Sunday, December 25, 2011


-Josephus, on Moses as a baby

This melody seems less romance and much more lullaby, I think.  Mother rather than lover, it conjures up memories of long gazes at infant toes and tiny fists, seeing that new person who is daughter or son for the very first time.

Speaking of babies and birth-days.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

joining, and leaving religious cults

Not only is this documentary concise and well made, but each of the women interviewed has a compelling story and is articulate in telling it.   I could particularly identify with Amy who shows up at the end of this first segment.  Listening to her speak was like listening to myself, ten years ago.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent takes

Yesterday, it finally got up above freezing, briefly.  It's been so cold that both of my rings were slipping off.  I wear two rings and I they are both on the same finger: my wedding ring is a little too loose and in the winters I need to wear another smaller ring on the outside to keep the wedding one on.  (I end up wearing it year-round usually because I never think to take it off when the weather gets warmer.) 
Yeah, I could have it re-sized, but that's no fun.  Obviously, there is only one option: wear a third ring to keep the second ring on that keeps my wedding band on.  


This is the first year my kids aren't wrecking all the Christmas decorations or pulling the tree down on their heads.  They don't even chew on them! 


I started this blog earlier this year while living in India.  There were several reasons I decided to write a second blog, but one of them was that I really try to keep my family blog mostly lighthearted and drama-free.  There are several reasons I do that and one of them is that I don't really like fielding phonecalls from concerned relatives if I happen to post anything like, "I'm having a hard time staying on my feet when I leave my apartment because everything is so overwhelming."  They worried.  It stresses them out.  And I had enough trouble not worrying or stressing out those around me: if mama can't keep it together, it's bad news for everyone else.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago we marked the anniversary of our arrival in Kolkata.  November 26th, to be exact.  As I look back on those initial moments and try to remember, it's actually kind of fun to have the happier moments captured in photos and anecdotes.  I can't forget that first month; the heat, the multiple-baths-a-day for the kids, the jet-lag, the excruciating back-muscle spasms that followed the jet-lag because the kids were all piling in and sleeping on and around me in my tiny bed and which meant that I couldn't sit or stand for more than a few minutes every day, the struggle to find meals that were more or less kid-friendly (=meals where The Spicy would not kill them---in India, these do not exist so the kids did not eat very much food), that terrible reaction to the anti-malarials I had and the three painful weeks that passed before I was finally diagnosed (during which I could not eat very much food).  Yes, all of that I do remember. 
But thankfully all that is in the shadow of that mystery wooden box that construction workers showed up to install on our apartment wall, and now when I can look back I can mostly forget the ugly and just remember the good times.   

Today is the Feast of St. Juan Diego and yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  At Mass this morning, the priest linked these two days in a very simple way that I had never considered before: St Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant, became known because of a Marian apparition (Virgin of Guadalupe).  And not only is Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the patron of the United States, but long before that she was also "declared on 8 November, 1760, principal patron of all the possessions of the crown of Spain, including those in America" (source).  St. Juan Diego was canonized in 2002, the first indigenous American saint.


This year, on the first Sunday of Advent, English speaking Catholics switched over to using the wording of the new translation of the Mass.  It's been a little awkward.  Little changes like "And with your spirit" rather than "And also with you."  I keep forgetting, though, so my version is something like this: "and also with---oh, right."
There are a couple of other minor changes which I barely noticed (and one that I always said anyway, oops!).  It could be (and I am not completely sure of this) that it is because Anglicans and Episcopalians have been saying it this way all along...?  Through my highschool years, my family went to a Church of England church (only because there was no other English-speaking Presbyterian option, I think) and in college I went to an Episcopal church.  


Here is another remnant of my Church of England days: I much prefer their version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem."  The melody is just so much prettier, isn't it?  (I don't love her voice, but the soloist's tunic is awesome.  Also: we never sang the descant so only the first part of this clip is actually relevant.)


Speaking of descants, it seems to be traditional in England to sing the third verse of "O Come All Ye Faithful" like this (starts at 2:46): 

I've only heard it sung this way in church in England. Anyone else? Do ya'll Mennonites sing it like this?

(more takes at Jen's)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle


Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist first, according to the Gospel of John.  This passage really stood out to me as particularly relevant during the season of Advent and in light of the previous post's commentary on seeking and finding.

He first found his own brother Simon and said unto him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is, being interpreted, "the Christ"). (John 1:41)

Monday, November 21, 2011

today I am thinking about...idolatry!

In Caryll Houselander's The Reed of God, there is a chapter called "Idols."  She means the various ways we, through pride or fear or misunderstanding, mis-conceive of Christ.  The spiritual life, she believes, ought rather to be called "the seeking" because, just as His Mother discovered during the Passover pilgrimage of His twelfth year, He needs to be sought in order to be found.

And yet we are so selective about what we want to find.  The author recalls a scene from her childhood when an elderly and quite wealthy friend would sit on the vast lawns of her estate (the one that was built from slum-rents), and read aloud from the Bible, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."

She writes:

We all tend to that sort of scripture reading.  And though we do not depend only on reading, yet it is really necessary, in our search for Christ, to read the Gospel, and to read it without flinching; or if we must flinch, at least without giving up the attempt.

But we are still faced with the fact that Christ lives with us, in the same room, and we do not know Him. (...)  We form a wrong conception of Him, an ego-projection Christ, an imaginary Christ who fits into our own narrowness, who does not shatter our complacency. (...) [But] Christ does answer all our real needs.  People who have what is called a "special devotion" to one particular aspect of Christ's humanity, find in this approach to Him the true answer to some deep need in themselves.  One of the greatest motives of God's love is to answer the needs of men...

If we had kept the strength of our primitive needs, we should not want to make idols...[T]he basic needs, the roots as it were, of human nature are good; they are given to us by God in His great purpose of increasing life.  Love, in its several great manifestations, is given that life may be begotten and nourished and cherished, strengthened and handed on and not exclusively physical life, but the life of the mind, too.  Our other great instinct, self-defence, it is newly created form was just an immense awareness of the wonder of the gift of life, which gave man the instinct to preserve it in gratitude. (...)
But we have watered down and whittled away the power of our deepest instincts we are afraid of the completeness of Love and afraid, or too lacking in vitality, to rejoice fully in the glory of possessing life.
She carries on describing the limitedness that comes with having a limited view of Christ and of God, and the cruelty or rigidity exhibited by those whose god is cruel or rigid, but then she returns to the original question about progressing in the spiritual life, or rather in "the seeking:"

Now we have one answer to the question, Why must we always be seeking for the lost Child?  Why must we always feel the pain of loss?  If we did not, we should not realise that our idols are not God, are not Christ.

Bad as they are, they match our limitations; and if they could content us, we should never know the real beauty of Christ: we should not become whole.  (...) Our conception of Christ makes us what we are, makes our effect on others what it is, influences us and influences everyone with whom we come into contact.

Our Lord said to His Apostles: "It is expedient for you that I go away."  It is the same for us.  We know Him only by continually learning Him anew; we get away from false gods only by continually seeking Him we hold Him only by losing Him.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

the annual

This year there were only two of us for our reunion.  We missed our third so very much. 

my daughter said, "Leia looks so happy!"

We stopped in Leia's highschool-hometown for all of twenty minutes but we were spotted. I even suspect that we were talked about later.  Ah, small Midwestern towns...

This was a first for us, not meeting up in a big city.  Last year was NYC, before that Denver, and before that we all shared a place in Chicago.  But I'll tell you what: discovering small German-Mennonite farming communities in KS was a real foreign experience for me.  Talk about culture shock!  (in a good way)

Thanks for all of it, Peia.  I sure felt spoiled and I hated to go.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

carrots and cults

At the open air market held on Saturdays, I sometimes buy from a certain group of farmers who live about an hour and a half south of town.  This morning, I purchased some carrots and a winter squash.  I've wondered before who they are, as they seem to be some sort of commune.  Non-traditional Mennonite, maybe?  (Because a few of the men have beards.)  That didn't seem quite right, though, so I eagerly took home a booklet of "reading material" when they offered it.

Folks: if you are looking to write up a 46-page handout in order to prove without a doubt that you ARE indeed a religious cult, you should be sure to include the following.

#1: an article on why you are not brainwashing members, depriving them of sleep or working them round the clock.

#2: an invitation to join their community because all serious Christians realize that going to church only once a week will inevitably lead to spiritual death.  (be sure to use the phrase "spiritual death" and maybe make up a word to describe those church-going so-called Christians.  Like, for example: "churchites.")

#3: be sure that there is a healthy sprinkling of these themes in your articles: that the wealthy and comfortable of the world will be first in line at hell's door, that the lukewarm in faith will be sent to hell, that those who laugh at or ignore you and God are bound for hell, that those who are addicts and drunkards and who are living immoral lives are going to hell.  That everyone outside of your door is suspect, and especially those who refuse to join you and that they are probably all going to hell.

#4: plenty of articles about the wrath of God and how it is going to be "poured out" on unbelievers and sinners and fornicators and all the other "rebellious" out there.  Oh and there will be plagues and diseases too, probably.

#5: a condemnation of all the "religious systems set up by men" and idolatry in various forms.  Beware of false spirits and false gods.

#6: an emphasis on the spirit rather than the body.  As in, "turn away from carnality and sow in the spirit so that you can reap in the spirit." (not an exact quote, but it's the main idea.)

#7: a piece entitled: "Hour of the Spirit's Call."  Because it captures the urgency, exclusivity and importance of the cause about as succinctly as possibly, and besides it's catchy!

#8: include a clarification regarding Communism, what it is and what it's not and how it relates to communal living and ownership.  (hint: that was a tip for cult leaders from the 1970's, for any who might happen to be reading along.)

#9: 2% of the pamphlet should be promotional and recruitment-oriented, and 98% for the transcriptions of your prophet's visions and/or sermons (for extra extreme boringness).

And here's a free bonus tip: use "thee" and "thou" because God (and King James) did and it makes what you say sound timeless and cool and authoritative.


In all seriousness, this is a very sad phenomenon.  I looked them up and found out that this particular group is thirty years old; they've spent almost twenty of them locally.  I cannot imagine how they recruit new members with materials like the one they handed me but the man I spoke with today looked about my age.  Then again, maybe he just grew up in it and doesn't know any different?  Either way, it is heartbreaking.
He and the others don't look nearly as happy or relaxed as they should have (if they'd really been Mennonite) and that should have tipped me off from the start.  Instead they look tired, and tense, kind of like they work too hard and don't get enough sleep. 

Anyway, they grow great carrots.  The kids and I used their veggies to make carrot-and-orange juice in the juicemaker and it was dee-lish.

Stay tuned for more installments in my series on cults, identification and recovery; I've got a couple more posts on that subject in the works.  In the meantime, won't you please say a prayer for all the folks trapped by cults--the leaders and the followers.  It's just a sad, sad business. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

they're just kids

These children of mine are so adorable and unique.   They each have their own distinct way of living their truth that they are the center of everything that matters in the universe.  Rules, manners, codes of conduct be darned: they will do what they want, when they want.
My guilty confession is that I actually kind of love the particular variety of self-centered spacey-ness my kids exhibit; I know very well that they are unlikely to remain so freely uninhibited for much longer and once it's gone, it's gone.  A mom friend told me that she had noticed this trait in my children even in the relatively short periods of time she has spent with them and she admired their "self-confidence."  She was gracious but I secretly suspected that her epiphany moment was when my son marched into her kitchen and demanded hot apple cider "right now." 
They don’t have bad manners…they’re just kids being kids.  (At least I hope so because my reminders to behave have yet to bear visible fruit.)
At any rate, I sort of prefer it when they drift off into dreamland and forget themselves.  I'll choose those moments over some of their ones of hyper-awareness.  A conscious grip on their surroundings is often closely accompanied by the desire to Do Something To Put Them Right, which is exactly what the middle child did last Sunday.  Her younger brother was running rather than walking back to his seat after having received his Communion line blessing, and clearly someone needed To Put A Stop To It At Once.  My daughter chased him down, reached him just in time to prevent him from calmly and inconspicuously sitting back down in the pew; she grabbed him from behind by his neck and gave him a good firm tug.  As no less than thirty spectators looked on in horror (okay, some were laughing), he spun around and slammed to the floor with a loud shriek while she stomped over to her spot on the pew and plopped herself down defiantly and crossed her arms.  (She felt it was important for me to know, later, that she had been “helping” me.) 
So here's my digital note to self: enjoy them while they are still oblivious and clueless.  Enjoy the moments of uninhibited and unrestrained “kid-ness,” even--or maybe especially?--during Mass.  Like the time two weeks ago week when I looked over at my eldest (age 7) during the Consecration to find that she had rolled both legs of her cotton stretch pants up to above her knee, for maximum dorkiness—I mean, comfort.  Or this past Sunday when I glanced her way and noticed that she had very carefully stuffed her dress (red) into her tights (black) and now had a big bulging middle, with skinny black stork legs sticking out underneath. 
What are you doing?” I hissed, and she looked up at me, innocent and with a somewhat confused look.  She whispered back: I’m tucking my dress into my tights.”  Ah, yes.  So you are.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Quick Takes

1.  Usually, I avoid places like Walmart and fast food joints.  But even this failed anthropologist can see that these are some of the main social centers of this Southwest town.  Pretty much, I feel as if I am doing fieldwork anytime I go to the Burger King, and I stick out about as much as a white researcher would in some remote African village.

2.  Our Walmart is the second-grossing in the nation, I've been told.  On weekends, our town's population is quadrupled with folks coming in to do their shopping.  On the first weekend of the month, it's even more.  

3.  Speaking of cultural happenings that are just "ethnographically too much" (as one of my dear college professors used to say), Halloween is just nuts here.  We got a peek at some of it, but I hear that the real fun stuff takes place in the neighborhood just about a mile or so away from us---where the docs and lawyers and jewelers live.  Apparently, full truckloads of kids get bused off the Rez and the streets are packed with folks hauling garbage bags full of loot from house to house.  Maybe next year I'll venture up there and check it out.  I hear it's like a Walmart on the first Friday of the month times 10. 

4. My daughter was mad at my son for some reason.  She decided to get back at him and hit him where it hurts.  He was going to be John the Baptist for the Saints Day party and she was going to stick with her parrot costume from Halloween.  "At least I get to be a cute little creature; you just get to eat bugs."

5.  I have several runner-friends and sometimes on Sunday mornings we go a few miles out on some nearby desert trails.  I never thought I'd be into trail running but it turns out it's kind of fun (and really challenging).  It makes road running seem really boring in comparison so I might have ruined that for myself, oops.

6.  My son wandered away while we were out shopping the other day.  I was kneeling under clothing racks and calling for him for about ten minutes, thinking he was just hiding.  When I finally found him, he was much more shaken up than I was about the whole thing so I didn't even need to lecture at all.  He has promised never to do it again and I believe him.   

7.  In exactly one week, I will be en route to go visit a dear friend in her hometown in the Plains.  For three and a half days we'll be staying up way too late sipping tea and/or wine, catching up, snuggling with her cats and seeing the sights.  Maybe even catch a play?  I can't wait.

more at Jen's

Monday, October 31, 2011

"I bend to sweep crumbs and I bend to wipe vomit and I bend to pick up little ones and wipe away tears. I bend over a big pot of stew and I bend to fold endless laundry and I bend over math books and spelling sentences and history quiz corrections. And at the end of these days I bend next to the bed and I ask only that I could bend more, bend lower.
Because I serve a Savior who came to be a servant. He lived bent low. And bent down here is where I see His face.
And people say, “Don’t you get tired?” and yes, I do. But I’m face to face with Jesus in the dirt, and the more I bend the harder and better and fuller this life gets. And sure, we are tired, but oh we are happy. Because bent down low is where we find fullness of Joy."
(from the blog of Katie Davis, a 22 yr-old who is foster mother to 13 Ugandan children.) 

I decided to end this blog.  And then this post crept up on me and now I just can't help myself.

It's a great article and it has it all.  Gender and class and political economy--everything I was trained to look for in a smart, well-considered analysis (of any kind) during my short stint in graduate school.  The concept of the value of work and the nature of women's work and the place of childrearing in a household economy and all of that is something I spend quite a lot of time thinking about.  As I sit at home.  With no outside job. And rear children while my husband is (usually) off at work in a job he finds extremely fulfilling. 

There have been other articles in the last few weeks, too.  About aprons and the "mommy wars" and all that.  Those are always out there and it's usually same old, same old.  Women arguing about which is best and more fulfilling, or which is more sacrificial. 

I hate that women who work outside the home are still accused of letting their kids down.  It strikes me as a worse accusation than that you are simply letting yourself down by not having a career--that you are failing to live up to your own potential or be a productive member of society.  But since those are both just really silly, they are easier to address.  More complex is the charge that women are being let down because they are expected, for long durations of time, to tend to the basic needs of others.

Yes, the above-mentioned post is fascinating and astute, but it also says this: "It’s always been a brutal gig to be asked to be intelligent and creative and engaged enough to raise a highly successful child, yet to be satisfied with only that, forever, along with some cleaning and cooking."

My Facebook friend through whom I found the post probably didn't really even notice that sandwiched in there, just as many of us don't notice any number of ways that women (unintentionally?) take down other women.  There hardly seems to be a way to read around the implication that to be satisfied with menial labor and tedium is to settle for a lesser life.  It is to accept to be treated as a lower being and less competent.  Furthermore, "creative" and "intelligent" people deserve more fulfilling work than mopping up spills and making sure the fridge is stocked.

So the question is, does that mean that the stupider and less creative people should do it?  Or, rather, that a woman who does this work will (perhaps ought to) be considered stupider and less creative?  Because it sure sounds like it to me.  I know this for sure: someone needs to do the cooking and cleaning and children need someone to look after and nurture them. 

Let me first clarify that in no way am I arguing that women's contributions to local and global economies have been recognized and appreciated as they should and I am certainly not saying that women ought to be the ones to cook and clean (rather than men).  The dignity of women is regularly trampled on and ridiculed and women are made to feel less than human in any number of degrading ways, not the least of which in the nature of the tasks and work they have been allowed to (or encouraged to) undertake.  But to suggest that it is degrading for a woman to care, full-time, for her own family's basic needs is just absurd.  Also, I would like to mention that I don't know anyone--male or female--who only cooks and cleans.  Not one.*

In my marriage, our roles and tasks are divided down traditional lines, more or less, but we know several couples for whom the roles are reversed.  In one family, she is the doctor and he has had to take over the childcare duties while she completes her seven-year residency.  He told me that he gets up at 4am on the days when she has to work all day and then stay overnight on "call."  He goes surfing really, really early in the morning just to get some alone time while she and the kids are still at home in bed.  And then he comes home, gets the kids ready for daycare and then takes himself into work. He cooks and cleans and gets the kids put to bed and then takes care of the night-time feedings for their infant daughter, too.

Vader geeft baby de fles / Father feeding the baby

When he told me this, you know what my first thought was?  "Man, that is one noble guy, to do all that so his wife can pursue her dream."  And you know what I think when it's my turn to do all that? "Man, do I have a raw deal or what."  

I should mention that I've only been doing "cleaning and cooking" full-time for about seven and a half years.  But I've learned something in that short time: first of all, that it's not just cooking and cleaning.  It's so much more involved than those two words suggest. I also need to plan meals, shop for them, use or re-use food and ingredients wisely and try to reduce waste. And then do all the dishes and mopping that follow from all of that effort.  I will also need to clothe everyone that I am feeding, and rotate out the winter clothes and rotate in the summer ones and make lists and make dental appointments and then even more cleaning and the training of the children to clean and chop and wash and all the rest.  It is so much harder and more involved than just "cooking and cleaning."  It also takes patience, forethought and even creativity.

Secondly, I learned that I will most likely do these things for a very long time, and probably for the rest of my life.  I don't mean that I won't ever have an "outside job," because I might.  But when it comes to caring for people who are too helpless to care for themselves, whether babies or a sick child or spouse, an elderly or demented parent, maybe I am just getting started.

So what do I make of my gut reaction to my friend's surfer-husband's role, except that I don't want to be expected to really work that hard or sacrifice in those particular ways?  Apparently, somewhere deep down, I still feel that it is less noble, for a woman, to serve.  As if I am not part of a faith community that treasures the example and sacrificial love of a young woman whose calling was to care for the physical and material needs of a particularly special Infant. 

One of the things that really helped me as my husband was going through his Medical Residency training was to keep sight of the ways our days and work was similar.  There seemed to be such a divide between our routines and we struggled with feelings of isolation.  So I numbered commonalities and kept a running list.  For example:

1. Neither of us gets uninterrupted sleep.  Patients or babies usually howl for help around 2 and 3am.
2. We both get puked on.  A lot.
3. People scream and yell and cry at us for no reason. 
4. We are expected to remain patient and calm and collected under extreme conditions.
5.  We have to wash our hands continually. (hey, that may sound very simple and unimportant, but it helped to imagine him doing the same thing I was doing, over and over again.)
6.  A lot of what we do is repetitive and often mind-numbingly dull. 
7.  At the end of a day/shift, all we want to do is watch a funny TV show about nothing in particular.

Okay, but there is the main difference that he gets paid and I don't.  And I believe that is the point Yuki was making.  Women are often the ones who do the chores and tasks that don't pay and that no one ever sees.  Childcare and home economics are not considered professional fields of work (if you are caring for your own children, I mean); we are not even required to study and we won't graduate with a diploma because we are just expected to do it for free.  Women get the raw deal when that's all they are given to do, right?

War production workers at the Vilter [Manufacturing] Company making M5 and M7 guns for the U.S. Army, Milwaukee, Wis. Ex-housewife, age 24, filing small parts. Her husband and brother are in the armed service (LOC)

Well, on the one hand, I say, good.  I am glad that at least there's one thing right with the world.  What's wrong is expecting to be paid for every little act of service.  Good that lawyers do pro bono work for those who can't afford the standard fees.  Good that some doctors realize that, once the bills have been paid, they might do well to use the spare time to volunteer in clinics for the poor.  Good that neighbors water each other's plants and occasionally roll each other's trash cans to the curb.  What is strange is that men (and women) do NOT expect themselves to serve the basic needs of others, but instead view service to others--especially to strangers--as optional.  What is strange is that relationships of love are transformed into relationships of power and that we don't blink an eye but instead we find ourselves rushing to jump in, too.

We ought to know better and I think we do.  We value service to neighbor and we pride ourselves on being people who help out when a tornado or hurricane comes through, or share trucks and men when wildfires rage out of control.  Just don't you dare ask us to put on an apron and start baking for our husbands.  We will do that if and when we want to, and for as long as we feel like it, but no more.

Last month I listened to a radio program on a different topic that made me groan out loud.  A representative of Catholic Charities (USA) was explaining his perspective on why Americans should willingly and generously assist new refugees to get settled and find jobs, etc.  His argument?  That you never know what they or their children or grandchildren might end up contributing to our country and anyway many of us are descendants of refugees.  I remembered that program as I listened to one about adoption this morning on the same station.  Who knows what gifts and treasures an adoptee might bring to the world, if they're only given a chance (they said).  For proof, just take a look at what Steve Jobs accomplished!  And the same has been used as a rationale against abortion: don't deny the unborn a chance to become the next greatest CEO!

What rot.  Children, refugees, women, men, the elderly, the disabled, the severely disabled, the unborn, are of extreme value because human life is valuable.  Period.  People are worthy of our service simply because they are people and as such have inestimable dignity.  Furthermore, as Blessed John Paul II said, women are particularly well-placed to humanize society.  He said that we need women because they are women, and by their existence and through their bodies and their experience, they bear witness in a special way to the value of the human person by just being women.
"Women first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health.  This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women." (JPII, EvangeliumVitae)
 So then why on earth would we insist on a future that is not shaped by our gender? 

Women understand and live the experience of the less powerful; we carry and birth the most vulnerable among us. And, if we are honest, we know what is at stake if we refuse to feed and nurture the bodies of those people who count on us to care for them.  We lose out.  Not only the young or the helpless or the elderly, but also us.  Because we turn away from our own humanity--male and female--if we refuse to tend to the needs of others and if we walk away from opportunities to bend lower and opt rather to reach higher.  We make the mistake of believing that creativity and intelligence are separate from, and stifled by, a lifetime of service and in doing so we harm our very concept of self.

One final quote:
"The enhancement of intelligence and of humankind's cognitive powers has, unhappily, not been matched by any enhancement of our capacity for love.  It seems, in fact, that this capacity for love counts for nothing, even though we know that to be happy or unhappy depends not so much on whether we know or don't know, as on whether we love or don't love, are loved or are not loved.  It is easy to see why this is so: we are created "in the image of God," and God is love.  Deus caritas est! ...It is not difficult to see why we are so anxious to increase our knowledge and so unconcerned about increasing our capacity to love: knowledge automatically translates into power, but love into service." (Fr. R. Cantalamessa, "There Were Also Some Women")

* Which is not to say that they don't exist, because they do.  I just realized, as I thought about it that anyone I know who stays home full-time also homeschools, or knits, or prays, or writes, or works out of their home part-time, or tutors, or reads, or keeps books for the family business, or blogs, or volunteers their time, etc.  I think in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan there are women who are not permitted to do anything else and even in Morocco, but I really can't think of anyone I know personally who fits into that mold.  Do you?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

on further reflection

Pretty soon after saying that I don't read too many blog posts about poverty or service to the poorer among us, I realized that wasn't really true.  In fact, one of the very times I read Molly I ran across a quote that she referenced (by an Orthodox monk, maybe?) about how the extra pairs of shoes in your closet are ones that you have withheld from the needy.  Then Kris wrote this short piece in which she pondered the nature (and varieties) of poverty.  Pentimiento has several posts in which she wrestles with her discomfort on the origins of wealth and sometimes she writes about reality for her undocumented friend.  Earlier this week Heather wrote about her grocery shopping habits and it turns out she manages to spend less than $24 each week so she can have a little extra leftover for hungry others.  And then there is Rae, who doesn't have posts devoted to the subject, but simply lives it out (just an example: $50 for food during Lent's six weeks for herself and her husband. That's serious).

And there are plenty more that I am forgetting, for sure.  Trying to set the record straighter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


1. My youngest has started morning preschool.  For two hours and forty-five minutes, five days a week, I am on my own!  You wouldn't believe the amount of stuff I can cram into that short time frame.  It's actually a little ridiculous and I probably need to chill out.  Heck, at least no one can accuse me of wasting it.


(stopped next to me at a red light over the weekend)

3. Right now in our backyard, there are thousands of tiny baby grasshoppers.  If you take a step toward the grass (okay, it's all weeds), dozens of them scatter with a sweet pippity-pippity sound. I never remember they are there until I go out to hang up the laundry.

4. Ooh, I just said "laundry" so now I have another excuse to tell you more about my laundromat.  Not only are there folks wandering about with coolers full of breakfast burritos, snowcones, and "biscuits" (whatever those might be), but the other day I was folding sheets at a table only to realize that no one within earshot was speaking English (only Navajo). I looked up and realized I was the only white person in the place.

5. Last week, the thought of making a pilgrimage (and possibly never coming back) to one of these Greek monasteries was very welcome.  An acquaintance told me on Saturday how blessed I was, to have the three kids and my health.  "From the outside, you know," he said, "it's easy to see how much of a blessing it is."  Sadly, I don't always have the outside perspective on those sorts of things. 

6.  My kindergartner's sight words for the past two weeks have been "I," "am," "the," and "little."  I feel like that ought to prompt me to some profound thoughts, but it doesn't really.  It's just kind of cute.

7.  It's a good thing I have two daughters because only one of them likes to lie in bed in the late afternoons and exchange back or head rubs.  The older one is off creating and researching and reading and writing comic books or doing crossword puzzles and generally not doing anything that remotely resembles sitting still.  And the son never gets tired of launching himself off bookcases or onto couches.  It's going to be a long, long winter.

8.  It's not winter yet, and I still love to sit outside when I can on my new favorite chair. 

sometimes we get views like these:


Friday, September 30, 2011


For some reason, I resolved to write a post on family life and medical training and then I made an announcement of my intention here.  To get closure or clarity, maybe, or perhaps it was because I thought I might be able to say something of practical use for someone going in.  Surely, after seven years, I could reflect logically and reasonably on the process and the season, couldn't I?

The problem was, those two stories--starting a family and starting medical school--are intertwined for us.  I had the babies and he went to school.  And then began the Dreaded Residency, with capital "d" and "r" and a third baby.  In both the living and the writing of our story, there has been joys and tears, and after about 57 million attempts at drafts to tell the story of why, I had to give it up.  A decision which, instead of adding to my sense of discouragement, finally somehow brought peace.

There are people who, when writing about past events or trials in their lifetime, look back and see abundance and plenitude of grace.  Stomachs, minds and souls filled and fed on a hillside, with twelve full baskets leftover besides.  Feast, in the presence of the Son.

I don't understand that miracle story as well as some of the other ones about bread: the Syro-Phoenician woman who begs for crumbs, and the story of that widow, the one at Zarephath.  Scarcity and suffering, famine and fear.  In the second account, food is indeed multiplied, but not in abundance.  The man (a prophet though she didn't know it) arrives on her doorstep demanding a meal, and she shares even though she is sure there isn't enough.  Oil and flour made into a small piece of bread--not enough to satisfy, just enough to maintain life for one more day.  It is too small and it seems impossible that it could do any good.


Then, each morning, more bread is made and the supplies are exhausted once again.  Just enough and no more, like the manna that was gathered in the desert--only enough for a single day. 

Still hungry, always hungry, the widow and her son are the lucky ones; they survive the famine.  The miracle feeds them and they are alive each day to witness another one.  Hungry yet grateful, the widow lives, praying and looking forward to a time when there will be plenty.  And in the meantime she and her child are fed by the prayers of a prophet in order that their faith story can nourish others.  Their faith, their hunger, their humble meals, a foreshadowing of the real bread of Word and Presence so that we will come to believe that we, too, can offer ourselves as broken bread.

In later years when they remember the season, the widow and her son probably also remembered the real and physical pains of never-enough.  Their story also has survived, told and retold if not for their sake then for ours.  We are the ones now who need to learn that just a bit of bread, made from dust in an empty jar and the oil of greasy fingerprints--how it is always a little bit of nothing that is transformed into bread that nourishes. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

road trip

last week, I took off alone to go visit my sister and friends in Colorado.

 I've never driven so far on my own, but it was fabulous.

I am still kind of on a high from that trip so I'll be back once I get back to normal.  Maybe.

Monday, September 5, 2011

on the Memorial of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Yesterday evening, Jeremy came home from his 12-hour shift to rest of us, midway through dinner and in our underpants.  Well, I was fully clothed, but the kids were only in underwear and shoes.  Undies because they were each taking turns being ‘Captain Underpants’, and shoes because someone’s cape had whipped around, accidentally shattering a glass, and there hadn’t been any time to vacuum up the pieces.  Come to think of it, the vacuum spews rather than sucks these days and that reminds me of another floor I will have to clean tomorrow: the mop never made it out in honor of the breakfast time orange juice spill and the stickiness attracted all manner of other nasty grossness.  (sigh)
Online, I encounter all kinds of people who aren’t like me and some of them call themselves “perfectionists,” a word that continues to mystify me (now “lazy,” that I understand all too well).  One of my blog-crushes is a woman cooks from scratch, homeschools, knits, blogs, sews—you name it.   For years I have tried to figure out her secret and partially it is because she had cancer years ago and so she is really, really grateful for and invested in the Now, and partially she’s just made this way, with a drive I don’t have.  She just wants to do all these things, and usually she has the resources to do them.  She is who she is, unapologetically.  I like that.
There is another reason I like to read her: she believes in spoiling her family.  In an I-won’t-sleep-tonight-because-I-want-tomorrow-to-be-the-best-Christmas-ever kind of way, except not just on holidays.  She believes in giving her family her best.  Being chronically tired and overworked, being limited, being only one person to split 9 different ways for the kids and one more for her husband—that’s a given and she accepts it.  So she says: Given that the job is an impossible one, what can I still do?  That’s good stuff.
The concept of spoiling* other people has been on my mind a lot.  Last Saturday, at a soup kitchen that feeds anywhere between 40 and 80 people six nights a week, a young man took charge of the cooking.  He was from Mexico, maybe about 25 years old and he struggled to translate into English and into cups-and-gallon measurements as he delegated the chopping and blending duties.  He was trained to cook in kilos because he learned from French monks while in Europe for a few months and we have him here only temporarily, as a postulant to the Franciscan Order.  The meal he made last Saturday, when finished off with the pumpkin pies someone dropped off that morning, would be a gourmet feast.  
I kind of chuckled at his disapproval when the fresh tomatoes ran out and we had to substitute canned diced ones.  The flavor was lacking, he moaned, and the rest of us smiled because that kind of perfectionism is rare in donations-only soup kitchens.  Later, though, when I thought back to my few other experiences with chefs for the poor, I remembered others I have known like him.  In Brooklyn, at a crisis pregnancy shelter, there is a volunteer who arrives early in the morning, five days a week, to serve a homemade breakfast to each of those ever-hungry women.  She takes a pad and pen and goes door-to-door, taking orders.  Each one can choose from a varied menu: oatmeal, pancakes, eggs cooked any way, cereal or toast.  Then, the volunteer custom-makes twelve breakfasts, ready by 8am. 
In Colorado, at the homeless shelter around the corner from our old house, Monday night was the night a professional chef would come in.  It was always a three-course meal on Mondays and when it was my Tuesday of the month, I would bring in my pasta-and-a-salad and the guests would drool as they recalled and described the previous night’s menu.** The Sisters always made sure that there was dessert, and extra treats on holidays and feast days and they deep-clean once a week.
Mother Teresa was once criticized publicly for giving too much to the Poor*** without requiring anything in return and she answered that there are enough societies out there that spoil the rich, but few to spoil the poor and that’s what she and her sisters were about.  I guess she had her share of romantic notions about serving the Poor, too.  I like that.
I haven’t come across a whole of posts about spoiling the Poor in my corner of Blog World, but I would like to read more.  I would love to read a post about how important it is for foster parents and unwed mothers to have occasional vacations, or how important it is for the elderly poor to live in beautiful surroundings.  How about a list of practical ways to spoil other people, a la Ann Voskamp’s gratitude list?  I would dig that.
Recently, though, I did come across a post about the importance for homemakers to maintain a tidy and lovely home.  The author used, as a counter-example, a woman who volunteers outside her home and allows the interior to suffer.  Unmade beds, clutter, peeling wallpaper…the horror.  The point of the post was, if I understood it correctly, that this woman was not only neglecting her house, but her vocation to create a pleasant place of retreat for her family.  It set up (falsely, I think) two choices: to serve others OR to serve our families, and it kind of bummed me out.
I'd like to think we can do it all: spoil our kids, our spouses and the occasional lonely neighbor or needy stranger.  We can't do it full-time, of course, because our families need us to feed and clothe them.  But maybe we can do a bit of gardening, or go to grad school, or make a phonecall to someone who is lonely, and kick back once in awhile to sip iced tea out on the porch in the evenings—a season for everything and time for a little bit of all of it.  Is the work at home really ever done, anyway?  So why wait to have any fun until after the dishes are done?  Shouldn't service cost us something anyway?
I'd like to think that there is a way for me to get out more often so I can share my now-well-practiced cooking or tidying skills with others (even if I can't exactly produce meals that are works of art).  And I'd even like for my kids to come with me, too. 
The truth is, that article did more than bum me out.  It went even further and implied that people with the means to do so should invest in their home. Really, I am disgusted by the idea that we or our families would be right to be disappointed with anything less than beautiful and orderly material surroundings and I question that our money should be spent, primarily, on ourselves.  I reject that narrow understanding of the nature of beauty and I refuse to rob my family of the opportunity to sacrifice their own comfort in small ways.  It’s good for them, and it’s good for me.  We need the Poor, and our souls need to catch glimpses of how God spoils them because we need to understand how spoiled we are, and how poor. 
My kids will probably grow up moaning and groaning about the maddening things I made them do when they were younger.  We don’t get to shelters or soup kitchens very often, but you wouldn’t know that to hear them complain.  Soon enough, it will be their turn to institute annoying family traditions with their own children.
I overheard the young wannabe-Franciscan mention that he would be cooking dinner for the friars later in the day.  I doubt he made a gourmet meal for them and I doubt they cared.  But on the other hand, maybe he did?  Maybe he cooked two fabulous meals in a single day and if so, good for him.  
I'll take the peeling wallpaper and dirt if I have to choose, but I don't think I do.  A little bit of extra mess and clutter and a few extra wrinkles in the unfolded-laundry is probably all the difference it ends up making in my household and I am okay with a little more chaos.  Besides, in my family we have a tendency to show up for dinner half-naked and in capes so we're clearly not real picky. (By the way, my son’s outfit was the best: Thomas the Tank Engine undies and his sister’s Uggs!  No photos for obvious reasons, but you should’ve seen it.)
In the end, I am glad I read that post, however disparaging toward the Woman-of-the-Neglected-Home.  In fact, I’d like to hear more about her because it is so refreshing to hear about someone who isn't obsessed with home improvement and decorating.  Who knows what kind of volunteer work she is doing or her reasons for doing it, but it's always great to hear about people who are so free from the love of Things.  I like that.

Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.

* in this post, “spoiling” is devoid of any negative connotation.
** darn you, Mr. Professional Chef!  Couldn’t you switch to Wednesdays or something?!
***I have been known to refer to parenting as a service to the “poor” given that without us, our children have no means to satisfy their own needs, and I stand by that.  In this post, however, the Poor means also those who are suffering depravations and/or injustices of more serious kinds and with no one to care for them.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Quick Takes

1.  Seems like this is the only post I have time for anymore.  Maybe it's a sign that I should stick to the short, the sweet and the funny.  Well, maybe I will.  So there.

2. Short: I was cutting my fingernails last week and one teeny tiny cut fingernail flew into my eye and got stuck there.  True story.  (Thank heavens for that ER doc roommate of mine who knows how to do magic with Qtips.).

3. Funny: Speaking of that roommate.  One time, while on Ambien after a string of night shifts, he sat straight up and bed at 3am and sang this song (it starts at 1:15):

4.  Probably there will be people out there who will have a hard time believing that story (it really happened and I remember thinking at the time, "No one will believe me and there are no witnesses around to vouch for me!"), BUT about 200 people were there when that 8-year old missionary kid karaoke-sang this song at my wedding reception:

5.  Sweet: My son wants to change his name to Bye-djul-Broccoli-Face when he gets older.  Come on, that's sweet.

6.  Sweet: Peanut butter cookies are sweet and I made a whole batch yesterday and they are in my freezer right now as I type. Too bad it's Friday and they are verboten.  Argh.

7.  Sweet:  Too bad I have all these nice new friends who are all very sweet and I am a sarcastic meanie. I try to fit in, but then I remember: I am a sarcastic meanie who doesn't belong with the Sweet Girls. Oh well, maybe I can just distract them with my homemade peanut butter cookies and they won't notice...

more takes at Jen's

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quick Takes

1. In one of the many inflight magazines I have perused over the last year, I read a story about a computer game writer who lives in New Mexico somewhere with his family.  He doesn't earn much and he doesn't want to, although his games are very successful.  Something about being an artist and putting them online for free.  Anyway, I think about his family a lot because they have three or four kids and they manage to live off of $14,000 a year.  They don't own a car, they grow their own vegetables, maybe they turn their waste into cooking gas, who the heck knows.  How do they do that?

2.  Usually, I think about that family as I hang up our laundry on our line.  I also think about how it used to be that only poor people line-dry and how having a dryer is still somewhat of a status symbol.  However: more and more folks are doing it now to be "eco-friendly" and so now it is the smart thing to do and not just the poor thing to do. 

3. A facebook friend listed "Faith, Family, Exercise and Beer" as her main interests.  All I have to do is write a post on beer and that would sum up the content of this blog.

4. Saw a sad bumper sticker today: "Someone I Loved Was Murdered."  Yikes.

5. I like this headline from the Navajo Times from July 28th, my birthday. 

6.  It's been a very busy week and I feel like I have barely had a chance to sit down.  In the middle of it all, on Wednesday, we decided to paint the dining room.  I wore shorts and an old t-shirt and, at one point when I looked down, I remembered a fleeting thought from my shower earlier in the day about how there was no time to shave both legs.  "I'll just do one today and one tomorrow," I thought and then I must've gone ahead with that plan because sure enough, there to the East was a dense and fertile forest, and to the West it was clear and pure, like the still surface of a mountain lake. 
Jeremy almost died laughing.  Hey, I'm just glad I got a shower, ok?

7 For the last few weeks, I've ended up at the laundromat right when the show, "The Doctors" is airing.  Good grief, she's still talking about laundry.  No, I'm not!  I want to talk about fertility symptoms!  Apparently, there are some Apps. out there that help you keep track of your menstrual cycle.  There are even "his" and "hers" Apps, where "his" warns him of the onset of PMS and makes helpful--though maybe a little condescending--suggestions (like, "today would be a good day to compliment her outfit or appearance").  
Anyway, it bugs me a little that this software was only mentioned in the context of sex because I can think of about a hundred reasons why it is helpful for any woman, sexually active or not, to chart her fertility symptoms.  I guess it's still a good thing that folks are out there talking openly about women's cycles, and encouraging men and women to get in touch with Mother Nature a little bit more. 

more takes at Jen's and hers are as hilarious as ever.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

who wants to join a cult? (part II)

You may have noticed that in the preceding post I did not address the issue of theological/doctrinal error within abusive and high-control religious groups.*   There are several reasons for that:

1.  First of all, because groups vary.  In some, there is some very obvious distortions of faith concepts and outsiders can clearly pinpoint them, even if a member has bought into the belief system.  But when a group is still in the recruiting phase, there may not be.  Or it may be so understated that it would be hard to prove. 

2. Secondly, because convincing people that there is serious error is usually not an effective way to steer them away from potentially harmful groups.  Their mind is becoming more and more confused and the leader(s) like it that way.  Besides, there are all kinds of minor theological disagreements out there so perhaps this is just one of them? (thinks the brainwashed member...)
It is much easier to spot other kinds of dysfunctions—unhealthy group dynamics, an overbearing or all-knowing leader, the absence of the usual (and healthy) disagreements and compromises among members, and other tell-tale pattern of  thought control programs.  It is often sufficient to focus on the social psychology of a movement or group, to try to make a decision about whether to join up or, alternatively, to run for the hills.  "How cult leaders and other clever operators get people to do their bidding seems arcane and mysterious to most persons, but I find there is nothing esoteric about it at all," writes cult experet Margaret T. Singer.  "There are no secret drugs or potions.  It is just words and group pressures, put together in packaged forms." 
Words, you say?  So for a literature-based cult, this ought to be pretty simple, then?   Maybe so.
Still, when you have a controlling leader who is geographically removed from his/her followers, the dynamic is not going to be exactly the same as it has traditionally been with other high-pressure groups of its kind.  It can't be; if you are trying to influence people from afar (or in some way to acquire some power over them), a leader will necessarily have to be more cautious and more cunning in their methods because small mistakes will show more easily.  On the other hand, the agenda will be "packed into" those reading materials for maximum effectiveness.  The Internet makes such groups possible because of instantaneous flow of information, but perhaps they will be less successful because of it. 
There is no way to predict exactly what will happen next with this particular group, but, based on what other swindlers and egomaniac leaders have done in the past, we can make some educated guesses.  Besides, if the agenda is to control people, there should already be evidence available in the written materials.  The hierarchy needs certain conditions in order to function effectively, and it would be working toward certain goals (if it is indeed a cult or high pressure group).  In Part I, we listed some of the the methods that cults use to create an environment of change and control (to shape the personalities of members into their most agreeable and non-resistant form).  Singer believes all the tactics of thought reform are encompassed within this list of three:
1.  they destabilize a person's sense of self: they create a person who has lost confidence and independence through a slow and imperceptible (though well coordinated) program.  They have undermined their consciousness of reality, their belief system and beaten down their defense mechanisms.  Again, not by force because words, suggestions and environment are usually enough. 
2. they get a person to reinterpret their own life history and accept a new version of reality and causality
3.  they develop a person's dependence on the organization and transform them into a deployable agent
From what I could tell in the small group I attended in June, this group is still somewhat in the early phases of development.  It all seems very harmless because there are (seemingly) no specific demands on members and besides, they are "volunteering" their time in recruiting others!  No one told them to do anything, right?  And it's not like the leaders are breathing down their neck because, they are thousands of miles away!
At that meeting, as these (very devout and well-intentioned people) studied the materials and discussed the content, I remember that several people present agreed (in response to an encouragement to "say Yes to God more willingly and frequently") that they did indeed need to do that and to be less fearful.  In itself, this is not a scary statement from a Catholic as we all admire the Virgin Mary's unquestioning "Fiat" to the Angel.  The problem was that these very sincere Catholics had already accepted that the message of these texts was divine in origin.  They no longer questioned the messenger's words—they had already made up their minds to believe that they were the words of Jesus Himself.  The parish priest directed them to a book, a bishop has given his Okay, and that was enough. 
This is, in my view, one of the real dangers of groups like these—the fact that everything seems so innocent and pure and harmless.  The people I met who are taking these materials seriously all seemed to be sweet, well-meaning and trusting.  They just want to understand God and their faith better.  But they were not waiting for a final verdict from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the content of the book was unquestioned.
Brainwashing is a loaded word and I hate to use it because it conjures up the extremes: the Mason family and David Koresh and all that.  This is what is really scary about it: brainwashing starts as soon as someone has accepted someone else's authority over their thinking.  In the case of an alleged visionary—who is speaking the words of Jesus or Mary, after all—it's all over.  Anything "Jesus" wants them to do, they'll do.  That's how cults get started, when people stop asking questions.  

In Cialdini's book on the mechanics of influence, he used salespeople as an example, but in my experience, it applies to church people, too.  Not the woman in the church narthex, that's not what I mean.  I mean the leader of this group, the person who is claiming some extra special spiritual knowledge and encouraging others (like the narthex woman) to flock to them for guidance.  That's one of the warning signs that stood out from our brief conversation: the promise of an extra special anything.  The question ought to be, Why, if there is nothing substantially different from Sacred Scripture, should I bother with someone's books or ideas about a supernatural revelation they claim to have had?
There is a Church document from 1978, the NORMS OF THE SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH ON THE MANNER OF PROCEEDING IN JUDGING ALLEGED APPARITIONS AND REVELATIONS" that speaks directly to this issue (it has been translated into English at this website):
"4. In uncertain cases that make little difference to the good of the Church, let the competent ecclesiastical Authority abstain from any judgment and direct action (it may even happen that, with the passage of time, the event said to be supernatural may fall into oblivion); nonetheless he should not leave off vigilance, so that if necessary, he can intervene promptly and prudently."
As I understand it, when a priest or bishop grants an Imprimatur, it doesn't necessarily mean that a private revelation has been authenticated.  It simply means that there is nothing in the published materials that has been found to contradict established doctrine.  There's a big difference.  In fact, that was pointed out in #2 on that same list:
2. If the faithful are legitimately requesting it (that is, in communion with the Pastors and not driven by a sectarian spirit), the competent ecclesiastical Authority can intervene, to permit and promote some forms of veneration and devotion, if, according to the Criteria as noted above, there is no obstacle to them. Nevertheless, there should be caution lest the faithful take this manner of acting as an approval on the part of the Church for the supernatural character of the event (cf. Prefatory note, under c).

How could it be bad when the fruit is good?  The woman in the narthex asked.  What harm can it do? 
Plenty.  Have you ever been betrayed by someone you trusted about the deepest matters of your faith or life?  Have you ever suffered through the anguish of not knowing who, if anyone, to trust ever again.  Have you ever lost your ability to trust yourself?  Well, I'll tell you: it's awful, and dark.  Most of us can't handle that sort of messing with our minds.  It is easy to become confused, and depressed, maybe suicidal.  It's that serious.  
In the meantime, I think we should do the same thing that Robert Cialdini advised in his example of the salesperson: just sleep on it.  Keep praying the way you always have, move on with your life and ignore the "new stuff" for, oh, a good decade or so.  Belief in private revelation is not mandated by the church and it usually takes awhile to authenticate a revelation (remember St. Faustina?).  So just relax, we'll know if it's legitimate soon enough and do you really want to take the risk, just to be able to brag that you "knew [of this movement] when"?

Go from the gut and steer clear of groups that seem too good to be true because they most likely are.  Ignore it because it will probably fade away on its own anyway and just disappear into the mist.  The same people who are good at manipulating can also be really good at hiding the traces of their misdeeds; they might just disappear after awhile and (hopefully) move to some island far, far away.

Maybe you're getting depressed just reading about this, but I try not to get too discouraged about the whole business.  Sooner or later, if the group is in fact a cult, it will start to show.  Members will realize it and some of them will walk away.  Sooner or later, the desire for power or money will eventually override the leader's sense of self-preservation.  They will make mistakes and their real agenda will peek through.  They will become less cautious and their real motives will start to show.  They will not realize it, or they won't care (once again: think, Warren Jeffs).  Pastors who are really in it for the money get busted by the IRS all the time.  Or whatever, that's just an example.  At this point, it will no longer be a matter of convincing new recruits to join, but of helping current members get out.
On the other hand, though, the deceit might just be outright and in the open all along.  A monthly urgent message from God about how members of the group need to work harder, pray more and sacrifice more of their time and money—all passed along by a messenger who won't reveal their real name or anything about their past?  Well, that's so obvious, it just might work.
* I am focusing on religious cults in this series because that's what I know about, but there are many, many different kinds: commercial or political ones, cults that offer techniques in self-improvement or enlightenment, cults based on outer-space phenomena, psychological cults, etc.