Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Culture Making: Ch 2 -- cultural worlds

Continuing our reflections on Andy Crouch's Culture Making.... now up to chapter 2

I've been re-listening to the Ed Kilbourne tapes that I have from oh-so-long-ago. He has an outstanding rendition of the Pierce Pettis piece "Grandmother's Song" (enjoy this YouTube performance of Pettis singing it in 1984:

It's story of the grandmother who wrote poetry, but didn't share it with those around her. And it illustrates very well what Crouch is talking about in this chapter on cultural worlds.

Simply put, not all our cultural artifacts shape culture. “Culture requires a public: a group of people who have been sufficiently affected by a cultural good that their horizons of possibility and impossibility have in fact been altered, and their cultural creativity has been spurred, by that good’s existence.” (38) Indeed, I would suggest that the public is bound together in a special way by that shared cultural artifacts. Consider fan movements --- Trekkies as a glaringly extreme example. These are people who so identify with the cultural artifact of Star Trek that they write their own fiction, attend conventions, wear costumes, invent rules to the games that were portrayed on the show. And they're bound together.

Marketing and branding guru Kevin Roberts applies this very insight to his profession in his book Lovemarks when he writes: “Today the stakes have reached a new high. The social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love. They are insisting on more choice, they have higher expectations, and they need emotional pull to help them make decisions. And finally, they want more ways to connect with everything in their lives -- including brands.” (36). If brands, as a cultural artifact, can bind people together with emotional attachments, so then can other cultural artifacts.

Crouch continues, asserting that: “Culture making requires shared goods. Culture making is people (plural) making something of the world – it is never a solitary affair. Only artifacts that leave the solitude of their inventors’ studios and imaginations can more the horizons of possibility and become the raw material for more culture making.” (40). He tells the story about Steve Jobs speaking with his engineers when they wanted to delay the release of the first Macintosh computer. "Real artists ship." was his reply. He dignfied their work as art, but he reminded them that art, to have impact, must have a public.

Put in different terms, my Rotary Colleague Mike Robinson frequently says "Information without action is overhead." In other words, if we don't do anything with the information that we receive, then it's a waste of time. Bayles and Orland have a wonderful little book called Art and Fear that addresses the problem of how the Artist overcomes fear and gets down to producing. One of the great fears is the fear of not really having any talent, to which Bayles and Orland reply “The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, sometimes conspicuously flashy gifts, yet never produce anything. And when that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.” (27). The challenge of the culture maker is to produce and not sit on the blessings God has given.

Crouch then shows how this concern for a public immediately leads to an understanding that there are many publics. This blog has a public of a couple of dozen readers. Other blogs have vastly different publics. Different spheres produce different cultural artifacts. I'm fascinated how in the Presbyterian Church USA, we have our little publishing house with our little in house heroes...and just over the way, our Methodist brothers and sisters have their little publishing house with their little heroes....and so do the Episcopalians....and the Catholics....and the Orthodox. Cultural artifacts in each of those spheres rarely leak over into other spheres. And people wonder why we have Red and Blue America?

Crouch also deals with scale. He speaks of his favorite local coffee shop, in contrast to Starbucks. It may be small and localized and quirky, “But it is a real enterprise in making something of the world, with real cultural effects, and just because it is small does not mean it is insignificant or simple.” (45)

And this insight gives great hope to churches. Small churches need not envy the mega faith-plex that has the barrista, they indoor play place, and the super size communion meal. Bigger isn't necessarily better. If your church has a public, that is a good and it shapes and affects lives. There is dignity and worth in that shaping.

Crouch then tightens the lens to the family ... the crucible of culture making. We may not be able to do anything individually about the broader culture as a whole, but we can very powerfully impact the culture of our families and those closest to us. And that may very well have a cumulative effect far beyond what anyone expected.

Let me know your thoughts.

Soli Deo Gloria