To eat out or not to eat out? On Sabbath. For many Adventists, it isn’t even a question.
We don’t go out to eat on Sabbath primarily because of an admonition by Ellen White that we ought to leave business plans and transactions aside on the Sabbath (see Patriarchs and Prophets, 307). Buying food on the Sabbath has traditionally been lumped together with business plans and transactions, and so by extension, Adventists typically avoid eating out on Sabbath.
I live in Southern California where Adventism has a markedly different flavor from Adventism in much of the rest of the world. In SoCal, Adventists are often more inclined to adhere to the “spirit of the law” than to the “letter of the law.”
So I found myself at the Souplantation near Loma Linda last Sabbath after church with another family from our church community. The Souplantation is a fantastic buffet with an enormous salad bar, a soup section, a bakery with breads, muffins, and fruit cobblers, and a generous selection of soft-serve ice creams.
Upon reaching the front door of the restaurant, we came face to face with a line of people extending nearly to the parking lot. It felt like cruising along on the freeway at 75 mph only to be stopped abruptly by a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam.
Happily, our group found people we knew from the Loma Linda University Church in line as well (the restaurants around Loma Linda, a community of over 25,000 Adventists, are always full of SoCal SDAs on Sabbaths). Once inside, we realized that the restaurant was packed with people, many of them Adventists in their Sabbath best. Although we did not recognize many of the people there, even in Southern California, Adventists are a peculiar people, and we picked the sevvies out easily.
Going through line, we watched the line servers scurrying to refill the tomato and carrot bins, and to clean up the spilled vinaigrette dressing and crouton crumbs. At the cashier, we were told we’d have to wait a few minutes to be seated. It was packed.
I then realized that the hubbub and busyness (and business) on that Sabbath afternoon was primarily the result of the influx of Adventists. The irony was not lost on me. The Souplantation staff working doubly hard on Sabbath due to an inundation of Sabbathkeepers!
I chewed on my lettuce thoughtfully, once we found seats, scanning the busy restaurant. The servers hurrying to clear plates and bowls, the churchfolk chatting happily…It was a surreal scene as I pondered it.
Later in the women’s room, my wife overheard our server (we’d just heard a sermon about living out servanthood – oh the irony!) saying to another server, “That’s a lot of people!”
A certain indignance started to surface in me. The spirit of the law has to do with providing justice on the Sabbath for those who cannot themselves secure it. People, I thought, like all the servers at the Souplantation.
“…but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:14-15, emphasis supplied)
We are to keep the Sabbath, but not to ourselves!
I told my wife what I was mulling over. After thinking for a while, she said, “But what about the fact that it provides more money for them?” My dad had mentioned the same point a little while earlier when I told him my thoughts.
After all, people working minimum wage jobs need income on the Sabbath too, right? And if we give them a big tip on Sabbath, aren’t we really doing more good for them than if we were to eat at home? So the thinking goes. (Tipping is not expected at the Souplantation, for the record, though we did leave $20 to assuage my guilty conscience.)
But that rationale misses the point in two significant ways. First, let’s be honest: we are not eating there out of concern for these laborers’ well being, as appealing as that trickle-down economic rationale might seem. If we really were concerned, we could just as easily eat there on Sunday or Monday and encourage other people to do the same, all giving large tips.
More importantly though, the point of the Sabbath blessing is not primarily the securing of financial wherewithal for those in need; it is to provide rest—spiritual, social, mental, and physical rest—for all of creation. We are called to keep the Sabbath, but not to ourselves!
Sabbath-keeping is a central tenet of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, and rightly so. Sabbath rest sits at the heart of the rhythm of our lives. We observe Sabbath not to secure God’s favor or blessings, but rather we recognize that Sabbath is itself a manifestation of God’s favor and blessings on all of creation.
If we as Sabbatarians are serious about all that Sabbath is, and about living out its intended blessing, then perhaps we’ll spend less time concerning ourselves with what might or might not constitute business transactions on Sabbath, and more time concerning ourselves with finding ways to extend the Sabbath blessing as widely as possible. After all, God invites us to keep the Sabbath, but not to ourselves.
Jared Wright studying for his M.Div. at La Sierra University, Riverside, CA. He blogs at Adventist Environmental Advocacy.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/296