countercultural

Subversives in Christ

I WAS RAISED in an African-American church, but as an adult I discovered Anabaptism. Since then I’ve sought to learn from both the wider black church and Anabaptist traditions, to the point that I now consider myself an “Anablacktivist.”

Two experiences at my undergraduate Christian college helped propel me to see the significance of these two Christian streams. The first time was a chapel service, maybe a year after 9/11. The speaker, the Catholic priest John Dear, challenged us about U.S. violence and militarism—arguing that these weren’t consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus. I leaned forward in agreement, captivated by his message, feeling that it rang true and faithful to Jesus.

Then I noticed some movement in the darkened auditorium. Droves of students disruptively got up from their chairs and headed straight for the exits, in protest of the speaker and his “subversive” message that refused to affirm everything that the U.S. was doing in the world. I found myself deeply troubled by the defensive response of my (mostly white) Christian brothers and sisters to Dear’s thoroughly Jesus-shaped critiques of U.S. empire.

The second time was at a smaller “multicultural chapel service,” with just a few white peers present. The speaker spoke of U.S. history and present reality. He directly named white supremacy, racism as a system, and the experiences of black and brown people in the U.S. Once again I leaned forward, not wanting to miss a phrase. And again I watched many of the white students walk out.

As a follower of Christ, our speaker challenged us to live differently because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet something inherent in my peers’ socialization had them clinging more to their white identity than to the Christian challenge. These two chapel experiences helped me contemplate the depth of the church’s troubles in the U.S. and its insubstantial Christian formation.

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Taking the Long Road Home

HERE’S WHAT Slow Church is not: A how-to manual with five easy steps to make your congregation more thoughtful. A celebration of how using the word “community” often on your church website will multiply your pledge and attendance numbers. An ode to really, really long worship services.

Rather, Slow Church explores being church in a way that emphasizes deep engagement in local people and places, quality over quantity, and in all things taking the long view—understanding individuals and congregations as participants in the unfolding drama of all creation. Authors C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison are self-proclaimed “amateurs,” insofar as they are writers-editors and lay leaders, not professional pastors, theologians, or congregational consultants. But this book is richly informed by their experience in their own church contexts (Englewood Christian Church in a gritty neighborhood in Indianapolis for Smith; an evangelical Quaker meeting in small-town Oregon for Pattison), conversations with other church communities, and close reading of classic and contemporary literature on culture, Christian community, scripture, and spirituality.

The book’s name is a reference to the International Slow Food Movement, which resists the homogenizing and industrializing effects of globalization on food. Smith and Pattison cite sociologist George Ritzer’s argument that fast-food principles, what he calls “McDonaldization”—marked by efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control—are taking over broad areas of culture in the U.S. and beyond. The authors see McDonaldization affecting churches as well, as church-growth methods and the pace of consumer culture push congregations to seek faster gratification and achieve business-inflected benchmarks. Slow Church is an argument to return to the countercultural roots of the church, the ones that call it to be salt and leaven in the places it is planted. Smith and Pattison write:

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