Before we get too far along in this series, let’s think about how to apply what we’ve considered so far. We’ve laid out the overall topic and thesis: James K. Smith wants us to realize that people are first and foremost lovers. That even more than what they think or believe, what people love or desire is primary in what forms who they are. We’ve highlighted examples of the shopping mall (Part 1) and the University (Part 2). But if you have been tracking with us, you’ve already started thinking about numerous other “liturgies.” We will consider more of them in this series, but let’s consider what we do with these principles. How does it change your view and interaction with outsiders and unbelievers in your life? For today, let’s consider two specific things:
1) This deeper understanding of what shapes a person should help you get to know someone and understand them better. As you talk to them you can ask questions about things they are interested in and discover for yourself what “liturgies” form them. You don’t have to find out if they watch FOX News or MSNBC (though that’s not irrelevant). But you can find out what the staple liturgies in their life are—TV shows, sports teams, music, career, places they visit, and things they do. We probably typically ask some of these things, but we aren’t looking beyond surface answers to understand what makes them tick. Just this point alone should make us better listeners and better at asking the right questions to learn about people without being overbearing. If we walk away from a few early interactions with someone with a basic sociology of who they are, we may actually be in a position to be more thoughtful and encouraging in the normal development of a relationship. We will be more adept at talking about things that interest them and provide opportunity to talk about meaningful things. In turn, that makes us more prepared to serve them and develop a meaningful relationship that the Lord may use to provide opportunities for gospel conversations.
2) When you talk about cultural things, whether casually as a Christian or as a pastor from the pulpit, understand that the “idea” is wrapped up in a liturgy. What does that mean, practically? If you single out a cultural activity and criticize it, you are not just criticizing an idea; you are criticizing a liturgy, something that deeply forms some people. That doesn’t mean you can’t criticize it, but it should shape how you do it and why you do it. Understand that if you say, “Well, I think Grey’s Anatomy is a night time soap opera and a waste of time,” you aren’t just criticizing a TV show. You are criticizing a deep liturgy that for many (especially women) involves getting together on Thursday nights for years with a few of your closest friends and a bottle of wine. For them, it’s not just an issue of the subject matter of the show; they hear you attacking something that has deep meaning of living life together. For those in their 30s and 40s, millions considered Thursday night sacred for laughing and crying together. If you talk about the NFL and the Lord’s Day, for many (especially men) this may be their deepest held community they have. Not just watching with the guys, but their level of commitment to their team. This is revealed in statements guys make like, “Who do y’all play this week?” or “We beat Dallas.”
Again, understand it’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t discuss and critique these things, but it should significantly change how, when, and why you do it.
This is particularly true on social media. So often, reformed people come out guns blazing and lay down the intellectual law with the world watching. We act like we are in a theological debate in our study with friends and that it’s simply about the ideas. Meanwhile, we are oblivious to the way we’ve attacked our unbelieving friends’ deeply felt liturgies. A fool proof, line-by-line defeat of some issue (intellectually), wounds the outsider with no medicine to heal the wound.
Hopefully, this gets you thinking about how to apply these things in every day life. We will continue to expand and think about them going forward. For us to grow in practice in these areas, we are going to have to be intentional about it—both in thought and practice. For example, the next couple of conversations you have with unbelievers, whatever is talked about can you reflect on what “liturgies” are underlying the discussion. Another thing to have in mind: when you are speaking critically of something (either online or in person), pause to think about the liturgy that is wrapped up in the idea you are discussing and how that might affect the critique. Going forward, we’ll continue to work out the implications of these things together.