Looking back


The past week was a week with a lot of history. Since yesterday, after ten years of intensive and costly renovation, the famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is open to the public. Finally, people can once again admire the famous paintings (that were for a long time stored away or lent to other museums), as well as numerous historical artifacts. By chance, yesterday I also found in my mailbox my new museum card that will allow me unlimited entrance to most Dutch museums during the next twelve months. One of my future visits will certainly be to the Rijksmuseum. I can hardly wait.

This was also the week in which Margareth Thatcher died. As expected, public reactions were very mixed. They are still many British—and other—people who idolize her, but, even today, there are many others who are horrified when they think of her. I belong to that latter category. When (from 1994 until 2001) I worked and lived in Great Britain, her period as prime minister was, fortunately, already something of the past. But I vividly remember the many hot discussions with one of my closest colleagues. He was appalled by my Labour sympathies. I, on the other hand, found it very difficult to understand how someone could combine his Christian views with the kind of politics that divided people in the way Thatcher’s policies did. I certainly do not approve of throwing a party in the streets because of the death of the Iron Lady, but I can well understand how she continues to evoke many negative feelings with very many people.

And then, last week it was exactly twenty years ago that the massacre took place in Waco (Texas, USA), and the American authorities stormed the headquarters of the Branch Davidians with some seventy dead people as the awful result. It is still, after two decades, not clear what exactly happened, and whether there had not been a more peaceful way to end the standoff. Currently a symposium is held in the city of Waco, by a Baptist institution (Baylor University), where experts will once more try to analyze the Waco-event.

For Seventh-day Adventists ‘Waco’ is a sad episode that we simply want to forget. The followers of David Koresh belonged to a small sect that had been spawned by the Adventist Church, and most of his disciples were still officially members of the Adventist Church. Some important lessons must be drawn from the terrible events in Waco. In the first place, Waco was, especially in its initial phase, a horrible public relations disaster for the Adventist Church. For days the church had no clear communication strategy how to deal with such a calamity. It took far too much time before the church had a clear message for the media. But, more importantly, it is important that we do not forget how an extreme version of a weird apocalyptic message may, through a brain washing process, lead towards dangerous fanaticism or even religious madness. Also today we see examples of men and women who confuse people with their bizarre interpretations of biblical prophecy, and put them on a road that can easily lead towards a new Waco!

And finally, the day of tomorrow will provide me with another opportunity to look back to the past. I will meet two colleagues, who, like me, have retired, and with whom I spent—some fifty years ago—a summer in Sweden. Marc Cools, who is Flemish and now lives in Luxembourg, Dieter Versteegh and myself will meet in a restaurant near Utrecht to share our memories of this Swedish adventure. All three of us studied at Newbold College and had to find a way to earn enough money for our studies. At the time, canvassing (selling books from door to door) in Sweden was a popular method among Adventist students, to relatively quickly make a neat sum of money. Many Swedes, especially in the countryside, were willing to assist foreign students through the purchase of a book. In most parts of the world the colporteur system has now long been abandoned by the Adventist Church. But there was a time when it was regarded as a useful way to distribute Adventist books and magazines, while it was economically quite advantageous for the church (and for the three of us). I hated every moment of this work, but knew it was the only way I could hope to earn enough for a full year in college. However, after half a century the pleasant memories predominate. Tomorrow, while enjoying a good meal, we intend to savor these for a few moments.