“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!

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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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Building Emotional Health

It was hard not to think of the human immune system at Sunday’s Watchtower. We all have them and if kept strong they are pretty good at warding off all manner of illness. But they are under assault constantly. It is the same with emotional health. It is under assault constantly with pressures described as “strength-sapping” and “emotionally draining.”

Building up emotional health in the congregation will be members who are careful in their speech not to add to someone’s burden but to alleviate it. “Thoughtless speech is like the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise is a healing.” (Prov. 12:18)

Also helping is reflection of the God we serve. “For you became precious in my eyes...and I have loved you....do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43:4-5) And: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be anxious, for I am your God. I will fortify you, yes, I will help you, I will really hold on to you with my right hand of righteousness.  (41:10)

Given the pressures and even atrocities of the day, the ones to be concerned about are those with whom it all runs off like water off a duck's back. One is reminded of Jesus' words that he called upon, not those who do not need a physician, but those who do.

 

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How Difficult a Thing to Stay Neutral

I like how the Watchtower Study meeting Sunday, dealing with political neutrality, distinguished between support, tacit support, opinion, and strong opinion.
 
All human governments and political parties are going to drop the ball. Usually it is a bowling ball. The only remaining question is upon which toe will it land. As people ponder the vulnerability of their right toes and left toes, they may well develop opinions.
 
If so, keep them from being ‘strong opinions’ and certainly do not lend support or ‘tacit support‘ and absolutely do not bring it into the congregation, where it can do nothing but divide.
 
Brother Jackson acknowledged just how hard that is to do, in saying or even thinking ‘I hope that ‘idiot’ doesn’t get into power.’ It is impossible to hear that without wondering what idiot he has in mind, notwithstanding that he gave another experience from Australia back in the day. That was back in the day, long ago. He’s done nothing but think about it since then? Or does he have something more modern in mind?
 
A sister at the Hall commented how hard it is to stay neutral when prominent leaders are separating children from their parents. Even that statement is political, another pointed out (not publicly) since the countertake is to point out that one should not put children in the illegal situation where that is going to happen.
 
This made me also wonder after the study if maybe the universal grousing about taxes, which many do, which (gasp) even I have done, is not political. Jesus simply said ‘pay them,’
 
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Standing Up For Your Beliefs in Class

At the Regional Convention, at least half of the videos were directed at young people. This is good because they are under more peer pressure than most not to 'go along with the crowd.' All young people experience this pressure, but Jehovah's Witnesses youth more than usual because what they stand for is more specific and the degree to which they stand is more determined. Besides, there are many young people who resolve the pressure not to go along with the crowd by going along with the crowd. Sometimes they go so far as to answer the wise words of their mama, "If everyone jumped off of a cliff, would you jump off, too?" with a "That's what I'm talkin about!"

Such talks at the convention would feature some Bible character doing something that took guts, and then the modern video application have some young person taking a bold stand based upon consideration of it. I don't remember the specific talk, but I do remember the specific video of a high school girl saying how she was really quite shy but got into the habit of, right from the start, at school's opening intro 'show and tell' session, reveal that she was one of Jehovah's Witnesses and thereafter let it be known, when all the kids are quizzing each other as to what they did on the weekend, that she engages in spiritual activity during much of that time. That is all she did.

"People started coming to me with their problems," she relates. Upon establishing herself as a member of something she thinks works better, all she has to do is be nice, cooperative, friendly, and it is easier for her to stand firm when peer pressure to do something she thinks wrong comes her way. People approached her, she said, and to the extent they did, she was ready to discuss what she had and how she found it had worked for her. Let me tell you, it works way better than haranquing people over religious doctrine, which few in the West care much about anyway, and the ones that do are inclined to do nothing but argue over it.

The Watchtower Study Sunday furthered that basic youth-supporting theme, with paragraphs discussing various situations. When another student approaches her teacher, and you know it is a science teacher because of the ascending apelike creatures on the chart in the background, she does not have to convince him to turn the whole troupe around and march them back into the slime from whence they came; he is not going to do that. All she has to do is tell him that she doesn't buy it. It is undermining to her faith and it is not sufficiently logical to be allowed to do that. To overturn the common sense model seen everywhere else that anything made has a maker and the more complicated the made thing is the smarter the maker must be will take proof more conclusive than what is offered.

Even the teacher, though he may mutter a bit, may be able to live with this because Watchtower publications speak of the six days of creation being "epochs" and the period prior to their commencement being "aeons." Jehovah's Witnesses are not young-earth creationists.

When the Watchtower wants to suggest a biology teacher, always the ascending ape chart is in the background; that's how it is done. It probably is done everywhere, not just in the Watchtower, for that one chart instantly conveys the idea as nothing else does. Icons are everywhere. Sometimes they are not even accurate. When a scientist was impressed with a discussion between he and I and wanted to reproduce it on his own blog, he represented himself with a double-helix. I got stuck with a cross! So I told him Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that Jesus died on a cross but on an upright stake. "I knew that, actually," he said, "but an upright stake makes a ridiculous looking icon." What could I say? I had to bear my cross.

Several videos (back to the Regional Convention) feature Witness youths being put down, sometimes even by the teacher, and thereafter mustering up boldness to ask to address the whole class, always (in the cases shown) winning respect from students and teachers alike.

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Reporter at 2 O'Clock. Roger That.

A 30-ish, I would guess, reporter attended one of this year's regional conventions, this one in New Orleans, and wrote some reasonably nice things about it. He didn’t fall upon his face and do a Zechariah 8:23 – ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people’ – but considering his non-religious reporter background, I’ll take what he did write and thank him for it. You don't have to quibble over every little thing.

Since I have time on my hands, and no, I was not notified by an attendant (guard), let me see if I can respond to a few things he raised. His words are in italics. Mine in regular font.

The Jehovah's Witnesses' Annual Convention Was So Organized It Was Creepy. They are extremely organized. It might strike one as creepy who is not used to it.

Aside from the occasional door-to-door visits and that one time, which I still feel guilty about, when my brother drenched some evangelists with water balloons from our second-story bedroom window, I had never really met a Jehovah's Witness. It took me two trips to the dry cleaners to get those water marks out of my suit.

 Also, I knew Prince was a member, and any religious group that could claim Prince as one of their own was either extremely terrifying or weirdly edgy and almost cool.  The ebook Tom Irregardless and Me contains the most complete, and perhaps only, written compilation of Prince’s JW life. It is in the free download section.

…they even took care of cleaning, despite the Superdome's retainer on dozens of janitors. It may be the only event for which they get time off. The Witnesses usually show up a day beforehand, as well, for a massive scrub-down.

One Superdome employee said to me, "These guys are guarding the elevators like Obama is here." As far as I know, he did not come. He would have been invited, but may have been hard to reach.

Plus, their floral-printed dresses and charcoal suits made most guests look like they were dressed for a wake. If one is not used to seeing folks dressed up, and it is a rarety today, the sight could easily give that impression.

As a further sign of their top-down control of every aspect of the convention, or maybe just a tight budget, none of the concession booths were open. It is like that in every convention and has always been. People brown-bag it. However, go back far enough to the 50’s or so and there were makeshift kitchens set up & taken down to serve a full meal to every attendee. Food arrangements have progressively streamlined since then.

It's a bit unsettling to realize you're one of the only people in a room of nearly 40,000 who think you're not destined for heaven, and not even destined for the earthly paradise that the remaining Jehovah's Witnesses will inherit after all the other degenerate heathens like me are abruptly taken out by the apocalypse. Their beliefs are their beliefs after all, but I don't often contemplate the afterlife in the presence of a group whose faith is so relentless. It's convert or burn, and that's heavy s**t, man. [**s mine]

We would not phrase matters this way. We just try to bring the gospel to as many as we can, and after that things are out of our hands. As the expression goes, ‘It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.’

There was a big, climactic event on the bill that sounded like it was supposed to be a live drama depicting something from the Book of Something. Jonah. it was from the Book of Jonah. Actually, it was the entire book, which is overall quite short.

…everyone was wearing way too much makeup. It was like a B movie made by the Bible Channel. I actually thought the movie was pretty good, overall. They have come a long ways in a short time, and once were downright cheesy. Great attention is paid that all props are historically accurate. It may be that you just miss the Hollywood pizzazz that moviegoers become accustomed to. Admittedly, they are not paid actors. They, too, are volunteers.

a bunch of men walked around holding "Quiet Please" signs that had already been made. This happens before all sessions, as it takes participants a while to break off visiting with friends they may not have seen for a long time.

But while I still don't understand the Jehovah's Witness faith or its people, and while I may still think of them as cult-addled nuts, they're still just people. You know, I’ll take this. I appreciate it. And I really do like the article with its reminder of the first impression we make on many today.

But they also like peanut butter sandwiches. I hate to think of the garbage I might eat were it not for my wife, who attends to such things far better than I do.

...and they especially like organizing conventions. The exact program is reproduced hundreds of times during the year around the world, each with the same degree of organization, so as to serve every member. Ours was in Rochester, and here is a post on a previous one.

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They Put in Some Hours

The sister in the Watchtower Study who decided not to go to law school, but work in a bank instead? I like the reason she gave. It’s not that she didn’t like law, thought it too hard, or was afraid to exert herself. She looked down the road and saw a roadblock: the near impossibility of finding part-time work. She wanted to do the ministry full-time. Just read a Grisholm novel to see the hours that lawyers work, especially new ones.

There was also that great illustration on how having goals makes each decision easier. If you know you want to go to Ithaca, for example (and who doesn’t?),

(http://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2008/06/few-odd-fellows.html)

each intersection is a no-brainer. But if you don’t know that you want to go to Ithaca, each intersection calls for pouring over the map.

 
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Who Doesn't Need Encouragement?

In that Watchtower Study about encouragement, it turns out that everyone can use it and everyone can give it. When it came to the paragraph on elders as recipients, the congregation we visited showered them with quite a few nice remarks. ‘I think we’re going to stay on this paragraph for the rest of the meeting,’ the conductor quipped.

Yeah. If they are shelter from the wind, the rainstorm, or the roasting sun, then they need a coat of varnish now and then - maintenance, the same as you would maintain any barrier. It turns out that they don’t need much; they are mostly self-maintaining. A little bit of encouragement will do, especially coupled with cooperation and acquiescing to the lead they take, not unlike how Hebrews 13:17 puts it:

“Be obedient to those taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over you as those who will render an account, so that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for that would be damaging to you.”

When it came to encouragement that anyone might give anyone, a verse cited was Philippians 2:3; do it “with humility, consider the other superior to you.” This led someone to observe ‘How can that be? How can two persons each regard the other as superior?’ The trick is to look for the one or more things in the other person at which they are better than you …there will always be something…and then hone in on that quality. Failing that, the trap will be that someone gives encouragement in a looking-down way, or a patronizing way, undermining its intended effect.

How many people really give encouragement, anyway? It certainly is not the pattern outside of the congregation. Look at social media and it would appear to be a scarce commodity indeed. It is good to surround oneself with people with whom encouragement replaces ‘cutting’ as a M.O.

Then there was that part about Paul needing encouragement, and even rescue “from the unbelievers in Judea,” as though they actually came after him, and were not just the apathetic persons Christians typically encounter. One begins to wonder if he is not speaking of unbelievers in the congregation making trouble, for battling apostasy is a steady theme in the Greek Scriptures; there is not an NT writer who does not deal with it.

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He Literally Stole the Illustration

Every Witness has heard the one about the 40 different writers, from wildly diverse backgrouds...some kings, and some day laborers....over a period of some 2000 years. What are the chances that they will write a coherent book? And yet the 40 that are Bible writers have done so, steadily advancing the theme of God's kingdom arrangment developing.

The speaker Sunday followed up with a comparison I have not heard before. It was that of 45 United States Presidents, all cut from basically the same cloth, over a far shorter period of time. Yet, would anyone say that they advance the same vision? Just ask Obama and then Trump.

The speaker also flashed a $20 bill on the overhead screen. The point was that it contained telltale signs, and that if one put a few minutes into the effort, one could tell whether it was counterfeit or not. He likened it to similar signs that the Bible is authentic.

The $20 was used early in his talk...in the introduction. The speaker thanked the chairman for leaving it in place on the speaker stand when introducing the talk. Apparently, another chairman had removed it, thinking it some inadvertant leftover from another activity. (thinking it was a tip, the speaker said  ) Thus the chairman had, quite literally, stolen the speaker's illustration.

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