The Storm – Part Thirteen of My Life Inside the Narrowgate Cult at Messiah College

There is a song by the popular Christian music group Casting Crowns, entitled “While You Were Sleeping.” The song takes a different approach to the classic Christmas carol about the Little Town of Bethlehem – while the town of Bethlehem was going about its usual business (which they correlate with “sleeping”), Christ the savior was born. It then uses that theme with Jerusalem “sleeping” while Christ was on the earth. It then makes its final point about America “sleeping” while the message of Christ is going forth. The overall point of the song, as I understand it, is to be aware of what God is doing around us. And so this blog has provided another potential verse for Casting Crowns – while I was sleeping, everything in Narrowgate had drastically changed. And as I mentioned back in Part 8, this Narrowgate story is a tragedy in Three Acts. I would like to personally welcome you to the beginning of Act Three.

America, will we go down in history as a nation with no room for its King? Will we be sleeping?  (Casting Crowns)

I’ll pick up where I left off on the last blog. After an action-packed evening that included demonic exorcism and Rebecca St. James, I returned to our empty apartment and fell asleep. The next thing I remember is being frantically shaken awake by Pooky and Robert. It was still dark outside, it must have been the middle of the night. Through the groggy haze of that waking moment, what Pooky told me seemed like I was still perhaps in a bad dream.

Pooky told me that all hell had broken loose. Liam had flipped out, that he was divorcing Emma and wanted nothing to do with their baby (who at this time was just a few months old).  She told me that Noah and Olivia threw out their wedding rings and renounced their marriage.  She told me that Emma was fleeing the area because she was afraid her husband, Liam, might harm her and the baby.  She told me that she was going with Emma to help keep her safe.  With desperation I still remember to this day, Pooky made me promise that I would not go to Liam, that I would not listen to Liam or follow him.  I promised, and watched my wife walk out the door with a bag of clothes.

That was how my day started on Friday, February 21, 1997.

Pooky later gave me the more detailed sequence of events, which went something like this:

Pooky and Emma were hanging out at Emma’s apartment at Delbrook with a few others from the group. Rose burst in the door screaming that Liam was insane and that he wanted to divorce Emma and was saying that marriage was wrong.  Emma jumped up and asked her what she was talking about.  Rose told her that Liam was teaching at the apartment in Enola about how marriage was not of God, and that one of the married couples had thrown out their wedding rings.  Rose was very distressed by what she was hearing, and left to come warn others within the group.

Emma said that she was going to go talk to Liam. She made sure some of the people would stay to keep watch over the baby, and then she and Pooky went to the apartment in Enola.  On the car ride there, Emma prayed out loud for protection and told Pooky she was afraid that Liam was possessed of devils.  Emma and Pooky ran in to the apartment in Enola, and Emma asked Liam what was going on.  Liam told her he wanted a divorce, that marriage wasn’t of God, that Emma had no right forcing the baby on him to take care of, that the entire group was responsible for taking care of the baby.  Emma walked up to him and grabbed him, shaking him and saying no, urging him to snap out of it.  He pushed her away and she kept running at him and he kept pushing her away, each time pushing harder.  She finally broke down into tears and left the apartment, Pooky right behind. Emma jumped into the car and started to take off. Pooky ran after the car and jumped into the passenger side door, and apparently lost her shoe in the haste to get out of there.

They drove back to Emma and Liam’s apartment at Delbrook, where Emma packed and said she was fleeing with the baby to her parents’ house.  Pooky offered to go with her since she was in no frame of mind to drive by herself.  Robert drove Pooky to our house to grab some clothes. This is where they woke me up, and Pooky made me promise not to go to Liam.  Pooky then left to pick up Emma and the baby, and they drove North to her parents’ house, which was several hours away.  There they were all safe, and decided to stay there for a few days until they got their bearings.

Another truth you can never believe has crippled you completely. All the cries you’re beginning to hear – Trapped in your mind, and the sound is deafening  (Disturbed)

Later that evening, after I got home from work, Oliver came over to my apartment in Mechanicsburg and tried to explain a little bit of what was going on.  At that point, all I really knew was from the very abbreviated first version above, which was lacking a lot of detail. I still couldn’t follow most of it, but the main point was that Liam decided that marriage was not of God and he was divorcing Emma.  Oliver called James at work and asked him to come to my house.  James’ wife Ava was out of town visiting family, so he did.  At about midnight we all sat in my living room talking about what happened.  Oliver said that he thought that Liam had cast a demon out of one of the group members (mentioned at the end of the last blog post), and that demon then entered Liam and that he was now demon possessed.

“Exorcism” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

An aside on this topic. One of the common beliefs within Charismatic and Pentecostal churches is the belief that demons are actual living entities that roam the earth and have influence over our day-to-day world. I saw this particular theology gain popularity in the late 80’s with books like Mike Warnke’s book The Satan Seller and Peretti’s book series This Present Darkness. These books seemed to instill paranoia among the Charismatic subculture that there were demons and devils hidden behind every rock and shrub, secretly twisting the minds and hearts of the faithful. In the charismatic Episcopal church I attended in High School, it was not uncommon to hear people binding devils and praying against the work of Satan. I still recall one day when I was riding through town with an Episcopal Priest from my church, and as we passed by my best friend’s grandparent’s house, I mentioned that it was very haunted. She took the time to pray out loud against the satanic influences and spirits dwelling in that house, and commanded them to leave in the mighty name of Jesus. That theological framework made us feel as if we were in control of the situation, though strange things still continued to happen in that house that defied scientific understanding. That was my first exposure to this theological mentality in the Episcopal church, and the same paradigm was present in Narrowgate, as well as in the nondenominational charismatic church we attended after Narrowgate.

This concept comes from stories throughout the New Testament gospels and book of Acts of Jesus and His disciples / apostles encountering and casting out dark spiritual entities (which we commonly refer to as demons or evil spirits). Whether this is actual physical reality, or some type of anthropomorphism where ancient people explained complex issues in the only way they knew how, I have no idea. In my lifelong journey through many dark corners of Evangelical Christianity (before, during and after Narrowgate) , I have seen a lot of bizarre things which defy scientific explanation of what we can see, feel and touch in the physical realm. All that to say, I have no idea if this theological paradigm is delusional paranoia or factual reality. At this point in my life, I have seen people blame demons and demonic activity for anything that is outside the realm of our own control. Complex issues like depression, suicide, seizures, alcoholism, and sexual deviancy have often been simplified down into dark demonic entities that need to be prayed against, bound and cast out, or even released by drilling a hole in the victim’s skull. That said, it was perhaps much easier to blame unseen demons for Liam’s behavior than to acknowledge that he was somehow responsible for what was happening within the group. We were at this point unaware that something had happened behind the scenes which set off this catastrophic series of events. I’ll stop with this ominous foreshadowning, and continue with the story.

Oliver and James wanted to go to Noah and Olivia’s apartment in Enola, where several of the group members were, and confront Liam.  I was torn – I had promised Pooky that I would not go, and she was so desperate that I not listen to Liam.  But I had to know for myself what was going on, and so against my better judgement, I went.  We all drove together to Enola, with Oliver and James in the front seat discussing strategy.  They agreed that they would not listen to what Liam had to say, which made sense to me.  Pooky was desperate that I not go near Liam and absolutely not listen to him, and so it had to be pretty bad. I sat in the back seat and prayed quietly for God to protect me, because I had no idea what we were walking into.

To this day, I am so grateful that He did protect me.

The apartments in Enola?

We got to Enola and walked into the apartment.  Oliver immediately started yelling at Liam and binding devils and telling Liam he needed to repent.  Liam just sat there on the floor beside Sophia, and seemed to smirk at him without saying a word.  We three stood there facing them all:  Sophia and Liam were there, as well as Olivia and Noah (who lived there) and Elijah and Mia.  Some of them stared at us with what seemed like a smirk of amusement, while others wore what seemed to me like an empty, blank look.  Liam told us that we didn’t understand because we refused to listen to them.  He invited us to sit down and calmly listen to what God had shown him.  And though we had agreed not to, we all sat down.  Liam then invited Noah to share what God had shown him.

Noah told us that he had finally thrown off the final idol:  Marriage.  He said he was not truly happy because he and Olivia had too many worries.  They decided to throw out their wedding rings and wedding photos and wedding dress and renounce their marriage.  Liam agreed with their actions, and said that there was no marriage in the kingdom of heaven, and we were the second coming of Christ – the kingdom of Heaven on earth in the here and now. And because that the kingdom of heaven is here and now, there should be no marriage here and now.  Any marital responsibility that we felt was just pressure we placed upon ourselves, and that all our needs could be met by anyone else within the group.  We could all live together and have no worries, but seek God day and night as a group.

It all sounded really smooth: the words flowed right out of his mouth and slid into my ears like warm honey.  My brain seemed to settle into a befuddled haze. But something didn’t seem right, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I looked beside me at James and Oliver and they both were listening intently.  Oliver asked a few questions and read some passages of scripture, which Liam promptly refuted with his smooth logic.  And still I could not figure out what was not right here.

In desperation, I silently prayed to God, asking Him to help me.  It was a drowning man’s last cry for help amidst the waves. And in that beautiful moment, a warm sense of peace settled over me. For me, it was like the Biblical account of the conversion of Paul of Tarsus in the 9th book of Acts – the scales fell from my eyes and I could finally see clearly. I remember getting a smile on my face and then looking deep into Liam’s eyes.  And there was a sudden dawning revelatory moment when I suddenly understood what I was seeing there:


Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

That was it, that was what was wrong.  I looked around at each of them in turn, looked deep into each of their eyes, and I saw the exact same thing in each person: They were all empty inside.  Noah told us in a monotone voice how he and Olivia had never been happier than they were now that they renounced their marriage, and I saw past their words and saw through their eyes, deep into their soul.  They were all empty inside.  I then stared into Liam’s eyes, and believe me when I tell you that in that moment his eyes looked entirely black – there didn’t seem to be any whites or blues or greens or browns. His eyes seemed to me like a vast, black emptiness, darker than anything I had ever imagined.

The grin on my face must have become evident to Liam.  He asked me what I thought, and I said that I didn’t buy it.  I told him that I looked into his eyes and I saw his emptiness, that he was empty inside.  He stood up and charged towards me and said that he was not empty, that I was only seeing that he was very tired.  He then went out into the kitchen where I could not look at him directly any more.

But I did not forget what I saw then, and I have not forgotten to this day.

Under the ash and the lies, something beautiful once here now dies. And the tears burn my eyes, as you sit there, all alone. I just want to come home. But you see the shelter as the storm, holding wind to keep you warm. You are everything to me, this is why I have to leave.  (We Are the Fallen)

Noah took the proverbial baton from Liam and told me that I was deceived, that I was only holding onto my marriage as an idol.  He then brought up our encounter in the woods, how I had not cared about him as he poured out his heart and hurt. I stared at him for a moment, then told him that he was empty inside, too.  He asked me when was the last time I had heard from God.  I said that I was right now receiving from God – I truly believe to this day that I was.  Noah then told me that I was a liar.

Side note: One of my deepest pet peeves in all the world is when people call me a liar. Especially when I believe beyond a doubt that what I am saying is true. How do you convince someone who firmly believes that down is up and up is down? The painful reality is you can never convince them. Several years of living as if the down of Narrowgate was actually up shattered into a million pieces in the span of a heartbeat, right there on the couch in that little apartment in Enola. But I could not remove the scales from anyone else’s eyes – in truth, I could not even claim to have removed them from my own.

I told him that I was sorry.

And in that moment, there was so much unspoken anguish locked inside those simple words I spoke. I was terribly sorry that I failed in helping him with his heavy burdens when we were outside in the woods. I was sorry that he was using that event to try and hurt me and coerce me into compliance. I was sorry that he believed I was not hearing from God, when I believe strongly that I was. And I was sorry beyond words that I could never convince him otherwise. Because I was not lying – I firmly believed then, and still believe right now as I type this, that God was actively guiding me through waters I could not have navigated by myself.

Oliver argued a little bit more with Noah, but Mia argued back and seemed to shut him down.  I sat there on the couch and again silently cried out to God – Help me! What can I do?  In that exact moment, I felt a voice that was not my own, so loud and clear in my heart and mind telling me to get out of hereThat voice seemed like a shout in an empty room, so loud and clear that it reverberated through every cell of my body. This was nothing at all like the petty chittering voices I had been chasing after for months. There was no need to strain my ears to listen to it – it was there, and chased everything else away before it. This was pure and clear, like music, but full music – a perfect mix of bass and treble and the middle range, all at once.  It seemed to fill every cell in my body with warmth like a steaming mug of hot cocoa after being out in the cold. It was everywhere within me, all at once. There simply was no word or description for exactly what it was like, and still I try after twenty five years to make you understand.

I stood up then, and went into the bathroom. Once again, this gave me a safe place to hide and regroup. There in the bathroom, I stood for a few minutes wondering what I should do next. I was somewhat stuck in the balance – all my friends were here in this group, I had no job and nowhere to turn. I knew I must get out, but I had no idea how to get out of here – I had rode in the back seat of someone else’s car, and didn’t even know where my own car was.  But That Voice… it seemed to push all of my doubts and fears and concerns away like a strong wind to smoke. I was not alone. That Voice had spoken, and I knew it would not lead me astray.

keysI finally walked out of the bathroom and stood for a moment looking at everyone in the living room, and then I turned and walked towards the door.  There, beside the doorway on a wall mounted hook, were my car keys. I recognized them at once, I’m pretty sure at the time I had placed my sapphire high school class ring on the key ring (which hangs on my key ring to this day). I pulled the keys off the hook and walked out of the apartment. I was walking across the front lawn towards my car when the apartment door opened behind me and I heard quickened footsteps.  I turned and saw it was Elijah.  We looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity.  Finally he said that he felt closer to me than he had ever felt to anyone.  He said that he would rather be married to God.  He turned and went back inside.  I stood there a moment longer in the cool dark night, then got in my car and drove home.

(to be continued)

Next: Part Fourteen

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