by Allen Arnold
Imagine you are invited to a dinner party where the host is known for telling great stories. You can learn a lot about a host by the stories he chooses to tell around the table. Does he enjoy stories that make everyone laugh? Do his stories call out a sense of nobility or make the room blush? Do they stir up a spirit of hope or more a sense of dread and fear?
One day, we will be gathered at the most amazing banquet feast ever. The book of Revelation calls it the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. And you can be sure that there will be endless stories shared by the King.
What kind of stories do you think he will tell first?
What kind of stories do you think he loves most?
Just as the host of a dinner party has his favorite stories, do you think God loves certain types of stories more than others?
I believe he does.
In Philippians 4:8 – 9 (The Message), Paul offers amazing clarity on this issue: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do your best by filling your minds and meditating (I invite you to add “creating” here too) on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
I believe this contains the DNA of what God loves for us to focus on in our lives and in our stories.
We are told pretty clearly to meditate on the good, the beautiful, and things to praise. And we’re told to avoid the worst, the ugly, and things to curse.
But how can you tell a story with no conflict, no villain, no danger?
Our world is filled with both.
Our life is filled with both.
God isn’t asking us to ignore the fallen world we live in. His stories in the Bible certainly don’t. They are gritty, real, and raw. Even so – notice how these Bible stories show reality without glorifying gratuitous sex or violence. Notice how good is clearly good and evil is clearly evil. We aren’t thrust inside the head of a serial killer to better understand his motive. God doesn’t describe Eve in the garden without clothes in a provocative manner so we can more fully appreciate her beauty.
I’m convinced that we’ve become a more voyeuristic culture who expects to see almost anything in the name of entertainment. Many Christians now believe a well-told story trumps the ingredients of the story. Not only have we grown more comfortable with darker entertainment in the past decade, we now embrace it on the bases of the nuanced plots and characters. In other words, a well-told story trumps what’s actually in the story.
In the name of realism (voyeurism) – movies and many television shows keep the camera on when a couple (almost never married) is engaged in sexual situations. Beyond that being something we simply don’t need to see...how do we rationalize actors filming semi-nude sex scenes with other actors for our visual entertainment? Would we feel comfortable watching the same scene we watch on our home screens if they were acted out in a local play where our neighbors recreated these intimate moments on a stage a few feet from us with other neighbors who weren’t their spouses? If not – why are we ok watching it at all?
We have become numb by watching shows and listening to music that has grown increasingly crass, violent and sexualized. How is it edifying to watch zombies mutilate and slaughter humans? Why does almost every detective show now feature a serial killer or rapist or torture scene? We cannot put these images in our mind, call it entertainment and not think it will infect our creativity.
We hear artists praise edgy stories and lift up “pushing the envelope” as authentic. But what are we pushing towards? What are we riding on the edge of? And why does this almost always lead to darker, more graphic content? Proverbs 11:27 states “The one who seeks good finds delight. The student of evil becomes evil.”
Most writers are convinced that villains are more fun to write (or to play as an actor) than heroes. In a recent cover story in Entertainment Weekly, a producer of the upcoming Spiderman movie remarked: “Great villains are the characters you remember. There’s a lot of us in those people...Hey, it’s hard to identify with people who are good all the time.”
I get what he is saying. In superhero movies, you certainly need a worthy villain. But what we need even more are heroes who are genuinely good and far from boring. Heroes who aren’t riddled with doubt but who stand for “things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious”. What does it say about us that our fascination goes more towards what makes a person bad than what makes a soul good? We have to be careful here, because our enemy is fallen and he loves fallen stories where hope is gone and there are no true heroes. He’s consumed with himself and convinced he is more interesting than God.
Do we really need more dark, horror or suspense novels written by Christians to remind us that we live in an evil world? That’s a bit like saying we need pornographic novels with graphic sex scenes to remind us (by novel’s end) of God’s call to sexual purity. I think we all pretty much get that we live in a fallen world. Filling our minds with hundreds of pages of graphic violence, torture, and evil simply to end with the truth that God wins is like taking a bath in a tub of excrement just to shower at the end so we remember what clean feels like. I’d rather stay clean to begin with. We don’t need Christians creating art that is meant – by design – to cause us to mediate on death, fear and darkness. That doesn’t seem life-giving to readers...or to those who spin these tales in their heads.
It’s your job to make an audience as excited and fascinated about a subject as you are.” says Actor and Comedian Ricky Gervais. Let’s make sure the subjects that fascinate us are also fascinating to God.
It’s good to ask yourself if the stories you watch and the stories you write align with the Philippians 4:8 – 9 model. Is there a major theme of hope that permeates these stories? When readers look into the mirror of your books – what do they see?
As I said, you learn a lot about a dinner host by the stories he chooses to tell around the table.
The same holds true for authors.