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Stories and Soundbites

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That was an interesting week.  As I write, South Carolina and Nevada results are not in, and they are the cap on the story of the week that has been, but it has been fascinating regardless.  It made me reflect on the differences in how we tell news stories and how we tell fantasy/adventure stories.

Our media is full of fantasy/adventure stories – comics, TV, movies – we are drowning in them.  It has been amazing to watch them change in my lifetime.  Let’s face it the action movies of the ’80’s are the superhero movies of this decade with huge differences in special effects technology and a major shift in what people are really interested in.  In the 80’s it was one man, strong and outstanding, against and army or a monster – beat the bad guy and carry the day.  Nowadays, no hero operates alone, he has to build a “family” of some sort around him, and all heroes are deeply, often fatally, flawed.  The most popular heroes right now are dark, operating on the edge and just a sneeze away from being a bad guy.  The stories are intricate – and even in movies often plotted over multiple episodes – drawing the consumer in deeply and permanently.

News stories, and especially political stories, are told in an entirely different fashion.  The characters are presented as a pastiche of the real person involved, quickly identified as “good” or bad,” and the conflict is reduced to a story that can be told in minutes – even seconds.  It is not unlike the early days of superheroes when a comic book story was told in 10 pages or less – good conquered evil – next story.

We dwell in our fantasy and give our reality only passing interest.

That has some pretty severe consequences.  I ran into a lot of anti-Catholic bigotry this past week.  Such is only possible when one sees only a pastiche of the Roman Catholic Church and tries to reduce its story to a point where it can be labeled either purely good or purely bad.  I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Roman Catholic.  The point of this post is not to mount an apologia for Roman Catholicism.  I simply wish to point out people’s tendency to reduce the most lasting and dominant institution in the world since the time of Christ (regardless of how you “feel” about Catholicism that is an objectively true statement) to labels and soundbites.

I cannot deny the ugliness that has been perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church throughout history.  But, I can find similar ugliness in most other churches.  As an example, my own Presbyterian church, in its formative days, engaged in bomb plots against royalty in Scotland.  If we engage with the church, in all its manifestations, as we engage with our fantasies we see the intricacies of its plots and story lines and we just might come to love it as we love our dark and flawed heroes.

And yet we choose, still, to dwell in our fantasies.  I think the difference is that we know our flawed and dark heroes are pretend.  Our flawed and dark reality is just hurtful and frightening.

The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the church in Philippi with several instructions.  Among them is this one:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Maybe we need to quit dwelling in the flawed and dark altogether – either fantasy or reality – and begin to dwell in the good and light.  There really is plenty of it out there.  Reality needs us.


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