The Morning After: Part Fourteen of My Life Inside the Narrowgate Cult at Messiah College

The next morning I woke up and wondered if the past 24 hours was all just a bizarre dream. But reality reminded me that I was waking up alone in our King-sized bed. Pooky had fled with Emma and her Baby, and I was alone. Because I was the only one (that I knew of) who walked out of the apartment in Delbrook last night, I had no idea if everyone else in the group had accepted the new teachings. This would make me an outcast. And so I decided to go to Emma & Liam’s apartment in Delbrook to see if there was anyone else standing with me.  I was pretty sure that Isabella and Robert probably were, and assumed that their spouses Benjamin and Annette were too.  I called Benjamin and Isabella’s number to see if Ben would meet me over at the Delbrook apartment, as I didn’t want to go inside by myself.  He said he would meet me there, and could stay until he had to go to work.  It was a comfort that I was not alone – I had known Benjamin for a few years before Narrowgate, when we met through a mutual musical acquaintance at Messiah College. We had actually played a fantastic live version of Journey’s Separate Ways, Worlds Apart at a Messiah Coffeehouse a few years earlier and had always gotten along pretty well. I was grateful he was not caught up in the latest theological sinkhole, though in truth we were all still pretty stuck in the gigantic theological sinkhole that was Narrowgate. Some of the group were perhaps deeper down, but we were all at this time pretty much stuck: Theologically speaking, each one of us was still living within the varying shades of dark gray.

Benjamin and I met outside the Delbrook apartment and cautiously went in.  The only person there was Oliver, asleep on the couch.  I hadn’t seen him since the night before, and was both happy and nervous to see him. I was happy that he wasn’t with Liam – but what if he was in agreement with Liam? What then?

I woke him and talked to him a little bit.  He said that he believed what Liam said was right, but when I asked him how could he know for sure if Liam was right, he wasn’t really sure. I asked him when was the last time that he felt like he had really heard from God – did he believe that he had last night? And he said that he didn’t believe so.  I then told him that I believed that Liam was deceived, and that nothing he told us last night was even in the Bible.  I handed him a Bible, and he started flipping through it.  He very suddenly got a look on his face, like a light bulb had just come on.  He jumped up from his seat and ran over to Liam’s computer, turned it on, then pulled up a Bible software program.  He ran a few searches for different verses, read them over, then suddenly exclaimed that Liam was indeed deceived.  Ben told us that he had to go to work, but that Mason was on his way over.  After he left, Oliver continued to look up and read over different verses in the Bible program on the computer. He was very much like a drowning man climbing onto a nearby raft.

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Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Just then I heard the front door open and close, and Mia walked into Liam’s office and sat down across from Oliver.  They immediately began arguing and discussing what had happened in the Enola apartment the night before.  My heart was pounding just to look at her – it looked like she hadn’t slept in days, her eyes were sunken and hollow. And she directed a malevolent glare towards Oliver that made my skin crawl.  She spat each word like a jagged bitter weapon at him as they argued.  Oliver told her he believed Liam was out of his mind and possessed of devils.  She refuted his belief, and they argued back and forth for a few minutes.  She then asked if Oliver remembered when he told her that he loved her, and Oliver stopped talking.  I knew then that Oliver’s emotions couldn’t survive this battle, Mia had found his Achilles heel.  A few days earlier, there was talk within the group about them getting married – but that was of course before the announcement last night that marriage was an idol, and not of God. What, now, for these two? Within the group, Mia was one of the few folks in Liam’s inner circle. That she was onboard with the latest theology, I had no doubt.

At that point, Mason came into the apartment and stood in the office doorway and watched.  Mia told Oliver that he meant nothing to her, that she lied when she told him she loved him.  I saw that she was methodically tearing him down, and once Oliver had nothing else left, the one and only choice would be for him to rejoin Liam.

I looked at Mia, and asked her to leave.  She said that she would not leave, and so I told her that she needed to leave.  She again said that she would not leave.  And suddenly, without warning, Mason shouted that Mia was possessed of devils.  He rushed across the room at her and grabbed her, and began dragging her out the door.  Mia went completely limp in his arms, and he bellowed that she was too heavy to carry.  She sank to the floor, and he fell down with her, where they began struggling.  I shouted for Mason to stop, and they both stopped struggling.

I looked over at Oliver and told him that Mason and I were leaving, and he needed to make a decision right now to either come with us, or stay here.  Then I walked out into the living room where Mason joined me.  He said that Mia just suddenly got so heavy that he couldn’t carry her anymore.  Oliver picked up his Bible, grabbed his shirt, and walked out the door with us.  He stayed at my house for the next few days when he wasn’t at work.

They were crying when their sons left, God is wearing black. He’s gone so far to find no hope, he’s never coming back. They were crying when their sons left, all young men must go. He’s come so far to find the truth, he’s never going home. (System of a Down)

I went to work that day, which I cannot imagine was all that productive. After work I drove back to my apartment (I was beginning to accept that it could be mine again) and noticed that Mia’s car was sitting in the driveway. I drove by the apartment, then parked down the block.  I walked around the hedge to my back yard, where I saw Liam and Elijah going through Oliver’s pickup truck.  When they saw me, they walked towards me to talk.  Liam asked me where everybody was, and I replied that the church was scattered.  He said that they wanted to have a meeting to discuss what was going on, and then asked why he was locked out of his apartment (by this, he was referring to my apartment that was now locked).  He said that if he was wrong, he wanted to understand why.  I pulled out my Bible and shared a passage of scripture with him that I had been reading earlier that morning from I Timothy about apostasy, and explained how I believe he had departed from the faith and needed to come back to his senses.  He said that we could sit around all day long and argue scripture.  He asked me to promise him that everyone would come to the meeting.  I told him that I would tell others about the meeting, and that if anyone chose to come, they would be there.  He asked me if I thought anyone would come, and I said that I doubted it.  Liam charged towards me with a look of rage on his face, and Elijah stepped in front of him to separate us.  Elijah then said that if they were wrong, they just wanted to know why, and that they just wanted to talk.  I then asked them to leave.  Liam pushed forward again, and Elijah again held him back.  Elijah again said that if they were wrong they wanted to know, and to please give them a chance.  I told them they needed to leave, and Liam turned and got into Mia’s car and slammed the car door.  Elijah looked at me for a moment longer, then turned and got into the car and they left. I was somewhat troubled by this exchange. I was certainly troubled by Liam’s aggressiveness when I did not give him what he wanted. Would he have attacked me, had Elijah not held him back? Raising his voice had worked with me in the past, most notably in moving Mason’s crap into our apartment. But I was also troubled by Elijah – his voice held such sincerity, I genuinely thought that he wanted to understand.

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Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

I went inside and talked to Oliver, who was watching it all from a window.  I then called Isabella & Benjamin (who lived just a few miles down the road) to warn them that Liam and Elijah were prowling about.  In a humorous twist of fate, just then Liam and Elijah arrived at their apartment. I heard in real time as they banged on the door of the apartment, and tried to look in the window, and said things like “let us in” and “who locked us out of our own home?”  Isabella and Benjamin ignored them, and so they eventually just went away.  It was disturbing, hearing them through the phone, trying to sound so pitiful.

I didn’t go to the meeting in Enola that night: I was fairly certain it would just be more arguing, followed by them trying to persuade us to join them.  To my knowledge, no one (except perhaps those living there) went. Pooky called later that night and explained how they had met with the modern prophet (who had visited Narrowgate very early on in Part One of this story) and asked him about what we should do. It was quite a surprise when he said that all of us in Narrowgate were responsible for what happened by giving Liam so much authority.  He said that the group needed to totally break up and disband, and that we needed to stay away from each other.  Pooky said they could see the situation so much more clearly now that they were far away from it and weren’t being actively influenced.  Pooky said that we should never have gone out from under the authority of an outside church or pastor, and that without someone to guide and correct us, we were on a steady course destined for destruction.  I was very confused by all that she was saying – at that time, I just couldn’t comprehend that our group had been wrong for a very long time.  It’s probably more accurate to say that my mind was confused by this new concept, though my heart had known this for quite some time. To be fair, I write today with an obvious bias of knowing the outcome of this story.

EK_0274Robert was sitting on my couch after I talked to Pooky, and when he saw the confused look on my face, asked me what was the matter.  I told him that I was so confused, that I just didn’t understand so much of what was going on.  He said that if listening to Pooky was just making me confused, that I shouldn’t listen to her. If anything, that made me even more confused – at this point in time, I knew that the only person I knew I could trust and count on was Pooky. She was absolutely correct when she woke me up to warn me that Liam was wrong and I shouldn’t listen to him. I lay awake in bed for a long time that night, trying to make sense of it all, and eventually drifted off to sleep.

The days following the “blowup in Enola” were without a doubt the most bizarre and surreal days of my entire life, it was like walking around in a daze. There were moments where I felt like I had crystal clear clarity and knew what to say at the exact right moment. And there were other moments when I was just a bewildered nincompoop. Though I did my best to document everything in my journal, even today there are new memories that come back to me. There were so many bizarre events, it’s hard to document them all.

As I had turned in my two-week notice, I was in the process of leaving my place of employment. When I sat down with my manager at work to talk about resigning at my job, I carried a Bible and tried explaining about spiritual battles and freedom and deception. He very clearly thought I was out of my mind – and he was probably not too far off the mark. Everything I had been holding onto was dissipating like mist around me, I was barely staying afloat in the churning sea of chaos. That conversation with my boss undoubtedly blew the bridge out for any hope of backing out of my resignation – there was no turning back. That was my last job working in the field of mental health, my dreams of helping people by being a professional counselor were fading away.

We all are living in a dream, but life ain’t what it seems. Oh everything’s a mess. And all these sorrows I have seen, they lead me to believe that everything’s a mess. (Imagine Dragons)

During these days, Pooky’s Mom (my Mother-in-law) called several times, and when no one was home to answer the phone she left a message on the answering machine for Pooky to please call her. The few times I had been home and had answered the ringing phone, I had told her, truthfully, that Pooky wasn’t home. Each time she called, those words hung in the air longer and heavier, a raincloud about to break.

phone
Photo by Wendy Scofield on Unsplash

Late one night (or early in the morning, if those sort of things matter), the phone rang and woke me up at about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. On the other end of the phone, my Mother-in-law asked if Pooky was there, and I had to truthfully tell her that no, she wasn’t. There was a very pregnant pause on the other end of the line, one that seemed to stretch deeply into uncomfortable forever. Then she began to cry softly. She said that she just wanted to know that Pooky was all right. She told me that she just had a terrible dream or vision, and in that dream there was something terribly wrong, and that in the dream Liam was trying to hurt Pooky. She tried calling Pooky right away to make sure everything was all right.

Her words hung in the air as my heart thudded in the dark. What do you say to that?

This was one of those moments of absolute clarity where I could see that we were deeply involved in something far more serious than mere theological disagreement – and that some entity far more powerful than I could comprehend was at work in this entire situation. It was as if a dog had spent the past few years locked in a small cage, and suddenly the dog was let out and was just beginning to realize how big the world really was around them. That God was working in the lives of anyone outside of our group was… dumbfounding. The armor of sickening pride that I had built around myself was beginning to break into pieces. All those thoughts were swirling around inside my head there in the dark, as I held the phone to my ear.

And so what else could I do? I tried to explain to Pooky’s Mom about what had happened over the past few days, and that Pooky had run away with Emma to make sure she and the baby were safe. I told her that Pooky should be home soon in a few days, and I promised her that Pooky would call her the first chance she got.

Pooky called a few times each day, telling me new things that she and Emma suddenly understood.  In their time away, they had sat down with several pastors, preachers and other Godly people, and they all pretty much agreed that we had escaped from a cult.  They all were in agreement that our group had to be broken up, and that we were so brainwashed that we didn’t know what was right anymore.  Over those days, I called some local churches and asked to talk to someone, to ask if they could please offer prayers and any guidance for us. I was very surprised when one of the churches had heard about our group, and they said that we got what we deserved and that we could only blame ourselves, and that they wouldn’t help us. I spoke with a staff member at another local church, and she prayed for our protection and that Liam would receive deliverance.  She told me that all we could do was pray, that this battle had to be won on the spiritual level (not through logic or debate).  She said that Liam was being controlled spiritually, and that the only way for him to get free was prayer.

I guess I just don’t understand, I’m just a confused young man… That no picture, no book, no statue, no man can help me understand what it means to be born again  (The Prayer Chain)

Mason’s father reached out to us and asked if he could meet and talk. And so it was that a few of us talked a bit with him about what had happened within the group, and he shared a little about how they (Mason’s parents) knew that something terrible had happened and were concerned for Mason. I thought the meeting went very well, and when everyone left, I felt somewhat encouraged. This was now the second parent (counting Pooky’s) who had reached out to us because they knew something was wrong with the group. What we didn’t know at the time was that several parents from the group had gotten together and were sharing information on the group as they tried to find a way to rescue their child from the Narrowgate cult. This little meeting was actually setting the stage for Mason’s intervention.

It was maybe a day later when Mason reached out to me and said that he needed to stop by with his Dad to pick up some of his belongings at my apartment. When they arrived, Oliver was also there, and we asked his mom to come in and talk with us, as she was waiting in the car. Mason’s Mom was pretty agitated, as was Oliver. The conversation began to escalate, and my request that people sit down and calm down was completely ignored. The entire conversation exploded, with Oliver yelling at Mason’s Mom and Dad about what God was doing in our group, and that they were living in fear. Mason’s Mom would have none of it, and started yelling back that we were all crazy and didn’t see that we were in a cult and completely brainwashed. She said that they were taking Mason to a psychiatric hospital. Oliver tried appealing to Mason directly to stay, but his Mom finally had enough and stormed out of the apartment with Mason firmly in her grasp, Mason’s Dad bringing up the rear.

That was the last time I ever saw Mason – and I’ll never have the chance to see him again. On December 19, 2015, Mason tragically took his own life. And as I write this, there are so many confusing memories and thoughts swirling around. Why, Mason? Did Narrowgate have anything to do with it? Did I fail him? Did we all fail him? Could I have helped?

barclay

To this day, I struggle with all the questions. I believe very firmly that bad theology kills – it can kill faith and trust and hope… and sometimes, it can tragically drive people towards death. And while I know that I can’t exclusively blame Narrowgate on Mason’s abrupt exit from this world, I do wonder how much it had to do with it. Why was there no other option but to end it all? I have no idea. I was later told that Mason struggled with his mental health following Narrowgate – he was certainly not alone, several from the group still struggle in this area. I also know that Mason’s Mom was diagnosed with cancer, which may have affected him as well. Maybe I cast too much blame upon Narrowgate and the bad theology that affected us all. Maybe I just need a black and white answer to such a complex issue, so I can sleep at night.

Sometimes, there are no black and white answers for those left with the task of living.

Because in reality, sometimes there is no happy ending. Sometimes, the best you can hope for is a life-long quest to make sense of it all – baby steps from where you once were to where you are now, and then perhaps a few more baby steps forward. The writing of this story is my baby steps forward, though to what end, I do not know. Sometimes just taking the next baby step has to be enough.

Getting back to our story, the good news is that Pooky and Emma were coming back home soon. The plan was, at that time, for Emma to stay with us a few days until Liam saw the error of his ways, repented, and returned to his family.

In regard to our cheerful optimism, I imagine we were most certainly deluded fools.

(to be continued)


Narrowgate Blog Series: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen

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