upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Passionate about a Project: Living Sabbath

For the past few years, I have been obsessed with the idea of Sabbath. It is a foreign concept to most Christians, although it shouldn't be. In Luke, in Jesus' first public act, he takes a scroll from Isaiah and proclaims the "Year of the Lord," otherwise known as the "Jubilee" or the "Sabbath Year." Christians are missing a great deal of our religious underpinnings by not knowing more of the principles of Sabbath and by not practicing Sabbath-keeping as a core part of our religious observance. And so, I began to search far and wide for resources that would introduce my congregation to Sabbath as well as to other spiritual practices that tie liturgy with life in the larger world - resources that would initiate people into rhythms of life that embody what following Christ really means in the everyday world. What did I find? Not much.

There have been inroads made in recent years, primarily through the new monastic movement and its leaders/communities, by Paraclete Press, and by a few very cool folks and organizations (Sojourners, etc) to drag the Christian narrative back to life in ways that challenge economics, our ideas of neighborliness, and our commitment to peace. I am very grateful for these offerings. Yet, I believed that I had a dream for something that wasn't being done. Why, I finally wondered, was I waiting for someone else to do it? Thus began my journey.

This has led to a two point ministry obsession: Create a Christian community based on the principle of Sabbath and create actual space that lives out the Sabbath principle.

What is this?

Sabbath, contrary to most Christians' understanding, is not a day off from work that Jews take each week (although observant Jews don't work on Sabbath). Sabbath is a measure of justice in the Bible that is known through a weekly observance of the cessation of work, observances of rest for the land, and periodic return of hereditary land and forgiveness of debts. It is a holistic approach to community building that holds at its core the centrality of God's generative and redeeming power. Sabbath is the most frequently invoked idea in the Old Testament, and as I said above, it is the central ethic in the witness and ministry of Jesus Christ. In the two renditions of the Ten Commandments, there are two different but complementary reasons for keeping Sabbath: 1) Rest on the seventh day because God rested from creating on that day, and 2) Rest on the seventh day to remember that God brought you out of the land of Egypt (that is, remember that you are no longer a slave and your lives should be lived in freedom not enslaved to labor or any other false idol). At its most basic, the weekly observance of Sabbath has two commandments - be joyful and don't work. Sabbath years enhance and intensify to weekly Sabbath.

A community that holds these ideals before them would be a powerful and alternative witness in our world. Of course, these are core values within the Jewish tradition, but they would look and feel different within a Christian community. Traditional monastic communities highly value these principles. And, emerging from new monastic communities are fresh ways of approaching Sabbath. However, I found that before I could invite people into community based on Sabbath, I had to educate them.

I began what has been a year and a half project to create a video curriculum to introduce people to Sabbath-keeping. It has been a rich time filled with wonderful conversations with Dorothy Bass, Amy-Jill Levine, Brian McLaren, Jack Sasson, Walter Brueggemann, Ellen Davis, Norman Wirzba, Majora Carter, Ched Myers, Phyllis Tickle, Douglas Meeks, Lauren Winner, and I have two upcoming interviews with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Bill McKibben (if timing can be worked out). It is a seven part series with videos about 20 minutes each. I will begin focus groups in July. Currently, this series is attached to my dissertation, but I hope to find a distributer so that people in congregations can have access to these fantastic people and what they say about Sabbath. If you are in the greater Seattle area and would like to be part of the focus groups, please let me know.

The second part of this project is to take a motel along Seattle's Aurora Avenue, an area known for prostitution and drug trafficking, and turn it from a place of exploitation to a place of Resurrection and Sabbath. I dream of having one of the many abandoned lots along Aurora turned into an organic garden and bird sanctuary. This is putting flesh on the Sabbath principle. Sabbath is not an idea; it is a lived reality in which no one has too much and no one has too little. It is known communally by care for one another. It is the reality of living in God's presence.

If you know a commercial realtor, an artist, a gardener, a person gifted in prayer, an architect, a construction worker or carpenter, or people who might be interested in this, please let me know. I am trying to pull together a group of people who can transform this obsession turned dream into reality right along Aurora and in the abandoned places of cities near Seattle.

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