[00:00:00] 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.
[00:00:11] So last time, we started talking about things that are self-indulgent, things that storytellers do or include in the work that go beyond the work itself, and I believe fall into a category of self-aggrandizement, self-indulgence. Something about it that is self-glorifying, that I think we ought to avoid because it's just a little icky. It's a little gross.
[00:00:34] All right, so I gave you some examples of different things, of films that I think have done that, especially lately. Some of the Academy Award ones or one in particular that I think violates these rules. And I also gave some examples of particular qualities, if you will, or moments when I think we cross the line. Like if you are pandering to your audience, if you're manipulating your audience, if you are violating your audience, if you're gratuitous in some way, that all of those things are self-indulgent in some way.
[00:01:10] So, I want to continue that line of thought today and apply it to another area that I see problematic in terms of how writers commit this, but also just Christians in general. To be honest with you, we can all be sort of self-aggrandizing. It's a real problem for us. So I want to give you another example of how these types of things can happen unintentionally, unintentionally, actually.
[00:01:36] And I'm going to use the example of the Jesus Revolution movie. And I don't want to step on anybody's toes in this regard. I don't want to hurt your feelings. I don't want to cause a fight. I don't want to harm anybody in what I'm about to say, because your opinions and your experiences are valid in terms of that film. I simply want to try to look at the film objectively and say that in some ways I believe it violated this area of self-indulgence.
[00:02:03] And then I want to show you how I think it is actually doing something that we actually do in Christendom a lot that we need to maybe address and change. And by maybe, I mean we do. And this is a little tricky because there's going to be a lot of you out there that love this movie and that is okay. And there's a lot of people that are saying, oh, but it's so much better than other Christian movies. Yes, it is. It is. And I don't think that that's necessarily a good bar, but you are right about that.
[00:02:36] I try to look at story for story sake and forget about whether the filmmakers are Christian or not. I don't care if you're a Christian or not. I want a good story.
[00:02:45] And to me, this story, while there is definite merit here, and I think it probably is a good biopic where it is reflecting a true time in history that a lot of people lived through—in fact, I'm told that it felt very, very familiar. And of course it adequately reflected the events as people remembered them.
[00:03:09] So in that regard, I think it was a success. But where I feel like the story was problematic, I'm just saying this is something to look at.
[00:03:18] Because at the beginning of the film, what I was led to expect, or led to believe is that this was going to be a film about people who were searching for Jesus and who had found Him and He had transformed their life. So that is set up beautifully in the beginning. People that are hippies that are searching for God in all the wrong places, trying to have those spiritual experiences, doing drugs, getting lost, but really they're searching for God and lo and behold, they actually have an opportunity to find him.
[00:03:51] And so that was exciting to me. But at the end of the day, what it really became about was look at the ministries of these three men. Look at what they accomplished. Not so much what God accomplished through them.
[00:04:07] Now, yes, of course there is the line in the film that says, "Don't be so arrogant as to think that God can't use a broken vessel," or whatever that line was about Kelsey Grammar's character, Chuck.
[00:04:20] However, I still would say that even if you look at the end of the film and all the stuff that they tell you afterwards, it's about Greg Laurie's ministry and about what he's done and about his wife and him and their marriage and their ministry, and da da da da da. And I never actually saw Greg Laurie's character really wrestling with the gospel, really wrestling with the word of God, really even searching the word of God, really lost in prayer and trying to understand this Jesus, and allowing his life to be transformed.
[00:04:54] Everything that happened in his life was more about himself and his own efforts. And, and then the people that were in his life, but not Jesus per se.
[00:05:05] I didn't actually see him wrestling with God, and I wanted to because that's where the power is. And so since it didn't, it's sort of like this is what he accomplished on his own strength. And maybe that wasn't how it was. Maybe that's not the truth of the story of Greg Laurie, but that's how the picture came across to me.
[00:05:26] That's how the movie communicated to me. It was about his strength in his own flesh. This is what he accomplished. It was about him pulling himself up by his own bootstraps and basically accomplishing what he did. It was done in his own strength.
[00:05:44] And part of the reason I know this is because at the end of the film, the climactic moment isn't him turning to God in some angsty moment and asking God to use him or to show him or to whatever, la, la, la tell him the truth, whatever.
[00:06:00] It's him chasing his wife and saying, we are going to do this. We are going to. It was a love story in that moment. And again, that might be the story that they wanted to tell, but to me it was a little bit of a missed opportunity because it was set up to be a Jesus revolution. And I don't think it was a Jesus revolution, at least not in that sense.
[00:06:24] I think it was a Greg Laurie revolution or a Chuck revolution or Lonnie revolution. It didn't feel like a true Jesus revolution because towards the end of it, Jesus wasn't really playing a role in their lives. It was more what they were accomplishing.
[00:06:40] And of course we see this too actually in the evolution of Lonnie's character, where Lonnie suddenly is asked, do you think you're a prophet? And we see him becoming this megalomaniac. We see his ego overcoming his servant attitude. And we see him making it about him.
[00:07:02] And to the credit of the film, they even have Chuck calling him out on that and saying, this isn't the Holy Spirit. This is you trying to take back the attention and make it about you. And I do think that was very much a temptation and a risk.
[00:07:17] And of course then they do show Lonnie struggling in that brief moment outside. Greg Laurie even watches him through the window where Lonnie's crying out to God at the fire. And saying, please use me. Please use me. Probably because in real life, he did struggle with homosexuality, which never came up in the film, which is fine. I understand why they left that out because it would've maybe been a whole other movie had it been about that. And it wasn't supposed to be about Lonnie, it was supposed to be about Greg Laurie. Nevertheless, I would've liked to have seen Greg Laurie wrestle in kind.
[00:07:52] It's actually great that Lonnie wrestled like that. He had a sin. It was a sin that had pierced him. It was the thorn in his flesh, and that's where Jesus can show up. So even though he was a weak man, even though he was a broken vessel, there can be something done with somebody that is then dependent on Jesus rather than their own strength.
[00:08:16] And I don't know if he was, I don't have any clue of his personal life. I am only speaking to what I saw in the film. And in the film I, again, I felt like it ended up being rather self-indulgent about what these men accomplished, rather than what Jesus accomplished through them.
[00:08:36] That said, I think this film has inspired a lot of people and probably was absolutely ordained for such a time as this. Because if nothing else, it has given us, as Christians, a hope that, okay, maybe we haven't lost the entire cultural battle. Maybe there is hope for us yet.
[00:08:55] And in fact, I think it has emboldened a lot of believers to join the fight because they are feeling inspired given this film. So I am so proud of the filmmakers. I actually am friends with Brent McCorkle, who's one of the directors, and kudos to him. I think he did a great job.
[00:09:16] One of my favorite scenes in the film, actually, is when Greg Laurie gets baptized. And I thought that was one of the most visual moments. I would've liked to have seen more of those types of metaphorical filming. You know, stuff that you can do that's magical in film that only film can do. I would've liked to have seen more of that kind of stuff because to me, that actually captures the bigness of the mystical union, the bigness of our relationship with God and how it goes beyond the literal, into the figurative and the metaphorical.
[00:09:52] So, I loved that moment and thought it was very, very profound and moving. That's the part that was very moving to me. Indeed. So I liked the film. I enjoyed the film. I don't think that it is an astonishing film in terms of perfecting our craft.
[00:10:10] So at the end of the day, then, how I felt that the movie communicated was that it was really on the power of the characters themselves that all of this change, all this ministry, all this growth was happening. I felt like Jesus was a little taken out of the equation.
[00:10:28] But this brings me to another area where I see some equivocation. I see this happening in real Christendom, just in everyday people, not in films, but in everyday people. And I'm sure you'll know what I'm talking about when I mention this.
[00:10:46] Thank you, Lulu. This is a little self-indulgent right here, little Lulu.
[00:10:51] Okay, so have you ever gone to a church service and afterwards, you've maybe gone up to the worship leader or you've gone up to a singer or somebody else, maybe a guest speaker even, who was up there and said a message that really resonated with you. And you said, "wow, I really loved what you had to say." And the person said, "oh, oh, It was just, it was all Jesus. It's just all Jesus." And they won't take any credit for it. You know what I'm talking about?
[00:11:18] Okay. Well, this I think is a problem. And in fact, I think that this is actually self-glorifying, and I'm going to explain why.
[00:11:28] Because I think what happens is we have this tendency to think that we can't take credit, or we can't even acknowledge the gifts and the traits, the abilities that we've been given by God or else somehow that's arrogant. But in denying it and downplaying it, it's actually a false humility. And here's the irony. It actually glorifies a different aspect of our being. It says, "oh, I am so spiritual that God is using me."
[00:12:02] So it's actually elevating ourselves by downplaying our natural gifts and abilities. Do you see how that can happen?
[00:12:11] There's a friend of mine, a girlfriend of mine from high school who does this all the time.
[00:12:17] She just talks about God this, God that, God is working this. Oh, it's all these miracle things. Miracle this. One miracle after another. And on the surface you would think, wow, you know, she is just talking about God all the time, all these things, but there's something really self-aggrandizing about it. It really feels like she's calling attention to how spiritual she is.
[00:12:44] And in fact, the reason God is doing all these things is because she is such a spiritually wonderful person. That she is just blessed. It's a little bit of a one up, one down. And yet it's all couched in this humble language. But it's really arrogant and it just bothers me. I can hardly stand sometimes to be around her because it's just so gross. And I think so obvious, but I don't know if other people see it the same way, but there's something about it that is really twisting it around and making it about how wonderful she is because God is using her in all these wonderfully magnanimous ways.
[00:13:25] So again, going back to the movie Jesus Revolution, there's that line that says, don't be so arrogant to think that God can't work through your brokenness. And I like that line. I think it's a good line, and I think that's true. We have to allow God to work through our brokenness, and I do like the idea that they're calling attention to this arrogance, so that's a good thing.
[00:13:45] However, I think in real life what we tend to do is somehow glorify ourselves by saying what a broken vessel we are. Oh, I'm just such a broken vessel and God is just so good and He's done it all. He did it all. No, He didn't. In fact, one of the things that I think is so awesome about being a Christian is that God expects partnership.
[00:14:09] And yes, God is doing stuff that I can't comprehend. And God is working on so many levels, it will never make sense to me. But guess what? He does require my participation. He invites me to participate. He wants me to take action. He wants me to use my own brain. He wants me to use my own hands and my feet and to be the church, to be his hands and feet to actually do things.
[00:14:37] He wants that, and I think that's really important for us to realize is that it isn't all God. God uses us as we are, but he also gifts us. And there is nothing wrong with taking ownership of that and appreciating that and acknowledging your giftedness. There's nothing wrong with that. Downplaying your positive traits and accomplishments has nothing to do with being humble.
[00:15:05] Humility or arrogance depends upon your sense of entitlement. If you think your skills and abilities and talents entitle you to special treatment, you're arrogant. That's what it comes down to. Do you know who was great about this? Mother Teresa. She didn't think she was entitled to any special treatment.
[00:15:31] And what is one of the things that we see happening in scripture all the time? These Pharisees, these priests, these rabbis who think they're due special treatment because of their position. Well, now it's arrogant.
[00:15:43] So the thing is they can acknowledge their giftedness without expecting special treatment. That is where the line must be drawn.
[00:15:54] So for the person who downplays their talents and doesn't say thank you, when somebody compliments them and tries to turn it all over to God and say, oh, it was just all God. It was all God. I would challenge you. I would challenge you to rethink what you're doing because it's really false humility which is really arrogance.
[00:16:12] There is nothing wrong with you taking pride, even enjoyment out of the fact that you're good at something that God gifted you. So the next time somebody compliments you about something you did as an act of service, whether you're speaking, even if it's in a glorifying position because you're in front of people, and so you have an opportunity to speak directly to people—don't rub that off. Don't dismiss that and try to say, oh, it's just God. It's just God. Instead, try saying, Thank you. Oh my gosh. I love hearing that that meant something to you. Yay. Celebrate that. It feels good, and there's nothing wrong with that. God likes that. He wants that. That is not arrogance, that's enjoyment. That's enjoying the gifts that we've been given. And why shouldn't we?
[00:16:59] The other is arrogant. False humility is arrogant and weird and gross because it's actually self-indulgent. It's ultimately self-aggrandizing because it's a way to spiritualize it. And now you think you look better. Even if you're not intending for this to happen it's a way to communicate to others that you must be so holy that God is choosing to work through you in this special, phenomenal way. So you can see how that can happen hopefully.
[00:17:31] I recently had a situation where I can tell you God gave me supernatural favor, and I can tell you that that actually happened. The people that I met with had no business, based on my credentials, based on my experiences, inviting me to participate in their group the way they did. But they liked me. But part of the reason they liked me is they sensed that I actually had the skills and the talents to be able to bring something to the table, even though I lacked the experience and the credentials.
[00:18:05] And so they still invited me and they liked what I had to say. And we had these conversations. And you know, that is a moment where I can honestly say it was God's favor, but I am going to work my butt off and it isn't all up to God. I've actually done a lot of work to prepare myself, to equip myself so that I can actually be of service now that I have been invited into that kind of capacity.
[00:18:29] So, it isn't all God, although it is a testament to His divine orchestration and His providence. And so I celebrate that too. So it isn't false humility for me to acknowledge that God's providential hand is at work. That is not false humility. That is acknowledging a true fact about God himself, that his ways are higher than my ways and He brings things to pass that I could never have arranged. I could never have finagled that are so beyond my capacity to make happen.
[00:19:02] But also, I can celebrate the fact that He equipped me and gifted me and gave me a brain to understand story and gave me the ability to understand theology and to look at the two and see worldview and story in a way that maybe other people can't or some other people, because I know there's lots of people out there that can. I can look at that and be grateful for those gifts and now I can use those gifts to the best of my ability to glorify him.
[00:19:28] The point is that we don't want to be self-indulgent. We want to avoid being self-indulgent in the work because here's the truth, self-indulgent really mirrors propaganda a lot. Self-indulgence mirrors indoctrination. Self-indulgent mirrors violating your audience. It's all of those things. So we don't want to do that.
[00:19:54] The story ought to be the story and anything that is extra, that's added to the story because the writer or the filmmaker is in love with it themselves and they just have to showboat those things—I think we need to avoid those things because we are actually violating the audience in including them.
[00:20:16] I don't know if this is helping you to be able to distinguish what is and what isn't. I don't know that there's any definitive line. It's, it's a feeling and I feel it in certain films. And you may or may not either. But these are some of the criteria that I would say we can use to assess whether or not something is maybe crossing the line.
[00:20:40] Anyway. I hope it's helpful. Okay. We will continue talking about more things like filmmaking, writing, storytelling, and how to, of course, use the tools to the best of our ability to actually legitimately reach our audience and change the world for the better.
[00:20:59] So I hope you will continue joining me. And in the meantime, If you've liked this episode, would you please share it with somebody, other artists that you think would need to hear this?
[00:21:10] I know that not everybody is of course doing that. I really want to ask you, please, if you like this show and this episode in particular, pick someone to share it. Pick someone to share it. Like any artist, I want my material to reach people or else it feels self-indulgent because who am I doing it for?
[00:21:33] And of course, as always, please, please rate and review the show. I'm appealing to you. I mean it. Rate and review the show. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or on the podcast app of your choice, and especially on YouTube, even if you listen to the show on one of the podcast apps, would you subscribe on YouTube? Because that really helps us. Okay, I digress.
[00:22:00] Thank you so much for joining me on The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.