When I was a small Kansas boy, I devised a swift and simple method of improving my world. While my younger brother slept on the lower half of our shared trundle bed, I slid him under my upper half of the bed, trapping him like a snake inside a drawer. My world – my bedroom, at least – instantly pleased me better than when my brother had been at large, making messes of his things and mine.
Alas, when my mother followed my brother’s muffled cries, she made me release him and my self-satisfying act of world-changing was undone.
I think of that episode when I think of impacting culture. It strikes me that my motives for reordering the world my brother and I shared might have been unworthy of the motto of the Catholic university where I teach: “Impact culture for Christ.”
I think of all the reasons I want to impact culture, to reshape the ways we live together. My neighbor throws a party, the music that drifts from his backyard into mine blisters my ears, and I want to exchange his cacophonous kazoo concerto for my mellifluous Moroccan melodies. If only I could skulk over the cinderblocks, twist some knobs, and remake his musical taste like mine.
Too often, I want to change the world because I don’t like it much.
Or I want to change my neighbor because I don’t like him much.
I want to change the world because I’m right and I want every kazoo-wheezing idiot to know I’m right and he’s wrong.
Or I want to change the world to exact revenge on a world that has wounded me. Or to protect myself from a world that scares me. Or because I want to win some kind of contest, some bloody, endless culture war.
I want to create culture of, by, and for me me me. Let’s call it impacting culture for Chris.
Sometimes I try to sanctify my irritation and sell it as nobility. I want to change the world, I say, for the sake of the children, to make the place safer and cleaner and more kid-friendly. And sometimes I’m willing to behave pretty damn unfriendly to get my way.
Have you heard the way we discuss our neighbors on talk radio and TV? Have you read the way we comment online? Have you ever recorded and then replayed your own careless words? Listened in on your own secret thoughts?
We culture sculptors can get snarky. Loveless. Cruel.
Nothing like Christ.
All of this might be fine for political parties and interests groups. But as soon as we append the motto “Impact culture” with the words “for Christ,” it seems to me as a reader who has been deeply impressed by the stories I’ve read of Jesus, that the entire culture-shaping enterprise must become about something else entirely.
It becomes about love.
As a follower of Jesus, as someone who seeks to be shaped, sculpted, molded, and transformed by the character of a man known for history’s most extraordinary life of self-sacrificial love, my world-changing must cease to be about me and my preferences.
No longer can I act to change my neighborhood to make it better for me. Now I must choose to reshape the neighborhood to make it better for my neighbor.
I lay aside my own preferences. My irritation. My cruelty. My fears.
I lay aside my life.
I invest my creativity, my minutes and hours and days, my sweat, even my blood, for the sake of the brother I once shoved under my trundle bed.
No longer do I work to change him.
To get him out of my way.
To make him disappear.
Instead I embrace him.
I find out what he likes and wants. I find out what he needs. Then, in the spirit of Jesus who shocked everyone with the undiscriminating recklessness of his friendships, I inconvenience myself to be with my brother. My neighbor. My enemy. I move in close enough to see and listen and know him. To invest in his dreams, in his life. To serve him.
This is the family I choose to live in.
This is impacting culture for Christ.
I expect that it will cost me everything. And that it will be worth every penny.
Christopher Riley is professor of film at JP Catholic. He is the author of The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style. His first feature film, After The Truth, was an award-winning courtroom thriller written with his wife and professional partner Kathleen Riley. He has written for Paramount Pictures, Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, Sean Connery’s Fountainbridge Films and the Fox television network. He produced the 2013 film Red Line and executive produced the groundbreaking 2011 web series Bump+. Riley is a veteran of the Warner Bros. script department. From 2005 to 2008, he served as director of the acclaimed Act One Writing Program in Hollywood, which trains Christians of all denominations for careers as writers and executives in mainstream film and television.