A friend who works for the Baptist Union told me he was about to take a couple weeks of annual leave. His reference to ‘leave’ instead of ‘holiday’ hardly jarred but it gave me a jolt.
Why was he taking leave? Who said he could? Why this use of military language? And why does it unsettle me?
Thanks to Giles Coren writing in The Times on 27 August 2016 my initial reaction has been given a surer footing. Coren describes his August frustration at not being able to do anything because so many people were ‘on leave’. And then goes on to question why a holiday can’t be described as just that and introduced me to a new expression. PTO.
PTO means Paid Time Off. You might receive this to explain why you are just getting a return-email. The person is not at their desk and yet don’t worry they still have work at the heart of things because they are being paid not to work. It occurs to me that this is very close to the definition of ‘stipend’ which is what ministers receive; being not paid to work because they are about Someone else’s work.
The implication of PTO is that life is all about work and who is paying and that will define who you are even when you are on ….what shall we call it? Time–off? Free-time? Time away?
No, they are all problematic so let’s just call it TFMAM. Time for Me And Mine.
But can family be more important than work in a work obsessed world?
And there is that strange expression ‘leave of absence’. First of all it is strange grammar and secondly it points to the inherent problem I think I have discovered with the word ‘leave’.
It suggests a pecking order. It is condescending. It makes me feel that I am defined by what others consider I can do.
As someone who has to decide whether or not other people can have leave of absence I know the expression is kinder than that. It is about giving permission with an understanding of personal circumstances. It is agreeing to the request for relief, the basic understanding of ‘leave’ so that matters can be sorted, time spent reviewing the situation, the lifting of responsibility or just chilling out.
Some might call that a sort of holiday, maybe not but there is a biblical root here which needs identifying – SABBATH. SABBATH requires we experience time in a new way. It requires us to change our social and psychological habits for a clear space of time.
And that is why I realise I struggle with the current use of the word ‘leave’ whether it is used by the Baptist Union, local churches or ministers or anyone.
As I say it defines us by what we regard as work. We are nothing else. It has decided that six days we shall labour and the seventh is not rest as Scripture declares; rather it is not work.
So I wonder whether we are working our way into a biblically unsound judgement of how we use our time and abilities. It is a downgrading of rest to the status of an allowance.
Isn’t it more important and crucial to God’s work than that?