1993, 04/07. Death Bed Scenes; Or, Stirring Up Our Fear.

April 7, Red Hook.

The fire department people were here today, “inspecting.” Whether or not they had another purpose is anybody’s guess.

While cleaning up, Barry, a new disciple, discovered a photocopied article from Moody Magazine by Ron Enroth about authoritarian religious sects. A message from outside our milieu. The article was well-written and accurate. Really, anything I write about life here can’t compare to this. So I wonder if I should even bother writing at all, because I could probably never say these things so accurately. Besides, my poor powers of reasoning often fail me or make me unable to carry a point through to its logical conclusions.

I wish articles like this could be passed around and critically evaluated. Paul read it and said that it just shows how far off the mainstream is (that is, from the true view of Christianity). Whether or not these are Paul’s true thoughts or whether anything in the article got to him in any way, he will probably never say. Though I tend to believe his words matched his thoughts. Then in general with everyone here, the book is closed.

[Paul meant that “mainstream” Christians had drifted so far from the truth, that they would even publish an article critical of the real way to live the Christian life (the way we were living). When I note that “the book is closed,” I mean that none of this is open for discussion with anyone here. Everyone there believed in, or was at least is going to pay lip service to this way and was not going to want to talk to me about any of this.]

I often feel now that I’m in my final days here and that all of this is the beginning of the end for me.

I was talking with George S. on the drive into the city, about our church, about the brothers’ fellowship, about some things that were on both of our minds. (Including what was on my mind, about what causes the failure of Christian communal sects and the like.). It’s a relief, however minor, to speak of these things on my mind. Too bad it just can’t be spoken about freely. I notice a sense of having been set free a little. I also explained to George how Stewart’s declaration that “Your own sin is your basic problem” is actually used as spiritual blackmail, and I talked about other things Stewart tells us, such as the concept of “sell all you have,” comparing his version of this to the Puritans’ version of it. They owned houses and property, and they got married. And I talked about the false self-denial that brothers like Chuck and Andrew practice by sleeping on the floor, because they have “given everything up in this life” as “Jesus” says to do.

[The Puritans went back to the basics of the Bible, but they did not live communally like we did in the Church of Bible Understanding. The Puritians believed that they should “sell all for Christ,” yet they had their own houses and property and they could get married. Some brothers and sisters read Puritan authors, especially the works of John Bunyan. He wrote a book called The Pilgrim’s Progress, which is about a man who leaves everything, his family, his house, to set out on a path to follow Christ. (A movie version of this book was a “cult” favorite among us and was often shown at meetings to reinforce COBU doctrine.) I found out by reading John Bunyan’s biography that he was married, owned his own business and lived in his own house (except when he was imprisoned at various times for his beliefs). I realized that “sell all you have” was an attitude to make Christ a priority in your life, and not the extreme literal interpretation of those words that Stewart – who did not live this way himself – sold to us here.]

I often feel as if I’m snapping (or that I’m already broken), as I have said. It really does feel like the beginning of the end for me and it is only a matter of time. It may be that I’ll be used as an example to keep all the others quiet. Probably some of my hurting comes from my own sins, but it just doesn’t seem to be the whole story. (But in any “courtroom” scene here, it will be considered to be the whole and only story.)

[If I ever try to talk to anyone about any this, or get brought up in a meeting, nothing of what I say will matter and the only issue they will talk to me about is “my own sin.” See the note above about “My own sin is my own basic problem.” The other half of that Stewart precept was “and not all the other bad guys.” If anyone tried to talk about any issue or complaint, this got aimed at him. It meant that, in any situation, the real issue we had to contend with was our own sin. (Not “sins” so much as your “sinful nature” and your desire to sin.) This was the only issue that anyone wanted to discuss. All other problems were not the “real issue.” Stewart was not the issue. The living conditions in COBU were not the issue.]

So, today I’m driving brothers around to their carpet cleaning and wood floor jobs, a welcome relief from other job-related sources of turmoil, such as trying to get supplies for a job together in a short time. (Hermes was rescheduled and is not going to be done tonight, though I may work at the French Connection.)

Today is a warm day. I’m going to try to duck out from all forms of responsibility and hassle and just drive, think. (And maybe pray?)

I can’t afford these heavy burdens on my mind, they tax all of my strength. It will be good, if possible, to walk away from them.

I know that what is going to happen to me is inevitable. I’m being set up by forces greater than myself and slowly being walked into a position that I can sense but not quite entirely put together. Being used for something I guess, a pawn in some battle that is much bigger than me. Not that I think I am important. Of course, you could always say that all I have to do is back off, but it always keeps coming back to this point. Really, I don’t have to do much to become this way. It seems like a natural process. All I have to do is think. If I back down, I will only come back to this place again.

Not that I plan on provoking a confrontation or I will finally get it together for my big day. No, I think it will come to me. No one can keep it perfectly together. I’m already under suspicion. (One scenario could be that I finally find a place to go. Then I won’t need to play it so tightly and may relax the personal censorship, seeing that maybe I don’t need it so much. My attitude may be one of neither seeking confrontation, nor backing down if I get into one, if it is something I don’t see as being wrong to disagree with. This would be enough to sink me, but thank God, I stood my ground.)

Whatever it is, whenever it finally happens, and it may be sparked by an only incidentally related issue, but the confrontation will come down to the fact that I have questioned the authority of Stewart and whether he has the right to do the things he does to us and whether this is a (or the) true church. In other words, Stewart’s legitimacy or the legitimacy of some of his actions. It will be hotly disputed. Everything will be taken extremely seriously. Since actually, these issues, when you get down to it – due to the nature of our church – are the only things that really matter. (Or they matter a whole lot and these are the issues that are going to be called into question.) Or, it is what matters to Stewart. Everybody else will be in on it, since they probably recognize these issues to be true. But I can expect no help from anyone.

I was walking up to the pizza shop with five new brothers. Just missed seeing the 7:45 train by about 20 yards. I heard it go under the bridge. Oh well, I can be content to hear the engine roar and the rumble of the cars and when I get to the bridge, seeing the glistening of red lights on the far rails. I’m thinking about trains, because I need something to take my mind off the crushing present, though this is not exactly the scriptural way to do it. But, it serves its purpose. I had just been thinking that I need to do something to take my mind off all of this because I feel like I’m going to break down.

12 midnight

We started a brothers’ meeting at the office. We did our perfunctory voting.

[Everything was being done in a mechanical way, without anyone being personally involved. We had to hear a speech from every brother, as they put themselves forward into the designated categories and then asked for the vote. This was called “making divisions,” and there rarely was meeting that did not include this activity, and sometimes this could go on for a long time.]

I was selected to drive to pick up Paul from a job he just finished at 1407 Broadway. I acted disinterested in going, once more proving that if you want something, you should never say so.

[I got out of this long and boring meeting by being “volunteered” to drive somewhere after midnight. If I had acted too eager to go, the brothers would have sensed that I was trying to get out of the meeting and they would not have let me go.]

I think I was selected as the odd man out. (Others were more important to be at the meeting, so just send Jim.) It just might reflect their perception of my value as a contributor. Yet, I felt relieved at being released from the meeting. I was thinking, “thank God.” They were getting ready to read one of the Death Bed Scenes to “stir up their fear.” I am just not into this stuff, along with a morbid dull meeting. Also, I’m always waiting for one of the smart ones to spring a trap on me, because I’m pretty volatile due to the things I have been thinking lately. Earlier this evening, I began to feel like I was going to have a nervous breakdown or a paroxysm.

[Death Bed Scenes; or, Dying With And Without Religion (originally published in 1825) is a compilation of stories of what people did or said on their death beds. Whether it was a faithful little Christian girl dying at an early age with a smile on her face or a vile sinner screaming in agony as he saw the demons coming into the room to drag him down to hell, the stories were designed to inspire hope and fear.

Of course, the brothers preferred to read the most terrifying stories. To work all day, to live in denial of all desires other than food and shelter, to be pelted and bombarded by my desire for “marriage” all day long… I was tired, under stress, ready to snap… and now we have to read The Death Bed Scenes to “stir up our fear” (and if it was not that, it was reading “hell verses” or “warning verses,” with appropriate comments about how we’re scared of going to hell.)

I was becoming aware that there is more to Christianity than this. Stewart told us that we would never appreciate the hopeful side of Christianity until we faced our utter sinfulness and hellbound condition, so that we might appreciate what God did for us by sending Jesus to die on the cross for us. (And in the meantime, all this fear was useful in getting people to do a lot of work.)

A brother named Peter told me we ought to call this place the “Hell Cult,” because all we did was talk about hell. Someone had taken a small part from Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel [see images further down on this page], which is a true work of art and enlarged it and made a poster poster out of it. The entire work of art depicts the faithful going to heaven and the damned going to hell. The aspect of this artwork that Stewart deemed to be the most important for us to think about was one solitary figure who could be found in the Last Judgement section of the fresco, who is called “The Condemned Sinner.” This man has a terrified look on his face, because he realizes he is about to be thrown into hell. This image was on the walls of the church office and sometimes was held up to brothers’ facesto remind them of what was waiting for them if they did not do their Christian training.]


The big picture, as seen portrayed by Michelangelo:

Below, the only part of the Michelangelo’s work considered to be important by COBU, The Condemned Sinner:

Read the next part of the journals here: The Cost Of Speaking My Mind.


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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