How Do You Answer When Asked “What do you Do?”

As far as I am concerned, what pegs the “faithful and discreet slave” as faithful and discreet and effective is that they have redefined how most Witnesses view their own vocation. This came up in recent discussion of the daily text about Jesus being “the carpenter, the son of Mary.” He may have been “the carpenter,” but when he “began his work” (Luke 3:23), it is not carpentry that the verse speaks of. It is preaching and teaching the Word.

So it is that under the direction of the Governing Body, few if any of Jehovah’s people regard themselves first according to their occupations. They regard themselves as preachers of the good news first, who just happen to be doing this or that in order to pay the bills.

This is a huge accomplishment—to motivate people to redefine themselves.

They did it by steadfastly persuading the many who would say—I have said it myself—“Why can’t we be Jehovah’s Witnesses and just live normal lives?” Their answer would be: “How can you live a normal life in an abnormal world?” 

They have won that battle. It is an abnormal world. How can you live a normal life in it? Secular work occupies its place with our people, of course, but seldom do they define themselves by it. At the drop of a pin, they will chuck “career” aside totally for the sake of part-time work if they can figure a way to make it work.

Just about the time of the Proclaimers book, I thought there was a shift to speaking of the Witness way of life in terms of a “theocratic career”—is that my imagination? That way when our young people encountered classmates ecstatic at the careers they were going to have—being pushed that way by guidance counselors—they could come back with a career concept of their own. They wouldn’t have to answer, “Well, I’m just going to get a job somewhere, maybe in a tool shop,” much less, “Well, I think I’ll just be a janitor so I can have more time for door to door preaching.”

Now, as it turns out, I was a janitor for many years. And when my newly married wife was asked by a set of well-to-do non-Witness relatives what her husband did for a living, she said “He’s a janitor.” This occasioned a disappointed “Oh.” She added that “He owns his own company.” The same syllable followed, this time with opposite impressed inflection! It’s all a facade! It’s all a joke! It doesn’t mean a thing. While I was a janitor, I checked out just about every Books on Tape there was in the library that wasn’t contemporary fiction, I listened while working, and I find myself better “read” than almost anybody.

If there is one thing I regret in my past (actually, there are quite a few), it is that when I was asked—it is the 2nd line at any introduction—“And what do you do?” I would answer as to my secular work. This might lead to a discussion of how, with brilliantly shined floor, people’s spirits lift, yet they can’t put their finger on just why—or how when the floor is dingy by the baseboards, it is the fault of the janitor for slopping it there with his mop as he goes back and forth—how else could it possibly get there? But why in the world would I care about that? If you answered the question “What do you do?” according to what people expect, then you had to change the subject into one more interesting or suffer through one that you barely care about yourself.

Don’t play that game. Answer according to what you are and what interests you most. In time, I got so I would do that, but it took long enough. “Well, I do various things to pay the bills,” I would say, “but what gives me the most satisfaction is....” I should have done it years before I did.

Fay said how in Ireland (she had been there recently) when people ask that question, they really do want to know about you, and not just what you do for a living. I like it that the faithful and discreet slave (Matthew 24:45-47) has taken membership and persuaded them to define themselves and think of themselves as an army of preachers, diverse though their backgrounds might be. Can’t get more faithful than that.

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“This is the Carpenter, the Son of Mary”

This is the carpenter, the son of Mary.​—Mark 6:3

Talk recently during the Daily Text discussion was about what Jesus was known for. Was he executed for anything having to do with carpentry? The commentary cited Luke 3:23: “When Jesus began his work, he was about 30 years old...” What “work” was he known for? It wasn’t carpentry, yet he was described as “the carpenter.”

Curiously, the first Witness to be jailed in Russia after the 2017 ban in that country has a surname, Christensen, that indicates whom he follows. His occupation? A carpenter—just like that of the one he follows—and the last noteworthy thing he did as a carpenter was to build a playground for the neighborhood children. But he wasn’t arrested on account of his carpentry, was he?

They came from humble roots, those first-century Christians did, and for the most part that is true today. Their leading ones were said to be “unlearned and ordinary” (Acts 4:13) and for the most part, that is true today. These days, without letters appended to one’s name, people are barely worth noticing. Same thing back then. Doesn’t that explain why, apart from the early Christians themselves, there are only four figures in contemporary history (Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Philo, Josephus) who mention early Christianity at all—and all of them only in brief passing paragraphs, about one per writer—it’s never their main topic—almost the priority you might assign in discussing what the plumbers were doing back then. The doings of the common people are beneath the notice of the upper classes.

The apostle Paul wrote about letters. “Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some men, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind.” (2 Corinthians 3:1-2) They did the work. They preached and made disciples. That was their letter, not some honorary title appended by some school to their name. Jesus said you could even be distracted by such honorary things: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God? (John 5:44) They’re okay, those letters are—no harm in them and they do denote some study, but it is possible to hide behind them. They are not what cuts it from God’s point of view.

Another verse cited in the text commentary was 2 Timothy 2:15: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” If you say you are expecting a workman to arrive at the house, what sort of person do you expect? A lawyer? Once again, the ministry of Christians is linked with humble work. Accordingly, the Christian organization today has taken to gathering together a “teaching toolbox” of materials, video and otherwise, for use in the ministry. It is not a portfolio. It is not a briefcase. It is a toolbox.

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The Watchtower Study of June 14, 2020

‪I liked this one from the Watchtower study: “Marc, a missionary in Burkina Faso, puts it this way: “The people I think will make progress often stop studying. But the people I think won’t go far progress very well.” Yeah. Same here. That’s why you don’t judge: You’re usually wrong.‬

This one provoked an image from that study, did it not? “Once, at a real estate office, she noticed a tattooed young woman wearing baggy clothes. ‘I hesitated for a moment,’ says Yukina, ‘but then I started talking to her. I discovered that she was so interested in the Bible that some of her tattoos were verses from the Psalms!’ Can you picture yourself reading right off her body and elucidating the verses for her? Not in all places of her body, of course. There is such a thing as decorum.

We also read of the Witness who “started a conversation with a 19-year-old man whose T-shirt depicted a famous singer,” said Gustavo. “I asked him about it, and the man told me why he identified with the singer.” Maybe it was the same kid I called on, wearing a Jim Morrison (The Doors) sweatshirt that I, too, commented on. “Let’s go see Jim Doors,” I would say for the longest time when doing return visits. 

The study was from one of those articles on how to be more discerning in the ministry, and I love that type of article, because I don’t think we always are. There was this experience: “In Albania, a woman who was studying with a pioneer named Flora stated firmly, ‘I cannot accept the teaching of the resurrection.’ Flora did not force the issue. She relates, ‘I thought that she must first get to know the God who promises the resurrection.’ She left it on the table and came back to it later.

My Dad did this with me as a boy on the literal table. I didn’t want to eat all the food on my plate—what boy does? So Pop would draw a line, separating as though Moses at the Red Sea, the food I had to eat from the food I didn’t. I came to anticipate it—“Draw a line, Pop!” I would say. In time I learned to devour it all and I do not have to say it now to my wife.

How about this one from paragraph 8? “Perhaps [the householder] has told you directly that he has his own religion. When that happens to a special pioneer named Flutura, she replies, ‘I’m here, not to impose my beliefs on you, but to talk to you about this subject . . . ‘ I go further than that. I tell them that if I call 100 times, on the 100th call I will ask if they want to join my religion, and then they can say no. In the meantime, it is just conversation—if it’s dull, end it on that basis, but if not—no need to take cover lest you fear being recruited for the cause.

Lots of people think we are there to recruit. I suppose we are, really, but it is so far down the road that it needn’t be a concern for a long long time. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a people of ‘instant conversion’—you cannot ‘Come down and be saved!’ with them. Besides, “this good news will be declared in all the inhabited earth” (Matthew 24:14) is a goal in and of itself, without regard for how that news is received. It actually will not be acted upon in too many cases, for the verse John 12:37 was also considered: “Although [Jesus] had performed so many signs before them, they were not putting faith in him.” If they were cool on Jesus with signs, what about those who would speak of him without signs?

Paragraph 9 was of running into a religious person. “Try to find common ground. He may worship only one God, he may recognize Jesus as the Savior of humankind, or he may believe that we are living in a time of wickedness that will soon end. Based on beliefs you have in common, present the Bible’s message in a way that is appealing to that person.”

Sometimes this works, but certain types of evangelicals will argue almost from the get-go, and if they don’t do it us, sometimes we do it to them. With one such person, when it started to go that way, I said: “Look, we are both trying to follow the Word, but we are doing it differently. You think we are doing it all wrong and we think you are doing it all wrong. We’ll steal persons from your church in a heartbeat, and you’ll do the same to us. But we are both doing it—that’s the point—and we live in a world where most people aren’t doing it at all.” Instantly we were on the same side. There was a little chat about keeping the faith amidst a world that rejects it.

There was even artwork of witnessing on a row of townhouses. The Witness couple was at house 1, a pristinely kept up house. But they would soon be calling on house 3, a pigsty—blinds crinkled and askew, trash cans overflowing,  litter everywhere. One sister commented how the people there must be ill and you wouldn’t want to comment on the nice clean paradise to come because that might make them embarrassed. (My Lord—do we ever think the best of people!) Nah—I think they’re just a bunch of slobs who might not be so slovenly if they received a message of hope. But you never know the comments you will get over artwork.

I’ll bet the people in house 1 don’t care much for the people of house 3. I have even had in the ministry some 1-like people tell me that I should call on the 3-like people, who need what I have, whereas they, the 1-like people, do not. But they do a quick reappraisal when I volunteer to do just that and tell them who sent me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Mr Fiend Wins Fine Language Contest!”

I can’t sleep. Ask me anything,” one person on Twitter said. It is a not unusual complaint these days—there is only so much upending of life that one can take. So I asked him what he thought of the post—the lead jw.org post—on coping with isolation and loneliness. I didn’t hear back.

Other times I have. “Seriously starting to lose my s**t here,” Mr. Fiend said. [**s mine] I sent him the same link. He thanked me, and said he would check it out. It was the second time I had contacted him specifically about the faith. The first was after he said that he didn’t know anymore just what was his place in life—a worrisome remark but by no means an uncommon one these days.

I sent him another link on what had helped me. But he was worried that I was trying to convert him: “Thank you Tom....My parents are both pretty Baptist-esque, though, so I don't feel JW is for me, although I mean absolutely no disrespect by that at all.”

The reply I should have made is: “On my 200th contact, I will ask you to convert, and then you can say ‘no.’ It won’t happen until then. Don’t worry about it,” and then fluff it out a bit to be less abrupt. But what I did say was: “None taken. I wish you the best. These are stressful times for all. Even in the best of times, upending routines is a source of stress.” Our best lines always occur to us too late. Still, the actual sent reply is not bad—it may even be better.

Am I trying to witness to him, or anyone, on Twitter? Not really. That’s not why I started my account. I started it as a platform on which to hawk my books and become rich. That way that ubiquitous drawing in Watchtower publications of a brother thumbing his chest with one hand and gesturing at his possessions with another—fancy home, flashy car, boat even larger than the home, and piles of money, that is not supposed to be an example for anyone—can be one of me. Since my two most recent books—Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia and TrueTom vs the Apostates! are labors of love and are free, there is a wrinkle in my business plan, but I may in time iron it out.

Naw, I just moved into the Twitter community as I would move into a home—in order to find a place to live—and only afterwards do I interact with the neighbors, occasionally finding an opening to witness, though that is not my primary aim. To someone who asked about my blog I said that it is not really a Witness blog. Rather, it is a writer’s blog. Writing is what I like to do. Since I am a Witness, that will form a large portion of my subject matter, but I don’t blog just for that reason. I wish more brothers did this. Instead, the few blogs I see. by brothers are quite plainly for the purpose of witnessing, with almost nothing thrown in to present a rounded person. I like to tell stories, is all. Most stories will be with some backdrop of the faith, because that’s where I am, but it is the storytelling that motivates me.

Mr. Fiend I began to follow for his crazy combination of attributes—really, you can almost not imagine them all in a single person. He is a lawyer—a support one, not a high-flying litigator—and he describes the work as a bit of a grind. He is a pianist who tutors students of all ages and who play Chopin—he has even been giving nightly concerts during COVID days. And he swears like a mobster—it is just so uncalled for and over the top that I am drawn in—it doesn’t mean that you have to be. I even called him on it once—‘it’s a shame he speaks so crudely because it spoils an otherwise appealing personality.’ Most people on Twitter will tell you to f**k off if you do this, but he said something to the effect of, ‘Yeah, I know—it’s just that the injustices and hypocrisies get me going.’ That’s an honest answer, I thought, and I stayed with him.

I throw quips about his salty language right back at him, pretending, for example, for him to have submitted one of his outrageous notes to a client by error, having mixed it up with his official reply. It is a fine exercise in creativity, building off what he has tweeted. For example:

He (recently): “Every morning, you know that *something* in the news is going to come right out of left field.  You just don't know what it's going to be until it happens.  It's completely and utterly unpredictable.”

My reply: “TOP STORY: MR FIEND WINS TOP PRIZE FOR FINE LANGUAGE CONTEST!”

His name isn’t actually Fiend. It is a part of his moniker and I latched onto it. Perhaps his real name is found in the rest of his moniker or perhaps not. One idiot ‘apostate’ thought he could use his real name, highlight some unflattering JW story that I supposedly stood by, and cause Mr. Fiend to upbraid me! What yo-yos these people are! Mr Fiend didn’t take the bait. He tweeted that such and such is a problem everywhere, not the exclusive property of any one domain, as this fellow would have had him believe.

You know, I was going elsewhere with this post, but I got sidetracked. Ah, well. I’ll get back on track tomorrow, or at least some time.

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The Riot Squad is Restless, They Need Somewhere to Go—Witnessing When You Can’t

At a Zoom meeting for field service I admitted that I probably wasn’t going in service at all and, that being the case, I felt a little silly attending, but I did so anyway because that is what Jehovah’s Witnesses do. Every so often certain squirrelly things come up that everyone knows about, but they hesitate to state the obvious. With a squirrelly reputation is already firmly in place, I thought I’d have a go at it. It’s a little tricky to say because it you don’t want to down anyone’s ministry. Fortunately for me, I struck a chord. Others were where I was.

Now, letter-writing is fine—phone calls, too, I guess. Long ago I started a Bible study through a telephone call to someone in that apartment complex we couldn’t get into. I’m okay with both of them. But neither was ever intended to be the main ministry. Both were good for shut-ins—not for the prime ministry of able-bodied ones who might dabble in them but not jump in whole hog.

A pioneer sister said elsewhere—as soon as I heard her say it, I said ‘This is my kind of sister!’ that maybe it makes her a bad pioneer, but she’s not about to go into letters and phone calls 70 hours. I liked her almost as much as I did the candid sister trying to get people to go out with her in service after the Sunday meeting said to me: ‘It’s like pulling teeth!’ and I had to laugh, not only because it is, but also because only one person in 200 would have said it—my wife and I usually go out on Sunday but were not able to that particular day.

Sunday after the meeting is not a well-supported time in our area—too bad, really, because the organization used to try to pump up the day for the longest time by recalling how Supreme Court cases were fought to assure us that right, but times have changed. The congregation, by and large, chooses other days for the ministry. It is what it is, and the organization gave up—or at least it is not stressed as before, though when the CO was here he made a big deal of it and over 50 were out then, but the next week it was two—some Sundays it is nobody. Now that we are on COVID Zoom time, there is yet a local call for Sunday service but there is hardly any point to it anymore. The day used to be unique because you could find people home—now you can find them home any old time—and it doesn’t matter because we don’t go to their homes anyhow.

Her husband told her not to worry about it—that sister who wasn’t doing 70 hours of letters. That’s what the organization has said, too. Still, you never know when some local firebrand of a brother is going to lean on everyone else to ‘get with the new program.’ I see the calamity coming along and try to conceal myself. I’m not doing phone calls—oh, I may do a few here and there, even a few letters—but these days it is the friends to focus on. People don’t answer their phone anyways unless they recognize the number. At least I don’t—if you do, scammers will eat you alive. As for letters—look, they’re okay, but would I pay 55 cents per door to visit each householder in person? I would not. I want door-to-door and cart witnessing, and I can’t do them! Even were the green light given to resume the tried and true methods, householders would take offense, as though you had just stopped by to infect them so as to bump them off.

Bob Dylan sung: “The riot squad is restless, they need somewhere to go.” He could just as well have been singing it about Jehovah’s Witnesses. We need somewhere to go! Letter-writing and phone calls should become my bread and butter? Look, if someone wants to do that—and some do—I have no problem with it—go for it, especially for shut-ins who already were. I just don’t want it to become one of those things where if you don’t do it you’re deemed not very spiritual. I don’t think that will happen, but you never know. It’s hard to give it the personal touch. You can witness by text as well, and there are some possibilities there, but it still falls far short of the personal touch that I have grown to love.

My form of witnessing has come into its own, yet I can only say it gingerly, lest some jump in to warn me about the ‘dangers of the internet.’ Man, I wish we weren’t so timid about it. Say that you enjoy witnessing on social media and it is sort of like saying that you enjoy farting at the Hall. Nobody has ever said that you can’t do it. But ‘social media’ is never ever included in those articles about the many paths open to witnessing. Couple that with frequent caution about the internet being where the liars hang out—well, I just zip my mouth.

It can be done but you can’t be clumsy. You can’t do it directly. There is nothing that corresponds to ringing someone’s doorbell. There is nothing that corresponds to cart work. Sometimes brothers think that they can throw witnessing tweets just out there in the mix for passerby to pick up on, but if they follow counsel to friend only those they personally know, or at least those who seem just like those they know, they end up preaching to the choir. Then one of those who ‘seems like those they know’ turns out to be not what he seems and presents raring for a fight.

The analogy that best fits is where you move into a community—you buy or rent a residence. When you do such a move, you do not do so in order to witness to the neighbors—you do it because you need a place to live. Once you have settled in, however, you interact to a reasonable degree with the general community and in doing so, opportunities for informal witnessing arise.

All is not lost for traditional people-to-people witnessing. Walking the dog the way I do, I ran across a retired couple heading in the opposite direction.  Engaged in a little chit-chat, and presently asked how were they holding up anxiety-wise, crazy world and all. As it turned out, they were holding up just fine, but they still heard me out when I said “Everyone has a cause and so do I. Lately I’ve been calling attention to a website with a lead post on how to cope with isolation—a big concern for many.” The man allowed that mental health was a huge deal, and I added how with some it was not too good to begin with, and now this. ‘Jw.org,’ I said, if you should ever want to check it out—just two letters, easy to remember.

I didn’t even hand him a card, which might have had cooties on it.

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Can You Really Just Bring Up ‘Jesus’ Out of the Blue?

It’s a little dicey to bring up Jesus straight out of the blue, yet that’s what my #3 talk assignment has me doing. On the other hand, everyone has heard the name and everyone holds him in good light, even those not religious. Mark Twain was well-known to be atheist. His writings savage churches and Christian teachings. “There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory … ours is a terrible religion,” he says.

Yet he never had an unkind word to say about Jesus. Quite the opposite. “If Christ were here, there is one thing he would not be – a Christian,” he wrote, so that it becomes plain that he has no beef with Jesus, maybe not even with God, but with those who claim to follow Jesus. They don’t do it very well. “There has only been one true Christian,” he also writes. “They caught and killed him—early.”

So he’s not likely to disagree with Bible verses acknowledging that people are exactly that way, such as Titus 1:16–

They publicly declare that they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.”

or that it should intensify during the “last days” when “critical times hard to deal with” will be here. After that horrendously long list of negative attributes said to characterize people of the woeful time, Paul adds that they “have a form of godly devotion, but prove false to its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Pious though they may be, it doesn’t translate into good conduct.

The point is that with the right introduction you ought to be able to talk about Jesus even to those turned off by religion. So I work up the following, of which the first few lines are more or less word for word:

After a brief greeting, “it’s not for me to stay but a minute or two—you’ve got things to do. People don’t get along very well with each other today. Life would be better if they did. I want to read you a Bible verse on that theme—you tell me what you think—and I’m gone. Good idea?” It’s surprising how many people will say yes to that—I mean, it’s very clear that you’re not going to stay more than a moment or so. You cannot renege on that pledge.

If they say no, then I leave with them a tract linking to the website—any of them will do, since it is the website that is the featured object. Most will take it. Some don’t. I even like to point to how the drop-down box will fetch that site into 1000 different languages and that if one is serious about declaring the Bible message worldwide, of course they will have such a tool—it would almost be negligence not to.

When the person agrees to hear a verse, I will choose any that furthers that aim—of teaching people to get along. Almost anything from the Sermon on the Mount will do, for example. In this case, my assignment sticks me with a verse that would normally not be my go-to verse: Matthew 16:16, on how Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Hopefully I can make it work. It’s important to recognize that people aren’t paying overly close attention to your specific words anyway—they are trying to figure out whether you are too weird to talk to or whether it might be safe to converse a little bit.

I read the verse, with maybe a sentence or two afterwards as to why I chose it, and then observe that is all I wanted to do—to put that thought on the table. “The next move is up to you, and you don’t have to make one.” If he doesn’t, I take my leave. I never act as though it will be hard to make me leave. I act as though it will be hard to make me stay.

If he indicates he’s open to entertaining the thought a little, often I start up a video for him. I never ask to do it. I tell him as it starts that he doesn’t have to listen to it all—“if it gets boring, just say so and I’ll shut it down.” Asking to do it is almost like asking to read a scripture—why would anyone do that? Some householders interpret that as a major escalation, whereas it is no more an escalation than a mechanic pulling out a wrench. Would you be shocked it one did that?

But I can’t play my video in the assigned talk—it’s not in the script. I also have to “respond to an objection common in our territory.” Hmm. I wrack my brain.

Are there any? Have I ever heard of one? For a while they were calling these “viewpoints” and not “objections,” but now, for whatever reason, they have gone back to “objections.” Maybe people objected to viewpoints.

Finally after hours and hours of thought, I come up with one. The householder can say that he has his own religion! Yes! That has happened. Why did I not think of that before? I model the rest of the talk from a recent experience of an evangelical who raised exactly that—um—viewpoint.

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Was Jesus an ‘Apocalyticist?’ — Is a Cop a ‘Malfeasance Disruptor?’

The professor is up to his old tricks again and he calls to mind “that blaggart who uses the science of speech more to blackmail and swindle than teach”—teaching Christianity up there at the university. It is okay if you take it for what it is—a humanist approach to teaching Bible verse. But I can’t help but think that at least some of his students sign up imagining they will acquire what builds their relationship with God.

I think this because I took such courses myself back in my college days, as electives, with just that thought—that I would learn what would help me better know God. The courses were taught by a retired Southern Baptist clergyman of some stature. He joked at how, back in his seminary days, John was known as “the apostle to the idiots” for the simple language that characterize the writings attributed to him. I distinctly remember that when I later came in touch with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I very casually dropped the fact that there were four gospels—that way they would know that they weren’t just talking to any dunce but to someone who knew a thing or two about the Scriptures. In certain circles, you can know almost nothing yet walk around thinking yourself well informed.

Maddeningly, Professor Ehrman explains at considerable length how Jesus was an “apocalypticist” and how that identification must be understood to make any sense out of his life. There is nothing wrong with explaining that Jesus was an apocalypticist, but it is a little like explaining that a cop is a “malfeasance disruptor” and that the tenets of malfeasance disruption must be understood in other to grasp what might possibly motivate the cop to do what he does. As with all his lectures on biblical scripture, the professor sets aside the meat to chew on the rind and presumably gets his students to think that the rind is the meat.

 

I was assigned a student talk of dramatizing how one make a return visit using 2 Timothy 3:1-5, apocalyptic writings through and through, from the apostle Paul—though, if I recall correctly, not all “scholars” think that it was Paul who wrote the letter, maybe because  they don’t see him being too apocalyptic in other letters. I wasn’t crazy about the assignment. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 is a little tricky to use. It is such a long list of negative traits that you begin you feel you’re pummeling the householder going through them all.

I have developed my own way, which was not the one suggested on the program. Maybe it would be like the time when the school conductor said, “Actually, you didn’t really address the theme,” and I had replied, “Oh—I changed that,” which made him laugh uproariously because he had never heard of such a thing. Fortunately, in this case, the demands of the talk were not high and I fixed what I had on the fly to make it dovetail with the adjacent talks—three of them are supposed to go together as a progressive unit.

But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having an appearance of godliness but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.”

I count 19 adjectives. That’s a lot. Sometimes I skip around to highlight just 3 or 4. Sometimes I point out that, since the verses have always been there and Jehovah’s Witnesses have been coming around for a long time, it used to be that if you read the passage and your household didn’t agree that they were true today more than in times past, there wasn’t much you could do about it—plainly, the verses are subjective. But each passing day, especially thanks to politics, makes it harder and harder to dismiss such verses as irrelevant. You can still do it, of course, but your nose sort of grows like Pinocchio.

“Why is it that you always have to think that things are getting worse?” one skeptic asked me, adding “what does that view do for you?” I replied that it helps me to explain why the Doomsday Clock was set at a few moments prior to midnight and not 10:30 AM. But I could have just said: “Because I am an apocalypticist.” That would have made the professor happy—for picking up on his lingo.

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Ehrman on Matthew—and How I Was Always the Cleaner

During Mike’s fanatical and zealous ministry days, he worked part-time in a parking lot. During my steady-as-she-goes balanced days, I worked as a cleaner. Sometimes in the ministry I would accompany him. When householders would slam the door in his face I would say to myself, “Well, they really had no choice.” (not to worrry—he’s been gone for a long time now)

Mike had worked hard to land his Public Parking job. The owner told him day after day that he had no openings. Moreover, he kept pointing out that Mike was overqualified—probably he would last one or two boring days and quit. However, Mike’s favorite scripture was the one about the widow who nagged the unrighteous judge to get what she wanted.

Any counselor on job-seeking will tell you that you do not go day after day to badger the would-be employer after he has turned you down. Mike swore by the system and used it repeatedly. Eventually that employer would throw all his notions of what is proper out the window and hire you just to get you out of his hair, after which you work to prove that he made a good decision. Of course, you have to have incredibly thick skin to pursue this strategy. Mike had that.

Every day he showed up bright and early to wheedle the parking lot owner, Every day he was turned away. One day the fellow said, “I don’t know why you want this job so much, but as it turns out, one of the guys didn’t show this morning. If you want to take his place, I’ll hire you.” Thus began several years for Mike in the parking lot shack, where he could study to his heart’s content all day long and if thieves had towed away every car in the lot, he would not have noticed.

In time, he also picked up a distributorship for a line of cheap jewelry. Anyone who knew jewelry stayed far away from the stuff, but many didn’t know it any better than he—if it shined, it sold.

Mike was very taken at the time with his role of teaching the Bible for free. He loved Jesus words, “You received free—give free. No making a buck off teaching the Word of God for him! Pretty much everything was a scam in his eyes—he had been raised in a company of carnival performers—and there was no scam he considered more pernicious than religion.

“I don’t make any money doing this,” he would tell the householder, with earnestness so thick you could cut it with a knife. “I work in a parking lot. Tom works, too, as a janitor.” However, if he was working in affluent areas, he would say “I don’t make any money doing this. I sell jewelry. Tom works, too, as a janitor.” I might as well have held up a mop at that point to confirm his words. His work description changed—mine didn’t!

 

I don’t know why the Great Courses professor can’t get his head around this. When you are addressing an audience, you select arrows from your quiver most likely to help you make your case. Just because you leave the ‘parking lot’ arrow in your quiver to launch the ‘jewelry’ one instead does not mean that it does not exist.

You think you can get this through Professor Ehrman’s head? He leaves Mark to consider Matthew and he develops the theme of how Matthew presents Jesus as “the Jewish messiah.” This is not particularly controversial. Every JW knows it. Well—they may not know it, many of them, because it is an incidental topic, not the centerpiece the Professor makes it of his lecture, but if they hit their own books they will find that it is so. Jerome and Origen even say that the Gospel, alone of all New Testament books, was first written in Hebrew. This second lecture from the Professor annoys less than the first because so much of it purports to prove this point that Witnesses already know.

Alas, he presently veers off into explaining “redaction criticism.” See, the writer of Matthew probably had a copy of Mark, “scholars agree,” so if Mark contains something that Matthew does not it is because the latter “redacted” that something—he took it out because it didn’t suit his purpose. Well, in fact that’s what Mike did in the affluent areas—redacting the parking lot for the jewelry salesman (though I was always a cleaner). Other than annoying me, there is nothing wrong with this—in fact, it is just using common sense to reach your audience. “To the Jews I became as a Jew in order to gain Jews...to those without law I became as without law...to the weak I became weak, in order to gain the weak,” the apostle would write later. You do what you must to reach your audience.

But the professor looks for signs of division. He doesn’t look for signs of agreement. To him the early Bible writers are competing with one another. They are “changing the narrative” so as to promote their own “theologies.” They are all like traveling snake oil salesmen, each hawking his own product, each hoping to run the other off the road. Oh—and with the added nettlement that, since Jesus’ 12 disciples were “peasants” obviously incapable of writing narratives—even given all the time in China—“educated” persons must have written those books and identified themselves as Mark, Matthew, and John, to lend their own view more authority. He all but says it of Jesus’ twelve: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Then the professor comes to the Pharisees. His lecture is not just about what Matthew “redacted” because he didn’t like it—it is also about what he appends because he does like it and wants to change the story. To be the “Jewish messiah” you must pick a fight with those who think you are not, so Jesus does so with the Pharisees.

The professor has already, in a prior lecture, shown himself bewildered that the Pharisees should be known as hypocrites. ‘How can that be?’ he considers, as he presents them as though just nice guys trying to do their best—as any of us would. It is Jesus who calls them hypocrites, not he—they who just have a different “interpretation”—can that possibly justify ad hominem attacks? It is a humanist point of view that the professor exudes. It only needs someone to think it for a viewpoint to be valid. One way to gut scripture is to interpret away whatever you don’t like.

The professor would be a nightmare in the congregation—it’s well that he is not there. The Pharisees were not “professional hypocrites”—he makes a little joke of how he tells his students they didn’t have to take the “hypocritic oath”—they were just a highly committed group of Jews determined to follow the Law as completely as possible. However, the problem with Law was that it was not “explicit” in how it ought to be followed—it was downright “ambiguous” in many areas. You couldn’t work on the Sabbath, for example. That means no harvesting. But what, the professor asks, if you just want something to eat on the Sabbath and pick just enough grain for that purpose? Was that harvesting or not? Well, “a decision has to be made,” he says. What if you walk through the field and accidentally knock some grain off the stalks? Is that harvesting? Once again, “a decision has to be made,” and Pharisees were the ones to make such decisions—decisions on scenarios as picayune as possible—and impose them on others.

What is this with “a decision has to be made?” Nobody has to make such a decision—or rather, they do, but it can be the person deciding for himself. Few human urges are greater than the one to meddle in someone else’s business. “Make it your aim...to mind your own business,” Paul would write later. The Law wasn’t explicit? It was as explicit as it needed to be and was written that way on purpose.

Jesus has it in for the Pharisees in the Book of Matthew, points out the professor, because the purpose of the gospel is to paint him as the “Jewish messiah”—as though proving his credentials by picking fights with those running the show. Probably the most nasty portrayal of the Pharisees is not in Matthew at all, but in John (following the resurrection of Lazarus), but this does not conform to the professors thesis, so he leaves it unmentioned. And Mark, far from exonerating Pharisees, translates certain Hebrew words like ‘corban‘ so that their want of heart can be seen the more clearly. Still, Matthew has a collection of zingers. From the 23rd chapter of the book:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the seat of Moses. Therefore, all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but they do not practice what they say. They bind up heavy loads and put them on the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.

All the works they do, they do to be seen by men, for they broaden the scripture-containing cases that they wear as safeguards and lengthen the fringes of their garments.

They like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues  and the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by men.

But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called leaders, for your Leader is one, the Christ. But the greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.“

...“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you give the tenth of the mint and the dill and the cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness. These things it was necessary to do, yet not to disregard the other things. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of greediness and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may also become clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness. In the same way, on the outside you appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you build the graves of the prophets and decorate the tombs of the righteous ones, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have shared with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore, you are testifying against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  Well, then, fill up the measure of your forefathers.”

 

The professor doesn’t take sides. He remains above the fray of “interpretations.” He is a “critical thinker.” Jay wasn’t. When I studied with Jay, if the answer to a question was “the scribes and Pharisees” he would NOT simply give the answer and move on, as I so often wished he would. He would spring up from his chair, strut around his apartment, nose in the air, pompous as could be, and act out the role! He knew hypocrites. He knew ones who loved lording it over others. This stuff goes right to the heart—it either instantly lodges there or it doesn’t. it is silly to try to pretend it is a matter of the head. The heart chooses what it wants—and then charges the head with deriving a convincing rationale for it.

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A Report Goes Awry—I Showed SIX Videos—not SEX videos!

OH NO! I just texted the congregation secretary that I had so many hours in the ministry during January, so many return visits, and I had shown sex videos.

It was supposed to be SIX videos! Curse that auto-correct! May its inventor rot in hello!

SIX videos I played. SIX! All wholesome as the day is long! Nothing else! SIX! One of them was even a Caleb and Sophia video!

Am I in trouble? “Yep,” Rocco said.

But surely my friends will support me:

“Well... Auto-correct does use the words that you use most often,” Richard cheerfully pointed out. I told him that I had never said that 3-letter word in my life!

“You obviously have never given the #13 Public Talk (The Godly View of Sex and Marriage),” his buddy responded. “The title and most sections of the talk use this word and many others that are in related categories.” I told him how I used to start on that talk but when I got to the S-word I began to blush and stammer and ultimately would have to get down from the platform, leaving 25 minutes up for grabs.

”You are in so much trouble,” MimZ said, who isn’t even a Witness! What does she care?

They were all of them wholesome videos that I showed! Six of them! They were so wholesome that even Mr. Rogers would be asking for something more racy! Six, all pure and innocent! Surely those elders will understand! Look, I am even shocked at the joke that single sisters go to the convention for fellowshopping and not just fellowshipping! SIX videos I showed, not sex videos!

MimZ could barely control her indignation. “You showed SIX sex videos?! O you vile vile man!

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Search for Those Who are Interested Without Putting into a Panic Those Who are Not

I worked with someone in field service recently who was—shall we say—in over-enthused mode. The householder, accordingly, was doing all he could to ensure that the brother did not lay a glove on him. He did not want a fire and he was trying for all he was worth to hose us down. He brought up how he believes each one has his own belief, and furthermore, each one has the obligation to respect the other person’s belief, and so forth. 

Did the brother take the hint? Not a bit of it. He remained convinced that just one more pointjust one more sentence from him would turn the whole situation around—and so he kept pressing, while the poor householder was practically working himself into a frenzy.

I interrupted. I rarely do. Contrary to those videos in which the two witnesses stand side-by-side in oddly choreographed behavior, or at least it seems that way to me, I usually hang well back and give the appearance that I am just barely paying attention—this is so it does not appear to be two ganging up against one. I especially do this if it is a woman that answers the door.

With the householder getting agitated—an entirely reasonable response given the brother’s full court press, I interjected: “Let me tell you how it works with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” They both paused. “We ARE going to ask you to convert,” I told him. “But it is not going to happen until the 100th call, and what are the chances anything will go that long? In the meantime, it’s just conversation.”

The tension instantly broke. The person visibly relaxed. “Oh—it is just conversation,” he reflected. Then he allowed that over the years JWs had already probably called upon him 100 times, but even so he (and the other brother’s) demeanor changed. We wrapped up without fuss and moved on. It is a method I heartily recommend, having seen it bear good fruit many times. Search for those who are interested without putting into a panic those who are not.

I probably also said something at the end about how we come without appointment—something that is almost unheard of today—so if someone is gracious to us—as he had been (for he was not at all unpleasant)—we truly appreciate it.

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