The Nation's Pulse

The Three-Mile-An-Hour God

Who says grace in the drive-thru lane?

By 6.6.13

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of movements: those that try to change the culture (i.e., drug legalization, gay marriage) and those that try to restore traditional culture (the Catholic Land Movement, the Slow Movement). Conservatives should embrace the latter.

The Slow Movement began in Italy nearly three decades ago as a reaction to the cult of speed in general and fast food in particular. Slow foodies extolled the virtues of home-cooked meals, traditional recipes, local ingredients, and family sit-down dinners, and saw in the dinner table one of the “primary places in which local culture is nurtured in the sharing of food, stories and lives.” Over the years, likeminded people have realized that the breakneck pace of modern life has wreaked havoc on other areas too. Thus were born the Slow Cities Movement (with its emphasis on pedestrian friendly streets and its aversion to homogeneity), Slow Travel (getting off the beaten path, and getting to know a few places well, rather than hurriedly passing through many), Slow Parenting (allowing kids to enjoy unorganized activities), and Slow Fashion (buying fewer, but better quality, American-made clothes) movements. All have in common the desire to reconnect with those things that are truly important.

The relatively new Slow Church Movement has picked up on a number of these themes. Slow Church harkens back to a simpler, more rooted, and, judging from the number of people who think the modern world is broken, better time. Slow Church promotes the blessings of quiet time, fellowship, and good food. Adherents believe in the stability of place, of familial community, of supporting local economies, and trying to live a disciplined contemplative life. Finally, Slow Church is about being aware of the uniqueness of your particular congregation and resisting one-size-fits-all church programs.

The Slow Church Movement puts special emphasis on honoring the Sabbath, rather than pretending that Sunday is just another manic shopping day, and it seeks to personalize the service, which may be as simple as using home-baked bread. It takes seriously God’s call to be good caretakers of His creation, and to get personally involved in local charity programs rather than trying to do good on the largest global scale possible. Finally, its adherents believe that in this age of “bowling alone” churches are some of the few places left where real community can exist.

These are not radical ideas, but traditional ones, says Chris Smith, author of a soon-to-be published book on the Slow Church Movement. “Traditional churches, with their emphasis on hospitality, liturgy, hymn singing, quiet prayer, and works of mercy would seem the ideal place for the Slow Movement,” writes Smith.

INSTEAD, MANY OF our traditional churches have embraced the speed, efficiency, and immediacy inherent in popular culture. Even the Pope has a Twitter account. “In contrast to the richly theological style of Pope Benedict, Pope Francis seems a pope made for the age of tweets,” said the Washington Post. In contrast to this pope, the Lord does not operate on modern society’s timetable. He is, in the phrase of the theologian Kosuke Koyama, a three-mile-an-hour God.

In her book, The Sabbath World, author Judith Shulevitz describes another unfortunate consequence of our hurried lives. Shulevitz singles out a 1973 Princeton Theological Seminary sociological study that suggests that the most important factor in determining whether someone behaves like a Good Samaritan is not his or her personality, but whether that person is in a hurry. “The study made it hard not to conclude that ethics becomes a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases,” the researchers concluded.

Slow Church proponents face a steep uphill climb. Modern society values unlimited and individualized choice, even when it comes to faith. Megachurches, with their charismatic, celebrity preachers are in; local, neighborhood congregations are out. “The idea of faith communities has been replaced by individualized faith,” says Smith. But individualized faith is like bowling alone. It is not nearly as important or meaningful. As Robert Nisbet has noted, people do not come together in community just to be together; they come together to do something of importance to their lives. Our tragedy is that people of individualized faith seldom come together at all.

Photo: Creative Commons

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.