“Unfair, it’s just so unfair.” This was exactly what I screamed inside, when I listened to a pimpled teenage boy standing at the lectern, reading a chapter out of the bible to our congeragtion, tripping over the words and hardly understandable.
This public reading was part of a one hour schooling agenda of our weekly religious scedule in church. Consisting of five hours per week, sum total, one on Tuesdays, two on Thursdays an two on Saturdays, in our case. You had to be prepared for every hour, taking four more hours a week, at least, in order to read up thoroughly on every given topic on the adenda. And then, of course, there was the main part: evangelizing strangers, knocking on their doors to win them over for a better life and the “truth”. Such was my life as a child, week in, week out. Apart from school and other minor chores.
But back to the boy on the lectern. This class was – and still is to this day, I suppose – designed to train Jehovas Witnesses in matters of expression, speech and arguing. Simply to improve their impact when knocking on your front door to proselytize you (usually early Sunday mornings or some such inconvenient time). In turns, every church member was assigned various biblical topics with the task to write up a text on it and deliver it, or else was assigned a chapter of the bible to read to the congregation. One of the elders was giving “grades” after the performance, publicly in front of everybody right after you did your speech, dialogue or whatever you were at (mainly my dad, as he was in charge of pretty much everything going on. So we, being his own kids, obviously never got as good grades as comparable others, for modesty reasons, which I could understand very early, and was absolutely fine with). Everyone had their own grade form marked, where different topics were listed, you had to pay special attention to with your current assignment. One time it would be modulation of speech, the other time it would be how to use gestures right and next it was logical content and so on.
It is a fact, that girls are often ahead of boys in their development up into teenage years, especially in verbal skills. However, girls weren’t allowed, what boys were allowed. Girls (or women) were never given the privilege to talk to the congregation standing up behind the lectern, “preaching” so to speak, as this was above their station. Not even read to the congregation, standing up. We had to write up a dialogue about whatever topic we were assigned, had to go find a dialogue partner (and none of the boys ever volunteered to be one) for the counterpart in this little staged act and had to deliver the thing sitting upfront everybody at a table. And we were also given much less speaking time. I considered this unfair. Having to listen to the stammering of youngsters, just because they were boys, whereas I knew to be able to do so much better. I just couldn’t fathom, why I wasn’t allowed to do, what I was apparently better at and very eager to improve further. I was too young to fully understand the biological reasons for the boy’s shortcomings, but seemingly I already understood efficiency quite well.
I grew tired of the entire situation and went – of course – to my father to ask for an explanation. Which I got, allright. “Just as Jesus’ master is his father, Jehova, our God, a man’s master is Jesus, a woman’s master is the man. A kid’s masters are their parents. If Jesus himself has no problem with bowing his head, lest giving his own life for your salvation, how can you even ask such a question? Go, and think about this.” Which I did, feeling ashamed all of a sudden. Coevally recalling my mum’s hushed tears in many an evening, sitting up waiting alone at the kitchen table after getting us to bed, while my dad was out to once again spend his scarce spare time with a member of the congregation in trouble, rather than listening to hers. My mother always used to joke: “Oh, he may well be my head, but I am the neck, turning him wichever way I want.” But cry she did, in the evenings, all by herself, after another tedious day with three kids and a decrepit mother-in-law to care for.