The internet is not exactly new, but social media in its present form is less than 20 years old. It’s like when some new invention comes along and the young latch right on to it. The oldsters say, “I lived with out is this long—how essential can it be?’
Challenges for the young? Nothing screams ‘Old People!’ more loudly than writing letters. It is hard to imagine a more contact-free form of witnessing, as though fishing with a 5-mile line. The only thing that might scream ‘Old People!’ louder is telephone calls. Young people will text to the cows come home but they don’t do phone calls.
I admit that I did little of either. Now that the pandemic is over, I am relieved of that ‘Crisis of Comfort’ and can revert to more people-friendly forms. Not that it was scaredy-cat for me. One brother said, ‘It’s not that I’m scared to do it. It’s that I’m scared of being ineffective.’
Exactly. When they urge me to ‘step out of my comfort zone,’ I reply that I am not necessarily comfortable even in my comfort zone. Yet here it had nothing to do with comfort zone. It had to do with considering oneself ineffective. I would sit down to write a letter and then it would occur to me that I could write something on the internet and get near-instant feedback. I would next think of phone calls, but be dissuaded by notion that if someone answered, my first thought would be, “What! Are you nuts?” Like many even of my age, and especially the young, you know that scammers will eat you alive if you pick up unidentified calls, and so you don’t do it. That’s not to say no good results were achieved in these ways. I know of several occasions in which they were—and in some strange way I can’t put my finger on, new ones attending the meetings is on the rise, at least where I am. But once again, it and letter-writing represent an ultra-cautious approach—contrary to the very spirit of young people, which is that of boldness.
Get them out door-to-door and get them out door-to-door when people are home. Don’t stuff them in cars for the driving ministry, focusing on calls that are not likely to be home. Alas, this recommendation is not as easy to pursue as before, since many oldsters have grown fond of the Zoom ministry. Nothing wrong with that—don’t think there is. But it does make it hard to guide the young people. ‘Your young men will present themselves like dewdrops,’ say the verse. ‘Welcome, dewdrop! Grab a pen. We’re writing letters today!’ I don’t think so. They don’t even teach cursive in many schools today, so archaic has it become.
And if social media has become their Athens marketplace, where people do nothing but listen to or tell of things new, don’t hold them back from going there if they want (subject to parental approval/supervision and all) out of fear that the apostate bogey man may appear, necessitating the Monty Python, “Run away! Run away!” Teach them how to handle that jerk if he does crash the party. Why should the entire internet be ceded to the Devil?
Social media is not everything, but neither is it nothing. It becomes the elephant in the room as we think about ways of contacting people. It’s not hard to envision why the earthly organization might worry about social media, not just on account of the bogey man, but also on account of when Witnesses do go online, they tend to be not very good at it. They’re prone to sending back and forth memes alternately syrupy and judgmental. No matter. Nobody’s good at things without training. Give them some.
One firebrand on Twitter says he is there to answer Bible questions. A quick look at those he follows reveals, veering little from recommendations, that they are all fellow Witnesses. ‘Um—they’re not likely to ask you Bible questions if they are Witnesses already,’ I tell him. But he’s convinced that somehow it will work out. And maybe it will. Sometimes letter and phone calls work out. But the spirit of young people is bold. They’re not given to hiding. They figure out tech in a heartbeat. I mean, when Elon Musk goes to hiring, he doesn’t say, ‘Check out the resume of that old fart Harley. Whoa! Look at this point. He knows how to insert the UBS code right side up! And he knows it’s hashtags, not crosstags’
It took me a while to know how to behave on social media. Nobody was there to train me. I probably trolled a bit more than was advisable. I even briefly locked horns with Nemo—my nickname for the virulent Witness apostate who later blew up his family by revealing a predilection for the lithe young prostitutes of Asia. I mean, if letter writing screams ‘Old People!’ is does not scream it nearly so loudly as his course screamed 2 Peter 2:19: “While they are promising them freedom, they themselves are slaves of corruption!” But he managed to blame his twisted tastes on his former religion—he was an expert at blaming others and even many of his former cohorts became fed up with him.
I’ve got that all out of my system now. Now I am ‘social network smart’ — the TrueTom way. Teach the young who want to use it how to use it. Many of them do it anyway—doing it furtively lest they trigger disapproval. Teach them to do it right—sort of like cart work or like your physical presence in your physical neighborhood. There, you routinely come across people. You don’t witness to them with your every breath as you share whatever common interests you may have. But you establish yourself as an all-around good egg, a Jehovah’s Witness as it turns out, and once in a while you get to put in a good word for God. It’s not everything. But neither is cart work everything, nor informal witnessing, nor phone calls, nor letter writing.
If you have a body of work, as I do, you link to it, along with a profile picture. If you don’t, you find some spiritual ‘mission statement’ with which you can identify. Myself—I don’t link to Jw.org on my profile page. I suspect they don’t want that, especially if you’re weird. The point is, you can establish yourself as both a neighbor and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. ‘I decided to be very open about my faith,’ said the teenaged girl featured in the Convention video. ‘In time my classmates began approaching me with their problems.’
I torment the local stockbroker with pictures of Ramblers. It’s become a running joke. He has a classic car collection that he trots out for special events. Ramblers are the cars I grew up with. I envied classmates who tooled around in cars with fins on which you could impale a buffalo whereas I was stuck in a boxy toaster that got good gas mileage. Getting good gas mileage may be a virtue today, but only a wuss cared about it them.
’I dunno, Tom,’ he says, when I trot out a Rambler I came across in the country.
‘It looks in pretty good shape. If you must have a Rambler maybe you should snap this one up.’ I reply that it is indeed a little tempting, but the last thing I need is another hobby. Nor do I have the mechanical ability to keep it shipshape, nor the disposable income to hire it out.
I’ve never even breathed ‘God’ to this busy fellow, nor do I engage with him for that main objective. I exchange tweets with him because he’s an interesting guy. But at some point it is hard to believe he will not have checked out my profile and adjacent tweets in which I do weigh in on God. It’s not everything, but neither is it nothing—and will have made at least as much impression as passing a literature cart.
Others I have directly witnessed to, usually in incremental measure. Someone will say something about ‘what is the purpose’ of life,’ for example, and one can add a remark that is not too light and also not a sledge hammer. I’m not giving any Sermons on the Mount but there are countless people who know or have opportunity to know more of the faith by having come across my path. Periodically I will add new followers, usually those who have liked a prior remark, and delete some whom I follow, usually those who have not interacted. It’s almost like checking out a new territory.
Nobody taught me these things. I figured them out on my own and it took awhile. Sure enough, the bogey man does stop by now and again, but I’ve learned how to chase him off.
I don’t know that it is something to encourage. I’m just don’t know why it should be so thoroughly discouraged as it is. Ever heard our people have a kind word for social media? Nor have I. It could be all Gehenna would break out were our youths to swarm there. You might have to train them to interact, not especially a slam-dunk because our own adults don’t interact much. Alas, all Gehenna breaks out anyway. Might as well break it our way. Give the dewdrops something to do in accord with their interests and abilities.
Everything is cool. Counsel is good. Go here. Watch out for that. It all works. But things that are done need not necessarily be done to the nth degree. Sometimes the nth degree works out to be the course of wisdom. Sometimes it backfires on you.
*** The bookstore