Sabbath in New York City: STOP

UntitledStop. You think that this would be easy, intuitive even. But it’s not, especially when our culture worships the idol of productivity.

New York does not stop. It’s the “city that never sleeps.” It literally takes an act of God – heat waves, hurricane Irene, hurricane Sandy, winter storm Juno, etc. Whether working to survive or in pursuit of one’s dreams, New Yorkers have a hard time stopping their work. And if that wasn’t enough, there is an unending list of tasks calling for our attention.

Emails, text messages and, increasingly the cursed app notification. In a journey to find relief from our modern, always-connected life, Paul Miller or theverge.com left the internet for a year (you can read about his experience here). During his journey, he interviewed Douglas Rushkoff about “Present Shock,” the affect of always-connected technology on our lives. Our obsession with the now creates loops that, on some unconscious level, our brains compel us to complete. For example, the red circle on the top right corner of an app. The un-replied email. The unanswered text message. When you see a notification, your brain creates the beginning of a loop that can only be completed by responding to said notification. Rushkoff encourages us to occasionally “pause” from the digital so that we conform technology to our schedule instead of vice versa.

But if the digital weren’t enough to constantly keep up with, the “analog” laundry is never finished, the dishes are never done, the house is never complete. There’s always something to be done – more the be created, existing to be perfected, and further out to be planned. In the midst of all this, culture quietly screams: be more productive. To stop is only to prepare to be more productive. Maximize all of your time and energy while at the same time staying on top of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messages, etc.

Sabbath means stop.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:1-3

The creator was more productive in seven days than is humanly conceivable (regardless of whether one believes in literal or figurative days). Science, math and very the laws of reality were all brought forth from him. Simply the amount of matter created is beyond what we can barely imagine. To begin to get an idea of what we are talking about, spend a moment contemplating the ultra-tiny and the ultra-big at scaleoftheuniverse.com. After all this, God stopped. THIS God could have created a trillion other universes, a trillion other dimensions and a trillion other realities. Maybe he did! Yet he stopped. God is un-limited, yet he stopped.

Here is the truth that sabbath teaches us: we are not God. We are limited. When we take time to stop from our labor, we are reminded that we are not God. We embrace our limits. Stopping confronts the question of trust: Will we trust that the infinite, all-powerful God will take care of us and our concerns when we keep the Sabbath? To never stop is to produce in ourselves a god-complex. In so doing, we shackle ourselves to an impossible standard. We cannot stop, for we are god. Recently at a church leader’s conference, Pete Scazarro was introduced as a “busy guy,” but he quickly corrected that he is not busy. He is limited. This is a true perspective of our lives. We are limited.

Jesus fully embraced his limits. Part of the miracle of the incarnation was that Jesus (the Creator, the un-limited) became limited. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). After his grandest miracle of feeding over 5000 people with almost nothing, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23). There were always more people to be healed or taught. But Jesus embraced his limits and often stopped doing ministry. He knew that his central ministry would be his work on the cross. As his disciples, we also must trust in the cross of Christ, not our own efforts.

The first challenge of Sabbath is to stop for a 24-hour period. My advice is not to “try out” a few hours or even half a day. Pick a full 24 hour period to stop from your work. Smaller periods of stopping throughout each day are good, but stopping for a full 24 hours is a completely different experience.

As I said, we live in a culture that worships productivity. In fact, I would even say we are addicted to productivity. And like any addiction, you must chose to stop. It will be difficult. It will take time. It will take hard work. There will be withdrawals. But it will be worth it. Perhaps your first step should be to stop using technology for a full 24 hours.

As I have practiced stopping on my Sabbath, it has been extremely freeing. I will often be reminded of something I failed to plan or complete in my work or personal life. But since I have decided to stop on my Sabbath, I give myself permission to not worry about it. I know that I will get to it another day. Obviously more pressing things can come up that need to be dealt with, but 95% of the time it can wait. I often have to remind myself that it is not that important, and in the grand scheme of things it never is. I do not have to get back to that email, text message, or notification. I am free to let the loop can go un-completed for a day.

I am actually obligated to stop. I am not God. I am limited. I am trusting in the one who is un-limited. And by stopping, I am free to rest, delight and contemplate.

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Sabbath in New York City: STOP

Finding Peace in Acadia

I daydream about taking a break from my life and living for a summer in Bar Harbor, Maine.

This summer I went on vacation to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. It was one of the best decisions for a vacation that I’ve ever made, and I can’t wait to go back. I traveled by myself and camped out in the park’s campground. Several people gave me confused or shocked looks after they asked, “who are you going with?” But it was amazing to go my myself. I went to Acadia seeking the beauty and peace that only national parks can bring.

My first day there, I rode my bike along the carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. many years ago. There was beauty around every corner, Rockefeller made sure of that. The road wound back and froth between trees and opening up onto the best vantage points for each vista, lake or mountain.

Though it was raining, I set out the next morning on a hike through part of the island with a national park ranger. From watching the National Parks documentary*, I had heard about rangers who were deeply devoted to the parks, with almost endless, secret knowledge of each place. It was true. At each point, the ranger pointed out not only an interesting fact about a rock or plant, but also the history of the place. She told us of the families that once owned the area and answered any question we threw at her with great passion. As a few of us stuck around to ask her more questions, it was clear that this was not just a job. She loved this place with all her heart.

A special place in the park is a secluded beach, only a few hundred feet wide. Sand Beach’s sand is different from most, as it is made up of mostly crushed sea shells. The water is much to cold to swim in, though plenty of children did their best (I’m told the temperature is usually around 51 degrees). One night, I joined a couple dozen others on the beach to gaze at the stars. If you’ve ever been able to see the Milky Way galaxy with the naked e

ye, you know how wondrous and mesmerizing the stars can be. A park ranger pointed out several constellations, and we saw a couple shooting stars. Usually in New York City, I can see 3-4 stars if I really try hard. In fact, the ranger described the experience as something that the parks are striving to preserve along with the landscape and wildlife. In our modern cities with all of their artificial lights, there are few places where we are able to truly gaze at the stars like humans have for thousands of years. No wonder the ancients were completely captivated by the stars. They make you feel quite small.

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One of my favorite memories came the last afternoon in Acadia. The island is encircled in walls of granite that jut out into the ocean. At one bend of the island, I climbed out up to where the rocks drop off a few hundred feet to the ocean below. Sitting on the edge, you can hear the ocean waves, the occasional seagull, and the bell of a green buoy. Just off the coast are a small number of large rocks clustered together that can be mistaken for a group of fish or other sea creature (hence the buoy). It was late afternoon when I was there. I sat down near the edge, closed my eyes and listened to the buoy chime out it’s steady warning. It was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. After a few minutes, a large family with 6 kids arrived and disturbed my place of peace. But thankfully I had received what I needed from the spot.

My experience at Acadia was markedly different from my first National Park, Smokey Mountain National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. The Smokey mountains are absolutely fully of peaceful, beautiful places, but the surrounding area is most different.  Entering and exiting the park is a shocking experience. Driving along the North Carolina highway dotted with houses, street signs, light traffic and power lines, you’re met with the entrance to the park. Once you enter, you are surrounded by nothing but trees. No signs, houses, power lines or cell service. As you exit the park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the change is even more dramatic. The wildness road of nothing but trees in the park is juxtaposed with blatant tourist attractions from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to mini golf to whatever chain restaurant you desire just outside the park. It breaks my heart how often we choose the fickle things of life while transcendent peace is literally next door (there’s a sermon in there somewhere).

Anyone who has traveled to a National Park in the United States has certainly had a similar experience of finding peace in the parks. But Acadia is a unique national park, as it was mostly donated by wealthy landowners in the early to mid-twentieth century. So, there isn’t a point like in other parks where you enter “the park” and are cut off from civilization. Most of the interior of Mount Desert Island is national park, but the coast it is surrounded by a small harbor towns where people have lived for hundreds of years. My favorite, Bar harbor, is on the east side of the harbor. It has a number of small restaurants and shops focused on outdoor activities. There are no chain restaurants or obnoxious tourist attractions. It’s a small town that is vitally connected to the park but hasn’t been corrupted by tourism. When Rockefeller Jr. built the carriage roads I biked, the locals feared that Acadia would become like Coney Island (Gatlinburg, Tennessee). Thankfully it did not. Back in New York City, I often find myself daydreaming about spending a few months by myself at mount desert island, living in Bar Harbor. There are so few places to find peace in New York City. It’s the peace, the transcendent beauty of Acadia that calls my heart back. I can’t wait to go back.

*The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns. It’s on Netflix. Go watch it.
**Usually my posts are about church stuff. But John Muir often talked of the national parks as the most beautiful of cathedrals, so I think it fits. There’s also something to be said about the role of God in creating these transcendent places.
Finding Peace in Acadia