It seems that the Bruderhof is trying to fix the blame for their no-visits-to-family policy and their not informing people in a timely manner of deaths of their familiy members inside on COB.
But these policies were well in place before the advent of COB. COB was formed after the Bruderhof refused to meet with any group of KIT readers as representing anyone other than their individual selves. The Bruderhof leadership was well aware that these KIT 'representatives' wanted to diiscuss their concerns about the Bruderhof system as opposed to their personal issues only. So in an attempt to meet the Bruderhof's own criteria, a membership group, COB, was formed, which the Bruderhof then promptly sued.
Despite Christoph's written and spoken promise not to punish people for reading KIT or attending KIT gatherings, these punishments were well in place before COB was formed and only have been refined and expanded since.
Bruderhof policy seems to be to keep up the pressure on everyone from their own families in the hopes of splintering KIT readers into various factions who then can spend their time and energies arguing about whose fault it is that their visits have been curtailed.
But consider the following:
Should Ruthie Harries not have escaped from Woodcrest via an "outside" lunch date with a relative just because now it will be much more difficult for others to take a Bruderhof relative off the hof for a meal? Should Andrew Bazeley not have asked an attorney to phone Woodcrest to remind them of his right to attend his mother's funeral just because now the Bruderhof is making all their the elderly sign a 'last will and testament' exclusion-from-my-funeral letter?
Third Annual Rocky Gap Reunion and Picnic for Ex-Bruderhofers Dedicated to the memory of Laurel Durgin, b.1959 - d.1989. Friday, May 17 through Sunday, May 19, at Rocky Gap State Park located just off I-68 6 miles east of Cumberland, MD. No agenda, no schedule except a brief remembrance for Laurel Durgin Sunday noon and the picnic at 1 p.m. Pets allowed. Camping reservations approx $24 total. Ask for a site on the "D" loop, and mention Purcells' name. Nearby motels are available. Share your plans or memories of Laurel by calling 1-800-672 9089. Ask for Margot or Blair Purcell.
The Seventh Annual Friendly Crossways Conference will be held in Littleton, MA, the weekend of August 9-12. Mark your calendars now, and please let us know if you will be attending (see enclosed reservations slip). Please note also that we have had to increase the prices slightly.
I first got to know Ursel while working with her in the Bulstrode baby-house in 1960. For me, it was a difficult and unhappy period as I was very much on the edge of bruderhof life and would soon be sent away. But Ursel befriended me and often gave up her much needed midday rest period (she had 2 lively school-age sons and a baby daughter at this point) to go for walks in the beautiful Bulstrode Park. I next met Ursel at my father's funeral in 1979 and we gradually renewed our friendship as she supported my mother by visiting her frequently during the early years of bereavement and even after my mother rejoined the Bruderhof at Darvell. She also visited Dr. Margaret Hawkins (Stern) faithfully for many years as Margaret became increasingly disabled and organised a surprise 80th birthday party which many ex-bruderhof people celebrated with Margaret.
The 1980s were a difficult time for Ursel as she fought cancer, but it was also the beginning of a new and important phase of her life as she became involved with the Bristol Cancer Centre, holistic healing, and the Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross counselling workshops on Life, Death and Transition. This brought an extra dimension to her way of being and is what so many of us ex-bruderhof people will remember her for. She made each of us feel we mattered, recognising us in a distinctive way with an unqualified acceptance. I valued her honesty as she bravely came to terms with her own death, and now at this sad time of bereavement, I cherish the memory of her unique presence in my life.
My sympathy and love go out to Ursel's children and grandchildren.
In 1942, Ursel and I were the first young people from Primavera to study in the 'big city,' Asuncion. She studied to be a nurse, and I became a teacher. After graduation, Ursel worked for years in the hospital in Loma Hoby. She married Reg Lacy, and they had five children: Geoffrey, Andreas, Else Margaret, Hanna Marie and Thomas. The family then were moved to the Wheathill Bruderhof in England. During the big crisis of 1961, they were sent away, and the family had a hard time making ends meet. Ursel had surgery for cancer and became interested in others who suffered from this same dread disease. For years she counselled and supported people who were either sick with, or had overcome, cancer. She was doing this work right up to her last year of life.
In 1994 and 1995, Joy and I visited her in Harwell, and on both occasions were received most hospitably. We shall miss her very much.
"We are no longer connected to the Bruderhof," Mr. Ben Chaney stated, president of the Chaney Foundation and brother of James Chaney, the slain Civil Rights worker. "Our affiliation with the Bruderhof Foundation seriously jeopardized the Commission's hearings on capital punishment in Philadelphia. It is clear that the purpose and credibility of the Commission would be undermined by their continuing involvement. I am informed that they continue to use the Commission's name on computer networks to advertise and solicit funds."
When it was suggested that the average rank-and-file Bruderhof member are sincere, idealistic people who one day will awaken to their leaders' wrong direction, Chaney responded, "I don't see how that will happen. The leaders are all I know, and originally, when I talked to them, I thought, 'This is a powerful religious organization seriously concerned about abolishing the death penalty, and they have a few black people in their communities.' But I have found their alliance with Civil and Human Rights issues to be self-serving and misleading. I even question their fundamental concern with these issues as they affect a modern democracy or with the issues of poor people in the outside world. But as far as the Commission's ongoing investigation of Human Rights abuses is concerned, as represented by the current application of the Death Penalty in the United States, the Bruderhof's involvement with our cause must be considered untenable in the present context."
". . . All temporal things are foreign to us and naught is our own, a Christian can neither strive, quarrel nor go to law on their own account; on the contrary, as one whose heart is turned from the world and set upon what is divine, he should suffer wrong. . ." (pp. 112-113)
"That Christians must not go to law is shown by Christ in the words, 'If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away they coat, let him have thy cloak also,' as though he would say, 'Sooner let him take all, than quarrel with him over it and on its behalf go to a court that is foreign to thy nature.' All this is Christ's will, that we may thereby show that we seek not what is temporal and foreign to use, but what is divine and our own. Thus it is evident that a Christian can neither go to law nor be a judge." (p. 114)
As for her suggestion that I "resign from the KIT editorial team" because of my COB connection, I would do so happily if I could be convinced that KIT would continue without me. Am I exaggerating my importance? I hope I am, because some day I would love to get back to my creative writing and music, both of which have been more or less on the shelf for the past eight years. On the other hand, I do feel gratified by all the positive feedback (Rosie's included!) from KITfolks, and I really do feel that this is my God-given task, at least for now.
Please do not blame the muddle over COB's connection with KIT for the current impasse with the Bruderhof (over visiting rights and timely information regarding illness and death of family members inside). I would point out that both these punishing attitudes started well before COB was founded. However it is true that these punishments have been inflicted on more and more people during the past few years and now affect almost everyone 'outside.' Also new is the fact that the Bruderhof now apparently requires their elderly members to sign a letter listing the names of 'outside' family members who should not attend their funeral. This appears to be the leadership's response to an attorney's successful intervention on behalf of Andrew Bazeley so that Andrew could attend his mother Bronwen's funeral. The innate cruelty of forcing this letter-signing needs no further comment.
I realize there are KIT readers who feel irritated by having been lumped together with the more activist COB members by the Bruderhof, and I agree that we must try to keep the differences more clear. Perhaps we also need other groups, such as 'Concerned Relatives of the Bruderhof,' 'Friends of Darvell,' and my own personal dream, 'United Bruderhof Workers of America, AFL/CIO.' And Rosie, no one to our knowledge has tried to harm Bruderhof business relationships. A possible boycott of Community Playthings was discussed, at least once, a year or so ago in a brainstorming session on a private computer conference. If the Bruderhof learned about this discussion, then once again they were breaking the law by illegally spying into private e-mail areas, as they did once before on the Prodigy computer network. Also I called the MOVE group in Bakersfield once to find out more about their Bruderhof connection, but merely inquired politely about what was going on (they have developed a special program for teaching skills to physically challenged children). As far as I know, no one has asked anyone to stop buying Bruderhof products although, personally, I would not stop associating with someone who did. Why?
Because the boycott is a time-honored technique against abusive management, utilized by such unions as Cesar Chavez's (highly respected by the Bruderhof in days of yore) own United Farm Workers of America for protesting unfair and illegal employment practices. I personally believe that unfair and illegal employment practices exist in the Bruderhof today because member/workers are not covered by Unemployment Insurance or Workers Compensation, not to mention Social Security and health insurance. Even volunteer workers for Greenpeace enjoy rights that Bruderhof member/workers do not, such as the right to ask for a new job, for information about the work they are doing and to question changes within the structure of the organization, to refuse a task, to be treated fairly so that they don't feel used or abused. If you leave Greenpeace, you have the right to a reference letter that includes the skills and responsibilities undertaken during your work at there. How do Bruderhof management practices compare with Greenpeace's?
There are various KIT "levels of communication" in existence, so let's list them:
1) The KIT Newsletter -- a monthly, mailed to approximately 1,000 addresses world-wide.2) The KIT Newsletter -- a monthly, posted on the Internet, accessed by approximately 300 people a month. We do not post it until the Sunday after the Thursday when the bulk of KIT's are mailed.3) The Hummingbird Express -- a computer-accessed network, more or less free to any KITfolks in the USA who own a computer (approx. 20)4) "Hummer" secondary access: for people who have Internet accounts but who, for some reason or another, cannot access the Hummingbird Express directly (approximately 5?)5) "Hummer" tertiary access: printouts from "The Hummer," which are mailed by regular mail to a few people who wish to be in touch on that level (approx 2). This could be expanded if there are those who wish this contact. But it would cost extra.6) Phone connections, which are no doubt intense and ongoing.7) Face-to-face, which depends on geographical location and various other factors.
Also, it may well be, as Rosie mentioned, that a majority at EuroKIT 1994 were not in favor of creating a more activist group, but are we all bound by majority rule? A minority always retains the option to carry forward their own agenda as long as it is clear whose agenda it is (and this is where confusion may have occurred). After all, COB was created because of the Bruderhof's refusal to dialogue with a group of KITfolk. As they correctly stated, "KIT is not a membership organization and has no elected representatives." COB was formed as a membership organization for the purpose of dialogue, and after one meeting -- boom! -- the Bruderhof's lawsuit came crashing down out of the blue.
But like it or not, above and beyond all our varied views and concerns that definitely deserve respect, we are all, in our varied ways, in this together. Those of us without relatives inside no doubt will feel less involved, and those with relatives inside will display a spectrum of attitudes ranging from determined and angry confrontation to a desire to make peace in the hopes of receiving back lost privs. But really, whether the Bruderhof decides to dialogue informally or with a mediator, their attorney ultimately will have to meet COB's attorney before a magistrate judge and decide then whether to go into arbitration or continue on into a full-fledged trial where all of these concerns and allegations will have a full airing, at least in the media. I am beginning to think that this might not be such a bad thing, since all normal, decent, loving and humane attempts at communication seem to have failed.
In a recent reply to a KIT reader's question about how the Bruderhof, as Anabaptists, could possibly have initiated a lawsuit, Bruderhof member Andreas Meier stated, "Oh, we are not suing COB members. We're just asking the court for an injunction." That is splitting hairs with the same sort of Domer laser microtome that was applied in Nigeria with the Palmgrove lawsuit (which the Bruderhof withdrew after outraged cries from the neighboring Nigerian bishops). And while on the topic of lawsuits, more Domertalk is going around that "Ramon Sender is suing the Bruderhof." This is an absolute lie, just as it is an absolute lie that I ever said that I would "destroy the Bruderhof as long as they followed Jesus Christ," just as it is an absolute lie that "The Peregrine Foundation is operating under a half-million to a million-dollar grant." All totally untrue, self-serving nonsense. It is the Bruderhof that has managed to winkle roughly a million dollars in grants from various Pennsylvania foundations, and who has polished their Flying Blue Meanies image by purchasing a newer Gulfstream jet [see the Middletown Times- Herald Record clip on p. 4 - ed].
The Peregrine Foundation operates very modestly on individual donations and also on the royalties from my father's book sales in Spain, which I donate in memory of my daughter Xavie and my mother Amparo who was killed by the fascists in 1936. These 'Spanish' donations to Peregrine have averaged out to $5,000 annually over the last four years, but now are slowing down to a mere trickle. The foundation pays not one penny in salaries or commissions, and all the work is done by volunteers. The KIT newsletter publishes and operates on a month-to-month shoestring basis on what you, the readers, donate as well as financial assistance from the Peregrine Foundation with office expenses and telephone costs.
So please do not forget to help us out! Our EuroKIT distributors always have required payments from their readers and have wondered why we do not do the same. I am appealing especially to the many of our avid Hutterite colony readers, so even if you are reading KIT from a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy made for you by a relative, we are counting on your donation (preferably cash, but we will take anything that's equivalent) along with everyone else's who reads these pages. Remember, you are supporting something that is nothing but a very good cause -- and -- every penny counts!
I expressed sadness that they were taking this action and let them know we are always open to talk or visits from them. Karen had a parathyroidectomy the first part of the year that went well, most of these ongoing problems due to her kidney failure. We hope some day to receive a kidney transplant. She has been waiting almost ten years now.
Our two boys are doing well. Eric is 5 and can ride his bike very well. Mark is 3 and always busy. They enjoy their Uncle John and the visits to his farm. Tractors and farm machinery always get them very excited.
Karen and I appreciate all our friends, both in and out of the Community. Back in the late 70s, I was shut out from the Community, so it seems to run in 20-year cycles. I do not agree with some of the actions of those out of the Community, but the same is true of some that are in. My feeling, in talking to them last year, is that they are more paranoid than they have been, but I don't know.
I just thought I'd drop a line and wish everyone a good spring and summer!
P.S. Perhaps if I was a convicted criminal in a capital case I would be able to have visits and communicate with family in the community. Seems a little ironic, don't you think?
"Children of the Bruderhof" is a confusing title. By its title alone I would have to admit to being a member, which I am decidedly not. But I do not disagree with COB's aims. I have contributed to its legal fund, albeit a pittance only, but it was a gesture and that is surely how it was received. For me, it is ultimately a "political" statement. I choose to give voluntarily, offering practical, moral or financial support to causes that I judge as being "good" in the same way as I vote for political parties that seem to travel -- or at least lean -- in the direction I would wish them to go.
I am not against the basic ideas of the Bruderhof and its ideals. I object to the way its members and leaders enact its philosophies. If I may choose between the Bruderhof and COB -- does it actually exist legally? -- then I prefer the latter.
It is useless to weep over past mistakes. So, couldn't you give COB a different, a new name, once all differences have been resolved between COB defendants and the Bruderhof? Why not start a contest with a prize for the best name?
I feel Hans Joerg Meier can present the South American angle of our lost home in Primavera, Paraguay. Welcome back! Norah Allain's story I am reading with much interest, as it tells of a time when we were too young to understand what was happening, but we did feel that all the adult members really 'gave up everything' to live this life of peace in the backwoods of Paraguay, and we do respect them for all the love they gave to us children during this difficult years.
Judy Tsukroff's 'Thoughts on Gossip' I found very valuable. It is so very true that out of fear of falling into the sin of gossip the Bruderhof successfully prevented any discussion of behavior outside the hearing/control of the leaders. This truly handicapped us in every way to evaluate and constructively criticize the dictated beliefs, and eventually prevent us from growing spiritually and intellectually into adult, self-minded people. I believe that the fear of gossip brings hurt and coldness, where a warm heart is needed.
Gossip is negative in that we discuss the negative points of a person or situation in order to discredit a person or situation. To share a concern, on the other hand, has nothing to do with gossip, but in the interest of another person and her life, in an aim to help in some way or other. I think all of us Bruderhof individuals need to make this distinction clearly in order to be really free and able to listen to someone and also find solutions when there are difficulties or problems.
Christrose's letter touched on all the important issues of our working together in either KIT or the COBI situation. I do agree that KIT was the first real means to reach each other, find long-lost friends, share each others' lives since leaving the Bruderhof and, as Christrose puts it, it was also the first vehicle to express our grievances of the past. But from the beginning I felt it was more than just that. We grew up as 'out of this world' and all of us had to find their feet and a way to remain in contact with our families and friends. Most of us felt pretty forlorn and lonesome, except those that managed to leave as a family and just start all over again, including parents and children.
Those of us who were asked to leave 'alone' had no one to turn to as no one could begin to understand where it was that we came from. Also, from the beginning we knew that we must not get into contact with other ex- members, so we didn't out of fear that it might just break the tender thread that still united us with our families inside. When KIT was started in 1989, I heard for the first time of many who were kicked out also and had to make their own living, often with a large family as well. My first feeling was one of joy to find old friends and also to hear about the last years in the Community since I left. So KIT, to me, was and is a very positive foundation which has helped me to grow and mature from 'Bruderhof person' to a free individual.
Raking up the distant past was not, and never is, the purpose of KIT, but rather to provide a forum where we are allowed to speak our minds and find a listening ear amongst others who have been through much the same things. Sharing grief makes the burden somewhat lighter to carry around with us.
What is happening to the Bruderhof today no one would have dreamt possible a few years ago, so maybe it is the right thing not to sit back and let them get deeper and deeper into the mess they created, but rather point out the wrongs that are happening to them again and again. As the Bruderhof has rejected any possibility for us to sit around a table with them to make some issues clear, then maybe an organization of 'Bruderhof-bred' individuals like COBI is the answer, as they cannot deny an organization to listen to.
I think many of us agree with Christrose that the people in the Community are among the most delightful and dedicated people we know, and we most certainly do not want to harm them or destroy the Bruderhof! No, they should live the way they have chosen to live and I will not want to change that in any way. But there are thing of great concern that have happened during these last years:
1: The KIT newsletter is read in all the communities by some leading figure and he or she picks out the negative points and misinterprets them to suit the picture of us as evil ones who are out to destroy them. This is really wicked, as all the positive things are never shared in the Bruderschaft.
2: When you write to someone -- whomever -- in the Community, you will not get an answer. The answer will come either from Joe Keiderling or Christian Domer, who I guess are the brothers responsible for 'dealing with KIT.' The answers are always hard and cold and the person to whom the letter was addressed probably never got it. These two brothers have assumed identities that can only be compared to a religious mafia trying to rule out anybody and anything that might interfere with their personal status as the "big men" with the power in their hands. One of them wrote to someone on March 28th:
"Regarding your message to Christoph, don't bother writing to him. If there is going to be any meaningful progress in our relationship, it is going to involve me or Christian Domer. If you think you are going to bypass us and move forward more easily with someone else, forget it!"...
This is clear language from someone who thinks he holds all the strings. I believe that the average, trusting brotherhood member has no idea what is going on.
3. People were kicked out again and again with large families and no means to support them. They were put on Welfare, which the taxpayer pays for, but the Bruderhof does not. The Bruderhof even interfered with these ex-brothers finding a job in order to support their families. They went out of their way to discredit these ex- brothers and make a life for them 'outside' impossible, or at least even more difficult. Wiretapping was one of the evil methods they resorted to.
4. A Bruderhof child (a young man) whose family still lives in the Community, was handcuffed by the police and taken away when visiting his home community.
5: A lawsuit was started against all those who work for COBI, but the Bruderschaft and outsiders are told that Ramon Sender started a lawsuit against the Bruderhof. They just twist and turn everything around!
6. They enjoy their riches and live at a high standard at the cost of those who were kicked out.
I am sure I could go on and on. So much has happened during these last years, and not in a positive sense at all. What is it then that we can do???
Most of us love the Bruderhof as our home. We were raised as Christians to not let the sun set before making peace with our brothers. What can we do if they do not listen to us? Just let them be -- just let all those who really believe that they are serving God in this way of life go in the opposite direction without opening our mouth?
What about this new rule that old people have to sign a paper that they do not wish their children to come on the hof when they are sick, and also not be present at the funeral? This is sheer craziness! I am sure that Nicki Maas, Gretel Gneiting, Hilda Crawley and others wanted to see their children and die in peace! What can we do about all this? My mother, two brothers and three sisters are still on the Bruderhof, but there is silence, no word -- silence. To break this silence, we have to open our mouths, and I feel we must have a group representing our needs, and this group should be COBI!
I agree that, as most of the difficulties occurred in the States, much has been communicated in the States amongst ex-members by various means: by letter, telephone, little gatherings, e-mail, etc., and maybe we here in Europe feel a bit out of it. But I feel it is all for the same common idea, to find a better, warmer and closer relationship with the Bruderhof. To reach this, all the dirt that has heaped before us will have to be shoveled away first!
I do understand Rosie's concern, but like to look at it in a positive way and hope we will all find a better understanding. The Euro-KIT in Worpswede will most certainly help! The first weekend in May we have a little continental meeting of KITfolks here in Holland at our beach house on the island of Ameland, and we are looking forward to this very much indeed! Much love to all,
Christian Domer, 4/8/96: To Ramon Sender, Blair Purcell, Julius Rubin, and others:
Recent events and communications with you compel me to send you this letter. I don't believe any of us will pretend that we have a reasonable relationship on any level which allows for dialogue and understanding, and I won't entertain any hope that you will even try to understand what I have to say. However, there does continue to be considerable communication by e-mail, letter, fax and attempts to communicate by calling in to radio talk-shows. Therefore I think it is fair to say that you three and others who are active in your "network" feel an urge to express your opinions and have them heard both by people outside the Bruderhof and those of us living within the Bruderhof. Likewise, we from the Bruderhof wish to make it clear where we stand in our "relationship" to you and to respond to the opinions, and allegations you have made.
I intend to be very blunt with this communication as I feel the days of diplomacy are over and that there is a very concentrated, concerted effort on the part of you three and others to impact negatively on the Bruderhof. You are doing everything possible to discredit the Bruderhof. You seem to feel that the Bruderhof is trying desperately to portray a false image of who we are and what we are about. You and others have now elevated your attempts, (or should I say, stooped so low in your attempts) that you now want to project the image of the Bruderhof to as wide an audience as possible of a totalitarian, mind-controlling, brainwashing cult. You seem to do everything possible at a local, regional, national, and even international level to demonize individuals in the community as cult- leaders and goons who do everything necessary (including physical violence, carrying of legal and illegal weapons, financial mismanagement, excessively lavish living, various types of physical, emotional and mental harassment, wiretapping and the likes) as a routine way of operating in order to protect the interests of a few for their own at the expense of the vast majority of Bruderhof members who are innocent victims and well-meaning individuals. You seem to view me, Joe Keiderling and a few others as the "strong-arm goon squad protecting Christoph Arnold who is nothing more than a self- appointed cult leader."
Well, dear Ramon, Blair, Julius and others, I've got news for you. You are wrong -- dead wrong. You three, and a good many others, are headed on a collision course with destiny. The more I have communicated with you in person and by other means, I have seen, not only in your writings and what you say, but indeed in your eyes and your mannerisms, not only a complete misunderstanding of who I am and who we are on the Bruderhof, but also a deep-seated animosity. I also see in you a completely phony projection of who you are and what you are all about. You try in every way possible to show your associates, to friends of the Bruderhof, and to the media, that you walk the high moral ground in this ongoing dispute between yourselves and the Bruderhof. The least you could do is make it clear that it is truly a dispute and that you have a very real agenda regarding the Bruderhof rather than simply trying to "warn the world" as well as those in the Bruderhof of the "terrible things that are going on."
This self-appointed crusade which you have launched seems to be primarily motivated by bitterness, animosity and a narrow-minded bigotry which does not allow you to see and understand what a life of total commitment and obedience to the way of life Christ demands. Ramon, you make it clear that you have no use for a life of surrender and obedience to the way of Christ as shown to us in the New Testament. And therefore, you will never understand the Bruderhof and much of what we do and represent. You, who abandoned your wife to seek sexual relationships with other women and men and who have told us many many times over the years that we are prudish and old-fashioned in our stand for sexual purity, flaunt openly an attitude of "sexual liberation" which promotes premarital and extramarital sex, masturbation, homosexuality and a host of other godless attitudes which are completely contrary, not to the prudish attitudes of the Bruderhof, but to the very essence of a life of purity which Christ taught his followers. You seem to think that following Christ as he taught us 2000 years ago is outdated, old- fashioned and unacceptable. We, on the contrary, experience the true liberation and joy of living a life of sexual purity and fidelity. Not only do you not understand our Christian attitudes, but you hate them.
You, as the quintessential deadbeat dad, abandoned your wife and child for many years. You did nothing to support them in any meaningful way, but wanted only the emotional and very personal gratification of seeing and having a relationship with your daughter at the expense of your former wife. You live and promote a life which is utterly opposed to ours and then try to force your presence upon your children and grandchildren simply to gratify your perceived needs. You write of your own emotional "anguish at being cut off from Xavie" and yet have no feeling at all for the woman who you cut yourself off from.
You three, and many others, have absolutely no understanding of what Christ taught and in fact demanded of a true Christian in terms of submission, humility, repentance and self-denial. Instead of attempting in some way to understand the religious underpinnings of our life together and why we do things the way we do, you continually attempt to "shatter the image of the Bruderhof" through promoting yourselves as authorities on the Bruderhof at many levels. Instead of all this frenetic phone, e-mail, media and publishing activity, I think you need to stop and reflect on the meaning to you of Christ's message. Because of your ignorance, selfishness and deep- seated animosity, you trample underfoot that which is not of us as persons or the Bruderhof as an organization, but that which is much more precious and greater than the sum of the parts.
With your attitudes and actions you will never understand what Christ taught about his Kingdom here on this earth, and you will continue to hurdle at an ever faster pace toward an end in which you personally stand face to face before your Maker and are confronted with the reality of the motives and reasons for your words and deeds.
One thing which may help all of you a great deal in coming to grips with your own personal emotions, vis-a-vis the Bruderhof would be to dialogue in a open forum directly with some of us from the Bruderhof. Instead of calling in to talk shows to try to "expose the lawless and cultic practices of the Bruderhof," why don't you sit down face-to-face with some of us, with or without an audience and discuss the real issues of life? Why spend whatever years you have left on this earth in an obsession with "exposing the leadership of the Bruderhof" when you yourself have absolutely no understanding of what leadership in a Christ-centered Church is supposed to be?
If you base your attempts to understand the Bruderhof on your experiences in free, democratic America at large, free love communities or any other form of organizational practice, you will remain completely in the dark as to the unique expression and experience of our life here at the Bruderhof. I would guess that real commitment is something that all of you are afraid of.
Examine your thoughts and emotions as to why it is that you have such ongoing unending passion to disparage the Bruderhof. Don't tell us or others that your only wish is that the Bruderhof becomes its own best dream when you have absolutely no concept of what constitutes the basis for our dream. Believe me, the realization of our best dream will be your worst nightmare. Thus it is always with unbelievers and haters of the truth. Respectfully,
Ramon: Of course it's been what I call a thirty-year apartheid from Xavie. And curiously, today's the day that Mandela gets out of jail. Maybe this will be the day that I get out of my thirty-year apartheid. I certainly hope so. I was very grateful to Doug Moody for saying that he felt more could have been done to have kept me in Xavie's life, especially in the early years. I feel I made a mistake not to force the issue of visitation rights. That's the worst mistake I made, but I didn't want to go to court. I still felt very much --
Sibyl: At what point did you seriously want to visit her?
Ramon: In the years when I first -- from '60, '61, 62. I mean I was still coming east every summer, and I'd call up and say, "Can I visit Xavie?" And the voice on the other end of the phone would say, "No, I think it's best for her that you don't." That was the stock answer I'd get, and for me, even calling Woodcrest was an emotional trauma. My hands would sweat and I'd start trembling, and I'd think, 'I've got to get through for Xavie's sake. I've got to do this.' And I'd call up and get this 'No,' and then I'd think back and think, 'Well, I do remember how traumatic it is to the children's community to have a parent who's not part of the group come in. Maybe it's best not to intrude.' But finally I did have that one hour with her in the diner in New Paltz [when she was 17]. I could see the delight in her eyes and the excitement of reconnecting. And then suddenly this kind of veil would come over her and she'd pull back and she'd -- I could just read her mind -- 'I shouldn't be so joyful with him. After all, I'm a novice.'
Sibyl: No she didn't think that.
Ramon: 'I still have to witness to the brotherhood's stand on divorce.'
Sibyl: Oh no!
Ramon: But that's what she said in the letter to me. The one letter I got from her said, "I'm sorry I can't be part of your family because of what Jesus said on divorce, in Matthew so-and-so."
Sibyl: Yes, but that doesn't mean you couldn't visit with her.
Ramon: Well, she asked me not to write her and not to be part of her life. She said that in so many words.
Sibyl: I know it must have been very painful, but she did actually love you very much.
Ramon: I know she did. That part I feel -- because that bond I feel with her is so strong, and that's -- if I hadn't felt that we were so much a part of each other, I think I would have been maybe less concerned. Because I felt it was so important for her to have me in her life. And yet -- I mean if I had been some sort of distant father emotionally speaking, then the distance physically might not have mattered so much. But I felt that I'd been so much a part of caring for her in her early years and we were so bound together. I felt that all that was really coming between us was the very sort of legalistic, Bruderhof interpretation, and also I felt that Xavie was sort of protecting you. I think she knew that there was this separation and divorce, and she didn't want to put you on the spot. I think it was a part of her protection of you, but it seems to me that through this all, the real person who suffered was Xavie. The Bruderhof didn't suffer. My pain as an abandoned father was not anywhere the pain Xavie must have felt. I talked with the Moodys about how there were moments when I first left that I wrote [to Woodcrest] about what I now call 'the Geiger/Sayvetz solution.' And the only answers I got were that 'Ramon, you have no marriage with Sibyl outside the brotherhood,' and 'You must repent and come back.' The only real answer I got was the notice that you had been baptized. And I really thought that was a kind of non-answer, but an answer at the same time. This was saying, "There's no marriage unless you become a member, and don't try to find any other kind of solution that would keep you in Xavie's life. This is where it's at.' At that time I really gave up hope, and just went on with my life as best I could. But it's very hard for me to put together a Christian, loving, open, warm attitude towards others with the kind of judgmental, legalistic, harsh feelings I constantly received from the brotherhood.
Sibyl: I think that's partly my fault, Ramon. Certainly that -- I feel in those years if I had been able to see beyond -- I certainly should have -- it was just selfishness on my part -- seen beyond my own pain to your pain, it could have been different. I just didn't do a very good job at first in coping with the divorce. It was a great surprise to me. I misread you at many points, and probably you me. But I just did not realize that you had sort of made a basic decision about the Bruderhof first -- 'I'm not going to go that way I'm going to go another way' -- and so I had the illusion that one should fight for your return inwardly, no other way and then, with patience, something might be given again. That's about as far as I saw.
Ramon: But wasn't it clear at the time that you and Heini came out here?
Sibyl: Oh yes.
Ramon: By then it was clear.
Sibyl: Yes. See, that's why I think that visit didn't go as well as it should have, in a certain way. Because again, I thought -- I didn't realize you'd made a certain basic decision. I thought you were still just someone who was still interested in the Bruderhof but doing things that were inimical to it, you know... Maybe I just was incapable of accepting that reality and several other realities of that time. I'm very sorry, Ramon, that it -- that it -- and ask forgiveness for those years of pain. It's not -- I want to take complete responsibility for it.
Ramon: All these things are always fifty-fifty. I mean, there's never one person who's at fault. I know I made mistakes too, but I've had a lot of anger, a lot of pain building up a long time. So I can't -- couldn't see it as a Christian attitude, and I kept comparing it to the world out here where parents divorce and for the good of the child both parents remain part of the child's life, because both parents know that it's best for the child to have a father and a mother. And then when I tried to understand it from the Bruderhof's point of view... I mean, when we called Woodcrest 'in August, '88, the first person who answered the phone said, "Oh, Xavie's not taking orders right now. She just had her second baby." That's the way I found out I was a grandfather twice over. And then John got on the phone -- that's the first time I spoke to my son-in-law -- and I asked him if we could visit, and he said that he didn't think that was Xavie's wish. And Judy was listening and she just couldn't believe it. She's a counselor with high school kids and has a very diplomatic approach so I let her talk to John. It finally got down to the point where I said to Judy, "Ask him if it has something to do with my novice vows and their stand on divorce, the reason I can't visit." Anyway she did ask him that -- or perhaps I did -- and he said "Yes, it does. That's the reason why." And so again we came up against this kind of very legalistic, by-the-book, stand on divorce and putting that ahead of what was now the -- probably I can't say 'the needs of Xavie,' because Xavie was no longer a child who had these other people making decisions for her, but it seems to me that the wrong decision was constantly made in terms of allowing me to be part of Xavie's life. And there would have been ways to work it out. I mean, maybe you wouldn't have wanted me on property, but maybe there would have been ways to --
Sibyl: No, I wish we had.
Lois Ann: We all wish that.
Dick: We feel that we missed something there, that there could have been a way. And I think -- I mean it involves you and Sibyl, it involves your relationship and also the whole marriage question, the baptism times and so on. But I think -- I mean we only saw you through Sibyl's eyes.
Sibyl: That's the trouble.
Dick: And I think that Sibyl -- the picture we got was that you were more or less a monster. I mean, when you left, I don't know at what point it was, but we were afraid you would come and kidnap Xavie. We moved the family.
Ramon: It never occurred to me.
Dick: No. I believe it, but this came from Sibyl. We moved the family so that you wouldn't know which house they lived in. I think this is what we've been relating to, and it's not a true picture.
Ramon: I don't know where -- there may have been some distraught phone calls during my hippie years, later on.
Dick: Well this -- yes, there were, but I'm talking about from the beginning. This is completely separate from your joining the life or anything like that, but you were her father, you are her father, and I think we could have found a way, and we could have also listened more to your heart.
Lois Ann: And if the rest of us had been carrying that, you know, putting ourselves in your position, we would have felt your need more. And we feel so very sorry. . . . .
Ramon: A lot of my concerns of a more general nature about the Bruderhof have to do with my desire to see it as a different kind of group. And I tried with the Moodys to express what I would like to see the Society of Brothers be for my grandchildren's sake, so I don't have to perhaps repeat that now.
The way the newsletter was born is that I called Tom Potts up and said I'd like to come up and interview people about Xavie's life, and he said. "I don't think you can do that." And I said, "Well, then I'll have to start interviewing ex-members, people on the outside who knew her.' And I started with one phone number, Vince Lagano's. He was the only one whose phone number I had. And he gave Dave Ostrom's, and Dave Ostrom gave me two more. And those two gave me four more, and within a month I'd spoken to maybe forty people, and they all wanted to know where all the others were. Because as you well know, the Society of Brothers does not make a point of networking out addresses to people on the outside.
So I said, "Well, I'll start a little newsletter and let people share. There's a lot of anger and hurt, and maybe the newsletter can be like a support group, like the 12-Step groups, Adult Children of Alcoholics." There are many different kinds of survivor groups. And the thing just snowballed. To me, it was obvious from the letters I was receiving that it was fulfilling a deep need for people to be able to let if all out. And because we are not geographically all in the same place, that this was the only way we could deal. And I was delighted when we started getting responses from people in the communities, and I was very happy when Doug said that he felt the newsletter was having a positive effect. Now I'm getting into general stuff, but I'm trying to say for the future what I'm hoping for is that the aspects of the Society of Brothers that have caused problems, let's say, in the past are now also in the past and that now you're more open to reconciling, moving forward to a newer and better way.
Dick: We long very much to reconcile, and anything that helps that. I mean it's not reconciling if the newsletter turns into kind of a general attack on Heini, for instance, which it so much is. If that -- if that leads to reconciliations which I think it has... I mean we were with Dave yesterday, and today I hope as much for it. That's what we also want. . . . .
Ramon: [Discussing the KIT Newsletter] You have to understand that people need to pour out their hate feelings too. I mean, hatred, anger cannot just be held in. That's one of the big mistakes we've learned, is that you repress these kind of things, just have them gnaw away at you inside --
Dick: No, they shouldn't be repressed, that's for sure.
Ramon: They need to have an outlet, and that's why 12-Step groups exist. That's why Alcoholics Anonymous has been so successful.
Dick: But shouldn't the outlet be between the two people involved?
Ramon: What if somebody has written -- like one person told me he wrote over a hundred letters to Heini over a period of years and never received a response.
Lois Ann: That sounds so unlike Heini.
Dick: Well, now, whoever it was, can try again.
Ramon: Yes, that's true. Maybe one of the reasons he'll be heard is that I published his letter in the newsletter and his address is there and he gets a letter. That's the kind of thing.
Dick: I don't want to criticize you for --
Ramon: There's been a lot of non-response over the years where I think a person's attitude was judged from a letter that was written and it was felt best not to respond. I think there may be a high paranoia index on the Bruderhof sometimes. I know Doug said, or was it Ruby who said, "There was a point, Dave, where I was really afraid to go walking in the woods because I was afraid someone was going to take a shot at me."
And I think this kind of amplification of emotions and fears -- see, one of the things that makes the Bruderhof work is the group resonance, where a feeling, a good feeling, can resonate through the group and life amplified up into something bigger than what the single individual would experience. But that can happen with negative emotions too.
Lois Ann: Oh it can.
Ramon: And a paranoia, a fear, can spread and amplify and become something that is -- where a person is not responded to out of fear.
Dick: Right. No, that can happen and it has happened.
Ramon: And yet so often -- anger --hatred -- is not the opposite of love. Indifference is.
Sibyl: That's what we were saying.
Ramon: When you're getting terrific hate feelings from somebody, that's really a crying-out for communication. And in Dave's case, he went all the way to a lawsuit because he wasn't getting any answers to his need. And it just shows to what an extent something can snowball and get out of control. So I don't know. My feeling is that when you get a really hate-filled letter, you should be very happy because it means that somebody is really loving you quite a bit in a kind of odd way.
Sibyl: Wants to catch your ear very badly.
Ramon: It's the indifference, I think, which is the opposite of love. There are some very damaged people out here. And the sad thing is, I think, that when you make a mistake as an individual in your life, it's bad and it can be destructive to others around you. And yet, when a group makes a mistake, it's just so much more penetrating. I mean, it just sweeps out over so many people. . . . . . . .
Dick: So do you feel, Ramon, that this talk this morning heals something for you?
Ramon: Oh, of course. I tell you, just in the past couple of weeks, just the thought that -- just even the messages Sibyl sent me over the computer lines -- I was falling asleep one night and I just had this tremendous wave off happiness and feeling of a burden being lifted. I didn't realize -- it was one of those things you've lived with for so long and didn't realize it was there, almost. And I've been having incredible dreams. My dream life has been going crazy. It's like some deep, good change that I'm very happy for.
Lois Ann: Oh, Ramon, we're so thankful.
Sibyl: So thankful.
Dick: Well, we really feel the pain you've had.
Sibyl: Yes. And do you feel you could possibly forgive me or would you like me to talk more about where I should have changed, where I should have been different? Because I'm deeply sorry. I don't want to press.
Ramon: I understand. I -- I just -- I think I'm going to have to absorb all this for a few weeks. Thank you for offering. . . . .
Sibyl: Yes, yes. But I am so sorry. I also had the attitude that Xavie couldn't mean anything to you, really. And that was just terrible on my part, just terrible. I'm sure I colored other people's opinions including John's.
Ramon: There's really not much difference between a mother's nurturing instinct and a father's. That's something that society-at- large has begun to realize and respect more and more. It's a change in attitude in the society where we realize that a lot of fathers were emotionally damaged by being cut off from their children.
Maybe I was wrong [not to have pushed harder to see her]. Maybe I should've shown up screaming at the Bruderhof and picketed the front gate. I had fantasies, never of kidnapping her but certainly of making enough of a nuisance of myself so that I could impress you with the depth of my concern for her and wanting to be part of her life. I feel the big mistake I made was not to go to court early and establish my visitation rights. You may not see that as a mistake but I do, even if it had meant bringing a ripple in the children's community of this odd situation where a father who was not part of the group was coming to visit his child. Still, it would have been reality, and you would have had somehow to accommodate to this as the way things were.
I have no real excuse for not doing that. The only excuse I can give is a real fear and anxiety on my part whenever I contacted anyone there. It was really, really hard for me to do so. There's a very special feeling connected with that -- a very hollow, empty feeling in the stomach. It's like I can feel all the group beaming hatred at me, and it's hollowing me out inside and making me feel very empty and powerless. I think it was that powerless feeling that kept me from the issue earlier on a legal level.
I'm sorry I didn't do that now, but instead I kept this hope alive. I kept thinking, 'Well, Xavie doesn't want to see me now, but she will at some point.' I'd send a card or try a gentle letter of some kind, or write the brotherhood again. I was concerned that she wasn't marrying, and I thought 'Maybe it's because she hasn't had a father in her life, and yet I thought, 'Well, sure, she's had a lot of them alternate father figures.' And yet it concerned me that she wasn't, and I thought perhaps if I was more in her life, that would help her in some way. And then, when we heard that she had married and we had grandchildren, we came back here thinking, 'Oh now that's really wonderful! Now maybe that she has grandchildren, she will want me to part of their lives.' We were back here about two months and got a letter from John announcing her death and I couldn't believe it. ĦI said "Oh-oh, there they go again! They're afraid I'm going to try to see her and they've spirited her off somewhere and pretended she's died." That was my first reaction. It was just total disbelief. And yet, I had to realize, gradually, that it was true. Then I said, "Why couldn't they have called? Why couldn't there have been one last meeting with her?" Why couldn't we've just had the grace of a final moment together?" But I feel her spirit very strongly, and I know how much she loves me. . . . .
Sibyl: Yes. Ramon I'd like to -- I don't know whether it would help or it would mean anything to you, but if, you know, you feel -- I would even ask for church discipline for, you know my part in all this and take it on very gladly.
Ramon: No, no.
Sibyl: And if Miriam or Judy feel there's anything, some vital steps that I'm missing, I wish they would let me know. I really want it to change now, that you would feel very welcomed to be with the grandchildren.
Dick: Yes, I hope that you can find it in your heart, Ramon, to forgive this whole thing, painful as it is, also for your own sake. Judy: I hope I can see them too.
Sibyl: Oh yes! Of course.
Lois Ann: Oh yes! . . . .
Ramon: Well, you know, Sibyl, I appreciate your offer of putting yourself under church discipline. I'll tell you, the only trouble -- problem -- I have aside from the -- I mean, I'm very grateful for your visit, and I really know this is going to be a very healing and important thing for me. But I still have a question of 'Why? Why now, rather than a year earlier, or five years earlier?' What brought this to happen now?
Sibyl: You could just analyze that forever, in a way. You know, why did Xavie die? That's another question. And maybe it took that to start breaking both our hearts. And --
Dick: I mean, is there an answer to that, Ramon? I don't think there is. It's the moment given, and certainly behind the fact that there wasn't a year ago or five years ago is our guilt -- but we can't recreate time. There are these questions in every life and every relationship, and I think the only answer is forgiveness. And for us, our life is only possible because of the reality of forgiveness. I mean, it's not only you, but we also sin against each other in the community constantly in little ways or bigger ways, in not responding to somebody's need or being cold of being wrapped up in ourselves or being blind in all the ways that -- all the human foibles there are. But there always is the possibility of forgiveness, and it's something precious. Now no one can be forced to forgive. It's not forgiveness then. I mean, that can only come free-willingly from a person's heart.
Sibyl: It might have been while you were out of the room, Dick, that
Ramon understandably said that he has to really absorb --
Dick: No, I was here. That's the case. Sure, we understand that.
Sibyl: I really respect that. I just want to make sure. If I have left any obstacle, please challenge me with it. I've thought of a lot of the things like that too, about "Why have you been the way you were, Sibyl?" And perhaps stronger than any time in my life I've -- help --look, the only time you're alive and functioning is in the present. You've got to start in the present. That's the only time we can make it better. And I guess forgiveness is the way of sort of giving back the present, or creating the new present, utterly sliced apart from the terrible, bad past. . .
Ramon: Well, the questions that I have about 'why now' -- the irony is that this comes after I've put considerable pressure on the Bruderhof through the newsletter. It makes me wonder, 'Is this change of attitude due to the pressure that I've managed to bring on the group?' And does that make it a really sincere move on their part or what? . . . . Miriam Edith Arnold just wrote me again. She says that she's had some calls from the community. Someone was asking forgiveness on some specific issues. She said, "It's not the specific issues that are the problem. It's the underlying fact that when you have a group where certain people have power over other people, these things will always continue to happen."
She said, "Unless the basic structure changes, these kinds of problems will recur over and over again." And I thought she had a point, the idea being that you can always clear up individual issues. You can ask forgiveness and go on from that point, but what's causing these things to continually crop up over and over again? What's causing this tremendous wash of pain and anger that's coming back from all these people on the outside? Is it something in the structure of the place that's not dealing with people correctly? Is it the fact that it is -- I mean, if it's not democratic, and you say it's not authoritarian, what is it? I think Miriam's got her finger on it better than anyone when she says, "When you give power to certain people over other people, is where the problems begin."
Dick: Well if it's something in the structure of the Bruderhof, why is it that most of this hatred that comes is against Heini? If it's something in the structure of the Bruderhof -- I mean, Heini's been dead now for eight years, and before that, he was only on one place. He wasn't in Primavera in '61 the whole time, or he wasn't in this place or that place or that place, but he gets blamed for everything that happened, pretty much. There are many of us who have been Servants of the Word and who have been part of this so-called structure that Miriam-Edith is talking about, and why does it all fall on Heini? . . . .
"We have to find a different way. It is a very modest way because we refuse to attempt the reform of social conditions by political means. We abstain from all efforts to improve conditions by legislation; we refrain from playing any kind of role in the civic order of society. It may look as though we were withdrawing and isolating ourselves, as though we were turning our backs on society. In fact we are building up a life that is disengaged from the established churches with their autonomy and self-sufficiency. We want to free ourselves of all these things... to follow Christ by living like the early Church in Jerusalem. Such a life means that a quite new reality has to determine everything in social, economic, and religious affairs, a new reality based on the unity and unanimity given by the Holy Spirit."
These outer events are triggering a flood of memories and emotions. So the question uppermost for me, in terms of our little group most of us once shared in: what now, when the leaders shamelessly and without any hesitation tell us they need to protect themselves and there is nothing wrong with that? We also know that many (of the men only?) are taking up shooting as a sport. Who believes that people in the Bruderhof are killing animals for sport, for pleasure?!
There was a call-in program on National Radio (BBC) on the question of gun laws. A retired doctor called in, saying that doctors had at present to sign certificates, often in great hurry and without time to investigate a person's character or emotional disposition, to give permission for that person to carry a rifle. In his career, he many times had to do this for farmers, to control wildlife. Three times a farmer committed suicide, using his own rifle. The retired Doctor was for doctors throughout the country refusing to sign these certificates. You may ask, "What is the connection?" I have never seen or experienced as much emotional pain and despair as in the Bruderhof. My deep concern, now that at least the men have easy access to rifles if not guns -- who is to say what harm to themselves or others someone could do in a desperate moment, of which there are so many in the harsh, disciplinary system of the Bruderhof?
Most of us have given up trying to communicate with the people in the Bruderhof, but after this event, I need to try again with leaders like Milton Zimmerman who for years used to be responsible for young men getting exemptions for Compulsory Service in USA. How does he and all the other, especially maturer members of the Bruderhof square it in their hearts and minds? As I said earlier, the Dunblane tragedy and how the nation and people all over the world responded brought back so many memories of similar, if not identical, human reaction to unspeakable pain & horror, such as when in the Bruderhof. And to think that 18 years later, I can still feel surprise that the Bruderhof wasn't unique at all in its response to grief. That there is just as much, if not more, genuine unconditional love and support being shown to the families and friends involved in this horrendous tragedy. To think one of the hardest things I ever did was agreeing to leave the Bruderhof because I was led to believe that nowhere was true love lived out the way it was in there. Sadly we know that this is not so anymore, for people who have challenged the leadership and not "repented".
"True Love", ...What in the name of all that was true and beautiful in the Bruderhof can we now do to help the present leadership realize what could befall them if they go on as we keep reading in KIT.? It may never have been spelled out in so many words, but in my upbringing "Those who live by the sword perish by the sword", an important biblical saying that made a lasting impression.
KIT Editors, what a wonderfully appropriate way of ending the March KIT with "A Story By Terry Dobson!" Thank you! I assume that Christian Domer e-mailed you immediately to tell you that an International Household Meeting by conference telephone was organized to read this story and "take it to heart." and "repent". Hallo Christian and Joe, I am just so relieved to be able "to take this story to heart" without my loyalties being torn apart by fear of what you would be doing to me and my family if I was still in the Community. Sadly, every time I read KIT these days I shudder to think what it would be like if I was still "inside." I am sure I would be on sedatives all the time! What are you doing to yourselves and all you love?.
The Community has always believed they were the only ones living out 'True Love' and were "the chosen ones". "True Love" that now feels no shame as a pacifist group to teach its young men to shoot in self defense. "True Love" that raises Alsatian dogs for the express purpose of attacking human intruders. "They are only taught to attack the arms and the legs," one reliable source has been told. "True Love," that members are too scared to question and speak up lest they be thrown out without any support or warning. In the 1990s, I feel this is a far more frightening prospect than in the 60s -80s. There was work then, and whatever a person left for, I believe they were given helpful references to make a start outside. "True Love"......... If only I knew how to help "save" the Bruderhof from the disaster they are headed for with the way they are carrying on. It seems to be a total hypocrisy now. Must close. Loving thoughts to each one -also you reading this in the Bruderhof
Carol Beels Beck, 3/24/96: Ben Cavanna suggested that some KIT readers might be interested in the following. Last year I was offered a chance to go on a Women's Development Course 'Spring Board' offered through my work in Social Services. It is a Nationally respected course, and involves going on three one-day workshops over three months, plus studying a manual and attending four support group sessions of about 10 women. I then was chosen to do the training to become a 'facilitator' for helping other women work through the course and be given support. (So I am trained to offer my services to anyone coming out of the Bruderhof to 'Learn about the World' about you, assertiveness, raising your profile, blowing your own trumpet, information is power, setting goals, making it happen, etc.!)
The course is equally useful for men as for women. At the opening workshop, a woman who has an unusual story to share is asked to give a talk to up to 100 women. I was asked and accepted this challenge in January. Spring Board taught me that life is all about choosing to jump the next hurdle or not (believing in myself and not giving in to doubts and fears.) So I went ahead in spite of plenty of the latter! Here is what I said:
I am glad for this opportunity to share with all of you what an important milestone it has been for me to take the Spring Board course. An important quote has been, "Spring Board is all about taking charge and making small steps forward." E.g. at work, over the past years I have become increasingly angry, and frustrated with 'bottleneck' type management. (I work in a day center for the elderly). Through the assertiveness workshop and the manual, I recognized with a bang that I was reacting passively or aggressively, rather than assertively to difficulties. I used every opportunity to make contact with someone who had shared something that struck me as helpful or important to work through the frustration, or to help me move forward. I found the more I owned up to my difficulties and lack of knowledge with a view to getting direction, the quicker things seemed to change for the better. Spring Board taught me how willing women in the S.B. network are, but also all kinds of people as well, to help those who want to help themselves. Many people get a 'buzz' out of being asked for advice. It boosts their morale and yours for having the guts to ask! S.B. taught me (and Co- counselling for Ben C's sake!) how very important it is to own my strengths. I enjoy and am good at networking, listening to people and sensitive to their needs. It is very important to me to be as truthful and open, helpful and kind as possible to all that seek me out. A year ago I would have felt I was boasting and out of order to say this publicly!! (For members of the Bruderhof reading this, it is poison to anyone's morale and growth to be only owning one's weaknesses. Concentrating on all our gifts and strengths to help others and ourselves is a far better road to travel along, I have found!)
I would now like to illustrate how important S.B. values are to me by tracing my own history from childhood. For many of you, it may be difficult to identify with my story. I was born and brought up in Paraguay in a Christian Community. At age 14, my family moved to England into 'private life.' I went to a large State School for girls in Hereford. You can imagine the culture shock, having not even heard the word "sex" before and little knowledge of the process! I felt isolated, but passed with high grades in 5 G.C.E's. Most thanks must go to my parents without whose patient help and support I would have floundered. We moved back to the Community in Bucks. Very quickly I became restless and unhappy. I was eager to go and do nurse's training, but the leaders wanted me to experience Community life first, working full time at 16 in domestic-type duties. In retrospect, until I broke with the communities a few years ago, I see people on authority making decisions for me, based on what they believed was best for me rather than encouraging me to look closely at my own thoughts and feelings and letting me make my own decisions and mistakes. So I ended up doing a dress manufacture course in England. We then moved to the USA where I did a training in Food Service Supervision. I did these trainings because I so much wanted to give my whole life to the Community. They needed girls (not boys!) who would train in these skills. So I gave up my wish to be a nurse to help 'the Cause.'
Over the years, while living "outside," I always was chronically homesick for the Community. And yet, when once again living and working in the Community, I very quickly felt under enormous pressure to conform and fit in. I could not recognize the reasons for my unhappiness at the time. I believed wholeheartedly in the philosophy and practical application of the communal life, but I have an (irritatingly to some) inquiring mind and, try as I would, I could not submit. At age 35 I suddenly recognized I had no opinions of my own and could not make any decisions for myself. Frightening! But the prospect of leaving was even more frightening, even though the leaders by this time were keen for me to do so! I clung on, begging to stay, but this small voice, like a spiral of energy rising from deep within me, kept nudging me -- a sense of excitement, newness awaiting me if I dared to go out into the evil world.
My deep wish was to go and live and work for a doctor in West Virginia, (a friend of the Community). Within a week of my finally admitting I couldn't go on anymore, I was welcomed with open arms by this doctor and his wife. To suddenly be valued and needed and not judged sinful for every little negative emotion -- this sense of freedom -- being able to 'breathe' -- was such a new experience after having for so long suppressed all my creativity and intuition. It was such a confidence-builder, working and living with these kind Mennonites. But even though I was so much happier "outside," I still yearned and begged to go back But the leaders did not want me back. They knew I could not submit blindly to authority. That little spiral of urge for excitement and growth kept directing me away, in spite of my homesickness! So I made the big decision to come back to England and to look after my sister who only had 3 months to live, (suffering from breast cancer). Rebecca was leaving behind her two young boys, aged 8 and 10 years, and a devoted husband.
It was to be a very important three months being together before my sister died. We had all but lost touch over the years. Also it freed me to get to the bottom of emotions I had suppressed for 17 years for a farmer, about my age in England. These yearnings had caused me a lot of trouble in the Community because it was so important to me to be totally honest with my feelings, and I could not become a Novice and be 'hankering' after a man outside. That all had to be totally 'surrendered' first. I found out he was still single and eager to meet. We soon were engaged. At the age of 37, my first opportunity to get to know a man, the only man I had ever been seriously drawn to, so far. We both came from a Christian background where it was sinful to jump into bed together before marrying -- even if you were not thinking about much else when together. Puzzling though, gradually both of us realized we could not marry. He was married to the farm, literally 24 hours a day, and I was so drawn to helping people and pursuing my journey of personal growth.
Martin Luther King's words that had made a deep impression on me for some time: "If you're not sure, don't!" I was learning to listen to my own inner voice. Much as I loved this man, the gnawing doubts left me and him feeling very unsure. So we parted. His parting words were: "I love you too much to cage you!" How true. During this time in 1982, I also started learning to drive, thanks to my sister and her husband! Rebecca would not hear that I was unfit to learn, as I had been led to believe in the Community. I passed in 1983, second try. It was so liberating and proved to me that I could do it, even though the Community had felt the opposite. It was one of the first things that made me start questioning the God-given rightness of everything the Community did and believed!!
I then worked for four years in a Quaker Residential Home in East Sussex, which had a lot of positive aspects of community life but also gave me a sense of independence. I started going for counseling, which helped me match up better what was happening inside me with what was happening in my outside world. However I was still not able to make significant decisions. I had met this man on a conference. We felt very drawn to each other, but I felt too fearful to get to know him better without Mary's (my counselor's) support and guidance. I am ever grateful to her, because 10 years later, it's the best thing he and I have ever done! He has been my main support in adjusting to the western, private property life style, and in coming to terms with having very little contact with my elderly parents and close relatives and many loved ones in the Community. He is also so supportive in all my Spring Board type personal growth ventures.
Since trying to find my feet "outside," I have been helped and supported by so many very caring and generous people. I only have time here to mention one 86-year-old woman Belinda [Manley - ed] who had been my much loved Kindergarten teacher. I and many other children were heartbroken when she left because there were so many things she could not tolerate in the community any more. In 1983 when I was feeling totally bereft of all I had held so dear, she got in touch and picked up the pieces. We spent hours talking together. So much started falling into place, and it gave me the courage to start listening to my own doubts and questions about things I could not accept anymore about the Community's attitude. Because of doing training that would help the Community and not what I deeply wanted to do, which was nursing or nursery nursing, since leaving I have not felt drawn to work in the areas I trained in but towards working with people directly in a caring way. So it has always been a handicap that I didn't get the training that would have been best for me as a person.
I am now trying to rectify this by gradually training to be a counselor. I now want to show the contrast between the aims and objectives of Spring Board with the conditioning of my upbringing. Firstly, the very authoritarian leadership that demanded unquestioning obedience, in contrast to S.B. encouraging us to think for ourselves and be assertive; explore all that is creative within ourselves; using our initiative and intuition; taking control of our own lives; setting our own goals and objectives. Secondly, in the Community we were aiming for total denial of ourselves, asked to renounce totally our own wishes, opinions and positive use of self determination and will. In contrast, S.B. urges us to value ourselves, that we have rights to our own opinions and to be heard. To give ourselves "me time" (nurture and spoil ourselves) on a regular basis. Very Important!
Thirdly, in my Community, people were encouraged to be more and more judgmental of themselves and all around them. People had their own agendas, were very controlling and put tremendous pressure on adults, children and guests to conform. In contrast S.B is about acceptance and tolerance; celebrating and drawing out each others' differences. In S.B. we are encouraged to express our own thoughts and opinions and to be ourselves. Fourthly, in the Community (and historically) men are the head of the family. Only men have the God-given authority to lead the Community and to lead religious services. The woman is the helper. S.B. is for equal rights for both sexes. Good leadership qualities are found equally in both sexes. In S.B. no gender should dominate.
Fifthly, the Christian teachings and beliefs and values that members aspire to in the Community are done so in deep sincerity. In spite of having had to reject so much of what I'd wholeheartedly believed in the past (especially the misuse of power, the way dissenters are treated and the preoccupation with "sin") the Christian teachings learned in the Community have always remained of central importance to me. But over the years I have come to value and respect other religious and spiritual teachings as well. It makes me very sad that the Community is so narrow and dismissive of other paths, and like some other groups, feels that its way is the only and best way -- sadly in quite an arrogant manner. S.B. in contrast encourages valuing and respecting each others' differences from the spiritual or religious to agnostic.
It has been very painful for me to have to admit these contrasts, to myself and to you all, because the Community actually brought me up to believe and aspire to quite a number of these S.B. values, but sadly not in practice. However, the seeds were sown for me in the Community. Since starting S.B. a year ago, I have gained so much confidence. I'm determined that nothing is going to stop me from reaching my full potential, and my husband backs me fully. S.B. is very much about helping each other, cheering each other on, but it's also very much about having fun together and learning to enjoy each other's differences. In the S.B. manual, it points out that women who experienced "luck" in their lives actually were people who: set themselves goals, plucked up courage, kept going despite many difficulties, told people what they wanted, refused to give up, responded positively to failure. THIS IS THE KIND OF LUCK I WISH EACH ONE OF YOU!!!
I was given a standing ovation. Several asked questions and expressed warm appreciation. One question asked was; have you ever wanted to start your own Community? I said no. I have thought lots about joining another, but have come to the realization that I just want to do my bit wherever I am to encourage community, by loving kindness, tolerance, acceptance, honesty etc. etc. The organizers said they had never before found the audience so attentive and interested. I said it's ironic, but it is the Community that taught me to speak always from the heart. (But sadly they are not living and speaking from the heart anymore. No wonder so few people are joining them, and they are experiencing so much antagonism.) With much love,
I find Norah Allain's life story very interesting. I applaud the fact that she uses the real names of people. This helps us who grew up during this time, with a place in time in regard of where we were, and why the frequent changes and moves of adults. Norah, I have to beg your indulgence in coming to the defense of my father. While we all have our idiosyncrasies, it should be mentioned that my father Kurt had a near-fatal accident in the sawmill in Isla during the early years. He was in a coma for several weeks with a fractured skull and fractured mandibles. It took more than a year for him to be completely mobile again. I have been told that he never was quite the same again after that accident, which also in later years developed into Parkinson's Disease. I was too small to remember details, so my real knowledge of him is after this episode. My father was not always in agreement with certain developments on the Bruderhof, and was frequently quite blunt about them. Because of his accident, people seemed to give him more latitude to disagree and did not take him quite seriously. I'm inclined to think that he used it as a facade at times to be able to express himself and not get into major trouble. This worked in Primavera, but once Heini Arnold dissolved Primavera and all the other Hoefe, this did not work anymore and his opposition to what was going on landed him in trouble with Heini, who proceeded to exclude him, send him away and ruin him for life. They took him back when he was a mere shell of himself and could offer no further resistance. At home in Primavera, we had a wonderful family life. We adored, loved and respected him. We always have been a very close family, but now have been torn apart for my writing in KIT. In their words, I am evil and write horrible things about the SOB. I asked my mother if she read my contributions, and she said "No, not interested."
Now they have forced my mother to send me an official letter stating that I cannot visit there even when she dies. The other day I tried to call her by phone and was refused access. I do not understand how the SOB can reconcile this type of action and at the same time defend murderers.
Norah, you are on to something! The early Bruderhof members were saddled with a guilt complex which was most astutely inoculated by Eberhard Arnold himself, blaming the members for his impending death. My father writes in his diary specifically about this -- about Eberhard's last days on the Roehn Bruderhof. Heini picked up on this with the stunt he pulled in Primavera, and of course later when he dissolved the South American Hoefe and those in Europe. It appears that he has less influence over those who joined in England. You are quite correct, the British members were both more democratic and with that, more independent. Keep writing!
Mike Caine, we went to school together, were friends, and I agree had a great childhood with lots of fun. I'm referring to our years in Loma Hoby until you were sent to the USA when we lost touch. You never said it specifically, but your references about Heini always implied that something unusual had happened. I never gave it too much thought, Mike, because people express themselves differently. You like the sledge hammer approach, others are more subtle and diplomatic, but equally effective -- frequently with more credibility. Signing off as your friend,
Beyond expressing feelings of hurt, betrayal or disappointment there ought to be a commitment to getting on with life, learning from past experiences and yet willing to move on from the past to present and future commitments. These will not be haunted by the tyranny of a totalitarian regime, but will be prepared to accept the responsibilities of personal choice to be free from past thought control, 'group think' and taking control of one's mind.
Leaning to think anew is not easy, but one can develop habits of thinking in the immediate present. That's where people are living now and into the future. The people who founded this newsletter have grown by helping themselves and others adapt to a changed reality of lifestyle. With some, it was a voluntary choice of change, while others have been cast out of the community to which they gave their trust and their commitment. But however you got to be on the 'outside' it will be out there you are shaping your futures.
One may learn from M. Scott Peck or vocation/job-finding manuals such as What Color Is Your Parachute by R. Nelson Bolles, or a 1995 book reviewed in KIT, Cults In Our Midst by Singer and Lalich. Any or all of the information may help people establish their own frame of reference and work out their own solution of personal lifestyle. My personal concern for the intentional community movement is that there be a voluntary accountability to one another. Also a code of ethics that the movement does not simply demand absolute commitment from members without some corresponding commitment to those members' welfare on the long term, whether within or beyond the group. At best, even a prison has some program to help the prisoner make an adjustment to life when their prison term is up.
Concerning Christianity, Jesus asked people, "Follow me." There was no coercion, but also the life of Jesus followed the example of the law and the prophets. This would entail the art of listening, reading and writing with some degree of comprehension or understanding, with the promise that "if you seek me with all of your heart, you will find me." So let us quit looking on account of having hit a rough spot of road or even having gotten off the road or missing it. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing or false prophets. Any number of hypocrites or even all hypocrites do not make the real thing any less true, any more than a counterfeit dollar bill discounts the value of a real dollar. No one counterfeits a three-dollar bill. The hypocrite wants the prestige of a religious life but not the price of it.
Anyone hoping to visit Brisbane, Australia, or sharing my interest in the cooperative movement or credit unions or intentional communities, please feel welcome to write me at the above address.
Chris Arnold and Hans Meier grew up modest Christians, with homespun clothes, simple comforts and little exposure to worldly tribulations. Yet these 20-year-olds from the Woodcrest Bruderhof in Rifton are experiencing some high-tech, high-priced twists: they are jet pilots.
"When I try to explain the background of the (Hutterite) Church," Meier said, "people ask, 'Is that like Amish?' and I say, 'No, we've got airplanes.'"
They don't have just airplanes: they have a super-luxurious jet capable of trans-Atlantic flight, a Gulfstream G3. For the often- controversial sect of the Hutterite Church, it's a speedy way to spread their mission and an entry into the big-bucks business of jet charter with clients such as Mel Gibson, Sharon Stone and the rock group, Van Halen.
"(Gulfstream) has gotten the reputation of being the Cadillac of aviation," said Carl Hanft, director of operations for Wayfarer Aviation in Westchester County, a corporate jet charter and management firm similar to the Rifton operation.
Figure about $8 million for the plane, built in 1986, if it were bought used today. Except operating costs of nearly $2,000 each hour the engines are on, not including crew salary, airport fees and leasing costs. Figure at most 11 passengers relaxing in sumptuous leather seats on jaunts ranging several minute to up to seven hours.
As community members and their clients trek about in the Cadillac of the skies, some of their grounded neighbors in Esopus feel the plane is a slap in the face. Bruderhof Communities in Esopus has a pending lawsuit in which it seeks tax exemptions on most of its property because of its religious status. If granted the exemptions, other property owners' tax bills could go up. Now, only small portions of the Bruderhof used strictly got religious purposes are off the tax rolls.
"I think it's kind of shoving it in our face, and it's difficult to take when people connected to religious pursuits are doing this to us," said former Esopus Town Board member Barbara Patrick. "I think they ought to think about their public image a little more."
They do, said Christian Domer, responsible for Bruderhof corporate affairs and manager of Rifton Enterprises Air Charter.
"We realize there may be people who use the jet as a issue," he said. "For us, we'll happily address that and say we are happy to have found a way to use tools for the betterment of mankind."
When private charters aren't paying the $4,100-per-hour for use of the plane, church members have used it to meet with one of six connected communities in the Northeast of two in England, and to attend religious conferences and anti-death penalty rallies, as they have done with aircraft for 25 years.
The sect is about 2,600 members strong with about 390 in Rifton and 330 more in Ulster Park's Pleasant View Bruderhof. The Ulster Park community was at the center of the aviation controversy about six years ago when the Bruderhof there proposed an airstrip on its property. Neighbors complained about noise and safety, and argued that Bruderhof members could easily drive to other local airports. The proposal was killed.
The jet, which the Woodcrest Bruderhof obtained though a lease in December, compliments the community's other cash-generating ventures and replaced an older model Gulfstream it owned.
Bruderhof Communities run Community Playthings, a successful manufacturer of children's toys and furniture, as well as a company that makes therapeutic equipment for people with disabilities, a publishing house and other businesses. Hutterites' beliefs include opposition to oaths, infant baptism, military service and holding public office. The primary difference between the sect and Mennonites is that the former believes a communal purse is essential to a true Christian brotherhood, so they shun individual wealth. As such, Bruderhof members working for the community, like Arnold and Meier, aren't paid salaries. They are given the essentials; an apartment near the airport is paid for by the community and a small stipend allows them pocket cash.
Meanwhile, their clients include the likes of Cher. This week they flew a single investor to Budapest, Hungary -- a client who will fork over more than $100,000 for the flight alone.
"I looked for a plane I knew charter customers would be comfortable with and come back for a second time," Domer said. "We're breaking into a new industry and I wanted to do it right."
At the Bruderhof, "We don't have television or radios, but we do keep very current with the daily events," Domer said. "We design all our buildings and build them ourselves. We try to build them functionally and well. Not austere, but definitely not lavish in any way." . . . .
The idea for the jet, Domer said, is to run it as a business: Charter is privately about 60 hours each month and use it for church business 10 to 12 hours per month and hope to turn a profit within eighteen months. The Bruderhof even hopes to expand its air-charter business by moving the Gulfstream to a larger hangar at Stewart International Airport. It now rents space in a hanger at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, about five miles from the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan.
The Hutterites hired a pilot, mechanic and flight attendant from outside the Bruderhof, but have several members in training to take over most operations in the next few years. Arnold was first licensed to fly through a taxpayer-funded Ulster BOCES pilot program, as was Meier. Both were licensed pilots at 17, having learned in a two-seat Cessna puddle-jumper;. Now Arnold is copilot on all charter flights in the Gulfstream and Meier is gaining experience with another charter company to later return to Rifton's cockpit.
"It was a dream come true," Meier said.
Arnold wasn't quite sure, but believes that as a toddler he tried flying, arms flapping, out a Rifton barn door. . .
Domer's imagination can soar too as he looks forward to a future when they might afford a G4, the new-generation Gulfstream, running about $23 million off the assembly line. It all depends on how the charter business pans out, he said.
"Let's put it this way: We're dreaming."
At the age of 19, Lillian Maendel had never gone to the grocery store, shopped for clothes or talked with others her age about who was with whom at the dance last week. She recalls that first trip to store, buying a can of corn and looking forward to the sumptuous serving pictured on the label, only to be disappointed by the plainer version inside.
While many experts agree there's no such thing as a "normal" childhood, few would dispute that the experiences of Lillian Maendel Ficker and George Maendel differ dramatically from the typical American upbringing. The brother and sister, now both Montville [Maine -ed] residents with their own families, grew up as Hutterites, a Christian group whose followers live communally in "colonies" located primarily in the western states and the prairie provinces of Canada. Ficker and her brother grew up at the Forest River colony in North Dakota.
The Hutterites have some similarities -- though also many differences -- with a better known religious group, the Amish. They are both Christian, pacifist sects with a well developed sense of community and often a farm-based way of life. However the Amish do not live communally and shun modern machinery and modern forms of transportation. The Hutterites, on the other hand, live together in colonies where everything including the land and the buildings on the land are owned jointly. Money is collectively held, with each family getting an allowance. Unlike the Amish, the Hutterites use trucks and vans and an occasional economy car for transportation and employ modern-day equipment on the farm.
The history of the Hutterites dates back to 16th-century Austria. The group takes its name from Jacob Hutter, a minister who was burned at the stake in 1536 for defying authorities. Throughout the centuries the Hutterites were known for their skills as farmers and craftsmen and were sought after by some landowners in various countries for those reasons. However, because the Hutterites refused to go to war and would not obey government decrees that were not in accordance with their beliefs, they were often forced to flee. In the 1700s they settled in the Ukraine after a promise of religious freedom there, and it was from that area that the first Hutterites came to America, crossing the Atlantic in the 1870s about 150 years after the Amish had settled in Pennsylvania.
It was the promises of New York land agents that lured the Hutterites to make a new home in the Dakota Territory. They started with three communal settlements, one for each group that had come from the old country. By 1897, those three settlements could boast five water-powered flour mills. Inhabitants engaged in spinning, weaving, carpentry, shoemaking, tanning, blacksmithing and book- binding. That was in addition to their agricultural activities, with wheat, corn, oats, rye, barley and vegetables grown and harvested. Distinguishing the colonies were their great flocks of geese and ducks, their pigeons, icehouses and towering flour mills.
An inventory of Wolf Creek colony in 1899 revealed 400 head of cattle, 21 teams of horses, 2,300 sheep, 200 hogs, 700 geese and 200 ducks tended by 27 families. Those 160 people made their own furniture, clothing, harnesses, boots, shoes and other necessities.
Unlike the Amish, the Hutterites embraced modern farm machinery and by 1912 were plowing with large tractors. They not only had steam boilers and water wheels that operated the flour mills, but also dynamos to provide electric lights and power. By 1917, 19 Hutterite colonies contained some 2,000 people.
But being in a new country did not mean the Hutterites could evade some old problems. Their first confrontation with the American government came with the advent of World War 1. Defying an order to register for the draft, many young men were imprisoned at the likes of Leavenworth and Alcatraz. That led to a Hutterite emigration to Canada, where 16 colonies were established in 1918.
George Maendel, in fact, was born in one of the Canadian colonies in Manitoba. His parents were among those who left that northern country to return to the Dakotas, founding the Forest River colony in North Dakota in 1950. Joseph and Mary Maendel had a total of 17 children, George being the 13th and Lillian the 16th.
The lives of George and Lillian and their siblings were far different than those of other American youngsters growing up in the 1950s and 60s. Colonies such as Forest River prided themselves on their self-sufficiency, and contact with the outside world was limited, especially for the children. There were no shopping trips to the store for the youngsters. George and Lillian's grandfather had skills as a cobbler. "When I needed a pair of shoes, my grandfather would trace my foot and the next day I would go back for a new pair of shoes," recalls George. Huge bolts of cloth were purchased and clothing was made at Forest River. The young George wore homemade black denim jeans held up by suspenders and a wintertime flannel shirt or a lighter weight summer version. For extra warmth there was a black denim jacket. Lillian wore a pleated skirt, blouse and vest, with everyone at the colony wearing one of several patterns. Hair coverings were always worn by the women, either a lace version for indoors or a polka-dotted covering for outdoors.
Schooling was not given the highest of priorities, and children like the Maendels were faced with several obstacles. For verbal communication, Hutterites used a dialect based on Tyrolean German but laced with words picked up from many different countries where the Hutterites had lived over the centuries. However, it was spoken language only. At school, children were faced with the daunting task of having to learn traditional German as well as English. George remembers a German reader encased in a glass box; he was not permitted to actually hold the book itself.
Hutterites were very selective about what the children could read. Lillian remembers books with pages "either ripped up or stapled shut because they didn't want you to read it."
Lillian's formal education ended at the age of 13 when she was told that someone else needed her textbooks. With her sister Lydia, she was assigned a work cycle based on cooking. One week she might be preparing colony meals, another week she might be baking.
As a teenager, George had farm chores ranging from field work to duties with the dairy operation or the colony's 4,000 laying hens. Every Saturday he and others would grind feed for the animals from the wheat, barley, oats and corn grown on the land. As a girl, Lillian also had farm duties, including bean picking, canning, egg sorting and sorting feathers for quilts.
Leaving the Forest River colony was viewed by the colonists as a rejection, not only of family but more seriously, of God. After trying to leave two years earlier, George departed -- though not for good -- at the age of 21 when Uncle Sam mandated some force of service to the country. With his pacifist background, George had opted for alternative duty, ending up in Georgia building low-income houses at first and later using his farming expertise.
In the ensuing years Maendel would drift back and forth between life outside and life inside the colony. While chafing against the rigid rules and regulations of Forest River, he was inextricably drawn back to what was, after all, still home. When he would return, Maendel would bring back to the cloistered world of younger sister Lillian the trappings of the 1960s, including the sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Grateful Dead. One such visit ended in frustration when George found out his sister didn't even have a record player to hear the rock n' roll he'd smuggled in. Even transistor radios weren't allowed at Forest River, though Lillian recalls furtively listening to hockey games on one contraband portable radio.
Freedom of choice was a rarity at Forest River. When a young Hutterite couple married, the men of the colony built a house for the newlyweds and the women furnished it, right down to the folded towels in the closet. The young Lillian, whose brother had given her glimpses of the outside world, did not relish an existence governed by the elders and revolving around a seemingly endless cycle of childbirth and communal labor.
With her family and the rest of the colony viewing departure as a rejection of the family and of the Hutterite faith, Lillian despaired of getting approval to leave for a job in the outside world as a nurse's aide. The desperate 19-year-old planned a getaway, hiding money and clothes in a closet. She managed to illicitly collect $65 during her egg selling duties by fudging on the actual number of cartons sold.
Lillian made a plea to her older brother to give her a ride out of the colony. He happened to be there at the time with several of his friends, one of whom was Chris Ficker, who was later to become Lillian's husband. Believing honesty to be the best policy, George and his friends told the family of their plans to offer Lillian a ride out. "Uncle Paul, Dad, they reacted like we were the devil with horns," George remembers. Despite the fact that it was 20 below outside and the nearest motel was 40 miles away, George and friends were ordered to get in there vehicle and leave -- without Lillian.
But two weeks later, Lillian's mother acceded to her daughter's wishes. "She came to my bedroom and announced there was an interview in Grafton (a town about 30 miles from the colony) for a nurse's aid." About the only other thing her mother told her was to take her feather quilt. Lillian was given 30 minutes to pack and then transported to the world outside on a long and silent trip with her family.
While the prospect of a new life was exhilarating, it was in even greater measure intimidating for the 19-year-old Lillian, who was facing for the first time a life outside the sheltered and orderly existence of Forest River. She remembers those first forays to go shopping for food and to buy a nurse's aide uniform.
"I had never needed to buy food in my life," she says. Pushing the cart down the aisles of the grocery store, she could only go by the packaging, with its promises of a culinary treat inside. She remembers her utter disappointment when she sampled canned corn for the first time after a lifetime of the finest, freshest grains not long removed from the fields. "It tasted awful."
No less confusing was her first try at buying clothes. Needing nylons for her nurse's outfit, she was befuddled when she held up a pair of pantyhose that the label said was supposed to fit a person of her weight. "Oh gee, I thought they were supposed to be my size," she said at the time, not knowing of the nylon's ability to stretch. "I'm glad they came packed in threes," she says of those first attempts to wear the hose that led to more than one rip and tear.
The idle talk during breaks at the hospital consisted of topics Lillian knew nothing about -- the latest hair fashions or chatter about a recent dance. Knowing no one and with no common bonds to any of her co-workers, once back at her apartment she saw no one for the first two weeks.
As foreign and intimidating as life was during that initial period after leaving the only home she'd ever known, Lillian eventually adjusted to life on the outside and never went back to live at Forest River.
For her brother, the separation from the colony was not as surgically neat. After leaving that first time for his alternative service, he returned several times to live for short stints at the colony, usually coming back to help at harvest time. "I had a relationship to work out with the colony," he says of his several returns there. Eventually he was able to do so. "The whole Hutterite religion was like a lot of baggage for me. I had a rebirth experience when I was able to dump that religion."
The paths of George and Lillian have kept crossing in the years since their childhood at Forest River. It was through George that Lillian met future husband Chris Ficker. While George had been doing alternative service in Georgia, Ficker had arrived one day from Connecticut via a Triumph motorcycle to volunteer his services building low-income housing.
In those years when young people traveled the highways of the country in search of new experiences, George and Chris satisfied their sense of wanderlust. It was in 1976 that the two having recently quit truck driving jobs, made plans for yet another excursion. Kerri, a friend of George's, decided to come along, and she helped convince Lillian to quit her job at a farm in Minnesota. Eventually the four found themselves connected for good, with Kerri marrying George and Lillian taking her vows with Chris.
The Fickers were the first to move to Maine, with the Maendels making their first trip here in the summer of '79, camping out on the front lawn of a Montville house Chris and Lillian were renting.
The Maendels made a number of summer trips to Maine, finally moving here in 1986 when George received an offer from Chris to join his house-building crew.
These days, both families make periodic trips back to Forest River colony. Compelled as a young man to go back and back again as he tried to come to terms with his relationship with the colony, for George now it's a pleasure trip to visit with family. One sister and four brothers still live there.
"I want Chester and Laurie (the Ficker offspring) to know about their history and to meet their relatives," says Lillian. "I'm hoping my kids will get to know them so they'll understand their mother a little better."
by Johann Christoph Arnold
Plough Publishing, 1996
Reviewed by Julius Rubin
Eberhard Arnold wrote Love and Marriage in the Spirit (published in translation in 1965), his son Heini wrote In the Image of God, Marriage and Chastity in Christian Life in 1977, and his grandson Johann Christoph has produced A Plea for Purity, Sex, Marriage & God . Each book enunciates Bruderhof dogma, social ethics, and pastoral guidance pertaining to marriage, sexuality, and child rearing. Godly living for members of the Bruderhof requires repentance of sin, self-annihilation, and surrender in radical discipleship to Jesus. This process of religious conversion produces a humble, God-centered believer who seeks a life of purity "in the image of God." Motivated by love to God, members strive for a life of loving brotherhood; men and women seek marriage "in the Holy Spirit" as a sacred expression of these higher aspirations of love. By prohibiting all premarital and extramarital sexual behavior and transforming sexuality into a spiritual expression of total oneness between spouses and God, the faithful strive for purity.
In light of this dogma and appeal to Biblical authority, Arnold espouses a sexual ethic in marriage that prohibits eroticism -- the enhancement of sexual pleasure as an end in itself. Thus, he writes that oral and anal intercourse and mutual masturbation are sinful acts driven by the selfish desire for sexual excitation. (p. 63) However, Arnold does urge husbands and wife to manifest a loving relation in marriage, demonstrating consideration of the needs of the other. He explains that a husband should refrain from intercourse with his wife during menstruation and six weeks before or after childbirth. He also provides the first written definition of orgasm in a Bruderhof publication. Arnold states in the chapter, "The Sacredness of Sex:" "It is a remarkable and wonderful experience to give oneself physically to another person. Orgasm, the climax or peak of physical uniting, is a powerful and shaking experience and has a forceful effect on the spirit. Here, the experience of the body is so forceful that it is difficult to distinguish it from the experience of the spirit. In rhythmic harmony of heart and body, two human beings reach the highest peak of the joy of love. In total union, both are lifted out of their own personalities and joined in the closest community possible. At the moment of climax a person is, so to speak, swept away -- swallowed up so completely that the sense of being an independent person is momentarily submerged." (p. 62)
Arnold's dogmatic plea for purity produces a list of impure beliefs and practices that members must avoid including masturbation. He explains, "I have counseled many young people who are enslaved by masturbation: they earnestly desire to be freed from their habits, but they fall into it again and again." (p. 110) Other impurities include: feminism and the belief in the equality of women, reproductive rights of women (abortion, and contraception), sex education in public schools, homosexuality (conduct and lifestyle), pornography and sexually explicit mass culture, transexualism, sexual perversion, and divorce and remarriage.
Arnold also offers long discussions on child rearing and purity in children and adolescents. He rejects corporal punishment. Writing in the chapter, "True Authority Strengthens and Stimulates a Child," he explains: "We reject both the harshness of physical punishment and the power of manipulation: both are forms of authoritarianism that fail to take the child seriously as a bearer of God's image. The one fails in mercy, and the other in honesty. Both fail in love. True authority stimulates and strengthens what is good in each child by leading him to make his own decisions between right and wrong." (p. 74)
Arnold urges loving moderation and the power of example in teaching children and leading them toward godly, pure lives. Borrowing from his father Heinrich's teachings on the discipline of sexual offenses in adolescents and children, Arnold quotes at length:
"How to fight against sin in children is a very difficult question. If there are indecencies, for example, which mostly begin with children exposing themselves to each other and sometimes touching each other, the child will feel instinctively that this is not right. These indecencies must always involve lying. We must be careful not to make too much of such things among children. . . . We must also never forget that it is in a certain way natural for children to go through periods of sexual curiosity. This cannot be taken for sin. But we should lead our children in such a way that their souls remain pure and innocent. . . .
"It is a great injustice to label children or adolescents, especially those who have offended in the sexual area. In our assessment of childish offenses, we should beware of coming too quickly to harsh conclusions about a child's character or future development. Rather, we should help him or her to find new interests and to make a joyful new beginning." (p. 81)
Many testimonials published by KITfolk and ex-members contradict the claims that the Bruderhof recoils from corporal punishment and coercive manipulation of children, or refuses to engage in interrogations and clearances for alleged sexual misconduct by children and adolescents. The Bruderhof has never successfully reconciled their purported failure to implement these lofty ideals of child-rearing. It should also be noted that the absolute allegiance demanded by the baptismal vow of each member to Jesus and gemeinde takes precedence over the commitment to spouse, children or kin. When a spouse suffers exclusion, the exercise of church discipline, or leaves as a matter of conscience, the other spouse is obliged to remain true to his or her vows. This creates family disruption and separation comparable to divorce in secular society. The demands of this life of purity are not without costs and consequences.
Finally, A Plea for Purity is an attempt to bring Bruderhof dogma and an idealized public image of their communities to the attention of the widest publics in America and Europe. This book includes a Foreword by Mother Teresa, a picture of Arnold's recent audience Pope John Paul II, a letter from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and a promotional section "About the Bruderhof." Arnold hopes to contribute to the public debates about sexuality, family life, morality, divorce, and teen pregnancy. We shall see how the Bruderhof plea for purity is received among the many competing ideologies and beliefs in the public marketplace of ideas.