I began another calendar year empty, unfulfilled, trapped, and yearning for something more than what my mere existence was offering. As was the personal practice back then I set aside some weeks to pray and to fast. A forty day fast to be specific, a spiritual discipline that I have done numerous times in my life and has served as a re-calibration to who I was, where I was, and what I was all about. This time it would be no different, except that the conclusion of the matter was that I had been doing plan B all these years and it was now time to get back to plan A.
As you may remember from earlier in my story I had unsuccessfully attempted a couple of times to get into post-secondary education with the intent to receive training to enter the ministry in a full-time capacity. When none of those plans worked out my fall-back position was always the restaurant industry. Several times I have tried to get out of the restaurant industry but when plans failed I reluctantly returned, like someone trying to escape a commune only to get lost in the vast wilderness that surrounds the place and returns to open loving and condescending arms who brush off the dirt while patting you on the head saying, “There-there, my child”.
On top of the choking life-draining atmosphere of the restaurant industry there was the strange dynamics of this small valley city where it is commonly known that if you try to leave and end up returning – you will never leave again. It is phraseology that is talked about in monotones on the street while lifeless smiles direct you to a corner bar.
I had already moved away and then came back. This was not looking good.
So, it was interesting when, at the end of my fast, the wisdom and life direction I had received was that it was time for plan A. I had no idea what that would mean in practical senses, except that I needed to once again take a look at returning to post-secondary to receive some training for the ministry.
Some time had past since we did the soft departure from the cult and more significantly my wife and I were now exploring language with each other to describe and deconstruct our cult experience. As a result we were growing more and more differentiated and able to withstand the various ways that the cult leader would confront us. Consequently, there came a moment in time where we called up the cult leader and his wife and invited them over to our home to try and put an end to these antics once and for all. As it turned out this conversation was the most enlightening conversation of them all.
During the evening I found the courage to talk to the cult leader about the idea of friendship and his use of the language – at least initially, when we were driving out to the ranch once a week – not to mention the various trips down to the island. He refuted those claims, instead rejecting the term of friendship, indicating that such a thing does not exist, but that we were “Brothers in Christ”. Pressed to unpack that terminology all I could derive from it was that he was more ‘brother’ than I was, which allowed him the authority to speak into my life, offering correction and behavioral training when and where he had wanted.
I pressed him more along these various themes, drawing out some simple ideas around relationship and social connection. Then came the infamous answer. I brought up the idea of all of us just getting together to enjoy some tea or coffee and playing a game and then as if to further explain this complex example of playing a game I offered up, “such as Scrabble”. His response made everything crystal clear and the visit ended soon afterwards – with a new resolve within me that this was indeed a cult leader that I would have nothing further to do with. He looked at me, without missing a beat and without blinking and simply said, “I don’t like playing Scrabble as it is a waste of words.”
“A waste of words”. It still hangs in the air as an example of irony at its finest. This cult leader had written numerous short handbooks covering a variety of topics – none never published – but referred to as part of his canonical contribution to the church. Then there were his dozens and dozens of lyrically full songs, most of which we had never sung. The crowning jewel of this iconic and ironic encounter though was his barrage of emails that littered dozens and dozens of people’s inboxes on what would seem a daily basis. These emails were short essays of a few thousand words, expertly written to faintly disguise his disgust with one member’s behavior with a thinly veiled threat as to what would happen if they did not immediately change their behavior and come in line with what was accepted.
Waste of words? You bet. This cult leader crapped piles of it each and every day. And so, with that epiphany staring me in the face I couldn’t help but have a similar crooked smile on my face as he has had over the years when he knew something that I did not, when I showed them both to our door. As I shut the door after they left I looked at my wife and said, “It’s over. It all makes sense now. It’s finished.”