Critical Cultural Consumption

One of the things I struggle with is Critical Cultural Consumption: how to “consume” things that the culture offers me (movies, music, tv, books, etc.) but in a thoughtful, intentional way (i.e. critical in the best sense) in which I take the good, true & beautiful while leaving the bad, false & ugly.

I alluded to this struggle in my last post when I referred to two of the ways that we as Christians can engage the culture: by evaluating existing culture and by creating new culture, or, to use the image I proposed at the end of the post, by being a “movie critic” or a “movie maker”. As I mentioned there, being a “movie critic” entails that “sifting” process of separating the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the true from the false when we engage or even simply “consume” things in our culture.

I know that leaving the bad, false & ugly is necessary… consuming everything the culture offers me without any thought or discernment is like eating without paying any attention to the nutritional value of the food.

Theatrical Poster

 

And while the monastic or Amish approach — leaving the world behind almost completely and consuming almost nothing from the wider culture whatsoever — might work for some, I think most of us are called to be what’s in the title of the previous post: in the world, but not of the world. That’s where the level — or better, manner — of engagement becomes a bit trickier to get right.

As I said, this is a balance I can struggle to get right… this will be one of the recurring Culture topics here at Cruciform. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear any thoughts that any of you might have: how do you maintain that balance in your own life?

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4 thoughts on “Critical Cultural Consumption”

  1. Chris,

    This is something that I think most, if not all of us, struggle with on a daily basis. In an increasingly divisive culture I find it challenging to be discerning and yet able to respond with charity. Providing meaningful and measured responses to that which is bad, false, and ugly requires constant prayer and reflection. And I say that not with a pious sense of self or our faith. Rather, how do I enter into dialogue with the culture through those relationships in my daily life…friends, family, co-workers, the grocery checkout person, etc.

    I love Pope Francis’ analogy of shepherds smelling like the sheep by spending time with them, getting to know them, and living among them. We must be able to recognize truth, goodness, and beauty and their opposites without being prideful or presumptuous about where/how we fit into that “mix”…recall the story about the two men praying in the temple (their dispositions and their prayer) and which one went away justified.

    Back to my comment on constant prayer and reflection. I find that I am most “effective” in my attempts at evangelizing others when I consider the whole person that stands before me. This requires more than minimal effort and reflection on my part when seeking to draw upon the variety of experiences, sources of knowledge, and formation that God has blessed me with.

    To put it another way, how do I respectfully enter “into the world” of messiness, stickiness, and reality of someone’s life in a way that creates a deeper understanding of the goodness, truth, and beauty that surrounds us and is given to us by God. How do I help make connections to grace by being the voice/hands/feet of God to those who are in some way confused or misguided by those ungodly aspects of culture.

    This ultimately requires us to step outside ourselves and move beyond the “idea” of Jesus and offering a compassionate, truthful encounter with Him through our life. Am I willing to recognize and embrace those opportunities to be with the sheep (through conversations, gatherings, in times of trial or failure or abandonment) that allow me to be a living witness to a culture imbued with a deep love for God and daily awareness of His love for me and the person in front of me.

    I don’t know if these thoughts fall under the category of movie maker or something much broader, but I hope they make sense and contribute to the discussion.

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    1. Great stuff Ed, thanks! Your words reminded me of a quote from Cardinal George (recently deceased) of Chicago: “you cannot evangelize what you do not love.”

      It’s so easy & tempting to stand in judgment of the culture around us, and while we can and should do so in an appropriate way, the deeper truth is found in what you say: we need enter into the messiness of the world around us, both to encounter Christ therein ourselves *and* to bring Him therein ourselves.

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  2. Chris,

    Embrace what you really enjoy in the culture. If it is NCAA basketball, fill out your brackets, load up on Doritos, and sit on your butt and cheer.

    But if your enjoyment is slight (vin Diesel movies) or it distracts from what is important, give it up.

    The culture “suck” is that which gets you because it is easy.

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