1993, 01/14-16. “Stop Looking for Answers and Act On What You Already Know and Believe.”

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

As I read other ex-COBU members’ stories, I am coming to realize all the more the extent Stewart Traill’s duplicity. Stewart was enforcing utter self denial on us (which is one of the issues that I was dealing with in these journal entries, among others) while he was taking sexual liberties with his close female followers. And he did that for years. It is still hard for me to understand just how effective these self denial teachings were. They seemed to come from God himself, with Stewart as God’s spokesman. Yet the person telling us to give up our lives in this world was not living by these teachings himself. Instead, he was amassing a fortune in money, property and access to young females. I used to read books on cults when I was in COBU, to try to understand what was happening to me. (After I began to face and admit that maybe I was in a cult, my next step was to read about cults. Many of these books talked about cult leaders having sex with female followers while enforcing celibacy for all the other members of the cult. These books also explained that cult leaders live in luxury while cult members usually live in poor living conditions.)

Today is January 14, 1993 and I am starting this new diary, almost appropriately, behind the wheel of a van, since this reflects the use I have for it. It is a portable diary, to take with me to write in as I have opportunity.  It’s nice to withdraw into a diary sometimes. Sometimes I think, it is the only time during the day that I have any conscious thought. The day can be so much like clockwork. At least this journal helps me to form thoughts and to define what is on my mind – if only for my own use. The essential factor in keeping any diary is secrecy and privacy. Otherwise it ceases, at least in my opinion, to be a real diary. It could be a logbook or an account sheet, but not really a diary. Privacy, whether in the form of concealability (it’s small and can be locked away), or undecipherability (it can be kept in notehand or some completely illegible code). To me, a public diary is useless.

January 15

I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge again today. It only takes an hour to get to Court Street (City Hall) in Manhattan this way. While in a store, I saw a man on TV saying, “Yes, I am afraid of judgement. I am afraid to die.” The next thing I saw was Joan Rivers, with a sarcastic look on her face. Possibly it was a preview for a movie. (NY Times TV section said: accident survivors.) I walked into the store at the right time to see that. It was like a scene from a dream, or otherworldly message interjected into my day.

[At that time in COBU, we were under a constant bombardment of teaching about “I’m going to die in 2 seconds and meet Jesus.” Meeting Jesus was never portrayed as something good or something to look forward to. It was our judgment and we were going to be cast into hell. I felt as if I were living under a death sentence and it was only a matter of time before it was carried out.]

I was thinking what to do. This was word for word my own concern. I started thinking of the usual, that I have to sell everything. I said to myself, “What do I do?” My attention was suddenly drawn to a large cross atop a church. It was like an answer. (I wouldn’t have particularly noticed it myself.) I thought of Jesus dying to take away my sins and what his death was. That he actually did this. I really don’t feel set free, though. I usually think “God is angry with me” and that it stops right there. Any thoughts of judgment usually amount to, I’m going to get it and that’s it. There’s no way out. Might as well enjoy what little I can now and/or try to forget about it. (Though I’m not actually able to do this. It creeps in other ways, when I least expect it.)

2 p.m.

I am now relaxing between coats of floor finish.

[I was alone on a job site. I was waiting for the finish to dry before applying another coat to the floor.]

I will try to complete what I was writing above, although now I have lost the original intensity and drive behind it. What I was trying to say was something about the (apparent) difficulty of it. The difficulty of dealing with and doing it. What it is, what it involves. I always feel I’ve got to make some final push or do something to get over the hump. What it involves: giving up all I have or ever wanted (because my life is not my own, or is over).

[Giving up our lives in this word and forsaking all we have was a major bible teaching which Stewart Traill often highlighted (and greatly distorted).]

It means there is a grudging, grueling course set before me, where I want the outcome, but not the course, because it’s so horrible.

[I wanted salvation and eternal life, but the price to pay for it and the life that we had to live in order to obtain it – as portrayed by Stewart and enforced by our lives in COBU – seemed unattainable, not to mention impossible and undesirable as a way of life. Essentially, I had to die, right now, and forget every human and earthly desire, which even if I wanted to forget it, or was scared enough into it, was not possible, due to the human condition.]

I’ve got to cut off all my desires. But, it seems they just won’t go away either. I’ll get an incessant nag to run or take a walk, study languages, read certain kinds of books, do artwork or other things that are not my job. It’s like I’m supposed to cut myself off and no longer live. To “turn on my self,” attack me, my life, and break it up. “No longer live the things that seem to be there.” [All this was according to Stewart’ teachings.] Somehow, I’m not able to do this, nor have I ever wanted to, really. (Really, I don’t want to do it.) Though I have been scared into it for short periods of time, but I can never maintain it. I start climbing the walls. It’s like I am worth more to God dead than alive. Or, it’s like God is not interested in me so much as in my salvation. Or in saving some essential part of me and casting off the rest like an unusable husk. Or, in the case of employers, God is not interested in me per se, in my home, family, other facets, wishes, desires – but only in the work I perform and the quality of that work. Because he is an employer and therefore is interested only in “employing,” entering into a contract with specific terms, expectations and obligations.

But God is a God who is interested in the whole person. But I get the feeling I am here for certain stated purposes and the rest is excess baggage. And I am a problem to myself and to others if I can’t lock into a single-track mode. This is a disciple-making and working church and anything else is superfluous. Doing anything other than this can bring angry stares. What is wrong with you, anyway? I feel I am supposed to live a strictly functional and utilitarian life, and that there is some big problem with me if I can’t, and if I can’t be glad about this as well. A verse keeps coming to mind, “As the outcome of your faith, you obtain the salvation of your souls.” This seems to say that salvation is not brought about by a man-made prescribed method of living or by fulfilling church goals and expectations. But it is faith and living by faith, that will bring about salvation as an outcome.

[Stewart was only interested in the parts of us he could use for his own goals. The rest was supposed to be cast off and not lived out. Stewart twisted Christian teaching to appear to promote that agenda, with verses about putting to death our sinful flesh and our lives in this world. We were supposed to break up our lives and not to follow any desires or ambitions of our own. I was confused about the source of this message. Was God telling me to do this? If he was, he seemed only interested in some small part of me, while casting off the rest of me. In the meantime, we lived on a constant treadmill in the church businesses and were often tired out from long work hours and staying up late in meetings, so COBU life helped to promote the idea of giving up all our desires and plans in life, because we neither had the time nor the energy for them.

This way of life created an undertow that pulled me under the surface and it seemed to give weight to the “truths” of this “biblical” teaching. I found myself giving up and letting go. Letting go of my life and desires in this world, while Stewart was thundering the words down from above that this was what I had to do with my life. Everyone else around me also appeared to be obeying this message. And if they thought otherwise, they were not going to tell me. This is an attempt to explain how there was more than just one thing working on me at the same time. There were the words being spoken to me and there were my circumstances, which seemed to confirm every word Stewart was speaking.]

8 p.m.

There is a meeting at Woodruff tonight. I’m not looking forward to it. At least though, I can get into a group. This is a lot more from fear of punishment than desire. I feel as if I have no real interest in helping the new brothers – but then again, I was just walking with Venacio and Avtar. There are some new brothers I consider favorites, if only because I know them. The rest seem like a nameless mass of humanity, who have to be shepherded and tended (or corralled) much more than it seems that men their age would need to be. Most are 35 to 45 years old.

I traced the route from Red Hook to City Hall on the map. It is three miles as the crow flies. A little more, if some turns are taken into consideration. According to the map, the bridge (including approachways) is one mile itself, though it seems shorter.

[This was important to me, because I could fit walking for exercise into my day by walking into the city from Brooklyn to go to jobsites. I was trying to fit my life and desires in and around the COBU work schedule. I was not ready to die yet and to give my whole life over to “God’s will for me,” as portrayed by Stewart Traill.]

12:20 a.m.

In a meeting with the older brothers. Speaking of groups, and, “Who is converting to a basis of grace?” But it sounds like like a bunch of works to me. Brothers are standing, making speeches about their performance in their groups, and being asked the standard questions. (Let’s play poker.) Standard questions, standard answers. Reflex action.

Groups: an opportunity from God to lay down our lives. I have been avoiding this. This meeting is already turning into a filibuster. Jay wouldn’t talk like this if he wasn’t in a meeting. (Neither would anyone else.) I feel like a rag being slowly squeezed through a ringer.

Saturday January 16

I was going through some of my things. I came across some old cartoons. [These were some cartoon strips I drew in an earlier time in the church, where I was making fun of life in the church.] I enjoy looking at them. I found the cartoon I drew about the Jersey City Fellowship. I was thinking, I was more of a person back then. (An individual, not fully assimilated?) Also, I was more humorous, and less deadly serious (as now) when dealing with perceived problems. I could learn a lesson from this.

A note I found from an old diary page: “I’m always ready to obey an order or to believe what I am told, on command, without verifying or checking for myself. But I’m afraid I’d become a broken record. The problem with being a “record” is that you only “play” when somebody spins you. You don’t learn how to think, live or believe for yourself.”

[Repeating the COBU lines and slogans we were required to say was like being a record that kept skipping. Stewart at one time even told us to be like a broken record and to just say the one-liners he gave us to tell people we were witnessing to. It was a wry observation to realize that records only play when someone spins them. This was another way of speaking about the marionette strings I often felt that I and others were operated by.]

Paul was talking to me about how I have a lot of talent going to waste, such as art and other things. He was saying I should examine what I really believe and act accordingly.(Oddly enough, this is the essence of what was on that diary page. What will I be five years from now, and why do I believe what I believe? I guess these are the basic questions I feel I can never touch, but this is what bothers me underneath it all, all the time. The course is set in granite. It can’t change. Shelve your mind. All questions are already answered, with the standard lines. And any questioning, or even pondering, is just making life harder for myself, so just sign off and do the program. But I always have these gnawing feelings. But I can always tell myself that I’m doing the “right thing,” even though I really don’t believe it.

Paul says I should pray for God to show me how to be a (better) servant, to use what I have.

I was reading Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Answer to Ten Thousand Letters. In one part he said that he probably doesn’t give the answers people want, such as by being more specific. Then he says, “Why do you put your head on me? Your head is on your own shoulders.”  In other words, you already know what to do. “Stop seeking answers and direction elsewhere. Act on what you already know and believe.”

So, just quickly and briefly thinking ahead: artwork, writing, humor, languages? What else? The things I live and do every day are not me. Why live something that is not me?

The next section of this journal can be read here: “We’ve Got to Get Out of Here! There’s No Spiritual Life Here!”

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