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August 2010

Can You Shoot Him? I'll Take Responsibility.

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.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Bea's Law

They're being tongue-in-cheek. Surely, they're being tongue-in-cheek. Please tell me they're being tongue-in-cheek. And yet.....Time Magazine really appears to be in earnest, as if a new scientific truth has been discovered, as if Einstein and Newton might gnash their teeth in could they have overlooked such a fundamental law of nature? You tell me: do you think they're being facetious here, or do you think they're dead serious:

From their article on the gulf oil spill (June 21, 2010), Time Magazine reports:“After studying more than 600 disasters over more than 50 years, professor Robert G. Bea has developed a unified-field theory of catastrophe: A+B=C. A is what Bea calls natural hazards, the unavoidable physical factors like the unforgiving vacuum and great distances that come with working in outer space. B is the human factors: the sins of greed, arrogance, laziness and indifference that corporations, governments and people exhibit far too often. Take a hazardous natural environment and flawed human beings and they'll add up to C: catastrophe.”

It sounds earnest, doesn't it? As if Professor Bea has made some breakthrough discovery of modern science. And with the apparent conviction that the formula  A+B=C helps, as if one shouldn’t be expected to get his head around the phenomenon in absense of the formula.. Let's see: people are lazy, careless, full of themselves, and greedy, and so they screw up everything they touch. Hmmm. You know, Time is right; that is a hard concept to grasp. Better to use the formula, where A stands for natural hazards, B stands for human ineptness, and C stands for....what else?....Calamity. Eureka!! A+B=C !! Of course! A modern scientific breakthrough!

Of course, if Time is dead earnest, there remains the hopeful possibility that Professor Bea is being tongue-in-cheek. Yes, that's it! He's being tongue-in-cheek. Surely, he's being tongue-in-cheek. Please tell me he's....but we've been down this road already. Anyhow, tongue-in-cheek or not, he's the right guy to make the assessment. Time tells us that Bea is co-founder of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-head of the Deepwater Horizon Study Group [DHSG], an independent investigative team [IIT]. "Katrina [K] followed that track [of his law], and Deepwater Horizon [DH] is following it too," he says …...[brackets mine]

Now, one ought not appear as if making light of this formula, for truly, it's helped me grasp some things  felt only intuitively till now. For instance, many today  maintain that science [S] will save us [SU], but that's unlikely because humans consistently screw things up [STU]. Is it not tiresome to hear devotees describing Science as though it were a beneficent being, ever eager to shower humankind with untold blessings? Alas, it's not that at all. Science is a tool. Put in the hands of wise operators, and it can indeed deliver the goods, if not to a biblical extent, then at least to a relatively impressive one. But how often does that happen? Instead, it's put in the hands of those given to “greed, arrogance, laziness and indifference,” to quote Professor Bea. Isn't that why Einstein, whose research led to the atomic bomb, lamented “if I had known I would have been a locksmith.”?

It's great stuff, science is. I've never said otherwise. It's a discovery mechanism. It's self correcting. It hones in with ever-increasing accuracy on the way things are. I regret sometimes that I didn't become a scientist. Immersion in research, and theories, and experiment, and discovery is very appealing to me. Funding? Someone else takes care of that. Implementation of whatever I discover? Not my problem. Politicians screwing up the planet? That's too bad, but it doesn't really affect me. You get to hang out with academics. You don't see poverty. You don't see squalor. What's not to like?

Science isn't the problem. But neither is it the solution. What was it God said back in Genesis chapter 11, upon surveying the tower  they were building in Babel?  “Look! They are one people and there is one language for them all, and this is what they start to do. Why, now there is nothing that they may have in mind to do that will be unattainable for them.“ It takes a lot to impress God, you know it does, but human technology, even back then, apparently did the trick. So with all the educated people today, you'd almost think they'd be able to get together and rule the planet wisely. Why can they not? Because successful governing is not a function of knowledge, or science, or technology. It's a function of  “greed, arrogance, laziness and indifference” and the extent to which people can free themselves from these traits. Education, which focuses soley on knowledge, with the apparent assumption these other qualities will take care of themselves, doesn't help. In some ways, it makes matters worse.

Now I'm hearing reports that scientists have created life. Have they really done that? Only recently have they succeeded in mapping out DNA sequencing; now  they've managed to assemble the stuff in new patterns. They've inserted it into living cells, with resulting new forms of life. Is that creating life? I don't think so, any more than jumpstarting a car constitutes building it. Still, that's not to say it's not impressive. I'm real impressed. Who would ever have predicted it?  Though I hate to think what may happen to such innovation once Bea's Law gets ahold of it. It's not that I don't trust the scientists. They're decent enough, I guess. But they operate in a vacuum. What happens when  businesspeople, politicians, and policymakers apply the discovery? Who hasn't at least envisioned genetic catastrophe, as recent laboratory successes are implemented by evil men, or just plain clumsy ones?

Taking issue with Bible teachings, one fellow, an atheist I think, at any rate, a firm proponent of human accomplishment, argues: "But if Armageddon comes tomorrow, how are we to know "this system" didn't end right before someone came up with a game-changing peacemaking idea?” Sigh....doesn't the very question betray collosal misunderstanding of the way things are? It's not ideas that are wanting. Any donkey can recall no end of peacemaking ideas; human history is strewn with them. Implementation is where the shipwreck always lies, as “greedy, arrogant, lazy, and indifferent” humans seek to undermine each other and turn whatever discovery into selfish advantage. Thus it is that Ragoth, a smart and decent fellow, declares he “could never really go into politics,” for he “would have a heart attack within a few years.” Of course he would! So would I! So would anyone except the born scrappers, the incurably naive, the mercenaries, and the good 'ol boys who love the game and aren't unduly troubled that it consistently lets down those who trust in it. Better to devote oneself to pursuit of knowledge, where you can succeed in your field, and lambaste those other idiots for not succeeding in theirs.

The issue before all creation is whether man has the capacity to govern himself, not whether he has the capacity to do good science. Nobody has ever said he can't do the latter. As to the former, that’s what the Bible’s message is all about.


******  The bookstore

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One Fine Day in the Ministry

“Oh, you are NOT going to tell me that Jehovah's Witnesses aren't fundamentalists. Please don't tell me that.” But I did tell him that, right between the eyes. We're not fundamentalists. Alright, so we have some attributes in common with fundamentalists, but we also have attributes in common with the liberal churches, and some with the science rationalist types. We're all over the board and not easy to pigeonhole.
My daughter - I was working with her that day, which is a rare occurrence since we attend different congregations - she would have said 'yes,' she told me, she thought we fit the fundamentalist tag. But now I have my hands on the Aug 2010 Awake magazine, just released, and the Awake says no, we don't:
Page 5, an FAQ page: “Are Jehovah's Witnesses Protestants, Fundamentalists, or a sect?”
“Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians, but they are not Protestants for the same reason that they are not Catholics – they recognize certain teachings of those religions as unscriptural. For example, the Bible does not teach that God – the very personification of love – tortures people forever in a fiery hell. Nor does it teach that humans have an immortal soul or that Christians should meddle in politics. (Ezek 18:4, John 15:19; 17:14, Romans 6:23).......Some Fundamentalist organizations “have adopted social and political positions based on a literal use of biblical texts. [I swear there are people to whom you'll say “stop beating around the bush” and they'll start looking for the bush.] That definition does not fit Jehovah's Witnesses.”

The chief lesson to be learned here is that Papa's always right. Always. Even if he has to stretch the point nearly to snapping, does whatever it takes. Conversations I've had with Mrs. Sheepandgoats, for instance:
“Have I ever let you down?” I ask rhetorically. “Yes!” she answers immediately. (So much for rhetorical questions)
“No,” she admits. “All right, then!” I crow.
Men are an interesting species, don't you know.  Every bit as interesting, in their own way, as women.
But we've strayed from our householder - a lapsed Catholic, he told me.  I fear it won't be the last time we stray from him.
This fellow lives in a territory I used to work all the time. Southeast Rochester. It's an eclectic area. At one door you find a Buddhist. At the next a nudist. One stately, well-off, single family home - the next house just as stately but carved into four or five apartments. Lots of gays in the neighborhood, too, and you gotta admit, where there are gays there are usually the arts, music, bistros, restored homes, gardens, and so forth. (why is that?) They can be somewhat hostile if you approach them in the wrong way, and almost any way is the wrong way, since they're apt to assume you'll be intolerant, and they like tolerance, but I sometimes can converse with them by telling them about my gay roommate in college. I didn't know he was gay, of course, he hadn't yet 'come out,' but I got along with him well. He was an organ major, as I recall, and he scored some minor film project I made. know how they say most gays are outwardly just like anyone else and you can never spot them by appearance alone? Well, this fellow you could; he filled every stereotype to a tee, but I just never pay attention to those things (though passing years have made me more observant). Anyhow, after summer recess one year, he says he has some big announcement to make, and we meet at the local snack joint. He's gay, he tells me, he always has been, and now he's come out of the closet, and how does that affect the way I'm going to look at him? Um....well....hmmm....I don't really know why it should make any difference, and so forth....he's still the same person, after all – all this happened long before I became a Witness. But whatever the lukewarm answer I might have given, he was conscious of a new status between us, and gradually withdrew. In time, I didn't see him anymore.

But, once again, returning to our householder:

He was using a weedwhacker or something in his side yard, whacking weeds. Now, I used to hate when people were whacking weeds or doing anything outdoors, because it was painfully obvious you were interrupting them. Most Witnesses prefer people to be behind their doors where they belong. But over time I began to realize that they're doing things indoors as well, only you don't see it, so you assume they're just sitting on their hands. In fact, they may be doing things more sacred to them than any activity outside, such as watching TV.  So it really doesn't matter to me anymore whether they're inside or out, although, it must be admitted, groups of people outside remain a challenge, and usually the game is lost before you begin. They see you coming afar off, and even if this or that one might be up to conversing one-on-one, fat chance they'll want to do so in front of their peers. Best to say something a little outrageous, like “you look like guys that want to talk about the Bible.“ Sometimes that buys you a little space you can cling to with your fingernails, but even if not, it generally leaves everyone in reasonably good humor.
The all-time awkward situation I encountered was when working with Andy Laguna, the Circuit Overseer. We were working a city residential territory and there was a bar on the corner, so he walks right in and starts witnessing to the bartender amidst a few half-tanked patrons. Andy's friendly and persistent, unafraid and non-threatening, and it went well for a time, but eventually conversation veered south – some of the patrons got a little surly (this was many years ago). “I dunno why you're telling this to us! (Andy had been speaking of good government, integrity, honesty, etc, with a view towards 'we need the Kingdom') What you should do is go into city hall and tell all those dirty rotten politicians – yeah, tell them – they're the ones who need to hear it!”  one fellow blurted out, getting worked up. “Oh, we do...we do,” Andy replied placidly. “And you know what they tell us? That we should go into the saloons!”
But back to the lapsed Catholic whacking weeds, as I approached him, hesitatingly, I said: “I wonder if I can get away with interrupting you for a couple minutes.” “Try,” he responded encouragingly, so I did. I was working with that Habakkuk presentation, made appropriate remarks about not staying forever, and so forth. But he brought up a few things - he was an educated man. I liked the fellow. "Well - I said I was just going to stay a couple of minutes, but now you've brought up a whole new topic. If we go there, it's on your dime, not mine" We may have visited twenty minutes or so. It's well to end your remarks with something gracious: "I appreciate your time. We come without appointment; people are doing things. You certainly have no obligation to speak with us, yet you did anyway. Thanks for your time. Take care, now."
Oh – and by the way, I think it was from Andy that I learned a not-bad way of handling aggressive evangelicals. It doesn't happen too often, but every once in a while, you'll find one of them eagerly awaiting us, with a stack of anti-JW literature and non-stop rhetoric to match. But it was Andy who said “look, if I came to visit you, it must be because I felt I had something to offer. Now, I might entertain what you want to tell me, but it would have to be at a time when you drop by my place.” “Where do you live...where do you live...where do you live?” the other would rapid-fire reply.  “No, no,” Andy would respond, “you'll just run into me eventually in the course of your normal door to door ministry.”
Oh, and back to the lapsed know, I kind of forget what else we spoke about. But we had a pleasant conversation, I remember was a fine day in the ministry, low 60's, and the sun was out.


Tom Irregardless and Me             No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

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