Subversive Sabbath

A. J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World (Brazos Press, 2018) is a double gin and tonic in the land of lemonade. Commanding. Bracing. Disruptive.

Like nothing else in all of creation, the Sabbath – a day of rest – reveals God’s love for His creation, including the people. God orders a day of rest because He rested and, as Swoboda says, “built it into the DNA of creation, and it is therefore something creation needs in order to flourish. Humans were made to rest…Sabbath is a scheduled weekly reminder that we are not what we do; rather, we are who we are loved by.”

This book is a well-written, balanced, and persuasive view of the Sabbath, as it applies to all of life. We vividly see the ramifications of keeping (and violating) the Sabbath – on community, health, worship, marriage, sex, children, the environment, technology, animals, and the economy. The book fully illustrates why a “Sabbathcentric” economy is more humane and ethical for everyone.

Christian Amnesia

But, despite the Sabbath’s beautiful patterns and the fact that “Remember the Sabbath” is one of the Ten Commandments, Swoboda reflects that the Sabbath “has largely been forgotten by the church, which has uncritically mimicked the rhythms of the industrial and success-obsessed West…Sabbath forgetfulness is driven, so often, in the name of doing stuff for God rather than being with God.”

Swoboda’s chainsaw continues, “the worst thing that has happened to the Sabbath is religion. Religion is hostile to gifts. Religion hates free stuff. Religion squanders the good gifts of God by trying to earn them, which is why we will never really enjoy a sacred day of rest as long as we think our religion is all about earning.”

Is that why so many Christians, even pastors, so openly admit they habitually violate one of God’s ten commandments?

The author, who is also a pastor, shakes his head at “the nine commandments that, if I choose to break, I might lose my ministry over. But if I did not keep a Sabbath day, I would probably get a raise.” He quotes Barbara Brown Taylor, “We have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we’re running on empty and when the ones we love most are the ones we see least.”

The Power of No

Swoboda writes, “…every yes takes a little space out of our lives. Soon, after a thousand yeses, we find ourselves exhausted and marginless.” That’s why saying “no” is essential if we are to enjoy healthy margins in our lives. However, “Sabbath is not a culturally acceptable reason to say no.”

When Subversive Sabbath turns to Eugene Peterson for wisdom on how to say no, we learn that he “schedules times for prayer and meditation, dates with his wife, and even time to read books. And he schedules the Sabbath as well.” When someone asks him to do something on those dates and times, he just explains that the calendar will not permit it. Swoboda helpfully ads, “Not everything is everyone’s business.”


The very thing that makes the Sabbath so essential in the totality of life is also what that makes us violate it: It is a reminder that we humans are not as crucial as we often believe. We really think we can help God run the world better. For example, we ignore the Sabbath principle of crop rotation. Instead, we gorge the land with chemicals and work it hard and continuously to get more out of it.

Climate change agnostics (like me) get a new view through Subversive Sabbath. For example, he quotes 2 Chronicles 36:21 about the period of Israel’s exile in Babylon: “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” [i]

          Swoboda explains: “When the Israelites were exiled, the land finally got what it needed: Sabbath rest. The land ‘enjoyed’ its newfound lease on life because it kept the Sabbath.” To not give the land a break is to abuse it. That and other biblical passages provide a convincing case against what happens when humans get better ideas on how to manage the earth.

That is why we humans should often just STOP! Don’t analyze, suggest, or do anything. Quit digging. Or, as Swoboda says, “Sometimes the best thing we can do for the healing of creation is nothing at all…Our culture says that healing can only come by doing. Scripture tells a different story. The world is healed by our stopping.”

And, that is a very subversive position.

[i] Scripture from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.


9 thoughts on “Subversive Sabbath”

  1. This is such a clear window into what “the land” will look like when we can finally get delivered from the captivity of our overwrought sense of responsibility. It is a great deliverance to realize we do not please our Father by how hard we “LABOR” for Him.

    When I was in the traditional pastorate, I read an article by Eugene Peterson, called “Never On A Sunday.” That transformed what day MY Sabbath should, and should NOT be. Sunday is NOT the Sabbath for the pastor. I chose Saturdays for mine, during those years, and what I did on MY Sabbath was “Not everyone’s business.”

    Thank you for this review, Ed.

  2. Thank you Ed for this. I so enjoy reading your writings. This sounds like a wonderful book to read. Learning to rest without guilt in today’s world. It’s a challenge.
    We love & appreciate you and Joanne. Dot

  3. Thanks Ed for sharing. Quite profound and so needed, not only in ministry, but in the everyday life of us all. Blessings,

  4. Dear Ed-

    I have been blessed, more and more, by thinking of the Sabbath and what it means. Thank God for creating it for us, and for then showing us the clear benefits of following His teachings on it. Thank-you for sharing! ☝️
    Alvin Parris

  5. Ed-
    Thank you my dear long-life friend and brother in Jesus of the Kansas sod for an insightful perspective of the Sabbath!
    Having retired this past 12.31.17 following 20 years as the Senior Pastor of Eagles’ Crest Fellowship in OKC, you tapped some nerves that resonated in me. One being “The power of saying No!” Another was regarding Climate Change to which I’ve been an agnostic.

    Blessings my brother. One item I’ll never use a Sabbath on is loving you my friend!

  6. Good article. I remember Grandpa always rested his land and honored the Sabbath. Dad did as well. We grew up in that tradition and it has carried us well!

  7. Ed, Linda and I have been reading Subversive Sabbath by A.J. Swoboda one chapter every week (e just finished Chapter 8), which is helping us to redirect our focus on keeping the Sabbath holy. Honestly, I haven’t given this commandment much thought in my lifetime, but we are making some simple adjustments in really making this a day of rest…something totally different from the other 6 days of the week. I want to get to the place where where my week rotates around the power of the Sabbath rhythms rather than some sort of left-over lip service given to that holy rest. We are starting with our “Sabbath meal” on Saturday evening (at the table, not in front of the TV), shutting off digital media until after Sunday evening meal, focusing on faith and family and friends, and some other modest adjustments. Supplemental to this, I have been watching some Youtube videos from Rabbi Daniel Lapin discussing how he, as an orthodox Jew, shuts down all the normal activities for 25 hours of their Sabbath. This has been helpful to me in making our sabbath distinct and holy. Thanks for your insights on this book which I have also been recommending to our worn-out generation for several weeks now.

  8. “When the Israelites were exiled, the land finally got what it needed: Sabbath rest. The land ‘enjoyed’ its newfound lease on life because it kept the Sabbath.”

    Hopefully we won’t need to experience exile to reside in rest. I think this author has also read Walter Brueggmann who speaks much about Sabbath rest. Thank you for your excellent review.

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