Time was when those district conventions geared up very slowly.
Sit down.....listen up....take notes....get enough sleep....keep track of your kids....if you were already planning to behave you could just as well skip that first talk, and if you weren't - well, one talk was not going to change things much. Then there might follow an talk-by-talk preview of the program, stretching out 20 minutes or so. Then a few old timers would surface on stage, interviewed for historical flavor. Maybe some pioneers next, and then some others whom life had kicked in the teeth, but who had withstood trial, and credited faith for their win.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed hearing from all these folks. The point is, though, that the program kept trotting out appetizer after appetizer, and the main course took a long time to appear.
No more. This year, the first talk hits the ground running. Why Must We "Keep on the Watch," to cite Jesus' counsel. You wouldn't think people would be so spiritually lethargic in a time of cataclysmic events, the type we routinely see on the news. But they are. Events that once would have set folks back on their heels for weeks, they now just shrug off as one of those things and carry on. Just like Jesus' words indicate at Matt 24:38-39:
For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.
Thus, Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. From this counsel the 2009 convention draws its theme: Keep on the Watch. (vs 42)
Okay, so those laid-back folks might go to Barnes & Noble and pick up a timely paperback. And some others might throw in the towel completely to worship the Dawkins-Harris-Hitchings trinity. But serious searching they don't do. And the message comes right to their house, for crying out loud. But talk about the end of this system, and people take it as a big joke, just like Peter wrote:
For you know this first, that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep [in death], all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.” 2 Pet 3:3-4
I liked the Sunday morning program, as well - starting with a nine part symposium discussing foretold events from the great tribulation to the end of the 1000 year reign, presented compact and fast-moving. You'd swear, as a building employee did at a prior Raleigh convention (according to visiting Tom Oxgoad) that the convention speakers were well-paid professional speakers, but no; they're all local brothers - unpaid volunteers, as is true with everything else Jehovah's Witnesses do.
That moron in the devil suit was back also, as well as the usual gang of protesters, about a half dozen or so outside the building, though you'd think they were far more, judging by the noise they made. "Why don't you just pop them one?" one of the cops asked an attendant, so said the concluding speaker. Well....we've got a reputation to uphold. But I can sympathize with the cops, who have to double, if not triple their numbers on account of these guys. All morning long they have to listen to these characters screaming about hellfire, the "devil" pretending to wave his disciples into the auditorium. Sheesh! Say what you will about Jehovah's Witnesses....perhaps you're not crazy about their visits....but they will never show up at your door dressed in a devil suit.
Really, of all the doctrines from the fundamentalists, "hellfire" is the easiest to pull apart. With a single exception, all instances of "hell" in English Bibles stem from one of three original language words (sheol, hades, gehenna) Find the meaning of those three words and you've found the meaning of hell. None of them refer to a place of eternal torment. A well known early Witness, Charles Russell was known in his lifetime as the man who "turned the hose on hell and put out the fire."
Then there was Brother Wease. Now, Brother Wease is not a brother in the same sense as Brother Sheepandgoats, Brother Wheatandweeds, or Brother Pearlsandswine. It's a handle. Brother Wease is a local shock jock, modeled after Howard Stern. Unlike Howard, he's not syndicated, so he identifies with the local Rochester community, supports a lot of local causes, and indeed, is quite popular. First day of the convention he called the news department. Can they send someone he can interview on air? They did. Turns out that Wease had been visited by our people a few weeks ago, and he was impressed. His warning that he was the antichrist with no use for religion had not sent them scampering, as he had anticipated. Instead, they stayed, he warmed to them, and found some things he liked. He said nice things about that visit on air, right here. Even some of his on-air chums, who are essentially there to 'bust your chops,' came around - sort of. "These are my people," Wease enthused; he liked the part about Witnesses not going to war. Friday's interview isn't online yet. Go here, and scroll down. It will probably show up eventually
It's convention time. The same program is held worldwide in scores of locations, usually multiples times at each to serve folk from different areas. In the northern hemisphere it runs during 3-day windows in June-September. Then it goes into the southern hemisphere to pick up their summer.