February 10, 2011| 0

Technology and Sabbath Keeping

The introduction of email was meant to be a time saver. Instead of writing a letter, dropping it off at the post office, and awaiting a response, personal communication now operates at seemingly light speed.

Yet, email also provided unintended consequences. The relative ease of use of this technology has generated a higher quantity of messages. Where co-workers used to walk to an office of a colleague to ask a question, they now send an email. And our electronic communication must be calculated because the text does not convey the emotions and mannerisms included in the meaning of speech. In other words, there is no sarcasm font.

All things considered, email has become a source of stress as it eats up time and emotional energy that was once directed elsewhere.

Continued access to work means that managers and employees never find the ability to rest. The unintended consequences of technology influence family life as well. A recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Your Blackberry or Your Wife,” documents a growing trend: the bifurcation of family time and the need to take a technological Sabbath.

Susan Maushart, a columnist for The Australian, recently wrote The Winter of Our Disconnect, which highlights the results of a six-month ban on electronics. Although such a thought supplies ample amounts of horror to most people, Maushart concludes that her family rediscovered the small things in life: they spent more time together, read more books, and learned new hobbies.

Both pieces draw from this specific trend: As each family member dedicates time to his or her laptop, smartphone, video game console, or television, relationships among family members deteriorate. With lives spent increasingly hunched over a technological device, perhaps it is time to unplug and remember what it means to rest.

Current thoughts on Sabbath keeping range from an antiquated tradition to a legalistic rulebook for how to spend a Sunday. Protestants on the whole have often mistakenly assumed that Jesus’ blatant disregard for Pharisaical Sabbath laws confirms that a day of rest no longer applies to the Christian life. This notion, however, is misguided and personally dangerous.

On this topic, theologian Marva Dawn writes in Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, “All the great motifs of our Christian faith are underscored in our Sabbath keeping. Its Ceasing deepens our repentance for the many ways that we fail to trust God and try to create our own future. Its Resting strengthens our faith in the totality of his grace. Its Embracing invites us to take the truths of our faith and apply them practically in our values and lifestyles. Its Feasting heightens our sense of eschatological hope — the Joy of our present experience of God’s love and its foretaste of the Joy to come.”

With technology seizing our attention, what would it look like to unplug? During the Creation narrative, God set a precedent of rest. Evidence suggests that technology increases our stress.  Having been made in the image of God, humanity needs a Sabbath day. Just as a date night provides spouses with the opportunity to connect without the pressure of parenting, perhaps unplugging technology is a crucial component in creating a restful family atmosphere during the Sabbath.

While email promotes the idea of faster, easier, and more efficient methods of communication, perhaps a Sabbath supplies the possibility of acting in slower, less efficient, but liberating ways.

Donovan Richards earned an M.A. in Business and Applied Theology from SPU and works as a consulting analyst for See Seven. You can read more of his work on Donovan's blog.

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