Artist in Residence Series: Culture Care for Churches

culture-care-makoCulture Care is the vision of culture as an ecosystem and the call to consider our stewardship of this ecosystem. Recently, as I have developed Culture Care as a thesis, I have come to a deeper understanding of the relationships between nature and art, culture and the church, and ultimately their interconnectedness to the Gospel of Jesus.

By church I mean the Trinitarian faith community connected by the baptism covenant linking Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches. I believe there is only one church, visible and invisible.

What I mean by “invisible” church echoes the Augustinian and Calvinist tenets, but it is ultimately rooted in my meditation that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). This passage is often used in creating a theological framework for Common Grace.  Rarely, however, are the verses previous to Matthew 5:45 discussed within the exploration of Common Grace.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

I believe the practice of Common Grace requires one’s effort to “love our enemies.”  By that logic, as this effort toward reconciliation is done with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, I assume that these “enemies” are to have the possibility of being within the “invisible church.”  Thus, not only do I assume the past Saints to be part of the invisible church, I also assume that the future Saints (even ones that are now the “enemy of the church”) are as well.

If that is indeed the direction these passages suggest then the Holy Spirit is likely to operate via common grace toward the margins of culture and certainly way beyond the borders of what we consider to be our “church culture.”  Thus we now speak of a “cultural engagement strategy.”  But is not culture within us already, in the very air we breath? Perhaps instead of speaking of “engagement” (which can be assimilated within a “Culture Wars” mindset) we should speak of a “cultural nourishment” needed for the church.

When I read John 10 and see that the Good Shepherd is the “gate” of the sheepfold it strikes me that this “gate” opens to lead the sheep outside of the safe environment of the sheep pen. But why would such a Shepherd allow his flock to roam outside the safe confines of the fold?

Because without going outside the sheepfold to graze the sheep will starve to death! The Good Shepherd allows his sheep to be exposed to the dangers of getting lost (also promising to bring back the lost as well), and to face the risk of being attacked by wolves (risking not only the sheep, but his own life as Shepherd), for the sake of nourishment.

Now apply this to our own cultural field. The visible church often is the sheepfold, gated and closed to the world. It has been my experience that the church, in general, due to fear, keeps the gate closed. The members, especially children, are starving culturally because we lack a proper theology to explore and graze the cultural fields. Culture Care seeks to provide direction in how we are to graze the culture field all the way to the extreme margins of our cultures.

Culture Care, as a term, grows out of Creation Care and Soul Care. Yet my audience seems to exist largely outside the visible church. I suppose I am trying to speak to this invisible church and therefore to our “enemies” as well, ones that may or may not recognize the need for Christ in their lives. But just as an ecosystem thrives upon a rich complexity and dependency of interaction, both visible and invisible, I assume the same for Culture at large.

Culture Care is thus an effort to repair the damage caused by the Culture Wars mindset and so move beyond the sustainable into the generative. But what exactly does a generative approach to culture look like? I will explore my theological premise of the word “generative” more fully in my next post.

Makoto Fujimura is an artist, writer, and speaker whose work may be viewed here

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Cover image credit: Cover of Makoto Fujimura’s e-book On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care (2013) on Amazon.com

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9 Comments

  • Bruce Herman says:

    Mako – this is a clear and challenging word from one who grazes outside the safe enclosure – and much appreciated. I particularly like the way you have turned around the habitual posture and indicated that the church needs nourishing from those who are “enemies” – or as you say, not yet the visible church. In Paul’s admonition to show hospitality to “strangers” there is a similar trope: do this because you may be the one on the receiving end when you open the door to a potential angel. This is the secret of authentic hospitality: when you open your door to the stranger, the other, you are deeply nourished even as you provide for that stranger.

  • betty Spackman says:

    hi Mako
    I agree and have sometimes related the account in 1 Samuel: 24-29 – of the honey on the ground – in talking about the things you have said here. The wasted resources outside the camp that have been forbidden need to be eaten.
    Balanced with Proverbs 25:16 which warns us to not eat too much honey….we would be a healthier community.

    1 Samuel 14:
    24 And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food. 25 Now all the people of the land came to a forest; and there was honey on the ground. 26 And when the people had come into the woods, there was the honey, dripping; but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint.

    29 But Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. Look now, how my countenance has brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found!

    • Mako Fujimura says:

      Thanks Betty!

      I did not know about the honey passages. A great addition to our conversations on margins of culture…

  • David Hooker says:

    Thanks, Mako, for this beautiful insight! I particularly appreciate the application of John 10. I confess I grew up and went to school during the culture wars, and the sheltered life I had really made it difficult to no how to relate to the rich, diverse, and beautiful world outside the “sheepfold.” When I became an artist I felt I had to choose between the two worlds (“church” and “art”). The coldness of my church’s stance towards culture pushed me away. It took a decade for me to understand how to integrate my love for God with the love of my friends and colleagues.

    It strikes me as I read the gospels that Jesus always has compassion for those outside his sheepfold: the Samaritan woman, the Roman soldier; and those rejected by his sheepfold: the lepers, the demon-possessed. His rebukes come to those within the sheepfold: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, even Peter at one point. There is a sobering lesson for us there.

    • Scott Pope says:

      Well said David Hooker. Your experience mirrors that of many artist I know including myself. I am thankful for Mako and his insight and ability to articulate these issues and ideas.

  • Anya Johnson says:

    Makoto – These statements you have written are so powerful and meaningful – “Now apply this to our own cultural field. The visible church often is the sheepfold, gated and closed to the world. It has been my experience that the church, in general, due to fear, keeps the gate closed. The members, especially children, are starving culturally because we lack a proper theology to explore and graze the cultural fields. Culture Care seeks to provide direction in how we are to graze the culture field all the way to the extreme margins of our cultures.”

    Having spent large chunks of time both in the church and in the market place (e.g., arts), I have learned if I do not consistently intertwine the two, I starve. Those in the church usually do not know they are starving.

    It’s my wake up call every morning to wake up the arts and the church to hang out together for the most eloquent intimate relationship with our God. To live in transcendence with Him that he earnestly desires to give to us outside the sheepfold.

    Thank you for waking me up this morning with these dominant words.

    Confirms much for me to the steps I have taken, need to keep on keeping on. . .

  • jfutral says:

    “Thus, not only do I assume the past Saints to be part of the invisible church, I also assume that the future Saints (even ones that are now the “enemy of the church”) are as well.”

    I remember a sermon about the Good Samaritan that focused not on the one “doing good”, but on the one to whom good was done. Consider the audience and the relation of Samaritans to them. Puts a different twist on loving our neighbour. Imagine receiving help from someone seen as an enemy and the humbling position that puts one in. Seems to me, sometimes our enemies are not the enemies we make them out to be. As such, sometimes beauty is also not just where we think we should find it.

    Joe

    • Makoto Fujimura says:

      Good point Joe.

      Perhaps that is why we are to use our empathetic capacity to be in the “other”‘s shoes, to use our imagination to “love our enemies.” We may discover that we are the one to benefit from that effort, to learn from and grow in love.

  • Donna Marie Narron says:

    Symbiogenesis. “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.” Lynn Margulis

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