For centuries, Christians have wrestled with what it means to be in a culture, and not of it; how to be culture-makers, rather than be made or shaped by the dominant culture.
Christianity Today (CT) magazine, founded in 1956 by Billy Graham, recently launched a new project highlighting Christians who are wrestling with these issues, and embracing roles as culture makers in cities across the United States.
The project and website, called "This Is Our City," highlight six different cities across America, with a section called “7th City” for stories submitted by people in cities outside of the focus communities. The six featured cities are different in scope and size, as well their locale, economic and ethnic composition. They are: Portland, Richmond, New York City, Phoenix, Palo Alto and Detroit.
Christy Tennant, director of engagement for the project, told The Christian Post that for the last few decades evangelicals have been known for pulling away from the culture at large. But those at CT don’t feel like that is the biblical model for Christians to engage the world around them. She says the stories for the new project are meant to encourage “more Christians to be earnestly and humbly engaged in owning the flourishing” of their cities.
To do that they will use the project to create a comprehensive picture of Christians helping their cities and the work they do for cultural renewal in arenas like business, government, public health, education, and the arts. Major features in Christianity Today, photo essays and short documentary films will be the primary means of telling these stories.
Once CT picked the cities for the stories they wanted to tell, the team held listening sessions with different leaders and groups in those areas. Through forums and conversations with those at the sessions, they tried to look for a theme or meta-narrative from each city – what stories embody the culture the most. In Portland, Tennant says, they kept hearing about volunteerism, and also that the city was a hub for sex trafficking. Because of that, they decided to highlight stories along those themes.
The November 2011 issue of Christianity Today featured Portland as the first city in the project. The Portland section on the website is filled with videos and stories about how organizations and individuals in the city are working to combat sex trafficking. It also features different art projects meant to raise awareness for trafficking and interviews with activists.
The website’s section for Richmond will be the next to launch. A video story already posted is called, “Coffee. And It was Very Good.” It features an interview with coffee roaster David Blanchard, his love for the trade and how he creates quality coffee so people can connect with one another.
With the Portland section live, the CT team is working on launching the other cities in 2012 and Palo Alto in 2013.
In addition, the project will also feature a section called "7th City.” This section calls for people to submit stories about people in their local communities working to make it better. The website states, “We are gathering stories of Christians finding creative ways to bless their community.”
Those stories include focusing on Christian groups, or Christians working in businesses, the arts, government, education, and politics. They are also interested in stories that are unfolding, new ideas or projects that incite conflict or interest, or are a new way of doing community outreach.
Andy Crouch, project manager and author of the book Culture Making, came up with the idea for This Is Our City. In his book he notes that it is not enough to condemn, critique, copy, or merely consume culture, rather "the only way to change culture is to create culture." This Is Our City embraces that ethos. Through their films and stories they want to highlight Christians contributing to the comprehensive flourishing of the cities in which they live.
On the web: This is Our City Project