1993, 03/14. The Truth Hurts.

Sunday March 14

We just went through the “storm of the century,” like the Blizzard of 1888. I often think of saving newspaper clippings of events like this in a file. Maybe if I had my own place, I would have more room for a file cabinet or a scrapbook. Probably my awareness of a lack of space prevents it and also the realization that I could move at any time, so what’s the point? Also, like Stewart says, life is going to be over soon – or my life equals nothing anyway, though I may be unreal about that.

It was interesting riding back in the van, seeing all this snow and hearing on the reports on the radio of the storm’s aftermath throughout the entire east coast.

I spent a lot of energy (at different points during the day, but not constantly) anticipating gettting grilled about our performance in closing jobs in our group, none of which I was called to account for. In those types of encounters I sometimes envision getting the worst.

[It was common to spend hours worrying about what was going to happen to me at the next meeting. I had this apprehension on my mind more or less all day. And of course, most of the others lived this way too.]

I have been able to duck out for a while, by means of and through having to do some wood floor work on the weekend. I feel at least I’ve gotten enough study time and time away. Even today, I slept at the office extra during the daytime. I didn’t go sweeping, though I could have. Instead, I spent it reading books and the Sunday Times (which is a form of information gathering as well as recreation where I re-sort my mind somehow, I suppose because it is not a required duty, nor is it even one of the things I study regularly).

I still get into violent fantasies of different types, though I wonder if I will ever get into such a scenario. These are all imagined future events, such as my responses to direct confrontations and beatings by Stewart or how I am going to blow up over different kinds of deprivation – though I seem to get those backdoor exits when I need them or know where I can find them.

I half leaked out my thoughts about Laura tonight with Paul B. and Bob D. when we were in the van tonight on the way to McDonald’s. We got into one of those impromptu discussions about marriage, where we are half cracking jokes, plus one fourth lamenting and another one fourth interjecting comments on what we really think and desire on the matter. This is our way of dealing with it. We don’t talk about it in a completely serious way, possibly because it really hurts and also we don’t see a way we will ever go about it. Yet, we are saying what we think in these various ways, getting it out. Though we usually end it quick or say to forget the whole thing.

I had said I have forgotten all about Becky, but that there was somebody else I had in mind, somebody younger. I think Paul guessed who it was. I didn’t hear Paul mention a name, so I don’t know if he was talking about the same person. But he said, maybe it would be good for me to be with her, adding a comment about us both having bratty, snotty and obnoxious personalities.

[This caricaturizing people with words that would normally apply to bratty children and not adults was a way (that ultimately came from the man on top) of denying people the freedom to voice complaints about their treatment or living conditions. Legitimate concerns were re-labeled as: thumbing your nose, crying, being a snot-nosed brat, etc. The point behind this and other techniques was to remove any legitmacy to speak of anything else than wholehearted obedience to the party line and program. There was no forum for discussion, and the sole purpose of any counsels we elected to “represent” church members was to gather and report information about church members to Stewart, and to relay his messages back to us. (In this instance, Paul was not actively doing this to me at the moment, but he was repeating the view that most of the others held about me, because I would speak up sometimes about conditions in the church, so therefore, I was a “brat, arrogant and a complainer.” In fact, although may not be apparent in the lines above, Paul was only joking, but also, these were the terms and conditions he was doing it in.)

I also learned about councils as informational gatherers and reporting devices by reading books on life in cults and totalitarian societies which explained the use of information gathering channels, such as systems of informers, or as in COBU, working groups with overseers. Before reading these books and observing more carefully, I genuinely believed that in COBU, we lived in a “democratic society” where the needs of all the church members were taken into account, when possible. I was bought into an idealized view of the church that we sold to others and told people on the outside about ourselves.

This is why a comment made to another person or to several people could and often did find its way to Stewart’s ears. In one meeting, Stewart called three brothers to account, already knowing their names and where they had been and what they had been talking about. While riding together in a van, on a certain day, at a certain time, they had been discussing among themselves their doubts and observations about whether Stewart had really changed since his Grace Meeting confession and apparent repentance, and they agreed that there were certain ways in which Stewart had not changed, that he was still making life difficult for the brothers and was still making it too hard to have relationships or marriage.

The brothers were called to account, sinners in the hands of an angry Stewart. The brothers had a brief chance to say their reasons for what they believed, but this should not be be mistaken for the idea that a discussion was taking place in which Stewart would hear and consider their ideas. It was merely to confirm that they had indeed said these things, getting the defendants, in effect, to corroborate the story and also to confirm it by informing on one another.

I had been just about to speak up in agreement with those brothers, before Stewart began to rage at them (not in a loud voice, but I could see his anger) but considered discretion the better part of valor. I had been amazed that those brothers had been thinking the same things I thought.  But also I was not confident enough to believe my own thoughts, because I was often in doubt. 

This event took place in 1989,  four years prior to this journal entry when I was was less certain about “my own thoughts.” Had it been later, I would have told Stewart that I thought the same thing as those brothers, which I only did later anyway, several times between that day and this entry, because I could just not keep it to myself and still (naively) believed in the ideals (taught here by Stewart) that had been instilled in me during my previous decade here, that the truth must be spoken, no matter who it is that we’re speaking to and that though the truth can sometimes hurt momentarily, it will bring healing.

I thought that if Stewart’s errors were fixed – and the concept of him repenting at the Grace Meeting for the first time put that idea in my mind, that he also might be subject to the “truth speaking” that we learned here, and turn and change his ways. I was yielding to a higher calling – although taught that by Stewart here – and now speaking to the maker of those rules, who always told us that he led by example. The truth did hurt, but it was interesting to see just who was getting hurt! Those three brothers!]

Well, I thought I would leak it out a little to Paul. Really, I would like to marry Laura. It would be amazing if this ever works out in any way. All of this, for sure, is calculating. Besides, marriage is probably very far in the future for anybody. Though I keep thinking or hoping that maybe in a year or so that brothers and sisters could get married.

How can our church survive without marriages? We bury our heads in the sand from nearly every practical and necessary issue in life. I am sure that my worthiness for marriage would hinge upon my performance. But I also wonder if marriage is one of those real-life issues that maybe shouldn’t be (so closely) linked to one’s performance, since it is more of a necessity and therefore should not be so closely linked with such controls.

Well, another Red Hook meeting (without Stewart) that I am sitting out in the back row. I am not too plugged into or interested in much of what is going on here. (This makes me think of the dream and “Why weren’t you fully there!”

[This was the dream I mentioned before, a dream I had about meeting an angry Jesus who was throwing me into hell for not being “fully there.” Shortly after that, I had a dream where I went to heaven. Both dreams were vivid and had an effect on me while I lived there in my last years. “Fully there” was a Stewart phrase that meant being 100% into serving Jesus, though this serving Jesus had to be done according to Stewart’s terms and conditions, and not according to the terms that anyone in COBU wanted to serve Jesus.]

But objectively, if the option of being fully there is even viable or open to me at all, maybe I ought to consider a different line of work. Maybe there is something else I could do to please God. Maybe something that is acceptable to him and that I would be motivated to do by my own interest and desire. Something that I would have a vested interest in and would keep plugging away at by myself, without having to be prodded in the rear to keep moving or to be incurring punishment over for not doing it. Is such a thing possible? Does this question or idea in my mind indicate that such a possibility exists? Does this mean that God is causing me to think of my situation, options and/or opportunities? Is there something else I could do, according to my aptitude and desire?

[Two things I often thought were, if what Stewart Traill said about our condition was true, that we had the deadly disease of sin and also the deadly disease of “not wanting to hear it” and that we were deeply rebellious, that if a person was diagnosed with a deadly disease, he ought to seek a second opinion.

The other idea was that if I needed to be “fully there” in order to go to heaven, then maybe I ought to find a different line of work, either in COBU or maybe in another church that I could be “fully there” about. I was becoming certain that it was impossible for me to be “fully there” in COBU. And I wondered if God was opening my mind to the possibility of this option.

The Bible says, “Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” but in COBU, we had a system that bound us in chains, forcing us to do without everything except the most basic of human needs, such as food and shelter. Personal desires, rest, other interests, relationships and marriage were not permitted. I found it impossible to channel my whole self into doing nothing but the COBU agenda, which Stewart touted as God’s will for my life, and to cut off all the other parts of me that Stewart said were not a part of this plan. 

There were long work hours, interminable meetings and week after week of trying, only to hear Stewart tell us at the next meeting that no matter what we had done all week, it had been a farce and we were still in rebellion. This is what is going on in my mind as I saw these brothers in the meetings grinding away, trying so hard to make it, or in the training center at Woodruff, already knowing that Stewart would declare each and every brother unfit and unfaithful, even the most driving personalities like Kevin and Chuck, who ended up being held up by Stewart as a spectacle for all to see. I was already marginalized as someone who had spoken “against” Stewart several times and this was never forgotten. I realized I would never be trusted again because of this. I considered what it would be like to grow old in COBU as a persona non grata. As a result of all the above, it was hard to plug myself in to be 100% involved and “fully there,”  although I saw many others trying so hard to live according to this way, and that Stewart never accepted, acknowledged or awarded their efforts.

I went through spells of trying to live this way, but my other desires would not go away.  (These were desires for normal things, but there, they were considered to be the “cares of this life” that grew up to choke a believer’s faith, as described in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew). In COBU, especially in the my later years there, along with all the hell and warning verses, Stewart often mentioned the Parable of the Sower. A sower went out to sow. The seeds fell on various kinds of ground. The seeds that fell upon thorns were choked by the thorns. Jesus’s said that, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”  According to Stewart, the cares of this world were anything other than obedience to his agenda, though of course he did not state it in such obvious terms.

I’m not talking only about the desire for marriage, but also wanting to study French, a desire that plagued me to no end when I tried to stop doing it. (Stewart did not stand over me to take my French book out of my hand, but his teachings got internalized into our minds and lives, and life in COBU was geared to prevent us from doing anything other than Stewart’s program. All the other brothers and sisters around me were living this way and the constant treadmill of activity prevented me from setting aside time to do much else and the pressure on me was to finally give up and get swept away with the current, because it took so much effort to swim against the tide.

One time, I gave up studying French, being overwhelmed by Stewart’s “kill everything in this life” teachings and the next day after this decision, I went to a carpet cleaning estimate in a convent and the nun whose room I was measuring spoke only French. So I had to speak to her in French!  Was Jesus showing me it’s okay to learn French, I wondered? I went through several years of this torture after Stewart got busy in our lives after his  so-called repentance and subsequent heavy involvement in our lives and it was part of my disagreement with him and with the worldview he presented and required us to follow.

The last thing I want to say about the idea of “thorns” (desires for “things in this world” like studying French and also anxieties and idols) growing up like weeds in a believer’s life and choking the seed of faith inside, is that really, the intense negative criticism we constantly received from Stewart and my unfulfilled desires for marriage and for other accomplishments that, at least in my case (and I imagine for most of the other church members), became the thorns that were choking out my Christian life, my seed of faith. 

Rather than receiving benefit from a live-in arrangment in which we were to be sheilded from the negative forces of the world, sin, and the devil, what actually happened is that the terms and conditions of COBU life caused so much distress and anxiety that these seemed to be the thorns that were choking my faith. I began to realize that life in COBU was directly opposed to living a Christian life and that the forces that could tear down a believer’s faith were aimed directly at us here, as the conscious intent and design of our leader. The brothers and sisters were supposed to be rid of all personal desire and only that part of them useful to Stewart’s plans to gather money, possessions and new converts were to be used. There was no marriage, but Stewart created conditions in which he was always surrounded by a staff of young and attractive women.

You can read the next section of the journals here: Various Points and End Notes.

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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