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From Our Desk: Books We’re Enjoying


From Carmen Lau, board chair:

In preparation for leading a group of 17 Spectrum spiritual seekers walking St. Cuthbert’s Way in Scotland, I read Hunting for Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age (2021) by Richard Beck. I highly recommend it.  I’ve been challenged by the book’s ending, where Beck refers to Father Zosima from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

When we love, we come to "perceive the mystery of God in things." This love is a teacher, a practice of attention and intention. . . . You keep turning aside to see the strange sight.

This enchantment, Zosima points out, is also cruciform. Even a wicked person can love by chance. God’s enchantment, however, calls us to love the hard, the difficult, and the ugly. God’s love falls like sun and rain on the entire world. And we are called to contribute our drop, to be more gracious today than we were yesterday. This is a hard-won, cross-shaped love, and it’s dearly bought. The price tag is our Golgotha.

And so, dear reader, this is my final encouragement: Love like the sunshine, and the rain. Ask forgiveness of the birds. Be a drop more gracious, tender, and kind. Go gently in this mean world. Offer up prayers of Thanks, Help, and Wow. Recover your sacramental wonder. Count your blessings. Look to the horizon in the Valley of Dry Bones. Remember that you are a child of God. Rush to kiss the lepers. Listen to the voice in the night calling you to the cross. Turn your attention to the God dancing right in front of you. God is everywhere present, breathing on this world and turning it to fire. Where you stand is the gateway to heaven. The world is shining like transfiguration. Even the eels.

It only takes a little willingness to see.

From Alexander Carpenter, executive director:

I have been reading Matthew Vollmer’s All of Us Together in the End (2023) while heli-skiing in Canada over the past few days. After we ride down the Bugaboo glaciers, the global group gathers for a dinner each evening. Local Canadian mountain guides, helicopter pilots, hospitality workers, Austrians, Australians, Brits, Texans—it’s a constant "get-to-know-you" experience. While there are other vegetarians, I’m here with my father-in-law, and so we stick out a little at our table as we both get our food before the others or afterward. I keep having to explain not only why I am a vegetarian but why I am a lifelong one, and why he is too! Environmental ethics and taste preference are part of it, but that’s not the whole story. I reflect on Vollmer’s writing as my lifelong Adventist father-in-law and I find ourselves teetering on the edge of another denomination explanation as we wait for garbanzos coated in pastry while everyone else cuts into their beef Wellington.

Perhaps I will blame it on snowboarding at around 10,000 feet, but around the lodge, sometimes I just don't have the energy to explain: "Yes, it's because I'm Adventist. Here is who they are. I don't find some of it logical, but I still find much of it meaningful." 

The New York Times calls Vollmer’s writing “irresistible.” He is a professor of English and director of the MFA program at Virginia Tech. In his new book, Vollmer explores his own Adventism in a chapter titled “A Peculiar People.” He notes that the lack of famous Adventists makes it challenging to introduce someone to the tradition. For much of the chapter, Vollmer catalogs the things he explains to his students and others about Adventism and his relationship to it. He reveals that he’s finally ready to reveal the truth about the inevitable question: “Did you stay or did you go?”  

I loved growing up Adventist. I loved singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “This Little Light of Mine” and “Only a Boy Named David.” I loved clapping my hands together to mime “shoot the artillery” and shielding my candle finger so Satan couldn’t blow it out and swinging my imaginary slingshot ’round and ’round before the stone hit Goliath in the forehead and “the giant came tumbling down.” I loved eating Worthington meat substitutes like Big Franks and Fri Chik.

More than anything else, I loved my Adventist family—grand-parents, great grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. And most of all, I loved my Adventist parents.

He adds:

Even so, such a question seems to fail to consider the notion that a person like me—a person who was raised in the middle of nowhere, in the melancholic hollows of the mountains of Western North Carolina, in a loving and nurturing family co-captained by two parents who had also grown up in the church, attended church schools, read church books, sang church songs, listened to church music, and church story and ate Seventh-day Adventist food—could ever really leave the Seventh-day Adventist church, or that the idea of “leaving” was any more possible than changing who my parents were, that Seventh-day Adventism was as much part of who I was as any other essential element that made me who I was, and would forever influence who I would become.

That one complex sentence gets to the deeper reality of spiritual connection. For some, there’s something too deeply rooted for simple answers.

I’m sharing a heli-skiing adventure and the same weirdly tasty meal with someone just because of who I fell in love with. And who my parents’ parents’ parents’ parents were. All of that has to do with Adventism beyond its official history and beliefs.

In the ancient world, humans worshipped the family gods. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The growing expansion of this worldview builds through the Bible. As tribe expanded to nation, modernity often officially prioritized doctrinal adherence over this essential spiritual root. Culture and community forms connections to the Source, too. After five days among granite spires that rise de profundis (Psalm 130) and riding on glaciers that stretch for several miles, I know we are all bound to the boundless through our relationships: natural and beyond. As hard as it is to explain, this “forever influence” gives me hope for the future. 


Book covers courtesy of the publishers. 

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