1993, 07/28 1. I’d Rather Be A Doormat In The House Of My God.
The title for this section comes from Psalms 84:10, which says, “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
In this Psalm, David said it would be better to have a humble position in heaven than to be apart from God. But in the Church of Bible Understanding, we had to be doormats, without a voice or any rights – and without due process in the “brothers courts” (meetings where brothers were accused and put on trial for spiritual sins such as pride. Anything less than complete acceptance of the charges made against them and making groveling confession to change was considered to be signs of arrogance and fighting. I describe some of that process here.
I couldn’t find anywhere to sleep at the Christian Brothers office in Manhattan (we slept on the floor under desks), so I took a van to the Red Hook warehouse where I had been living until recently and tried to go to sleep there. I couldn’t sleep, so I made a journal tape.
Well now, I’m here again. I’m just trying to rest. Today is Wednesday, the 28th. Actually it’s early morning hours of July 28th, 1993.
I was trying to sleep, but I couldn’t fall aslepp. I’m pretty angry. It would be almost impossible to recap everything that has been going on, but basically I’m in the middle of the fateful end of Red Hook, which I knew all along was coming. But I never realized it would bother me this much.
I knew it would happen eventually and I was always surprised that I was still living here. The fire department first threw us out after we were here for about a year. I thought that was it. don’t remember being too upset that day. I have to consider why I am upset now. Maybe because since then, we got to have this place alone, without the new disciples being here, and it became a lot nicer and quieter. But I don’t know if that is an adequate explanation.
(After the fire department threw us out of the Red Hook warehouse the first time, only older brothers moved back in and the crowd of new disciples who had been there were moved to back Woodruff Avenue. This way, there were fewer people at Red Hook and the older brothers knew how make it look like no one lived there and that we only came there to pick up and drop off equipment. So, it was a quieter and more private living arrangement there after this and I got used to that and counted on this for some privacy and a break from the treadmill of work and the intense drama of cult life. So, it was more upsetting for me to lose this the second time around. The first time, the idea that I might no longer be living in close quarters in squalid conditions with a lot of noisy and unruly new disciples who we had meetings with every night to deal with them was not such an upsetting thing, because I did not think I was losing anything of value. While we were living there in the supply closet that Paul built for the wood floor equipment, we were careful to pile crates and buckets of polyurethane on the bunks, so it would not look like we lived there, and that our bunks were really just shelves for equipment.
The second time I had to leave Red Hook was not because of the fire department. A decision was made that was made that the brothers at Red Hook should not be alone and that we should all be in fellowship with the older brothers who lived in the Christian Brothers shop in Manhattan. This created even more cramped living conditions at the Manhattan shop, which was on the second floor of a building over a garage.)
The first time we got put out, it seemed like I would move to the shop at 46th Street, or maybe I was going to move to Woodruff. It didn’t bother me too much. I was even happy to move to the shop, because I would have done anything not move back to Woodruff again.
I didn’t like being sent here to Red Hook at first, but I grew to like it. I didn’t mind being here and sleeping in our closet here.
It was always on my mind the end was coming, but we continued to stay for several more months. And when the end finally came…I’m not able to put my reaction to this together. It was something like, I work a lot of hours. I would like to have a private room. I am amazed at how that sounds like utter indulgence to say that. It has been driven or screwed into my mind, as with a corkscrew, that having my own room, even though I share it with two other people, is real indulgence. It’s like what I’m reading about in a book about Communist thought reform. It’s as if I have bourgeois, Western ideas of private property and that I have to renounce my wrong views of wanting to have my own room. Of wanting the clutter of my own belongings around me and a small bookshelf next to where I sleep. It’s amazing how little I have. And that, supposedly, this is really bad for me and that I can’t have it anymore. We have to go to Woodruff, where we share group rooms, where we can’t keep any valuables, unless we always carry them with us.
And, just to note, which would be immediately called bitter complaining, I realize that our leader doesn’t live this way. He has a really nice place. His enclave is designed really well. His console desk, his speakers in the ceiling and rows of bookcases with glass doors and interior lighting that Andrew custom build for him. He has it made and he can’t be challenged in anything he says. And even if he does make an admissible error, for example, if he crashes his airplane again, it’s not like how it is with the brothers, that we can punish him by making him move out of where he lives and make him sleep on the floor or make him move to Woodruff and sleep in the basement.
There are no rights of the governed here. There must be leadership, but there is no limit to how far I can be pushed. Pushed into demands that I must obey, like further and even greater restrictions, or giving up things.
The other thing I realize, is that when we’ve gone this far in giving things up, what little we have left is just that. It’s just a little bit. So it looks really bad that I’m fighting to keep what little I have left, and I feel strange trying to hang on to it. All I have is this little bit. I live in a corner of a closet which I share with two other people. And I’m treating it as if I’m being evicted from my own house. A house on two acres of land, with a two car garage. I’m treating it with the same feeling.
I have been driven so low, as far as cuts I’ve taken or belt tightening, or whatever you might call it. I’m fumbling for a word for it, but I can’t find it . So it looks ridiculous to fight against losing more, because I’ve lost so much already. It seems hard to justify hanging on to what little I have, because if I let go of a little more, I’m not going to have anything. I even begin wondering if I would be better off if I had nothing, because then no one can take anything else away from me. If I really do sleep on the floor and all I have is a bag of laundry, and maybe a few cherished books.
( The word probably would have been taking further deprivations. already had nearly everything stripped away from me in the name of “putting to death my life in this world” that it seemed strange to me that I was fighting to keep the few scraps I still had, being that these scraps were literally nothing. What was there to hang on to anymore?)
I realize if it wasn’t for my picture collection and my drawings, I really don’t own anything. If everything were taken away from me tomorrow, there would be nothing left to fret about, except for a few irreplaceable items. It’s even arguable that I can buy books on the same subject, it’s just that I didn’t take the pictures myself. So in that sense, it’s like, yes, I really have nothing.
I have even been toying with the idea of just having nothing and the idea that then I would be free. The strange thing that goes along with that is: well, I’ve finally done it, I have finally done the Stewart teaching of “break up everything, sell everything and smash everything because you’re about to lose everything in this life soon.” And except for my very life, it’s basically down to, well I am. The prophecy has become self-fulfilling. Whether or not it’s just because this place is geared up to get this result from us.
But probably it’s because it seems hard to hang on to my belongings over here. I will probably get rid of most of my books, because even if I can still keep my things at Red Hook, I don’t live here anymore, so I’m always thinking about whether I have to move – whether it’s about leaving the church, or going here or there, or that we have to move out in a minute. And I don’t want to be fumbling through a stack of my things just to get what I want. I may not have time. I would like to be down to just two crates, a duffle bag and maybe a locked chest. And I got rid of everything else, because I just don’t want the hassle of worrying about my things anymore. Not because I really believe in the necessity of having nothing, but it just came down to that. It’s like being on a life raft. The only thing you really need is an oar, and maybe you hang on to your Bible.
It’s like all roads lead to Rome; all roads lead to that self-fulfilling prophecy of getting rid of everything. And I no longer have any possessions. It’s the exact effect that was desired all along and that Stewart told us was necessary for our salvation. Now, I always have the question, is God behind this? Is God going to get me to do it, whether I like it or not, hrough the use of these circumstances? I don’t know. I’m not sure about that.
Going back to the tonight’s episode about trying to sleep at the office. I became very angry. I was going to stay at the office tonight, after first trying to find a way to go to Red Hook and not being able to. I said to Peter, “Let’s try to get a ride.” But he was staying here.
So, I lay down behind Joe’s desk and then Jay comes over and says, “I was going to sleep there.” I could have moved over for him, but I don’t want to sleep two feet away from another man all night long.
And I got angry, like a flash of anger of just wanting to walk away down the street. Then I realized, I can’t do that, because there’s nowhere to go. So I said to Jay, “So now what? Do we have to fight like dogs over where to sleep on the floor? Man, this is a load of crap!” And then I realized that Joe and Cynthia were sitting on the other side of the barrier there. But I didn’t hear them say anything. I don’t know if they heard me say that. You can be in a room and not hear what other people are saying, because you have a way of tuning out. You hear conversation around you all day and don’t particularly notice.
I may not have been heard by anyone but Jay. But, I was getting angry. But then I thought, I should just grab a van and go. I put the anger to use and did something with is. But, I see how loose lips sink ships, aside from my off color word there. I asked Paul for a van when he was in the other room there with Orlando. I added, “I’m going back to Red Hook.” I shouldn’t have said it. As soon as Paul said he didn’t have a van, I should have walked away. Orlando knew why I wanted the van, because he didn’t say yes or no. He just shook his head and said, “Mm-mm.” Then he said, “I haven’t had a van all week.” That helped incite my anger. And I said, “I’m just going to leave. I’m going to Red Hook and I’ll be back in the morning, because what really matters is that I’m at all the meetings, right?” And Orlando said, “No, you’ve got to sleep here too!”
I often get myself in trouble by trumpeting my arrivals and departures. I guess being human, it’s difficult to learn perfect secrecy and perfect silence.
Hey, even Stewart doesn’t tell us what he’s doing. He lets us in on what he is doing sometimes, but he’s self sufficient. I don’t want to make myself vulnerable. Whether it’s shooting my mouth off or the feeling that I should tell someone about what I’m doing. Or even hoping that they might agree with me or be concerned.
Besides not shooting my mouth off at Jay, I should have just internalized it. I could have just found Blake. He had a van, I got it from him. And I could have just said “okay’ to Paul and Orlando, because it wasn’t necessary for me to react the way I did. It was a human thing to do. It’s human to be angry and to say you are. But here, you can’t get angry. If you do, the hornets come after you.
Like earlier tonight, when we were on the phone with the brothers at Woodruff and they had a sarcastic, holier than thou attitude. I wasn’t the only one in the room who noticed that. But ones like me are more willing to say, “I think they’re acting better than us.” Bob D. was extremely upset by their attitude. Being one of those on the lunatic fringe, Bob is more easily set off.
But Jay and Joe were on the phone, bending over backwards and back pedaling to explain to the brothers at Woodruff why we didn’t want to talk to them when they first called us. The reason was because we were listening to a taped message from Stewart that Joy was playing over the phone for us from the second floor at Woodruff. We couldn’t tell her to turn it off, because she couldn’t hear us as the tape was playing. And we wanted to hear the tape. We had tried to hear this tape for an hour, calling back and forth, and we finally got the tape played. Jay told us that when the brothers at Woodruff hung up on us the first time, that Kevin said, “Well, if you don’t want to talk, fine.” So, when we called them back, the fact that Jay and Joe were back pedaling shows that they saw a problem, and they were licking the other brothers’ boots. They were doing the submissive act, instead of saying, “Look, you guys, we couldn’t talk to you when you called the first time, because we were listening to the taped message from Stewart over the phone.”
It’s amazing how, if someone is in the right, or coming across as right sounding, they can use sarcasm and mocking. In that case they’re not being proud. But if you disagree with a brother who is acting this way, there’s nothing you can do, and nothing you can say that is right.
Situations like this and a lot of other things have been wearing me out. It’s like sandpaper. It wears me out, and wears me down. I’m not able to take it. I’m at the point of snapping.
And Bob D. was just visibly hurt by it.
And there was a little bit of humor in all of this. Peter was in the corner, making zip up your lip gestures, trying to get Bob to stop saying things, because the brothers at Woodruff heard what Bob was saying over the speaker phone and they were saying things back to him and winding him up. And Chuck tried to calm Bob down by saying, “There, there now Bob,” which was condescending. It is something that works with Bob, but I guess you have to at least give Chuck some credit on that, at least he wasn’t attacking Bob.
Yes, all the games. The submissive act, the doormat act. The brothers court every night. The brothers court and trying brothers. And there are no rights of the governed. They can’t get a lawyer, so to speak, to help them. In the world a lawyer can prevent people from press charges against you or keep them from getting in without a warrant. They can use the right laws to protect you. You can go for protection from a lawyer who knows the laws. Here, there is no such thing. You bear the full brunt of whatever is coming down on you. And you have to play the doormat, or else you’re fighting. And they use the question on you, “Well, how did you get here anyway? You’re not faithful.” If you try to disagree with them, they say, “Well, you’re at 46th Street.”
(The brothers staying at 46th Street, who were living in the church office, were in the bad category, and the brothers at Woodruff were the good guys, at the time.
Our meetings were not called the brothers court, but this is what it was like most of the time. Brothers were accused of stupid things, usually what Christians would call attitudinal sins, such as pride, and they had no way to defend themselves, because if a brother explained himself or disagreed with the charges, he was accused of “fighting” “being arrogant” and “trying to justify himself.” And the only way out was to agree with all the charges, and not only that, to explain how the charges were true. Otherwise they would be accused of just agreeing to “get the brothers off your back.” It was insane behavior and it was impossible to hold a rational conversation with the brothers when they were in this mode. Also, to defend a brother who was on trial like this, meant that you were justifying that brother and making excuses for him, and “fighting the truth.”)
Then, it’s time for the courtroom trial to begin. If anyone tries to disagree, it’s insubordination and wrong behavior. “Was that a right spirit, or was that a wrong spirit?You’re arrogant!”
And figuratively, I see myself, or anyone who would try to do that, in a striped suit with his hands chained behind his back. They’ve got you now. They lead you into the prison. You have no rights now. They feed you bread and water. You’re in your cell and you’re banging your fists and whacking your food tin against the bars. And they come in and hose you down. And cut your food rations. You’re completely helpless. If you blow up, they’ve got you in a position where they can just tighten the screws on you and take away even more privileges – what little privileges you have.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: The Constantly Shifting Basis: A Religious Shell Game.
These pages, as well as my other pages, A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member and The Tangled Web, are part of the source material of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.