I have been spending a great deal of time over the past couple of years thinking about what it means to be the Church. More specifically, I keep asking myself what it means to be a faithful church community in our cultural climate, and how does this look in the day to day. Ever since I started at Tyndale, I have been thinking about this conceptually. But now as pastor of a small church in a suburb of one North America’s most irreligious city, Vancouver, this is no longer merely a thought experiment but survival. So I have been reading, listening, talking and thinking about ecclesiology in daily life a lot. One book I recently finished reading was Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison. In it, there was this pregnant paragraph that I absolutely loved. So much so, that I texted it to my brother and he responded ‘YES.’ It reads:
As coffee lovers, we sometimes think of the gospel as a coffee bean. We can’t experience the pleasures of coffee directly from the bean. It is experienced indirectly, as the bean is roasted (put through fire, so to speak), ground to a powder and subjected to boiling water. We’re confident the God desires for us to find joy and deep pleasure in our local faith communities, but we’re equally convinced that it is future to seek the joy directly. One of the great paradoxes of the gospel is that we find supreme joy indirectly as we go through fire, are ground up and poured out for each other. This process of giving ourselves up for one another is at the very heart of the way of Jesus… The very elements of the Eucharist- the bread and the wine, the symbols of Christ’s being poured out on our behalf – imply the grinding and baking of the wheat and the stomping and patient fermentation of the grapes. In our consumer culture, we are constantly being bombarded with messages that urge us to seek happiness, usually by pulling out our wallet. (57)
I am a coffee lover too and find this illustration very compelling, specifically the connection they developed with the elements of the Eucharist. It is all too easy for us to get fixated on the grocery story mentality of go and grab a loaf bread and a bottle of wine, and forget the work involved prior to the communion table.Bread and wine take time and effort to produce.
My wife, Alyssa, enjoys making bread and, it can be a whole day event. She must proof, knead, and let the dough rest before she even puts it in the oven- and she doesn’t have to make the flour herself. It takes her time, care and attention to bring it to its telos. In the end, it is worth it, because it tastes so much better. The same is true with my coffee. I prefer to use the AeroPress system (check it out here) and I grind my beans right before I use them. I know it’s crazy, but I find it better. As with the bread, it is more time consuming, but better and more green than single pod coffee.
The church today seems to prefer grocery store ‘Wonder’ bread over the homemade variety. We want fast, we want easy, and we want it to appear untainted. Any sign of effort, difficulty or god-forbid a mistake is an abomination. We can blame it on Instagram or Pinterest, but we have been trying to have magazine perfection for decades. Something in our fabric, our cultural DNA or our very selves predisposes us to desire quick and flashy.
I use to want this too, and even when I didn’t, I still allowed myself to function under that ideology. I don’t want this anymore and I am doing my best to prevent this type of thinking from creeping into my psyche. I want slow and meaningful. I want my spiritual bread crafted with the same care and attention as the fresh bread my wife makes. I don’t have this figured out and I don’t know if I ever will. But I find the ‘Slow Church’ mentality so much more satisfying intellectually, pragmatically and spiritually.