Chipotle has taken a risky marketing strategy, but one that is likely to be popular among Millenials. Both the Church and marketers have failed to reach these young people in the past because the slick campaigns that worked with their parents just appeared to them to be inauthentic. The marketing challenge for Chipotle will be convincing their audience that they embody the cultural critique that they are communicating. I’m not a marketing guy, so you would do better reading the marketers’ commentary if we want to think about what Chipotle is doing here.
I’m more concerned with what these story tellers can show us about the values of the Millennials that they are targeting. I’m not going to provide much commentary on the content that is best available here, so you really should watch it before you read what I think the Church can learn.
A few brief remarks: While the ever present crows nag the scarecrow and distract from the effort to break out from the system that has engulfed him, the most remarkable thing about the depiction of the system is the lack of an antagonist. Wherever the evil ones that have created this ugly system are, we can’t see them. All the customers see is the end product, with a facade covering the realities that lie within. The workers don’t even see the most problematic aspects which are stored away in hidden caverns, rather they just get caught up in the everyday whir of machines. When the scarecrow finally discovers the animals behind the system, he hardly seems surprised.
But he does in fact discover a better way of life. And when he presents this better way of life to the community that is simply busy consuming, he seems like a quaint offering amidst the giants of production around him.
But the Church should pay attention. When he presents the fruits of the way of life he has discovered, at least one (more?) joins him in that which is good.
Sometimes the life of justice and mercy that is central to the message of the gospel may seem to be just as quaint. Can those college kids running around talking about trafficking make a difference in a global and systemic trade of human beings? When 1.1 billion people do not have clean water and sanitation, that well that we spent so much time saving to build seems like a drop in the bucket.
But we don’t live a life of witness only so that those we serve will have a better way of life. We do the best that we can, but ultimately our work for others will only be brought to completion at the reconciling of all things. We also need to live this way because it is the most beautiful way of life. Our neighbors also need us to live a beautiful way of life, because they too need to be saved from the dehumanization that we experience on the consumption side of the unjust system that delivers our food.
The scarecrow wasn’t the cause of the hidden injustice or the creator of the factory. But he was complicit in it. And he came alive as he experienced a more beautiful way of life, even if it seemed quaint in comparison to the monstrosity of consumption around it.
The short film teaches us something else about the Church’s mission: the most beautiful way of life is also more difficult.
The food prepared after his epiphany moment has to be cultivated and harvested and chopped. All of that work culminates in a modest plate of tacos to be served to a single neighbor. Meanwhile the factory continues to churn out unending supplies of prepackaged “food.”
There is a growing movement of “slow food” advocates that insist that the ways that we eat actually matter for the kinds of people that we become. They suggest that food should be good, clean, and fair. But the actualities of this alternative are messy and difficult.
Our churches have often learned that they too can prepackage the “Gospel” in ways that are easy and quick. I have suggested to some that a growing church can be built with a simple formula: 1 dynamic preacher, 3 good musicians, a well selected location, lots of marketing dollars, and two years time. It happens over and over again. And I know that some good comes from these churches.
But I want to suggest that “Scarecrow” teaches us that the best kind of witness will not come easily. My friend Chris Smith is coauthoring an upcoming book on what they are calling “Slow Church,” where they learn from the principles of the slow food movement as they apply them to church life. Like those in the vein of New Monasticism, CCDA, and other similar movements they suggest that the most significant witness to the Gospel may in fact be slow and hard work.
But we need to witness to the Gospel this way, not because it will save the most people from poverty, oppression, and violence. We need this slow and steady witness to the Gospel because we too need to be saved. To harvest, chop, and simmer our food is part of the process of enjoying it. And the relationships and messiness that come from sharing life with neighbors who victims of similar injustices is part of our spiritual formation (and theirs).
The scarecrow doesn’t just provide hope to his neighbor. By the slow and laborious process of creating that which is life-giving and just, he witnesses the good life himself. The Church can learn a lot from a burrito restaurant.