Over the coming weeks, I’d like to wrestle here with a series of questions related to how the vision of Slow Church that John and I have been proposing here relates to justice. The basic question is:
What does Slow Church do with the (very real) pain of the oppressed?
Which opens up a host of other questions, including:
– Is Slow Church only for those privileged enough to live slowly?
– Does the inherent slowness of Slow Church only prop up the dominant power structures of our age?
– What is the role of a Slow Church in following Jesus in the Jubilee mission of liberation?
– How does Slow Church understand the sort of “missionary urgency” that compelled the work of the Apostles in Acts and throughout the New Testament?
– and many more that I’m sure will be opened up as we dive into this conversation…
Let me initiate this conversation by offering three pertinent thoughts:
1) The Slow Food movement is presently grappling with a similar set of questions related to its oft-perceived elitism. It is my opinion that historically the Slow Food Movement has not handled these questions well, though I am relieved to know that such questions have arisen and are being explored. I wrote the following for an early draft of the Slow Church book, though it is tangential enough that it might not end up in the final manuscript (or perhaps only as a footnote):
One of the biggest challenges of the Slow Food movement over the last
few years has been the charge of elitism. Whether this charge is warranted or
not is still an open question, but my experience with the movement has been that
the temptation to elitism is strongest when the movement places more emphasis
on the individual pleasures of good food than on ensuring that as many people
as possible have access that allows them to savor the joys of food that is good,
clean and fair. This temptation manifests itself often in the sort of gourmet
snobbery that pushes beyond merely good food and gets consumed by the
epicurean obscurities of better and best. This seeming elitism that plagues the
Slow Food movement is therefore rooted in [a disregard for the whole
of creation]. An individual’s pleasures of enjoying the finest food
come to overshadow at times the justice issues of enabling everyone to enjoy
good food; this problem is a manifestation of the prevailing individualism of
Western Culture. Thankfully however, in the last few years, the Slow Food
Movement has begun to wrestle with these issues that have grown up over
its first three decades. I think it is possible for Slow Food to dispel the
charges of elitism eventually, but in order to do so, it will need to learn
from the Christlike tradition of self-denial in preference of the good
of the whole creation, and focus more energy on allowing others to
enjoy the sorts of good food that we all desire.
2) As another example, I would offer David Fitch’s recent blog post: “Regarding LGBTQ, What is Your Position?” “I Don’t Have One” (and its followup post). I don’t want to force the label of Slow Church onto what David is describing, but his method of intentionally creating space for conversation and exploration is at the very heart of Slow Church. If you have the time to read the comments on both posts (or at least skim them), you will get a good sense of why I think it is important for us to reflect on the slowness of missional church practice and how that relates to the pains of those marginalized by mainstream society.
3) And finally, at the recent Emergence Christianity gathering in Memphis, it was suggested that the defining verse of Emergence Christianity might be the familiar Micah 6:8 (“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (chesed — mercy/lovingkindness), and to walk humbly with your God?”[NRSV]) I love that this verse is being drawn into focus in our times, but my concern is although there is substantial reflection reflection on the first two parts of the triad offered in this verse, there is much less consideration of the third: “to walk humbly with your God.” Walking humbly with God is the very core of Slow Church, and I think that Slow Church can therefore offer insight in the question of HOW we go about “doing justice” and “loving mercy.”
I invite you to join with me in this conversation. I have some questions in mind that I would like to address eventually, but your questions and comments along the way will be essential to the course and direction of this exploration.
IMAGE: Creative Commons license by J.-H. Janßen via Wikimedia Commons.