Work and Rest, Toil and Leisure

leisureOnce you get past the prolegomena of The Tech-Wise Family (which I mentioned here), Andy Crouch walks readers through ten “commitments” classified in three groups: key decisions, daily life, and what matters most.  The first section, of key decisions, picks apart contemporary ideas of character, space, and time, primarily in relation to the family.  Having said that, one of the most beautifully rendered parts of the book is Crouch’s consideration of church-as-first-family.  (I imagine I’ll come back around to that section of the book at some other time in another framework.)

Crouch has a lot of good thing to say to people contemplating technology as it relates to character formation and use of space.  But it’s his approach to the question of time that I find most convicting in the current moment.  Crouch begins with imagery from Exodus concerning the Sabbath.  Crouch writes:

We are meant to work, but we are also meant to rest. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work— you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns” (Exod. 20: 9– 10). One day out of seven— and, even more radically, one year out of seven (Exod. 23: 10– 11)— the people of God, anyone who depended on them or lived among them, and even their livestock were to cease from work and enjoy rest, restoration, and worship. They were called, you might say, to ceasing and feasting: setting aside daily labor and bringing out the best fruits of that work, stored up in the course of the week and the year, for everyone to enjoy.

I have come to appreciate the idea of “ceasing and feasting,” particularly through time spent with my Anglican friends (who often think of it in terms of “fasting and feasting”). The question, of course, is how do you live well into such an idea?  Crouch asserts:

Instead of work and rest, we have ended up with toil and leisure– and neither one is an improvement.

I like the distinction between rest and leisure, particularly as it plays out in lived experience.  Having time off does not guarantee actual rest, and that’s true even in light of taking work home with you.  What can you do that constitutes real rest?  It’s a little like my view of recreation.  Surely it has something to do with being refreshed, being brought back to life, a spending of life for new life and not just a purposeless wasting away.  Crouch’s concern, of course, is the role that technology has played in such shifts.

If technology has failed to deliver us from toil, it has done a great deal to replace rest with leisure— at least for those who can afford it.

If toil is fruitless labor, you could think of leisure as fruitless escape from labor. It’s a kind of rest that doesn’t really restore our souls, doesn’t restore our relationships with others or God. And crucially, it is the kind of rest that doesn’t give others the chance to rest. Leisure is purchased from other people who have to work to provide us our experiences of entertainment and rejuvenation.

A game of pickup football in the backyard can be real rest (as long as the competitive spirit doesn’t get out of hand!). But watching football on TV is leisure, and not just because we’re not burning many calories. It is leisure because we are watching others work, or indeed toil, for our enjoyment. It doesn’t really matter whether the workers are well paid, like professional football players, or paid minimally and indirectly, like college athletes. From the point of view of the Sabbath commandment, it’s still work.

You can read more of Crouch’s take on “character, space, and time” here.  It’s one of most thoughtful-and-practical books that I’ve read in a good while.

(image from gamingandleisurenews.com)

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