Is There Something Sacremental About This?

Posted by Jared Siebert on July 05, 2013

I picked this video up via the Atlantic.

This video is a beautifully and poetically shot musing on the people who travel to Abbey Road to re-enact the iconic Beatles’ album cover.  For the record I have nothing against the Beatles.  I think their great.  However, I can’t help but notice the sacramental nature of this simple act.  Being photographed walking across Abbey Road, means following in the footsteps of “incredible men”.  It points to a desire to communally participate in some sort of transcendent greatness.  Is this a modern day form of worship?

I have been reading James K. A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” lately.  He has been opening my eyes to the way in which consumer culture erects alternative churches, liturgies, and sacraments to harness our desire and point us toward consumption.

“We are shaped by material bodily practices that aim or point our love to ultimate visions of human flourishing— to particular configurations of what “the kingdom” should look like.”

Here is a quick break down of his version of the liturgy of the shopping mall:

1.  I am broken therefore I shop – the mall’s rituals— its own construal of the brokenness of the world, which issues not in confession but in consumption. One might say that this is the mall’s equivalent of “sin” (though only superficially).  The point is this: implicit in those visual icons of success, happiness, pleasure, and fulfillment is a stabbing albeit unarticulated recognition that that’s not me.

2.  I shop with others – After all, it does seem that going to the mall is often a social phenomenon, something one does with others, even in order to be with others. However, just what vision of human relationships is implicit in the rituals of the market? While we might participate in the mall’s liturgies in pairs or groups, what model of human intersubjectivity is implicit in the story it’s selling us? It seems to me that, despite being a site of congregation and even a venue for a certain kind of “friendship,” its practices inculcate an understanding of human intersubjectivity that fosters not community but competition; it inscribes in us habits of objectification rather than other-regarding love.

3. I shop (and shop and shop), therefore I am – Though its stories and images point out to us our blotches and blemishes, they are not pessimistic; to the contrary, they hold out a sort of redemption in the goods and services that the market provides. The mall holds out consumption as redemption in two senses: in one sense, the shopping itself is construed as a kind of therapy, a healing activity, a way of dealing with the sadness and frustrations of our broken world. The mall offers a sanctuary and a respite, where we can count on sales clerks greeting us with friendly smiles, where we can lose ourselves in the labyrinth of the racks and find new delights and surprises that— at least for a time— cover over the doldrums of our workaday existence. So the very activity of shopping is idealized as a means of quasi-redemption. In another sense, the goal of shopping is the acquisition of goods and the enjoyment of services that try to address the problem, that is, what’s wrong with us— our pear-shaped figure, our pimply face, our drab and outdated wardrobe, our rusting old car, and so forth.

Have you noticed any other versions of these kinds of sacramental acts?

UPDATE:  (Thanks to my friend Josh Lyon for the link)  If you’d like to watch the worship in action you can see it live right here!

2 Comments to Is There Something Sacremental About This?

  • Interesting conjecture.. I saw parallels right away to food… pinterest food porn; food shows; the ritualistic nature of the ‘art’ of researching, producing and consuming ‘dishes’.. The power that we have given these rituals concerning a base human need to try and fulfill our personal, social and spiritual needs. Focusing so much time and resources trying to somehow sate an incessant hunger should actually be how we describe our quest to know our Savior but instead we are transferring our innate hunger for God and allowing gluttony to become an esteemed practice.

    • I never considered the food porn idea! Food porn shapes our desires. It’s also funny how the picture of the food and what usually comes out of my kitchen rarely match. And it’s not just the food itself – it’s the promise of transcendence. The sun dappled light hitting the cherry on top, the promise of the perfect family meal time around a perfect table enjoying the same dish, the laughter, the conversation, the connection, the sense of belonging. All from a great looking whipped desert! The truth is most things that get “pinned” my youngest son would hate. Unless people “pin” pictures of hot dogs, Kraft Dinner, and peanut butter… There’s this constant gap between ideal meal times and the reality I experience. I notice the same thing around coffee snobbery – something I have to be vigilant against in my own life. Why be vigilant? Because on a regular basis really nice church people make me urn coffee. I want to receive their gifts with gratitude instead of wishing they had a burr grinder and a french press. Food is a pleasurable experience. But it would seem, when you talk to the foodie set (of which I may be a member), that food is meant to be transcendent!

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