Justice work is good work. It is a high calling. It deserves great effort and exertion. But in today’s world, if our work in the realms of social justice mimics the exhausting routine of the fiercely competitive struggle for wealth and power, we would do well to take a moment to consider the biblical rhythm of Sabbath.
The esteemed rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in The Sabbath that the holy day serves as a “sanctuary in time.” The invitation of the Sabbath is a summons to dwell in the eternality of time, he wrote, to turn from “the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
Yossi Cohen was shocked when city inspectors warned him last month to close his downtown convenience store during the Jewish Sabbath or else be socked with fines.
“For 20 years I’ve been open during Shabbat (the Hebrew for Sabbath) and suddenly the city decides I have to close?” said Cohen, one of eight convenience store owners ordered to shut down from sundown Friday until Saturday night.
“The message is clear: The municipality doesn’t want non-religious people in this city.”
The closure order, which faces a court hearing Sept. 16, was part of a compromise that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently struck with ultra-Orthodox city council members who threatened to block a movie multiplex from opening on the Sabbath in a secular part of the city unless the convenience stores were shut on the Sabbath.
The move would bring London into line with Paris and New York, where no restrictions on Sunday shopping exist.
Strict anti-Sunday shopping laws came into being in the 19th century, under Queen Victoria.
In 1986, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to do away with them but she met stiff opposition from traditionalists and Christian churches.
Two decades later a compromise was reached, and most shops are now allowed to open for six hours on Sunday.
The Internet is a wonderful, fascinating, and disturbing place — a petri dish of The Fall characterized by opinion as truth. As the Web Editor of Sojourners, I spend more time than anyone has a right to (or typically, the stomach for) perusing unconscionable clickbait, racism and sexism parading as deeply informed counter-thought, various analyses of others’ public failures, and, obviously, cat and baby memes.
I’m not sure how many times a headline has toyed with my emotions, threatening to “blow my mind” by dropping a “truth bomb” that “no one saw coming!” Invariably, whatever is behind the façade of amazement punctuated with eight exclamation points fails to impress (unless it’s this baby goat jumping for joy set to indie acoustic guitar), and I’m left with a handful of moments of my days I’ll never get back.
In the Christian publication world, we easily fall prey to this trend, and I’ll confess I fail on a fairly regular basis. A colleague and I were discussing how there seems to be a clear trend in Christian blog posts that are aimed at airing the church’s dirty laundry in attempts to prove “yeah, we’re Christians, but …” We’re Christians, but we’re not like them. We’re Christians, but you can probably believe whatever you want to believe and it’ll be fine. We’re Christians, but we’re not going to try to convert you. It goes a little something like:
“There is nothing quite like the African bush to sooth and rejuvenate.” That experience was conveyed to me by a South African church leader who has been helping plan the speaking tour I just arrived for here in this beloved country.
My wife, Joy, and I decided to use this wonderful speaking invitation to South Africa as an opportunity to take our annual August family vacation here. We arrived for a week of rest before the tour began and spent a few beautiful days on the lovely beaches of the Indian Ocean, still warm even for this end-of-winter period. But then the last two days, our Washington, D.C.-based family did something we have never done before — visited the game park and wetland reserve to see some of God’s most extraordinary creatures. Of course we’ve seen these animals in zoos before, but we now had the opportunity to see them roam freely in their natural habitat. For a bunch of city kids like us, it was truly amazing.
In Hluhluwe Game Reserve, beautiful zebras slowly grazed with a South African sunset behind them over the mountains. There are no more graceful creatures than giraffes, elegantly tasting the leaves on the tallest trees as they wander together at peace. Buffalos with great horns shared the terrain with antelopes that showed us their speed when they decided to run. And hyenas really do laugh off in the distance.
I had such a hard time packing for my weekend away — cramming my bag with a stack of contemplative practice books, an anthology of my personal prayer journals, candles, an array of writing of instruments, and an iPod fully loaded with chanting monks and Hillsong worship songs. What does one take to a three-day silent retreat? Apparently a lot of noise.
My husband I were in the throes of church planting in Harlem. Our commitment to reimagining church not as a building, but as an incarnational community living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ had left our calendars fully loaded with “to do” lists for neighborhood barbecues, marches against “stop and frisk” laws, and prayer circles that met in our home.
And I was tired.
From hosting electronic dance revivals and nightly “beer and hymns” to featuring the hijinks of Christian carnies, the Goose sure knows how to let loose. Yet, this holy mischief is often missing in our life and work together. In our resistance to empire and the systems of domination that pervade our life and being, we tend to take ourselves too seriously. For many, Christianity has become staid and void of imagination. But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if we risked it all like holy fools?
As preoccupied as I get with working, I love the deadly sin of sloth.
Rather, I love to think that I’m above it. I value hard work and I work hard. I judge my days by my to-do lists and the number of items crossed off at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if my lists are for work during the day, relaxing in the evenings, or even my time off.
On Saturdays I have a list of friends I need to email and get-togethers I want to plan for the coming week. Usually reading at least one chapter of a book makes the list. So do the normal chores of tidying my room and doing the week’s laundry. Not to mention the long list of news articles or theological blog posts I have constantly open on my computer for reading at any resting moment.
And that’s what my rest looks like.
Now that I’ve made myself look like an industrious and hardworking person, let me be the first to say these lists don’t get done. Note I didn’t say they sometimes don’t get finished. I never finish them.
Sloth. It’s not just a strange, adorable animal we love to watch in videos. It’s also one of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” and one that I find hanging around in my daily life.
I didn’t think about sloth in particular when I chose my Lenten practices for this year, but it turns out to be the very beast (sorry) I’m trying to walk away from.
To be clear, I’m a pretty active person. I walk to work, run long distance, and I’m also very social. But the fact is, every night I look forward to getting home and enjoying what I tell myself I’ve earned: as much time on the couch watching TV and eating as I want. It’s relaxing, I figure, and takes no mental or physical energy.
This is the proverbial sloth in the room.
Yes, unwinding is good, but here’s the problem: I’m not really getting any rest from this. Sure, I’m lounging, and my brain takes a rest if I’m watching something inane; but as a Christian, rest means something different than it does for other people. Rest means Sabbath. Sabbath is the day of the week that we hold sacred, the day when we rest from our usual work and worries, the day that we give back to God and use to worship God. So ironically, my approach to getting the sloth out of my life is to bring the Sabbath into it, at the end of each day.
I have to say, one of my very favorite things about Jesus is how he does whatever he wants to and could really give a hell about how other people feel about it. Yeah. I just find that endearing — especially when he irritates the nice religious people. That’s secretly my favorite.
In our Gospel text for today Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath when he sees a woman with a crippled back. He saw her, called her over and said “Woman you are set free from your ailment.” He reached out and touched her and she stood upright for the first time in 18 years and praised God — which seems like a win. Except for that then the leader of the synagogue throws a little tizzy about how that kind of thing should not be happening on the Sabbath. Further proof that super religious people can just be so helpful, can’t they?
Especially when they seem to value parameters over people – which should sound like a familiar story …
Stories of churches denying your call to ministry because you fall outside the parameters of which gender is allowed to be ordained and stories of churches denying you the Eucharist because you fall outside the parameters of what kind of sexual orientation is allowed to receive the means of grace and stories of churches denying you a place in community because you just weren’t sure if you believed in God and that falls outside the parameters of doctrinal purity – well, these kind of stories are sadly bordering on cliché around here. We hear them all the time.
The British government plans to investigate whether other Jews were denied employment benefits after an Orthodox Jew who refused to work on the Sabbath won a landmark appeal.
Jacob Slinger, a 19-year-old who lives in Greater Manchester, won an appeal against the Department of Works and Pensions after he’d been denied a jobseeker’s allowance of 56.80 pounds ($86.67) a week because he refused to work on Saturdays. He told the tribunal he had to rely on the generosity of his grandmother to survive.
After listening to his case, tribunal judge David Hewitt ordered the DWP to pay Slinger 1,500 pounds ($2,288) in benefits and called on other Jewish people who had been denied benefits to come forward.
It's no secret that most of us find ourselves longing for chances to vacate our normal scenery and the bustle of our everyday activities. It is, of course, a luxury and blessing of the modern world — and definitely of our country — that many of us have expendable income and time, but the ability and desire to take a break is something most of us would say that we need on occasion.
I think there is a biblical tie-in here as well. One of the spiritual revelations during my seminary years was one professor's focus on the “eighth day.” You are familiar, I am sure with Genesis' seven-day creation narrative. God created the heavens, the earth, animals, and mankind in six days. Then on the seventh day, God rested. This Divine day of rest then became the basis for God's gift of the Sabbath. It was a law (or was it Gospel?) given to God’s people in the book of Exodus, commanding that they break from work on the seventh day of the week — traditionally Saturday for the Jewish people. This day of rest was given so the people could find peace in not working, but also peace in God's presence. For the Jewish nation just released from slavery in Egypt, this day revealed a stark contrast from their lives as slaves — they now lived their lives as a chosen people of God.
This Sabbath tradition continued through the Old Testament and was even adopted by other cultures. But in spite of this gift, God's people never found true peace. Trouble continued, wars waged, life was still not perfect. Then, in the New Testament something happens. The Gospels each build up to, and point us toward, the cross. We see the seven-day passion narrative unfold beginning with the triumphal entry, climaxing in the cross, and then, following the historic tradition, Saturday becoming a day of rest as Christ is in the tomb.
But something changes.
I’ve often heard that Lent is a season of slowing down. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. An opportunity to go a little deeper in trying to figure out Jesus. A time to pause. A time for simplicity.
This Lent, I decided to get back into biking to and from work (in addition to cold showers and placing a penny in the “Suck it Up or Shut Up” jar each time I catch myself complaining).
When I moved across town in June, I said I’d bike once I found a good route, but I weaseled my way out of it for reasons such as having to bike through some sketchy areas by myself, something I was a bit fearful of.
Now a few days into it, I’ve found a route and a rhythm. I got off to a rough start the first day of Lent, biking home drenched by the down-pouring rain. Two cars didn’t see me, causing me slam on the brakes, skidding in the middle of an intersection. Cars passing by splashed water up against me like a small ocean wave. It was cold. It was dark. And I kept making wrong turns, making my time in the rain even longer. I had a “shake your fist at God” moment, muttering things that warranted pennies in the jar, and then managed to put my sopping wet hand back on the handlebar. I thought about the journey that women in Africa make to and from water wells and firewood piles on a daily basis, often risking the possibility of getting raped just to gather these essentials for their families. Surely, I didn’t have it so bad.
And most of us don’t.
"Time is money," wrote Ben Franklin in "Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One." The saying that has embodied the Protestant work ethic since 1748 is no less relevant in our 21st-century postmodern culture. Our consumer-based economy thrives on packing as much productivity into our 1,440 minutes per day as possible. And, with the demands of technology, we're too distracted to notice how stressed out we've become.
In my lifetime, I've seen blue laws repealed such that Sunday has become virtually indistinguishable from any other day for many service workers. But in 2012, we hit a new low: for the first time major retailers opened their doors for shopping on Thanksgiving evening. Several employees mounted petition campaigns — one garnered more than 30,000 signatures — pleading for the full day off to be with their families, but to no avail. Official corporate announcements stated, "The super majority of our 1.3 million associates are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers."
Really, they needn't have bothered. The Internet has already granted consumers the ability to shop constantly. Every time I log onto my computer and open the browser, items I've searched for once on Overstock.com now rotate across my screen, beckoning me like tantalizing dishes circulating on a sushi bar. The technology meant to make life easier now risks turning us into shopaholics and workaholics, while exposing our kids to cyber-bulling and cyber-sex. Is there no escape from this unrelenting, 24/7 lifestyle? Maybe there should be laws.
Wait, there already are.
Hurricane Sandy. Sandy Hook. The Fiscal Cliff. Next month the headlines will change and the (un)natural disasters will have new names, but the tsunami of information coming at us will continue to swell.
For the last decade, we’ve been told that we live in the age of information overload. We can do anything, buy anything, and find out about anything twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The problem is that our 24/7 world is not only making us anxious and unhappy — it is killing us.
A growing number of studies reported in the medical literature and popular press all point in the same direction. This generation’s brave new experiment of working more and resting less is making us fat, anxious, and short-lived.
Is "sabbath" a verb?
Can one "sabbath?"
"I'm sabbathing right now"...or..."Mike is not available right now. He's out sabbathing somewhere and cannot be reached for comment."
I don't know.
I'm pondering this grammatical reframing of the word. Why? Well, it's a Commandment. Keeping the sabbath is a commandment (Exodus 20:8) right there with not murdering, lusting after your neighbor's wife, or worshiping other gods.
Yep, it's a commandment and I'm just plain terrible at keeping it these days.