Remembering Not Only Great Disappointment, But Also Great Failure

I had a dream last night, a dream of General Conference Sessions past and future. I stood in the center of a stadium, packed with people, all captivated by the music and stagecraft in front of them. I looked around and felt a sadness that kept growing inside of me until it was overwhelming.

Desperate to leave, I looked around and found a staircase, which thanks to the baffling geography of dreams, sat directly in the middle of the arena. Hoping that I could find some kind of exit, I began climbing. As I walked upwards, I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone on the staircase. The higher I climbed, the more crowded it became with other people. As I struggled to move higher, I began to realize that these were the people the church had shoved to its margins. Banned from entering the space below, they packed this staircase, which spiraled up as far as I could see.

When I couldn’t go any further, I sat down, far above the lights and sound of a meticulously stage-crafted show. I looked around and realized that I had joined those who had been thrown out into “outer darkness.” I also realized that those who were weeping and gnashing their teeth weren’t weeping for themselves, but for the thousands below who sat still, fixated by the tiny men on a now tiny stage.

I loved growing up Adventist. The church taught me the beauty of sacred space as week after week, we created holy moments on Sabbath. Through that single day I was taught the value of resistance, of community, of rejecting systemic inequity.

Moments of communion and foot-washing taught me the value of ritual that not only looked back towards past sacrifice, but also sat firmly in the present, offering a radical challenge to live a life of mercy, justice-seeking, and embracing all.

Through our history, one to which my family is so intimately connected, a history that gave the gift of literacy to my formerly-enslaved ancestors, I learned the value of facing my mistakes. Our foremothers and forefathers did not let their missteps stop them from emerging out of the heartbreak of the Great Disappointment and forging a path forward. But, as a wise friend once said to me, “If we were truly honest, we would call it the Great Failure and not the Great Disappointment.”

Someplace along the way, we turned away from facing our mistakes. We faced our disappointment but forgot to truly face our failure, a failure any solid biblical scholar could have seen coming miles away. Somewhere along the journey, we stopped being the church that proudly counted radicals like Sojourner Truth and Angelina Grimke Weld among its friends and members.

Growing up Adventist broke my heart. The church taught me about isolationism, about arrogance, and about fear of the other through the walls we built around Sabbath. I grew up watching those around me guard their beliefs with an intense paranoia and obsession.

The often-hollow rituals of communion and foot washing taught me hypocrisy and the casual cruelty of those in power who believe that they are right and smile through an act meant to remind us of service, while they wage war on those they see as dangerous.

Our history, given to me as present and vibrant truth, was stripped of its Victorian and Edwardian contexts, and offered as the guide to a holy path. Instead of bringing me life, it left me wrestling with shame and fear far longer than I would like to admit.

So I find myself on this staircase, desperate to escape the celebration of systemic violence below. You told us to come out of her and we have. And in leaving, we have come to the painful realization that you were our Babylon. We are escaping your embrace of systemic violence, of patriarchy, of homophobia, of isolationist fear. We are escaping into the unknown, the margins, and mystery.

As a filmmaker, I now work with friends to create rituals deeply rooted in sacred space, resistance, and listening to the voices of those never heard. These concepts are gifts from the Adventist church and gifts for which I will always be grateful. I look around and see others also taking the beauty they gained from their Adventist roots and crafting them into new, beautiful things.

Many of us will not return. The church has become anathema to our deepest values, values that you gave us, inadvertently or not. We are the foremothers and high priestesses of something that we have no yet fully begun to grasp. Join us. Leave your safe spaces, your shiny stadiums and pageantry. Leave the comfort of the stage and climb your way into the outer darkness, because it is here, in this darkness, that God waits for you.

H. Leslie Foster II is an award-winning, LA-based filmmaker and a co-founder of Traveling Muse Pictures, a nonprofit film collective and a founding member of the Nomad Solstice art collective. He serves as the current Artist-in-Residence at the Level Ground film festival and is the social media guru/resident "Mr." for Ms. In the Biz, a company that creates community and wisdom-sharing among women in the film industry.

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Great article, intriguing symbolism.

I would suggest that the spiral staircase is a subconscious construction of an SDA Tower of Babel. MEN ascend the MAN-made, unbiblical ‘Tower of Ordination’.

God bless you on your Spiritual journey Leslie. Get as far away from events like the Alamodome GC as you can.


I came away with a different sense of the meaning of the staircase. In the dream (which Leslie told me was an actual dream he had), the staircase was not only populated by the discarded and the outcasts, but it was also a way by which they gained critical distance from the proceedings down below–“the thousands below who sat still, fixated by the tiny men on a now tiny stage,” and “the celebration of systemic violence below.” It was a way to escape the patriarchy and homophobia characterizing the goings on–a way to come out of Babylon.

Intriguing symbolism, indeed!


It sounds more to me like a vision that Ellen White had that has been distorted to fit an agenda. When will Spectrum ever post a story that has something positive to say about the church instead of those that always seem to tear it down?


I must say, I do agree with all the points the article brings out. It is very much on point in my opinion.Thank you.


Thank-you Leslie for joining us on Jacob’s Ladder! It has been there all along. Perhaps you did not notice that it does not touch the ground, though very nearly so as to make that leap of faith akin to Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!”

And truly the sad part is that that movement which began in response to Miller’s false prophecy still distracts and obscures Jesus Christ and his salvation in favor of self-righteousness by which the Tower of Confusion is built to extol and celebrate the accusers of the brethren.

Praise God for your vision! Praise God for revealing His Spirit!

Trust BEing!


Happy Anniversary to everyone!
Today is October 22.
The Anniversary of the beginning of the Seventh day Adventist Denomination.
Or, content to just be a Denomination?
I am told by a number of Sunday Keepers that we have been in the Fourth Great Awakening for several years now.
The SDA Denomination came out of the Second. [1800- to about 1830]
The SDA Denomination missed the Third.[1890-1920]
The Fourth Great Awakening. [1960 to 1980] a powerful backlash from 1975 to 1995. Then the Fourth Great Awakening revived 1995 and continuing to today.
The Question again is, IS the SDA Denomination going to take part in The Fourth Great Awakening? Or does God have to continue to depend on Sunday Keepers to do it all?

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Intriguing symbolism does not obscure the heartrending conclusion: are you really leaving? If those who are pushed to the margin depart, is there any hope left for repentance and reformation on the floor below?


The temple built in Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity was beautiful indeed. But inside were white washed sepulchres that denied the Christ among them.

For positive stories, the Review publishes nothing but good news; all the while never addressing or noting the problems such as these. Choose if you only hear praise and the official news will invariably by very praiseworthy.


Well, they’ve been doing it all for 2,000 years. Are they second class Christians that God is tolerating till SDA’s do it all?


It’s even worse than that. This author is encouraging us to leave the church, a church he falsely describes as Babylon, as well as being guilty of “systemic violence, of patriarchy, of homophobia, of isolationist fear.” Does Spectrum have no interest in defending the pillars of our faith? It wants us to be civil to each other, but attacks on the church are just fine, no matter how inaccurate they are. “Fair and Balanced” certainly does not describe the philosophy here.


Thank you for sharing such a personal experience! Perhaps it is only those of us who have taken that leap that can see things for what they really are and even more so in retrospect. No matter the pain of the past the vision truly is upward and onward as we keep our eyes on Him and follow where He leads!


We get disappointed when things fail to live up to our expectations. We don’t go to Hawaii to bask in the rain, and we don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new car so we can have mechanical problems. We tend to attach expectation to almost everything in life and this means there is a distinct possibility that we could end up being disappointed.

There are a number of adjustments we can make to reduce our feelings disappointed without sacrificing enthusiasm. Here are three:

1. Accept wider parameters. When our expectations fall within parameters that are too narrow then there is a higher likelihood that we will end up disappointed. For example, if you go to Hawaii during the winter accept the fact that you will probably have some rainy days. Plan some non beach activities around those days and you’ll be covered. On the other hand, if having a good time requires that everyday be between 78-83 degrees with cloudless skies, that’s just asking to be disappointed. So loosening up on your expectations a bit reduces the chance of being disappointed.

2. Live in the moment. Viewing your life as an adventure allows you to enjoy the greatest variety of experiences. You still have the expectation of adventure, but you haven’t hemmed it into a preconceived package. Instead, you have left yourself open to just about anything that comes along and your enthusiasm remains high. Life is always a experience, cherish that and you’ll enjoy the ride.

3. Value learning and following the example of Jesus. There are valuable lessons in every experience we have. Psalm 37:5 “Commit thy way…” How do you feel about life lessons from the life of Jesus. Truth be told, some of the most profound learning comes from situations that didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Much of the time we get what we need rather than what we want. If learning and growing is a top priority for us, we will find reasons to appreciate a wide range outcomes and experiences. What would Jesus do in my place?

In the long run, it’s mostly up to us to decide what value we place on any experience. If we are looking for reasons to feel disappointed, that’s what we are going to find. Learning to love the journey is the best defense against the dark cloud of disappointment.


What you had was a vision, not a dream- and it was based in all that you have been raised in and experienced in the Adventist church and culture. The beauty of the symbology is breathtaking and few will see it for what it is and the truth that is contained in it. One of the saddest things that I can say about the Adventist church is that it has never treated its creatives and mystics with the respect and appreciation that they have deserved. Thank-you, Leslie, for sharing this with us and may God bless you and guide you in your spiritual journey with Him.


With one exception only - EGW!
Yes I agree with you on that. Not that they should be followed (EGW’s veneration is a bad example) but they should only be respected and listened to. Sadly, the spiritual gifts in SDA Church are only theoretically accepted.


A great piece. We have to remind ourselves that no people group is going to be “perfect” and meet our expectations. Actually disappointment many times is going to be the normal.
The Corinthian church was not “perfect”, actually a lot of imperfections.
What made it a treasure to be a part of was — God was there.
So with us, we have to work around the imperfect people in our grouping. Perhaps even be an unofficial member of another people group on a part-time basis.
The #2 is most important. Be Adventurous.Be willing to say YES more times than NO. Even if not sure about doing something offered, do it anyway. Maintain a Volunteer attitude.


Oral Roberts benediction at the close of his TV sermons was always: “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world” taken from 1 John 4:4 kjv. Oral Roberts implication is that the believer has implanted the :Holy Spirit: in a Gnostic sense.

In the Greek the preposition "en: has many meaning—It can mean inside of, between, among, to or at. The ultimate meaning must be implied by the context. Since the context of the preceding verse is in the plural it very well could mean "among: or :between, as well as :“inside of”. However, that is not the primary thrust of the theology of 1 John 4:4. Probably the best modern version of the verse is found in the New English Bible----“he who inspires you is greater than he who inspires the godless world.”

The work and mission of the Holy Spirit is to declare Christ. Thus, the truly Spirit filled Christian" will speak of Christ’s birth, life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, installation, and soon to return. Thus Christianity is the proclamation of the finished work of Jesus the Christ. Christ said: “Ye are my witnesses.”

To place the emphasis upon what happens in man confuses a good effect with the best cause. It puts a good fruit in place of the best root. Such a change is even the more treacherous because of its subtlety.

Christianity is not a religion of re-enactment but of retelling. Martin Luther speaks of two kinds of righteousness–an alien righteousness whereby we stand just before God and a second righteousness he call proper righteousness that John Bunyan called consequential righteousness. The apostle John wrote–"Every man that hath is hope in him purifieth himself, even as he [Christ] is pure 1 John 3:3 kjv

Thus the order of salvation is clear–Jesus Christ is the first cause, our response is affirming His saving Grace. and coming Kingdom of is only through the Spirit of God which inspires us and causes us to believe, trust, and to declare His Righteousness, not our own.
Therefore, the primary Good News of the Gospel is not subjective i.e., in man but objective in Christ. Any attempt to alter that order is said by John to be the spirit of the world and the spirit of the anti-Christ.

To place the emphasis upon the “in” instead of “above” is to court the danger of losing sight of the source of our salvation.

The author above and I fine that the meeting in S.A. came mighty close to Oral Roberts.

Tom Z:


What is being torn down is not the church. It is the “old landmarks” that are the target. They led us on the wrong road. We need to acknowledge that our wretched hermeneutics needs to be fixed or the disappointment will never end.


Working with dreams clients bring is one of the most fascinating and most enriching avenues in counseling. The temptation for the beginning (or very Freudian) therapist is, to decipher them for the dreamer. Fortunately, with this essay that isn’t necessary, as the author already deeply reflected on his dream. We can only add our own impressions, the things we stumbled over, as we read the piece. For me, it was the following sentence:

It is here that the dream becomes prophetic - giving a message that may need to be heard beyond the dreamer and his story of a spiritual journey.

And yes, perhaps we need to be a little more attentive to our dreams and their rich symbolism, as they may be a means of healing of our soul after the realities of current developments in our church have hit so hard. Why, in all the world, did I dream this week that my wife was voted GC president? And why was my only thought - “oh dear, that means we have to move to the US again”? (By the way, my wife is not a pastor and never was employed by the church, but studied - as was the “done thing” in our days - to be a Bible Worker, i.e. “Nutrition” instead of “Greek”). Don’t fall for the temptation. :slight_smile:


Thank you for sharing this profound and moving dream. So many of us have discovered that staircase winding upward and out of that “meticulously stage-crafted show” that we were told represented “THE TRUTH.” Your closing, “It is here, in this darkness, that God waits for you,” reminds me of Carl Jung’s statement that we don’t become enlightened by imagining images of light but by going into the darkness of the unknown.