June 2019 – Holiday Theology

It’s holiday time!!!


You can’t beat going on holiday.

It is one of the quirks of newsletter deadlines that I am writing this before going on holiday, whilst you will read it after I return. Don’t you just love holidays? I do!

This holiday for us is another Camping holiday. That requires some advance planning and preparation. On Easter Monday we erected our Folding Camper in the Manse driveway and gave it a check over. The spare wheel was recently reconditioned and given a new tyre, the water system has been sterilised and flushed out, the electrics have been tested, whilst the brakes, among other things, were subsequently given their annual check at a local garage. Ticking off the ‘to do’ list contributes to the growing excitement and anticipation of a holiday. Even the canvas-smell of the interior of the Camper evokes holiday memories!  I enjoy the build-up to a holiday, and, when that holiday is a camping holiday, then the build-up is certainly involved. I love it. I expect we will soon be putting the Camper up again to pack it. It is a bit like a caravan in that regard. Aside from the pedestrian items like tools and clothing, I get to choose some books to take. Already I have this image of me sitting in a recliner, in the warm sunshine, with a book in hand and sunhat on head. Don’t you just love holidays?

Mind you, all this raises a question: what is the correct, Christian attitude to holidays? Given the size of the leisure and holiday industry, and the large part that holidays play in many of our lives, it is an important question. Does our Christian faith have a distinctive attitude to leisure in general, and holidays in particular?

The issue is well illustrated by a story told by Professor Don Carson in his book ‘When Jesus confronts the world’ which I have been reading in preparation for our Sunday morning series in Matthew. He recalls a time when, as a very young minister, he was trying to begin a church in the west-end of Ottawa. It was slow work and discouraging work, and he admits there were times when he simply wanted to get away. The minister who was supervising him was a man called Ken Hall, who suggested one evening that they go for swim in a lake some 40 miles from Ottawa. Don Carson jumped at this opportunity. The thought of getting away from the pressures and disappointments and demands of his work was one to fire his enthusiasm for the trip. He also knew the lake well, and it was one of his favourite places. The water was clean, there were seldom any people there and a raft was tethered in the lake, making a convenient location for a lazy swim. The very thought of it made him happy. Here was an opportunity for some quality time off, what some would call ‘me’ time.

They duly set off for the lake. However, when they arrived Don Carson was horrified to find the place bustling with hundreds of teenagers, celebrating high school graduation. ‘High decibel sound equipment belted out the latest rock music so forcefully that residents in Ottawa probably had to shut their windows in self-protection. Not a few of the young people were already drunk, and the combination of celebration, booze, and bathing suits guaranteed that the public necking would be only a shade less than obscene.

Deeply disappointed that my evening’s relaxation was being shattered by a raucous party, I was getting ready to cover my disappointment with moral outrage. I turned to Ken to unload the venom, but stopped when I saw him staring at the scene with a faraway look in his eyes. And then he said, rather softly, ‘High school kids – what a mission field.’ Carson then reflected that although they had both viewed exactly the same scene, the difference was that Ken Hall showed compassion, a compassion such as Jesus displayed when he saw the crowds, a compassion Don Carson admits to lacking in this instance. I have a great deal of sympathy for Don Carson. In his situation, I expect I may have felt the same. I also suspect that is because I can have a very self-centred view of things, not least with regard to leisure and holidays. We call it ‘me’ time, but the danger is that ‘me’ time is placed off-limits to the Lord. For a believer, that is a danger. If we only realised it, such an attitude also spoils the holiday, by reducing our true capacity to enjoy it as a gift from the Lord.

This all raises questions about our attitude to time off and leisure and holidays. For many people, holidays are what they work for. If they were to be asked about the purpose of their work, then the honest answer would be “holidays”. Holiday, or time off, is that which they feel they have earned, and deserve. In fact, some go so far as to live for their holidays. Many hate the idea of returning to work after a holiday and so begin to plan their next escape. That is the centre of gravity for their lives: the time that is ‘theirs’.

Now let me be clear: rest is necessary. We all need rest and leisure time. Holidays can be good for us, when we are fit and able to enjoy them. It is clear that a healthy Christian life involves a rhythm of work and rest and worship. But whilst many people work for their holidays, and even, whether they admit it or not, live for their holidays, Christians by contrast are those who live to serve.

For example, as a minister, I ought not to serve as a minister in order to earn a rest, or a holiday. I ought to take a rest in order that I might better serve as a minister. There ought not to be ‘me’ time over which the Lord does not have jurisdiction.

Yours, eagerly anticipating my holiday

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