Large Conversations


(system) #1

Adventism and I have had a rough year.

The church where my wife and I have our membership went through that well-worn and painful experience of losing a pastor, experiencing conflict with the conference, and dwindling.

I saw some of the best minds at my workplace almost destroyed by madness. Not their own, but the diffuse irrationality of the powers that behind the thrones of Adventism. I’ve witnessed the destabilization that can come to an institution when money and not mission dominates administrative messaging. I was baptized by water into Adventism at an academy; now working at a church institution seemed, at times, like a re-baptism — by fire.

In the past, when global Adventism has seemed hopeless, I’ve found spiritual refuge in the local. These days I find myself looking beyond my congregation and employer. It’s good to be part of a community with perspectival options.

This year I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked by students in my office: “Why or how do you remain Adventist?” I say it’s actually because I have values that I hold higher than Adventism — Justice, Truth, Beauty. And then I say that Adventism is not an end in itself, but an historical means to a transcendent human experience. We joke around that I’m kind of weird in that I actually like thinking about religion and enjoy reflecting on the slings and arrows of our outrageous and fortunate community. I try to show them that spirituality is more than this with quotes from Mary Oliver or paintings by Rothko.

I acknowledge the utter subjectivity of what I am saying, but then, I try to make a larger point: that Adventism is larger than me. I note that it has more members than 75% of countries — more than Greece, Chile or Chad — and that it pours around the globe and pools in places that experts cite as the future centers of our increasingly globalized world. I point out that early Adventists promoted the progressive doctrine of a non-literal hell and thus contributed to bettering Christianity. I say that current Adventism may appear outdated and doctrinal, but also offers hope, education, and healthcare to millions. And then I say it’s the religio-spiritual culture and language I was born into and I find our metaphors employable for communicating those transcendent ideals that make our world more free, fair, and fun. And then shrugging my shoulders, I say, maybe, if some of us stick it out, pool our resources, think well and be kind, perhaps we can get rid of the bad and grow the good in our faith family. Maybe bettering Adventism will impact the world.

And then I mention Spectrum. And I say that there has been a small remnant in Adventism having conversations like we’re having right now. I explain our almost 45-year record of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

This week I put my money where my mouth is.

It may have been a rough year for me, but I was sustained by being part of this community. The reporting by Larry Geraty from South Africa buoyed me. I received renewed perspectives on Adventism from Charles Scriven and Helen Pearson writing from the WWI conference in Germany, and I even appreciated my own context better thanks to Alisa Williams and Tompaul Wheeler. Particularly encouraging for me, I’ve had several students send over their own first articles to be published as well.

As a member of the board I’m devoting myself this next year to thinking anew about how we create community through conversation, especially globally. We’re almost to our goal of a quarter of a million dollars as we strengthen this conversation for good. I appreciate that Spectrum has broadened perspectives for almost half a century — reporting both the smooth and rough times. Let’s keep this conversation growing.

Image: Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6035