A class-conscious ad designed so that upscale people will book a cruise features a Daddy Warbucks-type fellow pontificating over how ‘As you begin to get older you realize that time is your most precious commodity.’ Believe me, the video fully conveys the image that he has ‘commodities’ up the wazoo—I mean, this guy is ‘successful,’ as you are too, no doubt, or soon will be. What sumptuous surroundings form his world!
And since your most ‘precious commodity’ is limited and fleeting (as with wings it flies away, the scripture might as well be speaking of time instead of money) what more noble thing can a scion like yourself do but blow his less-precious commodities on river cruises, thus expanding the mind through travel? Sheesh! Why not say it? ‘As you begin to get older and reap the enormous wisdom of grey hairs, as I have, you begin to realize that this life is all there is!’ How to masquerade shallowness as depth.
Look, I’ve nothing against travel. Like The Beach Boys, I get around. Just last week I was in Oswego and dined in a restaurant (no—not McDonalds) that didn’t quite live up to its reputation—where they poured us wine and everything. Finally, I have all the bugs out of ‘Go Where Tom Goes’—a travelogue for those who aren’t fussy—of all the places my wife and I have been, up and down the eastern U.S, but mostly PA and NY. It is my first book with pictures. It is my first book of which I can readily gift copies to friends, it not dealing in anything controversial. Although road travel is a theme and I get in my licks for historical sites, informal witnessing is a sub-theme—there are plenty of spiritual diversions thrown in. You could even call it a primer on informal witnessing, where you don’t incessantly stay in, ‘Would you like to live forever in paradise?’ mode, but you add a spiritual layer to whatever topic is already under discussion. Sometimes people bite on that and sometimes they don’t.
So I, too, realize that time is my ‘most precious commodity.’ I too am getting more brilliant by the second, making wise use of it. But I don’t share this baron of wealth’s utter defeat, disguised as a victory, that my most precious commodity is soon to run out. It may be put on hold someday. But if I mind my P’s and Q’s, continuing to put my faith and trust where it belongs, continuing to kick Rolf in the rear end when he (I just read a post of his) grumbles over Kingdom Hall consolidation in the West, asserting that HQ vacuums up money like a Kirby these days, offering no reason as to why, and leaving the impression that they just fill swimming pools at Bethel with the stuff and bathe in it.
It is a slander of people’s motives. Frankly, I think it’s a better way to see through this guy than with his grumbling over congregation discipline. After all, ‘kicking against the goads’ of discipline can result in dramatic change for those not yielding to it. But being on the losing end of one Kingdom Hall folded into another? At most, a 30 minute drive to and from another Hall twice a week. Inconvenient, to be sure, but hardly life-altering, and what do you get for it?
Sell one underperforming Hall in the U.S. to combine with another, and with the proceeds you can build 50 in developing lands where there is an immediate need. Sometimes it also goes to building a Kingdom Hall in Western areas where land is so astronomically priced that no way will the needy local congregation be able to afford it.
How come Rolf doesn’t say this? How come he leaves the impression that the Governing Body he feuds with is doing nightly champagne and oysters on the Potomac like McClellan?—that they just like to funnel money to themselves for the sake of funneling money to themselves? What beef does he have with the ‘equalizing’ that you would think would be the very essence of a worldwide Christian community?
“For I do not want to make it easy for others, but difficult for you; but that by means of an equalizing, your surplus at the present time might offset their need, so that their surplus might also offset your deficiency, that there may be an equalizing. Just as it is written: “The person with much did not have too much, and the person with little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)
This verse was referred to continually as the new equalizing program was under consideration. Why does Rolf treat it as untouchable—as though it were from the Book of Mormon? If this good news of the Kingdom is to be preached in all the inhabited earth, and disciples are to be made throughout, at some point you have to abandon the attitude, “I got mine. If they can’t get theirs, too bad for them!” If Rolf doesn’t have that attitude, he has one that so closely resembles it that it’s impossible to tell the difference.
When the rush of Kingdom Halls were built over the decades, the plan was to fill them to the rafters. For the most part, that hasn’t happened. Kingdom Hall attendance holds its own in most areas. Sometimes it even diminishes. The young are not so enamored with religion as the old, and their notion of spirituality can have more to do with ‘mindfulness’ than with God. I once thought we would be immune to the trend, which certain churches counter with in-house rock groups and pizzazz, but it has proven not to be the case. Why not consolidate what there is lesser need for? One must not whine forever on, ‘Why were the former days better than these?” for it is not out of wisdom that you ask this.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
To be sure, we keep speaking about our ‘great growth,’ whereas if anyone else did it, we’d say they were going belly up. But some places do experience growth. And these places—duh—tend to be where people are not obsessively planning their next river cruise. It’s no surprise that the Christian message will resonate more clearly to the poor and underserved than to the monied people. “God chose the insignificant things of the world and the things looked down on, the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,” the apostle says (1 Corinthians 1:28), as he repeatedly points out that “not many” of the loftier type were chosen. Wealth has a corrosive effect on humility, not withstood by all, and humility is a bedrock requirement for following Christ.
There is inconvenience in catering to the entire brotherhood—that’s for sure. One Florida congregation I visited had amassed a considerable sum toward the building of a new Kingdom Hall on the main drag with better parking facilities (otherwise, the existing Hall was very well appointed, not inferior in any way). When the new equalizing arrangement went into effect, all that money was syphoned into the ‘Worldwide Work.’ Was there any grousing about that? I asked my host. “Oh, yeah,” he said.
Of course there will be. It’s a substantial shift. Governance from the Witness organization is “top down”—it make no pretense of being a democracy, or even a representative democracy—just as is the pattern in the invisible realm. Moreover, the congregation is trusting, for if their organization is not transparent to the nth degree, it is way more transparent than any other government they can think of. The congregation scrutinizes finances to a scant degree. It would approve a nuclear reactor if one were floated in resolution—not that one ever would be, and everyone knows that. Opponents do all in their power to break down that trust but it remains intact—even though ones like Rolf make as much noise as Gideon, hoping to make the same impression as that one.
The policy of ‘equalizing’ reflects leadership style. Anything done can be done differently. Nothing garners immediate unanimous applause (contrary to what the magazines sometimes suggest). Eventually, those taking the lead have to decide, as they monitor the pulse of the congregations through continual feedback from traveling (circuit) overseers. Our people ultimately buy into the notion that they ought not just focus on what benefits them, but that which benefits the “whole association of brothers” that they are supposed to, and do, “have love for.” (1 Peter 2:17). Why isn’t Rolf on board with this?
Wandering, you say—starting off with cruises and pivoting to Rolf? Not a bit of it. What is the outfit with which the wealthy sophisticated commodity magnate, who has disdained ‘everlasting life’ as a fairy tale for chumps, and so regards the here-and-now as the be-all and end-all, is planning his next cruise? The Norwegian River Cruise line. And what country is Rolf from? Norway. Wandering, my foot! Tune in next time when I tell you about his newest purchase of a classic Fiord Mustang.
****** The bookstore