Ellen White on the left...
I spent the weekend with work and Ellen White.
I love old bookshelves; can't resist them. Exploring a new bookshelf is like walking through a field of freshly fallen snow--where nobody has trampled yet. They are rife with discovery. Bookshelves (and the books on them) share more knowledge about the owner of such than perusing through some stranger's medicine cabinet.
Friday night, having nothing really to do (but laundry), I looked through the library of the place I stay when I'm working. The last book added to this collection was in the 1950's. Adventist in content and character...it gives a glimpse into the thinking of this religious movement. What motivates it? What were they thinking a half century ago?
Pamphlets. Nobody uses pamphlets anymore. Too bad. I gathered a couple from from the 1930's..and a book about the visions of the Seventh Day Adventist prophet (Ellen White) and rambled up to my room; eager to learn more about this relatively new religious movement.
For those who don't know about Ellen White--she is amongst the founders of Seventh Day Adventist Church. We also have Adventists to thank for Tony the Tiger and Cornflakes---as the Kellogg family were eager devotees (at least for awhile, until Ellen White dissed John Kellogg's book in 1905)--stating it was "pantheistic". But that's another story.
So what did I find?
The Adventist's are devoted believers in the second coming of Christ. That's where the name Adventist comes from: those who wait for the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. They believe this whole process started back in 1844, when Jesus, essentially, was given a second apartment in heaven. Jesus was supposed to return on October 22, 1844 (according to the "Millerites" from which Adventists evolved). When Jesus was a no-show on that date, they had a huge problem. It's called the "Great Disappointment".
In 1845, the young Ellen White had a vision that was sort of "ah, Shucks"--in nature. The vision meant that Jesus found a new home in heaven (the second apartment), and had begun the process leading to his eventual triumphant return to Earth. They were smart enough not to choose any date for this eventual return (although one book mentioned 2099). And Adventists have held on to this gradual return of Jesus ever since.
Back in 1933, the book pictured above came out: "The Coming Crises". It is filled with anti-Catholic rhetoric...as was Ellen White. Much of this is glazed over nowadays. But this book states that the Catholics (Papacy) is the horn found in Daniel, which is the anti-Christ. America is the antidote to all this (and is symbolized in the book of Daniel as two lamb's horns), as America has two attributes: a Republic and Protestants. Jesus' return will be imminent when worshiping on Saturdays is outlawed. They see antiquated "blue laws" as the ushering in of the end times.
Written before global warming, thermonuclear war and E-bola--the Adventists of the 30's were worried about closing up shop on Sundays! Not only that, but when this book came out it was 1933. Deep into the Depression. Unemployment. Wide-spread suffering. Already in crises; yet the book is entitled: "The Coming Crises".
The next day after work, I decided to check out Ellen White's home, and got a tour (and a lecture on temperance) from a kindly, old Adventist couple. Ellen named this place "Elmshaven"--yet a photo of the place at the turn of the century shows very few trees. The area had been logged over and was totally denuded of trees.
I toured the house with eight or nine of the truly devoted. They were mostly in their twenties. Squeaky clean. Some with accents. I must say that the Adventist young ladies were quite fetching to the eye. They are the original "Granola Girls" as Granola was invented by Adventists. Their Adventist husbands and boyfriends were much dorkier. Adventist piety, in the male gender, leads to a drab and nerdish appearance (or maybe that's just all males who tour historical figures houses on weekend?--including me?).
Long on piety, they are. Vegetarian. Their diets are rich in vegetables, fruit and nuts. No wine, beer or liquor. No caffeine. No tobacco. No single malt Scotch. No bison burger. No Ribeye steaks. Especially vile are pork and "bottom feeders" i. e. crab, lobster and all shellfish. As a result, one study indicates that Adventists live four to ten years longer than the average Californian.
But at what price? I'll gladly trade four to ten years of life for the opportunity to have a glass of wine with a steak. Or a Sunday newspaper, Crab Louie, an outdoor cafe, a double espresso and a Gitane' to follow? Can you imagine life without such pleasures?
But pleasure isn't something that Ellen White was into. Food was utilitarian. The Sabbath (from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) was to have no work at all. No cooking. Adventists are to spend large amounts of time in church and thinking of God.
The third book I picked up was a more personal account of how fun Ellen White was. Now I've worked with Adventists for years, and the one thing I can truly tell you is the more devoted they are to their religion, fun certainly goes out the window. They are good hardy people. Kind. Serious. Devoted. A sense of humor doesn't seem to be a part of the equation.
The tour leader boasted of Ellen White's spiritual accomplishments. She would enter a trance and hold a 18 pound Bible over her head for twenty minutes. She would enter a trance and not breathe for the duration of the trance. She could hold a Bible over her head, open a page, and recite the contents of such without looking at it.
The Tour Directors told us she would get up at three am and work. Sometimes she would have a vision...during such times her room would light up and neighbors would see the light in the window. "Oh, there goes Ellen having her heavenly visitors again".
Another Adventist theme is that of being the Remnant. They are the keepers of God's law (the Ten Commandments and a few dietary restrictions and other health practices). And for them, not having any "Graven Images" (one of the Ten Commandments) means just that. Go to an Adventist Church and you will find no Icons. Stain glass windows might have a nature scene, but no human depictions at all. No statues. No beauty. Very little art. Elmshaven follows suit with that. It is austere, with very little beauty for such a grand Victorian house.
Ellen White died there. The house itself feels stifling to me. Severe. Oppressive.
Leaving the house, there is a vineyard on the next property. Next to the vineyard is a house with large statues of Buddha. Meditation gardens. Did these people do this to spite the Adventists? Or is it there to show the Adventists that Spirituality need not be severe. That we can enjoy the good things in life: Wine, Food and Art? Didn't Jesus say "party with me, for I'm here with you now?" He wasn't aesthetic.
I'm like Emma Goldman, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution".
I am thankful for how well they have treated me! They have always been fair and appreciative of my service. And Adventists are to be commended for the service and gifts they have provided to all of us!!