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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God at Work: Reflections on the Class

As my class (God at Work: The Reformation and Vocation) comes to an end at Knox Seminary, I wanted to share some of the key things that stood out to me in our discussions and readings this week while they are still fresh in my mind. Be forewarned that while I did try to condense, this is a fairly long post.

First. I have to say that it was a pleasure getting to meet and spend the week with my fellow students, all gentlemen who are DMin students at Knox.  Yes, I was the only audit student, and the only female, but at no time did I feel out of place. They were a kind and gracious lot. 🙂 And, as I knew from last year when I took Dr. Siedell’s class on Christ and Culture, he is an excellent teacher and discussion facilitator. We had some wonderful discussions as a class throughout the week, and it was interesting to hear different perspectives on what we were learning, as it’s easy to fall into the habit of believing that everyone sees things the same way we do. I’d highly recommend the experience of auditing a class at Knox to anyone who loves to learn, regardless of what schooling you’ve had in the past. I only have one year of college, so it was a bit intimidating for me last year before I took my first class, but I’m so glad God gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone.

God at Work Class Mar 2015

God at Work Class Mar 2015: Knox Seminary

  • A deep aspect of what it means to be human is to be recognized by another, to be justified by another. Luther’s premise is that this recognition, this justification, can only be completely received through Christ as a gift. We are passive recipients of this gift. Justification and vocation are crucially tied together.
  • Passive and Active Righteousness: We stand before God as passive, receptive of his grace and righteousness. This is always one way. God to man. This is faith. Active righteousness is the good works that you do to love your neighbor. Vocation is for the other. Our standing before God is not conditional, it’s not based on our active righteousness.
  • We all have multiple vocations (worker, family, church, community, etc). They may be related, but they aren’t the same. God is present in all of them. We tend to put levels of importance on one type of vocation over another, but God doesn’t. He is uniquely present and working in all of them. How does God work in the world? He works through vocation. Having coffee with a friend is just as much about your vocation as the job that you have.
  • Vocation is not just things we choose. Some things are chosen for us.I did not choose to be a daughter, but that is part of who I am called to be.
  • How we can help people see more broadly (vocation is not just occupation) as well as helping people who aren’t thinking about themselves and vocation (such as mentally handicapped, etc.)? All have calls on their lives.
  • Thinking of ways of vocation that withstand the change and shifting tides of life. We tend to think about either the past, or the future, and don’t realize that it is now where our vocation is. We have a difficult time living in the present, the now. The present is where God works.
  • The Creator has chosen to work through the creature. Things that we don’t feel have dignity and significance, have tremendous dignity and significance. Even in exile, the Jews were the means to accomplish God’s blessing and work. That was how the Babylonian’s received God’s Word.
  • Gen 1:27-31: The Cultural Mandate, the call to cultivate, to grow. Culture is making something other with what God has given. The work is worth doing, even if I don’t know it’s destiny, because it does have a destiny. God is the good creator, and you are trusting in him.
  • Work is not part of the curse. What is part of the curse (Gen 3: 14-19) is the breaking of the relationship, the toil of fighting against hard ground to accomplish our work.
  • As a result of the fall, we fail to see the work we are doing as part of the gratitude we have in response to God. We become idolatrous in making the work our god. We want to be God-like in our control. The joy of dominion becomes the desperation of passion, trying to desperately find our identity and value in what we do.
  • Gen 4:10-17 The mark Cain bears is a blessing, a protection, a mark of God’s mercy and grace. He is not getting what he deserves. That mark gives him time and space to marry, have a family and to build a city. Cain cultivates, he creates. Building a city is an act of culture, it’s work.
  • Matt 25: Luther’s reflections on the Parable of the Virgins is that the oil is faith. You can’t give faith, you can’t inherit faith. Oil in the OT is given (Ps 23). Elisha in the story with the widow and the oil, the little bit of oil she had was given to her, and it’s the Lord who multiplies it.
  • Faith pushes against the world that we see. It can contradict the experience of how things seem to be.
  • Sabbath Rest: “Above all, the Sabbath speaks to us of Christ. That God wants us to honor Him by not working is a reminder that we are not saved by our works, that in Christ we enjoy a Sabbath rest (Heb 4:9-10). Spiritually we rest; physically we work. … though our work still may yield thorns and thistles, those who rest in God’s grace can know that He, in His creative power and loving providence, is the One who looms behind the work that we do. Veith, God at Work, pg. 64
  • Isa 64:5-6 our good works as filthy rags. Before who? Before God, not before the neighbor. God can use those acts of kindness that, while they are not “good” before Him, He is still active in.
  • Naaman, 2 Kings 5, in the context of vocation. Humility of the vocations represented in this story. Naaman is healed of his leprosy through a servant girl. A girl taken captive from Israel. Most likely her parents were killed. She was taken against her will. She served in the house of the man who commanded the army who attacked her city. Her youth and her gender further make her role less in society. Her vocation is being a servant, an exile, an ambassador of grace.
  • Vocation is a cross. A way of killing the old Adam. We want to be known by a impressive title rather than serving others, which often goes unseen.
  • Theology of Glory/Theology of the Cross: Theology of Glory is the idea God works with winners. Difficult and painful things in life are minimized, things to be moved past, a means to an end.  Theology of the Cross says that God is hidden in the humble things, the foolish things, in failure, what the world may see as failure. Jesus hanging on the cross would seem to be the most powerless person, yet God the Father accomplished His plan of redemption through this foolishness and weakness.

I plan on continuing reading and reflecting on the topic of vocation in the coming months, so expect to see more here as I share what the Lord is teaching me.

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Find the Freedom of Vocation

Vocation is derived from the Latin word “vox” or “voice” (translated into Greek as “call”) and so we take the broadest view of things: Vocation is one’s entire life lived in response to God’s voice, God’s call. ~ Kate Harris

As part of the class I’m auditing this week at Knox Seminary, God at Work: The Reformation and Vocation, we’re asked to write a 500 word statement about what vocation means to us, so I thought I’d share part of mine here. I’m excited about digging deeper into the topic this week with my fellow classmates.

About a year and a half ago, someone I followed on Twitter shared the link to Kate Harris’ talk on defining vocation at the Q Women and Calling Conference, and I watched the video. It truly was life changing for me. It was the “aha” moment that took vocation from being merely my occupation, and gave me freedom to think more broadly. In the video, Kate (using calling and vocation as synonymous terms) says, “Calling is mostly about identity and belonging. It’s a word about who we are and to whom we belong rather than what we do.” I’ve watched the video multiple times, and every time a nugget sinks in deeper, encouraging me.

The timing of watching this video was God ordained, as I have been struggling the past few years with my job. Not because I wasn’t skilled at what I did or hated it, but because I felt very pigeon holed by it. I’ve been working in jobs related to computers/database management/partner service for the past 25 years or so. I knew it was God’s hand that opened up the doors for me in these roles and, outside of the stress that comes with every job at times; I enjoyed and found value in what I was doing. I’m good at it. But as I got older, I really felt boxed in. Hearing people tell me, “Oh, I could never stare at spreadsheets all day like you do, it would drive me crazy,” made me feel one-dimensional. It wasn’t what I did all day, it certainly wasn’t all of who I was, and I was frustrated. I started to think that I had to change jobs, do something different, because my job should reflect more than just one aspect of me.

Then I heard Kate’s talk and it blew open the walls of the box for me. It made me see that my occupation wasn’t my vocation, but only one aspect of it. And it helped me start to explore the broader “themes” that carried across my life, which I’ve found to be connectedness and responsibility. In her article “The Heart of Vocation,” Kate says “This broad view of vocation frees us to trust, so we can take up this calling across the varied dimensions of life and season.” This pretty much sums up the freedom a true understanding of vocation gives to me.

This broader understanding of vocation has been the most freeing, life giving idea to come into my life, second only to an understanding of law and gospel, Christ’s finished work for me.

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