now reading: The Sabbath World

sabbath world shulevitzThis was on my reading list for the last age-and-a-half; it was quick to go on my list of requested books as soon as I got a new library card.

And it’s fitting, as I am being intentional about going to church, that I think more seriously about the meaning of Sabbath.  What’s the point of setting one day apart?  What is the point of ritual, of rest, and of communal activity on the seventh day?  Is it in fact in the spirit of “sabbath” to count off only days for resting?

I’m just at chapter two.  Thus far, I’ve had my mind blown by ideas like the social morality of time, the role of sabbath in cultivating civil society, and the use of summercamp as a tool for psychological manipulation.  I always knew there was something sinister about camp counsellors who insisted on being called “Toucan” or “Frisk”.

The Author: Judith Shulevitz
The Book: The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time


neighbourhood church

churchI was running around my neighbourhood yesterday morning and stopped at an intersection to wait for the light to change.  Glancing around, I noticed a huge church tower just a block or two from my apartment.

What is that? Why have I never noticed a massive church on my street?

I took a detour to pass the front of the building and realized that I have passed this church, often, and that the creep of neighbouring architecture means I’m too often focused on the narrow sidewalk, the traffic, the bustle of shops and pedestrians to realize that the church’s dome towers far above the rest of the neighbourhood.

And I have, in fact, wondered before about the history of this parish.  Arriving home, I booted up the Google and took a look at online maps to name the building I was looking for.  Turns out it’s the Most Holy Redeemer Church, locally identified more commonly as Iglesia Santisimo Redentor.  And while the community gives it a Spanish name, the church’s history was originally German – a part of New York City Lower East Side’s founding German community, remembered forever by the General Slocum disaster that wiped out much of its core population.

The church hosts daily mass.  The interior photos on their website look beautiful.  I might pretend I’m anglo-catholic enough to sit in the sanctuary, sometimes.  It’s the closest parish to my doorstep, and I wish it could be home.

testify, brother*

keyhole crossLast night at Bible Study**, someone brought up the topic of giving personal testimonies.  Again.

After a childhood of summercamp and round-the-campfire starlit testimonies, I am highly skeptical of the personal testimony.  The practice of standing up and speaking to one’s personal journey from darkness to light always reeked, to me, of self-congratulation and “God-has-been-so-good-to-me-and-you-can’t-beat-my-story”.

I googled “campfire testimonies” and came across a daunting collection of videos on Godtube, as well as church retreat itineraries with time allotments for testimony sharing.  I used to dread this kind of thing at youth group events and summercamp.  I felt inadequate, lacking a transformative story that involved a) sunsets and deep canyons, b) near-death experiences, and c) complete, unequivocal assurance that I knew exactly what God wanted for the rest of my life.

But one of our Bible Study members has been harping for testimony time, both in our weekly study and in the church service, and she elaborated on her reasoning last night:

  • Testimonies are a way for us to learn from the suffering and experience of others, without having to go through near-death experiences ourselves.
  • Testimonies speak to God’s greatness, if recounted in such a way as to NOT seem like they are speaking to an individual’s greatness.
  • Testimonies are something to learn from.  As my Bible Study mate explained, she still struggles as a new Christian to learn that her priorities are 1) God, 2) her husband, and 3) herself.  She admitted that too often numbers 2 and 3 are reversed, and she struggles to be a better wife who also serves God.  She wants to hear from Christians who are doing a better job of juggling the priorities of God, others, and self, and she wants to learn from the testimonies of people who have made progress on sorting that out.

I can understand these reasons.  I can also, perhaps, listen with slightly more open ears the next time I am being eaten by mosquitoes around a campfire while listening to someone talk about their “Road to Damascus” moment.  And I could not roll my eyes when someone yearns for testimonies during the church service.

Lesson learned.

* (and sister)

** I hadn’t read the whole chapter and was feeling sheepish.  Damn you, Google Books and your access restrictions.

indifference versus selfishness

So I’ve been thinking a lot about selfishness recently.  A lot a lot.

I live in a place where selfishness seems the modus operandi.  It seems that it’s acceptable for everyone to look only to themselves, to exist completely within their own orbit, to never think about the people they share space and time with.

At church this past Sunday the first reading was from Colossians 3.  The pastor elaborated on verse 12 by providing antonyms for the adjectives.  The original reads:  “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”

And his antonym for compassion (which was his translation of tender mercies) and kindness was “indifference”.

That struck me as critical and appropriate.

Maybe what I’ve been seeing around me, what has been so upsetting to me, is widespread indifference.

How is that different than selfishness?

Selfishness is intentional, conscious on some level, perhaps even malicious.

Indifference is simply an absence of care.  And, like the absence of anything, it is not so much upsetting as it is just tragic.  Why do these people, this culture, this community, lack compassion and kindness?  Not because they have willfully stamped it out of their lives, but because it has never seemed necessary or important or worthwhile.  Maybe it has never even been there.

What happens if you’re indifferent?

Your heart never breaks.

Your heart never soars.

There is no tragedy, but also no triumph.

There’s no pain at exclusion or poverty, but there’s no joy at community and presence.


Maybe that’s the appealing side of indifference: there’s less potential for pain.  There’s less to fear, less unknown and unpredictable.

Compassion and kindness, on the other hand, require bravery.  Being part of a community that might reject you – or might reward you – takes strength and courage.  But it gives back life and meaning.

Worth the risk?