Not Buying It: Putting an End to the Tyranny of Madison Avenue by Observing the Sabbath

It started with a half-serious, flippant comment in the kitchen. The phone rang loudly, startling me, and I dropped a bowl full of carefully cut vegetables. Frustrated, I blurted out to my husband, “I’ve had enough of ringing and dinging and tweeting. I want to turn off our devices.”

“All of them?”

“All of them.”

“Even the remote?” It was radical, but the idea was building up momentum. I could feel a supernatural quiet in my heart.

“Yes.”

“For how long?”

“Just 24 hours.”

“Why?”  His question had the quiver of a man facing a death squad.

“I dunno, to be free of materialism? To live a few quiet hours uninterrupted? To be untraceable?”

As I look back over the last several decades, the transformation into wholesale technologic addiction was a subtle and insidious process: First they gave us recording devices for telephones and television programming was “subsidized” by Madison Avenue. Then 24-hour programming and transatlantic cables and schools that were plugged into a world wide web of carefully constructed cultural doctrine. Then there were phones you could take with you in the car, then those same phones suddenly became appendages you had to take everywhere, until finally, everyone was hooked into monitoring devices that would let anyone find you wherever you went and take your blood pressure at the same time. Always, there was one constant: Advertising—the slow drip-drip-drip of the newest must-have, the latest gotta-be, the trendiest take on cool.

We have all been shackled and enslaved and we didn’t even see it happening. We thought we were being “freed” from religious doctrine, when in actuality we were being hooked up to an IV of sensory opiates.

What do we do about it? Here’s a radical idea. How about observing the Sabbath?

I learned a piece of biblical wisdom this morning: To repent/change course/return is the same Hebraic verb root as to rest/to sit/to recline.

How can that be? It runs counter to everything we learn from kindergarten in this culture, which is driven by information, “likes”, consumption and comfort, and credit scores to facilitate the exchange of currency which has no real value.

Who knew that a day off could become the greatest statement of faith as well as resistance?

When I was little I lived in a community that worshipped together. When the Sabbath arrived, the busy patter of the week fell away and things settled into a softer rhythm, a quiet that was preternatural. Stores were closed. Phones stopped ringing. Cars were tucked into garages like cared-for kids at nap time.  People walked wherever they went. They stopped to talk to one another without rushing. There was nothing they had to rush to do and nothing to google or tweet that couldn’t wait.

In its best, purest and intentional form, the Sabbath is not a “no,” but a “yes.” When I think of a Sabbath, I think of the Prophet Daniel, who flung wide the shutters on his windows and performed his thrice-daily prayer ritual so that he would be seen even though to do so was a capital offense. He didn’t throw bricks at the palace , call Nebuchadnezzar a racist thug, or  burn down the stores in his neighborhood and topple his statues. He stood still and he prayed. And he rested, listening for that still, small Voice, whispering back, “Hineni,” here I am.

The world you and I generally live in has very little place for the likes of Daniel. If he existed today, I think he would be tucked in a tenement somewhere in Brooklyn, or on a porch in eastern Tennessee, quiet-like, steadfast, slow-moving but quick-minded, able to read the times without being shaped by them, restful in a world that has no place for rest, no place for contemplation, no hope in the magic of an empty calendar.

Having a Sabbath is not a petty legalism. It is a day set aside, a meaningful mindfulness, and a way to learn every week anew exactly what we do and don’t need.

It means:

  1. Trusting in God, not the government. It reminds us that we belong to the Creator, not the political party trending, that we stand for and against certain things. It is always, first and foremost, a spiritual memorandum.       
  2. Standing against the material theocracy of Madison Ave. All of you are familiar with the aphorism often heard in criminal prosecution: Follow the money. The opposite idea is equally true. If you want to poke the bear, follow the absence of money. If we STOP spending, they’ll start listening.
  3. Believing that I don’t need to go shopping every day. I don’t need the latest gadget or supplement…I can do without a $5 cup of coffee. Not only are we not buying the product, we’re not buying the lie. We don’t need it. 
  4. Coming to see that I don’t need to track the world or the products they say I need 24/7. What they try to convince us is important is really usually irrelevant to living a life of joy, good health, and loving relationships. The Greek word for evil in the NT is poneros. It’s defined as “Full of toil and labors, annoyances.” That just about sums it up.
  5. Existing without external (usually anonymous and online) approval. I don’t need the latest trend/tweet/facebook post to know I exist. I can love without broadcasting it or seeking thousands of thumbs up.
  6. Cultivating contentment, mindfulness and satisfaction with our portion for the day. There is no “more,” just now.

As I contended in my last article, we are living in a pivotal moment in history in which we are engaged in a battle of Titans. There is nothing more radical, more threatening to a global corporate dictatorship than a population of people who can do without everything they’re selling.  A Sabbath may in fact be the greatest protest of all.