True cultural change ultimately takes place on a broad, societal level. The Isaiah 61 passage describes a people group’s commitment to the beauty of restoration, even if that ultimate restoration and peace was only truly realized much later in Christ. Still, the hope or intent of cultural cultivation is a societal-wide focus that impacts every corner of life, including public policy and judicial decisions. It seems to me that in our desire for communal healing, however, we easily forget where all this change begins; namely, with individuals and families who take ownership of their small sphere of influence in the home, in school hallways, in cul-de-sacs, and in meetings at work. Lasting cultural change has those kinds of humble, over-looked roots and we should not expect legislation to fix what isn’t happening at an individual level. Very few of us make public policy, but the great call to cultivate is given to each Christian—whether young or old—and God equips us to to make those incremental changes each and every day. As evidenced by the major recent cultural changes in sexual ethics, public policy comes on the heels of momentum begun long before by individuals, especially individual story-tellers who understood the power of story to shape the cultural imagination. Christians have a great call to re-narrate the dominant cultural narrative.
Cultural cultivation can seem like a daunting task, but it is less daunting when we read Nehemiah chapter 3 in which every kind of person was found helping to build the wall, even a man and his daughters (v. 12) and two men who could only help with the wall just outside their front door (v. 23). We do what we can with what we have, don’t we? That is all God calls us to do. Let us keep our eyes fixed firmly ahead and look to the author and finisher of faith; after all, this entire generative work is an act of faith in a God who equipped us to create and will see to it that he uses us according to his desires and designs for something which, when seen from the other side, is truly marvelous.
Thus, the important call to “cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). I have heard many interpretations of this verse, each one unique and interesting, but the principle of the verse remains the same: give generously and you will find it multiplied and returned to you–bless widely and you will be blessed. This verse is the generative life motto. A river flows through the center of each heart’s castle and out into the city of man. We can but set our little boat–be it a story or a poem or a picture of a life–upon the water and let it follow the current. Someone downstream will pick it up and take it home and cherish it, too. To that end, let us do our best and share it widely. We cannot control the results, but we can control the preparation and execution of what we do for cultural cultivation. As T.S. Eliot wrote in “Choruses from the Rock,” “Make perfect your will…take not thought of the harvest.” Keep working, dear friend, whatever the work. Keep enfleshing the ideas God gives you, and leave the harvest to the God who gave you those ideas.
Remember, also, that the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, the helper, who spurs you on and guides your thoughts, inspiring the bright fire in your heart and mind. Consider yourself the Paraclete’s messenger and your words lit from within by his vitality, ready to warm the hearts of men. Or, to put it another way, you are seed. This mindset of potent smallness, like yeast or like a mustard seed, is the way Jesus described faith and it is the way that I encourage you to see yourself. You are small, but charged with faith. Make visible the latent power of God at work in you generatively.
The boy with his five rolls and two fish in Luke, chapter nine, is a perfect picture of generative living. Like that nameless boy, we offer the little we have, not knowing whom God will feed, nor how. The Christian’s life is a journey of trust; living by faith, he must trust God to not only give him purpose and ideas, but to equip him to form them into a cohesive and beautiful whole. He must live freely from his limited self, knowing that it is all God asks him to do. If he withholds even the little he has, he will grow anxious and out of step with God, with others, and with the generative life God gave him to live.
This, my friends, is the hope that we hold most precious: that God will use the gifts he gave us for a good purpose, using our small offerings to generate from cultural decay–in ourselves, in others, in the world around us–something beautiful and good and true…and lasting.