book reviews, religion

Repost: What Would Jesus Do In Jesus Land? 

I originally wrote this book review for Epinions.com on October 27, 2005. I am reposting it here, as/is.

For the first part of this week, I accompanied my husband, Bill, on one of his many TDY trips. For those of you who have no military or civil service background, TDY stands for Temporary Duty Yonder; it basically means that Bill had to go to a conference out of town. We went to Hampton, Virginia, which is my birthplace. Because I went on this trip with Bill, I got to stay in a lovely, brand new Embassy Suites Hotel, and I was left with a great deal of time on my hands. Luckily, I’m an avid reader and there was a Barnes & Noble located just down the street. I ended up buying four books, and Julia Scheeres’ 2005 memoir Jesus Land was among my purchases.

I have a professional background in social work and public health, and a special interest in so-called “teen help” programs, especially those that are affiliated with churches. I also love to read biographies, and it was in this section of Barnes & Noble where I found Jesus Land. I was drawn by the title, especially given the fact that Jesus Land was in the biography section. I was also drawn to the picture on the book jacket, which showed two cute little kids, a little blonde, white girl and a a little black boy, standing by a trailer. Then I read the book jacket, which explains Jesus Land’s premise. Back in the early 1980s, Julia Scheeres, who is white, and her adopted brother David, who is black, were sent to Escuela Caribe, a brutal Christian boot camp for teens in the Dominican Republic. I had never heard of Escuela Caribe or its parent program, New Horizons Youth Ministries, despite the fact that I’ve done a lot of research regarding so-called “reform schools”. I’m also a sucker for books about dysfunctional families and believe me, Scheeres’ family really fits the bill in that regard!

Jesus Land is divided into two parts. Throughout the first half of Jesus Land, Scheeres describes the sights and smells of life in the rural Midwest, including the ubiquitous homemade signs written in less than perfect English reminding travelers that they needed to get right with God before Judgment Day. Jesus Land gets its title from one of those homemade signs. In the second half of Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres writes about the harrowing experiences she and her brother, David, had at Escuela Caribe.

In the first half of Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres gives readers the backstory of how she and her brother, David, wound up at Escuela Caribe and more importantly, how she and David came to be brother and sister. Julia Scheeres is the youngest biological daughter of very strict, fundamentalist Christian parents. Her father, who drove an expensive sports car, worked as a surgeon in Lafayette, Indiana. Her mother was a nurse, although I didn’t get the feeling that she practiced her profession when Julia and her siblings were growing up. Scheeres’ mother is depicted as quite idiosyncratic, forcing her family to be extremely frugal even though her husband made a very comfortable living. For example, Julia Scheeres’ mother made a concoction that she called “Garbage Soup”, which basically consisted of all of the old leftover food in the house thrown into a pot and simmered into a soup. Scheeres describes this brew in a very unappetizing way and she makes it clear that the family could certainly afford better. Julia Scheeres and her siblings were also forced to wear clothes from K-mart, which set them up for ridicule from their peers. However, even if Julia Scheeres and her siblings had been allowed to wear the very best clothes, they still would have been set apart from their peers because two of the six siblings in the Scheeres family were black.

Julia Scheeres’ older sister, Laura, was born with spina bifida and had spent a lot of time in the hospital having and recuperating from corrective surgeries. While she was in the hospital, she befriended an orphan child who was white. The Scheeres decided that adopting Laura’s orphan friend would be a very Christian thing for them to do, so they put in an application. However, Laura’s friend ended up being adopted by another family. The adoption agency had plenty of other children who needed homes… black children. They pressured the Scheeres into adopting a black child even though they really would have preferred a child who was white. Ultimately, the Scheeres decided that God was testing them by presenting them with a black child and if they adopted three year old David, they would be proving to the world that they were not racists. They would look like the perfect Christians they strived to be. It was a nice idea for them, except for the fact that Scheeres’ parents clearly did not love David as they should have. Nevertheless, they felt David should have a sibling who was “like him”, so they also adopted seven year old Jerome, whom Julia Scheeres depicts as a “bad seed”. She also explains that David and Jerome didn’t even act like brothers until they were older and David began to understand the racial divide that separated him from the rest of his family. Scheeres makes it clear that she and David were close from the very beginning, even though Julia often caught a lot of hell from her peers for having two black brothers.

Scheeres describes what daily life was like for her and David. She was clearly given preferential treatment by their parents and she speculates why she was treated differently. For one thing, she was their biological child. For another thing, she was white. Scheeres describes in heartbreaking detail how David and Jerome were mistreated at the hands of their adoptive parents as well as their peers. Through it all, David remained good-hearted, while Jerome slipped further and further into the dark side. She also writes in an almost detached way about some of her own painful experiences growing up as their sister. The first half of Jesus Land could really be its own book. As jam packed with Scheeres’ painful stories as the first half of Jesus Land is, I got the feeling that there was more she could have added. She doesn’t tell readers much about her older siblings; they get just a passing mention or two. Instead, she focuses on her relationship with David and to a lesser extent, Jerome. I felt really sorry for all of the Scheeres children as I read about how they were treated by their parents. I didn’t get the feeling that Scheeres had any affection for her mother and father, whom she depicts as very weird people.

In the second half of the book, Scheeres describes how she and David ended up being shipped off to reform school in the Dominican Republic. Again, this part of the book really could have stood on its own, had Scheeres added more substance to it. I really felt like it was another story, even though it was very helpful to know what had transpired in David’s and Julia’s lives to lead them to such a place. They had gone from backwoods Indiana to an island in the Caribbean; suddenly there was a new cast of characters and a new setting with only passing references to the original setting and cast.

Despite her ordeal, Scheeres manages to keep the story from dipping into self-pity, although I did get the feeling that she felt somewhat sorry for David, much less so for Jerome, who was very abusive to Scheeres. Again, Scheeres writes Jesus Land with surprising detachment, even though she graphically relates several instances in which she was abused at the hands of other people. Her tone gets a bit more personal when she writes about David. Scheeres shares that when she and David were younger, the family had taken vacations to Florida. Their memories of those Florida vacations were among their best. Consequently, Julia and her brother dreamed of turning eighteen and one day moving to Florida together, where they could do whatever they wanted to do. When things got rough, one of them would say “Remember Florida” in order to get the other to focus on the idea that things would get better.

Jesus Land is written in the historical present tense, which gives this book a “real time” feel, even though the events occurred in the 1980s. Scheeres makes many references to popular music in the 1980s, a forbidden pleasure, since Scheeres’ mother apparently tried to shield her children from “worldly influences” by constantly playing “Rejoice Radio” over their home’s intercom system, using the intercom system to listen to their conversations, and forbidding them from watching anything but family oriented or religious television shows. It’s often been my experience that children who are raised in very restrictive homes often end up rebelling or prematurely having the experiences from which their parents most want to shield them. Scheeres is no exception to this rule. She writes of abusing alcohol as a teenager, losing her virginity to rape, using enough vulgar language to make a sailor blush, and witnessing as her brother, Jerome, threw an illegal party while Dr. and Mrs. Scheeres were on a trip.

Jesus Land was a fast read for me. I finished it in a matter of hours, but that was partly because I was killing time, waiting for my husband to get out of a marathon meeting. I enjoyed reading Jesus Land and thought it was well-written. I’m a bit torn, however, on how I feel about how this book was presented because it does seem like two books to me. It’s not until the end of the book that Scheeres really explains why she wrote Jesus Land and where she really got her basis for the book. It’s true that Jesus Land is based on her own experiences, but it was also very much based on her brother, David’s, experiences. It wasn’t until I read her explanation that I finally had some grasp of why she adopts a more sensitive, sympathetic tone toward her brother’s experiences than she does for her own– and ultimately it’s that revelation that makes the phrase “Remember Florida” very poignant. I think that had Scheeres not explained herself, I would have given Jesus Land four stars. Scheeres’ epilogue and the explanation that she includes within has prompted me to award Jesus Land five stars. Jesus Land is a worthwhile read, especially for those who are interested in books about family dynamics, racial issues, fundamentalist Christianity, or “teen help” facilities. Moreover, Julia Scheeres has had experiences of which the average reader will never have a first hand understanding, and she offers valuable insight for those of us who can’t relate personally to her situation. I think she’s done the public a great service by putting her story in print for the world to see.

Julia Scheeres on the Web…

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Duggars, LDS, religion

Repost: Adoptions gone wrong…

I’m going to repost two more posts I wrote about adoptions that went wrong… They are going to be reposted as/is, and I’m only posting them because I saw a video on YouTube about the despicable practice of “rehoming children” yesterday. These posts generated controversy when they were first posted, but I’m still going to try not to alter them.

The first one was posted January 28, 2013.

Adoptions gone wrong…

I have never had any desire to adopt a child, even when it became clear that my husband would not be able to get me pregnant without medical intervention.  I have a lot of reasons for feeling the way I do about adoption.  Those who want to do it have my admiration, as long as they’re doing it honorably and with the right intentions. 

I have noticed that a lot of people who are interested in adopting children are very religious.  In fact, there’s a woman who hangs out on the Recovery from Mormonism forum who has several adopted children.  She freely admits that she adopted them because she thought she was leading them to the gospel, never mind that two of them turned out to be severely affected by reactive attachment disorder and visited complete chaos on her home.  

Last night, I read with interest an update about the case of Sergeant Terry Achane, an Army drill sergeant whose ex wife had his daughter in Utah and gave her up for adoption without his consent.  The child was adopted by the Frei family, who already had five children and were hoping to find a black child to be a companion to their adopted black son.  When Achane found out about the illegal adoption, he took steps to get his daughter back.  The Freis fought back; consequently, 22 month old Teleah is just now with her rightful father instead of the people who have raised her since her birth.  

I first heard about the Achane/Frei case back in December, when someone posted a news article about it on RfM.  Here’s a quote from that story…

On a blog about the case, where the Freis have raised more than $20,000 to help with legal bills, they vow to appeal McDade’s decision, describing the arrival of Achane’s daughter in their lives “a righteous desire blessed to fruition by God.”

“We have not lost our conviction that we are in the right!!!!!!” Kristi Frei wrote after McDade’s Nov. 20 ruling dismissed their adoption petition. “We have only ever wanted to do right by Leah, and have always felt we have been acting in her best interest to keep her with our family and raise her as our own. Our hearts have demanded it — there has never been any question to us that she is OURS!!!”

I visited the Freis’ blog last night and noticed that it appears to be cut down to one page. I imagine they got a lot of negative comments about their plans to raise the child they call Leah, mainly because a lot of people recognized that they had no right to raise her. She has a perfectly good father who wanted to be in her life and legally had the right to raise her. However, the Freis believe that they had the divine right to have the little girl… I imagine they think they were anointed by God.

Changing gears, another story that has gotten a lot of press is that of Kendra Skaggs, a woman who started a blog about her attempt to adopt a Russian orphan named Polina. Polina is disabled. Kendra Skaggs and her husband are devout Christians and they decided they wanted Polina. They jumped through many hoops to get her and were almost ready to be approved when they fell into the cracks of a new law proposed by Russia’s president, Vladmir Putin, prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children.

Many Russians are very upset about this legislation, since so many orphans languish in Russia– especially ones like Polina who are physically disabled. Looking at the Skaggs’ blog this morning, it appears that they will get their new daughter. That’s a happy ending, I think. It’s better for Polina to have a family that wants her than grow up institutionalized.

About ten years ago, there was a lot of press about Anna He, a Chinese girl who was sort of “stolen” from her Chinese parents, who thought they were giving her up temporarily to an American couple. Her biological parents and adoptive parents fought for years over who would raise her. She ended up going to China when she was a young girl, not knowing the language or the culture and totally missing her American parents, who had apparently gotten her under some shady conditions. 

I remember when Anna He was still very young and thinking her adoptive parents should let her biological parents have her before it was too late. As it turned out, by the time she got to China to live with her biological family, after her parents had split up, Anna He was a stranger in a strange land. I think she ultimately got a raw deal. She did get to visit her former foster parents in 2011, though. 

Finally, there’s the case of Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who legally adopted a little girl named Veronica in 2009. When it came to light that Veronica had Cherokee Indian blood, the adoption was challenged by Veronica’s biological father, Dusten Brown, a registered member of Cherokee Nation. Brown had apparently initially agreed to allow the girl to be adopted, but later changed his mind. 

In 1978, The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed as a means to stop abuse that had been going on for decades, which separated Native American children from their families and heritage through adoptions. From what I read on CNN, Dusten Brown thought the mother intended to raise the child herself, so he said he would relinquish his parental rights in order to avoid paying child support. But when he found out she intended to put the girl up for adoption, he decided he wanted to raise her himself.

The Capobiancos have had a very difficult time in their quest to become parents. They had gone through several IVF treatments that all failed. Adoption appeared to be their only chance at having children. I can’t even imagine their devastation at having this happen, even as I also have empathy for biological fathers who are denied rights to their kids when the mothers decide to give them up for adoption.

Had my husband not had a vasectomy when he was with his ex wife, we probably would have had kids. I always wanted to be a mother. But all these stories about adoptions going wrong (and there are even more of them out there) makes the prospect of adoption very unappealing to me. And I figure if adoption doesn’t appeal to me, it’s probably better if I don’t become a mother. The urge isn’t strong enough to withstand that kind of heartache.

In any case, I am truly happy that Sergeant Achane got his daughter back. I hope they have a good life. I’m glad it looks like Kendra Skaggs will get Polina, because I think staying in a Russian orphanage will not serve the little girl. As for the Capobianco case, I’m not sure what to think… 

Edited to add… This morning on RfM, someone posted this…

TBM niece “wants one of those” (black babies)…

A year or so ago one of our TBM nieces (with 5 kids of her own) and her DH adopted a black baby from Haiti. When she posted photos of the kids together, her TBM friends all “cooed” (quite patronizingly) about how adorable her family was, especially the new adoptee. One of our other nieces-also TBM with 3 kids posted “I so want one of those!” I was horrified but her comment was revealing of the general sense that adopting a little black child was the newest fad amongst this group of TBM Utahns.
I found it disturbing on a number of levels.

Yikes.

And the follow up, which was posted on March 21, 2014…

I noticed this morning that my blog has been getting a lot of hits on a post I wrote in January 2013 about adoptions gone wrong.  Interesting that this would come up today because I just started reading a book about adoptions, specifically those done by religious people as a means of bringing more children into a belief system.  It’s often evangelical Christian and Mormon couples that adopt kids to “bring them to the gospel” and it seems to be trendy to adopt these kids from foreign countries. 

The video I watched yesterday (in 2022) that prompted me to repost these articles.

Interestingly enough, today I read an article about a young woman from Haiti who was adopted in 2009 at age 13.  Nita Dittenber’s adoptive parents, Tony and Michelle Dittenber of Nampa, Idaho, had four biological kids and took in five more adopted ones from Haiti.  Among the five Haitian adoptees was Nita’s biological sister,   Evidently, Nita was having problems in the Dittenber home and by the time she was 14, Michelle Dittenber had taken to the Internet to offer her to another family.  She went to two other families, both of whom sent her back. 

Then, when she was 15, Nita was sent to Marysville, Ohio to live with Emily and Jean Paul Kruse and their nine kids.  The Kruses are evidently Christians.  I read an article about them that was run as a PR piece by the Ohio National Guard, which is where Jean Paul Kruse worked.  Jean Paul has a son from a previous relationship.  Emily has three kids from another relationship.  They had one child together.  Then they adopted four kids from Vietnam and Liberia.  Nita lived with the family for 17 months.  While she was there, the girls told her that Jean Paul Kruse was sexually abusing them.  Though he apparently never touched Nita, she was terrified.  She told Emily Kruse, who accused her of lying and threatened to send her back to Idaho.

One day, Nita went to visit other Kruse relatives with some of the other children.  One of the Kruses asked Nita why she was so downhearted.  Nita told the person about the abuse and then the younger girls shared their stories.  Fortunately, the relative took action, but when Emily Kruse found out that Nita had talked, she sent her back to Idaho… supposedly so she wouldn’t be questioned by local authorities.  The Dittenbers were on vacation.  Nita arrived in Boise with nothing but the clothes on her back and was temporarily taken by her adoptive aunt and uncle, Tammy and Michael Dittenber.  When Michelle Dittenber came back from her trip, she immediately offered Nita up on the Internet again for yet another re-homing.

As I read this story, I got the sense that the Dittenbers are probably LDS.  I did some searching and found evidence that at the very least, extended family is Mormon.  They live in Idaho, which is very Mormon.  They’ve adopted a bunch of kids from Haiti, which is a very Mormon thing to do.  Tony Dittenber works for a “food warehouse”, which may be a euphemism for one run by the LDS church for families in need.  Michelle works at home booking flights for an airline… probably JetBlue, which is known for employing stay at home moms and was co-founded by David Neeleman, a Mormon Brazilian-American businessman.

ETA:  Minutes after this post went live, I was contacted by Tammy Dittenber, who was mentioned in my blog post and in the story about Nita Dittenber.  She writes that she and her husband are LDS converts of 13 years, while Michelle and Tony Dittenber are Pentecostal.  Tammy Dittenber writes that she and her husband are the only members of the LDS church in the family.  As one can imagine, what happened with Nita has been devastating to the entire family.  I imagine the Reuters article, since it went live, has caused quite the firestorm for the Dittenbers.  I want to thank Tammy Dittenber for correcting me as well as being very nice about it.  I am very sorry for what that family is dealing with, even as I am also very sorry for Nita’s troubles.    

An article linked to the one about Nita Dittenber relates the sad story of Inga Whatcott, who was adopted from Russia.  A year after bringing 12 year old Inga home, Neal and Priscilla Whatcott gave up trying to raise her.  They claimed that she had problems too severe to handle.  She struggled to read and write, smoked cigarettes, was depressed, and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.  Over six months, the Whatcotts sent Inga to three different families, none of which worked out.  In one family, she had sex with a sibling who then urinated on her.  In another, she claims she was molested by the father.  She finally ended up at a Michigan psychiatric facility, where she claims she had sex with her therapist, who said he “never crossed the line physically” with Inga.  Indeed, he reports that she was very troubled.

Another article by Reuters highlights the shady non-legalized adoptions that go on too often when adoptive parents realize they can’t handle a child they’ve taken in from another country.  Sometimes adopted children end up in the care of very scary people who are never vetted by social workers or law enforcement.  Sometimes the end results of these “non-legal adoptions” turn out to be tragic.     

Just yesterday, I read another article about Stacey Connor, a woman who, along with her husband, Matt, adopted two children from Haiti.  The older child, a five year old boy, turned out to have severe problems that threatened the younger child, a baby girl, and the woman’s biological child.  She ended up deciding to re-home the boy.  In that case, it sounded like Connor did what she could to find an appropriate home for the boy, rather than just sending him away to anyone willing to take him.  Still, it’s very disturbing that these kinds of situations occur, that parents bring home kids from other cultures and then can’t keep them.

The book I’m reading is called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption and it’s all about how adoption has become a big business, especially in religious circles.  Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the famous couple with nineteen kids and a reality show, have said they are considering adopting more kids for their gigantic brood.  I feel pretty certain that any child adopted by them will be adopted so they can be “brought to the Lord” and perhaps keep their reality show going. 

I don’t necessarily think that it’s wrong or bad for religious people to adopt children, as long as they are adopting because they truly want to be parents.  Many times, these international adoptions work out fine and the kids end up much better off than they would have had they not been adopted.  Other times, the adoptions turn out to be disastrous for any number of reasons.  Sometimes kids that come from other countries have severe mental and physical health problems that prove to be impossible for well-meaning adoptive parents to handle.  Sometimes there is simply no bond.  When the well-meaning parents give these kids up to strangers, the kids can end up getting hurt or killed. 

Unfortunately, I believe that a lot of families who are religious take in children for the wrong reasons.  They do it so they’ll look good in church circles or to bring souls to Christ, rather than fulfilling a desire to be parents.  A few years ago, I read an incredible book by Julia Scheeres called Jesus Land: A Memoir.  Scheeres has an adopted brother named David, who is black.  Her very religious and violent parents adopted David and another black boy named Jerome.  If you ever needed to read a story about how people can adopt for the wrong reasons, Jesus Land is that story.  I reviewed it, of course…

Originally I included my Jesus Land review in this post, but since this is so long, I’ll put that review in a fresh post.

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Duggars, law, music, religion

A song leads me to ponder Christians and lawsuits…

Sorry in advance for those who are tired of this topic. I’m still working it out in my head. Also, please excuse me for taking so long to get to the point. 😉

A few days ago, I was working on my latest jigsaw puzzle. I had the music going, and a song came on that I think was by Paul Thorn. I can’t tell you which one it was, though, because I have a habit of downloading whole albums by artists I like, or even when I just hear a song I like. I don’t always get around to listening to the whole thing, like I used to when I was younger and poorer. I remember, when I was a kid, I would save my pennies for albums and listen to the whole thing over and over again, until I had the whole thing memorized. Nowadays, there’s just so much out there that I like, I don’t do that anymore.

In fact, just this morning, I was looking at songs by Stephen Bishop. I had heard his original version of the song, “Separate Lives”, which was made famous in the mid 1980s by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, who sang it for the film, White Nights. I was contemplating buying a live EP by Stephen Bishop, even though I already have a different live album by him. Then I noticed the Alan Parsons Project also had a song called “Separate Lives”. I have always liked the Alan Parsons Project… I’m nerdy like that, and I’m a bonafide child of the 80s. I ended up listening to a snippet, and liked what I heard, so I downloaded that. I’m now listening to that album. And I also bought an obscure early 90s album called The Law, which one of my college roommates had. I liked it back then, and it just popped into my head. So I bought that, too. I’m probably a record company’s wet dream of a customer. I’ll buy albums at the drop of a hat. It’s a good thing I gave up my obsession with horses, or Bill and I might legitimately be in the poorhouse.

Aha! I thought those backup singings sounded familiar. They also sing with the great Mike Farris, as well as on their own!

I am a recent admirer of Paul Thorn’s music. I discovered him when someone made a hilarious YouTube video using his funny song, “It’s a Great Day to Whup Somebody’s Ass”, speeding it up so it sounded like Paul was on helium. I found the original version and loved it. Next thing I knew, I was downloading shitloads of Paul Thorn’s music. His song, “I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love” was very comforting to me in 2014, when I lost my dad rather suddenly. I was listening to my iPod on the way to my home state of Virginia, and that song, which I had never heard before came on… and I could really relate to it on so many levels.

I know Paul Thorn is the son of a Pentecostal preacher. He grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, and was not allowed to listen to rock and roll when he was growing up. He had to hide the two records he did own– one by Huey Lewis and the other by Elton John. It’s not surprising that some of his songs are about faith issues, even though his own career has involved rock and roll, and until recently, booze. Thorn has evidently given up the sauce… something for which I heartily congratulate him.

So anyway, this song came on, and it sounded like it was an indictment against lawsuits. I thought it was a song by Paul Thorn, but I could be wrong. I’m trying to find it now, but I haven’t been successful. I should have “Shazamed” it. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do a topic search in my music library and find the song that way? I probably could do that, but lack the technical expertise to figure out how. The song got me to thinking, though. I have heard that Christians shouldn’t sue each other. But what if the lawsuit is for a good cause?

I am rather nominally a Christian myself. I was raised to be Christian, but I don’t go to church anymore. Even if lawsuits weren’t considered a “Christian” thing to do, I don’t think that would be a reason not to engage in litigation. I do think that people should only sue someone as a last resort. I don’t think lawsuits should only be about money, either.

One of the reasons my husband sued our former landlady was because we knew she courted junior members of the military– young, inexperienced couples who might not have the time or resources to hold her accountable. She was very proud of hosting several American families in her rental house, and according to her, they were all “perfect” tenants. Except for us, that is. She said we were the “worst” tenants she’d ever had.

Now, we aren’t perfect people by any stretch of the imagination. But we do pay rent on time– early, actually– and we don’t throw wild parties, get in fights with each other or the neighbors, purposely destroy things, or complain a lot. I may not be a great housekeeper, but I do keep a basically sanitary home. She made us sound like we were total pigs. And although she accused us of being irresponsible slobs who were the “worst” tenants she’d ever had, I noticed that she never once asked us to move out of the house. She never claimed Eigenbedarf (needing the house for herself or her family). In fact, we have many emails in which she thanked Bill for paying her promptly and for being so “considerate”, which he certainly is. Although I had plenty of reason to complain about her many unplanned intrusions, I rarely did, at least in the beginning. It was only after she became verbally abusive toward me in my own home that I became really angry.

How is it, then, that she justified keeping our deposit, only begrudgingly giving us 20% back when Bill insisted? How is it that she clearly broke German laws, and we were the shitty ones? The money she kept, we could afford to lose. But there was a time when her decision to keep our money would have been financially devastating to us. I couldn’t help but notice that she appeared to prefer a certain type of tenant. Her place was priced reasonably for the Stuttgart area, although until we moved to Wiesbaden, it was one of the most expensive rentals we’d ever lived in. It was more than what we paid for housing in Texas and Georgia, though we lucked into a fairly cheap place in North Carolina. None of those landlords had problems with us, either. She was the only landlord that ever dared to rip off our deposit in such an egregious way.

We figured that if she was willing to rip us off without any compunction, she would certainly do it to younger, less assertive people with less experience living in Germany. She would count on them having to leave the country and not having had the foresight to buy legal insurance. She would bet they would be too intimidated by the court system and the lack of German language proficiency most Americans have. Plus, she’s a total bully, and most people don’t enjoy confronting bullies. That’s why they can continue to be that way to other people for as long as they do.

So, although we definitely wanted to hold her accountable for ourselves, we also saw suing her as a moral obligation toward those coming after us. She may very well continue to try to rip off her tenants, but at least someone has refused to let her get away with openly breaking German tenant/landlord laws. I strongly suspect that the people before us realized that she was a dishonest person and, instead of having the integrity to deal with her themselves, they lied to us and left us holding the bag. And then, when I started to figure out what happened, they tried to shame me into silence. They wanted us to pay the price for things that happened on their watch… because I KNOW that they didn’t get the same level of scrutiny on checkout that we did… and I KNOW that the house was not as clean for us as it was when we left it, in spite of ex landlady’s claims that it was filthy.

Bill watched her carefully when they did the walkthrough. She obviously had to look pretty hard to come up with defects, although she did have the nerve to complain that we left the trashcans full, as they were when we moved in back in 2014. I wish he’d had the presence of mind to remind her that we had paid rent and Nebenkosten (other costs– eg. water, trash) for December 2018, when we weren’t even living there. We had every right to use the trash cans in November 2018. The lease was in effect until 11:59pm December 31, 2018. If she was so upset that they were dirty, she could have asked us to come back and clean them after they were dumped. She knew we weren’t leaving the country. Of course, that would have meant she needed to cooperate with us, which she plainly wasn’t willing to do.

When it became clear that she was trying to portray us as people we clearly aren’t, to the point of even falsely accusing us of theft and other illegal things, we decided that a lawsuit was in order. It brought us no joy or pleasure to sue her. In fact, I know I was very angry about having to take that step. But what choice did we have? We could sue her and pursue what was rightfully ours under the contract, or we could let her get away with what looks to me to be like her usual scam involving Americans in Germany. To me, it seemed immoral not to hold her accountable, because it would only embolden her to continue doing the same sleazy thing to other people. In that sense, I don’t think what we did was “unChristian”. She did finally end up giving us our money, but boy, was it obvious she didn’t want to do it. Months after the case was settled, she still hadn’t paid. We contacted our lawyer, who must have sent her a very strongly worded letter. And then ex landlady didn’t pay us directly. She paid the lawyer, who then gave us our money. It must have been very painful for her to do the right thing.

And then I think about so-called Christians, like the Duggar family, who have certainly used the legal system to get what they want. Four of the Duggar daughters sued over invasion of privacy when their information was leaked to the press. That case was eventually dismissed after a couple of years of wrangling. Of course, right now the legal system is having its way with their brother, Josh Duggar, who is going to have an extra couple of months cooling his heels in the Washington County jail. His lawyers successfully petitioned the court for more time before he is formally sentenced for his horrific crimes against children. I have heard that jails are a lot less comfortable than prisons are. They are set up for short term stays, which means they have less in the way of resources for inmates. But Josh probably prefers to be in Arkansas, close to his wife, Anna, who is able to talk to him by phone. Once he gets to prison, he may be less protected from harm than he is right now. But of course he’s going to have to go to prison at some point. Frankly, I think the sooner he accepts that, the better off he’ll be.

Speaking of the Duggars… there was another wedding yesterday. Jeremiah Duggar, twin to Jedidiah, who was married last April, got married to the former Hannah Wissmann in Nebraska yesterday. Some photos have already surfaced of the event, which was apparently relatively subdued for a Duggar wedding. There weren’t any weird pranks played, for instance. This was also the first wedding Josh didn’t attend, obviously. I don’t know where they will honeymoon. Since TLC isn’t paying, I guess it won’t be anywhere in Europe.

Anyway… if I ever figure out who sang the song that inspired this post or the song’s title, I’ll try to post a link and perhaps offer more commentary. Next time, I’ll be sure to Shazam. But, suffice to say, I don’t think it’s always wrong or immoral to sue someone. Sometimes, lawsuits are completely justified and, in fact, even the “right” thing to do. It’s only when they are solely about taking money for frivolous or greedy reasons that I think they’re immoral. Sometimes, filing a lawsuit is the only way to get justice. And, I know in our case, it was also about reclaiming self-respect and maintaining dignity. Turning the other cheek is a good thing to do sometimes. Other times, it’s much better to fight.

One more thing before I go… I just discovered the wonderful music of piano prodigy Ruth Slencynzska, who is 97 years old and is Rachmaninoff’s last surviving student. If you love classical music, I would highly recommend checking out her brand new album, My Life in Music. It’s gorgeous!

It’s better to focus on Ruth’s sublime artistry and musicianship than people who lie, cheat, and steal from others.
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mental health, religion, tragedies

Switzerland and Utah have more in common than beautiful mountain views…

This post has to do with mass suicide. If you think you might be triggered, you might want to move on to your next Internet station.

The New York Times‘ headline said “4 Die After Falling From Balcony in Swiss Resort Town”. I was instantly curious, since I’ve heard the Swiss are even more anal retentive about safety and precision than the Germans are. Before I read the article, I said to Bill, “Someone is going to get sued into oblivion for this.” I said that because the headline made it sound like negligence was involved and I just assumed that a lovely family had plunged to their deaths because a balcony gave way. The strange truth was, this tragedy had nothing to do with a builder’s or safety inspector’s negligence. Apparently, these four people died on purpose. A fifth person remains hospitalized in serious condition.

The small group of people who died yesterday in Montreux, a beautiful resort town in western Switzerland near idyllic Lake Geneva, were not publicly identified in the article. However, the police believe they were French nationals and members of the same family, consisting of a 40 year old man, his 41 year old wife, his wife’s twin sister, and their 8 year old daughter. The couple’s 15 year old son somehow managed to survive the plunge from the seventh floor apartment from which they all apparently jumped.

When the article was published, the police were still trying to determine exactly what led up to the circumstances leading to this family’s fall from their balcony. According to the story, two police officers had knocked on the family’s door at about 7am. The officers were there to give the parents a summons involving the homeschooling of one of the children. Homeschooling is legal in Switzerland, but children who are homeschooled are still required to be routinely monitored by officials to determine their educational progress. When parents are out of touch with officials, police officers are tasked with issuing summonses. Evidently, this family was not allowing their homeschooled child to be checked.

After they knocked on the door, the police officers heard a voice from inside the apartment, asking them to identify themselves. Then, there was silence. As the officers were about to leave the building, a witness had called the police to inform them that people had fallen from a seventh floor balcony. A neighbor of the family’s stated that the family was very “discreet”. That makes me think that there was something weird going on, even before the adults apparently decided that suicide en masse was the answer to their problems.

I read some of the comments regarding this piece, and one lady posted that this story reminded her of an incident that happened in Salt Lake City Utah in 1978. Her comment is below.

This sounds like an instance in the 1970s involving a family who came to be known as “The Leaping Longos” after a mother and her seven children all jumped out of their hotel room window. It turned out that the father had killed himself the day before and their mother forced them all to jump in some weird type of suicide pact. They were practicing their own brand of religion based on the Mormon church and the father was also evading the authorities. 

This family likely all jumped to their deaths as well, but only after the authorities showed up. The authorities were only trying to establish what was happening with the children due to them being home schooled but it is very likely that they had something else to hide. Fortunately one son has survived, and once he’s able to talk about what happened I’m sure the full story will unfold.

The poor kid has become an orphan and I hope he’s able to recover because it would be even more tragic if he’s permanently impaired.

I was around in 1978, but I was a young child at the time. Obviously, I had never heard of the “Leaping Longos” before I read the above comment. I decided to look them up to see if there was any information about this family. Sure enough, I found the story after a couple of minutes of looking. Here’s a link to a 1993 era article by Deseret News about the lone survivor of the Utah incident. In that case, the lone survivor was a fifteen year old girl. Like the rest of her family, Longo changed her name; in the Deseret article she is called Rachel David.

On August 3, 1978, the David family (originally identified as the Longo family) made the bizarre decision to leap from an eleventh floor balcony at the International Dune Hotel in Salt Lake City. The family had been living in the hotel for about a year, when the patriarch, 39 year old Immanuel David (originally named Charles Bruce Longo), committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Three days after the suicide, 38 year old Rebecca David and her seven children either jumped or were thrown from the balcony. The lone survivor, Rachel, spent many months in a hospital before she was placed in foster care. She was wheelchair bound in 1993, when she was interviewed by the hosts of the television tabloid show, Inside Edition.

In 1993, Rachel David still believed that her father was God and would be returning to Earth. She also said that she had willingly jumped. She also said that she had been trying to follow the suicide order and, as of 1993, had attempted to kill herself many times. Another article, circa 2000, describes the survivor as “brain damaged”. At the time that article was written, Rachel David was still living with “remnants” of the House of David near Denver, Colorado.

Below is a screenshot of a news article that was written in 1978, just after this event took place.

Freaky story… I wonder if this French family was involved in a similar cult.

And here is a broadcast news item about the 1978 Utah incident…

I can’t even imagine how horrifying this was to witness…

Why do these culty types always gravitate to the name “Immanuel”? Especially when they have ties to Mormonism? According to the news report, David was an excommunicated member of the LDS church. The father was not employed at the time of his death, although according to the video, the bill for the $95 a day was paid on time and in cash, usually with $100 bills. The news story is astonishing, as the physician is very openly talking about the surviving girl’s injuries. We didn’t have HIPAA in those days.

As I listen to this surprisingly lengthy report, I’m confused by the discrepancies in the people’s names. According to the news article, the father’s name was Charles Bruce Longo, but this news report refers to him as Bruce David Longo. And then he changed his name, and all of the names of his wife and children were changed.

As for the French family in Switzerland, slightly more news has emerged about their apparently sudden and bizarre exit from Earth. Apparently, the mother in the French family was a dentist who had worked in Paris. Her sister was an ophthalmologist. The father worked at home. The family had been living in Switzerland for some time, and had residence status. The Daily Mail offers an article with some rather salacious details omitted from the more respectable newspaper articles. Apparently, the family used incense a lot, and ordered many packages. It will be interesting to learn more about why this tragedy occurred, and if this family has anything else in common with the “Leaping Longos” of Salt Lake City.

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book reviews, religion

A review of Sex Cult Nun, by Faith Jones…

Happy Saturday, everybody! I woke up early this morning, determined to finally finish my latest reading project. It’s not that the book I just finished, Sex Cult Nun (2021), by Faith Jones, wasn’t interesting. It definitely was. I just find it hard to read as fast as I used to. I tend to read when I’m lying in bed, and I drift off to sleep. I definitely need naps more than I used to. It’s probably because Bill wakes me up at 5:00am, most mornings.

I think I discovered Sex Cult Nun when I saw it recommended in the Duggar Family News group. I am fascinated by books about religious cults, so when someone recommends a new one– especially one that is highly regarded– I usually take notice. However, when I realized that Faith Jones was raised in The Family, which used to be known as the Children of God, and is now known as The Family International, I almost didn’t read the book. I’ve now read several books about the Children of God cult, and I always find it difficult to get through them because books about that particular cult are often rife with stories of child sexual abuse. I don’t enjoy reading about children being sexually violated.

As of this morning, I have already reviewed three other books about the Children of God/ The Family. Sex Cult Nun is number four. And although I do find The Family disturbing to read about, there are some aspects of that particular religious group that really are interesting. I’m glad that I did finish Faith Jones’ story, because ultimately, it ends with triumph. Also, although Jones endured a lot of abuse on all levels, her book doesn’t include graphic stories about children being horrifically abused. Make no mistake– Jones was abused and severely neglected when she was growing up, and she does share stories about that abuse. But she manages to share her story without causing the shock and horror I’ve encountered in other books about this particular cult.

Background about David Berg and his cult

Faith Jones comes from a long line of evangelists and proselytizers, which she details in the first chapter of Sex Cult Nun. But the most famous/infamous of her ancestors is her paternal grandfather, David Brandt Berg, founder of the Children of God. Jones explains that Berg’s religious convictions were cemented, in part, because he believed that he had experienced a miracle. Berg was drafted into the Army in 1941, when he was 22 years old. Berg’s mother, Virginia, was a famous preacher who had been miraculously healed, due to her religious convictions. She was a very charismatic traveling evangelist who held tent revivals. Virginia had three children, but only her son, David, was interested in pursuing a life in the ministry. She took him with her on her travels as her assistant and driver.

But then Berg was summoned to military service. Although he could have gotten out of being drafted because he was pursuing a life in the ministry, he decided not to try to get out of military service. He had gotten tired of working with his mother and craved adventure. But then when he was in boot camp, he contracted double pneumonia, and was not expected to recover. Berg prayed to God, promising that if was healed, he would devote his life to God’s service. And, just like that, he was “miraculously healed”, just like his mother was. Berg was medically discharged from the Army, and he went back to work with his mother. However, Berg was not happy with his modest role as his mother’s assistant. He wanted to preach, too. He would have to wait awhile before that would happen.

While he was working with his mother, David met a pretty brunette woman named Jane Miller. She was a devout Baptist from Kentucky who had moved to California. Jane worked as a secretary at The Little Church of Sherman Oaks. David and Jane eloped in 1944, and the couple had four children, including Faith Jones’s father, Jonathan “Hosea” Emmanuel. Berg became ordained as a minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He began to preach about integration and sharing one’s wealth with the less fortunate. Jones writes that her grandfather was formulating his ideas about “Christian communism”, which is essentially what his cult, the Children of God, would become while he was still living. Berg was unhappy with his lot in life, and engaged in a number of “antics” that would infuriate local religious leaders, who would call law enforcement. The situation got so bad that Berg decided to go on the road. Faith Jones’s father was in the eighth grade at the time. He was pulled out of school, and that was the end of Hosea’s formal education.

In 1968, David Brandt Berg, finally started a religious movement in California. The group originally consisted of “hippie types”, young people and troubled teenagers– drifters attracted to the counterculture movements of the that era. He originally called his cult “Teens for Christ”, but later changed the name to Children of God.

David Berg was charismatic and enigmatic, and he brought together young, attractive, and talented people and convinced them that his brand of evangelical Christianity was the right way to live. In reality, the Children of God was historically a group with extremely abusive and misogynistic teachings. Young people were sent all over the world to beg on the street, sell religious reading materials, and “flirty fish” new converts, who would live in poverty in diverse locations. The children raised in that cult, at least when Berg was still living, were horrifically abused on all levels. Faith Jones, one of David Berg’s many grandchildren, was no exception.

Faith Jones never met her paternal grandfather, who went into hiding in 1971. David Berg divorced Jane Miller (known as Mother Eve) in 1970 and that same year, he married a cult follower named Karen Zerby, who had worked as his secretary. Karen Zerby now leads The Family, as the Children of God cult is now called. She is known as “Mother Maria”.

Karen had a son named Ricky Rodriguez in 1975, while she was living in Tenerife, Spain. Ricky was fathered by a “flirty fish”– a man Karen had been trying to lure into the cult by having sex with him. David Berg “adopted” Ricky, whose childhood was recorded in a book called The Story of Davidito. The book was supposed to be a guide to cult followers on how to raise their children. However, the book strongly encouraged child sexual abuse, which Karen Zerby allegedly participated in against her son.

Ricky Rodriguez endured horrific abuse, and in 2005, invited his mother and his former nanny to lunch. After lunch, he murdered his nanny by stabbing her to death. He had meant to murder his mother, too, but she hadn’t accepted his invitation to lunch. Rodriguez then committed suicide. It’s my understanding that a lot of the really abusive practices that took place while Berg was still alive no longer happen. “Flirty fishing”– using sex to lure new converts– went out in the 1980s, supposedly due to the AIDS epidemic.

Who is Faith Jones?

Jones was born to David Berg’s son, Hosea, around 1977. At the time of Faith’s birth, Hosea had two wives, Ruthie and Esther. Ruthie is Faith’s mother. Like many people who were born into the Children of God cult, Faith wasn’t always raised with her family of origin. She spent her growing up years living in different religious communes around the world, mostly in Asia. The communes, which were called “homes”, were led by shepherds– usually married couples– who kept the members accountable to the cult’s teachings and doled out punishments for infractions of the rules. Jones mostly grew up in Macau and Hong Kong, but she also spent time in Taiwan, mainland China, Thailand, and Russia.

Children were “homeschooled”. They were not allowed to read any books that weren’t approved by the cult’s leadership. They were forced to read “Mo Letters”– these were letters David Berg, who had taken to calling himself “Moses David” (hence the “Mo”), wrote to his followers. When members were punished, they were often required to read and reread the Mo Letters, over and over again, even if they had already memorized them. Jones did get a couple of tastes of formal education, and that ignited a thirst for knowledge within her. But children were severely punished for seeking information, reading unapproved books, or breaking other rules, such as eating sugar without permission. Children were also trained to “share” with other members. “Sharing” is a euphemism for having sex. The cult members were not to work with “Systemites”– normal people who weren’t in the cult.

Faith Jones was taught that she owned nothing. She had to share EVERYTHING with the group… and that included her body. She was told that her body didn’t belong to her; it belonged to God. God wanted her to share her body with anyone who wanted access to it. And using birth control was forbidden, as was refusing sex.

Faith breaks out at age 23

Eventually, Faith realized that she wanted a college education. But cult members were forbidden from studying at a university. They were also forbidden from working at jobs for money. They got all of their money by begging, performing in the street, or selling religious materials or music productions. Once she’d made up her mind, she told the leaders of the commune, who promptly did all they could to force her to stay. Jones was told that if she left the cult, she would end up on drugs or homeless. This is the same threat repeated by other cult leaders, who try to make their victims believe that they can’t make it through life on their own. It was a threat my husband heard, when he decided to quit Mormonism.

But Faith was determined, and fortunately, her mother’s parents were not in the cult. They were able to help her a little bit. Faith also had to rely on her own resources to raise enough money to buy a plane ticket to the United States from China. Living outside of the cult caused Faith Jones significant culture shocks at times. At one point, she lived with a Chinese woman who became enraged with her when she tried to borrow a fan without asking permission. Faith was raised in an environment where people lived communally. She didn’t have a concept of privacy or people not using things without permission.

When she moved to California and looked into attending college, she found that none of the big schools would accept her, because she didn’t have any credentials. Her solution was to attend community college, where she made excellent grades. But she couldn’t relate to other people, since she’d spent her life outside of the United States. She didn’t get pop culture references, and didn’t know how to be “normal” with “Systemites”.

Nevertheless, Faith Jones was an extraordinary student, and she eventually managed to win acceptance to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. That would have been an exceptional feat regardless, but she made it in as a transfer student, which is a very rare achievement. She graduated Summa Cum Laude, having learned to speak Russian and Mandarin fluently. Then she went to law school at the University of California- Berkeley. Jones writes that she wasn’t particularly attracted to the law, but decided it was a profession in which she would always be able to make a good living. She would not be impoverished again, nor would she ever be beholden to other people. She is now a very successful attorney with her own practice. But she still has many hang ups and complexes that stem from her upbringing in a cult.

Faith Jones has a TED Talk. This is worth listening to, if you don’t want to read the book.

My thoughts

I didn’t really enjoy this book to its fullest until I got to the end. In fact, I really wish that Faith Jones had spent a little more time writing about her life outside of the cult. It was during that time that she “awakened”, and I found that part of the book fascinating and exciting. For instance, she writes about meeting a military officer who was also studying law when she was at Georgetown. He became her boyfriend for a time, and he helped her to overcome some falsehoods that she learned while she was in the cult.

Faith had never learned that sex is not supposed to be painful. When she was in the cult, she was forced to have sex with men she wasn’t attracted to, so she wasn’t prepared to have normal sex. Faith was also raped a couple of times. Her ex boyfriend taught her that sex shouldn’t hurt. He also defined rape to her, which caused Faith to realize that, actually, all of the sexual experiences she’d had before they dated were basically rapes. She hadn’t actually wanted to have sex with those men; she was pressured, coerced, and a couple of times, actually forced to have sex with them. I’m sure that realization was very traumatic for her, but I suspect that in a way, it was also liberating. She learned that she could and should say “no”, and that consent is necessary before sex.

Unfortunately, Faith’s relationship with her boyfriend ultimately couldn’t work out, as he and his parents were members of a different controlling religious cult–the Seventh Day Adventists. Their religion was not as toxic as Faith’s was, but there were too many dynamics within it that were like the Children of God/The Family. Moreover, because of the religion her boyfriend was in, she was asked to lie to his parents, who were not aware that their son had strayed somewhat from the religion’s teachings– no meat, no alcohol, and no sex before marriage.

I was a little surprised when Faith wrote that she hadn’t necessarily been attracted to studying law; she had just wanted to be able to get a good job and make plenty of money on her own. For one thing, I know that not everyone who goes to law school is successful in launching a legal career. For another thing, Faith Jones is obviously very intellectual and has a gift for making cases. She once got a professor at Georgetown to change an A- to an A, when he told her he’d never been convinced to do that before. She laboriously went through all of her work to make her case and managed to change his mind. And she’d done it because she had her heart set on graduating from Georgetown with straight As so she could get the distinction of Summa Cum Laude. I doubt many students are that single-minded and dedicated. To me, it seemed natural that she would become a lawyer. I thought that even before I knew that is, in fact, what she had done after she graduated from college.

I also liked that this book ends on a good note. While I’m not so naive to think that Faith is completely recovered from her traumatic childhood, I do think she’s made great strides toward overcoming some very significant challenges. She does point out that not everyone who was in the cult was that lucky. Her father, for instance, is still impoverished, although she has a good relationship with him and her mother. Her mother was able to pick up the pieces post cult life and start a career in her 50s. That gave me hope, as I will be 50 soon myself, and sometimes I worry about potentially having to support myself. 😉

Finally, I want to comment that this book reminded me a lot of Tara Westover’s book, Educated, which I have also read and reviewed. I think Jones and Westover have a lot in common, although Westover was raised as a fundie Mormon. Personally, I think Educated was a bit easier and more entertaining to read, but both books are worthwhile and gratifying reading. They’re both books about young women who overcome tremendous odds and severe handicaps to achieve great success and greatness in the world. Ultimately, both books are “feel good” stories when all is said and done, but readers have to wade through some disturbing and upsetting passages to get there. Likewise, Tara Westover’s book reminded me of The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.

Anyway… I am amazed by Faith Jones’s determination, tenacity, resilience, and brilliance. She is a very unusual person and her story is worth reading, if you can stomach the parts about the abuse she and other members of The Family endured. I recommend Sex Cult Nun, but be prepared for some unpleasant shocks– though not as many as I’ve read in other books about the Children of God/The Family.

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