The Personification of God—Part 2

In the personification of God—giving him hands, a face, eyes, ears, and so forth—and even extending it to the emotions of a family that people can identify with (See Part 1), can one oversimplify Jehovah to the point that it is a turn-off to modern people?
 

Q: “The problem happens when this kind of personification that worked for people thousands of years ago, no longer works for people in our days.”

I think the trick is to make it work. The prime reason NOT to make it work is to give in to the feeling that we are above such “primitive” narrative, that we are more sophisticated, that our predecessors may have been stupid but not us, that we are not to be talked down to as though we were children. 

But we are children. Certainly we are in the eyes of God, but even in the eyes of those not completely drunk on the Kool-Aid of human independence from God’s direction, we are children. Look at how people snipe at each other on social media. Look at how they do it on TV. Look at how they do it on “the news.” They are adults when they do that? No, they are children. Look at the mess of a world they have collectively built and the relatively petty matters they elevate to monumental importance. They are children.

So a bit of humility is in order. You don’t puff yourself up as though you are the smartest people who have ever lived, when you may well be the dumbest. “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes but has not been cleansed from its filth,” reads Proverbs 30:12. You don’t let the fact that you can make iPads and Teslas blind you to the “alternative fact” that you still can’t answer any of the deep questions of life—as Vermont Royster put it  “In the contemplation of man himself, of his dilemmas, of his place in the universe, we are little further along than when time began. We are still left with questions of who we are and why we are and where we are going.”

Some of the best lines, to my mind, are still to be found in the Truth book of the late 60s: “True, there has been progress in a materialistic way. But is it really progress when men send rockets to the moon, and yet cannot live together in peace on earth?”

Some people think it is. Let them be separated out if they will be so spiritually dense.

I think the language of the Bible simply serves to separate people—to cause them to reveal what is in their heart. Yesterday our Zoom group discussed the daily text: “Whoever trusts in his own heart is stupid”—(Proverbs 28:26), and the focus was on weighing in on matters when we don’t have all the facts. Why would anyone do that?—and yet we do it all the time. These days the TV positively encourages us to do that, presenting a single scene or a single line repeatedly and without context, causing viewers to form instant verdicts.

I can recall Watchtower articles to the effect that when you hear a bad report about a trusted friend, you are inclined to say: “Well, I wasn’t there. Maybe there are things I don’t know.” How that plays out in the morass of current world news I haven’t a clue—apply it however you like—but it certainly is apropos when considering Bible accounts thousands of years old.

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Cliques in the Congregation - I Hate That Stuff!

Through the back channels, I got a report of an elderly sister—new to the congregation, but certainly not new to the faith, who felt she had fallen through the cracks. She felt overlooked, as though the congregation was cliquish and she had not broken into the clique. It wasn’t so much her, actually—she just got depressed, asking herself whether she had done something wrong or whether Jehovah had forgotten her—but it was her non-Witness (though supportive) family who felt she was bypassed.

It is the oldest lament in the book, dating even back to Acts: “Now in those days when the disciples were increasing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution,” (Acts 6:1) a lament that even has a favoritism by national background theme to it—today it would be called racism.

Now, you don’t overreact to reports like this, but neither do you underreact. Is it true? It almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone thinks it is true. We are blind people ascertaining the nature of the elephant by feel, and someone has grabbed hold of a tusk. You go around looking for some butts to kick in case it is true and you seek to console and adjust the complaining one in case it is not true—probably it is some of both. And (gulp) you look at yourself—‘Am I one of the bad boys in the ‘in crowd’ that won’t give anyone else the time of day?’

I like the seven congregations getting their comeuppance in Revelation 2 and 3. The ‘seven’ apparently stands for all of the variety to be seen today in the worldwide congregation. One of those congregations was an out an out clunker—nothing but a cause of rebuke from the Lord. Another was an out and out winner, earning praise, with but one or two tweaks recommended, as though topping off the tank. But the others were mixed bags—each with some good and some bad. Yet they were all congregations. We’re stuck with them. It’s the curse of being human.

There’s a reason that Paul told the brothers to ‘widen out’—too many of them weren’t doing it. (2 Corinthians 6:12-14) There’s a reason that Solomon writes not to take too much to heart what others say or do—by doing so you’re fixating on something you can’t control to the possible neglect of something you can. “Do not take to heart every word that people say; otherwise, you may hear your servant calling down evil on you; for you well know in your heart that many times you yourself have called down evil on others.” (Eccles 7:21-22)

Sometimes people avoid you because you are prickly. Other times it is because you are not a ‘people person’ and they, not being naturally people persons themselves, simply find it easier to hang with those they know well. Sometimes they just have too much on their plate as it is and you are that ‘one more thing’ that they assure themselves someone else will get around to. ‘Going through the motions’ is a charge too easily made of others. I don’t like to go there. Even if one is going through the motions, it is generally a case of ‘fake it till you make it.’

“I’ve learned not to expect too much of other people,” is a tried and true formula long-time faithful ones will cite. Generally those others come through, but if you’re ever left holding the bag, you find that you can weather the storm with that attitude. It is the relationship with God that keeps you going. The people are just thrown in as a freebie. We are social beings—God made us that way—so the congregation is nothing but a boon, but if you come to over-rely on it and under-rely on its originator, you set yourself up for heartbreak should they ever drop the ball.

What I like is that in a godly organization every person looks to themselves for the remedy to any discord. It contrasts so well with the leaders during Covid 19 time, preoccupied with blaming each other. Not for one moment do they look inward. It’s one thing to delay boarding the lifeboat because you don’t think the ship is going down. It’s another to think that it probably is, but it is still more important to affix blame.

It’s like those congregation talks on marriage and family life. At first you use them to educate your mate on what he or she is doing wrong. But in time you use them to educate yourself. You pay attention to what your mama told you ages ago and you used to blow it off as nothing: “Point a finger at someone and there are three pointing at you.” Best to heed the three pointing at you. You can do something about that trinity.

Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye but do not notice the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to remove the straw from your eye,’ when look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to remove the straw from your brother’s eye,” says Jesus. (Matthew 7:3-5) For want of applying this counsel, the deeds of ones greater than us unravel. He called them hypocrites—those who would not first look to themselves.

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child, to reason as a child; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a child,” says Paul at 1 Corinthians 13:11. Same here. When I was new in the faith, I would gravitate to my buddies after each closing prayer. Now I ignore them and look for ones who seem unengaged. There will be time enough for the good ‘ol boys later.

....

(Someone commented on how she felt just so left out, She was not a people person, she said, moreover she knew that her place was with the friends and she was determined to stay, but she does wish that people would not just walk by her with a quick ‘Hi. How are you?’)

I answered:

Sometimes it is better to reject a certain interpretation of things even if that interpretation seems the most reasonable. 

On the troubles of shy people, I learned more from Garrison Keillor than I ever did from the Bible. Even at the height of his show’s popularity, he was, according to Chet Atkins, painfully shy. ‘You just cannot compliment him,’ Atkins would say. ‘He gets all awkward and walks away.’ He poked fun at his own condition. Made up sponsor for his show, ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ was Powder Milk Biscuits, the biscuits “that give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Each ‘ad’ for the ‘product’ he would begin with some narration about shy people, invariably coming to the punch line that Powder Milk Biscuits was just what they needed, before singing the Powder Milk song. He once said that a great aid to shyness was to take pleasure in the company of other people, simply as a spectator. It was almost better that way, for it relieved you of the pressure to think of something to say. Just learn to enjoy being in their midst and watching them.

Get to the meetings ahead of time and don’t leave immediately afterwards. Sometimes just take your seat, and sometimes just stand watching the others. Try to have some tidbit in mind from the current Bible reading or the program that has nothing to do with yourself so that should you be called upon for conversation, you will have something to say. No need to leave should you get teary, I would not think, unless you are outright bawling, and maybe even then it is best to tough it out. It is very important not to blame anyone. Don’t blame yourself and don’t blame others. It is what it is. Maybe it will change. Maybe it will not. Try to learn to be comfortable in their midst, whether people speak with you or not. Years later you may come to have insight or reflections on the social environment. Don’t push those reflections to come just now.

....

“Well, has your family tried them, Powder Milk?
Yes, has your family tried them, Powder Milk?
Well, if your family’s tried them, you know you’ve satisfied them.
There’s a real hot item, Powder Milk”
 

...I just threw in the ditty at the end because I remember Keillor singing it in every show. It is hardly necessary, but maybe in some way that I cannot define myself, it brings something to the table.

......

To counsel that the above person should “step outside her comfort zone”:

When they push me to step outside of my comfort zone I reply that I am not even completely comfortable IN my comfort zone, so I’m in no hurry to step outside it. No, I would not in any way increase the onus on yourself. It is likely to result in feelings of guilt and failure. 

For whatever it is worth, I don’t think people are very good at being ‘people persons’ today, and that is true of Americans in particular. I don’t know why that is. I suspect vast media consumption has something to do with it. Conversation is an art and if you binge-watch a season of Monk or Bull or whatever at a time—well, that is time that you do not have to improve your conversation skills—and perhaps more importantly, your desire to communicate. Probably materialism plays a part. If you have stuff, it is just too easy to fall back on it for comfort, and thereby fail to advance in conversation ability.

This is among the reasons, hardly the sole ones, that the organization says keep entertainment and material things in their place. Frankly, you would think that the friends as a whole would be making better progress in being ‘people persons’ than they are. Quite a few people are rather hard to converse with. I am easily able to hold back and listen, even draw out people, but with some you end up doing all the talking—they simply hold back, for whatever reason, and let you carry the ball. I confess these ones tend to wear me out, but I recharge elsewhere and give them another shot.

Don’t try to figure it out. Put yourself where you need to be and do not judge yourself harshly. Keep that same attitude with regard to others in the congregation—don’t judge them harshly. Satan is pouring sand in the gearbox and it slows down the works. Do the things that you can, and be patient with what you cannot. Do the serenity prayer if you like. Ask to make changes with what you can, endure what you cannot, and recognize what components predominate in each.. 

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Jacob Pulls a Fast One on Esau - Twice! (Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me)

Thoughts gleaned from Genesis 27:

Am I right on this or does Isaac seem more of a placeholder than a factor in himself? Abraham & Jacob are good stuff. But Isaac slobbering over Esau, for the game he could bring in? He doesn’t really come across as all that spiritual as a character. Rebekah knows that once you put a good meal in his belly you can talk him into doing anything. That’s not to say he is non-spiritual—no. He is probably rock-solid. But it is not his strong suit—he is given with matters more ordinary.

Okay, okay, Jacob is a good guy. Got it. But let no one say he was not an opportunist. I mean, he certainly didn’t say of Esau: ‘My brother’s making a dumb move. I’d better see he comes to no harm because of it.’ Twice he chiseled the older brother out of a good deal: “At this he said: “Is he not rightly named Jacob, that he might supplant me these two times? My birthright he has already taken, and now he has taken my blessing!” Esau rages. (Gen 27:36)

I gave up long ago on trying to explain these guys or put them out there for everyone to emulate. There is not a one of them without dozens of skeletons in the closet. The ancient world is one strange place with customs and ways not easy to get one’s head around.

Even the idea of seeking a blessing from Dad—what’s that about? My Dad’s blessing was a hope that I would stay out of the hoosegow, which fortunately I have managed to do. The whole concept of firstborn falls pretty flat today in American culture, though it still holds sway in some places.

In the annoying moments of our people—though they are not so bad as many believers—they sanctify these characters after the fact, putting favorable spin on things that read pretty dubious straight off the page. In their absolute worst moments, they present them as modern-day JWs themselves but in an ancient setting, concerns intact about dress and grooming and such things.

But overall they say that, ‘Look, the Bible is history. Nobody is saying that because it is in the Bible, even as the deeds of one of the ‘good guys,’ it is the wonderful thing for you to copy. The Bible is human history—and where is the following quote made?—history of events when persons and nations worshiped Jehovah, history of events when they knew of Him but did not, and history of those peoples who never knew anything about him—and all the while, amidst this backdrop, the promised Seed is being developed and nurtured.’

I remember one ‘All in the Family’ scene in which someone reads some clearly sordid verse in the Bible. “That’s terrible!” Gloria exclaims, and Archie quickly intercedes with, “It’s beautiful—it’s in the Bible.” No, it’s really terrible. But as one modern brother put it, when the younger brothers started squabbling over something: “It’s amazing what Jehovah can do considering what he has to work with.” It is a better take than that of a more cynical brother—someone who did not remain faithful: “The truth is such a beautiful thing—it’s a shame God had to waste it on people” That doesn’t fly. You have to cultivate a love of people in order to survive.

Meantime, I entertain my own ideas of the basic nature of people, different constitutions of different areas of emphasis—most notably the ‘air—water—earth—fire’ pinwheels that people are said to fall on. The descriptions keep popping up in psychology, in ancient thinking, in diverse cultures—and they are not necessarily presented the same, but they can overlap. Carl Jung went big into this kind of thing, but the ideas far precede him. Those Myers-Briggs tests of 16 different personality types stem from the same undercurrents.

I like especially the contrast between air and earth. The ‘air’ personality is obsessed with ‘airy’ thoughts. Such persons are quick to entertain the spiritual—‘head in the clouds’—not practical at all at their worst—‘so spiritual that they are no earthly good’ is one blunt way to say it. At their very worst, they are so much of the air that their feet lose contact with the ground and they are lost in worlds of their own making.

The ‘earth’ person is just the opposite. Always grounded, always completely comfortable on earth. There is no way an earth person becomes seasick, or if they do, they either master it quickly or forevermore avoid the sea—“Not coming near that stuff, again!” they say, so disconcerting is it to have ‘earth’ interrupted. An earth person absolutely loves a good meal and will carry on about it forever—whereas an ‘air’ person barely notices it and practically begrudges the time it takes to prepare and consume. They are rock-solid, capable, practical, certainly capable of solid spirituality, but it is not their specialty, and at worst they can forget about it completely as they hone in on things physical.

There is also the ‘fire’ and the ‘water’ person, but these attributes seemed not to be so developed, or perhaps they did not resonate so much with me. They strike me as modifying influences on the ‘air’ and ‘ground’ but it may be they should be taken as orientations in themselves. ‘Fire’ is, not surprisingly, associated with impulsiveness, zeal, ‘hot-headedness.’ ‘Water’ is cooling, and is partly so by being flexible, able to quickly wrap around any situation and squelch trouble. It strikes me as these are probably persons who can bring opposing camps together—a task not always easy. When ideas are too far apart, by even explaining one side to the other you are accused of pushing that idea. No, it is not easy. But if there is anyone who can do it, it is a ‘water’ person.

Isaac was earth. Jacob was air. Esau was earth. It’s the way I look at it, anyway.

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Two Verses for the Dysfunctional Family

A recent circuit overseer spoke about how Jehovah has gathered people into one “large, unified, happy, somewhat dysfunctional family.” “Dysfunctional” is the key. Nobody of Jehovah’s Witnesses would say that they are not. It is still head-and-shoulders above the greater world, which is not described as a family at all, and when it is, it is only by the most ridiculous exaggeration. The governor of New York State has been known to refer to “the family of New York.” It is a tough sell. One “family member” wins the Nobel Prize. Another family member gets life in prison for knifing his fellow family member to death.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are very much a counseling organization, taking a cue from verses such as Proverbs 22:17—“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise ones, that you may apply your very heart to my knowledge.” God though his written book counsels us. Christ counsels his disciples. Elders, as shepherds in the congregations, counsel the flock. Parents counsel their children. Older men counsel younger men. Older women counsel younger women. It can even work in reverse, as when young Elihu counsels the three men each old enough to be his father. It is all based on God’s message and it all stems from the fact that when we draw close to God, it is not he that is going to benefit from our example—it is we that is going to benefit from his.

The trouble is, the only ones who give the exactly correct counsel at just the right time and to just the right degree are God and Christ Jesus. Everyone else misses the mark—sometimes by a mile. Usually the counsel itself is not wrong, but it may be too strong, too irrelevant, too clumsily stated, too diluted by our own imperfect example, and so forth. Everybody feels free to have a go at it, and Anthony Morris has described the challenge of making your magazine presentation with a critic by your side. 

Also, it is extremely difficult to counsel a worldwide body of people, as the Governing Body does. One person says: “Thank’s for the new RULE!” and his neighbor says: “Huh? Did you say something?” Finding just the right balance is tough. Where they are strong, it is because they don’t want to find themselves in the shoes of Lot—whose son-in-laws thought he was joking. They take their shepherding role seriously.

At an elder school I attended—for at one time I was one—an instructor led around a string on a table with forefinger firmly applied to one end. “See how the rest of the string follows so nicely?” he asked. He then reversed course and tried to “push” the string. “See how it bunches up when I do that?” he said. A pause followed during which he tried to make it work. “It’s really not too smart of me to do it this way, is it?” The lesson, of course, was to lead by example, and not by being “pushy.”

Lots of Witnesses are “pushy”—not necessarily elders, but anyone. People take it as akin to bullying in some cases. Sometimes we “counsel” each other and it would be better to just let things ride. Sometimes we “counsel” each other and we forget to examine the rafter in our own eye. Peer pressure can be a good thing, encouraging us all to hold the course, but our imperfection can make it stifling. Sometimes we have to tell people to mind their own business. Much of this abrasion has been and is being refined out of us but it will never vanish.

I wrote a post about spiritual progress over the last 50 years, addressed to someone inclined to be critical:

I would say the numerous schools that exist now that did not 50 years ago fits the bill. For elders, ministerial servants, traveling reps, etc. Intense and reoccurring instruction lasting anywhere from a weekend to a few weeks. I have attended some of these schools. Almost all content is on imitating Jesus’ manner of dealing with the flock, dealing with those in the ministry, showing tenderness, not lording it over, leading by example, and so forth. Very little is on what would be called ‘doctrinal.’ [I then included the above paragraph about the elder and the string]

“These schools have a cumulative effect of refining those exercising any authority. That they are needed can be inferred from Jesus’ dealings with those to whom he granted the greatest authority. Even on the eve of his death he interceded in an argument they were having as to which one of them was the greatest, the same as you might do with children. (Luke 22:24)

“Take that into account for anyone carrying on about how inspired, unerring, and pure the leaders were back then and by extension ought be today. Grown men are capable of behaving like children. It happened then, it happens today. Refresher course training in which students will focus on scores of scriptures—and if they prepare as they ought—hundreds of scriptures, go a long way towards training those in authority to lead and shepherd as Christ did.

“And, far from the Governing Body dreaming up a school that they ride above and apply to everyone else, when such a school is formulated, they put themselves through it first. They do not imagine that they cannot benefit from intense review of how Jesus dealt with people.”

So Jehovah refines his people. The benefit of elders being refined is that it trickles down to everyone else as well. Jehovah unites a people that would not otherwise be united. To the contrary, many would be at each other’s throats, squabbling over issues of class, economics, education, political leaning, race, nationalism. If you were not in the truth, you would choose as friends those with whom you naturally get along, but as congregation members, our friends include ones with whom getting along is not a natural for us.

Two verses help me immensely. Both have been expounded upon in our program recently. Philippians 2:3,4—“...doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” I love that point. At first glance, it might strike one as ridiculous. How can I think you superior to me and at the same time you think me superior to yourself? The answer was supplied in a recent study article. Everyone is superior to the other in at least one way. Find that way and hone in on it. When you see that person, make sure that’s the first thing that comes to mind. It works wonders for human relations.

The other verse is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 about love. It...”does not keep account of the injury....bears all things...endures all things.” At the Regional Convention, these verses were given their standard application how we keep this in mind as we view others. But what was new—at least to me—was the idea that they will do the same with regard to us. We might really be outrageous in one or more aspects, yet if we are known for love, people will overlook it!

Listen—I know the temptation. They will pour on the syrup from Bethel and you just want to scream: “Enough! Call a spade a spade! This guy’s an idiot!” But it has to be that way—or at any rate it is that way. It is the only way to bind a people of infinite diversity, barring just one item, into one.

 

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“I Saw Tears Well up in the Eyes of One Elder”

That sentence from yesterday’s Watchtower study called to mind an experience:

From paragraph 17: “A brother recalls appreciatively: ‘I saw tears well up in the eyes of one elder as he contemplated my situation. That image will always remain in my mind.’”

I was sure that the kid at the tire repair show had lost my specialty tool when I had my tires switched. The dopey mounted snowtires (that somebody talked me into buying) require a unique socket—it is not standard and it is not metric. I have two of them so it is not that big of a deal, but when it was not in its designated place after I picked up the car from the shop (it could only be there and nowhere else because I always put it there) I drove back to the shop and let them hear about it at the front counter. “He’s got it in his toolbox, somewhere,” I said, “just absentminded, not theft—he is just careless. Make him check for it.”

When I returned home I found the socket.

I know how companies bully their employees. I figured they must have leaned into him pretty heavily. I drove back to apologize—not to the front counter, but to him personally. Nah—they said it wasn’t necessary. I said it was. No, it was nothing, they said, don’t worry about it. Look, I know that “the customer is always right,” I responded—he probably was made to feel some heat. They said no—not a problem. (what’s the big deal? They just didn’t want to pull him out of the shop and interrupt his work flow.)

Did I tell you that when I get something in my head I am not easily put off? I said that I could probably just walk right in there and say it quick—which bay is he in, anyway? and made for the door. When they saw that I would not be dissuaded—what were they going to do? toss me out on my ear with a showroom full of customers looking on? they fetched him for me.

He looked defensive, as though I was going to yell at him. Instead, I apologized. I said that I was sure that he had lost the tool, but when I got home I found it. Very likely someone had made him sweat about it. He was a Spanish speaking kid and he looked like someone who doesn’t get apologized to that often.

A little to my embarrassment, I felt some tears welling up, just like the elder in the paragraph. I mean, several were looking on. I probably made a fool of myself. And maybe it was completely unnecessary. Maybe they had all had a good laugh over the jerk who griped over his “lost” tool. Dunno.

But it didn’t matter. It is not a bad thing to show empathy. The elder in that Watchtower paragraph not only benefited the congregation member by tears welling up—unless I am very mistaken, he benefited himself as well.

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'Aye, the Bastards Will Come, Alright.' A Primer on Getting Along

Talk (5 minutes or less) Week of Feb 4-10, 2018: 'Maintain a Realistic View of Your Limitations and Those of Others.'

‘When Jehovah’s Witnesses go nuts, they become quirky eccentrics, who nevertheless wouldn’t harm a fly.

When people of the overall world go nuts, you’d better call in the SWAT team.

(It is an introduction that plays to the audience. Certainly, nuts of the general world do not all require the SWAT team, but there are enough instances of such that the introduction works.)

Of course, ‘nuts’ might be viewed as a pejorative. Instead one might say ‘damaged goods’ or ‘pieces of work.’

(Here the speaker is on shaky ground. Is he calling members of the congregation, or even the entire congregation, ‘nuts,’ while excluding himself? Best defuse that one.)

It is like when many were away for a foreign-language assembly, and many more in seldom-worked territory. Just moments before the meeting was to begin, turnout was notably thin. I leaned over to Brother Oxgoad and said: “Do the friends think that you are giving the talk today?” He took a moment to process it, and shot back: “You’re a piece of work!” What was I going to say—that I wasn’t? In one way or another, we are all pieces of work.

(At that point it was time to go to the suggested verse.)

Romans 3:23 discusses the reality: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The word translated sin comes from a root that means “to miss the mark.”

(I played with a bow & arrow for a bit.) At first, we didn’t even hit the target, and once in a while, we still miss it altogether. Usually, though, we do hit the target and even come closer and closer to the bullseye, but outright hitting it doesn’t happen often.

Another way of saying that we ‘miss the mark’ is to concede that we all have rough edges. Rough edges aren’t a huge deal when each one keeps his distance, but in a close setting, like a family--or a congregation, they become more of an issue.

(It was time to refer to a video that most remembered as to how to deal with rough edges. Since I have written of it already in ‘Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,’ I will here do a copy and paste:)

“The video shown was entitled Remove the Rafter. It featured a disgruntled member who thought most of his congregation a bunch of sheltered oddities. Even if they were, he came to realize in the end that the only one he could change was himself. As the Bible verse he was considering, in order to give his assigned student talk, faded onscreen, two words remained a split second longer than the others: ‘rafter' and ‘straw.’ This happened three times, and on the third, the word ‘hypocrite’ also remained. It is Jesus’ words he considered: “Why do you notice the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the rafter in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that straw from your eye,’ while the rafter is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the rafter from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the straw from your brother’s eye.’ As though to drive the point home, in the background, a workman carrying a rafter in the video briefly stood in front of a stopping bus advertising eye exams, so that a rafter actually did protrude from a eye for but a moment.

“At first glance, it is a slick move from the Watchtower video directors. But it is meant to illustrate a slick move upon the heart. The reason those two words remained, and then three, is that his heart was yet soft enough for them to register—having benefited from previous divine education. A hardened person would not have responded that way. The brother allowed the scripture to mold him. This is how God trains in the congregation, but it would all have been lost upon one who’s heart was molded primarily by this world’s education. Imagine how differently history might read if this verse was a staple of education, and not just a dreamy footnote. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a staple.”

The talk concluded with words not too unlike the above two lines. Days later someone referred to ‘Brother Sandpaper.’ It was from one of those old syrupy memes that some just love, (I don’t) probably the one about how all the congregation members are like tools in God’s drawer that he uses to accomplish his purpose. (Even as I write this, it annoys me.) What is Brother Sandpaper’s function? To sand down our rough edges, which he accomplishes by being abrasive.

The thing irritates because it seems to suggest that Brother Sandpaper will always be Brother Sandpaper. And it seems to imply that he is yet lovable. He is not lovable, though he has some redeeming features, but that is not the same. His brusque and curt manner has stumbled many, and if that verse about tying a millstone around the neck of someone who behaves that way means anything, the sooner he gets his act together, the better.

When you give an illustration, it has to reasonably fit in all aspects. Like the book I am reading right now, The Fort, by Bernard Cornwall. The British force has encamped on the shores of late-1700s Massachusetts so as to curb the revolutionaries. The captain muses whether they will soon come to mount a challenge. “Aye, the bastards will come, all right,” the first officer assures him. “Mark my words, they’ll come, like flies to dung!” and the captain wonders at the appropriateness of likening His Majesty’s Naval Forces to dung.

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On Women. Part 1

Daily my enemy has been hammering at the door of some woman’s rights groups, hoping that they will cooperate with him in his efforts to make trouble for his former religion. This strikes me as an extraordinarily disrespectful thing to do: to bludgeon them each day as though he understands their cause better than they. If they don’t ‘take the bait,’ they don’t take it.

Lately he modifies his approach and says that he ‘respectfully asks’ they give attention to his beef. He changes tactics because so many of his own people began to accuse him of ‘man-bashing’ that he took to blocking them. When I read what he was doing, I thought it was due to me, but since I had been behaving myself lately, I went to check and I saw that - no, it was some of his own people. Moreover, while I may have been sharp in my disagreement, I was never (especially) disrespectful.

I think it will turn out as when the ever-capable female British intelligence officer said to Foyle, about the full-of-himself male officer that she, for the time-being, had to play second fiddle to, ‘He is overconfident and not really too smart. He will overreach and fall of his own weight. I’ve seen it before.’ (Foyle’s War)

Nobody will appreciate women’s issues like a woman. However, to the extent that a man may weigh in, I submit that I am more on their side than he, and if permitted, I will develop this point over a few posts. Suffice it to say going in that I have several times written: “The question to ask in any discipline, is not ‘Can women do it better than men?’ It is ‘How can they do worse?”

BTW, the beef he has is over a paragraph in the December 2018 Watchtower Magazine dealing with woman finding themselves in abusive relationships. If the background facts were as he represents, one might almost concede that he has a point. But the background facts have been misrepresented in almost every case. I wrote up a reply, which I also sent to these groups. The jury is still out on which version of truth they will prefer. Possibly they will say, ‘If we never hear again from either one of these two jerks, it will be not soon enough.’ However, I have just forwarded mine a few times. He does his every single day. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses do not call every single day.

Okay, consider a few examples of respect for women, first from the Bible, and second from the people who do their best to follow the Bible. The first two involve Jesus’s relationships with women. In themselves they are not decisive; one could even say that they do not go far enough. However, in the context of the times, they are monumental. When Jesus appeared on earth, he didn’t instantly stomp out injustice wherever he saw it. Otherwise there would have been not much left. For the most part, he worked within the existing world, even as the laid down principles that would facilitate a better one.

The ‘woman at the well’ Jesus spoke with was the first person to which he entrusted directly the news that he was God’s chosen Messiah. Even his disciples he made jump through hoops to arrive at that bit of intelligence, which, from a Christian’s point of view, is the most significant announcement of all time. He told it to a woman (John 4:26). Moreover, she was not some hoity-toity religiously self-righteous woman. She was a woman who was ‘living in sin.’ Woman’s groups today will probably disagree with definitions and values of that time, but they will nonetheless accede that Jesus first gave the most important news there was to a woman.

The second example is found in the angel who announces Jesus’s resurrection. Who does he entrust this 2nd-most important announcement of all time to? Again, it was women. (Luke 24:4-11) Now, at the time, the testimony of a woman was considered absolutely worthless in that male-dominated Greek, Roman, and yes, even Jewish world. In effect, the angel showed contempt for that male-dominated society, and completely skirted it. Even Jesus’s disciples, immersed in that culture, did not believe the women. That was of no consequence to the angel; they’ll figure it out in time, the big dopes.

Update to the present. The intent of Witness detractors today is to paint the religion as obsessed with the ‘submission’ women are supposed to show to men. To the extent the religion, or Bible, speaks of ‘submission,’ it is far more innocuous, and essentially is simply to acknowledge that in any ship, there is a captain. God has assigned the roles as best suited for the stability of the family, which for the most part, means the stability of the human race. There is no tolerance made for abuse. Of course, that is not to say that abuse has not occurred, but it occurs no less in places wanting nothing to do with Bible principles. Unless I am very mistaken, Harvey Weinstein did not go door-to-door telling people about ‘God’s magnificent purposes’.

It is a spiritual or family-based arrangement only. I realize that more women than not in the women’s groups mentioned will say that it is antiquated, and they have moved on from it for the best. Point taken. Let it be said, however, that in Watchtower facilities it is an absolutely unremarkable fact of life that women will exercise authority over men in any areas where they have better aptitude, for example, in design, computers, medicine, and law. If the men working under them ‘cop an attitude’ (which has happened) they will hear about it. Men are ever inclined anywhere to parlay their usually superior physical strength into attempted domination. Watchtower headquarters will not let them get away with it. Detractors will catch wind of a woman working in the furtherance of JW purposes, maybe law, and write of how she can endure in the midst of domineering men? She doesn’t have to. They submit to her in these pragmatic areas where competence is all that counts, and ‘submission’ is completely irrelevant, being merely a spiritual or family matter of organization.

Women are not seething with discontent over there in Witness-land, as their enemies seek to portray them. Neither are there weak women who tyrant men play like a fiddle. Of course, there are some ‘weak women,’ but there are also weak men. On balance, they are about equal.

It is common today that if you do not embrace a given cause, you are said to hate it. Thus, some try to paint Witnesses, and Christianity in general, as inherently hateful and abusive to women. Other Christian denominations will have to speak for themselves. I don’t follow them closely enough to weigh in one way or the other. I can only speak for my own people, and I will speak more of them in Part 2

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Are We Looking at Insurance Fraud? Part 2

This seemingly is a separate subject, but rest assured, it will converge. The Watchtower recently published an article that pointed out that some women in abusive marital relationships exercise their right to separate for safety’s sake, yet others have determined to stick it out. Lloyd Evans blew a gasket over this, wrote a short article of how controlling Watchtower men were, ordering Witness women to stay in abusive relationships, and he has been forwarding it daily to several agencies, hoping to get his former faith in trouble. Honestly. He did it as a countdown (or countup):

@ChtyCommission - Are you aware that Watchtower…is encouraging #jehovahswitness victims of #domesticviolence to endure life-threatening abuse?

and

It's Day 5 since Watchtower, a registered charity, publicly urged #JehovahsWitness women to stay with physically abusive husbands. @ChtyCommission has confirmed it is reviewing article. No response yet from @RefugeCharity or @womensaid.

and

Day 8 of a magazine with circulation numbering into the millions instructing women to "endure" abusive relationships. Still not a word from @ChtyCommission or #domesticviolence orgs @RefugeCharity @womensaid or @PurplePurse

At some point I chimed in, linking to my own post on the entire Watchtower article, not just a single paragraph and appending it with my tweets to his:

 

Day 9 of @cedarsjwsurvey hoping he can get his former religion in hot water with @ChtyCommission. Every day he hammers on their door. Sheesh. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t call every single day. @RefugeCharity @womensaid @PurplePurse .

and

11 STRAIGHT DAYS hammering their door! No cult leader could be more pesky.

and even

Day 23 of two women's groups being battered daily by a man who shames them for not pursuing his grudge against his former religion. One never knows, but it is possible they are considering overall context. @ChtyCommission @RefugeCharity @womensaid

Some of his own people told him to cool it:

if these organizations don't react, you have to respect their choice. Criteria of their evaluations is complex in nature (legal aspects) and other crucial elements imposed by the statutes of a Charity. Please read again Steve Hassan's last book, there are more efficient methods

Steve Hassan is a huge player in the ‘anti-cult’ movement. Here he is being appealed to as though he were a cult leader himself.

I couldn’t resist. I just had to tweet:

In other words, you’re making yourself a pain, Cedars. The whole world does not revolve around your beefs. @ChtyCommission @RefugeCharity @womensaid

Okay, here’s one more from me:

It is possible that @womensaid resents being lectured to daily by a male who presumes to know their concerns better than they do themselves. Aren't abusive males known to behave this way, refusing to take delay or silence for an answer? Possibly they read the entire WT article.

He is still at it and no, I don’t respond every day:

Day 31 of circulation. A month ago, Watchtower published its clearest ever advice encouraging JW women to "endure" abusive husbands. Incredibly, it seems they can do this without any official rebuke from DV orgs like @RefugeCharity & @womensaid.

Some of his own have broken ranks and accused him of ‘man-bashing.’ He is confident, I think overconfident. But I do not underestimate him. He has had some success in stirring up major mischief. And you never quite know what these agencies will do. I would think when he sends complainants over there, Bethel could respond if queried merely by citing their present policy on marital separation, but you never know how things will turn out until they turn out.

On day 40 or so, I became very bold and tweeted: "It's as though he says, 'G******t, answer me when I'm talking to you!'"

Around Day 60, I heard that he had given it up.

Now, it occurs to me, that if he can hammer on an agency each day, there is no reason that I cannot do the same:

Day 1 of Lloyd’s friend encouraging insurance fraud to his Twitter followers.

Only I won’t hammer at the same agency each day as he does. There are enough that I can mix them up, just like rotating public speakers at the Kingdom Hall. Oh, yeah. Let’s see where this goes.

I don’t know. Is it illegal or is it just incredibly crass and ungrateful? Imagine. Your home is destroyed in a flood. Instantly your fellow congregation members swoop in to restore or rebuild, donating both time and materials. Yet when it turns out that you have made provisions to cover exactly that circumstance you say ‘Fugeddaboudit! I like 'free' better. See you on the Adriatic coast, if you can afford it, that is. I can.’ Either way, they can be made to look awfully small.

As Sherlock says, ‘It’s Game On.’

See Part 1

See Part 3

Arguing

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Diedre Wins a Skirmish

The overnight tech is tired, overweight, underpaid, overworked, as she would tell you, (likely omitting the 2nd item) and perhaps it is so. Her rough treatment of those in her charge has hurt some of them and they dread disturbing her. They hold off until absolutely necessary. Only Diedre, recuperating from a fractured shoulder and hip, determines within her heart to win her over, as she tells us later, with a twinkle in her eye.

When my wife calls the nursing home, she is told that Diedre is not available because she is doing rehab in her room. ‘How long will it be?’ she asks. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ comes the answer. ‘I think they just go in there to visit; she is so nice.’

She is. We all know it. Camping with us and the kids long ago, we would say about those in the neighboring cabin: ‘Diedre, go find out about those people.’ Off she would go with a disarming ‘hi.’ Fifteen minutes later she would return with their entire life stories.

She wins a skirmish. Coming to her side at 2AM for pain, the tech says, ‘I hate to see you suffering like this. You really are a good patient.’ ‘So she is coming around, just a little bit,’ Diedre smiles and chalks up the win.

[Edit: I spoke with Diedre after this post was written. She referred to that tech as "the sweetest little thing," before clarifying that she really wasn't little. I had just thrown that in on a hunch that she was overweight. I really didn't know. When Diedre left after several weeks recuperation, some of the patients cried. The staff begged her to visit, adding that many former patients say they will, but never do. They do not know that, with Diedre, it is a certainty.

Does she 'witness?' No, not particularly, though she is always ready should something come up. Rather, she is one of Jehovah's Witnesses, it quickly comes into conversation naturally, as when a person mentions what they do for a living, and thereafter everything she does or says becomes a witness.

When she attends to the hospital stays of her own children (who unfortunately, have had a few) she quickly is on a first name basis with every tech, nurse, and doctor in sight, who all look forward to exchanging a few words with her. She doesn't look at each person as 'an opportunity to give a witness.' Instead she looks at them as an opportunity to make a human connection. Sometimes that leads to a verbal witness. It always leads to a nonverbal one.]

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Thomas Jefferson - "How Cheap a Price for the Good Will of Another."

“I have mentioned good humor as one of the preservatives of our peace and tranquility. It is among the most effectual, and its effect is so well imitated and aided, artificially, by politeness that this also becomes an acquisition of first-rate value. In truth, politeness is artificial good humor; it covers the natural want of it, and ends by rendering habitual a substitute nearly equivalent to the real virtue. It is the practice of sacrificing to those whom we meet in society all the little conveniences and preferences which will gratify them, and deprive us of nothing worth a moment's consideration; it is the giving a pleasing and flattering turn to our expressions, which will conciliate others and make them pleased with us as well as themselves. How cheap a price for the good will of another! When this is in return for a rude thing said by another, it brings him to his senses, it mortifies and corrects him in the most salutory way, and places him at the feet of your good nature in the eyes of the company. 

"But in stating prudential rules for our government in society I must not omit the important one of never entering into dispute or argument with another. I never saw an instance of one of two disputants convincing the other by argument. I have seen many, on their getting warm, becoming rude, and shooting one another. Conviction is the effect of our own dispassionate reasoning, either in solitude or weighing within ourselves, idspassionately, what we hear from others, made Doctor Franklin the most amiable of men in society "never to contradict anybody." If he was urged to announce an opinion, he did it rather by asking questions, as if for information, or by suggesting doubts. When I hear another express an opinion which is not mine, I say to myself, he has a right to his opinion, as I to mine; why should I question it? His error does me no injury, and shall I become a Don Quixote, to bring all men by force of argument to one opinion? If a fact be misstated, it is probable he is gratified by a belief in it, and I have no right to deprive him of the gratification. If he wants information, he will ask for it, and then I will give it in measured terms; but if he still believes his own story, and shows a desire to dispute the fact with me, I hear him and say nothing. It is his affair, not mine, if he prefers error.

"There are two classes of disputants most frequently to be met with among us. The first is of young students, just entered the threshold of science, with a first view of its outlines, not yet filled up with the details and modifications which a further progress would bring to their knowledge. The other consists of the ill-tempered & rude men in society, who have taken up a passion for politics. (Good humor and politeness never introduce into mixt society a question on which they foresee there will be a difference of opinion.) From both of those classes of diputants, my dear Jefferson, keep aloof as your owuld from the infected subjects of yellow fever or pestilence. Consider yourself, when with them, as among the patients of Bedlam, needing medical more than moral counsel. Be a listener only, keep within yourself, and endeavor to establish with yourself the habit of silence, especially on politics. In the fevered state of our country, no good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots to rights, either in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts they will believe, and the opinions on which they will act. Get by them, therefore, as you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the road with such an animal.”

The Futility of Disputes (from a letter to Thomas Jefferson Randolph, dated Washington November 24, 1808) - Thomas Jefferson

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