Lent is a time to slow down. It’s a time where we remember that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. That’s striking, right? Jesus spends 40 days alone before any ‘real ministry’ takes place. Jesus calls us to go into the wilderness, too, and to become slow and to waste time (in the eyes of the world). We give up technology that we might look each other in the eyes and develop the gift of truly being present. Other Christians adopt diets that make us remember that food takes time—plants must grow and animals must graze.Pastors, if anyone, must learn that slow can be a good thing. Oftentimes our biggest accomplishment is a well-formed prayer after a visitation or a good paragraph in a sermon. A slow week at church does not feel like an opportunity for more time in prayer, study, and writing—it’s torture; I pull my hair out until I find something ‘productive’ to do, like help someone.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Slow Pastors: We Need Some New Role Models
I always fancied myself an electric razor kind of guy, but I recently made the move toward a five blade manual razor—the Gillette Fusion ProGlide, to be exact. My world already feels too rushed. Why must I make shaving as efficient as possible? It’s nice to slow down, to feel the gel on your hands, massage it into your skin, and then to hear the crackling sound of sandpaper as the razor is pulled down. It beats the electric sound of buzzing anyway. I wonder if hipsters buy classic shave sets and vinyl because they just want to slow down. A manual razor seems to be a step in the right direction for me.
God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. We worship a patient God. I think of the work that the ekklesia project has done on ‘slow church.’ “[This] is the God who walked with his people for forty years across the wilderness, sat with his people for seventy years in exile, attends to the impoverished and down-and-out, considers the lilies of the fields, loves this world enough to become human, died on a cross rather than kill, and took three days to be resurrected.” (See ekklesiaproject.org). Any God who calls humans to be God’s hands and feet is surely not in any hurry.
That’s partly because all of our current Christian pastor heroes are not known for being slow. We endorse the ‘Rob Bells’ and in the United Methodist Church, the ‘Adam Hamiltons.’ I read people like Karl Barth and Stanley Hauerwas who ‘have no unpublished thoughts.’ It’s about volume—the number of worshippers, the number of mission projects, the number of original theological thoughts. We look up to the kinds of people that make us wonder, “How do you do so much?” None of these things can be accomplished by going on ‘prayer walks,’ right?
During Lent I remember the unproductive Christians—the fathers who ventured out to the wilderness, the mystics who lived in convents, the Christians who waste their time by staring at rocks. I remember people like Julian of Norwich. She found God in an acorn and it changed her life. Yes, an acorn. As she held the acorn in her hands she wondered, “What can this be?” And God spoke to her, “It is everything which is made. For God made it. God loves it. And God preserves it.” Paying attention to it, she learned how God paid attention to her. Holding it, she learned how God held her. Julian writes, “Love was its meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love.” You can't notice an acorn if you drive everywhere.
The mainstream church needs heroes like Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, which is a group home for those with mental disabilities. Vanier's community was less about consuming God and more about kenosis, self-emptying vulnerability. L'Arche is about learning to love one another. Vanier writes, “Love doesn't mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.” Vanier didn’t build a legacy by packing stadiums with his sermons. He participated in the slow formation of a community that became a part of Christ’s subversive kingdom.
We need more exemplars like Julian and Vanier. Although, I presume that Vanier is ok with being ‘relatively’ anonymous. These are the people who are doing the patient, enduring work of God in our world. They are the ones who challenge us to become incarnate in a community, even if we did not choose it, and learn to love its strengths and weaknesses. Where are all the slow pastors? No, really, where are they? Maybe we are too busy to find them or don’t want to move slow enough to notice them.