This week: An interview with the editor of Spectrum's film reviews section.
Question: For how long have you been involved with Spectrum and Adventist Forums? What do you do now that you are an official part of the team? What do you contribute to the team on a personal level?
Answer: My first exposure to Spectrum came during my undergraduate studies at Southwestern Adventist University. A professor showed us a stack of magazines in the library and told the class that Spectrum tackles issues not usually addressed in official church publications--things like women's ordination, evolution, and homosexuality. This was in 1999. I went back to the library on my own time and started leafing through old issues, feeling very much a renegade and enjoying it. During my two years as a high school teacher in Thailand, Spectrum became my online connection with the pulse of progressive Adventism. It became my community, in a sense. I began writing my own blog, Adventist Environmental Advocacy, and occasionally contributed to Spectrum's blog. I joined the web team about a year ago, and currently serve as film reviews editor.
I suppose if I were to characterize the contributions I feel I make on a personal level, I'd have to invoke my theological/ideological commitments. I am committed to equality for same-gender couples. I am committed to equality for female Adventist clergy. I am committed to giving equal representation and voice to under-represented minority groups. I am committed to fostering academic freedom and artistic sensibilities in Adventism. I am committed to participating in community. I am committed to helping to construct thorough, rigorous, and sensible theologies. These commitments find their way into my writing and editing, whether consciously or not.
Question: You have chosen the nontraditional route of obtaining your seminary education from La Sierra instead of Andrews University. Why did you choose La Sierra? How has the program enriched your faith and ministry? What was your background before coming to La Sierra?
Answer: La Sierra University has a reputation. I hear it from people talking in hushed tones about "that" school or "that" program. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I am pursuing an M.Div at La Sierra--first, that La Sierra offers the degree, second, that I would choose to enroll in it. It was a choice I didn't make lightly. Church subsidy for seminarians at Andrews University means that students there pay less than $5 thousand a year out of pocket. I'm paying almost four times that much (and by I, I mean my wife Jodi, a nurse who is headed for canonization).
I jokingly explain to people that if I receive a call someplace where it gets colder than 40 degrees F, then it's not God's will. People keep telling me I shouldn't say that. I have loved my education at La Sierra. It is academically rigorous, intellectually probing and honest and very thorough. While I appreciated my undergraduate work (two years at Southwestern and three at Southern), and I had good relationships with many of my professors, I got the feeling at times that tough questions went overlooked, and I was frequently given the party platform when I might have preferred critical analysis. La Sierra has really pushed me to think analytically, lucidly, and openly. And in doing so, it has buttressed my faith tremendously.
Question: What are your professional goals? What kind of ministry excites you the most?
Answer: My first and most pressing professional goal is to become employed. In today's economy with an M.Div. from a school perhaps slightly ahead of its time in Adventist circles, and with the commitments I've mentioned, I am fully aware that not every door opens to me. At the same time, I cannot imagine not doing some kind of ministry that allows me to capitalize on my interest in and passion for some of the issues I've noted. I'm sure that there is a niche in this world that I can fill. It might be a narrow one, but that's alright with me. I'm a little bit skinny anyhow.
Question: In what significant causes do you believe, and how are you championing them currently?
Answer: In addition to the things I've mentioned above, I care very much for environmental stewardship and healthy living. I think that those concerns go hand in hand; healthy living is good for the health of our planet, God's creation, and vice versa. I'm not necessarily coming from a place of ethereal earth worship, which so many Adventists have gotten hung up on. I'm coming from the understanding that I best honor God by caring for my body and by caring for God's creation (and after all, triathlons and vegetarian cookery are fun). I advocate for the causes that matter to me with my pen (keyboard, I guess), my ballots, and my billfold. Though I do it pretty poorly at times, I recognize, I try to champion the causes that matter to me through my lifestyle.
Question: You are on the blog roll for a new site called Constructing Adventist Theology: Exploring Christian Theology in a Christian Context. Who is involved with this project and where did the idea come from? What do you hope to accomplish?
Answer: Matthew Burdette, a fellow ministerial student at La Sierra, created the blog and invited my participation. Several other Adventists, mostly with roots in Southern California, collaborate on the blog. I don't want to say more than I know about Matt's motivation, but for me, it has to do with a few factors: the blog provides an outlet for my theological thinkings, it provides a contribution to the corpus of Adventist theology, and it provides a platform for dialogue not only with other Adventists, but also the broader theological community (that is, if they happen to stumble upon an admittedly obscure blog by a few left coast Adventist thinkers and writers).
Question: What is the greatest gift you hope to give to the Adventist Church in your lifetime?
Answer: I'm pretty confident that I will never be a famous evangelist or pastor, and almost certainly not an administrator. I'm a relatively slight white guy with a receding hairline who once entertained visions of being a professional pathfinder, a pearl diver, an artist, and then a professional cyclist. My aspirations still shift, but if with my commitments and my skill set I can leave a legacy of faithful engagement in issues of equality and of stewardship of mind and body and resources (in which I include our collective theological ruminations), I think I will feel about as successful as I can be!
Does that sound a bit idealistic? Ask me again in ten years, and we'll see where I stand.
Question: What is the greatest gift you have received or are receiving from the Adventist Church?
Answer: Three things come to mind:
One, the notion that human understanding of truth is dynamic, not static. We call it "progressive truth." It's been with us since the days of our founding mothers and fathers, it's found its way into our definitive statements of belief (the preamble to the 28 fundamentals), and it continues to be an incredibly helpful sensibility to bring to bear on discussions of the issues du jour.
Two, a holistic view of humanity that takes bodies in their richness and diversity very seriously. It shows up in our health systems, our educational systems, our theology, soteriology and our eschatology as well as in our humanitarian work. I am hopeful that it will also find its way into church policy on women leaders and homosexuality.
Three, I am grateful for the uniquely Adventist understanding of Sabbath. Many denominations observe sabbaths and some "non-Adventists" practice Sabbath in deeper ways than most Adventists do. Even so, the uniquely Adventist Sabbath-observing ethos I've inherited reminds me of the importance of the rest-work-rest rhythm of life and of the inescapable fact that however important my work feels (at Spectrum and elsewhere), my work has neither created all that has been, nor sustains what is, nor ensures what will be. Sometimes it takes stopping doing my work to remember that.
In addition, the Sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy 5 has some deeply profound implications for how we treat unskilled laborers, undocumented workers, resident aliens and immigrants. While I can't directly credit Adventism for pointing out some of those insights, without the understanding of Sabbath that Adventism bequeathed to me, I would likely have never thought to explore the possibilities.