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"Less is changing than you think," explained Ryan Bell in his last sermon as pastor of the Hollywood Adventist Church. The church was close to full and it was clear that many had come because of this change—to try to understand. But the tone of the service itself, the liturgy, the multiple prayer times, the music by the band and the cellist was about much greater change than just personnel. In his remarks framing the Holy Saturday service commemorating the disciples' sadness and questions about their dead God, Pastor Ryan remarked that he prefers the Eastern Orthodox phrase: The Great Sabbath.
I sat with my tearful wife and friends and tried to understand the greatness of my tradition through this change.
There is no single reason. Each time I talk with Ryan or a board member or a conference leader it's about returning more tithe, publicly critiquing the church, discomfort with remnant theology, social justice advocacy, different generations misunderstanding each other, personal issues, tiredness, changing Adventist identity, and new opportunities.
Ryan Bell is not just leaving Hollywood Adventist Church or the employ of the Southern California Conference. He is taking a break from working as a pastor. (He's not the only pastor named Bell to do this recently.)
Less is changing than you think.
The purple church, as Hollywood Adventist is affectionately called by its members, exists as a far-reaching symbol as much as it is a small community. (It looks purple thanks to a clear glaze that has slowly changed to purple from the sun.) Ryan has ministered very locally in Los Angeles while modeling a prophetic vision in Adventism and beyond that combines social ethics, public advocacy, creative arts in worship, and community organizing.
Like a good symbol, what has happened there has often had multiple meanings elsewhere. That's why Ryan Bell's departure seems to mean more than just another burned out pastor taking a break. Does this mean that the Church is changing less than we want or that Adventists cannot bring their brains to church, much less their friends and family?
While I wrote that phrase down during the sermon, the more I think about it the more I have to disagree with my friend and pastor (we can do that constructively in our version of Adventism).
More is changing than you think.
Both at Hollywood and in the wider Adventist community—our interconnection means it's hard to predict what this change really means. But our Great Sabbath pause gives us a spiritual threshold as we look at the past and future. This idea of the liminal guided the sermon titled Sacred Imagination. According to Pastor Ryan:
Liminality describes a state of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of social rituals such as coming of age rituals in traditional societies. A young person might be sent out into the wilderness alone, for example, to accomplish a feat of manhood. In this space he is neither the child he once was, in the protection of his parents, nor the adult that he will be when he returns from this journey. During this liminal phase there are no promises, no certainties. The person stands on the threshold of something new, facing the abyss.
Holy Saturday is liminal space with a capital “L”—the terrifying pause between heartbeats, the darkest part of the night before a new day dawns.
That subversive paradox gives me hope. Ryan Bell graduated from Weimar College, a place that Ted Wilson has called the blueprint for Adventist education. I can think of hundreds of now forward-thinking Adventists who were first theologically formed by a similar fundamentalism. And the demographics show it: more change than remain the same.
Church at Hollywood came after a week of touring great cathedrals and museums in Rome, Florence, and Paris with Pacific Union College students. Much of the beauty we saw was created by one of the most morally bankrupt institutions in human history. But within its own patriarchy, sexism, racism, classism and ignorance, people subverted elements and reformed parts. And the world changed.
Those who try to vindicate Adventism through bizarre conspiracies and the politics of personal destruction or use their institutional power to shut down creativity and debate only create more of what they fear. They cannot appeal to wisdom or the fruit of the spirit so they push others out. Their certainty lies through exclusivity. Paradoxically, that's what separates and defines the human condition. Those who recognize the fundamental equality of all cannot but represent a threat to those who don't.
I watched the film Lincoln (2012) while flying back from Zurich. In it Abraham Lincoln quotes common notion number one from Euclid's Elements: "Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another." It is a powerfully subversive axiom drawn from the structure of the universe. And for those of us who believe in God, this calls us to a radical understanding of our relationships. If we are all equal in God's sight then what exactly is the problem again?
Equality wins. That's why I have hope. Love wins because equality always opens its arms wider, welcoming and affirming as Christ taught over and over.
The film did not note Euclid's fifth common notion which is that the whole is greater than the parts even though this clearly guided the preservation of the Union. And it guides Christianity. And it guides my imagination of the sacred.
The exclusivists cannot handle their truth because within the truths of the past lie the seeds of all transformation. As the head elder of the Hollywood Adventist Church said on that Great Sabbath, we're going to continue being as purple as ever.
Over time social change comes more or less to all. However, that change becomes more personally and globally transformational the more we do it together.
On March 16, Ched Meyers spoke at the Hollywood Adventist Church about Sabbath economics and repenting of consumerism and ecological exploitation. The scripture passages are Exodus 16:1–4; 13–19; 22–23; and Numbers 11:31–34.
If one makes matzo for Passover, an 18-minute window opens. The person (or machine) that prepares it has only 1,080 seconds from the time that the flour and water are mixed together until the time that the matzo is removed from the oven, before the entire batch must be thrown away—symbolic sin, in the form of fermentation, has crept into the dough.
The amount of “sin” only increases as the hours tick by. “Within 24 hours, I can have a sourdough starter,” says Joan Rusche, a California-based assistant in a health care system. At most other times, the yeast-containing mixture would be welcome; Rusche is a baker of six-strand challah (three strands is considered standard), and enjoys putting her skills to the test. But strictly adhering to Passover preparation requires that one remove any leavening-containing substance in the house—from baking soda to meat analogs—representing the cleansing of sin from one’s life.
“It’s incredibly revealing about how much [leavening] we actually use,” muses Rusche.
Rusche and her husband Robert (Bob) are Adventists who celebrated their first Passover in a Jewish community, which they discovered after attending a Yom Kippur service. Discreetly sitting in the back pew of the synagogue, the couple listened to song after song, and Rusche wept. “I felt like I was coming home. The feeling was more than just tying Christ’s experience to Adventism. It was more like all of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament were linked to us. … It gave me a new appreciation for the Sabbath." From that moment, the Rusches looked forward to Friday evenings at the synagogue—afterwards they attend a Sabbath service on Friday evening—and Sabbath worship at their church. Rusche ticks off the services they attended. “Hanukah, Purim, Passover … we celebrated every Jewish event.”
But as Christians, Passover holds a unique significance for them. In many of the rituals and foods, Rusche finds Christianity—and Jesus—represented.* Rusche sees Jesus particularly present in the matzo. “If you look at a piece of matzo, it’s scored and pierced. When we read about Jesus in Isaiah, he was wounded for our transgressions; the piercings in the matzo are symbolic of the his pierced hands and feet” The stripes running down matzo are also symbolic, representing the beatings (stripes) that Christ received.
The matzo used in the service consists of three pieces which are placed in a special bag, and to Rusche represent the Godhead. The middle piece of matzo—the Son—is taken out, broken in half, and half is hidden for the children to find later. But the hidden half is not “resurrected,” says Rusche, until after the third glass of wine in the ceremony, the Kos Shlishi.
“It’s interesting as a Christian to be part of the Passover service and feel the symbols popping out,” reflects Rusche.
This Sabbath, the couple are leading out in their church’s first-ever Passover demonstration. “When Adventists can get together to celebrate a Passover Seder, it teaches them about what Christ did for us, and gives us a greater appreciation for it,” says Rusche.
Sabbath lunch, relative to the three- to four-hour-long Passover Seder, is short. But Rusche notes that food brings people together no matter what the event, and replies that Passover’s emphasis on family is more similar to a Sabbath potluck. “[Potlucks] bring the church together. It’s easy to sit beside each other on the same pew, and yet not talk. At potluck, we share a meal and we share conversation; we get to learn about each other … we become friends,” reflects Rusche. “We often say that our church is our family. Being able to sit down with our church family helps us get to know that family, so we treat each other like family.”
The foods of Passover, then, are a potluck in several ways—enabling bonding within a community as well as among communities. “The most important thing is … to build a bridge between us and our Jewish friends,” says Rusche. “Any time we can step into their world, they are more apt to listen to us,” she adds. Jewish traditions, such as Passover, “are something we can share with them.”
*For a brief outline of the Passover Seder ceremony, read here.
Eggplant Matzo Lasagna
Active prep time: 1 h
Cooking time (includes prep): 2 h
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups sliced mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can marinara sauce (Rusche uses Classico Tomato-Basil Marinara Spaghetti Sauce)
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1 1/4 pounds)
Extra virgin olive oil cooking spray
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3 slices American matzo
1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in parsley, basil, oregano, peppers, and marinara sauce. Partially cover, reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes, turning the slices over after 15 minutes. Remove from baking sheet, and let cool. Cut the eggplant slices into 1/2-inch pieces, and set aside.
3. Combine ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and ricotta cheese; stir well, and set aside.
4. Spread ½ cup marinara mixture in the bottom of an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 1 ½ slices matzo over tomato mixture, and top matzo with half of ricotta cheese mixture, half of eggplant, and half of tomato mixture. Repeat the layers, ending with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.
5. Cover and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Tonight, March 28, the Southern California Conference Personnel Committee meets, and one of the items on their agenda is a consideration of the future of Hollywood Church Senior Pastor Ryan Bell.
Earlier this week, Bell posted on his Facebook account that he would be leaving the Hollywood Church as of April 1, making this week his last Sabbath at the church. His comments gave the impression that he was being forced out of his position, prompting surprise and disappointment among his friends around the country.
Members of the Hollywood Church were also impacted by the announcement. Letters and conversations to and with SCC President Larry Caviness ensued.
When asked for background on the action, SCC Communication Director Betty Cooney said that all the conference could say at this time is that the Personnel Committee is meeting tonight.
Under Bell’s leadership, the Hollywood congregation has attracted a young and diverse membership, thriving in its urban setting. Thus, the pastor, the church and the conference all have a lot riding on this meeting.
Read Bell’s open letter on his blog here.
The Washington Post recently featured Benjamin Carson’s many roles in an article titled “Benjamin Carson, balancing healing with political activism.” Amidst speculation that Carson would consider a run for the presidency,
Carson has eased away from suggestions he may have his eyes on the White House. The 61-year-old doctor now says the likelihood of a presidential run is “incredibly small.” What he really wants is a second career in television when he retires from Johns Hopkins later this year.
“Maybe if you write about it in your article, somebody will say, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” he said in an interview.
For now, his small office staff is struggling to manage the crush of attention from smitten conservatives and find time for his brain surgery patients between his sit-downs with the national media.
According to the article, Carson
would like to do a show that focuses on “educating the American populace about things that are essential to our freedom,” [Carson] said in his soft, steady voice. Or he would like to try a show that would bring together people who hold opposing views on critical issues that are dividing the nation. Carson would then help them seek a middle ground or resolution.
“If the proper venue was presented, I would probably accept such a thing,” he said.
Read the complete article here.
US State Department intern Shanna Crumley responds to Bjorn Karlman's thoughts on "Why Aid Should Never be Used as Bait for Religion," his blog post on culturemutt.com. Shanna writes that Bjorn "is a Swede who has spent several years immersed in American culture, attending American schools and marrying a Filipina-American. His blog is an interesting commentary on all things cultural, including Adventism."
Yes, yes, yes! I’m glad to hear my own frustrations vocalized so succinctly. Evangelism-based-aid was a great introduction to the world of aid for me, but now that I’m pursuing a career in international development and affairs, I’ve realized the damaging effects that religious incentives can have on effective aid. There are good intentions there, but too often the pure ideal of exemplifying Jesus is lost in the incentive game. And who wins that game, anyway? You can count baptisms, but you can’t count souls anyway, no matter how many stars you promise in my heavenly crown.
Just yesterday I had a conversation with one of ADRA International’s directors about the junction between the church and the NGO that is ADRA. I carefully asked what church involvement policy existed, and the role of evangelism, and he emphatically responded, “ADRA will not do that! We do not say, ‘before you get your rice, you have to come to worship.’ We show the gospel through good works ONLY.”
My own experience with ADRA Argentina reflected this principle. I was impressed with the balanced objectivity exhibited by the volunteers in the field operations. In our particular project, the local culture was historically Anglican and my project leader informed me that it was as much a part of their heritage as a religion. To criticize their religion would be to criticize their way of life, effectively damaging the nascent relationship between ADRA and the people we were there to support.
Instead, all the volunteers kept busy with Jesus-style activities—building a community garden and kitchens side by side with the indigenous people, teaching the kids how to keep their feet clean and healthy, helping some friends construct a sustainable life. I firmly believe that passing out seeds was infinitely more loving and helpful than passing out Bible literature. Call it sustainable love, if you will. Once these shoeless, malnourished babies can live to their 5th birthday, then maybe the evangelists will have an audience.
I don’t think that we can generalize to the point that all aid-for-religion transactions are evil, but it is evident that this approach can be self-limiting and counterproductive. In the case of ADRA, it would have demolished the regional project. In any religion-based organization, it could limit the scope of work, impede local relationships and create a negative reputation for the organization as an incentive-based scam. Another drawback is the relationship with donors and bilateral partnerships; of course, there is an entirely different pool for evangelism resources, and that’s fantastic, just not to be sprinkled in the aid pool.
I’ve been interning with a humanitarian office within the US government that is a major donor to organizations across the board. Here, more than ever, I’m able to see the virtue of aid-for-aid’s-sake (politics aside) and the beauty of multilateral, multi-sector, multicultural partnerships. Motivations and expectations may vary, but the bottom line is that families are being helped with no strings attached, for the simple reason that they need aid and we are able to give it. Now that is what I think Jesus would do.
Shanna Crumley is a recent graduate from Pacific Union College, and blogs at destinationgypsy.wordpress.com. She's currently planning on a career in international affairs and development, beginning with an internship at the US State Department in Washington, DC. She spent a summer as a volunteer videographer for ADRA Argentina, as well as traveling to Cuba, Brazil and Indonesia for mission trips.
In the last article I discussed the credibility of two key ideas related to evolutionary science, namely mutations and natural selection. As it stands, it is generally recognized that nothing in biology makes sense outside of acceptance of these two processes, and more importantly they are well documented. In this article I am going to direct our attention to the most significant development in biology over the past few decades. It is a development that has fundamentally changed the conversation.
First off, it is important to recognize that throughout most of history biological knowledge has generally been descriptive and analog. In general the process of acquiring that knowledge has started with a hypothesis and then progressed to a theory, all the while supported by data derived by dissecting, categorizing, along with comparison of body plans. For the past several hundred years this accumulating data has been informed by a study of the geologic column and the fossil record that it displays. Clearly this approach has provided a lot of useful information, but it has also taken place at a level of tentativeness that would not exist if biology operated on a more quantitative basis. That has now changed. With the unraveling of the DNA structure, it has become increasingly possible to explore the secrets of the DNA code itself. With the recent completion of the genome map for humans and a number of other species, the methodology has dramatically transformed biology from a qualitative science to that of a quantitative and computational science. In short, the genetic code is a complex information system and can be thought of as a digital data recording and processing technique. Most significantly, it is now being studied on those terms.
The old argument many Adventists use in opposing evolutionary theory, has often been based on “missing links.” Such argument is no longer relevant. For one thing many transitional forms have been found, including the fossil remains of a number of key hominids (and in the case of the Neanderthals, a portion of their DNA, while in the case of the Denisovans a complete genome). More importantly the quantitative tools afforded by science's expanding knowledge of DNA now give us data that renders most of these old lines of argumentation moot. In short, the debate has changed—and it has changed fundamentally.
In the pre-computer era, Claude Shannon, the father of modern information theory, proposed that communication errors could be overcome by building in sufficient redundancy and by proceeding in a “segregated, linear, and digital fashion.” This idea is, in fact, foundational to all computer technology and to the binary code that developed around it consisting of just two coding elements—a positive represented by the number 1 and a non-positive represented by 0. From the arrangement of these 1s and 0s, humans have managed to create all the powerful and precise activities that computers are known for, including programmed decision-making and other extraordinary capacities that have transformed human life in so many ways. For a visual map of this code take a look at the alpha http://www.convertbinary.com/alphabet.php and numeric http://www.convertbinary.com/numbers.php arrangement of the binary code as it will give you some idea what you might expect with the DNA code.
As scientific understanding of DNA came to maturity it became clear that it is at its essence, a digital code that is not unlike computer software code with four-nucleotides. That DNA four-nucleotide code for humans is a little over 3 billion base pairs in length, and generally goes by the abbreviated form: A-T-G-C. These nucleotides are grouped into approximately 23,000 genes, and 46 paired chromosomes. They are the code of life, though the exact definition of life is still being worked on. Clearly it is much more sophisticated and complex than anything that humans have created with binary computer code, but it does have some remarkable similarities.
Let’s suppose we were to write a message using binary code. In the process let’s assume that one or more of those 0s and 1s of code got mixed up. Clearly the receiver of the instructions will need to translate the message into English (or whatever language that is being used) in order to understand the instructions. The end result might very well be a set of instructions where say one alphabetic letter has been substituted for another. The receiver might end up with instructions that when translated were still understandable, or an instruction not actually intended, or one that makes no useful sense. This is analogous to what happens with mutations where the genetic code has become scrambled. Sometimes it is just one nucleotide letter that has been affected—sometimes more. Sometimes it will be critical to the overall integrity of the organism, and sometimes not. The important point in all of this is, that biology can now be analyzed in quantitative ways. It has become transformed it into an objective science.
Hubert Yockey, a prominent physicist from the University of California, Berkeley, CA, author of the book Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, states: “information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies.” He further notes that the existence of the biological genome and its supporting code divides living organisms from nonliving matter. He concludes, “There is nothing in [the realm of physics and chemistry] that remotely resembles reactions being determined by a sequence and codes between sequences.
Science now understands that the digital sequence of nucleotides in DNA is the software of life and that it controls all biological processes. It is coded to maintain the integrity of the organism in real time, but also provides a wealth of information about current relationships as well as ancient ancestral ones. The sequences of nucleotides or amino acids that carry the genetic message have explicit specificity. As Yockey notes, by employing information theory the message in the genes can be explored based on a comparison between the genetics of organisms, and that exploration can now be undertaken with the same quantifiable accuracy that is typical of astronomy, physics and chemistry. 
One of the most important points for readers to grasp is that DNA is now being sequenced for a wide spectrum of organisms ranging from bacteria and viruses, to humans and other species. Thus the relationship of all organisms can be determined based on the amount of similarity, and the degree of closeness in terms of DNA sequenced information that is shared. It is now possible to make comparisons, in numerical terms, between all these organisms, comparisons that go well beyond mere armchair speculation.
Naturally some will question whether differing species are the product of an Intelligent Designer who merely used common body plans to create distinctive forms of biology, or whether the degree of separation is one of coding. As to the first of these two possibilities it is important to remember that science, proceeding on the basis of methodological naturalism will never be equipped to fully address purposeful design considerations, though the question of common descent may eventually be resolvable with some degree of certitude. Conclusions on descent would be based simply on a more complete understanding of the DNA code, how it modifies, and whether it contains certain limits that are not currently understood.
At this point no one really knows where this new quantitative tool will lead given biological complexity and the relatively new era of DNA genetic research. It will take time to sort out the precise details; however, science now has a reliable mechanism that will allow it to explore biology with a high degree of objectivity and in detail at a level never before seen. There will likely be many surprises that await science. Unfortunately there are also likely surprises that will challenge Adventist sensitivities. The question that remains is whether Adventists collectively are open to receiving new light?
In the next article we will take a look at the most controversial aspect of evolution, that being the idea of common descent. Some readers have already made up their minds without having looked at the evidence. The next article will actually look at some of the key pieces of evidence that suggest common descent.
1. Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, Hubert P. Yockey, (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
2. The Rough Guide to Genes and Cloning, Jess Buxton & Jon Turney (Penguin Books, 2005)
3. DNA: The Secret of Life, James D. Watson, Winner of the Nobel Prize for his role in uncovering the secrets of the double helix (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)
See Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life (Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. ix
These letters representing four chemical units that make up the nucleotide bases of DNA: (A) adenine, (T) thymine, (G) guanine, (C) cytosine
See Hubert P. Yockey, Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life (Cambridge University Press) 2005, p. 6.
Ibid, p. 2
Ibid, p. 8-11; 184
Ibid, p. 179