“Tikie, it is hard for a drowning man to be a life guard.” Mike Caulk, former MCM Pastor in an email to Tikie, dated 2006, comforting him on his guilt in being unable to get his converts out of MCM when he walked away in 1982.
I could see them running down the dark hallway with huge torch-flashlights in their hands. Bob Weiner and Joe Smith were looking for me.
Bob pointed in my direction with his handheld light and called to Joe, “There he goes… that way!”
I took off running to my left, turning onto another darkened hall that ran at right angles to the one that they both hurtled down.
I passed door after door, I was out of breath and knew I could not keep running; for my legs ached and my lungs burned. I reached out and turned the knob on one of the doors. It opened and I stepped onto a landing at the top of a dimly lit stair case.
Peering over the side of the stairs I could see, below me, another door marked with a flickering EXIT sign.
Excellent! I could still get out. Pounding down the stairs I heard the door at the top of the landing swing open.
“I see him!” shouted Bob as the beam of his flashlight swept the stairs I was hustling down.
“Tik Tok you better stop running, your soul is in mortal danger!” I heard Joe’s bass voice boom above me.
My hand hit the knob on the exit door and I turned it, hard. But it would not budge. I heaved my entire body into the wooden door, banging my forehead against it… the wooden door was hard…very hard and uncomfortable…hard…I had to move…hard…uncomfortable…hard…
My eyes shuttered open, the wooden kitchen table top was about a quarter-inch away, and a pool of drool seeped onto the open Safeco ledger and accounting book underneath me. I sat up and looked around. Completely quite reigned. The only sound came from the faint hum of the electric kitchen clock on the window sill beside me.
“No wind, no rattling…the blizzard must have blown through during the night,” I thought.
I walked over to the front door of my apartment and slipped on my over boots. My nose wrinkled at the smell of burnt coffee wafting over from the still hot pot in the kitchen.
I tried to open the front door, but apparently snow jammed against it.
Then putting all my weight and strength into it I managed to wedge the door open about 18 inches. Snow came cascading into the apartment and I stepped through the open door into about 2 feet of drifting snow.
I now stood on the open steps at the front of my one bedroom apartment.
The only sound came from the light whistle of a breeze pushing over the drifts of snow that rolled out over Main Street and onto the campus about a half mile away. Ice glistened from the tops of the gabled slate roofs of the dorms. Not a soul in stirred.
My lungs and nosed crackled as I drew a deep breath of the cold air. For five minutes I stood there watching the sun break over ice blue horizon. I did not move and don’t remember even a stray thought entering my head for a long while.
Even today, I think, because of that morning, I love brutally cold winters and blizzards. I have taught myself to skate and ski…and to me there is nothing better than skating on a New England Pond in 20 degree F temperatures with the wind at my back and no sound but the scrape, scrape, scrape of my skates and the grunt of my own breathing. That morning the cold air also refreshed me and heightened all my senses.
For I knew what I must do now.
I tell you I did not even understand completely what this action would mean, and what it would do to me, or even what the consequences, good, evil, or indifferent, were.
I simply knew that I could not keep on.
The future be damned. Suddenly I simply did not care.
And I am glad I could not reason through the chain of events I now unleashed on my insignificant life.
Could I, would I, have gone through with my resolution if I had KNOWN what was in store for me?
Now, Dear Reader, if this were a novel or a good screen play, at this point I would turn, around walk back into my apartment, and have leveled with Tikietwo.
I would have told him, “Look my friend, get the heck out of here, don’t even think about dropping out of school and let me tell you in detail why MCM is a sociological cult.”
And I would also write to you, if in a novel, about how I had an epiphany of the nature of MCM that morning and how I was free as the cardinal that I spied flitting from frost covered fir tree to fir tree.
And Tikietwo would then throw his arms around me shouting, “Thank you for saving my life Tik, you are so brave and such an example of a Godly and courageous man.”
Well, this is NOT a novel, and it is NOT a screenplay (at least not YET) and so this is NOT what happened. For life is not that simple.
Rather than looking at my departure from MCM as the Jail break from MCM by one of the gang from the Mission Impossible movie, a better analogy would be of an exhausted guy, neck-deep in muck and quick sand, who has just grabbed a thin, and not so strong, vine. And using that one vine he has to pull his way, hand over hand, out of the pit, or drown in the gunk that is starting to pour down his nostrils.
To quote Mike Caulk, “Tikie, it is hard for a drowning man to be a life guard.” And that drowning man at this point was me.
So I walked back into the apartment, scrambled some eggs, fried some bacon,roused TikieTwo from his slumber, and fed us both breakfast.
“Look Tikietwo I think we need to give this more prayer; about you going full-time I mean. Let’s plan on talking to your folks about all this, you simply cannot drop out of school. Your witness is desperately needed there.”
I figured that would hold him in place for a while. In the meantime I had to continue to pull on that vine and get out of the muck of MCM to save my own skin.
Then I could worry about Tikietwo.
But as you will see, I was unable to help Tikietwo.
I should have known that the MCM’s multi-layered defenses would soon kick in and label me as Satanic, a Judas, demon possessed, a liar, and a thief.
So I saw Tickietwo off that morning back to his frat house with a promise from him to make no rash decisions.
Then I got out my $ 5.00 plastic snow shovel (lesson learned: never skimp on snow shovels) and begin the four-hour job of shoveling my car out of the parking lot.
By 2:00 pm I was ready to go and with the streets now ploughed and salted I headed over to Jim and Dana’s (my co-pastors) house.
Jim was about half way through shoveling his drive, so I grabbed my $ $5.00 special and spent the next hour shoveling and grunting with him. Finally we were through.
“Jim, can we sit in my car for a minute. I need to talk to you.”
I did not want to go in his house, I wanted to be on my own turf and I did not want Dana involved, I really liked her, and I was afraid she could, and would, sway me from doing what I was now determined to do.
Jim gave me a puzzled look and said, “Sure,” and we got into my car.
“Jim, I can’t keep doing this. I want out, and I am getting out.”
He looked at me and said slowly, “Uh-huuuuh.”
I explained about Tikietwo and my discussion last night.
“Look brother you are just exhausted, and you are too emotionally caught up with your sheep and their traumas. I have seen this happen before. You cannot bear all of their burdens, you have to trust God. He will take care of this flock Tikie …you can’t do it all.”
“Jim, stop it alright with the pat MCM answers? It is not about the work load, it is NOT about Tickietwo, it is about EVERYTHING.”
“That is just plain silly…” Jim started to say.
But I cut right over him saying, “I mean EVERYTHING is wrong…look you are a sweetheart of a guy and you are smart too. You saw what went on when Nick was here. That is just a symptom of all of MCM. But it is even more than that, it is Bob, Joe, the whole she-bang- and what we are putting these kids through. You have been to the same staff meetings I have been to. It is about ego, pride, ambition money, and numbers; it is not about Jesus, and certainly not about God’s, love.”
He smiled, “Tikie. Look, you are just worn out and I know the finances are getting to you. Let’s go inside, let Dana fix you some supper. Let’s get on the phone and call Bob. You’ll see… you are just in a funk.” He put his hand on his shoulder with a grin.
Now Jim was smart and good guy. If he had started in on that demon possession stuff I would have driven off with him in the car all the way back to Alabama. Somehow he knew that.
He a fireman trying to talk a jumper down off a ledge. And I was the jumper with no parachute.
“I don’t think so Jim. It’s over for me… really it is.”
“Now Tik, just cut that talk out. You know you will be one of the top guys at MCM. Everyone compares you to Rice or Greg.”
“Don’t you get it Jim????…I don’t WANT to be like those guys. The comparison to them makes me sick to my stomach!”
“Okay Tik, I am going to tell you something. Something Dana and I know that you don’t know. Something that we were not going to tell you for another forty-five days or so.” He cocked his head knowingly.
“We have a word for you from the elders.”
I can tell you that a feeling of doom and dread, a premonition of disaster, came over me. A dark cloud was heading over the horizon right at me and I got a sick feeling in my gut. I could taste acid in my mouth.
He leaned into me.
“Your name was submitted by a sister to the elders,” he said. Then he sat back.
He meant a sister had submitted my name to the elders for an arranged MCM marriage.
I opened the car door leaned out of the driver’s seat and threw up. Coughing and retching I leaned back in and closed the door.
“It was submitted about two months ago, and if you did not get the Word (meaning if God did not tell me) Dana and I were going to talk to you about it in March.”
I was clueless, there was not a sister that I was now attracted to anywhere in MCM, or that I had even flirted with since my infatuation with Ellen.
“I think that this whole thing is God showing you that you can’t make it without a helpmate. I certainly could not make it without Dana. You need to get married,” Jim continued.
It was true. Dana took care of everything for Jim so he could concentrate on the ministry, plus, along with our single staff sister, she handled counseling the sisters.
I shook my head. “I can tell you Jim that this is not of God, that I do not bear witness and that I am out of here… Gone!”
“The elders DO think it is God, and I think what you are going through is simply God speaking to you about your need for a helpmate. We all agree it would be a perfect fit, this sister has the gift of prophecy and she will complement your warm approach. You are simply too nice Tik, you take too much of the brother’s and the ministry’s burdens on yourself. She can help you with that and balance your personality.”
He told me her name.
I was aghast. And a light clicked on for me.
I was going to be stuck with one of the single prophetic sisters who would, “Kick me in the ass”, keep me from, Being “too nice and not tough enough,” and help hold me on the MCM reservation.
That did it. Whatever bond that held me in placed snapped. I swear I heard the thing pop in that car.
“Jim, I’m out of here…you are either coming with me or you can step out of this car. This whole thing is no good, I can’t keep inflicting this MCM crap on people. I have tried to do it differently up here… to protect the brothers from the bad stuff, but it is of no use… the whole thing is rotten. No one can fix it.”
Jim, a really nice and soft-spoken guy, a guy I liked a whole lot, and now he had a look of terror on his face.
“Don’t do it Tikie, I beg you. You will be walking out on God, walking out on the brothers that you have brought in, you will be walking out on Dana and me. Look I am a good pastor, but well, we both know that you are the guy that makes this thing spark. What about my family? This whole thing could come apart on us. You are deserting us… your family…my family…you just can’t do that.”
I was crying now, he was right, everything he said was on the money.
Jim was a great guy, his kids, seven and five years of age, called me Uncle Tikie and Dana was like an older sister. And I knew this place might flounder without me.
“Look Jim, you know MCM is rotten, I know your heart, why don’t you get out too? Let’s get the brothers and sisters at our ministry together and tell them that we are out, why we are out, and let’s go back to real-life.”
Now we were both crying.
Jim said through his tears, “God is in this Tikie, sure there are problems, but this is God’s movement and this is my family. And I will live or die with it. Don’t Tikie, please don’t… come inside, let’s talk this over, you know Dana has a great heart and head, let’s spend some time in prayer. Okay?”
I started the car.
“Jim I am loading up tonight then I am out of here as soon as possible. And that is that. Maybe I am deserting you and God, I just know I have to go, I must go, no matter what. Now get out of the car or you are coming with me, I MEAN IT!”
He opened the door and got out.
“Tikie, let me pray for you.”
“Sorry Jim, I am past being prayed for. You are a good guy…God bless you.”
I pulled out of his drive way and turned the corner and drove about a half mile and pulled the car off to the side of the road. I had to. I find it impossible to drive when crying.
I finally got control of myself. “Okay, I gotta get moving, I gotta get the hell out of here.”
It did not seem real, and I felt like I was watching a movie of myself loading my suitcases in my apartment.
I really did not have a clue about what I was going to do and where I was going. I had about $ 200 in my checking account. And because of the snow storms the banks were not shut, and I had neither a credit card or ATM.
That realization set me back. I could not leave until in the morning. I had to have some cash. I went and fueled my car with the money I had on me. When I walked back into my apartment the telephone was ringing.
I picked it up.
It was the guy with the flashlight from my dream last night.
With a really cheery happy sounding, “Hi Tikie, brother are you doing okay?”
He sounded so NICE that he scared me. In fact I had heard Bob passionate, angry, I had heard him plead, cajole and beg. But I had never heard him sound chirpy and light hearted.
“Yeah Bob, I am doing fine. “
“Look Tik, I spoke with uh…(two second pause: was he looking at his notes?)…uh…Jim, and he tells me that you are well, thinking about leaving the ministry? Is that right?”
“That pretty much sums it up Bob, I can’t take it anymore, I don’t feel right about what we are doing…I mean what is really in this for the kids we are bringing in? I think we have lost our way somehow.”
“Now Tik, we all get in the dumps, why even I do on occasion [big laugh]. But Rose, well, she has a way of snapping me out of it. Everyone needs a break and rest…you have done great work, super work I say, why I think you have the potential to be one of our top evangelists. Joe and I both think so. Look, I want to get you out of that depressing snow for a couple of weeks. You have been working non-stop for six months. We’ll get you down to Gainesville, you know, let you kick back a little while…let you unwind and we’ll give you some good one on one ministry with Joe Smith and me. Okay? I have already ordered a first class airline ticket for you, you can fly out in the morning. It’s done, it is on HQ… okay?”
Wow, it sounded great, first class tickets, Bob himself wanting to minister to me…he sounded so warm and reassuring. And it would be good to get back to some warm weather…then I snapped to.
“Bob– I appreciate the offer. Overwork is not the problem; the problems are…well the whole thing is not right. What we are doing is wrong.”
“Look Tikie, sure the ministry needs some course corrections. That is why we need guys like you. God has given you so much talent, don’t waste it… honor the talents He has given you.”
I would have much preferred a screaming match with Bob; this was NOT what I had expected.
He was so pleasant. Somehow he KNEW where to go with the conversation and he was starting to reel me in. But I kept hold of the vine I was clinging to; and no matter what he said he could not convince me that the cold, muck filled, quicksand pit I was in was a nice warm swimming pool. I had seen too much, done too much, done too many bad things to others.
I had looked into the heart of the ministry and it repelled me.
“Bob, sorry, I am checking out. Call it quitting. Call it whatever you want but I am through with this thing.”
“Tikie I am really concerned about you; about…your walk… your soul…don’t walk out on God. Please…”
I had to end this thing now.
“Bob, I gotta go. I’ll think about what you said but I am hanging up now.”
And I put the receiver down.
I had hung up on Bob Weiner.
I had to. I thought if I kept listening to him I would wind up on that airplane and then I would end up in Gainesville and never leave.
I slept fitfully that night. The phone rang about four times but I did not answer it. Early the next morning I called my parents.
My mother answered.
“Mama, I am calling it quits… I am coming home, is that okay?’
“Are you sure honey? You seemed so happy when we came to see you in October.”
They came just as Greg and Helen were on their way out and they had been both dazzled, and taken in, by what was going on; they were especially taken with Greg and Helen.
“Mama, I just can’t keep this up; not sure what I am going to do. Can I bunk in with you guys for a while?”
She laughed, “What a silly question, honey you have always bedroom here, now don’t ever forget that. Why don’t you come to work for Daddy?’
“No way,” I thought. But I said, “We’ll see.”
I headed across campus. I stopped by the Maranatha Hall and laid the operating manual and the Safeco Ledger and Accounting Book on the desk. Then I headed to frat row.
To TikieTwo’s frat house.
I pounded up the stairs and rapped on the door to his room.
It was him.
“Oh, uh, hi Tik.” His normal ear to ear grin was gone.
“Hey Tikietwo, I need to talk to you. About me. I’m leaving.”
“I know, Jim and Janet (our single sister) were here last night. They told me not to talk to you; that you were in trouble… that they were trying to get you into counseling down in Gainesville. That you had fallen in sin.”
“No…that is not the case at all Tikietwo. Not at all. I should have leveled with you the other night. But I had to straighten my thinking out. C’mon, I’ll buy you breakfast. I need to help you see what is going on with me and to help you with your thinking.”
He did not move.
“I can’t talk to you Tik…not until I talk to Jim or Janet. Jim told me you might come by here and that I should have you call him if you did. Look I have to take a shower. I have an early morning lab… so… well… I’ll call you later.”
The door shut.
I walked out and sat on the steps in front of the frat house. I could make him understand I was sure…but that would have to wait. I could feel the ministry pulling at me; my own prize, Tickietwo, had literally slammed the door in my face.
What would become of me?
If I stayed and tried to reason with him I would end up talking to Jim , Dana, and Janet and I might get sucked back into MCM. Perhaps Bob was flying up here even now to meet me in person.
I did not trust myself. I had to go and go NOW.
So I headed out-of-town with my car crammed with my clothes, stuff, and every nickel of cash I had. It was eighteen hours of driving to Alabama and it seemed like it was eighteen days.
I pulled up to my parents’ home and before I opened the car door my mom was out of the front door and at the car. She gave me a hug.
But I didn’t hug back. It was like I was dead.
And I was.
I knew that my life was over.
I had jettisoned all my college friends pre-MCM. My high school friends were scattered all over the southeast. Everything I had given myself to over the last four and half years was in vain.
The only thing I left in my life was my kid brother, who was still at home, and my Mom and Dad.
I wasn’t hungry even though the last meal I had eaten was breakfast some forty-eight hours earlier with Tikietwo.
There was nothing to say to my parents and no answers to their questions.
For my parents did not even know what questions to ask; and they could not possible understand what was happening to me and had happened to me.
To them it seemed that I had simply decided church work was not for me and I was going to go into engineering.
But from my view I was cast adrift, and for the first time in almost five years I had no one telling me where to go, what to do, no mandatory prayer sessions, no calls to Gainesville, no witnessing plans, no special offerings and fundraisers, no clubs to organize, no tracts to hand out, no posters to put up all over campus, no “hootah” and counseling sessions with the brothers, no all-night prayer meetings, no sermons to be listened to or prepared; no, Red, Green,Blue, Brown or Pink books to work through, no satellite MLTS meetings, no MLTS conferences, no upcoming road trips to other ministries, no earth shattering revelations or prophecies to look forward to, no certainty about life and my purpose.
No marriage or marriage partner.