In God’s Image: Our Stories Matter

17 March 2014

Dear Elders Ted Wilson and Pardon Mwansa:

I am writing to express my concern at the beginning of the summit in Cape Town, South Africa (March 17-20) on “alternative sexualities”, a term I am not familiar with, but I believe is a euphemism for sexual orientation and gender identity. (

It is ironic that this summit is being held on the African continent, where 38 countries have criminalized homosexuality. Fortunately, South Africa is an exception, where LGBT individuals enjoy the full civil rights that are afforded to them.  However, the situation in Uganda, Nigeria, and many other African nations is troubling.  The Seventh-day Adventist church is one of the largest Protestant denominations in Uganda, where their Parliament recently passed a barbaric law aimed at the LGBT community, which has drawn condemnation from the majority of the international community for the blatant human rights violations it represents.  A similar law was passed in Nigeria, where the summit was originally scheduled to take place. As the recent Ugandan and Nigerian laws show, LGBT people in many parts of Africa face severe discrimination and violence because of who they are.  At the same time, the Adventist church has done little to distance itself from extreme legislation that threatens the safety of LGBT church members and their families.

In 2012, I wrote to you when Pastor Blasious Ruguri, East-Central Africa Division President and Vice President of the Seventh-day Adventist church, reportedly made the following statement against LGBT Ugandans at a public meeting at the Mbarara SDA Church, Southwestern Uganda Field:

“Our stand is ‘zero tolerance’ to this vice and to western influence on this crucial issue because God says no to it. We are together with the President and the Speaker and we fully support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I call upon all religious ministers, all Ugandans, and all Africans to say no to Homosexuality. Let us stand for our sovereignty as Ugandans and as God fearing people even [though] the heavens fall.” (emphasis supplied)

Ugandan politicians were present at this meeting.  Shortly after the Ugandan paper New Vision reported Ruguri’s comments, the General Conference claimed that New Vision misquoted Ruguri’s “intentions”.  If that were true, his comments also misled The Daily Monitor, which quoted him making similar remarks.

While I am encouraged that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is beginning to engage itself in formal dialogue on the intersection of sexual orientation and spirituality, it is concerning that affirming LGBT Adventist voices have been excluded from this conference.  If your wish is to gain greater insight of LGBT Adventists, it would be beneficial to invite us to your conference.  What we have to say is important, and no one knows our stories better than we do.

I am a recent graduate of Pacific Union College.  That is where I met my boyfriend of 5+ years.  We are both proud alumni of Pacific Union College.  He is currently a student at Loma Linda University.  We are both Adventist and feel a strong connection to our denomination.  During my time at PUC, I became the first openly gay person elected to the Student Senate.  Because of my experience, I feel the need to be a voice for the voiceless and marginalized.  I know far too many LGBT students at Adventist colleges and universities who are unable to speak out when denominational institutions systematically exclude us.

The exclusion of affirming LGBT Adventists at the Cape Town summit further highlights the heterosexism we far too often experience.  It is because of this, that I am writing to you.  To encourage you to reach out to us, to learn who we are, and to hear our stories.  We have been here all along, and we are not going anywhere.

As this summit will not have the benefit of hearing from affirming LGBT voices, I would like to point out that you may find some of our voices on a newly created website:  I encourage you to take the time to listen to these powerful stories. Listening is an act of love, and it is where we must begin.

As this summit opens, many Adventists around the world are praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit, that He may guide your hearts.  We are joining together in the South African spirit of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are.”  It is especially appropriate to highlight this interconnectedness.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished.”

God’s love transcends our differences. We are all part of God’s diverse image, and our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.

May God continue to bless you.


Jonathan Cook



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America Is Being Held Hostage By Elected Anarchists


It has now been over a week since the House Republicans decided to shut down the federal government.  What are we doing to stop it? What are the implications for our nation?  Bill Moyers had this to say earlier this week:

“And now to the people who refuse to let democracy work. The people who hate government so much they’ve shut it down. Unable to abide by the results of democracy when they don’t win, they turned on it.

Republicans have now lost three successive elections to control the Senate and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections. Nonetheless, they fought tooth and nail to kill President Obama’s health care initiative. They lost that fight, but with the corporate wing of Democrats, they managed to bend it toward private interests.

So we should be clear on this, Obamacare, as it’s known, is deeply flawed. Big subsidies to the health insurance industry. A bonanza for lobbyists. No public option. And as The New York Times reported this week, “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law.” Largely because states controlled by Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.

As far as our bought and paid for legislative process goes, Obama’s initiative made it through the sausage factory. Yet even after both the House and Senate approved it, the president signed it, and the Supreme Court upheld it, the Republicans keep insisting on calling the law a “bill,” thumbing their noses and refusing to accept that it is enacted legislation.

Now they’re fighting to prevent it from being implemented. Here was their order of the day on Thursday from the popular right wing blog

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

Once upon a time when I was a young man working on Capitol Hill, it was commonplace that when a bill became law, everybody was unhappy with it. But you didn’t bring down the government just because it wasn’t perfect. You argue and fight and vote and then, due process having been at least raggedly served, on to the next fight.

That was a long time ago. Long before the Tea Party minority, armed with huge sums of secret money from rich donors, sucked the last bit of soul from the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. They became delusional.

Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees. They demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline. They demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled, and the big, bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next. They would have the government default on its obligations and responsibilities.

When the president refused to buckle to their extortion, they threw their tantrum. Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.

Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”

This man is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich . It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.

It was also Newt Gingrich , speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.

Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media.”

It is because of the extremist faction of the Republican party, the so-called “Tea Party,” who demands to keep a strangle hold on the American public.  They hate government and everything it stands for.  Regardless of the fact that our democratic form of government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people.  All people.  Not just the ones who agree with your specific ideological affiliations.  This needs to stop now. 

A comparison of the piano Études of Chopin and Rachmaninoff


 1 March 2013


A comparison of the piano Études of Chopin and Rachmaninoff


            It is undeniable that Chopin’s influence on piano music can still be seen today.  He was able to influence composers such as Rachmaninoff to write piano etudes, music specifically for the study of piano technique, in a genre that requires intense beauty and great technical demand from the performer.  Certainly after Chopin this genre allowed the pianist to play an etude as a stand-alone work in a recital. 

            Frederic Chopin was born on March 1, 1810 in Zela-zowa Wola, Poland.  His life would represent for piano composition what we would now consider to be one of the greatest representations of piano music that we have.  His music is a great representation of 19th Century Romantic music, but more specifically it is music that follows the traditions of old that bridges it with a sensitivity and beauty and technical and expressive characteristics that are now idiomatic to the piano.  It would be appropriate to suggest that of Chopin’s piano music that had a large impact on composers that would follow him, piano etudes would be some of the most significant compositions that he would write.  Chopin wrote three sets of piano etudes, but in this paper we will examine the two sets numbered Opus 10 and 25.  The set from Op. 10 were written in 1833 and the set from Op. 25 was written in 1837. 

            These two sets are indicative of a ‘song cycle’ much in the style of J.S. Bach.  They remind the performer of the preludes of both Bach and Chopin in that they follow a chromatic pattern, much like Rachmaninoff does later.  The first sets of Études, the Op. 10 were published in 1833 when Chopin was twenty-three years old.  This was while he was in Paris, where he met Franz Liszt.  Evidently he was impressed by his new acquaintance because he dedicated the entire work to him in French saying, “à mon ami Franz Liszt“.  The keys signatures of each of the etudes in Op. 10 are: C major, A minor, E major, C-sharp minor, G-flat major, E-flat minor, C major, F major, F minor, A-flat major, E-flat major, and C minor. 

            In terms of musical style, in the op. 10 set of etudes Chopin utilizes what Grove’s Dictionary described as, “one whose main component is figuration of numerous kinds.  The first two etudes set the terms for the main categories of figuration, generated respectively by harmony (a widespread arpeggiation) and melody (an intricate chromatic scalar movement), and these categories are replicated elsewhere in the op. 10 collection.  At the same time Chopin’s textures in op. 10 often blur the boundaries between melody, harmony and figuration, and even between principal voice and accompaniment.  This interpenetration of functions tends in two opposing directions, towards a differentiated pianistic counterpoint on the one hand, and an undifferentiated sonority on the other.” (Sadie ‘Canon to Classic Rock’ 716). 

            Because of many of these characteristics that pushed the musical boundary during his own lifetime, Chopin was able to assert a position of prestige in the landscape of piano repertoire by establishing two sets of concert etudes, a new genre, which soon became a part of the concert repertoire that are looked at in high regard today. 

            The second set of etudes that Chopin wrote in the op. 25 collection are a further development of his musical style and compositional signature.  Similar to the op. 10 collection he wrote another set of twelve etudes.  This set was dedicated to Chopin’s mistress, Marie d’Agoult.  Each of the etudes follow a similar pattern from the first set, and the key signatures for each of the etudes are: A-flat major, F minor, F major, A minor, E minor, G-sharp minor, C-sharp minor, D-flat major, G-flat major, B minor, A minor, and C minor. 

            The etudes in op. 25 further expand on the nuances and details of the op. 10 set while further elaborating the melodic and harmonic figurations.  Chopin is able to successfully develop his two sets of etudes using the Classical, and his post-Classical or Romantic tradition.  These two sets of etudes were instrumental in influencing Rachmaninoff, who like Chopin developed two sets of etudes. 

            Sergei Rachmaninoff was born in on March 20, 1873 in Oneg, Russia.  Like Chopin, he was a composer and pianist.  His two sets of etudes which he called Études-tableaux or (study pictures) are similar to the two sets that Chopin preceded him with.  They are the op. 33 and op. 39 sets of etudes which are programmatic in nature, although Rachmaninoff did not necessarily intend the subject of the individual etude to be specified, but rather to allow the listener to develop an image that she or he may paint in order to make the piece more meaningful on a personal level.  The first set (op. 33) was composed in 1911 and the second (op. 39) during 1916-1917.  His etudes are longer than most of his preludes, similar also to Chopin.  The set of etudes in op. 33 contain 9 etudes in the keys of: F minor, C major, C minor, A minor, D minor, E-flat minor, E-flat major, G minor, and C-sharp minor. 

            The nine Etudes-tableaux in op. 39 are noticeable for their virtuoso piano writing.  Within the op. 39 set there are also nine etudes like the op. 33 set.  The are in the keys of: C minor, A minor, F-sharp minor, B minor, E-flat minor, A minor, C minor, D minor, and D major.  This set as a whole explores the pianist’s capability in technique, and also employs moods and coloring more than a definitive melody as we might see in the etudes of Chopin.  In several of the etudes in this set, many of the etudes follow this rule: “It is the pieces less concerned with elaborate figuration which live longest in the memory” (Norris 90). 

            In these nine pieces there is diversity of mood in the piece, dramatic lyricism that is typical of much of Rachmaninoff’s piano music.  As Norris says, “It was in the miniatures like the later preludes and the op. 39 etudes that Rakhmaninov found the vehicle for the expression of his most sincere, intimate emotions”  (Norris 91). 

Shortly after finishing the op. 39 set of etudes-tableaux, Rachmaninoff and his family left Russia.  These were his last, truly “Russian” works. 

            Both Chopin and Rachmaninoff moved in a direction that established sets of etudes that could be made for study of piano, which were also very idiomatic of the piano.  Not only did they blend new technique with the styles of the preceding musical periods, but they were also innovative for their time period.  In the two sets that Chopin wrote we see many new techniques and methods that he used to develop melodies and dramatic harmony.  In Rachmaninoff’s two sets we see his writing style come out, especially in the op. 39 set.  Both are emblematic of the composers’ accomplishments and are celebrated today as a major part of piano repertoire.  They are regularly performed and are a standard in piano technique and virtuosity.

Works Cited

Norris, Geoffrey. Rakhmaninov. London: Dent, 1976. Print.


Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd ed. 29 vols. New York: Macmillan Limited, 2001. Print. Canon to Classic Rock.


Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd ed. 29 vols.      New York: Macmillan Limited, 2001. Print. Pohlman-Recital.




Mary Magdalene — A Full-Fledged “Peacemaker”

The following is a short devotional by the late Robert Wieland:

“The lady comes on stage with stark credentials: “A woman in the city, which was a sinner” (Luke 7:37).

 You would think that such “credentials” would debar her forever from having any part to play in the story of Jesus. But lo and behold, He has nothing but praise for her: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Mark 14:9). Jesus said nothing so complimentary about any other human being! And yet she “was a sinner.”

This is virtually a command: we may think we’re preaching “the gospel” faithfully over and over, but if we’re not telling this story as at the heart of it, we’re shortchanging the people.

This is the lady who came uninvited to “the feast in Simon’s house,” and impulsively breaking her alabaster flask of rare and expensive perfume on His feet, washed them with tears of heart-melting repentance.

No words spoken; no theology expounded.

She succeeded in riling up and angering Judas Iscariot who was in the process of betraying Jesus (cf. John 12:4-6). That in itself is a feat worthy of honorable mention in the gospel story! Having him against you is a compliment, because he was also against Jesus. In order to be Christlike, everybody must have some enemies, and blessed are you if the like of Judas are your enemies.

“Blessed [happy, GNB] are you when they [people like Judas] revile and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake,” says Jesus (Matt. 5:11). That puts you into the upper echelon of heavenly “society.” But wait a moment, please don’t rush out and try to make enemies for He also says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (vs. 9). Mary Magdalene was a full-fledged “peacemaker.” She had not a word of censure to speak against any of the Twelve; the censure was all theirs.

Jesus turned everything upside down when He said that this woman “which was a sinner” had “anointed” Him to His cross (Mark 14:8). No angel in heaven had been given such a high honor, for none could have whispered comfort and encouragement to Him as He hung on His cross, as the memory of Mary’s deed imparted. It assured Him that He was not dying in vain, for she would be the first of such multitudes.”

Robert J. Wieland

“This Man Welcomes Sinners”

Have you ever been tempted to doubt you belong in God’s house? Does He consider you a homeless outsider? Do you feel that if you are gay or lesbian you are not welcome to be a member of a faith community? When you feel sinful and unworthy and have fallen short, you wonder if you are able to belong to God’s house.


One day a Bible writer (who, we don’t know!), came to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem feeling guilty and unworthy to enter in. Then he saw a sight that encouraged him: a little sparrow had made its home in some little nook or cranny in the most holy section of the temple, right near the sacred altar. There it was, twittering in joy, laying its eggs, and rearing its young in that part of Solomon’s glorious temple where even the ordinary priests had no permission to enter! In fact, only the great high priest of Israel was permitted to enter that twice-sacred spot, and that on only one day in the entire year. And there was the little sparrow, totally unconcerned about the stay-away rules of Leviticus, confident of a welcome in the house of the Lord!


Then the poet wrote Psalm 84: “How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; … Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young–a place near Your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God” (vss. 1-3, NIV).


It is possible that Jesus had that poem in mind when He told the disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).


If you own a home and if your soul is generous, you will enjoy making visitors feel welcome. It will be fun for you. Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). That word translated “pleased” means that it’s fun for the Father to do that! He enjoys welcoming sinners to His house. It’s constantly “open house” night and day. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!'” (Rev. 22:17). Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matt. 11:28). “Burdened” with what? More than carrying sacks of cement or office work! “Burdened” with sin, convictions of selfishness, vain regrets. “Burdened” with feeling as an outsider, as being unworthy and outside of God’s grace and salvation.


“Blessed [happy] are those who dwell in Your house” (Psalm 84:4). You are invited; come as you are, don’t try to dress up first. For once the Pharisees were right, “This Man welcomes sinners!” (Luke 15:2).

Newtown Shooting Reignites Gun Control Debate

It was a brisk December morning. A morning like many others: students arriving, going to their desks, while their teachers taught last-minute lessons before the weekend just as other teachers were doing across the country. However, in Newton, Conn., this ordinary morning changed in just a matter of moments.

Around 9:30 a.m., Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., murdering 26 people, 20 of them between six and seven years old.

In the wake of this tragedy, American citizens have reignited the debate on gun control. After a series of violent mass-shootings, from a theater in Aurora, Colo., to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a sense of outrage against these senseless acts of violence that are occurring in our society has spread across the nation.

There are two viewpoints that are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One, which feels that their Second Amendment right is in jeopardy when there is any talk of gun regulation; another, which feels that we should do away with guns all together.

Constitutional ambiguities and gun control:

The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, there is room within the Constitution of the United States to regulate the production and purchase of firearms and ammunition. According to him, this does not violate the Second Amendment.

Just as the First Amendment protects free speech but does not allow citizens to incite violence, the Supreme Court has found that the Second Amendment has limitations. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional problem with laws forbidding firearms in places such as schools, or laws preventing felons and the mentally ill from carrying guns.

This ruling provides people from vastly different perspectives with an opportunity to work within the confines of the Second Amendment to pass effective legislation that will reduce gun violence.

Policy issues and proposals in response to the shooting:

Following Newtown, numerous proposals from across the ideological spectrum were proposed that would ostensibly make our country–and children–safer.

According to a poll conducted by Gallup following the Newtown shooting, over 90 percent of Americans support requiring background checks before any gun purchase.

Currently, estimates by the Washington Post suggest that between 20-35% of guns purchased in the United States are made without a background check thanks to gaps in the law, including the infamous gun show loophole and allowances for “straw purchases,” where an individual legally purchases a gun to sell to someone who would not otherwise be able to purchase one. Large majorities of Americans also favor “reinstating and strengthening the 1994-2004 ban on assault weapons (60%), and limiting the sale of ammunition magazines to those with 10 rounds or less (54%)” according to Gallup.

Many Americans believe that “assault weapons” designed for war, should not be in the hands of civilians. It is important to note that “assault weapons” are typically defined in these conversations as rifles that have detachable clips of ammunition. Some proposals have called for most automatic and several semi-automatic rifles to be banned. Rep. Mike Thompson, a gun owner and avid hunter who represents PUC in the House of Representatives, supports reinstating and strengthening a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“I don’t believe that military-type assault weapons and assault magazines have any benefits to our neighborhoods and our societies and our communities,” he said.

He adds that many responsible gun owners support such a ban: “I’ve had friends of mine who are gun owners and hunters who, if you look at the political spectrum, if they took another step to the right, they’d fall of the edge. They don’t want assault weapons on the street. They don’t want assault clips on the street,” he said. “They want us to do something.” 

The shooters in Newtown, Aurora and Tucson all used semiautomatic rifles that would be the target of a new-and-improved version of the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004.

High-capacity ammunition clips are another area of contention.

In Sandy Hook, all of the victims were shot multiple times–six-year-old Noah Pozner was shot 11 times. In fact, Adam Lanza was able to shoot off close to 100 rounds from his AR-15 within a matter of minutes.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s plan would ban the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, a position supported by many Americans.

A global perspective:

Whatever one’s position on gun control, one thing is clear: America is an increasingly violent culture. In an average year, 100,000 people are shot—including over 18,000 children and teens—resulting in over 30,000 deaths according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

This is the highest rate among industrialized nations. In fact, 80 percent of deaths from gun violence in the 23 wealthiest nations happen in the United States. Of the 11 most violent shootings in the U.S., five have happened since 2007 including the tragedies at Virginia Tech, Aurora and at Sandy Hook.

America also has the highest amount of guns per capita: there are some 300 million of them in circulation.


Americans have the right to bear arms, while also having the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  However, a man with a semi-automatic rifle shooting 26 people in an elementary school is not what the Founding Fathers intended when writing the Second Amendment.  American citizens are now asking themselves how to balance freedom with the public safety and well being of others.  The United States has a great heritage of gun ownership and sportsmanship. Thus, the considerable task now for representatives in Congress is seeking meaningful action that balances the country’s rich heritage of gun ownership with law and order.

While speaking at the vigil for the victims of Sandy Hook, President Obama said, “These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and it is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.”

*This article was originally published in the Campus Chronicle, a publication of the Pacific Union College Student Association.