As part of my commitment to a couple of book projects, this spring I am taking a personal blogging hiatus and have invited some folks to blog in my stead. It is my intention help share some new voices and perspectives with a larger audience and keep my blog active during my break. If you are interested in guest blogging, feel free to submit an idea. Today I welcome Andrew Taylor-Troutman to the guest blogging crew. Andrew is a husband, pastor, and author. The following is adapted from his book Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir and used with permission from Wipf and Stock Publishers. [ANDREW’S BLOG].
My brother, John, and his wife, Kelly, came to visit my new home in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia shortly after I arrived to serve New Dublin Presbyterian Church. They live in Brooklyn, which is a long journey in more ways than miles. For instance, Kelly remarked that it was amazing to hear the crickets at night instead of traffic. Lovely.
I share this with you, however, to introduce more than just my environment. You see, her comment took me by surprise: I had not been listening to the crickets. Instead, my mind was as busy and congested as a street in Manhattan, full of competing voices and ideas and projects like taxicabs in rush hour. Regardless of where you live or what you do, I imagine you could relate to this metaphor. We seem to get busier all the time. While I participated in many activities as a boy, a child in our church’s youth group will practice a musical instrument, attend an after-school meeting, and play a sports game on the same day. I frequently hear parents talk about their dizzying schedules between work, errands, and other commitments. Not only have we committed to participate in more activities, it seems that we rarely stop racing from one to the next. Twenty years ago, I did not have games, practices, or rehearsals on Wednesdays or Sundays. Today, many different events start at the eleven o’clock worship hour, even in the so-called Bible Belt.
Now, I am just 31 years old and in my first call to parish ministry; I don’t believe that I typically romanticize the golden age of yesteryears. In fact, it is wonderful that people of all ages have a chance to participate in a variety of potentially life-enriching activities. But without appearing overly critical, I think I can safely claim that our society is not promoting the practice of Sabbath and, as my sister-in-law brought to my awareness, pastors are just as negligent as anyone else.
I raise this point because I believe there is a connection between the lack of Sabbath-keeping and the increasing level of hostility in our culture. There is so little time to stop and think. Little wonder, then, that the nuances of ethical issues rarely sink in. Our political polarization is the equivalent of the microwave meal: pre-packed and half-baked. Too often, our public discourse consists of sound bites that we catch on the way to the next event. We have lost the ability to listen deeply because we are rushing out the door with car keys in one hand and cell phone in the other.
Therefore, I eagerly accepted Bruce’s invitation to share something that I love about the area where I live, a place where crickets can be heard if only one stops to listen.
During the spring and fall, New Dublin Presbyterian Church makes time for “lemonade on the lawn.” Immediately after worship, we gather under a canopy of oak trees outside of the sanctuary. Perhaps we have other places to be; maybe we have important responsibilities elsewhere. But we stop. We drink lemonade, eat cookies, and talk to each other. I have come to think of this time as a Sabbath for us.
Before our rural church is hopelessly stereotyped, I must maintain that our parishioners are just as busy as anyone else in our community. We, too, juggle work and family responsibilities. While we can hear the crickets at night, it is also true that many animal voices on the farm require attention that is anything but relaxing. How many of you include milking cows and feeding chickens as part of your Sunday morning routine to get ready for church?
What I love about this culture, however, is that building community is considered an important task. Shaking hands with your neighbor and asking about her family is not an activity to do with one’s free time; rather, it is important enough to be built into the day’s routine. It is more of an expectation than a luxury. Lemonade on the lawn is indicative of this mindset. I believe the practice also makes an important theological assertion.
For we know that Sabbath-keeping is not a luxury for those that can afford the extra time. It mandated in the Ten Commandments, and the first creation story beautifully illustrates that rest was part of the original divine intention (Gen 2:1–3). Following a long tradition of Jewish interpreters, Jesus maintained that the practice was for our health and well-being: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Echoing this wisdom, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The clear promise is that those who rest like God find themselves free like God, no longer slaves to the thousand compulsions that send others rushing towards their graves” (Leaving Church, 136). The to-do list, whether involving emails or cows, can wait.
At this point, I am aware that quoting scripture (much less Barbara Brown Taylor!) is evidence of, as is said around here, laying it on pretty thick. Some of you are probably thinking, “All this about drinking lemonade? Really? Come on! How hopelessly simple!”
Well, maybe part of the solution to the bitter partisanship in our gridlocked society is quite simple. If we make time for one another, we experience a freedom to love one another. New Dublin understands this better than most churches I’ve encountered. At New Dublin, we have both card-carrying Republicans and bumper sticker Democrats. Everyone is not going to agree. During lemonade on the lawn, people who are at odds on any number of issues still shake hands and share refreshments–refreshing in more ways than one. As we make time for one another, we are confronted with the truth that an issue often has a face, and that face may be a loved one or someone loved by a friend. And so, the people of faith who participate in lemonade on the lawn help me to glimpse a love stronger than our differences.
Regardless of where you live or what you believe, you could do something similar to lemonade on the lawn in your community. Indeed, you should because something larger is at stake: if our frenetic busyness distances us from one another, then we need to commit to making time to be together. Surely, it is important to practice Sabbath for each of our personal spiritual journeys; but with schedules as congested in a culture as rude as five o’clock traffic, perhaps it is even more necessary to promote practices of rest and renewal as a community of faith. We are journeying together and should make time to listen to one another.
Sounds refreshingly simple, doesn’t it?