Desiring the Kingdom: Imagining What Flourishing Looks Like

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Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

In this chapter Smith begins to develop a more complete anthropology, one that takes into account our imaginations, our hearts, our gut, our bodies, as well as our minds.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a telos – an end or purpose we are striving for – and, in fact, it is almost always unconscious. In fact, our true telos, our true love, we are aiming for, can even be contrary to what we think or say our end is. We might know the “right answer” to such questions as “What is the chief end of man?” But what we actually believe is our chief end is what will direct our actual choices. Smith writes,

what is human flourishing?

Rather than being pushed by beliefs, we are pulled by a telos that we desire. It’s not so much that we’re intellectually convinced and then muster the willpower to pursue what we ought; rather, at a precognitive level, we are attracted to a vision of the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons.

The sources of these stories, myths, images, and icons are various: catalogs, advertisements, tv shows, novels, dinners with friends, church services, family stories handed down, Christmas mornings, the endless succession of average school days. All these things converge to impress upon our unconscious imaginations what it is we hope life is.

It is not primarily our minds that are captivated but rather our imaginations that are captured, and when our imagination is hooked, we’re hooked (and sometimes our imaginations can be hooked by very different visions than what we’re feeding into our minds).

This is one reason why fiction is essential. I admit, I enjoy non-fiction for fun reading, and the problem with good novels is that it is hard to function in real life when in the throes of story grip. But, it is through stories more than essays that we see what the world or life might be like. We gain perspective through it, and empathy and vision. Movies and tv shows certainly count, too, as stories that grip us and show us a vision of the world.

Having a correct worldview does not act as a shield against bad visions proclaimed by secular stories or advertising campaigns. In fact, relying too much on mere intellectual assent can even weaken our shield against the false worldviews proclaimed by the much more insidious and compelling marketed to us at all sides, because we need true myths and stories filling our imaginations and claiming our hearts, not only true doctrine in our heads.

It is just like in Jane Austen, where the heroine is protected from a poor suitor (or a good one) because her affections are given to another, not because she has calmly assessed the suitor’s merits. The heart is best protected from false loves by being enamored of a true love. This is true of visions of the good life as well as for romance.

what human flourishing looks like

Thus we become certain kinds of people; we begin to emulate, mimic, and mirror the particular vision that we desire.

Again, just like in novels (and real life), where the woman’s choices and preferences become influenced by her love, so our everyday choices are influenced by our heart, whether we are aware of it or not.

This is just to say that to be human is to desire “the kingdom,” some version of the kingdom, which is the aim of our quest. Every one of us is on a kind of Arthurian quest for “the Holy Grail,” that hoped-for, longed-for, dreamed-of picture of the good life – the realm of human flourishing – that we pursue without ceasing.

What is the vision of flourishing which we intellectually affirm? How can we reach our hearts and imaginations with that vision? How can we inspire our children’s imaginations and hearts with the vision of flourishing that might currently be more cognitive than affective in our lives?

5 Responses

  1. Jen
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    I love your Jane Austen example. :)

  2. Brandy @ Afterthoughts
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    I, too, love your Jane Austen! Especially since we have recently discovered that some of our little ones are not so little as we thought, and starting to have…shall we say, INTEREST…in members of the opposite sex!

    After getting over the trauma, I suddenly became very aware of how little control we parents have over the heart!

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Yikes! Say it’s not so! I’m not ready for that!

  3. Brandy @ Afterthoughts
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    It’s so!

    She comes by it honestly, as — I’m not naming any names — but her mother was boy-crazy at a young age, too. I was just naive enough to think that homeschooling would keep it out of her. I thought it was perhaps a cultural influence but now I think it is human nature + hormones. Sigh.

  4. Virginia Lee
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    Oh, yes! I also put some of this in my blog post. We cannot just protect our children from what we don’t want them to see and hear or even just make sure they memorize doctrine. We must also intentionally give them those true myths and stories, and poems and so forth. That way their hearts are captured as well as their minds! Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

    Love the picture of your son holding your daughter and reading. How wonderful!