What happened was that one day I was in and the next I was out. It’s not inexplicable. I know exactly why it happened. The ‘when’ and the ‘how’. The entire order of events. It’s one of those moments of acute clarity. Many memories are smudged and blurred, but this one, it’s burned into my…
At Alon we all had a home. Sometimes it was the corner of a dormitory and sometimes it was an entire house. But everyone slept in a warm bed with a roof over their heads. There were times when these roofs were even caravans, but no one was left out in the cold. This is true.
What’s also true is that you never knew when you might move house or room or caravan.
Owning a Home
Most of us weren’t home owners and none of us had written contracts that bound us to any one abode. Over time, as the community expanded, more and more houses sprung up and many of these were paid for by individuals – the professionals that made up a significant portion of our thriving community. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and the likes, the educated amongst us who ran their own businesses and earned salaries. These members would be approached by Davit and offered “Such a fantastic piece of land! Look at that view!” Then they’d pay to have a new house built for their family to live in. These houses would be designed by the owner and then re-designed by Davit. There were no contracts, no building inspections, just lots of money poured into the foundations of a home that essentially wasn’t truly theirs.
But, it was an unwritten code that if you’d paid for the home to be built then you had first dibs. No one would ask you to move out of your house besides the occasional temporary move when extra guest accommodation was needed.
Using your Home as Guest Accommodation
We had guest houses on the farm but sometimes they were so full that the guests would have to spill over into the homes of community members because it would be a shame to turn away a paying guest. In these cases, it was your responsibility to get your house ship shape before said guest arrived. If you were lucky, then you’d be given a couple of hours off work to make up beds, clear out your fridge, open shelves in your cupboards and be ready for inspection.
Someone, usually Micah, would pop in to run their fingers over your counters and check behind your couches for traces of dust and cobwebs. Bedding had to be ironed and crease free and windows had to be sparkling. If you blew the inspection then you were drenched in guilt and shame. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, remember? Micah or whoever was inspector for the day would huff and puff and let you know how hard they had to work to get your slovenly efforts up to scratch. A housewife’s nightmare because of course, cleaning was a woman’s job.
No one received any monetary compensation for these periods where their houses were occupied by paying guests. The money went straight through Airbnb or Booking.com and into the Alon farm bank accounts. No one questioned. It was all about cheerful giving and group effort.
On the Move
For the rest of us plebs that couldn’t rub two dimes together, our housing was not at all our own. We had no say, no dibs. At any moment Davit might come striding by and have a look around your living quarters only to declare, “I have an idea! Why don’t you move? I think it’s time you got a bigger home.” (He always put a positive spin on it). “What do you think?” And can you imagine if the resident in question disagreed? Because they could, of course, we live in a free world… But then they’d hear about it at the next communal meeting. Davit would smile sweetly and say something like, “Cindy really loves her home. I wonder if you can love your home too much? You know, people, it’s not good to live in a comfort zone.”
The next time you saw Cindy, she’d be asking if you had any extra boxes. “I’m packing up and I need to get it done today, so that all the guys can help us move tomorrow.” she’d explain with a thin smile and tear stained eyes. “You know it’s a real blessing that I found out on Friday because at least I have Saturday to pack and Sunday to move. I can be settled in before the new week begins.” she’d add if she noticed you looking at her puffy eyes and mascara stains. Keeping things cheerful was important. It was our responsibility to make sure no one (aka Davit) looked like the bad guy.
If you were really lucky, then you’d only find out you were moving once your entire home was packed up for you.
One evening I left my house early after supper to go to ‘show practice‘ and when I returned, all my possessions were packed up into boxes and crates. Granted, we were newlyweds and didn’t have that much, but it was still a stunning feat.
There my husband stood, surrounded by cardboard boxes, beaming with pride at his handiwork. I was gobsmacked.
“Surprise! We’re moving down to the circle tomorrow!” he cried, smiling from ear to ear.
“How did you you get all of this done so quickly?” I was trying to stay calm and mirror his apparent delight.
“Some of the ladies came and helped me. Isn’t that great? No stress for you.” I was horrified, imagining them rifling through my things and no doubt having a lot of opinions about my cleaning skills. “And tomorrow when you go to work,” (I was doing my first stint as a receptionist in town) “they’ve given me time off to move all our things in. It won’t even take that long.”
“But who’s house are we moving into?”
“Oh, Gabe and Micah’s house.” he looked really excited about that but all I could think was that it was such a huge place to try and keep clean. Also a bit of an overkill for just the two of us.
And just like that, we became permanent residents of the “circle”.
You will Own nothing and You will be Happy
There’s a kind of weightlessness when you have little to no belongings of your own. This has the ability to either make you feel untethered and adrift, as if there’s no evidence of your existence. Or it can give you a sense of unfettered freedom, as if there’s nothing solid holding you back or pinning you to one place.
But here is the danger: take away land, control income and the result is a powerless people. When you’re in this position you literally cannot afford to oppose the powers that be. As far as I’m concerned, the World Economic Forum’s utopian/apocalyptic ad campaign… can pack their bags and bugger off.
Anyway, back to the kingdom of Alon…
At Alon, most of us owned nothing and lived a carefree existence where bills and bank accounts almost didn’t exist. But we had worries, they didn’t come at the end of every month, they were a constant gnawing dread. A nagging feeling that the next knock at the door or phone call would bring tidings of our sins and the resulting consequences. And sometimes that meant moving house.
It wasn’t uncommon for families to move out of their homes temporarily in order to share living quarters with another family. In some cases, where space didn’t allow for a complete relocation, the families would simply share kitchens and prepare and eat meals together. “God wants to break your family bondage and selfishness. It’s good for your brats to be around other adults who aren’t going to idolise them.”
Sometimes people moved out of their homes as a punishment for their sins. Jeb and Freya, along with their three small children, were ordered out of their home because of their “slumber issues”. And possibly also because Jeb had become argumentative with Davit in the middle of a communal gathering, when Davit had accused him of some or other malpractice. The family were without a home for a number of months and lived in the orphanage. Anton and I were given their beautiful home. It was a bittersweet move.
Sometimes Davit got very creative with his discipleship, like the time that he made my mother move out of her home and live with another young family. The biggest catch about this arrangement was that although she had a room to sleep in, she had no allocated place to eat. At this point the community had expanded so much that we ate most suppers in our own homes and only had one or two communal dinners a week. So my mom had to find a new place to eat every night. She wasn’t invited, she had to invite herself to eat at a different couple each evening and sometimes she was turned away.
“My girl, it’s time to break your independence and pride.” Davit and Sara chided as they sent her packing.
At the age of fifty-something, she was essentially homeless for a couple of months while her little cottage stood empty and unused.
The other day someone said something to me about how a home is a sacred space. I’d never thought about it that way. But it’s such a beautiful way of putting it and I think it’s so true.
Chapter 23: A little Sleep, A little Slumber, A little Folding of the Hands…
It seemed there was a theme. I was dangerous – especially to those I held dear. And the only solution was to provide frequent periods of separation in order to eliminate any long-lasting damage I might inflict. At least that’s how I interpreted it. Anton would be sent away every couple of months for work….
The ever present threat of Humanism and Feminism in the world of Alon
There were two things I knew to be dangerous schools of thought. These were “isms” that were frequently referred to from the pulpit and blamed as the root cause of most of the evil in this world and in our hearts.
Now, this is not a dissertation on the origin and meaning of humanism and feminism. I think both of these movements are probably largely misunderstood by the majority of us and that debating their true meanings can become a contentious issue. I couldn’t tell you if I am either a humanist or feminist and I am not going to pretend that I understand the nuances of these powerful movements. If you were to ask me who the founders of either humanism or feminism were I’d turn to Google for the answer. Sure, I have some basic idea about what they stand for and I think I’d rather live in a world where humanism and feminism have a voice but that’s pretty much as far as my expertise on the subject goes.
What I can tell you is that Davit had a very definite point of view and he openly scorned feminism from the pulpit, blaming it on the moral and socio-political decay of our world. Of course he would, Alon was a potently patriarchal society, but not in the benign traditional sense. There was a complete lack of chivalry, which became more pronounced as the years went by. A man would never hold the door open or offer to carry your groceries (unless you were obviously buckling under the load) without other men looking at him as if he were a bit of a wimp. Men and women had clearly defined roles. Women were men’s helpmates, not the other way around. A man was the head of the home and wives were to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5v22…). Give it a read and you will be casting your eyeballs on one of the foundational scriptures by which we lived.
It’s a problematic subject to be sure, especially when you take the bible as the literal truth. Reading a book that was written centuries back and translated more times than any of us care to count, by people who not only lived in different times but in entirely different cultures and then taking it as black and white truth is, in my view, dangerous.
Davit was old school and despite being a hippy type raised predominantly by women folk he had a very clear picture of the way a submissive Christian woman should conduct herself and Sara was more or less the universal bench mark, attending to his every beck and call. She herself had come out of an extremely conservative household headed by a brutal father. I believe her childhood was far more traumatic than what any of us were ever told. Sara was the epitome of a well camouflaged sufferer of OCD. Home making and cleanliness was a passion for her and she could Mari Kondo the shit out of anything. I remember her roasting vegetables one day when I was still single and she had laid out all the various vegetables in neat little rows. The beans in one row, the peppers in another and even the sweet potatoes were lined up like little segregated soldiers. She would admit to being “neurotic” about order and cleanliness and regale us with stories of how she used to force Gad to play inside his big wooden toy box with his Lego because she couldn’t bear the thought of all those little pieces lying scattered on the floor. That word “neurotic” was a term she liked to fling around a lot when describing us women and any apparently quirky habits we displayed. For instance, I was a neurotic wife because I didn’t like being separated from my husband for long periods of time. It seemed that only women were able to be neurotic.
Sara was also lively and talkative, she was the “Joy in the home” which I thought was a verse in the bible but actually I think it’s just some kind of old fashioned saying similar to “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. It was the woman’s responsibility to keep everyone happy and to make sure that a husband came home to a stress free, welcoming environment where he could cast off the burdens of the day. His immense responsibility as a man and spiritual leader far outweighed any burden a woman might carry.
Don’t be mistaken, Sara was anything but demure. She was outspoken and wouldn’t back down for any man, besides her husband and later on her son. However, she did give all of us girls the distinct impression that we deserved a little less than the men folk, so it was a team effort of husband and wife that set the general tone in the battle of the sexes (not that I think there should be one).
Sara always had many words of admiration for the young guys and she scorned any woman that wouldn’t sacrifice her time, energy or food for a man. Sara took pride in speaking openly about the weaknesses of women and how petty and irrational we tended to be, she much preferred the company of men, especially the younger men in Anton’s age group – I am not suggesting that she was a cougar, I am just making an observation, and I think it had more to do with the fact that her beloved son was in the same peer group as most of the young guys.
In Sara I saw an example of constant self-sacrifice and surrender to her husbands hopes, dreams and wishes. She followed where Davit lead, she didn’t ever forge her own way or insist on him considering her wants and needs. Sara orbited Davit much like the earth orbits the sun. Yes, she rotated on her own axis and had her own personal seasons, micro moments of her own interests and enjoyment but she was always at the ready should Davit call. He set her trajectory and there was no room for deviation.
But her loud voice, sharp wit and vibrant nature prevented her from appearing like a docile wife.
Of course, there is the part of that scripture in Ephesians that instructs husbands to “love their wives as Christ loves the church” but the whole piece does still end with a final word of warning that “wives must respect their husbands”.
Davit could be heard insisting (rather repetitively I might add) that women were not second class citizens and that husbands should “carry their wives on a silver platter” which I always thought was a rather creative bit of imagery and pictured Sara lying on a bed of parsley bedecked in Israeli jewelry (Davit loved to buy her gifts from the Holy Land) with a little apple daintily perching in her mouth.
We were, however, second class citizens.
It’s a strange thing, how Sara loved to hang out with the guys and Davit really enjoyed chatting to women, just not all women. Sometimes I’d hear tales of their travels overseas when they were younger and how insanely jealous Sara would get because all the ladies loved Davit as he was so very charming. I’ll be honest, I’d never call Davit a lady killer but maybe in his youth he had a more irresistible swagger, who knows.
Davit wasn’t a burly man’s man. In fact Sara was far more adept at taking care of practical matters such as cars, maintenance and security etc. She always paid the bills, even if she wasn’t the official bread winner. If it wasn’t for Sara I don’t believe Davit would have had much success in all his endeavors at all. So they were “equally yoked” and a powerful team. And I sometimes wonder who really wore the pants in their relationship because if there is one thing I have learned it’s that appearances can be deceiving (which is funny because Sara literally never wore pants, only dresses). Maybe she was playing the fool but actually running the show?
A woman who was not submissive and yielding was labelled a “strong woman”. While this term is usually a compliment in our day and age, at Alon being a “strong woman” was the very pinnacle of godlessness.
And don’t think that you could simply slip under the radar by keeping your mouth shut, because there was another even more sinister category of female godlessness: quiet strength. This was when you submitted and obeyed and didn’t talk back but your eyes told a different story. So basically, in order for you not to be a strong woman you had to transform from the inside out, you had to break to be rebuilt into a vessel fit for service unto man… oops, I mean God.
“Stop being so humanistic.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that line being hurled at myself and others. In context what it implied wasn’t really anything to do with the traditional understanding of humanism but instead an Alon style term to describe tolerance and benevolence. If someone did or said something that wasn’t acceptable then it was expected of you to observe and address this by confronting the person or situation and dealing with it in a very brutal and honest manner. If you were to hesitate or perhaps try to reason that the culprit in question was possibly innocent and meant well then it would mean that you were defending immoral behaviour and putting the interests of man ahead of the interests and commandments of God himself.
I get it. Humanism kind of lends itself towards the idea that people are generally good and can, if given the space and means, become better versions of themselves simply by tapping into their inherent human qualities such as intelligence, social awareness and reasoning. But in a Christian (or other fundamental religions too I suppose, but I can only speak from the experience of being an evangelical Christian) paradigm, only God is good and therefore any goodness in us can only be attained through God. We, as a race, are inherently evil. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3v23.
This breeds a rather harsh outlook on your fellow man. I am not saying that all Christians will be this short sighted and unyielding but I am sure you can imagine how this perspective can foster an atmosphere of criticism and judgement.
Of course, most of us were evil humanists a lot of the time and got into trouble for other people’s supposed wrongdoings when we were merely witness to someone stepping out of line and we didn’t at least acknowledge their sin. Or if any of us had “fear of man” which in essence meant a dislike for confrontation, then we were operating under the spirit of humanism.
Oh, these movements or philosophies were living moving beings, spirits to be exact, that could possess the spiritually undiscerning among us.
So, the tolerant, peace loving, anxious and introverted members of Alon had to do a whole lot of character overhauling. And if you added being female to the mix then good luck to you.
Conversely, if you were an independent, feisty, outspoken ambassador for justice and you had boobs then your days at Alon would simply be numbered.
You may be wondering why anyone would endure this distorted approach to life… this article might help:
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Larger than Life
The Ben-Avi family were larger than life. The sound of their voices travelled ahead of them wherever they went. Blue eyed and sharp tongued, they all seemed to exist in a world slightly separate from the one the rest of us dwell in. Untouchable. I envied that. I felt as if danger of misstep lurked around every corner for me and yet somehow, they managed to march surefootedly through life never requiring the guidance or correction of anyone but themselves.
Exactly how Davit occupied his days I could never quite fathom, but he took on the appearances of an immensely busy person, always flurrying from one place to the next in a haze of bustling activity leaving a wake of disruption behind him. You didn’t call on Davit to calm the waters, that was Jesus’ job anyway. Davit wasn’t a mediator, diplomat or peacekeeper. He was a firebrand, but where would we be without the instigators and rabble-rousers of this world? These characters have a way of keeping us on our toes and pushing us to new heights, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.
“Expansion, expansion!” he would declare from the pulpit with a pseudo-Spanish flair, waving his arms as if in the throes of a flamenco pageant. Gazing at him, dumbfounded, his busy flock would wonder what this great revelation held for them. He would go on to elaborate such things as, “I see us being scattered throughout the earth, as a mouthpiece for Christ.” And then tell us about the exciting developments that he was witnessing on his international travels. “The harvest field is ready! And a property, a penthouse, in Larnaca is selling for such a good price. I feel so strongly that the Lord has ushered us towards this island to use it as a springboard into the middle east. But we are waiting on him for a sure sign and provision. If anyone feels to pledge money, however small the amount, give what you feel the Lord has put on your heart.”
Sometimes the expansion would be more tangible, “People, we are going to build an Olympic size pool outside of Mosaic. This community is growing, and we need more space to accommodate everyone who wants to swim.” The flock would then ooh and aah in excited agreement sort of like the minions from Despicable Me. “It would be such a wonderful facility for the high school kids to use and imagine how beautiful when guests come to host their weddings at Mosaic and there is a beautiful pool outside, reflecting the sunset. Give what you feel the Lord has put on your heart.”
Eventually, the trust was purchasing flats, houses, properties and cars at such an almighty rate that most of us were often not even aware of many new acquisitions unless our services or finances were necessary for the purchasing or overhauling of these fine assets.
There were some principles at the heartbeat of Alon that were treated like the gospel; first and foremost was: stewardship. This was the bedrock of all we did. Being a good steward meant making the most of everything we possessed, whether that be money, food, talent or time. Nothing was to go to waste.
In order to make each penny go further, it was encouraged to find loopholes in the system such as applying for financial aid for our school fees, evading taxes and asking for discounts and freebies wherever possible. Every trip to town meant fuel consumption so vehicles were expected to be refuelled before returning to the farm and the cost was split amongst the passengers – needless to say, the more the merrier! Things like milk were regarded as a luxury item and there was a list at the breakfast counter that you could tick off every morning indicating whether you had consumed a quarter, half or whole cup of milk. At the end of the month, you could settle your milk bill.
In keeping with the idea of time being a precious commodity. The more you could accomplish in a short amount of time, the greater the slap on the back. We learned to squeeze a lot of activity into one day and function on rationed sleep. Sleep was essentially a waste of time and if you seemed inclined towards taking a nap then your social ranking took a serious blow. “Work hard, play hard!” was a phrase Davit loved to spritz from the pulpit whenever the troops seemed weary.
Preachings & Teachings
The pulpit was an interesting place, you just never knew what might jump out at you from behind that tiny wooden structure. It could be spewing with outrage at the complacency of the crowd or bubbling with glad tidings of good news. Sitting your butt down on a seat was like getting a ringside view of a human lucky packet with the added bonus of possibly being roped into the sermon of the day. Davit loved to point individuals out, be it for a public display of appreciation or an example of poor behaviour. It added a certain tinge of adrenaline to every meeting. But, apart from that, the man could ramble. I don’t know if Davit ever spent any time preparing for a sermon, but it always seemed as if he spoke off the top of his head and jumped around from topic to topic randomly interspersing his view of the world with one-line scriptures from the bible.
“As I was walking up the hill, I overheard the children playing. Just imagine a world without the sound of children’s voices. So quiet. We must be like children. You know, if the rapture took place today, all the children would be taken up to heaven and I think that the thing that would plague the unbelievers left behind on earth would be the terrible quiet because there would be no sound of children playing and laughing and shouting. I heard yesterday on the news that the pope is now blessing gay marriage. I once met the pope in my younger days. But I tell you, we must be as children unto the Lord for the signs of the times are all around us. When we visit Italy after our cruise, those of you who are joining us will get a sense of the terrible spirit of lust and perversion that is hanging over Europe. Justin Bieber was in Europe recently and he was almost arrested for drug use, but he still speaks of Jesus. Isn’t that amazing? This is what happens when you forsake your childlike ways, people, utter destruction of talent. Even my good friends in France complain about the attitude of the children walking the streets, smoking and swearing already at the age of nine.
“Kyla, you would also have been one of those children, walking in your grungy clothes through the streets of Cape Town if your mother hadn’t brought you here, isn’t that amazing?” Blindsided, I dumbly nod in agreement. “And Maeve, she wanted to just come here and clean toilets and peel vegetables, but I said ‘No!’ imagine that waste of God-given talent and now she is going on a cruise to Italy! Yes Maeve, come up here, I will show you your ticket, it’s booked!” The crowd cheers as my mom walks up to the pulpit awash with gratitude.
Rules & Regulations
Davit wielded power over his flock in absurd yet effective methods. Our routines, as set as they were, could change at the drop of a hat when Davit was on the premises. Over the years, he and Sara frequented the far reaches of the planet more and more, travelling to Australia to visit their daughter, Bianca, on the way. With numerous connections in Europe and the middle east the pair could be found being entertained in circles of millionaires at five-star hotels all over the continent. So, when they graced us with their presence, Davit loved to spice things up and remind his jaded sheep that he was the source of cheer and festivity. “Fasting day is called off and we will have an off weekend from Thursday evening to Monday morning!” or “Pizza night tonight instead of shabbat meeting and we will watch a movie afterwards!” The real trick of the thing was that he and he alone had the authority to veto the rules because he was the one who put them in place.
Sometimes rules would pop up at the spur of the moment. One day, Davit happened to be on time for a Sunday morning meeting and noticed that a considerable amount of people dribbled in at the last minute. Outraged, he went on to admonish us about our lackadaisical ways and decreed that we should all strive to be at meetings fifteen minutes before the time to prepare our hearts to receive the word of God and at the latest five minutes before the actual time. This idea slowly trickled into meetings of every kind, including early morning prayer meetings. Needless to say, that was the last time we ever saw Davit on time for a meeting.
Some other rules included, “No toast for children.” (It was a waste of electricity you see – in fact Sara saved the bell for us once when Davit stumbled across and article on power consumption and discovered that hairdryers were greedy little appliances. He almost banned the use of them but fortunately Sara told him it would really tip us all over the edge, and she liked to blow dry her hair too). “No eating in front of the television in your own homes.” Or one of my all-time favourites, “No use of tumble dryers but also, no hanging of wet washing on clothes horses in your homes.” It’s interesting to note that Tzaneen has an average annual summer rainfall of up to 1500mm and sometimes it can rain on end for days or even weeks. “No picking flowers.” – unless it was for the shabbat table.
Many things were casually mentioned from the pulpit and then morphed into unofficial regulations. “It’s such a shame when parents use TV as a babysitter.” And you would get nervous every time someone glimpsed your kid watching a cartoon. “There isn’t really anything beneficial on the news these days, especially for children, so much negativity.” And then no children big or small were ever permitted to watch the news again. “Sometimes the biggest sign of disrespect is when a child doesn’t greet you by your name.” And then every little kid became a greeting robot.
The power of the pulpit
Another nifty trick was to address someone indirectly from the pulpit. “Isn’t it amazing that even today, despite having the funds, Sara and I still don’t own a car of our own and yet some people want to constantly trade in their cars for newer models. Just a status symbol.” And the poor soul who was hoping to upgrade their outdated jalopy for a newer model would keep bumping along the dusty roads decades behind the times.
There were moments when subtlety went clear out the window and we’d all bear witness to Davit’s ranting about someone’s transgressions, “This afternoon I went past Ruan and Kerry’s house to have a cup of tea.” And even out of the corner of your eye you could sense them beginning to squirm in their seats. “Aren’t they such a beautiful, vibrant young couple? Just like this beautiful Saturday afternoon with the sun shining and the birds singing. Well, unfortunately I had to get my tea somewhere else, because they weren’t there. I mean they were there in body – on their bed, but in spirit they were in la la land.” The colour rising to their cheeks their heads drop. “Did you have a nice sleepy Ruan? Maybe you were ministering to your wife and feeding her the word of God by the spirit, hey?” And then, the rest of us would thank our lucky stars that either we hadn’t succumbed to the urge of snoozing or that Davit hadn’t made his rounds past our houses.
Putting someone on the spot to shine a positive light on them happened too, but that sly fox knew how to do it in such a way that it would make someone else feel less than or second guess their own actions. For instance, let’s say two couples had invited Davit and Sara for a meal that week. And you have to understand that when you invited Davit for a meal it was a lavish affair because he spoke so openly about his likes and dislikes, and we were all so acutely aware of his myriad ailments and allergies.
“Nina, my girl, what a beautiful spread you prepared for us. People, people, it’s truly a treat eating at Jules and Nina’s. Such a cute couple! And the food, what was that dish called? Oh, it was superb.” And that would be it, not a mention of the other couple. You can bet your bottom dollar that the unmentioned hostess would never prepare the unmentionable meal again and would walk around for a couple of days wondering if the food she cooked was perhaps an outward display of a sinful heart that she had been previously unaware of. No, my dear, what you have is a simple case of gaslighting.
What began as a semi-circle of seating facing the pulpit eventually fanned out into a tight arc of multiple rows in front of the stage – eventually constructed as a permanent fixture in our place of worship. Every additional row of seats was like the rings on a great tree, marking its steady growth towards the light. We were likened to trees, and its true that we were rooted, only I’m not sure we were branching out so much as we were crowding together to form a tightly knit canopy that cast deeper shade with every passing year.
Meetings were an integral part of our life as a Christian community. Most were held according to a relatively predictable schedule but like all other societies ours too was impervious to the influx of the smart phone. WhatsApp meant that we were on 24hour beck and call. With the convenience of broadcast messages and WhatsApp groups, meeting times and locations could be adjusted at the drop of a hat. To switch your phone off at night was to commit spiritual treason, if there was need for an impromptu prayer meeting in the middle of the night, then hallelujah for the modern miracle of cell phone technology.
Praying for the sick
Davit was preoccupied with health and wellbeing – his health and wellbeing specifically, because the man endured health issues that a lesser being would have perished under. Joyce, his wayward mother was the cause for all of this because she had deigned to feed him milk and sugar instead of allowing him to suckle at her breast. But tit for tat I suppose…
The amount of times I have heard the phone buzz in the night and the tired shuffle of men’s feet passing by, making their faithful trek to Davit’s house or some allocated meeting place in an effort to pray off an allergic reaction of some sort is impossible to count.
Let me tell you, that a bigger baby I have never encountered. Sniffing and snorting and yelling for “Saaaaarrrra!” begging for another cup of her special ginger tea to wash away the allergens. Hours he would spend poring over medical journals and health blogs. Adjusting his diet until all he could consume was the fat of the land, free-range, organic, pricey fare purchased at the finest health shops and delicatessens our country could provide.
The man was a bloody medical marvel as far as I could tell. Allergic to wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar, preservatives and anything that didn’t taste good, he still managed to consume an enormous helping of colourful food – at least he never lost his appetite and survived countless scoops of ice cream.
To his credit, Davit loved to share with great enthusiasm, not only the word of God but also health tips from his pulpit. Cayenne pepper was glugged down in the mornings, there was a long spell of oil pulling with half the community going about their morning routines with a mouthful of coconut oil sloshing around in their mouths. Turmeric was suddenly added to the list of vegetables that grew in our huge veggie patch and we were all encouraged to consume mountains of it. Kefir, kombucha and honeycomb was readily available. At one stage we were advised to increase our vitamin D uptake by exposing 80% of our skin to pure sunshine for 20minutes every day. Where he thought we’d find the time to all strip down to our bathing suits and loll around in the sunshine, God alone knows. It was moments like these that I became more firmly convinced that he and his kin lived in a parallel universe.
As with many large organisations, the management becomes more and more out of touch with it’s employees and there came a time when I think many of us suffered under Davit’s inability to keep tabs on all his spur of the moment decisions. And like any good dictator, he had created a barrier between himself and his subjects that consisted of nothing else but fear. The fear would keep anyone from speaking up and reminding him that perhaps some of his mandates were out of date. Did he know how little we had to survive on when he encouraged us to buy expensive vitamins and buy sheepskin slippers? Was he really so oblivious to our financial standing that he assumed we could sashay into Europe on a cruise trip and happily make ends meet?
Oh, how he did love to cruise the high seas. I suppose there were many reasons for taking groups of his congregation onboard MSC’s majestic fleet of ocean liners. For one, you get a good discount when you make group bookings. It’s also easier to justify your lavish lifestyle if you make it available to others. And, for those who couldn’t afford to pay their way it was a handy tool for blackmail.
Subtle blackmailing was one of Davit’s trademarks. It’s a dangerous thing to allow yourself to feel indebted to others. A potent exchange of power.
Sara was more direct. Not one to mince her words, she simply cut you down with her quick and blunt assessments of your actions, attitude and personality traits. Like the moral loudspeaker of the community, Sara didn’t draw you aside and quietly counsel you in the hopes of moulding your character, honesty was her policy. Or so I thought.
That’s the thing about this power couple. They were nothing alike besides the way they rolled their R’s and projected their voices. Besides their sky-blue eyes and permanent tans they looked very different, Davit was tall and lanky, Sara short and stocky. Where Davit was an avid researcher on all things health and apocalypse related, the only reading material Sara ever got stuck into was her daily devotional bible. Davit was obsessed with healthy eating and Sara loved to graze on junk food. He extended his eagerness with a wholesome diet to his immediate family and his grown son would hide his coca cola under the table if his dad walked by, Davit seemed to be the only other living being capable of evoking any glimmer of trepidation in Gad. But Sara was immune to the haze of healthful living that encompassed the rest of her kin and happily drank coke and ate chocolates in full view of her manic husband. She seemed to be the only person he was willing to back off from.
But if Gad feared his father he made up for it in asserting himself in the lives of everyone else in the community and like an avalanche that picks up velocity and power as it thunders down a mountainside, Gad’s clout and sovereignty was growing insidiously until one day it was beyond the jurisdiction of even Davit and Sara.
But until then, this happy trio blazed a trembling trail through our little community perched atop a hill in the shimmering forests of sub-tropical Tzaneen.
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Love is Patient, Love is Kind and Cults are Clever
This is a reference post, intended to serve as a quick go-to when the story I am telling just doesn’t add up. Think of it as a cult/psych 101… except that I am not a psychologist!
Also, I am not a huge fan of labels and boxes and sometimes I feel like all these phycological labels get thrown around haphazardly and become… hazardous. But I recognise that it’s very comforting and helpful to know that some of the things we experience are shared experiences, that we are not alone and it is empowering when you have the vocabulary to describe your struggles, experiences and triumphs. Also, it’s great to have some apt terminology in your back pocket that you can whip out at any moment and say, “See, this is real, I’m not crazy and I’m not making this shit up.”
Cults are a little understood psychological phenomenon. It takes two to tango in this dance of power play and while there is plenty of research out there about ex cult members there is little to no material on cult leaders. I guess that’s not surprising because in order to get proper research you’ll need to find a cult leader who recognises that that is what they are. “Sure, I’ll do a psych evaluation for you. As a cult leader, I have to say that I am just so honoured to be part of this important work.” Yeah, that probably won’t happen, but nothing is impossible. Anyway, what we do know for now is based on ex-culties recollections and all the signs point towards narcissism being the driving force behind cult leaders.
So here are a couple of terms that may be helpful:
Although love bombing is usually referred to in the context of a romantic relationship, it is also a term that can often be found in explanations about the psychological dynamics in a cult. And considering that love bombing is a tactic associated with narcissists and that cult leaders are almost always narcissists, then, well, you know.
Essentially love bombing is a clever ploy of manipulation.
In a cult setting new recruits/potential members are lavished with love, attention, praise and acceptance. Even when they behave in a way that isn’t acceptable within the cult’s culture, their actions are met with tolerance, patience and humour.
So when you wonder to yourself how someone can find a cult so appealing, then this is a big part of the answer.
Cognitive dissonance is basically the way we rationalise things in an effort to convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing, even if what we do conflicts with our core values.
There are various settings where this can occur but within a cult, this dissonance is closely related to peer pressure. For instance, a new recruit may feel that they never get enough sleep and are deprived of free time, yet, when they look around them they see all the other cult members smiling and full of energy, they convince themselves that if they go along with the routine they too will be smiling and happy.
Or a new member may be confronted with actions that oppose their moral code such as seeing a child being spanked and scolded. But the new member will justify these actions because no one else seems bothered and because the people doing these things are the same people who have gained the new member’s trust by, you guessed it – LOVE BOMBING!
Gaslighting is a sly way of making you feel like you are doing/saying something wrong even when you know you are in the right. I found these checklists on HEALTHLINE and they pretty much sum up the way I felt most of my adult life at Alon.
Someone who’s gaslighting might:
- insist you said or did things you know you didn’t do
- deny or scoff at your recollection of events
- call you “too sensitive” or “crazy” when you express your needs or concerns
- express doubts to others about your feelings, behavior, and state of mind
- twisting or retelling events to shift blame to you
- insist they’re right and refuse to consider facts or your perspective
Signs and symptoms of gaslighting:
Experiencing gaslighting can leave you second-guessing yourself constantly, not to mention overwhelmed, confused, and uncertain about your ability to make decisions on your own.
Other key signs you’re experiencing gaslighting include:
- an urge to apologize all the time
- believing you can’t do anything right
- frequent feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or worry
- a loss of confidence
- constantly wondering if you’re too sensitive
- feeling disconnected from your sense of self, as if you’re losing your identity
- believing you’re to blame when things go wrong
So it goes like this: you’re new and skeptical, therefore in order to keep you from leaving, you’re showered with good vibes and friendliness until you eventually let your guard down. That’s LOVEBOMBING
Then, when you’re beginning to enter the inner circle of cult life and being included in meetings etc. that only members normally attend you may be confronted with confusing and conflicting situations but you reconcile what you are seeing or experiencing with yourself because all these other awesome people seem to be okay with it. That’s COGNITIVE DISSONANCE (or what most of us can relate to as peer pressure, just more subversive I guess).
Now that you appear to be serious about hanging around and showing some commitment, the tables start to turn and where you were once met with love and acceptance you are now met with judgment and admonishment. When you kick against this turn of events you’re made to believe it is because there is something wrong with you. That’s GASLIGHTING
And finally, if you are able to soldier through the gaslighting round then you emerge again at step one, and the lovebombing starts all over again. Then around and around you go, until you are so confused and craving so much to find mercy and acceptance that you will do and believe anything just to get that lovebomb again.
It’s really like a junkie, just scrambling to get their next fix and the dealers know they can ask whatever price they want… and they do.
Chapter 10: I’m in the Lord’s Army
My brother was among some of the very last young men to be conscripted to the South African army after leaving school. He’s my half brother really, from my dad’s first and very brief marriage. Gian was twelve when I was born which meant that between us having different mothers and him leaving school exactly…
Chapter 9: Leaving the Nest
I was done. Too many late night bible studies and early morning prayer meetings. Too many conversations about deepening my spiritual walk. Too many times of opting out of regular teenage socialising so that I could spend time with my “family” at Alon. Too many chats about spiritual submission and the role of a woman…
Is it the End of the World as We Know It?
A couple of days ago we were at a market and got chatting to a lady who had a jewelry stand. She’d been living in London for the past twenty years but returned to South Africa this year accompanied by her British husband. Lockdown hit her business hard, she was doing very well for herself and had purchased a house in London. But then, as businesses began opening their doors again, her and her husband decided it was time to bid the British Isles farewell and put their hopes in South Africa.
“I left South Africa because of apartheid and all the residual racism in this country, and now I’ve come back because I am fleeing a different kind of apartheid.” She went on to tell us of friends who had died shortly after being vaccinated, of vaccine passports in full swing and of segregated queues in supermarkets that discriminate the unvaccinated (in Germany, apparently and ironically). She spoke of the vaccine passports soon becoming an app on your phone and then a barcode on your hand. And of course, as I listen to her, it harkens back to those terrifying Left Behind movies and all the terrible predictions I’d gobbled up as a child about the “End Times”. I thought I’d left all this crazy shit behind!
“Read Revelations!” she calls out to us as we walk away, desperately trying to escape – what exactly? The truth? The fanaticism? The voice of God? The doomsday prophet?
I hate to admit it, but all the signs are pointing to something, something menacing that lurks in that dreaded final book of the bible.
Are the End Times real? Is the Bible true? Did someone really see into the future? And who are the real believers that will be denied the buying and selling of goods because they refuse this “mark of the beast”? Who is this beast? What is the One World Order? Is there already a mark?
I mean, let’s be honest here, Christian or not, anti-vaxxer or not, right-wing or not, we all feel uneasy. Life is changing, has changed. It does feel like there is someone in the background pulling the strings, getting the entire planet to stand in line. There is a uniformity in the way we are being corralled for the purpose of the greater good and it is alarming how swiftly and effectively protocols are put in place, even in the far reaches of this planet.
We are constantly observed, from our phones to our credit cards. Do we even know what “off the grid” really means and is this even a possibility?
I sound like a doomsayer, a hick, a nut – I know.
But, if you really take a moment to think about it, I am sure you can see some evidence out there that would back up these seemingly crazy predictions of mass control and tyranny, right?
And there I was, thinking I had “left it all behind”.
Anyway, if it really comes down to trial and tribulation, apocalyptic cyber control and the salvation of all true believers, then the one thing I wonder is, who are the true believers? The people who pray to Jesus or the people who stand up for truth and freedom for all of mankind?
What do you think? Leave a comment, I really want to know.
Sometimes I wonder
Sometimes I wonder I panic I fret What am I doing Splashing our secrets out onto the net Spilling the beans of our intimate world Spreading the news where insults can be hurled And then I remember the who and the why I see her weeping in the shadows where she can hide Wishing she were better, freer, and holding it all in Stored safely knotted deep within her belly Standing up again though her legs feel like jelly I reach out across space and time "I will speak your truth" "I will let the words tumble out" "I will do the impossible" And I know she will be okay She is thanking me now and willing me not to not let us down.