A Watchtower Study to Settle the Faith-Works ‘Debate.’

Reference was made at yesterday’s Watchtower Study about how “For centuries, the relationship between faith and works has been hotly debated in Christendom.” Some insist it is saved by faith, and some insist by works. So the Study explored that topic, and it is a big ‘Duh.’ A child can understand it. Barely any ‘education’ at all is required. It is different ‘works’ in different contexts that Paul and James refer to.

[‘Faith and Works can Lead to Righteousness’—December 2023 issue]

So you begin to wonder why the learned one haven’t been able to settle it “for centuries.” Is it that “debate” is their method of choice, as though the way to settle anything is through triumph of the intellect? One brother pointed to a faulty silver lining in that approach; it enables professional debaters to say that it’s okay never to reach resolution because the Bible writers themselves couldn’t agree! However, said that Watchtower (paragraph 9): “Jehovah inspired both Paul and James to write what they did. (2 Tim. 3:16) So there must be a simple way to harmonize their statements. There is​—by considering their writings in context”—and, without fuss, they did it.

Or is it that God blesses those who put obedience first? As in, ‘obedient ones are blessed with understanding, but the ‘great thinkers’ never figure it out?’ As in, “Look! To obey is better than a sacrifice,” (1 Samuel 15:22) in this case, the ‘sacrifice’ of brainpower. As in, ‘You don’t have to know everything, but act upon what you do know.’

I suspect that’s why the scholars will never be running the show at JW Central. It’s too easy for scholars to take refuge in their scholarship and be unconcerned that no practical application is ever made of it. Said Jesus to the learned of his day: “How can you believe, when you are accepting glory from one another and you are not seeking the glory that is from the only God?” (John 5:44) The first activity interferes with the second—it is a trap scholars can easily fall into. Run with what you have, instead. If you don’t have everything, as you never will, figure it out on the fly.

Or is it some other factor? Is it that the faith people are such because they don’t want to do any works? Or the works people are such because they don’t have much faith, but do like to shine before others? At any rate, it is very strange that the relationship between faith and works can be cleared up in a single Study at the Kingdom Hall (it was just a refresher study anyway, not anything new) whereas the theologians have debated it “for centuries.”

Some of these points came up in field service the day before. ‘Here you are going door-to-door,’ one evangelical man said to us, ‘but don’t you know that salvation is by faith and not by works?’ ‘Yeah, everyone knows that,’ I replied. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses think they’re ‘earning’ anything. It’s just a matter of showing appreciation for a priceless gift. If you receive such a gift and it makes no change whatsoever in your life afterwards, one might justifiably wonder just how much you really do appreciate it.

This fellow also went on and on about the pastor of his church. The pastor will quote this or that from the Bible and then you should not just take his word for it, he would say, but you should check it. ‘Yeah, we’re trying to make all our people pastors,’ is what I would have said had I thought of it in time—our best lines always occur to us too late. Of course, not all our people are pastors—we too have plenty of weak or immature Christians—but the Witness organization doesn’t cater to them by appointing just a single person to serve as the ‘pastor.’ There’s no reason everyone can’t attain to the role. Besides, a pastor is always at risk that his special qualifications and background doesn’t go to his head. Sometimes it does.

 

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You Can Remain Confident During Uncertain Times

Now that Jehovah’s Witnesses are no longer the ‘counting time’ religion or the ‘no beard’ religion, it is almost as though a rebranding is taking place.

Any time the Watchtower trots out Haggai and Zechariah, as was done in the 1/28/24 study article, ‘You Can Remain Confident During Uncertain Times,’ you know it’s a reinvigorating work going on.

From para 7: ‘Jehovah wants us to focus on the lifesaving work of making disciples. As mentioned in paragraph 7, Haggai urged Jehovah’s people to make a fresh start in their sacred service, as if they were laying the temple’s foundation again.’ [bolding mine]

Clear out some trash, just like the ‘messenger preparing the way did’ long ago, and you can tackle the building work once more. Doesn’t negate what’s been done before, but it is still time for a ‘fresh start.’

Brother Splane asked in the latest Update, ‘Did you ever work a street and nobody is home, then pass by Sunday afternoon and notice a car in every drive?’ Yeah, I did notice that. It used to drive me nuts. Why are we visiting when people aren’t home?

Other publishers in that Update expressed happiness that, ‘Now, all I have to focus on is starting conversations.’ It suggests the question, ‘Well, what did they have to focus on before that they no longer do, a focus that interfered with starting conversations?’ ‘Counting time’ comes to mind. The friends used to have to do it, now they don’t. One reason Sunday after the meeting has long been unpopular for field service is that you can’t count much time that way. Better to go out on a weekday morning where you can generally count much more time. If few people are home—well, at least we got to count more time. 

That’s done. Finished. ‘Now all we have to do is think about starting conversations.’ Maybe an even greater ‘heresy’ will happen later with regard to evening worship, where a half hour of activity can produce more conversations than 2 hours of when people aren’t home. Plus, you reach a different sort of people, often more relaxed because the day is done.

Maybe the end of suggested presentations also factors in. It’s long been stated their use is optional (I kicked them to the curb long ago), but many friends seemed to feel it was all but mandatory to use them, lest you appear to be saying ‘contemptible bread’ of the produced food. 

No more. You can’t focus on those suggested presentations even if you want to. They’re not there.

Tom Whitepebble may be on to something when he suggests the Governing Body must sometimes be aghast at what they have unleashed as regards following men. It’s hard to find just the right emphasis—one person says, ‘Thanks for the new rule!’ while his neighbor says, ‘Huh? Did you say something?’ So, they strive for the right emphasis, but do they always find it?

‘Look, we said facial hair is not an issue,’ they said back in 2017. ‘Nobody listened to us! So now we’ll devote an entire Update, complete with video and chariot, to show we’re serious about it—we don’t care about beards!’

Will we see parallel developments in other areas?

 

None of the above was the overall focus of the article, though. In the first paragraph was the statement:

“You may be concerned about your family’s safety because of unstable political conditions, persecution, or opposition to the preaching work. Are you facing any of these issues? If so, you will benefit from considering how Jehovah helped the ancient Israelites when they were confronted with similar problems.” The discussion that followed was the challenged of those released from Babylon to rebuild worship in their former home. They got off to a quick start, but then languished, cowed by that day’s counterpart of the above trio.

“Unstable political conditions” is among that trio of woes that cause Christians problems today. In country after country, the political right and left are at each others’ throats to the point that civil war is floated as a possibility.

The world is run by crazy people. Lunatics of whatever side are no longer marginalized but rise to the top. Any time something whacky happens, ‘conspiracy’ is always a possible reason. If sane people ran the world, it would not be so: one of those things would be just ‘one of those things,’ but not with crazy people running the show. I’ve heard people say that, given the lunacy of those in charge, any conspiracy theory will be accepted on sight until proven wrong, an 180 degree reversal from how things have always been.

Whenever you undertake a challenging work, you want to make sure you have good footing. The above trio might suggest our footing is not very solid at all. So I liked the article’s encouragement to stay focused on what truly is good footing, really the mainstays of Christian faith: gathering together, prayer, scripture reading and meditation, and speaking to others of God’s purposes.

 

******  The bookstore

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The Man Who Memorized the Bible—and Still Wanted to Become a Jesuit.

It’s a bit of a cheap shot—but on account of that Babylon the Great scripture we Witnesses are known to take such shots*—John Barr, the GB member until he died, related an amazing feat: a candidate who was rejected as a Jesuit for being too short. Whereupon, he memorized the entire Bible to prove his worthiness.

The truly amazing thing, John Barr related, was that after having done so, he still wanted to be a Jesuit.

As I recall it, the account was included in Barr’s talk at a District Convention. Such GB talks would often find their way into the Watchtower magazine within the year. When his did, the magazine dropped the line about still wanting to become a Jesuit. Instead, it skipped right over to the more milquetoast, “Surely, however, it is far more important to understand God’s Word than it is to memorize it.” It declined to take the ‘cheap shot’ that Barr could not resist.


The Watchtower paragraph, from the February 1, 1994 issue (pages 8-9):

“In the 17th century C.E., a Catholic man named Cornelius van der Steen sought to become a Jesuit but was rejected because he was too short. Says Manfred Barthel in his book The Jesuits​—History & Legend of the Society of Jesus: “The committee informed van der Steen that they were prepared to waive the height requirement, but only with the proviso that he would learn to recite the entire Bible by heart. The story would hardly be worth telling if van der Steen had not complied with this rather presumptuous request.” What effort it took to memorize the whole Bible! Surely, however, it is far more important to understand God’s Word than it is to memorize it.”

___ *As for ‘cheap shots,’ nothing is a more cardinal sin in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ eyes than obscuring Bible teachings. Examples are the teaching of trinity, which makes God incomprehensible, someone impossible to know. Another is the hellfire teaching, which makes him cruel, someone you would not want to know. The Jesuits were firmly in that category, never mind whatever good things they did.

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1 Thessalonians 5: Verses Amassed on Jehovah’s Day

If you’ve been around for awhile, as I have, you’re on the lookout for something,to make you prick up your ears. Most things don’t. Most things are reminders, reinforcements, applications, etc, of what you already know. So here featured in the WatchtowerStudy is a chapter in 1 Thessalonians in which verse after verse, each one a solid base hit, adds up to a grand slam of illustrations about Jehovah’s day. Had I ever looked at the passage that way?

Now as for the times and the seasons, brothers, you need nothing to be written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. Whenever it is that they are saying, “Peace and security!” then sudden destruction is to be instantly on them, just like birth pains on a pregnant woman, and they will by no means escape.  But you, brothers, you are not in darkness, so that the day should overtake you as it would thieves, for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We belong neither to night nor to darkness. So, then, let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.

“For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But as for us who belong to the day, let us keep our senses and put on the breastplate of faith and love and the hope of salvation as a helmet  because God assigned us, not to wrath, but to the acquiring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us, so that whether we stay awake or are asleep, we should live together with him.  Therefore, keep encouraging one another and building one another up, just as you are in fact doing.” (1 Thessalonians 1-11)

The study was a verse-by-verse commentary. I love those things. The Day comes so quickly as to perhaps surprise even those expecting it, like birth pains, like a thief in the night, not to be slept through, nor drunk into oblivion in an effort to ignore. “When we want to sleep, we turn out the lights—intentionally,” said one brother, as he likened that course to what some do today in the face of plunging world conditions.

The congregation of Thessalonica was founded amidst great persecution, another pointed out. The temptation in similar areas of persection, such as current Russia, is to imagine maybe that Day to come any second now. The temptation in more laid back areas is that it is yet a long ways off. Either view can mess one up.

I kind of liked this side reference from Ephesians on keeping our act together: “For you were once darkness, but you are now light in connection with the Lord. Go on walking as children of light, for the fruitage of the light consists of every sort of goodness and righteousness and truth. Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord; and stop sharing in the unfruitful works that belong to the darkness; rather, expose them for what they are. For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. (Ephesians 4:8-12)

Who knows what devious schemes or deeds or plots are referred to—things shameful even to mention? Good to be far away from where those things are launched.

******  The bookstore

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The Playbook of the Enemy

 

An early 2023 Watchtower Study dealt with those who say ill things about Jehovah’s Witnesses in general and responsible brothers in particular. Quite a few articles do that these days.

One sis commented on how, after the meeting, many of us would be watching football. I knew her comment to be true because I was going to be one of them. Not that I am a football fanatic—I’m not—but the recent resurgence of the Bills after decades in the basement has piqued the interest of many. She further said that each team prepared for the game by studying the playbook of the other so that they could catch every little trick to be used against them.  ‘We do that too,’ she said. We have the playbook of the adversary. So we can know we are well-prepared and need not unduly fret no matter how much grief comes from those who oppose, even should they be apostates.

It’s not really true. In a sense it is, but only ‘in a sense.’ What we have is the ‘NFL Compendium Grand Strategic Play History Including Coach Commentary and Famous Player Roster.’ From there maybe you can deduce the opposing team’s playbook, but it is not easy to do. You never get more than an approximation. 

In this particular game, the opposing team’s playbook incorporated several Bengals A67D1CE1-4471-455D-9D97-717BD02D283A
making snow angels in the accumulating precip just after one of them intercepted a pass that once and for all put an end to any Bills threat. Think you’re going to get that from the NFL Compendium Grand History? Snow Angels! Those punks made snow angels! Like little kids! And when another one of them slapped down a would-be touchdown pass, he ran half the length of the field to rejoin his teammates, shaking his finger as though to say, ‘No, no, no! Not this time!’ I mean, the home team took a thorough drubbing and at the next-day news conference the talk was all of which heads would roll—as if nothing bad can happen without a few heads offered up in sacrifice!

If we really had the opposing spiritual team’s playbook we would be familiar with the current specific doings of apostates. But this we are strongly exhorted to be as clueless about as possible—in the spirit of ‘innocent as doves.’ Just listen to Brother Losch listing 100 metaphors for truth, and consider that your defense. It’s not nothing, but how much of a defense is it really?

These days the young are not especially religious. We might (and do) carry on about how they are leaving the churches in the West, but they are leaving the Kingdom Hall setting too. Some will say they are yet ‘spiritual’ but the word is so redefined that simply ‘looking deep within oneself’ may trigger it.

A good number of those young people who leave the Hall, it seems, are over at a former member forum. Is it not more than ridiculous that the only one who should know about this in the congregation is me? And that I should be looked at askance because of it—not that specifically but just a known interest in ‘the other team’s playbook.’  I thrive despite the stigma because I am otherwise considered a pretty good guy. But don’t think you can hold any privilege in the congregation, maybe to the point of carrying a mic, with such a stigma. I don’t mind. It’s discipline. If you want to represent any group you must ‘toe the line’ more than if you only wish to be among it. I don’t try to explain to shepherds what can be done properly on social media and what cannot be done. Since their own use of it is minimal at best and often non-existent, all you can do is provide grist for the mill of misunderstanding.

In that forum of malcontents where some are out, others are physically in but mentally out (PIMO), the majority of comments take the tone of high school students mocking out their teachers for bloopers that are sometimes real, sometimes imagined, and always exaggerated. A minority of comments, however, will have a more mature tone. These ones ‘promise the younger ones freedom’ without regard to who may or may not be  ‘slaves to corruption.’ Any familial division revealed? These ones will seek to widen it, thus ensuring there will never be healing. They present the general world as an oyster promising unbounded fulfillment—whereas anyone with a lick of sense knows it to be in dire straits, if not going down the tubes. 

They might not be able to do that were Witnesses not so ‘insular.’ That statement is one to make with caution, because ‘insularity’ and ‘no part of the world’ are flip sides of the same coin, similar to the relationship between ‘obstinate’ and ‘tenacious.’ You don’t want to be seen as discouraging ‘no part of the world.’ Jesus demands his people be that way. And even with being ‘insular’—try removing the insulation on your house wiring if you think ‘insular’ is so horrible. But anything Witnesses do, they do to the nth degree. Sometimes you wish things were more nuanced.

You can’t do the following with just anyone and I don’t do it routinely, but every so often as a joke I propose we go into what I call the ‘pickpocket ministry.’ I don’t propose it as much as I do street work on the thruway—slap a tract under the wiper as the cars roar by. No. But once in a while, before someone known to have a sense of humor, I do.

In the pickpocket ministry, you work in twos. Your deft partners lifts a person’s wallet as they walk by and lets it fall to the ground. Then you pick it up and return it to the person, explaining that you would never ever ever do so were it not for the Bible principles you learned as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It’s a joke. I’ve never heard of anyone besides myself referring to the ‘pickpocket ministry.’ Yet some of our people view the greater world that way. You wish things would be more nuanced. At the music festival I attended, a ‘long-haired hippy type,’ the kind in the song who ‘need not apply,’ tapped me on the should to return the wallet that had slipped out of my pocket. I thanked him. Then I turned around to thank him more proper. He gave a gesture as if to say, ‘But of course—it’s not a big deal.’ Even the wallet I dropped on an excursion in Canada (Just try getting back into the country without one—it is doable but it’s anything but a cakewalk.) was returned to me. Someone called to say he had found it and asked how it could be returned. (Though, when I asked about the money inside, he said, ‘What money?’)

The point is that there are plenty of people who will do the right thing, often even when the stakes are high. Yet that bit of nuance is something our kids have not picked up on. Put them in the ex forum where they discover that the risks of the world are not guarantees and many of them carry on as though there are no risks—it was all scaremongering on the Witness organizations part! a result of ‘overplaying their hand.’

We Witnesses live in black-and-whites. This is to be expected of people who respond to Jesus’ ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:32) Christianity that adheres to the Bible does not primarily attract ‘nuanced’ people. ‘Gray area’ people don’t apply. ‘What is truth?’ people like Pilate don’t apply. Dogmatic people, on the other hand, apply in droves. It’s because the Bible presents a basic sense of right and wrong. But you would hope people would not stay dogmatic, as many of our people seem to do.

Ida Brexit once related how she didn’t want to be caught flat-footed in case her then-teenager was stumbled by apostasy. She made it her business to unpackage the stuff so that she could provide assistance should that happen. It made perfect sense to me. Our young people succumb to the oldest trick in the book, that of ‘curiosity killed the cat.’ They come across something that stumbles them. Thereafter no one is able to help them, even parents, because nobody has any idea of what it is they have come across. We speak, as did another sister at that above Watchtower Study, about the ‘lies’ of apostates without knowledge beyond the vaguest generalities of just what those lies are. Moreover, the youngster just mentioned must contend with the onus of being supposed ‘disloyal’ for even looking there—even if his or her initial motive was to defend the faith. Even if he/she would like to get parental insight, he won’t dare ask for fear an explosion might result. And the ‘mature’ parent who might otherwise give corrective guidance does not go there either so as not to be similarly ‘disloyal.’

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the stance is what it is. Essentially, it is ‘The Bible says so.’ ‘What harmony is there between Christ as Belial?’ ‘Keep your eye on those causing division and avoid them.’ ‘Don’t be a sharer of wicked works by even saying a greeting,’ and so forth. I get it where it comes from: the Bible, and Witnesses are a Bible people. However, it sure makes for some downsides both ludicrous and tragic. Alas, I ran Ida’s seemingly practical course through the site where ‘never is heard a discouraging word’ and I was roundly chastised over it.

Now, if there is a downside to following current counsel, there is also a downside to not following it. Do I know that such downside is not worse? I have in the past expressed worry for Ida because she puts under the tooth comb of suspicion any piddly little statement that others blow off as a nothingburger. But she is a ‘why? why? why’ person and I suppose such persons must be satisfied. Her devotion to Jehovah is solid, she assures us. I just hope we don’t get a ‘flee to the mountains’ someday and she says, ‘You’re joking!’ [Not to worry—she says she likes mountains and it won’t happen.]

It’s all very well for me to float ‘alternative counsel’ as trial balloons, but I’m not “keeping watch over you as those who will render an account.” (Hebrews 13:17) The earthly shepherds are. I don’t have to render an account (hopefully) when people heed my incautious words and some fall flat on their face. They do. How much skin you have in the game makes a big difference in how you play it.

On the other hand, hoards of Westerners are falling flat on their face now. The spirit of young people is bold. It is not given to continual warnings of ‘Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!’ The spirit of the young is not given to be continually ‘protected.’ Same as with a party, if there’s a brawl going on somewhere, it wants to be part of it. Why not do a ‘avoid toxic people’ not as a matter of ‘loyalty,’ but just because they are toxic? Any psychologist will back you up on that one—and man, o man—are the malcontents ever toxic on the internet!

Back when we homeschooled—it is a move I have never regretted, even though there is a non-educational downside of not knowing where the agencies are (some of those agencies can be helpful), because my son entering community college, the first classroom he had ever seen save for the 6th grade, said in all innocence, “I had no idea there were so many stupid people”—back in those days we subscribed to a newsletter called, ‘Growth Without Schooling.’ It’s founder, John Holt, was of the opinion that much juvenile delinquency stemmed from teens being barred from the adult world under the guise of protecting them. Thus, a local family who ran a grocery store got into serious trouble with Child Protective Services when their teen took her turn behind the cash register upon returning from school.

Let youths join in the adult world as their maturity allows. Will some fall? No doubt some will, along with some of the Ida-like parents who go there to help them. But it may be a like when I ran by Jim Whitepebble the local attrition rate for those who go to college and he says it much resembled the attrition rate for those who didn’t go.

The organizational goal is to protect. It is that of the scriptural sheepfold with the shepherd eyes peeled in watch for the wolves. Since it is scripture, and scripture is what drives the Witnesses, it will not readily yield to adaptation. This is true even though some come to feel this protection is to the point of smothering and that it sells them short, as if completely disregarding any possibility that a person might confront apostasy and, not only remain loyal, but become stronger for it, indignant and thereafter become a stalwart for staring into the abyss and when it started staring back at him kicking its butt.

Even with adults it works this way. Thus, there is that convention video of the one with decades of faithful service to God who quit serving Him after reading material ‘critical of the organization.’ No possibility is offered that he might have become livid and spurred himself on to a greater defense or even counterattack of that ‘yellow journalism.’ How can even adults not become all but superstitious over the A-word? It is no more than ‘Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things’ in 100 different variations. Knowing what those variations are one might equate with ‘knowing the playbook of the opposing team.’

I would never recommend someone go traipsing through these ex-sites. The hostility there is breathtaking. Do not think you are going to persuade anyone to ‘Return to Jehovah.’ What you’ll find is that when parents send wayward youths a ‘Return to Jehovah’ message, they post it online for ridicule. But the all-but-forbidding it on pain of being thought disloyal approach isn’t working especially well either. Plus, it is so easily portrayed as sticking one’s head in the sand and submitting oneself to be fitted with blinders as though an animal as to give a push to the slide of any deviating youths.  And then we come along with our all-or-nothing reasoning and say, ‘Would you drink even a little bit of poison?’ In fact, we ingest ‘a little bit of poison’ all the time and our immune system is strengthened for it—assuming we haven’t ruined it. In fact again, the great controversy of our time, which HQ came to enthusiastically weigh in on after an initial stance of ‘neutrality,’ was that of, ‘To take the Covid vaccine or not to take the Covid vaccine?’ What is a vaccine if not ‘a little bit of poison’ that stimulates the body to mount a defense?

 

***  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'

The Cycle of God—in 30 Words

The cycle of God:

God: You can’t rule yourselves

A&E (first humans): Watch us.

God: Alright, I will, and when you make a hopeless hash of everything, I’ll shove it aside and bring in what I meant to all along.

How could anyone miss that UNLESS they had also missed another cycle, one that plays out each year:

“Even the stork in the sky knows its seasons; The turtledove and the swift and the thrush keep to the time of their return.” (Psalm 148:7)

Is there a link between that verse and the above ‘cycle of God?’ Seems to be, as is evident from the remainder of the verse:

“But my own people do not understand the judgment of Jehovah.”

“Seasons of the stork” parallels the “judgment of Jehovah.” It was a thought to be gleaned, not stated directly, from the Watchtower Study article “Learn More About Jehovah Through His Creation.” (March 2023)

“His invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made,” served as theme scripture. (Romans 1:20)

Therefore it helps to get one’s head out of the city, where ‘creation’ is obscured by schedules and smokestacks. Even I was in my 50s before I realized that on a grey day, a far-off cloud seemingly connected as if by bands to the earth meant that it was raining there. Hemmed in by city/suburb, I’d had few opportunities to take in that big picture.

What does that instruct as to God? Trust farmer Mort to tell us (we were visiting his congregation). Commenting on the verse that God makes it rain on the righteous and the wicked, he pointed out that his neighbor gets just as much rain as him, “even though he uses foul language.”

Someone recalled how birds build their nest, but then having done that, do little else, for they are birds. It recalled a talk (by a speaker in that Hall) on how people can be like that, devoting major portions of their lives (sometimes all) to building the most luxurious nest—whereas what might be better is build a simple nest then use all that excess time/capacity for greater things.

Then there was a sis who works as a nurse and all day long must deliver anti-depressant medications as though they were M&Ms. But in Japan, she says, they don’t even begin drug treatment for depression until after a period of “forest bathing” gives them a head start or even replacement.

My wife’s favorite scripture (one of them) was not in the study article: “ A bull well knows its buyer, And a donkey the manger of its owner; But Israel does not know me, My own people do not behave with understanding.” But Psalm 148:7 is close enough that the two of them in the same study might be redundant.

What I liked, and I almost stuck it in even though it doesn’t directly fit, but didn’t—was Bro Malenfont’s recent kickback at those ‘physical men’ who say they have no need of the crutch that is God. ‘Of course you do!’ he said. They will be senile or in diapers in not too many years, and hobbled even if they avoid such indignities. How can anyone with those prospects say they need no crutch?

 

******  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'

Completing the Circuit on Time

The study article begins with, “In many lands, it has been common to see happy Kingdom publishers on busy streets offering literature to passersby.” Of course, that means that in many other lands it is not.

‘You will by no means complete the circuit of the cities of Israel until the Son of man arrives.” (Matthew 10:23) It’s a good escape clause. Without it, the zealots of ‘preach! preach! preach!’ would be working others into a frenzy far more than they do now. Like the zealot years ago who told the congregation that, per the Watchtower, every baptized brother should pioneer. I was pretty sure there was no such Watchtower, or if there was it was an ancient one, so I queried him afterwards. He said there was and it was recent. So I looked it up when I got home. Sure enough, it was recent, but it was a quotation from an ancient issue! Sheesh.

“You will by no means complete the circuit of the cities of Israel until the Son of man arrives.” With this verse, the above guys are checked. With it, their more balanced counterparts [in my view] can say, ‘Chill already. Do the best you can. That thug country that goes bonkers every time a Christian knocks on a door? Don’t worry about it. Go somewhere else if you have to. God will make it all work.’

Is not Geo Jackson’s address to the latest Gilead class (152nd graduation) fitting? When you get back to your assignment, you may feel the urge to do everything at once! It will drive you crazy if you give in to it. Plug away at your assignment instead, he counseled, with the reassurance that God knows who’s where and can see that those in the hinterlands are accommodated in time—maybe bring a representative or two of their number into your proximity, if need be. In short, it’s the serenity prayer. Do what you can, acquiesce to what you cannot, and have the smarts to know the difference. In time, maybe circumstances will be that you can sail out to where those big fish keep tantalizingly breaking the waves.

What will happen to those in the circuit of cities not reached. Little is said—probably because little is known. It’s well to avoid strong statements when you don’t know. And since they discourage speculation as well, that might explain why they touch the verse sparingly.

Then too, to put it undiplomatically, we subject ourselves to a sort of ‘carrot and stick’ approach through theocratic counsel. It’s a turnoff for some. It assumes people require a carrot and stick approach. Do they? In case they do, is it the shepherd’s job to provide it? Few would deny the ‘universal truth’ that humans are inclined to take the ‘path of least resistance.’ ‘Exert yourselves vigorously to enter the narrow gate,’ says the Lord. It goes against our inclination. Most of us prefer to kick back with a beer and watch the game.

Ah, well. Life itself is carrot and stick, isn’t it? It’s just beefers wanting something to beef about who beef over it. F302DDDF-D3F4-4797-A09D-3F54F01C1B82Strive toward rewards, veer away from unpleasant downers. We do it everywhere else—why not in spiritual matters too? It’s a matter of headship style. It’s handled well enough, a good enough balance between expressing heartfelt appreciation for what the friends do in light of the pressures they face and encouraging them to keep up the fine fight and, whenever possible, keep on doing it ‘in fuller measure.’ At any rate, it’s probably best to adapt oneself to the way things are rather than fret they should be different since you don’t have the power to make them that way. Praise the Lord and pass the toolbox ‘ammunition.’

(photo: commons.Wikimedia.org)

Even of the circuits that are completed before the Son of man arrives, a person can wonder: ‘completed to what degree?’ How much exposure is enough for people to take a stand upon? Perhaps most Witnesses have a makeshift informal list of workmates, acquaintances, family members and so forth, people thought to be ‘good at heart’ that Jehovah will go all soft in the knees for at the last moment—and if them, why not include those on the list of other publishers?—like He did with Jonah (prompting that one to pout in the 4th chapter of the Book of Jonah). But it’s never going to be written. Anyone writing anything is bound by the ‘baptism clause.’ “Baptism, which corresponds to [the Ark], is also now saving you . . .” (1 Peter 3:21)

So the hotheads are going to be able to charge till the cows come home that Witnesses look forward to the day when everyone but the tiniest handful of persons (themselves) will be brought to ruin. It is the Bible that says it. Many Witnesses punch the list with qualifications that may or may not pan out.

 

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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'

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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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'

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 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'

The Instant Answer of Sunday’s Watchtower and What to do About Adam and Eve

Much was made at Sunday’s Watchtower Study over the Genesis 3:15 prophesy. Instantly, upon the first couple’s fall into sin, Jehovah had the answer as to how he would fix it. The typical response to disaster is to mope, to be bummed, to say ‘poor me,’ for awhile, even to fall into depression. Only after that process do you begin to wonder if anything can be salvaged. God had the answer immediately.

“I was touched when I learned that Jehovah took action immediately so that mankind would not be left without hope.” said the sis in paragraph 17.  Someone else drew the contrast to how humans routinely screw up during crises, drawing on the worldwide pandemic response as the latest example. What a chaotic mess that was (is)!

Adam and Eve may be okay for us but they are hard to swallow for the general public in our neck of the woods. When I first came to learn of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was astounded that here were people who actually believed in Adam and Eve. They didn’t look dumb—yet all my life I had believed that only the reddest of the rednecks believed in Adam and Eve!

If you dismiss them, you toss away all hope of answering the deepest questions of life. ‘Why is their evil and suffering?’—gone, if you dismiss Adam and Eve. ‘How is it that people die?’ as well as related questions of hope for the dead—none of them can be answered without Adam and Eve. So don’t get too hasty in giving them to boot, regardless of what the learned ones say. The learning of the learned ones is not always the bee’s knees. Sometimes it is the “foolishness” that “catches the wise in their own cunning.” (1 Corinthians 3:19) If, thinking yourself very clever, you have tossed away answers to the vexing problems of life, you have indeed been caught in your own cunning.

The trick with Adam and Eve is to view them as though you were putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You are trying 
to replicate the picture on the box top. Nobody cares if the picture is real or not. That concern is shelved if it even occurs to someone.

Upon completing the puzzle of a Book that was long regarded as a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas, a hopeless mess that one ought not remotely dream of untangling—and yet the completed puzzle is evidence it has been done . . .  Well, then, at that time you just may want to revisit your assessment as to whether the box top cover is real.

Once you’ve put together the puzzle and have reproduced the picture on the cover, you’re pretty much immune to someone saying you put it together wrong. And when you are cruising down the highway at 60 MPH, even the scientist on the radio telling you your car doesn’t run does not cause undue distress.

 

******  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'