Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Slow theology

Image from wikipedia.org
I came across an interesting television show this past week. It was produced by the Norwegian public television network, NRK, and it documented a cruise ship's journey up the coast of Norway. In its original form, it was a live broadcast lasting over 134 hours. That's 5.5 days, in case you are wondering. This little network had previously produced a documentary chronicling a real-time 7-hour train ride across Norway. Due to its surprising popularity, the producers immediately began planning the next marathon television event, this time a 5-day cruise. Due to its live component and regular updates via social and other media, the broadcast ended up including thousands of spectators and fans waving along the route.

This trend has become known as Slow TV, a genre of television coverage which follows an ordinary event from beginning to end without a break in the timeline.[1] It is mesmerising and immersive. I can testify to that, even though I have only watched small sections of the 134 plus hours of the cruise broadcast. There were 11 cameras in play so the scenery does change, but not with the quickness we are accustomed to in a half-hour television show or in the movie theatre. The producers kept the camera trained on a cow walking along the coast for 10 minutes. Mesmerising, I tell you.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about other "slow" trends like slow food (in contrast to fast food). The slow food movement encourages people to know where their food comes from and to take a more active and appreciative approach to food production and by doing so, support local ecosystems and traditions. So you start with apples grown in my mom's backyard, slice them up and put them in a pastry crust made with love in my mom's farm kitchen, add a few spices, some sugar, pop it in the oven, then serve it warm on a faded piece of vintage china at my mom's antique wooden table with a cup of tea. That's slow food. Or you can just go to McDonald's and order their mass-produced apple pie to go. Which would you rather enjoy?

Slow and fast come with their own value systems. Fast values mobility, slow values stability. Fast values efficiency, slow values relationships. Fast focuses on activity, slow prefers sustainability. Fast relies on mass produced products, slow values hand-made items.

Things like love, friendship, faithfulness, or wisdom all take a long time to develop. And they are supposed to. A declaration of love after knowing a person for less than an hour carries little weight, but this same statement after 50 years of marriage is awe-inspiring. Things of lasting value can't be rushed.

About a year ago, a book came out called Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. Authors John Pattison and C. Christopher Smith suggest that our faith communities should follow an incarnational instead of an attractional model. Instead of trying to get people to come to our church, we should be living as the church in our community. The focus is on the daily discipline of "deeply and selflessly loving our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and even our enemies." And that's slow going, you know it is. In her review of Slow Church, Leslie Leyland Fields offers this summary of the central idea of the book: "Churches should cultivate long-suffering with one another because God himself cultivated his people patiently, over generations. Anxiety over scarcity pervades our culture, feeding competitiveness rather than cooperation. But the church's generosity and hospitality are fed by a God of abundance. The Sabbath allows us to enter God's own time and economy, to 'pause our striving and start abiding.'"

The whole idea of slowing things down instead of hurrying things along is not a new idea. "Don't imagine, dear friends, that God's timetable is the same as ours; as the psalm says, for with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. Now the Lord is not slow about enacting his promise - slow is how some people want to characterize it - no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path and to turn toward God's. So, my friends, while we wait for the day of the Lord, work hard to live in peace, without flaw or blemish, and look at the patience of the Lord as your salvation." - 2 Peter 3:8-15. God's patience is our salvation. Hmmmmm.

Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. "The Holy Spirit produces a different kind of fruit: unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You won't find any law opposed to fruit like this. Those of us who belong to the Anointed One have crucified our old lives and put to death the flesh and all the lusts and desires that plague us. Now since we have chosen to walk with the Spirit, let's keep each step in perfect sync with God's Spirit. This will happen when we set aside our self-interests and work together to create true community instead of a culture consumed by provocation, pride, and envy." Galatians 5:22-26. Working together to create community. That certainly doesn't happen overnight.

Slow Church is what we do in Montreal. There is nothing flashy about our little group meeting week after week after week for years and years and years in locations all over the city, doing the same thing over and over and over again. We worship God, we pray for each other, we learn together, we try to form a bunch of rag-tag people into a community where everyone can feel safe and at home. It takes a long time to transform self-centred, frightened, proud, wounded, success-driven individuals into a group of friends who will stand beside each other through thick and thin, good and bad. It takes time because we have to establish new habits and build new pathways into our lives, ones that will keep us in step with the Spirit of Jesus. But God is patient.

So let us be patient as well. Let us practice a theology of slowness. Instead of agitation, let us practice patience. Instead of anxiety, let us practice peace. Instead of being quick to judge, let us practice longsuffering. Instead of being easily discouraged, let practice faithfulness. Instead of relying on our own abilities, let us practice living in Sabbath rest. Let us practice abiding and being present with Jesus. No rush.

Matte from Montreal

All biblical quotes from The Voice translation.
[1] If you want more information on Slow TV, here is a Ted Talk by Norwegian producer Thomas Hellum. And if you have the time, here is the link to the entire 134 hour coastal cruise broadcast.

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