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    Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 1}

    September 22, 2009 by Brandy Vencel
    Leisure: The Basis of Culture
    by Josef Pieper

    Last night, on the way home from the grocery store, I was bemoaning the fact that my copy of Leisure: The Basis of Culture had not yet arrived. The book club begins tomorrow! I explained. I’m going to be behind right from the start!

    I told you I saw the UPS man today, Mom! replied a little-boy voice from the backest of back seats.

    My, that little boy comes in handy.

    Thankfully, the first chapter is quite short. Unless of course the entire first essay is the first chapter, in which event I’ve gone about this entirely the wrong way. But I’m willing to take that risk.

    Things to Learn

    Here is probably the cornerstone of the chapter, making it possible to set the stage for a type of leisure that is not akin to sloth:

    Leisure means school. Well, sort of. Not any school I’ve ever seen {except perhaps, on occasion, the one in my living room}. Here’s the quote:

    The Greek word for leisure {σχολή} is the origin of Latin schola, German Schule, English school. The name of the institutions of education and learning means “leisure.”

    Questions I Asked

    I have a number of questions rattling around in my head right now. I apologize that I have many questions and few answers:

    • Is Pieper going to leave room for having work that one truly enjoys? He quotes Max Weber talking about living for one’s work, and then explains that this is upside-down. Though we all frown upon what we call workaholism, surely there must be a place for loving the work we do.
    • Can a person in a non-Sabbatarian culture even understand all of this? I ask this from within such a culture. If, by “celebrating” the Sabbath, you mean “take a long nap on Sunday afternoon,” well, then, we are on the same page. But if you mean doing this, or something more deliberate and meaningful, consistently and intentionally, then my own family fails the test. Ken Myers brought up Sabbath-keeping a lot in All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes and a friend even linked me to a book in the comments, and you know what? I never pursued it.

      The thing that has always gotten me is that the Sabbath was built right into the perfect world of Eden, so acting like Jesus eliminated Sabbath-keeping is probably short-sighted.

      Not that I know what I’m talking about here.

      Moving on.

    • Can one really learn anything without the time to reflect upon the subject at hand? Si and I had the opportunity to experience a teacher who was the intellectual equivalent of the Tazmanian Devil. The man was a whirlwind. He was teaching on various doctrines, and I, with 2/3 of a seminary degree, was still holding on for dear life, he was plowing so quickly. I assume the other students were, like us, able to pull something or other out of the class and think about it later.

      Which begs my next question.

    • If we can only learn so much at one time, what is it that drives us to try and teach more than this?
    • Why do we insist on covering all of the material on our list, even when the students’ minds have already shut off for the time being?
    • Can we say we are teaching according to the nature of the child if we treat them like little garbage disposals into which we dump every last scrap in our textbooks?

    And Lastly…

    How does the concept of leisurely learning interact with how we do church, and how we do Sunday School?

    A Little Sunday School Story

    I went to a lot of Sunday School growing up. For the most part, I don’t remember much of any of it, other than that I was incredibly nervous about going {can you say introvert?}, and I always thought that most of it was rather silly in a pointless sort of way. I don’t mean that I was prideful about it, but more that it made me a little uncomfortable, like I just didn’t fit into that environment.

    But I do remember one Sunday. Pastor Brent came to “teach” my class because my teacher was sick and there was no substitute. At least, I think that is why he was there. I remember that he played some game with us that got us to be quiet like mice. It was a game I actually liked, where all the noise sort of drifted away from the room.

    And then he opened a book, and he read to us.

    That was the first time I ever heard The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I don’t remember anything else about that day. I don’t know if he read for the entire class, or only read a chapter. I don’t remember if I ever got to hear the rest of the story {in the near future, I mean}. All I remember is that I was completely captivated, and I loved Pastor Brent for bothering to read such a book to a class of second-graders.

    Do you see? We sat quietly, and he just read.

    There were no gimmicks.

    No flannel graphs.

    No charts or graphs.

    No illustrations.

    No anything other than his voice, the story washing over us, floating about in the room.

    In my mind, that was the only time in my childhood I was ever “fed” at church.

    This is not to say that Bible stories cannot feed, but the way they are often presented, as cute little moral tales, does not captivate, does not enlighten, does not feed.

    The purpose of this is not to insult Sunday School, but rather to raise a very important question, or rather a set of questions, inspired as much by my CiRCE CDs as by this book: How can we take the necessity of leisure for learning and incorporate it into Sunday School–or any other type of Christian education–so that we actually feed His sheep? Is the traditional methodology surrounding Sunday School fitting for the nature of a child, or for an adult human?

    The big question is: How do we keep our children soft when it comes to the things of the Lord? Perhaps thinking through these things might show us a Better Way.

    Go to Cindy’s for more book club entries.

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  • Reply Mom the Teacher: The Inside Matters Most | Afterthoughts December 20, 2017 at 9:04 am

    […] love is directly tied to slowing down and savoring. I don’t do well on adrenaline. I guess Josef Pieper was right, after […]

  • Reply Aimee BeLoat December 23, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I’m just curious, what was the “game” Pastor Brent played to get y’all quiet?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 23, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      I wish I remembered it in detail! I just remember we were pretending to be church mice. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts September 23, 2009 at 10:14 pm


    Yes, you forget we are recovering Dispensationalists here. 🙂


    Thank you for your Sabbath thoughts. I like them, and I think it helped me put a few things in perspective. I certainly don’t want to make the Sabbath a legalistic issue.


    SS is on my mind because our family was quarantined this summer, and last Sunday was my children’s first day back. I have always felt a lot of pressure concerning SS, as if we were somehow wrong if our children didn’t go. We were never against SS, but I think people thought that we were, and it became an issue.

    Talk about baggage. 🙂

    I think that right now, I just need to loosen up and tell them to go have fun and make some friends. You and Mystie are helping me do this! I think that is what my husband has already done. Unfortunately, God gifted me with an unreasonable amount of angst. 😉

  • Reply Dominion Family September 23, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    For years we eschewed SS and now we like it. Alex and Andrew are highly motivated to learn and our church just started using John Piper’s elementary stuff (precise language in use), but I still think of it more for fun for them also Brandi.

    But I do see that what I have given them in MT is not exactly Bible stories. They have learned theology and the big ideas and the hiding God’s Word in their hearts but they can be very muddled about particular Bible stories. Sometimes it is embarrassing. I just started thinking about this lately. We do read through the whole Bible and I did use a children’s Bible storybook for a while but I am seeing that they are sometimes sketchy about the facts. Anyway discovering this has been fascinating for me.

  • Reply Rahime September 23, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I just got the book last night. I haven’t 100% decided whether to participate in the discussion on my blog, but I likely will take part in the discussion through the comments of other participants.

    This discussion brings up some interesting questions. I don’t think Jesus eliminated Sabbath, but rather changed it…along with much of Jewish law…by infusing it with grace, and trying to make its practice less legalistic….from slavery to sonship.

    I don’t necessarily think of Sabbath and leisure as one and the same, though I think there can and should be overlap. Maybe I’m not clear on how Pieper’s defining leisure, but in my mind sabbath predates leisure. I’m not really sure what exactly leisure is though. I think our culture has added a lot of things to the idea of “leisure” that aren’t necessarily leisurely.

    I’m much better at thinking about the idea of sabbath than I am at practicing it, and I think I have a fairly simplistic view of it, but when I think of what Sabbath means, I always come back to the first Sabbath–the 7th day of creation. What did God do? He stopped creating (or producing) and reflected upon (or contemplated) what was…His creation. I don’t think that observing the sabbath is as much about what you do or don’t do, as it is about being refreshed (in body, soul, and spirit), worshiping The Creator, and contemplating His work.

  • Reply Mystie September 23, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Oh, I get it. The Pentecostal/Arminian church I grew up in had SS first, then Children’s Church during the service, which my parents did not let us attend because that is where the education happened.

    I did think about the incongruity of the teen and young adult classes being focused on education. I suppose it’s not that our children’s classes aren’t teaching, just that it seems obvious to me that it’s such a tiny drop in the bucket of what is necessary. So I don’t really count it myself, but other parents might.

    An hour on Sunday can hardly compensate in any way for a full week of godless school. It can only fail if it tries, I think.

    After all the Leisure posts I am getting a little more interested in doing a Sabbath study….but first I need to focus on the jumble in my brain from CiRCE CDs. 🙂 And I have not been doing well in setting aside time or getting up in the morning. You

  • Reply Dana September 23, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Ignoring the SS tangent, I am working to wrap my mind around Piepers opening chapter, too.

    The etymology of the word leisure and its relationship to our modern day idea of school is indeed incongruent. But I’m trying to go with the author’s establishing a framework, i.e. context.

    All in all, Pieper’s argument is helping me see the pattern that is already there in my own life, albeit somewhat buried.

    Dusting myself off, and moving on to chapter two for next Tuesday, I’ll look for you, Brandy.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts September 23, 2009 at 6:51 am

    Oh, sure. Bum the Sabbath issue off on me. 😉

    Okay, I forgot to admit that my take on Sunday School is totally skewed. I was raised that SS is where children go. They do not go to church.

    This is not at all how we do things, for we bring our children into the service with us, and if and when we have to choose between the two, we choose church together, not SS separately. I think that my childhood experiences cause me to take children’s SS way too seriously.

    With that said, our adult SS is supposed to be part of their Christian education, so I might also be having trouble drawing the line.

    I like what you said about just viewing it as part of their fellowship. Of course, I am also considering that most of their fellow SS classmates are being educated in the public schools, so I suppose I’m also thinking we need to maximize the Christian education those children are getting.

    Wow. It is late and I am rambling.

  • Reply Mystie September 23, 2009 at 3:50 am

    Huh. Well, on the Sunday School thing, what is the purpose of SS? Why do it? We have started attending SS regularly lately. The adult class is watching some RC Sproul videos, but I sit in the nursery with Ilse and visit. The kids have singing, memory work, and a craft or story/lesson. I don’t treat it at all like a part of their education or spiritual growth. I treat it as a time they get to be with friends, sing songs I don’t take the time for, do crafts I don’t take the time for, be reinforced in their catechism (they memorize the Catechism for Young Children and a verse or so every every other week about), and do a little extra Scripture memory. The theme this last month has been the armor of God, which my boys have loved, but don’t really “get” by their conversation about it. Now my four year old just adds “of SALVATION!” when he declares his choice of weapon (“This is my gun of SALVATION!”). 🙂

    Now, our SS program isn’t trying to be any sort of thorough program. I know the program at a friend’s church has a very thorough year-by-year through-the-Bible worldview class that goes from PreK through high school. I actually prefer the low-key fellowship orientation. Once they get to middle or high school (and adult) it’s more education & discussion oriented, but there’s no push to get through any set amount of material, I don’t think.

    So, it depends on what the nature of SS is, I guess, as well as the nature of the child and education. 🙂 All my above to say, I don’t really count SS as part of my kids’ education. It’s their fun time at church before they have to sit. 🙂

    Matt was just saying yesterday that he wanted to look into the Sabbath. Of course, he has his project right now and a couple other ideas to focus on after that before he gets to it. How about you go ahead and go for it and we’ll cheer from the sidelines? 🙂

  • Reply Gretchen Joanna September 23, 2009 at 3:45 am

    Very meaningful story. Praise God that He arranged for you to have that experience in Sunday school.

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