“Critique by creating,” said Michelangelo, a man who painted a ceiling with glory—and a man the Church of the 21st century could learn from.
Christians are infamous for being reactive, polemical, boycotting and rebutting everything that goes against the grain of our worldview. And I am as guilty as the next. Sometimes, controversy is our drug of choice.
It’s why Love Wins rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. It’s why there’s been a recent web explosion over bullying the “effeminate.” It’s why we’re up in arms over hot-button issues of homosexuality, divorce, gender roles and differences of theological opinion.
Tolerance is one extreme, but knee-jerk reactions are another. What if there is a third way? What if instead of triggering a backlash, we put our energy into moving forward?
What if we chose to critique by creating?
Basic laws of physics tell us that for every action, there is a reaction. This is the way of the world. We push and we pull. We live and we die. And this is often descriptive of our approach to culture as well. We watch the news and follow the trends and then we react, often in waves.
But we serve a Creator God, and centuries ago He introduced a third way, outside the range of the laws of physics completely. Instead of living and dying like every other human, a man called the Christ lived and died and came back to life. The Creator of the universe died on a hill and rose from the dead in what became the capstone of His creative display: resurrection life.
The resurrection sets the pattern for us as we engage with culture as a creative, life-cultivating action in the face of opposing untruth. Jesus did not engage the culture of His day to condemn it but to redeem it; and in fact He often countered the Pharisees who thrived on critiquing others who dared disobey their legalistic imperatives. Certainly there are times when a strong word against sin is required, but more often I see a God who spoke to His people through creative mediums in parables, displays of fire and cloud, dreams, miracles and healings. And like Him, we are called to create.
Instead of acting and reacting, pushing and pulling, a third way approach to culture calls us to rise above the conflict altogether by creating something new.
Artistic legend Isaiah Zagar was living on Philadelphia’s South Street where plans were made to build a freeway right through his artists’ row neighborhood. So he threw himself into inspired protest, crafting murals and mosaics to color the urban landscape. The expressway plans were canceled, and today 40,000 square feet of Philadelphia is covered with fragments of Zagar’s tile, mirror and glass.
I spent a summer in Amsterdam working at a Christian hostel ministry, where we made it a practice to eat communally, Christian staff members with unbelieving travelers. To backpackers, every free meal is a feast. And we made ours with veggies fresh from the canal markets, homemade lasagna, paprika potatoes. Over such a plate it is impossible to argue over issues of faith. Whether our guests believed in Jesus, anarchy or aliens, they always left thankful, with bellies full, telling us how they appreciated being invited to the table.
To fuel resistance efforts during World War II, John Steinbeck wrote a story. He knew the best thing he could do for resistance workers was to inspire them. So he wrote The Moon Is Down, a fiction novella about a small town under enemy occupation, whose townspeople press on to do the right thing despite living under siege. The Moon Is Down was secretly and illegally published and distributed throughout all of occupied Europe, encouraging civilians to stand their ground during the dark time of war.
It’s easy to pick a fight with the strong-headed opinionated, but it’s hard to argue with beauty. It’s difficult to disagree with love. The work of Christ is creating, and we can join Him in it. Start creating. Tell a story, sing a song, host a table.
Instead of lowering yourself to the level of your accusers, create a better conversation.
Instead of attacking a cause, create an opportunity.
Instead of feeding hostility, create an environment marked by hospitality.
Instead of consuming, condemning or critiquing culture, create a new culture of grace.
Stephanie S. Smith is a 20-something writer, editor, blogger and independent book publicist addicted to print and pixels. She runs her business, (In)dialogue Communications, from her home in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband. You can find her blogging at www.stephindialogue.com about embodied faith, creative life and millennial culture or tweeting at @stephindialogue.