Thursday, March 05, 2009

Book Notes - Culture Making

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch.

Tons of stuff in this book - too much to actually really go into here. Long time readers will read about familiar themes, including: creativity, being a student of the culture around you, and the different types of postures we take in a given environment. But there is loads more.

Probably the most helpful and tangible for me was the five questions about a cultural good listed in chapter 1 and the discussion on scope, scalability and the 3:12:120 pattern of influence in chapter 15 [does this remind you of the rule of 150?].

Highly recommended. Personal notes below, use them as you will.

Part 1 - Culture
1. The Horizons of the Possible
This, then, is the picture of humanity we find in Genesis: creative cultivators.

Culture is what we make of the world.

So how do we make sense of the world? The two senses turn out to be more intertwined than we might have thought. We make sense of the world by making something of he world. The human quest for meaning is played out in hman making: the finger painting, omelet-stirring, chair-crafting, snow-swishing activites of culture. Meaning and making go together - culture, you could say, is the activity of making meaning.

"Every human society is an enterprise of world-building" - Peter Berger. Culture is not just what human beings make of the world; it is not just the way human beings make sense of the world; it is in fact part of the world that every new human being has to make something of.

1 What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
2 What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
3 What does this cultural artifact make possible?
4 What does this cultural artifact make impossible?
5 What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?

Culture is the realm of human freedom - it's constraints and impossibilities are the boundaries within which we can create and innovate.

2. Cultural Worlds
Some people choose a set of cultural ripples that was not originally their own. When they do so in pursuit of economic or political opportunities, we've traditionally called them "immigrants"; when they do so in pursuit of evangelistic or religious opportunities, we've called them "missionaries." But as the wheels within wheels overlap more and more in a mobile world, most of us have some choice about which cultures we will call our own. We are almost all immigrants now, and more of us than we may realize are missionaries too.

3. Teardowns, Technology and Change
[Stewart] Brand's most important insight is that there is an inverse relationship between a cultural layer's speed of change and it's longevity of impact. The faster a given layer of culture changes, the less long-term effect it has on the horizons of possibility and impossibility.

Even the resurrection of Jesus, the most extraordinary intervention of God in history, took hundreds of years to have widespread cultural effects.

But there is one more easy abstraction we need to clear up in order to appreciate how culture changes. To define culture as what human beings make of the world is to make clear that culture is much more than a "world-view."

The danger of reducing culture to worldview is that we may miss the most distinctive thing about culture, which is that cultural goods have a life of their own. They reshape the world in unpredictable ways.

4. Cultivation and Creation
fundamental rule - The only way to change culture is to create more of it.

human cultures have the strange yet fortunate property of always being full.

Human nature abhors a cultural vacuum.

Cultural creativity requires cultural maturity.

5. Gestures and Postures
Condemn, critique, consume, copy -> culture. A gesture moves to a posture.

Part 2 - Gospel
6. The Garden and the City
Creation brings being out of nothing.
Creation is relational.
Creation requires cultivation.
Creation leads to celebration.

To be sure, God has provided the raw material - the garden, the animals themselves and Adam's very breath. But now the Creator graciously steps back just enough to allow humankind to begin to discover what it means to be a creator. Adam, like his Maker, will be both gardener and poet, both creator and cultivator.

Our world is unevenly divided, to say the least, between wilderness and theme parks. Most of humanity lives all too close to wilderness, at the mercy of a creation whose original good wildness has been made implacable hostile to human flourishing by the Fall. A privileged billion or so can choose to live in theme parks, where neither the dangers nor the beauty of the created, fallen world intrude on a manufactured environment of amusement. But we were made for neither theme parks nor wilderness - we were made for the place where we are challenged to become creators and cultivators. We began as gardeners.

Interlude - The Primordial Story
7. The Least of the Nations

8. Jesus as Cultural Maker
Jesus as cultivator and as creator
Jesus as creator - altered practice of meals, stretched the horizons of rituals, confronted head-on the most powerful cultural institution of first-century Judaism, the temple in Jerusalem.

Of all the things cultures conserve most carefully - of all that they are most committed to cultivating - among the most important are ritual and time. For several thousand years, in the midst of a bewildering variety of geographic locations and civilizations - even as their own language and cultural practices changed in myriad ways - the Jews have never forgotten which day is the sabbath. The observance of the sabbath is written into the Ten Commandments as the story of creation itself and was sustained in Jesus' time, as it is now, as a profoundly countercultural act with little or no support from the surrounding society. And yet, within a few years of Jesus' death, we have clear evidence (from Luke, Paul, and John in the biblical canon, and from writers like Ignatius just a few decades later) of a group of largely or exclusively Jewish believers, living within sight of the temple no less, who have shifted their primary day of worship from the seventh to the first.
To grasp the cultural significance of this, imagine leaving the United States for a decade or so and returning to find that while the wider society continued to get up on Monday and go to work and school, a substantial number of churches left their buildings dark on Sunday and gathered for worship on Monday instead - perhaps getting up before dawn to do so, perhaps gathering after the work day was done, perhaps skipping work altogether - and, for good measure, now called Monday, "the Lord's day." You would conclude that something absolutely extraordinary must have happened - or at least that they believed something extraordinary had happened.

9. From Pentecost
10. ...To Revelation

11. The Glorious Impossible
In a lovely Christmas book for children, Madeline L'Engle called the incarnation "the glorious impossible" - an unthinkable idea that nevertheless shines with possibility and hope. It's a good description of the gospel as a whole. And it is precisely the impossibility of the gospel that makes it so culturally potent and so perennially relevant. The gospel constantly challenges every human culture with the possibility that we live within misplaced horizons.

Part 3 - Calling
12. Why We Can't Change The World
Which leads us to the deflating observation that not a single human cultural artifact has changed the world at that scale - neither the compass nor indeed any other application of magnetism, the Gettysburg Address nor any other work in the English language, Einstein's theory of general relativity nor any other set of mathematical formulas. Even the color mauve hasn't change the world in that sense.

the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.
what are the all-important sufficient conditions for cultural influence? The sobering truth is that at a large enough scale, there are no sufficient conditions for cultural change.

Our ability to change culture is a matter of scale. On a small enough scale, nearly everyone has the power to change the world.

So can we change the world? Yes and no. On a small enough scale, yes, of course we can. But the world is sufficiently complex, not to mention sufficiently broken, that the small scale of our own cultural capacity is never sufficient.

Our central story begins with a Creator who set into motion a cultural process that had myriad consequences that were never within his original intent. Because all culture is shared and public, all culture is also a risk, dependent on the cultivation and creativity of present and future generations. Adam and Eve certainly did "change the world," but not in the way their Creator had surely hoped.

Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives.

Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of "changing the world" usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God's ability.

13. The Traces of God
When God acts in culture, he used both the powerful and the powerless alongside one another rather than using one against the other. To mobilize the powerless against the powerful would be revolution; to mobilize the powerful against the powerless would simply conform 'the way of the world.' But to bring them into partnership is the true sign of God's paradoxical and graceful intervention into human history.

I believe this pattern - God working with the poor and the rich, the powerless and the powerful - serves as a kind of template for seeking out what God might be doing now in our human culture.

Q: What is God doing in culture? What is his vision for the horizons of the possible and impossible? Who are the poor who are having good news preached to them? Who are the powerful who are called to spend their power alongside the relatively powerless? Where is the impossible becoming possible?

14. Power
For nearly all of us, becoming a celebrity is completely, categorically impossible. For all of us, becoming a saint is completely, categorically possible.

Cultural power can be defined very simply as the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good.
No one every knows how much power they have.
And no one ever has enough power.

One of the basic disciplines I have put in place in my own life is travel outside the developed world, about once a year if our family budgets of time and money allow....

What does it mean to embrace stewardship as a spiritual discipline? It is different fro service, which requires setting aside our power entirely for a time.
Stewardship means to consciously take up our cultural power, investing it intentionally among the seemingly powerless, putting our power at their disposal to enable them to cultivate and create. This is different from charity, which is simply the transfer of asses from rich to poor. It is closer to investment.

Q: Where have we successfully proposed a new cultural good? With whom am I sharing my power? Is my transformation keeping pace with the cultural power I have been given? Are we engaging in acts of service that take us into places of anonymity and invisibility?

15. Community
Is there any sense to the idea that "all culture is local"? Mandarin Chinese, Coca-Cola, the common law system of jurisprudence and the twelve-musical scale form the horizons of possibility for millions or billions of people. They are as far from "local" as you can get, and they are cultural goods of tremendous importance, for better or worse.
And this mans that no mater how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.
The pattern of 3:12:120 - pattern of relationships, scale and influence.
And yet the almost uncanny thing about culture making is that a small group is enough.
Q: Who are your 3? Who are the few people you trust enough to risk creating something together? Who might be members of your 12?

16. Grace
I believe the single best question for discerning our calling is Where do you experience grace - divine multiplication that far exceeds your efforts?

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