Here We Go

By Ray Tetz

The elderly couple in the airport boarding line behind me are worried about being in the right line. After listening for a few minutes, I turn and suggest that since he uses a cane, he could probably pre-board and avoid the line entirely.

“I hate doing that,” he says. “Like getting the senior discount, it’s a little bit embarrassing.”

“Nah,” I say. “It will be so much easier for you. And believe me, every person in this line is trying to figure out how to get on that plane first. Just go for it.”

He musters the smallest possible smile. His wife grabs her bag and heads towards the pre-boarding area. He looks at me with something like resignation. “Here we go,” he says.

Here we go, indeed. There is an Australian couple just one row in front of me that don’t much care for flying. I know they are Australian because of their accents and his t-shirt. I know they don’t like flying because of their hushed and worried conversation, clearly about the airplane and the particulars of the safety card. The man gets a small stuffed Winnie the Pooh wearing a safari hat out of his carryon and stuffs it into the seat pocket so Winnie’s head and hat are sticking out and looking at him. He finally settles back in his seat and looks intently at little Winnie. “Here we go,” I want to say. “Just ask that guy over there with the cane in the overhead who is adjusting his hearing aid. He knows all about it.”

A woman traveling by herself is worried about her suitcase. She is trying to rearrange all the other bags in the overhead bins to make room for hers. A man with a slightly pained expression stands up to help her. He is still wearing his coat and tie, all buttoned up and neat, and has suddenly been transformed from a seriously preoccupied road warrior to a SkyHop. He pushes the stuff all around, trying to make room, with the woman directing his every move. Victory! The overhead door closes. His pained expression gives way to a grim little smile of satisfaction. He has made a friend for life—or at least for the rest of the flight. The pair start to talk, and he takes out his phone to share pictures of his grandkids. Learning forward to see them, the woman’s smile is genuine. Here we go.

There are only two empty seats on the plane, and one of them is next to me. I feel very fortunate. The woman in the aisle is very pleased as well, and starts to array her possessions for easy access in the half of the middle seat closest to her. She looks at me briefly to see if I mind. I smile, just enough to show that I think we are both lucky. It’s all right. Here we go.

I have my earbuds in, and I am looking out over the wing at the clouds and the Arizona desert below us, ignoring the folder of work I optimistically brought along. It is a Friday, and I don’t feel much like working. I feel like looking out the window. Maybe doing a bit of writing. The light coming through the window is almost white, and reflects off my hands resting on the tray table. My fingers shine, too.

I gather around me the unexpected sanctuary that the seat has become. Even the steady hum of the engine seems far away. “Here we go,” I repeat to myself. “We go.”

I like to imagine that everyone on this plane is going home to someone they love. Or perhaps they are off on a great adventure they’ve been planning for years. There must be some very important reasons they all got up this morning and assembled in this place, this plane. I don’t really want to know all of those reasons on this particular flight; I usually don’t. I listen to Neko Case sing that old Harry Nilsson song, “Don’t Forget Me,” the one he recorded over a weekend with John Lennon. They’re both gone now, but the song is still here.

And I’m still here. Sitting in a window seat in the exit row, an empty seat beside me. A book half-read and time to reflect. How cool is that?

Out of habit I fold my hands and lower my head, and from the corner of my eye I notice my seatmate softly smiling. Not at me, particularly. Perhaps she has also found her sanctuary. She takes a long drink from her water bottle and leans her head back, silently closing her eyes. I start to read my book.

I hope everyone on this plane is headed home. Because here we go.

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.



2018-06-28T09:36:28-07:00June 29th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” June 29, 2018 Episode 206

Program Notes for All God’s People #206

Have you ever wondered what you can do to impact the world for good? A new video from Church Support Services tells the story of Lolo Santosa—and what she is doing to actually put into practice the words of Micah 6:8. Lolo’s story shows how to creatively apply the principles of God’s Kingdom to our work and life. An inspiring story that inspires the heart.

Watch the latest video from Church Support Services:

In this very personal and candid book, Pastor Tucker Tucker shares from his heart the heartache of grief after the death of his wife of more than 40 years, Gayle Anne Whitacre Tucker. Her death affected every corner of his life, both personal and professional. Pastor Tucker also shares research and material that he found helpful and reliable in the process of recovery. Tears to Joy will be appreciated by anyone navigating through grief and loss. New from Pacific Press, and available at the ABC.

Learn more about Tucker’s book at:

Next week is July 4—Independence Day for the United States of America. In this episode of All God’s People, Elder Ricardo Graham shares a special message for us as we think about freedom and liberty.

2019-04-30T20:25:53-07:00June 28th, 2018|All Gods People|

Being Political

By Becky De Oliveira

Express anything relating to the dreaded and verboten topic of politics—a vast concept if there ever was one—and by the slow count of 20, at least one person will have popped up to remind you that Adventists/Christians shouldn’t be “political.” The reminder might be polite or it could come laced with the kind of menace that will make your throat tighten with fear. More likely, it will be simply rude and shrill, and, depending on your level of hardiness, might make you question your human worth.

I learned this the hard way in late 2009 when, as a young faculty member at Andrews University, I stood up to introduce myself to a new cohort of Leadership students during our summer session and made an off-hand remark about how great the National Health System (NHS) is in England. I lived in that country for 12 years and both my children were born there. After both births, midwives and doctors visited my home daily (18 days the first time around). When I struggled with breastfeeding, a purple-haired breastfeeding consultant showed up at my door at 2 in the morning and stayed for more than 90 minutes. My son slept for a solid six hours that night because of her help—and I slept too. Stories like this make many a young American mother sigh with envy.

I am not an expert on healthcare systems, national or otherwise, and have no qualifications that would make my analysis of the NHS particularly relevant at a policy-creating scale, but I do have the solid anecdotal evidence that comes from my experience. Pile up enough anecdotes and you may start to have something that does look like evidence. In this particular context, because I was the only person present with any direct experience of life in England, healthcare-related or otherwise, I didn’t expect my statement to be controversial. How could anyone argue with my lived experience without any comparable lived experience to offer in rebuttal?

Oy. This was 2009 and the United States was in the midst of a big battle over healthcare reform. Part of the argument by those opposing any sort of single payer system was a reliance on the reality of things like “death panels” in the dreaded Socialist countries of Canada, Great Britain, etc. Cue the backlash against me for having the gall to say something positive about healthcare in the UK—for being so shockingly “political” in my statements. Among the audience were people who took several years to calm down about this—those who later confessed (to their credit) that they had really hated me for having said what I did. For making things political.

What does this statement even mean—to be “political”? How have we developed the absurd notion that we can somehow avoid “politics” and yet at the same time engage our communities in any meaningful way? Politics is simply the business of trying to make life work—of making decisions big and small that cumulatively attempt to form what we Americans might call “a more perfect union.” Obviously we disagree—sometimes fervently and even angrily—on what actions, policies, laws, or other measures are going to get the job done. We also disagree about what a “good” society might look like—whether or not it would feature free late-night breastfeeding consultants, for instance. But what is the solution to disagreement? Are Christians really meant to plug our ears and look away from everything that is happening around us? To make no effort to follow our God-given conscience in how we vote and what we speak up both for and against?

Sure, it is technically possible to be something close to non-political. You could go off the grid, unhook the internet, and busy yourself foraging for wild mushrooms, alone. But people who tell other people to stop being political are never off-the-grid types. You know this because they are interacting with you—almost always on the internet. They are reading the same articles you are reading and responding to them—or to comments made by other people on the subject. They are in fact being political.

When people tell you not to be political, what they really mean is that they don’t like what you said.

Why insist that politics is un-Christian and off limits? It is certainly true that we can alienate people by expressing our opinions. We can also alienate people by not expressing them. All political parties and politicians are flawed, as all human things are. We would not be wise to put our faith in any of them. Our faith belongs only with God. But while we are here on earth, we have a responsibility to use our resources, our voices, and our abilities to do the best we can for as many people as possible. We can’t do this alone—so collaboration (“politics” if you will) becomes necessary. It is political to ask for better schools. To advocate for fair labor practices. To insist that inhumane practices such as slavery or debtors’ prisons are abolished. To demand that drinking water is not poisoned with toxic chemicals. “Politics” has achieved much more than angry exchanges over Thanksgiving dinner. It has solved problems and provided justice. It has saved lives.

We need voices raised in conversation and bodies ready to work. “Political” is not a bad word.

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.


2018-06-21T17:46:00-07:00June 22nd, 2018|Blog|

Stop Child Detentions

By Pastor Ricardo B. Graham

“Suffer the little children to come unto me,” said Jesus, “for of such is the kingdom of God.” But apparently, the little children are no longer welcome in the United States.

Seventh-day Adventists regard the nurture and protection of children as a sacred trust. All Americans, and particularly people of faith, must raise their voices to condemn the demonization of these immigrant families as criminals. Many are fleeing violence and lawfully seeking refugee status. Jesus Christ declared that the way we treat those we regard as “the least of these” is how we treat the Christ. In their treatment of immigrant and refugee families our leaders are demonizing Jesus himself! Many proclaim America to be a Christian nation. Yet those who reject the fundamental teaching of Jesus to give a cup of cold water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the stranger mock God and lose any right to claim the name of Christ.

A growing number of Christian and religious leaders are speaking out about the cruelty being inflicted on children of immigrants and refugees by the new “zero tolerance” policy of the Department of Justice. Others have spoken out about the abuse of scripture to justify such cruelty. Indeed, Romans 13 has not only been used in the past to encourage compliance with the fugitive slave law, requiring the return of runaway slaves to their bondage, but Romans 13 was also used to obtain the compliance of the Christian church in Europe during World War II. God has ordained our leaders and our government, the flawed logic holds, and our duty is to obey and to comply. The abuse of scripture to justify inflicting harm on children is truly a heinous sin.

Seventh-day Adventists hold dear the value of religious liberty, but we are compelled to stand up and speak loud and clear when religion is used to harm others. Our role as believers and as citizens is to hold our nation’s leadership accountable to a high moral and ethical standard in the interpretation of our laws.

Every believer should condemn the abuse of the law to support an official policy of child detention and abuse. The same biblical passage that has been abused to justify this policy declares that “love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” The proper function of law is to preserve the welfare of society, its peace, and the rights of its people. To use the law as a means of oppression, as the Department of Justice is doing, is to degrade respect for the law itself, to undermine the foundations of our democracy, and to bring shame upon our entire nation.

America is a nation of immigrants and has always been a compassionate nation. Whether measured by charitable giving in support of disaster relief, development, or foreign aid by our government, Americans have surpassed other nations in showing mercy and compassion to those suffering famine, hunger, and other deprivations. The United States has championed democracy, human rights, and civil and religious freedom around the world.

But in this matter we are champions no more. A policy that seeks to accomplish a social and political goal by tearing apart families and harming children is a stain on our national character that will be difficult to erase. Thus, we are compelled to rise up and seek to relieve the suffering of these immigrant children who are languishing in detention centers, torn from their mothers’ arms.

Our thoughts and prayers must turn into actions and deeds. All those who still cherish the values America stands for must demand action from Congress to end this policy.  We ask all of you to write or call your congressional representatives, speak out in your own personal and community settings against injustice, use your voice on social media, and use every right you have as a citizen to challenge and change the policies that inhumanly, carelessly, and needlessly take children away from their parents.


Ricardo B. Graham

President, Pacific Union Conference



“Seventh-day Adventists place a high value on children. In the light of the Bible they are seen as precious gifts from God entrusted to the care of parents, family, community of faith and society-at-large. Children possess enormous potential for making positive contributions to the Church and to society. Attention to their care, protection and development is extremely important. The Seventh-day Adventist Church reaffirms and extends its longstanding efforts to nurture and safeguard children…. The Church regards the nurture and protection of children as a sacred trust.”  (This statement was approved by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive Committee on June 23, 2010, in Atlanta, Georgia.)

“Seventh-day Adventists affirm the dignity and worth of each human being and decry all forms of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and family violence…. We accept our responsibility to… listen and care for those suffering from abuse and family violence, to highlight the injustices, and to speak out in defense of victims.”  (This statement was approved and voted by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Administrative Committee (ADCOM) and was released by the Office of the President, Robert S. Folkenberg, at the General Conference session in Utrecht, the Netherlands, June 29-July 8, 1995.)

“The health and prosperity of society is directly related to the well-being of its constituent parts—the family unit. Today, as probably never before, the family is in trouble…. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, in this time of family crisis, encourages every family member to strengthen his or her spiritual dimension and family relationship through mutual love, honor, respect, and responsibility.” (This public statement was released by the General Conference president, Neal C. Wilson, after consultation with the 16 world vice presidents of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, on June 27, 1985, at the General Conference session in New Orleans, Louisiana.)


2018-06-19T16:47:34-07:00June 19th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” June 22, 2018 Episode 205


In August of 1948, Soquel hosted their very first camp meeting, then called “Santa Cruz Camp Meeting.” This year marks the 70th anniversary of Soquel Camp Meeting—a milestone celebrated on the cover of this month’s Pacific Union Recorder.

The Pacific Union has a rich tradition of hosting some of the best and the largest camp meetings in history. In fact, it was at a camp meeting, in 1873, in Yountville that the first California Conference was officially organized with seven churches and 253 members. Pioneer Missionary, J. N. Loughborough, was elected the first conference president.

For more than 100 years, the Seventh-day Adventist church has been conducting camp meetings here in the Pacific Southwest. Arizona Conference had a wonderful Camp meeting which concluded last weekend at Camp Yavapines.

At these wonderful gatherings, the blessings will fall on All God’s People once again, as they always do: faith will be renewed, commitments to service will be made. Friends will meet together, families will reconnect, children will play, and members and guests alike will convene at sacred campgrounds such as Soquel to worship our Creator.

Mark these dates below on your calendar! We look forward to seeing you there.

NCC Redwood Campmeeting        
July 19 – 28

CCC Soquel Campmeeting        
July 12 – 22

NUC Tahoe Campmeeting        
July 30 – August 4

NCC Urban Campmeeting        
June 21-23, 2018
Stockton Christian Life Center    
9025 West Lane, Stockton, CA
Contact: NCC African American Min. Dept., 925-603-5047

SECC Black Ministries Campmeeting        
June 27-30, 2018: Mt. Rubidoux SDA Church
June 30, 2018: Riverside Convention Center
Contact: Brianna Hill, 951-509-2298

SECC Hispanic Family Campmeeting     
June 22-24, 2018      
4945 Heise Park Rd.    
Julian, CA  92036
Contact: Magbis Leonora, 951-509-2333

2019-04-30T20:25:53-07:00June 19th, 2018|All Gods People|

The Walking Dead

By Delroy Brooks

A few years ago, I began to notice a strange preoccupation with the dead. Not exactly the dead, but those who are thought of as “the living dead,” otherwise known as zombies. Zombies are alive, but have no life. They are animate creatures that are limited in their abilities and functions. In every iteration of this popular horror movie trope, zombies must feed on others in order to remain animate. The protagonists in these stories are usually running for their lives and trying to find a cure for zombism. For five seasons, one of the most popular shows on TV has been “The Walking Dead.” It features both those who have been made dead and those who are left alive.

There are many movies that deal with this subject matter to varying degrees. The sort of thing that used to scare you as a child has now become a part of popular culture. But before any of these movies, TV shows, or comic books were made, Paul told his own zombie story in the second chapter of Ephesians. Are you ready to hear it? It is the stuff of late night sleepovers and campfire tales. This story has a very familiar main character: you—yes, you! Paul begins this zombie story where every zombie story begins: with the truth of your (and my) death. The fact is, we are dead because of our sin (Romans 6:23). We are not only dead because of our sin, but we think we are living when we are in sin because the only way we can remain animate is to take part in the tearing down or the tearing up of others—because that is what sinners do. We have no other function. This death is spiritual, not physical, for unsaved people are very much alive physically. Death signifies the absence of communication with the living. One who is dead spiritually has no communication with God; he is separated from God. [1] He or she is the walking dead.

The good news is that although you were found this way, this way is not how you are going to stay! Paul assures us that “even when we were dead in our trespasses,” we have been brought back to life through Christ. The good news is that “by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5, ESV).

God has brought us back to life. He has made it so that we can be alive again! How did He do this, you ask? He has done it through Christ. It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). We didn’t do anything to deserve this awesome gift, for it is by grace that we are saved. Not only are we made alive in Christ, but we are then raised with Christ and made to sit with Him in heaven. Ephesians 2:6 provides evidence for this, reminding us that God “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (KJV).

He raises us together with Christ. It’s the grace of God that finds us in our dead state, literally breathing to death. He then enacts the new life protocol found in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish” (KJV). But as Ephesians 2:6 goes on to say, He also makes us to “sit together in heavenly places.” In order to sit in those heavenly places, I must have everlasting life. Thanks be to God that when I was dead, His grace came and quickened me. Thanks be to God that when I wanted to feed on others, His grace changed the menu. Thanks be to God that we no longer have to be the walking dead!

Delroy Brooks is senior pastor of the Juniper Avenue Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fontana, California. He is married to Dilys Brooks—a campus chaplain at Loma Linda University.

[1] H. W. Hoehner, “Ephesians” (Eph 2:1), in J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985).

2018-06-14T17:57:41-07:00June 15th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” June 15, 2018 Episode 204


In terms of the date they were established, the Sparks Church is not the oldest church in our Union—or even in the Nevada-Utah Conference. But two milestones warranted a special celebration: the 40th Anniversary, and burning the mortgage. In addition to special guests from various church organizations, there were a number of people who attended the celebration from the local and national government. And 14 precious souls were added to the church through baptism!

Read the story and see photos on Facebook at:

Follow the Sparks SDA Church on social media at:

* * * * *

Do you remember when you graduated from grade 12? This week in All God’s People, we’ve got a photo of the 2018 high school graduating class from Monterey Bay Academy. Graduation is a very important milestone—and it is such a delight that we get to share it with so many young people every spring—especially with those who are graduating from the Academies from across our Union, and those graduating from Pacific Union College and La Sierra University.

Check out campus life for the students of MBA at:

* * * * *

On Father’s Day, as we think about the ones we call Dad or Papa or Pops or Father, and as we have the opportunity to bask in the love of the children who have their own affectionate names for us, we can also be mindful of the ways in which we can bring fatherly value to those whose lives we touch.

Learn about the history of Father’s Day at:

* * * * *

In Proverbs 14:26 it says, “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence; and his children shall have a place of refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26 KJV)

What a wonderful promise for All God’s People.

2019-04-30T20:25:55-07:00June 13th, 2018|All Gods People|

Our New Reality

By Stephen Chavez

Some of us are old enough to remember the first hijacked airliners. Terrorists, or those emotionally unbalanced, would smuggle weapons on board a plane, and while it was mid-flight they would take over, make demands, and threaten to start killing passengers and crew.

To adjust to this new reality, passengers were screened before takeoff to make sure the crew and passengers wouldn’t be threatened.

Then came 9/11, when airliners weren’t hijacked to make demands but simply to inflict maximum loss of life and damage to property. This new reality required even more rigorous airport screening and the advent of the Transportation Security Administration.

Now we are in the midst of another cultural shift: shooters on the loose in schools, nightclubs, theaters, churches, music concerts. Thoughtful people are suggesting solutions both realistic and unrealistic. Welcome to our new reality.

Deliver Us From Evil

Anyone who doubts the existence of evil need look no farther than those with automatic weapons and irresponsible amounts of ammunition who go after vulnerable and unprotected targets. City streets and sidewalks become battlefields, with pedestrians as casualties and motor vehicles as weapons.

The temptation in situations like these is to become reactionary: the answer is more guns; the answer is fewer guns; all immigrants are either potential terrorists or gang members. In fact, an intractable problem such as random, senseless violence is not solved by phony, simplistic solutions.

Over the past 2,000 years Christianity has been guided by principles, which, if more perfectly practiced, would make this world a better place to live. The Golden Rule—“Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)—is a great place to start.


We live in a society increasingly segmented.


We live in a society increasingly segmented: those with guns, those without guns; those with money, those who are financially desperate; those who have access to healthcare, those who don’t; those who are native-born, those who are immigrants. Many people, even Christians, have a hard time imagining the desperation and hopelessness experienced by large segments of our population.

A shockingly high number of people in both public and private sectors seem ready to capitalize on those differences and use them for political gain. But the gospel teaches us to look at others using the same lens with which we see ourselves. In fact, Jesus said that the way we treat others is a barometer of how we would treat Him (see Matthew 25:31-46).

Our new reality forces us to undertake more extreme security measures in our schools, churches, concert halls, and athletic fields (with many already in place). But we should never allow the threat of evil incarnate to force us to lay down our weapons of Christian love, mercy, and grace, and the quest of justice for all.

Evil is real. Danger is real. But for Christians the answer is not “let’s get them before they get us.” Our mandate is to represent kingdom values without fear. The promise is ours to claim: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4, NIV). That’s a reality just as real as evildoers with guns.

Stephen Chavez is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.

2018-06-07T17:45:49-07:00June 8th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” June 8, 2018 Episode 203


Some excellent examples of how visual media can illuminate the world around us were on display this last week in the 16th Annual Diogenes Film Festival, hosted at the Cameo Cinema in Saint Helena, California. As a showcase for student work, the festival was a lively example of how young filmmakers, with a spirit of inquiry, are quite capable of creating provocative short films that provide insight into contemporary life.

Students from Pacific Union College who participate must demonstrate their talent and skills in diverse and emotionally rich ways.

Sarah Martinez’s thesis film “Charlie” follows a creative young girl struggling to care for her disabled parents while yearning for the simple joys of being a child.

Gabriela Talavera’s film, “The Land Bleeds Still,” is a documentary about the filmmaker’s discovery of how her own family history, and how the decades of armed conflict in El Salvador shaped the lives of her family, especially those of her mother and grandmother—and how it is now impacting her own life.

Pacific Union College is committed to helping young people like these find ways to discover and express their perspectives and beliefs—and to create an environment where their talents can be nurtured and developed. We are so proud of what they are doing, and the productive and effective storytellers that they are becoming.

Follow the Diogenes Film Festival at:

Learn more about the PUC Visual Arts Program at:

* * * * *

In cities around the Pacific Union, young people are getting ready for a 10-week, mission-based experience with the potential to change lives. This summer, Youth Rush will engage 290 students in Literature Ministries in 25 locations across the Pacific Union. Starting this next week, these young people, ages 16-25, will start working in many of our communities with a single mission and purpose: to help bring health, healing, and hope to people through life-changing resources and effective personal interaction. We are praying for this ministry—and for the opportunities for sharing faith and the deepening of their own faith—that this ministry affords these young people.

Youth Rush Cities for Summer 2018:

Phoenix, AZ, San Marcos, San Diego, Hawthorne, San Fernando Valley, W. Covina, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, Bakersfield, Merced, Modesto, Visalia, Salinas, Santa Maria, San Jose, Antioch, Sacramento, Meadow Vista , Cedar City, UT, Salt Lake City, UT, South Lake Tahoe, NV, Susanville, CA, Reno, NV, Las Vegas, NV

Learn more about Youth Rush in:


Central California

Southern California

Southeastern California

Nevada and Utah

* * * * *
The Apostle Paul noted the great diversity of life, and reminded those to whom he was speaking that God gives everyone life and breadth, across all of history and in every situation. Then he said,

“God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’”—Acts 17:27-28, NIV

2019-04-30T20:25:56-07:00June 8th, 2018|All Gods People|

The Ox in the Ditch

By Ray Tetz

My father was a math teacher who was equally capable of teaching the concrete principles of arithmetic and the abstract principles of algebra. When the phone rang on a Sabbath morning, we were already dressed and ready for church and slowly assembling in the car. Maybe I was 11; I don’t really remember. What I do remember is my dad answering the phone and then, after a minute or so, hanging it up and saying, “Well, the ox is in the ditch. Guess I’m not going to church.”

As he started to take off his tie, he looked at my brother and me and said, “You boys wanna go with me?”

He was not given to long explanations; it would have been pointless to ask him what it was that he was about to do. All we knew was that it involved an ox in a ditch, that it wouldn’t require Sabbath clothes, and that he was inviting us to skip church. We found all three factors inviting.

It took only a jiffy to change out of our good clothes and into our work clothes, load into his old VW bus, and head off to see the ox in the ditch.

What we found was a basement filling up with water from a broken pipe that had yet to be discovered and capped. The elderly woman who owned the place was standing in the driveway in her housecoat and slippers. She had been awakened by the sound of water in her cellar, and when she couldn’t find the source—and with the water climbing up around her ankles—she came upstairs, closed the cellar door behind her, and called Charles. My dad.

For the next several hours, my brother and I hauled buckets of water up the stairs and dumped them out onto the yard, while my dad found the pipe, got it capped (I have no idea how), and then proceeded to sweep up the mess on the floor of the basement.

For a while it was fun, and then it was just drudgery, and then we got hungry and tired. But eventually, when it was all done, a lot of nice things were said, and even though we were all really muddy and dirty, it didn’t matter, and it was something to be proud of, and the poor old lady looked so relieved and kept hugging us and giving us more Kool-Aid and, well, it was just about perfect. I still remember it.

On the way back to our house, from the backseat, I had to ask, “What about the ox, Dad?”

He looked a little surprised and then, laughing a bit, explained that it was a saying that comes from the Bible (Luke 14:5). “It means that someone is in trouble—as if their ox has fallen into a ditch and has to be pulled out,” he told us. “We say it when we mean that someone needs our help and there’s no choice but to go help them—even if it is Sabbath.”

He paused and added, “It’s a symbol, like in math.” Not wanting yet another unprompted conversation about math, I let it go.

The answer was not entirely satisfactory, but it was the only one I got, so I had to think about it. And I did get to skip church.

That was the day that I learned that somehow my family (including me) was a part of a group that people could call when they were in trouble. Even if you had to skip something important like church, you would have to help them. And they would do the same in return. When whatever it was that was wrong had been taken care of, there would be lots of smiling and hugging and maybe a treat and everything would be fine even if you were totally covered in slime and had to take a bath on Sabbath in the middle of the day.

It turns out that I’m a part of a community that loves me and is somehow here to help me out, but at the same time expects me to do the same for everybody else. And overall, it’s not a bad deal, not at all. There are a lot of ways in which the ox can fall into the ditch in this world and in this church. And lots of people like my dad willing to take off his tie and help pull that ox out. I haven’t forgotten.

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.

2018-06-01T17:49:01-07:00June 1st, 2018|Blog|