Sunday Rebellion

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The calendar hanging on your refrigerator, the one tucked behind your kid’s crayola project and the magnet reminding you to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” may be the most rebellious and spiritually formative thing you own. You’ll notice how each week, right as rain, commences with Sunday. This is the day older Christians referred to as the Sabbath. A day for leisure, for church, for the Sunday paper, for the comics, for a visit on the porch with friends drinking sweet tea and swapping stories about the neighbors.

My dad told me how his mom spent chunks of Saturday cooking fried chicken, peas, rolls and chocolate cake so no cooking would be necessary on Sunday. Saturday night meant a bath out in the garage, the old wash tub filled with hot water his mom carried via multiple trips from the kitchen stove. Anything considered a chore would be done on Saturday because Sunday was a day of rest.

In the Christian tradition, Sabbath is the day our week starts. We begin with a lull. We commence, not with sweat or labor, but with loafing, with three-hour naps, with conversations immune to the pressure to get somewhere but more than comfortable with long pauses and long thoughts. These Sabbath spaces possess enough quiet to pay attention to the wind and the smell of rain – and to the one sitting with you. In our Sabbath interludes, prayer happens as God intended, laced through our ordinary laughter and joy.

The Christian week begins with rest. I can’t imagine a more counter-cultural affirmation. The rhythms of our world have gotten cattywonkus. For many of us, Sunday is the day we’re cramming last bits from our to do list, capping off a week of fury and frenzy. Then, the way we see things, the week kicks off on Monday, the day we get to work, the day we recommit to serving the man and paying the bills. In this twisted narrative, the week begins with us working, not with us resting.

This is not so much about how we count our days but about how we count our lives. In a world where we yield to heavy shackles, defined by our production or our corporate rank or our Google Analytics report, it is a subversive act to shut it down and take a nap.

According to the Biblical story, however, our lives commence with respite. The Jewish day went from sundown to sundown. This meant that the Hebrews started their day by going to sleep. When they woke, fresh from a long slumber, they discovered that God had never slept. The world still turned on its axis, and the sun still shone bright. As they entered their day’s work, rested and invigorated, they were merely joining God in God’s creative activity. But only for a while, until it was again time to call it quits, crawl under the covers and let God be God. We really can cease our labors, because God’s labor holds this whole shebang together.

Of course, Advent signals the start of the Christian year. Advent, a time of waiting, a month-long Sabbath. We’re all revved and geared up for the start of things, to get the ball rolling, to turn over a new leaf. And then we wait. And wait. And wait. We’ll get to our cue, our time to punch ‘go.’ But first, we watch and slumber and drink hot chocolate with our kids. Sabbath is stitched into every rhythm of our life.

Next time you pass your fridge, linger a moment at that line of Sundays. Then linger a little longer.

Well and True

Fridays are Miska’s and my Sabbath. This usually includes at least an hour or two of one of our more rigorous spiritual disciplines: lying in bed watching Hulu, preferably with a small bag from Albemarle Baking Company in the bed with us. One commercial Hulu runs, over and again, stresses my sabbath experience. In this commercial, a certain cellular provider floods the screen with rapid images and text, highlighting the myriad ways their latest gadget can capture every solitary moment and detail of our lives. The experience overloads the senses.

Amid all the zooming and the pulsing data comes the narrator’s central thesis: “I must upload all of myself.”

Of course, this is ad copy, which means two things: (1) they don’t expect us to take them seriously and¬†(2) what they are saying is sheer nonsense. The compulsion to broadcast our every opinion, our every whim, our every ham-and-cheese-on-rye for crying out loud – we call this narcissism. Of course, withholding yourself because of the meticulous way we are coiffing our public persona is narcissism too. It’s impossibly difficult to get loose of our self-absorption.

This is no theoretical question for me. I must wrangle with how much of my writing comes from a desire to feed the ego and how much comes as an expression of my vocation. In a business where publishers insist you have to build your platform, it’s a messy deal. The publishers have a point of course. A plumber’s gotta find folks who will pay him to fix their sinks, and any plumber who refuses to advertise because of his unsullied commitment to his craft will likely starve. Yet there’s something perverse about a writer or a plumber or a pastor or a real estate agent who are always trying to sell you something, especially when that something is them.

So what’s a person to do? I really couldn’t say, but this is what I’m thinking: the central question isn’t how much to share or not share. The focus isn’t the whens or wheres or hows. The truer question is how will I live well and true?

And this is not at all just about social media. How much of our energy do we give to the people and places we love? How do we interact with other’s expectations (a spouse, a parent, a boss, a pastor)? How do we give ourselves generously – but give in a way that’s truthful so that we’re actually giving ourselves¬†rather than giving some false version of ourselves?

The ad ended with the punchline: “I deserve to be unlimited.” Not only is this false; it is also impossible. We are, thank goodness, all limited. This gracious limitation can set us free from the tyrannies that fight against our longing to live well and true. We are free to say ‘no.’