So this was where God lived.
July 10, 2014 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Tucked beneath the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge, beyond the serviceberry trees and hedgerows of the Bridge Park Greenway, across the blacktop of Furman Street, the House of God awaits. Nearly 7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the world call the collection of buildings Bethel, transliterated from the Hebrew, Beth El, "House of God." Its tall red sign, a city landmark for decades, looms over the skyline: WATCHTOWER. The building is also home to thousands of volunteers who live on the premises, all in the service, among other things, of printing the most widely circulated magazine on the planet: 46 million every month. I was supposed to live there, too. God Lives on Lemon Street: An ex–Jehovah’s Witness visits Watchtower headquarters
posted by davidjmcgee (13 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There were so many opportunities in that piece to tell a really interesting story; details that were elided or outright omitted.

There's no there there, is what I'm saying.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:14 PM on July 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I mean, the bit about how his friend had resolved her relationship with leaving the JW so quickly while he still hadn't... there's an entire story to be told right there, using touring the building as a backdrop.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:19 PM on July 10, 2014

He did say he was only writing in his spare time.
posted by resurrexit at 3:25 PM on July 10, 2014

I knew there was no Lemon street. There was, however, a Jora Lemon street in the neighborhood. God didn't live there but I did.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:31 PM on July 10, 2014

If I'm not mistaken, Jorelemon street is where the subway ventilation shafts disguised as a townhouse are.
posted by dr_dank at 4:04 PM on July 10, 2014

You are not mistaken. And it's a holy place.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:42 PM on July 10, 2014

The story isn't the facts or personal history, the story is the power of memory and personal mythology. The missing street name is analogous to his false perceptions of the act of returning to this location. It's very Calvino-esque and very Harper's.
posted by dhartung at 4:49 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had a chance to visit Etsy's Brooklyn headquarters a couple of years ago and I was a little bit startled to realize that it's a couple of blocks away from Brooklyn Bethel. I left the Witnesses almost 20 years ago myself but... wow, yeah. That place loomed very large in the personal mythology of a lot of young Witnesses, at least in the suburban midwestern congregations where I grew up in the 80s and 90s. It was a big deal when "one of the Brooklyn brothers" came to town to visit. There was a time when I thought about living and working there myself.

It was surreal to be so close to it and yet at the same time so far away, in terms of where my life is now. If I had known they offered tours... I don't know. I might have gone. Part of me still feels like I narrowly escaped, so I probably would have been just as sweaty and nervous as this guy.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:05 PM on July 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some friends of mine used to live practically in the shadow of that place. I was told that evangelizing in the surrounding neighborhood had actually been prohibited, making it one of the few places in America where one could count on not being visited by Jehovah's Witnesses.
I also seem to recall from visits (to my friends' apartment, not the Watchtower) that not only were the lights on all night, you could actually see people working in there 24/7. You can't fault them for lack of commitment.
posted by uosuaq at 5:25 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also wanted to hear more details about the juicy tidbits that he dropped (so he has a healthy relationship with his family after leaving--how'd he get that to work?). But the feeling he evoked when he realizing that he was just wrong about the basic facts surrounding this all important place in his childhood mythos... that's awfully similar, albeit writ small, to the moment of truth you have when you realize your childhood religion is not The Truth. There was no Lemon Street and never had been. The shape of the world is different than you once thought.

It's a very freeing realization to have, whether it comes one day or twenty years after actually leaving. Maybe someday he'll write something longer and more introspective about his experiences. Though sadly he should beware what he publishes under his own name lest his family ties suffer for being too critical of the organization ...
posted by puffyn at 6:53 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

An abusive cult that should be banned.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:06 PM on July 10, 2014

During the 2003 blackout in NYC, I walked from Manhattan to Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was hot. I was thirsty. Waiting on the other side were people from the Watchtower, not giving out (or even selling) water, they were selling little pies. I was relieved to see firefighters handing out cups of water just after the Jehovah's Witnesses pie brigade. My memory is probably inaccurate, just like the author's when he realized when he went back to visit the compound. But, I do remember being thirsty and being offered pie.
posted by backwords at 7:40 AM on July 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's a very freeing realization to have

Yeah. Yeah, it really is. Mine came about a month into college. I'm a pastor's kid, a missionaries' kid. There were periods of my childhood that were spent living in parsonages, which is to say that in a very real way I grew up at church.

From the time I was twelve or so, I had been sifting The Truth of what I had been taught through the knowledge about the world that I was learning. "OK," I thought, "Adam and Eve is metaphor. The story of Noah's ark is just myth." Later "OK, the conflicting stories in the Gospel are because of human fallibility, but what's behind them is still true. Although Jesus really didn't need to kill that tree." And later still, "OK, most of it's bunk, but God is real."

Then, I got to NYU. As the Bible says, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen Karl Hungus?" Separated entirely from my suburban churchlife, that last tiny morsel I was holding onto began to erode.

It was October of my freshman year when my Introduction to Theater Studies class watched My Dinner With Andre. Of all the things to wash away the remnants, it was good ol' Wally Shawn. That night, as I tried to deeply consider Andre's story of being buried alive -- about embracing the knowledge of your death, and then dancing until dawn -- I realized I wasn't holding even a mote of belief anymore. It was entirely gone. And I sobbed myself to sleep, feeling lost, and broken, and like I'd been cheated, and terrified of what was next.

But I woke up the next day to the most beautiful morning of my life. I felt free. I felt totally and completely and wonderfully free. An epic weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I knew that I wasn't burdened with sin, struggling to hold onto something I didn't really believe. There was nothing out there judging me. There was just me, human and alive and unbelievably fucking lucky to be anything at all.


Anyway. I really liked Chesire's story.

Epilogue: Years later, I actually got the chance to thank Wallace Shawn. A friend of mine had given me tickets to the opening of an opera and sitting there a few rows in front of me was the man himself. At intermission, I walked up to him and asked if I could have a moment of his time. He said yes, and so I told him the story: freshman year, My Dinner With Andre, life-changing realization, one of the most important pieces of art in my life, yadda yadda.

"And I just wanted to thank you for writing it," I said.

"Well," he said, "Thank you for telling me!"

We shook hands, and I walked back to my seat. COMPLETELY forgetting to say "Also, you were the bomb in Southland Tales, yo!" Regrets. We all have 'em.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:18 AM on July 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

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