Saturday, May 13, 2017

Growing Through Life's Lessons

Simple but challenging life’s lessons -- that seems to be the theme of most true-life stories. Recently, I just finished my fifth true-life story. In the order I read them, they were “A Long Way Home,” “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” “The Boy Who Runs,” “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” and finally “Carry On,” (by Lisa Fenn). I had previously written about Infinity, so I won’t comment on it here.

Crème de la Crème: Of all the above, my wife and I agree that by far “A Long Way Home” was the most amazing, awe-inspiring, and heartwarming story. (Read the book first. The corresponding movie (Lion) edits out a lot of scenes due to time constraints.) What makes this head and shoulders above the rest is that the main character is an illiterate 5-year-old boy from India who ends up nearly 1,000 miles away from home. He survives merely by his wit and “street smarts.” Some 25 to 30 years later, that boy is the autobiographer of his own story. Most outstanding in this story is his vivid memory of what happened to him -- to the point that after continued determination over several years, he discovered where he originated, flew there, and met his mother and siblings. He absolutely refused to accept defeat to find his home, even though it was decades later.

“The Boy Who Runs” is a first-person narrative, but the actual writer is someone else. It is about a boy (Julius Achon) in Uganda who is abducted by an insurgent army at the tender age of 11 or 12 (can’t remember) and used to attack villagers and steal their food. He was able to break free and return home but felt humiliated because of the things he was forced to do. Through a series of self-determined actions, in spite of being mocked by villagers and even his mother, he runs to a town 40 miles away to enter a race. Over time, he is recognized internationally. What was most striking about this story was that Julius never allowed arrogance to cloud over his victories. He always remembered his family and his roots. Bad circumstances did not define him, his positive attitude defined him. I highly recommend this book.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is about William Kamkwamba in Malawi. Like Julius, William grew up in stark poverty. No running water, no electricity. He likewise is ridiculed by his villagers as he scavenges through junk yards looking for anything he can use to make a windmill for his family. He wanted to provide electricity for lights and to pump water. His parents could not afford for him to go to school, so everything he learned was from books at his local library. But it wasn’t as easy as merely reading a book. The books he checked out were highly technical and written in English -- not his native language. Once again, his determination carried him through to the point of being able to decipher electrical diagrams. “Obstacle” was not a word in his vocabulary.

Just today I finished reading “Carry On.” It is a story of two teen boys, one blind and the other a double-amputee in Cleveland, OH. It is also a story of an ESPN sports writer tasked with bringing “the human side of the story” to sports (video). The boys were competitive wrestlers at their local high school. The life lessons this story carried were many. It has been said that “you can take the boy out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the boy.” This story demonstrates that while there were many setbacks, it was unbreakable love (motherly instinct) of Lisa Fenn (the sports writer) that helped both boys to gain self-dignity. (Dartanyon Judo Wrestler today)

Wrapping It Up: Taken altogether, the lessons I gained from all the books are listed below. The scriptures following each point demonstrate that the principles are universal through time, place, and circumstance:
  • Unexpected events in life may send us reeling for a time. Regaining our balance and focusing on an unselfish, noble goal will help us regain a much stronger footing. (Luke 22:32)
  • Complaining about our lot in life accomplishes nothing beneficial and may even be self-destructive. (Proverbs 24:10)
  • Opening our hearts to others, helps us to grow and round out our own character. (2 Corinthians 6:13; Luke 6:31, 38)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Questions About Patriotism

“Are Jehovah’s Witnesses patriotic?” Recently someone had a series of questions that I am addressing here.

I have found in my years of discussions with people, it is usually best to set a baseline. So here are two English definitions:

Patriot: Per, (noun) 1. a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion. 2. a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.

Patriotic: (adjective) 1. of, like, suitable for, or characteristic of a patriot.

By the above definitions, the one possible applicable term of “patriot” to Jehovah’s Witnesses is that we, to some limited degree, “support” the governments we live under. That is to say, we pay our taxes, we obey the laws, we respect authority. You will never find us participating in a flag burning or anti-political rallies. Regarding the paying of taxes, we are very scrupulous about this. My personal case is a prime example: My wife has for decades owned her own house-cleaning service. She gained such a reputation for honest and hard work, that she had clients living in million-dollar homes. Most of her clients paid her in cash. She logged the amounts in her calendar alongside the corresponding appointment. At the end of the year, I would open a new spreadsheet, logging date of service, name of client, and amount received. On another tab in the spreadsheet, I had formulas prewritten to summarize each client by month and provide the grand total of income per year. This we faithfully reported even though we probably could have lied and not reported it. This past year, that honesty cost me several hundred dollars in taxes owed. We always budget for it by saving throughout the year. This is a very basic principle of honesty that we have always been taught by our faith.

As far as the rest of the words describing a patriot, no, we don’t particularly “love” any country -- but we do not treat it with hatred or contempt either. In decades past I’ve heard songs written about “loving” America, but what does that really mean? If it is the land created by God, that is not “America,” that is just land. The land would have it natural beauties regardless of who ruled. If it is the political administration, all I ever hear from anyone are complaints of our corrupt and self-serving politicians are. So I’m not sure even non-Jehovah’s Witnesses would say they truly love their country. With all the hatred and divisiveness in the world today; with all the complaining I hear when I am in public places about corruption in government; with all the cheating I have been encouraged by non-JW’s to engage in (such as not reporting my wife’s income), I truly cannot say I’ve recently met anyone, even flag-wavers, that truly love the country they live in.

Finally is the matter of “defending the country or its interests.” Again, we don’t fight against the country, but we also don’t engage in war conflicts. That is part of the “world” (of mankind not following God’s direction) that we are no part of. However, we are instructed to follow the requirement of registering. Here in the USA, that is when a male adult turns 18yo. In times past, refusing military service meant automatic incarceration. This is still an issue in South Korea.

Consider a simple illustration: “Johnny” is raised by his parents to be honest, trustworthy, and respectful. His parents have told him he must be obedient to school authorities unless it conflicts with the parents’ moral instructions. Some of his teachers at school have noticed that in class, Johnny has exemplary conduct. One day during “physical education,” two teachers pick teams for a friendly yet competitive game. (It really doesn’t matter, it could be football, baseball, basketball, whatever.) The teacher/coach of Johnny’s team tells him that it is okay if he “sort of” cheats and pushes kids on the opposing team. Although Johnny assists in helping his team score several points, the teacher notices that Johnny didn’t act on several “open” opportunities to cheat. After the game, he tells Johnny he is not really a team player and that his lack of cooperation nearly cost them the game. Johnny stood his ground respectfully: “Coach, my parents raised me to be honest in all things. Although I obey you in everything else, as long as it doesn’t go contrary to my parents moral and ethical instructions, I cannot obey when you tell me to go against my parents. At the end of the day, I owe my life to my parents, not to any coach, teacher, or school.”

That, in essence, is the situation we live under. Although we are instructed in the Bible to obey governmental authority, it is obvious that does not include disobeying God’s clear instructions about being part of this world, participating in wars, etc.

Question Two: Why is reciting the national anthem, voting in elections and observing national celebrations perceived as a disservice?

National anthems & celebrations: First I performed a Google search for “features of most national anthems,” figuring that key elements must be present in many if not most of them. I came up with this article. It appears to be someone’s college report. As noted by the writer,

One of the most prevalent themes among the world's national anthems is the theme of war.  This also encompasses the struggles of revolution and rebellion.  These anthems often do nothing more than retell an account of a battle in which men succeeded against all odds to emerge as victorious against an oppressive evil.

I have always sensed that national anthems (and celebrations) contain a thinly veiled praising of victorious war, how great the nation is, and by extension, how much the nation ought to be adored. Maybe you won’t agree, but that strikes me pretty much as a form of worship. Speaking symbolically of governments as “wild beasts,” these three passages in the last book of the Bible (Revelation) tell of how people “worship” the wild beasts. In practical terms, this works out to such things as nationalism, patriotism, flag waving, anthem singing and other “devotional” acts.

Voting: Even before I became a Witness, I was never very political. My Catholic father voted. I think he was a Democrat. But he never considered that something to rant about. I cannot remember even one time he discussed that at home. (My father was from a German background, and far from the stereotypical hot-headed German, he was such a mild and reasonable man, I strived to emulate those qualities. I still have dreams of him and miss him dearly.)

However, for the first time in my life, I have actually followed closely the progress of the campaigns. I tried to learn as much as I could about the whole election “fever.” I did so because I have never seen Americans as whipped up, stirred up, and passionately engaging in outright violence. I am still amazed that things turned out the way they did. I don’t know if you’ve read any articles about what is still happening post-election. People are still beating each other to a pulp over divisive opinions. Trump actually encourages such actions. In fact, he is being sued because of it.

I think one of the things that shocked me most was how big a push there was for everyone to register and to vote. People were receiving unsolicited calls from campaign offices. “Your vote counts,” the people were told. They were lied to. It turned out their vote amounted to diddly-squat. It was the “electoral college” that put the current person in power, not the overwhelming vote of the people, who were for Mrs. Clinton.

Changing gears: The Bible tells Christians that they are ambassadors substituting for Christ. In real life, an ambassador is “a diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the resident representative of his or her own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment.” As such, they are not allowed to engage in political activity in support of or in opposition to the foreign government to which they are assigned. That would result in immediate expulsion and they would be viewed as a traitor by their own country. In quite the same way, it would be very hypocritical of Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be representatives of, proclaimers of, and extollers of the benefits of God’s Kingdom, to turn around and support any human government, regardless of how noble it may be. Both Jehovah and his son Jesus would absolutely view that as a traitorous act.

Some (those not of our faith) feel that people should support human rule in whatever country you live until Christ comes again. But when we pull back the curtain on that, what we plainly see is that such reasoning means those individuals are supporting Satan's dominion of divisive hatred, wars, etc. Anyone claiming to be Christian is under command by Jesus to be "no part of the world" because such is direct allegiance to Satan, God's main adversary.

I could carry on about my personal opinion, however, my opinion is insignificant. What matters is what we are formally taught. So, with that, I provide this link.

Question Three: If truly righteous people (in God’s eyes) refuse to participate as elected officials, how can the scripture be true that “when the righteous rule, there is peace.”

Perhaps you were thinking of this verse: Proverbs 29:2

To put this in real life context, two men immediately come to mind: David and his son, Solomon.

David: When he started his rule, it was indeed blessed by God and the nation truly did prosper. However, after his indiscretion with Bathsheba, God doled out must what has been a humiliating and emotionally devastating punishment. Fortunately, David truly had a humble heart and accepted the punishment as "deserved."

Solomon: He was known for his wisdom. Even the queen of Sheva is amazed. Sadly, however, he got sloppy in marrying foreign wives, which was completely against the law of Moses. The end result is mentioned was that the "wisest man to ever live" (up to that time) started worshipping valueless gods that were mere stone and wood.

Indeed, the proverb states a truism that is accurate: "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn." (KJV) Being righteous in God's eyes is not some intrinsic quality of a select and privileged few, but rather a quality of anyone willing to live their life according to God's direction. God can use such people to cause the ripple effect to those of like-minded determination. Just as demonstrated, even people that Jehovah speaks admirably of, can lose favor.

Therefore, what keeps a rule "righteous" in God's eyes, is that the ruler makes obedience to God a personal goal and then seeks to promote it in his domain. The scripture was written with the kings of Israel and Judah in mind -- they were under command from the Mosaic Law to read a portion of God's Word daily. This was never a requirement of other nations.

Poteyto, Potahto, Tomeyto, Tomahto

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the saying, “Poteyto, Potahto, Tomeyto, Tomahto,” emphasizing that different pronunciations do not change the essence of the subject. Over the years I’ve notice those I meet during my public ministry pretty much feel the same way about churches. To wit, “Hey, if they talk about God and Jesus, that’s all that matters to me.” “All religions are just different paths to God.”

In fact, I’ve seen people more loyal to car brands or favorite hamburger joint than to believe that a religion really matters. I bring this up because of a recent conversation (via email) I had with a man. After several back-and-forth discussions, I thought he would have gotten the idea that to me, true faith is much more than “which flavor of ice cream do you like.” I’m not sure if it was something I said in my blog’s About page, or it was something I said in one of my email responses, but he inquired about my health condition. I assured him I was not worried. I told him that as far as the doctors could tell, 2017 will most probably be my last year of life.

In response, he boldly claimed I would not die this year, but I had to “believe him” and concede that if I were healed, I would start to worship his god. This came across to me as this man feeling that changing gods, faiths, and religions was as inconsequential as changing one’s clothing. I told him “No deal.” I pretty much know where this man “is coming from.” He believes in miraculous cures merely by praying to Jesus. While God has in times past used miracles, especially to establish things such as: 1) Who were truly sent by God (Examples: Moses, other prophets, Jesus), 2) Which faith God was now supporting, (Example: The initial setup of Christianity), 3) God’s unwavering claim to full all the promises he made, there is no scriptural reason to think that God would answer selfish prayers for healing.

Today, nearly two centuries since Jesus walked the earth, humanity has the complete word of God (both the Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures (recounting of creation, the formation of Israel, and more), and the Greek scriptures (recounting Jesus life and the early Christian congregation). That is the basis for determining true faith, true religion -- scripture.

One final thing: Scripture says that God is indiscriminate in that he “makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good and makes it rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.” In that same dissertation, Jesus concluded “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” in demonstrating indiscriminate love. (Matthew 5:43-48). In contrast, it is Satan and his religions that want compromise. They will only help you if you give them something. Like Jesus, my response was “no deal,” or as Jesus put it: “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’” (Matthew 4:10) Even centuries later, Satan is still up to his old bag of tricks.

(A few months ago, I was hospitalized (in ER) with numerous monitor leads and vein taps. (It has become so common, I don't even remember what that incident was about.) A nurse walked in and said, "I've done this before and it has never failed." With that, she took hold of my arm and broke into a prayer requesting that "the lord" heal me. I haven't yet seen that nurse again, but as expected, her prayer did nothing. It simply is not in keeping with what the Bible teaches.)

Purgatory - Another Unscriptural Lie

How this article ends up in my General newsfeed is beyond me, but it did. The National Catholic Register (NCR) published an article in defense of the Catholic belief in purgatory. Their irresponsible (and completely illogical) use of scripture to attempt the doctrine’s defense is mind boggling. So let's take it a step at a time.

The first scripture the writer cites is Psalm 51:6-10. They cite an unreferenced archaic translation. I checked my personal copy of the Confraternity-Douay, Saint Joseph Edition Catholic Bible (copyright 1963). Even it has more understandable English than the version the writer chose to cite. A modern English version (NWT) renders it:

6 Look! You find pleasure in truth in the inner person;
Teach my innermost self true wisdom.
7 Purify me from my sin with hyssop, so that I will be clean;
Wash me, so that I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear sounds of joy and rejoicing,
So that the bones you crushed will rejoice.
9 Turn your face away from my sins,
And wipe away all my errors.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
And put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one.

As the reader can easily see, there is no mention of the purgatory the Catholics teach as a temporary place between heaven and hell. But then the writer acknowledged that. He claims the concept of “cleansing” is the point he is making. Okay, so we need cleansing. That is true. In the context of the scripture above, this is a cleansing we request from God while still here on earth. However, to claim that since the word purgation is the same as cleansing and that this supports a cleansing that is forced by God on us after we leave earth is foundless. To illustrate: If someone were to tell you to “go jump in the lake,” you would understand they were telling you to go away, not to literally find a lake and jump in it (unless, of course, you were all at a lake and having fun). For someone to later claim that “lake” and “go way” were synonymous, would be ludicrous. Yet that essentially is what the writer of the purgatory article is doing.

Pretty much, the same goes with the rest of the scriptures the writer played so loosely with. 1 John 3:2-3 speaks of person purifying themselves, not God purifying us.

Now let's move onto a fascinating claim: “Purgatory is the culmination of that process by which a human being who has died in the grace of God is made utterly and completely full of the life…” Interesting claim. Absolutely no direct, undeniable link in scripture. While scripture does encourage us to live moral lives (and, because we are imperfect, constantly adjust our course), while scripture does say that God disciplines those he loves, these are all actions taking place here on earth, during the life of the individual, NOT something after we die.

The FACT is, there is not even one scripture teaching even the concept of an after-life “purgatory.”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Honey is Bee Barf!

Decades ago, one of our children came up to me and flatly declared, “I will never eat honey again. It is nothing more than bee barf!” My jaw dropped. I was dumbfounded. I almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity and vulgarity, but I could see the child was 100% sincere. I also wanted to counter the claim, but at the time I didn’t really know how honey was made. I concluded two things: 1) Even if the child never did eat honey for the rest of her life, it was not a health hazard nor was it a moral wrong. A person could go through their whole life not eating honey and not be adversely affected. 2) Children make black and white decisions all the time. It doesn’t mean that next week or next month the viewpoint will be completely forgotten. With that, I decided not to make a big deal of it.

I cite the parenting experience now because, although hilarious, I see the same black-and-white reasoning play out all the time regarding the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This especially came to the fore when reading one of the Ministry of Justice’s comments regarding blood transfusions. Here was an otherwise intelligent adult making such disjointed conclusions that somehow combined extremism with refusal of blood transfusions. This time, I did break out laughing. Of course, the implied accusation is that we illogically choose death. We don’t. We try to seek any and all viable alternatives to blood. We cherish life. We want to live. Just as resolutely, we want to obey God. Yes, life is precious, but just as Jesus stated, keeping our priorities straight is of paramount importance.

Really the Russian authorities come across like a clique in middle school that invent reasons to exclude others. No matter how illogical those reasons are, they are enforced with unyielding determination. There is no reasoning with them. There is strength in numbers and “Might makes Right,” and the clique of governmental authoritarians will do as they please no matter how ignorant or cruel it seems to others.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Russia, Public Opinion, And Jehovah's Witnesses

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Russian government’s decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group. What you may not know are all the details around the Kangaroo court sessions that were held that pitted the Ministry of Justice against the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (One definition of “Kangaroo Court” is “a court held by a legitimate judicial authority who intentionally disregards the court's legal or ethical obligations.”) That was pretty much the case in Russia. Repeatedly the judge asked the Ministry of Justice to produce evidence of charges. They had none. Nor, from what I’ve heard, were the legal representatives of the religion permitted to submit crucial evidence. The Ministry of Justice was just going through the motions – his mind was made up to exert his power regardless of the court’s decision.

Now a week has gone by and the world seems to have picked up on the news. Some are elated by the news and reacted by taking hate-filled action against the religion. (Obviously, if the participants in these violent actions had a religion, it did nothing to teach them tolerance and kindness.) Others have reservations. One especially surprising cautionary note came from the Catholic Church who wonders which religion would be next.

Then came this article that struck me as a somewhat “knee-jerk” op-ed from Africa (??). It was written by Princewill Nimi, a “creative writer.” I think the title of his article alone was odd. It is true that we believe Jesus’ words that anyone claiming to be Christian should hold the conviction that they “are no part of the world,” but in what sense? We are not like religions that live as hermits or seclusionists. We are the neighbors of your community. We are both professionals in numerous trades and practices, and we are also “unskilled laborers.” For the greater part, we live in the community that we try to reach. (A very small group actually work as foreign missionaries, but that is the exception.) Personally, before qualifying to work in the Information Technology field, I held a number of “unskilled” jobs – everything from a gardener, to a warehouseman, to short-order cook, and more.

But the title of Princewill’s article seemed to take a different path in that it proclaimed we simply do not belong in the world. I don’t think he was taking the viewpoint that the world simply doesn’t deserve us. But it came across that we do not belong here; we are unwelcome here. If so, that is hate speech. The first three paragraphs of his article certainly seem to lend the reader to that conclusion. In those paragraphs, he mentions our public ministry. After doing this for over 40 years, I’m well aware of how some feel about that. However, I have also noted over the decades that some eagerly look forward to our visits and appreciate the kindness we extend. It might also be noted that the early followers of Christ did the same thing – they proactively went out to reach people. But we don’t stop there. We also participate in disaster relief for both members of our faith and those in the community who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In the 5th paragraph, Princewill states “In line with their belief system that indicts the government of this world as being under the control of Satan.” I guess I need to ask how you would interpret the following:

John 8:43-47. Ask yourself, “Why would Jesus say that the Jewish religious leaders of his time had a “father” in the devil?” (Yes, they were murderously inclined, but it went deeper.)

John 14:30. Ask yourself, “If the ruler ‘of this world’ was his Father, God Almighty, why would Jesus state that ‘he has no hold on me.’”?

John 18:36. Here, Jesus was talking to Pilate, the man who would send Jesus to his death. Jesus was just asked if he was a king. Jesus’ response was that his kingdom rulership was not part of “this world.” Ask yourself, “What ‘world’ was Jesus talking about”?

2 Corinthians 4:4. In this passage, we find the answer to the question above. It is Satan that is the ruler of this world. It is that “world,” ruled by Satan, that Jesus is no part of. That is why Jesus stated all the above.

1 John 5:19. Finally, we have the clincher. John spells it out, with no need to “interpret” the meaning. The world is “in the power of the wicked one.” It is this world that we are separate from, want nothing to do with. All the governments belong to Satan. But God has not given up on mankind. In time, just as Princewill stated, God will destroy Satan so that (as so many Christians pray) God’s Kingdom “will come on earth just as it is in heaven.

Princewill covered many other points that I just don’t have room to cover here. There is only one minor point I’d like to reply to. Toward the end of his article, he asked: “Aren’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses extremists of some sort?” I could have developed a very long response but the day following my reading his article, I came across an article stating “When Jesus healed in the synagogue on the Sabbath, the ruler of the synagogue had a very good point: there were six other days of the week Jesus could have healed (Luke 13:14). None of the people he healed had a life-threatening condition that couldn’t have waited until the next day. But Jesus had to violate the propriety of the sacred worship space in order to teach that “the Sabbath is made for humanity not humanity for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), a principle which is still lost on Christians for whom holiness and respectability are synonymous. He had to destroy respectability in order to give dignity to afflicted people who had been the object of others’ shame because their afflictions were deemed to be God’s judgment against them.” So Jesus himself (both in his days and in our modern times) was/is perceived as illegal. That recalled to my mind how the early disciples were essentially labeled seditionists, and the public witnessing about Jesus as annoying chattering. As far as our not being involved in governmental activities, besides the scriptural proofs mentioned above, history itself testifies that has always been the case of true Christians.

So, rather unwittingly, Princewill classified us among the early true Christians who were also perceived as odd outsiders. Personally, I consider it an honor to be so labeled.