1993, 07/21-23. The View Of Me, As Defined By Our Leader And By Those Around Me.
This section opens with a description about how our living arrangement in the Red Hook Warehouse came to an end. (Some of us brothers were living in a warehouse in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.) We had to move to the church’s business office at West 46th Street in Manhattan, where we were going to have to sleep under desks or in the storage area on top of rolls of carpet at night, after the sisters working in the office went home, and after our nightly brothers meetings were over.
Tonight was the big night – the night Red Hook was put to an end. (I am trying to write carefully, to capture this event in all of its splendor and finality.)
The writing had already been on the wall for a week or so. Sure, it had been mentioned from time to time before, but I really had the sense that this time, this was it.
The question about moving out of Red Hook was put to each Red Hook Brother at tonight’s meeting at 46th Street. I hung back until after Jay, Paul and Peter went. Joe was saying that nobody is going to tell you what to do, it’s up to you. But, when anybody gave their reasons for wanting to stay at Red Hook, somebody would nudge them back onto the right road by saying, “What’s God’s will?” or, ”What’s the real issue?” (It might have been better if we at Red Hook had discussed it among ourselves first. But still, we had the sense we were going to be given an order anyway, without a choice.)
As far as I was concerned, I realized it was already a fait accompli. Paul said to everyone that he had “human reasons” why he didn’t want to move to the office, which in other words, means he knows that his desire means nothing. It’s the proper code, the proper thing to say. In our ideology, the “human” doesn’t matter. It’s downgraded and degraded. I already know that there is no point in saying my human reasons.
(“Human” reasons and considerations were not considered. Only “God’s will” was considered. Some of these “human” reasons for wanting to stay at Red Hook rather than moving to the 46th Street office were being able to get a good night’s sleep in a quiet place, the ability to store equipment and personal possessions under lock and key and to have a little privacy. There was no point in talking about these things.)
Peter actually said his reasons for not wanting to move, human reasons as they were; a futile commentary on the way things are. The brothers answered him, telling him that these things were not the real issue and the comment that “religion won’t save you” was also added into the bargain. With all three of us going, Peter didn’t have much of a choice.
But for me, there are things like guilt working on me and also “what about helping the new brothers?” Now I can help the new brothers, because I will be around them all the time by living at the office.
I gave some thought to how cowardly I am. Maybe I could have held out, saying, “I will be at all the meetings, but I will sleep at Red Hook.” Sooner or later, I would be hounded out anyway, it being all the more obvious because there are only two of us remaining at Red Hook. And somebody would soon be asking us why we can’t make it to the morning meetings at the office to pray and to decide on the schedule for the day, just like all the other brothers do.
I knew it was coming. The only question for me was when. I am surprised that we stayed here this long. It was a surprise to me that we stayed after the fire department cleared everybody out the first time, and to a lesser degree, through the following inspections. It is a surprise to me we survived here through all the suggestions we were given and the mentioning about us still being there, when we were in the meetings. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared for this. I was just thinking about it this week, this morning.
(The reason this move bothered me, was that I had a little bit of freedom while living at the Red Hook warehouse, even if I did live in a supply closet with three other brothers. I was now moving to a more crowded situation, where I would sleep with no privacy, on the floor. It was a more controlled, more communal living situation.)
I am a little upset. You just can’t fight for anything here. (Though just as equally, I can say I am worked on by the guilt of not living with and helping the new brothers.) To have a little closet to myself and to have the ability to arrange a few things and to control my environment to a small degree is anathema. People here treat it like you have a Hollywood mansion. Though the issue of moving was spoken of in terms of doing God’s will and our spiritual condition.
So, now I will move to the larger fish tank at 46th Street. This however, is not the goal. The goal is that we all be at Woodruff, living and working in our groups. All roads lead to Woodruff. The office is only a stopping point, though one should say that a more distant goal is getting lofts and places in other cities, and moving on to start church centers across the country again, like we had many years ago.
Also, we are getting increased heat about repenting and shaking ourselves. More of the pressure cooker. Life will be a few more degrees like the meetings with Stewart at the New Property. I and we will be getting “worked on.” None of this sounds very good to me. My “flesh doesn’t like it.”
This meeting also reminded me of the Shantung Compound, about how the people advanced their rational arguments in order to keep their living quarters. Equally rational arguments were given by the other side who was telling them to give up this space.
(The Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure was a book I read at the time that had a great effect on me. It was a book about people living in a prisoner of war camp and it reminded me of life in COBU. The part of the book I was referring to was about how the Christian missionary families in the camps justified their taking up more space than the single people needed, because they had more needs than the single people. They used logical-sounding, religious and biblical justifications for their needs instead of being sacrificial and helping others.)
I really don’t look forward to living in the fish tank. Where will I keep my stuff, such as my tape recorders? To me, it’s a great big drag.
During the meeting, I started to get a rush of apprehension about the letter I wrote to David Wilkerson. What will happen? I imagined a phone message from Brother Stewart saying, “Did you know that David Wilkerson called me?” Maybe he would go on further, asking who was responsible for this. Maybe David Wilkerson would tell Stewart he called him because of a letter from somebody on the inside.
I worked on the floors at Hermès today. The last two days, I tuned in to a Korean radio station. Asian languages are soothing to listen to. I noticed it helped me concentrate on my work.
Chatman came back yesterday.
Thursday, July 22
While driving into the city in this morning, I stopped at the Hicks Street deli with Orlando. I’m not in a good mood about this move. It’s a nice, cool summer morning, just beautiful. I sat in the doorway at Red Hook for a whole 60 seconds to take it in.
When we got to office at 46th Street, Orlando was in a big tizzy because he thought I wasn’t going to take the van any further. He wanted me to drive him right up to the front door so he didn’t have to walk even a few yards.
I am now going to the French Connection to finish a small job. I scooted over to Freedom Place – just for a few minutes, to take in the morning freshness.
(Freedom Place was a cul-de-sac overlooking the Hudson River where I often went to take a break between jobs or while dropping off teams. I thought of the irony of the name of the street, a place where I got a little respite and momentary freedom from the cult environment and its constant activity.)
I spent most of my time standing there, not enjoying the morning air, but thinking about the meetings. The slow, straitjacketed tediousness. The absolute insistence that people only speak in the limited stock of phrases. Earlier today at the office, when I went up to the wood floor closet, I could hear the brothers in the meeting, saying the same time-worn clichés: “We need to be united,” and “what we agreed on last night.” Always the slow discussing of how to proceed, what to do next, even though we have done it thousands of times.
I thought of how certain ones are particularly adept at throwing curve balls and thwarting people. (Greg S. is a good example. Why is it that the especially dead ones want to nail you down at every step? Greg’s typical reply to somebody who wants to speed things up or take a shortcut in our lengthy methods is, “Yes, but in what spirit?” Those kind of questions where one doesn’t quite say what it is, maybe because it would be stupid to say it directly, so they rely on suggestion instead of saying, “That may be a good idea, but I didn’t see you in God’s spirit.” What they really have to say would probably be quite ridiculous if they were direct about it.)
Yet, I think it’s necessary to take this break.
(I wasn’t enjoying my break at Freedom Place much because I was so preoccupied with rehashing meetings and cult life over in my mind as I was standing there. But it was good to get away for these breaks when I had the opportunity.)
Finished the French Connection. Back in the office now. I said a few words to Carrie, just listening really after my initial question. I am really on guard at the office. I have been listening to a tape I made of Lifton’s 22nd chapter. How true, how accurate. I was listening to Rocky talking when we were in the van – every word is the clichés.
(Chapter 22 in Robert J. Lifton’s book, Though Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, is a summary of all the main points used in the mind control techniques in communist re-education camps. The cult recovery movement uses this book, and especially Chapter 22 as source material to understand the processes cults use to manipulate and controll people. One of these points is the “thought terminating cliché,” which are handy slogans and phrases repeated by cult members to terminate all rational thought. There was always some “Stewart saying” or his latest teaching that everyone parroted. Rocky was talking while we were riding in a van and almost everything he said was Stewart phrases and COBU jargon, such as, “I’m not going to get away with it and neither are you. I see, all the more, how I must urgently put my flesh to death. No games. I can’t afford to live half and half. Life is short and we’re going to die in two seconds and stand before Jesus.”
I am alone in J. Stein’s apartment, doing repairs. I set my sights on what I’m going to do between the time I get out of here and the time I show up on Paul’s job. Right now, as the floor finish dries, I’m using this time to write, sit and look out the window at the clouds. (I was listening to Christian radio. In response to a question about why so many pastors have been falling, one point was that such busy people have no unstructured time in which to collect their thoughts, to evaluate themselves, to be and grow close to God first and their families, because they are always busy.) So, I sit here, looking out at summer clouds and enjoying the benefit of unstructured time. The lack of this is one of the great detriments and/or crimes of our way of existence.
All the noise stops, all the concerns (temporarily) fade.
The words to the song “The Pretender” have come to mind. Any reason? “He started off so young and tender, only to surrender. Are you there? Say a prayer, for the pretender.” Wasn’t that the most ugly scenario of our future lives as portrayed by Brother Stewart? Only to surrender to the “forces” of the world as we get older? (How many of these “forces” are blasted directly at us here in this fellowship life, as a matter of policy? We end up burned out. And burned inwardly by our incandescent sexual desires, because we can’t marry. Aren’t these forces all a part of fellowship life? Indeed, are they not caused by the fellowship?)
(How many of the forces and pressures on us in the world (by our threefold enemy, the flesh, the world, and the devil) that the fellowship was supposed to shield us from as Christians struggling to serve Jesus, were aimed at us in “fellowship” life – in an even more concentrated and overwhelming way than in “the world?”
Pressure, anxiety, guilt, condemnation, verbal abuse, confusion, financial worries (being beaten up for not making enough money in the church businesses), the rat race (being overworked in the church businesses), loneliness, depression and sexual temptation. (Marriage was not forbidden in principle, but in practice. According to Stewart Traill, no one was faithful enough to Christ to start a relationship, much less get married. The married people mentioned in these pages got married before 1979, or are those who left the church and came around sometimes to meetings, but no longer lived in.)
I was beginning to realize that all these forces of the devil, the flesh and the world were at work on us right there in COBU were burning me out and wiping me out more than these kind of pressures would be if I lived outside of the church, in “the world.” The church seemed to be more of an enemy than the world was.)
Chuck delivered the wood to the job site I have just come to. (At 15 Charles Street.) I walked up just as he was arriving in the van. He immediately let me know that he can’t go out closing jobs today because us wood floor brothers didn’t get it together. Practicing forgiveness toward Chuck does seem to annul the responses I have to this, which range from sarcasm to anger.
I fear that I will have a nervous breakdown once I start living in close quarters under close scrutiny (both in the actual being watched and in the persistent dogging we get sometimes about giving the appropriate religiously correct answers).
I sent a letter to Mom, briefly explaining and announcing the move and my change of address. In writing letters to Mom, I would like to think that all of my writings are being kept and filed by someone that has an interest in collecting them. I wish I had somebody (well, perhaps Mom is that somebody) who I could just send pages of writing about my life to, about life here, just as Jan Montyn did. It might serve some good purpose.
(Jan Montyn wrote a book called A Lamb to the Slaughter – An Artist Among the Battlefields. I identified with the author and his story. And, my mother did keep the letters I wrote to her about life in the cult and sent them back to me when I got out. These letters and other essays can be read on my The Tangled Web pages.)
After the meeting:
The meeting went on for the usual length of time. Earlier, while in the office I began going condition red over moving to 46th Street, deciding that I wasn’t going to do it. I had to pray. I had increasingly violent thoughts. Then I was more or less able to make some comments to Joe and somebody else before the meeting about “how I have reconsidered my decision.” Then, before and during the meeting, I was calculating how I was going to present it. The idea came to me: why present it at all? Just leave it. Maybe nobody will bring it up either. Nobody did.
So, I will try to hang on to staying at Red Hook a little while longer, but as discretely as possible. I never realized how much this can send me through the roof. It’s more than just having to sleep on the floor at the office. It’s deeper, it’s things connected with that. It’s the right to choose. I am an adult. It’s methods of coercion vs. ways of resisting. It’s the abasement, not being able to say “I want.”
Really, all the things I think about come together in this. It’s also the legislation of the law and the carrying out of punishment on the offenders. There were some elements of that at the meeting. I thought, I don’t want to ever have to get caught and meshed in the gears of our civil justice and court system again. When the whip cracks, when the sentences are passed.
And you can say nothing in your defense. If you do try to defend yourself, it only compounds your crime. They take quantum leaps into deeper spiritual sins that they say you are doing. For example, the fact that I didn’t want to do something soon becomes being accused and found guilty of fighting against the view of the entire brothers’ fellowship. Being told that I am arrogant, that I know better, and many similar examples. There is always that quantum leap where the ante is raised, far beyond your original crime or peccadillo. But this always has the effect of making you agree to do whatever you were resisting in the first place, in order to avoid being convicted (and punished) for the subsequent crime of higher spiritual magnitude – for “the real issue” behind what they say you are up to. You quickly mouse down. It is highly effective. In this way they don’t ever need to consider the issues and their validity. In fact, they don’t ever have to talk to you about it.
Friday, July 23
I slept until about 10:30 in the morning. I just couldn’t get up. I was supposed to take a new brother, Joe R., out soliciting for jobs, which means I was supposed to get him at 9 a.m. He is on a job now, I hear. I just figured I wouldn’t worry about this as I was lying there in bed. So much of my life consists of worrying about getting in trouble for something and therefore having to do something to avoid it.
I am still in a van outside outside of 15 Charles Street, where Paul is working. The air feels good! There is a warm breeze. (It is summer – is it summer?) I don’t feel so good. I am in no great hurry to go anywhere. It is a nice day. I don’t feel in a great hurry to go anywhere! I found a place to park and I sat watching to clouds awhile, thinking of life in Point Pleasant. [My hometown, before I came to COBU.]
Earlier today, Paul was getting on my case about being lazy. Not quite directly, but I can tell. On the drive in, while I was talking, Paul actually said to me, “Okay, Joe R.,” I guess because I made a few sound effects. I don’t know, when somebody says something like that to me – that I resemble or act like somebody like that, like an unruly and disrespectful new disciple brother, even calling me by his name to make the point, do I take them seriously? Is Paul just irritated today? I he short-changing me maybe, writing me off? I feel put in a corner, like a dog. Our system of “truth speaking” contains a lot of room for delivering personal jabs.
Yes, I just want to sit here and listen to light music, like a summer day at the beach or in the backyard or on the porch. Lazy? I think I could use something like that right now. What time do we really get? (Is this thievery?)
(Was I really “stealing” from God and our church by taking time to myself? I would have been accused of that if anyone knew I was doing this.)
There is only work or work associated activities, witnessing, a long meeting, sleep, and then get right up and go. I feel like such a crook right now. But actually, could taking this break be beneficial?
You see, the detrimental effect of our system is that it takes away all props for reasoning, judging effectively or for deciding anything. We have no balance or sense of proportion. All of this can be attributed to my laziness, or cheating, whatever is handy. For sure, I can’t decide anything. The basis for such an action has been taken away from me.
Look, I am really “taking advantage” here. (How do I know this might not be good for me to do? But, on what basis? How can I “prove” that? Who says I have to prove it?) It could be that I really need this. I need to have unstructured time.
I went upstairs to drop off my backpack and to go soliciting, but now I am being pressed into service on this job.
Dream: I was in the house I grew up in. I was with my brother. I wanted to walk outside. Rain was coming up. I didn’t make it back to the house before the rain started. This wasn’t something bad. Soon the sun broke out again. Beautiful golden sunlight. I was crying because I wanted to be back there again.
I drove carpet cleaning teams around the city like a madman for four hours. Dale was telling me more about his view of fellowship life. The driving is exasperating. Seeing the carpet cleaning teams, it was a re-acquaintance with that hectic dogging carpet cleaning life. I’m glad I am not in it anymore.
(I was working in the church’s wood floor business. While refinishing wood floors, we often stayed on one job site for days at a time. In the carpet cleaning business, the brothers rushed from one job to another all day, and then often had to do a “night job.” Dale was a new brother who was pressed into work on the carpet cleaning teams. He was telling me what he thought the fellowship was all about. He felt he was being exploited and that the older brothers were trying to keep him in line and were telling him not to talk about any of this. As an older brother, I was supposed to sell him the official view, which included telling him that the work he had to do was part of his “Christian training,” which I was not able to tell him.)
I’m now at Paul and Jimmy’s Restaurant. [This is a job site we were on that evening. We finished about 6 the next morning.] Paul is angry with me because I let a new brother, John O., stay here with us. (Jay put me up to it. I had agreed with him). Paul took Jay back to the shop when he went to get drop cloths. I asked Paul why he told me that “John is hurting himself by being here.” In other words, please specify, don’t use a cliché. Paul’s reasons were that it is bad for John to be in a place like this and that I am hurting (and not helping) him. I didn’t press for a clarification of terms. It is something about my spirit, the way I am acting. Maybe it was the ice cream I gave John, which Paul saw him coming out of the kitchen with. But, it’s deeper. Obviously, underlying it all, the brothers – Paul, the others – don’t trust my “spirit.”
(The underlying issue was that the brothers knew that I no longer unquestioningly accepted everything about COBU. This made me “dangerous” to the new disciples, because they were supposed to get a united presentation from all the older brothers about how life in COBU was supposed to be. I often just relaxed and talked to the new people, rather than running all the usual lines on them and directing every conversation back to “Christian training.”
COBU’s version of Christian training was a limited set of concepts and not real training in Christianity by any means. I talked to new brothers about any subject in the Bible, and did not just read “hell and warning verses” with them. And I answered any question as honestly as I could. Therefore I was not a good conduit and tool for chiseling Stewart’s image on them. What I was doing was no great feat. It was more not doing something than doing any great thing. And, the other way I was “hurting” the new brother John was by letting him eat ice cream, which I got from the kitchen of the restaurant we were working in overnight.)
I think of how I was talking to Dale in the van. Or rather, how I was listening to him. (The whole night, I took “passengers” with me. Just felt like taking new brothers along for the ride. And Joe asked me to take Vernon with me because he was going to be busy for an hour.) We also delivered an area rug to Sue M., an older woman who had a nice comfortable apartment with books in wine crates stacked to make shelves. She said to me, “You look like somebody who had originally intended to do something else, like a professor or something.” (A connecting point: sometimes I think about the view of myself that is handed down from leadership and from the organization. And the view which is rendered to me by my confreres. How I am relegated to “stupid” and retarded. If I were to speak my mind in a clear manner, it can all be written off.
(The things I was saying, especially by this time, were written off as mindlessness and as childish behavior. They said it was “the mind of Jim LaRue,” if they were letting me off lightly. They called it “a spirit of attacking,” if my crime was seen as more serious.)
Of course, Sue’s comment makes me feel good, but it also bespeaks of deeper things in myself and abilities that I have. And it also calls into question the image of myself as interpreted by our organization. (Okay, maybe what I am saying is not right, but it seems there is only one channel of communication or way of expressing ourselves available to me and everybody else. We either communicate in this way or nothing. Anything outside of it is deemed null and void.)
(We could only speak in cult concepts and phrases. Any expression of anything outside of this, including expressing ourselves in words other than the specific way of speaking and choice of available words and phrases was considered to be meaningless and invalid by everyone else. It was not possible for me to talk to anyone about what I was writing and thinking about in this journal.)
Then I think, nobody trusts my spirit. (When you really come down to it or when somebody, like Stewart, asks everybody, like that time I almost got thrown out, “Yes, come to think of it, it is a spirit of attacking the church and everything we stand for.”) Yet, the things I get busted for are minute infractions. Maybe for giving a cup of coffee to John. (Okay, and ice cream.) Or for naming the names of sisters who the brothers had spoken in code about. For a word, a comment. Maybe it’s just that our judicial apparatus is in place and it’s always working. And when I put my foot in it, it catches me.
In thinking over some things I did, I regretted them. I had got going, a lot of activity – certainly not “in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” I saw a new brother, Pablo, in the hallway at the office and I asked him, “How’s it going? What have you been doing?” Sort of by way of greeting, sort of coming from what I had heard some brothers say about him, that he said he doesn’t feel like doing anything. He said “Not much.” I said, “I know. That’s the problem, not much. There’s not much going on with you because you’re not doing much. You’re right.” It was a real hip-shot. Bull’s eye. But, what was it worth? I walked away thinking I didn’t like that. But maybe it’s because I am being “Mr. Nice Guy.” Well, there’s got to be a realer way to help people, that’s for sure.
When we were talking earlier, Dale said this place is more like communism. He said about 10 things, point by point, that I also think. He clearly named them. What can I do? Deny it? Change the subject? Don’t deal with it, protect myself? There was nobody else with us in the van, otherwise I would have done just that. Dale said he was glad he had a chance to talk about it. He said that there’s almost nobody he can talk to without them coming right back at him. Then he described how they do that. He also said that when somebody is trying to make a point, for example about the First Principle, they keep steering everything in the conversation back to that point.
I see that I have a failure to see these new people as people. And that their thoughts could be right too. Maybe because Dale came so close to echoing my own thoughts on these matters is why I say that. I felt that he should have a safe opportunity to talk about it without scrutiny and repression. Most people here wouldn’t give him a minute before they started hammering back the right teaching at him.
Afterward, Dale was talking about how he didn’t have anything against the brothers. He likes the brothers. He said it seems like God’s will that he stays here, that God wants him here. (At least for now, he said. In other words, he is being cautious before he buys. But isn’t that his right? Don’t we say this ourselves in our official statements? When we meet new people, don’t we say “Come and see for yourself?” But, I guess the right answer is that Dale has been around for a while and now, he knows better, he knows plenty.)
So, did I help him? Did I hurt him? If brothers knew what we had talked about, for sure they would say I did hurt him and that he surely doesn’t need to hear all this “psychology.”
I feel like I am giving account of myself over these actions. That maybe this is what I would say before God in a point by point accounting of my life when we got to this incident. I actually started to have that sense as I was writing this. But, in and of itself, that doesn’t mean what I did was wrong. It just means that I am aware of the fact that I am explaining myself.
I like this journal. I need this journal. What would I do without it?
There ought to be something more to life than this issue about whether I am going to have to move to the office. (“Well brothers, I think I need to really think about making such a move”” Or, “No, I am not moving to Woodruff. If I have to go there, I’ll leave the church.”) Or getting busted over ridiculously petty offenses and having to go before the kangaroo court to get hanged.
Read the next section of the journal here: “Stewart Said.”