1993, 03/01. Communal Living. Sleeping on a Shelf in a Supply Closet.
In this section, I was writing on the morning after a Sunday meeting with Stewart in Philadelphia. I also mentioned some things about communal life and that I was living in a supply closet in a warehouse. (I have added some notes to explain more about this closet and how it was a step up from sleeping in the common area.)
Monday, March 1
This is the “morning after.” Actually, I never went to sleep, but went to the jobsite with Pete to remove drop cloths.
As a matter of recording, the thoughts that are going through my mind are of the “Stewart is Lord” variety. I’m also thinking about John Humphrey Noyes and the correction sessions they had at the Oneida Community and how Noyes was above the criticism he so vigorously required of the others in the community.
[I was referring to a communal religious society, which I had been reading about in my studies on religious groups in America, called the Oneida Community, founded by J. H. Noyes in New York in 1848. This organization is no longer a religion, but is the Oneida Company that makes cutlery and fine glassware. The Church of Bible Understanding, in similar fashion is morphing into a business only operation called Olde Good Things, an architectural antique salvaging business.
This is a description of Oneida’s group criticism sessions:
“The forth major teaching practiced was that of “Mutual Criticism.” Mutual Criticism was established to assure the integrity of the community by conformity to Noyes’s morality. The way in which Mutual Criticism worked was that a member, under communal control, was subjected to criticisms of either a committee or the whole community. The criticisms were usually directed toward the “member’s bad traits (those thoughts or acts that detracted from family unity), and an individual could be put through a shameful, humiliating experience.” Only Noyes himself would not go through this unless he decided to, because he felt that a group should not criticize their leader.”
(Reading about other religions, especially other communal groups that had existed in the past and present in the United States was a great help in understanding what I was experiencing in the Church of Bible Understanding.)]
Peter said to me, regarding Stewart’s statement about how in the last two thousand years that no other Christians have been clear in their beliefs, that Stewart is in effect saying, “Why should you trust me either?”
I woke up about 1 in the afternoon. Went to another wood floor job.
When I was walking down the street, I was noticing this is the first day of March. Today actually feels like the first day of March, whether it’s the difference in the sunlight, or that the air is warmer. There were birds singing. Yes, March is here!
I think of this as more of a descriptive rather than a proscriptive diary. [I was not writing what I should be thinking, I was writing what I was actually thinking.]
My thoughts today were delving into that area of how I imagine I would be free if I were in a working group , tied down every moment, having nothing, not even freedom of choice. Maybe then I would look up from my hard toil once in a while and see the sky. I’m still thinking about how Stewart is Lord, we must worship. Though he is not like a 1960’s cult leader with all his little children. He is more subtle than that. I’m thinking about how I may be free only when he dies, free from this entire way of life, including dirty warehouse living. I’m thinking about our isolation, how far off base far we are, including how there is no marriage. Is it basically because Stewart says no? Of course, at least now, he isn’t saying no (or yes), but we have presuppositions built into everybody’s minds about why none of us can get married. But, where do these ideas come from? There is more on my mind, but this is the essence of it for this morning.
 Most of the brothers at this time were in small working groups. They had to be active “every moment” by working all the time, on jobs and gathering new people and then going to meetings where the group members reported on one another. Sometimes I imagined that if I were in one of these groups, that I would be so busy, I would have no time to occupy myself with all my conflicting thoughts on life there, thereby giving myself a break from the distressing nature of these thoughts. I was also talking about how, althought Stewart Traill was not talking about marriage, or telling us (as he had many times in the past) that we were unfit for marriage, that we all knew anyway that we couldn’t marry or start relationships here. Stewart’s forbidding of marriage was often on my mind, and was one of the reasons I finally left COBU after being there for so long.]
There were two headlines visible on the newspaper racks in the AM PM market where we stopped off last night after the meeting. There was a tabloid headline that said Jim Jones is still alive. The other was about how agents busted a cult and that there was a big shootout. (I half wonder when, half hope it would happen, that the cops are going to come and bust our thing up.) I must keep these thoughts deep inside.
I am working with Pete today and the best I can say is that he is doing the usual. It’s hard to work with someone and not have that general air of agreement that seems to be necessary for smooth working together. It is very lonely.
I sent Peter out for a walk to get coffee, but also in the hope that he will cool off a little bit.
I don’t really feel like working today. I would rather just sit down and read. It’s quiet and secluded here. There are no people here, because it’s an empty job site. (This probably comes from being in a jumbled, crowded and definitely not private living situation. Suddenly I find myself in a quiet private place and I just want to unwind and relax, with no one watching me. To enjoy a touch of normality, being in an apartment, even if it is under construction. To be left alone a little while, unwatched and unrequired. To delve into a book, not only with privacy in uncramped quarters but also without sound and intrusion. (I think how I can’t quite settle down in that closet. And forget about doing artwork in there.) Oh, the value of a quiet place! It’s hard to switch over to a work mode. This is not only due to laziness.
[“That closet” is referring to the big closet Paul built in the Red Hook warehouse to protect the wood floor equipment and supplies from being stolen by the new people we brought into the church (who were usually homeless), who sometimes left, taking something to sell with them. Paul and I soon began sleeping in the closet, which was a welcome relief from sleeping out in the common area. Paul built a bunk bed and soon the closet was enlarged with a new addition to let Peter sleep there. Peter had recently come back to the church and had joined the wood floor operation. He begged to be included with us so he didn’t have to sleep out in the common area with everyone else.
The worst of the “new disciples” were sent to live with us in Red Hook on a sudden-death basis, meaning they had to shape up or be thrown out. This meant that in many cases, some pretty nasty people were sent over. (Although we found out that some were good people when we talked to them, and that their rebellion had consisted of not being able to handle getting harangued and shouted at or working long hours and they began to complain.) Peter didn’t want to have to sleep next to any of those people, not to mention he was afraid of the rats that would sometimes come in and roam around.
Now COBU teaching, that is Stewart, was heavily against us having anything of our own, be it time, money, relationships or privacy. We endured long teaching sessions about “breaking up our own thing” and not being off in our “back rooms,” which meant we were not supposed to have any privacy, our own opinions or individual thoughts that differed from the group thoughts.
Our wood floor closet was in direct opposition to those teachings. But we got away with having this privacy because we were able to barter the safety of construction brothers’ tools from theft in exchange for their agreeing to look the other way and not report it to Stewart. Just so long as we didn’t directly state that this is what we were doing. We were always careful to cover our bunks with tools, crates of supplies and cans of polyurethane so that they looked like storage shelves when we were not sleeping.
The way this exchange came about was that there were a number of brothers in the church’s construction business who lived at Woodruff Avenue, but kept their tools at the Red Hook warehouse. When valuable power tools began to disappear from where they were kept in the common area, brothers like Jay and Kevin asked Paul if they could keep them in the closet which Paul built to protect the wood floor equipment. It was under padlock and key, so the tools would be safe. Andrew also had a cabinet making business at Red Hook and needed to protect his tools.
Jay came over one day and was ranting and raving to Paul, saying “You brothers have to break up your wood floor closet agreement!” Paul looked at Jay and said, “You’re keeping your tools in here, aren’t you?” That was enough.
Andrew also sometimes started in on us about our “wrong agreement,” but he also needed the closet. I don’t remember Paul saying anything about it, but it must have been implied that if we were no longer allowed to sleep in the closet, he would tear it down and no one could use it for their tools anymore.
I am surprised that no one ever called us to account at a meeting for it.
Stewart’s directive was that we should not go off into our own “back room,” and to not have “wrong agreements,” which really meant to not have the normal social barriers people have between themselves. This was a way for him to exercise more control over our lives. We were not supposed to have private living spaces, but instead to sleep in common areas.]
This is my required nightly entry. Again, the day was a waste, except for sanding about twenty feet of floor.
(Here I am in my little world, surveying my bed platform, stretching out my feet. A small amount of privacy, with four walls. How can a normal adult live like this? What I must do is stop trying to figure out why this is not normal.)
You can read the next section of my journals here: Believing A False Gospel. Being Ratted Out By My Friends.