My life there and afterwards

Posts tagged ‘Teens’

News story – must-see

Channel W5, on Canadian TV, has just done a 4 part investigation into Grenville Christian College and this report includes the connection with The Community of Jesus, Orleans,MA. Here is the link:
It is a must-see. Finally the abuse is becoming known and the class action suit is going forward.

One person said that her faith was not affected by the “Christian” abuse she endured there. I am truly glad for her, but many others did have their faith shattered, as I had mine shattered by the C of J. When you believe whole-heartedly that the leaders you trust are speaking for God, and interpreting scripture as it was meant to be understood, and then realize the hypocrisy and harm that is going on, it is devastating. It takes time to heal, but I am also very glad that I can now sort things out for myself. No one knows the ultimate answers for sure, and anyone who says they do has too high an opinion of themselves. Now I am free to embrace the journey of life for myself, and to seek for the answers that work for me.

Love is the only thing that transforms the human heart. If a group is Christian, they will see Jesus as fully revealing this divine wisdom, which takes the shape of gentle understanding and radical forgiveness–which is just about all that Jesus does. Jesus, who Christians believe represents God, does not tell the vulnerable how bad they are. Look at Jesus’ interaction with the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). He doesn’t belittle or punish Zacchaeus; instead, Jesus goes to his home, shares a meal with him, and treats him like a friend. He does not submit him to a “light session”.

Anyone who thinks fear, anger, divine intimidation, threat, and punishment are going to lead people to love is on a power trip. Show me where that has worked. You cannot lead people to the highest level of fulfillment and creativity by teaching them they are the scum of the earth. The leaders at GCC and CJ were/are on a power trip and, from my experience, do not show any care for the lives of those they are supposedly caring for.


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.

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.

PoP; Pathology of Perfection

I think something we should all be aware of, not only with groups of high control, but in our daily lives, is the dividing live between reaching for excellence, and the pathology of perfection.
In the group I was in, I think it is pretty obvious that PoP is overwhelming in the daily life. It is preached, and we were shamed all the time because we did not reach perfection. The perfection was defined by the leaders, and their cooperating subordinates.

Below is a paragraph taken from the following website:

Perfection vs. Excellence
A perfectionist can be defined as someone who is driven by fear of failure to strive compulsively toward goals beyond reach and reason. This can be contrasted with someone who is motivated by the desire for success to strive for excellence (Hamachek, 1978). One of the characteristics that distinguish the pathological form of perfectionism from the nonpathological striving for excellence is how the person reacts to a less-than-perfect performance. Perfectionists not only derive no satisfaction from a less-than-perfect performance, they even experience a sense of humiliating defeat (Sorotzkin, 1985). In contrast, people who strive for excellence take pride in their effort, and derive a sense of pleasure from their superior performance even if it is less than perfect, because they accept both personal and environmental limitations (Pacht, 1984).

I cannot remember one incident where we were encouraged for having done a good job. According to the teaching, that would have encouraged our pride and self-love. We were always “corrected” for where the effort fell short. This was supposed to spur us on to greater effort, and if any praise came our way from outsiders, the credit was given to the leaders for having persevered to push us to the effort, never to us for having given the effort. This was particularly blaring in the Spirit of America Band.

Suppresion of youth

I have permission to include the following from an anonymous friend.

“I definitely support and confirm the accuracy of your letter. I’m not even sure if I could add anything to what you have written, except for the squashing of the sexuality of the second generation. How every conversation with the opposite sex, if it wasn’t absolutely dry and factual, and if you didn’t have a stern look on your face, was considered flirting. Flirting being equal with running someone over with your car on the sin scale.

“In theory, we were supposed to be friends with the opposite sex, innocent and clean, but how was that supposed to happen when you weren’t allowed to have a conversation? I’ve been told … that (the leader) ramped things up. Telling the young couples that sex should be only for procreation. If you weren’t trying to have a baby, no sex allowed. Couples were of course encouraged to tell on each other.

“It is my opinion that (the leader) is a sad, sad, miserable human being who wants company in her misery. Thinking about it, it’s amazing how much “being in the closet” has affected and directed the path of the C of J. First (the founders), and than (the leaders husband). Is it just a coincidence that the the first two leaders (we’ve been told) were gay, and the second leader was married (we’ve been told) to a gay man? It’s a study of how repression and self loathing can do so much damage and how wide the affects spread.

“I would also add the part where the leaders acted like pimps for the second generation. For example, I still cringe when I think of (two people). (One founder) pressured her into marrying him to keep him happy and at the C of J. There was also the pressure on the girls to become Sisters. I think (leader) knew she couldn’t keep a hold on many single girls and keep them from leaving. The solution, marry them to God! Plus, get their money, which (leader) was running low of for the other Sisters, and get a fresh, young working force. All strategic moves.”

To add to what my friend has written, above, I want to say that in my hearing, the leader used ugly, down-grading language to denigrate the act of sex, even in marriage, in order to dissuade the young sisters from longing after it. Instead of a healthy discussion on what celibacy was about, and how to deal with your emotions, she made the whole subject seem dirty and shameful. I was shocked to hear her speak so, and this was part of what was slowly waking me up to how un-Christian the life is at CJ.

Before I became a sister, and was still married, the leaders would teach on sex in the marriage, and it was always to the point that we shouldn’t do it, and it was always sin. We were never taught about the beauty of a union between a man and a woman in the state of marriage. Their teaching was repressive, stifling and from my viewpoint, un-holy.

I also remember one young couple who got caught sneaking away and had kissed. Just kissed. It was treated as a scandal, and they were not allowed to speak to or look at each other for about 6 weeks after that. Once they were allowed to talk to each other again, it was always with a chaperone present.

They were also told to look for a possible future mate within the Community. If they even considered looking outside the Community, it would have to be with the understanding that the person would have to be willing to become a member and join them at the Community. None of them did. They either married within CJ, or they left.

Another story from Band

In 2000 we dedicated the new church, The Church of the Transfiguration. It was a big deal, and so I was quite exhausted after all the work and meal preps and making a cake to feed 1000 people. (that’s another story) We were given the next day off from work to rest. The rest did not last long however, since the Band was going to be touring across the country on its way to Calgary to compete as a Field Band, for the first time, in the International Competition there in July, just a few weeks after this big dedication. We had to put in extra hours and days of practice because we were told our performance stank and we needed to shape up quickly. It’s a wonder they even wanted to take us there by the comments we constantly got. But in my opinion it was the Band leader’s undying dream to make a name for himself with a world famous Band. But it is only “to the Glory of God”, of course. (Do you detect a note of sarcasm there? How sinful of me) I was tired of Band, but did not want to be stuck at home. The chance to see the country and travel west again spurred me on to yet another year of exhausting, back breaking work that is doled out with plentiful rounds of criticism and punishments.

Here is an example of what we went through. I was part of the Pit, or Front Ensemble as it was sometimes called. We played the keyboards, drums, cymbals, and other miscellaneous instruments. We were in the doghouse, as the Band leader didn’t think we played well enough. So someone was assigned to whip us into shape. We were set up to the side of the field, and given a part of the music to play. We spent literally hours playing just the downbeat. If it did not sound perfectly together, as one note, he would yell at us to stop, and we all had to drop and do 10 push-ups or sit-ups. He conducted with a little pencil, and if we did not catch the small movement he made, down we went again for more push-ups. We spent more time on the ground than we did playing. It was a pointless exercise, intended to break our spirit. I became so tired I couldn’t see clearly, and lost some muscle control. I was dehydrated and shaking from exhaustion. After hours of this punishing, grueling work we were told to stop, but we received no word on whether we had improved or not. I don’t think improvement was the goal. I think punishment was the goal. I am not angry at the person for this. In other situations he was a very caring person and we were friends. So this is also an example of how we were forced to be cruel to each other.

The tour itself was a grueling trip, geared to the younger ones who can take long hours on the bus, long practices in the hot sun, sleeping on gym floors (air mattresses that were ‘telebegged’) and high carbohydrate meals. I endured it as I endured all of CJ life. I put my attention on the music, lost myself in that. In between playing, I kept a low profile and tried to find something beautiful to think about. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I was deeply depressed in the loneliness of my inner self. I felt there was no one to talk to about it. I was sure one sister would have ratted on me, another would not have known what to say, and yet another would have been furious at me. I’m sure any of the leaders would have been disgusted with me and told me I had so much to be grateful for, and I just didn’t want to give myself to God’s work. I did not believe anyone would have cared about my pain, inner and physical, and would have thought me to be whining and selfish.

We did our first show in Denver CO. From there, before dawn, we were on the buses heading west. This is what I have gone for. The country is breath-taking. Through Glenwood Springs Canyon, into Utah, and through the Bad Lands, or whatever they are called. It tugged on my heart strings. I grew up out West and it called to me. We played another show on the 4th of July in the Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah, and marched in the parade. I did not march as my feet were blistered and I could hardly walk. All my crew mates knew this, by the way. As I look back, it amazes me that I never received medical care in Band, except when I had the migraines and had to be cared for. Otherwise I was left to my own devices. It amazes me that they were so uncaring and callous, and it amazes me that I did not know that wasn’t normal, and did the best I could with it. I had nothing to compare it against. That is how I had always lived at CJ.

When we got to Banff National Park, we had a day trip to “enjoy” ourselves there. What I was hoping would be a relaxing day in the beauty of nature was a frustrating day of being made to wait around. The Community’s spiritual leader was talking spiritual stuff with each section of the Band. Each section got to hike up to the viewpoint while they were waiting their turn, except percussion. We supposedly were going to be talked to “next” and had to wait in the parking lot for several hours. Then it was finally our turn, and in my opinion it was banal, stupid stuff that she was spouting off about. When she decided she was done, we asked if we could now go see the viewpoint. There was hesitation, then a reluctant ok if we could get up there and back in 15 minutes, which was when the buses were leaving. I was so angry that I took off with the younger ones, and we practically ran up this steep path. My heart was pounding so badly that I actually got scared and thought I was on the verge of a heart attack. I slowed down and was ok, but I was so mad at her for spoiling a good outing that I was so looking forward to. That sounds childish, doesn’t it? I’m afraid that’s what life was reduced to. I desperately looked for perks wherever I could find them, because the rest of my life sucked.

We got to Calgary, practiced, did the show in the competition. I really didn’t care at that point about winning. It was just another gig and all the fun had been beaten out of me. We came in 2nd, and this was the very first competition we had ever been in. You would think we would be proud and happy about that, yes? No! The Band leader ranted and raved about how we were the best and the only reason we didn’t get first place was because the judges were crooked and always picked their home team to win. Now in my eyes, that is childish!