culture care – makoto fujimura

Who has time for beauty anymore? We have places to be, work to do, mouths to feed. Yet even in the rush of our busy lives, we need to feed our souls too.

Over the last few months, the Globe Creative Team has been reading Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care, thinking about what it looks like to strive for human flourishing. Here are some reflections on what we read and discussed.

I Need More”

We all recognise that “Success for a large part of our culture is now judged by efficient production and mass consumption.”[1] Our worth is based on how much we do; our security is found in how much we have. But, as Nigel Goodwin says, we are human beings, not human doings. By considering only what we need to survive, rather than what will allow us to thrive, we’re missing out on Jesus’s invitation to experience life to the full.[2] Fujimura warns that, “When feeding our souls we dare not substitute surface attraction—that which is effortlessly appreciated and soon exhausted of virtue—for true beauty.” In doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience the reconciling power of the gospel in the whole of our lives.

Quick-fix solutions will never solve our longing for something more. Starkly, Fujimura points out that, “The church is no longer where the masses come to know the Creator of beauty.” How easily we fall into the trap of thinking beauty is a frivolous add-on to what we “need” to be doing, rather than an opportunity to experience the goodness of God.

A Culture of Generosity

Fujimura talks frequently about “generative thinking” – the creation of cultures “in which people and creativity thrive,” where beauty’s presence is known and felt, and where future generations continue to reap the benefits.

“Generative thinking is fueled by generosity because it so often must work against a mindset that has survival and utility in the foreground.” God’s gifts permeate every moment of our existence, but if we’re not stopping to make the time for gratitude, how can we expect to be generous – as individuals and as a church? “An encounter with generosity can remind us that life always overflows our attempts to reduce it to a commodity or a transaction – because it is a gift.” Beauty is an act of generosity—the giving of something good—that the church needs to receive and give.

Plantings of the Lord

“Do we need beauty in our lives? If we desire to be fully human, the answer is yes, absolutely. [But] even this question is ultimately utilitarian. We must shift from asking ‘What do we need?’ to ‘What do we long for?'” All of us long for beauty in our lives, a deeper satisfaction in the midst of busyness and frustration. Let us rejoice therefore in Jesus, who “bestows on [his people] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.”[3] Let us be those who put God’s glory on display, who reveal the source of beauty to our dry and parched land.

[1] Fujimura, Makoto. Culture Care. InterVarsity Press, 2017. Kindle Edition. Unless otherwise noted, further quotes are taken from Culture Care.

[2] John 10:10

[3] Isaiah 61:3

this post was first published on the globe church blog, 29th january 2020.

culture-making – andy crouch

Culture is a bit of a buzzword for today’s church. We like to critique it. We like to copy it. We like to consume it. And more often than not we like to condemn it.

But I wonder, if someone was to ask you to give them a definition of culture, would you be able to do it? Could you give a succinct one-sentence summary of what culture is? We throw the “C” word around, but so few of us really understand what culture is that we often just end up standing at a distance, shaking our heads.

Thankfully, Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making gives some helpful insights into what culture is, why culture matters, and how the gospel should shape our view of culture. The book starts by racing through human history – quickly revealing our temptation to make culture far smaller than it is. We often limit it to just the things that “cultured people” do (like going to art galleries or classical music concerts); or to the fashions and trends that we see come and go; or to peoples’ ethnic identities. But culture is so much more than just these things. 

Crouch defines culture as “What we make of the world.” That perhaps sounds a little abstract, so he further defines it as “The name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.” Because of this, he argues that we have to look at culture through its cultural artifacts – the acts of human creation and cultivation that become “The framework of the world for future generations.” But there’s a second level to his definition. It is also what we make of the world in that it is how we understand and interpret what goes on around us. In other words, “We make sense of the world by making something of the world. The human quest for meaning is played out in human making.”

I mentioned earlier the various stances we take towards culture – critiquing it, copying it, consuming it and condemning it. None of these are fundamentally wrong approaches towards culture, but one of the great insights I found in the book is that “The only way to change culture is to create more of it.” If culture is a collection of created things, then to shape the culture around us we need to create things that shape how the world around us works! This is so important for us as Christians. We need to embrace culture as a fundamentally good thing, indeed an essential part of what it means to be human, if we want to see God glorified and people come to know him.

The final thing that has really stayed with me after reading Culture Making is how culture fits into the New Creation. Crouch elegantly puts it like this: “Culture is the furniture of heaven.” This is such a freeing way of thinking about creating cultural works – that our motivation for excellence is not simply to shift more CDs, but instead knowing that our cultural works offer a glimpse of what the New Creation will be like, with culture that is fully redeemed by Jesus’s work on the cross. How much more should we care about our work, knowing that it is not meaningless, but has eternal significance? This means too that we can do things like appreciate good music for being good music – diverse and exciting and moving and beautiful – knowing that it is part of God’s plan for humanity from the beginning. And that is very good.

I think something I would like to have seen in the book would have been more practical implications for how the church can look distinctive as a result of God’s plan for culture – rather than just how our approach to culture should be different. How should a gospel worldview of culture shape how the church appears to the watching world, in a way that points to Jesus? How can we encourage everyone in our churches to be culture makers, rather than just the “creative types”? These are the questions that I would have liked to see more time spent on. Reading the book will have practical outworkings of these questions – but then the responsibility is on us to lead our brothers and sisters in making something of the world.

If you want to know better what it means to be human, and how being a musician fits into God’s great plan for humanity, then Culture Making is a book I thoroughly recommend. You will finish it better equipped to live out the gospel in your day to day, understanding more of why the church needs musicians as much as other jobs, and rejoicing more in Jesus’s redeeming work of the whole Earth.

this post was first published on the UCCF music network blog.