Here's another entry from my Creativity and the Christian book reports. This volume gave me a lot to think about and is one of the bigger influences on my year. I recommend it.
We humans tell stories. It's a trait that distinguishes us from the animals, and is consistent across the divides of race, culture, and history. Stories are ubiquitous and unavoidable. We tell them amongst ourselves, we record them in every medium imaginable, and we long for them during every stage of our lives. We know that stories matter, but the Christian community in particular seems unsure of how to respond to them. Some Christians embrace all stories, immersing themselves with little thought to their influence. Others treat the stories from outside their community as dangerous and to be avoided.
Mike Cosper offers a way of thinking about stories that takes in account both reality of the Gospel and the unique power that stories hold over us. He believes that "the Big Story of the Bible - creation, fall, redemption, and consumption - is so pervasive, so all-encompassing of our world, that we can’t help but echo it (or movements with it) when we’re telling other stories." But he also believes that stories get under our skin and shape our desires in ways that can't be measured merely by morality. "I believe we’re watching because TV and movies are both echoing and forming our desires, and I want to level into what those desires really are."
In his book, Cosper examines many examples of moving pictures that echo, distort, and provoke the storyline of redemption and the desires of our hearts. Our stories search for the innocence; they examine the fall of man and the frustrations of a broken world; they plunge the depths of human evil; they seek redemption and heroes. Having shown us how our culture's stories echo the truth imperfectly, like broken shards of glass reflecting the reality of the real world, Cosper returns us to the true story that will ultimately satisfy: the Gospel. Only after being saturated in it will the lesser stories around us reveal meaning and truth.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Mike Cosper understands the pervasive power of the Gospel. I grew up with the conviction that the only stories worth listening to were those written by Christians. But if the biblical account of redemption is in fact the very storyline of history, than its truths will be echoed by everyone who is created in the image of God. The result is a freedom to enjoy the stories told by every image bearer, recognizing that the divine image is not limited to our own tribe and creed.
Cosper describes stories and our imagination as forces of great power that do more to orient our desires than we typically assume. The imagination is the "more mysterious and sneaky part of us, ruled by love, desire, and hope." It is this imagination that hooks us into stories and "gets ahold of our hearts and minds and moves us in ways that textbooks... never could." This is why we are addicted to stories. As Christians, this shouldn't come as a surprise, for we are made in the image of a storytelling God.
But it does give us even more reason to be careful about the stories we consume. What are they saying to us? How are they lingering in our subconscious, forming our desires, our hopes, and our loves? "The profound and dangerous power of TV and movies is that they have a way of getting inside of us, shaping the way we see the world by captivating our imaginations." Cosper does an excellent job dissecting stories, revealing what they assume about us and the human longings that drive them. He also identifies the need to be rooted in the storyline of Scripture. Although his book gave me further permission to enjoy the craft of storytelling, it also cautioned me against its subtle powers. If these stories are so sneaky in shaping our desires, should we not be even more cautious around their influence? How do we avoid having them shape our desires in ways that are wrong? Perhaps the book could have further addressed this question.
Stories We Tell taught me a greater awareness of the immersive nature of stories. It taught me to see them as a volatile force - not necessarily evil or good itself - but that can be used to shape our desires towards God or away from him. The answer is not to avoid stories, but rather to seek a greater immersion in the Gospel story. Regular worship with the local body of Christ reforms our desires. Immersion in God's Word and times spent with Him in prayer reorient our hearts to this true realty, the true story of salvation. And through His Spirit, we are being sanctified by a power that is greater than that of our culture's stories.
Thus baptised in the water of life, we can step into the world of stories with boldness. "Remarkably, in the light of the gospel, these other stories become brighter and more encouraging... When you see the bigger story, these others aren’t diminished, but are held in their proper place. In fact, they become more beautiful and more interesting." We can now see the world with joy and wonder, and understand it better through the gifts of the storytellers. “We can step into the world with a sense of invitation. This is our Father’s world. What do we want to explore today?"
Reading this book, I was struck by the ways I use social media to project an edited version of how I want to be seen by the world. "What we share and don’t share on social media is shaped by how we want the world to see us... Your Facebook timeline is your version of a reality show... On the web.... we glory in ourselves.” Many times I catch myself scrolling through my Facebook timeline, impressed by the quality of my posts, dissecting what they say about me. Becoming aware of this forced me to challenge how social media was affecting my identity. Posting excellent content isn't wrong, but making that my salvation is.
Questions for the Author
“The profound and dangerous power of TV and movies is that they have way of getting inside us, shaping the way we see the world by captivating our imaginations.” What concrete steps can we take to protect ourselves from having our world formed by what we watch?
Mike's observations about how we careful edit our social media presence was incredibly insightful. Does Mike ever recognize himself doing this? How does he respond?
Mike describes himself as a TV addict. Technology and the new ways we release content has developed a culture of binge watching. What questions does Mike ask of himself as he becomes addicted to a show?
How does this apply to music? Music certainly tells stories, but in different, less straight forward manners. Songs also have a way of rattling around our heads in more subtle and persuasive way than other mediums. Since Mike is a musician and worship leader, I'd love to hear his reflections on how the book's principles change when applied to music.
"As believers, we need to pay attention to the kinds of stories we are telling, even among ourselves, about sex, satisfaction, and ultimate joy." We are all storytellers, placing ourselves in the context of a story, building habits and desires rooted in them. In what ways do we tell these stories? How do we become aware of them and, if necessary, change them?
How do you keep yourself rooted in the story of the Gospel while being bombarded by other narratives?
How do we tell better stories? Not everyone is a film maker or a writer of fiction, but we are all creatives, whether we invent stories for our kids or post videos online