From Our Desk: Changing Minds and Reflections on God

Published:
May 15, 2023

From Alexander Carpenter, executive editor:

Last week, I wrote on the first day of the Adventist Bioethics Conference at Loma Linda University. The second day of the great event featured two talks by Jonathan Metzl, director of the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine, Health, and Society. I found the first one particularly fascinating. It was about his 2009 book, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. He showed how schizophrenia moved from being mostly associated with docile women to becoming a “black disease” during the civil rights era. As this review of the book in the Journal of the American Medical Association notes, he makes his case using “US medical journals, newspapers, magazines, pharmaceutical advertisements, studies of popular opinion, music lyrics, oral histories, and films.” Combining his medical training with research into material and popular culture provided a rich and surprisingly deep understanding of how racism is constructed and institutionalized. “Far from resulting from the racist intentions of individual doctors or the symptoms of specific patients, racialized schizophrenia grew from a much wider set of cultural shifts that defined the thoughts, actions, and even the politics of black men as being inherently insane,” states the abstract by the American Psychological Association. “Ultimately, The Protest Psychosis provides a cautionary tale of how anxieties about race continue to impact doctor-patient interactions, even during our current, seemingly post-race era of genetics, pharmacokinetics, and brain scans.” Here is Metzl presenting this work on C-SPAN.

Over and over, Adventist historians continue to show that significant figures in the first decades of the Advent movement were driven by anti-racist abolitionist values. But something happened. As the growing denomination began to globalize, it increasingly segregated. Although more research needs to be done, it seems clear that while Adventists were focused on planting institutions and resisting the Sunday Law, Jim Crow politics and fundamentalism in America remolded the movement’s collective mind. Listening to Metzl reminded me that while we pat ourselves on the back for being the remnant and for being rugged individuals with rational God-given minds, there are deeper forces at work. Fear, ignorance, and control shape our communities more than we realize and discuss.

I flew back down to Southern California today. I’m going to be joined by a few young Adventist professionals in a film production studio in Los Angeles to experiment with a new Spectrum video podcast that will debate some of these issues. Growing up Adventist, we were reminded over and over at home, at school, and at church to be good. When we listen to our friends who have left Adventism they often cite the disconnect between their moral values and Adventism—around women’s ordination, racism, and queer rights. Sometimes this makes many of us feel crazy. We got the message: we are trying to be good. Are church leaders?

From Carmen Lau, board chair:

I just read my first book by Frederick Buechner, and I’m a fan.  The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life, Buechner’s 2017 publication, is a spiritual memoir with a measure of honesty that reflects on his childhood, conversion, spiritual growth, and struggles as a parent. His honest self-awareness about his impact on adult children gave me pause. The book ends with a reflection on peace. Here are the final paragraphs, which are Buechner’s reflections on Deuteronomy 33:26–27.

I was there lying in my bed with my full weight, every muscle relaxed, and it was as if I were held in those everlasting arms.

Joy is knowing that that is true from your stomach. Knowing that even though you see only through a glass darkly, even though lots of things happen—wars and peacemaking, hunger and homelessness—joy is knowing, even for a moment that underneath everything are the everlasting arms. (170)

A second book, related to doing life and parenting, struck me this week as well. Daneen Akers’s Dear Mama God, illustrated by Gillian Gamble, creates a sense of wonder and invites participation. Noting the barriers that can come with using metaphors and names for a mysterious God, the book uses the feminine and bases it on Reverend Wil Gafney’s translation of Job 33:4. Dear Mama God is a prayer of gratitude featuring colorful images of children engaged in joyful activities amid nature’s beauty. Akers notes that “incomplete and incorrect translations of the Bible have often led people to believe harmful ideas about who is made in the image of God and who supposedly, isn’t. Better language helps us remember that we are all created in God’s image. We are all beloved, just as we are.”

Dear Mama God will become one of my favorite gift books for children in my life.

(Read more about the book at www.dearmamagod.com.)

 


Book covers courtesy of the publishers. 

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