1993, 01/29-30. Square Pegs and Round Holes

Friday, January 29

I feel so weary today. I only have simple tasks, but it seems hard to keep up. Last night’s meeting is the general subject of today’s conversation among the brothers, though often in a joking way, about “defusing the bomb.”

I was reading a book called Groupthink, which is about group behavior, especially in group decision making. The presuppositions and expectations of the group and other things keep members from fully expressing their views or raising questions. Group cohesiveness and unity is the priority, even when it overrides rationality and constructive action.

I got to 46th Street office. Brothers are making more jokes about bombs. Blake walked into a group of brothers, saying, “Who needs to be defused here?” Others were making ticking noises.

[This shows that Stewart touched a nerve with his comments on defusing one another by asking one another about our temptations. Brothers “blowing up” over temptations was a common occurrance. But with relationships and marriage forbidden, a major remedy for the major exploding bomb in brothers’ lives was not available and talking about temptations didn’t help much. A brother would be instructed that his “real problem was pride” anyway and directed back into their place in the machine with the appropriate COBU teachings. So no one talked about this too much anyway, at least as Chuck noted, “not as a group,” because when the group was assembled, groupthink took over and the tempted brother looking for a way to be “defused” was directed by others with the usual lines about “putting his pride to death“ and “marriage is not the real issue.”]

Pablo tells me of weird behavior among the new brothers in Woodruff, such as fights and other behavior. Pablo sees it as unfair how he can get sent to Red Hook for relatively minor infractions, while this seems to go on a while before it’s checked. Perhaps it’s easy to discipline the minor cases. It’s easier to write a parking ticket, than say, to go after bigger offenders because of the trouble involved.

Sometimes I still yearn for my old delivery job, or one like it, although at the time it seemed like a dead end. I felt trapped inside a metal and glass box and I often though this job would be fine for a college student on summer break. So there, those were my actual thoughts about it. (There were things I liked about it too. I guess that’s what I long for.) This is one of the values of keeping a diary. I can read what my actual thoughts were, because it’s easy to forget.

I really like writing in this diary, moment by moment. It is often difficult to write an essay at the end of the day. And what I really like is when I stretch out and get into some real honesty, almost as if it’s the only thing that really matters. Though it seems I don’t do it in recent diaries, or I don’t think I do. I’m really afraid to, and also I know too much now. (Also, it seems like reality or anything personal and subjective must be cut out, because only obeying my orders or the plan matters now. Though saying this may be making excuses.) It’s just that I never open up, be honest and really dig into things or face them. Not even with myself. Though it also seems I’m not supposed to. It may be the centripetal force toward conformity. I never really unwind or face it at length, much less decide what to do about it. It’s like I’ve signed off all hope for the future or for any change. Though the correct thing to say would be that I just outright rebel or refuse to. Though that doesn’t leave me with much. There’s no “why do I do this?”

At Manhattan Floors. [This is where we got supplies for the wood floor business]. I heard Chip, the owner of the store, talking about getting away to Cartegena, Colombia to live like a king. It seems like just about everybody thinks of “getting away.”

Saturday, January 30

This morning is starting, along with the usual lateness and unpreparedness for a wood floor job, with someone having made the statement that the older brothers are dead and weak. So, I’m churning that over in my mind and letting it bother me. This, combined with talking on the impossibility of marriage and the ever-constant temptations to immorality (sexual immorality, that is).

I talked with [new brother] Robert S. a while. (Funny how I thought of him about a week ago. I wonder if thinking of Steve B. and Jay O. [two older brothers who left the fellowship] is an indication that I should write to them.)  I have the idea in mind of defusing others, but it’s hard to stick to it.

[I had been thinking of Robert, who left, then returned to the church. These two older brothers had been on my mind lately too. If they were on my mind, I should write them to invite them back to the church. I was saying this, even as I was doubting the church and its leader and thinking about why I needed to leave. I was partially still believing COBU and Stewart, while coming to realize what was really going on.

When COBU members left, we never talked about them, and it was as if they had never existed. William Olin, in his book Escape From Utopia wrote about how when people left the cult he was in, it was as if they had fallen overboard and the waters closed over them and they were gone and never mentioned again, and that he thought there was something wrong with the purposeful forgetting of those who left the “only true way.” If a person left COBU, it meant they no longer believed in the true way, which meant, in a manner of speaking, that they were no longer persons and no longer existed. It was also our way of blotting out of our minds the sheer number of people who left this way because they didn’t believe in it.]

Last night, I was thinking, “I’ve had it.” Also, I thought, how could I be reading and studying languages when I’m in so much trouble?

[I thought, how could I be pursuing worldly hobbies and interests, when I was in danger of being cast into hell for eternity? Stewart constantly bombarded us with this fear, not as he claimed, to cause us to run to Christ for salvation, but to keep us in a constant crisis mentality and to make us give up all our claims to our lives.]

But lately, languages seem excusable, because many foreign language speakers have come and gone through our fellowship. I should have kept practicing languages. At least this has a practical use. But as far as reading magazines, my only excuse is that this is at the end of the day, a half hour or so of bedtime reading to unwind, which may have a purpose. Besides, if the need to face my eternal state is that urgent, why am I not plagued with it during the long hours I spend working, going to and from jobs, or spinning my wheels? Why doesn’t “conviction” come then? Why not throughout the day? Doesn’t all this work take my mind off it to a greater degree than anything else?

[Didn’t being caught up in the constant treadmill of working for the church take my mind off thinking about my eternal destiny, that I’m headed for hell, much more than taking a half hour to read at night take my mind off it? Why did conviction about my eternal state only come when I did something for myself or when I tried to unwind and rest? Wasn’t the treadmill of work for the church much more of a distraction from thinking about my eternal destiny?”]

I got delayed a long time because George S. accidentally took my keys to a job. So, now I’m sitting in this van, waiting for him. I wonder if God wanted to sidetrack me so I could pray. I saw a poster at the church office which said, “I had so many things to do, I just had to stop and pray.” I can’t settle all the things I think about. And it’s true, I do run around all day. There aren’t any breaks, unless I grab one. But I always feel I can’t stop.

I’m praying. Really, nothing works. Religious efforts don’t work. But I had the idea that I ought to pray.

Well, here comes George.

I wonder what it is all for, if I am just going to hell. But I seem to have lost my original thought, which was, what about this stuff all day and the way I live?  What am I doing it for? (Especially the church business life.) This is a question I will have to look into more. I mean, if it’s true about my eternal state at the end of the day when I’m trying to read to relax, then it’s true all day. (And doing all this “good and right” stuff isn’t helping me.)

[I wondered what all the compulsion to work in the church businesses and gathering and training new converts was for, if I was just going to hell anyway. Stewart told us at nearly every meeting, and every chance he could, that we were going to hell. If so, then none of this work was going to profit me or commend me to God. So, why did I have to do it then? We were under a lot of pressure to produce cash and new converts.]

I need to look into it more, but I don’t even know if I can, or will have the time or if I can stop and concentrate, much less do anything about it. It seems so overwhelming and even required.

[The treadmill life of constant work (which was required of us, no breaks), going out to look for converts, and then long meetings late at night left me with little time to think about anything else, much less do anything else.]

I never have been able to make any significant changes, except perhaps to get out of carpet cleaning and into wood floors.

[If we were in the carpet cleaning business, we did jobs all day, and when we called the office toward the end of the day, more often than not, we found out we were scheduled for an evening or a night job. The sisters in the office were calling through the phone book and files of past customers, filling the available slots for each day and scheduling work for the carpet cleaning teams. Getting into wood floor work got me off this treadmill. Wood floor jobs often lasted many days on the same job site.We did not have to call the office, because we weren’t a part of the same group. For example, if a wood floor job ended around 5, I would not be scheduled to do evening or night work with the carpet cleaners. This was one of the small gaps in the system I was able to use to my own advantage, and for my own sanity. There were night jobs in the wood floor division, but we could sleep the next day if we had worked the night before. We also had to let floor finishes dry between applications, which gave me free time to read, and think, and to do whatever else I wanted or needed to do.]

(Writing all these details may just be useless, or complaining or excuses, but I feel it’s necessary to go through all of this to get somewhere, to write freely without censorship or saying only the required or right things. It’s just the way my mind works.)


In the section that follows, I was writing about an article I read in a magazine about defining goals in your hobbies. I had often thought that people are usually well informed about their hobbies and work very hard at them.  They are motivated and don’t need to be pushed to work at them. When a person encounters hindrances or problems in their hobby, they work creatively to overcome those obstacles to find solutions. (In the Church of Bible Understanding, no one wanted to hear ideas on how to change and improve things. We just repeated Stewart precepts and phrases instead of speaking our true thoughts, having learned that our input was not valued and that we were supposed to act as if we were helpless, and to wait on Stewart’s explanation of our problems. Stewart’s explanantion was more often than not about how we were rebellious and cheating, and that we must put our lives in this world to death, otherwise it was all “games.” If anyone did persist in offering solutions and opinions, this is what they would be guided back into anyway.)

I considered that they way people worked at hobbies they loved was a different motivation than the way I was expected to work in COBU. We were coerced and forced by pressure, abuse and manipulation, though I also did want to build up the church. I also was applying this concept about hobbies to a wider application, that of deciding what to do with my life. I wanted to be motivated to work at something I was interested in doing, instread of burning out in an endless cycle of meaningless toil, in which I learned nothing new and which left me qualified only to be a carpet cleaner or floor worker.

Stewart also constantly came down on us for having not done enough and for being worthless, no matter how much work we did and how much of ourselves we gave to the church. I was not supposed to want any free time, or have anything for “self.” I was expected to be satisfied with a 30 dollar weekly allowance (most of that went for the food I ate while working and maybe a magazine or a used book) and a place to sleep on the floor, and to never complain about any of these privations, because if I did, he said it was my “flesh seeking its own way.”

I had so many other things inside of me and much more potential than what Stewart wanted to use me for. I had God-given potential and talents that Stewart required me (in the name of God’s will) to suppress and deny. I was able to get in touch with this sense of motivation and desire through my hobbies and interests and I often wondered why I could not have this same motivation in my daily working life. But, Stewart said we were supposed to break all these things up and put them to death. I was supposed to work at the system and to expect nothing in return. I yearned for a different and better life. Thankfully, I was not able to cut off these parts of myself, and the desire to do them helped me leave there.]

This ties into something I read last night about (1) rethinking and defining your philosophy and also (2), in the matter of hobbies, one is free to work things out completely. So (1) is: what do you really look for or want to get out of a thing? How do you pursue it? What direction would you like to go in? And, in the things you already do, what do you especially like, or would like to concentrate on more? Even though you’re already doing it, it might be good to think it out, rather than just doing it. It might do you some good. And (2) I have noticed, in the matter of hobbies, that hindrances are easier to overcome – in regard to creative thought about sources, alternatives, methods and new ideas, and also with regard to motivation and desire to do it and pleasure with the result, if not also with the entire process itself.

This, then is the ideal model to use and compare your other activities with and a source of ideas about how to do things that are tasks and necessities, where this creativity does not manifest itself spontaneously. In such cases, you are operating with most systems shut down. I could research and do activities the way I would do language study or other material. Imagine closing jobs that way. Of course, I think of getting work that is in one of those areas. This will seem wrong. But when someone (for example, Haroldyne) finds work of this kind, then they are congratulated or even commended and held in high esteem for their diligence. On the contrary, someone who doesn’t use what they have or could use, if it is known to be so, the reaction is a “neither here nor there” or nothing at all.  But in any case, it is never a positive one.


Anger. I have been thinking of how it is not wise to act rashly in anger. Though I don’t know if this viewpoint is from a Christian perspective or expediency and a more Machiavellian, self-serving viewpoint, but real nevertheless. A recent example: while sanding the floor upstairs, I was way behind schedule. (Who says there is a schedule anyway? Is it all in my mind?) I was interrupted by a man at the door. In a flash of anger, I wanted to say, “Tell him to go away! Don’t bother me!” But I didn’t. It turns out he was landlord, giving me a key. I was thinking that the aftermath and resulting mess after such altercations is not worth the thing I was contesting.

I am now in the middle of problems with the Koos job (today’s job). About this time, I ran into Leonid (Leo) on the stairway at the office and began talking to him. This had a positive effect on me. I wasn’t expecting to see him. It’s someone else to think about. We started talking. We arranged for him to call his mother in Russia. Before this, there was a big discussion by Bob M., Andrew and others about whether the church should pay for the call, or whether Leo should call collect. Bob said, “Look, he works hard and he doesn’t complain. I think we should pay for the call, though Andrew says we should check with the committee first.” I said, “We ought to just take up a collection, it’s probably only about ten dollars. How much can it be? Fifty cents or a dollar from everyone? There’s too much committee-izing sometimes.” Bob seemed relieved that it was now on me and that I said would pay for the call, even if I didn’t get the collection. Joe S. got busy and pushed all the right buttons, calling the phone company and placing the call, and voilà, Leo was talking to his mother in Russia.

I am now brushing up on Russian.

About the issues with the Koos job, I really didn’t say much. What was there to say? I didn’t try to hammer out my reasons point by point. Maybe I’m just too wiped out or too numb to all this. Those who closed the job gave us misleading information. And as far as myself, I passed the whole day in a blur. It was hard to know what was going on, with the delay this morning, the rush to get sanding done, running to Manhattan Floors and back.

I’m jotting a few notes in this book, a typical day. (By the way, in reading over today’s entry, I see that I probably would have forgotten all of this if I had not written it down. How much do I think of things and then forget them because I don’t keep a record of them? It really is worth it to jot down notes about what is on my mind.)

[This was part of the oblivion of COBU cult life, being lost in the treadmill, the anxiety and the constant activity of the day. Even if I did pause to think about things, I might forget any ideas I came up with unless I wrote them down. There was always work to do and always the next meeting; tonight’s meeting and especially the weekend meeting, when we assembled before Stewart Traill to be evaluated and judged, like the throne of judgment on the Last Day. And if I believed Stewart’s diagnosis of me, I was one of those that was to be cast into the lake of fire, having been found by Stewart to be one of the unfaithful yet once again. Brothers and sisters lived in fear, worry and anticipation of these weekend meetings, with nightly meetings to stir up the anticipation during the week. It was hard to think clearly, or remember something that was on my mind while running on the treadmill of cult life, while being prodded from behind and moving forward to yet another of these meetings at the end of the week. It was easy to let go of my mind and stop thinking critically in this situation, in order to focus all my energies and thoughts on these things, in order to keep up with them and not fall behind.]

There is a three-way agreeing point here, in what I wrote about being more fully active with all my facilities tuned in on things that interest me. Talking with Leo today in Russian (that is, the use of foreign languages) and Paul B. telling me I ought to find a new line of work. In fact, I shouldn’t settle for less and I should seek something I can do with all my faculties involved, in a natural way, (that is, according to aptitude and natural tendencies) and not be satisified with less, because that would be the real thing, and what I really am. I ought to find it. Find what suits the real me, because this isn’t it. This is more like hitting square pegs into round holes. Maybe I ought to find a square hole. If “this isn’t it,” it is proof that the real me is elsewhere, or there is something more meaningful elsewhere, because this isn’t it! So, it’s somewhere else. If square pegs don’t go in round holes, it just shows that my peg is square, that’s all. I’m a different shape and I don’t belong in this category. I’ve tried it and it’s not going to work.

[It would take leaving the Church of Bible Understanding and finding other kinds of work related to my core talents.]

You can read the next section of this journal here: The KGB: A Life Under Surveillance.

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


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