How should we engage with culture?
We are made in the image of the Creator. The freedom to create and cultivate culture is God’s gift to, and design for, us. We are called to follow Jesus beyond the Church and into the world, where we have the opportunity to do far more than simply consume, copy or critique existing culture. We have been created to create.
This is what Andy Crouch reminds Christians of in Culture Making, a book that has helped frame my own thoughts around this question of engaging with culture.*
Crouch also reminds us that culture is what we make of the world. I believe this includes the worlds in which we are specifically, and purposefully, placed. These are the areas of society we find ourselves in and the spheres of influence we hold because of the skills and passions we possess. This could be in business, government, education, healthcare, third sector, law, media, or the arts. The list goes on.
We should always come back to this question – what am I making of the world I inhabit?
Let’s be honest, you might not always like the answer you get back. Engaging with culture can be difficult. From the beginning, Christians have wrestled with the tension of living faithfully in a foreign culture. Jesus acknowledged the difficulty his followers would face as they are called to be in the world although they are not of the world. (John 17:16)
It’s no surprise then that public leaders are bound to struggle where their faith intersects with the prevailing narrative of the world they’re called into. I’ll confess, sometimes I respond to these tensions by choosing to observe and analyse the culture around me. I can spend more time thinking about culture – and a lot of its problems – than changing it. At times, it seems much easier to critique and challenge culture, without offering a positive solution or alternative.
Here’s the good news. There is another way to respond. When we choose to create and cultivate culture, we are not only fulfilling our design as creators but we are also offering an act of worship to the true Creator. We can do so with humility, and a thankful heart, knowing that it is God, not us, who changes hearts and transforms culture – yet, in His goodness, He lets us play a part.
So, with this in mind, what will you make of the world you’re in?
I take inspiration from those around me who have responded to this call to creatively cultivate culture. Those who are offering a different story from the prevailing narrative and are creating cultural goods that lead others closer to the Kingdom.
On my desk, keeping my laptop and my (fourth) cup of tea company as I write, is the 13th issue of Darling – a magazine that ‘redefines beauty and empowers women.’ For me, it is a tangible product of this very call to create culture.
On the back cover is the magazine’s manifesto, it tells me that “Darling is a catalyst for positive change”. Open the magazine up, and a double-page spread proudly proclaims: “None of the women in this magazine have been retouched.” The editor-in-chief, Sarah Dubbeldam, along with some friends, saw a world saturated with unhealthy, and unattainable, perceptions of beauty and womanhood. So they created a magazine, and a movement, that offers an alternative truth. A truth that speaks to the inherent dignity of each woman.
Creating culture can look like Darling. It can look like a piece of legislation that protects the vulnerable. It can look like an educational tool that enables children to achieve their potential. It can look like a mentoring programme that bridges societal and generational gaps. It can look like a sustainable business model that puts people before profit. It can look like ________. It’s up to you to fill in the blank. Start telling a different story. Get creating.
*This article comes out of reflection on what I’ve personally taken away from Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. If you want to delve deeper, I couldn’t recommend this book more.
PUBLIC LEADERSHIP TAKEOVER! All this week we’re featuring articles about public leadership, which is leadership in politics, media, business, education or the arts, any area outside the Church where leadership is needed and where Christians can step up and be a voice for good.
There are two weekends in 2016 to connect, encourage and equip public leaders aged 18-35: 18-20 March in Staffordshire and 15-17 April in Northern Ireland. To find out more and how to apply head to www.thepublicleader.com/gathering