I am currently hanging out in Pasadena, CA with my mom. We are attending a conference at Fuller Seminary around the theme of culture care. For those of you who may be wondering what on earth that means, here’s how the Director of the Conference, Makoto Fujimura, defined it: “Culture care is a thesis for the thoughtful stewardship of culture that we seek to bring to the theological, spiritual, and cultural formation we offer at Fuller Seminary, as well as to catalyze its principles beyond our walls.” Here’s another one that my mom heard in one of her workshop sessions: “Culture care is artistic gift that reaches across boundaries with understanding, reconciliation, and healing.” Honestly, even with those definitions I find that my own understanding of it is still taking shape. My current working definition is: “Culture care is acknowledging that God has gifted humanity with the potential to creatively bless and enhance our communities by the nurturing and sharing of that art within us.”
As a follower of Jesus, I am pretty sold on the fact that he revealed the heart of God to us in the form of His embodied truth, goodness, and beauty. He crossed margins to make that evident to both the religious and those who would be unwelcomed in religious circles. He was and is walking, living, breathing culture care. If we follow him, then we join in that work.
So here I am at this conference, feeding my soul on these life-giving and fascinating concepts. I proceed go to lunch at “The Refectory” with my mom during a break. (This is essentially Fuller’s student commons.) Pleasantly surprised by the cheap tacos on the menu, I walk my tray of food to a table and begin to chow down. All of a sudden, I find myself being stared at by a man with glasses. It was a little odd, so I keep munching my food hoping he’ll go away. My mom and I exchange a puzzled look. After swallowing I see that he is still standing there, and I ask him if he needs something with just the slightest tone of irritation. He said no and that he just wanted to say “hi” or something to that effect. Then I watched him walk on and introduce himself to several others around the room. With some he sat down and chatted, and others he simply said hello and kept moving. I wasn’t sure what his story was, but I didn’t take the time to investigate further, nor did I really want to.
Fast forward to this morning while I am in a session where a student has encouraged us to take a moment to think of something we need to repent of. Cue the acoustic guitar dude who plays us a song while we are supposed to be reflecting, and all I can think of is how my gut reacted to that social oddity I met briefly yesterday. In my mind (or maybe it was the work of the Holy Spirit?) I hear the dialogue, “What if that was Jesus? He came up to you looking for acknowledgment and you blew Him off. He was just trying to welcome people by bringing a little culture care to the table, and you found him irritating. You had no patience for Him.” I was reminded of that verse in Matthew 25:37 where Jesus is preaching about the righteous who ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give you something to drink?” He tells them in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” The beautiful guitar music plays on and I repent for blowing off the least of these.
The question is not whether this man was truly Jesus. I think there was the generosity of Christ in Him, and sometimes that takes people aback. Clearly, I was taken aback by it. What is sobering is that, in the midst of a conference highlighting the value of culture care, I missed an opportunity to practice it or possibly be blessed by it. True, the whole situation was odd. Maybe this guy hangs around there all the time and is known and loved by the locals. Maybe he is a constant source of irritation. All I know is that when I was asked to repent of something this morning, that is what came to mind. The larger message for me is the challenge of awareness. If I am trying to live into the idea of culture care, I need to be ready for the God moments that cross my path. I have to live a life that is willing to be interrupted by His agenda.
Some of the learning from conferences take place in the sessions, some in the conversations that happen between the sessions, and some while you are eating tacos in the lunch room. Thanks be to God.