The Thing You Fear Most

by Becky De Oliveira

Seven months pregnant with my first child, I found myself cornered in a shopping center in Watford, England, by an elderly woman who wanted to talk.

“Do you know whether it’s a girl or a boy?” the woman asked, reaching out to pat my tummy.

“Boy!” I said. “At least that’s what they tell me. The sonographer said she was ninety-nine percentsure.”

“I have four girls,” the woman said. She was small, stooped, with glasses on the end of her nose and big green button earrings. “Didn’t have much luck with boys. My first pregnancy was a boy. The umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and he died.”

I wasn’t sure what to say; I frowned and murmured sympathetically. The woman went on. “After my first two girls were born, I became pregnant with another boy. Same thing happened. Umbilical cord around the neck. He died too.”

“That’s horrible,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

The woman waved her hand dismissively. “It’s a long time ago now, dear. But you see,”—and at this point the woman moved in closer to whisper conspiratorially—“sometimes, the thing you fear most, it happens!” She was South African, so she said it “heppens.” Somehow, that pronunciation made the word scarier. My stomach tightened and I felt light-headed.

“No,” I said. “That’s not how the saying goes. It’s: ‘Most of what you worry about never happens anyway.’”

Rubbish!the woman said. “The thing you fear most happens all the time.” She patted my shoulder. “Good luck, dear.”

Of course she was right: tragic things do happen all the time, possibly to people who have rightly dreaded them all their lives. Even so, as the woman walked away, I felt a wave of indignation at her tactlessness. “What an awful woman,” I thought. As if I didn’t already have plenty of my own worries and fears. I had stopped reading books like What to Expect When You’re Expectingmonths before the birth because upsetting chapters kept me awake, hyperventilating, at night. I didn’t want anyone telling me anything like the truth—not if the truth was scary or depressing or gross. Not even if it was someone else’s truth, really having nothing whatsoever to do with me. “Can you believe what this crazy woman said to me when I was pregnant?” I’ve raged to various people over the years—until recently when I thought of something I’d never considered before.

My grandmother was famous for saying, anytime a subject arose that she didn’t wish to discuss, “It’s too nice a day to talk about that.” And let’s face it: most days are too nice to talk about dead babies or child abuse or illness or infidelity, and yet there is never a day so nice that it holds these horrors back, stopping them from flooding people’s lives. These things happen; why is it not OK to talk about them? Why are those who break conversational taboos considered, at best, rude and, more frequently, a little crazy?

Granted, it’s somewhat tactless to approach a pregnant stranger and tell her horror stories about dead babies, but I don’t think this woman shared her loss with me for my benefit. She’d probably been muzzled all her life: by people who were bored of her pain, people who wanted her to “get over it.” She too had probably, at one point, believed that “most of what you worry about never happens anyway,” and she couldn’t understand how that foolproof talisman—worrying—hadn’t worked in her case.

People complain all the time about the stock phrases “How are you?” and “I’m fine”—how rote and meaningless they are—but we aren’t real keen on anyone breaking the established conversational protocol. We don’t want to hear anything like the truth, even if it has nothing to do with us, even if it might help the owner of that truth to have said it out loud and, in doing so, to have banished some of the fear and dread that cling to it.

Often, I think we dislike frankness—the abandoning of the social script—because we don’t know how to respond to it. What on earth are you supposed to say when your friend tells you she was abused by her uncle as a child, that her husband is an internet porn addict, or that her child has a learning disability and may not finish school? We tend to think people confide such things in us because they are hoping for solutions. So we offer advice. We tell them to forget about the uncle. It was years ago. Doesn’t matter anymore.We point out that the problem could be worse: At least your husband isn’t having an affair. At least your child doesn’t have cancer.We encourage them to look for lessons. Think of everything you’ve learned from this experience.The person on the receiving end of such advice is frustrated. What he wants is for someone to acknowledge that life isn’t fair, that he had a right to his hopes and a right to mourn his loss.

We’d all be better off if we said the truth more often. First of all, we’d realize that unhappiness, disappointment, and tragedy are not uniquely ours. Everyone has problems. Everyone has made mistakes, been occasionally (or often) stupid. Everyone has terrors they won’t speak aloud for fear of summoning them. Yet we choose to hide, we put on a “brave face,” we call ourselves “private people” as if that’s a moniker to wear with pride.

I wish I’d listened more closely to the woman in the shopping center, maybe asked her some questions rather than judging her harshly. She would have benefited from the chance to talk, if only briefly, and I would have had a glimpse through a window into a whole other world. That’s what every conversation is: it’s a chance to look at another person and ask, “Who are you?” There are infinite answers to that question; every one of them a tiny universe, forever expanding, filling the void.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, studying research methods. She also has several jobs in teaching, writing, editing, graphic design, consulting, and podcasting. She does special projects for the Pacific Union Conference.

2018-12-20T10:14:03-07:00December 19th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” December 21, 2018 Episode 230

In this episode of All God’s People, special guest Pete McLeod shares a Christmas poem that asks the question, “What is our gift for Jesus?”

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This week’s episode wraps up our season for 2018. Thank you for joining us each week! We’ll be back on January 11 with a whole new set of programs for All God’s People. Until then, have a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year.

2018-12-18T15:38:36-07:00December 18th, 2018|All Gods People|

To Speak As One

by Becky De Oliveira

A few years ago, I went out for coffee with a couple I knew from back in England. We talked about all kinds of things—generally catching up on the years we hadn’t seen each other—but one subject they were both very keen to question me about was the One project. I tried to demur—I’m uncomfortable as a spokesperson under most circumstances, and regardless of what anyone might think, Japhet (my husband and the co-founder of the One project) and I are technically two different people. I don’t usually do his talking for him and as far as I know, he extends the same courtesy in my direction. “I’m not one of the leaders,” I protested. “It’s not really appropriate for me to try to explain what it’s all about.”

“But you have opinions,Becky,” the woman of the couple said, getting a little incensed at what she may have perceived as my deference to men.

“Well, sure…” I said, squirming, not wanting to claim that I had no opinion, like this awful boyfriend I had in high school used to do when my parents tried to make simple conversation with him. Not having an opinion—refusing to play along—in a social situation is like turning up your nose at so much as a tiny bite of cake at a birthday party. It really makes youlame.But as much as I generally prefer not to be lame, I also reallydidn’t want to have to try to explain the One project to people who appeared skeptical and who might take the ineptitude of my explanation as some sort of gospel truth and who might dismiss the entire concept simply because I hadn’t explained it well enough.

So this couple, bullies that they are, browbeat me into explaining. Mostly, they wanted to know whether those of us involved in the One project could “speak with one accord”—would we all agree to the basic premises of what the project is about and would we articulate our vision of it in the same way?

“Absolutely not!” I said brightly and without so much as a hint of an apology.

And I don’t apologize now, nor do I think any of the original 7 or the current 13 leaders of the One project would ask me to. I think they’d agree. But I’ll speak for myself here: I am not looking for consensus. I do not envision a perfect world as one in which everyone thinks in the same way—not even about something as central to existence as faith. As a writer, I believe very much in the concept of voice: Everyone has one. Your voice as a writer is as unique as a thumbprint. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, was identified and arrested because of his writer’s voice, because the Unabomber Manifesto, when published in TheNew York Times, was so distinctly Tedthat his brother recognized his voice almost as clearly as if Ted had phoned him from a remote location in Montana and asked to reverse the charges. Even if you got a group of people together who all shared the Unabomber’s points of view and opinions—and I’m convinced you could summon at least a baker’s dozen worth of weirdos focused on virtually any idea—you would not find that they spoke with the same voice. They wouldn’t fixate on precisely the same issues and they wouldn’t—this is important—use the same words to describe what they think and feel. This is partly because what they think and feel differs, but it’s also because the very language they choose chooses them. Certain words capture each of our imaginations and in using these words we define ourselves over and over again.

Me? I like the word awesome. I overuse it. This, you might say, is part of my value system and it is not part of everyone’s value system, nor should it be. So when any of us—you, me, the guy over there—tries to explain our values, we are going to sound different. We are going to list different values and we are going to explain even the ones we have in common differently. We don’t probably all mean the same thing when we talk about community,for instance. But I’m convinced that each of us does mean something important, something essential to our collective humanity, when we talk about community. Or faith. Or purpose. Or any of the other words we Christians—or some of us anyway—like to toss around. This is OK. When I hear someone else explain their journey, where they’ve come from, where they’re going, what they think is important in life, this enriches my own experience. It may not change my voice—although sometimes it does in large and small ways—but it does change my hearing. The more I listen with an open heart to the voices of others, the more my ears tune in to these voices and register each as beautiful, each in its own octave and key, but each melodious.

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, studying research methods. She also has several jobs in teaching, writing, editing, graphic design, consulting, and podcasting. She does special projects for the Pacific Union Conference. This blog was originally published in Mountain Views, the quarterly journal of the Rocky Mountain Conference.

2018-12-18T11:08:58-07:00December 12th, 2018|Blog|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” December 14, 2018 Episode 229

This week, see what’s new from our denominational publishers and listen to “Silent Night”—the Hawaiian version.

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Inspiration for 2019

Each year our denominational publishers bring us great daily devotional books, and this year is no exception. Read an overview of each of these new books available on the Adventist Book Center website: https://www.adventistbookcenter.com/

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Impact Pacific

Missions right here at home! The Impact Pacific offerings are used to respond to opportunities for mission unique to the Pacific Union. Collected in churches throughout the Pacific Union on Sabbath, Dec. 29. Visit our website (link below) to learn more, or see pg. 16 & 17 of the December Recorder.

2018-12-10T17:36:22-07:00December 10th, 2018|All Gods People|

Pacific Union “All God’s People,” December 6, 2018 Episode 228

In this episode, reminisce on the tradition of the “Dinner Roast,” and take a look inside the December issue of the Recorder magazine—and listen in on another rendition of “Silent Night.”

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December Recorder Updates

Have you seen the December issue of the Recorder? This month’s magazine includes news and happenings from around the Pacific Union, plus a full section on the meaning of Christmas. Download your copy via the link below.

Download your copy at:

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Paradise Adventist Academy Students Sing Silent Night

This week in All God’s People, a remarkable group of kids gathered around a piano in the Chico Adventist church to sing us Silent Night. These students are members of the honors choir from Paradise Adventist Academy, which was completely destroyed in the Camp Fire. Eight of the young people that you’ll see in the video come from families who lost their homes in the fire. The teacher at the piano lost her home, too.

Support the Fire Victims at:

2018-12-05T18:52:29-07:00December 5th, 2018|All Gods People|

Never Having to Say You’re Certain

by Becky De Oliveira

My husband Japhet and I host a podcast called Daily Walk. It’s a pretty simple format: we read the portion of Scripture we’re focusing on for the week in one of several translations and then discuss a question related to the text. We’ve been slowly making our way through the book of Romans, and there have been some interesting discussions along the way.

Romans 13 was a recent focus. This is the chapter in which Paul discusses submitting to authority. People have very different ideas about how to interpret this counsel—and these appear to correlate to how they feel about the authorities who are currently, well, in positions of authority. Many people who cite this chapter with great enthusiasm might have been less enthusiastic, say, three years ago.

Naturally, much of our discussion centered around the recent arguments over authority in our church and even the nature of truth itself. I am not one who believes that truth is whatever you want it to be—although I could argue that very few people fit into that category, really. The ones who do can be properly termed “liars.” No, the naysayers who poke fun at the people they label “liberals”—the word used clearly as a pejorative that ignores the many positive traits associated with this approach to life—who believe that truth is relative are mostly creating a straw man argument.

There is obviously objective truth; facts cannot be altered just to suit the individual. London is the capital of the United Kingdom. It isn’t Birmingham. Fair enough. But things get significantly stickier when we start to consider facts that affect people, which is in many cases the only way in which they are relevant. Take the question of whether peanuts are poisonous. Not to me they aren’t! I eat peanut butter pretty much every day. Not sure I could live without it. The “truth” about peanut butter, for me, is that it is a delicious and highly nutritious food, one that I would almost certainly choose if I had to be trapped on a desert island for the rest of my life. Of course, peanuts are not a suitable food for many other people who suffer from such severe peanut allergies that a mere whiff from an open jar of peanuts can require the use of an EpiPen.

So what is the “truth” about peanuts? They are a legume, classified as Arachis hypogaea. They are grown and used all over the world, often even to fight malnutrition in developing countries. And yet some 0.6% of people in the U.S. alone suffer from severe allergic reactions to them. So what are they? Good or bad? The truth about peanuts probably depends very much on the truth about you.

Aren’t there a great many things that can be looked at in this way?

Earlier this week, a casual friend in another part of the world contacted me after having listened to my peanut argument on the podcast. She and her family are being ostracized in their local church because of the stances they take on certain issues: the role of women in the church, the role of LGBTQ people, etc. The usual. The pastor went so far as to preach a sermon that was clearly about them in which he stated that “the shaking” was taking place and that they (being obviously wrong) were prime examples of this. I hear these kinds of arguments often: some “truth” is cited that everyone must agree with, and if they don’t agree they aren’t just wrong but toxic and evil and dangerous.

I was struck first by the sheer confidence of such a pronouncement. You have to be pretty sure you’re 100% correct to get up in front of a crowd of people and denounce a fellow child of God. How can you ever be certain that you are not the one being shaken? The first rule of life is that you must always remember that you might be the one who is dead wrong. About something, about everything. It’s possible. Even probable. Right now, sitting wherever you are and reading this, you are wrong about something. Right now, sitting at my desk, I am a wrong about something. Take what I say with a pinch of salt.

I currently study statistics (which I love!) and I saw a t-shirt recently that read “Statistics means never having to say you’re certain.” Some people might find this frustrating, but I really like this aspect of the discipline. It’s a good reminder of the deep complexity of the world in which we live, which does not give itself up to easy answers. The lack of certainty does not mean, as some people might think, that you abandon all attempts to find truth or meaning. You absolutely do both of these things, and you use evidence to build conclusions about what you think the truth is. But you always remember that while you are maybe 95% or even 99% certain, you are not—and never can be—100% certain.

I appreciate the portion of Romans 14, where, in The Message, believers are compared with guests at a dinner: “God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.”

 

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, studying research methods. She also has several jobs in teaching, writing, editing, graphic design, consulting, and podcasting. She does special projects for the Pacific Union Conference. This blog was originally published in Mountain Views, the quarterly journal of the Rocky Mountain Conference.

2018-12-04T11:34:20-07:00December 5th, 2018|Blog|