Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Club :: Desiring the Kingdom :: Chapter 1 part 2

 book club

(For the next several months I will be participating in this book club on Desiring the Kingdom , hosted by Mystie at Simply Convivial. If you missed my earlier posts you can find them here)

Last week we looked at the first part of chapter 1 in Desiring the Kingdom and the discussion focused on how we are creatures made with physical bodies, not just thinkers or just believers. As Smith puts it,

...the way we inhabit the world is not primarily as thinkers, or even believers, but as more affective, embodied creatures who make our way in the world more by feeling our way around it. 

He goes on to say that because we live in this world - in time and space - we have a physical, dynamic relationship with it, in that we live our lives with intention. In other words, we reach out with our hearts and our hands for... something. What do we reach out for? That is the question that each person has to answer for himself.

We are essentially and ultimately desiring animals, which is to say that we are essentially and ultimately lovers. To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are. 

We aim for what we love. We reach out for that which we desire and that desire shapes our actions and our thoughts and our beliefs. The question before us is what do we ultimately desire? What is it, that above all else, we desire from the very core of our being?

We were created to love and ultimately desire God. Another way of saying it is that we were created to worship God. This is not to say that God created us because He wanted our worship, or that He needed us to worship Him. He definitely did not need us or our worship. But He created us because He is love itself, and love by definition pours itself out on and desires the other. The Holy Trinity is a communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that love is poured out on creation. We were created with a capacity to love as well and the natural and right thing is for us to aim our love toward our Creator. Our love and our desire has its proper place when it is aimed at God.

What happens though, is that because God loves us so much, and has poured out His love upon us, He has given us the choice to love Him in return; and more often than not, our choice aims our desire at something that is not God. Our arrow has missed the mark, and the result is sin.

What do we choose instead, and how do we end up making choices that pull us away from God rather than toward Him? Or, if we do choose Him, what is it that brings us to that decision?

[W]hat we love is a vision of the good life, and implicit picture of what we think human flourishing looks like. 

Our ultimate love is oriented by and to a picture of what we think it looks like for us to live well, and that picture then governs, shapes and motivates our decisions and actions.  

Smith emphasizes here that this orientation is to a picture. Pictures tend to be concrete and tangible. We can imagine a picture and how it would take up physical space and time. Pictures of the "good life" can be found in stories, songs, myths, legends, etc. Words can be potent and powerful, no doubt about that, but perhaps words are powerful only insofar as they can paint for us a compelling, continual vision that can be embodied in our actions and habits. After all Jesus Himself is the Word incarnate; embodied; taking  on physical shape. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."


This picture of the good life is what drives us to behave as we do. We are motivated to pursue and take hold of this vision with our actions.

Thus we become certain kinds of people; we begin to emulate, mimic, and mirror the particular vision that we desire. Attracted by it and moved toward it, we being to live into this vision of the good life and start to look like citizens who inhabit the world that we picture as the good life. 

...our desire for the kingdom is inscribed in our dispositions and habits and functions quite apart from our conscious reflection. 

What is being said here is that our own actions, most especially our unconscious actions or habits, are what drive this vision of the good life. One way to our hearts is through the senses, and our bodily rituals, which repeat day after day, train our hearts and aim us toward our idea of the kingdom - whether it be the True Kingdom or not. Every ritual already has a particular aim embedded in it. Once again there is no neutral ground here. The things that we do, big and small, matter because they physically orient us toward or away from God. Many times, once habits are established, this orientation takes place without our even being aware. Physical habits form our souls and shape who we are. Maybe it's time we started paying attention to what we do.


  1. I love how you brought in the Trinity and that Jesus is incarnate; that is a great point.

    It can be so difficult to see what those little, seeming-insignificant daily habits really are aiming us toward. To see that requires much wisdom and grace.

    1. Our bishop made that point about the Trinity when he visited our parish last. Only he said it so eloquently that it made me cry.

      I was really struggling with the idea that images can grab us in a deeper, more affective way than words because I read SO much and have learned so much that I can apply from my reading (I mean, look at the title of my blog!) And I kept thinking, "but words are important - Jesus is the Word" and then I recalled John 1 and it all just clicked how "living" ideas are the ones that we can embody - or else see embodied in someone else - and that the Word Himself took on a body. And "in Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not". His embodiment literally shines a light into the chaos of darkness and makes it possible for us to see "the Kingdom" and to desire it.

      I'm rereading Norms and Nobility now and when Smith talks about the picture of the Kingdom, he is really getting at the Ideal Type that Hicks discusses - the embodiment of the standard we hold for what it means to live "the good life" .

    2. It makes me smile that you connected this to N&N... :)

    3. And then, Jen officially adds N&N to her already over-flowing reading list. Sigh... (Don't worry, that's mostly a happy sigh! :))

  2. Oh yes, words can be powerful. But the most powerful words are the ones that make us take action. The Word being the most powerful of all. The Word, who is Jesus, who is God, who is Love and because of The Word and His love we make our decisions and take action. Thank you for bringing that all together for me. The Word, Jesus in the flesh, Love... It's floating around in my mind now. That paints a very powerful picture.

  3. Beautifully said, Lisa. Thank you for sharing.


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