1993, 05/26. Sex or Salvation? (Marriage Is Not An Option.)

Wednesday, May 26

I came back alone early last night. Walked around Brooklyn Heights a while, then to Red Hook. I was admiring the clouds.

It’s amazing how I can write this so dispassionately, but maybe I hope that through self analysis there is some way I can master my actions.

I talked to an old man outside the Red Hook warehouse for a while and then went to bed. I had a dream that a man (who turned out to be Jesus) was after me to kill me and he finally did, by shooting me in the head. When I realized it was Jesus, I said, “Do you love me?” To which I received the curious reply, “You have misrepresented me by saying I have portrayed you again.” To make a long story short, I am terrified, but I wonder if I’m scared enough. Waiting for the final blow. I have not and will not tell anybody about any of this.

(This dream had a curious significance for me. I came to realize that the church was misrepresenting God and portraying a false Jesus. And that this was the collective sin of our church and that I was guilty for taking part in it. As I became more aware of what was wrong there, it was one of things I began to ask myself. Can I go on taking part in portraying this false view of Jesus?  The comment about wondering if I was “scared enough,” was because Stewart told us that we had to be “scared out of our minds about going to hell” in order to receive Christ.  If not, he said, we would make light of our sin and not take the good news of salvation seriously.)

I guess there is no claiming or crying that marriage is the remedy for my problem. I guess also if Jesus is going to kill me, there is no stopping him. Psalm 107 is on my mind, because it talks about people in hopeless situations who turn to God and are rescued. Really, I am at God’s mercy, because I see that my prayers really can’t change much. I wonder if God will even heed me anyway, much less not kill me. Of course, I am always next on the lookout for a comforting dream because sometimes they follow these bad dreams. There is even a strange way in which I like these dreams and would like to have more of them. It sort of puts things in perspective.

I am now out alone at Henry Street near Middach Street in the shadow of a sycamore tree. A mockingbird is singing and the sky has just cleared and turned blue. I wish I could sit here for another hour. This is the only relaxation or peace I seem to get. I have the feeling that everybody who walks by has a gun.

(I was in a state of terror about my imminent death and I feared that one of the pedestrians walking by would suddenly and without warning pull out a gun and shoot me in the head.  This was surfacely fueled by the dream I had the previous night, but the underlying fear was caused by our leader, Stewart Traill’s constant preaching about hell and our imminent destruction when we died and met an angry Jesus as our judge.)

Possibly if Jesus knew I needed a wife, he would have just given me one. I am up against something bigger than that anyway.

I have been like this for about five years. Sure, you could say that after I hit 30, I just couldn’t go on anymore, and that probably I should have been married by then. Apparently though, God doesn’t take excuses or reasons of any kind into account, except maybe in the sense that he hasn’t killed me yet. Sin is sin, no matter what the reason or cause. Though yesterday, I was thinking that if I were married, I probably wouldn’t have this problem. I also have to face the possibility that I may never, ever get married.

For sure, the fact that there are no marriages is the legacy of our church and I should have realized that long ago. (By not allowing myself to have a fingers crossed hope for the future, not that I don’t already know this is the way it is and has been until now.)

(The “legacy” of our church: the last marriage in the Church of Bible Understanding was in 1979.)

What should I expect from a killer church? Now I know at least one of the reasons why the sisters seem to look forward so much to death – because they will get nothing here. If your life isn’t miserable enough, our church will make sure it is. It will make sure your life is hell on earth, at least in some sense. It can’t just relent and let people live. I was thinking today, with reference to Psalm 107 and about how it says that when people repent, they live out their days in health and they live until they are old. I would like that, to live well, then die. To have children, or at least be around other people’s children. To have some kind of family relationships, then to die, after having lived a useful and fulfilling life. Such a thing is anathema with Stewart and consequently with everybody else here. Woe to the person who doesn’t say he wishes he hadn’t woken up this morning or who says that he wants something good in this life.

So, anyway, I need to seek out alternate means in the sense of “what if” or “probably not” with regard to marriage. I suppose that fear of hell is enough to keep a person away from sex and/or marriage. Fear will keep you away from illicit sexual activity and fear will also be enough motivation to keep you away from wanting or hoping for marriage as a solution (or even just as a joy in this life). You won’t look to marriage now, because you have all you need right now – which is fear. In other words, once I “realize” that fear is enough to produce self-control, then I will realize I don’t need marriage for any reason, so I won’t lean on that excuse either.

(Not that I believed this, but I was reasoning out Stewart Traill’s worldview to its logical conclusions. Stewart did not always state these things so openly, but if I followed out his teachings to their logical conclusions, these is what they added up to.)

Possibly, then, having plenty of fear is having the gift that the Apostle Paul had which enabled him to live without a wife and to not be subject to the temptation to immorality. (So then, what, marriage is for the weak in faith and also for the ones without enough fear to keep themselves clean?)

3:47 p.m.

What should I do about this dream? It’s always nice to wake up from a nightmare. It feels good to know it was just a dream. But isn’t the dream from God, if it is something that dramatic? I am starting to think, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” I suppose I need such a state of mind to function. (Though Stewart says we must be scared out of our minds.) Then, well, maybe if I was getting slack, it is time for a fresh or a renewed scare. I find myself thinking through the day, “I just wish I could go to the moon,” someplace else, someplace far away.

I was reading a book about fundamentalists. A book that has facts, but is obviously not very sympathetic toward them. The author talks about how fundamentalists live under heavy authority, separate from the world, and have strict and uniform codes of behavior and dress. I don’t know exactly what camp we fall into. I suppose we would reject the label fundamentalist, but so would they. It seems that only the Pentecostals are willing to embrace that term.

10:00 p.m.

I came back to Red Hook and laid down (after having walked back over the Brooklyn Bridge and through Brooklyn). I woke up to the sound of brothers here. Now we are waiting for Brother Stewart to arrive for a brothers meeting. We are in the “shake one another up” part. The purpose of this is so we can be ready for when Stewart comes in.

When Brother Stewart arrives, well, about all I can hope is to avoid detection. For all I know, this meeting could be a real ringer for me. It may be for others as well, since I hear it was found out that some middle brothers not only were taking tips on a regular basis, but were also spending the money on booze and going to immoral places.

Kevin is standing up there in front of everyone, holding up the picture of the Condemned Sinner, and saying, “If you knew you were going to die in five minutes, how would you be living?” Others reply, “Scared out of our minds.” Kevin says, “Shouldn’t we live all the time that way then?” and other things that to my own sensibilities seem either ridiculous or impossible, but considering that dream, for me, it may very well be true. It is a meeting of revival frenzy atmosphere that is being, or intended to be, generated. But, if it’s true, then that is how I am supposed to live.

(This meeting was taking place late at night in a dirty old warehouse in Brooklyn.)

I suppose such meetings, when done regularly, are intended to keep one in a state constant fear and anticipation – keeping the fires stoked. Maybe through this fear I will be brought into the “inner circle,” a sense of belonging. I can imagine that somebody who had been having terrible dreams would find himself down at a revival meeting, listening, praying and seeking hope.

11:45 p.m.

The meeting is over now. For some brief notes, see the back of this book. Stewart’s basic theme was that we forget our goal. He gave an explanation of the goal, how to keep it and how to be motivated. I managed to keep quiet through the whole thing, avoiding contact with others after. I walked into the spray paint booth, but Bill was there. Now I am sitting at the desk, acting like the Japanese school child [in John Hersey’s book Hiroshima] trying to wear a face that doesn’t look like he should get a beating.

I am actually hoping I will have another dream tonight. I think that repeating instances of it would help me, although I would really rather have a good dream to either negate or balance the effects of this last one. In that sense, to have no dream wouldn’t be good because that means that the last one is still in effect and that it is not bad news and good news, but bad news only.

I am writing the following because I am forcing myself to write. (The above is really about all I had to say.)  At the meeting, I was more inclined to believe every word Stewart was saying because of the dream, although the meeting wasn’t about “I am going to die any second.” That was what was going on in Kevin’s pep rally before the meeting, the purpose of which, I think, Stewart is completely oblivious to. We fear Stewart will come into the meeting and see us sitting there with sullen faces, so we stick and prod everybody, probably more out of a fear of what will happen to us if Stewart sees that we allowed this, rather than out of any real concern for the new brothers’ salvation.

The whole time I was there, I was thinking this is true and fearing. But at points I “diverge,” either about Stewart’s words or intentions, or about what I see the older brothers doing. The latter is something which might be completely plausible. I started to fantasize about “getting serious” and moving to Woodruff, having “sold all I have.” Besides the fear of getting shot there [the Woodruff residence was in a bad neighborhood, there was often shooting during the evening and night], the idea of being up in my room (if I had one) in Woodruff late at night, after a long day of doing and professing all the “right stuff,” and even making progress in it, writing in my diary about my doubts about everything and this whole place.

The essence of what I would be writing would be that even though all of this is true and that I have an inward witness in myself, am I just getting duped by some semi-cult leader? [I was not yet totally convinced that Stewart was a cult leader at this time.] We are blinded by our isolation. Because there is nothing to test it against, does everything becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? I would still have my deep inward doubts.

I mean, whether they are true or not, I still think these things, though I understand that “thinking something” is not necessarily a justification in itself. But probably, in our terminology, I would still be looking for another way to follow Jesus than the way we do here, reading about John Calvin and the other Reformation writers and making comparisons with their writings and what Stewart teaches us, plus trying to find out about other “fundamentalists” and the similarities between their doctrine and practices and ours. In other words, I have a deep reservoir of doubt. I don’t fully give myself to our way or our religious movement by any means. In our jargon or way of speaking, this means I have a double life. (I don’t say that my inward reserve of doubt and not giving myself fully to our way is a double life. Maybe it is “look before you buy” and “don’t be a sucker.”)

I could be over there talking to Jay right now. I avoided riding with Andrew to Woodruff and back, but maybe self-examination and solitude is better. Maybe I just am showing myself to be one of those Ralph Waldo Emerson types (a quietist, having a nice religion that does not offend anyone).

Back to my private revelations. (I hear voices in my mind, such as, “you are going to hell,” “I will fool you.”)

(Part of my confusion, as evidenced here, was that I could also sometimes “hear” an inner witness or voice (or so it seemed), confirming that all of what Stewart was telling us was true, and that I was going to hell, just like Stewart said I and all of us were. And I was in even more trouble than the others, because I was questioning Stewart’s teachings and looking for a way out by trying to find out what other Christians had believed. At least the others had a chance, because they were trying to obey Stewart’s teachings, and maybe if they worked hard enough and denied themselves enough, maybe – with a heavy emphasis on maybe – they would be saved.)

(So what’s the use? It’s all over for me, there is no hope. There is no use of writing all of this stuff. It’s just self justification. I’m not arriving at any conclusions. God says he will confuse me, etc.)

(Stewart said that our thoughts that were not wholehearted acceptance of this way were attempts at self-justification and finding a way out of serving Jesus, and that if we wanted it bad enough, God would send a strong delusion upon us to make us believe the lie we so badly wanted to hear. The lie being that we did not have to follow Jesus in the specific way that Stewart taught, and that there was an easier way without so much suffering and self-mortification, and that we could also enjoy “the things of this life,” and follow Christ at the same time. Stewart said that if we wanted to try to have it both ways, God would finally give up on us and let us believe this lie and we would be lost.)

[There was a slight shade of meaning or tone that I was using here by adding “etc.” to the end of the last sentence, meaning, “this, that and so forth.” In other words, I was giving the list of the expected thoughts and conclusions as taught there, as if to separate myself from it and say “this is what we are lead to believe here,” but I was fearing it to be true as well.]

A diary must include everything. What I liked about the diary I wrote when I had my delivery job was exactly these kinds of things I used to write.

(I was talking about a  journal I kept in 1988 when I had a job “in the world” delivering electrical supplies. It also contained accounts of meetings and goings on in the church and I wrote about a lot of my own turmoil and confusion.)

What is sex anyway? A mere act of reproduction, or an act of love between two people in its highest form, or I guess just base lust. I do find it strange that such a normal, even essential biological activity could be the cause of so much trouble and actually be the cause of great wrath, and that a way for of its lawful practice can’t just be granted to me.

(The Bible gives “immorality” as one of the reasons God is returning in great wrath. The other reason is disrespect for authority. The word “immorality” in COBU usage was reduced to mean only sexual indulgence. The biblical use of the word immorality includes all kinds of deceit, abuse of power and murder, as well as sexual immorality. As a result of not being married and now entering their 30s, I suspected that all or most of the brothers and sisters were guilty of “immorality” in one form or another, which would induce them to believe they were living under the wrath of God and that Stewart’s words to us about how we were all going to hell were true.)

As if I were evil for desiring sex. You either desire evil or you desire “good.” So I must choose one or the other. If it is such a great urge that I have such a problem with, why can’t it be a given, a part of the territory that I just normally have without much thinking about it, just like the other everyday things I have like work, food and clothing? Why does sex have to be held away from me at such a great distance? Then, the urge that I have for it has to be dealt in terms of, “Do you desire eternal salvation or do you desire indulgence?” It’s dealt with as if it were a salvation issue. Do you desire Christ and salvation, or do you desire sin? It’s put in either / or terms. It is something opposed to Christ, rather than something you have in Christian life. Why was it always made so difficult before in our church and why is it still difficult now?

(Stewart’s sophistry cut deeper than that. Of course sex was a right desire, but he said we couldn’t get married because of our unfaithfulness to Christ. Therefore we were left to deal with these normal desires on a sin basis, where we either chose abstinence and eternal life or we chose sin and death.)

It seems as if these are the only terms I can deal with sex in. No other terms are available (by virtue of not being married). But this seems unfair. Something is missing, like I am being duped by getting only half the truth. These are not the only terms sex can be dealt in. But here, no way is available. Really there is, but I am just not faithful, so I can’t get the right solution – I’m condemned again. The only tool I have to fight it with is the fear of God, to fear hell enough to not do it. That probably is sufficient, because on the last day, God will tell me it was sin. And that I didn’t have to sin. I wonder just what Jesus would say to me about marriage anyway. I feel like I am caught in the jaws of a trap.

Too bad I can’t just go”and have sex and be done with it, and that somehow it wouldn’t be an issue anymore. But the possibility of satisfying this desire is out of my reach. I wish the issue no longer existed. I guess you could say through marriage, the issue wouldn’t exist anymore.

But so many brothers have harped on about marriage here and obviously never got it. What makes me think I am any different than they are? We are here for Stewart and that’s all we get.

(I was coming to understand that despite whatever basis I and others thought we might be there on, such as wanting to be saved and to follow Christ – which could be done elsewhere as well – that really we were being used by Stewart for his glory and financial gain. We worked to male money to support his lifestyle, although some of that money went to our living expenses, which were kept to a minimum by warehousing us in communal living situations and by forbidding marriages. We also provided Stewart with a captive and uncritical audience to whom he could expound his esoteric religious theories. No other purpose for our lives or any personal desire or interest was taken into account, permitted, or followed. Marriage did not fit into Stewart’s use for us, so it was not permitted, nor were vacations, school, private property ownership and other things. We did not plan for retirement, because we were “going to die soon and lose it all anyway.”)

Read the next section of the journal here: Daily Routine And The First Session Of The Memorial Day Weekend Meeting.

(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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