Becoming a Cultural Redemptive
by Brian Orme
I grew up in a Christian subculture that said, “Culture is wrong—stay away from it!” I believed this for much of my earlier years, thinking there needed to be a clear distinction between the sacred and secular; there had to be a line so I could stay on the right side. My thinking and attitude have shifted a great deal these days. I’m no longer afraid of culture; it still has many dark sectors, don’t get me wrong, but I have come to believe that we need to interact with certain things in culture to better understand people in the world and their underlying desire to be redeemed.
There is something within every culture that seeks to replicate the redemptive story of God. It may be somewhat unrecognizable at times, but the desire to be redeemed—to be set free, to be bought out of our bondage to selfishness, to watch God transform negative experiences into good—flows through every man. It’s amazing to see how strongly we identify with certain films and art because of this desire. Every weekend, thousands of people flood into cinemas to connect with characters and stories of redemption. Braveheart, Finding Nemo, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption are just a few films that capture this theme.
The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of an innocent man convicted of double murder. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) was an affluent banker who found himself in the Shawshank Prison with a life sentence. While in prison, Andy makes friends with “Red” (Morgan Freeman). During the prison term, Andy is mistreated, abused and, at one time, beaten almost beyond recognition, but he holds onto hope of deliverance. Andy spends time working to better the life of the inmates and often talks about life after prison, which is odd for a man with a life sentence. Eventually, he finds favor with the other inmates and the guards, and soon he is given a role to work with the warden, aiding him in his tax schemes. Then, one stormy night, Andy fulfills a plot to take down the crooked establishment and escape Shawshank. He crawls through five football fields of vile stench to reach his destination. In rich and cinematic imagery, Andy stands with outstretched arms in the pouring rain, free. The end of the film reveals the plot to disarm the authorities and make them a public spectacle by revealing the tax fraud of the warden, a man who was outwardly spiritual, quoting Scripture like a true Pharisee, but empty as a tomb on the inside.
Andy also leaves clues for his friend Red to find when he gets released from prison, so the two could be reunited. The movie comes to a resolution in a dreamlike scene, as Andy is working on a boat in the ocean breeze and Red is walking up the beach to find the friend who gave him hope. It is no wonder that so many people connect with the thread of this story—the incredible power of freedom..
The Apostle Paul often referenced cultural things to point the people to their need for redemption. He used idols, the words of the poets of the day and the people’s love for the Olympic games, all to connect them with a deep-seated desire he knew they already had: a desire to be redeemed.
It’s easy to get caught up in pointing out all of the depravity in our culture and to forget to look for signs and illustrations that illumine the innate desire for liberation. Redeeming culture has less to do with changing people to act morally and more to do with meeting people where they are and sharing the message of hope in a reference they will connect with.
We live within a unique culture, a culture with its own stories and references. If we separate completely from culture, we also separate ourselves from the mission of Christ, but if we connect too strongly with culture, we are in danger of becoming conformed to it. There is a balance—a balance that centers our hearts and minds on the mission of God within culture.
How do we join God in His mission and connect Christ with culture? In many ways, the connection is already there, waiting to be illumined. We don’t need to go out and buy all the latest CDs or DVDs or watch hours of MTV, we just need to be observant and intentional about what we see happening in culture and what we see God doing. The culture cries out, and all creation for that fact, for redemption. In some places, the cry may be subtle or masked, and in others, there is a wild plea.
Becoming a cultural redemptive means that we are willing to connect with the expressions of our culture in order to translate the message of the kingdom: a message of freedom and a new start.
As I struggle to find the balance, I gain a better understanding of my role in the world as it pertains to the mission of God: a mission that is known for its nearness to culture and its compassion for those who are desperately searching for redemption.
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