Saturday, 13 February 2010


I sabbath so lightly, if I can make the verb qualitative. For lack of structure to fit it in, for want of sabbath precedent practices or existing rhythms of art and eating to join. Sabbath is hard to take a stand on, hard to confidently practice, popularly branded as time for nothingness, a lonely void in the schedule suitable for spring cleaning or overeating. Sabbath practised under individualism collapses by weight of boredom and those who would object to a deeper delving by stronger covenanting into sabbath's possibilities will find Jesus furnishes their quiver well for the debate against my easily pharisaical cause. And yet, and yet there is so much to gain, and not by legalism. Sabbath is not me time, it is we time, it draws us together, it is a force for justice, a standard for equality, it moderates excess in all of life, it is the reigns of patience, it is a structure of order which sets us free.

What if on sabbath..
..there were no shopping?
That there might not be the injustice of an underclass of weekend shift shop assistants, apparently undeserving of family time, no more of their hidden tertiary services, anonymously watering, cleaning, powering a city's tick on another business day. No market economy for a whole day, no pricing of the priceless, time.

..there were no 'church' and no preaching?
How else might we shift church to the everyday every day and affirm that all of life done together is Church. 'Sunday Christian' culture will only be subverted this way. I can be taught any day, preachers should demonstrate rest, and rest well, with their family, with their church, at the same time as them.

..there was no electricity, no gas, no water, no services?
Oil would be given rest and its workers. That day's worship might be acoustic and necessarily participatory, the touch of dance rather than the distance of video, sung volume by expression not amplification, lunch would be prepared earlier, the dishes can wait, and on that evening the city from their streets might watch the stars come out unpolluted. A weekly New York black out, an Earth Hour every hour for 24. Sunset would be seasonal, temperature unmoderated. This would change our architecture. No more could we predicate a form on constantly heated, constantly cooled interiors, assuming power. If no one in a society is working on any one chosen day, to make the electricity to make its services run, then their form changes. Architecture enfleshes presuppositions held, and sabbath is one of our most saving presuppositions. All of life must be coloured by the implications of a God who is there and who rested (anyone on that perfect tense?). internet, no phones, no flights,
No placeless wandering, no itching to be here and remain there, no racing to a sooner future. What an inconvenience, what a liberation. In a global age, when at any one hour your sabbath is another's Monday morning, the sabbath is made the more imperative if we are to travel withwards as a community and effect local coherence and embodiment?

..there was no public transport, no driving?
A quiet city would wake to bird song and walk to meet one another. They would walk to a pedestrian sized congregation of locals, celebrating salvation their way. An urbanism anticipating a walkable seventh. Oh that sabbath is our technology's seatbelt, the exhale to keep us from hyperinflating, a Placed homing call to keep us from getting lost, a time of stillness and locality, of family and music all available free and unbranded and imperfect, if we trust to pause together.

(but, as with the slow food movement someone has to answer the slow ambulances question)
..there were no hospitals, no ambulances, no life support?
No idolising life over Life, no injustice of those who by force of wealth can turn technology to extend their biology, no on-call, no intensive care at the expense of extensive care, no more taking for granted the luxury of healthcare, no outsized superhospitals, no more care than the walkable care of relationship. This again would moderate our urban fabric, our sub-nuclear families and our rush to professionalise care.

He argues hypothetically, to the end of asking of christians in the 21st century, if they got what they prayed for, a 'christian' society, how would we then live? What are the Sundays we hope for? How far is it within our power to play these out?

So, after as wide a church survey as I could bear, I have, conscious of the irony, settled with RHCSG, dubbed by its detractors as the facebook church, they read the announcements from their iphones. They are small enough to fit me, they are young enough to set in place rhythms now, they love the bible and they give themselves away.


Liz said...

Phil, I have been amiss in keeping up with your blog - apologies...

I wonder if the simple Sabbath can only still exist in communities that are isolated enough to remain simplistic? Tonga, for example, has incredibly strict sabbath rules that are rarely challenged - including no flights, public transport and no swimming...

Finally, a note from St M's - it appears that JP has finally discovered discipleship! His talk (either Feb 14th or 21st) is interesting listening.

Safe Singaporean sojourning. x

Philip Jackson said...

Yes, I caught that podcast. Oh JP, he has emphasised mentoring before, or perhaps that was Pete.

I wasn't sure what to think, on the one hand St M's entire self-definition of irreligion is inherently structure-averse, commitment-averse, discipleship-averse.

On the other hand, my experience of St Mary's has not been of a lack of profound, intimiate, teaching relationships.

I would point to connections I have held with Dino or Tristram, in so far as I was around in London to briefly commit. Secondly small group has been a singularly profitable exploration of accountability and teaching. And thirdly, I would point to i-training, the fruit of which KXC and its young leaders is some measure of. It was this and artisan and westminster theology (more than rumours of the beddingfield :P) that captured my imagination for what St M's had going on.

His talk prompted a few fears, one that he would, by use of hyperbole in a sermon, affirm the notion of St M's reputation as a place of non-discipleship, and secondly, a fear of those sometimes awkwardly self-conscious discipling projects beloved by uccf and the navigators which can be inspired by talks not unlike his, and then perhaps a concern that the existing speed of turn over in central London is so rapid that to try to match it would draw energy away from those things which St M's does really well. We shall see, it has my prayers as he/we/they bring this to birth.

How are you, is it snowy? When do you start that which must not be named on a blog, that of applications euphemised? I can't find that I have your email, could i have it, to jackson dot pa at gmail, and i will share singapore with you.

Love love. x

Philip Jackson said...

But more importantly than that. Tonga, that is interesting. Healthcare and electricity? Who is obliged to work to keep the lights and mics on in sunday church services? And of your memories and from your friends and family still in relationship with the country, what fruit does this strict inforcement bear, does is serve a civilising influence or is it resented as an anachronism?

Liz said...

Ahhhh, Phil, you are missed!

I'll e-mail you with my thoughts re: JP & discipleship. Suffice to say (should anyone else be reading this & care...) that I think there are people - particularly introverts - who have been inadvertently excluded from St M's existing discipling methods. I've got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about St M's can reach out to those on the periphery of its congregation.

As far as Tonga goes, they still use electricity & the hospital (with what technology it has) still functions. Their sabbath observance is more to do with lifestyle - church is the focus, so is spending time in one's community, usually eating. It's not a day to do frivolous things like swim.

Their sabbath laws were written into their constitution of 1850, thanks to it being written by Methodist missionaries. Even now, I think that they're proud of this way of life, so there has been little move to change them.

From what I know (& it's limited) most don't feel that it's anachronistic, just the way in which the day should be observed. Perhaps it helps that the country is almost entirely Christian with little secular influence?