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Martin Doblmeier: In His Own Words                  [Main Story]

I think of myself as someone who’s on a spiritual journey, trying to learn every day about how God reveals Himself in this world. Filmmaking is the vehicle through which I get to explore that; I get to ask those questions, I get to go to places, I get to tell stories. But it’s just the vehicle. The most important side to me is the spiritual side. . . .

The Adventist Connection
A few years ago I was invited to show the Bonhoeffer film at the Loma Linda University church. Several of my Adventist friends arranged for the invitation, and it was at Loma Linda where I found myself immersed into the Seventh-day Adventist culture. It was a wonderful experience, partly because my first exposure to an Adventist preacher was Randy Roberts. He was great.

Then I spent the time going around to different parts of the [Loma Linda University] hospital. That’s when it started to percolate for me for the first time that here’s this somewhat conservative, biblically based Christian faith that’s also on the cutting edge of health care and medicine. They’re living longer than everybody else. I went right back and proposed the idea of doing a film to public television. . . . That became The Adventists, the first film.

My films are about religion, and that’s what I’m really interested in. If I was just doing health, there might have been a different way to say, “They are simply living longer.” But my motivation is to understand the spirit of religion, the belief system that comes out of this; pointing the light and saying, “These people live this way because of what they believe.”

Larger Issues
For me, the natural extension between the first film and the second film is that the first film said that Seventh-day Adventists believe that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The second film says that if that’s true for me, it’s also true for the other. And the other can be very much the stranger, someone who comes from a totally different place on this planet, who speaks a different language, from a totally different culture. But it’s no less true that their bodies are in need of healing, and I see in their bodies a reflection of the Holy Spirit, just as well as I see it in mine. . . .

Even though it’s true that there’s a lot of resentment and anger toward religion, I see a lot of positive things that can come out of it. And that’s where I focus the work I do. And there are  a lot of positive things to say about Adventists. . . .

Adventists and Creation
The hidden jewel in Adventist theology is the value you give to the Sabbath. . . . You also connect it smartly to creation, the cycle of the week in God’s plan. So I came away from that feeling as though that’s one of the gifts I was given. I started to think in a new way about the notion of the Sabbath. That’s been a great blessing for me. . . .

Adventists have created a theology around creation. The value of God’s creation in the body hasn’t extended maybe as it could have into the environment. The Protestant world has been slow to move into the environmental world. But if you want [to attract] a younger generation, that younger generation wants to talk about the environment. They’re committed to the environment; to the creation of programs, offices, enterprises, and everything that says, “We honor creation in the air, the land, the sea, just as we honor it in the human body.” The church has to do more of that. As much as there are challenges, there are [also] missed opportunities. . . .

I wanted to do the first film [The Adventists] because I was absolutely convinced that the health message is a universal message, and if people connected to the health story line, they would be open to seeing where this motivation for health care comes from. That whole notion that the body is the temple of God would resonate with some people. And the second film would do the same thing.

The second film says to every antireligious person in the world that even though you may be hostile, you may be an agnostic, you may be a hard-core atheist, you may be hostile to religion for your own experience, can you find a place in your heart to admire these people for doing this, and maybe rethink in some small way your hostility? . . .

A Message for Our Times
I think what is going to happen in the twenty-first century is that we’re growing more and more impersonal; we’re less civil. I’m getting invitations to all these conversations happening at Harvard [University] about civility. We’ve turned uncivil. All you have to do is drive on the beltway for a few hours and you see that we’re losing our civility.

The role for churches in the twenty-first century is to restore the notion that human beings are made in the image of God. . . . Churches have the authority to say that. . . .

Religion, faith, is all about commitment. Faith communities, churches, have an opportunity—the responsibility—to stand up for the notion of commitment, to be planted in one place and take responsibility for it, to live out the vocation God is giving you and respect the other person simply because they’re human beings and children of God. 

This article was published August 22, 2013.


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