Friday, May 13, 2011

The Joke Was On Me (Part Twelve)

I had two or three more conversations with grandpa that week. His take on his son's failings was similar to my take on grandpa - that his son was wounded by having been excommunicated from the cult group where he'd been a "somebody". Grandpa would say, "When he was in the assembly (this is how they referred to the cult group), he sang in a quartet, everybody knew him, and he found his identity in that. For twenty years now, he's been trying to compensate for all he lost, and that's brought him to where he is today." While I don't doubt that some of that is accurate, keep in mind that grandpa had no idea of the kind of aberrant, fundamentalist doctrines his son and his circle had aligned themselves with via the homeschooling movements they'd all delved into after the cult (and at that time, neither did I - I just thought they were all nuts). What grandpa was actually doing was describing himself, and then projecting himself upon someone else. He was a pro at this.

In one instance, he called my cell phone while I was on the road and sorta startled me. He asked how many family members I'd be bringing to the ceremony and, provided he could house us all, offered to allow us to stay at his place. I appreciated the gesture, and accepted, even if still not confident in him or approving of his sudden, extensive involvement. During one conversation, he stunned me with THIS proclamation: "You are an answer to my prayers. I've asked God so diligently for a man for **** who would take her away from everyone and everything she's ever known. You are an answer to prayer." And here I thought all the people in his and her world were so super "godly" and so forth. "What the...?!" I knew that he wasn't crazy about her personal friends outside of the former cult group. He'd been clear about that. But her relationships with many of them were strained from time to time anyway (if any of them said something that she so much as perceived as a critique of her family, she'd cut them off). It was the former cult crowd who had the loudest voices in her life. It was that crowd of "godly" people that he assured me would bring her father in line. The math on his statement didn't work. I knew his involvement was a bad idea from the beginning, but it was getting more and more bizarre all the time.

By the end of the week, though, I figured there'd been enough tap-dancing and I wanted to go ahead and deal with whatever fallout might come from his involvement, so I began to be very direct with him in my assessment of his son and the situation. She'd backed me into a corner by involving this man, so it needed to be dealt with rather than continually dreading the time when I'd have to deal with it in the future. My words concerning his son became pointed. And, just like I anticipated, he cooled toward me. Not overtly at first, but I could tell. He began doing more listening than talking, and for that dude, that's saying something.

As for her, she spent a little over a day at her grandparents (at that time, I hoped she would stay longer, even if grandpa was bizarre - I had other concerns), a night, the next day, and the next night, before returning home. She was confident that she could smooth things out by talking. While not knowing all of the P/QF stuff yet, I still knew people (and control freaks), and I knew she'd be wasting her breath and bringing even more grief upon herself. When we'd discussed our independence (prior to her declaring it) in the days leading up to this, I'd told her that there were three things she needed to be aware of and ready to face. They'd all be difficult for her. 1) She likely would never sing another note with her family. 2) She would probably need to find another place to stay. 3) Within 72 hours, her father would attempt to "retract" his blessing. That would be his "big gun" when all other manipulation failed. She acknowledged these things and deemed herself ready to face them, although, being naive, and being that this was her father/family, she wanted to believe them better than that. 

When she returned home, another big blow-up ensued, her dad made some comments about me, "Lewis is a coward!", "He's brainwashing you!", "He wants to tear our family apart!", et cetera, all of which were fabrications of a pathetic, threatened, sociopathic mindset that was losing control of the situation, told some other people "If she marries him, she's not mine!", et cetera - less than two weeks after I have him on video telling me "You're perfect, Lewis! God couldn't have answered our prayers more perfectly in a man for ****." You know how we often (usually even) become, in some part or to some degree, a product of out environment? It wasn't surprising for the man to be two-faced given the crowd he mingled with and considered "godly". I'm no better than anybody else, but let's just say that he and I have VERY different standards. This was just beating the hell out of her, emotionally, though, and at the time, that was my main concern...that and her physical safety.

Her family would be leaving for concert dates on Thursday and returning home on Sunday. Whether or not to go out and sing with them was a big issue and question mark for her. She asked me if I thought she should go. I told her "That's not my decision to make for you. You have to make that decision." I wanted her to think for herself. She asked, "But if you were me, would you go with them?" I gave her a very succinct "No." She wanted to know why, so I asked her some questions, practically begging, as subtly as I could, her to think. I asked, "Do you believe that who your family is offstage is matching up with the face you wear onstage?" She answered "No." I asked, "Do you consider that phony and hypocritical?" She answered "Yes." I asked, "If the pastors and members of these churches knew the things that have gone on in your home this week, knew that things were bad enough that you stayed somewhere else for part of the week, do you think your family would still be given a platform at these churches? Do you think your family would still be invited to sing?" She knew the answer to that (although she didn't speak it), but rather hit me with something that broke my heart and made it sink..."But Lew, what does the bible say about it? I need a biblical reason?" And there it was. All of that ingrained, legalistic dysfunction. When trouble arose, common sense and critical thought be damned - use that dad-gummed Holy Bible as a rule book, why don't ya? For all of the progress she'd made, for all of the personal growth I'd seen in her, she was still rife with poor spiritual health, and I worried anew whether she genuinely understood what a relationship with Christ was and what it meant. I told her, "I think you have plenty of evidence without going there, but if you insist - when you take the stage you're assuming, as a by-product of the dynamic, a position of  leadership. Tell me what Paul says the lives of church leaders should look like." Even if she was deadset on taking a legalistic, nouthetic approach to this, I wanted to encourage her to think even in such a thoughtless process.

Long story short, she found some of Paul's writing that dealt with leadership, talked to her grandpa about it to get a second opinion, he told her not to go, and she didn't go. I was glad she didn't go, but this all bothered me more than I can adequately express. Even the people in her life who were supposedly "healthy" (according to her) were keeping her confused - and as I'd find out later, speaking doubt into her regarding her devotion to me and her desire to trust me. That would only get worse. It was discomforting to see that when so many voices in her life began to speak against what she wanted to do, and senselessly speak guilt into her life, she didn't trust my word, and far worse, didn't trust the speaking of the Holy Spirit within her heart, but needed approval - if not from the majority, from a least one key player from her world: grandpa. This approach would HAVE to change for us to ever have a healthy marriage, or really, any kind of healthy relationship at all. This is what the "sweet" and "godly" people in her life nurtured in her. Weakness. Frailty. A veiled relationship with God, stitched up from top to bottom once again requiring a human mediator, or a group of them. She needed to trust God above ALL else and bond to me as a husband, not as a mediator between her and God. They were trying to keep her from bonding to me in any way at all, healthy and natural or otherwise.

In not going out to sing with her family, she'd have a couple of days at home by herself (not a big deal for her - she'd house-sat for people in the past), and I saw it as a wonderful opportunity for her to catch her breath. Silly me. She informed me that she was going to be talking to "Ethel" about "us" (yes, I know that's a pretty hokey made-up name - but it fits). This had been encouraged by grandpa, and, get this, by her parents too. I'd never been happy with grandpa's involvement, but this cemented for me his level of utter ignorance about all of the variables and dynamics in this deal. "Ethel" was the wife of the patriarses freakin' best friend. I asked my ex, "Ummm, you don't see a conflict, a big, big, GINORMOUS problem with that?" She was befuddled. To her, there were few "godlier" women than Ethel. No matter how I tried to get her to think, she couldn't see that Ethel's "counsel" was gonna look a lot like the crap her parents had been pouring on her. Ethel was a freakin' patriarse-ess. So finally, I just came out and said it, "I'm not comfortable with you talking to her about us. It's a terrible idea, and I'm asking you not to do it." She told me, "No Lew, you've got her all wrong. I can confide in her and trust her. You shouldn't distrust her. She's a "godly" woman." *insert exasperated expression of disgust and dismay HERE* SO naive. SOOOOOOO naive.

She talked to Ethel.

This whole "godly" business. Ugggh. They used that word so often, and usually to describe things and people SO unlike any God I want anything to do with, that the word no longer has meaning to me. Certainly not any positive meaning to me. It's like "biblical". These days, it just makes me recoil. After hearing the word so abused and misused, and having now come to LOATHE its use in describing people, you'd be giving me a better, more positive character/personal assessment of someone if you told me, "He/she passes out cigarettes to small children" or "He's a very smelly man" or "She's a very hairy woman" than to tell me someone is "godly". 

Just please don't ever call me "godly". No, this isn't my Brer Rabbit routine.

This began a pattern that often took the steam out of me - I could always tell when she'd been talking to someone in this crazy crowd, particularly to Ethel. Ethel had a way of diminishing my ex as an autonomous woman by throwing patterns of guilty thinking on her, so frankly, {CLA} I don't give a damn how "godly" Ethel is or was or how "godly" her intentions. I really don't. I don't think much of Ethel. My ex, when with them, was only as strong as the last person in her ear, and freakin' Ethel spoke to every weakness in her, and nourished it, serenaded every insecurity and confusion in her, and fed it - all by pointing her to her cultic, narrow-minded, legalistic upbringing, encouraging her to use it as a measure for all that was going on, and manipulatively pointing her continually back to the patriarchal paradigm, not to mention constantly trying to raise and cultivate doubts about me as a man. This should give you an idea of how healthy of a "counselor" Ethel was for my ex...Before speaking with my ex about this, Ethel sought permission from her husband to do so. I found out about all of this, right from Ethel's jackwagon of a patriarse of a husband, after my ex had disappeared. He told her it was okay, but to remember that it can get tricky when you "start messing around in relationships". In other words, he condoned her getting involved, but knew it was wrong, as she'd be meddling. He wanted the same outcome as my former future father-in-law, so the end justified the means. This dude is a whole other level of slithery, manipulative gasbag which we'll get into in future installments. And these are the people she looked UP to. The "rocks" and "oaks" in her life. It upsets me even as I type this three years removed.

Also that weekend, my ex hit me with, "Lew, I'm having second thoughts about coming there alone. I really think I need to bring along an accountability partner." I was floored, and the neon lighting I'd now installed around my "What the...?!" bubble lit up like the Griswold house at Christmas. I could tell that this could turn argumentative, so I asked, "Who have you been talking to most recently? If we're gonna have an argument, it's only fair that I know who I'm actually arguing with." She confided to me that she'd been speaking to her best friend (let's call her "Haley"). She and her best friend had an on again, off again kind of relationship. When she and I first got together, they weren't even really on friendly terms due to something my ex thought her friend had said about her most holy family unit. It was a really weird relationship, and I never quite understood it. Haley assumed the dominant role in their relationship, viewing my ex as naive and needing her opinions. She's opinionated, brash, so forth, or at least she was where my ex was concerned. While she may be a little more world-wise than my ex, she wasn't my ex's intellectual equal, and she was equally as immature, even if in different ways. But, anyway, Haley's deal was that a few years prior she'd gotten knocked-up by her boyfriend (she wasn't a P/QF person) and they ended up having a shotgun wedding, et cetera, leaving Haley now convinced that if my ex came here alone, we'd end up bumping uglies, I'd knock her up, yadda, yadda, and causing Haley to pleadingly try to convince my ex of the same. Made me so mad I could spit fragment grenades. I asked my ex, "Is that really all the faith you put in my decency? Is that really what you think of me?" She said, "No! Not at all, but..." at which point I cut her off and told her she needed to get her "but" out of the way of her life. Every person in her life stuck their "but"s in where they shouldn't, and continuously kept my ex off balance and insecure. Idiots. One and all. Toxic people and relationships everywhere she looked. I told her that Haley could drink a hot cup of "shut up" and stay out of our business. If she couldn't come here alone out of fear I'd knock her up, we needed to end this now so that she could find a better, more decent man than a horndog like me. She got the point.

Funny, and I'm mentioning this so that you can come back to this and wear your own "What the...?!" bubbles toward the end of the story, but I mentioned this Haley business to grandpa later that evening, and he mockingly laughed it off, telling me, "Haley's very immature, and she's just projecting her own weakness and failure on ****. Don't sweat it. I'll talk to **** about it. I'm confident that she'll go to see you alone." There's the irony there in once again accusing others of his own favorite pastime, but later in the story (as in, several installments down the line) what he said here will make you dizzy and show you the depth of sickness I dealt with - if you haven't figured it out already. 

This was all beginning to age me in dog years, I was barely sleeping, barely eating, and constantly in turmoil. It was devastating for her, too. It was all senseless and needless. They ALL should've left us alone and let us love each other.

I was just counting, and surviving, the days until her trip here, which, at this time, was a little over a week away. I was desperate to hold her, kiss her, shield her, and look her in the eyes and tell her I loved her once again.


  1. You know, not being able to see someone in person is complicated. The summer my parents told my now husband (then boyfriend) and I to break up (I was raised QF, and he was most definitely NOT), and I told them no, they asked that we only communicate by written letter, all summer. I was 20 years old, but I was in their house, what else could I do? So we did. Did you know that it takes seven days to get a reply after writing a letter to someone living a five hour drive away? So all the poison, all the guilt, all the attempts to bring me back into the fold, and my only communication lifeline took seven days. Oh the horrors. The difference is that I had been taught to THINK and I had spent two years in college, so I was able to hold up under the pressure, even without being able to talk to my boyfriend (and the prompter of my questions about Patriarchy) on a moment's notice. I'm so glad we made it through all that crap and it's OVER.

    And I feel so sorry for you, Lewis, because you tried so SO hard and it didn't work. Although, realize that it wouldn't be over even if it did work. You would STILL have her family at you, even if you too made a clean break (this is from personal experience, of course). It's possible to set boundaries, but it is NOT easy.

  2. "The Assembly"... I wonder if this cult group ever made it to Nebraska. I was raised in a fundamentalist home by an extremely angry and abusive mother and completely unable to think for myself, due to constantly being told I was too stupid/wicked/whatever to possibly do anything right. This left me wide open to cultic influences and my sophomore year in college I got sucked into a group calling itself "The Assembly". I was only in it for 2 months, thank God.... they were making increasing demands that I attend meetings that conflicted with my school schedule and I eventually chose school over them, though they sure didn't make it easy to get out. It'd be interesting to know if this is the same group. As I recall, the founder of my group was named "Brother George"...

  3. Lewis, I remember the same craziness in my family during my "courtship" with my ex. His family begged me to come live with them until the wedding...but I couldn't leave my family. Now, we were only Gothardites for 7 years but we were fully indoctrinated. I'm lucky that I had a kind father who recognized the craziness that the courtship brought out in us and fought to help me escape. I was devastated when he broke up with me....not because the relationship ended but because I felt I had missed God's leading. It took YEARS for me to realize that God had been leading...He'd led me to a way of escape.

    God arranged for me to have a premarital counsellor that had been a former ATI dad. He was the one who helped me understand that I had been spiritually abused. He also helped my husband understand how I had been taught to think. That was undoubtedly the work of the Lord. However, it's taken me 10 years of being happily married and attending a church that ministers to those hurt by church to have the courage to face what I was taught. It's a journey. A LONG journey!

    - Teri

  4. That's probably a different group.

    The movement my ex's great-grandfather started did branch out a bit to several groups in CA and OR, then eventually a couple in TX (where my former future FIL met my former future MIL) and VA, one in OK and one in ARK that I'm aware of. They were all pretty small and all very informal. Their big thing was that they weren't a "sect" like denominational churches, but rather just Christians like the early church, so they usually met in people's homes or in a building somewhere that a member provided. They went by several names, usually dependent on which particular group you met with. The particular group my ex's family was involved with in NorCal went by "the assembly".

    Essentially defunct now, save for a few stragglers here and there trying to continue the original idea.

  5. Don't know if you would be surprised to know that many Catholic Homeschooling groups are following this same patriarchal, legalistic model as well. As a parent, wanting to be holy and have a "holy" family, I was almost sucked into this sick world. Thank God, I realized the craziness of it all before it was too late for my kids! (Who all attend public high school *gasp* and are quite happy and well adjusted!)

  6. I've been reading your story with sorrow, I didn't grow up in this kind of environment and your experience is heartbreaking.

    I looked up the cult and the family band. Any idea of why they have not updated their myspace, website etc? They haven't put out a CD for a couple of years and there don't seem to be any performances booked.

    Bene D

  7. Bene...They're finished in the music business. One of the more influential people (a talent agent) in the genre I and they were involved in personally told me about two years ago (regarding their involvement in the Christian music community), and I quote, "If they ever stick their head back up out of whatever hole they've jumped in, I'll lop it off." Same guy I quoted in one of the earlier pieces.

    They wasted a lot of people's resources, HUGE sums of money which others put out on the line for them, and her dad ruined all of their reputations. The bridges have been burned. They essentially ceased touring and performing at the end of 2008.

    Also, two of the daughters, my ex and "Sally", have now married, and the eldest moved out of state to live near "Derwood and Ethel". I've no idea what the youngest is now doing or where she is.

    It's all a big mess and a shame. Even if they hadn't been able to make it as a family band (and under their father's leadership, they wouldn't have), each of the girls, had they been willing to move east, could've made a solid career doing background vocals in the studio world. At the point in the story that I'm at with this installment, I was already looking into this for my ex (she'd expressed an interest in it), and she could've made a minimum of probably $250 a day doing BGVs up to 6 or 8 days a month had she wanted to. It would've grown from there. Some of the best singers in the world (which no one has ever heard of) are career background vocalists in the recording industry.

    It's a shame.

  8. lol...I'd feel better if you'd said "smelly".

  9. Unfortunately, the latter cannot be verified as much as the former on this electronic medium. Ironic, no?

  10. Anonymous (whose post I deleted - nothing personal toward you)...To answer your question...Yes. I've tried to avoid their names here, though.

  11. And Anonymous...I'm glad your family got out of it. VERY glad for you.

  12. Wow, it's a small world. My mom's family was part of that northern CA assembly until the mid-80s, and that's where she met my dad. A few of his siblings are still involved with the meeting folks in other areas, but my immediate family hasn't been to any gatherings since the mid-90s. It's been a long road and in some ways we're still healing (my parents, especially), but God has been very faithful.

    And no problem about deleting my question. I really appreciate your efforts to keep actual names out of this and expected you would delete it.

  13. She probably knows them personally, then, or at least remembers them.

    As far as their names...More of a practical thing than a "goodness of my heart" thing. I just don't think much good would come from it. If they could be shamed into doing right, they'd have done it long ago.

    I know of some really sad stories concerning people who were involved in that group. Very glad you guys got out.

  14. Ugh. I WISH I had a WTF bubble hanging over my head. I experienced a similar mind-schtupping in the late 80s / early 90s. I had finally obtained my parents permission (at the age of 20) to marry the one I was positive was God's Best For Me. Two of our very godly friends, who had just been married the prior summer, counseled us that we were hanging on too tightly and needed to Step Out In Faith. So! My then-beloved returned to my parents, and informed them that if their permission was given begrudgingly, he would walk away.

    (This acutally would have been a good thing, saving me years of misery, but then I wouldn't have my children, so ... I also wouldn't have recognized it at the time. There are some things you can only learn the hard way.)

    This impressed them, and they told him there was no need for that.

    Not that the mind-schtupping ended there, of course. There was plenty more where that came from ~ from the godly church community we finally left when the egos got too big, from my mother, who has changed since then, but not nearly enough, and finally from my then-husband, who became a little tin god in his own right, and demanded worship and devotion from me and the kids that can never exist in a healthy family dynamic.

    Its all so very wrong. WTF indeed.

  15. Is this the same "The Assembly" in "Girl at the End of the World" by Elizabeth Esther? Whether it is or not, oh man, it's hard to read about the abuse you went through. I also left one "unhealthy religious group" (I don't like using the word cult because it just distracts people IMO) for another one, and it took me a while to finally make a very abrupt and complete break theologically. I also came to the conclusion the leader of the most recent group I was involved in had symptoms that may lead to a diagnosis of bi-polar. I've never met a more insecure man in my life, whose only sense of well-being came from the unquestioning loyalty of the idiots who followed him (me, for a time, included).

  16. There is a weird dynamic in fundamentalist groups where older women treat the younger women worse than even the men do sometimes. I have heard it said that it is because these older women were forced to bear with the trauma of living in such cults and losing all hopes of ever being free to do what they wish with their lives for decades- and so do not wish to see the younger women enjoy their lives in any way.

    Also, the older women do not have any other channels to use in regards to venting their anger (they can only speak to men of all ages respectfully...and their fellow old women are unlikely to put up with projected anger). That leaves only the younger women as 'socially accepted' scapegoats that everyone in the community can vent on.

    Ethel sounds like a covert abuser, in this case. Even though she had lived as a prisoner and knew that you were the one last hope for your ex to break free and be a happy and fulfilled woman, she chose to lead her back into the prison.