On a typical church build, construction workers spit, cuss, oogle, belch, drink, smoke, pick their noses, swear, fart, and catcall. After several months of such, out comes this church. (Ex 32:24) But on a Kingdom Hall build, the very animals of the forest join in, chipmunks swinging tiny hammers with their cute paws, robins and bluebirds bringing roof trusses with their beaks...and all the while cheerful music comes from.....where does it come from, anyway?
Alright, alright, so I exaggerate. Artistic license. Still, since Kingdom Halls are invariably built by JW volunteers, typically in a weekend or two, the atmosphere is unique. And it is a fact that a Fredrikstad, Norway city official showed up one Saturday with his brass band to serenade Kingdom Hall volunteers. He was atoning for his initial skepticism, for he and everyone else at City Hall had laughed their sides off when Witnesses said they'd have the project done in three days. But even on day one, it was obvious the work would go on schedule. This was back in 1987.
How could you blame him for doubting? I remember the first time I heard of such projects. Bill Leviathon was telling Frank Mulicotti, a lifelong builder, of reports he'd heard down south. “I don't know...,” Frank kept turning the idea over in his head, “there's so many things that have to come together on a building....can it really be done in a weekend? But now it's clear that it can....Jehovah's Witnesses do it routinely, though in recent years they've come to settle for two weekends. That way, drywall mud can dry, safety can be better emphasized, and everyone gets more breathing space. They're quite routine now; one comes across news stories quite regularly, for example here and here.
On a quick-build near Rochester, a neighbor charged over bright and early one Saturday morning, at hammers first swinging, and made quite a scene. She'd opposed the project from the beginning, and it hadn't helped when she'd learned it would be an all volunteer work force. 'Great....just great.....this will drag on for months, maybe years...cars parked everywhere...garbage strewn all over...' “Tuesday morning I'll have this shut down!” she raged, planning her speech to town officials. “What she doesn't know,” one of our people remarked when she'd left, “is that by Tuesday morning it will be done.” And so it was.
I used to think the sight of such projects would instantly swell the ranks of Jehovah's Witnesses. Surely, you can forgive me for that. I mean, this is a world in which nothing gets done in a timely way, in which cooperation is nearly non-existent, in which new grounds for bickering emerge regularly over matters more and more trivial. And another fellow from the neighboring office building, on his lunch break, stood there with mouth agape, watching that 3 day build, blown away by the perfect order and flow. “Who are these people?” he wanted to know. So....yes...I thought such an evident example of harmony and cooperation would draw people.....not that it was done for such reasons, mind you. It was done because our folks are volunteering their limited time, so no one wants to waste it. But even so, I thought it might trigger an influx more than it has. Instead, soreheads hop on the internet and say it's all because of brainwashing and mind-control.
If I had it to do over again, I think I'd have involved myself more with such projects. If nothing else, I'd have picked up practical know-how, something not now my strength. “It's not too late,” a brother reminds me at the Kingdom Hall. Yes, I know....but....well....I was there at the Assembly Hall project nailing a tarpaulin into place above my head, and Tom Weedsandwheat strolls by leading a tour group. They all paused to watch. “Look how that brother is missing the nail every other swing,” one of them observed. So I went home and wrote nasty stuff about him on the blogosphere. Isn't that what the internet is for?
“Yes, but many activities on the Regional don't involve building, but rather procuring supplies, real estate, planning, food service, and such things. You could do that.” To be sure, a three day Kingdom Hall quick-build does not include land purchase and preparation, nor negotiating with town officials. That stuff can take months, even years. I know, for I worked on some of this preliminary stuff years ago with Hal. Yeah...I could do that, but.....hang it all, I just like to write. It's a great hobby, I've developed a dogged persistance for it, if not necessarily talent, and not that many do it. You can't do everything. Maybe that's why the Bible promise of living forever on earth in paradise has always appealed to me. As “The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life” asks, can it really be God's purpose for us to spend 20 years growing up, a few decades to gain knowledge and experience, and just when we've acquired a little wisdom, to be betrayed by our own bodies and end up a pile of dust?
But maybe I'll wrap this blog up someday, resist the temptation to start another, and log some time with the Regional. It would put me more in sync with things, that's for sure.
Besides developing a fantastic organization of building volunteers, an organization now international, an organization which readily switches to relief mode during outbreaks of natural disaster...moreover, an organization which will no doubt provide a significant jump start going into the new system of things, I suspect Jehovah's Witnesses have transformed the construction industry. Don't structures of all sort go up quicker than they used to? Did we have anything to do with that?
I was discussing this with Tom Oxgoad one day and he pointed to Taco Bell. It seems that during the L.A. Rodney King riots, one of their stores was torched and burned to the ground. Taco Bell wanted it up again, as soon as possible. They hired as general contractor one of our people, a Canadian brother who was active on a Regional Committee, for precisely that reason. To the degree possible, the project was organized just like that of a Kingdom Hall build, even to the point of the drinks (lemon and lime water) served for refreshment from the heat. “We've found pop gives a quick energy boost, but once it wear off fatigue sets in,” our guy pointed out. So to whatever degree we've transformed construction, count it as our gift to the world, same as defining civil rights and advancing medicine.
Business and theocratic interests aren't the same, though. Construction workers generally want to stretch out the project, which is, after all, their livelihood. And why shouldn't they? Why should secular work be all about speeding things up for business? It's a whole different story with theocratic building.
“What ever happened to that irate neighbor?” I asked one of the elders during a visit to the Kingdom Hall mentioned above. “How did it turn out with her?” Well....it turned out that she is now friendly as can be, even after a second building was erected closer to her property than the first. Turned out she'd been concerned mostly about property values....and privacy. She'd lived next to a vacant yard for decades. Let's face it....nobody wants to live next to a public building of any sort. But when she discovered the brothers were quiet, respectful, and the property well tended....all her opposition melted away. Though another neighbor directly across the street, who was never motivated by property values at all, but by dogma, has taken her place. “Jesus is God!” declares huge letters plastered on her garage door. You can't miss it as you exit the Hall.
Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!
Read 'Tom Irregardless and Me' and 'No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash.'
30% free preview on both. After that, we'll talk - your people and mine.:
www.smashwords.com. search: Tom Harley
“In times of crisis, great nations have always turned to folk heroes.” So writes Joe Queenan in the Oct 1, 2011 WSJ, then he waxes nostalgic over folk like Daniel Boone and Joan of Arc. Then he observes that America is in a time of crisis right now, but....well.....there just isn't much to choose from for folk heroes,is there? Oprah? Lady Gaga? Let's face it...the pool is not very deep. “Frankly, things being the way they are today,” he continues, “I'd settle for the guy in the Ford commercial.”
And why not? The guy in the Ford commercial is Mike Rowe. He is the host of Dirty Jobs, a Discovery Channel TV show inspired by his grandfather, who “could fix or build anything." Mr. Rowe testified before the U.S. Senate back in May of 2011, speaking in behalf of “dirty jobs.”
“We've elevated the importance of "higher education" to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled "alternative." Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as "vocational consolation prizes," best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of "shovel ready" jobs for a society that doesn't encourage people to pick up a shovel.”
In a country where newly graduated youngsters fret over unemployment, it's not happening for Mike Rowe's folk. He speaks of “450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it's getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They're retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them. Alabama's not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn't a lack of funds. It wasn't a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.”
Contrast his words with the truly rotten mainstream counsel over the last two decades. “Go to college” is all anyone hears anywhere. That's the path to successful happy living. Only losers don't. Need to borrow money? Doesn't matter....do it! Need to borrow a lot of money? Look, don't argue....do it! You're investing in yourself!! You'll thank me for it someday.
But....we're seeing these reports everywhere these days.....new graduates are not thanking those that shoved them into college. Are they cursing them instead? Some are. They're graduating with tens of thousands of dollars of debt into a country with few job openings. Whereas those in skilled labor have openings galore, having trained for them much more economically, sometimes without any cost at all. Suzie Ormond interviewed one of these debt-laden graduates on her TV show. He'd borrowed to go through college, but upon graduation there were no jobs, so......"don't tell me,” Suzie says, “you went back to grad school.” Yes! He had! That's what society had told him to do! Invest more in himself! Upon hearing the total sum of debt, Suzie sent him off with advice to enjoy life best he could, much as you might advise someone with terminal cancer.
“Everybody told you,” says Anya Kamenetz on the PBS News Hour, “that BA degree recipients earn a million more over a lifetime than those people who merely have a high school diploma....so it's good debt, it's an investment in yourself.....that was the conventional wisdom for a really long time.” Averages, however, “are a funny thing, because they don't necessarily apply to anyone.”
The remarkable thing about student debt is that you cannot get out of it. Even through bankruptcy. Debt from virtually every other source can be discharged.....if you blew it on gambling, say, or drugs, or just living high......but not that incurred by listening to the education experts. It's incredible! Talk about a world that devours it's young! I thought you were supposed to look out for the younger generation. Wasn't it that way once?
Suddenly the JW organization does not look too bad for the advice they've long offered to their young people. When they weigh in on education at all, it is to defy “the conventional wisdom” and encourage youngsters to look at Mike Rowe's “apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities,” plus technical degrees, certificate courses, and so forth. Do not think it is easy to defy conventional wisdom....you should hear the flak they take for it!
But “Laurence Kotlikoff, professor of economics at Boston University agrees [with a recent Princeton University study] that an expensive education just isn't worth it..... “If you think of education as solely a monetary investment, if we are not thinking about all the other benefits from education like learning things, and getting to hang out with me, and also just becoming a more cultured person, then we have to look at this very carefully.”
Now, to be sure, the JW organization's reservations about college are not the same as Professor Kotlikoff's. That is, they're not primarily about dollars and cents. They're more about “getting to hang out with [him], and also just becoming a more cultured person.” Not he himself, of course....frankly, I'd like to hang out with him....but people he represents who dominate campus life, people who are inclined to think humans have the answers, people who are inclined to denigrate faith, people who are inclined to think the purpose of life is to consume, or even that there is no purpose in life. People who are inclined to overstress the value of being a “more cultured person,” whereas Paul would be apt to dismiss it all as “refuse” (Phil 3:8) and mention more than in passing that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor 3:19) So why “hang out” with guys like that unless it is truly necessary?
The May 2012 Consumer Reports tells of a web designer who likens his student debt, about $59,000, to “a prison sentence.” It interferes with his buying a home. It prevents him saving for retirement. (no one mentions raising a family) The debt, “just grew and grew and grew,” he says, “and I'm saddled with it unless I make twice as much as I'm making.” He earned his master's degree 18 years ago, when education was cheaper. He's not unhappy with his career choices....I don't want to suggest otherwise......but surely he must wonder sometimes whether it was worth it. He used the words “prison sentence,” not I. He's consigned to paying off debt for a long long time. His freedom of movement is curtailed, not augmented, as he doubtless thought would be the case. Moreover, I know of two young people making their living in web design without any college whatsoever.....they just dove into it as a lifelong interest. Surely it's in the interest of the education industry to suggest learning only takes place in college, an assertion Professor Kotlikoff seems to make. That doesn't mean it's so.
In contrast, Dave McClure, the old circuit overseer reflects on his life and where it has taken him. Some of his old school mates might consider him a failure, he says, but he's not sure why. He's been to more places than they have, done more things, met more people, certainly met with more variety in people. It's all in what you value.
“The skills gap is a reflection of what we value,” Mike Rowe told the Senate. “....In a hundred different ways, [such as the Milton Bradley game of Life, where you are severely penalized if you choose the “business” road over the “college” road] we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a "good job" into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber, if you can find one, is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we'll all be in need of both.”
Nobody's listening to Mike Rowe. Not many, at any rate. A high school's success is still measured by the percentage they send to college. Unless your grades are in the toilet, just try telling your guidance counselor that you plan to bypass college. Just try it, and see what happens. The promising careers in this country are seen to be in education and health care. (less so in education lately, where budget cutbacks are wreaking havoc) These are also the same two fields whose models are described as “unsustainable.” But it's still only losers that go Mike Rowe's way.