Netflix

An Undeniable Truth

I just love documentary films. Right now, I am a few episodes into something called ‘Wild Wild Country.’

(On an article called “The 6 Best Documentaries About Cults To Watch On Netflix,” the subtitle was, “What to binge when you’ve finished ‘Wild Wild Country.’” And as I’ve never watched ‘Wild Wild Country,’ that was clearly the next choice. Now, is it weird that the artificial intelligence algorithm recommended an article about cults to me? I wonder what about my previous online history would suggest that cults would be my deal… Anyway, it’s not important to think about that too much; these algorithms are surprisingly on the nose. I would totally be interested in cult docs. So I’m a few episodes deep into ‘Wild Wild Country.’)

It’s about Bhagwan Rajneesh (who is called Osho, I don’t know why) and his gigantic group of followers. They began in India and moved to Oregon, outside of a tiny town called Antelope, and built a town called Rajneeshpuram. Eventually, it’s going to morph into something awful, but I’m not there yet. So far, it’s just setting the scene for that something awful.

I posted months ago about one called ‘Holy Hell’ that was absolutely fascinating. This is not that different. These cults are primarily about community. The members who are interviewed today, decades after the implosions, are still visibly moved, teary-eyed over their paradise lost.

People come in droves to find belonging and family, they give up everything for this pursuit. And they find it. They do. When these films/series begin, it’s easy to see the attraction. Now you ask “Why would they become a part of this????” But when you hear them reflect on their stories, you don’t ask anymore, you know why.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve learned our core virtues are independence and self-reliance. We worship the legend of the solitary hero. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Asking for help is a sign of weakness that isn’t easily transgressed. We suffer in silence, thank you, and please mind your own business about it.

We tell stories about how we were in a big mess, how we were hurting, how we were depressed, how we were at rock bottom – NEVER how we are hurting or at rock bottom – because these stories are actually ones of our incredible capability. It appears and sounds like vulnerability, but is actually the opposite.

We believe we don’t need anyone.

My son will tell you he likes this time, likes being at home, likes not being around people (except Angel and I and sometimes Samuel). He doesn’t, though. He’s increasingly restless, aimless and grouchy. He doesn’t know this is because he has been created for community, because being alone is “not good,” and the other 3 who live in this house are simply not enough for months and months. He calls it “out of sorts.” Yesterday, he was on a Zoom call with 3 of his buddies for a birthday, and it doesn’t take the smartest man in the world to see the “sorts” he’s out of, that he’s missing, is them.

I think he’s like most of us. We’ve believed we’re islands and that we can do it (whatever it is) ourselves and we fill our lives up with anything to distract us from the fact that we are wrong. These cults abuse and manipulate in so many ways, but they always leave us with one undeniable truth. Maybe their power and attraction lies in our stubborn denial of that truth, leaving us empty, wanting and open to the lure of the group.

And if I am grateful to COVID-19, it’s because this virus is showing us, in vivid color, what we have been missing.

Holy Hell

Last year, my family made a switch to DirecTV from Comcast to save some money, and it would be impossible to understate the mountain of regret it caused. I was happy to tell them about my poor decision (in emails, phone calls, customer surveys, etc…all of them completely unacknowledged. For example: “Mr Slabach, is there anything else I can do for you?” “Yes, I have rued the day I chose to become a customer, hostage to you monsters, so if you could roll back time and prevent me from making the terrible change to DirecTV and your horrible customer service, that would be great. Or you could release me from my contract so I can go somewhere else TODAY. That’s something else you could do for me, but I don’t guess your script has a generic response with up-sell for that.” And without even a pause: “Well, if there’s nothing else, thank you for choosing AT&T and DirecTV. Have a great day.”) I’d be happy to tell you about it, too, but not here. The point of mentioning the woeful telecommunications behemoth is to tell you the nightmare is over. I paid the ransom to release myself from it’s grip and returned to Comcast and, in the process, gained Netflix. With this marvelous addition, we also gained it’s treasure trove of documentaries.

Today I had some free time and chose to spend it watching one called Holy Hell, about a religious cult called Buddhafield. What began as a beautiful space of community and belonging was revealed to have been a blanket covering a bottomless pit of spiritual and sexual abuse that damaged some members for over 20 years. 20 years!!! To tell you the truth, there was nothing surprising about any of it, you could see where it was going from the opening shots. Probably, anyone watching this group function at the time would’ve easily seen it as well. As is pretty standard, the only ones who couldn’t see the group (and it’s despicable leader) for what it was, were the ones on the inside being victimized. But it was the closing interviews that were very interesting, where they reflected on their experience. It had been 10 years since their escape, would they still be full of rage, hatred, resentment? Would they blame the others? Were they able to move past these atrocities? Were they able to have healthy relationships, jobs, careers, and spiritual lives? 

Of course they were angry and wounded, they wept while they told the story. Or at least they were angry, then. As they recounted the horrific details, clearly painful, it was swirled with a peaceful acceptance that was shocking. Each one spoke honestly, never avoiding even the worst of the abuses, but each one used words like thankful and gratitude. The true, lasting sadness was in the mourning over the loss of the community they all shared that was taken from them by the evil of the guru. 

In Jeremiah 24:5-7 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” The worst thing that could happen was exile. They were removed from everything that mattered to them; their land, history, name, their temple and their God. Yet this perspective was as one of beauty and grace.

Maybe the DirecTV debacle was actually a good thing? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t have been offered the package with Netflix if I was a current customer. (I wish it wasn’t that way – it’s like marriages, all too often. Once you get the girl, you let yourself go and take her for granted, stop pursuing her. Like telecommunications companies.) When I look back at the worst things that happened to me… I don’t hate them as much anymore. In fact, I’m almost thankful they happened, because they changed me in profound ways. They taught me lessons I might not have learned otherwise. 

As usual, it’s never the circumstance, it’s our response to the circumstance.

We’ve all been victims of someone’s violence, we’ve all been exiles, we’ve all experienced DirecTV. It’s how God uses these trials to grow us that can be the most astonishing gift… Now, if we can only be open to the transformation.