March 2016 – The Cultural Way of Being
by Geoff Hall on March 31, 2016
Five years ago, ‘The Cultural Way of Being’ was published.
(All quotes are from the Kindle Edition). TCWB was at the time, a kind of manifesto of intent, moving on from the Wilderness into the postmodern ‘desert of the real’, but still finding the sand in my socks, shoes and the pockets of my threadbare, holey jeans.
About 30 years ago, I read Herman Dooyeweerd’s ‘The Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options’’. Handed to me by Richard Russell, it was a challenging book, especially as it called for cultural power and efficacy, at a period when I was unemployed for most of the time.
“Insofar as power has been entrusted to [us] as a creature, it is always cultural. It implies a historical calling and task of formation for which the bearer of power is responsible and of which [we] must give an account.” [Herman Dooyeweerd, p67]
Heavy stuff, but the whole idea of having this kind of cultural power for an ‘historical calling and task of formation’ depressed me; for how could a working-class young young adult in Hartlepool ever hope to have a formative role within society?
My whole desire was never to play in the sub-cultural sand-box with my toys. I never felt at ease there and wanted to be a part of mainstream culture, because that’s where my gifts were taking me. Even back then, I thought along those lines, or at least it was stirring within me. But it all seemed like part of a grand design that I couldn’t possibly participate in. But the quote below seemed to make sense. Dooyeweerd spoke about it this way, of,
“…the Cultural Way of Being. Cultural activity… always consists in giving form to material in free control over the material. It consists in giving form according to free design.”
Hall, Geoffrey; Lorensson, Chris; Hall, Mark (2011-07-11). The Cultural Way of Being (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 126-128). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.
My internal paradox was that I didn’t believe that ‘free design’ could be achieved as an artist when you were always trying to fit in a message and never understanding that the art itself was the ‘message’. (Yes, even then maybe McLuhan was having a sub-conscious influence on me.)
So, that pointed to the first step of the process and my aim not to be a propagandist, but of allowing the art I would produce, to speak for itself. But a strange sense of completeness didn’t follow after that. Yes, I was and to some degree still am, shaking out the grains of sand from my shoes and in many ways Dooyeweerd’s Reformational philosophy still appeared aimed at people who were fortunately located in a culturally powerful class of citizens and not for someone coming from the working class north-east of England, who couldn’t find a job. (This was the 1980’s and Thatcher was like a rampant lion threatening our very way of life. In fact it was more than threatened, it was destroyed).
What I learnt gradually, (over some decades) through people like Craig Bartholomew, who allowed me to write for “The Big Picture” magazine, was that it takes community to make a difference and not isolated, autonomous individuals. This led me to writing this passage in The Cultural Way of Being,
“For when artists gather together in a creative community which shares freely with one another, when they are assisted by publishers and gallery owners, patrons and soul-mates, then art can move from the personally expressive to the culturally formative and historically potent.”
Hall, Geoffrey; Lorensson, Chris; Hall, Mark (2011-07-11). The Cultural Way of Being (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 120-122). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.
This is what we lack today, a lively, discursive community within which we can play, and be culturally formative…as well as redemptive.
Paul wrote to a bunch of dissidents, those rebelling against the power of Rome.
“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides [everything!]. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.”
Hall, Geoffrey; Lorensson, Chris; Hall, Mark (2011-07-11). The Cultural Way of Being (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 196-199). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.
A topical theme, this resurrection life. But again it is something we cannot live or express alone. Our looking up is not to a secret heavenly realm, looking to escape earthly torment, but to what is going on around Christ here on earth; for the resurrection is for here and now, to make a difference, to give away free samples of salt and light to those who live in darkness and need to reinvigorate their taste buds with a pinch of salt in the dish we call life.
Alas, we seem to have locked away the source of light in a safe place, along with the salt, so that it won’t ruin, to save it for a rainy day, or an apocalyptic day of hailstorms and locusts. What we have seen over the last century of culture-making is an abandonment of the mainstream for the safe and quiet waters of the sub-culture; it’s a protective rationale, when your God is set in the context of the world and strangely appears smaller. Sound the retreat!
“Our evacuation from the cultural domain has led to a lack of physical evidence for the life of God. Our evacuation from the arts and media has led to a lack of perception of God—of Creation in all its glory, the sheer wonder of human life, of love, of intimacy and beauty.”
Hall, Geoffrey; Lorensson, Chris; Hall, Mark (2011-07-11). The Cultural Way of Being (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 280-282). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.
The Cultural Way of Being is something we should aspire to, because it is something at the very core of our being that stirs the desire to cultivate a new way of art-making, a new way of life. It’s all because that is what God is like, who is at the very core of our being making things new. You can learn more here at Upptacka Press