Monday, October 29, 2007


Sarah Andrews

from a letter to me entitled
Quotes for Editorials

Suppose you adhere to the beliefs of a religion. You have given up something--made a personal sacrifice--to do this. Say sex, or certain other pleasures or comforts. Then someone comes to you and tells you that it's all a sham. You react emotionally. You feel that your beliefs have been blasphemed. You get it? It's like a betrayal.

It took me a while, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew that the way blasphemy works stood at the center of “Fault Line” and of what I was struggling to understand by writing it; that when people have adhered to a belief on the strength of faith alone, they feel betrayed, and, worse yet, humiliated by the very idea that what they have sacrificed to support that belief is in vain. Note that I am not talking about the definition of blasphemy--an irreverence or deviling of God or anything else held sacred--but about how it functions.

My realization of the way blasphemy functions led me to a partial disproof of my theory that scientific and religious faith and practice are similar. Scientists may hardly disagree when their beliefs are challenged, and can grow quite emotional, but they do not accuse one another of blasphemy. Scientists do not accuse each other blasphemy because in the practice of science, it is assumed that the truth is not known, and efforts are directed toward uncovering it. This is done by forming theories--false gods, if you will--and trying to disprove them. The scientific method is, in fact, a system that encourages blasphemy--or shall I say heresy, which is a more dignified form of challenge--through an institutionalized testing of beliefs. At its best, the scientific method leads us to the discovery of truths, or at least closer to them, and often toward a profound perception and admiration of the divine (read Albert Einstein, or Stephen Hawking). At its worst, the scientific method grows stodgy and collapses into a sheltered workshop for poorly socialized intellectuals. Many religions, by contrast, grow up around truth and accompanying rules revealed through an adept (Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith), and, as the religion becomes institutionalized, the object becomes to accept on faith these truths and rules and adhere to them. At its most benign, surrender of individual wills to a religious ideal or leader leads toward enlightenment. At its worst, it becomes contorted and precipitates wars, or implodes into mass suicides, as happened in Jonestown. Before I enrage my readers with these generalizations, let me hasten to point out that I speak of religious practice, as contrasted to spiritual practice. Spiritual practice, more like scientific practice, usually lead the devotee a through a process of refinement and clarification toward a perception of ever larger and more universal truths.


Scientists do not like being told they're wrong, and much less do they like to face the public humiliation of having it proved it to them. They are no different with regard to the emotions behind these reactions than a member of any other culture, religion, or sports team. But because they presume everyone is playing the same game by the same simple rule--tell the truth as you know it--they do not gore each other with ancient jawbones over such humiliations; instead they bear up, examine the evidence, draw their own conclusions, and take their medicine when the time is right. They do not consider challenges to their beliefs to be blasphemous, simply because, as with spiritual devotees, their faith lies more in tune and their process than in their beliefs.

My husband once told me about scientific experimentation that apparently demonstrates that the human brain is hard wired to construct a context of logic--for example, a cause-and-effect linkage--about every experience it encounters. I think this is an important theory to consider, because it would mean we are compelled to interpret every experience we have, regardless of how incomplete or even misleading the data, and regardless of how sorely we are limited by the facts of who and what we are. The consequences of such an urge to interpret our experiences would impact every system of belief we have, be it scientific, cultural, religious, or even spiritual. The authors of the U.S. Constitution must on some level have known this when they guaranteed a separation of church and state

I am pleased to live in a country where each one of us has a chance to have his or her own thoughts, and follow his or her own heart to a place of truth.

Sarah Andrews is a mystery writer who is also a professional geologist, licensed pilot, and friend. Her latest book is “In Cold Pursuit: A Mystery from the Last Continent”. She is best known for her mystery series featuring forensic geologist Em Hanson.

Self-serving Logic

Sarah Andrews

I discovered that laypeople know little of the mechanics of the scientific method. By extension, I fear that likewise they know little of the mechanics of their own religious belief system . . . To illustrate what I mean by that, let's consider how many people who believe that "If God existed, God would not allow the terrible things that happened in this world to happen." The logic behind this statement is self-serving. The subject first sets a definition of God (all powerful), then delegates all responsibility to God and has the temerity to erase God's existence based on performance of this impossible job. Anyone who's ever worked in management knows that when acccepting responsibility, one must also demand commensurate authority to define the job; even then, one must put up with endless criticism from underlings who, due to lack of experience, cannot perceive the true nature of the job. To believe that God does not exist, the subject of the belief has first defined for himself what God must be like.

Sarah is a geology professor at Cal State University, Sonoma, a friend, and the author of ten mysteries whose protagonist is Em Hanson. Em is a geologist who finds herself involved in a variety of mysterious and dangerous circumstances that occur because of her job assignments. At the end of her "Bone Hunter", a mystery novel published by St. Martins press, Sarah wrote an editorial comment that I have excerpted. Sarah's other mysteries can be purchased at Her latest book is “In Cold Pursuit: A Mystery from the Last Continent”.

What Do We Know About Reality?

Janwillem van de Wetering

They try to define something that can never be caught in a word, but they'll think of a word all the same and then use it as if it had real meaning. Like the Dutch Reformed preachers holding forth about God. In the old days anyway. They have learned a little more modesty now, and there aren't so many of them left, thank heaven. What do we know about reality? Maybe we do at moments. Like early this morning, with my half-witted turtle pottering about in the grass and a thrush singing away. Maybe I understood something then but it was gone when I tried to put my hand on it. But a woman like Miss Kops thinks she catches it and coins a word and before you know it the word is in the dictionaries.

Commissaris speaking in
"Death of a Hawker"
p. 155
Ballantine/Mystery paperback
July, 1987

How Modern Should Theology Be?

Helmut Thielicke

I can really make the gospel my own only if I may believe it with my eyes open, only if my faith does not force me to throw out something, or ignore something, or forget it for a while.

Moreover, this is not merely a condition that I as a modern man have imposed on faith. Faith itself demands it. For Jesus Christ wants me totally. He wants me to belong to him with more than my conscience, my emotions, and my anxieties; He wants my reason, my knowledge, and all the areas of my consciousness as well. But if I have to repress and suppress anything that I as a scientist or historian know, if I run with the mind that is not awake and intact and able to say, "Here you have me with all I am and have, including my knowledge and my reason," then I do not belong to him totally. At most I am placing at his disposal only a part of me--my religiosity or my pious feelings.

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969) pages 15, 16.


Test your knowledge of Seventh-day Adventist history and organization with these questions.

1. When was the earliest time set by William Miller for the return of Christ?

2. When was Ellen Harmon born?

3. Are infallibility and inspiration sy¬nonymous, and did Ellen Harmon ever claim infallibility?

4. Which of the early pioneers seems to have been most anxious to avoid making Ellen G. White’s visions a norm for the development of Ad¬ventist theology?

5. Has acceptance of Ellen G. White’s prophetic gift ever been a test of fellowship among Seventh-day Ad¬ventists?

6. In 1883, what three reasons did the General Conference give for refusing to adopt a church manual?

7. In order to assure adequate General Conference representation in local conference matters, how many of¬ficers from higher levels in the church may be called in to vote?

1. March 21, 1843

2. November 26, 1827

3. No and no. See Captains of the Host, Spaulding, p. 75.

4. James White. In the Review and Herald, October 16, 1885, he vigorously asserts that Adventist doctrines have been developed without reference to her visions. Instead, "We choose to believe Mrs. W's views which harmonize with the Word . . ."

5. No. In the Review and Herald, August 14, 1883, G. I. Butler offers evidence that her visions were not a test of fellowship. New members were accepted who had never heard of E. G. White, and some prominent ministers in the denomination did not accept the visions.

6. (1) A work issued under the auspices of the General Conference would once carry with it much weight of authority, and would be consulted by most of our younger ministers. (2) It would gradually shape and mold of the whole body, and those who did not follow it would be considered out of harmony with established principles of church order. (3) Minute, specific directions tend to weakness, rather than power. They lead to dependence, rather than self-reliance. Better make some mistakes and learn profitable lessons thereby, than to have our way all marked out for us by others, and the judgment have but a small field in which to reason and consider. 1883 Review and Harold article by G. I. Butler (then General Conference President).

7. All of them

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Trust in a Bottle

By Lawrence G. Downing

Under the headline “Researchers Find Trust to Be a Hormonal Affair,” Los Angeles Times staff writer Robert Lee Hotz (June 2, 2005, A18) reports that a team of researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Claremont Graduate University in California have recently discovered that trust can be artificially generated by a nasal spry containing oxytocin, a hormone which, the article proclaims, evolved a hundred million years ago to aid mating among fish and breast-feeding among mammals. Oxytocin, the scientists found, also promotes trust between human beings.

Hotz quotes Paul J. Zak, director of Claremont’s Center of Neuroeconomics Studies and an author of the research paper, “’If I increase your level of oxytocin, I can induce you to overcome your anxiety in trusting a stranger. It is a [biochemical] signal we induce unknowingly all the time by looking people in the eye or shaking someone by the hand.”

The implications of this finding boggle the mind. Spritz a whiff of the magic hormone into a reluctant investor’s snout, Viola, a life-long buddy who will sign on the dotted line! Put mist of oxytocin in a politician’s hands and the sky’s the limit! Consider the unprecedented opportunity this finding has for the evangelist world! The possibilities are limited only by the number of imaginative delivery methods.

One or two obstacles remain before oxtyocin can be applied on a mass scale. Because the hormone is broken down in the stomach, reports the article, its effects are relatively short and must be administered by inhalation or injection. A thick fog of oxytocin will do the trick, says economist Ernst Fehr in Zurich. It is only a matter of time until a forward-thinking numbers-driven cleric learns to adopt an effective delivery system to his/her bag of manipulative paraphernalia, all under the guise of advancing the Work.

Humor aside, the ethical associated with oxytocin are significant. Unanswered in the article is whether certain individuals inherently have higher levels of the hormone than others. Does it follow that those who naturally evidence higher oxytocin concentrations in the blood stream are more trusting and hence more prone to accept religion than those with lower levels? Should religious professionals seek to establish an ideal oxytocin level and administer appropriate doses to maintain those levels?

Consider the possibilities that await the enterprising entrepreneur whose vision is cast to capitalize on oxytocin’s powers to promote immediate and lasting trust. Think of the potential that awaits the pastorpreneur who files a Religious 501 C 3 and becomes the founder of the “Trust Now True Believer’s Church.” We can only imagine the slogans: Let us Spay! Spray and Believe. It’s Only a Spray Away.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reviewing the Review

October 18, 2007
Vol. 184, No.29

I wish I could recommend this issue in its totality. In many ways it’s great: its articles are thought provoking, intellectually and emotionally honest, and beautifully edited.

I can’t make that recommendation for two important reasons. While the cover is eye-catching, graphically excellent, and even daring, it is a misleading advertisement for the outstanding, groundbreaking feature article. I can only guess that the words “From Itself” and the subtitle, “How Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer may have led it astray” were a sop to reactionary readers who won’t be happy with the cover and the article anyway!

The cover should have proclaimed, “Saving a Seinfeld Generation”. Those words would have properly introduced the excellent piece by Shawn Brace. If I were he, I would be very upset!

The second reason I can’t make a blanket endorsement of this edition of the Review is “Kids View”. I’m sure it was a well-intentioned attempt to reassure kids about “The Impending Time of Trouble”, but it simply reinforces the fear that it is intended to relieve. Read the words of the kids that were interviewed. The following is just one example.

Noelle: “Sometimes knowing that He’s with us isn’t always enough because you can’t see Him. So it’s still kind of scary. It’s not like it still can’t happen because it will.”

In addition, this kind of “Final Days Fright” undermines the credibility of the Church. While it is my sincere hope that Christ’s return is eminent, this subject is, at best, tangential to the Gospel message, and at worst, a shameless scare tactic! This “talk” scared and scarred my five-year-old mother to back in 1905! Wilona Karimabadi, what were you thinking? Editors, isn't there a child psychologists on your payroll?

As I said previously, everything else, every editorial, article, book review, bit of medical information, and devotional expression of faith made me proud to be an Adventist. I was particularly moved by what our Church is doing in Mozambique as it works with the government and other religious groups to fight malaria and to drill a well in every village. “Kids View” editors, take note.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Lawrence G. Downing

Dr. Earle Hilgert, former Andrews University Seminary professor and Professor Emeritus at McCormick Seminary, in his presentation at the inaugural Richard Hammell Lectureship at Loma Linda University Church, examined what he termed the Essentials and the Accidentals of the Christian faith. He defined Essentials as those properties that are fundamental to an object or person. He defined Accidentals as those properties which are part of an object but are not essential to its being. Hilgert employed the metaphor of a triangle to illustrate his point. The angles of a triangle will add up to 180 degrees—always. This is an essential. The area of a triangle is an accidental.

Hilgert’s search to discover the Essentials of the Christian faith led him to discover what appear to be the earliest New Testament confessionals. From his examination of these confessionals, Hilgert concluded that the first Christians counted the following as Essentials: Jesus Christ is Lord, he was crucified, and he rose from the dead.

Examples of Accidentals, using Hilgert’s definition as a starting point, include the Nativity story—Matthew and Luke describe Jesus’ birth; Mark, John and the other New Testament writers don’t. These authors do not tell us where He was born and make only oblique reference to His virgin birth. We find similar divergences when we read what the New Testament authors wrote about Jesus’ divine/human nature and the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

This paper argues that Hilgert is “on to something”, in that it offers an explanation for the current theological divisions in the Adventist Church and the growing influence of administrators on theology and practice.

Hilgert chose geometry as his metaphor to illustrate the difference between Essentials and Accidentals. He might also have used a musical note. A trumpet, a piano, flute or violin each has the ability to generate a tone. When a tone is produced with a vibration of approximately 440 vibrations per second (v.p.s.) at 72º F, it is an “A”. The vibrations per second produce the Essential. The harmonics, or accidentals produced by the individual instrument, are what differentiate one instrument from another. This is how we know the difference between a trumpet and a bassoon.

What we discover, however, is that when one examines individual instruments from within the same subgroup, accidentals have a subtle, though significant role. A concert violinist, when given the choice, will select a Stradivarius over a 21st Century mass-produced violin.

Triangles and musical instruments are one thing; religious belief and practices are quite another; however the metaphor is instructive. Religious organizations subscribe to commonly accepted Essentials, such as belief in the existence of a higher Being God, and the notion that human beings have the potential to become better in some broadly defined moral sense.

Subgroups within the Christian metagroup affirm a sub set of Essentials. These are beliefs regarding the Trinity, baptism, forgiveness of sin, salvation by faith in Christ alone, and the authority of Scripture. What differentiates one Christian group from the other is the emphasis a specific entity places upon the Accidentals. The Seventh day Adventist Church emphasizes a particular day for worship. Baptists believe in an eternal hell fire and in baptism by immersion. Roman Catholics affirm the infallibility of the Pope and Mormons believe the president of the Church of Latter Day Saints Church is endowed with the prophetic gift.

What one subgroup identifies as an Essential may be viewed as Accidental, inconsequential, or heretical by another group. For example, both Methodists and Baptists believe in baptism. The Methodists baptize by immersion or sprinkling. Baptists do not accept sprinkling. The mode of baptism is an Essential to the Baptists; it is an Accidental to the Methodist.

As one more closely differentiates between subgroups, Accidentals tend to become Essentials. Because Accidentals are what define and give character to individual subgroups, the more distinct the Accidental, the more importance it may have for the group. To illustrate this point I will reference the church I know best.

The Adventist Church has a set of 28 Fundamental Beliefs. These are its Essentials. This list includes beliefs commonly accepted as Essential by other Christian groups: God is the Creator, salvation is by faith in Christ alone and Scripture is God's authoritative word. There are, however, other statements of belief within the 28 that most Christians do not accept: the seventh day Sabbath; the 2300 days prophecy found in Daniel 8:14; abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and unclean meats; tithing; and the belief that Ellen White was a prophet of God. These Accidentals turned Essentials provide this subgroup with its unique identity and have become basic to its continued existence.

Religious subgroups sometimes consider it mandatory to persuade members of its Metagroup to accept their beliefs and adopt their Accidentals as Essential. These refinements tend to further isolate these subgroups from others in the metagroup. Energy and effort is also required to defend and promote these doctrines. If members of the subgroup challenge one or more of these “official” beliefs, group leaders may try to mediate differences and/or attempt to enforce established doctrine.

Christian church history suggests that there is a common thread of paranoia and intolerance in subgroups as they more carefully define and emphasize the aspects of the beliefs that differentiate them from the metagroup. As a subgroup begins to focus on and promote its peculiar characteristics, Accidentals tend to become Essentials, and the subgroup becomes increasingly certain of its unique role in the cosmic scheme of things. As a consequence, it perceives its Essentials to be of increasing importance. The gulf between the subgroup and the metagroup increases, and the subgroup comes to believe that if they modify or abandon their unique Essentials, their identity will be lost and their existence threatened. Ironically, this course of action may weaken their influence within the metagroup and lead to their eventual irrelevance and dissolution.

Today, Seventh-day Adventists are under pressure to decide if it is possible for one member’s Essentials to be another member’s Accidentals? While the majority of Adventists accept the Sabbath as an Essential, there is less support for the Church’s official position regarding inspiration, eschatology, a short-earth chronology, and a worldwide flood.

Can the Seventh-day Adventist church permit a diversity of belief without destroying their Christian fellowship? For some Adventists this question is debatable; for others it is not. There are those who believe it is important to precisely define the Essentials and set precise doctrinal boundaries. These members expend energy and resources to promote what Hilgert defines as Accidentals. The end result of these efforts is division, infighting, and loss of credibility. As a result, the Adventist church’s contribution to a progressive understanding of Essential Christian theology will be heavily discounted.

My Dogma Is Better Than Yours

(click to enlarge)
From Non Sequitur by Wiley

Thursday, October 18, 2007


by Jeff Harris
illustrations by Thomas Anderson

When the heart lies down with the fat dogs
in the fat town,
Whimpering when your dinner’s late,
Let piety adjust your face
To the seasoning of his brand of grace,
And help yourself to your neighbor’s plate.

When the heart lies down with the fat dogs
in the fat town,
Howling hosannas and drowling for dinner
Bow your head saintly and pray like a sinner:

“Oh life is so simple,
Life is so sweet.
Thanks for the kibbles, god,
How ‘bout some meat?”

When the heart lies down with the fat dogs
in the fat town,
Saluting with due pro-piety
Your deity at First and Main,
Rejoice as you bless with humble derision
The gods at the corners of others’ religions.

The First Memoir

Here is the story of the worldwide flood recorded in Genesis 6-9. (I have also included what God had to say about meat eating in Genesis 9:2-4. This is for the benefit of my SDA brothers and sisters.)

What really happened? Read the Biblical account, and then I’ll tell you.

- Andy

Can you read this and believe it’s literally true? What about the physical size of the ark, the numbers of animals housed and fed, what about amphibians, the identification of “clean” an “unclean” animals before dietary laws were pronounced at Sinai, contradictory statements, the Lord smelling the “pleasing aroma” of Noah’s burnt offering. This account also makes God look stupid. He tried to destroy violence by the most catastrophic and violent act described in the Bible, and he failed miserably.

Before I describe what probably happened, I offer the following assumptions.

Assumption 1: the careful reading of the Bible will increase its value as a moral compass for behavior and will stimulate healthy intellectual inquiry.

Assumption 2: the actual reading of the Bible need not inspire fear, destructive doubt, or the rejection of the Bible as an inspired book.

Richard Elliott Friedman offers an explanation for the conflicting “facts” that are contained in the Biblical narrative. In his book, "Who Wrote the Bible”, He suggests that the Genesis flood story is actually two separate stories that someone “cut up and combined into one”.

Friedman’s thesis opens the door, at least a crack, for the consideration of the Flood, not as a literal account of what really happened, but a story about something like a tsunami.

Possible scenario: Earthquakes, probably the subduction or collision of tectonic plates, enlarged or broke through the land forms separating Europe (Gibraltar) from the coast of Africa and also created the Bosporus channel.

Fact: The Mediterranean and Black Sea bottoms contain evidence of previous human habitation.

Fact: Describing an event similar to the tsunami in South East Asia makes it possible to explain the Flood as something other than the result of God’s wrath; that we do not serve a god that is unforgiving and vindictive, who ruthlessly drowns innocent children and animals. That seems to me to be a worthy endeavor.

Here is my scenario. The people who survived the Flood lived some distance from their respective valley floors where cities, usually associated with sinful or at least secular behavior were likely to be situated. (Sodom and Gomorrah?) These people were savvy enough to head for higher ground when the animals did. Consequently, they ended up on the tops of hills accompanied by lots of animals. Some boats survived the general destruction.

The rainbow “promise” story was told by shamans to reassure shocked survivors, particularly children. The statement that “the waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet”, indicates the incredible magnitude of the event.

NOTE: Cartoon taken from Non Sequitur by Wiley
(click image to enlarge)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Remnant — A Parable

by Eric Ayars

It was a small boat, as boats went. It was hardly more than a rowboat, really; but it was safe, dry, and watertight. Rather pretty too, James thought, as he and the other rowers took a short break. It was white, appropriately enough, with a neat line of oars down one side and sturdy wooden benches for the crew. Its name, which they were all so proud of, was stenciled in large red block letters on each side of the bow. Everyone could see that this was no ordinary rowboat: this was the Remnant.

It was a strange name for a boat, but that name filled the crew with hope. They had a mission: saving swimmers. They had a destination: port. They had promises, given to them by The Captain Himself. He had promised them that the Remnant would never sink. He had promised that all those on board would live. He had promised that they would reach port safely. And so, day after day, they rowed.

It seemed to James that surely they should have reached port by now. He knew they weren’t lost—they had a map, drawn by The Captain Himself. It was spread out on a small platform near the bow, next to the careful painting of a compass that showed them they were heading the right direction. Despite all that, though, they had not reached port. James still wondered occasionally if they should have oars on both sides of the boat; but when they had tried that they had run aground almost immediately. "We should return to the old ways," the leaders had told them in the aftermath of that disaster, "and row harder."

James tried to remember how long he’d been on the boat. It seemed like he’d been rowing all his life. Perhaps he’d been born on the boat! After all, his parents were on the boat too, just a few benches away. Come to think of it, so were his grandparents. Well, he grinned to himself as he began to row once more, The Captain hadn’t said how long the trip was—He’d just promised that they would get there safely.

Not everyone on the Remnant had been born there, of course. Next to James sat Steve, who’d been pulled from the surrounding water quite recently. Steve still dripped and smelled a little bit like chlorine, but James didn’t mind. It felt good to have been a part of saving a man’s life. He wished that he could do more for the rest of the swimmers surrounding the boat; but most showed no desire to come aboard. They seemed utterly unaware of their lost and drowning condition as they splashed happily about in their indecent outfits and garish rubber hats. Some swam back and forth endlessly, as if they could reach port on their own. Others clung to small inflatable toys, as if those could carry them safely through the great storms of the end. Most seemed to treat their condition as a game, unconcerned that they weren’t on the Remnant.

Sadder still to James were his memories of those who had once been on the Remnant but had left. His sister had rowed for a long time on the bench beside him, until one day she’d started talking excitedly about “looking farther” and “seeing the big picture”. They had all tried convincing her to calm down and keep rowing, but she wouldn’t. She and his best friend had jumped overboard, and were last seen wading hand in hand into the distance. Someday, he hoped, they would come back to the Remnant; but until they made that choice there was nothing he could do. He bent his back once again into his oar as the painted compass pointed them onwards.

Far above, on the bridge of the great ocean liner, Remnant, the watch was changing.

"Morning, Gabe. Coffee?"

"Thanks, Michael." The glowing creature folded himself into a chair with a sigh and held the steaming mug under his nose.

"Ah, that hits the spot. Quiet watch?"

"I wish! More of the usual, I'm afraid, with emphasis on wars and rumors of wars. I'll be glad when this trip is over!"

"We're almost there now, I'm sure. Soon we'll all be home…" It was such an old joke that they snorted the punchline almost in unison: "…Even the Adventists."

The two archangels sat for another companionable moment before Gabriel broke the silence. "I know this is a strange question to ask after so many years, but I was working with the situation down on China deck in the mid-nineteenth century and missed all the fun. How'd they get that lifeboat to the pool deck in the first place?"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Reviewing the Review

October 11, 2007
Vol. 184, N. 28

Reviewer’s Note:
For those of you who get the Review electronically, this review might seem late. However, I am only comfortable writing reviews when I have the actual magazine beside me. I just got it yesterday.

LETTERS These letters refer to articles and editorials in July and August! This is October! Why the lag time? Just today, on our town’s Alzheimer’s Walk, one of my Grace Connection friends told me that he enjoys reading Letters. Then, without reading further, he often tosses his Review in the trash because the letters refer to articles and editorials two months old!

The responses to the June 14 articles on the church’s position on the War in Iraq, while differing in support of non-combatant status, all shared a basic unease about American foreign policy. I’m more than uneasy; I want us out of Iraq ASAP.

Don’t we citizens get it? Everyone who pays federal taxes is “supporting the war”. I wonder what would happen if all the Adventists in America refused to pay taxes because, as conscientious followers of Christ, we cannot support a national policy of killing our enemies and causing the inevitable “collateral damage” of war. Talk about bringing on “The Latter Rain”! That would do the job in a hurry!

Ken Albertson, a letter writer from Scottsdale, “cannot visualize Christians rioting and burning buildings just because some ‘pagans’ misuse the Bible in some irreverent way". Ken, Christians have been guilty of that and a lot worse down through history. In fairly resent times German Christians planned and carried out the Holocaust, and Rwanda was the most “Christian” nation in Africa. By the way, a Rwandan Adventist church leader is a convicted war criminal.

BILL KNOTT’S EDITORIAL Bill, I was with you all the way until you said, “We should all rightly dread the day when policies are crafted to quiet critics, or positions taken only to ward off the darts of bloggers.” (These words seem to be an aside, written to avoid the wrath of a “conservative constituency”.) We “critics” and “bloggers” may speak corrective truths on occasion.

Come on, Bill, we are looking to you for leadership. Continue to be as unequivocal about truth and hypocrisy as you are in your last, paragraph: “Pray this day that the leaders you follow will have the courage to speak the truth as it is in Jesus—without fear, without change, without equivocation.”

WHEN YOU THINK YOUR PRAYERS AREN’T HEARD Wilona, how can you reference “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith” when you write about the feeling that follows prayer? You “know that you are just fine. You are better than fine.”

ABUSE IN THE ADVENTIST CHURCH This Cover Feature deserves the billing. We as a church “must move forward to educate, to protect, and to provide healing environments for our hurting members.” Rene, Marciana, Gary and Linda, thanks for the reminder. THIS ARTICLE IS A MUST READ!

TRUTH, THE NEGLECTED VIRTUE This is a huge disappointment as “theology”. It’s difficult for me to believe that Rex Edwards was a university Dean. The language is cliché riddled, mangled almost beyond belief, and meaningless because terms are not defined and analogies are stupefying. Consider the following quotation:

“Self-will always repudiates a truth that challenges it. But however successful self-will may be, it’s never satisfied. That’s why the egotist is always critical. The head that wears the crown is uneasy—not because it’s tired of the crown, but because it’s tired of itself. It has it within its power to do anything it pleases, but living without boundaries and limitations becomes as dull and stagnant as a swamp.

“A river must be happier than a swamp, because it has banks and boundaries. A swamp is a valley of liberty that lost its shores and became liberal.”

Editors, do you just correct spelling?

PORTAGING THE CHINA CABINET Sari Fordham’s “Journeys” piece is a delightful, fresh read. She offers her analogy without heavy-handed moralizing.

PAULSEN: INCLUDE YOUNG ADULTS IN CHURCH, WOMEN IN MINISTRY The nine-panel member pastors featured in the September 13 interactive telecast are not identified by name, and the issues discussed are not close to resolution. It was particularly disheartening to read Jan Paulsen’s comment that even though the world church has never taken the position that the “concept” of ordaining women is rejected by the Bible or the writing of church cofounder Ellen G. White, “It’s just a question of ‘can we make this major change and still hold together as a global community?’”

ADRA preaches the Gospel message. Unfortunately, most of us just talk about it. Support ADRA

ADVENTIST/PRESBYTERIANS AFFIRM COMMON BELIEFS Of course we do; we are both Christian denominations. I hope the hotel accommodations were good and the other perks lived up to the expectations of the conference participants.

FAMILY WORSHIP A pretty standard homily. The notion that family worship started in the Garden of Eden conjured up, in my mind at least, a surreal vision of nudity and strategically placed fig leaves.

SEEKING AND BEING Seth Pierce realistically portrays grad school poverty along with the justifiable fear of what our wives had to say when we absent-mindedly forgot where we left our brains.

EMBRACED Lori Futcher reminds us of what a church family ought to be.

PUTTING THE “AWE” BACK IN Tompaul Wheeler asks us to make sure that our use of superlatives is not superlative.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Can This Theologian Be Trusted?

Modified from the book Rubes Bible Cartoons, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Faith Should Be Tested

Modified from the book Rubes Bible Cartoons, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Free Folks vs. the Orcs

The Lord of the Rings trilogy parallels Western Civilization's current fight against radical Islamic terrorists
By Gene Edward Veith

EACH EPISODE OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS, AS IT came out year by year, resonated in an eerie way with current events. The Fellowship of the Ring showed terrifying Dark Riders breaking into the peaceful, complacent world of the Shire only a few months after Sept. 11, 2001, when ordinary hobbit-like Americans had to face up to the reality of terrorism.

The next year, The Two Towers showed the battle joined between the "free folks" and the forces of the Shadow, just as Americans were reacting to the destruction of their Two Towers by fighting the war in Afghanistan. This year, The Return of the King portrays a victory, in the aftermath of our own overwhelming but incomplete victory in Iraq, opening only a few days after the capture of the Dark Lord, Saddam Hussein. The movie even features a "spider hole."

A major theme of the trilogy, as the actor who played Gimli, John Rhy-Davies, told WORLD (Dec. 20, 2003), is the defense of Western civilization.

One of the reasons the novels and movies have the impact they do is that The Lord of the Rings is a compendium of Western culture. Its author, J.R.R. Tolkien, a professor of ancient literature, combined elements from the whole range of Western legends, epics, and heroic sagas old and new. The trilogy is filled with the images and atmosphere of Beowulf and King Arthur, with the cursed ring borrowed from the Germanic epic The Song of the Niebelungs and the character of Sam from Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers.

Audiences can relate to the heroism—including the theme of ordinary folks having to assume the mantle of heroism—and to the clash between good and evil and to the Christian symbolism because Tolkien is drawing from a deep and rich cultural heritage. Many people vaguely recognize it, though they may have forgotten what it is.

But the models are not just literary. The trilogy taps into cultural memories, evoking a history that many of our ancestors actually experienced. A massacring army outside the walls was commonplace from the time of the Old Testament, through the Middle Ages, to the 19th-century Napoleonic wars. The movie captured the wonder and the fear of the Roman legions when they were attacked by Hannibal's elephants, which were dealt with in similar ways. By far the most disturbing cultural memory, from both the movie and history, was the image of barbarian hordes sweeping through peaceful villages, with parents holding their children and running away from the slaughter as their homes were plundered and burned.

There was a time when Western civilization did collapse, when Rome fell, and barbaric tribes swept through Europe, raping and killing and destroying. During these Dark Ages, civilization—literacy, education, the arts, the preservation of the past, the further development of culture—was kept alive in and by the Christian church, which continued to copy out manuscripts, educate those who were interested, and promote a moral order to life.

The Dark Ages were ended not by war, though wars against the invaders were necessary, but by evangelism. When the church finally converted the barbarian tribes to Christianity, Western civilization came back to life.

Today, the "free folks" of the West are having to confront the violence and the worldview of the radical terrorists. The battle, though, is not just a military one.

In The Lord of the Rings, the civilization of the Elves and Men is exhausted. The Elves are weary, preferring to escape into their own reveries and to leave the world behind. The lands of Rohan and of Gondor have their glory years behind them and are now preoccupied with achieving political power and avoiding conflicts.

What makes Sauron so deadly is not only the Orcs but the way he has seduced into his service both "the wild men" and Saruman, the intellectual, the scientist and theologian, the head of Gandalf's order.

Similarly, the civilization that is under attack by the terrorists is also under attack from within, from its own intellectuals and its own seemingly liberal and cultured citizens who have come to hate their own heritage.

In The Return of the King, the tide of a major battle turns when Aragorn persuades the "army of the dead"—those who "have no beliefs"—to join the fray. These were traitors who refused to fight in the previous war against the Shadow and so were cursed. Aragorn gave them the chance to regain their honor, and this time they came through.

Perhaps those who refused to fight the Communists, the last threat to Western civilization, might be persuaded to abandon their current opposition to the war on terror. More importantly, perhaps the West will recover its nerve and its values. But this will require returning to the King.

Dear Mr. Veith,
As a fan of the Lord of the Rings, and a believer in both Christian and democratic virtues, I enjoyed your skillful and wide-ranging application of this epic story to current events. I use aspects of this story to teach certain psychological principles to the students that attend my college classes. Being a university lecturer may qualify me as one of the intellectuals or liberals you mention in this piece. I don’t think so, although I do admit denial is a constant force in much of human behavior, including mine. Still, regardless of what label I bear, I want to address what I see to be a deficit in your analogy.

There is a time when terrorism and tyranny must be squarely faced, no matter the cost. And Sauron-like seductions can be widespread, from the brute to the intelligentsia. But criticism, input and oversight are virtues of democratic society. I don’t like it when you and others generalize those who perform this vital function as fools who have been seduced into hating their heritage. I do think it is likely that you are closer to the reality of those who have the privilege of hating their country out loud. But I personally don’t know any America haters. I do know a lot of people who mix up loyalty and freedom with blustery and rigidly held opinions, which are then seasoned with a mixture of fact and hate. In this vein, the only thing I see separating some liberals from some conservatives is, well, nothing.

I personally believe that Saddam was as a bad as they come, and that the Iraqi people, for the moment, are better off. But I don’t hear anyone admitting that America was complicit in Saddam’s butchery. Every mass grave, rape, torture and murder under Hussein bears America’s fingerprint. America was Hussein’s accomplice. He paid us off with some acceptable semblance of military and economic stability abroad, and more disposable income and peace of mind at home. I think that you have to hate America to stay silent about all that.

I don’t think it’s accurate to always look at the evil “out there.” You must also look at the evil inside. So there are several other ways I apply the Lord of the Rings to this American/Iraqi matter. Sauron persists because Isildur allowed himself to be seduced by the Ring, and wouldn’t let it go when it was time. He let his own self-interest stand in the way of what would have been best for the world. He imagined his victory to be complete, his power to remain unchallenged, and his foes to always remain weak. But he fails miserably and sets the world up to fight another version of the same battle.

So Tolkien’s Ring symbolizes national security, oil, weapons, stock prices, GNP, elected office, vanity, personal opinion, and being too lazy or too beleaguered by the demands of chasing various American dreams, all of which can be corrupted into wraiths ringing in our collective ears, particularly when denial is spewing from Mt. Media.

Finally, it’s not true that the undead in the story have no beliefs. In fact, they believe they are the ultimate judge, jury and executioner of the realm they have claimed to be their own. Deep in the mountains of their self-interests, they are very powerful, and utterly entitled, at least until a truth teller like Aragorn shows up. They shift then from being predators to being servants, which is something I think some Americans need to learn as much as some Iraqis. The consequence in the story is much bigger than victory; it is redemption, which, according to my reading of Scripture, is something we all need.

I believe there are ways that America can learn to safeguard its security and prosperity without making dark deals with evil people. In order for America to mature and evolve in this way, matters like these have to be part of the national examination of conscience. And owning up is part of the process of being a good American, a good conservative, and a good Christian. Right now I don’t hear any of those people owning up about bedding down with a butcher. Instead, I hear Americans boasting that first we whipped Saddam’s ass, second we’ve captured it, and third we’re going to punish it. This boasting is punctuated with arguments about the importance of American interests and the beauty of American might.

You end your essay by claiming that our courage and values require turning back to the King, who I take to be Christ. I end my message to you by claiming that, as our relationship with Saddam has shown, American life has a dark side. I say be brave enough to take that to the King.

Robert A. Howard

I’m trying to picture Christ as a machine gunner on an Abrams tank in Iraq, “returning to the King” all those Iraqis who get in the way of US foreign policy. It’s not easy.

Rob Howard sent me his response to this editorial way back on January 17, 2004. At the time, this blog was the last thing on my mind. Is Rob “way cool” or what?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Reviewing Adventist World

October, 2007

The “Church Works” segment was informative and interesting. For the first time in 48 years, Adventist young people were allowed to travel outside Cuba. Their destination was a convention in Medellin, Colombia.

Jan Paulsen’s essay, “The Healthy Church”, was doctrinally inclusive and encouragingly progressive in substance and tone.

Drs. Handysides and Landless’ “World Health” alert regarding XDR Tuberculosis was, as usual, timely and informative.

“Celebrity Culture” by David N. Marshall was insightful and a MUST READ.

Boonstra’s “It Is Written’s” full-page advert was tasteful and Gospel oriented! Hopefully this signals a permanent change in both his evangelistic emphasis and advertising.

References to the “remnant church” and “the last days” seem to me to confuse rather than clarify the Gospel Message. The excerpt from Arthur G. Daniells’ book, “The Abiding Gift of Prophecy”, was cliché-riddled and almost unreadable.

Angel M. Rodriguez in his essay, “God of the Undeserving”, told me more than I cared to know about eunuchs.

Editors, what on earth inspired you to include Mark Finley’s Bible studies in your magazine? His evangelistic efforts trivialize the Gospel message and seriously damage the credibility of your magazine. In his current “study”, Jesus’ current location in Heaven is assumed to be of worldwide importance. That notion boggles the mind.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What Happened to the Class of '59: A Religious Survey

A Survey of the 1959 Monterey Bay Academy Graduating Class
By Lawrence Downing

The 109 graduates of Monterey Bay Academy class of 1959 were probably not much different from any other class who graduated from academies across America that year. We prided ourselves on the fact that we were the largest class to graduate from MBA. We assured one another that we were the “best”, the “most loyal”, and pledged to always remain close.

What we did not know is that those of us who continued in our educational pursuits were some of the first academy graduates to receive instruction from newly minted PhDs. Nor did we know that the Adventist Church was on the cusp of change that would transform the church.

Ours is the generation that saw the Adventist church become a global religion. When we started our education beyond high school, our church was a North American denomination. By the time we completed graduate school, the majority of our fellow believers lived outside North America.

Our generation also witnessed a loss of innocence. We experienced the fallout that followed from the publication of Questions on Doctrine, when the church moved from a legalistic based approach to salvation to an affirmation of righteousness by faith. We saw the rise of independent ministries, and we experienced the profound influence of Des Ford and Walter Rae. Classmates and others of our generation struggled to apply our new understanding of what scripture appeared to teach. We experienced a drastic change of demographics as the Adventist church in the United States transformed itself into a multi-cultural denomination as immigrants from other countries joined our congregations.

Our generation began to ask questions. We were not satisfied with denominational organization and polity. We were not content to support the Church with our money without knowing how it was spent. Tithe paying for many was no longer considered a moral issue. Adventist education was an option, but not the only one. Many Adventist sent their children to public schools or other parochial schools.

How all of these factors influenced my classmates is unknown. What is known is that a strong majority of my classmates have positive memories of the time they spent at MBA. However, almost half of those who completed my survey no longer consider themselves to be Seventh-day Adventists. I wanted to take a look at what factors may have influenced this decision. The following is a brief summary of what I found.

Number of Graduates 109
Classmates Contacted 75
Responses 63
Are Adventists 33
Are Not Adventists 30

Thirty-three of us continue to have a strong and meaningful relationship with the Adventist Church. We found it difficult to understand how anyone could leave the Church. Several of us strongly affirmed the importance of Ellen White's role in the Adventist Church history and expressed appreciation for her prophetic guidance.

Several classmates left the Adventist church for a time but have come back. These and others who have remained Adventists, stated that they are still disappointed that the Adventist church expresses its central beliefs “legalistically” rather than in terms that reflect the spirit-filled joy that comes from the assurance of salvation. Many who attend an Adventist church regularly, expressed the feeling their church is not a "good fit" for them, theologically or socially. They are Adventists and have never left the church, but they are not satisfied with how the church operates or what they hear on Sabbath morning. In their view there is too much emphasis on the Twenty-eight Fundamental Beliefs and not enough on what it means to be a vibrant Christian.

Classmates who do not consider themselves Seventh-day Adventists gave a variety of explanations for their break with the Church. Several mentioned that people in the Church were not there to support them when they went through a personal crisis. One person said that when they could no longer continue as a church officer, they never heard from anyone in the Church again. Others stated that in divorce situations the church members and leaders were judgmental and did not express care or concern.

Others stated that they now believed that what we were taught about the Bible and Ellen White was not correct, and that as students they did not receive information that helped them understand and apply the gospel to their lives. Legalism rather than God's grace and salvation through faith in Christ had been preached from the pulpit and in Bible classes. They reported that there was more emphasis on Adventist life-style than a personal commitment to Jesus as Savior.

These classmates have come to question the spiritual and communal benefits the Adventist church offers. The internal strife and criticism have interfered with their spiritual development. At times the demands on Church members exceeded reasonable expectations. The nuts and bolts activity necessary to keep a church going was overwhelming.

Some have had unpleasant experiences with Church politics at the local conference and union level. They report that they found people very impersonal, aloof, and sometimes greedy in dealing with members. Said one person, "The childhood perceptions of the church--nurturing, caring, accepting--have faded into an adult reality that I'm O.K. with the church if I 'dance to its music' or 'walk the walk.' If not, 'Come and see us when you can.’" One classmate said, "It (the church) is not unlike any other organization--meet the expectations or take a walk."

Some have found more caring, nurturing, and acceptance in secular organizations. They believe that the Church does not have anything better to offer than its secular counterparts, and they claim that the Church’s ability to meet their spiritual needs is weak or absent. They believe that other religious organizations are not really different from the Adventist Church, so changing "brands" is not a solution. They meet their spiritual needs through reading, meditation and prayer. This frees them from having to deal with the extra distractions of organized religion. One of my classmates decided early on that God didn’t exist. Academy did not change that belief nor has time and experience caused that person to modify this belief.

After reading the responses that came from my classmates who no longer attend the Adventist church, I have concluded that one of the major areas where the Church can improve is in its response to people in crisis situations. In other words Adventist church members should be sympathetic listeners rather than suppliers of inappropriate and unasked for advice. The judgmental attitudes of pastors and church members resulted in hurt feelings and withdrawal from the Church. Several classmates stated that when they stopped going to church no one called or made contact with them to see how they were doing.

Generally speaking, my classmates believe that it is important for the Adventist
Church and its leaders to understand and proclaim the gospel. However, they report that the Church has not made a clear presentation of salvation by faith through Jesus Christ alone. There was unanimous agreement that it is important that people learn to depend upon God and not a church.

Some revealed that their children or grandchildren do not find the church relevant and do not attend. They also believe that it is important to define the role of Ellen White within the Adventist Church. There are questions about Ellen’s role, credibility and authority.

The above is not an exhaustive study, nor should it be interpreted as a final statement that expresses what we as a class think. What did come through loud and clear is that many of our classmates are firmly committed to the Christian faith and many are firmly positioned in the Adventist church. Not every one attends the Adventist church and some may not count themselves traditional Christians, but they do have a firm hold on a spiritual dimension that serves as their guide on which they depend.

It should also be noted that the strongest negative statements came from non-Adventist classmates. This disparity in the responses is largely due to the questions I asked. I requested those who are no longer Adventists or who do not attend church to state their reasons. I did not ask those who are committed to the Adventist church to share why they continued in the church, nor did I ask them to share their spiritual journey.

We as a class evidence a wide diversity of thought. Some of us have gone through highly charged personal experiences. I learned that some of our classmates while students at MBA were experiencing stressful situations that most of us knew nothing about. In the years since graduation, some of us have experienced failure. Children and spouses have died. Marriages have broken up. Health problems have taken a heavy toll on some. Fortunately, for most of us, life has been less dramatic.

From that day in June, 1959, when the Class of '59 bade farewell to one another outside the auditorium, our paths have taken us in directions none of us could have imagined. This limited survey does not support the idea that a young person that receives an Adventist education will stay in the church. My guess is that our class is not unique in this regard.

Our generation witnessed the transition from a North American based Adventist church to a globally positioned church. When we were at MBA, North America was the center for Adventism. This is no longer the case. We also witnessed a theological shift. Adventist Church administrators made a decisive decision that they, rather than theologians, would be the keepers of the Adventist churches' theology. The implications of this decision were not apparent to my classmates and me, but this decision has had profound impact on the Adventist Church. Today Church administrators use their authority to define and defend traditional Adventist doctrines and practices, despite what theologians and more dissenting church members may say. This administration “power grab” turned the church from where it had been--an open, seeking church--to a church that demonstrates its need for security by promoting itself as “fundamental” in formal structure and “traditional” in Christian belief.

Finally, it is clear that our generation has come to have an understanding of righteousness by faith that had been missing or quiescent in doctrine and teaching. Today’s Christian emphasis on the gospel has changed our view of salvation and our understanding of Jesus. We found a new appreciation of what it means to experience God's grace.

Reviewing the Pacific Union Recorder

October, 2007

Lots of newsy, community relation pieces. Way to go!

Holbrook has a highly educated Native American principal! What an unselfish and admirable posting for someone universities all over the US would give their eyeteeth to employ at a top salary. Janet Claymore-Ross, you are my hero! I’ll suggest your name for Education Secretary when Hillary becomes the next President. No kidding!

Mark Carr’s essay, “What’s In It for Me?” is “good as gold”.

Way to go, PUC! For the fourteen consecutive year, you have been rated “as among the best educational institutions in the country". As an alumnus, Class of ’63, you continue to make me “proud as punch!”

(Note the expressions all you UK residents and former British colonial subjects. I’m an anglophile at heart.)

Good news! Our North American Religious Liberty Association has launched a blog that discusses Supreme Court Decisions, election campaigns, the war on terror, hate crimes, hate speech (No calling the Pope the Antichrist), and “several other topics”. Their blog address:

Finally, what’s up with the back cover? “100% Chance of ‘LATTER RAIN”? It’s predicted for October 12-14 when thousands of Adventists in the Pacific Union are going to pray at the same time, and by force of numbers will require God to bring it about. I’m sure God will do it. Just check the next Recorder for proof that I can forecast the future.

Reviewing the Review

September 27, 2007
Vol. 184, No. 27

This is the most discouraging Adventist Review I have read as an adult. One of the only bright spots was Pardon Mwansa's “Words of Hope”. The words were comforting and provided hope. I was reminded of the beautifully written and intelligent essay, “A Time for Silence” by Steven Chavez, in the Review of April 11, 2006. Chavez wrote, “Only God knows the mysteries of life on this part. Once we learn to admit that our knowledge about his activity is imperfect at best, we will be less likely to embarrass ourselves with outlandish and unsubstantiated assertions.” Unfortunately, outlandish and unsubstantiated assertions abound in this issue.

While this Review is designed to inspire hope and its readers, it fails miserably! I am troubled by the continual reference to Christ's death as sacrificial. The notion that God had to have his beloved Son killed so that His death could make it possible for God to love us and grant us salvation is ridiculous, given the words of Christ in the John:16. It's time that we as a Christian denomination emphasize the life and words of Christ and preach the Gospel, i.e. what is required to establish Christ’s Kingdom, the kingdom that will last forever.

The notion that Christians once converted will never be lonely again is ridiculous. I hope that Mr. Steger, the author of, In My Father's House are Many Rooms, would claim not to have written that title byline.

Daniel Duda's article is strange theologically and unsettling emotionally. He says things like, “My little head cannot be the ultimate source of truth and wisdom”. He goes on to assert that, “Every time God's word, as found in his inspired word (the Bible) is preached, something supernatural, mysterious takes place. People who respond positively cross the line from this world into God's kingdom.” It's disturbing to think the Duda is the Ministerial Secretary and Educational Director for the Trans European Division.

Lourdes E.Morales-Gudmundssom's theology is masochistic. Her quote, “What I find interesting about faith is its inevitable connection with suffering. As unpleasant as it may be, suffering has the capacity to strengthen our faith like nothing else. Here is yet another insight into the wisdom of God in allowing His Son to suffer--” She goes on to say, “It was that suffering during His life and His death that allowed Him to become the perfect sacrifice to meet the demands of the broken Law. And it will be our own suffering, taken in the right spirit, that will create an appropriate longing for that home with our Savior, one from which we will never have to leave.” Ms. Lourdes, stick to teaching Spanish language and literature.

Bill Huck, I’ll let you know why some react to the second coming as though it were a fable. The Adventist Church has been preaching Christ’s imminent return for a long long time. In 1905, my grandmother had to pry my mother out from under her bed with a broomstick after an Adventist evangelist declared the imminent “time of the end”.

Finally, Jan Paulson is to be congratulated for doing a pretty good job of keeping the leaky old Adventist ship afloat. Hang in there, Jan.

Reviewing the Review

September 20, 2007
Vol. 184, N. 26

I have been a family member of the Education Department at California State University, Chico, for the past 37 years. Consequently, I was interested in a Jimmy Phillips article “The Invisible Majority”. It has been my experience that most Seventh-day Adventist students who attend this university do not wish to attend the local Adventist Church or wish to identify themselves to the local pastor. Perhaps they attend church when they go home, but when they are here, they seem to enjoy the freedom that anonymity grants them.

Two students referred to me by our local church did not belong here. They chose to take science and religion classes that allowed them to “witness” (noisily confront) their professors. They complained to me about “the godless faculty". Even these students, however, did not affiliate themselves with the local church or the Adventist outreach program, Sadaven House, that existed at that time. One former Adventist student was so anti-church that he complained loudly and emotionally when I mentioned Jesus, in the context of teaching as storytelling. He transferred out of my class!

Ron Pickle suggests that there are five things Adventist college students want: membership in a Christian community, the chance to get involved in that community, the opportunity to develop spiritual friendships (what I take to mean a social life with other Adventist young people), spiritual mentors, and a place where it's safe to be an Adventist college student. In our town we have a number of religious communities that meet these needs. They are not affiliated with or sponsored by an Adventist Church.

It has been my experience that the students, myself included, who attend a secular university are young people who can best be described as “Adventist survivors”. They are generally fed up with the dogmatic Adventism they have been exposed to and enjoy the freedom provided by a university campus where they are not constantly “ministered to” by well-meaning church members.

The Frederick A. Russell editorial, “The Death of the Movement?” is a brutally honest appraisal of where we are is an Adventist Church in North America, and I agree with him. The following comments are direct quotes.
"There are many things in life I'm uncertain about. But one thing I'm certain of is that our church in North America has ceased being a movement...If the movement as a movement is dying, it is not something happening only in administrative offices around the country. The most important decline happens in you and me."

I along with Juan Prestol am uneasy with the outcomes of constituency elections. I believe our shared unease stems from the fact that constituents are not psychologically prepared to function in a democratic environment and are uninformed as to the consequences of the decisions that are made. Consequently, they follow the suggestions of the administrators in charge of the meetings like sheep.

I think the following suggestions might be helpful in making constituency meetings real democratic decision-making bodies. First, inform delegates about the issues the same way we are informed when we cast our ballots in local, state, and national elections. Pro and con arguments are required if delegates are to make informed decisions. Next, with this information at hand, delegates from each church should be required to meet without the supervision of the pastor and thoroughly discuss each issue prior to the meeting. Finally, in the information sent to each delegate, there should be a request from the conference president to make informed decisions, regardless of personal loyalties or respect for existing church officials. The president should assure delegates that neither he nor members of his administrative team will address the assembled delegates as church authorities.

Reviewing Adventist World

August 2007

Kudos to Reinder Bruinsma. His essay “All in Your Mind” is the stuff that keeps me reading the Adventist Review and holding on to my Church membership. His quote, “There must always be a close relationship knowing and doing, believing and obeying.” Amen

Check out the National Geographic article for yourself. “Was Darwin Wrong?” You don’t need that eminent scientist, Shawn Boostra, to critique it for you. Where does the full color, full page advertisement mention the Gospel commission? Who pays for stuff like this? Who are the people who are attracted by this type of advertising?

“First the Cross, Then the Crown” was selected by the editors of the Heritage page to honor James White, co-founder of the Adventist Church and husband of Ellen G. According to James, the Final Judgment was “fast approaching” in 1868. How is this statement to be interpreted by readers, especially non-Adventists, across the world?

Kudos also to John Kolessar from Warren, Ohio, who wrote the letter to the editors, “A Bowl of Cashews Riding on a Swine”. He makes the absolutely vital point that we incorrectly understand words and arrive ridiculous interpretations “when we try to read the Bible using our perceptions and modern understandings.”

Reviewing Spectrum

Summer 2007

I don’t want to dilute my comments by my usual article-by-article critique. This edition is a “must read” because of two fascinating, insightful, brilliant, mind-expanding, and relevant articles: “What’s a Christian to Make of Our Flat New World”, by James Walters and David Kim and “My Share: Living on One Six-Billionth” by Margaret Christian; photography by Surayuth Singhnak. Margaret, count me in as a prayerful and financial contributor to your ongoing project. Way to go, Spectrum!

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Pastor Doth Protest Too Much

A response to “Something Wicca This Way Comes”
Adventist Review, August 23, 2007

By Andy Hanson

Pastor Wohlberg, it's hard to know or to start. One might begin with a letter written by John Kolessar in Adventist World-NAD, August 2007. In his letter, “A Bowl of Cherries Riding on a Swine”, he makes the comment that “a person living 1000 years ago, or a person living in an Amish community, would incorrectly understand my words and arrive at some ridiculous interpretations, so do we when we try to read the Bible using our perceptions and modern understandings. Without archaeologists and historians of antiquity doing what they do, you might as well believe that I am a bowl of cashews riding on the swine. Giddyup!”

I'm not an historian or archaeologist. However, Mr. Kolessar's letter is a reminder that we should consider the meaning of words in the context of the time in which they were written. Here's my question, “Do you think the author of these words had fantasy fiction in mind?”

Pastor Wohlberg, you cite Deuteronomy 18 twice in your polemic against the Harry Potter series. I'd like to put Deuteronomy 18 in the context of Deuteronomy 17 and 19. How about writing an article for the Review advocating stoning or “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot?”

If you Google the Internet for articles written about the Harry Potter series, you will find Christians from a variety of religious persuasions praising the series as highly moral. Some authors even equate Harry Potter with Christ, in that he was willing to die to save others.

Those things aside, Pastor Wohlberg, the reason I'm writing this letter is to remind you that every time you preach a sermon, you make reference to a book that graphically describes genocide, rape, dismemberment, lakes of fire, dragons, plagues, and the slaughter of helpless animals. It’s book that tells the story of a boy who killed a giant and carried his severed head around by the hair as a trophy. It’s the book that informs us that because a father buried forbidden booty in the floor of the family’s tent, the entire extended family including animals was stoned to death. It’s the same book in which the command was given for soldiers to murder every female from defeated tribe who was not a virgin. In this book a soldier returning home after a victorious battle killed his daughter because she was the first one to rush out to meet him. Thee is also the story of a woman murdered by a mob of rapists. Her body is then dismembered by the man who threw her into the street. This book also includes the greatest horror story of them all, in which the population of the entire world and all but a handful of people and animals drown in a worldwide flood.

In many stories in this book, killing is either carried out or ordered by a God who was ready to drop me into a lake of fire if I died with one known sin on my conscience. The most terrifying thing of all was that these stories weren’t fantasy; they really happened or would happen for sure in the future.

While I was a child growing up in Adventist home and community, I was encouraged to read this book every day, and the stories in it were referred to constantly in Sabbath school and church. They terrified me and kept me awake at night. The nightmares were vivid and unforgettable. (My father’s blood was really red when the Catholics machine-gunned him!) At that time my home environment was chaotic, and everything I heard in church and school made me feel powerless, without hope, and damned for eternity.

My salvation was fiction. Heroes, preferably children my age, were in charge of their lives to the extent that they could solve mysteries, bring evildoers to justice, and make their parents and friends happy and proud. These books, while not as popular or acclaimed or as well written as the Harry Potter series, helped keep me psychologically safe and sane.

Pastor Wohlberg, I haven't even mentioned that Harry Potter did not die and was resurrected as you reported to your interviewer. Where did you get that information? And this quote, referring to J. K. Rowling is astonishing! “She’s just like Eve. Adam’s wife didn’t know what she was doing when she gave her husband the forbidden fruit, but the consequences were nevertheless tragic.”

The great Wiccan conspiracy has not troubled my dreams as of yet. I’m still trying to come to terms with America’s nightmare war in Iraq and the death and destruction initiated by the “Christian” politicians who meet in Bible study groups every morning. I would much rather those folks “summon ‘natural spirits’ in their rituals”.

Finally, I agree with you, Pastor Wohlberg. Readers even an early age can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. It is my hope that everyone who reads this “News Analysis” can tell the difference.

Harry and His Friends

by Robert A. Howard

Harry Potter has captivated the world’s children. Sons and daughters who were struggling with or uninterested in books are suddenly voracious readers. Adults generally value this shift because the ability to read and comprehend is essential to success in adult life. For families grounded in Scripture, literacy is a virtue as well as a necessity. Parents and preachers use poetry, parable, and biography from history’s most popular book to instruct their charges on the differences between good and evil. Christians believe these differences have certain and profound implications for human experience.

Because the Bible can be hard to read and understand, a vast literature of commentary, children’s stories and adult non-fiction has arisen to assist understanding and instruction. Still, the results are often imperfect and incomplete. In spite of appeals to grace and inspiration, Bible scholars regularly disagree on the meaning of specific verses, chapters or books. So do regular folk who read the Bible.

Disagreements have also arisen over the content of Harry Potter saga. The wizards, witches and other magical elements of these stories have put many Christian parents at odds with their children, with each other and, if they have read and enjoyed the books too, with themselves. Doesn’t magic confuse children about how real life works? Isn’t Potter’s popularity really evidence of how cleverly Evil has blended storytelling and magic to confuse and corrupt children?

I think when many people decide whom to trust in these matters, they feel bound to accept that judgment, first because the spiritual and emotional well-being of their children are at stake, and second, because parents do not feel equipped to examine the culture for spiritual dangers. Also, confronting those who claim authority and expertise here can be daunting. Under these circumstances, believing a book is evil is due more to convenience rather than to thoughtful examination.
It seems fair to me, and prudent, to examine the manner in which seductive evil can show up in literature, film, and other cultural expressions. But by itself, this examination does not seem enough. I suggest that looking at what might be wrong with Harry Potter requires that you also consider what might be right. For both children and adults, missing something valuable in life can be as destructive as misidentifying what is dangerous. The Bible is a clear example that evil in a story does not make the story evil, nor does it make you miss in that grand story what is good and right.

My good friend Andy Hanson, Professor of Education at California State University, Chico, responded to the Potter-is-evil argument by examining the literary tradition of magic in literature. He writes, “In my opinion, and the opinions of the vast majority of children's book editors and critics, these books belong in the same fantasy genre as Homer’s Odyssey, T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising books, Lloyd Alexander’s Pridane Series, and L’Engles’ A Wrinkle in Time. If we decide to ban books dealing with the supernatural, we would have to get rid of works by Shakespeare, A Christmas Carole by Charles Dickens, Walt Disney's Snow White and Cinderella, and The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis, where supernatural evil creatures are actually portrayed torturing and killing the defenseless Christ figure, Aslan.”
Hanson then quotes John Monk, editorial writer for “The State,” in Columbia, South Carolina, who writes that the Potter books ‘…combine the detective work of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, the mirthful wordplay of Dr. Seuss, and the lampoon portraits of Charles Dickens.’ Hanson then suggests that “…if you claim the Potter books lure children into witchcraft, you might as well say that the Shirley Temple movies set in the nineteenth century South teach young viewers to be slave holders, or, as he quotes Monk further, ‘…Treasure Island entices children to be pirates, or Peter Pan urges children to run away from home.’ ”

Andy penetrated my intellectual snobbery about reading the Potter books by gently suggesting I might enjoy them. Then he gave me a kind smile and loaned me his hard cover copies. I started reading Potter because I trusted our friendship, and I trusted him. Andy has trained teachers for over thirty years, and has taught students from elementary age to graduate school. He and his wife Claudia have raised three children, one of them an adopted daughter, and are attentive and loving grandparents. They are deeply devoted to each other, their family, their faith, and their church community. It did not look to me like Hell had kindled in the pages of Potter and was now slowly roasting them alive. In their home, I just saw and felt love. I still do.

Andy recognizes that his literary argument may do little to convince certain parents to consider Harry Potter in terms other than evil. So I offer some additional perspectives on J. K. Rowling’s books. I have both academic and clinical training in the psychological and relational factors within individuals, between partners in committed relationships, and in families. I have lived my entire life in a Christian tradition, and I work every day to grow up my faith, my heart, and my reason. As an avid reader and writer, I see reading as much an act of the imagination, intellect and conscience as is faith or worship. It looks to me like all this happens in relationship.

What each child brings to any book depends in part on the family they live in, in part on their stage of development. Children are both open and susceptible to a story because their imagination and interpretive abilities are in the process of being formed. In order to develop an imagination that is truly theirs, they need a balance between guidance and freedom. When adults are impervious to a story’s possibilities because their imagination and ideas have become fixed, they risk being uninformed and untrustworthy guides for both their children’s moral conscience and their imagination.

Relationships drive our human experience, imagination, and the meaning we make of our lives. Faith flowers and fades in relationship. I miss the point of my relationship with Christ if I neglect or abuse my relationships with others. So I ask readers to consider the Harry Potter saga a wholesome story with important lessons for children about character development, virtue, adulthood and wisdom. I ask you to explore how these pretend and magical children bring us lessons about sacrifice and the redemptive power of love. You may discover that Harry Potter Saga has much to teach us all about friends, family and community.

In light of the virtues of this story, is Harry Potter an evil waiting outside the walls of our children’s hearts and souls, slipping in through the unguarded doors ajar in their imagination? This is an important question. I believe a thoughtful answer requires that we account for all that we can know, and connect that with the best we can imagine.

Children do not read any story in a relationship vacuum. They bring their family experience, as well as their developing imaginations, into their reading. Both aspects must be accounted for as a family navigates a story, searching out both its treasures and its dangers.

Human imagination and the supernatural are separate realms, each inhabited by good and evil. It is still largely a mystery how these two realms connect with and inform each other. Western science and culture have not been helpful guides here. What seems clear is that imagination is something like magic. Out of thin air, we make up stories about pretend kings, heroes, villains, queens, wizards and demons. We animate vegetables and animals with human qualities and dramatize their lives. Based on our values, we make up what these stories mean to us. One person of faith imagines that children are being lured by evil into The Sorcerer’s Stone. In contrast, I imagine that the hearts of children resonate with the way these characters relate with each other. I believe this inner resonance, living proof that the best in human relationships embody and evoke the Divine, is one way we are protected against evil.

This raises the question of whether evil is an appropriate literary subject for children. Real life events like 9/11, domestic violence in American homes, and the daily terrors of the Middle East show us that sometimes evil doesn’t wait for you to grow up enough to understand it. It strikes at innocence as much as through ignorance. This makes evil is a fit subject for readers of all ages. So Voldemort has important lessons for children. This dark figure, like all humans, had some tendency toward sin. Increasingly, and at key points in his life, he chose evil over good. His descent into darkness, gradual but sure, was fueled by his reliance on magic. Along the way he became inflated with his unique power and corrupted his imagination to create a vision of domination and destruction to which he devoted his entire being. He reduced all others to tools or victims. Voldemort teaches us that evil wins because something human failed and refused to admit it.

This failure is personal and relational. Evil doesn’t have to forcibly invade us. It just has to wait for us to wound, neglect, abandon, or exploit each other and ourselves. Christian concepts like grace and hope help guard us against cynicism and despair. But they are not guarantees. Except for the few mystics among us, our ideas and experiences of God will fail us if we do not live them out in human relationships.

When Rowling hints at a vague power influencing the destinies of wizards and muggles alike, she may be addressing the mysterious relationship between humans and the Divine. Humans certainly use the arts to express and probe this mystery, but they also use ritual, prayer and meditation without realizing how all these practices imaginative acts. It is the Divine that imparts revelation. We just have to imagine ourselves capable of accepting that gift.

So, in my imagination, the Harry Potter saga does not celebrate or disguise evil. It is the story of a triumph over a great evil. Magic does not save the day. When Harry and his friends battle Voldemort in their magical world, it is love, as J. K. Rowling makes clear, that defeats him.


by Rob Howard

Two days before my sixth birthday Dad walked up the basement stairs. His feet scuffed the wood steps as he rose to the top where he shut off the light. He stood against the dark, saw me in the landing’s half-lit shadows and smiled.

“Hi son,” he said, “you look like you’re waiting for someone.”

No matter how I tried, I couldn’t fool him. So I just kicked the old linoleum floor with my toe.

“Or maybe it’s some thing,” he said, his smile broadening, his blue eyes cutting through the murk to mine. I see now how gently he teased me. But back then when he caught onto me I felt endangered by the huge hands hanging down by his sides like un-cocked guns. Although he never used them against me, in that moment they felt too close for comfort. So I lied.

“I just wanted to see you Dad.”

That wasn’t a complete lie. I wanted my dangerous Dad. I wanted him to come home from work, to sling me at the ceiling or sky then catch me just above the floor or ground. I loved how he made me gasp like that and then sat down and taught me to read. I wanted to know what he knew, to do the things he did. He fixed wires in the light fixtures, unplugged the drains and re-plumbed the pipes. He climbed ladders and patched the leaky shingles and then patched the ceilings and walls where the rainwater fractured the blackened plaster. He leaned beneath the hood of our ‘56 Chevy Bel Air and, as he said, made it purr. He tinkered with the basement’s oil furnace until it sounded like the Chevy. He gently looked at broken things; he touched them and they worked. He never let me see him impatient, and although sometimes I heard him shout from another room, by the time I got there he’d be humming or chuckling to himself. And whenever I became frustrated, like the day I learned to ride a borrowed bike, he’d soothe me just enough so I’d keep trying. Today I marvel at the father who descended into me to find the broken, the half made and the good. But that day on the landing, I didn’t want Dad poking around inside me. I wanted my birthday gift early, the bike in the basement.

Our basement sat beneath us like a magic gold mine. After some banging and singing down there, up he’d come with treasure. I remember him once hauling up hand-crafted sections of oak furniture to the landing, and then packing them up the narrow twisting stairwell to my parents’ freshly painted bedroom. He packed bureaus gaping for their drawers, then the drawers themselves, and night stands, a headboard, pieces of the mattress frame, and the legs he’d sculpted on a lathe so they’d look pretty holding up the bed. Somehow he’d curved one piece of oak into an oval around a beveled mirror. I followed him up and down the stairs, and stood in the bedroom doorway while he littered the floor with pieces of a puzzle that made no sense to me. Finally, when he looked at me and nodded, I came and kneeled behind him so that I could reach into his tool box and hand him what he wanted. I listened to him drilling, to the muted squeaks of turning screws, to the sighs and chuckles leaking from him. He fit pieces together until a whole bedroom of hand-made furniture stood in disarray before us. Better than store bought, the neighbors said later. When Dad showed me how he’d flushed the edges and hidden the screws, I wanted to keep him a secret lest someone steal him away. This stingy son didn’t yet understand how much everyone needed his dad.

Then Mom came in and helped dad arrange the furniture. The room grew large and beautiful as every piece found its place. Mom packed in treasures too, the ones she’d conjured in the spare bedroom. She made the bed with flannel sheets, brightly colored cotton blankets and a creamy bedspread filled with holes that she called eyelets. She fluffed the matching pillows and hung flowered curtains on oak rods. She set down circles of lace on the twin night stands and on her dressing table. Dad remarked how everything she placed on the tanned wood drew out its darker grain. She nodded and dressed the stained and polished floorboards with her hand-braided rugs. Finally she plugged in a nicked up brass lamp that Dad found abandoned in the basement by the previous owners. She touched it with the kind of light that in the late afternoon, as she said, pulled the room together. At last my parents stopped to look at their work. Then Dad put on the finishing touches as he fit the back of Mom’s body against the front of his, and me into the space between their hips. We rested there a long time, my parents touching each other, touching me too.

I wanted all the basement treasures Dad made to be ours, but he gave so many of them away. It seemed as if some days he woke determined to anger me with his generosity toward others. He’d work for hours or days on something and then just hand it over as if it were nothing; to the priests and nuns, to the cop who lived down the street, to the grumpy gray-haired teacher around the corner, the one who never smiled at me. I didn’t like my Dad being that nice to those people. As far as I could see, they did nothing to deserve his gifts.

Like that jaw grinder of a next door neighbor Mr. Jones who I refused to call mister. He complained about our noisy front yard football games, claimed the shade of our trees killed his trees that our weeds choked his grass. In truth dead limbs throttled his trees and his weedy uncut grass oozed clouds of pollen that made our whole neighborhood sneeze. For some crazy reason he took to walking home from the market with nothing but an empty brown shopping bag. Paint peeled from his house in long thin scabs until one weekend Dad and some neighbors cut the weeds and grass and scraped and painted the whole house. Jones thanked everyone by complaining about the color of the trim and wondering out loud if Dad hadn’t thinned the paint to save a buck.

That Jones, so many times I watched him stand in his brown yard, a bastard troll who wet himself, pointing his finger over the low fence, calling my Dad names. I wanted to yell, point back Dad, make your fists and hit him! But Dad just listened as if the old fart had a point, and then he’d smile and promise Jones to keep our yard weed and make sure us kids didn’t bother him. I shook with rage as Jones stalked then into his house, slamming his door like a big shot as if Dad didn’t still stand there. I felt ashamed following my defeated Dad inside our house where Mom was already busy baking up a chicken, sausage or baked bean casserole. After the timer went off, she’d fuss with her hair then walk the steaming dish over to the Jones’s covered front porch.

Her pretty smile only brightened when Jones threw open the door demanding to know what she wanted. What a fake. He smelled the food coming. And just like Dad, Mom always gave in. She’d hold up the casserole dish where Jones poked at it before jerking it out of her hands. He always told her he hoped it didn’t make him or the missus ill, and as far as he was concerned it was the effort that counted and they’d make the best of it. Then he’d yell over his shoulder isn’t that right hon to a wife too good to come to the door.

I wanted to throw rocks at Jones. Break his windows. Make his bald head bleed, see him stumble with the stoning. Make his stuck up wife come out to wring her hands, and turn some helpless circles around her fallen man. I hated her for hiding, and him for talking to my parents like they were bums or bad kids, or people who just didn’t give a damn. When it was the Jones’s who didn’t care. They never returned my mother’s casserole dishes. Must have had fifty or a hundred of them piled inside their kitchen in dirty rickety columns like in a Dr. Seuss book. Never did they cook my Mom and Dad a dinner and walk it over.

I woke on my birthday fed up with the unfairness of my family and neighbors. I sulked all day, even while, thanks to Mom, I ate my favorite dinner. Then with candles burning on a frosted cake named for me, I shouted at my parents for letting Jones bully them. Every so often for emphasis I shouted, what’s wrong with you? While I ranted my parents treated me like they treated Jones, listening until the candles burned out and I stopped shouting. As six smoky spirals rose from my melted name, Mom and Dad rested their foreheads together like embers sharing heat. Then they grinned, I thought back then, to make fun of me. Their little loving smiles, I see now. Then Mom, her long lashes fluttering in time with her movie star mouth, spoke to me in fragmented hard things were for Mr. Jones, how much he needed people to be kind to him; how much the rest of us needed to practice kindness; what a gift to our family, to everyone on the block! Then Dad chimed in with, “We all need each other son, this one to lighten that one’s load, that one to test another’s strength.” Then Mom said how important it might be at times to know that others cared for you even when you weren’t at your best. And to share, she went on to say, even when no one says thank you because sometimes receiving a gift is all some people can manage.

Mom’s words reminded me I had a bike coming. Dang my Dad, I thought, for making me wait two more days when I had scores to settle. Now he stood and led me down into the basement where he slipped the sheet off an old Schwinn he’d found somewhere and fixed up. The scratched chrome fenders gleamed in the light of the lone bulb, the butterfly handlebars rose high like a ship’s wheel, the brand new whitewall tires matched my white high top tennis shoes. He lifted the rear wheel off the floor and I turned the pedals and together we listened to the chain purr around the sprockets. He let me push the bike up the stairs by myself, helping only when in my haste I slipped. Out the backdoor I flew, bouncing down the concrete steps, running beside the bike and swinging up into the seat like a cowboy onto his horse, leaving everyone in my dust. How quickly I’d grown above saying thank you.

I spent the next six days finding new ways to heckle Jones with my bike. I began by cutting brodies in his dying lawn. The next afternoon I raced up and down his crumbly concrete driveway until he stumbled drunkenly onto his porch roaring. The following day, while he walked to morning mass, I turned silent narrow circles around him. The day after I spun out so gravel flew against his old Ford Fairlane, and the day after that I darted from an alley to make fun of his pee-stained pants. On day six as he trudged home from the market with one of those stupid empty sacks, I balanced on my pedals beside him calling him every name I knew. And on the seventh day, before I could get him again, Jones died.

I watched from my bike as some men in a Catholic ambulance came and packed something out of his house wrapped in a sheet. Everybody said that Jones lay inside but to me the small white lump looked like a dead dog. Then my parents and their neighbors began packing garbage from Jones’s house. Dad made me put my bike away and come help. The whole house stunk like a dirty bathroom. I stomped streams of roaches until Dad touched my shoulder, handed me a broom and said, “I’d rather you help us son by sweeping up the floor here.”

No one found a Mrs. Jones. I didn’t know how or when she’d left. At the end of the second day of cleaning, just before sunset, someone found the key to a long row of locked metal kitchen cabinets. Inside sat rows of paper sacks each stuffed with something and taped shut. A woman gasped as a man tore the taped edge off one bag and peeked inside.

It’s a casserole dish, he announced. Everyone looked at the rest of the sacks.

Why? another man asked.

To keep them clean, a woman answered.

Women wiped the counter tops and began pulling bags out to set them there. Before another man could rip open another bag, a woman appeared with scissors. She cut carefully, gently brought forth a dish. Oh my, she whispered as she took off the lid. People gathered around and looked down at an envelope addressed to my Mom. She held it up so I could see. And here, another woman hushed over the first dish. Everyone looked at Mom, and when she nodded women passed the scissors, opening each bag to free that dish’s envelope. A pile of Shirleys rose on the counter. Some women washed the table and others set the envelopes there. Dad, the neighbors, they disappeared while mom sat down and fiddled with the pile. When she noticed me watching from the arched doorway she waved me over and wrapped me in a warm arm.

What’s in the letters mom? I asked. She opened an envelope and showed me how inside the card Jones had written her name again, and just below scribbled four lines. I pointed at his smeared words. Tears, my mother said. I read the smudges to myself. What do they mean Mom? I asked. Thank you, she said, and she asked me to read another one out loud with her.

A wife for me no more
A wife like you right next door
This work, these words, late I know
The last I do before I go

In every card the same poem, every one unsigned. We read them all together. The more we read the more Mom’s pretty voice deepened like when Dad did something nice for her. I didn’t understand how that mean old man could make my mom feel good.

Finally Mom handed me the last envelope, this one addressed to me. I don’t want it, I said. Open it, Mom replied. So I read: I’m sorry I yelled at you son. You’re a good boy. Be a good man, like your dad.

Then I saw he’d signed a mangled name; oh God the same as Dad’s, the same as mine. I tried to hide my stinging tears but Mom pulled my hands around her neck, leaned into me and pressed her lips against my eyes. Then she cried these scary sounds, so long and high I thought she might die too. Her hands gripped me, those warm arms crushed me so, and her slender fingers turned in the curls of my long blond little boy hair. Then one by one Dad and the neighbors came and stood around the table holding hands, a whole neighborhood swaying and humming, weeping with one heart. Our tears fell on something holy, a man saying I’m Sorry in every single Thank You.

The day after Mr. Jones’s funeral my parents took a trip into the country, just them, up the sharp canyon edges of Greens Springs Drive. I watched the Chevy disappear down the road then, helped by my memories of them, imagined my parents inside. Dad relaxed at the wheel, his arm out the window. Mom’s back leaning into Dad’s side, her bare left foot on the seat, her other foot on the sill of the open passenger window where she touched the wind with her toes. Dad’s free arm draped down the front of Mom’s bosom, his hand patting and rubbing and resting on her hip. Mom held and stroked and squeezed Dad’s arm, her fingers slipping up his rolled sleeve to tickle and pinch him. For miles and miles they laughed and teased and talked. Together they climbed high.

That night I dreamt a dream that still comes. A wheel falls off on a high curving road. Dad crushes Mom to him as he brings his right arm up to turn the wheel. But the curve turns faster and the air can’t hold them. Dragged down by the draft of the plunging car I’m just a bird falling in frantic circles, seeing through the Chevy’s windows my parents’ faces kaleidoscope through fear, surrender, to love looking at each other. Then the canyon floor’s afire; Dad and Mom stand in flames, smiling there with Mr. Jones.

Who knows the language of dreams? I just know they come when with our habits silenced by sleep we might see something new. I woke the next morning wanting for the first time in my life to give my neighbors gifts. So I started running errands on my bike for everyone on the block. Yes, I felt guilty about how I treated Mr. Jones. But greater than guilt I felt a bit of selfish boy burning up in me, and a better boy burning on.