CRITIC’S CORNER COLUMNIST
The power of a well-told story cannot be underestimated. Even the driest-eyed movie watchers can be coaxed to tears by a work such as “The Passion” or “Schindler’s List.” The beauty of such stories leads us to contemplate truth and goodness in new ways because we have come under the power of the storyteller.
The storyteller, be he a novelist, poet or film-maker, has one goal: to tell a story. It’s worth contemplating that in many Christian and Catholic works, this goal has been lost under the separate goal of promoting the Christian message.
The difference between a message and a story lies in the way that they convey truth. While both bring it to the page or the screen, much of Christian fiction promotes an agenda through its message of the Christian gospel story, which is usually told through characters who somehow find God and a new purpose to life, with the illusion that life will be perfect, or at least better, from then on.
On the opposite end of the Christian fiction spectrum is what I like to call fiction that is Christian, because it firstly fulfills its role as fiction, in telling a good story through its chosen medium, and in so doing tells the Gospel story.
A good story has real characters, with their virtues and their flaws, whom we see ourselves in, and it often doesn’t end without alluding to death and suffering by which we understand that life after “accepting Christ” doesn’t get easier—just more rewarding on the eternal spectrum.
Speaker Barbara Nicolosi once said that if Christian media is not appealing just as much to non-believers as to believers by a portrayal of beauty, it is not accomplishing its goal.
Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” is an excellent example of a story which focuses on perfecting its medium, that of a film, while also telling a Christian story—the ultimate Christian story, of course. Gibson’s excellent cinematography draws in even those who do not profess the Christian or Catholic worldview, and then tells a beautiful story just as Gibson tells all his other stories, which aren’t necessarily Christian. The content of this one is more important than any other, but Gibson uses what he does best to communicate truth.
The essential problem with most Christian fiction is that it fails in its first capacity: to tell a good story, by means of the medium selected. This is because many such stories focus too heavily on getting out the specific message of Jesus.
While this is certainly the most important message one could ever communicate, it will not attract those who are not already following Christ. What will attract them is the beauty of the art. What will draw them in is a well-told narrative of real people and real struggles.
When the agenda of converting souls becomes a storyteller’s top priority, he or she loses sight of the reality that salvation history is firstly the story of God’s love for his people. The power that lies within it is one to change hearts, but only when a person wants to become part of the story through the narrative’s touching and true-to-life qualities.
A good story does not push itself in your face. It gives a gift: one that can be admired for its own beauty and one that points to something beyond itself which can be found within itself. A good story doesn’t provide answers. It prompts you to start asking the right questions.