There are few things that make my blood boil more than to see someone take a mean-spirited, unfair swipe against someone else in a public forum like twitter. When this happens, it needs to be named and addressed, especially when the instigator is a popular Christian writer who I’ve promoted on my blog. Rachel Held Evans had expressed support for the student newspaper at Calvin College running a feature piece on LGBT students, which is pretty bold for an evangelical college. And James K.A. Smith, a professor at Calvin and writer of many books that I’ve blogged about, decided that he needed to “humble” Rachel for voicing her support when it’s none of her damn business. Continue reading
Yesterday our senior pastor preached a thought-provoking sermon on prayer based upon Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6. He talked about the way that prayer is a privilege, not just an obligation, and that it can encompass a variety of behaviors that are done intentionally in the presence of God. What hit me today as I sat in mass at the basilica is that we are always praying; we just often aren’t praying to God. Continue reading
For those of you Jesus nerds who haven’t read James K.A. Smith, you need to change that. Smith names what is probably the most important problem with the way that the church approaches teaching: we teach as though people are most fundamentally rational creatures whose actions are shaped by the abstract principles that they just need to get drilled into their heads, when in fact people are more fundamentally liturgical creatures whose habits shape them far more than their principles. I was thinking about this as I interviewed our church’s confirmands this past week: what would a liturgical confirmation process look like?
So I thought some of you who are tired of my blogomaniac hubris would get a kick out of watching me get owned by one of my friends in a response that he sent to my critique of suburban culture. He gave me permission to share it as long as he could remain anonymous. He’s absolutely right that “suburbia” ends up being a scapegoat depository where hipsters like me project everything we don’t like about America or even just modern culture. Anyway, what I really love is the way he shows how different aspects of worship are the antidote to the social problems I described. So it’s an excellent application of James K.A. Smith’s liturgical theory. It’s way better than what I originally wrote, so enjoy. Continue reading
After I got James K.A. Smith’s new book Imagining the Kingdom, several of you suggested reading Desiring the Kingdom first, so I picked it up at the Missio Alliance conference a couple of weeks ago. Smith is writing about the way that we are first and foremost liturgical creatures rather than rational creatures. What shapes our real identity is not so much our stated values and beliefs, but our unstated desires that have been cultivated by our habits. Unfortunately, the evangelical church operates with an overly rationalist anthropology, perhaps since an 18th century view of human nature feels “conservative.” This ends up creating people who “believe” the right things and have the same worldly habits as everyone else. In contrast, Smith points out that Victoria’s Secret has a better anthropology than the church that it demonstrates in the effectiveness of its advertising.
Almost since its beginning, Christianity has had a complicated relationship with the teachings of the Greek philosopher Plato. Part of this complication has to do with what I consider a misunderstanding of two Greek words that the apostle Paul uses: pneuma (spirit) and sarx (flesh). Paul describes these two entities as being in perpetual conflict and exhorts us to live according to the spirit rather than the flesh. In Plato’s philosophy, there are two levels of reality: the abstract realm of forms and ideas and the concrete realm in which these forms and ideas are expressed in particular objects. Plato also defines the human soul as consisting in three parts: reason, emotions, and appetites. Many of Christianity’s mistakes have resulted from trying to map what Paul is talking about into these two sets of Platonic categories.
I’ve just started reading James KA Smith’s new book Imagining the Kingdom. Smith’s basic argument is that our actions are not really based on conscious rational choices but rather on how ritual behaviors have caused us to imagine the world around us. Most Christian thinkers from the beginning have unconsciously bought into a Platonic “rationalist” conception of human nature in which our behavior is supposed to be regulated by our conscious rationality, and the fact that it isn’t reflects our fallenness rather than a condition innate to our humanity. Continue reading