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Trip Around the Sun

 

36 of 52 – Seventh-Day Adventist

 

Our Mission Statement:
The
Escondido SDA Church is a family of believers living in and extending the grace of God found only in Jesus Christ.

(This would appear to leave out non-Christians – even if very good people.)

Our Vision Statement:
The Escondido SDA Church seeks to be a growing, multi-generational and multi-cultural community which through grace:
» encourages a dynamic experience with God through the Bible, prayer and worship;
» expresses affirmation, empathy and support as we hold each other accountable in our relationship with God and with one another;
» extends to the people of Escondido and those we daily encounter the call to know and to grow in the certainty that they are the beloved children of God through Jesus Christ.

 

(This is part of an ad for an activity coming up – having coffee together. Since We think God wanted us not to drink coffee, wouldn’t it be more efficient to let everyone in on the “commandment”? It wouldn’t need to be “The Prophet,” but anyone willing to listen and tell. Lots of folks are trying hard to listen to Him – why not use them to help get the “work” done? (I know this is sarcastic – and don’t believe any such “commandment” was ever given – too trivial – the letter killeth.) Lots of questions to ask on the other side. That’s why I will live to be a very old man.)

 

The Visit:

 

I got there about 9:20 for a 9:30 Sunday School. I met the pastor, (Pastor Gary) who directed me to a choice of two classes. One, he said, would be one in which the teacher does essentially all the talking; the other would be a discussion format. (No contest.) He told me that the class begins usually about 15 minutes late – 9:45.

 

As predicted, the class began about 9:45. It was announced that the basic goal of the class is to stir up ideas. It’s ok to disagree, etc.

 

(I would be interested to know what the goal of the other class is - wherein the format was mostly the speech of the teacher.)

 

(An offering was quietly conducted in the class.)

 

The Discussion:

 

It turns out they run this class by having a different teacher each week. Most class members take a turn. This time the teacher was Ruth. Her husband, John, was also in the class, and would be the teacher next week.

 

Ruth handed out sheets of blank paper to everyone and asked us to make a vertical line down the center. On the left column, we labeled “IMAGES.” On the right we labeled, “REALITY.”

 

She separated us into three groups, each of which filled out the paper and reported later.

 

First subject: A Barbie Doll

 

IMAGES                                      REALITY

Perfect body                                Distorted body

Sexy                                            Plastic

Popular                               Short (Less than a foot is short for a human)

Rich                                             Non-living

Human                                         Worth about 10 bucks

Female                                         Icon of human

One person                                  No gender (plastic is not male or female)

Can Do and Think                        Millions of copies

Successful                                    Cannot do or Think

Has fun                                       

Healthy

 

Second subject: Statue of Liberty

 

Brings freedom                             Icon of a human

Welcomes all to America              Tall

Belongs to no one                         Made of metal and stone

Is a person (human)                      Is French

Female                                         Welcome is conditional

Cares about people                       Cannot care – cannot do anything or think

Is good                                        Belongs to officialdom

                                                    Metal cannot be good or evil

                                                    Tourist attraction

                                                    Static – cannot move

                                                    No gender (metal and stone are not male or female)

 

Third subject: Parents         

 

God-like                                       Human frailties

Love only each other (physically)  Sometimes commit adultery

Know everything                           Know more than children

Love is unconditional                    Love is conditional (but less so than others)

Strong                                          Helpful

Always there for you                     Make great grandparents

                                                    They sometimes die in agony and suffering

 

Fourth subject: God

 

Each group made their lists of images and reality for God, but the lists were not shared.

Ruth suggested that since we were made in the “Image” of God, we should look at the Images we have listed to see what He would have us be.

 

Though there was lots of participation, this was not really a discussion. The results were  pretty much in control of the leader. I think, though, that the general tenor of this class will be to have discussion – different opinions welcome, etc. Doctrine here, does not appear to be fixed. I learned more about this later.

 

One of my dearest friends in my youth was Ellis Lewis. He and his family were Seventh Day Adventists. I had a little exposure to them at that time, and today I have found that much has changed in fifty years. There was a kind of Sunday School manual – a guide that need not be strictly followed. This guide is used around the world – similar to our manuals. One member had told me that when they visited one of old Soviet bloc countries, they were on the same topic as at home. This gave evidence to me that the changes I have seen today are denomination wide – not just local.

 

The topic in the manual for this week was Genesis 1-3. Ruth explained that this had been the topic also for the previous two weeks. It was approached the first week from the view that the stories are literal. The second week as if the stories were poetic and not literal. Now this, the third week – would be another approach to understanding. This kind of open thinking is very attractive to me. Doctrine is not dictated, but found. (I’m sure there are exceptions – where the doctrine is required for good standing.)

 

 

The main congregational meeting.

 

For thirty minutes there was congregational singing. All the words were projected. There was about a five piece combo – drums, piano, electronic keyboard, guitars. There were three people on stage singing with us to lead us. Two free-standing – one with a guitar. The members of the little combo did not sing. (None were playing mouth instruments. Why didn’t they sing?)

 

The congregation does not sing out as we are used to – almost no harmony – everyone singing pretty much words only with some connection to the melody. One of the three on stage was a young girl – who put quite a lot of dynamics in her own singing – and appeared to enjoy it quite a lot. (I enjoy the ones who “get into it” a little.)

 

I think on this projected words thing – the music also needs to be projected. Harder to make well visible, but it would encourage learning of parts and better participation. We Mormons, of course, are a bit spoiled. We like to try to be a Tabernacle Choir.

 

I think the best I saw of this projection method was at the Presbyterian Church at Juniper and Idaho. If we tried this ourselves – with words only, we would be misled. It would be glorious – because all the parts are already well known. We would all be looking up and more together. But years later, the parts would start to disappear. We need to project the music also, and we would need always to keep our full director, to induce dynamics, etc.

 

(There – you’ve all had your thirty minutes of music!)

 

Then two teenaged girls (Rachel and Christine) were brought to the stage and honored for their lives and achievements. (It turns out these two were to be baptized before our eyes a little later.) They were apparently the kind of girls we all love at home.

 

The minister announced to us all while the girls were still with him at the front – that Rachel and Christine would next Saturday be giving the sermon. (Laughter from congregation and a shocked look on the girls’ faces.)

 

Opening Prayer

Welcome and announcements

 

Offering: The receptacles were the best I’ve seen – soft cloth bags with wooden handles on both sides. Easy to pass quietly – and preserving privacy.

 

Just after this offering, there was another called the Lamb’s offering. Children went about in the aisles collecting dollars. Each offering supports different functions.

 

Herbert and Renate Sorensen

 

I was sitting next to a very nice man and his also very nice wife – they helped me with details and meanings, etc. Herbert stayed with me through various events – and afterward, he and Renate took me to lunch at Marie Callender’s. More later. (Saturday is not quite the Old Testament style observation it used to be among Adventists.)

 

When Herbert asked me if I would join them for lunch, I accepted. Then I asked, “You guys are vegetarians, aren’t you?” I thought that would be interesting to see what we ate. He said, “No – not any more – that’s not a requirement – it’s up to each individual. Renate and I eat only a little meat – but no strict rule.” I asked, “So what is it among the members now – about half and half?” He said, “Yes – probably about that.” After knowing Ellis, I have thought all my life about the accomplishments of Loma Linda – with regard to good-tasting and protein balanced foods to meet this need. I’ve thought of the millennium and the requirement there that we all be vegetarian – how we ought to be grateful for all the Seventh Day Adventists have done to make ready. And now I find that they’ve given up the requirement – but hey – the work is done – we have the knowledge – and the real requirement doesn’t come until later.

 

I asked about their dietary requirements as they are now. “Do you allow tobacco?” “Oh no.” “How about alcohol?” “Oh no.” “But coffee is ok?” “Oh no.” “But you have an ad about getting together for “Prayer Grounds” with a picture of a cup of coffee on it.” “Oh no – that’s only De-Caf.”

 

Among we Mormons, coffee is coffee – regardless of what has been taken out of it. I have to wonder if people know that as coffee evaporates and becomes a part of the atmosphere – and comes down again as rain – that’s just the water after other stuff has been removed. It must be important just how good the filtering is. If it’s not about the caffeine, then we need to know what it is about. With alcoholic beverages, we know for sure – it’s the alcohol. If we put that in a fruitcake – cook all the alcohol out – cool – just flavor. I think of De-Caf as coffee flavored drink. I know people who won’t drink caffeine-free Coke – which never had any caffeine to begin with. That’s added to Cola and other drinks (including some water.)

 

When we ate, we all had salmon – very tasty. They treated me – and I’ll tell you, this Trip Around the Sun just keeps getting better and better.

 

It was announced that Laser Tag was tonight (Saturday). I don’t know some of the details – Saturday may end in the evening or something, but I have gathered that the whole issue of their correctness and others’ error regarding the Sabbath - has softened. Herbert and Renate explained a great deal later.

 

Short talk by husband and wife. They read several parables from scripture. The parables were projected – and then there were words in blue for the congregation to say in answer or response. The Lost Sheep – Prodigal Son – others.

 

The two baptisms – Rachel and Christine

 

This was a treat. The font was much like what I described at the big Southern Baptist Church. It was behind the stage – up high – very visible to all – with the beautiful stained glass behind back-lighted. It was of the Savior – but not the crucifixion – it was the resurrected Savior – much like our “Christus.” There was one essential difference between this font and the one at the Baptist Church. At the Baptist Church, the minister stands behind the font – reaching forward to baptize – getting wet only on his arms. In this one, the minister was in the font with the one being baptized. It’s probably interesting that they were all dressed all in black from top to bottom with very nice robes. Our attachment to white for this purpose has a symbolic meaning for us (we think of white as the “pure” color.) Probably the symbolism here is the opposite – that we go into the water impure to be cleansed. (I wondered about a “special” cloth which begins black – and turns white when soaked in water. That would doubtless be a bit over dramatic, but very clear in its meaning. I wonder if this has been done? Or perhaps under a black light, one could come out shining like a light bulb. (Give me a break here – I’m including my thoughts whether I like them myself or not.)

 

Herbert explained to me that they do not baptize infants. They wait until the person makes an independent decision – no expectation that it will occur at a certain age, etc. I explained that we also do not baptize infants – but generally do baptize at eight years old – when we judge the child knows right from wrong. We expect also that the child has decided independently, but there is an expectation involved. I expect that even among those who decide this later, there are expectations and accreditations that play a role. The enthusiastic applause afterward attests to this.

 

What I liked the very best were the baptismal talks. They were written by the very ones being baptized. Someone else read the talks while the girls were waiting in the water – but the talks were actually the talks of the two girls. Both talks were precious.

 

I think we would have a very good time if we did this. Our young Mormon children, even at eight, are very capable of this. It would be good if every word were actually theirs and not from parents, without so much as hearing a word of rehearsal. Every single talk would be beautiful – and no need for comparisons or ratings. (Thirteenth Article of Faith - “praiseworthy and of good report.”)

 

I wrote down one phrase from one of the talks: “I choose Jesus and will have no other god.”

 

Sermon:

 

A psychologist tells us that, “It is easy to keep your New Year’s resolutions – make sure they are doable for you and easy to keep.” Everyone laughed. A video had been prepared depicting the last supper overlaid with the crucifixion scenes. It was all like double exposures. It has to be of interest to us that when the nails were inserted, it was squarely in the wrists, not the palms. (We’re not the only ones.) Because of the overlayment with less poignant scenes of happier times, the scenes of the crucifixion took on a more contextual meaning – and appeared less stark. It was very effective, and I think the minister (Pastor Gary) was pleased. I heard him talking some about it later.

 

Brother Sorensen explained things as they were coming up. This was a special Saturday – four times a year they have Holy Communion, and this was one of those times. It also includes foot-washing, which was not to be done as an individual example – but would include all who desired to be included – and in fact included nearly the entire congregation. Herbert allowed that I might remain in the chapel while they all went for the foot-washing. I asked if it was comfortable for one to observe without participating, and he assured me that was fine, so I went. He also then asked if I would like to participate. I declined, but after seeing how comfortable all of them were – including many young people – I thought maybe I ought to have accepted. There were several groups. Each, in pairs, would wash one’s feet – then trade places and have their own feet washed. Husbands and wives usually did it with each other, but it was not a requirement. In washing one’s feet, the person doing the washing thinks about his own humility and dedication to all – the position the savior taught us to have. There were perhaps a hundred pans of water for washing. There was no strictness – and it was all very uncomplicated. I noticed some with pantyhose, for example, had their feet washed with those in place. Those with socks, of course, removed those – simple.

 

Then we returned to the chapel for Holy Communion (Sacrament).

 

A young girl sang a solo – very beautiful – and so was the song, which was “You’ll Never Thirst.”

 

Another young girl led a prayer. Among other things she said, “And Please Bless our Neighbor Church – The Community Lutheran Church – Bless their pastor – bless the people – to be happy in their worship – with all their needs met – to serve and spread the blessings of the Savior.” I didn’t write this down – and these are not the exact words. It turns out, as Herbert explained when I asked, a different church is selected each Sabbath for their blessing. The Mormons were selected recently. I asked if non-Christians were also included, and Herbert said “no.” So I asked if the view was that only Christians were on the inside with God, and he told me, “No – others are included also – we just haven’t gotten around to that inclusion in our tradition with the prayer.”

 

Some discussion started now – that was more finished during lunch – so I’ll address it later – with respect to some of the changes that have taken place for this denomination – the Seventh Day Adventists. Generally, they refer to themselves as “Adventists,” leaving out the “Seventh Day” part.

 

The cups of grape juice were all arranged on a long table at the front. Line by line, we went to the front and took our own cup and unleaven bread. It was completely quiet, much as it is during the sacrament for us. The minister then took the microphone and drew a little attention to the silence – saying that we have too little understanding of silence – that it was ok. Shortly thereafter, nice reverent background music started. (I think it was started late – and the minister felt the need to make that ok.)

 

Just in front of me was an elderly man – perhaps 90. Bless his heart, he picked up his cup and a whole plate of bread and headed away. A girl behind the table began laughing (nicely – but she was tickled.) Probably the man’s daughter, just ahead of him – after noticing what he had done, helped him to return the plate and take just one piece of bread. (I thought to myself – maybe this was to be the sweet little man’s Last Supper. It reminded me a little of my mother during her final days of inclarity. There is something sweet about becoming a child again. There may be a reason.)

 

(The speller says “inclarity” is not a word – but I think it’s just fine. It’s not unclear to me.)

 

All took their emblems to their seats – and then with a short talk for each from the minister, we took it together. The cups were large (relatively) clear plastic (about four ounces, though filled only a little at the bottom) – the kind that make a noise when you set them down if they’re empty. After we drank from them, the cups were being set down on the hymnal holders. It was rhythmic – click, click, clickety, click, and went on for some time. The minister declared, “That is a Holy Sound!”

 

There was comfortable laughter. Pastor Gary is really quite good at his job – and appears to love the people he serves.

 

It really did not sound like noise, but was rhythmic and musical. As I think back, I have to wonder if it was intentional. It went on for more than ten seconds.

 

Lunch:

 

Herbert and Renate Sorensen took me to lunch at Marie Callender’s.

 

Herbert asked if I had brought a car. I said, “Yes – it’s parked out in front.”

 

He said he would ride with me – and his wife would drive their car.

 

I said, “You might change your mind when you see my car.”

 

He said, “Oh – no – we spent time in Africa – we ride in anything.”

 

“Ok,” I said.

 

(I think he thought I meant I had an old car – or a dirty car – or a big old truck – or something like that.)

 

Herbert had a new experience, and I had a ball. On seeing the car, he was delighted – and not about to change his mind – but it was not what he expected. We climbed in – and I took off with a little gusto – as all his friends were laughing and waving. Renate had gone to the back parking lot to get their car – and had not seen the danger her husband was in.

 

They were most interesting to talk with – have had lots of experience and have a very inclusive nature. Herbert was very tall – I don’t know how many inches over six feet – but at least several. Renate was also tall – and they were a striking couple. Both had been Catholic – Herbert having looked for a new way of thinking just five years ago, when he landed among the Seventh Day Adventists. He told me that there were things he “grew out of or grew past” from among the Catholics – mostly the notion that they were the only ones completely acceptable to God. He wanted a more inclusive religion. He declares that he is very happy with this one. I think he also would have loved being a Mormon, if it weren’t for this one feature of exclusivity. We do so many things well. I think the carrying of a “worthiness card” would drive him right up the wall.

 

Herbert had started explaining some things before we left the chapel. Actually, there are times during their meetings when quiet visiting is comfortable and evidently allowed.

 

He explained that the Seventh Day Adventists had been forced to go through a learning time. In the past, they had everything down to the second – they even knew exactly when and where the Savior would return. (I knew none of this – and it was all before I knew Ellis Lewis – I would assume Ellis also was not very aware.) They gathered by the thousands to the place sometime somewhere in 1856. They counted down the very seconds for His coming. And He did not come.

 

Rather than ignore this failure, they directed themselves to fall back and regroup – learn from error – and study the scriptures anew.

 

(This was very interesting to me. Other religions are not so honest about their error. One I know of always taught, for example, that God would never allow men to go to the moon. Now that men have done so, they argue that it’s a hoax. They are not “data oriented.” They throw out all the data that does not support their belief. We do this with regard to speciation by natural selection – that we have non-human ancestors.)

 

What resulted was a more inclusive attitude among the Adventists – one which did not set them apart as the only true religion – but as imperfect people studying what the Lord has given – and learning only parts of it. They also regard others as having other parts of the truth – with no one having all of it. (This is exactly my own view – though I have come to regard what we know as a paltry part of the whole – even with all the Earthly knowledge combined – not a trillionth about a single grain of sand.) He said that in the end what counts is our relationship with God. I asked how he could assume there was a God. He answered that this beginning of one’s belief has to come from faith. I asked if this means accepting things without data – blindly. I’m not completely clear on the answer, but it is substantively the same as I have heard all my life. I don’t like it, but there may be no better answer. We start with some bold assumptions – and build our belief system without questioning the assumptions. This is very difficult for me, yet I meet the people I have the most respect for, and they have used this process to their benefit and to the benefit of those they come to serve and befriend.

 

There was so much discussed at lunch, and, being a reasonable man, I did not take notes. (Perhaps I should keep a little recorder in my pocket.) After I send this report out, all kinds of things will be remembered.

 

I told them all about my Trip Around the Sun, and they think it is a wonderful adventure. They wondered how my “search” was going. I told then that I was not searching for another church. I was looking for better understanding – maybe a growing past some of the teaching I’ve lived with – just as he had done with Catholicism – but without a need for a new church. I don’t enjoy the exclusivity, but I love so much the positive support – the great help the Church is in raising a family. I think of Bill Cosby’s (maybe not original) statement that he wouldn’t join a club that would let him in. A joke, of course, but the opposite is intended – that clubs should be inclusive. Thirty years ago, I fought and gave talks in Toastmasters International because they did not allow women in the club. In the government, we could not have a club that excluded women, so we inducted Helen Blanchard – but named her Homer Blanchard in the records. (Imagine an ordination done this way. Most churches have gotten past this by now.) Eventually Homer (now Helen) became the club’s international president, and the whole outfit now includes women. (Imagine a woman as prophet, seer, and revelator.)

 

With that new data on what the trip was about, they decided it was not merely an adventure, but maybe more. They wanted to know if there would be a book. I said that if there were to be a book, it would probably just be the 52 reports.

 

If I were looking for another church – this is among the first I would further investigate. I would also include on the list the Methodists, the Swedenborgians, and the Nazarenes. These are the most inclusive of those I’ve visited. I could also include the Buddhists, but the change is more than is reasonable for someone with this much background (inertia?)

 

I have to say, that was one of the more spiritual Saturdays I have ever had. It was also very pleasant. I got a little carried away in the Sunday school class with my inputs for Images and Reality, but I keep learning about reasonable limits among new friends.

 

36 of 52 – Seventh-Day Adventist

 

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