According to the Cubist painter Pablo Picasso, “It takes a very long time to become young.” Picasso’s paradoxical sentiment is meant to highlight that youth should not be a phase one grows “out of,” but rather a state of mind that one grows toward. While we may associate idealism, hopefulness, and various creative impulses with the young, it takes work to cultivate these good desires and maintain them throughout the mounting pressures of adult life (whatever we take “adult life” to mean!).
To that end, one of the primary goals of City Youth, and one of my personal desires as a youth coordinator, is to celebrate the heart of youthful joy—a joy toward which we all might be striving. Yet, in order to fulfill this ambition, we must care not only for an individual student, but also for the community and culture in which she finds herself. Put another way, to care for the students at City Church, we must care about how we engage with our culture, our city, our schools, and our families. We must possess a wide-angle lens through which to view our students’ lives and experiences.
At City Youth, we will always strive to be intentional in our conversations and activities. We will continue meeting regularly on Sunday nights, but starting this year, we will begin a new series of events called “C Nights,” or “Culture Nights.” These semi-regular happenings will celebrate the opportunities afforded to us by this expansive and engaging city: plays, concerts, readings, or fun classes. I hope these will inspire fruitful discussions about what it means to be a community of faith that supports arts and culture, both within the church and without. Our goal is to have “C Nights” that are tailored for middle school students, others tailored for high school students, and still others that will be open to all students and their friends.
“C Nights” are designed to merely make explicit what City Youth and City Church are already committed to exploring—namely, how to “bring beauty into broken places.” If we are to take that call seriously, we should seek to cultivate a wider appreciation and passion for the beautiful. And, personally, I think that might require us all heed Picasso’s diagnosis that we regain a childlike optimism with regard to this city and its cultural offerings.
The title of this short blog post—“Culture and Care”—is meant to be an allusion to Makoto Fujimura’s 2017 book, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life. In the pages of his study, Fujimura naturally explains what he means by “culture care”:
Culture care is to provide care for our culture’s “soul,” to bring to our cultural home our bouquet of flowers so that reminders of beauty—both ephemeral and enduring—are present in even the harshest environments where survival is at stake . . . Culture care restores beauty as a seed of invigoration into the ecosystem of culture. Such care is generative: a well-nurtured culture becomes an environment in which people and creativity thrive (Fujimura, 22).
Elsewhere, Fujimura makes plain his own investment in a specifically Christian ecosystem, one which has truly learned how to care for the “soul” of places like Houston. At City Youth, I want us to inhabit a space where we both care about the culture and instill a culture of care—for one another as for our environment. I believe this is the model outlined for us throughout the Bible, a story that begins by announcing the creative powers of our Maker and ends by relaying the explosion of song and art and beauty that will accompany the establishment of God’s kingdom.
Romans 1:20 reminds us that God’s beauty and character so permeate our daily lives that we are “without excuse” when it comes to his presence in our world. I want to suggest that if we take Romans 1 seriously, we must become yet more careful observers of the many pathways God can and will use to convey his beauty—in a play, a concert, an art exhibition, a pottery class, and even an Astros game! We are to be students of the world he created not as an end unto itself, but so that we can know and appreciate the range of beautiful experiences that, at the last, point to the one who embodied the Beautiful, the Good, and the True.
Therefore, if we should all be students of beauty, then it only makes sense to start with the students of City Church, who are in many ways just beginning the journey toward “becoming young.”