Culture as Liturgy
I am sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. Last week, I had a lovely vacation from the dreary Canada weather to visit my family in Southern California. While there, Josh and I visited our old undergraduate university for a conference with keynote speaker, James K.A. Smith. I was impressed with the insight he gave into our culture.
Smith operates under the premise that all human beings are oriented towards some end – a telos. Rather than being primarily intellectual creatures, according to Smith, we are creatures of love and desire. That is, we operate primarily from our desires rather than our knowledge or reason. Our desires are oriented towards some form of “the good life” – we are kingdom focused creatures. However, each persons idea of what a flourishing kingdom looks like may be very different (Smith, Presentation at CBU).
Because we are creatures oriented by desire, Smith is very interested in what it is that moves us. What it is that forms our desire? It is certainly not the intellect that orients our desires. “You don’t wake up and say ‘today I’m going to love X’” (Smith, Culture at Liturgy). While you may in fact, say that, by the next week, day, or hour, you are no longer loving X.
Rather, our loves are oriented by cultural practices. This includes the practices of our families, our schools, our church, and society. It is through habits formed in culture that the orientation of our love is formed. And it is often the small things that matter the most. Smith quotes Pierre Bourdieu who states:
“The hidden persuasion of an implicit pedagogy . . . can instill a whole cosmology, through injunctions as insignificant as ‘sit up straight’ or ‘don’t hold your knife in your left hand'” (Smith, Presentation at CBU).
Orientation then, is learned through practice. What does it mean to learn something? It means that something becomes second nature to you. A person learning the piano or learning to drive is consciously thinking about the things they are doing. The end result, to have learned it, is to be able to do it second nature – automated. We often intentionally decide to learn to do things second nature.
However, there are also things we learn to do second nature through cultural practices that are not necessarily intentional. All of these practices are habituating in us, orientations to some vision of the good life. . . . Practices are not just something that we do, they are doing something in us” (Smith, Culture at Liturgy).
Because of this, Smith believes we need to go into our culture with eyes wide open, being aware that even the little practices of society form us. Because the way to the heart is through the body, we need to be careful we are not being formed to be oriented towards a kingdom that is not God’s kingdom.
A question we should ask then is: “What is the liturgy of our culture?” and “What is the liturgy of our Church?” We’ll look at how Smith addresses these questions in the upcoming posts.
Part two: Social Media as Liturgy
Part three: The Liturgy of our World