Seed-Pickers Exposed
In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction


Here’s my tentative suggestions: … “Jehovah’s Witnesses have a low retention rate relative to other U.S. religious groups.

This is true, however it is offset by the high participation rate Witnesses enjoy. After all, in the Methodist Church (for example—no special reason to cite them) members may not actually leave, but how would you know if they did?


So we need … [to] integrate our JW culture and way of life rather than compartmentalizing it.

Much as I hate to say it, I’m not sure the notion of ‘counting time’ doesn’t contribute to such compartmentalizing in that it introduces the notion of being ‘on the clock’ or ‘off the clock.’ Much counsel is given, with mixed result, not to view matters this way, but the concept itself lends to that perception.

I’ve long since learned to estimate. Oddly, it was my former stint as a part-time inventory counter that put me on to this course. You may have seen these teams in supermarkets. Management urges that you estimate as you count, based upon how much product will fit into an overall amount of space—then peer to see just how much space is taken, so you are not thwarted by the shelf that is only 2 cans deep. They had research to the effect that you’re not off by more than 2% when you do it that way.

I was not a good employee—chattering constantly and drawing others in to conversation when management would (sometimes strongly) prefer silence. I’m sure that confession will surprise no one here. However, I was forgiven a multitude of sins because I was a force for cohesion. 

They had an employee slow as molasses with whom they were pulling their hair out because he was reaching back in the hopeless chaos of potato chip bags to make sure he counted each one and none of them twice. At a time that I should have been working, I stopped by to chat. I told him the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story of a Jewish priest who brought his 18th century Eastern European settlement to a standstill because he was too kind-hearted to sacrifice the animals needed to keep religous life going. Finally, one of the community told that priest that it’s fine to be merciful, ‘but you don’t have to be more merciful than God!’

I added for the sake of this overly-exacting employee, ‘I think the same principle applies to counting.’ He smiled, obviously getting the point, and from that time on his performance improved. 

So it is that I estimate time and I blow off a report in two seconds come end of month. But I once tracked it in 15 minute intervals, as I’m sure many do today. These days I think many in effectestimate, but there are some who develop innovative ways to, as bashful Sam put it, ‘run about all day avoiding people.’ Now that counsel on the ministry has expanded to, ‘Look, just talk to people! Introduce the Bible if you can but don’t worry about it if you’re cannot,’ the idea of counting time seems increasingly out of sync. But it is still kept, and most have managed to keep its spirit without overly fussing about its letter, even though they still talk as if the letter is not something to be blown away. ‘How much time should we count,’ someone will ask the circuit overseer. He will reply, “Well, I know how I am counting mine,” and leave it at that.


we need a better formation that helps integrate our JW culture and way of life rather than compartmentalizing it.

A side theme of ‘Go Where Tom Goes’ is (done by example) that spiritual life can and should be woven seamlessly within our secular life. Yet this is often not what we see. Some of the friends act as though they have two separate modes, all but incorporating two different vocabularies: one for communication with the friends and one for communication with those outside. 

Not long ago, someone reviewed that book and pointed to the occasional word or phrase that a non-Witness might not understand. In some cases I changed it. In other cases I did not. If you read Dickens or indeed much of classic literature, you’ll find many a biblical allusion that a modern person will not understand. Dickens doesn’t back out to explain every little thing. If the book is good, people move on, perhaps with a new ‘homework’ assignment. But if they decline the new assignment, they move on nonetheless. Of course, if the book stinks, they run it through the shredder on that account but, if it truly stinks, they probably will have done that already. The trick is to make it not stink.

I’m not done yet addressing the thoughtful remarks you made. Sorry to be so wordy. A scholar could do it better. But I’m not a scholar. I’m a storyteller. Storytelling generally works better with the people most apt to respond to the good news. Probably that’s why Jesus was a storyteller, why he never opened his mouth without telling an illustration. Whatever scholarship he had was to be found in his parables.

(and someday, though it has nothing to do with anything, I’ll expound on how Lincoln was exactly that way, always using stories to introduce policy. Like in the final days of the Civil War, when settling the score with meddling England seemed more a possibility than it had during the war—the Union hadn’t been strong enough then. He led off with a story of the mandetermined to make peace with his enemies before he dies. On his deathbed, tears and sentimentality flow from all as old disagreements are buried. But as one lout is taking his leave, the sick man raises himself up one elbow to say, ‘But remember—if I get better, that grudge still stands!’

It was Lincoln’s style, appreciated by many. But no-nonsense (or no-imagination?) Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase grumbled about Cabinet meetings: ‘All the president does there is tell jokes!’)


***  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'


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