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September 26, 2006

Consumer Culture versus Creative Culture

This past week I was interviewing (for an article I’m writing) the director of a camp out in Michigan called Paradise Ranch that uses horsemanship to teach kids biblical worldview lessons. You can watch a video on their site that shows how he fluidly uses illustrations in breaking and training horses to create parallels with how God works in the lives of believers and non-believers. Anyhow, one of the parts of the interview that fascinated me most is discussing their family camps.

At the family camps, parents and kids work together to accomplish goals like sorting out a certain steer from the herd. In talking with Chad it became clear that experiences of parent and child working together to accomplish a goal often make for amazing learning experiences. Parents and children learn how to communicate better together, how to think on their feet, and how to plan.

What sort of amazed me is how foreign these shared problem-solving tasks have become to our consumer-oriented culture and to the families that come to his camp. Granted, parents often work in problem-solving tasks in their jobs, and kids may encounter problem-solving tasks at school or in after-school activities, but it has become far more exceptional for them to encounter and overcome these tasks as a team or to work together to create something. Just the everyday pace of life with shuffling of kids to school and back, after-school activities and back, the store and back, hardly makes for a lot of problem-solving or creative time spent together. Contrast this with the day in which homes were homesteads and parents and children engaged in activities daily that included these elements. Albert Hsu talks a little about this in his wonderful new book entitled The Suburban Christian. He says: “Of course, we cannot easily revert to an agrarian, communal society of extended, multigenerational families with homesteads of shared production and provision. For better or worse, we live in a postindustrial consumer society."

Hsu’s chapter on the Material World has me thinking, however, about how Christian homes can reclaim some of the lost elements of the homestead in the sense of creatively working together. “The opposite of consumption is production,” says Hsu; “often our only recreational activities are actions of consumption. What an alternative it is, then, to rediscover the wonder and delight of creativity.” At a purely educational level, it seems a helpful tool for teaching children. At a broader level, it seems a stepping stone to preparing children and engaging them in that great shared-enterprise and continuous problem-solving endeavor of the Church that we call kingdom-building. For those of you with families out there, what are some ways that you and your kids participate in creative activities together that major in producing rather than consuming something, or other problem-solving activities, for that matter?

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As far as creative activities with kids goes, I am twenty five, married almost five years and have a three year old and an eighteen-month old. We love to cook together. We will often do it just the kids and I, but sometimes my husband cooks with the kids (one or both) and about once a month hubby and I spend our "date night" cooking. It's a wonderful shared activity that can be enjoyed at any age. We may not encounter a lot of problems to solve, but we a working together towards a shared goal that involves creating something... And it gives me an opportunity to learn new culinary skills and pass those I have on to my children.

Kelly Kullberg

What a great question! I'm eager to see the ideas of others. As for us: recently, we and other local families moved from frustration with the public high school (English and History teaching in particular) and began to offer alternative classes available as "independent study" for our kids (credits and grades taken by the local school -- that was a battle and another story). Kids are now getting a Classical / Christian education 90 minutes a day, in the name of good pluralism, and the public school is having to do some soul searching since 24 students left immediately for our alternative because it includes "hopeful and redemptive literature" and the role of the Church in the study of history. It's fun for me because I'm the English teacher and get to spend more time with our kids, and they're reading Genesis, Tolkien, The Privileged Planet, Austen, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Lewis, and discussing films and music within a Biblical framework of a good creation, a very bad fall, and the possibility of redemption. Too much to say here, but it's quite a challenge together.

We also like to create front yard football games for all the kids in the neighborhood. But I really do long for that multi-generational farming homestead. (an ache).


Just because it is hard doesn't mean that it isn't worth trying to do.

I would suggest Chesterton's _What's Wrong With the World_ and several works by Mrs. Schaeffer and Susan Schaeffer Macauley.

Brian Hollar

Great post as usual, Catherine! I especially loved the video of the horses! As one who used to take horseback riding lessons, the analogy of horses being like us struck me as particularly apt. Horses can be quite stubborn and do try to fight against their rider's will, just like we do with God. Unfortunately, in my relationship with God, I often feel more like a donkey than a horse...

You raise some great thoughts and I love the fact you're encouraging people to think of living their lives intentionally and to strive towards spending meaningful time together as families. This is a message and reminder we all sorely need to hear.

Here are a few thoughts and questions I had while reading your post:

1) Why do people make themselves and their children so busy? Do they do it out of neglect or from misplaced, but good intentions? I think a lot of parents want to avoid denying their children opportunities to develop skills and have experiences they think are good. What starts off as good motives sometimes transforms itself into an insane flurry of activity. Do you think the church helps or hurts more in this area?

When I was director of a discipleship ministry at my church in Orlando, I made it one of my #1 goals to try to always respect the time of my leadership team. I had to constantly fight against requests from others in the church to have our team go to lots of unnecessary meetings, planning sessions, etc. Overall, we felt like this made for a much stronger ministry with more balanced leaders. Think of all the kids programs, choir practices, drama ministries, spiritual growth classes, small groups, etc. that many churches offer. (Not to mention youth groups, Christian concerts, guest speakers, prayer meetings, committee meetings, and Wednesday night service.) It often seems that churches add to the problem of busyness, rather than being part of the solution. How can we encourage one another and our churches to try to foster balance in our lives and families?

(You can see some of my thoughts on the busyness of families in a post I wrote in May: http://thinkingonthemargin.blogspot.com/2006/05/whats-wrong-with-motherhood.html)

2) Hsu’s terms "production and provision" particularly stood out to me. In this context, I wonder if there any fundamental difference between "provision" and "consumption"? Provision certainly has a nicer ring to it and harkens to beneficent intent, but doesn't it ultimately mean the same thing as producing for the sake of self-consumption? Is this better or more moral than producing something that has value to others and exchanging it for goods to provide for your loved ones and yourself? Aren't consumption and production just two sides of the same coin? Isn't production without consumption really just a form of waste?

Here's some food for thought (pun intended) to illustrate my point:

Imagine an over-ambitious mom who bakes fifty pies every day for her family of four. Unless she gives some to the neighbors to eat (consume), she baked (produced) far more pies than what the family could reasonably use (consume). Isn’t she being wasteful?

3) Have our values changed or do we just have new opportunities now? One hundred years ago, it would have taken the better part of a day to go to and from town… and that was without bringing the kids along! Now we can easily zip around between cities in nice, air-conditioned mini-vans with a multitude of kids, groceries, sports gear, Gameboys, and Rover in tow. Are our priorities different today or is it just a matter of having new options open to us? Doesn’t this mean that families who focus on spending more meaningful time together have greater ability to do so than at any time in the past? Does the absence of this in a family indicate a lack of opportunity caused by our culture or a lack of priority in the choices made by individuals?

4) Is there an inherent dichotomy between consumption and creativity as Hsu alleges? For example, imagine how difficult it would be to develop theatrical skills if you never had a stage to perform upon, being a great writer with no one to read your work, or becoming a master composer without someone first buying a piano (which had to be produced by someone). The actor produces while the audience consumes. Once again, don’t production and consumption go hand in hand? If this is true, don’t we need consumption of some sort in order to for creativity to fully thrive?

Is the biggest problem with our culture the fact we produce vs. consume or is it more a problem of what we, as individuals, choose to consume?

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