Culture Making Part III: Cultural Worlds


Last week we came to the humbling conclusion that the culture around us shapes us more than we can ever hope to shape culture.

Yet within our own families we have more power than we think.

From Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch:

“Culture requires a public: a group of people who have been sufficiently affected by a cultural good that their horizons of possibility and impossibility have in fact been altered, and their own cultural creativity has been spurred, by that good’s existence. This group of people does not necessarily have to be large. But without such a group the artifact remains exclusively personal and private.” (emphasis mine)

The Culture

I’m still throwing the word “culture” around without a detailed analysis of the word, which isn’t practical in short blog posts. But keep in mind how broad a net the definition I quoted earlier is:

Culture is what you make of the world. -Ken Myers

Again from Culture Making:

“[There is danger] in talking about “the Culture” as if it were an undifferentiated, single thing. Just as we must always ask which cultural goods are meant by a reference to “Culture,” we must also ask which public responds to those goods.”

Cultural Worlds

No cultural artifact has reached every corner of the world (yet). So even the most far-reaching invention hasn’t “changed the world” but only changed a sub-set of worlds.

“Culture that is everyone’s property is in no one’s grasp. But as we consider smaller scales of culture, we begin to have more meaningful influence over what culture makes of the world.”

“Real culture making, not to mention cultural transformation, begins with a decision about which cultural world . . . we will attempt to make something of.”

The Cultural World of Family

“A basic unit of culture is the family, where we first begin making something of the world. Food and language, two of culture’s most far-reaching forms, begin in the home, which may encompass a “public” as small as two people. It can take us decades to appreciate all the ways in which the culture of our families set our horizons of the possible and the impossible.” (emphasis mine)

We have massive amounts of power to shape the horizons of the possible and the impossible for our children.

“Until we leave our families and venture into the home of our neighbors and friends, or perhaps the family home of our future spouse, we are likely not even to realize all the ways that our family sets our horizons.”

(I would add that leaving the country is a major wake-up call as to how much our family and local culture shapes what’s possible for us.  More on this to come – ex-pats, you’ll love it!)

But so what? Even if we build an awesome family culture and have lots of kids, our family is just a speck of dust in a sandstorm of people. Can “we few, we happy few” make any difference in a vast and needy world?

We’ll come back to this question later. For now trust your gut that tells you that your family is of utmost importance. I’ll also give you a hint:

“Family is culture at its smallest – and its most powerful.”

Which cultural worlds do you live in? Where will you choose to get creative and make something of your (sub-)world?

Do you still feel powerless to effect real change? Next week we’ll talk about how being poor isn’t just about being penniless, but about being powerless, and how that idea should transform how we think of our families and the cultural worlds we move in.


This is Part III of the Culture Making series. Read Part I, Part II, Part IV, Part V, Part VIPart VII, and Part VIII here.


One thought on “Culture Making Part III: Cultural Worlds”

  1. Waiting till I have time to work out my thoughts more coherently isn’t working at the moment, so I’ll just toss out the ideas.

    My gut tells me that family culture is absolutely the most critical culture, because that’s where we absorb ideas, likes, dislikes, and expectations that become so basic we never even think about them — unless forced to by a clash with someone else’s culture. Family is where we learn “the way things ought to be,” from what (and how) to eat to what music we enjoy to how we treat other people to how we hang the toilet paper. Even among those who complain about the family they grew up in, I’ve noticed that they still carry with them strong ideas of “the way things are done” just because that’s how they grew up. This is an awesome responsibility for parents — in all meanings of the word! Terrifying, maybe.

    Also, I’ve noted that we tend to want to pass on to our children our own childhood experiences, but that those experiences are nearly impossible to replicate. For example, in my family growing up, carving pumpkins at Hallowe’en, making cookies at Christmas, dying eggs at Easter — these were all treasured family times, so important to me, and I wanted to pass that blessing on to my own children.

    But, I’ve concluded, for better and for worse we can never give our children the same experiences we had. The times are different, the situation is different, they are different. We can orchestrate our own actions, but when we try to orchestrate the actions of others, we change the circumstances in yet another way.

    The secret, I imagine, lies in discerning what is the real value behind the experiences we are trying to duplicate. We can try family pumpkin-carving, but if it isn’t bearing the fruit we want, is there some other activity that might foster the same cultural benefit?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *