Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Less plot, more character

If ever appointed Public Speech Czar, I will ban Peeps words—like those Easter marshmallows, fluffy but with no real substance. Those eagerly awaiting this development may be interested to know I will be adding a church division to the office.

First on the outlawed word list will be “story.” As someone who has spent his working life telling stories (in newspapers, magazines, and books), I am frustrated that what used to refer to something interesting about someone else has now become all about you (or me). You likely know the cliches:

  • “God’s not finished writing your story.”
  • “Where do you find yourself in God’s larger story?”
  • “People find meaning and truth in story.”

Yes, yes, and yes. Yet, while I agree, it all ends up sounding rather self-absorbed. I call it “selfie spirituality.” Instead of capturing the big picture, we train the lens on ourselves.

I’m not alone in being storied out. Christian media expert Phil Cooke recently acknowledged being “tired of seeing the word [story] everywhere,” wondering “if our obsession with stories is actually making them less effective?”

I also wonder whether this emphasis on story also subtly encourages dissatisfaction with our lot in life. After all, stories need to be interesting, otherwise they are storiezzzzz. The old news maxim still holds true: dog bites man isn’t a story, but man bites dog is.

So what do we do when our life turns out to be so ordinary? Do we feel that God has shortchanged us? Surely He doesn’t want me to be just, well, unremarkable? Do we feel the need to make something happen? Does having a “story” become the measure of our Christlikeness?

But we’re not all going to write or be the subject of a best-seller, be interviewed by Oprah, and get to give a TED Talk. And that’s okay; indeed, maybe even to be desired. After all, didn’t the apostle Paul tell one of his proteges that “a peaceful and quiet life” was something to be commended (1 Tim. 2:2)? Doesn’t sound much like the “platform” we’re always being told we need to build for ourselves.

Paul’s emphasis seemed to be more on who we are than on what we do. Maybe we should spend less time focused on our plot and more time concerned about our character.

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