Monday, October 10, 2011

Moses and Jethro-The Stories We Tell

In a previous blog post I wrote about how we often have conversations that allude to our busyness, but really are a sign of our pride in that busyness (Read it here). Today I sat down to re-read Exodus 18, where Moses' father-in-law comes to visit. A funny thing happened during Jethro's visit to Moses. Okay, two funny things happened.
First, here is how the Bible recounts Moses meeting his father-in-law in verse 7a, "So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and then kissed him." I know there is a stigma with father-in-laws and all, but bowing down and then a kiss. I think Moses is trying a little too hard. Either way, Jethro seems cool with it and they go on about their business.
The second funny thing follows the first, as funny things tend to do in life. In verse 7b we are told, "They asked each other how they had been and went into the tent."  Here is Moses, the guy that talked to God on the mountain, led the Israelites out of Egypt, and received the 10 commandments from God, and he starts a conversation the same way that you and I do everyday.
We don't know how Jethro had been, other than Moses' wife and kids had been living with him for a while (cf. Exodus 18:1-6). However, we do get Moses' side of the story. Exodus 18:8 tells us what Moses says, "Moses recounted to his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardships that confronted them on the way, and how the Lord delivered them." Moses does exactly the opposite of what so many of us do, when asked the same question, "How have you been?". Moses doesn't recount the long days standing before the people as judge (cf. Exodus 18:14), trying over and over again to teach the people the God's statutes and laws (cf. Exodus 18:16). Instead Moses recounts all that God has done for him and the people of Israel. He recounts to his father-in-law all the amazing, miraculous, and real ways that God had been active in his life and the life of the people he was leading. Moses' answer to the question, "How have you been?", was so inspiring that his father-in-law winds up taking a sacrifice to God (cf. Exodus 18:12) and saying, "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because He did wonders at the time the Egyptians acted arrogantly against the Israel." (Exodus 18:11).
Moses' answer to the simple standard question, "How have you been?" draws his father-in-law to God. It would seem that our lives and our answers to that question should do the same. Sabbath is a key factor in being able to answer the question, "How have you been?" in such a way that is orients people to God, and not to you or your problems or your successes. The first words of the commandment which deals with Sabbath is "Remember". When we stop, which is what Sabbath keeping really is, then we allow ourselves the time and perspective to remember.  Then and only then can we forget what is on our to-do list, the work that is piled on our desk, and the myriad chores that await us. Then we can remember all the Lord has done for our sake, the trials and hardships we have faced and how the Lord delivered us. Then like Moses we can answer the question "How have you been?" in a way that brings glory to God, and inspires others to worship him too.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Gifts of Sabbath

I'm off to an intentional retreat with good friends, faithful colleagues, and shared partners in ministry.

God has given me two gifts as the journey begins.

As we got to the airport to prepare for our departure, I realized that there were two people on the flight who, many years ago, maliciously and falsely claimed lies about me that they wanted to use as a framework for disabling and disempowering my work in ministry! Through a period of a few years, I endured some close scrutiny from those who believed the lies and were confused by the subterfuge of those who sought to cause me ill, and am thankful to report that the integrity of my total life experience triumphed over the vitriol of these persons hate.

It is so nice to be authentically who I am - and to live a life committed to the truth of God's work in the world. I have committed myself to study and service in the Kingdom of God - and seeing those who had willed to cause me harm was a reminder of the wonderful sense of extended Sabbath that God has granted to my life. This is the kind of Sabbath that has, indeed, "released the bond" - Isaiah. My life is characterized by wonderful, freeing Sabbath - from enemies of my past who I pray God's grace will transform, and who I hope God's love can reach!

God gave me a gift in seeing these people who had willed to be my enemies - by reminding me of all the deep goodness, wholeness and solitude that God has brought into my life in the face of my enemies. I thank God for the many gifts of so many things, I was reminded of in these few moments.

After our airplane landed at the airport hub for our layover - en route to our retreat - I discovered that one of the friends of my life had a conversation with the very persons who had tried to cause me harm in the past. Those persons shared with my friend that they were "sorry" that he was my friend! What a tragedy for them to view life in the midst of their continued attempts to cause harm. But, as they went their way, my friend shared this story with me. I shared with my friend how unfortunate it is that people have to live their life in the framework of hate and attempts to hurt others.

And then, God gave me the 2nd Gift. I looked down at my watch to orient myself to the time-zone in preparation for catching our next flight. My watch was showing the time - but not correctly. In fact, it seems a weakened battery caused my watch to completely reset - reading a date of "January 1st" - set to a Monday default - and a time that was completely wrong. A gift!

In some ways, the weakened battery caused just what I needed - I needed my "clock" to be reset as I head off to Sabbath. I needed to not be "on the clock" and not be concerned about the "hour" of the day - or the day of the week - but the moments of Sabbath that I get with my friends.

I've left my watch on my wrist - with its incorrect time - for the remainder of our days together.

It serves as a reminder to me now - that my "battery" needs to be "recharged.

It serves as a reminder to me now that I'm "off the clock" in these days - and I've been "reset" to the start of a new thing (like the New Year of January 1st) - and I truly receive these moments as Gifts of God in my life - right now.

The gift of a life lived with integrity. Thank you God.

The gift of my "clock" being reset - as this Sabbath experience re-orients my life.


I am truly, truly grateful.

~ marty alan michelson

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why do we love anti-sabbath?

In my usual internet roamings, I ran across an interesting article detailing why we as Americans love anti-Sabbath.  The title of the article "The Pride of Busyness" (find it here). The author, Mason Slater, points out some very obvious patterns in our American speech practices and shines light on how our lives point to our love of anti-Sabbath and show our pride in our busyness.

The first clue to our overwhelming passion for our overburdened schedules are the conversations we have after not seeing someone for a period of time. You know the conversation I am talking about. The one where you ask how they have been recently. Yeah, that one.  The basic content of many of those conversations is each side laying out how busy they have been recently. We have all had those conversations, and maybe we continue to have those conversations.  We say we hate being so busy. We say we long for a day of rest. We say we just want a break. However, we continue to repeat these conversations time and time again which says something about how we really feel.  As Slater points out, "Those short conversations give us a glimpse of the way people view the world, because it is often the little day to day practices that reveal our deepest values." What do those conversations reveal? They show just how proud we are of our busyness, and they show that we are "not very secretly proud either." We are blatant in our pride towards our busyness.  val

The article says it so well (you should check it out), but the saddest part about this is what our foolish pride causes us to miss. Sure we get a lot accomplished, but in the meantime we forget.
"...we forget how to sit,
and think,
and breathe,
and pray,
and read for pleasure,
and have a real conversation with friend, or family member or spouse
and savor a drink for its flavor and complexities, not its ability to chemically induce either wakefulness or sleep."

God, particularly in his commands regarding Sabbath, calls us to remember. Yet, we fall prey to the gospel of busyness. Even though, this gospel is one of those false teachers Jesus and Paul warn us about, promising one thing and delivering another. Rather than following the true gospel, which is a call to remember we choose to forget.
How do we break this cycle, this exchange of pleasantries that shows our true colors. Let me once again quote Mason Slater, "So the next time you catch up with a friend, refrain from contributing to the cycle. Refuse to brag about busyness as if it were a virtue, refuse to act like making time to rest is a mark of shame. If the very God who designed us thought that balancing work with the rest was worthwhile, perhaps we should give it a try."
I agree Mason, we should give it a try.
If you've read this blog you know that those who have contributed to this blog are planning to spend some intentional time together this week in Idaho. I pray that we "give it a try", that as we gather together and reconnect that we don't disguise our love of anti-Sabbath, our pride of busyness in our lists of been dones and to-be-dones. I pray that we find space to live in the presence of God and remember, to remember a God who was so loving that he commanded us to take a day to enjoy him, he'll take care of the busy work.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I can't do it anymore.

Call it exasperation, exhaustion, or quitting. Call it what you have to. But today, I admit, "I can't do it anymore!" This may be a cry for help or a cry for hope, either way it's a confession. As I think about the practice of Sabbath, I can only think in terms of the ideal. I can only think in terms of what could be. The reason I can only think those terms is because Sabbath has not been a real part of my life or faith, maybe ever.
I know what your thinking. "How could you?" and "Tsk, Tsk", and you are right in thinking those things. However, I confess that to you as a part of a larger revelation which is "I can't do it anymore!". I can't keep the pace I have been keeping. As Wendell once said, "You can't keep burning the candle at both ends and coming back for more wax." (I think I got it right). I can't do it all! I feel like Moses, when his father-in-law Jethro visits. Here I am with family in town to visit, and all I have time to do is work. Surely it is justified though, the people need me. Then Jethro speaks up, my momentary guilt is pardoned by the overwhelming sense of relief and hope that his words bring, "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone" (Exodus 18:17-18). This comes after Jethro watches Moses work for 1 day! How many people could have said the same to me, but held their tongue out of "respect"?
So, now that we have that out of the way? What is the start to rectify the situation. Again we can look at Jethro's instruction to Moses. After pointing out to Moses that the work is too much Jethro offers this instruction: "You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave."  WAIT a minute! I thought this story was about Biblical management and the division of labor. You know the whole some were in charge of 10s, others were in charges of 100s, and others still in charge of 1000s. Jethro gets there but the first line of defense is to make apparent the standard of judgment which is the word of God.
So let us follow Jethro's instructions as well, let us be taught the decrees and instructions of God, so that we might know the way to live and how we are to behave. Especially in regards to Sabbath keeping.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lord of the Sabbath and Sabbath Rest

Hebrews 4 talks about the place of "rest" within the community of believers. It begins by pointing out that the community of Israelites that had been redeemed from Egypt were also the same people that did not enter into God's rest. "For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest..." (Heb. 4:2). The author of Hebrews connects Sabbath rest with faith. If we were to stop here we might assume that faith is something we must strive for, which does not sound restful at all. If faith is something that we must build and construct, then salvation is not dependent upon God. Yet, Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the "author and perfector" of our faith. God "gifts" us faith. It is the message that we have heard and are simply called to respond in obedience to. If we are "working" to earn our salvation then we have not truly entered into the rest which God gives. Furthermore, we have not submitted our lives to the sovereignty of the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5). If faith and salvation are really by God and from God, then it is not dependent upon us to establish our own faith or salvation. Rather, we are simply called to respond in thanksgiving and obedience to the good news we have received. There is an assurance and confidence that accompanies this type of faith. God is faithful and we can depend upon God's character and nature to see both the initiation and the completion of our faith.

Hebrews sets up the importance of Sabbath for us by reminding us of David's words: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (4:7). Sabbath rest is about giving ear to hear what God is saying. It is about giving space for God to speak into our lives. But, it cannot be left at that alone. The author of Hebrews understands "hearing" as something more than just "listening." Rather, "to hear is to obey." Our obedience is a sign that we have truly "heard" God speaking. That is to say, Sabbath is primarily about orienting our lives entirely to God's w(W)ord to us. God's word "is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account" (4:12b-13). Sabbath opens up space in our busy, hectic, self-centered lives in order to center our lives on the One who shows us who we truly are. But, God doesn't leave us there if we are willing to "hear." Rather, God transforms us through faith to be "a great cloud of witnesses" whose testimony points to our light and life: Christ Jesus - Lord of the Sabbath.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I, and people in "the West" take Sabbath for Granted

Perhaps one of the more disturbing elements of my trip thus far, is the fact that I stopped in for a Cambodian massage. Another member of our Peace Fellows cohort, pointed out that a 1 hour massage was advertised for $4.00. Later in that day, I happened to walk past the same $4.00 massage location – and decided that I needed one. I wish I would not have gone in.

The massage itself was perfectly comfortable – and while I am not used to people rubbing my body – I will admit that the massage for my muscles was relaxing in many ways.

The complicating problems for me stem from the conversation with the delightful Khmer (Cambodian) girl who provided my massage. Her English was good, but far from perfect. But, I am quite certain I accurately got the gist of her story. Her name was something close to “Presawn.” She is 23, with four sisters and her parents living in a village somewhere outside Phnom Penh – I am not sure how far away. Her sisters ranged in age from 12 to 19, with two sisters the age of my girls. She has been in Phnom Penh for 2 years, and at this massage storefront for 6 months. She said speaking she liked speaking English with me because it gave her good practice. She pays $10 per month to take 1 hour per week of English. She said she is taking the cheap course, because she can afford it. Her English teacher is himself studying English at University. If I understood her correctly, she did not like her teacher too much because in her one-hour course, he often tries to speak Khmer and she is there to learn English.

Her English class is important to her – not only because she wants to learn English and is paying for it – but also because it consumes 16% of her monthly salary – and is the single hour she gets off work every week. She works 7 days per week, from 9 a.m. to midnight (15 hour days). She sleeps in a back room of the massage store – and has access to a small kitchen area there for preparing her meals. For her work, some 105 hours per week, every day, of every week for 15 hours per day, she earns $60.00 per month - $2.00 per day. 14 cents per hour.

I paid for my $4.00 one hour massage – but before I left, I insured that I emptied my wallet of every U.S. Bill that I had, by privately handing it to Presawn. It was about $24.00. I would have given her a $100 if I had it.

She was not and is not a conscripted labourer – she had freedom to move for work and she had not debt – as best I could discern in our communication – but she works in a country, as part of a culture, within a context, where something close to slave labor is permitted – or – at the least – labor that does not value full human dignity for their time, for their personal existence, for their rest and refreshment, for their Sabbath.

In the Westt we fail to live into the provisions of the explicit commands of the Jewish Tradition, six days you shall work on the seventh you shall not work. In the West, we see such a law as oppressive and restrictive.

I wonder, though, how Presawn would respond to a law that forced her to cease from her labor. I wonder, though, how Presawn would rejoice in a culture and a God who not only permitted – but required her rest and relaxation.

I wonder how much I – and those with me in the West – do not “get” the pleasures intended by God for the Sabbath when God commands, “Stop!” I wonder, how Presawn would stand in awe and adoration of someone who would go to her boss and require from him, that he give his employees an entire 24 to cease their striving.

Sabbath has taken on new form for me today.

And my awareness of my privilege leaves me humbled – and willing to work for a better world.

Sabbath - Reconsidered because of Terror

The Sabbath is to be characterized by rest and redemption – but it did not feel like that for me today. In fact, if anything, the Sabbath today felt like an experience of strife, slavery, suffering and trauma.

As part of a program in peace and conflict transformation I am engaging in Southeast Asia, I visited two locations today that memorialize the incarceration, torture, and genocidal campaign of the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – from 1975 to 1979. Estimates are that more than 2.5 million persons were killed in these few years – by direct violence or intentional starvation. As the established Communist government attempted to consolidate their claims, they ruthlessly sought out and punished any possible or (mis)perceived threats, resulting in torturous prisons established throughout the land. Today, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre and the Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum memorialize two places in and near PHNOM PENH, Cambodia where torture, death, and mass burials took place.

I visited these places today. The Choeng Ek Genocidal Centre is better known as “the killing fields” – and I stood for several minutes in front of the Stupor – a SE Asian Memorial stone, like a Western “Head Stone” – but larger and different. This particular stupor was perhaps 60 feet tall – and perhaps 20 feet square. Inside the stupor, encased in a glass cairn some 8 feet square, were the skulls of those who had been buried here. Starting at the ground level and on rows of shelves that ascended to the top of the structure – the eye-sockets of 40, 50, perhaps 60 skulls peered out from each shelf. Thousands of empty eye sockets peered out to those who came to “visit” this place. We walked among the fields where they had been buried. With each season of new rainstorms, new effects of erosion result in new fragments of bones appearing from the earth.

We know that more than 17,000 persons passed through the 21st Security Prison to be established, more famously known as Tuol Sleng. This prison, though, was less about incarceration, than it was about torture. Under horrendous conditions, of those who passed through this prison, no one escaped alive. All who were incarcerated here, except seven, died. Those seven who survived, only survived because they were useful to the prison guards, redeemed when the Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh. Of the seven who survived, only three remain alive today. I sat for a time with one of those three. He autographed his biography for me and I brought it back to my hotel room, where I sat to read it later this same day.

Sabbath is supposed to be about rest. Today’s Sabbath reminded me of the toils of human persons, trials, tribulation, and terror.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nazarene Youth Conference meetup

I had the great pleasure of taking seven of my own students, combined with about fifty other students from our church district, to Nazarene Youth Conference (NYC) in Louisville, Kentucky. This conference is for high school students only. Since it is held only once every four years, high schoolers get one chance to attend the conference. This year, over 6300 people participated in the conference. It is a big deal to attend NYC as a student for multiple reasons. Financial commitments, time commitments, travel commitments and family commitments all are valid and usual reasons why students are unable to attend.

While I was walking with some students around the exhibit hall at NYC, I bumped into someone that I vaguely remembered from a past mid-west life of mine. You may recognize him as well:

Yes, two-fifths of the Fallow for Faithfulness group met up at NYC for a brief word and a picture! It was great seeing Levi and the students that he had brought to the conference. We hadn't planned on seeing each other - so many people at the conference make it difficult to meet up with each other - but it was great getting to catch up!

For now, I am back secure in my spot as the West Coast Affiliate, but undoubtedly looking forward to our September retreat!

-- Stephen

Friday, August 5, 2011

Surgery and Sabbath

Recently, my wife needed to have surgery. It was not a very invasive procedure. It was an outpatient ordeal. The surgery went fantastic. I was very thankful to hear. Upon release my wife received instructions about caring for herself while she recovered. The main requirement was rest and not to over-exert herself. Rest does not come naturally to my wife. Sitting around, for her, makes her thinks she is being lazy. Her natural inclination is to make herself busy with things to do and accomplish. But, if she really would like to recover quickly and totally she had to rest and allow the body to restore itself in time.

Sabbath, I am learning, is more than just resting. It's healing. Rest is an important factor because of what it leads to: wholeness. Perhaps continuing to push ourselves without allowing proper rest and healing is akin to straining the body too much after a surgery. It can only lead to more complications, weariness, and pain. Healing cannot happen without rest. I am reminded of Jesus' words, "Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Jesus came to heal and make whole. We are restored to new life as Sabbath becomes an entering into the wonderful rest of a Savior that brings healing to our hurts.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Garden, a Daughter, and a Grandson

My daughter and I (with a little help from my grandson Kendrick) prepared a small plot of ground and planted a very small garden (yellow and zucchini squash; bell peppers; broccoli; and strawberries) in my backyard in May. The record-setting heat wave in Oklahoma has significantly adversely affected any harvest; I have only raised one zucchini squash and two yellow squash out of about six squash plants. I saw several small strawberries early on, but no other plants “made” any produce. A book I finished recently, Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderen has helped me to understand in a more indepth manner my "performance orientation" and my unhealthy excessive need to be "productive" all the time. I am “driven” to "accomplish" to a very unhealthy degree.

This is the first time since leaving home (I grew up on a small acreage and my dad and maternal grandpa had big gardens when I was growing up) that I have attempted even a small garden and, while the results have been discouraging, the almost daily watering and very little weeding, has caused me to slow down and contemplate my unhealthy tendency to be self-reliant rather than dependent on God. This has been difficult and painful, and has caused me to do some more reflections on growing up with one alcoholic and one workaholic parent. Yet, I have learned so much from both of them, who have themselves overcome much. I am discovering that underneath it all may be a trust issue. One of the scriptures brought to mind is 1 Cor. 3:6 where Paul records, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" (NASU). In an excerpt from Sermon 85, John Wesley states in relevant part: "We shall then see there is no opposition between these, 'God works; therefore, do we work;' but, on the contrary, the closest connexion; and that in two respects. For, First, God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works, therefore you must work.”

My daughter and I observed that the two squash plants that yielded any produce at all were ones that we planted outside the “hot box” in clay soil with no fertilizer and very little top soil where I predicted nothing could grow. She now loves reminding me that God does the impossible! There are some lessons there for sure. I am guilty of too much self-effort and not enough dependence and trust in God. I have much difficulty with Sabbath significantly precisely because I have great difficulty resting and not being what I see as productive.

I have been babysitting my grandson on Wednesdays this summer and while it has been enjoyable, it has exposed the tension with my need to be doing something considered to be “more productive.” I am in the process of redefining the meaning of productive. I cannot think of anything more important than spending time building a healthy relationship with my grandson and “giving up” one day a week during my summer break is not being unproductive in an unbiblical way. In fact, it is life-giving to me and provides a service (much deserved break) to my daughter. The section on Sabbath in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun helped me to understand that “playing with children” can be spiritually nourishing and therefore an acceptable Sabbath practice (42). My grandson’s laugh and showing of affection is good medicine for the soul! I am also a little fearful of realizing the depth of tiredness, emotionally and spiritually, that I feel from years of neglecting a healthy Sabbath practice.

I need the daily watering of the Holy Spirit (John 4:14) and the recognition that ultimately everything positive we accomplish is ultimately traceable to the grace of God and never solely to self-effort. Apart from the enablement or empowerment of divine grace, we can do nothing of eternal significance (John 15:5).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Maybe we should learn to "stop" and "listen" like elephants?

From American Public Radio - "Whale Songs and Elephant Loves" - Katy Payne is an acoustic biologist with a Quaker sensibility. From the wild coast of Argentina to the rainforests of Africa, she discovered that humpback whales compose ever-changing songs and that elephants communicate across long distances by infrasound. Here, she reflects on life in this world through her experiences with two of the most exotic creatures.

Ms. Tippett: And you were listening to elephants, but you've also referred to elephants as great listeners.

Ms. Payne: Yeah. They do something marvelous that I wish we would do more of the time. This is something you do find in Quaker meetings, actually, and in Buddhist meetings as well. The whole herd, and that may be 50 animals, will suddenly be still, completely still. And it's not just a stillness of voice, it's a stillness of body. So you'll be watching the moving herd, they'll be all over the place, they'll be facing all directions, doing different things. Suddenly everything freezes as if a movie was turned into a still photograph, and the freeze may last a whole minute, which is a long time. They're listening. When they freeze, they tighten and lift and spread their ears. This tells us — this, among other things, tells us that they're concerned with what's going on over the horizon.

Ms. Tippett: Well, speaking of silence, tell me that story about how you became a Quaker and how that intersects with this work you do.

Ms. Payne: Oh.

Ms. Tippett: That's a big question.

Ms. Payne: Yeah. I guess I've always felt that a simpler life would be a good thing for me. Quakers are wonderful practicers of simplicity. They attempt to get their worldly affairs down to a dull roar so that they can help a little bit in meeting some of the world's needs. I like that. And I find that meditation, which sometimes I've done as a Quaker, sometimes in other forms — I don't know, I shouldn't maybe use the word "meditation." Just being silent is a most wonderful way to open up to what is really there. I see my responsibility, if I have one, as being to listen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Predictable, structured, and cyclic time

The vast majority of the earth’s surface area is covered with water.

Most of the earth is covered not just with water – but with oceans.

Within each ocean (harbor, bay or gulf) - tides rise and fall with predictable and routine regularity.

Tide rises.

Tide falls.

Tide rises.

Tide falls.





In a real way – life is constituted and framed for the life of the planet based on the predictability, the routine, the cycle of the tidal rise and fall.

Water evaporates from these great water regions – is carried over mountains and hills – falls to the ground – and runs to the sea – and Qoheleth notes that the “sea is never full.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Water amasses in Fall and Winter in the forms of snow and ice on high-peaks – creating fresh water runs come Spring and Summer that nurture myriad forms of river fauna, flower – feeding not only the various types of fish and frogs – but establishing the fresh water rivers and streams that water crops and provide sustenance for animals that congregate around the fresh source of water.

Tides rise and fall.

We depend upon and exist in the space of this synchronicity.

Water evaporates and precipitates.

We depend upon and exist in the space of these seasons and cycles.

Perhaps Sabbath should be as routine and predictable as the tides and water-cycle.

Perhaps a predictable, routine, and cyclic construction of our lives is what we need in order to exist in tune with God’s Creation – God’s stable, structured and ordered, good creation.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Are we too "connected" to find Solititude in Sabbath

A thought provoking interview with MIT Founder and Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle.

Author of: Alone Together.

As a person who tries to find sabbath - and who loves the outdoors, I resonated with much of what I heard Ms. Turkle express. Here is a single excerpt from the Full Transcript.

Ms. Turkle: . . . I live on the Cape during the summer, and there are these magnificent dunes that I walk on the Cape. When you walk these dunes — and I've been walking them for years, I mean, decades of going to the Cape. And recently, people have their earphones in and are listening to their music. And more recently, people have their earphones in and are walking them with their handheld devices and are texting as they walk them.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Ms. Turkle: So you're still getting your exercise. And I'm not saying that they're not looking up to, you know, notice anything. I mean, it's not for me to judge that nobody's noticing anything. But there's something about being attentive with the life you meet along those walks and with solitude.

Ms. Tippett: Right. So you're losing the experience of the dunes as a medium for self-realization, for example. I mean, I think that image of the dunes — I think that this idea of solitude is so central and so powerful in your writing, and we don't think about this very often. You know, this basic quality of human health and wholeness that comes with being able to feel at peace in your own company, right, as somebody said?.

Ms. Turkle: Yeah. There's a wonderful phrase. In psychology, it says, "If you don't teach your children to be alone, they'll only always know how to be lonely."

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Like a Bird on a Ledge

Between June 13-20, my daughter, my fifteen-month-old grandson and I traveled to Mississippi to visit with my son-in-law before his deployment to the Middle East. The first day we traveled all the way from Moore, Oklahoma, to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Actually, we tried to find a motel starting in Monroe, Louisiana, and everywhere we stopped was filled up and so we ended up driving to Vicksburg, which was the absolute furthest I had contemplated driving. The next day, we visited the Vicksburg Military Park for about 4 hours, swam at the hotel, and then ate a nice dinner at a local restaurant. The next day, we traveled to Camp Shelby to pick up my son-in-law, Rhea, who had leave from Thursday-Sunday, but was able to leave base on Wednesday afternoon. We then drove to Biloxi, Mississippi, checked into our hotel, and then ate seafood on the gulf coast.

My task was to provide childcare for my grandson 24-7, so my daughter and her husband could spend as much time together as possible except for occasions when we all went somewhere together. They had their own room and my grandson and I shared a room. I guess it truly was more service than sabbath, but it gave me a whole new appreciation for single parenting. While my grandson was well-behaved for a 15-month-old, he wore me out!

So what is the relationship between sabbath and service? When we all went to the beach and waded in the gulf, or ate meals together, or fished in a backwater inlet, the fellowship was great notwithstanding the dread of knowing it was short-lived. I am deciding that one way of remembering the sabbath is to be able to set apart a few minutes here and there, and not just a long block of time. It is amazing to reflect on God in the midst of his wondrous creation! One moment that stands out to me was that my grandson Kendrick caught his very first fish! Unfortunately, I took the picture of him and the fish on my cell phone and it is so old that I cannot figure out how or even if the picture can be downloaded. (My technology guru son says it cannot be done). It was very difficult to say goodbye and the picture of Kendrick waving bye to his daddy is heartwrenching. As of today, Rhea is on his way overseas for the next 9-11 months.

As I journey through this challenging time with my daughter and grandson, I realize how exhausting it is emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I really need to get a handle on this Sabbath thing. I need margins in my life and less scheduled times. I also realize how much I personally need solitude with no one else around, including family. I am reminded of Bob Biehl's statement years ago, that we all need times where we are resting "like a bird on a ledge." Have you ever watched a bird just sitting for a long time on a ledge? I have so much difficulty just being and not doing something. Adele Calhoun, in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (2005), defines solitude as "to leave people behind and enter into time alone with God" (13). Calhoun defines sabbath as "to set apart one day a week for rest and worship of God" (13). It is with the "rest" portion of that definition that I have trouble. Lord, help me to regularly set aside time to rest in You, "like a bird on a ledge."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ebb and Flow - Rolling with the Tide

I’m still not good at sabbath.

I am trying. But I am still not good at it.

For the past several weeks reading – basically every day – I have read an article or two about the role sabbath – in various contemporary contexts and writings. I will plan to pull excerpts and “clippings” from these readings to post to this shared blog soon.

My fellowship opportunity for this summer has me in Thailand – relatively free of most concerns "back home" (though I miss my family terribly and am cognizant of all my wife is doing to support my time away. But, I feel as harried – and maybe more harried here away from family compared when I am at home. I realize that much of that has to do with the way I establish my own goals and expectations – and that is making me mindful of the need to be mindful (!) in setting sabbath goals – and in setting my own life expectations. I am especially being attuned to the fact that I need to not “schedule” so much of my time and leave more time for “freedom” and “space.”

As I am here though, I realize that I had *planned* to “get a lot of work done” while here.

I brought numerous books – in hard-copy and on my Kindle device.

I have several writing projects (most of them big projects, not just blog entries!) that I want to focus on. And, while I had expected to be in a study program while here – for that is why I came – my experiences in other summer fellowships led me to think that this summer would be – like other summers – a morning of shared lecture/study/conversation – followed by an afternoon for reading and research – with evenings mostly free.

After nearly three weeks now here, though, I have come up against the brutal reality that my study program here is from 8:30 to nearly 5:00 – every work day. I find myself spending more time sitting in a classroom – for hours per day – than I have spent “sitting” “in the classroom” since I left High School! In no field of study or in no occupation I have had for some 2 decades have I been “sitting” for more than 3-4 hours per day – and this has me in class and at lunch sitting for eight hours a day – everyday!

On the one hand that means, obviously, that I’m “just sitting” – but it also means that where I had planned to have time to structure my own reading and research for 4-5 hours every afternoon – those hours have been “taken” from me – at least taken from what I had expected. That means I’ve “lost” some 20 hours per week that I had planned to use for the “projects” of my summer.

Needless to say, this has forced me to recalibrate my plans and expectations.

For most of the past three weeks I have felt frustrated and anxious – feeling like I am literally losing my hours!

But, today, while I intentionally took time to Sabbath – I was able to hit my “reset” button. I was able to reflect on what I can do – and can’t do. What I can control – and what I can’t control. What I can realistically expect – and what I can’t plan for. And I have recognized that I need to take my projects and ‘step back’ from the goals on time – and focus on the goal of making progress over time – instead of toward a specific deadline!

I still want to advance in my goals. But I do not need to force arbitrary or contrived deadlines on them. They are *my* projects and what is most important is not that I get them done with stress and tension – but that I learn to plug away on them with attentive awareness to the fact that they are but one small part of the large scope and breadth of my life.

I need to learn better to “go with the flow” and “ebb with the tides” of life.
Today has been a good sabbath. I needed that.

Oh, and it helped that I was literally “going with the flow” and “ebbing with the tide” as the waves of the Gulf of Thailand pushed me back and forth in the water – at the beach at Hua-Hin, Thailand. Thank you, LORD, for the surf. The sea always reminds me of the largeness of Your Creation and the smallness of my petty concerns and worries.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Israel's Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology

I recently finished Walter Brueggemann's book, Israel's Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology. I found it interesting and challenging. Brueggemann takes a look at Israel's liturgy and praise, namely the Psalms. Through the Psalms he tracks the various reasons that these Psalms were formed. It is all about world-making. Some of the Psalms are made in response to the deliverance God has affected for His people. They are specific in their nature, describing God as One who acts. Some Psalms are later employed to legitimate royal authority. God is described but seems to have no action. The royal authority renders God as one who legitimates their authority and does not act to overthrow the status quo. There is a tension that grows between these two uses of the Psalms. Psalms threaten to break out against authority that has become abusive and oppressive. It threatens to overthrow regimes of malevolent power. The use of the Psalms to maintain the status quo seeks to secure the realm and maintain itself through the use of liturgy. Brueggemann's final chapter then goes to expound some of the ways that the American church has fallen into some of these same traps. We allow the culture to shape our liturgy rather than our liturgy to shape our world. We render God an idol rather than an untame God that we cannot control and that might call for us to change. Are the Church and Christians willing to live in relationship with a God who acts and calls us to act? Or, are we simply going to bow the knee to those principalities and powers that seek to keep us under thumb so that God's Kingdom is not made known but is subverted? True praise remembers a God that delivered us from the depths of bondage so that we might not return to that bondage but live gloriously free lives that reflect and honor God in all we do! When this happens, the world is changed dramatically.

In thinking about Sabbath, perhaps it serves a similar function in our own lives. It is doxology that keeps us from simply accepting our culture's idolatry and ideology. Rather, it is an imaginative discourse with God and the community in order that God's Kingdom might come to fruition within our world. Sabbath is ignored and pushed to the side because it is truly dangerous. It threatens those authorities and powers that seek legitimacy over our lives. Sabbath undermines the status quo that renders the weak and the powerless vulnerable. Instead, Sabbath is interacting with a living God (not an idol) that is continuously transforming us so that we are Christ-like in our world. And, if that is true, we cannot remain idle (idol?) as the Christian community in our world. Is rest a part of reclaiming true worship? Without a doubt! There is a significant difference between rest and idleness.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Carpentry and Sabbath

For the past month I have been working with a friend doing various carpentry jobs around the OKC metro area. I have done such work before on a limited basis. So, most of this has been learning new skills and getting to know my friend better. This has been a wonderful new experience. On the days that I have worked, I have generally woken up very early and worked long hours (up to 15) those days. It can be strenuous work physically and it can definitely test your patience when things are not cooperating as you might hope. However, with that said, working this job and getting to know my friend better has been a wonderful Sabbath. My primary occupation is a youth pastor and a Master's student. This is who I am. It can become very difficult to live out each of these "jobs." Learning a new skill and spending time with a friend that I can discuss difficult issues has allowed me to pause, reflect, and learn. It has broken my regular rhythms and has become a means of grace. Odd that I should say something like that about carpentry and working long, hard hours. As I reflect upon why this is Sabbath-like, I can only come to one conclusion. Working carpentry with my friend allows me to rest from my typical concerns. It is therapeutic. I can rest my mind and find enjoyment in what my hands have made. It's not about how much money I can make, but it really has become a way to deepen a relationship that I value and learn new skills that I find interesting. It is a life-giving endeavor. It is a way for me to pray and play, yet oddly gives me rest in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life. Who would have thought that Sabbath can be found in building closets, putting in doors, or trimming out houses. It's not primarily about the activities we perform, but rendering our lives open to a fresh touch from God in the midst of the places we find ourselves.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sabbath as Relationship Building - apart from prescribed time parameters.

I (Marty) have been gearing up for travel – and have been traveling – for the past number of weeks.

I’ve been in Bangkok, Thailand for the past 40 hours – and it took me 30 hours to get here in flights across the globe. (I am exactly 12 time zones away – half-way-round-the-world – from home.) In the previous weeks I took time to travel with my family to Colorado – and with my wife to the East Coast – NC and VA.

The days in NC and VA with my wife – did not feel like a Sabbath, though I was “on vacation.” We camped on the beach near Kitty Hawk, NC – and then in the Shenandoah Mountains where I had opportunity to do a day-hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT). We also spent several nice nights in hotels in Richmond and Williamsburg. We spent a lot of time on the road – between our locations for the days we were there . It did not feel like Sabbath – but, I wonder if it was truly a kind-of-Sabbath – in so far as it was intentional and specific time with my wife – her and I alone, which is always delightful.

Our family trip to Colorado was more haphazard and last minute. It did not feel like a sabbath. I have two friends facing different procedures related to cancer. But, it proved to be a kind of Sabbath – though, again, harried with road time. I developed good friendships with many persons when I was a pastor in Colorado in the mid 1990s. One of those families has built a large cabin in northwest of Colorado Springs near Pike’s Peak, outside Woodland Park. That family hosted my family in their home – and, additionally, hosted a BBQ for several families that were connected to my ministry years in Colorado.

In both cases of my travel with wife and with family – I was busy – I was driving from location to location with my spouse – or I was driving to and from persons in hospitals and in dinner settings. I was busy. I was active. But it was a-kind-of-Sabbath. It was most definitely a break from my “six-day-a-week” work week – as I was not going into the office on the weeks that I was out of State – nor was I at the church facilitating church work.

I was busy and I was active, but I was engaged in shared relational energy – more than work.

I did not go to make the hospital calls in Colorado because I was “pastoring” someone – but because I was visiting friends.

I did not drive all over NC and VA because I had to – but because we chose to.

One of the issues I would not about Sabbath – in this regard, then – is that Sabbath is about rest and relaxation – but it does not have to be a total cessation of all activity. Rather, Sabbath can include activity – but activity not motivated toward some goal or work or obligation – but activity shaped in the context of relational inspiration and joyful fellowship.

In NC and VA – I shared active, busy daily routines – but full of vibrant life in conversation with my wife!

In CO – I shared active, busy daily routines – but full of vibrant life in conversation with shared friends and family.

Sabbath has been defined as being about occupational inactivity – but perhaps Sabbath is as much about intentional relational activity.

Sabbath has been defined as “having” to be “at church” in prescribed parameters – but perhaps Sabbath is as much about being with family and friends as being “somewhere” at “some time.”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sabbath as "Unplugging"-an interview with Eugene Peterson

I must admit that Eugene Peterson is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters when it comes to the discussion of pastoral life and sabbath.  Here is an excerpt from an interview Eugene recently did with Gabe Lyons:

What should a Sabbath look like in my life? What does it look like in yours?
A day of unplugging. That's a good way to put it. When I was a pastor, the Sabbath was on Monday, because Sunday was a workday for me. My wife and I didn't practice Sabbath when we had small children, because it took us a few years to figure out our rhythm.
But typically on a Monday, we would pack a lunch, and we would go to the woods. We'd hike for three or four hours in silence. Then we prayed, had lunch, talked, and worked our way back home.
We'd get home by the time the kids were home. Interesting, they loved this. We weren't uptight about anything because it was the Lord's Day. We played and we prayed and didn't do anything that wasn't necessary. Unplugged everything, basically.
It transformed our lives, our family life, our personal lives, and our congregational life. Not everybody did it, but they saw us doing it. Somehow that gave them a sense that they don't have to do what the world's telling them to do. It really does take effort and determination. Those of us who want to keep the Sabbath are going to have to be pretty intentional about it. I've been doing this for at least 40 years consistently, and I've had dozens of students and parishioners who have also adopted this practice. Most of us find it's the most radical thing we've ever done-and the most creative."

I want to highlight two things that I gained from this excerpt.
First, I love the imagery of Sabbath as unplugging. As I blog I can see at the least 10 different cords or cables that are "plugged into" something. Imagine for a day that I simply unplugged all of those things and let them rest and be. The aesthetics of my office would be impacted very positively. Think about the simplicity of all of those items being "unplugged".  Not only do I have cords strewn about, but my calendar is open just one tab over from my blogger tab. I simply have to glance at the colorful Google calendar to see all that I, personally, am "plugged into".  Again, imagine if only for a brief period I "unplugged". If I unplugged from the role of professor, the role of campus minister, the role of landlord, the role of _________. If I only unplugged and simply existed as Eli, as a child of God in need of his presence, guidance, and Fatherly ways. Sabbath as "unplugging", I think Eugene is on to something.

Second, Eugene mentions his own personal Sabbath practice when he had children that were school aged. As many of you know I am the father of 2 month old twin boys. Needless to say I can't for the life of me figure out what Sabbath, "unplugging" looks like in the midst of keeping up with Ian and Nolan. I am constantly plugging a bottle in one of their mouths to satisfy their appetite. Eugene and his wife Sabbath together without the kids. They bring the kids in on the Sabbath practice later, but they intentionally share this time together. They unplug together, then they can stay unplugged with their children later in the day. That seems to make the idea of Sabbath with small children or children in general far less daunting.  And the effect of this practice was revolutionary for the family, it "...gave them a sense that they don't have to do what the world's telling them to do." No, they are free to do what God tells them to do.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Working on the Sabbath

"So, what is your position about working on the Sabbath?" One of my dearest lifetime friends, while he and his family were visiting from out-of-state over Memorial Day weekend, raised this question while he and I (and both our spouses) removed and replaced some rotted wood trim on the front of my house this past Sunday afternoon. This led to many questions and some discussion about the true meaning of the Sabbath. I struggled, because while I did not ask for help, it was volunteered, I did take advantage of his expertise (he is an architect by trade) to accomplish something that was years overdue and on my "must do" list this summer. Through the challenges we faced in this project, I believe that we affirmed, bonded, and strengthened our long-term relationship in ways that are difficult to explain. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." I made the argument that "when the ox is in the ditch everyone has to turn to, even on the Sabbath." Removing rotted wood and nails, replacing it with new rough cedar, priming, measuring, sawing, caulking, remeasuring, fitting, leveling, and refitting trim, and nailing it up. Not being used to much manual labor, I was so sore the next morning it was difficult to get up. Honestly, we experienced a depth of communion in the midst of some very hard work that would not have happened if we had simply lounged around in the house watching TV. It was ultimately refreshing, renewing, and restoring - and it was work.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trueblood on the Sabbath

In Foundations for Reconstruction (1946), in Chapter 4, "Freedom From the Angelic Fallacy," Elton Trueblood suggests that one of Protestantism's worst mistakes in strategy has been to minimize church attendance. While it is a half-truth that "[n]o external ceremonies are necessary," it is also true that "many [external ceremonies] are extremely helpful" (49). Trueblood earlier observed that one of the chief reasons why the southern kingdom in Israel survived whereas the northern kingdom was never revived after its fall, was the emphasis that Ezekiel and other prophets like him in the southern kingdom placed on the Sabbath. Observance of the Sabbath was one of the major instruments of cultural survival. "Once each week the people stood up to be counted in their alien environment and, though the weaklings naturally fell away, the faithful were consequently strengthened" (42). "The point is that the institution of Sabbath congregational worship saved a precious heritage from extinction" (43). "Mere individual religion does fairly well in prosperity, but something stronger is needed in a genuine crisis" (43). Alas, we are men and not angels or saints incapable of lapses. "The fundamental reason why men need the ministrations of the church is that human life, left to itself, has a natural bias toward evil, a bias which is abundantly demonstrated by the fact that our most ideally constructed communities are tainted with the struggle for prestige and personal power" (47). Theologically, this would most accurately be termed total (and inherited) depravity. "External helps are important, not for their own sake, but precisely because they are helpful in leading frail and forgetful humans into what may truly become a religion of reality" (49). "The error of the devotee of individual religion lies his criticism of those inside the churches, which is correct, but in his implied flattery of those outside the churches, which is erroneous. The awful truth is that the sinners are quite as bad as the saints, and sometimes worse" (48). One of the insights to be gained from Trueblood's reflections on the fourth commandment is the importance of both individual and corporate worship. Christians are not intended to be lone rangers. We are, in the words of Stanley Grenz, "created for community."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mistaking Sabbath Rest as Optional

Robert Sherman warns against two misunderstandings of Sabbath. Sabbitarianism mistakenly makes the Sabbath itself the object of our allegiance, rather than our subordination to God. This is not the mistake with which I personally struggle. The other mistake is to lose a sense of subordination altogether. Sabbath is not optional; it is a commandment, an obligation. Ouch! This IS where I struggle. "True Sabbath rest is not realized unless it is oriented, indeed, guided to its proper end." Jesus does offer rest, but that rest is not aimless free time. "Sabbath rest is not only a gracious gift, but also a form of discipleship, that is, training in communion." Observing Sabbath rest assists us, perhaps even humbles us, to acknowledge that whatever time we have been given is originally and ultimately God's time and not merely our own. I am afraid that I have too often viewed Sabbath rest as optional. In the words of Dorothy Bass, "we had become so captivated by our work, so impressed by its demands on us and our own indispensability, that [the Sabbath commandment] had simply vanished from our consciousness." This reminds me that first we form our habits, and then our habits form us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Calvin and Sabbath

In "Reclaimed by Sabbath Rest," Robert Sherman reviews John Calvin's understanding of the Fourth Commandment. Calvin begins, "The purpose of this commandment is that, being dead to our own inclinations and work, we should meditate on the Kingdom of God, and that we should practice that meditation in the ways established by him." See Isaiah 58:13. First, Sabbath obedience is a spirit of letting go - one must lay aside their own interests and pursuits. In Calvin's words, to obtain true spiritual rest "believers ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them."

Second, the expectation that Christians worship together regularly on an appointed day must never be viewed as an end in itself. No particular day is holy in itself. At times when it is not possible to worship on the appointed day, one may still meditate on God's works and so fulfill the commandment. "God's purpose in establishing Sabbath observance was not due to any intrinsic sacredness in the seventh day, but only to provide humanity a regular day of worship, that good order and harmony might be promoted."

Third, God intends the Sabbath to be a day of rest for laborers and servants. "Sabbath observance consists primarily in a spiritual attitude, a posture of piety that, ideally, defines our daily meditations and shapes the whole of our lives...Sabbath observance is not a task to undertake, but rather a sign of God's grace and communion with us, and a foretast of our own true fulfillment. It should be characterized by joy and gratitude."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Grandson and Sabbath

My grandson Kendrick is taking his morning nap as I write this entry. My daughter is working at the Farmers Market in OKC on Wednesdays this summer while her husband, Rhea, is in predeployment training out of state. I have the opportunity to watch my grandson all day today now that I have a more flexible schedule after the completion of the spring semester. My daughter asked me this morning if I was finished with my grading, and I said, "why do you ask?" She said, "you seem so much more relaxed." I actually finished my grading and turned in final grades two days before the deadline today. (Last year I was about two days late).

An article entitled, "Reclaimed by Sabbath Rest" by Robert Sherman has me thinking about rhythms and patterns. Like the academic year. Like Kendrick's morning nap. Like summer break. Sherman notes that "we live in multiple calendars simultaneously, compartmentalizing and juggling the differing rhythms as everyday life demands." To properly use the time we are given in a wise way, the time we spend must be "informed by, and aligned with, God's purposes." One of the insights I gained from Sherman is that setting aside regular time to spend with my grandson is a form of sabbath for me. It is a wise and good rhythm in my life. Sabbath is time set aside not only for communion with God, but also communion with one another. "Sabbath was indeed made for humanity, as a gift and blessing of time for rest and refreshment, for joyful communion with God, one another, and all creation." Another insight is that sabbath is "a repentant emptying of the self-centered self." When we set aside time for "joyous communion with family and neighbors" we are acting on our allegiance to the Lord of the Sabbath - this reminds me that sabbath rest "is not simply aimless 'free time.'" Every adult needs a child in their life, because this is one of the most effective ways for adults to learn! Thank you Kendrick and Shea for helping me to experience and understand sabbath better! And thank you Jeremy for sending me a bibliography so I could more easily find resources to study about sabbath.

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
From the laziness that is content with half-truths,
From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth,
O God of truth deliver us!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sabbath time with Spaghetti and Soup!

We had a couple hours of delightful shared conversation and fellowship - over a meal including pasta, salad, bread, and soup!

Missed 2 of our members - but thankful for shared time to reflect on life.

For each of us - it is the "end of the semester" which brings certain patterns of our lives to a conclusion. And yet, our lives continue on in many "busy" ways.

One continues to learn what it means to parent - one gets married next week - several of us continue in establishing the good sabbath patterns we have started - and we had time to reflect on how that is changing us - and our spouses/kids in the process.

Great time!

Blessed to be a blessing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Contemplative Pastor

I really enjoyed reading this book. More than that though, it was challening reading Peterson's understanding of pastoral ministry. I found myself wrestling with the tensions that he describes. How do we fulfill our vocational calling while treating those we minister to with Gospel dignity. That is a difficult tightrope to walk at times. I especially like the distinction that Peterson makes in outling pastoral vocation as unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. Unbusy indicates that pastors are not bogged down by "running" a church. Although administration is part and parcel of our "job" as pastors, that is not what we are called to "be." Being unbusy means that we are unrushed. It is not a "works-based" righteousness. It is important that we embody that in our ministry. It is about being saturated in prayer and Scripture. The Spirit, not the calendar, directs our lives. We are not called to be important (we usually show our importance by how much stuff we do). It is a vanity that says the Church cannot survive without my effort. Being unbusy is a resting in God's work in the Church and that we are called to "be" not "do." Furthermore, we are called to be subversive. We oppose the culture and what it deems we are to be as pastors and as people. It means that the kingdom of self is replaced by the Kingdom of God in our lives and in the lives of our congregations. It is looking for the Kingdom that is even now burgeoning in our lives. And, it is allowing our wills to be subsumed by that Kingdom so that we are partners with God's re-creational work in the world. Finally, pastors are apocalyptic. This is not end-of-the-world proclamations aimed at our people. Rather, the apocalyptic pastor is one who prays, perseveres, and uses language poetically (as a "maker"). We are truth tellers that are shaped by the Word and employ words to shape the world. It is a confidence that God's work in the world is already happening and will come to fruition and completion in the fullness of time. Sabbath helps us "cease" so that we are fully present, able to listen, and focused upon what God is doing rather than on what we are doing to bring God's Kingdom about.

For me, it has been a struggle to stop. I don't do it very well. This has been especially true with finishing school, keeping up with ministry, and finishing wedding and honeymoon plans. There's so much to be accomplished and it seems there is so little time to accomplish it in. Plus, I feel important when I have responsibilities that I am able to juggle. It shows competence and skill. But, too often it denigrates into building my kingdom rather than seeking to build God's Kingdom. It is an exercise in ego. And, although I cannot neglect all of these activities and goals, it is important that I realize what is truly valuable and important in this life. It is vital that I remember that I am valued because of who I am in Christ, not what I accomplish in life. It doesn't eliminate all of the tasks that must be finished, but it does prioritize them. Sabbath is helping me remember this and re-evaluate my life in light of those facts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Crisis Moments and Sabbath

I recognized the sad tone in my mother's voice when she called last week - it had to be bad news - someone had died. She called to inform me that my niece's husband, age 38, was killed in a motorcycle accident. He leaves behind a devoted wife and two teenagers. I missed two days of the last week of classes to drive to the funeral in Conroe, Texas. The Monday before, my sister-in-law, had a double mastectomy. The day I was leaving for Texas, my sister's father-in-law passed away. Legal and theological questions and family related issues have abounded. These crisis moments, combined with my lack of energy and motivation, reminded me how important it is to have margins in my life, that is, regular sabbath times of renewal. In the midst of all this, my daughter and I have built a small raised garden bed, about 4 feet x 4 feet square. We have planted strawberry plants, pepper plants, squash, and broccoli. The hot, dry weather almost did them in while I was gone to Texas. None of my family members remembered to water them while I was gone to Texas. When I got home, they looked pretty sad: wilted and fallen over. Kinda like I felt after 16-17 hours being on the road for two days. I watered them hoping for the best and lo and behold, they looked great the next day: perky and standing straight. Death is mostly an unwelcome reminder of the fragility of life in this fallen world. But it has caused me to slow down and be more involved with my loved ones and to tell them how much I love them. "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart's desire and I long to worhsip thee." Oh Lord, that you might make it so in my life!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Being intentional - takes intentionality!

Being intentional about Sabbath - takes focused attention and intention.

I have been accomplishing much recently - lots going on. I have been feeling great about all the "things" I've been getting done - the "boxes" getting "checked-off" on my checklist!

And, in the midst of it, I have realized that my sense of Sabbath time . . . and my practical sabbath keeping - has disappeared! How easy it has been to get caught up in the stuff of life, work, preaching, teaching, caring for people - that I've missed out on stopping.

I need to stop this.

I need to stop.

I need to be intentional about making Sabbath time a priority.

~ marty

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sickness and Sabbath

I have been sick the past week. It has been rather inconvenient and miserable. The misery was compounded by the fact that I became ill during Holy Week. Of all weeks to be sick during the year, this is by far the most inconvenient. I had parts in the Seder meal, was designing and setting up the service for Good Friday, needed to participate in our church's Holy Saturday work-day, and I looked forward to Easter service! There was so much to do and so little time to do it. To complicate matters, schoolwork and helping to plan our wedding consumed my energies. I was staying up late writing papers, getting up early to complete tasks, going to class, attending meetings, and reading books. To say the least, rest was the last thing I could afford at the moment. It was an inconvenient thing I pushed to the side so that I could accomplish all that needed to be accomplished. But, the body has a funny way of reacting to all work and no rest. There comes a point where it eventually forces you to rest. Exhaustion takes its toll. The immune system runs like a beat up Ford Pinto. Finally, Sabbath is forced upon you. Many of the tasks that I had planned to accomplish or the things I planned to attend were put on hold. They did not get accomplished. Work became secondary. My body, which God designed, had re-oriented my world. At first, I was not at all pleased with this situation. I worried about all of the "dropped" responsibilities I had neglected. I resented my body's lack of stamina. Eventually, however, I came to appreciate the "Sabbath" I had been forced to observe. The world continued without me, the church did not fail, my work eventually was completed. My lack of productivity was directly linked to my lack of rest. But, more than that, the lack of rest atrophied my ability to enjoy life at the moment. Sickness usually does not come at convenient moments, neither does Sabbath. There's always something pulling for our attention. There's always something needing to be accomplished. But, finding the value of rest can make all of the difference in how we truly live, not just exist.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week - Sabbath

It is the time between Palm Sunday - and Easter Sunday Morning.

It is not yet Maundy Thursday. Not yet the Seder meal. Not yet the command to 'love one another.' Not yet Gethsemane. Not yet a trial. Not yet a friday - and not until after Sunday that we can think of it as a Good Friday.

There is so much that Christian persons pause to reflect on - to consider - to think about, in these days.

So much history about his-story as we remember it.

It seems inappropriate to think about "stopping" on this week. I am not sure why.

I think about the stories associated with Peter during the times of Jesus' trial. Peter, in a way, stood by and "stopped" and did nothing in the moments of Jesus' trial.

I wonder what Peter was thinking. I wonder what he was *really* thinking.

Did he want to intervene? We know, of course, that John's gospel tells us that he *had* intervened to cut-off the ear of Malchus. He was willing to *do* something. But then, at the trial, when we read about how Peter will deny Jesus three times, I think we have a tendency to view Peter as "weak" or "passive" or "unwilling" to identify with Jesus. But, the story of what Peter did at Gethsemane demonstrates he was quite active, strong, and willing to intervene.

Peter was willing to be active and intervene.

But, in some way, Peter was forced into a position of "stopping" - where he was forced to watch what happened with Jesus.

I am not sure that Peter was in "sabbath" in the way we think about sabbath, but being forced to stand by must have been a challenge for Peter.

In some ways, stopping and watching during this week of Passion is hard for me.

I am not good at stopping to watch when and where others "work." I am not good at stopping and watching when others serve me.

Perhaps during these next few days, I need to take more time to stop - watch - listen - and learn from what Jesus did and what Jesus does.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

John 9: Light of the World

Today's passage was from John 9. In this passage, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. It is a miracle that is performed on a Sabbath. Of course, the religious leaders condemn Jesus for working of the Sabbath. God does not give us the Sabbath simply to make us stop working. Rather, the stopping of work on Sabbath directs our attention back to the redemptive work God is doing in and among us. Getting caught up in the "demands" of the Sabbath without being aware of God's presence and work leaves the Sabbath as a dead ritual. It ceases to be life-giving. Like Jesus, we are to "pause" and see the opportunities for God's life-giving activity.

I am reminded through this passage that my own routine, even when I am not working, often is not Sabbath. I am caught up in the theological questions and enigmas as did the disciples. I discredit those that claim God's work in their life with this-world explanations, as did the Pharisees and neighbors. I I worry and fear about how other perceive me rather than how I am perceived by God, as were the man's parents. I am confronted with my own blindness but have the audacity to question back, "What now? Am I blind, too?" I have all of my theological categories, presuppositions, and beliefs pulled together. If it doesn't fit in my theological box, I am quick to dismiss it as something other than God. But what happens when God does something that doesn't fit in my theological box? What happens when my blindness is exposed? Do I clamor back to the comfort of my darkness or am I willing for sight to be given by the Light of the World? Sabbath, for me, must become much more about stepping into the Light. It must become about putting down my guard, putting aside my box, and presenting myself before a God whose light exposes my deepest shadows. Sabbath may be about ceasing so that we may rest... but it must also be a ceasing from striving to control, constrain, and categorize God's work. It is a rest in which our attention is drawn back to the One "sent" from God so that we may "see" and be saved.

Sabbath - Sunday Morning Birth!

Congratulations to the Pagel Family!

Kendra and Eli welcome their two new boys this morning - Ian and Nolan! Ian, 5lbs 6oz and his "little" brother, Nolan, 4lbs 2oz.

I am writing, remembering when my own kids came into my life and our lives.

Kids force us to 'stop' from old routines - for sure! They are incredible opportunities to celebrate new life - for sure! And they certainly force us to change old habits. (And they often force us to sleep in the oddest ways!)

We celebrate with Eli and Kendra today! And we hope that their routines for life are disrupted in all the best ways - with Ian and Nolan.

May it serve as time for they - and for us - to reflect on what is most important in the totality of our lives - and what is most important in how we prioritize our time!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Gardening and parables teach me about sabbath

Garden’s are wonderful examples of God’s work – at work – when we’re not working.

Garden’s are wonderful examples that even when we “stop” from work – from our ceasing – God’s work in Creation continues toward making life fruitful and full.
In a parable of Jesus in Mark's Gospel, Jesus relates the following - which I have chosen to render in "my own translation" simply for consideration and pause - adding periods to slow down our reading:

It is also like this with the Kingdom.

A man scatters seed.

On the earth.



He sleeps.

He wakes.

The seed sprouts.

The seed grows.

He does not know how.

By itself.

The soil produces.


First the stalk.

Then the head.

Then the full kernel in the head.

As soon as the grain is ripe.

He harvests.

The harvest has come.

One of the things I value about this parable, and the lessons I am learning as I sabbath, has to do with how unimportant I am in "creating" it and "making" "it" happen.

The good of the garden happens mostly -

- without me.

It grows of its own.

I scatter, but I can not make it grow.

In the meantime, I’ll sabbath.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Taking a Fishing Sabbath in the Midst of a Chaotic Life

On Sunday, February 20, my son-in-law Rhea left for his National Guard pre-deployment training for Afghanistan. Early Monday morning, February 21, our S3 Group traveled to Columbia Theological Seminary for our 3-day orientation retreat. We returned home from the S3 orientation late Thursday night, February 24, and I taught 3 classes on Friday. On Saturday, February 26, we spent much of my grandson Kendrick's first birthday at Children's Hospital in the Emergency Room for him to receive breathing treatments.

My next Saturday, March 5, I spent about 5 hours in a Board of Church Service (Credentials Committee) meeting and then took my wife, daughter, son, and grandson, to dinner to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday. On Tuesday, March 8, we were again at Children's Hospital ER with Kendrick. Early on Wednesday evening, March 9, Kendrick was admitted to the Shawnee Hospital with probable pneumonia and was not released until late Friday afternoon, March 11. I spent two nights in the hospital, and the second night Kendrick slept on my chest in the hospital bed for almost 8 hours straight. Kendrick had slept on his mom the first night.

On Sunday, March 13, we drove to Camp Gruber near Beggs, Oklahoma to visit Rhea and celebrate his 24th birthday, and returned home on Monday, March 14. Over Spring Break, March 14-18, I tried to get some rest, but also took on some contract legal work and conducted a premarital counseling session. On Saturday, March 19, I took my son and daughter, ages 20 and 23, respectively, fishing. On Sunday, March 20, I celebrated my 50th birthday with family.

On Monday evening, March 21, I conducted a premarital counseling session. On Tuesday evening, March 22, I attended and spoke briefly at a MACU Ministry Leadership Institute Pastor Appreciation Banquet. The next morning at 7:00 a.m., I attended a focus group for a Master of Ministry Degree Proposal and then taught back-to-back classes (with chapel between) from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. On Friday, March 25, Rhea returned home from training for about 4 days leave, and we went fishing that evening. We celebrated my daughter Shea's 24th birthday on Saturday, March 26.

In the midst of the last 6 weeks, I have been on two rounds of antibiotics for bronchitis and missed classes on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 29 and 30, due to some kind of intestinal flu. I have also been conducting premarital counseling for two different couples, one to two different evenings per week not to mention my regular teaching schedule, committee meetings, and meetings with students. I am quite confident that my S3 colleagues carry comparable if not heavier schedules. (Marty definitely carries a heavier schedule).

Though it was only for a couple of hours each time, I really enjoyed going fishing two times in the midst of my crazy, chaotic schedule. I realized how much I miss fishing. Yes, I caught some sand bass and crappie, but I mostly enjoyed getting out away from the busyness and loudness of my urban existence and - to be candid - the needs, wants, and demands of people. The sounds of silence. Solitude. Meaningful conversation with family members I care about deeply. Fellowship. Communion with creation and the Creator. The wonder of it all. Hiking through briers and thorns and undergrowth and finding a way down the steep banks to the flowing creek below. Looking at raccoon tracks. Watching my kids slipping and sliding down the steep slope and laughing so hard I lost my balance and fell off a muddy tree root I was standing on. I fell on my backside in the red, sticky mud! I watched my daughter catch a unique fish - a drum. I watched my son make his way out on a dead fallen tree that stretched out into the water. I watched my daughter set up camera shots as she is so gifted at taking pictures. I watched my son release the fish we caught back into the water.

Why don't I stop and take a fishing sabbath more often? Why do I stay so busy? Why am I so driven to be productive? Am I hiding from something? Am I running away from something? I have asked and answered such questions multiple times before, but sooner or later, I seem to fall into the same traps of busyness and overwork. Yet, I am thankful for the opportunity to be more intentional and to be more reflective. Time seemed to pass so slowly when I was holding my grandson in that hospital bed for 8 straight hours. But at that time he was more important than any other concern in my life. Why can I not receive the truth that I am that important to God? I can easily share that truth for others, just not me. It is much easier for me to be a giver than a receiver. I am haunted by the insight of a Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, who, in so many words, said that true repentance is making the right choice when you are faced with the same temptation or challenge in the future, that resulted in a failure in the past. There is no true repentance in making the same wrong choices as new opportunities arise. Or, as I often tell my students, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. As Ravi Zacharias says, Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to give dead people life. I need the quality of "life" that Jesus talked about in John 10:10. Lord, forgive me where I have fallen short and empower me to desire and to make amendments to my life where needed.

I am also discovering who the real heroes are and guess what - it is not me. The real heroes are people like my daughter Shea who are sacrificing around the clock so her husband Rhea can fulfill his desire to serve his country. She and he - and so many others like them - they are real heroes. People like single moms and dads doing the best they can on limited resources. The working poor. The widows, orphans, and aliens.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sabbath - Fail

If you remember last week, I posted a rambling entry about natural rhythms and my plan for Sabbath.  If you didn't catch it, let me remind you of what I committed to in regards to Sabbath practice. I wrote:

"Here is my Sabbath commitment. I commit to keep Sabbath and remain present with my family and my faith for 2-4 hours each Sunday. I will do my best to keep this Sabbath time and share you how I succeed and fail in my journey." You can read the entire post here if you want.

Well, here is my update. I failed miserably to keep Sabbath. The worst part about it for me is that I didn't even give myself a chance to succeed. I slept in, until I had to get up to go work a softball game for 3 hours. Then headed straight from the softball game to the house we just sold to pack boxes and move things into storage. Finally, I thought about my failed Sabbath as I headed to an 11pm meeting at work. Needless to say at that point there weren't even 2 hours remaining in the day and I knew that I had failed.
That feeling as I drove down an empty highway in Oklahoma, was very defeating. However, I knew that: 

"...neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39) 

You know what that means? Not even my forgetting to "Remember the Sabbath" can keep me from the love of God. Even though I failed miserably, God's love is never failing. I can still find rest in his love, and hopefully do better next week.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fallow for Accountability

In Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson writes, "Pastors must be in the avant garde of sabbath-keepers, reforesting land, so savagely denuded by the humorless bulldozers, with playgrounds and prayergrounds." And, in the margin of my book, I wrote, "Love, love this!" I love this statement because of its challenge and affirmation for my life. On one hand, I am very good at playgrounds, but on the other hand, I am terrible at prayergrounds. I love to play. Since starting a weekly Sabbath with my family, I have been reminded of this, and I see how my children love to play as well. They anticipate that we will all gather for games and share about our days. Just tonight Dillon asked when were we having another family night. However, we reminded him that we did on Thursday night, Friday afternoon and even watched a movie together tonight. He loves to play. The old adage, "Like father, like son," applies here. Thus, the words of Eugene Peterson affirm my love of playing. in fact, I think I will start a game of hide-n-seek in the house tomorrow.

While I am good at playing, I am not the best at prayer. Yes, I pray throughout the day, and yes, I enjoy silence every evening once the family sleeps the night away. Yet, prayer as a set time where I sit and intercede, listen and just be is not my best suit. I am finding that this concentration towards and for Sabbath is challenging me to be a better pray-er.

Since I have been deemed, "He who likes to change the subject," I will divert the rest of my attention and space to writing about the Graham family Sabbath on Friday, March 25, 2011. On this Friday I decided to take a nap finding myself really worn out from the previous two weeks of work and family visiting from out-of-town. I woke up in time to pick up my daughter from preschool. Once we arrived back home, she decided to watch a movie, and I choose to get some needed closet tidying done prior to the set Sabbath hours (This was actually rewarding because my wife was ecstatic whenever she returned home from work, she exclaimed, "Awesome job, honey! Believe that if you will.).

Later, the three of us set off for Dillon's school Cub Call (elementary pep-rally) where he was set to be the Cub of the Month for kindergarten. We rewarded Payton and him by heading to a local frozen yogurt place spending time to talk about one another's day. Then, we headed to Wal-Mart (It was odd to actually be there since Ginger now coupons and rarely shops there) to celebrate good report cards by purchasing the kids a gift. It is not our usual custom to buy toys, but we wanted to celebrate the excellent reports and achievements of our kids. At Wal-Mart, I was pleased to hear that Dillon remembered what Sabbath meant. He excitedly produced a Sunday school answer whenever I asked him who participated in the first Sabbath: Jesus. It was fine. The whole Trinitarian understanding of God can make that confusing anyway; besides, he is only six.

After picking out toys, we shared a meal together at home. Ginger challenged the Sabbath notion of cooking; however, I trumped her by saying that she should just prepare it beforehand in stead. The darts being sent from her might have possibly broken the Sabbath understanding of no killing on Sabbaths. While I write tongue-in-cheek, I should probably offer to cook the next meal. Sharing a meal is always fun at our house. Typically, someone breaks out into a dance routine evolving into some form of discipline; but, a man has to do what a man has to do even if that means getting in trouble for inciting the crazies. We spent the rest of the evening at a t-ball game where Dillon was able to tag a player from another team out, something he has been dying to do. It was a good Sabbath as it was filled with lots of playing and shared time. We prayed for the meal and that evening before bed, but we should have spent more time in focused prayer.

May we all be inspired to be cultivators of play- and praygrounds...

PS - I think refusing to proof-read blog entries is also part of my Sabbath keeping experience.