by Fr. John Moses
I looked beyond the Christianity.
I read the classics of Buddhism and Hinduism. The Beatles certainly played a part in my interest in Hinduism. With my sexualized personality, I studied Tantric Yoga hoping that my “energy” could be channeled into a more holistic lifestyle. While intriguing and challenging, nothing seemed to stick with me. My soul was intrigued but unmoved. I do remember the first time I saw the followers of Krishna. I was staying in an apartment in Georgetown. It was a warm day and the windows were open. We were listening to Abbey Road and smoking, when in the distance, I heard the sound of rhythmic chanting and tambourines. I ran to the window and looked down to see bald headed men in orange robes and sandals, dancing, chanting, and whirling about. I ran down to see this sight and one of the devotees handed me a Bhagavad Gita, which began my reading in Vedic literature. I followed the group to their “temple” and I must say it was different. They served us a vegan dinner (the first I ever had) and invited us back. I thought they were nice people, but I never went back.
In my early school years, I wasn’t much of a scholar and so my grades were not exceptional. The voice of the dragon would assure that I did not have enough intellect to succeed and the school counselors agreed with the dragon. They told me I should consider finding a trade. There was a more positive voice in my life. Her name was Mrs. Snavely. It was 7th grade English and I felt like a complete dolt. Mrs. Snavely took me under her wing and not only taught me, she also helped me to believe a little in myself. Her love and encouragement and what it meant to a 13 year old boy has never been lost to me. Some years ago, I went to the school and found her in hall doing some monitoring. When I addressed her, she smiled and called me by name. I told her what she had done for me and that I just wanted to thank her. She smiled and told me that in all her years of teaching, no student had ever returned to thank her. I felt good to be the first, but sad that I had been the only one. I did not attain the status of scholar though I did improve a little.
I found times of momentary serenity by sitting on the mountaintops of the Blue Ridge and looking over the Shenandoah Valley or when sitting next to the seven waterfalls of Crabtree. There is something about the silence of the forest and the vista of the Valley especially at sunset. I would feel a peace that I would console me and mystify me. The dragon’s voice retreated for a while until I descended back into the valley of my life.
Duke U and the UMC
Attending Duke Seminary was quite a challenge. I waded through modern biblical scholarship and theology. After obtaining my Master’s degree at Duke Seminary, I returned to the Methodist Church. After all, the UMC had been my spiritual mother, and one doesn’t easily leave a mother. Over the next 20 years, I had many good experiences and struggles as I served her. I served small congregations and rural parishes and one stint as an associate minister in a large church. I was never successful at growing a congregation. I have often wondered about this, but I remember how the dragon constantly reminded me of my weakness and brokenness. I loved people sincerely, but I felt unworthy. Something essential was lacking in me. Being broken in my soul, I could not lead others to wholeness. I will say that I pleased 100% of the congregations I served. Some were pleased when I arrived and the rest were pleased when I left!
My best experience during this time was leading groups of volunteers to Mexico to do building work among the Methodist Mexican people. These trips, especially the ones to Mexico, were wonderful experiences. Although the Mexican Methodist people were not the poorest people, they were poor by our standards. They lived their faith with joy and enthusiasm and it had its effect on us. We went as missionaries, but the Mexican people missioned us with their love, faith, and hope. We also started a migrant ministry in North Carolina, and we helped to start an urban ministry which is still in operation today. We even took a group to Florida to help rebuild after Hurricane Andrew.
So many starts and so many stops on the road of religion and education
Stumbling – Music and Sexuality
Dysfunction can occur on many levels, and can take on a dark and terrible nature. When I was abused, I compensated by eating myself to death. I gained a lot of weight in a short time which only added to my self-loathing. It also set me up for a lifetime of health issues including Type II diabetes. My father kept pornography in the house and even though he hid it away, I always found it. Masturbation and fantasy became a regular part of my life. I had been sexualized as a child and the power of this darkness remained with me. When my abuse ceased, all I could do is act out emotions that I could barely understand and never express. I shut out many memories, but when you hide in the dark, the demons tear you to shreds and they love to work in silence. These days, some might call it PTSD.
My sense of self-hatred grew as my peers made sport of my weight. Even a teacher in elementary school stood me up in front of the class next to a skinny kid and asked the class which one of us would survive the longest in the desert. The class gleefully replied, “The fat one.” Of course, they could not know the cause of it, nor did I want them to know. By the time I reached 16, my internal self-hatred and sense of inadequacy was powerful. I thought of myself as fat, even though pictures from the time show that while I am not a physical marvel, I wasn’t fat at all. I developed a new defense mechanism – humor. I found that if I could make people laugh, I knew I had their approval. This didn’t always work, but it was successful enough that it became a part of my personality. Sometimes, my humor has gotten me into a lot of trouble.
I found another way to gain favor. Music has emotive power. This is its majesty and also its curse. It can take us to the heights or drag us into the mud. Mother made us take piano lessons, but I was no prodigy. One day, in the library, I discovered Bach organ works performed by E. Power Biggs. As I listened, I began to sense the “echo of the divine” in it (even today, this music raises a mystical sense in me). Now imagine (if you are a young reader) what it meant to a troubled young teenager when the Beatles phenomenon came on the scene. There never was anything like Beatlemania.
They were talented and admired by everyone. Girls screamed in their presence. Their music went to top of charts. So maybe I could find a way to latch on to this phenomena. I started singing for a group of junior high friends, but I was surprised when I got a call to sing for a group in a nearby city. This new group specialized in the early music of the Rolling Stones and we began to play for parties and in local clubs. I was able to get an old keyboard, and I put my limited talent to work. My instrument improved until I had a Hammond organ and Leslie tone cabinets (I still miss them). In my musical time, I got to perform with some great local musicians and I must admit that I loved the applause. It denied the dragon’s voice because I had succeeded in something.
I began to grow my hair and take on the lifestyle of rock and roll. Some who in high school had been extolled as models that we lesser youth should copy, now spent time smoking dope with me. I began to live a profligate life. My group played in clubs and for fraternities and women became more readily available. My life, especially after high school, became “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” It isn’t that all of my band mates participated in this, but I was on my own road to destruction. I dropped out of church and thought that I was living large. I was introduced to LSD, mescaline, and other hallucinogens. I walked through the
“doors of perception.” (Huxley)
Of course, marijuana and alcohol was always around for fun. I tried to go to community college, but I spent too much time in the parking lot drinking Boones Farm and Bali Hai. Someone said that if you can remember the 1960s, you probably weren’t there.
What stopped me taking drugs? I made plans to take LSD with a girlfriend and “enjoy” her company at the band house. We took the drug and then settled into bed. My cousin, a rather large and obese man, asked to come along, just to drink some beer and watch television down stairs. Being a bit preoccupied, I didn’t notice that he snuck into the bedroom and took some of the LSD. In fact, he took twice the amount that he should have. What followed was a 24 hour experience of absolute evil. I knew that I was hallucinating (I had taken many trips before) but I truly felt as if I had looked the Devil right in his face. It was an experience on the highway to hell. It was the last time I ever took a hallucinogen. Upon reflection, I felt that if evil could be so personified, especially in my altered perception of reality, then perhaps God was a real “person” as well. God does work in mysterious ways.
Stumbling – Marriage and Family
Given the depth of my brokenness, I am not overstating the fact that one of God’s greatest and most undeserved gift to me was the day my wife came into my life. We met in college and I soon realized that she was so different from me- beautiful, talented, happy, secure in herself, calm and full of life. There was no chance that she would ever seriously consider this Quasimodo, but she was friendly to me as she was to everyone. My soul was a raging storm while her personality was like a calm lake. She had no way of knowing that the man she came to love was a broken thing. I hid it very well. I loved her completely and the first 6 years of our marriage was happy and peaceful.
The dragon seemed to be defeated. After all, I had gained the favor of a beautiful woman whose love affirmed me in every way. Eventually my brokenness returned to challenge her, but she never gave up on me. The poor, poor woman! The things I have put her through as I stumbled (more about this below). Her love, patience, wisdom and forgiveness has helped to defeat the dragon. Is she perfect? Well, she goes to confession so she has her faults, but self-hatred and self-abuse is not her weakness. She was raised by normal loving parents who instilled in her a healthy sense of self and a love for God. She also gave me two wonderful children who brought us great joy, a great sense of purpose, and great challenges.
Stumbling – Counseling
When my daughter was born, I felt great joy at her birth. Suddenly, from deep within myself the dragon roared and ugliness bubbled to the surface. I began to experience an internal panic. I began to spiral into depression, compulsion, and self-hatred. Did I fear abusing my own child? NO, but old memories of abusive adults were washing over me tearing my soul to pieces. Some of the memories devastated me. During all of this, I tried my best to be a faithful Methodist minister. I truly loved my church people, and I believed what I preached (and in my state, I preached a lot about mercy). At the same time, I feared that my internal life would break out and destroy me. I feared that my wife would see the troll that she had married and would rightfully leave me. Maybe I would be cast out of the church and lose my career. My behavior became immoral and obsessive. As I said, when you hide in the dark you are demon food.
Seeing I was about to go under, God lead me to a wonderful cognitive therapist. She began to teach me how to combat the negative thoughts that plagued me once again. However, when some of the memories became clearer to me, she joined with a psychiatrist to sort it out. Some memories of abuse became clearer to me and I began to understand the part that it had played in the compulsions of my life. In depth counseling showed that in fact I had no incestuous tendencies (thank God), but I had been profoundly affected by my childhood experiences. The doctors were surprised that I had not splintered into multiple personalities.
It was clear that my psyche was in shreds. I had splintered emotionally. Some common emotions were still present to me, but some were not. The ability to love was not lost and in fact I had gained the capacity to love many people equally without jealousy and envy. Even today, jealousy and envy are unknown to me. They may exist somewhere in my soul, but I have never known them. Therapy would help, but it would not be an instant cure.
Besides my wife, my two children, Elisabeth and John, provided a lot of grounding for me as I tried to meet their needs as a loving and supportive father. By God’s grace, I determined that they would never be subject to the voice of the dragon.
Today, they are faithful Orthodox Christians. They are intelligent, kind, generous and are married to wonderful spouses. I am very proud of them, but in my heart I am most thankful that they grew up knowing that they were loved and supported. They were spared the pain of sexual and emotional abuse. For that alone, I go on my knees in gratitude. The cycle of abuse and its terrible consequences stopped with me.
By God’s grace, future generations of mine will not know it.