Why am I still Adventist? Well, Seventh-day Adventism and I, like a couple of old friends, go way back.
We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve walked down many roads, sometimes holding hands and sometimes not. As many friends often do—good friends, even best friends—occasionally we unintentionally hurt each other by mistaking selfishness for good intentions. But in a rich friendship, more important than the hurts we experience together are the good and joyful things. And it is because of the “good stuff” that we remain friends. It is why we don’t give up on each other in the bad times, why we don’t trade in our friendship for another.
Of course there are other potentially good “friends” out there—Seventh-day Adventism is one of many forward thinking denominations that are working hard to bring goodness, freedom, and life—the gospel—into the life of every precious created being—human and non-human alike. Had I been born into another, similarly thoughtful and grace-oriented denomination, I’m sure my sense of “home” would lie there. And, from that platform—that denomination—I would be doing my best to be the gospel—the “good news”—that affirms life. But, Seventh-day Adventism is my history, my experience and my home. It was and is the starting place for who I am and everything I do.
Seventh-day Adventism has its quirks and its share of historical not-so-good moments, but so do I. On the occasions when Adventism asks me to remove my earrings, for instance, I comply. And when it asks me to turn down the volume—I typically comply. Friendship requires compromise.
But I remember a time when I didn’t comply—not so much out of rebellion as out of ignorance. And so Adventism turned down the volume for me. While I was giving a concert for a youth rally in Northern California, midway through the only up-tempo song on the program the music suddenly stopped. I thought some kind of electrical malfunction had occurred. As I was being escorted off stage and asked to never return, I realized I was the malfunction.
That was a long time ago. Through the years, I’ve also shown my own quirks and not-so-good moments. And while they never came off as blatantly as that humiliating and hurtful afternoon in Northern California, they were equally disloyal and hurtful because they were moments filled with what I didn’t say or do for my church, my friend. In other words, my moments of distance and silence were what most loudly labeled Adventism, for me, a malfunction.
But true friendships can take a beating—they can “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’,” as the old Timex commercials used to say. The reasons why we became friends and the reasons why we remain friends differ. Indeed, the reasons we remain friends are far more profound and meaningful, filled with shared growing pains and growth spurts. We break up—kind of—and we makeup. And we make up because everything is better experienced together. We make up because the joys are bigger than the sorrows, because the good times happen much more often than the bad, and because the gifts we offer each other far outnumber our poor decisions, insensitive words, and hurtful actions.
Seventh-day Adventism, like no other friend I have, has single-handedly given me my most precious personal relationships. It has introduced me to the people in my life who make everything I do meaningful. Adventism has also given me the gift of education and equipped me with the power of knowledge. It encourages me to seek for more—for more truth and beauty than we have at present. It invites me to sit on its shoulders so that I may see, experience, and learn more about the parts of truth that lie just beyond the horizon. It is a privilege to sit on these traditional, strong shoulders that offer me a view that my stature alone could not provide.
Perhaps what I love most about my relationship with Seventh-day Adventism is the way my personhood—my humanity—and all creaturely life is affirmed in the Sabbath. Adventism has taught me to hear the voice of God especially on Sabbath saying, “Hey, stop all your work and worry—I just want to pause here for a moment and take you in—you are my good and lovely creation. Enjoy you today.” If I ever doubt my place in life during the week, Sabbath reminds me again of the way I am loved. Because of Sabbath I have no doubt where I stand. Sabbath, being an equal-opportunity affirmer of life, teaches me that just as I know how much I am loved, I also know how much the stranger I stand next to in line at the grocery store is loved, and how much the person society insists isn’t pretty enough, smart enough, or rich enough, is loved. Sabbath levels the playing field—all are equally and enthusiastically loved.
The good in Seventh-day Adventism so completely and unequivocally outweighs the bad, that for me, it has become silly to even compare them. Quirkiness and occasional bad moments in judgment are a small price to pay for the beautiful gift of love and time spent learning about love and justice for all people—a small price to pay for a friendship that gave me my mother, family, my dearest friends and loved ones. Pretty big shoes to fill!
Am I willing to trade the denomination of my birth for another? No. Not because I don’t think I wouldn’t have been happy anywhere else, but because “anywhere else” isn’t where I started from. And we have no other choice in life but to start from where we are. And since I believe the gospel reveals itself in many places—in many denominations—and because now after years of asking questions, having conversations, and learning, I’m convinced Adventism is one of those places—those denominations—filled with lots of good people doing their best to deliver the good news of equality and reckless love to all people. And so, I am, to steal the line of one of my closest friends, incurably Adventist. Despite our many disagreements and differences and things I choose imply to overlook, Seventh-day Adventism and I have traveled together long enough to know that we’re still pretty compatible. And, that we have more fun together than apart.
Why am I still Adventist? In short, because it suits me. We’ve come a long way since the days like the one in Northern California. A few years ago, before a crowd of several thousand Seventh-day Adventists the Southeastern California Conference leaders honored me for my music ministry and for sticking with my church. In this article for Spectrum I have an opportunity to honor my church, my friend, for its ministry and for sticking with me.