April 26, 2008

Final Dear Miriam

capF 4orty years is a long time-a whole lifetime for some unfortunate people whose lives are cut short. But that’s nearly the number of years I have been writing for the Adventist Church.
I have been a columnist for years, and “in between times” I’ve written 16 books. I can scarcely believe that this column has been running for 12 years. But one cannot argue with the calendar.
I must say, however, that during that time the Adventist Church has done far more for me than I have done for the church. I am so grateful for the values that the church-through its leaders--instilled in me from the time I was a child. I can’t begin to imagine how my life might have been without the church.
Now I have made a difficult decision that the time has come for me to say goodbye to Dear Miriam. Thankfully, I don’t have to say farewell to all the wonderful friends I have made far and wide.
These 12 years have been fascinating, for I’ve had a kind of window on the church--actually, many windows. As I have gazed through them I have come to some conclusions that may or may not be shared by all my readers. But I want to share them with you--along with my concerns for the future.
Judge Not
First, I wish all of us could be kinder to one another. I’ve received so many letters full of bitterness and anger over little slights and misunderstandings, to the point that these incidents simply blot out the full, beautiful message of the church.
We must all accept the fact that any group of people living and working together in close proximity--as church members do--are bound to have some unpleasantness now and then.
Wood %20MiriamYes, we have members who are tactless. Yes, we have members who are inclined to be harsh. But can we get to the point in our Christian commitment when we are able to overlook these things and enjoy the full radiance of our Savior’s love? The person who made the unkind remark or did the tactless thing will be held accountable by Jesus, not by us.
Another large area of concern to me is the tendency we all have to set up our own list of do’s and don’ts and condemn vigorously anyone who deviates from this list. In other words: “Sin as I do or don’t sin at all.”
In many cases we may not even be talking about sin, but simply differences in background, culture, and customs that vary from one part of the world to another. Here again, we are all personally accountable to God, not to other members of the church.
I realize that what I have said is fraught with a great deal of peril, however, for sometimes we draw up a “D and D” list that contradicts the established doctrines and standards of the church. Of course, there is room for varying interpretations in minor things that do not affect the basic doctrines of our church. But more and more voices at present are being raised in defense of conduct that is really not in harmony with our church and its teachings, and that concerns me.
You may say that some of our pastors and other leaders construct their own standards. I know this is sometimes true, and it requires a great deal of courage and commitment to oppose others in leadership positions. But remember that we are saved individually, not corporately, and we are never safe to see how close we can get to “the edge of the cliff” without falling off.
There is an ancient African proverb I suggest we memorize and repeat to ourselves when we are uneasy about a proposed course of action: “Before a man gives up his good customs and the beliefs that have served him well, he must first make sure that he has replaced them with something of value.”
To Be a Better Church
Our church today is caught in a tremendous whirl of world and societal upheavals that could not even have been imagined just a few years ago. Young people especially are so bombarded on every side with sexual innuendos, alcohol in varying forms, drugs, and violence both real and depicted on television that it is a very serious thing to guide these young lives.
It is imperative to start when children are babies to build a foundation that can protect them. They must have their own clearly established value system if they are to survive as Adventist Christians in today’s world. So it is of top importance that Adventist homes be kept strong and secure, forming a bulwark against Satan’s machinations. And it is equally important that parents show understand­ing rather than condemnation.
As conditions and customs change, we have to decide what really matters and what is not of earthshaking importance. Take forms of worship, for example.
I have been fortunate enough to travel over most of the world, and have worshiped with our members in many countries. I have observed and participated in worship services that were totally different in a variety of ways. But the worshipers were just as devout as those of my dearly loved home church. In the Western world we need to ask in every worship situation, Is Christ being uplifted?
I am not, I confess, completely clear on the issue of worship myself, and sometimes I’m troubled by what I see. But I don’t want to be so rigid in my beliefs that I drive younger people away from the church. Neither do I want to endorse a worship style that is really not worship at all, but rather a noisy, “feel good” experience.
I want you to know how wonderfully cooperative and helpful the editor and staff of the Adventist Review have been during these 12 years. I have never been told what to write or what not to write. The editor has always expressed glowing appreciation of my efforts. This has made things so much easier!
When I sit down at my typewriter (I am still a computer illiterate) I often think of heaven. For it is a real place, not something imaginary. I picture myself and my wonderful husband sitting outside our little “mansion.” We are full of joy and eternal happiness. I see my children and grandchildren and many friends coming across the flower-studded meadow. We all greet each other and talk about the wonders of heaven. And try as we might, the trials we have undergone in this old world cannot even be remembered. Let’s make it all come true.
For now, though, Dear Miriam bids you goodbye.