Becoming a ‘Slow Activist’

Hi, my name is Amie, and I’m a senior Writing & Rhetoric major and Religion minor at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. I am currently learning and living at The Old Convent in Kaikoura, New Zealand with a community of pretty cool people, if I do say so myself. In this post, I’d like to share some thoughts with you all about life here at CCSP and what I’m learning about the joy of work. Enjoy!

“Become a slow activist” was one piece of advice that our Professor, Mick Duncan, gave us during our second week of class on Sustainable Community Development.

“Hurry,” he told us, “will damage your most important relationships in life.”

Now six weeks into my time at CCSP, I can clearly see how hurry damages our relationship to the joy of work. In my daily life as a college student in North America, it is all too common for me to feel like I am constantly rushing from one activity to the next—from class to lunch to a meeting—leaving my dishes in the sink in my apartment and telling myself that I’ll wash them later tonight when I have more time. And I’ll confess that I often put off doing my laundry, wearing some articles of clothing probably a few more times than I should, just so I don’t have to sacrifice the few hours it takes to oversee the washer and dryer.

For the average American, this hurried pace of life trains us to see activities such as cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry as inconvenient chores rather than dignified work. We turn to dishwashers and washing machines in order to maximize efficiency and purchase processed or premade foods at the grocery store, rarely giving any of these choices a second thought because it’s so easy to consider them all normal and even indispensable parts of life. But I’d like to raise the question, “Are they?”

Life at The Old Convent has given me the opportunity to reconsider the pace of life and the value of work both individually and communally. Whether we are throwing dance parties in kitchen while doing dishes or playful moaning about pulling weeds in the rain, when we share the responsibility of work, we also share the joy of work—the tangible results of our actions and the time spent together. When I do my laundry by hand in the wash table outside, I spend my time engaged in the process instead of waiting for a machine to do the work for me, and I can use both my hands and my mind throughout the duration of the activity. Doing laundry by hand teaches me to appreciate the whole host of factors which have to align in order to make the process possible. The weather — not too cold, no rain, hopefully some sun to aid the drying process. The time of day — morning or early afternoon so I have daylight. The tools — a relatively small amount of water, some powered laundry soap, and a brush — no electricity required. Surprisingly, I’ve found that despite the fact this process requires more effort on my part, I always seem to have time for it. Because I live my entire life at a slower pace, I can appreciate the time I spend doing laundry as time to reflect on the day or meditate on deeper thoughts which surface in the quiet.

Baking is another way in which I have experienced the joy of work. In my daily life at school, sliced, store-bought bread in a plastic bag is the norm. That’s not to say that we don’t eat the same kind of bread here at CCSP (anyone living here this semester knows just how much we love peanut butter on toast and how quickly we go through it), but we also have the opportunity to bake and eat our own bread. Learning this ‘homemaking skill’ has been one of my favorite things this semester and is a practice I’m very excited to bring back to North America. Turns out, baking bread isn’t hard and has a ton of benefits. Through making my own bread, I am able to control what goes into it. I can reduce the amount of packaging and energy that result from my personal food consumption. Also, I get to enjoy the smell and warmth of baking bread on a cold day. How great is that?  It’s unfortunate that the need for speed and convenience has stripped away these simple joys from many people, especially when I consider how that mindset affects many of our fundamental relationships.

For me, recovering the joy of work and the sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing a process through to completion is a key part of what it means to be a slow activist. Transforming my mindset toward ‘chores’ such as laundry, cleaning, or cooking from one of annoyance and inconvenience to one of enjoyment spills over into my attitude toward academics and community. When I can see listening to a lecture or developing a relationship with someone on the margins of my life as an opportunity to do good work, I am able to take joy in these activities as well, and my life becomes oriented toward a greater goal—the dignified work of ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Advertisements