The One Project: Yes, It Can Be Controversial

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The One Project: Yes, It Can Be Controversial

From all the hype I’d heard about the One project, I was expecting one of two things from this weekend (or perhaps some of both):

1. the most profoundly moving and challenging spiritual experience of my life;

or

2. some sort of candlelight meditation where we sit in a circle with eyes closed and chant in unison.

What I have found so far is neither, but I did find thought-provoking messages and the opportunity to discuss them with others.

Not knowing until Sabbath morning how big the Boulder Adventist Church was, I had no idea how many people might attend this first 1:1 (1 to 1) mini-gathering. So I was surprised to see a group of perhaps 200 people, with simultaneous programs for children and teens.

I’d always thought the One project primarily targeted young adults, but Japhet De Oliveira set me straight: “We in fact are intergenerational, and so we like to have an average age of 40 at our gatherings.” That age diversity was reflected in the Boulder attendees.

Ethnic diversity was much less evident, but perhaps that reflects the demographics of the region (Colorado is 83% white). Many attendees came from the Boulder church and surrounding communities, although I did meet other out-of-staters like myself.

“John the Adventist” and Nicodemus

Sabbath evening’s program consisted of two 20-minute presentations (“reflections”), both by individuals from Walla Walla University.

Alex Bryan, senior pastor of Walla Walla University Church and a cofounder of the One project, set the tone for the weekend, reminding us: “Original, primal, foundational Adventism is about one thing: a desire to be with Jesus.”

His reflection focused on John the Baptist—or, more appropriately, “John the Adventist,” since John’s role in preparing people for Christ’s first advent parallels the Adventist Church’s role in preparing people for Christ’s second advent. Bryan emphasized that John consistently and humbly pointed people to Jesus rather than to himself—that his goal was not to create disciples for himself but for Jesus. The controversial implication: are we as a church seeking to make followers of Adventism rather than followers of Jesus? Do we talk about ourselves more than about Him?

These are questions that have troubled me at times, such as when I hear pastors consistently make calls to “study for baptism” rather than to “commit your life to Jesus.”

Douglas Logan, as befits an engineering professor, took a factual and methodical approach to Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus—which Logan described as Jesus’ most in-depth conversation about salvation with anyone. Logan focused especially on John 3:16. One of his most memorable quotes was his comment on the word “believes” in this verse: “Faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. But faith is clearly heads and obedience is tails.”

Time to Recalibrate

There’s one thing that makes the One project different from other Adventist events I’ve attended:  “recalibration.” At most conventions, camp meetings, and retreats, we listen to one speaker after another. We gorge ourselves with knowledge but don’t have a formal opportunity to digest it.

At the One project, every presentation is followed by recalibration—a time for small-group discussion, with suggested questions to discuss. As Becky De Oliveira explained in her opening remarks, encouraging attendees to verbalize and internalize the message is a key aspect of the One project’s approach.

These recalibration sessions gave me a chance to meet other attendees and hear their perspectives. However, since the groups were formed impromptu and had no designated, prepared discussion leader, I felt they were not as effective as they could be.

There was one aspect of the One project that completely fulfilled my expectations: the music. I had felt certain that the One project would be the type of event where the worship music involves a full band with guitar, bass, keyboard, and drum set, and I was not disappointed. Well, actually I was disappointed, since I don’t find that approach to music (worshipful or otherwise) particularly enjoyable or helpful. In my experience, the constant percussion causes the purely physical impact of the music to overshadow its beauty and message, largely spoiling one of my favorite parts of worship.

This was, however, the first time I have seen the drummer encased in a plexiglass cage, presumably to keep the volume down to a tolerable level. I did feel a bit sorry for the drummer having to worship in isolation! On the positive side, I give kudos to Elia King, the music leader, for his song “Lord of All,” one of the more singable and meaningful contemporary Christian songs I’ve heard lately.

Frustration Spills Out

Throughout this Sabbath I’ve heard deep frustration—at times even welling up in tears—expressed by many people in regard to the more conservative elements of the Adventist Church. Just one example: the first question asked during the Q&A with the two presenters at the end of the evening was for Alex Bryan: How do you deal with the vehement attacks made on you by some in the church?

“You’re not reporting for the right-wing movement in Michigan, are you?” asked a new acquaintance when I told him where I was from. This was before I’d said anything about being a writer or reporter, so the comment was based solely on geographical stereotypes.

“No, I’m reporting for The Compass Magazine!” I announced gleefully, foisting a business card upon him. There’s nothing like a ready-made promotional opportunity!

The exchange made me wish I could take back all those snide comments I’ve made about “California Adventists” over the years. Stereotyping isn’t pretty, and treating our fellow church members like the enemy isn’t helping any of us grow in Christlikeness.

“I don’t think you have to attend their meetings to know what the One Project stands for,” wrote one commenter on my first article. “Their involvement with Leonard Sweet, alone, should be evidence enough that this is a dangerous movement.”

True—we didn’t have to attend the One project. Some would argue that we shouldn’t. But Adventists right now seem to do way too much attacking from afar.

So we’re here. If we have to criticize, at least it will be with the knowledge that we first took time to listen.

(Photo: Attendees chat during registration.)

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Rachel Cabose is the consulting editor of The Compass Magazine and a freelance writer. She previously worked as associate editor of Guide magazine at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. Rachel and her husband, Greg, live in Michigan.