Sabbath: The Anti-commodification, Anti-consumerism

When I think about what a mess things are in, I quickly begin thinking about what practice we, the church, might take up in order to remedy the problems within. Always remembering that it’s ok to start small, there are a few practices we need to revive in the church today: Sabbath, meditation, Eucharist, and jubilee.

I want to talk about Sabbath:
The Sabbath is more than just a day of refraining from work, it’s a day of rest and rest is a powerful. Sabbath is about setting a pattern of reaffirming our identity. It’s about remembering that we are not the sum of what we can produce but we are indeed God’s handiwork. Our identity and our value does not lie in the measure of our effectiveness or in our ability to accumulate and posses the world but in the simple reality of our existence. We are not a commodity nor should our work be made as such. Therefore in the spiritual discipline of Sabbath rest we become comfortable in our own skin and we ease the restlessness of work and consumption. The pattern we have found ourselves in, a pattern which has proven to be quite destructive, is the pattern of commodification and consumption.

Our identity has been caught up in our success, our success has been caught up in production and productivity, our production has become a commodity. The better we do, the higher our value. People have become commodities at the pace of their work; whoever offers the best bargain gets the job (even if that bargain is offered in desperation). Workers are now “laborers” and the cost of their labor must always be reduced to generate more and more productivity. This has not happened in isolation from the church. We have been caught up in this cycle of commodification and perhaps our only path to freedom is the path of Sabbath. In Sabbath rest we say yes to work, not as a means to a paycheck, but as a reflection of God’s image in the material world. We stop, perhaps just long enough to see ourselves as human again. We stop and we detoxify ourselves from our addiction to productivity.

On the same coin, we have become addicted to consumption. We are overwhelmed by the need to posses and to accumulate. Everywhere we turn we see an advertisement (which make commodities of space and sound) and a beckon call to the pattern of buy and sell. It has made us greedy, yes, but worse off it has made us apathetic. It’s not just that we hoard our possessions but it’s also that we discard them. Our love is not with owning but with consuming, with shopping, with the act of purchasing in and of itself. We buy, our possessions live a short life, and then we need the next thing. Our thrill is not with having but with wanting. We climb the never ending ladder of “the latest trend” and the “newest technology.” In Sabbath, we stop and say, “I am fine with what I have, this is all a gift.” We throw the wrench of content into the system of desire. Sabbath is about constructing a pattern of appreciation—refraining from buying and selling, perhaps just long enough to be satisfied with life and breath. We slow down and we feast upon the bread from heaven and the fruit of Eden. We celebrate what we have and embrace the economy of appreciation.

Sabbath is the pattern of true life. Sabbath is a pattern that might offer to us a bigger imagination than that of the world’s systems. Sabbath might offer to us salvation from ourselves and salvation into the new humanity. Sabbath can change everything… let’s start small, if we must, and see what happens.


Brian Vinson said…
This also just helped me to connect Sabbath and Jubilee in this way: if posessions (land) return to their owners after 7 years, it would teach us to hold to them in an open hand and to give more freely in a much less materialistic-driven way of life. Instead of being driven by collecting (and discarding, as you rightly demonstrated), it would help us to give and return.