I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses: Searching for the Why

Searching for the why—at first glance, what could be easier? Just read the charges. But when Putin says, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too. I really don’t understand why they are persecuted”—there appears more to it than meets the eye. When Human Rights Watch says, “Russia’s religious persecution focuses almost exclusively on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the plot thickens.
 
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Like Luke to Theophilus, here is a book that “traces everything from the start with accuracy.” Like Luke to Theophilus, here is a book that tells it from the believer’s point of view. Stripped of the red herrings that plagued Dear Mr. Putin—Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, updated to the February 2021 present, and ever respectful towards the land of the bear, in most ebook forms it continues to be free, a labor of love.

Here are presented the modern-day Acts of Russia with regard to worship, the acts of believers and of those who oppose them. The acts of Russia have taken a dark and perplexing turn, puzzling even Putin. Can it be? The wizard who runs Oz doesn’t know how his contraption works? Here is a book that picks up where Baran’s Dissent on the Margins (2014) leaves off. The tale has not yet ended. But then, neither had the tale ended when Luke completed the first century Book of Acts.

Early in 2017, every Jehovah’s Witness in the world was invited to write letters to designated Russian officials, urging that justice be done in their case. I wrote one. Here is my expanded version.
Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Go Where Tom Goes—a Road Travelogue for Those Who Aren’t Fussy

Travel is like a box of chocolates,” Forrest Gump would have said had he thought of it. “You never know what you’ll get.” A road-guide for those who aren't fussy on range or who love the people, places, and things of New York, PA, and a smattering of elsewheres. Chat up new people, see new things, explore new paths, think new thoughts, and spin new stories. Do history, concerts, and car shows.

See what's to be seen and hear what's to be heard in Binghampton, Buffalo, Dryden, Honeoye, Ithaca, Jerusalem, Kinderhook, Lake Placid, Little Falls, Lowville, Norwich, Onieda, Perry, Rochester, Saranac Lake, Smyrna, Syracuse, Trumansburg, Tryon

in PA, Gettysburg, Hershey, Jim Thorpe, Wilkes-Barre

Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio

In New Jersey, Morristown and Union City

Harpers Ferry, WV Charleston and Hilton Head in South Carolina Savannah, Georgia

Download here.

 

Sigh—as always, it took some time to get the bugs out. As always, I said, ‘There! Perfect!’ only to find it was far from perfect.

But now it is—not ‘perfect’ as in perfect, of course, but perfect as in error-free, assuming you’re not some picayune anal person who lives to ferret out blips. These days it’s rare to find even a professional work without a typo or two. It’s possible you won’t find any, though. If you do, I don’t want to hear about it.

You could even call it a guide to informal witnessing. Few chapters are without reference to spiritual things, in the way I wish there was more of—seamlessly weaving the secular with the spiritual, rather than speaking, as it were, in two separate modes, ‘normal talk’ and ‘witnessing talk’—almost as though two languages.

It is also the first book that I can freely gift to friends without fear any reactionary ones will suppose I am ‘trying to make a name for myself.’ It is the first book entirely non-controversial. Only TTvtA is actually controversial, to my mind, but to some of our people even a defense of Jehovah’s people is suspect because it admits to criticisms against them—other than the ‘safe’ ones we acknowledge: rebuffing the holidays, denying the trinity, and abstaining from blood. CD9727D1-B024-4470-83B8-C3CF40FDA51E

None of it here. Go Where Tom Goes is just the pure pleasure of going to new places, seeing new things, and chatting up new people. I even dropped the subheading, ‘Think What Tom Thinks’ You don’t have to. The book even has a shameless lie. Since it is a compilation of spruced up posts spanning several years, the introduction admits you might go to a given destination and find things not just so. However, they would doubtless be minor points—a new building here, an out-of-business enterprise there. Instead, my southernmost chapter, Fort Myers Beach, barely exists today. The wharf my wife and I strolled several times was completely demolished by Hurricane Ian.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

The Changing Face of the Public Ministry

As much as one likes the idea of cart witnessing—let people look you over and approach as interested—if you do it too much it can mess you up—make you rusty at conversation. It’s great as a spice, not so much as a main course. 

It’s a little like when I worked help desk for a startup DSL.* Nothing about the service worked. The goal was to have no one on hold more than 30 seconds. The first day it was almost 3 hours. Eventually, if was discovered that a handful of questions could be answered very quickly, and so if you had a gatekeeper to answer these quickies, sending others into the endless queue, it would overall speed up things.

I volunteered to be the gatekeeper. I’d ask callers upfront whether their problem was easy or hard—did it fall into certain categories. If is was easy, I’d answer it. If they tried to sneak a hard one in the fast lane, I’d say, ‘No can do,’ and toss them into purgatory. 

The upside was that it worked. The downside was gradual but insidious—I forgot how to do the hard questions! So watch out if specializing in carts. They’re fine as an alternative ministry. But when they become the mainstay, you forget how to speak—or at least I would. Probably you will not.

That is even more the case with the huge new pandemic-started push toward letter writing. They’re okay, but do it too much . . . Many during the pandemic wrote letter after letter and never received a single reply. It doesn’t work for me. I need feedback. So, drawbacks and all, I explored what could be done on social media where you get instant feedback.

 Things change. Even in things I like, things change. There’s no sense in saying ‘Why are the old days better than the present ones?’ That only marks you as an old buzzard. Get in the spirit of the new. Alas, I find it a little hard to team up with someone who prefers solid door-to-door uninterrupted by breaks. Everyone knows the experience of showing up for service and, for various reasons, getting not too much accomplished. I get jealous of my time as I get older—and I am starting to get up there. I want as much bang for the buck as I can get. One CO, understandably trying to encourage those whose strength is waning, said, “Always work at the pace of the slowest publisher.” “Brother CO,” I did not say but thought of it, “you have no idea how slow we can go!”

I’ve team up with a brother my age and we do two hours of straight door to door. He’s different from me but we work well together. We will do what the Watchtower says about offering encouragement to our companion. “Try not to screw this one up like you did that last door,” he says to me or I to him. He’s chatty, often triggers, ‘Get to the point!’ warnings, which have little effect on him, until he at last gets to the point with, “Would you like to live forever?” I steel myself, yet he’s doing essentially what we’re encouraged to do, asking such open ended questions. If he makes it past that steel moment, he does well. People gauge him and decide he is harmless, friendly, certainly well-meaning, and nice conversations take place.

If you don’t like those steel moments where you don’t know if you will get over the hump or not—not at all a concern for extroverts but very much a concern for introverts like me, you devise such a method as I have here:

It works well for me. What’s as important, it eliminates awkwardness. Do you think I can get anyone to adopt it? Publishers continue to ask total strangers, point blank, if they would like to live forever. It’s like at a pioneer school when the circuit overseer observed that inserting the question ‘How do you feel about the Bible’ made for a good transition. Most used it just that way, as a transition once conversation was rolling. But a few asked people point blank, “How do you feel about the Bible?” 

In this la-di-dah area we’ve been working, C86ED98F-97F7-491D-8F52-8A1756E77B59
we pass strollers on the public sidewalk. They see us two miles off and steal themselves to barge through as though a linebacker. My chum tries to waylay them in chat they were hoping to avoid. Sometimes if I’m in the lead I head him off, saying “You look like people who want to talk about the Bible!” So plain is it that they do not want this that they sometimes burst out laughing, and then you know if you can go anywhere or not.

(Photo: Yale linebacker Rodney Thomas II.jpg Wikipedia)

Again, you don’t cry that things are not as they used to be. You’re doing scripture with that advice: ‘Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?’ for it is not out of wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Okay. I won’t carry on about how back in my day, if we wanted to talk to someone we called the common phone number and asked for whom we wanted. And don’t get me going on how if we wanted to change the channel, we didn’t just push the remote—we walked to that set, even if it was clear across the room! (“What’s a channel?” Oscar Oxgoad’s twirpy kid says, who streams everything off the internet.)

Who can say why they have changed or if that change is for better or worse? One reason duties ‘lighten’ for regular pioneers to 90 hours, then 70, then 30 for auxiliary during certain months (‘I’m holding out for 10’ I tell people) then (for regular again) whatever you want, then just conversing with people is enough, irrespective of jamming in Bible texts, evidently with the presumption of ‘out of the heart’s abundance, the mouth will speak’—is that the brothers don’t want to pile on the pressure. Life for most is much more stressful than prior days. The brothers express appreciation for what the friends do and try to go the way that Rehoboam was advised to go but didn’t.

 

**I was granted unusual freeness of speech at that help desk. Or at least I took it and no one ever called me on it. When one woman threatened to quit the service I told her she might have to. It’s a new technology, I told her, it’s all driven by Wall Street. They want to see long subscriber lists. “That’s why when you tell of service that doesn’t work, they throw in free additional months of service [that also won’t work].” I left out only the bracketed part.

The job burned me out in fairly short order, even though I was the first one to succeed in getting a caller through his ‘self-install’ problem. He, a lawyer, was amazed (and so was I) when he followed my instruction and the service began working. Months later, he called back and I recognized his voice and situation. ‘Oh, you’re the lawyer,’ I said. ‘Well, I’m a lawyer,’ he replied, as he must have wondered just how many customers we had.

I’m always nice to phone support people, no matter how frustrating is communication with them. It’s a holdover of my own support days, which didn’t last too long.

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

All You Need to Know About Naboth—For Bible Students Who Aren’t Fussy

Distraught over violence in the Bible? Don’t be. It is history, not a grade school primer on being nice. Being nice is in there—it is even a main theme, but that doesn’t mean the book is not history documenting plenty of times when people were not nice.

Focus on cheery parts of the reading, such as this recent week’s account of Jezebel trying to make it hot for Naboth, a course of action that necessitates her finding some “good for nothing men.”  (1 Kings 21:10)

Close your eyes and trying to visualize the scene. Picture Jezebel taking out an ad in the classifieds: ”Help wanted: good for nothing men.” 

“Um—that would be me,” qualified applicants would reply.

WHAT!? Here I am assigned a #4 talk—one of those five-minute jobs. I spy it in the lineup from 2 months out and have it all written in my head. Then it’s pulled on account of the circuit assembly! After all that work! Well, they’re not going to get away with it! I’ll put it here.

It’s a quirky talk—I looked forward to working it—that ostensibly uses that account of Naboth framed by those slimeballs Ahab and Jezebel so they could steal his land and build an addition to their home—not an addition really, but an extension of their vineyard. But the theme of the talk has nothing to do with Naboth—he’s just there as a prop! The theme of the talk has to do with how we used to say ‘this is an antitype of that’ and we no longer do. Now we just say, ‘this reminds me of that.”

Antitypes were all the rage at one time. They were widely used, not just by Witnesses, but by many who studied the Bible with a view toward application. But—let’s face it—it’s a little presumptuous. How do you know that one thing is an antitype of another unless the scriptures explicitly say so? It’s just interpretation. On the other hand, you can always say ‘this reminds me of that.’ What! Is someone going to come along later and say it didn’t?

So my ‘this reminds me of that’ talk was going to consist of two stories, one just a few decades ago and one ancient. Naboth wouldn’t sell his land to the king because you weren’t supposed to—not permanently. At the king’s purchase offer, “Naboth said to Ahab: “It is unthinkable, from Jehovah’s standpoint, for me to give you the inheritance of my forefathers.” (1 Kings 21:3) So Jezebel and Ahab conspired to slander him and have him killed—apparently as a one-time antitypical forerunner (though we don’t do antitypes anymore) of Jesus, who was also slandered and killed for obedience to God!

Now—is there any modern-day example of someone who also wouldn’t sell his land? There is! Kodak wanted to buy up all the surrounding city blocks for parking, but here and there were stalwarts who wouldn’t sell. You’d drive through the area, all blacktopped, except for a few old houses with parking lot on the left, right, behind, and in front, the public street and then more parking!

“These people are so stubborn!” Sam (a Kodak employee) grumbled to the car group—and I was among them. “Kodak needs that property and offered good money, but these people are too stubborn to sell.” Then, upon further reflection, he added, “I’m stubborn. But these people are MORE stubborn!”

Now, you know how brothers love to razz each other. “No! YOU, Sam, stubborn??! No! Don’t be so hard on yourself! Not you! Stubborn? Never!”

Sam was the one of the most stubborn people ever to walk the planet. He loved everyone and everyone loved him—but he was stubborn, and when his son showed up to give the public talk—gasp! he looked just like his dad, though he never had growing up.

Now, what if I advanced the notion that Naboth was an antitype of Sam? You would apply to me that scripture some wise guy floated as the next possible year text: “‘Is everything all right? Why did this crazy man come to you?’ [Jehu] answered them: ‘You know that sort of man and his sort of talk.’”

But if I said Naboth’s experience reminded me of Sam? It obviously did or it wouldn’t be in the talk. That’s the difference between antitypes and ‘reminds me of’s. You get almost as much bang for the buck, with no downside in case your ‘antitype’ fizzles.

509398A6-47BC-447B-9427-2749FDD982B7Kodak is a mere shell of its former self. Kodak—the company that invented digital photography and then put it on the shelf as a curiosity that probably no one would ever care about—so busy were they raking in the dough from developing film. Kodak, the company that took to exploding its buildings rather than paying tax on them. Kodak—where there is no parking problem whatsoever today. The stubborn people were right not to sell! Where are they today?

Dead, no doubt. It’s probably the reason they wouldn’t sell—they were getting up there in years, had raised kids, made memories, lost drive to get up and go, and weren’t sure where they would go anyway. Ahab wants to buy their land to park his chariots? Tell him to forget it. He’ll be history soon enough.

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

What We Should be Doing is Going into the Saloons

00B59206-84E4-4BDC-87F3-95B4DCADE1E4Tired of trying to figure out the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image and what it is supposed to mean—as though wishing he was wearing socks—surly Oxgoad declares, “all has made me forget what I should have been paying attention to over the years, namely goodness, and love, and righteousness, and obedience, and Justice, and mercy, and fairness …. the things Jehovah requires …. and valor, and virtue.”

I know this sounds good. How can one argue with it? But you need a balance. The trouble is, when ones start focusing exclusively on such personality traits as ‘righteousness’, they tend to quickly think they have a lock on the stuff. (It is the same as with those who revel in their ‘critical thinking.’)

There’s nothing wrong with being a student of prophesy, providing one does not become dogmatic over it. I go back to those angels intense peering as to how prophesy will turn out. (1 Peter 1:12) I like to picture them squinting through a knothole in a wooden fence. It’s not for me to kick them in the butt and tell them to get back to work.

A favorite circuit overseer, one long since retired, made an off-the-cuff observation that I had not heard before nor have heard since. He likened theocratic history to time periods during which people oscillated between getting the preaching work done and ‘personality development.’ Wow whee!—the self-righteousness that ensured when they specialized in the latter—I can still see him shaking his head in wonder. Working off a few displeasing personal memories, I suspect in hindsight.

He was the fellow with whom, on a 10 degree day, just the two of us in service, I spent two and a half solid breakless hours doing door-to-door on an endless suburban street. The door may have opened perhaps four or five times all morning, and when it did it might as well have not. I was too thoroughly frozen to speak coherently. It didn't seem to bother him, though.

We’re far less likely to do such things today. I recently did a few doors with another chum, directly after a Sunday meeting, when the weather was rapidly deteriorating. The woman who answered the door said, “Are you guys crazy? What are you doing out in weather like this?” I looked at my companion and said, “You know—she has a point.” Yes, yes—we’re all becoming “more reasonable” today, good in some ways, but to the extent it denotes ‘softer’ maybe not in all.

However, he was also the fearless guy who walked into the neighborhood bar and began engaging half-tanked patrons in conversation. The topic was ‘good government.’ It went well for a while but eventually some became surly. ‘What are you doing here speaking of good government?’ someone groused. ‘What you should be doing is going into city hall, telling all those dirty rotten scoundrels there about good government!’

’Oh, we do, we do,’ Andy replied sweetly. ‘And do you know what they tell us? That we should go into the saloons.’

This was the same circuit overseer who, if people would say they don’t need his spiel but the people down the street surely do, would ask if it was okay if he told those people who it was that had sent him.

(Pixabay photo)

******  The bookstore

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

All You Need to Know about Naaman—Questions from readers: (2 Kings 5)

Dear Truetom:  Naaman “was a mighty warrior, although he was a leper.” (2 Kings 5:1) The footnote says “struck with a skin disease”. So it may not have been leprosy but something else, perhaps psoriasis or similar?

Ans: 45AB0E0A-F4BE-446D-8B58-18481BB99439If so, we can await in which a restored Naaman gushes praise, not to Elisha or God, but to Pharma, for making the continual-use pill that cleared up his skin. Then he cannonballs into the Jordan, just like the guy in the ad who cannonballs into the swimming pool as the camera swivels around him in freeze-motion stops. Nobody has the dough to create an ad like Pharma.

(Photo: tookapic.com, off Wikipedia)

 Q: No explanation as to why Elisha didn’t come out himself, as would have been a normal thing to expect, and Naaman did expect that. So, was the reason a lesson in humility for Naaman? And why was it so important for Naaman to learn that lesson?

A: Because it makes for a better reading than if Elisha did come out and do what Naaman expected: stand solid in place, call upon the name of God—I  have that reading tonight—and my hands at this point will shoot into the air, and then wave his hand to and fro over the leprosy to cure it. (My hand will do that too, very ostentatiously. These will not be those choreographed gestures that have been likened to synchronized swimming.)

 Q: “Now Naaman’s leprosy will stick to you and your descendants forever.” Why were Gehazi’s descendants punished for Gehazi’s sin? And forever?

A: It may have been the reproach of having such a forefather that would stick forever. Especially important in times when family lineage is o so important, not like today when few people give a hoot. ‘Tell us about your grandpa,’ Gehazi’s grandchildren’s schoolmates would ask, and the kids would hang their heads in shame.

Q: “But may Jehovah forgive your servant for this one thing: When my lord goes into the house of Rimʹmon to bow down there, he supports himself on my arm, so I have to bow down at the house of Rimʹmon. When I bow down at the house of Rimmon, may Jehovah, please, forgive your servant for this.” What’s the lesson there? Can we have caveats too?

A: Maybe. Keep this verse in your pocket in case you ever need it to get yourself out of a spot.

Q: Imagine—Naaman acting on the servant girl’s advice and hustling off to Israel. Maye he wanted his leprosy caught early, maybe he wasn't getting enough respect as a commanding general, or maybe his underling officers were just afraid to get too close to him? At any rate, even the King of Syria (Aram) intervened for him.

A: I’m not so sure. It could be the king of Israel was right when he said the guy was seeking a quarrel with him. (vs 7)  I had that Bible reading last night, so had plenty of time to mull it over. Naaman thought is was worth a shot, but that doesn’t mean the Syrian king did. The two kings hated each other’s guts. He probably thought, ‘Here’s a good chance to stick it to my rival.’  Even on being cured, Naaman seemed to realize it wouldn’t make any difference to the Syrian king. He’d still be bowing down to his dungheap god same as always.

That Bible reading paid a high complement last night. “The kids all paid rapt attention,” one sis told me—the same kids who normally fidget. I milked the reading a little, working up a rage to parallel Naaman’s. Then, upon being confronted by my own trusty servants, (vs 13) I paused, slightly nodded as though to say, ‘That makes sense,’ and then read the final line as an anticlimax.

The assignment helped me in another way, too. I decided that Naaman is the guy I want to meet first in the new system. You know how the brothers are—they’re always spinning that question, and people are always saying Noah or David. The lines to meet these guys will be pretty long. But Naaman will be sitting there all by himself. Of course, on behalf of my former Bible student who has suffered women problems, I may have to greet Solomon first. “Were you out of your mind?!” I will say to him. “What on earth were you thinking?! Even my former student told me he stopped well short of 700!”

I’ll see where the friends are living, too. A while back the local group played a game to post a pic of what will be their dream house in the new system. I’m perfectly content right where I am. Besides, I said (we had some LDC couples with us), ‘Bro LDC is going to make us all live in dormitories anyway.’ But they were pressing me to post something, so I posted a pic of the local boy’s reform school, with it’s razor wire gleaming in the sun. I like it for its bling, I said.

Seemed materialistic to me, but someone said afterward that the full-time servants love games like this because they have lived a lifetime in small apartments. So in that light, I guess it makes sense. Sort of like when I said how visiting helpers or GB always stayed in Bethel facilities or private homes and then was corrected by an old-time Bethelite that they didn’t necessarily. Many of them prefer to do just that, I was told, but they also have a hotel allowance. He ventured his opinion that when they utilized this option it was on account of their wives who wanted a break from the relentless institutional Bethel atmosphere. It was so human that I immediately accepted it as true—and inserted it in the Governing Body chapter of I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses: Searching for the Why.

Q: You may meet these guys eventually, but they’ll probably be far away. You’ll be so busy building houses in the new system you’ll forget all about it.

A: Don’t be too sure. “Look at how that brother is missing the nail with every other swing,” one person on the tour commented, watching me trying to attach an overhead tarp. “Say, Truetom, we know you mean well,” someone will say, “but this may not be your special skill set. Maybe you should pay a return visit on that resurrected Naaman. He keeps killing people. Bad habit from the old days, no doubt. Maybe you can encourage him to work harder not to do that.”

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

“A Man Can Only Stand So Much Religion”—the Social Media Conundrum

One of the most uncouth persons I have known, long since deceased, obviously not a pillar, though a brother accepted by all—that’s what I like about Witnesses, if you love God and conform to a reasonable degree to group norms, you are accepted—offered me his advice that, “A man can only stand so much religion!” I never thought I’d make use of that ‘gem,’ but here arises an opportunity.

The problem with social media is that if I clog up my feed with one controversial subject, the neighbors start to complain. So I respond on my own blog, where people can visit or not as interested. Among those who follow me on social media are some who don’t care about religion one way or the other—and it is not the only interest I have—so I don’t want to deluge them in religious disputes. It is the same thing with anyone’s personal trials. Put them somewhere that people can read or not as their interest holds. It started with OJ (Simpson), I think: the world has devolved into a place where everyone feels an obligation to monitor the trials of everyone else. Plainly, human finiteness makes that course impracticable. Plus, though the squeaky wheel may get the oil, if you convey the notion that there are nothing but squeaky wheels, you have not represented truth well. So I put my response here instead:

***As regards cross and Christmas [a topic that had come up with a certain one airing beefs], everyone knows Witnesses once did these things. At any rate, they make no effort to hide it. As with any subject anywhere, as they learned, they adapted. They correspond to Phillip asking ‘Do you know what you are reading?’ the answer to which was ‘How could I ever do so without someone to guide me?’ (Acts 8:31-32) Most people believe cross and Christmas to this day.

Without the work the Witness organization did, I would still be bamboozled over trinity, fretting over heaven & hell, wondering why God permits evil, wondering whether the kingdom means anything more than ‘being good,’ etc. They gain from me a certain loyalty on that account, flawed though they may be due to being human. Nobody else assumed that detailed work of  illumination. 

Pray to God for relief and he says, ‘I have people to handle that.’ Tell him that some of those people are a bit rough,’ and he says, ‘Well, you’re no creampuff yourself—do you have any idea how much you try me? You’ll just have to work it out somehow.’ Isn’t that the meaning of the Matthew 18 slave who was forgiven much yet would not forgive his fellow slave? There is a certain mindset that says the Witness headship should be an like an infallible pope, an exact replica of Jesus, only in the flesh. I’ve never looked upon it that way. I think few do—though some have, and they respond not well to evidence of imperfection.

Like any system of justice, congregation justice can misfire. It is, after all, a function of humans. At it’s worst, it is far less egregious than secular justice misfiring; secular justice entails physical incarceration and sometimes directly puts people to death. Still, ones have been wronged by congregation justice, sometimes exacerbated by their response to it, sometimes not, and a pent-up desire for ‘payback’ emerges. It’s not hard to understand why. My hopes are that the overall preaching and teaching work is not thwarted by infighting among those of age and stature, thus pleasing those who hate the Bible’s guts, those who say ‘the sooner it disappears the better.’ I suspect God will be less interested in who was right and who was wrong than in, ‘Were those who claim to be Mine able to unite and get my work done?’ “If these ones remain silent,” Jesus said, “the stones would cry out!” but they will have a hard time doing that while flying through the air as projectiles by persons insistent on having their own way.

 

***I keep a certain distance even from friends on social media. People change. If someone was to be disfellowshipped, would they tell me? If I were to be, would I tell them? It would set up a ridiculous blizzard among those who think the internet can be made into a congregation. I’ve seen people try to enforce congregation discipline online, seemingly oblivious that they are on a worldwide stage and look crazy to the average passerby. The internet is not the congregation and cannot be made to act like one.

So I don’t want to act as though part of an online brotherhood SWAT team. If a brother goes bad at the official site, they just yank him for one who remains faithful. But what if an individual social media figure goes bad? Best not to form close ties with those you don’t personally know.

For a related reason, I display no link to the Jw.org website on my blog, much as I respect it. I suspect (without any evidence other than common sense) that they don’t want you to link there, as though deputizing yourself with a badge. Everyone has idiosyncrasies. If I link to the HQ site, people assume that’s where I acquired them.

***If this was a matter of my choosing, I would wish that we had a bit of training in social media, for it is not the same as interacting with individual flesh and blood persons. I would wish that we not regard it as the fence the devil owns, as it often seems to me we do. We interact oddly on social media when we make use of it—slamming religion, for example, when there is no reason to do so. Everyone knows we stand for something different—it’s not necessary to continually search for an underbelly at which to stab.

I’m amazed at the sniping there is today over headship (though this could be a function of what I monitor)—you never hear a whiff of it at any Kingdom Hall I’ve ever been to—opponents make as much noise as Gideon, hoping ot create the same impression as he—that his forces were overwhelming in number, when in fact they were small. My comment on the last Watchtower Study’s paragraph 9, the one about Hannah, was that scripture plainly says we have this treasure in earthen vessels. Earthen vessels are not crystal vessels, nor gold vessels, nor silver vessels. They’re earthen. So it’s best not to focus on the vessels but on the treasure.

Hannah surely did. Eli was an earthen vessel nearly to the point of being unusable—didn’t rebuke his rotten kids, but did rebuke Hannah harshly, misinterpreting something right before his eyes. Yet Hannah’s regard for the treasure did not waver.

It gets to the point with some malcontents (the considerable number that go atheist) that they seem unaware that there even is a treasure, or ever was one—as though the ‘treasure’ was just a scheme to defraud them from pursuing the ‘good’ things in life—be that personal fulfillment, career, living the fun life—whatever. When you give up on everlasting life, you necessarily default to ‘this life is all there is.’

Faced with their onslaught, brothers deputize themselves to come to the defense. Sometimes they become unreasonable. A pardonable error? “I have become unreasonable,” says Paul. “You compelled me to, for I ought to have been recommended by you. For I did not prove to be inferior to your superfine apostles in a single thing, even if I am nothing.” (2 Corinthians 12:11) If modern Witnesses have stepped into it, it’s not as though the ancients didn’t as well! And the bone of contention is the same—headship! The ‘superfine apostles’ of Paul’s day wanted his recognition, though not necessarily his work.

Throw this one at today’s ‘anti-cultists:’ “For I am seeking, not your possessions, but you.”* just as surely as “Uncle Sam wants YOU!’ (2 Corinthians 12:14) Do detractors, with their new definition, call you a cult? Point out that, by that same revised definition, that’s exactly what first century Christianity was. If they keep it up, do what the cops did when the college-educated bunch started calling them ‘pigs’, doubling down when they saw it got under their skin. One innovative officer decided to wear the badge proudly: PIGS: Pride, Integrity, Guts, Service. If need be, do the same yourself: CULT: Courage, Unity, Love, Truth.

 

*Yes, it is even worse than is feared. The Christian congregation seeks, not your possessions, but you. “This is what Jehovah says, your Repurchaser, the Holy One of Israel: “I, Jehovah, am your God, The One teaching you to benefit yourself, The One guiding you in the way you should walk. If only you would pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:17-18) He wants to repurchase you by means of a price that has been paid, that of his Son.

It’s like when 81CFEF61-4571-47DB-93EF-6463AECFF526the wary householder cleaning out his boat said, ‘What’s up? Who are you guys with?’ I told him I wasn’t a politician—that with the election just days behind, half of those guys are licking their wounds and the other half are doing champagne and oysters. What I was, I told him, was even worse—I thought that I had a read on this guy, and I was not mistaken.

At an offer to read a scripture, hear what he thinks, and then vanish, the boat cleaner declined even that. You Jehovah’s Witnesses have your own interpretation of the Bible, he said, and we have ours. It did not work to take my ‘common ground’ tack: ‘got it’ that our interpretations of the Bible differ, but we live in a world in which the majority interpretation of the Bible is that it is hogwash: consequently, we could focus on common ground, not scorched earth.

It didn’t work with this fellow. He stayed scorched earth. Though there have been plenty of times when that has been our ground, a style that does little good. Better to look for common ground instead.

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Rolf’s New Mustang

A class-conscious ad designed so that upscale people will book a cruise features a Daddy Warbucks-type fellow pontificating over how ‘As you begin to get older you realize that time is your most precious commodity.’ Believe me, the video fully conveys the image that he has ‘commodities’ up the wazoo—I mean, this guy is ‘successful,’ as you are too, no doubt, or soon will be. What sumptuous surroundings form his world!

And since your most ‘precious commodity’ is limited and fleeting (as with wings it flies away, the scripture might as well be speaking of time instead of money) what more noble thing can a scion like yourself do but blow his less-precious commodities on river cruises, thus expanding the mind through travel? Sheesh! Why not say it? ‘As you begin to get older and reap the enormous wisdom of grey hairs, as I have, you begin to realize that this life is all there is!’ How to masquerade shallowness as depth.

Look, I’ve nothing against travel. Like The Beach Boys, I get around. Just last week 41BFCBE8-BBA6-48D5-8A6F-FCA49EF01C00I was in Oswego and dined in a restaurant (no—not McDonalds) that didn’t quite live up to its reputation—where they poured us wine and everything. Finally, I have all the bugs out of ‘Go Where Tom Goes’—a travelogue for those who aren’t fussy—of all the places my wife and I have been, up and down the eastern U.S, but mostly PA and NY. It is my first book with pictures. It is my first book of which I can readily gift copies to friends, it not dealing in anything controversial. Although road travel is a theme and I get in my licks for historical sites, informal witnessing is a sub-theme—there are plenty of spiritual diversions thrown in. You could even call it a primer on informal witnessing, where you don’t incessantly stay in, ‘Would you like to live forever in paradise?’ mode, but you add a spiritual layer to whatever topic is already under discussion. Sometimes people bite on that and sometimes they don’t.

So I, too, realize that time is my ‘most precious commodity.’ I too am getting more brilliant by the second, making wise use of it. But I don’t share this baron of wealth’s utter defeat, disguised as a victory, that my most precious commodity is soon to run out. It may be put on hold someday. But if I mind my P’s and Q’s, continuing to put my faith and trust where it belongs, continuing to kick Rolf in the rear end when he (I just read a post of his) grumbles over Kingdom Hall consolidation in the West, asserting that HQ vacuums up money like a Kirby these days, offering no reason as to why, and leaving the impression that they just fill swimming pools at Bethel with the stuff and bathe in it.

It is a slander of people’s motives. Frankly, I think it’s a better way to see through this guy than with his grumbling over congregation discipline. After all, ‘kicking against the goads’ of discipline can result in dramatic change for those not yielding to it. But being on the losing end of one Kingdom Hall folded into another? At most, a 30 minute drive to and from another Hall twice a week. Inconvenient, to be sure, but hardly life-altering, and what do you get for it?

Sell one underperforming Hall in the U.S. to combine with another, and with the proceeds you can build 50 in developing lands where there is an immediate need. Sometimes it also goes to building a Kingdom Hall in Western areas where land is so astronomically priced that no way will the needy local congregation be able to afford it.

How come Rolf doesn’t say this? How come he leaves the impression that the Governing Body he feuds with is doing nightly champagne and oysters on the Potomac like McClellan?—that they just like to funnel money to themselves for the sake of funneling money to themselves? What beef does he have with the ‘equalizing’ that you would think would be the very essence of a worldwide Christian community?

For I do not want to make it easy for others, but difficult for you; but that by means of an equalizing, your surplus at the present time might offset their need, so that their surplus might also offset your deficiency, that there may be an equalizing. Just as it is written: “The person with much did not have too much, and the person with little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

This verse was referred to continually as the new equalizing program was under consideration. Why does Rolf treat it as untouchable—as though it were from the Book of Mormon? If this good news of the Kingdom is to be preached in all the inhabited earth, and disciples are to be made throughout, at some point you have to abandon the attitude, “I got mine. If they can’t get theirs, too bad for them!” If Rolf doesn’t have that attitude, he has one that so closely resembles it that it’s impossible to tell the difference.

When the rush of Kingdom Halls were built over the decades, the plan was to fill them to the rafters. For the most part, that hasn’t happened. Kingdom Hall attendance holds its own in most areas. Sometimes it even diminishes. The young are not so enamored with religion as the old, and their notion of spirituality can have more to do with ‘mindfulness’ than with God. I once thought we would be immune to the trend, which certain churches counter with in-house rock groups and pizzazz, but it has proven not to be the case. Why not consolidate what there is lesser need for? One must not whine forever on, ‘Why were the former days better than these?” for it is not out of wisdom that you ask this.’ (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

To be sure, we keep speaking about our ‘great growth,’ whereas if anyone else did it, we’d say they were going belly up. But some places do experience growth. And these places—duh—tend to be where people are not obsessively planning their next river cruise. It’s no surprise that the Christian message will resonate more clearly to the poor and underserved than to the monied people. “God chose the insignificant things of the world and the things looked down on, the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,” the apostle says (1 Corinthians 1:28), as he repeatedly points out that “not many” of the loftier type were chosen. Wealth has a corrosive effect on humility, not withstood by all, and humility is a bedrock requirement for following Christ.

There is inconvenience in catering to the entire brotherhood—that’s for sure. One Florida congregation I visited had amassed a considerable sum toward the building of a new Kingdom Hall on the main drag with better parking facilities (otherwise, the existing Hall was very well appointed, not inferior in any way). When the new equalizing arrangement went into effect, all that money was syphoned into the ‘Worldwide Work.’ Was there any grousing about that? I asked my host. “Oh, yeah,” he said.

Of course there will be. It’s a substantial shift. Governance from the Witness organization is “top down”—it make no pretense of being a democracy, or even a representative democracy—just as is the pattern in the invisible realm. Moreover, the congregation is trusting, for if their organization is not transparent to the nth degree, it is way more transparent than any other government they can think of. The congregation scrutinizes finances to a scant degree. It would approve a nuclear reactor if one were floated in resolution—not that one ever would be, and everyone knows that. Opponents do all in their power to break down that trust but it remains intact—even though ones like Rolf make as much noise as Gideon, hoping to make the same impression as that one.

The policy of ‘equalizing’ reflects leadership style. Anything done can be done differently. Nothing garners immediate unanimous applause (contrary to what the magazines sometimes suggest). Eventually, those taking the lead have to decide, as they monitor the pulse of the congregations through continual feedback from traveling (circuit) overseers. Our people ultimately buy into the notion that they ought not just focus on what benefits them, but that which benefits the “whole association of brothers” that they are supposed to, and do, “have love for.” (1 Peter 2:17). Why isn’t Rolf on board with this?

Wandering, you say—starting off with cruises and pivoting to Rolf? Not a bit of it. What is the outfit with which the wealthy sophisticated commodity magnate, who has disdained ‘everlasting life’ as a fairy tale for chumps, and so regards the here-and-now as the be-all and end-all, is planning his next cruise? The Norwegian River Cruise line. And what country is Rolf from? Norway. Wandering, my foot! Tune in next time when I tell you about his newest purchase of a classic Fiord Mustang.

 

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Jehovah’s Witnesses: an American Religion? I Don’t Think So: An Exploration of Psalm 33

Most Russians think Jehovah’s Witnesses are an American religion. In this age of poisoned East/West relations, that’s not good.

That’s not the main reason the Witness organization was banned in that country in 2017, but it’s a sabotaging corollary. Obviously, their HQ is in America. Everyone has to be somewhere. But do they pick up on and push the nationalistic policies of the country? They do not. They just exist there.

So how to fix that misconception that they are an American religion?

1A5C7823-40C7-484F-B578-099BCA0F1447A) You can’t. If the tract ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses: Christians or Communists?’ designed to fix just the opposite impression, doesn’t do the trick, nothing will. First published in 1951, it was used into the early 1970s. I remember carrying it myself at that tail end of that period, though I rarely used it. By then, everyone knew Witnesses weren’t communist. Imagine. Russians are saying Witnesses are American, and just a few decades ago Americans were saying Jehovah’s Witnesses were Russian [Soviet]! The 70-year-old tract has become a collectible. And to think you used to be able to pick up a handful of them for free!

1BA3D765-5DD0-4917-923E-502998D6511AB) There is also a second, more complicated solution (said 1974 Murder on the Orient Express Hercule Poirot, before opting for the simpler one even though he knew the second one was right).

The more complicated solution presents when Dwight D. Eisenhower, at his swearing in as president, suggested either that his country was or would be the country identified with Psalm 33:12: “Happy is the nation whose God is Jehovah, The people he has chosen as his own possession.”

‘Oh, no you don’t!’ the Watchtower said in effect. ‘That verse is referring to something else—the Israelite nation of antiquity whose God really was Jehovah* and the modern day spiritual descendant of it, which is NOT the country in which HQ is located, nor is it any other earthly nation.

*(“Now if you will strictly obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will certainly become my special property out of all peoples, for the whole earth belongs to me. You [ancient Israel] will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5-6)

How’s that for evidence Jehovah’s Witnesses is not an American religion, Mr. Putin? [whose leadership is being considerably undermined by some ‘anti-cult’ loons] Eisenhower says his country is “the nation whose God is Jehovah.” Oh, no it isn’t, says HQ.

It’s from a two-paragraph segment wedged in to the Watchtower Study article of November 15, 1968. The entire congregation would have considered it. It reads downright strange today. It would have read downright strange to non-Witnesses even then, most likely. But active Witnesses would have picked up on it instantly. It would have been ‘food at the proper time’ for them.

What few of the general public knew then, and none of them do today, is that the 34th president of the United States had been raised a Witness. Back then it was called ‘the International Bible Students’—the name ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ was adopted in 1931. Eisenhower was raised as one. He left his Witness background behind upon reaching adulthood (and his family to this day does all it can to obscure that former connection), but he was raised that way.

My question is—did any Witnesses of his era come to regard him as ‘our guy’ who became deliverer—almost like a Moses? If so, I’ve never heard it before, but it makes sense that some might. He liberated the Nazi concentration camps where many of them were imprisoned. He won World War II—it was he who was appointed Supreme Military Commander of Allied troops. Even today’s Watchtower, without naming names, necessarily include him in the earth that swallows up the waters of persecution emitting from rivers, the more stable elements of this world vanquishing the more unstable.

Eisenhower followed a familiar path: the victorious general gets elected president. It worked for Washington, Jackson, Taylor, Grant—it worked for Eisenhower. The prestige of the United States rode very high immediately after World War II. Learning a lesson from World War I, it was magnanimous towards its beaten enemies, and worked to rebuild their economies. True, it had to dump that megalomaniac McArthur, who in time wanted to pepper North Korea with 50 of those new-fangled atomic bombs (if that country is unhinged today, it is not as though someone didn’t seed their paranoia). But he was most magnanimous in rebuilding Japan. (Historians attribute the reason to his desire to be adored, but that still does not mean he was not that way.) Moreover, under the Marshall plan, Germany too was rebuilt.

President Eisenhower would have overseen all this—he, the one raised a Jehovah’s Witness, though never baptized. Some training would have stuck, though. I’ve gone so far as to suggest his warnings of a coming “military-industrial complex” (it was going to be “military-industrial-congressional” complex, but he didn’t want to offend that prickly body) is patterned after those one-time continual Witness characterizations of a big business, big government, big religion deleterious triumvirate—a characterization you never hear today but used to be heard frequently.

So were there some Witnesses then who regarded him as a deliverer? I guess he was in the sense that Cyrus was also a deliverer. But Cyrus has no background in Jehovah’s worship. Eisenhower did. Did Witnesses regard his as one of ‘theirs’—the hometown boy that turned out incredibly good, swatting a grand slam, not just for them, but for the whole wide world?

Any such notion is tamped down firmly in that November 15th Watchtower. Two paragraphs of the 22 paragraphs are devoted to it. ‘The Happiness of the Nation Whose God is Jehovah’ is the title of that article, and the remaining 20 paragraphs identify just what is that nation. It is neither Eisenhower’s country nor any other earthly one today.

“No, it is not the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth today,” said that Watchtower in paragraph 3. It wasn’t the one whose “thirty-fourth president was being inaugurated for his second term in office. Following the custom, he was being sworn in with his right hand resting upon an open Bible. This Bible was not the British King James or Authorized Version Bible, but was the American Standard Version of the Bible as published in the year 1901 C.E. This particular copy had been given him by his God-fearing mother when he was about to graduate from the national Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1915 . . .”

Good old mom, who, like moms everywhere, never gives up hope that junior will return to the fold.

During that inauguration, Eisenhower’s hand “purposely rested at Psalm 33:12, which, in the American Standard Version, reads as follows: ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah, the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.’”

‘Don’t even think it,’ is the thrust of the next paragraph (4):

“By this gesture the reinaugurated president may have been suggesting that the United States of America was that blessed or happy nation or that he would serve in the presidency to make it such. But during his two terms in the presidency did he lead his nation into the blessedness or happiness spoken of in Psalm 33:12?” then the article goes on to document a litany of unhappy woes, such as we are good at doing—though by today’s standards those woes seem downright cheery.

So if there is some historical context to think that the victorious U.S really is that Ps 33:12 nation in which all is hunky-dory, the Watchtower does not let that notion stand. Does it anticipate or acknowledge that some brothers did?

On the JW Library app, if equipped with research notes, pressing the number of any particular Bible verse will bring up, in the adjacent column, a host of previous articles that have commented on the verse. Pressing ‘12’ for the 12th verse brings up that November 15th Watchtower, but not as the first offering. Pressing ‘10’ does bring it up as the first offering. What is verse 10?

Jehovah has frustrated the schemes of the nations; He has thwarted the plans of the peoples.” as though one of the “schemes of the nations” is to claim that one of them is the happy nation whose God is Jehovah! As though Eisenhower himself is trying to pull a fast one, but the Watchtower won’t let him get away with it!

There’s two other locations (verse 16 and 17) which also pull up that November 15th Watchtower, though not as the first item. “No king is saved by a large army; A mighty man is not saved by his great power. The horse is a false hope for salvation; Its great strength does not ensure escape,” they read. Okay? Just because you have a large army—horses being the ancient equivalent of tanks, don’t think you get Psalm 33:12 status from it. U.S. has huge military might these days. So does Russia, for that matter. So does China. Doesn’t make them the happy nation.

See what projects you can get into when you supplement Bible reading with the Research Guide?

 

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Psalm 11: What Are the Foundations that Are Torn Down?

Back up a psalm to #11. “When the foundations are torn down, What can the righteous do?” (verse 3)

Q: “What are “the foundations” that are torn down?

The foundations are justice, law, and order​—the foundations on which society rests. When there is a breakdown in the social order, with no possibility of justice, what should the God-fearing person do? Trust in Jehovah. He is on his heavenly throne, sees everything that is going on, and will not fail us.” (Watchtower: August 15, 1986)

Yeah, that works pretty well as an explanation. There are people who instantly grasp this. To others, righting the ship of human self-rule is only a politician away. Just throw the current bums out for a new set of bums and you’re golden.

And if we’re trusting in Jehovah it probably has corrosive effect to be watching those revenge movies in which the tormented hero finally gets to extract payback, since “Jehovah examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one; He hates anyone who loves violence.” Verse 7 carries the day: “For Jehovah is righteous; he loves righteous acts. The upright will see his face.”

***Meanwhile, on Psalm 13

Only 6 verses in Psalm 3. Look at how this fellow is just baarrrrrelllly holding on

How long, O Jehovah, will you forget me? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” has “anxious concern” “grief in my heart each day.

Desperate plea, “Look upon me and answer me, O Jehovah my God. Give light to my eyes”

In the end, he hangs onto: “trust in your loyal love” “rejoice in your acts of salvation” and “will sing to Jehovah, for he has richly rewarded me.”

It’s in keeping with that recent Watchtower Study on prayer which made the point that thanksgiving and praise ought ever to form the backdrop of prayers even when the immediate subject of the prayer is much different. Or that psychologist I spoke to once who made the point that it is well not to entertain certain thoughts, “even if those thoughts seem the most accurate way to view matters.”

Falling back on ‘the greater picture’ will do it for those who believe God’s promises, but maybe not for those who don’t.

 

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Come on Everybody—Clap Your Hands: Psalm 30

“You have changed my mourning into dancing;” (Psalm 30:11)

Whoa. Footnote on this leads to a 1962 Watchtower article on dancing. In it is quoted this 1961 New York Times article:

“CAFÉ society, having ignored rock ’n’ roll for years, has suddenly, by an apparent process of mass hypnosis, embraced the teen-age craze. The elite of the social set and celebrities of show business have discovered a sensuous dance called the Twist, performed to rock ‘n’ roll, and are wallowing in it like converts to a new brand of voodoo.”

Changing times.

“Come on everybody, clap your hands! Ah, you're lookin' good! I'm gonna sing my song. It won't take long. We're gonna do the twist and it goes like this...”

Chubby Checker—and you know he just called himself that because Fats Domino was already taken.

***“The White House firmly denied today that President Kennedy or anyone else danced ‘the Twist’ at a party there.” (New York Times, November 15, 1961)

3D9B2A23-EB9D-4C41-9C68-D9E57124626B

An exhaustive article, mainly on whether you should do the Twist or not, appears here in 1962. It’s not that Witnesses took a firm stance on it—so what else is new?—it’s that the overall world, as represented by NWT and Newsweek, also did. The Times even felt obliged to point out that Kennedy wasn’t doing the Twist, so shocking was the notion, so detrimental to the well-being on the nation’s youth. It calls to mind a circuit overseer saying, ‘50 years ago the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the world in general was doctrinal, not moral.’

This was before the Beatles—the British group that upended society. Their signature long hair inspired others (like me) to do the same. My ‘long hair’ was outlandishly short by today’s reckoning, yet my dad had a fit. He’d been brought up on the farm where you shear animals. He would pick up a pair of barber clippers and would do the same with his kids. Typical of my haircuts was a complete buzz cut, save for a little tuft of hair front and center, like a hood ornament.

Yet, some thought the Beatles a step up from the ‘decadence’ of the Twist. Their first song (in the US—it was different overseas) was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” See? apologists said. That’s all they want to do—not like that bad Twist.

 

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