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Imagining Space for Culture Making

If you haven’t read the book Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch yet, we highly recommend it. Through stories, biblical exegesis, examples and cultural analysis, Crouch explores how the only way to change culture is to make more of it. Christians have become experts at certain “postures” or strategies toward culture–condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming–but none of these postures actually helps create more of the Kingdom-oriented culture we long to embody.

Admittedly, *cino leans toward the posture of critique. We believe it’s important to analyze what stories are informing our practices, be they the stories of modernism or capitalism or individualism or Christianity or any combination of these and other stories. What foundational ideas cause us to behave as though single family homes are and should be the norm? What invisible intersection of beliefs guides our transportation or grocery shopping or parenting habits? Do these practices tell a story other than the Christian story we profess as our central narrative? Unearthing the answers to these questions about our practices through critique is essential for understanding where we’ve come from and where we might be going.

However, it’s not enough to sit around and think about things, even if that thinking is insightful and wise. In order to change where we’re going, we need to do something. In that spirit, the Imagining Space project is about culture making, about changing culture by making more of it. Surely our efforts will overlap and intersect with good work that’s already being done and we plan to form many partnerships in the course of working out our vision. But we also plan to pull threads together in a new way, weaving possibilities into a tapestry that will delight, inspire, challenge and reveal in order to change people’s ideas and actions for the loving benefit of themselves and others.

We’re not out to change the world, and Crouch warns against such overstatement of purpose and potential. But we are out to be stewards of our small sphere of cultural influence and to offer our cultural power in the service of others. In his insightful analysis of power, Crouch writes,

Stewardship means to consciously take up our cultural power, investing it intentionally among the seemingly powerless, putting our power at their disposal to enable them to cultivate and create. This is different from charity, which is simply the transfer of assets from rich to poor. It is closer to investment.

Think, for example, of the community gardens we’d like to cultivate on the Huss property. As charity, we might grow or purchase food to donate to the local food bank. As a culture making investment, we’d teach and learn, water and weed alongside people in the neighborhood in the hopes that kitchen gardens will start popping up all over the city, sprouted from saved and shared seeds. These seeds won’t grown on account of our own willpower or cleverness, but out of the rhythms of nature God mindfully created. Likewise, our best hope is that in the process of such stewardly and collaborative investment, we might actually become agents of what God is doing on the streets of Three Rivers and in the hearts of those we serve, expanding people’s imaginations to hope for more than they thought possible of their city or themselves. Again from Crouch:

Culture making is needed in every company, every school and every church. In every place there are impossibilities that leave even the powerful feeling constrained and drained, and that rob the powerless of the ability to imagine something different and better. At root, every human cultural enterprise is haunted by the ultimate impossibility, death, which threatens to slam shut the door of human hope. But God is at work precisely in these places where the impossible seems absolute. Our calling is to join him in what he is already doing–to make visible what, in exodus and resurrection, he has already done.

So it’s not about changing the world or charity. Is this all just about doing something so dramatic that we’ll be remembered after we die? Or about checking off some box in the effort to get to heaven some day? Well, no, it’s not really about legacies or future rewards either, but about doing something that we hope is of worth here and now. Putting it in perspective, Crouch writes:

We enter into the work of cultural creativity not as people who desperately need to strategize our way into cultural relevance, but as participants in a story of new creation that comes just when our power seems to have been extinguished. Culture making becomes not just the product of clever cultural strategy or the natural byproduct of inherited privilege, but the astonished and grateful response of people who have been rescued from the worst that culture and nature can do.

In short: Imagining Space is an attempt to embody our gratitude and love. We sincerely look forward to seeing how this project might make new culture toward the faithful renewal of Three Rivers and beyond.

Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Kirstin is a member of the *culture is not optional core community and is the Head Caretaker at GilChrist Retreat Center.