Installment 4: Mount Megiddo

Mount Megiddo

“There will come a time when I will leave.” Papa shook his right fist in the air. He didn’t strike anything or anyone with it, not even the counter top in the kitchen, where he and Mama stood, she by the sink washing the dishes quietly and he leaning on the stool that he then shoved under the counter top. Mama was calm now, letting the water from the faucet stream onto the dishes endlessly, rather than dunking the dishes in plugged-up rinse water as she normally did. After she had accused him of being overfriendly with a female member of his church. An older married woman, who had left a message on Papa’s answering machine over the weekend and which Mama listened to without Papa’s consent. She had erased the message and attacked Papa verbally just minutes earlier – accusing him of something indecent.

“Why did she need to ask for a ride to your meeting? She has her own husband, she could ask him.” Mama’s argument then turned into cruel accusation, “What does she really want from you? That witch!” Papa was at a loss of words at first, following her from his office into the kitchen, passing my room on the way. I leaned out of my doorway and watched down the hallway. His bottled-up anger took the form of defensive words.

“All these years I’ve been loyal to you and now you want to accuse me of adultery? Is that what you want? Maybe I should go ahead and just do it then!”

I thought I heard Mama sniffling, but couldn’t see because her back was turned at the sink. Back rounded, shoulders bent. So then their religious differences ran deeper, into a place I could not reach.

There will come a time when I will have to leave.

Papa would say this when things got heated between Mama and him, whether of religious significance or not.

“Mark my words.”

He would sometimes add these three additional words for emphasis, just in case we weren’t really listening. Whatever the exact syntax, the gist remained the same.

Sometimes he directed the threat towards Mama alone, and sometimes towards me and Mandel too when we were all present. You would think the repetition would cause the threat to lose power – simply become empty words. But the more he said it, the closer it seemed to fulfillment. It’s going to happen any day now – just keep pushing.

There was a sense of secrecy, of mystery to this threat. Not in the “why” of it, but in the where and how. We were aware he was devoted to the Worldwide Church of God, and deeply loyal to its leader Herbert W. Armstrong. He mocked the Witnesses for believing that Armageddon would be the War of the Great Day of God the Almighty – an event, not a place; the time when the wicked would be destroyed. In mocking them he was obviously mocking us. For him and his church, Armageddon was a place, not an event, a place they would migrate to at the end of all things. We knew this because he expressed it aloud in his arguments with Mama. His threat was tied to this Armageddon.

Megiddo, Mount Megiddo somewhere in the Middle East. I’d imagine the end of the world. Not the End, but the ends of the earth where Papa would be forevermore unreachable. Hovering together with his fellow believers within some kind of cave or shed, while a physical battle between East and West took place around them. The hand of God would protect them. Them – not us.

He wouldn’t leave us by separating from Mama or divorcing her. He had always made it clear that divorce was not an option, “Divorce is worse than death!” He would depart because the force of some mysterious hand would make it inevitable. Therefore, it would not be equivalent to abandonment. Just the same, it would be abandonment, no matter the cause. The more heated their differences became, the more frequent the threat: There will come a time when I will have to leave.

It was late at night, very late I remember, and I was holed up in my room with the door shut. I can’t recall the exact words. “Lies, lies,” perhaps, and “of Satan.” Regardless, they raged a holy a cappella duet, out of tune with each other.

I was sure it had finally reached the breaking point when the cops would at any moment pound on the door and arrest both of them on suspicion of violence. Surely the neighbors could hear Papa’s thunderous shouts – like some possessed madman on the pulpit, his voice pounding through the walls, and Mama’s competing, haunting wails.

I hugged my pillow over my head, until a sudden silence made my heart drop.

I uncovered my ears to the sound of sobbing, the pounding of feet, and the screech of a kitchen drawer sliding open. Another pair of feet running and Papa shouting, “No Mama, stop!” I ran out of my room into the kitchen and saw it: Mama with the knife in her hand. Papa paused a few inches away from her as she waved it in the air – for a moment I thought it was made of plastic – but it wasn’t. It was the largest one, the one she used to chop potatoes and meat, the sharp one with the loose handle so that often the blade nearly slipped out of place. Her face pale and soggy with tears, strands of her hair sticking to her cheeks. With one hand she brought the knife near her heart, and with the other she held onto the wooden drawers, the knives sifting and clanging. She swayed like she was going to faint.

“That’s it, I’m going to end it all now!” she cried. Papa shook and sobbed – his

glasses, usually glued to his face – absent. His small eyes slit so that his pupils disappeared. He approached Mama slowly and she loosened her grip. She wasn’t going to hurt him. She could never do that. He pulled the knife out of her hands.

I didn’t even see Mandel come in, but there he stood, a teenager now, looming large. I crouched on the floor, not far from Papa and Mama. Mandel pounded his fist on the kitchen table with all his force, flipped his head to one side. “If this is what religion does!” He wasn’t crying, but his eye was twitching, and his mouth was wrenched in anger.

Papa laid the knife in the sink, and Mama was now slouched on the tile, weeping. He bent down to sit next to her and then cradled her in his arms.

At the sight of this, I thought perhaps, that Papa would leave just then, not for Armageddon.

Several years before, there had been a peaceful look of resignation on his face. I crossed their room into the kitchen, and they were still lying in bed. Mama waved me over with a look of glee on her face. She had her arm around Papa. “Good news – Papa has decided to get baptized.” He was smiling too. He had been studying the dark blue book, the book that everyone who studied with Jehovah’s Witnesses first started with, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, with one of the elders for some time now, and even attending meetings and assemblies.

He had even commended Auntie Pat for having changed her ways – she no longer wore mini-skirts or heavy makeup. In fact, she was the one who convinced Mama to study. Before this, Papa and Mama were both ‘casual’ Catholics, going to church rarely until they didn’t go at all. When Mama found the Truth, she never let go.

But by the time I decided to get baptized, Papa hadn’t. Rather, his attitude towards the Witnesses had become bitter. There was a mystery surrounding the real reason behind his loss of interest. He had expressed interest in other religions such as the Quakers and the Seventh Day Adventists. He’d go to the library to do some “research” which was unusual since he had never checked out books before. Then he found the Worldwide Church of God with its belief that God is a ‘family’ and would reproduce himself into human beings, who would then also become gods. He started to strictly observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, which

meant no TV watching, no listening to music, no anything but sitting and reading the Bible. And when he found out I was getting baptized at age 14, he mocked my decision. “Where in the Bible does it say you have to answer some manmade questions in order to get baptized?” It was true that before getting baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,

you had to answer a slew of questions from the olive green book, Organized to

Accomplish Our Ministry. That was how the elders decided whether you were ready to get baptized or not. Papa had gone as far as to go through those questions too. The rumor in our house was that the elders told him they didn’t think he was ready for baptism. Papa never admitted whether this was what led him astray, perhaps because his pride wouldn’t allow him.

I didn’t dare ask Papa to clarify why he left the Witnesses or why he didn’t go through with baptism; it was enough to know the religion made him cringe and to hear him mock Jehovah and mock our beliefs. But in my imagination, I played with the idea of him being ready for baptism, standing in the same assembly hall where I had gotten baptized, ready to join the rest of the family in the joy of our faith.

Question 1: Have you repented of your sins and turned around, recognizing yourself before Jehovah God as a condemned sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ?

Papa: (pulling at his wide, baby-blue tie) No I don’t!

Question 1: Again, have you repented…

Papa: Repentance is between you and God the Father alone!

(Audience gasping in horror)

I am not a condemned sinner!

And what is more, this one you call Jehovah (waving fist in the air), that is a manmade name! The only true God is God the Father who begot his only begotten son…

Question 2: On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation, have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightening power of the holy spirit?

Papa: (rushing the stage towards Brother Elder) First you call him Jehovah, then you say God – make up your mind! Who are you to ask me about something personal between me and God the Father? This religion, this religion is of Satan!

Me and Mama and Mandel – we were of Satan.

And yet…the way he cradled Mama in his arms like a baby when she nearly cut herself. How he pleaded with her not to, and would have let her strike him rather than see her wield it on herself.

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