Strassle is aware of opinions such as Mikesell's among his Campo neighbors and says he understands why people view his group as such. In fact, he believes God Unlimited has brought some of it upon itself. "Over the past years that we've been here," he says, "we were sort of incognito; we were doing our own thing at the end of the valley here, and we were busy with what we did."
But in recent months, Strassle and the other monks -- both men and women -- have gone visiting with neighbors. One neighbor they met was Jan Foster, a 4-year Campo resident and a 12-year Mountain Empire resident. "They're very, very nice," Foster says. "When they came to visit, they stopped by and said they wanted to introduce themselves. They weren't trying to convert me, they didn't want to know any gossip, they didn't ask questions about anybody. That's fine with me because, up here in the mountains, rumors are rampant. You don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see. When they were getting ready to leave they said, 'If you need anything, just call us. If you need help, call us, we'll be here.' That's what you like in a neighbor. If you needed to call someone, you could call them, but otherwise they're not going to bother you, they're going to leave you alone. You couldn't ask for better neighbors. They're very quiet, they keep to themselves, and they do not generate any extra traffic. That's the mountain way, and they fit into that very well."
People in Rancho Santa Fe described the 39 Heaven's Gate cult members who committed simultaneous suicide in 1999 as nice, quiet neighbors too. But Strassle wants to assure the community that that won't be happening at God Unlimited. "No," he chuckles, "we enjoy life. We believe in the inner presence of the divine, not something out there; no spaceship or a God out there on some cloud that is going to take us away. But I can understand people being concerned about that. The media is into selling stories about [cults such as Heaven's Gate], and they do happen. But we definitely aren't like that."
Talk to any Campo resident about the University of Healing, and the word naked or nude will come up before long. In addition to the motorcycle and mailbox/school bus incidents in the '80s, which Mike Mikesell mentioned, neighbors have occasionally caught glimpses of naked monks sunbathing or walking the paths through the chaparral. Word of it has spread. Brian Elmore's 10-acre plot borders to 200 acres God Unlimited used to rent before they moved to the Far Valley Road property. "I met Herb Beierle on a few occasions," he recalls. "He came by once and asked my wife and me if we minded if he walked around in the buff. We said we didn't mind as long as he stayed out of our sight."
Strassle admits that outdoor nudity goes on at God Unlimited but insists it's not part of their religion and that they are not a nudist camp. "It's just that the sun is there," he says. "We enjoy nature, we like the sunshine, and some of us like to go out and sunbathe naked and even walk around naked. It has nothing to do with the inner divine. We feel it's natural, and the body should be something sacred and beautiful, and we shouldn't feel any part of it is bad in any way. Nobody has to go naked here. Some do, some don't. Nobody is offended, and it's not misinterpreted for anything else like free sex or anything like that. But we recognize that in American culture, things are a little different. That's the reason for the fence."
Which brings up another bit of meal from the Campo rumor mill. In the Mountain Empire, fences are discouraged because they detract from the wide-open feel of the area and prevent the free movement of wildlife. So when the cedar fence was being built across the front, or north, side of the God Unlimited land, close neighbors and other Campo people worried that the whole 90 acres would be fenced off. Strassle says they shouldn't worry. Only the side that borders neighbors will be fenced "as a courtesy to them," Strassle says. The rest of the campus adjoins Bureau of Land Management land.
Along with neighborhood visits, God Unlimited is planning a neighborhood party around its swimming pool in an effort to improve relations with the Campo community. And Strassle invites anyone from the community to visit the God Unlimited campus anytime. "I believe it's good for us to get to know our neighbors," Strassle says, "and for them to get to know us to realize that we are normal people who enjoy nature and like to take time to find the inner self."