1993, 05/10-14. COBU is the Filter Through Which We See God.

Monday, May 10

Got up late, about 10:30 a.m. I heard that Abraham punched Steve G. in the face this morning. Steve was with two other brothers (including Rich C.). Abraham greeted both of them in Jesus – then punched Steve in the face!

(These were all new or middle brothers. Abraham had left the church recently.)

I heard from Jay that there have been a lot of call-ins from flyers from Park Slope and Brooklyn. So, it looks like my flyering out there has paid off.

Word is out that an older brother was out late Saturday night in downtown Manhattan. (He called in late at night, saying he was there.) Today a  sister said had been “out all night, and in the worst places.”


Last night I dreamt I was heading to Florida, pushing a cart. I got to a railroad station. Greg B. was there. (He gave me the name of a train he was already waiting for.)

In a lot of ways, I would like to leave here – either for a while, or permanently. I wonder where this is all going. (We are locked in. Stewart tells us, “You are going to die in two minutes.” Life is over, give up.) As some author said in a book about Augustine: “Rome was a well-run city, but where was it going?” I have doubts when I look at the future. Of course, one can say, just how do you “look at the future?” Plus also, if I think I’m locked in, and that I can’t be a missionary or whatever – well, that’s because of my unfaithfulness.

Well, I am sitting on a bench in a park at Tudor City, assessing my situation. Also trying to get a look at the season. There is a canopy of maple and sycamore branches overhead, sealing out the sun. I need to stop and think sometimes. I see other people around me who don’t seem to be in any hurry.

I just closed a job on 42nd Street nearby. Just thought I’d take a walk into Tudor City. I am slowly re-combing an area that’s been done before by me.

Sometimes I think the only time I’m really myself, is when I stop and think like this. (I notice I don’t say “when I pray,” but how is one to pray in an anxious, unreflective mind?) I can see robins in the myrtle here. I don’t have my own back yard, so I use public spaces. I know of some secret hideaways like this one.

When I prayed tonight, I asked God for some guidelines for survival in our group. (I was thinking about some things, such as the compulsion I have in meetings to speak the truth when Stewart says something I don’t believe, that I am a coward if I don’t. Plus what to do, how to be around Stewart, or what to do about him.)

Paul is now telling me about a sister whom we both had been looking at in the office. (We are both in our bunks.) She was walking around in the office in her little Tinker Bell dress and being kind of boisterous. Seeing her on the steps with the cat squeezing out of her arms, all frilly dressed, flowers and kitty cats. Paul said he came an inch from telling her she had a nice dress. So did I. We also both seem to agree that she doesn’t usually have much of anything real to say most of the time (we made comparisons to other sisters). But Paul said, maybe she is just extremely censored. With the family pictures she has on her wall at the office, I can see a manifestation of the concern she has for her family.

[This was an interesting comment that Paul made. You will see in these entries that Paul was towing the party line and was getting even more serious about it, yet here he said that someone was hiding their true self because of self-censorship. Paul was trying to act like the COBU way of life was right, but said that people kept themselves hidden from others. He was talking out of both sides of his mouth. He was saying COBU was the right way, while at the same time, saying it was a cult and that people had to censor themselves and keep their true selves hidden. I cannot explain this in a few words.]

Wednesday, May 11

Out soliciting with a new brother, Ray D. on the Upper East Side. Joe said that Chuck got his face burned while trying to light the boiler. He is being kept in the hospital. The thought that flashed through my mind was that God is removing Chuck from the scene, because maybe today is the day Abraham is going to come looking for him.

(Abraham wanted to settle the score with some of the brothers in the church and was coming around looking for them.)

It is exceptionally hot today, about 90 degrees. There have been thunderstorms this afternoon. The air feels good. I just received word that I’m going to help Paul on a wood floor job at 6 p.m. I really don’t do too much when I am out going door to door, so I am glad for the work. We only walked a little while and went into some doctors’ offices to ask if they wanted their carpets cleaned.

I really don’t have much motivation to close jobs. (Though “I don’t have motivation” is a catch phrase. I’m using it without looking at the reasons, which could be anything from needing clear-cut work days and days off, in which to reflect on what I am going to do next, rather than rolling into each day without boundaries. Also, I don’t work at anything that interests me. Really, what are the reasons why I work like this? There isn’t a clear line between work and reward. “The slaves fought back through inefficiency and pilfering.” [This was a line I read in a chapter in a history book.] There is a certain ennui that comes from not having clear objectives or purpose, from feeling what I do doesn’t come back to me in any appreciative way.

Well, you know all the reasons. I try to find meaning in my hobbies and in intangible things, like studying and practicing the art of conversation, and other things. Intangible human sciences. Maybe I will be able to make something of this some day.

9:45 p.m.

In the waiting room at the Staten Island Ferry. I continued to think about how if I do anything and if anybody questions me about it and I don’t back down, I am told I am being arrogant. But I soon got to the job and this was forgotten. I had begun to pray about how I can’t take the drain this stuff puts on my spirit.

While in the taxi riding with Paul to the Upper East Side, somehow we got into the subject of how Stewart says “there is no past tense of the word ‘saved’ in the New Testament.” I showed Paul where one is in Titus 3:5. He seemed at least mildly blown away, saying, “This is serious if it is.” Later he looked it up in the interlinear and saw for himself. (I am also suspicious about Ephesians 2: 8 and 9 where in the English text in the interlinear it says “you are being saved.” It the Greek text, it seems to say, “you are saved, you have been saved.” I should look at other verses.)

I also think of the impossibility of telling Stewart anything. Maybe it would work if others said it to him.

(“This is serious if it is,” was Paul actually admitting that Stewart was lying to us if the Bible indeed says “we are saved,” rather than what Stewart said it means, “You are being saved.” This might seem to be a trivial point in doctrine, but so much was riding on this. If we could not say we have been saved, and could not rest on what Christ has already done for us, then we did not have, as Stewart accused us of “wanting to have salvation in your back pocket, so you can just relax and indulge yourselves.”

No, Stewart said that we had to strive at every moment, always on edge, never slacking off. No peace, no rest. No security. The hope of assurance of salvation was a carrot on a string, a butterfly we were always chasing but never could catch. And we had to live the way Stewart told us to in order to obtain salvation, because we did not already have it. It must also be noted that this method of manipulation can only work on people who care about having salvation in Christ. We did care, despite how much Stewart accused us of just not caring. Someone who did not care about obtaining salvation in Christ would also not care to try to follow Stewart’s formulas in order to have this salvation.)

I am missing the combined older brothers and sisters meeting at 46th Street tonight. All I heard so far is that financial issues will be discussed. I will be guarding at the Staten Island house tonight.

(The Staten Island house was a residence where separated or divorced mothers lived with their children. They were separated because their husbands had left the church and they did not follow after them, but chose to remain in the church. This may not have been the case for each and every one of them, but this was the basic issue. Brothers from the church always took shifts guarding the house, so one brother was always around to watch over the place. Sisters always seemed to be glad I was there, although any friendships I had with them were very superficial.)

Thursday, May 12

Enjoying an afternoon on the steps at Staten Island. (Last night when I got here, I was looking in Strong’s Concordance about the word salvation and some others. Then I went to sleep. Then I had to get up at 2 in the morning to go with Barb to get Haroldyne from the hospital.)

Now, sitting on these steps. Was reading a book about Josephus, the section on the Jews and the Romans. It was very interesting. I began looking up at the clouds and the fair weather sky. This kind of sky is my favorite. The intense freshness after a cloudy hot day the day before. I am looking at the cloud patterns – streams, waves, herringbones, like sails or streamers in the sky. (I think this is an answered prayer. I prayed some time ago for a day to be able to just stop and look and see that it is spring. I didn’t want spring to go by without seeing it, as so often happens. What do I like so much about this? It reminds me of my teenage years, the freshness of these kinds of days. Those fresh days after heat or rainy spells, when the world seemed fresh and new again. Maybe it’s the higher barometric pressure that makes me feel good. Maybe it’s the deep blue color of the sky. Maybe I just had a better day on such days back then. This makes me want to get on a bike and go somewhere. A day to go out and explore.

This writing, right now. I am just being subjective, writing whatever comes into my mind about it. I started thinking about this, so I thought I would get my notebook and write down the impressions. I remember being out on days like this. Days like this are and were so fresh. It is like a new beginning.

(I was remembering spring and summer days from my pre-cult life, when I had time to be outside and enjoy days like this.)

7:45 p.m.

So, here I am, sitting in the woods all alone, at a picnic table. We came here, me, Barb and most of the children. We were later joined by Sheila. It’s not exactly an exciting adventure, but I’m thankful for it anyway. I suppose I need a day like this once in a while, away from the usual work structure. To muse on the clouds, or even end up, quite unexpectedly, alone in the woods a while, hearing the different kinds of bird calls. Not bad.

I took a walk through the woods and around the lake. I had trouble upon seeing a girl sitting by herself on a bridge. Later I saw her walking out of the park by herself. This was right after I began running for short distance, because I was enjoying the walk and the evening. Then suddenly I came upon her. My thoughts went to that it is a punishment or a warning.

(Time to explain the cult mindset. I was enjoying myself as I walked. I began to remember my previous life in “the world,” when I used to jog. I started jogging. Suddenly I come upon this very attractive young Spanish or East Indian young woman, sitting there, looking sad, lost and lonely. I realized she might be open to having someone sit and talk to her. But instead, I thought I was suddenly being “tempted” because I had been enjoying myself and looking back to my previous life “in the world,” and therefore I had taken my mind off Christ and my guard was down. So, instead of talking to her, I went the other way. I thought God was warning or punishing me, because I was beginning to fantasize about my pre-cult life and now, there it was, “temptation.” I might fall away into fornication and sin with an exotic temptressAbout an hour later, when we all got into the van to go home, I saw this girl walking out of the park, looking extremely lonely and sad. Every now and then, I remember that girl and wonder what would have happened if I had talked to her. She had looked at me with a pleading look. Maybe she would have told me to get lost, who knows.)

Of course, this leads to the requisite thoughts of “why can’t I marry?” and “I can’t handle temptation.” All of which I can’t handle itself.

There was a message from the sisters in the office asking about our whereabouts. I figure this day was given to me by God. But weren’t those the kinds of things the people in Waco said? They thought they were there because of God’s will. Whatever may have happened in their day-to-day lives, and whatever they received, they probably saw as God’s will and providence. What about here? I see myself in the same situation. I get something, maybe some little scrap, and I say, “God gave it to me.” Or, “God doesn’t have a wife for me.”

Thursday, May 13

It is now noon. I left Staten Island around 9:30 in the #50 van. Now, I’m leaving Red Hook in the 50 with Paul. It’s raining lightly. The weather has been like summer. I don’t especially have anything to write. On the drive over this morning I was thinking about our church and why nobody gets married here. (Either the nature of our teaching, our leader and our communal lifestyle – or all of these things combined – act as a damper. It’s cause by this, and probably by other things that are totally left out of our lives here.)

When I was driving in with Paul, our conversation started to get into this area. I began to express my opinion, but decided it was best left unsaid, so I pulled back and canned it.

I dropped out of going door to door to close jobs around 5 p.m. and went to a library. (Note, besides being lazy, I am not being very communicative with people I talk to.) I read a book on Jonestown for two and a half hours. Nobody noticed that I overstayed my visit. I showed up at the shop around 8:30. I got to read a letter that [ex-member] Tom Pierron sent to Chuck, which I fished out of the wastebasket after Chuck tossed it away. Tom was quoting a lot of authors. I understood the point he made about us imposing our sorrowful Jesus on other people who want to talk about how God wants us to be joyful.

I figure I won’t try to respond to such letters in any way, because…

Friday, May 14

Last night we also had a brothers meeting at Woodruff. We didn’t do very much, just getting messages. Attendance was low. A brother named Norman Bessette has just returned. He was there at the meeting. (Last night when I got back to Red Hook, I read some articles in Newsweek about cults. I have been reading about cults again. I wonder if this helps me to accommodate life here. Is this good? Maybe it acts as a barrier, so as not to look at everything subjectively. It’s a way to insulate myself and set things back or apart from me, at arm’s length. So as to look at it more objectively.

I slept late. Two times I awoke from dreams of rather violent events.

I am now calling from my lead box. Got an 80 dollar carpet cleaning job, which is better than my wandering around yesterday. I need to do this more, to build a lead box and work it. I am not working smart.

5 p.m.

Sitting here, calling leads. I start to think about going to hell. Will I really go there when I die? I’m thinking about it – or rather, it intrudes itself into my thoughts. Then, I wonder what it’s all really for, the calling, that is and whatever else I do here.

(If I was going to hell, what was the point of calling customers and working hard for the church business?)

The late afternoon is cool, the air smells good. I’m thinking about how the light would be good for photography. Maybe I’ll go outside for a while. I suppose it’s amazing that I could flip from the above thoughts to thinking about this. I don’t know if it’s a way of escaping reality or just two things that exist side by side. I feel like nothing I do is going to be the right thing. It’s all “wasting time.” I thought about taking the next hour to draw in color pencil. Well, enjoying the ambiance outside would be wasting time. Really, I hate the idea that this would be wasting time, that I can’t do what “I want,” [1] but I must be doing something else instead, like seeking my salvation. It seems like a drudge to live this present life only as a preparation for the next life. (But as Stewart says, “Two seconds after you’re dead, you will wish you had…”)

([1] Stewart was always telling us that it was wrong to do what we wanted or to do our own will. He also said that “I want” is the root of sin.)

Of course, I do understand and even have some experience in using the present time to prepare for the future time. Such as when I have an hour free, to not directly spend it on something, but to use it to set up for the next day. That doesn’t seem like a drudge, but like a good idea. But still, all in all, I am not very content.

Then also, I have longings. But the idea is that everything is deferred to some unspecified time in the future. I have faint gnawings for sex and of course, marriage. But this is not available. I have the feeling that I must forego this, that the denial of it is all a part of the divine plan. As if to say, to be fulfilled now over something would damage me eternally. That certain important things must be forbidden to us, as if there were a design to it. Adults living like children.

Of course, I wonder if it really is God’s plan, or just erroneous beliefs. I wonder if we are just another cult. The article I read in Newsweek said that many of these groups are “small, scattered and strange.” We are small, isolated, and I do believe, very strange. And yet, I don’t see any kind of reference point to grab on to in order to say anything about it, let alone do anything about it. The view we have here is God to us, or how God is toward us. There is no other available way. It is actually made effectual. This is the filter God passes through on his way to us and it seems there is precious little I can do about it, except maybe leave and take my chances. (Or private prayer. But even then, the view we have here seems to be the jurisdiction or the government through which God’s answer would come anyway.)

Of course, the lack of marriage is the issue that especially stirs up these feelings. Other things I can learn to live with, or live without, such as: I can’t jog. Well, I walk. But as far as sex, and real relationships with women in the wider sense, there really is no alternative except abstinence. And this is one of the places where the choke collar gets too tight and makes my life unbearable.

I am scared to live with no sexual outlet [this term is from the Kinsey Report, which I dared to read in the library one day], because if God’s punishment for sexual sin is really what it is said to be, then I really am in trouble. And I am in a position to be in trouble as a result of our mores and ways, which include how there is no marriage. I notice that in brothers meetings anyway, that marriage is not even remotely discussed as a way out, choice or alternative. (At this point, I am reminded of that cult in Los Angeles called The Church of Los Angeles, where one man is in control and members have to report all their activities, including what they ate, how many times they masturbate or have sex with their mates. This article was in Newsweek. I do understand what all of this means and what it is like to live in a similar situation. We have gotten so woven into this, that we can’t see a way out and we can’t see anything else. We are quite resigned to it.)

It comes down to: God is what Stewart says he is and God is to us, or acts toward us, as Stewart says he does. Or, in effect, what Stewart does and decides is God acting toward us. This is so obvious and clear, but nobody seems to notice it. I have no way to change this. It is bigger than me. It is almost as if God doesn’t deal with me directly or personally, although Stewart talks about being obedient to God as an individual first. But, this doesn’t come across as a freedom, but as a fearful duty or even a job. It is certainly nothing personal, like knowing God or drawing close to him. But of course, such a thing is “on me.” But Stewart’s view, or his presentation, of God permeates my life and my thoughts. I am quite bound by it. I probably couldn’t rescue myself if I tried. It is all quite unconscious and the points that are conscious are only frustrating and impossible to deal with. Basically, the force upon me is to resign and go with the flow. Perhaps then I will get something if I am good and do what I am told, such as a wife, and also spiritual things like peace and finally, acceptance.

Though nothing seems to be an exact match with what we are, all these cults I read about are like mirror images. (Yet, somehow, we are not a cult.)

I feel like I’m standing outside the law or even reality when trying to say these things. There is no basis for even saying it. (I think of the forceful, active anger that comes from Stewart over this.) I have been thinking about how Stewart doesn’t really directly forbid anything – though really he does – but what he does is take away our basis for either saying or doing something, (so we can say it all we want, and nothing will change). This is very shrewd because it doesn’t look like it is Stewart doing it to us then. Really it’s “us.” Nobody here has the slightest grounds to get married. (And we all know that, so nobody tries to.) Or, we can’t ask for or do anything we want, because it is what we want. (That’s a good one. The basis for not having something you desire is because you desire. It’s built on itself.) This is something like, Stewart takes away the car keys. We can get inside the car all we want. He doesn’t prevent us from doing that. But we can’t drive it, because he has the keys.

But, even if we could hot-wire the car, if we were even that skillful, we would quickly find out that there is no gas in the tank! (And why isn’t there any gas in the tank, anyway?) Of course, Stewart says this deficiency is due to ourselves alone. Stewart doesn’t prevent us from getting in the car. No way can anybody charge him with that one. Stewart doesn’t stop anybody! Now, if Stewart was preventing people from getting into the car, well then they would have grounds for saying he is doing something wrong! But, he is too smart for that! I know that I have no basis for anything, even for my simplest desires. What this leads to on the part of people here is resignation over any issue, such as marriage. It also leads to denial – of either that it is an issue in the first place, or that there is a problem with it or that they have any interest in it in the first place.

But, there always seems to be something we are leaving out and that is Stewart’s involvement in it. Everybody is completely silent on that issue, there is not even a “could be.” (This silence is rigidly enforced among us, by us. Besides, if speaking about Stewart’s involvement in the way things are here was tolerated, it would only get rigorously put down by Stewart later. Those who spoke about it would be punished. So they bail out, ahead of time. We kill it among us, first.)

There always seems to be something that goes unsaid on our part. Something is left out of the picture. And I think this is what it is. Alternatives are never discussed. It is not allowed – especially anything that would implicate Stewart. As was true about Jim Jones. Nobody in Jonestown ever asked questions, because Jim Jones was the only one who was allowed to ask questions. We take what Stewart gives us and that’s it.

Somebody in the future will probably write a book about us and explain it, as clear as day. It will also be easy for them to say, because they were not in it, or they are not anymore. People will wonder how we accepted this, even when the explanation of how we were resigned to it is given. (Part of how it works is Stewart’s ability to present a complete denial of any charge. How he can be completely immovable and unemotional in the face of any charge, which is an ability he has learned to practice, while he lets the underlings fight it out.)

It’s easy for me to say all of this when writing randomly without a plan, as I am doing right now (as in, these are my field notes). But I do find it hard to sit down and write it out systematically. I might read about how to write a book. Maybe I myself will be the future chronicler of our church, though I doubt it. The idea of going over all these notebooks and compiling them, then arranging any such writings seems tedious to me, and also bitter.

I don’t know what I am going to do – both in regard to this and to my future, my residence here or whatever. They say that most people who leave such groups often deliberate about it for months, if not for years, before they go – not to mention the others who deliberate and finally just decide to stay. Well, for sure I am deliberating, but I don’t know what my future choice or actions are going to be. (Jim Jones used to tell people that the jungles surrounding the Jonestown compound were filled with malicious snakes and cruel Guyanese soldiers. Upon leaving before the end, some people found out that both were untrue.)

What weighs heavily upon me are all the admonitions about the bad things that happen to people who leave our church, or I think I would be a lot quicker to leave, even with the economic hardships I am likely to encounter, because I would be leaving with nothing. The “jungle” out there is filled with malicious snakes and cruel mercenaries and the dead bodies of all those who have left our church before and this exerts a powerful influence on me.

And then there is the question of, if I stay (or, I am presently staying, so…), how will my behavior and attitudes be toward this place? What am I going to think of it? What actions am I going to take? What strategies? Will I contact any of those who live outside? Or just stay alone and isolated here, at least in regard to my thoughts, perceptions and views? Maybe, waiting till the place disintegrates or dissolves, or changes for the better maybe. Or waiting till the death of our leader. Or, maybe God will give me a wife and this will take out a big chunk of what makes me discontent here. (Or will this further rope me in.)

Before I left Red Hook, Rocky was asking me about how I am and about my “problem with getting a little contentious, then you go under because it looks like you might get asked to leave – only to resurface with these things again later.” He said that I never really put it to death or make it clear. I did my best to deflect this and play like I know less than I actually do. This way, it would only go as far as he was willing to take it. I see no reason, or at least no safety, in putting it all out in the open, or talking about how I think – for instance, the things I just got finished writing. Or talking about the things I am working through, such as my present state of mind, since it can only be seen as a defect or breach of trust, a sign of instability, mental illness, harebrained schemes, or what someone thinks when they are all alone and the devil is messing up their thinking. (The latter is the best, or most benevolent treatment I can hope for. It’s anything on up from there.) But Rocky was concerned also. He seemed genuinely glad when I said the only reason why I do “that stuff” is because…

Read the next part of the journal here: We Are Going To Lose Everything In This Life Real Soon.


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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