If paideia is the entire enculturation
of a person or society,
then what is culture?
How do we begin, start, create,
cultivate a specific culture?
How do we then maintain, tend, keep,
and share an existing culture?
Paideia is the word handed down to us from ancient Greece, which means education or upbringing, the culture of a society—this was broadly understood to mean that this was the all-encompassing atmosphere and education necessary for the continuance of the Greek values and methodology. Particularly passionate Greeks wanted to produce similarly passionate Greeks in the following generations. Paideia was the word used to describe the way their culture and life and belief system and practices would be perpetuated. But in our modern American social elitism, I don’t know if we even understand culture anymore. We think it is simply what surrounds us, with its ever changing ebb and flow, dependent upon the whims of the society and their winds of change which always blow.
Culture is a word that has a noun form as well as a verb form, and both have an interesting nuance when it comes to raising the next generation in a specific paideia.
As a noun, culture means:
—the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.
As a verb, culture means:
—maintaining conditions suitable for growth.
Interestingly, I find the definition of enculturation to be a sort of marriage between the noun and verb forms of culture:
—the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values.
Enculturation and acculturation are two vastly different things. And I think one of the sad realities is that a lot of Christians in our nation have given way to acculturation rather than actively pursuing the enculturation of our children for the kingdom of God. Briefly put, acculturation is the amalgamation of multiple cultures, as opposed to enculturation which is the acquisition of one’s own primary culture.
For the Greeks, they wanted to raise good little Greeks, and they actively pursued a Greek paideia. They certainly didn’t want the influences of outsiders to overwhelm and overtake their children, thereby staining and ultimately derailing the next generation. When Paul used the term paideia in Ephesians 6:1, he used that word specifically because it would have been commonly understood and recognized by those who received his letter. He exhorted fathers to raise their children in the paideia of the Lord. He was promoting a culture centered on their heavenly citizenship over their national citizenship.
Philippians 3:20—But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a principle which withstands time and supersedes location. The paideia of the Lord is a culture which transcends time and location!
What do you want your children raised for, educated for, brought up to love and pursue and perpetuate?
I for one long to raise my kids for Christ, to educate them well in order to equip them to glorify Him through their lives as His image-bearers, brought up to love things which are good and true and beautiful, to pursue the spreading of God’s kingdom on earth, and to perpetuate the line of Christ and practices of piety… in other words, I want to bring my children up in the paideia (nurture, admonition, education, culture, principles, instruction) of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am hands-down, fully-in on that. Lord, grant me strength and shower me with mercy as I strive to accomplish this on Your power and grace!
A new nuance to contemplate, and that which has recently intrigued me, is the verb form of culture. “Conditions suitable for growth.”
I know a lot of people have been thrown into a lot of new things in the last couple of years, as though tossed into the water without the slow and careful teaching of swimming and floating methods. Things that I honestly have not been thrown into or had to develop myself, because I have honestly just always lived and swam in this water. In a recent discussion with a new friend (one of the founding members of Paideia Southeast, a new sister community for Paideia Northwest which I founded in 2018), I was reminded once again that learning something new and countercultural is harder to recreate than continuing to perpetuate something old and already culturally assimilated.
Two things a lot of people have been thrown into recently are sourdough baking and schooling at home. So I will use these as my primary examples here.
I was brought up on homemade bread. My children have been brought up on homemade bread. And one of the many types of bread I like to make is sourdough bread. In fact, I like to use my sourdough starter as a base for almost any kind of bread I make. I have a friend who really wanted to learn to use sourdough bread a couple years ago, so I gave her some of the sourdough starter from the container in my fridge, told her how I care for it and use it in baking, and wished her well. Again, about a year ago, she came back to me asking for starter and instructions… because it hadn’t worked well for her, she kind of forgot about maintaining it, and she’s not really sure what happened, but it definitely derailed and she tossed it. But with the craze of sourdough bread baking during the insanity which was 2020, she remembered that she once had an interest in this particular thing, and that she had access to someone who was already elbow-deep in the process. I haven’t asked her how it has been going over the last ten or twelve months, but I wonder if she has been more proactive and diligent and engaged in the sourdough process this time around. I wonder if she has been able to taste the wonder of the fruit of those labors.
I was also brought up on home education. And my children likewise have been brought up on home education. But I happen to know that there are plenty of cases over the last nineteen months where families have had their kids brought home to pursue their schooling out of forced necessity rather than choice—and while some have embraced it with skill and joy, others have found it to be a nightmare of overwhelm or dropped the ball from apathy or simply found it undesirable to have to sacrifice their days and hours and resources to educate kids themselves. This was not an ocean that I was pushed overboard into—it is a sea of blessing which I would gladly drown in, but prayerfully swim and float through by God’s grace. It is the same water (educating kids at home), but being shoved overboard into it is vastly different than searching for the water and wading in slowly from the shoreline… which, I would argue, is also vastly different than simply having already spent your whole life in that water (yep: I think I just labeled myself as a mermaid).
Two crazy metaphors which cannot overlap and seem unrelated if not opposed?
I don’t think so.
(…but humor me, and stay tuned for part two…)