When I heard about Rev. Jeffrey Paul Crittenden’s new book, I was initially skeptical. How could a study on the concept and theology of leisure benefit today’s church?
I was wrong. Leisure Resurrected: Rekindling the Fire of Early Christian Communities is both scholarly in content and helpful to clergy and their congregations. While most people tend to think of leisure as a holiday or a weekend away and associate it with personal pleasure, Crittenden points to its deeper meaning as a central part of human existence.
The author takes us on a journey through the classical western concept of leisure. I enjoyed learning about schole, the Greek understanding of leisure as “contemplation, freedom and virtue,” and otium, Roman writer Cicero’s concept of leisure as public good. But most importantly, Crittenden connects this history to the current work of the church: “The mission of the church is to reaffirm that humanity is made in the image of God and is blessed. We are blessed with joy, hope, belonging, and profound and deep love.”
This is an important reminder of the church’s gift to the world, at a time when we are overwhelmed with the collapse of organized religion, the climate emergency, economic disparity and a host of other crises.
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The heart of Crittenden’s thesis lies in his examination of the radical transformation by the Apostle Paul of the shared meal. Under the Romans, banquets were semi-public spectacles of elitism and privilege. The early Christians reimagined mealtime as an open egalitarian table where there was room for all.
For the Romans, this Christian practice was subversive, as it turned the whole social order on its head. For Christians, the shared meal of the eucharist is our distinctive feature and leads us to serve and engage with the wider community.
Leisure Resurrected concludes by showing us a clear path forward. “Now is the time for the church to seize the opportunity to rekindle its passion and redefine its purpose,” writes Crittenden. “The church is not a gathering of people for busy work; it is a gathering of people for transformative engagement.”
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The author lays out a boldly Trinitarian and eucharist-focused program that recreates the early church. This includes joyfully engaging with the resurrection of Jesus, reconnecting with the Holy Spirit and serving the larger community.
Crittenden is currently living out this vision through his ministry at Metropolitan United and the Centre for Practical Theology in London, Ont.
As the church struggles to create a new identity for itself in a post COVID-19 world, this book makes a compelling argument that our future lies in recovering our ancient and revolutionary Christian past.
Rev. Christopher White is a writer and United Church minister in Hamilton.
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