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Growing up Adventist, Lent was a foreign concept to me.  I don’t know if I ever actually heard the word until high school, which was Mennonite.  Then I lived in a dorm at a Lutheran college, sang in an Anglican choir, played piano at a United church and learned a lot about Lent.

Adventists don’t observe Lent.  Adventists don’t follow the traditional church calendar.  One Easter weekend we had a Thanksgiving-themed sermon.

The lack of liturgical rituals in Adventism is largely because Adventists view such rituals “as unnecessary as it puts undue emphasis on ritualized personal sacrifice, which devalues the sacrificial work of Christ.”  Lent is not a biblical principle.

That makes sense.  Intertwined with that is also a concern that a ritual becomes routine and loses its significance once it becomes rote.

Nevertheless, there are some Adventist churches that follow the traditional church calendar.  And there are those that hold Ash Wednesday services.

I’ve come to realize that I like rituals.  I like liturgy.  And I like following the traditional church calendar.  I like these things because they’re tangible expressions and they add some structure, discipline and focus to my spiritual life.  Furthermore, I like the idea of being connected to other believers who are observing the same days as I am, albeit in different ways.  For me, rituals, liturgies and church calendars are simply other means to an end, not ends in themselves; they have no inherent value to me in and of themselves, which is why I feel comfortable observing them.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I would like to accomplish during Lent, which is a problem because Lent is not about accomplishing anything.  Lent is about reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross.

The American Evangelical Lutheran Church calls Lent “a season of simplicity.”  My original Lenten goals were also anything but simple.  It was a list of things I would and wouldn’t do, which completely misses the point.

Or does it?

I’m of two minds about this, because the Lenten discipline of sacrifice is important, because every time I think about doing that thing I said I wouldn’t do, I remember why I’m not doing it.  It’s really a way of focusing my attention on what matters.  As for the things I would do, again, it’s about focusing on those things that are important.

However, I’ve replaced my initial Lenten plan with something a lot simpler: rest.

I’m going to rest my mind by practicing intentional silence and giving up a lot of my online time.

I’m going to rest my body by nourishing it properly and giving it adequate exercise and rest.

And I’m going to rest my soul by spending time in prayer and meditation,  and by practicing self-compassion.

Kelley Nikondeha expresses the Lenten thoughts I didn’t know I had perfectly:

It’s a season for holding ambiguity and contradictions; less to be more, emptiness to contemplate fullness, even death to welcome life.

I’ve always found it to be a time of owning my fragile and fractured ways. Laying them out, saying, ‘here they are, my struggles in this life, in this body, in the place.’ Something about moving out of the shadows of denial begins a gradual healing. No argument, no defense or trying to justify why I limp this way or that. Just an honest statement in God’s company about my own feeble attempts at following His way.

Coming into Lent with a raw awareness of where I stand, I walk the days strangely at peace. I’ve never felt it morose. There’s goodness in being known in your weakness and accepted nonetheless. And that’s much of what I sense in the lenten weeks – acceptance.I somehow embody the truth that in my humanness I am both broken and beloved.God’s so near even as I confess my cracks and chips. I journey through lent overwhelmed by this wide and welcoming Love that does not ride on my righteousness at all. In my human frame, I’m known and embraced.

But the fasting does work on me, kneading me so I can rise. The days spent without unlock new doors and disarm intimate vices, empowering me to celebrate Easter as one risen from dire circumstances and hurtful habits. I participate in the resurrection truth, a foretaste of what is to come.

My soul craves Lent. I hunger for the quiet and the closeness, the broken and belovedness of it all.

Here are a few books I’m going to peruse during this time:

                 

     

Lenten Prayer (Teresa of Avila)

  Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

So tonight I will go to the Lutheran church a couple of blocks away     and put ashes on my forehead.  Then my Lenten season will begin.

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After railing on the Adventist church for a couple of weeks, it figure it was time to focus on one of the most beautiful things it has taught me: the need to take a Sabbath.

Either a lot more is being written on this subject or I’m just getting better at looking for it, but I think it’s the former.  Last week I found an article with the intriguing title, “Would Jesus Christ Mind if You Flew to Paradise on a Sunday?”  On the island of Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, you find this sign:

Since 2008, there are Sunday flights, and it’s the island’s biggest controversy.

While not explicitly calling it ‘Sabbath,’ Dr. Matthew Sleeth endorses a ‘stop day’:

CNN: Why do you think taking one day off a week is so important?

Sleeth: We go 24/7 now, and I think it’s having health consequences. I think more and more, there’s a consensus that it leads to depression and anxiety.

It’s interesting, when a doctor sits down and does a primary intake with a new patient, they ask about smoking, exercise and diet, but they don’t ask how much you’re working. They don’t get any sense of if you’re working seven days a week, or if you have time set aside — like people have always had — for rest.

I think the lack of rest is reflected in our saying, “We don’t have enough time.” I think it’s pretty much generally felt that we don’t have enough time to really get to the things we want to do in life.

CNN: You write about incorporating a “stop day” into your weekly schedule. How do you think that can extend and enrich your life?

Sleeth: A “stop day” is a day you really cease from your labors. This really comes in Western cultures from the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment tells us to remember the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” simply means “to cease” — to cease from your labors.

Now, the definition of labor has changed over the centuries and the millennia. For some people, resting from their labors might mean resting from their sedentary job that they have, putting on tennis shoes and going for a run. For those who work physically, that would mean coming to rest.

In the book “24/6,” I don’t try to define what rest is for a person, but I ask you to figure out what work is for you, and don’t do it one day out of the week.

CNN: You go as far as to say that going full-throttle 24/7 is an illness. How do you recognize the signs?

Sleeth: I find that there’s a growing epidemic, really, of depression. We’re the most depressed country in the world.

The World Health Organization says somewhere between one in nine and one in 10 Americans are being treated for depression. We tend to work more hours than any other country in the world; Japan is second closest.

Can positive thinking make you well?

When we’re constantly going, we pour out chemicals to try to meet those stresses. We have short-term stress hormones like adrenaline, and longer-term hormones like the steroids that we pour out. Those chemicals constantly being “on” are bad for us, and they lead to anxiety and depression and to, I think, diabetes and being obese.

It’s interesting that if I took somebody in the emergency department and gave them a big slug of adrenaline, you’ll find that an hour later they’re just wiped out, and that’ll really persist throughout the day. I think that’s what we’re doing to ourselves. We’re constantly bringing stress into our life, and the idea of having one day a week that I can count on to stop is very reassuring.

Even if on Monday I’m very, very busy — and that proceeds throughout the week — if you know you have a habit of a weekly day of rest, of stopping, then you always know that’s out in front of you. A lot of people “go” and never know when it is that they’re going to come to rest.

CNN: You also say this mantra has made a big difference in your own life — for you as well as your family. How so?

Sleeth: My family and I adopted this about a decade ago. My children were in high school, and they went through high school, college — and my son even through medical school — keeping one day of rest, where they didn’t study.

They got their work done in advance. I think it actually helps you to order your life, because in preparing for that day of rest, you… actually get more things done on the six days that you are working.

So for our family, we took it very seriously. My kids really became the guardians of it when they lived at home, and they really wanted to see it happen. I think it actually helped us as a family.

I have many people that I’ve talked to now that have said that keeping one day of rest a week has been the single best thing they’ve done for their marriage, their family and their spiritual relationship.

The modern world is a funny thing: it seeks efficiency whilst creating more work and less time to do it in.

Sabbath was not my favourite day of the week when I was little.  To me if was the ‘Day of No Fun.’  I had to go to church where I had to sit quietly and listen to boring sermons, and then I had to have some quiet time, which usually meant a nap.  If I was at my grandparents’ house, there was (and still is) no TV.  It was so boring!

But now?  I crave Sabbath.  That downtime on Sabbath afternoon is the best part of my week, as is that time on Friday evening when I can let the stress from the week dissipate and enjoy a quiet evening.

Yet sometimes it’s hard to rest on Sabbath.  When you lead out, as I often do, it’s stressful because you end up spending Friday night trying to prepare and then you’re so busy at church that you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy the spirit of the place.  Then afterwards there are other activities so by the time you get home, the sun is almost set and you haven’t rested at all.  It doesn’t help that I enjoy being busy; sitting still is hard for me.

I’ve slowly been making my way through     Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World, which is a history of Sabbath observance combined with a personal account of how one might observe the day in the modern world.  It’s a beautifully dense book, hence why it’s taking me a long time to get through it.

One concept she speaks of is the “social morality of time,” the fact that we think of time as a “mathematically netural” entity rather than a moral one (xx).  After thinking about it, she’s right: how I spend my spend says a lot about my morals, doesn’t it?  It says what I value and what I don’t.

Based on how I spend my time right now, there are a few things I value: family, learning, reading and writing, working, and money.  I don’t spend a lot of time simply relaxing, exercising.  But what about Sabbath?  I don’t always rest then.  And what does taking a Sabbath rest mean anyway?  It’s something to think about and consider.

For me, Sabbath is a day when I don’t touch homework, when I give myself permission to disengage from the internet and my cell phone, when I try to find time to spend quietly by myself to recharge and when I spend time with family and soothe my spirit.  Sure the Sabbath is a memorial to God’s creation and keeping it is a symbol of faith, but as Jesus says in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

I don’t always appreciate the way Adventists talk about Sabbath (legalism, anyone?) but I’m grateful I grew up in a faith that values a day of rest because we need it; as I get older, I appreciate it more and more.  And sometimes I think the world would be much better off if we all  took a day off once a week to simply rest.

I’ve never been a staunch evolutionist or creationist. At times I’ve leaned slightly more to the creationist side but I never really embraced it completely. There were too many holes for me. But evolution has always seemed so random. When I look at a baby, I find it difficult to believe we’re all here because of a random big bang. So I suppose you could call me an evolutionary creationist.

I don’t really care too much about the origins of the earth aside from simple curiosity. I think there is a God who created the earth, but I also don’t think Genesis is a historical science textbook. Evolution is definitely part of the picture, but I don’t believe in the big bang theory. And I’m okay with that general outline. I don’t need to know every last detail or have a big overarching theory. The fundamentals of creation don’t affect my faith one way or the other.

I’ve found a lot of peace on this subject by reading Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam. His argument is that the creation story in Genesis is just that: it’s a story. It’s a myth used by the ancient Israelites to set apart their God from those of other surrounding nations, an inspired myth if you will. Adam isn’t someone who existed; he’s a representation of humankind (which means Eve wasn’t a real person either, and we can all stop blaming her for the world’s troubles).

Here’s the Adventist Church’s belief on creation:

6. Creation – God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made “the heaven and the earth” and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.)

We disagree. Fine. I’m okay with that.  So you think this would be the end of the conversation.  But the Church isn’t.

Adventists tend to get defensive when they talk about creation; they don’t like being told that their belief is stupid and naive. Well, nobody likes being told that; I certainly don’t.  I really don’t care one way or the other: if you want to believe in creation, go ahead.  I’m not going to to try and change your mind.  If that’s what you believe, you’re entitled to do so.  End of discussion, right?

Well, it would be if the Church wasn’t so vehemently opposed to any evolutionary theory infiltrating its doors that one of its spokespeople has said you’re either an Adventist or an evolutionist: you can’t be both.

Well, I don’t really appreciate the labelling and trying to boil one’s faith down to a black and white “you either believe or you don’t” ultimatum when faith is so much more fluid and complex than that.  But again – fine. Lucky for me, I’m not terribly concerned about this because it’s not like there’s someone coming around every week checking to see if I can spout back the 27 fundamental beliefs of the Adventist church and whether or not I truly believe in them by making me submit to a lie detector test before I enter the church’s front door (although that would be kind of interesting because I’m curious about how strong other’s people’s beliefs are on some of them). Whatever. So that’s got to be the end of this, right?

Nope. I really don’t care if the church says I’m not a ‘true’ Adventist (whatever that is) if I don’t fully, 100% believe in a literal 6 day creation (the church’s world president would like it to be a literal six 24-hour days). But I get pretty offended and angry when the a church spokesperson says he doesn’t respect someone like me who thinks there’s a way to bridge the two and shows contempt for those who don’t fall in line, even going so far as to question our faith.

This quarter the church’s Bible study guides center on creation, which is the only reason why I’m even bringing this up.  I’ve been irked by a lot of the language in the quarterly, language like this:

So crucial to our relationship with God is our trust of God and of His Word. If we can’t trust the Word of God on something as foundational and as explicitly stated as the Genesis Creation in six literal days, what can we trust Him on?

Why would it be dangerous to link our theology to any scientific theory, especially when science so often changes?

Look at the incredible diversity of fruit and vegetables and other edibles.  How do they present powerful evidence of God’s love for us?  Why is it absurd to think that all these things were created, as evolution teaches, by random processes?

*Sigh*

I’ve heard Adventists say that people who think evolution has something to do with creation are clearly being influenced by the devil.  Language like this and the above noted citation from the quarterlies are not only untrue and unhelpful, but condescending and dangerous: it implies that there’s only one true faith – only one way of believing – and if you don’t believe that, not only are you wrong, but you’re unfaithful, immoral, un-Adventist and un-Christian.

Why do we do this to each other?  Why can’t we have civil discussion about this topic without pointing our fingers and basically calling each other unbelievers?  Why is it always ‘my way or the highway?’  Are Adventists really that insecure about their faith that they need to shout down all of those who think a little bit differently?  Are we all supposed to be exactly the same?

Here’s the thing that really gets me, though.  Adventists discredit the science behind evolution, but when the independent scientific studies come out about the health benefits of the Adventist vegetarian lifestyle or the superiority of the Adventist education system, Adventists trumpet those studies as validation that their beliefs are the right ones.  Really?  Is that not ironic?

Another thing.  Adventists believe in present truth, which I understand as a belief that theology is not fixed; it changes as our understanding grows and new data comes to light.  For whatever reason, we refuse to apply this to creation.  Why?  What makes creation special?  For Adventists, I think the problem is that they believe that relinquishing belief in a literal 7 day creation week somehow weakens the argument that Sabbath should be observed on Saturday.  Here’s my question: isn’t the fact that Jesus, whom we believe to be the Son of God, worshipped on the Sabbath good enough?

I say all of this as an Adventist.  As I mentioned previously, there are lots of things I love about Adventism.  But I’m getting really tired of being told that I’m not as good of an Adventist or Christian as others because I don’t think and act exactly like whatever Adventist ideal exists.

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