The Common Good
November-December 1999

Gimme A Break

by Chris Rice | November-December 1999

Okay baby, let’s say God really is God; he’s not
applying for the job, etc. etc.

Okay baby, let’s say God really is God; he’s not applying for the job, etc. etc. And Big Fella like craves to shake up the world, make it one big happy neighborhood, blah, blah, blah. He’s got plans. Big dreams. Always been that way. You get the picture.

Yeah, and Big Fella smacked us right on his assembly line. Said he’s gonna do all this through us. On topa that maybe you got kids, a hubbie or da wife, gotta pay the bills. This is a ton of responsibility. We’re talking 24-7. I got stains under my armpits already. Stressful, right? And Big Fella’s not too happy about our sleepless nights, and us gulping down aspirin, anti-depressants, and ulcer medicine. Wants us to do the job his way not ours, see?

So he’s got a secret potion. It’s like ancient. Goes back to Adam and Eve in the raw.

Make a long story short, Big Fella pulls up his sleeves, punches the clock, makes day, night, Jersey shore, Himalayas, crazy-looking fish, wild animals, first dude, first babe, pulling all-nighters the whole way. The job’s over and the guy’s whipped.

That’s right, I said tired. Big Fella. Big Cheese. Put a Q-tip in your ears. How do I know that? I read the book. Duh. Says he "abstained from work and rested." Dude named Abraham Heschel talks about this Hebrew word qadosh. Means holy. Abe calls it "the mystery and majesty of the divine." So Abe says, "What was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?" Nope. Listen up: It was rest time that Big Fella first called "qadosh." His day off. When Big Fella lit up the barbecue, took a walk, smelled the roses, called his buddies over, and stuck a line in the water.

Then Big Fella says: "There are six days you may work, but the seventh is a day of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a day to the Lord." Declared a lifetime holiday! Every week. Day off with pay.

His employees kept the holiday for centuries. Other mob-types took over the plant. Made them work like dogs. Killed alota them. True story. But they still found ways to secretly light their candles and remember that day. They say that tradition kept them sane over the years.

BUT WE GET SO BUSY, we do forget. We think more work time kisses us up to the boss. Au contraire. This brain named Jacques Ellul said that Big Fella’s holiday policy "shows that work is not after all so excellent or desirable a thing as people often tell us."

See, there’s deep stuff behind Big Fella’s policies, not just "do’s" and "don’ts." "Don’t murder"—that’s about how precious and beautiful human life is. "Don’t commit adultery"—that’s a celebration of family and marriage. "Don’t steal," and "don’t covet"—that’s Big Fella saying not to worry, he’s got our backs, he’ll give us all we need.

The deep thing behind "Remember the seventh day and keep it holy" is that this is how Big Fella’s plans really succeed through us, as we live with the same rhythm of action and ceasing he made the place with. It’s not a vacation day. It’s not about a Giants game on TV or deals at the mall. It’s about embracing his policies for our lives. It’s about remembering who’s in charge.

It takes effort to do it Big Fella’s way. It’s easy to get distracted. If I rest, what about this, what about that? Oh that makes sense, knucklehead. The boss rested, but the whole place will come apart if we do? Gitoudahere. The way I look at it, that’s Big Fella’s problem. I heard he’s got other ways of keeping things moving while the plant’s closed down.

Look, to make a product of peace we gotta be employees at peace. Our work hours will be shorter, but they’ll count for more. I hear Big Fella’s more of a quality, not quantity, kind of guy. Listen to what a brain named Marva Dawn says in her beautiful book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Eerdmans, 1995): "We can truly learn how to rest only when we are genuinely freed by God’s grace." So maybe the real mystery is that grace is the most productive idea there is. Big Fella’s a genius.

Chris Rice lived and worked in an inter-racial community in Jackson, Mississippi, for 17 years. He was co-founder of Reconcilers Fellowship and co-author of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel. When this article appeared, he was a research fellow at Boston University’s Institute on Race and Social Division, and he lived with his family in Vermont.

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