1993, 04/20-21. Working In The Church Business Takes Up Most of Our Waking Hours.

April 20

Some quick notes. Last night while riding back in the van with Pete and Andrew, Peter began talking about how it’s difficult to accept some of the things Stewart says (due to the shocking phraseology he uses, such as “there is no salvation”) and other things which I don’t have time to write about now.

I absolutely kept quiet and didn’t comment.

Then Rico talking began talking. Great, now we’ve got Rico talking about how this place is like a cult. (My fear is that he may reveal some of the details of our conversation the other night.) He looked perturbed and bothered and was saying that this place is like a cult. And what should I say to him? Yes, I agree with you, here are the ways I see it is like a cult too. Even if I had been alone with him, maybe it would have been unwise to speak like this. All I need is some scandal to come to the light that I was pumping up a new brother with such ideas. On the other hand, I realize this is the fear of man, and that I “should” be able to tell him just what I think, maybe even to defuse him – although maybe it would be good to do it in private.

(Note: Rico left a few days later and was soon at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, drinking.)

[If it I had told Rico that I agreed with him that COBU was like a cult, and this came to light, then his leaving and wandering around the Port drunk would have been attributed to me, because he left after I told him COBU is a cult.]

Last night Paul told me about the end of the David Koresh cult and there are a lot of stories about it today in the papers.

It appears that I am missing another brothers’ meeting tonight. This makes quite a stretch since the Sunday before last that I have been in a meeting of any kind. Hopefully by the time I finally get to a meeting (which could be tomorrow) nobody will remember anything about it how I’ve been, though really, that is highly unlikely. But one hopes that after a period of time the intensity or immediacy will be greatly diminished. Possibly various brothers will assume it was long ago settled.

1 a.m.

More of the typical nonsense life is going on. I sat down in the office (we have to wait for Blake to bring a van in) then Ron T. wants me to go pick up a carpet cleaning team. Sure, he is too tired to do it himself, but just when I sit down to read the Bible, it happens. You would think there is some mysterious force at work in the fellowship or in the church business to make sure we don’t live a Christian life or develop our spiritual life. That the one cancels out the other.

[I would often think that life in COBU was diametrically opposed to having a Christian life, because of the long work hours, little sleep and Stewart Traill’s constant negative comments about us.]

So now, all those bitter feelings are coming back. I feel totally locked up. I wonder just what I am doing this for, but my life is not supposed to matter anyway, so I have no grounds for complaint.

I was about to read the Bible. Now I find out that I have to sit here in a van with my hands tied for another 30 minutes. Like, as soon as I try to read the Bible, I am blasted out of there so I can sit here and stare out the windshield and probably end up getting back even later than I thought I would. It’s almost like a feeling of “you open that Bible and I’ll smack you in the face!”

I was reading about how the early Christians, such as Origen and others did their studies. They probably made sure they weren’t interrupted. It may be true that I get time here and there, but you could also say that my life is crushed by the church business. It screws me at will. I can’t say no to it. It is my master. I can’t choose my own time, direction or pursuits in life. Everything has to be built around this thing. It is a monster that consumes my entire life. The only way we relate to sisters is through the business and for the most part, it is the only way brothers relate to each other too. This thing takes first place over all and I wonder why we have to do it. I would think that if I cared about my life and my time, I would just quit and get a job in the world and have evenings and weekends free.

But, there are severe consequences for making any move in the fellowship. What would happen to me if I quit my job in the church business?

[Although I could be threatened with being fired from the church business at any time as a way to keep me in line, if I voluntarily quit because I didn’t like the long hours, and because I wanted some control over my life and time to pursue some other interests, there would be severe repercussions.]

Whether my reasons for what I am saying are right or wrong, or that it’s considered wrong to complain – I do feel very frustrated. And just a touch of that “black out with rage feeling.” This is just not right. Yet, I must say, I have totally resigned myself over to the business and its hold on me.

Wednesday, April 21  

(At the Red Hook warehouse, where I lived.)

It’s a beautiful spring morning. Last night, I sat outside for a while and listened to a mockingbird singing at three in the morning.

I just dropped the carpet cleaners (including Rico) off near Prospect Park. Now parking briefly over by Grand Army Plaza, taking a little time to myself to think and to cool off; to push the constant demands on my time away from me for a few, a very few, minutes.

The business, or this entire way of life, has such a tight hold on me that I feel intensely guilty if I step out of it for even just a few minutes. Why can’t I take a whole hour now to myself? (Self equals crime.)

Well, because probably somebody will notice. (The idea I have in my mind right now is of Diane saying, “It took you that long to go drop off a carpet cleaning team?” We are not allowed to say, “Hey, I work a lot of hours. I took a break.” No way.

Now, whether or not it will happen this time, or with somebody or something else, I don’t know. But the feeling comes from somewhere, including past experience, although I am sure that my way of thinking compounds it. But actually now, with the drive back to the shop, then the bus ride into the city, that will be enough free time, if I use it rightly. That is, if I realize it for what it is and consider how, in this travel time, I am not actually “working.” I could read on the way in. But really I would prefer to get away completely, to not be traveling into work at all, but to just go for walk somewhere. But, one must learn to look for his opportunities when he can get them. I suppose that the ability to do that could be called an art.

These days I have the feeling of wanting to read another prison camp novel. (I have gotten a little tired of reading books about cults and I feel I need a break from them. They don’t always produce such a good state of mind anyway.) I was looking for Kogon’s “The Theory and Practice of Hell” at the library, but found Reid’s “Colditz, the Full Story.” I like reading these books. I like how it says in the preface of the book they got together after the war, to meet and compile notes. It even mentions a reverend’s diary which he kept meticulously throughout the time he was in the prison of war camp. Also I am delving into earlier Christian writers, such as Augustine.

So now, I am outside of Red Hook, about to go back in the waehouse. It’s clouding up and looks as if it may rain. The air is rather fragrant with spring.

I must admit that I really don’t want to work today, or at least I wish I could go walking for a while before starting anything.

April is already two thirds over. It’s almost like it never happened. I would like to spend an evening or a morning just sitting outside somewhere so I can experience it before it’s all gone. How come I can’t find just a few moments to do something like that? I’m always in a hurry, but can’t really say I’m getting anywhere or reaching anything. But, I must always keep busy, keep moving. Is that just part of the grand deception?

I began to get frustrated because I couldn’t find something, but it points to deeper issues. Basically I thought, “I am getting screwed; somebody is screwing me.” This whole life here is designed to break me down. How can I pray to a God who is trying to break me down or says he is going to kill me? “Stewart’s God is the only God and besides him there is no other.”

I am also frustrated because all of my things are in disarray. I wish I could have a desk and some shelves so I can know where everything is. But this seems to be a crime. Might as well kiss that kind of life and that hope good-bye anyway. It seems as if the only proper life is one of turmoil, disarray and disorganization. Then one has the feeling he isn’t building up or living his “life in this world.” He also takes no thought for tomorrow, because tomorrow is just going to be like today anyway. It’s almost like everything here is arranged to frustrate.

(In the midst of all this, I hear a voice that says, “You are going to hell.” I just feel like saying, “Oh bug off!” I am tired of all this stuff. I practically feel like saying I’m tired of all this “Jesus garbage,” but I don’t know if it’s Jesus as much as it is all of this hell crap that Stewart preaches to us.)

I was trying to find a way to write this morning and it looks as if it has found its own way by bubbling to the surface. I opened up a book by John Bunyan and it’s all the same stuff – hell and the cross. You would think that John Bunyan had a terribly morbid life, always on the run from demons and trying hard not to forsake the cross, but having a hard time wanting the cross too.

Andrew is now asking me questions about my attitudes, and if I’m fighting against my pride. The truth is, I would never tell him. Not about what I am thinking now, not about me in general. Not that Andrew is particularly an enemy either.

I am getting a break today. All I have to do so far is drive back and get the carpet cleaning team I dropped off. So far it is an easy day, which I need sometimes.

I tell you, it really is a mistake to mention anything about the Bible study that could even be marginally thought to be expressing doubts!

As I sat at the desk here, I looked at Titus 3:5 in the Greek interlinear Bible and saw the Greek word esosen – which is a past tense for “saved” and I was asking Andrew if Stewart said at the meeting that there was no saved in the past tense in the original Greek version, because there is one in Titus 3:5. So then we were talking generally about the Bible study and justification.

[I had doubts about what Stewart said at that meeting. He said that the word “saved” in the past tense doesn’t exist in the original Greek of the New Testament, but instead the word is “you are being saved.” He pointed out this distinction so that we could not say we were already saved or that we “had salvation in our back pocket.” For Stewart, there was no such thing as “the finished work of Christ” because he said we could use that for an excuse to relax and take advantage.]

I said, “Well all I have is a bible commentary and some books by John Calvin, and also the Bible.” Then Andrew said, “So, you still have some doubts about what Brother Stewart said?” It was a cautious inquiry, said almost ambivalently. But I can’t entrust myself, since such a thing is never ambivalent. “Doubts” are always connected with “wrong behavior.” I had to deflect Andrew as calmly as possible. “No, I wouldn’t say doubts, it’s more that it’s just hard to understand, but I’m operating on a severe lack of information, because I wasn’t at the meeting.”

I would like to say “Sure, I still wonder about things,” but I wonder what would happen to me if I did. It might be like lighting a fire. No matter how innocent Andrew is, he could still leak it to somebody or spring it on me in a meeting. You can never openly say “yes” to a question like that.

As I was talking to Andrew, by the way, that “little voice” kept saying “no, no, no,” when I began to reveal that I have the bible commentary, etc. Don’t I already know not to do this; don’t I already know better? It was wrong – that is, a mistake, but not morally wrong – to bring up my comment on Titus 3:5. I should have just kept my mouth shut. That would solve at least some, if not all, of these problems I am having here. I really see how I just have to keep quiet!

We are allowed to discuss what Stewart said at the meetings all we want, but we are not allowed to raise doubts about it, and especially not me because of my history. How do I know when it will be the final straw? Even the slightest thing I say could be interpreted as such. They would certainly say I have some deep hidden evil purpose within me and that others can see it quite clearly when something bubbles to the surface.

They know one way or another that what I say is connected to other things, like my doubts and questions about Brother Stewart. The cat’s out of the bag. There is no way I can reel it back in or erase the tapes. It’s on record. The only way out, if there even is a way out is complete silence. This, truthfully, is hard for me to do. I always leak something out. It’s so strange, it’s actually a crime to think that something Brother Stewart says is not right. This means that I have to dwell in a corner of a housetop. I must keep myself guarded at all times.

I find all of this troubling, both these latest teachings from Stewart and also this last thing with Andrew. It’s not so much what Andrew did, as much as what it could lead to. What it implies and what it reminds me of. A brief recap of this would be: doubting Stewart is a criminal activity, Stewart has the absolute law which cannot be changed, except by him, etc. and et al. I should stick to Mom’s advice about how I’m in a situation where I can’t win. (And also to just say “I was wrong” any time I’m questioned. That actually was restful.) I am not looking at my situation for what it is: it is almost a hostage situation!

I picked up Paul B., Rico and Robert from their wood floor job. The latter two want to do their laundry. Another hostage situation, which to make a long story short, the idea is that they really can’t be trusted to be left alone back at Woodruff. That is the message from the church (at this moment coming from brothers like Paul B. and the sisters at the office) and Rico senses it. Paul was running the “is that the best thing?” lines on them and saying, “What’s best for your spiritual life?”

It really is rough for new brothers sometimes. They just can’t understand our philosophy of relegating the physical and human issues to nothingness. We act as if we can’t understand a human need, especially something so trivial as doing one’s laundry. Yet this causes great irritation for the new brothers. (Rico and Robert gave the list of late meetings, work and how they have no time, and this is a good time to get laundry done now.)

I guess the underlying message to new brothers, for those who survive here (though it may be a bit overblown on my part to say it with regard to such a picayune matter as laundry), is that “you can’t be trusted; your reasons for wanting to do things are suspect, you’re not quite a person and can’t have legitimate reasons for doing anything (other than doing our program) and we’re using you. You’re here for what we want you to do. You have no time for yourself or for what you want to do. In fact, you are not supposed to ‘want to do’.” Persons are kept in a subordinate position.

Their anger over this situation could only be seen as arrogance, and not as the reaction of somebody who can’t, or hasn’t learned to, cope with our system. Yes, it is picayune to get into something like this over brothers wanting to do laundry, but I do detect these underlying things and this is the message that comes through. It’s strange the way we treat them concerning their “human” needs. They get a lot of double talk, about “what is best thing for you?” and “not that what you want is wrong, but…”

Everybody is so closely guarded – everybody is always herded and kept moving.

In fact you could say this is one of our major characteristics. Herding people and keeping them moving. We must never let them settle down, or they will “take advantage.” They will take over. If some new brothers were left alone to do their laundry for several hours, why of course, only evil could come of it. Even if nothing was visible. (Though it probably would be.) How could we allow the breakdown in their spiritual lives caused as a result of leaving them untended to do their laundry? (Though we seem quite willing to leave them untended for a few hours to do a carpet cleaning job.)

Of course, I was overstepping my bounds again, as I seem to be doing today: which was borne out by Paul’s comments. Paul was towing the official party line. It is the only safe thing – to be a master and practitioner of it. It keeps your nose clean. Paul will never get in trouble for that.

I am parked outside Woodruff. Rico came out to the van, a pained look on his face, saying, “We’re going to get to wash our clothes.” It looks like Rico and Robert succeeded in talking to somebody on the phone, who gave them permission. This is really all unnecessary.

Read the next section of the journal here: Just Some Average Days In The Cult.


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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