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Two weeks ago here at the twelve I commended a National Geographic story of people making hay in Romania and delved into the rich ecological and agricultural relationship at play and the interaction of nature and humans and what results. I followed with sharing a scientific study of the nutritional analysis of cheese from cattle pastured in the Italian Alps during the summer. Tying it all together—first being the grass and the wildflowers and the communities in which they grow—I briefly noted the movement of slow food where greatly in reaction to fast food and the homogenization of cultures, a preservation of local food cultures, ecosystems, sustainability, and tradition is practiced and celebrated. I then wondered if there was need for a similar analogous movement of Slow Church.
I am not the first to wonder this. A quick Google search reveals there is already an emerging Slow Church movement in play. Like various movements in the church emerging—and in that broader movement itself—it is a focus on praxis, and not associated directly with doctrine or denomination. One article you might find useful is from last December’s Sojourners Magazine entitled “Slow Down and Know That I Am God” by C. Christopher Smith. In it, Smith generally describes the movement and then emphasizes three major streams that stand out: ethics, ecology, and economics. I find the ecology stream of particular interest.
By focusing on ecology, the Slow Church conversation remembers that humankind is part of an interconnected creation that God is at work reconciling. Modern science—and particularly physics and ecology—is beginning to reveal how deeply interconnected and interdependent the world is. Similarly, farmers such as Wendell Berry and Sir Albert Howard have reminded us how intertwined human life and health is with that of the soil on which we walk. As part of God’s creation, we must be attentive to the ways in which our actions might produce unintended consequences, and thus learn to act patiently and humbly in ways that fit the ends of reconciliation for which we long. One key part of this work is naming the powers (for example, individualism, nationalism, and consumerism) that serve to fragment and isolate us from humanity and other parts of creation. As part of our efforts to live within the ecology of God’s creation, we also learn to submit to the Sabbath rhythms of work and rest that God intends for the health and well-being of creation.
This is good stuff. Although, I’m not sure its by any means a new movement; rather, a reaction to many things within our own age and a different response to the challenges that are faced in the world, in the church, in the church world.
Wondering about all this as I have for some times I’ve come to read the scripture differently, especially the Gospels. So often the stories unfold, and Jesus especially uses, language of an agrarian nature. We sum it up as context. Speaking of sheep and figs, wine and branches, wheat and tares, etc., we usually understand these details as descriptive and allegorical. “A sower goes out,” “the fields are ripe for the harvest,” “the shepherd knows his sheep,” all good examples of lessons not really about seeds and grain and sheep. That makes sense, right? Or does it? So many of us are so “removed” from the agricultural roots of our forebears, be they biblical or generationally more recent, we often have to explain even the descriptive details to modern (and post modern) audiences to get across the meaning. And still, so many of us whether we live in concrete jungles, suburban sprawl, or Norman Rockwell appropriate cities/towns/villages are usually unawares of nature—the biological and ecological richness, variety, and relationship—right outside our doors; yet we are ever clamoring to find balance and rest and meaning. I wonder… I wonder if a kind of slow church movement is also what is being communicated in the word from the get-go.
Because the truth is, no matter how “removed” from agriculture or unaware of nature we may be, we are still a part of it and depend upon it and have a relationship with it. Therefore, when language of seed and plant and animal is used, they are not simply descriptive of the peasant context of “bible times” or allegorical examples, but they also describe us and our context. That is, I what I’m wondering. Let me say it another way.
Wendell Berry in his poem “Goods” says,
It’s the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
The gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.
“The green growth the mind takes from the pastures in March,” may not necessitate knowing what a pasture is (although it couldn’t hurt!), but speaks profoundly not only for the one the poem depicts, but for all of us.
May the grass and the flowers grow. May the pastures indeed be green.