Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘society’

The Virtue and Practice of Rest

Mark 1:9-15

It’s not popular to take a break. Is it? Really, it’s not. I mean, you’re tired, burned out, mentally exhausted at work, and so you think—I should—take a break, right? And so, when you do, to recharge, to find your strength again, are you met with approving looks and applause?

Most likely, NO. Most likely, people stare at you across cubicles with dagger-like eyes that penetrate your very soul.

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Most likely, you hear whispers around the water cooler that you’re lazy or that you not a hard worker. Eventually, you may even get a little paranoid if you even take a second of time to drink a glass of water or use the restroom. Will they call you lazy? Will they think you don’t care? Will you be punished for wanting to rest?

We live and breathe within a system we call “society” that doesn’t exactly encourage us to rest, isn’t it so? You don’t have to work in a cubicle to know that. Students are well aware. If the amount of homework were not enough, students who wish to attend prestigious universities are pushed to the limit in AP classes and are also told to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible, not for enjoyment, mind you, but so that their college applications rise to the top. So, they don’t act in a play or dance or sing or play an instrument or a sport just because it’s fun and amazing. They do it to get into a college. They do it for someone else.

I’ll admit also that religions are not so good at encouraging rest either. How often do priests or pastors or rabbis or imams or any type of religious clergy actually explicitly encourage the members of their communities to take a break, to rest? Even from religion? Yeah, take a few Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays off. Spend time with your family, go out with your friends; or be enjoy time by yourself. Take a break, rest. Look, as clergy, we should be saying this. We should be modeling this by taking a break ourselves, by unplugging, by decompressing, by…resting. But often we don’t.

And why is that, do you think?

Because many of us mistake taking a break or rest for laziness. Because too many still equate more hours of work with productivity. And we’ve become empty in this way. We’ve lost the art of rest.

I don’t have all the answers. I will say that in my experience this phenomenon is related to our need for control and for being able to solve problems—even the problems of the world. All of us, in our own way, have a savior complex, It’s human, really, we want to help. We don’t like to see people suffer. It’s not bad at all to think or feel that. It only becomes a problem if we start to believe that without our help or insight or words or actions, whenever there is a problem, the world will just blow up. If we don’t do something about all the issues we’re concerned about, well—what’s the point? We’re tugged and pulled in a million different directions. We can’t rest. No way! There’s too much to care about, too much to be angry or sad or vigilant about! We. Cannot. Rest.

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Now before you think that this is advocacy for complacency or indifference, bear with me. I, like many of you, care about numerous issues going on around the world, I, like many of you, am saddened, angered, and overwhelmed. We should care. We should feel. But we can’t be saviors. We need to rest. And we need to rest so that we can actually help.

Now I don’t know how religious of a person you are or aren’t. It doesn’t really matter. I was raised in a Christian household and so I learned about Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel stories and also the Jewish stories about Moses and Joshua and Noah. And at some point in my life I realized that all my stressing about what was happening or not happening in the world came back to me. For every time I worried about some issue and couldn’t sleep, it was because I felt helpless. Like I couldn’t anything or solve anything. The problem was there and I could do nothing. It’s awful to feel helpless, don’t you think? And I had no answers and no remedy for sleeplessness. Until I rested. Until I rested. I took a break from my worry and from my desire to help or save or to solve and I just stopped.

And that was baptism for me. I saw the heavens tear apart and I heard kind and wise voices, saying that all of us are beloved and that the Divine is pleased with us. And after experiencing that, sooner rather than later I was back in the wilderness, back in the fray, where students are shot at school [again] and politicians and lobbyists don’t care and do nothing; where women are still treated like toys; where transgender people are shamed and attacked; where black people are devalued and criminalized; where money talks and truth walks. Back in the fray after a rest.

But something is different. Back in the fray, but one with the nature of who we are, like the animals who don’t tweet or post or gossip but merely live. Back in the wilderness where angels of rest dance on my shoulders.

See, rest…it’s not laziness or indifference. It’s wisdom. It’s strength. It’s restoration.


I know a lot of you are upset, sad, scared, angry with the way things are going right now. I am too. But please, for your sake and the sake of all the people and things you care about—don’t neglect rest. Take a break, a step back. Gain perspective. Gather yourself. Find new strength. The problems and issues will be there when you are done resting, believe it. But you will be back in the fray with new energy.



Alternative Wisdom

Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20

wisdomChineseThe most common type of wisdom in society is what we call conventional wisdom. This is the mainstream, what “everybody knows.” It is society’s understanding about what is real and how people should live. Conventional wisdom includes ideas that are so accepted they are not questioned. These ideas tell us now to live; we are socialized into conventional wisdom as we grow up.

Example: we are told that life is about reward and punishment, i.e. “your reap what you sow” or “get what you deserve.” Though this idea is prevalent in secular culture, it also exists in religion, i.e.: “God will reward or condemn you based on what you’ve done.” Obviously, conventional wisdom leads to social separations, because it claims that some people’s roles in society are more important than others.

A person’s self-worth or identity is based on how they measure up to society’s norms.

At the end of the day, conventional wisdom can lead to us thinking that the reality as we have labeled it is actually the end-all. This of course can close our minds to new realities and ideas.

There are many examples of conventional wisdom. Here are a few:

The Earth is flat. The Earth is the center of the Universe.
You have to make more money. It is always best to pursue promotions and jobs that pay more.
You should buy a house.
You should do tons of cardio exercise to lose weight.
Keep taking antibiotics so you won’t be sick.
In Hollywood: a movie can’t succeed unless it stars a famous actor.

What examples of conventional wisdom can you think of?

To bring this home, consider that many people’s image of God is based on their acceptance of conventional wisdom. God, for them, is the enforcer and the one who gives legitimacy to religious behaviors and viewpoints. It’s the idea that people must satisfy God…

conventional-wisdom-quote-minh-tan-halifaxNow let’s switch gears to alternative wisdom—a grouping of ideas and perspectives that are not afraid to ask questions, to challenge convention. Alternative wisdom confronts the so-called norms of society and asks why we consider these norms to be our reality. For example, conventional wisdom says that a person’s worth is determined by measuring up to social standards. Alternative wisdom says that all people have infinite worth that is intrinsic and not based on merit. Likewise, while conventional wisdom says that our identity comes from social tradition, alternative wisdom says that identity comes from centering in the sacred, and in our humanity. And finally, conventional wisdom tells us to strive to be first in line for everything, no matter what. Alternative wisdom says that the last will be first and the first will be last.

Can you think of your own examples of alternative wisdom?

More specifically, in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, there is most certainly a blend of conventional and alternative wisdom. If you look closely enough, I’m sure you can find various examples of both. To bring this conversation to its center I would like to hone in on alternative wisdom as it was for Jesus of Nazareth. For Jesus, parables were storytelling methods of imparting alternative wisdom. The parables were not black and white. They asked questions. Typically, wisdom teachers like Jesus, Socrates, Buddha—they focused on a “wise” way and a “foolish” way; a narrow way and a broad way. Instead of telling people how to live or which rules to follow, wisdom teachers made observations about life and spoke from experience. This is why Jesus periodically referred to nature.

Jesus of Nazareth, unlike other religious leaders and teachers of the time, and unlike many of the churches and religious leaders of today, did not spend so much time interpreting scriptures. Instead, Jesus taught and modeled experiential living—the daily experiences people have.

Rather than focusing on written words, Jesus focused on the experience of God.

Jesus and others invited people to see something they might not have otherwise seen, to look past conventional wisdom and conditioned culture to something beyond, something that could transform a person. For example, the idea that a person’s purpose in life is to follow certain rules so that God will be pleased and then, when they die, God will allow that person to go to heaven—this is not the alternative wisdom of Jesus. Instead, Jesus flipped this convention on its head, saying that those who were thought of as the lowest and the least religious would be the ones better off in the end. Jesus’ wisdom portrayed God as Giver of Compassion and not Judge. Further, when Jesus spoke of death, it was not a physical death, but a death of that conventional self—dying to the societal norms that trap us and living into a new reality of transformation, resurrection and enlightenment.

Friends, don’t buy into conventional wisdom. Be different, be weird, defy the conventions.

Ask questions about why we do this or that. Seek alternative wisdom—based on what you see in nature, what you actually feel within yourself, and your own experiences. Seek and develop alternative wisdom, as this will help you see the bigger picture and enable you to get to know yourself better, apart from all the social conditioning and convention.

Give heed to alternative wisdom, which gives assurance that we are truly alive.

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