Back in 1997 I got out of the military and returned from Europe, landing in Chicago with the intent of “joining another army,” but this time for the Lord. I was a wide eyed idiot to be honest. There’s really no other way to describe myself at that point. I had grown up within a sheltered existence through childhood, then was sequestered by God for four years in the US military, and was now, for the first time, stepping out into the world. I was about to learn a lot about people and even more about myself.
I remember the cab driver’s response when he pulled up outside the Friendly Towers of JPUSA’s headquarters. He said, “You’re going to get out here?” He looked out the passenger side window at the front doors, then shot a quick look up and down the street we were on. “Why don’t you let me take you to a nice motel somewhere. Anywhere is better than here.”
I just smiled and paid him my fair. “No,” I said, oblivious to his genuine concern for my safety. “This is where I’m getting out.”
Let’s jump into the whole story, shall we?
A Commune in the City
Reality was immediately available for the taking as soon as I went through the double doors. People in wheelchairs were hanging out near the front entrance, other people were rummaging around. I went to the front desk and said I needed to see the person in charge of visitors. The girl behind the front desk (with her multi-colored hair) gave me a bewildered look, then picked up the phone and called someone. After her brief conversation, she pointed to a hallway off to my left. “Two doors down,” she said.
I thanked her and made my way, opened the door and went into the smaller office. The guy standing at the chest high filing cabinet, his golden hair flowing down to just about the middle of his back, turned around and smiled.
“You must be the guy from the Army,” he said. I agreed.
It didn’t take long to get me situated. The building I was currently in was the towers that the JPUSA had taken over years before in the downtown area of North Chicago. Apparently it was a terrible neighborhood full of crime and violence, save for the few square blocks that the Christian community occupied. It was as if those who perpetrated crime gave JPUSA a pass for some reason.
I was led through the building and then out back, across an alley, then into a smaller building where I was told they housed “single” men. I was given a shared room (which had no one else in it but me), the top bunk of a two bunk bunk bed, and a window that looked out onto a concrete quad-like area. He said to get settled in and to report to the kitchen later that afternoon for my assignment.
I was thrilled.
A Peculiar and Mysterious Illness
As much as I wanted to embrace my new environment, my euphoria did not last very long. I think within a few hours I came down with what was later described to me as the mysterious illness that people were often susceptible to when they first arrived at the commune. There was no treatment, no immunity, and no prevention. If you got it, you got it, and you just had to let it run its course. Needless to say, it took the better part of the week to kick it. Most of that time I spent in bed unable to go or do anything or keep any kind of food down at all.
I think by Thursday I started feeling better, could get out of bed and could keep food down. But, by that point I was done with my commune experienced. I packed my bag and called a cab, which met me in the alley. I took that straight to the bus station where I got a ticket home. I was tired of being sick. I was tired of being in unfamiliar surroundings. I was just plain tired.
But, don’t get me wrong. There were a few experiences that I was able to have there before the plague descended on me. I remember the single guy that lived down the hall from me, who invited me out for Pakistani food down the street. I also vaguely remember a young couple who lived in one of the towers, who had a few of us up to their place to (I think) listen to an old time radio show. I also remember looking in on one of the day rooms where people were gathered together on ramshackle sofas watching a big screen tv.
I also remember waking up late one night to commotion at the doorway of my room, to discover a second person was added to my room. By the time I woke up the next morning the person was gone. I later discovered it had been a homeless man who needed a place to sleep for the night.
That was pretty much my experience at JPUSA. Nothing profound. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was a little underwhelming after the rousing description I’d received from my mentor while in Europe. But it was also a good lesson as well.
As one private on extra duty once told me, “Not all that glitters is gold.” I would find out later how right she was.
The Terrible Underbelly
While I was there I think the young couple had mentioned something about drama in the leadership and how they were not allowing new people to take on more responsibility in the organization. For years I thought this was the sum total of their problems at the commune. A family close to royalty not wanting to relinquish control. Later I would discover, these were just the problems on the surface and there were even more sinister calamities growing beneath.
It was years later that I found out that, as with many (if not most or all) organizations of people, there was rampant sexual abuse occurring. When I read about it, I immediately flashed to the two hippy looking teenage girls working in the small concession store in the tower where I bought a few items one day during my stay. I wondered if they were one of the unlucky ones to be targeted somehow by a predator in sheep’s clothing.
Why does it always seem to be the same in every situation? When there are children involved, the monsters are not far away. What I once thought was occurring most predominately in the Catholic Church, I later found occurred any time there were adults and children together. There seemed to always be gullible or deceived adults who allowed predators to sneak in and take control of their kids and do all sorts of horrible things to them. The same, I would later discover, was true even of the Baptists. I already knew it was true of the Mormons, and maybe to a less extent the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I then stumbled onto a documentary online called, No Place to Call Home that described horrible sexual abuse that was going on for years at JPUSA. One statistic was, of the hundred or so members or former members asked if they had ever been sexually abused, over half of them said yes.
Worse, it described the responses the leadership provided (or lack thereof) which, at least for me indicated a much more sinister situation than just neglect on their part. I was shocked to discover that they tended to segregate family members, separating the children from their parents, often for good. Putting young children in a large dorm room and then placing a adult stranger in charge of them is a recipe for disaster, especially when that adult has had no formal training and no background check. It was as if the leadership of this place was trying to entice predators or were paying them off in some way by separating the weakest of the flock.
It was as if the organization that I had visited back in 1997 was not the same organization I was reading about. Yet another of a long line of human institutions (this one was supposed to be above all this) fell prey to reality of the human condition. It was a condition even I couldn’t escape from. I remember the house church my wife and I had when we were together, seemed as if we had an endless stream of self-appointed apostles or prophets who would come through our door and eat our food and then try to touch our kids. One such fella I had to literally stop him in front of everyone and tell him to “stop touching the child” because he couldn’t keep his hands off my youngest step-daughter.
The Stain of Man
Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no avoiding this stain that has polluted human beings. Whether you are religious or atheist or whatever your particular slant is, there are those who will try to take advantage and then there are those who will try to prey on the youth.
Is it somehow a necessary evil? If you are wanting to help the less fortunate then the price you pay is the stealing of childhood innocence? JPUSA prides itself in being willing to accept anyone at any time in any condition. Is that the price for this unconditional willingness?
Is it the fault of the leadership in their zeal and belief that God will protect them and is “with them” in their endeavor, that they can’t conceive that the wolves would actually be allowed in? In my experience as a shepherd (and I don’t particularly think I’m well suited for or called to the task), all I found interested were the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Sometimes they don’t even bother to dress up!
I, personally, don’t really see a solution to the problem of the human condition. Not until Christ returns and distributes to everyone is justice and his mercy. If there was no resurrection for Christ, which means there is no resurrection for us, then there is simply no solution to the problem of the evil of the human soul.
Wherever humans congregate there is evil. Whatever humans decide to do or whatever task they choose to undertake, there is evil. As God concluded so long ago, “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Ge 6:5).
It is no wonder this earth is destined to end in fire.
I’m actually grateful that I did not last longer at JPUSA than the week I stayed there, mostly quarantined to my room on the second floor of the single men’s quarters. I had no idea what I was doing, had no business being there in the first place. Later on, it proved my point that JPUSA was not what they claimed to be. No organization ever is.
My hope is, though, that there are genuine groups of believers out there trying to do the right thing for God, who are not secretly holding onto perverse and dangerous and damaging desires and behaviors that harm others and sink them more into hellfire with every passing day. I pray God will come and judge this world, bring about the fire of Armageddon, judge humanity for what it is and cast those who are not written in the Book of Like once and for all into the Lake of Fire.
There is no redeeming value to the human condition. At least, none that I can see. So let’s get the fire started already and let it all burn.
Until my next episode….be well.
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!