If the 20th century taught us anything, it taught us that efficiency, calculability, predictability and control are to be most prized, seen most readily in large, corporate chains, most notably McDonalds. Machine-like speed and efficiency are now virtues, celebrated even in our churches. How many people can we get in the door on any given Sunday? How many people have prayed the prayer? How many people have we baptized? How many people have become members? What is the latest fad in church and how can we copy it?
But like any large social movement, there have been little pockets of resistance by people who are willing to ask the tough questions of where this path of destruction might be leading us. One of those pockets of resistance was The Slow Food Movement which began in 1986 in protest to the building of a McDonalds near the Spanish Steps in Rome. “The Slow Food Movement is fundamentally about the richness of common life with the neighbors who grow our food, prepare our food and share our food” (16). The Slow Food Movement has spread worldwide, and its greatest contribution might not be in the area of food, but might be in giving us pause to think through how other areas of our life might have succumbed to the pressures of this cult of speed.
Most recently, Chris Smith and John Pattison have been thinking through how the themes of the Slow Food Movement might shape a view of Slow Church, first through their blog and now in the publication of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. They survey the landscape of American Christianity and conclude:
“Many churches, particularly those driven by church growth models, come dangerously close to reducing Christian to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold. Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ,’ which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community” (14).
Over and against this mode of church, Chris and John hope to begin a broad and possibly slow conversation, issuing “a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods” (16). They long to savor a conversation around the dinner table on how the church can be a “way of being authentically connected as coproducers to a Story that is as big as the planet (bigger) and as intimate as our own backyards” (20).
As they begin this important conversation, they frame it around three courses: The first course is ethics, giving preference to quality, how we embody Christ in our terrior. The second course is ecology, framed by the fact that God is in the process of reconciling all of creation, which means how we do things as a church is just as important as what we do. The final course is economy, understanding that God’s economy is based on superabundance and never scarcity.
Lest you think that their idea of Slow Church is simply a means to make church sound cool and hip to our culture, especially the middle and upper White Suburbia, enamored with all things local and slow, their vision of church is rooted in deep theological reflection. They reflect on such key themes as the drama of redemption, looking at how improve shapes our participation. Our God being a “remarkably patient yet radically immanent God” (24) is also foundational to Slow Church. They reflect deeply on humanity, not in some utopian way, but recognizing how deeply rebellious and sinful we all are, yet that we were created to move beyond this through the working of the Holy Spirit into deep rich fellowship and community. And finally, in everything they develop throughout the book, the authors continually remind us that the Christian life is first and foremost a deep joy in the resurrection life – “The primary work of Slow Church is not attracting people to our church buildings, but rather cultivating together the resurrection life of Christ, by deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and even our enemies” (33).
Much of their reflection is centered around ridding the church of its McDonaldization (drawing on the work of George Ritzer and John Drane). McDonalds is driven by efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. While none of these four are evil or sinful in and of themselves, they are, for the most part, antithetical to the ethics, ecology and economy of God’s Kingdom.
The reason we have succumbed to the idol of McDonalds is the fragmentation that we are all plagued with as a result of sin. We know in our heads: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19), but is this how we truly live? Do we, do I, truly believe that God is in the process of making not just us, but all of creation whole again? If I truly believe this and truly desire to live from this fact, then I am compelled to slow down, sit and stay for a while with messy, sinful people, which includes me. It means not fleeing from myself, not fleeing from others, and not fleeing from the place God has placed me for greener pastures elsewhere.
How do we start moving away from the McDonaldization that pervades so much of our culture and church? Unfortunately there are no “five easy steps.” What Smith and Pattison advocate is not just a completely different mindset, but a completely different soulset. A striving not after what the world values, but a striving to “receive one another, our neighbors and our place as gifts of God intended not for our private good as individuals or as a church but for God’s work of reconciliation in helping out place to heal and flourish” (189).
In other words, hospitality, breaking bread together, taking the time to savor what God is already doing in our midst and joining with Him as He seeks to inaugurate His Kingdom in our church and in our neighborhood.
Chris Smith and John Pattison “challenge you [me] to imagine what our common life would look like it were centered around (a) eating together at the table and (b) the slow, eucharistic conversation that convivial feasting encourages” (209).
That is the conversation I have tried to start here on this blog. But more importantly, that is the person I want to be and that is the church and community I want to be part of.