Desire & The Kingdom – Part 1

James K.A. Smith, a professor at Calvin College, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, made an enormous claim. He claims that all human beings – past, present and future –all 7 billion people who now populate the planet – are “essentially and fundamentally creatures who are” “oriented” (directed, pointed, aimed) and “defined by…(our) desire”[1] to live what we imagine to be a “good life.”[2]

In other words – at our core – at the deepest part of us – perhaps in ways that we do not even fully understand ourselves- all of us at our core are driven by our desire to live the sort of life that we imagine will make us the happiest. In other words we are driven by our desires to live what we believe to be a good life.

In fact, Smith goes on to say that our “actions,” the “paths we” take are all “aimed at trying to live out” our “vision of (a) good life…”[3] In other words – we are all focused on searching out the things which we image will make us happy. And that vision of a good life is shaped by what we imagine it will be and things like stories, pictures, ads, music, movies, icons, all give shape to it.

What do you think about that? Do you think it is possible to reduce all human beings to simply creatures who are fundamentally, essentially given to pursue what we image will make us happy? Is it true of you?

One night I came to the conclusion that it is true of me – but not in what might be thought of as the usual way. What I mean is that I’m all about not getting caught up in being rich and famous (and with my occupation  – I don’t see myself getting rich and combined with my proclivity for mischief I’m far more likely to be infamous than famous). The folks at Delta have actually played into that a little bit.

On a recent flight I came across this ad on their napkins – it plays right into the weary traveler – who is pursuing their image of “the good life”. All they need is 20% more and they’ll be 100% happier.

I’m not going to fall into that. However, I am just as prone to pursue what I image will be the good life in other ways. Unfortunately it has to do with my family and it has shaped the way I parent.

For instance – on more than one occasion Sherry and I have had the opportunity to discuss with our children the connection between their future and their current educational habits. Now – I’d like to say that it is always pleasant and that they always reply, “Oh thank you dear father for your wisdom. I will at once return to my studies with greater vigor.” They don’t – although even if they did it would not be without sarcasm (I’ve been able to pass that ability to my sons with very little effort).

So a while ago I was having one of those conversations about education and their future vocations. With Smith’s claim firmly in my mental background I heard myself say, “Buddy – if you don’t get your homework done and start doing the right things school – you’ll not have opportunities later. You will not get into a good university – and study the sort of things that you want to study – so you can get the job you want…” That’s when I stopped because I knew where I was going.

I was going to that place in my mind that I imagine will make them the happiest. I have imagined for my sons a “good life.” To get that “good life” they have to do great in school – so they can get a good job – make good money – live in a nice neighborhood – take great vacations – drive nice/decent cars- etc, etc, etc.

I heard myself pushing my sons to live out an image of a good life that I had gotten from somewhere – but I’m pretty sure it isn’t something that a pastor ought to be pushing his sons to do. I’m pretty sure it is supposed to be larger than that…isn’t it? Life is intended to be about more than those things – isn’t it?

There is something more to life than just what I imagine will make me happy…

Part 2 Tomorrow…


[1] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Volume 1 of Cultural Liturgies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 131.

[2] Ibid., 54.

[3] Ibid.

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