Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Why Jehovah's Witnesses Must Shun Christmas

All my life, growing up as a JW in the 1950s and 60s, I was taught the standard reasons Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas (while claiming to be Christian).

1. Jesus Christ was not born on December 25. The Witnesses claimed that Jesus was born in October. They didn't celebrate Christmas then either.

2. The date of Jesus' birth is not found in the Bible. They claim the only event in Jesus' life that occurred on an identifiable date was The Last Supper which was followed by his death.

3. Christmas is the celebration of a birthday. JWs do not celebrate birthdays (and claim the early Christians did not celebrate birthdays either).

4. They assert that the customs associated with the celebration of Christmas (including the date) have a Pagan origin.

There are, of course, very reasonable answers to all these objections. But none of the four reasons listed above is the REAL reason JWs must shun Christmas. The real reason is this:

Christmas is the ultimate testimony to and representation of the Incarnation -- God become man in the person of a Babe in Bethlehem. JWs reject the Incarnation.

Now JWs have a silly tale (unsupported by scripture, BTW) that the babe born in Bethlehem was the "transferred life" of the Archangel Michael, whom they claim was God's first creation. Surprisingly, at least to the Catholics I know, JWs at the same time claim to believe in the Virgin birth. They accept the part that the babe was conceived by Holy Spirit and born in Bethlehem without the aid of a human father, but they reject that this child is God become man.

JWs also claim that the adoration of the Infant is demeaning to Jesus Christ. They state that it detracts from his current rulership as the "King of God's Kingdom". Of course, everything about the JW explanation is demeaning to Jesus. And the angels who sang from heaven at the birth of Our Lord appear to disagree mightily with the JW opinion.

So the next time a JW wants to explain to you all the reasons they do not celebrate Christmas, ask that same JW how it is that they claim to be Christian while not acknowledging the miracle of the Incarnation.

And you might let them know that the Devil did not send the star, either.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Back to the Present

This coming Sunday, November 11, I will experience my first step in the RCIA process -- the Rite of Acceptance.

As described in a document posted online,


The Candidates and their sponsors gather at the entrance of the church.



Dear friends, the Church joyfully welcomes today those who will be received into the order of catechumens. In the months to come they will prepare for their initiation into the Christian faith by baptism, confirmation, and eucharist.

Opening Dialogue

The celebrant calls out the name of each candidate (list of names printed for the Celebrant here)




What do you ask of God’s Church?




What does faith offer you?


Eternal life.


This is eternal life: to know the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent. Christ has been raised from the dead and appointed by God as the Lord of life and ruler of all things, seen and unseen.

If, then you wish to become his disciples and members of his church, you must be guided to the fullness of the truth that he has revealed to us. You must learn to make the mind of Christ Jesus your own. Your must strive to pattern your life on the teachings of the Gospel and so to love the Lord your God and your neighbor. For this was Christ’s command and he was its perfect example.

Is each of you ready to accept these teachings of the Gospel?


I am.

Affirmation by the Sponsors and the Assembly


Sponsors, you now present these candidates to us; are you, and all who are gathered here with us, ready to help these candidates find and follow Christ?


We are.

With hands joined, the celebrant says:

Father of mercy, we thank you for these your servants. You have sought and summoned them in many ways and they have turned to seek you.

You have called them today and they have answered in our presence: we praise you, Lord, and we bless you.


We praise you, Lord, and we bless you.



Next the cross is traced on the forehead of the candidates at the discretion of the celebrant the signing of one, several, or all of the sense may follow. The celebrant alone says the formularies accompanying each signing.


Come forward now with your sponsors to receive the sign of your new way of life as catechumens.

With their sponsors, the candidates come one by one to the celebrant; with his thumb he traces a cross on the forehead saying the following words:


N., receive the cross on your forehead. It is Christ himself who now strengthens you with this sign of his love. Learn to know him and follow him.


Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ


The signing is carried out by the catechists or the sponsors. The signing of each sense may be followed by an acclamation in praise of Christ, for example, “Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!”

Receive the sign of the cross on your ears, that you may hear the voice of the Lord.

Receive the sign of the cross on your eyes, that you may see the glory of God.

Receive the sign of the cross on your lips, that you may respond to the word of God.

Receive the sign of the cross over your heart, that Christ may dwell there by faith.

Receive the sign of the cross on your shoulders, that you may bear the gentle yoke of Christ.

Receive the sign of the cross on your hands, that Christ may be known in the work which you do.

Receive the sign of the cross on your feet, that you may walk in the way of Christ.

Then the celebrant makes the sign of the cross over all together saying:

I sign you with the sign of eternal life in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.



Concluding Prayer


Let us pray.

Lord, we have signed these catechumens with the sign of Christ’s cross. Protect them by its power, so that, faithful to the grace which has begun in them, they may keep your commandments and come to the glory of rebirth in baptism.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.


Catechumens may be seated as you share with us at the table of God’s word.




Presentation of a Bible

After homily celebrant calls Catechumens forward. Bless the bibles, team will help as you present a bible to each candidate saying: “Receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.



These catechumens, who are our brothers and sisters, have already traveled a long road. We rejoice with them in the gentle guidance of God who has brought them to this day. Let us pray that they may press onwards, until they come to share fully in our way of life.


That God our Father may reveal this Christ to them more and more with every passing day, let us pray to the Lord:

R. Lord hear our prayer.


That they may undertake with generous hearts and souls whatever God may ask of them, let us pray to the Lord.

R. Lord hear our prayer.


That they may have our sincere and unfailing support every step of the way, let us pray to the Lord.

R. Lord hear our prayer.


That they may find in our community compelling signs of unity and generous love, let us pray to the Lord.

R. Lord hear our prayer.


That their hearts and ours may become more responsive to the needs of others, let us pray to the Lord.

R. Lord hear our prayer.


That in due time they may be found worthy to receive the baptism of new birth and renewal in the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord.

R. Lord hear our prayer.

Prayer over the Catechumens

After the intercessions, the celebrant, with hands ourstreched over the catechumens, says the following prayer.

Almighty God, source of all creation, you have made us in your image.

Welcome with love those who come before you today.

They have listened among us to the word of Christ; by its power renew them and by your grace refashion them, so that in time they may assume the full likeness of Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

R. Amen

Dismissal of the Catechumens

My dear friends, this community now sends you forth to reflect more deeply upon the word of God which you have shared with us today. Be assured of our loving support and prayers for you. We look forward to the day when you will share in the Lord’s Table.

A team member will lead the Catechumen’s out to study the scripture.

I remember when I first heard about this Rite. My dear friend explained it to me; she was being accepted as a Catechumen in the Church. At the time, I thought, how wonderful that the Church celebrates the intentions of those on the way to conversion in such a beautiful and special way!! The Rite really makes present the import of Jesus' words at Matthew 7:7, 8:

7 Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. 8 For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. -- Douay-Rheims Bible

It will be a glorious day :-)

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sacred Service

1 Consequently I entreat YOU by the compassions of God, brothers, to present YOUR bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with YOUR power of reason. -- Romans 12:1, NWT

If study was the foundation of my Witness life, service was the framework. Devout Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they should spend every available moment talking to others about the "good news". For a Witness, the good news is that God is going to, very soon, destroy the wicked and establish an earthly paradise for righteous mankind.

Because this destruction is believed to be imminent, and because all those who are not Jehovah's Witnesses are believed to be in danger of destruction, sincere Witnesses have a tremendous sense of urgency in their ministry. And I was a sincere Witness.

Witnesses keep track of the amount of time that they spend in their ministry. The time that is recorded is reported to their local congregation, with those numbers being accumulated and sent to the world headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses. In fact, it is the reporting of such time spent that determines if a person is "counted" as being an active Witness (also called a "publisher"). The Witnesses take great pride in their way of identifying "Witnesses". They are quick to point out that the numbers they report each year represent those who have actually participated in the ministry.

The very idea of "counting time" strikes most Christians as odd. Who ever heard of "punching a time clock" for God?

I had always accompanied my parents in the door-to-door ministry. After I was baptized, I spent every summer as what was then called a "vacation pioneer". This meant that I spent at least 75 hours per month knocking on doors and returning for further discussions with people who showed interest. I was very serious about this ministry, and my parents fully supported my participation in it. I got a lot of positive reinforcement from others in the congregation. I was the "poster girl" for Witness teenagers.

While I cheerfully accepted the responsibility of delivering this "life-or-death" message to my neighbors, I was passing on most of the activities that would otherwise have occupied my summers. But I was very serious about my service, and didn't dwell on the fact that my school friends were at the swimming pool working on their suntans.

Only one thing bothered me about my sacred service -- the narrowness of it. I desired to be of help to others, and I was told (by my parents, by the congregation, and by the organization) that the best possible way to do this was to visit my neighbors in their homes and teach them the "truth" from the Bible. While I could see the value of applying the Bible's moral laws to one's life, I had a nagging sense that I should be doing more to help people in a concrete way. Not all of my school friends were working on their tans during the summer -- some of them went with local churches on "missions" -- they distributed donated food and clothing, or they helped to build houses, or they assisted in the establishment of schools in poverty-stricken places.

Every time I read the book of James, or the 25th chapter of Matthew, or considered the miracles of Jesus providing loaves and fishes to feed the crowds, my conscience bothered me. What was I doing to help people REALLY? I was doing everything the Watchtower instructed me to do, and more, but I wasn't doing any of these things.

And furthermore, if I had been doing any of these things, they would not have "counted" as sacred service in the congregation.

My point is not that Jehovah's Witnesses are stingy or fail to help their neighbors. I know many Witnesses who are kind, helpful, and generous to others in a material way. What I am saying is that the ethos of their community does not encourage this behavior. Helping others in a physical or material way is not acknowledged. It doesn't "count" as sacred service; time spent in this way is not reported. So I guess what I am saying is that Witnesses who are kind and generous are so IN SPITE of their religion, not because of it.

It bothered me that works like those of Dorcas (Acts 3) were going virtually unnoticed in the congregation, while individuals who made a show of going from door-to-door (while actually accomplishing very little) would receive praise and privileges in the congregation.

But, like my questions about history, these doubts and concerns remained unspoken. I did not even bring them to God in prayer. I believed that there must be something wrong with me if I didn't understand how the congregation worked.

My "power of reason" was invested in my "sacred service", but my heart was, over time, being left behind. The problem, I was certain, had to be with me. I was not "good enough", I needed to try harder, study more, spend more time in "service". I wasn't sure what was missing, but I was determined to find it.

Next: If You Are Looking for Answers

Thursday, October 25, 2007

On Lost Magic

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God" --
1 Timothy 2:15, King James Version

If I could condense my life as a Witness into two words, the first would be "study". I was surprised to discover recently that the English word "study" does not appear even one time in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, the translation produced by Jehovah's Witnesses. During my childhood and on into my adult life as a Witness, study was the foundation stone on which everything else was built.

Although personal Bible reading was a habit of mine (established, no doubt, during those early morning family sessions), most of my study time was occupied with reading and studying publications of the Watchtower Society. Every summer, new books were "released" at the large conventions that we always attended as a family. Each of these was devoured greedily, as most purported to reveal the fulfillment of Bible prophecies in what was always termed this "Time of the End". Many explanations of Bible prophecy focused on the work of "modern-day" Jehovah's Witnesses and drew parallels between the Witnesses, ancient Israel, and the early Christians. Some of these books, such as the lengthy Babylon the Great has Fallen, God's Kingdom Rules, a discussion of the book of Revelation, identified all religions other than the Witnesses as being lead (knowingly or unknowingly) by the Devil in opposition to the Witnesses (God's people). Written in what appeared to be scholarly terms, these books also included references to events in history, together with dates for these events.

The Babylon book came out in 1963, the summer after my sixth grade year, and a few years before my baptism in 1967. I studied it intently, even though it was not used in formal group studies for several years. I loved the charts of kings and world events, and was pleased to be learning so much about history.

My first World History class as a sophomore in high school, however, was not what my study had lead me to expect. The Babylonian kings were detailed in this class, along with the dates of their reigns. But when I compared the dates in my history book with the dates in my prized Babylon book, I discovered that there were serious areas of difference. In particular, my world history book dated the destruction of Jerusalem as occuring in 586 or 587 B.C., while the Babylon book and other publications of the Watchtower Society insisted that this destruction occured in 607 B.C. Not only that, but 607 B.C. was used as the basis for Jehovah's Witnesses understanding of the beginning of the "Time of the End" and their insistence that the end of the wicked world was imminent.

It is indicative of the degree of trust that I held in my religion that I did not raise these questions with anyone, not even with my father, who had always assured me that he was willing to discuss anything. Our various study books did at times instruct us that there were differences between secular chronology and "Bible" chronology. I told myself that this was just one of those differences, pushed down my questions, and continued to read and study everything the Watchtower Society sent out.

All of this studying, intense as it was, was not drawing me closer to God. The more I studied, the farther I seemed to move from the innocent child who could always talk to her Heavenly Father. Even my baptism at age 14, much desired and eagerly anticipated as it was, did not fill the strange empty space that I found growing in my heart.

In a poem written shortly before my baptism in 1967, I remarked:

I remember when touching the mantlepiece was an accomplishment,
And Mommy was a long way up.
Funny, heaven seemed so much closer then.

Next: Sacred Service

Sunday, October 14, 2007

In the Embrace of Family

"When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray you speak to God.” -- St. Augustine

I don't remember learning to read. I do remember going to school and discovering that I knew how to read already -- the teacher put the word "look" on the chalkboard, and I knew the word.

I believe that I learned to read while sitting on my father's lap. My father loved to read and to study, and he read to me every day. While he was teaching me to read, Dad was also teaching me to love God and to love the Bible. I don't remember learning either of those things either, but as no one is born with such love, I must have learned it.

I remember asking my mother, when I was five or six, "Who made God?" My mother replied, "No one made God. God had no beginning and has no end." I looked out the window at the darkening night sky and wondered about that for a long time. In many ways, I wondered about God for most of my life. How could He have no beginning and no end? It was a mystery to me, although the term "mystery" was not a part of my religious vocabulary. But a mystery it was.

As a child, up until about age twelve, I felt a mystical closeness with God. It was not something I could explain to my very rational and logical parents. My dear father, in particular, spent a lot of time worrying about his daydreaming little girl. I would talk to God just as I would talk to my mother or sister; it didn't matter to me that he didn't answer me out loud. I knew he could hear me.

When I was only five, I would accompany my parents in their door-to-door ministry as Jehovah's Witnesses. I was very precocious, and insisted on speaking at the doors. As a grandmother now, I cannot imagine opening the door to find a tiny five-year old earnestly admonishing me to read the Bible. But I did exactly that. As I learned to read at an early age, I would even read scriptures from the Bible at the doors. I conducted my first "home Bible study" (where I was the teacher!) when I was seven years old. You might say I was an unusual child.

When my sister and I were in elementary school, my father decided that we needed to read the Bible daily as a family. Because of our conflicting schedules, the best time was early morning. So for several years, we all got up at 5:30 a.m. and read the Bible together. I have never forgotten the warmth of those mornings.

I dearly wished to be baptized, which I understood to be the dedicating of my life to serve God. Especially from the time I was about ten, when I read a book called Jehovah's Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, I had this strong desire. In this book I read about Witnesses, including children, who had given their lives for their faith. Many of these experiences were from Nazi Germany during World War II, when Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned in the concentration camps and many died. I used to have nightmares about such persecution, and wake up in the night and pray that God would give me strength to be faithful to him should I ever have to face such trials. This was a heavy burden for a young child, but I believed it to be my destiny as a Witness of Jehovah. I really believed that God would be coming to destroy the wicked world very soon, and that before that occurrence there would be great persecution. Even though I pleaded with them, my parents decided that I was too young to be baptized and that I should wait until my teenage years.

Another event happened when I was ten years old -- my dear mother (who was in her mid-forties) suffered a heart attack. She was in the hospital for a while, and after she came home she was confined to bed for a time. I would sit on the bed and talk to her for hours, and it was during one of these talks that I found out that my mother had undergone heart surgery before she met my father. She was born with a heart defect (which in 1918 in the mountains of Arkansas could easily have been a death sentence). Somehow, she survived, but by the time she was in her mid-twenties, her heart was failing. She was referred to the Mayo Clinic for her surgery. At the time, the operation (to correct patent ductus arteriosus)was only being done at three hospitals in the United States. In the course of this surgery, she received a great deal of blood by transfusion.

Learning that mother had had blood transfusions was shocking to me, as blood transfusions were forbidden to Jehovah's Witnesses. Many battles were being fought in the courts to compel Witnesses to take blood, and Witnesses who died after refusing a blood transfusion were viewed as having been martyrs for their faith. But she explained that, at the time of her surgery (1944), blood transfusions were not forbidden or viewed as sinful. The use of blood for medical purposes was identified as sinful in the following year, 1945. It was declared a "disfellowshipping offense" several years later.

I was only ten, but I quickly made the connection -- my mother would not have survived to meet my father without the surgery she had. The surgery would not have been performed in 1944 without the use of blood transfusions. No blood -- no surgery -- no marriage -- no ME! I didn't know what to do with this information. It was shocking to me to think that, had my mother not found the surgeon until 1945, she might never have had the operation. I would have never been born.

This was my first experience with cognitive dissonance, although it would be many years before I would discover the meaning of that term.

Next: On Lost Magic

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Deep Roots

All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted.
Saint Teresa of Avila

My family is deeply rooted in religious rebellion. Both of my grandmothers were Scots-Irish, descended from Protestants who were at odds with both the Catholics and the Anglicans. (See: Ulster-Scots ). My paternal grandfather was alleged to be a descendant of French Protestants. (See: Huguenot ) By the nineteenth century, these three families were all American Baptists. My maternal grandfather had a Welsh Protestant (Presbyterian) father and a German Protestant (Lutheran) mother.

Additionally, in the late nineteenth century, one of my Baptist great-great-grandfathers obtained a copy of a tract called "Food for Thinking Christians" that was written by C. T. Russell, considered the father of the present-day Jehovah's Witnesses. He accepted the doctrines of those who were then called Bible Students, as did his son and later his granddaughter (my grandmother). Possibly due to the influence of my great-grandmother, my grandmother attended a Baptist Church every Sunday while meeting with the Bible Students as her father and grandfather did during the week. She played the organ and sang in the Church. It was there that she met my grandfather. Now how a West Virginian who was a product of a Presbyterian-Lutheran marriage happened to be in a Baptist Church in Arkansas around the turn of the century was never told to us. I expect that would be quite a story in itself. But the tall West Virginian married the tiny Scots Irish Bible Student and he became a Bible Student himself.

Back in West Virginia, my other Scots Irish grandmother was being raised as a good Baptist. She was attending school, and her 8th grade teacher was a handsome fellow of French descent who was also a good Baptist (his grandfather built the local Baptist Church which is named for my father's family). On Christmas Day, 1905, he picked her up in a horse and buggy, ostensibly to take her to Church. Instead of attending regular services, the handsome school teacher married his beautiful 16-year-old pupil.

The first couple, who met and married in Arkansas, were my mother's parents. The second couple were my father's parents.

Fast forward to World War II, and my mother is a pioneer (a Jehovah's Witness missionary) in West Virginia. She is studying the Bible with a widow; three of the widow's four sons are serving in the War effort. Her fourth son, who already had a family at the start of the War, has married a Jehovah's Witness woman, and the widow wants to know what this religion is all about. Ultimately, the pioneer meets one of the widow's sons (home on leave from the Navy), who has also been discussing religion with his brother. These two marry, and become my parents.

So as you can see, religious rebellion has played a very prominent role in my personal history. I am descended from strong-willed, strong-principled, and hardworking folk who invested their lives in studying the Bible and endeavored to live by it. My parents were the same. They thoroughly believed their Jehovah's Witness faith was the one true religion. That is how they raised me.

Why would I ever doubt that I was born into the right religion? What could possibly persuade me to leave the "faith of my fathers"?

Next: In the Embrace of Family

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Where to start?

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.
St. Francis of Assisi

It is said that every journey begins with just one step. So my journey to the one Holy Catholic Church must have had a beginning; I'm just not sure when it began.

It would be easy for me to say that the journey began the evening I attended my first Mass -- November 1, 2006. But it could not have -- part of the journey had to lead me to the Church door in the first place.

The truth is, I believe I have been "on my way" for my entire life. The little girl who lay in the grass and spoke to God was already on her way. The young woman who greeted her newborn children with wonder at the miracle of their existence was on her way. The almost-40 matriarch who sat by her father's bed as he lay suffering was travelling "the road". She just had not bothered to read the signs.

I hope to trace (or retrace) through these pages and these words the various "signs of grace" in my life that have lead me to this place -- this faith, this longing for baptism, this hunger for communion. If you are so inclined, come walk with me. We will look for the signs together.

Next Installment: Deep Roots