How big is your God?

 (Guest authored by Maree Gauper. Also appeared in the Appeal-Democrat’s: Message of the Week, Jan. 16, 2015.)

Jesus said the two most important commandments were to “Love God with your whole heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”.   He didn’t say, “Love your doctrine as yourself” ,“Love your denomination as yourself”, “Love your own religion as yourself” or “Love only your own race as yourself.”  He meant us to love our fellow humans, whoever they might be.

By emphasizing those two commandments, Jesus revealed a God whose heart is not small. “God so loved THE WORLD…” ( John 3:16).  He didn’t just love the Jews or the Christians. He loved, and still loves, the whole world, with a heart so deep, wide and large that it is difficult for us to fathom. But the rulers of that time did not understand Jesus. Their God was too small. They charged him with heresy and had him publicly executed.

 The year 2000 marked the 400th anniversary of the untimely death of Giordano Bruno, an Italian priest  who thought deeply about God and the cosmos. Bruno had a large, expansive view of a vast, infinite universe where the earth moves around the sun, not the other way round. This brought him into serious conflict with the authorities of his day. Their God was too small. They had Bruno imprisoned, charged with heresy and burned at the stake.

Martin Luther King had a dream.  His God was not small, and neither was his dream. The dream was as big as God’s dream, that all people could live in peace and that there would be an end to racial injustice and all forms of bigotry.  He was also misunderstood in his lifetime, served time in jail and became the victim of an assassin’s bullet.

If we believe in God, but we only love our own kind, our God is too small.
If we only love our own family, our God is too small.
If we only love our own denomination, our God is too small.
If we only love our own religion, our God is too small.
If  God loves the whole world, He expects nothing less from us.

This year in memory of Dr King, and in praise and thanksgiving to the God who inspired his message and his dream, let us put aside whatever man-made barriers have divided us from one another, and worship together as one family under one God.

 

A Changed Life

ChRM - Copy

It was a dark and stormy night. (Really, it was!) I had already attended a worship service at the Christ Has Risen Ministries at 1225 Pasado Rd. in Olivehurst a few weeks previously, and now I was driving through a December storm to attend a weeknight Bible study.

I had told my brother, Greg, about my earlier visit, and he informed me that he and the pastor used to run around together years ago. My brother also told me that his ex-sister-in-law, Deedee, attends the church. I wanted to speak to both of them before writing this post for my blog and thought that a weeknight would be a good time to do so.

Since the weather was so bad, and it was a Tuesday night, I fully expected the Bible study to be sparsely attended. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few cars in the parking lot and when I walked into the sanctuary there were around forty people, young and old, inside the church listening to their pastor, Leonard Self, lead the Bible study.

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Pastor Leonard Self

If he would let his beard grow longer and bleach it, Pastor Leonard, with his stocky build and joyful countenance, could probably get gigs as Santa Claus during the Christmas season. When I first entered Christ Has Risen Ministries and sat down to listen, I was quickly impressed by his sincerity, especially when his voice quivered and his eyes teared up when he spoke about his love for Jesus and how the spirit of God set him free.

“When you step into Christ, you’re a new creation…Christianity isn’t for wimps, but God uses wimps…If you think Christianity is easy, you’re wrong!” were just some of the memorable words I had heard from the pastor on my first visit to his church. However, when he explained to the congregation about how, when people accuse him of using Christianity as a crutch, he responds, “No, it’s not a crutch, it’s a stretcher, it saved my life”, I knew that his was a changed life, a life now dedicated to helping others.

As I sat near the back of the church on my return visit I could hear the wind rattle the doors on that blustery night as I surveyed the congregation. I saw a Native American woman, about my age, and knew she must be Deedee. I saw bikers wearing leather jackets with the words “Christ Has Risen Ministries” embroidered on the back. I sensed that this was a congregation that had weathered many personal storms in their lives and you could see it on their faces. But they had found a place of refuge.

“I used to be so angry”, a younger man wearing one of the leather jackets testified. “I was always looking for a fight, but now I’m not. I’ve found peace.”

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Sunday morning service

As the testimonies and personal stories continued, Pastor Leonard reminded the group that they were a family, and that families look out for one another and that people could share their troubles and triumphs because everything stayed in this room.

When the study was over I approached the Native American woman and confirmed that she was Deedee. She introduced me to her husband and children and we talked briefly about my brother.

I then talked to Pastor Leonard and told him that my brother was an old buddy of his. We also talked briefly about my blog and I told him I had just written a post about Alicia Intermediate School, which used to stand across the street. We spoke about Peter, my fellow sixth-grader, who had stood up for me in the boys’ bathroom many years ago.

“Peter lives a few blocks from here,” Pastor Leonard informed me.

“That’s good to know”, I said, thanking Leonard and making a mental note to look up Peter some time.

I held tightly to the doorknob as I opened the door to exit the church and then walked across the street to my car. I zipped my jacket tighter to protect me from the wind as I stood there and watched the taillights of the cars that were leaving and I wondered about the lives that must have been changed in that church across the street. Theologically, I still have issues with certain aspects of traditional Christianity, but it’s hard to argue against the miracle of a changed life.

high street dreaming #2 by mugley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  mugley 

Who’s in bed with TED?

Who’s in bed with TED?

Besides being human, what do St. Thomas Aquinas, an Old Order Catholic monk, a suspected lesbian, a Marxist college professor, an anonymous thirty-one-year-old woman, my wife, Toro Gotu and thousands of Japanese citizens have in common? Answer – their parents were not happy with their chosen religion or lifestyle, so they were kidnapped and held against their will for the purpose of thought reform or, to use the loaded modern-day term, “deprogramming”.

Thirteenth-century Catholic priest and theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, whose writings have deeply influenced Western thought, was held against his will for nearly eighteen months in a family castle, while his family tried to pressure the young Thomas to give up his chosen religious vocation. His brothers even brought Thomas a prostitute whom he quickly chased out of his room with a flaming stick of wood.

Denise Melinsky writes in the August 9, 1982 issue of News Oklahoma about how the parents of a monk with the Old Catholic Order paid deprogrammers to try to coerce the former Walter Robert Taylor to give up his new-found faith: “Six years after what he describes as an ordeal of kidnapping, torture and false imprisonment by ‘Gestapo-like’ deprogrammers, an obscure Oklahoma City monk named Father Philaret continues to wage a religious battle reminiscent of one almost 2,000 years ago.”

However, deprogrammers have not limited their kidnappings and forced de-conversions to religious converts. An article in the September, 1982 issue of MS magazine details the bizarre abduction, verbal harassment and rape by deprogrammers of Stephanie Riethmiller, who was suspected of being in a lesbian relationship of which her parents disapproved. In the Cincinnati trial of her captors, Riethmiller testified about her rape. She insisted that everyone in the house was fully aware of what was happening, and described her mother’s attitude being that “it was all right I was raped and anything was better than what I was doing.”

Wikipedia offers some disturbing facts about deprogrammer Ted Patrick: “In 1980 Patrick was paid $27,000 to carry out the deprogamming of Susan Wirth, a 35-year-old teacher living in San Francisco. He was hired by her parents, who objected to her involvement in leftist political activities. The process involved handcuffing her to a bed for two weeks and denying her food.”

Plus, in the Washington Post, Feb. 15, 1982, A Question of Will: “A Roman Catholic priest, a lesbian, even a thirty-one-year-old whose mother did not care for her fiancé, have been targets of deprogrammers.”

My wife was kidnapped and held in 1983 against her will for ten days in New Zealand while hired American deprogrammers tried to harass, harangue, bully and manipulate her into giving up her newly chosen religion. “I felt like an animal in a cage,” she said after her ordeal.

But perhaps the most egregious attack on modern-day religious freedom has been occurring in Japan. Toru Goto recently won a landmark court decision against his relatives, a professional deprogrammer and an evangelical pastor for depriving him of his freedom for over twelve years.

Over 4,000 Japanese citizens, primarily women, have been kidnapped and held against their will for the purpose of forcing them to give up their religious beliefs. An article written for The International Coalition for Religious Freedom details the abuse by faith-breakers and how, unlike the U.S. and Europe, Japanese authorities turn a blind eye to these abuses of religious freedom. “In fact there is significant evidence of the implicit, and in some instances explicit, support of the deprogrammers by authorities. Cases are routinely dismissed as mere ‘family matters.’ In some instances, victims who have escaped are returned to their captors by the very police from whom they had sought help.”

The American Civil Liberties Union in 1977 released a statement against incarceration for the purpose of religious and ideological thought reform: “Parents have the right to attempt to influence their children’s religious affiliation. It is when these children are adults and the influence is forcible that the ACLU objects, particularly when such coercion is aided by the power of the state.”

The National Council of Churches writes in its resolution on deprogramming: “Kidnapping for ransom is heinous indeed, but kidnapping to compel religious de-conversion is equally criminal.”

Professors David Bromley and Anson Shupe write in their book, The American Cult Scare: “Deprogrammers are like the American Colonials who persecuted witches.”

Professor Saul Levine in his paper The Role of Psychiatry in the Phenomenon of Cults recorded: “Fundamentally deprogramming diminishes and creates dependency. It robs people of their responsibility. Instead of encouraging people to accept they made a mistake, it encourages people to deny their actions and blame others.”

In a similar vein Dr. Lowell D Streiker, former executive director of Freedom Counseling Center in Burlingame, California, writes in The Christian Century, August 2-9, 1989, “Not only does the anti-cult movement give parents a point of view that makes them totally right and their wayward children completely wrong, but it provides an ideology which explains why their children are wrong, excuses their children of culpability and offers a form of intervention to restore the children to their right minds.”

Princeton educated Methodist Minister Dr. Larry D. Shinn: “In the conclusion of my book, The Dark Lord, I argue that anti-cult views are fundamentally anti-religious. They are suspicious of, or opposed to, a faith that requires religious commitment or surrender and that appeals to youthful idealism. Such standards would have deprived the world of Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi.”

In September of 2014 I held a protest against TED, the “Ideas Worth Spreading” people, because of their promotion of the scurrilous presentation given by Diane Benscoter, “How Cults Think”. Where she compares members of the Unification Church to Hitler Youth and suicide bombers and insinuates that their brains are infected. https://www.leavinglinda.com/?p=416

After contacting TED a couple of times, they finally got back with me to inform me I could write a comment on Benscoter’s video and that I should nominate a speaker who could give a presentation with an opposing view. I wrote back to TED and explained I had already done that but it wasn’t enough, and I continued: “Basically, I will continue to protest, blog, speak, and write about TED’s unconscionable act of promoting Diane Benscoter’s presentation until TED removes it and publicly apologizes or a speaker with an opposing viewpoint is given equal time and publicity.”

Would TED allow a member of the KKK, or a homophobe, or a misogynist, or any other like-minded person a stage where they could spout their bigotry? And, if someone complained, would they be told to write a comment or suggest a speaker with a different point of view? No! They wouldn’t allow the intolerant presentation in the first place.

Benscoter, in her TED appearance, deludes herself by comparing herself and her fellow deprogrammers as part of an underground railroad of sorts. Slaves were fleeing captivity, not the other way around. Also, I’ll bet those brave Americans, working in the Underground Railroad, weren’t charging exorbitant fees for their services.

Benscoter also informs the TED audience that after her arrest for kidnapping, she decided to turn her back on her deprogramming work. Of course she turned her back. Her employer, the Cult Awareness Network, (CAN) was forced into bankruptcy because of the multitudes of legal judgments against them. The demise of CAN also opened the door for public access to their records which included an almost comical list of over 1,500 groups they were keeping an eye on. It included such diabolical groups as Amway, the Amish, The Grateful Dead, and Promise Keepers.

One of the most interesting characters in the CAN comedy, or should I say tragedy, was a fellow deprogrammer who often worked with “Deprogrammer Diane” named Gary Scarff. Gary had met the Reverend Jim Jones, founder of the ill-fated People’s Temple cult, a few times in Los Angeles, and in a sworn statement said he was never a member of the People’s Temple. But that didn’t stop Scarff from travelling throughout America as the featured act in CAN’s dog and pony show. Scarff, also in a sworn statement, said he would often have packed crowds in tears as he told his fabricated tale of losing his son, girlfriend and father when they killed themselves in the Jonestown mass suicide/massacre.   Also involved in this charade was Catholic priest Father Ken Burns, who Scarff declares, “…knew that my stories about the People’s Temple were made up”.

Years ago my Sociology Professor at Yuba College read his class a chilling tale of torture. The talented writer of the story wove an account of horror about the ordeal of a young woman at the hands of masked strangers. The description of odd smells, strange sounds, and screams from a nearby room had the class enthralled. When the professor finished reading the story he then asked his students what we thought about it. Everyone was horrified that the woman was treated so badly and wondered aloud where this person was tortured and by whom. The professor then informed the stunned class that the story was simply an embellished account of someone’s trip to the dentist.

Likewise, the anti-cult cult of jealous religious leaders, apostates, profiteers, naïve parents, anti-religious zealots and the like, with the help of organizations like TED, are a kind of fear-mongering machine. They continue to distort the truth and fabricate stories about brainwashing, danger, mind-control, brain-infections and suicide. They repeat their “cult…cult…cult” mantra against any group they disagree with or feel threatened by. As a result, the phenomenon of irrational “cultphobia” is a surprising reality in our modern hi-tech world.

Some might be shocked to learn there are many parents who are quite happy that their children joined groups like the Unification Church. For example, a good friend of mine told me that Reverend Moon came up to him one day and showed him a letter he had received from my friend’s father. In that letter, the father thanked Reverend Moon for saving his son’s life.

Given that groups like the ACLU, the National Council of Churches and an increasing number of religious leaders, freedom defenders and mental health professionals have condemned the practice of kidnapping and incarcerating someone for the purpose of forcing them to change their religion, politics, or mate, it’s hard to understand why TED would jump into bed with such a ragtag group of ex-felons, documented liars and freedom deniers. TED needs to be more careful of who they sleep with.

Well, that’s enough writing. There’s a storm a-brewing. I have a placard to make and some flyers waiting to get printed. There’s another TED event I’m planning to attend.

Healed by Grace

 

Pioneer Hall
Pioneer Hall

The searing pain from the gashes on her back was almost unbearable,  while unseen hands continued to lovingly apply ointment and bandages on her wounds.  She lay motionless, face-down, on a hospital bed in Pioneer Hall, wondering who might be tending to her so carefully; and looked up to see that it was Father David Clemons from Grace Episcopal Church.

That was a dream my wife had, after she had been the organist at Grace Church in Wheatland, California for some time.  Pioneer Hall, which is owned by the church, was where services were taking place while the main church building was being renovated.

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My wife at the Grace Church organ

In 1992 a trend toward decentralization took place within the Unification Movement. The founder, Reverend Moon, encouraged members to return to their hometown areas and, in connection with that mobilization, also urged them to adopt and serve established Christian churches in their neighborhoods.

When we first came to town we had attended a certain local church where my wife had also helped out with the music. However it had come to our attention through the neighborhood “grapevine” that that particular pastor and his wife had been warning local residents to beware of associating with us. Because of that and other hurtful incidents, which I would love to explain in detail but won’t just yet, my wife was ready to give up on dealing with Christians; she even spoke about wanting to leave Wheatland altogether.

However, her experience while playing piano for the chapel at Beale Air Force Base, her loving acceptance by the mostly African-American congregation at Mt.Olivet Baptist Church in Olivehurst, and her relationship with Father Clemons and Grace Episcopal Church all combined to help heal her heart.

July, 6 009
Inside Mt. Olivet Baptist Church

Since my wife was raised Catholic, she was quite comfortable attending services at Grace. “Catholic Lite” they term it, and she agrees. However, with the exception of attending the occasional service at Faith Lutheran in Marysville, when my grandparents were visiting from Minnesota, and praying or taking a short nap inside many of the unlocked Lutheran churches throughout the Midwest, when I was on MFT*, I had seldom been inside a “mainline” church. But it wasn’t long before my children and I felt at home at Grace.

Well-kept grounds
Well-kept grounds

The church is a quaint building with well-kept grounds on Third St. in Wheatland. It has been a meeting place and refuge for local families since 1874. The sanctuary with its stained-glass windows, high ceiling and beautiful altar can quickly fill a person with a sense of holiness, especially if they enter the church during “quiet time”, which is a fairly new tradition of dedicating a period of prayer and meditation before the official service begins.  http://gracewheatland.org/

There is no band playing contemporary Christian music, but many in the congregation are accomplished singers and the small church often resonates with heavenly music. When I am standing there singing, following along in a hymn book, I often notice that many of the songs were written in the seventeen or eighteen hundreds, and I think of the congregations of the past that would have gathered to sing those same songs, not only in Wheatland, but throughout America.

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Come thou fount of every blessing…

Grace Church doesn’t have a full-time priest and nearly every week there is someone different leading the service, which has brought an interesting variety of personalities throughout the years: Father Art, who grew up in Manhattan and was blind for many years until the modern miracle of cornea transplants, with his stories about the trials of working as a hospital chaplain in Sacramento; Dr. Dave, the shrink, with his deeply thoughtful and intellectual sermons combining the practical wisdom of a Jungian analyst with his understanding of spirituality; or Father John who inspired me to visit and write about places of worship when he told the congregation, “It’s not good to be comfortable in church”; and many others.

 

Father John gives a sermon.
Father John gives a sermon.

Jesus told his disciples, “You can tell by their fruits….” when warning them about false prophets. Good advice, not only for discerning false prophets, but for deciding the type of people to hang out with. The fruits of the congregation at Grace are many, for example, their extensive volunteer hours in the local community. They are involved in just about every good thing from Girl Scouts, tree-planting, Lions Club, Spiritual Needlework, Fire Department, Parents Day, and the Martin Luther King Music Festival, to opening up the fellowship hall weekly for AA meetings. In addition they hold a public pancake supper on “Shrove Tuesday” each year and co-host an annual Memorial Day luncheon.

Grace Cathedral
“Grace Cathedral”

These accomplishments are even more remarkable considering the small size of the Church’s congregation. On a typical Sunday there are fewer than twenty people in attendance. You could call it the little church with a big heart. Some locals affectionately call the tiny building “Grace Cathedral”. In any case, the members of the church certainly have a heart of service to the wider community.

For Lent, Grace church held a study group based on the book, “Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith”,  in which the author, religion expert Diane Bass, counters the accepted wisdom that the mainline church is dying, with her discovery that quite the opposite is true. Many of these churches through their consistent practice of contemplation, service, diversity, and worship are indeed growing, and are helping to fulfill the practical and spiritual needs of the community.

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On your first few visits to Grace Episcopal Church in Wheatland, it might be hard to figure out what book you’re supposed to be reading from, or when you’re supposed to stand, sit or kneel. You might wonder why ancient rituals are still being practiced at all. Or like me, you might literally or mentally be crossing your fingers when the Nicene Creed is read; but don’t worry. No one will judge you. Be patient, prayerful, and trusting, and there’s a pretty good chance that you, too, could be “healed by Grace”.

 

*MFT – Mobile Fundraising Team for the Unification Church.

No More Gotos!

T Goto
Mr. Toru Goto after being held captive for over twelve years.

No more Gotos! No more Gotos! No more Gotos!” I shouted in front of around seventy people as I held up the poster I had made with those words and a picture of a nearly starved Toru Goto of Japan sitting in a wheelchair.

My wife and I and a couple of friends were protesting a TED event taking place at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in downtown Sacramento, California. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), whose slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”, holds and supports conferences worldwide. According to their mission statement they “…believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately the world.”

What a beautiful night for a protest...
What a marvelous night for a protest…September 26th 2014

Despite the proclamation on their website that “TED is not a place for partisan slams and one-sided arguments”, it appears that in the area of new religious movements they are in fact one-sided, partisan and extremely bigoted. This is especially apparent in their promotion of former Unification Church member and “deprogramming” advocate Diane Benscoter and her scurrilous presentation, How Cults Rewire the Brain.

Benscoter opens her talk by showing a slide of herself and others as they are getting ready to begin a peace walk and to encourage people to attend a speech to be given by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. She says, “What I didn’t know though, was most of those people standing there with me were Moonies.”

(Note: The nickname “Moonies” is a term that New York City’s Commission on Human Rights describes as a pejorative that evokes intolerance and hatred…and is no longer used by most major news agencies when commenting about Unification Church members.)

In her book, Shoes of a Servant, Benscoter, when referring to a flyer she had been given before she joined in the march writes: “It read: ‘Walk for World Peace. Please join us for a 3-day walk to hear Reverend Sun Myung Moon speak in Des Moines, Iowa.’ This and the slide of her standing near a huge sign with a picture of Reverend Moon and another sign that reads, “Hear Rev. Moon”, and she still doesn’t know she’s with the “Moonies”? However, in Benscoter’s defense, according to her book, she was often abusing drugs and smoking pot which may explain her tunnel vision.

Benscoter continues: “The top picture is a group of Moonies that have been blessed by their messiah. Their mates were chosen for them. The bottom picture is Hitler youth. This is the leg of a suicide bomber.”

HitlerYouth
Heil Moon!!!… Heil Hiltler!!!

First of all, it’s a pretty good chance that many, if not most, of those people taking part in the mass wedding ceremony were not members of the Unification Church and in fact consisted of people from many different faiths, and their mates were not chosen for them. Even if they were, so what?

Oh, and that cheer, where everyone’s raising their hands? That’s a customary Korean cheer that’s probably been taking place for centuries. Hitler Youth? Yeah, right!

The Hon. S.Y. Lee, Vice President of South Korea, leads cheers at the close of the UN Day ceremony at Seoul. October 24, 1950
The Hon. S.Y. Lee, Vice President of South Korea, leads cheers at the close of the UN Day ceremony at Seoul. October 24, 1950

However, Benscoter’s comparing me and my church to Hitler Youth, Jim Jones and suicide bombers, and her insulting pseudo-scientific theory about our brains being infected is not what motivated me to protest a TED event. I’ve heard it all before, ad nauseam. But, for an organization as respected as TED to promote and elevate someone associated with forcible incarceration and coerced de-conversion is personal.

Maree Ryan
You can’t keep a good woman down.

In Auckland, New Zealand, August of 1983, my wife was kidnapped by “deprogrammer” goons who came from America and held her against her will while they attempted to harass, harangue, bully and manipulate her into recanting her chosen religion. She, however, did not give up her faith, but escaped from her captors and is now enjoying her life as an outstanding wife, mother, business owner and community activist.

Perhaps the most egregious and downright sinister aspect of TED’s support of “deprogramming” lies in its potential to influence and legitimize the practice in locations where religious freedom is not protected by law and forced de-conversions still take place. For example, it would not be hard to imagine Chinese government officials viewing Benscoter’s presentation for advice on how to attack Falun Gong, a Buddhist religious practice of self-cultivation, founded in China by Li Hongshi. Already the government-controlled press has attempted to depict Falun Gong as a “cult of evil” which engages in mind control. Sound familiar?

Thousands of Falun Gong followers have reportedly been arrested by the Chinese government and have been forced into “reeducation camps” to remove the “wrong thinking” from their minds. (Perhaps Deprogrammer Diane and her fellow henchmen from the now-bankrupt Cult Awareness Network should see if the Chinese government is hiring.)

On the job training for work in China.
On the job training for work in China?

When I copied and pasted the URL for Benscoter’s TED presentation and performed a Google search, many of the results that came up had Chinese characters and other foreign languages in their headings. So it appears that TED ideas are indeed spreading globally, no matter how bigoted and jaundiced.

I also checked out some of the websites and blogs promoting Benscoter’s hate speech and her book; and I kept seeing words like: harrowing, disturbing, appalling and evil, when describing her time in the Unification Church when her “…mind was lost to mind controlling manipulators in a powerful cult.”* However, after reading her book and many of the blog posts, I just couldn’t seem to find anything that even came close to be terribly appalling, disturbing or evil. However I did find one post that highlighted, “She fasted and prayed for Nixon”. Now that’s scary.

If someone really wants to read about a harrowing and evil experience, I suggest they read Toru Goto’s testimony about his imprisonment and torture at the hands of relatives and “deprogrammers” for over twelve years in Japan.

http://religiousfreedom.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=55

When I decided to protest the TED event in Sacramento I had no intention of speaking in front of that crowd. I simply wanted to hand out some fliers and display my placard, and also to get some ideas for future protests. As I walked with my wife towards the Well Fargo Pavilion, I held her hand tightly and looked at the image of an emaciated Mr. Goto taped to my poster. I remembered English statesman, Edmund Burke’s quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I also thought back to the time over thirty years ago to when I had no idea where my wife was, except that she was being held against her will and that people like Diane Benscoter were trying to force her to think and act in the way they deemed appropriate. I guess I was just moved by the spirit when I walked into the pavilion courtyard.

No more Gotos! No more Gotos! No more Gotos!” I shouted, and then declared that TED supports forced kidnapping and de-conversion. “Stop the hate speech!

As I started to give out fliers, much to my surprise nearly everyone, especially the younger people, took them. However, my wife and friends and I were promptly escorted out of the courtyard by security. Again to my surprise, several young people followed us to find out what we were protesting and to get more information. All of them were sympathetic and supportive of our cause.

Tell us more.
Tell us more.

So TED, how about letting my wife, Mr. Goto, or someone else who survived incarceration and forced faith-breaking attempts, tell their side of the story?

*Quoted from Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus Stanford University on the back of Benscoter’s book, “The Shoes of a Servant”.

 

 

 

 

Amazing grace

Long and lost. (4) by FrannyFotographyâ„¢, on Flickr
A diary

“……kill myself…..”  I’m not sure what I would have done with that book if I hadn’t noticed those words. I probably would have thrown it in the garbage.

It had fallen between the counter and refrigerator; it was someone’s diary. When I moved the refrigerator in the recently-vacated house to work on it (part of my job at Beale Air Force Base military housing), I picked it up. The diary fell open to where a page was wrinkled, perhaps by the dampness of the unknown writer’s tears. Much of the content was smudged, but the words, “kill myself”, clearly stood out. My heart sank as I struggled to read the tear-stained page. The author of the diary wanted to kill herself because her husband was in their bedroom looking at pornography and pleasuring himself. She believed that her husband loved the images on his computer more than he loved her. How sad, I thought. I closed the book, put it in my service truck and later arranged for it to be given to a chaplain.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Kevin B. Skinner, Ph.D., author of Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, wrote in the December 12, 2011 issue of Psychology Today:

“My heart hurts for individuals caught in the web of pornography. When you see grown men crying in your office because they can’t quit and when they tell you that porn is costing them everything, you quickly realize that pornography is not just a leisurely activity. Then, when you meet a woman who feels rejected, not good enough, and unloved by her partner because of porn, you want to change something about the way things are being done.”

Treat porn

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inside-porn-addiction/201112/is-porn-really-destroying-500000-marriages-annually

On September 19th, 2014,  my wife and I attended a presentation given by former pornography producer, Donny Pauling, at Saint Isidore’s Catholic Church in Yuba City, California. Pauling, who travels the world, sharing his testimony about how he was transformed from porno-promoter to porno-opponent, tells a heartfelt story of experiencing God and finding the strength to abandon the allure of riches for a higher calling.

Pauling began his talk with some disturbing statistics which showed how pornography is adversely affecting marriages, intimacy, and our young people. To hear that 56% of the divorces in America are primarily related to pornography addictions was especially alarming. (More statistics concerning the destructive effects of pornography can be found on Pauling’s website: www.donnyPauling.net.)

Pauling credits XXXChurch, a ministry dedicated to liberating men and women from the sex trade and porn addiction, for helping him to walk away from the industry. www.XXXChurch.com

Brothel Booth! by KalebColeman, on Flickr
XXXChurch booth

Screams of agony until they get the scene right, young women curled up in  fetal positions sucking their thumbs after their performances, genital warts, herpes, surgeries required to repair sexual organs and men acting “gay for pay” are just some of the ugly truths of the sex industry that are normally hidden from the public, according to Pauling.

 Pauling has contacted many of his former employees to apologize for getting them involved in the porn industry. Many have accepted his apologies, but many haven’t. He pointed out, “You know, I recruited over five hundred girls to work for me and not one has ever called to thank me for getting them involved in the sex trade.”

However, he has been contacted by several women pleading and begging him to help get their sexually explicit images off the internet.

One of those women, who only worked two days in the porn business, had to give up her life-long dream of becoming a police officer. She was kicked out of the police academy after her pornographic images were discovered during a background check.

A father anonymously receiving an envelope containing incriminating images of his daughter; a member of the military worried that her career could be over if her past activity were to be discovered; a newly-engaged woman whose fiancé took back his marriage proposal after her secret history was brought to his attention; these and many other tragic stories were shared by Pauling that Friday evening.

DPauling
Donny Pauling at St. Isidore’s

As I sat in the pew with my wife, in this (unfortunately) sparsely-attended event, I wondered what it must have been like to hear the testimony of John Newton, the former slave-trader who wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace”, after he became an Anglican priest.

In 1778, many years after giving up the slave trade, Newton published the popular pamphlet, “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”, in which he wrote:

“It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

John Newton and Donny Pauling are truly brave and honorable men. If more brave and honorable men would simply refuse to consume pornography, could we then put an end to this soul-destroying industry once and for all?

newton 2 by mcfa0773, on Flickr
A stained-glass image of John Newton in his parish church at Olney, England.

 

 

A Diary
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XXXChurch Booth
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John Newton
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There is power, on Powerline

As I drove onto the parking lot of the Calvary Christian Center at 4902 Powerline Rd. in Olivehurst, I speculated that it’s not only life that’s like a box of chocolates and you don’t know what you’re going to get, but also places of worship can be like that too. I never know what to expect until I step inside.

The old Holiday market turns Holy.
The old Holiday turns Holy.

I’ve been in this actual location many times in the past, to pick up a take-and-bake pizza, get a haircut, or purchase groceries at the Holiday Market. But the market is long gone. You can still get a haircut at a barbershop run by the pastor, but most of the food available nowadays is of a spiritual nature, with the exception of whatever’s selling at the goody wagon that’s sometimes parked there.

Many store-front churches that I’ve visited in the inner-cities of Chicago, New York and St. Louis were once businesses. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Gospel Christian Center in Linda which used to be a tavern. However this is the first time I have ever been to a church that used to be a whole shopping center.

Step Inside
Step Inside

As I walked toward the main supermarket entrance where I assumed the church service would take place, I was fully expecting to go inside and sit on some metal folding chairs set out on a cement floor to listen to perhaps a band playing and a preacher preaching inside a cavernous, barn-like room; but that was not to be the case. An usher guided me to a small door to the right of the former grocery store. I entered and to my surprise, I was standing inside a beautiful, carpeted sanctuary. Mind you, it wasn’t as lovely as Grace Church in Wheatland with its stained glass, high ceilings and air of deep tradition, but I was impressed.

It wasn’t just the physical appearance of the sanctuary that inspired me, but also the diverse racial and inter-generational make-up of the people. You’d need one of those expensive Whitman Samplers if you wanted a box of chocolates representative of this group, one with plenty of variety including dark, milk, and white chocolate.

Box a Chocolates
Box o’ Chocolates

Recently I have been amusing myself by reflecting on how people in general are like chocolates: some are a little nutty, some look nice on the outside but might be hollow or not very substantial inside, like a Three Musketeers bar; others are more like a plain piece of chocolate, solid through-and-through and dependable. Some people are like a Heath toffee bar, brittle and hard to deal with, but they’re worth the effort. Others have hearts shriveled up like chocolate-covered raisins that could use some plumping up.

The band started playing and the music was good, although a few times the words on the overhead screen didn’t match what the band was singing. Guests were asked to stand and be recognized, and everyone greeted us warmly and welcomed us to Calvary church.

Inside the church
Inside the church

It was Mother’s Day. A video about the importance of mothers was played and gifts for mothers in the room were given out. One of those gifts fell out of the basket near me and I thought about keeping it, but since I’m not a mother, I picked it up and placed it back in the basket.

Pastor Braxton speaks the Word.
Pastor Braxton speaks the Word

Pastor Richard Braxton gave a powerful sermon called Keys to Living in the Kingdom, in which he spoke about the importance of staying out of debt. He quoted from Matthew 6:24-25, where Jesus says that no one can serve two masters, that we shouldn’t be anxious about what we eat or wear and that debt is not our friend. Pastor Braxton continued with a quote from Romans 13:8. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

When the pastor asked the congregation to hold up their Bibles, I felt like someone in the 1600s holding up a papyrus roll while everyone else held up a printed book, because while I was holding up a paper Bible nearly everyone else was holding up an iPad, Kindle or similar device. People really like their electronic Bibles for the many helpful features they offer.

I felt a bit ancient with my paper bible.
I felt a bit ancient with my paper Bible.

One problem with this era of electronic devices, however, is when they become a distraction. I couldn’t help noticing a teenager near me who spent an awful lot of time texting during the service. Although, I shouldn’t judge; perhaps he was chatting with friends and telling them they should be at church. But, from the looks he was getting from his mother, that probably wasn’t the case.

Unfortunately I had to leave early to get the car back home for my wife to use, but something rather significant happened to me as I was leaving.

I once gave a speech titled It’s the little Things, in which I mentioned that it’s often the small things in life that help us know that we’re loved and cared for. As I was heading toward my car a young man ran out after me and asked me if anything was wrong. I told him not a thing was wrong, and that I’d be back, but thanks for asking.

Well I have been back, and I even got a haircut at the barbershop, attended a few marriage classes with my wife and have also gotten to know Pastor Braxton and his lovely wife Kisha a little better.

Pastor Braxton and Kisha
Pastor Braxton and Kisha

And it makes me wonder if all churches, in addition to ushers, should also have “rushers”, or people whose ministry is to rush out after anyone who leaves early and find out if something’s wrong.

Service starts at 11: 30 on Sundays. Make sure you go through the small door with the sign which reads “Enter Here”. Oh, and don’t forget your iPad or similar device. But even without one, you can be sure of a warm welcome at Calvary Christian Center.

The old shopping center
The resurrected shopping center

 

Truth Tabernacle

TT

Truth Tabernacle at 5206 Tulip Rd. in Olivehurst, just off Lindhurst Ave, is a humble, unassuming building that I often pass while driving down that way. But whatever the building and grounds may lack in aesthetics is quickly forgotten when you enter the church, hear the music and the message, and feel the spirit.

Minutes before walking into the church, I had been driving along Olivehurst Ave. towards Lindhurst when I saw a young couple with a baby carriage and several young children in tow, walking across the bridge that goes over the freeway. Although the young man looked a bit rough, with his shaved head and tattoos, I thought perhaps they were heading to Truth Tabernacle.

I arrived at the church a little before 10:00 A.M. which was right before the adult Bible study. Live music was playing and a middle-aged man with a British accent led the congregation in some songs. The music was good and I joined in the singing and waited for the person that would be leading the study. Just as I started to sit down, the couple that was walking on the bridge with their children entered the church.

The Bible teacher for the morning was Assistant Pastor John Floe. He had us open our Bibles to Genesis Chapter 4 and read about the account of Cain and Abel and the giving of their offerings to God. I found it interesting that in a Toastmasters’ Speaking Contest I had competed in  just the day before, the title of my speech was “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” which comes from Genesis 4.

Cain and Abel
Cain and Abel make an Offering

Pastor Floe encouraged everyone to have a good attitude, to trust in God, and to use the power of the Holy Spirit to help us to resist temptation. He reminded us that God is a god who doesn’t want us to fail and advised us to ask God for his guidance in decisions we make in life. That hit close to home for me as I’ve got some serious decisions about a job, my business and my children I need to make soon, which I almost find overwhelming. I think I’ll take Pastor Floe’s advice about asking God for guidance.

I was impressed by the sincerity of the pastor, and the quality of his message and told him so when he finished up the study. He was raised in South Dakota which is where my mother was born, and where I spent a lot of time fund-raising for my own church. We exchanged some small talk, and the pastor thanked me for coming.

After a short break the Sunday Service began and the relatively small room started to fill with people. The band began to play and the congregation joined in the song. I was impressed. The music was, well, kind of like what Goldilocks might say: “Not too quiet, not too loud, it was just right.” So far, of the many churches I’ve attended, I found the music at Truth Tabernacle to be the best combination of acoustics, congregational singing, the people on stage, the spirit; everything seemed to fit. When I joined in singing, “God my Savior, God my Deliverer”, my eyes teared up.

Truth Tabernacle (5)
God My Savior

The sermon was given by a young man who I guessed was probably just beginning his preaching role at the church. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t seem to get much out of the sermon. Perhaps it was his young age, his inexperience, or maybe it was just me. But one point of his sermon touched my heart: it doesn’t matter where we go, God will be there.

The service ended. Some people thanked me for coming to church. I made a point of talking to a young man from Kenya, saying hello to a couple and their children that I know and to several others in the congregation.

It’s been said, “Some of the best things come in small packages.” Truth Tabernacle is one of those packages; pay them a visit someday. I hope you’ll find it rewarding and uplifting.

From Baptists to Buddhists

 

Bud11

www.marysvillebc.org

I looked in the Appeal-Democrat newspaper to see if I could find anything of interest happening in the local religious community. I saw that the Buddhist Church of Marysville was inviting the public to their service and that the Reverends Tim and Carol Castle from Sacramento would be officiating. So that’s where I decided to go.

As I parked my car on B St. near the church, I thought back to a time when I heard a lecture given by Christian psychiatrist, Dr. M. Scott Peck, author of the immensely popular book, The Road Less Traveled, and many others. To the shock of the mostly Christian audience, Dr. Peck exclaimed, “The most Christian man I ever met was a Buddhist, because of his Christ-like qualities.”

When I entered the Buddhist Church I felt that, with the exception of the fairly elaborate altar at the front of the church, it was as if I had walked into a traditional American church. There were pews with song and prayer books in the racks and a lady was playing an organ in the front left-hand corner of the sanctuary. I didn’t recognize the tune, but again, it still felt like I was in a “main-line” Christian church. I introduced myself to Reverend Tim and told him my purpose for being there. I also inquired if it was okay to take pictures. He said taking photos would be fine as long as they weren’t taken during the actual service.

Bud1
Inside the Marysville Buddhist Church

Service began with the sudden clanging of a gong. Just like the Episcopal Church, I thought, except the Buddhists use a gong instead of a bell.

Since it was Mothers’ Day, Reverend Tim gave a brief message about the importance of mothers, which included the Buddhist belief that no matter how hard we try, we can never repay our parents for their unselfishness in raising us.

Reverend Tim mentioned a fairly new tradition in their Sacramento church which involves setting aside a special day to honor parents.  They call it Parents’ Day. I found that very interesting because my wife and I have been promoting National Parents’ Day, a relatively new American holiday which falls on the fourth Sunday of July, since 2006.

http://www.parentsday.com

There were several young people from Yuba College attending the service because of a project for their World Religion class.  A special  session took place after the service during which visitors could ask questions about the church and the Buddhist faith. The students had many good and deep questions; one pointed out that the whole experience wasn’t as different as he thought it would be.

Bud6
Reverend Tim answers questions.

Reverend Tim, who’s Caucasian, quipped, “Yeah, you were probably expecting an Asian with a shaved head wearing an orange robe?”

When one student asked about the meaning of the various items on the altar, Mrs. Castle explained that many of them represented perfection, such as gold or an abundance of food; or the beauty of nature such as flowers. And since many of the people in the original temple were peasants, they could get comfort through looking at these symbols. Mrs. Castle went on to say that today, especially in the western world, since most people have plenty of food and material comforts, many of the altars at a modern Buddhist church might simply have plants or a water fountain as symbols of serenity.

 

The Altar
The Altar

Another student asked about the use of incense during the service and was told that it was to purify the atmosphere–not just spiritually, but since the people coming to the temple had been working in the fields and sweating, incense served the very practical purpose of making the temple smell better.

Personally, I find it a bit sad that although I have been in the Yuba/Sutter area for over forty years, that was the first time I had ever been in the Marysville Buddhist Church, or had taken the time to look at their beautiful sanctuary and garden. My short visit was truly enlightening.

Some time ago, my wife and I read through two volumes of World Scripture, a publication that helps illuminate the inherent goodness within most religions. Admittedly, when we read some of the Buddhist texts, we found them hard to understand; not too unlike when, many years ago, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Since I was mostly into motorcycles back then, I kind of skimmed over the Zen parts.

jw 004

However, my visit with the Marysville Buddhists helped me appreciate the contribution that Buddhism has made toward inspiring humanity to care for one another and strive to be less selfish, traits which are hard to argue against.

The Garden

Note to visitors: It was especially gratifying to see college students at the service. I hope these young people are also encouraged to attend some of the more typical American religious services (such as Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or Mormon) to round out their understanding of religion and culture. However, one thing I would recommend is that they dress appropriately; halter tops and tight shorts may make the student and the congregation uncomfortable.

www.marysvillebc.org

 

Guide me oh Thou Great Jehovah

We’ve had visitors

Clearly the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been by. There was a Watchtower magazine and an invitation to a memorial service to commemorate Jesus’ death stuck to the door of our house. It was from Maria, who lives near Lincoln, and often visits our house. I was curious, so I googled “Jehovah’s Witnesses Memorial of Christ’s Death” and from what I could gather, aside from weddings and wedding anniversaries, the memorial is one of the only events Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate. Since it was their primary celebration I decided to attend.

JW YC
Yuba City Kingdom Hall

Maria’s invitation listed a Kingdom Hall in Lincoln where the celebration would be held. However, I’m trying to focus on visiting places of worship in the Yuba/Sutter area and was pleased to see the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City listed as a place where people would be gathering for the same memorial. (Also, I didn’t want Maria to get her hopes up that I was interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses for more than academic reasons.)

Although I drove to the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City intending to get there early, the parking lot was already full when I arrived. I parked on George Washington Boulevard, near the Nazarene Church, and remembered hearing about a recent controversy in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses complained about the shadow of a cross on top of the Nazarene Church falling on the Kingdom Hall. That problem was eliminated when the cross was turned to face a different direction.

I walked into the huge meeting room and soon realized I was a bit under-dressed for the occasion. Sometimes I just don’t know what to wear to these different churches, since some are a bit more formal and many are simply “come-as-you-are” churches. I guess I should have known to dress up a bit more, since it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses only celebration.

I was guided by an attendant to a seat close to the front and sat in quiet anticipation of the festivities that I expected to soon take place. The crowd was mostly made up of Caucasians but there were quite a few African-Americans present. I’ve been to a multitude of African-American churches, and for the most part, they are usually spirit-filled and lively. So I assumed, only to find out later how wrongly, that this service would have the spirit of celebration.

Maybe because the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have any other official celebrations, they apparently set the celebratory bar pretty low. Basically the event consisted of a song at the start of the service, a prayer, a talk by one of their brothers, the passing of unleavened bread and wine, another prayer, and a closing song.

Now I like to sing in church. However, I couldn’t join in because it appeared that the congregants brought their own song books. There were no song books for visitors, no words on a big screen, nothing. My wife, a long-time church pianist/organist would not have been needed here; their piano music was all prerecorded.

As for the message from Tom Allen, who came from New York to speak, it was fine. Can’t say I agreed much with the theology that we are meant to live forever on earth, and thought of a few Bible quotes that seem to point out otherwise, but his message about appreciating what Jesus has done for us was good. I had a little chuckle when Mr. Allen talked about what life on earth would be like once God’s, I mean Jehovah’s, kingdom is restored. When he said we could be playing with all the animals, and mentioned swinging through the trees with the monkeys, I just couldn’t help thinking: clothed or unclothed? Now I really don’t want to have that thought in my mind the next time a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on my door.

When the time came for Holy Communion, or whatever they call it, I was a little anxious. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m supposed to partake in a church’s communion unless I’ve been baptized in their faith. However I didn’t have that problem this time. People were simply passing the crackers and wine without partaking.  So, trying to fit in as best I could, I passed the plate as well.

There was a closing song after the sermon and that was it.

I’m in a bit of a quagmire because I’m trying my best to be positive about my experiences when I attend worship services. Although my visit to the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City wasn’t bad I can’t say it was particularly uplifting. Also, I did some research on the internet and it appears that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have no room for other belief systems. Ethicist, writer and talk-show host Dennis Prager used to hold a popular radio show in Los Angeles called Religion on the Line.  Talking about his past experiences hosting that show, Prager said the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only major denomination that refused to come onto his program.

That being said, it’s hard not to be impressed by the dedication many Jehovah’s Witnesses have to their faith and the difficulties they experience while trying to convey their message door-to-door. Maybe they could stop by the Episcopalian Church and give a little pep talk on how they do it. Now that would be a miracle; Jehovah’s Witnesses speaking at a church other than their own, and Episcopalians knocking on doors to proselytize.

Grace 2
Location of possible pep-talk. (I’ll need to get permission first.)

Stories about growing up in Linda, California, my life in the Unification Church and..other stuff..

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