Saturday, February 27, 2010

Leaps and Bounds


Posted by Joel Gunz

Have you ever watched the urban extreme sport parkour? Those stunts can be horrifying to watch as the athletes seem to defy gravity, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. But in reality, it’s mostly a mind game. The leaps they take between buildings don’t require special strength; the challenge is dealing with the fact that they’re doing so ten stories off the ground. Though what they do involves risk, the real threat of death exists only in their mind.

Leaving behind a belief system that no longer works can be just as terrifying. For many of us, when we left Jehovah’s Witnessism, we probably did so because it wasn’t living up to its promise of being a spiritual paradise and we knew we had to get out.

At one time, most of us were deeply convinced that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were God’s one true organization. We knocked ourselves out pioneering, building Kingdom Halls, serving where the need was greater. We were deeply passionate about our beliefs and there was no doubt that we had The Truth. But later, we came to see that it was all a bunch of nonsense. We had a crisis of faith. A set of perceptions was literally dying, and there was nothing we could do about it except mourn the loss. Then we healed.

Most likely, after leaving the Witnesses, there was a period of confusion. But soon enough a new set of beliefs began sprouting up that now work better for us and seem closer to the truth. That experience is a lesson in the power our minds have over our perceptions. We now probably look back on our life and think, “How did I ever believe that? How did ever think that such-and-such doctrine had anything to do with Truth?”

The world itself can seem to change. In my case, I joined the human race, seeing good in people I formerly would have dismissed as bad; other people who had once seemed righteous now seemed to be outright predators. Of course, the world hadn’t changed at all, just my perceptions did.

I imagine myself to be a truth-seeker. And let’s be fair, Jehovah’s Witness doctrine is better than some forms of belief. So, for a while, Watchtower theology satisfied my search for truth. But, if I was truly the person I felt myself to be, willing to follow the path of truth wherever it would lead, it was inevitable that I would one day discard Watchtower teachings.

When a group of people confuse mere belief with The Truth, as the Witnesses have done, the search for truth stops. And when that happens, people begin to die spiritually. Those doctrines, no matter how benign they may once have been, become toxic.

My guess is that, for some of us, the toxicity of Witness belief became so noxious that we had to get out or die trying. Something was going down, and it was either us or them. That is what is what prompted us to leap the chasm. And then, when we looked back, we realized that in actuality it wasn’t much of a leap at all.

For me, the video above perfectly illustrates the amazing courage and strength my ex-Jehovah's Witness friends displayed when they finally vaulted their way over and beyond the Watchtower parapet. Now that we're allowed to toast, let's raise a glass to future such leaps and bounds.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Welcome, ex-Jehovah's Witnesses in Portland, Oregon!

A better life awaits!

Welcome and congratulations! If you are "no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses" or are considering leaving, simply visiting this site could be a courageous step. We applaud you for taking it.

The idea of of even thinking of leaving the organization can provoke very deep anxieties. Fears about loss of family, friends and business associates, not to mention fears about your spiritual well-being — the very ground under your feet — hold many back from leaving. Former Witnesses ourselves, we understand these challenges. Yet, we have also found that it was one of the most worthwhile moves we ever made. Contrary to what we were taught to believe, there is a wonderful life outside The Organization.

This new blog has been set up by concerned, caring, former Jehovah's Witnesses in the greater Portland, Oregon area. Its purpose is to provide support, friendship and a safe haven as you deal with loss of faith and loved ones while entering into the joys and challenges of the post-Witness life. We remain free from judgment — regardless of lifestyle, orientation or personal choices. You are not alone. You are loved!

To find out more, or if you just want to talk, you are invited to email us at theadguy123 (at) yahoo (dot) com or visit our local Meetup group.

50 Ways to Leave the Watchower

Gambling isn't mentioned in the Bible, yet the Jehovah's Witnesses disfellowship anyone who engages in this pastime.

Posted by Joel Gunz

According to the latest Watchtower Index, released in 2009, there are 38 distinct matters for which a Jehovah's Witness can be shunned by the congregation. And this list is not complete: there are even more grounds for disfellowshipping that only the elders know about, which have been conveyed to them by letters from the Governing Body and traveling overseers. For which of these were you disfellowshipped? How many of these are mentioned as shunnable practices in the Bible?

It isn't quite 50 ways, but what the heck:

Apostasy
Associating with disfellowshipped persons, including family members
Bestiality
Bloodguilt
Blood transfusion
Dishonest practices
Drunkenness
Working at a casino
Employment violating Christian principles
Extortion
Extreme physical abuse of family members
Fits of anger
Following mourning customs that involve false worship
Fornication
Fraud
Gluttony
Greed in relation to bride-price
Gross uncleanness
Homosexuality
Incestuous marriage
Loose conduct
Lying
Obscene speech
Gambling
Non-medical use of marijuana
Parents condoning immorality
Planned adultery to break Scriptural marriage ties
Polygamy
Pornography
Promoting sects
Reviling
Selling tobacco
Sexual abuse of children
Slander
Subversive activity
Use of illicit drugs
Use of tobacco
Willful nonsupport of family

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stepping Stones to a Brighter Future


Posted by Joel Gunz

A number of years ago, circuit overseer Keith Kelley gave a talk at the Circuit Assembly in Woodburn, Oregon, on the theme, “Are You a Stepping Stone or Stumbling Stone?” If you were around then, maybe you remember it. His point was that, depending on the choices we make, we can either be a force for good or for evil. It was an excellent talk, and it continues to influence me in my post-Witness life.

I’d like to extend the illustration a bit further.

Imagine that you are stepping from stone to stone as you cross a narrow creek. In some places, jumping to the next rock might seem to require a huge effort, and you may not even be sure that you’ll make it. But as you cross, you look back and realize that it wasn’t so difficult after all.

For those of us who have successfully left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, can’t we say the same thing about our exit? Most of us were plagued by all kinds of fears, anxieties and self-doubts. We knew we were leaving longtime friends and family members. Some of us even faced the reality that we’d take a financial hit as our former brothers cut their business ties to us. We might also have been afraid that our new “worldly” associates would injure us in some way. Our leap out of the Witnesses was probably the most terrifying move we’ve ever made, like stepping into a black void. But then, looking back, we quickly realized that our fears existed purely between our ears, a product The Organization’s indoctrination.

Upon leaving we discovered that many non-Witnesses are capable of a quality of love and loyalty that is all too rare among even the most “exemplary” Witnesses. To the extent that we reached out in the non-Witness world, making new friends came easily. The proverb that “there exists a friend that is sticking closer than a brother” acquired new meaning for us.

Our activities in The Organization might once have loomed large in our lives. But looking back, doesn’t it all seem so small? The friendships shallow? The “privileges” no more substantial than a chocolate gold coin?

Because we’ve taken that leap, we can look to the future with a confidence that is predicated on our own well-earned character strength — not the fiery destruction of 99.99 percent of mankind. We are free to jump ahead to our next stepping stone.

If you are contemplating such a leap, you don’t have to do it alone. There are numerous ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses in Portland, Oregon and surrounding areas who would consider it an honor to help you. You can join our local Meetup group, or contact me at theadguy123@yahoo.com.

Okay, I’ve left. Now what?

Posted by Joel Gunz

Now that I’ve left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’m frequently asked about what I believe now. Do I go to another church? (Not at this time.) Do I hate The Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses? (No, I’m just very disappointed.) Do I celebrate Christmas? (Hell yes!) How do I feel about the Bible? (Inspired, at least in parts — as were the writings of the Buddha, Adyashanti and Bill W.)

Watchtower publications provide an answer for almost every question a person might have about religious doctrine, morals and conduct. For people who need that kind of direction (and there are many who do), they provide a valuable service. Yet, almost everyone I know who has left Jehovah’s Witnessism did so because they no longer needed that kind of religious micromanagement. They found that their (God-given) thinking abilities and common sense were adequate for guiding them as they went on to lead a successful post-Witness life.

They found that it was possible — actually, an improvement — to trade in the flawed certainty of religious fundamentalism for the exhilarating uncertainties that go along with creating from the ground up a life of their own choosing.

Jehovah’s Witnessism teaches that when you “turn your back on God’s organization,” it’s only a matter of time before you’ll become hooked on drugs, adopt a morally profligate lifestyle and contract H.I.V. or have some other disaster befall you. Here’s what, in most cases, actually happens. With apologies to Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross, let’s call it the Four Stages of Life After Witnessing:

1) You’ll leave of your own accord, or you might be disfellowshipped. Sometimes it’s a clean getaway and you can walk away from The Organization with your head held high. Many times, though, it’s a messy affair, accompanied by anger, resentment and confusion. Our religion can seem to have us in a choke-hold, and it’s understandable that our escape may take nothing less than manic energy.

2) Once free, it’s quite possible that you will want to catch up on the things you’ve been missing, which might include experimenting with sex or drugs. It can be a really topsy-turvy time — and not all that pleasant to watch. I was a virtual train wreck when I made my break. You don’t have to do those things, but that’s often how it goes.

3) Once you’ve gotten all those pent-up desires and curiosities out of your system, you’ll likely return to an equilibrium that works for you. If you were a decent, honest person when you were a Witness, you’ll probably be that way after you leave and get back on your feet again.

4) You’ll find a path that works for you. It might involve Christianity in some way or it might look at other traditions, such as Eastern philosophy. Or, having had your fill of religion, you might decide to take a break from all that. When I asked my cousin, Sean Delaney, why he joined the Catholic monastery in Mt. Angel, Oregon after being disfellowshipped, he said that he needed a place where he could enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet.

The point is, leaving the Witnesses is like having the rug pulled out from under you. When that happens you then have the opportunity to get yourself up, brush yourself off and start over.

The ex-Witnesses I know were often among the most sincere members of the congregation. Now they are productive members of the community and living decent lives while they follow fascinating life-paths that are as unique as they are.

Have you left or do you need help finding the path out of The Organization? Get in touch with ex-Jehovah's Witnesses in Portland, Oregon. Join our local Meetup group, or contact me at theadguy123@yahoo.com.

Monday, February 1, 2010

An Open Invitation to All Jehovah’s Witnesses

Posted by Joel Gunz

If you are a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you are invited to join me in a private conversation about our divergent faith paths. The aim? To give you an opportunity to have your say with an ex-Witness and to hear my individual position, in a safe, respectful atmosphere.

When I was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I spent many thousands of hours looking for people with whom to share my faith. Like all Witnesses, I approached everybody, getting to know Catholics, Buddhists, atheists, Wiccans and Satanists, as well as those who struggled with crippling mental illnesses and drug addictions. That variety made going out in service an enriching experience for me.

There was only one group that I, like all publishers, avoided: those who had left Jehovah’s Witnesses. The result? Most Witnesses know more about what makes a Hindu tick than they do those whom they once viewed as brothers and sisters. My experience is that misconceptions abound in this area. We are labeled “apostate,” “spiritually dead” “grossly immoral” and worse. That may be true of a small minority of ex-Witnesses. But as a blanket statement, it doesn’t fit.

I would like to set the record straight in this area and find ways to promote greater understanding of what it means to be a former Jehovah’s Witness. Too often, online forums quickly deteriorate into arguments and even petty name-calling. I doubt that a lot of good can come from this. I feel the best way to air our differences is to engage in a personal, face-to-face conversation.

Only two rules will prevail: (1) that we avoid trying to convince the other to change his or her views and (2) that the conversation be dignified, rational and respectful. For my part, I will respect your privacy. No one needs to know that you’ve talked to me.

If you are a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, consider yourself cordially invited for a sit-down with me.