Review of Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the CULTURE OF NOW
by Laurel Copp
I grew up observing the Sabbath. Aka: my family didn’t go out to eat on Sunday, get gas on Sunday, or go grocery shopping on Sunday. I spent my teenage life not going to the mall, doing homework, or grabbing Starbucks on Sunday (kidding, Starbucks wasn’t a thing when I was a teenager). Which you might think sounds awful. But actually it meant that we always had people at my house with my dad making homemade pizza or grilling or baking elaborate desserts (because my mom didn’t cook on Sunday…it was work for her). It meant a day filled with playing games, singing, having bon fires, moshing to 90s music, playing basketball, swimming, and cruising in my car (until I ran low on gas of course). Not a bad way to spend Sundays. When I think of Sunday, I think of time spent with family and friends, I think of community and fellowship. And, ok, I do remember the occasional fight with my mom because the jeans I NEEDED were dirty and I hadn’t done my laundry on Saturday.
Though I have never worked on Sunday and always still make church a priority, somewhere in my late 20s I drifted from a strict observance of the Sabbath. Whether it was my busy work schedule that meant Sunday was a good day for running errands, or because sales at the outlets are best on Sunday, or it didn’t seem practical because no one around me followed it, I found I made more and more exceptions until I couldn’t really legitimately say I kept the Sabbath. Dangerously, though my practice drifted, my theology hadn’t. Which might be why I found this book by Walter Brueggemann to be a challenging and solid kick in the pants.
Resistance and alternative. Brueggemann’s short book on Sabbath claims celebrating the Sabbath is all about resistance and alternative. And in both these senses, it’s a gift to us.
First, the celebration of Sabbath is “resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.”
The Sabbath commandment is given to the Israelites immediately after their rescue from slavery, where they were at the bottom of a system committed to the aggrandizement of Pharaoh and his gods. YHWH, in contrast to the Egyptian gods, is a god of rest. Sabbath is therefore an act of resistance is a world that says “you are what you have.” Because YHWH is a God of restfulness and not a god of aggrandizement, acquisition and exploitation, Sabbath is an act of resistance to anxiety, coercion, exclusivism and multitasking!
Second, the celebration of Sabbath is the alternative option, of neighborliness, justice, and rest rather than the “hamster wheel” of constant, dissatisfying acquisition.
Brueggamann argues that the Sabbath commandment is the bridge in the Ten Commandments between the first three that govern how we relate to YHWH and the last six that govern how we treat our neighbors. Sabbath calls us to radically disengage from the producer-consumer rat race of the empire so that we can be doers of justice, mercy, and compassion, and not consumed with competition, achievement, production and acquisition. Sabbath calls us to reject idolatry (1st commandment) and greed (10th commandment) and to follow Jesus who offers freedom from slavery, peace from anxiety and rest from endless restlessness.
I found Brueggemann to not only aptly interpret Scripture, but also culture and me! I would challenge you to read this short explanation of the importance of Sabbath and evaluate where you have succumbed to the influence of the market, advertising, the need for more and more and more, and workaholism. Do you want to think about Sunday and remember it as a different sort of day? A day of worship, fellowship, community, justice, compassion and not just another shopping day? Me too. Ok, so I still might get gas on Sunday but I am reminded and challenged that I need to embrace the Sabbath because the Sabbath is the practical way to break idolatry and greed in my life and to look to Jesus as the only source of peace and rest.