Lesson 7: Justice

Protesters in Baltimore set fire to police vehiclesI am writing after a night of rioting in Baltimore. The television is playing in the background, so that I hear pundit after pundit speaking of justice. Each has a different take on what that means in this situation, largely depending on her perspective. Two of the best recent pieces on the Sabbath see it dealing with justice in a society that reduces all to economics and/or politics. I do not agree with all the two authors say, but regard them the best, because they challenge me.

Walter Bruggemann sees the Sabbath calling us to economic justice in his book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. He talks of the Sabbath as “visible resistance to the society defining us by the production and consumption of commodity goods and as an alternative to the pervasive pressure of advertising and professional sports devouring all our time. It rejects the idea that life is all about MORE: greater security and happiness.” Just as the Hebrews used the Sabbath to remember their liberation from slavery, so we should used it “to oppose imperial productivity where people are commodities rather than persons in a covenantal relationship with God and other persons.”

Bruggemann suggests the Sabbath calls us to take time to be human. He writes, “This book is addressed to those who are ‘weary and heavy laden’ made so by the insatiable requirements of our society– in its taxation for the sake of imperialism, in its social conformity that urges doing more and having more (now perniciously embodied in “teaching to test”), in its frightened intent that there should be no “free lunch” for anyone, in its assumption that there is a technological resolution for every human problem, in its pathologies of greed and control.”

Every time I began to think Bruggemann was exaggerating, I thought of the homeless who are sleeping in churches in our small town. Just about all are single, white women with children working two jobs.

Benjamin J. Dueholm in the Nov 17, 2014 Christian Century article, “The War Against Rest: Sabbath Piety and Sabbath Politics,” thinks the Sabbath calls us to political justice.

“The war on leisure, after all, extends beyond Sunday. Commerce and work, and the political power that gathers around them, are eroding the concept of Sabbath– of divinely ordained rest, in every aspect of life. The erosion of idleness is active just below the surface of many of our policy debates over work, family, and retirement.”

He goes on to cite the minimum wage fight that he maintains “is ultimately about whether workers ought to have time for anything but work. Working 40 hours a week at minimum wage doesn’t provide enough income to meet the basic necessities of life, especially for a family.” He talks about family values. “The war on leisure is shaping family policy as well. The United States is currently the only developed country that does not guarantee paid parental leave to workers”. Along the way, he tackles loss of health benefits and retirement time.

“But in the single-minded pursuit of economic growth, we risk losing something essential to human life. In the case of the week, it is what scholars of religion have called the “sanctification of time,” the punctuation of the ordinary with the special. In the case of family leave and retirement, it is the “sanctification of life,” the idea that conditions such as pregnancy and childbirth, sickness, and old age are to be honored for their own sake. Honoring time and life comes with a dollars-and-cents cost, compensated primarily by spiritual and cultural benefits—benefits our politics aren’t good at recognizing or protecting.”

Every time I began to think Dueholm was far out, I remembered a recent conversation with a German businessman who claimed his nation is getting through the financial crisis better than we are, because the government forces labor and management to cooperate. His primary example was Walmart’s inability to sustain itself in Germany.

Dueholm brings up a discussion we often see in our comments, whether we can solve such matters in the political arena. He thinks Bruggemann does not go far enough when he calls for individuals living a counter-culture lifestyle. For instance, he believes if we limit ourselves simply to asking sports teams to stop scheduling events Sunday morning, we shall be left behind as irrelevant to the real situation.

Regardless of the positions we take, I think a Sabbath lifestyle calls us to recognize business is not only about making a profit and sports is not only about winning at any cost. Observing the Sabbath certainly forces us to remember we are more than what we do. Every one of us is a beloved child of God who deserves respect and care.

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