1993, 05/06-10. Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

Thursday, May 6

I went “witnessing” last night in Times Square with Stuart R. and some sisters. Sometimes I wonder what I am doing it for. Right in the middle of it, I wondered what it was all for. I asked myself, what am I expecting to get out of this? Of course, I am not supposed to get anything in exchange for witnessing to people. But I had the overwhelming feeling that I was getting, or about to get, something or somewhere, then the bubble sort of burst. What am I saying all of these things to these people for, aside from the prescribed reasons? Also, just what am I saying to them?

Later, I realized, I am not really capable of seeing all these people walking by as people who are on their way to hell, trying to picture them falling off a cliff screaming, into the flames. Maybe I am not supposed to see it that way, I don’t know. Maybe I can’t witness to them for real, without “seeing” this.

We were chased by a young Dianetics recruiter. I don’t want to be a “recruiter.” I just want to make Jesus known. I don’t want my first (maybe not even my second or my third) aim to get people to come to our church.

I’m thinking the usual about life here. My thoughts are centering on “The Pope” (that is, Stewart) and the extreme degree of control he has over our lives. Especially how he can throw me out in a matter of minutes, and I can suddenly have extreme economical difficulties. The result of this threat, for sure, is that I will not say anything out of line. What will living like this be as I get older and the stakes get higher? I can be threatened at any time with the instant loss of benefits, I will need to look for housing, medical care, etc. I have few marketable skills. It really is a trap.

I am also thinking about Stewart’s methods: how he can remove my basis for wanting things or doing things. I am incapacitated; I can argue all I want after that. (The decision is made. Then I get to work out the details, or complain about them, if that be the case.) There is no marriage, I can’t do anything I want to do.

7:15 p.m.

So, these thoughts are hitting me pretty heavily now, about how our church is the only true church, and how Stewart says he is revealing things that “have not been heard since the time of the Apostles.” This, combined with how if I say anything, I will immediately get dumped out on the street. (What will living like this be like when I’m 40, 50 and older?)

Is there no answer to this? What is the way out? If any. It is my constant plague, day and night. (Is it the plagues of Deuteronomy?) There is no answer, nobody to talk to.

I was working with new brother Don B. We got into a long talk about cults, false religions, church history and the Bible. He seemed raptly interested.

A person has no legitimate reason for disagreeing with anything here. These disagreements are just “sin” at work in your life. This state of mind, it physically hurts! My head is aching. I feel exhausted, desperate and crushed.

I am actively thinking about leaving and why. One author I read said that there are priests who leave the Catholic church, only to return to it, because they haven’t intellectually reasoned out their reasons for leaving. They never settled it. After they had their fill of enough sex, they come back. The author suggested that they should reason out their reasons for leaving.

Also, some of these priests wanted absolution from their church, but did not receive it. This is how I am. What I am thinking about can’t be considered real, it is only the flesh or sin at work in my life. Stewart will never support any of my reasons. So, I will never be able to rest. This place really is like the Catholic Church. We have an infallible pope and celibate clergy. It’s done for the same reason the Catholic Church does it. It is an effective management tool, because the brothers are not married, they can be sent anywhere at a moment’s notice and they have no excuses, because they have no roots or family ties. I have no legitimate reasons for refusing anything, reasons which the care of a family would give me.

Stewart can’t admit to any wrong. Neither can we (about him) because his infallibility is the foundation our whole church is built upon. Destroy that and you would tear the whole thing down. He must play and we must play just as hard to keep it .

9:30 p.m.

I was at the Christian Brothers shop, but I just had to walk away. (It’s not because the new brothers were about to go sweeping and I just wanted to duck out, but more because of how I feel right now.) I am generally unsettled. I walked into the shop, expecting somebody to say to me as soon as I come in, “Are you going urgent sweeping?” Or that they will say something about me sitting there reading the Bible or talking with new brothers. In other words, why am I not up and moving? Even though I sat with Don for a while by the East River, I don’t want to just jump up and fly back out as soon as I get to the office. I want to rest a little. I want to stop and read, you know, work is officially over. Time to chat a little next to the time clock. Then I just want to walk away alone for a while, to settle my mind a bit. There is always the jostle of bodies, and nowhere to compose myself. I always have to be a functional, unthinking machine. We do no real studying of the Bible. (Though, yes, I could have done that when I was sitting with Don by the East River, but then I also wanted to look at the water and clouds, things I don’t normally see.)

Sure, I will walk back over by the shop in a few minutes. I’ll see if Paul is there, or maybe I’ll walk by myself to meet those who are already sweeping. I need more quiet time, especially at critical points of the day. Sure, I usually get it at night, but I don’t need it as much then. It would be more effective in the middle of the day and at other times.

Well, I will walk back now, composing my thoughts if I am able.

Friday, May 7

Waiting at the bus stop at Conolly Street. Taking in a few snatches of morning sun, the light playing on the green leaves, the birds singin – like summer mornings on the porch.

Saturday, May 8

We worked on the floors in someone’s apartment last night until about 11 p.m. Then we waited for our ride by the river, looking at the full moon until past midnight. We continued to wait and were picked up by a van around 12:50 a.m. I slept late, arrived at a wood floor job at the Graybar Building around 2:30 in the afternoon.

On the way to the job today, I spoke a few minutes to a young guy who was recruiting for Dianetics, asking him a few questions. (I suppose people like this are sincere spiritual seekers. I would like to talk to him a little more, also to improve such witnessing techniques as are necessary to talk to them.)

Then, in Grand Central Terminal, I walked out on the platform to take a look at locomotives. I ended up talking to a mechanic for a while. He showed me how to start the engine. The demonstration he gave was purely accidental, upon me saying it seemed so easy to start. So he opened the side door and showed me how it’s done. He spoke mostly of his dissatisfaction with the financial aspects of his job.

I walked away thinking about how I want to improve my negotiating and interviewing abilities, since this was a kind of doing that.

Yes, here I was holding on the handrail, looking up at a locomotive engineer, a fulfillment of childhood dreams. But anyway, I want to improve such conversation techniques. They can be used in all areas of life, including things I want to do. I wonder how people can live without such methods. I will think more about this, more than I am writing down here in brief notation.

Sunday, May 9  (At the Red Hook Warehouse, where I lived.)

I missed a meeting last night. I heard how the older brothers were meeting at Woodruff and that “all the brothers must be there,” just as Paul and I were driving away from the shop. I decided I wasn’t going to go, because of being sick. (I had indeed been laying down at the jobsite from time to time yesterday, because of a headache. Paul was going to go to the meeting, but then he decided to wait for Andrew, because Andrew needed somebody to help him bring something to Staten Island. Paul ended up not going anyway either. Jay said that the meeting last night was a “good one.”

Got up late, at 1 in the afternoon, after reading for an hour. I have some regret over wasting time. I resolved to make better use of Sunday mornings.

I was talking to Bill [a man who rented space in the Red Hook warehouse for his cabinet business, with whom Paul and I often talked] for about an hour (which I don’t regret), practicing further consulting techniques without being obsequious. We talked about various subjects. He took me in to see the cabinet work that he is doing. (“If you come in, I will show you,” he said.) This may have something to do with getting people to offer to show you things without asking. All this is uncertain to me and will require further study and experimentation.

I’ll spend some time here now cleaning up and preparing for the meeting. Will try to redeem the time by listening to tapes so it will not be a completely empty day.

I am sure that, although Bill is polite, he will start to ask me pointed questions about my own life and the church if I keep talking to him more. Not saying that this is bad. Avoiding talking to people may just be a form of hiding. But I guess I should be prepared for his questions.

4:30 p.m.

I am cleaning up here. (Yes, and avoiding going sweeping.) Took another look at that donated stereo cabinet like the one I used to have in my room when I was 17. I turned it on and was looking at it and listening to it. The song Summer Breeze came on. I sat there looking at it with a kind of amazement mixed with recollection.

Sitting outside, looking at poplar trees swaying in the wind and the powder blue sky. A scene worthy to be looked at. The air is warm. It feels good.

(The above, about the stereo, I remember I had a dream last night that my family still owned our old house and we were still living in it. I asked my mother, “You mean, I can even have my old room?” Like a double amazement, because it would have been enough just to be able to live there again, but her answer was that I could still have my old room.)

Sometimes I wonder if there is any significance to dreams like this. But moreso, I get into worrying about “looking back,” though I like to do it so much. I worry that it will become a bottomless pit, like quicksand. Once I start slipping into it – I thought I just wanted to do it a little bit – but then I become deeply immersed in it. Part of the worry is not really that I am slipping into it, but “is it alright to be slipping into it.” Plus I have to admit to myself that this is what I’m doing – or do too much – because I also want to deny that I’m doing it.

[This fear of looking back to my life before I came to COBU was due to the verse in the Bible where Jesus said, “He who puts his hand to the plow, and looks back, is not fit for the kingdom of God.” I thought that looking back to my life before I came to COBU, and longing for that life, was a sin – or at least I worried that it was.]

But there ought to be time for reflection in your life. Time to stop and look at the trees. Living at Red Hook now is so much better than Woodruff, where I couldn’t do something like this.

Why can’t there be a time when a person can sit and reflect like this? (Of course, this is what I am doing now, so there is time.) But generally, doing this is considered “drifting.” So, maybe what I’m looking for is official sanction for doing this. But then, I can be mature enough to know that I am not “drifting.” That sometimes, the choice of what to do with the time is left to me. No system can control people perfectly. I know the loopholes and even if I am not adept at using them, surely I know about using them.

Speaking of which, it has now been declared that eating dinner at the expense of the church business will be severely curtailed starting June 1. I am starting to stockpile food. I’m wondering also if this will extend to personal expenses, such as when I take money out of the Red Hook envelope for supermarket expenses. We shall see. I for one, will certainly not protest, partly due to my reputation. But also, I know people are going to eat. So, we will see just what gets worked out and exactly to what extent this ban will go. It may be severe at first, then rebound a bit. I doubt we will be eating dog food and peanut butter. But, you never know to what lengths people will go to “deny their flesh.”

From time to time, I get worried that such things like cutting back or forbidding receiving 25% of our tax return will take place because of the church’s financial situation, or because the church business revenues are low. This probably will not happen, because whoever proposes this would receive the same cut, kind of like why nobody attacked Switzerland in WW2. But, you never know.

For sure, if it were put up to a public vote, nobody would really protest it – or be able to – because it would be considered to be fighting for something “for self.” We would want the money for something we want, so we would be on weak ground. At least in our outfit, since in a way, there are no “human rights” here. We would quickly get the message, even though it’s put to a vote, that no questions are to be asked.

Sure, it probably will not happen, but you never know. I do get worried about my future. What do we do about people who become senile or too sick? How will we “put them out to pasture?” Will our church just send them to old folks homes and basically say good bye to them? Really, what does happen to a person who out lives his usefulness to the church?

I thought about this today when I heard Andrew saying about Curtis, that “His mind is not too good.” [Curtis was an old man we “swept up” at a train station.] So what happens when Curtis gets too feeble, will he be sent to a hospital in a “humanitarian” gesture, but really, we are sending him away? (Like the way our church doesn’t want the burden of any new children, and that’s one of the reasons why there are no marriages here? But, really sending Curtis somewhere like that could be setting a precedent for all of us. It could become standard procedure.)

Well, I must go inside. One cannot be in idleness too long. There are singing finches and mockingbirds out here. I would just like to vegetate here for hours. It would be very therapeutic. Because, really, just what are we doing in all these hours of “activity” anyway? Isn’t much of that a huge waste of time? God forbid if we should ever have houses with back porches and “leisure” time, time to think about what we are doing, time to regain control of our own thoughts.

10:30 p.m.

In the meeting tonight, so far, Kevin is leading. There were other organizers who volunteered, but Kevin is running the whole show. Not saying this is bad. I couldn’t do what Kevin said. (He said, judge not that you not be judged. I had just wanted to think negatively about this at first.)

A message was read from Brother Stewart about what we should get into, the gist of which was, to discuss and explain the three steps of salvation (repentance, justification and sanctification), which we are doing now. It doesn’t seem to be one of those deadbeat meetings. It’s actually not that bad, at least so far.

Chuck is on the phone with Stewart now. Stewart is in Haiti. There hasn’t been a confession session tonight where everybody is grilled and has to make a commitment or similar type stuff. We are also supposed to go over the Five Approaches next.

My attitude during this meeting is one of watching and keeping low profile, turning the pages of my Greek Bible and getting some study in that way. (What comes to mind is that I am holding back, that God knows I am not fully there and that my supposed superior way of avoidance is not so superior at all.) I have the feeling of slipping by without being noticed. I have something to prove; or I might get questioned, seeing my recent behavior – though today marks exactly one month since then. (I was thinking that this event took place on my birthday(?). Okay, maybe I will participate in the meeting by reading a verse aloud, but what more can I do, lead the meeting? Maybe this comes from the old do or die basis. There is not much I can do to further my salvation in this meeting, at least in that respect. Though maybe I can increase my faith by reading the Bible. I just wish I could go to a meeting and not only feel free and be glad to be there, but also come out of it encouraged. As it is, I keep myself closely guarded.

We just stood up and read the Five Approaches, with some corrections given about the way we said it.

(Okay, here are the “bad thoughts,” about this meeting, set down only for the record, because this diary is a gauge of my life and not an edited or selective diary.) Somebody added some other principles after we read the Five Approaches, one of them being, that “In the next few minutes, I am going to stand before God. I will, not might.” (There used to be some discrepancy in this. I remember Stewart correcting somebody for saying “we are going to die in five minutes.” Stewart told him he should say, “we might die in five minutes.”)

My thoughts about this comment were: 1) Is this just our version of “Jesus could come back tonight?” Is it an unreal pressure to keep everybody on their toes, like a doomsday cult saying? Yes, some of us could die in a few minutes. Are we just more subtle than other groups? You can’t plan anything or want anything in your life without this dogmatic assertion being aimed at you. 2) Everybody quotes from Stewart, reads the notes they took of Stewart’s words at meetings and says “Stewart said,” just like those in the Christian Science organization quote Mary Baker Eddy, or other groups that quote only the words of their leader.

The idea here is that no other material is introduced, no other authors, pastors or anybody. Also our isolation. (Another way to explain how this works is that Stewart is our filter. All of our information comes through him. It is interpreted by him and laid out by him. It is in the broader sense, but also in the moment by moment continuum – for example, Stewart gave us the subject for our meeting tonight, the script, and we did it. We are very obedient, even though we are adults.)

Of course, you can say, Stewart cares about us, he stayed in touch from Haiti, he is involved in our lives. The truth of these assertions, I don’t know, they are just things I thought I would make note of and write down. I am not going to demand that they are true or whatever. They are just for the record; what “went through my mind” as I stood there. Everybody seems docile, patient and shepherded. I mean, it wasn’t a dead meeting, but, I just don’t know what to make of it. Maybe I am just trying to find fault.

Antoine said he just saw somebody at the window. I get worried that somebody will point a gun through the window and shoot – me that is.

[Not long afterward, someone actually was shooting at the building. A neighbor across the street got annoyed at the sound of our late night meeting and begain taking shots with a pellet gun. During the meeting I could hear the clinking sound of the pellets against the bricks. One of the pellets made a hole in the window, but no one was hurt by it.]

Read the next section of the journal here: COBU Is The Filter Through Which We See God.


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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