Advent Week 2: Celebrating in Community

I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions–as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.

It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms…It is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at…when you do get into the room you will find that the long wait has done some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light…And above all, you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.

In plain language, the question should never be: “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.

-C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity 

How delightful it is, after some time, that I have found a room that has become a home, that reinforces the liturgical practices that restored my faith, that provides a community in which to experience the Advent season like I never have before.

The richness of language in the Book of Common Prayer–which, when not directly quoting Scripture, draws heavily on it–sustains my thoughts longer than I thought possible.

I found the Anglican daily prayers before I entered the room of the Anglican church, and consequently “celebrated” Advent and the other liturgical seasons alone. Though this may have been necessary at the time, celebrating the season of Advent in community makes all the difference. From the Advent wreath that marks the passing of time, to the liturgical color of the season (for us, Advent is represented by a deep blue), to the Advent collect, to praying through the season with others, I have found a home which my conscience moves me towards.

Whatever room you are in, I hope that you find yourself fully engaged in the traditions of your community this Christmas season. And if you find yourself in the hallway, perhaps this season of darkness, light, and new beginnings can provide clarity and hope as you wait.

 

Advent Week 1: Suggested Readings

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It’s finally here! A new year, a fresh start. This past Sunday was the first day of Advent, which is the first day of the liturgical calendar. And I find it more refreshing to celebrate Advent as my new year then the actual New Year: It marks the beginning of a story that will unfold (instead of a unwritten possibilities), it comes with habits and rhythms and suggested resolutions (instead of having to come up with them all on your own), and it gives you a community in which to live out these practices (instead of leaving it all up to you!).

Advent is a season of waiting, hoping, and longing. It is characterized by the darkness of winter as we wait for the light to arrive in three distinct ways–the Jews waited for a Savior, we wait to celebrate His birth, and we also wait for Him to come again. And most importantly, it is a time of invitation. We are invited again to enter into the story of Christ while we invite Christ to bring light into the dark places in our lives.

As you begin to walk through Advent–for the first or the 50th time–here are some suggested readings.

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Waiting on the Word by Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is a British poet who is a master of the English language. Waiting on the Word is his anthology of seasonal poems from various authors for each day of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. This is definitely my favorite book I’ve found on Advent! Highly recommended.

 

Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross

Not sure what Advent is all about? Or the rest of the liturgical year, for that matter? This is a great place to start. Even if you are familiar with the liturgical year, this book will take you deeper into the ideas and practices that shape each season.

 

The Seattle School’s Advent Reflection Series

The Seattle School is on the 5th year of this series, which comes straight to your inbox with reflections on Advent through prose, poetry, music, and art. Definitely one of the easiest ways to stay connected with the season!

 

On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius

Have you ever wondered why the incarnation was necessary? That is the question Athanasius sets out to answer in this short theological work. I have to include this quote: “You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of the its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be.”

And if you’re looking for a good novel…

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Dickens has the odd gift of teaching his readers how to love the oddest of people. I realized shortly after reading Dickens for an entire semester that my perception towards strangers and acquaintances and friends had become much more charitable. Not only is this a great reason to read one of his works, but this particular novel begins during Christmastime. It is a story of darkness and shadows, of hopes and expectations, of generosity and forgiveness. Obviously, everyone is reading A Christmas Carol this month (right?), but if you’re looking for a longer work, this would be my recommendation.

Yes. I’m going to talk politics.

Last Friday at 12:30 CST, a group of high school boys and I watched the Kavanaugh vote during study hall. Huddled around my school laptop, we held our breath as the Democrats returned to their seats, as the chairman gave the floor to Senator Flake, as the committee decided together to extend the hearing another week in order to conduct an FBI investigation. And if you came here looking for my opinion on the whole thing—who it is I believe—you’re not going to get it. At the end of the day, we didn’t get to decide whether or not Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court.

However, the conversations that surrounded the Kavanaugh hearing are worth revisiting. Because the case is a partisan one, with a lot at stake for both Republicans and Democrats, either Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford has been villainized by those tuning in. And perhaps one side is right—what if Kavanaugh did this act and is a liar and assaulted Dr. Ford? What if Dr. Ford is just doing it for the sake of the Democratic Party? What800KavanaughFord-AP-SaulLoeb-Pool matters much more than these individual truths (which, by the way, we may never have a clear answer to) is that we are able to see past this to the semantics of the discussion, to the fear on both sides, and to the grief that underlies it all.

You may accuse me of missing the news cycle… Isn’t this over and done with? He is sitting on the Supreme Court, there is no more debate to be had. But the effects of such a hearing will last much longer than Kavanaugh’s name will last in the news. That is why I think it is important to revisit the case—not only did it take several weeks for me to consider it (and write and rewrite this)—but the conversation about sexual assault will be ongoing.

It began in earnest about a year and a half ago with the #MeToo movement, as women demonstrated how common it is to be treated as objects even in the 2000s. Now the #WhyIDidntReport movement is continuing that conversation (whether you like it or not, hashtag movements are a thing), and regardless of Dr. Ford’s statement being true or false, the fact remains that many women do not report sexual assault because of other’s disbelief and the subsequent victim shaming. Additionally, women have been pointing out on social media how fear of sexual assault motivates many of our actions: we don’t go running at night, we park under lights, we check the back of our cars before we get into them, we carry our keys or pepper spray for defense, we get on our phones in empty places for added protection should something happen, we avoid (or are nervous) to take Ubers alone. I do these things. On Twitter, someone asked what women would do if there was an 8pm curfew for all men. An overwhelming response from women was that they would take an evening walk.

Being a high school teacher in such a moment presents several options: I could avoid the conversation entirely by saying “no politics in the classroom,” I could merely answer students’ questions about it when asked, or I could address it head on. On that Friday, I took the last route. Ringing in my ears were Emma Watson’s words from her speech to the UN: “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?” And frankly, avoiding this topic is nearly impossible when we spend our days discussing justice, courage, hospitality, and whatever else may come up in a literature discussion.

Though we could have spent time in class arguing about each side and the difficulties presented by the case, the time seemed much more fitting to discuss the assumptions we make as the audience. I heard several students drop comments such as, “Even if this did happen, why is she coming forward and ruining his whole life?” “How is this important if it was 36 years ago?” “She was probably really drunk and doesn’t remember.” “Girls are so paranoid.” “Who hasn’t done something stupid in high school?”

This is what deeply concerns me about the Kavanaugh hearings—many of the proponents of Kavanaugh’s nomination used language that both dismissed and normalized sexual assault. Dismissively, comments such as “Why is she ruining his life?” and “It has been 36 years, why come forward now?” reflect poorly on both our justice system and our perspective of sexual assault. If reporting a crime is considered ruining someone else’s life, then why report any crimes at all? Why is this only said in reference to sexual assault? Likewise, why is sexual assault not considered as serious a crime? The length of time, which many considered a problematic part of the case, also speaks to another problem in our nation: as we are learning with the #WhyIDidntReport movement, many women never report sexual assault, or only deal with it years after the event. What does this say about our culture? That women don’t expect to be believed in such a case? That they have been laughed at before? What a horrific thing—to suffer sexual assault and not be able to trust your deepest hurt to those closest to you, or even to law enforcement.

What is just as problematic is normalizing sexual assault with comments such as “boys will be boys,” and “Who hasn’t done something stupid in high school?” First of all, supporters of Kavanaugh have no right to say the second statement, because Kavanaugh pled not guilty. If he had said “Yes, I did that. And I’m sorry. It was wrong,” then we could have had a conversation about justice and mercy and repentance and forgiveness. Then we could have discussed at what point people can move on from their past mistakes and sit on the Supreme Court. Then we could have pointed out past mistakes and confessions of other politicians and talked about redemption—but that didn’t happen.

Secondly, in no way should sexual assault be compared with “doing something stupid in high school.” Stupid things in high school are getting drunk and getting a tattoo without your parent’s permission or trying your hand at shoplifting or skate boarding behind Walmart next to the “no skateboarding” sign or dropping candy bars off of a balcony. Now, I don’t support those decisions either, but there is a very big difference between teenage stupidity (I teach high school students, by the way) and assaulting another human being. How in the world have we normalized such behavior?

I’m hoping the “boys will be boys” comment is a rare one, but I have heard it. As someone who has two brothers (four if you count my brother-in-laws), a husband, and a father, in no way do I believe that boys should or will act like this. Not only does this normalize criminal behavior, it normalizes a negative view of men. Every ounce of me wants this comment completely abolished when it comes to sexual assault. I am terrified that my high school boys will actually believe this; I am afraid my sons one day will hear this. Sexual assault is not a given when it comes to being a boy. This comment was popular as well when Trump’s Access Hollywood video was released—“men just talk like that!” Really? Do we dismiss such comments when they come from our husbands? Our fathers? Our brothers? Our students? I would hope not.

So last Friday, I challenged four boys’ assumptions about sexual assault as we watched the Kavanaugh hearing. I didn’t dismiss their dismissive comments, nor did I allow the normalizing of such behavior. And what was beautiful about the entire situation is that these sophomore boys showed a massive amount of humility and thoughtfulness as they reasoned through their own assumptions. What could have been a political, partisan argument became instead a discussion of how we treat and talk about other human beings.

This is only the beginning of my work. I am working towards a culture where boys will be boys who respect women, care about how they are portrayed, and refuse to treat them as objects. I am working towards a culture where victims of sexual assault feel comfortable coming forward and receiving the help they need. I am working toward a world where, when this happens again in politics, our discussions will be filled with more grace than hatred, more patience than anger, and more grief than victory.

On Tuesdays, Harvey, and Learning in War-Time

Twenty families from my school were flooded during the storm. Others lost power for several days, and all of us watched helicopter and boat rescues happening just a few miles from our homes. Time seemed suspended for a week; by Tuesday, August 29th, few Houstonians knew what day it was, and the foreseeable future only extended as far as Labor Day, with the entire workforce of Houston wondering when it should report to duty.

For most teachers and students, that day was yesterday, September 11th. Two weeks after Harvey’s devastating rains pummelled Houston, the schools opened their doors again, only to remember another heartbreaking day for Americans with flags at half-mast and videos of planes crashing into towers. And as Florida and the surrounding islands face 15-foot storm surges and the West Coast prays for some sort of salvation from the flames, teachers around Houston welcomed their students back to school.

Last Tuesday, September 5th, was my first day back to school as a teacher, and at first it didn’t seem right. We anxiously asked colleagues how they had weathered the storm; many of us left work that afternoon to volunteer at shelters or clean out homes; some returned to places that weren’t home, without any possessions they could call their own. Yet, there we were, planning curriculum and preparing our classrooms.

What do you do when the most routine part of life—the school day or work day—is interrupted by events outside of your control? When it’s not just your personal day, but an entire city’s? For days, Houstonians watched volunteers drop everything and head our way with boats and supplies, eager to respond to disaster quickly. Many people literally saved lives during the storm for no other reason than seeing the water rising on the news and deciding they had to do something about it. The situation repeated itself with work teams reporting for duty in Houston neighborhoods, tearing out drywall and wood floors and cabinets.

But now, Houstonians must return to work, even while the disaster continues. Many spend their weekends tearing apart flooded homes or volunteering in shelters or cooking meals for those in need. But this question has haunted me for the past couple of weeks: How can we devote ourselves to life as usual while so many are trying to recover and others are being hit by new disasters? Is there such a thing as normalcy in a world with Harveys and Irmas and fires and terrorists?

C.S. Lewis addressed this during World War II. In a speech given to Oxford students in 1939, he reminds us that there is no such thing as normalcy; we’ve merely convinced ourselves that every day we live in security. Students in 1939 were obviously concerned about their own responsibilities, their own families, their own survival. Why go to school? But Lewis reminds students that there is something much larger at stake: “But to a Christian the true tragedy of Nero must be not that he fiddles while the city was on fire but that he fiddles on the brink of hell.” After apologizing for the language in his polite British way, he goes on: “…we can see that every Christian who comes to a university must at all times face a question compared with which the questions raised by the war are relatively unimportant. He must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology.”

For Lewis, war merely aggravates the normal human situation: that all things come to pass. He claims that there will always be a distraction to study—whether it be love or war or politics or jobs.

As a teacher, Harvey has only increased my desire to read great texts with my students. A few weeks ago, I addressed how Charlottesville made me consider my curriculum in light of my students deciding which rally to attend or protest to join. The same goes for Harvey—my students are the future first responders, the future mayors and city officials, the future generation that will be calling the shots and saving lives during the next Harvey. I want to equip them to make those decisions.

Lewis, as always, has a broader, more eternal vision:

 “All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centered in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realize it. Now the stupidest of us know. We see unmistakable the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.”

It is Tuesday, September 12th, and our city has gone back to work. The tension within all of us, of doing our jobs or learning or teaching post-Harvey’s destruction, is one that has been there all along: there is no promise of tomorrow or of security, and yet we go about our lives each day. May we humbly offer ourselves to what we are called to do each hour, whether that be engineering, cleaning out homes, serving food, or learning.

Sabbath Tuesday: An Education 

This week, I’m in Colorado with my students from The Covenant Preparatory School. We’ve been whitewater rafting, hiking, eating, fellowshipping, and sometimes sleeping!

Initially, it seemed like an odd time to take a week-long trip; the students have only had classes for three days, then we headed north to Buena Vista. Classes will resume when we return, but teachers have already had to deal with the curriculum struggles that come with a week away from the classroom, right after school has begun. 

I’m quickly realizing, however, that this week is as much a part of my students’ education as sitting in the classroom discussing The Iliad. If I’m truly concerned with the whole person that I’m teaching, a week in Colorado should be considered an indispensable page of my lesson plans.

As I was hiking with my seniors today, I noticed their reverence for God’s creation around them. I saw them encourage each other, become better listeners, and grow in their friendships. Most people consider trips such as these “bonding times.” And though that is a great benefit, the best thing about this particular trip is watching my students learn how to contemplate the beauty around them. They aren’t allowed to have any sort of device with them, so in these few unplugged days, they are learning how to see. 


I’m off to dinner! Happy Tuesday. 

On Curriculum, Charlottesville, and the People We Teach

School starts tomorrow. It is daunting, to say the least, but other teachers understand my mix of excitement and dread.

This past weekend, however, made the looming school year look even more threatening on the horizon. The Charlottesville incident inspired posts and tweets about posterity, along the lines of “This will be in our history books…” and “How will I explain this to my child?” “What is my responsibility? What will I tell my children when they ask how I reacted?” All valuable questions… but my thoughts turned, of course, to students.

In a Curriculum and Development class I took a couple of years ago, we discussed explicit and implicit curriculum. Though explicit curriculum choices often make it into the syllabus (for example, my freshmen are starting with The Iliad this week), the implicit curriculum are the values, learning environment, cultural assumptions, and practices that inform our explicit studies. And just as important is the null curriculum—that which we choose not to address.

As I saw pictures of the protesters, watched the video of the car driving through the crowd, and read about the horrifying chants of the white nationalists, my gut reaction was probably similar to yours: “Is this America? In 2017?” But then I remembered human nature and history and realized that this is just a dot on a timeline, and humanity is tempted yet again by power and pride. Tower of Babel, anyone? We’ve always wanted to be our own gods, to claim our place among the nations.

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from The New Yorker

And then I looked more closely at the pictures. Many who marched look about my age. Many who marched look only a few years older than the seniors I’ll welcome to my class tomorrow. All of them had some sort of education. Some of them went to private school. Most of them probably read The Scarlet Letter, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Hamlet. All of them studied American history. In a few short years, my students will have to make the decision: Which march do I join? Which protest? What do I say? What do I post?

Posterity is a concern of mine as well. Yes, one day I’ll tell the story to my children of the age of terrorism that we’re currently living in—my vivid memory of 9/11, the unending attacks in Europe, ISIS and the refugees trying to make their way to safety. But right now, my students are watching what I say in the classroom, my former students are watching what I post on Twitter, and we’re all living in a week of history. My fear is that issues like Charlottesville will become so commonplace that they become part of our null curriculum in the classroom—that which is not addressed. Not only does that take away from valuable discussion of what it means to live as a Christian in this country, and how Homer and Hawthorne and Augustine would react to such an event, but it communicates to my students that Charlottesville and similar issues are not worth being thought about deeply or discussed.

Like the beginning of every school year, teachers everywhere are thinking about goals for their students. Which equations should they have memorized by the end of the year? Which literary devices should they know? How many research papers should they write? Should public speaking be a requirement?

I’m there too, thinking about the number of pages a week, the books in a semester, the questions driving the entire year. But Charlottesville brought me back to the ultimate telos of education—the type of people my students are becoming. How are they being formed by my curriculum (the explicit, implicit, and null)? How will they react to the Charlottesville of their time?

Perhaps I have a certain advantage, being a literature teacher. If I wanted to, I could discuss Achilles’ rage, whether or not it is justified, and even compare it to protesting in general. But whatever we teach, the implicit values and null curriculum often speak louder than the syllabus. This year, I’m beginning to realize the weight of my responsibility as a teacher. May my curriculum choices invite compassion, charity, and wisdom into the lives of my students.

Sabbath Tuesday: Summer’s End

You may protest my title, as summer isn’t officially over until mid-September, but for teachers and students August marks the beginning of a new season. As a student, I’m excited to get back into classes and a routine.

And yes, this year I’ll also be a teacher. I’m thrilled to be teaching upper school English at The Covenant Preparatory School while I finish my masters. I’ll be teaching in the morning, studying in the afternoon, and going to night class once or twice a week.

Though I couldn’t be more excited to get back into the classroom, August feels like one long Sunday night—it’s a season marked with apprehension and planning and making sure everything is in order. Bring on the syllabus-making, the book ordering, the stress dreams…get ready to meet new students, new colleagues, a new classroom.

The easiest way to compensate the nervousness is to overwork. I’ve stayed up until 2am before organizing notebooks and lesson planning. I’ve spent 12 hours straight in a classroom hanging posters and boxing up old books. And though August will bring some long work days with it, my desire to control every details reveals a lack of trust.

A few months ago, Will and I started a new project on the back porch of our apartment. It may look like a science project gone awry, but it’s a hydroponic plant grower. When we first picked out the small vegetable plants, I don’t think either of us really believed we’d harvest a couple of jalapeños, a tomato, and a banana pepper in two months time. Though there were some difficulties in the beginning, and Will had to recalculate the water mixture, most of our time has been spent waiting and hoping.

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This is how I’d like to think of my new teaching assignment this August—as a garden. What needs my care? What will just take time? Where might I need to make adjustments? When will I realize that I can’t control the growth of another living thing?

In Wendell Berry’s poetry (which inspired these posts in the first place), he reminds workers that

And yet no leaf or grain is filled

By work of ours; the field is tilled

And left to grace. That we may reap,

Great work is done while we’re asleep.

My job as a teacher (and often as a graduate student as well) is not about measured outcomes and production—it is about the faithfulness of tending a garden even when I don’t have complete control.

So if you’re a teacher, or someone whose August is stress-filled, don’t let this be a month dictated by work alone. We must remember to maintain moments of rest, to let August be a time of tending gardens and leaving it to grace.

Rest is not death; it is life, and all life bears fruit.

-A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life

Flowchart Friday: Which Netflix mystery you should binge-watch

Okay, some of you probably came to this post because of the provocative title: “Binge-watching?? Are you a fan of that?”

Let me give you a brief opinion on binge-watching. I’ve been binge-reading for quite some time now, and most of you would be okay with that. If I want to sit for three hours and read Hamlet, no one seems to have a problem. In fact, you’ll think I’m quite intellectual. However, if I tell you that I’ve been binge-watching instead of binge-reading…well, well… suddenly you raise an eyebrow. Here are some simple things to consider.

Is binge-watching any different from binge-reading? Sure, perhaps the amount that you imagine individually is less while watching a TV show, but you are still engaging with a narrative, and both books and television are types of technologies and–arguably–types of art.

Can anything be binge-watched? Goodness, no. Please no. But it’s the same with reading–I’ll raise all the eyebrows I have if you say you’ve been binge-reading Twilight.

Is binging anything inherently bad? Ah, there’s the rub. Something worth a discussion. Is anything in excess a bad a thing? What about reading poetry? Or binging on classical music? If you want to discuss this, comment on this post because I’d love to talk it through.

As far as binge-watching goes, there are a few things I think about. First, is the show that I’m watching worthy of being binged? How is the plot? Character development? Treatment of right and wrong in moral dilemmas? Secondly, if this show was a book, would I read it? Thirdly, am I avoiding any responsibilities by choosing to binge-watch for a few hours?

But why mysteries, you ask? Well, besides being wildly popular in our culture, mysteries do have some virtue in them. Thankfully, I don’t have to defend this much because Angelina Stanford and Brian Phillips did a great job of it in this podcast. Mysteries, especially murder mysteries, have some sense of wrongs that need to be righted, justice that needs to be enacted, and care for human life. Instead of settling into relativism, mysteries imply that there is both a good and bad side.

With no further ado, here are some Netflix mysteries you might want to binge-watch this summer if you happen to fall ill or be on a lousy vacation or just have a free evening.

Click here for a closer look. netflix

Cover image: from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

 

Flowchart Friday: Which Dickens novel you should read this summer

Welcome to my first flowchart Friday post! I’m putting aside my usual “What I’m Reading” series for the summer for something a bit more interesting.

My first flowchart is about Dickens. If you talked to me last semester, or kept up with this blog, you know that I took an incredible Dickens graduate seminar this spring and fell in love with everything Dickens. Sure, his books are long, and he does spend a lot of time bashing the English legal system, but his fame is not without reason! Some compare his popularity and impact on the English culture with Shakespeare’s.

So with no further ado, here are suggested Dickens readings based on some random assessments. Click here for a closer look. Dickens

 

Dickens

Sabbath Tuesday: Summer Days

fullsizeoutput_75dSummer always seems glorious to me at the outset. When I was teaching full time, it meant days when I could read what I wanted, days without grading papers, days of sleeping past 5:45 a.m. Now that I’m a student, it means days of reading what I need to read for my own studies instead of classes, days not spent on campus, days free from responsibilities of essays and deadlines. And for most everyone else, even if they are not on an academic schedule, summer often means time off, traveling, a change in workload.

But summer comes with its own troubles. As carefree as it may appear, the absence of routine and work can take its toll. In past Sabbath Tuesday posts, I’ve written about the beauty of work paired with rest—something Wendell Berry often explores in his poetry: “When we work well, A Sabbath mood/ Rests on our day, and finds it good.” So what happens to us, those whose lives are dictated by the academic calendar, whose work suddenly subsides for a few months?

At the beginning of the summer, it is easy to think that the time off will be one long Sabbath after the difficult academic year. But there is a difference between a break and an intentional rest. Sabbath moments during the school year were a breath of fresh air in the midst of the heavy workload, but now, summer is just one long break. How I choose to spend my time can determine how much rest actually happens during these three months.

The difference between a break and a rest reminds me of the difference between fast food and a well-prepared feast. Fast food (for those of us who like deep-fried things) is something we look forward to, something we crave. If you’re a Texan like me, you probably agree that summertime and Whataburger go hand-in-hand—it works for late nights, post-river trips, and after you’ve climbed up Enchanted Rock. And it tastes good. But we are aware that it is a quick fix that doesn’t contribute to our long term health or nourishment.

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At a cabin in North Carolina with good friends, feasting and resting.

On the other hand, summer is also a time when hospitality blossoms. Cook outs and barbecues abound, extended families reunite, friendships deepen. The slowing down of work welcomes the thoughtfulness of day-long meal preparations before friends arrive. These kinds of meals—I mean the slow-cooked brisket, side of beans, watermelon salad, coleslaw, peach pie—have a different impact on both our bodies and souls than those quick Whataburger stops. They are deeply nourishing to both our relationships and our bodies.

So far this summer, I’ve struggled with the idea of Sabbath, and I assume that some other academics have too. It is difficult to crave nourishment when you’re already in the midst of a break. Sabbath looses its attraction when work subsides, and the importance of rest and renewal and remembrance fades. This morning I was reading in Jeremiah about the house of Jacob that turned their back on the Lord. They were said to “go after worthlessness, and become worthless.” This is my greatest fear for the summer: that I’ll only eat Whataburger, go after worthlessness, merely “take a break,” and not be renewed when the school year starts again.

May we pursue Sabbath and the nourishment it brings even in times of less work.

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Tubing on Lake Travis in Austin, TX with my little brother Austin.