Asking “What is culture?” is like asking “What is love?” We all know quite a bit about it, but would be at loss for words to describing it.
In Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch writes:
“Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.”
Christian cultural critic Ken Myers sums it up this way:
“Culture is what we make of the world.” -Ken Myers
Crouch points out that this definition includes two senses of “make.” First, it means a literal making, in the sense of creating. Second, it means to“make sense of,” as in to find (or make) meaning.
“Meaning and making go together – culture, you could say, is the activity of making meaning.” -Andy Crouch
These days its very popular to “go back to the roots” and to prize above all that which is “natural.” Often the implication is that what is natural is good and what is man-made is bad.
I love nature, and I love doing things that are natural, but I also love Gothic churches, Bach fugues, and meringues. I want to teach my kids about nature, but I also want them to appreciate Shakespeare, sushi, and ballet.
Crouch illuminates this conflict for me:
“The world the baby arrives in encompasses not just the original stuff of pre-human creation but all the myriad things that humans themselves have already made from that stuff. The world with which the baby will have to come to terms as she grows is just as much cultural as it is natural.” (emphasis mine)
There is a tendency to pick a point in time at which human creation turned from good to bad and wish we could live before a certain invention.
It seems to me that this kind of thinking is active when we are glad to see our kids sitting still for long periods reading books, but feel horribly guilty if they spend the same amount of time watching movies. Books are good, moving pictures are bad.
Of course culture is more complicated than that, and like it or not, all the cultural goods out there today are what our children will be faced with and will have to come to terms with.
Crouch explains it this way:
“Culture really is a part of our world, just as central to our lives and our being human as nature. In some ways it is more central. A baby who is born without hearing may never experience sound or understand the significance of the sounds that he produces by chance with his own vocal tract. But he can survive and even thrive in the world if he is taught language – whether a sign language or a written language – and thus inducted into a culture. The cultural world of language is more essential to human flourishing than the natural world of sound.”
Our kids need more than nature and the natural. Our kids need culture. As parents we have incredible power to shape the culture our kids experience.
What culture are we handing them?
Next week in part II of the Culture Making series we’ll discuss why our own culture making is so important for our families.