Monday, September 10, 2012

Culture wars at the dinner table

A few weeks ago I linked to an article by Mark Mitchell on the connection between culture and limits. Since then, the issue of culture has been coming up frequently in conversations I’ve had and articles I’ve read.

Take, for example, Carl Trueman’s warnings about Christians taking culture too seriously:
One other thing it did remind me of, however, is how bland most Christian approaches (liberal and evangelical) are to pop culture.  To put it bluntly, we take it far too seriously, treating it as an authentic medium rather than what it generally is -- a prepackaged and mass marketed product with little or no real significance beyond the bottom line. Just look at how many reviews of the latest blockbuster movies appear on Christian cultural websites -- and few if any go beyond the plot or the production to the real backstory -- the marketing, the placement, the need to turn a profit.  We seem to assume 'artists' speak with 'authentic voices'  and give us a transparent insight into reality as they see it.  And that is an utterly absurd assumption.
Tim Chester (in a book my wife tells me is excellent, and which I plan to read once she puts it down) takes this idea of “cultural engagement” one step even further:
Much is said of engaging with culture--much that's right and helpful. But we must never let engaging culture eclipse engaging with people. People are infinitely variable and rarely susceptible to our sociological categories. If you want to understand a person's worldview, don't read a book.  Talk to them, hang out with them, eat with them.
In fact, in a follow-up article, Mitchell also makes this very point.
While hospitality will not solve every problem (neither will any policy, program, or party), a culture of hospitality will address a variety of issues—care for the infirm, the elderly, and the poor, for example—in creative ways that are simply overlooked or ignored by those who are focused primarily on public policy, court decisions, and protests. One solution looks primarily to the political arena for redress; the other, like the Good Samaritan, takes the wounded traveler and cares for him. Do you want to change the culture? Practice hospitality.
Culture is something that is artificial--it is people who make culture. How, then, can we expect to change the culture (or win a “culture war”) without engaging people?

One of the most moving scenes in War Horse is when the two soldiers--one British and one German--set aside the war to help the horse tangled in barbed wire. (Yes, I realize the irony of making a movie reference in this post, but bear with me.) In that moment, the enemy took on a face and became human. The war faded, and for them, at that moment, the culture shifted from one of hostility to one of humaneness. There was no attempt to change some amorphous “culture.” Instead, it was their common humanity--their empathy for a wounded animal--that caused the change.

We are surrounded by wounded people. And we are called, not to change their culture, but to be their neighbor. And that may just change the culture.
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