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A stiff wind off Lake Erie drives sleet in his eyes as he squares up the next shovelful of snow on the church sidewalk. Eleven inches of the heavy, wet stuff is nothing to write home about, for all the homes within a hundred miles are blanketed this morning. 

He murmurs a prayer of gratitude that the aging oil furnace in the basement sprang to life when he eased the thermostat to 72 before he began to shovel. The contract for annual inspection and upkeep lapsed in July, and the church board voted to save the $748 for some unspecified reserve fund. Somehow, they told him glibly, he and the Lord would keep the furnace running one more winter. 

Salt, he mutters as he scrapes the cracked cement with his shovel blade. I need the safety salt. Somewhere behind the glowing furnace a bag of safety salt he stowed there last November will keep the saints upright as they edge their way from the parking lot to the sanctuary door. 

** *

She has spent the week thinking of sackbuts, cornets and flutes. The three exuberant four-year olds who attend her weekly Sabbath School class will certainly want to reenact the Daniel 3 story of Meschach, Shadrach, and Abednego—and she must find an instrument for each. 

Her grandmother’s old zither, layered in the dust of decades, will do for a stringed instrument. A trumpet kazoo from the Dollar Store will answer for a cornet. But the only thing that even seems like a flute is an ivory-colored recorder still hiding in a bedroom closet from when Stephen was in elementary school. Not perfect, but workable, she tells herself, imagining how Elena, Carl, and Ezra will stand so straight and tall in front of the pastor’s cardboard cutout of the image of Daniel 2. They will play in one beautiful cacophony the zither, the trumpet kazoo, and the recorder. And then they will stand—they will stand—unblinking and unbowed. 

* * *

He lingers for an extra sixty seconds in the shower, imagining that this is how the Holy Spirit will fall on him as he preaches the morning message. It will be grace, and nothing more, that gets him through this sermon. Two funerals and three hospital visits devoured all his time this week, and Fiona has been sleeping poorly in the seventh month of pregnancy. 

This is not the life he dreamed of while in seminary—a world of big ideas and wise sermons; guests striding through the church’s front door; the baptistry filled once each month. Just now, all the baptism he craves is the warm oil of the Spirit, promised to believers under stress: When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you will answer or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12, NRSV). 

** *

These are the heroes of my church—unsung, unlauded, rarely celebrated. I think of them when television lights obscure the hundreds in the audience, when crowds mill through exhibit halls, when stadiums swell with “We Have This Hope.” 

The Lord who gave His rapt attention to one woman pouring out the fragrance of her heart cannot forget the thousands of deacons, teachers, and pastors who do His bidding in obscurity because they deeply love Him and His truth. When stadiums fall silent and the last bright light has winked off in the studio, the snow will still be shoveled; the children will still be taught; the sermons will still carry grace and power because the Spirit moves among us. 

Seek out the heroes of your church. Give them your full attention and your love. Tell them what a gift they are to all of us who long for His appearing.

This meditation on the role of pastors as caregivers first appeared in a special message to the pastors of the North American Division in May 2021.—Editors

He was a poor country parson,
But rich he was in holy thought and work.
He was a learned man also, a clerk,
Who Christ’s own gospel truly sought to preach;
Devoutly his parishioners would he teach.
Gracious he was and wondrously diligent,
Patient in adversity and well content. . . . 

Wide was his parish, houses far asunder,
But never did he fail, for rain or thunder,
In sickness, or in sin, or any state,
To visit to the farthest, small or great.
1 

I remember muttering those words from Geoffrey Chaucer on storm-swept winter afternoons as my Subaru and I climbed the hill roads of central Massachusetts in search of wayward sheep. Such is the mystery of the mind, that in a moment quite unconscious, treasured words assert themselves with brave new meaning , illuminating a task, a job, a life’s calling. 

Pinned to the wall above the aging typewriter back in my office were these lines from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, picturing the country parson. Even before I knew for certain God’s calling to pastoral ministry in my own life, I had marveled at how well they summed up all I hoped for in a pastor: rich faith, straight talk, clear-headedness, bold effort. And when that calling became my own, I fixed them on the corkboard where my wandering eye might find them at least once a day, and many times when I would stare blankly at the wall, trying to imagine the next line of my sermon. But it was in the doing of them—it was while out making visits on raw, snowy afternoons—I began to understand those fourteenth-century words in powerful new ways. There was a line connecting me, I saw, not only to my God, to truth, but to the men and women of all ages who have spent their lives as pastors for God’s people. All alone in my rusting red Subaru, I began to sense a solidarity with thousands of my peers who daily opened Scripture, prayed for the sick, comforted the grieving, taught the Word. 

Yes, my parish was wide—60 miles by 50—and the houses were “far asunder”—180 souls scattered through literally a hundred towns and villages. But my duty to God’s people was identical to theirs, though hardly worth comparing to what pastors faced in Moldova, Mongolia, or Montana. By God’s grace, I wouldn’t fail to be a shepherd worthy of the flock. 

Those were afternoons I won’t soon forget, for they transformed the singularity of my personal journey with God into a standing among—a standing with—all who minister in His name. When we step back from Chaucer’s antique words and ask ourselves why they still speak powerfully to the reality of pastors and congregations small or large, urban or rural, six centuries later, we discover that they underline a quality for which we yearn in an increasingly chaotic and unethical culture. And that word is “integrity.” 

We usually use the word “integrity” to describe a person’s moral fitness for a task. A “person of integrity,” for instance, usually connotes someone who keeps their word; a person who is faithful to a spouse; a person who is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of causes believed in. But there is an even more basic meaning to integrity that we no longer regularly associate with our typical uses of the word. If you research the core and root meanings of the word—and I have, because it matters intensely to me—you discover that “integrity” is built on a word that most of us have probably not used since those days in elementary school when we first learned how to count. And the word is “integer.” 

What is an integer? An integer, simply put, is a whole number. A whole number. There is nothing fractional about an integer, as in “he’s mostly ethical,” or “she’s 63 percent honest,” or “he doesn’t run around too much.” An integer is a whole number. 

And I want to suggest that all who serve in any kind of pastoral ministry—in a congregation, as a church administrator, or in an editorial office—are in this calling because we personally aspire to be integers— whole numbers—ourselves. 

Please don’t misunderstand how it is that any of us, or any pastor we know, becomes a whole number. It doesn’t happen by dutiful and sacrificial effort, though that is always a consequence of wholeness. It doesn’t occur because we are punctilious about behavior in some pursuit of personal perfection, though wholeness always improves our behavior. It doesn’t arrive because we spend long hours in sermon preparation or improve rhetorical delivery to some mathematical vanishing point, though the best preaching always emerges from those who are being made whole. 

Wholeness, full restoration, completeness, is and will always be the gift of God—to each of us, and to those God calls as pastors. Wholeness is the consequence of grace—grace received; grace studied; grace prayed over; grace preached about; grace lived. It is grace that teaches each of us to be charitable in telling someone else’s story, even as our Lord has been gracious in telling our story. We learn in this “long obedience in the same direction”2 that we are not qualified for pastoral ministry by either our faculties or our fastidiousness; by our rhetoric or by our reliability; by our skills in Church Board process or by our grasp of administrative procedure. 

Wholeness is the central task of pastoring—not preaching , crucial as it is; not teaching , fundamental as it is to building up the body of Christ; not visiting, though members need a lot more of that; not evangelism, as vital as it is to all that Jesus calls His church to do. The central task of pastoring is wholeness—living God’s wholeness, modeling Christ’s wholeness—even when we feel broken ourselves; inviting others to move toward healing and wholeness when their lives seem random and chaotic; building communities where the grace and forgiveness of Jesus is not only preached from the pulpit but practiced in the pew. 

I still keep Chaucer’s words within reach, even as I keep the call of Jesus even closer: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29, 30). 

In the doing of this life to which I was called, I have found wholeness for myself; communicated wholeness to His people; and celebrated wholeness as the Spirit builds us into a healed and restored people.


1 Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue, The Canterbury Tales. 

2 The reference is to the title of Eugene Peterson’s marvelous volume about the Pilgrim Psalter, Psalms 120-134.

There are some sacred pilgrimages even Protestants should make, especially in October. 

As you drive VT-100 north to nowhere in particular, the eyes are caught, the heart leaps up, and something nearly holy happens in the mind. The world is suddenly larger and more colorfully diverse than we knew. And we grow quietly ashamed that we have thought of God in monochrome, in categories that we can comprehend. I’ve sometimes wondered if more people have been brought to faith by a brilliant, red-orange flame of maples on what Yankees call “the most beautiful road in America” than some sermons I have preached in solemn temples made of stone. 

There may be atheists who can look upon such glory completely unmoved—who see only the accidental mix of moisture, soil, and anthocyanins—wondering at what diner they will stop for lunch. But then, atheists rarely go on pilgrimage: by definition, most are not seeking experiences that baffle the eye and overturn established understandings. A pilgrimage is always a deliberate choice to unsettle one’s world—to look for holy in what’s new and unfamiliar. 

Driving VT-100 north has been a joy denied me for the last 25 Octobers. In the wisdom of unbreakable tradition, the church’s Annual Council always falls at just the time the hills are bursting into color. But I have often secretly been elsewhere while I’ve sat among the brethren, my mind alight with memories of joys for which there are no words. Even a major policy change can pale by comparison to magenta mixed with gold, backlit by shades of marigold and honey. And I have found my faith restored, my trust confirmed in Him for whom the finest words will always fail. It is a grace to know, as only faith can know, that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”* 

This is no lack of love between me and my church: I claim each truth we cherish, the mission we affirm, the love that moves across the body on so many Sabbath mornings. But I could wish my church was better at seeing color and diversity, that it could consciously embrace what it can never fully comprehend—the glorious mix of men and women from every race and culture; young and old; newcomers and long travelers. God is always bringing to us those His Spirit has been moving, whether they are flinty Anglos from the hills or gloriously attired Ghanaians moving rhythmically down the aisle to lift the morning offering. We are a richer, kinder, warmer people when the roof lifts off our greying sanctuaries and we glimpse what baffled even John the Revelator: “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9, NRSV). 

The travelers on this journey to the kingdom appropriately bring with them both their culture and their heritage of faith—a faith that cannot be contained in those steepled white churches that huddle in the valleys of my homeland. To be an Adventist has always meant belonging to a pilgrim people—walking on the narrow way—even when the bends in the road take our breath away with either joy or challenge. Believing in a worldwide movement of faith and obedience requires that we regularly unsettle ourselves by welcoming both people and experiences we haven’t known before—affirming that God is working in places we have never been, and that He will aways do so. 

And if you can’t drive northward in Vermont this month, at least walk across the aisle at church to hold and welcome all whom God is bringing. The colors and the cultures you embrace are only hints of glories yet to come. 


*G. M. Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur” (available at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/ poems/44395/gods-grandeur).

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Ask me what story from the Adventist past seems most relevant today, and I’ll point you to a memoir that emerged from war. 

It appeared in a letter published in this magazine on June 29, 1944. Adventist medic Corporal Howard Martin was temporarily stationed near Tunis in North Africa, just after General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps was driven from the city by Allied forces. 

“I hitchhiked to church there one Sabbath and was more than repaid for the effort,” Martin wrote, “though the service was closing when I found the place. A Swiss family, who had left their country at the outbreak of the war, invited me and four other Adventist soldiers who were there to go home for dinner. . . . 

“During the Axis domination here, our host told us, there were three German brethren and one Italian, all soldiers, who attended church regularly. One had been with them so long and was considered so helpful that they elected him pastor, which work he did till the British occupation. Like us Adventists in the American Army, they were in the Medical Corps and did not carry arms.” 

And then in words that hinted at a reality greater than perhaps even he knew, Martin added, “It was interesting to learn that on one Sabbath our hosts were out walking with those four brethren, and the next week four American Seventh-day Adventist soldiers went for a Sabbath walk over the same route.” 

I’ve been replaying Corporal Martin’s words often as conflicts dominate the news with tales and images of numbing cruelty and pain. His lines remind us of a time when to be a Seventh-day Adventist was a greater honor than to serve in the armed forces of your country. 

There was a time when a Swiss Adventist family could go walking with German and Italian soldiers one Sabbath afternoon and with American soldiers the next, and only lament that a world war intervened. 

There was a time when conversations—even disagreements— could be measured in stories and miles, and not in nanoseconds or hit-and-run postings on a website. 

There was a time—and still could be a time—when the faith of Jesus called us back to the two most basic metaphors of the Christian life—the journey and the dialogue—walking and talking together as we travel to the Celestial City. 

And that time could be now. 

While we are loath to admit it, Adventism as lived for much of the past 160 years has frequently acquired the warlike vocabulary of its era. Surrounded by a world consumed with conflict, the church too easily becomes a distant echo of a culture that has little use for a Prince of Peace. We speak of “enemies” and “opponents,” not noticing His enduring command to love those who disagree with us. We see no irony in attacking fellow believers who follow Jesus differently, as if we might enlarge His kingdom by obliterating part of it. We gather by our watchfires and in our camps, imagining a day when our ideals will chase all others from the field. 

Where are those who speak for peace, both in the culture and the church? 

Where is the once-distinctive Adventist witness to nonviolence, in word as much as deed? Will He who prayed for unity among us return to validate our warlike rhetoric and actions? 

A movement that seeks to call the world to Jesus must ask if it is living out the faith of Jesus— His love, His kindness, His peacemaking—with clarity and resolve. Can we commit ourselves to dialogue with Adventists whose views offend us, and covenant to walk some miles with them? The language of address—so often used to objectify and vilify—must yet become first person plural: “we,” “us,” and “ours” must yet replace the dangerous rhetoric of “they” and “them.” 

An old Black gospel lyric still sings the vow that we must make: “Ain’t gonna study war no more.” 

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
1

There is a comfort found in hymns that anchors us when times are rough. When well-conceived, and grown mature through echoing the thought of Scripture, they circle in the mind when sermons fade. Who hasn’t known some aged loved one—lost, it seems to all cognition—still singing hymns deep-planted in the soul?

Because we know hymns—and remember— through the agency of tunes, they stay with us. The words and melodies still merge when our minds are harried by a hundred grim distractions, or when our fears have got the better of our faith. Somewhere in the basement of our lives we murmur hymns when all the house seems blown away: “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side.”2

This is no argument for older hymns or tunes I like: my preferences are only that. They help me when my days seem bleak, or I forget the promises of Scripture. In all those moments “in between”— while traveling; in waiting rooms; while waiting on short nights for sleep that sometimes never comes— the deep assurances of much-loved hymns provoke my trust and stir my faith. Their genre, age, or rhythmic beat are not essentials of their value. I can rejoice as fully with Andrew Peterson as with Charles Wesley; with Lauren Daigle as with Fanny Crosby. “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing; You say I am strong when I think I am weak.”3 “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.”4

And yet, with all that’s rattled with the earth, I turn again to words—and tune—I learned some 60 years ago: “This is my Father’s world.” These words are both assurance and defiance, comfort when I crave protection, and confrontation with the powers that seem to rule the planet. Like David’s joyous exultation—“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1)—they challenge what the networks doubt, that “above, behind, and through all the play and counterplay of human interest and power and passions, the agencies of the All-merciful One, [are] silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will.”5

This is my Father’s world:
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

This is a truth I’m tempted to forget when tank battalions smash across the Ukraine border; when Chinese warships prowl the waters off Taiwan; when soaring prices for essentials threaten travel, food and shelter. “He looks on the earth, and it trembles; He touches the hills, and they smoke” (Ps. 104:32).

I sing these words against the news, for God’s unhurried sovereignty seems far away when breaking headlines make us worry about the politics in Pakistan, or unlit corners where White zealots spew their race-laced hate. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing . . .”6 The hymn itself, like the Lord it celebrates, is a “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).

So pick a hymn; engage with it; rehearse it till it seems a prayer. Yours won’t be mine, nor should it be, as though God only could be praised in English, or in twentieth-century lyrics. Make sure it sings with Bible truth and finds a dozen touch-points with the Word. Then let both time and memory do their work until the hymn, though authored by another to someone else’s composition, is fully, finally your own.

You will be singing for a while.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun.
7


1 Maltbie D. Babcock, “This Is My Father’s World,” 1901.

2 Katharina von Schlegel (translator: Jane Borthwick), “Be Still, My Soul,” 1855.

3 Lauren Daigle, “You Say,” 2018.

4 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,”1739.

5 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), p. 500.

6 Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, “ 1529.

7 John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” 1779.

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I have watched them coming back, filing from the parking lot like refugees returning to a long-abandoned home. They move through church foyers and hallways with furtiveness well learned from two years of hiding behind masks and social distancing. No one—not pastors, greeters, even longtime friends— is fully trusted yet, for this strange season has persuaded us that other humans are the greatest threat to our existence. 

Where once we feared the mushroom cloud, or galloping inflation, or society’s long slide toward amorality and disintegration, we’ve learned in 24 short months to fear each other—even well-intentioned others. Who knows what unmasked moments may yield? 

We sit in clusters that seem safe, like sculptures carved to fit the pews. No hands across the nearby pews; few hugs; no unnecessary talk. We rise for hymns and kneel for prayers with nothing like our former zeal. The music dies upon our lips, as if it is unseemly to be singing of a God of light and color after two long years of gray. A weighted blanket rests on all, suppressing what we once described as joyousness in Jesus. Few babies cry: young families are still missing from the gathering. 

In 60 years of watching fellow Adventists in church, I’ve never seen the like of it, even in our moments of great loss or tragedy. Where once a remnant people huddled close to find what warmth and joy they could, we now make do with showing up— hoping in our heart of hearts that some small piece of God’s good truth might light a fire or warm a hymn. 

Which makes this moment exactly the one in which the gospel must be heard—the everlasting good news that long predated this pandemic and will be told when all this pain is mercifully forgotten. Hearts grown cold from fear and loss will only warm when we decide to tell each other once again the well-worn stories of hope and love— how Jesus came into this darkened world with music in His heart and healing in His hands. This is the hour—for sometimes, that’s all the window we have—to trace His kindness toward His enemies; His deep compassion for those lost without a shepherd; His unrelenting interest in the ones He termed “the least of these.” We need to hear again that God’s first attribute is love—that all our brokenness is met by grace that does not alter when He alteration finds: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). 

This isn’t a responsibility only for the preachers, for they are living this strange time as well. 

Their hearts are not the fonts of optimism we frequently imagine, for they have seen the losses of these years on larger and collective scales. They’ve buried friends and longtime leaders; wept with desperate, grieving families; and worried for their spouses and their children. They’ve asked themselves a dozen times if they should do this painful work or seek the solace of some simpler job. The gospel we expect them to share from the pulpit is the same gospel we must share with them at the door—the Word of affirmation; the gratitude for caring; the stories of fears overcome; of sins forgiven; and the enduring power of hope. 

A new covenant awaits our full endorsement—a deep calling to companionship, to holding on, to staying with, to gently weaving once again the fabric of community so tattered by the last two years. The post-pandemic church of Jesus won’t rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix just because the worst of times may now be over. It will require intentional re-tellings of the gospel; arms reaching out to re-embrace; a deep forgiveness born of grace for those who have offended us through these contentious months. 

Nothing in the last 2,000 years has ever stopped the gospel. Nothing ever will. 

After a dozen years, 600 weekly GraceNotes, and perhaps 100,000 words, old friends will ask me, “Where do you find new things to say about grace?"

And I smile and tell them, “This is my lab, my practice room, where every week I think about the love that changed my life and brings me joy.”

What began as text messages to 60 friends now reaches hundreds of thousands—by email, podcast, Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, on major Christian radio networks, and yes, still by text. GraceNotes have moved to French and Arabic; friends translate and distribute them in Russian, Spanish—and who knows how many other languages?

Like the grace of Christ which inspired them, GraceNotes are “open source.” Use them, share them, forward them to friends, or send them halfway ‘round the world—these short meditations are meant to remind us all that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8, NRSV).

You can subscribe to GraceNotes at www.moregracenotes.com, or listen to the Audiogram version on the Facebook “GraceNotes” page: www.facebook.com/More-GraceNotes.


Bill Knott is executive editor and director of Adventist Review Ministries.

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Back when the house was new and oaks were twigs, some kindly soul planted daffodils to mark the margin of my yard. But 50 years of blackberry canes and luxuriant poison ivy vines have largely hidden their good deed—except in March, when winter’s grip is finally loosed, and hope returns with every warbler.

I’m always much surprised by daffodils—the greening shoots, the swelling buds—for I have come to assume the lasting grip of sleet and snow and frigid tem- peratures. But there they are—so green, so vibrant yellow, so unmistakable among the last of last year’s fallen leaves.

And I remind myself each March that slow warmth always wins the day, despite the Sturm und Drang of what seems endless winter.

It is a memory I much need when I survey the winter of my church. From where I sit, I watch the ice accumulating on the branches as the love of many grows cold (Matt. 24:12). The power lines are often down; and Spiritless, we wait for light—and kindness—to return. The howl of biting , windblown rhetoric arrives in each day’s inbox. Vilify, condemn, attack—the arsenal of icicles is launched across the little continents on which we camp.

And God’s good people get discouraged, sinking into grim survival mode, turning back from mission and from ministry for

fear they might be targeted themselves. A dull, persistent fatalism that “awfulizes” everything hangs like a freezing fog. “I’ll go to church,” we finally say, but then sink back upon the couch to watch the worship on our screens. “It may not yet be safe out there,” we add, even when the COVID rates are dropping everywhere. “I’ll wait till this is over.”

Too many are not coming back, not because of masks or mandates, but because they sense that the winter of our dis- content is not yet done, is not yet past. Each congregation’s foyer has its partisans who bring the virus of their politics or personal theology into what should be a place of safety and of sanctuary. And when what’s preached is not good news, when nagging and finger-wagging become the stuff of sermons, the impulse to return gets chilled.

But, trust me, slow warmth will yet win the day, despite the recent weather. “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”* is working every- where, persistently, and even when we fail to notice. The Spirit never leaves the church alone or in the cold. Each time the Word is opened faithfully; each time the gospel is proclaimed; every moment when we lay aside our cold conspiracies to offer kindness and support, the kingdom gains; the kingdom grows. New life appears—all green, all vibrant—through the miracle of grace. And baptistries get filled with water and with warmth. Foyers flood with hugs and openheartedness. The Spir- it’s passion blossoms in the church, and we prepare for new and better Pentecosts.

I can see the spring arriving in my yard. And with the second sight of faith, I see the spring arriving for my church. The day is not far distant when the partisans will lose their audience, when those who would divide Christ’s body will melt into deserved obscurity. There will be confessions, even tears, as Jesus’ warmth dissolves the ice we’ve grown familiar with. Feet will be washed; humility will sprout; and all our wintry inwardness will yet surrender to a greening, growing fellowship of witness and of worship.

This is no fantasy, no Pollyanna moment. Remind yourself of Peter’s springtime sermon:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

Bring that day.

*The first line of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ well-known poem.

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His words are half-remembered, pulled from many years ago, and mixed with images of crew cuts, lemonade, and riding my tricycle down the sloping driveway of our East Texas home.

The Adventist deacon described a morning years before when his father took him to a lynching—to where an unconvicted Black man hung from an oak deep in the woods, his body pierced by bullet holes. There was no sadness in the tale, nor was I supposed to feel any. This was the way things were.

Two thousand miles away, and well north of the Mason-Dixon line, I learned that another Adventist relative had once belonged to the Ku Klux Klan—“back when it was good,” or so the teller implied. And I recalled my relative’s great affinity for guns, for country, and for Whiteness. This was the way things were.

Not once, but twice the February worship services at the campus church my family attended were disrupted by bomb threats called in to stop Black History Sabbaths. We scattered in the biting February wind, aware that there were those within our church—our congregation—who hated what this Sabbath meant, who sought to bar the door, refuse an entrance; fueled by spite. This was the way things were.

I was too White and too naive to understand the day George Wallace was shot and permanently disabled by an assassin’s bullet in the city where I now live. The young Black woman at the reception desk pushed down the intercom “Talk” button and told the news excitedly to the Adventist dormitory. A circle of rejoicing filled the dorm: their oppressor had been taken out. The world looked hopeful suddenly, as if a liberation might be theirs when racist Pharaoh toppled over.

And there is more—a lifetime of unlearning attitudes my Adventist White culture wanted me to know—behind the hand; behind the door; the muttered anger at the “they ” and “them” who now were “welcomed” to the table. Why did administrators spit their venom when committee rooms were emptied, when they felt sure they couldn’t be heard?

Did I seem “safe” to racists because I listened to their bursts of anger and of privilege? Should I have called them out for failing to obscure their prejudice?

And what goes unacknowledged in my soul, the deeply subtle ways of framing what it means to be Christ’s body, His community? How do I get new eyes, new attitudes; a heart of flesh and not of unresponsive stone? When will I see as Jesus sees—without a different valuing; with conscious love, and paying full attention?

We will be practicing these skills until that day when Jesus breaks the barriers of cloud— and color—to weld a willing remnant into one gracious, strong , and egoless community. There, all will serve and all will reign, dissolving every rank and status. We will be welcomed to a table where grace makes all of us one people: the banquet will be spread for those of every hue and language and experience. “Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:29, 30, NRSV).

But that day never comes— and it has already tarried for a while—until we yield, we bend; until we wash another’s feet. Unlearning is the hardest thing we do, but Jesus still commands it. “Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’ ” (Luke 9:23, NRSV).

I’m reaching for the basin and the towel. Will you?

Imagine, if you will, that all the stories of Adventism are represented by three brilliant clusters of blue, red, and yellow helium balloons—the kind that set our childish hearts to throbbing when we glimpsed them at the county fair or at a corner vendor in the city.

The blue cluster, arrayed against a backdrop of billowing cumulus clouds, are all the Founders’ stories. They feature the first and second generation of Adventist leaders, men (almost always) of Anglo, Nordic, or Germanic stock who sailed seas, launched colleges, and planted congregations in previously unentered lands. We know these narratives so well that they have now achieved a kind of mythic status: remember when William Miller prayed in the maple grove beside his home, or Joseph Bates once fell into the Erie Canal? And certainly you know how Ellen White helped pick the site for what is now Loma Linda University, and Andrews University, and Oakwood University. We tell these stories for good reason: they are our stories of beginning.

The red balloons are stories we have only begun to see in the last 30 years—the stunning tales of women, people of color, and those who worked a century ago in urban missions or the high reaches of Bolivia’s Altiplano. Their names and briefer versions of their deeds sometimes appear in archived versions of the Adventist Review, or even in books long out of print. Who knew that the champion literature evangelist in North America a century ago was a formerly enslaved Black woman who couldn’t read the volumes she sold to White Southerners? When did you last hear of those who served the church’s outposts in Mongolia, Iraq, and Ecuador before the global disaster of the Second World War? Their stories have been mercilessly reduced to “mentions” in our narratives of “greats,” for their color or their gender or their absence from leadership roles made their stories unworthy of keeping in our official narrative.

Our children and our grandchildren deserve a fuller story than we learned.

The yellow balloons are those of everyday Adventists whose names were never mentioned in this journal, and whose descendants didn’t go on to found colleges, plant sanitariums, or march in mission pageants. Though their faithful tithe and prayer and personal witnessing built everything we have, they usually didn’t “work for the church,” get elected as delegates to General Conference Sessions, or have their names engraved upon a donor plaque in an institutional hallway. And yet we can know much about their lives—if we want to. We can reconstruct the typical experience of Adventist herders in the hills of Tanzania or of laborers in Singapore—what their average income was; how they transported products to the markets; what opportunities they had to educate their children and hold their families together—all while waiting for the blessed hope of Jesus’ second coming. These are the unacknowledged millions of believers—men and women whose stories never took flight.

Tell me now: which cluster of balloons is the truth about Adventism in the last 190 years? Why is it that the skies above us—where winds circulate the stories we want to fly—are mostly filled with only blue, punctuated by an occasional red? Why have we failed to tell the stories that don’t easily fit our founding paradigm—a narrative that privileges Whiteness and English and church leadership positions?

The beautiful bouquet of faith—the glorious admixture of yellows, reds, and blues, and all the colors they create—will yet take flight, God willing. Our children and our grandchildren deserve a fuller story than we learned. The truth about our past is multi-hued, multi-racial, and multi-lingual.

And when we learn one day whom heaven has considered great, we will all be in for a grand surprise—a celebration where a great diversity of balloons will fly above the corners of that city “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Bring that day.