Posted by: gcarkner | September 5, 2012

Culture Matters…

Stimulating literature is our lifeblood. It takes us to a new level of existence. GCU often sponsors a book study that introduces new ideas as part of its learning process. Our most recent savvy one is Andy Crouch’s  Culture Making: recovering our creative calling. He makes note of how people of faith critique, condemn, copy and consume culture in various ways. Sometimes they feel the need to be counter-cultural in their stance. Crouch demonstrates that some of it is legitimate and important; some of it is trivial and shallow, or even wrong headed.

He asks the pressing and important question: How can believers contribute to culture, or make culture? This is how impact happens–through cultural artifacts. In order to make culture, he suggests that we need to first recover the posture of the artist and gardener like our first parents in the Genesis narrative. I am grateful to him for his wise insight that we should first be preservers of good cultural heritage: “People who consider themselves stewards of culture—guardians of what is best in a neighbourhood, an institution or a field of cultural practice—gain the respect of their peers.” He’s correct here. Nothing could be more relevant to graduate school; we stand on the shoulders of giants; we enter a conversation that began centuries ago in many cases.

Many university students are in search of meaning and a substantial trajectory for life. Where does one find one’s niche? Where will I contribute or make my mark? Andy’s thoughts offer a vision and a constructive way forward in the midst of our broken and beautiful world.

Nihilism, the default option for people who have closed themselves off to grace, is one answer to the question: i.e. the belief that culture is all about power relations that must be negotiated (M. Foucault). Perhaps the ‘Hunger Games’ novels and movies are a stark illustration of this ideology: children killing children in order to survive, and yet darkly for the entertainment of an oppressive dictator and his elite friends. Why is it so popular, so gripping? Perhaps the author has struck a deep chord with us late moderns, and is asking us some tough questions.

Our present culture is riddled with subtle and overt coercion, deception, contempt and bullying. Nihilism (aka antihumanism) is presently lively as a stance, but thankfully by no means universal. In a competitive world, this attitude treats the Other as a barrier or competitor to one’s goals, a means to one’s personal ends, or even a threat to well-being. Will that produce the kind of community most of us desire at university? There is, of course, an alternative paradigm of thinking about our world. It is in the retrieval of the deeper creativity of the Christian heritage of humanism for academic community, collegiality, commitment to the good of the Other and compassion and servanthood? Hear Crouch:

What we are missing, I’ve come to believe, were the two postures that have been least explored by Christians in the last century. They are found at the very beginning of the human story, according to Genesis: like our first parents, we are to be creators and cultivators…artists and gardeners….Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there. The gardener looks carefully at the landscape; the existing plants, both flowers and weeds; the way the sun falls on the land. The artist regards her subject, her canvas, her paints with care to discern what she can make with them. And then, after contemplation, the artist and the gardener both adopt a posture of purposeful work. They bring their creativity and effort to their calling….They are creaturely creators, tending and shaping the world that original Creator made. (Culture Making, p. 97)

This book is well worth the read, a profound attempt to recover an ancient vision of life that goes back over 4000 years. There are many footprints to follow, and many artifacts to examine. Crouch digs deep into the collective memory of Judeo-Christian tradition and comes up with practical, relevant suggestions and illustrations of this posture on culture making, and calling fulfilment–a lively contribution to our ongoing search for meaning in 2012-13.

Related Article within this blog: Scholarship on Faith & Culture

See also Jens Zimmerman’s new release, Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world. IVP Academic, 2012.

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