Why Culture Matters: Part 2

In “Why Culture Matters: Part 1” I mentioned the lesson from Walt Muller’s Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture that when we interact with culture we should both affirm and correct.  Click the link above for more on that.

In this post I’d like to consider more specifically how to discern what to Affirm and what to Correct about our culture.  As we critically engage our culture and really listen to understand what is being communicated, I believe there are four basic things we will encounter:

  1. Hopes – What are we looking to accomplish?  What are we looking forward to?
  2. Fears – What are we looking to escape or avoid?  What makes us scared or intimidated?
  3. Pains – What “baggage” are we carrying around that we’re looking to unload?  How has our past hurt influenced our living today and how we talk about the future?
  4. Passions – What do we value?  What do you want others to think/feel/experience?
In Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian he writes, “Because we hold dual citizenship (in God’s Kingdom and in the world), we are like ambassadors who stand at the intersection between two countries, using their knowledge of both cultures to interpret each to the other in order to build a bridge of understanding between the two” (p.159).  In his description of what it means to be an ambassador, he gives the following list of questions as examples that we should ask about the book/movie/song/art that we’re interacting with (on p.166):
  • What type of medium is this?
  • What is its genre?
  • What stylistic conventions are employed?
  • What is the title?
  • Who is the artist, creator, or author?
  • What is the central theme, summarized succinctly in one sentence?
  • What is the basic story?
  • What beliefs are advanced?
  • What provocative questions and issues are raised?
  • What are the artistic merits (spiritually, intellectually, and aesthetically)?
  • What are the points of resonance (what do you find jarring or makes you think twice, and why)?
  • What does this piece of art reveal about God?  About humans?
  • What are some key words or themes, and how do they relate to the work as a whole?
  • Have you discovered any information about the artist’s background or life situation that provides insight or that may illuminate the origin or their intention for this piece of work?
  • What provocative words, phrases, symbols, or images appear in the work?
  • What do you think the artist is saying?
  • What do you think the artist means?
  • What applicability and connectivity does this piece of art offer you personally?
As you ask yourself these questions and begin to listen more carefully to culture, keep these four categories in your mind as filters: Hopes, Fears, Hurts, and Passions.  When you have listened to what’s behind the media/art you’re interacting with, then you can begin to discern what can and should be affirmed and what can and should be corrected.  When we take the time to ask these kinds of questions about the culture we live in and the media we’re surrounded by, I believe that we will begin to see the hopes, pains, hurts, and passions of our culture and we will be better prepared to explain what it means that Jesus really is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

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