Friday, August 25, 2017

A Potluck Story (script)

After the weight of last week's blog, I have something lighter to offer. This script my first short drama, and it's strictly for fun.  It's a little parody of the delightful contradictions of church potluck.*

A Potluck Story

Visitor and two hosts enter, holding paper plates and plastic forks. They approach a table which the table of potluck food, although there are no other props, and the food on the table is imaginary. Actors will look at, pick up, and read labels on this imaginary food.

Host 1 is trying to make a good impression, and is more and more embarrassed as the skit progresses. Host 2 is having fun, and approves of the food thoroughly. Visitor approaches the potluck table with enthusiasm, which turns to confusion, and finally to distaste.

Visitor--Thanks for inviting me to your church--I really liked it. And why didn't you tell me you had a dinner afterward? I could have at least picked up some KFC.

Host 1--Oh that's all right. We wouldn't want you to bring anything. You're our guest.

Host 2--And besides, we don't serve any meat at our potlucks.

Visitor--You mean you're all vegetarians?

Host 1--Yes

Host 2--No

Host 1--What I mean is, we like to eat vegetarian, because it's healthier, and we really care about health here.

Visitor--Oh, I get it. Because meat has all that fat and cholesterol?

Host 1--Exactly. So we eat other things for our proteins.

Visitor (reading a label on a dish)--"Tofu cheese loaf"?

Host 1 (embarrassed)--Yeah, um, why don't you try these? I made them--gluten-free oat burgers.

Visitor--These? (Pointing)

Host 2--No, those are the gluten burgers.

Visitor--I'm confused. And what's this? (Picking up something, and sounding out the word on the label) Veg-a-naise?

Host 1--That's like mayonnaise, it's just made without the egg.

Host 2--Since eggs are so bad for you.

Visitor--But aren't those deviled eggs over there?

Host 1--Well, yes, but--

Host 2 appears to suddenly notice the (imaginary) deviled eggs, and eagerly serves 2 or 3 onto their plate.

Visitor--You know, maybe I'll have salad. Do you have salads?

Host 1--Right here. Here's a Ramen noodle salad, and a taco salad, though I guess that one's mostly ranch dressing.

Visitor—Is that a fruit salad? It looks like Cool Whip and canned oranges.

Host 2 (proudly)--And marshmallows!

Visitor--You know, I'm really not all that hungry. Maybe I could just have a cup of coffee.

Host 1 and 2(gasping and dropping their plates)--COFFEE?!

*Please note--this script is for entertainment only. I am seriously not making a statement about what we eat or what we should eat.  That's between you and your conscience.  And, of course, the church-kitchen police.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

On Being Adventist in the Wake of Charlottesville

My church has a troubled track record on race. I studied it once, for a campmeeting afternoon seminar for young adults.  I composed the lecture with a five-month-old in a pack on my chest, reaching around whichever twin refused to sleep, to type on my laptop. And I delivered it to all of a half-dozen participants. But it left it's mark on me, if on no one else.

Right now, while my country is enraged over racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, it's all coming back.  Because I know my church knows what to say about this.  We have the right ideology, the right theology of the value of mankind. And yet all we are able to do is shake our heads from a distance.

I think I know why. We have such a mixed record when it comes to race.  We have such a mixed example now.  We were among the first to invade the American south to educate (and not just evangelize) former slaves, but a hundred years later many thought segregated churches were a moral obligation. We abhor human inequality in no uncertain terms, and yet we can't seem to find a way to de-segregate our racially divided conferences in parts of the US.*

What is our problem?  Well, there's the usual susceptibility to culture--the fact that we are products of our context, even though we try to think beyond it.  And then there's the way we cling to an instruction rather than applying a principle (Ellen White had urged segregated churches after both black and white workers had met violence from the opposition.)  But our real problem, at heart, isn't about racism.

I won't claim there isn't racism in the church, or even that it's not a serious problem.  But the trouble that haunts the soul of this denomination isn't how we feel about race.  It's how we feel about activism.

Before the Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation, there were activists in the church. But the prophecies of Revelation talked of slaves in Babylon at the end of time, and many, including Uriah Smith and James White, insisted that it was wasted work to push for the end of slavery.  It couldn't happen, so the time was better spent freeing men from spiritual bondage.

Even after the Civil War, the church discouraged former slaves from fighting for political or social equality, urging that they would do more good by keeping their heads down and working hard.  Besides, Smith argued, the eschatology still applied.  That meant slavery was bound to come back into play.

In the 1920s, church administration gave up on the idea that our institutions would voluntarily de-segregate, and we created black Regional Conferences in parts of the US.  From the record, one feels that the disappointment in the church was as palpable as the relief.

And then came the 1960s, and the Civil Rights movement.  But it hadn't come from us.  We could have taken that opportunity for change, but the church was suspicious.  We saw dangerous elements in the protests.  Some accused Martin Luther King of being a Marxist.  Although Adventists, many of them young people, did participate, church leaders often warned them not to.

In 1963, a Review and Herald article urged members generally to take the "middle of the road" and not rock the boat.  In 1965, Oakwood students were told they would be disciplined if they participated in King's famous march on Washington.

And finally we come to Charlottesville.  We are sickened by the news from Virginia.  We're grieved that anyone could hold and promote racist views in our midst.  But we stop short of saying too much, because we're not comfortable with the counter-protesters either.  We don't identify with people who step out into the streets to have a confrontation with an ideology that's wrong. I know I don't.

 The Adventist response is to issue statements, sad and measured, and insisting we don't condone the racism or the violence.  But the statements are nothing better than paper for the people living the violence.  I'm not sure they're a comfort to those living the racism, either.

This is our trouble with issues of social justice.  It's not that be don't believe in equality.  But we are, as a denomination, allergic to activism.

Activism is political, and we don't want to b lumped into someone else's party agenda. It's confrontational, and we don't want to escalate the conflict. Most of all, it's social, and we are too busy talking about the gospel.  And so, because we don't march, we are left issuing statements.

But the gospel ought to change the world.  So if we are sitting back and letting others change it, if we cannot even change the church, are we really living the gospel?  What if the harmony of races actually is the incarnation of the gospel in our time?**

I am uneasy about it all.  Because I'm not comfortable with punching Nazis.  But I don't want to be comfortable doing nothing, either.

Charlottesville is an opportunity for you and me.  We can either use the chance to pat ourselves on the back, because we're so much more enlightened and godly than the Nazis.  Or we can take the opportunity to question ourselves.  In what way does our faith make the world a better place?  What are we doing about problems like racism?  What do we want to be doing?

*We also have a problem transferring that equality to men and women.  Many in our midst, for reasons I can't explain, believe that "separate but equal" is actually a thing if you apply it to gender instead of race.  But that's another conversation.

**Not, of course, the entirety of the incarnation of the gospel. We have a lot more problems to address than race.

{Since I am writing from a college campus, I feel compelled to include an informal (and casually formatted) bibliography for my historical assertions.  These are my sources:

Ronald D. Graybill, Ellen White and Race Relations, Review and Herald, 1970.  This entire volume is available to read online here:

Bert Haloviak, "The Impact of SDA Eschatological Assumptions on Certain Issues of Social Policy," Race Summit Workshop Presentation, October 27, 1999. This paper can be found here:

AT News Team, "Adventists Remember the 1963 March on Washington, Martin Luther King and the Impact on the Church," Adventist Today August 28, 2013. Found here:

Bill Knott, "A Journey and a March," Adventist Review 2005. Found here: }

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sabbathing, Part 2--What No One Explains About Sabbath

This is the week we move.  As you read this, I should be somewhere in Oregon or California, and we're planning to spend our Sabbath on the beach.  We almost never skip church, but that's not as pious as it sounds. Until this week, Jim was the pastor.

Ironically, this is one of the first times we get to actually keep the command not to work on Sabbath.  For most of our married life, Sabbath had more work in it than any other day (for me as well as him).  When you can't "rest" on the Sabbath, you take a good look at how else you can honor it.

Last week I said the Sabbath command is a simple one--don't work.  But if you can't keep the command exactly, how do you keep Sabbath?  Is the Sabbath more than the command?

I think it has to be. And you don't find the explanation in Exodus.  The Sabbath command makes no mention of family time, or nature, or even of worship. Defining the Sabbath based on the 10 commandments is like trying to define Christmas from your employer's list of paid holidays.  Both will tell you not to come to work on that day,* but they don't tell you what to do with it.**

A few months back I tried to come up with a definition of Sabbath.  I was trying to figure out, if we weren't resting much, what exactly we were doing to have legitimate Sabbath time.

Sabbath, I purport, is a complicated thing.  Both the command and the word itself mean to stop, to cease, to pause.  And yet we insist on believing Sabbath is for doing something.  We have the urge to fill it with family meals and mountain hikes, we pump it full of church activities.  What are we doing, when we're Sabbathing?

This is what I think Sabbath is.  You'll have to forgive the fact that this isn't a theology, based on Scripture, of what it should be.  I have only tried, by observation, to describe what it is:

1. The Sabbath is a command, and we obey it.

That was the easy one--the evangelists told us as much. The command is very simple--don't work.  This one day of the week, your household must cease producing.  It's an act of trust in God's care, and a chance to reset our identity to something besides the value of what we can accomplish.  But it doesn't fill the Sabbath with meaning.  Instead, it empties it--it makes a great big void, a blank canvass, a teeming ocean of potential. The command clears a space in which to Sabbath.

2. The Sabbath is a tradition, and we honor it.

If you and I were Jewish, we would have no problem with this one.  When we do the same thing every week--every Friday sundown, or Sabbath afternoon, we create a sense of belonging.  When we eat the same food or listen to the same music, speak the same words, or gather with the same people, the sheer volume of the collective memory impacts our souls.  It can become the walls and floor of a familiar room in our hearts. Spontaneity is beautiful, but habit is the fastest route to worship.

3. The Sabbath is a holiday, and we celebrate it.

This is where we get the idea that Sabbath should be full of hikes to waterfalls, and picnics with family and friends.  We should wear the best clothes and eat the best food, and be happy together. If Sabbath was invented to remember creation, than it's a celebration of life and existence itself.  We ought to do the things that make us good human beings--feed our souls, and feed our relationships.  We remember we are created, and we celebrate the fact that we need not make ourselves.

4. The Sabbath is an opportunity, and we protect it.

The Sabbath List, objectionable though it is, comes from somewhere.  It was meant as a way to protect the priceless potential of the Sabbath from being eaten up with mundane things.  Why don't we do our shopping on Sabbath, or organize our sock drawers? It's not because we think those things are bad, and they'll pollute the holiness of the day.*** It's because we have a chance to do good instead.  We worship, and we serve one another.  It's a place for all the good things that get crowded out of the other days by the need to produce.

This is the reason we clear our schedules, and keep charts of sunset times, and do extra dusting on Friday (meaning over and above the regular dusting all of us do daily).  And this is the reason we walk the tightrope over the chasm of legalism, and often lose our balance and fall in.  And hopefully climb back out again.

This is Sabbathing.  This is what we do.

Somewhere on the other side of this move we're going to walk into church and not be the pastor's family. We're going to learn how to do Sabbath in a different way.  I don't know how it's going to feel, and I'm probably going to look at all of you to figure out how to do it.

But whatever it looks like, we'll still be doing these things, like we always have.  Trying to keep them in balance with each other.  Trying to find meaning from each. Trying to find God in the gift.

Today, I wish you a happy Sabbath.

*unless you are unlucky enough not to have Christmas off

**And it won't help to go to the Bible for what a holy day (holiday) means. In Leviticus, God gives the people a list of holidays, and explains them by saying, "it is a sabbath of rest for you." (Leviticus 23) It seems the Sabbath is the foundation of the holidays, and not an example of them.

***Okay, I admit some actually do think mundane things will sully the holiness of Sabbath, and are therefore somehow bad on one day of the week, even though they're good on the other days. I just think there's another point.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Sabbathing, Part 1--Why You Should Break Up With the Sabbath List

Everyone knows about as the Sabbath List. Oh, it's not uniform. It's never written down, which means not everyone has the same one (maybe the GC should check into this), but we all have one.  We learn it in childhood, when people explain what we can and can't do on Sabbath.  For those who didn't grow up in the church, the evangelists try to be helpful and get them started on their own Lists.

Here are some of the rules I've heard:

1. No swimming. But wading is okay, because it's a nature activity.  But to keep it separate from swimming, you have to stop when the water gets to your knees.  Of course, if you come from the tropics, you can go for a "Sabbath afternoon nature snorkel," because this is the equivalent of the "nature hike" elsewhere, plus you see pretty fish.

2. You must stay dressed up all day.  Or, you may change, but only after a formal Sabbath lunch.  Or, you may change, but your afternoon clothes must be semi-dressy.

3. No sports.  Or, no sports with balls (but Frisbees are okay). Or no sports with teams or competition. (In an interesting combination, you may be allowed to play a ball-centered team sport like volleyball, as long as you stay in your suit from church.)

4. No buying anything, including your meal.  Or, you may buy your meal, as long as it's not from an Adventist source, in which case you must pay before Friday sundown. Or, you may buy a meal but only if you are traveling and/or conducting church business.  You may take up an offering for charity, even if that charity is your own ministry, but you can't sell your books or music. And we'd really prefer you didn't look at the bills as you put them in the plate, because Sabbath is the day we pretend money doesn't exist.

We're working on our own version of the List here.  Last Sabbath, I told my kids they could watch VeggieTales, or they could watch YouTube videos of kids playing with actual toys, but not regular cartoons.  I can't really explain why any of it might be bad to watch on Sabbath (if it were bad, I wouldn't let them watch it the other days), but I felt the need to make some kind of distinction.

I confess, this is a struggle for me right now.  I want to teach my kids to enjoy Sabbath for itself.  I figure the first step is not to tell them everything they enjoy is bad on Sabbath, or to spend the whole day telling them no. And I certainly don't want to get them started on their own Sabbath guilt.

But there are things I'm just plain-out not comfortable doing on Sabbath.  And it's not because I think it's a sin to do them.  It's just that controlling my outward environment signals my brain that this day is different.  Certain habits make me feel Sabbath-like. (At least they used to, before the kids started creating a uniform chaos that doesn't vary from one day of the week to another.)

And here we have the Sabbath's dirty little secret:  the List has no relationship to the command.  Actually, the Sabbath command is pretty easy--you and your household have to stop your work for a day. That's all. So the List isn't about sin, it's about tradition.

This is the first step in untangling your Sabbath guilt.  Most of the stuff we feel guilty for about the Sabbath isn't actually Sabbath-breaking.  It isn't commandment breaking, and I am never an advocate of stretching the meaning of sin beyond what the Bible itself gives.*

But that's not the end of the story on Sabbath keeping.  If it was, my life would be a lot simpler.  I can just tell my kids they don't have to do their chores on Sabbath, and we're good. They certainly won't think that Sabbath is boring or oppressive.  But they won't have all the joy of Sabbath I want for them, either.

I don't approve of making new things into sin.  But I also don't approve of thinking the Christian life is about avoiding sin. If the point of our faith was "make sure you don't sin," then Christianity would be about sitting very still, and we'd all be better off as atheists. If the point of Sabbath was "make sure you don't break the command," then Jesus' words are reversed, and man is made for the Sabbath--not the Sabbath for man--after all.**

I believe his promise to give us life "to the full."*** The reason we cut out the bad from our lives is that we're busy chasing the best.  And Sabbath itself--the command not to provide for ourselves or chase profits for one day--is evidence that the best isn't what we can make with our own hands. There is something more meaningful, more exciting, more life-giving in the Sabbath, than what we're getting on the other days.  So sometimes we also cut out the good from our Sabbaths, still chasing the best.  Not because it's on the List, but because we're looking for more.

No List, no matter how well kept, can give you real Sabbathing.  That's probably why God didn't give us one.  We just have to make choices ourselves.****  So don't waste your time on the List, or the guilt.  Instead, chase the best.  God didn't give us a Sabbath List, but he did give us a promise:

" 'then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.' The mouth of the Lord has spoken."


*Yes, I know someone will be worried about Isaiah 58:13, where God says to honor the Sabbath by "not going your own way, and not doing as you please or speaking idle words." But it's a logical stretch to say this verse means that doing the things that please us constitute breaking the Sabbath, especially since God promises they will "call the Sabbath a delight" and "find your joy in the Lord" if they keep it.

I suspect this "doing as you please" actually means ignoring God's commands, particularly the ones about fair treatment of others. It appears to mean just that in verse 3 of the same chapter: "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers."  In fact, the entire chapter is about social justice, fairness to workers and kindness to those in need, and how God values it above going through the motions of worship.  So really not an argument about swimming vs wading here.

**Mark 2:27

***John 10:10

****That can be freeing for an individual, but it leaves all of you parents and teachers, and even church administrators muddling through, one YouTube video or Sabbath meal card at a time.