sabbatical

Failing to See God's Love

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

You are a pastor. You work six days a week, sometimes seven. You are on call 24/7. Every detail of your life is out there for public consumption. People project their unresolved issues onto you, especially parental issues from their childhoods.

By church rules, you are entitled to a sabbatical, perhaps three months every seven years. But when you propose it, you hear what one pastor heard the other day: “Sabbaticals are for academics who are making a significant contribution to their field, not for clergy who want an extended vacation and can’t take working for a living.”

What do you say?

In that one dismissive sentence, someone you trust tells you your work is insignificant, you want a benefit that you don’t deserve, and you’re lazy. What do you do?

Church No More: Part 6 — Back to Church Again

"Going Home" by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners, 2012. All rights reserved.

"Going Home" by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners, 2012. All rights reserved.

Editor's Note: This is the sixth and final installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going.

They say you can never go home again.

The thinking is that, having left and experienced new things, you have changed and the people back home have continued in their lives just as you left them. Your experience of going back home again necessarily will be very different from your experience of home as you remember it, even though it may have changed very little.

In many ways, Church is one of my homes and I left it. I walked away for three months and experienced a bit of life outside of it. The three months are up and I'm going back home. This coming Sunday (Sept. 2) will be my first Sunday back.

The saying “you can't go home again,” probably originated from Tom Wolfe's novel, You Can't Go Home Again. It's the story of an author who leaves his home, writes about it from a distance and then tries to go home again. It doesn't exactly go well. The folks in the town are none-too-happy about him airing their dirty laundry so publicly.

So, you can't go home again? Well, I'm going to try.

Church No More: Part 5 — Far Too Little Sabbath in the Sabbath

R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat / Shutterstock.com

R&R illustration, Sukpaiboonwat / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going. Follow the links below to read his previous installments, beginning in June.

A little over two months ago, I decided I'd spend my three-month sabbatical not going to church. Which might seem like a perfectly normal thing to do – except that I'm a minister. I've had some strange and wonderful experiences which I've written about, but possibly more strange and more wonderful than the experiences are the responses I've received.

From the very beginning the most frustrating response I get is not folks telling me I'll lose my faith if I leave church (and they have), or the ones telling me I can't begin to understand what it's like to be Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) in three short months (lots of those were also disturbingly aggressively worded), but rather the ones that say, “Oh, 'sabbatical!' Thanks. Now I have a word to call what I do! I stopped going to church years ago.” 

“No!” I'd think while unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to reach through my laptop screen and shake some sense into them, “You are not on sabbatical! The sabbatical I'm taking about has to do with taking a rest, not leaving. It's rest and recuperation communion with God in a way that is restorative. It's not about leaving! Sheesh.”

More than two months into my sabbatical, I now have to say, “Boy was I wrong.” They are on sabbatical, more so than I am. 

Listening for the Voice of Aslan

Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis

I returned to Sojourners this week, after a three-month sabbatical. The time away was a deeply needed one, and did my soul good. It did my body good too, and I feel better than I have in years — much lighter and healthier than before.

Sunrise walks on the beach, yoga and prayer to the morning light, and then running along the waves put many things in perspective. Wonderful time with Joy and my boys — Luke and Jack — made me remember how blessed I am.

A main purpose of the sabbatical was to write a new book and, gratefully, I am now on the last chapter. It’s about “why Jesus came,” and the writing made me feel closer to him. Re-reading C.S. Lewis' Narnia chronicles, while on retreat at a monastery overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of my time away, set the tone for the sabbatical.

My favorite chapter in the new book is called “Aslan, Narnia, and the Living Teacher Who Walks Among Us.”

Soul Food

Author Annie Dillard, standing in her writing shed, 1987. By Getty Images.

Author Annie Dillard, standing in her writing shed, 1987. By Getty Images.

When Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis departed on his three-month sabbatical at the beginning of January, I sent him a list of books, films and music that I thought would nourish his mind and spirit in, perhaps, different ways than the media he normally consumes do.

Jim's sabbatical — a true Sabbath in the literal sense — is designed to be a time of rest and, more importantly, rejuvenation. It will also be a creative time when he will be working on a new book.

Jim is a creative. A writer. A visionary. He regularly digs deep into his heart and soul, breaks himself open and pours out his passion, hope and faith for the edification of others. If creatives aren't diligent, though, we can work ourselves into the ground. Our wells can run dry.

In sending Jim this list of what I like to think of as "soul food," I hoped to inspire his imagination and give him new fuel for the fire, if you will.

Time to Go Deeper

It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.

Don’t get me wrong —  there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.

But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.

Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.

And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.

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