Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Escape from Utopia

“Karen, I was right!  Someone escaped!  She says they are a cult!” I said to my wife, exuberant.

It was Monday, Labor Day.  We were at the Lake of the Ozarks, in mid-Missouri, and Karen, my wife, noticed a group of people standing near the overlook on the hill above the lake’s dam.  A man about my age was about to take a picture of a group of teenagers with the lake in the background.  All of them were well groomed, well behaved and wearing polo shirts and caps that said “Shepherdsfield” on them.  Karen offered to take the picture for this man, so he could be in it as well.  He was very grateful.

“What’s Shepherdsfield?” I asked after the photo had clicked.

“We’re a Christian community near Fulton, Missouri,” the man answered.  “We’re on our Reward Trip.  These young people have been working very hard all summer, and we’re taking them on a Reward Trip before school starts again.”  My eyes locked with one of the young people.  They were certainly well behaved … but a “Christian community”?  Creepy.

Karen and I got in the car.  I began to talk in my quiet, slow cult-leader voice.  “Welcome to Shepherdsfield,” I said.  “You’ll be very happy here.  As long as you do what we tell you.  There’s no need to fuss.  You’ll be loved and you won’t want to leave.  In fact, you won’t be able to leave.  Now just do what we say and everything will be fine.”

“Kevin!” Karen shouted.  “Stop that!  You’re so judgmental!  Those were nice people!  What makes you say they’re a cult?!”

I got out my phone and Googled them.  One of the first things that comes up is the blog Cult Girl Speaks Out.  It’s written by Tabitha Casey, and it details how she grew up in Shepherdsfield and how she “escaped” and how she’s trying to process all of it now.  It’s a fascinating blog, and even Karen became interested as I read many of Tabitha’s posts to her on our way to ice cream after dinner at the Lake.

Tabitha Casey
Of course, my only knowledge of Shepherdsfield is what I’ve been reading on Tabitha’s blog, and it’s possible that the place is not as dark as she paints it - though, she actually seems quite fair and gives credit where credit is due on more than one occasion.  But human history has many examples of utopias gone bad - and, if what Tabitha says is true, Shepherdsfield is one of them.  

For one thing, according to Tabitha, the Reward Trip rewards children from the ages of about 10 on up who are required to work all summer long from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm daily mulching, weeding, repairing, and sweating in the hot and humid Missouri summers, the “reward” of which is a trip to someplace like the dam overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks.  Plus mini-golf.  But it’s worse for adults.  Able bodied males supply the commune with money by power washing, painting and building decks in Columbia, Jefferson City, and other towns nearby.  The income they generate goes to the Shepherdsfield “church”, which allots them back a small amount.  In the case of Tabitha and her family of eight, they were given no more than $130 per month back from the money her husband earned power washing.  Of course, the “church” provides all needs - housing, car, telephone, utilities, food - but the “church” also controls all needs.  And if and when a member “escapes” with his or her family, they must leave with absolutely nothing.  There is no private ownership.  Christian Communism meets Christian Capitalism - the Company Town owns everything and the members owe their souls to the company store, so to speak, even though the power washing business seems to be entrepreneurial and thriving.  

Tabitha explains how there is no incentive to work hard, since slackers receive the same share as hard workers.  This was the story of New Harmony, Indiana and elsewhere.  Human nature must be either ignored or brutalized for utopias to have any chance of working.

For example, Tabitha describes

… a peer of mine who, at age nine, because of stealing some quarters from a communal change drawer to buy a gift for a girl, was subjected to the most severe punishment we had devised. He was made to undergo what we termed "coventry". This coventry involved rejection from every member of the community. He would eat alone during all our common meals (lunch and dinner for five of the seven days); no one would talk to him except to give direction ... he would not play or interact in any fun way with any of his friends during this time. This lasted several weeks and crushed this child.  To this day, the mention of Shepherdsfield evokes only pain.

… the fear of such strong punishment was so great that those youth who had pullings toward stealing, lying, cheating, interest in the opposite sex, etc. became masterful at doing what they were already inclined towards and masterful at disguising it. It created an environment of facades. If someone had a problem, or an issue, covering up, putting on a brave face and always looking joyful - "as a good Christian should" - were the ways that were approved of to deal with it.

This is one of many painful and fascinating tales of Tabitha’s life as a Christian Communist.  She analyzes her experiences growing up in Shepherdsville well, and reaches the two most obviously correct conclusions

This is my story - this is the life I lived and this is mine to tell. I did not just observe and am reporting on what I observed - I ate, drank, slept, talked and walked this life - this is my story and this is what I want to do with what I have lived. I want to warn people about the dangers of these two things mostly:

1.) spiritual abuse and
2.) putting men on pedestals or allowing them to climb there themselves.

Such misplaced idealism which created the environment for spiritual abuse and for trusting in men rather than God, and for giving men way too much power and authority over private lives and over other people’s families led to what became an intolerable atmosphere.  There is more than one suicide in Tabitha’s story.

Her husband, however, gets closer to a third lesson learned that should be emphasized …

It was a great place to be a kid - but there was never a transition point in how one was treated. We were never given the chance to make decisions and choose wisely - all those decisions were made for us.  If we started to try to think an issue through and - Heaven forbid - question or disagree, we were challenged on our spirit of divisiveness.

My friends, I see this in Devout Catholic circles every day.  It is the prime characteristic not of the Church, but of an ideology.  Ideologies are Closed Systems, Unrealities that are man-made fictions and that can only exist by forcefully suppressing human nature and by carefully keeping out anything that might topple the house of cards or pop the carefully guarded bubble.

The true Church, by contrast, and true philosophies, and indeed common sense and sanity are marked by an openness, by a seeking, by humility.  “Thy Kingdom come” (our daily prayer) means that we will never have the perfect community on earth, though we are always desiring it and seeking it.  The “eschaton” is not “immanent”.  There is a fundamental tension that exists between “The Divine Ground” of our existence and our longing for it.  Even we Christians who know Christ and love Christ still seek Him - or at least seek to imitate Him - in various ways.  We try to remain open to Him, and in doing so we renounce the kind of control and fear that keeps His Spirit out, we renounce the contraceptive mentality that protects the precious bubble at all costs, that keeps it from ever being pierced, and that keeps life from ever being natural, joyful, fertile.

There is an idealism behind Shepherdsfiled, and “Cult Girl” Tabitha readily admits that and refuses to condemn it.  She knows that that love, that longing, that desire to embody what we long for is at the heart of our existence.  But there was an idealism to all sorts of Communism, not just the Christian “Acts 2” kind.  There was an idealism to the Bolshevist Communism that brutalized half the world for most of the 20th century.  Even the Nazis were idealists.  But all such ideals, all such utopias, all such Closed Systems and Unrealities start with a frightening premise: We men are enough.  We can build, on our own efforts, God’s Kingdom on earth - if we’re just emphatic enough and repressive enough.  And if we have to, we’ll tear down and remake man himself to do it.

In C. S. Lewis’ phrase, “The Abolition of Man” is the final project of man.  Indeed, at one point, Tabitha quotes C. S. Lewis …

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their conscience.

Monday night, Labor Day, after meeting the Reward Trip kids and reading Tabitha’s blog posts, Karen and I arrived at the ice cream stand off of Highway 54 at the Lake of the Ozarks.  There were about eight old men surrounding us as we stood in line to get ice cream, and, to my surprise, they were dirty old men.  One old guy got a sundae with a cherry on top.  He turned to his octogenarian companion.  “I guess I can’t give you my cherry!” he leered.  Two other old guys got their sundaes.  One of them, stooped over, wearing shorts with street shoes and black socks pulled up to his ankles, said to the old guy next to him who got a smaller size sundae, “I guess mine’s bigger than yours!”  I’m not sure his companion heard him.

They all finished their treats, climbed (slowly) into a mini-van with Missouri plates and pulled away, almost backing into another car in the process.

“Wow!  Those old guys were something else!” I exclaimed.

“Do you know who those guys are?” asked Karen.

“Who are they?” I replied.

“They’re the elders from Shepherdsfield,” she answered.  

It was the best laugh I’d had all weekend.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Is Sasquatch the Antichrist? - or - The Temptation to Believe Nonsense

I don’t want to write about this, but I think I have to.  I’d rather not write anything more on this blog (most of my articles are now on Catholic Exchange and the Ink Desk), and I’m closing this post to comments.  But what I have to say has to be said.

Living the Christian Faith is not sexy.  It is not lurid.  It is not particularly exciting on a day to day basis.  It doesn’t have the flair of a Jerry Springer episode.  Types of antichrists are all around us, but Sasquatch is not one of them and if there is such a thing as a “rapture” it’s not a mass UFO abduction.

But we’re not satisfied with that.  We want celebrities.  We want false prophets.  We want National Enquirer headlines about the apocalypse.

Charlie Johnston


Charlie Johnston is from Belleville, Illinois, across the river from me.  He is becoming viral, sweeping the attention of conservative Catholics from coast to coast.  I’m hearing about him from all corners.  This is, sadly, due to a video of him posted on Vimeo, in which he talks to a group of serious Catholics, including Fr. Mitch Pacwa from EWTN.  Fr. Mitch’s presence in the audience of Charlie’s talk has made a huge difference to people’s perceptions of Charlie Johnston and Charlie’s “authority”.

If Fr Mitch Pacwa came to see Charlie. That spoke volumes to me! I Hold Fr Pacwa in very HIGH esteem. And Bishop Garcia is onboard as well, tells me to pay attention to Charlie. The Bishop is NO liberal for sure!!!

I found the video one of Hope for sure…

In the video, Charlie begins by saying some good things, such as how God works through the ordinary and how all we need to do as believers is to take the next right step.  Sound advice, and many others have said that.  But when the Q&A comes, Charlie expounds on his “visions”, delivered to him by an angel, he claims, of the coming “Storm”.  Charlie’s vision includes the following:

  • A world wide financial collapse.
  • The collapse of all order in society.
  • The conversion of President Obama, who will not finish his term in office.
  • The suspension of the 2016 elections.
  • The appearance of the Virgin Mary sometime in 2017, to be noticed by all people.
  • A utopia following the Storm, in which the Church is reunified and true believers live in harmony.  Our society will go from Ferguson to Mayberry, so to speak.

Charlie, however, also claimed that Christmas of 2013 would be our last normal Christmas.  When people point out to him that Christmas of 2014 was quite normal, he responds (in so many words), “Well, the government is now regulating Christmas lights and soon you won’t be allowed to decorate in front of your home and have a Christmas tree and we’re ceding territory to radical Islam and there’s Obamacare and you call that normal???  Oh, and nobody listened to Winston Churchill either.”  I’m paraphrasing, but read Charlie’s defense of this failed prophecy for yourself.

Note that when other Christians or Christian sects have made specific predictions about the End Times, and when the predictions are inevitably proven wrong, such false prophets typically respond, “I know we said the rapture was to take place at 12:01 am on September 2, 2015 - and everybody is still here - but it was a spiritual rapture and if you didn’t notice it, that’s your problem, not mine.  You’re not as spiritually sensitive as we are.  Oh, and we’re moving the date up to September of next year.  Be prepared!”

Now, worldwide economic collapse, of course, is quite possible, and even inevitable because of the nature of usury, but predicting when the economic shell game will end is just a guessing game.  And so when most ordinary people hear, “Last normal Christmas, Obama will convert, the Virgin Mary will appear”, they laugh, roll their eyes, and go about their business.  

But many Devout Catholics have apparently lost this quality, this virtue of common sense.

Charlie also says the summer of 2015 will be our “summer of discontent”.  As I write this, it’s almost Labor Day of 2015.  I’m still waiting for the beginning of the Storm, but I’m sure Charlie will tell me I missed it.

But there’s more.  

If you need more evidence of Charlie’s dubious status as a prophet, well, there’s this.  He claims to have walked across America.  He claims to have walked 3200 miles wearing a 70 pound backpack, even though he has nerve damage.  He claims to have slept outside, often fearing for his life in groves of trees in inner city ghettos.  He claims to have run into cougars.  He claims this experience changed him spiritually.  

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went.

But if you look at Charlie’s own Facebook page, which he started for the purpose of chronicling this journey, here’s what you find …

  • Charlie departs from Alabama on Feb. 11, 2011.
  • He appears to be on foot all the way to Houston, where he posts on Facebook on July 4, 2011, covering over 400 miles in about five months.
  • He then posts from San Antonio, then Austin (a strange detour to the northeast), then from somewhere in New Mexico by Oct. 11, covering perhaps 600 miles in three months.
  • He then gets on a plane and flies to Chicago on Oct. 18.  He has pictures of this.
  • He stays in Chicago until Nov. 24, when he flies to San Diego.  He posts pictures from the plane window.  One of his Facebook friends doesn’t seem to realize that Charlie’s “walk across the U.S.” includes more than one plane ride and says, “So you have made it all the way to San Diego??? That’s truly incredible Charlie!!! God bless you.”  Charlie replies, “Ha! Most of the rest of the journey will involve going up and down mountains. Glad I had almost a year to train for that - because it is this second leg that, at least physically, is truly incredible.”  What’s truly incredible is the gullibility of Charlie’s Facebook friends.
  • After the first of the year, in 2012, Charlie is posting from his hometown of Belleville, Illinois - 2,000 miles to the east of San Diego by foot.
  • From his Facebook posts, Charlie appears to remain in Southern Illinois for several months.  He even alludes to this at one point, writing, “Funny thing...after a few months of living indoors, I am really no stronger than ever I was...I still have to conserve my strength and rest frequently because of my neurological damage. If you took any group of outdoorsmen, I would be among the last people [you] would think is the guy who has hiked 2000 miles across the country and has another 1200 or 1500 to go through the desert.”  At this point, he has walked perhaps 1200 miles, if that many, has not walked at all for almost six months, and is certainly not about to walk through the desert - especially from Southern Illinois, which is nowhere near the desert.  In fact, his remaining posts demonstrate that he came nowhere close to the desert on foot - and the only mountain climbing he did was in state parks, abetted by some car rides when he got tired.
  • By April, Charlie is posting pictures from the California coast.
  • By May of 2012, he’s freely admitting that people are driving him pretty much everywhere he’s going.
  • On April 25, he admits he rode in a car from California to Kansas.  After that, he says he rode into Colorado.
  • He seems to be on foot part of the time and hitch hiking most of the time through the High Plains of Colorado through the spring of 2012.
  • He spends the final two months of his “walk” living in Loveland, Colorado.
  • He claims he climbs Mt. Meeker, where he plans to build a shrine that will probably cost (from the look of the design) upwards of $50 million to construct.  Mt. Meeker is the end of Charlie’s “walk across America” - a walk that included at least two airplane rides and that featured very little walking at all or that saw him riding in cars for the bulk of the final nine months of his journey.  And this is all documented on Facebook!

First of all, if Charlie is lying about his “walk across America”, or at least stretching the truth, why would anybody believe him when he relates his “visions” and prophecies?

Secondly, if the economy is going to collapse and money will be worthless, why is Charlie soliciting donations for his $50 million shrine?  How can my cash be useful to him when it won’t be useful to me?  And where is the accounting for the money Charlie is apparently being given by people?  Does anybody know where such possible donations are really going?

Finally, Abraham told the Rich Man, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them … If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  Well, we have both Moses and the Prophets AND someone who has risen from the dead.  Let us listen to them.  Why would we waste our time with the nonsense coming from the mouth of someone whose three verifiable claims - 2013 was the last normal Christmas, 2015 is our “summer of disconent” and “I walked 3200 miles across America” - are either subjective and vague or demonstrably false?

But, as I said at the outset, the day to day living of our Faith is apparently not sexy enough for us.  Even many of the Catholics I know who are skeptical about Charlie Johnston still want to believe him and are disappointed when I point out Charlie’s unreliability.

And that’s the core of the sin - wanting to believe him.  It’s a kind of morbid curiosity, a kind of morose delectation, a desire for more than what we have, which (as Catholics) is the presence of Jesus Christ Himself and His Spirit and access to His Father as adopted children.  What more can we want?

Why do we desire to augment that fullness … with this?  With titillating tales of the lurid and grotesque?  With claims that can be proven to be false by spending an hour on Facebook or Google?


Fellow Catholics, we must strive for “maturity in Christ”.  We can’t get there if we don’t simply grow up.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Journey of St. Paul


Here I am as St. Paul performing at the Militia of the Immaculata conference in Lenexa, Kansas on Aug. 8, 2015.

For more information or to book my traveling one-man St. Paul show, click here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Cure for Spiritual ADD

I have always hated the word “Detachment” and suspected that this virtue is misunderstood in Catholic circles ... (read more in my article for Catholic Exchange)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Murder Mystery Express

Here's a fun article from the Duluth News Tribune about the murder mystery shows that I've been performing on board the North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth, Minnesota since 2000 (though the article says 2002).  The article even quotes one of our biggest fans - Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society!

The above photo is of me as Dr. Watson an Joel Friend as Sherlock Holmes in one of my many murder mystery productions.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Parable: In a Pickle

Here's my latest at the Ink Desk.


I tried to lecture the Dirt Eater. "It's a disgusting habit," I said. "Eating dirt - which has no nutritional value, and some of the dirt you eat - straight from the manure pile! No wonder so many of you Dirt Eaters are malnourished and pick up various intestinal infections."

"People who eat what you call real food get sick, too," the Dirt Eater responded. "You may die from eating a mushroom, but I will never die from eating the dirt around it."

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