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Mother of My Adventism

I just got off the phone with my mother wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. After I hung up it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be an Adventist without her biological and social influence. Moreover, it was during college that I realized that both my parents molded much of how I relate to authority – both divine and human. As a result, I pray to GOD, not a heavenly father or mother, grandpa or grandma. It is precisely because I appreciate the contributions of my relatives of both genders that I don’t want to define one side as less Godlike.

My mother raised (often homeschooling) four boys. All our pets were male as well. As a result, even though she read more Ellen White than Gloria Steinem and probably still doesn’t know who Simone de Beauvoir is, she embodied a practical Adventist feminism. For family worships, we’d read Adventist Home as well as spend what seemed like agonizing hours memorizing Psalms or Rudyard Kipling’s “If—“. It’s tough to appreciate the character building power of 19th century poetry while Legos await. But she pushed us toward the light.

A creative thinker, I remember her objecting to the mindless male-first mentality at our small local church. I recall being embarrassed as a teen in adult Sabbath School class cringing out a thought: “Why is it that my mother always has to comment on the lesson?” But she was one of the few women at church who would speak up. An RN, health is her passion, and I remember after my parents’ divorce her voicing a worry that she wouldn’t find a partner who could keep up with her on morning runs. Still an Australian citizen, with Eastern European roots, she’s lived in America as a resident alien since the sixties. Her family knew Des Ford and Bob Brimsmead from plenty of Sabbath afternoon “discussions” Down Under and I spent holidays listening to them fighting the old battles through the late 80s and early 90s. Through their loud voice and eye twinkles they revealed to me the often overlooked ideological variety of Adventism. Her relatives were all conservative immigrants but they championed Des as much as any 1980s Adventist Forum professional. Not a graduate degree among ’em, but they loved the struggle for good, logical theology, and tempered by life under Communism, they worried about a movement where institutional authority and moderate apathy become more essential than the daily walk to define present truth.

And that’s what I appreciate about the Adventism of my mother: that passion for truth. She and I argue about inspiration and she tells me to eat this or that weird health food. Do I listen? Not as much as I should. But as I remind her (and my father) we don’t listen to God as much as we should either. Thus, they’re in good company! And perhaps that’s part of the point of Spectrum community and Adventism. We know that we don’t hear God as much as we should. But we’re in good company – community through conversation – all equally the offspring of God.

On this day, in remembering mothers we often forget all those women who lost, never had, never wanted, aborted, could not have, or were legally prohibited from having children. Let’s not. And let’s also remember the original purpose of Mother’s Day: to promote peacemaking. I fight for peace because of my Adventist heritage and because of the values my mother instilled in me.

As Digby wrote:

It’s unfashionable and vaguely unpatriotic these days to talk about “peace” but back in 1870, it was a pretty compelling concept. As the country was still reeling from the effects of the civil war and still dealt daily with its consequent illness, poverty, injury and death, feminist Julia Ward Howe wrote the following proclamation creating a Mother’s Day convention and a demand for “the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” How quaint.

Mother’s Day Proclamation – 1870

by Julia Ward Howe

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, Disarm!”

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail & commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.


I published an earlier version of this essay in 2007 on the Spectrum Blog.

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