From Southern Baptist To Jehovah’s Witnesses
DG’s Evolving Faith – Part 3
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7, NIV
remember little about my middle school years. Maybe it’s because I have brain fog. Maybe it’s because I blocked out so much. Or maybe it’s just because I am getting older and that’s what happens as time moves on… little details disappear and we write and rewrite our own histories and memories as we attempt to remember them, as we attempt to hold on. I don’t know. But it sure seemed like it was all a blur.
What I do remember is that there was “some” semblance of normalcy to me; even if some means very little normalcy compared to most of my classmates. Darrell, my stepdad, was in the picture semi-regularly when I was in 7th or 8th grade. During this time he was helping out one of his brothers who just opened a BBQ joint on Lake Fork. With a regular gig for my stepdad and my mom working too, there came a big move for us from our tiny little place on Hanks St to a more middle class neighborhood on the south side of town.
During this time in my life I loved playing football at school. I had a habit of attempting wild trick plays because I wanted to avoid being hit head on. That probably explains why I rode the bench. I also remember that I had a crush on Michele. A sweet preppy blonde girl in one of my classes. And I remember making the basketball team. I begged my mom for a pair of all white ¾ top Reebok sneaks but they sure didn’t help my game. I also ran for VP of the student council. I lost there too. And I spent a ton of time literally running, so I joined the track team too. It proved to be my love. And I was really good at it! I had been running for sport since elementary school. For some reason I could run for miles without stopping. Nothing felt so good. I’d just pop-in a mix tape on my treasured Sony Walkman then take off with no particular place to go. I’d get into this zone, almost like a trance.
What wasn’t normal was where my mind seemed to wander during much of my free time. I could not escape that one strange night where the pastor taught on the Book of Revelation at Gateway Baptist Church or that… riddle he mentioned. You know about The Beast. So I started my quest to solve the riddle of this mysterious beast. I had to. There’s no way I was gonna get caught unprepared when the antiChrist showed up.
“Listen, I’ve got to ask you a question and I bet you know the answer since it seems like you know everything about everything… ‘Who is the anti-Christ, where is he showing up when he shows up, and should I be afraid because I am a little, ok, a lot afraid?’”
RIDDLE OF THE BEAST – “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”
During this time, I remember asking adults all kinds of crazy Bible-related questions; I asked anyone that I thought looked like they might know something. Interestingly, I didn’t ask Darrell or my mother anything at all. Maybe it is because I knew they had little to no education past middle school. More importantly, they didn’t attend church with me, ever. I think they thought their religious duty was to make sure I went. I don’t even remember if my sister went. I learned not to ask Bible related questions of any men, none ever answered me directly or seemed to know anything at all. But they all did seem dismissive. I didn’t want another pat on the head like Pastor Bell gave me. I wanted to know something substantive – my eternal life depended on it! So I set my eyes on a particular teacher that was always friendly. She was willing to talk about all kinds of stuff during health class. So, one day after class, I walked right up to her and asked…
“Listen, I’ve got to ask you a question and I bet you know the answer – you know everything about everything… ‘Who is the anti-Christ, where is he showing up when he shows up, and should I be afraid because I am a little, ok, a lot afraid?’”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold up there,” she said. She spent the next few minutes mumbling stuff about that being a great question, her not being a preacher, she didn’t know the answer, and how she didn’t really understand the question, and how she was unqualified to answer it and so on and so forth. It was a pretty artful dodge and I remember that it stopped me dead in my tracks; I stopped asking adults anything.
It wasn’t too many weeks later that a friendly woman named Deborah and her Wonder-Woman doppelgänger teen daughter named Mystic showed up on our doorstep on Corey Dr. When they knocked on my door, of course I was the one that opened it and there they were, two tall well dressed women holding book satchels smiling back at me. I don’t recall too much about the introduction but I do remember that they offered me a free Bible study and just like that I was hooked! Like those “free” Columbia Record House offers I took advantage of for most of my Elementary and Intermediate School years. Those ladies had something to offer and I wanted it – bad.
“Come on in,” I said. And they did. Then that’s when I think I blew their minds. Not because I was some sort of junior sage or anything like that. Rather, I am certain it’s because I talked for some time and I talked and I talked and along the way I hit on some major themes that they just happened to love.
Being a kid and all, I didn’t catch any of the context clues they were throwing out, not at all. I didn’t realize their offer of a free Bible study was for some later time in the future. All I knew is that they offered so I was thinking, “Why not now,” right? They were only a few feet in the door when I told them about “feeling” God at First Baptist Church. We all sat down in the dining room. “You know,” I told them, “that heavy feeling of God weighing upon you like an unrelenting fluttering in your chest. Or quickening.” I opened up, completely!
I asked them about my questions regarding major doctrinal issues like the Trinity. And Jesus being a part of it. I told them Jesus lived in my heart; I think. Or was it the Holy Spirit. Who knows! I even told them about why I had been poking around in the Book of Revelation after attending a few services at Gateway Baptist Church.
That’s right, I managed to even mention the Beast, the False Prophet, and the AntiChrist. I also loaded them up with question after question. Then to my amazement while we all sat around the table, they said they’d love to share their thoughts with me on all of it. I said something like, “I’ll be right back,” then I jumped up and ran to my room!
Their eyes got as big as saucers. Remember me telling you about the pastor who gave me a tape recorder? Yup, I went to my room to get it. Same one. I threw it on the table along with a few blank Maxwell tapes. Then I went to get my favorite dictionary as well as the letter T (to look up Trinity) and the letter R (Revelation) from my sweet World Book encyclopedia set that I proudly had on my book shelves. I threw those on the table too, along with a spiral notebook and a pencil. And while excitedly babbling about my religious experiences they found a tiny hole in which to interject, “Do you mind if we get a few friends to come talk with all of us?” I didn’t know at the time that they were calling back-up but that’s exactly what they were doing. “Of course,” I said, the more the merrier, right? So they arrived not to many minutes later and we all talked and talked and I wrote and wrote.
Sometime after 5pm on a Saturday, my mom came home after a hard day’s work to find our dining room full of strangers; adult men and women unknown to her and barely known to me all sitting at the dining room table yakking it up about God while my sister and grandmother hid away in a back bedroom. They quickly made their introductions to mom as Jehovah’s Witnesses from a nearby Kingdom Hall (their version of a church building), then we made plans for another meeting, and then just like that day was gone, they were gone. I had a few tapes full of our conversation and a spiral full of notes… and plans, big plans, to learn! Those guys didn’t shy away from questions and they happened to have an answer for everything!
I don’t think any of us understood what had just happened, the sort of impact that knock on a Saturday morning at the front door made on me or our family. It felt like a rope had been thrown to me at a time when our family was turning upside down… again!