XTY for the Rest of Us, 1: The Vanished Village

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Welcome to the online book club! As we get underway, a couple ground rules:

  • This conversation is only for those who have registered to be in this group.  If you want to be in the discussion, you must register in the contact form on my last post
  • Registration will remain open during the first week of the club in case the discussion piques some new interest
  • The discussions this summer will wrestle with the dynamic process of holding on to what one would consider the core of their faith and shifting on things one would not consider core.  Each person will have different views on what is core and how the core is expressed and what isn’t and how one’s faith can thrive in 2013.  Please respect each other’s comments, even when disagreeing.  I get to moderate the discussion and, while I don’t expect  it to be anything but thoughtful, nor do I expect things to be controversial, I will not let the discussion become uncivil.
  • To post a comment, always use the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the post.  Don’t click on the orange “Reply” hyperlink immediately after someone else’s comment.  By using the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the page, it will ensure that the comments descend in the order in which they were received

REFLECTIONS ON THE INTRODUCTION AND CHAPTER 1

In her introduction, Diana Butler Bass talks about her growth, struggles and ongoing quest to experience Christianity in a congregation that pursues deep spirituality and community transformation and how that led her out of and then, ultimately, back to a congregation that identifies in the mainline tradition.  While she always appreciated her childhood church’s stability and rootedness in Christian and American heritage, what led her out of her mainline congregation as a teen was its lack of spirituality and its close ties to the political and societal moderate mainstream during the time of huge cultural upheaval that was the 60’s and 70’s.  She no longer felt that she could swallow, unchallenged, the morality of her God-and-Country civic religion.  She felt like her home church no longer spoke to her spiritual yearnings and convictions.  So she became what she terms a “spiritual nomad.”  Leaving mainline and going to conservative, fundamentalist congregations, then journeying into charismatic churches and then back to a mainline church.  What led her back was finding a congregation that taught and practiced a rich and deep spirituality and was actively working to change culture in its community rather than merely reflecting the cultural and political mainstream.  Her congregation had found a way to hold onto the “faith of her fathers” while practicing it in a way that engaged the soul and the larger world.

In chapter 1, Butler-Bass talks about how the neighborhood of her youth, and consequently, the church of her youth all but vanished.  A stable, working-class, white neighborhood dotted with mom-and-pop stores in Baltimore in the 40’s and 50’s became a racially, theologically and sexually diverse neighborhood taken over by strip malls and urban blight.  The grid of her neighborhood still exists for the most part, but, practically, the experience of her neighborhood is gone.  And the church that used to be the center of life and spirituality in that neighborhood is barely keeping its doors open.  Butler-Bass sees her personal neighborhood shift as symbolic of what American communities and mainline churches across the country have experienced over the last 50 years.  She sees the changes in America leading many, many Americans into the life of the spiritual nomad, seeking out a spiritual path that leads to places beyond the safe normalcy of the childhood church.

It may be surprising that I find this introduction and first chapter to speak so relevantly to what I believe is the experience of North American Seventh-day Adventism.  After all, Adventism comes from the fundamentalist tradition that often spoke out against perceived flaws in those mainline denominations.  Adventism built its identity on being a community that separated itself from mainstream culture and reached out to the community in order to save them from the culture.  Quite opposite of the mainliners.

So why do I feel like it speaks so well to Adventism, and, I think, even specifically to the Adventist experience of my adopted hometown of Glendale, CA?  Well, I won’t give all my answers yet.  Let me hear from you.  And we’ll get into the conversation.  So, a couple questions:

  • Would you identify yourself as a spiritual nomad?  Why or why not?
  • While Adventism’s numbers are still growing in North America thanks to immigration, why do you think Adventism is in decline among multi-generational Americans just like the mainline churches?  If denominations that were “in bed” with the culture are in decline, wouldn’t it stand to reason that counter-cultural denominations would thrive?
  • For those of us who grew up in or joined an Adventist congregation at some point in our lives, it helped us make sense of the world in which we lived.  There were clear lines of what was right and wrong and a clear understanding of the future of our country and world.  Do you still feel that same sense of “Adventist clarity”?  Does the faith of your youth still seem to speak relevantly and prophetically to the culture in which you live?

These are starter questions.  Let the conversation ensue and ebb and flow!

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3 thoughts on “XTY for the Rest of Us, 1: The Vanished Village

  1. Hi Pastor Todd,
    You have posted very interesting questions. In trying to answer the 3rd question: I don’t feel the same sense of ‘Adventist clarity’ I did when I first became an Adventist. I realize this when I moved to America. I became an Adventist when I was young. And I had the chance to see how Adventism is practiced in Asia vs. in America (I grew up in Asia and moved to America later). Some of the ways I am taught to practice Adventism in Asia is different from the way Adventism is practiced in America. It seems culture has an impact in the way a religion is practiced. So I don’t feel the same sense of ‘Adventist clarity’ I did when I first became an Adventist now. But my personal relationship with God is not affected by this. Just my understanding of Adventism has changed.

  2. Hema,

    I think you are right on when you say that culture has an impact on how religion is practiced. One of the questions that came up in the on-campus group last night was, “Does a church/religion shape culture or does culture shape church/religion?” I tend to think that culture has more impact on religion than the other way around. And I don’t think that necessarily means that religion always goes in lock-step wherever the culture goes. But I think religions react to culture reflexively–to some degree either going along with the culture or fighting against the culture. And I think how it reacts to culture depends on what the religion deems to be core to its faith and what it deems peripheral.

    I think Adventism in America developed its identity by taking what was a mainstream cultural view–Roman Catholicism is dangerous and insidious, which was the viewpoint of the vast majority of Protestant America for almost 200 years; and taking it further by pointing out lingering Catholic influences in Protestant theology–Sunday worship, understanding of heaven/hell, etc. But Adventism also rode the waves of health reform, temperance, education reform, women’s equality and abolition of slavery—movements that were on the cutting edge of bringing social change in our culture. Those priorities led Adventism into developing their approach to evangelism, global mission, medical mission, educational institution establishments and more. For the first 60-70 years of our church’s existence, Adventism was actively engaging with what was going on the broader culture, whether working with the culture or working against it. But it was responding to what was happening.

    Now, it seems to me, that as American culture has undergone significant changes throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, Adventism, in many ways, seems to still be engaging with the world as if it were in the last century.

    I’m interested to know about how you saw Adventism making sense of your world when you were growing up in Asia versus how you don’t see it doing that now here in the US. Why did it work so well for you there? Do you believe your thinking would have shifted more slowly or not at all if you remained where you were in Asia? Or do you think it would have happened anyway as you grew into adulthood and into a more mature faith no matter where you were?

    And I’m curious to hear from others in our online group about your own reflections on Christianity/Adventism and its interaction with culture and your relationship to that interaction over your life.

  3. Thanks for the background info regarding how Adventism developed its identity. I don’t think when I accepted the Adventist faith I was aware of this info. I think the main reason is because I was very young – in my early teens. And my focus is on the bible and its stories and about trusting God.

    And I mainly got interested and my faith in Jesus grew because I went to an Adventist school and learned all the bible stories. I also learned about how the Hindu religion works (from my mom’s side of the family). I had the option of choosing – Hinduism or Christianity. And I became a Christian because I like Jesus teachings. Anyway, to me, Jesus seems to show the real path to understanding God – the Creator of the Universe. Hence, I became an Adventist.

    At the time period, while I was in Asia, Christianity is practiced in a conservative manner. And even now I think that is the case most of the time. To answer your question: if I had remained in Asia, my thinking would have shifted more slowly. And of course, as I grow into adulthood, my thinking regarding Adventism would have shifted too. But I think the main reason my thinking changed on how I view Adventism is attributed to my move to America.

    Happy Sabbath!

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