I spent the semester using James KA Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom as a framework for my Introduction to Spiritual Theology class. We talked about thick practices. We talked about liturgies and specifically the liturgy of the mall. In the first class (and the very last class) we read together his hypothetical anthropological investigation of the mall and talked about its offer of the”good life.”
- We can find the good life at Sears (or at the gym).
- True Religion is found in clothes, specifically jeans.
- Enlightenment is achieved through tea (at the store Tea-vana).
- Transcendence is found in bedding (at Bed, Bath and Beyond).
- We can “live well” with the help of GNC.
- We can retain our youth and beauty forever through skin care products and makeup (at Forever Flawless).
- And, we can escape it all and spend the night in Fantasy Land (which was quite lovely. We stayed in the Arabian room).
Together, these stores send the message that I don’t have the good life, but they can provide it. I will find happiness if I spend my money and use their services.
It’s a very different experience than shopping on Amazon. For the most part I go to Amazon, type in what I’m looking for, and choose my options. While Amazon will suggest related products, there is not the same unconscious messaging and branding.
Maybe there’s something to be said for living in rural Saskatchewan, away from any real mall (cause let’s face it the “mall” in Moose Jaw doesn’t count).
What would my Christianity look like, what would my worldview look like, if I hadn’t stepped away from the mall culture five years ago? Would Smith’s work have been as impactful, or would I have found it patronizing?
I’ve struggled for a while now with the current trend in church planting and church growth to favour urban contexts over rural ones. But I’m wondering if the rural context offers a much needed outside (though not necessarily superior) perspective or reality check, that challenges urban/suburban ministry to be aware of the possibility that they can too easily fall prey to the allure of consumerist liturgies.
And the musing continues…