Flying Under the Radar, Part 5 (Conclusion)

On growing up JW

JW children are not allowed to:  participate in school holiday events; salute the flag; sing patriotic or holiday songs; participate in patriotic or holiday events; maintain friendships with classmates outside of school (except for the purpose of conversion).  Blushing near purple with embarrassment, I regularly brought notes to my teachers from my mother, which read:  “Please excuse my daughter from [fill in the event] because it’s against our religion.”   (Forget after school activities for the same reason:  My mother would not let me join the swim team because “bad associations spoil useful habits” and “good Christians aren’t competitive.”)

JW children view their classmates as part of the “World” and thus facing death at Armageddon.  That gives JW children a sort of self-righteousness (I can’t fault that – they need SOMETHING to help them feel good, outcasts that they are), because, unlike their classmates, JW children are secure in the knowledge that they both know and are part of the Truth.  There was no other JW child in my elementary school, one other in middle school and but a handful in high school.  It was an alienating existence.

Not surprisingly, going to college is heavily and actively discouraged.  Again, “bad associations spoil useful habits” was frequently quoted as a warning.  Also, JWs preach (and have been preaching for over 100 years now) that “this system of things” will soon be gone so why would you want to waste time in college?  Besides, you’d learn “bad things” that could put you in the position of questioning the Truth (apostasy and an automatic disfellowshipping offense!).

Having spent many years in the ivory tower – both as a student and a professor – I recognize that those “bad things” were critical thinking and reasoning skills, empirical research, history, ancient languages, philosophy and science.  (Oh, and maybe temptation with the Worldly opposite sex.)

The literacy rate required to read and comprehend JW literature reflects not just the lack of education of JWs from an institutional standpoint but, I suggest, also reflects the lack of education of those they most successfully convert.  I once read JW literature described as “Where’s Waldo” but with words.  That descriptive sentence was beautiful in its simplicity and accuracy.

If a JW child likes education in general and natural science in particular, s/he is in for a world of hurt.  Science is a difficult concept for JWs.  Scientific discoveries, facts or theories that go against JW doctrine are, simply, WRONG.  This makes formal education very problematic.  For example:

  • JWs believe that god created the heavens and earth in 7 days but that each of those days was 1,000 years.  Thus, per JW doctrine, no human (including early humans), can be older than 7,000 years.  Any scientific evidence to the contrary is wrong.  (Now try getting through school defending that belief!)
  • JWs don’t believe in the Ice Age.  They believe it was the flood of Noah’s day that made all sorts of geographic changes.
  • Ahh, you may ask, what was the origin of all that water that caused a world-wide flood?  JWs believe that after creation, leftover water remained surrounding the earth (somewhere up in space), sort of like a water-filled tubular balloon encircling the earth.  According to JWs, before the flood of Noah’s day, people could only dimly make out the stars.   JWs believe that god punctured that water balloon to release the water that caused the flood.

No surprise to any of us former JWs (or, for that matter, any person who ever tried to engage a JW in a rational, logical, empirically or philosophically sound discussion), that the Pew Research Center’s sociological comparative analysis of religions in the US found that JWs ranked highest in statistics for getting no farther than high school graduation and the lowest for having earned a graduate degree.

It is a lonely life for a child, especially one like me who defied her mother and secretly read non-JW literature voraciously, JW literature reluctantly and asked lots of questions.  If a JW doctrine made no sense, I would push for more clarity.  Then I would be warned that to question the Society was to “question God’s Holy Spirit” which was apostasy and I could be disfellowshipped.  (As you can see, intellectual inquiry is highly discouraged.)

But my questions at school were not just welcomed but encouraged!  I was one of those students teachers love to have in class.  When my high school advisor and teachers learned I was not taking the classes in the college track, they were stunned.  When they asked me about my college plans, I gave (eyes downcast, face flushed) my prepared answer:  “I’m going to be a missionary.”  One determined (and wonderful!) English teacher gently replied that missionaries would benefit by a college education.  Focused on the ground beneath my feet, my eyes filled with tears and she surely saw a tear splat onto the toe of my shoe as she changed the topic of conversation.  But, concerned educator that she was, she telephoned my mother to talk about my education.  (That did not work out well.)

Did you ever see Brian DiPalma’s Carrie or read the book of the same name by Stephen King?  I was Carrie (though without the ability to move things with my mind).   By high school I floated through the halls like a wraith, hoping not to get anyone’s attention; I tried not to ask too many questions in class as I didn’t want anyone noticing me.  As soon as I turned 16, my mother made me take an “intense” class schedule allowing me to finish high school a semester early and so I could start pioneering (see previous post) by hitting the pavement with the Watchtower and Awake as soon as my last class ended (around noon).  My  mother woke me at 4 a.m. or so to do my homework, my first class started at 7, my class ended by 1 p.m. – a hellish schedule that allowed me several hours of door-to-door time before I had to dash home and bolt down dinner before running to that evening’s meeting at the Kingdom Hall.

Leaving JWs Behind

While adults can geographically remove themselves from their JW upbringing, the scars and effects linger.  Some ex-JWs cannot bear the shunning they experience from their friends and families so return to being a JW.  Some ex-JWs find peace through other religions or spiritual paths.  (The closest I am to a spiritual path is yoga practice.)  To emotionally heal, most ex-JWs find the help and guidance of a professional therapist of critical importance.  (I was one of those.)   I started to find my peace when I went back to school.  I couldn’t do that until my daughter was older, so I was 30 when I finally started college.  I ultimately earned a PhD and became a professor.

Discussions in English on anything remotely religious discomfit me; in Norwegian I am fine.  (My mother pounded us with JW doctrine in English; in Norway my grandmother’s presence always weakened my mother’s ability to force JW doctrine on us.)  I can sit through a religious event only if the services are in Norwegian (or any other language).  I don’t celebrate Christmas; it has no meaning for me, both as an ex-JW and because I’m not Christian.  While I have never uttered (or written, for that matter), the words “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter,” I will say that in Norwegian.

But because the formative years of my life were spent in a weird and strictly dichotomized existence - the World vs. the Truth – I have never felt part of anything larger than my being part of my family and loved ones.  The one exception:  The world of fiber art!

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Flying Under the Radar, Part 4

This is the second-to-the-last post in my series “Flying Under the Radar.”  This particular focus of this post is the door-to-door work aka “witnessing.”  My intent with the series is to provide a look at the inside of a very insular religion: Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs).  I was raised a strict JW but formally “disassociated” myself in the early 1980s.


“This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.”  Matthew 24:14  (on the homepage of the JW official website).

Preaching the Good News of Jehovah’s Kingdom

In the late 1950s, my mother, on a visit from a small, rural town in southern Norway, met my American father and married him 2 months later.  My birth came 10 months later.  I have no doubt my mother (22 years old) and father (23 years old) were dazed as they found themselves parents with very little in common.  My father was a pre-med student working 2 or 3 jobs.  Living in student housing, my mother also worked in clerical or secretarial jobs while I was in daycare.  When she was home with me, my father was usually away at school, the library, or one of his jobs.  My mother never liked Americans, had no Norwegian friends, and few American friends, so she must have felt very alienated.

One day when my mother was home alone with her new baby (me), two neatly-dressed JW women came to the door. My mother would later tell me that she listened and invited them in because they had such friendly smiles. I have no doubt that had the Mormons visited her first … well, the rest, as they say, is history.

JWs are unique in their door-to-door activity. While Mormon males are expected to do two-year missions after high school, all JWs are required to regularly engage in door-to-door activity all through their lives. When I was young, all JWs were expected to go door-to-door a minimum of 10 hours a month; I started counting the “10 hours” when I was around 8 or 10 years old. Every month each JW would complete a little form (available at a counter in the bank – sort of like in a bank), indicating: how many hours s/he spent door-to-door, how many magazines, books or booklets “placed” (they never use the term “sold”), how many “call backs” (return visits to people with whom the JW left magazines, book or booklets), and how many home bible studies were conducted. This information was then aggregated for the congregation and then submitted to the JW headquarters (WBTS – see previous post) in New York.

Few outside the JWs understand or know how this works.

 Why Are JWs in Your Neighborhood?

You have probably seen JWs Kingdom Halls. (They don’t call their meeting places churches; it’s “the Hall.”)  Upon meeting other JWs, they will ask, “Which Hall do you go to” which is asking to which congregation they belong. The congregation names refer to geographic locations (e.g., Napa Congregation or Medford Congregation).  Each congregation has a geographic “territory,” and that territory is contiguous to the territories of the neighboring congregations of JWs.

One of the congregation elders served as the “territory elder.” He was responsible for maintaining, updating and coordinating how JWs “work” (witness by going door-to-door) the territory.  In the free time before or after a meeting in the Hall, the territory elder would stand behind a counter with a box (think large shoe box) containing “territory cards.” They were literally cards (thin cardboard) about 5″ x 3″ on which was glued a piece of a map.  As a JW checked out a territory card, s/he would then be responsible for “working” that territory as indicated the little map.

There were multiple ways to “work” the territory:

    1. A JW could take the territory card and with another JW (2 for safety – though I’d add it also helps stave off complete and utter boredom), drive to the neighborhood on the territory map, pick a street from the map and start walking and knocking on doors.
    2. A JW, along with any other interested JWs, show up at the Hall on a specified time and date to meet an elder or ministerial servant (think elder-in-training) who would have checked out a territory card. The elder/ministerial servant then assigned pairs (unless people had previous plans with whom to pair), and all would leave en mass to descend on an unsuspecting neighborhood.(There are ways to avoid using territory maps. You may have seen JWs who stand in groups on street corners. The people who do that either have mobility problems (but that doesn’t absolve someone from witnessing!), or, frankly, are lazy and just want to stand in one place (been there, done that). You may also have seen JWs walking around a large public building, each holding magazines or tracts in their hands. (If you want to avoid engaging with them, it’s best not to meet their eyes.)

JWs Keep Track of the “Not-at-Homes”

Have you ever had a JW knock on your door?  Here are the scenarios:

  • If you don’t come to the door, as they walk away, they pull out a form and mark down your street address with a code that indicates the “householder” (you) is “not-at-home.” Within the next week or so, they will come back to knock at all “not-at-homes.” The list is probably culled a bit more but the remaining not-at-homes will probably have at least one more (attempted) visit.
  • If you answer the door and they leave without “placing” any literature with you and you don’t seem open to another visit, they will walk away and not mark down anything.
  • If you answer the door and nicely tell them you are too busy to talk, they will probably write your address down to try again when you’re not too busy. After all, you were nice, so that might mean you’re interested.
  • If you answer the door and take some literature just to get them to leave, well, now you’ve just encouraged them. It’s like feeding wild raccoons. They’ll be back. They write down your address and note the literature they left with you. They may also leave other notes such as “seems nice” or “has children” – anything to personalize the next visit.
  • If they return to talk to you because you either seemed friendly and “open” or took some literature, their goal is to establish a home Bible study with you with the ultimate goal of converting you (and your family), to the JWs.
  • If you try to have a philosophical discussion with them about religion, the conversation will end quickly.  They are not there to debate the finer points of spirituality, religious studies or philosophy and mostly likely would fail miserably if they tried.  They are not scholars; they are zealots “trained” on JW doctrine and literature.

If you don’t want JWs to ever come to your door again, you do have options (at least you did when I was a JW): You can

    1. tell the JWs on your porch that you’re disfellowshipped (when I’ve done that the JWs pale, turn and almost run away with surprising speed).  When I was a JW we’d  make a note on the back of the territory card to skip that house in the future.
    2. ask for the name of their congregation, call its number in the phone book, get the name of an elder and ask to speak with him, tell him you are the homeowner and tell him to put the address on a “do NOT call” list. When I was a JW, on the back of the territory cards, the elder would write down the addresses of people who called and did that.

Extreme Witnessing:  Pioneers

While all JWs were expected to spend a minimum of 10 hours witnessing, there were categories that indicated true zealotry:

  • “Temporary Pioneers” (people who committed to spending at least 80 hours a month witnessing door-to-door);
  • “Pioneers” (people who committed to spending at least 100 hours a month witnessing; and
  • “Special Pioneers” (people who moved to “where the need is great” [translation: few JWs in the locality] and witnessed 100 hours a month.

There is no monetary recompense for either witnessing or pioneer service. Simple math tells you that any pioneer has little time to earn money. Not uncommonly pioneers are janitors so they could work at night.

Ultimate Witnessing:  Missionary Work

A special category of JW witnessing work is done by JW missionaries. These are people who are invited to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead – the JW missionary school in New York (see Wikipeda). The JWs refer to it simply as “Gilead.” Both single and married couples may be invited. At Gilead, they receive more doctrinal training and frequently language education as they will be sent to countries “where the need is great.” Unlike most missionary groups, JW missionaries do not provide any other service (e.g., hospital, schools, etc.) than witnessing.  A parent whose child attends Gilead has unquestioned bragging rights as it reflects on the parents’ piety.


Another category that makes parents swell with pride is having a child who’s been selected as a Bethelite.  Bethel is the name given to the JW branch offices where teams of JW volunteers become part of the Bethel Families and provide the labor needed to produce the JW literature.  Some Bethelites may be assigned to work on the Bethel Farms to raise the food needed to feed the Bethelites. (The term “indentured servitude” comes to mind.)  (To be asked out on a date by a current or former Bethelite was a high honor!)

There is no greater thrill for a JW parent than to say, “My daughter’s a Special Pioneer,” or “My son is at Bethel.” Before I washed my hands of it, I was a Temporary Pioneer (starting when I was in high school – so you can imagine how tired I was all the time). My mother hoped I would be invited to Gilead and be trained as a JW missionary.

I dashed those hopes, and my mother and sister have shunned me since.  Both told me that when I admitted I was wrong and returned to “the Truth,” they could talk to me.  It’s been close to 30 years; I wonder if they’re still waiting.

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Flying Under the Radar, Part 3

SweaterAs a preface totally unrelated to the subject of this post, I have been busy knitting (and sometime reknitting) the sweater I designed for Thor’s (belated) birthday present.  :)  I am at the point of joining the two sleeves to the body of the cardigan and decreasing – both for the “v” of the neck and the raglan shoulders.  (It’s ultimate state:  a button-down, shawl-collared, saddle- and raglan shoulder cardigan.)

Back to bringing the JWs out from under the radar …

Since its birth in the late 1880s, the JW organization has updated (changed!) doctrines that were both originally distributed and received as straight from Jehovah. How does that work?

Organizational Structure

    • Headquartered in Brooklyn New York, the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (“WBTS”) is the primary legal entity used “to direct, administer and develop doctrines for the religion.”  (Wikipedia)
    • Its ruling council is the Governing Body, which “assumes responsibility for formulating policy and doctrines, producing material for publications and conventions, and administering its worldwide branch office staff.”  (Wikipedia)
    • The members of its Governing Body are men (very much a boy’s club), who are “invited” to join by the current members of the Governing Body.  (Interestingly, besides needing to be male, there are no minimum criteria for those who are selected, outside that they are to be pious, devout, active JWs. They need have no university degrees in anything that might remotely provide sustenance to their claims (e.g., ancient languages, religious studies, philosophy, etc.).  But then again, the JWs would counter, neither did Moses or anyone who wrote anything in the Bible.)
    • JWs refer to the WBTS as, simply “the Society” and strictly adhere to its admonition.  They accord the Society the holiness and influence Catholics reserve for the Vatican:  JWs say things like “according to the Society” and “the Society tells us …”  (I remember one elder’s wife explaining to us that “if the Society tells us to plant a cabbage upside down, backwards, at midnight, and under a full moon, we do it – no questions.”  I asked what she would do if the Society told her to drink a glass of what looked like purple Kool Aid. (For those of you who do not understand the “purple Kool Aid” reference, that is what Jim Jones gave his followers, though it was laced with cyanide and 909 adherents to Jones’ People’s Temple (including 300 children) died (Wikipedia).

New Light & Admonitions from the WBTS

Despite maintaining that all JW doctrines and biblical interpretations are the “Truth” provided by Jehovah, JW doctrines and interpretations are regularly revised or updated. They call these updates “New Light” – that is, new doctrines, new interpretations and/or new understandings of biblical passages that “comes” (from Jehovah) to the Governing Body members, and is then distributed to the JW congregants. Having sat in many an audience as we received “New Light,” I have witnessed the beatific looks on adherents barely able to suppress admiring oohs and ahhs.

The topics of the New Light range and can be startling!  For example, in the late 1970s I sat through a couple of rousing but rather fuzzy lectures on how JWs (married, of course), should not have any other type of, ummm, physical engagement except that colloquially referred to as “missionary.”  An audience of either flushed or very pale JWs sat stone still while the elder used a house as an example long burned into my memory:  “It’s like a house.  You enter your house through the front door, not the widows.  That’s what the door is for.  What would people think if you kept entering through a window.”  (I remember sitting and trying desperately to keep from collapsing in peals of laughter.)  Those who couldn’t “cease and desist” from any other sorts of ummm, physical engagement were urged to seek the counsel and guidance of the congregation elders.

A doctrine that has had to be revised several times is the Society’s calculation of time remaining until Armageddon.  Earlier generations of JWs were told it would occur at WWI and, later, WWII. When I was growing up JW, we were told that Armageddon would occur before the generation that saw World War II (or maybe it was WWI) had died off.  At one point we were given a year: 1975. For obvious reasons, “new light” had to come forth as those left in those generations age. For instance, as 1975 came and went, the Society rebuked JWs for believing in an actual date, claiming that was a date grasped at by some overzealous JWs. No, it wasn’t. I remember sitting in the audience of one of the large summer JW assemblies and calculating that in 1975 I would be 18 and graduating from high school. I wondered if Armageddon would come before I graduated and, of course, knowing my high school would soon be destroyed did little for my – and my fellow JW students – commitment to academic studies!

Some New Light had and has severe impact on people’s daily lives. For instance, when I was a child, JWs who were unrepentant wrongdoers were disfellowshipped (JWs term for excommunication); no JW could have anything to do with them (except, for instance, family members in your home). By the way, the “wrongdoing” could be anything from first degree murder to smoking cigarettes. (“UnChristian-like conduct” with a member of the opposite sex was the most common culprit.). If the disfellowshipped wrongdoer later repented, s/he could not be “reinstated” until a full year had passed. (If Armageddon came during that year, the disfellowshipped person would be killed in the battle – scary thought!)  If the wrongdoing JW was repentant at the time of the “investigation” (a term I use loosely), s/he was “put on Probation” for a year (think of it as minimum sentencing). During that year, other JWs could interact with them, but the wrongdoer could have no “privileges” (e.g., participating in JW meetings, going door-to-door, etc.).  Later, “Probation” was replaced by “Public Reproof” or being “Publicly Reproved.”

When I severed my connection with the JWs a few years later, these doctrines had been revised. As I wrote a formal letter withdrawing from the JW organizational status (I said I was not a JW and refused to be counted among the “inactive”), the WBTS had established a category called “disassociation.”  (It’s really just nitpicking: I disassociated myself vs. the WBTS disfellowshipping me.  Someone who joined a branch of the military, for instance, would find him/herself “disassociated” not “disfellowshipped” – which I always assumed was to avoid legal trouble. Imagine excluding a congregant because s/he wanted to serve their country. But, you see, JWs are not part of this world.)

Disassociated folks were to be treated the same as disfellowshipped folks:  No JW could interact with or speak to a disassociated person without risk of being disfellowshipped themselves, including family members.  In fact, the congregation elder who telephoned me after receipt of my formal “withdrawal” letter warned me that my mother and sister could never speak or see me again without putting their own JW status at risk.

By the way, these events – disfellowshipping, disassociation, public reproving etc. – are announced to the entire congregation.

Next:  Part 4, Behind the doors, as it were, of JWs’ door-to-door activity.

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Flying Under the Radar, Part 2

As noted by a friend, Jehovah’s Witnesses is a sect that seems to “fly under the radar.”  That is, they are, compared to other religions, left unexamined by media the average person would see or read:  no documentaries, Time magazine expose, movies or TVs about this sect.

erasebookWikipedia describes JWs as a “Christian denomination distinct from mainstream Christianity.”  While JWs use the Christian Bible (both old and new testaments – though, conveniently, their own version/translation), worship the god of that bible (monotheists); believe that Jesus of Nazarene was Christ the son of god who died for humankind’s sins and was then resurrected, they indeed are distinct from mainstream Christianity (and, in many ways I experienced, closer to a cult):

      • JWs do not celebrate Christmas, believing all birthdays are pagan celebrations (this applies to all birthdays of all people, even children), and do not celebrate Easter, arguing it too was once a pagan celebration.  (NB:  Historians would agree.)
      • JWs observe no holidays that other Christians seem to have no problems with:   Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, New Year’s, Fourth of July, any presidents’ birthday (see above re birthdays), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.
      • JWs do not believe in hell or purgatory.  They do not believe people have a soul, rather, that people are souls.
      • JWs believe that only 144,000 out of all humanity (starting with Adam & Eve), will go to heaven.  Those 144,000 will be there to help Christ with his 1,000 year reign as the earth is restored to paradise (see my previous post for explanation of that restoration).
      • JWs observe the memorial of Christ’s death yearly.  It is a somber occasion, during which time a plate of unleavened crackers and a glass of wine are passed down the rows of the Kingdom Hall.  Only those who believe s/he is among the 144,000 (apparently they just “know” if they are), are to sip the wine and eat a cracker.  (As a child I would crane my head around to follow the plate and glass to see who might partake.  In JW upbringing, I saw only one person – my piano teacher – do so.)
      • Unlike mainstream Christians, JWs are required to attend a lot of bible study.  Let’s see … traditionally there was …
        1. The “Home Bible Study” for one hour one evening a week. (Our congregation had that meeting on Tuesday nights at 7:30-8:30 p.m.)  The congregations divide into groups of around 20 people, and each group is assigned a member’s home in which to meet.  There they would be led in Bible study by an elder or ministerial servant (think of that as elder-in-training).  That “study” consisted of people taking turns reading a paragraph from a JW publication, and then the elder/ministerial servant would read aloud the question (at the bottom of the page) for each paragraph and then select among the upraised hands for the answer to be read from the paragraph that was just read.  (By the way, JW publications are written at about an 8th grade level of reading and comprehension.)
        2. The Theocratic Ministry School:  Held weekly (in our congregation from every Thursday 7:30-9:30 p.m.)  There the audience was to learn how to “minister” door-to-door and lead individual bible studies.  (It was always very difficult to stay awake through the whole meetings, and I was always exhausted in school on Fridays.)
        3. Sunday meetings:  A two-hour affair starting (at our congregation) at 10 a.m.  (I’ve heard that later the length was reduced.)  The first hour was a public lecture by an elder or ministerial servant or a visiting elder on something related to JW doctrine, and the second hour was a “study’ based on an article in a recent Watchtower magazine (another JW publication).
          • The leader of the study hour was an elder or ministerial servant (only men).  After each paragraph was read by a chosen congregant, the leader would read aloud the question at the bottom of the paragraph.  Hands in the audience were ready, indicating a person’s ability to find and read the answer in the paragraph just read aloud.  (See parenthetical in #1 above.)
        4. paradiselost3JWs families would have (like Mormons), a Bible study night for the family.  It was based on a JW publication.  When I was a child it was the Paradise Lost book.  (Its gory illustrations about Armageddon gave me regular nightmares for years.)
        5. The most devout JW families started each morning reading a passage and discussion from yet another JW publication:  that year’s (if I recall the name correctly), Examining the Scriptures Daily.    There was a scripture and discussion for each day of that year.  (In addition to that book on our kitchen table one would always find a stack of Norwegian flatbread and a tides table book).
        6. JWs had yearly circuit (so many congregations made up a circuit) and district (so  many circuits made up a district) assemblies and every few years “international” assemblies.  (Those were always “big” events … especially for we girls who agonized over which dress to wear on each day so as to look our best as we hunted and modestly strutted for prospective mates.)
        7. JW children were not allowed to play and form friendships (outside of required school) with non-JW people.  Dating a non-JW is unthinkable and would, if it occurred, reveal the “weak” nature of that person’s faith.
        8. Like many religions, JWs are supposed to marry only other JWs.  Someone who married a non-JW (a Worldly person) was considered “weak” (that is, compared to a “strong” JW), and the rest of the congregation would do their best to help convert the Worldly spouse.  (My sister married two men who were both “Worldy;” my mother attended neither wedding.)
        9. While JWs pay are expected to pay all required taxes (“pay Cesar’s things to Cesar”), JWs will not serve on juries (only Jehovah can sit in judgment), they will not vote (they support only Jehovah’s kingdom), will not serve in the military (that puts one at risk of both serving a Worldly country and killing another person), or engage in political behavior (the only government they give their allegiance to is a theocracy).
        10. If a person baptized as a JW leaves the “Truth,” how s/he is treated depends on the reason for leaving:  (i) Disfellowshipping (where a tribunal of elders have confronted a JW for unchristian like conduct and the accused is unrepentant), results in all other JWs (including family) shunning the disfellowshipped person until that person realizes the errors of his/her ways, repents to the elders, and can be reinstated.  (ii) Disassociation (where a person simply formally severs her/his ties with the organization), results in the same thing: shunning (same as (i) above).  (iii) Inactive (where a person simply stops attending meetings etc.), results in regular attempts by JWs to bring the inactive person back into the Truth.
        11. JWs claim a Biblical reason for refusing blood transfusions and eating anything that might have blood in it.  Oddly (or maybe not!), the meat we could eat was always from a butcher or grocery store.  What was claimed to have blood in it changed over time.  At one point, our congregation elders announced JWs shouldn’t eat hotdogs or Tootsie Rolls, claiming both had blood in them.

Remaining Posts in this Series: 

Part 3:  How JWs revise/update their doctrines.

Part 4:  Why JWs come to your door, and what happens (on their end) when you politely take a tract (they’ll “be back”!).

Part 5:  How all this plays out in the daily life of a JW.

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Flying Under the Radar, Part 1

Occasionally in my posts I have mentioned some of the, ummm - what’s the polite word here – oddities I experienced and witnessed raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) by an über-devout mother.  Over time, I have received several emails from people who (1) were also raised as JWs, (2) have friends/family who are JWs and are puzzled as to what’s goes on inside the JW world, or (3) simply were curious – or perhaps disbelieving :) – as to the experiences I recounted.

I shared this with my friend and crochet guru Summer who said, quite thoughtfully, that it seemed that Jehovah’s Witnesses have always “flown under the radar.”  What Summer meant by that is there are numerous documentaries and news shows (e.g., PBS, Frontline, American Experience, etc.), about the Amish, Mormons, the Catholic Church and all it scandals through the centuries, and so on but, she noted, people don’t really seem to know much about JWs.

In fact, Summer – a highly educated, intelligent and religious woman – didn’t know that the JWs were an American religious sect founded in the late 1870s.  (By the way, neither of its two founders went to university, nor could they speak, read or write Latin, Greek or Hebrew – or, for that matter, any other language most Biblical scholars need.)  Nor did she know that JWs use “Jehovah” as God’s name, versus “God” being merely a descriptive title.  We were told it was taken from Hebrew characters (יהוה).  (If you’re curious, see Wikipedia for more.)

In any event, my conversation with Summer those many months ago never left my mind.  While I work through the design on Thor’s sweater (I’m on the sleeves now), and trying to keep accurate notes (yikes – a LOT of work!), I decided to shed some light inside the world of the JW.

As described by Wikipedia, “Jehovah’s Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity.”  What exactly does that mean?

Here’s the explanations and (in italics) the JW twists, my examples, or clarifications to that one-line description of the JWs:


  • JWs believe a war called Armageddon (“the war of god the almighty”), will come during which anyone who has not become a JW will be destroyed (no chance of life thereafter) by Jehovah.

Holding my baby, my mother crooned:  “Too bad your father is an adulterer and your mother will be killed by Jehovah in the Battle of Armageddon.”

The year of its coming has changed over time.  In the early 20th century, it was 1914; when I was a teenager, it was 1975.  Yes – an actual date.  I remember sitting in the hot sun on a bench at a huge JW “assembly” (huge meeting of thousands) when the speaker explained – to a rapt and increasingly terrified audience – when Armageddon would come.  A simple addition yielded the year 1975.  As the year 1975 has come and gone, the JWs changed its organizational tune, claiming that the date was spread around by a few JWs who were overzealous and misunderstood.  But I was there when the “new light” was revealed.

I remember thinking that I would turn 18 years old in 1975 but maybe Armageddon would come early that year so I wouldn’t have to finish high school.  People in our congregation put off buying homes, dropped out of high school, or ran up lots of purchases on credit all secure in the knowledge that as of sometime in 1975, Armageddon would have taken care of it all.  (See below.)

  • After Armageddon, a thousand-year rule by Christ will begin during which time the faithful who survived Armageddon (all JWs, of course) will restore the earth to its original paradise form.
  • After the earth is restored to paradise, God will start resurrecting – in reverse chronological order – two groups of people:
  1. Those people who served Jehovah and died faithful to him.  This gamut runs from Abel, killed by Cain (remember, it’s in reverse chronological order so he would be the last resurrected), and all the JWs killed by religious persecution or simply died from natural causes up to moments before the bloodbath of Armageddon starts.
  2. Those people who died without ever having a chance to hear about Jehovah.

This explains the near-frenzied door-to-door activity.  (So those of you who send JWs packing, take heed!)  Armageddon can’t come, we were taught, until all of the people alive today have had a chance to learn about Jehovah.  (Now take a moment to think about that … could that ever be possible?!)

Those people resurrected who still refuse to accept the “Truth” would be killed/die once again, never to be resurrected.

Everyone else (those who accept Jehovah), would get to live forever.  (My questions as to what would happen when the earth could support no more people weren’t satisfactorily answered by the standard JW responses:  “Have faith in Jehovah” or “pray.”  (I knew not to ask too many questions, as that would indicate we were “questioning the Holy Spirit.”)


  • JWs believe, as do many sects and groups, that they are restoring biblical/god’s beliefs in line with what Jehovah truly meant as set forth in the Bible.  (Of course, it’s eminently useful that the JWs use their own version of the Bible.)

Of course, many groups and people have worked to do this in their own way, including (but not limited to) Martin Luther (remember, he didn’t intend to start a new religion but merely bring Catholicism back in line with God’s intent), Hussites, Puritans, and 7th Day Adventists.  By definition, any religious group – whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim – is “radical” when it seeks to get back to the “roots” of its faith.

The language of the JWs dichotomizes their beliefs and clearly establishes their restorationist approach:  They divide all people as (1) “in the Truth” (JWs), and (2) “in the World” (everyone else). Some examples of how those phrases are used:

  • “Oh, that boy’s cute.  Too bad he’s Worldly.”
  • “This is my cousin Donna.  She is now in the Truth!”
  • “Karen left the Truth” [and joined the World].”

Nontrinitarian Beliefs :

  • JWs do not believe in the doctrine of the trinity which posits the coexistence and coequality of God-the-father, God-the-son and God-the-holy-spirit.  They believe in Jehovah as God, Jesus as Christ (and God’s son), and the Holy Spirit – but they are all separate.

Next post: 

My next post will explore the Distinct from Mainstream Christianity part of Wikipedia’s description.  Some good examples coming …

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Math Skills & Gauge Avoidance?

The other day at a knitting group, I brought up a thought that I had been mulling over for a while:  It seems to me that knitting small items, such as shawls, shawlettes, hats and socks, has surpassed knitting larger items, such as sweaters, dresses, skirts and jackets.  I admitted I based my observation on the knit items (1) I have seen worn at various fiber events, and (2)  shared at knitting circles and guilds.

Only one person – a young woman who regularly teaches knitting classes – seemed interested in this topic, and we had an interesting conversation.  I shared my guesses with her:

  1. The increasing cost of the yarns – especially the hand dyed and specialty dyed yarns – creates a prohibitive cost for making larger items.
  2. Too many knitters don’t want to be “bothered” with or don’t know how to fit larger items.
  3. A small project out of a gorgeous yarn can be finished fairly quickly and worn (or gifted) quickly.

The knitting teacher added one more guess:

4.  Gauge:  Many knitters prefer smaller projects where gauge isn’t as critical.

Hmmm … gauge is math-based … most knitters and crocheters are women … women are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees and careers, … and there is a powerful stereotype that too many women quickly grab onto:  “Oh, I’m just not good at math.”  (Sadly, I heard that a lot from a lot of female students, and not just when I tutored algebra at an inner city high school.  I heard it routinely from both undergraduate and graduate female students.)

Yet knitting and crocheting are math-based!  So if you can knit and crochet, take heart:  You can knit/crochet your way to stronger math skills!  I will use Thor’s cardigan, a work in progress), as an example.

In order to get the perfect combination as well as a perfect fit, you cannot rush swatching and gauging.   Look for the right combinations of cables, stitches and sweater design that heapOyarnwill work well with your yarn for your selected project.

For Thor’s sweater, I chose to use Brown Sheep’s no-longer-produced Prairie Silk (72% wool, 18% mohair, 10% silk, 50g/88y/80m), which I overdyed.  I poured through many books of cables, knit many swatches in various gauges and stitch patterns, measured swatches and explored various sweater designs.

LarrySweaterSome of you will recognize the cables as one of Elsebeth Lavold’s designs, Bjärs Hitches.  Thor loves cables, but an all-over-cabled cardigan knit in Prairie Silk would have been overly warm – for where we live, at least.  Instead, each side of the cardigan has a mirror image of the cable.   I didn’t want to use a plain stockinette stitch in between the cables and decided ribbed garter.

I knit swatches for both Bjärs Hitches and the ribbed garter on different needle sizes until deciding on the size that worked best with both the cable and the ribbed garter.  In calculating the number of stitches I needed (after the initial 2/2 ribbing), I needed separate gauges for the cable and the body stitch.

The result will be a cardigan fully customized for Thor, one that he can wear for the rest of his life.  And every time I see him wear it, I will know all those hours of gauging and swatching were worth it.

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Miscellany | 31 Comments



Americans concerned about their retirement pensions – pubic or private – will find this an interesting read! I worked for a public institution for a few years and taught public administration, so I am all too familiar with the dark future of public pensions given state finances and the experiences of cities declaring bankruptcy, such as Detroit.

Originally posted on Larry's Critique:

In Berkshire Hathaway’s most recent annual report, Warren Buffett discusses pensions.  I have extracted pertinent paragraphs and pages relevant to the general discussion of pensions.  For the complete report, see Berkshire Hathaway Inc. 2013 Annual Report available at )

Local and state financial problems are accelerating, in large part because public entities promised pensions they couldn’t afford. Citizens and public officials typically under-appreciated the gigantic financial tapeworm that was born when promises were made that conflicted with a willingness to fund them. Unfortunately, pension mathematics today remain a mystery to most Americans.

Investment policies, as well, play an important role in these problems. In 1975, I wrote a memo to Katharine Graham, then chairman of The Washington Post Company, about the pitfalls of pension promises and the importance of investment policy. That memo is reproduced on pages 118 – 136.  (Emphasis added.)

During the next decade, you will read…

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