1993, 06/28-30. Our Utopia is “No Place” To Be.

The title of this section comes from the origin of the word “utopia,” which is from the Greek words “ou,” meaning “not” and “topos,” which means “a place,” and which essentially means “nowhere” because it means an ideal place to live that does not exist in reality. When I was trying to understand more about the cult I was living in and how its system worked, I read about the utopian communal societies that had been formed in the United States in the 1800s, such as the Oneida Community and others. COBU was a communal living situation that was supposed to be better for us to live in than living in “the world,” and living alone and separated like “church Christians” did. However, the exact opposite was true.

June 28

In this section, I continued to talk about the sexual frustration I was experiencing while living in COBU, where marriage and relationships were forbidden.

At this moment, I am “snapping.” I began to talk to Paul about it. Or rather, to talk to him about the non-marriage in our church, and as always, I wish I had said absolutely nothing. About all I can do is go back to that idea of surviving by becoming an observer of my own life. What can I do to avoid snapping?

A woman, a woman. What’s so difficult in having one’s own woman?

There are a lot of dead areas and wasted time in my life. It’s always that way, but I seem to be noticing it more lately and I also am more bothered about it lately.

I went out “sweeping” with Paul and Peter, really just handing out tracts. We sat and read the Bible together on the steps of the Lincoln Center. Now we are about to have a construction meeting here at 46th Street.

(This was a meeting for Christian Brothers, the church’s construction, painting and wood floor businesses.)

I am on guard, looking at the people around me in the room. It looks like Woodruff is going to get a clean up, if not a little work done on it – why now? Because Stewart has said to do so.

(I noted this, because I had lived in the church’s Woodruff residence for many years and I sometimes brought up the need for a clean up or to repair leaks in the ceiling, which was met with deaf ears, but now that Stewart said to do some repairs, it was going to get done.)

We made a quick division over “who is on the Lord’s side?”

(We voted on each brother present in the meeting to decide who we saw as being faithful to Christ and who was not. This voting was called “making our divisions,” and it was a feature of nearly every one of our meetings. Although we made this particular division in a couple of minutes, making divisions often took up large parts of our meetings, because each brother had to make a speech about himself and then get voted on, to find out if he was “backed or not,” and what category he was voted into. The Bible reference that was used to support this was 1 Corinthians 11:19: “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” We used the word “divisions” rather than factions. (There are several translations of the Bible that use the word “divisions” for this verse.)

Paul, Peter and I were not trusted. Me, the loudest.

(I was especially not trusted and many brothers voiced their opinions on that.)

Chuck was cornering Paul with the things Paul said about himself when we were riding together in the van.

(When we were driving together, Paul had been talking about his view of his own unfaithfulness to Christ, in a confessional way and now Chuck was using this on him at the meeting.)

Only Jay said he wasn’t on the Lord’s side, but that he is going to turn and repent. The pitiful schoolboy confession before the schoolmasters. Brothers respond to each one’s claims with a lot of the usual jargon and lines. (“Will two pins move you faster?” “Is this godly grief or worldly grief?”) With our kind of divisions, who would ever be “honest?” I would rather put myself forward by making the claim that I am on the Lord’s side and hear that everyone has “serious doubts” about me, than to be “honest” and say “I am going to turn.”

(Even if I thought I had not been faithful to Christ, I would rather claim that I was faithful and then hear that others had serious doubts about my claim, than to put myself in the unfaithful category and receive the abuse for having said I was unfaithful to Christ.)

This is quite different than how Jesus said to take the lowest seat. But, I would never lay my cards on the table here.

I have lost all my idealism.

(By this time, I was beginning to lose my idealism about the COBU way of life and my implicit trust in its leader, Stewart Traill.)

Tuesday, June 29

Loading up floor sanding equipment into a van at Red Hook. We’ve got the guy who lives across the street snooping, standing in the street, looking. He also walked in behind the air compressor inspector for a look inside the warehouse. There is a lady here telling me I am irresponsible because I don’t have the cat neutered. Last night, some brothers mentioned Pier 41 as a possible place to move our shop to. Bill tells me that this same guy (mentioned above) is in with the owners over there too.

(Bill was a cabinet maker, not a member of COBU, who also rented space at the Red Hook warehouse.)

Why can’t anybody ever get married around here? How does anybody do it (abstain, that is)? I should have gotten married ten years ago. Now, my problems are upon me without any kind of remedy. How can our church go on with brothers and sisters divided into their separate camps? M., for instance, how does she do it? Do the sisters just keep their minds on the fact that the brothers are useless and unfaithful to Christ and that therefore they are much better off remaining single?

(Stewart often said that the brothers were incapable for marriage, which I was calling a “fact” here. I began to question this, but it was a fact as far as life in COBU was concerned.)

Yeah, it’s a tough situation – like being out on a raft in the ocean. But how much is it a situation of our own making or imagining? The sisters can’t marry outside of our church, so they’re stuck.

(The women could neither marry us, nor meet a man outside of the fellowship.)

Especially now with Stewart’s new “dividing line” teachings, it’s highly improbable that any other Christian will ever come here and expose our way of life.

(No one from the “outside” was going to come and expose what was wrong in COBU, even more now that Stewart was driving about how our church (really he) was the only one who knew the truth about Christianity and the real meaning of the Bible. And part of this way of life was accepting the impossibility of marriage, because according to Stewart, none of us were faithful to the true way, so no one could get married as a result. Not because he was stopping us from getting married, Stewart said, but because we were spiritually and humanly incapable of marriage.

Dividing line teachings: this was my word for it, because I realized that the implication of accepting Stewart’s teachings meant to separate oneself from not only from non-Christians (except when doing work for them to bring in money to the church), but from all other Christians as well.  Stewart’s exclusivity claims included saying that he had the only true Christian teaching and that all other Christians were lost, in error, blind or arrogant. The way this played out in terms of COBU sisters not being able to get married (since he said that the older brothers were unfit to marry them), was that Stewart’s exclusivity claims locked the sisters into a world in which the men who were members of our church could not marry them, due to their alleged unfaithfulness to Christ and that Christian men outside of our boundaries could not marry them either, because they would never come there and submit to this way of life, let alone the fact that they were not serious and committed to Christ in the way that Stewart said they had to be. The sisters were therefore doubly locked in to spinsterhood, which was the reward and fruit of following and believing in Traillism, Stewart Traill’s version of Christianity.)

And it is rare that anybody over 35 would move here, since by then most men who would be marriageable and responsible enough to be considered “right” would already have their own thing together for quite a while and wouldn’t throw it away to come here.

(Marriageable single Christian men were not going to move into COBU and become possible mates for the sisters.) 

Or, in the unlikelihood that any men did move here, they would probably be married already and bring their wife and kids with them, so they would be unavailable to the sisters anyway! Any older person who did come here would more likely be a down and outer, somebody with a questionable history (and questionable sexual health), previous marriage(s) and generally would take a long time to get rehabilitated. It would be a long wait. It is rare to find a 35 year old responsible, faithful and available man.

(The only men moving in here, and therefore possible alternative mates for the older sisters than the older brothers were the homeless men we “swept up” off the streets.]

Then, there’s always the stock of war stories about the brothers who have left and tried marriage outside of our church. (Dave P., for example.) Paul seems to have it all mapped out.

(Paul supplied me with stories of brothers who left and married “worldly” non-Christian women, and the war stories of death and destruction that resulted from their choices. For example, he said that if you marry a non-Christian woman, any time you have a desire to serve Christ, she will fight against you and that essentially you wind up in bondage to this heathen woman and lose your soul.)

Apparently, this is what Paul tells himself. Everybody has to have their own reasons to tell themselves about why they can’t get married. It helps to have a list of all those who came before you and who have tried what you are sometimes tempted to do, so you can tell yourself you are doing the right thing.

Okay, maybe I am starting to veer off the point here. But, I think there’s something to it, especially with the point of how the sisters are stuck with (or without!) us brothers and how it is extremely and highly unlikely anybody will come from the outside as alternative possible mates for them.

It seems strange to me that here we are, locked together in this strange isolation by “necessity,” yet, we can’t have anything to do with one another. That is, if we are uniquely suited for one another, and there is nobody else on the face of the whole earth available for us as mates, like the last few pairs of some species of animal in captivity where there are no suitable mates available elsewhere – yet, they cannot mate.

(We were the only people who had accepted this “true teaching” and if we were, as Stewart accused us, unfaithful to it, at least we were willing to try to be faithful to it, as opposed to all other people who were not in our exclusive group. We were all we had, but the men and women in COBU could not start relationships or get married, and they still do not now, so many years later.)

What will it be like when we are all nearing 50, still unmarried? [Such thoughts about what my future would be like if I stayed in COBU helped me to leave.] Will these weird ideals still hold up? Will anybody say, let’s cut this out? I guess if we are not suffering like this then, what are we suffering for? We must be suffering, even if our society makes up its own reality. It feels right to do this.

(Stewart told us we had to “take up our share of suffering” and that we were suffering for Christ. If we chose to believe this explanation, then the deprivation of our normal human desires was part of our suffering for the cause of Christ. Stewart also told us that we could not marry because we were unfaithful to Christ.

And now, life in COBU seemed to become such a desperate struggle for survival to avoid going to hell. Stewart put us under extreme pressure to think about nothing but our salvation and avoiding hell. Who had time to consider marriage or any good thing “in this life,” then? Who had time to enjoy his surroundings if he was in a burning building and needed to escape? And “escaping,” Stewart said, was going to take everything within us, every moment of the day, never slacking off. Of course we were also allowed to preoccupy ourselves with working long hours in the church businesses to bring money into the church. This work was also considered part of “the purpose” of our church.)

(Okay, I guess I am “blaming Stewart” because I am talking about the laws and rules. [Which we were forbidden to do, we were not allowed to consider that Stewart might be the cause of any of the problems there.]  Actually, Stewart “blamed” us recently when he said that we can’t say that the older sisters are maneuvering the older brothers, because we stay so far away from them that they can’t maneuver us, because we are not around.

(Maneuvering was a COBU term that meant to be manipulated and controlled by a woman.)

Statements like this make me frustrated because I always think, what’s the point of staying around the sisters if I can’t have anything to do with them? What is the point of always trying to talk to Becky? Though, I have thought, I could have done better those times when I talked to her, when I told her I still liked her but that I didn’t trust her. I suppose such words did nothing to help build bridges. Maybe if I could go back and rewrite those lines, things may have warmed up between us, if I had said I still liked her and wanted to marry her.

Wednesday, June 30.

Dreams: more “shooting dreams.” I had a dream that some guys walked by and shot me in the head. They were drug dealers and they said they did it because I wouldn’t join them. One of their own tried to protest, after the fact. The gunman said, “You don’t think we should walk all over people?” “Yes,” he replied, “but not go this far.” Then at my funeral, the brothers were eulogizing me, saying that I helped draw people out and bring them to Christ(!) Somebody asked if they had called the ambulance. (I was conscious the whole time, watching.) No, just the undertaker. But then somebody began to test my reflexes by sticking something in me, which hurt and I began to swat at them.

This morning, Andrew told us that Brother Stewart said the new brothers are leaving the church because we are not treasuring our justification.(This weekend’s meeting will probably contain at least one heavy cooker session or more, because of such things. Yes, we are going to have “a really good meeting!” The older brothers know better and are never too excited about a “good meeting.”)

Jetvart came in to work with a shirt that said “Overworked and underpaid.” The cat had its kittens.

(Jetvart (Edward) was a Czech immigrant who was hired to work with Andrew in his cabinet making business, and he showed up to work at the Red Hook warehouse each day. The warehouse cat, who despite the admonitions of the neighbor, had not been neutered and had its kittens.)

The last marriage in our church was in 1979, but probably even then the number of marriages was down to a trickle. In fact, that may have been the only marriage that year. I think the couple didn’t stay around long either. So, what is this hocus pocus that Stewart tells us about for the requirements for “right marriage?” 1979…and when did the church start, 1971 or so? So, there were only a couple of years, maybe five, where things were okay. When it was starting and everything was growing. It was rapid growth. But after five years, the church went into a permanent decline.

Had I known about the lack of marriage here, I would have never come here. Coming to this church was like buying a lemon. The entire church legacy is one of failure. When were things ever “right” here? Just an expanding hippy church, who believed they were the center of everything, with power to punish the wrongdoers and contenders. The whole live-in arrangement is a mistake, except maybe for the newest people who need to get off drugs. Otherwise, it stagnates our lives. I remember those meetings in Princeton when Stewart was telling us to “move back into the church in order to use all of your talents for the resurrection!” This wasn’t for my benefit. They were just trying to build up the church again, and to hell with my life.

(I was living out at that time, having been tossed out for a petty misdemeanor in the late night witch hunt meetings in the “Rescue Mission,” where victims were set up and hung, kangaroo court style. I kept coming around and after a couple of years, I moved back in when Stewart was driving a new plan in the church. He wanted the ones who lived out to move back in and to put the resurrection first and use all their talents for God. I was saying that now I realized that this was not for my benefit, or for God’s benefit and that the church cared nothing for me or my life.)

I read some of these “75 Points.” [This was a compilation of the latest Stewart Traill teachings and precepts. A similar list is here: The List of Basic Issues We Threw Away.] One point was “God is continually warning you what he is going to do with you and you are continually pushing it away.” It’s like I can never get out of this stuff, out of this place. How is it all so woven in over me so tightly? How does it all work so well, keeping me here as a captive? I have been thinking a lot about leaving the church, especially so maybe I can finally get married somehow, but also to escape the concentration camp and this big ogre standing over us with his booming voice, foretelling and prophesying our doom, and defining and limiting our lives. He speaks, and immediately all the fight is out of you. He tells you this or that won’t work, so you give up. He says only his way will ever work. (But apparently, it’s not working for anybody yet.) You can’t pray your way out, because God has you here. Can’t walk out, because there’s nowhere to go. Yet, this is a no-place [*], a small eddy in the stream, a backwater, a black hole. Nobody knows about us, and nobody ever will. I would like to leave for a while – but apparently, I never will unless I get thrown out, partly because I fear what will happen if I leave. But also, you can’t just walk out and come back later saying you just wanted to get away for a while.

(* I was saying that COBU was a “no-place,” rather than the right place to be. It was not a utopia. The origin of the word utopia is from Greek: ou, meaning “not” + topos, meaning “place” and it means “nowhere,” that is, an ideal place that does not exist in reality. COBU portrayed itself as an ideal society and system, but it was anything but that.)

My (sexual) desire, apparently, will be the life or death of me – but, if I were married, it would be a blessing! These really do seem like false boundaries, where I’m suffering over something that should just be provided for. It’s like saying the battle line is over food and that your eternal destiny depends on whether you give in to your appetite or not. So, if I leave the church for “sin” (or keep it up under the counter here), then “sin” will be what I live for. They will say, obviously he didn’t want Christ, look, he wanted sin.

I think I would be a lot better off away from here, but the shock in doing so might be overwhelming.

I just don’t see how I am going to survive much longer here anyway. I just don’t see how anybody can keep up a doormat life, a deprived life and tell himself it’s for a good reason or that it’s better than leaving. It is going to get to a point where I can’t take it anymore. Or, I will commit some sin that is so bad that I will have to leave. I have often thought about how hard it will be to try to act normal around the others here, after having gotten into sin with a woman, and trying to keep it a secret.

I probably will not last out the year – unless somehow, the possibility of marriage becomes here real. (Though of course, I calculate that even if it does, there is my reputation to contend with.)

(I thought I could probably not get married there anyway, even if Stewart did finally allow marriages, because I was not trusted by most people. My “crime,” aside from being on the introverted side and also thoughtful or intellectual, was simply that I had voiced doubts about Stewart Traill and the COBU way of life enough times to get me in trouble, though really it was only a handful of times. But the things I said were accurate enough, or went to the real issues at hand enough, for it to be obvious that I could be a source of trouble. And that I was willing to say something about it. I did not know all of what was happening in COBU behind the scenes, however. I am surprised about how naive I was and about my high level of trust for our leader, Stewart Traill, even till the end of my time there. I had no idea of things, such as Ann’s story, though I began to suspect it, because all of the other cult leaders I read about did the same thing.)

I have been thinking about marriage a lot lately, but in other terms, such as about how marriage was supposed to represent our fellowship, kind of like how our olympic athletes represent our nation. So they have to be the best or they won’t be chosen. The same with marriage here. It’s not like it’s your own marriage anyway, but it is part of the fabric of the fellowship – so  if there is any wrong in you, you will not be eligible for marriage and so far, nobody has been.

Maybe I am starting to realize more things like this lately. (My idealism is wearing off, and I’m seeing the fellowship in its naked form and motives, without all the buzzwords and the ideal talk.)

11 p.m.:  I’m thinking now, should I distribute this paper about the 75 points to ex-members of our church?  (I was thinking about Peter J. for instance. I was hoping that they would see how far out things are getting here.

Read the next section of the journal here: “Even Jim LaRue Says I’m Alone And That I Need To Have My Views Checked.”

(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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