We continue exploring what it takes to live life as an epic journey. Our life is a story and stories are important. We will look into the nature and purpose of stories, the fundamentals that make up a story, and how it all applies to the decisions we are trying to make in our own lives. God likes stories. Life is full of them. Heroes and villains. Adam, Lucifer, Jesus. How will you live your story?
Our Epic Tale
Today we start the epic journey part of this. We’re all in a quest. We’re all on a journey that is our life story. As Sam said to Mr. Frodo, “What sort of tale have we fallen into?” as they’re taking the Ring of Power to try to destroy it so that the great usurper Sauron doesn’t destroy all the earth and turn it into a tyranny.
And we are in a tale like that, but it’s usually not apparent to us. And God has written this tale for us and wants us to be the heroes in this tale, and it’s a question of will we accept that opportunity and the amazing benefits from it at the end. If we don’t see it that way, it’s more likely that we’ll miss out because we have a quest, and we’ll talk about that more as we go on.
But first what I want to do is just talk about the nature of story. Our life is a story; and, you know, story is a big deal. We resonate with stories. You read your children’s stories when they’re little because it captivates them. You go to movies, and you read books because stories captivate you.
Same devices in every story
When I was a kid I would get up on Saturday mornings and watch black-and-white TV, and one of my favorite things was the cowboy shows: Wild Bill Hickok and Roy Rogers.
And the same thing happened every week. Roy, of course, wore a white hat and always smiled and had a cheery countenance, and he had great values, and he was always helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful and all the other Boy Scout traits; and he always wanted to have his ranch or whatever it was serve the community.
Always a bad guy
But then there was always a bad guy. The bad guy always wore a black hat, had a mustache, wore a frown on his face. And he was a usurper. He always wanted to take a possession from somebody else using violence, coercion, and deception.
And what would always happen is the usurper would be just on the verge of victory and then something amazing would happen, and the white hat would win just, just at the nick of time, just about 28 minutes into the series; and then, in 30 minutes everything was all better. Same thing every week.
And just about every story has that basic construction. Most of them have variations. They’re not quite that simplistic. And there are millions of variations. That’s one of the reasons stories are fascinating to us because there are stories within stories, and stories within stories within stories.
You might remember the Batman—it wasn’t a cartoon, it was the series where Adam West was the guy who played Batman. And he was great because he was super melodramatic about everything. So it had the drama from the silent movies that he brought. But he was a little overweight and pudgy, which, I think, made it a lot funnier.
And what would happen every week is that Batman would be against this villain of some sort; and right at the end, the villain would give them some impossible trap where they were going to die. Certain death. There’s no way they could get out of it. And then they cut to a commercial, and then they would come back and get out of it in some completely unthinkable way.
One that sticks with me for some reason is they were in this player piano that was a giant player piano, and they were on the scroll going through, and the teeth were going to chomp them up. And just in the nick of time, Adam West recognizes what it is, and they start singing the song backwards, and it neutralized the machine. And then, of course, they take their thing off that. You say, well, why couldn’t they have taken that off before?
But the variation is that Batman didn’t wear a white hat. So he looked like a bad guy. He looked scary. But really he was the good guy, so there’s a little twist in there. And that’s the way stories are made interesting.
It’s difficult to come up with a good story
The modern version of the great storyteller is Pixar. Pixar is a company that does all kinds of neat technical stuff but they don’t think of themselves as an animation company. They think of themselves as a storytelling enterprise; and their book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, who’s one of the founders of Pixar, is a terrific book about how to have a good company; but it’s also fascinating if you like Pixar stuff.
And one of their corporate philosophies is that every story is bad before it’s good because it’s really hard to make a really good story. You know, well, that’s interesting and insightful because we all love stories. We’re driven by stories. And, yet, it’s difficult to come up with a good story. And I think that tells us something important about us.
Humans all have the same values
One of the things that Pixar has found is that a good story, everybody likes; and a bad story, everybody doesn’t like. They’re not trying to make a movie where people come and buy a ticket. They’re trying to make a great story, and if they make a great story, the tickets will take care of themselves. And that’s because humans all have the same values.
The product marketers have figured this out. If you’re going to take an opinion poll, you need a thousand opinions to have a statistically appropriate number where the results are reliable. But if you’re going to do what they call “right brain research,” where you’re going to find out why people buy things based on their values, twenty-five is enough because you don’t have to have a statistical sample because everybody has the same values totally across cultures.
Everybody values security. Everybody does. Everybody values belonging to something. Everybody values approval. Everybody values freedom. These are transcendent human values. We’re all the same.
Good stories are complex
Well, stories are the same way. We all intrinsically understand what’s a good story and what’s not a good story. And really, really good stories have a lot of complexities woven into it; and you don’t generally walk out of a movie and say, well, that story was great because of this. I do, because this is something I really enjoy.
The story has a universe with rules
And we have stories within stories within stories.
One of my favorite Pixar products is Toy Story. And one of the things that they do in these stories is create a world. They create a universe, and the universe has rules. And they don’t tell you what the rules are. They just follow the rules, and that’s part of what you intrinsically see.
And in Toy Story, one of the main rules is the toys can animate and talk to each other when a human’s not there; but as soon as a human walks in the room, they have to go into toy mode. You know, they have to go comatose like their frozen self.
A proper view of who we are
Well, Toy Story has a Saturday morning cartoon type of thing. There’s a bad guy, and there’s a good guy. And there’s kind of a chase scene and a recovery. It has that in there. But I think the reason why the story is so compelling is because there’s a subplot that is actually the one that moves us, and it’s—there are people that are heroes and villains; but the bigger hero and villain in Toy Story, I think, is a proper view of belonging—that’s the hero—and an improper view of belonging is the villain.
What happens is there’s this toy called Buzz Lightyear; and Buzz comes to with all the other toys, you know, he comes to; and he thinks he’s an actual Space Ranger that really goes into space and has a true laser that kills his enemies. And Woody, who’s the main character, tries to convince Buzz he’s just a toy; and Buzz cannot accept it.
And then Buzz begins to realize he really is just a toy, and he goes into depression. Why live if I’m not a real Space Ranger? And the most poignant part of Toy Story 1, and this theme replicates in 2 and 3, the great part of the story is he comes to a point, and he looks at the bottom of this foot, and it says “Andy,” which is the boy. And he realizes my worth as a person is that I’m a toy for a boy, so it’s okay to be a toy! I don’t have to be a Space Ranger! That’s not what I am. I’m here to make a boy happy. And he embraces that, and then he has a great life because he’s embraced who he really is. And this theme keeps going in 2 and 3.
If we embrace who we really are, and we lean into who we really belong to, that’s where real happiness comes from.
God likes stories
Why do these stories appeal to us so much? Well, we’re made in the image of God. And God likes stories! That’s the only possible explanation! And he has written a story that’s unbelievable! And it’s stories within stories within stories within stories. Millions of stories all interbedded.
One of the things we may do in the new earth is spend a lot of time following all these phenomenal plot thread lines that are all interconnected, that we were oblivious to while we were on earth. Wait till you see the drive-in movie in the new earth, and you get to go and watch these things. And then on comes two people that explain the plot and do a thumbs-up/thumbs-down. You know, it’s incredible!
Adam versus Lucifer
But just like Toy Story, there’s sort of a white hat/black hat kind of overarching theme in this grand story. You see, God made a hero with a white hat. His name’s Adam. And he had a villain—the black hat—name’s Lucifer.
Heroes and villains don’t always look the part
Now, heroes and villains don’t always look their part. Today a serpent crawls on its belly and eats dust, but that was the curse for the serpent. So God wouldn’t curse the serpent by saying I’m cursing you by having you do what you already do. So whatever a serpent was must have been something very appealing at the time because a lot of times the good guy looks like a bad guy, and the bad guy looks like a good guy. And, in fact, those movies or those stories or those books are more interesting, aren’t they? Because, oh, I thought that was the good guy, and it turns out to be the bad guy!
Just in the nick of time
Well that’s what he did. And, just in the nick of time, the black-hatted guy looked like he’s going to win.
Let me harken back to Saturday morning cartoons for just a moment. There’s a great theological commentator and social commentator from my generation named Ray Stevens, and he wrote this song. You may remember it.
I plopped down in my easy chair and turned on channel 2
A bad gunslinger named Salty Sam was chasing poor Sweet Sue.
He trapped her in the old sawmill and said with an evil laugh,
“If you don’t give me the deed to your ranch, I’m going to saw you all in half!”
And then he grabbed her!
“Help me! Help me!”
He tied her up.
“Please, somebody help!”
He turned on the bandsaw!
“Won’t somebody help me!”
And then along came Jones!
And, of course, Jones has? A white hat! Of course!
Well, then a commercial came on
So I got up to get myself a snack.
But you should have seen what was going on by the time I got back!
Down in the old abandoned mine Sweet Sue was having fits.
That villain said, “If you don’t get me the deed to your ranch,
I’m going to blow you all the bits!”
And then he grabbed her!
“Help me! Help me!”
He tied her up.
“Won’t somebody help me, please!”
He lit the fuse to the dynamite!
“Oh no! Please help me!”
And then along came Jones!
See, just in the nick of time!
Well, the same thing happened in God’s big deal. See, what Salty Sam wants to do is steal the ranch using violence and coercion. Looks like he’s going to get away with it.
Satan is a usurper
Well, that’s what Satan wanted to do. Satan, you see, is a usurper. He used to own the ranch. God gave it to somebody else. And he wants it back even though it’s not properly his, and he’ll use deception and coercion to steal what’s not properly his. And, man, it looked like he had done it because Adam fell, and death came into the world. And God comes in and promises Jesus. I’m going to send somebody else with a white hat. And in the fullness of time—could we say “in the nick of time”?—Jesus came, the second Adam.
Oh, but Satan went after him too, and it looked like he had won; but in three days he rose again. Oh, so everything’s all better. Oh, no, he left, and now we’re waiting for him to come back. When will he come back? What’s going to be happening when he comes back? The Army’s going to be surrounding Jerusalem! And they’re just about to finish it off, and he comes riding in on a white horse! See, Saturday morning cartoons are really profound, as is Ray Stevens.