I submitted my Regular Pioneer application in late 1993 so that I could officially begin on January 1st. I knew that my application would get the rubber stamp of approval from the Service Committee since I had never been involved in any conduct that would prevent my appointment.
I was however slightly rebellious throughout my teens; but it was what I would refer to as a "Watchtower rebelliousness". You see, I believe that there are two forms of rebelliousness among JW youth. Worldly rebelliousness consists of sneaking out at night, drinking beer, street racing, and fooling around with one of the elder’s daughters. I was not so bold. I was "Watchtower rebellious". This consisted of taking my convention badge off at restaurants, drawing mustaches on people in the Watchtower articles, using my Daily Text as a coaster, taking more than one paper towel at the conventions, and fondling my pillow at night pretending that it was one of the elder’s daughters.
Despite my good conduct throughout my teens, I always did feel an underlying sense of guilt and fear that I was not measuring up to Jehovah’s standards. Would Jehovah find me worthy of survival? The Governing Body was always telling us that those "who were faithful in what is least, will be faithful in what is most". I always wondered if I would be destroyed at Armageddon for taking off my convention badge at Denny’s, or for my lustful thoughts about Laker cheerleaders.
During the time that I became a Pioneer, I was confronted with various situations that stirred up a lot of cognitive dissonance within me. As a child and a teenager, I had somewhat of a naive idealism about the organization, its aura of Divine power, and its elite role in human history. Prior to adulthood, I had never had to be confronted with anything that would disrupt my idealistic view of the organization. But now, I believe that naive and idealistic devotion to the Watchtower organization is like a pretty Etch-A-Sketch drawing. It all looks very good as long as it remains undisturbed. But as soon as it gets shaken up enough times, the image that was once there is now gone.
For me, this first arose with the issue of appointments to positions of full-time service. I had always believed that one had to have demonstrated fine conduct in the congregation to be appointed as a Regular Pioneer, or to be accepted to Bethel. As I was to later find out, a person’s congregational connections could be a more important factor than their character.
Around the time that I wanted to begin Regular Pioneering, I had two very close friends of the same age who also intended to become Regular Pioneers. Unfortunately, they had both gotten into quite a bit of trouble recently. They had both been involved in loose conduct with sisters in another congregation, underage drinking, had been caught driving around without a license, and had vandalized a family’s home in our congregation. They even lied to the congregation elders about the vandalism several times until admitting to it later on. Personally, I was shocked when I found out about these things because I realized that I did not know my friends nearly as well as I thought I had.
I was also disturbed by the fact that all of these events were well known by many people in the congregation but there was never any announcement of a reproof. Soon, It became obvious why. During most of these episodes, these two guys were with another friend of ours who’s father was the congregation Service Overseer, and who’s grandfather was the Presiding Overseer. Of course, he was never publicly reproved for any of this, so it is evident that his immunity transferred over to the two friends who were with him on these occasions.
The family who’s home had been vandalized was so stumbled by the fact that there was no public reproof that they moved out of the congregation. It seemed shameful to me that a family was allowed to be deeply stumbled so that a few self-indulgent teenagers could be spared the embarrassment of a public reproof.
What was also astounding to me was that these two friends who had wanted to become Pioneers, soon applied and were accepted as Regular Pioneers a few months later. I remember that a few people in the congregation who were aware of their conduct quietly expressed feelings of perplexity and anger. No one believed that a person could qualify as a Regular Pioneer after engaging in so much bad conduct only a few months beforehand. But since our congregation was short of Pioneers, it seemed that all of these misdeeds could be conveniently and pragmatically swept under the rug. I believe that such shortsightedness will always come back to bite congregation elders in the rear end. And with this situation; it eventually did.
As I began Regular Pioneering, I enjoyed it for about the first two months. It was something that was exciting and new. It also felt great to receive so much praise and approval from the friends. I believe that most of the enjoyment I experienced was from the social aspects of service - the occasional times spent in car groups as we did return visits and went on Bible studies.
For me, eating lunch was the highlight of the service day - especially if we could creatively devise a way to count the time (such as leaving a tract with the cashier). I now look back upon the Jehovah’s Witness Talmudic mindset regarding the counting of time as a morbid joke. One elder in our congregation was so obsessed about "keeping his time going" that he didn’t even want to pull through a restaurant drive through because he felt that he couldn’t count the time spent waiting in the drive through. A couple of Pioneer sisters would routinely express frustration if they felt I was taking too much time distributing territory because they were in such a hurry to "get their time started". It was this obsessive compulsive fixation with counting time; and the convoluted rules under which time can be counted that began to erode much of my zeal for Pioneering.
A couple of us did however devise some gimmicks to pad our magazine placements. When walking up to bus stops or gas stations, we would stick two or three magazines inside the back cover of the feature magazine we were presenting. To them, it appeared as if they were accepting only one magazine. As they would soon discover after we had left, they had actually gotten three or four magazines crammed inside each other. This was a splendid way to unload large quantities of back issues; especially the magazine articles that just didn’t appeal to anyone.
Another gimmick was to not even show people the covers of the magazines. When we received new magazines that had really boring cover articles ( such as "Do You Appreciate The Dead Sea Scrolls?" ) we would usually open the magazine to one of those cheesy "dazzle you" personal stories in the back and present that instead - "Hello sir, I would like to leave you this article about a young boy in the Ukraine named Yonick who doesn’t have any legs, yet he is able to stand on his hands and tap dance. Would you like to read about Yonick?" This was a fine way to unload an otherwise lackluster Awake.
Putting all of that aside, my time in the Pioneer work began to bring about major shifts in my feelings toward Jehovah God. The farcical appointments of my two friends to the position of Regular Pioneer was something that I was eventually able to accept as one of the imperfect aspects of Jehovah’s organization. Imperfect men making imperfect decisions. That was something that I could reconcile. But there were other issues that began to erode my faith in Jehovah God as a personal God, and as an involved parental figure.
I began to seriously question the concept that Jehovah God blesses His faithful servants for their fine conduct and service to Him. It was apparent to me that Jehovah certainly did protect some servants on numerous occasions and bless them for their faithfulness. But it was obvious to me that the way in which Jehovah and His holy spirit operated upon His people was quite arbitrary and fickle. I remembered many experiences in the Yearbook that seemed to reveal Jehovah’s miraculous saving power, but other experiences where His attention was completely absent from the horrific demise of many righteous servants. This became most apparent to me during the genocide that took place in Rwanda.
I read an article in one of the Society’s magazines regarding the violence in Rwanda that deeply affected me. I read about a JW family of four (which included two small children) that were literally hacked to death with machetes. I found it perplexing that Jehovah showed enough mercy to the Assyrian army that he had His angel kill them in their sleep, but could do nothing to intervene in JW children undergoing a terrifying and agonizing death by machete. Multiply this event many times over. Where was that ever powerful angel? Was he on his coffee and cigarette break? Maybe he was busy directing someone to go witness to Prince.
Then, I remembered thinking about some of the experiences shared at the assemblies such as those of Jim Bob the Elder who was prevented from getting onto an elevator that later collapsed and killed its occupants. There were the experiences of Patsy the Pioneer who miraculously was blessed with her dream job just before she was going to lose her home. And then, there was the instance of my friend Kevin; a 28 year-old Ministerial Servant who was killed along with another sister when a drug dealer ran a stop sign and broad-sided his car. Where was that same holy spirit that kept Jim Bob out of the elevator? Perhaps it had been diverted to Brooklyn so that it could make Carey Barber remember to chew his food.
It seemed to me as if Jehovah’s holy spirit was like Swiss Cheese - full of holes, so that is was operating in some places at certain times, but absent in other areas. The usual clap-trap explanations that were put forth by the Witnesses such as "well, we can’t understand why Jehovah works in certain ways" just didn’t seem convincing; and lacked any real substance. While I was serving as a Regular Pioneer, this issue was to become a very personal one for me.
The prevailing idea that is taught within the organization is that Jehovah blesses those who display fine conduct and devotion while He withdrawals his blessing from those who do not demonstrate devotion or good conduct. It is taught that He is some sort of cosmic parent who bestows rewards upon the good kids and withholds blessings from the bad kids. This idea of Jehovah God being some sort of supernatural Ward Cleaver became harder and harder for me to put confidence in. I saw absolutely no correlation between a person’s organizational devotion and the level to which they were blessed in life. The evidence just wasn’t there.
Among all of the people in the organization that I knew, I observed the happy and the unhappy. There were the healthy and unhealthy. There were the haves and the have nots. There were the "lucky" and the "unlucky". The differences in circumstances had nothing to do with how many hours they were puting in, or how much personal study they were doing. I knew of Regular Pioneers who were broke, unhealthy, and deeply depressed; while there were inactive brothers who were healthy and happy millionaires. I soon discovered that the difference in all of these people was not some magical holy spirit that had been sprinkled onto them like fairy dust, but it had much more to do with their life experiences, their mindsets, personal attributes, and psychological make-ups.
But as I said, this dilemma became very personal for me. As I was Pioneering, I continually struggled to try to find a job. My lack of job experience and my inability to work on meeting nights made it almost impossible to get hired. I distributed job applications and made phone calls to companies with a furry; and I remember turning in some 50 job applications in just one month. I remained unemployed for over a year. Fortunately, I received help from my parents who I was living with.
What seemed to rattle me a great deal was that my two friends who had been involved in so much trouble (and who’s conduct in the congregation was still suspect) were both given good jobs by Witness employers (who were also aware of their conduct). One of them was also given a car by a brother in our congregation. They were also routinely included in many social outings in the congregation while I was excluded. I will certainly admit that I was guilty of a certain level of envy and self-pity. But the point of this is that it had a powerful effect on shaking my faith in the concept that Jehovah blesses people based upon their conduct and organizational devotion. I knew that my experience was hardly unique; and was a phenomenon that I observed throughout the organization.
At this point in my life, this did not shake my faith in the organization as the truth. It merely created resentment toward the congregation. It did however, lead me to a certain level of cynicism by which I was no longer willing to just accept whatever ideas and concepts my fellow Witnesses put forth. This is perhaps where the crack in the dam emerged where I began to really think about matters more deeply and question certain Witness concepts instead of just blindly accepting them.
Several months into my Pioneer service, I also began to experience severe depression. I felt jaded by the constant attention that I had to give toward "getting in my time". I constantly struggled to make my required hours (which I rarely did). I began to feel as though I was in a job that didn’t give any compensation. Deep down inside I began to regret becoming a Pioneer, and I feared to think about whether college would have been a smarter decision. I didn’t want to consider the possibility that perhaps my "worldly" high school teachers had given me better advice than the congregation elders.
Despite the fine reputation and level of approval that I enjoyed in the congregation, I had always felt a gnawing internal sense of inadequacy and underqualification. It was gratifying to affirm to myself that I was part of an elite group among mankind; entrusted with proclaiming the most important message in human history. But, deep down inside I had a worrisome sense that I might be displaying a false sense of pride; an unwarranted arrogance. This was because I began to become more aware of the fact that I was imploring householders to have an open mind and thoroughly investigate their own religion while I failed to do the same. As I continued in my Pioneer career, this sense of anxiety slowly intensified.
Becoming a Regular Pioneer tends to make a person much more study-conscious within the context of building one’s knowledge and mastery of Watchtower doctrines. As I began to embark on this project, I became overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the Watchtower doctrinal structure. Other long-time Pioneers related to me that they themselves did not fully comprehend certain doctrines derived from the book of Revelation, for example. Some of these doctrines were considered to be very significant Watchtower teachings. I felt a sense of dread every time a householder brought up topics out of the book of Revelation, because I knew that I could not begin to engage in any dialogue without the Revelation Climax book in my hands. And trying to glean any useful answers out of that book was like searching through your kitchen’s junk drawer looking for just the right batteries.
I attempted to put together a three-ring notebook divided into sections covering various teachings and accompanying details derived from Watchtower articles. I had considered putting this notebook into my book bag as well, but my bag was already stuffed to capacity. I found it odd that we were proclaiming to our neighbors that the "Truth" was so simple - when trying to gain a grasp of it’s doctrines was anything but that. Personally, I began to feel a little resentful toward all of the complexities and the trivial minutia that the organization puts emphasis on. It was disheartening to me that we had to make such major issues over minor teachings that were quite trivial in the larger scheme of things. It seemed as though our faith was very medicinal in it’s obsessive compulsive demand for "doctrinal purity".
Conducting "Bible" studies (a major misnomer) with my return visits became quite uncomfortable at times. I could sense that they could not comprehend the convoluted arguments that the publications were making; or they were too polite to point out where they saw falsehoods. I sensed that a couple of my return visits enjoyed our conversations and friendship; had an appreciation for spiritual matters, but did not buy into the JW theological package. I was bothered by the fact that these people standing in front of me could be destroyed at Armageddon for merely disagreeing with our unique theological perspectives.
For the first time in my life, I asked myself the question as to whether I would have become a Jehovah’s Witness had I not been born and raised in the "truth". I asked myself how I would have reacted if I was worldly and a JW came up and offered me the Watchtower. I wasn’t sure that I would have even taken it. I would routinely put myself into the shoes of the householders and ask myself if I would have bought into the 1914 and 144,000 teachings. I realized that I probably wouldn’t have. I knew that I would have found the teachings to be bizarre and fictional. For the first time, I realized that I could not really blame people for not believing in teachings such as 1914 and the 144,000. This made me grateful that I was born a Witness. Had I not been born in the "truth", I would have probably been destroyed for not accepting its message. Yet, what about the people who did not have the advantage of being born in the "truth"? I guess that they were out of luck. It was not until after I left the organization that I realized how utterly twisted this thinking really was.
Another thing that bothered me about trying to develop Bible studies was the fact that the study publications we were using were quite simplistic for many people. It has been noted by many ex-Witnesses that Watchtower publications (particularly those designed for studying with the public) have been significantly "dumbed down" over the years. It is something that I have noticed as well, and it has always bothered me that the Society could so arbitrarily write off those people who cannot fully accept these printed teachings as "hard-hearted" and unfit for survival.
Within the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I believe that there has been an ambivalent view taken toward those out in the field who demonstrate a high degree of intelligence and are college educated. From my experience, I have noticed that JWs are impressed that such ones would take an interest in their faith, yet quickly become exasperated at these householders if they do not "buy into" the Watchtower’s argumentation after a short period of time.
I had noticed that many of these interested ones raised some sincere and valid objections to our teachings based upon their knowledge of archeology, religious history, or Biblical Greek. In my time as a Pioneer, I must admit that various people did indeed stump me and leave me without any other alternative but to go through the typical rationalizations and rhetorical "tap dances" that we perform in order to defend the Watchtower. All the while, we refused to acknowledge any valid objections on their part while insisting that is was they who were misguided.
I now realize that in the field ministry; healthy skepticism, credulity, and critical thinking skills that were displayed by interested ones were admired only to a certain point. After a certain time period, it seemed as if the house holder’s intelligence and critical thinking skills were viewed with irritation whereby they were viewed as lacking the sheeplike attitude necessary for accepting the "truth". In my interactions with such ones in the field, I often believed that such people were merely misguided and were missing the forest for the trees. But I found it difficult to label them as hard-hearted for their exercising intellectual diligence.
After all, think about what we were asking of them. We were asking householders to make a complete life transformation, repudiate their current religion, face incredible hardships within their families, give up their current social network, and to adopt a radically new world view based upon what they were reading in a Watchtower book. The Society has asserted that those who have the right heart conditions will dutifully fall in line and begin attending meetings after a short period of time. This seemed to be very unreasonable to me. Yet, ironically, I still did not doubt that I was in the only true religion. I did not doubt the organization; but I internalized this resentment toward Jehovah God. I viewed God as unreasonable, not the organization. I had it "ass-backwards", and this is why I believe it took me so long to begin to see the organization for what it really is.
During my time Pioneering, I continually went through waves of depression, but it seemed to be manageable for the time being. After a year of still being unemployed, and seven months of Regular Pioneering, things were not going well at all. I was still failing to make my service time since I had very few return visits or Bible studies. I became more and more unhappy, and began to feel that I wanted to leave; to just get away. Regular Pioneering just was not for me; and I regretted entering the work. I felt as though the Society’s continuous pitch about "Pioneering being the most satisfying career" was but a cheap sales slogan; a vacant promise. This is when I decided once and for all that I was going to submit my Bethel application. I believed that Bethel service could provided me my opportunity to get away, to start over, and experience the many rewards that I had heard about. It would also be a good way for me to leave the Pioneer work honorably.
In the mean time, one of my friends who had gotten into all of that trouble and got appointed as a Regular Pioneer, decided that he was going to apply to Bethel. I laughed when I heard this; given his history of loose conduct and getting into trouble. All of his conduct would surely have to be reported on the application section that is filled out by the Service Committee. Bethel would never take someone who had so recently gotten into all of that trouble.
I was floored when I later heard that he was accepted for Bethel service. This happened to be around the time that I was submitting my application. I knew that Bethel Personnel would have never accepted someone who was recently involved in loose conduct with sisters, and who had engaged in vandalism. I knew that the Service Committee must have had to leave off the unflattering information that would have prevented him from being accepted. Although I could not prove it; I knew that they had submitted a white-washed application to Brooklyn.
Later on while I was serving at Brooklyn Bethel, I was having a conversation with a Bethel "heavy" who confirmed my suspicions. Him and I were talking about some Bethelites who had recently been kicked out. He was telling me that many in the Bethel Personnel Department were frustrated by the fact that local elder bodies were recommending so many brothers for Bethel service who were not qualified. He stated that local elder bodies often left out relevant information that if reported to Personnel; would have prevented their application from being approved. He said that Bethel life (particularly in New York City) does nothing to quell a person’s predispositions for getting into trouble since there is so much more trouble to get into there at Bethel.
Unfortunately, my friend was eventually disfellowshipped by a body of Bethel elders and kicked out of Brooklyn Bethel after a year of service. I had later learned that he continued the very same behavior in Brooklyn that he had been practicing out here at home. Several people in the congregation confided in me that they felt he never should have been accepted and that the whole affair was predictable. I had to agree with them. He was disfellowshipped in late 1995 and never returned to the organization. The other two friends of mine (including the grandson of the Presiding Overseer) were also disfellowshipped a couple of years later and never returned to the organization. Many people in the congregation expressed that it was the failure of the elder body to give them the needed congregational discipline early on that allowed them to continue down their paths. Perhaps. Either way, I believe that their shortsightedness regarding the Bethel recommendation did indeed come back to bite them in the ass, as the Bethel ejection and the disfellowshipping was a major embarrassment to the congregation.
In regards to my Bethel application, I submitted it around late Summer of 1994, and I received an acceptance letter in late November. The letter stated that I was to report to Brooklyn Bethel on January 5, 1995.
In my next thread - Part 5, I’ll devote the entire thread to the brief time that I spent in Brooklyn. I have several funny stories to share; and it should be a much more upbeat thread.
To Be Continued . . . . .