1992, 05/01. The Dinosaur Club

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

SOME THOUGHTS ON MY LIFE AT THIS TIME

I was reading in the Book of Genesis that marriage is the primary human relationship. (Though some say the mother-child relationship is the primary human relationship and some say other things.) And that God created the man first, and then said that it is not good that the man should be alone. So he gave him a woman. (He did not give him a society, a political organization, a brother or adopted children.)

Stewart often exhorts us that it is not good for a brother to be alone, but it is never in the context of marriage. Instead, we travel and work in pairs or in groups. And we live together in communal arrangements known as “lofts,” which promote the ideal of never being alone for a moment and of not being off into our own little worlds. The lofts also promote the ideal of collective and common living. All working and acting together. This way of life is juxtaposed with “living as an individual before God” and “coming out from among her.” (That is, coming out from the wrong society of the older brothers.)

(All these living or working arrangements in COBU were men working and living together with other men only. I was thinking about how God said in Genesis that it was not good for a man to be alone. COBU’s way for men not to be alone was for them to live and work with other men. But in the Book of Genesis, God provided the man with a woman to be with, not other men. Stewart Traill constantly exhorted us to not be alone and devised ways to keep us from having any privacy, individual rights or property – and to keep us from having marriage.)

I wonder if tomorrow will be one of those meetings where some of us will be told we have to leave the church. I also wonder if it would do me some good to leave here and I also wonder if it would help me come to some sense of reality and that the only way I could escape the “wrong society” is by leaving here altogether, since Stewart says that as soon as I am with another older brother I “immediately do the dinosaur thing” and that I am powerless to change this, since the only thing I know is the old way – which I resort to as a method to change the old way! And I do agree with this.

(Stewart Traill called the older brothers fellowship “The Dinosaur Club.” He accused us of being set in our ways and being a hindrance to the church. Sometimes he tried to get rid of us and to replace us with new church members. Sometimes he tried to break up our way of life by putting us into extreme communal living situations (the lofts), where we would work at the church’s agendas every waking moment, by working in church businesses, being in long meetings meetings and gathering in new people. Stewart had to depend on the older brothers and sisters to carry out his plans, because it was hard to find new people who were willing to live the way we did.

Everybody had to sleep on the floor together in this loft arrangement. COBU was already communal, but Stewart decided that in order to break up what he called Dinosaur Club, no one could have walls between them, physically or socially. I resisted going to these lofts. I usually found myself in a punishment center of the church, sentenced to live in the Red Hook warehouse, which was where brothers who were not quite with the COBU program were sent, as a way to draw attention to all the others that these brothers were out of line with the program, as well as to put pressure on us to shape up and go to the lofts.)

So, if I left our church, I might have to get practical about simple human realities, like making a living and finding a place to live. Not that I don’t work here, but I live in a cloud with no view of reality, because this utopian existence is supposed to shelter me from all wants and cares about my future and growing older, and from all the anxieties of human existence, freeing me to serve God all the more. But I also wonder if this utopian monastic retreat from the world acts more as Novocain on my feelings and rational thinking than as a relief from the cares of this life.

(Supposedly, the COBU way of life was arranged to free us from all the cares of this life, in order to serve God better, but really, it was a way to regiment people to get the maximum amount of work out of them, while giving them as little as possible in return. All human desires such as marriage and desire for home, family, children, free time and individual pursuits that drew time and resources away from this work were forbidden. This collective way of life, which was supposed to be a utopian existence, caused me to feel that there were no consequences to my actions, whether good or evil, and that nothing I did mattered very much. No thinking was necessary, the only thing that mattered was obeying the program.)

I have trouble seeing any connection between my behavior and choices, consequences and rewards. What I do seems neither to have any good or bad consequences. Everything is lost in the sea of collectiveness. I can work hard, for endless hours. Yet, no matter how much I work, I still get the same 30 dollars a week allowance and a place to sleep on the floor. But I have no say in choosing my activities. I can work hard for two weeks straight and I am not able to say, “I’ll take two days off.” This would be nothing less than a crime! So, I get my time off in sick days (about one or two days a year) since I am honest and won’t claim to be sick when I am not. I also get time off while guarding the church properties about twice a month.

In other words, I can’t pick and choose or order my time, except by finding some minor loopholes. For example, if I desire to support our church financially, out of free will, believing ultimately that this is a good way of life, which I do. So, I close some wood floor jobs, or someone else does, and we all work hard together in a two-week marathon, completing five jobs in a row. Now, if I say, let’s take a few days off to rest. No way. This is idleness, selfishness and against every sound principle here. Someone once wrote that “Puritanism is the uneasy feeling that someone, somewhere, is enjoying himself,” which is not an accurate picture of the Puritans. But among ourselves, there is a gnawing anxiety that someone, somewhere is relaxing, making his own decisions about his personal time or making an expression of self, desire or choice.)

While the Puritans did not believe recreation was valid for its own sake, they did believe that people should refresh their bodies by walking, exercise or moderate sports and that people should refresh their minds by reading or doing crafts and hobbies. This was always in the context of refreshing themselves in order to return to work with new vigor. So, for the Puritans, recreation was a subcategory of work, as opposed to the hedonistic view of modern man. But in our view, any recreation of the body and mind is evil, as Stewart tells us, “no painkillers” and “no looking to the things in this life for comfort.” (There is no idea of God using or allowing things of this life for our comfort.) In fact, his view highly suggests, if not outright charges, that we will cause or further our damnation through recreation. Thinking for ourselves is discouraged in favor of the artificial harmony of the group. We will not be attacked or bothered in any way as long as we never depart from this group behavior.

What I have done, beginning about two years ago, is to just give up and go along with this flow, seeing that it was useless to fight against it. The pressures that were brought to bear on me when I resisted this flow were just too great. So, I gave up and accepted an easy life where everything was planned out for me. My work was simply assigned to me each day and even though I thought our way of life, or at least our way of working, was crazy, I just did it anyway. Giving up the struggle, which was mostly an inward struggle, won me some peace of mind. (The kind of peace that comes from giving in to something you began to think is impossible to resist.) But it also brought me non-personhood and a sense of merely being a cog in a great machine. In other words, I lost something of myself.

Now, I would like to explain some of the things in the preceding paragraph that I mentioned, but did not define:

1)  How and what I was trying to fight this flow or artificial harmony of the group with and how it was not effective or valid.

2)  What pressures were brought to bear upon me if I didn’t conform.

3)  Something about how our way of life and work is crazy.

***

(From here on, I began writing in code again in this notebook. The above was an essay I was writing about my life, but I stopped there. I thought it was safer to write in code, because I was worried about someone finding my notebook and the consequences that would follow. These thoughts were highly dangerous to me if they were known and I wouldn’t have been dealt with kindly. Instead of being seen as a person who was trying to make sense of his situation and having legitimate doubts, I would have been seen as  being “contentious.” The degree to which I insisted on these thoughts and doubts would have been matched by the degree to which everyone else would have been willing to show me the door. At this point I was not ready to leave the Church of Bible Understanding, but as can be seen by reading through the next year and a half of my journals I was working my way to being able to leave.)

May 1

This is my diary for the month of May onward. These days, there is very high pressure. Meetings are centered around hell, condemning ourselves and facing the bad news about ourselves. Facing hell: I know, from the bottom of my heart, that this is one of the realest things about myself. When I pull back all the layers of complaints, the daily job life, etc., I have known it to be true since the summer of 1988 when it became painfully obvious to me because I couldn’t fool myself. I was outside of the right church. (Though subsequent realizations show this wasn’t the case, because we were all outside of it. Still, it had its effect.)

The problem with all this pressure is that I feel very tempted. I am on a job site and an attractive woman keeps walking in and out and I am tempted to try to start something with her. The fantasy itself is more than I can handle.

(This was all in my imagination, because the woman who worked in this store where we were sanding the floors was certainly not going to be attracted to me, the dirty looking guy with the scraggly beard and untrimmed hair. She would not be interested in starting a relationship with me, or as I feared, offer herself sexually to me and I would not be able to resist. She would never have done that, because a woman has to be attracted to a man to want to have a relationship or even casual sex with him. I feared that “women in the world” were all aboout fornication and that if I left our church, I would be carried away by sexual immorality. And not being able to have marriage, that is, sex, in COBU made me like dry straw and temptation was like a match, when normally, a woman on a job site (who was not interested in me, not even a little bit, and was not trying to talk to me) would hardly be something to be worried about. Any temptation I felt was not something available and offered, it was just “thoughts.”)

I am pretty much blowing up now. It’s the usual stuff, about Stewart and the church. All these thoughts about Stewart. They get so intense. I should give myself a break. This is really building up. My contorted thoughts lead to it and it leads to more of these thoughts. I wish I could just give myself a break and go away and forget about it.

Well, let’s take a survey of my thoughts at this time. The latest thing is that Woodruff is falling apart and what are we going to do about it.

(162 Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn was the church’s building where the new people were brought in for “Christian Training,” which was really processing to be molded to the COBU way of life as unpaid workers for the church.) 

Stewart says that those older brothers who can’t say they are fully there and faithful to Christ can have a pity loft over in Red Hook. Of course, this is quite a shame and a great deal of my grinding today is coming from this place and about how I’m going to fight it out so I don’t have to move to Red Hook. Yet knowing that I can’t do that, because if I answer questions, such as “Are you fully there to serve Christ?” or “Are you faithful to Christ?” with any honesty, I will have to answer no. So, off to Stewart calls the “pity loft” I go. I really want to fight against this and fight against admitting my broken down condition, which I know to be true anyway, so as not to have to go there. (Yet, with all these reports of violence in Los Angeles and hints of it spreading here, I am at least halfway open to going to Red Hook just for that reason.)

(I would be glad to could move out of Woodruff, where there were gunfights between drug dealers on the streets, especially now with reports of riots in Los Angeles and the possibility of these riots spreading to New York City.)

Then also I can consolidate my things and get ready for any move. Just to finally get out of Woodruff. Though I was also thinking that if I have to go to Red Hook, saying no and fighting it legally by refusing to move, even going as far as getting the police involved if necessary, to fight for my rights and to not get pushed around by Stewart.

I really have the feeling that Brother Stewart is pushing me really hard, that he just wants to push me around. His gospel is so hopeless. (“Rude awakening.”) I should draw near to God.

(I was talking about the gospel that Stewart Traill preached to us, his little band of followers. We were the only ones who would pay any attention to it. And even then, Stewart had to force us to follow it with threats, manipulation and by using us against one another. The phrase “rude awakening” was a thought that entered my mind as I was complaining about my treatment. I often thought God was speaking to me, threatening me with hell, when I disagreed with Stewart. I wasn’t sure what was God speaking to me and what were my own thoughts, so I just wrote everything down. I thought that maybe I would read back on it some day, when I was in a less stressful position and then be able to sort it out.)

I am reading Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans, it is a relief!

My problem is that I think I am really, really right. I am righteous and I know best. I want to beat this thing tonight and prove to Stewart that I know best and that he can’t beat me.

I can’t take the pressure that Stewart puts on us. But maybe that is what the pressure is for! To show me sinful beyond measure, so that I can’t fool myself into thinking I’m okay. Tonight, what’s the point? Why resist, why fight to not go to Red Hook? (“Iniquity is the sin of self righteousness.” p. 49.

(This note about self righteousness was from page 49 of Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians and was applying it to myself. I went back and forth between agreeing with what Stewart was doing to us and questioning it at the same time. At this time I was unsure, but as things became clearer, I was able to get out from under this pressure and walk away from it.)

May 2

Woodruff clean-up. Nobody is supposed to be here who is not a help. On Sunday it will be decided who stays here and who goes to Red Hook. Being sent to Red Hook is shameful. Yet, I wouldn’t mind going there.

The bad news. If it is really the bad news getting to me, because I have some questions whether it is the bad news or just the pressure of the moment getting to me. It is devastating at times. I sat on the steps in front of the jobsite yesterday, just staring into space. Everything seems dead, my interests, etc.

(Stewart said that we had to let the “bad news” of the Gospel break us down first in order to be able to accept the “good news” of the Gospel. He sais that the bad news was that we were headed straight to hell, and that if we faced this condition first, then we could accept the good news that Christ died to save us from hell. Stewart never accepted that any of us had obtained this good news because he never accepted or believed that any one of us had let the bad news have its full effect. We had countless long meetings where Stewart talked to us about the bad news and about our wretched unfaithful conditions , which Stewart described in great detail. In order to face this bad news more fully, Stewart was now making us have what he called “hell Bible studies” and reading “warning verses” in order to “stir up our fear.”)

I looked out the window of the jobsite today and saw an attractive woman walking by. I immediately started to have wrong thoughts. I asked Jesus to help me with this. The response was clear. I was listening to the news on the radio and I heard the words, “with a gunshot wound to the head,” about a cab driver found dead in his cab. This is not what I would like to hear, but it is certainly in synch with what Stewart is telling us and teaching us these days and it is probably the only thing that will work with someone like me. I would prefer to hear something nice. But on the other hand, I also realize today that there is no “Love, Mercy, Grace, Faith, Hope and Love” in all my thoughts. It’s like I am leaving that out and I’m only into the bad news. Of course, I can’t cook up some nice fantasy about God, yet I realized this is the message of the good news. (Couldn’t this drive me to despair and destruction, as Martin Luther said somewhere in his Commentary on Galatians?)

(I was praying to God for help because I was feeling tempted. Hearing the words “gunshot wound to the head,” seconds after on the radio was consistent with my the “bad news” Stewart was telling us about. It seemed God was warning me about my certain death, and that only warnings of death and hell would keep me from sinning.)

I guess all this I am going through, about how I can’t get married and how I desire a wife but can’t have one, is Deuteronomy 28. I just don’t see how I am going to make it without a wife. I don’t see any hope in this church. There is no hope for my future or for me. I can work for the church, but I am all shut up, like in a prison camp or in a monastery. I had better not speak up or say anything, but just keep to myself and do what I am told. Suffer inwardly, turn my mind off, don’t ask questions. Say and do the right thing. Looking outwardly from myself as I am in the middle of this thing, wondering how I ever got here and how I ever got this way, what this place is and how I am so thoroughly trapped and how there is no one I can look to or go to for help. Maybe because it’s all the truth!

(Deuteronomy 28 is the chapter in the Bible which lists the blessings for obedience to God and the curses for disobedience to God. When I was in COBU, I often thought I was experiencing God’s punishment for disobedience, when really, the living conditions, such as no marriage or relationships, or why I could not own anything or have success in my life were due to the nature of cult life, where I was subordinated as a forced laborer. Stewart claimed to have all these things, including the big house he lived in, as a reward for his faithfulness to Jesus. And he pointed out that we did not have these things because we were unfaithful to Jesus.

Shortly after I was saved in 1979, I had a dream that a man in a white robe handed me a message on a file card that read, “Deuteronomy will be revealed.” On this card there was also a drawing of the solar system, with all the planets lined up in a row. Not long after that, we had a meeting with Stewart about the blessings and curses in Deuteronomy, and to me, this was the message of Deuteronomy revealed, just like in the dream. Deuteronomy 28 says, “However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” And, “You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit.” For me, this was an exact description of my life in COBU.

The historical context of these verses was Israel’s rewards or punishments, depending on their obedience to God, though I am sure it could also apply to peoples’ personal lives. However, the terms and conditions and the quality life in COBU were tied to our own drama, one that was strongly intertwined with Stewart Traill’s agenda for our lives, an agenda which included forbidding marriage so that church members were available at all hours of the day, every day of the year, without any reason to devote time to their own pursuits. Those who had married in earlier years (the last marriage in the church was in 1979), were expected to live out so as not to burden the church with their expenses. Very few of these people came around after a time.

Stewart said we were unable to marry because of our unfaithful and sinful condition, yet the same condition was not used against us when it came to being allowed to make money for the church. In that case, I not disqualified by my sinful condition, as being fundamentally unable to work. But I was definitely considered to be fundamentally unable to marry due to my sinful condition, and this was a legally binding condition in COBU society which could not be changed. 

Stewart never said “I forbid marriage.” Instead, he described our condition as that of not being “real men” or not being “Christian men,” and that “it is not possible for animals to marry.” No relationships were going to happen in the church under these conditions. People left to have relationships or get married. Stewart condemned all such relationships as sin, games and deceit, and he condemned all those who attended their weddings for taking part in their sin. He also said that God was deeply angry with these relationships.)

I am just writing this because I was looking back over what little writing I did back when I was living at 810. It is revealing in  ways. I wrote just what I felt and thought (about how I am a glutton for punishment and about the deep suspicions I had about Stewart, but kept buried).

I am probably going to go under and bear with all this, because I see no way out. Maybe this is the way it is supposed to be. Like Spurgeon said about how God walls a man in, building a hedge around him, to bring the backslider back to him. Maybe I shouldn’t look to find fault, but just think about the hedge, about Deuteronomy, about how my sins got me into this, and about hell, where I know in my secret heart as the place where I am surely going and have known it for years, even though nobody was telling me. It’s just that now it is out of the bag, so to speak. We are all hearing about it now.

(In earlier times in the church, when Stewart was not as involved in our lives, I felt that I was going to hell. I remember jogging in the park and I had an overwhelming feeling that I was heading to hell. I shelved the despair and just kept going on with my life. I often daydreamed about leaving the church and going back to my hometown to have just a few more years to enjoy life before it was all over. When Stewart got more involved in our lives, as a way to make it look like he was making a new start after being caught in sexual immorality with one of his female “helpers,” he began to have meetings with us. He drove us hard about how we were going to hell, apparently to take the attention off himself. He said we were all merrily on our way to hell and that we didn’t mind, until he came along to warn us.)

But, honestly, I really see no hope for me. Maybe it is because I have not literally sold all I have.

When I hear Stewart say “It’s going to take all of you,” I really can’t handle it.

This thought came to me a while ago:  I am sluggish, dull and uncaring. Fast asleep and I resist anybody trying to wake me up, because it is just so horrible to face and think about. I have a desperate lack of motivation. I would have to say that complaining and reviling are some of my darling sins.

Part of the fuel for my fire also is calculating over the meeting on Sunday, which, when I really think about it, will be quite simple – I will either still be living in Woodruff or sent to Red Hook. It’s not so bad. Even if there is a grilling session. I just must endure until Sunday and take it from there. I am also tempted to render myself useless so I don’t have to work at making Woodruff a real place for the new disciples and have to be accountable to Brother Stewart. But this is a real vicious problem and a lot deeper than all that. These are only surface reasons that go through the front of my mind, or subconsciously in the back of my mind, and work on me during the day and provide the general backdrop. Probably it is actually sin itself. Sin versus Christ and what is really going on with regard to it. Though a great burst of hope would really help at this point. To have some hope for my future and not just a fiery prospect of judgment and the anticipation of only being some dirty dog, under the gun and under continual condemnation all my life and running from Stewart’s rod of anger, crouching and cowering in the back of meetings and figuring I’ll never get married. (“Quit while you’re ahead.”)

I can’t stand the narrow confines I keep myself in, or think I have to keep myself in, according to the teaching I am presented with. I can’t take being all cooped up. I want sun, summer, music, friends, a woman, interests, jogging – everything. Keeping myself “pure” from these things has not kept me from sin and I don’t think it ever will.

Paul was telling me that the sisters who live with Stewart in Philadelphia do their interests. (What kind of life is being pushed on me?) He said that Noel bakes bread and grows strawberries. What caused that comment was that I went out and bought strawberries. I think, man, this is unreal! This pressure I get under. Where does it come from?

Why can’t I live the quiet contemplative life? Why all this running around? Is it harmful? Even Paul says he can’t figure out this life we live here.

I really need to be married. I think about that a lot. My “mind over marriage” thing didn’t last. I have been praying a lot about it again.

Night meeting at Woodruff:

Tonight we are having a meeting in the kitchen of Woodruff to determine who should stay here and who should go to Red Hook. Woodruff is to be a hopeful house for the new disciples. We have been losing a lot of new brothers. If Woodruff becomes a hopeful house (according to my conscience, it should be), then ones can be prepared from here and sent to the Loft.

So now, it has been decided that I am going to Red Hook. Honestly, this is where I wanted to go. (Although it is strange that I want to go, now that things are supposed to get hopeful, but I had a secret desire to go to Red Hook before. Yet, I just as strongly detested it.) It’s just odd that I want to go now, isn’t it?

Somehow, I think I would just be faking it if I stayed here in Woodruff, trying to be too good to be sent to Red Hook or to admit to any problem.

Paul S. has been saying, “I am going to hell. No painkillers to mitigate it, such as saying ‘unless God has mercy on me.’ ”

Believing this is true would do me some good. It is the only thing I can think of that would floor me. It just hasn’t hit me that I am going to hell, although I know it and agree with it by catechism. That is so strange, considering how I knew way back in the summer of 1988 that I was going to hell. I would go around thinking it, if not all the time, at least it would hit me and overcome me at times. It was pretty obvious, though when I read back over my diary from that time, possibly I didn’t quite know what I was saying.

I was reading in Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans about people who trust in their own righteousness, people who can’t repent because they blame others and refuse to face their own sins, which is what I am. Also a curious saying, “The things that pursue me, I flee. The things that are taken away from me, I chase after.”

As it is right now, 80% of the older brothers from Woodruff are now going to Red Hook, which is probably unreal and will be settled more fully at the meeting at the New Property tomorrow. Somehow, it just can’t be this way and there will be a general call for volunteers and some reconsidering. This will be a lot of people living at Red Hook! I keep thinking though, I look forward to living at Red Hook.

(This was later changed so about only ten older brothers, including me, were sent to live in the Red Hook warehouse.}

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