Today I want to share something special with you. I recently had an unexpected gift arrive in the mail from a former first gen.He had found my photography blog circuitously through Facebook, and wrote me a letter. It was quite the letter - nearly 10 pages of stories detailing his joining the church, his experience on MFT, the Blessing, and ultimately leaving.
You see, on my photography blog I write pretty heavily on the theme of sharing your voice and sharing your stories. I believe that for those of us who experienced the mind control of the Unification Church, accessing our experiences, our feelings, our voice and our stories is a big part of the awakening and healing process. So I bang on about that a lot.
I decided to reach out to him and ask if I could share the contents of his letter here, in the hopes that it will help others who are struggling with the process of leaving or healing.
Thankfully he agreed; so without further adieu I would like to introduce you to Kevin and his story:
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Words have been spilling out of me inspired by your blog posts. Want to catch this word-flow, not lose the head waters of thought.
Reluctance fills me . . . wondering whether what I write will really make any difference. I ask myself, “Is my story of any value? Maybe I’ll sound melodramatic. Old school. Or perhaps the endurance of decades lost renders my talent simply unknowable?”
It’s been so long . . . I have no frame of reference to gauge any of this. Whether there really is anything left. All I know is that my creative voice – however muted, damaged, crushed, devastated, mocked, and compromised – it’s still there. Incredibly it’s simply not to be extinguished.
It speaks to me now and I cannot ignore it.
And so I must write.
Friday, July 10, 2015
I am overflowing with words. It’s difficult for me to focus these words unfurling now since reading your July 9th blog post and viewing your body of artwork, “Burdens of a White Dress”. Your invitation to view this work - accompanied by its story - speaks of such courage it brings me to tears as I write. I know full well what depths you’ve travelled to free yourself of your Burden. That journey recalls the same anxieties and relentless self-doubts that casts shadows on my own creative voice now. This voice has laid dormant inside me for so long behind an ocean of tears I have not yet shed. My true self, which holds all the genuine and authentic character of Who I Am, has been cast in shadow for many years now.
It’s important to me that you to know how I came about discovering your work and to share something about myself; to underscore the significance of how your words and art have so strongly affected me compelling me to write.
I too was Unificationist, a ‘First Generation’ church member. I had just turned 26 when I was among the 2,074 in ’82 at Madison Square Garden. At that mass wedding my bride and I stood next to the woman who introduced me to the church, the mother of a mutual friend. Her mom is my Spiritual Mother. I still keep in touch with her and make every effort to see her when she’s in the NYC area. She’s one of my all-time favorite people. The last I saw her was with her daughter in Astoria for breakfast one Saturday about two years ago. So it is not without irony when her daughter commented on your work. Since she and I are Facebook friends, your words appeared in my news feed. I am simply overwhelmed by how deeply they resonate within me.I would like to ask of you to bear with me now as I know your time is valuable. Your story has unlocked a door that has strangely opened for me, one that elicits words that have longed to be told by my dormant voice. I realize that I just need to get this out, tell my story about how I came to this point and become open to how I can and must move forward. The core of my story, though abridged, will illuminate the how and why of my joining the church - and then leaving twenty years later.
I was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, thirty miles west of Detroit, the youngest of three boys. By then my father was a life insurance salesman. But his real talent was in carpentry, cabinetry and fine woodworking. An avid golfer and fisherman, he also loved drafting, watercolor and calligraphy. Along with my mother, when they were first married, they were making side money doing wedding photography. Growing up I recall a photographer’s dark room in the basement of my childhood homes. As I grew older I learned that my mother had sacrificed her dream of becoming a portrait artist to be a house wife and a mom. Hers was an amazing talent and as a child I was often used as her model. I would drive her crazy fidgeting, as small children do, trying to stay still for long periods of time as she painted in oils and other mediums.
My earliest memories are of these and their many artistic pursuits. Among the most memorable though were those formed when they became intimately involved in local community theater. Much of what they performed in was Children’s Theatre and I was fascinated by and drawn into this world of the theater.
I was exposed to every aspect of their theatrical experiences and the Artistic Director of this local civic group became a life-long friend to me and my parents. My mom and dad’s most exciting, open and artistic selves came alive when enveloped in and acting on the stage. They painted flats and sewed costumes and learned to apply stage make-up. My dad cut gels and focused lekos and Fresnels on the sets. As I learned to read I would watch my parents doing scene rehearsals in the basement and followed their line readings in scripts. I became so good at this I would eventually know their parts and loved cueing them when they dropped lines or needed stage directions. This went on through elementary into junior high school. With this background then, from eighth grade on into my college years, I became involved with the theatre through vocal or instrumental music or acting in school plays and local summer stock. I also learned guitar and studied drums and percussion.
My first year out of high school was on a full instrumental and vocal music scholarship to a local community college. After a year, I transferred to the University of Michigan-Flint, where, as a Theater Arts major, I opened their brand new stage with the first words of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as Orsino. After two years of study as a theater craftsman, in the summer of 1977, I was invited to San Diego to visit a college friend. I had done a lot of theater with her while in Flint. I instantly fell in love with San Diego and decided to stay. My college friend then encouraged me to audition for a private acting class where she was already enrolled. Auditions were invitation-only and upon being accepted I began to learn technique for television and film acting. After several weeks of scene study I was encouraged by my acting coach to keep going, eventually commuting to his Los Angeles classes. I was determined, at just 21, to become a professional actor. It made so much sense after all that I had been through as a child with my parents in community theater and then on into high school and local theater. Along with my training in college and summer stock it confirmed my belief that I become an actor. Acting classes in San Diego and Los Angeles supported this idea. I got my first headshots and resume together. I was on the threshold of fulfilling my ambitions of being an actor.
And then I met the Church.
As I was growing up I learned my mother was spiritually agnostic. She could not wrap her brain around the idea of a personified God. My father however, was a practicing Lutheran who later converted to the Episcopal Church. I believe he was drawn to the pageantry and liturgy of the church the same way he was so enamored with acting in the theater. So Sunday school as a young boy was insisted upon by my dad and then I would attend late morning service with him together. This triggered an internal fascination with who God is and a search for a way to live life in a godly way. This aspiration came naturally to me but was further prompted by my experiences with theater. The theater often presented stories of men of good character, of good conscience and deep heart. To be kind and empathetic, relied upon for good judgement and known for fairness. All these things rang true for me. To become this kind of man seemed intuitive and something I was naturally drawn to reach for. But I did not know how to go about it or understand the discipline required to achieve this way of life. And so my spiritual experiences before I joined the church set me to seek those answers.
A confluence of these experiences began a slow crescendo towards something so profound and so life-altering, it caused me to consciously leave my path of becoming an actor and to seek, rather, a spiritual path. I wanted to KNOW, truly know the right way to live my life, to become this man of good character. California was ripe then for that kind of self-discovery. All those moments lead to this New Way of viewing modern Christianity, so it seemed beyond coincidence when I met this delightful young woman who introduced me to the Unification Church (UC). I felt I had been guided to what I was looking for.
A year after first arriving in California I met this beautiful young woman from the UC in July of 1978 in downtown San Diego. That chance meeting prompted a discovery of what I believed to be the path towards this way of life I had been seeking. I eventually found myself among like-minded individuals who were all seeking the same thing. Joining the UC set into motion the chance to find out what living that way of life really meant. I believed it provided me with an environment to pursue it to its fullest. I soon realized, however, living in the church provided little or no real opportunity to contribute my artistic talents to God’s Providence as it was revealed to me. Other than my guitar playing I always looked for other ways to do so.
My first four years in the church were devoted to local and National Mobile Fundraising Teams (MFT). Incredibly I was assigned to the NYC region where I fundraised throughout the New York-New Jersey area. From 1979 to 1983 I lived in the New Yorker Hotel my entire time on MFT. It was during this time that I learned that the church had a Performing Arts department. But as I fundraised, from Montauk to High Point and from Syracuse to Cape May, there was nowhere I could truly ply my deeper artistic passions while on MFT. Not long after my ’82 Blessing, after almost four years of fundraising, my ‘mission’ then changed and I was transferred to Jacob House in Tarrytown, NY in 1983. I was to replace the General Affairs member who was transferring to an auto mechanic position at East Garden Garage.
While at Jacob House I worked with prominent leaders of this church facility who lived on Moon’s estate at nearby East Garden. I took care of the main houses at Jacob House and Gracemere Hall where members left their young children while they witnessed and fundraised on International One World Crusade (IOWC) teams throughout the country. After about a year serving there it was decided that I be sent to Los Angeles where a newly formed LA Jacob House was started by a young Korean mom. Not long after arriving in Los Angeles I was promptly ‘stolen’ by the church center’s State Leader after they learned of my musical background. The Korean leader of NY Jacob House had no idea that I originally joined the church in LA and so I was inadvertently returned to where I started. It seemed as if I was given the opportunity to reexamine why I came (back) to California and to reflect on my original intent before and after joining. Yet, for reasons that mystify me to this day, I never once seriously considered leaving the church during all that time.
Learning that I had previously cared for New York Jacob House, LA church leadership saw to it that I was eventually assigned to care for Moon’s estate and the grounds of Pasadena House near the Rose Bowl. My time in Southern California coincided with my spouse’s enrollment at the church’s Unification Theological Seminary as a three year Divinity student. After her graduation in 1987 my spouse was assigned to be the North Dakota State Leader. In February of 1988 I moved from sunny Los Angeles to Fargo and into a -10 degree winter. It was there we began our ‘family life.’ My time in Fargo was extraordinary. It became clear to me that, after ten years of church life, my sense of artistry had become dulled as time went on. With no place, no real environment to pursue my art, indifference began to cloud my creative urges. It was as if I had placed that sense into a very quiet room inside me and simply closed the door.
Still, I continued to seek ways to contribute artistically. Later that year in August of 1988 I was offered a chance to return to New York City. An open position with the Artists Association International became available and I took it. This church organization held conferences on ‘Absolute Values in the Arts’ for professionals in the field of the performing arts. All the church members working there had backgrounds in music, dance, conducting, composing, etc. The opportunity to work with this group was as the administrative assistant to the Executive Director who worked for Dr. Bo Hi Pak. Soon after this my spouse was given permission to leave her state leadership position to join me in New York. But after a year, the offices were moved to Washington, DC into the Universal Ballet Academy. I chose not to move with them and stayed in New York where I found work as a Conference Coordinator for the International Religious Foundation (IRF). In the early ‘90’s, we both worked for various church organizations. I also worked part time at the Manhattan Center Studios. My theater background and relation to AAI provided opportunity to work on the stage crews of church produced entertainment shows for holiday celebrations. The seventh floor studio also became quite renowned as a recording facility for musicians and event space for catering and I worked with staff to support those events.
The reason I stayed in New York was to make a genuine effort to pick up where I left off in Los Angeles with my acting pursuits ten years earlier. I found a great New York TV and commercial acting coach and gave it another try for a good two years. Ostensibly I came to work for AAI but I saw returning to New York as an opportunity to try acting again. However, I was on my own. The Performing Arts department of the church became incredibly cliquish. I could find no person and no department in the church as an advocate or supporter. Even so I gained some momentum in commercial acting and became adept at auditioning. As it happened the birth of my first child coincided with this time so I had to get serious about modern world income. Working in various church businesses offered some pay but the scale was not even close for family life in New York City.
It was in the theater that I had my first experience with computers. The newly built stage and theater building of U of M in downtown Flint housed state-of-the-art sound, lighting and stage craft equipment including a fully equipped scene shop. The lighting board in the theater’s control room (a Westinghouse ‘Recall 100’) featured a built-in computer that recorded and memorized on cassette all the light levels of every dimmer of every lighting cue a director issued for an entire play. It was this exposure to technical theater that sparked my interest in personal computers. In the church while I was living in Pasadena I was introduced to computers again through the church’s ICC events. I learned to use these personal computers to create contact records and mailing lists for clergy. We sent thousands of invitations to clergy all over southern California to come to Korea and learn more about the church. This later provided a strong base for pursuing a career in computer support. I re-tooled and re-trained myself becoming a Microsoft Certified Professional working in corporate, enterprise-level IT for seventeen years now.
Working in the professional world offered a new perspective. After a twenty year commitment to the UC, it was the church leadership which grew into something I could not continue to align myself with. The final straw for me was right after Nan Sook Hong’s story broke alongside the release of her book. Many, including my spouse and me, choose to disassociate with the church. This, along with my growing indifference, naturally began to dissolve the underpinnings of our church-arraigned marriage. Although we sought different types of counseling outside the church, after twenty-two years, we chose to separate and divorce. It was an agonizing decision that we made. Throughout our engagement and marriage years of MFT training instilled within me a military-like duty and devotion to follow the culture and keep the promise of my marriage. All the core beliefs as I saw God had revealed them to me, however, fell by the wayside when it was clear the internal behavior of the Moon family and church leadership did not align with that core. As such my exit and separation from the church has allowed my children to nurture and grow in a very different way. I’ve been blessed with three of the coolest kids a dad could ask for and they are emerging into fine young adults in spite of our choices. (We don’t consider them “BC’s”. They have little exposure to or understanding of the church.)
After Moon’s passing and the ensuing upheaval in the church itself (which, apparently, continues today,) this ongoing division among his family became a deep and sorrowful time for many. But those events confirmed my choice for breaking away from that environment. I seek my own spirituality now in other ways. I’ve long reflected on how to view all this lost time and youth. Clearly this is something I cannot regain. But I can continue my original pursuit of being a good man by living truthfully. I can never again have my own dreams subverted for someone else’s world view. From this perspective, I realize that all this time has not been completely wasted. I’ve experienced things no one else would ever have imagined considering my proximity to the leadership of the church and the events that I witnessed because of it. I recognize that I can no longer feel as though I am beholden to that past and that the mark of a truly courageous man is to move forward and trail-blaze his own path on his own terms. My work now is to ensure my children are financially free to complete their educations and become independent on their own. Soon I will have the time to pursue my own artistic interests once again.
There’s a novel’s worth of events I’ve experienced but left untold in my story. At some point I will chronical all of it. Clearly you’ve had your own experiences coming from this environment yourself.
Jen, your sense of freedom now is palpable. I can sense your painful emergence out of suppression into freedom and your ongoing reconciliation with the loss of your feminine agency, as you put it, has profoundly fueled your creativity and sense of artistry. For me it occurred the other way: my first steps on the way towards the fulfillment of, and at the height of my young artistic output, my loss began the moment I entered into that same environment you found to be so toxic. And it became a twenty year journey of self-denial. My consequent transition out of that place, even now, seventeen years later, has severely clouded my sense of loss. Loss of my youth, my young adult life. Loss of my genuine and authentic Self. I feel I’ve been artistically paralyzed in a fog ever since. Indifference caught that spark and all but extinguished it.
In UC parlance, the choice to walk away from my artistic desire then was my “Isaac”. That I did so in the midst of a point in time when I was just stepping into the threshold of my artistic launching – and then changed course – I will never know ‘what could have been’. You could say my longtime reflection on this point has become a block which segued into a myth of a million excuses with ensuing church life and family and more life unfolding and the results of that choice now raining down all around me. But when I read your words prefacing your artwork – your Artist’s Statement - that blew me away.
“What are your blocks?” you ask. For me this question appears so complex. By reading and viewing your words and art, there has been an epic shift in my perception of how I could be freed. That I could go back to that twenty-two year old me and relive those choices differently, well that’s just foolish thinking. I’m seeing it’s time to be courageous and step out and just start creating again. Writing poetry and music again! Perhaps find community theater, see if I have any acting chops left. My challenge now is to be at peace with my choices and to embrace the Now with all my heart. To reconcile those choices I made all those years ago has been so very difficult.
I’ll close here in saying Thank You for illustrating your courage, for the uniqueness of your creativity and for the deep and profound beauty you’ve shared. I hope my ramblings, though long-winded, can speak to how your words and art have affected me. It’s a spark that has triggered a long time awakening.
So I would like to give something back, if I may, a poem I wrote to a beautiful ballet dancer. She is a dear, life-long friend who knew that creative young man all those years ago.
To Artistry and the Beauty of Creating, I remain –
Kevin J. Ribble
In spite of all that I have chosenAlong the path of my own heartEclipsed by the shattered dreams ofMy own WayI have never wavered from the sanctityOf our friendship nor its preciousInnocence and clarity
This vision I will hold for eternityThat line of purity connectingMe to the One True Self of who I wasAnd at its other end there is only youWho witnessed my birth by way ofBlind Naïveté and utter self-forgivenessThere, I (we) walked through a door of whatWas otherwise a deserted path that led to Now
And once again,I am whole.
Kevin J. Ribble© All Rights Reserved