Paradise Lost

Luke at Stanford gay rights sculpture May 9 Another Stanford Taboo Cheeky At Albion

Luke at CA/OR border May 10 Another Another Battle Creek, OR May 11 Another Another

Luke at Angwin, CA May 13, the home I lived in 30 years ago is just left out of the picture Outside the PUC library, where I spent much of my youth In the PUC prayer garden Another Another

Luke at Yosemite, May 13 Another

Glacier Point, May 14 Another Another Another

Rabbi Steven Tucker’s last ride – he drove over the edge Nov. 10, 2005 to commit suicide Jewish Journal story Rabbi Tucker raced through this .8 mile tunnel before going over the edge Edge Luke Luke Luke

Photo at Vernal Falls in Yosemite on Monday, May 14. On the way to Vernal Falls Another Vernal Falls Vernal Falls Vernal Falls Vernal Falls

May 15 near Lower Falls Luke Luke Luke Lower Yosemite Falls Luke Luke Lower Falls Drive home May 15

Tuesday, May 8. 12:30 p.m. On my walk to the library, I determine that I have to get out of town.

On my way home, I stop by Enterprise and rent a Ford 500 (the least expensive option available at $50 a day plus $18 a day for insurance).

I flee north up Highway One, seeking my lost youth.

Absorbed in the open road, I blow off a work-related phone call and feel an unusual sense of calm.

4:30 p.m. I stop in Santa Barbara for a chocolate Moo’d from Jamba Juice.

I make it two-thirds of the way through Big Sur before it is dark. I spend the night at the home of a Luke Ford Advisory Committee charter member in San Jose.

Wednesday morning I hit Stanford. Unfortunately, my contributions to higher knowledge have gone unrecognized in these hallows halls of academia.

Avoiding the crazed students on bikes, I manage to pose for a couple of pictures by some gay liberation sculptures.

Impressed by the quality of the stereo in  my 2007 Ford 500, I stop by a music store in San Francisco and pick up Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway, the Beach Boys Greatest Hits, Bryan Adams’ Greatest Hits, Sheryl Crow’s Greatest Hits, and three CDs of Christian hymns.

I alternate the music with a 12-part set of CDs from the Teaching Company on Greek Tragedy.

I take the 101 North, head west on the 128, and a few miles into Mendocino County, I turn down a one-lane road to the Seventh-Day Adventist nature retreat Albion.

"May I help you?" a burly man asks.

"Hi, I used to spend time here when I was a kid. I went to P.U.C. Elementary School. My father, Des Ford, taught at P.U.C…."

(P.U.C. is short for the Adventist tertiary institution in Angwin — Pacific Union College, which has an enrollment of about 1,400.)

I was in like Flynn.

I spot friends of mine from childhood. They’re the parents of kids I went to school with. I frequently ended up closer friends with the parents of my classmates.

For a couple of hours over Mexican food, I play Adventist geography.

I spend the night in a cabin and drive north, arriving in Coos Bay Thursday evening. I stay at the Best Western, jump on its high-speed internet and further my moral mission to humanity.

Since Santa Barbara, I’ve noticed my car blinking that it needs an oil change. I check in with the local Enterprise and find out that the rental agreement I signed requires that I stay within California.

I retrace my drive, just making it to P.U.C. before sundown.

I walk into the main church for Vespers.

By the time the program starts at 8 p.m., there are about 300 college students. Ninety percent of them are dressed in jeans and a few women are in sexy dresses more appropriate for a disco.

I look around the church and think I recognize an old man who looks like a pastor. When I later inquire of his name, he says he’s John McIntosh, who’s been a pastor at the church since the 1970s.

There’s a Christian rock group on stage (composed of students, some of them in jeans) and they’re the main attraction of the first 30 minutes of the program.

Just as Judaism has its musical programs such as Friday Night Live (FNL) at Temple Sinai in Westwood, the Adventist Church has its celebration movement (spirited singing in church to contemporary tunes).

This Vespers reminds me of FNL.

Dr. Greg King, head of the religion department at the Adventist college in Atlanta, is the featured speaker for the weekend. His sermon takes up the remaining 30 minutes.

A master of homiletics, Dr. King faces a tough crowd. I’d say about 20% of the students are listening to him and the other 80% are chatting with each other and on their cell phones. The young Asian man nexts to me appears to be accessing gay porn on his mobile. He calls up various cams and they feature young college men undressing.

This is not the Adventist church I remember.

An Asian woman behind me lies down on the pew and rests her head in the lap of her friend.

When Dr. King climaxes his talk by asking who wants to dedicate their life to God, about 15 students raise their hands.

As the kids file out, they hand over their cards so they can get credit for their attendance. Judging by their demeanor over the past hour, at least 90% of them do not want to be there.

If a young Adventist is excited about his faith, then why would he go to PUC to be surrounded by low-commitment peers? Where do Adventists with a high-commitment to their faith go to college?

They are dressed for ease. I expect they’re going to some cool parties.

I suspect that almost all these students are products of Adventist homes and Adventist schools. If they have no ultimate interest in Adventism, if they do not see it as the truest vessel of divine truth, then what are they doing at P.U.C.? I guess they are creatures of habit. They like the Adventist lifestyle. Their parents want them to go and they’re not strong enough to fight back.

This is pathetic. If one does not believe their religion is God’s truest revelation to humanity, then why not seek for what is? No religion will perpetuate itself by its members thinking it’s a great lifestyle irrespective of its divine truth.

People want to be passionate about something and if they are not passionate about their religion, they are going to be passionate about sports or art or business or personal growth…and eventually either they or their children are going to move on from the religion they inherited.

I think about the kids I went to Adventist school with and almost none of them are leading Adventist lives, married to Adventists, raising Adventist children. I am not because I left Christianity in my teens and went into the world seeking a substitute.

In the April 12 issue of the Adventist periodical Review & Herald, the managing editor, in a book review of James Coffins’ latest, says that Adventists have largely moved on from an obsession with externals such as dress.

This is a self-delusion. There will never be a time when how someone dresses, particularly in a house of God, does not matter.

After Vespers Friday night, I have a more pressing problem than divine truth. I need a place to stay. I stop by a friend’s home. Nobody is there. I stop by another home and find my former Sabbath school teacher from 30 years ago. He’s about to go to bed but seems very happy to see me.

I spend the next two nights at his home.

Saturday morning, I go to the early service at the main P.U.C. church. I feel sad that I don’t recognize anyone. Then afterwards the pastor Tim Mitchell rescues me. He read my interview with Julius Nam, a former PUC faculty member now at Loma Linda University.

Pastor Mitchell guided me to the Sabbath school at Paulin Hall, where my dad used to teach.

I meet the Academic Dean, Nancy Lecourt, who introduces me to the class. She says sat in this very room for my dad’s Sabbath school class 28 years ago.

I find tears springing to my eyes.

I wipe them away. Crying in public is not a Protestant thing to do.

PUC represents my youth. For a few months here about 27 years ago, I felt normal. It was a paradise for me.

There’s no way I’d want to live here now, no more than I’d want to go back to childhood, even though I had some good friends there.

I associate Adventism with childhood, with coming to Christ like a little child. I associate Judaism with adulthood, with struggling with God’s rigorous but doable demands.

Adventism is a romantic otherworldly religion and Judaism a pragmatic this-worldly one. Adventism relies on whipping up emotion about the Second Coming) while Judaism piles on minute behavioral demands that are all too possible.

Christianity as practiced in the Western World is overwhelmingly an English-language religion in love with love and skeptical of law. Judaism is a Hebrew religion where words such as "law" and "sin" have different meanings than their English translations.

For an English speaker, a sin means violating God’s will while in Hebrew the word for sin means missing the mark. An English-speaking sinner will necessarily feel guilty and seek a savior while someone familiar with Hebrew understands that God created him imperfect and that missing the mark is not a reason to beat yourself up.

Today’s lesson on Balamm is taught by English teacher John McDowell, who keeps saying that the Hebrew means this and that.

Is McDowell fluent in Hebrew?

I wonder if one in a hundred Christians who talk about the Bible and proclaim that the Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek really means this or that are fluent in the Biblical language they are opining on?

There’s something wrong about somebody teaching the Bible when he is not literate in the languages of the Bible (it’s like that Canadian lesbian chick publishing a book on Islam when she doesn’t know Arabic).

On July 19, I received this email:

Hello, Luke;


I am a student a PUC. In fact, I was one of the few students in that Sabbath school you reference, wearing my dress pants and collared shirt, sitting next to my friend who was in his full suit. One of the students listening intently and desperately seeking knowledge from a speaker and an audience of incredibly informed people.

Yes, Dr. McDowell is familiar with Hebrew. Not fluent, but capable of looking it up. Dr. Jean Sheldon, who was sitting in the front row, speaks fluent Hebrew. As does Prof. Ross Winkle, who was sitting in the back left, I believe.

I agree with you–PUC is not a haven of Adventism. It is not even a haven of Christianity. The church service is abominable. But welcome to the real world, Luke.

I agree with a lot of what you say. I disagree with more of what you say. However, I do not want to argue with you, because you are equally as entitled to your opinion as I. I would like to say this–the Sabbath school you walked into and sat through with what I would guess was a skeptical attitude at best is a meeting of the most brilliant minds in Angwin, eagerly seeking knowledge of the unknowable. The next time you stop by, please feel free to interject and argue–that’s what that Sabbath school is for.

And perhaps, it may be time that we think not about our angst over our ‘lost’ paradise, and think of how we can bring others into it, rather than standing in our rapidly shrinking bubble and condemning those outside.

Most of the class discussion is about petitionary prayer — is it an attempt to manipulate God?

I say that all discussion of how our prayer affects God is time wasted on a topic that is non-rational and non-verifiable (aka nonsense) while discussing how prayer affects us is zeroing in on something rational and verifiable.

Saturday morning’s services attract an older, better-dressed crowd, though there are still students in jeans.

A bloke two pews in front of me munches on pretzels throughout the service. His wife went to elementary school with me. They saw me on 60 Minutes a few years ago. He read my blog. As a fellow preacher’s kid, he identified.

Over the Sabbath, I give voice to my view that the Torah discourages women wearing pants (as it prohibits women from dressing in men’s clothing). I’m regarded as an old fogie, a legalist.

I catch the second church service. The pastor repeats his sermon. He says that women in Israel 2000 years ago had no rights. That a rabbi said that to teach a woman the law was to teach her harlotry. That another rabbi said something equally damning against teaching women.

I’ve long maintained that the best way to evaluate the viability of a group is to check out its women. PUC has many hot chicks. They appear to get married off soon after college and go on to have beautiful children.

Angwin is a sanctuary and Adventist children growing up in its bubble display a unique openness and friendliness to strangers such as myself.

I’m used to kids who are sullen and suspicious.

Sabbath afternoon, I wander around the trails of my childhood. I’m sad that I recognize so few people. My family used to be big here. These were the happiest days of my life (the last half of eighth grade and the summers of 1982 and 1983).

Some people don’t recognize me because I’ve put on a lot of weight.

Adventism is in the world but not of the world. Its strongholds tend to be in rural areas because cities are regarded as corrupt. The word "Advent" refers to the belief in the soon coming of Christ. Since the Church was founded in 1844, it has maintained that Jesus is coming any day now.

PUC’s pastor is giving a series on Saturday morning about the Church’s doctrine of the Second Coming. The more fervent the Adventist, the more strongly he believes that the end of the world is imminent. The stronger the Adventist’s belief in this world, the less religious he is.

Through its music and sermons on Sabbath, the PUC church did its best to keep its passionate end-of-time belief alive. It felt to me like it was whipping a weary horse.

The biggest controversies in Angwin are no longer theological (they haven’t been for 25 years). The biggest argument now is over the development of an eco-village with a big mall. The college would benefit financially and this would off-set its losses from declining enrollment. The Angwin residents I talked to hate all development. They want to keep their quiet community to themselves (though they also want to have affordable housing for faculty, real estate prices in the community have climbed dramatically over the past 20 years).

My former sixth grade teacher, Tom Amato, has turned 60. He now runs a teen center by the college market. I want to see him but I also want to get to Yosemite and the Half Dome wins out.

Since going on wellbutrin nine months ago, my normally small amount of patience has been reduced by 90%. When I keep getting lost on the 120 into the park (I lose about two hours), I curse up a storm. Then, as the sun goes down, and I drive into Yosemite Valley, the awesome view humbles me.

This entire trip has been a spur of the moment thing. I spend Sunday night in my car to save money.

It’s now 9:30 Monday night. I’m in the Yosemite Lodge with free access to its high-speed wifi. I climbed over a mile to Vernal Falls this afternoon and then cleaned myself off in the snow runoff. My diet consists of chocolate cookies, Triscuits, trailmix and the odd apple.

The last time I was in Yosemite was 30 years ago. I came with my parents and their friends. All my choices then were circumscribed by their decisions. Today I am a man.

Lee Eakin emails: "Hey Luke……..I remember PUC up in Angwin.    Buddies and I from Sac Union Academy used to drive up there years ago and drink beer with the girls in the dorm…..Many of us broke away from the SDA’s…hell, I had No business there in the first place…..Good times! Say Hello to my budd Jimmyd will ya! "

Jim Jones emails:

"Today I am a man."

No, mate. You’re a fair-dinkum distance from that. Here’s why…

"I stop in Santa Barbara for a chocolate Moo’d from Jamba Juice." Grown men don’t drink kiddie drinks.

"I stop by a music store in San Francisco and pick up Kelly Clarkson, the Beach Boys, Bryan Adams’ Greatest Hits, Sheryl Crow’s Greatest Hits…" Fine listening–if you’re a 50-year-old woman who lives alone with a cat.

"Since Santa Barbara, I’ve noticed my car blinking that it needs an oil change." In a Ford, that light actually reads "Check Oil." It’s sometimes called an "idiot light." A real man checks the vehicle’s oil level when he fills up the gas tank. If it’s low, he adds a quart or two. He doesn’t drive half the length of California with any sort of warning light on.

"I need a place to stay. I stop by a friend’s home. Nobody is there. I stop by another home and find my former Sabbath school teacher from 30 years ago. He’s about to go to bed but seems very happy to see me. I spend the next two nights at his home." A man is self-reliant. He doesn’t impose himself unannounced on someone he hasn’t seen in 30 years.

"When I keep getting lost on the 120 into the park (I lose about two hours), I curse up a storm." A man knows how to read a map.

"My diet consists of chocolate cookies, Triscuits, trailmix and the odd apple." This is the diet of a third-grader. On the trail, a man eats beans and game he’s killed with his own two hands.

Don’t dare to call yourself a man until you start acting like one.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see 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 (
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