Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Need a Story

It's scary what you read in the news sometimes. Did you know that animal cruelty in some states can get you a similar conviction to domestic violence? If you abandon your dog in Delaware, you can get a $2000-3000 fine and up to two years in prison. For some states, like Colorado, two years imprisonment followed by two years parole is typical of domestic violence cases.

Sometimes I can't believe that we live in a world where people can get equal or even worse penalties for cruelty to animals than they do for cruelty to humans. And then I remember what world I live in.

That's why I write, and read, fiction stories. So that the bad guy can always get caught, so that the good guy can always prevail, and so that justice and mercy can rule the land.

I don't use fiction to escape the world. The best fiction stories of all time have terrible antagonists, people die, and the main character rarely has a perfect upbringing. What is it about orphan protagonists that is so popular?* If we used fiction to escape the world, surely the opposite would be true.

It's because, instead of escapism, fiction is a means of inspiration. Instead of escaping the bad things of the world, stories tell us its worth fighting to stop them. They tell us that people can win--that underdogs can win. Fiction shows us the "inner power" that can defeat any manner of power outside.

Fiction is what gives me the strength to keep on fighting slavery. It's what gives me the strength to keep on fighting for hope for survivors of rape. It's what keeps me believing in God.

Don't get me wrong, I believe God is real. And I believe that the idea that good can and will eventually win out over evil is true. I fully believe that it's going to happen: that victory will belong to the good guys in the end. My mind believes it. But sometimes the weapons of despair ruin the belief of my heart. Sometimes I just can't believe any more that it can get better, that God will make it better like he promised.

The most honest faith is the one that doubts, and I have doubted.

That's when I need story. Story tells me that I'm not just here to get beat up; I'm here to fight. Story tells me that even though I might not have chosen the ring, the ring has chosen me: I'm in the middle because I'm the right person for the job, whether I think so or not. Stories tell me that if my cause is just, I can win, even if I don't see the victory myself.

When I doubt, stories are what keep me believing. Through believing in the protagonist, I begin to believe in myself.**

A story is anything with a hero or a heroine and an antagonist with an evil plot. A story is anything where the hero or heroine fights against the antagonist, against great personal loss, against the loss of goodness and life for many, and wins. Donald Miller says it best: Story is about
(1) a character
(2) who wants something
(3) and overcomes conflict
(4) to get it.

Story can be fiction or nonfiction. It can be Lord of the Rings or it can be the Bible. I personally like fiction stories, but I read some nonfiction too, like Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place.*** You want a nonfiction story that will inspire you to fight evil, read that book: the Ten Booms sheltered Jews during the Holocaust and payed dearly for it in Auschwitz, but they never gave up hope and they never stopped fighting, even after the war was over.**** That's a story that will keep you moving.

We need stories. We need to remember that part of us that we sometimes lose: the part that keeps on hoping. We need to remember why it's worth it to keep on fighting instead of laying down and accepting the seemingly inevitable slow, cruel tyranny of selfish disregard. We need stories. We need stories to help us live our own.

Word count: 698.*****

* An inordinately large number of protagonists are either orphans or missing one parent. People who work in the literary world cite this as a common trend. Let me survey my bookcase...Frodo (Lord of the Rings), Harry (Harry Potter), Rand (Wheel of Time), Paul (Dune), Lyra (His Dark Materials), Katniss (Hunger Games)...

** Essential quote: "The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist... We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically."

*** Other great nonfiction stories that have inspired me are Bruchko by Bruce Olsen, Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, and God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew. I also am constantly inspired by the story of William Wilberforce, as portrayed in the movie Amazing Grace and also as told by John Piper.

**** Possibly one of the most inspiring stories of that book is the last one. After the war was over and Corrie was set free, she began along with everyone else putting their country back together. She wrote books and spoke all around the world.
At one of her conferences, she finished her talk with the usual meet and greet, people coming up and shaking her hand and asking her questions. She saw a man in the crowd whom she recognized immediately: one of her own guards in Auschwitz, responsible for many of the terrible things that had happened to her. The idea of forgiveness left her; she was filled with hate for this man.
But he walked up to her and he was crying. He said, I know you probably can't forgive me for all the things I did and I know I can never make up for what I did to you. I don't deserve anything. But I read your book and I met Jesus. I'm learning to live. And I'm so, so sorry for everything.
And somehow in that moment, she saw a person, not a Nazi: a person who was just as dehumanized by his actions as she had been. A person torn into pieces by his own choices. And she was able to forgive.

***** Was it too many footnotes? Sorry, I got overexcited.