[ On July 5-7, The Ekklesia Project will hold its annual gathering in Chicago, which will be on the theme of Slow Church. Between now and July, we will be running a series of lguest reflections here by folks connected with the E.P. We’ve asked guest posters to reflect on the meaning of Slow Church from their own local contexts. More info on the E.P. gathering. ]
Today’s reflection, the third in the series, is by Jason Fisher.
Read the previous post by Jarrod Longbons.
In Soren Kierkegaard’s work Purity of Heart: Is To Will One Thing he writes this;
Thus in the midst of busyness, double-mindedness is to be found. Just as the echo dwells in the woods, as stillness dwells in the desert, so double-mindedness dwells in the press of busyness. That the one who wills the Good only to a certain degree, that he is double-minded, that he has a distracted mind, a divided heart, scarcely needs to be pointed out.
While reading through Purity of Heart, I had to remind myself that all this talk about busyness is framed by Kierkegaard’s overall theme of confession. So I find it appropriate to confess that as a youth and family director my divided heart has been tempted to compare the programs I have created at church against those in other churches. The youth directors over at the other church always seem to have so many kids, small groups, and elaborate worship services while I struggle to keep cranking out the multitude of marginally-attended events at my own congregation. Maybe Pastors have been double-minded in this way as well, but I soon realized that my frustration with low turnout and the endless cycle of busyness was not allowing me, or our congregation, to share the best of what God had given us with each other.
But the reason may need to be explained and set forth, why, in the press of busyness, there is neither time nor quiet to win the transparency that is indispensable if a man is to come to understand himself in willing one thing or even for a preliminary understanding of himself in his confusion.
I made a conscious decision a few years back to plan fewer church events. Kids and parents were constantly busy and their commitment level was sparse at best. It seemed to me that our congregation would be failing its young people if all we did was make them busier. It occurred to me that we had lots of youth events, and lots of events that gathered the adults from our congregation, but very few that incorporated both. This model of youth over here and adults over there is an incomplete picture of the body of Christ. We decided to slow church down by focusing on events the adults in our congregation did really well and then invite the youth to join them. We did the same thing with our youth events, instead of having youth service trips we had cross-generational service trips and invited the whole congregation. The sharing and learning from one another that happened when we served alongside those of all ages was far more meaningful then the segmented body we were trying to keep alive before. Providing the space to truly reflect on what we were doing by slowing down, instead of going from one thing to another, had been truly life giving.
Nay, the press of busyness into which one steadily enters further and further, and the noise in which the truth continually slips more and more into oblivion, and the mass of connections, stimuli, and hindrances, these make it ever more impossible for one to win any deeper knowledge of himself.
It sometimes amazes me that those words were written 165 years ago. They seem to apply all too well to the mass of connections and noise in our current culture. One of my biggest worries is that the discipleship we practice in our congregation becomes just one more thing in people’s busy lives. In our faith tradition we have this process of confirmation were magically after 3 years a young person around the age of 15 is supposed to suddenly understand everything they need to know about The Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Creeds. Somewhere along the line faith formation got outsourced from the home to the church. We realized we needed to slow down so that faith formation wouldn’t just become one of many busy events that kids and their families were racing to complete so they could move onto the next thing. Faith in God is the One Thing, not just another thing. We slowed church down by giving parents online access to all the curriculum and encouraging them to use it at home throughout the week. We also worked with each family to take five minutes every day to share about their day, read some scripture, and pray together. After turning off all the screens and extra noise, kids and adults find a space in their home to share more deeply the things they see God doing in their lives.
It is true, that a mirror has the quality of enabling a man to see his image in it, but for this he must stand still. If he rushes hastily by, then he sees nothing. Suppose a man should go about with a mirror in his possession which he does not take out, how should such a man get to see himself? In this fashion the busy man hurries on, with the possibility of understanding himself in his possession. But the busy man keeps on running and it never dawns upon him that this possibility which he has in his possession is rapidly fading from his memory.
With so much noise and stimulus there is a real danger that our communities of faith can quickly become more reflexive than reflective. There is a prophetic nature to slowing down that genuinely makes people upset. When we stop to listen it forces us as a community to confront those things God wishes to speak to us. We have silenced these things for far too long, things which keep us from healing and wholeness and mission. The prophetic nature of slowing down is a two way street. Not only does God reveal who we are, but God also shares with us the truths that need to be shared with our community. There are always excuses for being busy and none of them ever hold water, especially not the baptismal waters.
And yet one hardly dares say this to one of these busy ones, for however rushed he otherwise may be, yet upon occasion he has plenty of time for a multitude of excuses by the use of which he becomes worse than he was before: excuses whose wisdom is about the same as when a sailor believes that it is the sea, not the ship, that is moving.
Seeing the constant stream of information and busyness with which our young people are being bombarded I highly doubt that the thing they need most is another adult who models that same busyness and overstimulation. It is my hope that our congregation will continue to find more ways to slow down and reflect CROSS-generationally about who Christ is and where he is calling us. Maybe then we can be a community that becomes that mirror to help others see who God has created them to be, and thus reflect the light of Jesus Christ.
Jason Fisher is Director of Youth and Family Ministry at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Champaign, IL.