Saturday, June 22, 2019

Abnormal Normal: My Life in the Children of God — Excerpt 4

Falling in Love, continued

In later years, in trying to come to grips with how I got caught up in the COG, I have discovered research that explains many of the psychological underpinnings of the strong draw the group had on me. Among these, I learned that the desire to believe is pre-programmed into us. Our ancestors had to be the quick-to-believe types. They were the ones who jumped at a rustle in the bushes, “Run! It's a tiger!” The skeptics who thought, “Ah, it's nothing. Just the wind,” although usually correct, eventually had a tiger end their genetic lineage. 

In addition, our brains are hard-wired to react to emotion. The amygdala, the seat of the emotions—fight, flight, or freeze—develops first. The part of the brain that I really needed—the frontal lobes—where choices and decisions are assessed and consequences envisioned, develop last. Lured by my longings for freedom and purpose, and overcome by feelings of love and belonging, I made the commitment. Then to explain to myself why I had made that decision, my memorization provided ready answers. “I have chosen you...” John 15:16. 

As if that wasn't enough, at age sixteen I was at the end of the pruning stage of the brain, where ineffective connections are erased to make room for adult maturity and growth. I had plenty of room for new learning. My brain was in the middle ground of being no longer a child but not yet an adult, and the development of those all-important frontal lobes was not to be completed until my mid-twenties. I was at the perfect juncture, psychologically, emotionally, and mentally, to be taken in by the warmth and idealism of the COG. 

******* 

Blair and I, now virtually inseparable, devoted all the time we could to telling our classmates about the COG version of Jesus and of living for Him, reading Mo Letters and the Bible, testing each other on verses memorized, and having Bible classes with Jethro. And before everything we did—everything—we prayed. 

We wanted to distribute these “words of life,” the Mo Letters. That was the COG's way of fulfilling the Biblical command to “preach the gospel,“ what Christians call “witnessing.”1 We called it “litnessing,” a portmanteau of “literature” and “witnessing.” Blair and I scraped our money together and bought a thick stack of Mo Letters from Jethro. He ordered them from the Colony where they had a printing press in their basement. 

A COG member's responsibility was to tell the “lost” about Jesus and his way of salvation. If we didn't, and people died without hearing about Jesus, then we would experience the eternal shame of knowing that we had failed in our duty. According to Ezekiel 3:18,2 one of the verses on the Set Card that we had all memorized, we would have “bloody hands” and face everlasting disgrace if we neglected to tell anyone about Jesus. It was a fearsome thought. 

Blair and I each picked one of the wide doors to our school, rushed to be the first ones out, and then gave Mo Letters to the kids as they left. I didn't say anything, just “Here,” and handed them a pamphlet. We shrugged off the general lack of interest. We told our friends and classmates about our new-found cause and convinced some to come and listen to the teachings of older, wiser Jethro. After all, Blair and I were mere “babes in Christ,”3 like spiritual babies. 

Within a couple months, about ten young people from our school were praying, reading, and memorizing with us. I remember one guy, Carlos, came with us after school. He brought a bit of color to the back of Jethro's step-van in his purple solid corduroy pants, pink socks, and orange shirt. After he prayed to receive Jesus, with dramatic flair he pulled a small bag of weed from his pocket and dropped it through one of the many holes in the floor of the old van. He was now a “new creature in Christ.” 

On our next visit to the Colony downtown, we were dubbed “Catacombs Disciples” after the Christians who lived in tunnels beneath Rome. We were living underground in the System rather than living full-time for the Lord as the adult members did. The Colony Shepherd told us that we could reach other kids our age much more readily than they could and that that was our mission. 

Unbeknownst to us, word had come down from some high level leader that Jethro was not to visit the Colony. He had been kicked out of the group for a reason, which I never did learn. But like Chinese Telephone, by the time the message had passed down the line to the local leadership, it ended up saying that we young people were not to visit. After only a few months of contact with the COG Colony, we were told to spread our fledgling wings. So Blair and I became the Shepherds of our Catacomb group. We were charged with the mission of reaching the high schools in the D.C. area with “God's message for today,” and we took that responsibility seriously. 

Vivacious Abi, with her wavy, strawberry-blond hair, was arguably the most all-around popular girl to join us. Like myself, she had many older siblings, and she often borrowed her brother's car. We planned a litnessing excursion to one of the area's public schools. 

The next day, the three of us slipped out of school and got into Abi's brother's Mini Cooper at about 1:45. We changed out of our uniform skirts and into our jeans, then we swung by to pick up Donna. She went to an experimental school in the area—the first of its kind. She had just joined us, Blair having met her in a park stoned out of her mind. She was now our youngest and most zealous member. 

School was not yet out when we arrived. We parked along the street, went over our plan, and prayed that we wouldn't get caught, which we called a “prayer for protection.” 

The bell rang. 

Blair and I stood on either side of the main doors, passing out Mo Letters to the kids as they surged out. Abi and Donna made for the buses. 

Hitting the buses was great, as we could get bundles of literature out to captive audiences. The more pieces we distributed, the better we felt. If the kids threw the pamphlets away without reading them, it was no matter to us, we had done our job, “their blood was no longer on our hands.” We had “delivered our souls” by giving those kids their chance at salvation. 

The thirteen buses were lined up along the school drive. Donna started at the front and Abi at the back. Donna hopped on a bus, handed a stack of Mo Letters to a kid in a front seat and told him to pass them out. While the pamphlets were being doled out, she yelled, “Who wants to go to heaven? Raise your hand!” 

A big show of hands. 

“Repeat after me.” Then she yelled out sentence by sentence an ever-so-brief salvation prayer for them to parrot. 

“Who prayed that prayer?” Another show of hands. “Now you're going to heaven!” She jumped off the bus, made a mental note of the number of “souls saved,” and moved on to the next one. It was all a-flurry. 

When each bus had been hit and the crowds coming out of the school started to thin, we slipped away before any teachers noticed us. We had passed out reams of literature and Donna and Abi had “won hundreds of souls to the Lord.” Our commando operation took no more than fifteen minutes. We mapped out a plan to litness, just like that, at the other high schools in our area. 

There were now twelve of us. Like all COG members, we each chose a Bible name, new names to reflect how we had become “new creatures in Christ.”4 As Shepherds, it was Blair's and my job to keep the others encouraged, listen to their troubles, counsel them, and do the reporting. 

Each month, we filled out a report with lots of specifics, like the number of pieces of literature distributed, the number of people we had “witnessed to,” the number of souls saved, and on and on, and sent it to the local COG headquarters. 

******* 

My life's new focus was making its mark. I wanted to follow the Bible to the letter. The verse, “Bodily exercise profiteth little...” prompted me to give up swimming. It's continuation, “...but godliness is profitable unto all men,”5 caused me to cloister myself in my room with my Bible, highlighting pens, and Mo Letters. If I had cared enough to look, I would have seen the numbers on the scale creeping upward. Around that time they were entering the healthy weight zone, soon to surpass it. 

I wanted to share my joy with my parents. My mother must have been relieved to see I'd grown out of my anorexia phase. Surely she would rejoice with me in my newfound faith. After all, she was a born-again Christian, too. 

“Mom, I met the Children of God. I got saved. I've stopped taking drugs! I used to smoke marijuana, but now I don't anymore!” 

“You what??” 

“I stopped smoking weed, isn't that great?!” 

“All this time you deceived me?! I trusted you, and you deceived me?!” 

“Yes, but I'm not deceiving you anymore!” 

She clearly didn't share my joy. 

“Do not visit the COG Colony,” she told me, leaving no room for doubt. 

That put me in a difficult position. I felt I had no choice but to lie—but now for a “good” reason. In classic COG application of Bible verses, we were taught to be “deceivers, yet true,”6 so lying to my parents in order to serve the Lord was not wrong. The end justified the means. 

Besides, my loyalties to the group had become supreme. One of the first verses we “babes” were given to memorize was Matthew 10:36-37, “A man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” I desperately wanted to be “worthy” of the Lord. 

1  Witnessing is what we generally called any activity that promulgated our message 
2  “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” 
3  I Corinthians 3:1, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 
4  2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 
5 Timothy 4:8, “Bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” 
6  2 Corinthians 6:8

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