1992, 12/09-15. The “Loft Life,” and Our Lofty, But False, Ideals

These journal pages form the background of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.

December 9th

I have been sick for two days. Thoughts and “visions” fill my head and I’d like to write them down:

One is in that Stewart is really a failure. I’ve actually known that for quite some time. I think that’s why Stewart rides us so hard. (There are a few ways I could go from here, to explain this. One is that Stewart resembles the Romanian dictator Ceaucescu. The situation in that country was one of absolute poverty and decline, but through the media and propaganda ministry, Ceaucescu built up a personality cult about his greatness and his magnificent accomplishments. His praises were sung in books and in the newspapers. How much the common people saw through all this is a matter of conjecture, but for sure, it was in their own best interest to keep quiet about it, since dissent resulted in serious retribution. (A tell-tale sign in any totalitarian state, including our own.) Ceaucescu built himself magnificent palaces and lived in luxury – like the way our Glorious Leader doesn’t scrimp or hold back when he desires something for himself, whether his living quarters, darkroom, libraries, etc. Though Stewart is also careful to avoid ostentatious displays of wealth.

(He looks and dresses like a poor man so we can have nothing on him by way of his appearance and behavior. He can keep us so backed in a corner, or so concentrating on our own sins that we don’t dare ask any questions.)

Stewart gets a lot of gear and used stuff. In part, to save money, in order to buy more things. One illusion I don’t have is that he is stupid. We, on the contrary, are spurred on to greater sacrifice. Woe to him who says he doesn’t want to sleep on the floor in a loft!

We are spurred on to greater self abnegation, to “kill everything,” to have “nothing for self.” But I don’t have the impression that Stewart does this himself. We are supposed to do nothing but work and have “Christ.” I am supposed to live as though I want no other things. I am bad or strange if I can’t kill everything off. What’s wrong with me? I still have desires for things. Not only that, but I gave into these desires (desires for artwork, exercise  and for “secular” knowledge), though all the while looking up and shielding my face, waiting for a bolt from heaven, for divine wrath for “indulging in and hoping in this life!” My last four years here have been a history of alternating between the two extremes of trying to “kill everything” so that I may be saved and receive the Gospel – because “you can’t repent until you’ve gotten rid of everything” – and the other extreme of “what’s the use – there’s no hope for me anyway, I’m going to hell anyway, so then what’s the difference if I go jogging and study languages?” Usually I’m somewhere in between, figuring I don’t believe that old geezer anyway, but fearing a bolt from heaven because “whatever Stewart says is the truth – no matter what he says.” (It’s not like I could have any insights of my own.)  But also, always suspecting Stewart wasn’t living up to said standards himself.

As an example, just the other day I was in the office and I saw two math books on the desk with a note (to a sister from Linda H.) that these should be returned because they are duplicates. These books were not your run of the mill accounting or business math books that a pastor might need to run a church, but hobby or specialty math, to tickle the brain of that discerning mathematician who’s got it all and needs another esoteric thrill, who is just pursuing it for the sake of curiosity and pleasure. They were books on probability and functions. Though I’m sure Stewart would say there is some deep and necessary reason for it. He says he carefully considers everything and does nothing without a purpose. I’d also probably get the third degree for even indicating I have doubts about his royal decrees. Remember all those long harangues Stewart delivered about how everything is the flesh; about this mythical Dr. Farukkian who was a mathematician? And about how being a mathematician, though it is not an outward life of sin, is still living according to the flesh? Look, here, Stewart was attacking his own thing, mathematics. I had the impression he was giving it up. That puts a lot of pressure on us then to give up our own thing. He was condemning everything that was not directly following Christ as useless and dead or even harmful. Everybody went for it. Especially the new brothers and the sisters. The pull generated from that is hard to resist. Is Stewart just a skillful liar or a hypocrite? One thing for you, but a different thing for me? And selling that as Christian life? What happens when I read and find out that Christians didn’t live this way throughout history? Then I get the impression – and I think it is impression we are supposed to have – that this is a new revelation, a third covenant or another Reformation that sets all other Christian truth aside. That Stewart is God’s special, incontrovertible messenger.

Stewart certainly acted as if he would kill anybody who as much as doubted it a little bit. The question is, if it is the truth, why does it have to be protected with threats and ultimatums?

This has been a digression. But the question: “Is Stewart a skillful liar or a hypocrite” has been raised. I think I can answer that, or at least propose an explanation from what I have observed about the concept of “one thing for me – but another for you.” (Or, “father knows best.”) It has something to do with the way Stewart views us. The idea that we are material to be worked with and manipulated. That our persons and individual wants can be set aside for a purpose and program. (This is supposedly with our consent. He presents a great picture of rewards for compliance and paints a bleak picture of the alternatives (of doing it our way, etc.). Everyone pins their hope on him and his ability to bring it through, though it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, but he carries himself with undaunted confidence. Also, he roundly and publicly trashes the dissenters, as an added warning or incentive. So the great majority meekly complies.)

Basically, what I had intended to say here was that I often felt like a pawn on somebody’s chessboard; that it didn’t matter what I thought or knew – or what the real truth was. These were the moves being forced on me.

All of this is about the closest I can get to my need for Jesus, or sense any desire for him. That is, when dealing with these things, the things I am forbidden to think of or speak of.  Any writing a “Need for Jesus Paper” or speaking of submitting to the Four Approaches is mere babbling without this. It’s superficial and just glossing over what really bothers me and what I really am. It’s a religious sideshow. I need Jesus to meet me at this place, which is the real me.

[During this time, we were supposed to write our “My Need for Jesus Papers,” which often just contained a repetition of Stewart Traill teachings. I would never have written all these things I was thinking, and that I thought I needed Jesus to help me with, in a My Need for Jesus Paper, because we were supposed to show these papers to one another.]

Thursday  12

Conversation overheard:

“Yes, I really need to stir up my alarm. I’m not going to make it this way.”

“Yes, brother, me too. I can’t afford this half and half. Gotta stir up my fear.”

This went on, ad nauseum. Both parties were speaking in the most drole, dull monotone possible. Don’t they realize that they go around saying the same obligatory phrases over and over, day in and day out, but get nowhere, toward repentance or anything? I guess they get a nice smug feeling for having said the right lines, the rosary. After all, we have the Christian truth in its purest form here – or possibly the only truth. At least here, then, we know we are really saying the right thing if we say the lines. Who could disagree with these lines? They have come down to us from on high. (I see all this chanting as worse than useless myself.)

I think it might be a good idea to change the name of our sect to “Hell House.” We could hang up more pictures of devils and condemned sinners, and verses about hell could be printed on large banners on the walls and we could get together and have meetings where we confess, one after another, that we are going to hell and find out who trusts our sincerity and who thinks we are going there too. We can go out on the streets and warn people about hell and offer them our unique way of life. They can come here and move in too, and sit and confess with us, that “Yes, I really need to stir up my fear.”

[After I left in August 1993, I found out that COBU really did continue to go on in just this way I was suggesting. I heard that Stewart Traill was “taking volunteers for the lake of fire club,” and that he was inducing brothers and sisters to say (that their actions say) that “I desire hell.”]  

We seem to only attract dead and lifeless people, who can be induced to do just about anything. There are some people would do just about anything to keep those three meals and a warm bed coming, especially in winter, even if it meant saying all these things and hanging their heads and “confessing.”

The problem with this endless pounding about the bad news, fear and hell is that it tends to stay right there. It solidifies into a religion based on hell where people learn the chants and lines. They learn to do this and I suppose they feel they are doing the right thing this way. Stewart says nothing else will work, so they put all their effort into this as their only hope. Then it becomes ritualized and develops a liturgy all its own. (Like in the Methodist services I used to go to. We all stood in unison, sang, sat back down, read a scripture, said the doxology, stood up again, etc.) It becomes a religion in its own right. Everybody makes sure everybody else is doing it and comes down on anyone who doesn’t act the same way. It actually becomes defended, as if by the defenders of the only true faith. It also becomes an acceptable medium of communication and socializing among us. It is also a way of evaluating one’s status; a person can actually be seen as doing well in this “way.”

Maybe our little sect will make it into some future edition of a book on religious communities and communist sects. (Each sect of course, believing they were the only true way. Each a unique experiment based on the insightful views of their founders with a handful of diehard followers who considered their leader to be divinely inspired and blessed with God’s truest revelation. Their leader was a special spokesman imbued with special and sometimes mesmerizing powers, if not a manifestation of God himself.)

In our little book on 20th Century sects, there would be several pages devoted to our history and esoteric religious doctrine. There would be a description of how we lived in dirty buildings and warehouses and how we wore ragged clothes, attempting to cultivate the greatest possible aura of squalor, filth and degeneracy in our effort to display an utter contempt toward this world and the things of this life as a means of displaying our otherworldly concerns.

There would also be the following scene showing what life was like here in our period of slow decline:

Two brothers in ragged clothes meet in a warehouse hallway. One is pushing a decrepit carpet cleaning machine with squeaking wheels. The whole machine is held together with gray tape and coat hanger wire, reflecting that aura of deferred maintenance that is one of our trademarks. The other brother is carrying a wrench, on his way to fix a van that has broken down again.

The two stop momentarily (so do the squeaking wheels). They face one another. Heads down, their eyes never meet.

“Yes brother, I’m headed straight for hell. Gotta sir up my fear.”

“Me too brother. Gotta be ten times more alarmed.”

“If you died right now, where would you end up?”

“In hell, brother. How ‘bout you?”

“Me too brother. Gotta stir up my fear.”

The wheels start squeaking again as they go on their separate ways.

***

Just came back from Dr. Nunez. This is my fourth day with the flu.

I suppose most people with a long-standing illness have time to reflect on their lives. It’s the archetypical story. He was in the hospital, or confined to a room, away from the usual routines that had distracted him from life and even from thought itself, so that he lived by irrational impulses, duties, have-to’s and obligations. He never really had time to think – or if he did, he quickly pushed it back down under. There was no context in which to deal with these thoughts anyway during the ongoing treadmill that his life had become.

In what little examining of myself I have done, I see that it’s hard for me to pray. I feel like I’m in limbo. Also I have sins that, I believe, I need to confess. And, if I died right now, I’d wind up in hell. I can’t say I’ve ever had any kind of conversion experience.

[That last sentence is a bit unreal. But at the time Stewart was driving the idea that none of us had ever been born again or had ever become real Christians, and I was still subject to his views, but also beginning to questions those views. It was useful for Stewart to keep us in this inferior position, focused on our faults, sins (real or imaginary) and our worthlessness.]

Listening to Christian radio today, I have heard much about God’s love for me. Unconditional love. And that I don’t need to earn or work for it. This rings true; it sounds right when I hear it. But what? I haven’t done enough hell bible studies or stirred up my fear sufficiently for the relief of God’s love to have its effect? Hey! That’s a good one! I haven’t beaten myself up enough and lashed myself with whips enough in order to really know God loves me! But how do I know that wouldn’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because self-inflicted pain feels good when you stop. I might inadvertently mistake that relief for God’s love for me. “Oh, it feels so good when I stop! God must love me. What a relief!”

Really, nobody is going to come out of this until Stewart stops lashing us.

Maybe Stewart is beating us up for his own failures. Is the church not getting where you want it to go? Just beat up on the inmates some more. Use unrestricted force. There’s really no one to stop you. They’ve lost contact with reality and with the outside world anyway. How can they really know what’s too much? Who are they to say anything? Aren’t you the ultimate Lord? Don’t you set the standards for everything? Their minds are under your control. Who would oppose you? One of your victims? No way. By now they have learned well that any squawking will just bring more punishment down on their heads in a torrent of scathing abuse. It’s best to sit there and take it like a good slave and hope to avoid further abuse. Maybe by being good and submissive they can mitigate your wrath, since what you have shown is that you hate dissent and having your views, ideas and actions questioned, even a little bit. Also, that you love having things go in an orderly fashion.

How about opposition from one of those not in the immediate target zone of your abusive people handling methods?  Like one of the sisters, for instance? [Stewart was not publicly abusing the sisters at this time.] Being the more intuitive of the sexes, they are able to more deeply comprehend what is going on, to know what the underlying motives are in the drama and what each player is really saying from behind his mask and his posturing. The sisters see deeper than just merely the words being exchanged.

Maybe one of the sisters might say something about what Stewart is doing? You know, like, “I just had this little doubt. I’m not sure, but I thought maybe I’d just say it. This is like a human rights violation, or at least, maybe it’s going a little overboard.” But no way. This surprises me. All those women and not one will voice a doubt?

Stewart, supposedly, does everything in the light and is subject to the view of the fellowship, or so the baloney goes. But he is careful to avoid asking us what we think. (Once in a while, Stewart will say to someone, “You mean you don’t ask everyone what they think of you? What about asking the women? Do you avoid that?” But I have extremely rarely, that is, practically never seen Stewart do the same. One time, he asked us something, and everyone was careful to say the right thing.)

Well, I’m going on and on, writing too much. Using many words to say what I could say in a line or two. The idea is that, it is hard for me to believe no one says anything. How can this be?

As for the sisters, the point was, why should they say anything when they are in a precarious position themselves? They keep themselves guarded. One false move and they’ve had it! That could be their lot.

-*-

I continued these ideas in the section that follows, where I wrote an overview of the techniqes that Stewart used to manipulate us:

Political Leverage

This includes the political (or really, social) leverage that Stewart uses:

The sisters are accepted – almost. This is a precarious position. It was also a hard-won position (if indeed they won it). Or if not won, Stewart granted it to them very conditionally. “Keep quiet, you could blow it quick. I am suspicious of you too. You’re next.”  (I always get the impression the sisters are walking in a mine field.)

Competing groups

As best as I can explain it: there are competing groups in the church. Stewart sets them at odds with each other. Each group is so busy protecting and guarding their own tracks that they don’t have time to think about anyone else, or don’t want to risk or venture everything over little issues, such as doubts they have about the way he is mistreating the other groups. It’s best not to make waves and get trouble for themselves. They are bought out.

People are dealt with in groups. There will be wholesale punishment for one group at a time. Everyone is in a group and is dealt with accordingly. New, middle and older brothers. The sisters, the married live-out ones.

This is for greater control, not for our benefit. Just as the councils we elect are not our representatives who make our views known and act on our behalf, as in a democracy, but are for delegating orders from the top [from Stewart], for keeping tabs on us and for gathering information on us.

The use of groups

What is the point of competing groups? For one thing, it takes a shrewd person to arrange this; to pull it off and to keep it going. Fear is one of the methods. This must be balanced with proffered rewards, which are tentatively given on certain grounds of expected behavior (and easily revoked because it’s not quite ours, but held by the giver). Or, if not given, held out before that specific group, but always kept just out of reach. It looks like we can obtain it, but we never can, really. We are making it, almost. So we can never relax and think. We’re always going for it.

The groups are clearly defined. There is not much interaction between the groups. It’s an us and them kind of thing.

A sign of shrewd leadership – of the Machiavellian type – is to have competing groups at odds with one another. This keeps them weak and separated. Play up on their worthlessness, so their eyes are on themselves. But also on you. That is, they are directly looking to you for meaning, definition and personal worth.

One of the best means of control over persons in a closed society is to evaluate them in front of all the others. Your word can make or break them, send them lower or bring them up on the social ladder. Use the others on them as leverage. Others who are sure to say what they believe you want them to say, in order to remain in your favor. Remember, the people you correct them in front of are the people they have to see and live with all week – even when you’re not there. So this is very effective.

The “body” or, everyone assembled together  

This assembly exists as an organ to ratify and carry out Stewart’s will. It is not a coming together to accomplish our will or to have our needs and concerns dealt with in any way. (Though whatever Stewart deals with, he says these are our real concerns and nothing else is. Care to disagree?) But to keep this from being too obvious, it is sometimes necessary or advantageous for Stewart to throw in a little concession – often just a few words to keep everyone satisfied, such as, “We decide everything together here as a church, you know.” It is also now the law when this is said. Who will disagree now? Stewart said, “We all decide together.” Care to fight with the words, to fight with him? (Though most don’t care anyway or wouldn’t realize. What do newcomers like Chatman and Erasmus know? And the sisters are bought out with their semi-immune status, which can be quickly revoked – as they well know.)

As with many former communist countries, which were communist through and through, they often called themselves a “Democratic Republic,” though the more enlightened could see through it. But because of the name, the mass of ordinary people would say, “It is a democratic republic.” Words are cheap, but efficient propaganda.

The ideas I have about the use of these groups are:

1)  Diversionary: to keep our eyes off real things, which could be:

a)  Where does the money go? Why do we live in squalor? What is Stewart really up to?

b)  Stewart is a failure. (And we are paying for it.)

c)  Just to keep us in the dark in general.

d)  Dominance and aggression. It’s just Stewart’s nature anyway. To rule by fear, taking advantage of weakness and the use of irrational impulses (ours, that is).

The Loft lifestyle

I’m also wondering about this loft and warehouse living. (And about everything else here that is hard to reconcile if you remember what it was once like to live in reality or if you have any access to outside information, such as how Christians lived and how churches were ruled, both nowadays and in the past). Most people here don’t have, or don’t bother to have, access to this information and therefore cannot make an informed comparison of the lives of Christians throughout history and our lives here.

Our poverty drive  

Is it part of Stewart’s plan to discourage us? If it is, it’s having a serious side effect. These views and way of life are being incorporated into our view of God and Christian life. Everyone accepts it as the true view, to the exclusion of everything else.

Why is Stewart alone? By accident or design?

a) By conscious design. He could be with others if he wanted to. Maybe it’s due to pride and shame.

b) Nobody out there takes Stewart seriously. Perhaps with good reason. (They are not subject to Stewart, so Stewart has no leverage on them. So he can’t get his way with them either.)

c) If another pastor joined us, he would have to submit to Stewart. Those would be the only terms. With good reason, no one will go for it. If they attempted to criticize him, Stewart would just drive them away. Probably as soon as Stewart got his clutches on someone like that, he would lay into them.

-*-

Saturday, December 11th

Trying for two days to get in contact with Todd. No answer. He probably had to temporarily abandon his house.  [I called my brother who lived near the ocean in New Jersey. There was a hurricane. He had to abandon his house for a few days.]

It bothers me that I can’t just get in a car and go down there. (Now or at other times.) It seems that we must have a “really good” reason for seeing our families. A brother must affect an air of complete indifference when he “fellowships” about (that is, asks permission to) visiting his family. He must display complete nonchalance, or he will definitely be told no. “Yeah sure, it’s my family, I was thinking of seeing them. Sure, no big deal if I can’t. I could always go a different time.”

This is not how he really feels, but is the best way to actually get to see them at the time. If you look like you’re “into” it, someone will say so and will wonder if you should go now because, “you seem driven.” “What’s really running you? Is it your desire to see your family, or are they pressuring you?” (But, I guess I could always make better use of the mail and the telephone.) I don’t need to “fellowship” and put in a request to call or write. We have strange views on the family here, coming from what Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” (That is the main verse Stewart always used, but without regard for the complete view of the Bible. Jesus also said that it is wrong to say to your parents that what you owe them is given to God.)

[Jesus said to the Pharisees, ”But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:11-13) This is a good description of the COBU attitude toward parents.]

There are ways in which our life here distorts the view of the Bible. It is not the best of all possible worlds. A lot of it comes from the old entrenched view of our fellowship against the world, the government, adults, family, etc. Us versus them. This view still carries over, in my opinion. The easiest thing to do and the way to ruffle no feathers, among us at least, is to go with the way we have determined by habit and then to find verses in the Bible to back up that viewpoint to tell ourselves that we are right after all.

Sunday Dec 13

I am attempting to return to regular keeping of my journal. I keep getting constant reminders to do so. Reasons for this could be the following:

1) For me to keep track of myself and my progress, or regress. And just generally to track the course of my inward life.

2) To bring out my half conscious thoughts and to solidify them. I am often afraid to acknowledge (even to myself) what I really think and believe, because it’s just too horrible if it’s true. And I am knowingly settling for it if is true and what does that make me?

[If what I was coming believe and understand about the falseness of the COBU way and about the deceit and control practiced there was true, then I was accepting it, and what did that say about me?]

I just went around to several newstands trying to buy the Asbury Park Press, but no luck. I want local information on the storm. I picked up a copy of the Ledger that had one paragraph on Point Pleasant. It said the entire town was flooded east of the tracks. The next best thing to being there is buying the local papers to try to get some information.

It bothers me to think that though I work for a living, I can’t just take this van and go see my brother, even for a few hours. If detected (and my absence would undoubtedly be detected), it would be a crime beyond comparison and beyond reason. I broke fellowship, I did my own thing.

I’m not looking forward to tonight’s meeting.  (I’m now at the gas station at 44th Street. There is not a single thing I am looking forward to today from here on in.)

I hear that, although Stewart is not here (he’s in Haiti), the older brothers will make a division amoung us of: good example, neutral, bad example and poison: spiritual killer. I dread these divisions because of what they can do to me. Get in that last category and your life can be a real drag. Maybe I just look at it in a political way. I will try to say “bad example.” I don’t expect to get away with claiming to be neutral, that is, with saying I am not really doing anything either way, but at least it’s one step above the worse category, which I have a good chance of ending up in anyway. But it is better if you don’t “say so of your own accord” that you’re in the worst category.

[We had meetings to “make divisions.” (These were also called categories.) The purpose of the meeting was to put every brother into a category. The categories had different names each week, but they were always the same idea:  good, in between, bad and extremely bad. Each brother claimed which category he was in, made a speech about why and then heard commentary on himself and was questioned (usually courtroom style) by all the other brothers, and was voted on. With as many as 30 brothers at the meeting, this could take up to two hours. And we had these meetings almost every night.

It was better for me to claim to be in the third category, that of “bad example,” and have everyone disagree and vote me down into the fourth category, that of being “poison, a spiritual killer” (this implied my danger and toxicity to the others) than to directly state that I was in the fourth category, saying it of my own accord. It would be much worse for me then. What most brothers usually did during “divisions and voting” was to put themselves in a category higher than the one they thought they were in or expected the others to vote them into. That way when the brother got voted down a notch, at least it was not he who said this about himself. Most of us understood this. In a church supposedly based on truth and living honestly in the light, this method caused people to lie about themselves.

But really, Stewart Traill used the voting and categorizing to divide and conquer us and to make us focus on our shortcomings and to compare ourselves to one another. It was also used to make us harass one another, because brothers voted in the higher categories were expected to put “help and heat” on brothers in the lower categories. This made it clear who the victims and the abusers were going to be for the week, though usually after a day or two, hacking away at one another with the right lines died down. Brothers couldn’t keep up a state of alarm and frenzy for long, because of tiredness, human limitations and because they also liked the people they lived and worked with. Keeping us in a state of frenzy and fear was one of Stewart’s specialties and he stirred and stoked the fires frequently.]

The underlying thing I dread [about being voted into the fourth category] is, “Well, these ones should leave then.” Plus the stigma of this label.

Am I poison? A spiritual killer? That is quite a statement. Maybe these thoughts I have about Stewart qualify me as poison to others and a spiritual killer. I have often thought that, next to actual murder or physical violence, that my mode of thinking is the absolute worse crime a person could do here. And maybe this is what will be taken into consideration during the voting. It must be in the back of many the brothers’ minds that I have been so stupid as to open my mouth on this matter a few times. The tapes can’t be erased. What is done is done. I don’t think anyone ever forgets that someone has spoken about their doubts about Stewart. Crimes of an ideological nature are taken quite seriously in more centralized forms of government.

Am I a spiritual killer? I really don’t know. Perhaps socially I’m a killer, in our society. But have I actually killed anyone spiritually? Who are my victims?

Well, I don’t know about all this. What’s the use of debating between what kind of bad guy I will be voted as? Either category is bad anyway.

My spiritual situation is grave. I took a few silent moments with God. He shows me: Deep separation. It’s my fault.

***

Tonight we had a meeting at the Red Hook warehouse, without Stewart, who is in Haiti. After the meeting I just wanted to get away for a while, so I quickly drove the first load of brothers to Woodruff, so that I’d be free with a van after I dropped them offI didn’t do anything great, I just went to Dunkin’ Donuts and sat in the van alone a while. I also bought food.

My thoughts: I just wish I could go away somewhere and maybe never come back.

In the immediate sense, I wanted to avoid all the noise and pseudo-socializing, and/or waiting for everyone to leave Red Hook, so I can resume “normal” life. Avoiding the feeling that I live in Grand Central Terminal, or, as Peter says, life in a pizza shop. I really can’t take it.

[I wanted to get away from the Red Hook warehouse, where I lived in the storage closet where we kept floor sanding equipment. For about an hour after meetings, a crowd of church members stood around and talked. I wasn’t going to be able to get any rest or privacy. I could not go to sleep until they were gone, because of the noise and because I did not want to risk anyone seeing that I slept in a private enclosed space and not out in the open on storage shelves or stacks of crates and boxes like the others at the Red Hook Warehouse did.]

Monday December 14

Writing here a little before going to sleep. This may be a good spiritual exercise. If not that, then a good human exercise.

(Margin note: work, knowledge, future.)

Giving some thought today about “career moves,” though I really didn’t come up with anything. Maybe I can learn carpentry. Other fields of endeavor seem out of reach or impractical. I probably can’t do wood floors forever, though sales is always an old standby. (But I have no leads built up. Generally when I am out of that arena, I don’t miss it. And when not doing sales, I get to avoid “office life” as much as possible. The alarming thought is that I may find myself back on the carpet cleaning teams somehow. That line of work is deadening and demeaning. Even in sales, there is a chance I may be pressed back into carpet cleaning service.

(Margin note: aptitude.)

The other idea I came up with is learning about electronics, but probably this would only be a sideline. It’s good to know how to fix things. The problem is, my aptitude is not in that area. My abilities are in the language and linguistics area (which contains more than just foreign language learning). I should develop this more extensively.

(I don’t want to end up in an intellectual or scholarly cul-de-sac, like getting into semantics and other dead end sciences. That’s fine for a professor on a secluded campus with a good salary whose job is to teach and to churn out books which are designed to please other faculty members and to gain a reputation.)

(Plan, education; practical, useful and necessary knowledge.)

I have fallen off from my program of education, reading and making better use of my time. I need to consider it more and work out the parameters.

The problem is to not fall off from this. I don’t want to end up being someone who can only clean rugs and sand floors. Especially knowing that I had the capacity to be more. No one will do it for me; nobody will bother me about the lack of doing it. Except at some future point, maybe someone will say, “That’s all you can do?” I don’t want to be that self-fulfilling prophecy or part of that bureaucratic way of life that finds reasons to justify its need to exist and qualifies its members to continue to be qualified to be a member. More specifically, doing carpet cleaning and wood floors only qualifies me to be a floor worker. The only thing I get for my hard labor after five years is the satisfaction of being qualified to continue doing floors.

No one is going to bother me about changing this. I could give many other arguments and reasons for this, but this is the basic thought.

Tuesday December 15

Every time I open this notebook, I see the words “This too will pass” written on the first page. It makes me stop and think. Even this won’t last forever.

Trying to pray, but it’s very difficult. Reading a book on conversion by Joseph Alleine, a Puritan. I try praying according to what he says, but don’t really get anywhere. My mind is on other things and I am drifting.

My mind is on other things, such as making better use of time and better use of my life by organizing and planning. On things I’d like to do, photography, radios, artwork and exercise. It seems like I have to think of them so much. If I worked them into my life, I wouldn’t think of them so much. It seems I’m always trying to get just a little something for me, but never really get anywhere. I just work, then spend a few hours in the evening, eating or doing this and that. Then after getting back to Red Hook, I just want to sleep or lay down and listen to the shortwave radio.

I need to weave some things into my life. Why live like a monkey? Man, I can’t even get time to go to the library, even for a couple hours a week! I’m 35 years old and I can barely choose to do anything except to go where the beaten path leads me every day. Getting off the beaten path takes so much effort that it’s hardly worth it. It’s hardly worth the effort and investment it takes!

(For example, it would be a monumental and time consuming effort to put running back into my life. And I’d have to break down the walls of the fellowship to get out and take a train ride. Even with art work, it’s hard to set it up here. Etcetera and etcetera, ad infinitum.)

There are some minor ways I can change this. It takes a degree of resourcefulness which must be exercised within a very limited set of options. For example, in order to read the Bible, I listen to Bible tapes while working. If I listen to the Bible in other languages, I can kill two birds with one stone. This is a good example of “shuffling” things into the deck and weaving things into my life.

But I’d prefer to be free to use my time in other ways. To be free to go places and set up activities. It’s probably going way too far to set a goal to be financially independent and calling the shots by some date. The odd thing is, those (in the church) who freelance, or have a special trade, such as Andrew with his cabinet making, well, he just ends up being swamped with work because of the “desperate financial condition” of the church. Just because Andrew has a specialty trade doesn’t mean he can call his own shots and set his own hours. He is always overburdened and behind in his deadlines. It’s like, as long as we live in the church, we will never be able to say, “thus far and no further.” No way. Andrew has no freedom to say “I work too much,” or “I will only work a five day week or only a certain number of hours a week.” Work is dumped on him as fast as it can be piled up. This is what I can’t stand. I could elaborate but why waste paper?

Andrew could only set his hours if he stood entirely separate (economically speaking) from the church. Otherwise, the institution decides his fate. We don’t make decisions, they are made for us. Andrew would run into a lot of trouble if he said no. That’s one of the things we don’t do around here. We cannot say, “I work a lot. I have a clear conscience about this. I need a break.” What I do instead, is avoid. I can’t explain it exactly on paper, but I find ways to not be available. Or I make sure I’m doing something else, so I don’t turn something down personally by speaking in the first person, by saying, “I don’t want to.”

Example: on Sundays, there are often a few carpet jobs. You can’t, it’s dangerous, to turn it down in the first person. [In the “first person,” that is, by saying “I” don’t want to.] What you need is a “previous commitment.” (“I worked all night, I just got in at 5 a.m.” will also do, unless the job you’re being asked to do is later in the day.) This is the only safe thing. (“No, I can’t go on that cleaning job. We have to finish a wood floor job today.”) You come from the attitude, as best as you can, of, “Sorry, I wish I could help, but I can’t.” And never, “No, I don’t want to.”

You would never speak in the first person, that is, “I want to” or “I am going to,” indicating personal initiative and choice.

Or if you tried to say you have done enough work this week, and that you want to go walking for a few hours, or have time to read. (There is a great fear among us that someone, somewhere is wasting time.) I belong to the church; the church owns me. I have no say. I am expected to obey. I am a troublemaker if I don’t.

[If I tried to get time off by directly asking for it or by taking it, I would run into “Jim LaRue refused to go on a job today, brothers,” because it was either / or. Something was God’s will (therefore we did it all the time) or it was not God’s will (therefore we never did it). Working in the church businesses was God’s will. Taking time off was not God’s will. There was never an explanation like, he did 20 jobs this week, he just didn’t want to do this one additional job, because he thinks that’s enough. It was do or die. No explanations accepted. Obey or rebel. He refused to do a job. We had no rights, no say in the matter. We were machines, we were church property.]

If I don’t wish to work Sundays (or that extra Saturday night job), it will be implied that I just don’t care. Even though I work all week.

A skillful person can whittle down your excuses until you just have to say, “I don’t want to.” Or, at least it gets to look that way. You feel like you are being a nuisance. You are making trouble. You are expected to obey orders. You have no will of your own. We have gotten it to the point where “I want” or “I don’t want” is a serious crime. It is the unpardonable sin. You are on weak ground here when coming from that place. (If you can’t cite previous commitments or manage to avoid. Too bad you can’t just come out and say it.) You are arguing against the creation, against all of the Bible as Stewart has explained it to us. You would really have to attack, or you are attacking, the very basis of our church by doing that. That is powerful leverage, aimed against you. Too many things are lined up against you.

(Where does all this come from? It flows off my pen so easily. It seems to make so much sense. I could write and write. Is all this true? Is it a result of my own observations? It’s not like I don’t know what goes on here. But then it will seem like God is warning me that I shouldn’t be doing this, that’s not true. It flows so readily though. It’s like I see all these things. It’s hard to shut it off and act like I don’t see it. I don’t believe much of what is passed off here as an explanation for what we do. It’s like a big institution and we are all cogs in the wheel and much of what Stewart teaches us is grease for the wheels, so they turn. He tells us that these things are the true Bible basis and teaching, but it seems so much like “How to Run an Institution.” Or how to run a totalitarian society that seeks to control as much of its members’ lives as possible without being blatantly obvious and saying so. So we have teachings drummed into our brains until they are so much a part of the landscape that it’s hard to do away with them or to challenge them. To do so, or to challenge any aspect of our lives, brings quick retribution. The retribution is so quick that I wonder if I have hit some live wire or if I am onto something.

All of this (more than just what I am writing here) seems so clear and obvious to me. I think about it all the time. A totalitarian regime that controls the lives of its members through suggestion, intimidation, fear and isolation. Also by hook, crook and ample use of the Holy Book.

I just have the underlying feeling that I am being lied to and deceived. That the methods used here are not above board. Stewart is saying something like, “You know I’ve got you over a barrel, so you have to listen to me. And the others will be glad to help me do this to you, so they can avoid punishment, because they’ll get it if they try to help you.”

The feeling that someone is throwing me off balance by using my irrational fears and by not being straight with me. He doesn’t have to talk to me as if I were a person with rights, because he already has me. (You don’t bargain with a slave for his time or treat him as a member of the same human race.)

That I belong to someone and he already has me, and am I going to do what’s expected of me or am I going to make trouble?

I have to confine my thoughts to my diary. There is no use in voicing this about or directly saying to Brother Stewart, “I think you are not being straight with me.” The feeling I’ve gotten when I’ve tried to do this is that I have just attempted to assassinate the president. I am now public enemy number one and the security force has just tackled me. Everyone takes it very seriously. This is taboo. Hands off. You don’t say such things to this man, or fire will come forth and devour you.

It’s not that I don’t want to be here.

The feeling that I have now is that I am so indebted (I have a record) that I just have to go along with everything, especially so I don’t attract any (negative) attention to myself. Oh no, he is getting out of line again. Note: I am then either spoken to as if I were a bad child who is wetting his pants (How many times have we told you? You are too old for this.) or, I am spoken to as if I were very sneaky, and that I am attacking our pastor (it’s an assassination attempt). It’s strange how it’s either extreme. “There, there little Jimmy, are we going to stop crying now?” Or, “Lock him up. Put him on death row.” (How could I be both?) It’s never in between, that I am a person with something legitimate to say. I can be bought off with sneering, cheap slander and scolding,  or with a death threat, about the seriousness and deepness of my crime. I know these things. I try to keep quiet about them and try not to think about them. But it has a habit of resurfacing or torpedoing me from the deep. It just won’t leave me alone.

I’ve got to lock this book away somewhere. I must keep a running journal of just what my real thoughts are.

How can I go to God without telling him the real things in my heart? The Bible says not to rely on your own understanding. Okay but, I’ve got to talk to someone about this. Maybe my sanity depends on it.

***

Dream:

I was working on a carpet cleaning job. I saw a movie of myself, which I was watching. My face was in something like a bright moon or a ball of fire that descended. It came before a woman who was weeping. Her head was shaven. I heard myself say “Noel!” She was crying. I said to her, “I will be here for another year, then I can get out.” (Meaning that I was in prison. I had done something wrong.)

She kept crying and holding my neck, saying, “What about the baby, what about the baby?”

I am quite perplexed about this today. I had asked God last night to at least show me who my wife would be. I hadn’t bargained for this! I had been making tapes of myself, talking about problems in the fellowship, especially about nobody being able to get married here.

[This was an interesting dream, because I was in COBU for almost another year. I left nine months after this. The dream was much more vivid and dramatic than the words here show. Noel was one of the sisters in the church, she was one of the “Gayle Helpers,” which meant she lived with Stewart Traill full time.] 

***

I was the lamb that troubled the water the wolf was drinking. – Luther.

-*-

You can read the next section of this journal here: Start of a New Journal Book. Being in a Meeting.

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One Response to “1992, 12/09-15. The “Loft Life,” and Our Lofty, But False, Ideals”

  1. Herman Weiss Says:

    — In x-cobu@yahoogroups.com, “hmw061149” wrote:
    Hi Jim, Herm Weiss is my name. I was in the FF/Cobu from almost the beginning of the group from 3-1972 to 7-1978. It’s great that you kept a diary of your daze in Cobu. Some observations: comparisons of the way things were in the Cobu Manhattan Training Center(circa
    1976-1978), our living in lofts /or ratty apartments to your experience in 1993, a difference of 15 to 17 years. But you young whipper-snappers had it good compared to my time. We have about 150 people, the married with their children along the walls; the rest, sleeping to wall-to-wall in sleeping bags on the floor of a loft on Bleeker St. in the Village. This with no electricity (light
    by Coleman lanterns), with only one toilet working most of the time. We ate mostly cold (Baloney, PB & jelly) sandwiches for a few weeks, then had hot food bused over from another loft with cooking facilities. Had to use public showers, laundry day was an all-day affair. You were fortunate if you got all your clothes back! 🙂 I see some are still living communally in lofts or ratty apartments with virtually “no possessions too” in 1993 (LOL! I feel like singing the utopian anthem “Imagine”) working long hours and still getting an allowance $30 as
    compared to in my time, $10. Inflation adjusted, of course! 🙂
    In late 1976, Stewart invented a system of of judging, dividing the spiritual condition of the members supposedly based on 1 Cor 11:18-19 into a color-coded
    hierarchy of those who are walking according to the Spirit, those walking according to the Flesh, open Sin. With the most spiritual being in the Gold category (only Stewart and I think Gail qualified) with the next category being the Silver category (which contained older sisters, no brothers). Then came the Upper, Lower Orange (the color for Christian life) category (which contained mostly sisters and a handful of brothers). These all sat in a 3′ X 3′ square on the right side of an about 9′ wide aisle separating those considered in the Spirit from those considered in the Flesh in a huge loft above our garage for the Christian Bros. Carpet Cleaning business. Those in the Flesh were put into the Upper and Lower Brown category With a black or pit category for those judged
    in gross sin. These sat in similar sized squares on the left side of the aisle.
    Stewart used to walk up and down the aisle during the beatings, oops meetings. During the meeting if you wanted to speak or were called upon, you had to
    stand up and yell as loud as possible, “MY NAME IS —— I’M COMMITTED TO FAITH IN JESUS AND LOVING MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS; AM I SPEAKING LOUD ENOUGH? To which the rest responded with either a yes or no. If no, then you had to repeat the mantra louder. Much of the meeting involved most of the “spiritual” side judging one of their own or mostly those in the flesh side. To be moved up or down the color categories involved how well you performed according to certain criteria. For example, how enthusiastically you parroted
    the party line, and on how many to led to Jesus. Now imagine bringing those interested in getting saved, those you just led to Jesus to one of those beatings ‘er meetings!
    I observed from your writings that Stewart using the same divisions and methods (even after his supposed discovery of grace in 1989), yet his methods were much
    more refined in the brainwashing techniques he used on brethren in your time.
    The idea of forcing brethren to say they are going to hell is something out of Orwell’s “1984” or the Chinese Cultural Revolution self-criticism meeting. Only
    the styles changed in those 15 years. What were the categories called and what was the criteria of advancement in your time in?

    Re: My COBU Journals.

    Hi Herm,
    My companion in the wood floor business, Paul B., used to talk to me about those days in the church in a way that glorified them as if they were the good old days. We had a meeting in 1992 where Stewart proposed returning to the “loft life” and he had some brothers like Kevin and Chuck stand up and sing praises of the good old days and how great it was. A loft was rented on West 45th Street and run for a while. I lived at the Red Hook warehouse (Coffey Street, Brooklyn) which was set up like a loft where brothers slept on the floor or on the shelves where carpet and machinery was stored. Paul B. built a tool closet to safeguard tools in, and we lived in there along with Peter T. We got some flack from Jay and Andrew about our supposed better living conditions, but they got to keep their tools in there, which Paul reminded them of when necessary, so this trade off allowed me to live in a somewhat safer and guarded space. (Never saw a rat in there and I had my own bunk.)

    A link to my page where I talk about our “special privilege” of a closet to sleep in (more like a small shack) is here, scroll down about halfway in the page:
    https://jamesl1.wordpress.com/march-1-1993-communal-life

    To answer your question about the categories, they weren’t color codes like you had, but were about “cheating,” “trying to have it both ways,” or “arrogant.”
    There would be a set of categories, usually three. Essentially, the good category (regarding whatever the issue/accusation was at the moment), the middle
    category, and the really bad category.

    I guess I’d say that the criteria of advancement in 1993 was if anyone was willing to live this life of extreme denial of self and self mortification. To “give up one’s life in this world,” “put yourself to death,” stop “cheating and trying to have it both ways,” essentially meaning to cut off all parts of yourself that are not the way of life taught and practiced here, and to give yourself completely over to promoting Stewart’s agenda and driving others to do the same thing.

    Shortly after I left in August 1993, I heard someone tell me that they were “taking volunteers for the lake of fire” at latest meeting. I could imagine what that meeting was like. I remember during my last months there, Stewart accused Joe S. of being a son of the devil and induced us to say that we “prefer hell,” or we “just don’t mind hell.”

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