I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1996. Three times a year my small children and I would travel to their religious conventions which usually left me guilt-ridden, stressed and exhausted from trying to keep two little girls still in stadium seats for 3 days! In 2003 we were traveling home from a convention and stopped for pizza. I gave the kids some quarters to run around and play the video games and blow off steam after maintaining the “perfection” for 3 days that children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to display. A kind man in his 80’s was picking up a pizza. He made the girls laugh by pulling Tootsie rolls out of their ears. Seeing that he had a captive audience, he began making balloon animals as well. It was so healing to see my children at ease laughing and enjoying their childhood. Something within me melted. I recalled the fascination I also had with balloon animals as a child when my parents took me to a restaurant where a college-aged waiter was practicing his craft. I saw God’s love in this elderly gentleman and I whispered to myself that my religion had lied to me about humanity. Contrary to what they were teaching, people outside their organization were not all evil. I was witnessing a display of love and joy and had no idea what religion this man was nor did I care. I only knew there was something genuine there. My wall came down and I hugged him. I thanked him for overturning my stress by such simple acts of kindness. I noticed he was wearing a baseball cap advertising the Winona Clown Club. Though he was not in clown guise at the restaurant, he told me he volunteered as a clown. I was honored to have met this man and I left the pizza joint in a better mood than when I came in. I actually felt closer to God after one hour there than the 3 days spent listening to sermons at the convention. I felt the spirit of love and joy, something I had not felt in a while as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Looking back, I see how God was using this incident to call me home.
Around this same time I began a career as a housecleaner—the inevitable occupation of most women in the Watchtower. I was employed under another couple at the Kingdom Hall. When the time for filing their taxes came, they said in order to be claimed as a sub-contractor, I had to come up with a name for my business. I gave the matter serious thought as I knew this was going to be my means of making a living for sometime. I didn’t want a name that expressed I was somehow more sanitary than the average homeowner but that I was simply freeing up their time. I also knew it was a good idea to use a name that made a quick association to my real name. The word “Jubilee!” came to mind. I looked up the meaning of it in a Bible encyclopedia and it not only became my business name, the concept of it spoke to my spirit.
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. (Lev 25:10)
Proclaiming liberty from housework for my clients fit the bill in what I found in Leviticus 25:10. I would be their jubilee freeing up their time to spend with family after the work day. And the sound of it would help them associate my business name with my real name Julie. The problem of finding a business name was solved, what God was doing in my life at that time was a personal jubilee only to be discovered after He’d given me the name.
The thought of returning to my “own clan” was appealing. The cult mentality of the Witnesses had separated me not only from friends and family, but my identity as well. I was seeking a personal liberation but as one of “Jehovah’s people” hesitant to say so.
As I continued to read from Leviticus 25, I saw a caring God who gave His people rest.
1 The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.(Lev 25:1-7)
I wondered why as “Jehovah’s people” we were continually shamed for not doing enough when even the land and the livestock of the Israelites were to observe this Sabbath every seven years. I was into my 7th year as a dedicated door-knocker and I was very tired. The idea of a Sabbath was appealing and scripturally supported.
As I entered my seventh year as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was being pulled toward this Sabbath rest. I lost the motivation to preach because I became uncertain about our message. Circumstances within the congregation had led me to question if we really had a message of love or forgiveness. When I began missing meetings, I recall telling one sister I was “on sabbatical.”
It was summer 2003 and I’d spent a Saturday at a local festival with my family. We were entertained by jugglers, ventriloquists, magicians, and acrobats. I relished it. On Sunday morning I went to the Kingdom Hall as usual and was bored out of my skull. I couldn’t wait to leave. As I was headed to the door, another sister stopped to chat and asked what my afternoon plans were. “I’m going to see ‘my people’” was what came out of my mouth! I felt such a strong connection to go back to that weekend festival and immerse myself in its joy and creativity. I went alone.
Walking around that crowd, I was given such a hunger to imagine myself free. I pictured myself as one of the entertainers at this fair. One year later, in the summer just prior to my disfellowshiping, I became a caricature artist as part of this same festival. I was with my people. It was a jubilee as I was being liberated and returned to my own clan.
While still an active JW, I had taken on a babysitting job for a substitute teacher. Both my girls were now in elementary school, so I enjoyed my time with her little boy once again playing with puppets and going to the library story time. This mother was part of the parent teacher organization at our school and based on what she noticed in me, asked if I’d be a clown at the next school carnival. I was thrilled at the prospect but had never dressed as a clown before. I agreed stating that I’d come up with something. No stranger to thrift stores, I quickly found enough odd colored clothing to don the motley appearance. I slapped on a cheap rainbow wig and some grease paint and named myself “Jellybean.” I loved it, the kids loved it and I was invited back the next year. My girls are both in high school now and I still do the elementary school carnival every fall.
Though the joy of clowning came natural to me, I knew I needed help with my make-up and a professional wig and clown nose. With precision timing, I found an article in the paper stating that the Winona Clown Club was giving a make-up demonstration and the public was invited to attend. This was a few months after my disfellowshiping. No longer expected to attend kingdom hall meetings, I was free to go to my first clown club meeting on a Thursday night. The gentleman making balloon animals at the pizza place two years prior was there. I recognized his smile and found out his clown persona was “Sparky.” Sparky is now 90 and still walks the parades, twists balloons, and carries an endless supply of Tootsie rolls in his pocket on any given day. I thank God for people like him. For his 90th birthday, I used my gifts as an artist to create a cartoon of him in his clown make-up as “Superclown” complete with Christopher Reeve-like muscles.
Somewhere within this same time period, my daughter was invited to attend a Saturday course for 5th graders called “college for kids” held at the local technical school. These ten-year-olds were allowed to sign up for three courses offered among many. She signed up for making bead jewelry, a fitness class and something else. None of them interested me, but I noticed Clowning 101 was offered. As I sat through the morning invitation with my daughter, the director announced that the parents could now leave unless they wanted to trail along with their child to their classes. I had planned to just go shopping, but instead followed the little clown wannabees hoping the instructor would just assume I was the parent of one of them.
In Clowning 101, the instructor mentioned the University only 20 miles from my home offered a one week long clown camp and was celebrating it’s 25th year that summer! People come from all over the world for this camp. Within 6 months of the darkest period of my life, being disfellowshiped as an apostate to my religion, I was signed up for what proved to be a healing week spent as a clown among the world’s finest and funniest professionals. I had preregistered as “Jellybean,” but as I read the 25th chapter of Leviticus more and noted how I was being liberated and coming home to my people, I realized my clown name would be the same as my cleaning business name. And I informed the staff at clown camp to change my name to “Jubilee!” When I returned home with a new red nose, orange wig, and professional make-up, I joined the Winona Clown club and introduced myself as Jubilee!
The Jubilee year for the Israelites is explained in Leviticus 25.
8 ” ‘Count off seven Sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven Sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
13 ” ‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property. (Lev 25:8-13)
Though I had not spent 50 years in the Watchtower, I sensed within that God had counted off this period of time for me and my own day of atonement and time to proclaim liberty throughout the land was approaching.
As I realized what had happened to me through the years spent in religion, I understood I’d been given a great gift. I could minister to other hurting people, not through the temporary, yet necessary, relief of laughter as a clown, but something much deeper and lasting. I knew Christ and I knew the difference now between religion and God. As I fell into a role as a support and encouragement to others leaving the Watchtower, I realized the Spirit of God was working through me. I had been tempted by an angel of light known as religion, was held captive in its darkness for 7 years and then set free. Jesus himself, full of Spirit, was also led into a wilderness where he was tempted by the devil as recorded in Luke 4. After his temptation, he went on to proclaim liberty to others still held captive. In Luke 4:18, he quotes from Isaiah 61:1,2 saying,
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
And he concludes with
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”(Luke 4:18, 19)
I was struck by this. Jesus was attributing to himself the jubilee. His coming was the fulfillment of the jubilee and I was living in his rest. The Son had truly set me free and now I too by the power of Christ was enabled to proclaim liberty to the prisoners of legalistic religious control simply by telling my story. Jesus Christ is a continual jubilee giving recovery of sight to the blind and oppressed.
God amazes me. He heard my prayers for freedom and gave me a name before I was able to understand it. In my employment as Jubilee Cleaners, I liberate my clients from the demands of domestic duties. As Jubilee! the clown I can momentarily free people of their own personal stresses through the blessed distraction of laughter. But my own jubilee story of how Christ freed me from an oppressive religion is my most passionate calling.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. (Rev 2:17)
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