1993, 07/24-26. “Stewart Said.”

The title for this entry comes from the ubiquitous phrase “Stewart said,” which was a part of every COBU cult members’ vocabulary, including my own. It was a phrase that COBU members used all the time to quote the ultimate authority and source of truth.  It also represented what we were and were not allowed to believe. The phrase “Jesus said” was hardly ever used in COBU.

Saturday, July 24

I slept till about five in the afternoon. Enjoyed a little time outside looking at the sky. Went over to Pier 41 for more of the same. (Actually, we went to look at the church bus in the lot there.) Went into New York City, ate at the Triumph Restaurant with Paul and then worked again on the floors at Paul and Jimmy’s Restaurant.

I have had a withdrawn and detached feeling today. This is something I get from time to time. It may be a beneficial thing, neither really wanting to or able to concentrate on anything or get into anything. Maybe it’s a sorting out process. Also I haven’t been willing to talk to anybody or express my opinions, though also it’s a little clearer to me now that others aren’t exactly interested. (Not in an active disdain, but in a neutral, neither here nor there attitude.)

During the drive back from Woodruff (I was sitting in the back and Paul and Jay were sitting up front), Paul said to Jay that some brothers had questions about how I have “reconsidered” moving to 46th Street, and that they wanted Paul to say something, but Paul told Joe that it would be better to talk to me in person – and to talk to me about some other issue than moving.

Maybe this was insightful. Maybe Paul doesn’t quite trust Joe anyway, or maybe he just doesn’t want to meddle in another man’s quarrels. That’s probably it. Paul doesn’t want to stand up for me or for anything I do, because it could lead to him getting flack – for harboring a criminal, so to speak. He would be considered to be taking part in any wrong thing they successfully pin on me.

But I am grateful for the advance warning. I immediately went into condition red thinking. Praying helps some. I realize I can’t fight a ten-headed beast directly. Why wear myself out? Maybe God will help me. Maybe God doesn’t want 40 people crowding into the office at 46th Street and living there. But, this isn’t apparent because nobody will lift a finger to disagree with anything. But I can’t say with any certainty that my position is legitimate.

(Twenty of us brothers were told we had to move to the Christian Brothers shop on West 46th Street, which had offices and a storage area that was filled with carpet cleaning equipment and rolls of stored carpet. There were no officially designated sleeping areas. Everyone slept under desks or on rolls of carpet. I resisted moving there because at the Red Hook warehouse, at least I had a private sleeping space in our supply closet and the warehouse was not full of people and activity till late at night.)

Sunday, July 25

At Red Hook this morning. Joe is calling over to find out why Paul, Jay, Peter and I are not at the meeting, which is at 1 p.m. at 46th Street. (I did think we should attend, but I said and did nothing.)

When we got to the meeting, brothers were making divisions to find out “who is on the edges” and “who is the next Bob D.”

(Bob was an older brother who “blew up” recently, which means he had a meltdown as a result of all of his pent up frustrations, most of which were caused by living the COBU lifestyle. He walked off for the day and returned later, and talked to the brothers. So now we were checking among us to find out who else might be in this condition. Not that anyone would have been able to discuss their problems and issues in a real way, because all such concerns were considered to be “not the real issue.”

We could only speak in terms of Stewart’s teachings and only about the things Stewart said were real issues, such as our problem with pride, arrogance, cheating, wanting to have it both ways and to live for the flesh instead of putting our lives in this world to death. Under these terms and conditions, there was not going to be much honest dialog about personal issues and there wasn’t going to be help for those issues either.)

The brothers talked about and discussed me and Peter – while we were both listening. (Some of the things that were said about me were: “I bet if we really put heat on Jim, he would get real nasty.” And Paul delved into the area of my “attitudes toward Stewart.”)

At that point I remembered how in the various cults I’ve been reading about, it was not a person’s Christianity that would be called into question, but rather a person’s attitude toward the leader of the group and this person’s acceptance of that leader’s views as being the only truth. Also, in the People’s Temple [Jim Jones’s cult], there was one guy who periodically tested members’ views and attitudes toward Jim Jones, sort of like a Gestapo interrogation.

Peter and I were both required to make statements about ourselves about whether we were “on the edge” or not. (No one followed up on any of the comments the others made about me previously or pressed that these questions be answered, I guess because they weren’t the issues at hand. Only the voting was the issue at hand).

Peter did say something concerning Stewart. He said, “I’ve always made it clear where I stand on that. The man does some pretty funny stuff, but that I have to buy it, because when I went out and sinned, I bought the whole store.” They didn’t understand what Peter meant. But I do, from talking to Peter a lot.

As far as me, I answered as little as possible. I definitely didn’t respond to anything anybody said about their view of me. (Is that arrogance? It certainly is safe. Besides, it wasn’t the issue at hand anyway. I suppose that is a precedent for my safety, or just being wise about what’s going down. All these comments the brothers made about me were thrown in, as if on cue. Nobody talks to me about it otherwise. But, there was this certain issue at hand – about finding out who is on the edge – and not any other issue, and I would save myself a lot of headaches if I just realized that.)

(Rarely did anyone talk to me about these things, such as my “attitudes toward Stewart,” except at meetings. I could be with brothers all week, working or riding somewhere together and everyone was friendly. Suddenly, at a meeting, I would be betrayed and put on the spot. Now everyone was saying how suspicious they were of me, because of my views about our leader Stewart Traill and our church. These were people who had been with me all week, who had said nothing about this – until it was time to shoot everyone up at the religious theater of our meetings.)

Another thing I have been realizing: I am not the center issue of any of this. There is always somebody else getting in more trouble, or I am just one of those on the list. (This is a kind of acquiescence, like a tree bending in the wind to avoid snapping.)

(I learned to relax at meetings and let a lot of the pressure and interrogation blow over me, rather than fighting against it and getting come down on even harder for it, until they broke me. Often when under tremendous pressure at a meeting, I had a floating feeling of detachment and I thought, “What is going on here is really not that important,” and that really, none of these issues were as real as everyone there said they were. 

It was hard for me to believe that objectively, however. It was a feeling that came over me, saving me from the worst of the pressure. Now that I’m out of COBU, I see that this really was the truth. Such thinking was diametrically opposed to what I was supposed to believe at the time. But did it really matter – apart from this small band of people and our leader – that we were all being lined up to give evidence about whether we had been guilty of “thumbing our noses at Jesus,” or “cheating and trying to have it both ways,” or other imaginary spiritual crimes?  However, it seemed so real – like a life and death issue – at the time.)

Joe motioned me to come in and sit down. The question was put to me as to whether I was on the edge. (The real issue here.) I said as little as possible. Maybe too little. Almost to the point of non-communication. (I am surprised I wasn’t at least hinted at as being arrogant and not willing to talk to the brothers because of this.)

I didn’t want to say that yes, I’m on the edge. I just wanted them to vote. I have very little desire to open myself up. When somebody said, “I think we should vote,” I said, “I think so too. I would rather just vote.” But acting like this is groveling, acting as a non-human. But, I just don’t see any way to really express myself. All the more lately, I have felt the need to withdraw entirely and to not even peep about anything on my mind. So many of my views are unorthodox anyway. If others want to talk, I can just listen and talk about what they want to talk about. Nobody notices anyway. Whenever I open my mouth, I get myself in trouble anyway.

I see that I have so absolutely cut myself off to the point of not communicating with anyone anymore. The absolute law is here. The absolute way. We are up to our necks in it. Everybody only wants to talk to you in terms of the sacred science and the new dialectic.

I began to give some thought to what would happen to me under some kind of orthodoxy test, with the appropriate issues: Do I believe God is working through Stewart? In other words, I can’t say anything.

It’s too much to write it down here. But, I wonder if I ought to write down all of the issues or tape them and prepare some kind of defense.

I imagine talking to somebody like Joe about it, but then I realize, there is nobody I can talk to about it. It’s such a hot issue. At the meeting, when Paul was talking to the others about me and my “attitudes toward Stewart,” he said, with regard to Brother Stewart, that “As far as myself, I can’t find fault with somebody who is laying down his life for the brothers and really doing God’s will.” But, somehow accepting this as true involves the surrender of one’s mind. Now, if Paul had said, “I’m not allowed to find fault with Brother Stewart,” then I would understand.

I feel extremely hemmed in and suppressed these days. This inward “struggle” continues. I wonder if it is a sorting out process, or just “processing,” because I won’t deal with it otherwise. So, it starts up and gets going inside of me like this instead. There are certain taboos that keep me from (wanting to) deal with it objectively. (One subject I am on now is imagining someone asking me, “Is Stewart always fair with you?” Whether the question is put to me individually, or we are required to respond to the question as a group. Of course, I think no. What would happen if I said it?)

I guess I just won’t deal with it. So I get into these modes. I can’t or won’t find a way to settle it.

I was getting to the point of blowing up, of thinking of leaving the church. (But why do it so helplessly? Why be driven? Can’t I do it more intelligently?)

I decided to take a walk by Times Square Church on the way to Battery Park. I met and talked with Chris [an ex-member, who later let me stay with him when I left COBU] for a few minutes. Chris was with a woman (Jane). I was immediately suspicious. They have dating there. Is Chris playing around? Obviously it’s a little freer with the women there. It’s also pretty strange with the man-woman situation among us.

A verse that came to mind after I walked away: WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS FREEDOM.

I may try to go to a service there at Times Square Church. It’s a big step. What will certain people here think? But, who cares?  If “caught,” it’s an act of treason. That’s pretty weird.

(It was considered wrong for COBU members to go to another church, even for one service. But it was acceptable if people from other churches came to a COBU meeting. Essentially, wanting to go to another church meant that we did not accept that Stewart was the only true Bible teacher. We maintained an utter separation between ourselves and other Christians. But of course, they could come and learn from us, if they wanted to.)  

Monday, July 26

Today is one of those summer days with overcast in areas, blue sky in other areas, with variously colored clouds. It’s certainly not the kind of day I would want to be working on.

(In my journals, themes of summer time and freedom are mentioned often, in contrast to the treadmill life of constant work, high-pressure meetings and activity, and the suppression of all thoughts and desires other than the agenda.)

I am now in the Good Diner. Light jazz music helps to capture a certain feeling. Sure, it doesn’t work wonders, but I need to find myself in a little oasis right now.

I feel as if my lid is going to come off. My relations with others are not so good right now. I got into a little spat with Paul last night over the placement of a crate, but there are always high-minded elements to any confrontation like this. Paul could always separate himself from me. This has overtones of: I am in a wrong spirit and he must separate himself from me.

I rode into the city with Chuck and Jay. They were going at it with me for a while. Chuck was asking me, “What’s it going to be today?” I replied, “I’m going to be into the Number One Principle.” But, the only thing that seemed to matter was that I hadn’t said anything about the bad news first. Chuck said, “Yes, the Number One Principle is the good news, but what about the bad news about how you’re in big trouble and headed straight to hell breaking you down first, so you can accept the good news?” I resisted the temptation to play with him about the Stewart saying: “We will never face the bad news without the good news either.”

(This diary helps. The problem is that I want to have just the perfect time as I sit here in the diner, to get into the music, watching the clouds going by. They are very good summer clouds. I want to enjoy the perfect unburdening of my soul into my journal. But, it’s just not going to be perfect like that, though there’s got to be some help in it.)

I have all the requisite thoughts about Point Pleasant and summer. [I was daydreaming about my hometown and summertime, before I came to COBU and became so imprisoned.] I guess these memories are an irradicable part of my inner landscape, something I will never quite live down or escape – if that’s what I am supposed to do at all. (I see these clouds. They remind me of similar sights back then.)

I have been thinking a lot about how I can’t – though I would like to – be able to walk away for a day and get lost in summer.

I flipped open the Bible, right to Peter’s denial of Christ and of course I figured, “that’s me.” That feeling when you turn to something in the Bible, that it was meant to be. But, in further thumbing through to Bible, I came to the first parts of Luke. I like these chapters. I chose something from it, something that might help get me through the day. I decided to pick the verse: megalunei he psuche mou ton kurion.  [“My soul magnifies the Lord,” from the Greek New Testament.] I was thinking to read just one verse, even a piece of a verse, just like the Christians in prisons in Communist countries, who were glad just to hear one verse and could get extensive spiritual nourishment out of it.

Well, I bought a lot of things today. The first stop was Christian Publications, where I bought two books on “spiritual abuse” and also a book on Hebrew.

(One of these books was The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. This book helped me to further understand the situation I was living in. I wrote a letter to the author, which described my situation in COBU in terms of the spiritual abuse he wrote about. This letter can be read here: Letter to David Johnson.)

10 p.m.

Waiting for the last coat of floor finish to dry at Studio 47. I’m here with the usual middle brothers who work with the wood floor crew. Chuck was here for a while. I am still quite on guard with him. I was thinking this is not loving – but I can’t let the guard down. I just don’t want to open myself to a line of questioning.

(Because I was on guard around Chuck and had my walls and defenses up, I was not being loving toward him. But at all costs, I wanted to protect myself from the onslaught he would surely unleash against me if I talked about what was on my mind.)

Really, I have not thought too much about Christ today. I feel pinned down, in such a way that, inwardly, I don’t move in any kind of direction. Maybe I don’t take time to draw away, or even walk away somewhere. But, a temporary escape didn’t seem expedient today.

Now all I have to look forward to is going back to the office at 46th Street and attending a meeting that is most likely to last for two hours or more.

(An interesting note: in this book about the Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, it talks about how in abusive churches, sub-committees, that is, the non-leadership get together – and decide, plan, and plan endlessly, and get nowhere – then they do it again. This sounds exactly like us. How many of these meetings do we have where we discuss, vote, plan and talk and it avails absolutely nothing, but we always do it? I think only “leadership” makes the plans anyway. But somehow everything is attributed to our shortcomings and we dutifully say so if required to. I see how we can’t make even the most minor decision ourselves. Everything has to be checked with Stewart. Sure, we get to make up our own business schedule, but I think about how Paul wants to look for a new place. This will come to naught, unless Stewart starts a drive to do it.)

(Paul wanted to look for another church residence, so we didn’t have to live at Woodruff Avenue, which was in a war zone in Brooklyn with shooting going on almost every day.)

Rocky and some new brothers came by to the job site. Rocky was asking me about the Number One Principle. I know it’s cynical to say this, but this is the current buzzword. Everybody talks to everybody about it, but it seems highly mechanical, or at least “prompted.”

Chuck was talking about the Number One Principle this morning, adding a line about it, saying, “this is not just some speech, but I really mean it.” But even that was some speech, which he delivered in that same half-chanting voice everyone says the usual lines from Stewart in. It was something Stewart had said. Stewart said that the Number One Principle is not just some speech, but that we should really mean it when we say it.

(Apparently Stewart said this to Chuck on the phone last night. They “talked” a while, that is, Stewart talked to him. “It was hopeful, though,” Chuck said. Why do they say things like that? Or things like, “But Stewart was being really kind.” What? As if to say, “Stewart was kind this time, though he usually isn’t?” Why do they have to make that distinction?)

And now Chuck was repeating this line about really meaning the Number One Principle, in a programmed voice. It is something that has been “installed” in him. If the brothers aren’t saying these kind of things under duress, it at least seems like they are saying it under “have to.”

Everybody greets each other in the current thing, the current Stewart teaching, and asks each other if they are doing it. If not, they are a failure, a rebel or a hold-out. (And they don’t talk about anything else. Not anything about the 100 other things we have heard. What if somebody said, instead of, “I am doing the Number One Principle” – or whatever the current thing is – but instead, “I have been doing this or that?’ [Naming any other previous Stewart teaching.] Would it be just as good?)

Even Chuck was saying this in the van this morning. He said, “Stewart told us,” and “Stewart said last night…”  That is, “this is the word.” I always reel at that. It is not “Jesus said,” but “Stewart said.” Stewart gave us permission and told us to. He is our link, our hotline to God. This is the good word for today. This is what is in effect, this is what’s binding today – even if it is something “hopeful.”

(The current line and slogan from Stewart was a “hopeful” one – this time.)

11:30 p.m.

At the office. Somebody asks, “How ‘bout we get together?” (I guess it’s code and putting it on everybody else. I take it that nobody really wants to “get together.”)

At the meeting someone read the message from Stewart, which was about ones who left. And about facing the truth and seeing what we have been doing.

Joe read the Stewart letters from last night and today. Then Joe was reading 1 Corinthians 15 from the Bible and interpreting it according to our view. Joe: “In the whole book of Corinthians, they were getting corrected. Then Paul ended up with the Number One Principle. He started with the bad news, ended up with the good news. Paul did what Stewart does with us. We go to all these brothers meetings and Stewart brings out all these things that are wrong with us and we end up with the Number One Principle.”

I admit I am doing it too, so I can read the verse.

(This comment takes a lot of explanation. I was coming from how at one time in Communist lands, the Bible was a banned book. However, Communist atheist publications were easily obtainable. These publications had articles which quoted a Bible verse or passage, and then provided a refutation of that passage. Since there were few Bibles available in these countries, Christians there obtained these publications as a way to find Bible passages to read. They ignored the article and just read the Bible passage. At this time in the Church of Bible Understanding (as opposed to earlier years there) the Bible was almost never read at meetings. I was saying that in spite of Joe’s repackaging the message of Corinthians into the terms of Traillism, I was just glad to be reading the Bible together, instead of being in a session that dealt with voting on one another or making speeches and confessions and commitments.

Read the next section of the journals here: “There’s No Fellowship Like This Anywhere.”

(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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