Every so often you read a book that you just love, to the extent that it seems a waste to rush it, but all the same you chug through it. Then you tell everyone about it, and then even that’s not enough and you start to think of who you could buy copies for. Culture Making by Andy Crouch is such a book. It’s well research and also include plenty of the authors own wisdom and experience, it challenges mind, heart and body, and inspires new ways of thinking, being and acting.
The book starts with a sociological and anthropological take on culture before moving on to a narrative theological overview, both of these I found very helpful. Finally Crouch moves on to some practical outcomes, including some fantastic thoughts on power and grace.
Crouch reflects on his time as a campus minister at Harvard. He notes how he met students that fell roughly into 3 camps, I’ll briefly mention them here, before moving on to a prize quote. One group were the strives, or children of crisis (never fully at home, always working hard, never seeing a fully reward of their efforts), another were the children of privilege (walking about like they owned the place but achieving little), the last group were the children of grace, who walked around in wonder that they got to study at Harvard, quietly brilliant savoring every opportunity. But in reality: “Every student I met, anxious, confident, or otherwise, had been the recipient of a gift. Only few of them knew it.” Really I’d love you to read the whole book and this section makes more sense in light of that, however this section really moved me and I want to quote it here, and allow you to spend some time with it too.
“Spend any amount of time in the black church and you’ll soon here someone pray: “I thank you, Lord, that I woke up this morning in my right mind, and with the use and activity of my limbs.” The first few times I heard that it seemed a little, well, rudimentary. And yet that prayer sustained a people who were continually reminded of their powerlessness by small and large humiliations, reorienting them to the gifts that no oppression could take away. I t affirmed the power to think and move in the world – it was a dignity-sustaining prayer, a repudiation of powerlessness and despair. The black church had very little ascribed cultural power, but they woke up in their right mind, with the use and activity of their limbs, and led a transformative movement in American culture. As a people historically speaking, they were children of crisis, but every time they prayed that prayer they were children of grace.
I have become convinced that little good comes from straining to to “change the culture”. To do so is indeed, as sociologists would say, to grant human beings too much agency. We will end our efforts to change the world exhausted and spent, less sure of ourselves and less sure of God – or worse, we will end more sure of ourselves and less sure of God. I am also convinced that culture is sufficiently broken that none of us can simply afford to marinate in privilege, enjoying the fruits of power at a time when Christians have reentered the cultural mainstream and many of us have access to the best that a prosperous society can offer. Nor can we simply leverage our privilege and power, in the ways that come naturally to elites, and expect to contribute anything distinctive to the world.
The way to genuine cultural creativity starts with the recognition that we woke up this morning in out right mind, with the use and activity of our limbs – and that every other creative capacity we have is likewise arrived as a gift we did not earn and to which we were not entitled. And once we are awake and thankful, our most important cultural contribution will very likely come from doing whatever keeps us precisely in the center of delight and surprise”
I have been a child of privilege and following that a child of crisis, I’m now learning to be a child of grace. I’m like the older son in the parable, who’s been living in his fathers house the whole time, but is only now realising that he needs to return home like his wayward brother. I’ve striven for attention, I’ve envied those who got the breaks, or those who are hearing the call of new opportunities, in the process forgetting that grace is not a limited commodity and that even before I raise a finger or raise my voice I exist for the glory of God.
I exist for the glory of God, and I thank you, Lord, that I woke up this morning in my right mind, and with the use and activity of my limbs.
I am free.