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    Entries in sabbath (3)

    Tuesday
    Sep262017

    An Interview with Jen Pollock Michel, Author of Keeping Place

    Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP Books, 2017). You can visit her blog here. I interviewed her about the book, which is excellent, and she was gracious in sharing her thoughts.

    BAS: Keeping Place is a biblical and theological reflection on the meaning of home. What led you to write the book?

    JPM: I’m one of those people who can’t answer the very simple question, “Where’s home for you?” I think that’s a big reason that the topic of home has been an important one for me. Currently, our family lives in Toronto, Canada. We moved here from Chicago six years ago, so in many ways, we’re outsiders here. But even before that, I’ve had a long history of moving. As a child, we moved often for my father’s education and job. I can’t really say where I’m from, where I’ll be buried, which inspires a weird sense of dislocation, to be honest. I think it’s that dislocation, that homesickness, that give rise to a deep longing to be rooted somewhere.

    I think it’s also fair to say that this book is a natural follow-up to my first book, Teach Us to Want. If I argued in that first book that desire isn’t always this terrible, corrupt part of ourselves, that sometimes our desires have very important things to say about God, our place in his world, and the purposes for which we are made, then I work out my own deep desire for home in Keeping Place. And what I found, in Scripture, is this incredibly hopeful idea that God is a homemaker, that he’s made a home for us, that we do in fact belong somewhere, that all our sense of impermanence in this world is finally going to come to a glorious end. The gospel story is a home story!

    BAS: In your second chapter you present a history of homemaking, noting the ways domestic roles have taken shape over time based on numerous factors. You write, "According to Scripture, home is shared human work." You explain that homemaking has not always been the exclusive domain of women. You then proceed to outline biblical instructions for men within the home. I found this to be a welcome reminder with regard to my role at home. Has your work been engaged by a male readership? What has been the response?

    JPM: I have to say that I’m so incredibly encouraged by the response from male readers! My publisher and I knew that this was going to be a tricky task, trying to market a book on home to both women and men. It’s not a topic that immediately seems resonant to men, which is why that chapter you’re mentioning had to be very early in the book. I needed to draw out that important pre-Industrial revolution history to make the case for saying that home should matter to everyone, and I have heard from men that they’re appreciative of that historical context. I’m blessed by the men who have put a lot of their own support behind this book; Scott Sauls wrote the foreword, several different men endorsed it, men like you who are featuring it on their blogs and podcasts. I’m grateful. I want also to say that it continues to be difficult for women in Christian publishing to have their work taken as seriously as male authors. I think it’s telling when I hear from women that their male pastors have not one single title, written by a woman, to recommend to their congregation. It saddens me to see booklists published by popular blogs and websites and not to see a single woman author on those lists. It’s just not true that women aren’t publishing good books these days, and I would love to see men reading more widely—to include women as well as other marginalized groups.

    BAS: In chapter four you write about our modern tendency toward mobility and the importance ofplace. I find that many people feel caught between the tension of wanting to be on a journey while simultaneously longing for home. The chapter closes with a reflection on the Benedictine vow of stability. How do you see stability and place as important for spiritual formation and Christian witness?

    JPM: I’ll tell a quick story. Just this morning, I was walking to the gym, which is right in my neighborhood. I’m there three times a week, so there’s a lot of familiarity with the people there, both at the gym and at the Tim Horton’s where I camp out for the half hour before my fitness class starts. I hadn’t been to the gym all summer, and as I walked there this morning, I recognized the same woman who frequently begs outside. My first thought today was, “She’s still here? What a bother.” But then the Holy Spirit ever so gently asked, “But isn’t this your neighborhood? And doesn’t that, it some way, make her a part of your sphere of responsibility?”

    That’s what stability does. That’s what rootedness does. It starts to imprint on your soul, on your conscience, who belongs in your sphere of responsibility, whom God is asking you to actively love. Our habits of mobility—of constantly moving from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood, even church to church—can, in very tragic ways, disrupt the important, if also difficult task, of living with and loving broken people in broken places. When people and places disappoint us, we so easily sever our ties and move on, not recognizing that the restlessness of our souls, the pining for the greener grass somewhere else, is never going to be satisfied. The shine always wears off the new. I am as guilty of that illusion of anyone else.

    Stability, while hard, offers so many gifts: the gift of our sanctification (because we stay rather than leave when times get hard); the gift of being known and received by people who know our story, the gift of fruitful ministry (because ministry is always relational, and there’s no rushing that). I’m just starting to experience these gifts here in Toronto, and we hope to stay put!

    BAS: In your chapter on marriage you write, "The mystery of self-sacrifice in marriage is that it is not an obstacle to self-fulfillment but a means to it." You note that both marriage and family involve various forms of self-sacrifice, and say "The mystery of marriage isn't its limitless capacity for securing our personal happiness. the mystery is its witness to the eternal, self-sacrificing love of Jesus for his bride." How do Christian convictions about marriage offer a counter-narrative to modern understandings of self-fulfillment, and how can the uniqueness of Christian marriage offer a compelling witness to those who are not part of the community of faith?

    JPM: As I talk about in the book, marriage is a tremendously important practice of stability. It’s not commitment to a place for a lifetime—but commitment to a person. And as Paul talks about in Ephesians, it’s marriage that witnesses to God’s unfailing love for his people. I think that parallel—of Christian marriage to Christ and the Church—forces us to lament how easily we in the church discard our marriage vows for that proverbial greener grass. I’m right now in the middle of watching a very close friend choose divorce—and I say choose, because the situation, while complicated, doesn’t necessarily warrant it—and it is a tremendous grief. I think she thought divorce would be easier than a difficult marriage, but I think she’s realizing that it’s not that easy.

    What could it look like for us, as Christians, to keep choosing our marriage even when it’s not necessarily fulfilling our dreams and desires? Anyone who has been married for some time knows that we must choose our marriages every day: choose confession, choose repentance, choose service, choose self-sacrifice, choose honesty, choose love. You don’t choose those things and get immediate reward. But if these are your regular practices, I think you’re moving in the direction of a marriage that is resilient, God-honoring, and as you say, something your neighbors are going to notice. And when they do, you get to say something to the effect of, “We’re no heroes. But Jesus is in this marriage, too, and it’s his faithfulness that is holding us together.”

    BAS: In our household one of our great challenges is finding space for rest, or sabbath keeping. What wisdom would you offer to those who believe themselves to be "too busy" to keep sabbath and create space to reconnect and remember their Creator?

    I’d love to answer this as someone who has got it all figured out. But I absolutely don’t! I will say that one thing that has been incredibly helpful to our own family is to draw fairly strict boundaries around Sunday. Generally, our kids don’t participate in athletic events on Sunday, we don’t usually drive them to birthday parties. And let me be honest and say that this restriction limits what they can and can’t do, especially when it comes to sports. None of them has been able participate in any super competitive leagues because that requires Sunday involvement. But it’s allowed us to make worship a priority for Sunday, which isn’t a small thing.

    It’s interesting to me: my oldest daughter and I were recently visiting a college campus, and one of the campus ministers was giving us a tour. He was talking about the kinds of Christians who lose their faith at college, and he said one group of kids who don’t really grow in their faith are those whose parents, in high school, let them miss church for athletic events and for homework or school projects. Their parents told them, implicitly if not explicitly, “Your sports, your athletics: these matter for your future. They’re more important than church.” And I think that should feel haunting to us as parents! Sabbath isn’t, as you say, simply a practice of rest: it’s a reorientation of our hearts toward God. That makes church a really big part of Sabbath-keeping.

    In terms of making the time for rest, I’d love to quote from one of my favorite books, Essentialism. It’s not written by a Christian, but the principles in the book are incredibly wise, especially for people caught in the busyness trap. Let’s be honest with ourselves to say that we choose busyness more often than it chooses us. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown puts it this way: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” The fact is that God—GOD—has given us, not just the priority, but the privilege of rest. We have the time to keep Sabbath, to engage deliberate rest in our week—but maybe a better question is, “Do we have the courage?” Do we have the courage to get behind, to leave something undone, to trust that God is upholding the universe if we don’t open our email? Sabbath, for me, is exactly that kind of trust. And when I let myself surrender to the idea of my own smallness, even for one day, it recalibrates the rest of the week.

    BAS: I sincerely thank Jen for taking time to chat about her work. Keeping Place can be purchased at Amazon and other fine book sellers around the land.

     

    Monday
    Feb222010

    Brief Book Review :: The Ancient Practices Series: Dan Allender's Sabbath

    Dan Allender loves the Sabbath. That much is clear. I appreciate this. As one who does not observe Sabbath faithfully (at times I engage in outright rebellion), Allender's love for this ancient practice kindled my own. The Ancient Practices Series has had that tendency, as on the whole I have greatly enjoyed these volumes.

    Within this installment Dan Allender writes in clear, enjoyable prose concerning the practice of Sabbath. I devoured this book in a couple of days, and after I had put it down, I was eager to return. With three clear divisions (Sabbath Pillars, Purpose, and Performance), the reader is shown theological and biblical foundations for Sabbath observance, the reasons this practice has been given, and how this day can be most deeply enjoyed. Throughout his book, Allender quite thankfully avoids a bland description of Sabbath, and instead opts for the language of pure delight, play, and abundance. Allender also avoids legalistic prescriptions, and rather inspires the imagination for how Sabbath might be engaged with the totality of one's being.

    Despite the fact that I read this book quickly, and on the whole found it enjoyable, I did find it lacking in a couple of ways. First, this book did refer to the biblical foundations for Sabbath practice, most notably the fourth commandment. But as has been true of more than one volume of The Ancient Practices Series, I found the level of engagement with Scripture lacking. What significance did Sabbath practice have for the people of Israel? And, for those in the Christian community, in what way did Jesus challenge Sabbath practices and open up new possibilities for Sabbath observance among those called as his disciples? Such questions deserve attention, for the Scriptures serve as a foundational and critical narrative for the establishment of these practices in the life of the Christian person.

    As another critical observation, it was quite clear that Allender made a choice to avoid discussion of the Sabbath that focused too heavily on our need for rest in a world addicted to work, hurry, and busyness, a move that took something away from the overall value of this volume. Though teachings on Sabbath commonly take this angle, the value in stressing rest as a gift to be received as part of our life rhythm clearly remains, and all signs within American culture (and perhaps others, but I speak from my location) tell us this lesson has yet to be learned. Allender does nod in this direction, but does not treat this aspect of Sabbath fully enough.

    Simply because Allender's love of Sabbath is contagious, I would recommend this book. The shortcomings I have noted do not outweigh the potential benefits this book could bring. Allender describes this practice as something to be cherished, and I believe that his description, in many ways, provides an uncommon lens through which to see God's good world that includes his gift of Sabbath.

    Wednesday
    Feb172010

    Exhaustion and Spiritual Depression

    More from h.koppdelaney on Flickr!When a lull hits in the spiritual life, people look for a cure.  Why does God feel so distant?  Why can't I reclaim a previous experiential connection to God?  Why is it that my faith, which once felt so vibrant, has taken an apparent recess?

    Oftentimes, pastoral counseling in the face of spiritual dryness or depression amounts to more regularity in public worship, more commitment to the spiritual disciplines, participation in a small group, taking up a new Bible study, or engaging in acts of social concern.  And all of these things, in and of themselves, are good.  They may serve as a cure.  But they may not.

    A surprising truth may be that we are doing too much, rather than doing too little, causing our spiritual life to suffer.

    David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon entitled "Weary in Well Doing" observes well that a critical step in diagnosing the reasons for spiritual depression is self-examination.  One must get to the root of the problem.  And while it may be the case that there is presence of sin or the failure to discipline oneself in the practices of the Christian life, the cause may also be sheer exhaustion.  Lloyd-Jones states:

    You may be in that condition simply because you are working too hard physically.  You can be tired in the work and not tired of the work.  It is possible that a man has been over-working--I do not care in what realm, whether natural or spiritual--and has been over-taxing his energy and his physical resources.  If you go on working too hard under strain you are bound to suffer.  And of course if that is the cause of the trouble, the remedy you need is medical treatment.

    Extending pastoral counseling to another person, or to oneself, may require the offering of the choice to stop doing, rather than to start doing.  We live in a culture of over-work, having neglected or obscured the value of the discipline of rest.  If you feel exhausted and far from God, pause and reflect if the neglect of the physical, bodily dimension of your personhood is the root.  It may be the case that altering the rhythm of your life and incorporating rest may serve as the needed course correction, allowing other Christian spiritual practices to then flood and nourish the soul.  We are embodied creatures, this much cannot be denied, and in order for the soul to thrive, the body must be properly tended.  Christianity, inclined to gnosticism, has too often forgotten this truth.