My wife, Katie, and I were enjoying a coffee yesterday afternoon and talking about the difference between making an espresso and using a “pod machine”. Katie commented on how quickly the popularity of pod machines had grown but both of us were concerned by the amount of waste they produce.
If you are unfamiliar with “pod machines” each “pod” contains a serve of coffee (and perhaps even milk powder to make an instant latte or cappuccino). All you do is put the pod into the machine and press start. But each pod, a small plastic cup, is then thrown away.
Katie and I then mused for a while about the “theology of coffee machines”. It seems that many people are willing to compromise on taste and quality for convenience. It is very convenient to pop a pod into a machine, regardless of the waste it then produces or the amount of energy required to make the pod in the first place. I have even had people have an espresso from my machine and comment on how long it takes to make a coffee, even though they usually agree the coffee is much better than their instant coffee at home any way.
The reality is that we aren’t happy to wait an extra 30 seconds in the supermarket line, but we will swap to the shorter one to get on our way quicker. We are always looking for a quicker way to do stuff, always looking to cram more into our lives. We have pride in saying our week was “busy” when people ask. We will buy “quick and easy” meals because we “don’t have time” to cook or learn how to make something beautiful from local or homegrown vegetables. Some celebrities will even call you a “freak” if you grow your own food instead of valuing their quick and easy, frozen, additive filled meals! Generally speaking we live in a world which is super fast, values convenience and doesn’t want you to slow down.
So is it ok to value convenience and efficiency over quality and beauty?
The Kingdom of God has broken into our world in the person of Jesus Christ. And it would seem to me that the Kingdom of God is much less about efficiency and convenience than it is about beauty, community and ethics. God doesn’t have a plan which is instantaneous in its saving work, but rather God chose a story. God chose to walk with a Nation of People. He chose to send his Son to live a life and die. God chose a community of people, the Church, to carry on the mission of living life together and for that to be the way people see and hear of the Kingdom of God. It’s messy at times, but beautiful when it works. And it’s slow.
I think that when we start to value convenience and efficiency in life over something that is slow but beautiful it can easily creep into our mindset and attitudes about God and the Church. Sure, if you really want to drink instant coffee or a pod machine that’s not necessarily a reflection of your relationship with God or the Church but the reality is that as we have increasingly sought convenience over beauty we have done the same in the Church and in our walk with God.
There is a great book* by Christopher Smith and John Pattinson called Slow Church. It is an alternative to the “McDonaldization” of Church – “that is, the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.” (quoting George Ritzer in Slow Church, pg 13).
The premise of Slow Church is to reimagine Church as a unique gathering of the People of God, rooted in a particular place at a particular time (Slow Church, pg 15). Slow Church seeks to use the principals of the “Slow Movement” to repent from the industrialised nature of modern western Christianity and spur our imaginations into a “rich vision of the holistic, interconnected and abundant life together to which God has called us in Christ Jesus” focusing on the theologically based “slow principals” of ethics, ecology and economy (Slow Church, pg 15-16).
Since worship is an all of life thing (Romans 12:1) in all aspects of our lives we should seek to reflect the Kingdom of God, even in our coffee drinking. And when our coffee drinking habits promote convenience ahead of the ethically grown coffee beans, ahead of the environment, ahead of beauty, ahead of slowing down, then perhaps we should change them.
I love the fact that my coffee is ethically sourced, that I grind it myself, load the machine, froth the milk and attempt some sort of latte art on the top. I love the fact that all my coffee grinds wind up bringing plenty of worms to the garden and compost (for some reason worms LOVE coffee grinds)! Sure it sometimes takes 10 mins to make coffee for myself and my wife, and a further 5-10 mins when the kids want one too! But that’s time spent with my family. That’s beauty and enjoyment in drinking something that is delicious and not just a caffeine hit.
The quicker the Church realises that food takes time, that beauty takes time, that love takes time, that community takes time… the quicker (pun intended) we will slow down and enjoy being on mission together in our neighbourhoods.
*Note: I am in no way affiliated with C. Christopher Smith, John Pattinson and Slow Church. I simply follow them on Twitter and have read their book.