Monday, January 12, 2015

BookPastor >> "Slow Church" (C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison)

TITLE: Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus
AUTHOR: C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014, (247 pages).

Our society is infatuated with all things fast and furious. Faster is better they say. Quicker is preferred. From queue lines to traffic congestions, waiting is detested. People want rapid service. They demand express responses. They desire prompt answering of phone calls or timely replies to emails. Speed is king. Really? Authors Smith and Pattison seek to buck this trend by arguing that there are many things in this life that cannot be straitjacketed into a fast-food paradigm. We need to avoid becoming victims of McDonaldization that forces us to be squeezed into a one-size-fits-all mold. The Church needs to be transformed into the image of Christ and not conformed to the world.  Inspired by the Slow Food movement, the authors seek to instill a sense of normalcy to our crazy, fast-paced society that prizes efficiency over effectiveness; calculability over quality; predictability over natural ability; and control over freedom. In true food service fashion, Smith and Pattison offers us a three course meal. The first course is ETHICS (Be Good), which reminds us about the importance of quality over quantity, and how one can cultivate this over the world's infatuation with quantity and speed. It is like saying it's better to do a few things well than to do many things mediocre. The second course is ECOLOGY (Be Clean), which points us toward God's care and concern for the reconciliation with the world. This is the mission we are all called to participate in. The third course is ECONOMY (Be Fair), where we learn about God's abundant provision to us as a Church and how doing God's work requires all of God's providence.

In ETHICS, we have three "dishes" of "terroir," "stability," and "patience." All these dishes aim at cultivating the factors necessary to have quality above quantity. In a world that seems to suggest quality time over quantity time, it is important to remember that there is no quality without quantity. We are encouraged to "taste and see" that  what God had given us is good. It is not to be fast-forwarded for man's end. It is to be savored. It is to be seen from the eyes of God. Like a coffee bean that is slowly roasted to perfection, we seek to experience God in the movements led by the Spirit. Cultivating a slow pace also means fidelity to people and place. We do not jump ship according to our individual wants. We stay faithful to the calling of God to be where we are. Though technology has made us more mobile and individually capable of doing more things for self, we are reminded that there is a danger of becoming too disconnected from others and disembodied in our interactions. Hospitality, generosity, patience, and learning to enter the sufferings of others are other themes worth noting.

In ECOLOGY, we learn about the need for wholeness amid a fragmentalized world. The authors remind us the dangers of cheap food and goods where the consumerism model in the rich world comes at the expense of the developing world. We are warned about the age-old presence of dualism in this world, the creeping nationalism that makes us discriminate one over another over citizenship. The Church is not called to participate in fragmenting people groups but to be agents of reconciliation under one God. On work, we are urged to prefer good work over bad; to see work as worship; to champion work-related justice; and to honour and cherish the people in our organizations. A chapter is devoted to Sabbath keeping to learn to see the world with new light; be attentive to the work of God; to pause and exercise radical grace; and to be a Sabbath people of God who knows when to rest from work; to delight in God; and when to revel in one another's fellowship.

In ECONOMY, we are reminded that material things do not last and do not satisfy us as much. Learn to share with those in need. God has provided us with abundant resources. It is the allocation and the awareness, rather than the constant asking for more. One powerful way to do that is via thanksgiving for what we have. It breeds generosity. Gratitude encourages us to think of others more than selves. It is a key ingredient for community building. This leads to hospitality in which we can utilize all of God's gifts to us for the benefit of others, especially strangers.

The whole conversation eventually ends at the table, with specific reference to the meaning of the Lord's Table, the Holy Eucharist. It is a reminder that we are all needy people. Only Christ can fill us and make us whole people. For the table is an invitation to holy fellowship. It makes us all equal in the eyes of God.

Let me give three comments about this book. First, people come first. This book is a necessary antidote for the busy, the hurried, and especially the goal getters. In Christian ministry, it is common to see churches trying to use the little resources they have to exact the maximum amount of work. The common cliche is, "There is so much work to be done, but so little resources." When we incorporate the principles of Slow Church, we are forced to do a paradigm shift, and to see that work is important but people are more important. We need to be able to separate the work from the people and to remember that people always come first. Second, pace according to human speed, not technological speed. Even if we can do a lot of things in one year, there is no guarantee we can do the same for the next. As we become more engaged with technology gadgets and fast devices, we can unwittingly treat people like computers, and to expect them to respond as fast as our devices can bring us. We demand people to immediately answer our phone calls, otherwise we feel ignored or unimportant. We expect quick replies to our emails. We suspect others the moment they are slow to respond to our questions. We feel slighted when they do not respond at all. In putting ourselves mostly at the driving seat of relationships, we measure our relationships not on the merits of others' needs but on the basis of our own targets. Third, Smith and Pattison have given us a wonderful metaphor in thinking about Christian living and Church life. Food is ubiquitous. Many of us eat at least three times a day. In every culture, every ethnic group, every nation, people groups all over the world eat. I appreciate the way the authors end at the table, which is a reminder of the close connection between Communion with God and community with people. This is the way forward. No more fast food. Perhaps, for three times a day, we should take time to enjoy the presence of people, the patience to accept the imperfections of life, and of course, to enjoy our meal, one mouthful at a time and one sip at a time.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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