Book of the Month: Culture Care

Mark Beuving —  December 29, 2014 — 5 Comments
This entry is part 18 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

One year ago, internationally acclaimed artist Makoto Fujimura published a small booklet entitled On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care. This booklet, and Fujimura’s concept of “Culture Care,” have resonated with many. This month Makoto Fujimura released the full length expansion of his Culture Care concept, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life.

Culture Care Makoto FujimuraFujimura has written eloquently and inspiringly on faith and art before. With Culture Care, he gives us many important concepts to ponder and pursue. Fujimura talks about the culture wars that are all too familiar for most of us. Unlike those who would glamorize our modern culture, Fujimura acknowledges that there is much in culture today that should sadden us, much that is toxic, much that harms the soil in which we are trying to grow. But unlike those who want to throw up their hands in disgust and sit in condemnation of culture until Jesus returns, Fujimura insists that we have a responsibility to the culture all around us.

“Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.”

Culture Care means viewing all of life as a gift, viewing culture itself as a gift. Our own abilities, and the abilities and cultural goods of the people around us, whether Christian or not, are gifts from God. Rather than disdaining culture or the works of those outside the church, we need to be life-giving participants in culture. Fujimura explains:

“Artistic expressions are signposts declaring what it is to be fully human.”

When we free ourselves of our utilitarian mindset that insists on valuing only that which is useful, when we begin living “generatively,” creatively bringing something new and life-giving into existence, then we create new possibilities in the lives of the people around us.

For Fujimura, this is a matter of stewardship. If we all fall prey to the utilitarian mindset that fails to value beauty, creativity, and generativity, then the cultural soil will be further poisoned by the time our children inherit the cultural world we have failed to steward. But if we labor to tend the soil of culture, our children may live in a cultural world that is bursting with life, in which gospel seeds can grow, in which beauty takes root and shapes the imagination and daily life of society.

Too often, the cultural efforts of Christians are derivative (simply imitating the “secular” culture with a Jesus-twist) or speak almost exclusively to other Christians. But Fujimura’s concept of Culture Care calls us beyond this introspective existence.

“Western Christianity in the twentieth century fell into an ‘adjective’ existence with Christian music, Christian art, Christian plumbers. Even today, artists are often valued in the church only if they create art for the church, or at least, ‘Christian art.’ Culture Care will mean moving away from such labels…I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being.”

In this mentality, Fujimura sees artists functioning as “border-stalkers” (think of Strider/Aragorn in Lord of the Rings) who are able to cross boundaries with ease and mediate between diverse groups. Fujimura’s vision here of what an artist’s role might become in relation to the church and the surrounding culture is especially insightful, and he gives very practical and helpful advice for those seeking to fulfill that role.

Fujimura leaves us with a number of “what ifs” to spur or thinking about what might be possible if we took Culture Care seriously. Here are a few of my favorites.

What if each of us endeavored to bring beauty into someone’s life today in some small way?

What if artists became known for their generosity rather than only their self-expression?

What if we committed to speaking fresh creativity and vision into culture rather than denouncing and boycotting other cultural products?

What if we saw art as gift, not just as commodity?

What if we empower the “border stalkers” in our communities, support and send them out?

What if we created songs [and other forms of art] to draw people into movements for justice and flourishing?

All in all, I believe that Culture Care is an important book, one of the few that is taking the discussion of Christian involvement in the arts and culture to a new level. If you are an artist at any level, this is an important book to read. If you are convinced of the importance of art and culture in the life of the church and/or world, this is an important book to read. And if you’re just becoming interested in the concept of art and culture as it relates to your faith, this would be a great place to start.

As I write this, I am only aware of one place to purchase the Culture Care book, and that’s through the International Arts Movement’s website (click here).

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving

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Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.
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  • Luke Todd

    Thanks Mark. Sounds like a worthwhile read.

    Aside from teaching your students the concept of Culture Care, how does this work its way into everything else at EBC? With the mission you guys have for getting students in and out without debt, how do you hold off that utilitarian mindset?

    We’ve been taking steps to place a higher value on aesthetics around here at Western, but as you can imagine, it costs money. We’re a chronically underfunded institution, so historically, artistic vision has been sacrificed on the altar of utility, and as a result, we’ve perished aesthetically.

    Of course, we wouldn’t want to beautify the campus by saddling our students with debt, but it is an interesting problem. Do you find yourselves being utilitarian in some ways [I remember the strip mall campus :)], so that you can afford to educate students who can then afford to go out and care for culture?

    • MarkBeuving

      Such a great thought, Luke. I’m not entirely sure of the answer, but I will say the concept of culture care has largely been off my radar until relatively recently, and I don’t believe that all of our institutional decisions have been made with this in mind.

      Some aspects fit very naturally with what we’re doing. For example, Fujimura’s emphasis on caring for culture as an active participant in culture (being Christian in the noun sense, rather than adding Christian as an adjective to some of our activities) has been in our DNA from the start. And bringing beauty into people’s lives in big and small ways has been a significant part of what we’re about too.

      But I think you’re hitting the nail on the head with the utilitarian question. You’re right that for an underfunded institution that values staying away from debt, aesthetics doesn’t usually become a priority. Fujimura points actually begins his book with a wonderful example of his wide spending money in flowers when they were barely getting food on the table. I think this is something that I need to think more deeply about, and I imagine we’ll be having discussions along this lines as a school as well.

      One thought that may be important here is that while pursuing beauty can become expensive, it can also be done simply, in small ways, and often that simple beauty can be a more sincere gesture. For example, while we operate with a bare-bones strip mall campus, every year we do an Art & Music Benefit where our students create many types of art that we share with each other and with the community. This gesture costs us very little, but it demonstrates the value of beauty and enriches the students and the school.

      Anyway, I’ve got a ton more thinking to do on this front. I’d be very interested to hear how you guys navigate this at Western.

      • Luke Todd

        Thanks Mark. Appreciate your thoughts and interaction. I haven’t read the book yet, so my thoughts have been stirred up but not developed.

        One of the things we’ve been working on at Western is developing an aesthetic vision. We’re an old, historic campus, and are constantly dealing with repairs, remodels, office moves, and so on. When I worked on the maintenance team, plenty of money was spent on all these necessary and important projects, but there wasn’t a lot of thought going into what the campus should actually look like. Each project was done well, and usually looked fine, but there was no coherence, and those making decisions about interior and exterior design weren’t necessarily gifted in doing so.

        We have a style guide that helps us maintain consistency and beauty in our website, communications, brochures, etc. We need the same thing for the campus itself. You’re right on point when you say that beauty can be simple and inexpensive. One of these ways is in simply valuing beauty, so that any money spent contributes to that goal, rather than just serving a utilitarian purpose. Our campus will never reach the opulence of a medieval cathedral, but beauty that stays within one’s means is more beautiful than that built on student debt or indulgences.

        There is a great artistic challenge in doing a lot with a little. Innovation and creativity must thrive when options and funds are limited. We couldn’t afford to replicate the interior design of some of the great coffee shops around Portland if we wanted to, but perhaps that will drive us to create a new kind of beauty with what we have. This has been off the radar for such a long time at Western that there will continue to be a bit of an uphill battle, but I’ve been really encouraged with some of the changes that are already taking place.

        One particular challenge we face is the different ideals of beauty to be found in an organization that is as generationally diverse as ours. Most of the decision makers are my elders, and some of them might think the pinnacle of aesthetic perfection is Olive Garden chic, with a large Thomas Kinkade painting on the wall, sanctifying everything (I actually heard Olive Garden used as a positive model that we might emulate in a particular interior design situation). Some people love that stuff, and I certainly don’t want to set myself up as the final arbiter of beauty, but it gives you an idea of the difficulty in working these things out practically.

        Bottom line, if a person or institution values beauty, or decides to actively participate in culture, beautiful things will happen. Maybe slowly, surely different in every case, taking many different forms, but beautiful, creative, and good all the same.

        • MarkBeuving

          I love it! I like that idea of a style guide for a campus. And I couldn’t agree more when you say that repairs are already being made, so why not give consideration to embodying beauty in these buildings that will still be useful, but hopefully not utilitarian?

          And that bit about the Olive Garden was awesome. 🙂