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Last night I attended the Cast & Crew Premiere of Jesus People: The Movie at the American Film Institute, which just happens to be walking distance from the Hollywood Adventist Church.
Aside from the fact that the film itself is amazing (more on that later) this was an especially wonderful event for me because it is intimately connected to the Purple Church.
The co-writer, Rajeev Sigamoney, is a friend and member of our faith community. The trailer (above) was edited by Julia Alty, another dear friend and Hollywood Church member. There are at least a dozen church members who are extras, including my daughter, Zoe, and The Purple Church gets a “Special Thanks” in the credits. So, to celebrate this premier with Rajeev and the entire cast and crew was a rare privilege.
This 90-minute comedy is a surprising combination of compelling characters and superb acting, hilarious and provocative writing and visionary directing. I can’t say enough good things about this film.
Please visit the website – www.jesuspeoplefilm.com - where you can not only view the trailer but you can learn about the cast and crew and keep abreast of future screenings coming to your community.
Word is that this film will be screened at the 2009 SONscreen Film Festival in Simi Valley, CA (April 16-18).
What's happening to Seventh-day Adventist religious liberty?
On February 14, Alan Reinach, head of the Pacific Union Conference's Church State Council and NARLA-West interviewed Erik Stanley,Esq., Senior Legal Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund. They discussed gay marriage.
It should be noted that with a budget in the tens of millions, the Alliance Defense Fund was created by the Religious Right, with major funding by the late interracial marriage prohibiting Jerry Falwell and the corrupt Pat Robertson.
Just as a reminder of the overtly partisan nature of the ADF, they recently called on pastors to break the law and publicly endorse John McCain from their pulpits on September 28, 2008.
Furthermore, ADF has been the chief legal support for displays for the Ten Commandments on public property for years. Just as they framed that issue as the Christian tradition vs. "secular society" one hears the same rhetoric in the podcast as Reinach and Stanley take a couple of anecdotes and extrapolate out an argument that the same-gender marriage rights movement is anti-religion. Someone should tell that to the 1302 folks who took a stand with Adventists Against Prop 8.
Given the focus of late, apparently the organizational front line in our defense of freedom in relationship to our religious minority status now sides consistently with the Christian majoritarian ideologues who attack the traditional Adventist position on the separation of church and state. Along with the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, the ADF is a part of the larger Dominionist theological movement to make American a Christian nation.
This move from separating church and state to separating Christian and secular is a radical shift in Adventist religious liberty thinking. The last I checked, sheep and goats is God's department and nowhere do I read about the homosexual agenda in The Great Controvery or the book of Revelation. I do read about Christians and governments uniting and Adventists losing their worship rights as a result - which used to be what NARLA focused on.
In the past, groups like the ACLU who fought the Bush administration over the Patriot Act and their torture policies worked with us to protect liberty of conscience, but now, at least the west wing of Adventist freedom sounds out jeremiads against the human rights left.
Where lies the direct threat to Seventh-day Adventism? Why is our chief legal advocate so focused on gay marriage?
All this despite the fact that on January 26, a California appellate court sided with a Lutheran high school which expelled two "lesbian" students. Significantly, in the Fall, the Church State Council included this case in their Prop 8 advocacy as an example of institutions losing rights, although that never happened.
A simple test in what our religious liberty priorities should be:
When's the last time a GLBT individual sued the Adventist church over civil rights vs. how many Adventists lose their jobs over Saturday-Sabbath issues?
Yet, over and over, the Church/State Council and NARLA-West focuses its public voice on homosexuality. A week ago, on Feb. 7, the topic of the Freedom's Ring podcasts was "Proposition 8 [Gay Marriage] Postmortem."
They also buy into one of the weirdest frames going, that there is a major organized war against Christmas, marriage, and faith. Just to be clear, the people making these claims are the offspring of the Southern conservative Christians who also framed federal mandated racial desegregation as a war on Christianity.
In light of that history, it's interesting to hear Reinach and Stanley label the non-violent but aggressive protest actions of the "same-gender marriage" crowd as an example of their intolerance and hypocrisy. The racist segregationists of the 60s and 70s often used the same rhetorical tactics, noting African-American aggressive action as proof that the "two groups couldn't get along" and that the "blacks" who want tolerance are intolerant.
The point here is not that ADF or Alan Reinach is racist, but the fact that they employ the same framing and similar reactionary rhetoric embedded in dominionist zero-sum game logic: if definitions of America or marriage change to include more people, it is a bad thing.
It should also be noted that the next generation of evangelicals are by-and-large rejecting this fearful aspect of their past. In a recent survey 46% of young evangelicals expressed support for gay marriage with it rising to 60% with a religious liberty assurance. And each year the number increases.
As a young Seventh-day Adventist and former proud supporter of NARLA, I'm sad to see our public voice for liberty choosing to side with the fear-based exclusionary politics of the ugly past.
Given the impressive numbers of young Adventists, many on the margins, who wrote Adventists Against Prop 8 excited to see so many in their church standing up on this social justice issue, it's sad to see a tithe-supported leader siding with the Alliance Defense Fund against them.
Given the priority interests of the next generation of young Adventists as reported in Roger Dudley's survey, this Religious Right rhetoric and gay-focus is out of step with the future of the church. There are more important religious liberty issues for our tithe-supported advocates to be talking about.
Spectrum Magazine has consistently been on the cutting edge of examining Adventist theology and issues. But it has also frequently featured Adventist art and poetry. During this, Adventist Forum's 40th anniversary year, we will be periodically featuring some of the art from these issues. Spectrum archives are available here. This set of images is taken from 3 different issues in 1969. The artist is Dirk K. Koopmans.
To subscribe to Spectrum click here.
From: A portfolio by Dirk Kerst Koopmans:
"Art has in its nature a religious essence. In the field of painting this is transmitted by what the eye sees and by the hand which directs the artist's brush. Thus an encounter with the transcendental is possible. The closer this becomes, consciously or unconsciously, the more the meaning of art is fulfilled."
A deadly tornado ripped through communities in Southern Oklahoma leaving rubble in its wake. Ardmore Adventist Academy was among the numerous structures destroyed. The school served twenty-five students from grades 1-10. In addition to the loss of the school building and gymnasium, the tornado also flattened a pecan orchard leading up to the school's proprty.
Unseasonably warm weather helped to create the tornadoes, which are uncommon during the month of February in Oklahoma.
Charrie Shockey posted these photos of the Ardmore tornado's aftermath at the C. Shockey Photography blog.
More pictures here.
According to its website, the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for their "God hates fags" campaign, has targeted funeral services in Ardmore as a venue for staging a demonstration. The announcement on the church's website states:
There have not been any Adventists among the reported fatalities from the tornadoes in Ardmore and Lone Grove.
Introduction by Bonnie Dwyer / 1970 Spectrum article by Roy Branson and Herold D. Weiss
In the second volume of Spectrum, one sees the writers and editors responding in a significant way to the life of the church over issues ranging from missions to race relations and regional conferences to Ellen White. Conversations, scholarship, and articles about Ellen White have filled our pages ever since. While there are several significant articles about her in volume two, Roy Branson and Herold D. Weiss significantly set out an agenda for Adventist scholarship about her.
“Most Seventh-day Adventists know that for some time we have been able to make Ellen G. White say almost anything we want,” they wrote. “Her authority is universally recognized in the church, but what we make her say with authority often depends on who of us is quoting her. In the life of the church, therefore, she speaks with many accents. Sometimes on a single topic we make her voice blare out arguments on both sides of a debate. . . . The result of having so many Ellen Whites is that the Adventist church may soon have no Ellen White at all.”
They suggested that the church needed to make it a top priority to establish a more objective way of understanding what she said. Then they laid out four steps on how to go about that process. But rather than summarize their work, it follows in its entirety my comments here. Your comments would be most welcome following that.
But before I turn you over to Drs. Branson and Weiss, I also want to draw your attention to the first Forum symposium that appeared in Volume Two. While not on Ellen White, it did deal with revelation and centered on a presentation by Baptist scholar Bernard Ramm with responses from Wilber Alexander, Edward Heppenstall, and Jack W. Provonsha. You can read it here: http://spectrummagazine.org/files/archive/archive01-05/2-1ramm.pdf.
And now over to Branson and Weiss.
by ROY BRANSON and HEROLD D. WEISS
Most Seventh-day Adventists know that for some time we have been able to make Ellen G. White say almost anything we want. Her authority is universally recognized in the church, but what we make her say with authority often depends on who of us is quoting her. In the life of the church, therefore, she speaks with many accents. Sometimes on a single topic we make her voice blare out arguments on both sides of a debate.
Take the subject of health reform. One Ellen White talks reasonably about the advantages of temperate living. Another Ellen White fanatically demands that we eat only foods grown according to certain rigidly defined methods. Which is the real Ellen White ?
Sometimes we make her march determinedly in opposite directions - as in our discussions of justification by faith versus perfection, or God's sovereignty versus man's free will. As important a topic as the universality of salvation throws us into a dilemma when quotations extracted from her writings are simply strung together end-to-end. She appears on both the banner of those who say that the heathen who never hear the name of Christ will be as if they never were, and the banner of those who insist that every man is given light sufficient for a choice determining his eternal destiny.
The result of having so many Ellen Whites is that the Adventist church may soon have no Ellen White at all. Conceivably all that may be left will be a few members shouting at each other in her name; the great majority, having already despaired of understanding her, will only wonder what all the commotion is about.
It should be clear by now that among the top priorities of the church ought to be the establishment of more objective ways of understanding what Ellen White said. The church needs to see a coherent whole in her wide-ranging writings. To find a consistent method of interpretation for these writings should not be thought of as merely an intriguing academic possibility; it is an essential and immediate task for the church.
Up to now, two main ways - both of them wanting - have been used to understand Mrs. White's thinking. One way has been to compile quotations taken at random from all her works, and then to group these quotations simply by topic. The other way has been to consider as more authoritative those statements that start with the words "I was shown," or some similar expression.
Both of these ways have sometimes proved useful, but they remain inadequate. A collection of quotations by topic often exaggerates the seeming contradictions among them. As a result, the consistent viewpoints Ellen White actually had are obscured, and her persuasiveness is diminished. On the other hand, to take as authoritative only the statements that cite a specific vision depreciates the value of the many things God "showed" her through the guidance of the Holy Spirit pervading her life. She was led by God even when she could not refer to a particular vision for a specific admonition.
The church has not sufficiently perceived the full significance of Ellen White's message by using these means. New methods are needed. What follows is a set of proposals to make possible a more consistent interpretation of these inspired writings.
The first step should be to discover the nature of Mrs. White's relationship to other authors. We know that she borrowed terms, phrases, and historical accounts from others. To find the real Ellen White we must undertake the vast, but absolutely necessary, task of learning exactly what kind of use she made of the work of these other writers. Sample cores have been taken, but the vital information - the nature, selection, and use of the abundant material available to her and integrated by her in her writing - is still a mystery. Until we know more precisely which authors she respected sufficiently to rely on, we will not really know Ellen White or her ideas.
The second step should be to recover the social and intellectual milieu in which she lived and wrote. How can her testimony be understood until the economic, political, religious, and educational issues that were the context of her words are recognized ? Unless we know what meaning specific words had in the culture of her day, how can we know her meaning in using them ? Either Ellen White lives for us first in her own cultural situation or she does not live for us at all. Of course, if we hear her speak within a definite cultural milieu, we do not thereby confine the significance of her words to that context. Understanding her in terms of the nineteenth century does not mean that what she said is irrelevant to the twentieth century. Actually, finding how her words pertained to the past century is a necessary step in establishing their relevance to our own. Like most things in nature, words do not live in a vacuum.
The third step should be to give close attention to the development of Ellen White's writings within her own lifetime, and also to the development of the church. What was first written as a small series of books grew through the years into the rather voluminous Conflict of the Ages series. Personal letters became articles in church papers, only thereafter to be transformed into parts of books. Events in Mrs. White's life and currents in the church are relevant to understanding why her writings took the shape they did. Compilations of her writings published since her death should be examined in terms of the issues that confronted the church when the editors did their compiling.
By taking the three foregoing steps we can know with more assurance what the real Ellen White said. By making certain that our investigations follow clearly defined guidelines, we can more completely free our interpretations of conflicting personal biases. When we compare what she took from her sources with what she ignored in them, we can see more clearly a trend in her thinking. By knowing the streams of thinking in which these sources fall, and by being aware of what other alternatives existed for her, we can see for the first time the significance of her choice of sources. By putting ourselves in the crosscurrents of her day, we can see why she used one argument on a topic at one time and another argument on the same topic at another time. Anything we learn about her and the church at every stage in the preparation of her writings can only help draw us further into her mind.
Our final step should then be to apply in our day the words she spoke in her day. We may never be able fully to recapture Ellen White's original intentions or the absolute truth of what she meant. But if the methods proposed here, or similar ones, were implemented, the church would be much closer to her ideas than it is now. Setting up objective criteria for interpretation would restrain individual prejudice and decrease confusion. With relatively greater consensus on what she said, we would increasingly agree on what she would say today. Her influence, instead of waning, would then become more pervasive.
Using such methods would put the church in touch with a more vital and interesting Ellen White, with nuances and enthusiasms we do not recognize now. This more vibrant Ellen White would not always agree with her modern readers (any more than she did with her original readers), but she would be a more believable person. She would be seen as God's human spokesman - perhaps less magical and less awesome, but also less obscure and less ignored, and therefore actually more influential than she is now. And if she were more vital and effective, she would thereby be actually more authoritative also. Rather than being an impersonal voice subject to our manipulation, she would become again the living, breathing person who drew men to God.
Following methods like those outlined here would open up far-reaching scholarly enterprises. No one Adventist during his entire life could accomplish the tasks that would emerge. Indeed, no single discipline has adequate tools to do the job alone. It is imperative, therefore, that Adventist scholars from various disciplines bring their different perspectives and insights and equipment to the challenge of understanding Ellen G. White.
This kind of interdisciplinary effort by the Adventist academic community could help more clearly to distinguish the essence of Adventism.
1 An example is William S. Peterson's article in this issue: A Textual and Historical Study of Ellen White's Account of the French Revolution.
2 In an unpublished study, Ellen G. White and Fiction, John O. Waller examines the meaning of the word fiction in Mrs. White's time and relates his findings to her use of the term.
Richard Rice's article, Adventists and Welfare Work: A Comparative Study (Spectrum 2, 52-63, winter 1970), recounts some of the attitudes and endeavors of social welfare activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and thus gives an idea of the issues that concerned Mrs. White when she commented on social welfare.
The task of recreating the milieu in which Mrs. White and other early Adventists discussed interracial relations is attempted by Branson in Ellen G. White: Racist
Or Champion of Equality? Review and Herald, April 9, 16, and 23, 1970.
3 In his recent book, Ellen G. White and Church Race Relations (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association 1970), Ronald D. Graybill has established the setting, in Mrs. White's life and in the work of the church, of her comments on race in Testimonies for the Church, volume nine (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association 1970), pp. 199-226.
Jonathan Butler, in Ellen G. White and the Chicago Mission (Spectrum 2, 41-51, winter 1970), shows that a knowledge of the church's controversy with John Harvey Kellogg is essential to an understanding of Mrs. White's seemingly contradictory statements on inner-city mission work.
As far I know, not a single Seventh-day Adventist college or university is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Several schools have nascent environmental initiatives - Green La Sierra and Pacific Union College's Angwin Ecovillage - unlike in the rest of American education. But the green wave has not really affected Adventist institutional priorities in significant ways yet - despite student interest.
In July, 2008, Jan Paulsen, the General Conference President, recently devoted an entire article to the need for Adventists around the world to take our beliefs and practices of stewardship beyond just the monetary and care for God's creation.
There is another aspect to environmental stewardship that speaks strongly to Adventist values. When we choose a simple lifestyle and exercise restraint in our wants, when we emphasize the spiritual above the material and choose relationships before “things,” we are following in the footsteps of our Lord.
I see a certain circle in this. Seventh-day Adventists have always preached a spiritual message of freedom—freedom from the power of sin, freedom from fear, freedom of conscience and religious expression. Even our work of healing, educating, and providing humanitarian care is driven by a desire to free people from poverty, ignorance, pain, and injustice. And so that same concern for freedom takes us into care for the world in which we live. Being mindful of what I drink, eat, wear, use, how I travel and spend my time—these all yield certain consequences for the environment and, in turn, for each one of God’s children and His created beings. It’s not about living a somber, colorless existence. On the contrary, pulling free from relentless consumerism, focusing more on people and less on acquisitions, building a life that is focused on Christ’s priorities, not the world’s priorities—these are choices that deliver a wonderful sense of freedom, an indescribable feeling of liberation! And these are choices that yield a quality of life that is second to none.
Let's take this stuff seriously.
Idea: should the NAD, or for that matter, the GC, offer an biennial award for the greenest Adventist campus?
For as long as I've been a pastor (and that's longer than you think) pastors have been saddled with images and metaphors drawn from the world of business and capitalism to describe pastoral vocation. Some of us have nearly given up, declaring, "If I'm being asked to be the religious version of a used car salesman, then forget it!" There have been a few voices that have helped pastors recover the ancient pastoral art. Among these voices are well-known pastors and theologians like Eugene Peterson, William Willimon, Walter Brueggemann... and M. Craig Barnes.
The current issue of The Christian Century has an incredible article by Barnes, entitled "Poet in Residence: Listening for the Sacred Subtext," which is essentially chapter 2 of Barnes' new book, Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in Ministerial Life (Eerdmans). Here's an excerpt:
Poets are devoted more to truth than to reality; they are not unaware of reality, but they never accept it at face value. The value of reality is found only by peeling back its appearance to discover the underlying truth. This is why poets care about the text, what is said or done, but only in order to reveal subtext, which reveals what it means. They value the reality they see primarily as a portal that invites them into a more mysterious encounter with truth. This is what distinguishes poets from those whose contributions to society are focused simply on following a particular text. Engineers, for example, follow their textbooks in constructing bridges that lead across deep ravines. And one hopes that they have been very, very devoted to those texts. By contrast, a poet who crosses the engineer's bridge will go home and spend all day constructing verse that reveals the longing of the soul to find such an overpass when we stand on the banks of a disaster and peer down into the valley of death.
The last thing anyone sitting in a church pew needs is for the preacher to give advice on following the necessary algorithms for engineering better bridges. Or lessons in economics, politics or how to raise children. This doesn't mean that any of these topics are out of bounds for the pastor-poet. But to be faithful to our particular calling, we need to get beneath the reality of what is being said and done to explore the often mysterious truth of what this means. In making interpretations of this mystery, the pastor is not a free agent but a faithful devotee to his or her biblical and theological tradition of interpretation. This tradition is filled with poetic insights that guide the contemporary pastor into a particular way of uncovering reality to expose eternal truth. Both the realist and the truth teller are necessary, but they are seldom found in the same office of leadership.
This should be required reading for every pastor. If you are feeling burdened by expectations, whether from the outside or (worse yet) those you place on yourself, then this article will be salve for your soul.
I'm not sure who thought of it first, but I learned these thoughts first from Walter Brueggemann in his incredible and lesser known book, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation. Brueggemann is writing more about preaching, but the sense is the same. He makes an urgent call for "Poetry in a Prose-Flattened World."
Poetic speech is the only proclamation worth doing in a situation of reductionism, the only proclamation, I submit, that is worthy of the name preaching. Such preaching is not moral instruction or problem solving or doctrinal clarification. It is not good advice, nor is it romantic caressing, nor is it a soothing good humor.
It is, rather, the ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age. The preacher has an awesome opportunity to offer an evangelical world: an existence shaped by the news of the gospel.
Here's to being Pastor-Poets!
As he continues, in Chapter 4, his analysis of the basis of Christian hope in the New Testament witness to the resurrection of Jesus, N.T. Wright makes a point that came as a surprise to me: one of the features that the varying accounts of the resurrection found in the four gospels have in common is that they never mention the future Christian hope. They do not connect the resurrection of Jesus with the believer's hope of resurrection when Jesus returns, though this connection is indeed made elsewhere, particularly by Paul. But in the gospels:
Insofar as the event is interpreted, Easter has a very this-worldly, present-age meaning: Jesus is raised, so God's new creation has begun - and we, his followers, have a job to do! Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven! (56)
The last phrase just quoted may raise suspicions that Wright goes too far in emphasizing the human role in establishing the kingdom, though elsewhere in the book he will make clear that God alone will bring about the culmination. None of that, though, should be used to avoid the penetrating claim made by each of the four evangelists in their distinct ways: the resurrection means that Jesus is the Messiah and therefore our Sovereign as citizens and agents of the new kingdom, living in the midst of the present age with its rulers and authorities.
This is why Surprised by Hope - a book about resurrection and eschatology - is a powerful text for Christian social thought and for the interests of Adventist Peace Fellowship. The resurrection demonstrates that the movement started by the teacher from Nazareth did not, like that of other would-be messiahs of second Temple Judaism, end in failure with his execution, but that instead his universal reign has been inaugurated. His teaching and way thus become authoritative over all other standards and norms for matters of peace, war and violence, and for all of our interaction with society.
But, then, why should we believe it? Wright devotes much of this chapter to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. "Historical argument alone cannot force anyone to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, but historical argument is remarkably good at clearing away the undergrowth behind which skepticism of various sorts have been hiding," he writes (64).
Dismissing the Christian resurrection hope as yet one more manifestation of the longing for afterlife that runs through the literature of many human civilizations, or attributing the disciples' reports about an empty tomb and encounters with the risen Lord as the product of some sort of collective but inward spiritual experience, simply avoids rather that refutes the New Testament witness that something happened in history.
As for the temptation to Christians to soften claims about the physical reality of the resurrection or make them more compatible with the canons of modern scientific thinking, the verses Wright quotes from the late John Updike's "Seven Stanzas at Easter" hit home:
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
Let us not make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
less, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.