Hello and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
For the last couple of weeks, we've been talking about why Christians don't write rated R movies. And what I was starting to talk about last week are how the criteria that we're using is problematic for us because what we're doing is we're describing a movie as good or a story as good, if it lacks sex, if it lacks language, and if it lacks violence. And so the goal is for things to be non-offensive in terms of those things.
And I don't think that is very good creative guidance for us. It limits the kinds of stories that we are allowed to tell. So, what we want to do is come up with new criteria that allows us to explore the kinds of material that we actually need as human people and as adults. And that allows us to operate in our freedom as Christians, but also does give us some guidance, so that we're not inadvertently causing our audience to sin or causing harm to our readers or what have you.
So, we need creative guidance. Boundaries are good for artists. We do need them. And sometimes when we have those boundaries, it actually allows us to be even more creative. So we're looking, though, at what kinds of boundaries are the boundaries that are appropriate. And I don't think we've chosen the right ones.
So, we started looking at what some of the new parameters might be. And last week, I talked about number one, which is the foundational one of all. We must have a commitment to truth telling. We must tell the truth, nothing but the truth, so help us God. We have to, have to, have to start with the truth. Anything less than the truth is wrong. So just know, if you're telling a story, and you feel like, "I don't think I can actually tell that because it's a little too dark, or it's a little too awful," or whatever it is, or it seems a little hopeless. And so you're thinking about editing it from the outset because you don't think it's positive enough, that's an error that you want to avoid. Just because it has that, doesn't mean you shouldn't tell it. In fact, you should. If it's the truth, you tell it. And that is the first rule of thumb.
The second one is to not harm our audience. So when we tell the truth, we have to find a way to tell it, that doesn't actually cause our audience to sin just by reading it or watching it. Or that doesn't cause the actor to sin or to stumble or to be damaged. For example, I'm always concerned whenever I see a movie, where there are child actors who are having to say nasty things, or have sexual content that has been written in the script, or a lot of cussing, that sort of thing—that's inappropriate for us to have the child actors do. So there has to be a commitment to not harm our audience, our actors, our readers, whatever the case may be. Those are the first two primary foundational premises that we're working with.
Today, I want to talk to you about a couple more. So we're going to start with number three, if you're trying to evaluate whether or not a story is good for you to either consume as a consumer or for you to write it as a storyteller, you want to ask yourself, "Does this story present a worldview with a possibility for redemption?" We must have the possibility of redemption.
What do I mean by that? Well, we want to start with the idea that all stories are based on suffering. They're all this personal paradox, right? The personal crucible that the character has to go through. It's all about suffering. It always is. Every single main character must go through this crucible of suffering in order to achieve the goal and to become the man or woman that they were always destined to become or failed to become. So that's a given. It's a crucible.
But a Christian worldview is not the same as a nihilistic worldview. And nihilistic worldview says that there is no chance for the human being to have an agency that can actually affect change. The human being is just a cog in the wheel, and they don't have any ability to change their circumstances, to change the world as it is, to better the world around them. It is what it is. They're just victims. That is a nihilistic worldview. And we want to avoid that. We want to make sure that there is a chance for human beings to make choices. And based on those choices, either good things or bad things can happen. Human agency is in play.
But in that human agency, then, there is the possibility of redemption. There is the possibility that a person who has been rotten can be redeemed. That a person that is broken can be redeemed. That a person that has lost all hope can find hope because we believe in this good thing called grace. God's grace is available. While we are still living, we can all be changed and impacted by the gift of grace. And it's not something we earn. It's something that is offered. It is a gift.
Flannery O'Connor said, "All human nature vigorously resists grace, because grace changes us. And the change is painful." When we truly encounter an act of grace, an offer of grace, it is hard to stay a victim. We generally see our own sin. We see everything about ourselves so clearly. We realize how not deserving we are of it. And it changes us. It is painful to see those things. So we resist seeing it. We resist allowing ourselves to be changed by it. When we are honest with ourselves, we see how heinous our sins actually are, how much damage they've caused to ourselves and others. And it causes us to fall on our face and worship God and ask for mercy and grace, because we suddenly see ourselves clearly.
Corrie Ten Boom says, "There is no pit so deep, that God's love isn't deeper still." And this is very much a part of the Christian worldview, right? What we believe is that no one is beyond redemption, as long as they are still alive. But after this comes judgment. It is appointed for man to die once and after this comes judgment. So you have to be alive to be able to repent.
Now, Pascal says that the purpose of literature, stories, is to reveal to man his hidden greatness. So, in addition to the criteria of no sex, no language, and no violence, there is another unspoken rule in Christendom that says that all stories should have a happy ending, a feel good positive ending to the story. And there is real disdain for anything that people think isn't positive. But here's the thing—not everything in God's economy ends positively. In fact, it can't always in positively. And certainly, the suffering needs to be accepted as it is. The suffering, the suffering, the crucible that the character goes through. Because without that suffering, we can't attain to the greatness that we were meant to achieve.
So, not everything in God's economy ends positively. Not everyone in this world is redeemed. But there must be the possibility of redemption. They must be able to make a choice. If they reject it, that's one thing, but the choice still has to be offered. People have free will. The possibility of redemption is consistent with Christian theology, with Orthodox Christianity. It's also consistent with psychology and what we experience as people.
Now, people that say that they don't have a choice are mistaken. We can always make choices. Now, maybe sometimes our choices are limited based on where we live, what government we have. This is one reason why I don't believe in communism. And I don't believe in a school of thought, a political thought, that says that everybody should get equal, it should be equal distribution. I think that if I work hard, if I do stuff, if I do the work, I should be able to have a potential of greater reward. It totally demotivates a person if there's no greater reward. And we see that happening when you give out ribbons to every kid that attends the meet. And the kids that are actually excelling don't fare any better, or reap any greater rewards. It demotivates them. It actually undermines what they're trying to achieve.
So, there's something about our choices, that when we have choice, it gives us the potential for different outcomes. And it should. And even in those societies that have been structured in a way to limit the power of personal choice, there are still always personal choices that can be made. That is just our human experience.
So we know it. We know it experientially. We reap what we sow. That is a biblical principle, which implies that our choices have outcomes. We have fruit in accordance with the choices that we make. So, people have been given the gift of free will. We get to choose. We make choices good and bad. Our characters cannot be put in situations where they have no choice. They should have difficult, nearly impossible choices that they still have to make a choice. And that's good, because character—true character—is revealed in the choices that a character makes under pressure. So the harder the choice, the truer the revelation is to that person's essential core. But they have to be put in a situation where there is a choice, however hard it is. Otherwise, it's nihilism, which directly contradicts a biblical Christian worldview. In our stories, we have to make sure our characters have grace available to them. Whether or not they accept that grace is an entirely different matter altogether.
And so what that means is, whether or not a story is good doesn't have anything to do with whether or not they choose the grace, but rather that they have the option to. Which means we can have bad endings. We can have unhappy endings. We can have endings where it ends poorly because we're damning our characters in order to redeem our audience. But that just means they have the right choice. They could have made the right choice and they chose not to. So, we're basically saying, "Here's your moral lesson, people. Don't do what our characters did. They could have done the right thing, but they didn't." But that means we have the freedom to have bad endings. Isn't that wonderful? So we get to work in that freedom, as long as, again, the characters had a choice.
Okay, number four, there has to be an accurate portrayal of good and evil. As Flannery O'Connor says, "The Christian writer lives in a larger world." Now, what does that mean? Well, we need to have a true biblical moral worldview. We cannot be confused about what things are good and what are evil. To be good storytellers, we need to have an accurate understanding of universal objective moral truths.
This is ultimately where the breakdown has occurred in the kinds of content that we're now seeing a lot of in mainstream media. At the end of the day, the battle in the marketplace of ideas is one about morality. Which things are good? Which things are evil? What is good and what is bad? We get confused about these things. Even in the church. The church has failed to equip its members to think clearly about objective moral issues. And part of this is because the church has been really good about issuing do's and don'ts, black and white rules that we're supposed to follow. And we really eat each other alive if we see those rules are violated.
For example, how many times have you heard of people in the church who fall into sexual sin? And everybody knows, oh, that's bad. That's bad, right? However, what about the people that are gossiping? What about the people that are arrogant? What about the people that are non-repentant, that are just prideful or stubborn? And all those things. Or gluttonous. Right? There's this whole body image thing. Now we're all supposed to celebrate our bodies and love our bodies as they are. But the truth is, there is a self indulgence. There is something there that could be very bad for us. And we shouldn't celebrate those things.
A lot of what's happening, I think, in the church, is we're celebrating the wrong things. We're thinking that some things are good, that are actually bad. We're not thinking through the issues all the way. Alright, a woman has a choice to protect her own body. Alright. Or to make choices regarding her own body. But we're not taking that to its full extent. At which point, are we violating the rights of others and actually doing harm to a child? Right? I mean, there's all sorts of things. We've got to think more clearly about these things. We have adopted some very false views in the church.
For example, we have adopted this view that we need to forgive. How often do you hear in the church, "Oh, you got to forgive." Jesus won't forgive you if you don't forgive others? That's what the verse says. So therefore, we have to forgive. But we forget to look beyond that and see the example in Scripture. In Scripture, for people to be forgiven by God, there is a process. There is a protocol laid out. They have to confess their sin. They have to be repentant. They have to demonstrate repentance. God doesn't give it to you until you've gone through that protocol. And I believe nor should we.
Now, again, the principle behind it is a good one. The principle is that when we are holding on to unforgiveness, really what it is, it's a need for justice. That person has hurt us. They've wronged us. They've done something wrong and they aren't repentant, which is why we're so obsessed with it. And that can eat us alive because the person may never come to repentance. Problem is we can't forgive them without it. So what are we supposed to do?
Well, I think the true process in scripture that we should do is surrender. It's still a letting go. But it's surrendering, what? Not the forgiveness. The justice. We're letting go of our need for justice. We're surrendering that to God. We're putting it in the proper place. Instead of us taking the burden onto ourself, the burden to forgive somebody that's unrepentant, we're surrendering our need for justice. We're letting that go. And we're saying, "Lord, I'm putting it in your hands. Would you take care of this? Ah." And now I'm released. I can let it go and be happy. And live a healthy, wonderful life.
But not because I have been demanded or expected to forgive somebody that's unrepentant. That isn't healthy. That is not healthy for us. What is healthy for us is to always be willing to forgive if a person comes to repentance, just as God forgives us when we repent to Him. So there is a breakdown, I believe, that has occurred in our church, as a whole, because the church has failed to equip us, its members, to think clearly about moral issues.
So above all else, we must be clear about what is good and what isn't. This is part of the truth telling. See, this is where it all connects, because you're not telling the truth, if you're in error about what is good and what isn't. Moreover, we must convey a clear morality in the work itself. In practical terms, I'm simply saying that yes, our characters can sin. But when they sin, they need to know they've sinned. There can't be any question in our minds as a reader or as an audience member, about whether or not the characters have done something wrong. We should know it if they've done something wrong, if they've crossed the line. They can still do it. We just have to be clear that they've done it.
And our characters should also know the difference between right and wrong. Even if they are struggling with the decision, the point is they're wrestling with it because there's probably one they're leaning to because it feels more comfortable as a human being, and they're justifying it. But at the end of the day, they have to know if they've crossed a moral line. If they've crossed that line, it better be clear. They can't be confused about notions of simple right and wrong.
And the problem is, we're confused in real life. So if we're not on target in real life, if we don't have that clarity in real life, how on earth can we ensure that our characters have clarity? We can't. Which is why one of the prerequisites of being a good artist, is to know thyself, is to be in tune with what is true. I think that's why Christians should be the very best artists that ever existed because we have a corner on the truth. If God really exists, if he exists and He revealed to us through scripture, and through our own hearts, what the world is meant to be like, and what we are like as human people, then we should be writing the best stuff because we know the truth better than anybody else, because we believe what He's revealed. So, it should give us a leg up.
And instead, we're too busy trying to protect people from the truth. But that's the mistake. That's the mistake. And that becomes where we violate the truth because we're afraid about leading people astray. But in not telling the truth we're leading people astray. Do you see how it becomes this problem, this circular problem? So, let's just get rid of that from the get go and say "No, we tell the truth, even if it's an ugly truth." It's how we tell that truth that is different. So our characters cannot be confused by the notions of right and wrong. Otherwise, we may be guilty of presenting a corrupt and false morality. Where right is wrong and wrong is right.
To be a good Christian writer, it presupposes that you have a correct understanding of morality. This is a war that we are in. And this is the real issue at stake. There is no room for ambiguity. Now that doesn't mean that we can't have paradox and it doesn't mean that we can't have mystery. It just means that we cannot, for God's sake, we cannot be confused about morality. Wrong must be presented as wrong, and right must be presented as right in order for evil and good to be accurately portrayed in story.
And this is where I get a little controversial and tell you that there are many things in the Bible that are unacceptable to modern Christians. Why? Because these things that are presented in the Bible don't sit right with contemporary moral sensibilities. And this is where you have to make a choice. Are you going to adopt your modern sensibilities over and against what God has revealed in Scripture?
You hear about all of these Christians these days that are touting the fact that they are ex-evangelicals, or they've deconstructed their Christian faith. But really, what that means is that there were things they encountered in the Bible that they didn't like, because that violated their current modern sensibilities. And apparently, their faith was too fragile. It wasn't deep. It was shallow.
So, we need to approach our faith and our stories on a much deeper level. It cannot just be didactic criteria. It's this kind of thing that has been going on in Christendom that has produced such crappy art, as of late. A Christian movie or story would ultimately lead viewers away from cynicism and toward hope. But it would also acknowledge the complexity. We can't simplify complex things. We have to allow complex things to remain complex, or else they have no mystery. They have no paradox. They have no depth.
So, there's a lot of things that we need to do. But one of the main things is we have to have a true understanding and portray accurately in our story, what is good and what is evil. We have to understand depravity and dignity. We have to understand good and bad. And we have to be able to reflect that accurately through our stories. (Lulu snorts loudly) Exactly, Lulu.
All right. When we come back next week, I'll go through a couple more key foundational ingredients that must be present if you are a Christian trying to write from a biblical Christian moral worldview. These are the things you're looking for. If you're going to the movies, if you're reading a book, this is what you look for to help you evaluate whether or not that story is good. If it has these things present, if it keeps these things in proper perspective, it's a good story. Even if it has sex, language and violence, and even if it ends poorly.
Now, if you're listening to this podcast right now, I want to let you know we are on YouTube. So if you would like to watch the show on YouTube, then check us out. There's a link in the show notes below. Please do subscribe to our channel and share. Share the show with anybody that you think might be interested in learning more about these things.
In the meantime, I want to thank you for joining me today on The Storytellers' Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.