Category: On Call in Culture

FLOW_EXILEIn the various discussions surrounding the Acton Institute’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a common response has been to call into question the basic notion of Christians existing in a state of “exile.”

The general complaint is that it’s somehow hyperbolic, given the privileged position of the modern West in the scope of human history. From here, things typically descend into detailed historical debates about the realities of America vs. the Middle East vs. the Roman Empire vs. Babylonian rule, and so on.

But as Russell Moore now helpfully points out, such a critique assumes a false definition of “exile” that most simply misses the point.

Exile has nothing to do with some temporal decline from this earthly rule to that — in our case, from some nostalgic memory of a “Christian nation” to the present “post-Christian” dysphoria. “The political and cultural climate of America does not make us exiles,” Moore reminds us, and such a perspective “just continues the triumphalist rhetoric of the last generation.”

Indeed, Christians have never been “at home” in America: (more…)

kindness-heart-image-orgspringSurely, there is not one social conservative or conservative Christian that has not been shaken by the events in our nation over the last week or two. It seems as if everything we know and believe to be true has been cast aside and trampled upon. Should we take the Benedict option? The Buckley option? Should we just put our heads down and go quietly about our lives, hoping no one notices us?

The New York Times’ David Brooks has an idea worth pondering. First, he says (as have many others), we must realize we live in a post-Christian culture. (I think most of us have gotten this point, loud and clear.) Perhaps though, Brooks opines, we are now in a post-cultural war culture as well. It’s over – at least to a point.

Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.

Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.

(more…)

Kid_superhero_muscle12The modern age has introduced many blessings when it comes to child-rearing and child development, offering kids ever more opportunities for education, play, personal development, and social interaction.

Yet as time, leisure, and wealth continue to increase, and as we move farther away from years of excessive and intensive child labor, we ought to be wary of falling into a different sort of lopsided lifestyle — one that over-elevates other goods (e.g. study, practice, play) to the detriment of good old-fashioned labor.

As I’ve written previously, the mundane and sometimes painful duties of day-to-day life have largely vanished from modern childhood, with parents continuing to insulate their children from any activity that might involve risk, pain, or (gasp!) boredom. Given our own newfound conveniences and pleasures, we adults suffer from this same insulation and pleasure-seeking, but especially when it comes to our kids, who are entering this peculiar world in a unique stage of development, we ought to be especially attentive of the formative fruits of productive labor.

When it comes to the cultivation of character and the human imagination, what do we lose in a world wherein work, service, and sacrifice have been largely replaced by superficial pleasures and one-dimensional modes of formation? What do we lose if our children learn only to play hard or study well, without also encountering a long day’s toil on a routine basis? (more…)

The StudentThe church has found a renewed interest in matters of “faith-work integration,” but while we hear plenty about following the voice of God in business and entrepreneurship, we hear very little about the world of academia. What does it mean, as a Christian, to be called to the work of scholarship?

In Scholarship, a newly released collection of convocation addresses by Abraham Kuyper, we find a strong example of the type of reflection we ought to promote and embrace. For Kuyper, the call to academic life is a “sacred calling,” one that demands wise and creative stewardship of the mind and a Christianly posture and position that connects with each other area of the Christian life.

Although the Economy of Wisdom may differ from other spheres in its emphases and modes of operation, those of us called thereto are at a fundamental level propelled by the very same stewardship mandate: be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth through truth, knowledge, and wisdom.

As Kuyper explains, the scholar’s very mind is his “field of labor,” one that must be cultivated actively and attentively:

In your mind lies your glory as scholars. That is your field of labor. Not merely to live, but to know that you live and how you live, and how things around you live, and how all that hangs together and lives out of the one efficient cause that proceeds from God’s power and wisdom. Other people, when evening falls, have to have sown and plowed, counted and calculated; but you have to have thought, reflected, analyzed, until at last a harvest of your own thoughts may germinate and ripen on the field of your consciousness. (more…)

mourn-work-woundI recently wrote about “wounding work,” a term Lester DeKoster assigns to work that, while meaningful and fruitful, is “cross bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing” in deep and profound ways. Take the recent reflections of a former Methodist minister, who, upon shifting from ministry into blue-collar work at a factory, struggled to find meaning and purpose.

“I am not challenged at all in this work,” he writes, “and I want something more.”

Although DeKoster helps us recognize that meaning and purpose do reside in such work, and that our day-to-day labor is not exempt from the sacrifice and obedience bound up in the Christian life, the pain for those of us in the midst of all this is likely to persist, even if for a season.

On this, Evan Koons continues the discussion over at the FLOW blog: “To stress that all work is about gift-giving, to marvel at its vast community of relationships, or allude to the suffering one share’s with Christ by remaining in said environments, doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant.”

What, then, are we to do amid such suffering? How ought we to respond, whether as wounded workers ourselves, or as those who simply serve and disciple alongside those who suffer? As Koons explains, there is no quick-and-easy cookie-cutter “solution,” spiritually, economically, or otherwise, and going down the paths to peace that Christ does provide will inevitably involve those same familiar features of our fallen world.

(more…)

gleaners-milletIn recent years, we’ve seen a renewed focus on the deeper value, meaning, and significance of our daily work, particularly across the realm of evangelicalism. Yet as easy as it may be for some to alter old attitudes and begin appreciating the gift of creative service, it can be extremely difficult for others — and often for good reason.

Indeed, until the last few centuries, the bulk of humanity was confined to activities that, while often fruitful, meaningful, and God-glorifying in their basic aim and end, did not leverage individual “giftings” in ways we would deem “fulfilling” or “dignifying” today.

Our economic situation has surely improved in the years since, with vocational opportunities and overall prosperity continuing to expand and improve in profound and unexpected ways. But many still find themselves in positions or careers that are difficult to endure, from the anxieties of a Wall Street executive to those of an underpaid farm hand.

Each of us is going to encounter our own unique challenges, driven by and toward our own particular calling. Although we ought to try our best to improve the alignment of such service in a fallen world, the persistent need for hard and rough work is bound to remain as long as it remains a fallen world. (more…)

Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura with his personal copy of The Four Holy Gospels at Acton University 2014

What does it mean for Christians to use our gifts to fulfill God’s purposes in cultural flourishing? Makoto Fujimura, internationally renowned artist, intellectual, and founder of the International Arts Movement, is well placed to address this question. In this edition of Radio Free Acton, Fujimura joins host Paul Edwards to discuss his art, his story of faith, and how a “culture care” mindset can change the way we look at a wide range of issues. It’s a wide ranging conversation, and you can listen via the audio player below.

You can download your own free copy of Mako’s plenary address from last week’s Acton University conference – “Culture Care: From Common Grace to Loving Your Enemies” –  at the Acton Institute Digital Dowload Store; it’s available in the “2014 Evening Talks” category. While you’re there, be sure to check out our still-growing collection of lecture audio from the conference; nearly 90 lectures are currently available for purchase including talks from the likes of Peter Kreeft, Peter Heslam, Judge Andrew Napolitano, and Ross Douthat, among many others. And don’t forget to check out For The Life Of The World: Letters To The Exiles as well in order to see Mako’s contribution to Acton’s latest curriculum series.

Additionally, you can follow Mako on Twitter: @iamfujimura; Be sure to check out the Radio Free Acton archive; And last, and certainly not least, be sure to follow the amazing @ActonUnicorn twitter feed as well. If Makoto Fujimura enjoys it, why shouldn’t you as well?

dusk“We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.” -Hans Urs von Balthasar

Last night, I took a brief bike ride through a nearby woods, an activity that’s become somewhat of a routine after the kids are in bed and my wife is at ease. After a long day at work and the rough-and-tumble that occurs upon arriving home, it serves as a brief respite before assuming the remaining tasks of the day.

But though it’s intended as a time of rest and prayer and wonder, I often give way to my more modernistic impulses, listening to a podcast or an audiobook through my iPhone to make every last second of my day “count” toward something “productive.”

Last night, I did just that. But as I came whizzing down the gravel path through one of the darker, more shaded areas of the woods, I suddenly spotted two deer — a mother and a fawn — standing right in the middle of the path. I slowed down, moving closer and closer before stopping just a yard or two away. I had expected the deer to run away, but to my surprise, neither did. I turned off my headlight and pulled my noisy headphones out of my ears, standing eerily close and looking them straight in the eyes for 30 or so long and stirring seconds. (more…)

exile“What is our salvation actually for?”

It’s a question that many Christians neglect to ask or seriously consider, and even for those of us who do, we tend toward answers far too focused on ourselves — our personal well-being, piety, or pathway to heaven.

But what if salvation isn’t just about us? What if it’s about something deeper, wider, and richer?

This is the question at the center of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a newly released 7-part series from the Acton Institute that seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Guided by storyteller Evan Koons, the documentary includes Acton researchers Stephen Grabill and Anthony Bradley, as well as other powerful thinkers and doers such as Amy Sherman, Tim Royer, John Perkins, and upcoming Acton University speaker, Makoto Fujimura.

The series is debuting nationally at this week’s Q Conference in Nashville, where Anthony Bradley is giving a related talk on “Life in Exile: How Do We Practice Being a Counterculture For the Common Good?”

Watch the trailer below:

“We are strangers in a strange land,” explains Stephen Grabill, yet “we are meant to make something of the world.” Our salvation is not about holding God’s gifts for ourselves, but rather, about being gift-givers to all and for all. Salvation is for the life of the world. (more…)

The following flowchart comes from “Theology That Works,” a 60-page manifesto on discipleship and economic work written by Greg Forster and published by the Oikonomia Network.

Given our tendency to veer too far in either direction (stewardship or economics), and to confine our Christian duties to this or that sphere of life, the diagram is particularly helpful in demonstrating the overall interconnectedness of things.

Oikonomia flowchart, diagram, faith, work, economics

(more…)