During most of my childhood years and early teens I lived in a Dutch windmill. Built in the 1630′s, this tall wooden structure with its thatched roof was used, together with dozens of such windmills, to pump the water from a lake of roughly 6.000 acres and to transform it into a fertile “polder”. At the ground level we had our simple living quarters: four small rooms with a total of about 600 square feet. Our family of three adults and four children had moved there because my father was suffering from a debilitating illness, and we were dependent on a small amount of social security. The fact that the rent was dirt cheap had inspired my parents to move from a regular house into our new abode.
I have often gone back to “my” windmill and each time I visit, alone, with relatives or with foreign visitors, I take many pictures. They are always the same! When I visit my two sisters in Canada I see the same pictures of “our” windmill on their walls as I have at home. A few years ago I was in a US bookshop and saw a calendar with Dutch windmills. And, lo and behold: “my” mill was on the front cover of the calendar. I bought several copies of it. I once happened to see (in Holland, Michigan) a 1000-piece jig-saw puzzle with “my” windmill. It is still sealed in cellophane. I knew I was not going to put the puzzle together, but I could not resist buying the thing.
Perhaps it is not so strange that I continue to have such an intense interest in windmills. But, at times, I step back and force myself to look at the reality and not simply cherish my nostalgic memories. As I think back, I often tend to forget how cramped the rooms were and how cold it was during the winter. I somehow seem to have forgotten that we had to get our drinking water from a neighboring farm; that we had no electricity but used oil lamps, and that we had an outdoor toilet. Looking it the picture postcards the Dutch windmills may look romantic, but I can ensure you that they did not make for very comfortable living.
When people in the church tell me they want to go back to Adventism of the past, I must conclude that they have fallen victim to an unjustified form of nostalgia. It seems to be in human nature to look very selectively at our past and to sift out those things that were not so pleasant. We often seem to have an uncanny way of pushing these elements far back into the recesses of our minds. And so, when people say, they want to go back to the church of the past, they, in actual fact, tend to work with a heavily edited version of the past, from which the uncomfortable aspects have been erased.
The past has many good things that we must hold on to. There is nothing wrong in my regular visits to the windmill to take even more pictures. The windmill is linked to my personal identity. But I do well to also remember the disadvantages under which we lived and to be grateful for the way our comfort in life has drastically been improved since.
When people tell us they want to recreate the church of the past, they actually mean that they want to go back to the nostalgic, expurgated version of the past that they have created. There are many elements in our collective Adventist past that we must cherish. If we lose them we are in grave danger of losing major chunks of our identity. But if we think about it (and do a bit of reading) we will soon see that there are also aspects that were not worth keeping. In fact, as a church, we have every reason to be grateful that we have moved away from some of them.