What is Slow Church? Honestly, I can’t quite say, but if you click on that link you’ll find a brand new blog that you gives you the gist of what it means. At any rate, something about the idea of being slow really excites me. I read this post the other day about a book that has helped to inspire this idea of Slow Church and I decided to take a look at my own library and see if there was anything that might contribute to the conversation. Here’s a little of what I found…
by Walter Brueggemann
No one gets me more excited about reading the Old Testament than Walter Brueggemann. In Journey to the Common Good, he walks alongside the three great prophets of the Old Testament – Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah – and explores how they “may impinge upon the faith and life of the church as we journey together toward the common good that God wills for the world.” I’m sure all three stories could lend wisdom to the idea of Slow Church, I’m just going to share from the first chapter – “The Journey to the Common Good: Faith, Anxiety, and the Practice of Neighborliness” – since it seems to have the most obvious connections.
Brueggemann begins with the nation of Israel being sold into slavery by the work of the Israelite who was himself sold into slavery, that is Joseph. He describes the system of anxiety and fear that prevailed in Egypt. A system where no one has the time to even think about seeking the common good. In that system, daily survival is key. From there, he presents God’s great act of generosity in the wilderness that made the Israelite’s say, “What is it?” This giving of “wonder bread” was “required in order to break the death grip of the system of fear, anxiety, and greed.” Freed from this death grip, God’s chosen people have the opportunity for rest – for the first Sabbath – and can finally begin to think about others. Having accepted “God’s offer of abundance,” they are no longer confined to Egypt’s “kingdom of paucity.” This freedom creates the space for the people to be about the work of the neighborhood instead of mere survival. To use the words of John Stott, they are “freed from self for service” by the great generosity of God. Brueggemann presents the Exodus as a journey “from anxiety through abundance to neighborhood.”
But then it gets really good…
That journey from anxious scarcity through miraculous abundance to a neighborly common good has been peculiarly entrusted to the church and its allies. I take “church” here to refer to… [the] liturgical, interpretive offer to reimagine the world differently. When the church only echoes the world’s kingdom of scarcity, then it has failed in its vocation…
Specifically it is the Eucharist that is the great extravagant drama of the way in which the gospel of abundance overrides the claim of scarcity and invites the common good… The sacrament… is a gesture of divine abundance that breaks the scarcity system.
Brueggemann points us to Christ as the model. On two occasions in Mark, Jesus works an act of abundance to feed several thousand people in a “deserted place.” Sound familiar? Thousands of people being fed by God in a desert? Smells like manna to me. The disciples didn’t get it. They did not understand that “the ideology of scarcity has been broken, overwhelmed by the divine gift of abundance.” Brueggemann concludes:
It is our propensity, in society and in church, to trust the narrative of scarcity. That is what makes us greedy, and exclusive, and selfish, and coercive. Even the Eucharist can be made into an occasion for scarcity, as though there were not enough for all. Such scarcity leads to exclusion at the table, even as scarcity leads to exclusion from economic life.
But the narrative of abundance persists among us. Those who sign on and depart the system of anxious scarcity become the historymakers in the neighborhood. These are the ones not exhausted by Sabbath-less production who have enough energy to dream and hope. From dreams and hopes come such neighborly miracles as good health care, good schools, good housing, good care for the earth, and disarmament. The dreams subverts Pharaoh’s nightmare.”
Brueggemann is calling us, the Church, to break the cycle of fear and anxiety by living for others in the reality of God’s abundance; all our needs will be added as we seek first the Kingdom. When I consider what it means to be Slow Church, I think of churches that are places of sanctuary where all can find an escape from the rat race. It is church modeled against the accelerating pace of life; it is intentionally slow. It is restful. It embodies Sabbath.
The Slow Church is strategically poised to enact the liturgical sign of God’s abundance – the Eucharist. But it might not be called the Eucharist. It could be a pot luck, a picnic, or an ice cream social. Who has the time for this stuff? People moving slowly. People who are planted in a place and committed to a life in and for that particular place. The fellowship of the table can break the cycle of fear and anxiety and free us for imagining new ways of moving forward… one step at a time.