1992, 07/05-08. Snapping

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.

I was still guarding the Staten Island house as I continued to write this. I was now being criticised for not being willing to be part of the group who went to cut the locks on the gate of a privately-owned parking lot to get the buses out for the meeting. Word had gone out to Stewart Traill and his response was now coming back to me through messages delivered by brothers and sisters. (They were trying to act like they were asking me their own questions, but it was obvious to me that they were parroting the lines Stewart had given to them to say to me.

July 4  (Continued)

About 8:10. I received a call from Chuck. He was really driving that question about “Why are you not willing to help the saints in their hour of need?” and, “You are fully there when it comes to your own thing, but why are you not willing to help out the saints in their hour of need?”

Such high language. The saints and hour of need! So dramatic. These are not merely brothers and sisters now, but saints with a holy purpose. The language implies that I am not one of the saints and it also calls to mind those treacherous ones (in the book of Jude) who hinder the saints and their reward, which is hell. “Hour of need” sounds like such a desperate squeeze. High peril. All this is much more than the brothers and sisters being stuck by the problem of not being able to get their bus out of the lot for a meeting!

[Stewart always called the brothers and sisters “cheats,” “rebels” and “deceivers,” but at this time, he temporarily elevated them to the status of “saints” in order to make it look like I was an enemy of the holy saints of God, and their enemy as well. Now being (temporarily) saints (that is, temporarily declared to be the good guys) they were empowered to beat me up (because I was one of the bad guys). Just another example of how Stewart played the church members against one another. Immediately after this incident, they were not saints anymore, but were reassigned to their status as rebels by the end of the meeting that we all went to next.]

I think high stakes are attached to this one and I fear I have not heard the last of this yet. Looks like I beat Chuck on the first round by sticking to asking what does he mean by this question and by saying, “I just was unwilling to cut the locks.” Which by the way is true!

I see this as my basic line of defense, because they are trying to draw me into the ridiculous.

Jesus showed me to trust his promise. I heard it, what I believe to be his voice. I can’t fight what I think I may be up against. That is, against Brother Stewart. And I imagine the worse.

July 5

My guard shift at Staten Island ended and I was given one of the church vans. Now on my way to Woodruff, early morning.  

I’m on my way over to Woodruff from Staten Island (in a van). I decided to stop for a coffee and to call over there to see if everyone was up yet. I didn’t want to get there and then sit around for 30 minutes while everyone got ready. Why not stay here in the fresh air awhile? (Calling ahead would be a good way to prepare them. I knew if I rolled in there, most of them would still be asleep.)

So, I called. Got Roger on the phone. Yes, he said, some were still sleeping. Well, he couldn’t say for sure if he’d wake them all, he said. I told him where I was and that I stopped for coffee and that I figured I’d wait till everyone was ready at the door and then just swing by and pick them up. (Good plan, right? In fact even Stewart does things like that. He waits till we’re all assembled. He keeps calling from somewhere else, then arrives. My words don’t have the same weight and authority as Stewart’s words have, but I was trying to be efficient. Also I was trying to avoid the usual nonsense.)

But good ol’ Roger, of course, would hear none of it. He said, “Well, we can’t center everything in the comforts of our flesh.”

So, here I was, “being into my comfort and flesh,” while he was reluctant even to wake anybody or to budge for any reason!

But the reason I wrote this down was to show how Roger’s comment is very typical of the mindset here among many brothers. How the Gospel is a very high and pure thing, but how it gets watered down or adulterated into the idea that the flesh is the “comforts” of having a cup of coffee and taking some time to yourself and avoiding the usual rigmarole by waiting somewhere else for a change.

Also, Roger could only assume such a thing was coming from my flesh. (Yes, what I wanted was not spiritual, but still.) That “waiting” and “coffee” was not only a form of indulgence, but that it was “centering everything in my flesh!” I pity poor Roger though, for having such a darkened conception of the Gospel, which has more to do with to the control of persons’ behavior. That is, that people should always follow the usual traditions and that any form of “pleasure” is the flesh. Or that any way of not doing the usual routines is the flesh.

Look, on the other hand, if I hadn’t done this, would I now be centering everything in the spirit?

This is a small thing, this incident. But it points to deeper things. Like Peter says, you can have the weirdest spirit possible, but as long as you attend all the meetings on time and do all your jobs, no one will bother you. I’ve noticed this a lot. As long as I do my work, no one will bother me. But if I get out of line in any way (with regard to complaining about long hours, or missing a job or a meeting) then I get talked to, the sole purpose of which is not to seek my spiritual welfare or even to correct any sins as such, but just to put me back into my assigned place on the assembly line. Then, from that point, they won’t bother me again as long as I keep in line, do my work and keep quiet.

I read part of the 5th chapter of Galatians in Luther’s Commentary yesterday. (I had dropped theology lately because I figured it wasn’t helping me any, but that is probably a mistake. There is also a great disdain among brothers toward reading “theology.” And also, they have Stewart’s notes and John Bunyan books, which they figure are better anyway. But for the most part, no one studies them much either. But why should I decide what not to do on the basis of what others do? Even in the Christian world at large, there are some who study theology and some who don’t. It’s not like everyone has to. And just because others don’t, you don’t hear these ones say, well I won’t either. They just follow their independent courses of study. I am really missing out if I stop studying theology.)

Luther described the monkish life and enduring phony hardships. That’s Roger and us – and me – somehow. There’s one salient paragraph in the book about how the monks endure self-flagellation, vigils, masses, choose the unmarried life, eat poorly and wear rags. And I thought, doesn’t that sound so much like us?

***

Now in a brothers’ meeting in Philadelphia. Talking about the new lofts.

A new brother asked if there will be showers there. Kevin, rather disinterestedly, replied that it isn’t important. Someone else mumbles, “Oh, come on.” In other words, the new brother is a pain for asking such a practical question. Fortunately, Kevin was immediately corrected by Stewart for sounding as if he didn’t care. That’s good. Because the view presented by the brothers is that “this life” is unimportant – to the degree that it is annoying. This disdain for creature comforts and this attitude misrepresents the Gospel.

[Stewart Traill was the source of the disdain among us for “this life” (our lives in this present world), but there were brothers who seemed strangely zealous for this self-denial, at least publicly. It was not always clear in my mind where this extreme drive for self-abnegation was coming from. Was it from Kevin and the brothers? Was it from Stewart himself?]

I’m getting talked to by brothers about my lack of the fear of God. It’s like a rapid-fire bombardment. A lot of pounding, right answers desired. I think for the most part, they just don’t know what to do with me and are bluffing. Paul S. said something that was real though, and it got to me and bothered me (in a real way). He said I looked almost dead now, spiritually dead. That was more a goad than anything and it actually stirred me up. All the other brothers’ comments are like being pounded on because I’m not wearing the right uniform. (And ones like Chuck get to put their own personal things in, like, “Why are you more into your Jim LaRue thing and not willing to help the saints in their hour of need?” Chuck shoved his question at me and I plugged the hole right back with, “I am not willing to cut locks.” What else could I do? There is treachery here sometimes.)

They use a lot of entrapment talk, or push and shove talk, where they back you into admitting things, but offer no hopeful way out. Then when you’re cornered and you admit it – bam! Then they let you have it.)

All this makes me do is put up my shield. They want a demonstration that I am now going to fear God. Is this something like going to the doctor and having some inept intern request an example of how you are going to try to get better? Paul’s statement was really right on and it bothered me, the real me, to “awake and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death.” I wonder how quickly a person could be restored. And, if there are no miracle cures, at least I could progress in recovery so that I myself am glad and I see hope. Remember way back when we heard that someone returned from backsliding and was “restored to Jesus” and that they were genuinely glad and we could see it? They sinned and perverted what was right and it was not requited to them. Maybe the view is more “real” now, but this seems to be missing.

[I suddenly have a hopeful feeling about what is going on in the meeting…]

A lot of what’s going on here reminds me of the “old days,” the good side of it. The time when I had a sense of safety and protection here and I had a sense of hope for my future. The fellowship was a place where I wanted to put my whole self into. I never thought of looking elsewhere. (Of course, it probably could be proven that I wasn’t all here and was looking to this life in many ways. But I certainly wasn’t aware of it and also wasn’t guilty over it.)

There were some times I remember thinking, “I’ve got to keep one foot in this fellowship and one foot in the world, in case the whole thing falls apart.” But I think that was because of a disillusioning influence from those who were the older brothers at that time. But this wasn’t a major drive. It came and went and I wasn’t aware of what was running me.

Anyway, I was soon off to Philadelphia with high hopes and to our own little world away from the bad older brothers.  (High hopes of marriage, which was an expected result of training. And I thought my life was going to be all about Jesus and I could use all of me and all of my talents and I’d be somebody in the fellowship. But all this soon soured. I remember I used to be interested in what was going on here and not signed off.)

This is how I’d have to be for any of this training to have an effect and for me to be all there. A gladness and even a pleasure to be in the fellowship. And a sense of being forgiven for all my sins, so I’m not running away.

I remember any decisions, such as moves, or categories, or meetings really mattered to me. Now they hardly do.

Now, for my most secret thoughts, which center a lot in the idea that Stewart is Lord. That the truth doesn’t matter at all, or not so much. That the whole law can be summed up in these two words: “Stewart said.” And that is what motivates us and gets the automatic knee-jerk reaction, without any thoughtful consideration.

Also, that this is like dog training. We get beaten into things like the way a dog trainer beats a dog into doing things. It’s more like Pavlovian training than any way that promotes thinking. In fact, I wonder if thinking is even necessary.

Also, everything here now is life and death. Everything is so treacherous, so serious. Control is tight, very tight and I’ve got to break me and my books up, and be held in chains. There is a lot of talk about “death to me” and I fear that this can be misconstrued and turned into some unreal form of monkish absolution with a demonic zeal to accomplish it and to enforce it on others.

July 6

I pretty much snapped last night, because of the Bible study about Matthew 13 and about killing everything. By the end of the night and all day today I was shouting, “Kill everything, kill everything! I must kill everything!” And saying many wild variations of this. Like I am going to burst, going to crack. But some brothers say I sound bitter, that I sound like Peter J. [A brother who left the church and who was sarcastically contemptuous of the whole thing. (Not the same Peter I shared a living space with and worked with.)]

[I didn’t really believe I had to kill off all my personal desires and interests, but the pressure got to me at the meeting. This was like a protest I was doing. When I was saying the “kill everything” mantra, I was taking it to extremes as a way of making a parody out of it. It was a way of saying that I didn’t believe it, but if that’s what’s going to be pushed on me, alright, I’ll take it to the extreme. I was saying, “No time for me, I can’t study anything anymore and I can’t own any possessions. Jesus wants us to kill everything! We must kill everything!!” But it is also true that I “snapped.” I felt as if something had broken inside of me. All kinds of pressure was brought to bear on us to get us to live like this, to become like this.]

But also by the end of today when I was driving back to Red Hook alone, I began to look at floozies on the street and drove around the blocks a couple of times looking and even drove past where I knew a topless bar is. Obviously, I have not killed everything.  Somehow I made it back.

[I was driven to extreme despair. “Floozies” was Pete’s word for prostitutes. That word was his gallows humor about dealing with sexual temptation in a city with plenty of opportunities for it and with no sexual outlet in marriage in our marriage-forbidding cult. (Though marriage was not technically forbidden. But no one was never good or faithful enough to marry, according to Stewart Traill’s precise standards.) Peter often talked about his frustrating experiences, such as the time when he was sitting in van, minding his own business, when a “floozy” approached the side window and “set the whole dairy section against it.” We all had our ways of talking about things.]

I was reading John Calvin about monks and about how they are in trouble if they can’t keep their continence and refuse the remedy of marriage that God has given them. But somehow this doesn’t apply here. I pray about it and God seems to say “you have no excuse” and maybe “my grace is sufficient for you.” Sometimes also, “I will make requital to suit you.”

It makes me think about leaving to get married. Looks like the only way to get married here is through the loft system and many years of training.

[This was written in 1992, and even to the current time, no one has gotten married in COBU.]

Marriage has begun to look hard again, the way Stewart is talking about it now. About how if we fear, the women get us. And if we bluff, they get us double. There is none of this kind of talk in Calvin’s or Luther’s books. They said that marriage is a remedy for the weak, not a challenge for the overcoming only. Certainly, these writers present a different picture from what Stewart presents about women and marriage. I would like to reach this other view and have access to it in my life, but I don’t know how and I don’t see a way to do it.

I am overcome by my desire for immorality all the time. Any second I am in danger of choosing it. Any time I am alone, any second. I just wish I was married.

Perhaps God had put marriage in my reach in the past and I was too much of a coward to go for it. (That day I felt I received a green light in the Rescue Mission and other times.)

What now? I pray for another chance, but as for the present, I don’t see how. Again, this picture of overcoming is presented to me. Things will go Stewart’s way or they will not go at all. I had some hope that David Wilkerson would do something, but that seems like a vain hope. What could he do really?

[David Wilkerson, one of the pastors of Times Square Church, stopped by the Christian Brothers office one day. I found out later, after I left the church, that Wilkerson wanted to find out more about COBU. I often though that he never did anything further. I wrote him a letter while I was still in the cult, just before I left. He talked to two ex-members of COBU that were attending his church and told them to “help that brother in any way you can.” They let me stay with them after I left. This offer might not have been there without David Wilkerson and I might not have left then, or maybe I would have never left.]

Well, I am listening to Radio France right now. What can I do? It’s like a sedative. I guess I am weak and I need things like this. Or at least that is the picture presented here or at least how I read it.

[According to Stewart, any seeking for relief and comfort in this life, however innocent, was “looking for painkillers.” Stewart said, “Jesus did not take painkillers on the cross.” And neither should we have any relief in this life to mitigate the pain we experienced in our “taking our share of suffering with Christ.”] 

John Calvin and Reinhold Niebuhr present entirely different views than the view here. Especially Reinhold Niebuhr with that idea of churches in history who tried to limit inordinate desire by trying to limit desire altogether. This sounds like what I am up against here. By an all-encompassing, all-powerful man. Or at least this is how it appears to me. But a lot also, I put my own feet in the snare by blurting out things when I should just keep my mouth shut. How many times have I gotten come down on, only in retrospect to realize that I was the who opened my mouth in the first place and started the whole thing? I can count about five times off the top of my head, blurting out, “I just don’t think it’s fair, that..,” and Brother Stewart said, “Oh, really?…”

I just wish I was married. I am so fired up that just the thought of a woman’s body makes me explode in passion and frustration, well beyond what it would normally do if I were married. I can’t handle it. I believe I am well beyond the age and I need an emergency cure.

July 8

Dream: We were at a meeting. Brother Stewart was talking about marriage, saying that it was alright to marry and that we could, only that he would have us marry according to our own “texture and color,” that is, our own complexion and race. I was looking at several women. It seemed to be a good meeting and I had a good feeling about it. (There also was a puppet show off to the side of the room. What is the significance of that?)

[In this dream, off to the side of the room when Stewart was talking about this, there was a little booth with a puppet show, like a Punch and Judy show. The significance of this symbolism should be obvious.]

Next in the dream, I was driving away in a car with my old friend Mike. I said, “You know what has always bothered me for the last 10 years?” “Yes,” he said, “the fact that you don’t have a girlfriend.”

I went jogging yesterday near Woodhaven Boulevard and Dry Harbor Road. Nice place. I always liked that place. I was in tremendous turmoil the whole time I went. I saw a barbecue with a flame on it. I thought, or feared, it might be a warning. (A warning specifically about jogging and trying to go back into and enjoy my life in this world. Voice: “the fleeting pleasures of sin.”)  I was trying to enjoy the clouds, which were nice.

[Seeing a flame would be a reminder of hell. I had gone jogging, trying to do something I enjoyed in this life, but maybe God was warning me about going to hell for looking back to this life, I thought.]

Then as I jogged around the track, each time a soccer ball rolled in front of me and I thought of that dream. [A dream about going to hell that I once had, which started with a scene of a ball rolling up to me on the ground as I was jogging.] I had been in tremendous turmoil about Stewart all day, but you might say it reached its peak when I went running. (I was thinking heavily about the binding of consciences, the tight control here.)

I talked with Peter after and said that I jog for enjoyment, but that if I have this much turmoil when I do it, what’s the point? There’s no enjoyment in it, except that later on I feel good and I am glad I did it. I have a good memory of it later.

I guess this is the whole thing that bothers me – kill everything, no pleasure, no interests. Subordinate my life to the fellowship and all its plans, though I can’t say this is from Christ or not. But in some weird way, it seems right, or at least it’s what I figure.  It’s what I hate to hear, so it must be true then. Or it’s a way to evade the wrath of God by obliterating myself. [God can’t kill me if I put myself and my life in this world to death, because there is nothing left to kill.] I also get this feeling that I am required to do it, even when no one is around or watching. It’s like something that goes through me.

I had been building up this harsh view of Jesus, and that I probably can never get married.

[The above line is an example of me (still) internalizing Stewart’s teachings and making them my own. It was Stewart who promoted an exceedingly harsh view of Jesus. But he would say to us from time to time, “You build up this harsh and condemning view of Jesus in your heads.” This helped us to believe we were doing this to ourselves.]

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