Monday, March 27, 2017

BookPastor >> "You are What You Love" (James K.A. Smith)

This review was first published on July 4th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
AUTHOR: James K.A. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016, (224 pages).

We worship what we love. Out of what we love, we worship. This relationship is tight and indispensable. It has implications for what it means to be human, and reflects what exactly we do want. Author and professor James K.A. Smith observes in the gospels how Jesus is more interested in what the disciples want rather than what they believe or know. Smith believes that many people have become stuck in Descartes-style of "I Think Therefore I Am" to the detriment of the lack of holistic living. Interestingly, he does not argue for less but more knowledge and learning that pulls together holistic living and learning. We need to cultivate a lifestyle of living and loving, of learning and labouring toward a model of centering our behaviour according to the heart of loving. Out of this identity arises our true motivation for thinking; for spirituality; for calling; for discipleship; worship; and spiritual formation. Describing the heart as our center of spiritual gravity, Smith also tells us that this goes way beyond the head. The virtues of love in the heart form our "erotic compass."  He believes that it is possible to acquire such virtues through imitation and practice. This book is about the latter that uses habit as the way to cultivate and to calibrate this compass.

Recognizing how loves can be corrupted in this world, Smith spends time trying to de-link secular forms from true virtues. One example of the fallacy of worldly love is the distinguishing of what we "think" we love from what we "really love." For love can be a deceptive word. He uses the metaphor of a shopping mall to showcase the flaws of consumeristic and materialistic styled loves. What is most disconcerting is that many of these shoppers implicitly believes that they are what they purchase. Prolonged exposure and acceptance of such philosophies both explicitly and implicitly will lead to an erroneous formation of flawed loves. At the same time, we cannot on the basis of these false loves do away with our inner desire for some form of fulfillment. This is what Smith calls "hungry hearts" that all of us have. We need to learn how to fill this need appropriately. Desire is a legitimate emotion. It can only be fulfilled with a fundamental human expression of worship. Smith puts it beautifully: "Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts." We need to recover the right narrative for true fulfillment. We need practices to help us develop a spiritual habit of formative worship. For true worship not only expresses our deepest human desires, it forms our human selves. Smith adds that formative Christian worship is not only possible but essential. It unifies our minds, hearts, souls, and wills. It characterizes us, re-stories us; and gives us a fresh appreciation of Christian liturgies. Such liturgies are not just expressed in Churches but also in homes. It is about commitment to family and household. It is about the regularity of connecting with one another. It is about centering our passions, not idolizing. It is about cultivating the garden in which love can blossom. The habits of the heart are also applied to discipleship of the young.

So What?
The key point in this book is that we are what we love and true love comes from right worship and true expression of worship lies in how we practice the liturgies of Church, home, discipleship of people both young and old, and spiritual formation in our respective vocations. Worship covers a wide variety of Christian living. In fact, it covers all even as Smith asserts that worship ends by sending. It also reminds me of John Piper's popular words: "Mission exists because worship doesn't." It is all connected. We learn in this book that our actions and our Christian lives will bear no resemblance of our true selves until we recognize that we are what we love. Instead of letting impressionistic Hollywood, the consumeristic shopping malls, or the deceptive worldly philosophies drive us toward accumulating erroneous forms of loving, we need to look inward to check our true hunger. The Holy Spirit can help us to be reflective of who we are and what we are created to be. We need to look out for legitimate and appropriate ways to live out our hunger for fulfillment. In worship, we not only live out our calling, we are formed and continually reformed in our hearts, minds, and wills. At one look, this book seems to be touching on many things. Whether it is worship, discipleship, spiritual formation, missions, or vocations, Smith is basically telling us that the center of all these things come from the heart. It is the condition of the heart that is key to understanding why we do what we do each day. It is also the deceptiveness of the heart that throws us off course and renders us confused and unfulfilled. In our world of distractions and constant engagements with things that are not truly what we need, we can be less than our true selves.

This book is not so much about giving lots of practical steps or advice on spirituality. It is about getting first things first. It is about returning to our first love. It is about recognizing our origins and what we are created to be. The author has helped us to do just that in unifying our hearts, minds, and souls. Out of this unity comes the expression of our true selves. This is the reason for the title of this book. Some readers may be put off by the words 'worship,' 'discipleship,' or 'liturgies' but once they get the hang of where Smith is coming from, they will have a renewed understanding of these words. Not only that, they will love to put these words directly into action.

James K.A. Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College. He has previously written on popular Christian topics on worship, culture, and the Christian Life, such as Imagining the Kingdom, Discipleship in the Present Tense, and Who's Afraid of Relativism?

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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