This is a bit longer than the usual, but this topic requires it, I think. Although the piece below deals with Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi/Hasidic) Judaism, I think that it fits the konvertsy subculture in Orthodoxy to a tee. After all, they came out of Christian milieus that are exactly analogous to Ultra-Orthodox. Read this first… it’s TRUTH.
In the world that I come from, there are lines that you don’t cross, stories that you don’t tell, and agonies that you keep to yourself. I knew the nuts and bolts of this mindset. After all, I spent so much more of my life in that mind than I ever did in my own. Therefore, I already knew what was in the e-mail… a terrible sense of betrayal would fill every word and line. I read it three times. She said she hadn’t read the book, but she knew what it was about. The title was enough. How could I have done such a thing? I’d slandered yiden, yiden who were kind and good. Sexual abuse was something that only happened to people with issues… people with a lack of moral guidance, who had secular magazines in their homes. I’d encountered this perverted denial too often in the community… the need to blame the victims, to feel better by invalidating the agony of the most vulnerable. Such things never happened to pious Jews, she explained to me, never to those who followed our rabbis’ rules. One day, she said, I’d clearly see the evil that I’d done, and repent. I knew that I’d never speak with Rivky again.
I told my therapist that week, “Why this reaction? I should be relieved that it’s over, done with. No more pretensions”. He said, “Maybe, but still, it’s a loss”, I countered with, “It’s a loss I chose. Or, I’d never have written the book”. He repeated to me, “Still, it’s an enormous loss”. I asked him, “But why? I knew this would happen. It was so predictable”. He said, “You can predict a loss, but you can’t prepare for it”. For days after, I wept. I held the loss close to my heart: I wept for friends I’d known since kindergarten and relatives I’d never speak with again; the world that I was part of before I wrote of forbidden agonies and became a traitor.
Every year, there’s a small but steady exodus of young men and women from the ultra-Orthodox world. For most of us, leaving isn’t bravery or stupidity. It’s a form of survival, an escape. You leave because you can’t stay. You leave because if you don’t, you’ll die. Suddenly, there’s an enormous void. You’re utterly alone. From the moment your mind wakes up, and realisation strikes, it’s as if you were in a colour-blind world, where the inhabitants see only in shades of black and white. When you first say, “The sky… it’s blue!”, they look at you with pity, as though you were a child with a disorder. Immediately, they attempt to cure you, frantically trying to turn blue into black… but when you look up at the heavens, the sky is bright blue.
Now, there’s serious concern. They point to the other inhabitants, every person you’ve ever known, and ask them the colour of the sky. Black and white, they say. A dark gray, perhaps, but… good heavens! … not blue. You know that they must be right, that it can only be a delusion of your mind, and you don’t want to be delusional, so you pretend to be cured. The clouds are black, you agree. Of course, there’s no such thing as blue. It’s a bewildering experience, frightening to the core, because when you look up, blue’s still there, sometimes, it’s a bright yellow. Colours, colours, everywhere, betraying your mind. You don’t dare tell anyone of your terrible secret. You wonder constantly… “Why? Why can’t I see like the others?”
It’s impossible to pretend for long. Sometimes, it happens by accident; sometimes the colours are so vivid you’re certain they can see them, too. How can they not see? However, they look at you suspiciously, at a distance; there’s irritation in their eyes. Now, they tell you that you’re damaged, a person with a disease. They warn you that seeing colours that don’t exist is a dangerous game, that you might embed in others a desire for this insanity, or convince them that this lie is true. You’re now a menace in their world. They must fix you at all costs. They close in on you. They tell you that to be cured, you must go blind; it’s the only way the colours will stop. They tell you that it’s the only choice… a small sacrifice for a larger God. They tell you to submit, for you own good, because you aren’t normal; you aren’t, you aren’t. Your mind’s an unstable place; something has snapped. However, they can save you from yourself. Guardians of your eyes, the gateway to your soul, they’ll destroy the terrible colours until you’ll never see them again. The circle tightens. They look at you with mercy in their eyes and knives in their hands. It is at this point that you begin to run.
You stumble out, climbing over high, thick walls, jumping to the other side, falling hard onto the ground below. You find yourself on strange land. You begin to walk. The mind pushes you on. You don’t allow yourself to think or feel. You don’t dare turn around. You mustn’t look behind. You must only dream of what’s ahead, and know that somehow it is good. You’ve no idea how long it takes to reach that place… days, months, years? You keep walking. However, the people from your city don’t give up. They search for you. They can’t understand why you’d ever want to leave. They stand on the ledge of the wall, reaching out. They call your name knowing you can hear them. If you’re not yet too far away, they send out people to bring you back. They use persuasive words, and, sometimes, threats or force, but you’re too far from them now; they can’t reach you. Nevertheless, when they call, you still turn your head. You hear their plea, “Come back”. It scares them to see you this way, so alone. You look at them from afar… at their certainty, their security, their warm colour-blindness… and from the lonely place you stand, a lie never looked so good. You stumble away, faster, until you can’t hear them anymore. Nevertheless, it’s too late. You’re in agony, grieving.
They say there are five stages of mourning… shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. For the young men and women leaving the ultra-Orthodox world behind, there’s an enormous loss. It is easy for those outside to think that now you’re free; your life is so much better than when you were among the colour-blind. However, it’s still an enormous loss. That loss carries everything we ever believed, and everyone who taught us to believe it… parents who loved us, teachers who educated us, siblings who played with us, cousins and classmates and former best friends. Our loss holds in it entire families. It holds our faith, innocence, and belief… and it’s devastating.
Eventually, you meet others like you, emerging like shadows from the dark… a former classmate, a second cousin, the quiet girl from summer camp. You’ve seen them before, walking the streets of your city, but you couldn’t tell back then that they were different from the others… that they pretended not to see colours, too. Time helps. Eventually, you see life ahead. Eventually, you understand that there’s no magical transformation, no black-and-white transition from yesterday to tomorrow, and that grieving the loss of an entire world is a long and torturous process. However, finally, alongside the trauma, there’s enormous relief. Now, standing far from the place you ran from, you begin to see clearly that the colours aren’t a delusion. They are, indeed, real… chaotic, vibrant beauty, a kaleidoscope of colours, colours by God, everywhere.
They say there are five stages of mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. However, for us, there’s a sixth and a seventh wonder, the wonder of knowing that the world truly is a miracle of colours, and relief at no longer being colour-blind. When I was a young girl, my teachers always said that God works in mysterious ways… that, sometimes, He withholds in order to give, that every loss is really a hidden gain. It’s difficult for us to understand this, because only God, high above, can see the larger picture… that the dark path we’re struggling through leads to a better place. It’s true. Today, I can finally believe them.
From The Loss
Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)
20 September 2012
Most of the konvertsy came out of Christian milieus similar to those described above. Two of the most crank are so-called “Continuing Anglicans” and “Evangelicals”. The latter have an oddbod patchy doctrine, which one can boil down to “Me n’ Jayzuss”. Jayzuss is your “Personal Saviour”, and you become a “Christian” by “giving your heart to Jayzuss”. That’s not in the Scriptures, but what’s that amongst friends? In short, it’s a chaotic and incoherent mess… with each congregation going its own merry way. It’s the farthest thing from the Church that you can imagine. However, like Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, sectarianism gives CERTAINTY. It doesn’t give truth… it doesn’t give enlightenment… it doesn’t give wisdom… but it does give certainty, and that’s all that some people want. You can’t talk to such sorts, don’t even try; all that it’ll do is to frustrate you to no end and to hammer heresy even more firmly into the attitude of your interlocutor.
The Continuing Anglicans are odd birds, even odder than the Sectarians are (two very typical examples of this oddjob mindset are Patrick Henry Reardon and Freddie M-G). You find them as subscribers to such prelest-ridden websites as Stand Firm in the Faith, and as congregants in mostly-Lilliputian tin-tabernacle parishes. Here’s the odd part… Anglicanism, by its nature is comprehensive; it’s how Henry and Elizabeth founded it. Besides that, Anglicanism is profoundly Protestant… it’s quite similar to Scandinavian Lutheranism in doctrine and practise (with a dash of Jean Calvin here and there). In fact, the most-honest sector of Anglicanism is the Low Church, such as one finds in the C of I, “no bells and smells, no pomps or popery”.
However, not many of these are “Continuers”. They’re mostly “High Churchers”. We all know the stories circulating about them, don’t we? In fact, they’re the same stories circulating about some of the higher clergy in the OCA! These sorts run about hollering about Tradition… but they’re really Protestants under the skin… they’re just as wilful as any Evangelical deep-down. One of their particular hobby-horses is “sexual purity”, especially, homosexuality, which leads one to the conclusion that they’re ridden with it. I do know that those who “convert” to Orthodoxy defend those with chequered backgrounds such as Fathausen, Dmitri Royster, and Pierre l’Huillier with impassioned vigour (and there are stories that won’t die about ex-HOOMie clergy cult-leaders). In fact, there’s so much noise, that I (and many others) conclude that there must be an elevated level of “closeted homosexuals” amongst this group. Do remember who Fathausen’s mentor was… the infamous Gleb Podmoshensky. Podmoshensky was Fathausen’s formative mentor and we forget that at our peril. Remember, Fathausen was NEVER a member of the Valaam brotherhood; he merely lived there for a spell. Yet, to the konvertsy, Fathausen’s on the right-hand of God.
The reason that the piece I quoted is important is that, after the OCA implodes, some of the konvertsy are going to remain amongst us. Understand that they don’t have an Orthodox mindset… be kind. It’ll take at least seven years for a real Orthodox consciousness to grow, perhaps, longer. You see, under normal circumstances, converts come in to an already-established congregation with a pastor born-to-the-faith. This gives the convert two indispensible things, groundedness and stability. Unfortunately, many konvertsy are in “convert conventicles”. That is, the group isn’t mostly people of grounded and long faith… they’re cabals of recent arrivals, often led by convert pastors with little formal Orthodox formation. Mirabile dictu (meant ironically here), they’ve NEVER received the Good News… NEVER. Therefore, show patience with such people. They’ve much to learn (and unlearn).
Some of the above applies to former autocephalists as well, but they’re not in as sad a shape. People such as Mark Stokoe shall see what happened to their dream… be kind to them, too. How would you like it if your saw that your dream, which you worked for all your life, was just an illusion? You wouldn’t… so, extend such people a hand and show them some consideration. It’s the Christian thing to do.
Remember, both the konvertsy and autocephalists who’ll choose to remain with us are like the woman in the Forward piece. They’ll have given up everything… for the “pearl of great price”… we, for our part, should realise that. Be a good Christian and show them what Fellowship in Christ REALLY means, need I say more?
Monday 1 October 2012