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Truth Be Told – in Atlanta Oct 29th

Truth Be Told – in Atlanta Oct 29th

Gregorio Smith has announced the Atlanta premiere of his controversial documentary film about growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, TRUTH BE TOLD. Due to the recent publicity of several child sex abuse cases against the religion, this film exploring the oppressive hold the Watchtower Society has on its members is particularly timely. TRUTH BE TOLD will be screened exclusively on Tuesday October 29, 2013 at AMC Phipps Plaza 14. Get your tickets now!

TRUTH BE TOLD – a new feature-length documentary – lifts the veil on the seemingly benign Jehovah’s Witnesses religion to expose a profit-driven, isolationist culture characterized by fear, totalitarian corporate leadership, intellectual & spiritual intimidation, suspension of critical thinking, failed prophecies, doctrinal inconsistency and improper handling of physical and sexual abuse allegations within the church.

See former Jehovah’s Witnesses candidly discuss growing up inside the religion. They reveal experiences including the effects of proselytizing door-to-door, shunning non-observant family and friends, suffering the discouragement of pursuing dreams like gaining a higher education, missing other societal holidays and customs. Ultimately the film reveals why Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religion with only 37% of those raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses continuing their affiliation with the religion.

This exposé – the title of which refers to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ perception that their beliefs are ‘the truth’ – is the first feature-film directed by Gregorio Smith.

Trailers, excerpts, production stills and other content are available on the official TRUTH BE TOLD website: www.hereliesthetruth.com
Direct link to trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4nqYtzDaGE
TRUTH BE TOLD on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hereliesthetruth
On Twitter: @TRUTHBETOLDDOC
About the Filmmaker
Gregorio Smith is an independent filmmaker and writer. His work has been featured in the Staten Island Film Festival, Anthology Film Archive, Dallas Video and Film Festival, Denver Underground Film Festival, Bowery Poetry Club and other forums. His work has also been covered by The New York Times, Boston Globe and other media outlets. He is a graduate of Baruch College and a member of the International Documentary Association.
Mr. Smith was born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness. He describes TRUTH BE TOLD as ‘immersive, informational, expository and controversial …an honest glimpse into the culture of growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness religion.” TRUTH BE TOLD is the director’s sixth film and first feature.

See details and trailer here (http://www.tugg.com/events/5867).

Truth Be Told

In Response to Struggling ExJWs

In Response to Struggling ExJWs

Why call upon the anecdotes of men, living or dead, as appeals to authority on the status of God? Why continue arguing these dogmas?

There are sacred texts all around the world and across time and languages and cultures. To think that you can dictate to others what their relationship is to God is fairly arrogant. One might even call it hubris, the downfall of that most famous angel of light (Lucifer) in the biblical narrative.

Each person interprets their own experience, and one person’s interpretation of the unknown has no more weight than your own. Even if the majority disagree, there is no assurance that anyone is right or wrong. Direct apprehension of the divine is a mystical stance – one that I myself have felt – but each person’s path is their own, and the emotional feelings of dependence or awe or fascination or repulsion or indifference have absolutely nothing to do with truth value. Nor can you argue the extra-human with human logic. The fact is that all these are very mysterious, possibly mythological, possibly compensating for psychological desires.

You can’t, and I believe shouldn’t, push your interpretation on others. It is their own life task to ask their own questions and to find their own center of authenticity. No matter how good-hearted in intent, you can only move others astray from their own path when you argue about it. I prefer to plant a seed of compassion and kindness – the heart of all spiritual truths – and then really try to step aside.

The whole point of recovery is not hatred; it is the freedom to follow your own heart and mind (and your own calling) and not be so screwed up by the agendas of others in doing so.

Reorienting into Your Own Path: Belief Self-Torment

Reorienting into Your Own Path: Belief Self-Torment

For a number of reasons, I haven’t posted anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses for a while. There have been some horrible events in the news, and all sorts of doctrinal and organizational changes, but I find myself more interested these days in some of the larger questions. I’ve been trying to write something about that, but nothing I wrote was satisfactory to me. It turns out that I needed a real question for my thoughts on this to spill out. In trying to help ease someone else’s suffering, the words ring true again. Thank you for being the messenger for this lesson! I preserve the questioner’s privacy, but you know who you are. Big hugs.

I seem to be struggling with my relationship with God. I find myself so confused about what to believe. I used to be absolutely convinced that the Bible was Truth. Is this normal for a person in my situation. Any input that you might have would be appreciated.

It is totally normal for you to feel as you do. I do have some thoughts on this in terms of biblical scholarship and the history of the religions of the book(s), but that’s not what will help you most right now because you need first to find your bearings, your balance, and the (for lack of a better phrase) direction of your attunement to God.

Start with what you solidly know and experience for yourself. Be observant and pay attention and even “hold fast to what is fine.” That place where your mind and spirit and soul all connect in gratitude and admiration is where you start. Think of the qualities of the spirit – where do you see caring and forgiveness and love and thoughtfulness and creativity and all those things that you can just feel are *good* things? Let yourself be drawn into that world. Learn from and enjoy the presence of that “energy” in any moment where it happens. Even just noticing it changes you.

Then – and I resisted this one for a long time – think about service. Not big, cosmic service – just little bits of service. Be a little kinder, think of someone else’s feelings, do something nice for someone else, be a listening ear to a friend. Anything that puts your own needs to the side – even for a moment – changes you.

Think of things that you *truly* admire about people you know or have known or have read about or seen. Everyone is complicated, a mix of darkness and light, so you have to think of specific things, how someone made a good decision, how someone manifested an incredible skill, how someone calmed a situation. Those are things that speak to your inner self, to your inner directionality, and they are worth hearing.

For a while, move away from the questions of belief in this or that. That question will always be there for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to address it and be tormented by it right now. Come back to it when you are in a place of spiritual groundedness.

Your body can help you too, and in ways that you might not expect. Sit quietly and relax, listen to yourself breathe. When you are upset, take a few breaths and consciously let it go. Imagine blowing the seeds of an old dandelion into the wind. Self-torment seems to be part of the deal – but you can choose not to do it. Look again at these things when it isn’t self-punishment. Torturing yourself does nothing for you right now except prevent you from insight and focus your energy on everything that would overwhelm you. Love doesn’t want that, and you need to focus on that central thing. Open your heart and listen. Listen.

Try different body positions. Bow your head, raise your arms up to the sky, imagine your feet taking root in the ground, pretend to be blessed by the stars. Your body-imagination is always trying to help you. If you feel comfortable, reach out to the God *above* the God that is caricatured by the witnesses and ask for guidance in love.

Be authentic, be truthful, see beauty, learn when to trust and admire. Start there. In time, the beliefs will sort themselves out. The list of “I believe in this” and “I don’t believe in that” is really not the primary aspect of spiritual understanding. Assume, for a little while, that all the cosmos needs of you is that you pay attention and appreciate whatever you really, truly can. Go a little on that footpath, and see if you get reoriented.

I feel very strongly that each person’s spiritual path is their own, and cannot be regulated or mandated. This is about your own spirit and soul and heart and mind, and nobody else’s. And in that spirit, take what you find useful for you here – and disregard the rest. These are things I’ve learned for myself and from the experiences of others, so they may be very very helpful for you right now. Or not. You are the only you.

Rewriting the JW Implanted Belief List

Rewriting the JW Implanted Belief List

As a therapeutic exercise, I attempted to rewrite the list of possible EX-JW Dysfunctional Beliefs from Mindful Construct in terms of my own perspective. I meant this to be simple, but it didn’t work out that way. Some of it is rewritten, some of it is explanatory, some of it is questioning – but I’ll honor where this took me and not go back and make the form of the responses consistent.

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones who know God, he has shown them the truth about the world because they are honest and sincere and want to know truth. The Ultimate Deity, if there is one, could by definition be the only one who is and possesses Truth. Many believe that humans can participate in truth and love, but no-one can fully live or possess it. The God of Love shows authentic seekers the path of love within their own context. There are people who try their best to take the path of love in every religion, and outside religion. In every collective group, there are lovers and haters, there is faith and fear. And within each person, it is the same.
  2. Studying the Bible with the Witnesses is the only way to understand the full truth we need to know right now so that we can love and live forever. As a sacred collection of texts, the bible has been and can be a source of spiritual insights. There are many ways to read the texts, but taking small bits out of context is superficial and often misleading. The Witnesses’ interpretations are as flawed as those of any other group, and the claims to authority and transparency are arrogant rather than humble. People have created many methods to pursue truth. Most of them do not involve the shutdown of dialogue, caring, and freedom.
  3. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York are God’s channel of truth, like Moses was. They are full of love and truth. The spiritual status of the Governing Body is unknown, just as for any other group who claims to speak for God’s Will. What is known is that the Governing Body is very concerned with organization, legal protections, real estate deals, and authoritative control of membership. Jesus warned of false prophets, and to measure teachings by their accordance with his own. Teachings that inspire fear, self-righteousness and a fundamental dismissal of others are lacking in love and kindness. Judge by the fruits of the spirit (I still like that one).
  4. I am on an evil course in life because I have left the Witnesses and disassociated myself. It would have been a betrayal of my own spirituality and relationship with the cosmos/God to have stayed within the group. My own path required that I explore, inquire, and even celebrate. That my fundamental wellsprings of spirituality could be considered evil suggests that the Watchtower has made of itself an idol. Group membership at its best provides community, love, support, and inspiration –things that are sometimes profoundly lacking within the Witnesses.
  5. Everyone who is not a Witness is knowingly or unknowingly under the devil’s control. The line of good and evil runs down the center of each person’s heart. What we choose to do, how we choose to navigate situations, builds the type of character that we are becoming. If we cannot take responsibility for our shadow sides, we can’t integrate its strengths, and we tend to fall back into projecting evil onto the other. The issue of control that runs through much of this illustrates much in itself.
  6. I should not trust myself. I trust that there is an innermost quiet voice that already knows so much if I can learn to listen. I trust that I can more often than not tell when something is wrong. I trust that to hand your ethics over to someone else is an avoidance of spiritual responsibility and growth. I trust that I can learn to listen to the stories of others before making judgments. I trust that I have understood enough to know – basically at least – what is wrong and right for my path. However, I do not *blindly* trust myself or others. I trust that my understandings are always evolving and that I may make some turns along the way. No-one is completely transparent to themselves, and everyone makes mistakes. It’s easy to believe only what is convenient to believe, so a position of doubt helps to guard against hubris. It’s a matter of balance – to be self-confident and self-trusting, but not to stop listening and learning.
  7. Thinking independently from Jehovah/the Witnesses/the Bible is evil. There is no place to think completely independently – we are all influenced by our culture, our language, our relationships and groups, our education, and many other aspects of existence. However, even the Witnesses have said that it is wrong to put an organization between God and a person seeking/loving God – they just forgot to apply that to themselves. What they mean by thinking independently is to question or debate their interpretations and guidance, to study the bible outside their literature (even within the congregation), or to suggest that there are stronger and weaker interpretations of biblical texts. Even honest questioning – presented to the elders – can get you in a whole lot of trouble. They seek obedience to themselves and their interpretations, and they don’t want anyone shaking things up with actual debates. In this, they are profoundly anti-educational and anti-pastoral. Human beings have a capacity for questioning, for thought, for curiosity – these things can help us to grow and thrive.
  8. The devil is trying to mislead everyone into thinking independently and opposing the Witnesses so they will die when the end of the world comes soon. It seems to be taken for granted that thinking independently will as a matter of course lead to opposing the Witnesses. That’s amusing on a number of levels, so stop and smile here! The biblical devil was once an angel of light, but he became overly proud and lost a sense of his positionality within all things. It seems to be that Sa’tan represents the spirit of unfettered opposition – the principle of duality. He is also presented as God’s interlocutor, a sort of prosecuting attorney, in the case of Job. The sense of evil as something unclean and nonholy is here too, and also possession – being tormented by internal voices. So – in a sense, they are right that if you are possessed by all the internal voices to the extent that your life is centered on opposition to the Witnesses, you’ve missed something you needed for your spiritual path. However – the solution to that is (you guessed it) independent thinking! Why? Because if you are still trapped there, still trapped within these limiting beliefs, you are not independent at all – you’re just living on the flip side of the same mentality. Eventually, thinking, meditating, reading, having dialogue, and experiencing care and kindness will help you to move on from this stage.
  9. People like me who accurately understood the truth as taught by the Witnesses but rejected it are even worse than those who never knew. I am an apostate. People who understood the interpretations and rules of the Governing Body of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society became very familiar – ad nauseum – with narratives that might hold some kinds of truth. There are levels and types of truths. However, to conflate this very limited kind of education with “the truth” can prevent you from continuing on your own life journey – the education that never stops. The word “apostate” has a specific demonized meaning within the JWs. I am not an apostate.
  10. Since I was the spiritual leader of the family, God will hold me responsible for stumbling them and leading them into apostasy. This is a tough one! It is tempting, even now, to accept this teaching and say that ministerial servants, congregational elders, and district or circuit overseers will be held responsible for leading the “sheep” astray. It feels right, but when I apply the method of self-doubt and self-acceptance and caring, I realize that I would only like this to be the case for the sake of all the people that have been damaged and hurt by the organization. There is a sense that retribution would be just. But this scripture was never about retribution; it was about responsibility. Those who are leaders have a special responsibility to care more deeply, to be careful about what they do and say, and to serve the congregations with love. If they are misled about that themselves, and have done their best to be true to the Spirit, one can only hope that the God of Love would judge them as we hope to be judged ourselves. I am opposed to the behaviors often evident, I am opposed to the often heartless judgments, but the path of love says that good must be the response to evil. Ultimately, I think that that those who attempt to use and control others have created their own hell, nor are they ever out of it. Oh, what they are missing!
  11. I am a special target of the devil, now that I have left the Witnesses he will trick me into opposing all that is good and will lead me into suffering and destruction. Projecting your choices onto a demonic creature has never been very helpful to me. The very threat of becoming a target of the devil and demons works to instill fear and a reluctance to leave. It can be a little bit of a self-fulfilling script, too. It’s a very common thing that the new ex-JW still accepts the definitions of all the things they aren’t supposed to do – and goes right out and does them! I’ve seen a parallel here with first-year college students, away from the home rules for the first time. Sometimes that first year is a little wild, and some do self-destruct. Just being able to break rules is not freedom yet. You’re still being defined by others. You can choose not to do that.
  12. Alternatively, the devil will bless me with abundance and prosperity, but it will only be temporary and deep down I will still be an evil traitor. This is a great way to cover all situations – hardship or blessing, anything outside the JWs is evil. There is no necessary correlation between hardship and goodness, or success and evil – or vice versa.
  13. If I practice hypnosis, evil spirit beings called demons will enter my mind and possess me. By doing so I am inviting great evil and harm into my life. Hypnosis is one technique to gain some distance from destructive habits of thought and replace them with more helpful thoughts. It may be a good “jumpstart” but should not replace careful meta-reasoning on your own. You should know and approve of the content in advance, and have established a relationship of mutual respect and trust. If you are very nervous, a recording of the session might ease your anxieties. Also, meditation and prayer can both establish similar states of awareness of the progression of your thoughts and feelings (if you know, or can learn, how to pay attention).
  14. Only someone evil like me would undergo hypnosis to purposefully transform their beliefs after knowing the one and only truth about reality that I’ve known. This kind of self-hatred programming can be very difficult to overcome. There are a whole slew of “if I do this, I must be evil and God hates me” kinds of suggestions to transcend. Some people just accept it and say – “Fine, I’m evil,” but the entry point here is to ask on what basis – really – someone is justified in thinking that they know the “one and only truth about reality” in the first place. An irony here – the methods used by leadership on their congregations sometimes come very close to hypnosis.
  15. My evilness must be even greater than most others because of the depth to which I understood the truth. I was a teacher of the light, now I am in deep shadow. Delving into the shadow-side is sometimes unavoidable and can be a very revelatory experience, but new ex-JWs are in no way prepared for this kind of thinking. I read a lot of Carl Jung before I could even process what he was talking about! So, how about this? In some ways, I was a teacher of light and in some ways I totally missed the light without knowing it. Now, I am more careful about claims of light and darkness, and of such wide-reaching dualistic judgment. Reality involves the blending of light and darkness (cf. Taoism) – think of the sun shining on the leaves, the interplay of light and shadow that creates beauty. Don’t confuse darkness with evil. Evil can appear (at first) as an angel of light, too.
  16. All spiritual or religious belief systems besides the Witnesses’ belief system are special tools that the devil uses to mislead people and invite demons. This is what some other fanatics say, too. The projection of demons onto other religions was a really cool tool for missionaries that tried to pull people away from their religions. It’s no coincidence that contemporary images of the devil look a lot like the Horned God of some more ancient religions – you can even see Pan there! Religions have tended to try to answer the current needs of the community, but if the only way to define membership is by who is not included then I think that is usurping God’s role. Many, many people disagree with me on that; it’s one reason why I have no church membership.
  17. Those who celebrate Christmas and other holidays are under the devil’s control, since it prevents them from understanding the truth about Jesus and Jehovah. Control, again. I actually think some of the ideas about holidays are interesting, but there’s a lot more to the story. Following the history of the transformation of holidays, across different countries, is fascinating. Usually the argument would be that they are of pagan or nationalistic origin. What tended to happen is that the old celebrations were assimilated and transformed into the newer ones, over and over and over again. There is a deeper truth hidden here by the presented either-or; it pretends that all the celebrations are static – they have an origin that is secure and for all time. That is not the case. What relationship holiday celebrations may have to preventing understanding is unknown, but at first glance, it seems reasonable to someone used to accepting what they are told.
  18. Jehovah is the Creator and source of all life. The only way to know truth is to know him. The only way to know him is through Jesus. The only way to know either of them is through the Bible and the Witnesses’ lives and teachings. Lots of people hold to some version of this belief, the central version of which for Christianity is that Jesus is the way and the life. But I think a more profound way to frame this is to think less about assent to beliefs as a measure – and to think more about commitment, caring, responsibility, kindness, openness, listening, and attune-ment. Jesus was one example – for me there are others as well. And, you know, pleasure and fun and creativity are ok – they help. Have you ever lost yourself in doing something you’re really good at? That’s a form of communion – dance, painting, building something…
  19. The only way to know truth is also through the Holy Spirit. Only the Witnesses really have Holy Spirit, that is how they understand the Bible more fully. The Witnesses are alone, I think, in believing that the Spirit is God’s force of action. It’s a little bit like electricity. They are anti-trinitarian, so the relationships are those of separate entities. They believe that Jesus was filled with the Spirit. He was not God, but God’s son. To me, the Holy Spirit is a very interesting topic. Track it through the biblical texts sometime and all sorts of strange thoughts might occur to you. I keep thinking of extraterrestrials… Since it’s so very mysterious and strange, I tend to think of it as a form of love-possession, but it seems to have physical properties too (like a virus? Hmm?). It is the mirror of demonic possession. Very bizarre. There are many testimonials of being filled with the Spirit, and that it’s the only way to know the truth. But the Witnesses don’t believe that they are filled with the Spirit – they only believe that the Governing Body and the 144,000 chosen ones are – so they accept being part of the “great crowd” that gets to live on Paradise Earth after they clean up the bones and stuff. This is part of the way that the Watchtower Society is able to maintain control – because the rank and file are *not* filled with spirit, they have to trust the ones who are. There is no outward display of any of this, nor do they honor the ideas of calling or of spiritual gifts (especially for women!)
  20. I do not deserve to live because I am a sinner, that is why people die (they are too). Again, a common Christian thought, but the other side of this is the “new life” Christians are offered as an alternative. Myself, I don’t think anything deserves to become a living being. Life is not about being deserving. What would that even mean? JWs take it further. It’s not just that we’re all sinners because of events in a long-ago garden experiment, but it’s that there really isn’t any such thing as grace for them. They never use the word. Sometimes they say “loving-kindness” or “undeserved love” to express forgiveness of “imperfection” – but they are very focused on “keeping the congregation clean.” Their idea of service that matters to God is keeping track of how many hours a month people go door to door.
  21. I should not be living for this world but for the New System, when everything will be perfect on the earth. Only perfection is good enough for life to be worth living. I have no idea what perfect life on earth would be, but it still must have some kinks in it, because a bunch more people will be destroyed after the first thousand years. The New System, also called “God’s New World Order” is a kind of terminology that should give everyone pause (cf. Nazi belief-system, secret societies in general, Google “New World Order”). Outside of this truly creepy but undefined idea of the post-apocalyptic theocracy, one can ask whether only perfection is good enough for life to be worth living. I suppose it makes sense if there is an ideal balance of perfection and imperfection that becomes perfection again. After all, what would become of longing, wistfulness, and a million other emotions that require a bit of imperfection to make any sense? Life thrives only under a mix of order and chaos – it needs process and transformation. The New World Order sounds really… ordered. Guess I’ll miss out on that lion/lamb thing. My eyes are on a different sort of prize.
  22. God’s Kingdom, a heavenly government that will destroy all other governments soon, is the only solution to mankind’s problems. Very militaristic! The Messiah was originally supposed to be some sort of military leader, I think. I’m waiting for the day that someone will act out some specific prophecies to try to kick-start the thing. Or wait… maybe that’s already happening. I believe that the kingdom is within you. Even more than that, I believe that the kingship metaphor doesn’t really work for us anymore. The claim to heavenly government really foments a lot of hatred and violence (Google extremists, religious terrorism, witch trials, inquisition, Christian reconstructionists, etc.). I can make no truth claim on this one way or another – it depends on how the scriptures are interpreted, and it depends on the status of the scriptures in your belief system, and it depends on how many levels of thinking you can manage beyond literalism. For me, there are two options. First, no such literal event will happen – at least not beyond what has happened before and is happening and will happen again. Second, there really will be such an event, just as JWs believe, and I will then know beyond any doubt that the God they worship is not the God of Love.
  23. Efforts to make the world better or to change the world now are futile. The world outside the Witnesses is a dark and evil place controlled by Satan. Control again! Efforts to make the world better may or may not be futile – there are a lot of powers at work for both creation and destruction. Working together for good has benefits beyond the benefits to the world because it fosters cooperation, and even can help the economy. In addition, the biblical texts suggest that humans are responsible for the stewardship and maintenance of the planet. If you believe that, then allowing it to become a slash and burn zone may have some sort of repercussions. Last, I hope everyone’s noticed that there’s really no place else to go. What we do with the planet and each other creates the space within which we all must live.
  24. Non-Witnesses cannot be trusted, they will betray me, they have no real loyalty, they do not know real love. We are deep in the time of the end in a loveless world. Developing relationships of love and trust can happen anywhere. Betrayal and destructiveness can happen anywhere. If you expect that the world will be loveless, it probably will seem that way. And if you have few experiences of love and trust, it may be more difficult to trust and love. Do JWs foster trust and love among each other? Sometimes, sometimes not. Some of the policies are distinctly mistrustful, even paranoid, and the view of love is extremely truncated. However, there are also Witnesses who are capable of love and trust – it’s just that it’s more difficult for them to thrive. On the “time of the end” – I believe that every day includes aspects of Genesis and Apocalypse, birth and death, creation and destruction – around the world, and within yourself.
  25. The devil wants us to live for now instead of the New World that God will bring. Flip it. Does God want us to live for the New World, and not live now? If so, why all this urgency about placing literature? Seriously though, many religious traditions express some kind of caution about living *only* for today. Others say that that one *can* only live in the moment. The devil has expressed no opinion on the matter.
  26. Going to college or making a lot of money is dangerous to my spiritual health. Lots of things can be dangerous to your spiritual health, including parochialism and cowardice and paranoia. Your ideas may be challenged in college, and if you don’t know how to debate in a civil way, you might become threatened and lose the chance to learn. If you are solely motivated by money and power, you may forget the essential humanity of others. There are risks and challenges to every aspect of life, including the refusal to think or to be kind, which can be very damaging to your spiritual health.
  27. Success in this world is dangerous to my spiritual health. The more I succeed in life outside the Witnesses, the more I am under the devil’s control. There is no correlation between success and control by demonic forces, assuming such exists. This is another control mechanism.
  28. Non-Witnesses are dangerous to my spiritual health. Being trained to be a non-questioning follower is dangerous when you might be following the wrong person or movement. Either a JW or a non-JW can mislead you into a situation that you might not be good for your spiritual or physical or emotional health. Anyone can be a teacher, but sometimes the lessons are difficult. On the other hand, there are amazing wonderful kind people who can inspire you and help you. Personally, I found more of the latter outside the Witnesses.
  29. Not going to Witness meetings or from door-to-door is dangerous to my spiritual health. God doesn’t care about hours or territory maps. God doesn’t require constant indoctrination from an organization. Or – if God does, such a God is not the God of Love.
  30. I am going to be responsible for the deaths of others when the world as we know it ends because I stopped preaching about the end of the world. I am heartless. It’s heartless to try to make someone feel responsible for the deaths of others just because they do not continue to promote your publishing company and your biblical interpretations. Each person’s path is their own.
  31. I have no future in this world because soon the world as we know it will end and I will die if I do not go back to the Witnesses. If the world ends, none of us will have a future. It’s possible. We might blow the place up or pollute it to death or any number of other things. However, being a JW will not protect me from these things if they happen.
  32. The sincere Witnesses will live happily forever in the paradise without me. If JWs, including my closest friends and family, can imagine living happily forever in paradise without me and without other loved ones, they have lost something very essential. I can only grieve for their loss, and hope that they will someday have access to a view of others that makes them a little less disposable.
  33. Loving people do not leave the Witnesses. Only crazy and/or evil-minded people like me do. Loving people sometimes have to leave the Witnesses. Crazy, evil-minded people sometimes have to stay in the Witnesses.
  34. Jehovah (God) will forgive me if I go back to the Witnesses. Then, and only then, will I be happy and truly satisfied in life. Godd(ess) will forgive me for my mistakes because that is the nature of love. There is no covenant for happiness – happiness is momentary, it sneaks up on you, and maybe you’re most happy when you’re not pursuing the idea but just being-there.
  35. The demons can drive people crazy when they leave the truth. Indoctrinated control mechanisms can make it very difficult for some people to leave everything and everyone they know, but there are methods to prepare yourself and find your way.
  36. The only other explanation for my leaving the Witnesses, if I am not evil, is that I am crazy. The JWs have all of the ingredients to psychologically damage people. People leave the Witnesses for many different kinds of reasons. Higher principles, search for acceptance and love, wanting to marry a non-JW, becoming involved in a self-destructive activity like drugs to escape or rebel, caving under the pressure of maintaining a theocratic outer self under the knowledge of one’s own faults and desires, refusing to shun a friend or family member, witnessing acts of cruelty. The list goes on, the high road, the low road, the middle road, etc. Not a binary.
  37. It is better for me to be locked in a mental institution and be crazy or die than to live successfully as a non-Witness. Then maybe I wouldn’t be evil after all. It would be easier for JWs to scapegoat you in your absence if you would oblige them with an example of why people mustn’t leave.
  38. I am a liar because I dedicated my life to do Jehovah’s will and work and now am purposefully not doing it. Maybe. Depends. To what extent are you convinced that what you were doing, how you were thinking, and what you were feeling were in any accordance with the fruits of the spirit? How about now? Then, there is also the possibility that at age – what, 16? – you might not have fully understood what your dedication would mean. Even if you were an adult convert, there is probably even less chance that you fully understood. It might be helpful to articulate what you are committed to and dedicated to now – and update rather than overturn. Look around – If God exists, it follows that God would understand growth and transformation.
  39. I have taken the evil side. There are only two sides, Satan’s and Jehovah’s. Satan has convinced me to decide for myself what is right and wrong. All this focus on Satan! Could it be that Satan is more powerful than God in their eyes? I believe that I cannot completely decide for myself what is right and wrong, but I have a pretty good idea. In addition to my own insights and feelings, I rely on the narratives of the people involved to round out a contextual point of view. I rely on the thoughts and experiences and examples of people I admire, too. But I don’t rely on any one organization’s interpretation of what non-humans might want or not want from me.
  40. I am like Satan. All those like me who know of but reject Jehovah’s Universal Sovereignty and try to decide for themselves what is right and wrong are not loving. Love is the entry point into starting to understand ethics, but ethics reinforces love. One cannot force empathy or caring – one cannot be told to care as a matter of obedience. I am like Satan, in that I will be “the devil’s advocate” to push a debate to its limits and find its boundaries. I am like Jesus in caring about those who have been hurt or abandoned or not allowed to speak. I leave God to being God. Or Goddess to being Goddess. Or whatever that Ultimate Deity might be that we love to project gender upon. All I know is that love is at once the most humble and the most powerful force in the universe.
  41. I am a betrayer, just like Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. I am betraying the loving God and his Son and all those who love them. Therefore I will be betrayed. It is worth remembering that there would have been no religion of Christianity without the kiss of Judas. Does anyone pray for his forgiveness? Betrayal is an action, not an identity. If karma is real, maybe betrayal comes back around. However, leaving a controlling group – even if it’s very difficult – may not be a betrayal at all. Maybe it’s opening your eyes.
  42. Only an unloving person like me would forsake the sacrifice Jehovah made through Jesus by opposing Jehovah’s work being done by Witnesses. The constant association of love with membership is absurd. The work done by Witnesses is to spread a certain theology that emerged at a particular place and time and has its own very specific history. The way to be a loving person is to cultivate kindness and caring and empathy for others just as much as you can.
  43. In a marriage, a man is the head of the household. Some cultures have worked out a division of responsibilities in which the male makes certain kinds of decisions. This is not universal, and may even have developed as a response to an earlier matriarchy. Even within the Witnesses, headship is service and the method is to follow Jesus – for the husband to care for and protect the wife and the household in deep respect and responsibility. Like the stewardship of the planet. It is not an excuse to replicate the controlling aspects of the Watchtower Society within the household. Some will disagree with me, I know, but I also happen to think that each marriage is a team effort, and those who don’t need to rely on certain kinds of roles within the marriage can divide up the responsibilities in whatever ways work out best for them. It’s a task of marriage to do so with mutual respect and fairness.
  44. It is wrong to have sex with anyone, even if you love the person, unless you have a legal certificate of marriage. Marriage is an institution designed to protect assets and the welfare of children. Ideally, a married couple is committed to and deeply in love with one another. They respect each other, they work together, they are honest about their needs and desires, including sexual ones, and through the feedback loops involved in living, they enjoy periods of intense and wonderful sex. Marriage also involves challenges, and there are periods in which things are more tense or withdrawn. On the other side, it is possible to express loving in a sexual way in other situations besides the bond of marriage. That is the decision of the two people involved. There are many kinds of relationships in the bible, but marriage is about family. So, am I saying that all sexuality is ok? Actually, no. It is wrong to have sex with anyone if you view that person as a commodity, or as a tool for addressing your own desires. When your sexual partner is really just a walking doll for your gratification, you’ve not learned anything about either love or sexuality (and it’s obvious, by the way). If you’re having sex only to address some insecurity about yourself, or because you think that’s the only way someone will like you, or because you’re using sex as an escape addition or a power trip – then you’re missing out on the magic. And the magic is what it’s all about.
  45. Any sexuality of any kind outside of a legally recognized marriage, including masturbation, deserves the punishment of death for the unrepentant. The sin of Onan was in disobedience, taking pleasure without responsibility. He was to take his dead brother’s wife to bed as a surrogate so that his brother’s line (and assets) would continue. Instead, he used the “withdrawal method.” Technically speaking, that’s not even masturbation. There is a lot of same-sex love in the bible – David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his apostles. Whether these were sexual relationships too, I don’t know. There are prohibitions on homosexual behavior, but then again these were very close tied (by vocabulary choices) to people who sold themselves to others. If you’re going to rely on Leviticus in any case, read around in the same section about how to treat your slaves and things like that. No – I come back to the same ideas of kindness and caring and respect. If those things are absent, a marriage won’t solve the problem. People love who they love – and where there is love, the spirit is there, too.
  46. I deserve to die just by being born sinful and for overstepping the law of God after knowing the truth. The only way for me and other sinful humans to receive forgiveness and be happy forever is to pray to Jehovah through Jesus. Oh, this list is so long! Ok. There’s nothing you can do to deserve forgiveness, but you can start with being accurate about what mistakes have actually been made. When you can admit that you’ve made mistakes and are trying to rectify them and to learn from them, then the process of forgiveness has already started. If all it takes is an incantation, that’s not very authentic….
  47. I will die at Armageddon because I have stopped praying for Jehovah’s forgiveness of my sins through Jesus. He is the only way to life and truth. Many Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to life and truth. There is some wisdom in that, because Jesus oftentimes illustrated and incarnated that way, and that way is the only way – at least, it’s a really, really, really good way. I will probably not even get to see Armageddon, after all that build-up!
  48. Even if I seem happy for a while living as a non-Witness, eventually if I am a loving person I will realize the truth that the Witnesses were right all along. This one and the next one are very tenacious. There is this feeling that you’ll always see eventually, that you need to come back. Some do! I see no correlation between that and loving, unless it’s that your family have blackmailed you with this and have shunned you meanwhile, so if you want to feel loved and worthwhile, you might feel you have to go back.
  49. Deep down I know the truth — the Witnesses are always right on the main points. I’ve been programmed deep down that the Witnesses might not always be perfect but have always been right on the “main points.” This is so deeply ingrained that it comes up in almost every conversation on this topic. It’s something that even those who have been out for a long time sometimes wrestle with. I had to study for a lot of years before I could shake it, but I feel confident that the Witnesses have some occasional insights, but they are not, and have not, always been right on the main points. Their policies are more destructive than constructive, and more anti-agapic and controlling than loving and pastoral.
  50. I will never really be happy living as a non-Witness. I would have no chance at all for happiness if I was living as a Jehovah’s Witness. In my case, I would also not be living, since I would have refused the blood transfusion that saved my life. I would be intellectually dead because I would have to kill off my talents for inquiry, stop asking questions, stop reading, etc. I would be emotionally dead because I would have to play along with the various petty congregational intrigues and fascades. I would be sexually dead because I’d be trapped in a loveless marriage with a likely abusive JW husband. I would be spiritually dead because I would have to deny years of exploration, insights, mystical communion, and ethics. If I had to live as a Jehovah’s Witness, I could not even work toward becoming the one me in the universe that God might mean for me to become, or be able to accept the me that God somehow loves already. I couldn’t be any me at all without making these things a matter of my deep committment, faith, and life of concern and authentic questioning. I would only be a saleperson, a puppet, a robot.

“It delivers people who have no tolerance for ambiguity from having to make moral choices. It allows self-loathers to project their hatred onto the world. It translates the allure of the world into Satanic temptation, so that those who fear its enticements are armed against seduction. It provides ego balm for the lowly, an identification with the The Chosen. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe as little in psychology as they do in philosophy, it tames or numbs the wilderness of the heart by closing valves of inquiry.” – Barbara G. Harrison

The War Prayer

The War Prayer

Disgusted by the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the then-current Philippine-American War, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) wrote The War Prayer in 1904. It was considered too sacrilegious and provocative for the times. Twain agreed to bury it, but wanted it published after his death (“I have told the truth in that… and only dead men can tell the truth in this world”). He died in 1910, and it was published in Harper’s Monthly, November 1916. I have always found this to be a very powerful piece of writing, and this animation adds a new resonance to how I have imagined it in my mind’s eye before.

Take a few moments. Read. And watch – if you like.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJsZCpp8hR4[/youtube]

Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation.

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsoJ-WJZGXM[/youtube]

Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory–must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.


And then, try reading To the Person Sitting in Darkness.

Satire – the fusing of truth, anger, and irony – is an important genre for us to relearn. We have become too literal, and too superficial. We need more writers like Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Some people don’t even get Colbert and Jon Stewart. Wikipedia has a list, but I think they must define satire too broadly. Top comedians are less satirists than court jesters. Not to say that jesters cannot be satirical, but it’s just one tool in their bag of tricks.

For me, true satire is a little like a koan. You have to play with perspective, and performatively evoke an ethical sense in the other. You know it’s satire when literalists cannot grasp the dynamic: That’s when they will object! … or join up!

Reorienting on Truth

Reorienting on Truth

I just don’t like claims about Truth (big T) because they seem so often to be oppressive and inaccurate and arrogant – and they try to encompass too much while they’re carving things up. Truths (small t) are more humble and gracious and approachable, as I think humans ought to be toward what can only be pointed to and not possessed. Maybe the problem is more than just that we seem to want Truth to be about facticity and controls (and less about openness and infinity).

Truth is composed, inherently, of veils and unveiling, covering and discovering and uncovering – layers and shapes unending. Sometimes I think that Truth is like a lover. One that I have only just begun to know (and may never reach, watching him float always away over a sea of projections and fantasy and fears and habits and all the rest). The lover is on the other side of it all – almost close enough – but always ghostly, beckoning, like a Muse. The lover is the impossible depth (or height) – what can’t be divided, the path of Xeno’s arrow. The metaphor of the lover has helped me a lot over the years, but it is kind of… well.. loaded.

Is there another way to explore this – for me, from my own experience and insights, and not only just through traditions and religions and philosophy?

What is there that reorients and attunes?

My experiential brushes with Truth have some commonalities among them, after all.

Calm. Truth is complex and fractal and mysterious… but calm.

Time slows way down – but does not completely stop – in those truth-y peak moments. Truth is a kind of almost-pause – but there is time, time to think and feel and reach out or close in.

I used to think that slo-mo was just a filmic effect. Maybe it is, and we’ve all just trained ourselves to experience the world we navigate as though it were a movie.

There is a kind of pause –
the momentous
pre-moment
before the moment
in which further movement can occur
or is either real or possible.

Before the iterative patterning.
Before the fallback of the pendulum.
Before the flash of the lake freezing.
Before the car crashes.
Before you’ve leaped.
Before the roller coaster lets – go.

The skipped heartbeat before the longed-for kiss.
The silence about to be broken.

Whether it’s with anticipation, relish, dread –
With clairvoyant foreknowledge or with the beauty of uncertainty –
There is – there – no escape from the movement in and through
a blur, a pivot point, the counterpoise, the attractor.

Dive, run, fight, observe – it doesn’t matter so much
– all the responses come later
and break that eternal shard.
What can’t yet be articulated, categorized
and what is also inevitable –
shimmers, slows, lingers – heavy.
Stops the breath.

People have compared the moment of orgasm
to the moment of death for centuries,
but maybe it’s that nanosecond before either one
that resonates and rings through eternity –
and ties them together somehow.

The moment of being-destroyed / being-created
When everything is possible, and yet only one thing inevitable
And for just that almost-blink, you can’t discern the difference.
But you know you will – and soon.

For a sliver of time (because there is still time, and space enough)
there is still – at once – no time
And it’s filled with a calm and shimmer
that overlays even the strongest of emotions.

And maybe, that’s something like Truth:

Complex, and simple – like death, like loving.

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