Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dream With Me

Major James Nesmeth dreamed of improving his golf game. To fulfill his dream, he developed a unique method for improving his score during a seven year period when he was unable to even touch a club or step on a fairway. Until he devised this method, he was just an average weekend golfer who shot in the nineties.

During his seven-year absence from golf, Nesmeth was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. During most of his captivity he saw no one and talked to no one. It was during the first few months of his captivity that he realized that he must find some way to occupy his mind or he’d lose his sanity and probably his life. That’s when he learned to visualize.

Every day he played a round of golf at the country club of his dreams. Major Nesmeth smelled the fragrance of freshly trimmed grass and the feel of his clubs. He practiced his swing on an imaginary driving range. When he visualized playing a game, he took every step on his way to the ball, just as he would if he had actually been on the course. He didn’t omit a detail. Not once did he hook or slice a shot. He never missed a putt.

Seven days a week, four hours a day, Major Nesmeth played 18 holes of golf in his imagination. After his release, Nesmeth shot a 74 the first time he stepped on a golf course, 20 strokes off his previous average!

My dream for the Adventist church is written in the right-hand column, just under the Adventist Perspective banner headline. I visualize that dream every time I post, and when I do, once in a while I find myself humming the refrain from the musical, South Pacific: “If you don’t have a dream, If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” Hum the melody and visualize your dream.

Are we worth more dead than alive? That is the ultimate question.

Comic from Over the Hedge: Stuffed Animals by Michael Fry and T. Lewis
(click to enlarge)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reviewing the Adventist Review

November 12, 2009
Vol. 186, No. 31

WORLD NEWS AND PERSPCECTIVES is an invaluable source for keeping up with church news. (Unfortunately, this section of the Review is not available to online users.) Of particular interest in this section is information regarding the issues confronting the committee revising the Church Manual and their struggle to determine whether or not to recommend the ordination of women. Official church policy has already been ignored in China.*

Gerald A. Klingbeil and family acquired an African Gray parrot who “settled down nicely” and a “rescue” mutt, Amelia, who has yet to learn not to be afraid. P.O. BOX 1844 by Dan Serns is a story in which that number proved to have modern significance. In TIMES OF TRANSITION by Richard A Sabuin, the author tells the inside story of what happened during the four days John the Baptist spent in the company of Jesus. The husband and wife team, Ethan and Mardene Fowler are authors of the book, BRUSHED BACK: THE TREVOR BULLOCK STORY, the life-changing account of a minor league baseball player.

STUDENT AID by Brenda Kornblum describes what happens when Christian students confront the world’s harsh realities in Uganda. Valerie N. Phillips learned an important lesson in real estate and life when she decided THIS HOME IS NOT MY WORLD. And Chandler Riley discovered that SUNDAY MORNING blues could be defeated by a prayer request.

IN UNCLE CAIAPHAS’ EYES, Clifford Goldstein produces a letter written to his niece, Judith. Part of Caiaphas’ explanation for turning Jesus over to Pilate are these words. “But leadership is never easy, and so before the God of our fathers I took my stand in defense of the traditions and teachings of the holy prophets and Moses. I could do nothing else.” Cliff, is this some sort of weird Freudian admission that Caiaphas’ decision might well have been yours?

The Cover Feature, CHARTING A DIFFERENT FUTURE by Richard Hart, offers no new or creative solutions to the problems that face Adventist higher education. (The portraits of people portrayed on the cover and scattered around in the article are crude, unattractive, and distracting.)

Finally, Bill Knott’s editorial, THE HIGH AND MIDDLE GROUND, should not have been written. Editorials like this one make me crazy. Here are the words that had me pulling my hair out.

“In another time and place, I sat with a group of Adventist professionals as we waited for a meeting to begin. The conversation was light and cheerful, full of the gentle teasing and good-natured wit familiar to a group of colleagues who are comfortable with each other.

“One group member, arriving slightly after the others, smilingly offered that he was thinking of applying for membership in an Adventist professional organization to which none of his colleagues belonged.

“The merriment became intense. “But doesn’t belonging to that organization mean that you have to sign a statement that you accept and believe the church’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs?” one colleague asked incredulously, to the delight of the others present. The laughter rolled around the room, and the latecomer clearly wished he had not volunteered the embarrassing information about his plans. The conversation that had seemed playful took on a decidedly scornful edge, as if to ask, ‘How in the world could any of us do that?’

“What makes the story poignant is that all of those Adventist professionals were then teaching theology at some Adventist college or university.”

In his misguided attempt to protect a “professional organization” and the names of “colleagues”, Knott has managed to deflect his critique of a theological trend he finds alarming and instead, focus readers’ attention on the alleged disloyalty and scornful behavior of “those Adventist professionals [who] were then teaching theology at some Adventist college or university.”

Knott assumes that a question that “produced laughter that rolled around the room”, meant that everyone present “clearly considered it implausible that a trained and intelligent educator could embrace what the church has repeatedly embraced. To them, and to a small but highly vocal group of critics intent on revising even our recent history, Adventism’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs is somehow a document of extreme conservatism, a mechanism by which theological reactionaries are supposed to have captured control of the doctrinal life of the denomination.”

Who is included in the “small but highly vocal group of critics” and what “recent history” is this group attempting to “revise”? These questions are not answered, and it’s left to the reader to name the “colleagues”, the “historical revision”, and “professional organization”. This is a dangerous game of Fill in the Blanks!

Have you considered that there might have been other reasons for laughter than the one you assumed to be true?

Aren’t you obligated to name “the Adventist professional organization” and name the place and time in which this incident occurred so that “colleagues” could have the opportunity to challenge your allegations?**

Are you aware that your words make rational conversation and debate more difficult at a time when institutions of Adventist higher learning are facing a difficult future?

Have you spoken to the people you accuse? If you haven’t, how can you truthfully report their supposed disloyalty and cynicism? Isn’t that your Christian responsibility before you make blanket accusations, particularly when your “evidence” is not words but laughter?

Do you understand that your vague accusations have slandered every Adventist theologian and Bible teacher in every Adventist college and university?

As Editor of the “Flagship Publication of the Seventh-day Adventist Church”, did it cross your mind that your credibility and the objectivity of the editorial policy of the Adventist Review would be severely damaged by this editorial?

Has it occurred to you to offer your resignation with apologies?

* “North America and Australia have periodically voiced their hope that a plan may emerge that would allow their regions to move forward with ordaining women to ministry. Only in China, where ordination is a function of both the regional Adventist authority and the government–led Three-Self Patriotic Movement, have female Adventist pastors been officially ordained.”

** There was a time in not-so-distant Adventist history when to mention that an Adventist theologian was required to sign a statement that he accepted and believed a Statement of Fundamental Beliefs would qualify that Statement as a creed. This demand would have elicited righteous anger rather than laughter.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You can’t say I didn’t warn you!

Comic modified from Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis.
(click to enlarge)

Explain This

Once in a while, I plan to challenge to Adventist scientists and theologians of every stripe, to explain how a certain biological phenomena came to be.

For one nematode parasite, the goal is not to escape, but to be eaten. When it hijacks an ant, it turns its host’s back end as red and prominent as a ripe fruit. “This dupes a bird into feeding on it and getting a mouthful of nematode eggs,” says ecologist Steve Yanoviak. The bird spreads the eggs via its feces, which the ants eat, continuing the cycle. (Pages 86-87, The Art of Deception, National Geographic Magazine, August 2009)

Comfort At All Costs?

Comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Just for Fun!

Comic from Rubes, by Leigh Rubin.
(click for enlarged image)

Friday, November 13, 2009

No Laughing Matter!

From Non Sequitur, by Wiley
(click image to enlarge)

Reviewing Adventist Today

Fall 2009
Vol. 17, No. 4

Ervin Taylor and J. David Newman are to be congratulated! This edition of Adventist Today is a step in the right direction. The graphics are excellent, as is the layout. My only complaint is that there is too little space devoted to LETTERS. Reader response is the lifeblood of a magazine promoting change. And nothing motivates like responses publicly validated and valued.

J. David Newman quotes Ellen White in answer to his editorial question, WHY MUST WE CHANGE?

"Today have many in the church consider being conservative a good thing. Not Ellen White. . .' when God raises up men to do his work. . .He will prepare men for the times. They will be humble, God-fearing men, not conservative, not policy men; but men who have moral independence and will move forward in the fear of the Lord. They will be kind, noble, courteous, yet they will not be swayed from the right path, but will proclaim the truth and righteousness whether man will hear or whether they will forbear.'"

Dorothy Patchett opines in LETTERS, “I could not believe someone could get into my mind and express my thoughts so well. I have been deeply distressed over the very things he mentioned" in THE END OF MINISTRY AS WE KNOW IT by Loren Seibold (Summer 2009).

ADVENTIST TODAY WORKS! By Edwin A. Schwisow is convinced that independent Adventist publications promote editorial honesty. "Adventist Today has helped the church press become more forthcoming. Traditionally church executives have exerted absolute power over the denomination's publications. Bad news about the church is normally discouraged-- and for decades was not permitted in Adventist publications. But now editors of the Adventist Review and other publications are often told to 'go ahead and write the story; better we tell it then Adventist today.'"

THE PIVOTAL DESIGN by Ron Gladden provides a detailed blueprint for church growth. He calls it The Pivotal Design for a Prevailing Church. Gladden describes a church led by a strategically assembled team of pastors and staff that share specific gifts and characteristics. These team members hold [common beliefs] about ministry, life, and God. In general, the culture of the prevailing church, its ‘pivotal design’, must be Christ centered and inclusive.

TITHE—SACRIFICING THE SACRED COW by J. David Newman is MUST READ. He argues that "Church structure, organization, and policies are for the sake of the Gospel, not the other way around”. When funds, including tithe, generated by local churches in North America are used to support a top-heavy church bureaucracy, rather than locally supported programs, the best outcome, in terms of church growth, is negligible. “[Adventists] have five levels to support in our system: local church, conference, union division, and General Conference. The Roman Catholic Church, which is also worldwide, has only three levels: local parish, and Vatican.”

Desmond Ford provides a devastating scholarly critique of George Knight’s THE APOCALYPTIC VISION AND THE NEUTERING OF ADVENTISM. My September review of NEUTERING in the Summer 2009 Adventist Today is less genteel.

LETTER TO A CHURCH LEADER by Kevin Ferris, an elder at the Springwood Adventist Church in Brisbane, Australia, protests the Church’s “scandalous treatment” of Desmond Ford and, by proxy, loyal church members of like mind in Australia and North America. For Ferris, “The silencing of Ford was code for ‘Righteousness by faith is finished.”

HOW DO WE DEAL WITH PIERCINGS by Joe Okimi is a plea for acceptance. “Should some of the younger generation change their appearance? Sure. But some of the older generation should change their mindset. . .In the grand scheme of god’s amazing grace, physical appearance is somewhere near the absolute bottom. Colored hair and body piercings don’t make us saved or condemned.”

Alden Thompson asks the question, IS THE TIME RIGHT? for three kinds of Adventists to learn to live together instead of quarreling. Whether you belong to the Perfectionist Peter Crowd, Paul’s Jesus Does It For Us Crowd, or the Do Your Best Apollos Crowd, Thompson believes that “all three kinds of Adventists will revel together before God’s throne, singing his praises through all eternity.” Maybe in Heaven.

LESS THAN ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY is David A. Pendleton’s review of Help My Unbelief by William J. O’Malley. According to Pendleton, “Help My Unbelief reminds us that while the nature of God does not change, our conception of God does change over time. The universal laws of physics did not change when science transitioned from Newtonian physics to Einstein’s theory of relativity to the uncertainty principle and quantum mechanics. Only our comprehension of those laws changed. In other words, the presence of ‘truths that don’t (yet) fit snugly [don’t necessarily] negate the whole—any more than quantum physics destroyed the usefulness of Newtonian physics in the everyday world.’”

According to Pendleton, “O’Malley proposes that doubt, rightly conceived, can be a virtue. A Christian in the 21st century should exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, for life is (alas) often less than black-and-white, and meaningful patterns must be discerned from shades of gray.”

In SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR DOUG BATCHELOR, Marcel Schwantes interviewed a man with an international media ministry. In addition to Amazing Facts, he hosts another weekly television program, Central Study Hour. He is a featured speaker on two radio programs: Bible Answers Live and Wonders of the World, and his organization has created “multiple evangelism websites”.

He is a biblical literalist and preaches a traditional Adventist “end time” message. His support for “last days” evangelism is buttressed by his belief that “Bible history [is] divided into three epochs: 2,000 years from Adam to Abraham, the age of the prophets; 2,000 years from Abraham to Christ, the age of the Hebrews; and we anticipate that the pattern will continue with approximately 2,000 years from Christ’s coming to second coming.”

ADVENTIST MAN, AT’s “agony aunt”, tackles the following readers’ questions concerning: the role of talking animals in literature, what to do with rich Adventists, the outcome of the ASI convention, whether angels can survive in movie theaters, and what to do about drums in churches.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Literalist Dilemma

Comic from Pickles, by Brian Crane
(click image to enlarge)

Reviewing the Adventist Review

October 22, 2009
Vol. 186, No. 30

This issue, with two exceptions (three if you count the lead story in KidsView) was worthy of publication. The IN BOX provided a range of thoughtful responses from readers; Roy Adam’s editorial, FOOT WASHING: REMOVING THE EMBARRASSMENT, was generous and inclusive; AFTER by Kimberly Luste Maran was a cautionary tale of needless worry; WORLD NEWS AND PERSPECTIVES included the amazing humanitarian work of ADRA and an appeal from Jan Paulsen for young adults to push their agenda, politically and theologically; Reinder Bruinsma wrote a lovely ode to foot washing.

FOCUS ON THE REAL ISSUES, is a timely admonition by Ellen White “not to engage in controversy” with enemies lest we “be diverted and hindered from our work”. HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY by Handysides and Landless is a MUST READ. Jimmy Phillips asks readers to “adopt the Jesus model by taking healing action before we challenge people’s appearance, lifestyle, and theology”.

A HOLY SPELL by Michael W. Campbell is a carefully researched account of Adventist worship practices before the Adventist Church was formally organized in 1863. It’s a MUST READ.

Monte Salin does his usual excellent job of recommending Christian reading. IN This issue the common theme is evangelism. In WAITING FOR THE KING, Elfriede Volke reflects on her glimpse of the motorcade of Belgium’s King Leopold. She was a girl of six in a crowd of “cast-offs of society” waiting to see a king who never noticed her. It broke her heart.

There are three pieces in this Review that are poorly written, but they frustrate and sadden me for additional and more important reasons. The first and most egregiously upsetting is the cover story, JUST 144,000? REALY? by Ganoune Diop. The cover promised to untangle “the secret behind the mysterious number”. It didn’t! This was in spite the editorial “help” of Wilona Karimabadi, author of 144K IN CYBERSPACE, the article’s sidebar that equated the 144,000 with other “tough” theological concepts.

First of all, The 144,000 isn’t “a favorite topic of ‘parlor conversation’—particularly on Sabbath afternoons—among Adventists”. It’s only a popular topic for traditional Adventist literalists, thankfully a diminishing minority, who have to reinterpret the number of the “saved”, a very big number in 1863, to mean a much bigger number today—15,000,000 and counting!

As to the attempt to “untangle the secret behind the mysterious number” we have first to “untangle” words such as “stand” and “standing”.

“The 144,000 are able to stand because they worship the Lamb. Notwithstanding the angels who stand in the book of Revelation, humans are able to stand because the Lamb is standing. Revelation 5 tells us that the Lamb was slain but is standing. This refers to Christ’s death and resurrection in apocalyptic language. The concept of victory is central to the entire message of chapter 5. Without the Lamb’s victory, there is no other victory.

“It is no accident that Revelation 14, in referring to the 144,000, describes them as standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion and that they follow the Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:1-5).”

Finally, Diop, concludes, “The number 144,000 is a symbolic number.” Words fail me once again.

A MESSAGE FOR REVELATION’S SAINTS by Hyveith Williams claims her interpretation of Revelation provides a “comfort, encouragement, incentive to believers facing persecution and possible death! What hope for these uncertain times”. Maybe it’s just me, but her preceding paragraphs describing the fiery liqueur “served undiluted into the cup of divine judgment” to those “tormented” souls who have “the mark of the beast”, left me uncomfortable and uncomforted.

Why KISVIEW features the story Jenny, THE LITTLE MILLERITE, who “wasn’t sure about her relationship with Jesus because her experience had been scary”, i.e. Jesus didn’t return on October 22, 1844, is puzzling. Even though she decided to join “a church” when she was 11 and went on “to study her Bible, and to not follow without first asking questions and studying for herself”, the author fails to make explicit the historical significance of story, the lesson to be learned, or the relevance of the story to the kids reading it.

Geoscience Institute, it hasn’t been 400 years, but it’s been long enough!

Comic from Frazz, by Jef Mallett
(click image to enlarge)

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Modified from the comic Non Sequitur, by Wiley
(click to enlarge)