Can I Tell You About My Savior ? Part 2

During the 70s, In addition to the Krishnas, The Way International (TWI) had a significant presence in Atlanta as did The Unification Church. Even Scientology had someone working the plaza down at Georgia State University. Speaking of the plaza there was also a “fire and brimstone” preacher who would drag a really big cross through there while raging on about “rampant Devil Worship”.  He got banned from campus though my primary beef wasn’t his belief that we were “Irredeemable Minions of Satan” (a decent name for a metal band) but that he had attached a wheel to the bottom of the cross to make it easier for him to haul it around. Talk about being hypocritical and lazy.

I don’t think anyone joined the Moonies specifically to get laid but by the looks of many of them, The Unification church might have been their only shot at having some sex at least in this lifetime.

But it was The Moonies who exhibited that far-way, slack-jawed look that media outlets seized upon as evidence of the supposed “cult mind control” being used to siphon off the energies of American youth for seditious ends – basically to stockpile tax-exempt cash reserves for the gurus and self-declared men of god running the show. The shot callers at the Unification Church kept its labor force on the streets up to 12 -16 hours per day hustling for dough. And, unlike TWI or Scientology, the Moonie crew rarely bothered to hawk the benefits of membership except when inviting people to their weekend retreats at which, according to media reports, food was withheld pending the completion of long sermons after which famished attendees consumed drug-laced food (allegedly) designed to keep them from leaving the retreat which all along had been nothing more than a base camp for new recruits.

I don’t know how accurate this media report was but the Moonies did flourish perhaps by providing Mass Marriages calculated to ease the tensions and loneliness of the over-worked novitiates upon whose shoulders the “Church” was being built. That your spouse might be someone you didn’t know or even like was supposed to be overlooked in the name of church growth. I don’t think anyone joined the Moonies specifically to get laid but by the looks of many of them, The Unification church might have been their only shot at having some sex at least in this lifetime. The only Moonie I met that was in anyway cool really wasn’t a Moonie at all – he just masqueraded as one so that, like a hobo riding the rails of freedom,  he could get free passage around the country albeit as part of the sweaty Moonie horde. He put in the time, sold the goods, and reunited with the group at the end of the day but confessed that he would be leaving once he rotated back to California. I’m not sure how he escaped the attention of the over-seers because, unlike most of his church peers, he had an undeniable streak of independence that in a cult situation is really frowned upon. I even asked him how he pulled it off. “I’m a good worker, I keep quiet, so they leave me alone”. Words to live by.

I do know that claiming large blocks of personal time was a standard technique of all the “new religions” which was remarkably effective as it would slowly isolate you from soon-to-be-former-friends, school mates, and family. Your initial involvement might be one meeting a week, then it’s three and then you are scheduling school and work around “ministry functions” because they start talking about spiritual priorities as if earning a living and going to school are inferior “worldly pursuits”. Car rides to and from various events are crammed with other “believers” and talk centers around arcane theology and there is always some upcoming special event  which is right about the time you realize you are involved in something far more involved than you had originally imagined or even wanted.

While the mission of the organization involved promoting the Word Over The World, in my view it was more about having a young, mobile and unpaid sales force on the road working in the financial interests of The Way International.

If you aren’t immediately familiar with The Way International you might recall them being roasted by “The Soup” in relation to the dancing ability of their performers seen in the “Renewed Mind” video – although my experience with the organization predates this event by decades. The Way touted a form of power-based Christianity offered in home fellowships called “Twigs” so one need not tolerate musty sanctuaries filled with paraffin skinned geezers wagging the bony finger of accusation just because you had long hair. No Sir ! TWI offered fellowship with people your own age many of whom were attractive young women immersed in a new flavor of Christianity. The main pitch of TWI was a class called PFAL (Power For Abundant Living) which alleged to provide keys to the more “abundant life” referenced in John 10:10. The class was pitched (at least to me) as a one stop shop for spiritual truth that could totally replace all my previous religious training and provide a general blueprint for successful living. However, I soon learned that there were other classes to take (such as “The Renewed Mind”, “Dealing With The Adversary”. “The Christian Family And Sex”, “Intermediate and Advanced PFAL”) and if you tossed in the outreach platforms such as the one year “Word Over The World Ambassador” program and “The Way Corps” leadership program then you could easily become busy for years. There was even a College at Emporia Kansas for those with academic inclinations.

While the mission of the organization involved the promotion of the Word Over The World, in my view it was all about having a young, mobile and unpaid sales force on the road working in the financial interests of TWI.  I won’t go into the group’s theology here as entire forums exist to debate that, as well as the ethics of the leadership, but there was a great deal of terminology to be learned which served as a marker of your current organizational progress. Within a five  minute conversation you would encounter unbelievable amounts of  bullshit buzzwords and internal lingo (“take a checkup from the neck up“, “get your needs and wants parallel“) yet people would walk away from it all exhilarated as if something meaningful had actually just happened. My distillate thinking on TWI is that many participants were on the level, at least initially, and really wanted to make a difference. But any time you have a large group of young, impressionable, and naive people, someone is going to notice and find a way to take advantage of that. I had a lot of friends involved in that scene, but I give them the credit for that and not TWI which was simply the umbrella organization under which we might have met.

He exploded into laughter as Colt 45 sprayed out of his nose – “Who let this crazy white motherfucker in here ?” Who indeed…?

I never really ever left TWI because I never really joined them at least not to the extent that everyone else did. My default approach to life has always involved an insatiable curiosity flanked by a strong level of paranoia which meant that I could easily be found in the strangest situations without  every wanting to fully invest in whatever scene I had stumbled upon. In short, I was a natural party crasher who got easily bored (or suspicious) with the party that everyone else seemed to really dig. To wit, I once wound up in the bowels of West End at a poker game as the only white guy sitting next to a Black Panther, fresh out of Reidsville who, in growling tones,  was laying out his vision of the future.  “The last days are soon coming for you and all things White – your happiness and fortune will soon be mine“.  I really wanted to avoid confrontation, but his timing was impeccable. I responded, “Well thanks for the head’s up there Eldridge but the end isn’t here quite yet” while laying out a full house (jacks over 9s) which took the pot. He exploded into laughter as Colt 45 sprayed out of his nose – “Who let this crazy white motherfucker in here ?” Who indeed…?

My involvement with TWI slowed to an end for a couple of reasons the first of which was that it was inconsistent with the lifestyle I enjoyed as part of the general Stewart Avenue experience (see the posts on this site for a deeper description). So, you know, hanging it all up to serve a Church, any Church, wasn’t on my mind. Second, I wanted to finish College and since I had to work to pay tuition there was little time left anything else. My last meaningful intersection with TWI was as a side musician for a band who had entered “The Way Music Challenge” which was sort of an internal “Battle Of The Bands” with the prize being… well I can’t really remember. The tunes were easy cover songs (at least I thought so) though the actual show itself was typical Way production with its hyper “attention to detail” thing going into over drive. People obsessing about how someone’s hair was combed (or wasn’t) or if the lighting was hitting the stage “correctly”. Guys ! It’s just a church gig – not The Stones at Madison Square Garden.

I did have a conversation with a Scientologist back in the 70s and when I told him that I had spent some time with TWI he responded, “Man, those guys are really intense. They are like a cult aren’t they”.

I was hungover the day of the show and could barely hide my contempt for the whiny control freaks in charge of it all, but I was supportive of the band I had agreed to help so just wanted to see it through. After sound check, and before they let in the crowd, I noticed this stunning blonde in a form fitting yet very tasteful white dress standing over my amplifier, cleaning the dark spots and scuff marks off the tolex (the consequences of playing dingy bars). I was amazed that anyone would even care (again “attention to detail”) and I fell into something of a trance watching and wondering how far she would go in cleaning it. She went all the way which was very hard work – especially so given her attire. When I got on stage for the performance the amp looked sparkling new. She gave me a big grin. I wanted to ask her out but as I knew I didn’t want to go to another “ministry function” I just let it be.

If you’ve made it this far you probably want to know what any of this has to do with Stewart Avenue. Or you were (or maybe are) associated with TWI and some search engine result brought you here. Anyway, in the former case it does matter in the sense that at one time in the 70s (and into the 80s) you could easily encounter Salvation Army workers, Hare Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Moonies, Way people, and a few groups who couldn’t be classified walking up and down The Avenue some of whom were just on their way to a destination while others stopped to “witness” to passersby. I got to meet many of them simply because they would stop by Brothers Three for some refreshment or just to stand in the air conditioning for a while before going back out into the heat of Summer. That they all got along or at least tolerated one another was pretty amazing. I never saw any fights, or anyone try to convert anyone else. That would have been funny. However, I did have a conversation with a Scientologist and when I told him that I had spent some time with TWI he responded, “Man, those guys are really intense. They are like a cult aren’t they“. Oh, the irony….

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