My life there and afterwards

Archive for March, 2015

Sharing someone else’s well-written post

This is long, but is beautifully written – so accurate and well said – that I quote it for you as this week’s post.
All references to the leadership and practices at Grenville Christian College were/are also true of the leadership and practices at The Community of Jesus.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2212017612/permalink/10150378407902613/

“CORE BELIEFS OF COMMUNITY OF JESUS/GCC:
All of these beliefs were learned over a period of many years directly from the Community of Jesus. None of them originated at GCC. We learned them on teaching retreats at the CJ, personal counseling sessions there, from listening to “Mothers’ tapes” (teachings of Cay and Judy at the CJ and elsewhere), “live-in” weeks at the CJ, from visits by CJ people to GCC, from our “oblate houses”, “Mother house retreats”, etc. We took vows to the CJ, vowing a lifelong commitment to the CJ and the life of obedience to this teaching. We were required to attend a certain number of retreats a year, spend a week a year “living in” there, and write monthly “notes” of a highly personal nature to the leaders of the CJ. The daily application of these teachings was done by those in leadership at GCC.

Obedience –
Obedience was first to God. Following God’s will for your life is a common modern day evangelical teaching. However, at GCC, “God’s” will was determined by those in charge within the community of GCC and above them in a hierarchy, also the Community of Jesus. After the initial contact, the decision to join was encouraged through a combination of both fear and enticements. The initial impressions of the community for a person considering following “God’s” will there were not unlike initial impressions for any other person-the place was beautiful, the people were thoughtful and “caring”….Once numerous bridges were burned, you were more privy to statements made by C. Farnsworth that included the statement that making the commitment to join GCC was the last decision a person ever made. Spiritual authorities spoke for God and were to be obeyed always. Disobedience to them was disobedience to God. The expectation of obedience was extended to staff children. In many ways they were the most vulnerable of anyone at GCC. Children were stripped of any parental protection (see the teaching of the sin of idolatry), were subject to daily corrections by any adult and were expected to be obedient in particular to those in leadership positions. In addition, they were taught that they were called by God to live this life of obedience at GCC or the CJ (see call of God) because they were children of people called to GCC. It was a lifelong call.

Call of God –
GCC members saw their work and life as a “vocation”, a lifelong call to serve God in one place. Members took lifetime vows of obedience to their authorities (at the CJ and at GCC), and also vows of “stability” (they would serve God in one of these two places). It was assumed and said that if GCC ever failed, members would “go home” to live at the CJ. This sense of devotion and purpose gave members a feeling that they were special, or at least they were part of something special (which amounts to the same thing in practice). “Many are called, but few are chosen”. We considered ourselves to be in that latter group.

Cross life –
This teaching stated that each individual’s cross was his or her sin. It was each individual’s responsibility to deny his sinful nature by aggressively crucifying his own sinful nature daily through confession to others of those sins. It was also each person’s responsibility to speak against the sin of others. In essence there was an aggressive policy of policing behavior, since behavior was the expression of sin. Everyday mistakes could be interpreted as the result of sin. Confessions were randomly used to control individuals through public humiliations and at other times to manipulate them. This teaching started with a belief in the radical sin nature of everyone, even Christians, expressed in self-will, wanting one’s own way, own things, own will. This showed up in the everyday events of life – choosing simple things that you wanted or liked. The only way to solve this was by the breaking of the will. This came about through deep repentance, but because of our sin we were blind to our sin. The only way to see the truth was to have others speak it to us. This took the form of direct confrontation, person to person, or in a group (light groups).
If a person “resisted the truth”, the heat was turned up, bringing in more people, multiple meetings addressing his/her sin, changes in living arrangements or job, assigning disciplines to the individual, until he or she “repented” (had their will broken). This was usually followed by “love-bombing”. Affection was then showered on the person who was in a very vulnerable emotional and psychological state. The person by that time was so grateful for affection, approval, love….that this experience tended to cement their dependent relationship on the group and the leaders.
The other effect of this is that if it were done publicly, as it usually was, bystanders and correctors were also traumatized by witnessing or participating in breaking down the offender. So repeated traumatizations instilled in all members a knowledge of what resistance meant. After many of these over a period of time, most of us became experts in self-censoring our actions, movements, and even thoughts. The end result was a large group of people who were very good at “presenting” the correct image: smiling, cheerful, caring, obedient, ready to jump into action to serve the greater good.
If you ask why people would go along with this, there are two good explanations. The first is use of the tactics of brainwashing.. They work! Even with very intelligent people, which answers the question how smart people could be trapped in a group like this. The second and more powerful reason is the belief that ALL community members had, that we were called by God to this life, that disobedience to our leaders was rebellion against God, and the result of that rebellion was eternal damnation. On the plus side, we believed that we were a special group, chosen for a special job by God. We saw ourselves as an elite strike force for God. That combination of fear and pride was extremely powerful. The students were our mission field, sent to us by God. We were to love them, of course, but love also included “speaking the truth in love”, correction, verbal confrontation, etc. What if they resisted what God intended for them? A similar pressure would be brought to bear upon them. If they complied with our program, they received approval. If they rebelled outwardly, corrections (both private and/or public) and disciplines were sanctioned to “encourage” compliance in beliefs, thoughts and behavior. When compliance appeared to be accomplished, “love-bombing” followed. Again, even the students who were not directly confronted all knew people who had been, so that traumatization worked with the students as well. They learned early on what was expected of them, what behavior and attitudes were rewarded, and which were punished.
Given the fervor with which these beliefs were held, the relative isolation of the school (a boarding school), it’s not surprising that abuses occurred.

Honesty (Being honest and the danger therein) –This was called “living in the light” and was a large part of our commitment to each other. Brutal honesty was the expected norm in almost all cases. If you felt someone was guilty of any of the Seven Deadly’s below (or even if you just had “a bad feeling” about someone), you were expected to tell them, pulling no punches, not “sugar-coating” it, or “softening the blow”. Only real (brutal) honesty was helpful, as anything else would not have the desired effect of breaking the will. If you “sugar-coated” something you said, you ran the risk of giving them something positive about themselves to cling to, which would only delay or stymie their eventual healing (breaking of their will, repentance).
If you were the recipient of this brutal honesty, you were expected to reply in kind and “tell all”. This meant exposing other “sins”, related or unrelated. If you withheld information, self-accusations, etc., you were accused of being “hidden”, in itself a terrible sin. The antidote to this was to expose the person as much as possible, as publicly as possible, in front of as many people as possible (in some cases the person’s children). However, the unspoken exception to this rule was that this “brutal honesty” only flowed downwards. Taking it upon oneself to be brutally honest with anyone in authority was to open yourself immediately to an accusation of one of the sins listed below, almost always accompanied by intense light groups or disciplines. In other words, it was only done if you had a death wish.

Seven Deadly Sins
Sins were often discerned when “someone else” interpreted a person’s failure to perform perfectly in some responsibility and then diagnosed which sin caused it. Otherwise it was determined by their lack of heartfelt compliance with a given mandate, either verbally or in their behavior. There was a strong focus on changing a person’s work performance, their beliefs and behavior by sanctioning heavy-handed disciplines or random life changes that were primarily declared to target the root sin that was the cause of all. The result of constant “sin surveillance” was living in fear of being caught in some sinful behavior over which one had little control. In
the short term, the “discipline” was really a form of punishment as it really had no actual benefit except that of producing fear. In the long term, a person internalized the beliefs and unknowingly learned strategies to avoid the resulting pain of “sinning.” The following were the culprit sins:

Idolatry-The biblical teaching against idolatry (worshipping someone/something more than God) was applied to the dynamics of human relationships in such a way that natural family relationships and friendships would be considered idolatrous if there was no evidence that each party within the relationship would “stand against” the sin of the other. To be “in idolatry” with another person, someone would typically be blind to another person’s specific sin and/or unwilling to confront that person about his sin. Sin was typically thought to be acted out, often in some obscure way that was pointed out by one of the community leaders. The battle against sin played out in everyday life in some of the following ways: close friendships were nipped in the bud; spouses were pitted against one another; parents were told that they were blinded by their natural love for their children and so were incapable of being a healthy influence in raising their children. All adults in the community were responsible for the oversight of the children and were “responsible” to correct the sins of the children in everyday contexts. The specific sins of an individual may have been discerned by the more spiritual people in the community, but confronting that individual with that sin was often delegated to his friends or spouse. This teaching against the sin of idolatry led to power play dynamics within the community as individuals were “safer” if they were on the giving rather than the receiving end of corrections. Thus a lot of sucking up to those in charge and betraying of all others to protect yourself. It also was destructive within the family framework as parents were often publicly humiliated and disrespected in front of their children, children were encouraged to correct their parents, and parents were taught that others were better at deciding what was best for their children. Children were often randomly removed from the homes of their parents to live with another family. Parents were often corrected over and over for not discerning what was good for their children, losing any internal sense of parenting. Playing the idolatry card gave those in charge leverage to achieve control and the ability to manipulate a situation to their own purposes, if they so desired. It was the trump card.

Jealousy – was one of the worst sins for which to be corrected. In any situation that was played out less than perfectly, someone was bound to be randomly corrected for being jealous of someone else. This meant envy of another person’s looks, possessions, talents, status, family….It was generally considered that the best cure for jealousy was to have the person of whom another was jealous to correct the person that was deemed jealous. An even better cure would be to have that person be in charge of the other person’s spiritual journey out of the muck and mire of jealousy. Such a journey might include changes in the jealous person’s everyday routines, change of their job, change of their living situation, and undergoing disciplines as well. Jealousy was seen as an actively destructive force if not eradicated. To be known as a jealous person carried a heightened degree of shame.

Control or the desire to control one’s life or his immediate situation was considered a sin. This sin often would be noted when a person was unable to accomplish unreasonable goals that had been expected of him/her. That person’s anger (see below) within the situation was considered the reason for not accomplishing the task at hand successfully. When random changes that were decided for a person’s life were met with resistance, the sins of control and rebellion would be named in an attempt to bring a change of heart. If there was no change of heart, more pressure would be applied in an effort to create repentance. Being “out of control” was thus considered a virtue and a desirable emotional state. So random changes in policies, living situations, jobs, etc. all had the benefit of helping people stay “out of control”. Resisting such things was interpreted as being “controlling.”

Rebellion – As it says in the Old Testament, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”. This included not only outward acts of disobedience to the many rules, disciplines, etc. but also any inward attitudes of not wanting to comply. So in many cases, simply obeying slowly was an indication of rebellion. To be labeled as “rebellious” was a terrible judgement, and those who were labelled as such often went to great lengths of outward obedience to try to escape the stigma of being considered rebellious. Students, of course, were expected to obey directives as well, usually instantly. Allowing rebellious acts and attitudes to pass unchecked was also considered a very grievous sin, as that was often seen as “opening the door to Satan”, who was the original rebel!

Pride/Haughtiness – Reserving the right to have your own thoughts and opinions showed pride and haughtiness because you were saying that you were as good as, or better than, those in charge. And because those in charge had a direct line with God, you were in essence putting yourself above God. If you were corrected for something and you disagreed, your pride or haughtiness was added to the list of sins already named. If you engaged in critical thinking (wondering why some people got “special treatment”) that showed extreme haughtiness, since you were essentially saying you were on the same level as they were, or should be anyway. Of course, the antidote for pride and haughtiness was humiliation. So public humiliation, which could include a group of people pointing out your faults, or even mocking you, was a very good thing, because it was seen to kill your pride and haughtiness.

Lust (SEX and other things!) – Sexual lust was considered the root of much evil, so much so that community members were not even allowed to talk about anything related to the topic of sex or sexuality except to Charles Farnsworth-not even to our own spouse. This topic was OFF LIMITS and was all encompassing in its boundaries. No specific point was too insignificant to be included. The arousal of sexual thoughts and feelings in men were considered the fault of the female gender. For this reason, there were very strict mandates in place to keep “inappropriate” behavior and thoughts under control. We were taught that sex was for procreation, not pleasure.
(Our corporate busyness was one deterrent to marital relations.) Also, men had needs. Personal counseling related to sexual abuse was straightforward-sexual abuse was minimized and declared “a garden variety sin.” C. Farnsworth gave instructions in the topic of sex to our own kids without our permission or even notice. (We learned of this after leaving.) This “teaching” or lack thereof was a strong force in our everyday lives. Its implications were wide ranging and insidious. It appeared righteous but was really a very strong control mechanism for those in charge. In our lives the bottom line was that everything about human sexuality was evil, not just lustful desires/thoughts.
Lust for other things-any complaints about working for pittance and having little materially was deflected by enforcing the mantra that “others may, but we cannot.”

Anger – Anger was generally viewed as a sin. If you got angry at someone or a situation, that showed that you didn’t really agree with it, that you thought you knew better than those in charge, that you lacked love, etc. The exception was “righteous anger”, the anger at sin. This, however, was only sanctioned if it came “top down”, or from a peer. Anger at anyone in charge could never be seen as righteous anger.
People were often “encouraged” to display or “get out” their anger. This usually left them in a vulnerable state, since all could see what they really felt. Although releasing pent up anger may have brought some momentarily relief from emotional pressure and internal guilt, that person’s real feelings and perspectives were typically used against them at some point. For the moment, “love-bombing” was their reward for being “honest.”

HOW THINGS REALLY WORKED

CLOSED SYSTEM –The vow of obedience to this way of life and the breaking down of ties with family members outside the community, as well as any friends outside the community, resulted in a very isolated, closed system. Other influences were cut off or discouraged, and the business of everyday responsibilities (which included not just running a boarding school but a host of other “community” responsibilities, like daily chant services, daily prayer vigil, and regular light groups) effectively closed all members off from the “outside world” and ensured that almost all personal interactions were constrained by the above values.
RANDOMNESS – The “icing on the cake” was the way in which things were enforced.

Even though the above categories seem clear and delineated, in practice ALL beliefs and policies were applied randomly. Some people could do almost anything and never receive any disciplines. Others only had to look sideways to call a staff meeting down on their heads. Since the “discernment” of all of these sins was up to those in charge, punishments were often meted out in what seemed like arbitrary fashion, depending on the current “party line”. The result was that those not in charge (almost everyone) were kept in a current state of emotional disequilibrium, never knowing what could happen next. Most tried to gain some measure of balance by currying favor with those above them, hoping that if something drastic happened, it wouldn’t happen to them.”

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Crushing music

As a child my mother taught me to play the piano. She was consistent and I improved, but I had no outlet to play with other people and so was very shy and insecure about it. When I left after High School, I left the piano playing behind. When I joined CJ 4 years later, music making was nowhere in my mind. Then the leaders wanted a church choir and conscripted two members to teach us to sing. They made a valient effort, but I realized after a couple of years that singing is not my forte.

An orchestra started up. I had played violin for 1/2 year in middle school so I joined up. It was fun for a while, but we did not get regular lessons and I eventually got exasperated at never being able to play in tune.

The next musical step was in order to celebrate one of the founders’ 60th birthday. The members pulled together a rag tag marching band by pulling old instruments out of attics. The founders were so thrilled by this that they decided to continue the marching band in local 4th of July parades, etc. Watching them march stirred someting in me and I asked to join. At first I played in both Orchestra and Band, but eventaully switched over completely to Band. For 20 years I played in the Marching and Concert Band in the percussion secton, playing every variety of instrument that section has. Life in the Band was eventaully a horror that will deserve its own post another time.

Then one year the Band/Orchestra leader was heading up a production of Pilgrim’s Progress, with orchestra, dance and acting. It was a BIG deal. They were offering openings for anyone in CJ to be a part of it. I did not want to sing in the chorus so I asked if I could try playing the violin with the orchestra. I never got a reply, but one day I came home to find the score on the dining room table. I went to the music office and borrowed a violin and started practicing. I received no lessons, no personal contact, no encouragement. I was SO on my own. I went to rehersals, sat at the back and tried to play along. It was both excruciating and thrilling. I stuck with it. I played quietly enough so no one could hear my wrong notes, not even me. I loved it.

Over the years I did improve and could hold my own with all the others. We went through music retreats that were like boot camps, tearing us down, telling us how horible we were. You can accept a lot of that, because you figure they could hear how you played better than you could yourself, but when they would scream at us for our feelings and attitudes, that I resisted inwardly. I cared a lot about orchestra, and when they would say we didn’t care at all, I knew that was not true. I became section leader, and worked with a young man who had a lot of talent and gave lessons to the strings. We worked hard to help the players relax and improve and to love the process. Our efforts were to no avail for the Orchestra leader finally told us he was dis-banding the orchestra because we stank and no one cared like he did about making good music. We were told that no one was allowed to play on their own. Everyone was to put their instruments away and not play again. We were all devastated. Then 12 of got letters from the Community’s spiritual leader that us chosen few had shown a good attitude and could continue to play together as a string group. We were to enjoy ourselves and the process. (Stroke our egos, make us think we had a future in music – which was to prove to be a lie).

The group was horrible. Our playing wasn’t that bad, but there were a few who insisted on making it into a “light group” where they would complain and tear each other down. One time in particular I remember I was yelled at by one young SGA that she hated playing with me, I had a bad attitude, and always played out of tune. (She hit many wrong notes also) After vehemently letting this tirade loose on me, I was shocked and looked around the group at the other older members. I asked them to help me out here, that I did not understand why she was saying all this. What did they think? They all looked elsewhere and no one spoke up. The young lady castigating me was the grand-daughter of the current leader. No one wanted to take the chance of being ratted on to the leader and of getting into serious trouble. I was hung out to dry. After that I dreaded going to the group. I only hung in there because I loved music and it was my only outlet.

Those of you who have gone through these kinds of sessions will understand what my few words cannot convey. Those who have not will think “So what?”. Maybe some day I will be able to put into a dialogue and description just how devastating these light sessions were. It wasn’t just the words, but the emotions of being torn apart and devasted that always accompanied them.

We never were allowed to play again in public or in church. They started a youth orchestra and chose them to play. We were still side-lined at the time that I left.

Why Cults are Harmful for Children and Mothers

I read an article in ICSA Today Vol. 5 No. 1 called “Why Cults are Harmful: Neurobiological speculations on Interpersonal Trauma” by Doni Whitsett. She mentions that researchers speculate that the mind has “internal working models of attachment” and that the “maturation of the right brain is dependent upon the interactions with the mother…that is, the baby is attuned to the right brain of the mother and experiences mother’s affect states as if they were her own.”

This speaks powerfully to the damage done when children, especially babies and very young children, are taken away from their biological mothers and given to other members of the cult to be raised. The child has a visceral attachment to the mother, and when this is broken the child can become insecurely attached. The child can often express this by becoming aggressive, feeling that they have to fight to have their needs met, or by withdrawing so they will not feel rejected, as a protective reaction.

In looking back at my own experience, one of my children cried a lot. It was during a time when I was under a lot of intense scrutiny and ‘correction”. My own emotions were aroused, and I was often scared, angry, humiliated and worried. As Whitsett says, “As the baby views the negative face of the mother, the baby’s body is flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone. Alternately, if mother is relaxed and happy, the baby will see the smiling face of the mother and endorphins will be released in the baby’s body, just as they are in the mother’s…the stimulus or entity know as mother, and the child’s relationship with her, will get associated with either cortisol and the child will feel bad, or with endorphins and the child will feel good.”

The cult took advantage of this situation. They did not read the signs properly, and blamed me for my child’s crying. They said it was my sin that was hurting her. Because of this, they took her away from me and gave her to two teenagers to raise, for over a year.

How do she and I recover from this? It is not something that we can work out on our own. The damage has been done, and it takes the loving and tender help of others. The first step is to start looking and to find a therapist that understands. I am a great fan of talk therapy, as that is what is helping me. There is a lot of justified anger to deal with as I realize what they did to us. I am also learning to forgive where that is appropriate, but not to the point of denying what was done. It’s the age-old problem of finding the balance between forgiveness in order to release my own angst, and standing up for justice.

In this article, Whitsett talks about Judith Herman’s model of trauma recovery and identifies three separate phases. The first is with the therapist in a safe environment to tell your story. The second is to remember the dissociated parts of the experience and integrate them into your present reality and understanding. The third is to come out of feeling isolated and to re-connect with others. This will take some time and support but as my self-confidence builds I can feel myself being less afraid of what others will think of me.