Culture Making Part XI: Creators and Cultivators are Free to Critique, Copy, or Condemn

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last week we discussed various responses to culture and how the only way to change culture is to make more of it. If you don’t like dinner, don’t complain, offer an alternative and make your own.

Let’s dive a bit deeper.

Critiquing is Passive

“The posture of critique also tempts us toward the academic fallacy of believing that once we have analyzed something, we have understood it. Often true understanding, of a person or a cultural good, requires participation – throwing ourselves fully into the enjoyment and experience of someone or something without reserving an intellectual, analytical part of ourselves outside of the experience like a suspicious and watchful librarian.”

I’m reminded of how sometimes observation can kill whatever spontaneous expression or experimentation our kids are engaged in. Are they so used to me delivering judgment that when they see me in the room they know critique is inevitable?

Kids are masters at throwing themselves fully into an experience without judging it first. Surely we must teach them discernment, but maybe we can relearn from them how to fully experience something without constantly judging the activity and ourselves.

For the homeschooler, not everything has to be educational – relax! Fussing too much about attaching educational worth to every activity could kill the very passion and deeper understanding of the world that we desire to teach.

Copying

“We breed a generation that prefers facsimile to reality, simplicity to complexity (for cultural copying, almost by definition, ends up sanding off the rough and surprising edges of any cultural good it appropriates), and familiarity to novelty. Not only is this a generation incapable of genuine creative participation in the ongoing drama of human culture making, it is dangerously detached from a God who is anything but predictable and safe.”

Appreciating a Bach fugue takes more work than tapping along to this week’s top hit. Pizza is easier to like than tabouli salad but it doesn’t mean we’re stuck only sharing the simple with our kids. It’s our job to train them to be able to appreciate the more complex creations of beauty. It may take time, but it’s a worthy – and possible – goal.

Consuming

“[This is] the core premise of consumer culture: we are most human when we are purchasing something someone else has made.”

 

“Of all the possible postures toward culture, consumption is the one that lives most unthinkingly within a culture’s preexisting horizons of possibility and impossibility.”

 

“Consumer culture teaches us to pay exquisite attention to our own preferences and desires. Someone whose posture is consumption can spend hours researching the most fashionable and feature-laden cell phone; can know exactly what combination of espresso shots, regular and decaf, whole and skim, amaretto and chocolate, makes for their perfect latte; can take on extraordinary commitments of debt and commuting time in order to live in the right community. . . [A]ll of this involves care and work [but it isn’t creation or cultivation.] . . . [It] is capitulation: letting the culture set the terms, assuming that the culture knows best and that even our deepest longings and fears have some solution that fits comfortably within our culture’s horizons, if only we can afford to purchase it.”

Freedom to Critique, Copy, or Condemn

There is a time and place for condemning culture, for critiquing culture, for consuming culture and for copying culture. The problem arises when one particular response become so habitual that it is our automatic response.

“[T]he simple truth is that in the mainstream of culture, cultivation and creativity are the postures that confer legitimacy for the other gestures. People who consider themselves stewards of culture – guardians of what is best in a neighborhood, an institution or a field of cultural practice – gain the respect of their peers. Even more so, those who go beyond being mere custodians to creating new cultural goods are the ones who have the world’s attention.”

I’ll end with a few quotes on creation and cultivation. Read the book to discover many more great reasons to be a creator and cultivator!

“Like our first parents [Adam and Eve], we are to be creators and cultivators. Or to put it more poetically, we are artists and gardeners.”

 

“From the beginning, creation requires cultivation, in the sense of paying attention to ordering and dividing what already exists into fruitful spaces. . . This is an important point at a time in history when “creativity” often is associated with the rejection of order and when artists in particular can seem to be trying to outdo one another in provocative acts of chaos making.”

 

“Creation leads to celebration. Creation at its best leaves us joyful, not jaded. It prompts delight and wonder, even in the creators themselves, who marvel at the fruitfulness of their small efforts . . . Creation, even on a human scale is meant to end with the glad exclamation, “It is very good.”

How can we use our talents and cultural power for creating and cultivating with maximum and long-lived results? Next week we’ll discuss the shocking and counterintuitive answer.

Culture Making Part X: How To Influence Culture

“The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”

-Andy Crouch

2016 04 30_0221

Last week we discussed the importance of being a culture keeper if we desire to be a culture maker. This week we’ll discuss a bit more why it’s so important to be a culture keeper and maker if we want to make a difference in the world.

Andy Crouch illustrates the various responses to culture we can have and their relative effectiveness by using the example of making chili for his family.

Crouch and his wife love chili, but their young children do not.

What options do his children have to “change their world” – to change the particular disliked cultural good of chili at dinner time?

Condemning Culture

Most children whine and protest when they don’t like dinner, but we all know that doesn’t change a parent’s mind. This illustrates the idea of “condemning culture,” that is a common response that might make us feel superior, but has little effect on the world.

Critiquing Culture

As kids grow older they grow more sophisticated in their protests. They could argue why green things (like bell peppers) should not mix with red things (like the tomatoes in the chili) and that cooking tomatoes makes them inedible.

We all know children with incredibly creative, if not effective reasoning. There is an important place for critiquing culture, but critique alone won’t change what’s bad out there.

Consuming Culture

After a period of fruitless protesting and arguing, often children stop fighting and eat a little of what’s before them, perhaps after a period of silent sulking. Over time they might grow to like it, or tolerate it, but it certainly won’t reduce the amount of chili served. It’s more likely to increase.

Copying Culture

The chili example doesn’t lend itself well to the idea of copying culture, but when we take the objectionable bits out of a particular cultural good and replace them with something more palatable, our cut-and-paste result is unlikely to be attractive to anyone but our own subculture of folks who already share our values. We won’t touch the mainstream or change the culture we object to.

Creating Culture

“There is one thing our children could do, though, that could have a decisive effect on our family’s culture of the table. If I come home . . . And find dinner already simmering on the stove, even if it’s not chili, I will likely be delighted. Especially if the food being prepared is a substantial improvement on our usual fare, just as tasty and even more creative than I would have prepared myself.”

Crouch points out that each of these responses can be appropriate at certain times. The problem comes when a response becomes habitual.

If we’re always critiquing and never creating, we’re not doing the world any good.

Consuming culture is unavoidable, but if all we ever do is consume, we are giving up our culture power and our ability to make the world a better place.

What part of your family culture do you dislike? Instead of trying to change others, could you create something new that would be an attractive alternative?

For example, instead of yelling “dinner time, go wash your hands and get to the table” and getting the usual sluggish response, I could try singing a particular “eating time” song for a few weeks and see if that doesn’t help with the transition. I hear from my teacher-friends that music helps a great deal with transitions.

Remember, we can’t make culture, we can only make particular cultural goods.

Singing one song is a small cultural good, but it doesn’t take much more breath than complaining that nobody comes to the table on time, and it could have a significant positive impact on our family culture. Hmm, maybe I’ll try it!

Culture Making Part IX: Cultivation And Why The Most Creative People Are Also The Most Disciplined

2015 01 30_0015

I’m super excited to introduce this part of the Culture Making series. Let’s dive in with Crouch’s words:

“We cannot make culture without culture. And this means that creation begins with cultivation – taking care of the good things that culture has already handed on to us. The first responsibility of culture makers is not to make something new but to become fluent in the cultural tradition to which we are responsible.”

“Before we can be culture makers, we must be culture keepers.” -Andy Crouch

Admittedly, “Cultivation is a somewhat less appealing word than creation,” but the fact remains,

“The more each of us knows about our cultural domain, the more likely we are to create something new and worthwhile.”

Cultivation as a Child’s First Job

“In the West it is popular to imagine children as innately creative, since they lack the self-censoring self-awareness that plagues grownups. And children certainly do express their creative drive to make something new of the world from an early age. But childhood is much more fundamentally about imitation than creation. Learning language, learning our culture’s vast store of stories and saying and symbols, learning the meaning of street signs and stop lights, learning the rules of baseball, learning to jump a rope and dribble a basketball – none of these are, strictly speaking, acts of culture making. But they are indispensable acts of culture keeping, and they are necessary if the child is ever to grow up to contribute something to that cultural realm. We can only create where we have learned to cultivate.”

What Cultural Cultivation Looks Like

“Cultivation in the world of culture is not so different from cultivation in the world of nature. One who cultivates tries to create the most fertile conditions for good things to survive and thrive. Cultivating also requires weeding – sorting out what does and does not belong, what will bear fruit and what will choke it out. Cultivating natural things requires long and practiced familiarity with plants and their place; cultivating cultural things requires careful attention to the history of our culture and to the current threats and opportunities that surrounded it. Cultivation is conservative – ensuring that the world we leave behind, whether natural or cultural, contains as least as many possibilities and at least as much excellence as the one we inherited.”

Cultivation, Discipline, and Creativity

“The most demanding forms of cultivation are disciplines – long apprenticeships in the rudiments of a cultural form, small things done over and over that create new capacities in us over time.”

“[I]t is intriguing that the domains we often consider the most “creative” – art and music, for example – require some of the most demanding disciplines.” -Andy Crouch

“[U]nderneath almost every act of culture making we find countless small acts of culture keeping.”

“As small and seemingly insignificant as they are, disciplines can have powerful cultural effects. If I make dinner tonight for my family, nothing much will change in my family’s culture. But if I make dinner tonight, tomorrow night, next Tuesday and for the next fifteen years of our children’s lives, seeking to do so with creativity, skill and grace that grows over time – even if I never become an avant-garde chef and always follow the recipe – that discipline alone will indeed create a powerful family culture with horizons of possibility and impossibility that we may not even now be able to glimpse.”

Cultivate and Create

“With any luck, [our children] will be both culture keepers and culture makers – both cultivators and creators. And then they will be prepared to both conserve culture at its best and change it for the better by offering the world something new.”

This, my friends, is why I care about teaching my kids to love good music, and good food, to learn poetry and read the classics. I care about imparting the world’s cultural heritage to my children because it gives them cultural power to go and make something of their world.

Creativity begins with discipline.

No longer are unschooling (a word that to me represents allowing children to exercise their power and creativity) and classical education (a phrase that to me represents training sharp minds and imparting our cultural legacy) at odds in my mind – they are both fundamental to the health and training of productive, powerful, and peaceful human beings.

What’s your take?

Still not convinced? Next week I’ll dig deeper with Crouch’s arguments, but there simply wasn’t room for it all this time.

Good Enough Is Better Than Perfect: Why Baby Steps Are So Powerful

baby step

I can tell from the comments on last week’s post that you, my readers, have high expectations for yourselves.

You listed the many areas where you feel you are not enough – not nearly enough.

Having high expectations and desiring to improve are good things – very good things.

“I’m not good enough at feeding healthy meals to my family” is not such a dangerous thought, though it would be better to formulate it more positively such as, “I’m not yet where I want to be with feeding my family healthy meals.”

“I’m not enough” is only dangerous if the feelings of inadequacy keep you from taking action – or worse – accepting love.

You are enough. Right now. As you are.

You are loved – even adored by your family, even though you have room to grow as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a neighbor, a homemaker, and all your other roles.

Which one of you would not love your child because he is not yet good enough at picking up after himself, or at speaking kindly to his siblings, or at honoring his father?

We all find our kids wonderful in so many ways just as they are. We all see the many, many ways they still need to grow.

The same is true for us. Let’s live it!

As a recovering procrastinator, the gap between where I am now and where I want to be is often so huge I’m too discouraged to start.

If I can’t do it right, I won’t do it at all.

That is folly. The power of one faltering step in the right direction cannot be underestimated.

The Power of Baby Steps

The other day I went for a jog. I bounced along easily for 30 minutes, marveling at how good I felt when only a month ago running down the street was painful.

What intense workout program did I start to enjoy such a transformation in one short month?

Answer: I went for a walk to the playground with my daughter.

I’ve done that many times before – that doesn’t count as exercise! But it counted to S Health, the app on my new phone that I accidentally set to “Baby Steps to a 5K.”

The program said “workout paused” more times than I can count as I followed my daughter, but what we did that day “counted” as workout number one. I got awards for my longest workout, my fastest pace, and more.  That was fun.

Two days later my phone prompted me to “run” again. This time I went with all the kids. We stopped even more but I managed to push us just a little bit further and I started walking back and forth with the stroller when the kids stopped to play.

When S Health prompted me to run while we were on a family trip, I borrowed my friend’s stroller and took the baby for a walk during nap-time. I never would have made time for exercise like that before!

The great thing is, I’m still only supposed to be walking briskly during my workouts, so whenever I actually get a chance to run on my own or just with the stroller I’m going above and beyond. It feels great!

Who would have though that running at a snail’s pace for one mile would be going above and beyond?!

A month ago I would have said I’m not in a place yet where I can get exercise. The time I have is too insignificant to make any progress.

But I am my own counter example.

Those tiny, “not good enough” attempts at doing just a little bit more than before meant that I kept going, and going for 12 workouts in one month meant enjoying the fruit of a painless run!

You are enough. Small is enough – no, small is better! Good enough is better than perfect because it means you START.

What’s the simplest version you can start today?

 

(P.S. I wrote this post in an hour and have to work hard not to edit and fix it but just get it published. I don’t have time to write perfect posts so I either have to publish good enough or not at all. It’s a constant struggle!)