Restoring Culture

What does your culture "mirror" about you?

Perspectives on Restoration (5) 

Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. Acts 9.39

What’s in the mirror?
In her book, House as a Mirror of Self, Clare Cooper Marcus observes, “throughout our lives, whether we are conscious of it or not, our home and its contents are very potent statements about who we are.” She adds, “Nesting, home-making is a major means of personal expression and development. We create our immediate environment and then contemplate it and are worked on by it. We find ourselves mirrored in it, see what has not been visible, and integrate the reflection back into our sense of self.” “A right home,” she insists, “can protect, heal, and restore us, express who we are now, and over time help us become who we are meant to be…we are all – all our lives – striving toward a state of wholeness, of being wholly ourselves…the places we live in are reflections of that process, and indeed the places themselves have a powerful effect on our journey toward wholeness.”

I’d like to highlight just a few phrases from these excerpts. It is important that we understand that we “create our immediate environment and then contemplate and are worked on by it.” Our environment – and everything in it – is in many ways a product of our own creative – and restorative – efforts. As we work on it, to bring it to a state of wholeness – in terms of beauty, goodness, truth, excellence, and so forth (Phil. 4.8) – it works on us, to reinforce our vision of life and keep us moving toward wholeness.

We are “mirrored in” the environment we create; put another way, the environment we create – whether our home, or how we dress or converse, or do our work – bears witness to our values, priorities, desires, and thoughts. We must work to create an environment that “can protect, heal, and restore us” and anyone who happens to enter that environment.

All this happens – in our home and all the other environments and cultural activities of our lives – “whether we are conscious of it or not…” Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whomever we’re with, we are declaring something to the world.

This invites us to consider the question as to what our homes, and what all the other environments and cultural activities of our lives, declare about the kind of person we are. What are we saying about such things as order, cleanliness, beauty, wholeness, efficiency, goodness, and truth? Are we even conscious of the fact that we take our environment with us wherever we go, and that the kind of environment we create and maintain speaks to the people in that environment about the things that matter most to us?

A certain disciple
We can imagine that Dorcas – whose friends wept at her passing, as they gladly displayed the many lovely items she had made for them – was a woman who thought long and hard about her environment. She was a disciple, a follower of Christ, and a woman “full of good works and charitable deeds” (Acts 9.36). We can imagine that the environment she took with her wherever she went was welcoming and orderly, perhaps adorned with small expressions of beauty, and abounding in good works and kindness, and that she herself must have been a gentle and edifying person in all her ways.

When Dorcas died, her loss was deeply felt. She left memories and precious gifts for the widows of Joppa, and they would likely never forget the impact her life had on them. Dorcas created a culture of goodness and left a legacy of love, beauty, kindliness, compassion, and caring for her friends. No wonder they wept so profusely, and sent for Peter to come quickly to their aid.

When the Lord raised her to life again through Peter’s word, “it became widely known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord” (v. 42).

Never underestimate the impact of a solitary life committed to Christ, especially one that is being restored and restores others through relationships of love and culture of wholeness and beauty. To the extent that we are determined and consistent in working for restoration in our own lives, and conscious of the power of our homes and other cultural environments and activities to mirror and add to that restoration, we can contribute to the restoration of the reconciled world, and make an impact on the people in our lives.

Becoming culturally conscious
Culture is one of the arenas in which God is pleased to dwell, and through which He desires to make His glory known to the world. As believers, like Dorcas, we will want to make the most of every opportunity to use everyday culture as a pointer to the Kingdom and glory of God (Eph. 5.15-17). This, at least in part, is what it means to walk as a child of the light – to let the light of Christ and His glory refract through the prisms of every aspect of our lives, so that, through all the daily details of life we are making the knowledge of God and His glory a matter of focus.We refract the objective, eternal glory of God through the unique situations, opportunities, and operations of our everyday lives. It will help us to bear in mind what Alexander Schmemann has explained, “Each ounce of matter belongs to God and is to find in God its fulfillment. Each instant of time is God’s time and is to fulfill itself as God’s eternity. Nothing is ‘neutral.’ For the Holy Spirit, as a ray of light, as a smile of joy, has ‘touched’ all things, all time – revealing all of them as precious stones of a precious temple” (For the Life of the World).

Everyday culture provides a rich mine of precious stones and a wealth of tools for restoring the reconciled world, as we bring about changes in our cultural practices that mirror the character of God and pique the curiosity of our neighbors. And, as Andy Crouch wisely observes, “The bigger the cultural change we hope for, the longer we must be willing to invest, work and wait for it” (Culture Making).

We are all Dorcas. All our culture is a mirror of who we are, what we love, and what we hope for in this world. Let us make every effort, in our homes, workplaces, and in all we do, to mirror the beauty, goodness, and truth of God as we persevere in restoring the reconciled world.

For reflection
1. What do your home and other environments and cultural activities mirror about you?

2. Christ has reconciled “all things” to God. We are called to do “all things” to the glory of God. What are the implications of this for your everyday cultural activities?

3. What should be the role of Scripture and prayer in helping you to mirror God to the world through your environments and activities?

Next steps – Preparation: Spend a few minutes meditating on the various environments you will enter today, and the aspects of culture you will engage there. Thank and praise God for each of these, and commit each one to mirroring the recconciliation of Jesus.

T. M. Moore

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T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore