We Are What We Love
Along with a dozen or so other books, Jamie Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom has been languishing unopened on a dusty, lonely corner of my desk for the past few months. I decided to finally carve out a bit of time for reading this morning and was very glad that I did. Based on the first fifty or so odd pages of this first volume in Smith’s “Cultural Liturgies” project, I would say that this is a book that every Christian educator and pastor ought to read. The fundamental question that Smith places before us is this: Are human beings defined by what we think and believe or by what we love and desire? And, perhaps even more importantly, how ought our answer to this question inform our practices of worship and education?
A few quotes that stood out to me today. First, on the “bobble head” nature of many strains of Protestant Christianity:
It is just this adoption of a rationalist, cognitivist anthropology that accounts for the shape of so much Protestant worship as a heady affair fixated on “messages” that disseminate Christian ideas and abstract values (easily summarized on PowerPoint slides). The result is a talking-head version of Christianity that is fixated on doctrine and ideas, even if it is paradoxically allied with a certain kind of anti-intellectualism. We could describe this as “bobble head” Christianity, so fixated on the cognitive that it assumes a picture of human beings that look like bobble heads: mammoth heads that dwarf an almost nonexistent body.
On who we are as human beings:
What constitutes our ultimate identities—what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are—is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate—what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hope for, what we think the good life looks like.
On liturgies as “formative practices”:
Liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love. They do this because we are the kinds of animals whose orientation to the world is shaped from the body up more than from the head down. Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies.
On following Jesus:
Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your heart in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly—who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.
I too have just discovered this book, I think it articulates what we know to be true. Unless we are captivated at a gut level by Jesus and the Kingdom – we will find ourselves living out of an alternative story.
This has far reaching ramifications for how we do discipleship – not only as information sharing but re-orienting our desires for the kingdom.
I think with our cerebral leaning Russian Mennonite -attention to loves, desires and longings may have been seen as too emotional.
I think you’re right, Chad. Mennonites (and others) have often tended to focus on cognitive content (beliefs) or ethical norms (behaviour) as opposed to love and desire. It’s safer, it’s more manageable. It’s also apparently a lot easier to walk away from, if today’s research about the exodus of young people (and others) from the church is any indication.
We are more than brains. Knowing the right stuff about God is not (and has never been) enough.