1993, 01/25-26. East Is East and West Is West. And Never The Twain Shall Meet

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

The title for this section is about older brothers and sisters getting together to have a business meeting late at night in a dirty warehouse in Brooklyn. The brothers and sisters sat facing one another, with a line of demarcation between the sexes. I noted that in COBU, this is about all we got as far as relationships between us, despite having been there for well over a decade and that we all knew one another to some degree.

January 25

I worked at E. Cross today, but most of my efforts were thwarted. I was listening to George Winston piano music and looking out over the Central Park Reservoir. I have not forgotten running.

[There was a jogging track around the reservoir which I could see from the apartment where I was doing floor work. I wished I could go jogging, but with so much work to do in the church business, I no longer had any time for it.]

Some thoughts about grace are on my mind today. While outside looking for a pay phone, I found a Christian tract entitled “Eternity.” It said, “Your hands are working, you are making plans. But every sunset, every day, every second, eternity is drawing near.” It was a direct response to what I was thinking about, although it didn’t say it was wrong to work or to plan and it didn’t condemn these activities. I prayed to be ready. These tracts make it seem so easy. Just ask. God hears you. If that’s the issue, you wonder what our groups and our voting and everything else we do are for – except to say we are helping one another to get to heaven by doing all that, or that we are doing God’s will. But it will seem that this is how we get to heaven. But according to the tract, it seems so easy. I prayed, asked (and also confess, forsake). Now I’m ready to go to heaven! Of course, that would be a relief!  It would be easier to do what I had to do then.

[What this tract said was necessary to do to be saved from hell and to spend eternity with God seemed a lot easier than life in COBU which was supposedly set up as the only way we were going to (just maybe) make it to heaven. If I already had the peace that comes from the assurance of eternal life, then it would be easier to do what I “had to do,” which was to work and live this way, as well as “give up my life in this world.” But, I had no assurance of salvation, and living the COBU way was no help in achieving it.]

It’s hard for me to get “monastic” though. It’s hard to shut everything down and forget about it. If I want something, it causes activity, if only mental activity. My range of wants is small. But I want. So it causes me trouble. I feel I have to turn away from these things and prepare for eternity – but otherwise, fold my hands and stop all activity, and with the exception of works God wants me to do, remain in that posture or attitude for the rest of my life. I don’t think I can get rid of the source, which is wanting, itself. This is denying yourself(?) But I wonder what the point is. What does it do for me?

7 p.m.

[I was talking to a new disciple who stayed with us for a little while, and then left a few weeks later. He was from Russia:]

I talked with Leonid a little, about dangers in the city, not to go alone. Then about sin, asking him if he was a “grezhnik,” [a sinner], and basically trying to explain the Number One Principle to him in my best bad Russian with the help of a dictionary. I will really have to sit down and talk with him. Also to use what I can (besides just giving it out in friendliness), English lessons, basic information on life in the U.S. It’s the small talk that greases the wheels for more important commerce. (Though I’ll have a nagging sense to get straight to point without “nonsense.” But I don’t think I could do that. Besides the fact that I just like talking, when we are involved in a conversation, then it’s easier to switch over to some simple or basic point.)

[I felt the pressure when talking to Leonid, who was new to our group, that I must bypass all small talk and get right to the point, which is to get him into COBU teachings such as the Number One Principle. Stewart said we were not supposed to have “human fellowship” with people because this was being into the “flesh.” Yet I realized that if I was making conversation with someone first, it would be easier to draw his attention to a lesson, imparting some of the church’s teachings to him.]

I was talking with Jay. He says that at the meeting he got to the point of wanting to walk out – if not worse. He also said he was wondering if all this was for real.

[I had a dream not long before that Jay walked out of a meeting, frustrated and cursing. This was about the only time any other older brother, other than Peter, confided even a little to me that he thought what was going in in COBU was not for real or that there were problems with it and with its leader. ]

I had to go to Remington’s tonight to put down a coat of black polyurethane on the floor. I was talking with Paul about marriage issues, sometimes only half seriously. What can we do?

I’m getting ready to lay down. I always feel there is more to do, or something I’ve left undone. (Probably really praying or settling everything with Christ.) I’d like to just lay down and read for an hour. In other words, the day’s done, I want to lay down and relax and do some light reading or something to unwind. But also this “things left undone,” or even unsatisfied feeling is possibily from a human point of view. I don’t have genuine accomplishments or any direction in my life. No change in career or fulfillment of other things, like language and even art. Not that I can do anything about that in an hour. But I am not satisfied. I work and am caught up in things all day. I never really get time and I am not free to pursue alternatives like taking weekends or evenings to do things.

Possibly also, a strange thought, that if I am on a works basis and not living by grace, then the feeling would be that I haven’t done enough, or done anything really. But it seems to be that I want to do something for myself, and here’s a little time. But I should do something about my eternal destiny instead and therein lies the battle.

I woke at 3 a.m. to the sound of a messy argument out there in the “pit.” The sound of middle brothers arguing until the voices of Chuck and Andrew cut in. But it was quite a wrestling match until Chuck pinned Curtis [a new brother], who was the major problem. It was interesting to hear the techniques used on both sides. There is a sense of guilt on my part. Well, I “ought to” be living out there in order to “be there” at critical moments.

[I was living the Red Hook Warehouse, in a supply closet with walls and a locked door that provided me and two other older brothers, Paul and Peter, some privacy, instead of sleeping out in the common area with all the others, where the argument arose in the middle of the night.]

But it is like permanent residence in a jungle where everyone is in everyone else’s business, the kind of thing that usually only happens in situations like prison camps and refugee camps. I’m not so sure it’s “loving one another” to be out there. The line has to be drawn in public life somewhere. I suppose they’re up so late because they’re coming back from their group meetings in Woodruff, which seem to last until at least 2 p.m., usually every other night. I am loosely in a “so-called” group which doesn’t meet upon such late terms. I guess because we have no new ones.

[Our group did not contain any of the new brothers. It was what Stewart Traill called a “so-called group,” because we were not among those fully backed and trusted to be in “real” groups. A side benefit of being in a “so-called group” was that we did not have any of the new converts to the church in it because we were not considered worthy of indoctrinating them, because we were considered to be bad examples. Not having new people in our “so-called group,” we did not have to work on them or stay up in late meetings going over each one and talking to them.]

I wonder if the terms of group life here are a deterrent, a force which keeps many older brothers from truly desiring to be in a group. I am freed from the late night drag. (Or at least any additions to it, since there are always night jobs.) And often, I can get an adequate, if not a decent night’s sleep, which I figure I need. (I am always falling short in this area and aware of it.) Also, I wonder, if the older brothers’ presence may lead to scenes sometimes because they need to feel they are doing something and settling issues. But that would be only one side of it. Certain ones seem to love this late night stuff. Older brothers do for sure, but for many new and middle brothers, it almost seems like they see it as the bread and butter of Christian life. Getting together, finding out what everybody thinks. Loving to meet for the sake of meetings. It fills the empty parts of the life here, if not that it is the essential part of of it. They really do not do much else, and are not much else themselves.

This society has taken the place of the lives the new brothers had before coming here and it becomes everything, a new thing, which for me is hard to become excited about. They’re like new recruits. It seems they get more involved in a new society, than into Jesus. Into a way of life and being loyal to it, rather than drawing near to God and knowing him. This probably is related to how, when Stewart reprimands them for saying they are thankful for being here, or that they are are thankful that God woke them up today, instead of saying they’re thankful for Christ’s sacrifice. I suppose they can’t understand that we older brothers are not gung-ho for the same thing.

[Stewart admonished the new brothers, many of whom were former street people or addicts, when said they were thankful that God woke them up today. He told them they should wish that God had not woken them up today, because it is better to go to heaven. His point was not to direct people to heaven, but to get them to have a disdain for this present life, and not to expect anything from it.]

Tuesday January 26

Working at E. Cross again today. Routine floor sanding, except the song Band on the Run by Paul McCartney came into my mind, which brought back pleasant memories. This made me think of my life in 1974 and how C.S. Lewis wrote (in Mere Christianity) about how everyone has a feeling of what happiness and bliss is, usually from earlier time in their life. Well, that was mine. I can almost pinpoint it from the specific month it started, to afterward, when I was in my first year in college, when I was living in reference to it and looking back to it. I thought of some of the things I did back then, centering on the month of June, which maybe was the high water mark, though in August it reached full fruition. And that fall wasn’t so bad either.

Me and Paul B., Pablo, Kevin L., and Don B. [the last three were new brothers] are in a restaurant. We did a short Bible study on Acts 17. In all, it was not too enthusiastic. Maybe because the food came, maybe it wasn’t such a stirring subject. Also Paul and I aren’t very inspiring, although the banter at the table is on orientation-type subjects.

Word is out now that we will have a 10 p.m. meeting, possibly at Red Hook or the office, on the subject of closing jobs in the church business, which is at a low point.

Now at Red Hook. The air of expectation is serious. I am now driving to Woodruff to bring some sisters here and may get a preliminary of the meeting on the way back. It is also an example of how I don’t get much time. I barely got here and had to do this errand, though if I had something in mind previously and I was looking for an opportunity to do it, I would have seized the moment. As it is, I did the usual filler (which I say I hate); talk, eat something, walk here and there, finally laying down a little and browsing a magazine (to find a schedule, at least I got that done).

I gave my Russian dictionary and Russian New Testament to Bernie to give to Leonid. It feels hard to give up my own dictionary, but it’s easy to pick up another. It gives me an excuse to traffic in and find and save language books. [I could now say I had a legitimate reason to find or buy language books and foreign language Bibles, if I was using this to help new brothers.] Besides, Leonid needs them more than me and it will help him communicate, thereby helping him stay here and thereby get help in Christ. It is a small price to pay.

The meeting is now soon to start. There are about 15 or 20 of each, older brothers and older sisters, traditionally divided according to gender. Will soon sense what it’s all about, though I know plenty, I guess. What I meant to say is we shall soon see how it’s going to be. What the tone of the meeting is going to be.

After the appropriate religious protocol and lines (maybe I’m too cynical) we’ve gotten down to business. We read the faxed message from Brother Stewart, the sum of which is to get and settle a decent basis for closing jobs. Sisters are more or less here to get something done and are right to the point (even though they were sent and prompted by Stewart, as we also were). Brothers are more hanging back, waiting. Possibly, we feel we’ve been bad. Me, I don’t want to talk, because it would involve honesty or a confession about how I haven’t been closing jobs, that I’ve been avoiding it.

I’m noticing that some sisters speak constructively about real and tangible things. There is a small contingent of sisters present who only seem able to occasionally stick a pin in somebody, but have no substance to their words. I was noticing the ways the different ones speak. There is a definite gulf between the two types. There are even some sisters who have made only one or two comments, but they said something substantial, placing themselves clearly on one side of the gulf.

The meeting ended about the way it began. There had been a brief flurry of activity in the middle as we “lost ourselves” in planning and suggestions, and we even got friendly and talkative. Then it went back. I felt it almost palpably. The suddenly drawn line.

This is also about the height of brother-sister relations and is just about all we get. Here we are, just about all the brothers and sisters in the fellowship. Amost all the older people in our fellowship, all of us here for more than ten years, all together at a meeting. It was actually a rather rare meeting. We all know each other to some degree – yet cannot marry. Yet we all are together here. This awareness must go on underneath the cheery fronts. We’re all adults, but we can’t decide our fates, cannot speak of it. The idea of not being allowed to comes to the fore. It is so strange. To openly say we are not interested in one another is one thing, but to act as if attractions and marriage are non-existent is weird. This strange meeting, in a warehouse on a dark street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn in the middle of the night. As I think back on the meeting, all I can see is Veronica sitting in front of the pack of sisters, legs crossed, her long hair and also, of someone else who is in agony over such a sight.

Paul thinks something should be done – not about Veronica, but about the church business. But except for a comment he made during the meeting about making standards, he doesn’t really say what’s on his mind. On a wider scale, no one says what they really think. (Though the sisters, the ones who speak substantively, are somewhat exempt, but not to idealize them either.) There’s a lot of poker playing going on. Kevin, Chuck and others don’t show their hands, but just raise an eyebrow, draw another card or place a bet.

The sisters are crazy if they think they accomplished anything. Though to say we stonewalled them would be an oversimplification and unfair. We are mostly a work-weary bunch of men and the sisters can’t see or identify with that. In all, it was just another business meeting. Closing jobs was low. Get together. What are you going to do about it? Make suggestions, reshuffle the deck. (That is, rearrange the people and their relationships, at work and to one another. Make a committee, designate who is a closer.)

But this reworking of relationships is all on paper and the plans are words. Everyone will do the same thing tomorrow, except that the closers know that closing is low. They knew that yesterday, but now it’s so bad, it was bad enough to have a meeting about it. So they’ll hustle a little harder. Any committees will fall through in a week or two and everything will be the same. Except that closing may not necessarily go back down, not necessarily because the meeting gave an impetus to things, but because there are many factors that cause closing to be higher or lower. In all, nobody really believed all of this. They believed neither the commitments the others made, nor the suggestions they themselves made (brothers or sisters) as they made them.

You can read the next section of this journal here: Not Bothering.


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