My Time with the Oakland Family – the Moonies
A Testimony by Peter from New Zealand
I headed off on my OE with the address of a former flatmate of mine who was living in California. Clive was a tall, red-haired Englishman who’d saved lots of money in Wellington, NZ, by working as a builder’s labourer by day and on room-service in a hotel by night. He was trying to save as much money as possible so he could carry on travelling round the world. He used to stay awake in his day job by leaning against the wall and hammering and scraping and painting; it was balancing room-service trays in the evening where he really struggled to stay awake. He’d nod off to sleep while talking to you sometimes, but he could work like a Trojan when he believed in what he was doing.
Clive was living in San Francisco with a commune-type group called “The Family”. He reckoned it changed his life and he kept writing to me and asking me to visit. He was working on something called “Project Volunteer”. It seemed to be a food programme helping the needy in Oakland, and that seemed like a good thing to be doing. He raised money for the Family by selling flowers and candy, and with him being such a hard worker I bet he was pulling in lots of money for them. If he was working long hours he’d be used to it and happy enough to drop asleep in the middle of a conversation. But he worried me a little in his letters when he talked about saving the world and when he reckoned that “America is the last bastion of the West while the East is closing in.”
I’d arrived in Los Angeles exhausted and I crashed in a cheap hotel where the police sirens kept me awake till late in the night. I got a bus to San Francisco the next day and checked into a hostel that evening. Next day I figured I’d pay a visit to Clive at the address he’d given me in Bush Street and I wandered up and down the rolling streets till I got to Bush Street. I was part way along it when a young, clean-shaven man came up to me smiling and said “if you’re looking for 1153 Bush Street it’s right over there,” and he took me all the way to the door of a tall, red-brick building. He suggested I remove my shoes and I felt relieved that I’d put on a clean pair of socks that morning. He took me in and introduced me to Lee, a young, slightly-built woman with short blond hair, a lively manner and a friendly smile. I got to know her quite well in the following days. She had a subtle sense of humour and adept turn of phrase. She’d been a member of Students for an Ethical Society. I sensed her basic integrity and intelligence and she didn’t seem particularly gullible or vulnerable. I only found out later that she’d lied to me, or at least kept things back, but even now I don’t blame her for it. I told Lee I’d been given the Bush Street address by my friend, Clive. She said she knew and really liked him and then I felt welcome and we got yarning for quite some time. She told me that Clive gave everyone in the Family a very hard time initially and he was always asking difficult questions. They had to work hard on him to convince him to stay. She told me all about his time in the city and how he was working for the Family in Texas. I remember the serenity at Bush street, the cleanliness and order, that we had a good meal, and a talk by a speaker about the world and the good work that the Family did, and about a farm they ran at a place called Boonville. At the end of the talk Lee got up with some others and they burst into song:
California, is the Promised Land
San Francisco, see the Golden Gate span
when your heart says “Go West young man”
get on that road to the Promised Land
California, it’s the Promised land
If you’re restless sitting where you are
hop a plane, hitchhike or take a car
to California, it’s the Promised Land
Gonna take a trolley car ride
gonna feel all beautiful inside
go to Berkeley or Oakland loo
nothing else I’d rather do
California, it’s the Promised Land
and they were belting the message like a drum.
Lee said that if you want to know more about the Family there’s a bus leaving for Boonville later that evening and all you have to do is pay fifty dollars and that would give you a week there. She pointed out that it was cheaper than a hotel and I agreed, and then she said she’d come and help me pick up the rest of my stuff from the hostel. I liked walking with her through the streets and we wandered through Chinatown and she caught the eye of a couple and said “if you’re looking for a good Chinese restaurant there’s the Yellow Moon just down that street there.” Lee had them and I at ease and I felt comfortable with her. She took me back to Bush Street and I was introduced to a guy called Kevin whose job it was to accompany me and teach me all about the Family and what it did at Boonville.
Kevin was in his twenties with black hair and a soft, mid-western accent. He’d been to college but had dropped out. His father was a railroad worker from Minneapolis. Kevin had been with the Family for a year. He was supposed to be my ‘spiritual brother’ and he hung around me like a shadow while I was with the Family. Only after some days at Boonville did he tell me why he’d joined the Family. He said his girlfriend had been on drugs and her body had been found in the river in a plastic bag after she’d overdosed and died and the people with her panicked and wanted to get rid of the body. The cops had questioned him for hours on end, but he hadn’t done it. But after that he wanted to go somewhere to lick his wounds and he found the Family. I met a lot of people in the Family who’d come from broken homes or escaped traumatic lives, and normally they were educated and had been to college, and there were quite a few sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers and what-nots there. They didn’t seem to challenge any of the Family’s basic tenets and later I came to think that maybe there’s a problem with middle class people being educated beyond their intelligence.
It was very late when we left Bush Street and I didn’t quite know where we were going. But alter two hours or so the bus turned down a track and we came to a [arm that was almost in darkness. We unloaded our packs from the bus and dumped them in what looked like an old hen house. I found out later it was called ‘the Chicken Palace’.
I was really tired and we all crashed on rubber mattresses laid on the floor. I slept like a log and then at some God-awful hour I got woken up by two clean-cut young men booming on their guitars and singing:
Get up, get out of bed, raise up, raise up your heads,
when the red red robin comes bob bob bobbing along,
when the red red robin comes a bob bob bobbing along
I was in a sour mood as I crawled into my clothes and then I went to join the others on the grass outside. “Good morning, brothers and sisters!” cried a thin, bespectacled woman with fuzzy black hair. She had a big smile on her face and seemed full of energy and gusto. “My name’s Bethie and I’m here to make sure you have a wonderful time at Boonville. Today is a hundred times better than yesterday, and tomorrow is going to be a thousand times better than today! But first, brothers and sisters, we’re not going to let those negative spirits drag us down now are we?” Bethie told us to pluck the negative spirits from ourselves, and others in the group went through the motions of plucking imaginary spirits from their clothing and hair and tossing them skyward. Bethie spoke rhapsodically of the joys of nature, of life, and of all the beauties that God had given the world. Then she got us all lined up in a semi-circle and led us through some stretches and press-ups and jumping jacks and then a song:
Good morning Father it ’s a brand-new Dawn
the Eastern Sky puts new colours on
you’ve touched me now, I feel I belong
in a special place in your heart
Now that I’ve found you and love has arrived
I laugh with the spring breeze, I’m finally alive
making a bee-line right back to the hive
finding my way back home
before I found you I never knew my place
even in nature felt out of place
now I’m longing for your warm embrace
in a special place in your heart
I was tired and jaded, I’d been woken up by folksinging, I’d exercised at a time of the day when I’d normally still be in bed, I was singing joyous songs when I preferred to start the day with the Dominion and a cup of tea. The Family and I had got off to a very bad start.
Breakfast arrived at our circle on the grass. I was in a group now with Bethie, Kevin and about ten others. Breakfast was cereal, fruit and orange juice. After some agitation I got a cup of tea, albeit with ‘non-dairy’ creamer. Bethie said we’ve got to talk about ourselves over breakfast and share some secrets. This was called “cereal drama,” and we introduced ourselves and said where we came from and they teased it out from there. I said I was Peter from New Zealand and had just arrived in California and was looking forward to the week. This rather bland offering was met with what I thought was unusual enthusiasm and shouts of “yea, Peter.” I gazed around the circle I was in. Most were clean-cut and young. There were a surprising number of kiwis in my group. There was Gavin from Wanganui who’d been a pianist and a reporter, and a ‘Dr John’ [Didsbury] from Christchurch, though I don’t know what sort of doctor he was. Others in the group included Kevin, Bethie and David, who’d been a physiotherapist before he joined the Family. There was a woman called Maud and she was from Ireland. She had long black hair, a very pale face and striking, ice-blue eyes.
We spent an hour talking and sharing and it was all harmless stuff. Everyone had already shared a personal secret except for Maud and I, and they kept pressing both of us. She told them that as a girl she’d once seen a leprechaun. He was sitting on the bank of a sparkling brook dressed in green with his hat and pipe and his cobbler’s hammer. She’d talked with him, and he’d taught her how to tickle trout in the stream, and told her how if you gaze in the glistening pools you can learn much wisdom, and if your daddy brings home a salmon to fry for dinner, if you touch it when it’s hot and burn your fingers you can lick your fingers and become all the wiser for it. I couldn’t work out whether she was having them on or whether she was talking fey. Later she told them that she’d often seen red-breasted men in winter. Maud had trapped me there because I couldn’t dodge giving a bit of myself after what she’d said. I said that when I was young God had caused it to rain the threads of stories and I’d become a weaver of them from an early age. I even told lies when I was a child, but they weren’t really lies, they were fibs, and fibs are OK as long as you’re fibbing for a good cause. This later proved to be ironic as the Family members always lied to draw people in and to hide who was at the top of it all, and they always justified it to themselves by calling it ‘Heavenly Deception’.
Breakfast was cleared away and I had my first good look at the countryside around me. Boonville was set in the rolling forests of Northern California but I didn’t know exactly where I was, except I knew it was within a couple of hours or so of San Francisco. I wanted to go for a wander but Kevin called me back and said that there was a group lecture I had to attend. It was really casual and related to what a wonderful world nature had given us and wasn’t it a shame that there was so much suffering in the world. We spent the rest of the morning playing volleyball and other games. Lunch was hot vegetable soup with whole tomatoes in it and fresh-baked bread and after lunch we were asked to form a circle on the grass. I was holding hands in a circle with Kevin and with Lee. I’d never been a touchy-feely type and didn’t like too much touching and hugging from complete strangers. I did think Lee was quite appealing ‘as one who might in loving languish,’ but the Family would never let you talk to anyone else for too long but they’d be off on joyful singing and group sharing sessions.
I felt the jollity was a little bit tired and was relieved when we went to do some work on the farm. Thinking back, the farm didn’t seem to be much of a business proposition. I never saw any animals or much machinery there, but there were some cereals being grown, and bees, and maybe quite a bit of the food was home-produced. I saw some photos of the Family’s shrimp farming business in New England and what struck me was how neatly the ropes were coiled on the boat decks. For some reason this seemed too tidy and orderly for a real working shrimp boat, as unreal as bells around the necks of dairy cows on a Taranaki farm. By late afternoon Bethie had noticed our energies flagging and she called out “alright, brothers and sisters, it’s time for a choo choo.” I’d no idea what a “choo choo” was, but others began holding hands and all but myself and Maud started chanting “choo choo choo, choo choo choo, choo choo choo, yeah yeah pow!” and clasped hands were lifted skywards and there was a sense of triumph about it. I heard both choos and pows! from other groups scattered around other parts of the compound. It had me puzzled at the time of course, but I went along with it and I figured it was an important ritual and I tried to be uplifted when we repeated it in the later days and I put a lot of effort into the pows! at the end. It turned out to be based on a story about a little steam train delivering Christmas presents to children on the other side of a hill, and the little train kept climbing while the other bigger trains gave up. It ended with the little steam train reaching the top in triumph and powing with joy as it saw the easy slope it could coast down on the other side.
The evening meal that night was quite good; quiche and salad, with some cake and ice cream as a treat later. Not being a meat eater the low protein diet suited me. but combined with the constant lack of sleep I bet it didn’t suit everyone. That evening we had lectures and for the first time I noticed the Biblical names of some of the key Family leaders; names such as Jeremiah, Noah and Joshua. Compering this evening was Jeremiah, Jewish, about forty with black curly hair and glasses and quite intellectual. He spoke well and talked about brotherly and sisterly love and the good works that the Family was doing. He told us that man was not an animal or a blob of protoplasm. After his talk Jeremiah said “brothers and sisters, l’d now like to introduce Noah Ross. Noah is a graduate in philosophy and during his college days he used to be one of the nation’s leading basketball stars,” and with that a short, rather slight, bespectacled figure in casual sports clothes and gym shoes bounced on the stage. He was all fable and anecdote with lots of straw men, miming, acting and he was mocking those who questioned the work of the Family. There was a fable about an elephant and when you touched one part of it you got the wrong idea about what it was, and then a story about a man who tried to confuse his homing pigeon and got confused himself.
Next morning we were woken up again by bobbing red robins and my energy levels were really quite low from the night before. But I got dressed quickly and joined a group on the grass limbering up and doing exercises. “Top of the morning to you Peter,” said Maud. “And cream of the dawn to you, and may the red red robins depart this world for the land of the phantoms” I replied sardonically. She smiled at me but then Kevin said “time for breakfast, brothers and sisters,” and we went and joined a group on the grass. Cereal drama consisted of more sharing and this time Dr John told me how he’d come to California and the first thing that struck him was the police wearing guns. He said in New Zealand the police didn’t carry guns and when he saw American police he thought he should put his hands in the air and say “don’t shoot”. I thought that was a bit precious; New Zealand’s crime rate was still quite low but it was a gun culture and was hardly the country-cousin paradise myth some fellow kiwis seemed to perpetuate. I don’t think Dr John quite said that New Zealand was a good place to bring up kids or talk about kiwi ingenuity but I once heard him earnestly explaining to a group how if they ever visited New Zealand they’d be safe walking the streets anywhere at any time of the day and night, he could absolutely guarantee it. Dr John finished his sharing and Maud looked at him intently for a time. “You people were all cannibals once,” she said. “You used to eat human flesh, and even now you drink the Devil’s milk. All you kiwis are queer people. I’ve never met one of you that isn’t; queer I mean.” I looked at her quizzically for a while, wondering if her view of my countrymen was shaped entirely by those she met in the Family. She looked at me and I thought I saw the ﬂash of a private and conspiratorial smile. Then it was my turn to share. I said something about growing up without belonging to any particular band of hope. Then at fourteen I had a spiritual crisis when it sank in that one day I’d die and in that case I might as well not have been born; I meant it existentially of course. And later that secret I shared came back to haunt me because they kept careful record of the secrets you shared with them, and later they turned it all against you.
Later that day we made gingerbread figures that we kneaded into shapes and then baked. Each of us had to make one as a gift for another in the group. I had to make one for Sheree, a young black woman who sang soul music beautifully and who’d told me how the Family was a bastion against sexism and racism. I’m hopeless with anything artistic but I thought I’d make a mandala symbol for Sheree, because it was a mystical symbol and a pun on Nelson Mandela, who I admired. I made a complete mess of it and when it came out of the oven it looked like nothing in particular. The others laughed when they saw it but I explained that it was an ancient Maori design signifying spirituality and it reminded me of Sheree. Everybody looked suitably impressed. Sheree seemed particularly touched by it. I noticed a young man watching intently and he came up to me later and presented me with a gingerbread sword and told me I was the sword of truth.
In the evening we were going to have a lecture from someone called Mose Durst. He was obviously a big gun because groups had been practicing songs to entertain him. I joined some other kiwis and sang Pokare Kare Ana, and I had to reflect on how pathetic it was that we had so few really stirring or even particularly musical national songs. Another group sang quite a funny song, but the only line I remember from it was something to do with keeping fish in their pockets. Mose Durst was an English literature lecturer at Berkeley and was quirky with his jokey Jewish ways. His lecture that evening was peppered with literary references, with Yiddish phrases like meshuga and schlemiel, and the odd dig at kiwis and their love of vegemite – he knew to nod in the direction of people from overseas who’d drifted into the Family.
Life on the farm was unending activity, constantly interacting with people, no privacy or time to think, a loss of identity, even to the point of sharing your toothbrush. At night we were “clunking it” and in the morning we were “jumping it.” We were actionising, sharing, listening to talks and lectures, exercising and chanting. Little notes were passed from complete strangers saying things like “Father loves you.” There were frequent and mechanical expressions of “love” to other brothers and sisters or to nature, or to a figure called “Father,” but I didn’t know who he was.
One evening Lee turned up with two brothers carrying heavy packs who’d just finished weeks of selling flowers and candy in the mid-west. The brothers were exhausted and almost asleep on their feet and Noah took them into an office and I heard them counting money and going through the accounts. After the two young men left the office they looked even more pale and tired but also intense and I sensed very dedicated. But I didn’t feel they could have been getting much out of life, except of course whatever spiritual benefits they got from their labour. I asked Lee if I could phone Clive in Texas and she phoned through for me and I realised what a big country it was when [heard her ask what time it was in Texas. I said hello to Clive and he said “where are you from Peter?” and I was confused by that because I’d flatted with him for a year and I couldn’t work out whether he meant where had I come from that day, in recent months, or even whether he knew which Peter I was. I reminded him that we flatted together (and we’d gotten on well), and we talked for a time and I assumed he remembered me, but he seemed quite different to the Clive I’d known. Perhaps he was exhausted, not getting much out of life, except maybe some spiritual benefits from his labours. I’d hoped Lee would stay around but she told me she was leaving Boonville later that night because she was needed back in the city. I’ve always remembered her telling me that she was “needed in the city.” I could tell she had to feel needed.
We had a lecture later that evening and then some singing led by Jennifer, a tall young woman with cascading dark hair. She played guitar well and sang beautifully and was a remote ethereal figure, and as I out found later, a real heavyweight in the Family. It was very moving at the end of a long day to hear Jennifer on guitar and Jeremiah on violin playing and singing songs of love and spirituality. At the end of Healing River one of the brothers almost passed out in a religious ecstasy. Music was very important to the Family. I remember singing about how our love’s creating a whole new world, and they’ll know we’re God’s children by our love. by our love, and they’ll know we’re God’s children by our love. We sang about faces laughing in the fresh morning sun with children dancing and all races being one. We would be singing about how we are one in the spirit we are one in the Lord, and we know that our unity will this day be restored. And then we’d be singing about all the lands that we loved and how we’d been travelling all over this world looking for something we just couldn’t find, and it seems like we’re moving in search of ourselves, and glorious Eden, garden of delight. Once we formed a choir and sang Beethoven’s Song of Joy on a hill side. Some in the Family like Jennifer and Jeremiah had genuine musical talent, but one big, husky brother who couldn’t sing to save himself once did a solo rendition of To be a Pilgrim which struck me as a rather comic and vaudeville performance, though not lacking in sincerity. Very late that evening when I thought we would be clunking it Joshua got up and announced we were going that night to a place called Camp K. He explained that Camp K was a former Girl Guides’ camp and that it was a spiritual place to be and uplifting for the soul, and that we were going for spiritual development lectures.
It was after midnight when we left for Camp K and I didn’t know what direction we were going. We were climbing high in the mountains and at one stage I saw wild deer in the forest. The road narrowed and we stopped by a wooden bridge across a river. We were all very tired and desperate for sleep. “I think we all want to clunk it,” said Jennifer. “Or if you like we could have a game of water polo. If there’s any takers put your hands up.” We walked past a guardhouse on the bridge and then past a barbed wire fence and we reached a group of buildings on top of a hill. We were met by Stefan, a slightly built, clinical type with steel-rimmed glasses. He told us very firmly not to go trespassing on neighbouring properties because the neighbours didn’t understand the Family.
We spent much of the next day widening and extending a track up a steep path, but we didn’t work too hard. We stopped mid-afternoon and had another choo choo choo, choo choo choo, yeah yeah pow! Then Jeremiah sat us down on the grass and talked about meaning in life and the liberation of the soul through sharing within the Family, and he said they’ll come a time when all outside in Satan”s evil world would join the Family. Then he lowered his tone portentously and told us more about the Family’s father. In some of the songs and chants a father had been mentioned but it was unclear whether he was a real person or just a figure of speech or a metaphor. Jeremiah led us through a new interpretation of the Bible and the meaning was elusive in places but it seemed that a Messiah from the east was suggested. What he seemed to be saying was that Christ was not the saviour or the God but the key holder, the one who comes before on a “Christ mission” to prepare the way for the ultimate saviour.
That night we watched some inspirational films. One was about El Cid and his talent for forgiving his enemies and getting them on side. The other was an animated version of Watership Down. It featured a lot of rabbits with collectivist tendencies. At one stage the rabbits were crossing a river on a raft and one of them said that everyone should cross to safety together or no one should cross at all. This was greeted with cheers by most of the Family members. I thought at the time the story seemed vaguely communistic and an unlikely message for the Family to be pushing, them being so right-wing about everything, and at one stage we’d all been singing God Bless America.
The next day passed in sharing and chanting and singing and playing games of volleyball. After dinner that night we were told we’d be travelling to the city. It was getting dark when we left but people were still out and about on the streets by the time we got to the city. I gazed out the bus window and saw people from the evil world in the streets and I thought they looked fairly normal. We stopped at the traffic lights and I saw two girls of about fifteen with hard-looking faces standing on a street corner and I bet they didn’t often sleep alone. America, land of the teenage prostitutes, little girlies wearing make-up, black kids shooting basketball on the asphalt. Jeremiah said out loud “look outside you brothers and sisters and look at how sad and glum all those in the Fallen World are, they’re missing out on Paradise.” I looked around and it was partly true. But it reminded me of the Shield of Achilles, with scenes of happiness as well as sadness depicted on it, scenes of death and war, but also of boys and girls going hand in hand, libations, heifers garlanded with white flowers, marriage scenes, and if this was a Fallen World, there were also cheerful scenes of life uprising.
I guessed we were in Berkeley but I wasn’t sure. We unloaded our packs from the bus and dumped them in a large mansion, and then clunked on the floor in the hallway. Next morning we had french toast and cereal for breakfast and then more cereal drama. Most in the group seemed to be either committed to the Family or people being turned into believers but who could be wavering. It came to my turn to share. I said that ever since I was a little child I knew I had the gift of second sight and could see through people as if they were rainbows. I could see in the tea leaves the frothings of charlatans, the words of false prophets, fixed smiles, haunted faces, a master of war, and a moon-like face counting money. This was met with a stony silence. Maud then piped up and said “you’d put pepper in the cat’s milk, Peter. I’ll think you’ll be going back to join the Evil Spirits, by and by.” Everyone seemed uncomfortable and I was glad when breakfast was over and we went to a neighbouring tennis court to have a game of dodge-ball. The nets were down and we had the court to ourselves. We threw ourselves into a game of dodge-ball and people threw the ball as hard as they could at each other, screaming at the same time “win with love, bomb with love, win with love, win with love.” What seems bizarre now seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. But after a while I saw some construction workers on a neighbouring site gradually sidle up to the wire fence and watch us, somewhat bemused, with half-smiles and grins on their faces, I couldn’t tell which. It was strangely comforting for me to watch them; they were the same young guys who’d be working on construction sites in any country. Seeing them reminded me of being lost in a wilderness area of New Zealand once and feeling a strange relief when I came across a discarded chocolate wrapper, which told me that while I was still lost, civilisation had at least passed this way. After a time I wanted to drop out of the dodge-ball game, I wasn’t in the mood, but someone called me back in, and then we held hands in a circle and chanted “choo choo choo, choo choo choo, yeah yeah pow!”
We returned to the mansion and had a light meal. Jennifer was lecturing that night and it was about her spiritual development. She spoke of her journey and the needs within her, of parents departing and new ones emerging, and of finding her Father. She spoke of his time in the war in Korea, of his capture by North Korean soldiers, and of his time in a concentration camp in North Korea. He’d been starved and had survived on a handful of rice a day, and before he’d eat he’d meditate for hours and absorb the essence of the food, and as she told us that she clasped her hands together, gazed heavenward, and closed her eyes for a time.
We traveled back to Camp K later that night. I don’t know why I agreed to go when I could have just walked out the door and I’d be on the city streets in safety. My tiredness and disorientation had something to do with it, but I also knew I was in a den of spiritual thieves. They may or may not have known I knew, but I knew. I’d seen how small lies were made secure by bigger lies, and I wanted to challenge big lies, but I needed a place and a time. I also had it my head that I could rescue Lee. She was my only link with Clive and I was very loyal to my friends. Also I quite liked Lee. She seemed unobtainable, but then I thought all women could be won, even those who are bound by hoops of prayer. I decided I’d pretend to be committed to the Family, go back to Camp K, and take it from there. I thought of whether Hamlet had been mad, or had he simply pretended to be mad so he could put Claudius off his guard and turn the tables when it was least expected. I regretted being so pointed and sardonic in my comments at breakfast. I hoped what I’d said was obscure enough to puzzle them, and perhaps even give me a psychological edge in what was now a war of nerves.
I hardly slept a wink on my rubber mattress at Camp K that night. The next day was a bit of a blur, with singing and chanting and lectures and token working. I sat down for a rest and Stefan came up and sat beside me and I decided to tease out a bit more information about the Family. I alluded to its wealth and power and wondered aloud where the money came from or went to. He told me all about how spiritual communities fail if they lack political and economic power, and how Senator Fraser from Minnesota had tried to throw a lot of dirt at the Family and he ended up getting dumped. “Anyone who stands in the way of the Family for the wrong reason ends up getting steamrollered,” he said.
That evening we dined on vegetable frittatas, salad and ice cream for dessert. A big night was planned because Jennifer was delivering a lecture on the Family’s founder and Father and I sensed that the rabbit was about to be pulled from the hat. Stanley, an Englishman from Manchester, came around with a plastic bucket to collect donations to cover the extra cost of the ice cream. He had a heavy working class accent and didn’t seem especially well educated. He might well have been better off living with the Family than being unemployed in England. I told him I only had a few coins because most of my money was in travelers’ cheques. Stanley said “well fill the bucket up with travelers’ cheques. What you give back multiples and returns to you many times.” I thought he was joking at first but then saw he was serious and so was a sister standing beside him. I found it difficult to pretend to be part of the Family while still holding on to my passport and money. I thought I’d better be straight so I told him I wouldn’t be giving the Family all my travelers’ cheques as I intended leaving and going to England. Then I put all my coins in the bucket and turned away abruptly and wandered into the hall where Jennifer’s lecture was to be held.
That night Jennifer spoke for over an hour, without notes, with poise and conviction. She took us back to the Garden of Eden and through the times of Cain and Abel and then led us through to modern times. She told us that the separation of church and state is what Satan loves best. and that the Family must unite the church and state. She told us how God blessed America and America held God’s sword against the Evil Spirits. America had won the Second World War, and the Russians only got involved by accident and really they were on the side of Satan, and their role in the War was minor. She cited Swedenborg in evidence and then said that the Archangel Nixon was overthrown by Satan. Then she predicted a Third World War, but I’m not certain who between. It was all quite plausible at the time, except for the bit about Russia playing such a minor role in the War. I don’t know what Jennifer’s Father told her but my father told me that the Russians lost twenty million dead in the War and that they saved us, and I knew which father I believed. I was near the front of the lecture room and I couldn’t stand it any more. I stood up, shuffling my chair noisily, and walked out, my contempt quite obvious.
Later Maud came up to me outside the lecture hall. “St Patrick has his breastplate then,” she said. “I don’t believe in the breastplates of your Irish saint,” I smiled. “Well who is your breastplate against false prophets and those who wish you dead?” she asked. “Who protects you from false laws, heretics and craft of idolatry…” “And spells of women,” I broke in. “And smiths and wizards, against knowledge that corrupts your soul,” Maud finished, and we were both smiling, near laughing, and then we hugged each other like brother and sister. We were on the same side and had come to the same conclusions. It’s just that she had her way of dealing with things, and me, well, I had mine. I told her I believed in cold, hard logic, that I couldn’t believe that evil spirits cause cancer, or that the new Messiah was likely to come from the Republic of Korea, and that my instincts could tell me when people were lying. “Then Peter has two breastplates then,” she said quietly, and I told her with an encouraging smile that I thought she’d also be joining the free spirits in Satan’s Fallen World, by and by.
Lee arrived back from the city that night and she greeted me and Maud warmly when she saw us. I decided to give Lee both barrels, mainly to see if I could snap her out of it. I said that the Reverend Moon was a con-man, an arms manufacturer, that he’d been jailed for bigamy and for tax evasion, that he’d invented a cranky religion so he could dupe naive young Americans into working like slaves to keep him in a wealthy lifestyle. Lee glared at me and bit her lip and I could see she was angry. She looked very cute when she was angry actually, and I think that made me even more inclined to goad her. I told her that the Moonies preyed on people from broken homes and offered them a substitute father figure. She could barely stop herself from slapping me in the face at that point. Then she hugged me unexpectedly and said “please just keep an open mind Peter,” and she walked out the door. Jeremiah came up to us at that point and I could see he was angry. He was annoyed that Maud and I had been talking together because the Family always kept visitors and “the unconvinced” apart from each other. Maud glanced at Jeremiah as he joined us and she could tell he’d overheard the last snatch of my argument with Lee. “Peter, I think you’ll be going to hell by and by” Maud said. “You’ll be sealed in a lead coffin like Oliver Cromwell and dumped in San Francisco Bay and you’ll only ever escape from that coffin when it melts at Doomsday.” “You travelled here through knotholes in the wood and you’re one of the fairy folk, Maud” I answered, and our smiles were the most genuine seen in my time with the Family.
Maud had wandered off and I was alone with Jeremiah. He looked me in the eye intensely and said “I hear you were thinking of leaving us. I thought we agreed you were staying?” I told him I’d decided to leave. “Have you been reading lots of lies about the Family?” he asked. I told him the problem was I just wasn’t religious. I decided not to get stuck into the Family because I was worried that they knew I knew all about them and could do them a bit of damage. We argued for well over an hour and I started to get very worried that I simply couldn’t get rid of him. I told him to stop pressuring me. For some reason that made him lose his temper. “You’ll be out on your own in that big, cold world and you won’t have a friend in the world” he almost spat at me. “You’ll be wondering what’ll happen to you when you die, and since you’re going to die, why were you ever born?” I glared at him and he walked away. I started gathering my things up but then to my horror David the physiotherapist came up to me and said “I hear you’re not staying with us any longer.” I replied very coldly, hoping to freeze him off, but it turned into another argument. I timed it all later and realised it had taken an hour and a half to get rid of them. I shouldered my pack and slipped away quietly and walked to the bridge across the river. I was stopped by a brother there and told there was no bus leaving for San Francisco that night. I knew he was lying because there was a regular bus to the city at 1 am every morning. I walked across the bridge, daring the brother in the guardhouse to try and stop me. I walked past him, he ignored me, and I was on the road to freedom. I was eventually able to stop a bus and get back to San Francisco. I heard later that a few days after I’d left Maud had grabbed her pack and walked out without a word, shrugging aside the pleadings of the sisters as if they were mist. She had dealt with it in her way, and I in mine.
After I left the Family I went to London and wrote to Clive and to Lee exposing a church which I said was founded on lies, textual distortions, Biblical travesties and dilutions, the suppression of natural human growth, and wild and wishful imaginising. Lee wrote a friendly letter back to me but didn’t ever allude to my criticisms. Clive wrote a letter that chilled me. He said he felt sorry for me leaving the Family and that I would suffer great pain for believing the lies about them.
I’ve never been able to work out whether Moon was a complete fraud, whether he really believed in his religion, or whether he was just a complete nutter. The Moonies believed in evil spirits being everywhere, and when people were tired through lack of sleep after eighteen hours of selling flowers on the streets, then the sleepy spirits were to blame. Evil spirits often hid in dust. People removed their shoes at Bush Street to stop the dirty street spirits contaminating the house, and Moon when he was speaking would be slashing around himself with karate chops to keep the evil spirits at bay. Which implies he believed his own dogma. During the Crusades a large body of pilgrims followed a goose for hundreds of miles believing it would lead them to Jerusalem. It was heading north through continental Europe at the time but it must have been gobbling plausibly because they thought it was possessed by the spirit of God. In a country like America you only need to get a tiny fraction of one percent convinced and you’ve got a mass movement of true believers – and they’ll believe anything. I’d learnt from Jennifer that if Moon went to the zoo all the animals wanted to meet him and if he stood by a pond all the fish swam up to him. I also learnt that he was loved and revered by all, and I guessed that included all his bodyguards, and explained why he gave all his speeches behind bullet-proof glass.
Since my brush with the Moonies l’ve long resented “Heavenly Deception” and being lied to, to the extent of my being honest to the point of indiscretion. People don’t always like it but it’s the best policy in the long run. But the odd ﬁb is still OK to avoid hurting people: “you‘re too good for me and you’re better off with someone else” is a favourite of mine. I liked most of the people I met in the Family and some were very impressive and memorable. Maud was the strangest person I’ve ever met, and I have fond memories of Jennifer and even kind thoughts for Jeremiah. I wonder what happened to Clive, and I wonder what happened to Lee.