Recently I learned (from Tom Hodgkinson’s Idler newsletter) about a new project by the UN’s International Labour Organization training center. It’s a manifesto of sorts on the benefits of “slow learning.” From their website:
We live in an age of information overload, ever-accelerating technologies, and split-second learning. Citizens, learners, and workers today are required to continuously reskill, upskill, and newskill to keep up with this new pace.
The Slow Food movement paved the way for a good, clean, fair future of food. And now, we’re putting on the brakes to learn at this new tempo. It’s time to praise questions over answers. It’s time to value observations over evaluations. It’s time to prioritize self-reflection over criticism.
This got me thinking about whether we could apply some of these same principles to discipleship and spiritual formation? What would “Slow Formation” or “Slow Discipleship” look like? In what ways have we in the church unconsciously absorbed the values of the fast-paced, profit-driven, novelty-obsessed culture around us? How might we reimagine discipleship at a slower pace that better aligns with how people actually grow in Christ?
The first part of the book is framed as a “Bill of Rights”, ten manifesto points for slow learners. Here they are, with a little explanation about each (written by Tom Hodgkinson, who contributed to the project).
(As a bill of rights, each item on the list is preceded by the statement: “You have a right to …”)
(Also, as you read these, think about how embracing this manifesto would change our approach to forming disciples of Jesus.)
1) Focus on direction, not destination.
Immerse yourself completely in the journey and you will reach your final goal gradually.
2. Raise your hand.
Asking questions is a fundamental human right.
3. Learn at your own pace.
Find your rhythm, find your flow. Don’t compare yourself to others.
You have the right to disconnect and move your attention towards what’s essential. Learn unplugged, far away from digital distractions.
5. Change your learning path (and mind).
Don’t get too comfortable in the habit zone and start with changing the aversion to change. Think differently and learn new things.
6. Take a break.
Micro-breaks, lunch breaks, and longer breaks will all improve your learning performance. You have the right to rest.
7. Make mistakes.
Don’t fall into despair but Fail Forward.
8. Leave it unfinished.
We live in a super busy, multi-tasking, results-oriented society. Step away from your long to-do list and enjoy once in a while the beauty of an unstructured day.
9. Unlearn and forget.
Harness the power of unlearning. Reboot your mind, abandon old knowledge, actions and behaviors to create space.
10. Slow down.
Sometimes slow and steady will win the learning race. Make haste slowly.
I’m especially struck by #9 (Unlearn and forget). The Christian word for this is “repentance” I think, and it’s such an important aspect of our spiritual formation. We’re not merely gaining new knowledge and new habits in discipleship, but also abandoning old “knowledge” and behaviors, and learning to see the world in a completely new way.
We’re shifting our allegiance and trust to Jesus, which necessarily means leaving behind our old allegiances to principalities and powers that we’ve spent a lifetime trusting to tell us the truth and lead us into life. There’s a lot of unlearning and forgetting we all need to do as we follow Jesus.
I wonder what occurs to you as you read this list? How could we apply this slow learning manifesto to begin creating a Slow Discipleship Manifesto?
This is good fodder for contemplation! I wonder if some of the individualistic and knowledge/learning impulses of this ‘bill if rights’ might need reframed somewhat within a communal, love/action orientation but overall some good thoughts here. Reminds me that discipleship can’t be made into a formula and can’t be acquired through an accelerated program.
Ben Sternke says
Yes, that’s a good thought, Jonathan. If we were to come up with a slow discipleship manifesto, I’d definitely want to reframe it, and probably change a lot. But I thought it was an interesting idea.
Ed Green says
Ben, I love these “rights” and this idea, but it is so foreign to our way of life, including how we view our spiritual growth. Smith and Pattinson made a similar argument with their Slow Church book several years ago.