Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sabbath as Kairos: A Salvation Event

Robert Webber reminds us of the importance of time in worship. Chronos is ordinary time. The regular moments of every day that sequentially move us from minute to minute, day to day, and year to year. Kairos is a different measure of time. "Kairos is time that marks a crisis or a turning point in history" (Worship is a Verb 156). These moments of time are the interjections of God's work in the world. Scripture speaks of various moments in time that have been Kairos moments for God's people. The God-moments forever transform God's people and mark their journey.

Webber writes, "Like the Hebrews, Christians also have a kairos moment which informs and gives meaning to historical sequence. It is the Christ-event - the birth, life, death, resurretion, ascension, and promised return of the Savior. As Christians, we confess that all time has a center. And that center is Jesus Christ himself who has redeemed all things... From this center, this kairos event in history, the meaning and significance of all time radiates. It is through the remembrance of the Christ-event in worship that we are able to sanctify all time. Therefore, time in worship now becomes a means through which we can enter into the service of the King... by recapitulating the kairos event, [we] can mystically and symbolically represent time as redeemed and proclaim the birth, life, death, resurrection, coming of the Holy Spirit, and return of Christ" (156).

Sabbath is not chronos but kairos time. It is a crisis moment or turning point in our lives, a place for God's interjection into our normal time and routine. Sabbath provides space for those God-moments that form us as God's people. It is an opportunity for our lives to be transformed from the pharaoh-driven world to the Exodus rest of God's salvation. Kairos time still impacts and orders our chronos time. It charts a course and directs our path. Sabbath centers our lives upon Christ, who is the Lord of the Sabbath. In so doing, we are directed to enter the chronos of life as holy people made in the image of God. Sabbath, especially in our commercial and commodity laden culture, may well be a salvific event for us and for the Church as we recognize our value is found in Christ not commercialism.

From the Acorn . . . the Oak. The Seven Minute Sabbath

For the next few weeks I am going to - in intentional and deliberate ways - take a daily "Seven Minute Sabbath." It may seem like a trivialization of the real, deep issues of justice & righteousness & peace that are intended to be part of Sabbath (especially as understood in Leviticus 25) - but . . . .

I also think small steps to re-orient and re-shape my days will help me think in larger ways about living my entire life toward Sabbath reorientation and Sabbath blessing.

At different times of day I will intentionally walk away from my "to do lists" and "assignments" and "work" to reorient to who I am supposed to "be" as a person in light of the call of Scripture.

My hope is that from these small series of daily intentional minutes - deep meaning will spring forth.

From the Acorn . . . the Oak.

From small faith to greater faith-full-ness!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sabbath through life transition

This is the West Coast Affiliate checking in, as Eli Pagel has appropriately named me. You may have already noticed that this blog post has (or had) more of a "Pacific Standard Time feel" to it as opposed to the other great posts that have come before this. However, no surfboards and beach boardwalks are up here.

My lovely bride and I have just "finished" a big life transition - making the move from the greater Oklahoma City area up to north-central Washington state. In the past five months we've: 1) made the 2000+ mile move via Budget truck and trailer, 2) paid mini-storage fees and had a fair dose of flooding, 3) accepted a new position at a local church, 4) lived in a studio apartment, 5) purchased a house on the brink of foreclosure, in short-sale (which, might I add, was the worst self-induced emotional roller-coaster that I have experienced), 6) started a massive remodeling project in said house and 7) learned about and grown in/with a completely new community of neighbors and friends. We've experienced quite the transition!

tran·si·tion - a noun
\tran(t)-ˈsi-shən, tranzi-, chiefly British tran(t)-ˈsi-zhən\
1) passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another : change 2) a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another

A popular, well-followed budget advisor is know for saying something along the lines of, "plan for emergencies - it is not a matter of *if* they happen, but a matter of *when* they happen." In my life experience, the same could be said of life transition. Just looking over the list of what has happened in the past five months is exhausting all over again. So how do I "sabbath" in the middle of this madness? I can tell you that I have been - at best - mildly horrible at it so far. The longer I am in my new ministry position, the longer the wants/needs list grows. The longer we occupy this new-to-us house, the longer the repair list grows. The longer I am with people in our small group at church, the more I realize that I have a lot to learn about these people.

Throughout all this - when does (or did) Sabbath happen? Luckily, I am now blessed to live in a uniquely beautiful part of the country. One short car ride west lands me in the thick of the Cascade Mountain range - probably landing me near Good Mood Food. One short car ride east lands me in the rolling wheat fields of the desert-like eastern Washington plains. Moreover, traveling either direction puts me back in the Creator's different yet amazing creation. But the environment is not the final solution for me. Discipline, or lack thereof, takes a pretty heavy toll on my Sabbath practices. Being so close to the great outdoors, but not taking the time to Sabbath within it is no one's fault but mine. I could look at my responsibility list again and be overwhelmed again. But finding the time to Sabbath and then take Sabbath is something else.

I'm looking forward to finding my new "groove" - my equilibrium of created celebrating creation with the Creator on a regular basis.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Exploring the Meaning of Fallow

The purpose of this post is simply to begin exploring the meaning of the word "fallow" in preparation for application of its meaning at this stage of my journey as a Christ-follower. The word "fallow" takes me back to my childhood days and time spent with my grandpa, Noah Edwards, who did some farming on a 160 acre homestead on Turner Mountain in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma. The homestead originally belonged to my grandmother, Nella Mae Elliott's (maiden name) family. I can vaguely remember on occasion that my grandpa would refer to a particular location that had been used too long for multiple growing seasons for a garden plot or even certain sections of the garden where crop rotation needed to occur. After raising such crops as corn, tomatoes, okra, green beans, potatoes, squash, watermelon, canteloupe, etc., not only for personal consumption but also to sell in the community, the land devoted to the garden was "played out" or the nutrients in the soil were in need of replacement somehow. I now wish I had paid more attention.

As it relates to farming, the dictionary lists multiple somewhat differing definitions for the word "fallow." One definition is "usually cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season." A second definition is "to plow, harrow, and break up (land) without seeding to destroy weeds and conserve soil moisture." A third definition is "the tilling of land without sowing it for a season." A fourth definition refers to land that is "left untilled or unsown after plowing." Now, in my personal experience, there is a difference between "plowing" and "tilling." When my dad plowed a field, for example, it was usually in the fall when the ground was "turned over" in large clumps and left to sit dormant through the winter. Then, in the spring, the large clumps were "tilled" and then the grass and weeds were removed with a hoe and/or raked out, etc. to prepare the soil for actual planting.

Quickly approaching the age of 50 in about one month, I confess that there have been multiple times in my life when I have felt that my energy and resources were all "played out" and in need of replacement or restoration. Some of these times through the years included the following: (1) the spring of my senior year in high school; (2) my graduation from college, getting married, and starting law school, which all three occurred within a span of three months; (3) law school graduation, starting a new career, and becoming a parent for the first time; (4) engaging in private law practice, teaching as an adjunct college professor, and becoming a parent for the second time; (5) completing 10 years as a public defender representing death row inmates on appeal, changing careers to teach theology full-time, and beginning a master of arts degree program in theology; and (6) walking with my daughter through a complicated pregnancy while her husband was away for military training, chairing a search committee, welcoming my first grandbaby into the world, and finishing a master's degree in theology. Unfortunately, a regular pattern in my life has been to neglect sabbath or rest in favor of productivity. I am reminded of a comment that a physician made to me years ago when he said: "You cannot burn the candle at both ends and in the middle and then come to me for more wax."

As my grandson is getting ready to turn one-year-old, and my son-in-law is leaving for a few months of training before his 12-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, I will be attending a Sabbath, Study, and Service retreat with valued ministry colleagues. More than ever, I am in need of practical application of the concept of "fallow" in my life. I believe that the definition of sabbath keeping by Margaret Diddams, Lisa Surdyk, and Denise Daniels, brought to my attention by Jeremy Graham, will be most helpful in applying the word "fallow" in my everyday life: "Sabbath keeping broadly defined consists of intentional periods of time set aside to restore equilibrium to the mind, spirit, and body where a person may use his or her religious belief system to reflect on life's personal and spiritual meaning."

Verbal and Symbolic Communication in Worship

Robert Webber's book Worship is a Verb describes the communication the occurs in worship. Webber believes that there are two forms of communication: verbal and symbolic. Both of these modes of communication are well represented within Scripture. This two-fold process of communication is also noted in scientific studies. Webber writes, "I have been surprised to discover that recent studies in neuropsychology and communication theory affirm these two forms of communication as valid and significant means of passing information, values, and perspectives" (89). If Sabbath living is about passing information, values, and perspectives to ourselves and others, then we may need to incorporate both verbal and symbolic communication. Doing this will allow us to worship holistically.

"We now know that the left hemisphere the brain specializes in verbal skills, while the right side of the brain centers on nonverbal and inductive skills such as the spatial and poetic impluses of the person. The left side of the brain is more word oriented and orderly while the right side of the brain is more symbolic and creative. Now, we function from both the left and right sides of the brain, but some of us function more from one side than the other. This is why for some people the communication of words is more effective while for others the communication of symbols is more powerful... since all people are capable of communication through both methods, improvement of both the verbal and the symbolic methods of communicating Christ in our worship experience is desirable. It is also important for us to remember that communication in words and symbols is two-way. While God communicates to us through words and symbols, we also respond and communicate with him through words and symbols. Worship as an act of communication contains the ingredients of speech, symbol, dialogue, interaction, and relationship" (89-90).

The primary distinction between verbal and symbolic communication lies in the terms transmission communication and cultural communication. Transmission deals with verbal communication. It is about transmitting information from one source to another. Information is passed along, analyzed, and learned. Cultural communication deals with symbols. It is worship that is done and acted out. These can be nonverbal ways of communication (i.e. kneeling, communion, creating art). Together, both forms of communication can impact the mind, will, and heart of the individual. I say this because what we fill our minds with becomes what we act out and what we act out becomes our very character. Worship when approached through both verbal and symbolic communication not only informs us but transforms us. As such, there is a need for us to incorporate both into our worship.

This is undoubtedly true for Sabbath practice and living as well. Sabbath is about communication with God. It is opening up space for God to speak to us and for us to respond. As with all relationships, we communicate on both levels. We transmit information about ourselves to the other party. But, we also use nonverbal, symbolic language to communicate: we hug to show affection, we nod to show we are listening, we smile, we clap, we fold our arms. Objects can even take on special significance in representing our relationship (i.e. a gift, keepsake, or event). Why should Sabbath be any different? What sorts of practices can emerge out of both verbal and symbolic communication as a way of relating to God and growing in Him? Moreover, what practices can we institute in our families that will also engage them in Sabbath together as was the custom in Jewish and early Christian homes? As mentioned in other posts, worship cannot remain simply an intellectual affair if it is to be character shaping, both personally and socially.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Secularization of the Sabbath: Stony Soil

Robert Webber writes, "In these celebrations we rehearse our... identity and meaning, and we find the story of our lives in the larger story... These times of celebration and festivity... bring a stop to my world, to my frantic scurrying around, and to the orderliness of my daily routine. I am refeshed, restored, and renewed through laughter and play. Friendships are renewed, relationships restored, and ties to friends and family are deepened... For me, worship is in many ways like these festivities because it brings the past into the present by the telling and acting out the work of Christ. It contains all the elements of festivity: coming together, story, symbol, memory, sharing, relationship, good will, giving, receiving... Worship connects me with the past, gives meaning to the present, and inspires hope for the future as my soul and spirit become blended again into the drama of Christ's life, death, and resurrection" (Worship is a Verb 29).

Although Webber is describing worship, I do think there is a natural connection with Sabbath living. For one, Sabbath is worship. It is holy to the Lord. But, it is not a ceasing of activity but a focusing of our energies upon God alone. Sabbath is both personal and social. It restores and renews our relationship with God, but it also deepens our relationships with one another by re-filling the well from which we draw, re-cultivating the soul to reap a harvest of love. It is celebration and festivity, not merely dull lounging around without purpose. Yes, it is rest, but it is a focused rest that helps us sort out and maintain what is of primary importance. However, Webber realizes that worship in our culture is often typified by cold indifference. Our secularization has in many ways impacted our ability to worship.

Webber notes, "Secularization must be understood as something more than violence, permissive sex, and political corruption. It is a shift in the way we see and understand thigns. There was a time when the idea of mystery was more a part of our thinking than it is now. God was in his heavens - high, holy, and lifted up. In worship there was a sense of awe and reverence in the presence of the One who was wholly Other. But now we have either reasoned God out of existence or so reduced him to clichés and formulas that the mystery has disappeared. Our approach to God is intellectual and scientific on one extreme and excessively "buddy-buddy" on the other; both are sorely lacking in imagination" (30).

This brings up similar issues from Walter Brueggemann's book A Mandate to Difference and James K. A. Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom. Like Webber, they believe that a lack of imagination has seriously hampered the ability of Christians to fully, genuinely worship. Sabbath restores our imagination by not merely removing us from reality, but by re-introducing us to true reality, God's reality. It re-orients us to God's way in God's world. This requires imagination, the hope of a future. Secularization, Webber claims, is the primary opponent to this goal. "Liberals turned worship into a time for ethical reflection on the love of God, while conservatives concentrated on an intellectual defense of the gospel. In both cases church leaders gave in to secularism and allowed it to defile worship. Consequantly, celebration through storytelling and symbolic action was put aside for a verbal approach to worship" (30-31). The question we must ask is: What is true worship?

Webber continues, "Secularism has also affected worship through its distorted understanding of human personality. Since secularism lacks a supernatural view of the person, it seeks to define personhood apart from the biblical concept that we are created in the image of God. Instead, to the secularists, persons are defined in terms of economics, thought, or production... Worship that is principally geared toward dispensing intellectual information or pressing for results - massive church memberships or decisions - has already capitulated to the secular attitude. It reduces human personality to a brain or a product, and worship deteriorates into nothing more than information for the mind or a product for the producer. Secularization calls into question those elements that lie at the very heart of Hebrew and Christian worship. Biblical worship is rooted in an event which is to be lived, not proven. The purpose of worship is not to prove the Christ it celebrates, but to bring the worshiper so in tune with God's reconciliation through Christ that his deathand resurrection become a lived experience... When our life story is brought up into the story of Christ's life, death, and resurrection, it then gains meaning and purpose" (31).

Sabbath cannot ultimately remain an intellectual construct and endeavor. If it is to have real depth and genuine transformation follow, it must be a lived reality. Sabbath is not merely a day but a lifestyle. It is not a fad of culture, but a practice of the life of Christ in and through our own lives. It is the restoration of human personhood. Our value goes much farther than our intellectual capabilities, our jobs and positions, or our productivity capacity. Sabbath can be just as prone to secularization and malpractice. However, transformation happens when we keep the Sabbath to embody the Christ event in our lives and in our world.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Observe and Remember: Commands from the Ten Commandments

When one hears the word "sabbath" the mind is almost always turned to the 10 Commandments passage as it appears in Deuteronomy 5. This is where many draw their conclusion on Sabbath practices. So, it's only fitting to examine the Fourth Commandment more closely and see what God has instructed his people to do regarding the Sabbath.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (NIV) reads:

12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

The first think we see is a command from God. That command is to observe. Observation is the basis of all scientific inquiry, observation is what many of us do all day every day. We observe and interpret the things around us and live life accordingly. So, what makes this a special command.
First, observation is often a passive activity. While observation is still a verb, there is often little activity to observe from the observer. Also, God commands us to observe the day, but offers little more in this passage as to what we should do in order to fulfill the command to observe it. In fact he goes on to tell us what we should NOT do in order to observe the day.

Later we see another command from God. This time we are called to remember. Oh, how so many of us would like to forget so much... However God calls us to remember his activity on our behalf. For Israel the call is to remember the Exodus, specifically God's redeeming activity on their behalf in the Exodus events. For us the call is the same, in order to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy there must be a space for memories. We must remember God's redeeming activity on our behalf. This immediately points us to Christ on the Cross.

Finally, I want to reiterate a point that Jesus makes in the gospel message. Namely, that the Sabbath isn't made for man, but man for the sabbath (cf. Mark 2:27). In the middle of this passage there is a phrase that is striking in it's context. In a passage that is often interpreted in strictly anthropocentric terms, with the focus on the benefit for humankind, we learn that "the seventh day is to be a Sabbath TO the Lord your God" (Deut. 5:14a, emphasis mine). How often do we remember that verse to say "the seventh day is to be a Sabbath for man." It's not. It's a Sabbath to God, for his glory, not for our sake. No doubt the Sabbath is beneficial to man, but is it possibly that it's main benefit is realigning our stature towards God through observance and remembering?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Samuel and Eli - A Question For Sabbath Practice

At the initiation of 1 Samuel, we quickly find out that Eli, the high priest, and his two sons are far from upholding their responsibilities as religious leaders for God's people. Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's sons, are carousing about, taking advantage of the people and exploiting everyone for their own gain. The text says that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. But, Eli, who is supposed to be the faithful covenant leader of Israel is hardly function in this role. He rebukes Hannah for being drunk, even though she's not, because he sees her lips moving but "hears" no words. He "hears" all of the stories about his sons abuses but really does nothing about it. When Samuel is brought to Shiloh to serve as an acolyte, 1 Samuel 3 relates a story about Samuel and Eli. Eli is in another room away from the Ark of the Covenant, shrouded in darkness, his eyes becoming dim. Samuel is lying in the room by the Ark (a symbol of God's presence) and by the lamp of God (another symbol of God's presence). Samuel is in a lighted room where he can "see." Samuel "hears" God speak when Eli does not. In fact, it takes Eli three times of Samuel coming to Eli for Eli to realize that God is speaking to Samuel. The one who is in the position of religious leader, and should be capable to recognize God's call; hear God's will; and recognize God's work, is left in the dark and lacking understanding. Ultimately, Samuel receives God's word and Eli receives the revelation through this young boy. The priesthood as embodied by Eli, Phinehas, and Hophni is left ineffective, deaf, and blind. Their own abuses of the religious system for their own gain results in their own demise. In the midst of this, God speaks, in a time when God's word is rare, to the lowly and humble. God speaks to the unassuming and the pleading. God hears, sees, and remembers these people and enters into their story bringing life through His presence. They seek and God allows them to see. They listen and God allows them to hear. But, it's not the religious leaders that are the ones that receive God's blessing. It's not the ones that should recognize God that are able to respond to God in the passage. Even when God pronounces judgment (this is typically employed to elicit repentance, upon which judgment is often relented i.e., Ninevah) upon Eli and his family, they do not have the sense to turn and repent. They hear but do not listen.

Sabbath is an opportunity for us to "see", "hear", "listen", and "respond" to God. It is an opportunity for us to humble ourselves and to come before God as unassuming persons seeking to enter into His presence. However, in the rigors of life and ministry, it is so easy to become like Eli: complacent and comfortable. It is easy to become un-hearing and un-seeing. We become so entrenched in the rituals that we miss out on the relationship. Instead of leading our communities, we become dull and dim witted to the realities that are swirling about us. It is our comfortable familiarity with religion that creates the largest hurdle for practicing Sabbath. Sabbath becomes a dead practice if it is not about entering the presence of God; listening for His voice; and responding, "Here am I." It prioritizes our life to be about faithful obedience, not power ploys or exploitation. And, it is about being so richly transformed and empowered by God's word that we speak God's word to a world in which God's word is rare. When God's word is let loose in the world creation happens, life is given. Hannah expresses this reality in her song (1 Samuel 2). Resurrection is the result. What was barren now bears fruit. What was dead is now alive.

The question, at least for me, is: "Am I Samuel or am I Eli?"

Hannah as Model Prayer - Sabbath Reflection from 1 Samuel

"In a world in which God is the primary reality, worship is the primary activity. In worship, we cultivate attentiveness and responsiveness to God. Cultivate, because if we live by mere happenstance - looking at what is biggest, listening to what is loudest, doing what is easiest - we will live as if God were confined to the margins of our lives. But God is not marginal; God is foundational and central. The person who lives as if God sits on a bench aat the edges of life, waiting to be called on in emergencies, is out of touch with reality and so lives badly... And the worship continues. Worship is not something one does to get something, and once it is got can be discontinued. Worship is a way of life." - Eugene Peterson (First and Second Samuel Westminster Bible Companion, page 21-22).

Sabbath is cultivating attentiveness and responsiveness to God. It is allowing God to be more than marginal in our lives. He becomes foundational and central. In this way, we are in touch with true reality and thus able to live rightly.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Susannah Heschel on Abraham and The Sabbath

In the preface to Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath, his daughter, Susannah writes the following words:

My father defines Judaism as a religion centrally concerned with holiness in time. Some religions build great cathedrals or temples, but Judaism constructs the Sabbath as an architecture of time. . . . Sanctifying the Sabbath is part of our imitation of God, but it also becomes a way to find God’s presence. It is not in space but in time, he writes, that we find God's likeness. In the Bible, no thing or place is holy by itself; not even the Promised Land is called holy. While the holiness of the land and of festivals depends on the actions of the Jewish people, who have to sanctify them, the holiness of the Sabbath, he writes, preceded the holiness of Israel. Even if people fail to observe the Sabbath, it remains holy. (page xiii)

How do we bring about the elusive atmosphere that is the Sabbath? Sanctity is a quality, my father emphasized, that we create. We know what to do with space, but how do we shape sacred time? Six days a week we live with a fury of acquisitiveness, he writes; Shabbat renews the soul and we rediscover who we are. "The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man." God is not in things of space, but in moments of time. How do we perceive God's presence? There are some helpful Sabbath laws—those that re¬quire shutting off secular demands and refraining from work. In enumerating the categories that constitute "work," the Mishnah describes types of activities necessary to build technological civilization. Yet my father goes further. Not only is it forbidden to light a fire on the Sabbath, but, he writes, "Ye shall kindle no fire—not even the fire of righteous indignation." In our home, certain topics were avoided on the Sabbath—politics, the Holocaust, the war in Vietnam—while others were emphasized. Observing the Sabbath is not only about refraining from work, but about creating menuha, [rest] a restfulness that is also a celebration. The Sabbath is a day for body as well as soul It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath, a lesson my father often repeated and always observed. (page xiv).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith - Sabbath as Worship and Liturgy

James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

Introduction: What is the “end” of Christian education?

Christian education has been thought to be a vehicle for the dissemination of ideas and beliefs. In other words, it is the arena for implementing a worldview which governs one’s life. As such, education has been about filling one’s mind and intellect with ideas and facts, in the hopes that this will shape people. This traditional view of education has left a void in the realm of praxis.

James K. A. Smith wants us to re-imagine the role and method of education in our world. Namely, Smith believes that education should not simply be geared to give information but formation. The human, he argues, is not only the mind. Rather, the human is primarily driven by the desires, or kardia. Our desires, our love, cause us to act in certain ways. Shaping those desires shapes our behavior. At this point, Smith notes that worship and education are inextricably linked.

Smith brings an interesting point in this segment about the character forming practices that are found in our malls. In many senses, it is a religious activity of pedagogies and liturgies that shape who people are. Although many of these people are unaware of the powerful influences shaping them, they are inevitably formed into certain types of people, namely consumers. This does not occur by disseminating information to the masses, although ideas are transferred. In this case, ideas and beliefs of the “good life” are issued by the practices embodied by the community. The desires of people produce certain actions.

If this is true, Christian education cannot simply stop at providing a worldview, although this is important. It cannot simply stop at shaping the mind, although this too is important. In contrast, Christian education should be about shaping desires. Furthermore, it should be about embodying certain practices that shape our desires to live into the Kingdom of God. Again, the telos of Christian education is not simply information but formational.

Chapter 1: What are social imaginaries?

As discussed in the previous chapter, Smith wants to affirm that ideas alone do not shape individuals. Rather, it is the desires, the affections that drive us to live in certain ways which further develop our love for a vision of reality, a kingdom. As such, Christian education as the dissemination of ideas bifurcate the human in ways that are not natural. Smith goes a step beyond to say that we often develop patterns of praxis before we create doxy, understanding before knowledge. It is with this viewpoint that Smith calls for Christian education to primarily be about the shaping of desires.

The social imaginary “is an affective, noncognitive understanding of the world. It is described as an imaginary (rather than a theory) because it is fueled by the stuff of the imagination rather than the intellect: it is made up of, and embedded in, stories, narratives, myths, and icons. These visions capture our hearts and imaginations by ‘lining’ our imagination, as it were – providing us with frameworks of ‘meaning’ by which we make sense of our world and our calling in it” (68).

This is not an anti-intellectual stance, but a holistic stance of human persons. Although we can be shaped by ideas and beliefs, it is generally the case that our affections shape our beliefs. These can be challenged and even changed, but it is a necessary understanding of humans if we are to fully grasp the value of Christian education. Furthermore, understanding how character is shaped helps us to see both the positive and negative practices in our culture that have deeply formational consequences. This is true because these practices captivate our imaginations, forming an understanding of the world that further cultivates our desires to live into a certain kingdom.

Chapter 2: What are thick and thin practices?

As further discussion about liturgies, which are practices and rituals that capture the imagination by directing our desires to a particular, ultimate telos. Liturgies can be used in a positive or negative way, but they always aim for our desires. However, not all rituals or practices can be said to be tied to identity-formation explicitly, although they will serve as a means to that goal. As such, there is a division of practices between thin and thick.

Thin practices are “instrumental to some other end. They also aren’t the sort of things that tend to touch on our identity” (82). Brushing one’s teeth, for instance, is a practice that would not be considered as part of my identity. It does not touch, directly at least, on our fundamental desires.

Thick practices have a much deeper value for us. “These are habits that play a significant role in shaping our identity, who we are. Engaging in these habit-forming practices not only says something about us, but also keeps shaping us into that kind of person” (82). We would place religious activities in this arena. These practices play explicit roles in shaping our view of the ultimate good, the kingdom toward which we are traveling.

The difference between thin and thick practices, therefore, deals primarily with their connection to an ultimate good and their identity formation. So, while we might consider many activities to be “thin” practices, we might have actually tied them to an ultimate telos, which would then tie into a “thick” end. In other words, there are no neutral practices. “This is not to say that every habit is a thick one, but only that even our thinnest habits and practices ultimately get hooked up into desires that point at something ultimate” (83).

If there are no neutral practices, then practices will ultimately shape us to be certain types of people. With this in mind, we should seriously consider the types of people we desire to be and evaluate the practices we maintain to see if they are compatible. Furthermore, even the most seemingly insignificant practices, over time and habituation, came have dramatic impact on our identity. Character formation is often subtle due to the often unconscious nature of habited practice that shapes our identity. As such, we must be very aware of the habits and practices that we cultivate.

Chapter 3: What does Smith mean by liturgies? What are some of the various liturgies at work in life? How do liturgies operate?

“Liturgies or worship practices are rituals of ultimate concern that are formative of our identity – they both reflect what matters to us and shape what matters to us” (93). They are the practices that grab hold of our love and direct it to some “ultimate” end.

There are a number of liturgies prevalent within society. Smith concentrates on a select few: consumerism, nationalism (military-entertainment), and the liturgies of the university. We could mention more by talking about power and status within the community, to go just a bit further (this even happens within the Christian community). Each of these areas vies for primary position to shape and inculcate our desires. Again, this is done through a vision for a “kingdom” which is further strengthened by practices that shape our identity.

The mall is a powerful influencing agent, though we don’t often realize its impact. There is a prosperity gospel that is found in its practices. First, this consumerism tells us that we are broken. We don’t look a certain way or act a certain way, then we are broken. They offer a sign of redemption by buying this product, which cannot ultimately satisfy. The law of diminishing returns means that we eventually find ourselves back in the halls of this cathedral consuming so that we might no longer be “broken.” Oddly enough, a peculiar community is formed. It is a community that objectifies ourselves and the people around us. We compare ourselves with others, further solidifying the consumerism model held up by the mall.

Next, the nationalism liturgy calls for our total allegiance. It holds up a telos that is integrated through various sorts of media and practices, such as the pledge of allegiance. These images and stories that are portrayed elevate honor on par with sacrificial self-giving for the country. There is no greater honor, we are told. However, this too is a “kingdom” jockeying for our affections. Is it really possible for us to be members of two kingdoms? Scripture denies this premise, no person can serve two masters. Violence is an integrated part and parcel of the nationalism that is propagated. Icons of valor affirm the value of such actions within our society. The ideals of nationalism will not allow for consideration of other “kingdoms.”

Finally, the liturgies of the university come into light. They are not simply the books of the library, the teaching in classrooms, or the examinations. Rather, the most formational aspects of the university, as I can attest, are the community relations that are produced. These usually occur in spaces such as dorms, lunch rooms, sporting events, parties, and the various other settings that comprise the university. These spaces of practice shape acolytes to be certain people within this environment… but, this formation is so profound that it follows us for much longer.

Liturgies, as we have seen, operate by capturing our imagination. They portray images of the “good life.” A kingdom having some ultimate value calls for us to become a part of that community. Our desires are brought into alignment with a certain kingdom, which motivates us to act in certain ways. These practices further inform and shape our desires. These practices become habits, which become part of our character and identity. This is why there is no such thing as a secular liturgy. They are all religious in nature, calling for our undivided allegiance. These liturgies can be true or false, good or bad. However, they are always designed to aim our desires toward a particular end.

Chapter 4: What is a “sacramental imagination”?

The social imaginary is an understanding of the world that has been shaped by practices and habits. It is the pre-cognitive embodiment of a politic. In other words, it is the liturgies that have formed our affections, shaping our understanding of the world in which we live and dwell.

The sacramental imagination is a very similar concept. A sacrament, as John Wesley put it, is a means of grace. This comes in the forms of bread and wine, baptismal waters, and oils of healing prayer that are a means of God’s grace in our lives. Notably, these are not disembodied elements, as if we were only spirits. Nor, are these elements merely physical elements, as if the Spirit’s life was unnecessary. Rather, God uses the physical stuff of this world to shape us.

The sacramental imagination, therefore, has a constant tension between two polarities: supernaturalism and naturalism. Both supernaturalism and naturalism are theologically poor visions of the human person. First, avoiding the Gnostic heresy, we are not merely spirits hoping to escape the physical prisons of our bodies. After all, even after Jesus’ resurrection, he came in physical form (Thomas touched him!). Second, we are not merely the sum of our biological makeup. We have the distinct ability, though it may be difficult, to override our biological responses (i.e. restraining ourselves when angry).

Instead, the sacramental imagination dwells between these two options. We are both spirit and body. There is an intimate connection between these two parts. They both impact one another. As such, the sacraments, which are “earthy” practices that seek to direct our affections, shape our identities in profound ways by offering a counter-formational life to the liturgies proposed by our culture. That is not to say, as Smith points out, that these practices are like magical anecdotes. Rather, they are life transforming because we are receiving what God has initiated in our lives.

Smith notes, “This liturgical affirmation of materiality is commonly described as a sacramental understanding of the world – that the physical, material stuff of creation and embodiment is the means by which God’s grace meets us and gets hold of us” (141). The sacramental imagination, as such, is the intuition that God meets us here in the material reality and we are called to respond in material ways. It is through these practices that God shapes us to embody the Kingdom of God back into the world.

Chapter 5: How do the various aspects of worship shape the virtues of the Christian community?

The idea of time plays a prominent role in the worshiping community. The Christian calendar is not centered in the events of our nation or Hallmark, rather they are centered upon Christ. The aspect of time indicates and shapes our entrance into worship. The colors, the smells, and the lighting all demonstrate a posture that we take in worship. Whether it be penitence or rejoicing, the Christian calendar calls us to respond to the work of Christ, rather than being fixated on obscure, trivial realities. Nor, do we orient ourselves in the world by the world’s understanding of time. Rather, we find Sabbath rest. In this, we come to appreciate and understand the significance of our lives, which is not wrapped up in production.

The Gathering of the community demonstrates that we are a called people. Our gathering together, which could be replaced with a myriad of other activities, signifies that it is a response to God’s gracious call. As creation was called into being, we too, as a new creation, are being called into being, formed into a new community. We begin to realize that we are totally dependent upon God. God initiates the call and empowers our response. It is a call to be truly human, as God created us to be.

The greeting of peace is also a significant action within worship. “Worship is a space of welcome because we are, at root, relational creatures called into relationship with the Creator, in order to flourish as a people who bear his image to and for the world” (169). As such, we also become extensions of God’s welcome and hospitality to those who are around us.

Singing, as has been well attested recently, plays an instrumental role in worship. It gives full-body expression to our praise. Furthermore, singing hymns and psalms tend to stick with us. Music can penetrate us like other forms of communication cannot. Finally, it is a form of compacted theology. Of course, this can be both good and bad. Song can communicate to both to the mind and through the entirety of our senses.

The reading of Scripture, especially of the law, suggests Smith, brings about conviction that we have failed. We have sinned and fallen short of our purpose. I would want to challenge this, although it isn’t totally wrong. The purpose of reading Scripture, even the Law, serves as a interjection of hope and a re-orienting of our lives around God’s purposes. Further, it paints a “social imaginary” that reveals the wonderful ways God is redeeming this world.

However, confession can and should be derived from this time of reading Scripture. We have found ourselves fallen short of the plan and purpose for which God has called us. We have live as a reflection of God in the world, but often reflect the broken humanity of the world. As such, we confess our sins together, calling out to the merciful Savior, so that we might live as imago Dei.

Baptism plays a major role in our formation. We are constituted as new people, buried and risen to new life in Christ. We are brought into the family of God. More than a simple picture, baptism enacts in us, by the Spirit, a new way of life. Not only are we brought into the fold, we are commissioned into the priesthood of believers. And, we are called to live by a kingdom politic, putting to death all that would pull us away from God.

The creedal statements of faith provide a number of elements for our worship. First, they are a sort of “pledge of allegiance” for the Christian community. Second, they situate us in a historical context, rooting our faith in the faith that has been handed down by each successive generation. Finally, the creeds provide succinct beliefs that we affirm and which create a common ground upon which we stand as a community of believers.

Prayer is the affirmation that “there is more than meets the eye” in this world. Appearances aren’t always what they seem. Smith divides prayer into two areas: intercessory and illumination. First, intercessory is the outpouring of our hearts for others. It orients us to be others-centered, rather than self-centered. It is the understanding that we are called and blessed so that we might be a blessing back to the world as God’s image bearers. Secondly, the prayer of illumination realizes that we are solely dependent upon God for revelation and understanding. It is posturing ourselves in humility to be open to the Spirit’s movement. And, it is seeking God’s wisdom rather than any wisdom we might try to artificially conjure up.

The sermon primarily is about world making. An ultimate portrayal of reality and life are offered within the pages of Scripture. It is a normative text that guides our lives on a certain trajectory, shaping our affections toward the kingdom. This alternative reality that is held up as a counter-cultural world allows us to see the “powers” for what they truly are. And, we are given an alternative to the violent power games that the world would have us play.

The Eucharist is an amazing part of worship. It is a blessing over the creation and the value that humans add to the creation. Bread and wine are not naturally occurring substances. It is taken from the creation and further developed for the sustenance of our bodies. However, this is no typical meal. This is a kingdom meal with an open invitation to all. It is a united kingdom, the Body of Christ. It is the servants of Christ putting on the sufferings of Christ. And, it is a mandate for all believers to be the Eucharistic sacrament to the world, an invitation to God’s table of fellowship. It is also a reminder that we will one day enjoy fellowship eternal with God, rather than simply imbibing this meal of the wilderness.

The offering is probably one of the most difficult parts of a service due to some of the abuses in the Church. The offering and tithe helps us to recognize that we live by a kingdom economic. We are dependent upon God for provision. Likewise, we are blessed to be a blessing back to the world. In a real sense, we are to live a Jubilee politic with our pocketbook. It is a reminder that Christianity is not simply a “spiritual endeavor”, but must take bodily form. It must be lived out in the world.

Finally, the benediction blesses the gathered community. But, again, the blessing is not to remain with us. The blessing is given so that we might be a blessing back into the world. Therefore, it is a commissioning of the Body of Christ to be the Church in the world. It is an invitation to partner with God’s creative, redemptive action in the world. As we are called, so we are sent.

Each of these elements shapes our character by practicing the politics of the kingdom. The Triune God is at work within the sacraments and practices in our worship. They mold and form us into certain types of people, empowered to be God’s hands and feet in the world. Our desires are sculpted to reflect the heart of God, by which the Spirit creates a passion to live for the kingdom of God… not simply by intellectual assent, but by cruciform living.

Sabbath as Liturgy

“Liturgies or worship practices are rituals of ultimate concern that are formative of our identity – they both reflect what matters to us and shape what matters to us” (Desiring the Kingdom 93). They are the practices that grab hold of our love and direct it to some “ultimate” end. As I have said earlier, I believe that our telos is Love. There are many “liturgies,” acts that shape our desires, to be found within the Church (and outside the Church).

James K. A. Smith notes, “This liturgical affirmation of materiality is commonly described as a sacramental understanding of the world – that the physical, material stuff of creation and embodiment is the means by which God’s grace meets us and gets hold of us” (Desiring the Kingdom 141). The sacramental imagination, as such, is the intuition that God meets us here in the material reality and we are called to respond in material ways. It is through these practices that God shapes us to embody the Kingdom of God back into the world.

“These are habits that play a significant role in shaping our identity, who we are. Engaging in these habit-forming practices not only says something about us, but also keeps shaping us into that kind of person” (Desiring the Kingdom 82). We must be intentional and cautious about participating in ritual without a proper understanding of that ritual. Otherwise, we engage in traditionalism, which places highest priority upon the act, not the end goal. However, ritual is important in that it keeps us continually in remembrance of our calling, which is a constant call for the Israelites in Deuteronomy. We often forget what God has done and are swayed to follow foreign gods.

The idea of time plays a prominent role in the worshiping community. The Christian calendar calls our attention upon Christ. The aspect of time indicates and shapes our entrance into worship. The colors, the smells, and the lighting all demonstrate a posture that we take in worship. Whether it be penitence or rejoicing, the Christian calendar calls us to respond to the work of Christ, rather than being fixated on obscure, trivial realities. Nor, do we orient ourselves in the world by the world’s understanding of time. Rather, we find Sabbath rest. In this, we come to appreciate and understand the significance of our lives, which is not wrapped up in production.

Sabbath, as Brueggemann argues, plays a vital role in our liturgies. Brueggemann writes: "The reason that Sabbath is a radical discipline is that it is a regular, disciplined, highly visible withdrawal from the acquisitive society of production and consumption that is shaped only by commodity. Work stoppage and rest are public statements that one’s existence and the existence of one’s society are not defined by the pursuit of commodity, and that human well-being is not evoked by commodity but precisely by the intentional refusal of commodity" (Mandate to Difference 59).

Sabbath reminds us who we are and who we belong to. Thus, we are called to live in the world as a particular type of people in a particular way. We are not the world’s and we do not need to live in the world on its terms. We understand relationships to be of primary importance, even at the expense of our person.

Mandate to Difference - Thoughts and Reflections of Walter Brueggemann's Work

Chapter 3: What is the significance of “Sabbath” for the one who proclaims good news?
Sabbath for the one who proclaims good news is about speaking Truth. We are all victims to the pharaohs of the world. They place heavy burdens upon us. We find ourselves living under anxiety due to false expectations. We despair because we see no future or hope beyond our current situation.

Yet, it is the Sabbath that allows for re-creation. It is a wonderful sense of renewal in our lives. Moreover, it is the freedom to speak truth about those situation and circumstances that we find ourselves in, hurting and hungering for something better. We have experienced the pain of being marginalized. We know the seduction and shame of not meeting our culture’s standards. We feel the press of Pharaoh’s demands on our backs. It is from that tension that we most keenly become aware of God’s presence in the midst of death and destruction.

Sabbath is the breaking in of God on the mundane, over-bearing rigor of life. It is the “Friday” people of God living toward Sunday’s conquering of death. It is the redeemed people of God singing with one voice about the triumph and victory we receive through Jesus. It is the understanding that we have received a burden we must bear, but one that is infinitely lighter than the oppressive burdens of Pharaoh. It is the call for those who find themselves wearied by the “rat-race” finding solace in the open arms of a loving Savior and Friend. It is a simplistic trust in the Creator who sustains all things, speaking life through His Spirit into the world. It is the acknowledgement of a God who brings life, light, and structure from ex nihilo and chaos.

Chapter 4: How does the concept of “exile” function for the church?
Brueggemann writes, “The reason that Sabbath is a radical discipline is that it is a regular, disciplined, highly visible withdrawal from the acquisitive society of production and consumption that is shaped only by commodity. Work stoppage and rest are public statements that one’s existence and the existence of one’s society are not defined by the pursuit of commodity, and that human well-being is not evoked by commodity but precisely by the intentional refusal of commodity” (59).

One possible note of application, especially where the minister is concerned, is the attitude of productivity. The minister often feels a responsibility for getting everything done and prepared each week. Many times, pastors are “work-aholics.” So, in many ways, Sabbath is the understanding that our value is not wrapped up in how much we accomplish. Rather, our value ultimately comes from the One who gives us life. With that said, we then preach the Gospel through what we live out in our relationship with God. We are living for “Sunday,” in some sense. We understand that Sabbath is the shadow reality of the Kingdom of God that we will one day experience. It is from this hope that we proclaim the Good News of God’s redemptive work in the world.

Secondly, Sabbath empowers us to take the relationship God has extended to us and extend it to others. We are dispossessed people, living in the land of exile. We are foreigners in a strange land. We can identify with those who also find themselves on the outskirts and on the fringe of society. We understand the plight of the outcast. And, we become the “feet that bring good news.” We are ambassadors of Christ sent into the world to gather the people into the covenant community of God. We live with openness to others who are not like us. Furthermore, we are free to live, not according to commodity, according to the Law of Love toward our neighbor.

Finally, Sabbath frees us from the mold of the world. We understand that we were created in Imago Dei. As such, God has created us to relate freely with Him. Sabbath recognizes our dependence upon God, not the world and its systems of power and control. As such, we are empowered to live a life of prayer, not only for ourselves, but for others. In this way, we are empowered to live in the world on God’s terms, no longer controlled by the dominant culture.

With all of that said, understanding that we are living in exile drastically changes the mission of the Church in the world. As Brueggemann suggests, we are in the world to gather those that have been displaced due to exile. We are all exiles in one way or another. Whether it is those on the fringes of society or those in the dominant culture simply hoping to maintain the status quo, fearing change, everyone experiences exile. The only hope for salvation is God. God alone is able to free us from the bondage of our enslavement to our culture.

The Church, therefore, has a ministry to those who are outcasts and those who find themselves fearing about tomorrow. God has given us a future and a hope which must be shared with others. This is not an “us versus them” mentality, which the Church often characterizes. It is not shunning those who endanger the “holy seed.” Rather, it is about bringing those people into the fold, loving them, and embracing them in the community.

It is especially important to remember that we too were exiles before God saved us. Similarly, we are still exiles waiting for the final consummation of God’s redemptive plan. We are strangers in a foreign land waiting for the gift of the Promise Land, the coming of the Kingdom of God. And, God’s gifts are not ours to own… God’s gifts are always given to be given away and shared. It is especially true in light of God’s advocacy for the “least of these” in society.

Chapter 7: What does it mean to say that worship is an act of “poetic imagination”?
The poetic imagination is the ability to look beyond what is possible to a God that opens up new possibilities. It is not being consumed by the present pharaohs in our lives, seeing a life that is abundant is the goal. Life is not simply about the “brick quotas.” It is not simply about the accomplishment of tasks. Rather, it is finding life a possibility despite being surrounded by chaos and destruction.

The poetic imagination gives voice to the saving acts of God. It is the gathered community rejoicing with one voice, remembering the past events in light of God’s redemptive work. An alternative world is constructed and offered to those who find themselves in bondage to the pharaohs of the world. However, it is not an obsession about these pharaohs; rather it is a preoccupation with the Creator.

The world often constructs reality, offering it as the ultimate vision for life. However, the poetic imagination is not drawn into the deception and falsehood of popular culture. Rather, it is a “sub-version” reality that is given voice. It breaks through the façade of falsehood. Imagination de-masks the pharaohs for what they are – puppets. God is glorified as the king over creation. The unfulfilling nature of commercialism is brought to its knees. The need for genuine relationship is brought to the fore.

In all of this, we see the imagination bring forth a new reality that we can dwell in. The imagination is not something that is simply wistful and fanciful. Rather, it is the Spirit of God dwelling in the lives of His people, breathing new life into the community. The word of God speaks into the void, creating new realms of possibility in our daily lives. We find that the old has passed and the new has come. We are created as new creatures. We are given a new heart. What had once been closed off, we find being opened up through Jesus by the Spirit.

Too often, the Church finds itself merely shadowing and mirroring the current culture. The Church has become violent, greedy, manipulative, and comfortable. But, when the Church finds itself truly fulfilling its calling, it is very subversive. It is a hub for creativity and imagination. Transformation happens when people are able to move beyond what the world tells them is possible to what God reveals is possible. Within these two viewpoints is a world of difference!

Chapter 8: What does it mean to be re-nepheshed?
For six days God labored, but on the seventh day He rested. Creating requires something of the Creator, something of His life to be infused into the creation. It is a draining business to be so intimately involved and connected, breathing life into all being. It says something that God chose to rest. He is not simply a God of tasks and quotas. He is not simply about the accomplishment of tasks. God takes rest… enjoying the fruits of His labor.

We were created in the image of our Maker. We were designed to labor in creation, adding value back into the world. However, like the Master Potter, we are in need of refreshing. God created us, not simply for the accomplishment of tasks, to enjoy creation and the Creator. To simply labor would leave us broken, depleted, unoriginal, and exhausted.

However, the pharaohs of the world step in and place taskmasters over us, driving us to produce more and more. There is no Sabbath rest where the world is concerned. No, it’s about the bottom line and the fulfilling of quotas. The labor that should be used to add value becomes the method by which life is devalued. The result is devastation and oppression. Our nephesh is crushed. Our very being is denied because we deny the image in which we were made.

Sabbath is a ceasing of labor. It is a total dependency upon the God of creation. After all, Jesus reminds us that we “do not live on bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God.” Our productivity is not that which sustains us. God breathes life into us… and continues to do so. That is Sabbath. It is rest from our labors, finding our being in Him, and having life breathed back into us. It is the Sabbath that reminds us that we were created to relate, not simply to create.

Pastoral ministry can quite easily sink into a constant barrage of tasks to be completed. The pastor is to be available at all times and for all purposes. We are stretched to the limits and called to go beyond. At least, that’s the message that is often implicitly understood. Burn out is the inevitable result. However, ministry is not simply about the accomplishment of tasks. Sabbath reminds us of that.

We can only give away what we have received. The minister’s primary task is to be in proper relationship with God. Yes, we are called to be poured out, but you can only do so if you are in turn being filled. Sabbath provides that filling. The Spirit breathes new life back into us so that we are able to once again labor in creation. Our being is re-constituted to a proper balance.

Pastors that live under the impression that ministry is about the accomplishment of tasks become pharaohs themselves. They set taskmasters over their volunteers, badgering them to produce. Life is squelched out of the workers. The Church becomes an oppressive system in the midst of a world of oppressive systems. When Church and culture operate in visibly similar ways, such as these, people quit. Their nephesh give out because they have no resources upon which to draw. And, worst of all, they believe that is the Christian telos because that is what is being modeled in the public, in the pews, and in the pulpit.

Sabbath reminds us of our priorities. We are saved from Pharaoh. We do not have to participate in those systems of destruction, manipulation, and enslavement. Rather, we are called to live in radically counter-cultural ways. We praise God for His deliverance, we gain strength from His strength, and we discover our purpose.

Chapter 9: What cycle is broken in the threefold circle of emancipation – Sabbath – year of release – Jubilee year?
The threefold circle of emancipation is an act in juxtaposition to the use of coercion that is often exhibited within our world. Sabbath, the year of release, and Jubilee are all about forgiveness. Debts are forgiven. Debtors are released from the bondage of their burden. Life is re-constituted through the extension of forgiveness.

Deuteronomy is constantly calling Israel to remember their bondage in Egypt. The system of exploitation embodied in Egypt was the basis for Israel’s enslavement. Taskmasters were set over the Israelites to ensure productivity and cooperation. The human spirit is broken under such circumstances, rendering them weak and compliant. Coercion is the pharaoh at work among the community of such commerce.

Remembering such turmoil in the life of the Hebrews was not simply a fanciful trip down memory lane. No, it was a call to embody a different politic in the life of the community. Israel was to live on Sabbath time. Even aliens that found themselves in servitude to Israel were to be permitted rest and even sanctuary from enslavement! How does such a novel idea even get conceptualized in the midst of nations that practiced coercion and exploitation?

The idea of freedom and life find itself most eloquently vocalized in Sabbath. God rested and set apart a day of rest for humanity. Sabbath is a day for remembering who the Creator is and who provides sustenance, blessing, freedom, and life. God alone is worthy of such affirmation. As such, Sabbath calls us to live radically different lives than that of popular culture’s employment of coercion. Rather, we participate in the divine life-giving, life-blessing pronouncement over creation.

Sabbath then frees us from the violence of self-certitude and self-justification. We are freed from the need to ensure our security because we rely upon God as our provider. We remember and re-live our exodus story, praising God for His mighty arm of deliverance. And, the community is empowered to live counter-culturally to the modus operandi of culture, namely acquisitiveness.
It is in these acts of forgiveness directed toward our neighbor that we find forgiveness being granted to us. Participating in the redemption of others, finds us experiencing redemption ourselves. We are forgiven as we forgive. Does that mean that the debtor, stranger, or foreigner remain outsiders? No, rather, they are treated as one of the community: equal.

Finally, Sabbath breaks us of the need or desire to live up to the expectations of others… even ourselves. These expectations are often false and act as living pharaohs over our lives. They push us to attain or achieve more. Or, perhaps, they move us to be people pleasers. Sadly, we are more concerned about living up to everyone else’s expectations, or our own, that we neglect God’s expectations. And, unlike false expectations, God is not a taskmaster seeking to bury us, but to give us rest. We find that there is a burden, but it is light. And, despite that burden, God provides rest.