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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.

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.

 

 

Jesus Christ! – Part 2

Jesus was well-known as a miracle worker.  He restored sight to the blind, healed leprosy, cast out demons, and raised the dead.  He even healed a young girl from a distance.  And she wasn’t a Jew.  Her father was a Roman army officer who was known as a kindly man.

Interestingly, most of Jesus’ miracles were acts of mercy that helped the person(s) involved to lead a productive life.  He wasn’t a showman, so we don’t read about flashy displays of magic.  No, he was focused on charity.  As mentioned last week, Jesus also had a money box containing funds to assist the poor.

Another way he helped was by teaching people about God and His kingdom.  The Jewish religious leaders of the time were focused on obeying the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.  Jesus taught that God was far more interested in the mercy in people’s hearts than in ostentatious exhibitions of piety.  Needless to say, the religious leaders did not approve of his message.

Because they claim to be the only true followers of Jesus Christ, you would think that Jehovah’s Witnesses would be well known for their charitable works as well as for teaching people about God.  You would be wrong.  In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses are actively discouraged from participating in charities or volunteer work in the community.  They are told that their preaching work is the best possible way to assist their fellow man.

I found this de facto ban on acts of mercy to be excruciatingly frustrating while I was a JW, and I’m sure many current JWs feel the same way.  If a natural disaster struck we were told to donate to the Worldwide Work (the Watchtower Society) and that funds would be channeled to assist our brothers and sisters in the affected area.  Months later, an article in one of the magazines would describe how an organized team of JWs had swept into a ruined neighborhood and worked tirelessly to repair the homes of local JWs, along with a token non-JW widow or single mother.  Photos would show a group of men hammering away on a roof.  There might even be a quote from a local newspaper about how quickly the JWs got there and how nice they were.  We could all feel proud of the JW contribution to the cleanup.

Meanwhile, back at home, a call would go out to donate school supplies or coats for local children, but we could not participate.  Instead, we could knock on more doors and tell our neighbors that they could have a gloriously happy future if they left their church which provided practical help to the community and joined JWs.

Jesus’ ministry lasted only 3 years, but it got him into some serious hot water with the religious leaders, and eventually they just wanted him dead.  More on that subject next week.

Jesus Christ!

Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true Christians on earth today.  That’s what they’ll tell you.  They are the only ones practicing the Christianity that Jesus taught his followers, the only true followers of Christ.

Well, sort of.

Who is Jesus as interpreted by JWs?

As I’ve mentioned before, in his pre-human existence Jesus was known as Michael the Archangel.  He was the very first creation of God.  Then God brought Michael into the family business and allowed him to create the heavens and the earth (although God takes credit for it while He was sitting back in his celestial easy chair, probably chugging some celestial beer) and everything on the earth.  Oh, and the other angels. That’s quite a load of responsibility.  Clearly, Michael was not just a product of nepotism; he had mad skills (although one might look askance at such creations as the platypus and the mosquito).

After that, Michael was given the assignment to more or less oversee the earth and mankind.  Since humans are such lowly creatures, God Himself could not communicate with them directly, so all of his chats with Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, and so on, were actually carried out by Michael.  He materialized a few times for a more hands-on approach, guarding the way to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were evicted, competing in an ancient cage match with Jacob, and providing the fire on the burning bush, to name a few.  Kind of fun stuff.

But God had a larger role in mind for Michael, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, and when it was time for the Messiah to appear he transferred the life force of Michael into Mary’s womb, and 9 months later, at the most inconvenient time and place imaginable, she gave birth to a baby and called him “Jesus.”

Jesus grew up as a perfect human child who had brothers and sisters and was bookish (or scrollish, I guess), probably insufferably so, if the anecdotal evidence is accurate.

According to the Bible, when he was 12 his whole extended family went to Jerusalem for a festival, the ancient equivalent of a family vacation at Disney, but without the fun stuff to do.  When it was time to go home his family suffered a “Home Alone” type of incident at the end of their first day of travel.  He was nowhere to be found.  Everyone had assumed he was with Uncle John or Aunt Deborah or someone else and hadn’t worried.  Well, the donkeys were turned around, and there was a mad dash back to Jerusalem.  Three days later – yes, I said three – they found the little egghead at the temple hanging out in the rabbis’ lounge.

His parents were totally freaking out, like any parent would in such a circumstance, but they resisted the urge to smack him upside the head.  Instead, they told him they were in mental distress looking for him.  Now, here’s the kicker:  He says, “Why did you have to go looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in the house of my father?”  I don’t know about your parents, but to my parents that unapologetic quip would have qualified as “sass,” and I would have had a hand imprint on my cheek.  The Bible only says that his parents didn’t quite understand what he meant by his remark, so I guess he slipped that one by them.

We don’t see Jesus again until he is an adult, working as a carpenter.  He gets the urge to get baptized, so he visits his cousin, John the Baptist (who, coincidentally enough, shares a middle name with Winnie the Pooh and Jabba the Hut) gets dunked, and then sees the heavens opened to him and the holy spirit descending.  God’s voice is heard declaring, “This is my son, the beloved, and I approve this message.”  Actually he said he approved of Jesus himself.

Then Jesus goes on a sort of walkabout in the Judean desert to fast while the Devil tempts him 3 times to misuse his power.  Doesn’t seem like a truly effective test.  I mean, if the Devil wanted to tempt me it would be with cheeseburgers, chocolate, and expensive perfume, but that’s neither here nor there.

After the walkabout he commences his ministry.  In doing so he covered a lot of territory, living on handouts and the kindness of strangers.  Of course, he came with an entourage to rival anything Mariah Carey could muster, consisting of 12 disciples as well as some hangers-on and women who ministered to the group as a whole.  Imagine if this crowd came trouping into your quiet little village, and then plunked down in the town square (which is how you got a room in those days, Motel 6 having not been invented yet) waiting for someone to offer hospitality.  Meanwhile, Jesus’ fame having preceded him, everyone drops what they’re doing and runs to the town square, dragging their ailing relatives with them.  Jesus heals everyone, and then gives a moving speech.  People would fall over themselves offering food, accommodations, supplies, and whatnot.

In fact, there are a number of accounts in the gospels where Jesus is eating with wealthy people at a banquet.  He was the “It Guy” in Palestine in those days, and everyone wanted to be seen with him, so he got lots of invites from wealthy people to feast at their house so as to impress their friends.  There are several accounts of influential men inviting Jesus and his disciples to dine with them, along with accounts that suggest that Jesus’ conduct at these lavish affairs surprised his hosts.

For example, one time a prostitute came in, threw herself at Jesus’ feet, and washed his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, to the tut-tutting of those assembled.  Then she did something truly outrageous.  She cracked open an alabaster case containing a very expensive perfumed emollient and rubbed it on his feet.  Now we venture beyond tut-tut and into expostulation territory.

“Why, this is expensive stuff!  It could have been sold and the proceeds donated to the poor!” said one of the disciples (spoiler: Judas, the one who would betray him) indignantly.  What he meant was, “Hey! The proceeds from the sale of that expensive stuff could have been donated and I could have stolen it!”  News flash:  Judas was a bad guy from the start, which raises the question of why the prescient Jesus didn’t treat him to the kind of private fire-and-brimstone shower his Daddy was famous for.

 

When we pick up again next week, Jesus is turning water into wine and feeding multitudes with the scraps from someone’s picnic basket.