Thursday, February 12, 2015

How I Ended up in a Cult

Some of you have heard me say, "When I was 18, I went to a cult". Who would do that? Why? Why would I leave my family, and all that I knew? Believe me, sometimes I still ask myself those questions, so I can imagine others asking them, too. Intellectually, I still don't have the answers, but maybe I can share a fragment of the emotion.

A few years ago, I wrote a sort of free verse - poem of sorts - that expresses it the best way I have been able to so far. I don't remember sharing that poem publicly before now. Maybe it was because I didn't think it would stand alone. Maybe it was also because I wasn't ready to humble myself by sharing that pain and confusion. 

When I graduated from high school, I had a car of my own; my part time job had turned into a full time job as soon as summer came; and at the end of June, I rented my own apartment. My middle name was responsible, and I was flying high.  

I had also decided I wanted to become a Catholic, and I was just waiting to receive instructions, so I could come into the Church. But in the meantime, my Catholic best friend's mother had read a book about the changes in the Mass, and how "awful" those changes were; and I read it and believed it, along with my friend. 

Then she got introduced to a group that was traveling around the country, giving talks. My friend and I went to hear them. A really nice, upbeat lady, who traveled with them, suggested we go to a ten day seminar coming up in August in Idaho. She said, with such enthusiasm, you can go to Mass every day. Well, I hated to ask for time off work; but when I was growing up I had always loved church camp, and I decided to go, and my friend did too. I asked for the time off, and my boss graciously gave it to me. 

When we arrived, the first thing they did was take our watches. I was very uncomfortable with that. (Imagine someone taking your phone for ten days...and you didn't know ahead of time).  I had been wearing a watch pretty much all the time since I was in third grade. 

We had Mass, as promised. It was offered by a retired priest who, I later learned, was senile and had no idea what this group really stood for. 

Most of the rest of the time we spent listening to the leader, Francis Schuckardt, talk about how awful the changes in the Church were, how awful the world was, how no one who seemed to be in the Church was really Catholic any more. He would rant, "All the bishops are apostates, and anyone who follows an apostate bishop is ipso facto excommunicated!" Salvation was only with him and his group. Sitting here, writing it, I feel very foolish. Sitting there for hours on end, not knowing meal time from sleeping time from listening time, and mostly it was listening time, all we could feel was darkness and despair. 

And so, when the ten days were over, we had to stay with the group. It wasn't a decision, consciously made; it just was. It was desperation and it was fear. It was...I can think of no other word but craziness. We couldn't go home, except to say good-bye and get a few of our things because, out there, in the world (oh, am I really saying this publicly?)...out there in the world there were all these "humanoids and possessed persons", and we were in grave danger. If you hear something enough times, over and over, in a brainwashing setting, you can begin to believe it. And there were all these respectable-looking adults who believed it, so why not us?  

Ten Day Seminar:

Our watches gone,
Time dragging on.
“The wicked world is dangerous!
Be safe with us.”
Endless listening to
Endless ranting.

Free time – one time.
Time alone, with God.
“What should I do?”
“Keep My commandments.”
Moment of connection.
Moment of sanity.

Cling to the connection.
Cling to the sanity.

Our watches gone,
Time dragging on.
“The wicked world is dangerous!
Be safe with us.”
Endless listening to
Endless ranting.

Connection fading.
Sanity sliding.

Endless time ending.
Watches returned, intact,
But broken to our needs;
Our spirits broken, like their usefulness.

Time to go home,
Yet not home, to the world,
Where dangers lurk
And devils dwell.  


In case you want to know who was this Francis Schuckardt, there is some information here:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Were They Really "The Good Old Days"?

My View from the Front Porch

Scrolling through headlines tonight, I was like, "Yeah, yeah, tell me something new". And then I had a thought. Maybe I could write headlines about my childhood and my neighborhood. I laugh every time I see a Facebook post, or a chain email, about "the good old days", and how great it was that children had so much freedom back then, and how different things were. 

The facts expressed in each of these mock-up headlines are true. I was that child. I was that younger cousin. I was that granddaughter. I was that classmate. It was my mom, my school, and my neighborhood park. 

Most of the time I had a pretty good childhood. My mom showed her love with her cooking, and took good care of me when I was sick; and my dad loved to support us, and to build and repair for us. 

I went to church, and I read the Psalms, and I loved nature; and I found God in all of those. But please don't tell me that yesteryear was better than today. Life is really pretty universal. Or, as Dickens said, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

Here are my "mock-up" headlines:

Local School to Serve as Bomb Shelter for Community

10 Year Old Boy Sexually Abuses 5 Year Old Cousin

Mother Warns Young Child Not to Unlock Car Door to Men from Tavern While Waiting for Her to Shop

Couple with Party Line Worries, when their Visiting Granddaughter Calls Home to Parents, Because of Teen Boys' Lewd Talk

Mother Tells Child to Sit on Porch if she isn't Home after School, Not to Go to Neighbors: "They will think I'm a bad mother"

Estranged Husband Kills Kindergarten Teacher at School, Shoots Himself, and Flees into Woods

Hurricane Destroys Roof over 5th and 6th grade Classrooms; All 4 Classes being Held in Gym

School Bullying Commonplace, as Children Ridicule, Put Lipstick on Back of Classmate's Coat on Bus

Children Warned Not Safe to go to Leverich Park except for Organized Large Group Activities

Let's remember as we read headlines, that just as the ones I created here covered six or seven years time, that the ones we see every day often cover many areas of the country and world. Sensational things, hurtful things, sometimes horrifying things will always be with us. They are nothing new. 

And sometimes we can help, or pray; but let's also remember to live in the life we are in, not in another area or another time. 

May we be at peace, and may we find some joy in each and every day. 

Important Follow-up Note:

I want to clarify something. I have great respect and love for my late mother. She wasn't perfect...and neither am I...but she lived in the times she was in.

I have learned from talking to people my age, over the years, that my mother leaving me in the car while she shopped was a fairly common practice at the time. 

Even as far as my sitting on the porch, she always expected, of course, to be home when I got home from school; it was just that sometimes she was  running late. And adults worrying about what the neighbors thought was a way of life that permeated the society I lived in as a child. 

Some years later, when my youngest was a baby, my husband and I went to a neighborhood watch (in a different state), where someone asked the speaker something about children alone, and he said they are safer alone outside than alone inside the house. I don't agree, nor am I sure it should be an "or", depending, of course, on age and maturity. But I just wanted to clarify that it wasn't so much about my mother, but about a general way of thinking during, perhaps, a fairly wide span of time...a time period that some people look back on as having been perfect. 

For those for whom the "good old days" really were (almost) perfect, I'm really happy for them...for you, if you were one of them.

Some of us looked back in adolescence and saw some flaws in our childhood, and over the years came to believe that there is no perfect world. 

But there is much good in the world, and so much love and, with our eyes open to all of it, we to try to embrace the good. 

Peace to you, and all good.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review of The Warmth of Other Suns

Book review of: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

How often do you find a book that is both gripping and eye-opening, both broad and narrow?

This book gives a vast overview of the 20th century migration of black people from the south to the north and west, while taking a closer, deeper look at the lives of three specific individuals.

I could hardly put the book down until I had finished reading it. Even after I finished reading, it stayed with me. When I think of a particular fast foods place, I always think of what I read there one rainy evening, the story of a doctor's long drive to Los Angeles, as he drove through states where he thought he would be treated a little better, only to find that no motel would let him spend the night. 

I came away from my reading with a deeper understanding of some of the history in America, as well as some background to the history we continue to make today. 

This was an unforgettable read. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Did I Write "Come to the City with Me"?

I wrote that blog post yesterday morning because I woke up at 4:16 a.m. needing to write it, and I fired up the computer, and I just started typing. But why?
I think many white people are actually not prejudiced against black people, as individuals. Many white people have a black friend, or maybe several, and enjoy watching black actors or athletes on TV, or listening to black musicians. But I think it's too easy for human nature to be, or become, prejudiced against 'intersecting sets'. Let me try to explain what I mean by using an analogy. 

When I was a teenager, some older people would talk about teenagers and loud music. My dad liked to play jazz on his stereo, and he liked it loud. I'm guessing the same people who complained about teens and their loud music probably wouldn't have said a word about my dad and his music. And I'll bet those same people wouldn't have complained about a teen who listened to classical music, either. It wasn't the teens themselves, or the volume of the music in and of itself, but the intersecting 'set', that they thought they didn't like. 

When we develop a prejudice against a 'group', I think it is often an intersecting group, because...well, that's just the thing about prejudices. Sometimes, we don't even know the reason it developed. It might be ideas we picked up from our grandparents, friends, or the media, or perhaps a bad experience that we lived or, more often, a bad experience that we lived vicariously through someone else's story. 

What we don't always realize is that for every story, there are other stories. Occasionally, we hear those 'other stories', stories of heroic deeds. But what we often don't hear is what I like to call 'everyday heroism'. When you or your spouse gets up early and shovels out the car in freezing cold to drive to work, that's everyday heroism; but of course it doesn't usually make the news. When someone smiles or serves others in spite of their own pain, be it physical or emotional pain, that's everyday heroism; but of course, you won't usually know about that, unless you know the person yourself, because it doesn't often count as 'story'. 

So, in my post yesterday, I wanted to share with you a few little snippets about people I know or meet every day, some of them from what might be an 'intersecting set' to some people, for example, people who you might see standing at a bus stop or people who live in the inner city (whatever that is; you know it's not really a defined place, right?).

I wanted to share with you in case you haven't had the privilege to live where I live. I wanted to take people from a 'group' that is often portrayed negatively in the media, and let you see the 'everyday heroism' of a few of their individual lives. Not the 'superhero' kind of heroism - we shouldn't need those kinds of stories - but just the heroism of everyday living. 

If you didn't read it yesterday, and you would like to read it,