How to read a city through its culture

“Culture comes from identity, and is a symbolic expression, which should be flowing from it.”

The Idol of Culture Itself:

If you look at culture itself as the symbolic life of a city or nation, then, as with an individual it needs to be attached and in a dynamic relationship with its core identity. When it is not, it can become a detached icon, or worse, worshiped as an idol. Often cities, which become tourist destinations have this happen, where, what once was a dynamic living creative life, flowing out from her core identity, has become a dead detached icon or an idol. This also happens with images from the past, which once were a true and dynamic cultural expression like the cowboy image in the American West, become calcified into the Marlborough man image made popular in movies or on cigarette packs.

When God talks of restoring a city, He includes its cultural life-it’s symbols. He wants to reattach the creative aspect of cities to their core identities, so they can be expressing true symbols from true identity. This is true with people as well. When He is reattaching the creativity of a person to core identity, it produces authentic symbolic expression flowing out from that person. This is important when thinking about restoring global cultural symbols as well.

So in reading a city it is very helpful to see where the cultural life is. Is it detached? Is it connected but starting to drift away from true identity? Is it long ago detached and being idolized as a separate entity. Then, how can it be led back to the core of that city or even the nation’s true identity. How can it be lead home?

I work mainly with artists, and the same questions apply. It is still a mater of reconnecting the artistic aspect of identity to the core identity, so that the person can be whole. An artist is one who has the symbolic aspect in the foreground, but the other aspects of self should also be present–the husband, the manager, the father, the investor, the minister, should all be able to dialogue with one another. Or if a woman–the mother, the wife, the artist, the manager, the businesswoman etc, should all be relating through the core identity in Christ. This is true integration.

We are restorers of wholeness. God is one, He is making us one–we reflect Him in having one core identity with many aspects or facets flowing out from this identity. It is the same with a city-one identity many aspects or expressions of this identity. It is His integration work to bring all the parts of a city into dynamic relationship with its core identity, which is the basic part of HIM that the city reflects. So whether we are restorers on an individual level or collective, we can ask some of the same questions to help integrate the various aspects of identity, back through the blood of Jesus, back into the Center, where He is seated, and back into the new life, where our true identities are founded and centered in Him. This holds true with people, cities and nations, and with every aspect or part of identity.

Each aspect is at a different stage of development, and should be cared for accordingly. Some parts are more wounded than others, and need more care. Some, as I have said, are nearly separated or detached, and need serious resuscitation. We are complex people in the image of a complex God; cities, too, are complex with many parts, each in need of unique repair.

I love the idea of writing a biography of a city. It is the right orientation, and recognizes the complexity of identity in each place. It is the same with nations, and the cultures flowing out of them and expressing them. If we refuse to stereotype or make “its” out of others nations or people, we will instead be open to a true relationship or dialogue with the aspect of God which they reflect. That is how God works with us, and should be how we work with one another. Racism uses stereotypes, and is often rooted in fear and pride. But it also lacks true vision of identity, and the wonder of identity!

In Psalm 139, King David goes on and on about his own identity as a meditation of how remarkable his Creator is. If I am so wonderfully made, and nature is so dazzling, this song rhapsodizes, then our Creator must be just astounding. This is his basic argument in this song. Often, if we cannot celebrate ourselves as His poem or wonderful creation, we are intimidated by the unique splendor of others. The roots of racism, in other words, are often in self hatred, or an underappreciated self. Once, we see the radiance of our own being–our own poemness (Ephesians 2:10), it is much easier to celebrate the radiance of others-whether it be other people, cities or nations.

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