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Outside the Alamo 5: Surprise, Surprise


The recently concluded General Conference 2015 Session in San Antonio produced voteloads of random surprises.

Not that all of them literally astonished.

In the animated film Aladdin, the parrot Iago, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, exclaims at one point, “Oh, there’s a big surprise! That’s an incredib—I think I’m going to have a heart attack and die from not-surprise.

For our final “Outside the Alamo” post, here are some “surprises.”

1. Technology can be unreliable. People can be even more unreliable, especially when talking about technology.

2. Thursday night’s opening talk by the sitting General Conference President is an election campaign speech for the vote to be held the next day.

3. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering between the North American Division and the General Conference for “special delegates” is fascinating. It reminds me of U. S. major league sports bargaining. “I’ll give you Chuck Sandefur for Doug Batchelor, a first-round draft pick in Indianapolis 2020, and a player to be named later.”

4. On Friday, July 3, on the Mission Spotlight stage, the Breath of Life Quartet sang one of my favorite songs: “I Ain’t Got Time to Die.” That supplied some much-needed vitamin S for my soul nourishment.

5. Cliff Goldstein stopped Bonnie Dwyer and me on a sizzling sidewalk to regale us for 25 minutes about how the Affordable Care Act had saved his son’s life. “He would not be alive today if it weren’t for Obamacare,” he concluded.

6. In one of his numerous entreaties to delegates Ted Wilson implored, “If we stick to the letter of the law on everything, it will destroy the spirit.” There’s a concept, I thought.

7. David Asscherick’s talk to young adults at Impact San Antonio 2015 included a call for more Adventist artists and poets to share “the Adventist message.” He also said, “Truth is truth no matter who says it,” and “Jesus is the master contextualizer. He became [human].”

8. What a cavalcade of gifts delegates generously provided for us with the new, improved interpretation of our creation fundamental, which goes far beyond the Bible’s original wording. Now we don’t need to exert troublesome efforts attempting to align our beliefs with reality. Such a relief! No more seeking deepening levels or acknowledging nuances or grappling with contradictions. It’s all settled. We’ll have more time to post cat photos on Facebook.

9. “The Alamodome is not even a dome” (Bethany Krause, age 9 ½).

10. For the Wednesday vote, we were promised “an entire day” to hear speeches from the floor. Instead, after an extended introduction, we heard only 12 minutes of speeches before breaking for lunch at noon. In the afternoon, from 2:00-4:35—between delays, impromptu prayers, and literally 35 points of disorder—there remained about 68 minutes of actual speeches. In all, 40 people each spoke for two minutes. Thus an “entire day” telescoped to 80 minutes.

11. Please euthanize me if I hear “point of order” one more time.

12. This session proved to be a sea-change for Adventist journalism. Spectrum had three people live-tweeting throughout the meetings. The day of the ordination-jurisdiction vote, the official Spectrum Twitter account (run by Jared Wright) received more than 805,000 impressions—just one of our team's three tweeters. For one day. Astounding. That’s never happened before in Adventism. But it will happen again.

13. In some ways, July 8 felt like September 11. Tears fell, words flew, and anger grew. Many will remember the day for years to come. Does anyone really believe there will be gender-based hierarchical distinctions among the redeemed in the new earth? We ought to be new earth people now.

14. The human body can perspire up to 78 gallons a day and still survive.

15. A representative from an Adventist university outside North America communicated his all-too-common perception to Dave Ferguson: “We don’t have any gay people on our campus.”

Dave replied, “Well, we have students from your campus who are members of Kinship International, and they are asking for an opportunity for conversation with other LGBT+ people.”

The rep’s mouth dropped open.

16. Chris Stanley, a young adult lead pastor near Melbourne (pronounced “Mebben”), Australia, surprised Yolanda and me by scooting into a seat next to us and introducing himself (What? Another Adventist?) on our flight from San Antonio to Phoenix. He told us about his conference’s hiring a woman associate pastor for his local church because she brings different gifts.

As we leveled off at 35,000 feet, we chatted about the astounding diversity of booths in the convention center. His favorite booth introduced the host, who appeared fairly prominently in a flowchart replicated below.

Chris and I concurred that what happened in the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center represented the Adventist Church even more accurately than what transpired in the Alamodome. Confused? Let me break it down.

If you have further questions, contact the Director of Apostleship.

17. In his opening Sabbath sermon, charming and hilarious General Conference Secretary G. T. Ng announced of the GC Session, “There is not going to be another one.” If so, God is merciful indeed.

18. Speaking of which, I love God. Our surprising, diversity-fan, creative, redeemer God can take any bad and turn it into the best, as evidenced by the worst occurrence in history—the death of Jesus—that became history’s most liberating and glorious event.

This living God is yet at work in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Today, you can feel a resolute groundswell, or maybe a Holy Spirit windstorm, of godly commitment to get back to the gracious fundamentals of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Christ’s followers are going to need them all.

“The wind blows where it wills,” Jesus explains, “and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know from where it comes or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

So I’m wrestling, attempting to compose an accurate phrase to describe this fresh, wild, resolute, Holy Spirit windstorm. What expresses it best? Ah, got it.

Revival and reformation.

Chris Blake is an associate professor of English and communication at Union College and the author of many books and hundreds of articles. He was a member of Spectrum's General Conference reporting team in San Antonio, Texas.

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