Our culture has made “twenty-four/seven” the mantra for productivity, efficiency, service. Computer salespeople top their competitors by providing 24/7 technical support. Corner stores and even banks offer the convenience of 24/7 shopping. A consultant reassures his client, “You can reach me 24/7.”
We live in a 24/7 world. Non-stop. One hundred sixty-eight hours a week. ‘Round-the-clock business, activity, opportunity.
Don’t you just wish it were 24/6?
By now, you know where this is headed: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
Raise your hand if you find the Fourth Commandment hardest to keep. If you grew up Baptist and Texan, you probably thought it was the weirdest.
“Keeping the Sabbath” for a Baptist kid meant no shopping (which the state tried to enforce through Blue Laws), no swimming, no yardwork and, for goodness’ sake, no going to the movies.
“Keeping the Sabbath” reinforced Baptist and <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Church of Christ folks’ reputations for being “against” things. Sometimes, it seemed we were known more for what people couldn’t do than what they actually did. And “keeping the Sabbath” was Exhibit A.
Of course, Sabbath-keeping provided all kinds of opportunities for inconsistency and holier-than-thouness. We could look down our noses at the neighbor who mowed his lawn on Sunday afternoon while we wore ourselves and our families out with church activities and needed to go to work or school on Monday to rest up. We could take pride in our refusal to work on Sunday while we crowded the local restaurants after church, thereby causing others to toil. And we codified these inconsistencies with Blue Laws, which ultimately didn’t stop commerce but overlaid it with confusing and abstract rules and regulations.
So, is it any wonder hardly anyone shed a tear, or noticed, when we went from “keeping the Sabbath” to living 24/7? What good was it anyway? In a non-grammatical word, alot.
Think about some of society’s trends that bother us, and trace them back to their roots. The business failures that have plagued America this year and have undermined economic vitality can be traced back to 24/7, non-stop aggressive behavior–in this case, to rack up ever-increasing profits. Doctors and other health-care workers report alarming declines in Americans’ health, partly because (over)eating reflects our can’t-get-enough consumer attitude and partly because our fixation on 24/7 pushes us to go, go, go, whether it’s registering our children for three sports plus art and music lessons or enlisting ourselves in every “opportunity” that comes along.
Unfortunately, 24/7 is a cultural phenomenon about which the church is no different than anyone else. We don’t slow down in our busy-ness, in our consumption, in our over-extension any better than our neighbors.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann points to the church’s absolute acceptance of consumer culture. “Christians in the United States now live in an economic rat race of the endless pursuit of more goods that promise to make us both happier and safer,” he writes in the Lord’s Day Alliance’s Sunday Magazine. “That pursuit of more goods that cannot keep its promises is an exercise in disease and eventually in anxiety and fatigue rooted in an insatiable appetite for commodities. Sabbath in such an environment can be a visible, disciplined, public assertion of a different identity. On Sabbath, men and women of faith disengage not only from coerced production, but also from mindless unreflective consumption.”
He makes a terrific point, but we will miss it entirely if we only see it as a call for reinstituting the Blue Laws or a set of do’s and don’t’s.
First, it’s not just about buying things. The retail manifestation of our consumer illness is no more the cause of our disease than is a fever the cause of pneumonia. It’s a symptom, and we can neither buy nor stop-buying our way out of it. After six days of creation, God saw all that had been made and pronounced it good and rested. The Bible’s word for God’s rest reflects our understanding of “tranquility, serenity, peace and repose,” writes philosopher Norman Wirzba in the Center for Christian Ethics’ Christian Reflection journal. We come near to “keeping the Sabbath” when we join God in coming to peace with God’s creation, including ourselves, our lives, our families and our circumstances.
Second, it’s not just about one day of the week. Most Christians acknowledge the Sabbath on Sunday. That’s a great place to start. (And many of our churches could help by slowing the pace of activity, giving more time for God, family and rest.) We would do well to set aside a day for reflection, appreciation and serenity with God in gratitude for God’s blessing. As Brueggemann notes, respectful practice of Sabbath can be a significant witness of our understanding of God and God’s plans for all of creation.
But the spirit of Sabbath-keeping should be reflected in our lives day by day. When we rejoice with God and find tranquility and serenity in our role as God’s created ones, we will go far toward ridding ourselves and our culture of the driving, consumptive disease that inflicts our society 24/7.
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Marv Knox is editor of the Baptist Standard. This column was reprinted with permission.