1990, 12/16-30. Going Under.

I call this entry “Going Under,” because I began to believe and give into Stewart Traill’s preaching about our worthlessness and sinful condition. (Stewart called us “rebels and cheaters” and accused us of imaginary sins such as “thumbing our noses at Jesus,” which, even if they were sins, are the sins least likely to be found among a group of people that have given everything up to follow Jesus. These, it seemed, would be sins that atheists or agnostics would have.) 

We were being put under extreme pressure. The weight of it was too much for me. I got carried away in the undertow and I began to confess what was wrong with me, according to what Stewart wanted us to believe about ourselves. I was in this state of mind for a while. Although I questioned it sometimes.

These journal pages form the background of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.

December 16

Well, my Staten Island vacation is pretty much over.

[That’s what I called guard shifts at the church’s house in Staten Island house, which though overcrowded, was a more normal living situation. Mothers and their children lived there. The fathers of these women had left the church. There were no fathers or couples with children who lived in the church. As opposed to where I was living in Brooklyn, this house was in a safer area where I could take walks and sit on the porch. No brothers lived there, though there was almost always one brother there as a guard. I got to step off the usual treadmill of being busy for the church for a day during my guard shifts there.]

Staten Island vacations go so quickly. There’s hardly any time to do anything. Time is such a fluid substance, flowing ever so quickly during times of pleasure and rest, stagnating and beginning to reek during the tedious tasks of daily life, work or meetings, or any of the myriad routines I daily perform.

I was reading the New York Times here. There was an interesting article of a man who takes pictures of vanishing landscapes. Sure, life is a fraud – yet I find this interesting. [Stewart was preaching at this time that “all of this life is a fraud.” He was saying this as part of his plan to get us to give up all our human wants and desires.] The nice picture of a barn with a cloud made me think of summer. Summer is an idealized place that exists somewhere in my consciousness, where it is always warm and the sky is always blue with puffy clouds – except on days when it is raining.

I also read an article about mothers who take their children into New York City for auditions. Not that I’m especially interested in the subject matter, but I like reading such things and wonder if there is any value in it. As if to say, it might be good to read a lot of different things about the world in order to understand the world better. Not to live in it, but to understand it.

December 19

Fallow seasons

bare winter branches, against the blue sky

traces, of tree trunk shadows

on the fallen leaves.

[I wrote this poem after I walked through Prospect Park to get a church van that had been there parked overnight. This gave me an excuse to walk in the park and to notice how the sunlight made shadows of the tree branches on the ground.]

December 20

It’s good to talk to somebody else once in a while. It’s refreshing to meet a different mind than my own. I was talking to Steve B. this morning. At first I wanted to tell him all the things I had been thinking. In other words, just a continuation of my own thoughts, now out loud to somebody else. But he interrupted and began to speak of something else. At first I was just a bit angry that I didn’t get to complete what I was saying, but then I was glad. It’s a relief to talk to somebody besides myself; a pleasure to just stop and listen to what somebody else has to say. It’s a break from having to listen to my own mind all day! So I gladly laid aside my thoughts and listened to his thoughts. I must do this more often!

December 21

I am having a little trouble keeping my mind on the fact that “my own sin is my basic problem.”

[Stewart’s latest teaching was that we were to look to our own faults, not to those of others. The full version was, “My own sin is my basic problem, not circumstances or the other bad guys.” (This line got used against anyone who tried to speak up against the way things were run there.)]

I am irritated about the way brothers treat each other in the name of speaking the truth and encouraging one another (although nothing was said to me). The problem with not keeping my own sin out front is that I cut myself off from the help I could be getting for this problem. (Although I think I get to avoid bad feelings about facing the hard fact that this is my own problem and that I am facing death, judgment and hell. I “get to avoid,” but is it worth it, seeing the comfort in my affliction that I am passing up? I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Why hide them? “I am content with weakness, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” I think that sin is my most basic weakness. Why else really did God send Jesus? Sure, there’s weaknesses, like human frailties and shortcomings. I am sure I should also boast and be content with these, but many human problems – like fearing man – are from sin, if not sin themselves.

But what? I guess all of this is philosophy. I think this sometimes. I like thinking about all these things, but really my secret fear, my belief even, is that really I am still headed straight to hell. I think about it and fear it all the time. But I guess that is where love, mercy and grace and my need for Jesus come in. What else am I going to do? (That will work, that is.) Unless I am not his elect. Then I might as well pack it in, because it’s hopeless then. But, if I am his elect, then Jesus deals with me and thinks of me first, if not only, through his love, mercy and grace!  I have been coming to a new awareness of this. It is starting to shape my thinking. It must be true – or else what? The Bible is not true? The clear message of the Bible, which I have heard from many sources, with many different degrees of insistance, is that God loves me. That is the message of the Bible. All Christian faiths agree on this point. From the mushiest to the harshest.

What does it all matter? I mean, the day to day circumstances of life? Whether somebody cleans a carpet this way or that, or if someone wants to organize a job his way instead of mine. We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. I will be there.  If I go to hell, none of this will matter, whether I did this or that correctly on a job. I won’ be able to say, “Oh, if only I had done it someone else’s way, then I wouldn’t be here.”  And if I go to heaven, it won’t matter either. It won’t be what got me there. So what’s the point of getting caught up in these things or anything else? Why not walk away from it? Practice forgetting it. I don’t even remember the jobs the next day. It seems I must be caught up in it, though. Think of the judgment seat of God. It’s frightening, yet somehow, also freeing.

This also applies to something else I find puzzling. During the day, at different times (and often when I am complaining, especially about Brother Stewart, but not always) I hear a voice saying, “The lake of fire.” This is frightening. Yet, at the same time – I bear witness to this also – I feel some strength buoying me up. (Is it foolish pride? Thinking that I will get away with it anyway?)

Also, I get what I have been calling “the heavenly view.” Somehow, heaven is in my mind. What is this? Great fear and great joy? I hear, and feel both at the same time.

I hear God speaking to me. I was undecided about whether to go sweeping [gathering new converts]. I was open to it, but also looking for a way out of it. I was still debating, while walking toward the van, I clearly heard a voice say, “Don’t make excuses.” Well, we went to the Staten Island Ferry. As soon as I saw Diego, I knew that he was the one, he will be coming over tonight. He is the reason why I (and we) went out. Even when it was getting late and I figured it was too late to go sweeping.

I also wonder whether the little conversation I heard in the lobby at Rosier’s has anything to do with Diego coming over. Maybe God wants to use me in this way.

[The conversation in the lobby was about a missionary in a South American church, and Diego was Spanish and I liked to talk to Spanish people. At this time, I thought maybe God was going to call me to become a missionary (for the Church of Bible Understanding, of course). I thought that after Stewart’s repentance, things were really going to change in COBU and we were going to move forward. It looked that way at first, too, with the Grace Meetings and wonderful freedoms being promised. Then some difficulties with the sisters seemed to happen, which Stewart was pointing out to us and then Stewart went on to rage and rant at other groups in the church. But maybe these were merely temporary setbacks or times of trial in our church and that God, and even Stewart, were making a way for a revival on a large scale. I would have a future in the church and I could use all my talents for God. Surely, if our church was going to expand to other parts of the globe, people who spoke foreign languages would be needed. Though I often thought that with our way of self abnegation, COBU missionaries would not be allowed to begin studying a language until they were on the plane and on the way to their destination, because language learning was a “something in this life” and studying anything else than the Bible involved taking one’s mind off Christ. And I thought that after present difficulties in the church were taken care of, marriages would happen, because brothers were interested in the sisters and marriage is in the Bible and how could we move forward and build a church if everyone was sexually repressed and frustrated? Stewart said that brothers would be trained to open up new church centers, houses and lofts in other cities and to manage one hundred “lambs,” (teenage new converts) because as Stewart said, “How can you manage one of these women, if you can’t handle a hundred lambs?” So there, Stewart had indirectly spoken of marriage. It was the first time he had spoken about it in many years. And now he was mapping out the way to marriage, by means of extreme accomplishment for the church. At least some of us realized that permission to marry might be granted, once these plans were well underway. It was also clear to me that when Stewart said this, it was implied, “and you’re not going to get marriage any other way, either.” Well, now the Church of Bible Understanding now has Olde Good Things, an architectural antique business which is successful on a large scale, although there are not hundreds new converts. There have not been any marriages in the church since 1979. Though, from what I have been able to learn, some brothers and sisters have relationships or liaisons without being married.]

December 22

I think that people who drive others are driven themselves. They are not at rest with God. They react to everything. The lesson is that I must be at rest with God to have peace in all circumstances.

I have been thinking about “staying out of God’s way” and how to do this. One way is when others are speaking the truth, don’t interrupt them. And to consider (when they are speaking to others) that God may be speaking through them. Who am I to stand in God’s way?

Most of what I did today doesn’t matter. (I am no better off if I do or don’t do these things, or if I do it this way rather than that way.) The point of what I am saying is that we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive good or evil according to the deeds done in the body. Then I will either be in heaven or hell. If hell, there is nothing I will be able to say, of which, would have helped me not to get here. Not: if I had only been to that job on time, or if I had been willing to go on a night job, or closed more jobs. It won’t matter. There is nothing, of which I can say, tipped the scales in my favor so that I got to heaven instead. There is nothing of which I could say, what if I hadn’t done this?

Most of what I say, do and think all day doesn’t matter. So then, why must I be caught up in it? Yet there seems to be such a drive to do these things. It seems to be my whole life! Sometimes it seems cruel because I must be occupied with it, or it won’t get done. I can’t stand up in the morning meeting and say this doesn’t matter, I am not going to go to work today.

Of course, it’s like what Bonhoeffer wrote in the Cost of Discipleship, that Kirkegaard, after a life spent in the pursuit of intense learning said, “I now see that we can know nothing.” And he is right. That is the sum of all learning. (Socrates also said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”) Yet, Bonhoeffer said, those words in the mouth of the 19 year old college student are not acceptable. These words are just an excuse not to do his studies. He cannot say this.

All these things are pointless, yet I must do it. (It won’t matter in the end, yet I must do it now.)

[I was talking about the pressure to work in the church businesses, the long meetings, the way we were supposed to be with another and say we believed. Yet I realized that neither doing this work, nor not doing it was going to help me get to heaven. If I ended up in hell, doing all this church work and saying the right things and giving up my life to follow this way would have been of no help. And if I went to heaven, doing all these things will not be what got me there. But to say that I was tired and that I wanted a day off, or that I have worked enough today, would bring the roof down on my head, as if these were things that I must do, and that to leave my post for even a few moments was to abandon Christ.]

Yet I experience an inner freedom when I keep these facts on my mind. (How I will appear before the judgment seat and that none of this really matters.) It helps me to detach from the intense anxiety when I am doing the work or when I’m tempted to take haggling with a customer seriously.

Possibly also, this is why God may allow us to have some human interests. They are also pointless (like most of what I do for the church for technically right reasons is pointless), yet they are somehow necessary. I mean, why does this only apply to one thing and not the other? Stewart says we must get rid of things we like to do which are useless (if that’s what they really are, useless). I do things I don’t like that are right, but useless, but maybe God allows a just balance.

By that I mean all this running around, and what I do all day. Rushing here and there, doing this and that – and it doesn’t even matter.

You might say, it’s God’s will that we do all these things, because the Bible “says so.” This is true, but I keep having the feeling that this is not what I am going to talk to God about on the day of judgment, and that all of this, in a very definite way, is quite pointless. Why then must I occupy myself with it and get all caught up in it and be upset, anxious, tired, angry – or even feel good if I am doing it successfully or have accomplished something?

Another thing to note, Romans 14, the chapter in the Bible where personal interests, views and opinions are discussed is also the chapter that says “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Why is this so? As if to say, one has something to do with the other. They are connected in some way. It is God to whom we shall render account, not to man. It is him with whom I have to do. “Let no one pass judgment on you in matters of food or drink or in regard to a festival or new moon.”

It isn’t Brother Stewart who decides what I can or can’t do in my personal life. I will not render account to him or stand before him when I die. I am not coming from him and returning to him. How can I say this better (without a torrent of resentment or self-justification)? My focus should be God and his opinion and thoughts about me and not man’s.

There is something to this. I have been aware lately that it is God whom I will be standing before shortly. My focus should be on God, and our talk will not be about these inconsequential things, these things I do all day.

All this, it just doesn’t matter.

Also, this point about not protecting our flesh by avoiding Brother Stewart. Well, let’s not make too big thing of this, making it the pivot point of my existence and forgetting Christ. Because, we always hear about anyone who is making a big issue of it, that Stewart is not the issue. He is just a man. And that the real issue is Christ and not avoiding him.

So even if I really do get into this and make a big deal of it, this is what I am likely to hear after all that anyway. And Christ is here now. Stewart is far away and any dealing with him is in the future. Sometimes I think I must go through Stewart first, then I will be in Christ. This is probably one of the old views. I would end up being directed back to Christ anyway, even if I did the ultimate example of rule #12. Christ is the big issue. (But I do get this feeling sometimes, because that is what all those contentious people use who make Stewart the issue. Yet you know it’s true, your right mind tells you so.)

So much for this torrential downpour on paper. But I think Christ is showing me something (about how Christ and my relationship to him is the issue and about how most of everything I do all day doesn’t really matter), but I feel I won’t be allowed to believe it until I’m told it’s okay. Boy, I sure do have problems with my mind.   

December 26

Do not get in Jesus’s way, perhaps he is speaking through that brother. You don’t want to be opposing his way or him!

December 28

Some notes on dreams. I have had two dreams that I met my brother Jeff. In one dream, he came to a meeting. He seemed to be scared of something, but I told him, “This way really works!”

I still have a lot of dreams about trains.  Always trains in my dreams, almost without fail.

I have been getting “involved” with new disciples and this has been getting noticed. I am willing, but I also feel strangely worn out and I wish I had time for myself. But I do say that I desire that the new disciples grow in Christ.

December 29

I had a dream just before waking. Somebody was reading a poem to me that went like this:

“He had to do it for me,

for I would not take it.

He held out his hand to me

But I took it not

But I took it not

For he hung there for me.”

When hearing it, especially the part that was repeated, I put my hand over my mouth and wept bitterly. I really have a problem with the mental block. I prayed about it after I woke up, because I began to wonder whether it was for my condemnation. I asked God and I heard God say, “How do you take it?” I said, “I take it to be good or hopeful.” A verse came to my mind, he said to me “Love hopes all things!”

I really have a problem, my pride. Such a mental block.

[The “mental block,” was a Stewart Traill teaching. Stewart said we had a mental block, which was that we could not believe that God really loved us. At the same time, Stewart constantly slammed us about what was wrong with us, thereby working against removing this mental block he said we had, and helping it to remain firmly in place.]

December 30

Sitting here before the meeting starts. I feel worn out. I often seem to live in confined spaces and close quarters too much and I long for open spaces sometimes. Not that I complain of want.

I’m trying to remember God’s love for me. I’ve been reading serious Christian books, like Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. This book may be too scholarly, but I figure I want to read it once. I wonder what I am really looking for in it and whether it will really help me. But, I want to read at least once through the great Reformers’ books, Calvin, Luther, etc. But I do wonder what’s really the point or benefit from it and maybe I just ought to read the usual kinds of books for entertainment or relaxation and not be such a scholar. Maybe, what’s the point?

I am writing, but just because I think Jesus wants me to. I think he has been working on me. These dreams I have been having. These thoughts and conclusions I have had. Which were the same points as Brother Stewart [or, Bible study*] today, about how my mind goes all the time. About how, of myself, I will not repent and receive Christ. (“He had to do it for me because I would not take it. He held out his hand to me, but I took it not.”) No one will repent unless God allows them to repent.

[*] “Brother Stewart”and “bible study” got abbreviated with the letters “BS” in my journal, so I cannot say exactly what “BS” I am talking about here. It is ironic that Brother Stewart can be abbreviated as BS. Most of his Bible Studies were “BS” of major proportions. Stewart BS’d us with the Bible to get us to do his own will. Some Christian people object to the use of the word BS, because of what the S stands for, but BS has taken on a meaning far beyond the abbreviation to avoid using a “vulgarity,” and has become a way to describe someone pulling the wool over our eyes, in plain sight and often with our knowledge of the fact. A politician gets up to the podium and BS’s the crowd with meaningless platitudes about progress or faith and the crowd eats up the empty words. An employee BS’s his way through a board meeting about why the new project failed. And in school we BS’d our way through exams and term papers. It’s an art form. And “Brother Stewart” BS’d us with “Bible Studies” aimed at promoting his cash generating and self-aggrandizing agendas. But, it was not so easy to walk away from all of it due to the hold a communal cult lifestyle exerts over its members. But coming to realize it was such BS – both the misinformation we were fed as well as who and what “Brother Stewart” portrayed himself to be – was a key factor in making me able to leave COBU. (Think: the man behind the curtain, or, the great Bible teacher, to whom the “truth lost since the time of the apostles” was now being revealed, in a world where 99.999% of all other Christians are arrogant and don’t want to hear it, telling this truth to worn out and broken down people living in crowded conditions in dirty warehouses (rats included), who were also accused at weekly meetings of not being faithful to Christ, despite all their hard service. When Stewart said that he “only talks to other Christians when they are ready to hear it,” (that is, to uncritically accept his teachings), I realized how lonely and locked away I was in this place, and how isolated I was from the outside world. Who Stewart talked to and let come visit also had an effect on what kind people I might be able to meet and talk to, and all other Christians were clearly not invited to come over to our church.]

I have a strong desire for this life and calculate everything for it and push God away. I need God to do it for me, because it is impossible for me. Though somehow this doesn’t seem right. I see evidence of God’s grace working in me, but I am in big, big trouble. Right away, I begin thinking about how I can still have what I want. I went to the scriptures: “Seek first his kingdom. Not my will but thy will. If in anything else you are otherwise minded.” I’m trying to go to God’s word instead of my own thoughts, but I want to hear what I want to hear.

But losing everything, even my “dearest” things is not worth even comparing. I confess that. Yet I have this great desire to hang onto it and say “No way, not that.”

I also confess that anything God ever took away from me, I am not the worse off for not having it anymore and hardly miss it. And I am thankful for what I didn’t get.

I pray that God helps me. I want him to help me. I want to repent. Whatever has to go, has to go. I desire to die, to let go.

[As I noted in the introduction, I was giving into Stewart’s teaching that I had to die completely to myself and to my life in this world. These two ideas sound biblical, but they were really meant to get us to give up all personal wants and expectations and to work in the church businesses and to train others in this way. We were not supposed to have anything for ourselves.]

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