Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/20/22

Raising up your kids. After waking up recently to how brazenly Woke gender politics has distracted Disney (aka the Don’t Say Boy or Girl Kingdom) from its core mission of being a trusted provider of positive and inspiring entertainment content for families – especially kids – it was good to talk with a content creator about a project with an appropriately nonpolitical and uplifting message.

The Creator in You - By: Jordan Raynor

Leave a footprint. The last time I spoke with entrepreneur/podcaster Jordan Raynor it was about Redeeming Your Time, his time-management book for adults. I was so engaged by what he had to say that I extended our conversation over three posts which is something I don’t think I had ever done before. His new book, The Creator in You, calls on kids enthusiastically to participate in creating a better world. It’s the sort of inspiration children should receive. Adults too.

JWK: The Creator in You has the kind of optimistic encouraging message that is good for both kids and adults to hear.

Jordan Raynor: Exactly.

JWK: So, this is your first children’s book, right?

JR: Yeah, first children’s book, and it’s been a super-fun project.

JWK: What inspired you to write a children’s book?

JR: I’ve got three young daughters – seven, five and two. I don’t know that I was inspired to write a children’s book in general. I was inspired to write this one specifically because I read my girls countless books on the creation account of Genesis 1. These books all follow the same pattern, right? It’s God created this on Day 1, He created that on Day 2, Day 3, 4,5, 6, The End. These books drive me a little nuts because God never intended for us to interpret the sixth day as the end of creation. Genesis 26…tells us that the sixth day was just the beginning. It’s when God passed the baton to us and said “Go create. Go fill this Earth and do it as My image bearers.”

Honestly, I just wanted my kids to get this at a super-super early age because I think when our kids understand that Number 1: God works and Number 2: He calls us to work in His image they’re gonna view their current work – whether it’s homework or chores or art projects – and their future careers with God-ordained purpose and joy.

JWK: At the end of the book, I believe in your note to parents, you write that Genesis “is a call to much more than just procreation. This is a call to civilization— a call to cultural creation.” What do you mean by that?

JR: I think a lot of times when we read the command in Genesis…to “fill the Earth” we assume that this just means make a lot of babies, right? It certainly does mean that but lots of great thinkers, scholars and theologians have pointed out that this means far more than that. It means creating not just other humans but creating culture.

I think you see that biblically really dramatically at the other bookend of Scripture Revelation…The end to which all of history is racing is not going back to the Garden of Eden…Heaven itself is a cultural artifact. It is a city – a beautiful city with refined gold and resin that’s been turned into pearls…It is precious stones that have been unearthed from the Garden of Eden that we see in Genesis…and used to adorn the New Jerusalem. Isaiah…shows that nations come into the New Jerusalem with cultural goods. The Ships of Tarshish are being brought into the New Jerusalem.

What’s the point? The point is that God never intended the garden to stay a garden. “Fill the Earth and subdue it” is more than a call to procreation. It’s a call to take the raw materials of the world and turn them into the City of God.

JWK: You put out a book in 2017 called Call to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate and Risk. This seems like the children’s version of that – with a message that resonates with adults as well.

JR: That’s exactly right. I got the idea for The Creator in You as I was writing (that). This idea is five years old…In the Church we talk a lot about the fact that God is loving and holy and omnipotent. Of course, He’s all those things but the first thing God wanted us to know about His character is that He is a God who creates…Pretty much the only thing we know about God in the entire first chapter of The Bible is that He’s a God who creates. That has dramatic implications for us today for those of us who make things. It gives us God-ordained purpose and significant dignity to the work we are all doing in the world.

JWK: Your message seems to be kind of counter-cultural in a way. The way people in the culture right now, for example, are being told not to leave a carbon footprint. What the message really seems to be is don’t leave a footprint at all. It seems to me that we’re presenting to our kids a sense of a lot shame and anger regarding the past and fear about the future with the whole idea of climate change. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned about ecology and climate but things seem a bit out of balance. Even procreation isn’t really encouraged in the media. It seems to me that the media is putting out a very anti-creation narrative. Do you have any thoughts on that? Am I making any sense?

JR: You’re make total sense! This is a really terrific question, I think. I think we are sending a very strong message to our kids and, frankly, to everyone in the world today that the purpose of life is to consume. It’s consumption. It’s to sit back and consume as much of the creation as you can. It’s consume as much entertainment as you can.

This is just not what we see in Genesis…when God communicated the purpose of humankind. Our purpose is to make more of this world than what we started with. It is to create. It is to take the world somewhere. We don’t have to wonder about what that somewhere is. It’s the Eternal Kingdom of God.

There’s this little detail in Genesis that I just think really beautifully encapsulates this. I don’t know that is was intentional by God (but) I gotta think that it was. In Genesis 2:12 we’re told that in the Garden of Eden…”The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.” This is where God is bringing Adam and Eve into the garden and He says go work this Earth and turn it into something else. This is the second chapter of The Bible and we’re hearing about gold, resin – which are pearls – and onyx which is a precious stone. Where to do we that (again)? We see it in the second to last chapter of Scripture – in Revelation 21 when the City comes down from the sky and the City is made of purified gold or refined gold, pearls and precious stones. I think this is God’s way of saying “Kids, I made you not to sit back and consume for all eternity. I made you to build things – to take this stuff from the Earth and form it in ways that will bring Me glory.” I think that’s what He’s pointing to with these poetic bookends of Genesis 2 and Revelation 21.

JWK: Yeah. It seems to me that we’re encouraged not to use our natural resourses – both our personal natural resources and our nation’s natural resources.

JR: I think there’s a fine line here because if we believe Genesis 1…(we) are called (to be) steward keepers. We should be the ones fighting for (the environment). That’s the one hand. The other hand, though, is we have been called to take this Earth and make more of it – but to do it in a sustainable way that doesn’t kill the Earth because we know God cares so deeply about the physical material world that He’s going to redeem and renew it…There’s a new Earth, a refined Earth thus God cares about it. So, we’ve gotta care about it but have also got to take its raw materials and use them to create things that bring God glory.

JWK: Like in all things, balance is important.

JR: That’s exactly right.

JWK: How important is it that what we create for others, as well as ourselves? How important is that we create things with the intention of helping others?

JR: This is a really, really, really good question. Listen, I think when you look at Genesis I think we see that God Himself is working for the good of others. He didn’t need to work. He worked as a means of sharing His love and glory with us – but you also see passages of Scripture where God is clearly working just for the pure joy of it. It wasn’t to serve anybody. It was just for fun. There’s this passage in Job 38 (where) God makes it rain on a barren land where nobody lives in the desert where nothing can grow. That seems so purposeless. I think the point is God (worked) for the pure joy of working. So, I think it’s both and again, John, I think we are called to work for the good of others but I also think there are times when we can just work for the pure joy of it ourselves – to bring joy to ourselves and joy to the Father. Psalm 37:23 says God delights in every detail of our lives…I just think He looks down on us and smiles whether (our) work is for other people or for ourselves in communion with Him.

JWK: So, now that you’ve written your first children’s book, do you think you want to do it again?

JR: Oh, yeah. We’re definitely doing it again. In fact, I am getting ready to write the next manuscript right now. Again, I think it is because I’m in this phase of life as a dad. I got these three young kids at home and I just want them to have a really well-formed theology, especially of work, before they leave my house – that they will understand that they’re not here just to pass the time but that they’ve got joyful work to do in partnership with the Father. So, The Creator in You, Lord willing, is just chapter one of many, many children’s book that we’ll bring to life in the next few years.

JWK: Anything I haven’t asked you that I should have?

JR: I think a good question to ask (is) why does it matter that our kids understand that God works?…A really big piece of this book is understanding that God works…Number 1, I think understanding that God works leads them to worship while they work. So many messages our kids are hearing is about how awesome they are. Very few messages are about how awesome God is. So, when they ace a test at school or they build an epic Lego set they’re told “Wow! You’re so awesome and creative!” When they understand that God Himself works and He’s the true source of all creativity I think it helps them ascribe credit where credit is due…Second, it leads them to view their current and future work as good. Again, God didn’t need to work. He chose to. That means it is fundamentally good. And then, finally, I think that understanding that God works leads us to want to work in God’s image. We talk so much about being formed in the image of God but most of our talk centers around the “spiritual life” not work – but if God Himself worked (that’s) an example for how we oughta work in the present to best reflect His image. We work hard because God works hard. He worked six days and He rested one. We (strive) for excellence because look out your window. God works with extravagant excellence! We work to create beauty because God created it! So, that’s what I’m hoping kids get out of (this book).

JWK: I was debating whether to go here or not – and you don’t have to – but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on the politicization of storytelling aimed at kids. Traditionally, from Aesop’s Fables to books like you just wrote, the aim of storytelling – especially stories aimed at kids – was to entertainingly impart universal rock-solid principles to live by without the attachment of adult political agendas of the moment. I’m thinking particularly about what’s been going on at Disney.

JR: …I think Disney is obviously very, very smart. I think they understand that kids can implicitly and explicitly pick up and understand pretty complicated messages…I think they and other companies are gonna continue to explicitly and implicitly push agendas on our children. The Church’s historical response to this kind of culture war debate has been to condemn and to boycott. That’s not working.

I’m a big believer in what Andy Crouch has written about in that the only way to (win a culture war) is to create more culture. You win by creating better stories and telling better narratives which is why I’m so fired up about kids and, frankly, their parents embracing the call to create – because our kids are going to grow up with the largest generation of Nones on record. Their friends are gonna have no religious affiliation. They’re not gonna step inside a church to learn about God for the first time.

So, where are they gonna learn about God? They’re gonna learn about Him in art, in film, in culture. That’s where they’re gonna encounter Jesus for the first time. That’s why the Church needs to be scattering into every square inch of culture to make more of it as a means of revealing Jesus Christ.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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