Slow food is about seasonal ingredients, patiently nurtured, carefully prepared, lovingly cooked.
The ingredients of ‘slow mission’ are people and the Christian gospel; and also, seasons, brokenness, diversity, giftedness and time — things we need to keep reminding ourselves of.
Slow mission is about trying to make the world better by applying the whole gospel of Christ to the whole of life. It’s about using what gifts we have for the common good. It moves at the pace of nature. It respects seasons. It is happy with small steps but has a grand vision. It knows of only one Lord and one Church. Making disciples of ourselves is as important as making disciples of others. Diversity is embraced. Playfulness is recommended.
A fresh entry comes out about once a week. The idea is to learn together and encourage each other. Comments and guest blogs are welcome. Each entry is bite-sized, 500 words or less. Please do subscribe, join in, enjoy.
‘Slow mission’ is about huge ambition–all things united under Christ–and tiny steps.
I contrast it with much talk and planning about ‘goals’ and ‘strategies’ which happens in the parts of church I inhabit, and which have an appearance of spirituality, but make me sometimes feel like I am in the Christian meat-processing industry.
Here’s a summary of slow mission values, as currently figured out by me:
Devoted. Centred on Christ as Saviour and Lord. Do we say to Christ, ‘Everything I do, I do it for you.’ Do we hear Christ saying the same thing back to us?
Belonging. We sign up, take part, dive in, identify, work with others, live with the compromises. Not for us a proud independence.
Respecting vocation. Where do ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger’ meet?1. Vocation is where God’s strokes of genius happen. That’s where we should focus our energies.
To do with goodness. Goodness in the world is like a tolling bell that can’t be silenced and that itself silences all arguments.
Observing seasons. ‘There’s a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’2.The world will be OK even if we check out for a while. (Note: our families, however, won’t be.)
Into everything. We are multi-ethnic and interdependent. We like the handcrafted. We are interested in all humanity and in all that humanity is interested in. Wherever there’s truth, beauty, creativity, compassion, integrity, service, we want to be there too, investing and inventing. We don’t take to being shut out. Faith and everything mix.
Quite keen on common sense. We like to follow the evidence and stick to the facts. We like to critique opinions and prejudices. We don’t, however, argue with maths. Against our human nature, we try to listen to those we disagree with us. We’re not afraid of truth regardless of who brings it. We want to be learners rather than debaters.
Happy to write an unfinished symphony. Nothing gets completed this side of death and eternity. What we do gets undone. That’s OK. Completeness is coming in God’s sweet time. ‘Now we only see a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.’3.
Comfortable with the broken and the provisional. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for right, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the laughed-at. This also implies a discomfort with the pat, the glib, the primped, the simplistic, the triumphalistic and the schlocky.
Refusing to be miserable. The Universe continues because of God’s zest for life, despite everything, and his insouciance that it will all probably work out somehow. In sorrows, wounds and in the inexplicable, we join God in his childlike faith.
I was so shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Alexei Navalny. I thought, Mandela-like, he was going to survive prison and see the regime he opposed collapse around him. Not to be. But how brave, how slow, how peace-loving it was to return to Russia when he didn’t need to, and take his stand with determination and wit, retaining a sense of fun even if all around him was grim. This is the powerless frightening the life out of the powerful; President Putin could not evidently bring himself to utter his name.
It was quite something to discover that this Russia hero had a Christian faith. I’m grateful to blogger Diane Butler-Bass for this slightly redacted version of his testimony. (You can find more of her here, and I enjoy her weekly writing)
In prison, apparently, he used to pretend he was on a spaceflight–hence the discomfort–towards a new Russia, one that was Europe-like in its democracy and rule of law, but Russia-like in its history and greatness. He didn’t see it yet. Instead the call from his Lord was: ‘This day you will be with me in paradise’.
The fact is that I am a believer, which, in general, rather serves as an example of constant ridicule in the Anti-Corruption Foundation, because mostly people are atheists, I myself was quite militant.
But now I am a believer, and this helps me a lot in my work, because everything becomes much, much simpler. I think less, there are fewer dilemmas in my life — because there is a book (editorial note: the Bible) in which, in general, it is more or less clearly written what needs to be done in each situation. It’s not always easy, of course, to follow this book, but in general I try.
And therefore, as I already said, it is easier for me, probably than many others, to get involved in politics.
A person recently wrote to me: “Navalny, what is everyone writing to you: ‘Hold on, don’t give up, be patient, grit your teeth? Why do you have to endure it?’ I think you said in an interview that you believe in God. And it is said: ‘Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.’ Well, that’s great for you, then!”
And I thought — wow, this person understands me so well!
It’s not that I’m great, but I’ve always perceived this specific commandment as more or less an instruction for action. And so, of course, not really enjoying the place where I am, nevertheless, I do not have any regrets about coming back, about what I do. Because I did everything right. On the contrary, I feel such satisfaction or something. Because at some difficult moment I did as expected according to the instructions, and did not betray the commandment…
For a modern person this whole commandment — “blessed, thirsty, hungering for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” — sounds very pompous. People who say things like that are supposed to be, quite frankly, crazy. Crazy strange people are sitting there with disheveled hair in their cell and, therefore, trying to cheer themselves up with something. Although, of course, they are lonely, they are loners, no one needs them. And this is the most important thing. Our power, the system is trying to tell such people: “You are lonely, you are a loner.”
It is important to intimidate first, and then show that you are alone. Well, because what normal, adequate people adhere to some kind of commandment. The thing about loneliness is very important. It is very important as a goal of power. Excellent, by the way, one of the wonderful philosophers named Luna Lovegood said about this. Remember this was in Harry Potter? And talking to Harry Potter during some difficult times, she told him: “It’s important not to feel lonely, because, of course, if I were Voldemort, I would really like you to feel lonely.” Of course, of course, our Voldemort in the palace wants this too….
I don’t feel alone at all. And I’ll explain why. Because this construction — “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” — it seems somehow exotic, strange, but in fact this is the main political idea that now exists in Russia…
This is very important, despite the fact that our country now, of course, is built on injustice, and we are constantly faced with injustice. We see the worst kind of injustice — armed injustice. Nevertheless, we see that at the same time millions of people, tens of millions of people, want the truth. They want to achieve the truth, and sooner or later they will achieve it. They will be satisfied.
This is the truth, and you can’t argue against it. And sooner or later these people who want the truth will achieve their goal, they will be satisfied.
And the important thing that I want to tell you, and in your person, you, the prosecutor, in general, all the authorities and all the people, is that it is important not to be afraid of these people. And do not be afraid of those who seek the truth.
My grandad was disabled because, as an 18-year-old, a month or two before the Armistice in the first war, he was gassed. He ended up losing a lung. All his life he had a mighty cough, and he never slept lying down. I knew him and look like him and apparently act like him.
Possibly he would have praised the power of compounding that meant his life was easier than his father’s. My great-grandad was bedridden with gangrene, cared for by his wife, in a small house with few luxuries beyond a piano. (There were not enough chairs, for example, so my grandad ate his meals standing up as a child.)
The compounding wealth and compounding technology had meant my grandad had a job and a comfortable home, all supplied by the council, and electricity and water and TV and a pension and holidays. The boy who’d run down the street when someone said, ‘Look, a car!’, grew to be the old man who watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon, and he was amazed and grateful for it all.
My memory of him is seated in his chair, by the coal fire, books by his feet, reading, reading (though not when we grandchildren were around when his sense of fun gave full rein). He was a keen socialist, and a Methodist preacher, and he belonged to that era when town councils and public funds supplied things for the common good–like libraries and education–and socialism and the welfare state sort-of worked.
Two generations on and what has compounding achieving? Economic compounding means welfare benefits are more generous and people’s means are on average greater. Technological compounding means I have computers and the internet, an electric bike and electric buggy, a pacemaker in my chest that supplies the heartbeats I need. Today we test drove a new car and I’ve recently joined a gym, whose machines adjust themselves to me, work out a fitness scheme, and lead me into it. None of this is merited. I have just floated on the rising tide of compounding: other people making little steps to make things good or better, to do things well, repeated and repeated and repeated.
Surely this points to the power of quiet revolution, of patient progress, of slow purposefulness. This tide is rising all over the world, subverted constantly by evil, but rising, rising.
Without it, the world grinds and splinters and crunches.
Here’s a thing. I was reading one feminist criticising another and she accused her of being ‘joyless.’
It is a missing piece.
You can be campaigning for social justice, but if you’re joyless you’re a bit brutal.
You can be a brave single mum, but if you’re joyless, you’re just tired and hard.
You can be someone carrying heavy responsibilities and onerous duties but if you have not joy you’re just stressy and self-pitying.
You can be working hard for very needy people, but joyless, you’re not too attractive a person to be with.
Joy lightens loads and eases tensions. It makes smooth work of heavy work. Joy respects the opponent. Joy understands we’re all broken, all needy, all in pieces, only anything at all because we’ve been scooped up and smiled on and loved. Joy looks into the grimmness but isn’t itself begrimed. Joy peers into the depths of darkness but finds a spark.
The slow philosophy is not about doing everything in tortoise mode. It’s less about the speed and more about investing the right amount of time and attention in the problem so that you can solve it. Carl Honoré
My wife pointed this quote to me, which reminded me I’d read Carl Honoré’s book In Praise of Slow many years ago. I’d forgotten; but it surely influenced me a lot.
I also found this interview with him, which I think is public domain, and indeed used in publicity for his book. So I hope it’s OK to reproduce it here.
Q&A with Carl
What is In Praise of Slow about?
It examines our compulsion to hurry and chronicles a global trend toward putting on the brakes. It is the unofficial handbook and bible of the Slow Movement. It is published in more than 30 languages and has been a bestseller in many countries. It was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week and the inaugural choice for the Huffington Post Book Club. It also featured in a British TV sitcom, Argentina’s version of Big Brother and a TV commercial for the Motorola tablet. The Financial Times said In Praise of Slow is “to the Slow Movement what Das Kapital is to communism.”
Is the Slow Movement anti-speed?
Of course not! I’m not an extremist of slowness. I love speed. But faster is not always better. Being Slow means doing everything at the correct speed: quickly, slowly or whatever pace works best. Slow means being present, living each moment fully, putting quality before quantity in everything from work and sex to food and parenting.
Has our obsession with speed has gone too far?
It’s reached the point of absurdity. You can now do courses in Speed Yoga or attend a Drive Thru Funeral. A magazine in Britain even published an article recently on how to bring about an orgasm in 30 seconds! So even in the bedroom it’s, “On your marks, get set, go!” Our speedaholism is out of control, and we all know it.
What inspired you to embrace Slow?
A personal wake-up call. When I caught myself admiring a book of one-minute bedtime stories (Snow White in 60 seconds!), I suddenly realised I was racing through my life instead of living it.
But if we slow down, surely life will pass us by?
On the contrary. Life is what’s happening right here, right now – and only by slowing down can you live it to the full. If you are always rushing, you only skim the surface of things.
How has slowing down changed your life?
Every moment of my day used to be a race against the clock. Now I never feel rushed any more. I do fewer things but I do them better and enjoy them more. I am healthier and have more energy. At work, I am much more productive and creative. I also have time for those little moments that bring meaning and joy to life – reading to my children, sharing a glass of wine with my wife, chatting with a friend, pausing to gaze at a beautiful sunset. I feel so much more alive now.
Why do we live so fast today?
Lots of reasons. Speed is fun, sexy, an adrenaline rush. It’s like a drug and we are addicted. At the same time, the world has become a giant buffet of things to do, consume, experience – and we rush to have it all. The modern workplace also pushes us to work faster and longer while technology encourages us to do everything faster and faster.
What is the main obstacle to slowing down in this fast world?
Fear. Thanks to the powerful taboo against slowness, even just thinking about slowing down makes us feel afraid, guilty or ashamed. Add to that the fear of being alone with our thoughts. Speed is often an instrument of denial, a way of avoiding deeper problems. Instead of facing up to what is going wrong in our lives, we distract ourselves with speed and busyness.
Slowing down can be the antidote to that. It allows us to reflect on the big questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? What sort of life should I be leading? How can I make the world a better place? Such questions can be uncomfortable but confronting them ultimately brings greater depth to our lives.
Is the Slow Movement also gaining ground in the workplace?
Very much so. Forward-thinking companies all over the world are looking for ways to help their staff slow down. By giving them more control over their schedules so they can work at their own pace, accelerating and decelerating when it suits them. By limiting working hours. Or by creating quiet spaces for doing yoga, massage or even take a short nap during the workday. The boom in meditation or mindfulness in the corporate world is another sign that business is waking up to the power and wisdom of slowing down. Not long ago the Economist magazine told its readers: “Forget frantic acceleration. Mastering the clock of business is about choosing when to be fast and when to be slow.” And that’s the Economist singing the praises of slowness in the workplace; it’s not Buddhist Monthly or Acupuncture Weekly!
What are the tell-tale symptoms of living too fast?
When you feel tired all the time and like you’re just going through the motions, getting through the many things on your To-Do list but not engaging with them deeply or enjoying them very much. You don’t remember things as vividly when you rush through them. You feel like you’re racing through your life instead of actually living it. Illnesses are often the body’s way of saying, “Enough already, slow down!”
What is the future of the Slow Movement?
The good news is that the Slow movement is growing fast! And as the world gets faster, the need for a counter-current of slowness will grow too. I feel more optimistic now than I did when In Praise of Slow first came out.
But what do you say to people who claim that the world will inevitably go on speeding up and that a Slow revolution is pie in the sky?
I say look at the history books. Take the rise of feminism. In the 60s, when feminists said the world was unjust and the moment for change had come, the mainstream reaction was: No, the world has always been this way. You can’t change it. Go back to the kitchen! But look at the world today. Obviously there is a long way to go to create a world of perfect gender equality, but a woman today could hardly imagine how severely life was limited for her grandmother. I look at my sister and my grandmother and marvel at the change in just two generations. And the green movement has followed a similar arc: it was dismissed as a plaything for hippies and tree-huggers thirty years ago but today is near the top of the political agenda. The message is that the world can change, if we want it to. For a cultural revolution to occur, you need three factors: the need for change; an awareness of the need for change; and people willing to put that change into practice. We now have all three factors in place for the Slow revolution to push on. I think the Slow movement is at the same point as feminism or green-ism was 30 or 40 years ago. We won’t change the world, or make it Slow, by next year. It will take time. The Slow revolution will be slow. But I believe it will happen.
What will a Slow world look like?
It will be a world that is healthy, happy and humane. But you have to realistic. I am no utopian. I am a skeptic by nature. I don’t believe we will ever create a world where everyone does everything at the right speed and no one ever feels rushed. That’s just a fantasy. The world is too complex and interconnected for that. It’s impossible in a world where we have to interact with others. Impatience is also part of being human. I suspect even the Dalai Lama rushes unnecessarily sometimes! Even I forget to slow down from time to time. I face a barrage of requests to give speeches, do interviews, etc from all over the world every day and it’s hard not to get caught up in the frenzy. But at least our starting point should be to seek the tempo giusto and to expect others to do so too.
What do you hope readers will take away from In Praise of Slow?
I hope that they will pause and reflect on how they lead their lives and how their lives affect the people and the world around them. I guess what I really want is for readers to grasp the very counter-cultural idea that the best way to survive and thrive in the fast-paced modern world is not to speed up but to slow down. And it seems to be working. Every day I open up my inbox and find a few emails from readers around the world who say the book has changed their lives. It’s exciting, and humbling.
I’ve been busy for the last few months moving all my blogs to Substack — slowly, as it happens. Once it’s done I’ll let you know. Part of this involves putting all the books I’ve recommended over the years into my own bookshop at Bookshop.org. This site enables you to buy books by post much as you would through Amazon or someone, but a bit from each purchase goes to support independent bricks-and-mortar bookshops. (And some in theory comes to me.)
Creating your own bookshop with all the books that lit you up and changed how you think, or just were great, is the most enormous fun, like surrounding youself with old friends. My shop is still a work a progress but I thought you might like a sneako peeko.
Hope Valley is a place, in the English Peak District, where our men’s breakfast group held one of our annual walking weekends.
It’s also an emotional space, a rather life-saving one. So much about our world seems never to budge. The wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are in palaces. Lives are snuffed out at a dictator’s whim. Armies clash, soldiers die, loved ones mourn. Shells blow futures to smithereens. Praying people pray and pray and nothing happens.
‘God,’ said Desmond Tutu (I paraphrase), ‘we know you’re on the side of the right, but couldn’t you make it a little more obvious?”The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice,’ famously quoted Martin Luther King.
Perhaps I could be allowed to add: sometimes this arc of history seems very long, longer than scurrying our little human lives can bear. Many lives aren’t long enough to see the good arrive.
Nor does the arc always bend in entirely pleasing ways. Mandela became president of South Africa, a happy geometry. Not long afterwards he was followed by a thief who plundered the country, rather than built it, and then by a good person, but who has, by some accounts, yet to get a grip. So a bad thing was followed by a different bad thing (plunder) and then by another different bad thing (unmended brokenness).
That arc of history has non-linear qualities. It wobbles. Sometimes it veers in the wrong direction.
Which is why you need hope, and why, for now, it’s a valley.
Thanks to hope we can know that the arc will be tamed someday, that symmetry will be restored.
Here’s St Augustine, who, I’m realizing, did for Christian thought in the City of God roughly what Newton did for physics in the Principia Mathematica.
This starts being about pears, and is from Augustine’s Confessions. You have to take a slightly deep breath, but if you come out from under it, it’s worth keeping going.
A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd young fellows of us went, late one night (having according to our pestilent custom prolonged our sports in the streets till then), and took huge loads, not for our eating, but to fling to the very hogs, having only tasted them. And this, but to do what we liked only, because it was misliked. Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!
So I think what he’s saying is that he and his fellow lewd young fellows, after scandalously playing in the streets, ransacked a pear tree: not because they needed the pears, but just for the fun of it. But why? after a few more paragraphs, he tells us:
I might mimic a maimed liberty by doing with impunity things unpermitted me. 1
So: he knows the rules. But he tastes a kind of freedom by breaking the rules. It’s a ‘maimed freedom’. But it’s still a kind of freedom.
This is so true about everything and sits exactly at the dividing line between the short-cut and the slow. Rule breaking feels like the way to get stuff done. ‘Move fast and break things’ is now a Silicon Valley cliche. But (according to Augustine), the result is ‘a maimed freedom’.
In my younger days I watched two people I know well each make a large amount of money by starting their own businesses. (They didn’t know each other.) I observed that both broke the rules to get where they did. It would complete the narrative arc if I were able to say that both now regret it. I can’t. I’m not sure they do regret it, though each has changed focus somewhat.
But I do think that all the times we let our greed and impatience get the better of us, as I do, we invest in a maimed freedom, not the real thing. And my mate Augustine backs me up.
This is something fascinating going on in Britain (and, I suspect, in the rest of Europe and the Western world):
Society is relying more on the social contribution of churches
Church attendance is declining
Churches are discovering that social action, church growth and discipleship belong inextricably together, and together open the way forward for a season of fresh growth, relevance and impact for the Church.
It is a quiet, slow-burn, patient revolution, my favourite type. It is not centrally organized, but spontaneously has arisen all over the nation. It developed through a decade of austerity and was shocked into further action by the pandemic. I think in a career of observing church trends in the UK, it is the most encouraging thing I have ever seen. It builds on and with other trends in the UK that have moved the needle: the rise of beautiful worship; the flourishing of the alpha course; the development of church-planting churches, networks and movements. There is probably a bunch of dying that the Church still needs to do, but perhaps for the first time in a generation, or longer, there are railway tracks heading into a bright future, and the Church is riding on them.
Here’s a quote from a report produced by the Theos thinktank in 2020, just as the worst of the pandemic was being felt:
Over the past decade, the contribution that the Church of England makes to society through its social action has increased, reflecting an increase in the demand and expectation for it. At the same time, church attendance in the country has continued to decline; by most key metrics, attendance at Church of England services fell between 15% and 20% from 2009-2019. This is the paradox facing the Church of England in 2020: the national church of a nation which is increasingly reliant on its social action and yet less and less spiritually connected to it.1
The report noted that ‘the Church grows in number and depth when it is present in and connected to its local area, which may be manifested through its social action.’ Its longevity and presence make it well placed. Hospitality and generosity are significant. And ‘participation in social action can also offer a practical route into faith for people who weren’t previously part of the church community.’2
Exciting stuff. And it doesn’t involve massaging church statistics until something positive is squeezed out. It’s everywhere. I see it in the Christmas letters I receive from friends. I see it in my own church which, in other ways, is not exactly a picture of glowing health. I see it elsewhere in Cambridge. And I read it in reports like this one.
Four qualities of spiritual revival have recurred throught the centuries. Revivals are:
Popular and populist
Transformative, calling for conversions
Devotional – calling forth relationships of love
I’m grateful to Christian History magazine (episode 149) to codify these things and helping us to see that revival in those terms popped up not just among Protestants but at many points in medieval Christianity. It is, of course, exactly what we need today. And (see the two previous posts in this optimistic Advent season), perhaps it is happening.
I couldn’t resist passing on this quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber, who hangs out on Substack, which platform I’m exploring these days.
She’s mouthy, sweary, tattooed, controversial and generally terrifying to me, but she knows a lot about grace, and she can write. I thank God, and her, for between them making the world a better place.
…a gentle reminder that Christ will be born on Christmas with or without us “feeling” Christmas-y. Because this pattern of time, this story, these rituals and practices and songs have gone on long before us and will continue long after us. Sometimes we are floating in that river of faith, just swimming in it and feeling the transcendent warmth of the season. And other times we seem to be standing in just a half inch of the stuff; not even enough to cover our feet. But the power of the river, its source and its destination changes not at all. And both things: submerged in and barely having our feet in are the same. There’s no ranking system at work here. One is not “better” than the other. One does not “count more”. That’s just not how this thing works. Thank God