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One Virtual Convention Replaces a Few Hundred Physical Ones

It started yesterday, just after the congregation meeting via zoom, just like Rocky said it would. It is divided up into 6 sessions, to be streamed from the website. The invitation is to view them directly after the abbreviated Watchtower Study, but they can be watched anytime.

I appreciated that the program went on with barely a hiccup, transferred to virtual. You just know that Zoom is giving people ideas. It works so well that even when the ‘coast is clear’ signal is given—assuming that it is someday—it will still play some role yet to be determined. At the very least, it will be the new option for people who can’t physically get to meetings, replacing the telephone tie-in. I could be wrong, but...let us be perfect candid...how likely is that?

Remember how Wayne Whitepebble used to carry on about the huge expense per family to attend? Even with economizing and choosing hotels on the recommended lodging list, it still was an annual expense of several hundred dollars. I wouldn’t be surprised if virtual supplements actual to some extent in the future.

On the first day, I liked the many stadium shots of Regional Conventions during the music introduction, and I even prefer the song in languages I do not understand—it gives it more of an international flavor.

Not only did they all start yesterday—actually just one now—but the entire world membership and their guests saw it. Even foreign languages—Rocky says last year there were about 100–saw the same speakers, with translation dubbed in. Of course, speakers at the Regionals of previous years have never been clunkers, but this year it is Governing Body members and their direct helpers—even better.

Some wiseacre has put out a meme, and it has been going around for awhile, of how to “prepare” for the virtual convention. It involves replicating all the inconveniences, and even aggravations, of the actual physical conventions. It’s very funny, and the friends love it.

Suggestions include making sure that you choose an uncomfortable chair to sit in, and then ramming another chair directly in front of it so you have no foot room. Make sure that you have an unstable platform for taking notes so that your notes (or even device) is sure to fall on the floor a time or two—and so forth—there are about a dozen of them. I even added one directed to a group of youthful sisters online—prepare ahead of time photos of all the eligible brothers so that you may engage in “fellowshopping” between sessions. 

Some of the dozen of so items of the list are not aggravating at all—they are merely inconveniences that are part of the package—they even contribute to the annual excitement. Still, streaming offers a way around much of what frustrates, while saving each family a huge amount of dough. We will see how much of it survives. Already in Rochester, at the last moment last year, Regional Conventions were cancelled at the location we had been using for 30 years. A change in management dramatically hiked the rates, and also (I am told) insisted that all pass through metal detectors manned by the facilities‘ own staff in order to enter. Disney on Ice, along with some Monster Truck Rally, also cancelled.

Through the years, Witnesses have developed a huge attendant department that will be far more vigilant than anything building management can come up with and that can spot a suspicious character blocks away, but new management would yield on nothing. We are to believe that some sleepy door employee, paid as little as possible, who will shake down a old man for a nail clipper and let an occasional knife slip by—we all know how these things work—is going to be more effective than our own people—alert due to love of those they protect? I don’t think so.

Witnesses canceled, with about three weeks to go before start of convention. Things hung in the air, though all were assured, and nobody doubted, that alternative arrangements would be made. They were—all was transferred to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, about four hours away for my wife and I. This year (prior to Covid-19) the entire 2020 Convention was going to be held at the Assembly Hall—an unheard of development (at least for me) that would entail splitting it up into a dozen different sections. 

It also doesn’t hurt that a small but very vociferous bevy of protesters is also thwarted by the switch—one reason the attendant department was so well organized was to prevent these ones getting in the face of visitors who aimed only to attend the convention in peace. The world has gone nuts in protesting things, and it can lead to the impression that many people don’t really have much to do with their lives. 

So changes were already underway In some places, and now with Covid-19, maybe some new ones may endure even once the all-clear signal is given. Unprecedented recent chaos made more timely the point raised by the keynote speaker, Kenneth Cook: “Is it possible to rejoice as the world crumbles around us?” It certainly is crumbling, and there isn’t a lot of hope among the general populace these days.

I had been told that Mark Sanderson’s talk Friday morning would be super-encouraging, on how one may “rejoice under persecution,” and it was. It even, as though for a personal zing to me, concluded with the same experience that I have used to conclude ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’—of a Russian brother sentenced to prison, who in slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion (which may or may not have been wise), invited the court to consider several years into the future, where there will be so many Witnesses in prison, and they will have so many Bible studies there—he had worked out the ratios—that when their sentences were up, they will not want to leave, and the Russian court would regret having ever sent them there in the first place. “He has a way with words, doesn’t he?” I concluded the book. “And math.”

(Like Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, I have used Covid-19 time to clear up blips, typos, and punctuation faux pas in ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ that should have been cleared up before release, but I am only one person who had no idea how stubborn those things would be to get out, There were not nearly so many as the other book—the original was composed differently—but there were some, particularly at the end where I had very sloppily appended some updates post-publication. They’re all cleaned up, now.)

Then, too, there was that series of videos—the kind they always have—on ordinary scenarious and snares with which to cope. My wife has worked in machine shops. When that brother in the video dumped his cup of coffee and fried out the machine, she knew what that machine was. She knew how much it cost. She knew how much trouble he was in.

Did anyone else think that the janitor peering through the glass panel of the door—who saw it all—could have been like old Roger Chillingsworth had that brother tried to hide his ”sin?” Maybe he would have tormented the brother’s conscience until years later he would collapse on the floor, and co-workers would rip open his shirt to see “I did it” branded on his chest.

I sort of liked the line, “It even smells of coffee,” as they were thinking how feasible it might be to try to cover it up, before the brother decided (rather promptly) to fess up.

 

 

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“Do We Really Need a Hashtag #DontKillGrandma?” Said the CBS Doctor.

The reason that the Governing Body can say “follow the direction of secular authority” and still have that count as spiritual guidance is that (with some exaggeration) Jehovah’s Witnesses can do it, and non-believers cannot. It’s not monolithic, of course, but as a system of proportions the above  can be said, as long as you qualify it an admission of exaggerating. It becomes hyperbole—the most effective of literary innovations—Jesus used them all the time—its effectiveness inferred with the observation that people of common sense get the point and people without do not.

“Following the direction of secular authority” in this case, entails putting up with delayed gratification. Those within the Christian congregation are better at that than those without. It entails the willingness to obey. Those within the Christian congregation are better at that than those without. It entails the ability to put love of neighbor above self-interest. Those within the Christian congregation are better at that than those without. “Do we really need to have a hashtag, #DontKillGrandma? said the CBS medical doctor recently. Yes—they do, if present trends are anything to go by. Witnesses don’t, but they do. This “proves” that the Witness organization has done well imparting Bible principles into its members, since there are plenty of churches today fingered as spreaders of the virus. 

Jehovah’s Witnesses have put themselves among company in which peer-pressure is going to nudge them in the safer direction. Non-Witnesses, many of them, have put themselves in a place where their peer-pressure will nudge them in just the opposite way. Do not think that peer-pressure is nothing. It is the reason that we look at our photos of yesteryear and marvel at how we ever could have thought those dorky styles did anything for us.

I even told the CultExpert, the one with the hashtag #FreedomOfMind, that my people are, by and large, more responsible than his. You don’t think that some will use their “freedom of mind” to tell the government what it can do with its regulations? 

Vic Vomodog called on me the other day, trying once again to entice me into his sinister cause. I protested that he was wearing no mask, but he laughed at me! I told him how foolhardy he was, but he said that the danger is past—our state is one in which the rates peaked long ago, and are in steady decline. I pleaded with him, yet he waved me down with derisive hand gestures, just like opposers do in the dramas. However, the moment he stepped onto the public sidewalk, a truck loaded with emergency Covid 19 supplies bound for Texas jumped the curb and knocked him into the trees! And I can’t even visit him in the hospital—they’re not permitting that yet.

 

 

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I Never Wanted to Talk About the Bridegroom of Blood, Anyway—Nor Even Rizpah

When I wrote the post about deciphering the bridegroom of blood, I didn’t know that those verses were on the program. Our meeting is Thursday. Often I don’t preview it till that morning, even though the Bible chapters themselves I read before.

Thus it might have seemed that I was making some snarky remark about whatever had been written—I had’t checked it out yet—or what someone had said. I wasn’t. I didn’t know what was there. 

My post wasn’t really about Zipporah and Moses, anyway—that is but a side point. A person would never know it, because I wander all over before getting to the point, but the real point is that passages like this are very hard to explain to people, and that one effect of them existing is that they serve to separate persons conscious of their spiritual need from persons who are not. It is as though a forerunner of ‘separating the sheep from the goats.’

Ida Ho, who made a remarkable turnaround in her life upon becoming a Witness, had mentioned an apostate in her family who was impressed with the Dawkins book, The God Delusion, someone who “was inquisitive in all the wrong ways and too smart for his own boots.” These characters get separated out by such passages, and the others mentioned in the post, the one of God ‘making’ the blind one (Exodus 4:11) and the one of Jesus’ flesh and blood—true food and drink (John 6:55). The ones too “smart for their own boots“ (my wife says it is their pants they are too smart for) either are excited that they have a chance to prove themselves smarter than others by unraveling it—or by explaining what it tells us about some technical point that is not spiritual and doesn’t really matter, or they are put off by it being ‘ridiculous’ and ‘not worth their time’—and you almost wonder if it is deliberate of God’s part to trip them up this way—I think it is. 

I take such verses and for the most part I shelve them. I play around with them a little bit, but if you take them too seriously they become like that pebble in your shoe that begins to drive you nuts. Yeah—it could mean a lot of things, and there is not enough detail to know. Besides, they are essentially ‘trivia.’ Trivia doesn’t interest me all that much, even Bible trivia. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t. If there is not enough to go on, I make a few stabs at it, glean or salvage what I can, and move on.

It’s far more interesting to me how people are separated out over such things—and it is roughly according to their heart. I used to illustrate it with a secular parallel: “When Trump tweets that North Korea has launched its nuclear missels, people of common sense will run for the hills. People of critical thinking will run to their keyboards to point out that the idiot can’t even spell the word right.“

Unfortunately the secular situation has grown so toxic that I can barely use that illustration anymore, though I love it. Trump has been under non-stop attack since he began, he has a sizable ego, a background unlike any politician, a crazy set of trials, and he has taken to acting so erratically that you don’t know if he is losing it or if he is deliberately goading his enemies—the list of which grows ever longer with each erratic tweet. I don’t even pretend to know what is going on anymore. Heckuva system for running a country, though.

Rizpah offers another example of how sometimes we try to sanitize verses, whereas I almost think it would be better to say, “Hoo, boy!” and move on. Instead, we almost act as though ones like her are like modern-day Witnesses just transposed to a different setting, with concerns intact about dress & grooming, and turning in our time. 

With Rizpah, it’s a worse mess than with Zipporah:

“...the daughter of Saul whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite. Then he handed them over to the Gibeonites, and they hung their dead bodies on the mountain before Jehovah. All seven of them died together; they were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the start of the barley harvest. Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out on the rock from the start of harvest until rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies; she did not allow the birds of the heavens to land on them by day nor the wild beasts of the field to come near by night.” (1 Samuel 21:8-10)

When this was in our CLAM program, the comment was that Rizpah’s great love for God was such that she would not allow the hung bodies to be devoured by the birds overnight because she had such high regard for his law—as though any other woman would have no problem letting the birds devour the remains of her sons. She probably went insane, is my take, and whether she had regard for the law or not hardly seems the point. 

Now, it turns out that I amazed everyone by knowing all about Rizpah—an obscure character that no one else had ever heard of. The reason for this is that there is a book called Rizpah, by Charles E. Israel, that I read shortly after coming into the truth. The remarkable thing is that it made Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines, the pivotal  character and told everything though her eyes. And in her eyes, Saul was the hero, David the usurper, and “the scribes” had rewritten history to reverse what had really taken place. 

All the events in Bible narrative were covered. What was remarkable is that it all made perfect sense as she told it—events could be seen from that point of view. I’ll have to read the book again to see if I still feel that way—it’s sitting on my shelf now—I just got it from eBay. But it was the first in a series of impressions—sometimes they have grown weaker and sometimes stronger—that things can be presented another way, and that we choose the way we look at them because we choose a view that leads somewhere—if you choose Rizpah’s view, all you are left with are endless beefs about how things “should” have been.

For me, this carries over as to how we view ‘apostates.’ Things can be seen from their point of view, but we choose ours because it leads somewhere. We avoid theirs because it doesn’t. Or rather it does, just like Rizpah’s views, but it leads to places we do not want to go because of heart. They do want to go where they go, again because of heart. Head has little to do with it—it is just employed to devise a convincing rationale for what the heart has already chosen.

Our choice: matters of life being decided by Jehovah’s standards. Their choice: “The way of Jehovah is not adjusted right,” and thus they choose man’s rule (we do, too, have the wisdom to direct our own step!—and even if we don’t, no one’s telling us what to do!) or they choose ‘Jehovah-lite’—(let’s not worry about us being a people for his name. Let’s redefine it as he being a God for our name). In either case, the head is charged to spin no end of arguments to “make it so,” as Picard would say.

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Who is “Jehovah’s Mouthpiece,” Who is “Inspired,” and Who is “Spirit-Directed?”

Q: The Governing Body doesn’t directly write what becomes the spiritual food, does it? Doesn’t the Writing Committee originate it, and they merely put their stamp of approval on it?

A: The defining word here is “merely.”

If my roof caves in tomorrow and I decide that it’s God’s fault, or if I park on the Kingdom Hall lawn, the elders tell me not to, and I say, “Oh yeah?! Well I show you in my next post!”—if I do it at Bethel, the GB will “merely” decline to put their stamp of approval on my rant—they will put me on potato-peeling detail in the kitchen instead, and call up someone from the bullpen less deranged. But if I am a loose cannon on my own blog—there is nothing anyone can do when I go haywire. That’s why I don’t ever expect to be acknowledged for my self-appointed role as an apologist, much less commended for it. Even the real apologists of the early centuries have not fared will at the hands of the writing committee, that tends to focus on things they got wrong.

No, the “merely” is a big deal. It makes for constancy and consistency. Call it a “think tank” at Bethel if you will. It is a concentration of gray hairs and experience, of meeting trials, of knowing they are to be judged for their actions (or inaction), of following up on having brought understanding of the sacred writings to begin with. 

I can just shoot my mouth off here, say whatever pops into my head, insult Vic Vomodog whenever he deserves it (which is almost always), praise the Benoit Blanc movie* even though there is crude language—and perhaps I have never faced a care in the world. But they can’t. 

What are my morals? I could (to borrow from Bob Dylan) “be respectably married—or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aries.” Nobody knows. But the Bethel writers are vetted, not just for being good writers, but for being good Christians. They take it for granted there that if your conduct is sullied, somehow that will come out in your guidance, even if it doesn’t seem to at first glance.

I had a friend that, eccentric though he was, had a gift of making complex things simple—even oversimplifying to drive the point home.  I can still hear him recounting to someone just how it works in Jehovah’s organization: “At Bethel, the Governing Body study their Bibles. An idea will occur to one of them. They will discuss it among themselves and when they all come to agreement, it will appear in print.”

“Now, the thing is,” he continued, “you also study your Bible. The same idea might have occurred to you, maybe even before it occurred to them. ‘And if this were Christendom, you’d run out and start your own religion over it.’  But because you know it is not a free-for-all, and you know that Jehovah is a God of order, you wait for material to come through the appointed channel.”

So if they have called themselves “Jehovah’s mouthpiece” in the past, I can live with that. They have the greatest think tank collection of gray hairs that, per the scriptures, denotes wisdom, of experience in Christian works, in safeguarding and extending the king’s belongings, in knowing the will be held accountable before God. They have the  greatest sense of direction and following up on momentum. One must not do a Miriam and say—“does not Jehovah speak through all of us?” I am happy to have a thought that makes sense—I don’t go thinking I am God’s gift to the brotherhood for it.

The trouble is that there are so many literalists who see the expression “crocodile tears” and take it as proof that the one shedding them is a crocodile. There are so many literalists who do not strive to think of how phrases like “Jehovah’s mouthpiece” might apply, but they strive to think of how they don’t. It is the same with “being led by spirit.” It is almost too explosive a phrase to use because of the literalists—if you go to the bathroom—well—how can you be guided by spirit? since holy spirit would never do THAT!

It’s the same with elders and servants being “appointed by holy spirit.” How do you know they are? To my mind it is because the qualifications are in the Book inspired by holy spirit, and the judgment as to how persons measure up is made by a (small) “think tank” of holy spirit, and seconded by a traveling minister patterned after scripture—another repository of holy spirit. It works for me. But there will be some who think that if an appointee ever goes bad afterwards it must be that they were not appointed by holy spirit. I think not. Any of these terms must necessarily be “watered down” some when put in the context of humans, “in whose heart the inclination to do bad” is ingrained from his youth up.

I think of certain brother appointed upon the recommendation of the BOE. The circuit overseer, an older and very experienced man, okayed the recommendation, with the observation: “He’s not the most humble brother in the world.” He didn’t have to be. All he had to do was to meet each of the qualifications to an acceptable degree. Alas, the CO should have listened to his gut, for the man in time went apostate. He was the one who was a history buff and used to impress the householder by answering, “Because I’m an historian,” when asked how he knew this or that about the past. Once I said to him, “Will you knock it off?! You are a history buff. A historian is when other people acknowledge you, not just you yourself!”

I could be wrong, but I bet the GB has learned to be very leery of such phrases and terms as “mouthpiece” and “inspired” and “spirit-directed”—not just for all the literalists, but for all the critics (who are often the same).  Some things if they say just once, it is magnified 100 times. Other things they say 100 times, only to find it ignored. “Don’t save seats for everyone you know,” they would say about the Regionals, “think of the elderly.” Finally, they gave up, and said to let the elderly in early, and everyone else only after the oldsters were seated. Innumerable directives went unheeded. Yet if they speak just once about “forums,” their words are enshrined for all time. I alluded to this in Tom Irregardless and Me. The organization would say that the Governing Body does not endorse such and such, and the friends would accordingly have a helpful sense of priority and focus. And then Oscar or someone would be found doing it, and Tom Pearlandswine would descend to tell him that the Governing Body DOES NOT ENDORSE!!! such and such. You never know what quote will be magnified and what will be forgotten, but I bet they are advancing on the learning curve.

.....

*Aw, shut up, with your Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl!” the villain says to Benoit Blanc. it’s about time someone said it to me. (Someone just had.) If you see the movie ‘Knives Out’—it is free on Amazon Prime—you must be prepared for a bit of language. It is by no means filthy, by today’s standards—I don’t recall a single f-bomb—but no way is it pristine like in the Kingdom Hall. It is an Hercule Poirot parody, with Daniel Craig playing the Christie-like eccentric, brilliant, and world-renowned sleuth, Benoit Blanc. There is nothing funnier, to my mind, then when he opens his mouth to speak an overbearing combination of French/Southern Redneck accent. He routinely says things that, at first glance are profound, but at second are just plain stupid.

 
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“Just Another Proof that Jehovah is With the Governing Body”

“The good guidance from Jehovah”s Organization during this pandemic is just another proof that Jehovah is with the Governing Body,” said Brother Glockentin. But Vic Vomodog, that perennial apostate, wailed about ‘proof’—how does Glock know what it proves?

Change ‘proof’ to ‘another indication’ and the whole problem goes away. This is much ado about nothing.

As a result of the Governing Body’s direction, Witnesses are all skewed to be COVID 19-cautious. I don’t know what it “proves” but it sure doesn’t prove that they don’t know what they’re doing. The counsel given reflects the wisest balance: ‘Each family head is responsible for his or her own family’ they say, ‘and what is good for one family may not be good for another’. So they are ‘not telling anyone what to do.’ Yet by their own 3-fold advice cord of 1) love of neighbor, 2) obey secular authorities, and 3) don’t be casual about this virus, they nudge all in the direction of the greatest preservation of life.

I don’t know how serious the virus is in the greater scheme of things, and it seems that it will be impossible to tell. Every source spins the data their own way to fit their own cause. I had my annual physical (“Blood pressure’s a little high—you haven’t been on the internet arguing with fatheads, have you?”) and asked the doctor how he and his practice were holding up. “They should have never shut down,” he muttered about New York State. “They didn’t follow the science.” Following the science has now become a buzzword phrase that anyone uses to lambaste the other side. Only the Governing Body can make an announcement about Covid without my saying: “I wonder what their real motive is.”

The counsel becomes more important than the disease itself, for it gives uniform guidance to sail through uncharted and turbulent waters. If Brother Glock want to say that ewents prove God’s backing, I can say, “Well, ‘indicate’ might have been more scientifically precise,” but otherwise I do not lose my cookies over it.

The counsel may prove increasing providential. Pressures from Covid spill over into ever more indications of societal breakdown. Big businesses are saved, as the small fry is wiped out—the economic forces unleashed by Covid 19 will have more repercussions than Covid itself. Ditto for the chaotic unrest unleashed in the wake of BLM protests. No matter who is elected in November, the other side will not accept it. The world is a powder keg ready to blow—and those who think that Brother Glock’s use of ‘prove’ is the REAL issue will think it right down to when the earth swallows them up. 

It may just be that we are soon to experience another application of “Go, my people, enter your inner rooms, and shut your doors behind you...until the wrath has passed by.” And should that be the case, I won’t be upset at anything that Brother Glock says it ‘proves.’ I’ll just be glad I took his counsel and cancelled my subscription to The Grousing Times.

...See Part 2: “Do We Really Need a Hashtag, #DontKillGrandma?

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There Goes Bryan! What a Train Wreck He Is!

Well, well, well! Consider the example of Bryan—what a mess he became!

His parents tried to put him on the straight and narrow, as all parents will. “But when he was in his teens, he questioned whether that path would make him happy” [and] decided to run with those who lived by Satan’s standards. ‘Little did I realize that the so-called freedom I desired would lead me into the clutches of addiction,’ he says. ‘In time, I was abusing drugs and alcohol and living immorally. Over the next several years, I progressively experimented with harder drugs and became a slave to many of them. . . . I began selling drugs to support my lifestyle.’” Happily, he got his act together, returned to the fold, and is now as happy as a pig in mud. (Watchtower, April 20, 2020, ‘Run the Race to the Finish, para 6)

This kind on thing—highlighting such accounts—drives the ex-Witnesses crazy. That may be a worthy goal in itself in the case of the most virulent ones, but for everyone else it is not optimal. Every time one of them accomplishes something, say—graduates from college, lands a job, or is lauded as ‘Citizen of the Year’ somewhere, he jumps on the ex-Witness forum and says, “Looky here! No drug-wasted, gutter-dwelling, lowlife scum future for me! I did just fine didn’t I? If they could only see me now!”

That doesn’t mean that the shipwreck version doesn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen frequently. But every single time? “Confirmation bias,” the ex-JWs will say, now that they have learned some new buzzwords. “It didn’t happen to me—I did just fine!”

For those who didn’t do just fine, it’s a little like when the Native Americans are suddenly thrust into the world of the Europeans—they drop like flies at the syphilis and the alcohol, woes that they were unprepared for and had no idea even existed. It’s a little like when the faithful king throws faith overboard so as to be just like the neighbor kings and “proceeded to do worse than those of the nations.” It’s a little like the child who fails the “sink or swim” method of swimming instruction—down he goes, and up come the bubbles. However, there are those who dog-paddle. There are even those who become marathon swimmers. Why imply they all hit bottom with a thud?

I like the next paragraph better, the one that focuses on Matthew 7:13-14: “Go in through the narrow gate, because broad is the gate and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are finding it.

I like it better because it has all that is complete about the preceding paragraph and none of what is incomplete. The broad road is popular and is easier to travel. But it is “leading off into destruction,” the paragraph says. That doesn’t mean that you become road kill the instant you set foot on it.

For some it does mean that. These are the ones who, fairly quickly return, but there are others who keep on sailing and never look back. It may be that the road is leading to destruction—I think that it is—but there are plenty who have a pleasant enough journey along the way, they like it that there are not so many road markers, and only at the end may there be a sense of let-down. My wife, the registered nurse, assigned to the geriatric wing, commented on how many patients reached the end of life with a sense of profound let-down. These were not “losers”—they were persons who had enjoyed careers and had raised families, but as they neared their end there was a sense of betrayal with many—a sense of: “This is all there is?”

The “cramped and narrow” road leads somewhere—the “broad and spacious” one does not. But I sometimes wish there were not so many “trainwreck” stories in the  Watchtower, if for no other reason than that they are so easily portrayed as efforts to “scare” people into the fold. The CultExpert goes into overdrive on something like this, and I would just as soon deprive him of fuel. It might be better to focus on the eventual consequence of the broad road, rather than the immediate one—the immediate one is not always so bad and may well be an initial breeze—a “sugar high.” You know how invincible youth always feels—just look at how they are doing in donning their Covid masks. “There are two factors that determine the spread of Covid 19,” one observer says: “1.) How dense the population is, and 2.) How dense the population is.” Youth are likely to be dense in safeguarding health, and only much later do they reassess.

So when any Witness youngsters go renegade from their upbringing and do not go straightaway to the gutter—Whoa! you should hear how they crow about it! You should hear how they ridicule their old-time-religion! Why give them those easy carbs of instant energy, even if long-time fatigue? Feed them solid food—that they’re on the “road to destruction,” but they may go most of or even all their lives without appreciating it.

For those swept up in the rush of atheism, they may never appreciate it. They think they’ve made a wise trade. They saw off the branch they were once sitting on, convinced it is unsubstantial, and grin as they come crashing down. It makes no sense to me, but people do it all the time. It’s like the fellow who loses his millions in a stock market crash. “They were only paper gains,” he says as he celebrates the hundreds he has left.

Do not think that the Watchtower organization is the only one to have such a blind spot for “the other side.” What they do is done everywhere, and generally with poorer motive. Virtually nobody gives an accurate glimpse of the other side. Always the other side is painted as obtuse, sometimes delusional, or even mad. Will the GOP explain Democrats as Democrats would explain themselves, or vice-versa? You’ll think you’ve been on two different planets if you spend a little time visiting both! You’ll find the same craziness in any number of venues: medicine/alternative health, science/metaphysics, atheist/believer, or climate change vs those who think it is a hoax. The other guy is always “wrong,” and often “a liar.” In each case, you are not thought wise to check out his wares, unless it is to search solely for “sound bytes” to paint him as crazy.

In contrast, the Watchtower portraying those who leave as falling immediate prey to thugs is just messing with the sequence—it’s not messing with the overall reality. If the road really leads off to destruction, it is just a matter of moving up the wreck, but it is not a matter of making up the wreck. However, why does the Watchtower do even what it does? I toyed with the idea in ‘Dear Mr- Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’—and I will let it stand; I think it is entirely accurate:

Furthermore, if the Governing Body ever ‘misrepresents’ the non-Witness world, it is not because they are sinister. It is because they do not know it themselves. They take their own counsel, which is that of the Bible, and they do not go there. They are lowly people who have poured themselves out and who now find themselves in places that are high for them. There are places not just ‘high for them’—they are actually high. They do not puff themselves up over it. They trust in God and, like the kings of old were directed to do, they actually read the scriptures daily. They keep away from what is ‘falsely called knowledge’ and from the ‘empty philosophies that violate what is holy’ that ‘toss people about as though on the waves of the sea.’ They have lived their own lives with the lesson of Haggai ever foremost: clean will be contaminated by unclean, not the reverse, and so they do not go there. Because they do not go there, they know it only through the lens of Scripture.

“If the Bible says, in effect, that the ‘world will chew you up and spit you out,’ they assume that it does. If they find someone who says it in exactly those words, they eat it right up and broadcast it. And who is to say the words are untrue? Some get chewed up and spit out so promptly and decisively that no one would ever deny it, but with others? Who is to say the scriptures are wrong on that point? It may just take a longer time to get chewed up and spit out. Many senior citizens have encountered calamity, even contrived calamity, and have seen everything they had worked for drained away. Even the powerful are not immune as their strength and faculties wane.”

 

 

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Figuring Out the ‘Bridegroom of Blood’ - Part 2

After I wrote my original post on that tricky ‘Bridegroom of Blood’ set of verses, posted it, and linked to it on Twitter, their were unintended consequences. You must admit that commenting on that passage in Exodus is not exactly a piece of cake: 

“Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met him and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

My post was light in tone. Afterwards someone recalled how at his meeting “one of elders rather swaggered his way through the answer as if it was a slam-dunk.“

This was my first clue that the passage had been on the program. Maybe I was being seen as flippant toward the ‘official’ version, whatever that might be, and if I could do it, he could do it. Another had picked up on the light tone and one-upped it, suggesting that when he met Moses in the resurrection to ask “And this ‘bridegroom of blood’ stuff, what’s that all about?” maybe Moses would say: “Oh, that.  Well it was late when I wrote that, and the grape juice I had been drinking had been sitting around a while, and I guess it must have fermented. . . .“

I began to worry that I was the unwitting head of an insurrection. So I tweeted that I didn’t know what the official version was, and that I had posted what I did without knowing it was even on the program. This brought a clarification from that first brother that he hadn’t meant to mean-mouth anybody, and that he actually holds that elder in high regard.

A little more back and forth, and then BW Schultz points out that the “Insight book explains the "bridegroom of blood" phrasing. I'm surprised few have looked. the explanation found there was first published in a WT in the 1940s.” (Translation: It would be nice if you did a little research before shooting your mouth off.)

So i went to the Insight book (eventually) to read that they don’t really know what the passage means, since “The literal reading of the ancient Hebrew in this passage is veiled in the idioms used nearly 3,500 years ago.”

Consequently, scholars are all over the board as they “attempt to settle questions as to whether it was Moses’ or the child’s life that was threatened, whether Zipporah touched the feet of Moses or the feet of the child or the feet of the angel with the foreskin,” and “why Zipporah said (and to whom she said), “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.” In other words, there is not a single thing that is not up in the air!

Then the Insight book offered up its own version, and it is this version alone that made it into the CLAM program, giving the impression that they really do know—and that, no doubt, accounts for the elder who is said to have “swaggered his way through it”—he ‘read the answer’ in a manner that suggested he didn’t understand it himself.

So when our meeting came, I waited to see if anyone raised their blue Zoom hand, and nobody did. So I raised mine, and said I had read the Insight book that pointed out how nobody really knew, but that the brothers had offered up an educated guess, which was why the passage abounded with words like “possibly,” “seems,” and “appears.” I knew I was untouchable because I had referred to the Insight Book, and probably no one else had read it, having just read the paragraph quoted in the Research Guide. 

I’m done with the hard stuff. I’m going back to taking notes like the tots do, tallying up words to show that I am paying attention:

”Jehovah”  lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll ll

”Jesus” lllll lllll lllll lllll l

”Brother, you’ll have to unmute yourself” lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll lllll llll

.....See Part 3 of “Bridegroom of Blood”

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Shortchanging the Mentally ill?

The April 2020 study issue, under consideration for the  Watchtower Study, was about encouraging all runners in the race. However, some runners are not in good health. Among the maladies faced, some grapple with depression and anxiety. “Their distress is just as real as is the distress of someone with a broken limb, but they may not receive the same compassionate response from others,” the article stated.

Verrrrryyyyyy gingerly I will suggest that the writers themselves provided an example of such withholding compassion.

For the “broken limb” people, there was: “Are you lying in a bed or sitting in a wheelchair? Do you have weak knees or poor eyesight? If so, can you run along with those who are young and healthy? You certainly can! Many older and infirm ones...cannot do this work in their own power. Instead, they draw on Jehovah’s strength by listening to Christian meetings over a telephone tie-line or watching meetings through video streaming.” [italics mine]

But to the “mental health” ones, it was: “Because of severe anxiety, some brothers and sisters feel very nervous and self-conscious in everyday social situations. They may find it difficult to be in large groups, but they continue to attend congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions.”

Someone cynical persons might suggest that to the latter ones, the hidden message is: “You suck it up and get your rear end to those meetings! There is no reason that you can’t!”

Now, I am not that cynical one. I am not a ‘reformer’—I am an apologist. I either allow myself to be molded by counsel, or if for some reason I cannot, I put it on the shelf and tentatively dismiss it as ‘one of those things.’ I lean more heavily than usual on this item because I have known ones with severe anxiety or depression—so severe that they do not get to meetings. Should they? It’s not for me to say, though I note that the infirm, blind, or wheelchair-bound get a free pass should they require it—but not the mentally ill. Maybe it is agoraphobia some have—a terror of outdoors. Maybe it is claustrophobia—a terror of indoors. There are all kinds of weird issues with which people suffer.

I thinking of such a person now. I know that one’s circumstances. I know that one’s home life. I also know that there will be some that will lean on that one VERY heavy to ‘get with it’—and that the person, who already feels worthless, will likely feel that way all the more.

It probably is not deliberate. Paul became a Jew for the sake of Jews, and a Gentile for the sake of Gentiles. He even became weak for the sake of those weak—but there are limits. Did he become agoraphobic for the sake of those agoraphobic? There are some things that you have to experience to understand.

My favorite circuit overseer—he wins that status with many who recall him, even though there has been very worthy ‘competition’ from a steady stream of excellent traveling overseers since—is remembered for the expression, “Just do the best you can.” He wasn’t one for comparisons. He wasn’t one for guilting or pushing or shaming. “Just do the best you can,” was his slogan. He said it repeatedly, so that the slogan itself is sufficient to identify him.

He was not a favorite of everyone, for there were some who feared that if you tell people “do the best you can,” some will do nothing and pass it off as their best. The urge to transform ‘encouraging’ into ‘pushing’ is strong. There are those who yield to it. I did notice, though, that in one of those elder training schools in which the traveling overseers took turns instructing the brothers, my CO was invariably given the heaviest and most sensitive parts. His was the example thought most beneficial for the friends.

That impression is only furthered by the Branch brother, or Gilead brother, or someone, teaching another class, leading a string around on the overhead projector, with finger placed firmly on the lead end. “See how nicely the rest of the string follows this lead?” he says. “Now what happens if I turn the method around?” he asks, as he attempts to ‘push’ the string from that lead, and it bunches up. “It’s really not very smart of me to do it this way, is it?” he observes.

So I was a little surprised to see what I did in print. These days circuit overseers approach with the directive to simply show love for the friends and don’t “pile on” at all. It is not a huge deal, for there is fine print elsewhere recognizing that some people have extraordinary circumstances which preclude normal activity. Still, I almost wish there had been just one more sentence: “Of course, in some extreme situations.....and these ones, too, need reminders that Jehovah, who knows us better than we do ourselves, knows they are “doing the best they can.”

He was my favorite circuit overseer. He has long since retired. He is in his 90’s, and last I heard, he still keeps a “circuit overseer schedule” for his pioneering. He is the one person referred to by actual name in ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’—everyone else I wait till they die—not only they, but often also family members and friends. I sent him the chapter he is named in. But he replied that “it didn’t make much sense” to him, adding that he still thought he had all his “marbles.” This worried me. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might not like it, and I offered to change the name—electronically you can do such things. But he said that at this point he didn’t really care, so I left it be.

He appears several times in my writings, but only once is he named. It is for the time that he reviewed a demonstration of mine for the upcoming District Convention. Upon hearing it, he was effusive in his praise, and marveled at the hours and hours we must have put into it. “Only,” he finally said, “this one tiny point—I wonder if anyone could get the wrong idea here?” and he outlined some picky little thing.

“Well—sure—I guess we could redo that,” I said hesitantly.

“Oh, wonderful! Just wonderful! The rest is just fine! Absolutely fine! Exactly what the slave means to convey........except...”

By the time he was finished there was nothing left! There is only one thing a brother can say in such circumstances, and I said it: “Thank you, Brother NamedHim, for your counsel,”

One of my participants, himself a man of sterling reputation who had been around forever, said: “Why are you thanking him!? He messed it all up!”

Hmm. Maybe he didn’t want his cover blown. Maybe that’s why it “didn’t make any sense” to him. It’s okay. He certainly did benefit me. And I’ll bet if he’d written that Watchtower, I would not have written this post.

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The Devil and Dennis Christensen

Dennis Christensen was to be released after serving 3 years of his sentence—there is a formula in Russia for counting each day of pre-trial detention as 1.5 days of actual time—but the Ministry of Justice has appealed. He is now in a special holding cell. He was guilty of ‘misconduct’ during his term, the MOJ charges.

He had organized an English class for fellow inmates—how bad can his ‘misconduct’ be? They are trying to break him, Watchtower HQ says, and everyone with a brain in their head knows it is so. His ‘misconduct’ was not renouncing his faith.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard of his early release. Two days later, I saw that I was right not to believe it. The reason I could not believe it is that it flew in the face of recent Russian escalation of efforts to stamp out the faith. The stiffest prison term yet had just been imposed upon sixty-one-year-old Gennady Shepakovsky. Is he not a little old for such harshness, especially when his “crime” is no more than worshipping God per the tenets of his faith? The judge of the case suggested that Jehovah’s Witnesses (there are 175,000 of them!) go to a country where their faith is “more needed.” I thought of how the prophet Amos was told exactly that by rebellious servants of the king:

Off with you, seer, flee to the land of Judah and there earn your bread by prophesying! But never again prophesy in Bethel for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.” It is exactly how an anti-God world responds to hearing his words.

This comes directly on the heels of the MOJ appealing its own victorious verdict against another Witness because the sentence imposed was insufficiently harsh. This comes directly on the heels of another Witness having his citizenship revoked.

These penalties are unheard of—even a crime-boss does not have his citizenship revoked—the Ministry of Justice comes across as unhinged in its hatred of a faith—for that’s all these ones are—members of a faith—and everyone of sense knows it. Russian enemies are fighting Christianity, for none of these convicted ones are guilty of anything other than being Christian—and the most exemplary of Christians at that: Christians who will not kill, Christians who will not steal, lie, fall into sloth, do drugs, abuse alcohol, Christians who do more than their share to contribute to the common good.

It is possible to overplay one’s hand and in so doing provide a glimpse into a deeper reality. There is no human explanation that makes sense for such over-the-top ill-treatment. Therefore, it dawns upon some to look for a super-human explanation. At the Kingdom Hall, a weekly segment for 2 or 3 years running has been a consideration of the book, Jesus’ Life and Ministry, detailing events of his life in chronological order. Last night, his post-Passover final meeting with his disciples came up for examination. Was it to be always easy sailing for those who would stick with him?

Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he has offered a sacred service to God”​—Jesus’ words of John 16:1-2 were reviewed. See why Dennis is not unprepared? He has been fortified with these words all his of his life.

He has also been fortified by Revelation 2:10: “Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.” It is also to be mentioned John 15: 19-21: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world...for this reason the world hates you. Keep in mind the word I said to you: A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me [Jesus], they will also persecute you; if they have observed my word, they will also observe yours. But they will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know the One who sent me.”

So Dennis is not unprepared. He is bummed, no doubt—how could anyone not be? but probably not unprepared. He knows who he is battling, and it is not men. If I didn’t believe his early release, he probably didn’t, either—“not until it is in the bag,” he would have said. He knows he is up against the Devil, standing up as a test case almost like that of Job. The humans don’t matter—if one of them forgets his/her lines or has a change of heart, he is replaced by someone true to the wicked cause of a play that has not only continued from Jesus’ time but is coming to a head. A friend who has traveled to Russia tells me that the brothers there are cautious—but they have always had to be cautious. They find satisfaction in knowing that their resolute stand answers the taunts of the Wicked One before the entire world.

Of course, Dennis had no way of knowing that he would be the test case—no doubt he does not like that. Or maybe he does. You never know. Some Witness survivors of the Holocaust are on record as saying that they would not have traded away their experience if they could, for it gave them opportunity to give answer to the Devil before the world. They mirror the attitude of certain first-century Christians who, upon release from abusive treatment, went out “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of [Jesus’] name. (Acts 5:41)

Is it a coincidence that the weekly Bible reading schedule that Witnesses adhere to has rolled around to Exodus chapter 5, about how Moses’s first foray to Pharaoh initially went badly for the Israelites?

Afterward, Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel says, ‘Send my people away so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’”... “The king of Egypt replied to them: ‘Why is it...that you are taking the people away from their work?’... That same day, Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters and their foremen: “You must no longer give straw to the people to make bricks. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.... Make them work harder, and keep them busy so that they will not pay attention to lies.” (Exodus 5: 1-9)

“Hmm. Is there anything today that corresponds to supposedly good news being turned on its head like in Moses’s time and unexpectedly made harsh news?” I asked myself, and then I read about Dennis being shoved back into the slammer. The events even parallel in how the faithless ones back then charged that Moses had made a hash of his assignment and should have left matters alone—just as faithless ones today have charged that the Witness organization reads the situation wrongly and makes it worse for the Russian Witnesses. “They’re no Moses!” the villains will say. Maybe not, but in this case the developments could not have paralleled those of Moses more closely. In fact, the modern Russian brothers put the Israelites to shame, for the latter did blame Moses for their problems. “May Jehovah look upon you and judge, since you have made Pharaoh and his servants despise us and you have put a sword in their hand to kill us,” they accused the one assigned to deliver them. (vs 21)

“There’s something happening here—what it is ain’t exactly clear,” sings the Buffalo Springfield—50 years too soon and on the wrong stage. The fog is dissipating fast. Russia becomes the most visible nation to fight against God. “The kings of the earth take their stand, and high officials gather together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one” (Psalm 2:2), and Russia acts as though wanting to lead the charge. You never know when a given king will read ahead and decline to play the game, for the ending bodes ill for them: “Ask of me, and I will give nations as your inheritance,” God says to his son, “and the ends of the earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron scepter, and you will smash them like a piece of pottery.” So far, though, most are adhering to script.

Matters are coming to a head—you can smell it. Is it reasonable to insist that Exodus 5 finds a parallel in today’s Russian events? No. But it’s reasonable to suggest it—just as it was reasonable to suggest that the then-scheduled Bible reading of the Assyrian army assaulting Jerusalem prepared the hearts of Russian brothers who were facing immanent ban of their organization in 2017.

Is it reasonable to look at these parallels? It hardly matters. Reason has had its day in the sun. It has been weighed in the scales and found wanting. The point of 2 Timothy 3: 1-5 is that in the last days people would forget all about reason—and a host of other stabilizing qualities. Does it seem that reason is the order of the day in light of the Covid 19 epidemic, as punctuated by protests escalating to riots, as a black man’s death at the hands of police stokes mayhem around the world? Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the few—at least in my American home—who without fuss don masks. Normal meetings and methods of ministry are suspended, and it is almost as though ones are retreating to interior rooms until the denunciation passes. Anger, not reason, becomes the order of the day, and it is not so foolish to lie low during that time.

The world is not friendly to Christian values. The persecution that Jesus guaranteed would visit his followers is not to be averted. But what can be guaranteed, as Paul said to Agrippa, is that this thing will “not be done in a corner.” It will receive maximum publicity so that whoever is of good heart will be moved by it. This the Witness organization has done and continues to do.

F2E68996-3C00-4677-A35C-8F0777394BCD

...This post will soon be appended to the free ebook: Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses write Russia. The book is in ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ version—the only difference being that in ‘safe’ version, all quotes from Watchtower publications are redacted. Even if is the New World Translation quoting Jesus on how we must love our enemies. “Redacted for reader safety,” it will say.

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Figuring Out the ‘Bridegroom of Blood’

Whoa! What a mess! Better defuse this one. It’s right there in our assigned Bible reading this week:

Now on the road at the lodging place, Jehovah met [Moses] and was seeking to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and circumcised her son and caused his foreskin to touch his feet and said: ‘It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.’  So He let him go. At that time she said, “a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26)

What in the world is that all about? I hate to say it—maybe it betrays a weakness on my part—but I cannot rely on the brothers to clear this up. Too often, it seems to me, they go after such verses determined to ‘clean them up’—‘put a smiley face on it’—and....um...it’s really not that easy to do, is it? That’s how they—and nearly all other Bible-believers—go on and on about how Dinah was raped because she hung out with the wrong crowd, and appear not to notice the rather huge elephant in the room—her brothers slaughtered the whole tribe in retribution! Oh, I guess the fact that Jacob rebuked them counts for something, but even so....

It’s like when the she-bears come out of the woods and devour the 42 children making fun of Elijah—“Go up, you baldhead!” they shout with glee but they stop shouting it as the bears were making child-sandwiches out of them (2 Kings 2:23-24). You can—as our people have done, lecture on how those parent should have better trained their “juvenile delinquent” offspring, and then (this they have not done—but it is the kind of thing that appears sometimes) maybe will even go off on a tangent about how the Bible is accurate because it doesn’t say ‘about 40’—it says 42–and thus it reflects getting the details straight, the mark an historian, and not a fairy tale which would content itself with ‘about 40’—but—well, that doesn’t quite smooth it over for everyone, does it? As far as I concerned, about the best you can do with those verses is to assign them to a bald brother who will tap his shiny dome as though he is a protected species and suggest that you’d better not give him any grief. I did try—I really did—to put a smiley face on this one, or at least a plausible one, building off a vaguely parallel contemporary report, and I am rather pleased with the result, but let me tell you: it ain’t easy reconciling cultures thousands of years apart.

Don’t think it need be thousands of years, and don’t think it need be the Bible. “Here, I thought you might like this,” researcher B.W. Shultz tweets to me, as though he were flicking a spec of dandruff off his shoulder. It is an ebook from 1884: Rochester—A Story Historical, and it upends everything I thought I knew about my home, upstate New York! It turns out that the first settler in what became Rochester, Ebenezer Allan, was a scoundrel. He was a barbarous ne’er do well. He was a drunken lout. He’d pair up with Mary Jemison’s (the white woman on the Genesee) no-good son—the one who shoved around his mom whenever he’d consumed too much firewater, which was a frequent occurrence—and raise all manner of hell.

Now—it’s a little hard, when you are holding up your city as a shining example to the world, to come to grips with how its first settler was a dirtbag. But a certain town historian tries—she tries mightily. She seizes on the fact that he was not a lowlife in every way—he actually could work hard when he wanted to and he did run some diplomatic missions that did benefit, even if accidentally, persons other than himself. She gushes on of how he “found happiness” after taking on yet another wife, and does not mention how with a former one, he had guys paddle her on a canoe to the falls and bail out so that she would go over and not they—for is that not but a trifle in the overall tale of a man’s finding happiness? The poor woman—she swum to shore and then went to beg the jerk’s forgiveness! Our historian is determined to plaster lipstick on a rather hideous pig, and she works up to the hope that “If history colors him a little testy at times, perhaps it needs to reflect opon the primitive conditions of that era and be a little more understanding of, and charitable to, Mr. Allan.” Elsewhere, she genuflects to him as “one of the frontier's greatest romantic rogues.”

So with that established—that outrageous histories abound and the temptation to clean them up is not unique to Bible students, let’s try to clean up this mess at Exodus, knowing that the critical thinker may not be satisfied with our effort—perhaps even cynically ad-libbing “At least they gave attention to their dress and grooming”—with whatever spin the Watchtower puts on those verses. It’s hard to know where to start, but we could acknowledge that Abraham decreed circumcision for his offspring as a sign of a special relationship with God, that Moses “knew or should have known” that, and that Moses accordingly should have seen to it that his son was circumcised. Maybe it didn’t occur to him, because Issac and Jacob deliberately set out to find and marry one of their own, whereas he, Moses, had to hotfoot it out of Egypt and take whoever he could get—believer or not. “Here, you can have my daughter,” Midian says—and that’s the way marriages were commonly done—women were used to build alliances. It’s not exactly the world of today, is it? That’s how royalty might end up with hundreds of wives, and have to put them in a harem—a lonely existence for women: men gave their daughters to form alliances and otherwise get in good with the king.

“He probably didn’t circumcise him because he was a man just like you, and he was oblivious to what everyone else knew he should be doing,” says my wife, as she glances at the back lawn, the grass now as high as an elephant’s eye. She may be on to something. At any rate, you don’t mess with Jehovah. It was Zipporah who guessed what the problem might be, as Moses was thinking “Why is this angel messing with me?—I’m the good guy!” and it was she who did something about it, taking responsibility for it, though it hardly seems her fault. I won’t go so far as to say that she said, similar to Abigail, “Please, my Lord. You know how it is with Moses. He has his head in the clouds always. He’s so spiritually minded, he’s no earthly good.” No. I won’t say it. You don’t think I know what happened to Koran, Dathan, and Abiram?

Thus, all that remains is to explain away her words: “It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” I’m not touching it—I’ve done enough—other than to observe that blood was something thought sacred back then—today it just sounds gory and calls to mind a Freddy Krueger movie—and in some way she is acknowledging the sacredness of bonds that we are oblivious to today. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have given it on the altar for you to make atonement for yourselves, because it is the blood that makes atonement by means of the life in it,” the Torah says, as we scratch our heads at something that we know we probably should know more about but don’t.

So we can clean that one up, more or less, at least enough to carry on. But what is it doing there in the first place—the outrageous passage? Is it just there to trip us up? The question is better asked by going to a less-weird, but still not what we would expect, passage—that of Moses trying to wheedle out of an assignment:

“Moses now said to Jehovah: “Pardon me, Jehovah, but I have never been a fluent speaker, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  Jehovah said to him: “Who made a mouth for man, or who makes them speechless, deaf, clear-sighted, or blind? Is it not I, Jehovah?  So go now, and I will be with you as you speak, and I will teach you what you should say.”  (Exodus 4:10-12) Really? He makes them “speechless, deaf, or blind?”

Let’s see what the brothers toss our way in the Research Guide. On those verses, there is a link to the 3/15/04 Watchtower, that says: “Although Jehovah has on occasion caused blindness and muteness, he is not responsible for every case of such disabilities. (Genesis 19:11; Luke 1:20-22, 62-64) These are the result of inherited sin. (Job 14:4; Romans 5:12) Since God has allowed this situation to exist, however, he could speak of himself as ‘appointing’ the speechless, the deaf, and the blind.”

Okay. I can roll with that. If you look at the greater picture, and those other verses, it certainly seems that it is that way. However—why not word it more precisely there in Exodus to begin with, and save everyone the trouble? Is God trying to mess with us? My guess is that he is. Recall the illustration of the secretary composing a letter for the boss. It is said to be the boss’s letter, but he didn’t actually write it—the secretary did. And it turns out that the secretary, in Exodus case, is like all humans—the treasure is carried in ‘earthen vessels.’ And God rolls with it: “Oh, wow—that ought to mess them up!” he whistles, as he surveys the work of the secretary. “Let’s see what they do with that one!”

Call it “testing” people if you like. God does it. It has a way of separating the wheat from the chaff. Nowhere is it more apparent than with Jesus telling how persons must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to be saved. (John 6:52) “This is outrageous!” all the huffy ones say. “Who can make sense out of this? My time is too important for this nonsense!” and they stomp off before they can hear God say, “Who gave you any time at all, you pompous buffoon, so that you can carry on about how important it is?” Jesus’ disciples, of course, couldn’t figure it out either, but awareness of their own spiritual need was sufficient for them to stick around and find out.

So it is with the “bridegroom of blood” passage. Leave it where it is. Let the learned ones say, “This just shows that there are many sources of ancient history competing for the final word, and that they all want to stick in their two cents, and the reason it doesn’t make any sense is that they were all fighting their own turf wars and advancing their own opinions, and it all got jumbled up together, and I know it was that way in that world back then, because it is that way in the educated world in which I hang out, and I have never seen it any other way, so it must be there is none.” Meanwhile, the regular people will say of the passage, “Huh!” make a mental note to research it someday that will probably never come, and go on to consider with benefit the meat of the chapter.

See Part 2.

 

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