Tag Archive: James K. A. Smith


While my activity here has slowed to a crawl, I’ve been busy with my coordination at the Church and Postmodern Culture blog this summer. We ran a Book Symposium on Bruce Ellis Benson’s Liturgy As A Way of Life, which I highly recommend. And just today, I posted some reflections on Vocation and Cultural Capital. So head on over there for some interesting reads. Various other contributions are worth your time as well, including a review from a few weeks back of James K. A. Smith’s incredible book Imagining the Kingdom. And look for an exciting guest post on Kierkegaard and Preaching coming up soon! All over at churchandpomo.

Here’s a link to my post again on Vocation and Cultural Capital: http://bit.ly/150BAW2

Thanks for reading.

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A student brought up in class this week that during a visit to the Nike campus here in Portland, one of the employees mentioned that Nike basically “tells us” to buy their stuff. They actually “know” how to get us to want their stuff. They told my student their strategy: simply put their products on celebrities, and then watch the trickle down effect.

In Jamie Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom, he describes our experience at the http://regainingparadise.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/anticonsumerism.jpgmall as one in which the “good life” is one display before us in the “icons.” Those “icons” are actually quite familiar objects–they’re the mannequins dressed in the season’s newest threads and designs placed in each store’s front windows for you and me to see as we walk by. We’re invited to imagine an alternative future for ourselves, the “good life” as it is embodied in those icons and how it could be embodied by us. All that is required is the religious transaction of making our offering and receiving the blessing of the priest.

Similarly, Nike seems well aware that the good life can be on display on the living icons that are today’s celebrities.

I’m using Smith’s book in my classes to teach my students about how culture shapes us to be particular kinds of people–people that perhaps we did not know we were before we thought about it in class. We’re learning just how substantially we’ve been shaped by culture, rather than how much we think we’re immune to outside influence. Contrary to how we might imagine ourselves, we’re not autonomous, deliberative, rational, choice-making creatures. Often, we’ve been habituated into certain ways of being and doing in the world, before we’re even aware of it. You were saying the Pledge of Allegiance before you had much of a choice in the matter. And by the time you had a choice, you simply would have chosen to keep doing it because you would have been habituated into the story of why it was good to do so.

Learning about this phenomenon of our cultural formation is a strategy to help us think about how we might participate in the counter-formative efforts of influencing the world in manners that are faithful to the ways of Jesus, rather than damaging and destructive ways of culture. Consumerism–the sort that Nike seems able to foster–is often damaging and destructive. It makes us competitive–we start comparing ourselves with each other and our relationships get bent way out of shape. It messes with our desires to the extent that our sense of satisfaction becomes insatiable and we know no contentment. It even replaces religion, and we end up chasing transcendence by means of consumption. The theologian William Cavanaugh describes this phenomenon well:

Although the consumer spirit delights in material things and sees them as good, the thing itself is never enough. Things and brands must be invested with mythologies, with spiritual aspirations; things come to represent freedom, status, and love. Above all, they represent the aspiration to escape time and death by constantly seeking renewal in created things. Each new movement of desire promises the opportunity to start over. (William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, 48)

Desire in consumeristic culture is endlessly deferred, such that obtaining one object of desire is perhaps momentarily fulfilling in an almost religious sense, but soon replaced by further desire—for the next new innovation or improvement, the next new fashion, the next invention.

Not a single one of us is not damaged by this.

When I was in elementary school, Nike released its classic Air Jordan line of shoes. I never owned a pair of those shoes. But I knew kids who did. And I was jealous of them. I wanted a pair of those shoes so bad. I don’t know why. And I don’t know where the desire came from. I didn’t play basketball, nor did I care much for watching the sport. But Nike did something to me and my peers. They created a world. They made culture.

In the video below, the artist Malkemore tells the story of a kid who was sold the vision of the “good life” contained in the mythology of Air Jordans. It was ultimately a vision that failed. Like with most art, what happens in this 5-minutes video, with its rich imagery and poetic lyrics–far more is said than I could ever communicate here. But a few key lines and scenes stand out. I list them below.

–Notice the littlest kid in the video, shooting baskets in the plastic kiddie basket hoop—he’s already being inculcated into the way of life that will allow him to be made captive to the lies of what Nike will inevitably try to sell him.

–Notice the line: “The commodity makes us want it” — how does a commodity have power over us?

–Notice the words that the children’s choir is singing in the background — they ultimately tell a tragic story.

–Notice one of the final lyrics: “Consumption is in my veins”

——————–

In a world of commodities and the ongoing competition over our desire, where is the space for God?

I want to argue here that TV can function liturgically for us. Watching television has ritual characteristics. Certain shows happen at certain times. They are regularly repeated. There is a certain flow to the event with the show being interspersed with other pieces and parts—commercials with various kinds of messages that are in themselves mini-rituals and which participate in the large consumeristic liturgy Smith might compare to the “mall” in Desiring the Kingdom. Perhaps most importantly, as a liturgy, watching television engages us on a level where our desires are captured and we’re made captive to a certain narrative which sets out for us the good life and invites us to participate in it. As I proceed below, I suggest Reality TV trains us liturgically to become judgmental.

Reality TV is a big training ground for the kind of judgmentalism that all of us disdain—that is, the kind by which we hate to be judged. And it has progressively grown in its proliferation over the airwaves in the last decade. From shows like American Idol and Survivor, it has grown exponentially into whatever niche market might get some ratings. Now the public is dying to watch the Real Housewives of Wherever, Honey Boo Boo, Cooking and Tattooing and Fashion competition shows, Restaurant and Hotel disaster shows where somebody’s bound to be totally ripped by the host, and plenty of others I don’t even know about (what is “Amish Mafia”?). All this is somehow entertainment to us as we join in, participating in our private little fantasy worlds, invited to render our own judgments just by nature of what’s on display.

Our training started concretely in a sense with those shows like American Idol, Big Brother, Survivor and others where the public was invited to weigh in with their own vote. Did you “like” the character? He or she got to stay. Did you hate them? Vote them off. Facebook and Twitter of course allow us to publicly vent our opinions (judgments), all the while hiding behind our avatars and sharing our judgments with everyone and no one at the same time. Whoever we’re talking to, we don’t have to look anyone in the eye, most specifically not the person we’re judging, so there’s no consequences (read: we can get away with it). And there was no fear of joining in the judgmental parade, since everyone was doing and it was built into the structure of things from the moment the phone numbers were displayed on the TV screen to enable you to vote for your favorite contestant.

The judgmentalism in which we were invited to engage (and did—whether or not you texted in your vote, or tweeted, to Facebooked, or ever talked to your friend about it, or just kept your thoughts private) first took the form of, “Wow, she can’t carry a tune!” and “Geez, he thinks he can dance, but nope, he really can’t.” Of course, we went further than that, judging their attitudes, persona, the way they dressed, carried themselves, etc. This is perhaps the implicit kind of judgmentalism we have been taught to participate in. The kind which our dispositions have been formed to naturally perform without our thinking about it. We just do it without reflection. We might try to justify the other kinds of judgment. When someone is out of tune, that is bad and it should be noted—the show is about musical talent and performance after all. Granted. That’s why I’m saying that the invitation to that portion of the judgment is shaping for the more implicit and non-reflective judgments we make. The kind of judgment we’re invited to participate in when we watch the Real Housewives is just a more sordid form. Shows like that (and there are many) put people’s lives on display for nothing else but our own entertainment—and that entertainment takes the form of nothing other than our judgment.

Other forms of television train our judgment also. The popular television show Everyone Loves Raymond trains us, like so many other shows do, to see men as bumbling idiots and women as the ones who really have things altogether. It creates an utterly disrespectful image of men, and a terrible image of marriage. Shows like that, and a recent Discover Card commercial (which captures an example of this perfectly – see embedded clip below), train us to have a certain imagination of how the world works. Women learn they can treat men a particular way (sadly, I’ve heard groups in public spaces talking about their husbands like they’re a bunch of ignorant cave men). Men learn they might as well play the fool. I cannot begin to say much about how young men, women, or little boys and girls are formed by exposure to this kind of thing. But as you might imagine, it’s bad.

Back to Bourdieu. It’s our passive taking-in of all this which creates our dispositions and forms our habitus to be judgmental right along with and in the same manner as the material which we are watching. Why? Because we are not just watching it. Television is formative. It’s not just in-formative. Think about commercials. They’re not just giving us information. They’re creating desires. In the same way, these shows I’m talking about are ritually carrying us through certain ways of being in the world—and through them the good life is on display. Just as in a commercial that tells you how you ought to look or what you ought to own (in order to attain the good life) reality TV’s invitation to judgmentalism invites you to the pedestal of judge, to the position of honor. Your opinion matters. Your vote counts. You’re important. So gone on, tell us what you think. And don’t mince words…we take this very seriously. And tune in next week, and the week after that. And catch this new show where we need you to weigh in. And so on and so forth and suddenly a new way of being develops in us.

The big danger here is that, for Christians, we carry this way of being into the world. We start rendering judgment on everyone and everything. Because plenty of us are fans of reality TV too.

More concrete examples in the next post.

Trained to be Judgmental?

Our world forms us to become judgmental. This happens simultaneously with our ongoing training as Americans to be non-judgmental—that is, tolerant—of everyone else. That we’re taught it is important to be non-judgmental (tolerant) is rather obvious. It’s an explicit value articulated in the media and our educational system, and even (perhaps often) within the Christian tradition. So I won’t say much about that here.

To make my point, however, that we’re formed to be judgmental, I must reflect on something that’s not so obvious. And to do that, I have to say a few other helpful things first.

A book that’s been critically important to my thinking about Christian formation (and cultural theory) in recent years has been Jamie Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. I’ve suggested it to so many people who’ve also liked it—and with the help of some colleagues made it required reading at my seminary for worship students. But it’s not the simplest read. It takes some wrestling and pondering.

I’m now using it with my undergraduates to think about how culture has formed us. In the book, Smith argues that culture often forms us unwittingly through ingrained habits and rituals that function like liturgies. He calls them “secular liturgies.” The analogy to the church’s liturgy is quite intentional. And if you read the book, his argument that culture can be understood as constituted by “secular liturgies” is quite compelling. So I encourage you to read it. And I promise you’ll get more out of it than that if you invest the time in reflecting on Jamie’s work and the various sundry applications of it to your life. He makes it easy, using examples from popular literature, movies, the mall, TV, the university, sports, and even the Pledge of Allegiance to make his points concrete.

One of his main arguments is about how we are formed as human beings to be particular kinds of people in a manner that operates at a pre-reflective or pre-conscious register. On this point, he means to push back against the rather staid position in Western thinking that, as autonomous agents (which we imagine ourselves to be, since that is what we’ve been taught we are in the story of Western anthropology), we deliberately come to believe everything we believe by choice. Or, in terms of the things we do, they are done as matters of intentional deliberation. Jamie rejects this position. And he is not alone in pushing back on this view. Even recent NYT bestsellers are telling us otherwise—mind you they’re doing so by making the case scientifically borrowing from psychology, neurology, and cognitive philosophy: check out David Brook’s The Social Animal and/or Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (I recommend both).

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has also argued convincingly that our formation as human beings is not primarily a cognitive phenomenon, but something much more bodily oriented. Thus, for Bourdieu, our thinking and reflection emerges from our primal and chief means of engagement with and comportment toward the world—our bodies. He uses the language of “practice” to help us understand this. His work gives an account for why we do what we do, not by accounting for our “thinking and deliberation” regarding our actions, but by accounting for how the logic of practice is pre-cognitive and pre-reflective. Bourdieu describes our embodied lives as trained toward certain dispositions through regular habitual practices in which we participate. These dispositions structure our engagement with the world. He gives a name to these dispositions, calling them habitus. Our habitus governs our actions at a level below the cognitive and reflective register. The focus isn’t on our brains or minds but on our bodies.

At the risk of scaring some readers off, it’s worth quoting Bourdieu on this very central idea within his work. If this passage doesn’t seem very clear, keep in mind part of the problem Bourdieu has in his writing is that he is trying to challenge deeply ingrained assumptions, ways of thinking that we simply take for granted and which have been rooted in the West for three centuries. Our present condition as captive to a certain way of thinking about and imagining “why we do what we do” prevents us from understanding him easily.

The conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them. Objectively “regulated” and “regular” without being in any way the product of obedience to rules, they can be collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a conductor. (The Logic of Practice, 53)

Here we see Bourdieu explicitly pointing up the nature of habitus as an ordered, structured and structuring register of our lives that functions explicitly at a non-cognitive level. There is no need for a “conductor.” There is no need for the intentional “following of rules” or “aiming at certain ends.” These are not, however, ruled out as impossible or dismissed, but Bourdieu’s point is to reorient our imagination of what it means to be human actors who explain why we do what we do, forcing us to take into account a substantial part of who we are that does not emerge from our “free will,” our freely made decisions, or rational deliberations about what is to be done.

From the time each of us was very young—I mean, from moment after we were born (and now we ought to be paying attention to our formation in the womb it seems)—our dispositions were being created. We were developing a habitus, or better, a habitus was happening to us, on account of how we were engaged with others in our experience of the world. In the same way, this still happens. In fact, it’s ongoing throughout our lives. Our habitus continues to be shaped as much as it shapes our engagement with and comportment toward the world. We constantly engaged with the world in a variety of ways and this engagement is always rubbing off on us. Our world is full of “liturgies” according to Smith—that’s part of what constitutes and forms “culture” in his argument—and human beings are always formed by the cultures in which they participate. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom argues that our engagement with the world, as it is inevitably communal, shapes our dispositions, and thus forms us to be certain kinds of people. Liturgies of any kind foster habitus.

Thus I’ve reached a point where I’m ready to make my suggestion of how we are passively trained to be judgmental.

Our culture provides many opportunities for us to be trained—to develop a disposition, a habitus—to become judgmental. Since this post has gone on for some time, in the next day or two, I’ll supplement this one with some concrete examples of how I see this happening.

I haven’t posted much here in the past year. Maybe once every 2 or 3 months. That’s because I’m trying to be diligent at finishing my doctoral dissertation by December. In the meantime, I’ve been asked to help coordinate the Church and Postmodern Culture Conversation, now hosted over @theotherjournal. I’m excited and privileged to work with James K. A. Smith (editor of Baker’s book series of the same name) and the long-time coordinator of the site, Geoff Holsclaw. The site just went up this week, and things look great. There’s an exciting lineup of posts over the next couple of months. I’ll have some things to offer there, and I’ll be sure to alert you here about when those are happening. In the meantime, consider creating a bookmark to churchandpomo or adding it to your RSS feed.

I have the huge privilege of participating in Calvin College’s Summer Seminar Program. Specifically, I applied for and was selected to participate in James K. A. Smith’s seminar entitled, “From Worldview to Worship: The Liturgical Turn in Cultural Theory.” I’m surrounded by a fantastic set of scholars, thinkers, and lovers of the Church who are quickly becoming my friends. They challenge me immensely, and it’s somewhat hard to believe I’ve been so blessed to be allowed to participate.

While we’re spending the bulk of each day reading and then discussing our readings, some of us have been recruited to blog a bit about the happenings and discussions in the seminar. It’s an effort to engage a wider audience than our small group of participants. Perhaps it will give a taste of what is challenging us in our discussions. Perhaps it will serve to inspire others to read what we’re reading. Perhaps it will nudge others to engage with the questions we present in the blog itself.

If you’re interested in checking it out, visit http://worshipweblog.com. I’ve written two post there thus far. Consider using the “Like” function on your Facebook profile or “tweeting” the links in an effort to get even more people involved in the conversation. There are multiple seminars happening concurrently, so if you want to keep up with the one in which I’m engaged, look for the tag “From Worldview to Worship–Summer Seminar 2011.”  Happy reading.

Earlier this week, I posted on Facebook about a brief moment in the midst of a Sunday morning worship service that caught my attention. Responses to the post didn’t quite seem to understand what I was getting at–this is clearly my fault, since Facebook really isn’t the place for posts which carry with them a substantial amount of implicit information. I can’t expect my readers to know what exactly I had in mind. Consequently, after a few misinterpretations, I took the post down with the promise to elaborate here. Comments are welcome, as keeping the conversation going here will be easier. Here goes.

The brief moment I’m speaking about occurred during the children’s sermon. While the sermon itself was leading to a very significant yearly ritual in the congregation involving parents and their children, what I saw only emerged as a response to a particular object involved in the sermon, not to the sermon itself. As the speaker was beginning the introduction to the sermon, a variety of objects were brought out which would help communicate the lesson. One of those objects was a Green Bay Packers helmet. As the helmet was raised out of the bag containing the objects, a middle-aged woman in the pew in front of me nearly jumped out of the pew with excitement. I found in this particular reaction rather striking. It was one of those moments, I think, where the church’s liturgy inadvertently became complicit with a secular one. That is, unwittingly, unintentionally, and unpredictably, the use of that Packers helmet, at least in the life of one person (if not a handful of others), suddenly brought a burst of excitement about a sports team and their future role in Super Bowl XLV. What stood out to me was the difference between the kind of excitement that could be engendered by the use of a football helmet in the midst of a Christian worship service over and against any excitement (or emotional display, involvement, commitment, enhancement, etc) for  Jesus. I became concerned in that moment, how the church had simply reinforced that woman’s devotion to the Green Bay Packers over and against Christ.

[What do I mean by liturgy here, such that I can use it with regard to both the church and the secular? Quite simply I mean this: liturgy (understood broadly here) is a set of practices meant to shape and form our devotion in a particular manner toward a particular object or way of being. Christian liturgy is meant to shape our devotion toward Jesus. A secular liturgy, such as nationalism is meant to shape our devotion toward a country, such as America. An exemplar practice here would be the recitation of the pledge of allegiance. For this general understanding of liturgy and for various themes in this post, I am borrowing from James K. A. Smith’s work, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation.]

Before I go on to comment on this event, let me explain a few things. First, I want to be clear that the use of a Green Bay Packers helment, or reference to a sports team, or any other cultural artefact may well have a place in Christian worship–I think those places are limited, to be sure, but I’m not saying such things do not belong there outright. This is because we bring our identities as sports fans, Apple product fans, Coldwater Creek fans, Williams Sonoma fans, Lexus fans, into church every single week. It is impossible not to do so. And since, as Martyn Percy (Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology, 40) and others have pointed out, religion is part of culture and culture is part of religion, avoiding their interaction is impossible. So a sermon might have a cultural reference. The question is, why is it there? How you answer that is particularly important. Second, I am not condemning, criticizing, or ridiculing the preparer of the children’s sermon for their use of cultural objects (the Packers helmet wasn’t the only one). Third, as I mentioned above, there could have been no possible way to predict the reaction I witnessed. It must be assumed that all motivations behind the children’s sermon were innocent and/or praiseworthy in this regard. What else is a children’s sermon for than to bring the pure Word of God to the children (and often, more clearly than many “adult” sermons, to adults)?

What should stand out here is only this: the reaction of this woman to a cultural artefact in the midst of a Christian liturgy was symptomatic of her involvement in a different, secular liturgy, wherein her devotion toward the Green Bay Packers had already been shaped–and this phenomenon occurred in the midst of Christian worship which is supposed to shape and form our devotion otherwise, that is, toward Christ. The question that bugs me (and should bug you) is this: How often is the church inadvertently, unwittingly, and certainly unintentionally (I hope) complicit in forming the devotion of its members toward something other than Jesus Christ by invoking, involving, or using secular liturgies? How often, in the church’s self-perceived faithfulness, is it in fact subtly complicit in a simultaneous unfaithfulness? One might argue that the answer simply is, all the time, since the church is constituted by sinners. My question for us all strikes more pointedly. Are there times when the church is complicit which can be countered, corrected or undone? Can we become aware or conscious of our complicity such that we can make moves against it? Is the church willing to be considerate and self-critical enough to look for those places where such complicity might exist, and subsequently do something about it?

Here are some examples of where such complicity might be present in the life of the church in the 21st Century:

Nationalism

Many congregations have the American flag (and often a state flag) present in their sanctuary. Various post-Constantinian authors have argued implicitly that the practice of having these flag present is a form of Constantinianism–that is, that the presence of the American flag in the sanctuary of a Christian church reveals a certain implicit confusion about the relationship between Church and State. Under Constantine, Church and Empire were united. Such a relationship no longer exists, technically speaking. However, I have heard Christians speak about America as God’s promised land. In the minds of some Christians, and possibly many, there is still an implicit sense that the church is the same political body as the state–and hence, within many Christian circles, there is a significant effort to return the US to its roots as a “Christian” nation (various examples and the attending problems with this belief are highlighted in the first essay of James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World). The post-Constantinian authors are attempting to recover a more faithful understanding of the church–that is, that the church has a politics of its own, that it is a unique political body with citizens of its own (even if they are simultaneously citizens of various other communities, societies, clubs, nations, etc.). I have written about this a little here. Theologically speaking then, having an American flag present during Christian worship confuses the point that Christian worship is meant to be a public disturbance–one which announces Jesus as Lord and calls everyone to account for their allegiance (or not) to Him.

In addition to the presence of the America flag, what kind of language is used in the celebration of Veteran’s Day, or Memorial Day? While I am definitely thankful for the service of members of the military and those who work to preserve the safety of our nation and many others, I am concerned about the language (or better, grammar) used when we refer to people who have lost their lives in the midst of their service, choosing to call it “the ultimate sacrifice.” Should not that reference of “ultimate” be used for Christ alone? What reference might we use then for the sacrifice they made, since it is still important to be thankful for that work? I am not sure. But in our shared use of the term “ultimate” with the rest of American culture, Christians are potentially complicit in a liturgy which works devotion toward something other than Christ.

Individualism

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has written (in his work Unleashing the Scripture) that the Bible should be taken out of the hands of North American Christians. He notes this especially regarding the fairly typical practice of churches giving them out, perhaps to confirmands or visitors. Why has he made this rather striking argument? Because he believes, and I think rightly so, that the Bible is not just any other book, but one which people must be taught how to read. The Bible is a book which belongs to and forms a particular community. To treat it as something every individual has a right to, or to make some sort of missional effort at simply giving them away without any ongoing and intentional connection to a church community in which one might learn to read it, is problematic. Interpretation, which is treated in so much of the North Atlantic world as the native right and ability of any person, is actually quite the opposite. From our youngest moments, we are learning and being taught how to interpret. We don’t simply “just know” how to interpret. Reading the Bible is another way of saying interpreting the Bible, since all reading is interpretation. And since the Bible is the special book of the church–the very people of the Book–should those new to the church not be taught how to read and interpret faithfully? The church must continue to form the communal relationships which are the work of Christ, rather than simply further promote such individualism.

Commodity-Fetishism

Somehow, companies that sell products know how to get us to need their products–not just want, but need. Somehow, they are able to capture our devotion, even through simple things like television, internet, or print media ads. For example, Apple creates something new, and in so many words says to us, “Look what we made for you. See how it will make you life better? See how by having this product you will be the envy of so many? See how it will make you feel special?”

In our culture, our imagination has in many ways been passively formed to the extent that we see our lives as being filled with work so that we can have things. Indeed, in many ways this is true almost beyond our ability to resist. How can one have food, shelter, and other basic necessities as well as support a family with the same things, without working? Fair enough. But in many ways we take this too far. Our culture, it has been argued (by such thinkers as Josef Pieper, in his Leisure, the Basis of Culture), is one of total work. We work more than we have to. We work in order to have, and to have even more than we need (Apple knows how to make us need through its own liturgies). We work because work defines us. We work, because somehow we were taught that to be a good citizen in our society, we need to productive (with the underlying agenda there being, so you can be a good consumer, and so the economy can keep booming, and so we can keep being happy–another liturgy working devotion to a particular image of what it means to be human).

Many church workers that I have known work more than 50 hrs per week (in some cases that’s too much already). Some work 80 or more. How is this a witness to those in the church who also hear these same workers speak about Sabbath, rest, peace, the light burden of Christ, resisting busyness, and other topics which imply that work for the sake of work is not honoring Christ? Church workers who work so much, for whatever their justification for doing so, are complicit in living an implied theology which serves as an unspoken (and likely unintentional) witness to those whom they serve. The devotion they teach is not toward Christ (as much as one might say they work so much for His sake, because He would not want one to do so), but rather toward the secular imagination’s image of a good citizen–one who is productive, and therefore a good consumer. There are a handful of problems here, and I’ve written about some of them here. Suffice it to say that the church’s complicity in this cultural liturgy is widespread, and likely quite harmful.

——–

What shall we conclude? That’s probably not the right question. Since I write to try to “do” something to my readers, the question is more directly, what should we do? The answer is simple: pay attention. I’ve written this to raise awareness, to bring to conscious thought something we might simply be taking for granted and therefore missing altogether–something which is immensely influential for the church, yet subtly and subversively so. But don’t just pay attention. When you notice the possibility of something you or your church is doing that might be complicit with a secular liturgy, think, converse, and analyze with others about whether your estimation is on track. Then begin to explore how you might change your practices for the purpose of being more faithful and helping those around you to do so as well. I write this as someone who is regularly haunted by these questions–AND regularly convicted about my own complicities. Christ comes to give freedom. The liturgies of His church are meant to work that freedom and form us in devotion toward Him. Thanks for reading.