Tomatoes, Grapes, and the Congregation Book Study
July 28, 2008
When they needed more parking years ago at the Kodak facilities, there was no alternative but to blacktop surrounding blocks. Of course, people lived there, so Kodak bought them out one by one and demolished the homes. Here and there, though, some stalwart would dig in and stay put, so the spacious parking lots wrap around a few odd houses….houses fronting the street but the other three sides abutting fence and blacktop.
Torre didn’t approve.
“These people are so stubborn,” he decreed to the rest of the car group. “Kodak needs that parking and offered good money.” And upon further reflection: “I’m stubborn, but I’m not so stubborn as these people!”
It was the perfect set-up for his three co-passengers. “YOU, Torre? YOU? Stubborn? You?? How can you say that, Torre!? Oh, no….not YOU!”
Torre may have been the most stubborn person ever to walk the planet. It’s a little surprising that someone so stubborn could die. It took an auto accident (in which he was a passenger) to kill him.
Like the time he was mowing his lawn and a heart attack felled him in his tracks. They rushed him to the hospital, probed and fussed over him and brought him up to snuff. “Now remember, Torre,” they said. “You’re not a young man anymore. You take it easy. No exertions for several weeks at least.”
The first thing he did upon returning home was finish the lawn.
But if he was one of the most stubborn persons I’ve known, he was also one of the most hospitable. And magnanimous. The coffee pot was always on the stove. “Let it stay a little longer, Jo,” he’d say to his wife. “Let it get hot.” “Torre, it’s boiling! It’s not going to get any hotter!” she’d reply. Maybe that’s why the Congregation book study conducted in his home is the one I most enjoyed, and through the years I’ve attended a lot. In the winter, we’d file downstairs and sit around his two ping pong tables. In the summer it would be outdoors, under the shade and fragrance of the grape trellis. Torre was from the old country….he didn’t conduct the study, you had to listen hard in order to decipher his accent….and he knew how to grow things. But if his grapes were prolific, they were nothing next to his softball-sized tomatoes. Torres didn’t really have a back yard…..it was all tomato field, and he’d spend a couple hours there every day when he got home from work.
For the longest time, Jehovah’s Witnesses have had five meetings per week, but have only gone out on three nights. That’s because some of the meetings were back to back. And now, alas, the book study also is to be rolled into the School-Service Meeting routine, decreasing total nights out from three to two. The JW organization said something about expensive travel, ever more hectic lives, 24/7 and so forth, and consequently their desire to streamline theocratic life to the extent possible. Tom Barfendogs had a fit over this, of course, and suggested the REAL reason was that congregation members were on the verge of mutiny if they didn’t get lighter routines. But then another notion caught his fancy, equally appealing to his….ahem…increasingly paranoid personality, which held that at the Kingdom Hall comments could be monitored more closely than at informal homes, and those who stepped out of line could be promptly taken to task. ….sheesh…..He even pointed to Kingdom Ministry statements in recent years praising the Book Study…..awfully suspicious that it was being eliminated when it had recently been praised, he floated.....as if only an “our meeting sucks” confession could preface getting rid of it.
Look, I’ll miss the book study, but combining it with other meetings is entirely in line with simplification, which the parent organization has pushed for two decades. (Wiseacre math buff Tom Wheatandweeds extrapolates that, should this system of things continue, by 2055 all JWs will take a weekly pill, which will contain all 5 meetings, field service and study) Life gets more and more demanding, and simplification is a way to adjust. The present 3-day district conventions were once 8 days. And each day ran into the evening, they didn’t end at 4 or 5PM as they do today.
In the old days (before Assembly Halls) preparation for an assembly would include construction of a full kitchen capable of feeding 2000 persons within an hour or two. I've seen such facilities arise from empty rooms with just a single water and electric hookup. The record is the NYC convention in the late 1950's attended by a quarter million persons, all fed on premises from makeshift facilities. There is some apocryphal story of the U. S. Army sending observers to determine how it was possible, and being told by someone that they would never be able to do it since it was motivated by love, not money or duty.
I miss those times. They sure beat bagging your own lunch, as we do now. But they took an huge toll on the persons donating their time and energy. Life today is much more expensive, hectic, time-devouring, and often aggravating, than it was then. No reason to think that the Book Study arrangement is not just one more adjustment to simplify in the face of ever-challenging times.
Besides, if the now-free night becomes a family study night, as is suggested, that may be a good thing. Less formal in structure, partly social, with others invited, perhaps local ministry combined in some way. Time will tell.
This reminds me of the LDS Church’s Correlation Program (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priesthood_Correlation_Program). Mormon culture has a similar apocryphal story of the U. S. Army studying the effectiveness of the missionary language training program.
Posted by: NateDredge | July 29, 2008 at 01:32 AM
From your article: "Because of the correlation program, the church generally operates the same in structure, practice and doctrine globally. For example, members in Germany, Kenya and Utah all study the same lessons and attend the same type of meetings in any given week."
Same can be said of us. Unity is a good thing, isn't it? But it is not possible without both organization and reasonable respect for authority. Interesting article.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | July 29, 2008 at 03:30 AM
It will be interesting to see what that one extra evening a week becomes used for. Keeping an eye on my own schedule, I hope I can use it for further personal study, with regularity, which can be difficult for me at times.
The letter seemed a little contradictory at first to me too. However there will obviously be more direction from the organization as to how it's all going to work.
After some reflection, it seems that the idea of the book study may still exist for emergency purposes, but not having it will help some of us strangthen our personal faith so we can stand on our own when certain types of trials arise.
Also, this change will mostly impact on cong's in western lands. In the Phillipines and many other poorer countries for example, most meetings are held all on one day due to distances traveled and cost. Just wait till we get that letter...
Posted by: Showme | July 29, 2008 at 01:49 PM
I didn't know that about the Phillipines. Thanks, Showme.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | July 29, 2008 at 03:38 PM
I'm glad that I finally found time to catch up on your blog...The consolidating the meetings surprises me, and I liked the bookstudies the most as a boy and young man.
Yet I can appreciate adjusting to the current times for people. Consider someone who must work 2 jobs. Getting two evenings off a week is much easier than 3. It really is a form of love to make an organizational change to accomodate those who need it.
Posted by: Screech | August 06, 2008 at 10:26 PM
Think you is talkin about Uncle Sam there. He was stubborn, but a good, good man.
Good riddence to the book study. One more night we don't have to go out.
Posted by: rbk | May 14, 2009 at 08:53 PM
You don't have to go out on any of them if you don't want. It's not compulsory, you know. Why would anybody go to a meeting that they don't think is worth their while?
He was a good good man. And yes, just a weeee bit stubborn.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | May 15, 2009 at 11:25 AM