My 1995 Wedding /Seoul Olympic Stadium
I tell other people’s stories for a living. Maybe, in part, because I’ve been avoiding telling my own. I’ve been holding onto this for too long now.
So that’s me. Almost twenty two years ago. In the front row. In the Seoul Olympic Stadium with 10-thousand other couples. In an arranged marriage. And in what feels like another lifetime. I grew up in a unique religious organization called the Unification Church whose members have been called “Moonies” and cult followers. My first marriage was arranged by the controversial founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, using 8x10 photographs. My then husband and I met a month before we traveled to Korea to be married.
When the marriage stopped working, I didn’t know how to leave. So I denied my feelings, learned to drink and eventually cheated on my husband. My subsequent divorce felt, at the same time, like a divorce from my parents and the community I was raised in.
It took collecting 100 hours of film, writing thirty-seven versions of a short essay, then three drafts of a memoir, and five years to figure out what I wanted to say about this story. Then, another year to get the courage share any of it.
As a former journalist, I began telling this like any other cult story, highlighting all the sensational elements that painted the church, its founder and even my parents as villains, and me as the victim. I wrote this story through tears and pillow bashing, and regularly bothered friends to validate it.
“Send it,” some would say. But I wouldn’t. Some part of me knew that the anger with which I was telling the story was keeping me locked inside it.
So I began asking more questions and trying to understand my past, meanwhile working on the judgment, anger and fear that would unconsciously weave their way into my words. Slowly, a more nuanced and complex story began to emerge.
I discovered that my parents, who were early leaders in the church, had been drawn to it for reasons I never truly understood. Their work in the church helped them heal childhood wounds and they credit their faith for the success of their marriage, now nearly 47 years strong. It is definitely true that some of the church’s beliefs and practices caused me a lot of pain. But it is also true that many of its values have positively influenced my life and allowed my family, now of 18 people, to stay together through battles that would have broken many others apart.
I have only been able to see and acknowledge these more complex truths in working on this story.
Me (left) with my parents, brothers and Rev. Moon in the early days
So many of our wounds from the past are stitched together with tape and string waiting to be undone with the slightest touch. For me, revisiting this part of my past, while painful, has been a path for deeper understanding and healing.
The author Paulo Coehlo says there are two types of people: builders and gardeners. Our world is created by both. In the realm of story, the builders among us are called to reconstruct new lives with solid walls and boundaries, keeping the past at bay. For some, this is the only way forward. The gardeners are called to look at the entire landscape of their lives, to weed out what hasn’t worked and to keep what has growing.
For so many years I tried to be a builder. I struggled to find love and move on with my life in judgment and denial of this story of my past. That approach, while valid for others, didn’t work for me. Re-telling my story through the upcoming documentary Second Coming has allowed me, after five years of tilling, to embrace my past as part of a more vast life landscape. There, I have started to grow a family of my own.
It’s in this garden that I hope our now five month old little girl will also thrive. And someday contribute to that rich landscape with sprouts of her own truth.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more about Second Coming , a film that is shaping up to be just as powerful and complex as my journey to telling it. I’d be honored if you’d follow us HERE on our film’s FACEBOOK PAGE. We can also keep you posted viaTWITTER and INSTAGRAM. Thanks for being a part of the adventure!
So this is me. In ’92. At age 16. In my family’s basement. Practicing my lectures on the teachings of the Unification Church to a less-than-enthusiastic audience of my three younger brothers.
Looking back on this picture, I barely recognize myself. But this girl was pretty happy, full of love and wanting to save the world.
At the time, I believed that Rev. Sun Myung Moon was the Messiah. That I was chosen to be among those who would help change the world. And that I would be matched to a husband, and we’d live happily ever after.
Four years later, I acted out of that faith, as I stood in the Seoul Olympic Stadium and held the hand of the man Rev. Moon had matched me to a month earlier. I gripped this man’s hand hoping to feel something. Surely, we’d go onto have a happy family in the church, just like my parents and many of my best friends. This had worked for them. It had to work for me.
I felt nothing.
I caused myself and others a lot of pain because I didn’t know how to end that marriage. When it was over and the walls of my faith came tumbling down, they took everything good about my history with them, including that innocent, young girl. I came to believe that Rev. Moon was a con-man, that my parents and all the people I knew in the church had been duped, and that I, too, had been a victim of it all. For more than a decade, I could see nothing but this story.
I left the church full of unresolved anger, resentment, and shame, all of which, I would later understand, kept me bound to it.
In her Tedx Talk, “The Danger of A Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “When we hear the same story over and over again, it becomes the only story we ever believe.”
“Stories matter,” she says, “many stories matter.”
Throughout the creation of the documentary, “SECOND COMING” I have started to see just how many stories lie in between the black and white ones I’ve lived in: stories of people who felt that their lives were saved by Rev. Moon, stories of people who felt their lives were ruined by him, stories of amazing altruism, stories of alleged abuse, stories of beautiful families created in the church, stories of families torn apart by it, stories of external poverty, stories of internal wealth.
Making this film has helped me accept that all of these truths can co-exist in myself and others. The bad. The good. The everything in between. Understanding this has helped me reclaim relationships, ideals, and parts of myself I left behind when I tried to leave the church. I am left feeling, surprisingly, more free.
For me, the journey to more fully leaving the past, has been finding some ways to love it.
Cara Jones is a filmmaker and founder of the production company Storytellers for Good. In addition to creating short films on inspiring humans from India’s first surfer girl to a team of homeless marathon runners, she is working on a documentary and memoir about her 20 journey between her two wildly different weddings. She is grateful for popcorn, travel and that, after many years of solo backpacking around the world, she is now living out her greatest adventure as a wife and new mom.