Creating Culture whether “Sacred” or “Secular”

As a bit of a follow-up to the last post, I wanted to share this excerpt from Andy Crouch’s Culture-Making – it’s a fabulous book, you should read it – and he’s coming out with a new one called Playing God which I can’t wait to get my hands on. This part is describing his time doing campus ministry at Harvard:

We labored under a subtle but real dichotomy between sacred and secular, granting full legitimacy only to callings to “ministry” under the pretext of subverting Harvard’s lure to wealth, fame and power. So we recruited more than one young associate with the rhetoric of renouncing their ambitions (we called it “leaving their nets”), only to see them struggle doggedly to produce the kind of abundance we had promised. More than one eventually left us and took up “secular” jobs – where they found a sense of freedom and joy that they had never experienced in our demanding company of workers for the gospel.

Is it possible to participate in culture, to create culture, outside of the church and experience every bit as much divine multiplication as those who work inside the church? For centuries many Christians would have answered no. A few had “vocations” – a word that still today, in Catholic contexts, refers to a specifically religious life – and the rest did not. To have a vocation was to withdraw to the edges of culture . . .

But there are two serious problems with this approach to vocation. First, even a full-time sacred agenda turns out to be no guarantee of either holiness or fruitfulness. Segmenting off a “sacred” set of cultural activities sets us up for disillusionment when the sacred specialists turn out to be no more creative and no less corruptible than their secular counterparts. Second, it becomes impossible to do justice to the biblical story, in which the whole world was created good, the first human beings were given a cultural task, not just instructed to be dutiful worshipers (unlike in other creation myths of the time), and the Son of God himself spend most of his life as a carpenter.

The religious or secular nature of our cultural creativity is simply the wrong question. The right question is whether, when we undertake the work we belie to be our vocation, we experience the joy and humility that come only when God multiplies our work so that it bears thirty, sixty and a hundredfold beyond what we could expect from our feeble inputs. Vocation – calling – becomes another word for a continual process of discernment,  examining the fruits of our work to see whether they are producing that kind of fruit, and doing all we can to scatter the next round of seed in the most fruitful places.

I would love to see more conversations taking place that help us “subvert the lure of wealth, fame and power” within the context of normal jobs and daily life. I also love the idea that we should ask whether we are experiencing joy and humility in our work.