Song’s refrain: “We’ll meet again ... “
Poster: “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”
New words: bleizkreg, holocaust, atomic age
“There is a season for everything,
a time for every occupation under heaven
... a time for war,
a time for peace.”
(Ecc 3.1, 8 NJB)
NAVY BRAT: 1940s. A man is the sum of his genetics, geography, culture, and upbringing. This book is dedicated to my mother, June (Dickey). Her and brother, Loren, came from the Dakotas. Uncle Loren was to be early involved with Pan Am, on the first China Clipper which delivered the Russian ambassador to China. Later Loren would be an investigator for the FAA. Because of my mother I was early directed on the road to spirituality. But, little did I know spirituality ran in my blood, faith hard-wired in my inner self. Little did I realize the pain which would result from this inbred intoxication for God.
I was born a “navy brat” September 24, 1938 in Norfolk, Virginia. [Hitler had invaded Poland.] My mother said I was a “Venus baby” because I had two placenta sacks. She had prayed I would either be a teacher or a minister. I was there two weeks and then for the next five years I have no memories of my father as he was off on the carrier Enterprise fighting the greatest naval battles in human history during World War II. I was to be “introduced” to “the chief” when he ran through our vegetable garden at the end of the war in Cardiff By the Sea, California. As this big Mennon-scented man grabbed me up to kisses and hugs, I wondered: “Who is this?”
I remember those war years along the beach: rationing and blackouts at night for fear of Japanese submarines. My grandfather lived with us while we built a house among the cactus on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific. (Today an eight-lane freeway courses through the area.) I remember once at the beach, wading in the shallows, when two Navy Thunderbolts came down the beach, their great props awash in surf, and their loud engines vibrating the sand. They waved their wings when they saw such a young lad going crazy.
There was a “near death” episode once when my father and a friend took me out into the California surf. I could not swim and my mother was crazy with worry when they waded up to their chests in the surf. I large wave rolled in and I was torn from my father’s grip. I remember thunder and bubbles and screaming underwater and pale backs turning as in a washing machine. Luckily – or as the Fates would have it (as became something common in my life) – groping fingers found me rolling along the bottom. Oh, the wrath of a mother whose only son is endangered!
Location after location were to follow during which I never attended school in any one place for more than two years. Places like Chula Vista, San Diego, San Francisco, Stockton, Portland, Tacoma, and other names I no longer remember.
However, I do remember: there was a summer-long camp along the Deschutes River in Washington where I was to be trampled by a horse stepping gingerly on my head. There I would watch my father patiently try for weeks to catch an enormous trout. Also, the terror of seeing my drunken father explode in fire when trying to light the campfire and then dive into the river to put out the flame. I remember flesh dripping a foot-long from finger tips. I remember walking with a sailor to the country store for help. I remember the sailor telling me not to hold it against my father and then telling me what my father had done for him when he saved his life during a kamikaze attack on the Enterprise.
From my father I did learn a love of the outdoor wilderness and he dragged me on many a fishing trip – following narrow dirt roads and hiking brushed- covered trails. I remember camping by Bull Lake in Washington and hearing wolves at night. They are no longer there. I remember floating on a makeshift raft, lazing for hours like Huckleberry Finn, staring down into the clear waters at the wily bass, sun-fish and crappie who refused to be caught.
As you will see there were to be many “brushes with death” in my life. The first – or was it second, or third – was when I was to go on one of these fishing trips, when for some reason my mother cannot remember, she did not allow me to go. A logging truck was to force my father off the road, flip his Chevy, crushing the top down to the seats. While trapped inside strangers came and stole my father’s rifles from the trunk without offering any aid. It is doubtful a young boy would have survived such a crash.
During this time in Federal Way, Washington – my father worked in logistics preparing ships for the Korean war – I was to have another “brush with death.” I could not swim, but would build rafts and float around a nearby lake. When the raft flipped and I was thrown into the water, I knew the first real fear of death a sickening panic. The more I struggled, the more I became entrapped by the lily pads. I began to choke on water. I do not know how I survived but I was soon touching bottom and able to grab a floating log. That was among the first of what were to become over a half dozen such near death experiences throughout my life, some, as you will see, without explanation. And some, very, very, real.
It was a Tom Sawyer experience with fern-covered caves and tree-top look-outs. Ant farms and a collection of snakes. I slept on a cot with beloved dogs and orphaned cats. And, nearly blowed my fingers off with cherry-bomb fireworks which exploded in my hand. I remember climbing tall pines until many score feet from the ground. Until the branches had vanished and I had to shinny up the last few feet, bending in the wind, swinging back and forth. Until my mother saw me and almost had a heart attack.
Once, in this same area, going home from school, my younger sister and I began to cross a great field during a snow storm. There were fierce winds and a white-out (the first of many to occur in my life). Shortly, I became lost from her. Though only ten feet away I could not see her. I back-tracked and found my little sister. I had remembered a small gully and knew it led to the barn. A quarter mile later, we both found our way home. It was to be described as the worst winter in Washington’s history. School was closed for two months.
Insight into my father was the “Duck Episode.” For some reason at Thanksgiving it was decided to cook the family duck. Down in the cellar shop as my father sharpened the ax on a grinder the duck waddled up, quacking and pulling at his pants leg as if trying to talking to him. He looked at the duck, looked at his grinder and the sparks it spit. He cursed and threw the ax away: “Damn, I can’t do it!” We had hot dogs instead.
Then, again, another move, to Stockton, California. What do I remember? I remember neighborhood fights with a brutal cut to my hand defending against scissors, a baseball bat to the stomach, and a brick to the head. I remember putting at least one boy in the hospital with head wounds from thrown stones. I remember another lad’s head split open when he was knocked to the curb. I remember hot days pestered by black flies while mother and father fished the back sloughs of the Stockton tidal flats. I remember night-time frog hunting. I remember having my mouth washed out with soap for swearing very loudly in the neighborhood.
I remember a friend in school. A black friend. Then, he would have been a colored friend. We grew close despite bigoted hatred against “nigger-lovers.” I often wanted to visit his home, but my friend would have nothing of it. I followed him secretly once after school. Across the sloughs. Across rice fields. I saw where he lived. A shack along the river. A real shack. Then I understood why. He was ashamed.
Illness has haunted my life from babyhood. I was born with rheumatic fever and seemed to suffer chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, and related ear infections. I remember torturous ear-flushings or irritations where I vowed never to let someone do that to me again. There was surgery to remove tonsils and adenoids. I collapsed from blood-poisoning and told I would have died in a week if the infection had not been discovered, or the blue streak up the left arm into the arm pit. There were numerous cases of pneumonia and lung infections leading to the first of a dozen surgeries. I had nose-bleeds constantly. Many were the attempts to cauterize it but it would just end up bleeding all over the doctor and nurses. It was years before I learned how to prevent them with an ointment applied a half dozen times a day.
I was only an average student and seemed to constantly struggle with my lessons, particularly arithmetic or mathematics.. Because we moved so often I was always the “new kid on the block” and this led to numerous fights in school. I was not very good at defending myself until my father, an amateur naval boxer who fought some world champion on the deck of a carrier, taught me how to protect myself. That was to begin a life-long study of the martial arts.
Because my nose would bleed so easily I feared a fight. But, once the nose started bleeding there was nothing for it but to make the other poor soul look worse than me. Once on top I would just bleed into his face until they rushed the kid to the doctor because there was so much blood.
Because my father worked with the Stockton police department as part of the Navy’s Shore Patrol I was exposed to a variety of guns from pistols to high-powered rifles. Shooting at the gunnery range and in the woods was a normal experience. Police officers were common around the house and on mountain vacations. If one has seen the movie The Great Santini – tone it down from Marine to general Navy (let John Wayne play Robert Duvall’s part – you get some idea of what this life was like.
These “navy brat” journeys found us living in Hemet, California (my father was stationed in San Diego) where I was in the seventh grade. I remember enjoying school and being tested at this moment. Some said I was capable of doing the work of a college student, but I had no idea what that meant.
Song’s refrain: “Nothin but a Hound Dog”
Bumper Sticker: “I Like Ike”
New words: the lost generation, rock n roll, bomb shelters, cold war
“Search and ye shall find.” (The Nazarene)
RELIGION – 1950s. It was during this time I have my first memories of “religion.” I took to church like a duck takes to water. I was not to understand my father’s violent objection to this, over my mother’s strong support. My father’s great grandfather, it turns out, was the founder of the Second Day Adventists6, William Miller, the forerunner of the Seventh Day Adventists, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It seems my father resented very much his upbringing in this household which insisted on prayer at meals, daily Bible reading, and early bedtime. His resentment was to stay with him into his eighties. I have personal letters and notes from this great, great grandfather indicating his deep convictions. I remember my father’s insistence that I become a Boy Scout if I was going to go to Sunday School. I failed knots, but not Bible study. I also made the mistake on a Boy Scout outing of easing nature right into poison-oak. I was nearly to loose what was to become my “mankind.”
|6||SECOND DAY ADVENTISTS. Compare (jv 40 4 The Great Apostasy Develops): “In the United States, William Miller predicted the return of Christ in visible form in 1843 or 1844.” (jv 60 5 Proclaiming the Lord's Return(1870-1914): “C. T. Russell had been critical of those who had set various dates for the Lord's return, such as William Miller and some Second Adventist groups.” (Proclaimers, page 62: 6 A Time of Testing (1914-1918): “Disappointed expectations as to the return of the Lord Jesus had in the 19th century caused many followers of William Miller and various Adventist groups to lose faith.”|
Both my mother and grandmother were church-going Baptists. My great aunt was a very sincere Seventh Day Adventist. From my aunt I was given my first Bible, a King James Version, which I gobbled up like candy. Evidently, I was to read it well, finishing my first reading when I was twelve, for I went on to win the church contests in locating Bible verses. [The Baptists are referenced over 100 times in Watchtower publications, usually in a poor light.]
Along with my sister, I was baptized in the First Baptist Church of Hemet by the Reverend Pancratz, a gentle man. I remember him visiting our home several times. I had been christened by the Lutheran Church and later to associate with the Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Religious Science and the Nazarene Church. I was the only youth to attend adult Bible study lessons on the Book of Revelation. I distinctly remember the ferocious beasts on a large mural of the Apocalypse. I remember my first reading of the Bible’s last book, Revelation, at this age of twelve. There was much there to frighten a young child. Thus began my first dreams of becoming a “minister.” My mother was later to tell me that she had prayed before my birth that I would become a minister or teacher. Funny how things work out. Little did I know then that the Book of Revelation would become an obsession.
My sister and I were baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. A few days later I was to give my “testimony” before a large audience. I do not remember what I said. I remember fearing “hell.” I also remember Easter Sunrise Services at the local Ramona Bowl where the sun’s rays would beam through morning clouds as if Christ would surely return right then. For some reason I feared that, for surely I would not be raptured with everyone else.
We were to leave Hemet for a short period in Indiana at the family farm, where I attended school in College Corners, Ohio. My great aunt was also a sincere Bible Student and I remember being exposed to these ideas when we spent a winter at the farm. This farm was very old as the family had come up the Ohio River to College Corners in the Eighteenth Century. My forebears had fought in the Revolutionary War, one great, great, great grandfather serving on Laffettye’s staff. Other Miller family members were to serve as officers in the Civil War and to this day I possess diaries and momentos from this great conflict. many are buried at the Miller Family Cemetery, a historical landmark.
The old family farm was straight out of Huck Finn: sleeping with a baby piglet, building a primitive radio kit, reading comic books to light from a bottle of fire-flies, hunting alone the first time for squirrels and rabbits. At this time I had an interest in tap dancing with thoughts of becoming another Gene Kelly while my father made plans for me to enter the Naval Academy Annapolis in five years.
We had our own house water pump. There were great hogs and powerful mules. Harvesting corn was done by hand. There were chickens and ducks and a great barn with owls and bats.
NAPLES, ITALY – 1950. My father was reassigned to the naval base in Naples, Italy. Thus began a long love affair with Europe. On the two week journey across the Atlantic we were to encounter a violent storm with fifty-foot seas. During this crossing there was an outbreak of measles and my mother and sister were quarantined several decks below, while I shared the berth of some salesmen and a young friend of mine. I remember these gigantic waves and people thrown about, breaking legs and arms, while others slipped in vomit. My friend and I seemed unaffected by sea-sickness and went about the ship unattended, drinking and eating anything we wanted.
Finally we reached Casablanca, French Morocco, Africa. Though only twelve, I was to pretend to be the boyfriend of a young woman married to a sailor so we could all visit this exotic city. We went to the Casbah, and as it turned out later, to eat human flesh in a meal. I remember the faces of young beggars, deliberately mutilated, trying to attract the “rich Americans.” They shouted the only English words they knew, obscene language, taught them by American sailors. It was my first introduction to that world outside of America.
Naples, as any modern visitor will admit, is a most interesting city where everyone seems to have some scam. To be a thief is absolutely no violation of conscience or morality. My memories flood back when I think of this ancient Mediterranean Neapolitan city sitting astride fuming Vesuvias with dead Pompeii in its shadow. There was much hatred of Americans I did not understand. But, the site of bomb craters throughout the city ought to have indicate part of the reason.
My very first memory of Naples was the sound of a horse-drawn wagon hurtling through the cobble-stone streets with a young lad singing at the top of his voice like some great opera singer. There are other memories of a tour of Pompeii and the preserved bodies of men, women, and children in their death throes. Also, the deep blue waters of Capri with seas so clear I could view fish one-hundred feet deep.
Once my friend from the troop ship and I were chased by a dozen youths down an alley in Naples. Trapped between the approaching dozen and another half dozen at the other end, I turned to my thirteen year old friend and asked: “Can you throw rocks?” It was a gift I always had, throwing rocks with pin-point accuracy. I told him, “You start throwing rocks at those six, and I will throw at the twelve.” With hands and pockets filled with stones I began to bean one after another poor Italian lad. I would throw one with my left, and when that one dodged, hit them with the one thrown by my right. They retreated and we turned our energies on the others. It turns out these boys were great with a soccer ball, but could not throw a lick. We fled for our lives. We would have never survived their beating. Whatever happened to several youths who were hit badly I will never know. To this day I regret it, but what other choice was there?
At the private school out of town, I remember nearby butchers slaughtering a great pig. They cut its neck with a saw and poured its blood into a basin. Then each one drank this hot fluid. It was a memory about “blood” which was to matter in my life later.
One day on the way to school we waited the bus and when it arrived I noticed there was no naval guard on board with his automatic weapon. My father had warned us never to take the bus if the sailor was not there. It turned out it was an attempt to kidnap American children to hold as ransom during the upcoming visit of the “Prince of Peace” Dwight Eisenhower. I was only to learn years later that the famous General’s mother had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Like the great military leader I was also full of American patriotism.
LONDON, ENGLAND – 1951. The next year, as I approached fourteen, we moved to London, England and lived in the posh residential areas of Chelsea and Westminster. School and isolation dominated life, with only a few visits elsewhere, though we experienced those general sites visited by the tourist. Because Americans had access to many of those rationed items very much limited to the English (chocolates. cigarettes, meats, nylons) my father was befriended by an English Lord Blow and there were hunting trips to the countryside to visit the large estate of this family. My father was an impressive hunter and during one excursion brought down five squab in two shots. There are also memories of hunting rabbit (hare) using ferrets which I carried curled up in my pockets.
Our apartment had been the former studio of a famous photographer. Often were the lovely models who visited our home looking for him. We had a housekeeper and maid who told us wondrous stories of surviving the blitz. On one day in this luxurious home my sister and I succumbed to gas because of a faulty heater’s pilot-light. By luck my mother returned earlier than expected, smelled the odor, broken open the door and opened the windows. Otherwise we would have peacefully gone to sleep for good and would have returned to two dead children.
However, since we seemed very limited in any outdoor activity, confined for whatever reason to the limits of our home on North Audley, around the corner from Selfridges Department Store, there was much time for daydreaming and reading. Jets and rockets. Wild animals and the woods. Big mountains and great Seas. It seems here I began to develop my life long love of books, and the first indications I would one day write or paint.
Private school was a long bus ride across London and included only other “navy brats” who proved very independent and riotous. One argument with another youth over whether Eisenhower or Stevenson should be President resulted – after he began to choke me – in my pushing him completely through the bus’ emergency rear window.
Another “brush with death” came my way when I was going to attend one of the famous English air shows. For some reason, my father, or mother, changed these plans. That day a jet attempting to break the sound barrier between two grandstands crashed into the stands, killing and injuring scores of people. To this day I wonder where I would have been sitting.
One night my father became particularly drunk and I heard my mother scream from their bedroom. I quickly ran to her aid and found my father most threatening. I stood astride my mother with one of his bourbon bottles as a weapon and held him off. I was not to learn until years later why my father drank so heavily. That night my father came to my room and said: “Mark, never call me father again.” I obeyed him for three years. The reason for this will be explained. Like most young boys I loved my father dearly and took for granted he knew best.
Within days, my mother, sister and I were returning to America on a unpressurized military flight, sitting in bucket seats, and again, during a ferocious storm. The plane was knocked about violently and because my eardrums had ruptured as a child during a bout with measles, I was in considerable pain. We had left London on the very day of one particular killer fog which claimed the lives of over four thousand persons, mainly those with respiratory problems like mine.
FIRST CONTACT WITH JWs – 1951. At fourteen, we settled into life in Hemet, California living near my blind and religious Seventh Day Adventist aunt and Baptist grandmother. Our family had come to this valley before WW I and my great uncle had been mayor of San Jacinto. We were very poor and my mother worked very hard to sustain us. She worked as a waitress and then later as a bank teller for 25 years. Looking back, I find it interesting my mother never betrayed any interest in another man. It was only after my sister and I were out of her nest that she had little difficulty in finding four more husbands.
I was a young lad without a father’s role model (not that it would have been a good one) and often I missed those relationships I saw among other boys and their fathers. Just the simple matter of playing catch with one’s father was something to rouse deep emotions in me. So, it was a household of women: my mother, my sister, my grandmother and my great aunt. Happily, my association with the Morton boys (who lived behind us), and the good leadership of teachers and coaches, gave me a semblance of balance. I got my own job cleaning the local theater and later was usher and even manager.
I had very close friends, also Baptists, among three brothers who lived behind us on State street. They were all older than me, but they became, as it were, my big brothers and we often did everything together. Like me they had no father around and only a mother to raise them. She had done a magnificent job. There were trips to Tijuana, Mexico; diving off undeveloped Dana Point and South Laguna, and risky body-surfing at Newport’s infamous Wedge. There were night-time hunts for rabbits, chasing them in a 38 Ford, following them in the headlights with our 22 rim-fires. There were rattlesnake hunts in the local hills. Later I was to be “bit” by a rattler twice.
I am not sure now why I did not resume my Bible studies. It may have been a variety of reasons, including my own growing (and confusing) youthful sexuality. One particular experience may have “turned me off on religion.” One day, I was called to their modest home (our home was rented for $20 a month and theirs was comparable) where a heated religious debate was under way between my friends’ mother (a grand woman) and two visitors, both JWs. I followed the debate with interest and wondered who these two were. The argument ended in great anger when the older gentleman told her: “You don’t even know who your God is!” I was to learn later this “preacher” had a metal plate in his head and was “disfellowshipped” for similar behavior.
Later, this man’s companion, a Mexican ex-boxer named Al Valencia, called on my door and I listened to him, for I was much interested in the Bible. However, he presented the Awake! to me with an article about Niagara Falls. Though I took the literature, I thought it strange one who claimed to be a “minister” would only talk about Niagara Falls, and not the Bible. When my mother saw the magazine she told me never to talk to “those people, because they are communists.”
SPORTS – 1952. About this same time two things began to dominate my life: sports and literature. I took an interest in bicycling and built my own track bike with one gear and no brakes. Soon I was doing the five mile time trial in 10:58 minutes, which was, at the time, under the American Junior Amateur record. I was soon cycling all the big mountains around the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley on this singe-geared, brakeless bicycle. Many were the close shaves in descending big grades at over fifty miles an hour with cattleguards coming out of nowhere.
I also began track and cross country running, though such distances were not permitted in high school sports. I was timed in the mile at 4:22:45, and this before Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. At one point I was able to run five minute miles for three or more miles. However, this extreme exercise began a series of daily nose bleeds, often four times a day and lasting over thirty minutes each. This put me indoors for months and brought an end to serious running and cycling.
Because I was close friends with the three boys – Don, Doug, and Dick Morton – who lived in back, and because each of these were excellent swimmers who became Red Cross lifeguards, I took this up also. I could not swim at the age of fourteen so I taught myself in an Olympic-size pool where I worked on the “pool crew” and in the office during the summer season. I would swim alone in the shallow three-foot end and watch my shadow on the pool bottom. I developed my own style naturally which by happenstance turned out to be very similar to current swimming strokes. My nick-name was to become “Mako” after the shark.
Swimming coaches began to notice and I was timed in the 100 meters below world records in all the major strokes: free style, breast (submarine), back, and butterfly. Part of this was due to my ability to swim either underwater, which was permitted at the time, or only breathing at the turns every 33 yards. I could swim 100 meters underwater in one minute. The free-style time was 50 seconds or less and was not to be duplicated until Mark Spitz won his eight gold medals at the Olympics. I mention all the above for a reason which will become apparent.
BEGINNING A SEARCH – 1953. During this same period I began to take obsessive interest in literature. In the space of two years I began to read every important work in English literature, science, philosophy, politics, and religion: Plato, Chaucer, Browning, Whitman, Byron, Sandburg, and others. All of them. These included everything Shakespeare wrote; all the great American authors, particularly Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck; Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire; Hitler’s Mein Kamp; Darwin’s Origin of Species; Marx’s Das Capital; and, much of the better known works in science fiction. The school and town librarians worshipped me.
At one point in my junior year of high school I was invited along with about half dozen other high schools students to a television contest on Shakespeare one Saturday morning. We went to Hollywood and took our seats on the stage. A moderator asked a series of questions regarding Shakespeare, his history, his plays and the theater. It seemed I was the only one who could answer all of his questions and he began to address me as “Marvelous Mark.” I discovered he was giving me, accidentally the answers with his questions, and it was my burden to answer the question without embarrassing him. The game show aired in Los Angeles.
I also began to write. In the ninth grade three of us boys took up a great interest in science fiction writing. Lyle Amblin was to go on to produce a newspaper and write for a radio station. Don Steufloten was to publish many short stories and finally a trilogy of novellas. For me this began an obsessive interest in creative writing. I would develop a substantial pile of rejection slips, most accompanied by letters from editors, including Harper’s Bazaar and Galaxy science fiction magazine. The three of us were all to go on to become authors of poetry, short stories, newspaper articles, novels and screen plays. We became dearly beloved by any English and American Literature teacher. Through four years of high school we were to pursue these interests until specialized classes were created for just the three of us.
I owe very much to one particular teacher, Mister Richard Killen, who was to state at the end of one school year: “In twenty years of teaching, I have never given an A because I always felt in meant perfection. I am now going to give my first A in all my years of teaching. To Mark Miller.” I was stupefied! This lead to work for the local newspaper with my own by-line.
The local newspaper reported: “Wins Second Place. Honorable mention in the nation’s biggest literary competition for high school students has been won by Mark H. Miller, 17, of the Hemet High school. His short, short story won second place in scholastic writing awards competition. ... It is widely regarded as the leading writing contest of its kind. His story (The Reef Fisher) will also be published in one of the Scholastic magazines, the Literary Calvacade.” I was asked to give seminars to other classes on creative writing, as well as invitations to speak before different social groups. I was also the editor of the school paper and the high school annuals.
However, I reached some moment of great discouragement that often befall a teenager. Because of something that was said to me by a teacher I gathered together all the pages, reams of paper I had written, much of it by hand. I carefully placed them in a pile beside the outside trash incinerator – short stores, poetry, plays, novellas, and novels. The stack was four foot high. Then I burned it all. I was to do this a couple times in my life. Some estimate I was to go on and write over five millions words in my life-time.
One of my friends, a college student who won a full scholarship, and I would attend a different church every Sunday. We would take notes and compare these later. We were discouraged because two of the main topics were money and politics.
It was also during this time that a young girl of twelve caught my eye and I fell instantly in love. We would marry six years later in 1958 shortly after I turned 19. She was the only “girl friend” I ever had. We would marry as Christians – both virgins.
A DEBATE OVER EVOLUTION – 1955. All of my close friends were to go on to either qualify or win full college scholarships. I was to be offered two full scholarships, one for creative writing, and one for swimming. At the time I was also a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor and manager of the Olympic-size swimming pool.
On one of the first days beginning the senior year, several of us were sitting on the school steps telling dirty stories. I suppose most were church-goers, certainly all would have professed Christianity. The group included the son of the local pastor of the First Baptist Church. It was probably this degree of hypocrisy that had slowly turned me into a quasi-agnostic, though I continued to read the Bible as the world’s best example of English literature. I probably knew the Bible at this stage much better than any other person my age. I was to learn much later than JW youths also do similar un-Christian things.
Since my three friends were by now all college students, having each won scholarships, I was influenced by those I looked up to. These all were involved in the sciences and at that time in the late 50s this generally meant a rejection of religion and God. We had many debates and disputes over this issue of God’s existence and evolution. We had all read carefully Charles Darwin and George Lyell and prided ourselves in a sophisticated knowledge.
At any rate, during this dirty-story episode, one of the young fellows got up and left. I remember asking why, and someone said: “He became a Jehovah this summer.” I had never heard of such a thing. I was very impressed by this Christian’s conduct. The next day we were on the steps again and a debate about God and evolution began. This JW, who was later to become my brother-in-law, presented arguments I had never heard. At one point he challenged me that one either had to accept the Bible or evolution. This had a powerful affect on me.
He was to give me a small booklet entitled, Evolution Versus the New World, published by the Watchtower Society, which presented an elementary argument in favor of creationism. (I was later to actually meet the author who was the Society’s resident scientist) I went home and immediately read it, and since I had come to distrust Bible citations, I looked up each reference to the Bible. I found the piece faith-strengthening and was immediately impressed by two matters:
a) God had a name and it was Jehovah. This was shown to occur four times in the King James Version. (Ex 6.3; Ps 83.18; Is 12.2; 26.4) This has some powerful affect on people and I was to go on and use the argument myself many times in various missionary assignments. Something unusual happens when people first learn what God’s name is. At the time, most Christian Churches were rather ignorant of this fact, or gave it virtually no emphasis. Because of their failure, it made anyone truly searching for “the truth” to sit up and take notice.
b) The time was short for it was claimed we were in the “last days” and it was likely, and this was emphasized over and over, that I would never mature in this “world.”
c) The dead are not being tormented in hell but are unconscious in the sleep of death. I can remember the impact Ecclesiastes 3.19-21 and 9.4, 5, 10 had on me: ‘For there is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that there is no superiority of the man over the beast, for everything is vanity. All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust. Who is there knowing the spirit of the sons of mankind, whether it is ascending upward; and the spirit of the beast, whether it is descending downward to the earth? ... A live dog is better off than a dead lion. For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. ... All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in She'ol, the place to which you are going.’
Along with a growing love for my future wife, this started a process of deep study of the Bible. My efforts were to even impress JWs. Within six months I had reread the Bible in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures over six times. I read all the current publications at the time: Let God Be True, Make Sure of All Things, This Means Everlasting Life, You May Survive Armageddon into God’s New World, A New Heavens and a New Earth. I also began to read any literature I could find and finally read most of the older books by Charles (Pastor) Russell and Joseph (Judge) Rutherford. In time I was to read virtually every piece of literature ever published by the Watchtower.
To demonstrate this, one day I was sitting on our little porch. Beside me was a three-foot stack of older issues of The Watchtower. I would speed-read a copy and place it on a stack at my right. Along came a local chiropractor, working door to door as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His dismay was shown on his face as he came across a young lad reading so many issues of the very magazine he was trying to place door to door. He tried his best to start a “Bible study” with me but I declined, saying: “My mother has forbid me to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (I never was to have someone “study the Bible” with me, which is quite rare.) He left shaking his head. Later, I was to “pioneer” with his son who was also a full scholarship winner. This charming lad was finally to be disfellowshipped for “apostasy.” This was a word I was to come to hear more and more.
My mother and grandmother were violently opposed to any association with JWs. They called them “communists” which was an interesting catchall at the time in the late 50s. My mother was to arrange for various clergy to talk to me: Baptist, Religious Science, and Quaker. All to no avail.
I began to attend meetings and was immediately invited to “join the Theocratic Ministry School.” I did and within a couple weeks gave my first “Bible reading.” Two weeks later I was to give an “Instruction talk,” one usually reserved for more experienced JWs. Soon I was ready to go “from house to house.”
The morning I was to “go out in service” the first time, I rose early and dressed in my old Sunday School clothes waiting for my ride. My mother called me into her bedroom and ask why I was dressed so. I said I was going out in the “preaching work” with Jehovah’s Witnesses. She commanded me to go and change into other clothes because she would not permit me to do this. She feared I would call on someone she worked with at the local bank, and then loose her job. I told her I would be sorry about that, but I must go ahead. She then threatened suicide, and I expressed my concern over that, but I still had to go. I left her sobbing.
That was a Saturday, and the next day, on Sunday, I traveled with a group of JWs to work a local mountain community in mile-high Idyllwild. This day, I was to give my first door-to-door “sermon” to a group of twenty relaxing outside. The subject was Armageddon. I “placed literature” and became friends with several of “the anointed” for I was to learn this small-town had one of the largest concentrations of “anointed” in the entire world, over forty. This may be one reason I was later to “profess anointing” myself.
One anointed sister who had come into the truth in the early 20s told me later she thought God was calling me to be one of the anointed from the beginning. Much later she was to suggest I would one day be a member of the Governing Body.
The pressures on me were so great, I nearly approached a nervous breakdown. My mother had enlisted the help of teachers, principals, and even the superintendent of schools. I was so well known as the city lifeguard, when I went from house to house, if a youngster came to the door, they would go crazy and run to their mothers, saying: “It’s Mark the lifeguard!” What could the mother do but listen to my “presentation.”
Among other things, as a lifeguard I was called on to help dredge lake bottoms for the Riverside Sheriff’s Department. This was an impressionable experience for a teenager, feeling blindly in murky waters for what might be either a body or a slimy log.
One night, still only seventeen, I was asked by the Congregation Servant if I would be willing to give “a funeral talk” the next day. I said, nervously, I had no idea what to say. I had never been to a funeral. I was told it would be easy, because another “servant” was giving a talk in the morning. I could go and listen, and then know what to say in the afternoon. I was so new, naive, and loyal, I did not know better to decline. I gave the first “funeral talk” of many hundreds to be given throughout southern California. For some reason I was particularly called upon to give the memorial for diseased “anointed” and so I became quite well known in the cities of Perris, Elsinore, Riverside, Redlands, Costa Mesa, and Huntington Beach.
I was nearing the end of my senior year in high school and much happened as I had “taken my stand” on matters like flag-saluting and standing for the national anthem – things JWs refuse. There was much talk among my school mates and teachers. There were to be one debate after another before entire classrooms. Three of us were to turn down scholarships and sports honors, much to the anger of coaches and teachers.
For example, one morning the swimming coach and manager of the town swimming pool, approached, saying: ”You are the finest swimming teacher we ever had.” That very afternoon, he was to change his tune. He approached me again, and asked a simple question: “Mark, are you one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I answered I was, though I was not yet baptized. He said, “I was afraid of that. We will have to fire you, because too many have said they do not want a Communist teaching their children.” I politely gave him my resignation to a job I had for over three years, after teaching many scores of children, including private lessons to adults, a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor, and dozens of serious rescues.
BAPTIZED – 1956. I was baptized June 23, 1956 and thereafter became a “regular pioneer,” that is a full-time Minster who devoted over 100 hours per month in “witnessing.” At this time I was called to a meeting with the Superintendent of Schools for Riverside County. During regular school I would be invited from time to time, right from my classes, to come and discuss the Bible with the school superintendent. This fine gentleman, a devote Methodist, tried his very best to encourage me to accept full college scholarships. He was very discouraged when I declined.
I had years before thought of becoming an ordained minister by attending BIOLA, but when I learned it would cost over $25,000 I gave up in discouragement as we were very poor. I also attended the Nazarene Church as well as the Church of Religious Science.
While all of this developed I grew closer and closer to my sweetheart and we panned to marry when she finished school two years later.
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved