“The sacred exists and is stronger than all our rebellions.” Czeslaw Milosz
We live in an era where rebellion is mainstream. Rebellion is conventionnel, pedestrian even. The ubiquity of rebellion extends to literature and media for children, driving the stories most kids are exposed to every day. As a parent, this is a cause of grave concern. Stories shape children (and all of us) in ways nothing else can. We are story-shaped beings and stories move us most places we go because they form what we love.
“Stories are like catechisms, but they’re catechisms for your impulses, they’re catechisms with flesh on.” —N. D. Wilson
Our culture loves rebellion. We tell stories about what we love.
Since rebellion is conventional now, the unconventional thing to do is reject rebellion. And it’s the right thing to do.
If we are Christians, we are called to submission. This terrifying word is the primary characteristic of the follower of Christ. It is what being a disciple means (to follow behind). We are called to a different story than the rebellion of the ancient dragon in the garden. He lies about what rebellion produces and the echo of that lie rebounds around our books and flashes through our screens.
“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” —Simone Weil
Jesus is Lord. His authority is not a cage, but a key. His authority is an endowment. God is love, and his authority is loving. This also goes for the authority He establishes. Of course, if you’re a parent like me, then it’s apparent we don’t exercise this God-ordained authority with the perfect love of our Father. But we have a chance to deal a counter-stroke in this great battle against rebellion. If we are to do this, it must be in and through love.
One avenue of opportunity for this refreshing counter-stroke is in the arts. Not only is rebellion the way of the dragon from ancient times, it’s also a tired cliché in modern storytelling. How many more movies do we need where parents are hellacious buffoons in ties and aprons and our rebellious teenager is proven to be the truly virtuous one? He followed his (self-centered) dream. “The Man” tried to keep him down…ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz. Wake me up when it’s over.
So, the tired cliché that rebellion = virtue, is pretty well played out, right? Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be. There are some places where the type is actually played against and something like a true nuance is evident (Pixar’s “Brave”), but it’s still pervasive. I believe it’s pervasive because it’s part of our civic religion and our storytellers are writing out of that religious conviction, spreading the “good news” to the unconverted and encouraging the true believers. Down with authority, all the way up. We aim to stick it to “the man,” because we can’t quite get at God with such short arms.
“In an age that has thrown off all tradition, the only rebellion possible is Orthodoxy.” —Peter Kreeft
But what an opportunity we have to tell more nuanced stories! The answer isn’t to rebalance the scales by always-and-only portraying parents and other God-ordained authorities as basically perfect. That isn’t honest either. It’s to recapture the comprehensive nature of Christian storytelling.
Christians believe the world was good, that creation was beautiful, and that harmony was intended. So, when we tell stories about harmony and beauty and peace, we tell true stories. But there was a fall, and, since then, sin and death are an unavoidable reality—a loud, discordant note in the symphony of mankind’s history. When we tell stories where things are fouled up, we tell truthfully. When we tell stories with evil and suffering that resolve in triumph of beauty through self-giving love, we tell perhaps the most truthful kinds of stories of all. But they all fit, and the varieties possible are almost innumerable.
The Christian story is not narrow and confining. The Christian storyteller is not as limited as she has been led to believe. The Christian worldview has a genuine accounting for the way the world is, as well as for the indescribable longing we feel for resolution to all its ills. In my view, the Christian landscape is the most broad, comprehensive, and reasonable of all. And the most ripe for tales.
I am praying for a renaissance of the Christian imagination. We will need creators and curators. We will need construction.
“Construction is the best way to rebel against the established rebellion.” —Zach Franzen
I do believe God’s loving authority is not a cage, but a key. Storytellers have a unique opportunity to help unbind us from the spell that makes that key seem evil.
And all of us are storytellers.
S.D. “Sam” Smith is the author of the popular “Green Ember” series of books.
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