Can One Prove the Faith?

“I don't really have any evidence that any prayer has ever been answered, at least since the first century,” said Whitepebble. “We walk completely by faith on this question.”

No longer do I try to prove the faith to those determined not to share it. They have an answer to everything—just as any faction today has an answer to anyone who have chosen something different.. 

The idea of living forever, minus the woes of this present life, appeals to me. The idea of gratitude to a Creator, who has superior wisdom, appeals to me. All I need is to clear up misgivings about the existence of evil, and that can be done in a reasonable manner. It’s not something you can prove, but it makes sense.

Conversely, the idea that humans will have the answers does not appeal to me. All I know and have experienced argues that following that course will just incur `one disappointment after another.

These qualities could be described as those of heart. Head has nothing to do with it. The heart chooses what it wants, then charges the head to devise a convincing rationale. This may lend the appearance that the head is running the show, but it is the heart all along.

There is a downside to being as cocoon-like as many are toward in-depth following of news events. We miss that people everywhere select the facts they like, that support their belief/value/political system, then use them to castigate those of different persuasion. People are like sports fans today. They cheer and boast when their side scores a point, wince and do damage control when their side suffers loss, but on no account do they examine the merits of the other side. There are no end of combative  ‘other sides.’ But we miss much of this due to lumping them all together as ‘the world.’

Critical thinking as a tool in the toolbox is fine. Critical thinking as an overarching philosophy is a joke. We’re not capable of it. Heart trumps head every time. We think the ‘activism’ against the Witness organization is something unique. Instead, it just demonstrates that we stand for something. Everyone that stands for something triggers activism from those of conflicting persuasion. The one way not to trigger ‘activism’ is to be bland and toothless. Then, since your faith doesn’t really matter, since it doesn’t meaningfully stand in the way of predominant secular values, no one has anything to object to.

There is little sense in trying to prove the faith to anyone other than yourself. ‘Prove to yourselves,’ Romans 12:2 says. ‘Taste and see Jehovah is good,’ says the psalm. Taste is subjective. If someone can’t stand the taste of beets, how are you going to prove to them that beets taste good? These days I just present the Bible hope. It appeals to some and does not appeal to others.

When people squawk about Adam and Eve being fairy tale, as many do in the modern world, I say treat them, and all that derives from them, as they would a jigsaw puzzle. When you put together a jigsaw puzzle you do not concern yourself at all with whether the picture on the box cover is real or not. Upon assembling the puzzle and replicating that picture, sometimes that in itself triggers a reassessment of the picture’s validity. 

But if you know the box cover picture is of Josh Grobin, 319D387C-D6AD-4C9D-9213-FBBA941EBC00and you do not like Josh Grobin because after you picked up your wife and her girlfriend from his concert, you learned in a sudden storm that bridge surfaces really do freeze before road pavement (and Josh thereafter didn’t even come to visit you—unlike Mozart, who would have done so), then you will not attempt to put that puzzle together. So it is with the ‘God, prayer, everlasting life, man dominates man to his injury’ puzzle. Some are intrigued to put that puzzle together. To others, the box cover is a turn-off. 

Similarly, prayer is not a topic that you seek to prove to someone else. Does the Bible ever suggest that course? It is personal back and forth with God, without regard for how someone else might view it. If one person thinks such-and-such is an answer to prayer, what business is that of anyone else? Besides, even believers have grown comfortable with saying that, while God answers all prayers, sometimes the answer is no.

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Halloween Witnessing

“Theologians Confirm 'Thou Shalt Not Steal' Doesn't Apply To Your Kids' Halloween Candy” reads the Babylon Bee headline. The accompanying photo is one of mom and dad raiding their kid’s candy stash.

Mine did not do that. Believe me, I would have known. The day after Halloween, I would dump my catch on the carpet, apportion it out and figure it might last three months. Invariably, it was gone in a week—and it wasn’t my parents’ fault.

Fast forward a few decades and a religion change later. A householder opened the door to me, the day after Halloweeen. Eyeing the porch jack-o-lantern, I told him I was half a mind to introduce myself as a trick or treater, my costume being a Jehovah’s Witness. 

It proved an icebreaker. I asked him if he had many trick or treaters the night before. He had, he told me, about 100. I have never had one, nor my neighbors, but that’s because we live on an unlit, unsidewalked street not conducive to kids. His neighborhood—I looked over my shoulder to spy a house with plastic blow-up ghouls almost the height of the house itself—teemed with kids. When I told the man my candy was devoured within the week, he expressed surprise it had lasted that long.

No sense in being a spoilsport. Some of our people go into overdrive dissing the macabre holiday—all of the holidays, for that matter. It works as a research project, if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s not a witnessing project. It’s always good when you witness not to lead with a list of things you don’t do.

It’s a like when my Scrabble-cheating brother talks back to the state ‘Get Vaccinated’ campaign. They’re just tireless at it, pounding away at the mantra to ‘Get vaccinated.’ My brother, who is vaccinated against Covid but who drew the line at the frequent boosters, said, “Sheesh, you’d think they’d get it through their heads that if people haven’t taken the shot by now, they’re not going to.”

Same thing with Halloween. 1343C28C-715A-49F9-AE66-A9FD95736AB3Sure, point out its unsavory origin, but understand that nobody cares. If people haven’t trashed the day by now, they’re not going to. ‘It’s fun for the kids’ is what trumps all. You risk looking picayune and sanctimonious if you harp on it as a plan of action. Confine it to your own research. The holidays are among the trash carted to the curb a century ago by the ‘messenger preparing the way.’ You don’t obsess over the trash in real life. Why do it here? Move on as to what you’ve saved and what you’ve accumulated, not what you’ve thrown out. 

If there’s a party going on, children will want to be a part of it. Still, growing up, there were all sorts of celebrations Jewish kids would not take part in. (though I never heard Halloween was one of them). Nobody ever said they were deprived. It was assumed they had stuff in their own background to compensate. I don’t recall my kids raising a fuss over Halloween. If they did, it was minor. We tried to do things to compensate.

It certainly was nothing like the phony ‘Witness’ kids of the Clint Eastwood movie, A Perfect World. The Witness mother in the film—they made her out to be like a puritanical Amish— squelched the complaints of her two kids, upset that they could not do Halloween trick or treating, with the pious platitude, “We have a higher calling.” No Witness in a thousand years is going to say “We have a higher calling”—they just don’t talk that way. So I knew that Clint probably didn’t know anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses and probably didn’t have it in for them in particular; he just wanted a premise for a good movie.

And now it’s time to wrap this post up and raid the fridge for lunch. “I have a higher calling.”

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The Changing Face of the Public Ministry

As much as one likes the idea of cart witnessing—let people look you over and approach as interested—if you do it too much it can mess you up—make you rusty at conversation. It’s great as a spice, not so much as a main course. 

It’s a little like when I worked help desk for a startup DSL.* Nothing about the service worked. The goal was to have no one on hold more than 30 seconds. The first day it was almost 3 hours. Eventually, if was discovered that a handful of questions could be answered very quickly, and so if you had a gatekeeper to answer these quickies, sending others into the endless queue, it would overall speed up things.

I volunteered to be the gatekeeper. I’d ask callers upfront whether their problem was easy or hard—did it fall into certain categories. If is was easy, I’d answer it. If they tried to sneak a hard one in the fast lane, I’d say, ‘No can do,’ and toss them into purgatory. 

The upside was that it worked. The downside was gradual but insidious—I forgot how to do the hard questions! So watch out if specializing in carts. They’re fine as an alternative ministry. But when they become the mainstay, you forget how to speak—or at least I would. Probably you will not.

That is even more the case with the huge new pandemic-started push toward letter writing. They’re okay, but do it too much . . . Many during the pandemic wrote letter after letter and never received a single reply. It doesn’t work for me. I need feedback. So, drawbacks and all, I explored what could be done on social media where you get instant feedback.

 Things change. Even in things I like, things change. There’s no sense in saying ‘Why are the old days better than the present ones?’ That only marks you as an old buzzard. Get in the spirit of the new. Alas, I find it a little hard to team up with someone who prefers solid door-to-door uninterrupted by breaks. Everyone knows the experience of showing up for service and, for various reasons, getting not too much accomplished. I get jealous of my time as I get older—and I am starting to get up there. I want as much bang for the buck as I can get. One CO, understandably trying to encourage those whose strength is waning, said, “Always work at the pace of the slowest publisher.” “Brother CO,” I did not say but thought of it, “you have no idea how slow we can go!”

I’ve team up with a brother my age and we do two hours of straight door to door. He’s different from me but we work well together. We will do what the Watchtower says about offering encouragement to our companion. “Try not to screw this one up like you did that last door,” he says to me or I to him. He’s chatty, often triggers, ‘Get to the point!’ warnings, which have little effect on him, until he at last gets to the point with, “Would you like to live forever?” I steel myself, yet he’s doing essentially what we’re encouraged to do, asking such open ended questions. If he makes it past that steel moment, he does well. People gauge him and decide he is harmless, friendly, certainly well-meaning, and nice conversations take place.

If you don’t like those steel moments where you don’t know if you will get over the hump or not—not at all a concern for extroverts but very much a concern for introverts like me, you devise such a method as I have here:

It works well for me. What’s as important, it eliminates awkwardness. Do you think I can get anyone to adopt it? Publishers continue to ask total strangers, point blank, if they would like to live forever. It’s like at a pioneer school when the circuit overseer observed that inserting the question ‘How do you feel about the Bible’ made for a good transition. Most used it just that way, as a transition once conversation was rolling. But a few asked people point blank, “How do you feel about the Bible?” 

In this la-di-dah area we’ve been working, C86ED98F-97F7-491D-8F52-8A1756E77B59
we pass strollers on the public sidewalk. They see us two miles off and steal themselves to barge through as though a linebacker. My chum tries to waylay them in chat they were hoping to avoid. Sometimes if I’m in the lead I head him off, saying “You look like people who want to talk about the Bible!” So plain is it that they do not want this that they sometimes burst out laughing, and then you know if you can go anywhere or not.

(Photo: Yale linebacker Rodney Thomas II.jpg Wikipedia)

Again, you don’t cry that things are not as they used to be. You’re doing scripture with that advice: ‘Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?’ for it is not out of wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Okay. I won’t carry on about how back in my day, if we wanted to talk to someone we called the common phone number and asked for whom we wanted. And don’t get me going on how if we wanted to change the channel, we didn’t just push the remote—we walked to that set, even if it was clear across the room! (“What’s a channel?” Oscar Oxgoad’s twirpy kid says, who streams everything off the internet.)

Who can say why they have changed or if that change is for better or worse? One reason duties ‘lighten’ for regular pioneers to 90 hours, then 70, then 30 for auxiliary during certain months (‘I’m holding out for 10’ I tell people) then (for regular again) whatever you want, then just conversing with people is enough, irrespective of jamming in Bible texts, evidently with the presumption of ‘out of the heart’s abundance, the mouth will speak’—is that the brothers don’t want to pile on the pressure. Life for most is much more stressful than prior days. The brothers express appreciation for what the friends do and try to go the way that Rehoboam was advised to go but didn’t.

 

**I was granted unusual freeness of speech at that help desk. Or at least I took it and no one ever called me on it. When one woman threatened to quit the service I told her she might have to. It’s a new technology, I told her, it’s all driven by Wall Street. They want to see long subscriber lists. “That’s why when you tell of service that doesn’t work, they throw in free additional months of service [that also won’t work].” I left out only the bracketed part.

The job burned me out in fairly short order, even though I was the first one to succeed in getting a caller through his ‘self-install’ problem. He, a lawyer, was amazed (and so was I) when he followed my instruction and the service began working. Months later, he called back and I recognized his voice and situation. ‘Oh, you’re the lawyer,’ I said. ‘Well, I’m a lawyer,’ he replied, as he must have wondered just how many customers we had.

I’m always nice to phone support people, no matter how frustrating is communication with them. It’s a holdover of my own support days, which didn’t last too long.

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

At The New System Dinner Table: Part 4–The Return of ‘Normal’

See Part 1 and Part 2) Part 3

It almost seems as though when the ‘New System Dinner Roundtable’ discussion presented at the Regional was first envisioned, the one [s?] writing it imagined the pandemic was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Recounting travails of the old system, one bro at the table recalls when the pandemic broke out “and the world turned upside down.”

It may well be the straw that hobbled the camel, but its back appears not yet broken. Is it going out too much on a limb to observe that the return of door-to-door sets some aback, as though they never anticipated that development? I had thought so myself—while witnessing in some form would continue, no doubt, wouldn’t Covid forever make people recoil as strangers approach their door? Well, maybe you could get around it by carrying a mask and offering to don it for any finicky person, I had reasoned, but there doesn’t even seem to be that concern anymore. Too soon to tell yet how many don masks and how many don’t. 

Now the work returns that many were thinking was gone for good. Fair to say that enthusiasm is mixed at best? I mean, we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, and witnessing is what we do. Everyone knows that. But it’s not the easiest work in the world to do; everyone knows that too. That’s why I wrote up a sample presentation, to both shore up others and myself. Many thought when the pandemic turned the world upside down, it would stay turned upside down—like what Cameron said about an honest politician: when he is bought, he stays bought.

‘Make sure to listen to radio such-and-such at 10:35,’ one bro told me. Some local spokesman is going to be interviewed about the return of door-to-door. I said I would. In fact I would have liked to but it occurred to me later that I no longer have a radio; everything is streaming these days. Probably there is some fancy-pants way of streaming radio but I don’t have that set up. Of course, the cars have radios, but the one in the dog’s car doesn’t work. My wife is off in cart work with the other one.*

What I’m a little worried about is that the bro is going to lay it on thick about how loving it was to abstain from door to door so as not to kill the householder with Covid and laudably obey government guidelines but now it’s ‘been there, done that,’ in the same way that we used to explain at length our former loving provision to do letters and phone calls. He might even say how the development is ‘historic.’ Look, everyone thinks what is front and center on their plate is front and center on that of others, but it generally isn’t that way. A presentation in the school led with the householder observing she hasn’t seen Jehovah’s Witnesses door-to-door in a while, which gave the student opportunity to explain all the above. I haven’t been out yet but I suspect most people will hardly have noticed. If anyone does mention it to me, I’ll say, ‘Yeah, we didn’t do that during Covid but now we are.’ [Edit: Yikes—now I learn it is not some local bro at all but Bro Hendricks from HQ. He’ll do fine, I’m sure.] [Further edit: He did.]

The ‘pandemic that turned the world upside down’ video may yet be vindicated. I’m not assuming it’s a paper tiger. But from being turned upside down it kept turning and continues to do so. Too soon to tell just when it stops.

*Not only does the radio in the dog’s car not work, but the whole ‘entertainment system’ is gone! The reason it is gone is that the car battery began draining 9BF35A99-204F-4618-9E28-2E5BBD1AB222overnight and the auxiliary package module (I may not be saying this right) was found to be the culprit. Fix it, I told my mechanic. But he said the new module would have to be ‘programmed into the car’ and he didn’t think the dealer would tell him the code. Pull the fuse then, I said, and all kinds of things don’t work now, but nothing safety related, only convenience related. When I broke down later and took it to the dealer, tired of not being entertained by my entertainment system, surprisingly it did not cost me a million dollars but only a little more than a hundred. But I think they did no more than stick a fuse back in it, even though I told them not to do that, for in a few months the problem returned. But the dog subsequently died, so it no longer cares about if he is entertained or not. This was the same dog that if you ran over the grooved pavement separating lanes, making vibration, it would climb between the front seats and sit on my wife’s lap for reassurance. With it gone, and I do miss him, I may even give the car a thorough scrubbing and vacuuming so that it once again becomes a people car, albeit a people car minus an entertainment system.

To be continued here

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

The Return of Door-to-Door for the Witnesses

Back to door-to-door the Witnesses go. Are they chomping at the bit? Some are nervous. It’s been a while.

We make it far too complicated with suggested presentations. They’re fine for chatty persons but not everyone is chatty. If you’re not, try this instead. Select a favorite verse, let’s say James 1:13. Play with the following words to suit your own temperament, but DO NOT lengthen it: ‘Hi. I’m Jerry. I stopped by to read you a scripture, you tell me what you think, and I’m gone.’ It they say no, be pleasant and leave. If yes they say yes, read: “For with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.”

In a sentence or two, say why you chose the verse. “I chose this verse because some people think he DOES do evil, or even think there is no God.’

After your one sentence say: ‘The next move is yours and you don’t have to make one. If this is interesting to you, we can explore it. If not, enjoy your day and I’ll continue on my way.’ If they say no, move on graciously. If they say yes, fish out some appropriate video. Your choice. Often I go with the basic ‘Why Study the Bible?’

Don’t ask to show it. Just start it up, with the observation that, ‘This video runs almost 3 minutes but you don’t have to watch it all. The minute it gets boring, just say so and I’ll stop it.’ If they demur, again, take your leave.

My experience is that even those who decline are pleased with the brevity and the clear signal you don’t wish to chew up their time. Many of those who say ‘no’ add, ‘but thanks for calling.’ It does at least as much as a more wordy approach, if not more, and is much more enjoyable. It is letting the scripture do the talking, which is our main goal in the first place. It takes charge of the conversation in an appealing way so the householder does not start fidgeting and say, ‘Where are we going with this?’ or worse yet, become irritated. It’s always clear where we are going, and they usually appreciate the straightforwardness.

Extroverts are fine with encountering people in any setting. They’re good at starting up conversations and guiding them anywhere they like. Introverts are less comfortable doing this. Sometimes they dread it. They prefer a door setting where it is obvious they came for a reason and they have only to tell that reason. But then we clog it up with awkward questions and open-ended conversations. If they work for you, go for it. But otherwise, keep it simple. Leave it for the extroverts to flesh out the more involved presentations.

A few weeks ago was a 5-minute service meeting part to the effect that if you think the suggested presentation is a clunker, you can change it. For an introverted person, most of them are clunkers. It must be extroverts who design those presentations. Or those who live in areas where people like to chew the fat with complete strangers that happen to stop by unannounced. Keep it simple. You’ll be surprised how liberating the above method is. And there’s no end of verses that you can make a presentation from.

In the ‘John Wheatnweeds’ chapter of Tom Irregardless and Me, I play with several of these presentations. John is the one who “hinders members from their ministry by spending inordinate amounts of time expounding on the text of the day before they set out,” as one reviewer put it. Tom Pearlsandswine is the one who is thrilled at the notion that you don’t really have to prepare for these presentations, since he has never prepared for anything in his life.

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photo by Wilfredor—Wikipedia

 

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

What the Society is Trying to Say is….

sister in a prior congregation (who later left the truth) was famous for saying, “What the Society is trying to say is….” I used to answer that they know how to write there at Bethel. Doubtless what they were saying is exactly what they wanted to say.

It’s not necessary to take the view, ‘what the Governing Body wants is this. If they want it, they’ll say it. Sometimes I think admittedly imprecise wording is in recognition and respect that each person’s conscience with move him/her differently.

I play with that idea of ‘what the Society is trying to say’ in Tom Irregardless and Me. John Wheatnweeds drags out meetings for field service to such an extent that by the time he is done, no one wants to go out in service anymore. Reminder after reminder comes from the Society to shorten his meetings. Each one he gets around, after commenting that, “What the Society is trying to say is….” 

After four of five letters that have had little effect on him, he receives another. “What the Society is trying to say is…” he begins, at which point the Society interrupts: “We’re not TRYING to say anything—we’re SAYING it! You get those publishers out the door in seven minutes!”

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Switching Study Guides—Good News from God to Enjoy Life Forever: Part 2

(See Part 1)

If they were “skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd” then how much more are they now? (Matthew 9:36) Not only “skinned and thrown about” but they know it. “Have the governments of the world succeeded in bringing peace to the world? No,” says the public speaker. “Have they failed miserably? Yes,” he continues. Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to those who don’t equivocate.

Seeking to run down the faith, one grumbler says its “publications pump out fear-driven content that keeps followers afraid that the end is coming...” Is it our publications that do that or is it theirs? Read the news headlines and try not to say it is theirs. One of my all-time favorite posts is that of the Newsweek cover decrying calamities of the week before capping it all with: “What the #@%! is Next?”

Normalize it if you will and some do. Those aren’t the ones Jehovah’s Witnesses look for. Anyone who doesn’t know where we are in the stream of time has been living in a coma, says Anthony Morris. Exactly.

Here is a study relating how “fifty-six percent of young people surveyed said they agreed with the statement that humanity is doomed, while 75 percent said they believed the future was frightening.” Are they “sheep without a shepherd—skinned and thrown about? They attribute their gloom to “their national governments, who they said were “betraying” them and future generations through their inaction” toward climate change.

Newsweek is up to its old tricks again. “A doomsday COVID variant worse than Delta and Lambda may be coming, scientists say,” screams its cover. That won’t make the young people feel any better, will it?  who now have yet another reason to feel doomed.

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And Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones scaring people? Just how do people conduct themselves when they think they are doomed? At least the Witness “scare” offers a way of escape. Theirs does not. 

So maybe all this means that you don’t pussyfoot around with your new study guide. “The time left is reduced,” Paul said long ago. It’s much more reduced now. You don’s systematically examine belief systems so as to tell what wrong with them since the persons you’re looking at don’t have belief systems—they are skinned and thrown about, trying to find their way and place. Those who do sense at some level, whether immediently or in their gut, where we are in the stream of time—that’s who Witnesses look for. If they don’t sense it—there’s not much one can do about it. Look for those who do.

“This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ,” says John 17:3. Okay. Got it. Hold off on involved stuff for now. See how the basics resonate. Focus on introducing people to those parties, God and his Son. Help them build their own relationship with those two—this is what the new study guide Enjoy Life Forever does. With a relationship to Jehovah and his son, the rest comes easy. Without it, the rest does not come at all.

Pressures from this system of things will cause persons to move in both directions—some into Jehovah’s organized Christian arrangement and some out. The appeal of Witnesses is that one may understand the Bible. “It can be an open book to you,” the tract used to say. Should that open book appeal fade, people will depart as quickly as they came. Sometimes the fact that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7) causes ones to forget it is treasure.

“I don’t know,” Ruth, who was old even then, or was it that I was young? told me long ago as we were awaiting the householder to answer the bell—I don’t remember if he did or not. “They come in, and they go out. Seems it would be better if more stayed in.” Is it possible? We’ve consolidated Kingdom Halls in the US because they didn’t fill to overflow as we had hoped they would when we built them. One fellow at the coffee shop razzed me over one that had been sold. “It’s because of our great growth,” I told him.

If I had my druthers, I’d like to see focus on, not just why people come into the truth, but also why they leave it. “Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things,” Paul writes to Timothy. (2 Tim 4:10) How could he do that? “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” states Paul, (2 Corinthians 7:2) Who said that they had? There must have been someone.

Were there more focus on why some leave the faith even as others join it, maybe “apostates” wouldn’t hold the bogeyman status among Witnesses that they do. Defuse the mystery of their departure, for it is always mundane. “No temptation has come upon you except what is common to men.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) I’m struck with how when people leave, answers to the burning spiritual questions that drew them in seemingly vanish into thin air and are never contemplated again.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Switching Study Guides—Good News from God to Enjoy Life Forever—Part 1

Chuck started his Zoom Bible study with the Good News from God brochure as guide. Since there was encouragement to switch to the new interactive guide when feasible, I looked for a seamless spot. I thought I had found one. I hadn’t.

Lesson 10 of GNfG seemed the spot. Entitled “How Can You Recognize True Worship?” with subheadings “Is there only one true religion?” “What did Jesus say about false Christians?” “How can you recognize true worshippers?” and “Can you identify the true religion?”

Intensify it only slightly to the “How False Religion Misrepresents God” of Enjoy Life Forever, Lesson 13, and it seemed a perfect transition place.

It wasn’t.

Chuck took to the transition and the new guide. Several lessons on Jesus followed. (15-17) “Who is Jesus?” “What did Jesus do on earth?” and “What was Jesus like?” He took to them all and carried on how he had learned so much about Jesus. He loved how we had [his words] “married Bible study, evangelizing, and technology.” We covered several chapters, two weeks per lesson.

He’s not one hard to draw out; he likes to talk. He was a philosophy major in college not so long ago. Need I say more? He’s not quite so participatory as Alex, who felt he had to act out the answers as though in a drama class—if the answer was ‘scribes and Pharisees,’ any other student would just say ‘scribes and Pharisees’ but Alex would bound off his chair and strut around his apartment nose in the air as he imagined the scribes and Pharisees would do.

Chuck doesn’t carry on to that extent, but he is loquacious. Think of the 30-second goal in commenting at meetings that our Watchtower conductor is a real bug on. The need-greater from Myanmar tells me it is not just so that more people can comment, but also that we may learn to be concise, just like Jesus was. I’ve even begun to, within very narrow limits, incorporate this counsel into my own writing. I’ve been known to meander forever before getting down to a topic. Yes, but the thing is, people tell me, we don’t really like you that much—why don’t you just address the point? Ah well—none of this matters in a home Bible study. It’s not me that talks, it’s him, and philosophers are seldom at a loss for words.

Presently, however, I began looking ahead in the guide and grew uneasy. Coming up were chapters such as “Are Jehovah’s Witnesses real Christians?” and “Baptism—a worthwhile goal.” Seriously? We haven’t laid all the groundwork yet! The topic of why evil and suffering exist is still ahead of us! All previous guides have considered it before it comes time to figure who has the true religion. What kind of sense does this new way make? Other lessons long considered basic, including many of those we’ve already covered in GNfG, are still ahead of us in ELF! What gives? We should be asking whether the students think JWs have the true religion before laying the groundwork that proved to us it does?

I tell Chuck I’m a little at a loss now that I’ve seen the two study guides do not parallel each other, as I had assumed they did—he’s the first study I have conducted with the new interactive guide. That makes me a pioneer! he says. Either that or a guinea pig, I tell him. Well, we can continue with the present course, I propose, speeding through it somewhat. Or we can go back to Lesson 1 and proceed from there, since it is different material, not parallel to the Good News from God at all.

What bothers me doesn’t bother him at all. Times change, he says. Curriculum adjusts. Of course it does, but I grasped it only upon reflection. He grasped it instantly.

To be continued…

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Building Street Cred in the Ministry

Jehovah’s Witnesses, over much time, have built up street credibility. They do the work. They log the time. Some will hear them out on that account alone. Their course is no more remarkable to them than putting the lamp on the lampstand. “It is only because someone is “making” them do it,” detractors may say. If they say it to me, I invite them to look around and identify that person.

Not only should speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses be permitted—one might say (with hyperbole) that it should be a requirement. Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting in which one can talk about matters that are off the grid of daily life: matters not mundane, matters spiritual. Witnesses are not out to defraud anyone. They are not out for any sordid purpose. If you tell them no, they go away.

The greater world distrusts becoming too serious about the Bible, for fear the ones so affected may run a bit crazy, forgetting completely the goals that have been laid out for them. The fear is that they may develop other goals, goals leading off the charted path. I know this because my own mother was advised by one of her friends, the mom of my peer, “Get him out of there!” when I was expressing interest in Bible study with the Witnesses. The peer and I were not that close. I don’t know what became of him. However, I have since run across some peers who were close and I do not regret at all where life has taken me versus they.

It is a parent’s worst fear that his or her youngster may be drawn into something radical, something that purports to offer answers to questions that they, the parents, have not figured out and have come to expect no more, even supposing it dangerous to pursue such answers. Have they given up on exploring deep questions of life such as Why is there suffering? What is the overall purpose of life? What happens at death? What is the nature of God? They may reason, Is it not necessary to give up on such nebulous things so as to devote oneself to the practical matters of life? But they are unsure that their offspring will likewise give up, for they themselves at one time did not.

Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting to explore unconventional ideas with regular people. The worst you can do is to get stuck with somebody awkward or boorish. This can happen, as they are just regular people. But even at their worst, they want nothing from anyone. They are not out “recruiting,” or if they are it is an outcome so far removed as to be a non-factor. Sometimes, when I am speaking with persons concerned about this, I will say: “If it helps, let us both agree that there is no way on God’s green earth that you are going to become a Witness. You know it. I know it. So we can take it off the table.” 

Converting is so extraordinarily improbable with any given person—it would take up to a year of discussion were one to join up—that no Witness seriously entertains that prospect in their ordinary contacts. One cannot participate in a Bible discussion without knowing something of the Bible, and Witness visits are made solely with that immediate goal.

One can get stuck with a pest. But one will never get stuck with a menace. At worst it will be someone overeager for a cause and imperceptive. The news is good news, not bad news, and so the temptation is to over-present. Even so, it will be good training for a teen on how to deal with the tangle that is humanity today. It represents “training wheels” for later in life when one will run across scoundrels who are up to no good and one may not know just how to deal with them. Having briefly conversed with an adolescent who was the sole person at home, I took my leave and headed down the driveway. The boy’s mother pulled up in her car. I told her that I had asked a brief question to her child and he had answered intelligently. “You should be proud of him,” I said.

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Filling Jerusalem With All Your Teaching

God is our refuge and strength, A help that is readily found in times of distress. That is why we will not fear, though the earth undergoes change, though the mountains topple into the depths of the sea, though its waters roar and foam over, though the mountains rock on account of its turbulence.” (Ps 46:1-3)

There is a sense—not just among  JWs—but among many, that things are coming together as though in a grand finale. “Doomscrolling” is the newly coined phrase; people scroll through social media to read item after item announcing their doom, be it extreme weather, economic chaos, pandemic, protests, or riot. Fixtures as rocklike and dependable as mountains, “topple into the depths of the sea”—the sea which is alway restless and so well typifies human instability. The very “earth undergoes change” as sturdy human governments reveal themselves fragile, and unhinged zealots yank them this way and that. “Future historians will be asked what quarter of 2020 do they specialize in,” is the new meme. Applied to any other year, it makes no sense. Applied to 2020, anyone can identify with it.

Add to this factors which JWs will especially appreciate, though they will not be lost on all others. What are the chances that the one worldwide religion that categorically rejects participation in war in any capacity for any reason will be declared “extremist?” Yet such is the case in Russia, and Witnesses will recall a multitude of verses to the effect that “if they have hated me [Jesus], they will hate you.” Two of the nine Sermon on the Mount beatitudes have to do with being persecuted for staying true to the cause.

At the same time, suddenly the preaching work cannot be done in any sort of normal way, and in lieu of this it was mentioned some might have the tendency to say “We’re done,” and wait to see how events unfold. I mean, can you really “fill Jerusalem with all your teaching” (Acts 5:28, cited in last week’s study—it’s a two part series) when you are reduced to letter-writing and phone calls? It is a bit of a high hurdle.

As to making phone calls, one local brother addressed “fears”—“It’s not so much the fear of doing it as it is the fear of being ineffective” that discourages him. Dampening my enthusiasm is my own self-awareness. Under no circumstances do I answer calls from unknown numbers—scammers will eat you alive if you do that. Callers can leave a message if it’s legitimate. 

Don’t most people do that? It has evolved over time. Mike used to devour Consumer Reports; consequently, he knew whatever product telemarketers were trying to sell better than they, and he would tear apart whatever crappy item they were hawking—his wife said it was a real hoot to watch him. And I have taken the tip before to witness to these characters—the phony Microsoft people with the Indian accents were stopped cold when I did that—but to me it involves using the truth as an offensive weapon. It’s not what I do. Naw—there’s just too many of them and people have things to do. Easier just to mute the phone.

Too, I’ll gear up to write a letter but then reflect that if I write a post instead I’ll reach dozens, ultimately hundreds—and I’ll get feedback too, which doesn’t happen much with individual letters. So I confess my participation in these two areas has been scant—not nonexistent, but scant. When we did door-to-door I focused on Sundays and evenings because that’s when the most people are home—not only home, but relaxed. Sigh—now we are “fishers of men” as before, but with a fishing line so long that you can barely see the fish.

So it’s my bad. I’ll have to get more in sync because I don’t like not being so, and even as we speak I am. Still, I was surprised that the move would be to replicate virtually the physical territory and car group experience—I mean, letter writing is not really a group activity. I even thought the virus might result in breaking away from “counting time” which works for keeping records but also triggers artificial situations.

I thought, for example, that starting with one’s own phone number, one might text each successive number. With the same area code, they’re not likely to be too far away, and since it is all virtual, who cares if they are? It seems you could more readily “fill Jerusalem with your teaching” that way. But it didn’t happen. Fairly soon came the word that bad results had come that way; some had received abusive or apostate replies. Well, “deal with it” I thought—that can happen anywhere. Still, I texted no more. It is a little dicey throwing out your phone number to all anyway.

But if you really want to “fill Jerusalem with your teaching”—isn’t “trending” the modern term for this? And where do things trend? Through phone calls and letters? Or isn’t it through social media? I wish we weren’t so averse to it. It’s not that someone can’t do it, but if you say that you do it is a little like butchering that trumpet burst and everyone in the orchestra stares at you aghast. So I don’t say it, at least not much. If I had my druthers, though, it would be considered a glass half-full, rather than a glass half-empty.

There is an art to it, but so is there is to everything. It’s not everything, but must it be nothing? You have to friend or follow those in the general community and not just the brothers if you don’t want to be preaching to the choir. And you have to engage with them on their topics, not just yours, not the Bible alone, or you drive most away. It’s pretty much like interacting in the physical neighborhood in which you live.

I like it when brothers are seamless on social media with their faith and their secular life, putting it out there for anyone to see how their latter is influenced by their former. Few do it. It’s almost as though friends have separate languages for believers and non-believers, belaboring only the most basic scriptures for the latter and thus stunting their own spiritual growth if they are not careful. 

Add it to the mix is what I would like to see, not replace the mix with it. The idea is to be well-rounded. Huge possibilities exist with  with regard to linking to items in JW.org. For the most part, we leave them untapped. 

Now, don’t misunderstand. Saying I would like to see something is not the same as saying: “This is what they should do,” just as as saying you would like an X-box is not the same as saying people should give you one. Some brother a while back advised Bethel that they should be stockpiling food, and Anthony Morris chuckled at the thought of such unsolicited guidance: “Imagine—a brother telling the Governing Body that they should be hoarding up supplies,” he mused wryly. I don’t want him saying: “Imagine—that yo-yo TrueTom saying the Governing Body should dispatch the friends to Facebook and Twitter!”

I get why we don’t. Isn’t the internet of the equivalent of the broad roads “trampled on by men?” Aren’t there even a lot of swine there, so that you think of the verse: “Do not give what is holy to dogs nor throw your pearls before swine, so that they may never trample them under their feet and turn around and rip you open?”  (Matthew 7:6) Let’s face it—I mean, no one will dispute this—there are plenty of swine on the internet. Many many times I have witnessed nasty battling of the trolls in areas of polarized opinion and I have said how nice it is that we stay out of public catfights—it lends our work a certain dignity. But that was before the pandemic.

Why should haters own the internet? Take a stand and deal with them if they show up. Any troll is OCD and usually toxic. The greater world will counsel to avoid such persons, not just us. Ought we not be “always ready to make a defense before everyone who demands of you a reason for the hope you have, but doing so with a mild temper and deep respect?” (1 Peter 3:15) We run like scared rabbits from opposers. Dish them out an answer or two and block them should they get obnoxious. For the longest time I blocked no one by replying with a link to something I had written on whatever topic they were harping one, effectively answering their 30 words with my 1000–link to something on JW.org if you don’t have your own stuff, or even if you do. But one day they ganged up on me and I did end up blocking a few. Still, I am always surprised to find that I am blocked by opposers I have hardly interacted with—more of them block me than me them.

Ah, well. “The wise one is cautious and turns away from evil, but the stupid one is reckless and overconfident.”  (Proverbs 14:16) Maybe I’m just stupid—and impatient. I write this post within days of two heralded vaccine breakthroughs—Pfizer and Moderna each coming up with something 95% effective. If genuine, that’s huge—we are pestered to get annual flu shots that are never more than 50% effective, often much less. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Is it that of an oncoming train? Or is it genuine light during which we may brace ourselves for the next tunnel? Maybe we will be back door-to-door soon, or at least cart witnessing. And in the meantime, new skills have been developed. My wife has come to enjoy phone calls—she is quite good at it, and letter writing to professionals with the ‘What is God’s Kingdom?’ issue, such as is being done this month is a significant unified accomplishment. 

“This is the government that has health in it’s platform,” I wrote to one of them, “and not just health care.”

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’