Controversy Creates Change

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Controversy is often framed as the boogie-man of religious institutions. Fear of iconoclasts, heretics, radicals, and fanatics usually move sainted administrators to completely taboo any and all controversy. “Team players” are defined as those who don’t rock the boat. Promotions are reserved for those who would never upset the status quo. If you aren’t a company woman or company man, don’t even think about upward mobility. Success within an institution is not designated for the ‘movers & shakers’ because institutions exist to do one thing—perpetuate themselves. And nothing threatens self-preservation like a healthy dose of controversy.

I have to admit it; I can’t blame religious institutions for their obsessive distaste for controversy. I think they recognize its natural progression: Controversy creates change. But institutions are allergic to change. When your primary focus is to preserve or perpetuate, change only portends the possibility of an institution’s demise. If innovation is allowed, an institution might become obsolete. If evolution is not stifled, an institution might fund its own expiration. So the unconventional thinkers find themselves persecuted with extreme prejudice. They are muzzled in order to preserve the people, practices, and procedures that have maintained the current paradigm. Without fail, religious institutions lean on tradition to justify their viability in a changing world—never noticing that their firm grip on the past causes them to relinquish a promising future. Or as Jesus prophesied: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it” (Matthew 16:25).

Here lies the tremendous irony of controversy intolerance: As an institution obsesses over eradicating controversy, they sign their own death warrant. If controversy is suppressed, meaningful change becomes less and less probable. And if an institution does not change, it can only digress into a toxic irrelevance that will poison any sign of refreshing variance. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Each man kills the thing he loves.” And religious institutions are not exempt from this criticism. All of them love to exist! Yet, they undermine their own liveliness whenever they strangle new ideas, new approaches, new people, and new processes.  

This is why I joined AdventistRevolution. This is why I am supporting the call for a controversial shift to take place.  The Seventh-day Adventist institution is killing the Seventh-day Adventist movement. The moratorium against controversy is yielding a cancerous rigidity that prohibits our message from properly progressing with the times. Our transformational message is being undermined by an obsession with “the good ole’ days.” And as we continue to push people towards remembering what was, we forfeit the opportunity to dream about what could be. The Seventh-day Adventist denomination is no longer a progenitor of the vibrant, the vivacious, and the vivid; it is an establishment that refuses to be relevant because it refuses to embrace one undeniable truth—change is impossible without controversy.

As I see it, we could use some great controversy  in today’s Adventism. No, not a reprint of the epic work by Ellen G. White, but a group of Adventists who won’t allow the institutional hierarchy to continue suffocating the creativity and innovation that will yield change. I think it is time to start embracing controversy, because we desperately need a revitalizing rebrand. I think the time for change is now! And I think the way to spark said change is to ignite an AdventistRevolution.

- Michael Polite

Alternative to Empire

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One of my favorite Biblical authors is Luke. His dual volume of Luke-Acts is an account not only of the life and ministry of Jesus and the community of “The Way” but also a commentary on first century society. Luke, although a physician, shows us through his history/narrative the dynamics of class, race, and even gender in first century society and how the Christ and the people of The Way engaged these areas of difference. 

It was great to have spent the past several months studying the book of Acts with my worship community as we asked ourselves the question: What does it look like to be a community “by faith”? I had the honor of starting the sermon series off and as I studied the book of Acts again, I (being the fly nerd that I am) saw an obvious connection between Star Wars and The Way. 

In Star Wars, there is a clear dichotomy made between two empires. You have the Galactic Empire, an oppressive regime that calls itself the dark side, using the Force for “evil.” But, you also have the Rebel Alliance, a group that is connected to and empowered by the Force (not abusing its power). The Galactic Empire is rising in strength as they attempt to take over and, in many ways, destroy the galaxy. The Rebel Alliance refuses to cave into the Galactic Empire and attempts to thwart its sinister plans through acts of revolution and subversion. The course of the Star Wars trilogy chronicles the back and forth between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. 

Likewise, the book of Acts describes the activities of “The Way.”  The Way is how early Christian believers were identified. Margaret Aymer describes “The Way” as “a political religious movement that asserts Jesus of Nazareth as both Master and Anointed One (or Messiah)...Luke portrays its proponents as spreading this political religion as directed by the Holy Spirit.    

The people of the Way were living in under the occupation of The Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, much like the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, was cruel and oppressive. This empire occupied lands and created extreme poverty, marked class distinctions with 2 % of the population controlling majority of the wealth, normalized patriarchy and slavery, and intimidated the less fortunate with brutal violence. In addition, the Roman Empire was also a religio-political movement, seeing itself as the bearer of peace and justice in society and hailing Caesar as a “son of god.” Two empires, two political-religious movements, two messages of peace and justice, two “saviors.” In an empire that seems to be the opposite of all one values and believes, how were the people of The Way to live and survive? The book of Acts chronicles their revolutionary actions—ones fueled by the revolutionary power of the Holy Spirit.  Aymer continues, “Acts thus illustrates the double bind of a colonized people imagining an alternative to Empire...” 

Alternative to empire. Every narrative and vignette within the book of Acts shows us that people of The Way, just like the members of the Rebel Alliance, lived, moved, and acted as they did because they were able to imagine an “alternative to empire.” They knew that the way things were was not the way they should be. Acts in turn shows us that we too can live alternative to the reigning empires of our day. Living alternative to empire is a revolutionary way of living, because revolutionaries have the vision to see what should be.  Living “alternative to empire” is a revolutionary way of living because revolutionaries must accept the challenge to live alternative to empire while also existing within empire. Living alternative to empire is a revolutionary way of living because revolutionaries know that the most subversive messages come from often dismissed places. This is what it means for me to be part of the #AdventistRevolution. While I have every reason to run away from the “empire” of our denomination, the text of Acts reminds me that I can live alternative to empire while living among it! 

I am part of this revolution because God has called me to subvert through proximity. Empowered by the Force (the Holy Spirit), I imagine an alternative and live as if that alternative is reality. 

- Danielle Barnard

The Process of Progress

I am obsessed with working out; more specifically, I am obsessed with Crossfit! I began in January of 2018 and Crossfit has revolutionized how I see the process of progress. The past few workouts have left me on the floor and I am coming to a place where I anticipate being on the floor, feeling wrecked and coming back the next day, to do it again.

I am truly sold-out to the journey, and I’ve learned to value the pain in this process of progress.  Hitting the floor keeps me humble; each rep keeps me honest, and there is no better feeling than knowing you gave your all to something that leaves you sore but strong.

When I look at the early church in Acts chapter one, I see a group of saints who were sold out to the process of progress. Christ, anticipating this reality, says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”  Christ came and many witnessed his process as He shook up the political and spiritual climate. They also witnessed Christ being murdered for the revolution He incited.

So not only was the early church sold out to the process of progress, but it also counted the cost. They knew that following Jesus’ example, shaking up the political and spiritual climate of the religious institution, wouldn’t be popular or even widely accepted. They anticipated a difficult road, a path requiring consistent prayer, honest vulnerability, and authentic fellowshipping with one another.  Jesus’ followers knew this process would cause iron to sharpen iron—resulting in discomfort and soreness. They knew that the gospel would cost them their very lives.  Yet they were still sold out to the process of Christ and the progress of the church. And like a strenuous work-out, the pain and soreness of their pursuit signaled to them how much stronger they were getting!

Two thousand years later, the bold courage of the disciples has birthed within me a desire to resurrect their revolutionary movement.  I, too, am sold out to the process of Christ and the progress of His church. I, too, am a part of this same, counter-cultural revolution that fully embraces the struggle any worthwhile cause will require.  I, like the church’s first followers, have received the Spirit of the Lord, and I have been anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty for those who are being oppressed. The process of Christian discipleship calls us to be a revolutionary presence within our spheres of influence, and #AdventistRevolution champions a call for contemporary believers to do the same. The progress of the Church depends upon this level of unconventional, bold conviction.  The apostles showed us what it looks like, and we are a collection of dedicated followers who are committed to doing the same.

I am a part of this revolution!  I am unashamed, a little nervous, and totally sold-out to complete this process of progress.  There is no better feeling than to know you gave your all to something that leaves you sore and strong, and I fully expect for this adventure to build me up one rep at a time.

- Tacyana Nixon