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I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we talked at length about the fact that the nature of religion , especially Christianity, appears to be rapidly changing in our post-modern world. It’s no longer ‘cool’ to have a very definite set of beliefs that suggest that you have a monopoly on truth. Young people of our generation are becoming increasingly disenchanted with dogma, meaningless tradition, and religion that focuses more on prohibition rather than liberation. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Within my particular denomination there seems to be a shift in certain quarters from focusing on the beliefs that make us different from other branches of Christianity, some of which are seen redundant, irrelevant and even downright wrong, to a seemingly more inclusive approach. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get bogged down  in conversations about religion, politics and society with labels such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ which often serve little purpose outside of allowing us to keep our ears closed to  the other side. So instead of defending a ‘side’or writing a list of criticisms of complaints, which, let’s face it we’re all good at doing, especially me – I wanted to write about some of the unique things I love about my church. They aren’t in order of importance, they’re just random snapshots of what I love about my faith:

1) Our focus on the Bible

I’m pretty sure I learnt a knock off version of Harvard referencing  system age 5, just from growing up Adventist. It was never enough for me to believe something just because I felt like it was true or it sounded like it was good.  It was never enough for my parents or a pastor to tell me something was wrong or right based on their childhood or a tradition that had been passed down to them. I would ask “Is it in the Bible? Where? Is that in the right historical context?”. And as I got older, that led to me questioning some of the traditions inside my own church and really digging deep to make sure that when I did make a decision in my late teens to actually join the church, that I believed in all the doctrines. Growing up Adventist taught me to take theology seriously and believe that God wasn’t content to just give me a rule book and leave me to it. He wanted me to engage, to ask questions, to understand the history and sociology, but most of all, to come to know and love Him through its study.

2)The health message

If you’re not Adventist, you’ll be wondering what that is – if you’re Adventist you’ve heard the phrase a million times. Adventists are known for their focus on health and a happy lifestyle, and many of us follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. I’ve recently made a commitment to stick 100% to a full plant based diet and I feel great for it. Not only has it given me a sense of achievement,  the discipline required to stay away from my occasional halloumi binges has extended to other areas of life – spiritually, physically and mentally. I love the fact that our ‘health message’ isn’t just about food, but encompasses a total state of well being. Taking time out each week to observe a day of rest, being physically active, getting enough sleep and most importantly, having trust in a power greater than myself give me a sense of well being that I’m incredibly grateful for.

I wish that more of us who are Adventists would try and experience the benefits that come from our health message especially as everyone else now seems to get that eating clean isn’t a chore when it’s done right!

3) Our commitment to social justice

I’ve never been someone who is content to believe that God wanted us to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. In fact, I tend to believe that the more heavenly minded you are, the mor earthly good you will be. One of things I love about being Adventist is that we’re often encouraged to believe that as individuals we can bring a small taste the kingdom of God to earth in the way we live our lives.The network of charities, hospitals and educational institutions run by the church always remind me that I’m not here to live for myself. My talents and my gifts are given to me to share with humanity and to offer whatever portion of peace and joy that I can to the people I interact with. Fighting against injustice, poverty, ignorance, and suffering are not jobs that I can leave to God – he’s given me my own job to do no matter how small, in reflecting his fight against these things.

4) The emphasis on lifestyle standards.

Being a teenager and an Adventist wasn’t the easiest thing. Before I developed a genuine relationship with God for myself, there was often a feeling of irritation. Why did I have to dress differently from other people? Why were my parents so strict about the things I could and couldn’t watch on TV? Why was it so bad to listen to 50 Cent? (I’m revealing my age aren’t I?) Why did I have to be so…different from everyone else? I was fed up of saying no to going certain places. I was fed up of being out the loop of everyone else’s favourite TV show or music video. I was fed up of not having sex.I just wanted to be normal.

As I grew to actually value my relationship with God I understood more and more why what I watched, what I read, where I went, who I slept or didn’t sleep with shaped the kind of person I became. And at times when I struggled a lot with these standards, I saw how I changed into a person that I didn’t particularly like and that my relationship with a God I had come to love and trust, suffered. I know now more than ever that my standards aren’t about arbitrary rules to control how I live but rather daily decisions about how I want the trajectory of my life to go. I realise that in order to be truly happy I have to be consistent in what I do publicly and behind closed doors and that that only comes from consistency in the outwardly little things I do every day.

I am glad that the youth of my church are not content to be stagnant in doing things the way they were done before for the sake of it. I want us though, to ensure that we are not afraid to be different. That our change isn’t powered by being molded by the unrelenting pressure of a secular postmodern world that paints Biblical faith as primitive, restrictive and embarrassing or a modern Christianity that is offended by any denomination that does not subscribe to a one size ecumenicalism. Now is not the time for cowardice or shrinking. We have a faith that can bring light and love and hope to so many. Find out who and whose you are, and live it!

What do you love about your faith?

 

 

michelle o

As far back as I can remember, my dream life has included an old Edwardian house with a massive back garden, 2 very cute children, and a very tall husband with kind eyes. The recurring image is generally of us, in the garden, him making mud pies with the kids and me pouring glasses of homemade lemonade into tiny plastic cups for them. It’s all very idyllic and archaic. Nowhere in this image is me hurriedly pouring the lemonade with a pair of A and E scrubs on, kissing my husband on the cheek and grabbing a child in each arm to hug them as I rush out the house to work.

The probability is that my future life is far more likely to be similar  to the second image, than the first.

The working mum isn’t a really a ‘thing’ anymore, is it?
Not many people raise their eyebrows  at the idea of a working woman having a couple of little ones at home. In a lot of circles, it’s assumed that you will go back to work after pregnancy, possibly take a year or two at the most.
All except conservative Christian (or other religious) circles.

Recently my denomination voted against women being ordained as ministers. It was a controversial vote mostly split along cultural lines. Many of  those in the West tended to be more in favour, and non- Western countries tended to be opposed to it. I haven’t studied it enough to make any informed commentary and so maintained a fairly neutral position although my natural tendencies lean towards being pro-ordination.

Aside from discussions about ordination, I was interested in the conversations about the different roles of women and men in the home and society. I’ve found Christian men have much more of a tendency to be in favour of my 1950’s daydream than other men. In fact, one of the women who spoke against women’s ordination stated that despite her current leadership position in a church organisation, that (loosely quoting from our denomination’s most important female leader) ‘her highest calling will be when she is a wife or mother’. Although I agree with the quote she used in it’s correct context –  I found it firstly, dismissive of those women who will never be called to be a wife or mother, and secondly, rooted less in sound theology and more in Victorian idealism.

The idea that your most important life work is to love and influence your immediate family is one that I subscribe to – but this is equally true of men and women. Interestingly enough, this argument is never used to prevent married men from occupying positions of leadership or demanding jobs even though the Biblical imperative to take care of your home first is actually directed at men and not women.

The concept of men going out to work and women staying at home is fairly modern concept. In times past, especially the time period  in which the Bible was written, men, women and children often worked alongside each other in the family business, women sold their wares at the market, and the concept of a ‘stay at home mum’ vs ‘working mum’ was non-existent. Women often worked from home, or took their children with them as they worked outside the home. Everyone pitched in to make enough money or produce for the family to survive – the family was a working unit.

My Mum worked in a demanding and fairly high powered job  for most of my childhood and I don’t feel like I missed out because she wasn’t “there” as much as she would have been if she had stayed at home. Like most Mums she’d managed the art of being ever present even in her absences. Sometimes she would bring me into work with her during school holidays and seeing her as a black woman in a senior management position was extremely empowering for me. I would sit at her desk in her office, spin around in her big chair and pretend that I was the boss.  I have no doubt that a major part of my confidence and success came from seeing my Mum at work. Also, I was fortunate enough to have great nannies who looked after me and my brother and my experience of the world was enriched by my time with them – I consider them to be part my family.

If I’m honest, if  I ever do have children  I do want to be at home, at least when my children are young. I’m even warming to the idea of home schooling. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a stranger spending more time with my children at a young age than me, even if my own childhood experience of that was great. But if I am called to work outside of the home, that does not make me less ‘virtuous’ than if I stay at home.

I refuse to believe that God wanted me to get a medical degree simply to pass time while I wait for the right man to whisk me off my feet and provide me with an expensive set of cooking utensils to facilitate his fabulous career. I’m also very confused as to why women who are significantly more intelligent, innovative and able than some men shouldn’t share this with the world but instead should feel some sort of moral burden to stay at home, concocted from a hodgepodge mixture of Victorian ethics and misused Bible texts, instead of discovering the cure for sickle cell. Lastly, the idea that being a stay at home Mum isn’t a job in itself, is insulting. If a woman stays at home both parents are working – one is working inside the home and one is working outside. Both are equally viable choices that families should make for themselves – without being made to feel guilty for either.

What do you guys think?

parent sucks

A while back I started a series on the Ten Commandments. I got to number four, probably the easiest one for me to write about, and probably the most inoffensive to most non-believers – after all, what’s not to like about what superficially appears to be a command to have a day off?  I kind of forgot about that series amidst all my other random blog posts, and then last week I remembered that perhaps I had a good reason for being stuck. Commandment number five. That’s where I got stuck.

Number five is the one about honouring your father and mother.

And I could have written a very lovely, likely nauseating blog post as an ode to my (truthfully) very wonderful parents, but as soon as  I thought about it what came to mind was…but what if your parents suck?

I’ll admit, there is a part of me that is very sympathetic to the pro-choice movement. There are one or two women who make you think”Why didn’t you just have an abortion?”. That might appear exceptionally judgemental, callous or even evil to some of you, but hear me out:

Seeing a baby whose mother is addicted to heroin and has passed that on to them, or seeing women who know that they are entirely economically, emotionally or mentally unsuitable to parent or seeing women who physically or sexually abuse their children persuade me at times sometimes, it is crueller to give birth to life than to terminate it.  Of course, their children could, and I hope will, go on to make wonderful things out of their lives, but the odds are hugely stacked against them.

I get angry after I see these women. And I undulate between pity (because I understand that people do not generally behave in these ways simply because they are ‘bad people’ – there a multiple factors at play) and anger for the soon-to-be baby that has to live through the consequences of their behaviour.

Poor single mothers are an easy target for bad parenting though. There are multiple men and women who have stable jobs and appear to be functioning on the surface, but have hidden addictions, abusive personalities and a myriad of issues that make them just as ill equipped to parent, but they unfortunately fall under the radar of public services.

Some parents suck.

Some people should never be parents in their current state. Some parents are your abusers. Some parents are the person who caused you the deepest hurt. Some parents are invisible. Some parents left you before you could remember their face. Some parents crushed your dreams and didn’t give you enough peaceful nights to rebuild them. Some parents are selfish. Some parents told you they hated you.

All parents are imperfect.

How do you honour them? Do they deserve honour? What does it look like to honour a parent who sucks at parenting?

I always say we can’t make arguments from definitions, but sometimes definitions are useful. The Greek word for honour used in the New testament is timao, which means ‘to set the value of’. I think this is a useful way of understanding the context of the word honour. The heart of this commandment is the value we should place on the relationship (or non-relationship) we have with our parents. Whether good or bad, these relationships will likely have lasting impact on the course of our lives. We should approach these relationships with that knowledge and treat them accordingly.Not only that, but good parents are an invaluable resource and we should use the wisdom they inevitably will have.

I’m cautious about being too certain in my opinions on this, but there are a few thing I am certain of:

1) Jesus took abuse, especially of children, seriously.

He said that it was better to tie a massive rock around your neck and drown yourself at the bottom of the ocean than harm a child.

2) You’re obligated to forgive, you’re not obligated to remain in relationship with abusers.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:14. If you wouldn’t want someone you love to stay in that situation or relationship, don’t stay in it yourself.

3) Where it’s possible to reconcile, you should.

This is good advice whatever your faith … “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”. Romans 12:18. That means if the you’ve fallen out, but reconciling will not put you in a position where you are open to abuse/abusive behaviour then try to reconcile.

4) It’s loving to tell people when they’ve messed up and it gives them opportunities to change.

“Better is open criticism than hidden love”.  Proverbs 27:5

5) You’re entitled to be an adult and form your own opinions.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

It’s childish to accept your parents opinions and beliefs without questioning them – they can’t answer for you anymore.

5) They might not be bad parents, you might be screwing up.

Just a reminder – just because you’re angry with them, as long as they are not abusive,  your anger doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the wrong.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts. Especially interested in those who have a different belief system – do you feel like you should forgive? Do you feel any obligation to respect your parents?

christianculturefunny

I’ve realised that I pretty much only blog when I’m criticising or complaining. It gives a pretty skewed view of my personality (although I am a self confessed cynic), as well as my experiences. Yup, I do have some critiques of the church, but actually ….I love church folk. So in honour of all the good eggs out there, here are some things about church folk that I love.

1) They will feed you.

Maybe it’s all the biblical references to Jesus being the bread of life, but even the most twisted, grumpy church person will probably be willing to give you some food. It might be 5 moldy loaves and 2 tins of tuna, but rarely will I leave the presence of my fellow Christians hungry. Although there have been times I’ve narrowly escaped food poisoning from dodgy looking potlucks, as the word says, man looks at the outward appearance, but to God, it’s the thought that counts.

Oh, who am I kidding? I find it so hard not to throw in a little bit of snark. Ok, let’s pray for the next 4 things.

2) One of them will be there for you when you need it most.

I remember a time a couple of years ago where I was going through a very dark place. I felt pretty hopeless, and pretty alone. I was lying on my bed crying, asking God to send someone to help me, and at that very moment, a older lady from church called and asked me how I was. I burst into tears on the phone, she instantly came and picked me up and took me out for the whole day. Oh, and by the way, she was white. I say that, because despite my rantings about race, I sincerely believe the gospel has the power to transcend racial boundaries and create authentic, caring communities IF we let it.

3) They remind me of my imperfections.

Sometimes, we can spend a of time focusing on the imperfections of people around us. The community of the church offers so many opportunities for people to literally irritate the hell out of me. Did you get that? When people irritate you, when you get into conflict, the way you respond is often God’s way of showing you the parts of you that are still hellish. When you see those parts, it’s the perfect chance to work on getting rid of them. It’s good thing.

4) Random sing-a-long sessions.

Black church folk in particular, just love to break out in song at any given point. Train stations, the middle of Topshop, in parks, in airports, on planes- in places where it’s distinctly inappropriate to be anything but silent. I love it. sometimes your heart is so heavy that other people’s songs are your prayers. Sometimes, you might sit in church and not engage with the sermon or even believe, but an old hymn will be the one thing you can give your assent to. Long live random (and planned) sing-a-longs!

5) The cringeworthy inside jokes.

I don’t appreciate when we do this in front of other people and alienate them. But amongst ourselves, I can dig a good Christian joke. Good Christian jokes are often made in ‘relationship seminars’ and involve very benign references to Songs of Solomon.  I can dig a good Adventist joke even better. Then it gets extra exclusive, extra cringe worthy, and extra weird and crazy sounding. Even better are the inside jokes about things that happened at church like, 6 years ago when you were a teenager and they still remain AS funny as they were when you were 14. That’s a sign of true maturity – that you can be as juvenile as your 14 year old self without shame.

It’s easy for us, me in particular, to separate myself from ‘the church’, without remembering that the church is very simply me, my family, the person who took my parking space before church, the guy behind me who sings in D no matter the actual key of the song, the pervy Deacon, the sullen teenager playing Temple run. We are ALL the church. The best way to change the church is to allow God to change you. That’s a lesson that I’m still struggling to learn..

Have a great weekend, and enjoy a plate of burnt potluck on my behalf.

What do you love about church folk? You can answer even if you’re not one of them 🙂

adventist grapevine

Copyright: www.sdacaricatures.blogspot.com

So I’ve read a couple of these “you know you grew up Adventist” things, but most of them are heavily Americanised. So I thought I’d do an English version. Well, as a typical Londoner I think we’re the centre of the universe and the only city in the country of relevance, although Birmingham also has a small place in my heart. (As does Wolverhampton, which I refuse to call a city, because we all know it’s just a town that got a little bit over excited.)

For those of you who read my blog and aren’t Adventist, you can find out about us at www.adventist.org. Basically, we’re Christians but we have some beliefs that are quite different from other Christian groups, that we believe are important. We’re most famous in popular media for a lot of us being vegetarian and consequently living past the age of 100 (go veggie, it’s good for animals, the environment and you) – there’s a documentary floating about the internet somewhere about that.

So, you probably grew up Adventist if….

1) As a teenager, the Advent Centre was the highlight of your Saturday night.

Some of you Bad-ventists were out clubbing. The rest of us were loitering outside the Advent centre, or eating veggie burgers with our latest crush at the McDonalds next to the Advent centre. A few of you were trying to bring the club inside the Advent centre. You know who you are. If you were from up north, you woke up early in the morning to make that trip down to London so that you could join in on the Advent centre fun too.

2) 13th Sabbath was D-Day.

If you were that child that only knew one of your memory verses, then your parents felt shame…unless they were newly baptised and you got a pass for about two quarters. There was always that annoying child who said all 13 verses without even breathing. (Ok, so I was kinda that child…I got bullied a bit. Come on guys, WWJD?)

3) Your Dad/Mum got militant just before sunset on Friday.

Whatever T.V show you were watching, book you were reading, or game you were playing that was non Jesus related, it got swiftly put away. Cue ‘The Greatest Adventure:Bible Stories’, ‘Psalty’, or ‘Donut Man’ video, or if you grew up in a household like mine, ‘The Story of John Wesley’. (But it’s actually a good story, like, for real).

To this day, about 20 minutes before sunset, my Dad will make his raid of the house, like some sort of Sabbath mafia, turning off appliances, wailing and gnashing his teeth at the sight of me ironing. It gives my heart a warm glow.

4) You always missed your friend’s birthday parties.

EVERYONE has their birthday on Saturday in primary school. EVERYONE.

5) You were part of a girl group/boy band with an sightly dodgy name.

I’m convinced that pretty much EVERY child who grew up Adventist in England has at some point been part of, wanted to be part of or tried to be part of a singing group. Usually a cappella because that’s what Adventists specialise in. Names are usually along the lines of “In His Hands”, “Testimony”, “Communion”, etc

5) You know hymn 373 and hymn 100. Even if you can’t give the number for any of the other ones.

All together now…. “Going Afaaaaaarrrrrrrrr…”

6) Pathfinder camporee/ Camp meeting were just as good as holidays abroad, if not better.

There are some sermons I remember from Pathfinder  camporees I went to when I was 9. I became a Christian eventually, so something must have got through, but despite the sermons I heard at camporee I still managed to – pull pegs out of people’s tents while they were sleeping so that it collapsed on them, pour soapy water down rabbit holes while rabbits were in them (I do feel bad for the rabbits, honestly), spray deodorant into a wasps nest so that they swarmed and stung me and my friend, set fire to things that should never have been near flames, and take people’s towels that were hanging over the shower door while they were still in the shower. And I got called a goody two shoes compared to what some of you were up to..

7) You sang “red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight”, to the song ‘Jesus loves the little children’.

Not like this new generation who have a PC version …”every colour is just right, they are precious in his sight”.

8) If a preacher had come from America, it made it approximately 10X more likely that you would be at church.

For shame, for shame, you generation of groupies. I would like to say most of us grow out of this, but nope, some of you still only miraculously turn up for Jesus when he’s swathed with stars and stripes.

9) You were vexed when the A listers/praise team got potluck lunch before you.

Maybe that was just me. I understand they were ministering yadda yadda yadda. I was a hungry teenager and it irked me.

10) You had so many sex and relationship talks you could do an A level on them.

Was that just Peckham church who did that? There’s that video of the American woman who says all the STD’s you can catch really really fast, and it made me scared of catching herpes like, forever. I’m still scared of catching herpes. Because as the American lady says, condoms don’t protect you against herpes. Neither do they protect you from the emotional consequences of pre-marital sex. Word.

11) Kirk Franklin was a point of controversy.

One of my friends had the bright idea of us singing “Stomp” as a special item. As soon as my Dad got wind of it, we were promptly dispersed, and back to the Heritage Singers it was. Rightfully so…  who on earth was going do the rap at the end? Certainly not me.

12) You have come close to breaking a bone playing British Bulldog at a church social.

Maybe that’s why some Adventists don’t believe in competition. That mess is dangerous.

13) You were a budding actor/actress.

I do a stellar Miriam, a great donkey and I can also do a good imitation of ‘teenager who left church/Jesus but has now come back’.

14) If you a girl you wanted to mime/did mime.

I personally did not mime, and still do not understand the need for mime, but Adventist teenagers in England and mime are like cheese and crackers. They just seem to find each other.

15) You think back on your childhood/teenage years with nostalgia and fondness.

Some people end up leaving Adventism for various reasons. I think most of us who grew up Adventist though, have good memories. I will forever be grateful for the relationship with God that I developed as part of growing up Adventist, the truth that I believe is taught, the friends I made, and the great times I had. I forgive Adventism for any food poisoning I got after a bad potluck, and for the fact that I had, and still continue to have to hear the song ‘Mercy said no’ at least 4 times a year.

What do you remember about growing up Adventist?

Happy Sabbath guys x