family, LDS, love, marriage

Discovering you’re wife #4…

Yesterday, someone wrote an off topic post on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard. Or, she’d labeled it as OT. Personally, I didn’t think it was an off topic post at all. I’m sure a lot of people who are ex members of the LDS church can relate to the ultimate breach of trust and lack of respect she describes with this post.

I was aware of my husband’s previous marriage. What I didn’t know, until I recently discovered it, is that I’m actually wife #4, not #2, I thought. We discussed previous relationships before we got married, but he referred to them as relationships, not marriages. I also pulled out our marriage license application where you have to declare which marriage this is…he wrote “second”.

When asked why he did this, he replied, “it was along time ago, the marriages were so short, I thought you may not marry me, you didn’t ask”.

I’m really struggling with this. It feels kinda like discovering hidden church stuff all over again.

This lady’s post was up for several hours before someone responded to it. I happened to be that person. My comment to her was this:

I don’t blame you for being upset. I would wonder what else I wasn’t told in that situation. It’s a breach of trust.

I could have written more, but I was on my iPad and it’s a pain to type on the iPad. Also, I really just wanted her to feel heard and validated without having to wade through too much. Her instincts are correct. Her husband lied to her, and that’s a major betrayal. I’m not an ex Mormon, but Bill is. When we met, he claimed to be a devout church believer. However, we met in a place not typically frequented by church types. After awhile, I realized he was trying to convince himself that he was a believer. He wanted to save his first marriage– felt it was his duty to try to save it, even though it was a relationship built on bullshit. Those kinds of relationships pretty much never last.

A couple of hours later, another nevermo regular poster also replied. She agreed with me. Then, came the somewhat inappropriate responses from men. One guy wrote:

“Everyone with the ability to speak ‘edits’ their life story.”

That may be true… but glossing over two previous marriages is a bit extreme, in my view, even if they were super short and “meaningless”. At the very least, it means that her spouse once had little regard for the institution of marriage. He obviously didn’t take it seriously a couple of times in his life. I would have a hard time regaining trust for my husband if it turned out he’d hidden something this significant. I also think it says something when the spouse who lies by omission says something like “I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me if you knew the whole truth about me.” Cover ups are almost always worse than the truth. At least if you tell someone the truth, they have the ability to decide for themselves about the right thing to do .

I’m interested in the whole story… even the ugly parts. Sometimes, the ugly parts make the story more compelling.

Consider this. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time, you know that I love my husband with all my heart. This year, we will have been happily married for 19 years. But if I’d relied only on my common sense, I never would have married him. He had a lot of baggage that would have sent a lot of women packing. Here’s a list of his “shortcomings” from those early days, over twenty years ago.

  • He had bad credit. He and Ex had gone through both a foreclosure and a bankruptcy. After getting to know him, I realized that Bill wasn’t the one with the problem handling money. But if I had been exercising common sense, I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him because of his financial issues.
  • He was broke. After his divorce, Bill was paying over half his salary to Ex in child support and alimony. It was really tough going for awhile, but I realized it was a time limited issue. And, based on our lifestyle, you can see that I was right.
  • His ex wife was (and still is) legitimately “crazy”. Those of you who have followed my blogs probably already know how crazy. She has no compunction about making insane demands on people and smearing them to others. She withheld visitation with the kids from Bill and completely alienated them after he married me. I strongly suspect she has a character disorder.
  • He’d had a vasectomy. Bill is not only my first husband; he’s also the only man I’ve ever been intimate with. I wanted to have children, and he’d already had them with Ex, who then asked him to have a vasectomy. He obliged. However, he was willing to have it reversed for me. That was enough for me, even though I never managed to have children. Now, I realize maybe not having children was a good thing, given how complicated his situation with Ex and their kids has been.
  • He was involved in a “weird” religion. Not everyone thinks Mormonism is “weird”, but coming from the South, where most people are Protestants, it was certainly different to me. Fortunately, Bill wasn’t that committed to Mormonism, nor did he feel compelled to convert me. If he had, our relationship probably would not have worked. I can tell you right now, I would never willingly be involved in a faith that dictates what undergarments I wear or what beverages I choose to drink. Other people’s mileages vary, of course.
  • I met him on the Internet in a chat room! I might as well have met him in a bar!

So why has our relationship worked, given all of these “obvious” shortcomings? It’s worked because Bill was completely honest with me. Three months after we started chatting, he sent me a long email explaining everything, even though he worried that I might reject him. Also, he stayed platonic in his conversations with me until he was legally divorced. He even wore his wedding ring until his split was official. We didn’t meet in person until about a year after his divorce was official. Even after the divorce was official, he wasn’t inappropriate with me. I realized that he was a decent, honest person and I could trust him. He also eventually learned that he could trust me, despite what he’d been through in his first marriage.

It took about five years before Bill completely trusted me with finances. He finally gave me access to his bank account when he deployed to Iraq and I had to handle the household bills. While he was gone, I made a point of paying off all of the horrible, high interest credit cards he had because he’d trusted his ex wife to pay the bills and she hadn’t. A year later, USAA, which had taken a loss in his bankruptcy, granted him a new credit card. PenFed let him refinance a car loan, saving us hundreds of dollars. He’s never missed paying a bill the whole time we’ve been together. He now has an excellent credit score.

When Bill goes on business trips, he is incredibly reliable about contacting me. In fact, it’s almost annoying… I’ll be watching a movie or something and he’ll want to chat. But I appreciate it, because I know he’s thinking of me and is faithful. I don’t worry about him fucking around when he goes TDY. He is extremely respectful and faithful, and I knew he was when he was still married to his ex wife. Meanwhile, she was shacking up with her now third husband in the house Bill was paying for and she later let go into foreclosure. I was certain he was trustworthy when I met him, and so far, he’s proven me right.

Over the years, Bill has been incredibly brave about telling me pretty much everything about his life, even some things that are completely embarrassing and potentially humiliating. And he has had quite a life… and a lot of weird stuff has happened to him. He could write a book. Every day, I’m amazed at how balanced, reliable, and decent he is, despite everything that has happened in his past. He could have chosen not to tell me about the embarrassing things in his past and risked being rejected by me. But, it turns out I was willing to trust my instincts, rather than common sense. I knew he was the best kind of person, and I was right. It would devastate me if he’d hidden something as major as prior marriages, no matter how short. It would mean he didn’t trust me, and that would make me wonder if I should be trusting him.

I don’t think strong relationships start with deception, either outright untruths or lies by omission. When I married Bill, I was taking on a new relative. That means he’s family… family I CHOSE. I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to make someone a family member if he didn’t trust me enough to tell me the whole truth about who he is. Likewise, I would expect my partner to know everything there is to know about me. But I also realize that I have been extremely lucky. Bill is an honest person who doesn’t hide skeletons in the closet. I am also an honest person. We told each other the truth. A person who can’t handle hearing the whole truth about serious issues before agreeing to marriage is probably not the best candidate to be husband or wife.

A good example of times when honesty is NOT the best policy…

Now… it’s true that I do believe in being completely honest about the major things, like prior marriages, criminal history, health situations, and finances. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s always a good thing to be completely honest about everything. Like, for instance, if Bill thinks my ass looks especially dumpy one day, he doesn’t have to be honest about that and tell me so! That would hurt my feelings unnecessarily, especially since there’s nothing I can immediately do about having a dumpy ass. Fortunately, he’s not the type of guy who is overly hung up on looks. 😉

But yes… if I found out that I was wife #4, rather than wife #2, I would be very hurt and feel betrayed. I think it would be difficult to trust a partner who hid something major like that from me. And I would not think too highly of someone who tried to brush it off by saying the marriages were short or insignificant and, therefore, unworthy of being mentioned. Marriage, to me, is a huge deal. The fact that someone got married twice, but doesn’t see them as significant is a huge red flag, in my opinion. I have a lot of empathy for the lady on RfM who is making this discovery now. I wish her luck and strength. She might even feel like she doesn’t even know this man anymore.

At least at this point, Bill and I are a team. We work together to achieve common goals. He supports what I do, and I support what he does. We trust each other, and, for the most part, we’re completely honest. We don’t hide things. Like… I can say whatever is on my mind and, for the most part, Bill doesn’t judge me for them. The same goes for Bill. Because I think we both know that neither of us wants the other person to be hurt. That being said, though, I also think I hit the husband lottery. Bill is an unusually mature and respectful person. Most people aren’t like him, including myself. I never forget that, and I try not to abuse it.

Standard
family, healthcare, music, musings, religion

Redemption…

This morning, my guitar lesson on Fender Play consisted of learning “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. For some reason, I had the hardest time getting the opening riff right. I could do it if I focused on it and played slowly, but it took a couple of times. I also found it easier on my acoustic guitar over the Acoustasonic, which was a lot more expensive, but somewhat harder for me to play decently.

Once I got past the opening riff, which isn’t that complicated, but requires concentration and focus until muscle memory kicks in, the rest of it wasn’t too hard. The chords are pretty easy, although there is one spot that requires muting, which is still kind of tricky for me. But, I bet when I venture downstairs, Bill will congratulate me, because I think he could easily guess what I was playing. I always consider it a win when he recognizes the more recognizable songs.

A nice cover of this classic… I love the Playing for Change series.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about redemption. I’ve even written about it a few times. I tend to be in favor of redemption for most people, although there are a few exceptions. For instance, I tend to be less redemptive toward people who have hurt me or someone I love. I wish I could be more high-minded about some of these things… but, alas, when you prick me, I bleed.

The weird thing is, I think I am more forgiving toward criminals than I am people who are just assholes I know personally. Like… I would probably have more compassion for someone on death row than my husband’s former wife. That seems kind of backwards, until you get to know the type of person my husband is, the type of person I am, and the egregiously bad things that have happened to him and his family since he invited Ex into his life. And yet, Ex is still walking around, free as a bird, and only too happy to exploit those who are closest to her.

I often have a lot of forbearance toward the mentally ill. I’m pretty certain that Ex is mentally ill. I know she’s been hospitalized a couple of times for her issues, and I know that she’s had medical/physical issues that have caused her to be hospitalized, although I suspect some of those were purposely done for attention. I know she had a terrible childhood, and was abused horrifically by people she should have been able to trust. The people who should have loved her, treated her so badly that she passes along that bad stuff to others, who might love her more if she weren’t such a toxic person.

Why is it that I have some empathy for people that make the news because they went “viral”, but not for Ex, or other people who have crossed me personally? Maybe it’s because I have my own abuse issues. Mine are not as bad as Ex’s by a long shot. My parents conceived me and stayed married, and I was exposed to a loving family– albeit an extremely religious and quite politically conservative one. I don’t know many of my mom’s relatives, because she had such a small family and her parents died when I was very young. But my dad came from a large, loving, very southern family. They were close-knit, even though they were also pretty dysfunctional.

This week, I found out that the wife of one of my cousins suffered a very severe setback after having a hysterectomy. She experienced vomiting, severe headaches, and other troubling symptoms that led my cousin to take her to the emergency department of their nearest hospital. It was there that my cousin’s wife’s two brain tumors were discovered.

Making the situation worse is the fact that this cousin’s mother (my aunt) died of a primary brain tumor, back in 1995. His father and older sister also died of cancer. And now, it appears that his wife has a primary cancer somewhere that has caused metastasis to her brain. There was a lot of swelling around the tumors, which the doctor estimated had existed for a few months. And since there were two of them, the doctor says that they are the result of metastatic activity. Usually, with a primary tumor that originates in the brain, there’s just one. Metastatic brain tumors are a lot more common than primary tumors are.

A couple of days ago, my cousin’s wife had surgery to remove one of the tumors. She came through the surgery fine, and pathology will determine how to treat the other tumor. Everyone was delighted to hear that she was able to Facetime with family after the procedure was done. Still, the tumors’ existence was a devastating shock to everyone.

I found out about this situation because my aunt sent out an email to the entire family, asking for prayers. I am not a very religious person, but I don’t mind sparing positive vibes and good thoughts to my friends and family. I did send my cousin a note of support. He’s a nice man, even though we are very different in terms of religion and politics. I appreciate that he’s willing to accept me for who I am, rather than trying to bend me to his way of thinking, like some of my other cousins have done.

Before she went into the hospital, members of their immediate family– my cousin, his daughters, baby granddaughter, and their significant others, gathered around in t-shirts they had made. They held up signs of support for my cousin’s wife, who was smiling in her wheelchair. She’s still a very beautiful woman, and although I’m not close to her, I have always liked her. I admire how close she is with her daughters. She and my cousin just celebrated 37 years of marriage.

It occurred to me that if I had a brain tumor, it’s likely Bill would be taking care of me alone. Even if I were in the United States, I’m not very close to my immediate family. My sisters are much older and spread out around the country. We have never been the type to wear matching t-shirts or study the Bible together. In fact, I rarely talk to my sisters beyond birthday greetings and the odd private message from one of them.

I’m not sure I’d want my family wearing matching t-shirts if I had to go into the hospital… I doubt I’d want pictures, either, although maybe loved ones would. I don’t know how many loved ones I really have, though. Like I said, I’m not that close to my family anymore. Physically, I’m distant, and emotionally, I am, too.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m going to be one of those people who hangs around for a long time. I could be wrong… in fact, I kind of hope I am. But I doubt there will ever be a need for people to rally prayers for me. Even if they did, it would seem uncomfortable and strange to me. Some people might say that because of my lack of a need for “redemption”, I might not be heading north when the time comes for me to depart this life. In fact, I have a feeling some of my family members might even think that about me. I don’t feel like I belong with them anymore.

I look at Ex and see all of the damage she’s wrought, not just to herself and her immediate family, but also to so many other people. I see her spreading lies and promoting a facade, and I don’t feel like she’s worthy of redemption. I’d sooner wish for a convict to be redeemed than my husband’s former wife. That’s probably because she seems to get away with a lot.

I think it may also be because I watch a lot of Snapped, and Ex reminds me of so many of the women that are on that show. To my knowledge she hasn’t killed anyone yet, but Bill told me, more than once, that she had said she should kill him… usually when she thought he was sleeping. And now, I see her using people, just like she always does, for her own personal gain, and not being held accountable for it at all. Every time I try not to care about her, I get dragged back into the mire by something else she does.

Ex is probably the kind of person who would make matching t-shirts for her family and hold up signs, in a show of solidarity… but that’s all it would be. A big show. I don’t think my relatives are putting on a show. I know they love and care for each other deeply, and I admire that… although I don’t feel all that comfortable with it myself. They’re really into church. I am really NOT into church, except the less intense, more secular/social version of it. Ex used to be into Mormonism, but apparently only goes now when she needs something.

I often look at some of my family members and wonder how we ended up related. I seem to have taken after my mom’s side of the family, except for my tendency to be outspoken, funny, and musical. My dad’s family is a lot of fun… but they pray a lot. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve never really felt that kind of spirit myself. I feel a different kind of spirit, I guess.

I know I’m a hypocrite, because I don’t think I’ll ever see Ex as worthy of redemption. I know I should. Bill’s daughter, who has really suffered due to Ex, has outwardly said she tries to be forgiving and understanding. That’s her mom, of course, but she has suffered more because of Ex than I ever will or could. Even Bill has basic forgiveness for Ex… but when it comes to her, my heart stays pretty hard. I am sorry she was abused, and I have basic empathy for the bad things that put her at a disadvantage when she was young. But she never seems to learn from her mistakes and do any serious work toward being a better person. She was hospitalized for mental health issues, yet she still exploits anyone close to her, and she still makes terrible decisions that she puts huge pressure on other people to have to live with. Her decisions often lead to disasters, yet people still do what she says and allow her to enslave them. I don’t understand it at all, and it’s distressing to watch from the sidelines.

Anyway… I’m glad I learned “Redemption Song” today. I still need to practice it a lot, but once I get it down, it’ll be a good chestnut. I could probably have it pretty well wired in a few days if I work at it. I’m glad for that, but learning that song also gave me food for thought before I wrote today’s fresh post. Before my lesson, I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what to write about and was considering taking a one day sabbatical.

In unrelated news… our robotic lawnmower isn’t working properly. Bill spent a couple of hours re-laying the boundary wire in our back yard, because the robot keeps giving us fault loop errors. Now, I’m wondering if the power supply is malfunctioning. I kind of wish I’d just bought a regular mower a couple of years ago, but I have to admit I like the robot and I hate mowing. Hopefully, we can figure it out soon, so I won’t have to keep using the weed whacker to cut the grass.

Today’s featured photo is one of some horses that escaped their pasture and ran through a village… Bill and I looked at renting a house near where they were. It doesn’t have much to do with the post. I just think it’s a cool photo and I don’t feel like finding something more appropriate.

Standard
book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: A review of Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary by Jacob Young…

Here’s another repost of a book review I wrote for my original Blogspot blog. This one was posted October 6, 2013, and reappears here as/is.

 I just finished Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary, an interesting book written by returned Mormon missionary Jacob Young, who spent two years serving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia.  Young was a missionary at the tail end of the 1990s.  I was especially interested in reading about his experience because I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia in the mid 1990s.  Although Russia and Armenia are different places, they were both once part of the Soviet Union.  In the 1990s, there were still some things going on in both countries that made the experiences of living there somewhat similar.

Young’s job as a Mormon missionary was to convince Russians to join the LDS church.  Given the culture in Russia– especially given that during Soviet times, religion was pretty much discouraged or even outlawed– being a missionary in Russia must have been tough.  Russians are notoriously fond of tea, alcohol (especially vodka), and cigarettes.  Convincing locals to give up these things so that they could be Mormons must have been very difficult.  And Young does confess that he and his ever changing companions did have challenges in getting potential converts past the first discussions, even if they managed those.  However, I was surprised to read that Young was a reasonably effective missionary who did baptize a number of people, a few of whom stuck with the church.

Despite his successes, Young suffered through some annoying and eccentric companions.  He had one companion who sang and hummed incessantly, annoying Young to no end.  He had another who would use a mirror to spy on Young when he used the toilet, checking to make sure he didn’t masturbate during the few minutes he was alone.  The companion would aim the mirror at a small, high window in the bathroom.  Having lived in Armenia, I am very familiar with the type of window Young writes of.  My first apartment in Yerevan had one.  Since missionaries are supposed to be with their companions at all times, dealing with the very hard core ones was a real challenge for Young.

Young also suffered a crisis of faith.  He writes of missing music that wasn’t church approved, reading books that weren’t religious in nature, and not having to spend all his time knocking on doors, pestering people who weren’t interested in Mormonism.   Young wrote to his parents about his sliding faith and talked to his mission president, who seemed to be a good guy.  He also confesses to “cheating” on a few rules.

As I finished reading this book, I wondered where Young stands on Mormonism today.  I got the sense that he might have left the church or at least gone inactive.  I did not get the impression that he got a big sense that Mormonism is “true”.  He does, however, concede that while the mission was not really the best two years of his life, he did gain a lot from the experience.  Having had my own tough trials over the 27 months I spent in Armenia, I could definitely relate to that sentiment.  There were many days when I wanted to escape Armenia… and I didn’t even have to deal with the constraints that Mormon missionaries have to deal with.  I lived alone for most of my time as a Volunteer and could drink all the liquor, coffee, and tea I wanted.  If I had wanted to smoke, I was welcome to do that, too.  Masturbation was also not forbidden to me and I was allowed to dress pretty much as I saw fit.  Armenia in the 90s was just a tough place to be, though; and I think Young’s time in Russia was similarly difficult.

And yet, there’s not a day that passes that I don’t think of those days in Armenia.  They changed my life.  I came away from the experience with more than I put into it.  While Young may not have appreciated the job he was there to do, he does write about all the things he did take from his mission experience.  He apparently became quite proficient in Russian and was able to read, write, and speak it.  While I was able to speak and understand passable Armenian (smattered with a few Russian words), I could never write it and reading it was always a painfully slow exercise.  There were times when it was actually easier for me to read Russian, which is a language I have never formally studied but sort of rubbed off on me.

I admire Jacob Young’s writing, which is personal, confessional, and very fluent.  His book does have a few comic moments, but it’s mostly very introspective and revealing.  Young puts a human face on Mormon missionaries, who probably aren’t looked at as humans by the masses trying to avoid being hooked into a conversation with them.  Young concedes that he didn’t enjoy pestering people for the Mormon church, even though there were a few people who joined the LDS church and appreciated it.  Young admits that as a missionary, he pressured people who weren’t sure.  He and his companions targeted people who were lonely and vulnerable.  He baptized married women, even if their spouses didn’t want to join the church.  He sowed dissension within families when he baptized single people whose families weren’t interested in being LDS.  There were also times when he was “schooled” by Russians who had spent a couple of hours on the Internet and learned more about Joseph Smith than he knew, just by reading sites that weren’t “church approved”.  Young admits he was embarrassed when a Russian told him about Joseph Smith’s habit of bedding and marrying teenagers and women who already had husbands. 

I am impressed that Young realizes and admits to doing these things in the name of scoring more baptisms and being a more successful missionary.  I am especially impressed that he realizes that doing these things may have caused problems for the converts.

I don’t know what Elder Jacob Young is up to now, but I did really like his book, Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary.  I would certainly recommend it.  Four and a half stars from me…

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
book reviews

Repost: A review of With God in Russia, by Walter Ciszek and Daniel Flaherty

I thought about this book review recently and decided it was time it was added to the new blog. I am reposting it as/is, the way I wrote it on June 23, 2018.

Sometimes Facebook can be a great place to find books, even from memes posted by long, lost co-workers from twenty years ago.  That’s how I happened to read Father Walter Ciszek’s harrowing story of being held prisoner the Soviet Union for twenty years.  My friend, Courtney, is a devout Catholic and she shared a meme featuring one of Ciszek’s quotes.  Not being Catholic myself, I had never heard of the man.  I do find books about the Soviet Union and the prison experience fascinating, though, so I decided to download Father Ciszek’s book, With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest’s Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps

With God in Russia was originally published in 1964, but it has been republished several times.  I read the version that was released in June 2017.  The price was right at just $1.99.  The book is Father Ciszek’s story written by ghostwriter Daniel Flaherty.  It includes an afterword by James Martin. Father Ciszek, who died in 1984, has been considered for possible beatification or canonization since 1990.  His current title is Servant of God.  

Who was Walter Ciszek?

Walter Ciszek was born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania in November 1904.  His parents were Polish immigrants who had come to the United States in the 1890s.  When he was a young man, Ciszek belonged to a gang.  He later surprised his family when he decided to become a priest.  At age 24, Ciszek entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Poughkeepsie, New York.  

In 1929, Ciszek volunteered to serve as a missionary to Russia, which had become part of the Soviet Union in 1917.  At that time in Russia, there was a real need for Ciszek’s services.  Religious rights for most citizens were curtailed and those who were religious suffered from persecution.  There weren’t many priests around to offer religious services to believers.    

In 1934, Ciszek went to Rome to study the Russian language, history, and liturgy, as well as theology.  He was ordained a priest in the Byzantine Rite and took the name Vladimir.  Just as an aside, not being Catholic myself, I don’t understand the practice of taking different names for religious reasons. I was a little confused as I was reading the book and Ciszek was referred to as Vladimir.

In 1938, Ciszek went to eastern Poland to do his missionary work.  The following year, the Soviet Union invaded Poland and forced Ciszek to close his mission.  At that point, Ciszek decided to go east, into the Soviet Union, under the assumed name Władymyr Łypynski.  He and two others journeyed 1500 miles to the logging town of Chusovoy, where he worked as a logger and provided religious services on the side.  

In 1941, Ciszek was arrested and accused of spying for the Vatican.  He was sent to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, where he spent five years, most of which were in solitary confinement.  During his time at Lubyanka Prison, Ciszek was drugged and tortured.  After enduring severe torture, he signed a confession.  Convicted of espionage, Ciszek was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in the GULAG.  He spent four more years at Lubyanka, then was sent to Siberia, where he worked in mines.  Throughout his many years imprisoned in the Soviet Union, Ciszek maintained his deep faith in God and provided religious services to other prisoners.

In 1955, Ciszek was released from prison and was finally able to write to his family, who had assumed he was dead.  He lived in the city of Norilsk with restrictions.  He wrote of how local authorities tried to get him to take a permanent Russian passport, which he refused to do.  Three years after his initial release, the KGB forced Ciszek to move to Krasnoyarsk, where he secretly established missionary parishes.  When the KGB learned of what he was doing, they required Ciszek to move again, this time to Abakan, a town about 100 miles south.  There, he worked as an auto mechanic for four more years.  

In 1963, he received his first letter from his sisters.  A few months later, the Soviet Union exchanged Ciszek for two Soviet agents who had been held by the United States.  He did not know he was going to be exchanged until he was handed over to a State Department representative, who told him that he was still an American citizen.  He left Russia in October 1963.

From 1965 onwards, Father Ciszek continued his missionary work in the United States, working and lecturing at Fordham University and providing counseling and spiritual guidance until he died in December 1984.  He published two more books, one of which was released posthumously, and has left an impressive legacy to Catholics.

My thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not Catholic and I don’t know that much about Catholicism.  I didn’t read this book because of who Ciszek was in a religious sense.  I read it because I am interested in the Soviet Union and what life was like for people who were imprisoned there.  I spent two years in the former Soviet Union just after it fell apart.

Although Armenia isn’t Russia and it wasn’t part of the Soviet Union when I was there, the Soviet Union had only just fallen.  Some aspects of Ciszek’s descriptions of life there rang very familiar to me.  I’m sure Armenia still maintains some remnants of that time even now, although I can see from pictures and Facebook posts from Armenian friends that the country has changed since I knew it.

Ciszek’s story is very engaging.  Flaherty did a good job making it read as if it came directly from Father Ciszek himself.  He describes the monotony of daily prison life, particularly when he was in Lubyanka and basically sat in solitary confinement for years.  He writes of the struggles of staying nourished while he was at hard labor.  I was particularly fascinated by his descriptions of meal times, when prisoners would bring out a large pot of soup and dish it out to all the prisoners.  The ones who were served first got the thinnest and least satisfying helpings and would demand that the soup be stirred before it was served to them.

In Ciszek’s voice, Flaherty wrote of special duties that would score prisoners extra rations.  For instance, the prisoner that would dump the bucket used for toileting would get another bowl of soup.  The prisoners would be so hungry that some were eager to take on that duty.  Naturally, because it was a prison, a lot of the people Ciszek did time with were actual criminals.  He wrote a lot about the “thieves” who would try to trick other prisoners out of their rations in Machiavellian ways.  

I was impressed by Ciszek’s devotion to God, even when it seemed like he couldn’t get a fair shake.  Make no mistake about it, Ciszek’s time in prison wasn’t fun.  I remember how Ciszek was given extra rations one day, not told that it was to last him for two days he’d spend riding on a train to another prison.  There he sat with his Russian handlers, who had plenty to eat and didn’t share with him.  When a piece of buttered bread fell to the floor on the train, he tried to get it with his foot without attracting the attention of one of his guards.  The guard eventually did catch him in the act, but Ciszek pleaded with him to let him eat the dirty piece of buttered bread.  The guard was indifferent, so he got the bread.  There is something about the desperation of that story that sticks with me.  Ciszek appealed to the guard’s humanity to ease his suffering just a tiny bit and it worked.

Although I am not a very religious person, I am fascinated by people who are committed to their faith, particularly when their commitment is genuine and not motivated by greed or a desire for power (although those people are also interesting for other reasons).  Father Ciszek was able to maintain faith, hope, and courage in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  He did not become a bitter shell of a man who hated God or blamed God for the twenty plus years he spent incarcerated in Russia.  Instead, he turned that situation into an incredible life story, full of adventure and hope.  He sets an example of a man who did not give up or give in to self-pity or doubt.  A lot of religious people, particularly the leaders, could learn from Father Ciszek’s example.

In any case, I highly recommend With God in Russia, particularly to Catholics who aren’t already familiar with his story.  I found it a very interesting and inspiring book.  I suppose the very fact that I read it proves that not all Facebook memes are useless.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
religion

Blue sky cathedral…

A few days ago, I read an article about how millennials are turning away from religion. A college friend shared it. She’s a devoted churchgoer and she thinks it’s “sad” that so many people are turning away from religion. I was intrigued, so I decided to share it with my own friends.

The first person who responded clicked the “sad” reaction. I was perplexed by that, so I wrote this:

I don’t think it’s a sad thing. Some people simply aren’t into religion, and many people have suffered abuse in religion. If they are happier outside of it, that should be alright.

I grew up mainstream Presbyterian. For the most part, I don’t miss going to church, even though I went for most of my childhood. When I was growing up, everybody went to church. Most of my friends were Baptists or Methodists, but a few were at the Presbyterian church with me, and I had a few Episcopalian friends. I didn’t have Catholic friends until I got to college and started mingling with people from Northern Virginia again. It wasn’t until later than that that I encountered Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish people, and Muslims.

A lot of people my age have quit attending church, and it sounds like a lot of younger people have, too. I didn’t hate church… well, I shouldn’t say that. As a child, I didn’t like it because I found it boring. My mom was always playing organ and my dad was in the choir, so I sat with the wife of a man who was also in the choir. She kept me occupied. But for me, it wasn’t really a family thing. I know in some families, religion and church attendance is important and part of being in the family. For me, it was almost like it was optics. We didn’t say grace at my house, or bedtime prayers– at least not beyond my toddler years. My dad was more religious than my mom, but I really think it was a social and musical outlet for him. For my mom, it was a source of income. And I went to church because they worried what people would think if they didn’t take me, even though my parents rarely attended the same church.

The guy who clicked the “sad” reaction wrote, “some of us seem to have found a really secure, not so corrupted home church – though not within the doctrine we were raised.” So I responded,

Good for you. If you like church, by all means go to church. I’m for people doing what makes them happy, as long as they don’t hurt other people.

I think it’s much sadder when a person feels “trapped” by religion because if they stop believing or acting like they believe, they’ll be disowned. The LDS church was used as one “reason” Bill wasn’t fit to see his daughters. Of course, that was complete bullshit, and the truth about what happened is now becoming very apparent to his younger daughter.  

Every day, I read stories written by young Mormons who feel forced to go on church missions or be disowned by their families… Or people who have to hide their sexuality because of religion and the threat of being ostracized. For too many people, religion is used as a means to control others or an excuse to be closed-minded to other people’s lifestyles or politics.

It’s not just the Mormons who are guilty of this, of course. That just happens to be the religion that affected us personally.

But if you’ve found comfort in religion, great. I am happy for you. Personally, I didn’t have a bad experience with church. I just don’t think it’s a tragedy that some people have turned away from it. Not everyone needs church to be happy.

Just this week, I read a thread on RfM written by an 18 year old guy who is upset because he doesn’t believe in Mormonism, but is scheduled to start his two year mission in Tampa, Florida next month. He doesn’t want to go. His believes his parents will kick him out of the house if he doesn’t do his two years of door knocking for the LDS church. He came to RfM to ask for advice– ideas on what he can do to get out of the mission, yet not wind up homeless.

I know it sounds far-fetched that loving parents would disown their child over something like religion. Sadly, this was not the first time I heard or read of such a thing. In fact, the Mormon church is rife with stories about adult children who have found themselves cast out because they don’t believe in the religion, or perhaps they suffer from what the church calls “same sex attraction”. Lots of homosexual Mormons deny their sexual orientations and try to live the straight life in the name of religion. It’s not fair for them, and it’s certainly not fair for their spouses, who will never truly be attractive to their partners.

Not long ago, Ed Smart, father of kidnap victim turned activist Elizabeth Smart, came out as gay. He and his wife, Lois, have six children and are divorcing after many years of marriage. I’m sure Mrs. Smart is devastated by this turn of events. She’s not alone, either. LDS writer, Carol Lynn Pearson, who is still a devout believer, was married to a homosexual man and had children with him. After it became clear that her husband is gay, Pearson got a divorce. Her ex husband later contracted AIDS and died. Fortunately, his family, including his ex wife, still loved him very much and were by his side as he drew his last breaths. Carol Lynn Pearson’s daughter, Emily, went on to marry Steven Fales, a homosexual man who had been raised to believe that he had to marry a woman to be able to make it to the highest echelon of heaven. The marriage failed, just as it had between her parents. Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone involved if homosexuality weren’t deemed sinful? It would have been so much easier for everyone to find partners with whom they were sexually compatible.

I’m picking on the Mormons here, but that church is certainly not the only one guilty of screwing up members’ lives by causing people to feel shame for simply being who they are. Life is already difficult without people coming over to your house, looking to see if you have a coffeemaker or judging you for the DVDs in your collection. Moreover, people are very busy. Sundays used to be for rest, but a lot of people are forced to work on Sundays. Maybe they would like to be in church rather than at work, but maybe they would prefer to stay home and rest.

Personally, I don’t miss attending church. Bill is not a fan of organized religion and doesn’t want to go to church anymore. But he’s one of the most soulful, spiritual people I know. He believes very much in God. He doesn’t believe in organized churches, although he has said that if he had to go back, he’d go back to being Catholic. That suits me fine, although I am not Catholic myself and know little about it.

Another friend wrote that she finds God when she takes walks in nature. I can relate to that myself. In fact, Rhonda Vincent sang a song about it.

I think you can find God anywhere… if you seek God, that is. Not everyone believes, and that’s not necessarily a sad thing.

As for me… I can’t say I’m an atheist yet. I believe in God. I don’t care about church. Some people find comfort and value in religion, and that’s fine with me. Many of my family members are devout Christians, even though they cheer for Trump. I find that hard to reconcile, since Trump pretty much is the opposite of a Christian role model in my opinion. For me, the music was what meant the most… and sometimes if a pastor was a good speaker who was wise and kind, I would relate to that. But I don’t feel like I need to dress up and go to church every Sunday anymore. Don’t shed a tear for me, though. I’m fine, and so are a lot of other people who live just fine without their weekly dosage of religion.

I will admit that I love this little chapel, though… We used to have a view of it from our backyard when we lived in Germany the first time. Wurlinger Kapelle
Standard