Growing Up Adventist: My Culture, My People

(system) #1

What am I? (culturally, I mean). I was born in Canada, and spent my childhood in upstate New York before moving to Memphis, Tennessee to spend my boyhood in the south. My family is ethnically Haitian but I didn’t grow up around other Haitians and thus lost my mother tongue as well as a potential identity.

Our identities are so integral to us. They show us that I am me and not you while you are you and not me. I search for this culture in my family, in the overall expanse that is Black America, in the national claim of being an American, in the small floating groups of people known as third culture kids or general second generation immigrants. What am I?

There is no culture that I feel warmer and safer in, no culture that I feel more at home in than among the Adventists — a people seemingly made up of solely doctors, nurses, preachers, and teachers. Born into their arms, I learned to love potlucks, keep the Sabbath holy, care for my body, keep a level eye, walk softly in the sanctuary, and go on God’s errands. And go on God’s errands I did — or at least I tried. In my Kindergarten Sabbath School class I was told to invite friends to church. I tried, I really did, but all of my friends were already Adventists. Besides, I was afraid that after Sabbath School and children’s story they would feel just like I felt every week: irredeemably bored. Sitting next to my mother, reading my Primary Treasure, drawing in the bulletin. . . So, I didn’t invite anyone to church.

My Adventist family did all they could to raise me in the fear of the Lord. We had family worship every morning and evening, opened the Sabbath on time and closed it promptly, as well. I’ll leave you to guess which one I enjoyed more, especially considering that my blank TV stared at me on Friday nights when the newest plot-twisting episode of Avatar was to air in 10 minutes. Imagine which I thought of more fondly when I twisted and turned in my seat as my parents told me to sit down when I didn’t want to sit down but I must because I was offending the angels in the room and what was the point of all of this because we would have to wake up tomorrow only to rush through breakfast and showers so that we could be crammed in shirts and ties that choked and pants that gave wedgies before running into the car and oh no I forgot my Bible oh how did you forget your Bible now buckle your seatbelt I SAID BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELT is everyone good stop crying, I tell you what. . . every SABBATH we go through this, okay go, GO to your class I better not hear anything bad about you from your teacher.

This was my life for years as I grew up in Adventist schools and Adventist churches with my father the Adventist doctor and my mother the Adventist nurse.

We travelled around a lot for a multitude of reasons but if we should ever find ourselves in a hotel on a Friday night, my dad would pull out a phonebook from a drawer and look for a local Adventist church. And we always found one. Sabbath school classes waxed and waned with interesting subjects but after a certain age they seemed little more than playpens for kids and teenagers. I would sit very still, quietly and to myself while exasperated adults tried to grab our attention with patronizing prizes and songs. It was either that or painful silence when a teacher would ask us questions that honestly, anyone could have answered if they had even glanced at their weekly lesson. After a while I stopped going to classes for my age group and would sneak into adult classes. At least their topics were more interesting.

This was my life for years as I grew up in angry families with divorcing, fighting parents that defied the songs that I had been taught (“With Jesus in the family, happy, happy home”). Songs can only carry us so far. After that comes the silence. The same painful silence and awkward from my childhood Sabbath School classes followed me into adult classes. So I spent time with my friends on Saturday mornings. Wouldn’t you? Sabbath School teachers would forget to show up, or if they did, we were filled with such ennui that I didn’t even notice them.

But thank God for summer camp. Camp was Adventist and free. Each summer we could swim, canoe, fire arrows, play with snakes, and worship with fun songs. Every night we worshiped, we “moved” (read danced) clapped, and shouted out praise. Our counselors asked us questions about our lives, they joked with us, and prayed with us every night. We stilled our hearts for prayer and opened our hands for friendships. That’s what it was: friendship. That’s what made camp different than home. Or maybe the genuine concern for how we were experiencing God, and what we would be taking away from these moments. It was in such a place that church was worth going to. It was in such a place that I wanted to be baptized. It was in such a place that the LORD God fell upon me for the first time and I felt his Spirit surround me, pick me up and hug me. If I had felt God any more strongly, I would have stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” It was in such a place that I realized: there’s something here. There’s something to this Adventism.

This is growing up Adventist: a search for progressive truth, looking to Jewish habits, Catholic ideas, and Protestant lives. Struggling, crying, rejoicing, and realizing God. This is me. I am Adventist.

C.E. Péan is a senior at Pacific Union College where he studies English and Journalism. He is the Op-Ed Editor of the campus newspaper, The Campus Chronicle.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Frankmer7) #2

Thank you for sharing your experience in such a genuine and transparent manner. it would be a beautiful thing if we could transport your camp experience into the life of the everyday, every week church…where friendship and real connection would matter more than forms and rituals that sound and feel empty to so many. God being experienced with skin on!



(Sherlock1) #3

“This was my life for years as I grew up in angry families with divorcing, fighting parents…” You lost me with this switch. All of the writing above this didn’t reference to this behavior, so what are you really saying with your story?

(Harlen I Miller) #4

I would like to suggest that you felt the welcoming warmth of the Holy Spirit as you opened yourself up to
Christ-ianity. Your background is similar, in many respects (I’m way past college age) to mine, but I experienced in that last decade or so, that same welcoming embrace into Christ-ianity, and realized that ‘that’ and Adventism were not the same, and should not be confused. Making that distinction has made a big, huge, difference in my life.

(Sirje) #5

I am a retired SDA school teacher. One summer a man showed up at the youth tent at camp meeting, wearing camo and boots. He spoke from the heart and kids responded. On closing night they lined the driveway into the campground, lighting it with the candles they held, singing the theme song they had sung all week. Many were crying with emotion, and all felt the warmth this man had brought with him - and was taking away as he left. The next day they packed their gear and headed home - back to their home churches where where old men nodded in sleep and the elders shushed their laughter; and the criticisms began to make the rounds - too much emotion - and camo - really ?

It actually seemed cruel to give these kids such a high - so much emotion - so much warmth only to douse them with cold realty when it was over. Some who were baptized soon skipped church again, everything went back to how it was.

The next summer the speaker in the youth tent wore a suit and tie and spoke of the dangers of drums and syncopated rhythms.

(George Tichy) #6

Going backwards is a persistent tendency in our Church. Look what is happening since 2010!

(jeremy) #7

this is such an engaging story…pean really has a way with words - so much of what he writes, i recall in growing up…to a child, the do’s and don’t’s in adventism can seem so arbitrary…even the concept of giving one’s heart to god, whatever that means, can seem something undesirable…yet many do make the transition from the do’s and don’t’s to a lifetime walk with an invisible god…it’s great to see that pean has made that transition…

(Rohan Charlton) #8

I’m glad to say that,in my own way,I have too.

(k_Lutz) #9

Continuing the discussion from Growing Up Adventist: My Culture, My People:

This comment brought several questions to my mind whose answers speak about our relationship to the Adventist AND Christian communities.

  1. Were you born Adventist? That is, the family into which you were born practicing a recognisable form of Adventism. I.e. ‘keeping the Sabbath’, anticipating the eminent 2nd advent of Christ, recognising the prophetic gift of EGW, distinguishing themselves from ‘the world’.

  2. Were you baptised into Adventism as a minor? That is, too young to fully recognise and fully appreciate the ramifications of following Christ. I.e. under the influence and control of one’s parents, unknowledgeable of Sin - being disconnected from and contrary to God, comprehension of what ‘life in Christ’ really looks like.

  3. Did you rebel against the constraints of Adventism as a teenager/young adult? That is, deliberate actions to distinguish oneself from Adventism. I.e. blatant smoking, drug use, promiscuity, etc., refusal to attend Adventist schools, denial of the basic premises of Adventism (see q.1.), misfit - gay in a homophobic community.

  4. Did you ‘drift away’ from Adventism as a young adult? That is, casually re-aligning one’s worldview and subsequent activities with the prevailing cultural milieu. I.e. exposure to other belief systems, participation in entertainment, attendance at secular higher education and/or the military, persuasion of a significant other.

  5. Did you have an ‘adult’ conversion to the Gospel? That is, a continuing commitment to submit to the will of God in directing your life. I.e. admittance of sinfulness > obvious inability to overcome by one’s own willpower > petitioning God to intercede > recognising God’s sovereignty, grace and Spirit in one’s life > ambition to do all ‘to the glory of God’.

  6. Did your conversion to being a child of God result in a re-/commitment to Adventism? That is, full support of and participation in the SDA denominational beliefs, practices and mission.

It seems the ultimate question is:
How does one make the transition from the do’s and don’t’s to a lifetime walk with an invisible god?

I do not believe that this question can be answered universally, that we each, coming from individual heritage and experience, have a unique path. But I do believe that when we compare our stories we will find patterns within them that may be effective in communicating the love that God has for each of us to those who have yet to recognise it.

I will go first in answering the 6 questions, though without explanation until questioned by those who have answered them.

  1. yes
  2. yes
  3. yes
  4. yes
  5. yes
  6. no

Trust God.

(Steve Mga) #10

Being Religious, and having Religiosity, keeping the Rules, can lull us into the sense that we are OK. This attitude is passed on through generations grandparents to children and then to grand children. Lulled into thinking that Rules is the same as loving God. Not keeping Rules is accepted as God NOT loving me.

We have a difficult journey understanding Relationship over Rules, Relationship over Membership because we are not taught that by our genetic family, nor by our Spiritual Family. We know we are Not Perfect, but Perfection [what ever that is, because no one tells us] is pounded into our thoughts by well meaning Pastors, S.S. Teachers, Evangelists, Pathfinder Leaders, school Teachers, at Camp worships.
We develop anxiety when reality sets in that we will never be perfect. That interferes with wondering if we are keeping enough Rules, are there some we Do Not know about. And it is easy to end up disliking God because every one else is having a happy time, and I’m not.
Most local church cultures do not address Relationship. We are a Law Abiding group and IF you want to be a part of our group, YOU had better be Law Abiding also.

(Steve Mga) #11

An issue I see here is :— Have the parents been forgiven for their behavior of false expectations of who THEY were. They were both Professionals – Doctor, Nurse. They assumed that they should have perfect children. If the children were NOT perfect at ALL times it was a reflection on them as both parents and College Educated persons who should be the perfect husband and wife, the perfect parents with the perfect kids.
C.E. felt the brunt of this high anxiety all his growing up years. He is still angry about it. And rightfully so, as kids are immature, easily side tracked in thought, known for being forgetful, being easily roudy and noisy in a group of other males. Know boredom when they feel it and respond with body movements.
He has not discussed these issues with his parents and been released emotionally from all the trauma of growing up. These issues can put road blocks into his Spiritual Formation, his Relationship with God.
Perhaps the parents feel guilty, looking back, but unable to know how to initiate conversation this direction, and so they are stuck with their memories. But dont know how to find emotional release.
We have ALL done these thing to our children. Both parents and children have trauma from living together with each other. Neither knows how to converse about the issues and bring emotional release and healing.

And so we end up with a dysfunctional local church body. Everyone hurting in some way, but unable to converse about their issues, or pushed them down so far, they are completely buried, but like Zombies, still scratching to come up.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #12

it is possible to get out of Adventism institutionally . it is also possible to grow in Grace outside of Adventism. it is difficult to get Adventism out of ones heart or mind. its postulates are so near yet so far from the Gospel of Grace, it is painful to be not so innocent a bystander. What hurts so much is to see such lovely people caught up in so much nonsense. To put ones faith in Apocalyptic rather than the Gospel is astounding. Tom Z

(Lamar Phillips) #13

As a pastor, educator and longtime ADRA employee, having lived in 8 countries (now retired), and therefore having worked almost exclusively with young people–hundreds and hundreds–and as a young person growing up Adventist, I never experienced boredom at any level of the church or perceived it (except in very few instances) in the lives of those numerous young people we encountered. Of course, I realize it can happen, but it is pleasing to know that the author of the article did find spiritual solace at last. The home environment is extremely important in seeting the viewpoint and sights of children and youth.

(Marc) #14

Interesting article and unfortunately deeply saddening. But congratulations on your broad outlook.
I was a Seventh-day Adventist for just over thirty years and a church worker for 13 of those years. I taught in the Sabbath School for twenty-eight of those years. I deeply respect the work of SDA doctors as I lived alongside a number of them on the mission field and noticed their dedication and hard work.
However I have found far, far greater warmth and a great deal more meaning as a Roman Catholic since the time I left the SDA church - far more meaning than I could ever have gained from my thirty odd years in the SDA church. I sense there will be many others who could express the same sentiments.
What I love most of all is the absolute sacredness in which Christ is held and which is expressed so beautifully in the eucharistic service. I would say the Christology of the Catholic church has far more depth than that found in the SDA church. Simply wonderful. SDA’s could learn so much regarding the sanctity of worship among Catholics - I cannot not hesitate to write that one of the things which eventually led me away from the SDA form of worship is the often superficial approach to worshiping Christ in song and word in the Sabbath service. Often a service does not ‘hang together’ as we find in the eucharistic service - and once again I must mention the lack of sanctity.

(Marc) #15

Yes, it is rather strange. I must admit it was a sudden switch ‘journalistically’!