When Not To Take Advice

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How often do you receive parenting advice from well-meaning family, friends, and even strangers?

When my first was born it felt like I’d received a sticker on my forehead that said “New mom, criticize me.”

Strangers said I didn’t dress my baby warmly enough, friends gave me books saying I’d ruin my kid if I didn’t parent in a particular way, and comments from family that weren’t in the least meant critically would hurt.

I had received unsolicited advice before, but it ramped so quickly after having kids that I knew I’d have to come to terms with it somehow. I quickly learned I could never please everybody and I better find a way to make peace with critical comments.

Sometimes the advice made immediate sense in a kind of “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. More often, the advice was at odds with something intentional I was doing. It was then that I would suddenly feel insecure.

I hit upon a simple and helpful question to ask every time a comment made me unsure of my path:

Has the person giving advice ever given me concrete, selfless, and timely help?

If the answer is “no,” then I’m free to listen to the comment graciously, say “thank you” and move on with my life without guilt.

If the answer is “yes,” then I need to take the time to consider the matter carefully.

In other words, listen to your mother.

But seriously, I’m not saying do whatever you’re told, my point is that only people who have sacrificed to invest in your life in a way that you personally find helpful and uplifting are the folks who are likely to have chosen their criticism carefully.

Advice is cheap and there is plenty of it spread around, but the folks who have invested in your life are to be treasured.

I’m not a puppet of those that help me, I just take what they have to say seriously and take the time to wrestle with their ideas.

Where this question is most helpful is when a comment is bothering me that really shouldn’t. The comments of haters on the internet is perfect example.

Somehow these comments hurt, but they are not based in reality – or only in a twisted way – and though we all know haters aren’t worth arguing with, their comments still hurt.

This question helps me see the matter more concretely and reminds me to turn to the faithful few in my life for perspective and advice and not to be blown by the winds of opinion.

If we set out to build a family culture according to our deepest values then we will bump up against established norms and ruffle feathers and get criticism. We need to stay calm, gracious, and confident in such exchanges and bounce right back again.

I hope this question helps you the next time you feel oppressed by negativity!

Making Peace With Your Path

dark-forest

Imagine life is like a vast forest that each of us explores as we make choices every day. Sometimes we’re on well-worn paths and sometimes we’re hacking through unmapped jungle.

Some of us know which direction we want to head, and others follow the next most-promising turn.

Most of us at some point climb a tree to get a view of the land we’ve covered and to get a glimpse of what the future could hold.

Often it’s hard to see that our own path lies far, far away from where we want to be.

Dreaming of the Future

It’s easy to stay seated in that tree and dream of flying machines that will carry us over the forest to our dream destination: financial freedom, security, physical beauty, children, world peace, having our own business, spiritual maturity . . .

When we are so far from where we want to be it seems that descending the tree into the dark forest and taking a step is futile.

So we stay up in the tree, dreaming of distant lands and hating our winding path of a past.

We need to learn to make peace with our path.

Where am I?

We need to be brave enough to accurately plot our position in the forest. For good or for ill we are where we are right now and we cannot wish it away.

If we want any hope of reaching better lands we must accept where we are and where we came from.

Only then can we determine the direction to follow, and only then can we drop the baggage of the past and find the strength to take the next step in the right direction.

And then the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and . . .

It is anything but easy. Dreaming in the tree is much more appealing (especially if we have our smart-phones with us).

The Struggler’s Advantage

But all is not lost or wasted. We might not see any advantage in our previous paths and our current situation, but they might hold some secret power that will brighten our future.

I didn’t grow up athletic, so when I first started running in college my whole body screamed in resistance. As I struggled through each step my encouraging runner-friend cheered me on. I realized then that no matter how hard my friend had trained all his life, he would never know the difficulty of making a sedentary body move for the first few times.

The people at the top of their fields often have never been at the bottom long enough to know what it feels like to be an outsider or an adult beginner.

Math teachers choose to teach math because they like and understand math and may never understand the struggle and feelings of inadequacy that many feel when presented with a math problem.

When it comes to helping others, our weaknesses might just become the source of our greatest strengths.

Unique Past, Unique Destiny

Our time exploring the part of the forest we didn’t want to be in gives us a unique perspective that equips us for the future in ways we cannot yet see.

So let’s make peace with our path, be honest about where we are, decide which direction we want to head, and get down that tree into that dark forest and take that hard first step, then the next, and the next, until the sun goes down.

Then do it all again tomorrow.

If it’s true for us personally, then it’s also true for our families, our towns, our countries, and the world.

Let’s make peace with our path and do the hard work of moving us all toward a better future.

The Fear of Being Different

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TED lectures are a great way to wake up my mind when my body wants to go back to sleep in the morning. The other day my brain went crazy with all the implications from Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s 12 minute talk at TEDxSydney.

“Fear is feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.”

Waiting for the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives . . .

How often do we let our deep desire for the end result keep us from making the journey?

“Once I get the housework under control I’ll start inviting people over more.”

“Once the kids are in school I’ll have time to start an Esty shop.”

“Once my To-Do list is done I’ll build an awesome family culture.”

I’m sure you have your own list of dreams you aren’t working towards because you don’t have the resources, the time, or the know-how you think you need to get started.

But worst of all, waiting for the after-photo means we don’t see ourselves as worthy enough to live the lives of meaning we desperately want.

“I’m not worthy of dinner guests when the floors aren’t vacuumed and the walls are bare.”

“I’m not worthy of doing the work that matters to me until I’ve done the work everyone else wants me to do.”

It’s hard to be different

In a way these excuses keep us safe, because if we start building a family culture based on our values whether or not they match those of society around us, we’re going to meet resistance and even outright hostility.

“I soon learned that living outside what the mainstream considers normal can be a frustrating and isolating place. I’ve been openly laughed at, abused from passing cars and been told that I’m delusional. I also receive smiles from strangers who recognize what it takes to walk down the street with a spring in your step and your head held high.” -Drinkwater

If we fear what our neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street will think if we start living our dreams, imagine what the internet could do to us!

There’s no way around it. If we say anything about how we are different on-line we will receive hate mail.

Crawling back to bed sounds like a good idea until we realize that absolutely no one can wear the straightjacket of “normal” all the time. Some of us fit it much of the time, some of us can’t fit in it at all, but no matter how you live, people will comment.

So we might as well relax, have pithy polite responses to the comments we get all the time and stay at peace knowing that it’s not about us.

It’s not about you

Our differences might be the target of the comment, but the comment comes from a place of personal insecurity.

If I’m happy with my white walls I don’t have to comment on how much work it must be to paint all the walls when I visit a friend’s colorful house. But if I think I ought to paint my walls and put up curtains, then a well-decorated house will intimidate me.

If I haven’t made up my mind whether I really care about wall color and curtains or not, then I’m even more susceptible to saying something that might seem critical when it’s really about me, my own house, and my own insecurities.

This happens to be a live example and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I think we all have areas in our lives like this.

Find Peace for yourself

The best antidote I’ve found to quieting these insecurities (besides prayer) is to make sure I am doing my most valuable work and using my time for things that matter most.

Then at the end of the week we I see all that I haven’t done, I know that I was living according to my values.

It might be frustrating how slow progress seems to be, but knowing I was in the right place going the right direction gives me peace about those things that have not yet happened, like beautiful walls.

I hope you can see that sometimes we’re on the other side of thoughtless and hurtful comments and that it can help you tempter the hurt of negative comments. It’s not about you. Let it go.

As one 12-year-old TED lecturer said, “hater’s gonna hate.”

We can never please everybody, so let’s stop waiting for the perfect “after-photo” version of ourselves and start living our lives!

“Easy to say”, I hear you thinking. I know it’s not that easy to live.

Thin or healthy?

“I’ve even been called “the ISIS of the obesity epidemic” — a comment so absurd that it is funny. But it also speaks to the panic, the literal terror, that the fear of fat can evoke. It is this fear that’s feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.” -Drinkwater

I’ve disliked Trim Healthy Mama (a diet cookbook that seems to be in right now) from the time it came out and haven’t known exactly why, but this talk helped me see into my own insecurities.

The title implies that the only way to be healthy is to be trim and the only way to be a mama is to be healthy and trim. I’m pretty sure my kids don’t care if I’m trim – actually I know they love a cuddly mama.

I also remember my college days where I spent countless hours hating my body and swinging wildly from diets to binging. I never want to go back to that wasteland again.

God made food for our health and our pleasure but he warned about being a glutton. Our society may have neglected the Bible but it still despises the glutton.

“We live in a culture where being fat is seen as being a bad person — lazy, greedy, unhealthy, irresponsible and morally suspect. And we tend to see thinness as being universally good — responsible, successful, and in control of our appetites, bodies and lives.” -Drinkwater

The idol of thin

When we focus on the end result – being thin – we get distortions, like the claim that you can drink all you want of the Trim Healthy Mama shake and still lose weight. In other words, “be a glutton, and still believe you have self-control.”

To be clear, I am sure Trim Healthy Mama and other diet books have helped people and that they can be used wisely, but a focus on thin can lead to the worship of something other than God: our own body image.

Other factors are much more important to our health that our weight and measurements.  Do I have the energy to get through the day?  Am I flexible enough to get down on the floor and wrestle with the kids?  Can I kick a soccer ball around with my kids without gasping for breath?  Do I partake of God’s gift of food with thankfulness?  Do I enjoy the pleasure of movement and dance?  Do I have the self-control to temper the appetites of my heart?

Why am I writing about diet and health on a family culture blog?

Because views about body image and self-worth are passed on primarily in the family. It is in the sphere of family that children first pick up the idea that they need to wait for the “after-photo” before they can start living their lives.

However unworthy we feel, surely our children deserve better? If we want it for our children, we need to live it ourselves. Our actions speak louder than words.

You are loved the way you are, now go and do your most meaningful work!

The Antidote To The Checklisted Childhood: Raising Self-Directed Learners

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How often do you read something that convicts you as a parent but fails to provide sufficient help on how to change?

It happens to me all the time. I can see problems myself, people, what I need is help and solutions!

I recently watch this engaging TED lecture about How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ critique is good, but her solutions just scratch the surface.

She points out that over-parenting sends the kids the message “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”

“[O]ur overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, deprives our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.

“Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.

“So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.”

So if we shouldn’t micromanage and limit our kids to the checklist of things that we personally deem as important in life, what should we do?

“[A]m I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no.

“What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned with the specific set of colleges they might be able to apply to or might get into and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set, the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.”

But how?

In her talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims goes on to discuss the importance of kids doing chores and parents providing unconditional love, and that’s a very good start.

But does requiring chores train kids to “think, plan, decide, do, hope, and cope” or develop the “habits, mindset, skills set, and wellness” necessary for success?

That’s asking a lot of chores.

Happily, this time I won’t just leave you with questions, I can point you to a resource that addresses this very question of how we train our kids in their self-efficacy so they become makers, dreamers, and doers full of hope and grit and ready for success wherever they are.

And you can buy it from me for just $987! – JUST KIDDING!

This stuff is so valuable it should be available to every parent, and it is.

Lori Pickert writes at Camp Creek blog and volunteers countless hours to help parents learn to be mentors in their children’s self-directed learning.

She has a book that explains her ideas and gives concrete steps on how to start NOW wherever you are, whoever you are, whoever your kids are, whatever your budget.

She is also one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. Her standards are high, but she believes everyone can take that next step toward raising self-directed learners.

The book is Project-Based Homeschooling, and don’t let any word in that title intimidate you. The book is about how to support that part of your child’s life that he or she is in control of, and you as the parent gets to decide how big that part is – this is not about letting go of all control or giving your kid one type of education!

Lori’s book explains how to be a supportive mentor in the work your child does apart from the checklist you give him.

There’s nothing wrong with a checklist. Put chores on the checklist, put hiking or family time or whatever aligns with your deepest values on the checklist, but make sure you pay attention to, appreciate, and encourage the work your child does apart from the checklist.

When you learn to appreciate your child’s work and see how important you are in supporting it, it will be much easier to know how to cull the checklist so you don’t ruin your child with the “checklisted childhood”.

So don’t worry about your lengthy checklist now, just do the next right thing.  Skim the blog, read the book. Contemplate how the ideas might fit well with your situation and family life.

Remember, you are in charge, you are wiser and more knowledgeable than your child in many things – but not everything.

Then let’s enjoy the journey! It’s anything but easy and well-defined, but it is every bit as exciting as a great adventure story!

“My job is not to make [my children] become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims

Full disclosure: I write this of my own free will and won’t earn a cent from it. Lori’s ideas have challenged and encouraged me like no other so I’m happy to pass them on!

Tiny Habit Check-In

Over the past three weeks we’ve created a way to effortlessly replace one limiting belief about our family with a liberating truth using a tiny habit.

How are you going?

I have to admit I’ve forgotten more than I’ve remembered. Maybe repeating the same phrase every time I flush is a bit much.

I’ll try this next week:

After I greet the first child awake in the morning I will say to myself “There is nothing I’d rather be doing than sharing the exciting world with my bright and beautiful children.”

Please share how the week went for you, and how you plan to tweak your habit, if need be.

If you didn’t make a tiny habit now is your chance. Today’s post is so short you have a few extra minutes make a first version.

Don’t make it perfect. What’s the simplest version you can start today?

An Effortless Way to Improve Your Family Culture Almost Instantly: The Final Key To Replacing Limiting Beliefs With Liberating Truths

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Two weeks ago we came up with liberating truths to replace the limiting beliefs we sometimes unconsciously hold about our families.

I know how transformative this kind of shift in thinking can be the idea seemed to resonate with readers, too.

But can you recite any of those liberating truths right now?

If you’re like me, you either can’t remember or it took quite a bit of mental effort to dig up those thoughts from so long ago.

How often in my life have I learned something so exciting and seemingly simple that I think I’ll never forget it, only to have it fade from consciousness in a matter of days?

New ideas won’t help us unless we take action, but when our to-do lists are already oppressive, that’s not welcome news.

Luckily there’s a very easy way we can all take action to remember our liberating truths and allow them to shape our lives for the better.

I learned the idea from B.J. Fogg and his Tiny Habits method. You can take a free on-line class from him, but the basic idea is simple (and therefore deceptively easy to forget . . .)

  1. Pick a trigger that you do automatically every day without much thought.
  2. Pick an action that is easy super easy and takes 30 seconds or less.
  3. Rehearse the trigger-action in your mind so you form a few pathway in your brain.
  4. After a week of trying your new tiny habit, review and see if it worked or if you need to revise one of the elements.

Step four is the hardest because you have to remember to check if your tiny habit is working. If the tiny habit is a good fit, you’ll have formed a new healthy habit in less than a week with very little effort.

If it’s not a habit yet then don’t blame yourself for not acting on it, but admit that you didn’t pick the best fit. Tweak one of the elements and try again.

It’s not true that any habit takes 20 or more days to form. It depends on the habit and the trigger.

I propose that reciting one liberating truth is a super easy action that definitely take less than 30 seconds.

Now the trick is to find a good trigger. Here are some examples.

  • After I brush my teeth I will recite one liberating truth.
  • After my feet hit the floor in the morning I will recite . . .
  • After my alarm goes off I will . . .
  • After I hear the footsteps of the first child awake in the morning I will . . .
  • After I’ve left the room from putting the kids to bed . . .
  • After I’ve poured my coffee . . .
  • After I’ve flushed the toilet . . .

Toilet humor is funny because the subject is universal. So toilets will serve as a good example for tiny habit formation.

Flushing the toilet is something we do automatically even when we have very little time. Even when the kids are calling for Mommy (because the Mom on the pot is their trigger to need help, right?) you still take time to flush the toilet.

After flushing the toilet and either washing your hands in leisure (if you’re lucky) or rushing off to see the damage, there is enough mental space for you to remember your tiny habit and act on it at the same time as carrying on with your life.

Can it get any easier?

Still, there is one more way to help the tiny habit take a firm hold: celebrate your accomplishment.

This part is always hard for me since the action is so super simple I feel stupid celebrating, but it’s scientifically documented as important for getting the brain re-wired.

So after you accomplish your goal (even if it’s as simple as reciting a sentence) give a fist pump or do a little silly dance, or celebrate in an equally small, but encouraging way. (Keep it simple or your celebration will take more effort than your tiny habit!)

Note that toilet flushing has nothing to do with a good family life (well, unless you have a forgetful child . . .). You might think that reciting the liberating truth would be good to do when you are experience a negative emotion toward your family.

The trouble is that we don’t think clearly when we’re upset, and being upset is not a precise trigger – nor one we want to practice! In my experience, the more unrelated the trigger, the better it works.

Here’s your simple action plan for today:

  1. Find where you wrote down your liberating truths and pick one, or make up a new one now.
  2. Pick a trigger that you think might work for you. (Don’t obsess about it.)
  3. Rehearse your new tiny habit using this form “After I . . . I will . . .” saying it out loud to yourself at least 10 times.
  4. Don’t worry about remembering to check how it’s working – I’ll do that for you in the next post.

DO NOT put this on your to-do list. Either do it now – it will only take 5 minutes! Or decide guilt-free that it’s not for you.

I look forward to hearing how it went for you!

Culture Making Part XIII: The Powerful Alongside the Powerless

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Today I’ll wrap up the Culture Making series. There is so much more in the book, especially for Christians, but I think the series has gone on long enough and it’s high time we got back to practical applications.

As promised, I’ll share an inspiring example of the powerful working alongside – and not on behalf of – the poorest of the poor, and then share a few quotes to give you a taste of what treasures await you if you read Andy Crouch’s book.

Surprising Life in a Garbage Dump

“When I feel frustrated with the limits of my cultural power, as I do more often than I would like to admit, I like to think about the inhabitants of Smokey Mountain [a garbage dump in Manila]. . . There is no reason to think that they have any less innate capacity for cultivation and creativity than any other group of human beings made in God’s image, but they were born in a place where, instead of cultural goods being proposed and going on to reshape their world, the detritus of culture is brought to decompose and die.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried to increase my gratitude by thinking of those less fortunate than myself, but Crouch takes a surprising turn:

“I know just enough about this community to know that they neither need nor want my pity. In 1980 a Catholic priest named Father Ben relocated to Smokey Mountain from the seminary where he was a promising young scholar. He brought the residents there the good news about Jesus. And he began to instill in them the confidence that God had not forgotten them – indeed, that God was ready to breathe life into their efforts at making a better life for their families. The community of garbage-dump workers persuaded the city to provide them with water and electric services. They have built modest but dignified concrete homes at the edge of the dump, replacing shacks of cardboard and tin. They even built a community center where children play games and older people gather to pass the time.”

“The residents of the Manila garbage dump are not primarily a moral object lesson in my relative affluence. Rather, they are a reminder of the inexhaustible human capacity to cultivate and create.”

Good News To The Poor

“Perhaps that is the truest sense of the “good news to the poor” that Jesus came to proclaim: the poor are not as poor as they, and we, think they are. The creative God of history has made his resurrection power available to them. He has made his power available to us if we will become poor in spirit – no longer simply accumulating power but freely sharing it.”

“When we put our power [to other’s] service, we unlock their creative capacity without in any way diminishing our own – and in this way, spending power is very different from spending money. When we transfer money to another person, their net worth increases while our s decreases, but the power to create cultural goods rarely has this zero-sum quality.”

This goes for spending our power alongside our children, too. It in no way diminishes our own power and authority. If it does, we’re probably not giving them power to create, but power to destroy.

Where Do You Have Power?

As a foreigner, I lack a certain kind cultural power, and I know what a blessing it is to have someone come alongside me with their cultural power to allow me to unleash my creativity in a land that was not originally my own. Most people who serve me in this way probably aren’t even aware of it or what an impact it has on me (husband, are you listening? Thanks!)

In the same way, the power we take for granted could have a huge impact if we spend it alongside those who don’t have that particular kind of power.

Still don’t think you have any power? Think of it this way:

“Most of us have experienced being in a context where our jokes were funny, our ideas provoked interest and excitement, and we felt light and quick on our feet, able to realize our vision with little sense of friction – and then being in another context where the same jokes and ideas fell completely flat and we found ourselves tongue-tied and embarrassed. The difference was, in a word, power. Power, in this sense, is deeply and absolutely dependent on the nature of the particular public we find ourselves among . . . To leave the circle of one’s power is a deeply, existentially unsettling experience.

I’m tempted to say “See how hard life is for us expats!” but that would defeat the point that everyone, everywhere has some kind of power even if it’s not where we want it most.

“Honestly and gratefully assessing where we already have cultural power is also an essential antidote to the futile process of desperately trying to amass more.”

With whom am I sharing my power?

So let’s ask ourselves, “How can I become a steward, investing my cultural power in the dreams and plans of those with less cultural power than myself?”

Culture Always Starts Small

“No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small. And this means that no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.”

“When I was twenty-nine I was just beginning the most important cultural calling of my life, shaping the culture of a family that today includes just four people, which, if we are blessed, will widen over the generations, just as my family of origin began with four but now cannot even fit around the large dining table in my parents’ home. Scaling down can be as important as scaling up – I never expect to have better partners in shaping culture than [my wife and children]. Small things can become greater over time – those who are faithful with little are sometimes, just as Jesus said, given the chance to be faithful with much – but small communities can always create things that are out of reach of wider, thinner network.”

 

Bonus quotes for Christians:

“To be Christian is to stake our lives on this belief: the only cultural goods that ultimately matter are the ones that love creates.”

“Grace is for the poor in spirit, and the disciplines bring us, no matter our ascribed power or actual wealth, to keen awareness of our fundamental poverty.”

“Any experienced farmer can inspect the ground, note where the path, rocks and weeds are, and direct his attention to the best soil. But there is no way to similarly inspect the human heart. . . . What we can do, however, is pay careful attention to the fruit of our cultural work. Do we see a divine multiplication at work after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”

To me this describes work in the home perfectly. It isn’t efficient or glamorous, but it yields this kind of dizzying abundance that can’t be fully explained or quantified – and the joy, oh the moments of joy!

“So where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and the cross. Where do we find our work and play bearing awe-inspiring fruit – and at the same time find ourselves able to identify with Christ on the cross? That intersection is where we are called to dig into the dirt, cultivate and create. . . For my friend Elizabeth the intersection of grace and cross is found in raising three children who sometimes tax her to the very limit, creating a family culture of forgiveness, play and prayer.”

What we create in the family cannot be accomplished by schools, social work, government programs, or any other organization or network the world can offer.

Soldier on, my friends! It’s a great secret that what we make in the home cannot be made anywhere else and is of utmost importance.

Culture Making Part XII: The Counterintuitive Key To Successful Culture Making

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“Of all the creators and cultivators who have ever lived, Jesus was the most capable of shaping culture through his own talents and power – and yet the most culture-shaping event of his life is the result of his choice to abandon his talents and power. The resurrection shows us the pattern for culture making in the image of God. Not power, but trust. Not independence, but dependence.” – Andy Crouch

Last week in the Culture Making series we left off with the question,

How can we use our talents and cultural power for creating and cultivating with maximum and long-lived results?

The answer? Humility.

That’s the simple answer, but of course there is more to it.

First, we have to acknowledge the full extent of our limitations and realize those we think of as powerful are almost as limited as the rest of us are.

The Limits of Power

“All true cultural creativity happens at the edges of the horizons of the possible, so by definition our most culturally creative endeavors have a high risk of failure. No matter how much I try to gauge the changes of success beforehand, there is simply no way to tell except to try.”

“At the relatively small scale of my family’s life together, there are many ways in which I profoundly shape our shared world . . . Within the walls of our house, all four of us have real power to shape the very real culture we, and we alone, share.”

“My ability to make small changes in my local world is dwarfed by my dependence on the changes other people make at larger scales of culture.”

“The truth is that culture, precisely because it is world-sized, is simply too complex for anyone to control or predict. And this truth is cruelest to those who have momentary cultural success – the “survivors” toward whom the system is biased.”

“Our inability to accurately anticipate the direction of cultural change is one of the most commonly affirmed realities of human existence – and one of the most commonly ignored.”

“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” -Mark Twain

We can’t control our creations – we can’t even control ourselves!

“Indeed, over time, the unintended consequences of a given cultural good almost always swamp the intended consequences in magnitude, as people continue the culture-making process, making new culture in response to the changed horizons.”

“If there is one thing culture creators cannot do, it is to control their creations.”

“Changing the world sounds grand, until you consider how poorly we do even at changing our own little lives. On a daily basis we break our promises, indulge our addictions and rehearse old fantasies and grudges that even we know we’d be better off without. We have changed less about ourselves than we would like to admit. Who are we to charge off to change the world?”

“Beware of world changers – they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin.”

“Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be-world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of “changing the world” usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God’s ability.”

A Warning For Christians

There’s quite a bit more in the book about the Christian perspective, but up until now I haven’t included much because I believe many of the principles remain the same.

This time I’ll share some of what Crouch has to say to Christians since I know many of my readers are Christians. If you appreciate this snippet, then go read the book! He has much, much more to say to us – and it is quite humbling and encouraging and includes a vision of what we might do for eternity in heaven.

“[W]ise Christian culture maker will abandon the hope for Christendom – a culture in which the gospel is at the center rather than at the margins of possibility.”

“But just as the gospel never is comfortably contained in the realm of the culturally possible, it also never disappears from the horizon altogether. God’s grace and mercy, his endless inventive capacity to respond to human waywardness, ensure that every culture can be reclaimed.”

“Culture – making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility – is what human beings do and are meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God’s mission in the world, and it is the call of God’s redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker.”

“[W]ether you feel powerful or powerless, you are exactly the sort of person that God has a track record of deciding to use.”

“When God acts in culture, he uses both the powerful and the powerless alongside one another rather than using one against the other.”

So the more complex answer to the question of how we can use our cultural power effectively lies in the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless.

Next week, we’ll took at an inspiring example of the idea of the powerful working alongside the powerless and what that means for us and our culture making endeavors.

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

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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

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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!