1993, 01/19. Captain of the Battlefield

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

This entry is titled Captain of the Battlefield, because I felt that I had to be always be struggling and fighting and that the moment I rested, I would be overcome by my enemies – which were sin, spiritual death and the devil. I wondered how this could be true if God is called The Captain of the Battlefield in one of the Psalms. It seemed that God would not have his back to the wall or be in a desperate fight for survival if he was described in this way in the Bible, and if this were true, then why did I feel as if my life was a constant treadmill?

Tuesday January 19

We’re doing a redo at Sergio Nivelle. I drove the van into the city today. It had engine trouble and there was smoke inside the van. I had the usual thoughts about Stewart, especially about social control. These thoughts went away when I walked into the office.

I have it “easy” today. That is, unless I have to do night work that I don’t know about yet. And why shouldn’t I “take it easy” with regard to work today? Why should I feel bad or guilty? What about that Sunday I worked for 13 hours in a restaurant cleaning chairs? Is there no balance? Lately, I’ve been feeling like I want to get away from work for a while. This is probably normal. It is what weekends and vacations are for in the world, their purpose, that is. A temporary escape from the stultifying routines of work.

[I was thinking about how “unsaved” people lived in “the world.” They were not caught up in a cult like this. They had balance in their lives and were able to rest and have leisure activities to recover from a long work week. This was strictly forbidden in COBU.]

I feel as if I have lost all sense of direction, purpose or motivation in my work. I feel as if I need to cool off or dry out. I know all the right things to say about motivation and purpose, and about how it’s deeper issues. But I think I am right.

[If I talked to someone about this, I would be told that my lack of motivation came from not being rooted in Christ, not because I was tired out from so much work.]

I can’t openly ask for time off, so I get it in other ways. A slow day at work, a little time behind the wheel, doing various minor tasks instead of a grinding job. I can stop off at a few stores, sit somewhere to read, write and think, and sort things out a little bit. I am surprised how this is missed or passed over here. It’s just common sense. But maybe it’s because we’re under so much punishment or in a full time war-like situation.

(Though sometimes I think this is overdone. It’s a fantasy of our own making so we can tell ourselves how important our lives are, and how important we are. We’re soldiers in Christian warfare, placed in a strategic location that must be defended at all costs.)

Stewart says that, “You don’t take breaks in a war – or you die.” Actually, they do take breaks. Soldiers aren’t kept at the front all the time. A smart general wants fresh troops and doesn’t let them get too battle weary or they will start slipping. There’s always rotation going on. Those who have fought are shifted to the rear, and new troops are being brought up to the front lines. I suppose unless they’ve got their backs to the wall and they’re taking their last stand. But I would think that Christ is a better general than that and that he has vast resources. I can’t imagine Christ being down to the last man. I thought he was the “Captain of the Battlefield.” I wonder if it’s an illusion of our own making. We’re messed up, but we have to say that our mess is the right way. Our faults, or our supposedly necessary experiences, are turned to virtues and precepts. I just can’t help doubting. This is where the idea of degrees comes in. These are true things, so you can’t knock them. But the proportions are wrong. There is too much of this, and not enough of that. I wonder if this is how God allows me to have time, how he gets around human traditions, if it can be spoken of that way.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of my delivery job.

[In 1988, I had a job delivering electrical supplies. It got me away from COBU life for 8 or 9 hours a day, because I wasn’t working in the church business. It provided time for me to think and analyse things, but I was still very bought into COBU life. I thought about leaving all the time, but it was not clear to me that leaving the “church” was not the same thing as leaving God.]

Certainly circumstances have changed and so have I. It’s just not the same. I was more carefree then. I could run, it was summer. I took long drives and found other ways to occupy myself. There were a lot of things I liked about it, including the predictability of the day so I could fit things in. (Not that it isn’t predictable now! But it’s too stifling.) Though also, I used to say life in the church was bad and I longed for the carefree life of summers past, before I was in the church. But I liked that job. There is probably something in this, that I’d still think this way. An indicator of some kind. Obviously my life isn’t as I’d like it to be. I feel as if I should say, “It’s bad to think about this, and to look back to that.” But maybe it’s just an indicator. I feel rushed, I never think, I never plan.

It feels good just sitting here parked in the van (outside Manhattan Floors) writing and occasionally looking at the blue sky and the buildings, just stopping for a minute or two. I feel all locked up, all the time. I never pause, never truly rest. Also I have forgotten God. I don’t believe God is found in the busy routines, in a quick prayer or reading a verse jammed in somewhere in the day. God is found in resting, in the quiet places. Usually, when I’m like this, if I remember to, I bow my head and make a quick prayer behind the wheel. But I never stop. Even if I do, my thoughts are agitated, so I can never settle down. This diary helps. It gets me to stop and to begin probing behind things (like about the “indicator” I just mentioned). I ask myself, what am I doing, running around like this? But going to God to help me with this is very hard. It’s not so easy for me to pray. But this writing helps. It helps me think, and to plan the day in some way. It makes me realize I can have a day. It gives me some other point of reference than the usual. It is the unofficial viewpoint, which is the real me. Maybe I can come to God this way, “just as I am,” and not through protocol. God knows anyway, right? John 6:37.

[John 6:37: Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me and him who comes to me I will not cast out.”]

Our routines now are very constricting. Back then, not so much. I had my job. Often that could be a breeze, tooling down the service road of the Long Island Expressway, looking at the summer trees. Then after work, a two hour fresh air break in Prospect Park. (Actually this was a continuation of three years of this. I had been jogging for three years. This was the end of that period in my life when I was free to do these things.) At that time, four nights a week, there were meetings that sometimes lasted to 3 a.m., if not later. So, I appreciated being able to go jogging as a way to offset this. Well, fortunately, we don’t have such meetings now. At least not on a regular basis and I am not compelled to go two or three nights a week into dangerous neighborhoods with just one of the sisters. I was worried every night would be my last!

Well, I’m losing the point, if there even is one. I’m writing about my past. Now, I am trying to put walking into my life, as a way to regain at least some of that freedom. I am not asking for much! A good long walk into work. Sun, air, sky, exercise. A way to maintain some small degree of health and weight control. Everything becomes so significant now. Little things that shouldn’t matter so much seem to have to be deliberated over so greatly. It’s like the plotting and calculations necessary to put a man on the moon. This all probably comes from that two year time period when Stewart gave us all those lessons about trashing our life in this world, having no idols and no painkillers. (It’s easy to invent internal painkillers that become far worse and far more toxic than these activities I used to reduce stress! And they develop by themselves, like cancers!) “If we do not have lawful enjoyments, we will go for unlawful enjoyments.”

[This is a paraphrase from the Matthew Henry Commentary about the lawful use of the enjoyment of sex within marriage, meaning that if people did not partake in lawful enjoyments, they would resort to unlawful enjoyments. Matthew Henry was being real about the human condition, saying that there is no possibility of living without pleasures of some kind, whatever they may be. 

In COBU, we were not supposed to have “unlawful” pleasures, but we were supposed to deny even lawful pleasures, the normal desires of this life that are not wrong. If we wanted these lawful pleasures, however innocent they may seem, Stewart Traill said that really, this meant that we were “into our life in this world,” and “thumbing our noses” at Jesus, because there was no middle ground. We were either ”fully there for Jesus,” which meant putting to death our lives in this world, or we were “cheating.” We were “trying to have it both ways” if we were keeping back some little portion for ourselves and for our life in this world.

If it had become known that I took walks to get exercise and a break from the routine, this would have been considered to be “cheating” on Christ and doing something for “self, in this life.” Especially if my reasons for doing these activities were known – that I wanted to take a break, however short, from the COBU way of life. We were supposed be in the service of “Christ,” every second, to do God’s will for us as portrayed by the Church of Understanding. This ultimately meant we were income and convert gathering machines, as well as a captive audience for Stewart Traill’s preaching (no one, outside of this place, took him seriously or would listen to him). We were an audience that strove to maintain complete agreement with him at all times, and which also was expected to believe and live by Stewart’s teachings and to speak to one another about them, using the vocabulary, words and phrases that Stewart used and not to come from “our own thoughts and ideas.”]

This is why I’m so worried about the smallest infractions or activities. Suddenly they have a cosmic significance. Sure, it’s a little thing, but they will ask me what my underlying motive is. But my method of thinking about this has become a major aberration, probably more harmful than the things I deliberate about doing (if they even are harmful). To be that wrapped up in myopic debates over meaningless decisions, it is the dividing power of conscience gone awry.

Also, my thoughts on things either don’t matter or are invalid (they’re not the real issue), except when they can be used against me. In other words, “Oh, you knew you were supposed to do that and you didn’t do it?” And a new realization (from last Sunday’s meeting and watching Stewart use the Socratic method gone awry), about how my own admissions can be used against me, “You said it about yourself. Prove it.” Otherwise I get the feeling that nothing of what I write is real, or matters. And, how certain mind control groups I have been reading about undermine one’s ability to make decisions, and one’s ability to be sure of what he is thinking and whether or not it’s real or acceptible to say it. There’s something wrong here. 

After writing this, I had my first real peace of the day, looking out the window (in the customer’s studio) at the skyscape. Could there be something to this?

[Since I had my first peace of mind during the entire day after writing about what I thought was wrong in COBU, I was asking myself, if I have peace after writing this, then is there some truth to what I am writing, and what I am perceiving? Always in doubt, I could not be sure. The peace seemed like a reassurance that I was on to something.]

Right now, I’m crashing in the wood floor supply closet at the West 46th Street Office. I just need to go off alone somewhere. I feel really bushed. I need to hide myself away somewhere, away from the scrutiny of public life where a good part of your actions are for the benefit of those who can see, whether to impress others, to portray an acceptible image, or to protect yourself. I do this a lot more than I’d care to admit. It’s a lot of work keeping up this front. If someone caught me in here and I told them I was relaxing for a minute, it wouldn’t go over very well. I need to think about what I’m doing. I need quiet. It’s noisy and busy in the office.

[I found some relief by going into the large closet used to store supplies for the floor sanding business. It would be seen as completely wrong if others knew I was taking time to myself.]

The latest happening is, “one Chinese girl can ruin your whole day.” I was in the pizza shop and she walked in. She surveyed the people at the tables (including me, and there was also one other guy), then she sat down very close to him. The normal thing in a restaurant is to find your own little place so you can eat without trouble. She sat so close to him, I began to wonder if she knew him. But I knew from the start she didn’t know him, because they hadn’t exchanged greetings. But all this was enough to make me wish she sat next to me so we could have a conversation. I suppose such a woman may turn out to be “loose,” but it just made me think of the word “companionship.” (She seemed lonely.) Such things shouldn’t bother me, but all the way back to the shop I kept thinking of how it would have been nice to have a conversation with her, and what I would have said – even just for the time I was there, then excusing myself and walking out alone, like the way I sometimes strike up a conversation in the elevator. She seemed like the type of woman I’d like to take to dinner or out walking somewhere. One I’d like to be seen with and go places with (but not in the sense of showing off). She was tall, attractive, dressed nicely and seemed intelligent.

The fact I’d get this way over a complete stranger, just shows how something’s lacking. It doesn’t take much to guess what that is! Nor will I elaborate much here. I can’t take a sister here out for a meal, or go somewhere or even talk. For all practical purposes, I can’t have anything to do with the sisters. (Except for business related matters, or saying the latest line about Christ to them.) But it’s a dead issue otherwise. You learn to live without these things, or you think you do. The last time I went out to dinner with anyone was at Las Palmas with Bob D.!

I “must” live as though I didn’t have these (and other) parts to myself. I certainly do “deny myself!”

[One of Stewart Traill’s major teachings was that we were supposed to “deny ourselves,” by not living according to our desires for things “in this world.” We were not supposed to “live out the things that seemed to be within us,” while at the same time, Stewart was carving out a big slice of “this life” for himself, which included women besides his wife. Stewart’s sociopathy and duplicity is sometimes still difficult for me to comprehend, even now. How he could make these things he told us to do seem so real and binding, while at the same time, living this life of the “flesh” and “cheating” and “having it both ways” himself?]

And I do get the feeling that an organization is depriving me. (When I mentioned to George about how I can’t have anything to do with the sisters, adding the obligatory, “of course, it’s all about because of how I am,” George said, “That’s part of why.”) But this “denying” gets wearying and it wears me down. It’s hard for me to function. But function I must, so I drag myself up each day and do what I gotta do. Maybe it’s a good sign that I can’t function as a perfect machine. Part of it (maybe) is pride. I put the best front forward. Part of it is, this is what’s prescribed for me, so I must live it. It’s expected of me. I must function flawlessly every day and do what’s expected of me. Though I am sure no one thinks I’m that good of a worker. But, it’s expected that I make no trouble and that I just function. I must keep my problems to myself. I’m not here for what I want.

[This was Stewart Traill’s teaching. “I am not here for what I want. My life belongs to my brothers and sisters.” It was noble sounding, but it was used to deny any reasonable wants, needs and requests that we might have.]

And my needs can be reduced to only the basic supports of life. To food, clothing and a place to sleep. When brothers break down, the help they receive is not so much brotherly love, as it is the other workers springing into action to fix a loose part in an assembly line. The effort put out is concentrated on putting the loose cog back in place. A brother’s breakdown is a disturbance in the order of things. I get the idea that I am supposed to get and stay in line. That this is what is important.

You can read the next section of this journal here: Stewart Says We Need God to Save Us From This Sick Life. And Just What Sick Life Is He Talking About?

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