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I’d Really Love to See You Tonight

So, I’m driving home from Walmart, in the rain, mind you, when I pop on the radio and what’s playing on Sirius 70s on 7?  England Dan and John Ford Coley’s hit from 1976, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.”  Within 20 seconds I’m sobbing into the steering wheel and yelling at the windshield (which was foggy, but that’s neither here nor there) “That man stole my youth!!!!” 

Now, to set this outburst into context:  Before making the always-regrettable decision to head to Walmart, I’d been watching a “Modern Family” marathon, specifically, the one where Haley goes off to college, and it hit me like the head of the Statue of Liberty’s head from “Cloverfield” that I’d never, ever had those years to enjoy.  Not that I’d never mused much about it in the intervening eon, but I’d never quite thought of it in terms of what this particular song would have meant to me if I’d been spending that autumn of 1976 visiting colleges and anticipating all the cool stuff I would be experiencing, even though the real me in 1976 had absolutely no clue about college life, ­(plus, I’d been bullied so much by my father that I was afraid of my own shadow). 

This song should have been a paean to my youth.  In later years it should have evoked memories of being giggly with my roommate while we painted each other’s toenails and drank cheap wine, watching some popular coming-of-age movie (on a black-and-white TV with a wire-hanger antenna since there were no VCRs, and not a lot of cable coverage, back then).  It should have reminded me of that time when my high-school crush showed up on campus and serenaded me, al la John Cusack.  It should have reminded me of big hair and bright colored clothing and shoulder pads, and pushed–up sleeves, and …

Unfortunately, what it meant to me in my real life was this:  Throughout the summer of 1976 my parents had been pushing me, yea kicking me yea, holding a virtual gun to my head yea, forcing me at scimitar point to walk the plank into marrying a man 7+ years my senior, whom I had not ever even thought about, let alone nurtured any warmer, hotter, sexier, saltier feeling about. 

No.  At that portentous time in a girl’s life, 17, when the ED/JFC hit was playing, I was wielding a putty knife, peeling wallpaper (and trying not to gouge the plaster) in an old house next to the kingdom hall building site, singing along to the radio, dimly not having a clue about the meaning of “We’ve both played that game before, say ‘I love you’ then say goodbye.”  No.  Instead, I was cluelessly puzzling in my brain about this virtual stranger I was engaged to and why he “loved” me so much.  We’d hardly ever interacted.  He’d been away at Bethel for several years, and… (brain exit stage left) well, no matter, Mom and Dad approve very strongly of this guy, so that’s [Watchtower] good enough for me.

I spent the next 4 years doing…well, it wasn’t fun, but it was an education.

So, good-bye college, I never knew ye.

The Horror!!!

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This morning I was wasting time on Pinterest, scrolling through someone else’s food board (and judging from the number of pins featuring casserole dishes piled high with glistening, cheese-smothered, artery-clogging, totally scrumptious-looking food, this person must be as big as a house) when I spotted something that sent me into a flashback of my early days as a Jehovah’s Witness:

red plaid lunchbox

Terrifying, isn’t it?  Yes it is, and this is why.

During 7th grade my family had been studying with the JWs and we had been adopting the new lifestyle, including dressing more conservatively.  Well, I did anyway.  Everyone else was fine, but I wore the prevailing style of the day, miniskirts.  Mind you, I was not one of those girls who had to lean backwards in order to sit down and still maintain her ladylike facade, but I wasn’t “modestly dressed” by kingdom hall standards.  As a result, my hemlines were sent crashing down to my kneecaps.

Dad was even more stodgy than most JW fathers and refused to allow me to wear pantyhose at age 13, so I had to stick with my cable-knit knee socks.  By the time I was dressed I looked like a teenager from 1943.

Now, we lived in the boondocks, and even in 7th grade I was still attending an elementary school where standards of fashion were quite forgiving.  Nobody at Carl B. Lord Elementary School gave my new look a second glance.   I even got away with wearing gaucho pants!

However, Dad decided that our house was too far away from the center of all things JW, the kingdom hall.  There were others in the congregation who lived even farther away than we did and seemed not to mind the drive.  Gas was still only about 30 cents a gallon (free steak knives or monogrammed tumblers with a fill-up), so that was no motivation.   In any case, the house was sold and we moved into town.

The circumstances of that move were a bit unfortunate.  We had to be out of our country house only a couple of weeks after the folks bought the house in town.   The real estate agent had told us it would be no problem but then neglected to inform the family living in our new digs until only a week before we were to move in.  Those poor people had to pack and dash and apparently they spread some bile around the neighborhood about the reason for their hasty departure.

Our neighbors were not pleased to see us move in.  Our car got egged a few times, and the kids would hoot and holler and throw rocks at my brother and me as we rode our bikes past their house.  Great, just great.  In a few weeks we were also sharing classrooms with those little thugs.

I suspect Mom was trying to be thoughtful when she spotted that lunch box in the store and brought it home for me.  She even said, “It’s plaid!  Plaid is very fashionable this year!”  With that she dispatched me to my new school.

I was an 8th grader, starting at a junior high school where second-year students were supposed to know the school routines and rules.  Since I was extremely shy and timid to begin with, standing out in any way was a horror show for me.  I didn’t dare to ask questions, and I had no friends.  Consequently, I made mistakes and got yelled at a few times by the office staff.

The school building itself was spooky.  It was a three-story gothic-style brick building that had formerly been used as the high school.  Inside, the hallways were gloomy and hung with tapestries depicting Medieval life.  The ceilings were high and there were huge staircases that we had to climb. My home room was on the third floor.  They had even stuffed a few classrooms in the basement which featured circuitous corridors bristling with mechanical devices and pipes.  The classrooms on the upper floors had 10-foot-tall windows, most of which opened only under extreme protest.  There was nothing familiar, homey, or cheerful about that building.   It screamed “Dickensian insane asylum.”   All the place needed was gargoyles and a Scottish moor to complete the effect.

Being the new kid is hard enough without also showing up on the first day outfitted in long skirts, knee socks, a red plaid lunch box, oh and don’t forget – a set of bizarre religious beliefs, some of which forced me to take unpopular stands.   Life would have been easier if I’d had a “kick me” sign taped to my back.  In the hallways I was taunted, teased, pointed at.  It took me a few days and a lot of tears to master the combination lock on my locker (surprisingly enough Carl B. Lord Elementary didn’t feature lockers).  But the worst torment occurred in the cafeteria where my lunch box was the most popular object of ridicule ever to make an appearance in that school.   The inside of the box bore the slogan “One of the ‘Rustless’ ones!” in an unfortunately bold font. The kids sitting at my table found that slogan to be endlessly hilarious.  It’s a wonder I made it out of that building alive on the first day.

After a tearful night back at home where I begged my father to take me out of school, (I mean, what was the point of enduring all of that trauma when Armageddon was coming in a couple of years anyway – or maybe sooner, you couldn’t know) the red plaid lunchbox stayed at home and I was allowed to use a paper bag.  Believe me, that was a huge concession in my house.   Even knowing the humiliation I was enduring at school my father insisted that I wear a skirt or dress at least 3 times a week.

We lived about 2 miles from the school, and at first I rode my bike to and from school every day.  Once the weather got cold and snowy I decided to try the school bus.  I had always ridden the bus when we lived in the williwacks and was used to old Mr. Boler or Benny White, both of whom ran a tight ship.  One day, a boy gave Benny some lip, and the bus came to an immediate stop.  Benny threw the kid (and I mean threw) off the bus and we carried on as usual.

Their only concession to our youthfulness was occasionally to drive fast down the pothole-infested final leg of our bus ride while we bounced on the back seats hoping to hit our heads on the ceiling.  That’s what passed for thrills in North Vassalboro, Maine.   That, and on especially cold mornings spitting on the aluminum railing on our front porch and watching it freeze almost immediately.

Riding the bus in town was quite another experience.  On my first ride someone grabbed the hat off my head and threw it out the window.  It was when the food fight started that I decided I’d rather freeze my patootie off walking back and forth than ride with the single-helix mutants on that bus.

So, when I innocently scrolled to that photograph of my old nemesis, the red plaid lunchbox, all of the horror came flooding back over me.  But now, sharing it all with you, I feel I’ve exorcised those particular demons.

The Escape

Over the past 9 months I’ve covered the subject of The Odd Life of Jehovah’s Witnesses quite thoroughly.  Although I will most likely continue to add to this blog, it’s time to move on to other subjects.

This week’s post is the first 1000 words of my forthcoming book, “The Escape,” soon to be e-published .


The Escape – A True Story

April, 2004 Time to Leave

Phil’s rage boiled up inside of him and his alter-ego, “The Commando,” glared at me from his eyes. For the first time in our 27-year marriage I was afraid of him. I knew with absolute certainty that he hated me and was going to kill me.

I knew why I was seeing “The Commando” instead of the Phil I usually saw. I had changed significantly in the past 6 months, and he felt threatened by the new me. I was definitely not the same girl he had married; I was no longer willing to be the passive, obedient Jehovah’s Witness wife. I had found my personal power and was expressing it boldly regardless of Phil’s or anyone else’s opinion.

For example, six months earlier I had joined an online community for Clay Aiken fans and had made friends outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses. These ladies embraced me, and I found that JWs weren’t the only people in the world that could show love. In fact, these ladies showed me more kindness and love than any of the JWs I’d known.

Additionally, through the online forum I had begun writing and receiving accolades for it. The self-expression involved in writing conflicted with the self-repression that is part and parcel of life in a cult. I was feeling powerful and free.

And then, probably the icing on the cake, I had recently traveled alone and attended a concert with these new friends in a distant city. We acted silly and fangirly, went out for drinks at night, and had more fun to the inch than I’d imagined was possible. I felt lighter, happier, and I had a bunch of new friends.

To Phil my online activity was tantamount to rebellion. Worst of all in his eyes, I had contacted and renewed my friendship with my disfellowshipped friend, Laurel. That alone could have landed me in serious trouble with the local elders, if he decided to tell on me.  I had distanced myself emotionally from both Phil and the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now all that remained was to remove myself completely from both.

However, my hand had been forced. I didn’t want to be the subject of one of those terrible headlines, “Man Who Killed Wife was ‘Nice Guy’ According to Neighbors.” My life was in danger, and I had to leave, not in 6 months or a year, but now. I didn’t let on to Phil that I was afraid, but I went online and told my friends about the change in my situation.

We quickly formulated a plan. Since I had been working as a home-based medical transcriptionist I could move anywhere and take my job with me. I arranged temporary shelter with Laurel and her partner. I purchased a plane ticket to Dallas where I would live with Alicia (one of my “Clay friends”) and her daughter until I could get my own place. I made up a story so that I could ship my work equipment to Texas without Phil being suspicious.

The next day I took my usual late-afternoon walk down to the lakeshore and stood there gazing at the familiar boat-filled marina while the cold wind whipped my hair and reddened my cheeks. I strolled through town and stopped by an ATM where I withdrew half of the $400 in the account. Then I continued along the shore path, looking out to the horizon realizing it would be a long time before I ever took this walk again. It was a beautiful place to live, but it had been my prison.

I quickly decided what I needed to take with me. Everything had to be either shipped or checked on the plane to Dallas. The eventual plan was for me to live alone, and being prone to anxiety attacks, I knew I would need distraction. Phil didn’t watch much TV, so I decided to take the TV and the VCR. He didn’t use the Internet, but he did research using a DVD of the Watchtower Society’s (corporate entity of Jehovah’s Witnesses) library of publications. I decided he could use his PC at work for those projects, so I wouldn’t be depriving him if I took the PC.

There wasn’t much more I could take except some of my clothes and a few books.

I wrote him a note explaining that I had left and giving him some practical advice: Close the checking account, change the utilities to his name, and so forth. I left him our only car and our cat. Although I loved my kitty dearly, Phil and Socks had a special relationship that I didn’t want to break up.

The next morning after Phil left for work I quickly unplugged and gathered the electronic items, packed my bags, and waited for Laurel to arrive. She was late, and as time ticked by my anxiety grew. I sat on the living room couch trying to read a book, but none of the words were sinking in. I was worried that Phil might pop in for some unknown reason and there would be a messy scene. Then the phone rang. It was Phil calling from work.



Many people wonder why an intelligent woman would remain in an abusive relationship for decades.

The answer is: Conditioning. And it starts young. I was conditioned by my mother’s passivity and coldness as well as my father’s verbal and sexual abuse to accept poor treatment without complaint. So when, at eighteen, I married a man I did not love and found myself bound for life to a likeable guy who regularly raped me, I accepted the situation. I didn’t even consider leaving him.

(Copyright 2013 Sally Cottle)

Waking Up, Part 2 – The Final Straw

Years slipped by, but every time I thought about the Watchtower Society’s pedophilia issue I felt a pang of conscience.  Nothing was being done!  Nothing was changing.  Children were being abused and the perpetrators were not being disciplined nor was law enforcement being involved in the majority of cases.  How could this be happening in God’s Only True Organization?

I was disgusted.  My meeting attendance, already slipping, dwindled.  In 2001 my father passed away after a very short illness.  He had been the Presiding Overseer in our congregation for some 14 years but had moved away about a year before his death.   The elders are supposed to make a “condolence call” on a congregation member who has lost a relative.  Nobody came.  One elder called, but all he wanted was some demographic information on my father to insert into his memorial talk.  None of the other elders called.  I was already more or less “marked.”   Very few congregation members came to the memorial service for my father.  I was furious.

My friend and her husband had written to the Society regarding the pedophilia issue to no avail, and my husband was deep into his “wait on Jehovah” mode.  I felt disgust.  By late 2003 I knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not God’s chosen people.  Maybe they had been at one time, but not anymore.

At the Congregation Book Study we were studying the book, “Revelation – Its Grand Climax at Hand” for the third time.  With my newly unleashed skepticism I noticed that one whole section of the Revelation prophecy (regarding the seven trumpet blasts) was applied to the Watchtower Society without any scriptures cited for support.

Each trumpet blast was linked to a convention of the International Bible Students Association (later renamed Jehovah’s Witnesses) which at that period of time were usually held in Cedar Point, Ohio, and in particular a resolution passed at each of seven conventions in the late teens and early 1920s.  These resolutions were printed and distributed as widely as a small group of people could manage, which was pretty limited, as you might imagine.

Supposedly the trumpet blasts were to be heard worldwide and result in devastating consequences for whatever sector of society was being condemned.  It suddenly hit me that these resolutions could not be the trumpet blasts because they received limited distribution (certainly not worldwide) and accomplished nothing but possibly insulting a few people.  Big whoop.  It kind of reminded me of the proverbial ant railing against a freight train.

My father-in-law (a JW from 1953 until his death in 2013) used to be fond of saying, “It’s amazing how a bunch of old ladies sitting under the trees in Cedar Point fulfilled bible prophecy.”  He said it as a joke, but now it hit home.   What a load of crap!  Why should this puny group of people think they’re God’s chosen messengers?  Honestly, a lot of Revelation sounds like the ravings of a man on a bad trip from ingesting psychedelic mushrooms.

So, now the dam was breached.  If that piece of what the Watchtower Society taught was a nothing but hooey then what about the rest of it?  I remembered my lessons from geometry class that if one part of a statement was untrue, the whole statement was untrue.  I was very disillusioned and angry.  My husband tried to “help” me by instituting a family study, something he had neglected for some time.  I had to go along with him because he was my spiritual “head.”

However, the process had begun.  Little by little, the cracks in the “dam” widened.

At about the same time, I joined an online message board for fans of a particular singer.  I had never been anybody’s fan before (fandom is strongly discouraged as a form of idolatry), but I was captivated.  This was 2003, and the Watchtower Society had not yet realized the danger posed by the Internet, so nothing but the vaguest counsel had been given about joining online communities.

The forum allowed me an outlet for writing, and I was receiving praise from my fellow board members who enjoyed my posts.  All of a sudden, I felt powerful for the first time in my life.  I had a gift!  Strength flowed through my veins and energized my torpid mind.

I couldn’t read The Watchtower magazine any longer; it contained too much “Hurray for us and the rest of you are nothing but dead meat” rhetoric.  The meetings were becoming intolerable.  The kingdom hall was awash in hypocrisy.  The whole thrust of the blathering from the platform was numbers, numbers, numbers.  How many hours did you get in field service?  How many books or magazines did you place?  How many meetings have you missed?  How many years have you been faithful?   Whatever happened to the emphasis on Christian qualities and becoming more Christ-like?

Many times, partway through the meeting I would feel a pressure in my head like it was going to explode.  I’d gather my books and head for the door.  Luckily, we lived close enough that I could walk home.

I couldn’t bring myself to participate in the ministry, trying to convince people that JWs were God’s people and that they should join up.  It was all lies.

I bucked my husband’s headship and decided independently to take a trip to meet some of my message board friends and attend a concert with them.  I didn’t ask; I told him I was going.

I had the best time of my life meeting my friends and attending the concert (we’re all still friends 10 years later and get together frequently).  It dawned on me that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not hold a corner on the market of being “nice” and “good” people.   These ladies were kinder and more loving than most of the JWs I knew.  That realization really caused my head to explode.

When I came home, I was a changed woman.  My husband saw it, and it angered him.  He was one who kept his anger bottled up, and it showed in passive-aggressive ways.  Now I could see that he was very deeply angry.  One night he had an issue with the computer and asked me for help.  I came to his aid, but he was already furious.  At one point, I looked into his eyes and saw that he wanted to kill me.  I’d lived with the man for nearly 27 years.  I had never been afraid of him (despite his frequent flirtations with homicidal rage – long story) but now I was terrified.  I was going to become the subject of one of those tragic headlines: “Puzzled neighbors say man who murdered his wife was a ‘nice guy.’”

I contacted my friends on the message board and my BFF, and we devised a plan to get me out of there.  I left in the middle of the day less than a week later and never looked back.  A few days later I delivered my letter of disassociation to the kingdom hall.   That was nine years ago this month.

In the aftermath, of course, I have no contact with my mother and brother who live 5000 miles away.  I divorced my husband and he remarried a few years later.  I’ve recently reconnected with my paternal extended family (after 40 years), so I don’t feel so much like a speck floating in the universe.   I’ve discovered the world is not a dark forest of terrors as the JWs would have their members believe.  Demons do not lurk behind every tree and parked car.  People are just plain folks, not slavering minions of Satan.  There is beauty to be found in each precious day of life which is especially enhanced because I’m enjoying it with a free mind.

Waking Up

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One of the oddest things about being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is what happens when a JW “wakes up” and discovers TTATT (the truth about The Truth).

This awakening is a long process.  It starts with a niggling doubt, some teaching that just doesn’t quite sit right.  Maybe it’s a change in a teaching, what the Society calls “New Light.”  For me, it was a change in a core teaching about when The End would come.

The Watchtower Society has taught for well over 100 years that Jesus gave his followers a clue as to when the end would come.   In Matthew 24 his disciples asked him for a sign that the end was near.  Jesus described a whole laundry list of not-so-remarkable events (wars, earthquakes, etc.) to watch for.  Then he said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things occur.”

Mix together a vague prophecy, some devil-may-care chronology, a belief that God is communicating only with you, and a whole heap of hubris, stir well.  Yield:  An adjustable end-time teaching.  Serve relentlessly.   Without getting into nitty-gritty detail, the Watchtower Society had taught that the “time of the end” began in 1914 (with a whole lot of emphasis on WWI), and since Jesus had said that the end would come within the lifetime of a generation, it is logical to conclude that the system would end in the 20th century.  Many times in their literature they stated outright that the end would come before the new millennium.

Fun fact:  The Watchtower Society holds that God’s truth is revealed gradually, only when Jesus’ followers are ready for it.  They cite a handy scripture in Proverbs 4:18 that says that the light gets brighter and brighter, even though that scripture is not talking about doctrine, and is probably mistranslated in their Bible.  In any case, all JWs get really excited whenever there is “new light” in the Watchtower magazine.

Around about 1995, the Society could hear their chronological clock ticking and came out with some “new light” about the meaning of the word “generation.”  It was so murky and illogical that I can’t even remember exactly what their argument was.  It had something to do with the definition of the word “generation” that made it possible for any group of contemporaries to be part of a “generation.”   The moment I heard it I said, “We’re going to see the year 2000 in this system.”  I recognized it as a maneuver.  An organization that claims to be the sole conduit of God’s Truth shouldn’t need to maneuver,  shouldn’t find it necessary to overturn a doctrine that had stood for nearly a century just to save face (and they’ve changed the understanding of “generation” twice more since then).   That realization started the ball rolling for me.  It took another nine years for the ball to strike the pins.

During those nine years I started noticing cracks in the Christian personalities of those around me.  I saw politics and cliques at work, elders who hardly ever used their Bible when giving talks, and just general hypocrisy.  I was irritated.  Luckily, I was not alone.  I had a friend who shared my irritation.  Once she and I discovered our mutual growing antipathy we started to get together regularly for what we called “natter” sessions where we would express our feelings about the organization freely without worrying that the other one would turn us in to the elders.

I had known for several years that Jehovah’s Witnesses had a big problem with pedophilia.  Of course, in any microcosm you’re going to see a cross-section of the human condition, but there was a much bigger problem with JWs, and it still exists.  Their procedure for dealing with accusations of pedophilia does not involve law enforcement, nor is it likely the perpetrator will ever be disciplined for his actions.  Here’s why:  Even as recently as October 1, 2012 the Watchtower’s stated procedure when an accusation of child abuse is brought to the elders’ attention is for the elders to contact their local branch office of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  The branch will give them instructions.  Under no circumstances are the elders or the accusers to contact the police.   In other words, keep it hushed up.

Within the congregation, the elders can convene a judicial committee only if there are two witnesses to the offense.  When does that ever happen in a case of child molestation?  I’ll tell you – never.  The perpetrator is considered innocent of the charge, and it is quite possible that the accuser will be the one in hot water for making an unsubstantiated accusation.

I knew of a situation in a neighboring congregation where this very situation existed.  There was more than one report of a young man in the congregation, an elder’s son, molesting younger boys, sometimes even in the kingdom hall.  Because nothing could be done to discipline the young man, he was free to prowl the congregation and snatch more victims.  Outraged parents took their children and started attending my congregation, even though it was a long drive for them.  Some of them actually packed up their households and moved to my town because their home congregation had become a dangerous place.

When I found out what was happening I was completely outraged.  Being a survivor of child sexual abuse myself (although it happened before I became a JW) I couldn’t understand how God’s organization could permit such a situation to continue.  Maybe the boys in Brooklyn didn’t know about it.  Shouldn’t we tell them?  Of course, being a woman, any letter I sent to headquarters would be sent back to the elders in my congregation.  I asked my husband at the time to write, but he decided he would “leave it in Jehovah’s hands.”   My faith was strong then, so I went along with his decision, but the idea that there were children suffering shattering emotional trauma was impossible to ignore.

If you are outraged that a mind-control cult is harboring pedophiles, please view this video and visit this Facebook page:  The Association of Anti-Watchtower Activists

Next week:  The Final Straw

It’s not a church. It’s a kingdom hall.

Jehovah’s Witnesses meet together in a kingdom hall.  They’ll wince if you call it a church.  These structures are either remodeled existing buildings or built from scratch.

When my family started attending meetings we went to a kingdom hall that was a remodeled warehouse.  It was the ‘70s, so you can probably imagine the décor – gaudy carpet with lots of orange and red in it, plain-Jane fake wood paneling,  a brick planter in front of the platform (don’t call it a stage) full of orange and yellow plastic flowers, and dark stained woodwork.   We sat on metal folding chairs that had a vinyl “pad” on the seat about the thickness of a saltine cracker.

This building became too small for the growing congregation, so we did a remodel and extended the back of the building.  The work progressed slowly, even though some friends from other congregations came to help on the weekends.  There was one meeting I remember when the back of the kingdom hall had been torn down, so we spent the evening looking through plastic sheeting at the stars.

In another few years even the remodeled hall was too small, so the brothers went looking for someone to donate land to the congregation, which they found.  The property was an old farm with a house and barn and a nice big field suitable for a kingdom hall and parking lot.  Back in those days you could design your own kingdom hall.  Nowadays the Society offers you a couple of plans to choose from, but we digress.

The brothers decided, bless their hearts, that an elder’s family should live in the long-abandoned house, so a chunk of the collective effort was focused on making the house livable.  My family was the one chosen to live there and sort of guard the building site (although it was several hundred yards away).

At the building site, the brothers ran into grief almost immediately.  While digging for the basement they ran into a long ridge of granite ledge.  Of course, they would need to blast, so they applied for a permit.  The official in charge of issuing permits wanted his palm greased, and the indignant brothers refused to give in to his demands.  Instead, they hired a whole bunch of jackhammers and spent months chipping away at that granite ledge.

Five years later, there was a building with a congregation meeting in it, but it wasn’t completely finished.  Finally, a visiting circuit overseer shamed the elders into making up a punch list and getting all the little stuff done.   By then, it was time to remodel.   I had married and moved away, so that wasn’t my project.

That’s an extreme example of how long it took to construct a kingdom hall back in the day.  The Society decided that this was not cool because it kept the brothers busy building instead of preaching.  They devised a whole new way of construction – the quick build.  It was a revolutionary concept back when the first few quick builds went up.  Here’s how it works:

Weeks ahead of time the site is prepared with a slab and parking lot.  They have the utilities hooked up and ready to go.  The materials are gathered and food service is planned so that the workers can stay at the site.  On the designated weekend skilled crews of JW volunteers descend upon the work site and build the whole kingdom hall, right down to carpet and wallpaper, even landscaping, in less than three days’ time.

At first, a general invitation would go out to the entire circuit and a thousand people would swoop in, most of them just to watch the thing go up.  The building site was crowded, the port-a-potties were maxed out, and a lot of food went to feed people who were just standing around gawking.

“No, no, no,” said the Society, stamping their collective foot.  “That’s not what we meant.”  Then they devised a structure whereby Brooklyn could control it more tightly.  They designated Regional Building Committees (RBC) who would oversee every quick build in their area.  There was also a thick notebook of instructions that had to be followed to the letter.  I was at one quick build where the local elders messed up a few things (including arranging for the port-a-potties to be serviced) and all of them were removed as elders in the aftermath.  Yikes!

The RBC also scheduled the crews so that only the people needed at the time were milling around the site.  The drywall crew didn’t show up until later Saturday afternoon or evening, for example, and worked through the night.  Of course, the local congregation members could be there anytime.  They were usually doing grunt work or food service.

In order to get on a crew you had to apply to the RBC.  My ex-husband volunteered his carpentry experience and worked on a bunch of quick builds around New England.  I was not allowed to accompany him, not that I really wanted to.  Hanging around a building site that is not your own is no fun at all.  Worse, I’d be expected to participate in field service, letting the locals know about the project and inviting them to drop by for a little impromptu propaganda treatment.

There were strict rules on the sites, too.  No slogan t-shirts could be worn, for example, so leave your “That’s what she said” shirt at home.

On Sunday afternoon, the congregation held their first meeting in the new hall.  Of course, there were always a few details to finish up, and sometimes things were not quite ready for a meeting due to some unforeseen complication.  All in all, it was a pretty amazing process, but hoo boy, don’t cross the RBC or you’ll find yourself in a serious pickle.

You Can Go Back – But It’ll Cost You


Continuing from last week’s post, “Here Come Da Judge.”


So, basically, your entire world has just crashed into shards at your feet.  None of your friends at the kingdom hall can talk to you, not even your family members.  You are considered to be a wicked person, a danger to the faithful.  How you wish you could run into your mom’s arms and be comforted, but your mom is a woman of strong faith in the organization.  She believes that by isolating you she is performing a great act of love.  She hopes that you will feel enough pain that you will do whatever is necessary to be reinstated.  Well, it’s working.

Sitting at home that weekend you realize you have a long haul ahead of you.  Even the most repentant sinners can expect at least six months of cold shoulders before they can apply for reinstatement.   You decide you’ll just pull up your big girl panties and deal with it.

Still, it niggles in the back of your mind.  How can three men sit in judgment on you and then separate you from your own mother and your best friend?  You’re not a wicked person, just an idiot who had too much to drink one night and made a mistake.

In order to be reinstated, you will have to acknowledge the gravity of your sin, display works befitting repentance (read: grovel), show up at all of the meetings (however, be the last one there and the first to leave) and sit quietly in the back of the hall.  And the elders will assign a “spiritually mature” sister to study with one or two of the Watchtower Society’s publications.  Ultimately, you will have to meet with the same three elders who kicked you out in the first place to ask for forgiveness.

This will be difficult.  Brother Rigid has always had it out for you.  He doesn’t like any display of individuality, like the time you tried a temporary hair color.  It was just auburn, for pity’s sake – well, maybe a tad redder than the usual auburn.  He threatened your father with the loss of his congregation privileges if he allowed it to continue.  Even Dad thought that Brother Rigid was being overbearing.   You spent a long afternoon washing your hair over and over to remove the color and spent the next year boring angry holes into the back of his head during the meetings.  Every time that man looked at you he frowned.  Your clothes were immodest.  Your pocketbook was too trendy.  You caught hell for buying a tiny two-door car that is not suitable for field service.  Groveling to that [expletive deleted] is going to be painful.

Every meeting is painful because you see your family sitting there but you can’t approach them.  So, you plug away for six months, keeping your head down at the meetings, wearing only the most modest clothes, playing the part of a repentant sinner, and enduring weekly study sessions with Sister Smug.  She insists you come to her house, so there’s that weekly encounter with Brother Smug and the Smugettes, who whisper and titter before scuttling away like you’re the Devil himself.

At the meetings, anyone who has to get up to use the rest room walks past you.  All of them avert their eyes, but there are a few spiteful sisters who make a show of it, snapping their heads around.  Then there are the inevitable encounters at the grocery store.  Sister Wasp and her two young children round the end of an aisle, nearly crashing into you.  The children cower behind their mother’s coat and she looks annoyed by the encounter.  How dare you bring your sinful self to the same store she patronizes?  Oh, and the excruciating gas station encounter with Brother Bombast!  You were filling up your tank, and he pulled up to the pump directly across from you.  The man’s face turned bright red.  You stopped short of a full tank and drove off as quickly as you could.

Finally, after six months of torture you approach the elders and request reinstatement.   A date is set for them to meet with you and discuss it.  At the meeting they interrogate you about your lifestyle.  Have you been frequenting bars?  Do you have a boyfriend?  A sexual partner?  You answer every prying little question in a respectful voice with a little weeping thrown in for effect.  They tell you that Sister Smug reports that you have done well on your study.  They see that you haven’t missed a meeting, even coming when you had the flu.  They dismiss you so that they can talk it over.

Again you wait alone in the cavernous kingdom hall while three men decide your fate.  You can’t take another six months of this.  Please, please, let them vote for reinstatement.

Finally, they call you back in.  They tell you they have decided that you qualify for reinstatement, and it will be announced at the Thursday meeting.

Thursday evening rolls around.  As usual, you take your seat of shame in the back.  About halfway through the meeting Brother Elder #2 gets up on the platform and reads a brief announcement saying that you have been reinstated.  Ten heads turn to look at you, a couple of them smiling.

The meeting ends and you’re swamped.  First, you mother weeps all over you, then your little sister.  Dad gives you a hug and his loving smile.  Then it’s your BFF’s turn.  After that, Sister Smug squeezes out a few decorous tears and hugs you.  Then, Sister Wasp gushes, “Oh, how I’ve missed you!”

Eh?   You decide you’ll wait until you get home to roll your eyes.

Meanwhile, there are handshakes and hugs and a few more tears.  You’re back.



Here Come Da Judge


Picture this:  You’re a 19-year-old Jehovah’s Witness girl living a sterile life.  Aching for some fun, you go out to a bar one night with a workmate, and while there you meet a gorgeous guy who pushes all of your hormonal buttons.  You’ve had a couple of drinks so your inhibitions are lowered.  Before you know it, you’re waking up in a strange bed with said gorgeous guy snoring beside you.  As the shock explodes in your brain, you realize you have committed a grave sin – one that could result in disfellowshipping.

You’ve been indoctrinated to confess your sins to the elders (Jehovah knows anyway) and let them “handle” the matter.  However, you realize that your workmate and the gorgeous guy are not going to rat you out, so maybe you can get away with it.   Conscience be damned.

Then, at the next meeting one of the elders asks you to step into the library for a moment.  With your heart in your throat you tremulously enter the room and find another elder already there.  Neither of the elders is smiling, and your guilty conscience keeps punching you in the stomach.  Brother Elder #1 opens his bible and invites you to turn to 1 Timothy 5:16 and read it out loud.  “Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may get healed.”

Gulp.  How could they possibly know about your indiscretion?  There’s no way they could know!  They would have to have two witnesses to establish the matter.  You decide to bluff.

“What does this have to do with me?”  you ask.

“Sister Guilty, Brother Elder #2 and I and our wives were out in field service last Saturday morning, and we happened to see you leaving an apartment building wearing clothing that is more appropriate for the evening.  Could you explain why you were there?”

You think of possible excuses.  “Um, I was staying over at a friend’s house for the night while my apartment was being fumigated.”

Oh boy, now you’ve opened a can of worms.  Your workmate is “worldly” and therefore bad association.  Why would you seek her out after work hours?  And then there’s the matter of clothing.  Why were you wearing evening clothes?  Did you go to a bar?  A party? (More bad association.)  Why didn’t you bring appropriate clothing for the next morning?

Peering out from deep inside the hole you’ve just dug for yourself you can see the elders don’t believe you.  The jig is up.  Tears sting at your eyes, and you sob out the whole story to them.   The two brothers stand up.

“Sister Guilty, we’ll need you to come to the kingdom hall on Monday evening for a judicial hearing.”

The words hit you like a cold shower.  This could be the mistake that ruins your life.

Monday evening rolls around, and you’re in the hot seat at a judicial committee hearing.  Brother Elder #1 and Brother Elder #2 have been joined by another elder, Brother Rigid.  They open the hearing with prayer and then the inquisition begins.  They want all of the details.  ALL of them.  How much did you drink?  Did you use illicit drugs?  How many times did you do the deed?  Did you climax?  Did you use contraception?  Could you be pregnant?  Is the man a regular partner?  Did you participate in oral or anal sex?

For some reason, the floor does not open up and swallow you.  Crimson with shame and crying profusely, you answer their questions, even though they are absolutely invasive and inappropriate.

Once the elders are satisfied, they dismiss you to wait in the main auditorium while they deliberate.    In a short time they call you back in and tell you that they will have to disfellowship you since people in the community know about the matter, tarnishing the reputation of the congregation.

At the next meeting your disfellowshipping is announced.  Several confused publishers furtively glance at you, but you stay in your seat and endure the humiliation.  Humility is conduct befitting repentance, something you’ll need for the next stage – applying for reinstatement.  It will be at least 6 months or maybe longer before the elders will even consider reinstating you, so it will be a long haul of shunning, sitting in the back of the kingdom hall in the row of shame, and enduring snide glances from your former friends and family.

Next week:  You can go back, but it will cost you.

We Now Return to Our Regular Program

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Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to live a modest life and be content with simple things.  This is so that they can throw themselves into their service to Jehovah.  They are discouraged from pursuing wealth, fame, or even a career because these things will tend to draw them away from God.  It’s called a “theocentric” life and is the source of true happiness.  In return, God will make sure they have everything they need.

There are a gajillion stories in the Bible about how Jehovah provided for this prophet or that widow.  One prophet had fled to the barren desert to escape the wrath of an evil queen, and Jehovah sent ravens to him to provide him with food.  God provides for the sparrows – why would He not provide for you?  During a famine one faithful servant of God found herself with an inexhaustible supply of cooking oil and flour.

Jesus himself said, at the conclusion of a parable on the folly of pursuing wealth, “Keep on seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.”

My ex-husband and I were very sincere in our beliefs.  We were always looking for ways to improve ourselves and boost our spirituality and usefulness to Jehovah.  In return, we believed that we would be cared for by the god we worshiped.

Hubby’s parents raised him as a JW.  They envisioned him rising quickly through the organization to become a circuit overseer or district overseer – maybe even becoming a bigwig at Bethel.  Consequently, he would not need to learn a trade.  In any case, the end was so near that he wouldn’t have to worry about it.  In fact, his parents were told that he wouldn’t graduate high school before the end came.

I should add that he’s 61 years old now.  Whoa, talk about your failed prophecy.

My parents were more practical, pushing me to take typing and business classes in school so I was always able to find work.  However, it was never enough to support the two of us because I was determined to follow the counsel from Brooklyn – it’s not a career, it’s just a job.  I worked in a number of different industries – insurance, banking, oil, medicine, and always got terrific performance reviews, but I never got much farther than entry level in any one of them.  Just when I was getting somewhere we ended up moving because hubby couldn’t hold a job, partly because he had no skills and partly because of his daddy issues (couldn’t deal with male authority).  To be fair, I should add that he did eventually settle into a decent job, and as far as I know he’s still working there.

We focused on doing the divine will by faithfully serving Big J and being good Christians according to WTS teachings (hubby was working toward becoming an elder), but we were always barely scraping by.

In the midst of one particularly lean period of time I was sitting in my seat between sessions at a district convention chatting with two sisters from my congregation.  They were discussing the new ring one of them had just been given by her husband and the Disney vacation the other was going to take after the convention.

Now, wait a ding-dong minute here.

Hubby and I were working our tails off being good servants of Jehovah, but we were driving a 20-year-old clunker, living in a two-room apartment where water froze on the floor in the winter, and sometimes eating only rice.  And here were two less-than-average publishers (oops, got a tad judgmental there) who were enjoying luxuries.

Being a well-programmed JW my first thought was that we must be doing something right if Satan were testing us so savagely.  My second thought was, “What are we – chopped liver?”  Why are we clawing our way through the mud while these two chicks are gliding in style down Easy Street?

What I wanted to do at that moment was throw myself onto a fainting couch a la Scarlett O’Hara and weep bitter tears, but what I did was smile and nod and reprove myself for my momentary lapse into selfish thinking.

I had to remind myself that serving Jehovah is its own reward.  I mean, maybe my material circumstances were threadbare, but I was living the best way of life, right?  I had the spiritual paradise at the kingdom hall, I had a clean conscience, I had Jehovah’s approval, I had a good marri…well, I didn’t know any better back then.  That’s it – focus on the positive.  Focus on hubby’s good qualities, focus on the fact that you indeed have food to eat and a roof over your head, focus on the important disciple-making work, focus on the glorious future you have before you – the New System where everything will be perfect.

There, that’s better.  Hubby returned to his seat next to me and the afternoon program started, completely diverting all of my troubled thoughts.

I was back to my regular program.



Getting Baptized

Sorry I’m late with this post!


Baptism is a huge, ginormous deal to Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Without that ritual dunking you won’t survive Armageddon, and you won’t get the title “Brother” or “Sister.”  In fact, at one congregation I visited the Watchtower Study conductor made a point of calling on children and unbaptized people as “Mr.” or “Miss” rather than simply using their first names as most other congregations do.

In my case, Dad dragged us into the cult in the early 1970s at a time when JWs were trumpeting from the housetops that Armageddon would come in 1975 (or possibly earlier than that – we don’t know Jehovah’s timetable after all).   My brother and I were 10 and 12 respectively when Dad started studying, and a year older when he and Mom got baptized.  That’s when the pressure started.

There was an understanding that a child who had reached the “age of reason” no longer fell under the parental umbrella of safety from Jehovah’s judgment.  Since little brother and I were fairly sharp kids Dad felt that we had reached that age and needed to be baptized post-haste.  The trouble with that idea was that our “Bible study” had not kept pace with the folks, so we were not knowledgeable enough to correctly answer the pre-baptism questions.

We kids still had to finish studying our first book, “The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life” and then study the second book, “True Peace and Security – From What Source?”  Dad undertook the job of teaching us ( at our weekly family study) what he and Mom had only just learned themselves.  He also started quizzing us on the questions for baptism and reviewing the answers at the dinner table.  These questions and their answers were printed in a book that only baptized JWs and those preparing for baptism could own.  At the time there were 80 questions, and you had to know the scriptures that supported the answers.

Over the next year we received the parental indoctrination and even studied together at other times so that by the end of 1973 we could parrot the answers.  Then the two of us had to individually approach one of the elders and request baptism.  I was completely terrified of most men, and especially of the elders, but I managed to gather my courage and squeak out my request.

The elders arranged to divide up the ordeal into three sessions, one conducted by each of the three elders, and little brother and I were allowed to do the questions together instead of separately.  The elder I feared the most happened to come on a week when I had a nasty case of laryngitis and took every opportunity to poke fun at my croaking answers.  I was a shy, sensitive kid who took herself extremely seriously.  It was all I could do to choke down the tears.

We passed, thank goodness.  The reviews of those questions ranks right up there with my driver’s test as one of the most terrifying events of my life.  There was a circuit assembly coming up in January, so that’s when we’d get dunked.

The day arrived.  It happened that the circuit assembly was taking place at my high school, so it was a little bit surreal to see the place crowded with JWs instead of my classmates.  Usually, at a circuit assembly there are around 5 to 10 people baptized, tops.  That year, however, was 1974.  At that assembly there were 119 people baptized, most of them teenaged children of parents frantic to get their kids protected from the wrath of God by a quick splash in a pool.

We sat through the baptism talk, and at the end we had to stand up as a group and answer two questions:

Have you recognized yourself before Jehovah God as a sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him the Father through his Son Jesus Christ? 

On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation, have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightenment of the holy spirit?”

In unison we shouted, “Yes!” to each question.  Interestingly, I hadn’t actually dedicated myself to Jehovah in prayer.  For some reason nobody had told me I needed to do that.

After a prayer a song was sung as the baptismal candidates marched out of the auditorium.  The song wasn’t long enough for all of us to make it out of the auditorium, so they had to punt and announce a second song.  That never happened again at any assembly I attended.

Since the high school did not have a pool, we had to go to the local Boys’ Club for our dunking.  We went down to the locker rooms which for some reason were flooded with a half inch of ice cold water.  It was a challenge to get my pantyhose and undies off without getting them wet.  I changed into my “modest” bathing suit, grabbed a towel, and got into line with everyone else.  The males managed to change more quickly and were being dunked first.   The pool had been squeezed into a small space, so there was just a narrow ledge around the edge for us to walk on.  I was afraid I’d slip in, so I hugged the wall.

As I got closer and closer I could see that there was no ladder leading into the pool, so a couple of burly brothers were grabbing each candidate by the arms and lowering them into the pool.  A couple more were on the other side hauling everyone out.

Once in the water and therefore center stage (an uncomfortable place for me) I made my way toward one of the three brothers in the pool.  I was so flustered that I didn’t even notice that my father was one of the baptizers that day until he called my name.

I went over to him and followed his directions for how to hold my arms and my nose at the same time.  Then he tipped me backwards and under I went.  He wanted a hug, but all I could think of was getting the heck out of that pool and out of the spotlight.  He pulled me in anyway and then I made my way over to the burly brothers who hoisted my chubby body out quite easily.  The ledge on that side of the pool was even narrower, and with water pouring into my eyes from my wet hair I barely made it back to the locker room without incident.

Putting the pantyhose back on while standing in the water was my next challenge.  I spent the afternoon with wet feet as well as wet hair.

Once I got back to the lobby of the Boys’ Club I was surrounded by a group of elderly sisters from our congregation who were all crying and exclaiming, “By your own father!”  Honestly, I didn’t think it was such a big deal.  It was just a ritual I’d had to get through and now it was over.  Come to think of it, I experienced the same detachment on my wedding day.  Hmmm.

Little brother had been dunked by Dad as well, and met the same weeping contingent upon his arrival at the lobby.  Then Dad and Mom showed up, along with the newly dunked single guy we’d driven over to the baptism site.  He sat in the front seat and sobbed quietly all the way back to the high school.  I didn’t understand why everyone was so emotional.

It’s common nowadays for JWs to throw a party to celebrate baptism, but back then nobody did that.  We went back to the high school and ate the institutional food being served.  At home that evening there wasn’t even a congratulatory pat on the back from the parents, cake, or even a special meal.  Just a normal day.

That night I got down on my knees and dedicated myself to Jehovah in prayer, but I always felt funny about the fact that I wasn’t actually dedicated when I got baptized.