Loma Linda Is The Loneliest Adventist Community In The World

Friday. 12:30 pm. As he began driving east on the Ten freeway from Santa Monica, he tried to free his neck of unnecessary tension. He tried to think up with his whole torso. He tried to let go of habitual postures in his face and thinking.

He wondered which of his character flaws would trip him up this weekend? Would it be his arrogance or his thirst for attention? Perhaps it would be his lust. The wily shiksa — the blooming Adventist girls — they know how to trip up a holy Jew such as himself.

As he daydreamed about Adventist girls, he accidentally slipped on to the Five freeway north towards Sacramento and went eight miles out of his way. His soul yearned for Pacific Union College but his body was assigned elsewhere.

3:15 pm. Loma Linda University Religion Department. Dr. Dave Larson introduced him to Dr. Sigve Tonstad, Dr. Roy Branson and Bonnie Dwyer of Spectrum.

When the secretary left at 4:30 pm and accidentally locked him out, he Googled “Leo Baeck” and “romantic religion” on his Blackberry Curve and found this essay by Cynthia Ozick:

Besides being a mystic and an antinomian, I was also a believing monist: all things were one thing, watercolor worlds leaching and blending and fading into porous malleable realms. Yearning and beauty were the heart’s engines, shocking the waiting soul (mine, anyhow) into a pulsing blur of wonderment. In Xanadu, where Alph the sacred river ran, you might actually see the Blessed Damozel leaning over the bar of heaven! As for where the Spirit of God dwelled … well, where else but in you and me? (Primarily, of course, in me.) The Ten Commandments? In Xanadu nobody had ever heard of them.

Friday night after dinner, he felt the CFS shakes wash over him. He wondered how he’d do on the morrow. Would he need to stay home all day until his panel discussion?

He woke up at 6:10 am. He read Hyam Maccoby‘s Revolution in Judea: Jesus and the Jewish Resistance. By 8 am, he found himself eager to go to Sabbath School. It would be a one mile walk each way but he felt ready. He was sure he’d get enough love today to lift himself out of his depression.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he said to himself, “that the undivided attention of 300 people can not fix.”

He wondered why Loma Linda was the loneliest Adventist community in the world? Was it its relative wealth? After all, the richer the shul, the richer the church, the colder.

Was Loma Linda lonely because it was subdivided into so many different racial and professional divisions?

Was it the relatively high pay of its doctors versus the low pay of its professors?

Perhaps it was just California, the place people come to to flee from traditional ties?

He thought about the dean of Loma Linda’s religion department who on his first Sabbath sermon at the university, received no invites for lunch (until one by accident at the last minute).

He remembered his visit to the Loma Linda Korean church with Julius Nam. He doubted that they felt lonely. How could people so beautiful feel lonely? He doubted that loneliness was an epidemic at the other ethnic churches in town. He suspected that Loma Linda loneliness was a white disease.

He looked at the Sabbath morning bulletin and saw a flyer for that afternoon’s program and there was his name followed by “Author & Blogger.”

He wondered why his righteous deeds were not mentioned in the billing.

Bloody typical, he thought. But mustn’t grumble. Must be strong for Israel.

He wondered why so many children stop speaking to a parent who remarries. He’d never heard of this in Orthodox life. Jewish life gives such behavior no sanction.

Judaism was the most liberal of the world’s religions on divorce (though not all Jews are so tolerant in this matter). To think that a parent, after the death of a spouse or a divorce should never again have love is abhorrent.

This is what happens when people follow their feelings rather than the law. It might feel bad that mom has remarried, but that’s no excuse to cut her out of your life.

9:40 am. He walked under a Loma Linda hospital and into Dr. Sigve K. Tonstad’s (eldest daughter got a Ph.D. in Theology from Yale, the younger daughter got a master’s degree from Harvard) Sabbath school class on the book of Revelation.

Sigve explicated Revelation 14:1: “The purpose of Israel has been fulfilled.”

After fighting himself for five minutes, he finally raised his hand and asked, “What is the purpose of Israel that has been fulfilled?”

Sigve said, “Why don’t you answer that?”

He said, “I understood that the purpose of Israel is to bring humanity to God and to His Moral Law.”

Sigve said that meaning was compatible with the text.

The discussion turns to the rock band U2. Its singer, Bono, is a Christian.

Jan Paulsen, the General Conference president of Adventism, has a son who was a roadie for U2.

Afterwards, he was introduced to some smart Seventh-Day Adventist doctors, the aristocracy of the church.

He moved the conversation from the cross to Obamacare.

Then he introduced himself to the young woman sitting at his side and invited her to his show that afternoon.

As he walked out, nobody said hello.

Seventh-Day Adventist ladies showed a lot of skin — not that he noticed, being much more consumed with praying to Almighty God. They had no problem wearing pants and going sleeveless. They hugged a lot. They smelt good. They used Lipsmacker and he wanted to smooch all the hot ones but his high moral values and low social status prevented him, not to mention the fire alarms within easy reach.

The goyim tended to be tall. Not too many fatties. They were easy-going in comparison to the Jews. They were nice and they were clean. They told you to have a nice day. They had no problem with showering on the Sabbath and heating up food in their ovens.

Men and women sat together in church. They used musical instruments and projectors and streamed everything on their website and satellite station.

The goyim were good at composing spontaneous prayers inviting God into their lives. They seemed to have an easier time with prayer than did Jews. They seemed much more passive in their relationship to God and to this world and filled with faith, they didn’t complain much.

Unlike Mormons who tended to be lily-white, Adventists came in all colors (racial minorities make up a higher percentage of the American church than they do of the general population). He grew up Adventist and was rarely conscious of race (or the existence of racial discrimination in the church). If someone was in Christ, then their race didn’t matter.

Church was not nearly as much work as shul on a Shabbos morning. It was much more spiritual. Goyisha life was easier than frum life but the book of Seventh-Day Adventist Nobel Prize winners was empty. No Seventh-Day Adventists ever sat on the Supreme Court.

Lunch was with the Larsons and Aussies Dr. and Mrs. Bernard Taylor. Dr. Taylor, a scholar in residence at the University church, spent six years at Hebrew Union College, eventually obtaining his doctorate and publishing a massive work on the Septuagint.

The goyim were very respectful while he made kiddush and hamotzi.

Upon completion, he announced, “You are now free from the oppressive lash of the law.”

Over lunch he was asked, “Most Adventists are moving away from observance of the law. And we only have a few to observe. And yet you’ve chosen to embrace thousands of laws. Why?”

“I never thought I would,” he said. “But consider the advantages. Jews rarely argue over theology. Judaism was 3,000 years old before it had its first creed. A religion of the law frees you to be more open about what is going on in your heart. You don’t have to pretend. You don’t have to hold your emotions in a tight check as Ellen G. White commands. Also, Jewish law provides profound guidance on how to lead a life. It stimulates a life of learning, which tends to make for success in life.”

He held back from saying, “The more law, the more sin! The more erotic charges you can detonate by defying God.”

He tried to explain his wallaby rape story but it was not the stuff of the typical Adventist Sabbath meal.

“You’re a walking kiddush HaShem,” his girlfriend had said. “Always making Jews look good.”

2:50 pm. Sabbath. He walked into the Frank Damazo Ampitheater and there’s a billboard with his name on it. He felt some stuff shift inside and he got a sudden warm feeling about the church. Yeah, they’d booted his father from their employ, but on the other hand, they did have his name up nice on the program. You can’t have everything in life. He’d take his attention where he could get it. Yum, yum, yum. More attention for me. Love the sound of my own voice. Have so much wisdom to impart. Hope there will be lots of hot chicks here. Always stimulates my eloquence. Youth and beauty. Can’t have too much of it.

Walk in. The great disappointment. The place was full (350 seats and people sat on the floor in the back and outside the doors). Yes, he was an evangelist’s son. He counted seats. But as he looked around, the average age was 50. Where were the co-eds? Did they not know the profound insights he was about to share could forever change their innocent lives?

So many lonely women at Loma Linda. So few men to pay attention to them. And here he was all man and returning to Loma Linda like Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines.

He ran into his friend Ivan Blazen and felt happy. When Ivan signed up for a list and wondered what it was for, he said, “You’ll get an email just before the Second Coming.”

“The First Coming for you,” said Dr. Blazen.

It was a conversation they’d had his parents home in 1990 when Dr. and Mrs. Blazen had spread a healing balm on his religious angst.

Dr. Sigve Tonstad began the program with an 18-minute talk. Then the moderator, David Larson, asked for 60 seconds of silence to meditate on Sigve’s words.

He scanned the audience for cute girls and when he found them, he tried hard not to scare. Throughout the program, he didn’t know what to do with his eyes. Shouldn’t let them rest too long upon women, he decided, wouldn’t look too spiritual and might cause people to hate Jews. He forced himself instead to stare at blokes and blocks of furniture. Occasionally he scanned his notes (print-outs of these two blog posts).

(Video: He makes his first comments 30 minutes in.)

The panelists were Roy Branson (Loma Linda), Bonnie Dwyer (Spectrum) and Adina Hemley (Inland Empire Hillel House).

He got first go. Unlike the other panelists, he spoke spontaneously. He said he cared more about deed than creed, actions rather than beliefs. He explored the thesis — if Christians had kept the Sabbath, there would have been no Holocaust.

He described the German Adventist church’s support for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He concluded that Christians observance of the seventh-day Sabbath did not make them any more moral and therefore it didn’t matter whether or not Christians kept the silence.

There was stunned silence and then awkward smiles when Dr. Feelgood finished.

The other panelists were all sweetness and light. The other panelists applauded each other. He refused to clap his hands. He was a disinterested journalist. He would keep a tight check on his emotions, just as Sister White instructs.

During the discussion, he’s accused of being “Godlike” by Adina Hemley. It’s the coolest criticism he’s ever received. Yeah, Godlike. You’re totally righteous, dude.

Guru Luke in da house!

Who’s the preacher man now? Who’s your moral leader now?

I be pimpin’ all my peeps at Loma Linda.

Let’s do the altar call.

If any of you have been convicted by the truth of my message this afternoon, please come up front. We have elders here to pray with you.

As he spoke, he reminded people of his dad.

It wasn’t his speech pattern. He spoke more slowly and more softly than his father. The words he chose were simpler.

No, it was his clear, direct, take-no-prisoners approach. The Fords were never been known for their subtlety.

He remembered that girlfriend from UCLA in 1989 who told him, “The more you try to be different from your father, the more you will be like him.”

He remembered that girl from 1993 who explained to him the difference between his father and himself: “He’s not as pompous.”

He found himself repeating that if the United States had been dominated by Adventism in WWII, “we’d all be speaking German.”

The moderator stopped the discussion from going off course.

Said a friend later: “Most SDAs in this country, and by far the majority of them in the room yesterday, do not consider themselves to be pacifists in the sense that, say, the Quakers or Mennonites are.”

The women were the first to thank him after the conclusion of the panel, and then a string of old men. One bloke dressed in tatters mused, “Ralph Larson‘s son and Des Ford‘s ex-son on the same panel. Now I’ve seen everything. Your dad and Ralph Larson, I followed them both in the 1970s. I think I’ve found a way to reconcile their teachings. It can be done with the glorification of God. Many Orthodox Jews understand this…”

Everyone wanted to know about his relationship with his father.

It’s normal for white people, he thought. That’s the great contribution of the WASPs — they don’t depend on their children for happiness.

“Wasn’t it local conditions that produced the Nazis?” he was asked.

“In part,” he said, “but what’s going on inside of you is more important than what goes on around you. You could dump a truckload of cocaine on my front lawn and I wouldn’t snort it.”

A tall black man leaned over him. “You look too much at people,” he says.

“Damn,” he thought. “He’s gonna bust me for staring at his daughter.”

But the man was talking theology. “People will let you down every time. You have to look to Christ and his righteousness.”

In the evening, he walked Loma Linda with Dave Larson.

It was almost graduation time.

They walked past the church where his dad preached 18 months ago. They walked past the girls dorm.

On top of the hill beside the Ellen White-era cabins, he looked through the smog and across the university and thought to himself, “This is my Cinema Paradiso.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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