My life there and afterwards

Archive for July, 2014

BITE: Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting

The leaders loved to be spiritual. And they put into practice for us a lot of spiritual practices. Fasting was one of these. They said they also did the fasts, and in public they did. I never had any reason to doubt them, especially since I wanted to believe that they were the special, holy role-models, but what I have heard since leaving makes me doubt how much they lived what they put on us.

Every year we had to fast during Lent, the whole 40 days. It started out with each of us choosing what we would give up. Then they started reading up on spiritual practices. One year we could eat only bread and water. Several years we went on the grape fast – only grapes, grape juice or raisins. This was supposed to be healthy and cleansing as well as a spiritual purging. I was sick through most of it, and starving for protein and vitamins. Others would get so thin it was scary.

The second year we did bread only, some of us started adding extras to the bread like cheese and jam. Someone even invented a spaghetti bread with tomato sauce and meat in it. The leaders found out about it of course, and everyone who had done this had to start all over again and do an additional 40 days on bread, this time with someone watching and reporting.

Then we had the cytotoxic years where you had to get tested and you could not eat the foods you were allergic to. In my family we had milk, wheat, soy, sugar and other allergies, so it was extremely limiting. In each family, we had to cook what everyone could eat, so none of us could eat what the others were allergic to. It was crazy. We were sending the kids to school with peanut butter and honey sandwiches on homemade rye bread. They would throw them out and beg from the other kids. We also had to eat only 3 foods a day, and not repeat a food for 5 days. Over the top.

At first we were told not to drink any alcohol. It was that way for years. Then it started to be served at the special holiday dinners, then at personal parties. By the time I left, I knew of several people who had serious drinking problems. It was hidden, not spoken of, but they were my friends, and I knew. Also the younger generation would get drunk when they went to the local park for camping or dinners out. Drugs were too far out for our legalistic minds, but for some reason alcohol was an escape that many could rationalize away. Because it would blow our image, the leaders kept these problems hidden and did not help the people who were in trouble. A lot of people also were taking anti-depressants.

One of the members, before they joined, were in a church in another state. They started a Christian diet program. The leaders got all excited about this, and started “helping” her run it. They would fly out to this state and do their teaching. It was making enough money that they hired a private jet and pilot. I was told by someone who knew and talked with this pilot what he had to say about them. He had flown many business men on their trips, and there was always a certain amount of drinking that went on. He said he had never in his life seen so much booze brought onto his plane before. They brought cases of wine and beer and hard liquor, and drank the whole flight. He said the leaders were drunk the whole time. It was so excessive, he had never seen anyone put down so much booze in so short a time, and this continued for the whole year or more that he was their pilot. This is how our spiritual leaders acted when we could not see what they were doing.

We went through a lot of teaching about “healthy” eating, growing our own vegetables, preparing for the end times; buying food that was vacuum packed, buying wood stoves. We even had one year where they found out that a local weed was edible. Someone from Holland said that it was a pot-herb over there. So that whole summer we had to pick the weed, wash all the sand and dirt off of it, and cook it. Every household was required to do this. If you didn’t, you faced public “correction”. Every family had to have a garden and grow their own vegetables for years. If someone’s garden looked neglected, they were publicly dressed down, and given a deadline for getting their garden up and running, bigger than before.

So this gives you an idea of how even our food and drink were controlled by the leaders.

BITE: Control types of clothing and hairstyles

My husband and I had come into Christianity from the Haight/Ashbury, hippie movement in San Francisco, CA. When we moved to the Community of Jesus, we were still wearing some of our hippie clothes. These included jeans, blanket serapes, and hand-crocheted tops.

The leaders talked with us about the drug/hippie culture, and how we knew who to give drugs to. We talked about how we could tell, both by how a person acted, and by what they wore, who might possibly be interested. Jeans had previously had a reputation for being a working man’s clothing, and the hippies had taken it on as a symbol of “the people”. Since the leaders were interested in controlling every aspect of our lives, they taught about clothing styles, what was appropriate and what wasn’t. They decided that since hippies wore jeans, they were part of Satan’s culture, and no Christian should be identified with them. They became outlawed, and those who owned jeans had to throw them out. They also determined the length of our skirts, and outlawed pants for the ladies unless we were gardening or exercising. When we did wear pants, our shirts had to come below our buttocks; otherwise we would be tempting the men. We were not allowed to have pierced ears, and those who came with them could no longer wear the earrings for them. Everything was cloaked under the rule of modesty, modesty, modesty, but everything was geared around suppressing any sexuality, even normal, within-bounds expressions of normal interests.

We also went through a similar time about hair styles and length. I had come to CJ with beautiful long hair, almost to my waist. Because the leaders saw this as part of the hippie movement, they labelled it rebellious. Everyone had to get their hair cut. All the women went to short haircuts, and the men went to crew cuts. It was hyped up as freeing us from the satanic influences of the world, and branding us as God’s people.

Nowadays I just shake my head at how superficial it all was. If we “looked good”, that was what counted. No real care was taken for our hearts and the needs, concerns and problems that we felt inside our heads and skins. It was all focused on behavior, and the leaders decided what behavior was legit.

I’ve been reading about Hobbes’ Leviathan in political philosophy, and that’s the model for the Community of Jesus. We gave all authority to the leaders, and then had to obey them.

Physical abuse = Mental abuse = emotional abuse

Starting with Descartes, philosophy has taken on the view that we are dualistic, that is, we are a body and a mind and that they are somehow separate parts of us. That then raises questions of how the two communicate with each other, which is not the point of my discussion today. We have not always thought of ourselves as being dualistic however. In the past other great thinkers thought of us as one integrated being, and some cultures today, the !Kung among them, still see us as one whole being. This has a profound effect on how we view abuse.

Now, a slight digression to add a framework to my next point.

I went to the recent ICSA conference in Silver Spring, MD. It was a fantastic experience. Overwhelming in some ways, with a ton of information and new experiences. A couple of the sessions were about the legal side of this whole issue, and how the American courts do not acknowledge mental or emotional abuse in the same way that they do physical abuse. If you have proof or witnesses of physical abuse, you have a case. If you spent years in agony, doubt, confusion, stress, you have no legal case to bring the perpetrators to justice. Ah, such is life, no one promised it would be fair, and we move on in our lives, but (and this is a big but in my view) I think we need to validate ourselves and each other that the emotional and mental abuse was just as agonizing and real as any physical abuse. Although we may be denied the social/legal satisfaction of justice, I cannot be thankful enough for those in this field who acknowledge what we have been through.

This is not just a matter of semantics. This is vitally important in how we view ourselves, our experiences and our recovery. Part of the trap of the cult was the accusation and indoctrination that all of our problems/stresses were of our own making, just in our minds, due to a rebellious spirit, you put in the words of your group. If I cut myself, it is physical, obvious, not to be denied. If I have a wound in my mind or emotions or spirit, who can I prove it to? The egotistical leaders can deny it and laugh at it and denigrate us for it. I can be told that the wound is my own fault. How can I prove that it was done to me? The legal system works only with the physical. We have lived a whole other dimension, and we know how real it is.

I’m in an in-between time, where I do not know whether I want to pursue justice or not. Right now I’m so busy with studies and work that I just go with the flow of each day as far as getting things done. But my mind is ever active, and thinking about it all.

In finding others at the ICSA conference who relate and validate and understand wasn’t 100% new to me. I have found this with my therapist and with the support group. But it did add another dimension. It opened up a whole new vista. It broadened my view. It enriched my life. It gave substance and new possibilities to my dreams. It helped and is helping me to recovery. THANK YOU ICSA!

BITE: When, how and with whom the member has sex (young people)

The founders did not model a good marriage. They lived together first in their homes, and then up in the Study, a lavish apartment they had built for themselves on the top story of the retreat house, next to the old Chapel. Their husbands also lived at CJ, but separately from their wives. They were background people, and it was obvious to me that the marriages were not happy ones. They were never a part of the ministry. One husband ran a carpentry business, and so he was somewhat of a role model for the men, hardworking, but not where marriage was concerned. The other husband was always in the background, worked off-Cape a lot, and seemed very suppressed.
The model for marriage was that the women led and were the more spiritual ones, the men were bossed around, and sex was non-existent.

Young people were kept separate from each other. As far as I know, there was never any sexual/marriage teachings, other than that chastity and purity were requisite, flirting or other outward expression of desire was forbidden, and that the world was going to make whores out of all of us. As parents we objected to sex education classes in the public schools. We kept our children home on the days they talked about reproduction. My children learned of sex from their friends, although I did sit down and give the birds and bees talk. Everything was so suppressed I was never able to open up a safe atmosphere with my children so they would ask questions. My husband was a little better with our son than I was with our daughters as he was generally more laid back than I was. That got him into a lot of trouble, but it helped with the kids.

Teenagers especially were kept busy from waking until sleep so there was not time to sneak off and flirt. They were taught that virginity was the only way, and marriage was a call not everyone should answer. The monastic sister- and brother-hoods were held up as the superior call, and all the young people were strongly encouraged to consider joining. Some were even told that the leaders had received words of knowledge from God that they were supposed to be monastics, and that they were fighting God if they didn’t take their vows. My own daughter had this done to her and was coerced into taking her vows.

If a boy and girl were attracted to each other and wanted to date, they had to go meet with the leaders, separately at first, and state that they thought they were being called into a relationship with the other person, and get permission to start seeing each other. If the leaders agreed, they could start talking to each other, and sitting together at public functions; church, dinners, picnics. This was a big deal, and was a public statement. There was no touching, kissing, or sex talk. They were watched, by everyone, to make sure they stayed proper. If they were caught sneaking off or stealing a kiss, the relationship was terminated. Maybe in 6 months they could try again – maybe.

Some of the marriages were arranged. I have seen some budding couples split apart never to get together again. Some break-ups were initiated by the couple themselves, but some were split apart by the leaders with many tears shed on the part of the young people. I know of at least one marriage where they were told to marry. The man wanted to, but the woman did not, and to this day she is unhappy. They have children, and make the best of it that they can, partly by staying very busy to suppress the reality.

It is an extremely stressful style of life. There are many cases of people drinking too much, taking anti-depressants, migraines and other symptoms of suppressed stress.

BITE: When, how and with whom the member has sex (adults and monastics)

Sex was suppressed at CJ. It was denigrated and laughed at. It was seen as an evil force that had to be denied. The more you denied it and the expression of it, the holier you were. The body had to be covered up in order to prevent the mind from thinking of sex. No cleavage at all could show, and more than that, too much chest was also bad. High necklines were the norm. No sleeveless tops. Men had to wear shirts at all times. No bare chests for them, even when swimming. Nothing shorter than Bermuda shorts. We wore our skirts halfway between knee and ankle so that if we crossed our legs, nothing would show. For a while women could not wear pants, then it was allowed for gardening or berry picking, then eventually it was allowed, but not preferred. No shorts were allowed.

Coffee hours were a practice we used to have, where from 3-4 every weekday afternoon those of us on the property would gather to have coffee and snacks and fellowship. Nice idea, but I was always so uptight about doing something wrong I could never relax. Either I would express some opinion that wasn’t conservative enough, or my kids would be too loud in their play, or I didn’t have anything spiritual to talk about so would feel “out of it”. That was a favorite phrase we bantered around a lot if someone wasn’t fitting into the norm. One of the ministers took it upon himself to monitor how the ladies were sitting. This was before the length of the skirts had been dictated, and if a lady crossed her legs and wasn’t careful, someone on the other side of the circle could see up her skirt. The minister’s grandmother would always sit this way and not care, so he would call out “Grandma Gertrude” to the woman in arrears. Not long after that summer is when one of the leaders called all of us women in and laid down the law about the length of skirts. We had to stand in front while she eyed us and measured how long our skirt had to be to look the best on us and be decent enough. We were given the number of inches from the floor, and all our skirts had to be that length. For a while we were wearing skirts with an extra border around the bottom because we had to lengthen all the skirts we already had.

We made our own swimsuits because all of the ones for sale were too indecent. Our suits looked like tennis dresses. On one occasion, at a public pond, a couple was quite concerned and upset that our girls were swimming in their tennis dresses, that it was not safe to swim with that much material. We soon stopped going to public places to swim, and only swam at the beach in front of the complex.

I think suppression is a lesser evil than sexual abuse, but it also has many problems. When it is taught that sex is dirty, sinful, a chore, and unnecessary except to procreate, this shuts off a whole normal area of the human experience, and drives a wedge between married couples. It certainly tainted my relationship with my husband. They taught that unbridled passion was lust. Even in marriage if you allowed yourself to fully enjoy the experience, you were giving in to your lust, and that sin would contaminate everything else that you did. They taught that it would become obvious, and everyone would know that you were a lustful person. They brought up the sins of our past as proof that we were not free now of the same sins. Because after high school I was experimental and a bit promiscuous for a while, they said I had the nature of a whore, and that had to be denied, even in a marriage setting. It totally affected my ability to be loving with my husband, and drove a wedge between us. It was part of the reason we stopped talking with each other, and eventually led to our divorce, which the leaders and those who were counseling me all encouraged me to go through with. And oh yes, the missionary position was the only acceptable one. Anything else was Kinky and shameful and sin, sin, sin.

Later when I became a sister, I saw how it cramped and warped the attitudes of the young ladies who had never been in love. It put a whole layer of guilt on them because they did not know how to handle their normal biological hormonal drives. Instead of intelligent education and counseling, they were made to feel dirty and guilty. The leader said once to a group of the young sisters that having sex was like “having a broomstick shoved up your ass”. She made it seem like the dirtiest, most uncomfortable, abusive thing a woman would ever have to endure, and that they were much better off never having to experience it.

The sisters were told to suppress and deny their sexual feelings, calling it lust, and those who had trouble doing this were a scandal. One young lady could not stop having trouble. She was told to wear gloves to bed, to pray extensively, to confess to one particular sister every single time it happened, to confess every single sexual thought or fantasy she had. This put her into a constant state of shame and guilt. It also drove her to be perfect in other areas to prove that she wasn’t a totally depraved person. She was very uptight and driven.
If any flirtings or misdemeanors were discovered, and they were, it was quickly hushed up and covered over, but the people involved were made to feel shamed and rejected. There was no healthy counseling that I know of. I certainly did not experience any until in recent years, after I left.

Coral Reef reflection

I would like to give a heads up that my blog subjects might wander from time to time away from the stated purpose of this blog. The stated purpose is to tell about life in CJ, the extreme control group I lived in for 40 years. The longer I am out, of course, the more I am integrating into normal life, and the more I am becoming interested in other things. Having said that, I think my reflections will always refer back to CJ in some way or form, just because that was my life for so many years, and because I do want to keep revealing just how insular and hurtful the life lived there is.

I am reading about our coral reefs. It seems no matter which area of life I learn about, there are problems of great magnitude that need addressing. I am living in a hurting world. All of it, not just humans. I gave 40 years of my life to a work that ended up doing no good to the world. I could have been putting my energies into something useful.

While I may have moments of depression about this, I am not at a brick wall. I will do as much as I can in the time I have left, but it is a SHAME how CJ is so insular and prevents intelligent people from doing something useful outside of their own small insular world.

They say, and I used to try to convince myself, that being holy in our own small world was a benefit to the whole world. We were bringing the presence of God into the earth. It was because of people like us that God was having mercy on the whole world. We pretended that we were like the Catholic monasteries of old, where people thought the monks were holy and held them in awe as having a special pipeline to God. That is superstitious thinking, and CJ is rife with it.

BITE: Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates

We were told where we would live, in which house, and with whom. Even if you owned your own house (which my husband and I did not) this applied. If you owned your own house, you were the custodian of the house, and had the “privilege” of paying the bills. But you had no say in who lived in the house with you, or even if you could live there. We were regularly moved around from house to house. It happened without warning. We would alleviate the stress of this by joking about the “angel of move”. We would be told one Wed. or Thurs. or Fri. that a move was taking place and we were to be completely moved by the end of Sat. It was exhausting and unsettling to say the least. It was intended to keep us out of control. That was seen as a good thing – to be out of control. Control in your life, of your life, was seen as a bad thing, and had to be broken.

Who we associated with was less of an issue. We could associate with any other member of the community. The household members did not, however, have anything to do with the sisters or brothers and vice versa in the earlier days. That became a bit relaxed, and then went through a period where the sisters and brothers could not speak or look at any of the rest of us. Then in the later years there was a total change and we worked together and socialized together. Group socializing that is. Then sisters and brothers started becoming godparents of the newly born kids, once the first kids grew up and married. Of course we were kept so busy that there wasn’t any time for socializing, so our associating was strictly a matter of who we lived with or worked with. And of course we did not associate with anyone outside of the community. Also our socializing was not open and free. You would not be free to complain to a friend, or talk seriously about what was going on, on any doubts you might have. If you did, you would be reported on, and end up in a light session where your sin would be hunted out and you would be made to confess.

Isolation was also used as a very effective tool. If someone was having a hard time and was put on discipline to deal with their sin, they were mostly isolated from the rest of us. They could be denied sitting in their place in church, and had to sit in back. They were sometimes told they could not come to any of the fun activities, and had to stay home or babysit or do housework. They definitely would not be allowed to go on any trips, with the Band or Choir or to see the foliage or to Nickerson Park. If their attitude was deemed bad enough, they would be told to live outside of CJ for a time, 3-6 months. That happened to me twice. In looking back, it’s a wonder to me that more people didn’t leave at that point. It was so impressed into our brains that this was a rejection because we were bad people, that by that time we were desperate to prove we were going to be good, and to be allowed back in. By the time that punishment was given, the person was convinced that they could not survive without CJ. There were a few, however, that did leave once they were outside. Some of the younger couples did this. Those of us who had been there from the beginning had been totally convinced that we couldn’t live on our own.

That would actually be a good research topic. Do those who are a part of the original founding of a religious community have a harder time leaving than successive generations?