Geography & Culture
It was an eye-opener as to the influence of geography on culture. I was a twenty year old college student on an eight week summer European holiday and our three bus caravan had just come through the cool and misty mountains of Austria. The contrast then into northern Italy was dramatic to say the least. From cool, green, and misty to hot, brown, and swarthy in just a few hours. Different languages, different buildings, different foods, different everything.
Perhaps you’ve been to Italy too. Perhaps you’ve visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome and looked up at that amazing ceiling that Michelangelo painted some five hundred years ago. Standing in that room amidst the throngs of other tourists, smelling the slight damp cool air and looking at such a marvel of genius painting, if you close your eyes, do you imagine that you are in inner city Newark? Do the sights and sounds and narrow bridges of Venice remind you of the Navajo reservation you drove through last summer? Walking the bricked streets of Rome are you quickly reminded of rural Lancaster, Pennsylvania? Hardly.
They are radically different. Built in different times by different people with different values. Great art, beautiful architecture, even paved streets, are byproducts of great wealth. Wealth must have stability to form. Stability is created by order. Order is created by a populous that is serious and industrious. The Italians once ruled the known world. And yet I’ve heard it said that after the fall of Rome, it took until 1950 for the city to have the same access to clean water as it had 1500 years earlier.
Culture That Overcomes
Civilizations rise and fall. They rise because their culture, the external expression of their internal beliefs and values, is more attractive, more powerful, than their neighbors. Either they overcome their neighbors with might or they draw them inward with inventiveness, cleanliness, order, stability, wealth, fun, opportunities, and so on. And sometimes it’s both.
We see these things but do we realize what went into the creation of this culture and that? Like with Italy and Austria, geography has a lot to do with it. But only so much. Sure, what we see around us or even around the world can be mere vestiges of a vibrant culture long gone, but the fact that these buildings, artworks, and streets are preserved says something about the culture that remains and what they value.
Monuments of Christian Culture
They say you can track the movement of Christianity across Europe by the cemeteries found along the way. That’s odd unless you give it a little thought. The idea of the resurrected body was a Christian one. The fact that neither life nor death was devoid of meaning changed the prevailing culture. Graves emerged where Christians died. That’s a brick of the cultural edifice; it makes a statement, it is the establishing of lots of little monuments that share our values with the world.
Who are we? What were we made for? How should we act? What are our deepest convictions and beliefs? The answer to these questions should form the blueprint for the establishment of a 21st century Christian culture in our homes, workplaces, churches and nation.
We are a part of a culture that is not supposed to ever fall. It may wane; it may move from America to China; it may shift from Italian to English but it will never die. Because we are not the creators of it, we cannot destroy it, no matter our ineptitude and sin.
Culture-Building is Exhausting
With four small children I think all the time about what we are to be about in our day to day life. It’s a lot to just keep the ship afloat some days with sicknesses, physical tiredness, frustration, loss of focus. And there is a feeling of accomplishment when the basics are attended to, when everyone has been fed, no one has fallen in the well and all the cuts have been successfully bandaged up.
In the midst of daily life, if we are somewhat deliberate, can we be about the establishment of a culture that will shine bright to the glory of God and for the blessing of the nations?
What would it look like if we were to seriously work towards its creation? You’d have to look back over history and see in what areas has the name of Christ bowed knees. The nation of Israel and their rise and fall. The establishment of America. Many of our American forefathers were men of God who took the work of their hands seriously. They built things. They gave away fortunes. The rise of colleges and hospitals and private charitable institutions that remain today were mostly conceived and financed by Christ’s people.
People of Influence
The order of a nation. The rule of law. Justice. Charity. Protection for the weak. All the hallmarks of an earlier America were the good fruits of a nation that had a significant Christian culture. What would our culture look like today if we had a similar influence today? If our homes, churches and communities were organized according to our deepest convictions? If we lived out that which we say we believe. It would look radically different surely.
Asking the question is the first step I think.
What do you think a Christian culture would look like? Talk to us in the comments below.