Disbelief in Disbelief

Okay, so being the super-hero nerd that I am, I couldn’t get to the theater fast enough last weekend to see Spider-Man 3. I wasn’t disappointed. The movie was full of great web-slinging action. It was also full of forgiving thoughts and redemptive images. Very much so, actually…I walked extremely impacted with the essence of forgiveness, redemption, and second chances. I’m grateful that I’ve received more than my share, and I find myself with a renewed determination to give this forgiveness as well. My personal studies have been about grace for the last two weeks, and this is sort of a culmination of those readings. It happened by divine appointment, I’m sure.

As I sat in the theater this weekend, the lights went down, the preview loop finished and the feature started began, I was caught up in that excitement you experience as you realize you are about to experience a story. There’s a knowledge that you’re about to permit yourself to be drawn into that story, apprehended by what it has to say. In theatre, we call this the willing suspension of disbelief. It is when you stop realizing that the story isn’t part of the real world, and start believing that what’s on the screen or the stage is real. It is then that the story has you.

If you’ve been here before, it comes as no surprise to you that I have difficulty accepting the validity of hyper-conservative Christians. It boggles my mind that we can turn our beautiful faith into such a strict set of rules, regulations, and fear that we can’t breathe. For several years of my childhood, I was engulfed in just such an environment, however, so I can at least empathize if not understand it. Along these lines, there are people (who call themselves Believers…I’m not always so convinced) that reject this concept fearing that somehow their souls will be drawn into the fiery abyss if the permit themselves to be taken in by the story. They freeze like deer in headlights because they fear the possibility that they may see/hear/read something that (gasp!) offends them. And certainly, God never wanted us to be offended, right?

(If you need to pause to roll your eyes or experience some other violent and involuntary physical response to this nonsense, go ahead…I completely understand)

In fact, our churches have largely rejected story altogether. The attitude seems to be the Falwellian principle that, if didn’t really happen, then we shouldn’t be interested in it. Fiction is for children. Real Believers focus on good, solid devotional and theological non-fiction, right?

Well, ignore with me for a moment the fact that 98% of the devotionals lining our bookstore shelves are crap and that theology will always end in heresy if followed to its logical conclusion. Instead, just think about Scripture for a second (you know, Scripture…it’s what people used to read before there were devotional writers). Jesus told these wild things called parables. Parables, while occurring within the realm of what is possible, are, by definition, fictional stories. Jesus used fiction to illustrate spiritual reality. Jesus was a story-teller. His apostles were writers. Yet, the modern church seems to shy away from this as a viable medium of communication.

Fortunately, as the emergent church movement begins to take a stronger hold in both mine and the next (occasionally even the previous) generations, there seems to be a return to story. The emphasis has rightly returned to reading Scripture as narrative literature instead of the analytical picking apart of each individual word that many seminaries tend to favor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning nonfiction. In fact, it’s probably my strongest genre as a writer. However, when we look at Scripture, we see that God uses all types of genres in His writing: the straight-forward non-fiction of Paul and James, the poetry of David, the historical records of Chronicles and Samuel, the vision-casting apocalyptic writing of Revelation, the fictional parables of Jesus. Some have even posited theories that the Song of Songs was originally penned as drama. So many different styles to God’s literature. So many lives changed by all of the above. So many people offended by much of its content.

So, apparently, God wasn’t too concerned about offending people with His writing.

There is an important component to all good art: if you haven’t offended someone, then you really haven’t done it right. People think when they are offended. They engage in self-examination. They see themselves and their environment differently. All of these are things that art is supposed to bring about.

We’ve become so interested in enclosing ourselves in a bubble as Believers that we immediately disregard anything that may offend us. We’re afraid of seeing a play because a character may swear. We’re afraid of going to a movie because it may be too violent, or contain magic. We’re afraid to read a novel because it may contain a point of view with which we don’t agree.

And, in doing so, we’ve stagnated our own growth. We’ve become still, we’ve become irrelevant, we’ve become paralyzed.

We’ve become, in a word, pathetic.

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