Christians and Culture – What is culture?

Christians and Culture - What is culture?

 

By design mankind is a cultural creature.

It is not who we are as much as it is what we do.

We talk about culture a lot… But, what is it?

“We must stand against the culture!”

“We must not involve ourselves in the culture!”

“Christians must engage cultural issues!”

“Christians must not get entangled in cultural issues!”

Most don’t have a clear understanding of what culture is. Most people view culture as a thing – an ‘it’. We assume we know what we’re talking about. Furthermore, when we have discussions or debates, we may not even agree on the definition of the word ‘culture’. Different people have different notions about what culture is. I spent my college years studying culture (anthropology) and I know how difficult it can be to attempt to fully understand it. Let me take a shot.

Culture is distinctly human. Animals do not create culture. It can be complex and confusing. So, let’s try to understand it.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as the following: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time; the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization; the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.(link)

While that definition is helpful, it does not answer the question, “Where does culture come from?” The Bible states God made humans in his image (Genesis 1:27). Bearing our Creator’s image, we humans create and inhabit culture. That is important to know as a first principle. Every human is creating and shaping culture just by living life in this world. The biblical narrative is set within cultures over history (Jewish, Egyptian, Roman, Pagan, etc). By God’s design mankind is a cultural creature. It is not who we are as much as it is what we do. It is impossible for a human not to be a cultural creature. So, let’s explore a little further.

If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” John Stonestreet once told a group of students (“A Practical Guide to Culture”, Stonestreet & Kunkle). Fish don’t know they are wet – it is the environment in which they live. Given, most analogies eventually break down. However, the fish – water analogy is a useful illustration.

Culture is “the environment we live in and think is normal” says Stonestreet. We understand it points to the fact that we’re assuming something about reality – a baseline, if you will. “This is the world and reality as we understand it” is the assumption that all people operate from and shape their lives around without even being aware.

So, what the heck is Culture?

I’m going to distill a few ideas found in Stonestreet and Kunkle’s book, “A Practical Guide to Culture” to help us. I definitely recommend reading it.

Let’s begin with what culture is NOT:

Culture is not creation (nature, plants, animals, humans, water, rocks, the sky, etc).

“Culture doesn’t just refer to all the bad stuff humans do.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

People are NOT culture.

“People make culture and are, in turn shaped by culture, but equating them with culture is wrong and can even be dangerous. If we see people as culture and culture as the enemy, we’ll likely see people as the enemy and confuse their bad ideas with evil intentions… Culture is NOT people, culture is what people do.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

So, what then is culture?

Culture comes from the Latin word cultura, meaning “agriculture” (plowing, tilling, etc).

“Culture is what humans do (activity) in the world: build, invent, create, tear down, compose, replace, embellish, engineer, assume, dismiss, emphasize, etc.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

“Culture is what humans make of the world,” says Andy Crouch

Ken Myers (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes)
“It’s not a person. It’s not even an institution, like the church or the state or the family. It is instead a dynamic pattern, an ever-changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sounds, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people (many of whom do not know they are associated), in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

Culture is a kind of fabric produced by human activity.

Cultural forces shape our thoughts and behaviors without us even being aware.

Culture is created and cultivated for good or evil.

Everything we do or say, and the ideas we think impact culture.

Culture is a gift from God to be stewarded for goodness and his glory.

Attempting to “avoid culture” invites negative culture to fill the void.

Culture is powerful.

Culture isn’t a thing, Culture just is…..

Since humans naturally create culture, this begs the question: What kind of culture are we creating? 

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*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.

Reflections of September 11, 2002 from Ground Zero, NYC

Reflections of September 11, 2001 from Ground Zero, New York City

Today (November 11, 2005), my wife and I decided to journey to the WTC site. I was apprehensive about what I was about to experience.

Never in my life had I hated clear blue skies, but for a few moments today, I did.

Below are photos from my 2005 visit to World Trade Center site. Click to enlarge. My reflections follow the phots.

This is from my Myspace blog from Nov 12, 2005 upon my visit to NYC and Ground Zero. I decided to dig it out, reflect and repost. 

How some things change and yet some things are meant to linger…

[November 12, 2005] We’re currently in NYC. I played a DJ gig last night at Spirit (formerly Twilo).

This morning my wife and I headed down to WTC Ground Zero. I have not been to New York City since prior to September 11, 2001. Of course, like many of you, those events had a profound effect on my life. For some reason I’ve been fighting with demons in my mind from that day for a number of years.  I decided that I would lay them to rest with this visit to NYC. My trip to the Ground Zero site was more important that the gig that brought me here.

Since I found out that I would be coming to New York, I wondered how I would feel when I got down to the site. I’ve known since 9/11 that I would someday visit the place where the attacks occurred.

I have many fond memories of my visits to NYC prior to September 11, 2001.  My trips in the past have always included a visit to the World Trade Canter (WTC) and sometimes staying at the WTC Marriott. One of my best friends worked at Cantor-Fitzgerald on the 105th floor. I’ve visited him there and went to dinner at Windows On The World restaurant (107th floor) . I’ve looked out of his office window and seen helicopters hovering directly across from me. I’ve seen clear endless blue skies so brilliant that your eyes water. I’ve looked down from the 105th floor to the street below as a parade passed by. Have you ever seen a parade from above? It was amazing. Words unable to fully describe the image.

It was a great experience to share a typical Friday work day with my friend – and make some new friends along the way.  Needless to say, some of the people I met at Cantor that day are gone from this earth. I remember their faces like I remember the New York City skyline.

Fortunately, my good friend at Cantor started working else where a month prior to the attacks.

When we flew to NYC, I saw the hole in the night sky where the buildings once stood.

Today (November 11, 2005), my wife and I decided to journey to the WTC site. I was apprehensive about what I was about to experience. The streets we as I always remembered them in my many visits to NYC. I’ve been there so many times I sort of know my way around. It’s strange that this boy from Texas feels completely comfortable in NYC – just walking the streets. But this time was different. Today, I was on a pilgrimage. So, we walked slowly and silently as the city was going about its business. The deeper into lower Manhattan we walked and the closer to the WTC site we got, the quieter and slower things seemed to become.

As we turned the corner and I saw empty sky where my favorite land marks once stood. It took my breath away. It was like diving into cold water. The skies were clear and blue much like the day that I visited my friend there so many years before.  To say that it was surreal is an understatement – it was like a dream.

I felt deja vu…. but I HAD been there before. The loud streets of the city were silent as hundreds of people moved in slow motion around at the site. I tried to focus on something in the sky that had been there before. It was no longer there. I was like my memory was trying to replace the images in my mind…  I closed my eyes and could see the two giants. I wanted the giants to be there when I opened them again. I wanted everything to be the same as it was before…  I opened my eyes and I was greeted with blues skies.

Never in my life had I hated clear blue skies, but for a few moments today, I did.  I hated what those blue skies meant in that place. My two giant friends were gone.  Out of the blue skies came the attacks that toppled them and cause sane, able-bodied people to jump to their death. As I walked closer to the pit, I could feel that I was in a special place, a place were a terrible thing happen – a terrible thing that had left a wound on my soul. It still hurt every time I remember that day.

I will never forget the chill in the wind today. I’ll never forget what it felt like or what it smelled like. I walked up to the fence to see what was not there. It was strange… I stood at the fence a peered in. I was in disbelief. I was afraid and confused.  I was afraid that I was going to breakdown in front of everyone. God gave me strength as tears filled my eyes…  I had my sunglasses on, so I would be ok.  No one would know my tears. Suddenly, I felt like I was the only one there.  I was alone.  Just me and that place. It was quiet and still as the sun warmed my face in the chilled air.

I closed my eyes and saw the buildings crumbling in my mind. It was real.  I opened them and nothing. All those poor people… gone.

I was battling with my demons from September 11, 2001 in the spot where it happened. I picked the place for the fight. I had already decided that I would win. I would win it on the very spot where it began 4 years prior. I had prepared for this day. I knew it would come. I mumbled a little prayer to myself.

A cold wind hit me in the face and I was awakened, as if from a dream. I returned to reality. It was as if God had allowed me to have a moment for just me in a busy city full of people. For me to battle… To finish the fight and release the grief and anger to him. And it was a good fight. I could only imagine what my wife would be going through if we had a different life and we happened to live in New York and I worked at WTC… and went to work that day not to return. I felt so thankful when she walked over and put her hand in mine…

My life changed today. My reality changed. As we walked around the site, I noticed men working…  machinery moving earth. I noticed grass and wildflowers growing in the excavated area – life!  Life was moving. There was life in this place.  It was wonderful to see. My sadness turned to joy. I knew all was good in the hands of a good God.

I looked into the blue sky and I was thankful for its blueness.  I will never curse a blue sky again.

Sacred moments in a special place… Returning to Texas tomorrow.

-Lance

(Orignally Posted Nov 12, 2005)

VIDEO: The 9/11 Survivor Tree – The last living rescue from 9/11—a charred and battered pear tree—has been recovering at a Bronx nursery. Now, it’s finally returning home.

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*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.

The Gift of Thought – Developing a Theology of Thinking

The Gift of Thought - Cultivating a Theology of Thinking

What do you spend your time thinking about?
What is the purpose of thinking?
What ought we think about?

Recently, I was a guest on Shanda Fulbright’s “Her Faith Inspires” podcast. She was doing research for a lesson for her Gen Z children and kids from her community. Shanda wanted to explore the difference between learning ‘how to think’ vs. being taught ‘what to think’. Through the wizardry of Google or some other search engine, she stumbled upon my blog post from 2013 entitled “How to Think vs What to Think” (read my post here…). Shanda reached out to me to discuss the topic on her podcast (listen here…).

After the podcast aired, I decided that it would be good to explore a little further and share some reflections. We will not explore the deep theological implications at this point but I will attempt to cultivate the theological soil a bit.

Addressing the modern problem – What to Think

Let me begin by stating the obvious. In our high-speed, Google, wikipedia, YouTube, social media, soundbite world – we Moderns have lost the art and skill of deep thinking and reflection. We have traded wisdom and understanding for quick information and convenience. We can tell you the what and how of a matter, but we can’t tell you why of the same matter. 

We have delegated our problems (healthcare, political, financial, cultural, educational, ecclesiastical, etc.) to experts to solve them for us. The result? We are now bombarded by technical experts who offer pragmatic (often political) solutions to modern problems. Since we have delegated thinking to technocrats and think tanks, we end up being forced or coerced into accepting their authority, conditions and uniformity – one size fits all solutions. Their solutions rarely solve the problems they claim to be solving. In fact, in most instances the experts we’ve put in charge end up creating more problems. Their excuse is, “Well, this particular problem is very complex. We need more funding or more political power or a little more of your freedoms then, we can come up with a total solution for all problems.” Mind you, this is all being said by experts who were never taught how to think in school or at home – just what to think. They are simply doing what they were trained to do. And they are telling us what to think as well. Our finest universities are producing tens of thousands of these what-to-thinkers every year. Critical thinking, wisdom and discernment have been discarded.

Recovering our ability to think – How to Think

Man is a thinking being because we are created in the image of a thinking God. We have the ability to reflect and go beyond cognitive exercises of remembering, comprehending and understanding. We can think in the abstract or the concrete. We can remember and we can imagine. Our minds can be disordered and chaotic one moment and tranquil and well-ordered the next. We can have disturbing, evil thoughts or contented, beautiful and good thoughts. We share the universal language of logic and reason with all mankind. The human mind is powerful!

Thinking is something we all do all the time. Thought is a very human activity. The ability to think is good.

From the imaginations of men like Tolkien, we enjoy realms of Hobbits, Elves and Wizards on quests to vanquish evil. The mind of Steve Jobs created iPhones that would seem like wizardry to the inhabitants of Middle Earth or the Renaissance. All manner of ideas, solutions, laws, cures, machines, stories and artifacts emerge from the minds of men and women throughout the ages. Thought has created the greatest feats and the worst terrors of men. Our ability to think is fascinating and extraordinary. Let’s consider a few questions for a moment:

  • What do you spend your time thinking about?
  • What is the purpose of thinking?
  • What ought we think about?

Our thoughts shape our lives, relationships, culture and our future.

The gift-nature of thought

Have you ever considered your ability to think as a gift from God? God created the world and infused it with meaning. He then created humans in his own likeness and gave us the ability to apprehend reality – the world as it actually exists. God gave his image-bearers the ability to think and understand His reality (albeit distorted by sin). At the same time, He gave humans imagination and creativity. All of which are housed in the mind.

The Bible speaks about the mind. It also teaches us how to think and how we ought to think. Therefore, there is a purpose (telos) to thinking. That purpose is something worth exploring.

What does the Bible say about how we should think? While I don’t possess the theological knowledge to bring a “theology of thinking” into its fullest grandeur (that may be a task for another), I can simply try to grasp at the basics here. But, a theology of thinking is something every Christian ought to seek to develop.

Together as fellow pilgrims, we can recover and cultivate the wonderful gift of thought. We can center our thought life on God’s Word and ask Him to bring a fuller vision of Himself and the world he created to light – as we glory in Him.

1. Below are some passages to help us think.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your mind to my knowledge…” (Proverbs 22:7)

2. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes help shape the our thoughts and hearts. They are filled with practical wisdom for every day living. They help us develop critical thinking skills and act as a guide to cultivating moral and honorable lives.

3. Books that I’ve found help me think.

  • Knowing God – J.I. Packer
  • The Knowledge of the Holy – A.W. Tozer
  • Why You Think the Way You Do – Glenn Sunshine

“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”

(J.I. Packer)

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*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.

The Power of Stories

The Power of Stories

Everyone loves a good story. We all want to be a part of a good story. Stories form the architecture of our lives.

Stories are powerful. Everyone loves a good story. We all want to be a part of a good story. In fact, stories form the architecture of our lives. We all have a story of our individual lives. At the same time, we all are part of a bigger story together. What is so interesting to me is that God created reality in such a way that we can contribute and impact each other’s stories – hopefully in a good way, right? Even when we miss the mark and negatively impact someone else’s life, we can ask for forgiveness in the hope of redeeming and restoring a story. That is amazing!

As I have been reading “The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers” by J. R. R. Tolkien, I have realized that modernity has robbed us of the riches of story reading and story telling. The beautiful thing about good stories is that we have so many ways to tell them. A good story is a good story.

Everyone you meet has a story.
Everyone you meet has struggles.
Everyone you meet has sinned.
Everyone you meet has hopes and dreams.
Everyone you meet is created in the image of God.
Every life points beyond itself.
Everyone you meet is extraordinary.

C.S. Lewis once said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Beautiful stories are poetry in motion. They have all the hallmarks of tragedy, redemption and triumph woven into something quite moving. Stories are deeply human.

Below are links to two stories. First, if you not have seen Jane’s (Nightbirde) story, it’s worth watching the seven minutes. Second, is a story about Chuck Colson called ‘Unlikely Hero.’ Before you watch, take just a moment and consider ‘why’ we like good stories. Good stories can change the trajectory of your day… and perhaps, your life.

What is the story you want to write today as if it we your last?

Video 1: Nightbirde’s Original Song Makes Simon Cowell Emotional – America’s Got Talent 2021

Video 2: Chuck Colson – An Unlikely Hero

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What is the First Responsibility of a Leader?

What is the First Responsibility of a Leader?

The number one thing missing in our culture is LEADERSHIP. What should a leader do first?

In a cultural moment where leadership is lacking, good leaders must do this one thing first.

When we discuss great leaders who did great things, we tend to focus on the character qualities and accomplishments of great leaders without noticing the first duty of a leader.

While it is good to cultivate good character qualities of great leaders, I think we must focus on first principles.

Take a moment to answer this question, “What is the first duty of a leader?

Vision-casting and accomplishments along with humility, courage, creativity, integrity, wisdom, and intelligence are good things but they are NOT the first duty of a leader.

Max Dupree stated, “The first responsibility (duty) of a leader is to define reality.”

This simple statement is true.

What does it mean for a leader ‘to define reality?’

First, a leader must ground themselves in reality by seeing the world as it is in its current state. This is what Francis Schaefer would call “real reality.” If a leader does not see things as they really are, that leader’s vision for what can be will be distorted. Second, a leader must define reality for those he leads. Only then can the leader cast a vision for the future.

When God created the world and everything in it, He defined reality. When man fell into sin, that reality was distorted. The redemption we have in Christ grounds us in reality anew and orients us toward God. One day, He will restore all things – including a restored final reality.

Your first duty is a leader – your first responsibility is to see things as they truly are. That includes the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. You must accept present reality as it is. Then, you must define reality for your people. After grounding yourself and your people in reality, you can cast a vision and develop a mission for the future.

Defining reality is a discipline and skill that must be learned and actuated by every leader who desires to lead well.

Dupree states, “We must teach ourselves to see things the way they ARE.”
Only then can we “cast a vision for what CAN BE” Dupree concludes.

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*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.

Don’t Be a Coward – Creating Communities of Courage

Don't Be A Coward

Creating Communities of Courage

Cowardice has no place in the life of the Christian or Christ’s Church.

A faith that bows before cultural coercion is not biblical faith. When the individual Christian or church acquiesce to the zeitgeist (the spirit of the age), we are being cowards – we are fearing man over God. Humans worship what they fear. When Christians take their cues from the culture, we are cowards (period) – we are worshipping what we fear – the culture (man).

Throughout scripture, God repeatedly calls his servants, his people to be courageous. True courage is properly grounded in fear of the Lord. When we fear what people might say, think or how they may respond, we are not fearing God but man. If our fear is rooted in the fear of man, the fruit is always cowardice. Christian cowardice has always led to spiritual, societal and cultural decay – and the rise of barbarism (ie. the silent church in Nazi Germany). If on the other hand, our fear is rooted in the fear of the Lord, the fruit will be courage. Not only courage but wisdom, righteousness, love and reflections of God’s attributes.

God’s commands carry blessing for those who obey. The command to “be courageous” is not a suggestion, it is a command to follow obediently. And God, like a loving father, blesses our obedience.

In the face of social pressure or coercion or violence, we sometimes think that backing down or appeasing the enemies of truth will give us relief or buy us peace. That is a lie. Don’t believe a lie and don’t disobey God’s command to be courageous.

The secular zeitgeist is a bully. How does one face down and defeat a bully?
First, you must stand up to the bully knowing that he’s weak and filled with folly. It’s all show.
Second, you fight back. Bullies only pick on people they think are weak. When you demonstrate that you are not going to put up with their crap and push back, they back down. Finally, when the bully backs down, their passive and active support vanishes in a mist of humiliation. But, the church must be careful not to become a bully either.

Both cowardice and courage are contagious.

The Christian must choose. All it takes is one Christian to stand up and others will follow. This is the catalyst that creates communities of courage.

The Church needs a commitment to the truth of Scripture and vibrant communities of courage where the people of God stand against a dark culture. When the redeemed in Christ can truly claim, “we’re in this together”, we have become a community of courage. Christianity is a “Public” faith. We have a public theology. We courageously think, speak and live by truth as Christ demonstrated in his earthly ministry.

Need help in developing courage?

Check out this video: Thinking Out Loud “Courage in a Culture of Chaos”

Feel free to share your thoughts and commend below this post…

 

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