It’s so Hard to Dramatize Mildness

You don’t check with true believers for plaudits. They’ll praise anything. Nor do you check with your detractors. They’ll trash everything. You run it by people who are neutral. That’s why I loved this review of the Regional Convention.  The visitor is skeptical, but he’s open and fair. Of course, we would prefer that he fall on his face and say, “God is really among you people!” but you have to take what you can get.

Alas, he compared the Jonah presentation to a B movie from the Bible Channel! Them’s fighting words! I liked that video.

Strictly speaking, though, maybe B movie status is the best one can hope for. My unspoken fear is that the brothers do not go to all that trouble of recreating settings from antiquity and then undermine it by so-so acting. Great acting will overcome a minimalist setting—just witness any stage play, but the reverse is not true: Meticulous settings will not overcome wooden acting. It is encouraging to hear how actors are being selected from submitted auditions. I just worry that talent will be recognized when presented and not tamped down in an effort to make “mildness” come through. Sorry to say, some of our dramatized characters strike me as so “mild” as to be uninteresting. I get it that mildness is a fruitage of the spirit but I don’t want to see them so mild that I can’t picture them doing what the scriptures say they do. Even Jesus—I want to see him mild, sure, but I also want to see in him the man that nobody dares question after he shows enemies up as hypocrites, or the man who “passes through their midst” and nobody has the courage to interfere.

And nobody was able to say a word in reply to him, and from that day on, no one dared to question him any further. (Matthew 22:46)

…and they rose up and rushed him outside the city, and they led him to the brow of the mountain on which their city had been built, in order to throw him down headlong. 30 But he went right through their midst and continued on his way. (Luke 4:29-30)

Now, no matter what comes out I’ll swoon in appreciation, don’t worry about that, but you really do take risks when you do video. You’re presenting to an audience accustomed to convincing actors, and you’d better measure up. Granted, you’re not going to produce Oscar-winning performances, but hopefully they will persuade more than the uncritical true believer. 

Over time, and with some wobbles, our performances have improved. We do get better. To some extent, “acting” is antithetical to Christians since it means presenting a false front, pretending to be what you are not. The early Christians (per secular historians) frowned upon it. More than frowned upon it—they thought it the work of the devil So almost by definition, we’re not particularly good at it, and of course the brothers also are limited by choosing those who are exemplary. It won’t do to have “Jesus” go apostate a few years down the road. We will accept in Hollywood entertainment that the movie hero may be a slimeball in real life but you can run theocracy that way.

Of course, the videos are also teaching vehicles. They are not simply entertainment in which Moses pops Pharaoh in the nose and gets the girl. 3A9ACEE4-2E93-4333-AC5E-53C138ACAA1D
Yet I know that young people will see our videos through the eyes of contemporary standards and are not so inclined to excuse unconvincing acting. Or even speaking. “Time does not permit…” one broadcast brother said. ‘Well it would if you’d pick up the pace a little.’ I muttered under my breath.

Alas, if you add any of the spice that makes speech and action interesting, it becomes a turn-off to someone of another culture and background where they just never behave that way. So the brothers take no chances. They avoid the pitfall altogether and trowel on dramatization unambiguous and unfettered with anything potentially offputting. It is a test for those used to fine writing and oratory to not be so full of themselves, dial back artistic considerations, accept that sometimes they will get plain vanilla, and deal with “just the facts, ma’am.” Ah, well—I’ve said of the highly educated ones that they came drop down a grade level or two if they are not too full of themselves. The world doesn’t revolve around them as they too often assume it does

Mildness, meekness—yes, they are qualities spoken of highly in the Bible. Yet they’re hard to dramatize. Take that kid in one of the monthly broadcasts who ran that lift equipment through the wall. “Brother Goofus,” his overseer gushes, “Are you alright?” Okay, so far so good. He would do that. Upon being assured the kid didn’t break his neck, the mild bro  says, “Do you have a moment to meet me in my office?”

Okay, got it. We’re mild. We’re loving. We don’t care about screwing up the project. We see only a teachable moment, and we see it immediately—nothing else enters into our mind. Far be it from us to pull that stunt of Paul and Barnabas and display a sharp outburst of anger. If those guys had been on site, we’d have invited them into our office too. 

A little bit more realism is what I’d love to see. And yet if it is done, someone will be stumbled by it. So we ladle out stuff so bland that it undercuts appreciation, and so unrealistic that the ne’er-do-wells frame it as cult-like. It’s kind a shame that you can’t show human imperfection in your heroes.                          


***The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'

Thoughts Gleaned from the Midweek Meeting of September 23-29, 2019

One young woman at the congregation meeting last night identified with the “missing drachma” parable of Jesus, saying: “When I put my hand in my back pocket and find some money there....Whoa! it is a big deal!” (“Betty Davis style” is how Bob Dylan said it.) I must admit that it inspired me to do the same, slipping a dollar into my back pocket, pulling it out and exclaiming: “Whoa! Look at this!”

It was this illustration at Luke 15 that got her going: “What woman who has ten drachma coins, if she loses one of the drachmas, does not light a lamp and sweep her house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma coin that I had lost.’”

There is a not-so-hidden rebuke in Jesus’ words summarizing a similar parable: “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous ones who have no need of repentance.”​ Well, they did—have need of repentance that is. Otherwise they would have been out searching for the missing sheep themselves:

“What man among you with 100 sheep, on losing one of them, will not leave the 99 behind in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he gets home, he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”​

The context was that of the Pharisees sneering at the common people that they should have been tending to, even employing the pejorative term “amhaarets”—“people of the dirt.” Straying a little off-topic, but still fair game, the conductor of that Bible-study portion explored how you wouldn’t want to come across that way in your own ministry:

Bible principles are good and with them people mess up their lives much less than they would otherwise. Sometimes it works at the other end, and they succeed much more than they would otherwise. It depends upon one’s starting point. At any rate, come across someone in the ministry with a host of problems, and realize it could well be you in the absence of Bible principles—I mean, it is no basis for ever feeling superior, as those Pharisees did without even mastering the godly ways.

Again, not part of this particular study, but certainly in the same vein, was Jesus’ rebuke to those same religious leaders on another occasion: “But when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they began saying to his disciples: “Does he eat with tax collectors* and sinners?”  On hearing this, Jesus said to them: “Those who are strong do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”

Sometimes those who dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses try to paint it that they have a higher proportion of ones mentally ill. I have no idea whether this is true or not, for mental illness defines the times that we live in, but I don’t even kick back at this anymore. Instead, I say that, if true, it is exactly what one would expect. I quote Jesus’ words that he came to call, not on those who do not need a physician, but on those who do. “Spiritually sick” is what he is talking about, but if spiritually sick, then maybe emotionally or mentally sick as well—sickness tends to overflow its banks. The people you have to wonder about, in my view, are not those who experience emotional difficulties in the face of the present world, but those who do not—those who sail past atrocities on every side and remain undisturbed.

The two Bible chapters up for review in that mid-week meeting were Hebrews 12 and 13. Discipline was a theme, in view of 12:7. “You need to endure as part of your discipline,” the verse says. There was a video of a circuit overseer taking counsel from his wife as discipline. He was upset over someone he thought had treated him badly, and his wife said: “Well, that’s because he is a yo-yo. But so are you. Get over it.” [precise words mine, not hers] He told of how he had received a letter from the branch telling how he had botched something or other, and he counted that, too, as discipline. Sometimes we get counseled over various things.

Still, the overall sense of Hebrews 12:7 is that even if no one ever says a word to you about anything, simply to pursue the Christian course in a world that either wants to change that course or have nothing to do with it is a “discipline.” The lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses might be described as ones of delayed gratification; they go light or even abstain from certain aspects of life that they would otherwise engage in for the sake of laying hold to a greater prize. That takes self-discipline. Delayed gratification is usually seen as a responsible thing, even by Witness opposers, just not in this case.

That just pursuing the Christian course in the face of an indifferent or even hostile world is in itself a form of discipline is plain from surrounding verses, as well as the overall context of the Book of Hebrews itself. Those members of the Jerusalem congregation were tiring of holding the line. They “ought to be teachers in view of the time but they again need someone to teach [them] from the beginning the elementary things.” (5:12) Hopefully, they would be encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding them—not to mention Christ’s own example, so as to “not get tired and give up.” (12:1-3)

“In your struggle against that sin, you have never yet resisted to the point of having your blood shed.  And you have entirely forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, nor give up when you are corrected by him;  for those whom Jehovah loves he disciplines, in fact, he scourges everyone whom he receives as a son.” You need to endure as part of your discipline. God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  But if you have not all shared in receiving this discipline, you are really illegitimate children, and not sons. Furthermore, our human fathers used to discipline us, and we gave them respect. Should we not more readily submit ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time according to what seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit so that we may partake of his holiness.  True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but it is painful; yet afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen the hands that hang down and the feeble knees.” (12:4-12)

Don’t be a lout and don’t miss the point of God’s undeserved kindness [“grace,” many transactions say, but the New World Translation says “undeserved kindness,” since the former term just conveys to the modern man that God is not clumsy and doesn’t topple over things]: “Carefully watch that no one fails to obtain the undeserved kindness of God, so that no poisonous root springs up to cause trouble and many are defiled by it; and watch that among you there is no one who is sexually immoral nor anyone who does not appreciate sacred things, like Eʹsau, who gave up his rights as firstborn in exchange for one meal. (12:15-16)

He is shaking the very heaven and the earth. He is not shaking the congregation directly, but it is sure to feel the aftershocks—hence the heightened need for the discipline of endurance: “Now the expression “yet once more” indicates the removal of the things that are shaken, things that have been made, in order that the things not shaken may remain.  Therefore, seeing that we are to receive a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to receive undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably offer God sacred service with godly fear and awe.  (12:27-28)

(thoughts gleaned from the midweek meeting of September 23-29, 2019)

*Tax collectors were the lowest of the low in popular esteem back then because they were not unknown to shake people down for, not just the required tax, but whatever they could get in addition.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'