Adventism and Ambulance Chasing

(Spectrumbot) #1

I grew up in fully saturated Adventist environments, with parents working within Adventist healthcare, first in Skodsborg, Denmark, later in Battle Creek, Michigan. I stayed to a 100% true course of Adventist schooling through Andrews University, which in the late sixties we affectionately called “Anxious University”.

Being young, curious, and infected by just a bit of 60’s rebellion, I was always attracted by the excitement of being where the action was, where there was a bit of controversy, and sometimes contributing to it. Rich Hannon and I edited an illegal underground student newspaper, “The Silent Majority” while at Andrews, typing the new editions while (appropriately paranoid) hiding out in the campus steam tunnels, until one day school security caught us.

The Dean of Students invited us in for a heart-to-heart talk. But when he saw the moderate tone of our latest edition, which never hit the streets, he just remarked that it was too bad that it didn’t get published. He also regretted that they hadn’t caught the publishers of the more brash “The Underdog’s Fire Hydrant” (I won’t reveal the editor). Nevertheless, President Richard Hammill decided to suspend both of us from the student senate.

Several teachers at Andrews were also then part of the “edge” of Adventism. Roy Branson, Don McAdams and Ron Numbers were perceived, in my naive and conservative Adventist eyes, to be part of the marginal “Adventist fringe”, which I to some extent was fascinated by, while remaining remarkably conservative.

Fast forwarding to 2015 and looking in my rear view mirror, I see a young kid who was looking for excitement. I see myself following the smoke to see if there was fire. I was an ambulance chaser. At the 1970 General Conference in Atlantic City, I found myself with a group of college kids in a hotel room being interviewed by Richard Ostling, Religion Editor of Time magazine. This was big time, this was exciting. I don’t remember what specifically we talked about except some controversy in the church.

Having more or less faithfully read Spectrum through the years, I decided to look at why I read it. I also looked at what subjects generated a lot of feedback and who regularly commented. Not surprisingly the articles that elicited the most comments were the controversial ones. Both from the right and the left. Both sides loved the controversy, both sides – dare I conjecture – were ambulance chasers. Sermons and Sabbath school lesson guides posted weekly drew little attention. Apparently I had plenty of company.

Now lest I offend the editors and writers of spectrum who always try to take the intellectual high ground, I nevertheless will walk straight into a minefield by offering the following conjecture: Spectrum for me was a place where I could vent my dissatisfaction with the frailties of the church and hide behind the wise writings of learned men. I could intellectualize being part of a church, which as the years went on seemed more and more out of touch with a faithful, honest reading of the Bible. As the process of “liberalization” of my own viewpoints progressed, the dissonance with church doctrines, its viewpoints on “sinful” society and, worst of all, its elevated, arrogant view of itself, became harder to swallow. But misery loves company and I could vicariously participate in the on-line debate and empathize with this or that viewpoint, while at the same time enjoy the ambulance chasing and the occasional censorship of the Spectrum moderators.

Along the way a long process proceeded in parallel. My wife got me (partially) straightened out. She saw my obsession with the controversy, the excitement of breaking news. But she lived a Christian life that instead was focused on family, friends, and helping. Taking care of each other, “feeding my sheep”. She knew the church was dysfunctional in many respects but didn’t let that get in the way of her fellowship and caring involvement. She also knew that I was dysfunctional in some respects, but didn’t let that get in the way (too much J) of our relationship. She knew that the church’s stance on women’s ordination was crazy but she didn’t let that block her relationships with fellow church members. She focused on that which was really important but generates little controversy and very few blog comments. She lived for others and helped others.

I lived more for myself, and for ambulance chasing until a little over a year ago. Then our lives were changed forever as she was diagnosed with a very aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. Suddenly things got a different perspective. This was a battle of life and death. This was a battle to maintain dignity, courage and faith against terrible odds. This was a battle for me to learn to focus my time on her needs and her endless, useless treatments that ended on Christmas day last year.

To the end her first thoughts were for others: for family and friends, our children and grandchildren, and taking care of each other. Then I saw more than ever before the observation of Christ in the gospels “by their fruit shall ye know them”. Doctrine and associated controversy was for the Pharisees.

Through that last difficult year we were held up by angels, who came just at the time we needed them. And they weren’t the angels of a Harry Anderson caricature. They were the people we met from all walks of life, churched or unchurched. People who reached out, showed care and compassion, who held our hands and lifted us up. People whose arms were extensions of God’s.

I saw the utter irrelevance of theology and doctrine. I saw how it separated people instead of bringing them together. At the same time I saw how the pain and fear of cancer brought people together, without prejudice or guilt, reaching across cultural, class, and religious chasms to help and support each other. I saw how we instantly bonded with perfect strangers in the same situation as us. I also saw well-meaning church members hide their emotions and empathy behind classic Adventist jargon, while many non-believers openly, and with deep-felt passion, would share their innermost thoughts and feelings. I saw the hypocrisy of viewing the world as Adventists and non-Adventists, a distinction which pains me to this day. I saw God bring us great blessings through all the people we met on our journey. They were all His angels. The lessons of that sad year were painful, yet incredibly valuable. But what a price.

Some lessons are harder to learn than others. Perhaps that is why Jesus had to repeat himself three times to Peter: “Feed my sheep”. Declaring his love to the Master was not enough, he had to live it out in practice.

Hans Thomsen has worked in the electronics industry all of his life both in the U.S. and Denmark.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

I am reading a very difficult book entitled "The Transforming Vision by Inter Varsity Press. it focuses on the Christian World View. Your Angels had that vision or view. I finds it in abundance in a senior center. Why must we grow old or sick to find a world of Grace? thank you for your story. Tom Z

(Allen Shepherd) #3

A bit more critical than I might be, and I bet your wife was kinder to the Adventists that ministered to her. Your wife was a product of Adventism as much as you are. There is love in places one might not expect.

And the doctrines are completely relevant, as hope and love are bound up in them.

Death is a great leveler, and facing it means finding out what is really important. Jesus said as much when he mentioned how the world sank into insignificance when compared with loosing your soul. I remember the day i realized I was not immortal. I was 50. It was a sobering realization. I have since contemplate it often and rejoice that there is hope of eternal life in Jesus, again one of those pesky doctrines.

I am deeply sorry for your loss. My wife was away for some months recently, and I realized the loneliness of our little home without her. It was an empty shell of a place with no attraction whatsoever, though containing the accumulated treasure of a lifetime. My heart goes out to you. God bless you.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

I encountered Dr. Don McAdams twice: The first time he gave a report of his research on the origins of the book Great Controversy. The second time we were on a panel discussing Christian higher education. I followed his career. He made a great impact upon public education in Texas. Tom Z

(Kim Green) #5

This is the challenge of the Christian life…to live it out as Christ has done so lovingly and faithfully. There is utter irrelevance in theology and doctrine especially when it comes to times of intense pain and change. Your vision was cleared and you saw those who had the “arms of God” and those who did not and at these times that we see where the Fruits are manifested. Yes, we have the privilege of being His angels here on this earth.

Thank-you for sharing your meaningful story…it matters and it inspires.

(k_Lutz) #6

Actually, Allen, the Christian’s hope and love is bound up in God through their salvation in Christ. It may be true that various teachings may point the unconverted to these precious truths and the opportunity to experience them through sublimation to God, but merely knowing about them tends to greater angst.

Trust the Process.

(George Tichy) #7

This is a very true and relevant statement. It’s sad that our Church keeps focusing increasingly more and more and more on theology. Even augmenting our creed, first 27, now 28, son-to-be 29, and so on. Theology, theology, theology.

(Allen Shepherd) #8

I don’t have greater angst. I get hope and know God’s love better. The Sabbath is a gift each week that NO ONE can take from me, even if I am thrown in prison. It comes to me each week, regardless of where I am. Not only that, I don’t have to go on some long pilgrimage to find some holy place: God comes to me in holy time each week. So what is angst producing about that?

(Peter Marks) #9

I hear what you are saying and I believe I can sense your pain, even just a little. This is probably like the experience of more than a few who read this. Yet there are some like me who frequent this blog hoping to sense a maturing and deepening faith cogently expressed, but who rarely find it that way. So the best I can hope to do is to is to share a few of what may be some of my better thoughts, and hopefully compelling reasons for faith.

Oh, yes there are plenty of reasons to doubt the sanity and balance of some Adventist leaders and to believe in the frailties of fellow believers, mine included. And if you will believe me for one moment, I have had opportunity to see more warts and all than most. But there is no reason at all to doubt the faith in God delivered to me by faithful parents and teachers before being nourished by my own study and reflection under the Spirit’s guidance. And as I stand on the theological shoulders of saints and martyrs, of pioneers and fellow contemporaries God gives me the precious opportunity to be edified and to edify others with words of faith, not doubt.

(Elmer Cupino) #10

Was it easy to transition from medicine to ministry? No more emergency surgeries to pull you off church. While in active practice, did you feel compromised between your patients and God?

(Thomas J Zwemer) #11

In a dental specialty practice, I had very few emergencies. yet everyone to my recall was on a Friday evening after I had bathed, put on my PJ’s and began final preparation of a S S class. Tom Z

(Steve Mga) #12

When I was in the Navy in Guam I had a part-time job at the SDA Mission Clinic.
When I was on my day shift weeks (7 to 3 pm), I would take the military bus up to
the top of the hill and get off by the clinic where I would work from 4:30 to 12:30,
Sleep there, and take the bus back down in the morning in time to change clothes,
eat a bite, and work for the Navy.
Most of the clients were children under 5 to infants. they would be sick all day but
would not be brought in. At bedtime they would be fussy, not let the parents sleep,
so the parents would bring them in. Most would be some type of “cold” virus. I had
only a few sick adults that ever came in to be seen.

(George Tichy) #13

In my case, so far, nobody went berserk on a weekend yet… It seems that they take a break on the weekends (except on Spectrum… lol) … @elmer_cupino

(Warren Ruf) #14

I appreciated this essay because Mr. Thomsen has revealed, primarily through the loss of his wife–though I suspect his maturity is a factor, that religion has a higher purpose than being the object of intellectual debate, and many topics we consider compelling, even those on this blog, are trivial, “tempests in a teapot,” compared in the larger context of life and death. Thomsen’s recent journey through the valley of death has given him a perception similar to Ecclesiastes where all is vanity. But I do think he is being too hard on himself. While he now confesses that his motives for being a radical youth and a debate junky as an adult were simply to sustain an emotional excitement, he is discounting legitimate motives for advocating fairness, justice, accountability and intellectual honesty. While it is nostalgic to say, “I wish I had been more like my wife,” would he have been less true to himself?

(Elmer Cupino) #15

I still take weekend calls but have taken the position the Jews believe such as, “Between helping man and God, who needs our help most? Man. Because we do not know what kind of help God wants.” I read that somewhere but can’t remember the source. So no guilt involved there. :smile:

Do you know how lucky you are? Count your blessings, mi amigo.


(Elmer Cupino) #16

This is so common in my line of work, I tell my patients, "You know more now than before. Had you known it before, yet persisted, then you take the consequence, otherwise, no need to be “hard on” yourself.

I believe his motives of “being a radical youth and a debate junky” was a rite of passage. I don’t believe he was “less true to himself” as his present “fruit” bears the evidence.

What do you have to say George? @GeorgeTichy

(George Tichy) #17

I know, I know. It’s been good so far.
But I do my homework as well. I tell my patients, “Hey, if you decide to go ‘bananas’ do it on a week day. If you do it on a weekend I will bring my two monkeys (Chimp & Zee) with me and they will take care of you!”

No calls yet so far. :slight_smile: .

(Richard Ludders) #18

Three monkeys would be better (Chimp, PAN & Zee).

(Thomas J Zwemer) #19

Stories of three Friday night emergency calls.

  1. in part time General practice, I extracted a maxillary bicuspid from a young married woman at about 7:30 in the evening. I gave the usual post operative instructions, including my phone number. At 2:30 A.M. I got a call from the husband. my wife is still bleeding. I suggested he bring he to the office, he said,she is too weak. I got dressed, went to the office and picked up the required instruments, medications etc and drove to the home. I was led into the bedroom. the wife was propped up un bed with a robe. I greeted her and had her to open her mouth. I removed a cotton roll that had an 1/8 inch spot of blood. I asked how long has this cotton roll been in place, she responded ever since my husband called. I said lady you must become hysterical at least once a month. I reassured both than this was completely truly normal and the loss of blood was totally within normal limits. Now please, both of you get as much rest as you can until morning. there will be no charge.

  2. At about 8:30 on summer Friday night I got a call from the mother of one of my orthodontic patients. She said, my son ran into a barbed wire fence while on a Boy Scout outing. his mouth is all cut up and his braces are loose. this was a true emergency. once cleaned up and the appliances replaced, he was a bit sore. he told the story he was running doun a hill in a pasture and was ahead of all the others, he turned around to laugh and then back just in time to hit the fence.

  3. The third story, a mother called and said the braces have cause my son’s mouth to be full of sores. he needs relief right now. I saw the boy, had him open his mouth. I turned to the mother and said, congratulations, in the morning your son will have a full blown case of the measles. I gave the boy a goodly supply of sioft wax to put over the brackets etc. The mother called in the morning and said, you were right doc. Tom Z

(Thomas J Zwemer) #20

the word doctrine means a teaching. theology is a teaching about God. Adventism and much of Christianity concoct a doctrine about the Godhead that is. Diabolical, much like the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. in Adventism case it is the judgement, the judgement, the judgement. If I have a Have a Priest who was tested in all points such as I yet without sin, and yet He paid my debt in full none the less. I would be glad for the judgment. Tom Z