It’s Not So Odd Being Peculiar

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, have read my Great Adventure Manifesto, or have read one or more of my books, you’re probably aware that I’m a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. My background includes ten years as an editor for a Seventh-day Adventist publishing house in Idaho, as well as another five as managing editor of a weekly newspaper for Seventh-day Adventists in the western United States. Currently I am in my 18th year as a communication professor at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas.

I don’t know how much you know about Seventh-day Adventists, but as long as we have been around, the word “peculiar” has been attached to us, either in a positive or negative form. Most people associate vegetarianism with Adventists, as well as going to church on Saturday. Beyond that, most people don’t know a lot.

tell-the-worldThe word “peculiar” actually goes back to 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Ellen White, one of the pioneers of the SDA Church, used the term in reference to Adventists in 1885, and it kind of stuck as a badge of honor since then.

But there are problems when someone sticks out. It gets uncomfortable. Growing up Adventist, I found my non-Adventist friends always asking questions about why I did things differently. Why didn’t I eat pork? Why didn’t I go to the store on Saturday? Why was I uncomfortable swearing? When that happens, you are faced with several choices: (1) you can take the time to explain yourself (and sometimes defend yourself) time and time again; (2) you can compromise and do what your friends do; or (3) you can find new friends, ones that believe what you believe.

Many Adventists, tired or possibly frightened of (1) or (2), end up doing (3). They sequester themselves with other Adventists, people they don’t have to explain themselves to. That’s a lot more comfortable, but it’s not what God intended. Adventists, and more importantly Christians, are called to be salt to the world. If you have too much salt in one place, it goes bad. But sprinkled around, it makes food a lot more palatable. Just like that, Christians do best when we are spread around liberally.

So why do I bring all of this up now? Yesterday, my wife and I got to watch the new film “Tell the World” about the 1844 Movement and the beginnings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, that has just been released. It was directed by Kyle Portbury, my fellow professor of communication at Southwestern.

indexIn addition, the movie “Hacksaw Ridge” is coming out November 4, which features the story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objector who refused to carry a gun during World War II, yet saved 75 men and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. This film was directed by Mel Gibson, is extremely violent, yet is a strong witness to what Adventist Christians believe. It is receiving critical acclaim and I think will not only do well in the box office but will get a lot of Oscar nominations. I was privileged to be invited to an advance screening of the movie a couple of months ago.

I’ve also mentioned that our department is starting an Institute of Christian Film, with Kyle Portbury as its director. The intent is to tell Christian stories, which often will feature Adventists or Adventist ideas as part of the story. But we are firmly committed to the belief that storytelling comes first, and that we are not telling Adventist stories, but Christian stories.

I was talking to Kyle the other day about “Hacksaw Ridge,” and I expressed the amazement that such a powerful, positive message could be combined in such a violent film. Further, the reaction to the film, even among conservative ministers that were there, was overwhelmingly positive. We are both professional storytellers, and are committed in telling our stories to as large an audience as possible. The tendency to just talk to ourselves because it is safe is a bad temptation among Adventists, but Kyle and I agree that’s not where our mission is. And projects like “Hacksaw Ridge” give us hope that we don’t have to hide our light under a bush.

So yes, I’m peculiar. And if you ask, I’ll be glad to tell you about it. Funny thing about that: people are often curious about those differences. It’s not a matter of trying to force people to believe what I believe, but simply answering them when they ask about it. When making “Tell the World,” Kyle worked with 157 cast members and he was the only Adventist. He said that every day there were discussions about what he believed.

But what I do, and am and believe is only a reflection of the One I follow. It’s Him I’d really like to tell you about. That’s part of what I hope my stories can do for you.