After over a decade of teaching an Arts and Culture class at Abilene Christian University, you’d think I’d have it figured out by now. Truth is, I’m in my annual panic.
It’s a bit of ritual, to emerge from the daily privilege of family, work, and more work, to raise my head and try to get a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in our world. It’s always stunning, but this year’s process has been a little unsettling. Maybe it’s the transition from paid ministry to free-lance whatever, but what’s clear to me this time around is that my views on the relationship of culture, art, Christ, and the church are in a state of deep flux. New information on brain studies, the rise of social justice and globalization, my personal dive into the poetry of Csezlaw Milosz, reflections on three years of professional ministry in a local church setting, and my lack of creative writing for those same three years…all of this converges to create new questions, new dilemmas, new challenges, and new calls to work.
As I think about being twenty-something years old in today’s world (both my kids), as these students will be, I wonder what I’d want to hear. What are the stories they are telling themselves about their experience, their faith, their world, their relationships, and their hopes? What do they think reality is? What do understand of how their inner lives are impacted by the sensory input hammering on them hour by hour every day? What do I understand of that? How does “story” get filtered by reason and imagination, so that we can “handle” whatever’s coming at us? What in the world does the Matthew-Mark-Luke-John Christ have to say to a media-saturated, media-mediated culture where every day offers a kaleidoscope of choices on moral, ethical, and aesthetic possibilities? The “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” are coming constantly, whizzing in, arcing toward those regions that lay between spirit and soul where the Spirit of God does his best work. Question is, is he the only surgeon at work in there?
Christ and culture: it’s an old question. Assimilate? Separate? Confront? Transform? How about, hang on for dear life? Some days it feels like that’s the best anyone can do.
But see, brain-o’-mine, I’m on to you now. They say you have a negative bias, so don’t think I’m going to roll over and let you get away with dumping your crap at my house. The “I” behind all that activity of yours is the story-teller, and I’m structuring along a different line. Hang on if you want, but I’m taking transformation. Change the world. Change the cheerleader. Hmmm. When I first typed that, I was making a joke (Heroes). But now, I think I’ll take it.
I know some of what I think. Time to discover some more.
As for the students in my class, I can’t wait to hear the stories they’re telling.
Protagonists pushing back the dark, all of them…