Learning to Walk Upright

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“But the gods, taking pity on human beings–a race born to labor–gave them regularly recurring divine festivals, as a means of refreshment from their fatigue; they gave them Muses, and Apollo and Dionysus as the leaders of the Muses, to the end that, after refreshing themselves in the company of the gods, they might return to an upright posture.”

~Plato

Just listened to NPR radio show that began by announcing the statistic that one in six Americans are nonreligious and then followed with the (somehow related?) question: Is religion becoming obsolete?

Frankly, there is a lot of religion in our country that needs to obsolesce, because in certain contexts the Gospel has become obsolete. My concern at this most superficial level, however, is not to try to salvage the Gospel from its pluralistic bedfellows; it is rather to suggest that those who truly believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ–that it is the basis of reality, the interpretive key to history and the determinative claim on the future–have a responsibility to enjoy the freedom the Gospel commands we enjoy.

There will be times to bear witness to Christ with our words, more times still to bear witness with our works, but I’m convinced that our most sustained witness in a culture of uncontrollable consumption and feverish distraction and busyness and restlessness and work and worry so work some more is this: rest. It is also called Sabbath. It may be called leisure. It certainly involves feasting and faces, celebration and dancing, giving thanks and being still.

If we do that well, we won’t need so much as reasons for our arguments; we will only need the reason for our rest. We will not need to find arguments in the defensive because people are offensive toward us; we will need only a simple explanation for a way of life that is undeniably attractive–or at least is the fragrance of peace that arises from it. And when they ask why we rest, we have only to say the same thing we’ve been saying since the day our nation began: because God told us when he rescued us out of Egypt that we were no longer allowed to act like slaves; because God is teaching us how to walk upright.

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Dt. 5:12-15).

It’s a liberating thing to not have to be god.

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2 thoughts on “Learning to Walk Upright

  1. Interesting how your last three posts are related to the idea of freedom. In this latest one, you point to a piece of what it means to be free: to not act like slaves, to rest, to act like we don’t have a slavemaster, a freedom from bondage.

    Yet your other posts attack an alternative notion of freedom, namely one based on an assertion that the best kind of freedom is the one that should be unfettered (as though we can be relation-less, a god who does not need to care how he/she affects others). Yet hopefully Harold will discover the Unbearable Lightness of Being (the depressing yet telling title of Milan Kundera’s work): so free, yet so meaningless, so empty. The sad fact is that I often buy a few rubles worth of what Harold has to offer…

    Here, Sabbath rest again speaks to me, as much a command as a gift: the first and greatest bondage that I must be released from is myself. What a slave-driver I am, demanding ever-greater pyramids to satisfy myself, on the backs of those around me, as well as on my own back. I find I cannot free myself even from myself. I admit: I need a liberator.

    Thanks for writing…

    • I hadn’t noticed or intended the theme of freedom in the past few posts, Ryan, but you are right. I would just suggest that I’m not attacking two distinct false notions of freedom, but one false notion of freedom in its various aspects and ironic applications. Through his unfettered creativity Herold found himself fettered to a longing that would eventually stunt his creativity. His infinite potential future was bound to a narrowly defined memory (perhaps the very memory from which he was trying to liberate himself), which he was able neither to recreate nor rediscover. Liberation from God can only lead to the slavish search to find the God within. And our culture has done a fine job of hanging the dangling the carrot so close to the eyes that most are blind to their own starvation.

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