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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sabbath as our Thank You Card to God

I am thinking more routinely about Sabbath.

This is happening in deliberate ways – which sounds kind of odd. I am intentionally trying to think about “stopping” from work – but in the midst of that, I am actively working to think about stopping from working! Personally, I find that a bit humorous.

In that regard though, I am better able to think about things going on in my life.

I received a “Thank You” card today –and it caused me to think about Sabbath . . . here’s how:

As a professor at a university, I routinely receive requests from current or former students to write letters of recommendation on their behalf. I would venture to guess that I write at least one letter every month – and more often at certain “peak” seasons of the year, I will write as many as 10 to 15 letters in a given month.

Despite the fact that I routinely and regularly write letters on a half of other people, I rarely – in fact almost never – receive letters of thanks back to me, for the letters of recommendation I write. I had never really stopped to think about this, until today, when I received a letter of thanks.

Several months ago, I wrote a letter on behalf of JMH. Naturally, I had forgotten it, as this is just part of the routine of my employment and reference writing. But, JMH did not forget. And, she took the time to send me a “Thank You” card that I warmly received. It was not just a simple, “Thank you” – either. In her letter, JMH took the time to explain to me the specific situation that has emerged from her new employment. Her “Thank You” card was filled with her neat small, script - filling the blank side of the card, giving me the name of her new employer and a brief description of her new job. She thanked me for my small part in helping her get the new job.


Not only did I receive a “Thank You” card, - I received nice, thoughtful, extended expression of thanks, giving me insight into her current life situation. In her multiple sentences, clarifying details, I paused while reading to realize – JMH took the time to stop from her other tasks – in order to intentionally and thoughtfully remember my small role in helping her get where she is.

I wonder if our practices of Sabbath should be something like that. Stopping from our striving, to thank God for God’s role in getting us to where we are!

I wonder what it will mean for me to think - in the coming weeks – about Sabbath not as a “demanding” command of God – but as an opportunity with God – to stop and Thank God for what God has shaped and influenced in my life.

What would Sabbath be like if we truly viewed it as a day to give thanks to God – our “Thank You” day to and for God?

I can tell you quite plainly – I warmly received the letter from this former student. It literally made me feel good.

I wonder if God “feels good” when we stop to say Thanks and acknowledge God’s work in our lives.

My guess is, in whatever way God “feels” – it does make God feel good when we stop to be thankful to God.

So, I will make my Sabbath – opportunities to Give Thanks! I hope it makes God feel good!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The created rhythms

As you can tell by reading this blog, these posts are being written by some men who really struggle to put into practice the ideas of Sabbath in their lives.  However, as we write these blogs and journey together through implementing Sabbath into our individual settings and lives, there are some amazing revelations being discovered.  We have learned lessons from our pasts, presents, and we look to the future and how those lessons will impact our future.
I (Eli) fall into the same boat of not being good at Sabbath, and I'm not getting any better at it. In fact, it may be getting worse. I could blame it on life situations (my wife is pregnant with twins and we are selling our house in order to begin construction on a new home). I could blame it on my job(s), whether it be college ministry, adjunct professoring, or announcing softball games. All of those things would be exactly what they are, excuses. They would not be me taking a real inventory of my life and taking the blame/credit for my lack of sabbath practices in mine and my family's life. So, here I am taking inventory of my life for all the world to see and committing to Sabbath practice.
My commitment to Sabbath keeping comes from a recent trip I took to the rain forests of Panama. It was a mission trip to the remotest place I have ever been on earth. The village we stayed in didn't have internet, cell phone coverage, air conditioning, or hot water and they only had electricity for 3 hours per night (if they had diesel fuel and an operational generator). I began to notice some created rhythms that drive life in this village. It was the same rhythms that our ancestors kept before artificial light flooded our homes and streets. Instead of rising with the sun and the rooster crowing, we now rise when our alarms beckon us from their post on our artificially darkened night stands. The flip-side of that is that we no longer go to sleep when the sun goes down, rather we pump in artificial light to keep us up at all hours of the night.
Perhaps, God created these rhythms for our benefit. Perhaps, He knew that we couldn't survive on artificially shortened sleep cycles. Perhaps, God created rhythms of life, and Sabbath is one of those rhythms.
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. My prayer is that God will continue to reveal to my His created rhythms for my life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Grandma Z and Sabbath

I learned some lessons about rest, while being with my 90 year old grandmother, this past week.

I remember my grandmother as a loving, caring, hard-working woman.

Grandma Z, as we called her (her last name is Zimbelman) - was an elementary school cafeteria cook. I think every person schooled in America must have a strong "mental image" of the "Cafeteria Cook Lady" in their mind. It seems to me whether you remember your elementary school, middle-school, or high-school "Cafeteria Cook Lady" - we each have "that image" of "that person" in our mind for the Cafeteria School Cook.

Funny for me, no matter how hard I try, I can't "image(ine)" my Grandma Z as "that" lady. I mean. I know she probably wore the white smock-type outfit. I know she had the big round arms that ladled out the food on the compartmentalized food plate tray. I know she probably wore the obligatory hair-net. But I can not image(ine) her as that person, as I never saw her as that person. I saw her as my Grandma who sat down to meals with us and loved us. I realize my Grandma *is* the image of a Cafeteria School Cook Lady for hundreds of kids - maybe thousands - who grew up in Minot, North Dakota. But, for me, she is not that.

But, I digress.

I went to spend some time with her this past week - as it was her 90th Birthday.

I asked Grandma if she had any "pearls of wisdom" to share with me.

She replied, "No."

Now, mind you, it was a long, drawn out, scratchy from asthma, "No" - but it was simply a "No."

But, as I asked her more specific questions and drew on her years of life.

I learned from her words - and from my reflections on her life - that hard work matters, as well, intentional time with family matters - times of worship and rest matter.

I will not post all the details here - or now - but, among other things, Grandma narrated how she and her sister worked 6 days a week, for 10 coal miners, preparing, serving, and cleaning 3 meals per day - so that each of them could earn three dollars per week. She didn't say it directly, but she noted - she worked six days per week, not seven.

Grandma Z retold the story about how my Grandfather died (before I was born) and how, since that time, she remained a faithful employee and faithful person of worship, in her local church. Though times were hard with Grandpa's passing, and though she still had kids to raise, she made sure that her work was balanced with times of worship, sabbath and rest.

Grandma Z said she didn't have any "pearls of wisdom" for me - but her life story narrates something more.

Sabbath rest is and was an integral part of her life's work - and as a result of that alone, I should think more attentively and seriously about giving more focus to it for my life.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Personal Insight

I had a moment of clarity today. I am on Spring Break, yet I was at the office today to meet with a couple for premarital counseling. After the session, when I could have left and returned home to rest, I found myself trying to figure out some work that needed doing. Even when most people would probably see an opportunity for rest or recreation, I saw an opportunity for being productive. Clearly, this is my default position and it is in need of amendment.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sabbath Update & Accountability

After returning from the S3 conference, I found myself energized, yet behind. I was excited about the actual Sabbath rest that took place over the week as it was different than I anticipated, but there was this perpetual reminder of all the work left undone during that week. When I began to describe to Ginger about the year-long plan and agreements we made together, I laid out these action steps for our family (obviously, with the hopes she would agree):

1) Beginning at 3pm on Friday afternoons, we would honor a family Sabbath until 8pm
I was glad to see her oblige because this meant that the weekly house cleaning would have to be rushed from 1:30pm-3:00pm.

2) We would read the Bible and pray together.

3) We would rest and relax sometimes involving naps, but others just sharing one another's company.

4) I determined I would read something regarding Sabbath on Fridays; however, it would not necessarily need to occur during this apportioned time.

Here is the update of the first two weeks:

March 4
Ginger rushed home from work in order to have the house cleaned and completed the task. I finalized grading papers around 4pm, and we proceeded to start a tradition. We read from a children's Bible about the creation of the world, introduced the idea of Sabbath to the kids and fielded a number of questions from my six year old about Sabbath (mostly assuring him that he did not have to take a nap during these moments. After this, we played a few board games and continued to relax. The kids went to their rooms while Ginger and I talked without the interference of a computer and/or television. Our time was cut short, but we knew that ahead of time as we had a new member church dinner. We couldn't turn down a free meal, and honestly we did very little work at the church. In some ways this was a great Sabbath. Even though it was not as long as we had planned, it was a great introduction.

March 11
Again, we had a shortened Sabbath, but in due part because Dillon had his friend over for their first sleepover. They had been begging for this during the recent Upward basketball season and the time had come. We failed in some areas as we did not read from the Bible or pray together. And, we did not discuss that it was Sabbath. However, Payton and I napped while Dillon watched a movie. I think Mom worked (she cannot have a dusty house...lol). Then, we dropped Sis off for a night at Nana's and picked up Dillon's best buddy. Next week needs to be more intentional. Ginger and I discussed the having Sabbath, but left the kids out of it, which is a mistake because this could be the start of a great tradition.

Next week will also be challenging, but it is still promising. Someone text me to remind me. Ha! I share all of this for the accountability I need in my own life. You will honor God by helping my family honor Sabbath, so feel free to email, text or call to ask how it is progressing. I removed myself from Facebook to deal with an addiction and to participate in Lent. I am hoping to find something proactive and positive to participate in to fill that time as well. Any suggestions? May God guide us all towards Sabbath rest, reflection and renewal!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sabbath and Silent Salvation

The silence is deafening. No mighty wind, no earthquake, no fire... just silence. Sabbath and silence. "Be still, and know that I AM God." Why is it that I find the silence so difficult to dwell in? It could be that the culture around me saturates itself with busyness and sound and activity. But, I am coming more to realize that this is not even the issue. The difficulty with Sabbath and silence is that I have to come to terms with myself. I come face-to-face with myself, with my finitude, with my creature-ness. My world is re-oriented... but not around me. I find that I am lacking, insufficient, and inadequate. In short, I'm not God. I have come to the end of myself and have entered fully into the silence. It is in this silence that I hear the still small voice. "Be still, and know that I am God." In the fire of that silence, I am changed, purified, and humbled. I am creature, fully human. It is not because of what I do but because of who God is. Like Moses, I find myself on holy ground in the middle of the mundane desert of life.. Like Isaiah, I find myself a sinful man in the midst of a sinful world needing God's transformative work in my life. And, all too often, I find myself like the disciples sleeping while I should be praying. To be honest, silence is difficult to enter into fully because there is always the probability that God will reveal Himself and may change us. We drown out the still small voice, hoping to muffle the call of the Holy One. Change is rarely something we chase after and accept willingly. We inundate ourselves with noise and activity because to enter in Sabbath silence means we might meet God and be called to a new life. But, we are comfortable with the old way. We want to be God. We want to call the shots. We want to be in control. But, it is only when we recognize our created-ness and center our lives upon our Creator that we become fully human and fully present. It is only in this that we become truly free. Sabbath re-orients us, reminding us of who we are and Whose we are. We leave the noisy productivity of Egypt and walk into a desert dependence upon God.

Sabbath - Stop

Sabbath is about taking time out. It's about stopping. It's about reflecting. It's about attending to things personal and introspective, while attending to the Reality that there is more to life than the mundane dailyness.

I happen to be at a theological conference as I pen these words today. I have spent the entire day among great thinkers who have taken time to reflect on important themes, issues, perspectives that emerge from the Bible and shape theological perspectives. But there has been little time for worship of God in the midst of the theological conversation about God.

I took a few minutes this afternoon and walked in the path of the campus labyrinth. Labyrinths have been viewed as “suspect” and "scary" and even "Satanic" by many in Christian traditions. I think that is too bad. Not because I think Labyrinths are necessary good things – but they seem completely a-moral and a-sinful and a-problematic. A Labyrinth is no more a “tool” or a “path” or a “way” of being spiritual than walking a path through the woods (which I much prefer) – or walking a path down the sea-shore (which I definitely much prefer!) – or walking a path of pilgrimage, for example, down the via dolorosa in Jerusalem. Labyrinths are paths and on them – we come back and forth – rotating toward the center and then away from the center.

I have already admitted that I'm not very good a Sabbath. I am not very good at things that take deep reflection in spiritual ways. I wish I were better at it. I’m not patient enough for it. Too much activity. Too much restlessness. Too much busy-ness.

The Labyrinth was not a means of worship for me today – but it was a way to reflect again on the criss-cross-back-and-forth-rest-less paths of my day – and to be reminded that there is something more – and some Reality – more at the Center of life than talk of the Bible or talk of theology.

At the Center is the Creator – and it is toward worship and obedience of this Center that all our lives should give attention.

We should all stop more – more frequently, more deliberately – to stop – to stop – to stop – stop ceasing, striving, working, thinking, writing, projecting, talking – to worship.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What is a realistic Sabbath goal?

I thought last week that I ought to publicly declare my personal sabbath goal for accountability purposes. So, I silently set what I thought might be a realistic goal to engage in sabbath from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Sunday evenings, starting March 6. How did I spend my designated sabbath time? I graded papers from about 4:00 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m. I guess it is a good thing I did not announce it publicly - until now. Marty, your seven minute sabbath is looking pretty challenging right now.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Seven Minute Sabbath Update

I'm not good - at all - at Sabbath.

On each of the past three days - each day, I have set my watch and gone for a 7 minute Sabbath - only to find that within less than 5 minutes I am checking my watch to see if I set the timer correctly as the time feels like it drones on.

My Sabbath stamina is about 4 minutes.

This is going to take some work.