More than a thousand members of the synod recently participated in a culture survey at the invitation of the Major Strategic Review (MSR) team. In the moderator’s reflection, Dan Wootton wrestles with what it means to be counter-cultural. The synod’s intercultural development officer asks questions about living in a multicultural world. We talk about the dominant culture, Christian culture, popular culture. But do we have a common understanding of ‘culture’?
Its origins stem from the Latin ‘colere’, ‘to tend or cultivate’. Cultivation of the soil has close similarities, as we think of the cultivation of the mind, the faculties, or even values.
Speaking at a recent conference of Christian broadcasters, communicators and creative artists, World Vision CEO Tim Costello, described a ‘profound hollowness in Australian culture’. He spoke of a nation longing for meaning and purpose and described Anzac Day as the new civil religion, which when stripped bare is based around the concept that there isn’t new birth without the shedding of blood. This is a story familiar to the Church. But the blood was not the blood of soldiers but of Christ, as we are reminded each Sunday as we share in the Lord’s Supper.
Mr Costello told the room of communicators that purpose has to be the Christian voice in the public square. “We are meaning animals.” His challenge was to present a compelling message about why we live and what we live for.
However, the Church can succumb to the hollow messages of the Australian culture as readily as others. The moderator asks us to be wise as we straddle the two worlds of the sacred and the profane (that which is not sacred). The task of the MSR is to form a broad vision for the Church into the 21st century, part of which involves a financial review to ensure sustainability for mission.
As we consider what God’s mission for the Church is, we can’t help but reflect on a culture that is very different now to the one which led us to Anzac Cove and the Western Front, or even to the one prior to the advent of the internet just over 20 years ago.
We are part of a culture that has little perceived need of religion. Our ‘brand’ is damaged. The challenge for us is how to respectfully and graciously breathe the love of Christ into that hollowness. To be counter-cultural. To remember that we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves. God is the cultivator. What kind of culture do you long for?