How many publishing houses should there be?

 

From the very beginning the publishing ministry has been a very important activity in the Adventist Church. Since a considerable part of my church career has been in the publishing branch, I am always alert to see and hear about new developments in this department of church work. And indeed, there are presently some interesting developments.

The leadership of the church has urged the two large denominational publishing houses in the USA to start negotiations about a possible merger in the near future. This concerns the Review and Herald Publishing Association, with an impressive history that goes back as far as 1850, and the Pacific Press Publishing Association, that was founded in 1872.  The first is in the East of the US, in Hagerstown, not far from Washington, DC., while the last is in Boise (Idaho), in the West of the country.

Both the Review and Herald and the Pacific Press are not just publishers, but also printing establishments. In the past such a combination of publishing and printing was rather common, in the SDA Church as well as ‘in the world’. Today, however, it is rather the exception than the rule that a publisher prints its own publications.  In the two major Adventist publishing establishments, however, a very major part of the employees is involved with the actual physical production: pre-printing, printing, binding, etc.  But here are two serious problems: there is a significant over-capacity and, due to financial restraints in recent years, the two houses have not invested enough in modern technology. These two issues are the primary reasons why a merger is deemed desirable. By fusing the two companies efficiency could be improved and the production capacity could be better harmonized with actual needs.

An interesting detail is that the one remaining company would no longer function directly under the auspices of the General Conference, but rather under the responsibility of the regional office for North America.

There will have to be a lot of meetings, and six different boards will have to give their approval, before a merger-process can actually take place. In the past a number of times a plan for such a merger has been advanced, but until now it had never been approved by all the boards. For there is one aspect that has nothing to do with considerations of business or technology, but is essential for many.

In the late nineteenth century Ellen White has clearly emphasized that there should be more than one publishing house in the United States. She indicated that centralizing all power in the hands of just a few men was highly undesirable. (See, e.g., her statement in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 171.) In the past the governing boards concluded that they should not go against the clear advice of Ellen White. One does not have to be a prophet to predict that this element will once again dominate in the discussion. Already in the past few days, since the announcement was made, many church members wonder how it is possible that this initiative for merger talks comes from top church leadership, among whom Ted Wilson has an important (or decisive) voice. Has he not pleaded, since being elected asthe church’s president, that the church ought to listen to the prophetic voice of Ellen White? And might her advice in this important matter now be disregarded?

This issue will no doubt, bring a lot of vociferous debate.  Must, however, advices of more than a century old still be considered relevant, even when the circumstances have radically changed? There will be different opinion on this matter.

But I hope another aspect will also receive adequate attention. How important is it that the printing of denominational publications takes place in a church owned printing establishment?  I have concluded long ago that it is often far more efficient to let be printing be done elsewhere. Most Adventist publishing entities in Europe have, over the past three decades, come to the some conclusion.

If the two American publishing houses would discontinue their printing business, a totally new picture would emerge. And in that case, one could wonder whether a merger would still make sense. Perhaps it would be better to have a number of (smaller) centers where publications are created from an Adventist perspective. Would that not be preferable above having one institution that decides what all Adventists should read and what ought to be presented to others in the name of the Adventist Church?

And then, there is something else that I hope will not be forgotten. I have often felt that much more could be done with regard to a world-wide promotion and marketing of the products of the two publishing houses that are now urged to merge. Yet, in the end, it seems to be much more important to ensure that our books and other publications have a maximum distribution, than to guarantee that they have been printed on Adventist presses!

 

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IPad and COL

 

[Friday, June 21) I am beginning to get the feeling that I am no longer completely in tune with our times.  Since very recently my wife enjoys the wonders of her iPad. I notice also how my granddaughter of five knows how to do all kinds of interesting things with her daddy’s iPad. And today I read on my laptop, on the web site of a Dutch newspaper, that a large school district in Los Angeles has decided in the next few years to provide all 640.000 students in their schools with an iPad.

I read that worldwide some ten million students no longer use any schoolbooks, but get all their information through their tablet-computer. In the Netherlands, this August, 11 elementary schools (referred to as ‘iPad-schools’) will start an experiment in trading traditional schoolbooks for an iPad. It occurred to me this morning that it may be about time for me to start thinking about more fully entering the digital era!

The next two weeks, however, my attention will continue to be focused on the renovation of my son’s house in Sweden. It gives considerable satisfaction to see some results emerging. But today I have a day off, just like all other working Swedes. For today we celebrate  Midsommarafton, the day before ‘midsommar’. Together with the grandchildren we will visit the festivities in nearby (40 km) Härnosand. There we will see how the midsommarstången will be erected, accompanied by folk dancers, fiddlers, etc.  I realize this is an old pagan tradition that has to do with the worship of the sun, but I will not worry too much about that aspect.

In the meantime I am working, at least two hours every day, on the re-translation into Dutch of Christ’s Object Lessons (usually abbreviated as COL), that Ellen White wrote around 1900. It is interesting to consider that she did not initiate this book writing project with the sole intention of providing some spiritual nurture for her fellow church members. She wanted to do something for a project that was very close to her heart. A few denominational schools had accumulated a heavy debt, and Mrs. White decided to do something about this problem. She decided to write a book and to donate the royalties for this debt-reduction project. She asked the denominational publishing house also to do its share and to produce the book for free. This proposal was accepted. Three hundred thousand copies were printed and were sold by colporteurs and other church members, with all proceeds going to the ‘good cause’.

I must conclude that, apparently, the church paid her authors more royalties in the days of Ellen White than today. In fact, proceeds from her books constituted a considerable source of income for her. Donating the royalties of this new book was, therefore, a substantial gesture. I also conclude that a century ago it was possible for an Adventist publishing house to make enough profit to enable it to print a major edition for free. In our days most Adventist publishing houses find it difficult to merely survive.

This Ellen White project gives some further food for thought. Is this book with its uplifting meditations about the parables of Christ the fruit of her prophetic gift? Or could this book also have been written by some other author, but was her involvement particularly desired because her name would help the project to succeed?

As far as the content is concerned: the book continues to provide spiritual nurture to many people. The fact that the book is clearly a product of one hundred year ago does not alter that fact. Neither does the fact that she used many different sources when writing this book, just as she did when she wrote The Desire of Ages. The list of books that she owned and consulted is publicly known. All this is no problem as long as one has a balanced and realistic view of what prophetic inspiration entails. And neither can we be too surprised by the proof-text method she employs when citing texts or parts of text from both the Old and the New Testament. This was very common in her days and often, unfortunately, it still is.

One might perhaps say that Christ’s Object Lessons is a rather human book. That may be one reason why it has maintained its popularity. Hopefully the Dutch retranslation will give the book a new boost among a Dutch audience.

 

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Short nights

 

The nights are short, here in Kramfors in the south of North-Sweden. Last night the sun set at 22.55 hr. and this morning the sun rose at 2.43 hr. But even during this short night it does not become fully dark. After about a week I tend to be fully used to this again. At home, in our bedroom in Zeewolde, our curtains darken the room completely, but in our Swedish bedroom the curtains are of a much thinner variety and let a fair amount of light into the room. During the first few nights this bothers me somewhat, but then it is OK.

One more week and we will have midsummer—always an important event in Scandinavia. In Sweden it is, in fact, the most important festive occasion of the year. Usually we travel to Sweden a bit later in the year and only once before we were lucky enough to enjoy the midsummer feast and take part in the putting up of the ‘may-tree’—in Swedish referred to as the majstång or midsommarstång. So, this will be on the program for the next weekend.

Today Kramfors celebrates the annual ‘stadsfest’. It is a mix of a fancy-fair and a market—not quite the kind of entertainment that I would go out of my way for to attend. And, in particular, on Saturdays I prefer other kinds of activities. But today I will make an exception. I do not think I can successfully explain to my two granddaughters, age 5 and 2, why grandpa and grandma, who only occasionally come to visit them, would refuse to go with them to this great local festivity. It is a topic that we might discuss with them in years to come.

It does raise, however, the question how Sabbath keepers give meaning to their Sabbath if they live in a region without any Sabbath keeping community. As far as I know, there are just a few isolated Adventists in this part of Sweden; those who are closest are a few elderly ladies at some 80 kilometers from here. Normally we  skip our Sabbath worship when we are in Sweden.  This year it will mean at least four church-free Sabbath days. It is something I definitely miss.  At home it is only at a rare occasion—at most once or twice a year—that I have the Sabbath day off and may take the chance to sleep in. But, apart from this, church attendance is a regular habit. And, to be honest, I enjoy doing the preaching myself.

I do remember how it is to be an Adventist in an environment where there are no other church members. When my parents moved in 1947 from Amsterdam to a village north of  that city, there were no Adventist churches north of the line Haarlem-Amsterdam, except an ultra-small church in Den Helder. In our village the population consisted of Dutch-Reformed, Christian-Reformed and Roman Catholic people. In addition there was one lady who had become a Jehovah Witness, and then there was the Bruinsma family, who were regarded by most as a kind a Christian-Reformed, with the peculiarity of keeping the Saturday rather than Sunday as their day of rest. It was not until the mid 1950’s that the Adventist Church in nearby Alkmaar was started. Until that time we had no opportunity for regular church attendance. Once a month the pastor from Amsterdam came to hold a service in our home.

Today will be a real ‘day of rest’ after a week of strenuous physical labor. The painting and wallpapering, in particular, took a little getting used to again, since it was many years ago when I last did that kind of work. But, if there were a real need, I would perhaps be able to earn my living with it. However, I trust that this period of physical work in my son’s home will be of limited duration!

 

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Building skills

 

In ancient times home building belonged to the basic skills of every man. Just as every woman knew how to cook and how to care for children, every man knew how to provide food for his family and how to build a house. But as time passed, human beings ‘developed’. This means that nowadays we know how to do a few things much better, but that we have lost many other skills.

Most people are no longer able to build their own house. Of course, in most countries you are not even allowed to simply start building a chicken coop. Laws regulate where people are allowed to settle and to build, and you cannot do your own construction work unless you have a stack of diplomas and have secured a load of permits. I have the impression that in this area things are not quite as over-regulated in Sweden as they are in the Netherlands, and that many Swedes—in particular outside the larger cities—have acquired considerable skills in home improvements or even extensive reconstructions.

The fact that my son ventures to undertake some major alterations to his house does not make him an exception, even though perhaps the assistance of a retired father from the Netherlands does.  A few days ago my wife and I arrived safely at our destination, some 600 kilometers North of Stockholm and today (Friday) was my first real working day.  The fortunate circumstance that I happen to be a Sabbath keeper means that I can have a slow start, as tomorrow—just after one day of labor—I will have my day of rest. (Although I must add that even yesterday was already pretty full, as we went shopping for building materials and for some extra tools.

In the past five years, since we live in a newly built apartment in Zeewolde, I have hardly touched a hammer or a saw. The only tool that I handled occasionally was a drill and even now my wife reminds me from time to time, that there are still a few holes to be drilled and a few things to be hung. So, today it felt a little unusual to operate a power screw driver and a power saw, etcetera. Tonight, a few muscles are more than a little sore.

However, apart from this (for me) somewhat unusual physical work, I hope in the next few weeks to enjoy the company of my two little grand daughters, and I expect to have time for a bit of reading and even a little ‘normal’ work. As far as this last aspect is concerned, I have begun the job of providing a new translation in contemporary Dutch of Ellen White’s book Christ’s Object Lessons. The Adventist Church in the Netherlands is planning to publish a brand new edition of this popular devotional commentary on Jesus’ parables.

And when it comes to reading: it will take me some time to go through the 600 pages of a History of the Arab World (by Eugene Rogan). It is quite amazing how little most people (myself included) know about the complicated history of the Arab world—in particular of the area we now know refer to as the Middle East. When recently I spent a week in Lebanon, I was once again confronted with the complexity of that small country, with its Christians, Muslims, Druzes and other population segments, and its utterly complex international relationships. It seemed high time to do something about my relative ignorance. But it will take a fair amount of reading  before I get to the modern history of Lebanon. At present I have not proceeded beyond the transfer of power from the Mamaluks to the Ottomans as the rulers of the Arab world.

The Dutch soap story about the Fyra seems a world away. Anyhow, my weekly trips to Belgium are now a thing of the past, and the high speed train troubles between my native country and Brussels do not bother me a great deal. This may sound a bit selfish, but so be it. For the next few weeks my focus will be on other things.

 

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An in-between-week

 

[Friday evening, 31 May]  This was a kind of ‘in-between-week’. I managed to finish a few major projects. At various times in the past six months I have been working on the English edition of the doctoral dissertation of a pastor of the United Protestant Church of the Netherlands, who also does some teaching in the theological faculty in Groningen and who has future academic aspirations. About two years ago he earned his Ph.D. degree cum laude with this dissertation. A professor at the Protestant University in Amsterdam had suggested my name to him as someone who might be able and willing to assist him with the English version of his book. Now, a few hundred hours later, the job is done and I can conclude that today I know considerably more about the differences in theological insight between Bonhoeffer and Barth. And I should add that, for the time being, I feel I know quite enough about this topic.

I was also keen to finish something else: the preparations for a sermon and four presentations that I am supposed to deliver (in German) during a congress this summer at Friedensau University—the German Adventist University near Magdeburg. The sermon is supposed to deal with the relationship between faith and everyday life, while the four presentations will focus on the attitude of the Adventist Church towards ecumenism. I am rather more at home in this area than with regard to the influences of the transcendental philosophy of Kant on Karl Barth, and Bonhoeffer’s accusation that Barth first promoted a negativism of revelation and later a positivism of revelation! I discovered that few people know what these terms actually mean.  (Nonetheless, I find it a pleasant challenge to transpose complicated texts into another language!)

This week, however, was a kind of ‘in-between-week’. A long list of things needed my attention, before my wife and I can turn the front of the car next Monday morning towards Sweden. One of these things was a visit to the eye specialist. The office that renews Dutch driving licenses has devised a very complicated process for people of 70-plus who need to renew their license. First you have to buy a 2-page form at the town hall (27,50 euro). You must take that to your doctor, who is to provide some medical information (40 euro). Next, if you have ever been diagnosed with diabetes, an eye specialist must check your eyes (66 euro) to be sure that you can see the difference between a red and a green light. At last, the documents are now in the mail and before too long I hope to receive a notice that I can get my new license at the town hall (about 30 euro). Small wonder that the average citizen does not have enough money to give the national economy the kind of boost that our prime minister is calling for.

Then I needed to have my brakes checked and had to have a hair cut (of what is left) and had to visit the lady who looks after my feet (which my health insurance pays, as they feel that people with diabetes must care well for their feet)—and then there was a whole load of other errands. Thursday afternoon, however, was a very pleasant time, as the Dutch Adventist Church had organized a ‘high tea’ for the retired pastors and their partners. On Saturday morning I am scheduled to preach in Almelo. After this I intend to drive to Brussels, where I will have a role during a special church meeting on Sunday morning. Then this ‘in-between-week’ comes to an end.

In the meantime I am gathering my energy and courage to assist my son during the next four weeks or so in fixing up his house in Sweden. It makes for a change! I am not a great lover of carpentry and painting, etc., but I am looking forward to spend a few weeks with my son and to do something substantial together with him. And, who knows, there may still be some hours left to sit under a tree, doing some reading and writing.

We plan to take three days for the trip, as we usually do.. The first day is driving to Kiel, followed by a night on the ferry to Gothenburg. De second day will, hopefully, take us to Stockholm, leaving about 600 kilometers for the third and final day. I don’t mind doing that trip even though by now I know almost every petrol station and restaurant along the route. But it is a small sacrifice if that means being a few weeks with our grand children!

 

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