A book review by Ned Bustard.
I abhor Brussel sprouts. But if you accused me of being “sprouts-phobic” or “anti-sprouts,” I’d probably serve myself a second helping. Like most people, I don’t want to be “anti” or “phobic” anything. I often tell my children that it is not the cleverness of arguments or even the truthfulness of a position’ but rather the way that we speak and write about things that shape understanding and action.
Years ago, an essay by Gregory Wolfe in his book, Intruding upon the Timeless (2003), convinced me that the phrase “culture wars” should be shunned. But as soon as I rid the rooms of my mind from that demon, I needed something to fill the space. I embraced the idea of being a “maker of good.” My response to moral decay would be to fill my spheres with as much good as I could make. Unfortunately, it is a clunky idea and if one does not see himself as a “maker,” then he is left out in the cold. Therefore, one of the most helpful things about Makoto Fujimura’s new book is quite simply its title. He credits Caleb Seeling for coining the phrase, but regardless of its source, I am grateful. To speak of “culture care” instead of “culture wars” shifts the paradigm in a healthy and constructive way. The idea itself is nearly a game changer.
I first came across Mako’s book in its proto-book form—a booklet given out at a conference at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City called On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care. A friend picked up a copy for me and I read it. My wife read it. Then we immediately ordered five more copies—or maybe ten. Perhaps they came in sets of 25. However many we received, we began to give them out to people at once. Like Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible (1973) for us two decades ago, here was a short treatise that we could share with folks to help them get on board with glorifying God through the arts. At that time, my wife was starting a new drama department for The Lancaster Academy for the Performing Arts and my dear friend Robert Bigley was launching The Trust Performing Arts Center. Mako’s musings on becoming generative dumped gallons of lighter fluid on these new little ventures. While I tried to inspire them to be “makers of good,” it was “culture care” that fueled their passion and provided the inspiration that they needed.
Makoto Fujimura’s new book, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life is a generous gift to this generation and the next. It begins with a handful of flowers and ends with a reminder that we were created out of the abundance of God to extend love and wonder. The opening essay is a slightly revised version of the essay in On Becoming Generative (mentioned earlier) followed by a definition of terms. Then there is a great story about ecological care that serves as an example of the impact those who care for culture can hope to have. Mako reflects on the need for soul care and the part that beauty plays in that work. This is followed by a reflection on the experience and importance of life on the fringes that so many artists feel as they pursue their callings in the Church and in the Art World. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahalia Jackson, Emily Dickenson, and Vincent van Gogh all make appearances in the book. The “soil” of culture is analyzed, the artists’ ideas are applied to the business world, and these ideas are teased out in application for the artist.
One thing to note for fans of Mako’s art—there is only one painting in this book: Ki-Seki, a lovely flowering tree on a silver field. So pick up Culture Care; but if you want a visual feast, also consider getting his massive Golden Sea monograph or the modest Rouault-Fujimura: Soliloquies. Some other books that feature Mako’s paintings and musings include Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith and It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Of course, I suggest buying them all. Together, they showcase one of the most important artists in the Church today, serve as a record of culture care in this generation, and will inspire readers to greater culture care in the future.