Culture Making on a Cruise Ship

It's embarrassing how long it took me to read Andy Crouch's Culture Making; I've been waiting for, and talking up, his book since first hearing him speak about it a couple of years before it came out. But time got the best of me, I'm afraid, and Culture Making kept getting supplanted on my end table by more time-sensitive reading. What I needed was some big blocks of uninterrupted time to read it, and that meant leaving my office, my home, the land that I lub. I needed to read Culture Making on a cruise ship.

Cruise ships are not quite the cultural dead end that Crouch describes in his book--the kind of life-diminishing, soul-destroying calamity that can only be described as tragedy or mortal sin. Cruise ships are not so ambitious. You board a cruise ship to indulge superficial interests in Caribbean countries, or to experience carefully supervised adventure excursions, or to enjoy performances that reality-television judges reference when they want to insult someone, or to eat more than one lobster at a time, or to drink fruity drinks to excess. Reading about our mandate, as men and women created in the image of God, to create and cultivate what is life-giving and God-honoring with a slot-machine soundtrack in the background, with free sushi to the left and free stir-fry to the right, and with no land in sight, is a carefully supervised adventure in absurdity.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Crouch is a great writer and passionate about his topic--two ingredients for an important book. There are other ingredients, of course, including some sort of commissioning for the reader and enough intellectual stimulation to motivate the reader into the commission. This book has that as well; I daresay there's going to be a glut of freshly made culture in the wake of this book's release.

I could have lived without a fair bit of Crouch's biblical material; is it really OK to say that? It was important, I suppose, given his thesis (and his publisher, which, full disclosure, is my employer) to establish definitively that culture-making is a theme that runs throughout the Bible and in fact is at the center of its beginning and its end. But six chapters and an interlude, all with a conspicuous theme and tightly controlled vocabulary to reinforce that theme, made me feel a bit like I was being brainwashed. Keep in mind, however, that I was reading with the rhythmic ding-ding, la-la sounds of a casino ringing in my ears. Those joints are designed to hypnotize you. I'm not discounting the thesis of Crouch's biblical material, and I think he made his case pretty effectively, and any assessment of the cultural mandate that can be truly called evangelical had better have a lot of Bible in it. I'm simply wondering if he could have done it in two or three chapters, so I could have gotten on to my second pizza of the day.

I'm a populist, and apparently so are the majority of people who take cruises these days. The mystique of cruises as the domain of the aristocracy, established throughout the history of film and contemporary theater and literature, has given way to Disney-fied package vacationing--carefully supervised opulence from embarkation to disembarkation. I should say at this point that I've taken five cruises, for reasons articulated above but shamelessly reiterated here: (1) a chance to get away from it all, (2) without forsaking the opportunity to eat constantly without remorse.

I mention this to state unequivocally that, while I'm a fan of culture making and Culture Making, Crouch is substantially more cultured than me-I-mean-I. So while I salute his emphasis on acting locally, conscious of our context, and while I admire his model of 3-12-100 as the essential cast of characters for a cultural innovation, and while I appreciate his strained contention that culture making was not restricted to people of Crouch's ilk and pedigree, I was mostly glad for this offhand comment: "There will be French fries as well as haute cuisine at the great and final Feast" (p. 172). God has not cherry-picked East Coasters and Ivy Leaguers alone to create and cultivate the good in his creation; he invites each and all of us to make something of this world he's made.

OK, that's enough for now; time for American Idol.


Mark G. said…
Hey Dave,
I feel like you were on the same cruise ship I was on in February! Sounds like a Carnival ship, probably in the Fantasy class of ships :)
David Zimmerman said…
Ha! It was the Fantasy out of New Orleans. Was that your cruise? We got rerouted because of the pig flu, so it went from a five-day to a seven-day.
Mark Nielsen said…
Hi (Mark N from Redeemer in Park Ridge here...)

I like your thinking on cruise ships and culture, Dave. The tentativeness you express regarding the role of the Bible (and its "proper" usage) in Crouch's book, in evangelicalism and in publishing is a healthy attitude. Church movements like American evangelicalism (and its somewhat conformist publishing industry) are subcultures also, complete with the temptation every subculture has to deal with--believing without question that their approach/identity is best, and taking themselves too seriously.

I'm a populist as well, always looking for universal themes and mutually ministering relationships(maybe in the woods, or at a bar, rather than a cruise ship). Didn't realize how much of a populist/oddball I was till I read a good secular book _Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams_, by Philadelphia reporter Alfred Lubrano. His premise, about first-generation college attenders' difficulty in learning the language of a new "white collar" subculture, helped put my discomfort in perspective. (I was an uncomfortable blue-collar kid at Northwestern, the Ivy League school of the Midwest by some folks' appraisal.) Church movements have a similar language/style that determines who is an insider or outsider... not that Jesus puts much stock in our own self-involved distinctions.

Secondly, your review/post above made me think of an excellent secular novel I read this year: _The Good Life_, by Jay McInerney (author of Bright Lights, Big City).

It's about pre- and post-9/11 Manhattan as a mecca and/or cesspool of high-falutin' cultural norms. The two main characters struggle to alternately participate in their subculture, or else find meaning elsewhere-- to create a more ethical space or to find exits from that subculture of self-involved liberal elitism which dominates in Manhattan (and which sets a national tone somewhat). The author's voice & critique, though, is the book's main strength.

Lastly, in my grad work in Education, the main theme drilled into me was that historically, American schools are more about transmission of culture (and assimilation) than about providing skills or information. As a teacher, I've found it to be true -- not always in a good way, either.

Thanks for the rec on Crouch's book. One more for the cue (que?).

p.s. I'm giving blood today... and recalling your reference in Me-Ville to the altruistic/prideful struggle of donors like us, over why we do it. For me, by way of confession, it's cuz when I give platelets, a two-hour process, they show me a free movie... and then I get cookies afterward.
cruise ship jobs said…
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