Sabbath as RESisTance

27 Then he said,“The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.- Mark 2:27 CEB

I think the above Scripture reference is one of the more familiar texts of the Bible. Unfortunately it’s familiarity doesn’t equate to an understanding of this saying of Jesus. Often it’s quoted by a would be Biblical scholar as a defense or justification for his or her upcoming Sabbath plans. The ambitious Bible quoter often fails to appreciate the context in which Christ made this quote and further seems to think that this passage ought be the starting point for a discussion of Sabbath rather than seeing it as a qualifier that it is. Now this is not to say those who quote this passage are completely off, and in fact there is value to considering Christ’s words on the matter, for they do serve to avoid legalism that can too easily befall this particular commandment. The fact is that many (myself included) could use a reeducation on Sabbath.

In comes Walter Breuggemann with his recent text Sabbath as Resistance.

Now before I  jump into a full review of this work, I want to say a quick word about the author. I first encountered Breuggemann in a class called Pentateuchal Narratives. His commentary on Genesis from the Interpretation Commentary Series was assigned reading. Now I had never read a commentary front to back up until that point and honestly hadn’t put it on my bucket list; this work proved to be an exception. The Interpretation Series was intended to be an accessible commentary for preachers, and indeed that proved to be the case in the Genesis Commentary along with accessibility it contained profound insight from Breuggemann and great engagement with the Old Testament as a whole.  In fact, in Breuggemann I found a scholar very comfortable in the world of Old Testament narrative. His comfort was contagious and sparked in me a new passion for the Old Testament.

I later read An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Old Testament, Word Militant: Preaching a De-Centering Word, and Prophetic Imagination. Each reading experience further endeared me to Brueggemann, for his works challenged and stretched me to find home in ideas like covenant, resistance to empire, and remembering the God that delivers.

When given the opportunity to read and review Sabbath as Resistance, I was eager and happy to oblige. The text was short and sweet, ringing in just short of 100 pages. It was an easy read and a great introduction to this scholar and his great mind. The book is six chapters long: the length of the week leading up to the Sabbath and also coincidentally the perfect length for a Small group series. I decided to pattern my reading after the week starting chapter one on a Monday and finishing chapter six on Saturday ( the original Sabbath); I then allowed Sunday to be my Sabbath. This proved to be a great week of reading and reflection. I would encourage it to any that may decide to read this work.

For Breuggeman, the Sabbath is “the “crucial bridge” that connects the Ten Commandments together” (Brueggeman, Loc. 128-129, Kindle). Working along that premise, Breuggeman structures his book starting with Sabbath and the first commandment and finishing with Sabbath and the tenth commandment, with each chapter in-between dealing with the varying modes of resistance that accompany a proper keeping of Sabbath. This structure is agreeable and keeps the reader engaged. I’ll let the reader discover how Breuggeman connects Sabbath to resisting coercion; it is powerful.

This text is primarily concerned with resisting the culture of consumption which can never be satiated nor satisfied. For the Israelites, their burden was brick making that Pharoah might build more storage for grain he had in abundant supply. For us it is a pursuit of a dream. In both situations there remains an illusion of satisfaction. I remember as a child laughing at the cartoon horse that would endlessly chase the carrot on a string dangled out in front of it. What a silly horse. He’ll never be satisfied!

horse carrot

   Maybe a carrot wouldn’t tempt us but perhaps a $20 dollar bill?

I think that horse would have company with us as we endlessly chase more; more money, more stuff, more acceptance.

Brueggeman shows that the restless ways of our world lead to a need to over produce.The over production leads to over consumption (We made all this stuff come buy it!) The need to get more to make more to do more leads to anxiety and eventually the anxiety finds expression in violence.This is a rather dire situation but not one without hope.

Sabbath provides rest from restlessness, reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways (Thank God!), and gives us tangible resistance to an insatiable system that we are freed from.

Brueggeman provides clarity on an oft muddled commandment, a commandment that ought have a loud voice in our anxiety riddled society.

I encourage you all to check it out!

I read too much… an explanation

Wordsmiths, we are. If preachers are to be good talkers we must first be good listeners and voracious readers – William H. Willimon, “Pastor” p.147 

 

Those of you who know me know that you will rarely see me without my Kindle or a book in hand. For most of my life, it has been this way. I love to read. There was a time, however, where I lost this passion. As a theology major in college, reading wasn’t much of a choice, and the assigned reading at times seemed overwhelming. It wasn’t the subject matter nor the texts; my professors assigned good reads. I think it may have been the due dates and reflection papers that came with each text that began to turn me off to reading. In my own twisted logic, I figured if I didn’t finish the book then I wouldn’t have to write the reflection paper. It was genuinely a source of anxiety and stress. With pages of assigned reading, I couldn’t dare justify leisure reading, and so came an odd pause on reading in my life. Most instances I would cram read the assigned texts the day before they were due and turn in sub-par reflection papers (assuming they were turned in at all). I began to hate reading ( 12 hour cram session are hardly a way to fuel a passion). This was a crisis moment for me. A passion of mine was being squashed, and I wasn’t sure what to do. 

The answer came in the oddest of places. One of my professors shared a quote from Henri Nouwen, I don’t remember the quote or the text that it came from, but I remember it resonating with me deeply. I went out shortly thereafter and picked up the text Wounded Healer a short but powerful book Nouwen wrote in the 70’s. Mind you I was breaking my own rule doing this:  “No leisure reading until you finish your homework!”. In spite of my rule, I began to read The Wounded Healer and I loved it. Without the paper to write afterwards or the deadline looming, the book was a joy to read, and in fact it relieved me greatly to see that reading was still enjoyable. Reading could still be fun. Rediscovering this in turn eased my anxiety to assigned readings. I found that as long as they were complemented with readings of my choice, reading assignments were manageable and in fact enjoyable again. The solution to my “overbearing” reading load was to read more.  

That brings us then to the title of this post and in fact this blog. “I read too much.” Now I don’t really think that I read too much, but I do feel that I could benefit from some written reflections of my readings.

I don’t like to write. I was very sick in the 4th grade and I missed the lectures on sentence diagramming. As a result, my grammar is awful (some may find that to be a stretch but that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it). So I write this blog that I might reflect better on what I have read, but beyond that my goal is to share my passion of reading with those that might read this blog. 

I hope to review newer books that publishers give me the opportunity to read, and also in between those “assigned” texts I will write reviews of my greatest hits in theology, sharing my thoughts and reflections on the books that have shaped me most in my development as a pastor, husband and father. 

 

Up next is a review of Walter Brueggeman’s Sabbath as Resistance.  Check back to read my response to this great author’s work. 

 

 

Bonhoeffer As Youth Worker ( A book review)

If you are in youth ministry and feel that the theological landscape is barren, then I can say with some certainty that you haven’t discovered Andrew (Andy) Root. I first encountered Root around 2010 while working under a good friend in Kansas City. My friend informed me that Barefoot Ministry was hosting this great mind in youth ministry the next day and that I should go. My friend went as far as to hand me Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry (RRYM) and told me to read it pronto. As a seminary student, I hardly felt I had the time to add to my reading list, but that night I opened the book and honestly couldn’t put it down. His story of how youth ministry was formed in America and how we might share place with students resonated deeply with me. At around 3 am that night, I finished the book and fell asleep eager to see Root in conference the next day.

Root noted in RRYM his fascination with Bonhoeffer;  I had read Discipleship, Life Together, and Creation and the Fall and was encouraged by Root’s endorsement and engagement with Bonhoeffer to read more.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I was doing youth ministry in a full time setting, I “revisited” RRYM, read Root and Dean’s text The Theological Turn In Youth Ministry, and became convinced that any book he wrote would have a place on my bookshelves.

I don’t Twitter much, but about a year and a half ago I came across a tweet Root made about being a certain amount of words into a book about Bonhoeffer being the “forefather of the theological turn in youth ministry”. I took note of this and was excited to see the finished product.

That brings us to a couple weeks ago. While perusing Twitter ( I still hold to my claim I don’t tweet much, but this may be denial), I saw a link to a review of Root’s book, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker. Now rather than click on the review, I decided instead to open my Kindle and buy the book. I was bummed to learn that the book wouldn’t be out until early October, but perhaps there would be a way I could get my hands on a review copy. After a short Twitter conversation with Root, I became a “reviewer”.

The book was great. I’ve made my preference to Root’s works clear, but let me assure you I review this book not as a fan of Root nor as a fan of Bonhoeffer but rather as a youth pastor in the midst of ministry.  I recently graduated/ walked having (nearly) completed my Masters from Nazarene Theological Seminary and was asked by a few well intentioned people if having my degree meant that I would get “move up in the world”, become a real pastor, and other such sentiments. These comments while well intentioned, showed an underlying assumption- real ministry, real theology, happens from the place of a senior pastor. Now I don’t fault those that ask those questions or hold those assumptions for I feel that we as the church have created that understanding by the way we do church, the fringe role we often give teens in the place of our community ( I speak generally here, my church of employment is largely an exception to this tendency).

Root in this text gives validity to Youth Ministry, not in defense of the youth pastor but in defense of the adolescent who he asserts ought have a central role in the community of the church. The book exists in two parts. The first part engages Bonhoeffer the youth worker, and part 2 explores two of Bonhoeffer’s works, Discipleship (Cost of Discipleship) and Life Together (Part 2 it should be noted is a bit shorter than Part 1).

For those of you that have read Bonhoeffer you know what a profound thinker he was. What you might not know and what Root shows in his text is that much of his profound thought came out of the context of ministry to children and to youth. Root seamlessly moves through part one telling Bonhoeffer’s story through the lens of youth ministry. This lens or perspective of Bonhoeffer is not forced onto Bonhoeffer by Root, but rather it is a lens that fits quite comfortably on this man that spent so much of his ministry career sharing space with children.

I went to school with a number of people that upon leaving the doors of the university seemed to fall back on what they knew before the church history and systematic theology classes they took. The degree they earned seemed to serve them as an aide to get a job but not an aide to do the job they have. This phenomena is touched on (though not directly in Root’s work) as I think my peers struggled to turn the theology of the classroom to theological living application in the context of ministry. Engaging Root and Bonhoeffer helps one make that transition. That in itself makes this book a must read.

“the hardest theological pronouncements of Barth were worthless if they could not be explained thoroughly to the children in Grunewald.” -Root , Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker

I don’t intend to quote the text often (instead I encourage the reader of this review to read the book themselves) but I quote this section because I feel it speaks to the approach of both Bonhoeffer and Root. One of the reasons I am so excited about this work is that it manages to walk the tricky thin line of being academic and approachable. That is great news for the Youth worker who takes his or her ministry seriously yet feels burdened or ill equipped to be theological in youth ministry.

If you don’t know Root’s works or Bonhoeffer’s works, I encourage you to read this book as a great introduction to both and more importantly as an introduction to what Root and Kenda Dean call the “Theological Turn in Youth Ministry”. I don’t want fellow youth pastors who are experts in Bonhoeffer or Andrew Root, but rather I want youth pastors as fellow space sharers with their teens encountering God together in the brokenness of life and searching for the concrete hope of God’s kingdom in Christ.

 

I am excited to talk to any of you who choose to read it.