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    A Contemplation of CiRCE {Entry 2}

    November 2, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    This past week or two, I’ve actually listened to a number of CiRCE Conference CDs. I enjoyed listening to E. Christian Kopf, who sounds remarkably like my high school chemistry teacher {of whom I was very fond}, and if that wasn’t enough, I discovered my oldest child listening to Kopf on his own time. Why? He doesn’t really know what all of it means, but he “likes the way it sounds.”

    I’m not discussing Kopf today, though. Instead, it’s Ken Myers’ lecture Preparing to Lead: On Cultural Authority. If you are unfamiliar with Myers, he is the author of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, one of our book club titles back in 2009. Around half of his talk was taken from the new forward he has written for new printing of the book. I already own a copy, but what he read was so good that it tempts me to get my hands on the new printing, just so I can read the new forward in full!


    Myer’s thesis is basically that “taking back the culture” {as some folks like to call it} is going to have to be thought about differently if it’s actually going to be accomplished. The two aspects of this that really jumped out at me are:

    1. We have to be comfortable with authority. In regard to the church, that means comfortable being an authority. {Goes for fathers and mothers, too!} Our culture is a youth culture, meaning the prevailing sensibilities are not comfortable with adulthood, and the {Protestant} church has by and large bought into said sensibilities, as have her members.
    2. The church needs to view herself as a people. I wish he had gone into this a little more. He very clearly said that the church is not a club, clinic, show, or service provider. She needs to properly see herself as a nation–a polis. He quoted the apostle Peter, who quotes the Old Testament when he explains that the Church is a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people for God’s own possession. I would note that Myers is essentially calling for a rejection, first, of Dispensationalism, for I must tell you that mainstream evangelicalism, to the extent that it is Dispensational, rejects the plain reading of Peter’s words in both theology and practice, choosing the view the Church as some sort of ellipsis while we wait for God to do His real work with the Jews. I’m just saying.
    If you have read Myers’ book, then you know that there was an emphasis upon the Sabbath. I had trouble {during our book club} connecting with this and understanding its important on a cultural level. This lecture aided my understanding on this point because he focuses not on the Sabbath specifically, but on the idea of tradition in a general sense.
    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    On Popular Culture

    Myers, in the beginning of his talk, explains the danger of popular culture. We {as believers} tend to think that the difficulty with popular culture is the content. So, for instance, we complain that the amount of violence has gone up x%, or graphic sexuality has gone up x%, or foul language usage has gone up x% {all while the amount of clothing worn has plummeted}. Myers is more like Neil Postman, though, for he tells us that

    Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about the content.

    He helps us consider the idea of sensibilities by pondering the desires of the heart, the posture of the soul, the orientation of the affections, and the characteristic expectations and hungers. Throughout his talk, he lists many sensibilities cultivated by popular culture, including:

    • insisting that all experiences be fun
    • loss of interest in sustaining traditions
    • unphased by the charge of “not behaving like adults”
    • suspicious of authority and the past
    • allergic to formality
    • impatient with the limitations of propriety
    • fearful of being perceived as “uncool”
    • seeing life as all possibility and no necessity
    • can’t imagine nature law
    • no authority outside of popularity
    To circle back to the idea of the Sabbath as part of a comprehensive tradition of God’s people, His Church, then, we have to reject a lot of the sensibilities of pop culture–actually, I’d argue that we have to reject all of them, but obviously authority, history, and tradition are things we’d have to reacquaint ourselves with.
    Pastors get so frustrated with their congregations–sometimes you can tell when you’re sitting in a sermon, and they start asking their congregation why. Why do you insist on living like the world? Myers says its because we’ve reduced the Gospel to a set of truth claims to which we get people to assent, that they might “be saved.” Traditionally, in the premodern Christian view–rather than the modern view, which is not very Christian at all–the Church, since it is a people, has a culture. People are invited to join it, yes, but to do so they are baptized into a new life inside of the Church and their old alliances must die. The baptismal covenant with the Church was considered exclusive.
    There were two aspects of this idea that struck me when Myers brought them up. First, we’ll talk about the Church as leaven. Second, we’ll discuss my suspicion that Myers has been reading Miss Mason.

    Leavening Influence

    The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.

    Matthew 13:33

    Ken Myers says that the Church has her own culture. Yes, he admits that it will vary a bit by geography. But overall, we are heirs to what has been handed to us by history–our history–the history of our people. Our culture is a set of beliefs and traditions. We have a full set of cultural artifacts, a collection of great size. These things come to us as a gift and they are ours to pass on.

    Myers contrasts all of this with the notion that we need to just fit ourselves, as best as we can, to using the methods of pop culture to convey the Gospel and assuming that

    we have no choice but to adapt to the spirit of the age and its tools.

    Myers rejects this notion. Instead, he says that our little culture is the leaven of which Christ speaks. We, when we are true to who we are as a people, will leaven the whole loaf.

    The Power of Habits

    Charlotte Mason advocated habit training for small children because she believed that

    habit is ten natures.

    She knew that habit was a powerful influence, and she believed we could harness it in rearing our children, for their own benefit. So, for instance, when we help the children with an explosive temper learn not only to control his temper, but to make a habit of right response, we help him conquer his nature.

    We do him a favor.

    This is habit on a personal level, and we all know it is very powerful. Why do I make my bed every day? Because I make my bed every day. I don’t think about it or struggle with it or try to convince myself that the room really looks better with the bed made {which it does}. I just do it. It’s part of my daily routine.

    What Myers is really getting at in one part of his talk is the power of habit at the macro level. What does habit as a culture look like?




    And so on.

    There is a sense in which the keeping of the Sabbath was a macro-level habit. It said something about the Church and her members when she kept it, just as it says something about her that she has discarded it {and I’m not even a Sabbatarian!}. The richness of a culture is often found in the repetitive nature of her peculiar ways.

    As we baptize into the Covenant, as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we keep the tradition of remembering Him until He comes.

    The Church obviously has many more traditions–habits–than these, but these were some of the first. Scriptural teaching, fellowship, singing, and so on. I really don’t want to get into a decisive list on what are and are not the exact traditions of the Church because I fear we’ll miss Myers’ point.

    First, we have to acknowledge that there is a crisis in the Church. Many, many Christians fail to live out their beliefs. I’ve been thinking about this lately, because John Piper seems to think the problem is a lack of faith, knowledge, or both. To some extent, I think Piper is correct. Many of us were not raised in a tradition of knowing and believing {having faith in} God’s promises to us in Scripture. So, for instance, when we break the Tenth Commandment and covet, or when we worry, we are also not trusting God’s promise that He knows what we need and will take care of us. This could be lack of faith…or lack of knowledge…or both.

    But I think the problem goes beyond this. A people without a Christian culture–a true Church culture, not some sort of silly Christian version of modernism and postmodernism–have rather a hard time knowing how to live out their faith, for there is no tradition of living out faith for them to follow. Myers tells us:

    People are obviously concerned about beliefs, but they fail to understand the extent to which practices–habits–create dispositions which are the ecosystems within which beliefs can actually thrive.

    Applying This in the Home

    If you are like me, this has no immediate application in your church on a personal level. What I mean is, I cannot reform my church today.  I’m not an elder or a pastor, so it’s hardly my place to do so {though I work toward reformation whenever possible}. But I can apply this right here, right now, in my own little sphere of sovereignty. I have four souls over which God made me caretaker. I can help join my children to their rightful heritage, and I can encourage my loved ones to do this also.

    I have found Cindy particularly encouraging because she constantly beats the “little drops of water fill the bucket” drum. What she means is that it is the small things that matter. What I have always taken away is that we will get more mileage out of the little things we do habitually than the big projects we occasionally think will really impress.

    So daily or I…read Scripture aloud…teach them the songs of the Church {hymns}…help them memorize Psalms and parables…catechize them…and read them stories about great saints. Oh, yes, we believe the Bible has something to say about everything, so it comes into all topics of conversation, but these are the ways I can think of in which I deliberately attempt to build the Kingdom of God in our little home.

    We have tried to recapture tradition {slowly} as a family. First Advent and DecemberTerm, then three or four years ago we added Reformation Day. We talked last year about adding in Saint Nicolas Day. {Myers joked that in the last few decades Catholics have rediscovered the Bible and Protestants have rediscovered tradition, and everybody benefits.} The point isn’t that celebrating certain days or doing certain things endear us to God, but that we attempt to build those ecosystems of which Myers was speaking.

    We all know, deep down, that the Christian spirit does not thrive when our children are raised on television, movies, gadgets, busyness, video games, and rushed meals. I think that one of the reasons we don’t discard those things is really because we don’t know what else to do with our time or our children’s time. We either run around or veg in front of a screen, right? Aren’t those the only options?

    Myers lifts us by the chin and helps us look up a little. Learn from history. Look around. See what great traditions–what great habits–we can recover, rediscover, or keep, which will offer our children the dispositions they so desperately need if they are to survive in the popular world…if they are to build and keep the Church.

    How do you build the ecosystem of the faith in your home?

    Possibly Interesting
    Purchase and download Myers’ talk. There’s a lot more where this came from!
    -Read about Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on habit formation {Part I, Part II}
    Buy Myers’ book
    -Check out the Anno Domini 2012 Calendar

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    You’re right! 🙂 I am interested. I’ll have to put that on my PBS wishlist. If I can land a copy, I’d be interested to read, if not all of it, at least the parts concerning culture. Thanks, Pilgrim!

  • Reply Pilgrim November 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I recently read part (not all) of The Sabbath World by Judith Shulevitz. She is a somewhat practicing Jew but in an early chapter she discusses how Sabbath helps create culture. I don’t agree with all the things she puts forth but it opened my eyes to the larger cultural implications of having a Sabbath. Just thought you might be interested.

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