Saturday, August 29, 2009

JW Study Meeting #26

Today I had the opportunity to see both Uriah and Shem again. I had my laptop--newly repaired--open during the meeting for a change because I was downloading a few more podcasts on iTunes. I had also just finished downloading all of Charles T. Russell's and Joseph F. Rutherford's works onto my external hard drive, so I had the chance to show Uriah and Shem some of the files I've got--old things from Russell and Rutherford, and somewhere I even found a copy of the Bethel Rules and Regulations from 1931. When I showed them the compilation of Russell's comments organized by verse, Uriah commented that he knows a guy, a true Russellite, who'd really love that. (Jehovah's Witnesses are occasionally referred to as "Russelites" because of their alleged adherence to Charles T. Russell's doctrines. The appellation was far more common during the earlier years of the movement.) Apparently some JW in the area became very, very attached to Russell, to the point where he'd reject anything that couldn't be substantiated from Russell's writings. He was disfellowshipped a couple decades ago. He now lives in a Gothic-style house where he has a picture of Russell above an altar adorned with candles. Creepy. Heh, as Uriah said, 'If you're going to follow a man, why not pick Walt Disney and at least make it fun?'

We spent quite a bit of time discussing computers. Shem gave me a tip as to how to fix our desktop, on which the Internet had stopped working (and, sure enough, that took care of it), and also recommended a few free anti-virus programs. We'd been using McAfee here, and Uriah mentioned that he used to use that, and it said he had no viruses; as soon as he switched to Avast, it found the 180+ lurking viruses on his computer, and after a week of cleaning it out, his computer started working fine. Perhaps later this week I'll get around to downloading Avast; I'm not even sure if my laptop currently has anti-virus software at all.

About 40 or so minutes into the meeting, my friend Meghan arrived, and she and I first took to the task of translating some German for Uriah. He'd recently sold a cracked antique pipe on eBay for $43. It had an image of two German soldiers on it and text that loosely translates to something like, "We hold firmly and loyally together and fear God like nothing else in this world." (I've seen the first part of the German quote used as the title for a 1929 film, and the latter as a slogan on a poster of Otto von Bismarck, so my estimation is that perhaps the pipe dated from the Second Reich.) For the remainder of the time, we mostly discussed my annoying neighbors and my family's bad tenants a few years back. See, I have some new neighbors whose yard is connected to mine, and they've had this habit of letting their dog use our yard as a bathroom. Now, they were far from ignorant of this. They sat there watching, even arguing over who'd have to come clean it up, and finally they got into the habit of just mushing it down into the lawn. Heh... so we gathered it all, hung it on their back doorknob in a bag, and left a note promising to leave it somewhere less desirable next time if they didn't get their act together. So far, they've kept doggie tied up in the yard whenever they're outside.

As for those tenants, we rented out the house we used to live in to some real sleazebags. Imagine: a multiplicity of pets who defecated all over the carpets. Infants running naked in the streets. Letting all and sundry move in with them. Storing all garbage in the shed and basement instead of having it properly disposed of. Leaving plates of dried-up food everywhere. Floors littered with cigarette butts. An upstair room painted in psychedelic patterns. (Actually, we kinda came to like that one...) Fist-holes in the wall. It nearly ended up condemned. Oh, and since several consecutive tenants decided they were above paying rent, we ended up $10,000 in the hole. Yeeeeah... fun times. Anyway, Uriah had a fairly similar situation of his own, and had to take his tenant to court three times before finally getting rid of her.

At any rate, we never actually got around to cracking a book open, so that'll have to be reserved for next Saturday. Uriah also didn't have any new publications for me, because it's the inventory time of year, but he's going to try to e-mail me a copy of the inventory sheet.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

JW Study Meeting #25

Today was enjoyable. After Uriah got here, we spent some time in small-talk at first. He saw the background picture on my computer, which was a photo I'd taken while walking on the Great Wall of China, so I shared some of my thoughts from that. It's steep, it's packed with people, and the vendors are really, really annoying. We also ate some banana bread--I've got two home-made loaves here, and they're delicious.

We never quite got to any particular topic, theologically or biblically speaking. He hadn't managed to find the article he'd promised last time, so he's going to continue searching for that. He thinks that he'll be able to bring me a guidebook from the Theocratic Ministry School next week; he had to order one in. He did bring me a little brochure called "See the Good Land", which is basically a collection of maps relevant to the Bible, sort of like a thin Bible atlas. As for the Commentary on the Letter of James, both his and his wife's have gone missing by this point, so he plans to continue searching. He hasn't found one anywhere else yet. For those who don't know, let me explain that, to maximize efficiency, congregations keep their inventories in a network so that, if one congregation needs a publication and a nearby congregation has a copy, they can handle that between themselves without any need to order one fresh from the headquarters in Brooklyn. Uriah's going to print a copy of their inventory for me next time so that I can see what's in stock. *grin*

I asked what they're currently working on in their book study. Uriah thought for a moment and sheepishly admitted that he couldn't remember the title. He never really bothered to look at the cover and see what it was, haha. So I asked him to describe the contents, and after about a sentence, I named the title on the first guess. That's kind of scary, actually. I'm starting to know their publications better than they do--and he's the literature servant! Anyway, it was "Keep Yourselves in God's Love", which is basically about living a moral, God-pleasing life. Nothing he's really hearing for the first time, he said, but things it's always nice to get a bit of a refresher on, even if it is somewhat dull. And, of course, there are always some there who still need those basics. I had my copy on hand to remind him what it looks like. I remarked that it wasn't exactly their most aesthetically pleasing cover; it reminded him of a Hallmark greeting card. Also, I inquired when they might get to read "Bearing Thorough Witness" About God's Kingdom in their book study, and he said that it's usually at least a year between a release and the use of that book in the book study. However, now that they've cut back on meetings, they only spend 25 minutes a week in book study instead of an hour, which may put it off even longer.

I got to see their daily devotional for the first time today. Examining the Scriptures Daily - 2009. It's fairly thin and non-descript, but I imagine it does the trick for them. I still consider it a bit odd to have one and only one devotional for everyone. It's a bit too uniform for my tastes. But, they don't seem to mind. Oh, and Uriah had a few stories from being the literature servant for the two congregations at the local Kingdom Hall. For example, there's this family of three--a woman and her two kids--who once came to him and asked for eight copies of Examining the Scriptures Daily. He was somewhat confused and asked why. She explained that she likes to have two for herself--one for the desk at home and one to carry in her bag. Still, of course, even if each of them did that, it wouldn't add up to quite eight. Not wanting to press the point further, though, he went ahead and ordered them. The next week, she asked him for eight more! When he asked why, she explained that she had lost them. "All of them?!?" Yes, in her car somewhere. So he said to her, "Alright, look, I'll give you one." And that was that. If I'd been in his shoes, I would've said that I will trade her the eight new copies for her car, and she can have the vehicle back once I find the old ones there. I mean, that's just ridiculous.

Oh, and you all no doubt know that Jehovah's Witnesses have to turn in sheets reporting how many hours they did door-to-door witnessing, how many studies they conducted, etc., each week. If it were just for overall statistical purposes, I suppose there wouldn't be anything wrong with it. But it also functions to keep tabs on the performance of each individual Witness, in a rather legalistic way. But anyway, he noticed that although there were maybe 80 publishers in each congregation, somehow about 250 were being taken each week. Seems that the people like to use them as scratch paper now and then, or take a half-inch stack home to ration out over time--'cept they never really do. So eventually he decided to take them all home himself except for 100 in the pile for each congregation. So when the people from each congregation came to him and complained that they were out, he said, "No, you're not", explained that there were more than enough there, and told them to have the congregations look around at home and in their bags for them. Sure enough, suddenly there was a stack of 300 sheets that he hadn't even put there! He also mentioned that even with the brochures and books, sometimes he'll have to hide some at home because it's the only way to get people to ration them reasonably. I must say, it is rather entertaining to hear these stories. Jehovah's Witnesses are, more or less, like anyone else you'll find in an evangelical church. Leaders occasionally have to figure out ways to get people to behave themselves. Of course, maybe that's my cynicism talking more than anything else.

I also got to hear another anecdote from the door-to-door ministry. Uriah was out covering a local neighborhood with Ham, Shem's brother. Now, Ham is great at going to doors he's never gone to before, but return calls terrify him. For some reason, when people are receptive, he gets very, very nervous. Heh, Uriah said that the first time Ham had to do a return visit at my house, the guy nearly had a stroke! Anyway, they went to this lady's house, and she came out of her garage with a fairly hostile tone. It would've normally been Uriah's house to handle, but Ham was between them so he took it. The lady was under the mistaken impression that Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe that Jesus was the Son of God at all, so after they corrected that at great length, she calmed down and there came a 45-minute conversation. Uriah encouraged her to toss out other "goofy things" she'd heard about Witnesses, so she did, and he said Ham did a good job handling each of them.

At any rate, I asked Uriah about any books they might have in stock that I don't yet own. He's going to see about bringing me a copy of Sing Praise to Jehovah, their current songbook. Of course, it'll be replaced in January by the new one, but I think I'd still like a hardcopy of the current one. And maybe later I can see about getting the new one, too. He's also going to try to get me my own copy of Examine the Scriptures Daily - 2009. At our last meeting, there was one book whose title escaped my mind and drove me crazy. I remembered finally that it was Make Sure of All Things; Hold Fast to What is Fine. He looked confused and wasn't sure he'd ever heard of it before. I said I thought it was maybe replaced by a newer publication. As it turns out, I was right. It's what was used before Reasoning from the Scriptures, which makes it extra-interesting to me. Reasoning from the Scriptures is basically the book that helps them answer objections on a wide range of topics. I have two copies, but I'd love to see what came before it.

I also inquired what books they'd had dealing with Revelation. He was somewhat at a loss. We remembered together that This Finished Mystery, the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures, had included commentaries on Ezekiel and Revelation. But, as Uriah said, Russell got way ahead of himself, and so a lot of his material on Revelation was just plain wrong in that book. The current Revelation book is Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, which I'm currently reading. I'm up to about chapter 23 out of around 44, so I'm at the second woe. It's... interesting. He couldn't remember any of the ones in between. I suggested "Babylon the Great Has Fallen"--God's Kingdom Rules!, which he remembered was a book they had but wasn't sure that it was about Revelation in the same way. According to Wikipedia, the only one I missed was "Then Is Finished the Mystery of God!".

The meeting ended with a recap of the subjects we need to return to sometime. There's the Trinity, the condition of the dead, the comprehensiveness of the general resurrection, the nature of Christ's resurrection, whether there is such a thing as resurrection as a spirit creature, and the anointed vs. great crowd divide. In short, although I didn't mention this at our meeting, everything we'd disagreed on over the past year or so. I haven't been persuaded by their arguments on a single one of those subjects.

We'll probably have two more meetings before we'll need to take a long break, since I'll be away for a few months. Perhaps, however, I'll have a chance to irritate Jehovah's Witnesses in another continent while I'm gone. We'll see!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Friend Goes to a Kingdom Hall

My good friend Nick and his roommate Ray, also a dear friend of mine, took a trip to a Kingdom Hall in their area today. Both of them are outstanding Christian apologists in the making, and seminarians to boot, and while they typically specialize a bit more in evangelical-LDS dialogue, they saw fit to branch out somewhat here. I'd encourage all of my readers--okay, that's probably about zero, but still...--to read Nick's account here. He raises some very insightful points regarding spontaneity, music, and the use of Scripture. Much of what he says is also reflected in my own experience. For the most part, spontaneity is anathema; absolute uniformity in the guise of "orderly worship" is the rule; and things must above all be simple. As Nick writes:
At Mormon meetings, there is at least some spontaneity. You do not know exactly what will happen, but when the Witnesses follow in their books, they really follow in their books. 95% of the time, you can tell what the answer to the question is going to be because they are getting it right out of the book. I realized at that point why our Witnesses are so surprised with the answers my roommate and I give. We treat them as discussion topics. The Witnesses do not.
To this I have only to say that I think 95% is a generously low figure! As Nick goes on to say, the material is all roughly at a sixth-grade reading level. Now, if you ask one of Jehovah's Witnesses about this, they'll say that the goal is to keep the gospel message pure and simple so that even the simple can grasp it. And you'll probably get a few anecdotes about cases in which people whom they met in their door-to-door ministry found even these simplified materials to be vastly over their head. The sad thing is, that's probably true! It's a demonstrable fact that, if you follow the progression of their "Bible-based study aids", they get more and more dumbed down as time goes on. "Millennial Dawn"/"Studies in the Scriptures" were VASTLY more complex; even Let God Be True was leaps beyond, e.g., What Does the Bible Really Teach?. And while I can understand the need to have a simple presentation for those who can only receive milk, as it were, there are two important points. First, the questions don't need to be this ridiculously simple! Where's the challenge? There isn't any, and by sticking so close to the text of the study aid, there ceases to be any need for actual thought. The answer flows directly from the paragraph through the person and out of their mouth. But there can scarcely be much growth unless somewhere in the middle, some processing occurs--analysis and synthesis of ideas and data, critical reflection, anything! And second, while it seems that the milk approach is wise towards new initiates, what of those with greater capacity and hunger? Where's their meat? It certainly won't be soon forthcoming from the "faithful and discreet slave class", from the looks of things. This is my criticism of many churches today, and it applies equally here: nothing beyond the milk. The problem is that many, both orthodox Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses, have been fooled into believing that curdled milk IS meat.

Nick also offered some interesting reflections on the musical quality there. Now, for my part, I've heard a lot of their music by this point. I even have the lyrics for the current songbook on CD-ROM (which means that if Nick can recall the song numbers or titles, I'd be glad to provide him with the content). So far, I can't say I've noticed that the music has any particular brainwashing effect, any more than hymns... but the music does have a peculiarly canned quality. Perhaps Ray could provide some details of the analysis; he's the musician out of the three of us, after all. And Nick's right that the song titles scarcely reflect Jesus, although admittedly Jesus is prominent in the lyrics to many. Indeed, it's rather famously known that Jehovah's Witnesses actually boast in this subversion:
In the songbook produced by Jehovah's people in 1905, there were twice as many songs praising Jesus as there were songs praising Jehovah God. In their 1928 songbook, the number of songs extolling Jesus was about the same as the number extolling Jehovah. But in the latest songbook of 1984, Jehovah is honored by four times as many songs as is Jesus. This is in harmony with Jesus' own words: "The Father is greater than I am." (John 14:28) Love for Jehovah must be preeminent, accompanied by deep love for Jesus and appreciation of his precious sacrifice and office as God's High Priest and King. (Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, p. 36, box)
Nick also makes strong points about the way Jehovah's Witnesses approach the Scriptures. As I've noted previously, it seems often that the "study aid" is dominant, not the Bible. True, Scriptural reference does saturate their writing through and through, but this approach allows the "faithful and discreet slave" to completely direct them. And while Jehovah's Witnesses would undoubtedly see that as a good thing, it poses serious problems because it decidedly subordinates Scripture to the "new light" from Brooklyn. You will never see one of Jehovah's Witnesses sit down to do a Bible study on a book of the Bible unless the Watchtower has already provided a commentary--and even then, the study aid takes precedence. Now, it is true that Jehovah's Witnesses cover a wide range of Scripture. Where many evangelical churches will have difficulty keeping a fairly even range, I find that Jehovah's Witnesses do manage to avoid falling prey to that particular problem. And from that we can perhaps learn something. But they escape one snare only to find another problem--or, to express it more Scripturally:
It will be darkness and no light, just as when a man flees because of the lion, and the bear actually meets him; and [as when] he went into the house and supported his hand against the wall, and the serpent bit him. (Amos 5:18b-19, NWT)
Now, I will say that I am perhaps more optimistic than Nick when it comes to the possibility that Jehovah's Witnesses will, in the end, be saved after all. They are, for sure, a heretical sect who teach a number of false doctrines and fail to sufficiently honor Christ and the Scriptures. Might they still be saved? I think it quite possible. I wouldn't wager $20 on it... but I have hope. But that false doctrine must still be denounced, and I think it would be a spiritually healthy decision--to say the least!--for any of them to depart from the Kingdom Halls and enter instead the orthodox faith.

Nick ends on a note of challenge, and I can do no better than quote his words:
These people are going door-to-door constantly. They are always training for this. What are you going to do? Are you going to be ready to give them the good news when they come. The news that they need to learn that is contrary to what they heard of what they must do to remain in Jehovah’s love? Are you ready to be as true to the true gospel as Jehovah’s Witnesses are to a false gospel?
May God's people answer with a resounding "Yes, and more so!" Amen, Lord. Amen.

So yes, please go read Nick's account.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

JW Study Meeting #24

Anyway, today Uriah and I started by shooting the breeze for a while. My cat Moses, of course, kept us company, as he can't stand to be away from people. I told him how I'd been at a book sale just before he came, and I showed him my five new copies of the Book of Mormon. He said he could remember a number of decades ago that the Mormons had some brochure with a picture of a black lady in it, and there was a red circle around her with a slash through it. If that's true, I'd love to have one of those someday. I also mentioned that I'd bought a second copy of Mankind's Search for God (which I just finished the other night) and a copy of Schnell's Thirty Years a Watchtower Slave--I told Uriah that me buying it keeps it off the market, which is true because I hoard my books zealously.

Anyway, eventually we got around--more or less--to the topic of interest for today: the anointed class and the great crowd. He said that in Revelation, when groups have a definite number, that's specified. Thus, the great crowd is numberless in Revelation because God has not seen fit to reveal it to us, but the anointed class has a precise number that is given, and the number is fitting as 12 x 12 x 1000. Uriah explained that the anointed are not "better" than the great crowd but simply have a "better calling". No one can earn the privilege of being one of the anointed; it's purely a matter of election. Furthermore, if an anointed believer fails to live up to his or her calling, there's no "downgrade" to being a member of the great crowd. It's a matter of apostasy, not demotion.

He then talked a bit about how the anointed know that they're anointed--a matter of religious epistemology, if you will. His wife Atarah had been pondering the question for a while, and one of the elders recommended that she go visit a semi-local anointed woman to ask it. And so she did, and the anointed replied with the question, "Well, where do you think you'll be in the new creation?" She says, "On earth", and the anointed asks how she knows. The answer Atarah gives is, "Well, I just sorta know," and that was the anointed's answer as well. Uriah, for his own part, said that he's never had any real desire to go to heaven, even from his days as a Methodist. He always wanted to live on earth, and so he can see this as an indication that he's part of the great crowd.

The number of the anointed, he mentioned, is counted annually by the number of partakers at the Memorial Service for the Lord's Evening Meal. In recent years, it's been somewhere around 9800, but no figures can be released in certain countries like China, so the number may or may not be higher. After numbers from Russia began to be taken into consideration, the figure jumped by 1500, after all. I asked what the highest number had ever been on record, and he didn't know. He might see about finding out for me.

Anyway, next I asked him to explain the biblical sources for their beliefs about the anointed and great crowd, so first he turned me to Revelation 14:1-2, which he said was the anointed 144,000 bought from the earth. I asked him how he knows that the number is literal rather than symbolic, and he said he'd e-mail me an article because it involved some Greek grammar that he isn't very up on. Color me skeptical. (Can you even buy "skeptical" in a local paint store, or do they have specialty shops for that?) He linked Revelation 14 to Revelation 5:9-10 on the basis of singing in both passages and explained that the kingdom of priests must be the anointed class. Psalm 37:11 and Psalm 37:29, however, were said to show that there must be a great crowd of righteous to live on the earth forever, and thus the distinction is made between the government (anointed class) and the subjects (great crowd). I was rather underwhelmed by the logical force of it on the whole, but I can at least see how someone who accepts their doctrine on faith would swallow this use of the passages, or how someone without high biblical literacy could be swayed.

I asked him to explain Revelation 7:4-8, and he noted with curiosity that the twelve tribes listed there do not quite match with the list from the Old Testament. This was basically the reply I'd expected, being standard in Witness literature, but Uriah had a rough time remembering what the difference was. (He thought for a moment that there was no tribe of Benjamin, until he caught himself.) I then mentioned that it was to be expected that Dan would be replaced; after all, intertestamental literature about Joseph and his brothers consistently portrays Dan as a villain. He didn't seem to catch on to the particular relevance of that here, though. So I asked him what the purpose of verses 5-8 is, and he went on for a while about how Old Testament things are types of a pre-existing and permanent heavenly reality, citing the temple, tabernacle, and ark of the covenant; and he suggested that the same goes for the twelve tribes of Israel, but that I should check Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand! on it because he'd have to check it for a refresher course himself. When I asked, he seemed quite open to the possibility that each anointed is assigned to a particular 'spiritual tribe', which would certainly be an explanation for the passage. A ridiculously convoluted explanation with very low credibility, perhaps, but an explanation nonetheless.

I then asked if there was anything in the Gospel of John dealing with the anointed and great crowd, and eventually I had to prod him into finding John 10:16--he had difficulty remembering where that passage was. He affirmed his belief that the "other sheep" are the great crowd. So I asked in what sense they and the anointed "become one flock", and he explained that they remain two flocks in the sense that the anointed and great crowd have different roles and dwell in different places, but they're one flock in the sense that they follow a single shepherd. (Uh, sounds to me like two flocks following one shepherd...) So at least I got some sense of how they handle that.

He agreed then to look for some more books for me--have I mentioned lately that I love books?--and I'll be seeing him again next Saturday. Between now and then, my task will be to study up a bit on the relevant passages, check their literature for their interpretations of things, and maybe draft up something on my own views of those verses.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

JW Study Meeting #23

Uriah and I never got around to any theological discussion at our meeting today, really. We shared some reflections from the convention, talked about our mutual friends at the Kingdom Hall a bit, and I learned a lot about the way they're organized. A little while back, one of their weekly meetings was cancelled by the Watchtower Society and its components were fused into the others, so now they only meet Tuesday and Sunday (or Thursday and Sunday--Uriah kept mixing those up too). He's thinking of seeing if he can get me one of the Theocratic Ministry School books.

Anyway, I learned a bit about how Theocratic Ministry School works, as well as the service meetings and the weekly studies. I think I forgot to ask what book they're working through in that. I also learned some stuff about how districts and circuits are organized. A circuit is a relatively small unit, generally consisting of a couple counties; a district is generally larger. The local congregation is now in a new district this year, which covers northern Maryland, most of New Jersey, and our corner of Pennsylvania.

And finally I got to ask some questions about ministerial servants and elders. I'd guess that the former category is basically their rendering of a deacon. They essentially handle a bunch of the grunt work like making sure the lawn at the Kingdom Hall gets mowed, doing the literature orders, etc. The local KH only has two ministerial servants, which is low. One is an elderly woman who has trouble getting around, and the other is Shem. They also have eight elders, who basically take care of congregational issues together, discipline, etc. Uriah is one of the local elders, and since they have so few ministerial servants, he also takes care of the literature. (And how fitting is it that the JW assigned to me should happen to be, not just an elder, but the one guy who handles getting all the publications?) So yeah, it was an enjoyable time, and I kept him for 20 minutes longer than he was probably supposed to be here. We're planning to meet again in a week to discuss the anointed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Evangelical Reflections after a JW District Convention

Reflections? Well, first of all, on the whole Jehovah's Witnesses are nice, normal people. People you can have real conversations with, people you can laugh with, people who have ordinary human emotions. Don't buy wholesale into the stereotype of a "cultist" and apply it to them, because whatever the points of connection there, the stereotype as a whole will mislead. Also, in general the Jehovah's Witnesses were less friendly and warm at the convention than they had been at the Kingdom Hall. This makes good sense, though. The simple fact of the matter is that smaller communities tend to have that feel, because everyone's more comfortable, everyone is on familiar terms, and things are often less hectic. (That's why I'd probably be most comfortable in a church of about 30-40 people, where the membership is reflective of the demographics of the local community as a whole or maybe a bit younger, rather than my home church with about 200 members.) At the Kingdom Hall, spotting an outsider is easy. It's that person whose face you don't quite recognize. At the convention, however, there was no simple way to distinguish an outsider from an insider. Even the name tags probably weren't a totally reliable guide; I doubt every confirmed Witness was wearing one. Certainly no one knows more than a miniscule segment of the audience. Plus, in such a large crowd, those sorts of friendly greetings just aren't as feasible.

Now, there are some other things I've noticed. First, Jehovah's Witnesses place a large emphasis on works. I lost track of how many times they spoke of living up to "God's righteous requirements" as absolutely necessary for salvation. And, of course, you'll recall my notes about the prominence of keeping busy. Gotta stay busy, gotta be active, can't afford to miss a single one of the weekly meetings, even just once, because that would be, for all practical purposes, a sin. At the very least, it'd be shameful.

In fairness, they have cut back to just two weekly meetings, including Sunday, but each is several hours longer than a typical evangelical service, youth group, or other regular event, and the real point is the stigma involved in missing one.

And also, don't get me wrong. Jehovah's Witnesses do have a sense of God's grace and mercy. Recall that one of Satan's five traps was inordinate guilt. The speaker there said some quite profound things about grace. And it is true that some of their discussion of works serves to counterbalance a common post-Reformation 'easy believism' that undersells the importance of submission to one's Lord and the transformation of one's life, including one's conduct. But the emphasis here is all wrong, and especially dangerous is the drive to stay busy with overwhelming participation. This is the recipe for burnout and would probably help explain the aforementioned studies on mental illness incidence rates among Jehovah's Witnesses, if they have any modicum of validity. I understand and appreciate the JW rationale for this drive: if the end is really so close at hand, perhaps even five years or less (though that's not a date they've set or anything), then we've got a serious deadline on our hands. And yes, that does produce stress in the frenzy of activity to meet it, but once it's done, then the relaxation gets to happen. The only problem, though, is this: the end probably isn't going to be that soon. Certainly could be, I can't deny that... but it could just as well be 1829 years from now. And humans aren't built for that kind of constant pressure. We can often take it, but we aren't supposed to, and the pressure can definitely make us crack. Many Jehovah's Witnesses don't see it as a burden, but it no doubt can become one. To that extent, it can be dangerous. And at any rate, it smacks of implicit legalism.

Furthermore, there's that whole conformity thing. There seems to be an almost neurotic impulse to centralize, to have everything be made uniform by imposition from on high. Worldwide, Jehovah's Witnesses have one translation of the Bible, one songbook, one common publication set, one devotional. Every Sunday they sit through the exact same talk outline, study the exact same article, sing the exact same songs to the exact same performance of the music. Everywhere. A Kenyan JW can enter a Kingdom Hall in Siberia and know exactly what his or her family back home is hearing and doing. And there are positives to that. But it's also insane. There's joy in diversity. I see no reason to think that the apostolic church did anything remotely like this. Think of this: when the Corinthian congregation received a letter from Paul, they'd be hearing something on the Lord's day that the congregation in Rome wouldn't be. Oh noes! Something different! But the apostles had no problem with this. Another problem with this sort of conformity is that it allows for no contextualization. One thing I love about Christianity is how it interacts with cultures in so many rich and diverse ways. Jehovah's Witnesses will never have a Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. Everything is canned and exported from right here in the good old United States of America. I doubt the Governing Body has ever had a non-American member. And thus the method of approach is somewhat like what many churches had during the days of colonialism and imperialism.

Also troubling is the emphasis on their special publications. Now, let me clear up a misconception. I've heard it said that Jehovah's Witnesses demean the Bible and only know their select prooftexts. But think about how the Scriptures saturated each and every talk of the convention. How many countless verses were referenced? And were they drawn just from one part of the Bible. No, they were from the Psalms and the Prophets, from the Gospels and the epistles, from Genesis and Revelation. (Though I think John's Gospel might've gotten less airtime than the Synoptics.) So let it never be said that Jehovah's Witnesses don't seek to rely on the Bible. However, the emphasis placed on their own publications is inordinate. So many times they listed crucial things as the Bible, JW publications, and meeting together as Christians--in that order. The publications were frequently second only to Scripture. Now, it must be recognized that they concede that their publications are neither Scripture nor inspired, and they would vehemently repudiate any suggestion that they put their own material on par with the Bible. Still, the contents of those works are considered to be, by virtue of their source, solid spiritual nourishment. And I have a feeling that if someone in a Kingdom Hall publicly expressed doubts about the contents of a Watchtower article, they'd quickly find themselves censured and probably disciplined. That approach belies, on a practical level, their distinction between Scripture and their publications. Of course, they would perhaps say that their publications do have authority, but only because they reliably expound the Scriptures, and so the authority is purely derivative--exegetical rather than prophetic in nature. Do with that what you will. Unlike most anything you'll find within mainstream Christianity--even groups that do hold certain documents in high regard--the difference here is that for Witnesses, the literature is ongoing and is ascertained to be authoritative by its source, whereas other groups generally make judgments about authority only after a thorough examination of the document.

Furthermore, the emphasis on study aids is out of whack. I won't deny that many Christians, especially of the fundamentalist variety, could stand to learn a little something here. Recourse should be made to the storehouses of information in the community of faith as a whole when approaching Scripture, and that can be made available through scholarly commentaries, theological writings, etc. So these should be used in Bible study, in their appropriate place, with the text itself always maintaining supremacy. But when you agree to a "home Bible study" with Jehovah's Witnesses, never think that you might work through a book of the Bible. No. You will work through a "study aid" instead, a thematic book that seeks to synthesize the basics of biblical teaching, the gospel message plus some. This, and not the Bible, will be the primary resource for a Bible study. There may well be days when the Bible never even gets pulled out. When it does, it's typically just to check verse references, with some possible discussion as guided by the study aid. This is not a real Bible study. It is a book study. And there is nothing wrong with book studies. But they are not bona fide Bible studies. In an actual Bible study, the Bible is the primary resource and all others are secondary, even when the practically serve as authoritative guides to interpretation. A thematic Bible study presents slightly less of this emphasis, particularly when a study guide is used, but the biblical text will still manage to be primary and supreme, at least in theory. I think if you approached a Jehovah's Witness for a Bible study and then suggested working through a book of the Bible--especially one on which they don't have a commentary prepared--the reaction would be somewhat uncomfortable. I suspect that the Witness would attempt to persuade you to change your mind, and I have no confidence that the Witness would ever agree to a study of a biblical book like that. Now, I get the appeal of publications like What Does the Bible Really Teach?. It sets forth basic JW teachings in a simple, easy-to-understand format. And they manage to avoid thorny, controversial issues with simple (often simplistic) answers--things like grace and works, or certain facets of the atonement, or free will and foreknowledge. It all generally seems very cogent, and the teaching method allows investigators to feel quite intelligent as they answer very simple questions based on the paragraph they just read. And I sometimes wish that Christians had something kind of like Reasoning from the Scriptures. But these things are flawed in various and diverse ways.

In connection with this, there's also the matter of research. Suppose you're in a discussion with a Jehovah's Witness, and a question surfaces that they can't answer. They promise to do a bit of research. Now, if this were an orthodox Christian, the Christian might look to a few commentaries and study references, contemplate the issue, synthesize things a bit. For the Jehovah's Witness, however, research means finding an article or two in the Watchtower. No need to look at any other resources, because those smart fellas in Brooklyn have already done the hard work. All the Witness needs to do is open their library computer program, check the index for the topic at hand, and there's the authoritative answer if there is one. This excessive reliance on the "faithful and discreet slave class" is highly problematic, in my opinion, because it filters everything through a single channel. There's no need to go beyond it, and doing so would be highly discouraged.

Since the last few reflections have all been critical, though, it's time for a quick positive. The crowd was very diverse in age, sex, race, you name it. I'd say that the audience was at most 50% Caucasian. The rest were mostly black; I saw very few Jehovah's Witnesses of Hispanic or Asian descent, although one of the speakers was apparently an Asian-American (with, of course, a nearly indecipherable accent). This makes me wonder about the demographics of the communities in the district. Did the convention have representative ratios, or was it skewed towards certain groups? Well, beats the heck out of me, especially since I have no idea what the geographical spread of the district is like. There were definitely folks from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Finally, I'd be remiss in withholding some comments about the apocalyptic focus of the whole affair. Now, my readers will most likely recall that I'm a preterist. (Not to be confused with hyper-preterists, who are heretical in their emphatic denial of the future coming of Christ to judge the quick and the dead, as well as of the future resurrection.) As a preterist, I believe that substantial portions of 'eschatological' prophecies were fulfilled in the past already, including the bulk of Revelation, which--like the Olivet Discourse--has reference to the first century. In my view, the beast of Revelation is the Roman Empire--not some future "revived Roman Empire", but the actual Roman Empire of history, and the false prophet is the cooperative temple establishment that rejected Jesus and was judged in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 AD (curious, those seven years, in the middle of which the temple was destroyed...). The figure of "Babylon" in Revelation either symbolizes Rome itself or, as I am more inclined to think, Jerusalem. As a preterist, I seek to take very seriously the time indicators in Scripture about Christ's parousia or the end of the age being "soon" or present to "this generation"--soon to the hearers and readers then, not necessarily to us now, and "this generation" being the more obvious referent of the contemporary generation then, not the generation that happens to be around for the distantly future beginning of the eschatological process. The message was not one of relatively swift execution of all those things at some distant date, but rather of swift execution then and there. (And let's not get into trying to reinterpret genea there as "race" rather than "generation"; while coherent, it doesn't seem to be what Jesus would have been likely to say in his context, and is without very strong precedent in the history of interpretation.)

Consequently, I was not in the least persuaded by anything I heard at the convention. Now, to explain a bit, Jehovah's Witnesses set the date of 1914--after, of course, some trial and error--by picking a date for the Babylonian Captivity and then seeing the 2,520 days of Daniel as being 'prophetic days', thus equal to ordinary years. But the text never gives indication that the day-for-a-year rule is to be applied to those, and the more reasonable approach seems to be to regard them, as do most, as 2,520 actual days, whether symbolic or literal. So their message of impending judgment, based on these calculations, are not in the least convincing to someone who rejects that premise. Furthermore, I don't see an impending "great tribulation", as that's been done, whether the tribulation is the war itself or else seven years of Neronian persecution. (And don't get me started on 666, Hebrew gematria, and the Hebrew for "Nero Caesar"!) And I don't see the destruction of "Babylon the Great" in the future, as I don't think it was meant to signify all false religion, although I agree that a day will come when those will indeed pass away when the truth is revealed unmistakably to all. (But unlike Jehovah's Witnesses, I think they're one of 'em!) And, as a tentative amillennialist (though open to certain forms of postmillennialism), I dissent from their views on Satan and the millennium. And at any rate, I think that while the real powers of darkness are often underplayed in contemporary Western Christianity, Satan is often oversold, especially in more fundamentalist circles. Do I have all the answers on eschatology? No, and it isn't a field I worry about too much, though I'm certainly interested. More so than protology, at least. But at any rate, suffice it to say that Jehovah's Witnesses have not convincingly presented their case to anyone who isn't already somewhere near futurism or else a blank slate.

Heh, there were so many times when it just hit me like a brick in the face that... all these people are really Jehovah's Witnesses! I suppose I felt a tad alone in certain respects there, as the outsider. Perhaps if I'm around for next year's, I'll have to see about dragging a couple fellow evangelicals along with me...

On the whole, attending the convention was a fruitful experience. I could feel the excitement, I could get caught in the excitement. And I could feel the alluring pull. I can understand why an investigator at the convention might be moved to be more closely associated with Jehovah's Witnesses. If it weren't for my doctrinal qualms and the social problems I pointed out, I would've no doubt been even more strongly pulled. The atmosphere is somewhat difficult to describe. The weekend is surprisingly exhausting, but also upbuilding, especially if viewed from a Jehovah's Witness perspective. In that respect it's kind of like an evangelical worship retreat, or our conferences. Draining yet filling. It's an experience I'm glad I had. Quite glad. I wouldn't want to send an orthodox Christian lacking in strong discernment skills in there, though. I can see why so many undertrained orthodox believers are easy pickings for Jehovah's Witnesses. And that's a crying shame.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

An Evangelical Report from a JW District Convention - Day Three

4This morning I began to read "Bearing Thorough Witness" About God's Kingdom on the way there and after I arrived. We left later (6:40 AM--I really prefer not knowing that there is such a time...) and so didn't have to wait quite as long for the seating areas to open up. I had another conversation with Zedekiah, this one mostly dealing with intelligent design. My role was chiefly to smile and nod politely. He talked about the golden ratio in nature first, and then about a discussion he'd had with a biologist in which, instead of talking science where he knew he'd be out of his field, he argued that evolution couldn't be true because if humanity were biologically connected to animals, then they would in some sense be our sinless peers and equals; but if this were the case, then animal sacrifices would suffice to take away sin, thereby rendering Christ's ransom sacrifice pointless. Yet from the Scriptures (Hebrews 9:12-14) that animal sacrifices did not suffice, and so evolution cannot be true. This line of reasoning struck me as very interesting. As a theistic evolutionist, I think it's flawed at several points, of course, because no theistic evolutionist is bound to believe that animals are in any sense the peers of mankind or equal in value to mankind. But, still, an interesting approach, and one I'll probably remember for quite some time to come. Next he related a conversation with an archaeologist neighbor about design. Basically, Zedekiah mentioned that he was a believer, and the archaeologist--who'd recently uncovered hundreds of arrowheads in an excavation, gave a rant about how silly religion is. Zedekiah responded with, basically, "Okay, now here's what I don't like about you people"--that got the guy's attention!--and then said that the neighbor would be willing to put his life on the line for the belief that the few notches in a stone constituted it as an artifact rather than a natural formation, and yet the human body, showing vastly more reason to infer design, is dismissed without a second thought. The neighbor's sole response was, "Well, you have a point there." Zedekiah also related something purportedly taught him by a geology student about Proverbs 2:4 ("If you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it"--NWT), to the effect that whereas gold ingots were easily discovered beneath the ground at that time, silver, being an alloy, had to be mined with painstaking difficulty beneath the surface in veins. In much the same way, while some treasures of God's Word are easily gained at the surface like gold ingots, other riches require deep searching beneath the surface. Also, before the morning sessions began, I managed to finish the first sixteen chapters of "Bearing Thorough Witness" About God's Kingdom.

After some morning music at 9:20 AM, the audience was invited to rise for song #6 ("Declare the Everlasting Good News", cf. Revelation 14:6-8), with the following second verse, which always seems to be the interesting one:

And then what does a second angel loud declare
That we, Jehovah's Witnesses, therein may share?
He tells about the fall of Babylon the Great,
That soon destruction by our God will be her fate.
And so Jehovah God commands that we proclaim
His vengeance and the vindication of his name.
The field in which we preach and teach is great indeed;
But God's own angel in midheaven takes the lead.

After a corporate prayer, the first ten-minute talk, "Keeping in Expectation Day by Day", was delivered by Brother Dorsey at 9:40 AM. It started off with an exhortation to "keep our Bible-based expectations foremost in mind", after which Proverbs 4:19 ("The way of the wicked ones is like the gloom; they have not known at what they keep stumbling"--NWT) was cited to show how non-JWs are clueless as to what comes. Many have anxiety and anticipate a dismal future, he said, but after citing 2 Timothy 3:1 ("But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here"--NWT) he stated that "we live in joyful expectation of the fulfillment of Jehovah's promises soon to come". Next referencing Habakkuk 2:2-3 ("And Jehovah proceeded to answer me and to say: 'Write down [the] vision, and set [it] out plainly upon tablets, in order that the one reading aloud from it may do so fluently. For [the] vision is yet for the appointed time, and it keeps painting on to the end, and it wil not tell a lie. Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late"--NWT), Br. Dorsey assured the audience that "Jehovah's fulfillment will be on time". After that came Ephesians 6:11 ("Put on the complete suit of armor from God that YOU may be able to stand firm against the machinations of the Devil"--NWT) and the claim that "Bible-based expectation is part of our spiritual armor". Br. Dorsey said that Examine the Scriptures Daily is an invaluable aid in daily worship for Jehovah's Witnesses. After referencing Mark 13:33 ("Keep looking, keep awake, for YOU do not know when the appointed time is"--NWT), he noted that with Examining the Scriptures Daily, the text is not dealt with in a "perfunctory way", but rather attention is given to an application. A demonstration was then done on stage, using Isaiah 54:17 ("'Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in judgment you will condemn. This is the hereditary possession of the servants of Jehovah, and heir righteousness is from me,' is the utterance of Jehovah"--NWT). Returning to the talk, Br. Dorsey quoted Isaiah 64:4 ("And from time long ago none have heard, nor have any given ear, nor has an eye itself seen a God, except you, that acts for the one that keeps in expectation of him"--NWT) to the effect that Jehovah acts on behalf of the expectant; and he concluded by urging the audience to keep on the watch for the "fast-approaching end of this system of things".

That was a fairly short talk, but what came next... was not. Time for the morning symposium, "Keep Your Eyes on the Things Unseen", this one in nine parts! Very eschatological in subject matter, too. I just wish they'd started with some earlier examples, but perhaps given their theology, that might not have been possible. Anyway, the first section was "The Ten Horns ... Will Hate the Harlot", and was delivered by a fellow whose last name might've been Greek, and I'm sure I didn't spell it correctly in my notes. After citing 2 Corinthians 4:18 ("While we keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen. For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting"--NWT), he said that the things unseen pertain to "everlasting life", whether in heaven for the anointed class or on earth for the great crowd. The symposium was thus going to consider a pivotal set of "nine still-unseen future events". After citing Romans 13:13 ("As in the daytime let us walk decently, not in revelries and drunken bouts, not in illicit intercourse and loose conduct, not in strife and jealousy"--NWT), he said that the first unseen event was the "attack against the harlot". His first assertion was that "Babylon the Great" signifies the "world empire of false religion". Turning to Revelation 17:16 ("And then the ten horns that you saw, and the wild beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire"--NWT), he stated very confidently that the "wild beast" is none other than the United Nations and that the "ten horns" are "all present political powers that support the wild beast", evidently regardless of number. I wondered how exactly the U.N. thesis squares with verse 8, in which "the wild beast that you saw was, and is not, and yet is about to ascend out of the abyss"; he didn't deign to cover that, but it's covered in Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, which cleverly asserts on page 247 that the beast "was" in the sense that it took the earlier form of the League of Nations--earlier from the prophetic perspective of the present day, not from John's own perspective in history. The speaker next took us to verse 17 ("For God put [it] into their hearts to carry out his thought, even to carry out [their] one thought by giving their kingdom to the wild beast, until the words of God will have been accomplished"--NWT), noting that their assault on the harlot is God's plan. Thus, the political rulers "will be tools of God for the destruction of all false religion". Next came a brief demonstration of a Witness talking about false religion being very prominent in the news; he said that September 11th really packed the Kingdom Halls, but that eventually the crowds subsided. Witnesses are, rather, to serve out of godly devotion. The speaker claimed that already a partial fulfillment is visible in the decline of religion. Citing Revelation 16:12 ("And the sixth one poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the rising of the sun"--NWT), he explained that these "waters" are the "millions of people that are supporting Babylon the Great", in keeping with Revelation 17:15 ("And he says to me: 'The waters that you saw, where the harlot is sitting, mean peoples and crowds and nations and tongues'"--NWT). "World War I, that's when false religion lost its firm grip," he noted, and then asked the audience to consider the fall of ancient Babylon, which involved the diversion of its protecting waters. The waters did not totally dry up, but they were insufficient to provide protection for Babylon when the attack came. So, too, will it be at the end of this system of things. In Revelation 18:7-8 ("To the extent that she glorified herself and lived in shameless luxury, to that extent give her torment and mourning. For in her heart she keeps saying, "I sit a queen, and am no widow, and I shall never see mourning.' That is why in one day her plagues will come, death and mourning and famine, and she will be completely burned with fire, because Jehovah God, who judged her, is strong"--NWT), the harlot feels lofty but will be abandoned at the proper time, and thus Jehovah's Witnesses are told that "by keeping on the watch, we will be ready when the great tribulation strikes".

The second talk of the symposium, again by a speaker whose name I didn't even try to jot down, was entitled "The Nations Will Have to Acknowledge Jehovah". It began by asserting that when false religion falls, Satan will be enraged at Jehovah's Witnesses' security, and so will launch an assault against them in particular. This, he explained, is the conflict described in Ezekiel 38, in which the political powers persecute JWs. He made particular reference to verses 2 and 15-16 ("Son of man, set your face against Gog [of] the land of Magog, the head chieftain of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him. . . . And you will certainly come from your place, from the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great congregation, even a numerous military force. And you will be bound to come up against my people Israel, like clouds to cover the land. In the final part of the days it will occur, and I shall certainly bring you against my land, for the purpose that the nations may know me when I sanctify myself in you before their eyes, O Gog"--NWT), explaining that the "Gog" of this passage is none other than "Satan the devil after he was ousted from heaven", which took place in 1914 C.E. as described in Revelation 12. Magog, then, is where "Satan is now confined", namely the nations of the earth. The "peoples" of this chapter are the "militarized nations under Gog's control", and the fulfillment of these prophetic words are "immanent". Jehovah's Witnesses must then focus not on their own salvation, but on Jehovah's name and sovereignty, as shown in verse 23 ("And I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah"--NWT). The "primary concern is the sanctification of Jehovah's holy name and the vindication of his righteous sovereignty", and "our spiritual anchor is the hope of everlasting life", he explained, citing Hebrews 6:19 ("This [hope] we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm, and it enters within the curtain"--NWT). The speaker asked the audience, "Do you see yourself there?", and urged them to have "crystal-clear spiritual vision of Jehovah's promises". Loyalty is rewarded by everlasting life, which--as the speaker cleverly remarked--is "a real stimulus package!" "In the future, the message that we preach may become stronger," he noted. Just what we need--Jehovah's Witnesses getting even more aggressive. He explained that in Revelation 16:21 ("And a great hail with every stone about the weight of a talent descended out of heaven upon the men, and the men blasphemed God due to the plague of hail, because the plague of it was unusually great"--NWT), the "hailstones" are the preaching activity of Jehovah's Witnesses. (Would it be inappropriate for me to highlight that they just compared their own preaching to an unusually great plague? *cough*... thou hast said it.) Anyway, the speaker then referenced the Pharaoh of the Exodus, saying that many would likewise harden their hearts. In Exodus 14:25 ("And he kept taking wheels off their chariots so that they were driving them with difficulty; and the Egyptians began to say: 'Let us flee from any contact with Israel, because Jehovah certainly fights for them against the Egyptians.'"--NWT), the Egyptians acknowledge Jehovah's power, and just three verses later ("And the waters kept coming back. Finally they covered the war chariots and the cavalrymen belonging to all of Pharaoh's military forces and who had gone into the sea after them. Not so much as one among them was let remain"--NWT), the Bible describes the utter destruction of all opposition. Thus, the nations who attack the anointed "will be forced to acknowledge Jehovah", and will then be wiped off the face of the earth.

The third talk, delivered by another Brother Newton, was "'All Those Nations' Will Be Crushed", dealing with Armageddon. Br. Newton started off by exclaiming that "the great tribulation is rapidly approaching", when all governments would launch an all-out attack on Jehovah's Witnesses. Zechariah 2:8 ("For this is what Jehovah of armies has said, 'Following after [the] glory he has sent me to the nations that were despoiling YOU people; for he that is touching YOU is touching my eyeball.'"--NWT) was cited as Jehovah's opinion of this action, and the speaker then turned to Daniel 2:44 ("And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite"--NWT), which describes the "Battle of Armageddon" as the "climax of the great tribulation" in Matthew 24. Br. Newton then went into greater detail on the image, saying that "all these kingdoms" were the governments of the image. The four metals represent "successive world powers". The "head of gold" is the "Babylonian Empire", while the "arms of silver" are the "Medo-Persian Empire", which is lesser because it was less significantly used by Jehovah. The copper thighs are Greece under Alexander the Great, while the "legs of iron" are the "Roman Empire", which developed into the British Empire and joined with the United States to form the "Anglo-American dual power". The clay mingled with iron, then, signifies "all co-existing governments at the time of the end". All of these, then, have "already made their appearance", indicating that the stage is set for the final showdown. The "mountain" from which the stone is cut, is "Jehovah's universal sovereignty", while the stone is the kingdom that was established in 1914 C.E. Satan is aware of the impending end and so wishes to distract Jehovah's people. Br. Newton had the audience turn to Revelation 16:13-14 ("And I saw three unclean inspired expressions [that looked] like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the wild beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are, in fact, expressions inspired by demons and perform signs, and they go forth to the kings of the entire inhabited earth, to gather them together to the war of the great day of God the Almighty"--NWT), stating that the "frog-like expressions" are "political propaganda", citing "nationalism" and "charismatic politicians" as examples. Jehovah's Witnesses, to avoid these unclean things, must "keep neutral with respect to the world's affairs". Finally, the talk concluded with a consideration of a paradise earth without national boundaries.

Brother Geiger kicked off the fourth talk, "The Devil Will Be Bound for a Thousand Years", by stating that we presently live in the time for Satan to be judged, and so "Satan's demise is rapidly approaching". Turning us to Revelation 20:1-3 ("And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. And he hurled him into the abyss and shut [it] and sealed [it] over him, that he might not mislead the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After these things he must be let loose for a little while"--NWT), Br. Geiger claimed that the angel with the key is none other than Jesus Christ, the Deity Formerly Known as Michael the Archangel. The "abyss" is out of the reach of all except Jehovah God. Luke 8:31 ("And they kept entreating him not to order them to go away into the abyss"--NWT) shows how demons know the abyss to be their eventual fate. Br. Geiger then took the crowd to 1 Peter 5:8 ("Keep YOUR senses, be watchful. YOUR adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour [someone]"--NWT) yet again, stating that Witnesses face "tremendous pressure" from "[the roaring lion's] system". Still, do not lose heart, because "relief is very close". Although Ephesians 2:2 ("In which YOU at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience"--NWT) shows that Satan controls the entire world today, 1 John 2:16 ("Because everything in the world--the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one's means of life--does not originate with the Father but originates with the world"--NWT) shows that the sinful desires will one day be gone. I assume that the speaker was supposed to reference the next verse as well, which talks of the world and its desires "passing away". But he didn't. After a quick interview with Br. Watkins, who cited Isaiah 32:18 ("And my people must dwell in a peaceful abiding place and in residences of full confident and in undisturbed resting-places"--NWT), Br. Geiger concluded the talk with a reference to Psalm 37:10-11 ("And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more; and you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be. But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace"--NWT) as the future to which Jehovah's Witnesses may look forward.

The fifth talk, "They Will Build Houses and Plant Vineyards", was delivered by Brother Bauer--no, not Jack Bauer from 24, although if Jack Bauer became a Jehovah's Witness, I'm pretty sure their conversion rate would skyrocket--who began by noting the natural human desire for a home, yet also the prevalence of housing crises in many lands, including the United States. Isaiah 65:21 ("And they will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat [their] fruitage"--NWT) shows Jehovah's promise of a paradise with homes for each and every person, and Micah 4:4 ("And they will actually sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making [them] tremble; for the very mouth of Jehovah of armies has spoken [it]"--NWT) shows the abundance of peace and security in that new world. Yet "we must do God's will now" in order to qualify. First Peter 2:11 ("Beloved, I exhort YOU as aliens and temporary residents to keep abstaining from fleshly desires, which are the very ones that carry on a conflict against the soul"--NWT) show the temporary nature of our residence in this system of things, while Matthew 6:22, 33-34 ("The lamp of the body is the eye. If, then, your eye is simple, your whole body will be bright ... Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to YOU. So, never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each days is its own badness"--NWT) urges simple living and seeking God's kingdom first and foremost. "We must control the urge to have what is beyond our means materially," Br. Bauer said, "not seeking higher education" so as to seek material pleasures, since there's "little time left". The present system is a "sinking ship", and Revelation 14:6-7 ("And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, and he had everlasting good news to declare as glad tidings to those who dwell on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying in a loud voice: 'FEAR God and give him glory, because the hour of the judgment by him has arrived, and so worship the One who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.'"--NWT) shows why Jehovah's Witnesses must not seek glory for themselves. After a brief interview with Sis. Davenport, Br. Geiger concluded the talk by looking forward to our home in the new world.

Brother Hill delivered the sixth of the symposium talks, "The Wolf and the Lamb . . . Will Feed as One", by stating that most of us love animals, but would be reluctant to walk up to a wild tiger and pet it, because in today's system the animal world is full of hostility. In Genesis 1:28 ("Further, God blessed them and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.'"--NWT) animals are all subject to mankind, and so the restoration will bring Isaiah 65:25 ("'The wolf and the lamb themselves will feed as one, and the lion will eat straw just like the bull; and as for the serpent, his food will be dust. They will do no harm nor cause any ruin in all my holy mountain,' Jehovah has said"--NWT) to pass. This passage, Br. Hill declares, has already seen both partial and figurative fulfillments. The partial fulfillment is how, in the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian Exile in 537 B.C.E., they were protected from wild animals. The figurative fulfillment is how, since 1919 C.E., God's people have inhabited a spiritual paradise, and Jehovah's Witnesses, no matter how wild before they came to the truth, tame their undesirable traits to worship together in unity. After an interview with a Br. Gonzales and his 11-year-old daughter Sis. Gonzales--the former of whom cited Isaiah 55:10-11 ("For just as the pouring rain descends, and the snow, from the heavens and does not return to that place, unless it actually saturates the earth and makes it produce and sprout, and seed is actually given to the sower and bread to the eater, so my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it"--NWT) and the latter of whom made reference to Titus 1:2 ("Upon the basis of a hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times long lasting"--NWT)--the talk ended on the familiar note of keeping watch. That is, after all, the theme of the entire convention.

I couldn't spell the next speaker's name if my life depended on it, but the seventh talk, "God . . . Will Wipe Out Every Tear", began with citations of Revelation 21:4 ("And he will wipe out every year from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away"--NWT) and Psalm 147:3 ("He is healing the broken-hearted ones, and is binding up their painful spots"--NWT) as illustrations of Jehovah's healing power. Next came a litany of heartbroken people in the Bible. First was Hannah in 1 Samuel, who turned to Jehovah for healing. Second came David (cf. 1 Samuel 30:4, NWT--"And David and the people that were with him began to raise their voice and weep, until there was in them no power to weep [anymore]"), and third was Hezekiah who turned to Jehovah in Isaiah 38. Peter, too, denied Christ and then wept bitterly. Jehovah's Witnesses must maintain integrity and keep busy in their preaching work. Then followed three more verse citations: Psalm 126:5 ("Those sowing seed with tears will reap even with a joyful cry"--NWT); Psalm 56:8 ("My being a fugitive you yourself have reported. Do put my tears in your skin bottle. Are they not in your book?"--NWT); and Psalm 34:18 ("Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves"--NWT). There followed an interview that was actually, for once, rather meaningful. Sis. Weaver and her husband had been in a very nasty plane crash years ago. She was rather badly injured and took some time to recover, but her husband died. Hers was a touching story of recovery and reliance on God. The talk ended on the note that God will fulfill his promises.

The eighth talk, "All Those in the Memorial Tombs Will ... Come Out", began by picturing reunion with lost loved ones in the resurrection. The speaker cited Job 14:14-15 ("If an able-bodied man dies can he live again? All the days of my compulsory service I shall wait, until my relief comes. You will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning"--NWT) as evidence that Jehovah yearns to resurrect the righteous, and John 5:28-29 ("Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment"--NWT) to the effect that all such persons would be resurrected. (Never mind that Jehovah's Witnesses are among the few 'Christian' groups that explicitly deny that all will be resurrected!) The speaker said that the resurrection accounts in the Bible can strengthen our faith, and I thought he planned to go through several examples, but there was only one, the widow's son whom Elijah restored to life. The speaker mused whether Elijah had received special revelation to do so, but no answer was forthcoming. Someday, he said, we'll meet these heroes of faith and get our answers. This was deemed the ideal juncture for a few interviews with Witnesses as to whom they'd like to meet and what questions they'd ask. All I noted was that one woman said she'd like to meet Abraham's wife Sarah, who serves as an image of "Jehovah's heavenly wife-like organization". At any rate, the talk ended on the note that we can learn more about our relatives and extended family in the resurrection. (And as an avid genealogy buff, frankly that makes me quite happy.)

The ninth talk, the final one in this 90-minute symposium, was entitled "God Will Be 'All Things to Everyone'". After declaring that "our spiritual vision has been sharpened by what we have just heard", the speaker ran through a brief recap of the preceding eight talks and said that all this "will surely take place in the very near future". Finally getting to his own assigned topic, the speaker directed the audience to consider 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, 28 ("Next, the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power. For he must rule as king until [God] has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing. . . . But when all things will have been subjected to him, then the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone"--NWT), drawing three fundamental points from it for which the time is soon: (1) all God's enemies will be subjected to Christ; (2) Christ will hand over the kingdom to his Father; and (3) "God will be all things to everyone". Elaborating on this third point, it was explained that before sin had entered the world, Adam and Eve were part of "Jehovah's universal organization" and that Jehovah was the sole government. Since 1914 C.E., the kingdom has been posed to restore perfect peace and harmony under Christ and his "144,000 co-rulers". Jesus is humble, because the "Son himself will subject himself to God". After citing Matthew 28:18 ("And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: 'All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth'"--NWT), the speaker said that the "144,000 gladly subject themselves to Jehovah God also", with appropriate reference to Revelation 4:10-11 ("The twenty-four elders fall down before the One seated upon the throne and worship the One that lives forever and ever, and they cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 'You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.'"--NWT). Mankind will have attained perfection by the end of the millennium and will, for the first time, have direct access to Jehovah God without any need for Christ's priestly mediation. The symposium ended on the note that, after the last test of mankind described in Revelation 20:7-10 ("Now as soon as the thousand years have been ended, Satan will be let loose out of his prison, and he will go out to mislead those nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war. The number of these is as the sand of the sea. And they advanced over the breadth of the earth and encircled the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down out of heaven and devoured them. And the Devil who was misleading them was hurled into the lake of fire and sulphur, where both the wild beast and the false prophet [already were]; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever"--NWT), "all rebel humans and spirits will be wiped out of existence forever". Sadly, neither in this talk nor in Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand! is it explained how, if Satan is Gog as stated in the symposium's second talk, the nations are identified as "Gog and Magog". That book explains:

The Bible calls these rebels "nations in the four corners of the earth." This does not mean that mankind will have been divided once again into mutually exclusive national entities. It merely indicates that these will separate themselves from Jehovah's righteous, loyal ones and manifest the same bad spirit that the nations show today. They will "think up an injurious scheme," as did the Gog of Magog in Ezekiel's prophecy, with a goal of destroying theocratic government on earth. (Ezekiel 38:3, 10-12) Hence, they are called "Gog and Magog." (Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, p. 292, par. 22)

But lest it be thought that the teaching of Satan as Gog is newer than this publication, an earlier quote:

The Devil's vicious assault is vividly described in Ezekiel chapter 38. There, the debased Satan is called "Gog of the land of Magog." Jehovah puts figurative hooks in Gog's jaws, drawing him and his numerous military force to the attack. (Revelation--Its Grand Climax at Hand!, p. 279, par. 2)

I suppose their answer would be to state that the term "Gog" in Ezekiel 38 and at Armageddon denotes Satan and "Magog" are his forces, whereas Revelation later distinguishes Gog and Satan, with "Gog" now being, like "Magog", a term for the forces under Satan. But, no matter. At least the symposium was over! The crowd rose to sing song #122 ("Keep Your Eyes on the Prize", cf. 2 Corinthians 4:18), which was thoroughly unobjectionable in content, and remained standing for yet another installment of announcements. By the way, maybe its just me, but it seems like an announcement such as, 'Baby strollers aren't permitted in the stadium" should come earlier than two hours after the start of the day's program. I'm just sayin', seems like its rather late at that point. Although, in fairness, the purported reason is that some people continue to come throughout the morning.

Before lunch, however, we'd all have to sit through the half-hour-long public Bible discourse, "How Can You Survive the End of the World?", delivered by Brother Peters. First came a catalog of conception of the 'end of the world'--some think of elderly doomsday prophets with signs, others think of a nuclear holocaust, while others think of a cataclysm such as an asteroid impact, a solar expansion, or a new ice age. (But hey, at least the first one was close. Jehovah's Witnesses use tracts instead of signs and aren't all elderly...) All of these leave an impression of hopelessness and helplessness. But the audience must consider: "Will the world be destroyed? If so, by whom? If so, by what means? And if so, simply can we survive?" True Christians, he said, should rejoice at the end of the world, which is the phrase used in the King James Version's rendering of Matthew 24:3 ("While he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: 'Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?'"--NWT). The planet will not be destroyed, however. The world, after all, had been destroyed previously at the Flood (cf. 2 Peter 3:6-7, NWT--"And by those [means] the world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water. But by the same word the heavens and the earth that are now are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men"), showing that the "end of the world" means that God will destroy the ungodly but spare the righteous. So too with Psalm 37:29 ("The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it"--NWT), Psalm 104:5 ("He has founded the earth upon its established places; it will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever"--NWT), and Ecclesiastes 1:4 ("A generation is going, and a generation is coming; but the earth is standing even to time indefinite"--NWT), which show that while the world of wicked mankind will be destroyed, the planet will survive. Br. Peters then offered a clever story of a fox infested with fleas. The fox found a sheep or something like that and gradually chewed off a substantial amount of wool in a cylindrical shape, which he clutched in his front teeth. The fox then proceeded to go to the river and submerge himself completely except for the tip of his snout with the wool. After some time, the fox released the wool and left the river; the wool carried away to destruction all the fleas that had sought to escape the river's water. So, too, are the wicked an infestation that shall be destroyed by God.

Br. Peters next enunciated three ways by which God has destroyed his enemies in the past. The first is through inducing a state of confusion as in Zechariah 14:13 ("And it must occur in that day [that] confusion from Jehovah will become widespread among them; and they will actually grab hold, each one of the hand of his companion, and his hand will actually come up against the hand of his companion"--NWT), wherein the earthly enemies of God kill one another. An example cited was the story of Gideon's small band against the Midianite armies (see Judges 7), as well as the more modern illustration of the Gurkhas, Nepalese soldiers who (as tradition would have it) never drew their knives without drawing blood and who used slaughter of random targets within the enemy camp to cause panic. The second method is through forces of nature. The flood of Noah's day was cited as a prime example, with hail, locusts, and earthquakes among other past selections. Exodus 9:26 ("Only in the land of Goshen, where the sons of Israel were, there occurred no hail"--NWT) shows how God can carefully control this weapon to strike the unrighteous. A couple more modern illustrations were again cited, such as German soldiers invading Russia succumbing to cold and the failure of an American mission in the Iranian desert because of a sandstorm. (I assume that the latter was a reference to Operation Eagle Claw, though the speaker didn't specify it by name. And can I just say that I would really hate to be caught outside in a haboob?) The third method mentioned is Jesus and the angels, with reference to 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ("But, to YOU who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus"--NWT). After some musing on the vast numbers of angels and the scene in which one angel wreaks utter havoc on God's foes (cf. 2 Kings 19:35, NWT--"And it came about on that night that the angel of Jehovah proceeded to go out and strike down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. When people rose up early in the morning, why, there all of them were dead carcasses"), Br. Peters noted that God needs no human assistance, citing 2 Chronicles 20:17 ("YOU will not need to fight in this instance. Take YOUR position, stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah in YOUR behalf. O Judah and Jerusalem, do not be afraid or be terrified. Tomorrow go out against them, and Jehovah will be with YOU"--NWT). Ezekiel 38:21-23 ("'And I will call forth against him throughout all my mountainous region a sword,' is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. 'Against his own brother the sword of each one will come to be. And I will bring myself into judgment with him, with pestilence and with blood; and a flooding downpour and hailstones, fire and sulphur I shall rain down upon him and upon his bands and upon the many peoples that will be with him. And I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.'"--NWT) was cited as a case in which all three methods are used against Gog's hordes, and that the wicked will, while dying, recognize Jehovah's power. This will all happen "in our day, during the presence of Jesus Christ", and the righteous will be saved like Lot and his daughters and like Daniel's three friends when Jehovah destroys the wicked world--and no one, Br. Peters emphasized, can hide from Jehovah. Only the godly will survive, as shown in Amos 9:1 ("I saw Jehovah stationed above the altar, and he proceeded to say: 'Strike the pillar head, so that the thresholds will rock. And cut them off at the head, all of them. And the last part of them I shall kill with the sword itself. No one fleeing of them will make good his flight, and no one escaping of them will make his getaway'"--NWT) and 2 Peter 2:9 ("Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial, but to reserve unrighteous people for the day of judgment to be cut off"--NWT). I thought especially clever the question he then asked: "The end of the world will happen--but will it happen to us, or will it happen for us?"

As much as one might have hoped that the talk would end on that note, with all that had come before it, no. Still more. Br. Peters next noted that Noah, through righteousness, gained preservation in his day. Since Jehovah's standard is constant, it stands to reason that imitating Noah will serve as a guide to how to be preserved ourselves, and in this we find a list of seven characteristics. First, Noah didn't succumb to worldly pressures to conform. Despite the ridicule that must have surely plagued Noah and his family, they persisted, and so we, too, "must remain no part of the world, in order to escape passing away with it". Jehovah's Witnesses will stand out and be ridiculed, but as 1 John 2 states, the world will pass away but JWs will endure. Second, Noah resisted the influence of wicked spirit-creatures. Evil angels had in his day materialized and fathered the Nephilim, and so filled the world with violence. The fallen angels had to dematerialize to the spirit-realm in order to escape the Flood, and so Jehovah's Witnesses must likewise resist demonic influence in their lives. (Don't see any explicit example here of Noah resisting demonic influence? Yeah, there wasn't much effort at this point to link the moral lesson in with the narrative.) Third, Noah was blameless as a family head, and so his family was "united in sacred service". The family must be safeguarded against the world and its ways, and family heads must be exemplary in leading spiritual discussion. Fourth, Noah had a close relationship with Jehovah himself. He walked with God and knew Jehovah as a "personal friend", joyfully obeying God. In like manner, our relationship with God is our most precious possession and should be esteemed and valued as such. Fifth, Noah preached righteousness, and here Br. Peters cited 2 Peter 2:5 ("And he did not hold back from punishing an ancient world, but kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly people"--NWT). Jehovah's Witnesses, like Noah, must face opposition boldly; have courage even when preaching in dangerous territory; maintain faith in Jehovah's protection; and know that success consists, not in the response of others to the message, but in our obedience to God. Sixth, Noah kept his faith strong, and by this faith condemned the wicked world. Others could have followed suit, since it really was "possible to live a life that pleased God". Likewise, Jehovah's Witnesses must avail themselves in God's provision through the Bible, conventions, meetings, the door-to-door ministry, and prayer; and they must stave off doubt at any cost, since doubt is the enemy of faith. And seventh, Noah maintained strict obedience to God. As shown in Genesis 6:22 ("And Noah proceeded to do according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so"--NWT), Noah took no shortcuts but followed directions to the letter, constructing from thousands of trees with great effort an ark with a volume in excess of 1.5 million cubic feet. He didn't procrastinate, as he didn't know the day or hour when the flood would come, but instead kept watch. The same holds true for Jehovah's Witnesses, who must keep watch for the end, Br. Peters said. We must remain in Jehovah's favor to survive the end of the world, because once the tribulation begins, it will be too late for anyone to be saved. After referencing Matthew 24:33 ("Likewise also YOU, when YOU see all these things, know that he is truly near at the doors"--NWT), Br. Peters proclaimed that "we see all these things", not just in glimpses, but "globally, in clusters, frequently", and thus the end is extremely close at hand, as if plummeting towards us in freefall. The great crowd coming out of the tribulation, then will emerge, just like Noah, into a "clean, new world"--one that, unlike Noah's, will last forever.

The symposium being thus ended, the 5,805 attendees all rose at noon to sing song #125 ("Extending Mercy to Others", cf. Luke 6:36), and as is customary I quote the second verse:

Now again an old order is ending,
And in mercy our God has decreed
That the news of its ending be given
So that whoever will may give heed.
Have you said, "I cannot preach the good news;
I am weak and untrained in my speech?"
But if you have received of God's mercy,
Then his spirit can help you to preach.

At long last the crowd was released for an 80-minute intermission, during which I got a bit more reading done, ate lunch, relaxed outside, and had some good chats with a few Witnesses. It was a pleasant time, although it was either somewhere in here or earlier that Atarah had to be taken home due to a nasty migraine, and I was a bit saddened when the program resumed at 1:30 PM with song #139 ("Listen to the News of the Kingdom", cf. Isaiah 55:7), from which I simply have to quote the first and second verses:

O listen to the news of the Kingdom today
And hear Jesus say: "O'er earth I hold sway.
Your Adversary soon will be taken away;
So flee from his old system and do not delay."

Jehovah, through his Witnesses, calls men today:
"You meek ones who pray, rejoice now you may.
Soon Christ, who is enthroned, will his power display
And cause want, pain, and sorrow to vanish for aye."

At 1:35 PM, they began a much more enjoyable segment of the program: the annual drama. "Your Brother Was Dead and Came to Life" lasted a full hour, was announced by Brother King, and was a modern reworking of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. After putting us first through an audio drama rooted in the text itself, the modern dramatization began on stage. You can see the drama, though from a different date and location, here. I was somewhat disappointed to see that it was being lipsynched (not to mention the hackneyed dialogue, especially near the beginning), and for the first time in my experience, the Prodigal Son came across as the relatively sensible one! In this retelling, the prodigal son figure, David, was part of a Witness family whose sole rebellion was--horror of horrors, oh the horror!--wanting to get a job outside the family business. Throughout the entire performance, the rest of the family (father John, mother, and older brother James) all came across as controlling, self-righteous, and invasive. They did everything within their power to badger David into staying in the family business. The father was controlling, the mother was whiny and easily upset, and the older brother was quite self-righteous and refused to stop meddling in his brother's affairs or offering unsolicited advice with a heapin' helping of judgment. Unlike the biblical parable, David didn't demand any money, and he didn't try to dishonor his father in any way. His sole wish was to live a life slightly more independent from his family, and they jumped all over him for it. Eventually, confronted with the ridiculousness of his family and the persuasion of a friend, he opted to move out and squander the money that had been originally set aside for witnessing endeavors. One of David's biggest initial 'sins' was daring to accept overtime that would cause him to miss just one of his numerous weekly Jehovah's Witness meetings, just one time. Oh no! The plot as a whole definitely showed an overemphasis on works. One has to attend every single meeting, every single time, or one isn't living up to what they're supposed to. At one point, there was a car crash, and for a moment I thought maybe they'd use it as an opportunity to bring the blood transfusion issue to bear. But no. Also, basically all non-Witness characters, as well as the backslidden Witness friend Al, were portrayed as uncaring people who'll betray their dearest friends at the first instance. While David made an increasing number of mistakes under Al's influence, throughout the drama he generally attempted to be the voice of reason and do the right thing, and so was clearly the most sympathetic character.

Anyway, after the drama came the summary of that day's study article from the Watchtower. This may have been the most abysmally boring event of the entire convention. The article was "Why Follow 'The Christ'?", pages 28-32 of one of the May 2009 issues of the Watchtower. I followed along in Zibiah's copy, and the summary/study was led by Brother Taylor from Bethel. It was, in fact, so insipid that I can scarcely bear to look at my notes pertaining to that portion, and so I'll just say that the five reasons offered were: (1) to increase one's intimacy with Jehovah, who is accessed through the twin books of creation and special revelation; (2) to imitate Jehovah more fully, since Jesus reflects him perfectly; (3) because Jesus is the anointed one of Jehovah; (4) because Jesus is the only way to eternal life; and (5) because Jehovah commands it. Noteworthy is the treatment of John 14:6 ("Jesus said to him: 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'"--NWT), in which Jesus is the 'way' by virtue of being the sole means of approaching God as well as the sole means of being reconciled to God; Jesus is the 'truth' by virtue of being the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy; and Jesus is the 'life' because of the ransom sacrifice, the resurrection, and his millennial priesthood. Also, we evidently listen to God through the Bible, through publications of the faithful and discreet slave, and through "Christian meetings", by which is meant meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses. After this particular dullness ran its course, we rose to sing song #29 ("Forward, You Witnesses!", cf. Luke 16:16), which--despite its actual sectarianism--contained relatively little that couldn't be adapted by many other Christian groups, although the song as it stands has a high emphasis on the divine name. We remained standing through the last set of pointless announcements and took our seats for the very last talk.

And that concluding talk was entitled "Keep in Expectation, Watching for Jehovah's Day!" and was delivered by Brother Hendrickson. He started off by talking about the transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17:2-4, NWT--"And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his outer garments became brilliant as the light. And, look! there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, conversing with him. Responsively Peter said to Jesus: 'Lord, it is fine for us to be here. If you wish, I will erect three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.'"), noting that as transfiguration is a "change to another form", the audience has been spiritually transfigured by the "spiritual feast" of the convention. After exclaiming that "Jehovah's day will come at his appointed time", he cited 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, 4 ("Now as for the times and the seasons, brothers, YOU need nothing to be written to YOU. For YOU yourselves know quite well that Jehovah's day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. . . . But YOU, brothers, YOU are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake YOU as it would thieves"--NWT) and explained that the Thessalonians were convinced that the end of the system was coming soon. And for them it did come, in 70 C.E., but ours is yet future and so we must continue expecting. This convention, he said, had been "another milestone in theocratic history", featuring the "most realistic drama we have ever seen", which frankly casts serious aspersions on all previous drama, no matter the tremendous hype.

Next came a serious of anecdotes regarding the conventions. First was the story of a Witness who was staying at a hotel for a convention and, after the first day, noticed that someone had been looking at the book she'd left sitting out. So she set out more literature and a note, and got a nice reply note from the housekeeper. At the end of the convention, the Witness set out a bunch of literature with a note for the housekeeper to take whatever she pleases. The next anecdote involved Best Western, the hotel chain; the local one said that Jehovah's Witnesses are the most orderly, clean, and peaceable large group they'd ever hosted, and that they love having them. Another tale involved a young Bible student who poured his international coin collection with currency from 18 countries into the donation box, reasoning that an international organization deserves international money. As for the international conventions, we heard a story about how some inconvenient flight rescheduling allowed a Filipino Witness to have a long spiritual conversation with a Vietnamese businessman, and we also heard how a man invited to the Mandarin section of the conference on the first day was so impacted that he wept and promptly quit his job in order to be able to attend the remainder of the convention. This was held up as a good thing. Not really so sure I agree. After a review of the new releases, including a 17-song vocal disc available 1 September 2009 that will feature music from the new songbook, Br. Hendrickson gave the announcement as to how many baptisms had transpired during the "mass burial yesterday". This convention featured twenty volunteer departments comprising over 300 volunteers. The speaker warmly basked in Jehovah's Witnesses' "friendship with the city of Reading" and the lack of any need for the extra police that would customarily be assigned to any large gathering like this. Next came some discussion of press coverage. In the 26 July 2009 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, there had appeared an article that discussed how standardized all the conventions were. Br. Hendrickson praised this as being "orderly", though in fact its an obsessive need for absolute conformity. I don't deny that the convention was very orderly... but I've never been to a church service that wasn't, and they had no need to impose unwavering conformity in all things. Also, some website had commented on 17 June 2009 about the clean-up efforts of JW volunteers. After a big thank-you to the place for hosting the convention, Br. Hendrickson noted that there'd been three consecutive peaks in Bible studies here in the USA. This portion of the talk then ended with notes to stay alert and keep on the watch--as always--and to not rely on man-disseminated news, but rather on the updates that JWs get directly from Jehovah himself through, you guessed it, the faithful and discreet slave class.

Then followed the last segment of the talk, a curious review of JW history. Br. Hendrickson began with the latter portion of the 19th century, when the International Bible Students pointed forward to 1914 as the critical time for all mankind. Then came 2 October 1914 C.E., when Charles T. Russell had announced that the "Gentile times have ended". Subsequently, Br. Hendrickson explained, we've seen the fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:3 ("Having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness"--NWT). The next event was the 1922 convention in Cedar Point, OH, in which Joseph F. Rutherford delivered on 8 September his famous talk "The Kingdom", which featured a line that has reverberated through JW history ever since: "Advertise, advertise, advertise the King and his Kingdom." Three years later, there appeared in the Watchtower an article called "The Birth of the Nation", dealing with Revelation 12. It deemed Psalm 110:1-2 as pivotal in understanding the chapter. The article saw the "male child" as being God's kingdom, and the article claimed that the horsemen of Revelation 6 had begun to ride in World War I. The event after that was a 1942 talk by Nathan H. Knorr called "Peace: Can It Last?", dealing with the beast of Revelation 7, the seven kings, and the period of peace instigated in 1945 by the United Nations. Citing Acts 9:31 ("Then, indeed, the congregation throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria entered into a period of peace, being built up; and as it walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit, it kept on multiplying"--NWT), Br. Hendrickson noted that in their time of peace after dreadful persecution, the first-century Christians had kept "busy fulfilling their preaching commission", with the result that they grew in number. The same must hold true for Jehovah's Witnesses in the present day. In 1953, Frederick W. Franz delivered a famed talk on Ezekiel 38-39 at an international convention held in Yankee Stadium. In it, he explained the new Jehovah's Witness teaching on Gog and Magog. As Br. Hendrickson further explained after citing Ezekiel 38:12 ("It will be to get a big spoil and to do much plundering, in order to turn your hand back upon devastated places reinhabited and upon a people gathered together out of the nations, [one] that is accumulating wealth and property, [those] who are dwelling in the center of the earth"--NWT) that "Gog would come after the material assets of God's people", and so today's Jehovah's Witnesses--being, after all, obviously the ones who will certainly experience Ezekiel 38's fulfillment--must avoid being attached to their possessions. He said that today is reminiscent of Ezekiel 7:19 ("Into the streets they will throw their very silver, and an abhorrent thing their own gold will become. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them in the day of Jehovah's fury. Their souls they will not satisfy, and their intestines they will not fill, for it has become a stumbling block causing their error"--NWT). Turning finally to 1963 with the release of Babylon the Great Has Fallen--God's Kingdom Rules!, we see the identification of Babylon as all false religion instead of just Christendom. This can be seen in the widespread contemporary call for religion to become more involved in political affairs, yet the waters are clearly drying up. "There should be no uncertainty in our minds" about expectations of the soon-to-arrive end of all things. There followed some references to foreign missionaries coming home for an international convention, as per a 10 March 2008 letter from the Governing Body; a statement about Jehovah's Witnesses' "urgent message [...] proclaimed for decades"; and then a declaration prepared for the current convention about rededication to the ministry task. It was loudly affirmed by the whole crowd, but the only quote I jotted down regarded their promised "relative subjection to the existing governmental authorities". After excitedly noting that the nation of Georgia had officially recognized Jehovah's Witnesses on 24 December 2008, Br. Hendrickson brought the talk to an end by quoting Isaiah 30:18 ("And therefore Jehovah will keep in expectation of showing YOU favor, and therefore he will rise up to show YOU mercy. For Jehovah is a God of judgment. Happy are all those keeping in expectation of him"--NWT), saying that Jehovah has already set a date and time for the end and yearns to bring it to pass.

The crowd of 5,846 attendees then rose to sing song #129 ("Now's the Time!", cf. Mark 13:10), from which for once I'll quote just the first verse:

Now's the time to preach God's Word,
Time to let the truth be heard.
Never be by threats deterred;
Show why God's rule is to be preferred.
Let's warn men before it is too late.
Help them flee from Babylon the Great
And escape in sharing in her fate.
Zeal for God's house let them demonstrate.
Now's the time our zeal to demonstrate!

Eh, makes more sense with the music. The convention as a whole concluded with a closing prayer, as could be expected for basically any religious assembly. Uriah had to stay to help tear everything down and clean up, so Zibiah and I caught a ride back to our area with Ham and his wife. I spent most of the trip reading, although I did take some time to try to convince Ham that Jehovah's Witnesses really do have a publication on the Letter of James--and they do, the 1979 book Commentary on the Letter of James. I was surprised he wasn't familiar with it. The trip was largely uneventful, save for a long pause while waiting for a train to finish passing, and I finished the last two chapters of "Bearing Thorough Witness" About God's Kingdom shortly after I got through the door to my house.