“Culture care is an act of generosity to our neighbors and culture.
Culture Care is to see our world not as a battle zone in which we’re all vying for limited resources,
but to see the world of abundant possibilities and promise. It’s ‘practicing resurrection ‘ and a Spirit-filled life and culture.”
-Makoto Fujimura 

I grew up in a pastor’s home where my father regularly shared his testimony: drunk the night before going to church with a pretty girl, using Clorets mints and English Leather cologne to mask his alcoholic scent, finding Romans 10:9 and giving his heart to Christ. His engaging story concluded with marrying that girl and accepting God’s call to preach and pastor despite a speech impediment. 

As I saw Dad’s painful story of alcoholism draw people to the saving power of Christ, I also understand how his “before Christ” past led to the conservative Christianity I was raised in. Very early on I understood that we Christians were “in the world but not of it.” We were not to spend time with non-Christians unless we were trying to win them to Christ. Christians didn’t drink, dance, watch R-rated movies or listen to secular music. 

Because I was a rule-follower, this was all good to me. Except I didn’t know how to deal with hearing really good music that wasn’t Christian. Or dancing at friend’s weddings—could we really do that? And did Jesus turn the water into actual wine or was it grape juice? Any thoughts of culture were along the lines of how to stay away and aloof versus creating and caring for. 

New Wine for a New Season
God was pleased to deposit me and my husband in Nashville, Tennessee, early in our marriage. The culture shock for us as a young, Baptist-raised couple coming into a Presbyterian church context was real. We felt like misfits in the land of cowboy boots, country music and Confederate monuments. 

But the church we partnered with to do community ministry was full of people who loved the same Jesus we did and who took the second great commandment (Mark 12:30-31) seriously—loving and serving their Black, marginalized neighbors. Enjoying table fellowship with brothers and sisters whose faith and work I respected and who responsibly enjoyed wine, was so needed. As God called us to plant a multicultural, multiethnic church, I am so grateful for that unlikely season of cultural understanding, having God crush my legalistic heart and bring new wine out of me. 

What Are We Here For?
When I think of Christians and how we relate to culture, I see our propensity to imitate rather than impact. Living in a town focused on creativity in music and the arts, I experience the “Christian” label as a niche, and I wonder if much has changed from the conservativism I grew up in. Christ followers still like to silo into our corners and point fingers at the world around us. Secretly we marvel at and sample the mainstream culture around us. 

The beauty of originality is within us by the power of God—yet we often miss it. 

When I read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, I see Christ calling us to something quite unique, powerful—and risky. I love the Message Bible version: 

“Let me tell you why you are here.
You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.
If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?
You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.” 

In other words, we have great God-given worth as salt seasoning. Any cook from ancient times until now knows the value of salt and how it both flavors and preserves. How can anyone taste God in our life if we stay off to ourselves out of fear? We do well to remember that the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1) including everyone in it! 

Or as singer Jonathan McReynolds sings, “This is Your world; I’m just living in it.” 

Instead of shrinking back, we should be flowing forward, confident in who we are because of whose we are and what He has already tasked us to do! Instead of trampling on and criticizing culture, we can add God’s flavor and preserve it for great use. 

It is risky though, this salt-seasoning. We will be mischaracterized and criticized. But would we rather lose our usefulness or put God’s flavor out there so people can taste and see through us that God is indeed good? 

An Up-close View
I’ve seen how this looks in real life from Jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum. During the years his family called Nashville home, he was affectionately known in our church as the “Elder of Interruption.” Most Sundays when he joined the worship band, he would pause and call us to a worship reflection, his heart leaking from his eyes, hands uplifted, and the sax hanging by a shoulder strap. Kirk would have played anywhere on the weekend: at the White House, for Whitney Houston (whose band he directed for years), or for any number of artists and stages. But any Sunday that found him back home, he made his way to gather with our church family in the YMCA gym. 

Having attended Kirk’s gigs in venues and bars, I’ve seen that he has a pattern: shouting out his wife of 30+ years, affectionately calling her his “girlfriend”; playing a clip of the sax solo he’s most famous for—the “I Will Always Love You” soundtrack. And every time I’ve heard Kirk play, Jesus somehow comes forth from the stage in the most contagious way. This brother has a way of calling humanity together, across faith, race, and class. With our real differences and views, Kirk shares God-flavor in the midst of good music. 

Shine with God-color
As a writer who is passionate about showing children the beauty of the image of God that every human bears, I resonate so powerfully with the Message version that continues in Matthew 5: 

“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.
God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.
If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?
I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light
stand – shine!
Keep open house; be generous with your lives.
By opening up to others,
you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous father in heaven.” 

Do you see a theme here? “God-flavors” and “God-colors.” God is the originator of the flavor and color that is in the world we live in. He expects His representatives—that would be us—to take these precious gifts and share them with the surrounding world. 

How that focus could change our zeal and catalyze our creativity! Instead of seeking to be the best version of myself or competing with the latest and greatest, I can look to the God who gives all these generous good gifts. His supply never ends or expires. Every opportunity is a hill to shine on, not for my sake but for His glory. 

Every day we remind ourselves of this truth: I am not supposed to fit in. I am a creation of light! 

The daily work is this: to be open, to allow His Spirit to clean out the dust, the sin, anything that hinders His light from shining brightly. I must reject anything that seeks to hampers the light he has given me from shining. Sometimes that is the voice within of self-doubt or fear. It can also be the voice of “reason” from well-meaning friends. 

I continue to learn that every person’s opinion does not hold value for me. God’s call to shine and season might look crazy or out of the box. Yet I will live in a way that allows people to see the life flow God has given to me. Living a life marked by generosity means people will get to see through me a reflection of the generous heart of a Father God.

The quote from Makoto Fujimura stirs my soul in a deep way. He gracefully calls us from culture war to culture care, a path forward that acknowledges the gifts of our Creator as a crown bestowed on us, but not just for us. Sadly, care is not in any ways synonymous with Christian. In the Genesis account God called mankind to care for what He had created, but as we know, the human story has been fraught instead with destruction. This is why God took on human flesh to be with us, to redeem us. And now we have the grand and glorious task of transforming culture with His flavor and light. 

Create. Flavor. Shine on!

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