1993, 04/22-24. Just Some Average Days in the Cult.

These were just some typical days in the cult. It had been several weeks since I was in a meeting, which was rare in COBU, because we had meetings all the time. Because of work in the church business, I had been missing meetings, which was fine with me, because I disagreed with Stewart Traill, the leader of our cult during the last meeting I was in, and because of the treatment I got, I didn’t wish to be to another meeting soon. At this time, in the larger world outside the borders of our little cult, the newspapers were full of stories of the demise of Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. Sometimes I wondered if the authorities were going to come and break up our cult. But except for an inspection by the city fire department of the warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn that we also used for a residence, that was the limit of our contact with the authorities at this time. They told us we couldn’t live in the warehouse, but some of us stayed anyway and tried to make it look like no one lived there.

Thursday, April 22

Last night we were out sweeping. We walked up by Central Park, but after buying coffee, we just ended up sitting next to the American Bible Society and reading the Bible with new brothers.

The papers carry further news on Waco.

It was nice last night, leaving the church office at 46th Street, going back with Paul in the van, back to a vacant Red Hook. It was good and comfortable, just to slip away from this whole scene here.

I wonder how long this present situation will last with us getting to stay at Red Hook. How long before the fire department comes back, or somebody gets the bright idea that we’re all alone there and that we need to be in fellowship more with our brothers and should move to Woodruff? Just so our bodies can be packed in there at night in “uniting with our brothers.” Even though we are around all the others during the day in our waking hours. If anybody questions me about staying in Red Hook, I will say “I just sleep there.” For what it’s worth, I like having my own living space, a bed with my own lamp and a book to read in relative privacy and silence at the end of the day. This is hard for others to understand.

[A note I added on May 16, when I was reading back on my journal: I am guilty for avoiding working at Woodruff and laying down my life for the new brothers there. This I left unsaid.]

More and more, I’m learning the “wisdom” of letting others talk and keeping my mouth shut.

I have been hearing that there will be a meeting with Brother Stewart tonight. Now I hear that it will be a brothers meeting only, which makes me fear and all the more not want to be there. I can imagine getting cornered, and having no way out. At least at a brothers and sisters meeting certain topics are not generally discussed. (Though that never stopped anybody from getting it before, but the general tenor of a mixed gender meeting is always different. At a brothers meeting, there usually will be a lot more intensive getting into the brothers, maybe each brother and finding out what is up with each one. The very fact that the meeting is called for just the brothers makes me wonder.)

So, there are jobs tonight, including one at Unity Broadcasting which I will attempt to stretch to its limit timewise. I will really try to make sure I will not be there at the meeting. And I wonder sometimes, is God shielding me by keeping me away from the meetings recently? If so, is that because he is opening my eyes to see what’s wrong here and even though I had the audacity to “say something” to Brother Stewart – however meekly – in the last meeting I was in, God is now shielding me from the usual consequences of such an action? I do feel protected in a way. If I do manage to avoid this meeting, it will really make me consider if this might be true. I know I will avoid that meeting at all costs.

Friday, April 23

It is a cold day for April, possibly going down to 30 degrees. It’s raining lightly with some flecks of snow. The wind is blowing around.

A few things have already happened today that can be considered cause for violent emotions. (Though that may be an overstatement.) One is a letter from Mom, outlining her reasons why this place isn’t right and why I should leave – though really, she said I should be praying to God for a good job, but I am of the opinion that she wants me to leave here. (And of course, from what she knows about this place, why wouldn’t she want me to leave?)

One thing she hit upon was that Stewart forbids marriage because he wants all our of time for the church business and that I’m “married” to the business. She also commented about how Stewart has a big house and money. Some of this I agree with, some I don’t. Some of what she says, I am not sure of, or don’t dare allow myself to think. But I have certainly thought of it before myself, such as how Stewart forbids marriage because he knows that if we were married, we would spend a lot less time in the business or other church activities.

My fears are that I have tied one on now, that I am going to get an “assault” from this quarter and I am not prepared to deal with it.

[Aside from whatever I was experiencing there, and all the trouble I was getting in because brothers knew I questioned Stewart and the COBU way of life, my mother was going to be on my case now too, since I opened up to her and began writing letters to her about what it was like for me to live in COBU, and this is going to be an added pressure on me.]

Maybe I should have never written that letter. On the other hand I thought, why can’t I write her? Obviously she is going to go overboard with her reaction to what I told her. Is that a reason not to write her? And besides, she thought many of these things before I wrote her anyway, though what I am telling her may be adding more fuel to the fire. Yet, at the same time, I would like to open up conversation with her, to not think I am forbidden to talk with her.

One of my first thoughts upon opening her most recent letter was that maybe I had better tell Paul. “My mother is writing this stuff to me.” (Of course, how did she start to write this stuff all of a sudden? Because, after thirteen years of being here, I finally wrote to her and told her what it was really like for me to live here.)

Yesterday I was thinking about Kathryn. She was mentioned in the office because it is now known that she is with the ex-members who go to Times Square Church. Some of the doubts I’ve been having are, are we the right ones and are the ones who left our church the “wicked?” Is it really divided into two opposing camps of good and the evil? Are the people here really any better off or faithful? If you dig beneath the surface, you will see that, according to Stewart, the story goes that none of the older brothers are faithful to Christ and it is questionable about the sisters. I guess the proper view is that at least we are aware of the problem and therefore have a chance of repenting. But as for those out there who left us, there is no chance. They are only deceiving themselves – thank God for the truth!

Is it really true that Kathryn is now like a branch that is broken off the vine and withers? Why does Stewart say that about everybody who leaves? Is it just to paint a picture so that nobody will be so easily inclined to leave? What if he said it’s okay to leave our church and that leaving doesn’t necessarily mean that one is backslidden and going to hell? I bet a lot would leave or definitely would consider it. Maybe he would lose his sway over us. This entrenched war mentality is necessary to keep this place going the way it is. The idea is that we have to say our country, our church is the best way, the only true way, or we will lose our raison d’être. Without this, there would no longer be any justification for us being together the way we are. The illusion would be gone. Somehow it’s necessary to hold us this way, possibly therefore, it’s not done honestly.

Just found out I am going to work all night tonight at St. Maggies. This is also potential cause for problems because I will now try to duck out of going door to door to look for new jobs, and try to get some sleep somewhere, something I don’t particularly care to announce to anybody. The official line goes that I should be closing all day, then go and do this work too. (Because closing new jobs is low, et al., ad nauseum.) I especially don’t want to see Chuck, who is sure to give me a hard time about this. I will try to get sleep as discretely as possible. That is “true wisdom.” At least it is around here. Then my mind forecasts a scenario with Cathy K. who is managing the schedule and later, “Why didn’t you tell anybody? Don’t you think you should have told anybody? We were looking for you.”

So it looks like being between a rock and a hard place – between me and the ones who would like to absolutely forbid me getting any rest.

Saturday, April 24

(4 a.m.) Working at St. Maggie’s. I am screening the floor and I’m finding that I have to stop and sort some things out. It’s like I have been asleep for days – waking up, going to work; on an endless treadmill where it’s not really necessary to wake up (mentally) for any reason. Even now I don’t feel as if I can stop or pace myself. I have been burying all the usual thoughts. But today they have been finding their way back to the surface. Perhaps Mom’s letter helped.

[This is an example of how, because of the endless treadmill of work, and grabbing what little sleep we could, that we never really had time to think about or consider anything. I realized that I had been in a sleepwalk for a couple of days now. Now, while grinding the floor of a restaurant in the early hours of the morning, I begin to think about some things again.]

It’s now approaching two weeks in which I have not been in a meeting, which is unusual in itself, doubly so when I consider my “behavior” two weeks ago, where because of that, it might be mandatory that I show up at a meeting for the brothers to talk to me and for me to give account of myself.

Nobody has really sought me out, except for the short period of questioning during the few days afterward. But, I always could be pleasantly surprised. One must not count his chickens before they are hatched and perhaps not even afterwards. Compounding my difficulties (this job is very unpleasant) is that I have nothing to look forward to. Hopefully, I can finish this job at a good time. Then I will go back to Red Hook to sleep and hopefully nobody will be telling me I have to go to a job any time soon. I’ll do a little reading, and that is about it. That’s all my life is about.

You know, I’ve been thinking about all the usual, how I have no contacts with women, no real friends. My mother writes to me, but I am really afraid to confide in her because she might try to do something to get me out of here.

Where do I go from here anyway? What’s the next step? Agree with everything my mother says? (Except for the prosperity gospel stuff she believes in. But yet, the essential thing I do agree with is that I should have my own home, job, and family and that I should work for myself and to take care of this family unit as my first order of business. But how, where, and how do I go from here? Will God show me anything?) Mom says I should be praying for the job I need. Okay, I have prayed, albeit just lightly, in passing. I would have a hard time believing it’s true anyway, though I wish it were.

[My mother and I got saved at about the same time. I got saved in 1980 when I met a COBU brother. She got saved at a revival meeting in Florida. One of the first things this did was put an end to the emnity that existed between us. After I left COBU in 1993, she still continued to believe in prosperity gospel teachings as well as all the usual “ministries.” I answered a letter in which she was telling me about “seed faith” and other such distortions of Christianity, and told her that these things were all wrong views of Christianity. She replied that at about the time she received my letter, she had suddenly come to realize that God can’t be this way. And she got rid of all her books and tapes from these so-called teachers. She still continues this day to be an annoyance to her pastor and church, and will raise a hue and cry whenever someone tries to introduce false teaching into the church. (Generally she’s considered to be an old crank (and sometimes she goes overboard) but it still shows that no one wants to hear it when you point out false doctrines and practices.)]

Saturday, April 24

No work today (so far). Woke up around 5 p.m. Read a few chapters in “The Colditz Story.” I’m waiting in Dunkin Donuts now to call and go to Woodruff to take Paul B. (the carpet cleaning brother) to a job in Park Slope. While on the phone with Paul, he said that Andrew was right the other day. (About the discussion some of us had about marriage. This made me think, why confide in anybody, and that I should remain aloof from any such conversations in the future, because what’s the point? It’s like saying, “We wuz bein’ bad boyz, but now I’m gonna be good.” Like when somebody (who did something mischievous with you) goes and tells the teacher.

[Some of us brothers had a conversation where we, at least indirectly, questioned how Stewart forbids marriage. (Though they didn’t put it in those terms, because such talk was dangerous. If Stewart found out about it, and he often did, somehow he mysteriously found out about these private conversations.) Now Paul was afraid and he was back-pedaling. He was siding with Andrew, whose part in this conversation had been to defend Stewart and the status quo. Paul was doing this out of fear of a potential beating that might be coming our way. And he wanted to make it clear now that he really hadn’t agreed with any of the ideas I contributed to this conversation.]

Sitting in Dunkin Donuts, looking over the Greek New Testament, thinking about such prepositions as “into” and how they have idiomatic usages and also literal and figurative meanings, and are not always to be taken literally. (For example, the Greek word kata means both “down” and “according to.”)

[Stewart had a whole teaching about how the orginal Greek word for “in” (in Bible verses about “believing in Jesus”) was eis (“into”) and not en, (“in”) – both of these Greek words having slightly different meanings. So Stewart said we had to believe “into” Jesus and not “in” Jesus. He also said all those arrogant Christian teachers had gotten the meaning of faith wrong over the last centuries because of this, misleading everyone about the true nature of faith and in believing in Jesus. Stewart was a terrible New Testament Greek scholar, who had no idea that prepositions often do not match exactly when translating meaning between languages and that believing “in” Jesus was the correct way to translate this into English.]

2 a.m.

It’s 2 a.m. I am now sitting outside of Shawn’s Restaurant on Seventh Avenue looking back over the day. I got up a 5 p.m. Where did the last nine hours go? I read for an hour and a half, drove here and there, spent some time waiting in Dunkin Donuts. But hey, that’s not much for nine hours! I really don’t make good use of the time. It seems there was a lot of time available right there. Now it’s gone.

Sure, I have my “secondary adjustments” which I could make better use of, but I must admit to great inefficiency in the allotment and use of my own personal resources. (Along this line, I figured I would take some time out to arrange my things so they could be accessible. On the other hand, I may drive over to Prospect Park in the morning to “waste” a few hours walking around and looking at what springtime has wrought. This, though not under the category of efficiency by any means, is one of the intangible or aesthetic things, which I do alone, and try to fit in once in a while, hopefully without any qualms about wasted time.)

I should be trying to learn Hebrew. I just don’t have any real aims fixed upon my time. So when I get up to do things like I did today, the free time catches me by surprise and I don’t use it very well. I have often thought anyway that I shouldn’t look forward to free time so much as that instead I should try to fit things in my daily routine, which is more predictable and can be planned for. Some of this inefficiency comes from inertia. When going, often involuntarily, in a certain direction all week, it’s hard hard to just step aside and do something else. Looking back on the week, I would say I probably didn’t wake up all week, but just went through the motions. (There is a certain, what’s the point feeling to it all anyway. Why not just give up and go with the flow. It would just be easier that way. No thwarted plans, no disappointments. But I don’t think I can live with such a stifling mentality. So I will take the pain instead.)

So now, after Paul is done with his job, I will have to take him back to Woodruff, which will get me back to Red Hook around 3 or 3:30 a.m., which will leave precious little time for anything. I will probably just read Augustine’s City of God, or rough draft a letter to my mother, then go to sleep. I guess this is laziness, just laying there and reading. But other than some cursory organizing of my things for greater accessibility, there will not be much I can do. (I am thinking of drawing again, but I probably should just leave it for another day.)

Besides, if I stay up late, that will dig into tomorrow. Really, I ought to consider what to do tomorrow. I would like to avoid the sleeping late then having to go sweeping or working trap, merely filling out the routines until the Sunday night meeting comes around. Really, it’s a lot of senseless activity, though I suppose I should say that I will seek the good of the new brothers. But, it seems a lot of time is wasted especially before, during and after supper time when we are neither out sweeping or in the meeting. I could always walk through the park, then go to the library. (If I just go to the park and walk around for a few hours, I will wonder what I am doing there. But, if I make a round through the park, then go to the library, then there is more of a sense of purpose to it all. I may enjoy the walk more, seeing that I am not just aimlessly wandering around – though I’d probably take issue with that if anyone put that to me as the only explanation for what I was doing, that it was completely useless. Though probably everything I do is useless or pointless – whether it is studying Hebrew or whatever.)

This leads to other things I have been thinking about, such as hoping I don’t have to go to Woodruff to live on a permanent basis. (I would probably only go on a duress or captivity basis, only if I am forced.) I’m wondering if it is God’s will that I do so, but I’m not wondering from the angle of searching to see if it his will and that if I find out it is, then I will go and do it. It’s more from, I just hope it isn’t. But fearing it is.

Like, my life has no validity unless I am over there at Woodruff, sacrificing and laying down my life for the new brothers at all times. I would see that as a life of extreme frustration and futility. Not that my life isn’t that way now, but the idea of being completely stifled, every second in my life covered and still being told, “couldn’t you be doing more?” But, of course, even in such circumstances one finds his loopholes, or these loopholes exist by necessity or incidentally. I remember the 810 era. When I lived at 810, I had my ways, including ways of being aloof. Perhaps I wasn’t fully there and should have been speaking the truth. Maybe it was just survival. (Who would I turn to? It wasn’t like I could go to Stewart for help. In some ways we shared a certain empathy for our fellow thugs as co-prisoners. One the other hand, why, or even how could we go to Stewart to tell him about anything that was going on there, when he seemed to be chief prosecutor and/or unconcerned about these things or even the promulgator of them? How could a Jew complain to Hitler about the conditions in the concentration camps?)

Well, one has his secondary adjustments. I’m still waiting outside the jobsite. I have my diary, tape player, and a Greek Bible to read by the light of the street lamp. I try to be content in such circumstances. My life consists of this stuff almost exclusively, what am I to do? I just have an overwhelming sense of wasting time. (Here, the idea of becoming a missionary comes to mind. But how and where? I hardly have the faintest glimmer of wanting to be a “missionary” in our orphanage in Haiti. If I can’t do it here, what makes me think I can do it somewhere else?)

I spent a little time thinking about how it’s two and a half years now since that prayer about marriage. It does seem pretty amazing when I think about how I actually had a dream about L____ with the words, “God puts love in her heart long before she ever sees you or talks to you.” What do you make of that? Of course, I am waiting to see; waiting for anything that could be an indication. I am prepared to be disappointed, but hoping it’s true. I’m almost thinking she is the only person who could be my wife, with such reasoning such as: due to the way I am, it would be better for me to marry somebody younger. I often wonder just how it would come about; how this “miracle” will take place. And that’s what it would be too – a miracle.

Sunday, April 25 Red Hook

Not doing too much today. Did laundry. Today was the probably first day in almost a year that I did any artwork. It gives me a satisfied feeling. I was drawing at Andrew’s desk while listening to the radio. The fact that there really isn’t anybody around anymore, after the fire deparment told us we couldn’t live here, helps. I need a quiet, undisturbed place to do my artwork. Crowded conditions, noise, interruptions and people looking over my shoulder are a definite no-no. I hope to do more artwork again. I like a quiet place to live in general. This present arrangement suits me just fine, though it’s doubtful it will last much longer. I am surprised that it exists at all.

8:30 p.m.

I am now missing the meeting at Red Hook. (A meeting in which Brother Stewart will not be there. I always hate these meetings when he is not there, because of the empty protocol and pointlessness of it all. I’d rather be doing just about anything else. For example, at these meetings everybody will “have to” make a confession about their thankfulness or some such thing. The sisters will do it, one by one. Each makes their speech, then sits down. They speak once, then don’t speak again. Everyone is waiting for each one to say something. Everybody is expected to say something, but it can’t be too spontaneous or from the heart. But, they have to. Each makes their speech, then, you get the sense, they are done. Next comes finding out who didn’t say anything. Even those times when we are not saying we have to get a commitment speech from everybody. If you tried to explain how you don’t want to do this, they will say you are thumbing your nose at Jesus or some such thing. It’s all dead formality, but at the same time, very rigorous. I’d rather just not be there.

And it’s a no win situation. You can’t say anything about it or you are in bigger trouble, more trouble than it’s worth. Then again, where did all this “truth speaking” stuff come from? Speaking the truth to save yourself.

Paul and I are doing a floor refinishing job at a place called Equinox. Lots of beautiful women – or “the ones who try to look pretty.” I must guard myself.

Read the next part of this journal here: Stewart Doesn’t Really Talk To Us About Jesus.


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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