We are drawn to television. Sure, there are some who have done the “noble” thing and removed the TV from their home, but they are drawn to it nonetheless. Or, if not TV, they are drawn to movies, or music, or books, or fireside chats.
I recall a period of my life in which I lived in a stately British castle. It was part of a study abroad program, and was Hogwartsian in its approach (albeit with less magic, and worse food). There was a night, near Halloween, in that old, drafty castle, that several of us gathered in the Great Room and started a roaring blaze in the fireplace. We turned the rest of the lights off and took turns telling tales—sweet ones and scary ones.
Some of the stories were lacking—some were just plain dumb. Others were compelling, in their own improvisational way. But they were stories, so we tuned in to the bad and good, a rapt audience.
Stories surround us, envelope us, provoke us, teach us, comfort us, scare us. We speak stories to others, to make an impression or to gain some value or to share information. And we receive stories from others—some with a laugh, some with a cry.
But I think mostly, stories exist to remind.
They remind us of our humanity. “You won’t believe what happened . . .” the tale might begin. It will then rollick about, chronicling the misdeed of some other human being and conclude with, “what were they thinking!”
They remind us of love. That there is this thing we all want—in some shape. We’ll spend two hours watching Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan do the precise thing we know they are going to do and end up precisely where we thought they would because it is a story we need; it is one we feel deeply within us: the story of love.
They remind us, ultimately, of home. That we are all striving and trying to get to a place of comfort, of strength, of peace. We are all pilgrims, banished from Eden and waiting for Heaven, so we wander about, nomads looking for some place to call “home” and really mean it this time.
What we have in stories is the echoes of what has been lost—to us and this world—and the notion that hope remains. We can find our prince, we can find utopia, we can live . . . really live.
The irony is that often we are reminded of this truer version of life and living by actors on a screen, creating fanciful interpretations of freedom, and love, and creativity. We know this isn’t reality, but in our need for hope we stare on nonetheless, content to dream in a medium that cannot deliver, but that can always remind us of the faint, unknown echoes of the soul.
I used to like stories, but I don’t anymore. Now I love stories. With the gospel as my heart’s reverberating narrative, I can watch stories—bad ones and good ones—with a deeper sense of connection. I can see the makeshift glory of a Hollywood set, and know what it is unknowingly pointing to. I can watch the credits roll, and know, beyond doubt, that the credits don’t actually have to roll. I can see lovers find themselves, and see Adam and Eve and comprehend the why of a love story and the who behind it. I can see heroes and heroines fight for a utopia that can never exist or win the battle and create one (until the sequel), and look upward for the One who is promising to make all things new—to bring about a Utopia that shatters our simplistic interpretations of a perfect world.
Whether through books or movies or television or fireside tales, we find ourselves drawn to the beauty of narrative. But plunge a “why-level” deeper and we are faced with the reason for this: We have a storytelling God, who, through narrative, has whispered the plot arc of our existence deep within the fabric of our being. And so I hit “Power” on the remote control, but the true power I can tap into is the power of the gospel, a tale that begins in the garden, makes it way to the city, redeems the fallen, goes after the lost sheep, welcomes back the prodigal, gently says “I do”, and changes everything. Always. Forever.