Thursday, February 2, 2012

#Occupying Empire: David Fitch eats and tweets at McDonald's

David Fitch,
ready for the mission field
[Note: The preface to this post's title, "#Occupying Empre" is signaling a series of posts I'll likely do this spring. More importantly it's a reference to a conference that I'm putting together with a seminary friend: #Occupy Empire: Anabaptism in God's Mission. Registration isn't open yet and speaker/schedule info is forthcoming. So this is kind of putting the cart before the horse, but stay tuned in the next two weeks for more info on the conference...]

I came across David Fitch's blog - Reclaiming the Mission - last year and began casually following his posts and his tweets. Partly by his own admissions, but also by my own assessment, Fitch seems like a postmodern evangelical whose been bit by the "new traditionalism" bug (which means he's taken folks like MacIntyre, Hauerwas, and Yoder seriously). "Neo-Anabaptist evangelical" might be another way to describe Fitch. He is a bi-vocational professor and pastor in the Chicago area. He's also not afraid to talk about Marx and Zizek, and has a provocatively-titled book, The End of Evangelicalism?, which I haven't read yet but appears in my favorite Wipf & Stock series, Theopolitical Visions. Taken together, all this makes Fitch quite an interesting person to me. Lucky for me, he's visting EMU later this month!

But one thing in particular strikes me about Fitch: He's at McDonald's a lot. I know this from his tweets. Just this morning he reported, "Gathering early at McD' s w/ triad in the back to read, pray, check in and ask the questions - ahhh discipleship :-) #fb." What's the deal?

I have a love/hate attitude about McDonald's, and the fast food industry in general. To me, McDonald's is an icon of the neo-colonial powers of late modern consumerist hypercapitalism. For instance, when I saw commercials for McD's in Ethiopia - piped across an Arab satellite network - I cringed. (Thankfully there are no McD's in Ethiopia...the government is very strict about foreign chains setting up shop in the country.)

That's the hate side. The "love" side is that I'm an American who was a child in the 80s, bathed in  advertising with catchy jingles like the "menu song". (Note how much the word "love" has been used in their advertising over the years. That matters.) We didn't eat at McDonald's frequently when I was a kid, but it wasn't unusual and I was usually pretty excited to be there getting cheeseburgers and the occasional "Happy Meal." Now with a family of my own, we've mostly exorcized fast food from our diet, but it's still an option when we're on road trips. We recently stopped at one in Pittsburg on the way home to Virginia from Iowa, wherein I grudgingly munched on a chicken sandwich from The Man. (I kind of liked it...but just a little.)

But this David Fitch at McDonald's thing?!
I'm sure he's read all the stuff that I've read and more that would give one a bad attitude about the systems and clusters of practices surrounding fast food. But there he is. I imagine having this conversation with Fitch, at McDonald's of course, with me giving all the reasons stated above. Fitch would nod and grin, barely concealing a mouth full of sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. So why?

(I should make it clear that I don't know Fitch personally, so I'm letting my imagination lead here. Heck, he may not even eat the food there, perhaps just getting coffee or only buying salad. Whatever, it's that he there - habitually occupying space and time - that matters.)

It seems to me that he's there because that's where typical people are. In this case, by "typical" I mean "not highly educated, professional theologians." All the fancy book learning and highfalutin writing that Fitch and I both do (his being much more prolific and erudite than mine) can have the pernicious tendency to wall off people like us from typical people. And in the process of getting walled off from typical people, we are walled off with people like us, preferably with those who already agree with us, and even if we don't agree we have the luxury of the academy within which to pitch our intellectual battles, from conference halls or safe offices with all the fancy books we need for ammunition. I don't intend to completely vilify the theological academy and its practices, since I may very well head there professionally some day and see some virtue in it, so take my polemic with a dash of salt...on some delicious (?) McDonald's fries.

But since both of us - Fitch and I - are ministers in the church, we know something goes profoundly wrong when this walling-off happens. So Fitch eats and tweets away, unapologetically, at McDonald's. The scholar knows its historical contingency and systemic moral dilemmas, sure. But the pastor is there with people. This, I think, is a beautiful expression of what it means to "occupy empire" as a pastor-teacher in the church. There is a deeply missional and incarnational impulse in this habit of Fitch's. I just hope he has a related habit of checking his cholesterol...

Oh, and if Dr. Fitch ends up reading this, I'd like to formally invite him to one of three local Harrisonburg, Virginia, McDonald's restaurants for table fellowship and conversation when he visits at the end of the month. Perhaps we could talk about the theo-political/ethical significance of the strong local foods movement here in the Shenandoah Valley, or our local chapter of the Occupy movement. Or Yoder and Hauerwas are evergreen interests, as well...

How 'bout it, brother David?

[Update: Many thanks to Dr. Fitch for not only responding in the comments below but also tweeting about this post, referencing it on Facebook, and even going so far as to respond with a post on his own blog: You Go To McDonald’s Too Much!: On Being Called Out and the “politics of the small things”! This has quickly become one of my favorite posts on the RT blog!]

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