He droned on and on and on and on. Maybe he would never stop! But when at last he did, as he stepped off the podium, the Town Clerk whispered to the Chief of Police: “Can you shoot him? I'll take responsibility.” Nobody was supposed to have heard. Only the Police Chief, who would, presumably, chuckle at the funny joke. But alas! – TV news was there, with one of those super-sensitive high powered mikes so that, if your stomach rumbles, it sounds like Mt Vesuvius. They picked up the throw-away remark, you can be sure, and made sure everyone knew about it. Now everyone is outraged, incensed, demanding resignations, and so forth.
Of course, the clerk promptly apologized. "It was a very poor choice of words, and certainly a mistake that I will learn from," she said. One wonders what the proper choice of words would have been. Still, she did say, even in the offending comment itself, that she would take responsibility. In our days of political correctness, the very angels weep for joy when someone "takes responsibility" for their outlandish conduct. It's that first vital step toward rehabilitation, a step that virtually assures the rest will be a slam-dunk. Nonetheless, the droner himself wants her fired, not so much for the remark itself, but for subsequent ones. Isn’t that why we don’t have anyone anywhere anymore who knows anything? At their first blunder, it’s “off with their head!”
Now, what to make over this? It does seem that a town clerk, who is a professional, after all, should be able to sit through a boring talk. Heaven knows I’ve learned to do it. But I won’t be too critical of her. If they ever aim a mike at me, sitting there in the Kingdom Hall as some….um…less than stellar speaker weaves his spell over his audience, broadcasting my remarks intended only for the lovely Mrs. Sheepandgoats, I could be in big trouble. I mean, a lot of talks at the Hall are pretty good, but not all. Sometimes, you have to say to yourself (repeatedly) "well.....I know what he means." Or maybe there is some exasperating mannerism...perhaps the speaker likes to say "irregardless," and he says it so often that you, in time, begin to keep track, tallying them up, as if you might exchange them later for prizes, so that whatever else he says.....wait a minute....did he just give the date of Armageddon?....goes in one ear and out the other. Nonetheless, while I've perhaps rolled my eyes verbally, I've never said any speaker should be shot.
I think it was Tom Oxgoad who used to say "irregardless" all the time, and it drove me nuts. But then one day Kermit Wright, gentlemanly, kind fellow that he was, related how years ago he had helped another speaker drop the offending word. After commending the brother, Kermit asked him, as a favor, to look up “irregardless” in the dictionary. "I never found it." the speaker told me later, who subsequently took the hint and never used the word again. This story absolutely thrilled me, and I marched straight up to Oxgoad and asked that he look up "irregardless" in the dictionary. But....sigh....thirty years later….he did find it. True, the dictionary qualified the word, observing it was "irregular," but that was a point far too subtle for our boy, who proceeded to increase use of the word tenfold. But, again, I never said he should be shot.
However, once more, we must back up. It’s all very fine to poke fun at the speakers… frankly, ribbing one another about talks is a cottage industry among JWs…..”Brother, as I listened to your talk, I reflected on the wisdom of Jehovah’s organization in cutting public talks from 45 minutes to 30”…. but the fact remains that most of Jehovah’s Witnesses are comfortable with public speaking on, at least, some level. It’s a point worth noting, since fear of public speaking ranks among the chief personal terrors of the Western world, if not all humankind. But Witness speaking competence is due to the Theocratic Ministry School, a public speaking program held weekly at the Kingdom Hall, open to all congregation members or interested persons.
Over the years, I’ve seen many persons, who all but fainted upon giving their first talk, evolve into fine public speakers, so that, assemble them all together, and one would be hard pressed to believe they’re not paid professionals. But they’re not; none of Jehovah’s Witnesses at any level are paid for any service. Bereaved? A funeral talk is provided without charge. Same with a wedding talk. Over the weekend, Tom Whitepebble told me of some Albany hospital who floated before various religious communities the notion of having a liaison staff from each church to coordinate between hospital and respective congregation members. What would such an arrangement cost? Prominent bodies listed their salary requirements; the JW representative said, not only would they not charge for such an arrangement, but that, for the most part, it was already in place.
Look, it’s all very nice to be paid, one might think, freeing oneself to do more of whatever work without distraction, but one must not forget that if a minister is to be paid, someone has to pay him. And that someone will be congregation members. Thus who isn’t familiar with the spectacle of church members being shaken down, sometimes quite aggressively, to pay the various salaries of church hierarchy ? “Jesus didn’t begrudge cheerful giving,” a former church member relates the priest admonishing him years ago. “Yeah, Jesus didn’t drive around in a Cadillac either,” the surly fellow replied. Maybe that’s why Victor Blackwell, in his book “Oer the Ramparts They Watched,” continually makes reference to the “mercenary” ministers of Christendom, in contrast to those he regards as true Christian ministers.
But haven’t we strayed from public speaking? Yes, we have.
Many years ago I read in the newspaper of a public speaking organization called Toastmasters. “That sounds like the Theocratic Ministry School,” I thought. Years after that, I worked with a fellow who recruited members for his Toastmaster chapter with all the zeal of a Jehovah’s Witness. I went to a meeting, and in fact even signed up for a time…lemme tell you, this guy was persistent, and he had joined, he said, in order to overcome his shyness. I respected that, and besides, at the time I was somewhat out of the loop theocratically….not way, way out there, mind you, just a little astray from the inside track, so that I don’t know if I would join today, if only for lack of time, but I did then. I’ve never heard of any other Witness belonging to Toastmasters, nor any Toastmaster being a Witness; maybe Mrs. Sheepandgoats and I are the only ones. The meetings I attended were remarkably similar to the Theocratic Ministry School, with only superficial differences. I believe many persons made career advancement (which was a chief goal) via Toastmasters. The general manager of Skycoasters, a staple Rochester rock and roll party band…if they show up, you know the entertainment will be well-cared for… was among them. Mrs Sheepandgoats and I eventually veered off, however, much to the dismay, I think, of the one who had recruited us in the first place. Did he not regard us as Toastmaster apostates?
But how to wrap up this post, which isn’t really going anywhere, is it? And yet we must stick with the public speaking theme. Ah…I know. Now that Tom Pearlsandswine is gone, I can relate this story:
As a young single fellow, Pearlsandswine loved to speak and would volunteer whenever….School, Service Meeting, demonstrations, you name it. He even liked to lecture impromptu, something for which no arrangement really exists. In time, a sister caught his eye, and he proposed. “I will marry you,” the girl replied, “on one condition. I have with me a little black box, and you must promise you will never look inside it. Everyone needs privacy, even in a marriage, and you have to respect my request.” Tom thought this stipulation not too onerous, and so the two were married.
Years went by. Pearlsandswine applied himself to his ministry, became more and more active in the congregation. In time, he began to give public talks, lots of them. We heard him all the time. If some speaker took ill or was late, Pearlsandswine would be right there with a manuscript ready to go. I swear I think he’d purposefully give the fellow wrong directions, hoping to speak in his stead. During all this time, he never looked into the little black box.
A dozen more years. Not only did Tom speak at the local Kingdom Hall, but he somehow got himself on the frequent visiting list for other congregations. He was a constant public speaker. And throughout this time, he never looked into the little black box.
A decade more years elapsed. Amazingly, you’d even see him on Circuit Assembly programs sometimes. He spoke constantly, much to our chagrin. If he went on vacation, he’d bill himself as a hotshot speaker from afar, a Bethel speaker almost, and manage to speak before that unsuspecting congregation. And again, he never looked into the little black box.
But one day his wife was out shopping and he became curious. Just what was in that box, anyway? He opened it. Inside he found four eggs and six thousand dollars. When the wife returned home, Tom’s conscience got the better of him, and he fessed up. But time had mellowed her; she did not make the fuss over it that he had feared she might.
Eventually, Tom asked the woman: “why did you have four eggs in your little black box?”
“But why did you also have six thousand dollars in your little black box,” he asked later. “Well,” his wife replied, “that’s all the money I’ve made over the years selling eggs!”
Thousands of talks! Every one of them a dog! The poor long-suffering woman! And if only I’d had her same clever idea. I’d be retired today.