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If the Main Bethel Was in the East and Not in the West

If the Main Bethel was in the east and not the west:

Maybe theocratic warfare would not be so much like John-Wayne—hardening your forehead so the lout throwing a punch breaks his fist on it, a la Ezekiel:

Look! I have made your face exactly as hard as their faces and your forehead exactly as hard as their foreheads. Like a diamond, harder than flint, I have made your forehead” (Ezekiel 3:8-9)

Why should everyone have hard heads? Maybe they should be more like those of eastern martial arts—duck the punch and the big slob’s own momentum sends him hurtling off-balance—as he stumbles by kick him in the rear end.

You’re better off yielding than resisting. “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath,” says Paul at Romans 12:19.

Take for example, the charge—detractors say it all the time—that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the highest rate of mental illness of all Christian religions. How in the world are you going to prove or disprove that—at a time when pharma has succeeded in putting 1 out of every 3 Americans on some form of anti-depressant? Drive by the psych ward of the hospital and look inside. Are they all our people in there? No. Usually, there is nobody at all, but sometimes there is one.

Don’t be the western scrapper who says it couldn’t possibly be so. Be the eastern scrapper who embraces it. Say: “Well, maybe you have a point,” and then observe that, if true, Luke 5:31 would account for it: “In reply Jesus said to them: ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are ill do.’” Is he speaking of tuberculosis? Or is mental distress, such as might accompany anguish over the ills of this world and the blame assigned to God for it more to the point? The ones you should worry about are those who are not greatly troubled by the stressors of life today—those who sail blithely through the injustices and cruelties without a care in the world.

What about when the scoundrels say: “If you look at the ‘turnover’ among JWs, you find it is one of the biggest turnovers of all religions.” Don’t say: “No way!” Say: “What do you expect? There is a cost to being a disciple of Christ. Why bother leaving a faith that asks nothing of you? Besides, a high attrition rate is easily offset by the high participation rate of those who stick. After all, with many faiths, people might not actually leave, but how would you know if they did?”

Use the blaggard’s weight against him—it is key to every Eastern martial art—it can work for JWs, too. Take the origins of Christianity. It is plainly a working-class religion, and as to it’s early leaders? “Uneducated and ordinary,” says Acts 4:13 (“untaught and ignorant”—KJV) This is embarrassing to Western religionists. If acknowledged at all (I had never heard it before becoming a Witness) it is treated as an obstacle overcome. “They may have started low, but look how they pulled themselves up!” is the attitude in vogue, thus taking for granted that more secular education is the cure for whatever ails one. 

The clergy of many faiths bristle with degrees—they are considered essential as a qualification. The degrees require a broad command of the “humanities.” They often even require an examination of their own topic through the lens of critical thinking, ensuring that faith will lose out, since the two are opposed. A case in point is a series of talks I have been listening to from the Great Courses company entitled: “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity.” The speaker is Bart Ehrman, Chair of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he with a Masters of Divinity degree. You’d almost think that the Chair of a Religious Department would believe in God, but he does not appear to. If I took a science course taught by one who thought Newton and Einstein were well intentioned but misguided zealots, I would smell a rat.

Questions for Study at the conclusion of one lecture includes: “Why do you suppose such people as Perpetua or Ignatius—who presumably had so much to offer people in this world and who could have no doubt led happy lives here—were so eager to sacrifice their bodies and leave this world?”

Thus he seems to demonstrate that he is clueless on the gist what he teaches. The entire motivation of a Christian appears a totally foreign concept to him, notwithstanding that he is recognized as the smartest person in the room.

Another case in point, which I have not yet expanded upon, though I mean to, is the New York Times review of Amber Scorah’s book—a review written by a faculty member of Harvard Divinity School. It seems pretty clear that this reviewer is an atheist. Don’t you go to Harvard Divinity School because you want to learn about God?

A third case in point—and a minor one—is those few elective courses I took in religion from my own college days. The professor was a retired Baptist clergyman. I can hear him chuckling now about how at Divinity School, the Gospel of John was called the Gospel to the Idiots on account of it’s simple language. The early disciples might be “untaught and ignorant,” but the educated clergy would run rings around them.

Another project for one of his classes was to write a paper about “entering into God’s rest” and how there “remains a Sabbath for the people of God,” as written in Hebrews chapter 4. What was that passage supposed to mean? I ended up taking most of my paper from Watchtower publications. I didn’t want to. It was against the rules to rely on any one “sectarian” source. But I found that I couldn’t help it. None of the other suggested sources made any sense to me. They all struck me as pointless pontificating. 

This would have been in my senior year, and during the summer recess before, I had been introduced to the Bible study of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had the sense of the puzzle picture coming together and was beginning to glimpse the mountain vista on the box cover. I had no patience for the logical machinations of those whose presentation made clear that their puzzle lay unassembled in the box on their closet shelf. I might have more patience with it today—probably would.

No. Don’t go groveling over the education that those early Christians didn’t have but which is now thought essential. Tell them to show us the magnificent world that their brand of education has collectively produced before we start fawning over it. Christianity started off as a working class religion. It still is and the leaders of the faith among Jehovah’s Witnesses are still as they were then—“untaught and ordinary.” Don’t hide your head in shame over it. Embrace it. When the “educated” people come along and say: “Okay, here we are, we’ll take it from here,” tell them to take a hike.

(to be continued)

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Farmer Mort Gives the Talk: ‘A Cleansed Earth—Will You Live to See It?’

We had Farmer Mort over to the house following his public talk. Before eating, we made him take the City Slicker’s Quiz:

If you want to eat, identify all eight items:

1. Credit card

2. Necktie

3. Shoe polish

4. Pictures of Wegmans (where food comes from)
5. Roll of toilet paper (replaces Sears catalog)
6. Kitchen faucet (where water comes from)
7. Refrigerator (where cold comes from)
8. Stove (where fire comes from)

We did this as payback because Farmer Mort had made everyone take the Farmer’s Quiz at that Grad Party on the Farm. “Identify all 5 items before eating,” it said, and nobody was able to do it—Come on! he had bags of individual seeds in there—soybean, corn, wheat—how’s anybody going to know that? In the end, he relaxed the requirement so that guests would not starve to death.

Farmer Mort has farming on the brain. He has been known to give people stalks of wheat, bagged and tied up with a bow, labeled “pre-donuts.” He puts it all to good use when his turn rolls around for public speaking—the title of his talk was: “The Earth Remains Forever.”

He pulled a plastic bag of seeds from the paper bag he had brought up front with him. It contained wheat seeds. If you drop one on the ground in late summer or autumn, chances are pretty good that you will get a wheat stalk next year that includes 125 of such seeds. “That’s not a bad deal,” he pointed out—125 for 1—and man has not been able to ruin that—yet—but if for some reason that deal is not good enough for you and you want a better one.... He pulled out a bag of soybeans, for which the ratio is 210 to 1. If even that deal is not good enough for you....he pulled out a bag of corn seeds—500-700 to one, he pointed out, once again with the reminder that man has not been able to ruin that....yet.

Then he branched off into how there is the UCS today, the Union of Concerned Scientists, raising the alarm of environmental abuses worldwide. And yet—if you just leave the earth alone, it is pretty good at healing itself. Pour oil on man-made concrete and it is there for a long while. Pour it on grass—(“Don’t do this!” he forbade everyone) and in short order the grass is lush and green again. Visit that abandoned factory after a few decades and you will say: “THAT was the parking lot?” Earth has reclaimed it. The earth has enormous powers of recovery, Farmer Mort pointed out, pretty much like we do—cut your finger and there is very little that you must do to it—it heals itself.

Then he turned his attention to wrappers that clog the landfills. “I sort of like the wrappers Jehovah made,” he said, as he pulled out a banana from his shopping bag. This wrapper—he pulled out one from a candy bar—takes 50 years to decompose, but that of the banana? Forget and leave a banana on the dashboard of your car—it goes black in a few days—toss it and, as to the contents within—you plow it back into banana bread. He likes other wrappers as well—wrappers Jehovah made—in each case superior to those of man—the husks of corn, the shell of nuts, the skin of fruits—that wrapper you can even eat.

There is a spiritual crisis today, he observed as his talk unfolded, manifested in the shameful manner that humans treat the earth. He quoted Deuteronomy 32:5, about a “crooked generation” that is “not his children”—the “defect is their own” as they “act corruptly.” It will not always be. Farmer Mort read Psalm 37:29: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”

(Incredibly, Russian authorities have declared this specific verse extremist—because it furthers the “propaganda of inferiority based on religious identity”—do they really wish to stick up for the “unrighteous” over there?)

What about when you take your family for an outing at the park? Farmer Mort presented the picture for us, and you see the sign of all the things you can’t do: no driving on the grass, no animals, no alcohol, no loud music, and so forth. “Well....I guess,” you say and as you enjoy that grass so lush that you don’t need shoes or socks, and—what is that delicious smell wafting in the air—honeysuckle? clover fields, linden trees?—and then it is all spoiled by the thunderous sound of choppers that spin out on the grass. Kegs are pulled out of the pickup truck. Raucous music blares from the speakers and...was that a shotgun blast? “Come on, kids. Time to go. It’s not safe.”

Rebels have destroyed the beautiful park—they always do—rebels who cannot obey the rules—but God will get rid on the rebels. Revisiting the promise expressed at Psalm 37:29 that everyone can read except for those in Russia, Farmer Mort read Proverbs 2:21-22: “For the upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.” Farmer Mort loves the earth and he looks forward to that time.

Furthermore, “you will see it” when it happens. “Hope in Jehovah and keep his way,” says Psalm 37:24, “and he will exalt you to take possession of the earth. When the wicked ones are cut off, you will see it” Humans cleanse things on earth with “Arm and Hammer,” he said (did he pull out a box of that, too?), “but Jehovah has something called “Armageddon” that will get the job done much more thoroughly and, most important of all, lastingly.

What is it with this guy? Why did I enjoy this talk so much? Is it that I could picture Jesus doing it this way—spinning parables all having to do with rural life that his listeners could get their heads (and thereby hearts) around? Was it Farmer Mort’s low-key but indestructible enthusiasm —he retained the excitement he had from Day One upon discovering God’s purpose.

It had created shock waves in the community when his family embraced Jehovah’s Witnesses. Staunch church members—known and highly regarded by everyone—there is even a street named after Mort’s forefather—they had not been unhappy. His wife in particular had been fully involved in her traditions of the rural community. Only one thing nagged at her—a hunger to understand the Bible—a hunger that she was unable to satisfy anywhere but in just one place—and she resisted that conclusion for the longest time—how could it be Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were so ill-regarded? As for Farmer Mort, he was always busy out hauling the hay—“We used to plow all this land for the Temeris family,” he told me as we drove about in field service. When he saw his wife accept Bible teachings from the Witnesses, he finally took notice, and embraced it in a heartbeat, blanketing his community with such zeal that some thought he had taken leave of his senses. It is a perception that may remain to this day—“a prophet is not unhonored except in his home territory,” Jesus stated at Matthew 13:57—and when Farmer Mort and I worked in service in our territory, he exclaimed: “Wow! People are actually listening to me! I may have to start making sense!”

The joyful task of those post-Armageddon will be to transform the abused earth into paradise, he continued in his talk. They will have plenty of company, “Even though he dies he will come to life,” Farmer Mort quoted Jesus at John 11:25. He referred to God’s mandate—“being a plowboy, I have to look up words like ‘mandate,’” he said, and enthused over how “God is not a mere man who tells lies”—and how ademic conditions will cover the entire globe. Disobedience may work in the short run, he said, but not in the long run.

In the resurrection, people will appear who will say: “I was a Danite...I was a Ruebenite...I was a Simeonite.” Farmer Mort suggested what his reply to them might be: “Um...we really didn’t do it that way.” Did he really suggest that he might say: “I was a Trivialite?”

“Oh, and this one is worth getting out your glasses for” (which he did), as he read a quote from a 30-year old Watchtower publication—never repeated that I know of:

To all eternity our earth will bear a distinction that no other planet throughout endless space will enjoy, though the earth may not be the only planet that will ever be inhabited.[underlining mine] Uniquely it will be where Jehovah has indisputably vindicated his universal sovereignty, establishing an eternal and universal legal precedent. It will be the only planet on which Jehovah of armies will have fought “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” It will be the only planet to which God sent his dearest Son to become a man and die in order to recover the planet’s inhabitants from sin and death. It will be the only planet from which Jehovah will have taken 144,000 of its inhabitants to be “heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ.”

He was like a little kid on Christmas morning, Farmer Mort was. Later on he identified almost all of the items on my City Slicker’s Quiz. I was bummed. I had hoped to flummox him like he had flummoxed us with his Farmer’s Quiz. He missed only #6—the kitchen faucet—which he incorrectly identified as a grab bar for use in the event of an earthquake. I think he was just pulling my leg. I think he really knew what it was. He just saw my spirits sink as he effortlessly ticked off the correct answers and threw me that one as a bone.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Search for Those Who are Interested Without Putting into a Panic Those Who are Not

I worked with someone in field service recently who was—shall we say—in over-enthused mode. The householder, accordingly, was doing all he could to ensure that the brother did not lay a glove on him. He did not want a fire and he was trying for all he was worth to hose us down. He brought up how he believes each one has his own belief, and furthermore, each one has the obligation to respect the other person’s belief, and so forth. 

Did the brother take the hint? Not a bit of it. He remained convinced that just one more pointjust one more sentence from him would turn the whole situation around—and so he kept pressing, while the poor householder was practically working himself into a frenzy.

I interrupted. I rarely do. Contrary to those videos in which the two witnesses stand side-by-side in oddly choreographed behavior, or at least it seems that way to me, I usually hang well back and give the appearance that I am just barely paying attention—this is so it does not appear to be two ganging up against one. I especially do this if it is a woman that answers the door.

With the householder getting agitated—an entirely reasonable response given the brother’s full court press, I interjected: “Let me tell you how it works with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” They both paused. “We ARE going to ask you to convert,” I told him. “But it is not going to happen until the 100th call, and what are the chances anything will go that long? In the meantime, it’s just conversation.”

The tension instantly broke. The person visibly relaxed. “Oh—it is just conversation,” he reflected. Then he allowed that over the years JWs had already probably called upon him 100 times, but even so he (and the other brother’s) demeanor changed. We wrapped up without fuss and moved on. It is a method I heartily recommend, having seen it bear good fruit many times. Search for those who are interested without putting into a panic those who are not.

I probably also said something at the end about how we come without appointment—something that is almost unheard of today—so if someone is gracious to us—as he had been (for he was not at all unpleasant)—we truly appreciate it.

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Jon

Jon knew dirty rotten lowlifes well, to use one of his favorite phrases. “You know that car dealer on TV?” he’d say, speaking of certain commercials. “I know him. He’s a dirty rotten lowlife. I’ve seen him at the auction. He has a woman in one arm and he holds a drink in the other.” Jon knew dirty rotten lowlifes because he had been dirtier than any of them. When he muscled in on the mob’s territory, the mob came to pay him a visit. He emerged from his shack with a live grenade in each hand! “Now, what is it that you boys wanted?” They suddenly remembered that they really hadn’t wanted anything at all.

Years later, after Jon had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, my son began to sweat when police stopped the car his friend was driving. The two had some fireworks inside—not exactly legal at the time. “Watch this,” the friend said as the policeman approached. The cop asked for his license. “Officer,” the friend asked, ‘“do you know my dad, Jon Markow?” A pause. “This doesn’t say Markow,” the cop said, examining the license. “It says Sanchez.” “Yeah, Jon married my mom. He’s the one who raised me.” This got the officer thinking, and presently he bid my son and friend a good evening and let them go with a friendly admonition to drive safely.

“See that fellow over there?” one cop said to his buddy at the coffee shop, pointing to Jon. “He used to be the meanest SOB around and he turned out better than all of us.”

At a committee meeting over an elder who turned out to be a real stinker and Jon saw it before anyone else—in fact, he spotted it instantly, mostly because he had traveled in the same circles—Jon stated what he had seen and that elder called him a liar. Jon reached across the table and half yanked him out of his chair by the lapels. It was all the other brothers could do to persuade him that “we don’t do it that way here, Jon.”

“How can you brothers be so naive!?” he said astounded to those ones, who could not believe the evidence unfolding right before their eyes. But after the dust finally settled, one of them approached to say: “You’re right, Jon. We are naive.” Sometimes elders are naive.

He also told off a certain overbearing traveling overseer. His body of elders had worked and worked and had a huge number all pumped up excited during the month over auxiliary pioneering—people that hadn’t done it in ages or even ever. They had rearranged priorities and were all hopped up. The visitor came along and said: “Well, it’s a good start.” “Way to crush the spirit of the congregation,” Jon told him.

Besides my sympathies to the family, his death made me sit up and take notice. It didn’t shake me to the core—that would be too strong to put it that way—but it drew more attention than the deaths of most people for whom I am inclined to pass off as ‘another one bites the dust.’ Sounds callous, I know, but I really am one who believes in the resurrection—death is just the beginning of a long but temporary leave-of-absence and I know that I will not see them for a long while but in most cases I was not seeing them anyway. I have said before that “nobody wants to die—it’s inconvenient and it makes people feel bad,” but other than that—so what? The resurrection will undo it all. Jon’s death was different.

He really wasn’t that old—maybe just two or three years more than me, I think. He might even have been younger. Your definition of what is ‘old’ increases as you get older yourself. I am of the age where I think that I have 20 good years ahead of me, plenty of time to get everything down in writing. But you never know. Maybe life will throw a me curve ball and I will be gone tomorrow. What is that verse about how we are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing? Ah—here it is: James 4:14. “Tell your dad you love him,” Davey-the-Kid said to me after his dad died unexpectedly, for which notice they had paged him at the Pittsburgh Special Assembly.

I have said once or twice—no more than that because I really liked the man—that Jon was the originator of 100 stories, each one of which he was the hero. Ordinarily this would be an extremely tiresome quality, but in Jon it was not—I think because I never doubted (and still don’t) that each and every story was true and he really did act as a hero. One can tell when something has the ring of truth and corresponds with experience and known fact in every conceivable way. Having seen it all, he had turned all his energy and empathy towards the congregation and the ones within it.

I have fond memories of our family camping with his at the campground In upstate New York. The two of us would talk for hours by the campfire and then continue while walking the grounds. Sometimes the most trivial details are the ones that survive. Jon used an expression that I had never heard before (or since). I asked him about it. I found it humorous and thus it became a running joke—“throw one over the hoop.” It means taking a leak, and I suppose it is a reference to slobs too lazy to put the toilet seat up. “I’m off to throw one over the hoop,” we would tell each other throughout the weekend, particularly after downing a beer or two.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Two Verses for the Dysfunctional Family

A recent circuit overseer spoke about how Jehovah has gathered people into one “large, unified, happy, somewhat dysfunctional family.” “Dysfunctional” is the key. Nobody of Jehovah’s Witnesses would say that they are not. It is still head-and-shoulders above the greater world, which is not described as a family at all, and when it is, it is only by the most ridiculous exaggeration. The governor of New York State has been known to refer to “the family of New York.” It is a tough sell. One “family member” wins the Nobel Prize. Another family member gets life in prison for knifing his fellow family member to death.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are very much a counseling organization, taking a cue from verses such as Proverbs 22:17—“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise ones, that you may apply your very heart to my knowledge.” God though his written book counsels us. Christ counsels his disciples. Elders, as shepherds in the congregations, counsel the flock. Parents counsel their children. Older men counsel younger men. Older women counsel younger women. It can even work in reverse, as when young Elihu counsels the three men each old enough to be his father. It is all based on God’s message and it all stems from the fact that when we draw close to God, it is not he that is going to benefit from our example—it is we that is going to benefit from his.

The trouble is, the only ones who give the exactly correct counsel at just the right time and to just the right degree are God and Christ Jesus. Everyone else misses the mark—sometimes by a mile. Usually the counsel itself is not wrong, but it may be too strong, too irrelevant, too clumsily stated, too diluted by our own imperfect example, and so forth. Everybody feels free to have a go at it, and Anthony Morris has described the challenge of making your magazine presentation with a critic by your side. 

Also, it is extremely difficult to counsel a worldwide body of people, as the Governing Body does. One person says: “Thank’s for the new RULE!” and his neighbor says: “Huh? Did you say something?” Finding just the right balance is tough. Where they are strong, it is because they don’t want to find themselves in the shoes of Lot—whose son-in-laws thought he was joking. They take their shepherding role seriously.

At an elder school I attended—for at one time I was one—an instructor led around a string on a table with forefinger firmly applied to one end. “See how the rest of the string follows so nicely?” he asked. He then reversed course and tried to “push” the string. “See how it bunches up when I do that?” he said. A pause followed during which he tried to make it work. “It’s really not too smart of me to do it this way, is it?” The lesson, of course, was to lead by example, and not by being “pushy.”

Lots of Witnesses are “pushy”—not necessarily elders, but anyone. People take it as akin to bullying in some cases. Sometimes we “counsel” each other and it would be better to just let things ride. Sometimes we “counsel” each other and we forget to examine the rafter in our own eye. Peer pressure can be a good thing, encouraging us all to hold the course, but our imperfection can make it stifling. Sometimes we have to tell people to mind their own business. Much of this abrasion has been and is being refined out of us but it will never vanish.

I wrote a post about spiritual progress over the last 50 years, addressed to someone inclined to be critical:

I would say the numerous schools that exist now that did not 50 years ago fits the bill. For elders, ministerial servants, traveling reps, etc. Intense and reoccurring instruction lasting anywhere from a weekend to a few weeks. I have attended some of these schools. Almost all content is on imitating Jesus’ manner of dealing with the flock, dealing with those in the ministry, showing tenderness, not lording it over, leading by example, and so forth. Very little is on what would be called ‘doctrinal.’ [I then included the above paragraph about the elder and the string]

“These schools have a cumulative effect of refining those exercising any authority. That they are needed can be inferred from Jesus’ dealings with those to whom he granted the greatest authority. Even on the eve of his death he interceded in an argument they were having as to which one of them was the greatest, the same as you might do with children. (Luke 22:24)

“Take that into account for anyone carrying on about how inspired, unerring, and pure the leaders were back then and by extension ought be today. Grown men are capable of behaving like children. It happened then, it happens today. Refresher course training in which students will focus on scores of scriptures—and if they prepare as they ought—hundreds of scriptures, go a long way towards training those in authority to lead and shepherd as Christ did.

“And, far from the Governing Body dreaming up a school that they ride above and apply to everyone else, when such a school is formulated, they put themselves through it first. They do not imagine that they cannot benefit from intense review of how Jesus dealt with people.”

So Jehovah refines his people. The benefit of elders being refined is that it trickles down to everyone else as well. Jehovah unites a people that would not otherwise be united. To the contrary, many would be at each other’s throats, squabbling over issues of class, economics, education, political leaning, race, nationalism. If you were not in the truth, you would choose as friends those with whom you naturally get along, but as congregation members, our friends include ones with whom getting along is not a natural for us.

Two verses help me immensely. Both have been expounded upon in our program recently. Philippians 2:3,4—“...doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” I love that point. At first glance, it might strike one as ridiculous. How can I think you superior to me and at the same time you think me superior to yourself? The answer was supplied in a recent study article. Everyone is superior to the other in at least one way. Find that way and hone in on it. When you see that person, make sure that’s the first thing that comes to mind. It works wonders for human relations.

The other verse is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 about love. It...”does not keep account of the injury....bears all things...endures all things.” At the Regional Convention, these verses were given their standard application how we keep this in mind as we view others. But what was new—at least to me—was the idea that they will do the same with regard to us. We might really be outrageous in one or more aspects, yet if we are known for love, people will overlook it!

Listen—I know the temptation. They will pour on the syrup from Bethel and you just want to scream: “Enough! Call a spade a spade! This guy’s an idiot!” But it has to be that way—or at any rate it is that way. It is the only way to bind a people of infinite diversity, barring just one item, into one.

 

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A Review of a Review of Richard Jewell

“Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell tries to raise up the little guy. But It takes unnecessary shots in the process,” said the Time review. Readers weren’t having any of it.

“For some reason the same media that helped try to destroy this guy is pretty lukewarm on the movie about it,” tweeted Dan.

“Stephanie Zacharek is one of those writers that's more interested in [dissing] someone who doesn't fawn over the press than getting her facts straight,” added Penny.

William darkly warned: “Beware of journalists angry over this movie. Let's hope they do not become violent because of it.”

Richard Jewell was a security guard at the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. He spotted an abandoned backpack. It looked suspicious. He reported it and authorities had enough time to start evacuating the area before it exploded. One died and over 100 were injured yet it could have been far worse. His actions saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives. For a time he was a hero. But then the FBI began to suspect him. When it did, the Atlanta newspaper poured gas on rumors—and his life accordingly went up in flames. For months he faced media frenzy wherever he went. Stephanie describes him as “portly and friendly” a man who is a bit odd, still “a zealously upstanding citizen with dreams of someday working in law enforcement....[with] no reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt.” He died at 44. Can anyone think his undeserved pariah-ship did not hasten his death?

Dmin let out a tentative feeler: “I have often wondered if Richard Jewel was someway under suspicion as a result of "fat shaming"? If he had been more movie star perfect would his actions have brought the same scrutiny and speculation?”

One can also read “job shaming” to the list—Jewell is a wannabe cop, not a real one, “shamed” in the same way that mall policemen are “shamed.” One might even add “class shaming”—Jewell was single and lived with his mother. Was it a rush to judgment from someone who was none of these things—a jab from one perceived to had “made it” in life toward one who had not? Probably the ones who commented were people like me—people who saw events unfold in real time and were aghast at the zeal with which the big little man was crucified.

The movie is a “well-acted picture about a clear act of injustice against an innocent man. So why does it leave such a sour aftertaste?” asks the reviewer. I will venture that it does not to anyone other than a journalist. It does to reviewer Stephanie because it is one of her own who is skewered, the late reporter Kathy Scruggs. She’s not painted fairly, is the complaint, as though the purpose of the movie—of any movie—is to celebrate fourth estate journalism. The more I read the review, the more fed up I become. The profession that points the finger at everyone else has the thinnest skin of all when even one of the three fingers points back.

She writes: “Eastwood shows the utmost compassion for Richard Jewell, the wrongfully accused little guy. But his generosity stops there, and he shows particular vitriol and distaste for Scruggs. She is played as “a brazen smarty, a seasoned pro who zips from here to there, wherever the sirens take her. Her blouse may be unbuttoned a little too low, her skirt is perhaps a bit too short, but it’s all part of the game, and of her personal style. You can certainly make the case that Scruggs ran with the Richard Jewell story too soon, or used poor judgment in revealing his name. But all Eastwood can see is the vixen journo who’ll do anything for a story.”

I think that’s all most people can see in the wake of a speculative hit piece that destroys a person—while their sympathy wears thin with regard to the one who does it. “Scruggs—who died in 2001—was a real person” [as though Jewell was not]. Furthermore, “she’s no longer here to defend herself” [as Jewell was, but it didn’t do him a bit of good in the face of a journalistic assault].

It’s clear where Ms. Zacharek’s sympathy lies. Was the woman reporter truly a “brazen smarty?” Family and friends say no—she wouldn’t go so far as the implied trading of sex for a story—though they all agree on attributes such as “ball-busting,” “profane,” “loud,” “brash,” “liked to party,” “smoked like a chimney,” fond of  “Johnie Walker Red,” noteworthy for her “short skirts.” No crime in those things, but one might almost think a director could be cut some slack for confusing a person who so closely resembles a brazen smarty with an actual one that he couldn’t tell the difference.

Incredibly, a Scruggs colleague mourns that stress over the article is what killed her—oblivious to the collateral damage that takes out Jewell. “It destroyed her," she says quietly. Then she recalls a pivotal time that Scrugg’s editor “told her she needed to apologize. Instead, she quit." That’s what will infuriate anyone who is not a journalist. ‘Just apologize,’ the editor says. She can’t do it. A real genuine “loud” and “brash” swan dive of a public apology was all that was needed—it always worked for Ralph Kramden. Jewell would have forgiven it all—and if not he, then everyone else—for we all make mistakes and everybody knows it. She couldn’t do it.

Look, everyone sticks up for their own. It is to be expected. It is not wrong of Stephanie to do that. It is even commendable, so long as it does not overshadow everything else. Let Eastwood apologize to her if he is inclined—no harm in that, I don’t think. Warner Brothers outright refuses to. The movie states up front that certain historical events have been dramatized, they point out, as they always are in movies—what is it with people who cannot apologize? Would not life be so much more agreeable if they could? To be sure, sometimes the one seeking apology seeks considerably more than apology; sometimes what is sought is acquiescence to every aspect of a point of view, but apologies can be worded to not go that far if that is what is desired. Maybe no one apologizes anymore for fear lawyers will pounce upon one as a sure admission of guilt.

From the beginning of cinema, directors have realized that a movie needs a villain—otherwise the audience falls asleep. It can’t be all earnest people doing their level best and yet it all goes to hell anyway—what would that say about the world we are supposed to feel good about? What about Sully, another Eastwood movie, that painted the FAA as the villain? Did that one bother the Time reviewer? In fact, the FAA accepted from the beginning that Sully was a hero and did not hassle him at all, but Eastwood needed a villain and—come on! who makes a better villain than the government?

Another Eastwood movie (A Perfect World) even took a shot at my people, and you didn’t hear me complain about it (much), did you? “We have a higher calling,” the Jehovah’s Witness mom says as she disallows her kids to go trick or treating. No Witness in 1000 years is going to say, “We have a higher calling” to her kids—they simply don’t talk that way—so I knew that it was not personal with Clint. He just needed a villain. You didn’t catch JWs trying to torpedo A Perfect World on that account, did you, the way the press is waging war against this movie for touching one of its own?

John Hafley I can picture snorting out coffee through his nose. “Are you kidding me, Time? unnecessary shots?” he tweets of the review. “It is a fantastic historic review of how power and the press can destroy the innocent for sex and money. The strong will do what they can, the weak will suffer what they must.” He doesn’t even extend the benefit of the doubt to the reporter, so caught up is he with the plight of the victim.

 

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Sputnik and 1957: Fearful Sights and from Heaven Great Signs?

For a brief time, Mike Tussin was a roommate of mine. He drove me nuts in taking literally the admonition to read God’s Word “in an undertone day and night.” In time, he learned that he had better not do it in my presence. I logged some of his exploits in No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash.

He was one of the most squirrelly characters that you will ever hope to meet, and yet—people are a mix—he had the most telling common sense, knack for nailing aspects of human nature (though mixed with an odd naïveté), no fear whatsoever of man, and the ability to simplify the complex. I can hear him now explaining to someone or other just how it worked with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, composed of anointed Christians. This would have been in the early 1970s.

They study and study their Bibles and one of them notices a point and discusses it with the others. They continue to turn it over and over. If their discussion reaches the point of agreement, that idea finds its way into the Watchtower—that’s how God’s people are fed spiritually today.

“Now, in your own personal study, you may have noticed that point, too, maybe even before they did. And if this was Christendom, you’d go out and start your own religion over it.” 

He captured it. I like the idea of ‘They’re not the only people who can think’ as well as the notion of waiting on headship and not running ahead. Present your idea, but if it doesn’t get adopted, don’t lose your cookies over it. The ship cannot sail in every direction at once.

Rumor has it that Sputnik came up for discussion at the Bethel table after 1957, but it was aborted before takeoff. Might that date not be a milestone in the last days stream of time commencing with the outbreak of World War I in 1914–a year marking the first time in history that the entire world went to war at once? Throw in the greatest plague of history, the Spanish flu of 1917, the colossal food shortages that always accompany colossal war, and viola!—one is powerfully reminded of Luke 21:10:

Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in one place after another food shortages and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and from heaven great signs.”

Might 1957 Sputnik mark a mighty exclamation mark in “fearful sights and great signs from heaven?” It certainly scared the bejeebers out of the Americans, and within 3 years President Kennedy declared that the US would not play second fiddle to the Russians. They would join—and so make it—a “space race” by sending a man to the moon.

It is worth a simulated launch, I guess—presenting the idea at Bethel—three GB members batted about the idea, I’m told, but I’m glad that it blew up on the pad. The “fearfulness” would have been lost on most people. Did the race have military implications? Relatively few catch the implications of anything. They take it at face value, as it was popularly repackaged just a few years later:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!

On a flight to Damascus, Bill had a vision of such. Some strange fellow that he probably took for an angel presented the idea to him right there as he was riding in the Shatner seat. Like Saul, it disoriented him completely for a time, and the other passengers heard of the disturbance, sure enough, but witnessed nothing themselves.

As a boy, I never once trembled when they launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral. I always took it in the spirit of advancing technology, advancing exploration, and so forth. It’s one of the few major accomplishments of men that has NOT been quickly put to military use—though that could ever change—the way that airplanes were. No sooner had they been invented then they were strafing the towns of Europe and dogfighting each other in the skies.

In contrast to 1957, World War I was not only perceived by just about everyone, but it was instantly perceived as a negative. Probably that’s what the other GB members pointed out, sending the three Bethel “astronauts” pitching the notion hurtling off like Darth Vader in his crippled craft, careening off to the pantry for a donut or two.

Hmm. Maybe an update could incorporate robocalls from the cloud. What year did they begin? Truly, they cause men to raise their faces and curse the heavens. Truly, they too, are instantly perceived as a great evil, as any time-share owner in the Everglades knows.

You know, as I read the 1960 speech, I can see how the idea might come up for discussion at Bethel. Despite my innocuous take expressed about it—a take that has mostly played out (but may someday not)—there certainly were military overtones—overtones that just might make some tremble—in JFKs speech rallying Americans to support a moon launch. Everything must be considered in its own historical context. I’ve added italics to his words that play this way:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? 

“We choose to go to the Moon...We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Yes, you could read a measure of terror into that speech if you were of a mind to, though I did not as a boy. The President says: “Space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.”

What are the chances of that happening?

 

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Love Those Hyperboles! Jesus Tells of the Unrighteous Judge

When my turn came to comment, I pointed out that when a woman is on full throttle pressing for what she wants, nothing, but nothing, does not yield to her.  (I also pointed out that I knew this only from what others had told me—I did not know it from personal experience.) When I took my wife’s hand just after the meeting, the sister behind me said: “Oh, it’s too late now for kissing up! You should have thought of that before!”

“Look at the poor guy!” I had said of the unrighteous judge pictured on the video screen. “Leaning back in the chair in total defeat, his one hand tugging at his beard, the fingers of his other hand running through his hair! He doesn’t care about God. He doesn’t care about Man. But this woman continually pleading before him is driving him to distraction! He’ll give her anything she wants—if only she will stop!”

And then—who is the unrighteous judge said to represent? God!! ‘Look, if you can pester this jerk into giving you justice, how much more so God, who is not inclined to deny it in the first place!’ goes the thinking. Don’t ever say that Jesus does not relish in hyperbole—it is a staple in his tool box—but this is more than hyperbole. It is ‘hyperbole with a twist’ or ‘hyperbole on the rocks’ or something!

Here is the parable from Luke 18:2-7

In a certain city there was a judge who had no fear of God and no respect for man. There was also a widow in that city who kept going to him and saying, ‘See that I get justice from my legal opponent.’ Well, for a while he was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Although I do not fear God or respect any man, because this widow keeps making me trouble, I will see that she gets justice so that she will not keep coming and wearing me out with her demand.’”

Then the Lord said: “Hear what the judge, although unrighteous, said!  Certainly, then, will not God cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, while he is patient toward them?  I tell you, he will cause justice to be done to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man arrives, will he really find this faith on the earth?”

Judges weren’t in a hurry back then to bend to the concerns of the poor. They might hold out for a bribe, they might insist on indecipherable procedure, they might just be in a bad mood. To some extent this is true today—they hailing from a class that cannot comprehend the background concerns of the lowly. I had my own slight whiff of this years ago when I took a matter to small claims court and the other fellow simply hired a lawyer who knew his way around whereas I did not. All hell broke out when I went to hand the judge a document without first asking to “approach the bench.”

I also like the detail thrown in about God: will he not “cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, while he is patient toward them?” Being “patient toward them” is an unnecessary detail—it doesn’t have to be there. It heightens the contrast between God and the unrighteous judge, to be sure, but the parable would stand without it.

So it must be that the concerns we bring to God are, in the greater scheme of things, quite small to him. “Oh, for crying out loud!” we can picture a pompous human judge saying, “THAT is you silly problem that you can’t solve by yourself and have to pester me with it?”

God doesn’t do that. High though he may be, he is approachable over low things.

The second part of the lesson—this was the Jesus Life and Ministry study for the week of 12/8/19—featured another hyperbole of sorts, the contrast between two who approached Him.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and began to pray these things to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like everyone else​—extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers—​or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give the tenth of all things I acquire.’

But the tax collector, standing at a distance, was not willing even to raise his eyes heavenward but kept beating his chest, saying, ‘O God, be gracious to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his home and was proved more righteous than that Pharisee. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humiliated, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

If you brag on yourself, that opens up a superior distance with regard to others. But if you don’t brag and yet put others down, the effect is the same—it just shifts to another position on the scale. This jerk of a Pharisee does BOTH. He brags on himself AND he puts down the lowly fellow next to him. (Tax collectors, by the way, were universally despised at the time, because they were more or less thugs given to shaking people down for whatever they could get, often irrespective of what they were owed.)

It’s an over-the-top illustration that somehow conveys in the most touching manner what flies and does not fly in God’s eyes. One brother at the meeting said how, if you put the fasting as a deed of the tax collector, it would mean something, for fasting was a way of showing sincere grief over past moral failings. The Pharisee didn’t seem to grieve too much, did he? Such a self-satisfied lout would be hard to top.

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Sabotaging the Mission—With Ecstatica

Sly aliens slipped into the solar system. Lieutenant Okkshat donned his headset to get a feel for the earthlings.

‘My doctor told me to try Ecstatica. I’m glad he did. No more dragged-out feeling. No more sad thoughts. No more cramps. No more gut aches. I feel alive! Thank you, Ecstatica.’

‘Earthlings have discovered the secret elixir of life!’ Lieutenant Okkshat exclaimed. ‘Let’s invade tonight and take it from them. It will pay for the invasion. As Grand Conqueror, you can have the first dose!’

‘Good thinking!’ answered Captain Ooblchk. ‘Lemme see those headphones.’

‘Ecstatica may cause dizziness and vomiting, swelling and constipation. It may cause heart palpitations and elevated cholesterol, which may lead to death.’

Captain Ooblchk threw down the headphones in disgust. ‘Sabotaging the mission again, are you, Okkshat? I knew you were a traitor! Guards, toss him into deep space! That ought to cool his jets!’

From the ebook: No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 

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“I Like Ike”—But Not as Much as Before—Eisenhower’s JW Connection

Dwight D. Eisenhower became Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II, and later President of the United States, utilizing the diplomatic and interpersonal skills he learned during his lifetime from all sources. “I Like Ike” was his campaign slogan. I can still recall the placards.

Surely, one of those “sources” whereby he learned so much was his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, that of a faith then known under the unwieldy moniker of the International Bible Students. It was Eisenhower who, upon leaving office, warned of a growing “military-industrial complex” that later became the war cry of a protest generation. It was originally to be the “military-industrial-congressional complex” but Eisenhower deleted the last party out of concern not to antagonize members of that body. Doesn’t that triumvirate smack of the “big business-big government-big military” runners of this world that Witnesses used to carry on about back in the day?

Still, I’ve soured on my view of Dwight in recent years.

As Supreme Commander, it was he who liberated the concentration camps. There is an account of a certain nearby German mayor pleading ignorance during that time, an enraged Eisenhower forcing him to tour the camp himself, and the next day that mayor hung himself.

The national system of interstate four-lane divided highways is named after him. You wouldn’t be able to get around in a timely way without them. It is a good symbolism for how he stabilized the country after the war and put it on sound footing to prosper through speedy transportation and commerce. One aspect of the system was that the roadways could be used to evacuate areas quickly in the event of nuclear war. They are used that way today to evacuate for approaching hurricanes. It’s all a good legacy to the man.

He did good things. He is essentially the savior of the world, and then the nurturer of America afterwards. But with my visit to his home in Gettysburg, his star began to fade—for reasons that are not likely to resonate with the average person.

Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide suffered intense persecution during WWII. There were only about 75,000 of them—not the 8 million of today. In the US, many were beaten, others rounded up and arrested without trial, some tarred and feathered. There were a few that were killed. 

He could have stopped it! He could have explained just who and what they were. No one on the political scene knew them better than he. It was his mama’s religion, and the woman remained faithful to her death. He was raised in it. “Look, they’re patriotic in their own way—they hold off on fighting because of their own religious views about God’s kingdom. They are honest and hard-working otherwise. They are harmless. They are not traitors. It is free speech they are engaging in, and that’s what I am in Europe fighting for!” He could have said that, and probably ended their persecution. Others did speak out in behalf of the Witnesses—notably Eleanor Roosevelt and the ACLU. He kept mum.

It is impossible for me not to think that he kept his mouth shut with regard to his mother’s “brothers” so as not to harm his stature and political career—both during the war and afterwards. That harsh verdict is tempered by the fact that he truly did good by WWII standards and 8 years of presidential standards—and NATO chief afterwards. To the extent that the earth swallows the river disgorged by the dragon, he plays a most significant role. Maybe had he not been where he was, his substitute would have botched everything up. Still, when push comes to shove, he did sell out his childhood “brothers.”

In a sense he was like Pilate, who knew very well that Jesus was innocent, but he also had a province to run and he decided that was more important. “Give the scoundrels what they want, and keep them out of my hair,” was his attitude. It may be the same with Putin, who says: “I don’t understand why we are persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses—aren’t they Christians, too?” But, one year later, persecution just keeps rolling on, so it obviously is not a priority to him.

Even now the National Historical Park Service, that is not wrong on anything, stays wrong with regard to Eisenhower’s upbringing. The ranger during my visit said that he was raised Mennonite, and he wasn’t. He was raised a Witness. Keep that embarrassing fact well-hidden, so as not to jeopardize his or his families social stature. They are a respected family and they want to remain so. They can survive a Mennonite connection, for that can be passed off as quaint. But they dare not take their chances with a Jehovah’s Witness connection, and the National Park Service helps them maintain this convenient substitution. The actual facts of Dwight’s upbringing lead to somewhere embarrassing for a national figure, and so they don’t go there.

It is hard for me not to think of Jesus’ words that “you will be hated for the sake of my name.” Just the thought of being associated with those carrying out the kingdom proclamation work that he originated and that others spearheaded is enough to make a prominent national leader turn tail and run like a rabbit. “How can you believe,” Jesus asks, “when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” Exactly. Dwight did know that you cannot play it both ways. You must choose. He chose to “keep religion in its place.” As is usually the case, that means last place.

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