How’s your love life?
“What if education is not first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”James K.A. Smith
James K. A. Smith asks this probing question in his book, Desiring the Kingdom. He posits that Christian education is primarily a formative project and not just an informative activity. That is, Christian schooling is about shaping the affections of the next generation, not just filling their minds with information.
Are you a college football fan? How did you come to support your team? I expect it was a combination of influences. For alumni, the love for the team took root in your college experience. Perhaps your parents’ loyalty to their alma mater was passed down to you. Gifts of team sportswear and caps further entrenched your identity with the team of choice. Fandom may be part of a pre-existing condition of your childhood friends or determined by which team was winning during a formative period of your life! I doubt it was a highly cognitive, intellectually driven decision! Your affections were translated into allegiance that has had a lifetime effect.
Traditions shape affections as well. Traveling to visit grandparents on holidays instills love of family especially if it is associated with delicious food and the reconnection of relationships. Even a routine ritual like shopping for school supplies in August can build anticipation and excitement for the coming school year. Taking pictures on the first day of school instills the idea that schooling is a pretty special activity!
Some of the traditions in our home cultivated affections for Sunday. Sweet rolls were part of the breakfast fare only on Sundays. We ate lunch on the finer china on Sundays. Little touches like these can shape not only how children think about Sunday, but how they grow to feel that Sunday is special.
Tall corn, patriotism, and romance
Music is a powerful cultivator of affection. I remember being a part of the LCS elementary chorus many years ago. One winter, we were given the opportunity to sing in the Magnolia Center to a group of snowbirds from Iowa who would gather periodically as they wintered in Lakeland. I stood amazed as they all stood and enthusiastically sang, “Iowa, Iowa, that’s where the tall corn grows!” These senior citizens were passionate about their state and were proud to sing about it.
Music has always played a key role in the cultivation of patriotism. As I watched the video post of our elementary students singing on the field in Viking stadium on Veterans’ Day, their enthusiasm was evident. They waved American flags and sang patriotic songs. Joining in the singing of God Bless America, American the Beautiful, and My Country tis of Thee, moves the heart to love of country.
I recall talking with a couple at a wedding reception years ago. As soon as the DJ played a certain song, the couple immediately excused themselves and rushed to the dance floor. They were playing “our song” and affections kindled long ago were refreshed by the tune that took them back to their high school romance days.
…Tune my heart to sing thy praise…
The music selected for worship cultivates our loves as well. Hymns or other songs that are rich with theological truth coupled with singable tunes instill not only knowledge of God, but also moves the heart to deeper affection for the Lord. The Christian is called not only to know the doctrinal content of the faith but also to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Our affection for God is informed by our knowledge of Him and our love for God will always motivate us to live for him and to know Him more and more.
Affection shapes formation
Both schools and parents will benefit from giving intentional focus to the cultivation of right affections in the hearts of the next generation. How do we model positive habits of affection before them? Our affections shape our priorities. What steps can we take to encourage our students to have properly directed affections that will help cultivate wise choices in their lives? High test scores and academic honors may open some doors but are not likely to be the empowering influences that produce a life well lived. Our affections will dictate our formation. What we love will shape who we are.