by "The Extreme"
THE PHONE CALL
A number of years had passed since I donned a suit and tie in Their Majesties' Sacred Service as a ministerial servant (kinda like a deacon in other churches, but with more responsibilities and less respect), but I knew the gent on the other end of the phone line wasn't going to know that. Sure, I was lying, but there was no way in Hades someone from the Writing Department was going to speak with me in a more informative fashion if I presented myself as simply one of the rank and file publishers.
Why the Writing Department? Short answer: When I called Bethel and explained that I had a query concerning a lack of subject matter on the topic of beards, that was the department the operator connected me with to hopefully direct me to any pertinent material I might have missed. Had I inquired about procedure, I would have undoubtedly been given the Service Department, but that was some next-level s**t which required a lot more politicking to navigate a discussion than I was prepared to deal with at the time (or any time for that matter; I was never a good politician, rendering me a less-than-ideal candidate for a MS, but that's a story for another day).
The representative that took my call was all pleasant greetings and familiar platitudes upon answering. Once I had him convinced I was who I SAID I was (they screen you with a mini-interrogation, also handled with pleasantries), we got into our discussion about Whiskers: Harmless Entertainment? I related the situation at hand involving my nephew, Oliver (I left names and locations out of the conversation), and of this I was quite truthful. The rep did his best to affect an affable tone as he addressed my questions and concerns.
It didn't take long to morph into something more akin to imperious condescension.
“As a ministerial servant, you should know that we don't dictate to anyone what type of dress or grooming they should have, unless, of course, it is in regard to someone who is supposed to be setting an example in the congregation in which case it would merely be reminders for that one. Is your nephew currently serving a position of responsibility?”
“He might be handling the mikes [microphones used for commenting during meetings], “ I replied, “but that's probably it.”
BETHEL: “Then it's up to his conscience about his side burns.”
ME: “Then why is it a problem with his elders? They certainly don't see it that way.”
BETHEL: “It all depends on how such an appearance affects the community.”
ME: “I doubt there's a problem there; the world in general doesn't have any issues with such things.”
BETHEL: “The congregation shepherds usually know more about the attitudes of their own communities.”
ME: “How can that even be true? Outsiders don't know to report their grievances to the elders like we do.”
BETHEL: “Publishers report to them that there's an issue.”
ME: “But that's just it – if anyone, the publishers would be hearing complaints, but they're not! They're hearing nothing on this subject.”
BETHEL: “You know this yourself for certain? Elders do not make decisions lightly, certainly not based on nothing.”
ME: “I'm not saying that. But maybe these decisions are based on some personal perception of what they think is an issue.”
BETHEL: “Then they would be speaking in behalf of the community.”
ME: “But where in the world would they be getting their ideas if the community itself is silent?”
BETHEL: “But it's NOT silent – not if members of the congregation are becoming upset.”
ME: “That's not the community, though.”
BETHEL: “Are you saying you don't feel that the PEOPLE who make up the CONGREGATION are PART of their OWN COMMUNITY?”
ME: “You're twisting my meaning.”
BETHEL: “I have no reason to twist your meaning, brother.”
ME: “That's debatable.”
BETHEL: “Excuse me?”
ME: “Look – sorry – I' not trying to start an argument here. I am simply trying to understand where these perceptions on facial hair are coming from that the friends find so upsetting if there's nothing of substance actually in writing on the matter.”
BETHEL: “I already told you: Everything stems from the community of the congregation.”
ME: “Yes, I get that, but at best that makes it a BIASED community.”
BETHEL: “Biased by God's Word and teachings, you mean.”
ME: “But, there again, there's nothing WRITTEN of any real substance. And the Bible says in Leviticus 19: 27 that 'you should not destroy the extremity of your beard, [nor] cut your sidelocks short.' Why is THAT not the standard to go by with this stuff? We act on less than that to avoid celebrating birthdays! Even the Head of the Congregation – Jesus – had a beard.”
BETHEL: “The Faithful and Discreet Slave has obviously not been motivated by Jehovah's Holy Spirit to shed greater light on this. That is why it has been left as a matter of conscience; the person has a choice.”
ME: “But does he really? If you or I choose to grow a beard because our individual consciences allow for it, but we lose our congregation privileges as a result – or worse – then there's only one choice, which really isn't a choice at all.”
BETHEL: “Sorry you see it that way.”
ME: “How else can I see it? Help me understand this. If one choice leads to favor in the congregation based on nothing more than personal opinions, and the other leads to reprisal – the losing of privileges or, in this case, something more severe, then how is there any choice at all? The person must conform or else.”
BETHEL: “That is YOUR way of looking at it.”
ME: “How can it not be yours too? How do YOU see this?”
BETHEL: “As a matter of humility and spiritual maturity. By choosing to not grow a beard, the brother recognizes and accounts for the consciences of others; he wishes to stumble no one and does not insist on his own rights, thereby becoming puffed up with pride.”
ME: “But these other consciences have been influenced by an unspoken understanding of how things have always been, at least for quite some time, anyway. Maybe at one time the lack of a beard could have been a visual point of clarification to householders that we are not part of some cause or movement, but now it is becoming increasingly acceptable – even within the business community – to grow a beard. Doctors, lawyers, CEO's... many of them have one.”
BETHEL: “Are you saying we should start looking MORE like the WORLD?”
ME: “What I'm saying is that this facet of male personal grooming no longer holds the weight of distinction from the world it might have held at one time.”
BETHEL: “That is how YOU see it. It appears to still hold weight – as you say – because some of the friends are quite upset at seeing it on brothers in the congregation, especially on ones who are assigned privileges. I see this even in my congregation.”
ME: “Again – that's the issue! Why is this so upsetting to people when there is so little basis for how to feel about facial hair in both the scriptures and in our literature? How can ministerial servants like myself and elders make a defense of our actions if we remove privileges from brothers with beards or thick side burns if there is nothing concrete to back us up?”
BETHEL: “The regained harmony and accord of the congregation will back it up; that would be your proof that you did the right thing in removing that brother.”
ME: “Still, that's a peace based on a perception, not a reality.”
BETHEL: “Sorry you see it that way.”
ME: “I'm trying to see it a different way, I really am. But the harsh reality of the situation keeps getting in the way.”
BETHEL: “Harsh? Come now. Really?”
ME: “Well, remember the reason I brought this up in the first place: My nephew stands to be disfellowshipped over a matter of an inch of hair on his face. Yet if he came to Northeast Pennsylvania – or even just back to his dad's congregation, which shares the same hall – he wouldn't have to worry about this at all! Why the inconsistency?”
BETHEL: “As I told you earlier, it all depends on the views of the community. As far as your nephew, I am quite certain – even without knowing all the details of his case – that there is more accountability in regards to his attitude and behavior to warrant a judicial committee than just the length of his side burns. Am I wrong on this?”
ME: “No, you're not. There are other factors. But that is not the point.”
BETHEL (with an incredulous chuckle): “It's not?”
ME: “No! Not at all. The point is this should have never come up at all, let alone as the focal point for declaring that my nephew is exhibiting loose conduct and therefore providing the elders with enough reason to demand a judicial committee.”
BETHEL: “I doubt the elders demanded anything.”
ME: “Poor word choice. Sorry. But let's not play semantics here. My concern over this subject being a sticking point for judicial proceedings still stands. This is definitely a case of judging one another over matters that are beyond what it written, plain and simple.”
BETHEL: “As a ministerial servant, you really should know better. Do you really believe it to be wise to stir up so much contention over this issue just because you happen to disagree with a certain body of elders, not even your own? Is it really worth risking discord among the friends over such a trivial matter?”
ME: “Since you put it that way, let me put it to you like this: Why can't anyone who is offended over facial hair just DROP IT and overlook the matter – covering over with love – if it is such a small thing anyway?”
BETHEL: “Because it affects the spirit of the whole congregation, not just that of an individual.”
ME: “But the spirit wouldn't be affected so adversely if the friends weren't allowed to run wild with an idea and attitude that has no basis in any Christian teaching, nor from anything in the Bible.”
BETHEL: “I'm sorry you see it that way. Perhaps you need to pray on the matter for further enlightenment.”
ME: “Oh, I have prayed. I've prayed a lot! For the friends. For my nephew. For the elders that will be meeting with him shortly to hopefully extend mercy. For deeper understanding on my part. For finding something – anything! – that could help my sister's son, or at least help me understand why things are the way they are. And then I studied. I wanted to meditate on what I had studied, but there was nothing to meditate on! That's because – as I've stated repeatedly at this point – that there is nothing on this subject yet, despite the fact there is no material officially written on it, not even a Young People Ask article – it's something worth getting upset over, even disciplined for. How can that be in Jehovah's Organization? If I decided to grow a beard myself starting right now, you and I both know that would be the end of my spiritual career as a ministerial servant. And why? Because the friends are upset but can't explain why they are upset – they just are! How does any of this actually help anyone?"
BETHEL: “I can tell you are upset over this, but that is no doubt because you are so close to the situation with your nephew. I hear what you are saying, brother, but again, it really is just your way of looking at this matter. I would remind you to cultivate a waiting spirit of Jehovah; perhaps some day he will see fit to shine new light on this subject with the Faithful and Discreet Slave.”
ME: “Look – I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me, but this conversation has become rather cyclic, so I'm just going to go now.”
BETHEL: “It was my pleasure to speak with you, brother. Thank you for contact the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society with your concerns. May Jehovah bless your continued efforts in aiding his elders to shepherd his --”
Gymnastic reasoning. Ad hominem arguments. Verbal judo. Nearly-chanted scripted responses. By-the-numbers advice. All chased down with a well-rehearsed, monochromatic sign-off speech that was drowned in treacle but dry on sincerity.
The Bethelite – no newby, apparent by the aged timbre of his voice – simply hit the reset button at the end, cheerfully vacuous and totally uncaring at that point of my opinion of him nor the spiritual fate of my nephew. He had done his job handling my call and, no doubt, felt he had done a good job. After all, I was the one with the faulty point of view, was I not? Only a fool would require directives that could be found in writing, even though that is precisely what every servant of Jah is told to expect when it comes to theocratic procedure. Not in this case, it would seem, but like the faithful drone said, I should have “known better” than to make a ruckus. My bad.
I was quite certain that Bethel Bob was glad to be rid of me so that he could move on to the next caller, hopefully someone with more sense than to question the basis for rules that lacked sufficient scriptural backing. He had no worries over the conversation that had just transpired. And he definitely didn't know how helpful he had been to me to see yet another “microbe under the microscope” that had infected the “body” of the Organization...
THE FATE OF OLIVER
As you, dear reader, probably anticipated, the inevitable took place: Oliver, along with his brother, Cain, were both summarily disfellowshipped. A rebellious spirit and loose conduct were among the big reasons cited by the elders (at least to those they felt could be trusted with specifics, but then there was always the “local needs” part on the meeting that brought this out to the congregation, allowing its more perceptive members to recognize the tangential nature of the talk and put the pieces together).
Unbeknownst to most at the time – and certainly never spoken of in the open – there was another more sinister and very political reason for the boys being put on 'spiritual ice': The event was a building block in a concentrated effort to remove Oliver and Cain's father as an elder, since the man bullied not only his wife and children but also every elder body he had served on, and many of the elders in Oliver's congregation had an ax to grind with dear ol' Daddy. It should be noted that their scheme eventually worked, and Davis was eventually removed as an elder by a new circuit overseer who felt my brother-in-law had “no true authority over his family” (I was still connected enough back then to persuade a few people “in the know” to let me in on a secret or two... in spite of all the warnings to the contrary by the Society, elders' wives made great confidants, but they could be coerced into revealing what they knew in a very cryptic fashion, if you knew how to direct the conversation accordingly and then 'read between the lines').
I have to say that for all of his MANY faults, I never doubted Davis' sincerity in trying to lead whatever flock he had been assigned, even if it meant turning elders' meetings into screaming matches and teaching his children that they would always come second to any other kid in the congregation their father felt needed more attention and guidance... but that was and still is the fault of how the Society conditions its overseers (now coordinators or some 'easier on the ears' crap title) to take on more and more responsibility and, despite any flowery language in the Watchtower, place their own families dead last on the list of congregational priorities (after all, isn't family worship enough for those clingy ingrates?). Davis was just being a dutiful officer in God's Army of the Damned. And he paid a steep price for it.
That circuit overseer never knew how close he came to having his face pounded to pulp out in the hall parking lot had not Davis physically restrained me. Where did this traveling manager get off passing such quick judgment on a man who had given almost his entire life in service to Jah, only to be dismissed without even a thank you for all the years of hard work and sacrifice? I knew the pain of being chewed-up and spat out by the theo-corporatized Organization, and my heart went out to Davis despite all he had done (or not done) to and for his family. Such goodwill on my part would not last very long, however, and as bitter irony would have it, I came even closer to doing to Davis what I had wanted to do to that circuit overseer, at the side of my father's death bed, no less. But, again, a story for another time...
Of course, none of these back room conspiracies and Game of Podiums antics meant much to Oliver and his brother at this point. Cut off and cast out, depressed and filled with rage and resentment, they fell into bad groups of associates and equally bad situations, one after another, until they were chain-smoking heroin pushers that were addicted to their own product. Fronting a death metal band called Live To Hate, attempting suicide by shotgun, lashing out at anyone that dared to care for them, becoming informants for narcotics detectives in order to reduce prison sentences... this had become their lives. The upturned faces at the meetings, their gaze never leaving the Holiest of the Holy stage, smiled and nodded at regurgitated material from Mother, their thoughts never straying to wonder about the young former occupants of the now empty seats in their aisle, and if they did wonder, it was only for the briefest of moments. When any news of the boys happened to come to the congregation, the “friends” couldn't wait to gather in the back and discuss the latest juicy details on the two elder's sons' descent into moral oblivion. Serves them right for leaving! What further proof do we need that Satan's world destroys all that leave the bosom of God's Loving Organization? And besides, this doesn't qualify as gossip if they're disfellowshipped... After the announcement, it's open season on anyone who dares to turn their back on US! Now, don't we feel better about ourselves? Of course we do! So let's go sing some Kingdom Melodies with each other and pretend like we've never even masturbated!
Such attitudes no doubt prevented many former “friends” of Oliver and Cain from feeling a normal human pang of distress when it was learned that Oliver was in the hospital fighting for his life after a fight with a Mexican gang outside of a Seven Eleven.
As per usual, it was Cain who started the fight, mouthing off to a group of tattooed, rag-topped, wife-beater- shirted fellow patrons as he got a late night coffee with his brother. Chaos ensued in the parking lot, with Cain sent to the ground after a single punch. This was when bull-sized Oliver dove into the melee, tossing gang-bangers off his inert sibling's brutally savaged body. Oliver was still swinging at foes he had originally never intended to fight when he noticed he was losing strength and his feet were slipping on something wet. Looking down, he discovered ropes of blood leaping from his torso, timed perfect with every pound of his heart, his white tee shirt now a strange shade of dark red under the glare of the lot lights.
Oliver went down into a deep pool of his own blood, reaching for his brother, thinking only of saving him as his sad world grew dim and quickly surrendered to total blackness.
I raced to New York as soon as I heard the news...
I found Oliver alive, barely awake but very glad and genuinely surprised to see me in his hospital room (he had become convinced no one from the extended family was going to pay HIM a visit, especially after what had taken place and why). “But you're still IN, Uncle Jason,” he croaked in a heart-breaking rasp. “I'm not worth all the fuss of running over here just for me.”
“Stop that. You're family, no matter what. Besides, I'm more out than in these days.”
Oliver had been stabbed in a lung. The doctors had not expected him to live through the night.
A series of blood transfusions had saved his life (he had lost a typically lethal amount of blood, so there was no other way – not that anyone was there to protest in his “behalf”). Even now, after everything, Oliver couldn't fully shake the indoctrination of his youth: He felt a little ashamed that he had received blood. I assured him he had nothing to worry about with me.
Cain, it turned out, walked away with some bruises and scratches and little recall of what started the whole mess (Oliver still bristles at this, as well as what a light-weight glass jaw his brother consistently proved to be – always starting fights then getting knocked out immediately, leaving Oliver to finish the feud and save his butt... Oliver began to suspect Cain of feigning unconsciousness, and this was not beyond the realm of possibility when it came to that sociopathic serial antagonist, himself a product of many put-downs from hectoring elders and fatherly punches to the head, as I found out about later). He never dropped in on his valiantly protective bro.
Davis had come by to see his son. He let Oliver know that HE was disappointed about the blood.
He also made it clear that none of Oliver's brothers and sisters were going to be allowed to visit him since he was still disfellowshipped and showing no signs of trying to return to Jehovah. Oliver loved and missed his many siblings, having cared for them over the years the best he could as the eldest son, and this hurt him deeply. He felt he had let them down and was being punished for his sins.
“They know you, Oliver, who you really are. They will never forget that.”
“I just wish I could have seen them again. I think it would have really picked up my spirits, y'know? Helped me heal faster or something. I don't know.”
“I can't speak for them. I know it hurts, and maybe some day we'll talk about how wrong all of this is. But you at least have me here. Not much, I know, but I guess I'll have to do.”
“No, Uncle Jason, it means a lot that you're here... thanks so much for coming...”
Oliver began to drift off, still very weak from his injury, with many weeks of recovery ahead of him. Before fully falling asleep, he smirked. “Huh.”
“What is it, Oliver?”
“I just noticed... you got a beard now...”
It was a long road for Oliver, with more than a few stories yet to tell about it, but he has done quite well for himself. Married to a loving and loyal woman (a Born-Again Christian! The horror!) who saved both his and Cain's lives on more than one occasion, he has been clean for over five years ( mostly thanks to her, but also to his steadfast determination to avoid relapses with co-workers who were users – and seemingly impossible to avoid!), as well as having completed trade school and is now gainfully employed, which allows him to finally feel like he's “contributing” to his marriage's financial needs.
We stay in touch, as much as possible for two busy guys in two different states. I always let him know what his father (and mine) never revealed: That he makes me proud, and that he could never disappoint me. This helps his damaged sense of self-worth, but it doesn't change how out of alignment the whole family dynamic has become.
He still misses his brothers and sisters.
They (those still in the 'truth') still run and hide whenever they see him. And they're all adults now!
Could have all been avoided if Oliver had just shaved those darn side burns, right?
Some would say yes (and you know who you are! Shame on you for reading apostate literature!).
But the rest of us need to look at this with bigger eyes than that, especially if you've just started spotting all those rusty bolts and sparking wires around you in the Organization...
CONCLUSION: NOT BY THE HAIRS ON MY CHINNY-CHIN-CHIN!
It would appear that anywhere from 30 – 50 % of men these days have chosen to sport some form of beard. Why should this concern the Organization? Well, when so many already have facial hair and live and work in environments where this is perfectly acceptable, the few that decide to pop in on a Witness meeting to 'see what it's all about' are bound to notice so many gleaming, bare cheeks and chins in comparison to their own and what they're used to seeing around them; in fact, they have noticed, and learning that they would eventually be required to remove their beards in the name of furthering their service to the All Mighty (sure, there's a lot of hemming and hawing on the subject initially by the 'friends', but these ones find out in time) is quite often a real deal-breaker. Why is that, if it is such a 'small matter'?
Because most people recognize infringement on their personal choices when they see it.
If for no other reason than just trying to stop scaring away potential converts, it would behoove the Society to change its manner and attitude of handling this issue.
Interestingly, the incredibly imperfect leaders at Watchtower HQ have chosen to do absolutely nothing about their stand on beards, continuing their peculiar balancing act of trying to create the impression they are of an accommodating spirit and respectful of anyone's personal tastes, while establishing a strident approach to handling choosers of hirsute hackles, yet couching all their rhetoric in maddeningly cryptic terminology.
Just recently, a brother 'of standing' inquired of the Society why there was such disparity in all the congregations in various countries, not to mention how wildly differing the views were right here in the States, when it came to facial hair. A three page letter was sent in response. The content of this missive demonstrated how little had changed since I had spoken to the Bethel Writing Department rep. It also continued the call to avoid upsetting the “community” of the congregation, and to note how the local 'friends' tend to react to the sight of bearded brothers (or even the mere thought of them) and proceed accordingly. How could so little have changed on this in an organization that switched up its protocols and positions more times than an entire football league? And how could so many of the rank and file publishers (not even mentioning the control-freak elders out there) have such strong opinions on the matter when there is still anything but clarity being offered from the Top Brass?
Ex-JW Critical Thinker has opined that this is all a result of the Witness CULTURE, and has gone on to present a thorough yet concise explanation of this on one of his You Tube videos. I do not disagree with this. However, I must point out that culture of any kind can and often will become a source of divisiveness among people, and this is definitely no exception. Where this particular culture stands out from others is the way it leads otherwise rational persons into a very irrational way of thinking that they feel very strongly about yet can't articulate why, nor do they even bother to question its validity. So why become alarmed? Because it is a clear sign of CULTISM.
Mind control of this kind is the most pernicious of all, taking effect gradually, usually without becoming noticed, until it is too late.
Now the person is susceptible to almost any command or suggestion, as long as it comes from the source they have been conditioned to accept. It no longer matters if the source is wrong, or if the source doesn't even provide a clear policy; the victim of indoctrination will uphold allegiance to the source regardless of circumstance, and can even make decisions that are sure to be approved by the source, based on nothing more than a carefully trained view of the world and everything in it, whether it be Bible prophecies on events, the general spirit of mankind, or the minutiae of details that comprise every day life.
Additionally, the source cultivates a sense of esprit de corps among its recipients, getting followers to feel a sense of belonging to one another, recognizing that there is safety in numbers, and ultimately that it's “US against THEM.” Now if one stumbles in the indoctrination process, another can be there to pick that one up, so to speak. And if another errs... That one is pointed to, singled out and handed over to the authorities. Fear for one's self becoming found out and caught over anything that might stumble is inculcated in the individual until it becomes a paramount driving force in the person's entire existence. Personal rights get surrendered out of a sense of self-preservation, an attempt to avoid becoming a source of agitation to this now desperately needed group. The so-called “herd mentality” takes over, until there are no more individuals, only a mass of bodies and minds that function as one.
Care for a side of red pill with your Borg, anyone? (It is quite amazing how many sci-fi analogies there are for this situation and lifestyle!)
COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is often a resulting condition of many subjected to enslavement to a cult way of living. This is a topic covered often by ex-JW's, and covered well, especially by the creators of this web site that features my articles. For this reason, I will not continue at length so as to not beat a perished equine, but I need to highlight how cognitive dissonance can be both a bane and a boon – the former a cause for mental anguish and, more frequent than not, mental breakdown... and the latter a catalyst for “waking up” when a person stops looking away from the contradictions and disappointments and starts staring directly at them, seeing them for what they truly are: The cracks, the poor welds, the rusty bolts, the sparking wires, the wriggling microbes under the magnifying lens...
The person gains a clarity long missed in that one's life, and with clarity comes recall...
Of all the other duly-noted yet invariably dismissed systemic weaknesses, miniscule on their own, but together...
A powerful and urgent reason to pause and reconsider.
For me, the secret War of the Whiskers was my “thing that made me go, hmmm...”(one of many)
Such a small matter. Yet so revealing of the unwieldiness of the tightly-controlled operation the Governing Body has set upon unsuspecting people who wanted nothing more than to have a hope of never dying and seeing long lost loved ones once again. Thanks to these power-obsessed mortals, we have all dreamed a beautiful dream...
And like the best dreams, it pretty much sucked to wake up from.
But just like in real life, if we never woke up, we'd miss out on doing anything worthwhile, being with people who truly love us, gaining actual knowledge about how the world works, as well as the universe it is a part of. Waking up is a true good, a great thing. It is essential to our survival. As a people.
More importantly, as individuals.
So go on – keep asking those questions, looking for answers NO MATTER WHERE they come from; think your own thoughts for a change, and DON'T STOP; stay on the look-out for and help others who are taking the same journey back to wakefulness, not being afraid to share your stories of entrapment within the Watch-Dark-Tower, just like I and many others are willing to share our thoughts, discoveries and experiences to help YOU.
Even grow a beard if you feel like it (and if you can).
As cliched as it sounds, just make sure to BE YOURSELF, from now on.
You might find it suits you.
Thanks for reading! This is “The Extreme”, reminding everyone to keep it down the middle!
“The Extreme” has only shaved his beard off once since the disfellowshipping of Oliver.
Stay hirsute my friends!