Archives for posts with tag: sabbath

2017 is a special year. It is the 150th birthday of Canada as a nation. It is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation; on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. One of my hobbies is various types of Canadiana: stories of Canadian history, Canadian popular music and literature. I teach a course about the Anabaptist movement, the radical wing of the Reformation in the 16th century.

Of personal significance, it is my 7th year of blogging. Spiritual disciplines are very important to me and to follow the biblical pattern of resting on the seventh day or year I am declaring this a year of Sabbath for my blog. This does not mean I will not be posting—that would be the death of any blog, not that mine has ever been particularly alive—but that my posts will be limited to the above two topics. As I have posted various Canadiana posts as well as Reformation related posts in the past six years I will repost some that continue to be relevant and/or reflect on them for the present; and, I will have some new book and music reviews of Canadian artists that will be posted.

I welcome new followers interested in these topics and I hope that present followers will hang on and enjoy these special anniversary blogs. I know that I find personal fulfillment in writing short reflections so I would write even if no one would ever read. If someone reads and appreciates, that is a bonus.

 

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Today is my Dad’s 81st birthday. I have inherited a lot of traits from my Dad. Today I’ll celebrate the good ones: loyalty, punctuality, orderliness, discipline [We won’t mention the times when it becomes a bit obsessive compulsive!] This quality can be seen in the following piece I wrote for REJOICE! magazine. I post it today in his honour.

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in the midst of harvest season, and my dad is lying on the couch having a nap as he does every Sunday. In his family and church this had been a practice for a few centuries, at least. If you had asked him, he could probably not have articulated a theology of why he was doing this; it was just a part of his rhythm of life that was almost as routine and involuntary as his beating heart.

Looking back from a technological market-driven society, my dad’s Sunday practice seems almost ridiculous, or at best, quaint. Yet, when I think about it, I begin to see how revolutionary the Sabbath rest could be.

I live in a vastly different world than my parents did. My parents operated a small, mixed farm on the Canadian prairies. They owned a hundred acres of arable land, some pasture for cows, a barn full of pigs, a shelter for chickens, and a large vegetable and fruit garden. Few such farms remain on the prairies. Does the practice of Sabbath that was so much a part of my father’s lifestyle still have relevance? If so, how do we practice it today?

The Sabbath principle is part of the Ten Commandments. Our Creator God commanded God’s people to model their Creator, working six days and resting on the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11). An additional reason for the Sabbath is given in Deuteronomy: to remember the release from enslaved work in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Sabbath literally means to stop. It is a cessation of activity—more than just taking a day off of work.

Keeping the Sabbath is about time, but it is also a mindset of stepping back from an excessive focus on work and productivity. It is about living contentedly in God’s provision. The principle of the Sabbath gives us the time to reflect and to put work and life in perspective.

Keeping the Sabbath will look different for different people; it might involve playing, worshiping, going offline, or even sleeping! Because my work involves reading, writing, and talking, I like to go in the backyard by myself to pull weeds, trim trees, or dig in the dirt to practice Sabbath. The timing or activity is not the most important thing about Sabbath; it is just doing it, or more accurately not doing anything that resembles our working days!

Sabbath means that we let our work projects sit idle for a time in order to rest and reflect. My dad trusted God that there would be another sunny day in which to harvest. I return to my college office with a refreshed mind and replenished emotional and social capital. In a fast-paced, consumeristic, technological society, practicing Sabbath is revolutionary, because it dares to assert that God and not the market rules our lives.

 

The NHL playoffs are upon us! This year, with four of the five Canadian teams not really expected to be in the playoffs and making an exciting run to beat out recent defending champions [LA Kings and Boston Bruins], it has been particularly engaging for many of us. Unfortunately four are playing each other but we know that at least two of the five will make it to the second round! Some people have said that hockey is Canada’s national religion and there is evidence for this: a television altar around which the faithful are gathered to witness the battle of good vs. evil, heroes vs. villains; they wear special clothing indicating allegiances; they consume a special version of bread and wine, i.e. chips and beer; there are prophecies about the outcomes; the psalms of both praise and deprecation are uttered with deep emotion, the playoffs are the high point of the liturgical year… we could go on.

I feel some ethical ambivalence surrounding professional sports and I am keenly aware of my own hypocrisy. There are the multi-million dollar contracts, the drug use and mental illness, the media analysis ad nauseam, greed and exploitation, and all the other industrial characteristics of what has indeed become an industry. And then there are the racist and militaristic team names and logos… Some would say it is merely a modern sanitized version of the brutal and bloody activities that took place in the Roman coliseum of old. At the same time I believe that play and “re-creation” is fundamental to being human. I enjoyed playing a number of competitive sports with some tenacity [track & field, baseball, football, soccer, hockey, volleyball] as a young person. Due to my aging body, my competitive spirit is now channeled into watching my children and college students play sports. I also enjoy watching sports on TV, especially NHL hockey. It’s almost a Sabbath activity: a cessation of the stress of work and the temporary suspension of life’s harsh realities.

I find watching hockey a nice diversion from real life. Professional sports is not real life. Although I understand that athletes have become entertainers who have the “job” of amusing people and providing temporary relief from the humdrum of daily existence, it is not exactly an essential service. I appreciate that athletes and others in the entertainment industry are including other auxiliary activities in their work: hospital visitation, raising funds for worthy causes, speaking out on behalf of marginalized and hurting people, etc. It is good that these activities continue whether a team wins or loses. But let’s put it the whole thing in perspective: even though I will cheer mightily when a Canadian team wins and sigh deeply when they lose, it really does not matter one iota to real life.

This reminds me of Tripp York’s satirical prayer included in his book, Third Way Allegiance. Here are a few excerpts [I have Canadianized it by substituting hockey teams for his baseball teams]:

Dear God,
Could you please stop fixing sporting events? Seriously. Your unpredictability is killing me at the betting table. I can never figure out who you’re helping. One moment you’re hooking up a player with the Canucks and the next another player for the Flames. How am I supposed to figure out which one you love the most, or which one prayed the hardest, if you keep flip-flopping? Could you be a little less fickle with your handouts?

You are after all immutable. That means you are unchanging. It says so right here in the Bible, Malachi 3:6 “For I the Lord do not change.” Yet when it comes to sports, I am far more consistent than you. I have been a Leafs fan since 1961. Other than those few Cups in the 1960’s where you clearly graced us, do you know what misery I, along with other Leafs fans, have had to endure for decades? What do you have against Toronto? It’s no more pagan than any other city (though you have been a little more generous to the Raptors lately). Perhaps I should speak to the owner of the Maple Leafs about requiring team prayer before each game?

Anyway, do you think you could just pick a team and stay with them? No one likes a bandwagon fan. I just thought I would ask. I assumed, since you are so concerned about touchdowns, home-runs, and over-time goals, you wouldn’t mind.

Oh, and another thing (sorry to be so needy): I know you are omnipotent, but it seems you have been giving more attention to Saturday night scores than to a few other things in the world. Granted, I know extremely affluent athletes who own multiple cars and houses are crucial to you, but do you think you could, oh, I don’t know, do something about the ongoing genocide in Syria? South Sudan? Tibet? Perhaps you could send a little help to ease the tensions between your followers in Israel and Palestine? There is also this AIDS epidemic occurring in Africa. Cancer is not good. Nor are blindness, paralysis, global warming, and the near extinction of pandas…

Perhaps (I’m feeling a bit like Abraham here), perhaps you could tone down the number of tsunamis, earthquakes, and hurricanes you’ve been sending lately? While I’m asking, any chance you might convince your world leaders to stop making nuclear missiles? I know it’s a longshot, but since all governments are ordained by you, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Also, did you know that almost every four seconds someone dies of starvation? Of course you did. You’re omniscient.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning your justice; I’m sure their prayers for food and the basic necessities of life deserve to go unanswered. If I learned anything from the book of Job it is to tread quietly and not ask too many questions. But since you are overtly concerned with who wears championship rings, and Jesus did, after all, say that whatever we ask for you will provide… well… could you please make sure the Leafs have a better team next year?

Sincerely,
A distraught fan
(With apologies to fans of the Leafs. Go Jets!)