Perspective: The Wise Men from the East

During my first week serving as a teacher at Good Hope College near Cape Town a certain General Conference Vice President whisked onto campus. Staff and students were corralled into the hall and assured that they were doing a great job and within 20 minutes the gentleman was back in his car leaving a storm of dust in his wake. The Union Education Director was also on campus that day, to whom I suggested that such visits were a waste of time. "Oh Brother Pilmoor, men from the General Conference are very perceptive" he said. "I understand" said I. Eight years later at a parallel institution we received a GC AAA accreditation visit that lasted 10 days, after which we were invited to submit to the wisdom of the investigators findings. To our horror, through 90 minutes, absolutely nothing was to his liking. I recall concluding that those who visit for longer must somehow, be 'less perceptive'.

The episode still haunts me. Will people be encouraged as a consequence of my travel, or will they be relieved at my departure? After all, people remember not what we say, but how we make them feel.

The Drs. Valentine happened to visit our office in England last Friday. "Hey Gil, I was just listening to your Glendale speech last night," said I. "Oh dear" said they, "We didn't realise that Spectrum would broadcast," with a tinge a trepidation while reflecting on the consequence of speaking truth to power.

Together we spent an hour sharing our perceptions of the San Antonio General Conference Session. Not least among these was the cloud that concentrates the influence of ecclesiastical power on the one hand, and the paranoia of people who fear expressing themselves following the fiasco of public voting.

What have we come to? How do people get this kind of influence? How do we end up with people feeling insecure about the acceptance of their calling? How does a church that professes to be non-combatant, affirms religious liberty, freedom of speech and conscience get to be so riven with fear?

Let me offer an alternate context:

On the first Friday evening of the 2015 General Conference Session, I spotted a lonely bent old man shuffling his way through the Alamodome to the Southern Africa section. I recognised him as one of my boyhood heroes. Duane Brennaman was a 27 year old missionary when I first met him in 1961. He was Director at Liumba Hill Mission in Barotseland—Zambia's Western Province along the banks of the Zambesi. He even had to strap his Land Rover to a barge to get 500 miles into obscurity. Next day, I met Ted Gilbert, Ron and Sharon Follett who together with Duane & Phyllis were our neighbours at Rusangu. All of these people were missionaries who simply did their job, no task beneath them, no glory, no vanity, no titles. These were people in circumstance with much to be feared, yet they exuded courage, fortitude and determination. For them abolishing poverty and ignorance through education was their motive. They taught Agriculture, Commerce, Industrial & Domestic Arts, not to speak of inventiveness and self-sufficiency. They also taught the Gospel, with humour and humanity. Phyllis and Sharon contributed to the musical tradition of those parts with some class. These were for me, real Seventh-day Adventists—committed and fearless, with no trace of 'hocus pocus', their official credential: Missionary.

Not for them the goal-hanging semantics of Advent corporatism, not for them the faux-celebrity of church broadcasts, not for them the fear of secret apocalyptic signals from Rome, Jerusalem or Washington DC, not for them the cap-doffing smarminess of hierarchical elitism.

So what would do we say to the 'men from the east'?

I would remind them that those with real mission mindedness are people who value hope more than fear. Indeed I would point out that power induced fear causes poverty of body, mind and spirit.

I would remind them that those who really crave God's kingdom, are not impressed by Dollar grubbing fantasists who are obsessed with the independence of their own ministry.

I would remind them that unity is no longer achievable through the control of official channels. It is achieved through openness, transparency, candidness and the confession of failure.

I would remind them them that 'the want of the world, is for men and women who will stand for the right though the heavens fall, people who are true to duty, like the needle to the pole'. They will not be silenced or cowed by populist resolutions. Language can be massaged but the mountains will not move.

I would remind them that there are veterans who survived one wave of last-day perfectionist bullying, who are not about to be intimidated by the next.

I would remind them, that 'if you want to make God laugh, show him your plans'. No doubt he is amused by our strategic machinations.

I would remind them that being a courageous missionary was good for Paul and Silas, and it's good enough for me.

Victor Pilmoor is the Treasurer of the British Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists who served as a delegate at the 60th General Conference Session in San Antonio, Texas.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7013
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What wisdom! Thank you.

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Thank you, Victor! Excellent, and an abundance of wisdom!

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The Wise Men from the East, may their “tribe” increase and come to our church from all directions! Brilliant and inspirational, hopeful, and realistic, your essay/article struck a responsive chord in me. Thank you for this beautiful message which puts everything in proper context. The Eleanor Rigby’s of our mission the John and Janes who go about doing the hands on work day to day, they are the real heroes for me as well. These are the people who really know how to love others. These are the people who will never write a book, get their name in lights, or wait for fame and public praise. They are the real people who are honest missionaries. Perhaps this is the people James Kavanaugh wrote about in his poem:

“To love is not to possess,
To own or imprison,
Nor to lose one’s self in another.
Love is to join and separate,
To walk alone and together,
To find a laughing freedom
That lonely isolation does not permit.
It is finally to be able
To be who we really are
No longer clinging in childish dependency
Nor docilely living separate lives in silence,
It is to be perfectly one’s self
And perfectly joined in permanent commitment
To another–and to one’s inner self.
Love only endures when it moves like waves,
Receding and returning gently or passionately,
Or moving lovingly like the tide
In the moon’s own predictable harmony,
Because finally, despite a child’s scars
Or an adult’s deepest wounds,
They are openly free to be
Who they really are–and always secretly were,
In the very core of their being
Where true and lasting love can alone abide.”
― James Kavanaugh, Poetry of James Kavanagh

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A wise, perceptive lament, Seems like a second great Disappointment. 45 million dollars to consolidate power. I think Advebtist colleges are going to get a Weimar whipping. St George can turn out to be a Dragon. Tom Z

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Great writing and inspiring words for those who don’t need to be told what to think via finely parsed and crafted words.

Oh we better say “global” instead of “world-wide” flood or we might leave room for those liberals to create apostasy.

Do we not have someone starving somewhere that ADRA could assist that we could talk about.

And I had thought we were becoming less insular and less prone to naval gazing but I guess our earthly captain has turned the ship around.

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I have been following the trajectory of TW. my comments are about with a 5 year approval where is he headed now. I am merely suggesting what Dire Consequences may bring. I had followed the father for 11 years and the son for 7. I see the vindictive potential in TW’s agenda. There are Gospel dedicated Leaders within Adventism, far too few in the power chain. Even the host of this site are concerned, if I understand their essays. If I didn’t care, I would be long gone… I have had close ties with prior leaders. Of substance. Their theology has been bypassed to the sorry state of today. Tom Z

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The big issue may well be how to bridge the disconnect between the corporate church and the local church. Within Adventism their is a huge sense of camaraderie between lay people regionally, and I have also sensed this between administrators, on a worldwide scale. Think of the local campmeeting, versus the worldwide campmeeting. Both are great places to catch up with people not seen in decades, and to make new friendships with like minded people.

But while the local people may be engaged in hands on ministry, as are local missionaries, the perception often is that the organisation is not supporting the effort. This may not be a fair perception. It is difficult for an administrator to be everywhere, supporting every initiative. It really needs ground zero ownership.

The frustration arises when the locals realise that they are constrained from engaging fully in mission, because there is something above them holding them back. It may be knowing that a lot of money is going to conference which could be better used locally. It may be a regional outreach program that is dictated from on high. It may be the perceptions of discrimination that make locals reluctant to invite people to engage with church. Whatever it may be, if the cause appears to be external to the local church, the the blame will be shifted to the “organisation”. Even though most administrators may in fact be on the side of the local.

Congregationalism has a lot to be said for it. Locals are then fully responsible for their own achievements, and can only look to themselves for their failures.

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How nice to see Duane Brenneman again. Some 40 years ago he flew us in the mission plane to see some of the work in his area, when we were going on furlough from Singapore. We have all aged since then!

I must say that your thoughts resonate with me. Though my husband and I have been closely involved with the work of the church, I sometimes feel that it is no longer the church I knew in my earlier life.

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Are we putting TOO much emphasis on
"Come, Lord Jesus"
And not enough emphasis on
"Occupy till I come"

Are we doing enough Discernment Activities from the Local, Conference, Union for devising meaningful ways to embrace the World for God. To bring the Kingdom of God here on Earth, as the Prayer of Christ has been?
Is the emphasis of our Religion too much Other Worldly. Too much on the Escaping of this world. Not enough on making Satan’s captives into God’s captives.

Sharon and Ron live in Dunlap, TN. They were and are still a great team there, even though Ron is now retired. I enjoyed being associated with them as a church member.

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What, pray tell, does the author mean by “perceptive,” in the first paragraph. I just don’t get it. What is the meaning of “men from the east”? And what does “goal-hanging semantics of Advent corporatism” signify? What does the author mean by “cap-doffing smarminess of hierarchical elitism”?

Given that I choose not to hide behind a pseudonym, my choice of words is deliberately euphemistic, if not a little playful.

I do not have the luxury of denigrating people publically. However, speaking to the motives that encompass us all might be helpful. I think I am on the same page as Bill Knott whose recent editorial calls on readers to marginalise those whose antics have been aggressive.

The reflection is a follow on, as stated, to the LA Forum meeting in which Dr Geraty speaking on the west coast of America, referred to the powers that be as ‘the men from the east’. (The other speakers were Dr Gil Valentine and Dr Kendra Haliovak-Valentine.)

The contrast in simple, is between those courageous people who have given their lives in service to dispel the dark fears of people in distant lands, with those ministries who exploit and compound the fears of the fearful, also those whose corporate power play contributes to a climate of fear.

The rest I leave to your creative imagination.

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OK, I get that! I didn’t at first because I wasn’t at the meeting referenced. Your last paragraph sums it very well. And I quite agree. Don

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I recognize that Schools need to be Accredited by an accrediting body. Either State or Private [as in church related].
What is the implication if our Universities were accredited by ONLY the Regional Accrediting Bodies for Universities and Colleges?
And used the AAA as ONLY Consulting? But no controlling powers?
How would that effect differences in how the Universities are given latitude in teaching, student enrollment, reviews in the Review? Contributions to operating expenses?

It has been a while since we heard about Atlantic Union College.
Their college program begins this month.
BA Degree in Theology/Religion
BS Health Sciences/Biology
3 Certificate Programs [non-higher education]
Certified Nursing Assistant
Culinary Arts
English as 2nd Language.

Costs:
Community $11,500
Dorm. $18,000 to 23,000 per yr.

I did notice the LONG LIST of employment opportunities that apparently had NOT been filled. Some would seem somewhat critical.
Either that, or they are not keeping their Web Master up to date on what is going on.

No listing of Faculty or Heads of Departments.

Steve, if AUC can rise from the ashes it would be a complete and utter miracle. The biggest question will be: from whence shall they gather students with their track record- especially if there is no accreditation yet? Then the next question will be how students will be paying their tuition if not eligible for student grants or loans? More questions than answers so far.

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That’s probably an understatement. I have not yet heard anyone outside the AUC bubble express confidence that this attempt will be successful. The problems that led to its demise took many years to bear fruit. Relaunching it will be impossible, unless, as you said, a miracle occurs. Parents are reluctant to send their kids there, and who can blame them, with all the uncertainties that exist. I know many who have just headed south, way south, to SAU.

God has obviously blessed you and I pray he will multiply blessing of you more and more. May your message be heard everywhere.

Victor, if for no other reason … just for the sake of your English your contributions always are worth reading, especially for a non-native English speaker. The sheer beauty and creativity of phrases like: “a tinge of trepidation” (talk about alliterations), “cap-doffing smarminess of hierarchical elitism” (reminding me of very British graduation tradtions), “Dollar grubbing fantasists who are obsessed with the independence of their own ministry” (no comment, really), right down to “last-day perfectionist bullying” (you are getting more obvious…) - - - priceless. And en passant (pardon my French) - without bitterness, yet clear for those who want to be perceptive beyond a 20 minute visit, you offer a message … even though you are not hiding behind a pseudonym and don’t have the luxury of denigrating people publicly… Respect, Victor; and thank you.

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Hi Andreas

Thanks for the generosity of your response.

I don’t know whether you have come across Manfred Kets de Vries’s work 'Reflections on the Character of Leadership. He is from the Netherlands, our shared neighbour.

He writes at length on the role of the court jester in speaking truth to power. I am not sure whether this is one of God’s gifts or a developed survival mechanism.

Regardless, we are in a situation where for the sake of harmony and face saving, people are not held to account for the consequence of their ministry. Ordination seems to have endowed people with the right to bellicosity, belligerence and fear mongering among others to which we are too polite and political to respond. Just 48hrs ago I was talking to members who told me about Pastors from a certain part of the world, but in our country, casting spells on their members. I still have to establish the veracity of their assertion.

While we can reflect on the ridiculousness of our situation, the controversy between good and evil is today being played out in the migration of people in the Mediteranean, the barbarism of IS and our response to them, child abuse among the powerful, crooked Bankers, just to recognise today’s headlines. Frankly, we don’t need kooks from California or Maryland concocting hypothetical scare scenarios. This no time for ‘who stole the cookie from the cookie jar’ morality’. It is time to put the kooks back into their jar.

In reflecting on this in office worship during the week I refer to Psalm 27… ‘the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom then shall I be afraid’.

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