Making a ‘Great Name’ for Oneself: Part 1

As shown in link, George Benson, long known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is still going strong at 79..

This news did not sit well with all.

You would think at this age he would put Jehovah first. Instead his career still going....still working hard on his career,” said Aubree.  “Older people like this could set the right example.”

Tom: At Prince’s funeral, one of the congregation’s pioneers told reporters, (I included the quote in the Prince chapter of Tom Irregardless & Me) “I was just standing there and all of a sudden, in he walks. I thought, ‘He just wants to be treated like an average person,’ so I just kind of acknowledged him, and he came in and sat down.” She added: “I think he wanted to be private and my observation is: he had to have his creative outlet. Maybe he just needed it to survive.” 

He wanted to be treated like an average person. But people do what they need to survive. I’m not sure that he’s not ‘putting Jehovah first.’ We can expend too much energy pounding square pegs into round holes.

Aubree didn’t give up:

When one is famous and has a lot of income coming in from royalties.... one can cut your life-style and put Jehovah first….There are many brothers and sisters who have left lucrative political careers, football careers, ballet careers, singing careers, acting careers and other careers for which they have natural talent and have all the necessary skills - to put Jehovah first in their life.”

Tom: I would not assume that he is not. Time was when coming across someone like him we would say that he has his own special territory, one that others will find hard to reach. As to income, who is to say he does not put it to very good use? The angels may sing out, “Another nickel from Harley!” at the end of the month, but it is perhaps guys like Benson who provide much of the practical fuel.

I do not share the same sentiment.…I have a nasty suspicion it is the ego that remains involved.... the need of achieving something and still be admired by the people!

On the other hand, “Have you beheld a man skillful in his work? Before kings is where he will station himself; he will not station himself before commonplace men.” Do these ones all grovel around in sackcloth? These days ordinary publishers are given counsel not to let spiritual gifts go to their head. Why conclude just from his work that he has an inflated ego? If he does, he has plenty of company in others who have yet to separate their own egos from bringing their gifts to the altar.

In the mid-seventies, rumors swirled that Glen Campbell had become a Witness. The rumors were untrue. He hadn’t. However, one of his band members had and proceeded to talk Bible so much that an exasperated Glen forbade all discussion of religion during working hours. Who is to say that George is not doing the same before people who cannot tell him to shut up? He’s to quit this gig in order to write letters? Given the restricted forms of ministry available today, it’s even more understandable he would choose to continue what he does.

Aubree still doesn’t back down. She seldom does. It’s the prerogative of we old people who have seen a lot and think we have something to say, who see young people chomping down on cotton candy, imagining it substantial, and would warn them that it’s not. And it certainly is true that those who ‘reach for the stars’ come to spiritual ruin far more often than not. So I will tell her a story that spins things her way.

The story was told at LeRoy’s funeral that he, as a young black man in the Deep South, was invited to play along as one of B.B. King’s band members. His son confirmed it. He declined the offer, on the basis of family and spirituality. Instead, he went on to make his living on the railroad. He came up from the South in his later years to my neck of the woods. For a time we served together on the same body of elders. He was outspoken, even occasionally outrageous in things he would say, but always genuine and universally appreciated. In time, he stepped down as an elder. I even helped persuade him that it would be a good thing, that he had done it all, and should go out ‘on top,’ not when his faculties were starting to decline and people would start to say bad things about him. He was true to the faith till his death and would frequently get together and jam with brothers young enough to be his grandsons. 

I used to tell him that, should I die before him, I wanted him to give my funeral talk. What a trip that would be! “Hee hee hee,” I could picture him rumbling in his deep roguish and jocular voice, “that Tom Harley was a good ol boy, but he’s deead now, D-E-A-D!”

I don’t know. Maybe George is being a bad boy. There he is posted with a ‘Look! A celebrity! And he’s one of ours!’ type of admiration. Is it really so that having celebrities onboard somehow buttresses your cause? Some of the silliest people on earth are celebrities—all of them, really, except our guys, and we only have a handful. Serena doesn’t even count, because it doesn’t appear she was ever baptized and she has gone on record saying (now that she has a daughter) she means to get serious about the faith she was raised in. We shall see what comes to pass. I have a chapter in TrueTom vs the Apostates on the brouhaha surrounding that statement of hers..

No, I suppose George is not the one to emulate. But don’t we do damage when we become too insistent that everyone must be ‘an example?’ Leave the fellow in peace and appreciate him for what gifts he has. Here we put the constantly repeated, ‘Do not compare yourself with one another’ counsel in a setting that we usually don’t put it in, though it applies nonetheless. Alas it is human nature that we will do exactly that.

Growing up, I took one of those psychological tests in which you answer all sorts of nosy questions and are rewarded with indications of what vocation you are best suited for. Being raised in a suburban and non-Witness home, I imagined results would point me to some nice secure field, the sort in keeping with the saying then in vogue, “To get a good job, get a good education.” My dad, raised on the farm, used the GI bill to put himself through engineering school after WWII and took a job with the local utility. He figured that since everyone requires heat and electricity, no job could be more secure. People raised during the Depression came to highly value security. 

Instead of similar recommendations, results were that I should be A) a music performer, or (slightly lower priority, but still head and shoulders above anything else) B) a youth counselor. I’ve never done either of those things, but I have come close enough to satisfy both urges. Public speaking (and now blogging) is not so different than music performing. Shepherding (and now writing) is not so different than youth counseling. 

So I have a thing for creative people. And I don’t like  to see them dismissed as ones ‘trying to make a name for themselves.’ or persons incessantly in quest of satisfying their ‘big egos.’ That doesn’t have to be the case, though it can be.

***

Workers could be crude at the power company, though my dad was not one of them. “I just wasn’t prepared,” said one brother who started working there as a young man, “for one of those guys to grab me from behind and another pull my pants down,” a common hazing of new employees. He came to know my dad, as he was sometimes assigned to the nuclear plant where my dad had been promoted. Nuclear technology was then brand new. This plant was among the first in the country. Tour guides would lead visitors through the plant. By prior agreement, an employee would walk by staggering and drooling, muttering nonsense. “Don’t mind him,” the guide would say. “He’s one of the earliest here and absorbed a little too much radiation.” 

Another story this new employee told, our brother who is now retired, was of visiting laborers being advised that invisible radiation hangs around at the 3 foot level, but if you stay below that, you’re okay. They would walk about and work all day, even carrying heavy gear, in a crouched over position. 

Here were jokesters satisfying their ‘big egos,’ though perhaps not making ‘a great name for themselves.’ Or maybe they were. Our brother remembers these donkeys decades later as though it were yesterday.

To be continued here

******  The bookstore

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

In Africa Four Families Will Live in that Garage - Part 2

(See Part 1)

Years ago a Branch representative from somewhere in Africa made the rounds here—I don’t quite remember why—speaking before various gatherings. He kept marveling that in America everyone has “washing-up machines.”

“You Americans are so spoiled,” he said. Not only does everyone have a car but you even have garages to put that car in. “In Africa, four families would live in that garage.” He stated many times that “life is cheap” in Africa, and how it was so easy to lose it to violence, poverty, unstable governments, whatever.

He was a great storyteller. He related how he had asked representatives of an area where the work was banned whether they could use anything. Yes, the brother replied. They could really use one of those massive superpowerful Xerox machines. “Of course, you would be arrested (or did he say shot?) if caught smuggling one in……..but you asked.”

”We have to get those brothers a Xerox machine,” he turned the thought over in his head for days and spoke about it with others. Finally a group of brothers hatched a scheme to attempt just that. He described a scene at the airport where his carefully laid plans of concealment fell apart and the machine became visible for anyone having half a brain to look there. As if they didn’t see it, as if Jehovah had struck them blind, (these are his analogies, not mine) guards waved them through. Possibly he had some ridiculous threadbare cover story that nobody thought to challenge.

Yeah, standard of living is pretty high in the States. Expenses too are astronomical. Just like in the developing world, the majority live continually strapped for cash. Most people are equally drowning, just drowning at a higher sea level.  They might be able to send dough to someone far away who asks, but they’d have to sell a lamp or forsake something to do it. Paycheck to paycheck is how the majority live, even in developed lands. 

Of course, this is by no means obvious to someone from afar who can only see the high lifestyle. Many times it has been pointed out that it is only in developing lands that the friends can truly appreciate Jesus’s prayer to ‘give us today our daily bread.’ In Western lands, where there are mortgages, car payments, insurance policies, and various other amortized expenses, people have no idea what their daily bread requirements are. They just know that when they reach for cash there doesn’t seem to be much of it.

In general, the constant refrain to keep one’s life simple has had its effect on the brotherhood. Here, you can’t tell who has dough and who doesn’t. Outward appearances mean nothing. Someone outwardly living the flashy life may be hopeless ensnared in debt. Someone with no financial concerns whatsoever may be living low-key. Even Elon Musk says he does not live a life of “conspicuous consumption.” 

Among the ones who chase after the dough in the West are some refugees once they adjust to their new home. The ones who go this way make poor candidates for the kingdom message. Using pooled resources often from others of their nationality, they buy a spacious home in a fine area and everyone in it works two jobs or more. Usually they are minimum wage jobs, but string enough of them together, and before long they’re living the material life to make any Westerner envious. Family life doesn’t immediately fall apart, since they come from places where ties are strong.

Then, of course, there is always my screwball friend Curt, the one raised in the circus who had semi-scamming and treating people as marks seemingly stamped into his DNA, the one who by sheer fanaticism, started with nothing and became a millionaire through selling used cars (inherently fraught with scam potential), then sector funds, who drove Fidelity nuts calling them multiple times each day transferring his entire net worth from one fund to another. Yet all the while he lived as though a pauper, not to fool people, but just because he was naturally screwy. In his early days of intense zeal (after which he became pretty much a hermit but always retained his brand of godly devotion—“in the truth,” I guess, though no one ever saw him) people would note how he dressed in torn rags and would buy him clothes. “Oh wow, thank you,” he’d say, put the clothes in the drawer in case he ever needed them, and continue to wear rags. “Don’t ever tell people if you have money,” he would say, “because the first thing they will say is, ‘Oh—can I have some?’

This is the same yo-yo who went on and on about the “great business plan” when someone sent official looking letters to all homeowners implying the government wanted to standardize house numbers and so you had to send $160 to get a certain style sign that they would send you.” I still see some of those signs around—they’re quite attractive but you did pay for them. “What do you mean, ‘great business opportunity?!’ I would tell him. “They’re scammers who should be shot!”

”To most people, Curt was a great pain in the neck,” I wrote in No Fake News. “But to his friends he was—well no, he drove them crazy, too.”

Don’t get me going on this character. Like Mick Jagger, if you start me up, start me up, if you start me up baby, I’ll never stop, never stop, never never NEVER stop” Curt could make a grown man cry.

see Part 3:

the bookstore

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

“If They are From […….] You Can be Sure They Will Ask for Money.” Part 1

I accept virtually anyone on FB who sends a friend request. Just a quick scan to see nothing obscene or blatantly self-serving on their profile and they’re in. Whereupon—and this is far more common coming developing lands, they direct message me with a “Hi. How are you?”

This drives me nuts. Facebook doesn’t work that way! People I don’t know think I can conduct a dozen exchanges about nothing per day? I ignore them all, assuming they are scams of some sort or in some way self-serving. 

But I am from Western background. It may be that friends from elsewhere do use Facebook that way—as a platform for individual chats. Either way, I’m not up for it, but I am curious. “Can you shed any light on this?” I asked Emma, born, raised, and who lived many adult years in Africa?

(Ha! There was one sister I friended from South American who sent several ‘Hellos’—all unanswered by me, then “Oops. Sorry. I see you are marry.” Whereupon I did respond with a “Not to worry, Sonya. Nice to have a friend from [wherever it was].” And then back to DM silence. For the most part, I don’t even look at that side of the app.)

In Africa, especially from [country name withheld] - you can be sure they will ask you for money later on,” Emma replied.

Why, in your opinion? Are they 1) scammers who are not Witnesses at all, 2) Witnesses who are opportunists, or 3) just plain genuine Witnesses with a material lack? 

All three and more,” she replied.

Odd she should mention it. There was a supposed brother who appeared out of nowhere for one of our Zoom meetings. His country of origin I forget, but it was Africa. Several made a big fuss over him after the meeting, and a certain older sister, known for hospitality and generosity, exchanged contact information. Sure enough, he soon began asking for money. Some of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most naive persons in the world.

I’m not shocked at such things, but neither do I play that game. I know there is crushing lack in many places, but I also know there’s no way to distinguish between who is who. I know the branch will strive to keep body and soul together, but only in the most basic manner.

There was a another brother years ago from a U.S. faraway state who moved in to our congregation —he knew one of the local publishers. He was a pleasant enough guy, genuine, but in time he became a real mooch, hitting up one after another for money. Of course, this puts people in an awkward spot, and some recoil almost in horror at the thought. It got around to such an extent that Ray addressed it in a local needs part. Screwy as Ray was (he later tested false positive for anointing and true positive for apostasy) he made a very balanced presentation—that it was just one of myriad foibles human imperfection has stuck us with, that we have to deal with, perhaps firmly, but ought not provoke an overreaction, as we all fall short in many ways.

Emma: A Norwegian sister I know married a lovely African brother and went to pioneer in Africa - Kongo region. She told me that the sisters constantly asked her for money.  If your skin is white and you come from Europe or USA they think you are very rich. In  most African cultures families used to share everything to survive.  They all eat out of one pot of food - so everyone gets a little.  Things have rapidly changed in the last generation. Very few Africans share what they have with others.... becoming selfish.  

So, they really thought the sister was hiding her money somewhere.  They thought her family was sending her money and she was hiding it.  In fact she worked so hard!  They build a little holiday flat with hard earned money and rented it out to visitors to survive.  That was their sole income. …

When she arrived in Africa, she lived without a bathroom - washed in the community faucet in open fashion until her husband built her a private African place to wash. When I met her she told me about her time in Africa.  I immediately had so much respect for her because I knew where she came from and what she went through.  She told me that none of her family understood.  I was the first to understand a rural home in Africa. She really apprecieted that I understood.

I have camped rough in Africa but I will not be able to live with very little amenities like she did for a very long time. I do not blame them for asking... and trying a lot.  But the Western culture is so different... we are shocked. Some can be opportunists - even if they have a lot of money. 

see Part 2:

the bookstore

 

 

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

Each One Will Fall in His Own Particular Way—The Wrath of Rolf

Now we know how many tears we can shed over Rolf, who has become the enemy of the good in his quest for the ‘perfect.’

https://bitterwinter.org/norway-decision-against-the-jehovahs-witnesses/

So much for his “beloved religion”—wasn’t that in the title? 

Lloyd goes down in flames and Rolf steps up to the plate. I’d better not read in a few years that he’s also chasing after the sex workers in Thailand. 

 

They lay on counsel with a trowel at Bethel. Always have, probably always will. It is because they are, and usually have been all their lives, full-time servants totally immersed. Most have logged serious hours in the preaching work over many decades. They have gone eyeball to eyeball with those who oppose the good news (and endeavor to shield others from it), and consequently—are they ever given to overstatement?

Yeah, I get it—that picture of the Witness couple watching the Peace and Security announcement is a bit much. But you can bet the Russian brothers and sisters don’t see it that way. Not when they (and we) have seen headlines that Jehovah’s Witnesses are no longer allowed in that land. I recall a circuit assembly demonstration in the 70s of a couple picking up their newpaper and reading that Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned. It is reality in Russia today. Other nations have followed suit, and there are plenty of others in which serious efforts are made for that outcome. 

Why don’t the “more reasonable” brothers take these “most zealous” brothers in tow? Because the zealous ones are the ones who have done the work. The “more reasonable” ones would not be up to it—they would be sunk by too many other diversions and responsibilities. Do not come even remotely close to the superfine apostles who wanted to outrank Paul in influence but not in work. Explore  “what’s wrong” with this or that bit of spiritual food? Better to look for ways that it might work, rather than for ways that it might not.

I’ve mentioned before a past buddy named Mike. He was crazy weird and unbalanced. Orphaned at a young age, he was literally brought up in a traveling circus that became his family, where he learned that the purpose of people was to manipulate them as marks. He latched on to the truth like a guard dog latching on to your parka and did not let go, though he was so nutty that he seriously tested many a person’s patience and ultimately his own broken past did him in—though he did die faithful. I wrote in ‘No Fake News’ something to the effect that he was broken when we found him, and we didn’t fix him, but we fixed him about as much as might be possible in this system of things. 

Anyhow, he had an amazing gift for simplifying the complex. I recall him explaining to someone how the Governing Body just studies and studies their Bibles all day long, and they notice something. They discuss with each other that something that they’ve noticed, and eventually it comes out as printed counsel.

Now the thing is, he would explain, you also study your Bible, and in the course of your study you may have noticed that point too, maybe even before they did. “And if this was Christendom, you’d run out and start your own religion over it.” Thus in the simplest possible way, he balanced personal initiative with recognition of headship.

He had come into the truth when, despondent because his life was totally in the crapper, he called in tears a friend who’s life was also in the crapper. That friend said he didn’t know what might help, but he was taking a Bible study from a Jehovah’s Witness and invited Mike to join. Mike listened for an hour, then pulled $100 from his wallet. “Here—this is what you want—take it!” The brother demurred and Mike pushed back, “Take it! Why else would anyone do what you are doing. We both know this is a scam!” The brother then misapplied the James verse about if anyone turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and will cover a multitude of sins. “I’ve committed a lot of sins in my life. I have a lot of sins I need covered.” Silence, as Keith (the friend) related to me. Then—uncontrolled sobbing as Mike broke down in tears (and Keith was mortified that once again his crazy friend, absolutely without self-control, was disrupting a simple discussion—but after that Mike made lightening-like progress.

Rolf didn’t get his way, so he brings wrath upon his “beloved religion” like the Misery heroine brought wrath upon her beloved author—it serves as a cautionary tale. One moment you’re expounding upon how you disagree with this or with that policy or interpretation and the next moment you’re breaking ankles with a sledge hammer. 

I don’s seriously fear that I may follow Roff even though I’ve indulged in some minor muttering over the years. I am not proud. Seared into my being is what Jehovah has done for me. I am loyal by nature. I am a peacemaker. I am not critical A better companion you never will find. If I was hours late for dinner would you bellow? Of course not!

His publisher sent me a copy of his book. I don’t think I ever contacted him, but I may have tagged him somewhere along the line. At any rate I have a Rolf category in my blog—mostly disjointed musings that I’ve not done much with. Maybe that came to his attention somehow. Or even when I applied the Bob Dylan lyric to him: “But oh mama, ain't you gonna miss your best friend nowYou're gonna have to find yourselfAnother best friendsomehow,” along with “who’s gonna be his best friend now, Patiently Sitting on his Hands?”

He gifted me his book, so I gifted him mine, TrueTom vs the Apostates, with the note:

My works are not so rigorous as yours—I intentionally keep a light tone and I do not pretend to be a scholar—but hopefully succeed in looking at things from atypical points of view. To take one topic that you develop, I have included a chapter on disfellowshipping. I have no problem conceding that anything done could be done differently, nor that ‘kicking against the goads’ might be painful. This particular chapter, ‘In Defense of Shunning’ makes some inferences from Mark Smith’s book, Secular Faith. The WT has quoted from that book, which led me to examine it all. You have generously offered your work. I do the same.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/917311

On things that might cause stumbling regarding organizational directing, well, not all is as I personally would like it. I take the Rolling Stones song as though my own, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ I’ve also observed that the point of contention is always going to be the divine/human interface, and have been so bold to speculate that this is even true with Judas (not making comparisons with yourself) himself: he and God were tight. No problems there. But this character claiming to be the messiah was not at all what Judas had expected

As to direction perceived as unwise, that could be applied to the Lord himself. ‘To whom shall we go?’ Peter said in response to the latter’s blood and flesh remark. Why did Jesus say it as he did? No clue here. ‘What a dumb thing to say!’ I can easily picture the point being made, since enemies would seize upon it later to spread the ill rumor that Christians practiced cannibalism.

“I have heard your book caused ousting from the congregation and so feel obliged to mention that I do not blow off counsel on interacting with DFed ones as nothing. I don’t consider myself ‘above it.’ But nothing is absolute, and most things need not be taken to the nth degree. (‘I could feel the wind’ said someone of how, when they were DFed, she said such to a certain JW who immediately turned away.) Indeed, the online world presents scenarios where you might easily be dealing with DFed ones unknowingly, (‘Every man online is a liar’ is my modification of Romans 3:4) so I appreciate when people are upfront and try to be the same.”

I’m just amazed at how fast a critical person can fall. I would not have thought it of Rolf, the intellectual counterpart of fleshy Lloyd, who goes in for the sex trade of Thailand—illustrating, I guess, that each one will fall in this own particular way. 

Shocking to those of the Western world, the Bible does not celebrate free speech. Sometimes it celebrates shutting people up, as in “It is necessary to shut their mouths, because these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they should not for the sake of dishonest gain.” If I have advanced the notion that the brothers may overreact on negative talk, I also recognize the verse of contrary talk that spreads like gangrene,as well as the tongue being the most potent weapon of all, capable of setting ablaze the entire forest. So I always check that it is a rainy day before I say anything and even then I keep my forcefulness in check. (Titus 1:11, 2 Timothy 2:17, James 3:5)

Someone online mentioned that he might be in hot water if the brothers back home knew the freeness of speech he engages in here. It is a problem i don’t have. Unlike everyone else here, my writing is well known to the brothers back home and to Bethel itself. Not that I imagine anyone follows me closely, probably not at all, but I have made no secret of how I blog and word gets around—even though it is something I never mention at the Hall. Knowing that anyone could follow me at any time imposes a discipline onthat has served me well. It has impressed upon me an art of showing myself supportive and respectful. “There is a downside of this” comes across as supportive. “I don’t agree with this” does not.

My practice of tweeting the meeting drew the attention of some (and has also blown over). One of the elders began to follow me on Twitter. Now, this is not a ‘monitoring elder’ I don’t think—this is one much like myself in many ways. It benefited me for him to do this, for in the assurance of anonymity I had tweeted a few tweets that if the person I spoke of knew it, there might be hurt feelings. Now I have improved to where, though I will do foibles, they will not be such that would cause hurt feelings even if the brother or sister did hear of them.

With the exception, of course, of the brother who follows me. On occasion I will tweet something like, “Another comment from that elder who is the worst speaker in the entire circuit, possibly the entire world. He follows me here on Twitter so I try to make it worth his while.”

 

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

The James 4:15 Bro

One older bro had a fixation on James 4:13-15 and would apply it to anything.

Come, now, you who say: “Today or tomorrow we will travel to this city and will spend a year there, and we will do business and make some profit,” whereas you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears. Instead, you should say: “If Jehovah wills, we will live and do this or that.”

You couldn’t declare you were breaking for lunch without his appending, “IF it is Jehovah’s will!”

This is the bro whose driving deteriorated so that I would not work with him unless I drove his car. So I routinely did. And I would have to crawl over railroad tracks to avoid a lecture on how to do otherwise might break a spring. How often do cars break springs these days? However, after that, guess who breaks a spring all by himself?

(Though it might be like that time I serviced Dad’s car (come to think of it, it was the same make) and the repair chain I trusted advised me on a ton of undercarriage repairs necessary, including, but not limited to, broken springs. So I took it to my buddy Alex thinking maybe I could get a better price. Naw, it doesn’t need most of those things, he said after putting it up on the lift.

It did have a broken spring and a single bad shock. I picked up those items at Autozone for him to install. “I’ve always heard that if one shock is bad you have to replace both, otherwise it will drive funny,” I said. “One shock is bad right now,” he replied. “Does it drive funny?”)

I tell you, I do miss that James 4 fellow. And don’t think you could walk on the lawn without a lecture on how “we are not the mailman!”

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!’

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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

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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.

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“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.

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