Another birthday

 

During the past week I celebrated my seventy-fourth birthday. I am deeply grateful that I have completed another year—in reasonable health and together with my wife Aafje. I do not see this as a matter of fact. Many people (and couples) do not get to live that long together. And it is not just ‘normal’ that I will be given many more good years in good health—even though I hope so.  That things may be different I realized once again today, upon receiving an e-mail from a former colleague in the US, who is about the same age as I am. He wrote that he has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. My grandfather—another Reinder Bruinsma—lived to be (only) seventy-five years old. My father died when he had reached just fifty. At the time of his death his marriage with my mother had only lasted some sixteen years. Aafje and I can now look back on almost 52 years of happy marriage. It is good to view one’s life from time to time from such a perspective. Gratefulness is the reaction that fits best with this experience.

I received numerous congratulations on my birthday–from my loved ones and relatives, but also from countless others. Of course, I realize that it has become very easy to say ‘happy birthday’ through Facebook. Every morning Facebook reminds its members who among your ‘friends’ has his/her birthday on that day. But your ‘friends’ do not have to send you a birthday greeting, with or without a picture or a few personal remarks. It truly surprised me that almost 250 of my ‘friends’ took the effort to congratulate me. This also is a reason for gratefulness, for it indicates that I continue to mean something to many people.

The past year of my life has been quite full—with assignments during travel, with almost weekly sermons, and. especially translation jobs and writing projects. Since February of this year a substantial part of my time has been absorbed by the writing and promoting of my  book FACING DOUBT: a book for Adventist Believers ‘on the Margins’,  together with a Dutch edition. It has caused a lot of discussion. I received some negative but many positive reactions from many countries. I am grateful that I had the energy needed to invest in this project.

As a new year of my life has begun, a number of activities in the Netherlands and elsewhere are already in my agenda. I suppose that within a few months I will begin to feel the urge to write another book. Several people have suggested that I should maybe venture out in writing a book about a christian view of homosexuality. It would seem that such a book is greatly needed in the Adventist Church. In the past few years I have given many presentations on this topic. A few weeks from now I hope to present a few workshops about this important theme at an Adventist youth congress in Germany. Do I have the courage to produce a book on that topic? I have found that sticking out one’s neck in the Adventist environment costs a lot of emotional energy. I will have to think it through quite carefully.

In any case—if my health keeps us, I intend to do a lot of reading in the coming twelve months. The stack of ‘to read’ books is getting higher again. And maybe, if in twelve months time, I may celebrate my seventy-fifth birthday, it would be a good idea to review where my spiritual and theological pilgrimage has taken me through the years. Maybe I will then organize a meeting with people of my generation, in particular my colleagues, where we can tell our story to each other and recount our spiritual journeys. Who knows!

A new year comes–one day at a time. I hope that I may receive a lot of inspiration and joy of life, continued health and the blessings from Above to make every day worthwhile.

 

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A return to the time of the pioneers?

 

A few days ago I saw the name of a new ‘ministry’ for the first time: DEB (=Declaring the End from the Beginning). This ministry has a special message for Adventist believers. I am not going to invest much of my time in studying this new group to acquaint myself with all the details of its message. I understand that the Old Testament prophecy of the 2520 days (=years?) plays a very important role. According to this group the correct interpretation of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation must conform to the ‘prophetic charts’ that were used in the nineteenth century Miller movement. Why?  Because it is claimed that Ellen White endorsed these charts!

I find it rather curious that an explanation of some 175 years ago—which clearly has many aspects that most Adventists no longer accept and which Ellen White did not follow in her own writings—must be our present-day point of departure. However, for a sizeable group of people the mere fact that a particular point of view dates from the time of the ‘pioneers’, is the ultimate guarantee of undiluted orthodoxy!

Soon the world will celebrate the fact that five hundred years ago Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the chapel of the Wittenberg castle—something that is now universally seen as the starting point of the Reformation of the church. This event will create a lot of attention for this period in church history. According to some Adventists who are interested in the Reformation period, the books by Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné, an eighteenth century church historian, are the best historical source. Why? Because Ellen White relied to a significant degree on this author when writing her ‘Great Controversy’ book. It seems that in the eyes of these Adventists, this invests d’Aubigné with a degree of derived infallibility. When studying church history we are supposed to  forget that since the days of Ellen White lots of new studies about the reformation period have been published; we must continue to be content with the books that the ‘pioneers’ had in their libraries!

In recent weeks I read (as I already mentioned in a previous blog) the biography of J.N. Loughborough, written by Brian E Strayer. On page 102 I found a remarkable statement which I decided to mark. Of course I knew of phenomena in early Adventist worship that most Adventists prefer not to be reminded of. This short description of a meeting, however,  brought  some frowns on my forehead. Subsequently James White described this meeting as one of the most inspiring ones he ever attended.

“As the group met for worship services, Hart, Everts and the Whites explained why the Laodicea message especially applied to Adventists als part of God’s last-day remnant church. Ellen White received three visions that week: one lasted half an hour, the other two for two minutes each. She appealed to her listeners to return to the Lord. Deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit, some shouted: ‘Glory! Hallelujah.’ Others wept, and still others spoke in tongues. J.N. Andrews and one woman present  were ‘prostrated by God’s power’, their bodies ‘limp as a piece of cloth’. . . . The meeting continued past midnight.’

This is just one illustration of how meetings of our early spiritual forbears might proceed. It may be interesting to read about it, but would we really want to go back to this kind of church, as it was established by our spiritual forebears more than a century and a half ago? There is much in our heritage that we must keep and that may continue to inspire us. But there is also a whole lot that we should definitely leave behind, if we want to be the kind of faith community that is able to communicate with people in the twenty-first century, in a relevant way. And that, after all, would be in the true spirit of the ‘pioneers’.

 

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Polarization illustrated

I can hardly claim that the past week has been very boring. Besides some activities in my role of deacon in my local church, some social commitments, and the assembling of a number of screens against mosquitoes, I invested quite a few hours in some writing and translation assignments that I am currently engaged in. In between these things I started reading a rather substantial novel: Huwelijksleven (published in in English as Married life), written by the Jewish author David Vogel. (Vogel was born in 1891 and died in Auschwitz in 1944).  Until very recently I had never heard of this book, nor of its author. A few weeks ago my wife and I received the book as a gift from a friend, Kees Meiling, who produced a (splendid) translation from modern-Hebrew into Dutch.

But all the time my thoughts were also quite occupied by the reactions which I received during the past week regarding my book FACING DOUBT. In particular the two reviews on the popular Spectrum website (www.spectrummagazine.org) inspired many reactions—many directly to me by e-mail or Facebook, but also on the Spectrum site. There could not have been a greater contrast than between these two reviews. Dr. Tom de Bruin’s piece was on the whole extremely positive and did, I believe, full justice to the book. On the other hand, the second piece by Clifford Goldstein failed in my view to do justice to the book and, safe for a few positive remarks, was bitingly negative.

That was to be expected. Anyone who knows both of these authors (and that is certainly the case for me), realizes that they are totally different and have had a totally different faith pilgrimage. Goldstein is the editor of the Sabbath School Study guide for adults, but is also a prolific and widely-read author in Adventist circles. Honesty demands to say that there are also many who dislike his books with a vengeance and have great difficulty with his black-white kind of reasoning that does not leave any room for nuance. Years ago Goldstein took issue with me in some of the Adventist media when he disapproved of my (in his view) far too positive evaluation of changes in Roman-Catholicism, as I had argued in my PhD dissertation and in a subsequent article in the Spectrum journal. However, this did not lead to personal animosity between Clifford Goldstein and myself and his recent fierce criticism of my book will not do this either.

Many of the reactions were to the point and constructive, but quite a few were not.  What amazed me most with regard to quite a few of the reactions which followed on Goldstein’s contribution, was their nasty tone.The chain of comments tended to develop into a pro-or-anti-Goldstein discussion. Many regular Spectrum readers no doubt consider Goldstein as a very conservative person, with whom they have (to put it mildly) little affinity. In other reactions the discussion deteriorated into a Bruinsma-bashing ritual. Some respondents indicated that I would do the SDA Church a favor if I left the church on my own accord, if I were not disfellowshipped. One of them—without citing any arguments—referred to the ‘theological obscenities’ that are found in my book.

Does all of this that bother me. Yes, of course, it does? Does it keep me awake? No, but yet . . .  On the other hand I had expected this. However, I received so many positive reactions that I remain glad I embarked on this project of communicating with those in the church who are ‘on the margins’.

At the same time, these various harsh criticisms, which do not betray the slightest degree of Christian charity, provide an unintended illustration of one of the things I deal with in my book: the heartless attitude of people who claim to have all the truth;  who can only think in terms of black and white and find it impossible to show any tolerance (and respect) when people have an opinions that differs from theirs. They don’t mind that by their attitude they chase others away from the church; in fact, they often think that is a good thing.

Well, I am not about to be chased away, for there are many pleasant people in the church who are prepared to enter into a dialogue and who have respect for others even if they do not agree with them. And I hope that (also through my book) I can inspire many to also not give up on their faith and on their church!

 

(My book FACING DOUBT: a book for Adventist believers ‘on the margins’ may be ordered through Amazon.com. Price $ 14,90.)

 

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Reading

 

Books play an important role in my life. For a good number of years I was employed by the church as editor, translator and publisher of books and magazines. And over time I wrote in excess of twenty books—some in English and some in Dutch and some in both languages (like my most recent book). My wife Aafje also has a lot of affinity with books. She usually reads the manuscripts of my books before I submit them to the publisher. Her excellent sense of language has been an important factor in getting my writings ready for publication. As a translator she herself translated over one hundred books from English or German into Dutch for a number of Dutch publishers.

But in our home also a lot of reading takes place. That has long been the case and continues to be so. Most of the time I am reading two or three books at the same time, as I like to read more serious stuff as well as books that provide entertainment and suspense. Currently among the books I am reading is a recent biography of J.N. Loughborough (1832-1924)—the last of the so-called ‘pioneers’ of the Adventist Church. This book is written by Brian E. Strayer and was published in 2013 by the Reviews and Herald Publishing Association. Loughborough wrote hundreds of articles as well as a few books. He managed to do so in addition to a load of many other duties. Reading about all the assignments he carried makes you wonder how in the world he could find any time to write.

Loughborogh was also an avid reader and built a considerable personal library with books on religion and theology, church history, secular history and many other subjects. Those who have studied the lives of early Adventist leaders know that these men were indeed book lovers. Books that were written by men like James White, Uriah Smith and J.N. Andrews provide ample proof that they spent a lot of time reading and learning from what others wrote.

This is also true of Ellen White. She was a keen reader of books in many different areas. When writing some of her most important books (as e.g. The Great Controversy and The Desire of Ages) she continuously used different sources. Shortly after she moved to Australia in 1891, she sent a request to the US that a number of her books would be shipped to her, as for instance one of her favorite Bible commentaries. When she died in 1915 she left a personal library behind with some 1200 books. By far the most of these were written by non-SDA authors.

When today some of our church leaders pride themselves that they only read the Bible and the books of Ellen White, I find this (to put it mildly) rather worrying. It shows that in this respect they certainly did not follow in the footsteps of the leaders who estasblished and built  the Adventist Church. For sure, reading the Bible is of prime importance and every Adventist should at least read some of mrs. White’s books. These books are part of our heritage. But those who do not read more widely, shortchange themselves and will not develop a broad and balanced view of things.

For me personally, Bible reading remains of paramount importance. This morning I read Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. There was much that applied directly to my own spiritual life and to my everyday existence. Also a number of topics for future sermons jumped at me. However, I also need to be nourished and inspired by the knowledge, wisdom and experience of others. (And at times I simply need some time with a good book in order to relax!)

 

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Een extra blog

Over een paar dagen volgt mijn reguliere blog van deze week. In dit extra stukje wil ik een zaak aansnijden die ik heel belangrijk vind. Het gaat om hulp aan Joshua, een Keniaanse student die tandheelkunde studeert.

Joshua is de zoon van Rebecca. Zij is momenteel predikant in Kenia. Rebecca Kwamboka Moses heeft theologie kunnen studeren aan de Bugema Universiteit in Oeganda en heeft vorige maand haar masters graad ontvangen van de methodistische universiteit in Nairobi, Kenia. Haar studie werd voor een belangrijk deel betaald door een Nederlandse donor. Chapeau!

Rebecca heeft samen met haar man die ook predikant is een  gezin en nkele opgroeiende kinderen, en het is dus een enorme prestatie dat zij zich zo heeft kunnen ontwikkelen. Ik hoop dat zij ter zijner tijd een van de eerste vrouwen zal zijn die door de Adventkerk in Kenia zullen worden ingezegend! Wie weet?

Joshua heeft zijn zinnen gezet op een studie tandheelkunde. Hij volgt die studie aan de adventistische medische hogeschool in de Filippijnen. Zijn ouders ontvangen een kleine subsidie van de Keniaanse kerk, maar een heel groot deel van de kosten zijn voor Rebecca en haar man en die kunnen dat gewoonweg niet betalen. Het ziet ernaar uit dat na ongveer twee jaar Joshua zijn studie moet stoppen. Tenzij . . . er hulp komt.

Voor de komende vier jaar is per semester een bedrag nodig van ongveer 1750 euro. Aangezien er twee semesters in een studiejaar zitten, betekent dit dat er 8 keer 1750 euro, (in totaal 14,000 euro) nodig zal zijn. Dat is een flink bedrag. Mijn hoop is dat er iemand is onder de lezers van deze blog die zegt: Daarvoor wil ik me garant stellen. Of dat er enkelen zijn die daarvan elk een deel voor hun rekening willen nemen.

Ik weet het: we kunnen niet de hele wereld helpen. Maar soms komt er iemand op ons pad voor wie we wel hulp kunnen bieden. Wie meer informatie wil kan bij mij terecht (reinder@bruinsmas.com).

 

 

 

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