Is the Church too hopped up on Espresso?

posted in: Church, Culture, Theology | 0

I spend a lot of time thinking about ecclesiology and how it relates to church practice in this post-Christian era. Beyond this, how is our praxis of church shaped by our culture rather than our praxis of culture being shaped by our ecclesiology? I keep asking myself what it means to be a faithful church community and how does this looks in the day-to-day. Ever since I started at Tyndale, I have been thinking about this conceptually. But now after spending several years in pastoral roles, 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. In one book, Slow Church, there was this pregnant paragraph that I absolutely loved. 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 the 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 futile to seek the joy directly. One of the great paradoxes of the gospel is that we find supreme joy indirectly as we go through the 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 of bread and a bottle of wine, and forget the work involved before the communion table. Bread and wine take time and effort to produce.

My wife, Alyssa, and I enjoy making bread and often it can be a whole day event. The dough must be kneaded, proofed, and have the time to rest before it can be baked. Many types require a second proof before they can be placed in the oven. It takes time and we do not even have to make the flour ourselves. It takes 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. Before getting an espresso machine last year, I regularly used the AeroPress (this video offers a great introduction to it). In both cases, I would grind my beans right before using them. With the Aeropress, I was using a hand grinder which required some effort. As with the bread, it is a bit 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, we want fun and excitement, and certainly do not want it to appear tainted. 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 have lost count of how many times I have heard ‘fun’ mentioned as the necessary component of a successful church. Related to this, any hint that anything could even be perceived as boring is anathema. Mennonite Pastor, Melissa Florer-Bixler, wrote about boredom and the church recently. Her conclusion is “Perhaps we’ll find that it is a gift to have an hour where no one is catering to our capitalist-formed desires, where no one is trying to grasp our attention, where worship, in its beauty and boringness, is enough.” 

I used to find myself located in churches that functioned within the flashy and fun ideological framework, even though I never truly felt comfortable there. Did I often find church boring? Certainly. Does my mind wander? Easily. Do I like to be entertained? Who doesn’t? But as Florer-Bixler remarks this is culturally-rooted capitalism battling within me. And 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 we make. 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. One hopes this slow approach will quickly transform the Canadian church landscape.