The Warrior: Drew’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Drew” is a pseudonym.

My lightbulb moment was more of a straw moment. The straw that broke this camel’s back. As a part of a homeschooling/fundamentalist group for my entire life, I had already gone through a lot of things that shook up my worldview: church-splits, friends who had been abused, bitterness and judgement from people I felt I should trust, and crumbling fundamentalism in the face of good questions from non-fundamentalist friends. Many of these things have been talked about at length elsewhere. So I just want to cover one thing: the moment where it all sort of snapped into place for me.

I was in church one day and the band played a new-ish song. I had been in services when they played it before, but hadn’t paid attention. Suddenly though, everything seemed to slow down as I took in the lyrics.

“Your hand shall find out every foe
And as a fiery furnace glows
With raging heat and living coals
They will feel your wrath upon their souls

Oh the warrior will conquer all

The world will fall before His feet.”

I looked around the room. I saw my fellow church-goers raising their hands, closing their eyes, swaying to the music, looks of joy on their faces.

And I just didn’t get it.

Why would we celebrate this? Why would we celebrate the fact that God is going to totally obliterate people who don’t believe in the same stuff we do?

The congregation’s celebratory response to this vengeful, violent message nauseated me.

I realized that this song represented two beliefs that had been major players in the community where I had spent my life.

  1. You should fear and/or despise people who disagree with you. In fact, you should do your best to stay away from places where you could encounter them (avoid public school, secular art, or making friends with non-Christians).
  2. You can rest assured that the lost will meet the horrible fate they deserve. In fact, you are even allowed to be a little smug about it sometimes (as long as you are usually sad about it).

I almost instantly realized I didn’t buy into that fearful and bitter worldview anymore.

In college, I had started to meet people and make friends who were not fundamentalist Christians (or even Christians at all). They were wonderful people, and I didn’t want to be part of a culture that pushed them away or just tried to shove a belief-system down their throats.

In that moment, I knew I needed to step back from the fundamentalist Christian homeschooling circles I had run in for so long and start looking for a worldview that made room for nuance, open-mindedness, and graciousness.

I consider the search for this new worldview to be ongoing- an awesome journey that takes me further and further away from that room where people are celebrating The Warrior.

The Dawning of Day: Gary’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Gary” is a pseudonym.

I like to think of my awakening as the sun rising rather than a light bulb being turned on.
I think of my awakening in this way for several reasons.

First, because it wasn’t one moment in time I can pick out that changed it all, no one event or interaction. It was instead a dawning, a slow realization spread out over the space of about 14 years.

Second, because it is not some small illumination that can be broken or switched off again, but rather an all-encompassing, earth warming, life giving blast furnace of truth that rises into the sky.

Third, because it starts small, from total darkness. I was stumbling, groping in the dark, blind, being tripped up by things I could not see.

Then comes the faintest of glows, far off, or, if you face away from the sunrise, you see first faint outlines of objects, the slightest differentiation of light from dark, form as different than the formless, the earth from the sky.

Little by little the light grows; the things I stumbled on in the darkness are shown to be small stones easily avoided…..now that I can see them for what they really are.

Did it start the day I realized, while reading my father’s old psychology textbook, that my father had been intentionally manipulating us children with Pavlov and Freud based tricks? That he KNEW what he was doing? That his bizarre behavior was not just him “being crazy” but was based off actual theories and practices he had studied in University?

That he was intentionally and with malice trying to make us children afraid of the outside world using psychological manipulation?

That when he spoke of how everyone but himself were “sheep” that could be so easily manipulated he was including myself and my siblings in that number?

Did it start when I realized at age 15 that I was the intellectual equal to my father? That I wasn’t an “idiot” or a “simpleton” as he so frequently told me but rather on par with him in every way? That he could not come up with a single form of manipulation, a single trick, that I did not see through like a pain of glass?

Was it at the age of 20, sitting in the seats of a prominent fundamentalist College and hearing raw hatred spewed from the pulpit day after day after day?

Hatred for Catholics, hatred for LGBTQ people, (thinly veiled) hatred for other races, and thinking…..”these people are crazy”….not just average crazy, but completely, 100%, to the very core, crazy. Dangerous crazy. Wild eyed, clenched teeth, foaming at the mouth NUTS, that they WANT the apocalypse to happen, desire it with a rabid hunger and dream about the end of the world like a little kid dreaming about going to Disney World.

Was it at the age of 21-22 when I started reading actual science textbooks and articles for the very first time and realized that there was no global conspiracy of scientists working to cover up the modern day existence of living dinosaurs left over from the flood?

That the Loch Ness monster wasn’t real? That even other Christians believed in evolution? That the “scientific truth” I had been taught was the collective fantasies of just a handful of complete crackpots who had absolutely zero credibility?

Was it at the age of 23, hearing Neil Young’s “Keep on Rocking In the Free World” on the radio, and hearing for the first time the lines: “…so she puts the kid away and she’s gone to get a hit, she hates her life and what she’s done to it, that’s one more kid who’ll never get to go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool…” and realizing so very clearly that I was essentially that child?

That my parents’ addiction to the sense of superiority they got from radical fundamentalism was more important to them than my chance to have any semblance of a normal or happy childhood?

That they were juicing up with “hits” of radical ideology and paranoia as fervently and regularly as any addict? That all else, every other thing in the world, including the health and mental well-being of their children, would always come second to their need to feel superior?

I can’t pick a single instance when I woke up completely, but I can clearly see the end result.

A stronger, more educated, clear headed, less fearful human being.
A person no longer groping in the darkness.
A person striding ahead into future, the path ahead finally illuminated, not by light bulbs, not by candles, but by the all-encompassing light of day.

Words From God: Danica’s Story, Part Two

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: Danica is a MK and homeschool alumni. She blogs at Ramblings of an Undercover TCK.

*****

In this seriesPart One |Part Two

*****

As Nancy slowly became more and more enmeshed in the prayer group, things started to shift.

I don’t know if it was the shift was so slow it was imperceptible to me, or that by that point I was so caught up in Nancy’s paradigm I didn’t notice it, but either way, the end result was that after six months, the prayer group had lost half its members, and the ones who stayed were sold out to Nancy’s vision. It was a vision handed down by God’s Apostle and Prophet Chuck Pierce, who Nancy had traveled to see at one of his conferences.

Chuck Pierce was someone I had never heard of. Looking like Santa Clause on vacation with his snowy head of hair, matching beard, and penchant for colorful Hawaiian shirts, Chuck is a top apostle and prophet in the New Apostolic Reformation movement. The NAR is based on a hierarchy pulled from the list of spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4:11. The so-called ‘Five-Fold Ministry’ places apostles first, followed by prophets, then evangelists, pastors and teachers. Devotees promote a strict adherence to this order, saying that this structure must be in place for a church to be properly aligned.

The year that Nancy went to his conference, Chuck and Dutch Sheets, another NAR prophet, had traveled around the country and received what they said were words from God for each State in the Union. Prayer warriors were supposed to ‘pray the words in’. At his conferences, you could count on the blowing of shofars and the waving of banners as the praise team sang prophetically, coming up with songs on the spot (inspired directly through the Holy Spirit, they said) that they recorded and sold to conference attendees. Nancy came home from the conference with CD’s for all of us, which she encouraged us to play in our homes as we ‘warred with praise’.

She said she had received a ‘mantle’ from Chuck’s team to do the work of ministry in our area.

(Interesting side note: Chuck Pierce also gave a ‘mantle’ to Mormon talk show host Glenn Beck when Beck and his wife attended a service at his Global Spheres Center, later playing it off to critics as a ‘mantle from Israel’, not from Chuck himself).

Nancy also came back with the year’s Vision for America, handed down by God’s prophets to us lower prophets to ‘pray in’. There was a Kingdom Shift coming, apparently, where a New Door would open into a New Season. Those who had Ears To Hear would answer the call, forsake king and kin, and enter into the New Season.

But there was a catch. Nancy had a vision foretelling our church and pastor weren’t going to enter into the New Season. They had welcomed and embraced the anti-Christ spirit.

If I, or anyone else in the prayer group, didn’t leave the church and join the home church Nancy was starting under the leadership of Chuck Pierce, then we would be partnering with the anti-Christ spirit and would be left on the other side of the closed Door, missing out on God’s New Season.

A Season that would surely usher in the End Times. As part of this new season, Chuck had issued a call for people to start up home churches, and Nancy was answering that call. She was sending her tithe to his ministry, she said, and encouraged us to send our tithes to her so she could pass them on to Chuck as well.

Now let me stop for just a minute. Writing this all out, it sounds like utter horse bologna. It sounds, literally, crazy. It’s honestly embarrassing. I mean, I had been raised to be able to spot cults coming. I knew the scriptures. I prided myself for my entire life on my critical thinking. So how was it that I couldn’t see this fledgling cult for what it was?

The simple answer is … I ignored my intuition.

My intuition warned me several times that something was off, but each time it reared its head, I firmly squashed it down again, misidentifying it as criticism and judgement.

The turning point for me was when she said I must leave the church and join her. I cried and prayed and agonized over this for days.

By that time, I had completely given away all autonomy of thought, relying on her to interpret any words or visions I had and give me understanding of scripture.

I was terrified of partnering with the anti-Christ spirit, but something in me, something very deep down at my core, said, NO! so loudly and so adamantly that I came up against an internal brick wall. I literally couldn’t follow her, even though I desperately wanted to.

The last contact I had with Nancy was on the phone when I told her, “I can’t leave the church. I probably am partnering with the anti-Christ spirit but I just can’t leave.” For about a month prior I had felt a change in my ‘inner circle’ status. Instead of the loving acceptance and happy understanding we had shared at the beginning, I increasingly felt a subtle but growing disapproval. It caused me to ever more frantically try to figure out exactly what to say, how to curry favor, to discern what it was I was doing wrong in her eyes.

I hung up from that phone conversation with my soul in splinters.

Time passed.

Without constant exposure to her presence, Nancy’s influence over me started to wane.

One day I woke up, like Edmund in the White Witch’s palace, to see with devastating clarity the web of lies she’d woven around me.

I made an appointment with my pastor, sitting broken and crying on his couch, to apologize for my part in misleading the people in the prayer group.

My faith, it was shattered.

I have since spent hours researching what it means to be pulled in by a narcissist. Every first-hand account I’ve been able to find follows a predictable pattern.

1. The Enchantment – The narcissist seductively woos you through fantastical stories that are tailor made to appeal solely to you. Narcissists have an uncanny ability to read their audience, intuiting exactly what that audience wants and needs to hear. Since they see their audience as a mirror, reflecting their own grandiosity back to them, the narcissist will choose what image to project depending on their audience, in order to communicate, See? I’m exactly like you … only BETTER. Thus they pull their audience in.

2. The Enlisting – Now that they have you, the narcissist enlists you into their Grand Scheme. This could be as a romantic partner, business partner, cult member, band member … the manifestations of a narcissist’s Grand Scheme are as varied as the people creating them. But the common thread is that the narcissist will have an image they want you to spend yourself for, and since by this time you’re fully under the narcissist’s enchantment, you’ll do so willingly and wholeheartedly.

3. The Execution – Everyone has a shelf life. I really don’t know why narcissists cycle through people, but it is a recurring pattern. Some people are willing to stay on the ‘outside’ long enough for the narcissist to cycle back to them and eventually start over again with Enchantment. Others get ‘executed’ and are left, bleeding and hopeless and alone, like I was.

My faith, it was shattered.

Everything I had ever known and believed to be true, I now second guessed.

I had so completely surrendered myself to Nancy that I couldn’t think critically for myself anymore. Like we’re warned about in junior high youth group pep talks, I had checked my brain at the door. Nancy had become, in essence, my Holy Spirit.

I was wholly and thoroughly brainwashed in the most insidious way possible, because the entire time I was thinking I was learning something new and different. A revelation of a higher order. Something not to be entrusted to just anyone. A Truth that only those who were called and set apart, only those who really had the discernment to see, could comprehend.

How does a person even come back from that?

My head had become so twisted that I had to shelve everything, in order to examine anything.

I started with God. For the first time in my life, I gave myself permission to doubt if he was real. And if he was real, was he good? And if he was good, was his word true? And if it was true, what did I do with the things in it that had been used to hurt me?

It was a long, slow, painful journey, this dark night of my soul. And yet somehow I have come out of it a better, more complete and truer version of myself. My faith I can hold with mystery and wonder and joy and sadness, knowing that the God I trust gives me the freedom to be honest and ask difficult questions. The swirling winds of doubt and pain that surrounded me in the aftermath of my involvement with Nancy and Chuck Pierce’s NAR cult have blown away the chaff that had grown unquestioned for my entire life, and now only the wheat remains – some of which I never knew was even there, some of which has grown up now that there is room since the chaff is gone.

The thing about a cult is that you don’t know you’re in one until you’re out of it.

The good news is that once you experience the pull of a narcissist, have sacrificed your intuition and your very self upon the altar of their cultish, narcissistic image, then you are able to more easily recognize when the next one … and then the next one … and then the one after that … come along.

Words from God: Danica’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: Danica is a MK and homeschool alumni. She blogs at Ramblings of an Undercover TCK.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two

*****

The thing about a cult is that you don’t know you’re in one, until you’re out of it.

Like most kids raised by Born Again Baby Boomers, I grew up hearing about cults from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Jim Jones, the Branch Davidians and Charles Manson were all intriguing villains whose manipulative and destructive exploits peppered my childhood story times with appropriate and delicious horror. The New Age cults in This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, Christian horror books by author Frank Peretti, were held up as examples of what to look for lest my siblings and I be led astray when we got out ‘in the world’.

What nobody told me was that cults can happen within Christianity, in good churches, under the noses of diligent leadership.

My first experience with Nancy was her vociferously shouting, “Amen! That’s right!!” in agreement with our senior pastor’s sermon. Although our church is Assemblies of God in denomination, it is very moderate on the charismatic spectrum. It’s definitely not, as I heard a pastor in Texas once put it, a “Woo-Hoo Church”. So Nancy really stood out from the incongruously orderly sea of former Catholics, military members, and recovering addicts that make up our congregation. A teeny, tiny little voice at the back of my head thought cynically, when I first heard her hearty agreement with the pastor’s words, Who does she think she is? But that voice was immediately quieted and overridden by an inner admonishment to quit being so judgmental, followed quickly by admiration of how strong her voice was. How dedicated she was to hearing the sermon. How unafraid she was to speak truth. I became a little star struck.

A few weeks later, Nancy showed up with her kids to the midweek prayer group I led.

She prayed eloquently about strongholds and principalities and hinted at ‘words’ from God.

I’ve always had a heightened awareness of all things mystical, so this excited me. I thought, Here is someone who knows my language!

She stayed that first night after everyone had left and chatted some about how they’d just moved into a ranch they’d bought. My dream was to own a ranch. She told how they used to be missionaries. I was a missionary kid. And her kids were homeschooled. I was homeschooled and planned on homeschooling my own kids. The pull I felt toward her was powerful. It seemed like so much of her story paralleled my own, almost like she was telling my story back to me, but a better, shiner version. One that was lacking even a hint of the mundane. Like Edmund offered a plate of Turkish Delight, I ate it up.

Over the next few months, Nancy and her kids continued to come to prayer group on Wednesday nights. She began bringing words from God she had printed off of the internet, sent out by prophets I had never heard of. Dutch Sheets. Chuck Pierce. Cindy Jacobs. Peter Wagner. I was encouraged because I was learning to hear from God, too. Here is someone who can disciple me, I thought.

Nancy, herself, also got words from God – long ones that she’d write down on pieces of pink paper and keep folded in the front of her bible.

She invited us all out to her ranch and showed us where she was keeping supplies ‘just in case’. “You mean like, the End Times?” I asked. Her ranch was going to be a way station, an End Times refuge. It was exciting to think about all of us up there, living off the land, a community. Nancy and her kids already knew how to live off the grid, she told us, because she had lived with the Amish for a while.

“The Amish don’t usually take to people on the outside,” she said, “But they loved my kids. They taught us lots of things they don’t normally share with non-Amish.”

This was becoming a recurring theme. It seemed that Nancy had experienced a lot of things in her life.

Her experiences were always ‘special’, things nobody else could ever hope to do.

They either had to do with normally unattainable insider information, like living with the Amish, or they were wildly exciting and somewhat dangerous. She had been married to an arms dealer, she whispered to me one night when we were supposed to be in a worship service with the rest of the church. He was exporting weapons under the guise of missions work. Another time she and the kids narrowly escaped in the dead of night from an armed compound where a cult leader tried to keep them captive. She’d once fasted for 40 days, and at the end of the fast had a vision where she was leading a group of children during the End Times through dangerous roadblocks to the safety of a cave.

I had the thought, once or twice, that her stories sounded a little too fantastical. I mean, what are the odds that so much would happen to one person? But I pushed down these doubts as judgmental thoughts.

Besides, Nancy made me feel special.

By being on her inner circle, I got to share in her reflected glamour.