Friday, November 07, 2008

monday mixtape

books, music, films, sites and other fun and meaningful stuff I stumbled on this week

Reading: Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch

The language of worldview tends to imply...that we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving. But that is not the way culture works. Culture helps us behave ourselves into new ways of thinking. The risk in thinking "worldviewishly" is that we will start to think that the best way to change culture is to analyze it. We will start worldview academies, host worldview seminars, write worldview books. These may have some real value if they help us understand the horizons that our culture shapes, but they cannot substitute for the creation of real cultural goods. And they will subtly tend to produce philosophers rather than plumbers, abstract thinkers instead of artists and artisans. They can create a cultural niche in which "worldview thinkers" are privileged while other kinds of culture makers are shunted aside.
But culture is not changed simply by thinking.

When I attended the Transforming Culture Symposium earlier this year, Andy Crouch was the first plenary session speaker. I had not heard of him prior to this event and when he first started talking I wasn't sure what I thought, but he presented his talk on the Arts and the Gospel with a quiet confidence that quickly won me over. He shared profound, paradigm-altering insights into the Creation story with such humility and simplicity that it wasn't until near the closing of his talk that I realized what I'd just heard and learned from him.

In many ways, reading his book was the same kind of experience. Much of the content from that talk is expanded in the 268-page book. While I found that Crouch's warm and conversational tone occasionally became a little cluttered with illustrations, the trade off was a broad subject translated into a lot of common sense and easy to follow logic. At the same time, Crouch never resorts to cliche vernacular to address the deep mystery of walking in this world as a created and creative being.

Part 1 of the book introduces the discussion with his definition of culture as what we make of the world ... in both senses. He proposes -- even challenges -- those of us who would dare to hope for a cultural transformation with this statement:
Consider this a parable of cultural change, illustrating this fundamental rule: The only way to change culture is to create more of it.
If you read the book for no other reason than to understand Crouch's explanation of the differences between cultural gestures that we make and cultural postures that we take, it will be worth your time and money. His breakdown of the church's history of cultural postures is extremely perceptive without being condemning. His ability to translate that history, at times grievous and at times ignorant, into an encouragement for a new posture of Cultivating Culture is an ability that wins my deep respect and gratitude. It also challenges me to be accountable for what I've learned.

Part 2 of the book takes us back into the gospel and connects us with the rich heritage of cultural cultivators we join...beginning with the great originator of culture. Would you have thought this to be Adam? Me too. The understanding of God as the first gardener, the initiator of adding nature + culture to create a tangible, cultural good is one that has blown out the imposing walls of my own ignorance. God gave us culture as surely as He gave us nature. We have the privilege and calling to steward both.

And, thankfully, Crouch integrates the meaning of our lives as culture makers with the hope of our future calling. Part 3 of the book is deeply encouraging writing. Consider one of the author's closing paragraphs:
In this world, this life, "flow" [the times when our work or play so absorbs and attunes our energies that we lose track of time] comes to an end. The canvas is dry, the fugue is complete, the band plays the tag one more time and then resolves on the final chord. And, too, the book is finished, the service is over, the lights go up in the darkened theater and we emerge blinking into the bright lights of the "real world." But what if the timeless, creative world we had glimpsed is really the real world -- and it is precisely its reality that gave it such power to captivate us for a while? What if our ultimate destiny is that moment of enjoyment and engagement we glimpse in the artist's studio?
I would join David Taylor in this recommendation: If you're an artist wanting to make sense of your calling as an artist, go by yourself a copy. Because prior to your calling as a maker of art is your calling as a maker of culture...But, I dare say, it's much more a must read for pastors and leaders of the church.
May we learn much and enjoy much as we work together to make something of the world.

Watching: We Are Together

This simple documentary `made a difference to our family's view of African suffering. It did not diminish the horrific ideas we had about the poverty, disease and suffering experienced by the youngest and the least. But it introduced us to the beauty that surrounds and even infuses that suffering. The film centers around the children living in the Agape Center, an orphanage founded by a woman called "Grandma". The Center provides a home for children left alone by the dread disease of HIV and AIDS.

Even more the film centers on the young girl, Slindile Moya, and perhaps if the film was represented by one iconic image it would be the dazzling smile of this beautiful young woman who has suffered more deeply than anyone I know. The beauty of the film zooms out from that smile to include the music of these orphaned children. While we are told that music forms the everyday small and large rituals of the nation of South Africa, but is it possible that the average South African child can belt out harmonies the way these small children can? It seems music becomes the language that transcends the hard and ugly edges of sickness and hunger and loneliness and gives a passionate, robust voice to thina simunye (we are together).

A good God gives good gifts to His children. For me it was the opportunity to hear the voices of these children and to learn their history and be encouraged by their beauty in suffering.

I already spoke my mind on this topic here, but found the article after I posted. It speaks far more intelligently than I am able and goes beyond the borders of one day on our calendar.

A Poem by Sylvia Plath

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain.
I do not expect miracle
Or an accident.
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall,
Without ceremony, or portent.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Leap incandescent
Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then --
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent
By bestowing largesse, honour,
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant
Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content
Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel,
For that rare, random descent.
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