catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 48, Num 2 :: 2008.12.15 — 2009.03.15


Teaching 'culturing' of creation by example

My husband, Rob, and I were in high school when we first sat around the large dining room table of our friends in South Holland, Illinois. The table had to be large to accommodate the two families who lived in the house, as well as the constant array of visitors.

We were certainly intrigued by the choice these families had made to share a house in a culture of single-family homes. Over the next several years, we realized that was not the only unusual decision they were making. In an automobile suburb, they biked to work. In a period of “white flight,” they committed to a neighborhood not in spite of, but because of, its diversity. In a media-saturated society, they minimized television and delighted in good music, good theatre, good literature, and traded recommendations with us whenever possible. Though their small community was not utopian and though its members wrestled solemnly with suffering, the joy of their commitments was obvious. Why doesn’t everyone live this way? we wondered. These families were demonstrating for us an all-encompassing commitment to incarnate the love of Christ in all things.


Learning to be human

My experience at that house was an object lesson in something that I would come to understand later as emerging from a uniquely Reformed way of approaching the relationship between faith and everyday life. In fact, everyday life can’t be separated from faith   it is the very arena in which our faith takes on flesh, the Spirit of God inhabiting the dry bones of the mundane.

College was a continuation not only of our connection with these South Holland friends, but a continuation of our journey to discover the implications of Reformed theology for culture, the ordinary and extraordinary ways human beings make sense of life in this world. Though our experiments were inevitably flawed, we lived in intentional community and discussed films. We wrestled endlessly with what faithful art looked like, what faithful shopping looked like. 

All of these acts were intricately tied to what we were learning in and out of the classroom. We learned what it means to be human   to be created in the image of God, to be thoroughly affected by disobedience, to be thoroughly redeemed by sacrificial love. And then we tried to learn how to be human to God’s glory. 

Because God created all things out of love and because we were created in God’s image as stewards of the earth, we needed to love all things, too. The Kingdom of God was not a disembodied la-la land, but an existing reality that promised to make itself complete on this earth, and we were invited to participate. Calvin Seerveld writes in the classic Reformed text Rainbows for the Fallen World:

Unless the first chapters of Genesis are simply a handy preface to God’s revelation to refute macro-evolutionistic theories, Christians must hear what the Spirit is saying there to the churches, if they want the life perspective of biblically straightened out believers. Culture is not optional. Formative culturing of creation is intrinsic to human nature, put there purposely God knows why.


Competitors were waiting

We realized that as creatures who can’t help creating culture every second of every day, it wasn’t possible to compartmentalize faith to Sunday morning or daily devotions, but understood that such extravagant love had to spill over into every possible aspect of our lives   for something was going to fill that space if God did not. Narcissism, capitalism, nihilism, materialism and other ideologies were all understudies waiting in the wings to fill in a dropped line or a missed entrance. These false ideas were no match for the victory of God over death in Jesus Christ, and we wanted to be completed in suffering and joy by following Christ’s way every day.

We were so passionate about these ideas that we had to find a way to share them and to learn more from others about how to let God fill even the cracks we couldn’t see. So we started camping together to share meals and stories about our efforts to live thoroughly transformed lives. Out of those camping trips came a desire to expand the conversation to whoever might want to participate. And so, named for Seerveld’s quote, “*culture is not optional” was born in 2001 as non-profit organization maintaining an online discussion board.

A year later, we launched an online magazine called catapult that comes out every other week exploring various themes. Eat Well and Do Justice are the beginning of a series of topical collections of resources envisioning the Kingdom in particular areas of life. Subsequent gatherings and a biennial conference called Practicing Resurrection have continued to provide important face-to-face community around the desire to offer our lives to God in every aspect.


Classroom application

Now Rob and I find ourselves at an interesting place in which we can educate others about the ideas we gleaned from education. So how does the idea that “culture is not optional” influence the way we teach? As we engage students at the college level, one implication is that we attempt to model our South Holland friends in embodying the deepest values of our faith in even the smallest things. (Did I mention that those friends were also our high school teachers?) Theological education doesn’t end in the Bible classroom; it encompasses home life, work life, leisure life, Sabbath life.

For example, in the context of a heavily theological curriculum focused on discernment, we consider carefully even the food we buy for retreats. We embrace the opportunity to have students around our own dining room table, recognizing from our own formative experiences how important conversation around a shared meal can be. In all of these things, we seek to understand and to help students understand the difference between the Spirit of God and the spirits of the age, for such a difference matters in all things.


The light of love

We haven’t by any means discovered the key to unlocking the door to Kingdom life here and now, but, with the help of many mentors, we’ve been gifted with glimpses of what that reality might look like. Our best teachers did not underestimate the power of example in reinforcing what they were teaching in the classroom, and no doubt a cloud of witnesses also surrounded them. Maybe Seerveld’s words were like a mantra: “Culture is not optional.”  Or perhaps it was a constant reminder from St. Francis to “preach the Gospel at all times, and, when necessary, use words.”  Whatever the immediate source of wisdom, it is the Ultimate Source of Light that has the ability to illuminate every corner of our lives with the light of love.



Seerveld, Calvin. Rainbows for the Fallen World. Downsview, ON: Toronto Tuppence Press, 198     0. p. 24.

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