IVP Books, 160 pages
Reviewed by Emily Berman D’Andrea
Who knew that a bouquet of flowers could change everything? Makoto Fujimura begins this book with an illustration of an event that happened early in his marriage when his wife brought home a bouquet of flowers at a time when the financially strapped couple could hardly afford to pay for their next meal. This simple gift of beauty changed Fujimura’s perspective on life, moving him from immediate irritation to eventual understanding of the dire need for soul care. He credits his wife’s gift with the beginning of his thinking about culture care (which is the basis for this book and much of his life’s work).
Culture care is the generative act of restoring beauty. That which is generative “is the opposite of degrading or limiting. It is constructive, expansive, affirming, growing beyond a mindset of scarcity.” Fujimura posits that culture today has atrophied to the point that it is no longer life giving. Culture has become a transaction. It has become efficient. Culture has been divorced from beauty and become a “polluted, over commoditized system that has failed all of us.”
In this book, Fujimura takes up the challenge of how to overcome the failure outlined above: Soul care is the antidote. Soul care requires infusions of stewardship and justice. These infusions are often best offered by those who live on the edges of their groups what Fujimura calls mearcstapas or border-stalkers. He credits artists with being instinctively comfortable in representing the margins or those who are the “hard to pin down” ones in society. He gives several examples of these kinds of people (all creative) such as poet Emily Dickinson, artist Vincent van Gogh and author Harper Lee. Fujimura stresses: “Art is ultimately not ‘useful.’ It serves no practical function, which is why it is indispensable. It is needed simply because a civilization cannot be a civilization with out the arts.”
Add creation care with soul care and you end up with culture care. Fujimura suggests that culture care could become a movement in our faith communities when we amass at least two of three essential capitals: creative capital, social capital and material capital. He offers practical advice for beginning a culture care movement in one’s own community with the emphasis of moving away from culture wars and moving toward culture care.
There are many excellent ideas in this book. Instinctively we know that culture is fractured and compartmentalized and in need of beauty, but it is tricky to find a way forward for how to move in a life-giving, soul-renewing direction. Fujimura offers practical, thoughtful and creative suggestions for a neighborhood group (a faith community, an artist, a pastor and a member of the business community) to think about, discuss and take steps toward moving culture in a life-giving orientation.
I think this book could be used effectively at church in a five-week adult education course. There are questions for discussion at the back of the book that go with each chapter such as: “What do you long for in your life? In your community? Church? Workplace? What relationship does beauty have to those longings?” This book gets us talking about beauty and it’s just possible that a little bit of beauty could change everything.
Emily Berman D’Andrea serves as the associate pastor for Christian formation at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia. She is a wife and mother of two, and has rediscovered Dickens as a favorite author.