My life there and afterwards

Archive for August, 2014

BITE: Impose Rigid rules and regulations

We had a very strict schedule and there were no excuses for not being at every service and meeting. Any disobedience was noticed and addressed. You couldn’t get away with anything. Telling on each other was encouraged. It was considered obedience to report any variation from the rules that we noticed. If we did not tell on someone breaking the rules, then we were considered to have joined them in their sin, and would receive the same correction or punishment. Sickness and exhaustion were not considered good reasons to miss, as the meeting or the service was considered to be the spiritual food you needed to get well. In the case of Band, I foolishly ignored my pain and was on the field when I should not have been. When I did go to the Field leader and said I could not continue, he said I was needed and that I could just stand on the sideline if I needed to. Once out there, however, I did more than I should have, and injured myself further. No one checked up on me to see how I was doing.

Absolute obedience was expected and demanded. If we were told to not watch the news, that was that. Anyone caught disobeying was brought before the group and humiliated. The same was true of the dress code.

Every aspect of our lives had a rule, a right way to do it, and we were expected to follow the Mothers instructions to the letter.

BITE: Discourage individualism, encourage group-think

We were often told that if we were all connected to God, and listening to the Holy Spirit, that we would all think the same. Being a good follower of Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit meant that we would all hear the same message from him. If there was disagreement or dissension within a group, then it meant some one, or more, were “out of the Spirit” and it was the responsibility of the group to find out who that was. They were in sin, and it was our duty to ferret out that sin.

I think it is obvious that in such a situation the most vocal and angry people are the ones who will rise to leadership. Those who are feeling vulnerable, unsure of themselves, afraid, will be the quickest to deny their own individuality in order to survive. Being singled out as the one who was “out of the Spirit” was an extremely threatening situation.

There were times that I saw the leaders tell someone they had not heard the Lord properly and to go back and pray again. This was repeated until the person came up with the answer that the leaders wanted to hear. It happened to me many times, from minor things like whether I should volunteer to help in some clean-up, to whether I should visit family or not, to which groups I should be a part of.

The result was to take my power of critical thinking away from me, to numb my brain, to suppress my emotions, to make a dependent follower of me.

Faith and Free Will

In Philosophy we studied the question “How do we know something is real?”

When considering the natural world around us, we attempt to imagine an objective world without a knowing subject (the knowing subject is us, trying to know the world outside of our own perception of it). We can’t, because imagining that world is still us imagining it. Therefore, it is by faith that we believe the real world is real. Therefore, faith itself is real, a real function of my psyche, as real as the body and the mind, sensations and the brain. Therefore faith is not a lie.

What we chose to have faith in is where we exercise our free will.

We who have come out of high-control groups know what it is like to be told what reality is, and to have our free will suppressed, restricted, bound up and buried. After coming out, it can be hard to sort out what reality truly is. I have had a journey dancing around the idea of faith, at first not thinking about it, then angry at the group for messing with it, then wondering what it is and whether I should even entertain the notion of it. Was faith just our imagination trying to make a raw deal feel better?

Through my philosophy class and all the other classes I have been taking, and discussions with people of many different philosophies, the opening paragraph is the “ah-ha” moment I had back in July, at the ICSA conference, of what faith means to me – no, not what it means, but that it exists, and that it is meaningful to me.

Defining what it means to me will be the next chapter in my faith journey.

BITE: Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and nagative

I would sometimes be surprised by a public compliment. It would always be after a time of laying low, being meek and humble, and working hard with no complaints. Inwardly I might be bored, tired, and struggling with feelings of worthlessness and depression, and then they would throw a compliment at me. This was proof that the more I conformed to the lowly servant role, the more approval I got. Following this would be a period of relative happiness, knowing I was in the smiling grace of the leaders. This reinforced the positive benefits of cooperation with the regime.

A sister who frequently burst out with anger was punished by denying her the simple pleasure of watching a ball game on TV. All the sisters watched sports from time to time, and this sister in particular had found this to be her one joy in our pressured life. The leader told me and the other Senior Sister that the way to keep her in line was to tell her that whenever she burst out in anger, her TV watching would be taken away from her until she could cooperate. This was devastating to her, as this represented the only place where she felt alive as a person. This was done to her, and it did force her to become submissive.

There are countless more examples like these two. We were controlled by throwing us bones of relief, and by threatening and denying us the few things that gave us relief.

BITE: Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors

When you first go to the Community of Jesus, as a live-in or a new member, or are a novice in the sisterhood, you have to write daily notes about your sins. You are to confess every thought and feeling, and things you did during the day. It is to be a self-examination and exposure of everything you can find that is sin. There were times where I had had a good and happy day, wrote that, and was confronted by 2 of the sisters that this was not helpful. It was not the good things that needed to be confessed, and I was in unreality to think I had not sinned that day. I was to go back and find what my sins had been, and re-write the note.

Once I was thoroughly trained in the daily note writing, I could graduate to weekly notes, and eventually no notes unless needed. Once the thought reform had sunk in, the confessions happened verbally, as the day went on. We were all trained to seek out our sin, in ourselves and in each other, and to make this a constant focus of our lives together.

We also reported on each other, especially if someone would not accept a correction. Some people reported sins gleefully, for revenge, others reluctantly, but we all did it. We were taught that true love was to expose sin. Hidden sin kept you from God, so the best way to help your neighbor was to expose their sin. Every personal boundary was violated.

Some things were brought before the heads of the households, and others went straight up to the leaders. You learned quickly to be as appeasing as possible so that your sins did not get reported to the leaders, for you were then in danger of having a public correction, which was extremely humiliating and shaming. Shunning was always a part of public corrections.

BITE: Permission required for major decisions

Permission was required for all decisions, major or minor, but the most devastating effects involved the major decisions. Early in the 70’s I was writing back and forth with my parents. I had some unhealed issues and feelings with them, and the leaders’ counsel in family matters was to cut off any contact with them. This was their standard answer to all family troubles. I was told, and the letter was dictated to me, to write them a letter telling them that I was not going to write them anymore, I was dedicating my life to God, and to not write me, either. The next week I got a very thick letter from them. The head of my household told me to not open it until she could check with the leaders. The answer back was that I was to throw the letter out without opening it. I was to make a clean break, turn my back on them, and not even read what their response was. I cried and argued, but to no avail. I had to obey, and so I did throw it out. I have always regretted doing this.

I know of many people who were not allowed to go to their parent’s funeral, or to family member weddings because it would “distract them from God’s work” or “pull them away from their call”. In truth, I believe the leaders were in control and did not want people or money to leave CJ, for their own egoistic reasons.

Major purchases all had to be approved. House buying, car buying, vacations all had to be approved. The leaders had to give permission based on whether it was God’s will, and whether it was spiritually beneficial.

One of the most major decisions in life, who you are going to marry, was completely controlled by the leaders, past and present. The young people had to get their permission to start dating, to enter an engagement, and to get married. If they wanted to, the leaders could deny them permission, and this has happened several times.

BITE: Major time spent with group indoctrination

Well, when you move to The Community of Jesus, you are giving all of your time to “God” in the form of the community, and in obedience to the leaders. So anything they announced, meetings, retreats, prayer vigils, garden work times, whatever, you simply obeyed. Your time was not your own. You did as you were told. And it happened a lot. You would be told that you were going on retreat that night. You had to drop everything, make babysitting arrangements, cover your work etc. and be there on time. In recent years the retreats have included more extreme conditions. A group of men had to live in a house together for several months, and they were not allowed to see or speak to their wives. The clergy had to do the same thing. They were made to stay there until there was a “break through” of attitudes.

In the early days, the leaders had teaching meetings every Mon night. For a while they were on Thur. nights also, but most of the time it was once a week. I worked in the A/V dept. and we recorded all of their teachings. I wish I could get my hands on those teachings now, because it would be obvious to everyone how “off” and extreme their teachings were, but also how it could be very subtle at times. One leader especially had a knack for long circuitous logic that made what she said seem very reasonable. We were told that we had to train our minds in the way of the Lord, and that to do this we should listen to their teachings all day long. We should have a cassette tape of the Mon. night teachings going while we did housework or cooked or were in the car. We all did this and were indoctrinated into their teachings. The “Mind of the Lord” turned out to the the mind of the leaders.

We could only read the books that they provided, and they were invariably about the cross life and denying self. One leader especially had a fixation on the cross and suffering. She loved to talk about the suffering of her childhood, and their present sufferings in having to carry the burden of our sins, and that we needed to suffer to bring our wills under God’s leading (through them of course).

The rituals in CJ were dressed in the garb of the Christian church. Prayer vigils, candle lighting, incense, meditation/personal prayer, Bible reading – these are all legitimate Christian practices and ways of drawing close to God. But, and this is a big but, at CJ they were used to stop you from thinking. They were not meant to build your own personal relationship as much as they were meant to make you submissive to the teachings of the Mothers. We went through different rituals at different times, according to the leaders’current fad. One time it was the rosary. They “discovered” the value of the rosary, and had all of us praying it morning, noon and night, as often as possible. Then they “discovered” the Jesus Prayer from the Orthodox tradition. According to that book, the holiest practice was to say this unceasingly all day every day, and we were told to make that our goal. If that isn’t a classic thought-stopping, hypnotizing practice, I don’t know what is. It worked, too. I was able to suppress a lot of thoughts for quite a while using that prayer. It didn’t take care of them, they came back when I let up the practice, but for a while it made me feel more holy.

An interesting fact about the Jesus Prayer period is that they gave us all the book that introduces this practice. They had put covers on every book so that no one could see what the book was about. They told us to keep the books in hidden places. No visitor or “live-in” was allowed to see these books. They were only for the vowed life members. They said it was because the teaching in this book was so deeply spiritual that it could actually harm anyone who was not as deeply committed to the life of Christ as we were. That made us all feel very special, but it also made me feel kind of creepy that we had to hide what we were doing and reading. It was a paranoid, “we are special” kind of thing.

Then there was the vision period. A mist rolls in from the bay and all of a sudden it is the Shikinah Glory from God, bestowing a special blessing on us. We started seeing Jesus and Mary on the walls of the church and in the vines on the fence. Everyone started looking for and seeing special spiritual visions. The leaders had a hey-day teaching us about these manifestations of God, and how special they made us.

The Gregorian chant is another ritual. I’m not saying in all times and places it is a negative thing. It can be very beautiful and rewarding. But there was no flexibility and attendance was required unless you were verify-ably sick. We chanted in Latin. We were taught that even if we did not understand the language with our minds, our spirits knew what we were saying, and that it would make us holy to chant it. It was even better that we did not understand the words, because then our spirits could commune directly with the Holy Spirit without our minds getting in the way. They stressed a lot that our minds got in the way of our spiritual life, and we spent a lot of time denying our thinking.

With all of these practices, it was not the practice itself, but the intensity and repetition of them that made them hypnotic and mind controlling. It was also the stated purpose that made them unhealthy instead of useful, the purpose being to bypass our minds and submit ourselves to obedience, expressed to God through being obedient to our leaders.