You Are What You Love, by James K. A. Smith (Brazos Press, 2016)
This book is a call to “worship well. Because you are what you love. And you worship what you love. And you might not love what you think. Which raises an important question. Let’s dare to ask it.” [page xii]
With fresh, engaging language, the author explores the habits in our culture, in our lives, in our churches – especially churches which practice some form of liturgy. He points to the dichotomy between the way we intend to live, honouring to God and growing nearer to Him, and the way we often live instead, with habits and attitudes we don’t even know we’re carrying.
He asserts that we’re not just “thinking things” – we’re influenced by our desires and our loves. From that perspective, it’s vital that Christians identify what we most deeply value so that we can set our hearts on God. Calibrating our hearts to focus on God, James Smith says, takes practice. Habit is part of this practice.
For those in liturgical churches, a significant part of that practice is found in the creeds and prayers that have been unconsciously absorbed and now shape the believers’ worldviews. No matter what a believer’s background, the book encourages us to identify and evaluate the rituals in our lives and in our households, with a view to eliminating some and creating others that will lead to healthier and more worshipful spiritual lives.
I don’t come from a liturgical background, and I know that formality can often become rote and ignored, but this book helped me see more of the value of internalizing the tenets of Christianity through the creeds and prayers – and of course through Scripture memorization, which we can all work at on our own.
At a first read, I was disappointed, because the book called to a felt need in my life, to worship deeper and more truly, and I felt it raised the issue but didn’t give a solution. Discussion with friends helped me see that the solution is present all the way through the book instead of in a concluding summary like I had expected. Thus, it takes more work to find and apply, but that’s life. An author handing out a pat and easy, formulaic take-away would not be truly helping readers.
The take-away is this: a challenge to become aware of the influences on our hearts, and to take corrective action as necessary to develop new habits of the heart and spirit. In beginning to do this, I’m seeing small but healthy changes in my life, and I believe that new habits are forming.
If you’ve read You Are What You Love, take a look at the discussion questions, which include brief videos from the author as well as printed questions. I had already marked this as a book to re-read and allow to steep in my understanding, and this will definitely be an asset.
Award-winning author James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Michigan. For more about the author and his work, visit jameskasmith.com. You Are What You Love received the 2017 Grace Irwin Award, Canada’s largest literary prize for a book written by a Christian author.
[Review copy from my personal library.]