The Rhythm of Church

Life is rhythmic.  Think about your daily routine, what signals the beginning and endings of the movements of your day?  Perhaps, your day begins with the signal of your alarm clock or the buzz of your cell phone.  What is your day oriented around?  What time do you have to be at work? When do you go home?  Our everyday lives have a certain rhythm to them; the rhythm we most often live to is that of capitalism.  However, our lives are not mono-rhythmic; varieties of different logics and rhythm’s vie for our attention and energies.  For the Christian, the rhythm of life is the church and liturgy.  In this discourse on time and rhythm I’m presenting two ideas: 1.) the rhythm of the church and capitalism are incongruous 2.) the body and rhythm of the church have an intrinsic potential for a movement against capitalism.

In the political left and in Marxist theory capitalism can become a scare tactic or used in an intensely abstract and unhelpful for way.  Due to this, let it be clear what is intended by capitalism here.  Capitalism is an entity, which holds a certain logic at its core and carries out this internal logic through external apparatuses.  There is a dual logic to the entity of capitalism.  The guiding logics of the capitalist body is accumulation and speed.

Marx’s conception of value and production in the capitalist political economy are the basis for the core of the capitalist entity.  Marx says,

“Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it; the more idle and unskillful the labourer, the more valuable his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production.  The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogenous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-power.  The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society counts there here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units.” (Capital, 442)

What is to be gleaned from Marx’s words is that the labor that produces value is a labor that has been abstracted en masse without differentiating between workers.  Clearly this is different from past modes of labor in which artisans produce a commodity.  Industrial capitalism extracts labor as “one uniform labour power” from workers.  This separates labor power and commodities from workers.

In light of the way industrial capitalism extracts labor, it can be said that the successful capitalist finds ways to extract the most labor from their workers. Industrialized modes of production works toward extracting the greatest amount of labor power in the shortest amount of time.

Though we no longer labor under industrial modes of production in the west, technological revolutions have been made to continue the abstraction and extraction of our labor.  The computer and the Internet are the new means of labor extraction in the United States.  One is no longer signaled to the workday by the whistle of the factory; rather the ding of email or buzz of the cell phone activates the cognitive laborer.  In the 21st century labor has become increasingly cognitive and because of the advancements in technology one can get work orders or assignments from their boss anywhere.  The eight-hour workday has been lost.  One receives work in and out of the physical work place.  Consider the Information Technology technician who is always on call.  Regardless of the time of day, if a crucial system goes down the technician must perform their work duty.

In Paul Virilio’s text Speed and Politics, Virilio explains the effects of speed on territory.  Virilio tells us, “Territory has lost its significance in favor of the projectile…With the supersonic vector (airplane, rocket, airwaves), penetration and destruction become one.” (Speed and Politics, 149.)  However, labor is not shackled even to the supersonic vector, labor is extracted at the speed of light through fiber optic cables.

The essential question of struggles against work is always “what is to be done?”  There are a great many people who do not like their daily work.  To be clear, work is the activity that one sells one’s labor power for with regularity.  This is not true across the board, some love what they do for a living.  However, even if one likes one’s job one has to recognize their precarity.  One could quickly lose one’s job either to the capitalist system or to illness or injury.  How can we take control of our labor?  The classical Marxist answer is solidarity, unions and strikes.  I find a great sympathy in these means of refusal, but Christians have a means of refusal already at their disposal.  Simply, living in a different rhythm of life.

The Christian church has inherited a certain rhythm of life from the two thousand-year tradition that precedes the present day church.  Christians are called to a kind of living that is not governed by accumulation and work, but instead joy, love and community.  These Christian virtues are shown in the liturgy of the church.  Coming together with one’s community in daily prayer is in itself a subversive act.  The liturgy of the church calls to us to a slow start of the day.  Consider a Morning Prayer service, fifteen to twenty of minutes of sitting, standing and prostration.  Why go to work when you can be with those who you love?

Most importantly the Christian liturgy invites a slow pace into our lives.  Church gives us a space of non-work that is slow and intentional.  The logic of living together in community is slow.  Capitalism pushes us into faster modes of life, don’t read, don’t think, just work.  In church we read together, at a slow gait that lets everyone participate.  Simply put, capitalism doesn’t have time for church.  Work wants us to be connected, plugged in and waiting to respond.  The church community wants us to be slow, intentional, joyful and full of love.

Communal prayer and liturgy is a type of refusal to work.  Rather than answering the call of one’s cell phone and going to work, answer the call to prayer.  Listen to the bells of the church ring and take a nice detour.  The Benedictine slogan Ora et Labora can be used to diabolical ends.  If you have to work, work for something you love.  The rhythm of daily prayer and living out the liturgy can open up to a new way of being; a community built on love and joy.  The Christian community ought embrace building a community built out of common love and support.


14 thoughts on “The Rhythm of Church

  1. Matt,

    Thank you for this post. I think I have a few initial questions regarding the particular application of this analysis to the Church. As a preface, I really enjoyed this post and I am not trying to disagree. Merely to dig into the content.

    In the first instance, it seems to me that a recourse to the rhythms of liturgy and religious life in this way would, as you point out, present an oppositional force against the oppressive capitalist system. However, I wonder if there are not two dangers already visible in this construction. The first I think is with regard to the particularity of the Church and how this particularity, i.e. those constitutive rhythms, might also, simultaneous to initiating a critical opposition, serve to segment this community from and prevent a wider revolt against the capitalist framework. How affective is this Church to be in the wider context of a society that is plural? Moreover, how does “conversion” to Christianity then function within this sort of revolt?

    Again, just some initial questions for thought. I really enjoyed this post and am stoked if this is any indication of what this blog will be producing regularly.


    • Yeah, this is a question I’m asking myself as well. I don’t think I’ve arrived at a final answer yet…but so far I take up what Felix Guattari and Toni Negri call molecular revolution. Molecular revolutions are smaller specific movements revolting in multifarious ways. These molecular revolutions link up toward molar revolt. However, the beauty of molecular revolution is that there isn’t need for ideological unity. I see the church as a potential molecular struggle.

  2. I think you’re onto something with Capitalism’s apparent unconcern for time and space. American Christians need to be aware of this issue.
    This is one moment, however, where the old protestant idea of the two kingdoms is helpful. We exist within a world that, maybe because it’s fallen, inherently is economic. The very nature of technology helps breed this. We exist in the world of economy, trade, and bartering… but the church has its place in the human life as well.

    I’d agree, in part, with the classic protestant idea on the two kingdoms. The bible seems fine with some idea of economy and trade, but these things cannot interpret space and time for us; we must interpret these things theologically first and foremost, and this, I think, would correct much of the issue.

    My last concern isn’t something I’ll get into, but I feel that though capitalism is imperfect and must be resisted, the competing idea brought forward by the likes of Milbank is too idealistic.

    great post.

    • Honestly, I’m not much of a theologian and I have not read John Milbank, so I can’t really speak to that concern. However, what this gets at is important because some how we have to think about what comes after capitalism if resistance is successful. I’m not too idealistic about it, nor am I interested in a socialist state. My politics advocate for autonomy and community…though I’m not sure exactly what this looks like yet…I really like what you say about the two kingdoms, the not yet, but already. I guess I’ll have to think about this.

      • you sure sound a lot like Milbank and his crowd for a guy that’s not reading him. That’s a good thing!
        I kind of like a soft idea of the two kingdoms because I don’t think capitalism has to be an ideology, nor does your interpretation need to be universalized.

        I also think Christians are better at being subversive to systems than creating them.

  3. One of my greatest worries is that late capitalism find a way to reify liturgical time. Think about all the ways advertising tries to call attention to itself in some kind of ironic way, how corporations recognize openly that capitalistic practices “in the past” had thrived on the exploitation of labor, but now everything is “different” by attempting to advertise how they see their workers as individual human beings, not just a labor force en masse. The reification of the “artisan” is rampant. Subway “hand crafts” your sandwich for you. Dominos takes ideas from “actual” employees in random stores across the country in order to improve the quality of their product. Starbucks employs coffee experts to select “only the finest quality…” blah blah, etc. Just the use of “old timey” packaging and lettering on products is the reification of a nostalgia for some kind of pre-capitalistic economy–which no one can have any real nostalgia for since no one was alive then.

    Capitialism has built into its logic a way to reify that which should destroy it: Workers feel exploited? Show everyone that you actually care about people. Destroying the environment? Make it your pledge to be a green cooperation. All the while the mechanism which makes capitalism truly destructive and untenable (the hoarding of wealth) continues unchecked.

  4. Your thesis avoids the claim that so often frustrates me when discussing economic systems and ecclesiology, namely that capitalism is anti-Christian. That claim can certainly be made (and has been), but I think it is better to root the discussion in liturgical time than biblical warrant.

    As an evangelical, this post naturally makes me wonder what the implications are for Christian witness. Resisting the pace of capitalism is great, but how am I more faithful in doing so? Much food for thought here.

  5. The thing I always wonder (and this isn’t necessarily a disagreement) is how a local community maintains this sort of witness. This is part of why it’s still not clear to me that thinking locally (say, in terms of the practices of a local church body) gets you very far. This isn’t necessarily a disagreement per se; I don’t know how we’re to proceed if local bodies aren’t to begin living really differently. This is perhaps more a question of how the leap to revolt happens.

    So, for instance, you have Christians in this hypothetical church refusing to go to work when they should, etc, resisting the urgency and necessity the logic of capital attempts to impose. All well and good. But then they all get laid off. Then all their homes are foreclosed. They get beaten down, stomped underfoot. What then? What changes? There seems to be a certain trans-local (at least) amount of organization that enables the continued life and flourishing of these sights of resistance.

    As a good friend said in a conversation about our organizing efforts, there seems to be two problems: localism is the only game in town, because any broader organization of resistance always gets infiltrated and crushed: it looks too much like a threat. On the other hand, local resistance only DOESN’T get crushed insofar as it isn’t a threat outside its own locality. If it becomes perceived as a threat, its local nature affords it no resources to do anything but die. I (not my friend) notice the temptation to think martyrdom there, but if martyrdom comes to mean gleefully dying as the only response to state/capital power, that seems really cynical to me.

    • I think you raise a lot of good points…really this is a part of a larger discussion of organization. I mentioned molecular revolution in another reply to a comment…but that’s where I think the answer to organization lies. Diverse and multifaceted revolutions that share in a molar revolt. In all this a web of support has to be put together.

  6. Pingback: Whirring Machines: Capitalism, Christianity, and Subjectivity | fluxofthought

  7. Pingback: Whirring Machines: Capitalism, Christianity, and Subjectivity | A Church Unbound

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s