The seven year old, reading the holy texts on a recent Sabbath…
Three years after the publication of Sabbath in the Suburbs, I continue to speak to groups about our family’s experience of taking a day each week for rest and play… which looks very different now than it did during the year-long experiment, but that’s another post.
People who’ve read the book will notice that we didn’t spend the day doing “holy” activities. We didn’t read scripture together or pray (except before meals) or even talk about God all that much. We often lit a candle to designate that this time was somehow set apart, but otherwise, there was nothing particularly religious in our observance. So what gives?
Or as many people ask me, “We already have family time together; what makes Sabbath different?”
First, I don’t believe in creating a division between so-called secular and sacred activities. In my tradition, we believe and profess that God is the Lord of our whole lives. Yes, there are times that we intentionally focus on our spiritual lives, through study or prayer or small groups or a worship service. But all of life is (or can be) an act of devotion to God as we understand God.
That said, I believe the language we use matters–in fact, what we name something changes the nature of the thing we’re naming. It’s great to have family time, and there’s nothing wrong with calling it that. But invoking the word Sabbath acknowledges that God is also present, and that the things we do during this time can nurture our spiritual lives as well as our sense of family connectedness. It gives us a different vision and perspective on that time.
The other day I was listening to Krista Tippett’s On Being interview of social scientist Ellen Langer, and they were talking about this exact phenomenon. In one study, subjects were asked to evaluate a series of jokes and cartoons. For half the group, the researchers framed the activity as work; the other half, play. Those who were told to play reported a much greater enjoyment than those who were “working” at the very same activity.
Similarly, Langer referenced a study of chambermaids–women who are on their feet all day doing constant physical labor. This group experienced actual physiological changes when they named their daily activity “exercise” rather than simply “work.” Fascinating!
So here’s an easy experiment for those of you who want to connect with this old, ancient practice that has such resonance for Jewish and Christian communities but don’t know where to start. Put the label of Sabbath on something you already do: family time, your daily ritual of tea and Sudoku, even your workout at the gym. See what changes, what feels different. See if the activity resonates on a different level. And report back!
By the way, the entire interview with Ellen Langer was fascinating. Did you know mindfulness is possible without a meditation practice?
My middle child sings this little bit from Hairspray every time we go to Charm City—our most recent visit was just three days ago. Our family knows Baltimore primarily as tourists and day-trippers, and I’ve visited there in a professional capacity many times. So while it’s not our city, and there’s a lot of it we’ve never seen, we have a lot of affection for it.
I don’t make a habit of commenting on current events as they’re unfolding. I always feel other people say things so much better than I could. But my next planned post was going to be a muffin recipe, and… no. Just no.
Hugh Hollowell wisely advised well-intentioned people (especially white people) who don’t know what to say to amplify the words of others, especially people of color. So I’m going to amplify the words of Derrick Weston, whose post deserves to be read widely—and judging from Facebook shares, it is:
Violence is what happens when grief has nowhere else to go and black Baltimore is tired of grieving its young men. That is not a justification for violence. At my core, I believe that violence is the ultimate dehumanizing act and yet when individuals and communities have been on the receiving ends of all sorts of violence – physical violence, economic violence, racial violence, psychological violence – those individuals and communities assert their own humanity by declaring they will no longer be trampled. That is what you are seeing in the streets of Baltimore tonight.
I hear his anger and weariness, but also his wisdom in trying to see the big picture. (Read it all.) I often want to ask him what I want to ask LGBT friends who respond graciously to people who hurl the most hateful language at them:
Do you ever get weary of being the bigger person?
And yet, they are embodying the change they wish to see. I’m thankful for that.
Anyway. If you only have time for one post, stop reading mine immediately and read Derrick’s.
But if you have time for the disjointed thoughts of a white woman 75 minutes south of Baltimore, here goes.
I’m thinking a lot about language. I’m remembering Hurricane Katrina, when a photo of black individuals taking things from an abandoned store was captioned with the word “looting” and a similar photo of white people doing the same thing was captioned “taking.” I’m thinking of the many examples of wanton destruction that take place when one sports team beats another one that get framed in completely different ways than what happened in Baltimore yesterday. (See Black People Riot Over Injustice; White People Riot Over Pumpkins and Football.)
I’m thinking about use of the word “thugs.” Robert told me some stories just the other day about the most disgusting sexism at the highest levels of Silicon Valley. When women would complain, HR would respond “He’s the CEO, he can do what he wants.” Thanks in part to the culture these executives created, the number of women in high tech is lower than it was just a few years ago. These men operate without any regard for decency, or in many cases the rule of law.
They are thugs.
When we use that term for some people and not for others, it says something about us.
In college at Rice there was a sociology professor, Chad Gordon (may he rest in peace), who taught a popular series of classes that got nicknamed “_________ with Chad.” My husband took TV with Chad, for example. There was also Death with Chad. (Of course the most popular was Sex with Chad.)
He also taught a class on the psychology and sociology of group dynamics, nicknamed Crowds with Chad. I wish I’d taken that class. Perhaps it would help me understand the dynamics of this situation. Protests have gone on for days and have been overwhelmingly peaceful, with police seeking to contain the crowd rather than subdue it. And yet even that peaceful atmosphere could not neutralize a smaller group of primarily young people intent on violence yesterday.
A Crowds with Chad class might help me understand the crowds on the Internet, where people feel free to call people “animals” and say “run ’em over.” It’s a mob mentality out there. I’ve seen it said so many times since #BlackLivesMatter began that if people would just follow police instructions, they’d still be alive today. Since when is resisting arrest or running away from police a capital crime?
A Facebook friend, a Presbyterian church elder in Tennessee, posted the following on Facebook:
America, your double standards are showing. This land was looted & its inhabitants murdered or displaced. We have consistently used lethal force to achieve political ends from the onset. Violence is & has been the American way. I am all about the #Peace, but if the youth of Baltimore stop rioting & practice nonviolence as self-defense instead of looting, they would be way more ethical & revolutionary than every role model they have in this messed-up world.
He took it down within hours because the vitriol got completely out of hand. I happen to agree with the sentiment, but even if I didn’t—how does bullying someone into silence on Facebook help anything?
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the two-part series This American Life produced called Cops SeeIt Differently. Please listen to it. It’s an important two hours of audio. It will open your eyes to the many good law-enforcement officers who take their duty seriously to protect and to serve, and the difficult position so many of them are in. (Guess what? Pretty much everybody would rather be taken to the hospital than to jail. Wouldn’t you? Unfortunately that means it’s very difficult to discern which detainees truly “can’t breathe.”)
The show may also leave you feeling very, very discouraged. It did me. The bridge we still need to cross in order to reach one another, or even just understand one another, is just so long… and riddled with bodies, both physical and metaphorical.
By the way, many people have claimed that the police problem is a matter of a “few bad apples.” I hope they are extending the same courtesy of nuance to protesters in Baltimore, most of whom were peaceful, and many of whom are taking the day off to clean up the mess someone else made. They do this because they love their city and want to do their part.
How are we, how am I, being the change we wish to see?
Sacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-Weary Christian by Rachel Hackenberg is one of those books that makes you breathe more deeply just flipping the pages. I perused it in the dentist’s waiting room recently, and was so immersed that I forgot the sounds of suction and dentist’s drill wafting through the open door. No minor feat.
The book, with sections like “The Verb Became Flesh” and “In the Shadow of Wingdings,” is an invitation to explore the language of our faith in fresh and inviting ways, through impromptu poems, images and even doodles. I liked the section in which she likens Jesus’ words “my yoke is easy” with those elastic strings that tie her kids’ shoes together in the Target shoe section. Lovely! So much of the language of scripture relies on metaphors that aren’t immediately accessible to a non-agrarian, technological society. How can these words come alive again?
In the Presbyterian Church (USA), we have a prayer in our book of worship that we pray before reading scripture. It says in part, “O God, amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal word that does not change.” Over the years I’ve grown dissatisfied with this prayer. Our lives our changing all of the time. Our God is improvisational, I believe. So I’ve added a phrase: “speak your eternal word that does not change and yet is ever new.” Hackenberg’s book helps us hold those two ideas in creative tension. Check it out here.
Entering Wonderland: A Toolkit for Pastors New to a Church is a new book by Robert A. (Bob) Harris, a friend and colleague in this presbytery. Since retiring from parish ministry, Bob has been working as a coach, helping pastors set good goals and move forward in ministry.
As the name implies, the book is aimed at pastors who have recently arrived in a congregation. It features an approach to getting to know the leaders and many in the congregation, assessing them as spiritual leaders, learning where the minefields are, clarifying expectations, and a host of other things. Bob served as my coach when I first arrived at Tiny Church and I’m thankful for his guidance in helping my ministry get off to a good start there.
But the book is not just for pastors new to a church; the book has a wealth of resources and ideas that can help pastors and church leaders.
Entering Wonderland is published by Rowman and Littlefield, who took over Alban Institute’s publishing arm. Check it out.
I’m preaching for a bunch of preachers in two weeks, at an event called the Festival of Homiletics, or as many of us affectionately call it: Homies.
In preparation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the text below from Matthew. I’d love to know what you hear in it, especially as it speaks to our current context. Jesus’ words about “what comes out of the mouth” speak to me about cheap talk, the proliferation of words in a world of cable news and Twitter, and yes, the rise of snarkiness.
And then what’s going on with Jesus’ reaction to the Canaanite woman in the second section? It’s not every day you hear a word from the Lord that makes you want to say “Ooh, burn!” (Yes I’m a child of the 80s.)
What is up with Jesus’ reaction? How do you hear this story?
I’m especially interested in thoughts from you non-churchy types.
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.* And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding?17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
One of my favorite of the Sabbath Supplemental videos is this, our version of a fast-draw video:
What does the word “busy” stir up in you?
This was a discussion on Facebook recently. As the video indicates, I know a lot of people who use it as a means of besting one another and asserting their importance. Others pushed back and said, “Eh, not always.” Sometimes people are just… busy. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
I’ve tried to stop using the word. It’s become the “I’m fine” in verbal communication. Maybe it greases the conversational wheels, but it’s boring and content-free.
Another phrase snuck up on me this weekend. Someone asked me to do something and I said I couldn’t because I was “tied up.” Now there’s an evocative expression!
Sometimes, of course, our days are not our own—our schedules are at the mercy of family needs, work expectations, and the like. In that sense, the term “tied up” makes sense… though it sets other people up as our adversaries, which maybe isn’t healthy.
But in my case, I was engaging in activities I’d freely chosen. And I used the term to try and cover the fact that I was choosing not to drop everything and go help the person. “Tied up” meant “I would help you, but dangit, there’s this other thing holding me captive!”
Pastors and folks in other helping professions are counseled to schedule time to recharge, and to protect that time. If people want to meet with you then, simply say you have a commitment—they don’t need to know that it’s for the massage therapist or to sneak off to an afternoon Nats game because you’ve had three funerals in the last two weeks. I agree with this in principle. Especially if it’s a pastoral need: there’s something callous about saying to a grieving family, “I can meet with you tomorrow but not today—mani/pedi time!”
At the same time, the more we keep self-care to ourselves, the more we give the impression that we don’t need such activities, and those who do are somehow weaker or less dedicated.
Yes, there are times that my life is not my own. That comes with the territory of loving your neighbor. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I’m not sure I’m on board with “tied up.” I’d rather take responsibility for my own self-care, and strive for transparency with how I use my time.