Love was the reason I became a baptized Witness at age 36. I was born a Catholic.
Even though I lost God as my focus in my later teen years, I lived in Germany and Southern Ireland in the early 70's. What I saw of young men coming out of Vietnam and what I saw of the Irish who suffered the kiling of family. And so they killed too, too-- fear made the love cool off. Some killed for hatred, some killed on orders. But in the end, whether they were on a battlefield in a uniform or a dark street in a balaclava every one killed for this: for fear.
Perfect love casts out fear.
The first Christians that I heard who spoke of love without killing were Catholics. The Catholic Workers centered in the New York slums. But the one who expressed this most simply from the Bible was a Catholic priest---Thomas Merton. Have you ever heard of him?
His church told him to stop talking about how the love of the Christ prevents our killing fellow humans. For a while he was quiet. But his conscience told him to put Christ ahead even of his beloved Church. He got in a lot of trouble for that.
By the time I was 27 I returned to God but without a church community. I read the Bible and understood that there was a problem with teaching Christian love if while you were too afraid of dying to trust God with your own life. Every church I visited had many aspects of faith but this idea of universal love was rejected by "Church" even if individual Christians actively supported it.
The Witnesses came by witha magazine. The Awake! I think it was 1986. There was a picture of religious world leaders in Assissi, Italy meeting to pray for peace. It asked "Prayers for Peace, Does God Listen?"
I began a Bible study.
On John13:34,35 alone I was convinced that this at last was the true religion. I had misgivings about the many additional "riders" that were attached to the Witness faith, but I was put at ease by the comment of the Elder who administered the baptismal questions.
I told him that, frankly, I was not able to believe that Michael was Jesus. I told him that I couldn't teach that to others. He said that I shouldn't let that stop me from baptism. That, over time, I would find that a reasonable conclusion according to scripture. This not only set my mind at ease regarding that teaching but it set my mind at ease about the Witnesses being reasonable about one's own conscience.
That proved to be a grave misapprehension.
You may know that for conscience toward God I was told not to talk to fellow Witnesses.
There is nothing so destructive of love of your fellow man as the erosion and death of your conscience toward God.
The ones who once loved me in my congregation would not help me if a war broke out. I have been deemed a casualty, unfit to run in "the race for life".
While the Organization tried to make me alter my understanding of God and my responsibility toward him--my direct responsibility toward him--I was troubled that my faith could have brought me to such a moment as this. It nearly drove me crazy as I struggled to be faithful. How could this happen to me, what was wrong?
And then, oddly, an old memory of a scene from a dog race trial came back to me over and over again. And I have thanked God ever since for the comfort it has brought me.
You may know that Greyhounds have been used for coursing small animals over the centuries. They are brilliant at working with men and ferrets in the U.K. for even poor men will hunt with them. The ferret will run the hare or rabbit from its hole and the hound will course it, run it down and catch it. But there are men who don't even like to eat rabbits love to keep these lightning-swift dogs for sport--even for betting on them.
In the 1920's a mechanical rabbit on an electric rail finally made the natural talents of a greyhound a parimutuel treasure. Lined up in cages, the false bunny zips past and the centuries of dog breeding crouch in uniform and quivering anticipation for the gates to fly up for the chase--for the MONEY!
I had biked across the short waist of Ireland in the spring of 1974 from Dublin to Galway and on the first wet miserable morning there I went walking out to explore the city. I noticed that there was a lively stream of activity flowing toward a stone ampitheater. Men and greyhounds going in.No one prevented me, so I slipped in as well.
It was a time trial for the upcoming dog races. Fascinated, I watched a parable of what was to happen to me nearly 40 years later.
The dogs were barking like mad when they were placed in their cages. In the mist and fog I could see much but suddenly,like throwing a switch , the dogs hushed. Then I heard what they heard--the whirring tick-tick of the rabbit racing on it's rail.
The dogs were deadly silent and they were bowed up like sprinters on their marks, the bunny was just at their side then--BANG! up with their gates and off flew the dogs! The speed was breathtaking, how far they flew in each bound, I don't know. But here was considerable hazard in this. For the least intrusion on an obstacle , say the shoulder or foot of another dog, and the fluid motion of their mighty orbit was dramatically broken by the catastrophy of a fall.
And that happened to a young dog at the trial. Not half way into the course he was flipped end-for-end while the dog pack managed to surge around and past him. Nevertheless this dog never lost sight of his goal--that RABBIT!
He never once glanced once at the receding pack when he realized that the rabbit was coming down the homestretch and all he had to do was turn around and meet him head-on!
Of course, the stewards scratched him from the race immediately even though that dog nearly nailed the rabbit.
The dog was by far the happiest creature at the event at that moment. Bouncing in canine ecstacy his owner snapped the lease on him and made a quiet exit.
The dog had done exactly what he knew he was bred to do--get that rabbit. But these men didn't care if this dog ever caught a rabbit... they didn't care about that. The dog wasn't worth his dogfood if he couldn't run in circles like every other dog.
I wonder if that dog ever raced again.
I have often thought of people like ourselves--And I mean you, Titus,---who are purely drawn to God through Jesus. Religion may catch us in its net, but our eye remains fixed on the Christ. We will not let men rule us --even if it is in the name of Jesus.
No religion should make us forget why we are in the race.