Recently I went with a group of friends to see Martin Scorsese’s film rendition of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. It is not an easy movie to watch but one with gorgeous cinematography and one that raises profound questions about suffering. What was also a point of reflection for me was the violent, dark, special effects heavy, and loud trailers of coming attractions that preceded the film. The feature was a work of beauty, an enrich work of art. The trailers, and perhaps the movies they represented were a war on the senses and perhaps the spirit.
The trailers seem to reflect the dominant metaphor of our society–war or battle. We hear of culture war. There are those who believe precious values and cultural goods have been threatened or lost and the ground needs to be recovered. Others dig in, believing progress and liberty are under threat.
Perhaps war is sometimes a sad and necessary corollary of the human condition–cultural or military. But perhaps, at least in the dimension of culture, if not international relations, there is an alternative. In a recent book (Culture Care, review forthcoming), artist Makoto Fujimura proposes an alternative to culture war, and that is culture care.
Rather than contesting Fujimura wants to focus on creating, fostering a movement that results in fresh works of goodness, truth and beauty in the arts that inspire the soul and feed our common life. His assumption is that culture is something to be cultivated and nourished, not captured and conquered. It is not enough to make a living if we do not also have that which is worth living for.
It does strike me that culture warriors rarely create works of beauty. It is perhaps instructive that the acceptance of gay marriage was not accomplished simply by a court decision but also prepared by expression in visual media, music, literature, and fashion that swayed the mind of a nation. Meanwhile a culture-warring church was undermined by divorce, sex scandals and abuse, power struggles between men and women, and often ugly rhetoric.
Perhaps it is too late to know but one wonders what it would have meant to cultivate a culture absorbed not in banal Christian romance fiction, sentimental art, and “Jesus is my boyfriend” pop music, but works of depth and realism and beauty with power to capture the imagination not simply of an insular Christian sub-culture, but a wider culture hungering for an alternative to “the wasteland” of modern mass culture.
I look forward to seeing more of Fujimura’s vision of culture care. It seems that it is never too late to create and preserve cultural goods. Augustine’s City of God cast a vision that buoyed a church facing a crumbling Roman empire. Bach’s chorales and cantatas did as much to nourish the Reformation of the church as did the writings of Luther and Calvin. Rembrandt’s portrayal of the Return of the Prodigal deeply embeds the truth of this parable in our mental vision.
I’ve wondered about the wisdom of the trillions spent in the American wars of the last decade. Did we squander opportunities to rebuild our national infrastructure and equip our people for the new economy? I equally wonder about the squandering of energies in the culture wars of the last thirty years. Might it be time and past time to pursue an ethic of culture care?