance of the truth clashing with your image of yourself as a "good person"?

How much have our decisions affected the lives of our children? Do they still suffer? How have they adjusted to the real world, after being raised in an environment where their "normal" was anything but normal? Imagine the gut-wrenching feelings of abandonment, of being used, of missing out on a normal childhood. They see their peers, and they can't help but compare their upbringing. Do they wonder how their parents - the ones they loved and admired - their first role models - could have raised them so? What can they say when someone asks them innocent questions like, "Where are you from?" or "Where did you go to school?"

Have you talked with your children about their childhoods? Have you asked them how they feel? Have you sincerely apologized to them for the abuse they suffered, whether it be physical, sexual, or psychological? Or for the neglect - educational, medical, financial or otherwise?

Or do you feel you are not to blame, because your "heart was in the right place"? "God looketh on the heart." And besides, it's all in the past? Or perhaps you and your children have put your personal histories away in a box, compartmentalized, and agreed to never open that box, never speak of it.

It's hard to face, terribly hard on the ego to admit we were part of a harmful organization. We were duped. We were exploited, as were our children. The Family was not the best place in the world to raise children. We failed our children by not protecting them. And by continued association with the group, we were complicit in the abuse others suffered.

To realize that the cause we sacrificed for, that we gave years of our lives to, was nonsense that resulted in harm to the ones we love most in the world is shattering. Horrifying. Paralyzing. It shakes us down deep in our hearts. We can lose all equilibrium.

But it must be done. It must be done for our own sake. To face reality. To learn. To grow. To mature.

And more than even for our own benefit, it must be done for our children's sake. They need parents who love them, who support them, who they know will have their back. Who are going to be honest with them. Who they can trust.

Children naturally love their parents. Imagine the difficulties they must face when talking to their parents who still cling to their own righteousness and to the righteousness of The Family.

Our children need parents who are mature, who face their mistakes, apologize, learn from them, and grow. Let's be those parents.