1964: NEW MEXICO. Though already making a noteworthy “sacrifice” by giving up two thirds of my income to pioneer, I felt it was not enough. No doubt because of the growing enthusiasm for an “early end to this system” (we were ten years from that momentous date of 1975)24 I felt the need to “move where the need is greater.” By now we had many “Bible studies” which had “come into the truth” and were surrounded by good friends. We prepared to move to New Mexico.
|24||1975. The Watchtower had always given the warning: “The time is at hand, though we do not know the day nor the hour.” (w62 3/15, page 164) In a few years this would be heightened, indeed. For example: “It did not take the brothers very long to find the chart beginning on page 31, showing that 6,000 years of man's existence end in 1975. Discussion of 1975 overshadowed about everything else. The new book compels us to realize that Armageddon is, in fact, very close indeed." (w66 10/15, page 628-9)|
[There was another reason for this move also. I had suffered my entire life with lung problems and repeated infections. After exploratory surgery at Hoag hospital in Newport it was determined I had a diseased left lung and one third of it needed to be removed. Three medical opinions ended in a stand-off and I determined to put off the surgery in favor of a long-term antibiotic treatment as well as a move to cleaner air.]
We sold the White Glove cleaning business and accepted an assignment in Farmington, New Mexico to work the enormous territory of the Navajo Nation. I soon was appointed as the congregation servant and we settled into a few years of working with this isolated congregation. Today there are half a dozen such Kingdom Halls in this area. This was a delightful time and I look back with much fondness on my family. It was one of the happiest times of my life.
I will not go into all the details of this period. But, one thing kept raising its ugly head: jealous ambition which revealed itself, as it always does, in vicious gossip and slander. It seems a built-in flaw for JWs, and though corporate executives will dismiss this, or even deny it, I can only relate my own perspectives. Virtually every body of elders (called body of servants then) is given to infighting and political intrigues. I became more and more dissatisfied with these experiences. No matter what I did, I would soon be embroiled in some conflict by those who had hidden agendas. It is one thing to experience this on rare occasions, for indeed, humans are imperfect, but it became a regular trademark of every congregation I was ever to be associated with. It must be understood that I was an extreme supporter of the GB’s “faithful and discreet slave class” as one of the anointed. I was well known as one who “went by the book.”
We were able to bring many Bible studies “into the truth” and we would regularly have our little families of new ones surrounding us at circuit and district assemblies. We were regular features on every assembly program. I had started another cleaning business and developed janitor services for local banks.
Here, also, I was to meet another sister from Durango who also was a deep and serious Bible student who started partaking of the emblems. Since I was the only “one of the anointed” any where near, I spoke with her often, without ever discouraging her from her profession. She was later to fall into some difficulty of an emotional nature and I am sure this was taken as proof she was wrong in her profession. I now believe that anyone who reads just the Bible, without the influence of “the literature,” will automatically develop the heavenly hope, because there is only “one hope.” (Ep 4.4) God through Christ has only made available this one invitation or calling to those who follow His Son.
This often puzzled me over the years. If God knew there would be the largest single concentration of “true Christians” in this so-called “time of the end” – with millions of “other sheep” having an earthly hope – why did He not inspire the Bible to discuss this hope more. It is completely lacking in the Pauline epistles. Indeed, there are less than a handful of texts which JWs use to support the “earthly hope”25 within the Christian Bible. (Mt 5.5; 25.31-46; Lk 23.43; Jn 10.16; Ac 17.30; Re 7.9) Why so few when God knew there would be six million plus Bible readers with an earthly hope and only 8,000 with a heavenly hope? This did not make sense to me.
|25||EARTHLY HOPE. JWs believe the Bible was written to the 8,000 anointed and not 5 million “other sheep.” A close look at the texts here cited will show only one, Acts 17.31, may be limited to an earthly resurrection.|
So isolated in the Four Corners area, I sought some physical release. I took up an old interest I had in rock climbing and since there was no partner available I became a soloist. Starting with the local cliffs and nearby volcanic plugs, it was not long before I eyed the famous landmark of Shiprock. This is a volcanic plug isolated in the desert and rising like the World Trade Center buildings for nearly two thousand feet. It is an awesome sight when it casts a hundred mile shadow at sunset. It had been first climbed by the Colorado Mountaineers in the late 30s but the actual route was unknown to me. I spent weeks circling the base trying to discover a route. I found it by the cave facing the west. I was to return again and again to this great monolith, alone, until I had reached the slot on the west face where one must rappel to the eastern face and the Honeycomb cliffs. Above this is a slopping approach to the final three hundred feet. One must go through the gunsight notch, out and very exposed up some aid moves and then on to the summit. I had, of course, discovered the fixed bolts here and there and knew I had found the original route on my own. At the time I had a philosophical distaste for signing summit registers and so I did not sign the one on Shiprock. I also was afraid JWs would find out I was rock climbing. Whether I was the first to solo Shiprock in 1964 I do not know for sure. I kept this and other solo climbs private because I knew it would be criticized if JWs found out. My rock climbing and mountaineering was to become a source of infighting during the next ten years.
I had two serious “brushes with death” while solo climbing in the New Mexico desert. On one cliff I was rappelling and slipped. I pendulum across the rock and out over an overhang leaving me dangling free. I had secured my swami-belt with a “monkey’s fist” or prussic knot which prevented me from sliding over the end of the rope and intended to stop me in a fall. It had grabbed tight as it was supposed to but I had made the length of the tether rope too long and now the knot was out of my reach. I could not touch the wall, hanging there with my arms and shoulders beginning to lose feeling. The situation became desperate. I began to call to God for help, “Jehovah, Jehovah!” Suddenly, I remember my knife in a pocket and with numb fingers I struggle to get the knife out, open it, without dropping it, and determined to slice the prussic knot and take my chances sliding free down the rappelling line. I fell to the ground 70 feet below, but the carabiner brake, though working ineffectively because my hands could not control the rope, still slowed my descent enough that I did not break anything or kill myself.
On a repeated attempt of Shiprock with two climbing partners, both JW elders, Bob Parsons and Victor Besancon, a similar problem was to befall Victor. At the first one-hundred foot rappel down the eastern face – already the height of the Empire State building – to a small bivouac ledge, Victor’s prussic knot hung up and he began to dangle with his arms loosing their strength. He was about seventy-five feet up, in the dark, and the chest harness was suffocating him. There was nothing for it but to go hand over hand up the rope in pitch dark. The wall was slightly overhanging so my feet were of not use. I reached him and hanging with one arm I cut the prussic knot and hung on as he struggled down the rope. I kept yelling “Hurry!” Because I was hanging loose hanging from exhausted arms. I would have only bounced once before falling 1,500 feet to the desert floor.
On another excursion in the winter I was to discover an Indian who did fall to his death from another cliff outside of Farmington. Later I led a Sheriff’s team to recover the frozen body whose stiff hand seemed to point from where he fell two hundred feet above. This happened so often to Navajo Indians, particular those who had passed out from drinking, they were called “Navajo popcicles.”
On another occasion I was doing the first solo ascent of a large volcanic plug on the Navaho reservation. I did not suspect this very peak was sacred to the Navaho. After the first day of climbing I secured a bivouac hammock to bolts and intended to spend the night belayed to the basalt rock while I tried to sleep. After dark a thunder storm approached. Lightning drew closer and closer, flashing all over the desert, heading right for the only thing standing free for twenty miles. The metal hardware began to hum, indicating a strike was imminent. I took off and lowered anything metallic and laid back to wait for a direct strike. I do not know how close these thunderous bolts came to me, but it seemed I was not outside observing them, but right inside the beautiful sparking columns of light.
An article had appeared in the Awake! critical of mountaineering.26 I responded to this in writing. Later I was to meet and befriend the former editor of the Awake! Colin Quakenbush,27 who as the story goes, was removed of his editorship because he liked to climb mountains like the Matterhorn. He was to return to writing responsibilities after the death of Nathan Knorr. He is an intelligent and humble man with a wide-ranging interest in science. Much of those articles and books dealing with creationism and science originated with him.
|26||MOUNTAINEERING. One particular circuit overseer Cantwell took exception with mountain climbing and though never talking to me face to face, he gave a talk before 50,000 people at Dodger Stadium and alluded negatively to me as a mountaineer.|
|27||QUAKENBUSH. This was the gentleman chosen to fly to California to interview Michael Jackson regarding his music video which many JWs had charged to be spiritistic. He later told me of this meeting and described Michael as “child-like.” Michael was later to disassociate himself from JWs.|
Later I was also to meet several other JWs who were mountaineers or rock-climbers, including a district servant Manfredi, and the famous Layton Kor. Layton remains a permanent fixture in the stellar world of rock climbing. He was to go on to write an excellent book, Vertical World. Later we were to make plans to climb some major walls in Yosemite. I was to go on to climbs throughout the south west, particularly in Yosemite, Tahquitz Rock, and Joshua Tree. This climbing was to have a bearing on developments later.
About this time a new direction was occurring in the climbing world. “Clean climbing” without hammer and pitons was becoming the “in” thing. Though in the mid-60s it was very strange to see a climber approach a cliff without hammer and pitons, using only “jam nuts” and “chocks.” These are machined bits of aluminum hexs with wire loops in various sizes which are jammed into cracks to provide belays or leader anchors. I was right at the forefront in America in their use. Over the next ten years I was to climb all of the “aid climbs” on Tahquitz and Suicide Rock using only these “nuts.” These climbs were among the most serious in the country and following my lead, and often the jammed chocks left behind, the next level of “free climbing” introduced the first 5.11s and 5.12s28 in the world. But, back to pioneering in Farmington.
|28||5.12. Rock climbing is categorized from 5.0 to 5.14 today in 1998. In the early 70s no one had climbed above 5.10.|
There were those matters of political infighting and jealous ambition mentioned above, but one particular episode of racism rose its head. I had learned that many of those brothers from Texas and Oklahoma, of which there were many in the Farmington area, held themselves much superior to the “niggers,” a word I was to hear several times. One particular “servant” once asked if I “did not really believe I was superior to the niggers” which raised my indignation. I warned him if he ever repeated that word “it would take me five minutes to remove you as a servant.” This among a group of people considered “color-blind.” Though this may have been the official position, it was not the case among some at that time. As America has grown, so, too, have JWs. There are other prejudices between brothers of different states. Californians were particularly looked down upon. I discovered this same ethnic prejudice among JWs in Europe.
I was asked to accept another assignment in nearby Aztec congregation. There were two groups there: English, or the “white congregation,” and a Spanish-speaking group. The brothers in charge were classic rednecks straight out of Hollywood casting (excuse this generalization; they were all later shown to smoke secretly). The former congregation servant had lived next door to a Spanish brother and in all those 20 years he had never invited this family to his home. They met together on Sunday and Friday, but beyond that had no dealings with one another. It was pure racism and ethnic prejudice. It matters not what the “official stand” was, but more and more many wondered why all the GB were Anglos,29 mostly German and Scotch-Irish. I was to listen to many complaints from Latin Americans and black brothers in the following years.
|29||ANGLOS. Later a Watchtower Questions from Readers was to address this observation and used the case of the First Century “governing body” being all Jewish. (w 7/1/95, page 31)|
I immediately sensed this conflict and our family began to attend the Spanish Watchtower study. We knew a little Spanish and did our share in participating in our halting accents. This showed them if we could do it they could too, and so they began to participate in the English meetings. The background for twenty years of this congregation was like others I had experienced. A small, isolated group of men, without any normal qualifications, ruled with an iron-hand a flock of loyal sheep. These are men without respect from anyone in the “world” but here they can actually get an audience to listen to them for 5, 15, or 60 minutes. This does something to most men who begin to take themselves too seriously. They behave one way to the public or before serious organizational authority, and wholly a different, hypocritical way, among others.
Again, another friend, Al Pyne, called me once, much concerned. I asked what the matter was and he replied he thought he was now one of the anointed. I asked him why he thought this. He explained he had “vacation pioneered” (meaning 60 hours per month, later to be called “auxiliary pioneer”) and really enjoyed the experience. He felt that only “the anointed” actually enjoy going out from door to door and so this must mean he was being called to the Kingdom. This is a most charming individual without a deceitful bone in his body. To this day he does not partake of the emblems.
During 1965 I was to be invited back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the Kingdom Ministry School, which at that time was for only congregation servants. It was a two week course with two instructors. One, Albert Shroeder, was to later become a member of the Governing Body. With him I was first introduced to a certain “tyranny of authority” when confronted with some Bible questions. He had taught regarding the “spiritual Temple” which I noticed were not actually in harmony with the current publications. I gingerly presented this to him along with other questions. His reaction reflected that senatorial assuredness which I was to note among those at this level in the organization. One just could not argue with them, and if one did, this certain air would develop which was extremely patronizing, like a pat on the head of the poor ignorant soul. I did not know it then, but one cannot question such men. What they say “is the truth.” President Knorr was well known to say: “It is the truth when it comes from the Ninth Floor” of headquarters in Brooklyn. Later, more information appeared in “the literature” which demonstrated Schroeder’s error. This was also something to learn: certain ones on these levels, from the “Ninth Floor” could speak their minds with impunity, often deviating from “the publications” with private views. Anyone else that did this would face serious rebuke and possible excommunication.
Albert Schroeder is a very fatherly individual on the level of the publishers in the congregations and will display warm affection for all those he meets. I was to learn there were often two faces a man wore: the one he displayed as a humble and loving elder among the publishers; and quite another one when in that “elder mode” behind closed doors. I was often amazed how warm and kind one would be to the publishers and then go through a Jeckle-Hyde metamorphosis in dealings with elders. They were often two different men. Most would consider that Schroeder is the current resident scholar with a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek. With the passing of the recognized thinker among JWs, Fred Franz, Schroeder is the natural replacement.
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
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