Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Appreciating Jehovah's Witnesses

Every month or so, a couple of Jehovah's Witness women come to my door to give me materials, chat briefly and go on their way. I used to send Witnesses away promptly, telling them that I'm a UU minister, I have my own theology and don't want to know about theirs. But I changed my approach a few years ago during my Clinical Pastoral Education experience.

I was a chaplain intern, just learning about chaplaincy, when I was summoned to the ICU at the Denver hospital where I was serving. A man in his 60's had been brought in comatose; his wife had found him collapsed and not breathing on the floor of the garage, had called 911, and the paramedics had managed to restart his heart. Now he lay unconscious, supported only by a breathing machine.

The whole family was there in the waiting room when I walked in. I learned that their loved one was a Mormon but that they were all Witnesses; they had been told by the doctors that he would not get better and that turning off the life support was probably the kindest thing to do. They had decided to do so and were waiting for the doctor and nurse to return so that they could inform the staff of their decision.

While they were waiting, they invited me to sit with them in prayer. And as heartfelt prayers rose, asking God to be with us, to be with the dying man, to receive him into the kingdom of heaven, I saw these people in a new light. They did not try to convert me; they welcomed me into their circle. And over the week or more that it took this strong man to let go of life, my respect for them increased as they welcomed me time and again as a friend and pastor.

So yesterday, when Natalie and her companion arrived at my door, I welcomed them into my living room, listened to their witness, and received their materials. Natalie is a charming Frenchwoman in her thirties and her demeanor is courteous and graceful. She does not insist that I believe as she does; she simply offers her message.

I told the two women the story of my experience and we shared the pleasure of the realization that, as our spiritual ancestor Francis David has said, "we need not think alike to love alike." Natalie and her companion said goodbye after a few minutes more and took their leave. I felt I had made new friends.

18 comments:

Joel said...

I've had similar experiences with witnesses. I have a plethora of issues with their theology, but there are some good people who believe it. It's possible to love without agreeing.

ms. kitty said...

Amen, beloved nephew.

Bill Baar said...

JW's were the only group to manage an organized show of resistance to Hitler. The trade unions, left parties, mainline churches, no one else could manage that. But the witnesses organized a public day of protest throughout the country.

I always have a kind word for them when they knock on my door.

Joel Monka said...

I enjoy talking to them, too, but the same thing always seems to happen: their eyes start going from the Brigid's Cross to my Pentacle, to the candles, chalice, and athame on my desk, and the conversation just sort of trails off...

ms. kitty said...

Yep, both sides need the courage to be fully respectful!

Anonymous said...

Your behavior here is a good example for all UUs.

Best wishes

Dudley Jones
jonesdudley@hotmail.com

ms. kitty said...

I hope so, Dudley. Thanks for the kind words.

Joel said...

JW's were the only group to manage an organized show of resistance to Hitler.

In light of their christology, I've always found it ironic that Hitler should have been persecuting Arians.

Joel said...

their eyes start going from the Brigid's Cross to my Pentacle, to the candles, chalice, and athame on my desk, and the conversation just sort of trails off...

Funny, they see a crucifix on our wall, and suddenly every one of them is a former altar boy with personal knowledge of the errors of my church.

Mile High Pixie said...

Rev. Kit, good for you to have the courage to enjoy a conversation with the JWs. My born-again Pagan mom would occasionally enjoy a conversation with the random JW that showed up in her yard. She said she actually found them to be less judgmental than the random Baptist that rolled up the driveway.

ms. kitty said...

Boy,Pixie, that's very true. I think I'd like your mom!

LinguistFriend said...

Joel Monka, what's an athame? It is not in my office dictionaries, which are not to be sneezed at.

Joel Monka said...

An athame is a ritual knife, used in ceremonial magic in the middle ages. It is mentioned in print in "The Key of Solomon", a grimoire from that time. It is used by many NeoPagan religions, especially Wicca, as Gerald Gardner used it. Traditionally it is double edged, and has a black handle. Etymology is said to come from the Latin "artavus", "quill knife" or "pen knife", becoming garbled through multiple translations. Robert Graves gave an alternative etymology, from the arabic "al thame", or "adh-dhame", meaning "arrow", but versions of the word very similar to the Latin "artavus" exist in early translations of "The Key of Solomon".

In many traditions, it is paired with a "boline", a white handled knife used for mundane, non-religious uses. Although I do own such a matched set, and like to display them, I actually use a "Laguiole" as my athame. It's a long story, too long for this venue.

LinguistFriend said...

Thanks, Joel. They could indeed be the same word. The two Arabic words appear to be just spelling variants; the [l] in the definite article "al" is assimilated to the first consonant of a following noun. Sometimes the assimilation is written, sometimes just the basic "al" is written. Paleographically, v/u and m might have been confused. "artavus" is not in my office Latin dictionary, so it may be late.

laura said...

I almost always engage the JW's who come to my door... and they almost always respond. They come in and we talk... and sometimes - just sometimes - they will stay for more than an hour, just talking. Usually, they will pull away before I do... and I usually enjoy the candid back-and-forth of the theology and the sharing.

They're interesting people. I disagree with them entirely, but you're right. Difference in theology is no reason not to love.

Joel Monka said...

here is an article in which the word is spelled "athami"- I imagine the reporter was trying to spell it phonetically. An interesting illustration in how words can change over time.

tom sheepandgoats said...

As Sydney Carton might have said to Charles Darney, “have I asked you to convert? Wait until I ask you to convert and then say ‘no.’ With that mindset, one can have fine conversations with Witness visitors, should one be so inclined.

I enjoy meeting people like yourself when engaged in the ministry. And I enjoyed this post.

ms. kitty said...

Thank you, Tom, and I suspect I would enjoy meeting you too.