Author Crouch Reveals Structures of Creative Excellence, Social Movements
Noted Christian author Andy Crouch led multiple sessions of Samford's Church Media Institute (CMI) Aug. 2, including a spiritually uplifting and intellectually challenging closing event. The two-day conference was presented by Howard College of Arts and Sciences.Andy Crouch is a dynamic and creative musician, producer, minister, editor and author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, winner of Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture, and named one of the best books of 2008 by Publishers Weekly, Relevant, Outreach and Leadership. He serves on the governing boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and Equitas Group, a philanthropic organization focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia. He is also a member of the editorial board of Books & Culture, a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission’s IJM Institute, and a member of the Board of Advisers for the John Templeton Foundation.
Crouch first presented at CMI’s luncheon plenary session, where he observed that global social movements begin not with one brilliant mind or spontaneous masses of millions of likeminded people, but as very small groups. What begins with a few people in personal and mutually trusting relationships grows to include a further 12 or so, and then around 120, to create the core of the movement, Crouch said.
For churches and other organizations, Crouch’s “3-12-120” observation means that accumulating Facebook “likes” or adding names to a list is futile because large numbers of people can’t be organized effectively, especially in the absence of personal relationships. Instead, Crouch advised churches to grow their ministries by leapfrogging from small group to small group, building genuine personal relationships, mutual trust and unity of purpose.
Crouch noted that the early Christian church grew to encompass half the Roman world without the aid of media as Crouch defines the term—information delivered without personal relationship. Paul’s instructional letters to churches were delivered by people known and trusted by the apostle and the receiving church, Crouch said. Even so, Crouch acknowledged the power of modern media, and in two afternoon sessions helped CMI participants make the most of their choices in an increasingly visually-oriented culture.
Crouch introduced CMI participants to his vocal and instrumental talents for the closing plenary session in Samford’s Brock Recital Hall. The presentation on “The Ingredients of Excellence” managed to coherently and entertainingly unite the music of Tom Waits and Bach with Pixar animation, French Structuralist theory and the Gospels.
Deconstructing Waits’ “Picture in a Frame,” Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier (Prelude in C Major)” and the animated film “Ratatouille,” Crouch revealed a formal structure of excellence that he said Christians too often fail to achieve in their artistic endeavors. He decried “thin,” predictable and unbalanced narrative and musical structures, pointing out that combining dissonance and conflict with beauty and happiness creates a more lifelike, meaningful and satisfying artistic work.
He noted that each of the works he discussed, like the story of Christian faith, did not have mere happy endings, but rather “happier endings, ” resolutions more than one would have hoped for or expected. He said they reflect the highs and lows and “the full catastrophe” of human experience. They honor traditional form but are innovative in form. They are refined by their creator until nothing extra remains and nothing is missing. Do that, Crouch challenged his audience, “then you’ve got something excellent”.
In closing, Crouch led his audience in a moving performance of the traditional hymn, “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need,” whose structure also revealed what Crouch described as “the full beauty and catastrophe and glory of God”.