Tweet . . . Post . . . Friend . . . Text
ime was when all these words were nouns, as substantial as the sound made by a finch on the windowsill, or the grain of a length of oak driven deep into a boundary, or the smile of a person you had actually met and liked, or the inked and unmoving words on a page. Harried by the volume and persistence of the media we have welcomed into our lives, we sigh for a quieter, older time when, we imagine, things moved at a more manageable pace.
I’ve just come from the world of Currier and Ives, and for all of its nostalgic appeal, I wouldn’t trade.
A week ago I wandered through the graveled paths and cartroads of Old Sturbridge Village, a faithfully re-created 1830s New England village in south central Massachusetts. I’ve known the place for years—45 of them, in fact—since I made my first pilgrimage into the past as a fourth grader on a field trip. Fifteen years later, my first pastoral district—three small congregations and two schools—had Old Sturbridge Village as its geographical center: I drove past the entrance every day for three years.
This time I entered as part of a group of church leaders visiting Adventist historic sites in New England, hoping to glimpse in the village the world in which James and Ellen White, Joseph Bates, and J. N. Andrews lived, cut firewood, raised children, and shared their faith.
I’ll admit to being fond of the sight of newborn lambs skittering across a pasture, or schoolchildren rolling hoops across a town green. But for all our fascination with a bygone era now mostly inaccessible to us, we end up remembering the wrong things. We think of the founding decades of this Advent movement mostly in terms of beards and bonnets, horse-drawn wagons and woodstoves—the very things that Adventist pioneers would have least wanted us to recall. They cared no more for their high-collared dresses and leather boots than we do for our T-shirts and sneakers—and they certainly would not want those artifacts to be our chief memories of the cause to which they gave their all.
The men and women who birthed this movement were passionate about ideas—specific, biblical, timeless ideas that were vastly more important to them than the material culture of the 1830s and 1840s. Fired by an unflinching commitment to the Word of God, they used every bit of technology available to them to spread the message that the seventh day is the Lord’s Sabbath, that Jesus will soon return to redeem His faithful ones, and that He is even now interceding for us in the heavenly sanctuary. And in this movement’s first decades, that meant horse-drawn carriages, steam-powered printing presses, and the United States Postal Service.
I strongly suspect that every one of our pioneers would have gladly embraced a world in which you can travel from Boston to Los Angeles in five hours, and enjoy instant visual communication with believers on the other side of the globe. We find none of them clinging to either the wigs or the wisdom of the Revolutionary era that preceded them. In fact, they passionately protested that era’s acceptance of human slavery, oppression of the poor, and unhealthy lifestyles. Reformers all, they leaned toward the future with an intensity that many of their spiritual descendants find unnerving. The only good reason for preserving their houses, hats, and hardware is to give a context for celebrating the continuing validity of the truths for which they spent their lives.
So I smiled as my BlackBerry buzzed in Old Sturbridge Village with a text about South American Division evangelism from our news editor in São Paulo, and pdfs arrived of future editions of this magazine that needed my approval. When the smartphone on my hip trilled its “old-fashioned” tone, I waited until the fourth ring to answer it—a momentary nod to the slower world I was visiting.
And when I next passed the portraits of James White, Uriah Smith, and J. N. Andrews that hang on our office walls, I’m pretty sure they were all smiling.
Bill Knott is editor of the
Adventist Review. This article was published June 14, 2012.