Tonight I want to deal with the issue of leisure, of recreation as the counterpart of work and employment. It is a subject of great importance in our recreation and entertainment mad culture, but one about which Christians often do not think often and deeply enough. We live in a culture that worships play and we play, whether in outdoor activities, in sports – whether as participants or spectators – or in television and movie watching, more than any people in the history of the world has ever played! We hear all the time about the “entertainment industry” and it is a large industry indeed. Hardly any people on the face of the planet through the whole course of its history have ever spoken of an entertainment industry. But that is some measure of the place that leisure has assumed in our modern life. Indeed, the only similar extravagant interest in play like that of our modern world was that of the ancient Roman world in the period of its decadence and decay.
The Presbyter Salvian, describing the fall of Trier in the last days of the Roman Empire, tells us that men did not defend the city because they were too interested in the games at the arena. After the rape, looting, and burning of Trier, the survivors petitioned the emperor to rebuild their arena so that the games could go on and their morale improved! Salvian said of Rome: ‘it is dying, but continues to laugh.’
Juvenal, the second century Roman satirist, said that the Romans, once rulers of the world, had come to care for nothing but handouts and spectacles and thatpanem et circenses – bread and circuses – were the favorite formula for Roman emperors who wanted to keep the allegiance of the masses. How different is it really in our day? We have two new stadiums in Seattle that together cost nearly a billion dollars. The hot topic in Seattle politics today concerns the basketball arena and the fear that the city might lose the Supersonics. We have cable television industries, the movie rental industry, the boating and RV industries, movie theaters by the dozens, internet sites devoted to everything else besides work, and so on. And we who are Christians, the children of God in this world, are a part of that culture and participants in its concentration on entertainment.
Our worship of play is demonstrated in the time and money we devote to it, the emotional investment we make in it. Perhaps the perfect illustration of the modern world’s devotion to play and leisure is the recent development of fantasy leagues. Hundreds of thousands of Americans now create imaginary games and devote serious attention to the fortunes of their imaginary teams. It is, in a way, the reduction ad absurdum of an entertainment mad culture. We are now creating new entertainments out of our old ones, spinning out new ways of enjoying our leisure, as if we hadn’t enough already.Rest and Leisure
Church: First Presbyterian Church, Tacoma