What motivates us as individuals, as groups and as societies is often deep below the surface. Cultural undercurrents shape our thinking, our politics, and even our faith. Jesus said a tree is known by it’s fruit and these days many of us are wondering why the Church at large is bearing such bad fruit. Of course, if we want to point the finger we must begin by looking in the mirror as these undercurrents deeply influence us all – so much so that they are in affect invisible without careful examination.

One of these hidden cultural undercurrents I have been trying to understand and be free of since stumbling into agrarianism is the Industrial Mind (aka: the philosophy of industrialism). We are so under the influence of it’s logic that many of us cannot think otherwise. We no longer live in GOD’s world – in His Creation – but in a world of our own making – full of natural resources for our careless exploitation. The effects of this mindset are obvious when applied to the natural world around us – and profoundly destructive. But what happens when this Industrial Mind influences not just how we grow food and order society but how we grow and order the Church?

In the forthcoming book ‘Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus‘ – the authors touch on how this undercurrent may have shaped our religious landscape the same way it has shaped our agricultural practices – without most of us even knowing. In the first chapter they point out:

“The industrialization of the church has, significantly, paralleled the industrialization of agriculture and the near demise of the family farm. Joel Salatin—the self-described “Christianconservative-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer” featured in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary Food, Inc.—has written that conventional agriculture experts view the soil as merely a convenient way to hold up the plant while it is fed from the top in the form of ever-increasing doses of chemical fertilizers. He describes this process as superimposing a mechanistic mindset onto a biological world. Nature, in contrast, feeds the plants from the bottom up, through the soil. Thus, for the conscientious farmer, the health of the soil is a top priority.

Western Christianity has similarly adopted shortcuts that are the church equivalent of imposing a mechanistic mindset onto a biological world. When evaluated in terms of efficiency—defined as the easiest way to get someone from here to there, from unsaved to saved, from unchurched to churched—these top-down inputs seem to yield impressive short-term results: they can sometimes pack the pews. So on the upside, the church has been busy. On the downside, it’s not clear at what long-term costs these methods have been employed or how helpful and sustainable they will be going forward. Plug-and-play ministries, target marketing, celebrity pastors, tightly scripted worship performances, corporate branding, the substitution of nonhuman technology for human work, church growth formulas that can be applied without deference to local context, and programs upon programs upon programs— these entice us with promises of miraculous results in just a few easy steps. But, as evidenced by the growth of the Slow movement, Americans seem increasingly wary of being sold another product so scrubbed and polished and unsurprising you’d never guess it had been born of soil and sun and scat.

Slow Food and the other Slow movements hold important lessons for the American church. They compel us to ask ourselves tough questions about the ground our faith communities have ceded to the cult of speed. And they invite all of us—clergy, theologians and laypeople—to start exploring and experimenting with the possibilities of Slow Church. Not as another growth strategy, but as a way of re-imagining what it means to be communities of believers gathered and rooted in particular places at a particular time…”

As I mentioned in a previous post I am really looking forward to the soon-to-be released book ‘Slow Church’. If you are interested in getting a sneak peak and reading more of the first chapter of the book (which I highly recommend) go on over to the Englewood Review of Books.

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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