The KIT Newsletter, an Activity of the KIT Information Service, a Project of The Peregrine Foundation

P.O. Box 460141 / San Francisco, CA 94146-0141 /
telephone: (415) 821-2090 / (415) 282-2369
KIT Staff U.S.: Ramon Sender, Charles Lamar, Christina Bernard, Vince Lagano, Dave Ostrom;
U.K. : Joy Johson MacDonald, Susan Johnson Suleski, Ben Cavanna, Leonard Pavitt, Joanie Pavitt Taylor, Brother Witless (in an advisory capacity)
The KIT Newsletter is an open forum for fact and opinion. It encourages the expression of all views, both from within and from outside the Bruderhof. The opinions expressed in the letters we publish are those of the correspondents and do not necessarily reflects those of KIT editors or staff.

October 1995 Volume VII #10

-------------- "Keep In Touch" --------------

Although sexual issues normally are considered private in nature, occasionally they may need to be discussed in KIT. This may offend some of our readers, and for this we apologize. But as long as sexuality remains a part of life and KIT an adult forum, we will continue to publish whatever is relevant and people need to say regarding sex -- or any aspect of their lives. However we also will attempt to place a warning before any articles that we deem to be potentially disturbing to some readers.
Those of you who have World Wide Web access should check out the Children of the Bruderhof International's new home page at: http://mars.superlink.net/user/cyberman/cobi.html. Nicely done, Mike!
---- The Whole KIT and Kaboodle -----
-------- INDEX --------
Johanna Patrick Homann
Welcome to Roving Reporter Lou Scheggia
Arthur R. Petrick Letter to Sunday Freeman
Christoph Gets 1/2 Hour Near The Pope
Excerpts from Kingston Press Conference
Jere Bruner to H. Goeringer
Hilarion Braun to H. Goeringer
Blair Purcell to H. Goeringer
Yosam & Oakie to H. Goeringer
Hannah Goodwin Johnson to H. Goeringer
Joel G. Clement to The Daily Freeman
Name Withheld
Rollerblading on The B'hof - Mike Boller
Nadine Moonje Pleil
Bette Bohlken-Zumpe
Bill - Poetry
Joel G. Clement - B'hof Reminiscences
Dave Ostrom - My Family Joins
Charlie Lamar - On The Way to F Xways
Gudrun Harries, 9/6/95: I've just recently come back from Germany,. and my sister Isolde who is organizing the EuroKIT '96 asked me to ask you to publish her account number so that people could transfer their deposits of US $40 directly into it: Isolde Brummerloh • N.F. Bank, A. G. Bremen • Acct No: 3110144603 • Bank Sort Code: 290 202 02 Thanks again, and Greetings,
KIT: The following paragraphs were unintentionally left out of Johanna's report on her and Andy Bazeley's visit to Woodcrest. Sorry for the slip-up!
Johanna Patrick Homann: [Hanna is waiting in the van in the Woodcrest parking lot because she was refused permission to accompany Andy on his visit to mother, Bronwen.] It continued to pour for quite a while and eventually the rain slackened. Andy's grandmother now popped out to ask if I was OK and later, during the second hour of my wait, a sister, who had inquired about my well- being earlier, scurried back and offered me a little bowl of ice-cream. She seemed nervous, as if she shouldn't be there, but genuinely concerned about my long wait in the van. I was really touched by this and said, "You have been so kind to me. I have to stay in my van while I wait for a friend who is visiting here. What is your name?" When she identified herself, I recognized her and told her that I knew had and her family from Bulstrode. I thanked her and, tearing up, I told her that it meant a lot to feel that someone was genuinely concerned for my welfare. It was a very brief chat and she scurried off again.
I now began to re-live some of the painful memories of how my family was split up. First, when I was five years old, my father was sent away for a year from Primavera to El Arado to help start the community there while my mother stayed in Paraguay with six children. When he came back, he was put in an isolation hut off the 'hof, and though he repeatedly asked to speak to my mother privately he was never allowed to do so. There always was a Servant present and he did not have access to his six children. He told me, years later, that finally, out of desperation, he just walked away and found his way to Friesland, a Mennonite colony, and they helped him get to Asuncion. My mother was doing what the Bruderhof expected, to put them first over her marriage vows, and eventually my dad got a divorce through Mexico, which required only one partner. My mother was informed of the divorce.
"Don't worry. We will always take care of you," She was told.
My brothers now were placed with a childless couple (my youngest brother being only two years old) and they had a much more difficult time of it under the harsh, authoritarian rule of the wife. So, to make a long story short, I grew up never really knowing my father or my brothers until years later. We were sent to Bulstrode when I was twelve years old, and one year later, my mother was sent out with all but my oldest sister (who was a member by then). My mother had finally taken a stand for her children by asking for compassion instead of punishment for my brothers who were getting into trouble, explaining that their disrupted childhood might have some bearing on their current behavior. She was told that she was in the wrong spirit and dumped out on welfare, after giving her life and her inheritance to the B'hof. She was unable to work because of weekly migraines and the culture shock for us children and our continuing struggle for survival is another story.
KIT: We welcome Lou Scheggia of Chalk Hill, PA, onto our team of roving reporters. He will be reporting the campaign for town council in Wharton Township (Farmington) where the Bruderhof allegedly is bringing in their American members to register as voters (only a 30- day residency is required in PA before voting) in order to try to make political inroads into the community. These are the people who do not believe in democracy on the 'hof -- just off it! Scheggia additionally will be reporting on the Bruderhof appeal of their property tax assessment.
Arthur R. Petrick, Elka Park, to the Kingston Sunday Freeman, 9/17/95:
Hutterians Show True Colors
At last the Hutterian cult has finally come out of the closet and shown their true colors. When they first arrived here, they pretended to want to become part of the community. Instead they now want the taxpayers to give them a free ride and support them. This tax-free status request is a sham. Here they are running a full-time factory, using free labor (their cult members), making a big profit, and we are supposed to subsidize them. What businessman would not jump at the chance to get free labor and be tax- free yet?
Just because they want to call themselves a religious group is no reason for us to support them. They do not even have a church on the grounds to qualify to be tax-free, yet they want all the benefits of the community without paying their fair share as the rest of us do. We would have been better off if the police camp had become a state prison. At least then local people would have been hired and the officers would be spending their money in this community.
LATE NEWS: J. Christoph Arnold, Bruderhof Elder, has been invited by John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, to a half-hour "gathering of Christian leaders with Pope John Paul II, 6:30-7:00 P.M., Oct 7th, at Cardinal O'Connor's residence. Christoph also has been invited to attend the Holy Mass in Central Park at 9:30 A.M.,"to participate in the Ecumenical Procession at the beginning of the Liturgy, and to be seated in the sanctuary."
ITEM: Recently a Bruderhof graduate asked for a family visit, but was told that unless he/she would promise to have have nothing more to do with Mike Boller and Eb Zumpe, no further visits would be allowed. When asked for the reason for their insistence on cutting off from Mike and Eb, the family replied, "Because Mike Boller and Eb Zumpe have filed a libel lawsuit against the Bruderhof." Both Mike and Eb insist that no such lawsuit has been filed.
ITEM: A few excerpts transcribed from the question period at the Kingston, NY, COB press conference:
Question: What do you feel the Bruderhof's fear is of you (COB)?
Ben Cavanna: We spent about two and a half hours this morning trying to establish that very thing. My best guess is that they are fearful of the bright light of public scrutiny on some of their actions, particularly most recently, and some of the ways they lead their life. My attitude to them is, "If you believe you are living scripturally, according to the way you believe Jesus did, you should be delighted to have the bright light shed on that." Again, most of us who left, [known as] Children of the Bruderhof now, had things happen to us in the Bruderhof that the Bruderhof does not wish to have aired in public. They fear that if we were to give information, alerting the general public, and also the people inside the Bruderhof, of things that happened to us, that it would destroy their life.
Question: They fear there will be an exposé of the kind of ways you were raised and some of the situations that happened? They are afraid that this would be published? Is that what you think it is?
Ben Cavanna: Yes, I think they are fearful of COB exposing some of the things that happened to us. And I think they're fearful of -- very recently like what Andy said to you, because in part they have said to us -- "These things happened in the past. We're sorry. We don't do that any more." But when I tell the same story that happened to me twenty-five years ago, and Andy comes back a year ago yesterday and says the same story, it kind of gives the lie to what they've said. I guess that's what they're fearful of. I think what they don't understand is that we do not wish to destroy them. We wish them to recognize what they did to us and not have that happen to our friends and family who are there now.
Question: How important to you is the issue of children being excluded, and how do you know that it still happens today?
Ben Cavanna: I don't personally know that it still happens today. I think there's strong evidence that they probably do. And how much importance do I put on that? I think that's probably the most damaging thing you can do to a young person, to not allow them access to a third party where they can do some reality testing about what is going on in their lives. Growing up in the Bruderhof is like that. You do not have any access to a third party who can give you some information about whether what's happening to you is right or wrong. And then on top of that, you exclude that person, you shun them, within their own family and social environment. What more mental cruelty can you pour on a child than to say to them, "You will be here with us, but we will pretend that you do not exist."
Jere Bruner to Rev. Howard Goeringer, 8/28/95: I read with interest No. 37 of The Jesus Journal. Since it came to me, I suppose it went to all the KIT subscribers, and that's OK with me. I found what you said familiar from my time in Primavera. This is pretty largely the doctrine as I knew it, about what following Jesus means. How it calls for giving up everything, the same challenge Jesus gave to the rich young man, who had kept all the commandments, but Jesus told him what he still had not done: sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me. You made a very strong case for this following being what the first Christians in Jerusalem did.
So I was expecting to hear you finish up with telling everybody that this is what you had been seeking, that you had received the call, and you were going to sell all you had, and give the money -- in this case, to the Bruderhof -- and go and take up vows to be a Bruderhofer for the rest of your life. And what happens? You end up saying: "Few of us will join the communal life of the Bruderhof. All of us will mature in our consciousness of eternal life within the community of the spirit." Now the old radical Anabaptists, the martyred generation of Jakob Huter, men and women, who "let it cost them something," they had a word for that: Mouth-Christian. If you believe what you wrote, then you have to put your money, and your body, and your own ego- will, where your mouth is.
I spent 11 years in the Bruderhof, and in the end, I failed of that utter surrender. And since that time I have come to realize that the Bruderhof itself is not what it says it is, and not what it can appear to a four-week guest. I would never go back. If the Bruderhof were now what it says it is, it would indeed be Heaven on Earth, or as we used to say, an advance embassy of the Kingdom of God, Eden restored, the City Foursquare. But I'm afraid what it is now is best understood from a close reading of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Like the horse, the Common Folk, slaving away on short rations and a short leash, when there is a crisis, faithfully respond with "I will work harder!" Until they are worn out. And the Leadership, the Servants and the Elder, like the pigs in animal farm, are less and less to be distinguished from the World Churches, the Corporate CEOs, and other Important People, and have come so far that now they call on these Important People of the World to defend them and to define them.
Keep seeking, man! Do put your heart, with all your might, where your mouth is. It's action that counts. That, and listening carefully for the still, small Voice. Wishing you well,
Hilarion Braun to Rev. Goeringer, 8/30/95: I am a Bruderhof child who was expelled at the age of 17 from Evergreen. My parents were also expelled in 1961 from Paraguay where they lived in abject poverty. My story is in KIT, if you care to study the truth. As a one-month visitor to the Bruderhof, you are hardly qualified to publish when you did in your letter and The Jesus Journal... Most of us who read KIT and contribute to it know far more about the Bruderhof than you could possibly know, even after years of study. You do no good service to anyone by exposing your ignorance on this subject, and you invite ridicule. I don't remember any visit by you, certainly not a month-long visit that would justify your comments regarding KIT. Ramon is not our leader, counselor or guru. We are far too independent to let anyone lead or mislead us. That's why we don't return to the Bruderhof or to any other cult. Some of us are Christians; others like myself, agnostics. I would have nothing to do with KIT if it were eager to do harm to the Bruderhof or other cults. I believe in First Amendment rights, even though much harm has come from those whose nonsense speech is protected. If you wish to be my friend, try to know the truth before you publish, not afterward. Sincerely,
Blair Purcell to Rev. Goeringer, 9/11/95: We had a brief phone conversation a month or so back ... You may recall; I was still reeling from nearly 2000 calls, including death threats, which had been received at the number you called.
I understand you've stuck your neck out a bit on behalf of the Bruderhof in regards to allowing yourself to be quoted in support of their general religious bent. There is no quarrel from me in regards to the religious perspective as expressed (not practiced) by the Bruderhof. My single biggest quarrel with their practice, however, is the coerced abandonment of family ties in the pursuit of the Kingdom of Heaven.
They claim this is a requirement of their Christian faith. My contention is any group that makes harassing phone calls is not Christian. Any group which places a wiretap in a former members home is not Christian. Nor are they Christian if they attempt to wiretap a telephone in a neighboring church through the use of undercover agents.
A Christian group would not send two unknown members, at night, to the home of a former Bruderhofer and her daughter who were alone at the time. When discovered outside the house, these two men fled and one attempted to prevent his identification by concealing his face from his pursuer. The woman and her child are my wife and daughter. I was the pursuer (they were spotted by me when I returned home).
I was later told by these men, neither of whom my wife or I had met previously, that they had come to visit and to express concerns to us about things I had written but realized "at the last minute" they had not called ahead. This harassment took place last December 14th. My office was broken into two days later and while there may be no connection at all, you can understand my concern.
During the Children of the Bruderhof press conference in July (in Kingston), these same two told a reporter they were searching for a fugitive from justice whom they had reason to believe was in our home. Who are these people? Bounty hunters? It was at this same conference COB learned of the alleged wiretap of the telephone in our host church (where we had hired a hall in which to meet). The interlopers had been "found out" by the woman minister and traced by the police to the Bruderhof.
Fluorescent pink stickers were found at National airport (also reported from many other places) reading:
SWEET TALK 24 HOURS A DAY - 7 DAYS JOELLE & KAREN 1-800-XXX-XXX (our number)
In actuality, Joel is a former Bruderhofer and Karen is his wife. Note how whomever is responsible for the stickers feminized his name by adding a couple of letters, hence "Joelle". What kind of people would invite the type of call implied by these stickers into anyone's home, much less a "child of the Bruderhof"? Their names appeared because Joel & Karen were the first to take the "hot line".
By the way, I have evidence (not proof) that a high- ranking Bruderhof member was at National Airport on the day these stickers were recovered by the police. This evidence has not been rebutted by the Bruderhof except by the statement that the man in question was at Woodcrest "all day".
I personally saw a wiretap in place in a former member's home. The equipment described by the minister of the Methodist Church in Kingston corresponds exactly to the devices discovered in the home of the former minister in question -- over a year earlier.
So, I ask you, can any group which carries out these activities accurately describe itself as Christian? I think not. And, if not, what other possible motivation could such a group have for preventing contact between inside and outside members of the same family? I submit that separation of families is not a requirement of any community as an article of Christian "faith" -- certainly not here where the group in question does not otherwise behave in anything like a Christian manner.
My personal opinion is the leaders must prevent such contact because a majority of those families inside are just as you believe them to be: hard-working, dedicated Christians who have NO idea of the activities carried out in their names. The leadership must prevent those on the inside from finding out what's going on in order to prevent a revolution from within. Should the revolution occur, then the "Christian" leadership would no longer be able to exercise the wonderful prerogatives of jetting around the world while the common members work hours are extended to meet the "need".
Nonetheless, those same common members must bear a substantial responsibility for abrogating their inherent personal responsibility to be fully aware of policies carried out in God's name on their behalf. There is a price for freedom, particularly religious freedom, which many otherwise honorable, moral and ethical (not to say Christian) members of the Bruderhof have never been willing to pay.
I have also recognized the apparent religious fervor of some of those "caught out" in the un-Christian behavior described. It is truly a contradiction of attitude difficult for me to understand. I'm sure you would agree Christ would never sit in a phone booth to make harassing calls and Christ would never condone the preparation of stickers designed to invite obscene callers into the homes of former members of His church. Christ would never send thugs to capture a former member wanted (I think) for violation of probation. By the way, it has been implied to me by certain New York authorities that this individual is better off where he is (they seem to know) than being returned to Ulster County to face punishment for probation violation. His story (I only know a little of it) would be deeply embarrassing to the leadership; those officials seemed to feel he would be safer where he is.
How else can all these things they do be explained except as a means to preserve power?
Let me suggest that many have been misled into believing something when they have not had access to contrary evidence. I am able to provide specific evidence and testimony to support the following allegations -- if you have any interest:
1. Discovery of two men outside my home on December 14th, 1995.
2. The break-in at my office two days later.
3. A copy of the phone bill for our 800 line showing the pattern of harassment.
4. A copy of the police report from National Airport detailing the death threats and recovery of the fluorescent stickers.
5. Evidence that a high ranking Bruderhofer was at the airport on the same day the threats were received and the stickers recovered.
6. Copies of articles (also in most recent issue of KIT) describing the apparent attempted "bugging" of the Trinity Methodist Church in Kingston in the week prior to our press conference.
A few individuals have expressed concerns about physical safety for themselves and their families in regards to what they know. Therefore, further evidence (about other allegations I've previously stated) is not available at this time. Intimidation, as a technique, still works on many former members.
You may wonder how I became so deeply involved in these events.
My wife, born in Paraguay, grew up in the Bruderhof and left under relatively pleasant circumstances over 30 years ago. As KIT began to evolve (you know the history), she was attracted because of the opportunity to share experiences (many good ones) and meet friends and relatives not seen, in some cases, since childhood. The immediate response to these activities from Bruderhof leadership was to cut off contact with her family - something barely allowed before! That's outrageous when done in the name of God by those whose heartbreaking behavior is so absurdly un-Christian. Particularly when my wife is one of the sweetest, most loving of daughters you could possibly imagine.
We would not allow our freedom of association to be controlled or coerced by a bunch of religious bullies. Intimidation simply will not work with us. To deny one former member access to relatives within (as far as we are concerned) is to deny "the least of us" without.
If one acts out of conscience, that really gets 'em mad up there at Woodcrest! And, that's why they're mad at us, because we exercise our consciences. And that is ineluctably sad for all involved.
NOTE: Blair Purcell originally filed a complaint with the Howard County Police Department concerning the harassment and threatening phone calls. Once he was able to determine to his satisfaction who had been responsible, he recently asked Detective Luther Johnson to suspend his investigation inasmuch as Johnson's efforts had resulted in the cessation of the calls.
Oakie and Yosemite Sam, Dave Ostrom's up-the-holler pals, 9/24/95: Oakie an' H&H done come out the back woods ta jaw wit' Yosam las' week. Now Oakie, he was a wonderin' 'bout the 'sponse o' lots a dem peoples. Oakie an' H&H was a-wonderin' if'n de 'ffense peoples done took was 'cause we-alls not as lernt as some o' ya'll or if'n 'twas ya' ll had to admit y'all knowed us people's some ya'll call red-necks o' whatevah.
H&H opined ol' Rev Goeringer or 'twas that Go-ringer? Well anyways, H&H, 'e was tinken maybe ol' Rev. was one dem good ole boys dat bein' silver-tongued, harangued us po' sinners ever' Sunday 'bout wot we all was a- doin' wrong whilst he was a-pickin' our pockets. Yosam done showed us a letter from dat ol' Rev. and dat Rev, he done try an' tell Yosam dat he was jus' one o' us commoners. T'was kinda intrestin' tho, when he was a-talkin' to a good man up dere at a school, he was a-goin' on 'bout how ed-i-cated he was. Now, to us dumb rednecks, dat sounds alike he was bein' a mite hip-o-crittercal, like we say'n, the Rev, he silvered dem words to fit de 'casion. Now, where I come from, dat way o' doin' business, we call "lie'n'."
H&H 'an me, we got ta readin' an' tinkin' -- ya'll knowed we could read a little -- wa'll we was a-readin dat letter from 'ol Rev. an' we's got kinda wonderin' why de Rev, he don' go join dat nest o' Cresters up on dat hill? He sho nuff have 'enuff good say'n 'bout 'em, me an H&H's kinda cur-ee- yuss why 'e don' hitch up? A 'ting 'bout hip-o-critters, easier ta say words 'n 'tis ta do wot 'e claims.
Ya knows, 'ol' Rev, he done tryin' t' tear a strip off'n Yosam cause Yosam was a tell'n 'im bout wot it was like livin' at de Crest, not just a-visitin'. Rev, he was poundin' on dat pulpit, spoutin' all nature a words out 'a the Good Book. Wal, nature 'o Christianity is get two o' mo' learn't men to- gader an tha'll cackle fer hours worse 'n bunch 'o hens at layin' time. Lest' a ways, dem hens'll lay some eggs. Dem ed- i-cated mens, dey won't come ta no end. Anyways, gettin' back 'bout Rev. All dem words he was a-usin', a man could argue 'bout. H&H an' me, we kinda read ol' Rev, he was a short-handlin' Yosam. When an ed-i-cated man uses dem dere fifty-dolla' words t' perlitely call a man a liar, e's short- handlin' 'im. Ya'll Easterners, ya'll 's sayin' he was "gettin' in Yosam's face."
Me, H&H an' Yosam, we 'llowed 't was ever' man's got his sights. We-all has ta ans'er ta somun mo' powerful 'n us. Ain't gonna be nobody but Him and de soul bein' judged. Now, if'n Rev. truly an sho-nuf 'lieves 'is own line, he gonna 'ave ta talk to Him, not me or ya'll. In the time tween now an den, if a critter is black wi' white stripes an a fluffy tail, 'ol Rev may call it a kitty cat, but if'n dat striped critter got a bad smell on 'im, 'e's a skonk! Oakie for Yosam and all us commoners
Hannah Goodwin Johnson, A Personal Reaction about Howard's approach, 9/95: When I found material in my mailbox with a print of hofnicks and their polkadots, I was a little ashamed and had to proceed in privacy. I felt confused as I examined the images on the cover. Then I took the tape off and found a flyer that seemed to be some kind of explanation. But the last few paragraphs set me off arguing:
In his Journal, Howard claims, "I discovered a people who have learned to relax..." He seems to have seen what must have been an "OK time" in the Bruderhof crisis cycle. Those who get thrown out are blamed for the delusion of "work that is accomplished" in places where the quantity of laborers (the Next Generation) allows management to discriminate against God-given quality. Only archetypal personality clashes make all work stop. Howard is archetypically knowing better than to join those who may silently meditate on the word "at joy-filled work" and attend meetings to hear how "we need a life that is not guided by our senses" (Arnold). If he feels that need, why doesn't he join the happy laborers and help them explain that need to Christoparche-architopf? I believe Howard likes his own mission station. He visited the Hof Treck, having gained enough confidence in mission control. Howard has not been submerged in the so-called baptism of fire that is actually baptism of the sea with a millstone around his neck. I doubt I can be convinced about the safety of the Saline Solution Process.
I would rather not argue about this anymore. It is very tiresome to involve someone (who think he knows more than KIT) in my soliloquy. Fighting the label 'Against The Community' is wearing me out. Fighting labels anyway is labelled reactionary. My needs didn't lead me to Howard. He had to start with me about my needs and I now choose to beg only one thing of him. Leave me alone, please! The 'hof cannot be my God. Once upon a time, it was my place of work. Go well and stay well, Dear KIT, all this big flurry in public school about how history could be better taught makes me wonder how obvious it has to get to see who's talking? Every nation has its own history that is mostly drilled into the students. This is naturally part of every culture. A hofnick as freaky and wayward as I was might be asked (in shock), "You don't know about Hutter?" And then there are branches of the different subjects with their processes written up in many ages by various characters. I was far more interested in Galileo than Hutter, but no one wanted me to discuss such personal choices. I would have rather studied physics instead of religions of the world, but then to make a 'free choice' I went with religions. It's still beyond me to study the math, but I try to make informed statements about my choices in spiritual sharing.
Joel G. Clement to the Kingston Daily Freeman: I thought your coverage of the Children of the Bruderhof meetings was good. I was born and raised at the Bruderhof and lived there for 22 years, including 15 at Woodcrest. The question of power and how intentional communities govern themselves is a topic of great concern in the Communities movement. My father was banished from the Bruderhof because he questioned the leadership. I came home from school one day and he was gone. I did not see him or talk to him for two years (I was allowed to write to him). I hardly think there was a "town hall"-styled meeting to decide to send him away. Rather, the elder and a group of his henchmen did this on their own to squash a voice of dissent. This happened to numerous other people too. My only regret is that I didn't begin to rebel sooner against this kind of tyranny at the Bruderhof.
Name Withheld, 9/12/95: I am sorry I have not written sooner, I just received the latest copy of KIT. The statement by Tommy Atkinson about the S.O.B. putting themselves before Christ was right on the money. I have tried calling in advance for visits but have been turned down every time. Please send one copy of every book or article available. I am especially interested in getting John Stewart's "My Years in Woodcrest." That report is the best I have read on what life is really like on the Bruderhof. Brother Witless says, "The Bruderhof believes in Blumhardt and Eberhard, but not in The Sacred Heart of Jesus." Yours in Christ,
Rollerblading On The Bruderhof
by Mike Boller
When I was eleven I asked my father, "How does a diesel engine work?" and he explained, "The engine does not need a spark. The piston coming up compresses the fuel and the fuel gets so hot (because of the compression) that it ignites spontaneously and causes the power stroke."
I wanted to invent something, and this diesel engine principle seemed as good a place as any to start. I took paper and a blue pen and drew up an engine that ran on water. The piston coming up compressed the water and the water got so hot (because of the compression) that it turned into steam and expanded and caused the power stroke.
When I showed Dad the drawing, he wasn't impressed. I was stung, not immediately realizing my outrageous (and tiresome) flouting of the laws of physics. I resolved to do better.
The next idea I sketched out was "skates with fixed casters instead of blades." You would take a hockey or figure skate, cut off or otherwise remove the blade, and fasten two fixed casters rigidly to the sole of the boot. The effect would be a rollerskate that would have the dynamics of an ice skate. You could skate all summer (on any floor or paved surface) and conceivably do the same right and left crossover curves, forward and backward, that you could on ice skates. I pursued the idea vigorously up to the point that I ran into "Have you any idea how much those casters cost?" or "It would ruina perfectly good pair of skates!" I still believed in the idea, and was glad when, some years later, a company began to manufacture and market in-line roller skates under the name of "Rollerblade".
It took me until December of last year to finally put down $150 and bring home a pair of Rollerblade's Bravoblade GL's. Compared to my crude 5th grader's vision, these were marvels of engineering. Instead of two, there were fourwheels on each boot. Each wheel had two sets of ball bearings. Each boot had three "memory" closures that you only needed to adjust once. You could pop into or out of them in less than ten seconds.
The rollerblades' performance was everything I'd hoped for, and more. Not only could they handle ice skating maneuvers but you could also "ski" downhill with parallel turns and do jumps and backwards slaloms. Blacktop could be far more interesting than the predictable rink ice; even the most innocuous looking path required respect. I'd heard, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back," but hit a crack wrong with rollerblades and you could well break your own. Through practice and some scrapes and bruises I learned enough of the complex mechanics of foot-mounted wheels to enable me to stay out of trouble on most surfaces.
Some months ago one Sunday afternoon I rollerbladed down to the pond at the Norfolk Bruderhof. I stood under the pines on the north shore, the deep end, and watched three canada geese paddling at the edge. This pond had been central to my life for the nearly 18 years I had lived on the Bruderhof. In summer I and my classmates swam in it-- there was the dock from which I learned to dive. I knew what the pond looked like empty, when we school kids helped scrape the mud into one corner where it could be sucked out by a vacuum truck. I liked the cold spring water coming up from the bottom, building its own sand bar of yellow clay. When winter came and the pond surface froze, we skated on it: I especially enjoyed the Captain Hook games under the flood lights.
The sound of a latch clicking brought my mind back to the present. Someone had come through the skatehouse gate and was walking over to where I was standing. It was John Hurdman. John was some years younger than I, about thirty, and he seemed to have something other on his mind than reminiscing about our childhood.
"What are you doing here?" he asked in clipped tones, not looking at me.
"Watching the geese," I answered. "What are you doing?"
He ignored the question. "Where are you parked?" he asked.
I was a little taken aback. "Where am I parked?" I asked. "Why on earth do you want to know where I am parked?"
John looked uncomfortable. "Let's both walk to the edge of the property." he suggested.
"You can if you want," I said. "I'm fine here."
"I'll call the cops and have you removed," he said.
"Go for it, pal. It'll be a lot of fun."
John appeared to reconsider. As he turned to go, he said, "I'll have to make a phone call." He crossed the wooden bridge over the stream running by the pond and headed toward the Alm house where my family had lived for several years. I wanted to do more looking around and headed in the other direction, but bumped into Kevin Fleischer who seemed to be interested in what was going on.
I explained to Kevin, "I'm here just minding my own business and John Hurdman comes along and wants me to leave. What do you think I should do?"
Kevin didn't have to think about it. "If John Hurdman asked you to leave, then you should leave," he said.
Thanks, Kevin. I continued on the gravel road past the old pottery room and the shed where we used to keep the bikes and sleds. My wheels bumped along over the uneven surface. There ahead was the paved hill leading up between the brookside house and old school building. I tacked up the hill, like a boat sailing into the wind. Two left crossovers, two right crossovers. On my left in the old school was the room where long ago Lydia Meier had awakened me, a toddler of three, from my midday nap and led me up to the Brookside House courtyard where a blue van had just arrived. My parents were in the van, and my mother held up a tiny baby to the window. The baby turned out to be my brother Hans-Jorg.
I skated toward the lower main house, by the two polished pink granite columns. I passed Mark Felder going the other direction.
"Hey Mark," I said as I rolled by. I clumped down the stone stairs onto the concrete path that led past the old cobbler shop where my uncle Dave used to repair shoes and where we would go to work on leather projects. Mark had turned and was coming after me.
"Michael! Michael! Michael!" he said sternly. I had heard this tone of voice before. Back when I was a highschooler, it meant I had crossed a boundary and there would be dire consequences. I could be shunned, confined to house arrest for an indefinite time, have my meals delivered in small stainless steel containers, and I would be expected to write confessions of my transgressions without knowing what my confiner was looking for.
"Mark! Mark! Mark!" I admonished in as serious a voice as I could muster. I skated down the path by the big crabapple tree I'd climbed as a kid. John Hurdman and Sam Atcom were coming toward me from the other end of the path. I turned around. Mark Felder, Jerry Johnson, and Howard Sanders were coming the other way. Apparently they wanted to talk to me. I stood back on my skates, hands on my hips, six inches taller than any of them. Sam spoke.
"Michael, it will really hurt your mother when she hears about this," he warned.
Great, I thought. Moving my mother to Europe wasn't enough. "When my mother hears about what?" I asked.
"About your being here against our wishes."
"What makes you think I have any less right to be here than you?" I retorted. "I consider this my home, this is where I grew up. My grandfather financed the Rhon Bruderhof purchase, from what I understand."
"Oh Michael," said Sam, "that was a long time ago."
Does that mean it didn't happen? I leaned forward and addressed the five men. "You want me to go, but I don't feel the need to go right now. What are you going to do? Call the cops? Sure, call them. As I told John here, it'll be great fun. We'll go to court, and everybody will get to see the policies of this place examined under a microscope."
"We don't want to go to court," said Sam. "Who said anything about court?"
"A few minutes ago John here told me he was going to call the cops to have me removed. Okay, what ARE you going to do? Do something! If you want me to go, then make me! Otherwise, stop giving me crap!" I looked at the men around me. Nobody made a move. Here we are, I thought, one on one, make that five on one, and I'm not particularly impressed. You're used to being obeyed, but when your bluff is called, you don't know what to do. Suddenly I was bored.
"See you guys later," I said, and in a few steps I was on the blacktop again. None of the men made any move to follow me; it would have been a sight to see them trying to chase me down. In the old days Sam Atcom had been a formidable chain-tag opponent, but now it was no contest.
Things might have been different, though. I don't know if a patent existed for in-line skates in 1971, but if the commune had jumped on the idea and begun developing it at that time, today Sam Atcom could be cruising alongside me on his Rare-Earth Servo-Power-Assist Regenerative- ABS-Braking-Bruder-Blades. Athletic Jerry Johnson and wiry Mark Felder, scorning auxiliary propulsion, would be cutting figure-eights around me on their Full-Active- Suspension Pebble-Jumper Magnetic-Deerspring models. Howard Sanders might have been documenting it all with his Dual-Video Toe-Cam Woody-Wheels, and John Hurdman would have been in southern California collecting marketing data.
At Regional #7 high school the commune kids, now Roller-Sobs, would possess cutting edge technology and be feared and respected for their prowess on half-pipes, curbs, and railings.
The commune mother, balancing a family supper tray on one hand and leading a centipede-like train of wheeled kids with the other would be busy turning away nosy Cosmopolitan reporters eager to learn the secret of those svelt thighs and tight abs.
I skated up through the horsebarn courtyard, waved to a child or two, and continued down the babyhouse hill where I'd worn out many a go-cart wheel. Behind the swamp shed I saw a lonely-looking golden retriever in a box with a caged front, and I sat down and kept it company as I looked over the field where as school children we'd picked beans and brussel sprouts and thrown rotten tomatoes at each other at the end of the growing season.
I checked my watch. It was time to go. I got to my feet, tacked up the old entrance hill and rolled back down West Side Road in the direction of the playing field in Norfolk where I had parked my vehicle. I caught up with the Albert and Ida Schmidt family who were walking toward the crossroads. As I passed them, I hopped into a backwards crouch and waved. Several of the girls smiled and waved back, but Albert maintained a stern demeanor and showed no recognition. Joe Clabberd, a cousin of my mother, was following some distance behind on a bicycle. Joe seemed relaxed.
At the crossroads I turned right onto Mountain Road, hummed by several sections of zigzag rail fence and chattered into the gravel parking lot of the playing field. I waved to the three guys batting balls around. They waved back. I sat on my truck tailgate and took off my rollerblades while Joe stood close by, hands on his handlebars. He looked at the three guys.
"Are these also people from the Bruderhof?" he asked.
I laughed. "No, Joe. I just met them an hour ago when I parked here. Friendly, aren't they?"
Nadine Moonje Pleil, 9/14/95: Thursday, September 7, I spoke to a group of women predominantly German. My book Free from Bondage was the subject of discussion. I was asked by several women why I was not so much more angry about the commune. I told then that at first I was very angry, very bitter, but then resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to change their way of thinking in any way. I told myself that it was a waste of time and energy to continue to be angry and bitter. I knew I had to get on with my life. I had eight children, six of whom were with us at the time. My husband and I had an awesome task on our hands. We were responsible to see that these children were sent on their way with an education. I realized that there were things I had to do. I had to grit my teeth and get on with the job. I had no time to be angry or bitter about what the commune had done to me, how my life had been messed up.
Writing my book has been very, very good therapy for me. It is as if a great and very heavy burden has been lifted from my heart and shoulders. Of course the forgetting part is not easy. I will never forget, and the pain which has been inflicted will never go away. The pain remains, however I think I am more able to cope with it as I grow older. Maybe things have come full circle. Some healing has come from having been able to talk to my brother, from having been able to feel that he, too, went though a lot of heart's anguish due to the very long separation which took place so early on in our lives. In talking with my brother, I have been able to realize how much he too suffered by our parents' divorce and because of the fact that we were denied the possibility of growing up together. All through the years of separation, we still held on to each other and therefore the bond between us was strengthened.
Very soon after our expulsion from the commune I realized that I personally could not and would not ever return. After all that had happened during forty long years, I simply felt incapable of ever submitting to such a lifestyle again. I could not again watch my husband and children be treated with such disrespect. I vowed I would not ever subject my family to such hurt and pain again.
I have to admit that it does upset me when I hear how, for instance, Andrew Bazeley is threatened and then is told to tell the truth about his life. Why should any of us want to lie about our experiences is beyond me! I extend my heartfelt sympathy to you, Andrew, for what happened during your childhood and especially for what took place on the day you went to say your final farewell to your mother. At least on that day you should have been shown some courtesy and respect! It deeply pains me to have to hear that we are lying, whereas it seems to be exactly the other way around.
I have had some thoughts about the name for COB. I have also wondered if it excludes those who were children in the commune but were not born there. I personally feel KIT is enough for me to absorb and cope with. Is it necessary to have another group? Is it not getting a little complicated to have two groups? However, maybe I do not see or know all the reasons, whys and wherefores.
I would also like to comment on the stickers found at National Airport, and to what Christian Domer said: "We have good friends." What kind of friends does the Commune have or does Christian Domer have?! Also, who instigates the obscene phone calls? The commune has definitely changed in the 15 years since our family lived there, or did I, for instance, just not know what was going on? Was I not informed as to what went on? The Aug-Sept KIT was good. Thanks to those who have been able to share so openly about your life. Greetings,
Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, 9/24/95: ...I had a letter from Gabriele von Borries (an ex-member from Wheathill days.) She told me more about Margarethe Boning's death, which upset me greatly. The last time I phoned Margarethe was around Christmas last year. She was so fanatical about my seeing her point of view that I stopped phoning, as she had a bad heart condition. Shortly after that, the news reached her that her daughter Neckie died (committed suicide) and she was upset. The religious community she belonged to felt she was "much too earthbound," so they brought her to an old people's home near the Sinntal B'hof where she died very lonesome and alone! If Gabriele had told me earlier that Margarethe had left the "Christusstaat," then Hans and I would have gone to her and helped her as much as we could. As it is, we are too late to do anything at all.
9/29/95: First, I would like to thank the KIT staff for all the work and effort that went into making Aug- Sept KIT issue so very interesting and varied. For us who missed the KIT gathering at Friendly Crossways, many things are difficult to understand. I am referring to all the letters about the Kingston COB meeting and the last Bruderhof actions towards their children who have chosen a different way. There is no love, no compassion, no warmth, no truth, but instead lies, threats, criminal behavior! Somewhere deep inside me I never quite lost the hope that we could find a basis for a better understanding with the Community, but it seems clear that they will not listen to us. I was shocked by the report from Johanna Patrick Homann. This harsh and evil approach toward her and Andrew, who most probably saw his mum for the last time, is something I can hardly believe or understand. When I think of how we felt and experienced death as children as a uniting factor with those who grieved, when I think of all the songs we used to sing at a time like that -- that somehow you felt the closeness of eternity -- then I must come to the conclusion that the Bruderhof really is not what we believed it was, and that hurts! I have just heard that my own mother is doing very poorly, same as my sister Heidi. They will not accept mail from me, so there is absolutely no way to communicate at this time -- and that hurts!
The second item in KIT regards J. Christoph Arnold, his family and friends flying to Rome in their own Gulfstream jet to make the Pope repent for deeds done to the Hutterites two centuries ago -- and reading from Revelations in the Vatican! This is really too stupid for words! How can they be so blind to their own sins??? I was always taught, "First make peace in your own heart, then with those around you, the family you live in, then the bigger circle in the school, then the whole community, and you will bring a witness of love!" I am very glad that Rev. Sam Waldner gave such a clear witness for the Hutterites, stating simply that JCA does not represent the Hutterite Church. I have no idea what prompted the Bruderhof to go to Rome unless it was an effort to gain the Hutterites' respect. But then it is clear that the Bruderhof does not understand the first thing about the Hutterites and their forefathers, who willingly accepted the mockery of the world to give witness to the living Christ. This most certainly is a step against the Hutterites and against everything they stand and stood for! And the whole discussion about loans or gifts to the Bruderhof is clear proof of the Bruderhof's money-minded attitude today!
The news about a 'Bruderhof House' in Nigeria is stupid too! Why don't they just accept that their arrogance is no longer wanted and needed in Nigeria? All the money that they fund-raised to invest in Nigeria was well worthwhile as assistance to an African country. Why should the Bruderhof now want back what was once given? Does the Bible not say, "Let your right hand not know what your left hand is giving?" All of us pay for the underdeveloped countries and we never make a big deal about it. It makes me think of my attorney uncle Thurman Arnold in Washington when my Uncle Hardy came to him once again to beg money "for the poor war orphans we are going to help." Thurman said, "You took in ten war orphans and make expensive trips to the States to ask people to help financially for ten children??? Many a family has ten children and they cope in silence, but you want special treatment because you took in ten little children?" Poor Hardy felt so ashamed! But he had been sent on Werbung for the Primavera communities and just tried to put forward a 'worthy cause' that people would give their money for!
The articles in the local Kingston newspapers were good, and at this point I would like to thank Margot and Blair especially for their clear and level-headed talks and writings to the Press, as well as to Joe Keiderling and C. Domer. It is wonderful that you got yourself so involved, Blair. I do know that it is for Margot and Emily especially, but it also helps others like my husband Hans who never were Bruderhofers to take a clear stand towards them -- or shall I say against their attitudes and acts! What really shocks me is the statement from Domer, in connection with the obscene stickers, "We have good friends"???! This sounds like a religious Mafia, where the 'goodies' ask the 'baddies' to do their dirty work for them. What else do they ask from their 'friends'?? Thank you, Joel, Ramon, Dave and Blair, for your very good letters to the Press!
Dear Loy: Although I do not know you -- I think we met only once at the KIT 1991 Conference -- your letter gave me plenty of things to think about. Most certainly, I do not feel that I have suffered more or less than all the Bruderhof children who were put through the mincer and then kicked out into a world they did not -- and could not -- understand. I was a baptized member, not because my dad was a Big Shot on the Bruderhof, but because I really believed that our love for God would bring us love, unity, peace of heart and joy in the living of His will on earth! Once such as strong belief is broken by the people you love and trust, it will bring you a deep, unsettling fear for your future until you find your feet once more. I do believe that Eberhard Arnold did not start -- as you put it -- community life with a "self- serving fanatical zeal," but that he was searching, like many theologians after World War I, for a life of Christianity where God alone was the father and we little men, brothers and sisters! He did not want to be famous or a big leader. He did not even want to be the founder of just another "way of life." That is why he united with the Hutterites. He felt that they truly had the experience he lacked to make such a life commitment possible. I believe, though, that men who are not really gripped by a personal faith will always want a leader and make their leaders bigger and bigger until they lose all proportion and see themselves as little gods on earth. This happened to my father -- and that is why he fell so deeply.
I will tell you a little story. The Servants always got something extra, like wine, sausages and cigarettes for the week. This was "out of love for those who work so hard!!" We children felt ashamed, but could not do anything about it. Friday night Ullu Keiderling, the storekeeper, was in charge of all these little specialties -- this was March, 1959. Saturday my dad was excluded by Heini and left the Brotherhood meeting with a bent head. After the meeting, there was a knock at our door and there was Ullu.
"I've come for the sausage and wine," he said. "You dad will no longer need that, and I want to bring it to Heini's room."
I gave him the stuff, but felt that if someone needed anything extra at this time, it was not Heini!
It makes me sad that you and your family still suffer from the "life of love" your parents joined, and I do wish you peace of heart. Digging around in the emotions of the past only will make us depressed and sad. Please do not think that I or anyone who is related to the Arnolds have a better viewpoint, got better treatment or are listened to more! This just is not so. All of us are basically the same and the hurt will sting just as hard, no matter what a person's name!! At least you have, as far as I know, no one in the Community! It is hard when your mother is old and sick and most probably dying and there is no way to contact her at all!
I wish you much joy for your future and maybe there are just a few things about your childhood in Primavera that are worth remembering, and that might give you the feeling of being special -- being loved! That is something to hold onto. I cannot imagine my dad not having listened to your mom and asking the husbands to "use a firmer hand on the women," but much wrong did happen due to the way the leaders were hero-worshipped by the Brotherhood, and that really gets to me with Johann Christoph nowadays, because the hero-worship is much, much worse than in our times!
I am glad Dieter and Susanna managed to write another little bit for KIT. And dear Hilarion, I am always happy to read your contribution, and liked the letter to "Dick at Woodcrest." Honest letters like that should go to the Bruderhof daily until they might just open their eyes a little bit. To Name Withheld: I am glad you read KIT and that you also read my book. I have a copy of Brothers Unite as well and read in it often, as I am sure that, on the deepest level, the Bruderhof and the Hutterites were in unity once. All this got lost due to personal pride and personal self-importance. Only if we keep our eyes fixed on the Cross will we find a way to love those who hurt us most and hope for a new understanding in the future.
At least two articles in the last KIT I did not see as a wise step. We all are free to write in the forum we call KIT, and therefore I am also free to give my opinion. Whereas Ramon's story is both courageous and personal, I feel that the difficulty we all have about the Bruderhof sex education should not be aired in this manner. If we want to create a forum that will be heard in the world -- the churches, the Hutterites and the Bruderhof -- and find a better relationship with our families on the Bruderhof, then we should refrain from elaborating on sexual feelings and sexual experiences. It will make us losers in every sense of the word!
As to "Ethan Martin's" story, his first contribution in KIT, I cannot help but feel a little sorry and ashamed for him. Naturally I find it quite disgusting that the Bruderhof youth have to confess to "personal sin" openly on a telephone hook-up with all the Bruderhofe, but I cannot help feeling that the unraveling of this particular problem is not Problem Number One at the moment. There is so much at stake and we do not want to lose our credibility. Whereas sex is openly discussed on TV, in magazines, and sexologists try to blame every inability to adjust in life on sexual traumas, I think we are not sexologists and we do not need to dig ourselves deeper and deeper into this particular problem.
Personally, I feel that if this issue was brought forward as the fruit of the overconcentration of power in the leadership rather than of personal humiliation, a medieval approach to sex education, it would be more easily discussed and resolved than as an emotional humiliation story. Surely we need to reveal the rotten root in Bruderhof life, and these sexual issues have caused so much misery also in very young children who never understood what they were accused of. But let us tread carefully on grounds as tender as these so as not to cause more pain, more misunderstanding, more grief to those who were Bruderhof victims or are caught up in the system! I feel that a story like Ethan Martin's has no strength in it to help any person, nor do I feel that a battle for life -- future -- wife and child -- faith or idealism is won. But then, I have no understanding for psychological treatments, Co-Counseling, or any form of therapy other than getting myself out of the mud.
I am happy that this KIT newsletter forum is here to give us a chance to air our feelings and find support and understanding. Personally, I love to look up at the stars and wonder what is behind them, the sun, the moon. Let us all try and look up and forward rather then sit around in the dust and mud and lose the little we have by doing so. Love,
------ Poetry ------
can you predict which way
a gladsome dog might dart while
running leashless on a lonesome
river bank?
can you pretend to say while in
a foggy dark what stunning beaches
just beyond your vision lay?
do you know the span 'twixt spoken
word and honest phrase?
have you ever felt that tender Benediction
resting on some common day?
hasn't deadness sometimes
gripped your prideful bones with
unknown qualms and frozen once
spontaneous life... killing the calm?
and weren't you then somehow revived
when seeing puppies play?
maybe we're not so smart after all.
"Bill," July 17, '95
Love Meals and Camping Trips and other Reminiscences of the Bruderhof
by Joel G. Clement
One November day at Woodcrest I was walking along the gravel road between the baby house and the farm house. Milton and some other grown-ups were standing outside talking. The mood was very somber. President Kennedy had just been assassinated in Dallas. Milton looked worried -- Milton very often looked worried. I think that was one of the qualifications of being a Servant of the Word: be able to look worried. Of course Milton was also the community doctor in addition to being a Servant of the Word. He had two offices: an "up" office and a "down" office as his children referred to them. The "up" office was his Servant office and the "down" office was the medical office. The medical office in Woodcrest when I was there was contained in what had been a porch on the farm house. They had enclosed the porch and that was the medical office. There was an examining table, a light, a desk, some instruments and an autoclave to sterilize the instruments. The scales to weigh people were in a tiny bathroom down the hall.
The community usually had a Love Meal on November 22nd to remember the death of their founder Eberhard Arnold. Now there was this added sadness of the assassination of President Kennedy. Eberhard was a revered figure whom we knew from hearing his writings read at household meetings and from photographs. The photograph which my parents had on the wall of their bedroom portrayed Eberhard as stern, wise and unsmiling with old- fashioned round spectacles on.
Every Thursday at rest-time under the watchful eye of Eberhard Arnold I would try to make up for a week of neglecting to practice my recorder. I felt very guilty for not practicing through the week. Recorder lessons for our class were held every Thursday afternoon with Maureen Hasenberg. Maureen was nice but she always wanted to know how often we had practiced. For this reason I dreaded recorder lessons worse than anything. Recorder lessons, like just about everything else at the community, were compulsory. I hated the recorder and to this day I cringe whenever I hear the sound of that instrument. Many former Bruderhof people feel that way about certain songs which were sung at the Bruderhof or certain religious celebrations. I also still hate anything compulsory. The whole week was a build up of guilt to Thursday afternoon recorder lesson. I was a day-dreamy free spirit and the discipline of practicing a musical instrument somehow "sat crossways" with my young soul. Yet my feelings of guilt for not practicing grew to an unbearable level as Thursday afternoon approached. After the lesson was over I felt as if a sentence of death had just been lifted. I wasn't very good at recorder but this was my first crack at reading music. We started group lessons on the recorder in the first grade and it was a prerequisite for any other more advanced musical instrument. Music has almost the status of doctrine within the Bruderhof because of the part it played in the early days and in the Youth Movement. It is almost a holy part of the life of the Church.
Another picture which my parents had on the wall of their bedroom was a Hummel -- a painting of a grown-up angel walking along holding the hand of a small child. The angel, who is carrying a large staff, is guiding the child past a menacing-looking serpent on the ground. Another picture was a painting of what looked like God and some other figures in Heaven above and some kind of a "great divide" separating Heaven from Hell or perhaps Heaven from the Earth. It looked like something from off of the Sistine Chapel. Of the three wall hangings, that one needed the most explaining to a young mind who should have been practicing his recorder. So while the Bruderhof may have been lacking in overt expressions of religion such as the use of religious language in everyday conversation, there existed plenty of other religious symbology -- at least in my parent's bedroom. I bet that Hummel picture is worth thousands of dollars. I think it has been in the family for awhile. I think it came from my mother's side of the family.
The first Love Meal which I had ever attended would have been one year earlier in Oak Lake and was also to commemorate the death of Eberhard. One of the other children came up to me and said: "There is a love meal tonight and it is first grade up." I was in first grade. Younger grades usually ate supper with their groups at what was called "children's supper" and only the older grades ate with the grown-ups. For special meals or Love Meals they sometimes allowed younger children to attend also. I was quite excited to go to a Love Meal for the first time. At the Love Meal they expressed a great deal of thankfulness and adoration for Eberhard. He was a man of special vision who, even though he died "before his time" had managed to start the Bruderhof communal way of life. That's what I got out of the Love Meal. Love Meals lasted a lot longer than regular meals. You had to sit quietly and listen to reports or readings. When we visited years later my wife-from-the- world was amazed at how small children sit so quietly through Love Meals. If the Love Meal was for a happy occasion such as an engagement or a wedding or the send- off of a family to another hof then there usually would be music -- string groups, choirs or folk dancing. There was a difference between Special Meals and Love Meals.
A Special Meal packed a little less punch than a Love Meal. For instance when Art Rosenblum finally left on his motorcycle after his famous sit-in of 1967 we had a Special Meal -- it didn't quite warrant a Love Meal. I knew it was a Special Meal because Dick Mommsen, a Witness Brother, "had" the meal and we had ice cream. The only thing that was said during the meal was near the end when Dick Mommsen reported dryly: "The ice cream is to celebrate the departure of the motorcycle." Everyone knew what he meant. Normally there weren't the outward "trappings" at a Special Meal that there would be at a Love Meal such as table cloths and special centerpieces at each table and candles. At Love Meals the overhead lights were usually turned off in favor of wall lamps or hanging lamps and candles to create a more introspective mood. The Hutterites were never very happy with Bruderhof Love Meals especially the use of candles. Hutterite custom avoids the use of candles because of their association with Roman Catholicism. One of the most common uses for a love meal was a "welcome" Love Meal or a "farewell" Love Meal for a family that was moving from one 'hof to another. There were love meals to suit just about every occasion, from the somber remembrance love Meal after someone had died to the rowdy engagement Love Meals which always included a skit of some kind.
The first wedding which I attended was the wedding of Dave Maendel and Maria Arnold, known also as Annali Arnold. I think it was in 1964 and I was in the 4th grade. Our grade was invited to the wedding ceremony itself because Annali had been our first grade teacher. Normally wedding ceremonies were 6th grade up. Around the same time there was the wedding of Dan Maendel and Hanni Meier and also Jake Maendel and Irenie Hasenberg in Evergreen. Jake and Dan were brothers who had run away from a Hutterite colony as young people in the '50s. Jake, the older of the two had been baptized in the Hutterites and Dan hadn't. That meant that Jake had to go through Church Discipline as part of the reuniting with the Hutterites in 1974 as did all the baptized former Hutterites who had been taken in to Woodcrest in the 50s. I'll cover the reuniting of 1974 more at a later time.
The first all-day-trip which our group made was when I was in the first grade. That would have been in the Summer of 1962. We hiked to the Thruway tunnel which was out by the power lines. I think Maureen Hasenberg was our teacher. She must have been a recent transplant from Paraguay. Many young people especially appeared from other communities. They all seemed to know German and sometimes talked among themselves in German so that we children would not know what they were saying. The German language sounded funny to us and we would sometimes try to imitate our teachers. During one of these summers Klaus and Irene Meier were up from Paraguay -- Klaus to work with Milton in the medical office. There was a joke in Maple Lane, the Woodcrest School yearly magazine which said: Question: What is Milton and Klaus? Answer: A paradox. (i.e. a pair of Docs). To get to the Thruway tunnel you had to walk up past the greenhouse and through the garden then through the woods to a clearing by the power lines. In the woods there were some large white pines which were ideal for climbing because the branches were numerous and evenly spaced up the trunk and started near the ground. Betsy Zimmerman fell off of one of the lower branches and broke her arm. That was the first casualty. She missed part of the trip as a result but rejoined us later.
Then we walked further to the Thruway tunnel, a large culvert underneath the New York State Thruway about 5 feet tall. It was quite a distance to the other end. There was usually six inches or so of running water in the tunnel and goodness knows what kind of wildlife in there. Barefoot and laughing our group made it's way through the tunnel, wading in the stream, being careful not to slip on the algae which covered the curved bottom of the culvert. Squeals and laughter were greatly amplified and echoed strangely in the concrete tunnel. We finally got to the sunlight at the other end and waited to regroup for the return trip back through the tunnel. I looked down and noticed I was bleeding from my right ankle. I hadn't felt anything sharp in the tunnel but there was quite a bit of shale in the stream and there might have been some broken glass in there also. Whatever it was made a couple of nice cuts right on the anklebone. That was casualty number 2. I was escorted back to the medical office and got my first stitches ever. I still have the scars and will be happy to show them to you if you don't believe it. I had to wear shoes and socks and take it easy for the rest of the day.
In the Summer of 1964 our school group made our famous camping trip to Hunter Mountain. It was famous because so many exciting things happened and a few things went wrong. That was also a big presidential election year which makes it easy to remember. Jonathan had a small transistor radio along. In the boy's tent late in the evening we listened to the late-breaking news from the presidential convention floor. It looked like Johnson would be running against Goldwater. The grown-ups seemed worried about Goldwater. I was in 3rd grade and our group was the 3rd and 4th grades. Our teachers were Glenn Swinger and my Dad and my brother Jonathan and Maureen Hasenberg. I don't remember if there were any other teachers along -- it seems to me that there might have been another woman teacher -- I can't remember. Perhaps Dorli Alberts was there as well or Marlys Swinger, Glenn's wife.
Hunter is one of the highest of the Catskill mountains and one of the least "civilized" was my impression. It is also one of the northernmost of the Catskills and to drive there meant getting back into the hinterland of rural New York State. We had all of our gear in the old school bus in addition to teachers and children. As we approached the mountain the roads turned to dirt and got narrower. They were basically farm roads. There were several bridges which looked very rickety. We weren't sure they would hold a bus. Glenn and Dad and Jonathan consulted and decided that for safety's sake everyone should get out of the bus and walk across the bridge. Then Glenn would drive across and we would reload on the other side. I think there were several such bridges. That was just the beginning of the excitement. We arrived at the base of the mountain and parked the bus at the point where a jeep trail began up the mountain. We unloaded our gear and hiked in a mile or two to the campsite where there was a lean-to. This was sort of a base camp for us. From this point on the trail up the mountain got a lot steeper. It was very woodsy and there was a stream nearby. There was a circle of logs to sit on around a fireplace in a bit of a clearing. It was all quite primitive but very exciting.
The annual camping trip was always the high point of the summer for us kids particularly the fact that we were camping out overnight. Off to one side we put up a tent for the boys and the girls used the lean-to. The Bruderhof made their own tents out of clear poly plastic sheeting material. It wasn't very expensive and you could make a big tent that way. The other gear was mostly a hodgepodge of equipment and sleeping bags that people had brought when they joined the community. The community also went to government surplus sales and got equipment there. We spent the first day setting up camp. The girls got huge armfuls of these huge ferns to put on the ground in the lean-to to make the ground softer to lay on. When the big day came to hike up to the top of the mountain Glenn made an announcement at breakfast. He said that he had selected a group of "scouts" as he called them to start the long hike ahead of the rest of the group. He would take the "scouts" and make sure the trail was clear and frighten off any bears and that kind of thing. The handful of boys and girls selected were very excited. I was not selected to be a scout and was very envious. The boys in our group were quite interested in the Boy Scouts and not to be selected a "scout" was a big disappointment.
The scouts started up the mountain and the rest of us cleaned up after breakfast and tidied up camp. About an hour after the departure of the "scouts" the rest of us started hiking up the mountain. About three-quarters of the way up the mountain we caught up with Glenn and the"scouts. They hadn't seen any bears. We hiked the rest of the way to the peak together. When we finally got to the top we took a long rest and enjoyed the view. The top of the mountain was rocky and windblown with hardly any trees on it -- mostly just scraggly little bushes. Jonathan found a firecracker and put it under a tin can and lit it off. The can flew a little ways into the air. Before too long whom should appear but another school group from Woodcrest with George Burleson. They had hiked up the mountain from the other direction. This was a surprise to everyone except perhaps Glenn. They were the 5th and 6th grade out on an all-day trip. We joined forces for lunch. We provided stick- bread and they had brought with them ice cream in a back pack. Stick-bread is dough wrapped around a stick and baked over a fire. Dad said that he noticed that the long- term campers -- the 3rd and 4th graders -- went for the ice cream and the all-day trippers -- the 5th and 6th graders -- went for the more novel camp food, stick bread. It was characteristic of my Dad to notice such things. Soon we parted ways and went down our respective sides of the mountain.
One night we were sitting around the campfire and some young men on horseback came galloping up. Some of the girls were frightened enough to start crying. These guys had flashlights and looked pretty wild and excited. They said they were looking for a lost horse and wondered if we had seen one. We told them we hadn't seen a horse. They went on up the trail a ways and then came zooming back through the campsite without stopping. It was like something out of Medieval times or the Wild West. We kids were understandably excited by the whole episode. Actually I think the lost horse was just a story they had made up and that these guys were local fellows who had seen the school bus and wanted to check out who was in the area. But we were all a little spooked. Another story Dad likes to tell is the night I went to the boy's tent by myself to get something and got about half way there and turned around and came back to the campfire. I had seen "someone" with a light in the tent and everyone was at the camp fire. Dad went back with me and the light turned out to be just the reflection of the moon shining on the plastic tent. He never forgot that and teased me about it in later years. That camping trip was the most talked-about camping trip in my career at the Bruderhof and one of my favorites. We reminisced about it many times over the years. But it wasn't over yet -- we still had to get home.
We pulled up camp around noon of the 3rd day and headed back to where the bus was parked. We had planned to go by Kaaterskill for a swim on our way back to Woodcrest since there was no place to swim at camp. When we got to the bus we found that one of the front tires had been slashed with a knife and was flat. We never knew for sure, but suspected that it might have had something to do with the wild horse men. So now the bus had a flat tire. The men busied themselves with changing the tire while the kids played in the stream nearby. There was a spare tire in the bus but no lug wrench to change the tire. Now we were really in a fix. Someone set off walking to the nearest farm house for help. The nearest farm was quite a ways off. The farmer had a huge old Cadillac with those rubber bumpers on the front. He showed us how the raccoons had chewed on the rubber and left teeth marks. He was friendly and talkative and had tools that would work to change the tire. He went out of his way to help us -- I remember riding in his old Cadillac. I'm not sure but what we didn't have trouble jacking the front of the bus up to change the tire and I'm not sure the spare tire had any air in it. From that day on my dad took it upon himself to make sure that the school bus always had the necessary emergency equipment on board -- especially a lug wrench. Dad was not very often caught unprepared like this.
Needless to say we didn't get our swim at Kaaterskill and we arrived home later than planned and rather in need of showers. The grown-ups reported about our camping trip in the dining room as was customary at the Bruderhof. In addition to the adventure with the flat tire and the horses Glenn reported about a dream he had on the camping trip. He dreamed that he was in a motor boat on a lake and as he approached the shore he tried to turn the engine off but it wouldn't turn off. In somewhat of a panic he woke up only to discover that the motor was my dad snoring! Some years later I also found out the real story about the "scouts". The "scouts" were actually a select group of the slower hikers. This was Glenn's ingenious plan to keep the hike on schedule. None of us kids were the wiser...
Johnson defeated Goldwater that November and Jonathan has probably been back to Hunter Mountain a dozen times since the summer of 1964. He leads hikes in the Catskills and the Adirondack mountains. Some day I will return as well to retrace my steps and relive a childhood memory. I'll listen for the hoofbeats of a lost horse that probably didn't exist and wonder again at the unsolved mystery of the slashed school bus tire.
My Family Joins The Bruderhof
by Dave Ostrom
We arrived at Rifton late one afternoon in 1955. We had driven by the Woodcrest entrance, and Mom and Dad had discussed whether they should call first before going in to Woodcrest. When Dad phoned from Rifton, he was told to find a place and wait there in town and someone would come get us the next day. There was a sort of motel/campgrounds on the west side of Rifton where we rented a cabin. The next morning, some Brothers came and met us and we went back to Woodcrest.
Beginning with Dad's call to Woodcrest from Rifton, I had a feeling things were not as they appeared. This was the first time that we had gone somewhere, especially three thousand miles across the U.S. to visit/live and had to call and make arrangements to actually enter the premises of where we were to visit! I was curious why, as the Vigars, Stanley Fletcher and Bruce Sumner had been quite free at our house, we had to check in like servants at the back gate? When the Brothers and Sisters visited us in California, they came and left with complete freedom, we did not lock the house and sometimes would return home to find the tea pot on the kitchen sideboard. Mom would say, " Oh we missed the ----'s", whichever Brother or Sister had been in the area. We the Ostrom family did in fact extend an open door policy to guests, similar to the much written about open door policy of the Rohn and other Bruderhofs. Why then, when arriving at Woodcrest did we have to wait for permission to enter?
It is interesting, as mentioned earlier, there was no mention of me in the Ostrom / S.O.B. correspondence other than a cryptic statement by Gertrude Vigar ,"....Dave and the boy ...." Until my parents met the Brothers and Sisters from Paraguay, I had been able to sense where my place was in the family and as a family how we fit with the community where we lived. My older sisters, Anna Jean and Virginia, seemed to me to be very popular, Anna Jean had several friends who came and spent the weekend with us, Virginia was a member of several social and school activities, serving in executive positions. The only social/school activities I participated in were Boy Scouts and the school band. The rest of my time was spent working on the farm or working with Dad. The boys in my peer group ranked acceptance of the "new kid on the block" by the responsibility given him by his parents and by what he himself could do. A boy knew he was accepted when he was invited to participate in discussions or activities.
My feelings about going to Woodcrest were ambivalent, I looked forward to being in a group where we were not considered outsiders or persecuted for seeking a communal form of living. I personally had not decided either way. My parents went, so I had to go. The idea or concept of a Christian community where all was shared sounded like a good idea. The question was, would it work? Why would Woodcrest be any different from any other group with a hierarchy of bosses and workers? The perception I had at the time was if you did not/could not be a part of the in- group, you were at the mercy and whims of the majority. There had been a noticeable lack of including us children in the talk of going to the S.O.B. My expectation was that Mom and Dad and maybe Virginia would be accepted into the group, I would not. This was based on the fact the Brothers and Sisters spent a lot of time talking with Virginia. There was an effort made to have some of the girls from Primavera write to her. For me, nothing, nada. The message already was loud and clear: you are not one of us.
I was confused on many points; one was not supposed to fight (Mom's admonition reinforced by Dad). Yet if I did not fight, I was in trouble with my peers. The lesson learned at Salida was, if you are to be accepted, be ready and able to be the meanest, baddest character in the valley. Respect is fear of the person. On the one hand, I trusted adults, my parents and family friends. Yet why couldn't they see what was happening to us children? In later years, I posed this question to some of those involved. The response was, "Oh my! We didn't know that was going on!" ??
Now we were going to a place where the rules I had learned did not apply. It was supposed to be a community of brotherly love. I knew Don and Marilyn Noble and George and Vonnie Burleson who went to Woodcrest before us. They were OK people. Stanley, Vonnie's' younger brother, and I were friends. Somehow, from what I had experienced of people, what the S.O.B. claimed did not agree with what was happening. One, if it was brotherly love, how come I was ignored? Two, if it were truly community, why did we have to "wait at the gates" like servants at the back door?
It was with this frame of reference that I went with my parents to Woodcrest. Memories of the first few weeks at Woodcrest are like a kaleidoscope, mental pictures flash disjointed images. Unloading the trailer, the Housemother directing what went where; items I treasured were summarily tossed away or dispensed with without so much as a by-your-leave! When I did question or protest, I was accused of being selfish and uncooperative. I talked with Christoph about my friends in California, what we did and where we went; Christoph was very reticent about Paraguay. I thought going to Paraguay would be an adventure, a challenge. Christoph avoided the subject, as if he were ashamed of Paraguay. I found communication with Christoph was almost a monologue -- mine. He would ask questions, but would not respond if I asked any. I talked with Christoph about the group I was with at Salida, a mixed group of boys and girls. We went places together and talked to each other. Bad mistake -- this was to come back later.
A Trip to Ship Bottom with
Other Young People and a
Disastrous Confrontation with Dick Domer
The way the trip to the beach at Ship Bottom was presented to me before we went was as an annual event that the Highschoolers attended. We each were given a few dollars to spend as we wished for the week we were there. Virginia and I had worked and earned spending money as we grew up. When we went to town or on trips, the money was ours to spend as we wanted, not as our parents or 'elders' thought best. The Ship Bottom experience was reinforcement of my confusion and doubts about what was going on. It seems I didn't have the 'right spirit' about spending money. Ramon asked me to clarify this paragraph, but I am as confused now as I was then about what the right spirit is/was. All I know was that it was the basis for Dick's peeling a strip of hide off me about it.
Enrolling at Kingston High, at the rally, nominating Rosewith for School Office. The rationale was, "If we are to be different, let's get somebody of our team in the Student body Government." A wrestling match with Jim Dunlop on the lawn in front of the School House and breaking my ankle. All the kids standing around, doing nothing, looking like, "Gee this is interesting!" "Does it hurt?"
Shortly after we arrived at Woodcrest, I was assigned to work in the shop. For a time I worked in the spray booth, spraying lacquer on the toys and blocks. Until the Dunlops arrived, Christoph was the only boy my age at Woodcrest. After the first few days Christoph avoided me like the plague. I reverted to my "Salida survival mode", that is, don't associate with the other kids, that is just asking for trouble. I sought association with Don Noble and George Burleson as they had been old family friends.
The Burlesons lived across the hall from us on the top floor of the "School House". One evening I met George in the hall and as we talked he made the observation, I would have to change if I was to get along, things were different here. This added to my confusion as I didn't know what he meant and didn't know how to phrase a question to get clarification. Virginia and Martha seemed to be accepted into their respective groups, I definitely was not accepted. I realize now, at the time I was thirteen years old and stood over six foot three inches and weighed about one hundred eighty pounds. Most people perceived me, and expected me to act, as an adult but I was just barely a teenager.
After our return from Ship Bottom, Dick Domer had a talk with me. At the time I didn't know what was happening. I sensed I was in some sort of trouble or disgrace, I didn't know for what or why. Dick wanted to know what I planed to do with my life. I had considered many things, working with Dad, going into farming with him, mechanical work, and more recently electronics. At the time I had been reading a lot about the sea and thought about trying for the Maritime Academy and going to sea. So I told Dick about my thoughts of going to sea and why I thought that way. Dick immediately took the offensive and told me my ideas were all wrong, impossible and in general did a good job of putting me down. I argued with him, I still thought this was a friendly discussion about what I, an adolescent, was thinking. From later information, I gather the way Dick saw it was I didn't immediately fall on my knees and profess to be a true believer in "The Life" and pledge my undying gratitude for and devotion to the Arnolds. Hence, I was against the community!
I found Paul Pappas, Bob Greenwood and Merrill Mow more understanding and friendly. I have memories of doing kitchen duty (washing dishes) with Bob, Paul, Merrill and Will and some lively discussions. To me, it was a part of learning. I did not know if I wanted to live in the community or not. I didn't even know what I wanted really, other than to be accepted. I remember discussions about free will, choices and what people saw as right and wrong.
Part of the mistrust was I had met several people while at Salida and Escalon who appeared to be friendly and talkative. What I found later was these people would find out what I thought, and if it differed substantially from their opinion, I was in trouble. I did not feel I could really be open and truthful with the people I met at Woodcrest, not at least until they proved trustworthy.
Having come from open society, I had friends of both sexes and did not think anything about it. If a girl was interesting, I would talk to her just as I would a boy. This is a difficult idea for people who were born and raised in the Bruderhof. I was not aware that for an adolescent to openly address another of the opposite sex was considered one of the most flagrant violations possible. No one ever told me this or any of the other "rules" that existed. The adults just condemned me as a rude, crude dude and left it at that. The other youth found this amusing, there was someone else to get in trouble and take the heat off them for a while. In later years I have talked with a few of these youth and asked their opinion. In their polite, reserved way, they observed I "was different" and "You were from the 'outside', you were neither in or out, you were like a fixture, there!" Another person I asked responded, "You were huge and awesome. We were somewhat afraid of you. This is interesting as I was barely a teenager and viewed adults, even those smaller physically than me, as big people. The other youth I viewed as the same as me. Conflicts of perceptions!
In letters from the Vigars and the Owens to our family, recommending things to bring or do, I got the idea that we would continue to have "our home" be it an apartment, house, flat or whatever. Also, we would continue to have our personal belongings that we would share or not as we felt appropriate. I did not understand the housemothers' irritation with me as she and Mom disposed of my things. No one took the time to say in one syllable words, "You don't have," "You are not!" I continued to respond to others as if they had their home and belongings (good attitude on my part) and I had a home and belongings (bad attitude on my part). The I, the me, kept getting in the way. The nearest I can explain it is, the second day of boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base, the drill instructor barked to the flight, "Send your souls home to Momma 'cause I got your Ass!". Unknown to me at the time, in the community, children were not to have any self-awareness, any concern about who they were and how they fit into the society around them. In short, to survive in the community, one had no feelings, no thoughts, no initiative unless directed to do so by a Brother!
An illustration of this was an incident that occurred in the first two months at Woodcrest. I enjoyed building model airplanes and ships. I had become rather proficient at constructing sail boats in what is known as "bread and butter" method. That is, one takes thin pieces of wood the length and width desired. The pieces are nailed together in a stack, then the shape is drawn and cut through all the stack. The hull is then shaped with a small hand plane, to the desired shape. The nails are pulled, the individual pieces have the center cut out and then the pieces are all glued together again resulting in a "hollow" hull. In my spare time, I found there were tools in the Carriage House basement. I scrounged around and found the wood and had the shape done and was working on the final shape of the hull. One of the young boys, about six or eight years old came to the shop and was watching me. He asked what I was doing and I told him, "building a boat". He responded, "You can't do that!" I didn't respond as I had the hull in my hand. I thought he meant I was unable to do it. What he meant was I didn't have permission, I was doing something on my own initiative, I was not being a "team player" waiting for one of the adults to tell me what I could or could not do! Bad attitude!
Complicating matters were discrepancies I saw at school. In California, there were always the school-yard differences. Any time there was a fight, every one would gather in a circle and the two with a difference fought it out on a one to one and then went about their business. In New York, you either belonged to a gang or got your heini kicked. In the Woodcrest school group there were the girls and Christoph Arnold, Tim Johnson, Jim Dunlop and myself. The Arnolds, Johnsons and Virginia received money for lunch. I and I think Jim worked in the cafeteria for our lunch. Some of the other cafeteria workers decided it was fair game for "California queers." I wasn't sure what was meant, but I tried to avoid trouble and get through school. I had been told that Woodcrest was pacifist and that meant no fighting. There seemed to be some sort of understanding at the school, the "Woodcrest Boys" were left alone. Woodcrest Boys being those who spoke with an accent. I don't know how Jim coped, I put up with a lot of ribbing about being "different". I knew I was different, I didn't speak German, didn't belong to one of the school gangs, was not allowed to participate in sports, was not in the youth group at Woodcrest.
Jim Dunlop and I began to spend time together. We explored the old house below the shop and found a cider press. We decided to make apple cider. As we were making it we got to thinking about how to make apple jack. We got the juice, bottled it and were waiting for it to ferment. Somehow, Heini found out about it and cornered us in the kitchen one afternoon. After chewing us out for some time for being disrespectful, ungrateful, all around bad dudes, he confiscated the jack. I heard rumors later that he enjoyed the fruits (juice) of our labor!
Sometime in late October, Mom and Dad told us the Brothers had decided to send us on to Forest River, the explanation given was they needed a mechanic there and I knew Dad was a good mechanic, it made sense, sounded reasonable. He went to Forest River before us. Mom, Virginia and Marty went by train with the Johnson family. I went with Hans Uli and Bob Greenwood by truck.
Traveling East to Friendly Crossways, '95
In which the Patient Reader can actually find Something about Charlie's trip near the End of the article
by Charlie Lamar
Motion itself is the part of travel I most enjoy, be it in old familiar ways or newer, faster ones. Dog sleds, trucks, or rockets ships, the modes of transportation mirror civilization's age, which I'd call adolescent now. I enjoy the open highway, as I enjoy the rocking cradle of a train. Train conductors with their big bellies and bad haircuts seem sentimental about the old fashioned work they do. I like airplanes even more than trains. The bigger and faster the airplanes, the more I like them. Flight is my paradigm of immortality -- terrestrial escape. I am moved to tears when the giant, obedient engines catch command and rocket safely down the runway. The air-safety chaperones of the traveling public are like movie stars. Pioneers of the frontier of our age, wizened from the radiation of space, they spend their working lives essentially outside the terrestrial atmosphere.
I enjoy the passengers as much as I enjoy the view. This time I got hit in the head with Galileo's Euclid when I saw a young man with others on a business trip come down the aisle. The pillars of his neck were like a wrestler's. He had widely set brown eyes, the calm, blank look of the mathematically gifted, large chestnut curls, nose straight as a ruler, a smile like a horse that swallowed a piano and many charming muscular contours so complex that calculating their outlines and volume would tax Leibnitz and Newton. Oh! And blue jeans and cowboy boots. I am entirely confident in the ultimate triumph of our species, but it is nice to be reminded now and then. So when I looked out the window, once again tears ran down my face but this time "the tears on (my) cheeks were (partly) from laughter."
I was in a bad mood when I prepared to travel east this year. Through a domino effect of psychic displacements I have become annoyed with "liberals" lately. By liberal I mean most of the political spectrum to which I am daily exposed in San Francisco.
I suppose no matter where you live you are going to be up to your eyeballs in the foolishness of well-intentioned people who merely parrot some newspaper with their opinions. If I lived somewhere else I might be exercised in another fashion, but in San Francisco all I hear are left-wing views on abortion, the death penalty, capitalism, racism, sexism, classism, ageism, looksism, sizeism and a growing parade of other 'isms' all to be eliminated in Utopia. It seems to be a religion, although an entirely negative, one. How about couplism, a prejudice for monogamy!
We were given a good elementary education in the Bruderhof. By the fifth grade we had been taught the scientific method, philosophic objectivity and the meaning of religious tolerance. It was in the Bruderhof context that I first made the discovery of personal spiritual experience for myself as well. Because of that spiritual experience and good Bruderhof education, I always thought my own thoughts regarding science, religion and philosophy. So when one of my Bruderhof mentors actually came right out and told me not to think but to let others do it for me, I turned away and never really looked back.
But it has been a lonely life. For one thing, my good education has isolated me. I was born and bred to be a ruthless, intransigent, fanatic intellectual. Weren't we all supposed to be willing to die for our faith? I can upset a cocktail party at fifty paces. I've had to learn to control my mouth. But since this is in writing, I'm going to let my tongue hang out a little. You don't have to read any more than you want to.
A post-Bruderhof perspective enables me to see how to dynamite the logjam of modern political philosophy. At the heart of the problem lies a failure to distinguish between the basic facts of social science and certain spiritual realities of ethical relationships -- truth.
It has been long, well and clearly established in all the sciences that no two material phenomena ever occur in exactly the same way. No two pebbles, stars, leaves of grass, cornflakes, worms; no pair of any kind, celestial or terrestrial, are ever exactly the same or equal. It is equally well established in all the sciences that no two categorical groups, either living or non-living, are ever equal either. And that, of course, includes groups of people. But nowadays social theorists of any "progressive" pretension are all hell bent on denying the obvious as these findings apply to the study of human beings, to psychology and sociology. The reason for this rigor mortis of denial lies in an enormous movement in social philosophy, a swing of the pendulum dialectic that has taken several hundred years.
Time was, in the European Middle Ages, one's place in society was believed to be properly determined by birth, sex and birth order – primogeniture. The eldest son of the royal family became king, and so on down the social hierarchy. There was also a supporting myth, and a very powerful, glamorous, ancient, instinctive myth it was, still very much alive and well in many quarters, that values and virtue correlated with birth and wealth. However it so happened, unfortunately, that in the "Glorious Revolution" and "Enlightenment" by which birth and primogeniture were overthrown as foundations of society, it was not meritocracy or equality of opportunity that came to replace the supposed nobility of birth and wealth, but another prejudicial myth, less glamorous perhaps, but powerful for another reason, the idea of human equality. "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity." has become the battle cry of the "progressive" ever since. This entirely false idea has served to give expression to the deepest spiritual instincts of a dozen agnostic generations.
Personalities are equal, but in just one spiritual aspect; not in any material connection whatsoever. "God is no respecter of persons," He loves his children equally regardless of material differences, cultural capacity or disparities of spiritual attainment. But aside from the intrinsically personal consideration of who each one of us is, as opposed to what each one of us is like, there is no other equality between any two of us.
The confusion of this myth of equality between people with the truth of the equality of personality per se in the eyes of God was a signal failure of eighteenth century intellectual vision. This equality myth has distorted "progressive" social values ever since the eighteenth century just as much as the myth that values and virtue correlated with birth and wealth distorted traditional society in former times.
If people were equal, it would follow that their potentials, abilities, values and moral performances must be equal also. But no eighteenth century philosopher ever would have taken that position. Eighteenth century philosophers had to respond to a social situation supposedly sanctioned by God which had choice, freedom, autonomy and power all concentrated solely at the top of an hereditary social hierarchy, with slavish obedience the duty of all below. Meanwhile they had before them the bad results of pedigree and primogeniture whereby a degenerate runt could inherit rank and title. Very often they could see greater ability and merit in the "common" people, for even a genius could not call himself the social equal of an aristocrat in the feudal social system. Though this unjust situation inclined them to look at people in a new way, according to different social class criteria and with new political goals in mind, no eighteenth century philosopher, even the Marquis de Sade, would have ever been inclined to posit a non- hierarchical universe. They would be more than astonished to see how far many of their twentieth century descendants are willing to go in rationalizing so absurd a notion.
Personal values, ultimately, are spiritual realities. Values should not be confused with things which may have value. The spiritual realities are the values themselves. Since people manifestly all have different personal values, and are distinguished by different value reactions such as optimism and pessimism, a universe where people were equal would be a universe without any values at all. Obviously we don't live in that kind of universe. We live in a hierarchical universe, a universe where spirit is real.
Values and virtue don't correlate with any of the political or material conditions that may chance to configure human lives. Values and virtue don't correlate with qualities of human skin, bone, racial ancestry, social class, wealth, poverty, brains or education. Values and virtue correlate with spirituality, when, where and however it is found. All that an attempt to make values and virtue appear to correlate with anything but spirituality can ever engender is prejudice and social stereotypes. But ever since the thesis of human equality was advanced, well-intentioned people have sought to correlate values and virtue with social oppression. For they reason that if people are innately equal, disparities of human performance and conduct must result either from the force of oppressive circumstances or from moral faults, discrepancies in the exercise of individual free will.
Eighteenth century philosophers had good reason to believe in the efficacy of hereditary social class oppression. It became their legitimate purpose to break down the hereditary class system and for the most part, at least in the United States, their efforts have succeeded. There is now, has been and will continue to be, enormous class migration throughout American society. And so a different problem arises.
Nowadays, the poor remain poor by virtue of a negative or culturally incompetent relation to their material circumstances, rather than by means of the enforced hereditary deprivation and slavery of the medieval feudal system. But it remains the liberal position to propose class oppression of the poor as the explanation of this negative relationship, and of degeneracy and crime whenever the poor are degenerate and criminal. Liberals still call the rich 'wicked' and the poor 'good.' Nowadays, the rich remain rich by virtue of the cultural and technological mastery of their material circumstances, rather than by means of the security of unassailable hereditary rank and privilege. Modern fortunes are easily lost. It has become the conservative position to propose personal skill and willpower as the explanation of how rich people maintain their wealth. Modern conservatives credit the wealthy and blame the poor for their respective circumstances in a way no eighteenth century aristocrat would ever have done. Conservatives today take the innate differences in human abilities, talent, for granted. Liberals ("All men are created equal") usually try to deny that talent even exists.
Liberals have their reasons for so stubbornly trying to deny the obvious. They fear that if innate differences in cultural capacity between people or between races, classes or groups of people were ever recognized there would be no reason to treat people other than according to their social class or status. They fear that there would be no reason to treat poor people with anything but cruelty and oppression, and they have a logical basis for reasoning in this fashion. Not only do they remember the old hereditary class distinctions and the more recent practice of overt race discrimination, but having repeated the ancient mistake of identifying noble values with a certain class or group, they continue to think in stereotypes. They well know that bloody class warfare has been fomented on the basis of these stereotypes, and they know it could happen again. The blood of millions upon millions shed in violent revolution must be laid at the door of humanistic equalitarianists, even more than by the Western Colonial Imperialists, and all because of misguided spiritual instincts. Nor have any of these societies been improved by these violent revolutions more than they would have been had they followed the English model of gradual social evolution rather than the bloody model of the French.
Another and even more important reason liberals fear the perception and admission of human differences is that having rejected the system of religious thought which once sponsored the hereditary class system they have toppled, they remain agnostic -- if not entirely Godless, somewhat embarrassed in faith. Since they aren't sure about eternal life, they concentrate all striving after value, justice, ambition, altruism and achievement in mortal life alone. They make politics their religion. Their intuition of human brotherhood, of the equal spiritual worth of human beings, leads them to push towards a mirage of the elimination of the whole phenomenon of class in human society. So they deny and discredit the differences between people, and attack any perception of differences as prejudice. The "seven deadly sins" in the canons of the left is their list of proscribed prejudices or isms -- racism, sexism and so on. These are defined not just as problems of fairness, but as perceptions of difference.
When I first came to San Francisco twenty-two years ago, I saw a group of retarded people sitting on a bench in Golden Gate Park. A voter registration worker with clipboard, pen and pencils was headed in their direction. I didn't stay to see how many new Democrats were made that day. Safe bet, there were no Republicans.
Differences between people are necessary for social evolution. "Republicans" and "Democrats" are necessary for social evolution. Flexible, shifting social classes are necessary. Options of success and failure are necessary. Rich and poor are necessary. Political dialogue is necessary. And political correctness is an oxymoron, for the political dialogue must compose interests that legitimately conflict. Human dialogue is not between angels and devils, but it is only by human dialogue that the angels and devils are illuminated. For it is only in the context of human differences that values can be perceived.
It is useless to try to fight one prejudice with another. Prejudice in society, whether of class, race or any other kind, is more a problem of good will than of statistical thinking. Stereotypes or generalities about a group may or may not apply in any given case, may or may not even have any basis in fact. But the only real reason not to respond according to stereotypes, whether valid or invalid, when confronted with an individual who may chance to belong to some identifiable class or group is the possession of a constructive attitude of spiritual good will. And the only real source for that good will is conscious or unconscious personal contact with God. The creation of good will in society is a religious, not a political problem.
One way of looking at the Bruderhof is that originally it was an attempt to address the problem of good will in society in the context of some very liberal politics. Certainly most of the people coming out of the Bruderhof are more or less liberal. Not all, but most.
I have certainly heard the thought expressed before -- in Reevaluation Counseling, by forensic psychiatrists and students of A Course in Miracles -- but at the Friendly Crossways conference I heard someone again assert what surely must be the final, most astounding liberal notion. She insisted that "no one is evil."
What could she be driving at? Was her point merely that personality per se is a level of deitized reality? If so, why bring it up at all? Or was it her intention finally to pry all moral responsibility off the individual human being and nail it once and for all on society and circumstance? Was it her intention to flatten out all individual moral values, consideration, question, judgment and choice? Was it her intention to claim that moralism is the last ism to be eliminated prior to Utopia? If so, the position represents an all-out assault on the reality or even the possibility of personal spirituality and growth.
The topic of human evil came up at Friendly Crossways in the context of discussions about the death penalty. One hears the death penalty spoken of by its opponents as "absolute." But although a mortal mistake cannot be rectified, death is not absolute. There are issues of greater importance than mortal longevity, no matter when, how or why the individual meets death. In the Middle Ages everyone understood this. Then everyone fully believed in the reality and meaning of life after death. Since the eighteenth century many good people aren't so sure.
I have heard of several prisoners on death row since Gary Gilmore who dismissed their lawyers or instructed them to stop trying to block their execution. Sometimes there seems to have been a spiritual conversion, sometimes not. Sometimes the gesture seems suicidal, as in the case of Gary Gilmore, sometimes it does not. Recently one such prisoner in San Quentin, David Mason, very thoughtfully rejected all the psychoanalytic and circumstantial reasoning adduced by his lawyers to explain why he had committed so many murders, took personal responsibility for his crimes and insisted that his death sentence be carried out. His demeanor in the TV interview was radiantly spiritual. The court appointed psychiatrist found him to be sane. He explained that he had to be true to his feelings, "all of them," and the only way he could do that was to disassociate himself from arguments he knew to be irrelevant and let the legal sentence of the court embodying the political will of the people of California be carried out. But even after he was dead his lawyer still denied the validity of the course David Mason had chosen. The lawyer still insisted that the truth of the matter of David Mason's crimes lay within psychoanalytic and circumstantial explanations about what had been done to him as a child, and of course horrible things had been done to David Mason as a child.
This seemed to me to be tragic, not so much that David Mason lived a short brutal life and was then deliberately put to death, but that even after he was dead someone as close to him as his own lawyer continued to try to deny the dignity of his moral choice. That choice was the only way that David Mason could find to make sense of his own life. There have been a number of cases like David Mason's.
Terrible social problems result when moral responsibility is supposedly shifted away from the individual and onto the "system", some nebulous entity of "society" or on some particular group. The poor do not become more capable. Couples don't stay together longer and raise children to be good citizens. Degenerates don't take responsibility and become socially constructive.
The scourge of failure is a natural and wholly essential feature of human evolution. If anything is done to alter the circumstances of living in an altruistic attempt to remove this painful scourge without the development of personal moral responsibility, nothing improves. Political systems that do not buffer or dissociate results from the causes associated with the moral behavior of the individual citizen are kinder, in the long run, and result in a better society.
The business of government is to set limits to human behavior, not to condition it, to protect society from wrongdoers, not to exalt the rights of criminals over those of law-abiding citizens, to take the unfairness out of competition, not to attempt the destruction of social competition by legislating away the results of human failure.
On the other hand the business of religion is to modify and progressively improve human behavior -- according to traditional mores and by means of the ritual imposition of traditional moral technique in the case of primitive religion., and according to a progressing likeness of "the image of God" through the inspiration of human nature through contact with the divine in the case of revealed religion. But religion as we have it today is not doing its job. It is in a sorry state, an embarrassed and discredited combination of the primitive and the revealed, disastrously entangled in politics and corruption both on the left and on the right. Religion needs to see a rebirth of its simplest and most basic spiritual truths: love, brotherhood, forgiveness and tolerance as personal attitudes, the experience of the personal presence of God.
I thank God that ordinary people don't look at everything through ideological lenses, and that they seem to have a measure of common sense. Ordinary people understand that although abortion most certainly is murder, like war it must sometimes be permitted. Ordinary people understand that while discrimination is unfair, "affirmative action" is actually racist or sexist. Ordinary people understand that children need fathers as well as mothers. They understand that the cultural integration of the males in a family determines the overall societal outcome. They don't need George Gilder to tell them that men should have a preferential access to the marketplace and employment vis- a-vis women in order to stabilize the family. They don't need Camille Paglia to tell them that the cultural preeminence of men in society is natural and necessary to balance out the preeminent biologic contribution of women to society and to the home. Ordinary people realize that the Equal Rights Amendment should never pass because women and men most certainly are not equal. Ordinary people understand that equal means the same. Ordinary people probably would be willing to trade the death penalty for life sentences that really were life sentences if they did not feel that behind the death penalty abolitionist's motives is the desire to absolve everyone of all personal responsibility for everything. They realize that the idea of gun control goes hand-in-hand with the tolerance of a degraded citizenry. Ordinary people realize that to try to politicize the equality of persons, to try arbitrarily to materialize it, is to deny its spiritual implications. They realize that equality is a feature of spiritual brotherhood, while the domain of political brotherhood is the domain of attempted fairness, as opposed to equality. They realize that fairness connotes the recognition of real human differences both acquired and innate.
Now that at least in the United States social class is in fact no longer hereditary, now that it has been shown possible among all races for individuals either to rise or fall in social standing according to talent, character and application or the lack thereof, liberals have won their last legitimate victory until they address the terrible problems which their own measures have caused.
We are a species in evolution. Like all evolutionary species we compete individually to survive collectively in naturally oppressive and selective circumstances. Natural selection and a differential of biologic failure and success among individuals are essential features of our evolutionary progress. The purpose of the instinctively and naively spiritual liberal altruists has been to try and mitigate the naturally oppressive circumstances of human life. This would be all well and good were it not that reproductive behavior is disastrously affected. All the liberal social measures have been counter-productive in their genetic impact. Every step toward a guaranteed personal income, universal health care, multigenerational, non emergency welfare has been a step in the wrong direction as far as long-range planetary interests are concerned because the natural correlation between cultural achievement and the birthrate has been broken. This is worse than any fiscal deficit, as bad as global warming or the depletion of the ozone. It multiplies the harvest of social problems for generations yet to come.
Forget Nazi ideas about breeding supermen. But slowly and patiently, every generation needs to circumscribe degeneracy." Starvation, disease and slaughter are the natural and traditional methods of birth control having eliminated whole societies. And those who would mitigate the human condition must understand that nature will reassert control with her inexorable but haphazard methods unless we replace them by conscious and intelligent discrimination. A crisis in human genetic evolution is at the heart of the ecological problem facing the planet. It is not just a quantitative problem of overpopulation but a qualitative one of cultural capacity. And nature will eventually force our hand. Sooner or later there will be a license required for making babies.
But liberals remain in the untenable position of trying to advance legitimate goals and values while having "cut away," as Smiley says, "the ground on which [they] stand." They seek to save endangered species and preserve the rain forest while they equate whales with human beings. Having supported generations on welfare with handouts of the taxpayer's money, thereby devastating inner city families by making fathers culturally and economically irrelevant, (Men Are Just Dessert) having seen the horrible results reported on television daily, having listened to Rap music that expresses it so very well, they cluck their tongues, vaguely aware that something is wrong but without a clue that their own well-intended charity contributes directly to the astounding degeneracy they see before them. Yet they stubbornly refuse to make value judgments. They refuse to admit that the family is the only institution that can be relied upon to transmit culture from one generation to another. They speak of a complexity of factors, the feminization of poverty and cite the public institutions of society, law enforcement, television and the schools. In the meantime there are specific individual crimes being committed everywhere in society, high and low, that we should recognize as crimes, stop, and punish, if we want a world we can live in.
The blame game of materialistic determinism played by liberal thinkers may identify a temporary scapegoat for our troubles, now in the "system," now in "western imperialism," now in the "patriarchy," now in "capital monopolists," now in "white racists," now in whatever, until those groups also learn how to raise their own psychoanalytic whine to a pitch of equal fervor. But it all leads nowhere. For in an agnostic, equalitarian, multicultural, humanistic perspective there is no basis whatsoever except the shifting sands of fashion upon which to establish values. The hierarchy of values is a religious problem. Retrograde, politically motivated religious notions such as goddess worship and pantheism or the worship of nature will not help. At best nature is a qualified, partial, unfinished result. God is cause.
But all that conservatives have been able to offer to counter the powerful equalitarian myth is some sort of traditionalism or fundamentalism, and one sort of fundamentalism is much like another. Conservatives must do more than try to stop time. Fundamentalism is a reliance on the record of the spiritual experience of other generations. Individual fundamentalists may enjoy personal spiritual experience but an evolving fundamentalism is a contradiction in terms. Living spiritual experience must be joined with free, rigorous, contemporary thought.
To rebuke the equalitarian thesis, conservatives must take it upon themselves to remove all vestiges of unfairness in social competition. Liberals must learn that mortal failure is not necessarily cosmic failure, return religion to its proper arena of individual moral self-determination, and judgment to the public sphere. Moral arrogance on any side bespeaks concealed self doubt and harms the dialectic process. Conservatives have long been told they are hateful, that they are unreasonable, by the educated pretentiously intellectual elements of society because of their common sense perceptions and because they are inclined to deny that reactions of prejudice are the sole cause of the results when the lower class in general and that of one race in particular have been so horribly debauched by destructive "progressive" measures. Conservatives are very angry and this is not good. No one, either liberal or conservative, can make any real contribution to discourse in the body politic who is not willing to master respectfully the entire intellectual landscape including the territory of his opponents. In the final analysis, altruism and wisdom are generated by religious loyalty, spiritual experience, advancement in scientific knowledge and critically corrective philosophy.
Anyway, that's what was on my mind in the airplane as I traveled East this year to Friendly Crossways.
I had made a few calls about where I might visit but kept my itinerary open, not being certain whether or not I would go to the COB festivities in Kingston. I first stayed for a few days with Geert Burger, who has been very hospitable to me on several trips. Then on to DC to visit Wendy and David Dorsey and their big handful of kids. In DC I also met up with Ben and Joanie, which meeting clarified some things about COB, and I decided I would go to Kingston. Next to Alan and Ena's in Philadelphia whose totally architecturally digested house is the prettiest of any KIT people's I have seen, either here or in England. Then to Mike Boller's and his redoubtable landlady Camille, a woman who I would like to see someday at Friendly Crossways.
Kingston was exciting and dramatic as expected and thoroughly covered in the local TV news; the lead story at both ten and eleven o'clock. "HOLY WAR", ...voice over the organ pipes. "Children of the Bruderhof, ..." Somewhere there is a videotape. I spent the night at Ebo and Annelisa's. Ebo appeared to me as one well suited to calm a horse, of which there were two very beautiful ones and a cat who fell ignominiously into the fishtank. Then I had a nice long drive with Kathy Brookshire to Friendly Crossways.
I missed certain late night energy. Where were some of the younger folks this time, the party animals?
Now we have this fledgling entity of COB. Will it represent an attempt to compose the interests of all who comprise the ex-Bruderhof readership of KIT? Is it more specifically to be focused on those who grew up in the Bruderhof, or is it to be inclusive of all who once lived there if only as adults? How will it coordinate the functions of support and healing with the need to deal with intransigent opposition from both inside and outside the Bruderhof to what must be said in pursuit of that personal growth and healing. How will it be organized? Will there be local geographic groupings or groupings for specific interests? (Wheathill Girls Group for instance) What specific methods of communication to keep confidentiality and avoid inconvenient differentials of telephone, e-mail, and computer bulletin board access will COB use? All this remains undecided. Please send your thoughts on these and any other considerations to Ben Cavanna, Mike LeBlanc, Kore Loy McWhirter, Margot Wegner Purcell, Joanie Pavitt Taylor, Faith Tsukroff, or to me.
I stayed on at Friendly Crossways a day or two after the conference. So did Ben and Joanie. It was a magical two days, swimming in Walden Pond, co-counseling, seeing the wonderful old graveyard, that strange parade and then me catching my train in the dark without our knowing where the train was supposed to be with just forty perfect seconds to spare. I don't know if Ben and Joanie realize it, but all the time we were together both in DC and in Massachusetts, all the trains were cosmically coordinated to appear at the platform at just the perfect time for us to step on.
The commuter train took me back to Geert's for a day. Then I flew back home again. All through the trip I pictured in my mind's eye, enormous engines silent, waiting on the runway, engines larger than any I have ever seen, engines of the Creator Son for terrestrial departure, engines of universe ascension waiting for command.
A Break for Joel
Give me a break.
Give me a break!
Break me off a piece of that KIT
'Cause that's the way I like it.
I't's my community.
That my community
'Should be where I belong.
In my little KIT family
'This is a song.
Hannah Goodwin Johnson
NOTE: Ben Zablocki has generously allowed us to offer for sale spiral-bound 8-1/2 x 11 copies of his definitive account of the Bruderhof,The Joyful Community. 230 pages, $20 US/$25 Canada, postpaid.
Torches Extinguished, by Bette Bohlken-Zumpe
Free From Bondage by Nadine Moonje Pleil
Each $17 postpaid U.S./Canada, $20 Overseas
KIT Annuals: 1989-1990: $17 $20 Overseas
All in larger type 1991 $25 $30 Overseas
spiral-bound 1992 $25 $30 Overseas
spiral-bound 1993 $25 $30 Overseas
spiral-bound 1994 $25 $30 Overseas
Open Letter To The Hutterian Church, by Samuel
Kleinsasser, with added articles, 85 pages $5 / $8 Our Broken Relationship With The Society of Brothers,
by S. Kleinsasser, 16 pps $1/$3 each
My Years In Woodcrest 1988-1990,
by John Stewart (reprint from KIT April '95) $3/$5
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