Sunday, September 23, 2007

What's Heathen like you doing in a place like this?

So, I'm sitting in Kingdom Hall last Saturday wondering if I was going to go off during service or wait till after the service to curse out the annoying White woman sitting four seats down from me.

Wait. Let me back up. Perhaps I should start this entry a bit differently. Let me first answer the question -- "what the hell am I doing at Kingdom Hall?"

Answer: Much to my mother-in-law's chagrin (and surprisingly my mother's as well), my wife has been talking with a group of Jehovah's Witnesses for over a year. She still doesn't buy their ban on holidays and refusal of blood transfusions, but genuinely digs that they explain their faith in plain-english. Oh yeah, and the JW's don't believe in hell which is a HUGE plus for my wife as she doesn't want to believe in it either, but still really does. Similar to the way, I don't WANT to think Michael Jackson touched those boys but . . . . Anyway, coupled with the fact that our neighbor has joined their ranks, my wife felt compelled to go. And thus, my first trip to Kingdom Hall.

Got it? So back to the annoying White woman.

Seated four seats down from me is this White woman and her husband. I note that there are White because the congregation of JWs at this particular Hall was surprisingly Black. In my mind, JW's are White. But I realize that's because I confuse them with Mormons -- who are mostly White (and should be -- SHAME on you Gladys Knight). It's like Japanese and Chinese food -- if they both come in white, folding boxes with eggrolls, my mind doesn't really make any distinctions.

Judging by the Hall, the JW's are not a very festive folk. It looked no different than a hotel conference room. The walls were a bare, light blue with only a two-line scripture painted on it. The pastor (not sure JW's use that title), was a White guy who, if they made a movie about him, would be played by William H. Macy. You know, kind of dorky with a combover and a "Welcome to Home Depot" voice. He was up there in an everyday blue suit standing behind a small podium. Neither pomp nor circumstance.

I mention all this to say that with no offensive paintings White Jesuses (Jesi?) on the wall or sychophantic "yes-men" catching the ghost every five seconds, the only thing to pay attention to was the pastor-dude-guy on stage -- which, as an adult, was hard enough. So I was impressed that my six-year old daughter and her three friends -- oh, did I mention we went with our neighbor and four children? -- were sitting quietly and sharing my notebook to scribble on.

Apparently, the White woman was NOT impressed and consistently shushed the girls. Being a guest, I didn't speak up right away -- and was actually a bit relieved to get some parenting help -- but judging by her reaction she was appalled by the kids' occassional giggles. As I understand it, the JW's expect children to follow the day's lesson along in their bibles -- a vain attempt at best. I'm no expert on Black churches, but for all their children's bibles they don't really EXPECT them to read it. Which brings me to two points:

1. I don't even want to read my child the bible yet, let alone let some strange White woman go "Reading Rainbow" on my daughter. For all the good in the book, there's still lots of dangerous stuff in there, too (I'm looking at you Leviticus).

2. Who the FUCK does Kathy think she is? These children are in MY house each weekend. I'M the one who takes them places, sees them at the bus stop every morning.

However, Kathy DID know their names and the children HAD been to this Hall several times so I didn't want to cause a scene. Instead, I had my daughter sit closer to me as a visual cue to keep Kathy's judgmental mitts off my child's undeveloped theology.

With Kathy out of the picture, I was eager to get to the Q and A portion of the service my wife had been particularly excited about. I too was anxious to see folks actively discuss their faith and, hope of hopes, ask some questions.

Yeah, well . . . the "Q&A" portion should be renamed the "Ooh, ooh, pick me first" session. They have two guys who tag-team read from "The Watchtower" -- you know that JW magazine they hand out and you throw away. One guy reads the article while the other reads the questions at the bottom of the pages and fields answers. Seriously, it was as intellectually stimulating as a third grade book report on soil.

The sad part was, nobody else realized how boring it was. You'd think that after years of high school, they'd know that the quickest way to stop the teacher from talking was NOT to raise your hand all the damn time. But no. These guys are a bunch of first-row students who just had to have their turn to spit back -- verbatim, no less -- what they had just read. As a former first-row student, I know the glee of having the teacher smile on you and affirm your suspicion that your brighter than most of your peers, but come on - 18 goddamn questions! What should have been five minutes turned into an hour of people vomiting back the answers everyone wanted.

There was not a hint of questioning, no sense of individual intepretation or doubt. Just all-consuming agreement -- the exact thing I dislike about organized religion and the main reason I don't want my children mainlined with the stuff.

After the service, I met back up with my wife and two-year old daughter, previously quarantined in a soundproof glass room because they were too noisy -- no shit. We glad-handed everyone while my wife politely lied (sorta) about coming back. But I noticed an intense interest on their part about how I felt about the service. I felt immediate regret for bringing my notebook -- "No ma'am, I'm not studying to be a better Christian. I'm notes for a snarky heathenistic blog where I'm liable to make fun of Kathy and a lot of your belief system."

"So what did you think of the service?" They asked.

How the hell do I answer that? Not honestly, I know that much. Instead I gave the most noncommital answer I could; "It was interesting." Which, like a jilted lover still looking for hope, they interpreted as "I still love you" as opposed to "I can't stand being around you."

During the ride home, my wife confirmed what I just KNEW had to be true. She finally confessed that the JW's were really keen on getting ME to Kingdom Hall. It's like my wife was the hot girl they were dating for a year only to realize she had an even hotter roomate -- me. Weird, gender-bending analogy aside, that's not to say they're not concerned with my wife's soul, but COME ON whose the bigger catch here -- the lapsed-Baptist or her heathen husband, a virtual virgin waiting to be taken (or so they see it -- I guess). I imagine they talk about converting me the way college boys talk about deflowering the new crop of freshmen girls.

What they don't know and are probably less ready to accept is that I'm a tease. I'm that girl with the big ass who wears short skirts, dances dirty and NEVER calls you back. I'll sit, talk and discuss. I'll even show up to service, but what they don't get is that I'm not looking to date. I'm happily married to my own non-existent theology and not looking to step out.

But what hit me most is that my wife IS looking to date. She wants a church home ("I wouldn't go every week, or even every month" she tells me), a place to go that makes sense to her. And I've told her, no matter what, I would go to support (and to keep an eye on what they teach my kids) as long as she didn't lose her sense of individuality and reason. But, in this area of our marriage, I have nothing to offer her -- literally. I would lie if I said it didn't worry me a bit, that I can't meet a need my wife has. But I trust her when she says she loves my point of view and knows I want the best for her -- even if its not the best for me.

However, if she changes our outgoing phone message to end with "have a blessed day" we're getting divorced.

NEXT UP: "Daddy, the dead man in the picture is you."


Blah Blah Blah said...

LOL...was her name really Kathy?

I can understand your wife's need...I have a need for a foundation...hence, I am a church-goer...but heathen all the same. I figure that will change at some point...or rather it should change, the heathen part....or maybe the church going part.

Can't knock another religion BUT (lol)....I'm just sayin'...JW's and Mormons... I mean, they just started letting black people join...and aren't they like on the "1st tier" of heaven? I dunno, could be all wrong and even if I am or not... young white guys, short-sleeve buton ups and ties walking around Harlem isn't a good look. Then again, I do live in the "new" Harlem (read: gentrified and whatnot)

Nice read!

tom sheepandgoats said...

Yours is pretty good writing and easy to read.

"I imagine they talk about converting me the way college boys talk about deflowering the new crop of freshmen girls."

Life is easier when there's not religious tension in the house. If one person shows some interest in a faith, it's natural to see if the marriage partner does as well. I wouldn't read any more into it than that.

"The sad part was, nobody else realized how boring it was."

That's because they don't find it boring.

"You'd think that after years of high school, they'd know that the quickest way to stop the teacher from talking was NOT to raise your hand all the damn time."

Trust me, you don't want that to happen. Because the conductor is going to spend that one hour on the printed material, no matter what. If no one comments, it's going to be pure speech (ad-libbed) on his part. And THAT you would find hard to endure. Unless he was real entertaining, in which case it might take a few weeks to get your fill of him. No, these parts are designed for audience participation. The best conductors are somewhat dull, they don't "hog the show," so people do readily comment.

"But no. These guys are a bunch of first-row students who just had to have their turn to spit back -- verbatim, no less -- what they had just read. As a former first-row student, I know the glee of having the teacher smile on you and affirm your suspicion that your brighter than most of your peers, but come on - 18 goddamn questions! What should have been five minutes turned into an hour of people vomiting back the answers everyone wanted."

Look, the Watchtower study is attended mostly by those who have been JWs for awhile. Like any involved subject, it has lots of nuances appreciated by "veterans" that go totally past newcomers, who sometimes find it all a great bore, as you did. It's not really a "shooting the bull" session, nor is it a debate. I trust no one billed it that way.

The "founder" of Jehovah's Witnesses was known in his lifetime as the man who "turned the hose on hell and put out the fire." It's not hard to do. With just one exception, all instances of "hell" in English language Bibles stem from one of three original language words. Find the meaning of those words and you've found the meaning of hell. None of them refer to a place of lasting torment.

Hope you don't mind a comment about what is plainly none of my business. But I know JWs well, and I was once in pretty much your position, so your post caught my interest.

For whatever it's worth, I was impressed the first few meetings I attended that there were no segregated clergy. They announce who is to give the talk, and the guy might be sitting right next to you, for all you know. Also liked it that they don't pass the collection plate.

"Have a blessed day" is unlikely (but not impossible) to crop up; that's not really our style.

B. Cause said...

Welcome, blah blah blah and tom sheepand goats to my blog!! I'm very excited to have two real live visitors. I'm also very curious as to how you found my blog.

Thanks again for taking the time to read and post. Is there some blogging courtesy I should repay you? This a new environment for me.


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