I’m sitting here once again considering what it would take to experience the changes I so desperately desire. In the past I would often look to the outside world as a cause for how I felt and thought. To some degree this is the case in that my gaze was fully focused on particular parts of this world that shaped my affections. Yet this is not entirely so either. I’m slowly discovering realizing the meaning that it is not merely the things that I see or even think about that shape my affections. There is definitively that aspect of the human person that transcends a rational consciousness that forms the essence of what I love and care about.
For too long I have intentionally focused my “efforts” on spiritual disciplines with the presupposition that I am primarily and essentially a rational creature. I suppose in this sense I am a creature of my environment (culture). I have lived in a world that has ignored and even mocked the affectual nature that distinguishes human beings from other creatures. In his book, Imagining the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith makes the persuasive argument that desire is the key element to human formation and that human desire is formed by liturgies (particular affectual practices). Essentially he is arguing for a paradigmatic shift in training students from one that assumes students are empty receptacles into which the instructor pours information to an approach that seeks to form the student in a holistic way even shaping the emotions and desires. His argument focuses primarily upon worship (liturgy) as the essential means of this process.
So far I am fully with Smith both in his rejection of the enlightenment approach and assumptions and that liturgies are essential practices by which persons are formed. Smith also rightly states that human beings participate in liturgies regardless of religious background. If a person professes no religious affiliation or more extremely rejects such affiliation, that same person at the very least participates in secular liturgies (which is inevitably formational).
Where I veer away from Smith is not in any principle disagreement of his theoretical argument. However, in the application of it I would argue that Christian liturgy transcend the practices of the cathedrals and the modern understandings of worship services. My Anabaptist sensibilities demand more than an hour singing and saying worshipful things to the transcendent (and imminent) God. Having recently read Kreider’s book, The Patient Ferment, I was reminded of the practices of the early followers of Jesus. In the first two centuries of the church it was essential for the prospective Christian to begin the faith journey in service to the poor. I can’t help but read Matt. 6:22-23 (“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness?) as a context for Jesus’ parable about the “least of these” in Matt. 25.
Jesus’ metaphor of the eye essentially concerns hermeneutics in that it addresses the focus of one’s attention. However, it is more than just that. I am convinced that Jesus is addressing the very things that shape the affections of human beings. If a person continues in the status quo practices that focuses upon the security and survival of the self in exclusion of the other then the affections of the self will be shaped thusly. In the case of the “Sermon on the Mount,” if the follower of Jesus practices the liturgies Jesus instructs on that hill, then the focus and attention of the disciple will requisitely change too. But Jesus doesn’t end his teaching there. The climactic teaching of the sermon addresses the symbols which are representative of survival for a people living at subsistence levels.
For a Christian who was born and raised in the northwestern hemisphere and who is part of the dominant culture (including all that this category means racially and in terms of origin) this teaching is easily misunderstood to simply address greed and wealth. Most significantly it is addressing allegiances, bonds, commitments, and identity. To whom or what have we made allegiances? Where are the sum our commitments focused? To what group, culture or sub-culture are we bonded? How do we fundamentally identify ourselves? As is conspicuous in the articulation of these questions the matter of Jesus’ teachings goes beyond the simple surface interpretation of this passage. In fact the following verses do not address worry in the sense that it has been preached for decades. To a people living at the subsistence level, to actually practice the teachings Jesus presented would consequently lead the disciple to social (and ultimately financial) bankruptcy in the contextual vertical structure of society.
Essentially what I am arguing is that if we practice the liturgies taught in the sermon, especially in light of chapter 25, the proverbial eye will essentially focus upon (and pragmatically serve) that population living on the margins of society (the least of these). The posture emphasized is one that serves in a way that expresses the jubilee claim Jesus takes as his own as recorded by Luke (chapter 4). What has repeatedly occurred through the centuries is the continued attempt to assimilate the kin(g)dom focus of the church into the dominant culture of society. The consequences have grievously been devastating both to the witness (and life) of the church and the population who the gospel intentionally identifies with and for.
Essentially Pentecostal scholars such as Kenneth J. Archer are correct in identifying the orthopraxis of the church. What this means is that practices are absolutely essential in forming the life of believers. I am convinced that before we can become effective disciples of Jesus, our affections (desires) must be reformed (perhaps more accurately transformed) so that even as the disciple loves God with all of her/his life, it is primarily expressed by loving the other. This intentional and directional service is in and of itself an essential liturgy to any rule of life. There is no horizontal worship of God the Creator unless it is first formed through the service to and life with the least of these.