In his book Presence and Encounter, David Benner relates the following:

“Over the last several decades, I have been blessed to be able to participate in extended periods of dialogue with people of other spiritual traditions – particularly Taoists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and the indigenous people of Canada. When I first began to pursue these dialogical encounters, I was so curious about the people I was meeting that I didn’t want to dilute the conversation with much of my own story. I wanted to get to know their stories and failed to realize that I could come to know their stories only within the context of sharing my own. It takes at least two to dance the dance of dialogue, and both must be prepared to turn up as people deeply situated within, and willing to share, their own traditions. Only then can we meet others within their traditions.

“I recall a good friend of mine who spent several years in Southeast Asia studying and practicing meditation. As he was ending this time and preparing to return to Canada, he asked his teacher what he needed to do as the next step in his journey. His teacher’s answer was that he needed to engage more deeply with his Christian roots. My friend was shocked by this and replied that he had never been more than a nominal Christian. Displaying more wisdom than I suspect most Christians in the same situation would show, the teacher told him that his Christian roots were much deeper than he realized, and that if he wished to truly make the things he had learned in the East his own, he now had to complete the circle of re-engaging the cultural and religious roots of his being.

“I sometimes encounter people in interfaith and intercultural dialogue who are lurking on the edges of real encounter because they are dabbling in dialogue without deeply living their own culture and tradition.”

As I read this, I thought of the many efforts we’ve made over the years to reclaim those who have left the church or to retain segments of our church population, such as the young adult audience. Retention and reclaiming are complicated processes with many variables, but perhaps an important component is a discussion about the impact of our cultural and spiritual upbringing.

Cultural and religious roots

How do we “complete the circle of re-engaging the cultural and religious roots” of those who close the door on their uniquely Adventist roots? That upbringing has a built in angst about leaving, questioning whether salvation is truly available outside membership in the ‘remnant’ church. Rote answers and explanations drilled in from earliest childhood are often violently rejected in an attempt to make sense of a world that doesn’t quite fit the picture presented.

Yet, an Adventist upbringing profoundly shapes and affects one’s thinking and direction long after it is left behind. At some point, in order to move forward in transformation, one must re-engage with those cultural and religious roots, owning the impact and altering what may have become an ill-fitting garment. Unfortunately, some believe one-shape-fits-all while the Bible and God-encounters plainly reveal the multi-faceted prism of the Godhead.

The challenge this presents starts with a long look in the mirror, acknowledging the depth of our own spiritual roots and the impact they have on our spiritual journey. Have I, even as God has led down mysterious and sometimes contorted pathways, continued to give value and worth to those beginnings?

If we can do this, we may be able to offer a wide space where current and former Adventist roots will intermingle in a mutually beneficial way that blesses both of our journeys, no matter how different.

Here’s to starting the dialogue…

Ann Halim, editor, eWeekend newsletter for the College View Adventist Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Republished with permission.