For the first time in the nearly twenty years I have lived at Timberview Lodge, today, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I received my first visit from two of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was lounging about this morning doing some reading, then cleaning a shotgun or two, thinking about how I should be mowing the grass, but deciding that it’s still just too wet–thinking also about tonight’s solo performance at The Sucarnochee Revue since Piper has to attend a school function so I won’t be able to rely on her perfect harmony; suddenly the dogs start barking madly. They bark on the west side of the house. They bark on the north side of the house. I hear them barking up around the Ridge House. I know someone is afoot, but every window I look out of is apparently the one behind the interlopers. Finally, I hear them barking on the south side of my house, where the driveway is. The interlopers have persisted. I look out the window and they are parked in my driveway in a Chrysler mini-van, surrounded by one ferocious looking but harmless Pit Bill, Babalu, guarding the driver’s door, barking but wagging his tail: a barking but completely harmless Australian Shepherd and who knows what mix, Relay, at the passenger’s door: and a furious Chow mix, Ruby, back off a bit of a distance, but malevolent in her growl and snarl. Ruby is the one that is likely to cause the trouble. She is frothingly livid that some stranger is in her yard.
Come to think of it, as I had just sat down to a bowl of leftover soup, dressed in my woolen, hand-spun and woven Pakistani shepherd’s cloak, given to me by my Pakistani friend Zahed in 1977, which I still wear around the house, which draws the worst chiding from my wife, children, and grandchildren about how goofy I look wearing it, which I must now change to go out and greet the interlopers who have already blown their horn once as they seemed to refuse to get out for fear of the dogs, I am not too happy about it, either, but barking and growling at them would make me look as silly as the robe I am wearing. I put on a shirt and some blue jeans, throw the hot soup a wistful look, stick my pistol in my belt, cover it with the serape I slid on, and head out the door to see who is visiting me. I put on my best smile, too. It was not a natural one, but a smile nonetheless.
I walked slowly up the the driver’s side of the van. It was a handsome, elderly African-American couple: he in suit and tie, and she in Sunday regalia. He rolled down the window and smiled. I kept my smile as I said, “Hello.”
“I am _____ Semmes, and this is Mrs. ______,” he said.
“Hello, Mr. Semmes,” I said, extending my hand. “I am Chris Sharp. Nice to meet you, sir.” I leaned further down so I could look at Mrs. ______. “Hello, ma’am.”
“Hello,” she said back.
“How may I help you, Mr. Semmes?” I asked.
He reached for some literature on the console of his van. I immediately saw that it was a copy of The Watchtower. Here was my first Jehovah’s Witness encounter in a long time. I was almost antsy but kept my same smile, now much more akin to a poker face than a smile, but I dared not change it.
“Why do you think Jesus had to suffer?” he asked as he turned to the page in his Watchtower magazine that he wanted to show me.
“Mr. Semmes. The bible says that as surely as the sparks fly upward, men are born to trouble. When he walked this earth, wasn’t Jesus a man?”
Mr. Semmes now had the look a rabbit might sport as he is being chased by my dogs. He knew he was no longer on terra firma, supported now by nothing more than air beneath his feet. He looked over at Mrs. ______. She looked back at him. They both turned to look at me.
“Mr. Semmes,” I said, “Before you go any further, can I offer you and Mrs. _____ a nice, cool drink of water?”
Confusion bordering on panic was in his eyes now. His training had abandoned him while he was showing Mrs. _____ the ropes on how this Kingdom Publishing business was supposed to work. I knew the answer to the question before I asked it. He stammered a bit, then finally answered, “No, you can’t.”
“But, Mr. Semmes, I just did.” Leaning down so I could see her, I asked Mrs. _____, “Ma’am, would like a drink of water?”
“No, thank you,” she replied, which was not the programmed response, confirming that she was new at this.
I spoke up before Mr. Semmes could continue. Very gently, quietly, and directly I said, “I don’t want any Watchtower publications in my home, Mr. Semmes. But I have received you and Mrs. _____ with hospitality. You are welcome to tell me anything about Jesus you’d care to share with me, but first, we can have a seat on the front porch, let me fix you a glass of water or perhaps some ice tea, and we can enjoy the view.” I had already noticed Mrs. _____ admiring the same stellar view that I am blessed to admire every day.
“We can’t do that,” he said. He did not say, “No, thank you,” or, “We don’t have time,” or anything else like that. He just reiterated that they can’t. I knew they couldn’t when I asked, but had they said yes, I would have fulfilled my part of the bargain.
“Just remember,” I said, “I have received you with hospitality.”
“You sure did!,” said Mrs. ______. That was entirely unscripted. She is probably being lectured by Mr. Semmes right now about the proper way to respond to that question rather than showing any enthusiasm over my hospitality. She wasn’t through, yet, either.
“This is a beautiful place. A gorgeous view. Almost like being in the mountains!” she exclaimed. “My! Oh, my!”
“Yes, ma’am. It is. And I thank the Lord that I get to see this every day. But right now, it is a beautiful view with a whole lot of grass that needs mowing and the ground is just too wet to mow it on these hills,” I said enthusiastically, anxious to engage her on anything beyond the program, and half-way persuading myself at the same time that it was actually too wet to mow. I succeeded in neither, but there is no reward without the risk of failure.
“Mr. Semmes and Mrs. _____,” I said, back to business, “I am thankful that your faith is important enough to you that you want to share it with me. I want you to know that it is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Brooklyn, New York, I am rejecting, not you. You are welcome here. Jesus loves all of us”
“Yes, he does” Mr. Semmes said. I could hear the little “h” in his voice
“Thank you. He certainly does,” she said. I could hear the capital “H” in hers.
“Then, let me wish safe travels and a happy Easter to you both,” I replied. My conversation with them was finished, though their conversation with each other was, I’m sure, just beginning. I suspect it is likely that they went straight back to the Macon, MS, Kingdom Hall, which is apparently where they were from as the tag on the van read Noxubee county. I waved to them as they pulled off. Mrs. _____ waved back.
I’ll leave you to wonder for yourselves about The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Brooklyn, New York, and their peculiar brand of Arian Christianity, and perhaps why it interests me. Arius lived in the third century, and his teachings were officially declared heretical in the fourth though they were viewed heretically just about as soon as Arius had time to write them down. It is doubtful that Arius was the first person to have his particular theology, but he was the one who wrote about it for posterity. Arianism has been around a long time, but Jehovah’s Witnesses think that Charles T. Russell came to his brand of Arianism by divine revelation in the late 19th century and his followers were called Russellites. His organization was later subverted by Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford, who denied any influence from Russell. The new Russellism was the old Arianism. Judge Rutherford turned it into complete dominance and control of his flock who were no longer able to think for themselves but required to adhere strictly to the party line. A theocracy was how he referred to his control over his cult, himself being the sole theocrat, the only man who could correctly understand the scriptures. If you stumble across a copy of The New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures, which is the official Jehovah’s Witness version as published by The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, turn to John 1:1. You’ll see where Arius, Russel, Rutherford, and I might have a big disagreement. It is not new. While their peculiar doctrine may be a cause for contrversy, its existence is not. It has been debated for nearly two thousand years. This disagreement between Arius and Orthodox Christianity is nearly as old as Christianity. St. Augustine was once an Arian. A man can be delivered if he will allow himself. There is hope for us all.
As a Christian, I think there are many Jehovah’s Witnesses who are also Christians and have strong orthodox leanings, but I think few of them live and work in Brooklyn, New York, for out of Brooklyn comes the complete control that all cults exert, or want to, over their initiates. It is not always easy even for the worst of them.
May many blessings be upon Mr. Semmes, Mrs. ______, and me, for as surely as the sparks fly upwards, man is born to trouble. May there be no trouble today . . . just sunshine, a beautiful sunset, a peaceful night, then a glorious Easter morning.
If there is one thing I can be truly thankful for today, it is Mr. Semmes’ visit. I have had a dearth of things to write about and then from out of nowhere, a persistent Jehovah’s Witness gave me the greatest inspiration. For that, why on earth would anyone not treat anyone else hospitably? Based on what I know of his own organization, Mr. Semmes was required to treat me hospitably, both in action and conversation, after he left my home. If he failed to do so, then he is out of step with his own professed doctrine, which is easy enough for any of us. I won’t hold it against him if he messes up.
The earth would be a better place if we could all treat each other hospitably. Maybe fewer sparks would fly upward. Maybe there would be less trouble.
What could possibly be wrong with that?
Happy, joyful Easter.
©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp