Monday, 28 May 2012

Kingdom Hall: An Analysis

My sister announced last week that she and a friend of hers were going to go to a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall on Sunday. To visit, that is - not to convert. Our basement dweller Rachel and I quickly asked to tag along, too, so the JW that had invited my sister's friend found her guest list swollen from one to four. This particular JW was named Rachel, which despite the spelling is pronounced the standard English way and not the French way of our roomie Rachel. We piled into her car and she carted us to her local Hall.

First impression: This entryway looks incredibly similar to the Mormon entryway! And the paintings on the wall look like they could be Mormon, too... except the people in them have beards.

I really don't have much experience with anything Jehovah's Witness, as I always seem to be gone whenever they knock on our door, so I really didn't know what to expect. We were given a heads-up that we should probably dress in skirts, so we did. As far as JW fashion goes, we fit right in. We even fooled people into thinking we actually were JWs, because we blended in so well. Still, our faces were unfamiliar and so a rather impressive number of people came to introduce themselves and chat with us. The most cynical of critics wouldn't be able to say they felt unwelcome. Unfortunately, I think this is one place in which a lot of evangelical churches (ours included) tend to be pretty weak.

JW!Rachel trooped us to the front of the room and sat us in the very first row. It's not her fault - she was looking for enough consecutive seats further back but apparently her husband hadn't saved them there. I felt guilty whispering comments to roomie!Rachel, especially since I was mostly whispering when I found something odd or amusing and my face tends to make my thoughts quite obvious. At least we weren't front and centre. That would have been a bit intense.

There were two services running simultaneously, and apparently there had already been two other services earlier in the day. Our service was divided into two parts - what I would label the sermon, and then the Watchtower article discussion. There wasn't any worship portion of the meeting, but we did sing three songs over the course of the service, each from the JW hymnbook. Or rather, everyone else sang and we read the lyrics to ourselves. The tunes were nice - more interesting than some I've come across.

Impression two: There's no cross and no baptismal tank.

Actually, my impression of the entire JW experience on the whole is based more on what there wasn't as opposed to what there was. No kitchen in the building, no nursery, no pastor, no worship team, no powerpoint, no major surprises...

Moving on, the sermon portion was mildly interesting. The theme was Noah and whether his story is relevant to us today. The speaker, who wasn't a pastor but someone appointed to speak on that particular day, spent the first while discussing evidence for a global flood, citing National Geographic and using pretty standard arguments. He encouraged the congregation to do their own research on flood apologetics. But then the talk took a turn and the focus became, "Look at what Jehovah did to the ungodly in the past. What do you think Jehovah is going to do to the ungodly in the future?" My favourite quote was his closing statement, which was something along the lines of, "If we do well, at least we'll be ALIVE." Talk about setting lofty goals.

Impression three: Despite the potential this has of turning into a damning terror-fest, the focus is on convincing the intellect, not on playing with the emotions.

Nobody broke down crying, nobody made themselves highly vulnerable or shared personal stories. Nobody tried to make anyone else do those things. It was matter-of-fact and a lot less about feeling the truth than about learning the truth. Granted, I personally don't believe they'd done a good job of learning the truth, but that's what they were trying to do.

For the second part of the service, a new speaker took their Watchtower magazine and read an article to us, one paragraph at a time. Between each paragraph, he would read the appropriate study question, also from the magazine, and then let four or five members from the congregation comment. Or fifteen or sixteen. It was interesting for the first few paragraphs. I tuned in and out from about paragraph three to twenty.

The theme of the article was "Don't look back, like Lot's wife did." It was a harmless enough article - I don't remember anything with which I particularly disagreed. The theme of the comments, however, was this: repeat back verbatim as many words from the paragraph you just read as you possibly can in one sentence.

Sadly, despite the focus on the intellect, there appeared to me to be very little original or critical thought involved in the discussion. The odd time here or there somebody would think of something interesting to add, but mostly they took their comments and answers directly from the article. In the circles where I run, we call these "Sunday School answers". We call them that because, while they're good for kids in Sunday School, that's where they belong. You outgrow them. Non-kids should think more deeply and be able to examine ideas, rather than just accept them. If the ideas are genuinely good ideas, they'll hold up to the examination.

Impression four: These people seem to believe that the illustrations in the Watchtower pamphlet are as divinely inspired as the text itself.

Yes. In discussing Lot's wife, one of the comments had to do with how much jewelry the picture showed her wearing, and how that contributed to her downfall. Neither was that the only illustration that was picked apart for spiritual guidance. In her defense, however, JW!Rachel apparently made a wry comment to my sister about how, "It's incredible the sorts of things people can get out of a picture."

I sat there whiling away the time by perusing the back section of the New World Translation Bible they had given me, wondering what would happen if someone had the guts to play devil's advocate. Roomie!Rachel pointed out a spider descending from the ceiling to my shoulder so I started waving my hand around to protect myself, hoping that nobody thought I was raising my hand to give a comment. Nobody did, but I got some questions about it later.

Anyway, after they wrapped up the article discussion and we met a bunch of friendly people, JW!Rachel took us on a grand tour of the Hall. It was smaller than I expected, but given that it was both funded and built by the members, it was still impressive. Pretty much everything in the JW world seems to hinge on volunteerism and donations. Though I may have been unimpressed by the article study, I was definitely impressed by the work ethic, thoughtfulness, and drive to help of the congregation as a whole. Society in general would do well to learn from them in this area.

JW!Rachel also explained to us how they take collection and showed us their theocratic library. Roomie!Rachel tried to get the names of some prominent JW theologians and discovered that they don't really have any. An older gentleman got excited that we were going on a tour and took it on himself to show us the janitorial and the mechanical room. JW!Rachel and her husband gave amused and somewhat sheepish smiles as he took us deeper and deeper in and explained how well the bathrooms were designed.

As JW!Rachel drove us home, we managed to talk to her some more about basic JW theology. While we definitely got a millenarian vibe in service, and caught on to their traditionalist values (I heard a comment about how Lot's wife was, "Not only disobeying God, but disobeying her husband"), it was tough to tell with no former contact whether the work, work, work to be godly theme of the service was just the theme of the day or the theme of the religion.

From what we can tell, it's the theme of the religion. We asked JW!Rachel what the term grace meant to her. She gave a very different answer from what I'm used to encountering. Her answer was essentially, "Grace is... Jehovah creating us with such wonderful abilities in such a wonderful world, and him giving us the privilege of prayer, and other things like that. Oh, and I guess even the ransom has to do with grace."

The "ransom" refers to Christ's sacrifice for our sins. It was a well-spent afternoon, and I got free JW literature out of it. I'm glad I went. It would be nice to know more about JW ideas to be able to better comment on the 144,000 and the anathema on blood transfusions and such, but neither played a prominent role in the service and that's all I set out to chronicle, so I'll end the analysis here without feeling it's incomplete.
Example of a Sunday School answer from our own church -
Teacher: What's small and brown and has a fuzzy tail?
Kid: Well, it sounds like a squirrel... but this is Sunday School so the answer must be "Jesus"!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Bucket List

My sister and friend recently opted to write bucket-lists instead of watch a movie with me, and so I thought that rather than watch the movie all by myself, I'd write a bucket-list, too. A bucket-list does have the potential to make you yearn for the things you will supposedly do one day, rather than encourage you to enjoy and be thankful for what you have already, but it's also good to set goals and make plans. Especially when you're naturally lazy.

Most of it is decidedly doable. All of it is possible. By nature of bucket lists, this is a highly me-centered post. If you're not interested, I don't blame you. Also, I tried to shape the text into a bucket, but I couldn't get it to look good, so we're stuck with a boring and very standard format.

Go on a canoe trip - Go dog sledding - Go bungee jumping - Get my boat license - Eat sushi - Be a foster parent - Become fluent in another language - Create an internet meme - Be well-read - Go dumpster diving - Write a world-changing novel - Mentor young girls - Grow a bonsai tree - Participate in peaceful protests - See the northern lights again - Be part of a flash mob - Travel interesting places - Go on a cross-Canada tour - Sleep in a castle/Explore a castle - Go spelunking - Dye my hair a wild colour - Learn to juggle - Observe every Christian holy day - Ride a galloping horse - Do the splits - Learn to shoot a bow and arrow/gun - Learn some self-defense/martial arts - Get a tattoo - Read the holy books of other religions - Get better at chess - Go dragon-boating - Build an igloo - Learn to play the harmonica - Spot a UFO - Own a grandfather clock - Choreograph a dance that is performed somewhere big - Read the biblical apocrypha - Learn to do flips - Be good at diving - Always be volunteering for something - Grow an herb garden - Memorize the Sermon on the Mount

And, for the sake of enjoying where I am at right now, here are some pretty cool things that I have already done:

Donated blood - Watched a meteor shower - Learned to play piano - Learned to drive with a stick-shift - Can use chopsticks - Seen plenty of bison - Eaten an insect - Learned CPR - Danced in pointe shoes - Earned a bachelor's degree - Hiked in the jungle - Been quadding - Owned Mexican Jumping Beans - Seen Shakespeare in the Park - Performed in the Saddledome - Performed on the Vertigo - Performed on the Jubilee - Ridden on a motorcycle - Gone tubing - Been water-skiing - Gone geo-caching - Sewed my own clothes - Visited an astronomical observatory - Seen a real mummy - Participated in a protest - Seen the aurora (once is not enough!) - Had supper with a family that lives in a mud house - Led a Bible study - Been on a motorhome vacation - Planted bottle gardens - Wrote a novel - Was a counsellor at summer camp - Was on TV - Stood in the ocean - Learned to do cartwheels - Swam in the Okanagan without being eaten by the Ogopogo - Been cross-country skiing - Swam in a pool with a natural waterfall - Been downhill skiing - Volunteered on a crisis line - Been to South America - Visited the mountains - Cooked tasty food without recipes - Asked random strangers random questions - Climbed to the top of rock walls - Been down a zip line - Been to Disney World - Rappelled down a wall - Seen a rodeo - Written letters to a newspaper editor - Was published in Reader's Digest - Eaten spaghetti without any utensils - Picked berries from a bush - Seen Handel's Messiah - Slept in a tent - Memorized pi to a hundred decimal places

Also, I've been star-tipping. Does that not cover just about everything?

“We were making the future, he said, and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making. And here it is!” H. G. Wells

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

This Post Is Biblical

Since I was a kid, I've been told that despite what other people may say, you DO NOT, in fact, leave your brain behind when you become a Christian. I even remember reading a book with a title to that effect. But my experience within the Christian community hasn't really convinced me of the truth of this. Most professed Christians that I have known are willing to use their brain and think in some areas, but conveniently shut them off in others.

The easiest way to tell whether or not you do this is, once you find yourself being pulled into an opinionated discussion or a debate, to count how many times you want to say, "That's not biblical," or something akin to it. For every occurrence, you lose one point - two, if you actually said it (and most likely the respect of the person you were talking with, as well).

If you can't tell, I get really peeved when people use this line. "That's not biblical," is a really horrible argument. First of all, saying it's not biblical doesn't mean anything at all to someone who hasn't accepted that the Bible is the completely inerrant word of God, except that the person who said it is blindly following an authority that, in their mind, doesn't have authority to claim. It won't convince them of anything and serves to do nothing other than shut the conversation down.

A lot of Protestants tend to laugh at Catholics for accepting the authority of the pope on nothing but the pope's say-so, but don't see why other people find it ridiculous to accept the authority of the Bible on nothing but the Bible's say-so.

But let's suppose that we grant the Bible a status of inerrancy. "That's not biblical," is still a horrible statement in the vast majority of the situations in which it's used. Here's an example of a situation where it's NOT horrible:

"The Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me I'm a chicken. Celebrities are the spawn of Satan. Oh, and Jesus was a woman."

Yeah. Not biblical.

But that's not usually where you hear it. Usually, it goes something more like this:

Old earth? Not biblical.
Polygamy? Not biblical.
Altruism? Not biblical.
Feminism? Nope.
Catholicism? No way.
Quantum theory? Uh-uh.
Insert topic x here? Not biblical.

These are incredibly large and complex issues to throw out with a single statement and about as much thought. A biblical case can be made for just about anything - abortion, rape, and space aliens included. We have so many denominations because it can be interpreted in so many different ways. The Bible doesn't lay everything out nearly so clearly as we want to assume.

What everyone really should be saying is, "That's not what I understand the Bible means." And that's fair enough, because such an assertion is not a blanket assumption that we have understood everything correctly and can dictate ultimate truth to the rest of the world. It's saying, "Here's my belief, based on my interpretation of the Scriptures."

I'm not saying there is no ultimate truth, I'm saying it's incredibly presumptuous and really pretty naive for someone to assume that they know it all. A lot of Protestants laugh at Catholics for believing the pope's claim that only the Vatican can properly understand and teach Scripture, yet they have no problem implying that they themselves, and their small circle of like-minded friends, are the only ones who can properly understand and teach Scripture.

If uttering, "It's not biblical," doesn't completely shut down the conversation, it's usually followed by the other person saying, "Oh? How is it not biblical?" Sometimes this is met with, "It's just not," and sometimes it's answered with a verse or two. In either case, when their opponent then says, "I don't think that's strong enough evidence," the fallback position is, "Well, you've just got to have faith."

Faith that their wise opponent has the pope's authority?

There are some things the Bible says that we like to ignore. There are some things the Bible doesn't say that we like to assume. There are some things the Bible says that contradict what it says elsewhere. And there are many interpretations of Scripture that don't take into account the context of the writing or even the intent. Was it a poem? Was it a personal letter? Was it a story meant to illustrate a single point? And - scary ground - is it even possible that the Bible could be wrong?

Maybe, if we listen to the points of view of other people and don't throw them out merely because, "It's not biblical," we'll be able to say, "I think critically," and people who have different beliefs won't laugh in our faces. If you're willing to say that there is some possibility you're wrong, you should also be willing to honestly contemplate what other people are saying. Otherwise it's just words, and everyone who tries to talk to you will know it.

Oh, and the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek. 

"Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul." Mark Twain

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Genmaicha tea is a peasant's version of green tea. Basically, it's part green tea and part filler roasted rice. When you put roasted rice in hot water, the individual grains rehydrate and swell a bit.

If you leave the strainer full of rehydrated rice grains on the counter, and your mom happens to chance a look inside, she may assume your tea is full of maggots.

My mom doesn't really drink tea. If there were maggots in my tea, I probably wouldn't drink much, either.

"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water." Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Po and Prosopagnosia

The DC where I volunteer put on their annual Volunteer Appreciation Event last night. I was a little hesitant to go, despite how much I love the DC, as I don't really have any particular friends there. But then, they said that Naheed Nenshi was going to be speaking, despite having to break pretty much every one of his rules about which events he attends in order to come. So I figured, hey, worst case scenario I eat some food and listen to Nenshi. And maybe I'll even have fun.

I did have fun. The conversation at my table was friendly and animated. And since it was at the zoo, Telus donated a bunch of plush hippos to decorate the tables, one of which I claimed early to take home with me. I named him Po and love him way more than I should love a stuffed animal.

As I was listening to the speakers, Po sat on the table in front of me while I absentmindedly scratched his head. You know, like in the same way you'd massage the space between a little kitten's ears. The guy across the table from me watched bemusedly and tried to conceal a laugh when I noticed that he noticed me crooning over a stuffed toy.

The evening was lovely, but here's the problem with being a Leadership Volunteer with poor face-name recall: Some of the people you help to train recognize you, remember your name and eagerly greet you, bringing up details you told them about yourself... and you feel like you've seen them around somewhere. And then you feel just awful because you do actually care about them you just... don't remember them. Sigh. Let it be known forthwith that I shall put more effort into remember people so they don't feel like dirt. Also, I might make more friends that way. The volunteer coordinator can remember the names of all three hundred plus volunteers after meeting them like, once. Why can't I?

The first guy who recognized me said that he remembered me because of all the Leadership Volunteers, I had "given him the most candid feedback" during training. That is to say, I didn't tell him that he was entirely awesome in every way, but told him to fix some things. Apparently he appreciated that. At any rate, he remembered it. The second guy who recognized me (and saw me fawning over Po) could repeat back what I had told him about my hypothetical plans for the future and comment on how they were developing. His face was vaguely familiar. Sigh. I felt really bad about that one, but he was a good sport. And I don't think I'll forget him again.

Anyway, apart from feeling like a bag for forgetting people, it was a good time. You should volunteer. Not necessarily at the DC, though they definitely know how to make you enjoy volunteering there. Just volunteer somewhere. You might get a stuffed hippo.

"Volunteers don't get paid, not because they're worthless, but because they're priceless." Sherry Anderson 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Coming of a New Hero

Supposedly, I'm a grown up, but I don't think so. I still have plans for what I want to be if and when I become one.

I'd like to be a ninja, I think. Who's also a princess. Not a princess by birth, but somebody who earned their way into being a princess. Not through marriage, necessarily, just somebody who was given her own country to rule, because she's awesome like that. But then I would have to go incognito because I wouldn't want to have everyone always watching me and writing tabloids. That would be extremely tiring. And don't forget I'd also be a ninja and a visible ninja just isn't a good ninja. Unless you're Naruto. If you're so powerful that you can pick up a monster a hundred times your size and fling it over your shoulder like you're swatting a fly, and you're so quick that you can dodge a wall of knives and ninja stars coming at you faster than you can fall down, well, then you don't need to be sneaky anymore.

But I'm not quite that good yet. I'd actually have to wear clothes that camouflaged me instead of a bright orange sweatsuit. And to be honest, I don't think I'd have the guts to kill anyone unless they were like, actively attacking some kids or something. And even then I'd probably just fly into a craze and flail around in random directions, instead of actually trying to kill the attacker. I'd be better as a ninja-thief than as a ninja assassin.

So really, I'd be more like Batman. Or Batgirl, as the case may be. I'd have an alter-ego and not kill anyone. But this is still problematic because I don't really know if I'd have the sheer determination necessary to become a ninja batgirl, either. Navy SEAL training sounds tough enough, and they don't even dodge bullets. Konoha ninjas get hucked off cliffs to help them learn stuff and even if normal ninjas don't do that, I bet I'd still get hurt. Bruce Wayne spent years in a Japanese prison and climbing mountains without the proper attire. Doesn't sound pleasant to me. Not to mention an awful lot of work.

Sigh. It'd be nice if I just woke up and could do all these things, but then the whole satisfaction of saying, "I accomplished this," would go out the window because really, it had nothing to do with me. I would have just gotten lucky. But then, there's a lot less pressure on you if you just get lucky than if you have to work for everything. Actually, if I woke up one morning and could do all those crazy things, I might think that I'd been operated on by aliens while I slept. And if I started telling people that aliens altered my biology, then my credibility would be totally shot, true or not, and nobody would make me a princess.

I'd also enjoy being able to speak, like 27 languages. I'd be the female Daniel Jackson of the real world. But I wouldn't get killed so often, because I'd just fly away to my palace like the ninja-thief batgirl I was. Even if it was a stolen palace because nobody gives palaces away freely to somebody they think is a raving lunatic.

So you can see, I have a few kinks in my plan to work out before I can actually grow up. But we'll get there.

"Be what you would seem to be - or, if you'd like it put more simply - never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise." Lewis Carroll

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Who's the Chowder Chief

I was helping out with the regional gathering of our church denomination these last two days. One of my tasks was to cook corn chowder for all the volunteers.

Let me just say that I have never had to cook for twenty-five people before, much less using a recipe I'm "not supposed to follow". I've never had to count out twenty-four tablespoons of bullion, either. That's quite a bit of bullion.

But it all tasted good and nobody died, so I guess it counts as a success, not counting the crunched up bay leaves I couldn't find to fish out.

This is how the briefing went.

Boss: Here's the recipe, but I don't really follow it.

Me: Ok, so, this makes four servings. How many people need to eat?

Boss: Twenty-five, so you'll need to multiply everything by four.

Me: Um, by six, right?

Boss: Oh, yeah. And I bough half-and-half instead of light cream, so you'll need to change the cream amount.

Me: How much should I use?

Boss: Yes. Oh, and of course we're not using the dry wine*.

Uh-huh. Add that there were multiple other things we didn't use and not a single measuring spoon in the entire kitchen. Yet, somehow it seems I may have acquired enough culinary-competence to eyeball the proportions. That and soup tends to be forgiving.

When my friend Sharon showed up a few minutes into the soup-making effort, she asked how it was going. I was already in tears. So was my kitchen-mate. That sort of thing happens with onions, though. Thank goodness we only had to chop four. If my boss had thought to get six we might never have recovered.

*Alcohol is contraband on church property. And yet I may or may not have found a beverage of questionable nature stashed in a secret place on the premises during my tenure as temporary receptionist... (And if I did, it was unopened, of course).

“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J. R. R. Tolkien