1992, 08/03-14. The Delicate Balance Between Our Usefulness and Our Worthlessness

These journal pages form the background of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.

August 3

I took a run at Juniper Park, five laps. Good warm August weather. I enjoyed it.

Some thoughts today: “A man’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” This doesn’t contain an injunction against owning possessions. A man may have them, but his life isn’t there.

[This thought was in direct opposition to the communal life in the Church of Bible Understanding and to Stewart Traill’s teachings. We were supposed to “smash up and kill everything” in “this life.” Stewart, by the way, did not apply these standards to himself. I was thinking about the verse Luke 12:15 and what it meant, especially in the light (or lack of light) of the teaching we received, in the context of communal life. Luke 12:15 says, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (RSV)

A man’s life is not measured by how much he owns. Most among us would think (with the help of COBU teachings on self-denial and giving up our lives in this world) that this also meant that having any possessions beyond just enough clothing and an alarm clock was wrong. I realized that this verse did not say that to own possessions was wrong. It only said that the essence of my life, and eternal life, was not measured by how many things I owned. It did not say I couldn’t own anything.]

The message from Stewart today: “Your problem is the love of money. There are different kinds of money.”

[This was an unusual message from Stewart, because we did not have any money, except for a 30 dollar weekly allowance, and most of that got spent on food while we were working in the church business.]

(Does this mean Stewart is going to try to help us? But last time, the move to Philadelphia was done in the name of trying to help us and then we got a big surprise.) Sure, this is easier to handle. It is wrong to love money, but I know that it is not wrong for me to have and to use money! That would be ridiculous, to keep from having money in order to not love money.

The message seemed kind. I wonder if Stewart is going to slack off on the pressure, which I have been imagining is going to become tremendous. Maybe this message will soften things. I have been saying to myself that I can’t handle the idea of having nothing more than food and clothing.

[Every once in a while, Stewart sent out a conciliatory sounding message. Brothers and sisters would say that “the message sounded kind,” as if to say, he’s usually not very kind, but this time for a change, he’s being friendlier toward us.]

I could see how learning not to love things and to love God instead would be good, but to have all your things ripped out of your hands just seems frustrating. And, I am not cured that way anyway.

Last night’s meeting was a big letdown. The first session was so good. The next session, all of a sudden I saw 810 looming in front of me again.

[The older brothers were about to be “executed,” demoted and sent to a prison-like living situation again, just like at 810 North Broad Street, which we had endured in 1991.]

My question: Why is it always that one group in the church is collectively undergoing punishment? The other groups are used to carry out the punishment. But then, when the work is done, they may find themselves thrown into the fire as well, just like the Ukrainian concentration camp guards who were used to herd Jews off boxcars into the gas chambers, who after their work was done, were themselves thrown into the gas chambers.

I just read Martin Luther, who said that priests should marry. Often these priests were good servants of God, he said, but their consciences were burdened because they were keeping a woman on the side and also had children. In other words, they couldn’t keep from committing sin with a woman. Obviously they weren’t strong enough to live celibate lives and this was killing them. Luther wanted them to marry so that their souls wouldn’t be lost. Though I guess you could say, well, they were faithful, with the exception of this area of their lives. But I think it applies to me to some degree.

[In other words, these priests were faithful to Christ. But, I would never be able to claim that I was faithful to Christ, according to COBU standards, and to get away with saying that. No one in the church could successfully make that claim. Stewart ripped anyone to shreds who tried to claim they were faithful to Christ.

This goes along with the title of this chapter. We were useful to Stewart and the Church, because we worked day and night to bring in money. But we were to never think very highly of ourselves and certainly never to dare to think or to claim that we were faithful servants of Christ. Stewart “proved” to us at every meeting that we were rebels and liars, headed straight to the lake of fire.]

August 4

I woke up with the words libero arbitro in my mind.  I figured I would attempt to read more of that book today then.

[The concept of libero arbitro was in a book by Martin Luther. It means “free will” in Latin. It is from Luther’s book, The Bondage of the Will, which is about free will vs. grace and predestination.]

I was working on a wood floor with Gerald today. We did a job on 135th and 5th. There were bits of “real life.” The fragrance of the trees as I came out of the housing development. Today is a fresh yet overcast day with gray clouds, a typical August day.  It’s very lovely. A man on the radio yesterday said we lose 15 minutes of daylight per week in August. The air is fresh and beautiful here.

I have a more or less hopeless attitude, because of the general state of things in the church right now – or at least, my perceptions of them. Maybe this thing will blow over soon. I shouldn’t base my relationship with Jesus on our society or on circumstances, but I usually do anyway.

I was reading over my diary I wrote in 1988 when I had my delivery job. (Yesterday I also ran at Juniper Park. It seems I got a little taste of that life in more ways than one.) I am ambivalent toward it. I like reading it, though I know it was a terrible life, but how much better is my life now? I had unlimited access to jogging back then and I did it as much as I could. I used to worry about too much “worldliness,” though I am about the same now, though without the great longings I had back then to leave and go back home. I was much more hoping in leaving the church back then. I didn’t see hope in the fellowship because it seemed like it was breaking apart or that there was a right fellowship but I and others were left out. But, I liked those times too. I liked the things I could do.

I have gone through great pressure lately to live in extreme abstinence, but it seems like I am snapping out of that. (Possibly that message about our problem being the love of money and that there are different kinds of money. This helps me see, or at least hope, that the enjoyment of things in this life would correspond to the love of money. In other words, a person is not kept from the love of money by not having money in his hands, or at least that is what I always heard. The practical application of this lesson is that a person must not love money, but also that money has its proper place. Quotes from St. Augustine also help: “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” It seems like other people have dealt with this problem before.

So, I bought a book on how to learn Italian at a thrift store today. It seems like I will get back into languages again. It’s a whole feeling rather than a cut up in ribbons feeling.

[I was going back and forth between pressures to kill off all my desires and interests and deciding that it was permissible to do them. COBU teaching induced that state of confusion in my mind.]

August 7

I actually have returned to jogging a little. I have gone jogging three times in the last four days. (And I went walking on one of those days, a nice walk along Richmond Terrace in Staten Island with summer clouds and imagining what life was like back in the 1890’s. This started when I took a turn through a little area with Victorian era houses.)

Walking and exercising has been good, in Prospect Park yet. After 15 minutes I felt as if I could go on another 15 minutes no problem, but I was worried about my feet. I am taking it easy to see if I get any foot pain.

I’ve been doing a little calculating and sweating over the upcoming meeting. It seems also some pressure will be put on those of us living at Red Hook. For sure, I have no interest in moving to any of these lofts. The regimented, round-the-clock lifestyle is not for me. I can’t see how I would survive living from meeting to meeting and only working and going sweeping all the time. But, I know I will move there when I get forced to, and probably not before.

What I was thinking about yesterday:

1)  The future. Especially, what to do if I move out or get thrown out of the church. Also what if Stewart dies.

2)  My relationship with others and how to be, which seems to have a lot to do with sublimating my desires, my thoughts, even myself. Basically keeping my mouth shut and listening and letting others do most of the talking, which is a good way to live, even if I wasn’t on the defensive.

My view of the lofts, it seems like going to jail. Life there is like being in a jail. To be constantly watched, living according to a rigid schedule, no time for anything. On top of that, we have to sell that way of life to all the new brothers and to each other. As an older brother, we have to be driving this way of life all the time; live under it ourselves and drive others constantly. Therefore, we are doubly trapped. My fear also is that at any time, I could be brought up as a hypocrite and all the new brothers that I have been so carefully and forcefully regimenting can turn on me. I also fear being trapped in there as the whole thing turns in on us and entraps us and becomes another 810. I also fear being locked into this system and totally entrapped by Brother Stewart where he can “work on me” and there is no way of escape. (I must answer. I will be checked up on. Everything known and worked on. I really fear being under his thumb. I know he is invincible, there is no point trying to contradict him in any way. All the others support his views. He will require instant obedience to himself, and that we instantly take up whatever his beliefs are.)

Now at Manhattan Floor Supply:

Summer is here in full force. It is now August 7th. Today, the air is sweet and fragrant. Where this scent is coming from, I don’t know, but it’s very beautiful. The air is cool, maybe even that first taste of September weather, but I am sure that many more hot days are coming. Full summer is here. Summer has reached its high water mark. August in all its beautiful steamy hazy heat and thunderstorms, and its subtle fragrances.

It was beautiful to be out in the park yesterday. I hope this avenue of escape is not going to get cut off.

I am about to take a drive out to Queens. It seems I have seen a little bit of my stomping grounds lately, the old delivery job. I enjoy doing this.

Here I am getting into thoughts about summer, and I have the idea that I am not supposed to be thinking about this. Sure, the strong desire about wanting to go back home to Point Pleasant seems to be gone, maybe I have come to realize of the impossibility of that. That desire that used to color my enjoyment of the park before. Now I try to enjoy it in the here and now and not try to connect it to my past. What if this desire comes back? I don’t know, who cares? Well, “No looking back.”

I feel like I have a big punishment coming toward me, almost like a huge wall. A storm front of black thunderclouds. Obviously, it must be feelings of final judgment, but somehow it always seems more immediate, like I am going to get it here and now, from Brother Stewart at a meeting. Maybe it is a dull awareness of the judgment to come.

Well, out to Queens. It’s amazing how I can be so ambivalent. I am extremely tempted, but I am also greatly enjoying summer and I am wondering how both types of thoughts can exist in me at the same time.

I was reading the Bible today. I figure I need to read it because I need encouragement. I mean, we only concentrate on certain parts of the Bible. I need the parts about prayer.

[Stewart Traill only highlighted negative parts of the Bible like hell, judgment, our soon death, the wages of sin, self-denial and putting to death our lives in this present world – to the exclusion of all else in the Bible, with rare exceptions. Even if we did get a meeting about God’s mercy, Stewart beat everyone up for not looking enthusiastic enough, saying that this meant we were thumbing our noses at God’s mercy. And the life between the brothers and sisters was also centered in these themes, which were the central feature of any dialog, social life or interaction with one another and everything was talked about in terms of this negative view of the Bible. It was the language we spoke to one another.]

Now, I hear that Stewart says that the older brothers should be encouraging each other. That is the message, or part of it.

August 8th

While riding back in the van last night to Red Hook, I was speaking about the time at a meeting with Stewart, when Paul B. talked about Romans 8, saying he was somewhere in between the flesh and the spirit. Peter then said I have a basement where I file all this stuff away because I know I can’t deal with it.

Wood floor jobs continue and the wood floor business seems to be getting built up.

Chuck was talking with us yesterday about how those of us living at Red Hook should meet at the office in Manhattan so we can get worked on there. Chuck seems to be talking with us kindly now. The word among Red Hook brothers is that he is now doing this, instead of always raving at us, because Stewart told him to “encourage us.” So now he is.

The truth is, I like our little Red Hook crowd. There are invitations to come to the 45th Street loft, but really I am not interested. I will only go if I am forced to go. I wish the whole thing could be called off, the whole loft way of life. I can’t even stand the thought of having to live that way.

[The brothers who lived at the loft did nothing but four things all day: work in the church businesses, go out into the city to look for new converts, do “urgent” Bible studies, and sleep communally on the floor. Stewart Traill promoted this lifestyle as the way to “break up our lives in this world and put to death our flesh,” to “not be off into our own little worlds,” and to be fully faithful to Jesus. Being faithful to Jesus meant “doing God’s will, not our will, every second.” In COBU, doing God’s will meant a regimented, machine-like life of making money for the church, going out to find more converts, being in meetings to talk about and reinforce the COBU belief system of extreme self-denial, and then to sleep on the floor at night. I was only going to move there if I were forced to. My life was regimented enough as it was and I was bombarded by this slanted teaching on the Bible enough and I did not want the even greater measure of surveillance on my life that living in the loft involved.

(Bible studies at this time were reviewing “hell and warning verses” and shouting slogans at one another about how we’re going to die soon and lose everything in this life and that we’re headed straight to hell) 

The loft was a floor in a warehouse building that was not zoned for residence. The older brothers, probably Kevin or Chuck, who had spoken to the landlord told him that the church was going to use the space to store carpet cleaning equipment, donated materials and that there would be bible studies held there. And then the church turned it into a residence, with 40 people sleeping on the floor. This loft was supposed to be the first of many, but it was closed down after a while. I was fearing this new direction that Stewart was promoting at the time. Everyone was going to be forced to live this way. The 45th Street loft was a prototype and if it proved successful, more lofts would be started. COBU would have spread this loft system to other cities if this way of life had been successful.]

Today is August 8th, usually always the high day in my remembrances of summers past. The immediate longing seems very faded, but at the same time, it is still there to some degree. Maybe because I realize I will never have it any way or also realize what good would it do for me anyway. But, I still can’t say I now dislike these things either.

I may be able to guard Staten Island tomorrow. I wouldn’t mind missing this meeting, that’s for sure.

I really do need a wife, it would really be a help. But for sure, there is no way I could get one. I would have to emerge and come out from hiding into the society. The society is a barrier though, nobody is going to get married without entering through this gate or passing that test. Any attempt to do this seems like a long hard impossible road. Long and arduous, and even the best brothers, who don’t seem to be such hide-outs as I am, are not getting married and definitely never speak of it publicly, let alone try to do anything about it.

I am now winding down on today’s wood floor work. August 8th is presenting an array of gathering storm clouds from the southeast. Different layers of gray clouds flowing in from the southeast quadrant of the compass. The air is growing cool. I wish I was in the park or somewhere, but I have been figuring that I will not try to wish I was somewhere else all the time like I used to, but I will try to enjoy things in the here and now. It is a waste of time to always wish I were somewhere else all the time.

The clouds are beautiful. I can see them from the van window just fine. I can watch the patterns of the weather anywhere. It is one of those subtle hobbies I have, knowing about natural history, tides, plants, meteorology. Things I read in books and can observe in the world around me, even in the city. No, I don’t want to spend my life wishing I was somewhere else. I want to enjoy things in the here and now. This is a much more resourceful way to live. I need to be more resourceful, to find out more things. There are many more nooks and crannies in my life, “cubbyholes,” places to find things and to put things. Time to do things, ways to plan things. I never want to have an unproductive or drifting feeling; never want to be lonely or alone. Never want to have cause for complaint. I am not married, but, there are things I can do. I don’t know how else I am going to survive this life that seems to be presented before me. Probably somehow I will get absorbed into it. So, how am I going to live my future?

(Those clouds are getting darker and heavier. This is really beautiful. I really do appreciate things like this.)

And in some ways I don’t mind getting absorbed into it. Probably I will feel safer once I cross the line, no longer to be a fugitive or a hideout. But at the same time, I am not willing to just let go of everything. Yes, it would feel good to be perfectly safe, but I just don’t know if I can live this way. I need to strike some sort of compromise. But, I don’t know if this is trying to have it both ways.

[I wondered if I would feel perfectly safe, shepherded and protected if I were completely giving myself over to God’s plan for my life, (God’s plan for my life as dictated by Stewart Traill). This involved giving up everything, even my own claim to myself. I was supposed to move into the loft and be nothing more than a machine, with all human parts of me cut off. And to do nothing but work and gather and teach new converts in this way. Owning and possessing nothing, sleeping on the floor in a loft.

In exchange for accepting this life, I might feel that I no longer had inner conflicts. And that I was no longer standing apart from the “truth,” that is, the pressures that were being hammered at us constantly. I might have some peace by giving into this pressure and going along with it and by no longer harboring thoughts contrary to this way of life.

If we were obedient, Stewart might let up on us. And later on down the line, there might be relationships and marriage available to those who were faithful. Because Stewart never spoke against marriage or said it was wrong. He said we were not faithful enough to Christ to be able to marry. This seemed to imply that, if we carried out all of Stewart’s plans, we would be qualified to marry later on, maybe after we had started new fellowships and lofts in other cities and had become church leaders. This involved tireless labor and the complete renunciation of self. And for sure, marriage would not be right away either, even if we were doing all of these things.]

I will do all these things, but I will also be a secret studier, secretly admiring the clouds and other aspects of natural history when I see them. A secret studier of languages and gatherer of other kinds of knowledge. I think I can go underground, but hopefully, there will always be a secret part of me alive, wondering. Maybe I can sublimate everything, not especially getting upset if I can’t go running. (Maybe I’ll give it up altogether, forget about it and be glad to go walking sometimes whenever I happen to get the chance.) The same goes for everything else. These are the kinds of things I am considering.

I had a dream last night. Most of the details are lost to me except the idea was presented to me that, “All the good things will have absolutely no effect on me until I am converted.”

Possibly I could just let go of everything. (Even though I actually hardly do these things I want to do, but my mind always seems so occupied with them.) I picture myself then, just floating. I can’t explain it on paper so well, but it is a detachment. Also I have these peaceful eidetic images like those times when I came back from a long carpet cleaning day and I was just watching the red and green lights on the highway. Go along with everything. Don’t speak against Stewart, not even little hints. But at the same time, a floating, a detachment. A conscious awareness. The idea that most all of this is ridiculous, that this place is really a cult, or very much like a cult.

A consciousness. A peace, an awareness. I am just rambling on here. I feel more than I am able to say. And, I may be totally wrong. Sometimes I just feel a euphoria. I don’t know where it comes from. It just bursts out on me at times during the day, almost as if to say that things are going to be alright, though I have no reason to believe it will be so. Just let go; go along with everything. Ascend to some other place. Don’t care about your things. Though this is more a result than a choice, just as a refugee or a political prisoner in a Soviet prison camp can’t really care about things, because he is detained and he just doesn’t have them anymore. He can’t care about his crops or his livelihood or his studies or whatever it was with him before; he just gets into the camp life because he has to and he learns a kind of detachment as a way of coping with it all. He sort of floats through the routines of his day.

Whatever this thing is, it is coming after me and it is bigger than me. What is it? Here are some ideas. It is:

*  Hiding in the homeless, in order to feel like we are doing a good work and to justify our own existence and to feel better about ourselves.

*   Diving into this “loft life” for what? To exert greater control on one another and to obliterate any traces of a personal life or any opportunity for any kind of worldliness?Closing in on ourselves to maintain strict control over ourselves and to make sure only one ideology is propagated and that all conform to “the way.” All rigidly, but complacently, controlled. (Everybody looks so calm and happy, but really nobody is. Neither the brothers nor the sisters).

*   Completely withdrawing from the world and from all other people so as to only draw influence from each other. Going down a blind alley? Yet, there is no way to check anything. We are now so completely distrustful of any other way and it all sounds so completely foreign to us. Going down a blind alley, but we have to find some way to feel good about it.

I feel this heavy control over me; the realization that I am in a cult and I know it – I strongly suspect it – yet I can’t get out. Why? Because of the fear of death, the fear of judgment. If I leave, I will die and go to hell – guaranteed. (If I knew it weren’t true, I would leave.) I am caught on the inside. Yes, it is true, there are no locks on the inside of our doors, you can leave any time you want – or can you? But, I am locked on the inside.

How am I going to survive this coming life?

August 9th. At the New Property.

We are now getting seated for the meeting. On the way down, all the brothers generally were in a joking mood; obviously concealing their real thoughts and apprehensions about this coming meeting.

We have heard, through Skylar, that there will be a surprise at the meeting for the brothers who live at Red Hook. But, we would have been apprehensive anyway.

The whole church is under the rod of correction. You can feel it in your bones. I am speaking in reference to the older ones. Regarding the new brothers, we certainly do have a wild, unruly bunch. I guess I will never really get to know how to deal with the street attitude. Learn to live with it, but never get accustomed to it. I talk with them, but keep myself far away and insulated. I talk with them by means of some outward fringe thing. I guess that is wrong…but for sure, these people are very different than me. (These ones are for the most part always conniving, looking to break out; what can they take or steal? Who can they intimidate and bend to their will? They do everything on a confrontational intimidation basis and force. Much more than truths or reason must be used to keep them in check, though I guess you can’t do without the truth. They would probably see through that and see that this is only some jail system. Something in them respects the truth.)

I mean, this whole thing is strange – not even to mention how the brothers and sisters always sit separately in the meetings. And each group of brothers must sit together – the office group, the loft group, Red Hook. Everything is done together in one homogenized mass. Older brothers are almost completely submerged and swallowed up in this mass of new faces. It’s almost like we are all inmates together in Rikers Island.

It is so strange. What other church is, or was ever like this? We do our work, but there is so much punishment at the same time. Older brothers work to gather new people into the church. They put out much effort to keep everything going and to keep everything together and then they get come down on. New brothers, for whom older brothers are their benefactors to some degree, see an older brother and say, “There’s another dinosaur.” Shouldn’t it be either one way or the other? How can anybody be motivated to gather new people into the church, who, at the appropriate time – usually at meetings – rise up against us and decry our weirdness? But this way, things are kept in a delicate balance, an equilibrium between our usefulness and our worthlessness. But, I have the sense that everybody – that is, the older brothers – is in terror. Or is it only me?

August 10th

Brothers at the meeting (Paul and Peter) saw me writing in this diary. They said that if I have secret thoughts, what am I doing here? Why do I have to write them down in code? What am I afraid of? I take it that if ones see me writing in a diary, they get suspicious and that I ought to hide such a thing. Yes, I have secret thoughts, but I also want to have a diary like I did back in 1988.

Dave C. left yesterday. I overheard that he came by with the cops to get his belongings. Ones who leave always seem to do that, even older brothers. When I was in the office, I thought about asking if anybody saw Dave C., but I thought I’d just wait till I overheard someone else speaking about it to find out.

At the meeting yesterday, we were bailed out of a bad situation by Brother Stewart. It was another one of those meetings where we were deliberating whether or not to break up into separate meetings. It becomes an impasse, because if the older brothers have a separate meeting, we are accused of hiding. If we stay together in the meeting, we are accused of weirding everybody out. So, Brother Stewart came in and circumvented all that, while bailing everybody out and encouraging everybody at the same time.

Things seem a little easier today because of this. We need more of this kind of thing, in my opinion. This is why I was reading the Bible myself to look for encouragement. But the truth is that, as the fellowship goes, I go. If things look bad, then I am hopeless and I dig in all the more.

I have the number 53 van right now. It is full of garbage. I may try to go running. Maybe it is better just to forget about wanting to do these things, just because of the hassle involved. Not so much the hassle in the doing of them, which is there too – but the mental hassle, the thoughts about whether it is permissible to do them or not. It seems like I should just be able to do them. It is nobody’s business, but the debate rages on inside me. Why can’t I just do these things without the war raging on inside? Either do it with no hassle, or don’t do it and forget about it.

I guess it comes down to, that if I do something I enjoy or take a break, I have just sold out on Christ. And that every human desire can be boiled down to its lowest common denominator, which is that the flesh is demanding to have its own way and just wants to feel good right now. (But if I wait till later to do something, when it comes, it is also right now too.) Like how the communists say that a teardrop is only chemicals, just water and salt.

[According to communist atheist scientists, any human emotion is just chemicals in the brain. This was a lot like the COBU point of view about human desires.]

The debate was starting to rage. I see how I was tempted to draw others into it. I was in the office. I started to talk about it and others overheard me. I see how ultimately this could lead to me publicly blowing up and saying that I don’t believe everything Stewart says, or saying that the whole thing is a bunch of “compost.” I can’t afford that! But that’s what I feel compelled to do and what I am being lead up to. I even let some brothers know I was planning to go running. What? Are they supposed to tell me it is okay to do? Well, I did it in the name of being in the light. Possibly it would help.

I feel that when Stewart says these things about denying our lives in this world, he is laying down laws and tying me up. This will be the law and that’s it. There will be no pleading our cause. But yet, I can’t seem to accept this calmly, or in any way at all. What I get out of this, is that I am selling out on Christ for trinkets. For a jog in the park. And that this small handful of pleasures is able to counterbalance all that Christ has ever done for me and is able to wipe out everything. I could see if it was something like getting into fornication. Yes, that would wipe it out; though maybe Christ could still redeem me. But, that is on quite a different level.

Yes, I feel bound up. It’s as if in one swoop Stewart can wipe away any desire I have. I feel captured. I have no rights  Anything I want can just be explained away with this method. Stewart says that if we insist on our own way, we are being “arrogant.” It seems like a way of keeping complete control on people. (But, maybe I dig up all these “findings” just to justify my way.)

I went running. I enjoyed it (to the degree to which a thing may be enjoyed). It is good to be outside, running. It’s funny, how the turmoil built up to it, and was relieved when doing it. Then, immediately upon finishing, the turmoil came back, though not to the same degree. I guess when I finished, I saw it is good.

I am sitting in a van out in front of the Red Hook warehouse, watching an almost full August moon rising. I can measure its progress by the phone wires it crosses.

Tonight, we brothers from Red Hook are supposed to go to 46th Street and have a meeting to figure who is going to move where. I will probably move to Woodruff. I really don’t want to live in a loft situation. I can’t bear the though of it.

It is so peaceful sitting here watching the moon rising and the leaves waving in the twilight hour. It is good to run, it makes me feel good and relaxed.

August 11th.  At Staten Island.

I was guarding the Church’s Staten Island house. Single mothers and their children lived there and there was always a brother sent over for a guard shift that usually lasted 24 hours.

I was looking for meteor showers last night. August 11-13 is the Perseides.

At the meeting last night outside 46th Street, everybody but three decided to continue staying at Red Hook “on a 45th Street basis.” 

[The loft was at 45th Street. Though not there, we were committing to live the same lifestyle as in the loft. Or at least we were goaded into making this commitment. The other choice would have been to say we were refusing to make this commitment.]

How exactly this will be received and with what revisions, I don’t know. But as it stands now, we are on a three day trial basis. It would be strange or it would seem too easy if we all suddenly melded into the loft without much ado – although actually I would like it to be that way. I would rather ease my way into it without attracting too much attention to myself.

I am at Staten Island on the front porch. I love summer. August is here to stay, at least for a while.

I get driven by a voice. I look up at the clouds, it says, “You are wasting time.” I probably am going to read about the Reformation or something, but then I figure: is that the best thing? Boy, sometimes I wish I could just relax. I don’t want to just give in to pleasing myself, though I wonder if this idea has to do with those who live for self-gratification vs. those who don’t. But those who don’t, it doesn’t mean that they never do something they like once in a while. And the difference between these kinds of people is their aim.

This morning, while getting ready to come here, it seemed to come “clear” for me that it would be okay to bring my artwork. Maybe the turmoil over “can I, can’t I?” had something to do with hiding out, so everything seemed wrong, but even after taking a small step toward living rightly last night, then the indecisiveness disappeared.

On the way over here, I got into some pretty steamy thoughts about marriage and how I can’t get married. As I was walking on the way up from the ferry, I got to the point where I was talking to myself under my breath and making gestures with my hands. Just then, Barb drove by in the van and waved, interrupting my reverie. I also caught a glimpse of Laura in the back seat and we were both looking at each other for a second. I was startled. It was a thing I didn’t plan. Of course, I can’t attribute anything on her part, like she has any desire for me. She probably thinks, “There’s an older brother.” But as for me, our eyes just met and I just stared dumbfounded as she went by. There was no chance to put on a front and hide, the real me came out for a moment. But, whatever, it helped me to stop these thoughts. Maybe God arranged that. There is nothing outside of his control, not meaning it is a sign that I am to marry her, but I did walk away thinking about that time when I prayed about marriage (after a long time of refusing to pray about it, because I figured “what’s the use?”) and I heard a voice say to me, “What if you had to wait 3 or 4 years.” And then, I fell asleep while still praying and had a dream about her. And I began to wonder if it was real or not. But, in any case, seeing them drive by made me stop thinking so harmfully about it all.

What if it is true? What if I am to marry her? How could this be? True or not true, I do hold this in my heart as one of my darkest secrets and I basically discard the idea of marrying any older sister, partly on the basis of this and partly on the basis of how I have never been able to start anything with any of them and I also question my own competence in handling any older sister (though that just may be the old view).

When I think of the possibility of marrying Carrie, it only goes so far. It will seem like maybe – if it were possible in the first place. But then, I just seem to think no. But, am I setting myself up with this fantasy about Laura? Really, I think I would be glad to marry any sister.

Things are getting pretty intense for me, I can’t really concentrate on anything, not the Bible. Everything else, seems like wasting time. I tried to draw, but could hardly do anything. I began to pray, about how I am overcome by passion, enslaved to various passions and pleasures and to my own interests. I started thinking about Stewart, about how he has got me in the palm of his hand, about how I hate him – very unchristian thoughts. About how I know I am on another collision course with him and that it is just a matter of time again. I fear it will come out over some “little issue,“ like a matter of permission to do something in this life. But this will lead to questioning Stewart’s teaching and to basically questioning his competency itself. Not that I will, but he, or others will draw that out of me. I see how he is invincible, that nobody can beat him in an argument. I even get thoughts about hitting him or crashing a chair over his head.

Well, what is the point of writing all this? I guess I am just trying to show or explain who I am.

August 12th

I was driving a van for the church wood floor business. I had some free moments alone and drove to Freedom Place, a street which overlooked the Hudson River. I sometimes parked the van there when I had a moment, to get time to myself to write and think.

(At Freedom Place). Yesterday, I pretty much escaped the temptations I had by being busy. I got into reading about the Reformation and got involved with Jason’s birthday party. (Which I attended as a shadow. I really have nothing to say and nobody expects it of me anyway.)

I started to get into some thoughts about Stewart today. I am in an agitated state of mind again. A basic cross-section of what I’m thinking about is:

1)  “God sends upon them a strong delusion.” This verse was used here in times past to keep everybody in line. The implication was that only Stewart’s teaching was true; anything else, even if we were beginning to question or look for a different way, was begging to be lead astray.

[This verse is in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, which says: “The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” This passage was a staple of COBU theology. It was used to mean that if we questioned or were looking for a way out of obeying the “truth” as taught by Stewart Traill, we would end up being deceived by the devil, or by God really, who according to Stewart would “give you the rope to hang yourself with, if you wanted it bad enough,” because we were refusing to love the truth. This idea was ingrained in my thinking from many years of conditioning. The fear of this often kicked in when I began to question Stewart, his teachings and our way of life in the church.]

2)  Question: how much of what we are presently taught is to promote faith and how much, if any, is just used as a method to keep us in line? These heavy “renouncing our lives in this world” and “all of life is a fraud” teachings. A person could come up with verses and teachings to back up what he believes or to promote his plans. In other words, the Bible can be used to back up a person’s opinions and the majority would never realize it because they just think he is coming from the Bible. If it is from the Bible, it must be true then. (This is what is what Stewart did before.) I guess this is one of the many questions I have. It is in the area of: are we being lead astray, are we being told the truth or is it some kind of mixture? It is the Bible, with a lot of Stewart’s plans and ambitions thrown in. There is a certain loud slant or bent to it all. There is a pressure I can feel. I am told it is the truth, the whole truth. (Though at times, Stewart hints that he is emphasizing certain things and excluding others, driving certain things at the expense of other things.)

I get the impression that Stewart is reforging the entire Christian faith. And that something doesn’t exist until he sees it; that he himself is the source through which all our good comes.

When reading about the Reformation, I keep seeing echoes and glimmers of things that seem familiar, such as the story about Martin Luther finding an old Latin Bible in the library and reading it, discovering that the Pope only emphasized certain parts of scripture, leaving out whole parts altogether.

I must find the whole scripture. It may be dangerous to simply accept Stewart’s synthesis; to be spoon-fed only what he selects for us, discarding all else and relying on him totally. Maybe it is okay, or is enough, but I always feel I am being duped, or that something is missing or wrong; that there is something he is not telling me. (Maybe it is the temptation of the serpent in the garden, who said that God is withholding something from you, knowledge that God knows would benefit you if you got it, but he is keeping you in the dark. But, maybe it is a real thing that is propelling me.)

All I know is that I have the feeling that I am being watched; I am going to be judged and evaluated. Somebody is keeping close tabs on me. Even if he isn’t around me all the time. And that I am being drawn closer and closer to this thing or this force and that simultaneously, I have been trying to keep my distance at all costs. Maybe it is really God, but I don’t see or admit this to myself directly. Or maybe it’s just because I see through a glass darkly. But maybe it is Stewart and what I suspect is true – that he is devising a system of control over persons and a method of binding consciences that is effective, complete, all-pervasive and terrifying. A system that is largely based on fear and intimidation, fueled by my ignorance and indifference, and multiplied by my guilt over sins that I have chosen.

All I know is that I feel as if I can’t get away for a minute, even to relax here at Freedom Place. I feel like I’m stealing. And I feel that I am always on a treadmill, going, going, going; that I owe my life to the church and that I am not my own in the sense that I don’t have any rights and that I can’t – or had better not – think for myself or make any decisions, or think or do anything differently from the hoi polloi.

When reading about the Reformation, about the system set up by the popes at that time, I see echoes and certain resonances that seem to apply to my life in some ways, but it can also be hard to prove it.

August 14

Today, from the get go, I have been into thoughts about Stewart and related thoughts. Last night on the job, I was thinking pretty heavily about the same thing. Only once or twice did I lift up my eyes and think about what I was doing (or thinking). Then, I did what I have done on other occasions – I categorized what my thoughts were. In other words, “All this boils down to worrying about my future and how much of what we are learning is the truth and how much of it is something to keep us under tabs?” (Are we an off-center religion like the Shakers, a religious repression society? What is going on?)

But, even categorizing my thoughts didn’t seem to work. I wasn’t able to stop thinking about all this. I guess getting wrapped up in these thoughts just feels too good. (I could bring a tape player with headphones. It is not the ultimate cure, but it helps. An example was when I was with [new brother] Juan V. in the van driving. I was heavily into the same thoughts and he said, “Turn on the radio in Spanish.” I did, and there was immediate release from my misery. I have doubts about all this “the flesh just wants to feel good right now,” talk, because this was a help. Of course, that was me that felt good, not my flesh. Possibly it is my flesh that feels good by doing all that grinding away in my thoughts.

Well, this seems to be the subject for today. I was here at Red Hook, reading some meeting notes, where Stewart talked about how the flesh never dies and how the Bible never speaks of putting the flesh to death. Instead, you put yourself to death, you die. (Though I seem to remember Paul S. saying at a meeting that he was going to put himself to death and Stewart correcting him and saying otherwise.)

I wonder what the Apostle Paul meant by all this death talk and did he feature it so prominently as we are hearing?

Put everything – including me – to death? I don’t know. Something I thought was:

For physical appetite, physical food is the answer or antidote.

For tiredness, sleep is the answer or antidote.

For the temptation to immorality, marriage is the answer or antidote, etc.

It is not Christ himself as the answer, though Christ has made all these things. (John 1: “All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.”) Christ is not the answer for my temptation to immorality, though I need to trust him about it. Trust him (hopefully) to get me a wife! Not himself. I don’t need Christ, in a manner of speaking, to satisfy hunger or sleep. That would be pretty unreal; I am hungry, so pray to Christ and I will no longer be hungry, or, that he will feed me through some secret internal means.

So, I have physical and human desires, to be taken care of through the usual physical and human solutions. If I get them, I know Christ gave them to me. I also know that Christ created me with and gave me those desires. Think of it: the desire for sex and marriage comes from God himself! (Then possibly, what else? The desire for language, literature, even exercise, comes from God? Certain ambitions and desires? Why do we have to mortify everything? What is this fragmentary Christian life?)

Verses come to mind: “Do not for the sake of food destroy the kingdom of God.” Maybe that’s it: if these things are interfering with your relationship with God, or hurting others. But then again, if this verse is talking about more than food – that is, about human interests – then all those food verses in Romans 14 and elsewhere can be applied to human interests as well, which is hopeful. That is, “Those who require abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving,” could then also mean, “Those who require abstinence from human interests.”

I always feel there is going to be some kind of confrontation coming down the road somewhere. I will try to keep cool and not fight or disagree openly anymore. But, I always entertain these fantasies about getting cornered into some impasse where I am squeezed into coming out with it. “It” being that I disagree with Stewart or his teaching.

***

This passage in 1 Timothy 4 is a good description Stewart Traill and his false teaching and scripture twisting:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. False teachings are as old as the Bible. By studying passages like these and no longer believing what Stewart said about the Bible, and like Luther, reading the Bible for myself, I began to consider what the Bible really said and what things Stewart was twisting, or leaving out altogether. I also read a lot about the history of cults and false religions and saw a pattern that was common to all of them, including the sect I was in, and this also helped me to leave, which I did, about a year later, at the end of August 1993.

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