Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power Of Rest In A Nonstop World, by A.J. Swoboda
There are at least two sorts of approaches one can take to a book like this. On the one hand, one can point out its clear flaws and the point that it advocates a typically unbiblical and typically Protestant one day out of seven approach to rest that does not obey God’s Sabbath commands in full, which I just did. On the other hand, one can appreciate this book for what it is, and that is a sincere (if not always on point) attempt to grapple with the commandments and laws of God involving rest and their importance in our society in a way that points out the larger picture of justice and graciousness that God had in mind with them. In that light there is far more to praise about this book than to criticize. As a Sabbath-keeper myself, I found a great deal to appreciate about this book in the support it gave to my own efforts to point out the broader social implications of the Sabbath laws and what they mean for us as well as for those around us. And if you too are interested in the Sabbath, there is a lot you will likely find worthwhile here as well.
The contents of this book are pretty straightforward. After a foreword and a prologue that connect the author to other thinkers interested in the Sabbath (namely the Sleeths), the author divides this look at the Sabbath into four parts with three chapters each, in a rather typical approach for this sort of work. The first part of the book looks at what the Sabbath means for us (I) with regards to our approach to time (1), our view of work (2), and the need to rest in order to maintain our health (3). The author then moves to a look at what the Sabbath does for others (II) in terms of improving our relationships with others (4), making sure that our lives are not run by economic or technological concerns (5), and that we give appropriate care and rest to the marginalized among us (6). The author discusses the Sabbath in a wider sense in terms of creation (III) with a discussion about the origins of the Sabbath as a capstone of creation (7), the land Sabbath and its importance in preserving agricultural yields (8), and the way that Sabbath provides a rest for those critters that serve us (9). Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of the Sabbath and worship (IV), with chapters on witnessing (10), worship (11), and discipleship (12), followed by notes and an index.
Yet although there is a great deal in this book I highly enjoy, there is something that slightly bothers me as well, and that is the author’s framing of the Sabbath as being subversive. For starters, given the author’s apparent social justice leanings, it would make sense that the author would celebrate being hostile towards or able to undermine a pro-business culture of work addiction and exhaustion that he likely opposes not only on moral but also on political grounds. He also likely wants to market this book towards those people who will be more inclined to support a practice that they view as being hostile to capitalism and conservative thinking. My other source of unease with the author’s approach is that as a Sabbath keeper I find it unsettling that my religious practices would be viewed as subversive simply because I believe that God commands that people and animals and the land be allowed to rest on every Seventh day in imitation of God’s rest in Eden and as a reminder of the freedom that the Sabbath brings from the exploitation of slavery. It is one thing to deal with repercussions because one actually has hostility to the powers that be, but wholly enough to be viewed with suspicion merely to satisfy someone’s marketing campaign and desire to make the Sabbath appear hip to progressives who otherwise delight in rebelling against God’s commands.