Smash Your Busyness
April 2, 2023
Smash Your Busyness
Over the years of his ministry, Jesus put in a lot of steps. Many gospel stories begin with the words “Jesus was walking along, when…” insert scenario here. Jesus walked all over Galilee and Judea, he even walks on water at one point. Jesus doesn’t really seem to be much a horse guy, or a guy with any kind of steed, but in this story, Jesus doesn’t just walk into Jerusalem. He has bigger plans. The time of year is Passover. The Jewish celebration of Israel’s liberation from Egypt, where they retell the story of how God delivered them from enslavement a long time ago. Thousands of Jewish people would have been flooding into Jerusalem from all over Israel to celebrate this important holiday.
To say that the Roman leaders were on edge that week, is probably an understatement. They were responsible for stopping any sign of a rebellion in its tracks, and the Jewish people would have been walking a fine line to celebrate this holiday that’s all about liberation while living under a military regime. Jesus was probably well aware that upon his arrival to Jerusalem, he would be closely watched. And, it might seem like Jesus is on some kind of an ego-trip here, like a Hollywood star surrounding himself with adoring fans, but that’s not really what’s going on.
You see, the Roman generals, politicians, and other wealthy people had a habit of making a big show out of their own entry into Jerusalem. They would have ridden into town on the most magnificent horses they had, surrounded by their military strength, marching through Jerusalem to show off their power and wealth. So, it would have been infuriating for them to watch Jesus ride into town like this, on a donkey, the humble counterpart to their own mighty stallions, while also receiving more praise, joy, and welcome from Jerusalem than the Romans could ever muster. It would have felt like Jesus was making a mockery of them.
I imagine that the authorities were seething, as the people of Jerusalem responded to Jesus, surrounding him like an army themselves, shouting “Hosanna,” which means “save us” or “save now” in Hebrew, and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
These words they called out to Jesus were not new words, they were old words, very old words. Words that their ancestors had written during their own desperate times, passed on as psalms and prayers. These words were the ancient cry of their hearts for salvation, calling out to a source bigger than themselves. On that Passover week, their people’s past had become their present again. Their ancestors’ words had become their own, and when Jesus shows up, it reminds them that their God is not the kind of God who stands with the rulers but the kind that liberates oppressed peoples, without the use of horses, armies, or weapons. Jesus draws the people into the streets and in doing so reveals what the empire would rather keep hidden. That God is among the people, and therein lies their salvation and liberation. God has not abandoned them, God is in their midst.
This was an act of resistance. To greet Jesus in this way, with the authorities already on high alert, took a lot of guts from the people of Jerusalem. It was a blatant challenge to Roman authority, a parade of solidarity and the defiant hope of common folks, a spark in a town that was already a tinder box. This helps us to make much more sense out of the fact that in the span of a week, Jesus would go from being openly praised in the streets to being hung on a cross, a distinctly Roman punishment often employed against troublemakers who needed to be not only killed but publicly humiliated as a warning to others. In 70CE, the Romans would destroy those same streets and the temple in Jerusalem, doing their utmost to squash any hope that remained there. The writer of our gospel text was likely walking a fine line to even tell us about Jesus, without becoming a threat to the empire they still lived under.
Still, Palm Sunday was an act of resistance, an outcry of hope, and we may not live under the Roman Empire anymore, but there are still many forms of oppression and injustice in our world today which we can and should resist. As we approach Holy Week, and begin grieving the unjust execution of Jesus, I cannot stop thinking about the children being unjustly executed in our schools all over the U.S. There have been more mass shootings than there have been days in 2023 so far. God, save us.
I am grieving for the fact that the most vulnerable people among us continue to bear the consequences of our dysfunctional government, our repeated failure to act, and the misplaced rage, fueled by misinformation, that is coursing through our society. God, save us.
I am thinking about the dozens of trans people who are murdered every year in hate crimes, and whose right to wellbeing and simple existence and equality is under attack, legally, physically, and spiritually every day. Just this week the open and affirming Community Church of Chesterland, a fellow UCC congregation, was attacked with Molotov cocktails for supporting a drag event. God, save us.
Just as Jesus’ death shook the Earth, so every unjust death reverberates through creation, causing shivers of unrest as we register their wrongness, but feel helpless to do anything about it. It is hard for us to process the sheer volume of tragedy around us and it has been for a while. God, save us. We are tangled in many webs of oppression, constrained by evil and violent systems that place more value on some people than they do on others. And I would hazard to guess, in the face of all of this, a lot of us are feeling exhausted, depleted, and worn out.
So today I want to talk about rest. A few years ago I came across a Facebook page called The Nap Ministry. The Nap Ministry was founded in 2016 by Tricia Hersey and is an organization that lifts up the liberating power of naps.
They engage in performance art and community organizing, traveling around and creating installations where people literally rest together. They believe that rest is a form of resistance and they lift up sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue. Founder Tricia Hersey who is affectionately called The Nap Bishop wrote a great book on her theory called “Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto” which ties together her expertise in Black liberation theology, womanism, body work, and cultural trauma to explain how resting is a form of resistance in our society today.
There are four tenants to her theory. One: Rest is a form of resistance because it pushes back and disrupts white supremacy and capitalism. Two: Our bodies are a site of liberation. Three: Naps provide a portal to imagine, invent and heal. And Four: Our dream space has been stolen, and we want it back. We will reclaim it via rest.
Tricia’s theory is about much more than naps, it is a paradigm shift for a whole society that treats people like disposable objects, especially poor people and people of color, and how we resist those values when we make space for rest. You see, most Americans go about sleep deprived and exhausted almost every day. Economic pressure and our fear of not being enough causes many of us to push our bodies to the point of destruction, ignoring our pain and health to stay on the clock, or to accomplish more, saying things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” This is nothing new, she reminds us. This country was built by the labor of slaves and marginalized folks who have been forced to work around the clock without rest for centuries. People who are exhausted are easier to control, anyways.
Tricia explains that we have become like martyrs for our work, grinding away at our bodies and souls. This expectation lives so deeply within us, that Americans often feel guilty for even taking time off at all, and when we take time off we spend it grappling with our shame over not being productive. Sleep deprivation has become a public health issue and a spiritual health issue. We are not getting enough rest, and that prolonged exhaustion leaves us with no time to heal or grow, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Human beings need rest, which she defines as “anything that slows you down enough to allow your body and mind to connect in the deepest ways.” It might be sleep we need, but it might also just be some time to breathe, to be, to dream. Room for pleasure, joy, laughter, and dancing, is something essential for us. Rest is a human need, not a luxury. We do not have to work hard enough or long enough to “earn it.” Contrary to what we’ve been taught, resting is not frivolous. Resting is not laziness. Rest is an essential ingredient to our humanity, and boy do we need some extra humanity right now.
The Nap Ministry teaches that rest is an act of resistance. To rest is to choose to disrupt the system, by not participating in the destruction of our bodies and minds. To rest is to choose to do not what is most productive, but what is most necessary to keep us tender and human in this world that is full of hard things. We will never run out of work to do, at our jobs, at home, or in our world. There are so many good things to work for. In the face of so much need, I often feel the internal accusations of not doing enough, not being loud enough, not being angry enough, and not responding to every single thing that happens. But life is meant to be experienced deeply, and we can’t do that when we are chronically dead-tired. Exhaustion inhibits our well-being, our decision making, our relationships, and can lead us to break down under the pressures of life.
People are breaking down under the pressures of our culture and our economy, and our leaders are not solving the problem. But the good news is, our God is not the kind of God who stands with the powerful, but the kind that is here, and who liberates oppressed peoples, without the use of horses, armies, or weapons. As Jesus demonstrated on Palm Sunday, God is among the disruptive punks who upset the ones in charge and celebrate the liberation that is for all of us. The Easter story begins when the community pours itself into the streets to surround Jesus, God incarnate, who is still with us in our marginalized neighbors today.
Tricia Hersey’s book says, “You were not just born to center your entire existence on work and labor. You were born to heal, to grow, to be of service to yourself and community, to practice, to experiment, to create, to have space, to dream, and to connect.” This is true for all of us, we were born for more than exhaustion. When the community gets rested, the community has the energy to heal, dream, connect, and work together to solve our problems. Rest is tapping into those powerfully creative, joy-filled, dream-fueled parts of our humanity which we so desperately need right now.
So, I know the world weighs heavy on your hearts and minds, it weighs on me too. I know you care deeply and are working for good however you can. I know you wish you could change others, change our circumstances, change so many things. But don’t forget to rest, beloveds, and once rested, advocate for your neighbors who are not given adequate time to rest.
When Jesus sends the disciples to bring him a donkey he tells them “if anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” Right now, I think that the Lord needs is for us to get well, to connect to our humanity and our ability to dream, so that we can help our world to be well.
So smash your busyness, that grinding mentality engrained in you by our culture, even if it causes a disruption, an inconvenience for the powers that be, or a loss in profits and productivity. Take care of your spiritual and physical needs as if they were the most important things for you, not just a reward for when you’ve met every other possible requirement. If anyone says anything to you, know that your rest is a holy act of resistance, a palm leaf waving before the Lord, a celebration of the liberation that comes from rest in our over-tired society, and a challenge to the toxic systems that do not have our best interests at heart. Rest, because God is our liberator, not our oppressor. God’s steadfast love endures with us forever, and blessed are you when you rest, and resist, in the name of the Lord. Amen.
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