Ultraviolet: Gentle Takedown, Reason for Hope

Like families, churches are flawed. Without gestures of love and reconciliation, without conversation toward renewal, they slump toward tedium and discord, or even break into pieces. Thus our own church, like any other, stands always on the razor edge of danger.

If Adventism leaves thoughtful members beaten down and fed up, as it did it in San Antonio, it can also, like the cool and color of fall, spark rejuvenation. This latter is what happened to me last weekend. The planning group for the Adventist-Forum-sponsored Ultraviolet Arts Festival, led by Kansas City physician Brenton Reading, brought 20- and 30-something Adventists, along with their music and art, together in Glendale, California. I was out of my demographic, feeding on beauty and insight from young men and women who could have been, in most cases, my younger children.

I’d never been ten feet from a hip-hop artist, but I was that close last weekend—twice. I’d never heard speeches as fine—on art and “altered consciousness,” on creativity and labor; on the making of art as therapy for the homeless—as I heard on Sunday. I enjoyed a roomful of arresting visual art and considered films by Adventist filmmakers who wanted, all of them, to throw me off balance. Starting Sabbath, before and after sundown, I heard compelling music—pop, classical and folk rock as well as hip-hop—ending with the Coyote Bandits, four young men and one woman who seemed at points to be channeling the Hebrew prophets.

I don’t mean to be naïve. For talent and insight, the participants stood out like the full moon rising; you felt glad and grateful to share their company. But if they were challenging me, I could also, perhaps, have challenged them, or at least made a stab at it: everyone in the room, after all, was limited, imperfect, standing in the need of prayer. Still, young people from outside my normal circle were casting light I might otherwise have missed. Normal vision is blinkered vision; now and then you need people to come along and remove the blinkers.

I was hyped to be with people who were saying things I hadn’t fully grasped. So several times during breaks I told friends (some agreed with me) that if one heresy is the most destructive of all, it is the idea that the church should live by one official script. The whole drift in San Antonio—the whole drift, at that point, of official Adventism—was toward uniformity. Obliviousness to such plain facts as that the Bible itself preserves various perspectives—think of Esther’s failure to mention God, or of the four angles on Jesus’s life that we call the Gospels—was astonishing. And also, of course, troubling: if you put the Bible on a pedestal but don’t pay attention to it, what good is that?

If the idea of one official script is corrupting, so is this: the tendency toward complacency about silos. If in the church administrators talk only to administrators, or millennials only to millenials, or big-congregation people only to other big-congregation people, this can only have a deadening effect. If we stick to our own circles—stay inside our silos—we are doomed to lose our edge, doomed to intellectual lifelessness, doomed, in a word, to stupidity.

We’re getting nearly 100,000 users per month (many more during July, when the General Conference held its session) to the Spectrum website. Many cluster around Adventist academic centers, or around the world church headquarters in Silver Spring. Here at Spectrum these users get independent news and opinion on church life. Commenters from the conservative and not-so-conservative sides chime in with responses to articles. We notice, however, that few commenters come from the ranks of our leading administrators and academics. Perhaps the case of the high-profile Adventist who used to engage in conversation here but was told to stop bears on all of this. In any case, when any sector of our community opts out of the conversation, it hurts us all.

I don’t know for sure, but I bet that the high-profile Adventist I mentioned would still like to offer his own corrections to what our writers have to say, or sometimes, perhaps, even his own Amens. But if, officially, there is just one script, and if, officially, silos are good, then he won’t get to say his piece in our company, and we won’t get to learn from him.

On matters like this we’re doomed if we don’t change. But just now, for myself, I’m rejuvenated. The Ultraviolet Arts Festival amounted to a gentle takedown of both the one-script mythology and the disastrous idea that silos are okay. I hope there’s another one soon.

Charles Scriven is Chair of the Adventist Forum Board, which publishes Spectrum Magazine.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7087
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I have found three consecutive psalms that feed my soul and provide me the Assurance necessary to face the ego of Denominationalism.i strongly urge that.each take the time to read psalms 22,23, and 24 together. then sing the doxology. The beauty of the King James is compelling. lift up your heads, oh ye Gates!!! amen. Tom Z

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UltraViolet: Gentle Takedown, Reason for Hope 21 September 2015 | Charles Scriven said:
• “Like families, churches are flawed. Without gestures of love and reconciliation, without conversation toward renewal, they slump toward tedium and discord, or even break into pieces…”
• “If the idea of one official script is corrupting, so is this: the tendency toward complacency about silos. If in the church administrators talk only to administrators, or millennials only to millenials, or big-congregation people only to other big-congregation people, this can only have a deadening effect. If we stick to our own circles—stay inside our silos—we are doomed to lose our edge, doomed to intellectual lifelessness, doomed, in a word, to stupidity…”
• “We notice, however, that few commenters come from the ranks of our leading administrators and academics…”
• “But if, officially, there is just one script, and if, officially, silos are good, then he won’t get to say his piece in our company, and we won’t get to learn from him…”
• “On matters like this we’re doomed if we don’t change…”

I detect several themes and distinct realities in reacting to Brother Scriven’s comments;
The church’s doctrinal and administrative “conflicts” mirror the political divide that is present in the United States. Liberals (progressives) versus Conservatives (historical Adventists) each have entrenched views. To mobilize the base, representatives in both camps take more extreme positions. The rhetoric becomes more strident as each side tries to excite supporters by demonizing the opposition. Issues become weapons to use to goad people into donating more money to so called independent ministries - or discourage an opponent’s base from getting a fair hearing. For example, some attack abortion and gay rights to turn out evangelical voters. Others practice what approaches class war as they attack wealth and corporations in order to inspire blue-collar workers to support them. As a result, many church members in the center become turned off by it all and no longer bother to get involved in church or participate. It even becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since centrist church members find little to like in either side, many quit participating. That just prompts both sides to try even harder to mobilize base supporters to win increasingly low-turnout church business meeting events and church officer nominations. Fewer centrist church members want to hold church office or work in representing their church with the local conferences politics. Instead, the humorless zealots and true believers rise to the top. This is what prevails today in much of our dialogue on most church issues.

A good friend who will soon be retiring and works for the General Conference put it in a very bleak way when he said to me:
“I feel like I am a political partisan in the battle for the Adventist mind and dollar. With many independent ministries competing for the same Adventist dollar it’s a tough audience I face. Sometimes the crisis of the moment is so urgent and compelling that I cannot wait to win over the majority of the church with facts. I must rally support through circulating whatever horror story I can tell, inflating statistics, and demonizing the opposition, it’s the only way to keep the job, and appear essential.

As Chuck so correctly put it, “we’re doomed if we don’t change…”.

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We speak of conversations, and community, yet the spectrum policy has the opposite effect.

With only one comment per story how can we have a conversation? Is this really in tune with the mission of spectrum? In reading another “Adventist” story site, i find their commenters complain of the sudden influx of spectrumites. Perhaps we should start building our community again, instead of censoring it. Remember Community through Conversation, it takes 2 or more parties sharing ideas to have a Conversation, not just a single post. We are doomed. RIP Spectrum.

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“Silos” come in all forms. Yes, it boggles the mind that the person who wrote:

[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:9533”]
But if, officially, there is just one script, and if, officially, silos are good, then he won’t get to say his piece in our company, and we won’t get to learn from him.
[/quote] also wrote:

Truly incomprehensible.

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The way I see it, is that Spectrum is one important public sphere within Adventism. It’s role is to encourage the diversity of the SDA civil society to voice their reflections and opinions on matters that are important to them. Public spheres like these, and their communicative style, will always be messy, but that should be viewed as a quality, not as a threat, that should be appreciated more.

That said, I have wondered why so many of the so-called “leading” voices of Adventism choose to abstain from writing essays and commenting on this blog. Are they too safe in their academic ivory towers to bother? Or, are the risks too high, for them, to participate in the SDA public sphere? Could this be explained by that “fact” that we all feel safest within our own secluded communities of peers?

Change, however, will always be bottom up, not top.down.

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Sam: I feel heartbroken for your soon-to-retire friend. What a relief he will feel upon his retirement, finally free to let facts win over horror stories. What stories told by Jesus might you tell your friend now?

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After planning on getting there by 9:30 for Sabbath School, I ended up getting to Glendale church at about 12:30, just in time to go to lunch with a few folks. I was in a terrible accident with an 18 wheeler rig about an hour north of Glendale at 8:30. I should have been killed and caused a multicar pile up, but amazingly I walked away from the wreck unharmed, but my car totally demolished. After securing a rental car later that morning, I proceeded on to Glendale for the festival getting there after church was over. I was an emotional wreck that entire weekend, so I really didn’t enjoy the festival like I had hoped. To me the highlight was Sunday night viewing Daneen and Steve’s latest film production. and listening to the panel discussion.

You and I met briefly, Charles, and I concur with what you say here. Your are right we are doomed if we don’t change. While I was not met with any hostility when I came out to my entire church, at a board meeting the following Tuesday night, I could sense the apprehension. The gestures of love seemed rather hollow when I was told that we are all broken and was admonished not to follow a gay lifestyle. Just what is a gay lifestyle anyway??? After decades of self repression, I can only say that now I know what it is like understanding that too many many folk define gays by a sex act rather than see us people who are as committed to God as much as a straight person. The only way I can stay in the good graces of the church is to remain alone the rest of my life after my divorce, which is ripping me to shreds emotionallly right now.

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This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.

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The church has always wounded its own; which is so much worse than being wounded by strangers.

From David Brooks’ article in NYTIMes today, quoting Pope Francis:

“The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs the nearness, proximity,…Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…And you have to start from the ground up.”

Pope Francis also said earlier about homosexuality: “Who am I to judge?”

Our sincere sympathies, Tom. God be with you.

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Good points.

PS: I’m a “she”. :smirk:

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