1993, 06/01-2. Post COBU Meeting Stress Disorder.


After this long, stressful and mind-bending meeting, Peter, Paul, Jim O. and I drove back to Brooklyn, leaving the church’s Philadelphia compound at 4 in the morning. I was driving and Peter was in the front passenger seat, talking to me to keep me awake. It was daylight by the time we were in Brooklyn. There was fresh early morning air and the smell of the new leaves on trees that spring morning. The morning seemed so fresh and alive, as opposed to the death and destruction that Stewart aimed at us in the meeting.  

Tuesday, June 16:35 a.m.

We drove back from the meeting to Red Hook. Peter was talking to me to keep me awake. We were talking about anything except what we should be talking about. I needed an inane conversation just to help me forget the miles and my thoughts about the meeting.

Toward the end of the drive, Peter started talking about the situation here in the church as he sees it, in his usual way. Jim O., who was laying down in the back of the vansaid, “So are you wailing about the meeting and about having to live in the fear of God?” Jim said this after Peter said we live the same routine all week and then we hear about hell every weekend. Out of everything Peter said, Jim picked this to comment on. These “enforcers” are always watching what others say. I don’t see how anybody could get on anybody else’s case after a meeting like the one we just had. Especially not in the sense of making sure nobody says anything bad, either about the meeting or about Stewart.

It is as if Jim O. was saying “Drink the Kool-Aid. It’s good for us.”

(This was a reference to what some people at the Jonestown mass suicide said when the cyanide laced Kool-Aid was being given out. On the tape made during that meeting, several members’ voices could be heard above the sound of crying children and members protesting about what was being done to them. These were those who were enforcing the rules of the cult to the last moment by saying, “Drink the Kool-Aid, it’s good for us.” And that is how certain brothers in the Church of Bible Understanding were. They were mindlessly on the side of the leader, no matter what he did to us. There was no possibility of reasoning with such persons.)

Earlier, I had begun to restrain myself in the conversation, because I thought I could feel Jim O. listening. Somehow I felt it, as if my thoughts were draining into him. Like, I’m being monitored. This is how ones like him act after meetings – like cops, catching bad guys. I needed to be able to drive back with Paul and Peter, to have someone to talk to and listen to, to take away the miserable lonely feelings I had after the meeting.

There is an way in which I don’t feel as bad as I have at other times like this, either because I have been through meetings like this before, or I am losing my fear, beyond reach. Just dull to warnings about hell.

There are people, like Jim O., that I have to stay away from. I really have to keep my thoughts to myself and keep a tight lid on with everybody, even with Paul.

3:20 p.m.

I’m out alone today. Jim O. and Paul are going to work at the job site in Locust Valley, because at the last minute they put it on me to talk with the committee to find out if I should go soliciting for new jobs, instead of working on this job. I don’t care, really.

Today, I feel on the verge of a collapse (but not quite). Things are probably going to get pretty tight here during the next few days. (And it probably won’t relent, as the fervor builds up for next Sunday’s meeting, where we will vote again on our categories.) Of course, I have seen this before, the big build-up and anticipation about “next Sunday,” even if only in my mind, only to have Stewart get us into something totally different the next Sunday anyway. But knowing this never seems to help. (I thought of doing something like calling the ACLU in order to “blow this church wide open to the public.”)

(This comment reflects how I sometimes thought of going for outside help, like to the American Civil Liberties Union. I even walked into their office once, but then turned around and left. These were vain thoughts, because no help like this was available. I was not going to be able go to some agency and report what it was like to live in COBU and have them intervene. The only outside intervention of any kind were news stories if the church infringed on the rights of minors, such as taking in young runaways or when Stewart Traill had some brothers beat his son’s rear end bloody and he went to the hospital. And the IRS challenged the church’s bookkeeping methods sometimes. Other than that, I was on my own. And after the Waco siege, I began to wonder if I’d really want law enforcement to come in there anyway.)

I’m now in a little park near the coffee shop at Henry and Middagh Streets.  I’ll just sit and enjoy my coffee.

7 p.m.

I had some satisfaction today because I walked for several hours.

(The following paragraph is about detoxing from the meeting.)

Today I have been mostly in the realm of fantasy. My mind is not quite working analytically. I thought too, maybe this is a kind of sorting process going on in my mind, because I’m not quite able to deal with it consciously. I’m playing out scenarios, future events, meetings, exchanges of words.

The worse thing they can do is throw me out – with a lot of stress in between. Part of this stress comes from the fact that I am absolutely unable to say anything in my defense; anything I think, if I disagree with anything, or if I want say this place is becoming like a cult, or that Stewart is a terrorist. Whatever it might be. Great stress comes from that. I wonder who will be the first one among us to snap during one of these meetings. It won’t be pretty. I feel headed that way myself. Since no one can argue rationally with the man, that only leaves the possibility of snapping violently in your emotions, lunging at him, or cursing him out. (I thought Steve D. was going  to do it last night. Paul later told me he thought the same thing.)

(I don’t consider myself to be writing in an organized way right now. I’m just randomly jotting things down. Maybe it reflects my state of mind. I feel incoherent. What will happen to me if this pressure Stewart puts on us increases?)

I have to admit that at first, I hoped Steve would blow up and hit Stewart. But then I remembered the lesson on forgiveness. I won’t survive if I don’t forgive my enemies, and that means everybody, in advance. It will destroy me, and also lead me into actions that will give somebody plenty to use on me.

I wonder if Paul was secretly hoping he would.

These brothers who are half accepted by Stewart have a vested interest in putting “heat” on us (or attacking us, or whatever else we are not supposed to say it is).

Well, I am now on my way to the office. I thought of avoiding everyone in the office, but then “don’t be a coward.” I can expect the worse by going there, but then in doing so, I can see what I can expect.

I have a strange detached drifting feeling, like I am mentally unstable.

I was reading the book Cults in America today in the public library. (It’s good to walk into a library and pull out a book I like and read a chapter from it to refresh my memory. It’s like having my own personal bookshelf, all over town. I also bought a book on Puritans in the Old World and New World from a sidewalk bookseller.)

(I could not keep many personal possessions, so I felt so amazed that I had my “personal bookshelf,” because I could stop off at libraries throughout the city, knowing what books were there and read them when I wanted to.)

I made a mental list of our now curtailed freedoms. (The acronym is SWAMM. Speech, women, activities, money, movement).

(Stewart was moving to control our lives more tightly than ever before. If it was already hard to freely speak our minds, talk to the sisters, have free time to do things, or keep the occasional tips our customers gave us, it was becoming progressively worse in every way.)

(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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