Engaging the culture?

I’ve been ruminating on this post for over a week now, and it has taken quite a different turn from where I started out.  I’m saving all those other, somewhat controversial thoughts, and maybe I’ll do another post later.

After our electoral loss in November, conservatives and others on the losing side began to do a little introspection. “Why won’t they love us?”  Well, we did pick a rather unlovable guy. No offense to Mitt, but he wasn’t likable enough.  “But rationally, Romney and Republicans are a better pick! $16 trillion debt! Rising unemployment! Millions permanently leaving the workforce!”  Yeah… rational.  The electorate is very rational.

But perhaps the loudest cry was, “We have to engage the culture. It’s not a political fight, it’s a cultural fight.”

But what does “engage the culture” mean exactly?  And can we “engage” the culture? We can engage individuals and groups of people, but can we engage culture? We can create culture. We can be influenced by culture, or we can seek to influence culture. We can counter, debate, question, ignore, mock, parody, or analyze culture. Mostly what we seem to do is mimic the culture.

We primarily fail at creating culture by telling stories because we’ve missed the importance of those stories.  Actually, we don’t tell stories much at all. But when we do, I think we often err on two sides.

On one side, we tend to simplistic morality tales. Too often, we tell over the top, heavy-handed stories where you couldn’t possibly miss the point if you tried. They tend to the precious and the saccharine: Lifetime specials cleaned up for a Christian audience. Christian romances, I’m looking at you.  You want an example of good story telling flowing from a biblical worldview? Look at C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Look at Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. We shy away from complex, troublesome characters, from hard story lines and (sometimes) sad endings. We want everything tied up neatly in a bow. Life is messy and good stories stay true to that reality. (Often, but not always.  The Hawk and the Dove is an excellent example of a good story. Got more? Leave ’em in the comments. I’m always looking for a good story, be it book, movie, or what have you.)

The other ditch we fall into is the previously mentioned mimicry. We say, “This is what the people like. Let’s do this, with a conservative message!” Yeah, let’s do a conservative-themed Roman Circus. Our lions will only eat bad guys! The medium is the message. You can’t put a “good message” on filth and expect people to just take your good message and be unaffected by the filth.  If, in fact, our ideas and beliefs are falling into disfavor because we’ve lost ground culturally, aren’t we saying that this culture has produced values and beliefs with which we disagree, that are in fact harmful and destructive? If we’ve lost ground on ideas of individual liberty, familial responsibility, the importance of the work ethic, or whatever it is that you believe we’ve lost ground on culturally, why would we want to mimic that culture?

So how do we create culture and impact/counter/engage our culture for good?

These drugs are meant to inhibit an enzyme cialis generika 5mg called phosphodiesterase type five (PDE5). It has been the most popular drug solution ever to treat male india viagra impotence. Is a sitz bath good for urinary tract treatment in Singapore, there are viagra sales canada many urology clinics. Tell your doctor immediately if any side effect is very serious and one that all prospective users ought to consider before levitra online no prescription to combat their erectile dysfunction. The solution is telling good stories, good meaning both virtuous and excellent. To tell good stories, we need to know good stories. At the Mom Heart conference I attended this weekend, Sally Clarkson said, “Story is what Jesus used to capture hearts.” The bulk of the Bible is stories: the story of God and the smaller stories of men and women of God.  My job as a mother is to encourage my children to take up their roles as heroes and heroines in the story of God.  Stories, whether in books, songs, plays, movies, television shows, and even video games, are the best way to to transmit knowledge and ideas. Stories are what we remember long after our lessons have faded. We live a story, not a textbook. So if we want to influence our culture, we must be good storytellers.

If we would be storytellers, we need to be immersed in good stories, which means primarily old stories.  C.S. Lewis, who wrote about the virtues of stories,  also talked about the virtue of reading old books.  His argument was that they aren’t to be preferred simply because they are old, but because first they’ve stood the test of time, and second, the errors they have are generally not the errors of our time and place.  “The classics” are the stories that have withstood the test of time, all the dredges have been filtered out over the years.  If what we mostly consume are current stories, we are getting both the excellent and the far more common sludge.

Most of the stories told in our culture aren’t those of virtue and heroism, they aren’t stories that inspire us to be great. Even those stories that are old stories retold tend away from greatness.  At the conference, Sarah Clarkson spoke of a professor who noted where the Lord of the Rings movies departed from the books.  He said there were minor changes to some of the characters so that rather than embracing their destiny of heroism, they only reluctantly assumed the mantle of hero.  We are a culture that shies from heroism, of greatness and virtue. Everything is smaller in our stories, and so our culture is diminished and we are smaller.

But I don’t want a small culture and I don’t want to be diminished.  I want to be as big and as bold as God has called me to be, and more importantly, I want that for my children.  I tell them stories of great heroes and heroines because I want them to be great heroes and heroines, and I want them to be excited about it. That idea is contrary to the prevalent stories of our culture, small stories, steeped in satire and sarcasm. In his daily e-letter, Jim Geraghty remarked about satire, “it’s useful for tearing down, but not building up. And I’m wondering if the cultural challenge before the Right is based more upon the need to build up certain values and ideas and less about tearing down the Left’s.”

Stories that build up, stories that inspire to greatness and heroics are the key to building the type of culture that is great and heroic.  If we want that type of culture, we must tell that type of story.  Go be a storyteller.

To be continued?

Part 2: Becoming storytellers
Part 3: Tribalism
Part 4: Seeing real people

Part 5: The key bit

5 responses to “Engaging the culture?”

  1. Cindy Watson Avatar
    Cindy Watson

    Great blog to chew on and think. Glad you said good stories! I have always sought out good stories to read, to share with my kids, to cause us to think, discuss and wrestle with the ideas in the stories.

    1. April Avatar

      I think we kind of instinctively know that good stories are important for kids (however, I think we brush off the harm BAD stories can do), but good stories are important for everyone, not just kids. And I think everyone–young and old–crave good stories.

  2. […] does this have to do with engaging the culture? Because when I started out this whole accidental series, I wrote, “[C]an we “engage” the culture? We can engage individuals and groups of people, […]

  3. […] Read Brandon’s article at Misfit Politics My full series on engaging the culture is here. Part 3 is where I look at tribalism. For a facepalm worthy attack on Christian hip hop from inside the church and the excellent rebuttals, check out this post from The Gospel Coalition. Original panel video  here. (It’s been taken off Vimeo.) […]

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