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 without explanation, and I wasn't ready to write the explanation. Maybe 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 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 it felt like mostly it was listening time, all I 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, you can begin to believe it. And there were all these respectable adults who believed it, so why not us?

Here's the verse I scribbled down a few years ago:

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.