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We-writing the Adventist novel

By Alexander Carpenter
This Boston Globe review for the new Denis Johnson novel, Tree of Smoke, caught my eye because it contained the following paragraph.
The title of “Tree of Smoke” is from Scripture, and refers in part here
to the vast map of information and possibility the Colonel keeps about
the war – a cache of delusional theory that Skip has been indexing for
his uncle for years. The dramatic tension of the novel belongs to this
folie à deux. The Colonel is trying to run a double agent named Trung,
a VC who has become disillusioned with the Marxist-Leninist strictures
of the North Vietnamese; having proved himself complicit by staying
silent during an off-the-books assassination, Skip spends half his time
languishing at a hidden villa, waiting for further instruction. Given
his virginal assumptions about God and country, it’s fitting that Skip
falls into a wartime liaison with Kathy Jones, a Seventh-day Adventist
nurse whose husband’s remains have just been found – theirs is the
perfect mix of lust and despair, framing the tropical circle of hell to
which they’ve both become accustomed

A lusting and despairing Adventist life — when’s the last time that appeared in Adventist print?  But there’s no doubt that it’s a part of our story.
I’m intrigued when non-Adventist novelists — others include Paul Theroux and David James Duncan — create an Adventist character.  And it prompts the question: Who gets to determine who we are?  Doctrine writers, the General Conference in quinquennial session, academy principals, Sabbath School teachers, parents, the compilers of Messages to Young People, Adventist Review columnists, Adventist bloggers? 
Perhaps we need to expand our idea about Adventist witnessing. For, while there’s power in the blood, there’s also power in the blog.  As media continues to give wider voices to the demos, those institutions that encourage diverse definitions along with a shared sense of meaning will create a satisfying sense of community character (see this chapter on “Constructing Collective Identities” in Democratizing Global Media).
All too often the church leadership treats the church as a holding tank, keeping the saints preserved until the end. But that squanders our collective talents.  By officially telling women and homosexuals, and sometimes ethnic minorities that they are genetic second class citizens, the church writes fiction, dissembling about the reality of the human character.  Instead of a member-making mentality, the church should shift money and talent to the sanctification process, and turn short conversion testimonies into long, richly charactered Adventist novels.

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