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 clich├ęs 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.

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