I Finished Watching The Keepers

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I finished watching The Keepers this week. I started it last summer when we were still really wading through our rough patch trying to navigate all the changes in our life. I had a bit of a meltdown at my husband after episode three which subsequently triggered a much-needed hard conversation. It was good, and we got through it pretty well, I think, but I had to stop watching the show. It was just too much at that time. Six months later, I was able to finish it without getting stuck in the rough emotions it brings up. (For those that are completely in the dark, The Keepers is a documentary about the murder of a nun that ended up being wrapped up in some pretty severe abuse in the Baltimore Catholic church.)

I had a thought when I first started watching this, and it’s something that I’m not sure that a lot of people understand. I don’t even know if I can communicate in a way that will be clear enough to shift perspectives, but I’ll try. This story follows several women who tried to prosecute their abuser who happened to be a priest. One of the women, Jean, begins telling her story by outlining her family history and how she had these amazing, devout parents who were truly good and god-fearing people. She then goes on to chronicle her absolutely unbelievably horrific abuses within that Catholic faith. These were experiences where the power invested in the church had been used as the most evil and vicious weapon against this then child. I vividly remember watching this last year and having this crystal clear realization that Jean’s church was not her mother’s church and that she could never have the pure and positive experience with Catholicism that her mother experienced – it had become a poisoned well for her.

I talk to a LOT of people. People share their abuse stories with me. People share their struggles with faith with me. I think that many people do not understand what it is to navigate these experiences, and there are narratives built up around them that, while they serve to shield the teller, are really hurtful and untrue. Jean’s story is quite extreme – it goes way beyond anything I have to deal with in my daily life. Still, it illustrates so clearly that not every environment is good for every person. Jean struggles and works her entire life to connect with divinity in a way that feels safe and supportive, but it absolutely, unequivocally cannot be in the Catholic church. There are too many devils there for it to be God’s house for her – ever.

Life is NOT one-size-fits-all. More than anything else, I think most people want to share their stories with others. They want to be heard. They want to have the freedom to choose paths that are healthy and productive and whole for them. They want to do this and still have family and friends see the bigger picture with compassion and understanding and love.

I think so many people look at other people’s lives from the outside in and think, “Gosh, I feel so sad for them because they are giving up something that is so important/fulfilling/helpful to me, and I want them to have that, too.” I understand that sentiment and where it comes from. But, please understand that you are interpreting their choices through your lenses. Another approach I hear a lot is the idea that, yes, these things are hard/wrong, but XYZ Belief System is the only way and so you just have to suck it up and push through and keep dancing with the devils until God sorts it out. The simple fact is that being healthy when your background includes significant trauma is incredibly difficult in the most supportive environments, and each person’s individualized experience requires unique and creative solutions that often include thinking outside the box. Going against your entire culture to achieve that isn’t the easy way – it’s actually quite traumatizing itself, and you have to be pretty over paying a high price to maintain that status quo to be brave enough to do it anyway.

I do not inherently have an issue with religion. I don’t think Catholicism is bad any more than I think Mormonism is bad. They are very positive parts of many people’s lives. Still, that is not the case for everyone. You don’t have to wear someone else’s shoes to acknowledge that as understandable and valid. You don’t have to get comfy on their bench to concede that is seems truly healthy for them. You don’t have to give up your belief to love someone who has had to let that go. You don’t even have to be sad that they choose different priorities than you do. I believe God is big enough for all that. Are we?

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FAQ on Escaping Polygamy

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Because of our connection with the Escaping Polgyamy episode that I blogged about a month or so ago, I have wanted to address some of the FAQs around this episode for a while. I guess today gets to be that day. Like I have already said, I can’t speak to all the circumstances that are portrayed, but I can offer some behind-the-scenes insight into the AUB with some of the false narratives that the show perpetuated. Shall we?

Was the featured family in danger from their church/community/the wives’ family?

No. Not only that, I don’t even believe they felt they were in any danger. Living in their community had become uncomfortable because the husband in this story had made bad business deals, taken advantage of people and just generally stopped interacting in a way that promoted neighborly feelings (lied, stolen, failed to keep commitments with no communication.) He was in hot water on multiple fronts (including a legal dispute with his non-member brother over ownership of the home they moved from) and wanted a quick and easy out. In addition, his wives come from a very close-knit family, and he wasn’t a huge fan of what he felt to be too much influence there. I’ve always found him to be very controlling and personally feel that if the wives are in any danger, it’s from him.

How hard is it to leave the AUB? How do people generally leave this group?

Most people quietly move away or just stop attending. While there is definitely cultural pressures to stay and comply with the lifestyle expectations, there’s no overt threat employed to ensure people do. In fact, if you want to go back to one of the earliest episodes featuring the AUB, they set up a scenario where the “young girl” was getting “picked up at church” to get away when this woman had left the church years before. (They showed the hosts “helping her shop for new clothes” when the reality was she had not only piercings and tattoos but a baby and had never worn a prairie dress as anything more than a costume. She certainly didn’t need help shopping for “regular clothes.” Please understand that I don’t care about the tattoos, piercings or the baby, but am merely illustrating that she left the church as a teenager on her own volition.) I still live right in the middle of a predominantly AUB community. I have never felt in danger in any way. My neighbors are still kind to me, and my kids still play with their kids freely.

Didn’t he imply that the church could take his wives?

Anyone can pressure anyone else to leave their spouse, and it happens here on occasion (and is wrong) in the same way that it would anywhere else, but “taking spouses” and “reassigning wives” does not happen in AUB culture. That’s just not a thing. If the family wanted to stay together, there is nothing anyone in the church could do to stop them outside of advising them that they think it’s not a good choice.

Is there an AUB militia?

This assertion that the husband in this episode made is based on a half-truth. Like many mainstream Mormons and even Christians, fundamentalists are apocalyptic in their beliefs. Jesse belonged to a church-sponsored preparedness group for a time that practiced self defense, first aid and community protection in the event that the world fell apart. (There are lots of similar, private groups among the mainstream LDS church membership, especially in our area.) Their approach was always defensive in nature with the main goal of being able to safely move people from other in-danger communities to safer, more rural areas like ours when things collapsed. The group was completely disbanded about 3 years prior to the show’s filming when new leadership took over and no longer exists, to my knowledge, in any fashion. His claim that this survival group was partially to control members and they were coming after him for turning on them is a blatant lie.

Is there a God Squad??

This was probably the funniest untruth in this whole show to me. There is nothing that could even be construed or rebranded as a God Squad. We have nosy neighbors that will probably peek out their windows if you drive through our subdivision, but that’s about it. The vehicle they showed that they said was watching them is an old, dead International Scout that belongs to my pack-rat neighbor. It literally had not moved from the spot they filmed it in on the side of my road for as long as I’ve lived here. We live in a regular subdivision with a public, county road running right through it. All our houses are privately owned and there are no church spies. (We have a very tall fence, but that’s because the freaking deer eat everything in sight if you don’t set up defenses. Ha ha ha!)

Was there a gun pointing at the family when they were moving?

I addressed this in a my first post, but the short answer is no. Absolutely not. This was a pretty disgusting lie, and not just because it implicated my family. Though they have plenty of actual problems, the AUB is arguably the most peaceful, mainstream, open-minded and non-violent fundamentalist group.  Nobody I know would have ever done such a thing, and we certainly did not. The fact that he targeted this claim at my home is ironic considering the pretty public disagreement I have with the church. I have zero motivation to protect the public face of the AUB at this point. But, I do care about my friends and neighbors. They’re good people.

Was anything this episode said true?

There were a lot of cultural things that were portrayed fairly, in my opinion. Polygamy is difficult for the staunchest believers, and that was discussed in a way that wasn’t dishonest. Whether or not I think Jesse was genuine in his criticisms is another thing and really just my perspective based on our long-time acquaintance and my pretty low opinion of his personal integrity.

What did this family get for being on Escaping Polygamy?

I don’t know what all the arrangements for financial compensation were. At the very least, their moving expenses were covered, and the show secured and paid for 6 months of housing for the family with separate homes for both wives. Upon their move, they were completely isolated and disconnected from their families, though they have since reestablished contact.

What’s your opinion on the show in general and the work the hosts do?

I have kind of mixed emotions about this. I definitely believe that no one should feel trapped and that everyone should have resources should they make a choice to move on. I believe that there are some circumstances where these women do a lot of good and provide an out, and I applaud those efforts insomuch that the stories are true as presented. Still, the fact that I have first-hand knowledge of dishonesty and the perpetuation of stereotypes with an agenda makes me really question their motives and the truthfulness of anything they present. I believe that the show’s producers, hosts and other crew knew that they were creating narratives that weren’t actually, ahem, reality. I think that is kind of a shame. There is enough complexity surrounding fundamentalist culture that just telling a story without embellishment is compelling enough – there’s really no need to lie.

Again, I do not intimately know the ins and outs of all fundamentalist communities. I can communicate what is generally considered to be credible rumor that circulates among the spectrum of fundamentalism about the hierarchical structures involved, and I can say what I know to be true of the AUB by direct experience. I will not claim that Escaping Polygamy is all a lie, but I can say unequivocally that it is most definitely not all the truth. At the very least, take it with a grain of salt.

 

How to Get Banned From A & E’s Facebook Page

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For many years, I was very secretive about the actual details of my background. I lost a friend when I was in middle school because her parents banned her from hanging out with the “polyg kid,” so I learned very young that it was not okay to come from a fundamentalist background. (This was probably one of the most traumatizing events of my childhood.) A few years ago, however, I went public on my Facebook page, mostly by accident, really, with the fact that I was raised in a fundamentalist Mormon church. I also got banned from A & E’s Facebook page in the process. See, a few years ago, my neighbor went on the A & E show Escaping Polygamy. And, he lied. About my family.

I really don’t even know where to start with telling this story. (Maybe I can do a Q&A in a later post that separates the facts from the fiction in this particular show because I just won’t have room for it all here.) I should first offer a disclaimer with my take on the Escaping Polygamy show. I can’t comment on the details of all the stories they cover. There may be some situations where they are actually pulling people from dire straits. While many people equate fundamentalist culture with the highly-visible FLDS sect, the truth is that there is a huge spectrum between the different groups with some being very restrictive and controlling and some being quite liberal. I was raised in the AUB which is a more liberal fundamentalist church. (Think Sisterwives. And, yes, I know their family.) You don’t have to secret away from the AUB. You just move. Or stop attending. We still live right in the middle of a subdivision that is largely members of the AUB. (And, it’s a normal subdivision that has a public road running right through it.)

My neighbor is the family that “escaped” with two wives and the family stayed together. (So, he escaped polygamy to remain a polygamist. So much irony.) There were reasons they decided to go on the show but I guess I can sum it all up by saying that his personal and business dealings were not above board, and he had alienated himself from his friends, family and community by his lack of integrity – he’d made a very uncomfortable bed for himself. We started hearing rumors months before that they were going on Escaping Polygamy, and I kind of couldn’t wait to see how it all played out. I watched it as soon as it released. (I’m weird that way, I guess. It’s bizarre seeing what used to be such a secretive lifestyle on TV, especially when it’s people you know. My husband’s cousin was on One Husband, Three Wives, and I watched that, too.)

Imagine my surprise and anger when I realized that my son appeared on their show. My son was 13 at the time of filming. At almost 16, he now towers over almost everyone in our house and is well over 6 feet tall. A few years ago, he was getting pretty close to that. He is also, um, quirky? He’s my difficult one, and I often wonder if he’s not somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. If his brain isn’t engaged in something specific, he’s pacing. And, because we’re super on the ball that way, none of our upstairs windows have blinds. Anyway, I’m watching the whole story unfold, one that is filled with a little truth, a lot of half truth and a good dose of flat out lies, and they start freaking out because they “think a gun is pointed at their house.” The camera pans to the source, and they’re filming my son’s bedroom window with a light shining out of it! A light that I immediately recognize as the camping headlamp thingy that my boys have been playing with for months. The Escaping Polygamy show just filmed my child and my house and implied that we were pointing a gun at this family with a dozen young children! (Seriously, if you think someone is in imminent danger and THERE IS A GUN, call the freaking police, don’t zoom in and wax eloquent about the danger!) I. Was. Livid. Livid at our used-to-be-friends for implicating us in such a horrible way and livid at the production team for knowingly fabricating this scenario. (I actually think they got the footage of my son and the headlamp on a different night than when they filmed the “escape.”)

So, I went to their Facebook page and said so. And, so did dozens of other people who were familiar with the situation. People that were both still in the group and people who had left many years before. It took all of 6 hours for me to be banned from the TLC Facebook page. After a few days of heavy censoring, they stopped doing it and allowed comments that were calling out this family for their deception to stay. They had to hire extra staff to moderate the Facebook page and were really entirely unprepared for the backlash created from this episode. At one point, they gave me a contact to discuss the situation with someone on their PR team. I went back and forth via email with them for a bit but just walked away when I realized that they really had no intention of trying to make any of it right. Because they hadn’t shown my son’s face distinctly, I had no legal recourse.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m discussing something that happened two years ago now. I guess because, while my feelings about my culture and community are complicated, I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Regardless of what I may or may not believe, these are still my friends, family and community, and I hate to see such misinformation perpetuated about decent people. I think it’s unfortunate to see good people lumped into stereotypes and boxes that they don’t deserve. (This is also why I chose not to do a story for the Tribune about the situation with my step-dad.) Like most high-demand religions, Mormon fundamentalism is largely populated by good people who are truly committed to their beliefs and lifestyle. There is good reason to honestly argue the merits of a belief system (this and others), but there’s no reason to lie about it to get the upper hand. Truth is like a lion; set it free, and it will defend itself. Which, apparently, is how you get banned from A & E’s Facebook page.

P.S. Escaping Polygamy is no longer affiliated with A & E. They switched networks a bit ago, so please don’t take this as a commentary on A & E specifically. That’s just who it happened to be when this situation happened.

P.P.S. If you have specific questions about this episode, please leave them here or in a comment on Facebook, and I’ll see if I can address them at a later date.

 

 

Bring on the Fat-Free Holiday Binge!

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Today’s post is going to be complete inane fluff because it’s Thanksgiving week, and I need to get out of bed and prep the rolls that I need to bring with me. I’ll be traveling tomorrow, and I’d like to sew up a pair of pants somewhere in the mix, so we’re just going to talk about really, really good TV shows. Consider my top binge-worthy show recommendations my holiday gift. As a disclaimer, I’m not a prude, really, when it comes to what I watch. I can handle adult content, though I’m not a huge fan of gratuitous crap. But, if it’s in context and adds to the story, I enjoy it. (My kids are pretty used to being ushered out with “This is a grownup show. You can’t watch it.”) These are in no particular order. It would take way too long to try to nitpick which are my favorites.

This Is Us

I didn’t say my list was particularly original. I mean, who doesn’t love this show?? I tend to prefer British TV, but this has been such a well developed and uniquely presented series. If you haven’t watched (gasp!), it’s about a set of triplets (well, kind of? They are but they aren’t.) It jumps back and forth between their (and their parents’) past and the present. So heartwarming and human and amazing. Kate, Kevin and Randall are the best, and Jack and Rebecca have such a great love story. I get all the feels watching this show.

The Good Doctor

An autistic surgical resident practicing mad skills while trying to navigate all the social faux pas that he constantly collides with. Shaun’s initial awkwardness morphs into these deep and meaningful relationships as he touches the lives of everyone around him. Lots of complex and well developed characters. I love this feel-good show. I also am kind of a sucker for watching medical procedures on TV. Brain surgery? Check. Piggy back heart transplant? Yea, baby!

Outlander

I have a mad love for this show, but I can never tell anyone about it without the disclaimer that is is A.D.U.L.T. (but in the best way!) I started watching this when it first came out and fell so hard for Jamie and Claire and their Scottish, time-traveling adventures. Outlander has an opinionated fan base and is based on a book series. The show is always trying to balance the epic nature of the books with what they an actually fit on a screen. Author Diana Gabaldon is legitimately one of the best writers I’ve ever read, and the screenwriters don’t always hit it out of the park. People who are only show watchers, however, will only see the sweeping beauty and love story that this show is. Jamie and Claire have what could be seen as a modern relationship of mutual respect and esteem that is unusual for their time. Both the history, the strong characters and the deep love and loyalty portrayed make this series so outstanding. (Please bring Murtagh back!! That’s one change from the books that I am all for.)

Poldark

A sullen,impulsive, dark-haired, man’s man paired with a scrappy, strong-willed fiery heroine as they face the world together? What’s not to love? The Poldarks have social status but rather tumultuous fortunes, and a host of supporting characters that just draw you in and bring this series to life. Was there ever more loveable comic relief than Prudie or a more loyal sidekick than Dr. Enys? Can you even help but root for the heart-wrenching plight of Drake and Morwenna, and did anyone EVER deserve to die more than the Reverend Ossie? (Just typing that makes me throw up in my mouth a little.) The Warleggans?! Gah! This show also is based on a series of books, some of which I’ve read, but the show is where it’s at for me. (Aiden Turner? Yes, please!)

Downton Abbey

This is not a current show, but it was one of my first loves in British television. It is still so incredibly binge-worthy and worth revisiting. (Plus, they’re making a movie!!) I watched this show with my daughters who are also huge fans. There are decades of stories in this script and so, so many fantastic characters and subplots. I know a lot of people got so mad when they killed a much-loved main character that they stopped watching, but it was worth pushing through. This show does such a great job of showing people as human and flawed and complex, and you just come to love every single person for these traits. Also, the Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, has some of the best witty one-liners in television history. She is one of the highlights of this show.

Foyle’s War

This is my husband’s favorite series of all time. It follows DCS Christoper Foyle as he solves crimes and mysteries in his small sea-side town during World War II. He is so clever, so likeable and so downright good. You can’t help but fall in love with  supporting characters like Foyle’s son Andrew, the ever reliable Detective Milner and the lovable and scrappy Sam Stewart. There were 8 seasons of this show and while the whole series is so, so well done,  it really kicks it up a notch when Foyle starts working with MI5. The last 3 seasons have some of my very favorite episodes. (Sunflower, anyone?) There are a few earlier episodes of this show that were pretty dark – as in, I make my husband skip them if I’m watching again with him, but most were okay for my kids to sit in on.

I’m sure there are more that I could include, but these are probably my very favorite and most-anticipated shows that I could watch over and over. If you have time this week, any one of them would be a great way to decompress. Happy fat-free bingeing!!