Monday, June 26, 2006

The Cult

I'm not an overly religious person.

I was raised Catholic in a somewhat Catholic family with overly Catholic grandparents. I went to a Catholic school for a couple of years, and went to Church my whole life until High School. Once I got to college, I was pretty religious for that first year since the Summerall Chapel was a quiet and cool refuge for freshmen, and getting your ass beat every day had a tendency to make one find God. That faded a bit once I became an upperclassman.

In the summer between my junior and senior years I was a training officer at Tyndall AFB in Panama City, FL. I met a girl there that resulted in a whirlwind fling for the five weeks I was working. She was a Second Lieutenant, and older woman, so I was smitten. After the course was over we stayed in touch and dated off and on for the next few years. Also in those few years she got closer to her own church, and a bit of it rubbed off on me. She bought me a Bible. She told me a lot about other faiths that were starkly different from Catholicism. I learned a great deal. Not enough to make me suddenly become a Bible-thumper, but enough to make me curious.

The seed was planted.

Pilot training brought more debauchery, drinking, and wild life than I had ever seen. Top it off that I had been in prison for college and I got quite a bit out of control. After I moved on and went to Germany for my first tour, things calmed down slightly but not much. Church was the furthest thing from my mind. I started dating Superwife, whose mother was, for all intents and purposes, an extremist Catholic. I didn't know her at the time, but her religious influence on my future wife was profound. The topic really never came up between us while we were dating.

In the second year of my tour in Germany, I met another girl. She was a crew chief that worked on the planes we were flying. She was a tomboy, as maintainence chicks tend to be, and we became pretty close friends. She invited me one day to a contemporary Christian service on base. Memories of the relationship I had with the girl in college came flooding back. I went to the service with quite a bit of apprehension. I was at a point in the relationship with SW that things usually fell apart for me, so the timing couldn't have been worse.

I fell in love with the group of people that I went to church with. Finally, after toying with the idea for so long, I pretty much turned my back on Catholicism, my friends, my faith, and SW. SW didn't understand what was going on, and referred to the group (and still does) as a cult. Simultaneously during all of this SW deployed to Zagreb, Croatia during the Balkans conflict. I threw myself into the new contemporary church completely, isolating myself from a lot of things that were important to me before. I became one of the members of what we called the "inner circle," a group of people that ran things in the service, teaching Bible school, running youth religious groups, and playing a huge part in the actual service. There was just one probelm--one thing I didn't completely turn my back on kept rearing its head.


No matter how hard I tried to give myself up completely to my new faith and friends, I couldn't escape the person I actually was. I still drank, went to parties,and had a deep love for SW. The members of the church told me over and over that I couldn't be a part of God's Plan and still date SW. So I hid everything. I became a master at leading a double-life. I carried a Bible around in my back pocket, but still swore like a sailor when I flew. I still drank like a fish on Saturday but showed up to teach Sunday school the next morning. Over the course of a year, it slowly tore me apart.

After a while I satrted looking for a way out, but none became apparent. If I didn't show up for a meeting or prayer group my phone was ringing at home. People would come by my house looking for me. There were definitely those in the group that knew I was having issues, that I was hiding something, that didn't believe the things I would say. I don't know if it was through jealousy or what, but they made it hard for me to go either way. I became excessively paranoid, and didn't know where to go. The one refuge I had always had--God--became the one thing I was trying to escape from.

After this went on for a while, my grandfather died. We were extremely close, as he and my grandmother were virtually parents to me growing up. He was a wonderful person, but Catholic. He had never, to the best of my knowledge, had a "saving" experience, as the members of my church claimed was necessary to get into Heaven. They, of course, backed this up with Scripture quotes--just like they backed up direction to end any contact with SW and any bad habits I had. When I made an off-hand statement about how at least my grandfather was now in Heaven, I was met with quizzical looks and muttered responses of "well, no he's not" from my "friends."

The next week I was scheduled to go to the States for training for a month. I had my chance.

On my last day before leaving I inwardly said goodbye to that place. I knew, in my heart, that I was not coming back. For months after I returned I didn't answer the door or the phone, and was scarce around the squadron in case they came by there. I got back together with SW, and stayed at her place most nights. Eventually, months later, the phone calls stopped. Six months later I was married.

After marriage, SW and I eventually started going to Catholic Church together again--more for the kids than for ourselves. I still have questions in my Faith, but I still pray. I feel that I have done quite a few things in my life that I am going to have to answer for someday, and once in a while memories of my experiences in the Contemporary Service arena flood back. I still have the Bible I had back then, and I still read it occasionally.

I think the end result of what I experienced was a profound feeling that no one can claim to fully understand God. He is such a higher Being that anyone claiming to have the answer to Him is ludicris. I am still tormented from time to time as to whether or not I am who I am supposed to be, who God wants me to be. I believe in Scripture, but I also believe that God is God, and as such is not limited by anything in creation. I believe that my grandfather is in Heaven. I look at my three wonderful children's faces and believe that I made the right move staying with SW.

I believe in God.

Romans 8:28

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