I Scream for Ice Cream

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

My soon-to-be-80-year-old father-in-law–and, wow, wasn’t that a lot of hyphens?!–enjoys him some ice cream. He’ll eat it, a quart at a time, twice a day. His wife does the same, although at a slower pace. These people have actually considered keeping a separate freezer just for ice cream.

Never mind that this man is diabetic or that this woman is frustrated with her weight and the health problems that attend it. They just keep eating the ice cream. And why not? Isn’t that what Solomon was talking about in today’s passage?

Here is what I have seen to be good: It is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. Furthermore, everyone to whom God has given riches and wealth, he has also allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

Eat, Drink, and Enjoy!

These family members of mine follow the directions that Ecclesiastes seems to lay out so clearly. They eat ice cream. That’s not all they eat, but they definitely put the ice cream away. They drink. They’re not consumers of alcohol, so they pour large amounts of coffee into themselves. They enjoy–or “experience good”–by watching endless reruns of Gunsmoke and The Andy Griffith Show for him or bizarre reality shows, including something titled Dr. Pimple Popper, for her. That’s living large!

Clearly, my in-laws are in the midst of a season of “living biblically,” right? And this entire ending to chapter five provides a much-needed corrective to the parable of the rich fool. The farmer in that parable was called a fool by Jesus for kicking back to “Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself” (Luke 12:19). Where’s the difference? Have we discovered yet another of the contradictions that prove the ultimate untrustworthy nature of the Bible? Let’s not jump to that conclusion too quickly.

Both my in-laws and my initial reading of the Ecclesiastes passage missed a critical prepositional phrase. Solomon’s audience is encouraged to eat, drink, and enjoy in the labor one does under the sun. We’re not called to simply retire to our recliners and do nothing but entertain ourselves with ice cream and pimple popping. We’re called to labor.

Some would argue that, having put in a good many years of such labor under the sun, they have earned their rest. Rest is certainly a biblical idea. We’re supposed to get a day of rest at the end of every six days of labor. But we are enjoined to rest from our labors permanently only when we also rest from the ice cream–that is, when we’re dead.

Getting in Tune

I say all of this not to criticize my in-laws. They are responsible for their own doings. I’m saying this to criticize myself. You see, I have my own version of ice cream. Right now it’s a Five Guy’s cheeseburger, but in a while it’ll be something else. I have my own coffee, Diet Dr. Pepper, and my own Dr. Pimple Popper, which lately has been Stranger Things. Is there really any difference?

Some people have an inability to stop working. Their motor runs incessantly and they need to be reminded to take a break now and again. But most of us are oriented the other way. We tend to find rest our natural state. We need to be reminded to get ourselves off the couch or away from the computer and back to productive efforts.

Our food, drink, and entertainment should be sweet, but they’re only really sweet when they come after a good season of work. Otherwise, those things are simply a desperate attempt to escape the reality that death is lurking somewhere down the road.

Mowing the Wide World

Powell Gardens, outside Kansas City, covers some 970 acres. Tanner, a teenage worker there, set out to mow the whole thing–with a push mower. Perhaps that’s not completely accurate, but yesterday, when Penny and I visited this lovely place for our 37th anniversary, we saw this young man (who might have been named Tanner) mowing a wide border of grass around a large swath of vegetable rows. Given the rain that Kansas City has enjoyed in recent weeks, the grass was thick and tall. Tanner would have plenty of mowing to keep him busy all day.

I stood and watched Tanner for a couple of minutes. He shoved his mower into the tall grass. You could hear the engine start to struggle. After a couple of steps, the grass would bunch up and stop the blade, killing the engine. Tanner’s shoulders rose and fell as he drew a heavy breath. Then, without even pulling the mower back to get away from the problem, he began jerking on the starter rope.

When, after several difficult pulls, he succeeded in restarting the mower, he’d repeat this process. As I stood there, I saw him clog and start at least four times, having covered perhaps 15 feet of grass.

I wanted to offer Tanner some advice, suggesting that he only cut a narrow swath with each pass, that he set the wheels to maximum height and then move them to mow it again lower, or at least that he only mow in the direction that threw the cut grass away from the uncut.

Of course all of these strategies would have involved much more walking. Instead, Tanner opted to rely on his own strength and endless pulls on the starter rope. He might still be there this morning, mowing the grass six feet at a go.

Sometimes the best way to do things is a way that makes no sense to us in our flesh. All those things Jesus teaches about turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor, and going the second mile seem to fly in the face of logic. Then try out this instruction from Exodus 23:11-12:

Sow your land for six years and gather its produce. But during the seventh year you are to let it rest and leave it uncultivated, so that the poor among your people may eat from it and the wild animals may consume what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

So God is telling an agricultural people to willingly give up more than 14% of the productivity of their land. You might as well ask Apple to only sell iPhones six years out of seven. When you have a productive asset, you want to use it! But God’s way, perhaps especially when it runs against human sense, is the best way.

I wouldn’t suggest that my mowing advice for Tanner was God’s way, but don’t we all behave like Tanner now and again. We might hear the counsel of God, but we know that our own way is more efficient, more effective. Instead of following God’s plan, we shove our mower into the tall grass and rely on our own strength. Yes, we sometimes get the job done that way, but what other opportunities do we miss when we mow like Tanner?

 

 

A Briggs and Stratton Sabbath

A couple of weeks ago, I went outside during the evening to mow my grass. I really didn’t want to mow the grass–who ever does?–but I knew that it needed to be done. The temperature on that evening was mild for summer in Kansas City and the next several days promised the sort of blast-furnace peaks that June and July have delivered this year. Clearly, I needed to lace up my grimy shoes and drag the mower out.

But here’s the deal. That coolish evening was a Sunday. Sure, I’d done all of my Sunday obligations–gone to church, served in the children’s ministry, spent time with my family, all that–but I still couldn’t help remaining completely aware of doing non-essential work on the Lord’s Day. After all:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. –Exodus 20:8-11

That’s the fourth commandment, the longest of the ten. Jesus never got accused of murder or idolatry, but he was hit with accusations of violating the Sabbath right and left. It’s true that this commandment was the only one of the ten not reaffirmed in the New Testament, but I couldn’t shake the thought that I was pushing my mower back and forth on Sunday when I could have done it easily enough–although with more sweat–on Monday or Tuesday.

Back in Exodus 16, we encounter God’s message regarding the Sabbath via the provision of manna. You get a single ration every day except Friday when you can take a double ration to last you through Saturday. The message was clear: Trust God.

Shouldn’t I have trusted God better with my lawn mowing? Couldn’t I have trusted him to see me through mowing in the beastly heat on Monday?

This isn’t really just a question about the lawn or even about the Lord’s Day. Instead, it’s a question about trusting God to give me enough of everything in the time (or money or skill or whatever) allowed. I don’t think it was strictly an ecological thing that led God to declare the sabbatical year every seven years in Leviticus 25:4:

But there will be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land in the seventh year, a Sabbath to the Lord: you are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard.

Instead, he wanted the Israelites to do something harder than working, which was not working. He wanted them to realize that even though they hadn’t done the agricultural work that had served them (hopefully) so well in the preceding six years, the land would still produce sufficient crops to support them.

I’d like to spend some time developing this idea of trusting God in the time and resources allotted. I think it will lead into some surprising and sometimes uncomfortable ideas.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Time-Running-OutSteve Kamb over at Nerd Fitness may be the most inspiring guy alive. He’s already got me rethinking my weightlifting strategy, but now he’s arrived in my sweet spot, with a post titled, “Why you should do less, or maybe even nothing at all.”

Hopefully you understand that I do not believe in exercising for the sake of spending time around sweaty people. I also do not believe reading for the sake of eye strain or using electronics for the joy of being able to keep all those batteries charged.

Like Steve, I believe that all of these things are a means to an end. For Steve, from the best I can gather, that end is having time to play video games and watch movies, while for me it is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Despite what might seem like a rather trivial orientation, Steve seems to get the Bible’s ideas about Sabbath rest.

  • We burn ourselves out when we don’t take the time to actually recharge our batteries, so take time off.

  • Be unavailable when you’re not working.

  • When you’re on vacation or spending time not working, embrace itStay away from your computer, don’t check email, and spend time with friends and family.

If that seems like good sense, check out the rest of the article for his ideas about workouts, life, work, and so forth. I’d read it more carefully, but I need to write another post and I have to check out a problem with my online Composition class and I need to email my students and . . . oh my.

Catch Up on Catching Zs

sleep-deprived1My father used to criticize me for sleeping late on Saturdays. “You can’t ‘catch up’ on sleep,” he would state emphatically. In truth, at least to some degree, you can catch up on sleep. I’m not sure that I was actually sufficiently behind on sleep as a teen to need to stay in bed until noon on Saturdays, but you can catch up on sleep.

That great thinker of our time, Kobe Bryant, is quoted as saying “Sleep is one of the best performance enhancers there is.” Roberto Clemente, someone I admire a great deal more than Kobe, claimed, “If I could sleep, I could hit .400.” These athletes recognize that getting proper sleep affects their sporting performance.

According to the Better Sleep Council–yes, it actually exists–people who get plenty of sleep are more likely to engage in high energy workouts. Actually, I’m not sure if they haven’t reversed the cause/effect relationship there. People who exercise vigorously usually don’t have a tough time getting their sleep in.

On the other hand, studies of sleep deprivation have shown that runners who do a time trial after 30 hours awake covered 20% less distance than those who had a good night’s sleep. So exercise can lead to better sleep, and sleep can lead to better exercise. That’s a great deal.

Sleep is a good thing. Where was Jesus when his disciples were freaking out about the storm on the Sea of Galilee? He was asleep. When He said, “Peace, be still,” was He speaking to the storm or to the disciples who woke Him up? That’s not entirely clear.

Back to the Better Sleep Council, we learn

While weary, overextended Americans are turning to “quick fixes” like caffeine and performance-enhancing supplements, which claim to improve everything from their daily workout to their sex lives, they are losing sight of what experts say is essential to improved performance: a good night’s sleep.

Back when I was in college, my roommate, a new believer, determined that God was calling him to sleep only 5 hours a night. After a few such short nights, his body started to rebel, mostly by forcing him to sleep when he was trying to read. Happily, he realized that God had not actually called him to that foolish standard.

Our bodies were designed to need sleep. In fact, sleep can be seen as an extension of the Sabbath rest. When we close our eyes and allow ourselves to sleep, we put our trust in God. Amazingly, things will get done better and our bodies will function more efficiently when we permit them the rest that our society seems to suggest is a waste of time.

Dear Fitbit: Am I Sleeping?

Fitness GadgetsThe Fitbit is the Thermos of wearable fitness devices. Other companies have their versions with different feature sets and styling. As the market saturates, what will the manufacturers do to retain their market share and profits? They’ll undoubtedly add features until the devices will be doing instantaneous blood glucose screening and innoculation against tropical diseases.

Sanjay Gupta has an opinion on all that, feeling that all data is not created equal. In this article naming three data points to use and two to ignore, I found it interesting that he seemed to agree with the Bible on the most important piece of information your Fitbit can provide: rest, or rather sleep.

If you’re going to monitor only one thing, this is it: Without adequate rest, your whole body suffers. The best way to measure the quality and quantity of your sleep is with brain wave technology, but that’s not yet practical outside a laboratory. Some of today’s trackers offer only approximate results based on how restless you are during the night, so you’re not going to get perfect data.

Gupta is correct, of course, but his wisdom is nothing new. In Exodus 20:8-10 we are instructed to rest.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates…”

Granted, the Fitbit cannot tell you if you are keeping your Sabbath rest. Sleep and rest are not synonymous, but without rest, the human body will not function properly. It’s just another one of those ways that humans have been hardwired to demonstrate that there is a God and we’re not it.