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Culture Making and Power

Written on January 29th, 2014

[caption id=”attachment_4901” align=”aligncenter” width=”450”]Andy Crouch at Redeemer2 Photo courtesy of Redeemer University College[/caption]

Behind the words “Deliver us from Culture” are two gloved hands clasped in prayer. The image is a striking one and happens to be an advertisement for a book called “Soul Detox” by Craig Groeschel. According to Andy Crouch, featured speaker for Redeemer University College’s 2014 World and Our Calling Lectures, this particular pairing of text and imagery also begs an important question: “Why have we worked so hard to protect ourselves from culture, rather than developing an immune system to engage it?”

What’s really needed from Christians, said Crouch, is a less reactive and more creative form of cultural engagement. Gesturing to an alternative photo of two outstretched hands covered in dirt, Crouch explained that our job is ultimately about turning the “good” into “very good”— getting messy and making gardens (literally and metaphorically) so that creation might flourish.

Over the last few months, the Redeemer University College (RUC) community has been celebrating  alumni who are striving to enrich culture by making more of it. Last fall, the university launched a Culture Makers Video Series, which profiles RUC graduates who are acting as culture creators and cultivators in their various spheres of work. Visitors to the RUC “Culture Makers” YouTube channel will find interviews with people like Jason Hoffing, owner and head roaster of Red Hill Coffee Trade, and Sara Weber Van Barneveld, a playwright and actor in Hamilton. Each segment in the series shows what happens when individuals use their gifts and resources to make culture in their communities—each is a small picture of flourishing.

The concept of flourishing is a significant one for Crouch, appearing frequently in his ideas about culture making, and in his pondering about power— a topic that he explored during his second lecture, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (titled after his newest book) at RUC on January 15th, the following evening.

In Crouch’s perspective, power becomes a gift  when it creates space for others to  thrive and experience life more abundantly. To illustrate his point, he shared a personal anecdote about learning to play the cello for the first time. There was an imbalance of power in the room right off the bat, recalled Crouch (he had very little power, but his cello teacher had much). Over time, “the cello playing power in the room increased” he explained, and not at the expense of teacher or student. Both parties had something to gain through the lessons: Crouch became better at handling the instrument and his teacher sharpened his own skills in the process. With an increase of power, came flourishing.

While it is easy to think of other scenarios like this one, Crouch made it clear that power, and its manifestation in the lives of ordinary people, can also be very ugly. Abused or used carelessly, power can  diminish, entrap and destroy—particularly when it’s connected to injustice or idolatry. Crouch used the example of child slavery in India, oftentimes the result of  powerful leaders “playing God” in the lives of vulnerable, desperate families. 

Crouch also spoke about the nature of idolatry, explaining that the idols which appear to demand very little from us at first (making us feel powerful at very little cost), are typically the ones that rend us powerless in the end; at times costing us our lives, or worse, our children’s lives. This can be painfully evident in the case of addiction, he noted.

Indeed, much of creation groans beneath the weight of abused power. Human relationships, institutions and oppressive systems around the world bear marks of that corruption. And yet, as Crouch repeatedly pointed out, to really understand the nature of power, one must also consider its original and good purpose.

Pointing specifically to the creation account in Genesis, Crouch suggested that the highest expression of power is creativity. Such a sentiment ties in well to what he argued the night before: That the call to create is at the heart of the broader biblical story. Both beliefs serve as incentive to go out into the world as hopeful and creative stewards of power, so that flourishing can occur.

When an audience member admitted to feeling “pessimistic about humans and power,” during the the night’s question and answer period, Crouch’s response was simple. “So is the Bible,” he said, “but God never gives up on his image bearers.” 

Through his writing and his speaking, Crouch continues to provide listeners with a refreshing, and thought provoking vision of what “bearing the image” really means—for a generation that has been called by God to make culture and use power in a way that leads to flourishing.

“Bearing the image in a world of injustice takes everything,” said Crouch in answer to one of his last questions. “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be good!”

Know any Redeemer alumni who are ‘bearing the image’ through culture making?  To recommend  someone send an email to culturemakers@redeemer.ca.
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