Interest vs Neutrality

One foolproof way to stay neutral with regard to politics is to know nothing about it. Many Witnesses choose that route. How can they be criticized for it? Many non-Witnesses take that route too for the sake of their blood pressure and stomach. 100 pounds of personal exertion may budge the scale a half-ounce? Some will choose to conserve their 100 pounds of personal exertion. It’s the Serenity Prayer realized for them: “Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other.” If you think that the overall state of affairs cannot be changed, yet you exert all your effort to do so, there goes your serenity. 

Some people are greatly interested in sports. Some people care not a whit. Some people are greatly interested in cars. Others wouldn’t know a Astin Martin from a Yugo—they would not know that the grates on the back of a Yugo are heating grates to warm your hands as you are pushing it (said Click and Clack). Some are interested in the human interaction that is politics. Some are not. Not a problem, any of it. It’s all personal choice.

The thing that nettles is when people misrepresent their non-interest as piety. Like the firebrand bro who insisted Jehovah’s Witnesses ARE NOT interested in politics, and when I responded that some of them were, he blocked me.

It’s okay to know things. It doesn’t in itself make you ‘part of this world.’ It even aids in the ministry to understand what it is that so gets people cranked up. That way you don’t have to speak in bland generalities. However, to present interest in politics as for the sake of the ministry also rings false. If you follow it, you follow it. Don’t try to present it as a virtue for the sake of the ministry.

3C07D2D9-2DC8-4E23-B299-B0797CBF1A73Pop didn’t care for politics. All these years I had imagined he did, since at family gatherings, long before my Witness days, politics was a frequent topic of discussion. Turned out that my mom’s dad, a staunch conservative, would rattle on endlessly about it, and Dad was just too circumspect and amiable to tell his father-in-law to zip it.


(photo: Pixabay)

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Consolation Prizes

Just because something makes no sense doesn’t mean it might not be the way things are. 112E2F68-94F8-459F-A75C-471A21C8B204Lots of things make no sense, and when the district overseer long ago protested the telephone policy with those words, his answer was, “At Ma Bell, we have a saying. It doesn’t have to make cents as long as it makes dollars.”

Lots of things aren’t true, also. It’s as Churchill said: “There are a terrible lot lies going round the the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.” “Protect Yourself from Misinformation” is the title of a recent whiteboard intended for the young. Much as I appreciate the effort, the creators have their work cut out for them. Now that Elon Musk has taken the reigns at Twitter, he says ‘Frankly, just about every conspiracy theory you ever heard about Twitter has turned out to be true.’

The tiresome mantra is “holding people accountable” and making the scoundrels “take responsibility.” It’s hardly the bee’s knees when you can do that, for it doesn’t mean the bad things didn’t happen. Sometimes you can make the miscreants “take responsibility.” and even “hold them accountable,” but it’s better if you can stop them from being miscreants in the first place. The world runs on consolation prizes.

Punishment is easier than prevention. Prevention requires agreement on just how this can be done and agreement in a divided world seldom happens. So we settle for  “holding people accountable” and making them “take responsibility.”

“My people have done two bad things,” says the prophet Jeremiah. “They have abandoned me, the source of living water, And dug for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13) Human society throws the owner’s manual away and still hopes for good mileage.

For the people of God who don’t throw the owners manual away, but try to abide by it, the product will still break down, for the manufacture is imperfect. You can still get caught in a pinch point on the potter’s wheel. “God is using imperfect people to adjust other imperfect people because that’s all he has at present,” says Bro Nourmair. The younger brothers get to squabbling and the old-timer tilts back in his chair and marvels at what Jehovah accomplishes “given what he has to work with.” Flawed though everyone is, you don’t discard the earthen vessels for being earthen, and you certainly don’t discard the manual for how to work with earthen vessels. God has all bases covered, someone told Whitepebble. “That means I can’t mess him up,” the latter replied.

Years ago, the CO approved a recommendation of someone for congregation office, though he made the observation, “He’s not the most humble brother in the world.” It’s all fine. He didn’t have to be the most humble brother in the world—he just had to meet the scriptural qualifications to an acceptable degree, and he did. The CO should have listened to his inner voice, though, to say nothing of those elders—yes, I was one of them—who paid not sufficient attention to Paul’s counsel (1 Tim 5:22)  on not laying your hands hastily upon anyone. What a yo-yo this fellow turned out to be, going the into full correcting-prophet mode over time, testing false positive for anointing and true positive for apostasy!

Those who are ill seek out the physician,’ Jesus says. (Matthew 9:12) What happens if they don’t? They die, many of them. It is not as though the ‘company doctor of the mainstream’ that would deride ‘cults’ heals them.


***They finally hung that conniving politician that everyone knew should be hung. ‘Any last words?’ they asked him on the gallows. “This is unacceptable!” he declared as the trap door swung open and the rope snapped taut.


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The Scene of the World is Changing: a Watchtower to Ease Adjustment.

At breakfast in our Ithaca hotel, a Chinese family sat a few yards from us. Most likely they were here to scout out Cornell for the teenage son. As they got up to leave, I nodded friendly to them and each smiled friendly back. The teenage boy encircled grandma with his arms, nowhere touching, as though to safeguard her as she walked. You got the impression it was standard practice.

That’s not a bad intro to a discussion of one Sunday’s Watchtower Study, is it? [‘Treasure Our Faithful Older One’s—Wt September 2021] That study, and the one preceding it, tackled the challenge of gracefully aging and how the generations interact with each other. The old people need learn to let go, not easy because, like everyone, their self-worth gets tied up in what they do. So they must adjust in viewpoint, and this the WatchtowerStudy encouraged them to do.

“The Bible is like an owner’s manual for the product that is us,” I told the young woman in the dog park that I regarded as my own personal territory. “It gives good guidance on coping with the hassles we all face, while we await a better world.” The young woman conceded that was as good a summary as any she had heard, and even approached me later to say she had enjoyed our short conversation.

Sometimes I’ll be working up a head of steam on this or that subject, telling people how things ought to be as their eyes glaze over. “Yeah, they just think I’m an old fart,” I say to myself. It is a good check. You can’t guide the younger generation if you bowl them over. Paragraph 3 of the study even cited Ecclesiastes 7:10: “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ for it is not out of wisdom that you ask this.” Who would have thought it would be in the Bible that you should not drone on and on about the good old days? What young snot of a writer snuck that one in?

The ‘scene of the world is changing.’ That same paragraph quoted this 1 Corinthians 7:31 verse as well, and young people can wrap their heads around new things quicker that old ones. They simply have minds more flexible.

“Isn’t there anything youngsters are better at than old people,” the restless college kids asked Lil Abner creator Al Capp (who didn’t think much of them)? “Yeah, they’re better at carrying luggage,” he admitted. Naw—they’re better at all kinds of things, and within the Christian congregation is found about the best encouragement as to how the old can honor the young same as the young honor the old.

(Fast forward to another Sunday meeting: The speaker called for a picture displayed on screen, but Brother Allthumbs was at the controls! The pic displayed in time, but it was a very very long time, during which the speaker made his point without it. Fortunately for Allthumbs, the adjoining WatchtowerStudy specifically included a pic and paragraph about commending such a new attendant for his efforts rather than chewing him out for his blunders.)

A modest person knows when it is time to “change to a lower gear,” the study said, “so that he can continue to be active and productive in Jehovah’s service.” Another paragraph cited Barzillai, ducking out of an assignment from David because (at 80) he thought himself too old and fretted he would just slow things down. (2 Samuel 19:35) I laughed aloud (Zoom-muted) at the elderly sis who said it was tough to let go as we begin to decline “soon after 40.” Yikes! She’s not known as a jokester, either.

About the only one who can’t get away with doing less is Sam Herd, forever quipping and playing the grumpy old man card. He mutters that, as one of the Governing Body, he would like to retire “but they won’t let me.” He does get to sit, though; I’ve seen it. But he didn’t sit taking his turn as GB speaker at the 2019 Regional—the last physical convention before they went virtual for the pandemic. They made him work.

The speaker preceding that Sunday’s Watchtower Study was a bro who could be charged about rattling on about the good ol days. 8ACF032F-3D5F-4009-A90D-94CF8D24CB67He is a Beatles fan, and he has been known to contrast those tunes favorably with those of today. Alas, we all know that the day they stopped making good music is the day we stopped listening to it. But there was plenty of rubbish back then, same as there is today.  I think he’s trying to live down his image, but others tease him about it, and in post-meeting Zoom chit-chat he did succumb to “hoping he had passed the audition.”

(Photo: LindsayG0430–Wikipedia)

He’s a good speaker—a pleasant man who keeps things lively. His talk was “Making a Good Name with God” and it included much discussion of just what’s in a name. Before he came onboard, in pre-meeting chit-chat, we had been batting around just that. For the longest time, I was the only Tom in the congregation, but now there are two. What that means, the other Tom said, is that anytime you hear your name mentioned, you are not sure it is really you being addressed and you risk looking dumb if you cheerily acknowledge a greeting that is not yours. This happened to me once in high school. The fact I still remember it shows it made an impression. A teacher approaching in the hall said, ‘Hi, Tom!” I happily answered right back, but he had meant it for the teacher just behind me, also named Tom. Feel stupid, or what?

Think that’s bad? said Joe. “You know how many people are named ‘Joe?’” But I observed that he could always take consolation in their being an expression, ‘he’s a good joe,’ whereas there was no corresponding expression about being a good tom.

Except at Thanksgiving, one sis chimed in.


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Ulysses Grant and Wife in the Aquarium

Ha! Look what I have found in Grant, by Ron Chernow [large print edition]:

Chapter 40 begins with: “Upon quitting the fish residence in late March, Ulysses and Julie Grant conducted a sentimental tour of familiar haunts . . . “

It was the Fish residence, not the fish residence. What! Does the editor think they lived in an aquarium? Hamilton Fish was his Secretary of State. The two came to be close friends. 

I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this. Do you have any idea how devilishly hard it is to chase all blips and typos away in a manuscript, especially if it was your own writing and you read, not what is there, but what you think is there? I still have a few typos in ‘Go Where Tom Goes.’ Probably the blips I have would completely escape the notice of anyone but an obsessive, OCD, picayune, nitpicking person, but even so, there are some. Nothing as egregious at this, however! The ‘fish residence,’ indeed! And this is from a commercial outfit that is not a one-man show, as I am. Oh yeah, I am vindicated. 

I am all but done with Grant—not completely, but almost—and have expanded into some of Douglass’s writing. The feeling floated in the first post of this thread intensifies. Lincoln freed the slaves. Grant strived to complete the job. He was relentless in defending southern Blacks. He broke the back of the original Ku Klux Klan. He came to be known as a champion of human rights in general. The feeling grows that he would have completed the job were it not for Andrew Jackson sandwiched in between he and Lincoln. 

This is speculative, hardly a sure thing. The racism Grant faced in the South was fanatical, sustained, and virulent. No end of incidents occurred in which Blacks were attacked and murdered by white mobs, not clandestinely, but out in the open and with boasting.

Ten years into Reconstruction, the zeal of Northern reformers was waning. People will devote themselves to a cause for only so long until they get discouraged by reversals and go elsewhere. Time and again Grant would send federal troops South to enforce peace. The moment he withdrew them, anti-Black violence would erupt as before. The Black vote drove white Southerners apoplectic. Though a constitutional amendment guaranteed Blacks the vote, reigns of terror became the order of the day so that few of the former slaves dared exercise it. There are elections on record in which the Black vote numbered less that 10.

Meanwhile, Grant was increasingly undercut by his Northern base. The freed-slave sentiment had not been overwhelmingly strong to begin with—to some it was, but not enough—so that in the face of Southern intransigence, the sentiment in the North morphed into, ‘Time to move on.’ With his support eroding, once in a while—not routinely, but once in a while—Grant took his eye off the ball. Whenever he did so, violence unresisted took heart and became more entrenched.

So maybe the fact that history placed Johnson in between Lincoln and Grant doesn’t matter. Maybe racial hatred would have prevailed for 100+ years in any event. On the other hand, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the racist Johnson sandwiched in between represents the time you ceased taking your antibiotics after you started feeling a little better, instead of finishing the bottle like you were supposed to, and the sickness came roaring back, stronger than before. Had you finished the bottle straight off like the doc said, the plague might have vanished for good.

Some publication of ours that I no longer recall has described the Bible as a record of human history covering times when A) people paid attention to God’s will, B) people did not pay attention to God’s will, and C) people were oblivious or ignorant of God’s will.

With Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant we have history in the C category. Specifically, it was history before the wheat began to be separated from the weeds. It was history before ‘the true knowledge became abundant,’ per Daniel 12. People did the best they could. Lincoln and Douglass both cited scripture frequently. What! You expect everyone to patiently sit on their hands and say, ‘Maybe someday we’ll know exactly what to do but since we don’t now we’ll do nothing?’

Then, too, someday I want to return to the sentiments of the Gettysburg Address—that ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.’ Why was that such a big deal, so that it would be the cause that would push the North into fighting mode against secession but the abolition of slavery would not?

Lincoln’s two-minute speech was not the highlight of that day. He had been invited almost as an afterthought, with no surety that he would even come; presidents didn’t travel much back then. ‘Maybe he’ll just tell jokes,’ was the attitude another of the GC professors attributed to him. The Grant book has some cabinet participant—I think it was Chase—grumbling that all Lincoln did was tell jokes during cabinet meetings. Of course, Chase was not one to joke himself; he wore his piety on his sleeve. Even from within Lincoln’s first-term cabinet, he promoted himself as the next president, which made other cabinet members livid. However, Lincoln said he still got the better use of him. Besides, he knew what it was to be smitten by the presidential bug. Besides again, he thought it well to apply the adage, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’

The main event was a two hour speech from a Harvard orator by the name of Everett. Two hours was standard fare for a speech back then; 3 or 4 hours was not unheard of. Lincoln’s speech was two minutes. He had worked hard on it;  it wasn’t jotted down hastily on the back of an envelope as folklore has it. He dismissed it himself as a pretty meager effort upon taking his seat. Many newspapers accustomed to tonnage savaged it. But Everett himself said, ‘You said more in two minutes than I did in two hours.’ So what is this ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ that carries the day? Why does it do that?

It’s because it is a breakthrough advancement in human rule, the issue that is on front and center burner from the days of Genesis 3. With the founding of the U.S representative democracy, here was something significantly new, a major advancement in the evolution of self-rule. It was the ‘human experiment’ that must be nurtured and encouraged to thrive at all costs. Slavery, on the other hand, was NOT at first considered a violation of ‘natural law’ (this, according to another GC professor) Steeped in evolution, the framers of natural law initially considered slavery an advancement. Historically, nations had killed those vanquished in war. Making them slaves instead was an improvement!

Up till that time, human government had consisted of straight-up monarchy. Some variation in the quality/durability/benevolence or malevolence of that monarchy, but one-person-rule it had always been. Supposedly, Jefferson succeeding Adams was the first peaceful transfer of power in history between opposing political factions; up till then it has always been ‘King of the Mountain,’ with one king prevailing only by violently shoving the previous king off. 

The ‘human experiment’ of government of, by, and for the people finds roots in Greece and Rome, before resurfacing in England, then blossoms full with the U.S. That’s the long tradition that Lincoln could draw on, as he could not with a straight-up abolitionist stance.

The early adherents to the Enlightenment were ecstatic at the American innovation. With it, ‘the people’ had revolted, thrown off their ‘shackles,’ and discarded ‘tyranny’ for something presumed better—democratic rule. Proponents of the Enlightenment cheered this development. They kept an embarrassed, even horrified silence, at the other product of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, which descended into mayhem and murder. Historian Guelzo makes a big deal over this fork in the road in his lecture series on the History of Freedom. You can envision him waving the flag, but it still seems the idea has merit. After the dust had settled in France, came Bonaparte, then the cradle of the first Communists, and in the modern day [it is just me who says this, not Guelzo] FECRIS and MULVIDES. The country is the birthplace of the current craze to stamp out as ‘cults’ those thinking outside of the box; it can be nothing but mainstream human thinking for them. Human rulership without God is the innovation to be nurtured. Throw God into the mix and you are a cult. If He knows His place maybe you are not, but if He doesn’t, you are.

Guelzo considers the American Revolution the triumph of emerging humanism, and the French Revolution the embarrassing defeat. However, one might note that the American Revolution did not get the job done. It would be some time before it became ‘self-evident’ that all men were created equal. The War that would press toward that goal, and succeed, before being reversed in spirit and often reality, would spill more blood than 100 French Revolutions. And the virulent racism that came to typify the Southern US had no parallel in France. In his seventies, Frederick Douglass toured Europe. He reports no instance of prejudice at all. Nor did anyone look askance on account of his second wife, a white woman.

Civil War/Reconstruction Era consideration therefore makes a great platform for proclaiming how we need God’s Kingdom. If two of the most noble humans who have lived, with worldwide reputations to that effect,  both enjoying positions of foremost power, could have their best efforts so easily unraveled, what says that about human rule? At the very least, War/Reconstruction is the death-knell to those who insist God works through human rule, for He couldn’t possibly muck up the job more that was done in those handful of years. A decade after the Civil War’s conclusion, Grant would express misgivings that it had been fought in vain. Conditions had reverted to before. Slavery was gone, but the feudal system of sharecropping imposed by regional laws, later reinforced with Jim Crow policy, to replace it was little better and in some ways worse. 

You don’t have to regard Lincoln and Grant as noble, though most of the world does. In these days of revisionist history, there are those who label them butchers, for they both presided over the slaughter of hundreds of thousands. Both were frequently called butchers in their lifetimes, especially Grant.

It’s the best human rule can do. It did preserve the ‘human experiment.’ It did free the slaves—though just barely, and with myriad caveats.

When I was in college, before my Witness days, I took an elective course on public speaking. The professor ragged continually on the virtues of voting. Student elections were coming up. He would not let up on his insistence that all must vote. I got fed up. Though I was by no means a rebel, when it was my turn to make a speech, I chose to highlight all the reasons you might not want to vote—not just for the student election, but for any election. 1) the candidate might be lying. 2) He (or she) might be sincere but prove powerless once in office. 3) He/she might change his mind, making one’s vote pointless. I did not then add, 4) how many of them go down to corruption. (The professor was sporting about it, acknowledging valid points had been made, even though he disagreed with the thrust, and he gave me an adequate grade—not like one of those ideologue professors of today that you have to agree with or they flunk you.)

It only takes one torpedo of the four to sink the ship. Neither Lincoln nor Grant has serious problem with 1 or 3, but they both got stymied by 2. Lincoln did pretty well by 4, but Grant well-neigh lost his entire reputation to it. His administration was known for its corruption, even as he himself was always thought honest. He wasn’t the greatest judge of character. He would express shock when presented incontrovertible proof that ‘friends’ had betrayed him—a frequent occurrence. Other times he would stand by ones who anyone else would have abandoned because he had not yet been presented incontrovertible proof. One one occasion, his incontrovertible proof took the form of an empty bankbook. He had been sweet-talked into a scheme that proved fraudulent.

When faced with certain ruin at the end of his life due to crooks leading him astray, he at last steeled himself to dictate his memoirs. Some of these strutting generals started in on the memoirs almost the moment the Civil War ended. Grant had steadfastly refused. When on his post-presidency world tour, dignitaries would ask him to review their troops. Grant would reply that he had seen enough troops to last a lifetime; he didn’t want to see any more.

At the time, he was all but on his deathbed. He would die just days after completing them. It wasn’t for himself that he did it, nor for ‘posterity,’ but for his wife, so that she would not be left destitute. 

Mark Twain was a frequent guest and witnessed him at work. Twain was amazed that for hours on end, up to the entire day, Grant could dictate his notes just once and they would be near-perfect prose, with no need of revision. He would neither eat during this time, nor drink beyond the bare minimum, because his rapidly deteriorating health was aggravated by both, and he wanted to finish.

Both Lincoln and Grant were honest men who, when in office, did not line their pockets. The idea of a president having to sweat his financial future plays absurd today, but it was not so then. The problem was best alleviated by dipping one’s hand in the till, as is routine today—people emerge from government service with far more than their salaries would suggest.

In contrast, Mary Todd Lincoln (who spent heavily) complained that her president husband was “too honest to make a penny outside of his salary.” And Grant immediately felt the financial sting upon leaving office—though not enough to forestall a round-the-world tour so long as the money held out; he was not overly given to fretting about the future. Imagine! Grant’s memoirs of the Civil War would not exist had he not faced financial ruin at the end of his life.

All these ideas I hope to expand on some day.


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In the Last of the Last Days

The current work in progress, ‘In the Last of the Last Days’ may not take long to get out. Much of it is already written. In large measure I am integrating items already written and hoeing out redundancies. On the blog is a nine-part series, ‘Things that drive you crazy about the faith—and how to view them.’ The book will expand on that, It will touch on the strangeness of the modern age and the adaptations made to COVID. If might even be subtitled somewhere ‘Faith on the Modern March.’ It will incorporate a few items of what would have appeared in TrueTom vs the Apostates: Round 2, a book that will probably never be written, or at least not under that title. Alas, the title is so provocative, given current counsel, that I almost have to hide the book. Change the title, I can still incorporate some of the stuff, and the problem disappears. I may even ask for proofreader/beta readers, and if you would like to be one, let me know.

One inactive person who rarely attends the Hall did attend one Sunday but left after the public talk. She is one of those people who have been around forever, in and out of the Hall, the sort who the circuit overseer used to think was hugely significant when local elders would briefly activate her, but it would continue for only a few months, sometimes just a week or two. I had spotted her and figured I would visit with her briefly if possible. So, I followed her out to the parking lot. I don’t usually speak coarsely, but for some reason I referred to all the b******t going on today in the world that people take refuge in Jehovah’s congregation to escape. She affirmed the b-word and then went on to mutter about things wrong with the congregation. “Oh, you mean the b******t here!” I laughed, for some reason finding that very funny.

Now, for the record, I don’t think there is any b******t with the home congregation beyond the normal boilerplate variety that occurs anywhere diverse personalities gather. No complaints at all here. This person has a certain history of finding things not just right. Though inactive, she is the most active at present from a family all in proximity of the congregation from as long as I can remember. I don’t doubt for a moment (though I didn’t mention it) that her discontent is stoked and reinforced via ill-reports on the internet, the kind of things we are encouraged to know as little about as possible. Some of that unintuitive mindset I hope to address with ‘In the Last of the Last Days.’

Meantime, Go Where Tom Goes, a travelogue for those who aren’t fussy, also an excuse for me to do a lot of storytelling, is the one book I can gift to friends if I like without anyone thinking I am treading on sacred ground. Even my first book, Tom Irregardless and Me, triggered some complaint, with one person calling portions of it “unkind”—a downer for him because he considers kindness my strongest suit. And Sam Herd gave a morning worship talk so profound, about how the old could honor the young by passing on wisdom and experiences, the one that began with his not wanting to water Old Jack the mule, that I used it to bookend the entire book. His name is the title of chapter 2 AND chapter 18. I got some criticism for that, from someone who pointed out his humility and how he does not want to draw attention to himself.

There was even a brouhaha when another author posted Herd’s picture, a post he later removed on account of that brouhaha. I’ve never posted his picture. Sigh—Those bros do become public figures in this age of TV. But they probably don’t want to be. No sense in even dwelling on copyright law. Some would point to a higher ‘law of love’ that trumps whatever copyright law says is okay, even if that application were as much their own opinion as it was a ‘law.’ Suffice it just to avoid things that violate the terms of copyright and one should be fine. Anything beyond that ought be a mix of love, fellow feeling, discernment, and mind-your-own-business.

But none of these concerns plague Go Where Tom Goes. Completely innocuous, that one is. Someone was kind enough to call it Mark Twainish. It even has a certain amount of informal witnessing in it, as well as an entire chapter about one of those Wheres that Tom went to, the Regional Convention in Wilkes-Barre. Nothing controversial about the book at all, and if I want I can gift it to friends who extend hospitality, instead of a bottle of wine.

84659D6A-E8E4-409D-A041-3AE69F1CFA0FI did just that when my wife and I drove to Florida and back, visiting seven different sets of spiritual friends and one set of relatives along the way. On the road for nearly three weeks, but we only stayed in hotels for two nights. Everything else was hospitality of the friends. Two of those friends even put us up in their unused time-shares. Thing is, if you are from up north, then over the years you will have many friends that have moved south but not all moved the same distance. In time, they form as though little islands from which you can hop one to one. The nicest thing is that we could do it all over again with a fresh set of friends, and may do just that one day.

I gifted a copy of Go Where Tom Goes with each set we visited, save one. That one the visit was just over 24 busy hours and I forgot.


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Cool Hand Luke

37410683-0538-49CA-94D0-49F91E507D7ACool hand Luke gazes into the rafters inside the abandoned church. “God, I never had much to do with you,” he says, “but you have to admit, you haven’t given me much of a break. If you are really up there, now would be a good time to show yourself.”

Silence. For several seconds.

‘Yeah, I thought so,” he says, and a generation of movie-goers say, ‘Yeah, we thought so too.’

It is like when Jerry Reed sees the judge:

Well, when he took us inta court I couldn't believe my eyes, The judge was a fishin' buddy that I recognized

I said "Hey, judge, old buddy, old pal, I'll pay ya that hundred I owe ya if you'll get me outta this spot"

So he gave my friends a little fine to pay, He turned around and grinned at me and said, "Ninety days, Jerry, when you hot, you hot"

He should have paid him back that hundred he owed him. Not only did Cool Hand Luke not get out of his spot. He got shot. It’s just a movie. Same as when the cast of Good Lord Bird showed up at Harper’s Ferry. The National Historical Park ranger told me people began asking them all sorts of questions about what John Brown did back then in that town, as though they were the actual participants. Look, it’s just a television show, they said.

The only one who you don’t have to worry about getting out of  spots is God himself. It’s part of the qualifications for being God: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,” he says. What! You’re going to get him out of that spot? (Psalm 50:12)

There are in the archives many life experiences of those in a spot from which they call out to God and later say they were answered. But they generally propose a ‘deal’—‘get me out of this spot and I’ll do your will forever,’ something like that. Maybe God, who can read hearts, after all, translated Cool Hand Luke’s makeshift prayer as, ‘God—get me out of this spot—so I can raise hell among your people just like I’m raising it here.’ 

And a cadre of humanists say, ‘How shocking! He should be able to raise hell wherever he wants!’


******  The bookstore


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

Be ‘Upbuilding’ Come What May

Ha! Here is a sis from England who would use the word “upbuilding” liberally in school class assignments. She was much surprised when her teacher would circle it in red, appending ‘This is NOT a word!’ To hear this must have been downbuilding.

I had a similar experience. A co-working jumped all over me for the word ‘upbuilding’—what did you say? he said, observing there’s no such word. There is now though—check a dictionary and you will find it. Is it a little like ‘irregardless,’ which was also not a word but now grudgingly appears in some dictionaries from sheer usage?  

And this ‘upbuilding’ is not the sis—a teen in our congregation—whom we spent a Zoom ministry session with, and who related her travails at school. Whoa! She carries herself with confidence and poise, and not a hint of ‘superiority’—even though applied Christianity is such that some will almost automatically take it that way. Several classmates, she said, have made it their “purpose in life” that she should start vaping.

They think she’s a “goody-two-shoes”—again, her words. But the real zinger was her standing up to her teacher. Upon being singled out before the whole class (many of whom can barely read) for a relative trifle, she got all indignant and called him out on it! “Are you talking back to me?” the teacher said. She replied that she was.

It ended up with a brief stint for her in the principal’s office. The long and short of it, however, is that now she and the teacher get along fine, and the latter has heightened respect for her.

And then, of course, there was another teen some time ago, ridiculed by classmates because she would not dress as a skank. “I set the style!” she shot back at them. “You want to be cool—you dress like me!” 

Though one high schooler, also a while back, was being bullied—really bullied—physically—so he  approached a favorite older elder (now deceased) about the problem. The elder give him good counsel on turning the other cheek and ignoring the bully. It didn’t work. Once again he went to the elder, who took him aside and said, “Well sometimes you just gotta plant them a good one so they don’t come back.” That stratagem did work.

Ahem—well—it is from the old days. “We used to stack ‘em up like cordwood” said one old-timer of his Kingdom days during the WWII times of persecution. (much to my surprise). I knew the fellow, who also died some years back, but these words were related to me by his grandson. Fisticuffs were apparently not unusual in defending both loved ones, selves, and Kingdom property. The book Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses relates an incident in which an intruder was even shot to death by a brother! Defending one’s property by force was once the norm in society.

There was another person who thought the video of Olivia kicking back at classmates, presented at the Regional Convention last year, wasn’t very realistic. I was fine with it, but she said she didn’t think they would ridicule her like that.“They’d beat her up in the bathroom” was her verdict.

You also won’t find me countenancing that fisticuffs elder of a far-removed generation. These days that can get you knifed. Better to ‘beat a bully without using your fists’ if you can.


******  The bookstore


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

Which Wins Out? A 6-Month (at least) Pause on AI Development or Boasting Unrestrained? (Adapted to Psalm 75)

You [God] say: “When I set a time, I judge with fairness. When the earth and all its inhabitants were dissolved, It was I who kept its pillars firm.” (Psalm 75: 3-4)

If earth and all its inhabitants are being dissolved now, in what way is God keeping its pillars firm? Might that be adapted to how the earthly organization endeavors to hold fast to His standards despite pressure?

A fine warning not to boast:

I say to the boastful, “Do not boast,” And to the wicked, “Do not exalt your strength. Do not exalt your strength up high Or speak with arrogance.” (vs 4-5)

How do the two thoughts connect? Is “earth and all inhabitants” dissolved when and because its key backers give in to their unrestrained boasting over what they can do?

Below is a fine bit of modesty that generally goes unheeded in human history: Musk/Wozniak/Yang and a panel of others urge a 6-month moratorium on AI development, allowing a little time to figure out what its long-term consequences will be.

From their open letter of March 2023.

“Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources. Unfortunately, this level of planning and management is not happening, even though recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.”

“… Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?”

Why do I think of that tower of Babel passage:

Then Jehovah went down to see the city and the tower that the sons of men had built. Jehovah then said: “Look! They are one people with one language, and this is what they have started to do. Now there is nothing that they may have in mind to do that will be impossible for them. Come! Let us go down there and confuse their language in order that they may not understand one another’s language.” So Jehovah scattered them from there over the entire face of the earth, and they gradually left off building the city. (Genesis 11:5-8)

It’s as though he says, ‘Whoa! This isn’t supposed to happen so soon. The experiment needs time to play out. Best mess them up a little bit. But as the doomed experiment of human self-rule nears its end, it won’t be that way.’

And back to the psalm:

“[God] puts one man down and exalts another. For there is a cup in Jehovah’s hand; The wine is foaming and is fully mixed. He will surely pour it out, And all the wicked of the earth will drink it, down to the dregs.” But as for me, I will proclaim it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. For he says: “I will cut off all the strength of the wicked, But the strength of the righteous will be exalted.” (7-10)



******  The bookstore


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

The Bashful Guests Want Low-Key but the Hosts Ae Gregarious

Some individuals hang on to their [charismatic church leader’s] every word. It is hard to imagine that these churchgoers could be more excited if Jesus himself were to appear to them!” said the October 2021 article, ‘Hold Fast to the Truth with Strong Conviction’

An unusual bit of satire for the Watchtower, which normally takes the position that satire is the language of you-know-who. It evoked in our congregation some comments of ‘superstar’ preachers of megachurches, even that creepy guy dripping with wealth who explained how Jesus said he needed yet another jet. We may fuss a bit over some of our guys, but nothing comparable to that. Respect for those taking the lead is markedly different from worship.

There is a clip that made the rounds of Sam Herd deboarding an airplane. A dozen or more brothers are there to shake his hand and he moves down the line, shaking each of them. “What disgusting creature worship!” Vomodog groused.

Doesn’t he have a life? Herd’s an old man of many decades’ service to God being greeted by well-wishers. What’s he going to do—tell them to scram? If you know anything about Sam Herd, you know that he is probably muttering under his breath. But if he appeared aloof, you know there would be plenty of beefing about that too. 

It is hard to operate in the flesh. It just is. The ones taking the lead became prominent by attending well to their duties, and now that same prominence becomes a trap. Everyone crossing their path wants a minute of their time, maybe to commend, maybe to suggest, maybe to be noticed by means of a selfie. No wonder I hear tell of council at Bethel that if you cross paths with one of them just content yourself with a nod, if that.

I don’t know what it is with people and ‘celebrities.’ I would love for one of the Governing Body brothers to stay at my house so I could ignore him. He would find it refreshing, I’m sure. I would say, and have said to visitors before, ‘There’s your quarters, feel free to come down and visit, that would be fine, but you’re a busy guy with much to do. If we do not see you at all we will not be the slightest bit offended.’

Intense hospitality actually does pose problems for brothers trying to book rooms for theocratic volunteers such as on build projects. 3B97A285-2DF6-4C6D-A6BF-D5E895C57A18Not all of these brothers are extroverts, and after a hard day’s work some squirm at the interaction they fear may be forced upon them by gregarious friends. Of course, it is the gregarious friends who are most likely to extend hospitality! But I won’t. I’ll ignore them. They’ll like that. (Actually, that unusually puts them at ease and they are more likely to visit. But they don’t have to.)

(photo—Stephan Muller, Flickr)


******  The bookstore

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

When My Favorite Circuit Overseer Died

Just over the Zoom Watchtower reader’s shoulder hangs the embroidered artwork—“Kindness Matters.” No surprise there. Kindness typified the man who coined the complete expression from which the snippet was taken. It was my favorite circuit overseer, long ago retired, who said, “Some things are black or white. But in all other things, do what is kind. Kindness matters.”

He died recently. Well into his nineties, he had been maintaining circuit overseer hours even in his old age. Perhaps he maintained them even in the nursing home he’d at last entered, for he was studying with one other resident and had seven attending Zoom meetings with him.

A man of empathy, intelligence, and unflinching honesty, he is mentioned several times in Tom Irregardless and Me, although only once by name. He is the only person of the book mentioned by name within his lifetime. Everyone else has been renamed, if not made up. His trademark expression, “just do the best you can” made him an unwavering source of refreshment, though there were a few hard-driving brothers who murmured their fear that some of the friends would “take advantage” and do nothing.

He is the brother who cut me off when I was carrying on about my wonderfulness—not carrying on per se, but decrying those not so wonderful, which amounts to the same thing. Here I was working with him in that city congregation—I worked with him a lot—and I started in about how some with growing families had left the gritty city for the cushier burbs, leaving the local congregation high and dry—but as for me and my household…” “You always do what is best for you family,” he interrupted.

One place he appears in the book unnamed, as “the retired circuit overseer,” is when 77050FB8-36F7-4D43-9FED-1A6876673205we had him over for lunch after the public talk, along with some twenty-somethings. Iron sharpens iron, and so forth—that’s why we did it.

Presently, young Justin approached the fellow:

“So, how long were you in the circuit work?” he asked.

“Thirty years!” came the reply.

“Wow! You must really miss it.”

“Nope!” the C.O. shot back.

“Well . . . um . . . I mean . . . that is,” (this was not the answer he’d expected) “it must have been a big adjustment.”

“I adjusted that afternoon!”

“Look, I don’t want to sound unappreciative,” he told a friend later. “It’s just that a lot of the job is not my first choice. You know me, I’m an outdoors guy. (in his younger days, he’d worked on the railroad) And so what am I doing all day? I’m sitting in meetings! Still, Jehovah apparently has found a use for me, so I stay the course.”

It’s called counting the costs. It’s a good thing to do. Aren’t mid-life crises launched when people don’t count the costs, then are floored when the bill unexpectedly arrives? Be it family, job, responsibilities, goals in life: people go haywire for never having counted the costs. But if you blow off steam as you go, acknowledge this part is good, that part not so much, and adjust accordingly, either deciding to stay the present course or make modifications . . . well, I’ll trust those folks much more quickly than those who have never made introspection.

And Jehovah did have a use for him, apparently. In one of those training schools, where the traveling ministers instruct all the assembled elders and servants, I noticed that the weightiest parts were invariably assigned to him.

He also appears in the chapter ‘The Regional Convention’ in which I speak of how before there were videos, I was assigned a talk and had to choose two pillars of the faith (I chose Howie and Jake) to interview.

We worked several weeks and ran our interview past the circuit overseer in rehearsal. He was ecstatic: “Oh, my! What a wonderful job! How hard you brothers have worked! This is exactly what the organization is looking for. The hours and hours you must have spent! How wonderful that . . . ” he gushed on and on.

“Only,” I looked up from my humble head nod, “a tiny bit on this point here . . . I wonder if that could be tweaked just a little, not much. Just a little, to make it line up even more with what the slave is conveying.”

“Sure,” I replied uneasily, “we could adjust that.”

“Yes, I think that will go a little smoother. Everything else you brothers have worked on (you’ve worked so hard!) is fine. Just fine . . . except . . . this small bit here . . . I’m just thinking . . . we have to consider everyone in the audience . . . And actually . . . I wonder if anyone could possibly miss the point of this line. Hmm. Maybe you could . . . ”

By the time he was done, there was nothing left! In a situation like this, there is only one thing a brother can say, and I said it: “Thank you, Brother Hartman, for your counsel.” Jake interjected: “What do you mean, ‘thank you?’ He messed it all up!” But we worked the part over, and when it was presented at the convention, it fit better. It was more integrated into the overall theme.

Sometime after I wrote the book, I sent him that chapter. Never one to be anything but frank, he replied that it “didn’t make much sense to him,” a comment especially worrisome to me since he “still thought he had all his marbles,” an he went on to ask about my family. So I said I could take his name out of the ebook for a substitute. But he said he really didn’t care at this point, so I left it as is. I probably should have foreseen it. These are men very much in the tradition of anonymity, bringing attention to God, not the person serving him, same as everything printed by the earthly organization is written anonymously.

Or maybe he thought the book stunk. If so he didn’t say so. It is better for the self-esteem to stick with the first possibility.


******  The bookstore

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