Discover more from The Sage Forum
Living Like A Sage at the Intersection of Faith & Culture
The intersection between culture and Christianity has always been of interest to me. Over the years, my understanding of both has been expanded. I no longer see just one culture, but many: family, church, neighborhood, workplace, and many more. Christianity, of course, also has distinct cultures. Interestingly, my husband and I have had more trouble fitting in to implicit church cultures than we have in the broader culture.
Cultures are everywhere, and thankfully, so are Christians.
Years ago, I was studying Acts in a Bible study, and someone made a comment on Acts 1:8 has stuck with me all this time. It reads, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We are God’s witnesses, the teacher said. The question is, what kind of witnesses will we be?
Christians engage the culture whether they realize it or not, by how they live, what they care about, how they spend their money, and how they love. People notice. If they know you, they know you are a Christian. You are God’s witness.
As we speak with family, neighbors, coworkers, fellow church members and acquaintances, we are God’s witness. Whether we interact with dozens of people on an average day or only a couple, we are God’s witnesses. It doesn’t matter if our communication is on social media or face to face, we are God’s witnesses.
God places his people to be witnesses to those in hospitals, businesses, classrooms, offices, warehouses, and homes, and everywhere else. Every interaction can be considered a divine appointment. Extroverts may have more opportunity than introverts by nature of their temperaments, but the Spirit of God can move any of us to speak words of truth.
This challenges me to keep that fact uppermost in my mind, but I often forget. When I’m in a hurry in a grocery checkout line or sitting in traffic, my example is lacking. Hopefully, there are other times when my witness speaks loudly for a good, gracious, and loving God.
Sometimes the topic of engaging our culture can sound like the stuff of think tanks or debate forums. But we all live at the intersection of faith and culture right where we are. In this month’s issue, Michelle Van Loon offers some thoughts that can guide us all toward meaningful, gracious cultural engagement. We’ve got some links to other pieces that can add to the discussion, a round-up of some media picks from some of our Sage Forum contributors, and a link to an excellent interview with Dorothy Greco about marriage for those of us in our Sage years.
We’re grateful for you, Sages!
Judy Allen for the Sage Forum Team
Cultural Engagement: There Is No One-Size Fits-All Rule
Jackie loves to read historical fiction, create lap quilts for residents of a nearby nursing home, and spend much time in quiet prayer. She logs onto her computer only to check her email every couple of days. If she watches a video, her taste runs to classic movies or an occasional nature documentary. She seeks to honor God by quietly serving others and living a lifestyle dedicated to keeping herself unstained by the world.
Daisy loves to read contemporary nonfiction about current issues, volunteers weekly at her local homeless shelter, and prays for God’s guidance as she writes letters to the editor about local school board elections. She is online throughout the day, and her media viewing habits lean toward whatever film or streaming series is getting lots of buzz in her circles so she can engage in conversation about the topic. She seeks to honor God by engaging the world.
Are you more like Jackie? Or are you a Daisy? Are you more comfortable separating yourself from the coarse divisiveness of the world, or are you a person poised to plunge headfirst into the fray?
Followers of Jesus have always wrestled with what kind of cultural engagement honors God and helps us grow in holiness. Many point to the story of busy Martha and pensive Mary found in Luke 10:38-42 to note that Jesus honored Mary’s desire to sit at his feet. (I’ve long suspected Martha’s frustration about Mary not pulling her weight in kitchen duty was actually rooted in her own desire to sit at the feet of Jesus instead of being in the back room kneading bread dough.)
The risen Jesus also told his followers to go into the world and make disciples of all peoples, and his command did not contain any exclusions for those given to a quiet, reflective approach to their faith. Nor was there an age limit on this command.
Church history contains the accounts of contemplatives like the early Desert Fathers and Mothers, and activists including Martin Luther, William and Claire Booth of the Salvation Army, and Dorothy Day. Most of us probably live in the space between a fully contemplative life and one that is defined by activism.
This space between the two looks to me a lot like a very narrow road. An activist’s life and a contemplative’s life may both be a quest toward virtue, but both extremes can also carry the temptation toward pride and be fueled by fear, albeit of different things. Our Jackies may loathe the intrusion of the outside world on the quiet lifestyle they’ve cultivated. Daisy and her kin might be afraid of the upheaval in our culture that is leading to a seemingly dark, uncertain future. (Of course, those of us who find ourselves living somewhere between the two poles are not exempt from those same temptations, often happening at the same time!)
How are Jackie, Daisy, and the rest of us to engage sagely with the world as we move through our second half of life? There is no single answer, but there are a couple of helpful principles that can guide us as we prayerfully reflect, then act:
(1) Jesus calls us to love God and to love our neighbor. Whether we’re given to activism or a contemplative’s life, this command will challenge our own comfort with our preferences about how we’d like to relate to God, ourselves, and the world around us. It is a one-size, fits-all command, but it is far from a tidy formula. Daily, each of us must answer the question about what it looks like to do so in the place and time in which we live, with the people around us, and using the gifts and experience God has given us.
(2) For activists and contemplatives alike, author Frederick Buechner’s well-known quote from his book Whistling In The Dark offers guidance about where and how to interact with our culture:
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.
Please note that if you’re not given to tears, these words still apply to you. What moves you, angers you, saddens you, or stirs unexpected hope in you? Tears, and the emotions they represent, are a signal that something important is happening around us or to us. Tears reveal and heal. Sometimes our tears are an invitation to step away from the fray, rest, and pray. Sometimes those tears alert you to a place of sacrificial service. The emotions that unlock tears (whether we weep or not) can serve to awaken us to God, the world he loves, and the role he may be calling us to play right where we are.
What advice can you add to these thoughts? What practices and ideas have guided you as you’ve navigated how to engage the culture?
Additional reading on wise cultural engagement:
September Media Picks From Members of The Sage Forum Team
[BOOK] Everything Sad is Untrue: (a true story) This novel by Daniel Nayeri is the story of his life coming from a life of luxury and privilege in Irag to a life of struggle and hardship as a refugee in Oklahoma. The author tells his story through the eyes of his thirteen-year-old self. His mother, a Shiite Muslim from an important family converts to Christianity and therefore must flee from Iraq to save her life. The story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. (SF) Editor’s note: Scroll to the bottom of this newsletter to learn about an excellent April 2024 event that features Nayeri and many other writers. Some from The Sage Forum team will be there, and we’re hosting a pre-event gathering. You’re invited!
[BOOK] Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America by Russell Moore is worth your time and reflection if you’re trying to make sense of the relationship between the Evangelical world and our culture. Moore had a very public parting of the ways not long ago with his long-time spiritual home and former employer, the Southern Baptist Church, over both politics and the way in which the denomination handled cases of abuse by church leaders. But this book is anything but a “burn the bridge you just crossed” volume. Instead, it is a revealing, unsettling, and ultimately hopeful call for Evangelicals to return to their first love, Jesus…or perhaps to fall in love with him for the first time. (MV)
[VIDEO-Paramount+] Joe Pickett. Joe Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming, and he writes tickets for minor infractions that get him into major difficulties. He is a straight arrow, has a difficult past, doesn’t give up, and he and his wife are always kind to those in need. The series is engaging, doesn’t have much obscenity or nudity, and worth a look. (JA)
[BOOK] A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung. Chung has taken her pain and loss and made them into something beautiful. Extremely well-written memoir detailed the author's attempt to better understand her adoptive parents, her own place in the world, and what it looks like to say goodbye to her mother and father. (DG)
[VIDEO–Tubi] Two Weeks--This 2006 movie stars Sally Field, who plays the role of a single mother dying of cancer. When she discovers that she has two weeks to live, she summons her four adult children. Although Rotten Tomatoes panned the movie, I really liked it. Having gone through a similar time with my mom, I recognized myself and my siblings in this movie. Sitting around watching someone die yields many uncomfortable, emotional moments and yet it also yields some life-changing, relationship-changing moments. (AR)
[BOOK} Symphony of Secrets by Brendan Slocumb. An excellent page-turner novel about a music professor, Bren Hendricks, who was asked to transcribe the recently found music of a 5th opera by a renowned composer, Frederick Delaney. The Delaney foundation gave him the opportunity to receive an education and is largely responsible for his music success. Bern asks his friend, Ebony, to assist him with some of the technical work, and the two of them begin to find evidence that Delaney wasn't all he pretended to be. (JA)
[PODCAST] My 10 Most Memorable Books. I'm a big fan of Kendra Adache's The Lazy Genius Podcast and I especially loved this episode where she shares her ten most memorable books: the book that got her hooked on reading, the book that introduced her to a favorite genre, the book that changed her views on an important topic, books that got her through difficult seasons. I don't share Kendra's love for all of her favorite genres but loved the idea of looking back on my life and remembering books that made me love reading, made a significant change in my relationship with God, helped my marriage, or influenced key decisions. I would love to sit down with a group of friends and discuss our most memorable books! (SF)
[BOOK] Find The Good: Unexpected Life Lessons From a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende. “People lead all kinds of interesting and fulfilling lives, but they all end,” states the author, a twenty-year resident of Haines, Alaska, population about 2,000. At that community, “awful events are followed by dozens and dozens of good deeds.” People’s greatest regrets at the end of life: working too much instead of spending time with family; not cultivating closer relationships. Another lesson: gratitude is at the heart of finding good. “We hold funerals, memorials, celebrations… to seek and to find the heart of the matter of this trip we call Life.” The many examples provided by this caring, small-town obituary writer affirm that goodness. (CD)
[VIDEO–Amazon Prime] Where Hope Grows--Kristoffer Polaha portrays an alcoholic, former baseball player, single dad to a teenage daughter in this 2014 movie. He randomly connects with a young man with Down syndrome, who goes by the nickname "Produce" because he works in the produce section of a local grocery store. The friendship between the two of them grows in fits and starts and includes Produce inviting his new friend to church. I liked the gritty portrayal of the main character's fight with alcoholism, but I especially liked the well-developed character Produce. He steals the show. (AR)
[BOOK] Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. “My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another.” Lamott calls them lily pads; mine were more like stepping stones. But, as she explains, the Holy Spirit very rarely respects one’s comfort zones. I had read her classic Bird by Bird, Help, Thanks, Wow, and Stitches, but Traveling Mercies remained on my Wish List until now. Lamott’s characteristic somewhat irreverent humor and shoot-from-the-hip candor did not disappoint. Her story is still fresh after nearly 25 years since publication. (CD)
Been married for a while? This conversation is for you!
Sage Forum contributor Dorothy Greco has great insight about the challenges and opportunities of marriage at midlife. This half-hour conversation is well worth your time. And do check out The Sage Forum You Tube Channel for other meaningful content about faith, growth, and maturity in the second half of life.
Thinking About Attending an Excellent Writers + Readers Event? We are, too!
The slate of speakers at HopeWords 2024 includes Daniel Nayeri, the author of Everything Sad Is Untrue, along with a fantastic mix of other writers. Click here to learn more. Some from the Sage Forum team will be there, and we’re hosting a special gathering for our friends the morning of April 12th before HopeWords kicks off later that afternoon! Contact us if you’d like to be added to our list for more information about our gathering.
Coming in October’s Sage Forum newsletter: The spiritual side of menopause. We’d welcome your thoughts, frustrations, and questions about this topic!