Sabbath and Billable Hours

Many people who move to settle on St. Simons Island from the North are drawn by more than the beauty of this place.  They continually refer to the style and quality of life…the way we relate to one another…how we spend time getting to know one another and how we are willing to “move a little slower” in all things.  I don’t know if there is any science behind it, but I’m just anecdotally sharing what I hear on a regular basis.

But even in the good ‘ole South, I am continually struck by how many people are struggling in life with stress, relationships, time, and spirituality and how few people associate their ordeals with the lack of understanding and keeping Sabbath.  The church doesn’t do a good job teaching or modeling about Sabbath.  I just thought I’d share a few reflections from an article I read this morning.

Dorothy Bass, in her article Christian Formation In and For Sabbath Rest, writes, “most contemporary Americans are caught in an alternative set of practices for living in time that affects many dimensions of their lives…although we have been taught we should use time well, it now feels to many people like time is using them…”  She continues quoting from The Overworked American by Juliet Schor, “recent research has confirmed that on average Americans work more hours than those in any other developed country, in spite of large increases in productivity during recent decades…Americans have chosen to take the economic surplus that immense productivity provides not in time but in more and more consumer goods.”  Simply put, we could have more time if we chose to cash in our productivity towards it.  Instead, we cash it in for money and more stuff.

Bass also references the poet Noelle Oxenhandler in a stimulating image that should call us all to reflect on our need for Sabbath rest.  Our 24/7/365 way of life can be seen most clearly in two institutions that exist in every town, lit by the same “shrill, twenty-four hour light, the doors that never shut, the windowless air, and a counter or front desl manned by the same rotation of pale clerks with their free-floating body clocks.”  The two are the 7-Eleven and the emergency room.  Oxenhandler continues, “What does it mean that the 7-Eleven and the emergency room are atmospherically similar?  The emergency room is a necessity…but a Pop-Tart and a six pack of Coke in the middle of the night?  We have come to believe that convenience is a necessity…our own definition of a world in order is one in which all goods and services are always immediately available.”

Finally, another resource Bass calls upon is Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and humanities at Notre Dame.  Kaveny explores the logic of a system that shapes both work life and the self-understanding of lawyers: billable hours.  The world-view of billable hours teaches five lessons: “(1) human time is not intrinsically valuable but rather a worth only so far as it is productive; (2) human time is first and foremost a commodity with an identifiable monetary value; (3) every hour is financially equivalent and thus worth the same amount as every other hour, regardless of claims from family or tradition that mark some hours as especially precious ones; (4) lawyers live in an endless, colorless present; and (5) they are therefore unable to participate fully with loved ones who live by other patterns, and so become increasingly isolated from community.”  I would argue that this self-understanding is also true for all of us who evaluate work and productivity in “man or woman hours”…equating a monetary value for our time.

For all of us, how we organize and understand time creates for us a framework for our entire lives and all our relationships…including our relationship with God.

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