Sunday, April 25, 2010

To Join or Not to Join

I think I've told you about St. Mark's, a little white clapboard church about a mile down the road from me. I've been attending there for four or five years, I don't really remember. I started going right after I saw "The Passion of Christ." All that blood and guts of Jesus compelled me back to the Christian way. Go figure. This year I tried to watch the movie again and got only so far as the flogging in the court of Pilate. After two martinis and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I fell asleep. I would certainly have gone out and gotten ploughed at the crucifixion if I were one of the first disciples.

In any event, I have been recently grappling with joining the church….officially. Well, I've been grappling with this for four or five years but it was never really an issue until our old minister retired, the one white hair and one leg who looked like my father. The new minister, an earnest unretired priest with a shy Gary Cooper smile, arrived and I made the mistake of telling him that I'd been around, lo these many years, and had not yet been recognized by the Bishop. Well, his eyes lit up and he gave me a book on "the peculiar way of life of Episcopaleans." I was happy to receive it and become a candidate for membership. After all, didn't I really want to belong….to something?

Evidently not. Every night for the next week, I was tormented with nightmares about Wierwille and the cult. On Tuesday, I woke up at 2:30am, sobbing. I don't remember the exact content of the dream but the familiar pain of betrayal was there. A palpable memory of abandonment. The next night, another dream and the next until I was afraid to go to sleep.

I called my old minister and spoke with him about this situation. "I think I'm scared of joining anything," I said. He thought I had diagnosed the situation correctly. And he encouraged me to talk to the new minister, Father "Woody" and give him my book, which I did. After he finished my book, Father Woody came and paid us a visit and he almost blushed as he apologized for his enthusiasm. "I feel like a slick, oily used car salesman. I think it's best that you back off joining for now," he said.

Needless to say, I felt relieved mostly. There weren't any real benefits to joining, beyond what I already enjoyed. It wasn't like I'd get a guaranteed all-expenses-paid ticket to heaven or holiness. And the thought of the bishop laying his hands on my head sent me into more paroxysms of fear and trembling. Why fix something if it's not broken? Still, I couldn't help feel like I'd failed at something. Commitment.

The word "commitment" to a former cult-member is like "Incoming" to a Vietnam vet. It makes one want to dive under the pews and take cover. In a cult, it's a do-or-die mission. All-or-nothing. In church, Father Woody, tells me, it's very low-key and the point is not to PUSH but to ALLOW things to take their natural course, like the way flowers grow. We don't pull them out of the ground. We let them evolve according to their own time.

I remind myself that I managed to make a commitment to my husband fifteen years ago. He didn't push, he didn't threaten. He just created a safe environment in which I could decide for myself. And I've never for a minute regretted my decision. Perhaps, that's the key here - safety. When, if ever, I feel safe enough to join something, like a church, I will. I have to remember that it's much more complicated for me than the average person. The wounds are evidently still deep, deeper than I wish they were. But I can still attend and run for cover if it gets too much. Allow, don't push. That seems to me what Jesus would have advised.


Billy said...

Kristen obviously don't have big problems in making specific commitments (in school, work, writing, and others) that do not involve the giving of one's whole life. She was even able to make one that did...the one to her husband. But when she made a commitment to God that was really to Wierwille and The Way, and was used so horrendously for it, I suppose any commitment that involves similarities to that one from many years ago can raise red flags and/or cause the nightmares.

I was able to join a Methodist Church not too long after my way years, before I was married 25 years and a day ago. Of course despite being in the Way and the same corps, I was not subject to the abuse Kristen suffered. But my deprogramming was a traumatic experience for me. I said something in a post last year about being very sensitive to cult and mind control talk, and that was an understatement. While Kristen has those words in her vocabulary, in "Losing the Way" she didn't preach, but simply told of her abuse. That I could finally understand through my sensitivity, even though it had been quite a few years since I had acknowledged to myself that VPW might have dome some "less than Christian" things.

I wrote in a more recent post that I feel that there were some good things taught in the Way. And if the Way did teach some right things about God and Jesus, no matter how those teachings were used, anyone who thinks about getting back into Christianity, maybe even into another religion, is going to run into flashbacks from the Kristen's case, I guess resulting in those nightmares.

I Like Kristen's words "when, if ever..." in regards to joining something. Some things need time. Even though I wish it had not taken me so long to understand what was going on around me back then.I mean, I was in the Way, and my experience wasn't so bad; how could it have been that bad for anyone else?

Carol Hall said...

I completely understand the hesitancy to join another group, even one that is well established. For several years after leaving the Way in 1987, I didn't want to do anything related to Christianity. Then we began to have a home church to teach our kids and others what we thought we knew. We also began to try out different churches, but we always saw what was wrong with them. Joining a group always seemed impossible because of basic doctrinal differences. Now I am in a place where I have pretty much stripped away the doctrines of the Way from my core beliefs, and yet I still do not want to join another church. I try to keep my faith as simple as possible by relating to God in my own way, and not how some group dictates I should relate to him. I value my freedom in this above all. Maybe that is why I don't want to join another group.