Half of Australia is exhausted - Dog-tired. Wearied by longer and longer hours, by all the paper in the paperless office, by all the time spent answering those time-saving e-mails, by the fear of redundancy, by long commutes, by the drive to try and get a mortgage before you're forty, by the debilitating lack of purposelessness... We are weary, weary, weary to the point of national depression. The number of prescriptions on the PBS for anti-depressants rose from 7 million in 1995 to 28 million in 2005. Meanwhile, books on stress proliferate whilst vitamin supplements, energy supplements and high-caffeine drinks come storming onto to our supermarket shelves to jolt our weary frames into one more day's productivity.
Does it really have to be this way?
Well, apparently not. The French have taken the standard working week down to 35 hours and seen unemployment fall and productivity rise. Still, by the time an Australian government whether avowedly worker-friendly like the Labor Party or supposedly family-friendly like Family First ergo the Liberal Party actually gets round to addressing the worker-hostile and family-hostile way we work in this country, most of us will either be redundant, pensioned off on an inadequate pension, or lying on a trolley in a hospital corridor waiting for a knackered, red-eyed, caffeine-resuscitated doctor to address the minor question of the heart attack we just had.
It's surely time to live differently.
But in what way is the community of Christ a sign to this culture of a different and better way? Are our leaders less stressed? Less workaholic? Are we? Or have we actually become conformed to our culture, accepted its view of time with a stoical shrug? Is this just the way that it has to be if you want to stay employed, stay housed, stay fed? Is it really?
God created the world as a context for human flourishing. He didn't put us on the earth without air to breathe, it was already there. He didn't put us on earth without food to eat, or the capacity to grow and harvest it. It was already there. God didn't create humankind on the first day or on the second day. He created us on the sixth day, when he had created a context in which we could flourish. "Go produce and reproduce," he then said, "Work and multiply." Go release the potential in earth and release the potential in humans. Does the way we are leading our lives in Australia really contribute substantively to human flourishing?
It's time for a change, or it would be, if we had time to think about how to do it. This system is killing us, killing relationships, cracking marriages, alienating children, and sucking the joy out of even very good jobs. And in whose interest? It is a fine and good thing to engage with culture but sometimes it's a far, far better thing to disengage from it.
In a work-crazed, acquisitive, anxiety-bound, stressed-out culture what more potent testimony could there be than a community marked by the capacity to stop work, by a community that knows how to rest and be refreshed, by a community with time for relationships, by a community with a purpose beyond the acquisition of goods? Are we anywhere near creating such communities?
And is there anything in the Bible to help us? And not just high-capacity middle-class people with the talent, opportunity and pay structure to downshift to a four day week, move to the Gold Coast or change trades.
In the beginning, the Bible tells us, God rested on the seventh day - not, of course, because he was tired. Later God told Moses and the whole people of Israel to do exactly the same thing, to stop work on the seventh day. To stop work. That is stop. Not, do just a couple of hours; not, catch up on one or two e-mails; not, just finish the ironing; not, get the kids' bags ready for tomorrow; not, do all those things we don't call work because we don't get paid to do them but are work. No, the commandment says stop.
Very interesting word that. It ends with a stop. For street signs the word is unique because no other word comes with that shape of sign. It means don't move, don't hurry, don't run, do go insane because there's a mountain of stuff that needs to be done yesterday if not sooner. Stop.