My Life in Jehovah's Service

by Terry Walstrom

 

Reply to Terry's Life in Jehovah's Service by a JW

PARADISE LOST Kingdom Tunes by Terry

 

 

Now old friends are acting strange

they shake their heads, they say I've changed

but, something's lost and something's gained

in living every day.

I've looked at life from both sides now, from win and lose

but, still somehow it's life's illusions I recall; I really don't know life at all.

BOTH SIDES NOW by Joni Mitchell

 

Like so many other former members of the New World Society of Jehovah's Witnesses I think back on my old "friends" and find they are no longer friends at all. They look at me and shake their head and the dust from their feet as though I were some foul thing to be avoided with the stench of death about me.  Yet, at one time we called each other "brother" and "sister" and shared the same "mother," the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society.

There can be great sadness and a profound sense of loss at having your entire "family" wiped out in a single moment as anyone who has lived through tragedy can attest. People who smiled at you, shook your hand and shared your every joy; those whose intimate knowledge of your life's deepest moments vanish in the twinkling of an eye! But, wait!  It is beyond human power to prevent a tragic accident that results in having loved ones wrested from you forever. It is yet another thing altogether for it to be done on purpose!  No, I don't mean murder. Yet, in a way it is the same. Let me explain.

 Thousands of people walk the earth who once had the strongest bonds in their own life broken deliberately and with utter disregard for the injustice of it. I speak of persons disfellowshipped from Jehovah's Witnesses.

True, many of them no longer desired to live under the restraints of the rule-laden milieu of Jehovah's "happy people.” Some broke important rules and moved beyond willingness to be forgiven. Others found themselves in the uncomfortable and often untenable position of being whip-sawed by their personal conscience allowing them freedom to act yet, denied such freedom by the personal representatives of God Almighty.

Whatever the reasons in each particular case, the fact remains that the very concept of FAMILY hardly allows consideration of ousting and backturning as an act of ultimate execution of judgment.

But, the road is long that has no turning and, for myself, it was a long road indeed from the late 1950's when I began attending Watchtower Studies until the evening I walked through the doors of a Kingdom Hall for the last time.

    The year was 1959 and I was a twelve year old kid in the 6th grade of elementary school when I first met my best friend, Johnny. It would be through his constant prodding, challenging and questioning that the subject of religious orthodoxy arose.  These conversations were annoying to me and created a sense of discomfort because they touched on areas and subject matter unknown to my experience.  I was a bright kid and interested in many things; but, religious data (if you can call it that) was outside my expertise. As a result I had nothing to offer by way of rebuttal, defense or counter argument when Johnny bore in on me and flipped through the Bible citing scripture after scripture.  It seemed to me at the time I was dealing with an overpowering force. Johnny was my closest friend and we shared everything. This was important to him and it became important to me as well.  My own family, when they first heard I was involved with Jehovah's Witnesses, reacted surprisingly. I was quite astonished how fervently they condemned the group out of hand.

The main objection raised was the charge of "twisting the scriptures."  I utterly rejected this at face value.

Looking back I see it was for three main reasons.

1. Everything Johnny seemed to be saying was supported by several Bible passages.

2. My family had never espoused religious views; so, how would they know true from false?

3. Johnny was offering me an invitation to become part of something much larger than the world I had known.

    I'm now 57 years old and I'd give anything if I could miraculously sit down with my 12 year old self and have a little chat!   Here is what I would explain.

The world is filled with sincere people who have deep convictions about things. The depth of their convictions and the strength of their belief has enthusiasm behind it and a persuasive contagion. But, whether such beliefs center on UFO kidnappings, Bigfoot sightings, JFK conspiracies or ordinary superstitions about walking under ladders,  the truth of the matter has to connect with facts.  Facts require an honest and open examination of genuine balance.  Pros and Cons.  But, when religion is involved such an examination is elusive. The Bible, for example, contains little that is "testable" in the usual scientific sense.

I'd tell myself that I was being attracted to a ready-made family that seemed eager to shower me with love and acceptance that was almost impossible not to desire. ( I was an only child reared without a father in the house. The appeal of a Heavenly Father and a Kingdom Hall filled with "brothers" and "sisters" was quite an attraction!)

I would also point out to my 12 year old self that the "expertise" I had observed when Johnny argued from the Bible by flipping to scriptures was a response generated by indoctrinations and constant practice in meetings.  Thinking patterns and argumentations are learned by rote.   Actual reasoning and thinking was hardly a part of  learning at all!  A fair fight pits equal combatants on a level playing field. Jehovah's Witnesses create all the advantages.  How? Churches don't teach rhetoric, argumentation, strategy and refutation!  Kingdom Halls do. Put a specialized and well-trained anybody against an amateur in any field of competition and the outcome is foreordained!  Otherwise, how would car salesmen ever earn a living?

And another thing would be important to mention. In normal everyday life our curiosity leads to learning. We raise questions out of noticing things and seeking information. We ask questions to stimulate the process of learning what we need to know and how to connect the dots.  But, in the Watchtower Society a very peculiar practice has been put in place that is unlike any other religious group.  All the questions are made up for you!

Questions come, not from your own curiosity or intellectual process, but, from Watchtower Headquarters.

Every page and every paragraph of the hundreds of publications have prefabricated curiosity implanted in advance like those dance studio footprints on a ballroom floor!  Every step has been plotted. The result is a peculiar short circuit. What is stifled is natural and PERSONAL interaction with the materials being read.

This is an insidious and subtle means of thought control.  I'd warn my 12 year old self to spend some time thinking about things outside the rigorous controls and methods being indoctrinated into me.

Finally, I'd advise looking at the wording of Watchtower writings with special focus on word choices. The style is quite artificial and forced. Hot-button phrases strongly influence thinking.  A sentence that starts with:

"All honest-hearted persons know....."  disables disagreement in advance.  Taking any paragraph under study and underlining the adjectives can lead to a peculiar awareness of the hidden persuaders being used.

     But, nobody ever gets to lecture themselves in such a manner, do they? No. Life is filled with opportunities for trial and error learning.  What I was going to learn, I learned the hard way!

It is almost laughable to recall my progress in The Truth. For four years I simply went through the motions and to the meetings largely out of companionship and prodding from Johnny.  I think of the old saying, "When in Rome do as the Romans do.” That would describe myself as a teen in the New World Society.  My friends almost exclusively became Jehovah's Witnesses. We had our own world view. That view was a kind of strangely mythic story that explained life down to a manageable level. Good guys vs Bad guys is not rocket science. Others, outside of the Organization (what we called our religion when we weren't calling it The Truth)

might be puzzled by world event, but, we never had the slightest doubt at all.  Everything bad that happens means Armageddon is coming soon!  Anything mysterious always means a demonic force is at work!

Birthdays, Christmas, holidays are demonic!  The only refuge in this House of Horrors was a local Kingdom Hall.  How much clearer can life be???  Every non-JW is a "worldly influence" that can lead to our being hacked to death by an angel at Armageddon!

I know.  It sounds ludicrous now.  It sounded like simple black and white fact back then.

I recall reading a book called THIRTY YEARS A WATCHTOWER SLAVE and laughing at it. The book was a no-no. It was apostate literature. Naughty!  But, it didn't bother me at all reading the words of a person who had "returned to his own vomit." The beauty of KNOWING you have the Truth is that you are filled with a peculiar glow of absolute certainty. It is better than any drug and leads to enormous personal confidence.

A person who has never been absolutely convinced of their own certainty cannot possibly understand these words.  Ordinary people are plagued by indecisions. Internal Q & A can cripple anybody with hesitations.

But, being empowered by "accurate knowledge" from the Supreme Being, Jehovah plugs you in to a power source that cannot fail!   Just think of your favorite James Bond villain and you'll begin to understand this.

   Life as a teenager in the New World Society of Jehovah's Witnesses is easy to describe.

At school you are quite apart from normal kids.  But, normal is worldly and worldly is "marked for destruction."  So, quite literally, everywhere you look you "see dead people.”  Or, as John Wayne said in the Alamo, "They may be walking around; but, they're dead as a beaver hat!"

You don't pledge allegiance to the flag, for one thing.  That marks you as different. It brings a spotlight on you in a peculiarly thrilling way that is both embarrassing and empowering.  On the one hand it singles you out for consideration. And on the other hand it allows you to demonstrate how special and empowered with integrity you are.  Being different is what being a teenager is all about anyway, isn't it?  Psychologists call it the phase of "differentiation" which is a fancy way of saying you find out who you are that makes you special.  So, JW kids have a ready made plan for finding out how special they are.  They don't celebrate Christmas, birthdays, Easter and they are constantly explaining, explaining, explaining to the curious-minded WHY WHY WHY they are so nutty.   It is a make or break period for most JWs.  If they "break" they face losing their own lifeline to Paradise, so, the stakes are high.

I was baptized at the Cleburne, Texas Assembly two days after JFK was assassinated in Dallas.  While the United States and the world at large were plunged into a deep depressing anxiety, I was plunging into a large tub of water.   My age was 16. I was dedicating my life to Jehovah God.  I can vividly recall that day because I was aware that my life was now being directed by holy spirit because of my personal decision.

If I am honest with myself all these years later I can see why I was doing what I was doing.

There was a certain pressure behind my actions. I had been going to meetings and pairing with door to door preaching for four years. I knew the drill, as they say. It was not unlike two people who have dated for a long time who feel the pressure to marry.  It all comes down to a reality check, really.

I'd say now, with the objectivity of the passage of time that there was hardly any reality in my head at all as I came up out of the water a bonafide Jehovah's Witness.

I craved acceptance. I needed to feel like my life was about something. I desired a sense of personal importance and a mission connected to a future. I strongly and passionately, above all, was clutching at the sense of being alive to an experience. "Passionately alive" is hardly an ordinary description of everyday life.

But, isn't that what we all crave most honestly?  We don't want to know the "meaning" of life; we want to experience life to the fullest possible measure of feeling!  The God experience has been pre-sold as the most mind-blowing of all experiences. Glowing with empowerment and purpose is a heady job description!

My life was so ordinary I'd have done anything to break the shackles and breathe free air.  The 60s offered many alternatives, did it not?  There was the Youth culture, marijuana, LSD, Rock n Roll, the British Invasion, a changing world at odds with itself on all sides and... Jehovah on the other.   I made my choice.

   Life did not change at all after baptism. There was no magic. There was no miracle or vision or tickle of original feeling. It was a flat, unimportant nothing.  I went to meetings as before. I went out in the door to door work as before. But, my own personal life was hollow.

I needed education, for one thing.  I had a very active mind eager to learn; but that required direction and purpose and a sense of the future. I should have gone to college. I should have been considering a career.

But, with Armageddon right around that corner---why bother?

I fell into the deepest trap of all. My future was stolen from me right out from under my nose with my own permission!  The mission of Jehovah's happy people is to warn everybody that the only meaning to life is to be one of Jehovah's happy people! Or.....you'll die!  And soon!!

Education? For what? Armageddon is near.

Marriage? For what? Armageddon is near.

   It is, indeed, a trap.  A person who puts all their income into a savings account and then discovers that the bank has failed might understand this trap. Simply put: Now is sacrificed for Later.

I sat watching an anthill the other day and was struck by the inescapable thought that all the activity and diligence, the furious grunt work of those ants was a microcosm of Jehovah's Witnesses.

I was a teenager in a rapidly shifting society with the threat of nuclear war from the U.S.S.R. on the one hand and the Great Day of God the Almighty on the other hand. Who was I to complain that my personal life was empty and unfulfilled??

Yet, it was. I had been hit hard by puberty. What teen boy isn't?  But, Watchtower articles made it quite clear what I could not indulge in. So, while others of my own generation experienced every kind of "free love" imaginable (and unimaginable) I stayed a virgin.  To this day I have not decided if that was a good thing or a bad one!  I'm not kidding!!  I was simply racked by internal upheaval, longing, frustrations and confusion. But I towed the line.  Other JWs my own age slipped now and then; but, that was them and not me.

And then one day I was 18 years old and was facing the Military Service draft and the war in Viet Nam.

   The induction notice arrived in the mail and life was changed in an instant of time!  The Congregation Overseer and his assistant took me into the back room of the Kingdom Hall and explained what to do.

"You can't ever tell anybody that you were advised not to serve in the military." The Overseer explained.

"You have to say it was a personal decision based on your understanding of the Bible."

"Your local draft board will call you in and question you. They determine whether you get a deferrment or not.

If not, you go before a judge and he'll sentence you to community service. But, you can't accept that alternate service." The Overseer made it quite plain.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you would be compromising. By serving the community you are still "serving" Satan and not Jehovah, see?"

And that is where I have to take complete responsibility. I did not "see.” I did not understand the subtle argument at all. But, I was ashamed to admit it. I thought I'd appear unwilling to step up to my manly responsibility as a Witness if I required more tutoring. I just nodded and that was that!

   Once again, I wish I could go back to that moment in time. I wish I could somehow speak for myself with the 57 year old brain and not the 18 year old mush inside my head.

What would I say that would be different?

"If I can't say I have been advised not to serve in alternate service--why are you actually doing it? (Advising) Isn't that breaking the law? If you are breaking the law for a godly purpose should you not ALSO face the consequences of your choice?"

I might further add this: "Serving in a community hospital instead of killing on the battlefield is a provision of law. If I am in subjection to the Superior Authorities placed in their relative positions by Jehovah, why wouldn't that do more good than rotting in prison?"

But, the Superior Authorities at that time were explained to be---not secular governments--but, Jehovah and Jesus!!  That was swept away by "new light" too late to do me any good.

As a result of this consultation which was unmentionable at the Kingdom Hall I ended up with a Youth Corrections Act sentence of Indeterminate length. (It turned out to be a 2 years in and four years on Parole).

   The hardest thing I ever did in my entire life was surrender myself into custody to begin serving my sentence to a Federal Correctional Institution.  I was scared beyond all measure. But, to the outside I appeared to be calm and full of certainty. I was anything but!  I had no experience around men at all in any meaningful sense because I'd been raised without a father.  Women had taken the major share in rearing me. As a result I was a bit of a creampuff and not a macho kind of teen.  I look at old photos of myself and I can see why I often was the focus of a bully or a taunting stranger. I simply looked like I needed to be slapped into shape! I was tall and skinny and clueless!  But, I was sure of one thing: I was doing what Jehovah required of me.

It was as though I was buying credibility by my actions.  I seemed to be bartering for self-respect.

See me? I look like a wuss but, I'm tough enough to go to prison for my religious faith.

Is my life an empty mess? Sure, but, I have guts and prison will prove I'm no soft quitter!

Finally I had the kind of Trial of Passage most young men crave that will mark the boundary between being a child and becoming a man. Primitive societies understand this and have rituals of endurance or pain that allow the community to witness the "becoming.”  By going into prison I could demonstrate what I was made of and I would exit (if I survived!) with credentials of faith and a serious gravitas that other JWs my own age would not possess.

But, what was actually going on inside of my head? Was I actually thinking these things? No! I was not.

Inside my head there was a panic of activity that, only now, I can say with confidence that I understand.

It is now the year 2004 and I've had decades to distance myself from the experience. I've spent long hours in therapy, in personal reflection and in discussions trying to piece it all together. I've read a lot, too. From today's perspective I know what was going on. But, back then, at age 20 (the year I finally began my sentence) it was a mixture of fear and faith.

Philosophy has a category called Primacy of Consciousness. I think I was a casebook study in that very thing. It means believing you can create reality simply by thinking it!  It requires denying whatever you don't want to be true and insisting what you do want is actually so. An easier way of saying it in everyday language is wishful-thinking; except Primacy of Consciousness carries with it no internal admission that you are being unreal and delusional.

I had entered a dream world. I shut out reality. A psychiatrist could explain better than I could that it was a protective mechanism to safeguard my well-being as far as possible under the circumstances.

My only source of empowerment and protection was what I could convince myself was real. I prayed almost continuously from morning until night for Jehovah's will to be done in my life. A cynic would say I was in a state of self-hypnosis. That sounds crass and denigrates my innocent plunge into a mind state that would shield me from harm.  I chose to focus every waking thought on creating a reality that put my suffering (such as it was) into a meaningful context and made it all worth enduring. Jehovah had to be real. I spoke to Him, so logically, He was real.  See how easy it becomes?  I was there to serve Jehovah; consequently I was doing Jehovah's will. That meant I was suffering for righteousness’ sake. That is a good thing and worthwhile.

That is how it went. I memorized 845 scriptures while in prison, I memorized the dates concerning Bible chronology and threw myself into an intense intellectual mastery of what the doctrine was I was serving.

  But, prison is prison. Prison is too real to ignore.  In the County Jail, for instance, there were 20 other prisoners who were not there because of religious convictions. Some were murderers. Some were intensely abusive and foul. The inmates smoked cheap tobacco almost every waking moment in a sealed space.

The lights are never allowed to go out. There was no mattress on a steel bunk. I was isolated and desperate but I stayed inside my head as much as I could. In County jail I narrowly escaped a bad episode or two which I never mentioned in my letters to the outside.  I regarded that as proof Jehovah was protecting me.

In Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution I settled in with other JWs to a more unthreatening surrounding.

There were usually over 25 Jehovah's Witnesses at any one time. We banded together and had meetings that mirrored our outside existence. We felt safe in our group although we did not share the same dwellings. We were scattered throughout the compound mixed in with the general population. The average inmate was some sort of felon who had violated a Federal Law. It could be anything at all such as murdering a federal officer or robbing a bank, crossing a state line with a minor or drug violations.  To the unwitting observer it would not be possible to tell the good guys from the bad simply from outside appearances.

I learned that the hard way!  Without going into embarrassing details I'll say this. I came within a hair's breadth of being raped in an isolated part of the prison because of my own incredibly naive conviction that a prisoner, who was asking me questions about my religion, only desired "information.” Not so!!

After that episode I became paranoid and angry and could not sleep at night for fear of being "creeped on.”

I slept with a two by four by my bed. I harbored fantasies of revenge. It was a horrible mind state I would not wish to experience again.  In prison you do not snitch out another prisoner for any reason. It can mean your life!  I confided in the prison JW overseer what had happened. He took care of it himself!  He took four of the biggest brothers (who pumped iron regularly!) to the offending inmate's area and gave him a "fear of god" speech.  That meant a lot to me!

The bonding process inside prison is incredibly intense. I made the kind of friendships inside that you hardly ever experience in everyday life; the sort of relationships that are supposed to last a lifetime. (Not so).

   While I was inside prison for my religious convictions on a crash course in Jehovah's Witness indoctrinations the brothers on the outside were busy in other ways.  Looking back I can't say that I blame them too awfully much.  What I mean is this.  As a Jehovah's Witness one of three things ultimately decides your fate.

1. You realize you have to make some sort of normal life for yourself and you adapt to a balance between the real world reality and JW Primacy of Consciousness.

2. You binge; first being disfellowshipped for cause and then being reinstated. Rinse and repeat.

3. You become a True Believer and reality vanishes forever. Whatever happens you are a company man.

   Just before going into prison I became engaged to a Witness girl that I met at the last assembly I had attended.  It was not unlike a wartime romance where the boy is being shipped off to battle soon. We pledged our undying love and promised to write.  Once I was inside she did write and visited me once a month.

But, my fellow JW brothers on the outside started pressuring her to date them. It was only a matter of time. She stopped writing and the romance vanished before it really began.

Johnny visited me only twice in the entire two year period.  He had married and started a family and was working full time.  I can't say that he wrote more than once or twice the entire time. He knows his reasons. I don't.

By the time I was paroled my mind had transformed. I was like a man who had had a vision of things beyond ordinary life.  I bowed my head and prayed before every meal much to the embarrassment of others. I spoke Watchtower fluently. I was an annoying Gung-Ho marine for Jehovah. Over that hill, boys--forward to Armageddon!!

I was immediately approached by my congregation overseer (now called an elder) waiting to sign me up as a full time pioneer at 100 hours in field service per month.  To be perfectly honest, I did not want to do that.

I wanted to get a job and move out of my parent's house and earn money to buy a car and save money so that I could get married.  That is what I, Terry Walstrom, wanted to do.

I signed up to pioneer.

    The one thing uppermost in my mind was avoiding screwing up my status with any fleshly feelings or actions that would rob me of my new found respect among my peers. Jehovah could see my heart; of that I was convinced.  I felt it was better to marry than to burn (with desire).  Who did I marry? Johnny's sister.

That kept it in the family.

Within four years I was married, had 3 small children, was deeply in debt and had no future of any kind. Oh yes, except for life in Paradise which was going to arrive any day now. Armageddon loomed large in the New World Society.  While in prison the Truth That Leads to Eternal Life book started the snowball down the mountain leading to 1975.  I remember the thrill that went through all the brothers in Seagoville that Armageddon was so genuinely near and concrete!

We tried to figure out how all the events could take place before the awful and wondrous day arrived.

It was difficult to fit everything foretold into the short time span. But, then--that was God's worry and not ours.

   But, by 1974 I was so financially behind I was desperate and bewildered. I could not pay my bills living on part time jobs. I had no educated skills that I could translate into a decent earned wage. The only talent I seemed to possess was a skill in art. I was a natural portrait artist.

A chance conversation with my aunt Shirley in California convinced me I could get a decent career in art in the Golden State if I were willing to leave Texas and make the break.

After having gone through the trial by fire of prison I was fearless!  I packed everything up in my 1970 Ford Maverick and left everything else behind. We drove straight to California.

It seems miraculous to me now. I have a hard time getting it all straight in my head. The next 9 years were unlike any that had preceded them. It was a whirlwind and a change amazing and fulfilling.

Shortly after arriving in California I had a job as a painter in a production art studio called Triangle Art.

I was earning three times as much as anything I had earned in Texas; only this time I was doing something for which I was suited. No more petty jobs doing janitorial work or retail sales. I was creating art!

I quickly made new friends who, for the first time, were not only not Jehovah's Witnesses---they were deeply interested in me as a person.  Those friends, members of ---gasp---other religions, became truer friends to me than any I made in the JW organization and they remain such to this day.  They helped me with the actual needs of life!

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. Jehovah's Witnesses will give you words. They will give you counsel. They will give you directions and scriptures and goals. They don't have any support system that attends to your actual living needs in this world!  There are no schools, no daycare facilities, no hospitals, no colleges, no insurance plans nor any retirement facilities. None. None at all. If you get into Real World problems you are on your own and are considered "spiritually sick.” They might pray for you, but, that is all you will get.

My newfound "worldly" friends helped me in a real way. I soon had a car, an apartment and a means of earning a living and experiencing what a genuine feeling of personal achievement was all about.

Meanwhile I stopped attending meetings regularly.  My wife and children continued to attend.  My little 7 year old daughter came to me one Sunday morning and told me I needed to go with her to the Kingdom Hall or I would be killed at Armageddon!

That got my attention big time!

I started back attending. Only this time, there was a big difference.

I decided I would start from scratch this time. I would examine what I was believing and learning and doing from the ground floor up. I'd test everything for truth content as far as possible.

Little did I know where all that would lead me!  I did what many JWs of an intellectual bent often do; I learned Greek and started using Strong's Concordance and began reading secular scholars about archaeology and dates.   The Primacy of Consciousness began to give way to Primacy of Objectivity.

The paint was peeling off The Truth.

1975 came and went without anything at all happening. No Armageddon at all.  It was like 1914 all over again. Had it come invisibly? Not possible this time.  What went wrong?  The answer was soon forthcoming from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society itself.  It was the fault of the brothers and sisters themselves who had read too much into the Society's publications!  Really?

We had run ahead of the organization? How? Where did we get such notions? How had we been so self-deluding?

It happened then.  Many brothers and sisters for the first time woke up and found themselves part of The Matrix!  It was terrifying. How could it all be a delusion? How?

Three things happened.

1. People questioned what they had been taught and accepted the answer that it was their own fault.

2. People rebutted the blame and asked more penetrating questions about the faulty historic chronology of the Jehovah's Witnesses throughout their history.

3. People became the targets of a crackdown to restore autocracy.

By saying "People" I mean people who were actual members of Jehovah's organization.

My own wife, Jo Ann, started drinking and going out to disco dances. She would work nights and then party before coming home.  It was very strange and quite a change. Like her brother Johnny, Jo Ann had always been a true blue lockstep believer. She never questioned anything. Now, suddenly she became weirdly committed to "doing her own thing.”  It was fairly innocent acting out at first.  But, eventually her behavior was disturbing to me to the point I could not live under the same roof.  Our life together seemed built upon false premises in every direction I looked.  When I refused to share her bed any longer she went to the judicial committee at the local Kingdom Hall to report me.  I moved in with a friend of mine I had met at work.

It was a woman and I knew that would cause me trouble with the brothers. But, I had never lapsed into sexual disunion before and I had assumed Jo Ann would instinctively know that I was living elsewhere for reasons other than romance. After all, I had remained a virgin until I married at the age of 23 during the so-called Swinging 60s, why would I suddenly become a Lothario?  But, once again, I was being naive.

Very naive.

I was called before the judicial committee. I explained my behavior. To one of the brothers on the committee my explanation seemed perfectly reasonable. But, he immediately excused himself from serving on the committee to avoid conflict with the others!  Within fifteen minutes I was disfellowshipped.   Why?  Was it "immorality"?

How could it be? It must have been some sort of "rebellion" against Jehovah's servants or something. I actually don't know to this day what charge felled me and condemned me to die at Armageddon in those brother's eyes. I am still puzzled.

That simple pronouncement changed my life once again.  My entire life, it seemed, had been for nothing other than to do what was expected of me.  I had accrued no brownie points in the process. In Jehovah's service it is not a case of time served or services rendered; it is "What have you done for me lately?"

My brothers and sisters regarded me as Sodom burning; they must not behold the sight for fear of turning into pillars of salt. If you have ever watched a circus tent being struck down when the time comes to move on, you will know the sight of the giant Big Top tent slowly collapsing.  That was the New World Society breaking camp and moving away from me never to return.  That big open lot was vast and empty. The horizon distant and the wind chilled, only a faint echo of the hurly-burly activity seemed to echo from the hollow past.

I was alone...

…alone to face the Universe without God in my back pocket like a rabbit's foot.

Instead of hand-me-down explanations from off-the-rack drones; I could look at life from Both Sides Now.

Funny, at the time I simply cried. I cried my heart out for days.

My wife and I filed for divorce and she took my small children back to Texas.

I cried every night for a year with heaving sobs of desolation.

But I never felt I had done something to earn the sorrow.  That is what pulled me through.

Instead, something inexplicable had gone wrong. Something had been done to me!

You see, deep down inside my sanity had been gasping for oxygen for years.

For one thing, I had glimpsed that so-called "worldly people" were not devilish conspirators from Hell.

Many religious people had caring lives that impacted on the real world.  It wasn't all "talk" and no action.

It was those "false-religious" people who came to my rescue when I was lowest.

And never once did they urge me to come to their church!

That is when my eyes truly began to open to the real light.

Jehovah's Witnesses only give you something with a string attached. The string leads to the Governing Body.

All respect, deference, service and fear stem from that organizational nucleus. You serve or you die. It is black and white.  If you serve with a smile you are pronounced "happy.” If you encounter a problem that puts you in trouble you are "spiritually weak.”  But, you never get help unless some brother or sister on their own advisement steps up to bestow a gift upon you out of their own deep heart of love. Officially you exist to serve the Governing Body and it is never the other way around.  Ex-Bethel workers can explain better than I can what their service amounts to in dollars and cents.  Sickness or personal loss mean nothing but an annoyance to Jehovah's organization. Why? Because they deal with an illusory world and not the real one that humans live in.

    In August of 1983 a phone call in the middle of the night awoke me in a panic. My mother was on the line calling from Texas to my home in Redondo Beach.  "Terry, I have some bad news sweetheart. Jo Ann has been killed in a car crash.”  In those words all the mountains fell upon my heart. Stone after stone pummeled me into a raw nerve of utter helpless sorrow.

"Oh God! No, no no no no....." I just kept on repeating.

Jo Ann had been intoxicated and lost her driver's license. But, she drove anyway. The police had stopped her on her way home from a bar. She tried to drive away to avoid arrest. In the ensuing chase she hit a bump in the road and crashed into the back of a parked car and died instantly. 

Fortunately, at that same time, my children were under my own roof there in Redondo Beach visiting for the summer. They were spared the insanity as much as it is possible to spare small children such news.

   The world is like an apple whirling silently in space and we infinitely small living things pass into darkness so quickly.  All of life hinges upon single moments. Day follows night and year upon year until what once made no sense suddenly comes clearly into view.

What is my view now?

Like the Joni Mitchell song I've looked at life from both sides now; from win and lose and still somehow it's life's illusions I recall. I really don't know life at all.

But, old friends are acting strange.  I haven't been to a Kingdom Hall since 1979. A quarter of a century has passed and I've read a vast array of history and science and scholarly study with no small consideration of the history of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

My old friend, Johnny, reappeared in my life last year suddenly.  He invited me to his father's 80th anniversary of being alive. (Birthday?)  His entire family are still faithful Jehovah's Witnesses; consequently this struck me as passing strange!  It was an amazing experience being with all of them once more just like "old times"!

   I cannot convey to you how much I have missed them in all these passing years.  It is like the Ray Bradbury story where all the people you knew and loved as a child are suddenly mysteriously alive and eager to greet you just as though nothing had intervened at all!

What was happening?

It seems life had happened.  Real life.  Johnny and his family had been through enough Watchtower history to have a few breaths of oxygen reach that part of their sanity that enables people to distinguish waking from dreaming.   With an unspoken understanding it became clear that many faithful JWs have created a bubble inside their own lives where sanity can be approached (for a little while each week).  That breath of fresh air enables them to, like a deep sea diver, once more go down into the murky depths below.  These faithful Witnesses can see both sides of Truth through a glass darkly. It is not unlike seeing an eager puppy in a pet shop window.  There is longing and awareness and enthusiasm for a different and better world than the one they have chosen. But, they are stuck where they are.  A life's choice has been made and from it they will not depart.

Johnny and I visit once every week or so. We are still old friends.  Johnny knows he is not obeying the strict rules of Watchtower disfellowshipping status by having lunch with me or discussing religious matters.

But, he wants it for himself and his sanity and his love of our friendship is, somehow, deeper.

As a result of these visits I've slowly begun reading about religious matters once again. It is with an entirely new understanding of how the "game" is played that I do so.

I understand things now that, as a 12 year old, I could not possibly have dreamed.

People demand "meaning" in their lives and will insist that there be reasons for everything that happens. Nature abhors a vacuum and people are no different in their nature. Throughout human history Mythos has served that need to explain how and why things are the way they are. Mythos links our past with our future and gives shape to our direction as a people.

Science, once it arrived full force, threatened all the illusory parts of Mythos and threatened to destroy the importance of the "meaning" that had been attached.

Religions of the world have always had a difficult time meeting changes and new understandings, and especially Modernity.

In America people responded to world events, scientific discoveries and cultural upheavals by reinventing old understandings with new interpretations. Religion cannot be destroyed; the internal need for explanations is too strong in mankind. Consequently, many devout and sincere believers use force of will to demand that the Bible becomes relevant to everyday life in a dramatic way!  Bible Chronology which allows a seemingly mathematical certainty to present prophecy as pertaining to the immediate future jolts the minds and hearts into that craved-for sense of reality.  Adventists, Millennialists and Jehovah's Witnesses have invented a kind of formula for making old Mythos into a newsflash!

1. The Bible is absolutely error free (so you don't have to give any of that up).

2. The Bible, if understood properly, is so relevant it predicts the end for non-believers. It is soon!

3. By joining our group (the only true group) you save your life and have all your problem's solved.

4. In the meantime we will keep you busy doing the most important work on earth in all of history!

5. Did we mention that Armageddon is going to happen very soon? Better hurry!

And that is what was a part of my life for two decades. I had an important link to the past and to the future.

I was doing the most important work in all of human history. I was one of the good guys. I was going to live while others died. I was going to have all my problems solved soon.  All I had to do was be willing to accept whatever I was told to believe and do even if sanity conflicted with it.

     Like many ex-Jehovah's Witnesses I was faced with that awful question that comes after disfellowshipping:

Where do I go now?

Out of the frying pan and into the fire?  More of the same? Nowhere? Somewhere, anywhere?

I'd compare it to finding out there is no Santa Claus.  How do you ever believe Christmas again?

Well, each person finds their own way.

For me it was simply a matter of living my very own life in my very own way for a change. Instead of following the fortune cookie I followed my intellect. I realize that billions of people have lived and died on this planet without having known everything that was true. Most didn't have a clue what was real and what wasn't.

Why should I waste my life on a story? Why buy in to even the most beautiful story if it requires the surrendering of reality?  So, I use the sniff test. I divide the world into what is testable and what isn't.

What isn't testable is opinion. What is opinion has a certain mysterious curiosity to it; but, it is dangerous to pretend about it.  Life is lived each moment now. Real things, real people and real thoughts take you outside your own head into the fresh air and sunshine. I stay happy, healthy and active. I never pretend I have the secret of the Universe. I don't.  And you know what? Neither does anybody else.

Terry Walstrom

 

Terry's post-notation:

 

I thank everyone for the overwhelmingly positive things you've said about the piece I wrote. Naturally, I've had years to think about all that happened and why. Important to me was essentially why I did what I did and thought what I thought.

It is gut wrenching when you first grasp in your own mind that what you believe to be absolute truth is actually phony and manmade. It is beyond expression.  Then the anger begins!

What I fault the New World Society for mostly is how they steal people's futures from them.

The play Waiting for Godot tells of certain people waiting on the arrival of another character who never shows up.  That is the essence of what happens to Jehovah's Witnesses. You spend all your time discussing what will "soon" happen and never happens. You are persuaded to throw away your chance at a meaningful life in the name of something ultimately nonsensical.

And too, serving a group of men in Brooklyn who call themselves "slaves" is laughable.

They have become slavemasters. The power they wield is absolute. Pity it is put to such feckless purposes. JWs keep busy collecting funds and passing it on to the the Society.

All the preaching done by all the lovely and sincere people for all the years is nothing more than a make-work scheme to juggle as many empty doctrines and promises as strength permits.

People die for the Brooklyn whims and call it service to god! That is awful and unnecessary.

If I help just one person with my own story it will all have been worthwhile.

I feel like a fool after all.  I let it happen. I thought I was smart but I was a nutjob. The Jehovah doctrines present a bridge between god and mankind. But, in truth, it is a Brooklyn bridge you are buying.

 


Reply to Terry's Life in Jehovah's Service by a JW

Why 1914 is utterly true (and so is 607 B.C.E.) by Terry

Russell Meets Rutherford (fantasy) by Terry

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