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A Review of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort

kim-kort-coverIt’s not every day you get to read a seminal, formative work in a still-emerging field of theology.  But that is exactly what Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort is.  If you ever find yourself agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun,” pick up Making Paper Cranes and see if you can still say that when you are finished.

 

It’s not that feminist theology is brand new.  And while it is relatively new on the scene, this isn’t the first volume of theology written from an Asian American perspective.  It’s not even the first book to combine the two.

 

Kim-Kort’s work is formative and important to the entire world of theology because the way she pinpoints where her experience and the work of God intersect models the way all of us might undertake embodied theology—theology with meat on its bones. In this way her theology is neither a majority theology or a minority theology—it simply is authentic theology for a Korean American Presbyterian young woman in dialogue with all of the traditions in which she happens to be rooted.  As such, it is a model of how all of us might undertake similar theological pursuits authentic to each one of us as children of God.

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Sewing on the Compass Rose

Sitting down on a recent Sunday evening with Downton Abbey on in the background, I carefully sew the Anglican Communion’s Compass Rose and the Episcopal Shield onto my new tippet[i]. This seemingly simple task does not begin to capture the last decade of my life and the journey I have been on.

As a cradle member of the Church of England, passionate about working with youth and helping marginalized communities know the unconditional love of God, it should not have been a surprise when my priest asked me if I would consider becoming a priest – but it was.  My family includes prominent supporters of women’s ordination, but I had never imagined it as a path for myself, because I had almost no female role models to follow.

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Beyond Balance: A Review of Anne Bogel’s Work Shift

My husband was running just a few minutes late, the church rummage sale having exhausted all the spaces in the parking lot. My office is just down the hall from our older daughter’s preschool classroom, so when I noted that it was time for pick-up, I quickly saved my document and stepped out to get the girls. On Thursdays, we baby-sit twin sisters before and after school. It was originally just Ben’s job. He is, after all, the stay-at-home dad. But then we discerned that it was finally time for him to enroll in a certification program to become an addictions counselor, and he started taking a class on Thursday nights. The babysitting has shifted to my docket of responsibilities so that he has time to study and drive to campus. We were doing the toddler/vehicle hand-off at church, which is how my narrow office, lined with theology books and biblical commentaries, came to be inhabited with three preschoolers, one toddler, one husband, and one seriously harried associate minister.

 

I had just looked at my to-do list. It would have been fine – full, but fine – if I hadn’t signed on for way too many extras. I am a sucker for extras, especially if they involve writing. Generally speaking, writing gigs are an easy complement for my pastoral work. For instance, I have a great head start on my sermon for the Sunday after Easter in 2014, thanks to a writing assignment for a devotional book. But I’ve learned that I can handle only so many writing deadlines in any given month, and I suddenly found myself staring at three in one week. Thankfully, one of those deadlines included a review of blogger Anne Bogel’s recent e-book, Work Shift: How to Create a Better Blend of Work, Life, and Family.

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A Review of Amy Frykholm’s “See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity”

A few weeks ago, I sat in a room with church members for our church’s Theology on Draft small group. Our setting in Washington, DC encouraged that this round of study be focused on religion and politics and what might be a responsible, Christian response within the teeming mess that is the presidential election as well as our individual responses as people who live and work in Washington, DC and cannot escape it. Sure, we spoke of the need to understand the religious right and what the word evangelical means within religious and political spectrums. And we even discussed how we’d be approaching the study of Amos in correlation with our discussions. We even asked the big picture questions about being Baptist and our baptist distinctive of religious liberty and separation of church and state.

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God Hates Whom, Exactly?

We’ve all seen it. We’ve all groaned, or objected full-throatedly, or taken to our blogs to protest. Pat Robertson did it in 2005, the Rabbinical Alliance of America did it in 2010, and the mayor of Tokyo did it in 2011. The members of the Westboro Baptist Church do it so often it doesn’t even make the news anymore. Maybe we’ve even been guilty of it ourselves, especially lately.

 

It is bad theology and lazy humor. So can we all  stop blaming folks we don’t agree with for calling down God’s wrath in the form of natural disasters?

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Can you see Moroni?

Stepping Inside the LDS Temple

Can you see Moroni?

A Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

“Have you seen it?  It’s gigantic!  And who’s that golden guy on the steeple?”

“I think that’s the man they worship.  I’m not sure how I feel about them being in the area…”

With every brick, every coat of paint, every pane of glass placed into the new LDS temple, these conversations grew more insistent, more frantic.  Confronted with such a large and visible building project, my congregation members couldn’t help but wonder who these Mormons really were.  Would they be good neighbors?  Do they count as “real Christians”?  Could one of “them” be trusted as our President?  And again, what was up with that golden guy with the trumpet on top of the temple?

My church folk had big questions, and in order to quell their fears and be better neighbors, they needed good information.  I knew a fair amount about the LDS tradition, but only in an academic way. So, when the opportunity arose to tour the temple, I jumped at the chance.

Before ever setting foot on the temple campus, I was struck by the scope of the PR campaign run by the LDS church.  Months prior to the May 2012 temple dedication, faith leaders from around the Kansas City region were mailed formal invitations to meet with LDS leaders and tour the facility.  And it didn’t stop there: in the weeks leading up to the big dedication day (after which only Mormons in good standing can enter the building), thousands of volunteers were brought in to handle the public tours that took place several times a day.  It seems the LDS community here knows what is at stake; because their beliefs are so often misunderstood, in order to get along with their surrounding community and perhaps obtain a few new members, they must make a special effort.   Consequently, they have made hospitality an art form.

Thanks to a friend whose congregation did a Lenten study on Mormonism with the local LDS Bishop, I was able to get a spot on one of the VIP tours, led by the Bishop himself.  When we arrived together, it was clear that everyone including the Bishop thought that my friend was the pastor and I was his girlfriend or wife.  This awkward situation was made differently awkward whenever he introduced me as one of his clergy colleagues – but the Bishop recovered swiftly and throughout the rest of the tour made a point of addressing the role of women in the LDS church, always while making sure to catch my eye.  My sense of this is that he wanted to make sure I was comfortable, and he wanted to address my presumed concerns about LDS womanhood while also being clear about his beliefs.  Though awkward at first, it was also a relief to have some of this out on the table.

The tour started in the new LDS church building that sits next to the temple.  Weekly worship takes place in these local meetinghouses as the temple is reserved for very particular ceremonies and rituals, including weddings, sealings and baptisms.  On this day, the meetinghouse had been turned into a welcome center with rooms set up for basic introductory classes on Mormonism and reception areas readied for post-tour snacking and fellowship.  We settled into one classroom and watched a rather slick video on basic Mormon history and faith as well as the history of temple building.  The video stressed the Abrahamic roots of the LDS faith, as well as the strong family focus that is often a hallmark of Mormonism.  As one of the leaders in the video teared up while talking about his family (“It wouldn’t be heaven if I couldn’t be with my wife and children.”), I could see a bit more clearly why the idea of a “sealed marriage” that lasts beyond death into eternity is such a cherished belief in the LDS faith.

After the video, we walked across the parking lot and prepared to enter the temple by putting protective  booties over our shoes.  This is not normally the protocol when entering an LDS temple, but because they were anticipating as many as 70,000 visitors in the month leading up to the temple dedication (ultimately, more than 91,000 came), this step was added in order to protect the new hand-carved carpets that weave throughout the building.  Once our shoes were covered, we entered the space.

The temple was, in a word, overwhelming.  The detail and craftsmanship of the woodwork, the vastness of the space, the grandiosity of the baptismal font (which sits atop twelve life-sized sculpted bulls), the dazzling light reflected through thousands of crystal droplets in the chandeliers found inside the holiest of rooms – on their own each of these facets would be impressive, but together they made the building difficult to take in.  Though pictures do not do justice to the space, you can see some of the interior by clicking here:  http://kcur.org/post/inside-new-mormon-temple.

There were many moments when the aesthetics of the space simply did not suit me.  The most sacred of rooms, which Mormons believe is one of the closest reflections of what heaven will be like, struck me more like a luxurious funeral home with its brocaded couches, golden lamps and mirrored walls.  But the blinding light from the large chandelier and the humbling devotion spread across the Bishop’s face as he silently stood watch in the room reminded me that beauty and inspiration are in the eye and heart of the beholder.  This was not my sacred space, nor were these sacred symbols etched into my heart from childhood – so I was not touched in the same way as those guests who share the Mormon faith. I left the room wondering how unchurched visitors regard our sanctuary – a sacred space that I find so wrenchingly beautiful.

As we wound our way through the temple, the Bishop continued to describe the Mormon faith and ceremonial practice.  In a sealing room, where marrying couples kneel facing one another and stare into mirrors that provide the visual effect of eternity, we learned more about the practice of celestial marriage.  In the bride’s room, we were told more about the role of women as leader of the home and family (according to the Bishop, this is a more important role than his own because Bishops only serve terms in leadership but women are leaders of the home and family forever).  In these discussions, it became all the more clear to me that I find portions of LDS doctrine deeply troubling – and yet, as the Bishop shared his heart with us, I also felt a growing respect for him and his faith.

As a result of the tour, I’ve been able to better answer my congregants’ queries, as well as a few of my own:

-Yes, the Mormons in our area will be good neighbors. 

-Do they count as “real Christians”?  That depends on your definition – but they sure do love Jesus!

-Could a Mormon be trusted as President?  Of course!  It all depends on the Mormon in question, just as it would depend on the Christian or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist in question. 

I’m still not certain what I think about many of the LDS beliefs, and I am still wary of their understanding of womanhood – but I’m also very certain that these Mormons in our midst are our brothers and sisters.  The more we know about one another the better – and these tours were a fantastic beginning of a conversation that should continue regardless of who wins the 2012 election.

As for that golden guy with the trumpet?  That’s the Angel Moroni.  And no, they don’t worship him.

On SCOTUS, PPACA, and Other Acronyms

I was wearing a hospital gown and trying to ignore the stirrups I would soon be placing my feet into when I found out about the Supreme Court’s health care decision. I found out about it by text (3 texts, actually) before I heard about it through the news. My boss (the head of a middle judicatory) texted, “Health care law affirmed! Hallelujah!” A seminary friend texted “Court rules 5-4 in Obama’s favor!” And my favorite text was the text from a Missionary Baptist colleague of mine in Oakland who wrote, “Yeah don’t you love it when the right thing prevails? Now let’s get single payer health care!”

I love that third one because I think of it as the “already but not yet” text. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA (nicknamed “Obamacare” by critics before people actually knew what the content would be), includes a few provisions you’ve probably already heard about. It allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26. It expands generic drug options. It increases the income level for people to qualify for Medicaid. By the year 2020, it seeks to eliminate the “Medicare gap.” It eventually eliminates pre-existing conditions as a reason people can’t get insurance. It eliminates spending caps by insurance companies, so that people will get as much care as they need in a year. It requires companies of over 50 people to provide health care to their full-time employees. And it requires people to purchase insurance starting in a couple of years. (The argument here is that if all barriers to accessing health care are removed, people need to participate in the health care system—otherwise people would only get health coverage once they got sick, breaking down the system that relies on people paying in when they don’t need services so that there are resources when people DO need services.)

So what would Jesus think about health care? As a pastor and preacher, what might I say about this from the pulpit? I live in a city with twice the national unemployment rate (and in some neighborhoods, that rate can reach 45%). I thought this would cause me to become more strident in the way I understand politics, justice and God. And yet, it often complicates my analysis, because there turn out to be more “least, last and lost” folks than I used to track. Perhaps that’s why the theological lens of the already and the not yet matters so much to me: there’s never a moment when we can solely dwell in the “We have arrived; God is here; we are delivered,” because simultaneously, we have sisters and brothers longing for and praying for deliverance. And even health care becomes an already-not-yet moment for me in this community.

So while my initial instinct was to dance around in my paper gown in the doctor’s office (which might have proved awkward had my doctor walked in right then), my enthusiasm has been tempered. I find myself caught between two stories which represent the already and the not yet of the PPACA. The first is a story a friend of mine posted on facebook.  A woman was in DC walking down the street when she heard a scream, and turned around to see a young woman jumping up and down with utter joy. “The Supreme Court upheld the health care legislation!” she shouted. “Did you work hard to get that legislation passed?” the passerby asked, trying to understand the level of enthusiasm. “No,” responded the young woman; “I just have lupus.” Already, there is hope for people with pre-existing conditions who could not get access to health care. The other story is shorter. “How are you feeling about the health care verdict,” I asked an activist friend of mine the day the news rolled out. “Eh,” she responded. When prompted, she said, “I’m just tired of liberals conveniently ignoring the people whose needs won’t get met. Today’s decision doesn’t provide health care to a single undocumented person, to a single Dream Act youth.”

Not yet have we created a system where the people who do the hardest work in our country, and without whom our economy would grind to a halt[1]cannot get the health care they need, even though migrant farm workers (exposed to high levels of pesticide) have high rates of cancer and day laborers are often placed in dangerous work environments that risk their wellbeing on a regular basis. In Oakland, I know of one organization, Street Level Health, that does not require some form of identification for the purpose of medical care, and they are not allowed to receive state or federal funds for that reason. I received the news of the Supreme Court decision while sitting in a paper gown in my OB-GYN’s office at Kaiser. When I checked in that day, I was told that since my annual cancer screening was preventative, I didn’t have a co-pay. (That’s part of the PPACA.) I have health care because my part-time job at the middle judicatory knew I needed it and made sure that was part of my contract, since my church can’t afford to cover me.

I already have much for which to be grateful. I’m better off than a lot of friends (and congregants and colleagues) whose health insurance is praying to God that they don’t get sick, because their jobs don’t or can’t provide the same insurance that I get, or because a pre-existing condition stops them from accessing affordable insurance. And I am so grateful to my Missionary Baptist colleague for allowing me to celebrate the already on behalf of my brothers and sisters whose lives will be safer and healthier and less fearful. (“Yeah don’t you love it when the right thing prevails?”) And I am even more grateful to him for reminding me of the not yet. (“Now let’s get single payer health care!”) What would Jesus think? I suspect he would think, “I am here not for the well but for the sick.” And he would promptly turn his attention to his brothers and sisters living in the not yet.


[1] if you don’t believe me, look at Alabama, whose anti-immigrant legislation last year resulted in 60% of their crops rotting on the vine due to labor scarcity: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/alabama-law-drives-out-illegal-immigrants-but-also-has-unexpected-consequences/2012/06/17/gJQA3Rm0jV_story.html

Sandhya Jha is co-pastor at First Christian Church of Oakland, where she successfully convinced her congregation to give their building over to a collective of grassroots peace and justice organizations known as the Oakland Peace Center. While she dreams of creating a community based in the south African principle of Ubuntu or interdependence, her actual dreams this last week have all been about armed combat, Xena-style. Sandhya has dual master degrees in Divinity and Public Policy from the University of Chicago, and is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

On Spring Cleaning

“The Red Barn” was three stories of junk and treasure that stood for decades on the campus of Gould Farm, a long-lived residential rehab center in Massachusetts where I volunteered for two years in my early twenties. It had a dirt floor, reeked of mildew and dust, and was crammed with history and potential. If you needed something for your room or cabin, or for an adventure or creative project, you went looking in the Red Barn. And when something was no longer needed, or in the way, or no one knew what to do with it, a work team would come and “put it in the Red Barn.”

I can still see retro tennis rackets, a desk with a drop-lid, a plush but shredded loveseat, yards of old books, bicycles of all ages and sizes, mismatched cross-country skis, piles of clothes, antique egg beaters… piled on the floor, suspended from the ceiling, and hung on the walls.

The Red Barn was torn down a few years ago to make room for a new residential building. (It was probably also a terrible fire hazard.) I wonder where they put stuff, now? I imagine, like most of us, Gould Farmers now throw things away, donate to Goodwill, and buy the stuff they need.

My husband teases me when I take boxes of stuff to Goodwill or clean out a closet because a few weeks later, I tend to discover I need something I’ve gotten rid of. I have to go buy a third loaf pan, another copy of that book, or something-that-looks-like-a- fishing-net for Sunday School since I got rid of that garden netting that sat in our shed for three years.

But the reason we can simplify, declutter, donate, and throw so much away is that we can afford to. We can get rid of extras or things that seem like junk because stuff is pretty cheap and accessible nowadays. Gould Farm was founded in 1913, and like any farm – especially one that survived the Depression – nothing was wasted and very little was thrown away. Houses were simple because people didn’t have much and barns, sheds, and attics were full of stuff that could “come in handy some day.” Now, our lives are overwhelmed with stuff. Stores are full of cheap things made abroad that almost everyone can afford to acquire and accumulate to their heart’s desire.

I don’t mean to condemn decluttering – I’m much happier in a house that’s not overflowing. But it’s a luxury. We pat ourselves on the back if we purge our closets, kitchen drawers, and basements do we think about where all this stuff comes from? Where it goes after we toss or donate it? The reason we have so much of it in the first place?

When I trot old clothes, tchotchkes, and kitchenware over to Goodwill, I feel exhilarated. But I’m not sure I’m living more simply. I may just be exercising a certain degree of wastefulness. When I clean out my home by throwing things away or donating to the Salvation Army, those things are just going to pile and clutter up somewhere else. Places like landfills, waterways, incinerators, and Third World countries. And fussing over household clutter can be a way to distract myself from the more serious junk that’s probably piling up in the corners and drawers of my soul.

What if I spent some time examining how I accumulate so much stuff to begin with? Or planned some strategies to resist the temptation to buy cheap and buy often? What if I sat down and tried to figure out what I was really worrying about, since it’s probably not just the clutter around my house.

Jesus never called us to “live simply,” but he did preach that we shouldn’t worry:

Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? (Matthew 6:25, CEB).

Worrying about clutter can distract us from the real source of our worries – lack of trust that “there is enough,” lack of trust that God’s love undergirds every day of our lives, lack of trust that the kingdom of God is in our midst. Lack of trust that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Romans 8:38-39, CEB)

Not clutter nor untidy closets, not clean or dirty houses, not present or future chaos, or any other mess in our lives, can separate us from love and security in Christ Jesus. True simplicity starts in the heart, downsizing to some household basics of love, trust in God, and humility. And living simply should be done for the sake of the whole world – for the stewardship of all Creation, not just our own homes.

It’s good to declutter your house. It’s better to declutter our world. And whether you declutter or not, don’t let clutter distract you from the kingdom of God.

Heidi Haverkamp is an Episcopal parish priest in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and blogs at vicarofbolingbrook.net, about home, the suburbs, and church life. She graduated with her M.Div. from The Divinity School at the University of Chicago and earned a certificate in theology from Seabury Western Theological Seminary. The amperage needed for the electronic equipment her husband requires for work precludes their ever living in a 500 square foot home.

 © Photo copyright Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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The Devil’s In The Details

This week the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the denomination’s governing body, is convening in Tampa.  The Rev. Katie Dawson is  in Tampa as part of the delegation from the Iowa Annual Conference.  Her post, reprinted here from her blog, “salvaged faith,” raises questions particular to the UMC, but also for young clergy women in other churches.   

Last Saturday afternoon, the Faith and Order legislative committee passed an amendment to paragraph 304.3 in the Book of Discipline that discusses qualifications for ordained ministry.  The change actually removes language that would bar a “self-avowed practicing homosexual”  and removes language that talks about from service and instead inserts this language:

 

I have a LOT of questions about this amendment that I hope are discussed before we decide to pass this change.

1) Does this amendment refer to only ONE marriage, or does it leave open the possibility for someone to be remarried.  As it stands, the amendment refers to a marriage between a man and a woman and makes no comment on the reality of divorce and remarriage, remarriage after death, etc.  Clearing up that question is important. We have many re-married clergypersons in our midst and if we are already concerned about the retirement tsunami in the next 10 years – this impact might be HUGE.

2) While our standards previously called for “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” (and still retain that language earlier in 304.2) there were no particular stipulations re: appointment for those who have failed to live out the highest of these standards.  Clergy who today have committed adultery may have sanctions, but we leave room for forgiveness, repentance, etc.  This new proposed language seems to preclude that by including unfaithfulness in marriage (as well as co-habitation) in the list of things that will make a person ineligible for commissioning, ordination, AND appointment.

3) Point two leads to deeper questions if the answer to my first question is “only one marriage.”  With the new language that is listed here, are clergy persons who have divorced and how have remarried not eligible for appointment?

4) What about sexual conduct outside of marriage that happened in the past?  What if I was a wild child as a younger adult and have since matured and changed my ways… does this amendment preclude them from being a candidate for ministry?  What if a person co-habitated before marriage?  Does this amendment apply retroactively to their behaviors and now as an ordained elder or deacon mean they will not be appointed?

5) **thanks to folks who talked with me in person and in the comments here** WHAT IS SEXUAL CONDUCT?! genital sex? kissing? smouldering eyes at one another over a table? Lord help our unmarried younger clergy (which we are trying to recruit) if they have to constantly fear something they are doing might be construed as sexual conduct.

I could go on and on and on about questions and implications of the wording of this amendment… the language needs to be CLEARER or else it might have implications on our current clergy that we have not for seen.

On the other hand, I’m guessing that someone who would respond to some of my questions might see that little word “may” in the fourth line from the bottom.  It says that those persons “may not” be certified, ordained, appointed.  It doesn’t say “shall not.”  It says “may not.” And that means that Boards of Ordained Ministry and the Appointive Cabinet can exercise judgment and flexibility and can leave room for grace and compassion and forgiveness.

And that is because legislatively speaking, “may” language is permissive language.  It has flexibility.  It leaves the question up to the person who is exercising judgment, rather than simply following a set, prescribed rule.

And actually, for friends of the LGBT community… that means it is a step in the direction of inclusiveness.  Previously the paragraph read: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

“Are not” is very different from “may not.”

Words matter.

The Rev. Katie Z. Dawson is a United Methodist pastor serving in Iowa.  A graduate of Vanderbilt University Divinity School, she blogs at salvagedfaith.wordpress.com. She is a reserve delegate to General Conference and was crowned the delegation’s “twitter queen.” You can follow the action @katiez.

Tallow Beach

Naming and Removing Barriers to Sabbath Keeping

My good friend Patrick is currently living in England because of his wife’s work.  Patrick has a Master’s Degree and had spent a number of years here in the US establishing himself in his field, and by the time they moved to England, he had graduated from two weeks of vacation to three.  When he moved to England, he was not able to find a job as a biologist, and so he took a part time job working for a telecommunications company.  When he was hired for this job, the employer apologized profusely that because he was only a part-time employee, he would only be able to have FIVE weeks of vacation.  When Patrick told me and my husband this, we all had a good laugh. Five weeks of vacation?  Don’t they know that we, Americans, usually only get two, and many of us don’t even use all that we are given?

Five weeks of vacation seemed so generous it was amusing, but in fact it is actually good business practice.  And that much vacation certainly does wonders for one’s quality of life.  Patrick and his wife Lisa have made good use of their generous European vacation time and have invited us along on a number of their trips.  There is also scientific evidence to assert the value of vacation.  Scientists from NASA working for Air New Zealand found an 82% increase in productivity following a week-long vacation.

Really, vacations are good for you.  This is a truth Christians should readily affirm, but to do so today is almost counter cultural.  Americans are known for their work ethic, and there’s an increasing understanding that our ethic requires constant labor.  The advent of computers, smartphones and Blackberrys means that employers can expect their employees to be available and able to do their work wherever they are, at any time of day or night. No longer is time at home reserved for family, for rest and relaxation.  No longer is Sunday a day of rest – most business are open, and plenty of people are expected to show up for work on that day of rest.

Taking a Sabbath, taking time to rest and relax requires discipline, since it’s no longer a culturally enforced practice.  We need to have a personal practice of engaging in Sabbath.  Having a Sabbath is, in fact, an essential part of being a follower of Jesus, and yet it is one that is often overlooked.

Mark tells us that while Jesus was in the midst of his healing ministry, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [he] got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” A single sentence attesting to rest surrounded by meaningful stories about  healing and preaching is easy to overlook. But there’s Jesus, taking a break – time in a quiet place to pray. He gets up early – while it is still dark out – to go and have some quiet prayer time to refocus and center himself.

I can just imagine a marketing expert looking at this and saying, “No, no this is all wrong.”  Jesus is just beginning “to build his brand.” He has cast out demons and healed the sick. He is getting noticed.  But just when things are starting to pick up, he stops.  He goes off by himself to pray. His disciples could have been moving on to the next town or spreading the Good News, but no, they spend their time searching for Jesus.  A marketing expert would probably encourage Jesus to ride the wave of his success. To just keep going. Push on through till all his goals are accomplished.

Many of us can relate without a doubt to this marketing approach.  We often apply it to our own lives. I consider myself a “recovering perfectionist.” I easily fall into the trap of wanting to keep working at something until it is just right, or even to just keep checking things off on the to do list, even when what would be best for me is to take a break and take care of myself.

It is so tempting to push on through: to put off those things which would actually serve our well-being best, in the interests of hurrying along and trying to accomplish more. We live in a culture that rewards hard work, and so it is so tempting to just keep working. But we shouldn’t.

Sabbath is too important.  It is one of the Ten Commandments after all!

Notice that Jesus doesn’t go off for a week and sit on the beach – although that can be an important and particularly valuable way to “do sabbath.”  Notice that Jesus just takes a little time; Mark doesn’t actually say how much, but we might fairly assume a couple of hours.  He takes a little time for quiet prayer.  He does what feeds him, what centers him.  And he gives us permission to start small.

It is nearly impossible to completely take a day off in this economy and this culture. We can start by following Jesus’ example: Jesus went back to work after his brief prayer time.  Sabbath can be a way of making us more effective at the work we are doing.

Other studies suggest that those who work less than 40 hours a week are actually more productive than those who work extra-long hours without a break.  Just as the creation story reminds us, we are in fact created for work and play. Exertion and rest.  We are supposed to have a break.

There are many of reasons we fail to take that divinely-recommended break.  For many workers, the debate about vacation or time off is not about which Caribbean cruise to choose, but a question of whether or not their family can survive without a paycheck for a week. Those of us in good paying jobs with contracts and benefits packages may complain about our lack of vacation or need to confront our own issues if we are not making good use of the gifts we are given.  But there are also those who do not have the luxury of vacation or even sick days. Millions of people in America have trouble making a living: trouble putting enough food on the table and providing adequate food and shelter for their family.  Taking vacation, having time for Sabbath, is too far down the list of priorities.

But it shouldn’t be that way. Jesus reminds us that Sabbath should be a right and a duty of ours.  It is how we care for ourselves and our relationship with God. We owe it to ourselves to practice Sabbath time and to keep it holy.  And we owe it to our fellow human beings to work for justice in our workplaces and communities to ensure that Sabbath is not a privilege reserved for the wealthy and powerful, but a God-given gift we can all enjoy.

The resume of the Rev. Dr. Molly Field James does not readily suggest that she is someone who takes time off.  Holding a PhD in Theology from the University of Exeter, she now works for the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and serves as an Adjunct Professor at Hartford Seminary.  She’s also married and has a kid.  But we’ll take her word for it that she is able to manage all these commitments because she’s learned how to honor the Sabbath.

Photo by freeaussiestock.com