take up a different story

The bell calls in the town
Where forebears cleared the shaded land
And brought high daylight down
To shine on field and trodden road.
I hear, but understand
Contrarily, and walk into the woods.
I leave labor and load,
Take up a different story.
I keep an inventory
Of wonders and of uncommercial goods. 
(“Sabbaths – 1979, IV” by Wendell Berry)

Growing up, my parents believed heartily in Jesus, honest work, and Sabbath. At some point, Saturday morning chores migrated to Friday-after-school-before-you-even-think-of-going-out chores, but Sunday was forever set apart as a day of worship, family, and rest. The only work allowed revolved around serving and cleaning up our mid-day meal. Homework was permissible, but not until well after dinner was savored and put away.

None of us were particularly athletic. My siblings and I dabbled in swim team, baseball, and softball, but soccer was out of the question, because those Sabbath-breaking coaches scheduled games during church, which I can’t remember missing once in the eighteen years I lived at home.

After Sunday school, worship, and a leisurely coffee hour that we seemed to close down most weeks, our family headed home to ready the afternoon meal. We kept on our church clothes and often hosted friends, family, or the sorts of newcomers for which my mom was forever on the lookout. Old ladies and young seminarians were among her favorites to invite to Sunday dinner.

Our family ate together in the kitchen every night, but Sundays were a fancier affair: fine china and silver set in the dining room; pot roast, meat loaf, or London broil; baked potatoes; salad; Crescent rolls (if you were lucky); and often pie. This meal was not rushed, and one did not fool around or dare giggle. Maybe, maybe you could get away with goofing off over Tuesday’s tuna macaroni (if Dad were out of town), but not in the dining room and certainly not on the Lord’s day. Sit up straight, and show some respect.

After the dishes were done, (You wash; I’ll put the food away and dry), there might be football or naps. Reading the paper was a perfectly acceptable (read: quiet) Sabbath activity. You could play in the yard, lace up your skates, or maybe bike around the block, but do not ask to call a friend. This day is for God, rest, and family.

Do not dream of asking to go to the mall. It doesn’t matter that you have a ride. It’s a sin they even see need to open their doors. Those workers ought to be able to rest from their labors, too, and they surely won’t work today on our behalf.

I don’t recall a great deal of Sabbath wonder growing up (excepting that time our guest revealed that his favorite t.v. show was Theverboten Simpsons, and our eyes grew wide, incredulous), but the discipline and ritual left a deep impression. Sundays truly were a day set apart to “take up a different story,” the kind we’re trying to write with our own young family now.

Sabbath keeping is contrary to so many popular myths, the greatest, perhaps, that we are the sum of all we produce or own. Rest embraces God’s grace and provision over performance or consumerist striving. “To insist on Sabbath is to give testimony to the subversive knowledge that God’s bias is in favor of freedom.” Sabbath reconnects us with Life beyond the exacting grind or madding crowd, honoring the One for Whom and with Whom we labor all those other days.

So we rest and we play. We worship and sing. We read and make art, sharing meals and appreciating beauty. We recall the Exodus and we dance, keeping inventory of wonders and of uncommercial goods.


violence in the snowy fields

The cover of the October issue of Harper's belongs to Rebecca Solnit's Silencing Women. (Her popular essay, Men Explain Things To Me, appears in a forthcoming book of the same name.) The article is behind a paywall, so I read it at the library and drove two towns over to get my own copy like the responsible literary citizen I can be.

The piece, about how women's testimony and voices are discredited, will be achingly familiar to many. It's worth a trip to the newsstand or library to read in full. Here's an excerpt:

Still, even now, when a woman says something uncomfortable about male misconduct, she is routinely portrayed as delusional, a malicious conspirator, a pathological liar, a whiner who doesn't recognize it's all in fun, or all of the above. The overkill of these responses recalls Freud's deployment of the joke about the broken kettle. A man accused by his neighbor of having returned a borrowed kettle damaged replies that he had returned it undamaged, it was already damaged when he borrowed it, and he had never borrowed it anyway. When a woman accuses a man and he or his defenders protest that much, she becomes that broken kettle. 
So many broken kettles. 

The story is always timely, but it seemed especially so to me having just read a thread over at David Hayward's Naked Pastor where a number of women spoke out about just that kind of treatment at the hands of leaders in the Emergent/emerging/progressive church movement. Nearly one month and eight hundred eighty-six one thousand seven comments later, that thread is still live, but I've not read much external commentary on it. A lot of people probably wish it would go away. It's unseemly, distracting. When such conflicts arise, it's worth examining who assumes the role of arbiter of What We Should Be Focusing On Instead and who are considered to be indecorous, un-Christlike troublemakers and unreliable narrators.

Of course, women are not alone in the experience of having their witness discredited or personhood diminished. Historically, it's even more common for people of color, (and women of color get it on multiple axes). Queer people and abuse survivors of all genders can similarly find their perspectives cast as untrustworthy against those who, across lines of power, are deemed less emotional and more objective, rational, and deserving of the benefit of the doubt by default.

It's exhausting. So many of the supposed "bad guys" and "good guys" behave in identical manners, which shouldn't surprise: no camp, theology, or political bent is immune from protected power, boys' clubs, gaslighting, mean girls, misogyny, bullying, or systemic violence. Across the board, our celebrity emperors have no clothes, but few even bat an eye.
It’s not just bros and jocks and finance dudes and yuppies and Christians and Republicans who are shitty to women. Being part of a counter-cultural or progressive community does not give you a free pass to be shitty to women without being called out on it. We need to hold our own communities to an even higher standard than we hold those in the opposition, we need to welcome criticism, and we to realize that the ones who call out shitty behavior in these communities are not the threat, but that those who protect it and shield it from criticism are. (On sexism, sexual assault and the threat of the ‘non-bro’
It lacks integrity, consistency, and frankly, faithfulness, if left-leaning Christians point fingers at abuses at Mars Hill or Sovereign Grace and then ignore the same destructive and marginalizing power dynamics repeated in our own backyards and communities. The sun still hasn't set on empire: it's hardly exclusive to the right, and "empire" is decidedly not a vague and lazy Jesus-juke available for leaders to wield against whichever criticism, tone, or perspective they don't appreciate (or find threatening to their own status).

Empire is present in every system privileging the humanity, word, and work of the powerful at the expense of "the least of these." Followers of the One who esteemed outcasts and undesirables, whose own inner circle offered nothing in the way of legitimacy or prestige, and who was ultimately executed by the literal Roman Empire colluding with religious authority should know better than to water down this most potent theological concept and critique of abusive, violent power.

We can do so much better, friends. Eyes to see. Ears to hear. Hands to heal. Feet to move: first to last, last to first.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...