Monday, February 13, 2017

Book Notes - You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith. Very intriguing - like the best ideas, not sure what to do with this yet.
In other words, your understanding of discipleship will reflect a set of working assumptions about the very nature of human beings, even if you've never asked yourself such questions.
There is a very different model of the human person at work here. Instead of the rationalist, intellectualist model that implies, "You are what you think," Paul's prayer hints at a very different conviction: "You are what you love." What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started from the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers? What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire? What if the center and seat of the human person is found not in the heady regions of the intellect but in the gut-level regions of the heart? How would that change our approach to discipleship and Christian formation?
To be human is to be on a quest. To live is to be embarked on a kind of unconscious journey toward a destination of your dreams. As Blaise Pascal put it in his famous wager: "You have to wager. It is not up to you, you are already committed." You can't not bet your life on something. You can't not be headed somewhere. We live leaning forward, bent on arriving at the place we long for.
If you think of worship as a bottom-up, expressive endeavor, repetition will seem insincere and inauthentic. But when you see worship as an invitation to a top-down encounter in which God is refashioning your deepest habits, then repetition looks very different: it's how God rehabituates us. In a formational paradigm, repetition isn't insincere, because you're not showing, you're submitting. This is crucial because there is no formation without repetition. Virtue formation takes practice, and there is no practice that isn’t repetitive. We willingly embrace repetition as a good in all kinds of other sectors of our life—to hone our golf swing, our piano prowess, and our mathematical abilities, for example.
In his important book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre famously says, "I cannot answer the question, 'What ought I to do?' unless I first answer the question, 'Of which story am I a part?'"
Because when the thin gruel of do-it-yourself spirituality turns out to be isolating, lonely, and unable to endure crises, the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd might find itself surprisingly open to something entirely different. In ways that they never could have anticipated, some will begin to wonder if "renunciation" isn’t the way to wholeness, if freedom might be found in the gift of constraint, and if the strange rituals of Christian worship are the answer to their most human aspirations. What Christian communities need to cultivate in our "secular age" is faithful patience, even receiving a secular age as a gift through which to renew and cultivate an incarnational, embodied, robustly orthodox Christianity that alone will look like a genuine alternative to "the spiritual."
"To do by 'feel' what cannot be done by regular conscious thought": that's not a bad description of the goal of discipleship. To conform to the image of the Son is to have so absorbed the gospel as a "kinesthetic sense," a know-how you now carry in your bones, that you do by "feel" what cannot be done by conscious thought. You have been remade in Christ such that there are ways you love him that you don’t even know. You have a Christlike "feel" for the world, and you act accordingly "without thinking about it."
While we might assume that the emotionalism of contemporary youth ministry is anti-intellectual, in fact it is tethered to a deeply intellectualist paradigm of discipleship: the whole point of keeping young people happy and stirred and emotionally engaged is so that we can still have an opportunity to deposit a "message" into their intellectual receptacles.
But this is a sign that we have given up on incarnate modes of formation bequeathed to us in liturgy and the spiritual disciplines. Instead, we have created youth ministry that confuses extroversion with faithfulness. We have effectively communicated to young people that sincerely following Jesus is synonymous with being "fired up" for Jesus, with being excited for Jesus, as if discipleship were synonymous with fostering an exuberant, perky, cheerful, hurray-for-Jesus disposition like what we might find in the glee club or at a pep rally.
This now intersects with our core theme because our (culture-)making, our work, is generated as much by what we want as by what we believe. We are made to be makers, but as makers we remain lovers. So if you are what you love, then you make what you love. Your cultural labor—whether in finance or fine arts, as a fireman or a first-grade teacher—is animated less by "principles" that you carry in your head and more by habits of desire that operate under the hood of consciousness.
Whether we're entrepreneurs launching a tech start-up or first-time parents starting a family, our "creative" work as human beings made in God’s image is sort of pulled out of us by our attraction to a vision of the good life. Our making bubbles up from our imagination, which is fueled by a Story of what flourishing looks like. We all carry some governing Story in our bones that shapes our work more than we might realize because that Story has taught us what to love (and as we emphasized in chapter 2, you might not love what you think because you might not realize what Story has really captured your imagination). If you are what you love, and you make what you want, then we need to be attentive to how our wants are formed if we want to be faithful makers. We need to curate the unconscious, the storehouse of governing stories. Be careful what you worship; it will shape what you want, and therefore what you make and how you work.

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