Thursday, November 29, 2012

Heard a story on Marketplace last night about a group of economists in England, over 200 of them, who have decided to volunteer and give a portion of their time and talent to helping non-profits.  It was inspired by one economist who was asked to look at one particular charity (I can't remember which one, feel free to listen to the story at the link above) to see how effective it was... I think he discovered that for ever $1 they spent, they prevented $6 of "bad" (again, don't remember what the charity was), so economically it was a very good investment. 

Inspired by this accomplishment, the economist decided that this was a great service to offer, and 200 economists later, they were ready to provide these services.  They were volunteers, costing the charities nothing.  The problem?  Very few charities want their services.

One thought is that charities are better at telling a story.. when they raise money, they focus on the good that the charity does.  Everyone likes to hear the story of the 6 year old girl who got a life-saving medical procedure, the village who got a new well and has clean local drinking water for the first time ever, that sort of thing.  We love stories, but apparently at least some charities in England are concerned that reality will collide nastily with their vision of themselves, that they don't want to know how inefficient they are.  I'm not sure if this is true or not, but it certainly sounds plausible to me.  And there's something recovery-related in there as well.

For a long time, I didn't want to take a personal inventory.  I didn't want to dredge up all the stuff in my life, good or bad.  I preferred little narratives, short stories I could tell myself in my head, good or bad, quick then gone.  I didn't want to take a hard look at it because I knew it would mean unpleasantness and change (which for me was closely related to unpleasantness).  I just wanted to keep doing what I was doing without looking too closely at it.  And the problem with that was that I was just avoiding reality.  The issues in my life were there whether or not I wanted to look at them, and it did me nothing but a disservice to avoid that inventory. 

And worse yet, blocking that inventory kept me from growing, from discarding the old ways of doing things, the old habits that were no longer useful (or in some cases were never useful), and putting new ideas and thoughts and habits in their place.  I couldn't make room for anything better (that includes God) until I got the old crap out of the way, but I was comfortable with that old crap.  It reminds me of some things in my own life.. the clutter of the house, something gets put somewhere then overlooked until it's part of the landscape.  Doesn't mean it's good or should be there, just means it's there now.  Cleaning up is hard to do, but without it, living becomes more and more cramped until it becomes impossible (I love Hoarders, creepy as it can be).  It's my house, and nobody deals with the consequences of the clutter more so than me.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kingdom work....

Dog Piles, a post from Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.

This blog says it so much better than I could, but echoes something that frustrated me about the Witnesses for a long time.

"We don't donate to the charities of Christendom or of Babylon the Great. We donate to the Kingdom work." (paraphrase)

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16, NIV)

I understand the moral objections to most charities. And I know that they do "on-site" work in disaster areas, helping the brothers and sisters. But I think holding back your charity until times of obvious great need makes your heart smaller, not larger. It ignores all of the other service opportunities you have set before you. It says that there is a "path" of service, that if you want to be of greater service to Jehovah there is a sequence of steps you follow. And since most of us aren't in the midst of a major disaster with any kind of regularity, it limits the activity of our charity to restrict it so.

Ray Franz told a story of an elder who was instructing a class (I can't remember if it was a Gillead thing or what, so I'm leaving details I'm not sure of out). They were discussing "sacred service"... the usual tasks came up: field service and other witnessing, Ministerial Servant, Elder, keeping the Hall clean, that sort of thing. Then he gave them a scenario: There's an elderly woman whose husband had passed away, and she wanted to attend meetings but could no longer drive. Would driving her to a meeting be sacred service? Or even just visiting her or bringing her food? There was discussion, and it was eventually decided that, while admirable, that would not technically be "sacred service"

Then the elder busted out James 1:27, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. " (NIV and not NWT) Oh, thought the class. But that's not what we've been taught.


Incidentally, Commentary on James is a great Witness book, and you'll find it on CDs (or at least the 1997 and 1999 CDs that I have), but you won't find it used anymore since the elder who wrote it was disfellowshipped. When I was in my "read everything possible" phase after I was DF'd in 2004, that was one of the books I read and it was about the most useful book I'd read from them. But it was also very challenging and I can see how it easy it would be to allow it to fall into disfavor.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Evaporative Cooling

Yes, it's been ages since I've posted here, but I thought this link was extremely interesting, and would serve to explain a great deal of our shared experience:

Evaporative Cooling

Essentially, as time progresses, and especially as prophecies fail to materialize and authoritarianism grows, the more skeptical people in a cult are likely to leave, leaving behind the committed and moderates. As a result, the voice of the committed gets louder and the skeptics gets more muted (as if it's not already muted in the Witnesses, but I digress). The hardliners are more likely to get into positions of authority and therefore respect because they toe the "company line" better, with the result that the company line gets amplified, especially to the newcomer, who is taught to respect the elders, CO, etc.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"When men who profess to be followers of Christ place themselves as governors over others, call upon these to adhere loyally and scrupulously to whatever directives they may give, even include the concept of loyalty to an organization in the questions asked persons at baptism, so that the baptism is done, not only in the "name" or "authority" of God and Christ, but in the "name" of the organization they head--when men do this they need to be faced with the question Paul posed [at 1 Corinthians 1:12-15]: Were you crucified for us? Have you paid the price of your own life blood and by it bought us so as to be entitled to such submission? If they cannot answer "Yes" to those questions--and they clearly cannot--then we cannot possibly accord them the virtually total submission they call for and still remain loyal to the one who did die for us. We cannot be the slave of two masters. [Matthew 6:24]" (italics in original)

--- Raymond Franz, In Search of Christian Freedom p.637

Friday, May 7, 2010

Former and soon-to-be-former...

If you were a Jehovah's Witness, or are one but aren't certain if what you're doing is really what Jehovah wants you to do, I recommend at least this link. I haven't read through the whole website but the four or five pages I've read thusfar indicate that they're sincere.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Problem of the Thief

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” -- Luke 23:40-43

"What must we do to get saved?" "What does God require of us?" We've all asked those questions. The Witnesses have pamphlets and books on the matter... repent, get baptized, be obedient, produce fruits of the spirit, on and on and on. Christendom isn't all that different, although less legalistic.

And I agree to a point. Repentance is vital, turning your life around and dedicating it to God and Christ. Living a Christian life is the most important (and best) part of being a Christian.

But the Witnesses (and to some extent, the rest of Christendom) make it out to be very formulaic, very narrow, and while Jesus did indicate that the road was narrow and the gate cramped, look at what happened in the above verses. All the thief did, hanging on a cross, was recognize Jesus' kingship and kingdom. He asked to be remembered. And how did Jesus respond? See for yourself.

It's entirely likely that this thief was the first man to die a Christian. And all he did was acknowledge Jesus as king. He hadn't been with the apostles, he didn't know all the truths that Jesus revealed to them. He wasn't around for the resurrection, for Paul's ministry, for the fruits of the spirit. He wasn't baptized, didn't receive the holy spirit, didn't do anything we normally associate with being a Christian. He may have dedicated his life to Christ, but he had a bare few hours left, and those were spent in agony at that. It's not as if he went on to give great speeches, write letters to churches, or spread the Gospel.

But yet here we have his example, his utterance and Jesus' response. Christianity, salvation, is really that simple.

Some might argue that, hey, it was Jesus, he could do what he wanted, and this guy was a one-off exception. But that can't be true; Salvation can't be handed out on a case-by-case basis. The sacrifice of Jesus gives power to save, but Jesus himself couldn't tap someone on the head with a magic wand and guarantee them salvation. God's plan of salvation is God's plan of salvation, and there are no exceptions.

I'd never argue that Christianity isn't about baptism, and fruits of the spirit, and all the other stuff that Paul wrote about. But that's after you've been saved, not a condition of salvation. Paul wrote to Christians, to his brothers in Christ, and although he had to council them many times, they were still his brothers and sisters. They were still fellow believers. So while living the Christian life can be more complex, salvation is simple: Believe in Jesus as redeemer and king. Then live your life accordingly, as one who has been saved, not as one working towards salvation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Optical Illusion

So I know you've all seen this optical illusion before. You see the old woman, you see the young woman. Which one you see, though, probably corresponds with the one you first saw, either because a) you saw it first, or b) you saw it second and had to work harder to see it than you did to see the first one you saw so that now you see the harder one first. Make sense? Of course it did.

Same way with song lyrics. Mishear something the first time and I'm singing it that way for the rest of my life. You can prove to me that it's something else and I'll know it's something else, but in my head, I'm stuck on the first understanding (I don't have a good example for this, although I'm sure you do, which is why you'd make an excellent blogger and it's really something you should try your hand at sometime).

One thing that the Jehovah's Witnesses are good at is toggling that first-impression switch the direction they want it to go in as far as Scripture is concerned. As they're taking you through parts of the Bible you've likely never read before, you'll be hitting verses and passages that are confusing, at best. Not to worry, they'll guide you through them, and you come out with what you figure is a solid understanding of them. And if you don't think otherwise (and as a JW you're conditioned not to), you'll camp out there all day, refusing to believe there's even the possibility of an old woman in the picture.

Two examples:
In John 10:16 Jesus says, " I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" Witnesses are quick to teach that this is proof of the anointed and the non-anointed, the 144,000 that go to heaven and the great multitude that live forever on Earth. Therefore every single time a Witness reads this verse, that is immediately their understanding and translation of it. Most Witnesses refer to the non-anointed as the "other sheep".

Fair enough, perhaps, but it says something that this stunned me when I read it shortly after being disfellowshipped: What in that verse, or its context, prevents it from meaning that Jesus is referring to the Jews and the Gentiles? That idea was absolutely foreign to me but it makes perfect sense. Is that what Jesus was referring to? Not sure; If you Google part of that verse you'll find at least two other explanations. But what prevents that verse from meaning something other than what the Witnesses say it does? I haven't found anything yet. But to a Witnesses, that verse refers to the anointed and non-anointed, and that's the end of it, because that's what they were taught.

Expanding a bit in a second example, Romans 14 clearly states that there are and will be ideological differences between Christians. Some will observe holy days, some will not. Some will eat whatever they please, some will adhere to dietary restrictions. Witnesses reduce the significance of this chapter (in my opinion) by declaring Paul's words to refer to insignificant matters of taste and style, since Witnesses value unity over all. But look closer and bring in context: Paul is referring to holy days and dietary restrictions, two of the cornerstones of the Jewish faith. Moreover, although he has explicitly said that we are no longer under the old Law, we should not stumble those who are weak in their faith or otherwise feel compelled to observe the Law. But yet, as it says in verse 3, God has accepted both the strong and the weak.

The problem is that Romans 14 brings up some complicated thinking, and it's difficult to paint a picture of happy shining Witness unity when this sort of thing is allowed for. So they reduce it to meaninglessness. But Paul isn't talking about different colors of ties and heels vs. pumps. These are huge, faith-based issues, and God accepts everyone no matter where they are on their spiritual journey. If they've accepted Christ as their ransom, they're Christians. The rest of life is the path towards spiritual maturity. JW's would rather stick the person at the end of the path and get them to stay there. We know that's not possible.

So I guess in short, my admonition is to do your own thinking, look around for other ideas and see if they match what you know to be true, and let the only blinders you put on be ones that you and God have agreed to put on you, not you and some organization. Jesus never turned away those who had questions; Why should we not be allowed to ask them too?