So my cult got busted.
Not my cult of course, I lack the organizational skills of the classic cult leader. But the cult I was in, that? That was recently busted. And by busted I mean exposed to the entire OSU campus.
Which is actually PERFECT because for the first non-introductory post on this page I felt it might be important to mention that for the majority of my late childhood I was a heavily active member of a mega-church in Columbus, OH called Xenos (pronounced Zee-nos) Christian Fellowship.
And it’s also the reason I started stand up comedy.
To clarify, it’s not the only reason I do stand up. But all of the reasons that I enjoyed being a bible-thumping “eternally thankful” mega-evangelist carried over into everything that I love about stand up. I loved it so much that I was trapped in Xenos’ system for six years (and hope to be trapped in the stand up comedy system for even longer). Xenos is the ultimate example of me turning a horrible part of my life into a humorous joke. My first stand up set I ever performed was centered around my time with the cult.
Further clarification: Stand up comedy is not a cult. My former cult is a cult. Second City is a cult, but for the most part they have yet to be truly busted.
I originally wrote the entire story of Xenos and my time there. Some of that will be included in this but in reviewing it I realized a few things. One being that it was 11 fucking pages and none of you would read all of it, regardless of how weird it is that I was told I’d want to have sex more if I shaved my pubic hair. It was also just really sad because you essentially just follow me through a time in which a manipulative mega-church made me feel guilty for struggling with depression as a teenager soooooooooooooooo…it’s happier now!
However, to understand this blog post you need to understand Xenos. I know that it is highly probable that currently active members may read this post as I am still facebook friends with a lot of them. So to clarify: I am in no way trying to attack anyone directly at Xenos and I am very aware of the fact that Xenosian individuals do not agree that it is a cult. I remember fucking hating when people claimed it was cult and having verses on verses of scripture to rebuke it. I am not trying to judge or disrespect anyone’s religion. I think that religion is a beautiful thing that is only ever ruined by the people that do something bad with it. Like The Crusades and you know…Xenos.
But what is Xenos? Hard to explain without getting into the 11 pages I wrote but I figured the best way to describe Xenos is like this:
The Lifeline of the Perfect Xenosian Individual:
You’re a tiny tot at Oasis, Xenos’ elementary school (they have elementary schools). Once you get older and get to hang with the big kids you join a junior high “cell group” which are group teachings separated by boys and girls that meet once a week at the home of one of the group leaders and also collectively at “CT”. “Central Teaching” happens across all age groups. (To visualize, just imagine yourself in a huge sweaty gymnasium with a hundred or so other people your age learnin’ about Jesus.)
Once you grow out of that, you get to go to high school CT and graduate from cell group to “homechurch” which is exactly like cell group but now the boys and girls can hang out, sorry, fellowship together.
And when you graduate high school and go to college, guess what happens? You go to OSU or Columbus State Community College (or some other Columbus school because those are the closest colleges to Xenos), choose a college homechurch (because you didn’t really get to choose the college you went to, right?) and then based on which homechurch you choose you move into that homechurch’s ministry house which is just a regular 3-4 room apartment in Columbus, OH that typically houses up to 8-10 men or women. Note: OR, not and.
People typically live in the ministry house until they get married, at which point they move out and begin their lives with their partner (who is almost always another jag from Xenos). You grow up, have kids, and sign them up for Oasis, Xenos’ elementary school.
The cycle continues. You die and supposedly go to Heaven. The end.
And now that you (kinda) understand the organization I committed myself to, without further ado:
WHY MY CULT MADE ME DO COMEDY
I now love being the center of attention.
It should be noted that not only was I in a cult, but I was really fucking good at being in a cult. And thats because at all times I love when people have to pay attention to me. I love when my words carry a message. I love commanding a room. And the first rooms I ever commanded were inside the walls of Xenos Christian Fellowship.
My competitive nature and need to be the center of attention benefited Xenos a lot. I invited literally all of my friends to Xenos (unlike my open mic nights). If I made a friend in any way, I hit them with the, “Hey, well what are you doing Tuesday night? There’s this thing…”
Teachings were occasionally led by non-leaders if the leaders felt you were “spiritually qualified” so you bet my ass was teaching other people my age about Jesus. I converted people in Pizza Hut parking lots, I led group prayer in a cheap microphone (JUST like an open mic), I prayed and prayed and prayed (also happenin’ at open mics) and everyone I loved in my life was a part of Xenos too and probably because I invited them there (UNLIKE open mics). There are people I brought to Xenos and converted that are still at Xenos today.
Teaching people about the good ole Dude Upstairs was my fucking heroin. To this day I have yet to find something that truly makes me feel as pumped as I did after saying “Amen” to a crowd of a hundred high schoolers. The closest thing to it? The feeling I get after a set goes really well. That shit makes me feel even better and has filled the hole of narcissism that Xenos left behind.
I want followers.
I hope one day for the content I create to reach millions of people. And in those millions I want to have people so dedicated to me that I might as well call them disciples. That way, I can have disciples again!
When I first learned that people from Xenos practiced discipleship the only context I had for what that even meant was that I was preeeetty sure Jesus had disciples? Like, the guy that people claimed was the son of God, he had disciples. But no, I guess regular old sinning-ass shmoes can have disciples too. Or at least, thats what Xenos believes.
At Xenos, once you become a real person with real formable thoughts and feelings (around your “troubled teen” years) you’re asked by one of the group leaders to be discipled. And what that means is that once a week you’ll meet your Discipler at the Panera on State Street to read the bible, talk Jesus, and discuss your entire life with them. It serves functionally as a sort of therapist within your homechurch that helps guide you through your spiritual journey. Also, a person to track every fucking move you make in and out of Xenos.
Once you are “strong enough in your spiritual journey” (proven that you ain’t no rookie at converting high schoolers as a high schooler) you can begin discipling others too. Once you’re in college, you realistically have a Discipler and a disciple (or two! Or three!) of your own as well. Think of it kinda like how you’re chosen to be someone’s little in a sorority or fraternity. Except your big is statistically someone way older than you and is never going to offer you jello shots.
I had three disciples by the time I was sixteen. I had three people that were the same age as me meeting me at libraries, Dairy Queens, Starbucks, Paneras “YOU NAME IT, I’LL BE THERE”, luggin’ my $60 NIV Study Bible to serve some sweet sweet spiritual seance. People went through their entire high school lives based on how I felt it would appease God the most. Man, I wish people still did that!
I attempt to make lemonade out of steaming piles of shit.
To be completely honest, I was in a cult so long because I was Xenos’ perfect target.
I was a bit rougher around the edges compared to a lot of the other kids at Xenos. My parents did not ever invoke religious thought into me because they didn’t spend a lot of time giving a shit about anything that they didn’t need to give a shit about (rent, food, and definitely not fucking mega-churches). So I was there on my own account and really wanted to be there. I preferred being there to being home so I poured all of my time into it and Xenos loved it.
Xenos benefitted from my horrible circumstances and in a perfect world, the imperfect world will hopefully benefit from my updated set of horrible circumstances. I have only ever wanted to do the best with what I have and unfortunately when I was like, 12, the best I could do with what I had was accidentally join a cult that would manipulate me to expand their organization for the next six years.
I quit Xenos after there was (11 pages of) emotional abuse from the elders in response to me opening up about the struggles I was having in high school. I was depressed due to a multitude of factors (and also because I would later learn that “depression” is just a part of my factory settings) and spoke of those openly with church members. They scolded me for feeling that way and told me that God was my only pathway toward happiness. And when you’re sixteen and pray your ass off all the fucking time and nothing changes sometimes things get worse. Sometimes you start cutting yourself and the elders say that you must not be praying enough. Sometimes you’re told that you would feel normal if you spent more time with God. Sometimes God doesn’t feel like enough and you feel like you should be punished for feeling that way. Sometimes the church does punish you for feeling that way and takes away your teaching rights. Sometimes you spiral because you’ve been told for years that you’ll fail without your church but don’t feel good enough for your church. Sometimes you leave abruptly, as abruptly as you began and immediately lose all of your friends. Because they truly believe that it is morally and ethically wrong to still speak to you. Because you are living “of the world” and should be treated as such.
That is what Xenos is and what Xenos represents. And I am thankfully out of it.
“Living of the world” and in a pile of steaming shit and struggle and suffering that we all are chugging through has been way better for me but also harder for me in certain aspects. I still think of Xenos all the time and still have intrusive thoughts of fear and guilt for leaving. But I’ve moved on, made new friends, made more mistakes, and have had more life experience in my pinky finger than I ever would have had if I had stayed in the cult. And maybe shitty things have happened that might not have happened if I stayed, but I do still attempt to make the most of the shitty stuff. I learned how to do that because of what I had to do after leaving Xenos.
The day after I was sexually assaulted for the first time, I went to an open mic I had been frequenting on Monday nights here in Chicago. I was empty, my insides felt gauged out by a complete stranger. I went to the open mic and immediately put my name in the lottery. I didn’t feel like I had anything to lose anymore due to how robbed I already felt of my ability to feel normal again. I was called relatively soon after putting my name in the bucket (WHICH HAS NEVER HAPPENED AGAIN) and stood in front of a room of comics attempting stand up comedy for the first time. I performed a set I had written about Xenos. And it killed. It went really well and I remember feeling as I walked off the stage. Just feeling again and I was so shocked by the fact that I could still do that.
I don’t perform as much I want to but comedy has always been what’s motivated me forward. I don’t want to have to look back on Xenos with shame and trauma. I want to look back on it as a hilariously ridiculous place that allowed high schoolers to openly smoke cigarettes after teachings to attract the troubled teens to want to stay (“Best church ever! Sick!”). I don’t want to look back on the unfortunate times I’ve had here in Chicago and allow those to ruin everything that Chicago still has to offer me.
I don’t like when the shitty things in my life remain as that…shitty things. I prefer when shitty stuff elevates and can become platforms for me to make others happy, even if I maybe have to take a lot of shit for that to be able to happen.
Making others happy through humor is all I have ever wanted to do. And while I may not still be in the hyper-evangelical mega-church Xenos cult, I still am eternally thankful.
Take note: my very confident and even more permanent choice of “eternally.thankful” for my Facebook URL. I remember my 15-year-old self thinking, “Well… This SHOULD always be true…”
If you have any interest in reading my entire 11 page story, I’ve submitted that to the website created to spread awareness of the organization and hope that it will be chosen for the index of stories. Visit xenosisacult.com to learn more about the organization and read stories like mine from all over Columbus, Ohio.
Thanks for reading.