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You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith


In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith redirects us to think of our lives as shaped not so much by the mind as by the heart. It is not learning right theology, ahem, that moves us closer to God, but right habits. And habits are learned processes.

We are invited, in this text, to remember that we are whole beings, embodied beings. In that light it is not just things that we think that matter, but also things that we do. And there’s a lot that we do that we just don’t pay attention to or that we perform unconsciously. The assumption that human beings “think through every action” and “make a conscious decision before ever  doing anything” turns out to be largely unfounded. Thinking does matter, but not nearly as much as our conscious and subconscious desires, which appear visibly in our lives as habits. Smith points us toward an “attunement” or “know-how that we carry in our bones” that runs much deeper than we are even aware of ourselves.

It is not learning right theology that moves us closer to God, but right habits.

Does this mean we are subject to forces we can’t understand? Or to purely subconscious desires we can neither change nor control? Not entirely. We are invited, by Smith, to consider the practices, habits or liturgies that shape how and what we worship.


This book in some significant ways helps us rediscover how “ancient wisdom about spiritual disciplines intersects with contemporary psychological insight into consciousness,” Smith writes. Part of that process is analyzing the practices we are engaged in: religious practices to be sure, but perhaps even more so, our everyday activities, our cultural rituals, our unconscious but common habits. These are formational to our persons, and it is crucial that we increase our awareness of them so that we might more fully engage in practices that lead us to love of God and make us the kind of human beings God has created us to be.

One of Smith’s main contentions is that we actually might not be aware of what it is we love and that an honest assessment might surprise us. Smith fleshes this out through examples from film and literature, and, in doing so, he practices what he is inviting us to do: have a deeper awareness even of the cultural media we are ingesting and how they might provide insights into human nature to which we remain oblivious.

We tend to assume that the spiritual journey is a mostly nonphysical, esoteric path. That love of God is about a sense or feeling or commitment that we have deep in our hearts. Yet Smith candidly notes that “the way to the heart is through the body.” Therefore our physical practices, habits and everyday actions both reveal to us what we love and help shape the desires within our hearts.

Smith provides practical steps for congregations to rediscover the liturgy of worship, why and how our worship forms us and why we must do it well and with full awareness. He also reveals that our everyday actions and habits are liturgical rituals that are, little by little, both shaping and revealing the heart. Thus there are many things that happen in our family and home settings which are as important or more important than anything we do in a worship service.

You Are What You Love invites us to “think creatively about rhythms and rituals and routines that (might) let the good news sink into us throughout the week.” We would do so not to earn a new status with the Holy One but to remember that God is out ahead of us already, inviting us into the love with which he already holds us. As Smith puts it, “we pursue God with God.”

This book is a helpful, thoughtful work that I would recommend for pastors, for parents, for teachers – for anyone who wants to develop habits and patterns of living that lead one into love. That is something we all could use more of, and I think Smith might not be overstating it when he says, “you are what you love.”

Bryan Berghoef pastors Holland (Mich.) United Church of Christ and is the author of Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God.