In Defence of Shunning

As the ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain to those who refuse to yield to it, “kicking against the goads,” as was said to Paul.  That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain consistent moral principles through decades of time without it. I vividly recall circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or otherwise, was largely the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book 'Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics' attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations from decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to say that you want to diet. You must also padlock the fridge. It is not an infringement of freedom to those who have willingly signed aboard. They are always free to attempt their diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in hefty people, for not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they can’t do it because anti-cultists forbid that course, and they get hefty, as in the United States, for example, where the level of obesity is staggering, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? It is all a difference of view over the basic nature of people and what makes them tick. It is the individualists of today who would hold that you can’t even padlock your own fridge. No. Full freedom of choice must always be in front of each one of us, they say, notwithstanding that history demonstrates we easily toss with the waves in the absence of a firm anchor.

Disfellowshipping is unpleasant and some are so shocked to find themselves put out from their community of choice that they determine once and for all to mend whatever caused them to be ousted so as to regain entrance. But they do not all do that, and with the passing of time, these latter ones accumulate. Some continue on in life with a “been there, done that” mentality. But others expend considerable energy in settling the score with the organization that ousted them. One businessman in Canada even sued at being disfellowshipped—his customer base consisted mostly of Jehovah's Witnesses and most of them took their business elsewhere. A lower court agreed with him that those running his religion had “told” parishoners not to associate with the ex-member. But the Supreme Court decided that—did they really want to rule on biblical interpretation or on who had to hang out with whom?

The most disingenuous of disfellowshipped ones later frame their ousting as though it were over mere matters of disagreement. It was not their conduct that caused the trouble, they maintain, but it was simply disagreement over something, for example, the contention that leaving a spouse for another should trigger congregation sanctions. This was true of a prosecution witness at the Russian Supreme Court trial which resulted in banning the Jehovah's Witness faith. Responding to a request from the judge to cite instances of "control," [she] “reported that an example was her expulsion from the congregations after she ‘began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man.’”

Other times it truly is over matters of disagreement with regard to interpretation or policy, and opposers try to frame things as did the Buffalo Springfield—that with Jehovah's Witnesses, it is "step out of line, the men come and take you away." Some of them present themselves almost as though freedom fighters. They came across something, perhaps, that they thought would entitle them to drive the bus. They left when they discovered that they would not be allowed grab the wheel. In some cases, they were caught red-handed trying to hotwire the bus. The “bus,” of course, is the Witness organization itself. In the end it is a too high opinion of oneself and one’s importance that sinks one. The worship and deeds of Jehovah’s Witnesses are magnified by their organized quality, and they either appeal to the heart or they don’t. If they don’t, then one magnifies disproportionately matters of individual rights.

The spirit of the times today far elevates rights over responsibilities. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, as with many religious people, it is the opposite. The responsibilities Christians feel is toward their spiritual kin. “Slave” for one another, the verse says, and many translations soften "slave" to "serve," but the root word at Galatians 5:13 is undeniably "slave.” Even before that, however, there is a responsibility toward God. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses dares not meddle with the disfellowshipping policy overmuch because they know it serves to keep the congregation "clean" so as to present to God what he insists upon: "a [clean] people for his name." (Acts 15:14)

A book by evangelical author Ronald J. Sider, ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience,’ highlights on the cover the question: ‘Why are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?’ The author cites verse after verse of how Christian standards are “higher” than those of the greater world, and then example after example of how they are not with those claiming Christianity today. He concludes that it is largely a matter of church discipline. “Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, whether Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, or Anabaptist,” he writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He goes on to quote Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls consumerism:

“Too often now when people join a church, they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches, we have a consumer mentality.”

Christians have a mandate to follow the Christ as best they can in speech and conduct. Consumerism makes that mandate effectively impossible. Yet it is the only model that today’s anti-cultists will permit. Anything veering toward discipline they paint as an intolerable affront to human rights. We must not be naïve. Theirs is no more than an attempt to stamp out biblical Christianity, veiled as though they are the very protectors of humanity.

The notion of protecting one’s values, through disciplinary action if need be, extends beyond Christianity. Was Tevye a cult member, he of the film ‘Fiddler on a Roof?’ If so, no one has breathed a word of it until very recently. The third daughter of his Russian Jewish family was shunned for marrying outside of the faith. It is an action that would not trigger shunning in the Jehovah’s Witness community, though it would gain no praises. After all, if God is truly one’s best friend, ought one really make one’s second-best friend a person who is indifferent, perhaps even opposed, to the first? Only the atheistic anti-cultists will be obtuse to the logic of this, and that only because they would consider any god-concept an unsuitable friend.

Citing Tevye to a certain ex-Witness nearly blew up in my face. At the movie’s end, he mutters to himself as his daughter and new husband depart for another continent “and let God be with you,” as though he should have been expected to shout: “May you rot in hell.” I was told that the movie teaches forgiveness, acceptance, and unconditional love rather than a stubborn cleaving to tradition and the past.” Could he really have once been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The entire premise of the faith, and that of many Christian denominations, is that, assuming the “traditions” are biblical and not man-made, the old ideas are solid and the new ideas are tenuous, sometimes with deleterious after-effects. In fact, forgiveness, acceptance, and love are not mutually exclusive. One can forgive without accepting disapproved conduct. One can love without accepting such. “Tough love” was the phase of yesterday. Today it is “unconditional love.” Tomorrow who knows what it will be, for the scene of this world is changing?

It is not uncommon for children of Jehovah's Witnesses to be baptized at ages as young as ten. Witness detractors argue that this is far too early to make such a consequential decision. Many offer themselves as a case in point. Some of them were Witnesses and were baptized at an early age. They later changed their mind. Some of these eventually found themselves disfellowshipped and will push to their dying day that they escaped from a cult whose members were ordered to reject their own children. Some have gone on television with that charge where they persuade viewer without too much effort that only the most “brainwashed” of people would disown their own children and that whoever did the “brainwashing” must be punished.

It is an example of "truth" that is not "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." They are not children. In Witness literature the distinction is consistently made between those who are actual children and those who are young adults capable of following through on choices they have made through word or conduct. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of minors, it may result in a somewhat strained family life in which all components except the spiritual continue as before, usually with the added condition that the disfellowshipped one should still sit in on the family Bible study. When disfellowshipping happens in the case of the latter, such ones may be told that it is time to leave the nest. They are not outright abandoned, though there is variability in people and one should never say that it has not occurred. One father I know secured a job with his large employer for his departing son and let him know that he would be there if truly needed. Another, in a family business arrangement, divvied up resources so that his young adult son could have a decent start outside the congregation. This was misrepresented as though he had thrown him out with nothing but the clothes on his back, and the father for a time became a community pariah, but eventually matters came out that he had actually been quite generous, whereby much of the reputational damage was restored.

Some disfellowshipped teens have run away from home, in a biblical twist of a drama as old as time. Such a dramatized case was presented in a short video at Regional Conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses during 2017. A young woman had been disfellowshipped over sexual immorality, after having sailed past all lesser forms of discipline unmoved. When she later called the home she had left—for she did run away in this case, against her folks’ wishes—her mom did not answer the phone, an action that the young woman later describes as crucial to her turnaround and reinstatement; if mom had extended just a little bit of fellowship, she recalls that it would have been enough for her to continue in her "headstrong" course.

This will go down hard with non-Witnesses today. "You would make all this fuss over sex?" they will say, aghast. "Get them vaccinated for HPV and accept that they will do what they do." Yet, it is a matter of adhering to the standards of the oldest book of time. Family feuds are the stuff of legend, often started over matters far more petty, such as taking sides in the disputes of another family member. It is common today that old ones are dropped off in nursing homes, never to be visited again, for reasons no more substantial than that they became inconvenient. One would never say that it is routine for divisions in family to occur, but they are by no means unheard of.

The Witness organization has said that it does not instruct parents not to associate with their disfellowshipped children. But they have produced the video cited above of specific circumstances in which a parent ignores a phone call from one of them. What to make of this? Detractors will say that they are lying through their teeth with the first statement. I think not. I think they should be taken at their word—parents will reach their own decisions the on degree of contact they choose to maintain, since they can best assess extenuating circumstances. It becomes their decision—whether they find some or none at all. Specifically, what the Witness publications do is point out that there is no reason per se that normal counsel to avoid contact with those disfellowshipped is negated simply because there are family connections. That is not the same as “telling” families to break contact. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the difference is important.

That statement finds further support in the many Witnesses who have departed and subsequently report that, though they were never disfellowshipped, they still find themselves estranged from the family mix. Effectively, they are shunned without any announcement at all, evidence that a "cult" is not telling parents what to do, but it is their appreciation for Bible counsel that triggers that course. The specific mechanics of avoiding associations with those who have spun 180-degrees on prior spiritual convictions may be arguable, but the general principle is not. When no verbal direction is given, Witnesses defer to the general principle, so it becomes plain that it was the general principle all along, rather than the commands of eight tyrannical men at headquarters. “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” says Paul, referring to two polar-opposite worlds and those who would choose between them.

It is the "choice" that defines. Some family members fail to follow through on their decided course as Jehovah's Witnesses, but they do not turn against it. Family relations may cool, but do not typically discontinue. It is only by making a choice that relations tank. Is it so hard to understand, given that spiritual things are important to Jehovah's Witnesses? It is well-understood in matters of nations, where visiting an unfriendly country brings no sanction but turning traitorous against one's own does. In politics it is understood, too. When comedian Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock severed head of the American president, does anyone think that her Republican dad (if he is) says: "That's my lass! She speaks her mind. It won't affect Thanksgiving dinner, though?” Of course it will.

The word ‘disfellowship’ has not been heard in congregation announcements for perhaps a dozen years now—not that it has been purged from Witness vocabulary, but it is not explicitly stated. From time to time, an announcement is made that such and such "is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses." It is never made of one who has merely fallen inactive, but only of those who have departed from the faith through deed or word. Though, to my knowledge, no announcement has ever been made that such is the equivalent of disfellowshipping, people mostly treat it that way. Some of whom that announcement is made are shocked into regret and turning around. Others say "You got that right" as they turn the page and go on to another chapter of life. If it is said of someone who rejects the tenets of a religion that they are therefore no longer a part of it, what are they going to say—that they are? Few would challenge the statement.

Few who would argue that youngsters have not the same maturity at age ten that they will have at twice that age. Ought they not be allowed to commit to the course they have come to believe is right, on the basis that they may later change their minds? It is not a good solution for Witnesses, though it be a great one for the anti-cultists, as it permits the latter more time to sway them. Children always will do better when permitted to identify with their choices. John Holt, an education pioneer, maintained that a prime cause of juvenile delinquency is that children are shut out of the adult world—an unanticipated effect of child labor laws enacted to protect them. For children, the solution will not be to forbid them to act upon what they have come to believe. The solution will be to cut them slack when they, through inexperience, stumble along the way. Most likely, that is being done today, for Jehovah's Witnesses, like everyone else, dearly love their children and want them to succeed.

As it turns out, I know a youngster who was disfellowshipped for a period of several months and was subsequently reinstated. He was a minor and he lived at the family home throughout the time. Months before he was disfellowshipped he had been reproved. Since I had a rapport with him, I afterwards approached to say that, while it was none of my business and I was not curious, still, if he ever wanted to discuss things, I would be available. Maybe, I allowed, he had come across some anti-Witness literature and had been intrigued. Maybe he had wanted to go to college and his parents had poured cold water on the idea. “Look, if you’ve gone gay on us—it doesn’t matter,” I said. “The point is that I have been around forever, I have seen everything, and I am not wound up too tight.” He was silent for a moment and then started telling me about this girl in another congregation. “Oh, girls are nothing but trouble!” I told him in an anticlimactic spirit. His woes were boiler-plate. Maybe he will marry the girl someday.

I had known him most of his life. As a young boy, he surfaces in my first book ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’ as Willie, the lad who protested my introducing him at each door, so I responded that he could introduce me instead. That is how it had gone all morning, save for one or two awkward situations that I had handled. The householder would look at me in expectation and I would say “Sorry, I’m too bashful. It’s his turn.” As long as he had been comfortable, it had remained his turn. Hard on the householders? Probably not. Probably it was better for them to focus on the lad—I can become wearing over time.

He also surfaces as Dietrich in the second book, ‘No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash,’ the first one to say kind things about ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’ after reading but a single chapter. I only know two Dietrichs and the younger is named after the older, a trustworthy man whom I almost gave a heart attack when I showed up to give the first talk at the District Convention, relieving him as chairman, with only seconds to spare—there he was with songbook in hand looking anxiously through the audience. I had been in the Chairman’s Office awaiting my escort, assuming that the current year’s procedure would be the same as the prior one’s. It wasn’t. Today it would be. Everyone ‘did what was right in his own eyes’ back them. Even in small matters, there is a value in organization.

I followed the course with Willie and Dietrich that all Witnesses know and respect—I didn’t speak to him at all during his disfellowshipped time, save for only an instance or two that I could not resist. On a frigid day he dropped family members off at the door, parked, and strode toward the Kingdom Hall without a coat. Breaking all decorum, I said: “Look, I know there’s no contact and all, but did they even have to take your coat?” He liked that one. In time he was reinstated, and I later told him that there was a silver lining to be found in his experience—he would forever be an example of how discipline produces its intended effect in the Christian community.

Always there will those of the opposite persuasion: persons disfellowshipped who aren’t too happy about it. Find a few of them, work up the narrative to make it as heart wrenching as possible, and it is hard to see how it cannot be a media grand slam every time. Hide the purpose of it and present it as petty vengeance—it is a view that will sell today. Paint those doing it as deprived of humanity—it flies. Paint as dictatorial the organization holding the course—that interpretation positively soars with some. This is the age of the individual, not the group that they have individually chosen. The view that carries the day with regard to any organization is—it may as well be the year text—"power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If there are people in charge, they must be corrupt. To an irreligious crowd, whatever the offenses for which ones were disfellowshipped is all but judgmental religious nonsense anyway. We should have moved on from it long ago. The emotional component is strong and such narratives carry the day.

To the congregation in Corinth, the apostle Paul writes: "For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ." Plainly, this concern is of no consequence to departing ones who have embraced atheism. Almost necessarily they must focus on individual rights, since what triggers a sense of responsibility among their former spiritual kin has become a non-factor to them. No, it will not be easy selling the idea of shunning to these ones.

 


Are We Looking at Insurance Fraud? Part 3

The following excerpt is from Tom Irregardless and Me, written by yours truly.

At the home of Victor Vomidog, an alarm panel light pulsed red. Victor read the incoming feed. It was serious. Someone was saying nice things about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instantly, he swung into action. There was not a moment to lose. He opened his door and whistled. The media came running. “Witnesses are selfish!” he cried. “They only think of themselves! Why don’t they help everyone? Why do they just do their own people?” That evening, media ran the headline: “WHY DON’T THEY HELP EVERYONE?”

But they had asked the wrong question. The headline they should have run, but didn’t, because they didn’t want to deal with the answer, was: “WHY AREN’T OTHERS DOING THE SAME?” The answer to the first question is obvious: Witness efforts consist of volunteers using their vacation time. Just how much time is the boss going to grant?

So do it yourself, Victor! Organize your own new chums! Or send your money to some mega-agency where they think Bible education is for fools. Be content to see monies frittered away on salaries, hotels, travel, retirement, health care benefits, and God knows what else! Be content to see much of what remains squandered! It’s the best you can do - embrace it! Or at least shut up about the one organization that has its act together.

The obvious solution, when it comes to disaster relief, is for others to do as we do. Why have they not? There are hundreds of religions. There are atheists…aren’t you tight with Hemant now, Victor?  Organize them, why don’t you? They all claim to be unGod’s gift to humankind. Surely they can see human suffering. Why don’t they step up to the plate themselves?

They can’t. They are vested in a selfish model that runs a selfish world. Let them become Jehovah’s Witnesses and benefit from the Bible education overseen by the Governing Body, Plato’s and Sider’s dream brought to life. But if they stay where they are, they must look to their own organization or lack thereof. There’s no excuse that they should not be able to copy us. They have far more resources to draw upon. We’re not big enough to do everyone for free, and we don’t know how to run a for-pay model; we’ve no experience in that. Instead, other groups must learn how to put love into action, as we did long ago.

C’mon, Victor! If all the world needs is to ‘come together,’ then see to it! We don’t know how to do that. People without Bible education tend not to get along. You make them do it! You don’t want to, or can’t, do large-scale relief, yet you want to shoot down those who do! What a liar!

See Part 1

See Part 2


Tom Irregardless (3)

 


There Was Not a Moment to Lose

"At the home of Victor Vomidog, an alarm panel light pulsed red. Victor read the incoming feed. It was serious. Someone was saying nice things about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instantly, he swung into action. There was not a moment to lose. He opened his door and whistled. The media came running. “Witnesses are selfish!” he cried. “They only think of themselves! Why don’t they help everyone? Why do they just do their own people?” That evening, media ran the headline: “WHY DON’T THEY HELP EVERYONE?”

"But they had asked the wrong question. The headline they should have run, but didn’t, because they didn’t want to deal with the answer, was: “WHY AREN’T OTHERS DOING THE SAME?” The answer to the first question is obvious: Witness efforts consist of volunteers using their vacation time. Just how much time is the boss going to grant?"

(from Tom Irregardless and Me)

Of course, it is about opposers' efforts to denigrate the disaster recovery work Witnesses are known for.

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Who Doesn't Need Encouragement?

In that Watchtower Study about encouragement, it turns out that everyone can use it and everyone can give it. When it came to the paragraph on elders as recipients, the congregation we visited showered them with quite a few nice remarks. ‘I think we’re going to stay on this paragraph for the rest of the meeting,’ the conductor quipped.

Yeah. If they are shelter from the wind, the rainstorm, or the roasting sun, then they need a coat of varnish now and then - maintenance, the same as you would maintain any barrier. It turns out that they don’t need much; they are mostly self-maintaining. A little bit of encouragement will do, especially coupled with cooperation and acquiescing to the lead they take, not unlike how Hebrews 13:17 puts it:

“Be obedient to those taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over you as those who will render an account, so that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for that would be damaging to you.”

When it came to encouragement that anyone might give anyone, a verse cited was Philippians 2:3; do it “with humility, consider the other superior to you.” This led someone to observe ‘How can that be? How can two persons each regard the other as superior?’ The trick is to look for the one or more things in the other person at which they are better than you …there will always be something…and then hone in on that quality. Failing that, the trap will be that someone gives encouragement in a looking-down way, or a patronizing way, undermining its intended effect.

How many people really give encouragement, anyway? It certainly is not the pattern outside of the congregation. Look at social media and it would appear to be a scarce commodity indeed. It is good to surround oneself with people with whom encouragement replaces ‘cutting’ as a M.O.

Then there was that part about Paul needing encouragement, and even rescue “from the unbelievers in Judea,” as though they actually came after him, and were not just the apathetic persons Christians typically encounter. One begins to wonder if he is not speaking of unbelievers in the congregation making trouble, for battling apostasy is a steady theme in the Greek Scriptures; there is not an NT writer who does not deal with it.


Who We Are, Why We Are, and Where are We Going

I used to love it when Watchtower publications would run that Vermont Royster quote. After remarking on how far we have come science-wise, he added: “Yet here is a curious thing. In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in the universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.”

It is pretty obvious why Jehovah’s Witnesses would love those words; they make clear that a shallow world of materialism will not do. You can even think those words every time a Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain takes his life. Or anyone else. Suicide is all the rage today. People decide that ‘Hotel World’ has not that much to offer, and they line up at the counter to check out.

Isn't it a little missing the point when people look for the one factor, maybe social media, that is tipping people over the edge? Or suggest that it is all a matter of better mental health care? 

“For over half a century, as a journalist, author, and teacher, Vermont Royster illuminated the political and economic life of our times. His common sense exploded the pretensions of "expert opinion," and his compelling eloquence warned of the evils of society loosed from its moorings in faith,” read the citation when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1986.

There are few things I enjoy more than exploding the pretensions of "expert opinions."


The Icing on the Cake Comes in the New System

The #3 2018 Watchtower made the point about healing: "Consider: If the Creator designed our bodies to heal physical wounds, can we not have confidence in his promise to help us recover from emotional injuries, too?"

Two things interfere, qualifying the healing to a "help us" healing. 1. The mind is in the business of remembering, unlike the knee you scrape, 2. With the knee you scrape, you can get it away from whatever scraped it. In this system, that can be more of a challenge, and won't completely cure out until the new system. As one brother said somewhere on the broadcast: 'In the new system, resurrected people will look back and say 'how could you ever have lived during those times, with the constant stress?"

But we can smoothe it out to some extent, even now, just by activity, routine, who and where we hang out, our 'input' and so forth. "He binds up the brokenhearted" happens even now, but the icing on the cake comes in the new system.

#Watchtower #Healing

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Learning From a Liar

From yesterday's study article with regard to Luke 16:

If the unrighteous riches are not of God's making but of this system's, why not use an unrighteous steward to teach a lesson with them? He uses money that is not his to reduce debts and make friends for himself.

If we are debtors to God (who isn't?) we also can use money that is not 'ours' - all of it, since it is not God's idea - to reduce our debts to him and make him a friend. How cool is that?

The illustration is not a strict parallel, but it works in a quirky sort of way.

Then he also said to the disciples: “A rich man had a steward who was accused of handling his goods wastefully. So he called him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Hand in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer manage the house.’ Then the steward said to himself, ‘What am I to do, seeing that my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. Ah! I know what I will do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, people will welcome me into their homes.’ And calling to him each one of his master’s debtors, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘A hundred measures* of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take back your written agreement and sit down and quickly write 50.’ Next, he said to another one, ‘Now you, how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred large measures* of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take back your written agreement and write 80.’  And his master commended the steward, though unrighteous, because he acted with practical wisdom; for the sons of this system of things*are wiser in a practical way toward their own generation than the sons of the light are.

 “Also, I say to you: Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches, so that when such fail, they may receive you into the everlasting dwelling places.

I liked the notion that you can eliminate your footprint in politics and you can eliminate it in unbiblical religion, you cannot eliminate it in the world's commercial system. You can, however, lessen it.

The illustration doesn't exactly line up with modern day principles of 'reason.' The components don't dovetail. But it is close enough that Jesus teaches a vital lesson with it. To me, it indicates that Jesus is not enslaved to today's insistence upon 'reason,' which has not served its world particularly well.

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Mattress Mack Comes Through in Houston

The story of the day – perhaps the story of many days if they can resist taking shots at Trump, is the furniture store owner who made his two stores shelters for displaced Houstonians. “Mattress Mack” McIngvale (don’t you love the guy already?), ever philanthropic, says the city has helped him through tough times and now he will give back.


The generous deed put “poor” Joel Osteen in a bad light, for he was roundly condemned the day before for not opening his mega-church to the homeless - it seats 17,000. One fellow on Twitter declared the score: Publicity Capitalism 1, Prosperity Gospel 0.


This is unfair. Why credit publicity capitalism? That is merely the tool employed. Mattress Mack credits his Catholic faith. “I was raised as a Catholic. I continued my Catholic faith throughout my life, trying to do the right thing,” he says.


A good deed is a good deed. Credit it instantly and unbegrudgingly. It doesn’t mean I’m going Catholic on anyone. It doesn’t mean I think the overall picture favors them. But a good deed is a good deed.


And before slamming Joel too much, one must ask what do Jehovah’s Witnesses do with their meeting places. I’m not worried here. Assembly Halls are invariably put to good use as distribution hubs for relief work, which starts almost immediately – its regular use is suspended for a time. Kingdom Halls are also put to good use, though regular use there is not suspended. Or is it? I don’t really know, having never been in that scenario, but I don’t think so. Witness families, however, are known for taking each other into their homes in a heartbeat.


As for Joel – look, I don’t care for the guy – does he ever wipe that smile off his face? - but neither do I want to take cheap shots. He did eventually come around. Was he shamed into it? Or would he have gotten around to it eventually, once access to his own building was made smoothe. You can’t depend on the media to relay things accurately – they are anti-religious.


Nonetheless, Mattress Mack is the hero of the day. It’s not as though he had two cavernous buildings wide open. He must have had to have move his mattresses somewhere. Go there and buy one – take it off his hands. Or actually no. He would have just flopped his mattresses down and let people sleep on them.

edit: 

It turns out that Mattress Mack is more generous than I realized. I had assumed he would have to somehow clean out his furniture store to make it a homeless shelter. Instead, he just opened the doors and let them flop down on any couch or bed they could find.

How can anyone not love this guy? He's in the right place and the right time, and he does not squander that opportunity.

And as to Osteem? He reportedly said God sent Harvey so as to test us. I think not. If anything, he sent Osteem to test us, for he is having that effect. God's sends hurricanes? It is 'been there done that' on this blog, and any Jehovah's Witness knows it. He didn't send even one of them.

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photo: Times Square Chronicles


Tebowing to the God of Football

ImagesCAABPHPTWhen you mention some acquaintance by name, and your companion brightens because he knows the fellow, but then clouds over because your description doesn't match his, there's no mystery. It's two separate people you're speaking of, who happen to share the same name; it's not the same person at all. This is a no-brainer. The point is so obvious that's it hardly seems worth your time to read it or mine to write it. I do it anyway because of the one notable circumstance where it doesn't hold true....when the person we speak of is God.

In this case, common sense goes straight into the dumpster. When God is spoken of with markedly different attributes, different ways of approach, people do not say 'we're talking two different God's here.' Nope. Rather, it's the same God, we just approach him differently and think of him differently. Try doing that in conversation the next time Bob Brown is brought up.  Just try it. Insist that the fat bearded Bob Brown your neighbor knows is the identical squirrely little twirp of a Bob Brown you're speaking of, and that you both just approach him in different ways. Take note of how quickly you're written off as a dope.

Admittedly, it's not quite that simple. Trouble is, when we speak of God, everyone likes to assume that their God is the Big One, the One who is All-Powerful, the One who truly merits the capital 'G' in God, and not just an uncapitalized 'g', the same letter that is used to start unsavory words like 'garbage' or 'grunge.' I mean, no one wants to be stuck worshiping some low class loser of a god, and no one will admit to it. So it's not exactly the same as discussing Bob Brown, a name everyone knows might belong to a prince or a pig.

But it's close enough. After all, in Bible times, different nations worshiped different gods, and they all thought their Guy was the Big One. Note the first panel of that Charlie Brown strip; the roster of Gods back then included Mithra, Horus, Hercules, Zeus, and many others, as any Bible reader knows. Furthermore, it was understood that different gods had different attributes. When the fighting Israelites mopped up the hills with the Syrians, the latter figured it was due to Jehovah being a God of mountains. “Let's try 'em again on the flat lands,” they said. Alas, Jehovah turned out to be a God of the low plains as well. (1 Kings 20:23-25)

I'll take the old way of thinking any day. Different peoples worship different gods who have different attributes. The God of the Evangelicals, for instance, is a god of Football. I don't know how you can conclude any differently if you've watched Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos this season. Time and again, Tebow's quarterbacked his team to cliffhanger come-from-behind wins. Each time (and many times in between) he drops to one knee to thank Jesus. They say it's a verb now: 'tebowing.' Nobody, but nobody, 'praises the Lord' more on the football field than does Tebow. Is the Lord really honored that way?

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ImagesCA1Q31K4ImagesCAM9XC8S"When I saw him scoring, [the player who caught his 80 yard pass, clinching a 29-23 win over the Steelers, making for the quickest ending (11 seconds) to an overtime game in NFL history.] first of all, I just thought, 'Thank you, Lord,' '' Tebow said. "Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him - Like I can catch up to D.T! Then I just jumped into the stands, first time I've done that. That was fun. Then, got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans."

The media eats all this up. ImagesCAP7G2RQThey love it. They take it all just as Tim means it, as a Feather in God's Cap, genuine praise for the Football God. After every punishing play (that goes well) he drops to his knee to praise the Lord.  All this in front of tens of thousands of fans. And the Evangelicals go nuts! “Players have been pointing to heaven when they score and joining in post-game prayer circles for more than a decade. And every time the limelight lands on a prayer moment, evangelicals are delighted,” says Tom Krattenmaker, author of Onward Christian Athletes. They're not embarrassed to be thus trivializing God.....they're delighted!

The guy wears John 3:16 painted on his eyelids, for crying out loud, as do many players. It's his favorite scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son....” A game or two before, he actually threw for 316 yards, and you should have heard the swooning and ecstasy. Evangelical fans, loudly thanking God for each and every spectacular play, have John 3:16 painted on their bare chests! Just once I'd like to see some player sporting Matt 6:5 on his eyelashes:

“when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen...”

Man, this stuff is offensive! How can anyone stand it? God is disinclined to do much about injustice, depravity and mayhem worldwide....all those things go unchecked....but he never misses a game, eagerly tweaking his favorite players on this team or that! How dare the Evangelicals link God with something so trivial! How dare they! Lemme tell you, the enemies of God are not to be found among the atheists. They're to be found among those who claim to be his friends. The only way I can keep from hurling my cookies on this is to point out that these guys are not worshiping Jehovah God at all, nor even his son Jesus. They are worshiping the god of Football.

And don't think I'm writing this way because I'm jealous over the attention Evangelicals are getting. Pulleeese! I'm not! Absolutely not! No! Beyond any ques.....oh, alright, I AM! I mean, c'mon! First it's the new cool don't-ya-love-me Mormons, now this for the Evangelicals. And what do we have?! Tracts featuring furry cute animals to hand out Sunday afternoon, knocking on doors, interrupting folks doing homage to the Football God! Give us something, please, so we can show that we're cool, too!2011 3 27 san diego 356 Even if it's Segways on which to ride house to house. That would work. I mean, we don't have to abandon the ministry totally, like everyone else does. We just have to take it into the 21rst century.

And please, please, please, don't think I have anything against football. I do not. Though, truth be told, it is sort of competitive, um...not to mention violent, two traits that can't rank it too highly on God's approval list. I suspect that, at best, God just mildly tolerates the game and those who watch it, reckoning it as just one more run-of-the-mill human foible. At any rate, I don't investigate too deeply, for fear that His disapproval may be stronger, and then I wouldn't be able to watch any more games, which I seldom do anyway, but why cut off your options?

It may even be that my only luke-warm interest in football stems, not from any latent righteousness on my part, but merely from my proximity to the nearby Buffalo Bills, our geographically closest NFL team. The God of Football has not been kind to the Bills for many many years....it has a way of cooling one's ardor. I don't know why He doesn't Treat them better. They also have players who pray to him. Like when ImagesCAAGI35WStevie Johnson dropped the game-winning pass in his team's overtime....it was a perfect pass, and it just flew through his fingers. So he prayed to God that evening, using Twitter:

"I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!" the 24-year-old tweeted. "AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO..."

That's the trouble with being the Football god. You get praises from your worshipers on the winning team. But those on the losing team cuss you out something fierce.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash 


Earning Everlasting Life

Tom Pearlsandswine, the melodramatic sap, was conducting a study, or just starting to, with a surly fellow who reached into his wallet and pulled out $100. “This is what you're after,” he said. “This is what you guys are always after. Here.”

Pearlsandswine declined.

“Look, you're time is worth something,” the other said. “Nobody does anything for free! Why do you keep coming? What's in it for you?”

“I'll tell you why I come,” Pearlsandswine replied with quiet intensity. He turned to James 5:19-20 where he read “…..if anyone among you is misled from the truth and another turns him back, know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

“I've committed a lot of sins in my life,” he said sincerely, “and I need them to be covered. I want to make it up to God. I'm leaving behind all the bad I used to do.”

Was there a dry eye in the house? What a heartrending confession! What a humble reply! What an repentance-filled life turnaround!

What a pious big dope! For you know, and I know, that he butchered James 5:19-20. He got it exactly backwards. Last time The Watchtower magazine mentioned the verse (3/1/83 page 15), it said:

"The person who reproved him has thus worked toward the covering over, or pardoning, of the erring one’s sins."   (Wt 3/1/83 page 15, italics mine)

It's not the teacher who gets his sins covered and soul saved. It's the taught one. Look, it sounds all pious and teary, the way Tom explained it, I grant you. But if it was really that way, we would truly be earning life, wouldn't we? “Attaboy, Pearlsandswine....a disciple! That's one hundred sins knocked off the record! Just two more people baptized and you're home free!”

There's plenty of people who accuse Jehovah's Witnesses of having just that attitude toward their ministry....that of earning life through good works. But doesn't this accusation originate with people who do little or nothing in appreciation for Christ's free gift of life, yet want to feel morally superior to those who do? "Works" that Jehovah's Witnesses perform are in appreciation for that gift, and in obedience to Christ's command to "go and make disciples." (Matt 28:19) Witnesses do not imagine for one minute that they are "earning" everlasting life. The importance of Christian activity is supported by James 2:26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” KJV

See, the teacher already has his sins covered and soul saved. Not through any special merit on his part, mind you, but because he has put faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And by guiding the student to a place where he can also dedicate his life to God through Christ, he is “covering the sins” and “saving the soul” of that student. That's how it works, and not the other way around, the way Pearlsandswine said it.

But you can almost forgive Pearlsandswine his mistake....in fact, you can forgive it......since it largely stems from a revulsion of the other guys, the 'believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved' crowd. There's so many of these folk who do nothing after they start to "believe"...nothing in appreciation of the gift of life. Or, more typically, they suggest that anything they do after their 'believing on the Lord' has become sanctified....they've turned their life over to Jesus and Jesus is now driving! If they do something good....praise be to Jesus! If they do something not so good....you know, the kind of stuff they've long been used to doing......ah, well.....Jesus is driving, to be sure, but he is driving an old wreck of a car and there's only so much even an expert driver can do. However, it's not a problem at all, since Jesus' syrupy love covers us even when we're at our sinning worst. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.” That's what they like to hear! The easier, the better! The rest of the Bible is just so much "fine print." In short, they get to live pretty much as they've always lived, only with a self-righteous layer floating agreeably on top!

Guys like Pearlsandswine hate that hypocracy, as do all of Jehovah's Witnesses, and so at times are inclined to blunder the way in which he did, in his case botching the James verse.

Pearlsandswine's well aware of the free gift of life:

 For the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.   Rom 6:23   Okay? It's free. PnS knows that.

But he also knows of the many verses that call for showing appreciation for that gift, some which would seem to require substantial effort and self-sacrifice. Like “faith without works is dead,” quoted above, but also:

Now a certain man said to him: “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” He said to them: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able.   Luke 13:23-24

Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.   1 Cor 9:24-27

Or....


Consequently, my beloved ones, in the way that you have always obeyed, not during my presence only, but now much more readily during my absence, keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling...   Phil 2:12  NWT

Let's focus upon this last verse for a moment. The New World Translation renders it just as does the New International Version, the King James Version, and most other popular translations. There is remarkable agreement across translations on "working out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

However, if you don't really like the idea that you must “keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” maybe you can change the verse. Perhaps you can change the wording so that the advice appears to be a suggestion, not a command.

Notice how the New Life Version puts it:

My Christian friends, you have obeyed me when I was with you. You have obeyed even more when I have been away. You must keep on working to show you have been saved from the punishment of sin. Be afraid that you may not please God.   New Life Version.

Note the subtle difference? No longer must you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” which implies you could lose that favored standing. The only danger, from New Life's point of view, is that you might fail to show your saved standing!

Or consider the Contemporary English Version:

My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. 

See? No danger that you could lose your “saved” standing.  But you might....gasp!.... fail to discover what that standing really means!

Or the wordy Message translation, which I've quoted from favorably before, here and here. True, they undeniably scored a dud here. It's not a literal work. All paraphrased Bibles give their editors much leeway to insert favored interpretations:

What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.    The Message

I don't know what that's supposed to mean! Just a feel-good pep talk, really.

The offerings of New Life, Contemporary English, and Message illustrate what Jason Beduhn called the “Protestant's Burden.” You remember Jason Beduhn. He compared nine popular Bible translations and concluded that the New World Translation was the most un-biased...it ran truest to accurately translating the original languages! Placing a close second was the New American Translation, a Catholic translation. This somewhat flies in the face of what he expected, and what most people would expect. Shouldn't the more ecumenical Bibles, with editors representing many different denominations, result in the least bias? Yet the top two works for bias-free translating came from single denominations: Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics. What gives?

Beduhn hypothesized that the New World Translation had little pressure to be biased, since Jehovah's Witnesses are a relatively recent religion. Their track record isn't too long. Hence, they can just let their translation say whatever the original languages say, and then conform to it. If it calls for a change in some of their views, then they can just change them; they're no more than a few decades old anyway. Catholics are also free from bias pressure, Beduhn suggests, though the reason is different. The Catholic Church freely maintains that scripture is not the final word, but is augmented by interpretations of subsequent Saints and Popes. So if their translation reveals something contrary to present Church practices, (such as Matt 23:9, 1 Cor 9:5 which shows Peter, their first pope, a married man, and 1 Tim 4:1-3) it's really not a problem since nobody among them ever said the Bible was the final authority. 

But Protestants...alas! have the burden of a) a long history, therefore hard to amend, and b) an insistance that they represent Bible truth completely. So when the Bible doesn't agree with their doctrines or practices, that's a problem for them. And as the three translations above illustrate, they're not above changing the verses to solve such difficulties! Thus, the phrase Beduhn coined: the Protestant's Burden!

So.....albeit with some effort....we can now exonerate Tom Pearlsandswine from his doctrinal blunder re James 5:19-20, at least this week. It was merely an overreaction to pious fundamentalists. Let's hope he doesn't say something even dumber next week.

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Tom Irregardless and Me    No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash