Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club, Chapter 3

So, I haven’t had a ton to say about chapter 3.  In this chapter, Smith dissects several common ‘liturgies’ of our culture in order to show just how powerful these things can be in directing our desires and affections.   He gets a little controversial in some places, and I haven’t made a lot of comment on this chapter mostly because I didn’t want to get into all of that controversy.  However, I do see the point he is trying to make: these things do have an influence on our lives.  They do make a difference in what our hearts desire.  Even the most subtle of these practices have the power to draw our hearts away from desiring the Kingdom.   In this final section of the chapter, he gives an example from a novel about  a university student who entered the university with the lofty goal of increasing her knowledge and enhancing the life of her mind, but finds herself drawn away by the stereotypical rituals and practices of a university campus – frat parties and the like.  Those were just the things that one does at university after all, right?
In the conclusion of the chapter, he reminds us that, assuming our goal is to produce Christian disciples, then we ought to be striving to resist these kinds of ‘secular’ liturgies and ultimately to provide a counter-formation: liturgies, practices that pull our hearts towards Him rather than away.  How could the university student in the example have been better prepared not to be drawn away by the temptations of secular campus life?  How can we effectively counter the secular culture that surrounds us and keep our hearts focused on His Kingdom?
Well, Smith hasn’t told us yet, although I expect that that is the direction he is heading in Part 2 of the book.  I’m curious to see where he goes with it.  In the meantime,  I’ve been thinking about that a bit, however.   Reading this final section of Chapter 3 reminded me a bit of a talk I had listened to by Christopher Perrin awhile back entitled Learning to Love What Must Be Done.  The funny thing about it is that he does actually cite Smith in his talk, thematically they are very similar.  No wonder I was reminded of it as I read this week! (Click Here and scroll down to the 2011 Conference Recordings if you want to give it a listen.)   I re-listened to it while washing dishes this weekend, and some of the suggestions  towards this end that he made:
  • It starts with us.   If we want our students (or children) to be lovers of truth, goodness and beauty, we need to model it.   We need to become contagious lovers of truth, goodness, and beauty ourselves.
  • We need to help develop a sense of wonder and awe in our students.   We want them to marvel in amazement over those glimpses of glory that are to be seen everywhere if only we have eyes to see.   Our choice of teaching materials and teaching methods will be effected by this consideration.
  • Linked to the above, we need to give them time to ponder and reflect and discover and think.   It is important that we don’t cram their lives so full of activity that they don’t have space to do this. 
(Hmm…once again, I’m seeing shades of Charlotte Mason and Poetic Knowledge….)
One other thought that has occurred to me that I haven’t seen mentioned yet by Smith, or by Perrin in his talk that I recall at least, is that ultimately, our hearts won’t be pointed towards the Kingdom unless the Holy Spirit draws them.  I absolutely agree with the idea that as human beings we aren’t minds in vats, and that our habits and practices really do matter.   But I think often about my own upbringing – I would say I was raised in the type of church environment that Smith descries in this chapter – secular culture was countered in messages targeted to my rational self only (don’t do this! don’t do that!). The emphasis was very much on avoiding what was BAD rather than actively seeking out that which was GOOD.  Yet, I lived in the midst of those practices and messages in the public school I attended, the movies and music and books I was exposed to without much thought.  And yet, somehow, I didn’t completely fall prey to their lure.  This I credit to the power and protection of the Holy Spirit.  Somehow, my heart was continually drawn back towards Him.  He was at work anyway, even in the midst of a formational environment that was less than ideal.  This doesn’t negate the importance of considering our practices and what kind of effect they have on us and  our students or our children, but when it boils down to it all we are really doing is preparing the soil – it is He who gives the increase.  
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  1. Your story reminds me that we don't have to obsess over creating the perfect environment -- the Holy Spirit makes up for all that we lack.

    I found myself thinking about how CM says education is an atmosphere. Did you? :)\

    I'll have to check our Perrin's talk...

    1. Exactly. I think it's easy to read things like this and realize everything that we want to change or should change (or wish we could change) about our atmosphere and practices and then get discouraged when it just doesn't measure up with what we envisioned. It's good to keep moving in the right direction, but it doesn't all depend on me either. I needed that reminder.

      Yes, education is an atmosphere. And Poetic Knowledge too, although that was really more in the angle that Perrin took in his talk than in Smith....

  2. I like what you said about preparing the soil. Isn't it freeing to know that we are just called to obey? If we examine what it is that we have been asked to do, here and now in accordance with God's will, then that's all we have to do. I think this is one reason why it's so important for parents to pray for their children. We do the best we can and then pray God to make something of it. In the Orthodox wedding service there is a line in one of the priest's prayers that says "the prayers of parents make firm the foundations of houses" - I love that line.
    When you said,
    "How could the university student in the example have been better prepared not to be drawn away by the temptations of secular campus life? How can we effectively counter the secular culture that surrounds us and keep our hearts focused on His Kingdom?"
    the concept of fasting and obedience came to my mind. (I just commented on Pilgrim's blog about this - you can tell Lent is coming since this is all I can think about!). I think that is an excellent beginning practice to help us reject those practices that try to pull us away from Christ.