Growing Up Adventist: Community on the Borders


(system) #1

When I was about seven years old, Denver South SDA church updated their lower level flooring. The faded orange carpet dated back to when my dad was in Primary and stains had begun to evoke images of sickness rather than sunlight. Those in charge elected to use a purple speckled pattern as a replacement and it was installed throughout the basement. A dark purple border ran along the walls from the fellowship hall to the Pathfinders trophy case.

I spent hours with my friends hopping across the width of the hallway, landing on the narrow purple borders. We called our game Hot Lava Monster, leaping across the pale, speckled "lava" and avoiding the tag of whichever unlucky friend was stuck as the monster. The hallway connected the Sabbath School classrooms from Cradle Roll to Earliteens. Behind those windowed doors, I learned the traditional spiritual lessons and doctrines of the Adventist church, but it was upon the purple threshold to those rooms that I partook in the unconventional communion of our play. It was the laughter and even the injuries during our games that characterized my spiritual experience as a child.

Although I no longer consider myself an Adventist, the contrast between hallway games and classroom studies does not symbolize a rejection of my Biblical lessons. It would be easy to categorize the feelings that accompanied those two distinct spaces as separate and opposed. For example, the classrooms were the containers for sanctity whereas the hallway was grounds for secular activity. That would, however, be inaccurate. Through prayer, offering, song and discussion in Sabbath School, I was exposed to the beautiful tradition of the Adventist religion, yet I also look back on our childhood games as an example of what is spiritual about Adventism as a culture. Playing in the hallway was an extension of the classroom. We didn't recite verses as we ran, but our friendships were sacred because we shared a common heritage.

For years, I played with a nearly unvarying group of kids. We made up a large family of unrelated brothers and sisters who grew up together just as our parents and our grandparents before us. Our company was familiar and intimate, formed upon the history of connectivity among our ancestors. When my friends moved away, I could get over it with relatively few tears since we would probably be reunited at an Adventist university or an Adventist hospital job later in life. When new kids moved to Denver South SDA, we were quick to form bonds over our common diet and beliefs.

I cannot return to the innocence of youth and the homogeneity of culture that made those times possible, but I want to go to that speckled carpet to pay respects to my past. I long to lead a pilgrimage to the purple border, taking the loves of my life by the hand and introducing them to the central thoroughfare of my religious upbringing. When they inspect the carpet and smell the still air of the basement, they will surely be able to detect the parts in me that were formed by hours of Hot Lava Monster. I want to pack my adult community into the hall, so the proximity of the walls and low ceiling will bring my experiences closer to their own. I would funnel the sounds of the pipe organ upstairs into their ears, and they could imagine what it was like to be listening as little Lexi. They would know me better as they came to understand my religious context. My personal genesis story begins at Denver South, setting the stage for everything that has followed.

We are endowed with the desire to go home. Adventists are well acquainted with the unifying hope of returning home to Christ, but we also seek the divine promise of a place to belong in our daily lives. We fulfill this longing by returning to our hometowns to raise our families and finding metaphorical homes in the safety of love. These both echo of the ultimate return home. I feel a deep personal nostalgia for the neighborhood pool where I grew up and the disc swing at my grandparents' house in Minnesota. My experiences there are indicative of my roots. In the same way, I long to return to Denver South SDA as the physical representation of my spiritual heritage.

My nostalgic desire to go back to Denver South, however, is even more acute than the yearning for the pool or the swing. In returning to the pool or the swing, I would merely wish to recreate my childhood experiences. I would wish to be reminded of what it felt to twirl on the swing with legs too short to reach the ground or rush down a waterslide with a body too weak and small to remain in an upright, seated position. Memories of playing together with friends in the basement halls of my home church, however, are especially poignant for me in part because I wish that formative experience could have altered the experiences that came later and inform my experiences to come.

As I matured, graduating from Earliteens into Youth, I no longer felt included among my peers who had played with me years before. This was partly due to the fact that I did not attend the local Adventist school, so I was not included on the inside jokes or classroom anecdotes shared during Sabbath School. This dissimilarity in experience caused us to grow apart, but ironically the largest detriment to my sense of community was the very sense of connection that made our childhood friend group so familiar. The connection of culture and religion we all shared made our play easy, but as we grew up the safety we felt with one another facilitated distance. When we were dedicated into the church as babies, we were inducted into a network of families and interwoven histories. I grew up knowing the basic circumstances of my friend's lives. I knew who they were, where they lived, where their parents worked and were educated, and that seemed like enough. We all believed that we knew each other so well, and that sense of safety never challenged us to seek intimacy. We all assumed we had already found vulnerable connection, not realizing that there is a difference between knowing about someone's context and understanding who they are.

I revere the structure of Adventism because it gathers people into a group and knits them tightly together. I grew up with a taste of what it meant to be a church family, and my experience of the deficiencies of that structure has only made me crave church community more. I aspire to lead a Christian church, emulating the connection I felt as I leapt across the carpet playing Hot Lava Monster. I want to go back to that game, feeling the fear and excitement of jumping and running, and challenge myself to be scared, excited and open with the friends playing along with me. We grew cautious over the following years, ceasing to play when our feet wouldn’t fit on the border and never asking or telling one another too much. I admire and continue to be inspired by the sense of connection within Adventism, but I needed more. Although my religious beliefs aren’t wholly Adventist, I will always count Adventism as my cultural heritage.

- Alexandra Wick is currently a senior at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. She studies philosophy, music, and the history of math and science through the Great Books program. With her twin sister, she honors her Adventist roots by leading the Vegan & Vegetarian Club on campus. On her nights off, she enjoys an occasional steak cooked medium rare.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6168