1992, 05/03. Banished to the Red Hook Warehouse
Meeting at the New Property.
(In a brothers’ meeting.)
A question from Stewart: “Why aren’t the lofts growing and why isn’t Woodruff growing?”
[The lofts were communal work centers, where brothers lived in small warehouses with homeless men. Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn was the largest residence at the time for church members.]
Brother Stewart is asking about what is happening in the fellowship. He is asking us what is going on and for us to present a picture. But this is being asked rhetorically. I can tell he already knows what is going on and that he already has a plan, because he corrects anyone who speaks right away, as if to tell them the real story.
Stewart is giving a clear overview of the fellowship. I guess he of anybody can give the real picture, instead of the thrashing around and spur of the moment, latest sayings we always do. (The knee-jerk reactions.) Some brothers are talking about how it is at Woodruff. Stewart says their reponses are like this because it is today’s drive, instead of the overview. I will try to pay attention to the proceedings, because it concerns my life intimately.
[Stewart often began his teaching sessions with rhetorical questions, in order to prepare us to receive what he had to tell us. Although didn’t need or value our opinions and he already had planned what to say to us, the illusion of our participation was necessary, and this show of participation was one of his teaching methods.
When Stewart asked the assembled “brethren” to give their opinions on what was going on in the church, such as what the issues and problems were, everyone responded by parroting the latest lines and teachings that Stewart had told us and discussed any issue in terms of Stewart’s most recent teaching. If we had been hearing a lot about “laying down our lives” and “taking up our share of suffering,” our responses were in terms of how we have not been laying down our lives and taking up our share of suffering and we said that is why we’re having these problems. This resulted in one brother after another standing up to give their “opinions” in response to the question that were long-winded speeches composed of Stewart teachings, and this could go on for a long time.
In this meeting, I was glad that Stewart was saying what the problems were, because I thought that he cut to the real issues involved, rather than having to endure the endless chatter of the older brothers. But it must be noted that Stewart would not accept any other kind of talk from us. No one was allowed to bring up issues and suggestions in a real way that could fix anything. We could only talk to Stewart in terms of his own teachings and about whether or not we were faithful to his teachings. So, instead of speaking up about what was really on our minds and about our real concerns and needs, we waited for Stewart to tell us what the issues were and what was to be done about it. I was paying attention, because whatever was determined here was going to affect my life. In this case, if I was going to be able to move out of Woodruff, even if that meant being put in the Red Hook warehouse.]
Stewart: “The four lofts are not growing. Find the largest single reason that we can do something about. There are many reasons which are true and you could go on and on. If you can’t do anything about it, don’t try changing things you can’t. Find the biggest single reason over which you have power. That is, the Serenity Prayer. Only speak of things you can change. Say what you really believe.”
[The Serenity Prayer was written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”]
(This is worth an essay in several areas of my life. Maybe I should make a serenity prayer in which I write about what I can change and what I see I can’t.)
Stewart has now thrown out a clue: “Remember, when he was thrown down to earth, he did it all the more, because he knew his time was short.”
[Stewart was quoting Revelations 12:12, which is about Satan being cast down from heaven onto the earth. Then Satan, knowing that his time was short, set out to destroy God’s work. Stewart was saying that the older brothers who were cast out of Woodruff were going to resist God’s work and try to destroy it out of spite, just like Satan was trying to do with God’s work. I explain Stewart’s use of this metaphor in a footnote at the end of this section, because it is an example of Stewart threatening those who resist his plans, and it is also an implication that Stewart is doing is God’s will and that Satan will be working through the older brothers who oppose his plans.]
I figure that whatever solution Stewart has may entrap me and/or those in Woodruff in some way. Or it will be vicious, a do or die recommitment. But a voice says, “don’t calculate.” The same voice that I used to hear back in 810 before those heavy correctional meetings we had, when I figured I was going to get thrown out. But I would calculate anyway, even though the results show that I shouldn’t have calculated. I will try to listen to this voice that says “don’t calculate.”
[“Calculate,” or, “getting into calculations,” was a word invented by Stewart Traill. It meant that a person was getting into their own thoughts instead of trusting Jesus. We either trusted Jesus or we calculated and tried to be in control of our lives, because we did not trust Jesus. Stewart often used this concept when talking about the sisters. What the sisters most “calculated” about was marriage. “Hoping in marriage” was one of the greatest sins that Stewart preached against. Later, it was not such an issue anymore, because everyone pretty much gave up on getting married. Marriage was not wrong, according to Stewart, but hoping in marriage was. But it was difficult to desire marriage without placing some hope in it to make life more meaningful, so no sister was going to be able to say she was no longer hoping in marriage without renouncing the desire for marriage altogether.]
The answer is now given. Stewart says, “You always sweep up brothers [bring in homeless men off the streets], but they are lost at the resort hotel at Woodruff, therefore the lofts aren’t growing.”
[Stewart used the phrases “resort hotel” and “country club” to accuse us of taking it easy and doing whatever we wanted. This was far from what life at Woodruff Avenue was really like. The crowded living conditions were hardly a resort hotel. Sometimes this was shortened to merely “hotel,” or “living on a hotel basis,” meaning that Woodruff was just a rooming house and that brothers were not working at the purpose of the church.]
It is hard for me to imagine that Woodruff is really a country club. Though a few years back I guess, the life I was living there was, as much as possible anyway. But it doesn’t seem that way to me now. It is more like a slave labor colony with no place to rest.
[A few years before when I was living in Woodruff, I used to jog in the park. I also used to read in my room. So that would seem like I was “doing my own thing” and treating Woodruff as a “hotel” back then.]
Now I am thinking about how to get into the 45th Street loft, but I think it would be on a pitiful straggler basis. Everybody would see that my motivation wouldn’t be right. I would only get in the lifeboat because the ship is sinking. But, I would rather not. Not that I like Woodruff all that much anyway, it’s just the perpetual treadmill idea that I can’t stand.
[When we moved to a loft, we were supposed to spend every waking moment working for the church and making sure the others did too. From the time we got up early in the morning, until late at night, when it was time sleep communally on the floor, we had to be working in the church businesses, going out to gather new people and having meetings. There were no breaks, because this would be drawing back from the purpose.]
But, “don’t calculate.”
I don’t offer the resort hotel directly to the new brothers, but I just partake in it and allow it to exist. I suppose that I also got seduced by this hotel a long time ago, as in that article about cults I read, which that said cults offer a safe place to defer the responsibilities of life, such as career and marriage. And what about how I felt caught up and taken captive by this system? (See my diary from previous years when the church business got started up again.) But as I said, I was in the hotel before, but I was afraid to go out into the world.
Stewart is now talking about things I encountered when I first came to the church, twelve years ago. About certain older brothers selling that you have to be this way. I remember being very intensely discouraged by such ones. Stewart is talking about Joe M., but it could easily be about me. So Woodruff is going to get an “all out assault.”
Stewart: “You refuse to face that ‘I desire hell.’ You refuse to face that your desire will be the life or death of you.”
[Stewart was always telling us that, by our actions, we were saying, “I desire to go to hell.”]
Now, it has been decided that I am in Red Hook with about eleven other older brothers. I really do want to be in Red Hook. I think it would be easier for me there. It would be an escape from the Woodruff routines, but I would be still living with others I know. And it is in a much safer neighborhood. I really hate being at Woodruff. I always have. I look at this move as a relief!
I am now living at Red Hook and I must admit, I don’t mind it at all. I am a little worried about my possessions, but not too much really. To tell the truth, I am glad to get out of Woodruff. I’ve been there for eight years and I don’t miss the place.
[Below is a picture of the Red Hook warehouse. It was a Civil War era one story brick building. It might not look like much, but it was a lot better than living at Woodruff Avenue. It was quiet and I could sit outside at night. And it helped me escape the cauldron of constant COBU cult activity now and then. I really needed that. I took this picture one summer evening after I had gone down to sit by the Hudson River which was at the end of the street. The door at the far right is where I used to sit on summer evenings and enjoy the night air, the moon, and night time skyline of lower Manhattan.]
Events up to this moment:
Well, at the Sunday meeting in Philadelphia, you might say I got my chance. I got to tell Brother Stewart some things I thought about him. Mainly that he is alone and that he needs to get his views checked with other pastors, and that he pushes brothers around. I didn’t come off too well though and it was in a spirit of attacking. I was angry because I was being put out of the Woodruff hotel and that I had to make the claim that I was [spiritually] dead – which is true anyway. Stewart sort of poked me. He said that I claim that he is the problem. I got put on a three day sudden death.
[When I told Stewart some of the things I thought about him at this meeting, I was immediately threatened with being put off the property. I might not even get a ride back to New York to get my things. I folded up like a house of cards immediately when faced with this threat, and blamed myself and “admitted” I was in rebellion. I internalized it so much that I believed this, as you can see how I described my actions as an “attack” (on the truth and on the gospel) – as Stewart and others said I was doing. However, over time, I began to think about this moment. As I slowly recovered from the shock of finding out that my brothers in Christ whom I lived and worked with for the last 12 years were willing to carry me off the property within seconds of expressing disagreement with our leader, this incident became a defining moment in my thinking about the Church of Bible Understanding and my place in it.]
Well, this is not what I really want to write about anyway. Though sure, I have been admitting that I was wrong and that I can’t blame anybody else for my life. In moments of extreme honesty, when I am facing the truth, not by reasoning, but by the evidence in front of my face, then I admit that I am really the one to blame. That is, I am not married because of sin in my life and because I am not faithful to Jesus.
[I got put on a “three day sudden death” for having said some things to Stewart. Being threatened is good evidence that I was on to something about Stewart and that I had to be silenced. What I said was considered dangerous enough (or true enough) to warrant the threat of being immediately put out of the church. A year after I left the church, I ran into some COBU people who told me that Stewart sometimes said, “Jim LaRue was right. I need to get my views checked!” Stewart also added that there was no one he could go to have his views checked, because there was no one else, besides himself, who took the truth seriously.
But at the time, these comments had earned me the threat of immediate removal. (And this included no help in transitioning to the “world,” such as money for an apartment, or to hold me over till I got a job, since it also meant immediate firing from my job in the church business.) This threat was changed to a “three day sudden death,” in which I was given three days to mend my ways and to be checked up on by the brothers for signs of reform. And then it was, at least surfacely, forgotten. However, it is never forgotten when anyone has spoken against (or to) Stewart. This incident was brought up against me many times. This began to contribute to my “reputation” as someone who harbored secret thoughts against Stewart and the COBU way. I considered my future and how I could only be a socially marginal person there anymore. And if there ever was the possibility of marriage, or of any advancement in the church, I would be excluded. Because I had spoken against Stewart, I would forever be considered as one who thinks against this way. I would always be “not trusted.”]
I got put on a three day sudden death. So far I have not been judged by anybody yet, though I am sure that it will be soon. Yet I am pretty sure I have a reasonably good chance of still living here.
I wasn’t going to write anything. I don’t want to give myself the opportunity to get into all my bitter stuff. I have figured that all my theology is useless, even after reading all those John Calvin and Martin Luther books. But I prayed yesterday that if possible, if Jesus wants me to read any of those books, that he would let me know.
Last night I had a long dream that Matthew Henry [the author of The Matthew Henry Bible Commentary] was giving a long talk and presentation about the Bible, bringing various speakers on stage. He was directing the whole presentation. So, I figured that maybe Jesus was telling me that it is okay to read the Matthew Henry Commentary.
[The Matthew Henry Commentary was something I could read other than Stewart Traill’s interpretation of the Bible. This commentary had stood the test of time. It was not the words of an eccentric recluse, spoken in a late-night meeting in a dirty warehouse. I consulted it for clarification on issues that mattered to me, in order to have a clear and level-headed view on issues that Stewart was driving at us, such as his insistence that we “put our lives in this world to death” and “smash and destroy our idols.” I needed balance and alternate points of view, so as not to be influenced solely by what Stewart said. Everything he said was legally binding and enforceable in our isolated communal society – and we were expected to make sure all the others stayed in line too.]
Also, the night before, I had a dream that someone was explaining the meaning of a stone tablet with Hebrew writing on it. A Korean cameraman, who was filming this, left his camera and came forward, crying. Other Koreans, who were also filming, thought that this was good. I didn’t understand this, until today, when Andrew handed me a letter from Cheung-Weol Lee from Korea, whom I met earlier this year. What can this mean?
[Below is a picture of me with Cheung-Weol Lee. I was in a deli one day and saw that he was having trouble figuring out how to use a pay phone, so I helped him. He wanted a picture of us together, so he handed off his camera to someone to take the picture. He sent me this picture with the letter I mentioned above.]
Also, right before waking up, I heard a voice saying “Don’t be afraid of the emergency room.” (I also had dreams about trains passing in darkness and heavy rain. The dream felt good.)
I don’t mind living in Red Hook. It is like Colson’s jail. [The jail that Chuck Colson was sent to, which he described in his book Born Again.] That’s the life here, but obviously there are deeper issues, such as, I am going to hell and I know it. It is something I have known since the summer of 1988, though I have become adept at hiding it. I always have something to get involved with to take my mind off it. I am in this group, hiding in the church to fool myself about where I am going. I knew it really clearly back then. There really was no place to hide it from myself back then.
I talked with Paul B. yesterday about the bad news when we were driving together. It gets pretty intense, yet somehow it seems still hard to believe! Yet it is the deepest, realest thing I can say about myself.
[Stewart told us we had to think about the “bad news” which was that we were headed straight to hell. He said we could not accept the good news of the gospel until we were completely overcome with and broken down by this bad news first. Otherwise we would not really turn to Christ for salvation. Having people think about the bad news all the time, and be really broken down was a useful position to keep them in.]
Today though, I talked with Paul a whole lot less about this issue. I was making jokes with him. Both days also, we got into long talks about our pasts and about our childhood days. I don’t know, maybe this is a safety valve. A normal way of letting off pressure, rather than doing that in unhealthy ways. For sure, it is very intense and overwhelming to be thinking about the bad news.
[I got to know Paul during this time and we had a friendship of sorts, though it was limited. I worked with Paul most of the time. He and Peter were the only people I could talk to. I was able to tell him some of the things on my mind. But I was also at risk for being betrayed at any time if Paul felt the need to stand apart from me as a wrongdoer.
On those rare occasions when I worked with brothers in leadership roles, like Kevin and Chuck, they only talked to me about work and about our “Christian training,” and whether I was being faithful to it or not. There were some brothers who were not leaders, such as Jim O. and Greg B., who did not give me a hard time, but I could not talk to them either. These brothers did not talk about anything except COBU teaching and where they saw themselves in relation to it. This was the only acceptable form of communication with them, because they did not want to “get into this life” or “drift,” or “be into the world.” They talked about how they had been “trying to have it both ways,” and said that “my way is not going to work,” and “I need Jesus to save me,” and, “I’m heading straight to hell and I need to be urgent.” Sometimes they talked about their lives in the world before getting saved, but it was always in terms of how sinful they used to be. These brothers were also suspicious and even afraid of me, because I drew them into the things they knew I thought about, like my disagreements with Stewart and the way of life there. Because of this, they were careful to “proclaim” to me that they were “taking no part” in my “deceitful games.” This made for lonely working days when I was assigned to work with those brothers, but at least they would not push me around or give me too hard of a time.]
I have not been doing any of my interests lately. The attitude I have been having is that they are wrong, or at least that they are not expedient at the moment. I do get into some very heavy thoughts, about how I must sell all I have and even about how I would be better off for having done so. It will be hard to let go of my photographs though. I have the feeling though, that while debating about such surface issues, that I am missing the real thing and that I am not being on guard. And that though the surface is smooth, I am being swept away by the undertow – by the deeper unseen things, the real issues under the surface which I am not dealing with.
I have a feeling that I am not going to do very well when the voting comes (though a voice says “don’t calculate”). The word is that if brothers in the lofts don’t do well, we are going to be asked to leave the church; that this is not going to be a resort hotel either. I guess I have a real opportunity to change, beneath all the shame and guilt that has to do with being here in Red Hook.
I took a walk with Paul to the “beach” down the street, looked at the clouds and trees around here. Such are the little pleasures I try to have here.
[We had just moved to the Red Hook warehouse. We walked to the end of the block to a small beach by the piers to look at the water. There was a view of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan. The street was paved with cobblestones. And unlike Woodruff Avenue, it was quiet at night and I could sit outside.]
I must be serious. I must concentrate on the real issues, on what is really going on here, what is really going on with me. I must really take time out to think about this, not to be asleep at the wheel.
[I was not talking about the need to be attentive to Stewart Traill’s teachings. I was talking about not being distracted, so I could identify what is going on there. About discerning what is real and what is fiction, and what I needed to do about all of this. At any time, I could be approached by brothers demanding that I give account of myself and where I stood (because of the “sudden death” status I was under). There was heavy pressure in the church to conform to a rigid way of living and thinking. People were expected to shout out slogans, to “proclaim” where they were at and to talk about “Christian training” to one another at all times. At the meetings, brothers brought up the names of those they were suspicious about, or who needed “help and heat.”
But, as I walked across the wooden floorboards of the Red Hook warehouse at night, it was quiet. There were only a few people there, and this was different than the constant ruckus at Woodruff Avenue, with all the brothers and “new disciples” packed inside. And outside at Woodruff, especially in the warmer months, there was a noisy street with music blaring, drug dealers on the corners and gunshots heard at any time. I was glad to be tucked away in Red Hook, living with a few other older brothers who had also been voted as unworthy to work in Woodruff or in the “lofts” and to have the rest and quiet that I needed to offset the grind. I began to have some space to sort things out, because I was not under the constant bombardment and pressure. This pressure was intended to make us go under and to do as we were expected. And it was very effective. I also got some breathing room by working in the wood floor business, where I could be away from everyone for a few days at a time on a jobsite, instead of running from job to job with the carpet cleaning crews all day and into the evening.]
In this footnote, I explain more about Revelations 12:12 and how Stewart Traill was using this on us:
When Stewart said that “his time is short, when he got thrown down to earth,” he was quoting a Bible verse about how the devil was thrown out of heaven, on to the earth. And knowing he had been thrown out of God’s kingdom and that his time was short (it would not be long till he was thrown into the lake of fire), he determined to do all the destruction against God’s people that he could, hoping to take some of them with him. (Revelations 12:12 “Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (RSV)
I understood Stewart’s saying this to mean that those among us who were not getting our way or having our plans in life fulfilled, and who were now being separated out of the “right fellowship,” would kick and whine and set out to destroy everything. I understood that this would be Stewart’s view and response toward me if I said I did not like what was going on here. I understood that Stewart was not speaking abstractly about any “devil” or about Satan, but about these people in the church, whoever they turned out to be, who had chosen Satan’s side and were working for him. (And therefore nothing of what I said would be taken into consideration and nothing I did was to be tolerated. I was to be dealt with instantly and forcefully.)
Stewart’s view was that I was just hitting out because my thing had been taken away from me and that I had been exposed as not being in “right fellowship.” This was pretty powerful stuff, and it had an effect on me. It was also a clear signal to all the others how they should consider me. Stewart did not say this directly about any person, but he had said this and many other things over the years. So it was all understood by everyone, by just this one comment he made. This is one of the ways that Stewart tied everything he did to eternal consequences and issues. Naturally, whatever Stewart was doing was God’s plan and God’s work, and all those opposed were like the devil. And like the devil, they had one driving purpose, to destroy God’s work, as being done through Stewart Traill. Because they had been expelled from heaven and knew that their time was short, and that soon they would be in the lake of fire. God had beaten them and they were sore losers bent on making trouble and destroying whatever they could before their final disposition. With statements like these, Stewart would not have to answer anyone’s objections to anything, painting all disagreement with this brush.
It always appeared as if Stewart was working among the members of the church, separating light and darkness, and exposing those who were on the side of darkness, in some eternal theater of his mind. Really, he was weeding out those who would not give their entire selves to work at his purposes, which were largely financial. The more Stewart could make people be a mere extension of his will, and the more people that were culled out that were not in complete agreement with this, the more reinforcing it became on those who stayed, because the only people who remained there were of the same mind, because all dissenters had been driven out of the church. Marriage was forbidden, also under religious descriptions of church members’ unworthiness to have marriage, so that all resources could be directed toward Stewart’s financial goals without other resources being drawn off into things like marriages and families. No money spent on families and no family time meant more work hours. It also served the additional purpose of fostering the illusion that Stewart was the only one who was able to help or understand the sisters or to have anything interesting to offer them and this helped to channel the sisters’ attention to him. All the brothers were considered to be broken down human beings who were unfaithful to Christ, which made them fundamentally unable to marry. This left only Stewart who could provide the sisters in the church with any value or meaning in life.
This was all done in broad sweeping eternal terms. All to amass an empire of money, property and females for himself. He amassed a great treasure in this life, while denying most things in this life to his followers. You might say that Stewart Traill was “hell bent” on this purpose, driving it so insistingly with great force – and with power and anger when necessary. It was an all driving passion for his purposes, with an unyielding and unbending will. It was impossible to resist this force. A person either conformed to it or left. It was so powerful that it felt like it was coming from God, if I did not examine it and try to think for myself.
It felt overpowering at times. Our dirty and tired condition, our inability to marry, and with many brothers and sisters, the resultant sexual sins (due to not being able to “contain” as the Bible calls it) made us feel like worthless sinners who might be willing to accept Stewart Traill’s plans to cure for our woes. It caused us to believe there was no way out, other than to accept the cure, being that Stewart so accurately portrayed our sinful condition in graphic terms, naming the causes of it. (To name just a few of his diagnoses of our condition: “rebellion, thumbing your nose at Jesus, trying to have it both ways, trying to have an easier way, trying to have a life in this world, looking for painkillers rather than accepting suffering, cheating, being a rebel.” All this, according to Stewart, was why we were the way we were, why we were broken down and why we could not marry.)
And Stewart was careful to bring to our attention, in great detail, at every meeting, that we were going to hell. Hell was the destination that the sad state of our miserable broken down lives were testifying to and was soon to be our eternal fate. Seeing that Stewart could so accurately describe the causes of our condition, would we not then accept the cures that the great man of knowledge said was the only way to get out of this? Even if it took all-out screaming effort, “every second” to escape being thrown in the lake of fire? Some people have given their whole lives over to this way of life and are still in COBU, still decrying their sinful condition, still proclaiming they are going to hell, still working hard for Stewart Traill’s empire and still telling ex-members they must move back there in order to be saved. Yet none of them can or will dare claim to be saved or say they are confident they are going to heaven for all the time and effort they have put in to this way of life.