Chapter 4: Arthur R. Olson, Elder
Arthur Olson was daydreaming as usual. He had nothing else to do. His roommate, (known to one and all simply as Mr. Jandle), was snoring quietly in the next bed, his enormous snow-white beard and mustache moving rhythmically with his exhalations. It reminded Arthur of those ribbons people tie to air-conditioning vents to prove that they’re blowing. In Mr. Jandle’s case such evidence was superfluous. The nurses had often attempted to persuade Mr. Jandle to let them trim at least his mustache for fear that he might choke on the monstrosity in one of his long naps (he was wont to sleep some twelve hours of the night and another six to eight of the day). But he had steadfastly refused; he felt his facial hair was a mark of distinction and he wasn't about to part with it.
With such company day and night, Arthur had all the time he could have wanted to meditate on Jehovah and heaven -- where Arthur felt he would soon be journeying. For Arthur Olson, who was "born in the Truth" 93 years ago, was of the "remnant": one of the last of the 144,000 people anointed to heavenly life still on earth.
He divided his time between dreaming of heaven and reading Scriptures from his large-print Bible ("New World" translation, of course) by means of his lighted magnifying glass and thick glasses. These Scriptures he more often than not read aloud since no one was around to hear him and he thought, perhaps, he could reach into Mr. Jandle's dreams with the Biblical passages. But as for dreaming of heaven, this activity was conducted more privately. The Bible didn't say much about what the spiritual realm was like. It spoke in symbols and allegories that gave, at best, a vague hint of how Christ's brothers and joint-heirs would live: it left most to the imagination. So he spent hour upon hour in thoughts of the hazy, happy future rather than in reminiscences of the long past.
Visitors were few and far between despite the Society's frequent admonitions to the "other sheep" to visit and help the "little flock".
Sandy Wilson used to come years ago and read the Watchtower to him. But when she learned that she couldn't count this as field-service time, she stopped coming. The last he'd seen any of his brothers or sisters was about two months ago when a handful of them came to celebrate the Memorial of Christ's Death with him. He remembered their looks of awe as he boldly partook of the bread and wine they were qualified only to look at. Since then the days and nights dragged on unbearably until it seemed he'd overstayed his welcome in this world.
There were so many of his brothers he'd seen go peacefully off to that bright glory so long ago. Why was Jehovah keeping him here? What good was he accomplishing? For what purpose was Jehovah saving him?
It was another Sunday, and Ted, for the first time, dreaded going to the hall. He felt humiliated by the wild dancing Julia Salvayez had forced him into. More ignoble than facing the congregation after that was to see Phyllis after meeting her surprise fiancé.
But Richard tooted the horn and Ted ran downstairs. He opened the rear car door but Richard told him to climb in the front.
"Where's everybody?" Ted asked.
"They're all sick. Where's Paul?"
"He decided to sleep in. What is it -- the flu bug going around again?"
"I don't think it's the flu, they just don't feel good."
When they arrived at the hall, Richard was constrained to repeat this same explanation scores of times as the friends expressed their concern.
The meeting passed for both of them in an uncomprehending way. They both caught the gist of the public-talk, and at the Watchtower study Richard answered his nominal two questions, but they were both preoccupied with their problems. After the concluding prayer Richard told him, "Let's go thank the speaker for a fine talk and then let's go; I'm in a hurry to get back today."
Ted was in such a resigned mood that he answered back, "I never thank the speaker for a fine talk when I'm told to do so from the platform," (the congregation was always admonished to do so by Elder Bill Paulson, the Watchtower instructor) "because I fear the speaker will have doubts as to my sincerity or initiative. Whenever we're told to give thanks or praise, we're immediately robbed of our being able to express our feelings free of constraint."
Richard was about to ask him, "What's the matter with you?" when David Nelson grasped his shoulder and ushered him aside. Brother Nelson knew the bad connotation associated with taking someone out to the van, so he gave his good news in asides such as these where those standing close by could hear. It never crossed his mind that by so doing he merely emphasized the stigma of the van.
"You're being considered for eldership," he informed a surprised Richard, "think you can handle the responsibility if you're appointed to that position?"
"I believe I can, with Jehovah's help."
"Fine. I don't think there'll be any problem in getting you in. There's just one thing though, kind of a tradition -- sort of silly, really, if you ask me -- but we're agreed that it's best to observe it."
"What's that?" Richard asked, getting nervous.
"Well, you remember Brother Olson, don't you?"
"Sure," Richard replied, "he was around yet for about a year after I came into the Truth."
"Yes, well he's bed-ridden now, you know, in the nursing home. He used to be such a vital part of this congregation and had such a big say in appointing elders that it's been something of a tradition with us to send prospective elders to him even now. Not so much for him to pass judgment, since he's not on the committee of course, but just to make him feel part of the congregation still. You don't have to see him, of course. There's no Scriptural obligation outside of visiting Christ's brothers when they're 'sick', but we'd appreciate it if you did."
"All right. When are the visiting hours?"
"The best time to see him would really be now. Sundays they have most of their visitors -- those who get visitors -- and that's when he feels the most lonely. I'd say your best bet is to go over there right now and spend a few hours with him. Brother Morrow is also being recommended for eldership, so perhaps you could go together."
"Bob Morrow?" Richard asked in suppressed shock. "But wasn't he just publicly reproved?"
"He was, but you'll notice that he's been restored to full favor in the congregation. We don't hold past troubles against a brother. Besides, we feel we might've been too hasty in that P.R."
So it was that Richard, Bob Morrow, and Ted drove out to the nursing home that Sunday.
Arthur wasn't expecting them. He lay there reciting Scriptures and old Watchtower articles to a blissfully unconscious Mr. Jandle.
He had so much packed away in his mind that he needed to relieve the 'pressure' now and again by verbalizing it. He was grateful for the fantastic memory Jehovah had given him, but sometimes he felt like a spring too tightly wound; the knowledge was overflowing his mind -- he couldn't hold it back indefinitely. He was reciting from memory an important article from a 1929 Watchtower when the three brothers sheepishly walked into the room.
He didn't recognize them. He thought they might be visitors for Mr. Jandle, and so he just nodded and smiled at them.
"Hello Brother Olson, remember me? Richard asked.
"What's that you say?" Arthur fumbled for his hearing aid and turned its knob, directing its "ear" towards the men.
"I say, I'm Richard Johnson. Do you remember me, Brother Olson?"
"Richard Johnson, let me see -- oh yes, you're new in the Truth, aren't you?"
"Well, I was when you were still going to the hall. I've been in it seven years now."
"Oh, yes. Married the Stevenson girl, didn't you?"
"Yes, that's right. Vonnie Stevenson."
"Who you got with you there, a darky?"
There followed a moment of embarrassed fumbling for words that Ted himself broke, "I'm Ted Evanston, brother. I don't like to be referred to as 'a darky'."
"A Negro, then. I’ll bet you get called worse than that in the field service, don't you?"
"Yes sir. But I don't like Negro either. We prefer to simply be called 'black' if our skin must be referred to at all."
"All right son, I know that. I was just testing you as to your reaction -- whether your required respect for age in an anointed slave of Jehovah would override your self-importance. Pull up some chairs, all of you. There's some more out in the hall, I think."
As Ted sat down he apologized for his behavior.
"Don't apologize," Arthur responded, "you did right; you passed the test. There's no special right that age or anointing gives a man to insult another, especially not a brother. You must forgive my presumption in testing those who come to see me like this. But I only get to see them here in this hospital atmosphere where no one's themselves. I have to cut through all that in a hurry if I'm to really get to know a person."
Bob Morrow had suffered just about as much neglect as he could take, "Excuse me, brother, I'm Bob Morrow. Richard and I were sent to see you about our being considered for elderships. Ted here is just tagging along because he gets a ride to and from the hall from Richard. He's new in the Truth."
It was clear Arthur resented being told whom he should pay attention to. He squinted at Bob through his thick trifocals and said, "You say you two want to be elders, huh? How about you, son, you want to be anything?"
"I want to be baptized. I will be at the next assembly, as a matter of fact," Ted replied.
Arthur shook his head, closed his eyes, and smiled. "No, not 'as a matter of fact,' not 'will be'."
Now it happened that Ted overheard all that David Nelson had said at the hall about Arthur judging Richard and Bob’s fitness for eldership, and at this point he was worried that this elderly man would deny him his qualification for baptism as well.
"Have you got your Bible with you, son? Fine. Then look up James 4:13-15."
Richard gave a knowing smile to Bob as Ted quickly thumbed through his Bible and found the passage: "Come now, you who say: 'Today or tomorrow we will journey to this city and will spend a year there and engage in business and make profits,' whereas you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. For you are a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing. Instead you ought to say: 'If Jehovah wills, we shall live and also do this or that.'’"
Having taught the young rascal a lesson, Bob hoped Arthur would now turn his attention to him. He was correct in this assumption; "So you didn't come to see me, but to have me okay your names for elders, is that right?" Without giving time for an answer to this charge, he directed his attention back to Ted, "Boy, you sure found that Scripture fast. You know your Bible pretty good, don't you Ted?"
"I study it as much as I possibly can every chance I get. I've read that Scripture before several times. But you can't always take time out to stop and say, 'If Jehovah wills'. I mean it, of course, even when I don't say it because my whole life, my every breath is from him."
"That's a fine answer," the old man smiled, "You must forgive my neglecting your pressing issue, gentlemen, but old age is always fascinated by youth. We seem to see our own early lives shining again out of new eyes. I don't do a lot of reminiscing about the 'old days'; I think about what's ahead more than what's behind. But Ted has put me in mind of my youth, growing up in the Truth."
"How did you come into the Truth?" asked Ted.
"I was 'born in the Truth' as they say. Although that expression isn't technically correct since a person has to accept the Truth for himself when he comes of age. My mother and father came into the Truth through the Bible meetings Pastor Russell was holding in Allegheny. They had been baptized Lutherans in childhood, and in those days they didn't see the need for rebaptizing when a person became a Bible Student. You see, there wasn't any real criteria for being one: no dogmas you had to uphold or certain things you had to do. My father, I know, never agreed with the 'Wise Servant' idea, but that didn't stop him from being a true Bible Student."
"What was the Wise Servant idea?" Ted asked.
"It's what you call the 'Faithful and Discreet Slave' today. It was believed at that time that Russell was this Wise Servant Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24:45-47. Russell himself believed this -- that was obvious, but my father reserved judgment on the matter, and after Russell's divorce in 1906, he was convinced that the Wise Servant applied to all those shepherding the congregations."
"The elders, you mean?" asked Ted.
"Yes. Well, you see we were all of the heavenly 'little flock' back then. The earthly 'other sheep' didn't start to really be called till 1935 or so. That's why back then the Scripture more or less referred to elders in the congregations whereas today it refers to the remnant of the anointed left on earth, whether they have responsibilities or not, though most of us have responsibilities since we've been around so long. But tell me, Ted, since you're new in the Truth, what do you think of all this? What does the Truth mean to you?"
"It's everything: my whole life now. It ties all experience and questions together and explains and solves them all. It's like the 'something' that was missing from life that I could never put my finger on: the emptiness that all worldly people must feel. It gives meaning to life and purpose to existence. All of a sudden I see things I never saw before. I understand the elusive 'why' behind life's sorrows, and I know true joy for the first time in all its ecstatic peace and security."
"How marvelous," Arthur commented, caught up in the youthful frenzy of excitement he had called forth, "but tell me honestly, haven't there been any disappointments or disillusions for you in the Truth yet? What do you think of your brothers and sisters? Speak frankly now."
"I love them all and try not to judge them. I see their imperfections too clearly sometimes, and it makes me wish I could see my own that well. Yes, I've had disappointments in the Truth already. Sisters and brothers have let me down. If I and they weren't in the Truth, these things might've affected me for the very worst, but knowing that Jehovah forgives us all, I can only do the same and be thankful we're no more imperfect than we are."
Richard looked uncomfortable at this juncture and shifted in his chair while offering the following formula, "You must remember too that whenever you put two imperfect people together day in and day out they seem to multiply their imperfections rather than just add the two together. And then when you give them children to take care of besides--well, the number of faults grows exponentially! You see, Brother Olson, Ted lives above me and Vonnie, and he has to listen to our fights and such." At this they all laughed good-naturedly.
"Yes, that's what Paul calls 'tribulation in the flesh.' I never had that problem myself;" Arthur went on, "I made a vow early in my life to remain single and up till now I've kept it. You never know, though," he winked at Ted as a nurse came quietly in to check Mr. Jandle's temperature, "some of these nurses have their eye on me and they might just catch me yet!"
"Oh, I tell you, he's a regular tease, that Artie," the nurse joked. "The younger nurses never turn their behinds to him, that's for sure." This obviously standard joke of the nurse produced a dry wheezing laugh from Arthur. The others merely smiled, feeling it in poor taste and disrespectful.
"How about you, Ted, are you able to leave the ladies alone?" Arthur asked.
"No, I think I'd like to get married, but the right sister has eluded my grasp so far. But enough about me. These brothers didn't come here to hear about me, and as for me, I'd rather hear about your long experience in the Truth."
"Very well then. I don’t usually reminisce, but for you I will. And these brothers will just have to wait. That's one of the needed talents of an elder: patience.
"I was born in the Truth in 1887 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. My parents were John and Susan Olson, both of whom had been in the Truth for three years when I was born. I had three older brothers and two younger sisters. Everyone believed in big families back then; we didn't know about the population explosion coming. We all got along splendidly as we strictly observed the Bible principles in our daily lives."
"What did your father do?" Ted asked.
"He ran a little dry-goods store in town, and did pretty good by it too. We weren't rich or poor, as was the wish of Agur, you'll remember, in Proverbs 30:8, 'Give me neither poverty nor riches.' Well, in those early days my father made sure we each got proper schooling. But we also had to have our special Bible lessons when we were little, and join in the family study when we got older. But in addition to that he took time to find out what interested us or what special talent we had, and he made sure we developed that. I won't prolong this with a description of each member of my family, but Peter, my brother closest to me in age, loved music and my father bought him a violin and paid for lessons. Pete loved that violin and we all loved to listen to him play."
"What was your special talent?" Ted asked.
"Well, that was a problem for a long time. I loved the sound of music, for instance, but couldn't play a note on anything. My fingers were just too clumsy. I had no interest in any craft, I couldn't draw, had no mechanical ability, no head for business… My father wasn't about to give up on me, you see, but it began to appear that I had no God-given talent whatsoever -- until one day we discovered it.
"There was some question on a matter we knew was discussed in a recent Watchtower (it was Zion's Watchtower back then) but no one could find it because it was a point made in passing, buried in almost any conceivable article. They were about to give the matter up after half an hour of searching in frustration when I told them the issue and page number as well as the approximate position on the page where the lines they were searching were located. They turned there in disbelief to find I was exactly right. I was only about nine at this time and had never been so bold as to enter into the family Bible study by speaking up this way. But my father encouraged me, with an excited look, by asking me what else I recalled about this particular article. Well, it happened that I recited the rest of the article word for word to the end. My father then grabbed a copy of The Divine Plan of the Ages off the shelf, opened it up, and asked me what I thought was on page 95. So I said: 'It must be admitted either the Church will fail to accomplish her mission, and that the plan of God will be thus far frustrated, or else, as we claim to have shown, that the conversion of the world in the present age was not expected of the Church, but that her mission has been to preach the Gospel to all the world for a witness, and to prepare herself under divine direction for her great future work. God has not yet by any means exhausted his power for the world's conversion. Nay, more: he has not yet even attempted the world's conversion.'
"My father stopped me after that first paragraph -- for I was prepared to go on -- and declared to all that he had at last found my special talent: I had a photographic memory!"
"Why hadn't you told him before?" Ted asked.
"Because I didn't realize that it was anything special. I thought everybody's memory worked just like mine, which is why I was confused whenever they had trouble finding a certain passage. I doubt if we ever know our own true talents; it takes someone else who cares enough to draw them out for us and make us realize our full potential.
"And my father wasted no time in developing my ability to remember. He read up on it in a medical journal and found that such cases of youthful mental ability often fade with maturity. He was determined not to let this happen, and so fortified whatever natural knack I had with intensive studying and memorizing. Just as my brother Pete had to practice at his violin several hours a day, I had to read and recite parts of the Bible or Watchtower publications for hours on end. We both enjoyed our practicing though. I look back on that time as one of the happiest times of my life.
"But as I grew older it became clear that I'd have to seek an occupation outside of my father's store as it was already well stocked with my brothers and sisters. So it was that Pete and I decided to head out on our own to rural Illinois. Our father had met a farm couple who lived out there when he had attended the first-ever convention of Bible Students in Chicago back in '93. I was only six then, so of course I didn't remember them very well. My memory was specialized only in reading, not so much in remembering people."
"May I ask," interrupted Richard, "how many were at that convention?"
"Three-hundred sixty were there and seventy were baptized. Don't you read your books?" Arthur smiled teasingly at Richard and continued, "Pete himself was baptized at that convention though some thought he was too young. He overcame their objections by the display of his knowledge. Pete remembered this Tufark couple and wrote to them asking how the preaching work was going out there and if there was any chance we might find work and accommodations out there. Their response was quick and encouraging. They offered to let us build a log cabin on their land rent-free! They'd also allow us a couple acres for a 'garden', and knew where we could get work as farmhands nearby.
"I must've been about your age, Ted, when I went out there with Pete by train and coach. We actually spent three days trying to find the Tufark farm once we got in the area. But we asked folks along the way and left them with tracts, so we put the time to good use. When we finally found the place, though, we were impressed. It was one of the biggest farms we'd seen. They had a big house, a house for the hired hands, cows, goats, pigs, five dogs, and three kids. They remembered Pete and he introduced me to Elmer and Roberta Tufark. We spent several hours in fellowship discussing all the latest Tower articles. Then, just before dusk, Elmer took us out and showed us where we could build our cabin. It was a hill about three-quarters of a mile from the big house. He couldn't make any use of it for farming, and it was too wooded for grazing, so he let us have it."
There ensued a long pause in Arthur's narrative. Bob was just about to break into it when he continued, "I can see that I’ll have to speed up my story or I’ll get lost in all these details. What happened was that we built our cabin, got the jobs as hired hands, and went out spreading the word to surrounding farmers on horseback. At first things seemed to be real swell, but after awhile troubles started piling up. We were 'city-slickers' to them, you see. When we dug the trench for our cesspool, snakes kept falling into it and we got scared out of our wits when we saw them slithering up behind us -- we'd jump out of the ditch and clobber them with our shovels. This is just an example -- they were just long garden snakes, you see -- no cause for concern. Elmer and Roberta laughed themselves silly at such scaredy-cats. We thought this was good-natured laughter at the expense of greenhorns -- and so it was at first.
But things gradually got out of hand. We started finding dead moles and snakeheads draped over our door when we'd return at night. I’d figured this was from neighbors trying to say in their not-too-subtle way that they didn't like our being there. Until one day I got back early and saw Roberta perpetrating the prank herself. She laughed it off, 'Just wanted to show you two that you didn't kill off all our wildlife, though you tried your best.'
We had to carry water in buckets from their kitchen pump up our hill every day, and that was another source of antagonism. Roberta complained that we planned it so Elmer was out of the house whenever we came and got the water -- '0h, what'll the neighbors say!' -- even though there were no neighbors for miles around.
"Finally, Elmer, obeying the command of his wife, asked us to leave. That day I had just finished digging the cesspool and Pete had finished putting in the windows. We were sitting by the kerosene lamp doing what we each loved best: I was reading the Bible, memorizing page after page as Pete played the classics on his violin. (You know, it's funny how the mind works; if I ever get stuck in remembering a certain passage, I just hum whatever Pete was playing at the time I memorized it and it comes back to me.) Elmer banged on the door and came in with his shotgun in one hand and a Bible in the other. Now it wasn't unusual to carry a gun around, even when going from the house to our cabin, but there was something meaningful in the fact that he never set it down while he talked to us.
"'I wonder if it would be asking too much if we asked you guys to move,' he said in a tone fresh from timidity but embarking on boldness. We stared at him in shocked disbelief. 'Why?' Pete asked.
"'We think you're setting a bad example to the neighborhood.' Elmer continued. 'You don't work hard enough. People are coming to think that Bible Students are lazy good-for-nothings. Besides, you never paid us any rent, so we're asking that you move off our property. People don't take kindly to trespassers out here.'
"'But you said we could have this place rent-free,' Pete protested.
"'Well, there's one thing a man says and another he expects out of common decency and gratitude,' Elmer replied.
"'Did you ever --' cried an angry Roberta as she entered the cabin. (She had come along secretly in case her husband had lost his nerve or failed to put the point across with sufficient emphasis.) 'Did you ever lift one finger to help Elmer on the farm? There were lots of things you could've done. But all you do is come home and sit around here. Elmer works harder than anybody around here. He's making a good name for the Russellites. And what good are you? We want you out of here in three days.' With that they left, slamming the door behind them. We still weren't sure just what had happened or why, but we knew they meant it.
"We left the next morning, turning our backs on the home we had worked so hard on, and the dream we had cherished so long. On the road we met Elmer coming back with some hay he'd bought from a neighbor. 'I hope we weren't too hard on you guys last night,' he said as he wiped a dirty hand across a sweaty brow, 'You see, I'm just so used to being here alone as the only Bible Student in these parts that when you're here it's like you're spying on me all the time. Like I know you're not watching me when I'm out in the fields, but I feel like you are…'
We didn't have the word 'paranoid' yet, but that's what he was, all right. He had some notion that we were reporting all his movements back to Russell himself. He had felt so superior to all his neighbors for so long because he was the only one with the Truth that when we came out there his 'superiority complex' was threatened.
"Pete and I went our separate ways then. He stayed in the Midwest trying to earn a living from his fiddle playing, and I headed for the Bible House in Allegheny. I was there about four years when they moved it to Brooklyn. Today, of course, we call it Bethel: the House of God."
"What did you do there?" Bob inquired, trying to sound interested.
"You name it--I did it. Over the years I held almost every job there was to do, for a little while anyway. Things weren't as organized back then as they are today. They didn't need to be so organized because the whole operation was so much smaller than now. But I eventually narrowed my scope down to the bindery end of it as we grew.
"I was there till 1918 when a spiritual crisis overwhelmed me. Pastor Russell had died in 1916 and Franklin-so-called-'Judge'-Rutherford took over as president. Two men could hardly have been more different. Russell had been a mild shepherd open to the opinions of others. Rutherford on the other hand, soon proved himself an egotistical tyrant with a whole new set of repulsive dogmas he expected us to accept although they ran against everything Russell had taught for over forty years."
There was a fidgeting in chairs and clearing of throats by the dismayed brothers who'd never suspected Arthur of such unorthodoxy.
It was Richard who spoke first, "I find it hard to believe that a servant of Jehovah, who obviously served him so well -- what I mean is, I don't see how Jehovah could've made a wrong choice in a leader for his name-people."
"How did his bad character reveal itself to you?" Ted asked. "What is it that made you feel this way towards him; surely you changed your mind later?" he added hopefully.
"I’ll tell you one instance," Arthur began. "You've all heard about the notorious P.S.L. Johnson --"
"I haven't," Ted admitted.
"I’ll tell you about him then," Arthur continued. "There are two P,S.L. Johnsons: there's the Society's version of him and there's the man himself. According to the Society's version, this man was of the 'evil slave class' because he turned traitor to the organization, thinking himself the rightful successor to Russell. Our 1975 Yearbook goes so far as to say that he thought himself prefigured by Elisha who took over prophesying after Elijah ascended heavenward. This Johnson tried to stir up opposition to Rutherford who finally had to resort to a legal loophole to dismiss Johnson and his cohorts from their positions in the board of directors.
"The real P.S.L. Johnson was a man I knew well. He once thought himself as a successor to Russell, but held this view only for a very short time: a matter of months at the most. He then regretted his error and made a public disclaimer of this thought to the Bethel family. He never ever thought of himself and Russell in terms of Elisha to Elijah. If you'll look on my bookshelf over there you'll see a big book by Johnson entitled 'Elijah and Elisha' in which he explains their antitypes in terms of classes: the Elijah class as all the anointed rather than any one man, and the Elisha class as the Society.
"There is no excuse for this misrepresentation by the Society today. Brother Johnson, however, was just as wrongly accused in his own day by Rutherford. I was there in the Bethel dining room when Rutherford falsely accused him of having stolen money from Society funds. Johnson replied, 'That's false and you know it is.' At this, Rutherford told him to leave Bethel. Johnson stated that he had appealed this decision to the board of directors, and since they were supposed to be running the Society at that time, he'd await their decision on the matter.
"'You leave this house!' Rutherford cried as he roughly grabbed Johnson by the shoulder, almost toppling him to the ground. His other arm was raised as if about to strike Johnson, but a nearby brother, MacMillan, prevented it. Johnson thereupon called attention to the fact that Rutherford had used violence against him, but he was met with jeers and hoots from a considerable number of the Bethel family.
"This so outraged the rest of us who still retained some sense of decency that we left the dining room as a man."
"Did you leave Bethel then?" Ted asked.
"No, not yet. I was still to witness Rutherford's usurpation of all power as well as his kicking Johnson out. Poor Johnson had sneaked out to mail a letter. When he came back the door was slammed in his face by a 'brother' assigned to guard against his entry. He was motioned to another door where he saw another brother placing all his belongings on the sidewalk. Rutherford poked his head out the door and Johnson asked him if this meant that he was evicted from Bethel.
"'Yes,' Rutherford replied and closed the door. Johnson rang the bell and when Rutherford again peeked out Johnson smiled and said, 'Well, after all, Brother Rutherford, my sentiment is "God bless you".' Rutherford smiled and asked if he needed any money. Johnson said no, that he had some, and the door was again closed.
What right did Rutherford have to do this? None. What right did he have to publish in secret the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures without even bothering to notify the board of directors? None. But still I didn't leave.
"The day after Johnson was evicted I received a letter from my brother Pete. He informed me of how he had grieved for months over Russell's death and was perplexed as to how the work could go on without him. When I read this I realized that we needed leadership, good strong leadership, at this time. But I felt this could better be accomplished through a board of directors than through any one man.
"This, in fact, was the wish of Russell himself. Right after his death it was announced in the Watchtower that a committee would run the Society. All the same, I could see Rutherford making his power play successful due to the spineless majority at Bethel.
"Getting back to Pete's letter, he mentioned that on his way through our old stomping ground in Illinois he stopped by the Tufark's farm and discovered that they had rented our cabin to worldly people. This upset me quite a bit. It even occurred to me that they might've planned all along to kick us out and benefit from our having built them a cabin they could rent out.
"I was fast losing trust in my brothers and sisters. But still I didn't leave.
"I started right in reading the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures (The Finished Mystery). That, I figured would give me the needed strength to overlook the imperfections of my spiritual family. But what I found there was more of the same. From the title page onward something was amiss, for there Rutherford had put a very conspicuous drawing of a coin, obviously so he could claim later that his writing was 'the giving of the penny' (in fulfillment of a parable which was a raging controversy at that time). But it went from bad to worse.
"The book made arbitrary radical changes in Russell's chronology, giving the dates 1918 and 1920 as the beginning and end of the 'great tribulation'. This I read on page 62. By the time I got to the end, I was reading hints of the coming change in attitude towards other Christian religions; The Finished Mystery was advertised showing a picture of priests, cardinals, and other religious leaders toppled from their edifice and drowning in the waters of Truth.
Rutherford was arrested along with the seven other brothers on the charge of sedition (since the book was anti-patriotic and anti-clergy, which was not appreciated in a time of war.) The government banned the book, and Rutherford turned paranoid against Christendom. I really believe his mind went during his short stay in prison where he vowed vengeance against Christendom for having put him there. And the titles of his later works affirm this: Enemies, which focused largely on the churches and governments, Judgement Against the Churches, the Governments, etc., Vengeance, and so on. But I was out of it by that time."
At this point Bob yawned with great exaggeration, intending to be noticed by Richard and Ted alone. Arthur was more observant than Bob figured, though. "Brother Morrow, you witnessed how I tested Ted here when he came in. But my testing of prospective elders is subtler. Perhaps their capacity for learning from another's experience is one of my testing points."
"It's just that ancient history was never one of my strong points," Bob snickered.
"Your characterizing it as such has suggested a further simile to me: you are trying your best to be the loud-mouthed smart-aleck of the classroom. And having played this role for so long (for I perceive you must've been born in the Truth) you now want to be the teacher as well!"
Bob was stunned. No one had talked to him like that before. But more than this, Arthur had hit the nail right on the head: Bob's head, and that was painful. The blood rushed to Bob's cheeks, but whether it was from blushing embarrassment or panting rage, only he knew at that moment. As Ted felt the tenseness of that moment, he knew that this was another of Brother Olson's tests, and his respect for him took another giant leap. Here he had just announced to Bob that he had subtler tests to try him by, and Bob was too engrossed in reacting to his last statement to realize that this was the test just announced. This also gave Ted a feeling of special rapport with Arthur, as if he had somehow let him in on a little secret which they now shared between them.
"Well, some teacher you turned out to be," Bob retaliated at last, "We didn't know you were a Russellite! We bring a brother new in the Truth to see you and what do you do? You call Rutherford names and resurrect dead scandals of antiquity! I wouldn't be surprised if you nearly stumbled Ted right out of the Truth today! Besides, we know all about that P.S.L, Johnson character from the '75 Yearbook. He thought he was 'Earth's Great High Priest' and wasn't thrown out like you describe. Rutherford offered him and his cohorts positions as Pilgrims which they refused. Then they left of their own accord. So, Ted, don't listen to him, he may be getting senile. Listen to the Society instead."
Bob had been shouting this in excitement and the nurse stuck her head in to see if everything was all right. "It's okay, my dear," Arthur assured her, "the gentleman was in a momentary ecstasy over the Truth."
She smiled and said, "Let's try to keep it down a little, though, shall we?"
When she had gone, Arthur replied to Bob, "First of all, I'm not a Russellite. I'm one of Jehovah's Witnesses, just like you. If you'd let me finish my story before you fall asleep completely, you'd see that. But to answer what you say about Johnson and Rutherford: you are quite right in pointing out that your choice is between believing me and believing the Society. Your decision to believe the Society, furthermore, is the correct one."
"Wait a second," Ted blurted, "you're saying that the Society is lying about Johnson and Rutherford, and yet we should believe the Society instead of you? I don't understand that at all. How can we be in the Truth and believe in a lie?"
"Oh, you do it all the time. Since new light is always being turned on the old Scriptures, something constituting our belief is always changing and in a constant flux. So that what we held as truth on a certain point, say a month ago, is now no longer true. If it is not a truth, what is it?"
"A falsehood," Ted answered.
"And what do we call it when we tell a falsehood?"
"So one month ago you believed a lie and yet were still in the Truth. And, since we can safely assume that the light will continue getting brighter unto the perfect day, we can be sure that we are believing some lies today, and yet we're all in the Truth."
"But you know that what they say about Rutherford and Johnson today is a lie, so how can you believe it?" Ted asked perplexed.
"I can't believe it. I merely assent to it. But you haven't had that same first-hand experience that I had. Therefore, you can believe the Society rather than me, and I want you to; it's for the best."
"Yeah, he can't prove what he's saying so now he's backing down," Bob taunted, unimpressed by Arthur's profundity.
"Ted," Arthur said without batting an eye in Bob's direction, "go over to my bookshelf there and take down the bound volume of Watchtowers for the year 1918 and give it to Brother Morrow."
Ted approached the massive display of learning with reverence. The bound volumes occupied an entire section of the wall-to-wall shelves which stretched from floor to ceiling. He had to stand on a chair to reach the large green volume that was requested.
When Bob received the volume, he paged through it with some interest but no particular motive as Arthur tried to remember something. It only took a moment and he had it. "Please turn to page 30 and tell us what you find there after you've read it. While he's doing that, we'll have a moment's peace to continue," Arthur wheeze-chuckled.
"My whole family and I went over to Johnson's movement -- all with the exception of Pete, that is. He left off organized religion entirely and toured the country giving recitals and lessons."
Richard felt he was being too quiet to demonstrate his genuine interest, so he asked, "What was Johnson's movement like?"
"It followed Russell's writings with gradual and slight elaboration, as one would've expected, rather than the total reversal of what had been taught for over forty years, which Rutherford was engaged in," Arthur replied.
"But I've heard there were splits in the group and everyone left to start their own religion till they all petered out," Richard observed.
"Oh yes, there were splits all right. But they didn't die out. Johnson's Laymen's Home Missionary Movement is still active today with thousands of members, and the Dawnites are much larger with their own radio broadcasts and such. They cooperate together much better than we do with them --"
"Yeah," Richard laughed, "we won't have anything to do with them."
"But they call each other and us the 'Truth People'. What do you think about that, Ted?" Arthur asked.
"It kind of makes me ashamed to think that we call them the 'evil slave class' when they're calling us 'Truth People' together with themselves," Ted replied.
"There was a lot of pettiness, though," Arthur continued, "and even in the LHMM there was too much desire for thinking all alike -- insistence on little points that didn't seem to amount to much. The question whether the 'door' to the heavenly calling was closed or not in 1914 is the major one dividing them from the Dawnites -- as if a person could know something like that!"
"So what eventually made you decide to come back in the Truth?" Ted asked.
"Well, I never left my pursuit of the truth. But what changed my mind and led me back to the Society was mainly their growth in numbers. I could see that Jehovah was blessing them with more and more members. They were preaching and bringing some degree of truth to more people than we could ever hope to; people didn't even know we existed. Our preaching was sporadic and voluntary, you see. The second thing was that Rutherford died and Knorr took his place. Knorr was the better man and returned to some of Russell's teachings, though they were modified almost past recognition."
"Let's see," Richard pondered, studying the ceiling, "Rutherford died in '42, that means you were out of the Truth for 25 years!"
Arthur shook his head, "No, I was never out of the Truth. I had followed my conscience where it led and --"
"What's this supposed to prove?" Bob, looking up in disdain from his assigned reading, asked.
"Well, what's the gist of it?" Arthur asked, making a show of his patience.
"It's a letter from a guy who says that Johnson is now teaching that the Society is Elisha."
"And what does the Society say Johnson said about Elisha?" Arthur asked.
Bob hesitated, "I don't know. What are you getting at?"
"Ted," Arthur resumed the previous style he'd used in requesting the Watchtower volume, "go get the '75 Yearbook on the shelf and hand it to Bob to refresh his memory,"
Ted ran his fingers along the Yearbooks dating from 1926 until he came to the right one and handed it to Bob who grabbed it out of his hand to demonstrate to all his tiring of the whole ordeal.
"Would you be so kind as to turn to page 89 and tell us what you find there?" Arthur asked.
Bob opened to the page and read what was underlined in red. Then summed it up, "It says that P.S.L. Johnson told everyone that he was 'Earth's Great High Priest', like I told you before."
"Yes, what else does it say?" Arthur prompted.
"That he thought himself Russell's successor, 'Contending that the mantle of Pastor Russell had fallen upon him just as Elijah's cloak ("official garment") fell upon Elisha.'"
"Is that true?" Arthur asked.
"Yes, it’s true," Bob affirmed.
"Is that true? " he asked Richard.
"It's in the Yearbook -- yes, it's true."
"Why is the Yearbook true?" Arthur further delved into Richard's reasoning.
"Because the Society published it," Richard replied.
"And what about the 1918 Watchtower, who published it?"
"The Society. But the truth gets brighter. If there's a discrepancy between the old literature and the new, we're supposed to go by the new," Richard responded.
"And you don't see why that rule wouldn't apply in this case?"
"Good. What about you, Ted: Do you believe what the '75 Yearbook says?"
"I don't know."
"C'mon now, don't let me down," Arthur urged, "is it the truth?"
"Why not?" Arthur asked in surprise that seemed exaggerated.
"Because the old Watchtower goes to show that way back then Johnson was saying the Society was Elisha not himself --"
"The Yearbook is lying then?"
"Good. I'm pleased with all of you. Ted, you'll never be an elder at that rate, though. You all stuck to your consciences: you two elder brothers (pun intended) knew enough to trust the Society lest your whole system of truth break down, so your faith reigned supreme above your reason. But Ted, being new in the Truth, hasn't learned that yet, so he relied on his reason."
"But isn't truth reasonable?" Ted asked.
"It is," Arthur replied, "but faith is beyond reason. That's something I can't explain to you -- you'll have to learn it from experience as we have. Since I just said faith is beyond reason, don't ask me to give you a reason why it's so. But I can give you an example from my own life; in fact, that's what I've been doing all this time.
"I came back into the Society in spite of my own knowledge of its wrong-doings, in spite of being repulsed by its sectarian dogmatism and its preaching destruction for all but those within it.
"I see Brother Morrow shaking his head at this. He can't see how anyone could be repulsed by any of the Society's teachings. But let me ask you this, Brother Morrow, when you first saw the picture on pages 208 and 209 of the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, didn't you feel a tinge of repulsion?"
"What's on those pages?" Bob wondered.
Ted, in anticipation of Arthur's request, had already made his way to the shelf and picked out the big pink book. So as soon as Bob had asked the question the book was handed to him. He turned to the said page and found a drawing of people drowning in a flood, crushed by toppling buildings, pelted with a rain of stones, fleeing their burning homes, and falling into a chasm in the earth.
"No, this is Armageddon," Bob replied. "We're not supposed to feel sorry for these people. You must remember that I was brought up on this book. It's a book for children. My late mother used to read this to me and show me the pictures in lieu of a storybook when I was just a kid. So how could it be repulsive to me?"
"Yes, I can understand that," Arthur nodded, "but imagine yourself in my place for a moment. Here I had studied the publications all my life and had read of how everyone was to make it through Armageddon into the Millennium where they'd then be judged during Christ's thousand-year reign as to whether they deserved everlasting life --"
"Is that what the Society used to teach?" Ted asked in astonishment.
"Oh yes," Arthur replied. "You see, it was a very simple matter of realizing that the world couldn't be judged in this old system in which the Devil ruled and had everyone blinded to the Truth. They'd have to make it into the Millennium where Satan was bound and could no longer influence them. Then no one could say 'The Devil made me do it', you see. There they'd all be judged on their own merits after coming to a complete knowledge of the Truth."
"Then what good was it to be in the Truth before the Millennium?" Richard asked.
"A very good question," Arthur smiled in due appreciation, "but it has a very good answer. Those who were gathered together in the Truth before the Millennium were destined to be of the 144,000 Spiritual Israelites who'd rule in heaven with their Lord Jesus Christ over the rest of mankind on the earth.
"Well, now, as I was saying, imagine yourself as having studied under this idea for all of your life: having checked and rechecked the Scriptures daily as to whether this was so; having successfully debated the point with ministers and preached it to all with whom you came in contact; praising the Lord continuously for having provided such a just and merciful plan for all mankind. Having love in your heart for those who reviled you, knowing that God loved them and would have the Truth made manifest to them before judging them; knowing someday that you'd look back and laugh at that day together as brothers praising God in harmony. Imagine associating with brothers and sisters all of your life who believed the same as you did about this wonderful ransom which applied to all men and would see them all into the wonderful Millennium. And then, after you've pictured all this in your mind, imagine that suddenly, almost overnight, these same brothers and sisters decide for no explicable reason to change their mental image of the future to one like that in the book there! Imagine that the same Society from which you learned those marvelous truths suddenly started writing things like you've read in the book The Nations Shall Know That I Am Jehovah – How? which says that everyone who is not a Jehovah's Witness will be killed by God, including little children! Suppose you saw subheadings in that book like 'Where the Smashing of Heads Begins,' which describes in graphic detail the death of all clergy. Or, to add horror to the grotesque, think of coming up to page 191 in that book and reading that we survivors of this dreadful slaughter 'will rejoice at the fiery destruction that proceeded from Jehovah's celestial chariot against hypocritical Christendom and all the rest of Babylon the Great. Surely all of us want to be on the side of those who rejoice when that occurs.' And I ask you in all honesty: wouldn't you feel repulsed?"
"Yes," Ted whispered, turning pale.
"No," Bob pounded his fist on the book for emphasis, "I don't see what your problem is at all, brother. The Bible tells us that all those who aren't with us are against us, and that includes 'little children' as well. And the Bible always pictures the angels and his people as rejoicing at the destruction of God's enemies. We can't afford to get sentimental over those God hates for their evilness."
"I didn't know God hated anyone," Arthur responded. "The Bible tells me God loves all mankind. But what I really want you to do right now while the thought is fresh in your mind, is to open your Bible to Proverbs, chapter 24, verse 7, and read it out loud to us in a clear and determined voice, filled with conviction."
Bob duly turned his Bible's pages and read, "’When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; and when he is caused to stumble, may your heart not be joyful.’"
Arthur paused for the moment needed for Bob to unsuccessfully try to spit out his foot, and continued; "Now perhaps you can see why I left. What's harder to explain is why I came back. I just felt I'd be more useful here, and that it was obvious Jehovah was using this as his preaching organization. As I've said, we did believe that this was the Society's mission as Elisha, so there was no difficulty there.
I just felt I belonged in the more active place so as to serve Jehovah better. So, about a year after Rutherford died -- 1943, I came back.
Johnson's headquarters was in Pennsylvania all those years, and so was I. But now I moved to New York and applied for Bethel service. By 1945 I had proven myself sufficiently for them to accept me. In a short time I was in charge of answering questions that came into the office via letters. I did this until 1970 when I left and came here, wanting to savor the field ministry once more before my death (for field opportunities are limited to weekends at Bethel). But my health soon began to fail so that by 1973 I had to come here to this nursing home and wait to die."
"That sounds so pathetic," Ted lamented, feeling dizzy from having journeyed though so many years so quickly.
"But it's not at all," Arthur reassured, "I'm looking forward to death -- have been for many, many years. You see, when I die, I’ll join all my old friends in Jehovah's presence. And I can't even begin to comprehend the joy that will be!"
For the next few minutes, even Bob remained silent as Arthur contemplated heaven. This was sacred ground, which no man dared break. At last Arthur came down to earth and said, "Well, now that I've satisfied Ted with my life story, I can turn my attention to you would-be elders. The congregation has been kind enough to allow me some connection with the selection and training of elders so that I won't feel completely useless. But I really have no say-so, I can only tell them what I think -- they needn't take it into consideration no matter what they tell you. But from what I see so far, I'd have to say that if they recommend you," at this he pointed a bony finger at Bob, "I’ll write a letter myself to the Society asking them to delay your appointment until after I die. And I carry some weight at the Society, having been at Bethel 25 years the last time. I don't know how anyone could ever consider you as an elder! What a mockery you'd make of the whole institution!"
"Well it's a good thing that wiser men than you have to decide it," Bob concluded.
Arthur began addressing Richard and paid no further attention to Bob. "I want you to know that I've always respected and tried to emulate my father's method of discovering a person's talent and elaborating on it. This is what I've done with the prospective elders sent to me, and this has been my real usefulness in these matters. I helped Dave Nelson, for instance, learn how to shepherd the congregation: to be on the constant lookout for any trouble and nip it in the bud. I knew this would be his best asset since he seemed so stern. A strange man though. He almost never smiles and that's not good. You know, I taught Dale Garvias not to swear. He picked up the habit in childhood and just couldn't rid himself of it. At the time it presented a real obstacle to his becoming an elder."
"I've got a roommate who's sort of my Bible Study," Ted couldn't lie to Arthur, hence the 'sort of', "and he has that problem with swearing a lot. How do you break someone of that?"
"Well, I got to thinking about it: why does a person like Brother Garvias swear? It isn't because he wants to be vulgar or shock anyone -- and swearing doesn't shock anyone these days. It's simply out of habit, rarely out of real anger. Dale was a very personable fellow, very down-to-earth, he could talk to anybody on the street and they'd take an immediate liking to him because he was so natural and unaffected. But if he'd drop something on his foot, there he'd go with a 'damn', or if he talked about the weather, there he'd go with 'it's a hell of a day'. These were the milder terms he used, you must realize. So I told him, ‘look: what do these words you use mean? Why do you use them? Isn't it just to have something to say, that people expect you to swear when you drop something on your toe, or they'll think 'boy, he's so dumb he doesn't say anything when he hurts himself -- I wonder if he really feels it?' In short, it was an attempt to be natural that went too far. So I developed what I call my 'Balaam method' to end swearing. You remember the story of Balaam from the Bible. Why don't you tell it to us, Richard, you've been awfully quiet today."
"Okay. Balak was at war with the Israelites, as I remember it, and he hired Balaam, a Jewish prophet, to curse Israel for him so that he'd win the war. But whenever Balaam opened his mouth to curse, he ended up blessing instead. So I imagine your method involved somehow the substituting of the latter for the former."
"Exactly," Arthur admitted, "and it was simplicity itself. It was clearly easier to ask him to substitute a blessing word for a cursing word than to try to make him say nothing in those instances that caused him to swear. Since he had to admit that the words he was using didn't have any real meaning, I simply asked him to either say another inoffensive nonsense word or a pleasant word in its place.
"Did it work?" Ted asked.
"You bet it did --"
"You're not supposed to bet," Bob reminded him with great satisfaction.
"In no time at all," Arthur continued, ignoring Bob, "he was saying, or rather yelling at first, 'How terribly unpleasant!' when something went wrong. This sounded so funny that he'd start laughing and forget about whatever it was that went wrong. Later he reverted to smiling and saying sarcastically that something was 'very pleasant' or 'wonderful' when, of course it was anything but."
"All right, so you taught him not to cuss. What are you going to teach us? To be Russellites?" Bob demanded.
Arthur continued unabated, "From what I've heard and know about you, Richard, I would say your talent lies in refutation and debate. It seems to me that there are an awful lot of ministers in this territory of ours and everyone in our congregation is secretly afraid of them because they don't know how to handle them. When you're not running into them out in field service, some new study of yours will invite one over to debate with you so he can choose between you. That happens a lot and we've lost a few studies over it when we needn't have. So I would like you to come visit me four more times, whenever you'd like, before we send your names into the Society. Sundays are best because these will be marathon sessions. And I will teach you how to debate with a minister. Most of them are good men and will accept the Truth if you can convince them of it."
"I've already studied the booklet The Word--Who Is He According To John," Bob stated, "that should be able to handle any minister. All they ever want to talk about is the Trinity anyway. And if they ever get around to the soul or hell, well, even Ted here could handle them on those topics."
"You think you really know enough to disprove the Trinity to a minister who has spent years in a seminary, do you?" Arthur asked.
"I certainly do. All you need is the Truth," Bob asserted.
"Suppose you come across a Trinitarian argument not in 'The Word' booklet. What would you do then?"
"Reason it out."
"Turn to Genesis 18 and read the first three verses," Arthur instructed. "While you're looking that up, let me remind you that Trinitarians don't claim that they can prove their doctrine by any one Scripture (such as we can to disprove it) but that they need to take the Bible as a whole. So at most I can attempt to show one individual aspect of the Trinity by any one Scripture."
Bob found the verses and started reading, "’Afterward Jehovah appeared to him among the big trees of Mamre, while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent about the heat of the day. When he raised his eyes, then he looked and these three men were standing some distance from him. When he caught sight of them he began running to meet them from the entrance of the tent and proceeded to bow down to the earth. Then he said: 'Jehovah, if now, I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass by your servant.'’"
"Thank you. Do you see what significance this has for a Trinitarian? To think that Jehovah appeared to Abraham as exactly three men is strong circumstantial evidence that Jehovah is three persons. And when you take that Scripture as part of a larger mass of Scriptures and reasoning that they use, it takes on an almost undeniably Trinitarian aspect. But it's a relatively simple one to refute. So let's hear you refute it, Bob."
"Well, first of all we know this wasn't Jehovah appearing to him, because Jesus says no one has ever seen God at any time. So it's three angels representing Jehovah."
"Then why does Abraham and the narration call these three men ‘Jehovah’?" Arthur persisted.
"I suppose it was the custom then to call a representative of someone by their master's name," Bob replied.
"You 'suppose'. But do you think this is enough to convince a minister? When he looks at you and slightly smiles at your explanation and then looks at your Bible study with raised eyebrows, that will be enough to convince him that you don't know what you're talking about. Then he'll read the Scripture again, pausing and explaining how well the Trinitarian doctrine fits the plain facts till there'll be not a doubt left in your study's mind."
"How's he gonna pause and explain the Trinity in this passage?"
"Easily. 'Look, friend,' he'll say, 'let's be reasonable and read what the Bible says rather than what we want it to say.' Then he'll emphasize 'Jehovah appeared to him,' then he'll read it again emphasizing the word 'appeared' this time, saying, 'You'll notice who it says "appeared" there: it says "Jehovah," doesn't it. Now if I appear somewhere does it mean that I send someone else and they appear there? No, it means I appear there. So when the Word of Truth says Jehovah appeared, we have no choice but to believe that it was Jehovah himself that appeared. Now how did he appear? As "three men." Why should Jehovah appear to mortal eyes as three men? Why not four, or six, or a hundred and thirteen? Could it be that Jehovah is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Well, all we can say is that it fits the facts here and elsewhere. We note too that it isn't correct to think that one of these men is Jehovah, because Abraham refers to them collectively as Jehovah and refers to Jehovah's "hearts" plural, not singular, showing that he believed Jehovah to be all three persons.' That's how he'll do it. And what will you say then?"
"I don't know," Bob said with disgust and fatigue.
"So you'd just give up and let him steal away your study, huh? A fine fighter for the Truth you turned out to be! What about you, Richard?"
"Oh, I'd think of something. It seems I work best under pressure. If an actual minister was threatening my study like that, the words would come to me. The main thing is to get him to stop talking long enough to put your own view across."
"But what would be the first thing you'd do, assuming now that he's stopped and the floor is all yours?"
"Well, I think Bob had the right tack: show how we know this wasn't actually Jehovah but angelic representatives, since Jesus said no one has seen God."
"That doesn't present as big a problem for them as you'd think it would, because they believe Jesus was God when he said that, and people were looking at him. So according to them, and in order to maintain their doctrine, they'd say that no one has seen God in all his glory. Men can only see material things, so God appeared as a man in Jesus and as three men to Abraham. But God is actually a spirit, so no man can see Him."
"So what's the right answer?" Ted asked.
"There isn't always a 'right' answer," Arthur replied, "But to refute this point of view about the three 'men' one merely has to turn to Hebrews 13:2 and ask the minister what it is referring to."
Ted found it first and read, "’Do not forget hospitality, for through it some, unknown to themselves, entertained angels.’"
Arthur concluded, "If he's honest, he'll admit that he's been taught (and taught correctly too, I might add) that this refers to Abraham’s entertaining the three 'men' in Genesis 18. So, trusting to the writer of Hebrews, they must've been angels, and since God isn't an angel, Abraham called them 'Jehovah' only as representatives of Jehovah."
"But this was far too easy," Arthur sighed, "and still you were stumped, Brother Morrow. So don't think you know everything there is to know to deal with a minister. The next time you come, after you've prepared yourself by studying everything you can on the Trinity, we'll see how well you do on the whole Trinitarian system. To give Richard the added incentive of an "actual situation" I will play the part of a minister attempting to prove the Trinity. It will fall largely to Richard to disprove what I say, and to you, Bob, to prove that God is ‘One’. Ted will be our page-turner, if he'll be so kind."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Ted said eagerly.
As they got up to leave, Arthur smiled at Bob and said, "Listen, brother, you must forgive my testing of you today and forget the harsh words -- they were a test too. This congregation is dear to my heart and I am willing to make myself an unlikable old grouch in order to protect it. You'll have four more chances to prove yourself to me, and I’ll have four more opportunities to apologize for judging you like this. But no matter what happens, we are friends and feel brotherly love towards one another."
"Yes," Bob agreed as he regained his composure, which he seemed to have lost the moment he entered the elderly man's presence. "I never felt otherwise. Only, 'tell me not in mournful numbers/ that truth is full of lies/ for the soul is dead that slumbers/ and fails to greet Truth's new sunrise.’"
"Ah, a poet," Arthur said to himself when they'd gone, "so I find your talent at last!"
"You two didn't seem to hit it off too well," Richard chuckled as he drove Bob home.
"It's just that he got on my nerves for some reason -- all that talk about Rutherford, I guess. He died before I was born, so what do I care what he was like? The Truth's still the truth."
"But it was so interesting," Ted exclaimed, "I could've listened to him for hours."
"You did," Bob commented dryly.
After dropping Bob off, Richard and Ted were free to talk of the strange tension between Bob and Arthur. Unfortunately, they could come to no conclusions about it, and so passed on to other matters.
"Remind me I want to come in and ask Vonnie about washing clothes," Ted said. "I've got a big pile up there now, and I want to see when she does her laundry so we're not fighting over the machine."
Richard groaned, "Didn't she tell you? She broke the machine last time she used it. She always overloads it. I've told her time and again not to, but that's a woman for you. Don't ever get married, not in this old system anyway. Do like Brother Olson."
"Well, I’ll just come in and see how everybody's doing then," Ted suggested, "You said they didn't feel well. And I can explain to Vonnie where you've been all day. Remember, we wanted to get home early!"
They pulled up to the curb and got out. "You'd better not come in," Richard decided, "she hates to be seen when she's not feeling well or if she hasn't spent at least an hour and a half in the bathroom fixing herself up."
"All right," Ted acquiesced, grabbing the handrail to go upstairs as Richard fitted his key into his door.
"Ted!" Vonnie called from inside, "Richard, is Ted with you? I've got something to tell him."
He started back down the stairs and found Richard standing inside the apartment holding the door open just enough so that he blocked the view into the room.
"Yes, I'm here," Ted called, trying to see around Richard and smiling at what he thought was some sort of joke or game of his.
"You wanna let me by so I can talk to Ted?" Vonnie asked irritably.
"Tell me and I’ll tell him," Richard replied.
"Ted," Vonnie yelled, "Your mother called and wants you to call her back. You can use our phone."
At this Richard stepped back into the hallway and pulled the door shut behind him. "Did you hear the message?" he asked. Ted nodded.
"I don't want you coming down and using our phone, though. Not that I object to your doing it, but then Paul does it all the time. He's always running down here and using the phone. I feel like I'm living in a phone booth. Besides, I don't even want you down here with Vonnie when I'm not home. So here's --" he fished around in his pocket and pulled out a handful of change, "here's a quarter. You can use the phone booth that's just a block and a half away."
The doorknob slipped from his backward grasp and flung open.
Vonnie emerged, saying: "Don't send him out on the street to make a call when we've got a perfectly good phone he can use right here. That's not a very Christian attitude."
"What happened to your eye?" Ted asked with great concern. She had a black eye that was swollen shut.
"I – he --"
"Never mind!" Richard shouted. And then, with resignation, he ushered them into the living room, "C'mon in then. She hurt her eye that’s all. Let's not hear anymore about it; it's too depressing. There's the phone."
Ted sat down on the sofa in wonder as Richard went into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Vonnie sat on the far end of the sofa and said, "Well, call your mother, then."
He did. She wanted to see him, 'preferably tomorrow'. He agreed since he needed to get the laundry done anyway.
As he hung up the phone Vonnie said, "Well, what are you going to do about it, brother?"
"What you see. I can't do anything, I have to be a submissive wife and I’ll always be such no matter what. But you're a brother, you can complain when you see something wrong," She was nervous and kept biting her fingernails. Ted was in a quandary and didn't know what to say.
Sherri burst out of Jeannie's bedroom and reported to her, "Hey Vonnie, I just heard Jeannie and Joey swearing."
"Jeannie and Joey!" Vonnie called. They arrived dragging their feet, terrified at what was to come.
"Richard!" she called, "it's the kids again!"
He emerged from the bedroom with an intense frown, "What happened this time?"
"Jeannie dared Joey to say the 'f-' word and Joey did it," Sherri reported.
"Is that true?" Richard demanded of Joey who nodded, already sobbing.
"Joey, go get my belt." Joey obeyed and walked into the kitchen where the special leather belt was kept these days in order to be as conspicuous as possible during mealtimes. Ted got up without a word and walked out. He heard the snapping sound and the wails of pain as he ascended the stairs.
Later that night, as Bobby and Joey climbed into their beds, Bobby told Ted, "They never said a word to Jeannie, and she was the cause of it all. She said it too. Do you think that's fair?"
"No, I don't think it's fair. But I can understand it. And I really wish I couldn't, because then it would be easier to do what I think I should do."
"What do you mean?" Bobby asked.
"Jeannie is their own child, the one they had together, plus she's the youngest, so she's bound to be spoiled. I don't know -- it doesn't make sense exactly, but it's something like that."
"Aren't you gonna tell someone?" Joey wailed, lying on his stomach.
"No. Richard brought me into the Truth and I know he's a good brother. He'll be an elder soon, and he can see how to run his family better than I can. I'm still half a kid myself, that's why I'm confused and sympathetic towards you guys. But I know he must be right and you'll thank him for training you upright… someday."
That's when Ted lost all their trust.