This book shifted me. Maybe I should say that in theory, it is shifting me - but whether anything happens in practice, time will tell. Lets start with a few appetizers:
'We are oriented by our longings, directed by our desires' (11).
'You are what you love because you live toward what you want' (13).
'Our primary orientation to the world is visceral, not cerebral' (33).
James K. A. Smith's You Are What You Love is very Pauline (Phil 1.9-11): 'It is not that I know in order to love, but rather: I love in order to know ... The place to start is by attending to our loves' (7).
Here are some of the shifts for me...
1. At a personal level, I need to recalibrate the way I see my journey into holiness. It is not just mustering up disciplines, it is about orienting my loves and wants, aiming them at God. 'Our sanctification is more like a Weight Watchers program than listening to a book on a tape. If sanctification is tantamount to closing the gap between what I know and what I do, it means changing what I want' (65).
As I am writing this post, I have one eye, and a lot emotion and imagination, attuned to cricinfo as I track with Kane Williamson towards another Test century. To be honest, I am being a bit obsessive about it. It is too big 'a want'. A relatively innocuous desire like this can do its damage. 'If love is both habit and hunger, then our tastes and cravings for what's ultimate will be changed in the same way' (64) - by feeding hungers and nurturing habits. 'Not all sins are decisions' (54):
... our sins aren't just discrete, wrong actions and bad decisions; they reflect vices. And overcoming them requires more than just knowledge; it requires rehabituation, a re-formation of our loves (54).2. I need to change the way I understand (and teach) 'worldview'. Some years ago I noted the change between the first (1988) and second (2004) editions of James Sire's landmark The Universe Next Door in which he moves from a solely intellectual description of 'worldview' to one that is more inclusive of the affections. Smith is moving along this same trajectory. If we think human beings are 'brains-on-a-stick', then we will fail to see surrounding cultural practices as liturgies, 'as habit-forming, love-shaping rituals that get hold of our hearts and aim our loves' (38). These cultural liturgies are 'rival modes of worship .... that affectively and viscerally train our desires' (23, 32). Worldview is a matter of the affections and the imagination, not just the intellect. Pastors need 'to be ethnographers, helping their congregations name and 'exegete' their local liturgies' (54).
|This is a poem that is quoted twice in the book (11, 91)|
[NB: the author speaks about consumerism here: https://youtu.be/6xknjBqNamU].
This took me back thirty years. Fresh out of seminary and heading off to be a pastor and my father said something to me which struck me as odd at the time: 'Don't forget to engage with peoples' feelings because that is what drives their behaviour - not so much their thoughts.' I think he was right.
[A similar case study could be built around the immersion by a generation of Christian young adults in Friends, followed by Big Bang Theory. Twenty years of soaking it up. These cultural liturgies have so formed their loves and habits regarding relationships and sexuality that the counter-liturgy in the Story comes across to them as implausible and impossible. It is very, very sad. We are what we soak in...].
3. At one point Smith asks, 'What if education weren't first and foremost about what we know but about what we love?' (155). Now, that would cause a shift! He talks about shaping students in the same way as we shape our children: 'the faculty in loco parentis ('in place of parents')' (158). Just as the pastor's love is the same brand of love as the parent (1 Thess 2), maybe so also the teacher's love? By the end of a course I often feel that way... He talks about the spiritual practices which faculty can embrace (and shouldn't we add administrative staff as well?) in order to cultivate this direction. A bit of Bonhoeffer's Life Together surfaces. But maybe unlike it is with children, do we need to rethink the place of compulsion in the formation of students? I remained unconvinced about the value of making things compulsory with adult learners... In a lovely touch, Smith writes about the transformative impact on a class that buying a coffee-maker had, of arriving early to welcome his class with freshly brewed coffee - as 'a kind of incense for early-morning learning' (163).
4. There is one area where I find the author encourages me not to shift. This obsession we have with 'remaking the church in order to 'speak to' contemporary culture' (75). It is misguided. Later, 'we cannot hope to restore the world if we are constantly reinventing the church' (178). Such people think that it is the church's out-of-dateness that is its biggest problem. Smith sees it differently. In fact he is quite subversive. 'In order to foster a Christian imagination we don't need to invent; we need to remember' (181). It is an immersion in the Story that is needed, not an immersion in the latest trends. We are restored by being 're-storied'. Using the earlier example, rather than making church more like a mall in order to fit into the cultural flow (because if we do this, this does something to us!), we need to invest in the 'counter-liturgies'. It is going against the cultural flow, in an intriguing way, that is the key.
This approach is then taken to four combustible areas: worship, youth ministry, weddings and the home.
With worship (57-81), Smith advocates a move away from it being solely an expressive activity, something we are doing, and on towards it becoming more of a formative activity, something that is being done to us. 'Worship is not primarily a venue for innovative creativity but a place for discerning reception and faithful repetition' (78). In the following chapter (83-110) he gives some ideas on how this can be done - and even offers advice on how to persist in a church context where this is not happening (99-103). He makes a special plea for including confession in worship (103-110). Stop being so fussed about what might appear to be irrelevant or too churchy for the possible unbeliever in your midst and get on with being faithful to biblical worship. How can we expect God to be at work among us if we are not worshipping as he us wants to do? My money is on the unbeliever being drawn closer by watching authentic confession more often than we think - and, if not, that is no reason to stop doing confession.
[NB: the author speaks about worship here: https://youtu.be/UGDEJ6tHWAs].
[NB: the author speaks on youth ministry here: https://youtu.be/13QMBjXSGzo].
With weddings (118-126), Smith worries about the liturgies of narcissism that afflict the event. The 'spectacle of the wedding' is the focus: 'It is why we spend more time fixated on the spectacular flash of the wedding event than on the long slog of sustaining a marriage' (120). I've become disillusioned by Christian wedding ceremonies. Basically, I won't take them anymore ... unless there is a commitment to them being both a serious sacrament and the launch of a missional partnership.
With the home (126-136), these are my favourite pages. Smith ain't gonna buy any 'idolatry of family' ideas. He actually prefers the word 'household' ... 'because I don't want to fall into a narrow picture that assumes we are all parents. God calls some of us to singleness (1 Cor 7.8), and not all of us live in parent-child homes' (203). Good man. I love the way he calls us 'to situate our households in the wider household of God' (133). Amen to that one. We should be concerned about
the ethos of our households - the unspoken 'vibe' carried in our daily rituals. Every household has a 'hum', and that hum has a tune that is attuned to some end, some telos. We need to tune our homes, and thus our hearts, to sing his grace (127).Smith includes some moving stories from his own household. For example: (1) On the 'formative power of the family supper table', I've read the story on pages 132-133 aloud a few times and wept every time; and (2) On the value of family traditions and memory-making, I love the story about taking his kids to a cathedral in France (150-151).
[NB: the author speaks about life in the household here: https://youtu.be/KdPw2d9ljN4].
James K. A. Smith is a relatively new discovery for me as an author. Slowly, I plan to make my way through his books, with one other reviewed here. I like to read by author, rather than by topic - and slowly expand my list of favourites authors and read what they write. This guy is on that list.
PS: two (less than) 2 minute videos - and there are a set of ten on youtube...