Circling back to Atlanta, where the idea was launched over six years ago, The One Project convened for the thirtieth time on October 21 and 22, 2017. This time, emphasizing Sola Scriptura, the group met in a paneled, chandeliered banquet room over Maggiano’s Little Italy in Buckhead, a well-to-do suburb of Atlanta. Japhet De Oliveira mused as the event began that whenever people decide to emphasize Jesus, they will encounter many questions and the questions will have implications. All along, the goal has been to provide space for looking at Jesus and sowing seeds for transformation. The One Project planners had the vision to provide moments and pauses for a Seventh-day Adventist immersion in Jesus—His life, death, resurrection, and meanings for us now. Perhaps it is fitting that this project of revival comes to a finale near the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation. Revival and Reformation.
Another obligation precluded my staying for the entire two-day event, so I will reflect on only a portion of what I heard and what I felt and decided. Each of the three One Project gatherings I have attended has been structured similarly. The audience sits at round tables and the day is paced so that attendees discuss recalibration questions periodically in an effort to assimilate or challenge the ideas presented.
Heather Cook captivated the room Sabbath at the worship hour time slot. Her sermon, “Manipulated Miracles,” described the cognitive dissonance and emotional angst many experience in a church culture that expects miracles and has not provided relief to those who do not receive one. Her Reformation Weekend protest was against the notion that faith will be rewarded by a miracle. Rather, she suggested that the miracle we can and should expect is the love of God, present in our lives.
Terry Swenson began his discourse by referring to the recent phenomenon in which people claim to be spiritual but not religious. Religion and spirituality used to be synonyms, now they are antonyms. Swenson taught about wine and wineskins. The purpose of the wineskin is to provide logistical support to enable wine to do what it is supposed to do. Then, the application: when the wineskin thinks it is the wine, that is a problem. We must remember the church is the wineskin and Jesus is the wine.
Sam Leonor explored “Violence and the Way of Jesus,” using the analogy of the Reformers excavating presuppositions 500 years ago to get to the heart of Christianity. Might it be time to excavate again to the heart of the Christian message? Leonor provided a historical overview about how Seventh-day Adventists have responded to war. The writings and edicts from the church leadership has morphed from 1863 when our spiritual ancestors resolved that we were “compelled to decline all participation in war,” to recent decades when the organization has chosen to support church members’ individual consciences as the way to decide what sort of military interaction to have. While he gently challenged the cognitive congruence between the way of Jesus and the church’s stance in the mid-1860s, he quickly pivoted to how looking at Jesus should inform our individual actions of looking for a way to absorb violence at any level and break a ratcheting circle of violence and retaliation as Jesus on the cross demonstrated so clearly.
Tim Gillespie protested the lack of “Holy Imagination.” Referring to Jesus’ healing of a blind man and the requirement of a second touch for clear sight, Gillespie envisioned a Christian world modeled on the idea of abundance not scarcity, and grieved that our tribe has lost the ability to dream as we have been blinded by a system of fear. As our policy books have grown, members seem now to ask for permission rather than ask what is possible. Perhaps a product of our teaching is that we believe only a few things are possible, instead of all things being possible?
During the transition between speakers, Paddy McCoy then wished attendees a “Happy Great Disappointment Day,” and added, “maybe soon we will figure out how not to be a great disappointment.”
In a “Protest of the Center,” Brandy Kirstein led the group on a perspective altering journey, making the point that the natural tendency is to see oneself, one’s perspective, as truth. She pointed to the paradox of how much larger one’s life would be if self were smaller in it. Her premise is that when something is in the center where it does not belong it will cause chaos and division, not unity. Kirstein referred to Colossians 1 in making the case the Jesus must be before all things—first place in everything—Sola Christus. Kirstein also noted Martin Luther was not right on everything. Luther did not acknowledge the space for a reformer of a different stripe, Copernicus. Luther did nothing for the cause of heliocentricity; in fact he was an active crusader against the idea that the sun was the center of our solar system. The story left space for the audience to consider that even the great heroes in the faith cannot be trusted as total embodiments of truth. Kirstein told the audience that her preparations for the talk involved her computer repeatedly spellchecking her use of geocentricity and changing it to egocentricity. Instructive of what words we use most in our era.
As this project reaches the end of its scope, I am grateful to people who had a vision and chose to devote energy to the idea of bringing my group back to Jesus. This gathering, in Atlanta, on the iconic weekend of The Great Disappointment, leaves me in mild dismay as I consider the criticism that has been heaped on planners and participants. I can only reflect on the careful words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 16, and I can see some application in this instance.
My resolve is to let God be God. I resolve to participate in a new Reformation, taking note of Dilys Brooks’ thought that the Reformation that happened five hundred years ago was not televised and neither will this one be televised. I resolve to remember the core principle of Reformation which is the priesthood of all believers, and add the concept that Jesus must be center. I resolve to shun top-down coercion, instead emphasizing servanthood as an end.
What was this One Project? I am not sure what it was to others, but for me it was really Revival and Reformation.
Throughout the weekend, Elia King led group singing, which included his original composition, "Only Jesus."
Who can calm the waves,
When the oceans rage,
Who can still the angry Sea?
When the billows roll,
In my troubled soul,
Who can calm the storm in me?
There is just one name with the power to save
Over wind and sea and wave
When the skies grow dark
Who will hold my heart
Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.
Image Credit: the1project.org
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