BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

There's no place like home, there's no place like home ...

I have to admit upfront on this, that there is no way that I can write an "unbiased" review of Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inside Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgment by Timothy Wyllie (and others). The Process/Foundation was a key element in my development as person, and it's almost like having to write a review about a book about one's parents ... how does one take that step back?

When I was a lad, we lived one block away from the Process center in Chicago, and, following "the Schism", the Foundation's HQ was a scant few blocks from my highschool. Over the years, I came to know many of the folks out "donating" (selling magazines to raise money) on the streets, and came very, very close to "joining the cult" rather than going to college. I could go into a whole array of stories here (I stayed in on-going communication with them all through college, and in intermittent contact beyond), but that would only be digressing from the book.

In many ways, Love, Sex, Fear, Death seems to have been seeded by Genesis P-Orridge who put together Wyllie with the Feral House publishing folks. GPO has had a long-time fascination with the Process Church, which has expressed itself in various forms (and collaborations) over the years.

Frankly, I rather expect that this book will be followed by a raft of others. The Process and Foundation had been very tightly controlled (or, at least the upper parts of their hierarchies) by Mary Ann DeGrimston (nee MacLean), the one-time wife of the titular head and "Teacher" of the Process, Robert DeGrimston (Moore) ... "the Matriarch" died a few years back, and this has evidently changed the nature of "the game". To some extent, this has freed up people to be more open about the organization and its history, although I'm not certain on what level that freeing has come.

Timothy Wyllie had been one of the "inner core" from the very beginning, going back to when Robert and Mary Ann left the structure of early Scientology (due to a philosophical disagreement over the work of Adler) and started their own group called Compulsions Analysis. In fact, Wyllie reports that he'd volunteered to be a "test subject" for them from the get-go, so there are few with as "deep roots" in the organization. In the church he was called Father Micah, and was the person behind the "look and feel" of the classic Process magazines (the title of the book appears to be a bit of a joke spun from the subjects of the last 4 "themed" issues of The Process, which actually came out in the order: Sex, Fear, Death, Love), elements of which are reproduced in a section of color plates here.

I actually became involved with the group soon after "The Schism" (when Robert was removed as Teacher, the theology and symbology changed, and about 2/3rds of the group continued on as The Foundation) and their previous incarnation as The Process was very much something Not To Be Discussed. Being the inquisitive (and obsessive-compulsive) lad that I am, I kept digging, and eventually had both a pretty good picture of the general outlines of the history, but also quite a respectable collection old magazines, books, and pamphlets. Of course, I was still just "peeking through holes in the fence" and had very little idea of the non-mythologized history of the group ... Love, Sex, Fear, Death finally fills in a lot of the gaps.

The key thing about the Process/Foundation was that, to a very great extent, the people involved were all very much like me ... highly intelligent misfits who were out of step with society (aka "the grey forces") in general. I never felt more at home than the times I was out in New York, and hanging around the big HQ on 1st Avenue (some summers I'd go out there three times). This part of the story comes rather late in Wyllie's section of the book (which includes remembrances from a handful of other members, as well as an essay by GPO), but it was fascinating to be able to read an "insider's view" of that time.

In many ways, the book was a somewhat depressing read for me, having had an inner mythology of the Process/Foundation that ran in parallel with the official mythology, neither of which came particularly close to the realities outlined by Wyllie. The "real" Process/Foundation sounds like a very difficult place to have been, and in some ways I came away from this book feeling a certain level of relief that I had never taken the step to "go in". I also had a few revelations regarding certain aspects of things which, in context, do not reflect well upon some people for whom I've always held the highest regard.

Of course, this is a book by somebody who left. Fr. Micah (Wyllie) did not continue with the group after New York (when they sold the HQ to buy the Kanab Movie Ranch). This was a huge change for the group, and I have one story that I think I will tell. If you've ever seen the (wonderful) movie Where The Buffalo Roam with Bill Murray playing Hunter S. Thompson, there's a scene where Lazlo (his lawyer) talks his way onto the press plane and corners HST with a briefcase full of 8x10 B&W photos of desert, trying to convince him that this would be some sort of paradise. Two of my closest connections with the group made a regular "funding" trip out to Chicago every year, and I was sitting in somebody's living room when one of them cornered me with 8x10 B&W photos of desert, and proceeded to explain how this was going to be some sort of paradise ... it was a deeply weird moment for me. Some years later, I actually found myself "in the neighborhood" (Flagstaff, AZ) with a couple of days to kill, and drove up to visit. The area is very beautiful, but it was very strange to be seeing adult people who I had last seen as young kids, and once-edgy young people now well into middle age or beyond!

The point I was getting to (before the seemingly inevitable digression above) is that I will be very interested to see if folks who did venture out west and transform into Best Friends Animal Sanctuary will now be able (or even inclined) to write their own histories. There have been losses among the inner core (one of my closer friends from that group died tragically a few years back), but quite a number of those who came together in the early 60's are still around, and it would be fascinating if they collectively, or individually, would produce clear-eyed histories from their perspectives.

Of course, Love, Sex, Fear, Death is not "for everyone" ... I can well imagine that many people could not care less about a small, if notorious, religious group from the 60's and 70's (despite their rather broad, if subtle, influence on popular culture over the past forty years), but for me this is a blockbuster book, full of insights and revelations about people I knew, places I'd been, and, heck, (if I'm not grossly mistaken) I just missed being "name checked" in GPO's essay! So, while I'd really love to have all and sundry run out and buy a copy, I'll understand if your enthusiasm for this is not quite up to mine. As this is a brand-new release (it officially came out on June 1st), you can no doubt find it anywhere, but Amazon has it at 34% off of cover, which is a pretty good deal.

I think on some level I'm feeling that "the more people read this book, the more people will understand me", which is somewhat pitiful, but the whole Process/Foundation "thing" is something that I've had to explain and explain and explain over the years, and it's nice to have something out there that's shedding some light on the subject while not "sensationalizing" it!

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Tags: book review

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