Thought Reform?

Thought reform or mind control seems like something that only happens in a movie or a novel, but it is prevalent in our society today. One only has to look as far as the Catholic Church to find victims of spiritual abuse. While the stories of altar boys molested by priests have made headlines, countless victims are still suffering in silence. Whenever there is a power imbalance in a relationship, there is a danger that the person who holds more authority will abuse his or her power. It can occur on a large scale as with the Unification Church (the Moonies) or in smaller groups such as Heaven's Gate (39 members) or even in one-on-one relationships such as a priest and parishioner or a professor and a student. Victims of mind control are not crazy cult followers. They are people like me and you who have fallen into a trap set by a predatory leader. In my experience, the trap was built with trust and words and compassion which lured me into thinking that I was safe until it snapped down on me. Victims of mind control are robbed of time. Sometimes years or decades are lost while in the group or relationship. Victims of mind control lose family and friends. Most are told to end contact with outsiders. Many who are able to return to their families find the relationships fractured. Victims of mind control lose their identities. It's difficult to know who you are after being told by someone else how to feel, how to dress, how to act. It's one of the darkest and most frightening feelings in the world. There are very few facilities that treat these victims or therapists who are equipped to handle these cases. It makes for a long, lonely journey for these victims. Compassionate understanding and education by society is lacking. This novel is dedicated to raising awareness and giving a face to victims of mind control.

1. Every person should have the right to his or her own thoughts, ideology, and identity.

2. Thought reform does not simply exist in cults that are on the news. It can occur in one-on-one relationships and in small groups in your neighborhood

3. In any situation where there is an imbalance of power (priest/parishioner, therapist/client), there is potential for abuse.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chapter 7

“When the Big Hand speaks,
its like fireworks in heaven.”—R. Smith
Chapter 7

Increasingly I saw Father Will as a prophet—a man who had a mission to fulfill, a man who walked God’s path only to have petty mortal obstacles put in his way. The Senior Warden and Father Will became polarized opposites as I listened to the struggle within the church. The Senior Warden was intent on destroying Father Will’s ministry to regain control as he was friends with the Chalmers family who were very influential. He was the thorn in Father Will’s side. He was Father Will’s Pontius Pilate except worse. At least Pilate didn’t want to crucify Jesus. It seemed the Senior Warden was out for blood—the blood of a man who could save a failing church. The vestry meetings were nothing more than an excuse for parading Father Will before the crowd. “Will it be Father Will or someone we think is better—more malleable to our wills”, I imagine I hear the Senior Warden saying. “Jesus or the criminal Barabbas?” And the crowd shouts “Barabbas, free Barabbas!”. Someone else, we want someone else. And Jesus? “Crucify him!” And Father Will? “Crucify him!”
     And so they did. They crucified his reputation, his ministry, his legacy at St. John’s. It devastated me to see this happen. On the day he announced his intention to leave St. John’s, I was the sole acolyte. His sermon that day focused on this, and when he sat down next to his Lay Eucharistic Minister, he looked at me. I will never forget that. I had never seen him look so crushed and so vulnerable. He was sitting next to a parishioner that had helped bring about his ruin, but his eyes indicated to me that he wished he were sitting next to me—his friend and supporter. I wanted to be next to him to comfort him, to hold him in what was the darkest hour in his ministry at St. John’s. I felt that I had failed him. We had failed in our schemes to keep him where he was. I nodded to him. It was good, my nod said, and it is over now. The procession was small that day—just me, the LEM, and Father Will. As I hoisted the crucifix high in the air, the tears came. I led them out with every parishioner seeing my heart displayed in the teardrops rolling freely down my cheeks. But why wouldn’t I cry? The procession out of church was usually joyful. Not only are you getting out of church after sitting for over an hour, but all had been fed with the Spiritual Body of Christ, readying them for a new week, reminding them of Christ’s sacrifice, reminding them of their Christian responsibilities for the next week. It was an occasion to celebrate. But this….there was no Eucharist that day….there was no joy in my heart.  Carrying the crucifix, I led Father Will and the LEM in a solemn funeral procession. Father Will’s ministry was dead. The prophet had been accused, tried, crucified, and now was no more.
But as Father Will often reminded me, after death there is resurrection. He began his ministry at St. Paul’s in February 2007. He was in heaven with a full complement of clergy and laity attending him at the altar. In his first Sunday, he laid hands on about one hundred people—people with illnesses mental and physical, people who were heartbroken and needy, hungry for the peace of Christ. The prophet was back. He had risen from the darkness that surrounded him at St. John’s and now sat high on the throne of St. Paul’s where he was adored by vestry and parishioners alike. It had been a unanimous decision by the vestry to hire Father Will, and, more importantly, the Senior Warden loved him. He was finally the object of the adulation he so richly deserved.

Mon, February 5, 2007 8:24:56 AM
     Yesterday was just flat AWESOME! We had a total attendance of 300 for both services (9AM and Noon). The Vestry welcomed us with a spray of flowers for Catherine that they gave her just after the Processional Hymn. A nice dinner in the Parish hall and a good opportunity to meet folks. Parishioners came out of church and volunteered that FINALLY, they felt they had worshipped! Yeah!!
The Noon service in Spanish was amazing! While Fr. Lorenzo was giving communion, I was anointing and healing! They just kept coming. Must have laid hands on over 100. Communion portion of the service took 30 minutes alone! A wonderful, holy time.
Tried to get in touch with you yesterday and left a voicemail on your cell phone. Hope you are well.

I'm delighted we made a good beginning!


      Father Will continued to bask in the admiration of his new congregation and updated me frequently on our success.

Mon, February 12, 2007 1:57:37 PM

     Hey there! Great to hear from you! It's really something going from a person who DOES everything to a person who manages what everyone else is doing! But I'm enjoying it immensely. Yesterday was wonderful - another good crowd at the 9 AM. This past week, the Spanish priest told me that four people received healing when I laid hands on them on my first Sunday there! Awesome!      
     I have planned all the services from Ash Wed through Easter Day. If you have bulletin covers stored on your computer from last year for the major Holy Week services, feel free to send them on to me at any time.
BTW, our congregation LOVES the covers you have been sending! I knew they would! :-)
Blessings. Let's talk soon.

It seemed all was going as planned—according to our plan as well as God’s. I continued to be a support for Father Will at a distance by supplying him with art for the bulletin and, for a time, proofreading his lectures. Now that he was settled and away from the constant fire of St. John’s, I could once again seek his counsel. For well over a year, I had not talked to him about my personal problems. Instead the focus had been solely on him and propping him up so that he had the physical and mental stamina to carry on at St. John’s. He had developed several physical ailments due to all the stress in the last year and a half. I did not need to add to his stress. However, once the storm had passed, I again sought his advice on what to do about my relationship with Brian. Things had improved slightly in the last year, but once again, I felt that it was hopeless that we would be happy together in the long run. I wrote an e-mail about my marriage during this time to him only once and he wrote back with the general advice that he would give his communication students. Brian and I had already been in therapy with Adrian. There was just something there—some blockage—that none of us could figure out how to overcome much less the root of it.
Overall, though, things were looking up for Brian and I—at least as much as they could under the dark cloud of the unknown, undecipherable something that plagued our marriage.
In March 2007 Father Will transferred our family’s membership to St. Paul’s. I had no qualms about it as I did not consider St. John’s to be my home church anymore. It had nothing to offer me. My home was wherever Father Will resided. It was a good time. I had a job teaching pre-school in Alpine and Father Will was happy in his church. Even though I didn’t really want to teach pre-school, I was happy to feel some sense of worth and to finally feel that I was contributing to the family financially however meager the amount. I grew to love the children in my class and became good friends with my fellow teacher. I thought I had at last found my niche in Alpine. I had a measure of happiness.
During this time Alexis had to be sent to a psychiatric hospital twice. She was intent on hurting herself and cut her arms relentlessly. Though the cuts were superficial, I worried that it was only a matter of time before she overdosed on whatever medication was available in the medicine cabinet. It was heartbreaking, but again, Father Will was there for me with an eager ear and suggestions of which hospital to send her to. He suggested we send her to Houston where he would keep an eye on her for me. We didn’t and sent her to Odessa where she was only two and a half hours away from us. Certainly it is closer than the ten hours it would be to Houston, but as we drove away and the miles grew between my first born and myself, my heart grieved that she was enveloped in such sadness. Why couldn’t I just hug and kiss her and give her a Power Puff girl band-aid to make it all better? My body ached with the desire to hold her and take the pain for her. I wanted to lay with her and somehow by diffusion receive her pain into my body so that she would hurt no more. I loved her so much, my baby, my jewel.
During this time, Father Will reiterated his opinion that only I should parent Alexis leaving Brian completely out of any decision-making or disciplining process. I had second thoughts about it, but nothing seemed to be working for us as a family so I did just that. By cutting Brian out, however, he and Alexis grew even farther apart and she began to resent him because he was no longer present in her life as a father figure. Didn’t he care? Didn’t he love her? And her relationship with Jeremy, her biological father, was strained at this point as well. She wondered if he cared at all or if he ever had cared about her. Did he love her as a daughter? If so, why didn’t he show it? Why do all the men in her life turn on her? But not all did. There was Father Will who was not only her godfather but her father figure as well. He was always there for her to listen, to advise, to make her laugh. In many ways, he was as important to her as he was to me. He was our rock, our light in the midst of darkness, the guardian savior of our lives.
In May, I stopped sending Father Will art for the bulletin. My involvement in his church was now zero. I hated being so far away from what I considered a good church. We attended the Anglican church in Alpine on a regular basis but had no real commitment to it. Father Will’s liturgies were so well planned and so beautiful to me that no other priest could compare. I was disappointed in every other priest I came into contact with. When Father Will prepared the gifts, I felt that I was in the presence of the Lord himself at the Last Supper. It was that magical, that holy…beautiful.
     I was used to this spiritual dryness having been in Alpine for three years. It was no coincidence that our trips home coincided with Christian holidays or important days within the church.  I couldn’t fathom attending some other church besides Father Will’s for Christmas or Easter or any other important day in my life.  All others would fall short—fail to convey the true specialness of the day.  So I made frequent trips to Father Will’s church, got my fix, and learned to exist in those hollow times in between. 
          The first time I attended St. Paul’s was July 15, 2007.   I was in awe when I stepped into the church with the longest aisle in the diocese which led to a beautiful altar.  I felt, enveloped in the smells of antiquity and wood and God, that finally, finally Father Will was in a church that would allow him to be a priest, to fulfill his mission—the prophet’s mission.
          The processional down that aisle was jubilant with an abundance of clergy including the Bishop and Dominicans, laity, and children from the Spanish-speaking congregation dancing in the aisle.  My eyes brimmed with tears as I watched as various heads of church organizations presented Father Will with gifts—a prayer book, a beautifully framed key to the church with Scripture, a T-shirt from the youth, and countless other symbolic items.  My heart nearly burst with triumph and happiness.  Finally Father Will was at home. 
          I was greeted warmly at the reception that followed the institution of Father Will as rector.  Not a few people told me that they had heard about me through Father Will.  “Oh, so you’re Father Will’s friend from his old church! We’ve heard so much about you!” they would exclaim.  Though pleased that my reputation—good it seemed—preceded me, I wondered just what Father Will had told them and why.  It didn’t really matter, and I was in too big of a rush to bother with worrying over it.  Pictures were taken, hugs given, promises to see each other later in the week were made, and I hurried home to take Alexis to summer camp.  All in all it was a glorious day without exception.  That is until several months later when Father Will shared with me that his female priest friend had been texting him during the service.  “You look so hot in your vestments,” she texted not implying that the temperature was warm.  His wife was sitting right beside him when she sent it.  That kind of made the day fall flat.  I felt I had been kicked right in the stomach.  I was shocked that she would do something like that….but, really was it any worse than what was to come of my relationship with Father Will? 

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