The month of July saw a number of weekends at the Cow Palace (San Francisco) dedicated to the annual Jehovah’s Witness convention. These are 3-day conferences repeated identically, so as to accommodate a number of “circuits” or regions of JW congregations. My friend Mark and I attended this last Saturday only (not all three days). Here are some of my experiences and observations.
- The Watchtower Society is investing in some high-tech tools. There are now 2 large screens flanking the stage, rather than one as in the past. Several professionally produced videos were used to illustrate practical applications of the teachings, in contrast to the live dramas of the past. And one longer, rather well-produced video depicted a modern version of Job’s trials. (I was actually impressed with it–there was really not much to criticize.) The video was the newest “release” announced at the end of the day, another high-tech deviation from the usual book format.
- Despite these efforts to bring the presentations more in line with the current culture, the convention is still boring at best and annoying at worst. Simplistic and obvious lessons are presented in monotone by talking heads, and the only thing keeping me from nodding off were the occasional eye roll-prompting diatribes against apostates, “opposers,” and “christiandom.” Also, warnings against specific sins that stretch the limits of one’s suspension of disbelief. (e.g. gambling leads to greed, which was Judas’ downfall. You don’t want to become like Judas, do you? Yikes.)
- The music used for “worship” is exceedingly bad; dirge-like and with arrangements that just don’t work. Even I, a musical neanderthal, can recognize the awkwardness of the amateurish and clunky progressions of notes. I always think of the scene in Amadeus where Mozart improves on Salieri’s composition, saying “That doesn’t really work, does it? How about this?” (Salieri scowls like a governing body member would.)
- The last session was presented by (Surprise!) one of the members of the governing body, David Splane. I must acknowledge that his speaking style was good. Boring, but good. I should call it professional. Very good diction and control of his voice. I think he has had public speaking training that sets him apart from the other, more local speakers. The surprised audience gave him their undivided attention. To them I’m sure he had the very voice of Jehovah. To me, he was just a boring, out of touch guy who has the marketable still of giving a good, but less-than-dynamic presentation. Of course he announced the latest “release,” which was the video mentioned above. My friend Mark seemed disappointed that it wasn’t a book. I imagine other JW’s being relieved that it wasn’t another book that they were expected to add to their already full study schedule.
- Despite the numbingly boring content and presentation, I had a very enjoyable day. Not only did I have conversations with several individuals and/or couples, but I spent hours talking with my friend Mark, both in the car and at the restaurant where we stopped to eat on our way home. I must say that if I had attended a JW convention ten years ago, I would have just dismissed it as a colossal waste of time, vowing to never return. What has me so eager to return to the conventions and kingdom hall meetings are several things. First, the Holy Spirit at work in me. I have come to cherish my conversations with JW’s, whether strangers, acquaintances, or friends like Mark. I love those dear JW’s, even the grumpy ones. They’re like sheep without a loving shepherd, but with a bully pushing them around instead. Second, I love seeing God at work around me, making divine appointments happen, directing conversations, giving me words to say (or telling me when to shut up), and protecting our conversations from the bullies. And third, gaining an appreciation for the things we have in Christ that the JW’s are missing out on. A real relationship with God and Jesus. Freedom from fear, guilt, and shame. Holy Spirit guidance and power. And the realization that as flawed as your church’s services may be, they have to be light-years better than any JW meeting. Perhaps attendance at a JW meeting should be mandatory for every Christian believer, just to give them a new appreciation for their own church experiences. I highly encourage it. It’s for your own good.