1993, 06/15-19. The Voice of Frightful Compliance.
“The voice of frightful compliance” was how I described the sound of the brothers’ voices when they were replying to Stewart Traill’s questions.
Tuesday, June 15
While driving to Locust Valley, I got in that semi-meditative state / daze. (I was thinking about Stewart’s requirement of abject self-denial; that I’m going to be questioned soon by brothers; gotta walk that straight line.)
Stewart doesn’t talk about Jesus in a personal way. Jesus seems to be a process, although he does speak of a God of terror and anger. “All other Christians are arrogant,” according to Stewart, but he “doesn’t talk to Christians very much” – hardly ever, by his own admission. What does he do? Just read their literature?
Today seems to be one of those heavy Thoughts About Stewart days. It all falls so neatly in place. Yet I can’t trust my thoughts, they are probably satanically inspired – or more likely, an epiphenomenon of my inner rebellion.
Stewart is an important leader (or the only leader) of the Third Reformation of Christian history. (If you follow the out things he says to their logical conclusions.) Yet, he is careful never to draw attention to himself, to call himself a prophet or whatever. Yet at the same time, he demands to be treated almost like a god. A lot of these things he implies, like the above, if he said them outright, would seem foolish. Everything he says is understated but also understood. The way Stewart speaks, his teachings are of cosmic importance. They are not only binding on us, but upon the entire Christian world as well. Yet I see no drive on his part to get the word out to other Christians that some might be saved. Not even a book. Of course he says, they are arrogant, so they wouldn’t listen anyway. This is a self-fulfilling or self-serving prophecy. Therefore Stewart doesn’t really have to try to tell other Christians, since they prove to be arrogant and would only, and do only, reject the truth (his teachings) anyway. So, a lot of what Stewart talks about just seems to be for the people in here.
Wednesday, June 16
(A crew of new and older brothers has spent the night on a job site in Locust Valley, where we worked late into the evening installing and refinishing a wood floor and painting the walls in an antique shop.)
As usual, I have discovered something too late. Didn’t even think of it. At 10 a.m., I took a walk to the deli to get food for everyone. I realize now I could have been up earlier, in this park, enjoying the vivid blue sky, the cool dry air and the green trees. (I actually have some measure of peace to enjoy it today.) But of course, I needed rest and probably am rested because I got hours of hours sleep. I always discover things too late. I would like to just sit here for another hour, but alas, I have to get up and get back to the job.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch. So, I’m agonizing – besides the usual buzzwords such as laziness, routines, etc. – about why I don’t I jump at this wonderful opportunity to be out in the country? (I just want to sit and see some green plants.) It really is the dullness, monotony and cyclical nature of my little world. Get to bed late, sleep late, get back to work immediately, although slowly. It’s almost unthinkable to get a sudden rush of inspiration to get up at 7 a.m. to take a nature walk (especially difficult in New York City anyway). I’m not used to doing that anyway, so, it’s not really like I would suddenly get the idea out here either.
But, it is a fact that once I escape or step out of our milieu, my thoughts change noticeably. I noticed this in my brief foray to the park moments ago. (Outside the four walls, the city, our fellowship, the surrounded by brothers environment.) My thoughts are held up, held in, formed, buffered, held in check, numbed, and directed by that milieu. Not that I see miraculous changes when I step out of this all-encompassing environment, but there is a sudden softening, when my thoughts then seem to flow like a broad, placid river, rather than being channeled through the tortuous narrows and bends of fellowship life. It’s the idea, even the privilege, of not thinking about anything in particular, or about whatever I am supposed to or am goaded into thinking about. Now free to think of nothing in particular – yet everything. It felt good being out there! It’s the idea of not being in the fellowship for an hour or so. Sure, sometimes I get up early and sit outside of Red Hook. Yet that really is not quite the same, and there is nowhere I can go in New York City without that look-over-your-shoulder uneasiness and apprehension.
I am pretty deflated after the “message from Stewart,” which Chuck read to us all. New brother Elliot went into a daze and melancholy after hearing the point about fear, although he doesn’t seem to be saying it’s because of hearing Stewart’s message. When I asked Elliot about it later, told me that he just gets into these depressing moods and doesn’t know why. (Probably because he doesn’t like or understand this. Yet this is the “truth” that all these people here believe, so why say anything, and how can he say anything – or so he thinks. He isn’t going to break such news to us, because we’re all of one mind, we’re the people who believe in this, so he will probably keep the matter to himself.)
In the message, Stewart said that either we are warning each other and bothering each other, or we are making a deal in the flesh and leaving each other alone. (The Socratic method again. Stewart says, either you are doing this or, you are doing that. Okay, well I can’t say I am fully warning and “bothering” my brothers. I probably don’t fear enough or fear appropriately, so then I am making a wrong agreement. So I have to own up to that and say so, as if it were my own admission, said freely of my own accord. Caught in Stewart’s net again. Or is it caught in the Gospel net?)
Whatever this is, it’s all-encompassing. Who is like the beast and who can fight against it? Or is it God I’m trying to fight against? I had the feeling that I was fine until I heard Stewart’s message. Now it’s time to line up and act funny and say the right things, in that voice of frightful compliance.
The skies have been clear, blue and luscious today. I just dropped off a new brother, Ives, at the train station. I’m sitting here in the van now, parked at the station, collapsing really. I hear birds singing. I have done a little train watching. I’m enjoying the golden sunlight.
I don’t really feel like going back to the job site. I know I am working at a slow pace. But in our life, there isn’t much diversion. It’s probably normal that I just want to sit here in the van at the train station for a while.
I’d really like to leave our church, but it’s a weird life, because if I leave, God will kill me. (Or in the words of Joe, “There’s probably no hope for me, but if I leave, I know I’m definitely going to hell.”)
So really, I wouldn’t stay here, except I know, or think, God will kill me if I leave here. In other words, I am not really here by conviction. But, perhaps by necessity. Though also, perhaps it’s economics.
A note from Stewart that I saw when I got back to Red Hook: “Everyone should know about Bobby. With him, no tiptoeing. If we are tiptoeing, he’ll sneak back in, in a weird way. Everyone INSISTING, all together.” I guess Stewart doesn’t tell anybody not to come around, but he just does this stuff.
(Stewart was apparently afraid of Bobby. It seems, though I had no idea of it at the time, that Bobby was concerned that Stewart may have been involving his wife in more than just help with church administrative duties.)
Thursday, June 17
Looks like this is the last day at Locust Valley. I am here with Rich C. and a subcontractor. I bought a roll of film for my camera. Also bought some morning glory seeds.
Expect to have a meeting at Red Hook tonight with Brother Stewart.
[Marked with star]: I need Jesus to take away my sexual desire (does Jesus take away sexual desire?), or to contain it and especially to take away my guilt, which is tremendous.
(Getting back from the job site in Locust Valley and walking into a meeting in progress with Brother Stewart at the Red Hook warehouse.)
Just walked into the meeting late at 11 p.m. The meeting is about being scared, about not being able to push the scare away. When I was still outside, I heard the usual ones standing up, repeating back the lines Stewart tells them to say, in the usual canting and chopped tones, with Stewart prompting and modifying their speeches.
Stewart says that those who have left our church have succeeded in fooling themselves.
I just wonder sometimes who can live up to this gospel, but then, I am probably just deceiving myself. Of course this sounds sarcastic, but on the serious side, it does occur to me that way. How is one going to fight the sin in his members in every way, every second, like Stewart says we have to? (Or, if not, he is giving in to sin.) Stewart says we must be helping each other.
Am I just way out in left field? Of course I am. Well, I did succeed in admitting to myself that I am guilty. I “let” that one break through to me and I don’t deny it now. Truthfully, I don’t see a lot of help coming my way in overcoming sin.
Stewart: “What stands between you and salvation is your disobedience. Are you making a deal with your disobedience, or are you ready, willing and able to fight against it at all points? Your mind and conscience know it. Why do you keep it a secret? Why aren’t you warning each other?”
Are these the words of life? Or just another one of Stewart’s things? I guess I can’t afford to speculate. Sometimes, I just don’t know about these panaceas that Stewart proposes for our ills. One week, he says this thing is the answer; the next time, he says that thing is the answer or is the bottom line.
(Panaceas: Stewart diagnosed our problem and then came up with a supposed cure-all that would fix it. From dictionary.com: panacea: 1. a remedy for all disease or ills: a cure-all. 2. an answer or solution for all problems or difficulties. When Stewart “diagnosed” a problem, he gave a cure that was the only possible way to fix it, and said it was what we should be thinking about, talking about, and telling one another and reminding one another about, all week, every five seconds.)
Paul S. is repeating back the lesson, and admitting that he has been disobedient and hiding it, “so much so that I committed open disobedience.” (Remember, it seems from what I heard before, Paul has committed fornication.)
I guess I should get the tapes of these meetings to listen to on jobs. But, aside from the glimmer of hope I glean now and then from Stewart’s talk, I just want to listen to them to see what the current teaching is, so I can compare and evaluate it against the teachings of the Reformers and with books on cults. But I guess I also have a hope that Stewart’s teachings will work on me. The tone of this meeting seems to be hopeful. It’s just those meetings which are scorchers that I can’t take, especially any standing in the docket.
(Stewart constantly accused us of spiritual crimes, like cheating on Jesus, thumbing our noses at Jesus, trying to have it both ways, secretly desiring a life in this world and many more such things, with proof and evidence of our commission of these crimes. Many ex-members of COBU now see this as projection, that is, these were the things that Stewart was aware of that he was doing. Many of the accusations he used had strange-sounding names, but Stewart was known for odd phrasing. Many of these odd terms add up to what the Bible calls “holding the form of religion, but denying the power of it”)
The meeting is about how we have to agree to face and admit our disobedience, rather than hiding it. (And be to obedient ever after, of course.)
Looking back at what I wrote on June 8, I see how I admitted that day that “I am responsible.” Well, that combined with “I am guilty,” may be the first steps in admitting the truth.
(I still wanted to try to believe that what Stewart was telling us was the truth, even when I was pretty far along in my trajectory toward leaving COBU, and increasingly knowing and understanding the falsehood of it.)
Stewart’s line from the meeting seems to be “train to face and confess the disobedience in your flesh.”
Stewart says we should be saying to one another, “You can count on me to be a good example of ‘I and my flesh have parted company.’ ” Oh boy, imagine that one. What if a brother can’t say that? Yet it seems preposterous to claim to have done this. If I say this, I will get myself out on a high wire. All the others will be watching me. Can I prove I have done this, and for how long a period of time? It’s true, I wish there were an easier way to follow Christ.
(Stewart accused us of “looking for an easier way” to follow Christ. He said that “the way is hard” and that we wanted to cheat and to avoid “our share of suffering for Christ.” This suffering for Christ mostly had to do with giving up all our wants and desires in this life, including marriage, privacy, personal possessions and to work in the church businesses and in gathering and training the new disciples every waking moment. He sometimes talked about starting up our organization other cities to find and get more people to live this way. He sometimes dangled the possibility of finally being able to get married, after we were set up and running in many different cities and training new disciples there. He did this sometimes by saying, “How do you think you can handle one of these sisters, if you are not training one hundred young girl disciples?” Had we succeeded, Stewart would have had a selection of the prettiest of these girls come live with him to be a “Gayle Helper,” that is, ostensibly to be a helper for his wife. And he would likely continue to discover problems in the brothers that prevented them from being able to get married. Even with COBU’s hugely successful architectural antiques business, called Olde Good Things, COBU brothers and sisters still don’t get married. Stewart has mastered the art of getting the maximum amount of work, loyalty and obedience out of people, while giving almost nothing in return, not even assurance of heaven and salvation. It surprises me – but then again, it doesn’t that even after this, no one stands up and says, and now I want a little something for me.)
I wish there was a way I could be filled up inside with something to keep me going, so I don’t have to try to make these pronouncements with my fingers crossed, just the hollow beating of a drum. I just don’t have anything inside of me. That is what I would want to have and look for.
Friday, June 18
At Locust Valley. Left Red Hook around 12:30, because we had to unload the Toyo truck of a load of paint. This took almost three hours!
Then on the drive up, in Glen Cove, we got a flat tire which took about another hour. We got here a little after 4 p.m.
I am here with Edmund the subcontractor, Orlando and two new brothers. I see how I can’t lead others by giving orders. But one thing I can do is explain, such as explaining the available options one has. Also, I can prepare things beforehand. Without going into explaining this too far, if I have all the supplies in advance and also try to foresee problems, I can, in a sense, triumph. If not that, then at least, I can be wise for myself.
I / we all used to desire to “speak the truth,” to one another, to have that power over others. On one hand, we desired that power. On the other hand, Stewart told us that we were useless without it. But I didn’t know back then that such “truth speaking” is valid only for the boss and his closest associates, as long as they remain in his good graces. Any fear of these underlings is only due to the fact that one knows that these ones are acting under the boss’s aegis.
Truth speaking is only valid for Stewart, because only he can make changes, set the tone, define what’s in and out, or what we must do or be afraid of, set penalties, etc. I could have spared myself a lot of trouble had I understood that back then. I could have avoided the incredible strain of thinking that without this ability to dominate others, including the sisters, there would be no marriage for me.
Stewart never attends conferences. (And we brothers also don’t work with other Christians.) It seems to be that our way of life, or training can only flourish in quarantine and isolation.
About marriage: in our church, marriage is intricately bound up in faithfulness to Christ or faithfulness to our church (and with the stated goals of our church, especially in regard to spirit, and gathering and training new converts). The church’s view of our condition versus something that is a matter of our own choice, a need, or even a natural right that a person has. With the present basis, it’s nigh impossible to get married. (Our lives are too bound up in our church and our organization. It becomes our life.)
I was talking to Orlando about marriage, about how it’s a remedy for temptation, and that it would help one not to do whatever Paul S. did. But marriage is never proposed as an option here. Orlando’s answer was that a brother could be going to peep shows even if he was married. If that was a temptation that he had. Well, that’s a typical canned answer. No use in trying to argue a point. A new attitude I have these days is that whenever somebody is giving an opinion on something in this way, to just listen and register it as another one of those canned answers. In fact, ask people for opinions like this, almost as some kind of survey. Listening in a detached sort of way, almost as a reporter or somebody taking an opinion poll.
Saturday, June 19
We have a religion that obviates the need for practicality, common sense and a lot of other things. Sometimes, it’s not really the tenets thereof, but just sort of a feeling. Case in point: it’s one in the afternoon, and we are just getting around to leaving for Long Island, let alone the two hours of “litigation” over whether we could use the truck or not. I got up at 11 a.m. There is no pressing urgent need to get to work. I just don’t have that feeling. Jobs run late. (Though this time, we got out at 12:30 last night.) We don’t get up too early the next day. But, when I think of it, working till 8, or 11 p.m. – or even till 2 a.m. (instead of 5 or 6 p.m., then getting to the other circle of your life), there is neither an urge to get done at a certain time, nor an urge to get up at any particular time.
(In other words, we didn’t live like the “unsaved” in the “world” did, who tried to end their workday at 5 pm, to get back to their families and their private lives. We worked until late at night, and then there was not an urgent feeling to get to work in the morning, because we were so tired out.)
We claim to have a workforce that works at all hours. We’ll do a marathon, if necessary, in order to get things done. True, in a sense. But a lot of time is wasted. The long hours are due just as likely to having nowhere in particular to go outside of work anyway and having nothing of one’s own, either as an incentive to work for, or to finish work in time, so we can get back to those things.)
In other words, this communal lifestyle is supposed to offer great advantages in efficiency, organization and flexibility, but just as often it equals one big ill-defined mass of inefficiency and lack of direction. In fact, I would argue the latter. One often hears the maxim, the relating of the ancient folklore about how we built our orphanage Haiti with our own hands by working together in the carpet cleaning business, all sorts of hours and pooling all our resources together. And that we couldn’t have done it without the collective and the hours of self-abnegating work, which would have been impossible if we each had lived in our own houses “like people other churches” who come to meet together just on Sundays and Wednesday night Bible studies.
Now leaving at 1:40. Doing what I could have done shortly after 11 when I got up, which is, just leave with Rich and the truck.
(I now took up the topic again of how COBU started its orphanages in Haiti, comparing those times to the present time, where we were now a communal money-making machine and that it might have been a noble purpose back then, but now, years later, we were just worn out and tired.)
But then again, since everybody in the church at that time had a median age of 20, of course at that time, this was just about the only way to make money (as young people, nobody had any real skills). They had to work a lot of hours, probably they couldn’t have found enough jobs in the world even if they held two jobs with overtime. Probably the average rate of pay divided by the hours put in and number of workers, they still made minimum wage in the church business. So, all the glory hype about it takes on much less of an epic light when seen in these terms.
Though it is true that without this, the orphanages in Haiti and the fellowship wouldn’t have gotten very far. But now, is it valid? Could all of us have evolved into highly-paid workers if we had stuck to jobs in the world? I could have been making 30 to 40 thousand dollars a year, working only 8 a.m to 5 p.m., 5 days a week – a substantial savings of time over the hours I put in our church’s business. But, with the exception of a few older brothers who are high-skilled in various building trades (most are not), just about everybody else here – older brothers, middle brothers, new brothers – works on a flunky, unskilled basis, trained for one or two tasks. Faithful dogs, bringing home a small piece of bacon. No incentive to do more. Trapped in a dead end system and now getting too old to learn any new tricks anyway.
I just gave new disciple Tom a long talk on the Bible, and how to study it. (I didn’t say much about Christian Training and I felt I had better throw something in about the Five Approaches. But this is just to cover myself in case I am questioned about whether I am getting the new brother into the basics. (Maybe I will give Tom a rundown on the 7 Principles with a verse for each one.)
But, Tom seems genuinely grateful, since nobody really talks to him about the Bible, or about Jesus himself, but just shouts slogans at him and expects him to understand. The new brothers are not getting any of the basics, not in a Bible school sense. We would make a poor excuse for a Bible school. It’s almost like we are anti-learning. But really, we are just no learning. Learning is not spoken against. It’s just left out. The new brothers don’t even know the names of the books of the Bible, or how to read the Bible to become familiar with it or how to look up Bible references.
Me, I do poorly at conveying the Five Approaches or the latest lines from Stewart. But this, I can talk about. (I always feel I am going to get bonked for doing this, if it ever comes to “light.” Stewart will either say that I’m teaching “wrongly,” or gaining wrong recognition for myself.)
(If anyone found out I was teaching the Bible and my own ideas about how to really study the Bible to the new disciples, instead of running cult teaching and lines on them, I would found guilty of teaching them “wrongly.”)
Since I want no kind of limelight and fear just what would happen to me if any new disciples started to sing my praises as a brother who helps them in their lives and who helps them understand the Bible, and that nobody seems to do it for them the way I do, Stewart would surely “audit” me to ascertain just what kind of “help” I am giving the new disciples, and I would surely be weighed in the balances and found wanting. I remember what happened to Jay as a forerunner of the 810 era.
I feel I better now throw in a few things about the Five Approaches and what Stewart told us at recent meetings to cover myself. I would feel pretty sick, if when, giving such talks, to drop in the appropriate lines, or tie in what we are talking about with one of the Five Approaches, just to, at least nominally, officially say I am doing it.
Got treated to a piece of small town life today when the fire department parade went by.
Well, as far as new disciples, I find that really this is the only way I can talk to them about Christ or the faith.
Maybe I feel superior about that. Other brothers just crank out the lines or give the appropriate Stewart explanations of the lines in order to chisel Stewart’s image upon the new disciples. You don’t have to be very personally involved to do that, however. I always feel so wooden using these lines. Whatever way you say it, the new people don’t get Christianity so much as they are getting Traillism. Or, they are (re)made in Stewart’s own image instead of God’s own image. Something is sorely lacking here, even in a nuts and bolts basis. We don’t give the new disciples the tools to handle Christianity or to be able to read the Bible (and to think) for themselves, or to apply it for themselves. It’s just precepts dictated from on high. This doesn’t train people to become independently thinking, responsible people. It’s just Stewart’s teachings and being ridden hard about whether we are doing it or not, so we are focused on that and on keeping our noses clean and staying out of trouble.
(I am not pinning it down the way I would like to, but these are just wrong thoughts, right? I am always vaunting myself in pride, and besides – where have I been all along when Stewart has hung in there and given it the best he has, right? I have no right to say such things – only to be faithful to what Stewart has shown us as truth. But hey, I just wonder. In our church’s rejection of all other Christianity – or 99.999% of it – we are also rejecting the most basic methods of that grand erroneous majority. We really do eschew everything not our own, everything that is not our own beliefs and methods.
(Stewart Traill claimed that “99.999% of all other Christians are arrogant,” and to believe what Stewart said, and to live according to what Stewart said meant rejecting even the most basic methods and beliefs of the great majority of Christian believers, in this present age, and of all time. This also included rejecting other Christians’ basic methods of teaching new believers, which included a basic overview of Christianity (its history and beliefs and basic Bible study) and instead of that, driving what Stewart called “Christian Training” on the new disciples, which consisted of a few pages of disjointed and oversimplified literature that Stewart had devised, such as the Five Approaches and the 7 Principles. Christian Training also included being put on the treadmill of work crews in the church’s businesses and enduring long meetings where Stewart analyzed the faults and shortcomings of church members.)
Now that I remember, I had a really big “think” on the drive, about our “world-rejecting” religion (about cults that reject the world and who also reject all other world-rejecting cults), and our wild exclusivity. And the fact that if what Stewart says is true, in the .001% (the 99.999% ) aspect, he can lay claim to our very lives by virtue of being the only source of this absolutely necessary commodity. He doesn’t have to accommodate one iota to the market or cater to the consumer’s needs.
I continued thinking about this. It’s just too much to write down here, though I probably should try to capture the essence of it some time. It was largely fueled by a book I have been reading that describes “world-rejecting” religions and we certainly fit the bill. Is there any way out of this maze?
It’s either my own sin, or the extreme dizziness of the terms and conditions that our religion is described in, that just leaves me totally bewildered. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Like, I was listening to a program on the radio where artists were describing their work and critics were also offering favorable praises of abstract art and the meaning behind it, and about how great it is. It seems that everybody, somehow, believes they have it; that what I have is the thing to end all things.
(These artists spoke of abstract art as if it were the most meaningful thing in life and Stewart also spoke as if he had the most absolute view of truth.)
Also I have been giving some more thought to the horrible wrenching conditions that come with my non-married state and the seemingly blind alley I find myself in…and abstinence offers no relief whatsoever. I can’t express how deeply I am trapped into non-accessibility of a mate at a time when I really figure I just need a mate, beyond the fantasy and indulgence that Stewart always told us that our desires were. Can one man really prevent the fulfilling of our desires in marriage by merely pronouncing religious precepts that freeze our lives into a set pattern that just entraps us into it?
Why sit on a bomb that you know is going to blow up? (Of course you could say, don’t sit on the bomb, but the forces seem to set themselves in motion.) This is ridiculous. Yet I am trapped. So I just have to tell myself things like, I can’t get married because I am unfaithful to Christ and because I am not a real Christian man, just like everybody here else does in an attempt to talk it away as they rush precariously toward their next bout with masturbation or overwhelming desire. Rushing toward a position of imbalance that you really don’t have to be in if you could just remove yourself from it. But, our church’s way is, don’t feed it. Fight it, don’t give in to it. But, this is not a permanent solution. It is certainly not dealing with the desire for sex and marriage appropriately. And really, it just seems like precepts that Stewart externally applies to our lives. These precepts are only true and binding, because they are true and binding here. It’s true that we don’t have what it takes to get married here. But, universally, I don’t think these rules apply. When brothers repeat the reasons they tell themselves why they can’t get married, it’s not the truth itself. They are just saying why we don’t have marriage here, according to Stewart’s views and rules. This is what they are really saying.
Read the next section of the journal here: In The Last 2,000 Years, No One Has Cared About The Truth – Except Stewart.