Tweeting the Meeting—Week of March 1, 2021. I Reconnect with an Old Friend.

Weekend Meeting

I am Zooming to Georgia for the meeting today. A friend’s son is giving his first public talk. Last time I saw him the boy was 10 and his parents were leaning on him to keep up with his homework and saxophone lessons.

There are a number of people I know here, &haven’t seen in a long time—from many places. Zoom makes that possible. Most friends say they look forward to Kingdom Halls reopening, but I have heard some say they don’t care if they ever see a Hall again—Zoom enables that streamlining

“Friends are like buttons on a elevator,” the kid says. “Some will bring you up and some will bring you down.” #WeekendMeeting

It is no surprise that the kid has iPad rather than print Bible—most young people do, and even adults. But it is especially apt for him. His dad is a high-tech honcho for a Fortune500 company. When we flew down to visit, he tracked us every inch of the way via an app.

No surprise, too, that the young man has a pure blue background, probably virtual. First I have seen other than on jw.org. Usually, as with newsmakers, there is a home background. ...1/2

One bro would take down his distracting baseball pics, but you could still see the hooks. Apparently he’d put them up again after the meeting....2/2

Look, this talk is very very good. He is from a family of high-achievers. And yet it lacks nothing in warmth and affability. Is it too stereotypical to say that the family is Asian?

Congregation is on the ball. Everyone has a blue background. Maybe the KH is opened for the purpose. And field service to commence in a breakout room 5 minutes after mtg. I’ve never seen it. Usually, chatter continues until someone pulls the plug and dedicates the rest to service.

I am atypically not prepared at all for the Watchtower study. Things happened last night. Nothing severe, just unanticipated. I have to skim ahead during the meeting, & I prefer not to do it that way.

Ah. It is refreshing that this together congregation is, like the rest of us mortals, experiencing minor Zoom problems. #watchtowerstudy It is almost like, “Rise, for I too am a man.”

Yikes. There are six pages here. It will not be a slam-dunk to get in a comment here. Maybe just as well, given my lack of prep. I would not be surprise if a HUGE number were visitors come to see my friend’s son’s first talk—he is very supportive of his family.

This is the Watchtower study that focuses upon the new year text, this year “Your strength will be in keeping calm and showing trust.” (Isa 30:15) It is in keeping with the overall there of coping with anxiety. One pic has someone holding the verse, as though a note reminder

Since I type my life away, I am not as given to anxiety as I might be at other times—writing is a coping mechanism in itself.

Yeah. I tried. I raised my hand but there are too many here to choose from. There is also very good participation

What I would have said is appreciation for how Acts 5 simplifies it. They felt they “must” preach, not could they or would they. Even in times of upheaval to normal routine, (like now) it can be possible to find a way and means, even devising one.

This is one together congregation. I tell you, there is no one here that is likely to have a cat walking behind them.

I raised my hand then lowered it. Someone had just said much the same. With so many people here, you don’t want to blow time with parroting something already said.

In this study on anxiety, Jesus’ pithy “Stop being anxious” is not quoted. I like the verse for introducing the notion it is open to attitudinal influence , but there have been anxious ones discouraged at any suggestion it is a switch that one can readily be flipped off.

Ah. There is a footnote that says anxiety may be a medical condition. As to stopping it, if you can’t do it you can’t do it. Don’t worry about it. Of course, those precise words were not used.

As the words to closing song are displayed, the speaker’s box and only his is displayed as thumbnail, as though presiding. I didn’t even know that was possible. I am told 8 pages of instruction come with Zoom meetings, largely to thwart trolls, but also for general appearance. ...1/2

Most congregation struggle with too many and some botch them all. This one didn’t miss a trick, I think, and may have added a few....2/2

Oh my goodness! The breakout rooms are named for scriptural themes! I have never seen anything other than #1, #2, #3, etc

Whoa! The 21-year old speaker (his first talk) is deluged with praise, and for the first time looks a little uncomfortable. It WAS a near perfect talk, & few give public talks at 21.    1/2

I’ll write to tell him not to let it go to his head—no doubt unnecessary as he is from a terrific family and seems well-grounded, but it can’t hurt and will be good pretext for getting reacquainted.   2/2

When you give a talk and people mob you to gush on how you have knocked it out of the park, it is a very awkward moment. There are only so many times you can say, “It’s not me, it’s Jehovah.” I learned to just say “Thank you,” and change the topic to them.

Of course, I never had this problem. What they would say to me is, “When I hear you speak, Brother Harley, I marvel at the wisdom of God’s organization in cutting public talks from 45 minutes to 30.”

When I first met my friend, he was himself about 21. A Vietnamese refugee, he loaded trucks for UPS and I believe it was they who were putting him through college. I recall him telling me that, having just left the bank, he was held up, I think it was at gunpoint. He would not relinquish his rent money! “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he told the robber. “I don’t care about money. You can have all of it except what is for rent. I need that.” Way to get himself killed! However, he did emerge the victor of his “negotiations!” The thief did not get the rent money. He was insistent on that point.

After graduation, before departing for his new IT job with the firm he had loaded trucks for, he married the last single pioneer sister from a family of ten. At the wedding reception, I could tell his refugee sponsors were not entirely thrilled about it. They were gracious, of course, and you had to drag it out of them—they didn’t go around muttering. I know how this works with career-minded college people when you marry into a family with no college. I know this because my own grandmother had grilled my prospective wife as to whether she was “good enough” for me. She is more than good enough, thank you very much. And my friend’s wife is more that good enough for him. If he is like me, he has turned the question around to say, “Am I good enough for her?”My grandmother was certainly not a bad woman, nor was she stuck up. She just wanted the best for her grandson, and I as firstborn was her favorite. (A wise choice, as the second-born is the brother with whom I play bi-weekly games of Scrabble, and he always cheats.)

I studied with this grandmother (actually a step-grandmother, no blood relation, though you would never know it) after my graduation from college—I had learned the Bible during my junior-senior summer break, and I almost didn’t return to school. My mom was so distraught at this, not speaking to me out of tears—and believe me, my mother not speaking was as unlikely as Trump not speaking with tears or without—that I knuckled under and returned for the final year. It was a little silly, after all, to go three years and not to completion. The brother studying with me offered to set me up in the other city, and for whatever reason I said no. I was studying the Bible with the aid of.a book, and if there was one thing a college student knew how to do, it was read a book. Besides, I liked him well-enough, but maybe the person he sent would be a nut. Like the born-again nut that had approached myself and two buddies on our camping trip that had us stopping from here to Washington DC and back.

He came out of nowhere into our campsite. “I just wanted to know if you boys knew the Lord,” he said. He rambled on for the longest time and I don’t remember all he said but I do remember we all thought he was a kook but we also respected him (and God) for mustering up the courage. He ran himself out of words after awhile and we spent the rest of the week composing songs of mockery—one friend had a guitar and all of us could sing. I mean, it was God, and we all respected that, but he wasn’t saying anything that appealed to the head. His emotion alone didn’t do it for us.

I did study on my own back in college, but only for a short while, for I was soon immersed in college life. In time, out of discouragement at where college was leading (or not leading) and at how I had been convinced I had found something of spiritual substance, I looked up the address of a Kingdom Hall and walked in. Therein begins another story and I’ve probably told it somewhere, but if not maybe I will.

The grandmother I studied with—she may have been my first Bible study—would have me over for dinner every week, or maybe it was every two weeks. Again, I was her favorite. After homemade cooking, we would study out of the truth book. She went to the Baptist church, and I learned later that my dad thought her a religious fanatic, but then, anyone bringing up the Bible was a religious fanatic to him. I think the Second World War was a big turnoff to him. Oh, and it didn’t help when the priest said he could not marry my Protestant mom unless she converted. Forget that!” he said, and they never saw him again.

Nobody else ever thought Nana a fanatic. She wasn’t a Bible-thumper. I can’t recall her ever preaching to anyone. She just went to church. Anyway, we went through several chapters of the Truth Book, and she was a very good student, but she also became troubled. “I see what this is saying,” she would tell me, “and I see how the scriptures support it, but it is just so different, she said.” I will never forget how troubled she was to think I had rejected the Trinity. But it turned out that by trinity, she just thought that their were three parties, and Witnesses must be denying that. When I explained about co-equal, co-powerful, co-eternal, co-this, and co-that, she said that she had never believed that—she just thought there were three close parties, so there was really no conflict!

Between school and courting, I don’t think my Vietnamese friend had too much to do with the fledgling Vietnamese group that was forming. That was largely Erna, a pioneer who had rented homes to some of them, had offered them studies, and two had accepted. This will be interesting she said, for she didn’t know a word of Vietnamese. But Erna was staggeringly resourceful. Her dad, whose home building business she had probably helped launch from one-house-at-a-time to lucrative, put her through law school and she emerged a commuter lawyer for Bethel. Some ne’er-do-wells online were carrying on once about how Witness women must have a horrible time always kowtowing to men. “I don’t know,” one of them said, “I knew Erna at Bethel and she wouldn’t put up with that crap for a moment.” So he does know Erna, I smiled. As congregation secretary, I had drafted her letter of recommendation to Bethel.

Though there were high and mighty Vietnamese, as there are those sorts everywhere, the ones we came in contact with arrived as boat people, They were remarkable. They would arrive with nothing, on welfare and food assistance. Within two years they were homeowners growing their own food, and bartering at the market. Venders of chickens had to come to grips with some of them being purchased for sacrifice. Another was rushed to the hospital when the mushrooms her family picked in the local schoolyard turned out to be poisonous toadstools—I guess that problem didn’t present back home. Each family member would work a job, sometimes more than one, almost always for minimum wage, but the income added up. I spoke with Anh once about demons. Did they know much about them where he had come from. Oh yes, he said matter-of-factly. They were always to be found in the woods, were apt to cause trouble, and sometimes his peasant neighbors would go hunting them down, which was not easy work and was fraught with danger because they could be nasty. Many years later I thought of that woman doctor from the Caribbean who had championed the anti-malarial drug that Trump advocated. Media felt obliged to discredit her, so they made mockery at similar statements she had made regarding demonism—it is not an “educated” Western concept even if it is an unremarkable fact of life for many lowly people today.

Oh, there is plenty more to the story, and I must get to it someday. Possibly, I already have and it is buried in posts somewhere. I really do need a massive overhaul in my filing system, but will probably never get around to it. After I die, in the unlikely event anyone tries to unravel this stuff, they will say, “Huh! The old buzzard must have said this 15 times if he said it once!”

And here is from the mid-week meeting. I usually do these first, but reconnecting with my old friend took precedence this time:

A new ‘translate’ button has appeared and it was explained it was for members of our foreign language group. Someone asked if it would work for.Charlie’s Brooklyn accent. #midweekmeeting

That zealous sister who suffered the heart attack is back. Someone asked her if the territory of Upstate Hospital is now completely covered.

“Way to fit a 5 1/2 minute video into a 5 minute part, the presiding elder said to the one conducting it? Was the “Organizational Accomplishments video really longer than the time allotted for it?

The local needs speaker built his talk, geared toward the young, around Isa 41: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not gaze about, for I am your God. I will fortify you. ..For I...am grasping your right hand...saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’

The new Zoom settings enable personalized hands. Some black friends have brown hands, some white have tan hands. Were I Irish, would I choose a green hand, or if Native American, red? I have the default yellow, which apparently is not reserved for Asian.

Spurred on by Covid, there are many museum tours offered virtually from afar. The “disgusting idols,” even “false gods” that “competed” with Jehovah and triggered not-so-hot conduct are on display, and the guides are always more than ready to explain them. #Ezekielstudy

A new Zoom function was employed for the first time, allowing participants to come and go and switch breakout rooms at any time. But I didn’t like it. I feared it might be a revisit of school gym days where everyone was chosen for dodge ball before me.

.....Visit Smashwords bookstore.  Also available at Amazon & other ebook retailers

 

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!’ (free)

Dave McClure - Part 2

As for Dave McClure, my old Circuit Overseer, if he ever had thoughts about the 1988 brouhaha, he never shared them with me. But then, he would have moved on by then to another assignment—he served our circuit just around 1980. He passed away in Florida several years ago.

The guy was a hoot, ever quick-witted with a sharp sense of humor. His wife was the same and they would tease back and forth at each other all day. The small town that Dave came from was so small, Betty would say, that its greatest tragedy was the day the library burned to the ground. Both books were destroyed and one of them hadn’t even been colored yet.

He got tired in the afternoon—he was diabetic—and ceded the driving of his huge Chrysler to me. He sat in as I conducted an afternoon Bible study with Alex, nodded off, and his book hit the floor—the thud immediately woke him again. I later brought him to another’s home and that person asked him the procedure for Bible studies with a circuit overseer around—would he conduct them or would the regular congregation member conduct them? ‘Well,’ he explained, ‘I usually ask beforehand and if the publisher wants me to conduct, then I do, but if he says that he would rather conduct, then I just nod....”

He asked me as the chauffeur one afternoon to stop by the Photomat and pick up his pictures—vacation pictures—they were probably developed by now. I pulled ahead just a little so that he in the back seat could go one on one with the attendant. The girl couldn’t find them. She explained that they must have gotten lost, that she was so sorry, and offered him a free roll of film.

”I’m not going to be satisfied with a free roll of film,” he shot back, in a manner that you couldn’t really tell—or at least, I couldn’t—just how nettled he really was. “Unless you want to take me on another vacation—then I’ll be satisfied—but otherwise”—he employed a hillbilly expression that I had never heard before, “there’s going to be blood in the sun lessen you don’t find my pictures.” He had that attendant tear apart her entire booth searching every nook and cranny for them.

Driving away without his film—the developed ones were not found and I think he spurned the free roll—he seemed a little sheepish to have shown himself so nettled. It wasn’t plain to me that he had been, but that girl had turned her booth upside down. “I understand that mistakes will happen,” he groused. “It’s just that cavalier attitude that I should be happy with a free roll of film that gets under my skin.” There is an art to human relations.

And as for his quick wit itself, it is yet another example of how people develop it as a defense mechanism, a compensation for times in which they were bullied as a child.

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!’ (free)

Slow Joe and the Pork Chop Preachers

Slow Joe used to refer to the semi-grifter preachers who set up storefront churches as ‘pork chop preachers.’ They preached just enough to keep themselves in pork chops. There was no particular opinion as to whether they were sincere or not but the inference was that they knew just enough of the Bible to buy their daily pork chop and no more.

He tended to move slow, though he could move fast. He tended to speak slow, but any inference that he was slow-witted would be wrong. Rather, he spoke slow so that every word he said would land with the blow of a hammer if he wanted it too, which he frequently did. His voice was very deep and very stern. He would, back in the day, call on young people even though they had not raised their hands—I have never known anyone else so bold and oblivious to normal human decorum to do this. Children were afraid of him, unless they loved him, as many did. The ones who endured later came to reminisce on him fondly. Not a few adults were afraid of him, as well. Surely there were some who must have told him off.

Slow Joe went all the way back to representing Jehovah during the days of World War II. Many of our people were accosted by mobs during that time. A few died. Many were beaten up, some tarred and feathered, or forced to drink castor oil. Countless numbers were tossed into prison, sometimes without charge—their neutrality made them simply too contemptible in popular opinion during those nationalistic times to be afforded the normal rights that would be accorded everyone else.

There is a stereotype of Witnesses ‘turning the other cheek’ and being mild mannered no matter what the ordeal. It probably is true with most, but it wasn’t with Slow Joe; he was not averse to defending himself with fists. “We use to stack em up like cordwood,” he would say of certain ones who came out to attack, though it was not easy to draw this remark from him.

Through chance and unforeseen circumstances many years later, I found myself a new and very green elder in a congregation that didn’t have too much more in the way of experience. Only one other elder could be described as all-around and experienced—there were several others but they were all hobbled in some manner. “Maybe be can raid that other congregation—they have plenty of elders—and draft Slow Joe,” I said to the co-elder.

We arranged to meet with him. Slow Joe sat there scowling, seemingly, as he ever seemed to, but he was a good man—we knew it and he knew that we knew it. He said that he would think about it. A week later he showed up at the meeting with his wife. He didn’t say a word to us, chatted with some of the friends afterwards, and left. Later, the other elder and I emptied the contribution box and found his Publisher Record Cards. “I guess we have his answer,” that brother said to me.

I am very grateful to Slow Joe. He didn’t have to come. He was old by then, could easily have gone into cruise mode, and no one would have thought any the less of him for it. And he did bring a wealth of experience. “Brothers, I think we’re going about this all wrong,” he said at a certain elder’s meeting where we were going about something all wrong. Then he set us on a way that worked out better. Moreover, Black Mack, another extremely experienced man, joined the congregation shortly thereafter—I think Slow Joe recruited him.

Black Mack had equal stature with Joe—he had long served as an elder but he wasn’t one at the time. He was even separated from his wife, and I surmise that both circumstances were essentially the result of his rigidity and unwillingness to yield to which way the wind was blowing. He thrived in the new atmosphere, in time resolved all problems, and was again appointed an elder. If I recall correctly, he groused over having to  go through the stages of ministerial servant first, since he had not forgotten the spiritual things that he once had as an elder—he wanted to skip that step—he was deleted as an elder, he should be ‘reinstated’ as an elder, he thought. “Look, just do it, won’t you?” someone said. “It’s how we do things. Yield for once in your life and it will all be well.” And it was.

Soon afterwards Davey the Kid came along, straight out of Bethel, a phenomenally talented ‘people person’ whose every touch turned something into gold. He talked his way immediately into some hot-shot job but quit when his new employer wouldn’t grant him time off for the convention. “They’re just like the Russians,” he told me, ‘crying that they aren’t doing this and they can’t do that, when all the time they are churning out weapons to beat the band.”

Having quit, he had to do something to support himself and growing family, now including an infant son. So he walked into the eight-story Medical Arts building to secure the janitorial contract. The manager showed him around, noted a few special challenges, but then allowed that he himself didn’t know much about cleaning. “That makes two of us!” Davie told me he thought at the time, as he wowed the other with pure chutzpah. “It’s my gift,” he told me. “They never say no.”

It was all good training for me. I had prayed for experienced help ‘tending to Jehovah’s sheep’ and in short order three three titans came along. I even called them ‘titans’ in the final chapter of ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’ I related the time—it was real and I was there—when Davey the Kid gave his first student talk in the congregation before Slow Joe, the School conductor. With only mild exaggeration on both sides, I wrote that never in his life had Davey the Kid not been awarded a G following a talk (it stood for ‘good’) and never in his life had Slow Joe awarded one. I dramatized it for all I was worth and put it in a setting of the old West. I spoke of the climactic moment when ‘you could hear a pin drop.’ Solely because I like to play with words and images, I substituted that ‘you could hear a plane drop.’ Laura, who reviewed parts of the manuscript prior to self-publishing—Laura, who know nothing of the background, suggested that my substitution didn’t make any sense. What was I to tell her—that it did?

 

 

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!’ (free)

The Most Stubborn Kodak Man to Ever Walk the Planet—But Not During Lunch

Supper time was sacrosanct when I was a child. Everybody had supper at more of less the same time. You did not interrupt it. Want to play with a friend? You did not dream of calling until after supper.

On becoming a Witness, I respected that family hour and would not think of calling during that time. It took me a long while to realize that it is not that way anymore. Typical is for family members to come and go, eat whenever, and not necessarily together. Not that a traditional supper hour is dead, by any means, but it ceased to be the rule long ago.

Now I will go in service sometimes through what used to be that sacrosanct time and it raises no fuss at all. Should I find I have interrupted someone’s supper, I apologize profusely, say that with people have such varied schedules I didn’t know, and I move on. It doesn’t happen all that often.

And to think that when I was new as a Witness there was Sam, old as the hills, who not only would not call during the supper hour (something no Witness would do) but he wouldn’t even call during the LUNCH hour that he imagined people still kept.

This is the same Sam would would pound you into mush—lecturing you with the utmost seriousness if you stepped on the grass, something you were NEVER to because, “we are not the mailman.” Throughout, he would point his finger at you. Ernie said, “Don’t point that thing at me Sam, there’s a nail in it!”

Attend the book study at his home during the summer months, and it was held outside beneath the delicious grapevine laden trellis—this reminiscent of the old country that he hailed from. His modest city lot, the back yard, was in its entirety a tomato patch, and that’s where he would be for an hour or two each day after work. People had never seen tomatoes so big as were commonplace in his yard. Trying to break free from a past of uncouth language, he began calling people ‘tomatoes’—his ultimate insult, and the practice caught on. Beat him at a hand of cards, and earn the epithet—“You big tomato!”

For reasons I forget, I found myself part of a car group with Sam and two others—Ernie was one of them—cruising behind Kodak Park, back when the company was a going concern. Entire blocks had been purchased, the houses razed, and the land converted to parking. Here and there, however, there were a few who had not sold their homes, which then stood as the sole structures on the block, surrounded by blacktop.

”Those people are so stubborn!” muttered Sam, a Kodak retiree. “Kodak needs that land! I’M stubborn—but those people are MORE stubborn!”

”No! Sam! YOU, stubborn?” Ernie led the charge. “How could you say that?! Sam! Stubborn? No, Sam—not YOU!”

Sam was probably the most stubborn man to ever walk the planet.

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!’ (free)

“Here Comes Brother Fullalove”

“Why do the good have to die?” the funeral speaker cried out, almost pumping the tears, taking a cue from Habakkuk.

Well, maybe because he skipped school with a buddy, hopped the fence into the stone quarry and when the backhoe driver dumped a load of stone on him and the horrified man realized what he had done, he suffered a heart attack trying to dig him out. I mean, he wasn’t a bad kid by any stretch—boys will be boys—it could have been Tom Sawyer—but I would have opened the talk differently.

That speaker was known circuit-wide for showing extraordinary hospitality and love. I once watched him from afar at the Assembly, gradually working his way toward me, embracing this one and hugging that one. “Watching you makes me wish I were Italian,” I told him. Mornings before the workday began, he would host breakfast at the restaurant, often paying for everybody. I was one of them for a time.

“I don’t think he knows how to speak in complete sentences,” my critical friend muttered—a good friend—he was only a year or two older than me and we would sometimes spend the day together in the pioneer ministry.

Brother Littlelove and Brother Lacklove were bickering about something or other on the platform—a skit which comprised a portion of a service meeting part. “Brothers, brothers!” that elder said as he approached imploringly, arms outstretched, emoting his peacemaker role. “Here comes Brother Fullalove” my friend whispered to me.

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!’ (free)

Farmer Mort Gives the Talk: ‘A Cleansed Earth—Will You Live to See It?’

We had Farmer Mort over to the house following his public talk. Before eating, we made him take the City Slicker’s Quiz:

If you want to eat, identify all eight items:

1. Credit card

2. Necktie

3. Shoe polish

4. Pictures of Wegmans (where food comes from)
5. Roll of toilet paper (replaces Sears catalog)
6. Kitchen faucet (where water comes from)
7. Refrigerator (where cold comes from)
8. Stove (where fire comes from)

We did this as payback because Farmer Mort had made everyone take the Farmer’s Quiz at that Grad Party on the Farm. “Identify all 5 items before eating,” it said, and nobody was able to do it—Come on! he had bags of individual seeds in there—soybean, corn, wheat—how’s anybody going to know that? In the end, he relaxed the requirement so that guests would not starve to death.

Farmer Mort has farming on the brain. He has been known to give people stalks of wheat, bagged and tied up with a bow, labeled “pre-donuts.” He puts it all to good use when his turn rolls around for public speaking—the title of his talk was: “The Earth Remains Forever.”

He pulled a plastic bag of seeds from the paper bag he had brought up front with him. It contained wheat seeds. If you drop one on the ground in late summer or autumn, chances are pretty good that you will get a wheat stalk next year that includes 125 of such seeds. “That’s not a bad deal,” he pointed out—125 for 1—and man has not been able to ruin that—yet—but if for some reason that deal is not good enough for you and you want a better one.... He pulled out a bag of soybeans, for which the ratio is 210 to 1. If even that deal is not good enough for you....he pulled out a bag of corn seeds—500-700 to one, he pointed out, once again with the reminder that man has not been able to ruin that....yet.

Then he branched off into how there is the UCS today, the Union of Concerned Scientists, raising the alarm of environmental abuses worldwide. And yet—if you just leave the earth alone, it is pretty good at healing itself. Pour oil on man-made concrete and it is there for a long while. Pour it on grass—(“Don’t do this!” he forbade everyone) and in short order the grass is lush and green again. Visit that abandoned factory after a few decades and you will say: “THAT was the parking lot?” Earth has reclaimed it. The earth has enormous powers of recovery, Farmer Mort pointed out, pretty much like we do—cut your finger and there is very little that you must do to it—it heals itself.

Then he turned his attention to wrappers that clog the landfills. “I sort of like the wrappers Jehovah made,” he said, as he pulled out a banana from his shopping bag. This wrapper—he pulled out one from a candy bar—takes 50 years to decompose, but that of the banana? Forget and leave a banana on the dashboard of your car—it goes black in a few days—toss it and, as to the contents within—you plow it back into banana bread. He likes other wrappers as well—wrappers Jehovah made—in each case superior to those of man—the husks of corn, the shell of nuts, the skin of fruits—that wrapper you can even eat.

There is a spiritual crisis today, he observed as his talk unfolded, manifested in the shameful manner that humans treat the earth. He quoted Deuteronomy 32:5, about a “crooked generation” that is “not his children”—the “defect is their own” as they “act corruptly.” It will not always be. Farmer Mort read Psalm 37:29: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”

(Incredibly, Russian authorities have declared this specific verse extremist—because it furthers the “propaganda of inferiority based on religious identity”—do they really wish to stick up for the “unrighteous” over there?)

What about when you take your family for an outing at the park? Farmer Mort presented the picture for us, and you see the sign of all the things you can’t do: no driving on the grass, no animals, no alcohol, no loud music, and so forth. “Well....I guess,” you say and as you enjoy that grass so lush that you don’t need shoes or socks, and—what is that delicious smell wafting in the air—honeysuckle? clover fields, linden trees?—and then it is all spoiled by the thunderous sound of choppers that spin out on the grass. Kegs are pulled out of the pickup truck. Raucous music blares from the speakers and...was that a shotgun blast? “Come on, kids. Time to go. It’s not safe.”

Rebels have destroyed the beautiful park—they always do—rebels who cannot obey the rules—but God will get rid on the rebels. Revisiting the promise expressed at Psalm 37:29 that everyone can read except for those in Russia, Farmer Mort read Proverbs 2:21-22: “For the upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.” Farmer Mort loves the earth and he looks forward to that time.

Furthermore, “you will see it” when it happens. “Hope in Jehovah and keep his way,” says Psalm 37:24, “and he will exalt you to take possession of the earth. When the wicked ones are cut off, you will see it” Humans cleanse things on earth with “Arm and Hammer,” he said (did he pull out a box of that, too?), “but Jehovah has something called “Armageddon” that will get the job done much more thoroughly and, most important of all, lastingly.

What is it with this guy? Why did I enjoy this talk so much? Is it that I could picture Jesus doing it this way—spinning parables all having to do with rural life that his listeners could get their heads (and thereby hearts) around? Was it Farmer Mort’s low-key but indestructible enthusiasm —he retained the excitement he had from Day One upon discovering God’s purpose.

It had created shock waves in the community when his family embraced Jehovah’s Witnesses. Staunch church members—known and highly regarded by everyone—there is even a street named after Mort’s forefather—they had not been unhappy. His wife in particular had been fully involved in her traditions of the rural community. Only one thing nagged at her—a hunger to understand the Bible—a hunger that she was unable to satisfy anywhere but in just one place—and she resisted that conclusion for the longest time—how could it be Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were so ill-regarded? As for Farmer Mort, he was always busy out hauling the hay—“We used to plow all this land for the Temeris family,” he told me as we drove about in field service. When he saw his wife accept Bible teachings from the Witnesses, he finally took notice, and embraced it in a heartbeat, blanketing his community with such zeal that some thought he had taken leave of his senses. It is a perception that may remain to this day—“a prophet is not unhonored except in his home territory,” Jesus stated at Matthew 13:57—and when Farmer Mort and I worked in service in our territory, he exclaimed: “Wow! People are actually listening to me! I may have to start making sense!”

The joyful task of those post-Armageddon will be to transform the abused earth into paradise, he continued in his talk. They will have plenty of company, “Even though he dies he will come to life,” Farmer Mort quoted Jesus at John 11:25. He referred to God’s mandate—“being a plowboy, I have to look up words like ‘mandate,’” he said, and enthused over how “God is not a mere man who tells lies”—and how ademic conditions will cover the entire globe. Disobedience may work in the short run, he said, but not in the long run.

In the resurrection, people will appear who will say: “I was a Danite...I was a Ruebenite...I was a Simeonite.” Farmer Mort suggested what his reply to them might be: “Um...we really didn’t do it that way.” Did he really suggest that he might say: “I was a Trivialite?”

“Oh, and this one is worth getting out your glasses for” (which he did), as he read a quote from a 30-year old Watchtower publication—never repeated that I know of:

To all eternity our earth will bear a distinction that no other planet throughout endless space will enjoy, though the earth may not be the only planet that will ever be inhabited.[underlining mine] Uniquely it will be where Jehovah has indisputably vindicated his universal sovereignty, establishing an eternal and universal legal precedent. It will be the only planet on which Jehovah of armies will have fought “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” It will be the only planet to which God sent his dearest Son to become a man and die in order to recover the planet’s inhabitants from sin and death. It will be the only planet from which Jehovah will have taken 144,000 of its inhabitants to be “heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ.”

He was like a little kid on Christmas morning, Farmer Mort was. Later on he identified almost all of the items on my City Slicker’s Quiz. I was bummed. I had hoped to flummox him like he had flummoxed us with his Farmer’s Quiz. He missed only #6—the kitchen faucet—which he incorrectly identified as a grab bar for use in the event of an earthquake. I think he was just pulling my leg. I think he really knew what it was. He just saw my spirits sink as he effortlessly ticked off the correct answers and threw me that one as a bone.

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!’ (free)

Jon

Jon knew dirty rotten lowlifes well, to use one of his favorite phrases. “You know that car dealer on TV?” he’d say, speaking of certain commercials. “I know him. He’s a dirty rotten lowlife. I’ve seen him at the auction. He has a woman in one arm and he holds a drink in the other.” Jon knew dirty rotten lowlifes because he had been dirtier than any of them. When he muscled in on the mob’s territory, the mob came to pay him a visit. He emerged from his shack with a live grenade in each hand! “Now, what is it that you boys wanted?” They suddenly remembered that they really hadn’t wanted anything at all.

Years later, after Jon had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, my son began to sweat when police stopped the car his friend was driving. The two had some fireworks inside—not exactly legal at the time. “Watch this,” the friend said as the policeman approached. The cop asked for his license. “Officer,” the friend asked, ‘“do you know my dad, Jon Markow?” A pause. “This doesn’t say Markow,” the cop said, examining the license. “It says Sanchez.” “Yeah, Jon married my mom. He’s the one who raised me.” This got the officer thinking, and presently he bid my son and friend a good evening and let them go with a friendly admonition to drive safely.

“See that fellow over there?” one cop said to his buddy at the coffee shop, pointing to Jon. “He used to be the meanest SOB around and he turned out better than all of us.”

At a committee meeting over an elder who turned out to be a real stinker and Jon saw it before anyone else—in fact, he spotted it instantly, mostly because he had traveled in the same circles—Jon stated what he had seen and that elder called him a liar. Jon reached across the table and half yanked him out of his chair by the lapels. It was all the other brothers could do to persuade him that “we don’t do it that way here, Jon.”

“How can you brothers be so naive!?” he said astounded to those ones, who could not believe the evidence unfolding right before their eyes. But after the dust finally settled, one of them approached to say: “You’re right, Jon. We are naive.” Sometimes elders are naive.

He also told off a certain overbearing traveling overseer. His body of elders had worked and worked and had a huge number all pumped up excited during the month over auxiliary pioneering—people that hadn’t done it in ages or even ever. They had rearranged priorities and were all hopped up. The visitor came along and said: “Well, it’s a good start.” “Way to crush the spirit of the congregation,” Jon told him.

Besides my sympathies to the family, his death made me sit up and take notice. It didn’t shake me to the core—that would be too strong to put it that way—but it drew more attention than the deaths of most people for whom I am inclined to pass off as ‘another one bites the dust.’ Sounds callous, I know, but I really am one who believes in the resurrection—death is just the beginning of a long but temporary leave-of-absence and I know that I will not see them for a long while but in most cases I was not seeing them anyway. I have said before that “nobody wants to die—it’s inconvenient and it makes people feel bad,” but other than that—so what? The resurrection will undo it all. Jon’s death was different.

He really wasn’t that old—maybe just two or three years more than me, I think. He might even have been younger. Your definition of what is ‘old’ increases as you get older yourself. I am of the age where I think that I have 20 good years ahead of me, plenty of time to get everything down in writing. But you never know. Maybe life will throw a me curve ball and I will be gone tomorrow. What is that verse about how we are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing? Ah—here it is: James 4:14. “Tell your dad you love him,” Davey-the-Kid said to me after his dad died unexpectedly, for which notice they had paged him at the Pittsburgh Special Assembly.

I have said once or twice—no more than that because I really liked the man—that Jon was the originator of 100 stories, each one of which he was the hero. Ordinarily this would be an extremely tiresome quality, but in Jon it was not—I think because I never doubted (and still don’t) that each and every story was true and he really did act as a hero. One can tell when something has the ring of truth and corresponds with experience and known fact in every conceivable way. Having seen it all, he had turned all his energy and empathy towards the congregation and the ones within it.

I have fond memories of our family camping with his at the campground In upstate New York. The two of us would talk for hours by the campfire and then continue while walking the grounds. Sometimes the most trivial details are the ones that survive. Jon used an expression that I had never heard before (or since). I asked him about it. I found it humorous and thus it became a running joke—“throw one over the hoop.” It means taking a leak, and I suppose it is a reference to slobs too lazy to put the toilet seat up. “I’m off to throw one over the hoop,” we would tell each other throughout the weekend, particularly after downing a beer or two.

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!’ (free)

The Wood-Sawing Contest—What a Way to End Field Service!

Joan is pushing ninety, alert, and she looks spry. The bevy of pills before her testifies that there may be more than meets the eye, however. Indeed, they just released her from the hospital after a three day stay. Her daughter sits kitty-corner at the table. She quit her job so as to be her mom’s full-time caregiver. That way mom will likely not go into a nursing home, and avoiding one is what she wants.

New York State wants it, too. It’s far cheaper on the social structure if Medicare/caid patients stay at home, and there is a program whereby a family member can be reimbursed by the state, which would otherwise send funds to far more pricey places.

I have come to visit the two, and they pour me some chamomile tea.

As usual on visits like this, talk turns to reminiscing of back in the day. Such as when daughter and mother and aunt worked the door-to-door ministry in a small town that had a wood-sawing contest going on. The mother—she was raised on a farm and is well accustomed to chores—gazed at the clumsy white men pretending to be pioneers—and said to her sister: “I think we can take them.”

“You’re in field service, Mom!” her daughter upbraids her, mortified at the spectacle she might make. But....these flabby young men, in their new store-bought flannel shirts—“it’s important to keep the saw moving so it doesn’t seize up,” the daughter told me, and some of these guys working out their affectation weren’t doing so hot as they struggled to tug the blade to and fro.

“I think we can take them,” Joan repeated to her sister. “Oh, sure! A couple of old ladies in dresses and carrying bookbags stuffed with Watchtowers! No, mom! Forget it!” the daughter rebuked them.

It would have happened on my watch! Forget service—I would have signed them up then and there! Nor do I think it would have been a bad witness. “Jehovah Witness Ladies Capture Wood-Cutting Crown, Beat Out Smallville’s Best”—what a witness that would have been! What! Do you think it would have been a greater witness to place a couple of magazines with someone on the topic: “What is the Purpose of Life?”

The purpose of life is to take wannabe roughing-it pioneers, and hand them their heads on a platter—and show them how REAL pioneers do it!

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!’ (free)

At the Grad Party on the Farm

At the grad party on the farm there was a potato gun. It launched those spuds a football field and a half, and there were some kids who ran out there to see it they could catch them—unsuccessfully, since the gun was very hard to aim, and with ears of corn it was even worse. It was powered by compressed air.

CEAC2D1E-8E7F-4D00-8ACD-C821C27A6D24

At the grad party on the farm there was a hammer-n-nail game. Toss the hammer into the air, twirling it once, catch it by the handle, and then drive the nail. Great fun for resident and the far more numerous wannabe farmers.

2EE7CF91-664C-4807-BB96-88981D159AE3

Get your school bus ice cream at the grad party on the farm. Order at the driver’s window. Pickup at the rear. The farmer had bought it at auction, thinking it might do for group outings, but then discovered that there was more to putting an old bus on the road than he had anticipated.

F7E27BA1-2778-4D9A-A7BA-A72B551B89D8

At the grad party on the farm you had to pass a farm quiz in order to eat, identifying various seed types and farm implements. This requirement was relaxed so that visitors would not starve. Acquiescing to reality, this farmer had previously given people stalks of wheat, labeling them “pre-donuts.”

64C5B60E-0AC2-40D5-A14B-AA2935C26467

There was also a great swing that could accommodate up to three people at the grad party on the farm.

82A9A512-DB18-4E49-86DD-C5F78C62EEC6

At the grad party on the farm, there was, not one, but two, International Scout convertibles. With a V8 under the hood, it was a vehicle with guts, so said the grad’s brother who took it for a spin—more guts than that brothers own high Jeep, who he first got it, I said: “I’d better not see your tire tracks across my hood!” (or was that his buddy I said that to?)

410033C7-15D7-4ECB-9444-BF1C62957800

There was, at the grad party on the farm, a Burmese Mountain dog that threaded through the gathering crowd, its tail wagging all the while, as though a politician. “Careful—it’s a leaner,” someone said. “Pull back quick, and it will fall over.”

EF0C3E81-69B6-42CC-94C9-FCBD915C8DF9

Probably 150 made the party, and the grad is someone I have known since she was 2. She had strawberry red hair back then. There was to be a bonfire that night, but we left before that happened. It may have been rained out, since it was raining hard when we arrived home.

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!’ (free)

"He Was a Good 'ol Boy, that Tom Harley, But He's Deeeaad Now!"

Leroy Whitehouse passed away the other night. I’ll miss that man. A tall, drawling, deep throated, 80-something-year-old black man from the deep south, I used to jest with him how I hoped he would one day give my funeral talk:


“Yeeeaass, he was a good ‘ol boy, that Tom Harley, but he’d deeeaad now! D_E_A_D!”


LeRoy would uninhibitedly offer comments to the 50/50 congregation about his younger days back home “working for the white man.” Or relate how even long term Bethelites are not perfect, illustrating it with a brother who declared “I don’t give a damn!” Taking the nervous titter in the audience for appreciation, he repackaged the line and ran it through two or three more times: “I don’t give a damn!”


I will miss him plenty. He was a friend.

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!’ (free)