Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Meaning, Pedagogy, Quotes, Ramblings, Reading Reflections, Urban, Worship

Liturgical Imaginations: Torture, Culture, and Eucharist

This post is a series taken from a DMin project I put together looking at the Eucharist as a paradigm for ministry in northern Los Angeles, with the idea being that while the Eucharist is a simple and common practice of the church, it can provide a pivotal and profound paradigm for ministry in a particular place and time.

Part 1 – A Eucharistic Imagination for Los Angeles: A Bibliography

Part 2 – Bread and Wine as a Paradigm for Ministry


In Torture and Eucharist, theologian William Cavanaugh reflects on the situation of Chile under the reign of Augusto Pinochet. With a domineering military presence ruling the country through a reign of terror, Cavanaugh contends that, for Chile under Pinochet, “torture is liturgy…because it involves bodies and bodily movements in an enacted drama which both makes real the power of the state and constitutes an act of worship of that mysterious power.[1]

Cavanaugh unveils in Chile what is true in all contexts, that there is a liturgical imagination at work revealing what is powerful and thus worthy of worship. This liturgical imagination dictates and guides the social practices and cultural norms that are accepted and understood in a particular place.

James K.A. Smith similarly argues for what he terms cultural liturgies. These are patterns that “command our allegiance, that vie for our passion, and that aim to capture our heart with a particular vision of the good life.”[2] While not as obvious or necessarily violent as the regime of torture in Chile, Smith argues that these liturgies are at work in our cultures, institutions, and communities and play a shaping and formative role.

As in Cavanaugh’s description of Chile, naming torture as the state’s imagination allows the church to both (1) recognize the ways it is complicit and supportive of the broken and twisted imagination of the state and (2) offer an alternative politic and liturgy faithful to Christ for the people of God. Similarly, with Smith, naming the cultural realities that shape the liturgical imagination of a place (such as northern Los Angeles) aids the development of contextually aware and theologically sound practices of ministry.
So, in order to practice the Eucharist in a way that makes sense in northern Los Angeles, you have to understand the cultural liturgies and imagination of northern Los Angeles.
Next up: The Liturgies of Hipster Hollywood

[1] Cavanaugh, William. Torture and Eucharist. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998), 30.
[2] Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom. (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 90.

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