Shortchanging the Mentally ill?

The April 2020 study issue, under consideration for the  Watchtower Study, was about encouraging all runners in the race. However, some runners are not in good health. Among the maladies faced, some grapple with depression and anxiety. “Their distress is just as real as is the distress of someone with a broken limb, but they may not receive the same compassionate response from others,” the article stated.

Verrrrryyyyyy gingerly I will suggest that the writers themselves provided an example of such withholding compassion.

For the “broken limb” people, there was: “Are you lying in a bed or sitting in a wheelchair? Do you have weak knees or poor eyesight? If so, can you run along with those who are young and healthy? You certainly can! Many older and infirm ones...cannot do this work in their own power. Instead, they draw on Jehovah’s strength by listening to Christian meetings over a telephone tie-line or watching meetings through video streaming.” [italics mine]

But to the “mental health” ones, it was: “Because of severe anxiety, some brothers and sisters feel very nervous and self-conscious in everyday social situations. They may find it difficult to be in large groups, but they continue to attend congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions.”

Someone cynical persons might suggest that to the latter ones, the hidden message is: “You suck it up and get your rear end to those meetings! There is no reason that you can’t!”

Now, I am not that cynical one. I am not a ‘reformer’—I am an apologist. I either allow myself to be molded by counsel, or if for some reason I cannot, I put it on the shelf and tentatively dismiss it as ‘one of those things.’ I lean more heavily than usual on this item because I have known ones with severe anxiety or depression—so severe that they do not get to meetings. Should they? It’s not for me to say, though I note that the infirm, blind, or wheelchair-bound get a free pass should they require it—but not the mentally ill. Maybe it is agoraphobia some have—a terror of outdoors. Maybe it is claustrophobia—a terror of indoors. There are all kinds of weird issues with which people suffer.

I thinking of such a person now. I know that one’s circumstances. I know that one’s home life. I also know that there will be some that will lean on that one VERY heavy to ‘get with it’—and that the person, who already feels worthless, will likely feel that way all the more.

It probably is not deliberate. Paul became a Jew for the sake of Jews, and a Gentile for the sake of Gentiles. He even became weak for the sake of those weak—but there are limits. Did he become agoraphobic for the sake of those agoraphobic? There are some things that you have to experience to understand.

My favorite circuit overseer—he wins that status with many who recall him, even though there has been very worthy ‘competition’ from a steady stream of excellent traveling overseers since—is remembered for the expression, “Just do the best you can.” He wasn’t one for comparisons. He wasn’t one for guilting or pushing or shaming. “Just do the best you can,” was his slogan. He said it repeatedly, so that the slogan itself is sufficient to identify him.

He was not a favorite of everyone, for there were some who feared that if you tell people “do the best you can,” some will do nothing and pass it off as their best. The urge to transform ‘encouraging’ into ‘pushing’ is strong. There are those who yield to it. I did notice, though, that in one of those elder training schools in which the traveling overseers took turns instructing the brothers, my CO was invariably given the heaviest and most sensitive parts. His was the example thought most beneficial for the friends.

That impression is only furthered by the Branch brother, or Gilead brother, or someone, teaching another class, leading a string around on the overhead projector, with finger placed firmly on the lead end. “See how nicely the rest of the string follows this lead?” he says. “Now what happens if I turn the method around?” he asks, as he attempts to ‘push’ the string from that lead, and it bunches up. “It’s really not very smart of me to do it this way, is it?” he observes.

So I was a little surprised to see what I did in print. These days circuit overseers approach with the directive to simply show love for the friends and don’t “pile on” at all. It is not a huge deal, for there is fine print elsewhere recognizing that some people have extraordinary circumstances which preclude normal activity. Still, I almost wish there had been just one more sentence: “Of course, in some extreme situations.....and these ones, too, need reminders that Jehovah, who knows us better than we do ourselves, knows they are “doing the best they can.”

He was my favorite circuit overseer. He has long since retired. He is in his 90’s, and last I heard, he still keeps a “circuit overseer schedule” for his pioneering. He is the one person referred to by actual name in ‘Tom Irregardless and Me’—everyone else I wait till they die—not only they, but often also family members and friends. I sent him the chapter he is named in. But he replied that “it didn’t make much sense” to him, adding that he still thought he had all his “marbles.” This worried me. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might not like it, and I offered to change the name—electronically you can do such things. But he said that at this point he didn’t really care, so I left it be.

He appears several times in my writings, but only once is he named. It is for the time that he reviewed a demonstration of mine for the upcoming District Convention. Upon hearing it, he was effusive in his praise, and marveled at the hours and hours we must have put into it. “Only,” he finally said, “this one tiny point—I wonder if anyone could get the wrong idea here?” and he outlined some picky little thing.

“Well—sure—I guess we could redo that,” I said hesitantly.

“Oh, wonderful! Just wonderful! The rest is just fine! Absolutely fine! Exactly what the slave means to convey........except...”

By the time he was finished there was nothing left! There is only one thing a brother can say in such circumstances, and I said it: “Thank you, Brother NamedHim, for your counsel,”

One of my participants, himself a man of sterling reputation who had been around forever, said: “Why are you thanking him!? He messed it all up!”

Hmm. Maybe he didn’t want his cover blown. Maybe that’s why it “didn’t make any sense” to him. It’s okay. He certainly did benefit me. And I’ll bet if he’d written that Watchtower, I would not have written this post.

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The Watchtower Study of June 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Speaking in the Congregation

Q: It may come as a shock to you all..... but how will we keep unity in the faith (one message) if anyone can stand on the stage and add scriptures and give their own interpretations? 

I do agree with this. For several years running I was called upon to give talks in the District Convention. Most of them were family-oriented talks that you looked for a brother with a family to give, even if he wasn’t pioneering, which I wasn’t. They ceased after I turned one down, facing a perfect storm of calamities at the time. During that time, I might cook up my own illustrations, but I would never dream of adding my own scriptures. I knew it was not me that everyone had come to hear.

On the school talks that I give now, sometimes I take small liberties—seldom reading extra verses, but sometimes incorporating excerpts of them in passing. It is all clearly within the pattern of the fine words, done sparingly, and nobody makes a fuss over it. One conductor, though, observed: “You actually didn’t address the theme of the talk” “Oh—I changed that,” I said, and so unexpected was the reply that he almost fell over himself laughing. This was not “adding to doctrine,” or anything—don’t misunderstand—it was merely adding a personal touch to a student talk and everyone understood that. 

I gave a funeral talk in another congregation where one elder, a fine man but known to be a stickler, asked if I was using the Society’s outline, and I said that I wasn’t. He was most concerned because I was neither an elder nor servant, and I hadn’t even known up front whether I would be permitted to give the talk, only the widow had requested me—her husband had been my best man and we had always remained close. After the talk, though, he was content and made no waves. The talk did all that a funeral talk should, plus was personalized as only a best friend might do.

So there might be a few instances where you are the speaker and people wonder how you will handle this or that small part. But they would clearly end at the circuit level, and even at the congregation level, you would be very sparing of what was personal.

There used to be a local speaker in much demand who truly had a gift for speaking. He would twirl the globe he had brought up to the platform, quote Matthew 24:14, “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth” and then put his finger down upon this or that spot representing some local king’s sovereignty: “This good news of the kingdom WILL NOT be preached in MY part of the inhabited earth,” with the air of—who do you think is going to prevail?

He was a great speaker, a good man. But I visited his congregation once when he was conducting the Watchtower. He explained all the questions, and so blatantly ‘over-explained’ everything that I wondered how anyone could stand it. ‘Just ask the questions’ is what you should do, and make your own comments very few. There was no bad motive—he had just become a little full of himself—building upon an obvious talent.

Most often it is something more innocuous. There was another conductor who had some mannerisms—I hate mannerisms!—in fact, that’s where ‘Tom Irregardless’ comes from, he says it so much that I named him that—who would throw in after almost every one of his expressions, words to the effect of ‘That’s helpful, isn’t it?’ Once he announced the dates for the upcoming circuit assembly, and added, ‘that’s helpful, isn’t it?’ ‘I guess it is,” I thought.

It’s people. I love people. These days I find I don’t really like them very much unless they are a little quirky. Sometimes people misunderstand it as ridicule. It’s not. I present it in the spirit of Paul trying to rid himself of a ‘thorn in the flesh’ ‘No way!’ God told him, “I look good when you are a clod, because it is evident that no way could you be doing this on your own.”

...

Upon reading of how I take “certain liberties,” a certain yo-yo encourages me to keep venturing “out of the organizational box.” Why? Because he either thinks that by doing so “my eyes will be opened” or someone will lower the boom on me, because “we must walk in lockstep” and so that will “open my eyes.”

These guys are nuts! They are downright squirrelly loony tunes. Because the irresistible bug of being free from all restrictions! bit them, they are convinced it will bite anyone—and they hope with all their hearts that it does.

I know the meaning and value of relative freedoms. Anybody of common sense does. His wet dream may come true of me (or anyone else) jumping ship, but at present it seems not too likely. I know where my home is, I know when to yield, and I know when to press forward. I have written of it before.

 

 
 

 

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Zoom and Jehovah’s Witnesses

In a service group Zoom meeting on the ministry, one sister said how we ought not “put people in boxes.” I agreed with this remark as I gazed upon ten boxes of people on my computer screen. The gray boxes suddenly appear with name only. It is like a drum roll announcing the appearance of yet another friend. Then the video comes online, as though the cymbal crash. I can get used to this. There are some aspects of it I even prefer—such as wearing my slippers.

With very little fuss at all Jehovah’s Witnesses adopted the Zoom conferencing software and now conduct all meetings this way. Doesn’t it provide case-in-point to those talks about how Jehovah considers people individually important? There were other church groups that also adopted Zoom—Witnesses were not alone—but because their normal program structure doesn’t incorporate congregation participation, there were remarks that the result just seemed too irrelevant and inadequate for the times. Some of those churches indeed had additional social groups, chat rooms, but that was just it—they were for chat, with no spiritual component built into it.

Then there were also some churches that blew past social distance strictures as a scheme to subvert religion and held their services as usual, enraging everyone else for being so ‘irresponsible,’ even defiant of public policy.

How much ‘credit’ will Jehovah’s organization get their for quick cooperation with the new social distancing policies at no spiritual detriment to believers? When the CultExpert tweets that cult members are putty in the hands of their leaders ordering them to ignore science and convene as usual, I append that there is at least one “cult” that does not. When he says that cults fall into line with the prompts of his new nemesis, the Supreme Cult Leader Trump, I tell him that there is at least one “cult” that is universally known to be apolitical—and not involved in such controversies at all. I mean,  in some many ways, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the polar opposite of his cult model, and as so I can’t help but think, even though I know better, that he will one day halt his ridiculous efforts to categorize them as such. I think I told him somewhere along the line that if all persons were ‘cult’ members like Jehovah’s Witnesses, COVID-19 would have moved on by now—it’s not OUR people that were partying on the beach, but it likely included some of his, whose distinguishing feature is ‘independence’ and ‘forming their own mind.’ That’s a recipe for cooperating with government recommendations? I don’t think so.

The Zoom company wondered why so many of those using their app identified as Jehovah’s Witnesses—this was related to us by a brother in our service meeting group. Zoom had served as a tool for his huge family reunion just after the Memorial, bringing together ones who had not crossed paths in some time, and some of them had Warwick connections. Warwick brothers got to witness to the Zoom team, they related. Six Zoomer leaders attended a meeting, and three of those stayed on till the end.

Now, our brothers will unfailingly put a spiritual face on doings that may be completely non-spiritual. But surely the core of the story will be true. They will spin it that these Zoomers are on the cusp of Bible study themselves, when doubtless their first motive will be to see how their product is being used and provide customer support. That does not mean a spiritual component is non-existent. Time will tell. Meanwhile, unless I am very much mistaken (how likely is THAT?) Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are giving their product its most rigorous workout ever, ensuring that each member is connected to the coordinating organization—and this cannot help but put the cause to the front of their consciousness. Just like Putin never saw anything like every Witness in the world writing him on behalf of their brothers, so Zoom never saw anything like the efforts to keep every Witness in the world unified in Bible teachings.

Zoom was not ready for the explosion of interest in their product—nobody would be. It is as though you open a restaurant and everyone in the country shows up to order a hamburger. Some security issues came to the fore and the Zoom people scrambled to patch them, like the kid sticking his fingers in the dike. Two weeks ago our elders mentioned having received an 8-page letter from our own HQ on how to effectively yet safely use the product. All elders in the world got up to speed on Zoom—and there will be among them a huge number, no doubt, with very shaky grasp of technology to begin with.

Now you know—you just know—how the brothers would have been in interacting with Zoom personnel. They would have been respectful, patient, and even helpful, as the creators of what one Italian IT firm called the “world’s best website” (mentioned in one of the Yearbooks—I think, 2017). Contrast that with the typical customer, who might well not be that way at all—screaming when something goes wrong, some of them. Faith and its resulting qualities are not the possession of all people.

It seems a perfect time to kick back at some of those naysayers—you know who you are (oh....they will mostly be on the open forum, not here. Ah, well...tough) —who have said, “Who needs organization?” People are going stir-crazy in the greater world, but it is not so with Jehovah’s people. Just ‘Jesus and me?’—that’s enough? I think not. It is the bottom line, of course. You need a relationship with the father and with the son. But as a gimme, God throws in a network of united worshippers—a brotherhood. Anyone would be crazy to pass that by. We are social beings. We’re built that way. The brotherhood has come to the fore with its quick adaptation of technology.

At the same time, the non-stop Bible counsel fed us on how to get along with family and spouse in forbearance and love—you want to try to tell me that hasn’t come in handy? There are many people for whom the worst possible stressor is to sentence them to open-ended ‘prison terms’ with their family—cooped up in the same house! but it is not so for Jehovah’s people. Again, the godly organization has kept that counsel before us incessantly and never has the payoff been more apparent than now.

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If You Suspect That You Are Anointed, You’re Not - and Who Were the Gnostics?

At the meeting yesterday I commented that, with a certain history of anxiety issues in the control tower, if I were to start partaking of the emblems, I would expect people to say, ‘Well, he is a little that way.’ I mean, I wouldn’t expect people to just lap it up. Fortunately, there is no way on God’s green earth that I am ever going to be one of the anointed because it is on God’s green earth that I savor living forever and can’t begin to imagine whatever I would do in the heavenly realm.

Another remark was given of someone from his Bethel days, awoken by a roommate who said he thought he might be anointed. ‘If you only think it, you’re not. Go back to sleep’ was the reply.

I also said that, as a practical matter, I never ever bring the subject of anointed up in the ministry, since it involves so very few people. To do so seems like being one of those policy wonks eternally obsessed over what is going on in Washington, something that they at best have 1/200,000,000 input. Why go there?

Also, though 90% of Bart Ehrman’s remarks are infuriating, because while displaying impressive command of background facts, certain basic concepts seem completely foreign to him (such as ‘worshipping God’)—still, here and there one can spot an insight. One of them was his definition of Gnostics. Now, I had heard of the term, and I knew it had to do with ‘knowledge’ but I didn’t know what sort of knowledge and I had made up for that lack by assuming wrong, thinking of what we today call knowledge—you know, the stuff you acquire in school. Instead, the ‘knowledge’ that Gnostics had was that they didn’t belong in this world—it just didn’t feel right to them—they belonged somewhere else, and if you shared this similar ‘knowledge,’ you were one of them. Tell me if this doesn’t describe almost exactly ones who claim, rightly or wrongly, that they are anointed today.

Too, Bart points out that the Gnostics were not a separate Christian community but they were interspersed in existing congregations, again like anointed today. Of course, this does a little bit fly in the face of the current WT view that all Christians back then were anointed. But it has already been pointed out that the early Christian community very soon exceeded 144K, so that view is not exactly airtight. One easy way to resolve matters is to hold that the heavenly calling was indeed the priority back then, just after the Christ instituted the congregation, but the message still attracted people who sensed that it was the latest worship development from God, that this is where they belonged, and that they would therefore benefit even if every single little thing didn’t dovetail.

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

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

If you want to eat, identify all eight items:

1. Credit card

2. Necktie

3. Shoe polish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favorite Tweet of the Day—From Richard Dawkins? Really?

Tweeted Richard Dawkins one fine day (11/13/19): “You could easily spot any Religion of Peace. Its extremist members would be extremely peaceful” 

Can it be? Is Richard Dawkins referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses—universally known for being “extremely peaceful” yet declared “extremists” in Russia? If so, I will take back the relatively few bad things I have said about him.

I have not really said THAT many bad things about him. At times, I have even been complimentary. When he blessed the atheist buses rolling out in London, I said that he raised a good point—his was a reaction to existing “hellfire’ buses, with advertising from the church. He did wuss-out, though, with a: “There probably is no God.” Probably?

It wasn’t until I began following him on Twitter, though, that I noticed how breathtakingly contemptuous he was toward anyone who disagreed with him—not merely about God, but also on geopolitical things—and then I did say a few mean things. For example, I said of him that “he does not suffer fools gladly, and a fool is anyone who disagrees with him.”

However, he has largely repented over this online meanness. I’ve noticed it over the months. He has not banished it entirely, but it is much less prevalent, so that I regret that I ever said what I did.

The temptation to be disdainful of opponents is well-nigh irresistible, particularly if you think that they are willfully choosing ignorance. I have (more or less) mastered the temptation, of course, but I have a source of effective and unending counsel that he does not.

This is no more concisely stated than it was at a recent Watchtower Study. A Bible verse considered how we ought “do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with humility consider others superior to you.” (Philippians 2:3) Practically speaking, this advice is not easy to implement. It may even strike one as nonsensical—how can everyone be superior to everyone else? Said that Watchtower: “The humble person acknowledges that everyone is superior to him in some way.​—Phil. 2:3, 4.”

Of course. In some way everyone is superior to everyone else. Search for that way, hone in on it like a laser beam, and it will not be so difficult to treat even opponents with respect. “Disagree without being disagreeable” is the catchphrase today.

But Professor Dawkins does not have this advantage. Much of his tradition would sway him in just the opposite “survival of the fittest” direction. So he must be given credit for his new, somewhat softer, online personality. Possibly someone who has his best interests at heart—perhaps his wife—said, “Richard, you sure do come across as a cantankerous crank on Twitter,” and he deliberately walked it back. It’s commendable.

Now, I don’t think Richard had Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind with his tweet. He probably has formed his views of them through the contributions of their “apostate” contingent, and those views could hardly be blacker. I looked down among his comments to see whether any of those nasties had reared their heads. Perhaps here was an example:

Not entirely true. Extremists usually have their own misinterpretation of scriptures.”

I responded to this one: “If “misinterpretation” results in a religion of peace, perhaps it is not a misinterpretation after all. Perhaps the mainline view is a misinterpretation.” Is that not a no-brainer?

Another one, disagreeing with the above tweet: “Actually no. Most extremists do exactly what is written in their book. ‘Misinterpretation’ is used as an argument by believers that cherry pick morals that fit our secular ethics today.”

I know this type, too. This is the type that finds slavery in the Bible or war in the Old Testament and rails at the “hypocrisy.” I responded to this fellow as well:

Everything has a historical context and to deliberately ignore such context is to be intellectually dishonest. If our side does it to theirs, we never hear the end of it.

He blew up at this reference to context. Evil is evil, he carried on, across all places and time-frames. These characters are very predictable—you could even write their lines for them and not be too far off.

Has “critical thinking” made us all nincompoops? It was once thought the most intelligent thing in the world to consider historical backdrop; one was irresponsible, even deceitful, not to do it. Very well. If he is going to trash, with blinders affixed, the source that I hold dear, I will do the same with his source:

You should turn your critical thinking skills upon Ancient Greece, the definer of it. When time travel is invented, history revisionists will give a friendly wave to American slaveholding forefathers as they race back in time to fetch wicked Greek pedophiles—it was an enshrined value of that world—back in irons.”

He was not chastened by this. Hijacking Twitter as his personal courtroom, he cross-examined:

Is the holding and beating of slaves, as described in Exodus, morally acceptable? Yes or no?

I countered: “Is the raping of children as endorsed by Ancient Greek society morally acceptable? Yes or no?”

Incredibly, he was not dissuaded. “Last chance!” he shot back. “Is the holding and beating of slaves, as described in Exodus, morally acceptable? Yes or no?”

To the blockheads, I became a blockhead.”—Paul (sort of) —1 Corinthians 9:19-22,” I tweeted back: “Two can play the game of obstinacy. Last chance: Is the rape of children—it was enshrined in Ancient Greek society—morally acceptable? Yes or no?”

Then I went away, and when I came back, he had deleted all this tweets so that it was hard for me to reconstruct the thread. However, someone else had pointed out a grave sin I had committed:

Thomas you are guilty of the moral equivalence fallacy.” Am I? I suppose. You can sort of guess by the wording just what that phrase means—I had not heard it before. At least it is in English. I once heard a theologian quip that if there is a Latin phrase and a perfectly clear English phrase that means the same thing, always use the Latin phrase so people will know that you are educated. But my “moral equivalence fallacy” is still is no more than considering historical context, a praiseworthy intellectual technique for all time periods except ours. 

Besides, I actually had posted something about slavery long ago. But it is not a topic so simple that it can be hashed out in a few tweets, and so I declined to go there with this fellow, who would debate all the sub-points. If God corrected every human injustice the moment it manifested itself, there would be nothing left. The entire premise of the Bible is that human-rule is unjust in itself and that God allows a period of time for that to be clearly manifested before bringing in his kingdom—the one referred to in the “Lord’s prayer”—to straighten it all out. In the meantime, the very ones who work themselves into a lather at religion “brainwashing” people are livid that God did not brainwash slavery away once humans settled upon it as a fine economic underpinning.

If Dawkins’s tweet and my response hangs around long enough before burial in the Twitter feed, I would expect some of our malcontents to observe as they did in Russia, where the only evidence of extremism cited is proclaiming “a religious view of supremacy.” Huge protest will come at how Jehovah’s Witnesses practice shunning and thus “destroy” relationships and even family. But views inevitably translate into consequences and policies. Refusal to “come together” with those who insist on diametrically opposed views is hardly the “extremism” of ISIS—and yet the Russian Supreme Court has declared that it is, with the full backing in principle of those from the ex-JW community—the ones who go crusading, which is perhaps 10%.

I’m going to write this up as a post and append it to his thread. Let’s see what happens. Probably nothing, but you never know.

Plus, let’s expand on that particular Watchtower some more. The particular article covered was entitled: “Jehovah Values His Humble Servants” (September 2019 issue—study edition)

Unlike nearly all religious services, Witness meetings are ones that you can prepare for. You can comment during them. They are studies of the sacred book, not just impromptu rap sessions, acquiescencing to ceremony, or sitting through someone else’s sermon. You can prepare for them, and you are benefited, as in any classroom, when you do. The focus here, as it so often is, is on practical application.

Humility draws persons to us. Haughtiness repels them, and thus makes next to impossible the mantra to “come together.”

My own comment, when the time was right, was that haughty people can only accomplish so much—it may be a great deal, for haughty people are often very capable people—but eventually they run up against the fact that nobody else can stand them, and so people are motivated to undercut their ideas, even if they are good ones, out of sheer payback for ugliness. Humble people, on the other hand, may be far less capable individually, but their efforts add up. They know how to cooperate and yield to each other in a way that haughty people do not.

Someone else on that Dawkins thread, an amateur wit, played with that them of unlikely extremists: “Jehova's witnesses are peaceful but their extremists are better extremely annoying...”

Why fight this? It is a viewpoint. Viewpoints are not wrong, because they are viewpoints—right or wrong doesn’t enter into the equation. Better to roll with it. I was indeed on a roll, and so I tweeted back: 

“I will grant that they can be. Still, if you had a choice between a team of JWs approaching your door and a team of ISIS members, you would (hopefully) choose theformer. Those 2 groups, and only those 2 groups are officially declared “extremist” in Russia.”

And with that, I included a link to my ebook, “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.” I am shameless in that. No matter how many books I sell, it is not enough. I don’t sell them, anyway. The book is free, a labor of love. It is an application of the theme: “If you have something important to say, don’t hide it behind a paywall.” It is the only, to my knowledge, complete history of events leading up to and beyond the 2017 ban of the Witness organization in Russia.

As to the latest developments there, another one was herded off to prison, who, making the best of a sour situation, or perhaps genuinely finding value there, said: "I want to thank … prosecution. I don't just thank you, but thank you very much, because thanks to you my faith has become stronger … I see I'm on the right path."

Of course. It is unreasonable to oppose so vehemently a people totally honest, hard-working, and given to peace—and yet the Bible says that such will exactly happen. How can it not serve to strengthen faith?

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Talk: (5 min. or less) w04 5/1 19-20 ¶3-7—Theme: How Were Certain Christians “a Strengthening Aid” to Paul? (Col 4:11, ftn.) (th study 7)

“I know several people who rose in their employment far beyond what their qualifications and education would have seemed to permit. When I investigated, I found that it was because they had deliberately made themselves indispensable. 

“Aw, man, I can’t believe I left my parchments at my apartment,” someone would say. He (or she) would volunteer to get it. “Rats, I left my cloak in the car,” another would say. “I’ll get it,” was his reply.

Of course, those are Bible examples from 2 Tim 4:13, the gist of such will be revisited presently. What they would actually volunteer for is some pain-in-the-neck spreadsheet that had to be done but nobody wanted to do it.

So it is that five obscure characters rose in the ranks in the apostle Paul’s eyes. “Only these are my fellow workers,” he says of Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, almost as though they formed a cabal. He describes them as a “strengthening aid” (“source of great comfort” - 2013 NWT) and the Greek root word is peregoria, used only once in scripture, which generally has medicinal connotations, hence the two acceptable renderings. Going back several decades, there was the English ‘peregoric,’ an over-the-counter medicine. It had opium in it. It was good for whatever ailed you.

Paul comes across as almost superhuman in his endurance—recall Mark Sanderson at the Gilead gradation referring to the list at 2 Corinthians 11:23 and observing that just one of those experiences would have floored most of us—yet he surely could have used “strengthening” from time to time. Like when enemies try to pin the charge of ‘sedition’ on him—as they did with Jesus—as they have done with Jehovah’s people today—and, far from according him respect as a driving force of an important religion, dismiss him as a “pest” promoting a “sect.” (Acts 24:5)

If someone is described that way—especially if they are under (house) arrest, as was Paul—there is a tendency to keep one’s distance, lest the unsavory accusations rub off. If someone is charged with sedition, you think twice before you say, “That’s my buddy!” If someone is written off as a “pest,” you show whose esteem you are trying to court by whether you identify with that person or not.

Similarly, “they will say every sort of [wicked] thing about you,” Jesus says of his disciples. And ‘if you see how they treat me, then you know how they will treat you.’ (Matthew 5:11, John 15:20) There is a tendency to back away from anyone of whom “every sort of wicked thing” is said, and these five cabal Christians would not do it. It is hard not to think of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia right now. As some are being led off to courts andimprisonment, after having personal property confiscated, their brothers, far from laying low, are publicly identifying with them. There is even a scene somewhere of the friends clapping in the aftermath of a trial, as the “guilty” member is being led away. It plays a little odd from a distance, but the idea is to recognize and support those keeping integrity under trial. It is hardly just Russia, however. Everywhere “every sort of wicked thing” is said about Christians, affording ones opportunity to gather round or distance themselves.

Qualifications were not unreachable for those whom Paul would later recognize as a “strengthening aid,” or “source of great comfort”—just stick with him under censure and don’t run like a chicken. One of them even DID run like a chicken at one time (arguably) —Mark, but he later got his act together and identified with Paul in hard times—so if we are chickens, there is yet hope.

The others: “Tychicus, my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you so that you will know how we are and that he may comfort your hearts. He is coming along with Onesimus, my faithful and beloved brother, who is from among you; they will tell you all the things happening here.Aristarchus, my fellow captive, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barʹna·bas (concerning whom you received instructions to welcome him if he comes to you), and Jesus who is called Justus, who are of those circumcised. Only these are my fellow workers for the Kingdom of God, and they have become a source of great comfort to me.” (Colossians 4:7-11)

Tychicus made himself a conduit and a go-for. Onesimus is the former slave that the educated Paul hung out with—probably freed at his request, since his owner had also become a Christian. Aristarchus—all that is known about him is that he was a jailbird with Paul, and incurred the same slander. Mark, as mentioned, is the reformed chicken. Justus—virtually nothing is known about him. These are not high-profile people and their high praise as Christians is not unreachable for anyone.”

That is how I ended the talk, by observing that anyone could attain that status and that I hoped to be described that way myself someday.

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photo: Jwilli74 

 

 

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“What the Society is Trying to Tell Us Is.....”

I could be in serious trouble. They just finished remodeling the Kingdom Hall, and there are two quarter walls, one left of stage and one right. Gulp. Will the brother start entering and exiting the platform via those quarter walls, just like I saw them do in the other congregation?

The circuit overseer was visiting, so I started pumping him on it. “‘Don’t let the brothers walk behind the quarter wall to go on-stage,” I told him. I was not too insistent—one mustn’t overdo it on these things. I mean, I don’t want to be the brother who meets him in the parking lot to tell him that all the brothers are no good, and they aren’t loving at all, and they are deadwood in the ministry, and come to think of it, they don’t even like God, and so he, the circuit overseer, has a lot of work to do here, and he says “Yeah, I think I’ve found the problem already.”

I did about as much as I could. He seemed to be sympathetic. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “You see them, then you don’t as they walk behind the wall, and then you do as they emerge from the other side—it IS a little funny.” So I gave it a good try. But he was just biding his time to get away from me, I suspect. He is not going to do anything at all, I don’t think, other than tell the brothers to go on the platform any way they like when it is their turn to speak. What does he care how they do it? It doesn’t bother HIM one way of the other. It’s ME it’s driving nuts, and then he will say “Well, you were mostly there already.”

I have always tried to stack the deck. Those elders way back in the day would have a meeting coming up and I would pump various ones separately over a multitude of picayune things, so that one of them said at their meeting (as I was told later) “Wait a minute. Who’s running this congregation? You, me, or Tom Harley?”

But then, visiting another Kingdom Hall, I saw something that got me going even more, if that is possible. I saw, yes—I witnessed it while visiting another congregation, brothers clapping after each and every exchange that took place up front, whether live or on video, just the way I had heard someone complaining about before, and I thought he was making it up. Suddenly he becomes as a prophet from on high. That too, drove me nuts!—all that clapping. You don’t clap over every single skit of one sister offering a tract to another, who, of course accepts it a just little too eagerly, it seems to me, from what I recall in the actual ministry. You clap spontaneously when something really knocks your socks off. You clap when a child or even anyone gives his or her first talk in the school. You clap when the spirit genuinely moves you, for anything. You clap after the public talk, even giving the speaker the benefit of the doubt if it wasn’t that—um—good. But you don’t clap for every minor exchange of trivial words! It only cheapens the times that there really is something to clap for.

I know where this comes from, just like I know where walking behind the quarter walls came from. Some pious brother doubtless wanted to “show appreciation” for everything under the sun and so started up the habit, thinking he was setting a ‘good example’ and that others would follow, and those others, not wanting to seem unappreciative, did follow, even some half-heartedly. 

However, it is possible that it is not the pious brother at all who is responsible, but rather the one who is too swayed by the new-agey mantra that you have to lavish praise on children non-stop just for showing up, because you will crush their self-esteem if you don’t do it, and so the brothers clap if another so much as clears his throat. I mean, don’t go pinning this one on “theocracy,”—it could just as well be that trendy “world” that he is so enamored with.

This will not the easiest habit to break. I mean, you can hardly sit there and scowl, so as to provide the counter-example. The best strategy is just to contain it, as you might strive to do with a measles outbreak. Don’t send speakers to that congregation for awhile, until the illness passes. I doubt I can even enlist the circuit overseer in any serious capacity on this one. He will probably just roll his eyes when I meet him about it in the parking lot. C’mon, DO IT RIGHT, BROTHERS!

This will not readily yield to change, if history is any guide. About the best I can hope for is some circuit overseer acting similarly as he did with another “crisis.” During a transitional lull from one main point to another, he will say that the expression “Now let us turn the platform over to the next speaker” is not optimal because it evokes an image of turning the platform over. With that, I eventually heard the expression less, though it still pops up from time to time.

It is not easy to correct anyone on anything, especially on a triviality, though occasionally people jump instantly on the trivialities but ignore the things of substance. Finding the right degree of emphasis is tough. One recipient will say “Thanks for the new RULE!” and his companion will say “Huh? Did you say something.”

There was a certain sister ages ago who enjoyed explaining things to others and eventually left the truth because not enough people listened to her. She had even begun to partake of the emblems. “What the Society is trying to tell us is....” she would often employ as a preamble. She is the inspiration (in this one regard only) for John Wheatandweeds, from my book ‘Tom Irregardless and Me,’ who will not let the brothers go in field service in the morning because he insists as the conductor of rattling on and on about the day’s text, and he resists counsel  to shorten that part—eventually to as little as 7 minutes— and he talks at such length, drawing out comments, that eventually nobody is in the mood to go out anymore. “What the Society is trying to tell us...” he responds to every bit of counsel on the subject. Finally, the Society interrupts him mid-sentence to say “We’re not trying to tell you anything—we’re telling you,” after which he finally obliges by getting everyone out the door in reasonably short order—not seven minutes, but neither seven years—however he makes up for it by chatting away in the parking lot.

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photo by iowademocrats.org

 

 

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You Don’t Enter Stage From Behind the Quarter Walls

They have quarter walls on the platform of the new Kingdom Hall I visited. Most taking the platform would walk up from the side, disappear behind one end of the wall and then reappear from the other end to take the speaker position. I only saw one person do it differently.

It is just a small thing. Hardly worth mentioning. Petty, anyone? I ought to rise about the temptation to say anything. But.....on the other hand........

IT DROVE ME NUTS! Why would anyone do it that way?

I know how this happens. Someone starting doing it thinking it looked more “dignified.” Others thought it was a cool idea, and followed suit. That is how these things work. There is never a ‘rule’ though occasionally there is an unwritten rule which you cope with by just ignoring it.

The way you stop this nonsense is by deliberately flying in the face of it. Structures vary, but usually there is but a single step from the auditorium to the platform—it runs the width of the platform—and you mount that step any old place that you happen to be—let the stuffy other brothers think that you are barbaric if they must. What is more likely to happen is that they will come to think the other way is a little silly.

They see it done that way at the Assembly Hall and they try to carry over the experience to the Kingdom Hall. At the Assembly Hall, that seats 1000, well—of course! Just like in any auditorium, you have to enter through a door in the back and then come on stage behind a curtain or a half wall. You can’t just take stage directly from the auditorium because you would have to clamber up a 2 or 3 foot wall, and that would look ridiculous.

Entering from behind the short walls at the Kingdom Hall makes just the opposite impression. The walls are convenient places to store junk behind, most likely—unused mike stands and the like. It’s not for a pretentious means for entry when you can just walk up easy as pie from where ever you are!

“Sure,” says my wife. “You always know just the way it should be. Everyone is doing it wrong. Only Tom knows the way to do it!”

Finally, that woman is catching on! DO IT RIGHT, BROTHERS!

3B519429-2269-4DA4-B173-165CDAB549FA

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