Category Archives: Making culture

The Jesus Way: a Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way, by Eugene H. Peterson [Book Review]

JesusWay-EugenePeterson-09142009I wonder if Peterson’s primary starting place is the modern evangelical tendency to use pragmatic business methods to attempt to accomplish God’s much larger purposes. Peterson says as much on page 1. He notes how we unhesitatingly embrace the ways and means of the culture. And yet we remain ignorant (perhaps willfully so) of the ways and means of Jesus. So Peterson set out to show what Jesus’ way looked like. Along the route he shows how Abraham, Moses, Elijah and David and others walked that way.  Abraham’s (near) sacrifice of Isaac takes center stage as a test of how obedient he would be, and serves as a model for our own obedience when the way toward God’s promise is murky. All the people mentioned above help flesh out this way of utter obedience and resistance to the simple solutions the culture offers. On the other hand, the way of Herod and Josephus show how not to follow Jesus, with their self-focus and willingness to let expediency rule.

The book has been a marvelous balm as I try to make counter-culture moves with my own work life. In particular, seeing that God’s plans have not offer looked like the career that our culture has recently touted. Of course, today, since loyalty between companies and employees is largely dead, lots of people are rethinking how and if ”success” and ”career” fit together. For most today, a career is assumed to include several companies before the silver chord is severed. 

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Watership Down [Book Review]

A story about bunnies? It's interesting. Really.

A story about bunnies? It's interesting. Really.

Main Point: We spend our lives in a community of stories. And that is a good thing.

I remember picking up Richard Adams’ Watership Down years ago and quickly setting it down again: not interested in rabbit tales. But under the tutelage of Stanley Hauerwas’ A Community of Character (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) I recently reread it and found myself fascinated by the role of story in shaping community. Hauerwas used Watership Down to help explore and articulate the role of narrative in social ethics.

 One of the recurring themes in Watership Down was that when security was absent (as is nearly always true for rabbits), stories told in the relative safety of their burrows helped them adjust to a new condition or even just regain courage when all seemed lost. These were stories of clever rabbits who outwitted enemies. The stories told among the rabbits helped solidify plans for the leaders even as they enthralled and soothed the rank and file.

This story about stories is not far from my own experience.  The ups and downs of life take on a fuller perspective over a lifetime of rereading David’s psalms. Hearing David and other psalmists talk about the very points I experience is both satisfying and courage-building. Especially when I see and hear the psalmist come out the other side of those troubles because of being rescued by God.

These are precisely the stories we need to tell each other today—especially in difficult economic times.  Especially in an uncertain world where danger seems to be all around.

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The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton [Book Review]

artoftravel09032009Main Point: Travel is less about where you go and more about openness to new experience.

de Botton explores the grand sweep of travel by starting as a tourist in Barbados and ending as a pajama-iclad ”tourist” in his own bedroom in Hammersmith, England. Between those two extremes he touches on why we travel, what we hope to see, and what other well-traveled people have seen in their travels. As always, de Botton follows rabbit trails in his explanatory stories that end up as quite captivating bits of learning on their own right. His chapter on art showed how people considered the Scottish Highlands (or was it the English Lake district?) a kind of wasteland and generally avoided them. That is, until a few paintings and poems appeared and helped the public see what it was that was beautiful about them. Tourism then picked up. De Botton’s point was that often we need help seeing. And seeing things afresh is one of the primary reasons to travel.

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What draws someone to busking?

I want to learn more about busking, but here’s one take on it. Here’s another: where busking and social media meet.

Check out the care this artist took for a drawing made of chalk. Windsor, Ontario: Chalk and Chocolate, July, 2009.

Careful artistry on a temporary surface.

Careful artistry on a temporary surface.

Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling [Book Review]

Main Point: Making culture is the work of every Christ-follower. Given that Christ is Lord over all things, He is also Lord over culture.

Andy Crouch says just thinking correctly is not enough. World-view seminars and focused attention on developing a transforming, over-arching vision of God’s Sovereignty over all things are good but don’t go far enough. What’s needed is locomotion to propel that vision out into the world—which is the work of making culture. Crouch makes a convincing point that the total work of our lives can go far toward populating our worlds with cultural artifacts—the very things God has gifted each of us to do. When thinking turns to culture making, an outward-focus vision with the capacity to mold culture is the result. Hiding from culture achieves nothing.

But what’s a cultural artifact? Anything we do that contributes to the culture around us. Our writing. Our painting. Our art. But that’s only the beginning. Whatever work we spend ourt days on becomes a point of contribution to Culture. And each cultural artifact arises out of that vision, whether consciously or unconsciously.

We need also to contribute to culture by making cultural artifacts that reflect the fact of God’s sovereign control over all things.

The chapter on vocation was interesting but felt deficient in that Crouch implied a great joy of effectiveness in the particular place we are to make culture. I’ve not found that to be the case. Then again,  I hope it will be the case.

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