The “Aha” Moment … Culture Making: Gestures and Postures

I’ve been reading Andy Crouch’s excellent book Culture Making, and was blown away by chapter five, “Gestures and Postures.” As I read it, something clicked into place in my brain. It made so much sense, but I had never thought of it in the way he presented it before.

Think about a physical gesture you might make, such as reaching up for something on a high shelf, or bending low to tie your shoe. Compare that to your posture, which is how you consistently stand, sit, walk. There is good posture and bad posture. Good posture both anchors and frees you so that you can respond in various ways to various circumstances. However, if you take a gesture, such as bending over to tie your shoe, and try to make it your regular posture, you’ll soon have a bad back and sore muscles. You’ll be limited in your movement.

What does this have to do with how we interact with culture? This was the “aha” moment for me.

Andy starts by looking at four different ways American Christians, in particular, interact with culture: condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming. The issue is that, while these are all appropriate “gestures” to make at various times when interacting with culture, we are creatures of habit, and over time these “gestures” often become our regular “postures.”

An example … it is perfectly appropriate to condemn the culture of international violence and lawlessness that sustains the global sex trade. The only Christian thing to do is reject it and work toward eradicating it as quickly and effectively as possible. This is a gesture of condemnation. But if we start looking at all types of culture with a suspicious and condemning eye, we have moved into a posture of condemnation. We’re like the person who decides they want to make bending over to tie their shoe their permanent posture. We soon lose our freedom of movement.

If then, neither condemning, critiquing, copying or consuming is meant to be our regular posture, what should be? Andy goes back to the very beginning of the human story in the book of Genesis to give us the answer.

… like our first parents, we are to be creators and cultivators. Or to put it more poetically, we are artists and gardeners.

The postures of the artist and the gardener have a lot in common.  Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there …

And then, after contemplation, the artist and gardener both adopt a posture of purposeful work. They bring their creativity and effort to their calling. The gardener tends what has gone before, making the most of what is beautiful and weeding out what is distracting or useless. The artist can be more daring: she starts with a blank canvas or a solid piece of stone and gradually brings something out of it that was never there before … They are creaturely creators, tending and shaping the world that original Creator made.

This post is just a brief summary of this excellent chapter, but I hope it will whet your appetite to dig into the book yourself for more.

Andy Crouch quote photo

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Praying by Grace

The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives–altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.

~ Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home

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Morning or Mourning Pages?

From childhood when I had an actual diary with a lock and key, to the blank books I journaled in during my teens, to my current journal in Scrivener, journaling has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes daily, sometimes with months going between my entries, but always present.

Yesterday, as I was out and about running errands, I was listening to some of Christine Caine’s podcasts. Last month she interviewed Rebekah Lyons, who shared how she did morning pages every day. Morning pages are a key part of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. First thing every morning you write out long hand a brain dump of anything that is on your mind. The idea is to clear out your consciousness to enable your creative side to have more freedom. While I don’t do morning pages per se, the way I journal is similar. I dump. 🙂

While I was on Julia Cameron’s website today, I found this on her blog:.

“I sometimes think Morning Pages should be called “Mourning Pages.” “Julia, my pages are so negative,” some people say. With morning pages, we end our denial. If something is bothering us, we put it on the page. Often, many things are bothering us, and our pages seem filled with negatives. It’s important to note that negativity is often the bridge to positives. We write what bothers us, and then we “right” what bothers us. Pages move us to positive actions.”

One way I’ve found the Lord brings things to my attention is what writer Margaret Feinberg calls “Sacred Echoes.” The same theme, idea, or impression repeats itself in what can seem to be random ways; via conversations, my reading, what I listen to, etc. Until I realize that maybe, just maybe, God is trying to show me something. This quote, specifically the part about ending our denial, was definitely a sacred echo.

A work of fiction I read recently, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown, was also a sacred echo. It’s about four women at different places in their lives who attend a spiritual formation group. One of the aspects of the story is that many times it’s those things that anger or irritate us that God is using to get our attention. The fact that something is causing a strong reaction means there is value in us trying to understand why. Yet, we are taught that “good Christians” shouldn’t be having these feelings, so we learn to deny them. Or we pretend they aren’t there or that we are past them.

Yesterday I tweeted this quote from Christine Caine: “Jesus came to set us free, not to make us safe.” My post on how we define “redemptive” also touched on this idea. We often equate goodness with safety, but that’s a human perspective, not God’s. God is good, but He is not safe. Regardless of what avenue it comes through, all truth is God’s truth. Even when it doesn’t bring about what we consider “good” feelings.

Denial and hiding are powerful tools in the enemy’s arsenal. What was one of the first things Adam and Eve did in the garden after the fall? They hid. They hid their nakedness behind fig leaves. And they hid from God.

When we hide the truth, because the truth isn’t pleasant, it keeps us bound. The good new is however, that Jesus, the Rescuer, came to set the captives free.

The enemy doesn’t want us to remember the freedom we have in Christ. He wants us to continue to pretend, to put on our masks. Our masks may hide who we are from others, but God always sees us as we truly are, yet loves us still.

Romans 5:8 tells us “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The reason Jesus, the Word, became flesh, was because we could not attain the perfection a Holy God requires. But God’s holiness is matched by His perfect love. Jesus is His way for us to be reconciled to God. We can’t earn it. We can never attain it on our own. It is ours through Christ’s work alone.

When I am honest in my journaling it allows the light of the Gospel to bring healing and truth into my thoughts and feelings. Even while I am writing, I will find myself reminded of His faithfulness, His goodness, His love. The reality that, as my pastor often says, while my sin reaches far, His grace reaches farther. And while the experience of complete liberation from sin is still in the future, it has already been accomplished through Christ. So even when nothing has actually changed yet in my life as I write, a wonderful thing happens.  The enemy loses his power to keep me in bondage and I am freed.

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Thoughts On How We Define “Redemptive”

I had an interesting conversation with a woman in church this past Sunday. We were talking about the Christmas Eve services at Coral Ridge. I asked her if she had come, and she said no, she was busy getting things ready for dinner, but two of her children had been there. She then asked me about the organ piece that Chelsea had played. Evidently her children came home and told her it was “horrible.” I knew it was not what most people considered a “traditional” Christmas piece, so I did my best to explain that it (the first movement of Marcel Dupré’s Symphonie-Passion titled The World Awaiting Its Savior) was meant to sound agitated with discordant notes, contrasted with a portion in the middle that is serene, a lullaby for the Savior to come. After all, isn’t the world an agitated mess awaiting its Savior?

(If you’re interested, here’s a link to a YouTube video of  the piece played by Robert Costin to give context:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g7s–pB6GY)

She then asked me if there was anything “redemptive” about it. I didn’t really have a chance to answer her since church began, but it has stuck in my mind ever since. When Christians ask the question of if something is redemptive, we’re usually trying to figure out if it goes into our “good” box or our “bad” box. In the good box are things that God can use. In the bad box are those things beyond redemption.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her memoir Pastrix, says that growing up in the church gave her an ingrained “sorting system.” There were containers for every person, event, and idea to be placed into. Saved vs. not Saved. Us vs. not Us. Good vs. Bad. All of these pretty much meant the same thing. When she left the church, she thought she had put those labels behind her. She was more open minded. But she later realized she hadn’t escaped the sorting system at all. Her labels had just changed.

Things that go into our redemptive box are usually nice. Pretty. Comfortable. They make us feel happy. Safe. Because that’s our definition of good, right?

Silent Night, which we also sang Christmas Eve, goes into our “redemptive” box because when we sing it, it brings those feelings of peace and sentimentality we love. But when we listen to a piece like The World Awaiting Its Savior, with its agitation, it goes into our “not redemptive” box, because how can a piece with such jarring notes, that can make us so uncomfortable when we hear it, be good? Thomas Kincade with the cozy cottages and peaceful streams … redemptive. Jackson Pollack’s abstract art … not redemptive. I mean, what in the world is abstract art about anyway? No cottages? 😉

And even as I write this, I am putting people into boxes. There is the “enlightened” box for those who see God can use all aspects of our life and world for His redemptive purposes. Then there is the “un-enlightened” box for everyone else. Which just highlights the fact that we are all sinners in need of grace.

The question becomes then, how can something be used for redemptive purposes when it brings discomfort rather than comfort? When it irritates us rather than soothes us? When we don’t even understand it? I certainly don’t have it all figured out. But I know that we are created in God’s image. And as He is a Creator, so we create. I know that all truth is God’s truth. And truth isn’t just things that make us feel comfortable and happy. Truth often brings pain, irritation, anger, discomfort.

I’m pretty sure God’s definition of good is not just what makes us feel safe, comfortable, and happy. One of my favorite quotes is from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Mr. Beaver tells Susan about Aslan the Lion. She’s a bit afraid to meet a lion, so she asks if he is safe. Safe? …Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

He is good. He is the King. The King who would choose to be a baby, born to die, for us. Is He confined to using only what we think is good for His redemptive purposes? Thankfully, no. His plan to redeem, to raise the dead to new life, to make all things new through Jesus Christ, is far bigger than the box we want to confine His work to.

One day there will be no more pain or tears. No more discordant notes. But until then, He chooses to bring redemption right where we are. Right in the middle of the mess, pain, and destruction of sin. Sometimes through Silent Night. And sometimes throughThe World Awaiting Its Savior. Imagine that!

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A Unique Encounter at the Library

I had just dropped off some books at the library. I parked in the 5 minute parking, which is near the bus stop. I hadn’t seen anyone near me as I was getting into my car, but just after I shut my door I heard a man say something. I looked up and there was a rather shaggy looking guy standing next to my door and telling me to check something out.

First I think he’s telling me something is wrong with my car. Even so, my normal reaction would not be to open the door so I could hear him better, but that’s exactly what I did.

What he was saying was to “check out John 14.” So I thanked him and told him I would. I think he probably thought I was humoring him to get rid of him, because he then said: “God can reveal His signs and wonders even through guys with beards and backpacks.” I told him, absolutely, and said I was a believer as well. At that, he grinned and told me I had made his day. Then he went off into the library.

As I left the library and stopped at a light, I opened up John 14 and read it in my Bible app. It’s a chapter just full of Gospel gold, so I wanted to share one nugget here:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)

The Lord encouraged me today with this unusual encounter. And I prayed for this brother in Christ who had the courage and boldness to share it with me. This post is just a small attempt to share this beautiful Word of the Lord with others who may also need to read it today.

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