A few months ago, a friend and I were chatting and religion weaved into the conversation. I had to convince him that, yes, I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness. I’m guessing people don’t associate me with the Kingdom Hall because my childhood was worldly.
At the time, I understood little about my religion. I had no clue why I couldn’t stand for “O Canada,” except the standard, “Jehovah says we can’t.”
When I returned for a short-time to my hometown of Arborg, Manitoba, my house was blacklisted in 2015 for three years by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I’m naturally curious.
I ask a lot of questions. Some call this a “swinging lamp.” But I want to learn about people, topics, anything and everything.
Lately, I’ve been questioning my former religion. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Technically, non-active. But I still couldn’t make seasonal arts and crafts or go trick or treating.
Yesterday, I invited two Jehovah’s Witnesses into my house. When they left, I cried and it wasn’t over spilled milk.
They used to visit every week, and I’d challenge their views. Of course, I’d listen to theirs. It’s a trade off. Yesterday was different though.
Rather than a visit in my foyer, we sat at my dining room table.
And I received a sermon about my standards.
Growing up as a non-active Jehovah’s Witness was confusing. I’d attend Passover, then my dad would push a $20 bill under my bedroom door. Birthday money. When my friends would have their birthday sleepovers? I went, but after the cake and presents. Ah, the Ouija board incident of 1986.
Our first real Christmas was 1989. Real, meaning, with a tree.
But in 1990, my Jehovah’s Witness Baba and Gigi discovered we celebrated Christmas. They saw our tree. Gifts, wrapped with sinful holiday paper and topped with bows. My Gigi blamed our woes and worries on the smiling plastic Santa outside our house.
Out of my three sisters, I was the most religious one. My diary entries include, “going to the Hall with Baba and Gigi” and “Drama was cool at the JW convention.” I wrote about wanting to go to meetings in Winnipeg when I moved away – and wanting to get baptized.
Though my family inched out of the religion, I clung onto it out of fear. I was an impressionable child. Each of my sisters and I have different memories and experiences.
Case in point: After a seizure, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in September 1991. I believed I angered Jehovah by leaving the religion. Remember, I was the religious one. I’d stopped going to the Kingdom Hall with my grandparents. I stopped writing about baptism and conventions. Those spaces were reserved for my latest crushes.
A brain tumour? I thought this was the end. Worse, my parents were told I couldn’t receive a blood transfusion. We weren’t even full out JWs.
I thought I had a solution – bagging my own blood. But according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, once blood leaves the body, it’s no longer pure. I literally couldn’t save my own life.
Surviving a brain tumour didn’t reinstate my faith though. If anything, it was weakened. I had to stop competitive skating. I fell off the honour roll. I still prayed every night out of fear of not waking up the next day. But I went rogue.
In grade twelve, I dated a Catholic. Unbeknownst to me, the two religions have been at odds since the 1800s, mainly over the trinity.
My grandparents wouldn’t approve of me dating a Catholic who worshipped so-called false idols. But the guy was amazing. Who cared if he was Catholic? It didn’t matter to me … at first.
Obviously, Jehovah did, and he dealt his punishment. Couldn’t he have just given me a bad grade or something?
In November 1993, my tumour returned, and that December I said goodbye to one of the sweetest men I’d ever met. I never explained this to him. Only to a handful of people, and those two Jehovah’s Witnesses at my dining room table.
Their “empathetic” answer?
“Well, you see” –said Bethany*– “Jehovah put Satan in charge of the world. That’s why bad things happen.”
My jaw dropped, and I was rendered speechless.
The other Jehovah’s Witness changed the topic, “Do you believe you can be a good person without God in your life?”
“I am a good person.”
“To what standard!” Luke’s* voice boomed through my house. I could hear my crystal glasses vibrating. “Your standard … your neighbours? Standards you see on TV? You need the standards set out by God! You can’t judge your own standards. Only he can!”
That was judgment staring me in the face.
After a polite smile, Luke and Bethany rose from the table. Luke joked about “tea, coffee, and biscuits” next time they came over. When they were gone, tears streamed down my face.
“To what standard?”
Was he saying I’m not good enough?
While I cried after they left, I didn’t judge them. Just because I don’t believe a book should dictate how to treat someone doesn’t mean I should judge them for telling me otherwise.
Whether those two Jehovah’s Witnesses realized it or not – by their actions – they proved I am a good person.
I just wish I’d mentioned I didn’t have neighbours, and that I cut the cable cord years ago.