1993, 05/27-31. Daily Routine And The First Session Of The Memorial Day Weekend Meeting.
In this section, I was writing about daily life in the cult and about the things I wished I could have “in this life” that I could not have. I also wrote about being in a high pressure, mind bending meeting with Stewart Traill, the leader of the cult, at the church’s compound in Philadelphia.
Thursday, May 27
I went to work on the wood floor job at Locust Valley again today, because I just couldn’t do another day of going door to door looking for customers, either alone or with somebody. It’s just too lonely.
I’m now standing outside of the job site. Today has my ever favorite blue-green combination of colors of the blue sky and green trees. I feel a little better for having come out here instead. The hour of “golden sunlight” is here now and I am enjoying how the low rays of the evening sun makes everything look golden.
Two people lately have mentioned how I could make money from doing artwork lately (Mom and Paul), though I dismissed it in both cases, but I wonder if God is trying to tell me something.
Friday, May 28
I slept late. I’m supposed to work on a job that starts late tonight. It’s a delicious spring day outside.
I had many pleasant dreams last night. Maybe I think about dreams too much. My dreams included places from childhood and crying because I saw my father. I asked him, “Why did you die?”
Later, I sat at the desk here and thought of scenes from childhood: the route we used to walk to school, where the crossing guards were and why didn’t we ever walk down Curtis Avenue sometimes and go to school that way?
Waiting at 16th and 9th Streets for Anthony. I’m beginning to feel frustrated. Can’t say why really, except that I have that “crowded” feeling again. After dropping off the van, I had hoped to walk to the library, then get some rest before the night job, but plans changed and now I’m driving. Maybe it’s uncertainty over whether I will get rest for tonight, or whether others will feel it is necessary to use me for things.
I can also say that I never quite woke up today, nor did I really start the day right in any way. Then there is the general work-sleep-work continuum without respite. I have not been willing to go out sweeping or to make Jesus known. (Because I am supposed say I would get fulfillment from that or from being in a working group.) And I know I would just like to get lost and zone out for a while. Maybe I will make a list of things I would like to start doing, such as taking walks through Brooklyn Heights and drawing during the day, and taking mini breaks. I always feel as if I am wasting time because I am doing things that I want to do, though this is not the reason why I should say I am wasting time.
Resting for the night job. Prayed a while. I feel very dead, like I have no relationship with Jesus whatsoever. Read an article about passion for Jesus, so I thought I’d pray. Chuck was bugging me today, saying that I look laid back.
While laying down, I began daydreaming about the house I grew up in and about getting to see it again. Going to look inside it, posing as a buyer if it was up for sale, even dreaming that I would come by with L. (my future wife, of course) some day and show her the house I grew up in.
Saturday into Sunday morning:
Working on the wood floors at Le Madri Restaurant with Paul, Bob D. and Chatman. We finally finished this job. Paul is has now goine out to work on the van, which is parked a couple of blocks away. It was left to us in a non-operating condition.
I just got done with a “heavy” prayer about marriage, asking God for a Chinese wife. (If I can’t have L., if it’s not true, then I think this is the best kind of woman, the best nationality.) Why not? John Calvin said that mediocre prayers don’t get answered. So why not pray for the moon? Will it make things worse for me to pray about it? I mean, this is getting ridiculous. I am now 36 years old. Life is going on. I am getting older. Why do I have to wait to get married? Why can’t I be sitting here with a woman right now? Why couldn’t I meet someone today?
I also prayed that I wouldn’t have to go to the meeting. I just don’t want to be there.
Paul finally “fixed” the van. It was just out of gas. I talked with Chester, the owner of the restaurant, for a while out back while I was waiting for Paul to get back. He had his baby son with him. His son is half Chinese. Odd that this occurs after that prayer.
Monday, May 31
I just walked into the brothers meeting (at the New Property). We got there late. I admit that I was glad for every second’s delay. We walked in around 3:30 to a meeting that was supposed to start at noon (but probably started at 1). We had a vote, which I did not do so well in.
It seemed a little rough in the meeting, though I am probably just making that up. The issue being dealt with was serious enough. I basically executed myself with the vote, using the categories, you might say. Each brother was supposed to give a spiel about his desire to live in the fear of God and our goal of eternal salvation, then be voted on by the brothers to get placed in the categories of either: (1) you can trust me, (2) upper neutral, (3) lower neutral, or (4) part of the problem, I just don’t get it.
(These categories were given to us by Stewart. In most meetings, many hours were devoted to sorting one another into categories and “making divisions among us,” as Stewart said the Bible instructed us to do in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19: “ For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” The sisters were also doing the same in their separate sisters meeting.)
The whole thing seems rough and loveless, though putting these issues out front is (considered to be) love. I have yet to see a sinner get the treatment of the prodigal son by his father. We do get a lot of returning gameplayers, but even so, it that seems somebody, somewhere, would get treated like a returning prodigal son.
Sometimes I wonder about the truthfulness of all of this. (I am just wicked and bad for saying this.) I certainly do keep myself extremely guarded.
Stewart is now doing an exposé on Fat Al, explaining to everybody about how Al fools us and how we let him use us. Stewart can speak for us, interpret us. Stewart says to Al, “So, you were going to speak to us about how you’re too weary to repent?” Al is supposed to speak to us about that, like the verdict is pre-cast. Al said he doesn’t know what that means. (Stewart has just walked out of the room.) All the brothers tell him he understands perfectly well. (He probably doesn’t understand. He would have to live here for a while to learn what these things mean.)
Kevin says, “Since you don’t understand the question, that right there is proof that you’re too weary to repent and that in fact, you have not repented.”
Now Al really is in a bind. This really does seem senseless. I hope nobody bothers me about this after the meeting is over – or before. I can just imagine being on the receiving end of the dreaded “being brought up to be talked to” by the brothers. I keep myself walled off. I stonewall. I say as little as I possibly can get away with without looking like I just don’t want to talk. I suppose this is wrong. Of course it is, and with that dream, I pretty much have my verdict about my life.
I began to think about yesterday afternoon at Le Madri, when I was talking to Chester about his child, and about how I was sitting outside the back of the restaurant (trying to) enjoy the clear blue sky and the clouds. It was Memorial Day weekend.
I was praying in the van on the way to the meeting. I have been reading lately about drawing near to God and about coming to Jesus in complete silence, especially in books by Richard Wurmbrand. I tried this. I really don’t have anything to pray about anyway, in a manner of speaking. It seems better to listen, even with the little experience I have in trying to pray this way. There seems to be something to it. (I seemed to hear voices or words in this prayer: “Keep an open-ended prayer.” This included seeing an image of an open window. “I have the ability to reduce religious differences to one essential sentence.” Also, there was some kind of idea of people in a communist prison. They were walled off and separated from God and couldn’t reach him. But, this wasn’t really a problem, because God could see and reach them.)
I will try this kind of prayer from now on, because I have never been successful in praying any other way. I can remember times where I would pray a lot for several days in a row. This always ends very abruptly, and even after the initial good prayer, it starts to get stretched thin right away. (Probably because of sin. But then, where does this first prayer come from, since I am always in sin, in a manner of speaking?) If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.
I have been trying this kind of prayer and also asking to be able to love Jesus passionately, because all these things Stewart tells us about the fear of God and other things like praying about my goal not only seems hard, but also a duty, void of any life or interest. It seems like a task and if I am not there, I know I am not and therefore I feel phony when praying about these things, knowing that I am just throwing them in because I am supposed to. Or, I am praying for a wife, but then I realize this isn’t supposed to be my goal or be what is number one, so I figure I should pray about those things first, then when I’m done, I can get to what I really want to pray about. I know this is useless. But the idea of loving Jesus seems appealing. Like maybe I could do that. Though I don’t think I have that love at all, but I am attracted by it and would like to have it. It seems like a shortcut, but I don’t know if that is wrong. “Shortcuts” of course, don’t sound right.
(Yes, it would seem like a shortcut to just go directly to Jesus without having to do all these things that Stewart imposed on our lives and told us we had to be doing first, or we would never be with Jesus.)
Now I am thinking about our church’s isolation. Is all this right? Why aren’t there any guest pastors or why don’t we mix with and work with other churches? It would be little dilution of our rigid world. A way of testing “our” opinions (à la J.S. Mill).
(I was reading the author John Stewart Mill who wrote about society and human rights, and about testing our opinions.)
So, the prevailing opinion wins and there is no accommodation for any other opinion, much less a seeking out of other opinions. I mean, I see, or I think I see, this as a problem. So, how do we know we are not on a trip to Jupiter? We took a wrong turn or several wrong turns somewhere and we are now out in orbit and all we do here, everything we do, is self-confirming and is presented as evidence for itself. Due, at least in part, to the fact that our system is completely enclosed and self-supporting.
(Because of the isolation of our church and the isolation of our lives from outside influences, there was no way to know if our church had taken a wrong turn somewhere and if we were out in left field. There were reasons given for everything we did there. Our way of life there and Stewart’s teachings supported and confirmed one another. But I realized that because it was a closed system, this sense of the confirmation could be totally false.)
Stewart has just brought up an issue. (He says that we are not feeding the sheep, so therefore we must at least present the basics to them.)
(The “sheep” were the newest converts to the church, most of whom we had “swept up” off the streets and the bus and train stations in the city.)
Not to say this isn’t true, but Stewart presents the issue and then tells us that this is what has been going on and that this is what we should be concerned with.
Now all the brothers stand up and commit themselves to feeding the sheep, as if it was from their hearts, but they wouldn’t have done it without the prompting of this special kind.
Immediately after hearing this from Stewart (he left the meeting room immediately after), we “picked” Don, a new brother. We then proceeded to scapegoat him for and about what we Stewart just told us that we were all guilty of. It’s like we had built up this charge and collectively sought to discharge it on an appropriate victim, as a way to both transfer it quickly and to make ourselves feel appropriately angry about it and that we are now doing something about it. We found somebody who was guilty of it. Don was “urged” to make a demonstration of helping new ones right then and there on the spot.
I passed a note to Paul explaining this, but I certainly wouldn’t say anything myself. The whole line of argumentation is so inane. (Although right phrases are used and how can you, or how dare you, argue with these?). It’s like people are talked to by this collective beast which has no mind or sensitivity. It does seem like scapegoating or a lynching is going on. The prosecution fires its snap questions at the defendant, who must give the correct answers. No in-depth answers are wanted. Questions are snapped out. Tempers are short. Righteous indignation seems to reign.
Even after we hear Stewart pronounce us guilty of what the Bible refers to in terms of manslaughter.
(Stewart liked to used Bible verses like Jeremiah 23:1, which says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” to accuse us of either neglecting or destroying the faith – and souls – of the new people we brought in.)
If so, there ought to be collective mourning – not a trial and righteous indignation directed at others. Easy and traditional victims, with the usual righteous judges assuming their regular roles. I wonder if, in people’s minds, they think “making it” is when their voice booms and they shout these denunciations. Someone makes a comment at one of these gameplayers and another one adds his comment, always seeking to clarify and condemn – to refine the charge, to get it to the point. Everybody getting their voice on the bandwagon to show their zeal.
This goes back to my observation that everybody responded to what Stewart said – both the problem and the appropriate action. And it was more because Stewart said, than out of any genuine compunction. Stewart writes the screenplay, blows the wind into our sails and sets us in motion. Maybe that’s why everybody can only speak in those denunciating tones. They got a confused push somewhere, but they don’t really know where they are going, or what to do next. It’s not in or from them. But maybe they hack away at anybody who doesn’t fit the bill or who can’t seem to act like they do. When in doubt, hack.
Sometimes I wonder what the point of brothers meetings are. What is the point of this behavior? Except what Stewart says – as far as the rest, well, the brothers just want to do the voting and make sure everybody says the right stuff. They’re really into the vote, without thinking why. Or they have to go through the whole church membership and make everybody say whatever, then get the vote. Hours are spent on this as if it were an important and necessary function. The stated purpose of the vote – of any vote, or categories is that throughout the following week everybody can see where everybody else is at (including you being able to see where you are at) and to act appropriately and with respect to that all week. It’s probably a mechanical replacement to washing one another’s feet. But this voting becomes a goal in itself. Brothers stand up, getting neither the spiel nor the names of the categories correct, to the irritation of everybody else, who then “get on them.”
(I suddenly feel better. I feel an inward loosening, whether from realizing these things, or because we have just shifted the focus from the former subject to getting votes for volunteers for “urgent sweeping in Philly.”)
The essence of the above, or my underlying question is: are we just drifting off? Like what I read about Synanon, how it started right, but went off course.
(Synanon was a therapy based cult, which was controlled by a charismatic leader. The book I read about this group had an astounding and clarifying effect on me. I identified with the author, who joined the group as a true believer, and then over time, saw the truth and left. He went through many of the changes that I went through. The book is called Escape from Utopia: My Ten Years in Synanon, by William Olin.)
I guess what’s wrong is – not that some people aren’t gameplayers – but we feel we have some kind of right over people. Yet somehow, we don’t declare what we are, by putting it forward, by making a written statement of the purpose of our church (or an application to join it) that people can read before joining and agree to first, like a contract. Not that Stewart’s teaching is or could be wrong, but we have stepped off blindly into another dimension and people have no recourse to any personal defense or rights, or for putting any kind of barriers around themselves. (Unless one does it like me, by staying in the background.)
We’re now witnessing a long session with Stewart dealing with a prospective returnee. I just don’t have implicit belief in Stewart’s people handling techniques anymore, though I can see some of his points. I do understand the necessity of screening out gameplayers. We do let just about anybody in here. Yet I think these new ones don’t understand all this stuff. They seem to get set up. A lot of this seems stone age. It’s confrontational, people don’t really talk. Yet, who can withstand Stewart’s methods of argumentation? I mean, what gives us the right to do this to people? This ties into how we don’t really declare ourselves and our purpose. We operate undercover. But at the same time, we expect people to be straightforward with us, to kow-tow to us. But, who are we?
A new brother puts himself forward to make a “clean break to go to New York,” but he says he is not so sure about this idea about leaving everything in the world behind. He says he still wants things in this world. But neither does he say, nor does anyone else ask him, what those things are. (Are they reasonable things, or are they sinful things? They are not brought out so he can face the wrongness of them. Or maybe, they are things that are not wrong).
I am surprised that Stewart, being that he says he is a great discerner, wouldn’t ask him, “What’s up?” Stewart only said to him, “Who commanded you to sell everything?”
(Stewart was alluding to Matthew 19:21, where Jesus said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Stewart often preached on how we had to give up our lives in this world.)
But do we have the right to insist that people do so? Whatever happened to the idea that there could be people who are “learners?” Part of this brother’s reluctance may just be an unsureness about us or our program. He hardly knows these people. But somehow, we can insist he sell everything and move in with us. Is Jesus like this? Look, Jesus is the one who said “Sell everything and follow me.” But how would Jesus deal with this? Stewart just came from the authoritarian position of do this (or else). I just wonder how effective this is. There is more I think about, but this is about it. What I object to, I guess, is that nothing is discussed.
Well, I suppose I just sit here and find fault with everything. It‘s something I just do. Do I really see this, or am I just a faultfinder? Am I really disenchanted and disillusioned – or just seeking to “find pretexts?” I do find it hard to believe all this. The spell just seems to be broken. (I even wonder if the devil is giving me these thoughts to think. They seem to occur to me ready formed, and I can’t really even say it’s me seeing and knowing this or if the devil whispering in my ear.)
One new brother stood up and said he can’t just move in because he has a common-law wife and four children. Stewart seemed impressed because he hadn’t left them and was faithful in supporting them. He said to everybody to make a way for them, because it is God’s will. This is good.
(Stewart would not have wanted a man and his family to move into the church and have the church support them. In this case, Stewart didn’t think it was necessary for this man to sell all he had to follow Jesus.)
I’m reading over the last week in my journal. Keeping a diary like this is a good way to know myself – my thoughts, my temptations, my sins.
It looks like the new buzzword or legal attack (weapon) will be: “Are you trying to justify yourself?” Anything you say, any reason or excuse you give is just you trying to justify yourself. (Another undermining of the foundations, so you have no right to say or want something.)
If I were to be honest about myself though, I would say I am probably at the point of utter ruin in the assembled congregation. The way I sit here, the way I am.
(The explanation of my last comment is this: Stewart told us that if we did not listen to instruction and true teaching (Stewart’s teaching), that in the end, we would be like Proverbs 5:11-14, which says, “and at the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, ‘How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I was at the point of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.’ ” I took these kinds of teachings deep inside me and fear drove me to worry that this was the way I was. I had not listened to or been obedient to Stewart’s teachings and now I was an backslider and a spiritual wreck, sitting here among the assembled congregation. And all these observations I thought I was having was merely fault finding. But it is important to note that in this passage, “teachers” and “instructors” is in the plural. Stewart Traill was a solo act, a “spiritual lone ranger” (which, in his typical projection, he accused us of being). There were no other teachers. There were no checks and balances, and COBU was not affiliated with any other church and Stewart was not accountable to any other pastors or church board.)
Read the next section of the journal here: Second Session Of The Meeting: Getting Us To Say, “I Just Don’t Mind Going To Hell.”