These days I’m wrestling with big theological doozies about American affluence, my refugee friends, what God’s blessing actually means, suffering, and supposed easy answers to a faith that has undone me.
I have this tapestry of my faith and my faith journey, and a lifetime of believing in God and trying to follow Jesus. I am reading book after book after book and grappling with following a Jesus who was extremely countercultural, radical in his love, and came to usher in a kingdom I am trying to understand how to join in on ushering in too.
I am trying to gently remove the pieces from my faith tapestry that are American culture, Western and capitalistic values, while keeping in place Jesus who I love deeply, and am desperately trying to follow.
I’m unlearning. Working through Western thought and practice that was sold to me as Christian belief and practice, and trying to sort through where that leaves me.
Part of this unlearning and relearning has been looking at the Sabbath.
It’s resulted in a new practice for us. On our Sabbath, or at least one day a week, we try to not spend any money.
Not in a rigid, legalistic sort of way, but more as a declaration of enough. A renouncing of the message of Western capitalism that we always need more and more and more. One little way of saying ‘no’ to the empire, if you will. A little renunciation of the messages constantly assaulting us trying to make us believe that accumulation gives us status in our lives, one more thing will make me a happier person, or that consumerism is a sport.
I don’t want online browsing to be a hobby. I never want to view shopping as a leisure activity. And spending money for the little high I get from something new (even if that something is from Goodwill), is not congruent with the Sabbath.
We had a family day at the beach recently on a Sunday, our Sabbath day. While my Mom paid for our food, and even a few little treats for us, (as she always does) we still paid for a parking meter. We still opted for coffee to energize us for hours on our feet. Because we were out we still had to get gas on the way home.
I’m not going to opt out of family day, or make someone else feed quarters into my parking meter, because that makes me a Pharisee, (and also, probably, a person others will soon not want to spend time with!). But I will, for this one day in seven, try to stay close to home and enjoy what I already have. And on the Sabbath day’s I end up having to go out, I won’t pop into a store to see what’s on sale. And if I’m with someone who does, well I can restrain myself, for this day, because I have enough. And then I’ll try to fit this practice into another day that week.
Work stoppage, yes, but also a refusal of the junk food diet of fast consumption of the empire that is sold to us as nourishment.
The empire tells us more will make us happy. And then more. And a little more. And next season some more, and after Christmas some more, and cut Thanksgiving short so we can go shopping for great deals for just a little more. Whatever we are doing, whatever we have, is not enough. Or so the Empire says.
That is how Sabbath came to be, and that is why it is important. It’s about not living under the systems of Pharaoh anymore. In the first instance of Sabbath in the OT, it wasn’t about worship, it was about work stoppage. Walter Brueggemann says in his book ‘Journey to the Common Good:’ “It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”
The work stoppage—the frantic more, more, more pace of life. Stopping to rest is a declaration of enough. And stopping in our accumulation alongside, is a sister declaration. God has given us enough. God has declared we are enough. Our hours worked do not define us. Nor do our consumer goods.
The hope, of course, is that good Sabbath habits will spill over into everyday life by way of increased contentment. Declaring enough helps with the gimmies, and wrestles me from the grasp of a culture that constantly tells me I need to have more and do more to be enough. It helps change my focus. Time and energy freed up, helps free me up to the needs of others instead of just my own.
There is a measure of privilege in work stoppage. Those living in an unjust system, who have to work two jobs just to make their rent, may not be able to pause and still survive. Those of us who have rest on the Sabbath, must use that energy we regain for a society where all can stop from the grind and rest.
Osheta Moore says, “When we say “We will rest,” we plot goodness for the poor by thinking of ways to provide them rest…If we identify that someone cannot themselves practice Sabbath because of constraints like poverty, then as shalom-seekers, we look to facilitate opportunities for them to rest.”
One of the ways we can do that, is stop our demand on consumption. Stop our demands for anything we want, whenever we want it. Have simple meals at home, or in the home of loved ones. Buy what we need beforehand, or do without. For just one day a week.
We’re trying to practice more simple living in general, but recognizing it as an integral part of Sabbath rest, it a great reminder that we live to pursue a different kingdom. One where the treasures we store are different than the treasures of this earth.
Imagine if Christians were known for needing less. For living more simply. For spending time doing things other than shopping. Imagine that impact it could have on the world around us. Instead of spending time accumulating, or taking care of our bigger houses, investing in our neighbors.
If we want to see the culture around us change, “Just imagine the power of millions of Christians who refuse to shop when we are supposed to be resting and grateful.” (Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance)
Imagine if the town knew that Sunday people preferred to spend time at home, with their families and neighbors, and weren’t going to patronize their business, at least for that day.
It might free others up to take a Sabbath rest. And it might free up our hearts a little more to the needs around us.