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Nest Eggs, Fried Eggs, and the Real Life

Twentysomethings are not so distraught by today’s financial crisis as you might think. “All we have to lose is a crummy job,” one of them told me. (He actually said "crappy," but I have cleaned his remark up for the internet.) It’s the older generation’s problem.

Might there even be a certain delight….a certain “payback” to the generation or two that inherited a world of pensions, good pay, and job security…..and left for their kids a boatload of McJobs…low-paying jobs with no security, no health benefits, and little advancement. Even pleasant souls likeRagoth, a grad student presumably not destined for a McJob, seem unconcerned. Yes, it's tragic, he allows. Still, he is yet in school and has his job. Fair’s fair, I guess. There were recessions in both 1974 and 1982, yet a much younger me barely noticed.

But if the kids aren’t really sweating it, many folks my age are devastated. They were planning to retire…some could practically taste it….and now with 401Ks decimated they find they must keep right on working. That’s assuming they have work…..the tougher cases are being laid off just as they've reached this sad conclusion. Worse, some already retired find their secure retirement income isn't so secure as they thought. They may have to return to work (at age 80). Nest eggs changed into fried eggs, as one pundit put it.

Spiritual views must come into play here, because to the extent people bought into this system, adopting the hopes and dreams of a predominantly materialistic, consumer driven society….to that extent they’ve been let down and let down pretty hard. Some have been crushed. As the psychological types constantly remind us, it’s not really what happens to us…’s how we feel about what’s happened to us…..that determines our emotional well-being. If you've been yearning for the good life in your later years with all your heart and soul...and it's an easy yearning to develop since the world constantly dangles it in front of us, you may have been let down hard.

Grousers and soreheads of every stripe abound on the internet, (sometimes I think there’s no one else) and Jehovah’s Witnesses, too, have their share of detractors……if not more than their share. They’ll rail against the JW organization, their view of the Bible, their recommended way of life, their worldview. It’s brainwashing, it’s deception, it’s missing out on the marvels and joys that the world promises, they holler. Man, who’s hollering now? It’s Jehovah’s Witnesses who are best protected emotionally, and those who looked to this world for security the least.

Look, don’t misunderstand. I’m not thrilled with what’s happened either. I’ve taken significant hits, along with most others my age. Many have been hurt far worse. But I was going to serve Jehovah throughout my days anyway, and now I still am. Jehovah’s Witnesses never imagined this system to be a source of security. The three words of Jesus with the most impact for the future…..”thy kingdom come.”…..this is what we believe, represent, and look forward to. If latter years turn out a little rougher than we until recently thought, well… was only a question of timing. None of us envisioned the success of human rule, and all of us look to God’s Kingdom as the ultimate solution to the planet’s chaos. Much of the world has far more than monetary chaos to worry about.

Paul said:

Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.    1 Tim 6:17-19  

It’s not bad counsel, is it? And I don’t mean to imply that no one other than Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever observed it, but it does typify our lifestyle, teachings and organization. It probably is us who take it the most seriously. Cruise the internet and see we are derided for it from various pundits who are keeping score and have discovered that, as a group, Jehovah's Witnesses have less toys and money than many others. But it's largely due to observing the above counsel. Since their inception, Jehovah's Witnesses have deliberately stressed pursuing the simple life that allows time and energy for spiritual things. We hear it constantly: the “real life” is life in the new system, “riches” in this world are most uncertain, “store up treasures in heaven” and so forth. It eventually sinks in.

Give me neither poverty nor riches..... Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is Jehovah? Or lest I be poor, and steal.    Prov 30:8-9 ASV

Money's not a bad thing, make no mistake. You don't want poverty, for obvious reasons. But neither do "riches" come without risk. In western lands, where Consumer Reports is the Bible, and the mall is the center of worship, plenty of  “full” people have learned to "deny thee, and say, Who is Jehovah?" But riches have not been kind lately to those who trust in them.


Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Beating Swords Into Plowshares

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ determination not to make war was never so severely tested as during World War II, when the whole world came down with war fever.

Their determination, of course, stems from the Bible's directive to learn war no more. These words adorn the U.N. building in New York:

And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.    Isa 2:4

For the U.N. it makes a catchy and inspirational slogan. For Jehovah’s Witnesses it makes a way of life. If you’re not going to apply those words in time of war, just when do you apply them?

Yet, the course is much easier said than done. In nations under Nazi rule, following the course landed you in concentration camps. Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first inmates there, preceding the far-more-numerous Jews. They were the only group who could “write their ticket” out by renouncing their faith and pledging Nazi support. Only a handful took advantage of the offer.

In the United States, Jehovah’s Witnesses took the same stand amidst much opposition. Where applicable…that is, where persons had ministerial duties in the congregation or occupied themselves full time in outside ministry…. some would request the 4D “ministerial” exemption their local draft board. “Church” ministers never had the slightest difficulty obtaining such exemptions. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were invariably denied. Draft boards recognized not the scriptural or even legal definition of “minister,“ they only knew the popular definition of a minister: one who “had a church“ and “got paid.”

Paul the apostle would not have fared well under this definition.  He was not paid for his ministry. He worked to support himself. He ministered mostly to those on the outside, not inside a "church." (the word rendered "church" in the NT always refers to a group of people, never a building. Accordingly, the New World Translation renders the word "congregation.") For example:

….on account of being of the same trade he [Paul] stayed at their home, and they worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. However, he would give a talk in the synagogue every Sabbath and would persuade Jews and Greeks.    Acts 18:3,4


Certainly you bear in mind, brothers, our labor and toil. It was with working night and day, so as not to put an expensive burden upon any one of you, that we preached the good news of God to you.    1 Cor 2:9

For that matter, Jesus wouldn’t have fared well.  Everyone knows he worked as a carpenter. And sending his followers out to preach, he told them “you received free, give free.”    Matt 10:8

Both Paul and Jesus would have been denied 4D ministerial exemption. Would they have gone to war?

Neither did Jehovah’s Witnesses fare well. Though their ministry might plainly be the most important thing in their lives, and the time spent thereof exceed time spent in any secular work, draft boards would generally only recognize the “mercenary ministers,“ those who did it for pay.

Occasionally a judge or two would rule our way. Attorney Victor Blackwell tells of a young Witness he represented who, per the Biblical and legal definition, plainly was a minister. Before he could complete his argument, the District Court judge took up his case, saying:

"If I remember my Bible, our Lord was a carpenter, Peter and John were fishermen, and Paul a tent-maker. They were ministers. Young man, I commend you for working at an honest occupation to support yourself and your ministry. I wish my preacher would go to work."

Mr. Blackwell represented hundreds of our people during the hot years of WWII and immediately afterwards. He recorded his experiences in his 1976 book Oer the Ramparts They Watched. (Carlton Press, NY)

Far more typical was another experience he relates:** After giving light sentences, each one suspended in favor of probation, to a dozen or so who had confessed to various crimes against society, some quite serious, the judge turned his attention to our brother:

“Your whole life record is spotless. You were a model young man in high school, no smoking, no drinking, no fighting, no running around. One of the finest pre-sentence reports I have ever read.

 Do you have any words to say before I sentence you?”

 The youth replied he did not.

 “Do you, Mr. Blackwell, wish to say anything in behalf of your client?”

 “Considering that fine report Your Honor has just read, and the leniency shown toward the others who just appeared before you, it would be unthinkable that you would send this youth to prison.”

The sentence: “I cannot tolerate that someone like this will defy the law. I sentence you to serve two years in some institution to be designated by the Attorney General.”

Often our youths were sentenced with considerable emotion, which runs high in wartime. Like this one:

“I sentence you to five years in a federal prison to be approved by the Attorney General. My only regret, you yellow coward, is that I cannot give you twenty five years.”

Better than a German concentration camp, to be sure. Nonetheless, there was price to pay for all who would actually apply the words of Isaiah 2:4 and refuse to “learn war.”

It was only after the war, after hundreds of youths had been sent off to prison, that some judicial high courts began to see matters differently. From the opinion of Wiggins v U.S. for instance:

….Ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not paid a salary, furnished a parsonage, or even given funds for necessary expenses to carry on their ministerial work. As pointed out, they have no choice except to engage in secular pursuits in order to obtain funds to make the ministry their vocation. The Act (Selective Training and Service Act, 1940) does not define a minister in terms of one who is paid for ministerial work, has a diploma or license, preached and teaches primarily in a church. The test under the Act is not whether a minister is paid for his ministry but whether, as a vocation, regularly, not occasionally, he teaches and preaches the principles of his religion.

This favorable [to us] decision was of the Fifth Federal Circuit Court and thus was not binding everywhere, but nonetheless stood as a template. When the government appealed the case to the Supreme Court, that Court declined to review it, letting the case stand.


** Unlike the preceding and succeeding cases, this youth was a “rank and file” Witness and thus made no claim for ministerial exemption. He was assigned 1-O status (conscientious objector) status and assigned to “civilian work of national importance.” Finding this work squarely in support of the war effort, his conscience would not permit him to comply, and for this he was prosecuted.

Nearly two centuries prior to this, General George Washington had written descendents of William Penn [Quakers]:

Government being, among other purposes, instituted to protect the person and consciences of men from oppression it certainly is the duty of rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but according to their station to prevent it in others.

I assure you explicitly, that in my opinion the conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire that laws may always be as extensively accommodated to them, as a due regard to the protection and essential interests of the nation many justify and permit.

But in wartime, emotions run very hot.


The foregoing all happened in the United States. Each nation has its own story, and some continue right up to the present. The country most behind the curve today appears to be South Korea. Awake! Magazine (December 2008) interviews Chong-Il Park, who was the first of a long line of Korean Witnesses to be sent to prison for refusing military service.

“Coward! You are afraid of dying at the front lines. You are trying to evade military service of the pretence of your religious conscience.” With those words, he was beaten and subsequently sentenced to three years imprisonment. That was in 1953, when there were less than 100 JWs in the entire country and their beliefs, let alone those of neutrality, were little understood.

Today there are  94,000 Witnesses in South Korea. “Many who were imprisoned as conscientious objectors when they were young men have seen their sons, and even their grandsons, go to prisons for the same reason,” relates Mr. Park. Specifically, the numbers are 13,000 over the years, and 600 at present. Park expresses hope the situation may change. “One lawyer who had prosecuted a Witness conscientious objector even wrote an open letter of apology for what he had done, and it was published in a well-known magazine,” says he.


Another exchange from Mr. Blackwell’s book:

Judge:  "This whole matter troubles me. What, with Jehovah’s Witnesses increasing and spreading out all over the earth, if everybody got to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, where would we be…."

Blackwell: "Your honor, if everybody on earth became Jehovah’s Witnesses, there would be no war, and no need for armed forces of any kind, in any nation. Would the Court object to that state of affairs?"

Proceed with the case, the judge said.



Tom Irregardless and Me                    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Liars, Idiots, and Humble Persons

Back in school days, I took a college course on the Gospels. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I was curious and you have to have a number of electives, so you choose the ones least egregious. The instructor was some retired Southern Baptist clergyman. He told how the old boys back in seminary would yuck it up over John‘s gospel. It was the “idiot’s gospel,” they said, since its vocabulary is markedly simpler than anywhere else in the Bible.

But sometimes simple statements have all the more power for their simplicity. We regularly drown our audience in verbosity, the purpose of which is, at least in part, to show off. Check this statement of John’s for power:

If anyone makes the statement: “I love God,” and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.    1 John 4:20

Upon aligning our lives with God’s purpose, we are judged in large measure on the basis of how we get along with each other. Can’t love your brother? Then don’t even pretend that you love God.

To this end, humility is a good thing. It’s a lubricant of human relations. Act high-handed, even to those whom you have authority over, and you invariably bring out the worst in them. Thus Paul advises us to be “doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.”  (Phil 2:3) Practically speaking, how does that work? How can everyone consider everyone else superior?

For the most part we like to think of ourselves in terms of areas in which we excel. And that’s fine…..good for self-esteem and all, but when looking at others it’s good to think differently. Surely they have some qualities in which they outstrip us thoroughly. We’ve very clever, but they’re really more loving than we are. We’re very loving, but they’re really more courageous than we are. We’re very courageous, but they’re really more generous than we are. And so forth.

Another way to see persons as superior is to focus on what they’re doing with what they have.

Jesus spoke of the fellow with 10 talents (a measure) of silver who produced 10 talents more. And the guy with 5 talents who produced 5 talents more. And then the one oaf who had one talent and didn’t do a thing with it….he buried it. We don’t all start equally; we don’t all have the same abilities, backgrounds, dispositions, genes, upbringings, etc. Therein lies a way in which to look at other people.

If so-and-so is putting out 8 talents, assume he was given 8 talents. The person putting out 4 was given 4. Strive to look at people that way. The only fellow we don’t know about for sure is ourself. We were given 5, but are maybe giving back only 4. There’s room for improvement within ourselves, but to the best of our knowledge…..we‘re not empowered to judge, you know….. the other person is doing as much as they can with what they have.

Two suggestions for viewing the other person as superior, and thus smoothing human relations. It’s all in perception. But that doesn’t make it invalid.

Incidentally, John uses that label “liar” a total of 5 times in his letter. The other four are:

If we make the statement: “We have not sinned,” we are making him a liar, and his word is not in us.    1:10

He that says: “I have come to know him,” and yet is not observing his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this [person].    2:4

Who is the liar if it is not the one that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one that denies the Father and the Son.     2:22

The [person] putting his faith in the Son of God has the witness given in his own case. The [person] not having faith in God has made him a liar, because he has not put his faith in the witness given, which God as witness has given concerning his Son.   5:10

Yeah, he spoke simply, John did. And he called a spade a spade.


Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Show Me Your Oddballs

When Paul arrived in Rome to plead his legal case before Caesar, he first met with Jewish leaders. Probably you’ve heard about me, he said. I’ve been in the news back home [his presence in Jerusalem’s temple had sparked a riot]……

the Jews from Asia on beholding him in the temple began to throw all the crowd into confusion, and they laid their hands upon him, crying out: “Men of Israel, help! This is the man that teaches everybody everywhere against the people and the Law and this place and, what is more, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”…..And the whole city was set in an uproar, and a running together of the people occurred; and they laid hold of Paul and dragged him outside the temple. And immediately the doors were closed. And while they were seeking to kill him, information came up to the commander of the band that all Jerusalem was in confusion; and he at once took soldiers and army officers and ran down to them.     Acts 21:27-32

….I’m also under arrest, which might cause you concern. So I thought I’d stop by and explain myself and answer any questions you may have.

But Rome is a long ways from Jerusalem. The Jews there hadn’t heard a thing about Paul. They sure knew about what he represented, though:

They said to him: “Neither have we received letters concerning you from Judea, nor has anyone of the brothers that has arrived reported or spoken anything wicked about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against."   Acts 28:21-22

That’s about the best Jehovah’s Witnesses can hope for today. It’s a given that the Christian faith will be “everywhere spoken against,” but as for us personally, no letters will have been received nor does anyone have anything wicked to say about us [ideally]. When you strive to apply Bible principles in your life, as JWs do, over time it makes you a better person.

However, people don’t all have the same start in life. Health varies, physical and mental. So does inherited disposition. Some folk are smarter than others. Or calmer. Or sturdier. How you were brought up as a kid may have helped or handicapped you. So you have to look at people in terms of how far they’ve come, not just where they are now.

It’s difficult to quantify the term “oddball” or determine just how pejorative the word should be. Worldwide, prisons are loaded up with murderous and conniving thugs, yet most of them would not be categorized as “oddballs.” Violence and slickness are enshrined values today…..these hapless jailbirds went too far, that’s all, they stepped over the line, but the direction itself is not out of harmony with contemporary values. In contrast, we may have some “oddballs,” yet they wouldn’t harm a fly.

I’ve even heard the charge made that Jehovah’s Witnesses suffer mental illness in greater proportion than general society. But I’m not sure how accurate that is. Isn’t it just a charge that soreheads make who don’t like us ("everywhere spoken against," like they said to Paul)?  Drive by the psych ward….it's always full....they’re not ALL our people in there. Usually no one at all, occasionally one or two. Besides, an astounding percentage of Americans today are on some sort of prescribed antidepression or mood-altering medication. Are they all mentally ill, or have many just been sold a bill of goods by pharmaceutical companies? Moreover, the world today suffers global warming, terrorism, family breakup, moral disintegration, economic abyss, and so forth. Perhaps the one who readily adjusts to these evils is the one with true mental illness! Isn’t there something wrong with a person who can readily take this stuff in stride, as if it were the most normal thing in the world?

A truly close-knit organization will seem to have more oddballs then one in which people stay at arm’s length. It’s for the same reason that our own extended family members seem odder than people in general. They’re not, of course [usually], it’s just that we know them better.  One way to think you’re living amidst cool people is to not get to know them very well.

But I will grant one point. Christ’s message is of love and hospitality. The demeanor of the Christian congregation reflects that attitude. You can expect troubled persons to be drawn to such an environment. After all, how many groups will readily take them into their midsts? But among Christians they find a welcoming home and, over time, become less odd (though not always).

In fact, perhaps we should make that a test for true Christianity. For any group that claims to follow Christ, we should insist on seeing their oddballs. If they don’t have any....say, if all their people are cool, or if their oddballs are not of truly high calibre, well then I guess that group can’t be true Christians, can they? Odd as it may seem, you have to have oddballs if you're really following Christ.


Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'