Monday, January 6, 2014

Dennis muses...

When Reality Finally Becomes Our Friend
But gotta lurk

I was a full blown ordained minister in the WCG at the ripe old age of 24 and on my own.  I had been first out of college in Minneapolis under Keith Thomas and then one year later found myself scarfed up by the new Regional Director in Chicago, George Kemnitz who made me his assistant.  I was rather oblivious, being relatively new to both the church and now the ministry of the drama swirling around me in Chicago. As I experienced it and then began to have things sent to me that I neither could believe nor wanted to, it got very nasty.  In short order, during the " '74 Rebellion", I got fired by association with those orchestrating it all from Chicago and the East Coast.  I went back to New  York for a visit to figure out what happened and got my job back.  I was sent then to Findlay and Toledo, Ohio where life as a minister, alone and doing what I thought I had signed on for started in earnest.  

They were the best of times and they, as a minister, were the beginning of the worst of times.  Rumors about this or that, drama of one kind or another and letters sent to members from those in more of the know than I wanted to be and was in denial over were abundant.  It was my first experience, of more to come, with "dissident mail", tapes and not quite knowing which minister was for what or against who.  It made me sick inside.  I was in major denial because I needed the church to be right and I needed to do for those I loved and wanted to be a helpful teacher type what I thought I was both trained and called to a pastor.  

The pastor "over me" for a short time was a gentle person who I suspect only also wanted to pastor and be encouraging.  He was unable to handle the drama and when it blew locally would ask me to "go see and talk to the ____________s and see if you can help them stay in the church. He probably drank to much and it may have cost him his life at a relatively young age.  I have had minster friends who have drank themselves to death out of utter despair over their WCG experience or take their lives deliberately over it.  Suicide is a very long term solution to a short term lesson and reality that can be faced and accepted.

Those were the days, where when talking to folk I cared about but who were much more willing to be in touch with the drama and reality of the times concerning the Armstrongs and WCG, I learned how the corners of my mouth would turn down without my permission when talking and I had to force myself to smile them back into place. It was a funky cheek muscle response to fear and stress. Deep inside, where I grew up with the idea that we neither think those things nor certainly say them, I was angry, puzzled, fearful of what may happen and depressed over my choice of Church which still seemed so right in it's Biblical view to me.  "This IS the Church but what the hell is going on?"  comes to mind.  

Sometimes members would bring me the dissident mail they received to read.  No one was sending me any at the time.  I either pitched it or looked at it in a cursory manner and then threw it away. I could not or would not handle it.  Besides, there are lots of scriptures I can quote about gossip and falling away so I was safe. 

 I went to visit one person who had not been to church and when I got there, blasted me to kingdom come while screaming at me about Rader and Armstrong through the screen door.  I listened, more in shock, but it appeared as patience and then said, "I agree, I don't know what is going on and you are right to observe things this way." She looked at me and apologized like I was now on her team and came back to church until it all fell apart. It was the first time I openly admitted what others were seeing and reading was probably so.  And then I withdrew into denial again and continued to do what I perceived as my calling, because I still felt that this was the most correct view of the Bible and I guess we can expect drama and deceit.  I saw plenty of it in the NT account of the Church so why not?

As time when on, it just got worse.  The topics changed but the drama continued.  During the Receivership of '79 my denial reached new heights. We had to go to Tucson for the ministerial meetings because HWA had fled there and I simply was not going.  I could not stand this much longer.  A minister said to me ,"aw just go.  It will be fun."  He didn't mean "fun" in the typical way and it wasn't. I sat behind Gerald Waterhouse while he was trying to come up with some God inspired meaning for Tucson but he couldn't.  Or at least he didn't want the genuine one.  The name Tucson is derived from the Indian word, 'Chuk-son,' meaning village of the dark spring at the foot of the mountains.  Sounded right to me!

 Inside I was mess.  Outside I was ok and doing what I still thought I was called by a God to do.  After all, after my handicapped brother was born, Dad promised God if he gave him a "normal" son  (stop laughing you lurker!)  , God could have him for whatever he wanted.  No pressure there huh?  Good thing I proved not to have turned out normal!  That was close!

It was in the ministry I learned to drink.  I endeavor to not do that so much anymore as it just made feelings, fears and regrets worse.  Drinking is a subtle son of a bitch and I grew up around it but credit the church with refining my ability to turn to it at times.   I believe I was the most happy when I took my telescope out into the winter nights and just looked and wondered at it all much as I did as a kid.  I guess I'm still a kid at heart. 

One of my very best friends...

Pastoring in Kentucky and NY were probably the best years of ministry.  Wonderful people (except for the woman who put a deer rifle to my head) and I felt this is what I was called to be and do.  HWA was gone and stupid me thought the Tkaches may prove sane with a good dose of common sense.  Oh well....   Greenville, my last stop in the line,  was a nightmare for the most part.  Rancorous deacons and elders who all had enjoyed the last minister (who is now an Evangelist type in the Living Church of God) keeping them in the know about all the members problems and sins were not happy that I didn't think that was any of their local business and didn't do it, were not my friends.  In the transition between NY and SC I spent a week in a mental health facility  (I'm being kind to myself) for depression.  Now I know the "depression" was simply years of repressed anger that I felt I either had no right to express as a "minister" or the price of doing so would be higher than I was at that time willing to pay.  All the years of drama and trauma had come due.  I learned the hard way what escapism from reality can do for you and to you.  Outside I was still the minister in function only.  Inside I was finished and transitions can be messy and painful.

But in the end...when it is all said and done, reality is our friend.  The years of denial over my feelings about the Church , the Armstrongs, the Tkaches, the changes, the stupidity and recklessness, the misspending, misspeaking and mistakes had come to an end.  The end was forced on me but it was over.  I knew I was done when a local elder type in Greenville gave a far far too long sermon full of bullshit and self serving posturing said, with me sitting there,  "Brethren, you know this church is not being cared for!"  Whoa....Were it not for the fingernails dug into my thigh pushing me back in my seat by my former wife, I was going to stand , interrupt him and present him as the congregations new pastor.....and leave for good.   I wish I had.  Coupled with the previous weeks presentation to me of a faulty watch with a dead battery by Church Administration for 25 years of lurking through it all and a sermon by the visiting minister who told the congregation that topics I had presented to the church in sermons on the birth narratives of Jesus and such were not valid, I cracked inside.    I sent the watch back to the specific man who gave it to me and it was not long after it was over. A 9 pm call from this same person telling me I was terminated and to call personnel for details was received after I got home from a Bible study. I said, "That's it?"  He said call personnel tomorrow and I hung up.  That was the last contact I ever had again from a living breathing administrator in the then Worldwide Church of God. Curtis May, the head of the "Reconciliation Dept" (lol) did tell me he'd pray for me when I asked about retirement.  I asked him if that was the modern form of "be warmed and be filled," but he didn't answer me. 

What's the point?  This is my story of lurking over a 26 year period when I felt I still had to be where I was in the ministry because it was the right church and the right calling for me.  I was compliant and hopeful on the outside and a mess inside hearing and seeing what I simply did not want to admit to.  I now read what I once refused to read.  My college acquaintance, John Trechak, founder of Ambassador Report, which I denied like the plague, was correct.  He was ahead of his time and willing to pay the price and he did.  I know it is the same for you who come here and yet abide the gut feelings you have about your pastor Dave Pack and his views and demands he makes on your church.  I know those of you who lurk here want your Gerald Flurry to be correct, but your stomach still tells you something is very wrong.  You may attend UCG or LCG and feel the same way inside about many things but so want the church to be the church.  That's what I did until reality caught up to me.  It's a process and it's normal no matter how long it takes.  It's also painful and costly. I find most unwilling to go there ....for now.  I look at recent extended family pictures and I am not in them.  They don't care much for me for any number of reasons most related to divorce and my views on religion now.  I have family who can't figure out why I think the way I do.  And I can't figure out how they don't think I suppose. 

Ultimately, reality is our friend and what is can never be replaced with what I wish it was.  What goes around comes around.  Karma is a bitch.  Sitting before the facts as a little child and following them into whatever abyss they lead is a skill and not for the faint of heart or spirit.  Most look over the edge and recoil into denial because it feels safer and does until it doesn't.   That's what I did for a long long time. 

Coming to a site like Banned HWA is the modern form of getting your dissident letters in the mail of years past.  You can read here and get angry and defensive about your church affiliation or you can hear the other side of  what are important issues.  I have picked on Dave Pack a bit not because I don't like him personally, (We'd probably not get along well however) but because I don't like the ideas he has about himself, how he abuses scripture and how he browbeats the way too compliant into doing and believing things that are simply not true, not necessary and not going to end well. I suppose I still feel like some kind of pastor inside to those who will consider the bigger picture of theology and spirituality.  

I'm rambling a bit here.  I never write quite knowing what I am going to say at times.   I am processing some recent events personally and find it's all connected to that fateful day when, at 14, I went to a WCG church service and felt I had found something good.  And there was much good and many wonderful friends now mostly gone and unwilling to be in touch for this or that reason.  

Lurk if you must.  It is a symptom of a knowing that something where you are is not right but you probably don't want to believe it, for now.  Reality clarifies itself over time. You will learn that reality is your friend ultimately.  I hope we here can be of help. That is the goal.  Your feelings, stresses and doubts along with reconciling how you think in your head and how you feel in your stomach is a normal process.  You will find in time that , as I have often said, your stomach is telling you the truth...  Mine was, even when I wasn't listening. 


Head Usher said...

Thanks for this, Dennis. You may or may not have told the story quite like this already, but if you have, I missed it. To me this is "THE story." I find myself telling my "THE story" repeatedly at different places at different times. The examples I choose to shine light upon the "red thread" may change, but the thread itself does not.

"Sometimes members would bring me the dissident mail they received to read ... I could not or would not handle it. Besides, there are lots of scriptures I can quote about gossip and falling away so I was safe."

There's a difference between "believing" that something is true, and having that "belief" confirmed to, in fact, square with "reality." When I was young, it was almost instinctive that I knew I didn't have enough information to figure it out for myself, so, if I had a source that made me feel "safe" that everything I had been told was "reality" that was about all I could do. But you don't stay young. As you get older, you don't have to be able to put your finger on precisely what "reality" is to know (as opposed to merely "believing") that what your parents, and the entire hierarchy of your church has told you, could not possibly, under any circumstances, be that.

Reality is not necessarily your friend, however. It is merely the gravity that holds everything together. It is impersonal, but you must come to terms with it. I suppose, if you are an "old soul" as they say, you are able to be friends with reality. But that doesn't mean that reality is friends with you. For even the most zen and accepting of folk, reality has the capacity to turn on them ruthlessly, testing what even they are prepared to accept with grace and ease.

Either you come to terms with reality quickly, and the trajectory of your life is relatively smooth, without a lot of perturbations, or radical nonacceptance means that it takes you a long time to do so, greatly perturbing your trajectory, causing it to be traumatic and stressful. Franklin said there are only two inevitables, death and taxes. Like Ron Weinland, either you can pay your taxes on time, or else you can live in denial, and pay them later in a lump sum plus "penalties." But pay them you will, either with less, or else with more, trauma. And as far as death goes, even religion can't deny the event-horizon, although they can blow the inside of that unknowable region full od rainbows and lollipops. I am sure, as sure as sure can be, that in the incredibly, incredibly, incredibly unlikely event that some sort of consciousness can exist after death, that such experience would reveal HWA was full to the brim and overflowing with shit.

Thank you for today's post. It was not rambling to me, but coherent and meaningful.

Allen C. Dexter said...

You told it the best you could, and it was easy to understand for me. I didn't have the added problems of being in the direct ministry. It was therefore easier to turn my back and walk away. It still had its emotional traumas though.

The longer you're "out" the less the connection. It's much easier today.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dennis for your ramblings. I enjoy reading them. I left in the early 70's in my early 20's and got on with my life. I never understood about John Trechak who I knew reasonably well. Why he wasted all that time attacking his old religion, but at the same time I was a little bit worried that being so active a criticizer might result in an awful punishment. He did die fairly young of cancer, but that is just sad and nothing to do with what he did to criticize "gods church". So all these years I kind of still wondered if it might be true, until about 5 years ago when I started to look up people I used to know on Facebook. I was very surprised to find out that the whole thing had fallen apart.

A few people tried to convince me that all the prophecies had come to pass and we were now in the Laodicean era. Rght.....hahaha..... Then others told me HWA was a pedophile. I knew GTA was a sexual predator, but HWA wasn't he too old, apparently not. What a fiasco.

Once you made a comment that someone who had left in the early 70's would have only suffered a stomach ache as compared to I can't remember what malady, but something much worse. Well I will end my rambling. I tell people I grew up in a religious cult, and most people have never heard of it. Funny how so many of those ministers I went to college with are still on stage like aging rock stars........

Head Usher said...

The aspect of zen and acceptance has kept coming back to my thoughts today. On the one hand zen means being in touch with reality and being willing to accept it. On the other, it means being in touch with what reality is NOT, and refusing to accept that. Because there will always be abusive people around who are going to try to steal what ought to be inalienably yours: your freedom, your human rights, your power, your esteem, your wellbeing, etc. These are much more egregious crimes than stealing your physical possessions, especially if they can convince you to accept and acquiesce to this type of theft. I think Mahatma Ghandi is a good example of someone who was in touch with what he should and should not accept, and therefore acquiesce to. And I think Herbert Armstrong is a good example of someone who did nothing but steal, not just physical things, such as "tithe" money, but in every other way possible. And he took advantage of other people's better nature to do it.

DennisCDiehl said...

Great comments guys. I was a bit concerned today at work while working on folk in dim rooms with nice music that I may have said too much.

HU..All form of negativity, i have come to see , is some form of non acceptance. When negative, ask what one is not accepting and that will be the truth. Clinging to what should or must be is also a slippery sloap. How many times I thought that "this should not be happening", but it was. All I could was live with it , do my best and not take it all so personally. Hard not to at times.

I think Dave Pack represents to me everything I never spoke up to with HWA and Tkach. That's never going to happen again.

Anonymous said...

I have also benefitted from your stories, Dennis. I have gone through many of the same emotions, although to a lesser extent, but I haven't thought about the meaning of this drama as deeply as you have.

I can only echo what the earlier writers said. Your "ramblings" make perfect sense to me and resonate emotionally.


Byker Bob said...

I was trying to think of something meaningful to add, or even some sort of intelligent comment, but I believe you pretty much said it all, Dennis.

Even as a PK, I had no idea what might go through the mind of a minister, mostly because the adults closest to a child process things inwardly so that those closest to them never get to know their doubts, crises of faith, misgivings about carrying out authority, etc. So, thanks for spilling the beans.

It is also peculiar how different personalities affect us in different ways. I never felt love from HWA. To me, he was someone to be feared and avoided. Oddly enough, I honestly liked Joe Tkach, Sr., in spite of the fact that he once had some harsh words for me by way of correction. Joe Jr. was somewhat of a friend, although as a teenager one could not help but fear that he would get himself in bigtime trouble, as he seemed incapable of setting boundaries for himself. Something about Dave Pack was instantly dislikable even from a distance. Gerald Flurry's younger brother was a friend of mine at SEP, and it angered me that Gerald disciplined him as if he were his father. Lastly, because of his constant classroom rants about masturbation and homosexuality, I tended to think of Rod Meredith as being some sort of buffoon, only one with authority.

Oh, and the GTA thing. He did the same thing with me! I was tipped one Friday to the fact that on Monday, he intended to summon me to his office to ask why I hated him. This perplexed me because reality was that I admired him. Fact is, when I have a serious look on my face, as when listening to a sermon, I look like a thug about to kill someone. So, I showed up at his Saturday night singalong, and made sure he saw me smiling, clapping my hands, and singing. It did the trick. My two best friends got called in, but apparently my name was crossed off his list.

Your experiences are more recent than mine, and you were required to get closer to the people whom I had the ability to judiciously and skillfully avoid. It is not unusual for new symptoms and after-effects of Armstrongism to manifest themselves even for someone who bailed in 1975. I can't even imagine what it must be like for someone from class of '95, especially a minister.


Michael said...

Always appreciate your looks backward at your time in the ministry, Dennis.
Members had a much different limited vantage point and its good to hear a viewpoint from someone who was on the other side of the "facade" of a "unified ministry".

You mentioned you knew John Trechak? Would love to hear more about him. He was immensely helpful to me in the late 80s, early 90s after I left. I devoured his A.Reports, and even had some letters published in it, but don't know much about the guy.

Anon 12:03 said he died of cancer, but I thought it was heart attack? Either way, too bad.

Anonymous said...

Accept everything. Be a wimpy spineless docile pushover. Never fight back. It's the philosophy that explains why Buddhist nations rule the world today.

Anonymous said...

I heard that Ghandi was a weenie who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of his own people because he had this opinionated doctrine he could not prove: do nothing while they kill you and you will go to heaven.

I hope he's on your team, not mine.

It's weird (or is it?) the people who our enemies select to be our heroes.

Anonymous said...

If the media don't like you your comments are "rambling" and you are part of a "regime."

Anonymous said...

People should stop making excuses for their pathetic leaders.

DennisCDiehl said...

I only knew John T in passing and the dorm as a kid. He was British and always seemed to be a determined guy to me. He returned with Ambassador Report not too many years after graduation. I think that was related to being a determied guy!

Anonymous said...

"People should stop making excuses for their pathetic leaders."

Let's stop making excuses for people like UCG's pathetic lying "council of elders", Herbert W Armpit, Rodders, Packman, Prison-dude, etc.

Byker Bob said...

John Trechak was from New Jersey originally, and died of a heart attack. He was not British, but had attended AC in Bricket Wood for a couple years. I got to know him fairly well when we worked together in the same department. Later, when he and Tim Nugent came up with the idea for the magazine, we'd sit around at another buddy's place (Richard) as John showed us the materials which later went into the first issues.

He was highly intelligent, a talented musician, and sincerely concerned for all of the people he saw suffering abuse at the hands of the ministry. He was also very fair-minded and ethical in his research methods for all of the materials going into his publication. He exposed the graft and error the clean way, not with false accusations or bitterness.


DennisCDiehl said...

Thanks for that BB. I knew Tim Nugent much better and he was hilarious. He'd go through the dorms with GTA's voice saying, "Greeting friends around the world.." He had Ambassador Report written into his genes from the moment he stepped on campus.

Byker Bob said...

Dennis, some of the students you and I got to interact with had some incredible personalities! The second semester of the 1967-68 school year, somehow a number of them ended up in our off-campus dorm at 80 South Grand. A number of the students began referring to it as "80 South Crass", the word "crass" being one of the most prominent shibboleths in the AC lexicon. Three years later, some of the student workers at AC Press would still come up to me and repeat some of the old 80 S. Crass sayings, or ask me if we really jumped out of the second floor window or played football in our skivvies on the front lawn.

My best friends, who were even wilder, had already been kicked out by that point in time, and I lasted through most of the following summer, but it sound like there were still some of the fun loving ones there to greet you a couple weeks later. What you related about Tim reminded me of one of the old sayings. AM radio was really big in the '60s, and KHJ was one of the two big rock stations. I used to sing, "Herbert W. Armstrong, 93 KHJ" as if Herbie were one of the on-air personalities. Obviously one had to be careful with stuff like that because if the wrong person heard it, a report would be on Richard Plache's desk before you could blink!


Michael said...

Thanks, BykerBob
Right, no bitterness but he sure as hell got accused of it. But that's par for the course. Can't call COG leaders out without being called "bitter".

Anonymous said...

Byker Bob wrote, "John Trechak was from New Jersey originally and died of a heart attack."

Bob, you may be confusing John Trechak with John Tuit, who wrote the book The Truth Shall Make You Free.

John Tuit attended WCG in New Jersey, and the Tuits were good friends of my parents. John's expose of "The Work" helped them leave the cult.

Byker Bob said...

No, anonymous, John Trechak was from Passaic, New Jersey! John Trechak and I had discussed John Tuit, as he knew about the lawsuit which led to the receivership long before it broke. It was all hush-hush, and then suddenly front page news. No mistake, no confusion.


Byker Bob said...

One more thing. This is unfortunately one of the things that I guess can happen in peoples' minds with the passing of decades. Silly me. There I was, working with John Trechak on a daily basis, eating and drinking with him, and giving him rides to and from work, being happy for him when GTA hand picked him to work on the musical staff of the America Listen personal appearance campaign, saddened when John butted heads with Joe Bauer and ended up resigning from that, visiting with John after he left the organization, even on the night Joe Tkach Sr. and Elmer McElroy were trying to track him down to disfellowship him, and being one of the people he bounced ideas off of for the original "Ambassador Review", but somehow I must be mistaking him for John Tuit????

It amazes me that we are able to get any truth out to the masses even among "friendlies", let alone amongst the deceived. I don't claim to know everything about the man, but was around him quite frequently during that critical embryonic stage during which he became perhaps the first effective dissident the Armstrong movement had ever had.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I didn't know that John Trechak was from Passaic, no less New Jersey!

I have good memories of Passaic, including the pleasure of enjoying some concerts at the Capitol Theatre there :-)