Got Culture?

Culture is much more extensive and important than we think.

A Primer on Culture (1)

For many of us, perhaps, the word, "culture," is something we use with reference to ourselves only occasionally. We tend to think of culture in vaguely aesthetic and even snobbish terms, as something we're aware of, somewhat familiar with, but not all that keen to engage - too much.

"Culture" conjures up images of symphony orchestras, stage productions, and books of literature and poetry. Everyone ought to have a little culture, but too much culture can make you snooty and boorish.

Americans have a history of distinguishing "high brow" culture from "low brow" culture. Whichever of these perspectives provides a person's vantage point on the world, the other is looked askance at and either ignored or reviled.

But culture is much more extensive and important than what we tend to think of in either "high brow" or "low brow" categories. Human beings are creatures of culture; we can't live without it. By our culture we define who we are, sustain ourselves each day, and enrich our lives as fully as we can. Culture is not just concerts and plays or comics and prime time. Culture is whatever human beings make or use to give meaning, substance, and joy to their lives.

Culture consists of artifacts - the everyday items of life: tools, computers, clothing, furnishings, songs, and the like. But culture also consists of various conventions that help to organize our lives - our local dialect, for example, holidays, traffic laws, or the manners and protocols of civility we practice with one another. Finally, culture becomes embodied in various institutions - families, schools, the marketplace, governments, voluntary agencies, and so forth.

We can never escape culture; we cannot avoid making use of it. And Paul teaches that all our cultural engagements and activities - even down to the ways we take our meals - are rich with potential to bring glory to God (1 Cor. 10.31).

Put otherwise, there is a distinctly Christian way of doing whatever we do, a way that embodies the wisdom and knowledge of Christ, serves the needs of others, and directs everyone's thoughts to God. Our calling as believers is to discover that way and to live it fully.

Culture matters. And it matters how we understand and use the culture by which we define, sustain, and enrich our own lives.

Got culture? You bet you do. It is one of God's many gifts which He bestows in the full expectation that His grateful and resourceful people will take what He gives them and use it to honor Him.

Our lives in culture, even in the everyday, routine, mindless cultural activities in which we engage, are fraught with potential for bearing witness to God. The better we understand culture, the better use we will make of it for just such a purpose.

Related texts: Matthew 25.14-30; Romans 12.1, 2; Hebrews 2.1-9

A conversation starter: "Do you think culture mattters? Does it matter to you? In what ways?"

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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