Sheep and Wolves

sheeps wolvesI’d chosen the title for this blog site prior to finding out that it was actually embedded in an old Turkish proverb, which states, “The sheep separated from the flock is eaten by the wolf.” I was dumbstruck upon seeing this. I found myself connecting with this proverb on so many levels. Of course! As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are taught that if we stray from the flock of “righteous ones,” then there is “nowhere to go.” We believe everyone outside of “the truth” is an alcoholic, thief or drug dealer and will certainly lead us into a life of misery and debauchery. We stay where we are because we are afraid of the “wolves,” who just can’t wait to devour us. We live in fear of being separated from the flock and so remain humbly, and blindly obedient to the shepherds, the elders in the congregation, who act on the orders received from the Faithful and Discreet Slave, also known as the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The more afraid, and the more sheep-like we become, the lower the likelihood of ever straying away from the flock and going out on our own. Paralyzed and unable to think freely, we take the direction provided to us, believing there is nothing better out there. We speak of anything outside of the organization as being “wordly,” and part of the “old system of things.” We look upon non-Jehovah’s Witnesses with contempt and derision, bordering on abject hatred. We claim to be protected from the wickedness of the world by the “society” and its “spiritual food.”

Let’s shift our thinking now. Let’s imagine that instead of the wolves existing outside the fences containing the happy, contented, and well-protected flock, that they are actually running the show? Yes, keeping the sheep locked up under their own will, devouring their minds instead of their flesh, feasting on their freedom and independence, which the wolves have maliciously and knowingly stole from them. Somehow, other members of the flock have left. They occasionally come and stand near the fence, calling out to their old friends and relatives. They try to tell them that they can live outside the fence, and think independently, without the wolves protection. The wolves come out of their lofty “watchtowers” high above the flock. They terrorize their own sheep, telling them if they talk to the sheep on the other side of the fence they will be cast out, no longer to benefit from the wolves’ kindness and hospitality. “Where else will you go?” the wolves say. “Who will feed you food at the proper time?” The vast majority of the sheep turn away from the fence and don’t even look upon the ones on the other side. They conclude they are better off inside, and don’t see any possible reason to leave. They know they have everything they need right where they are. They don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from, and besides, they are constantly protected from the wolves that roam freely outside the fences. It doesn’t strike them as odd that somehow the sheep that have left are still surviving out there, away from the flock.

If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, please think carefully about the situation you are in. Do you really believe that everyone that is not a Jehovah’s Witness is really such a wicked person–a “bad association?” Are you being told not to talk to any members that have left for fear of punishment? Are you allowed to verify anything you are being told? In 1 John 4:1 we are admonished to “test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.” What are you doing to test the food that is being provided to you?

If you are no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and are struggling to find your way, know that life is meant to be a search for answers and for truth. We were created with the wonderful gift of choice and will. It is not possible for any organization, or even any small group of men, to have all of the answers. There are sheep and wolves on both sides of the fence. Time and experience will guide you toward knowing who is who.

Celebrating Life

pexels-photo-137485.jpegYesterday was a major milestone in my life: I turned 50! My co-workers threw a surprise birthday party for me earlier in the week, complete with a set of helium balloons. I was flattered when several people poked their head into my office, asking me who gave me the balloons as a joke, having no idea of my age. I am fortunate and blessed that after all I’ve done and been through I have reasonably good health and don’t look my age.

My Facebook page was full of birthday wishes and love. Of course absent from the list of posts were any messages from several of my family members who are still Jehovah’s Witnesses. It doesn’t faze me at all. While their posts were not missed, I must say that after all these years ( I left the Watchtower organization nearly 30 years ago), I still feel uncomfortable when someone wishes me a Happy Birthday. My parents started studying when I was just two years old, so I don’t remember any of my earliest birthday celebrations. Then, when my mother was disfellowshipped six years later and my parents subsequently divorced, the birthday celebrations at her house seemed awkward and unnatural. I felt Jehovah’s shadow over my shoulder, ready to strike me with lightning for eating a piece of birthday cake, or worse, singing along to the “Happy Birthday” song. I made my full commitment to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses just weeks shy of my 17th birthday and of course the celebrations stopped once again.

I left the Watchtower for good when I was 20 years old. My first birthday after leaving was a big one, my 21st. I had no friends whatsoever then, and went to an upscale bar in Woodstock, NY, by myself, to celebrate. Proud of my accomplishment, I told the bartender I’d just turned 21; I didn’t get any kind of reaction or congratulations. She had bigger things to attend to, like serving the other patrons as quickly as possible. I had a couple of drinks, watched the crowd and went home feeling lonely. My first birthday after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses was no grand celebration. Leaving “the truth” behind was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I was hurting inside and had no one to talk to about it other than my mother, who was so far removed from her days as a Witness that it was difficult for her to connect with what I was feeling at the time.

Are you a former Witness celebrating a birthday for the first time? Are you struggling with the idea of celebrating life in this way? Please leave a comment here about your experience. Sometimes just talking things through with someone who’s been where we are can be enormously helpful. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with celebrating the anniversary of the beginning of one’s life. Jehovah’s Witnesses do celebrate wedding anniversaries, which is the start of two people’s lives together. Why would celebrating the start of one’s own life be looked upon any differently?

Hope

pexels-photo-226616.jpegIt’s been about eight years now since my therapy sessions ended. During my time in therapy, which spanned the better part of seven years, off and on, I learned much about myself and what drives me to make the choices I make. I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), something I previously only associated with people who had served in wars, like Vietnam. Prior to meeting Marlene, my therapist, I never saw myself as a survivor of anything. Actually I had no idea how I got to where I was. Somehow I just landed in a mess of a life, unable to make the connections between the person I’d become and the child I once was. After spending a year unraveling my life story to a relative stranger, my therapist remarked that although she had worked with many individuals before me with tough stories, she found it amazing that I’d met with any kind of success in life at all, at one point telling me that someone with my past could have just as easily found themselves living in a broken down shack somewhere, collecting Social Security Disability payments. Was it will and determination alone with a little help from the hand of God? Did my grandmother, who was always my rock and strength my whole life, serve as that bright beacon in the darkness of the sea, showing me a life unlike mine, where things were calm, organized and constant?

I will be 50 years old on Friday. I have lived at 46 different addresses. In my whole life, my grandmother lived in just four. No matter where she lived, everything was always just the same. I don’t mean just the same staid furniture in the same preordained places, I mean every lamp, every doily, the bowl of wax fruit, I mean everything, set out in exactly the same place and the same way no matter where she lived. This was nothing like the life I knew. Going back and forth between my mother and father so many times, each of them moving with unwavering regularity, never living in one place long enough to form any meaningful relationships, I learned to move from one thing to the next at a breathtaking pace. It is no wonder then, wherever I arrived at my grandmother’s place, I would fall fast asleep on her couch moments after arriving. Her home was the port in a sea of discontent, the relief and respite from a life of constant turmoil and change.

I have immense gratitude for what my grandmother was able to give me. She passed away 16 years ago today, so naturally I can’t tell her to her face how much she meant to me. Sometimes, as I’m driving to or from work, I contemplate our relationship and how she may have been the one person in my life who knowingly or not gave me the hope and the strength to continue, to push forward, to create meaning in a life where every headwind blew full force onto to my efforts to succeed. I dare think about how my life might’ve turned out had I not known her presence. I do believe in a universe that will conspire in our favor. I do believe in a higher power, a being who is not a manipulator of outcomes, but a force much greater than ourselves that will use people and events to show us the way through whatever we may be going through. Certainly my grandmother was that light in my own life, a beautiful soul who had her own demons to deal with but still somehow found her way to love me, to comfort me and guide me when I had no other significant role models in my life. Thank you grandma, thank you. Know you are missed so much and know I’m forever grateful for who you were and what you’ve done for me.

Father’s Day

fried-eggs-breakfast-toast-food-50600.jpegI had a wonderful morning today. My wife and children prepared a healthy, scrumptious breakfast of french toast, fruit and coffee. I’m grateful. My own father and I have not spoken with each other for over three years. He isn’t allowed to talk to me if he wanted to. He shouldn’t answer the phone if I call. He shouldn’t acknowledge my presence. This man, who had a hand in bringing me to life, must now act as if I’m unborn, not alive, nonexistent. Most people I share this with say this is his choice. In his world, it’s not a choice, it’s a command. An order from the literature published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, where content is devised and directed by a small group of mostly older men known as the Governing Body. They say there is biblical guidance to be followed. I’ve seen the infamous “shunning” video making the rounds on the Internet over the past month, where parents are shown refusing to even answer their cell phone when their disfellowshipped daughter calls. There is no freedom of choice for a loyal member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One must think and act like the rest of the flock at all times, with blind and unquestioning obedience to the shepherd. Those sheep separated from the flock cannot be associated with for they have made their bed. The harder it is for the separated, or lost sheep, the more they will desire to return, or so the thinking goes.

If you, like me, find yourself among the great crowd of sheep separated from the flock, know we are not alone, and quite possibly our collective flock may be greater than the one that continues to mindlessly follow the shepherd. You may, as I have at times, looked upon that flock, longing for the ease of following the shepherd without critical thinking, without individuality and without free will. The desire to belong, to feel loved and accepted is strong. I understand.

Separated From The Flock

sunset-sheep-dike-nordfriesland-69466.jpegI’ve been quiet for a long time. Not because I wasn’t allowed to speak or because I was afraid to or even because I didn’t know how. I just haven’t been able to fully understand what has happened until now. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to connect the dots and come to terms with my addiction. Was I addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling? No. I’ve been addicted to a need for security, to a desire to belong, to a need to feel loved and accepted. At times I’ve felt like a lost sheep, separated and cut off from the rest of the human race, lost and trying to find my way. I’ve lived in fear of being alone in this world. I’ve spent a lifetime looking for guidance and direction. I’m not alone. For the questions that life presents us, there is great comfort to be had in finding some one or some thing with all the answers.

For many years I believed I had all the answers. I was part of a large, global organization that spoon fed its constituents all the answers to any questions they could possibly have. I willingly confessed to others my affirmation of my beliefs, letting them in on the secret that wasn’t so secret, that they too could know what I know. Nothing in life left to chance, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of friends, a dream of life eternal. How could anyone say no to this? The truth is most people did. I had far more doors slammed in my face than were ever opened. What a shame, I would say, they really don’t want to live forever. I just didn’t get why they didn’t get it.

Not all is as it seems. Beneath the smiles, happy faces and “brotherly love” lies a trail of tears, broken families, broken dreams, and broken people. Sometimes the weight of wanting to be perfect can crush the spirit. Like the parent we were never good enough for, we turn away, to other things to help us feel loved and accepted. The story doesn’t have to end there. When we realize we’re writing the script with every moment of our experience, we understand we are in control.

I separated from the Jehovah’s Witness nearly thirty years ago. In all that time I’ve struggled to find the truth. The siren call of my past tells me I had the truth, I just need to return. She sounds sweet. She means to coddle me in her arms and soothe my fears. I can easily return to a world where I no longer have to work toward any purpose of my own making and choosing. I can reunite with my family. But I wouldn’t be at peace.

If you are no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, struggling each day to find your way out in “the world,” know you’re not alone. We have this. Let’s talk about it. This space knows no judgement, no criticism and is blind to one’s religious convictions. I have faith and that’s my choice. What you believe is yours. Welcome to life separated from the flock.