5 Simple Reasons Why Stories Enhance Reality - a guest post by Schuyler McConkey
I am very excited to have my sweet online friend, Schuyler, guest-posting on Fullness of Joy tonight! It is always a delight to read the articles and book-reviews she shares on her blog, My Lady Bibliophile, and this post is definitely no exception :).
It's easy to fall into the trap of shallow moralizing with fiction. "This character forgave the person who slapped him in the face, so I must, too." or "This brother responded lovingly when his sister knocked his blocks over, so I must as well." Using fiction merely as a behavior blueprint for good boys and girls underestimates its capabilities.
On the other hand, it's easy to over-glorify stories in order to prove their worth. "This fantastic novel will convict people of their propensity to modalistic monarchism and show them that the trinity is three separate and distinct persons."
What? Do we really feel so threatened by fiction that we bend over backwards to force value into it?
A story is a legitimate art form in its own merit. It doesn't have to justify its existence by defending the deep doctrines of Christianity. It doesn't have to fix your life problems before you reach the back cover any more than a beautiful painting or a classical piece of music. It's a lie, which we Westerners are huge proponents of, that people must always be working, thinking, growing, making money, doing better, reaching higher goals--and never take time simply to read a story because it is enjoyable.
We forget all too often that enjoyment in itself is enough.
I'm not saying we should check our brains at the door when we're reading fiction. Every story should be sifted through the light of God's truth. But I am saying that we have bought into the lie that taking pleasure in something is unfit use of a Christian's time.
Pleasure in itself is profitable. Pleasure in stories is valuable for very simple reasons. And today, I would like to share with you five reasons why you should love stories for pleasure's sake.
When I was little, I took the stories I loved and made up further installments of my favorite characters ad infinitum. Now that I am older, I take the elements I most love in stories and infuse them into my own writing. I could not write so richly were it not for a well-fed and confident imagination as I grew up. Imagination is not an accident; nor is it given only to certain people. It is developed when you read a book and ask "What will happen next?" and then keep on asking that question long after "The End". Without imagination, we cannot create in the image of our Creator. And God-glorifying imagination develops through safe and healthy channels of play--like good stories.
This week we have been listening to Peter Dennis's charming reading of The House at Pooh Corner. Pooh is almost heartbreaking in his simplicity--when you listen to him you are smiling, but the innocence is so charming that at times you want to burst into tears. The other day, as I was mulling over Milne's stories, I was quite startled to realize that Milne never taught anything in Pooh. He just wrote it to enjoy himself.
Why, then, is this fictional bear a classic? He isn't out to change the world or correct societal ills. He is just there to be. And that is enough. It is good, now and then, to read something simply to refresh our hearts. This refreshment gives us new strength and love. It's a simple means to tuning our souls afresh to God's goodness.
Paul says in Philippians 3, "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes fixed on those who walk according to the example you have in us." In other words, examine other people; look at their way of life. Look at how they are living for God or for themselves, and follow those who live according to Scripture. We see countless examples of good and evil in fictional characters. If we read wise choices, they will instinctively train our affections to value right conduct, and show us what it is to live in a pleasing manner for God. Peopling your world with wise fictional friends, as well as wise real friends, keeps you in the hands of safe companions. And that's a good place to be.
Some of the stories I listen to are not in book form at all. Much of the music I listen to is story-form as well--the story of a soul struggling to find grace, or a man loving his maiden, or a patriot fighting for his country. Jackie Evancho, Celtic Thunder, Andrew Peterson --all of them spend their lives telling stories. Some musicians spend their lives recounting God's goodness. Others take the folk tales of history and keep them fresh in people's minds. But without fail, each time I listen to the songs of grief and love and battle and wonder, my soul is restored by reminders of the things I most need to remember--that right wins, and love holds on, and God is working all things together for our good and His glory. These themes are most effectual to comfort weary souls in story form.
God says if we don't love the real people around us, we don't love him, and to love him we must love his children. To love a person we must learn how to invest in them: who they are, what they like, what makes them struggle. Reading a wide variety of stories reminds us that God works in people through different methods and timeframes. People are so different; and meeting as many different souls as we can through the training ground of fiction will train us to look beyond ourselves and our own perspective. When we step back and see one fictional character loving another, we often gain new perspective on how to do it ourselves. This awakens compassion, which helps us love God's children. And that in turn helps us to love God.
We need to abandon any feeling of being threatened by stories: that somehow, if our year's booklist includes fiction, we're not truly interested in what matters. To love good and true stories is no little thing--only the Holy Spirit enables us to value goodness. And to love fictional characters is an extension of the love that we bear for real people. Loving goodness and loving people are two fruits of the Christian life. It is a gracious gift that we should accept with joy from God's hands. I hope we never think we have to make the benefits complicated to believe stories are worth our time.
Schuyler McConkey is a novelist and Bright Lights ministry leader living with her parents and two siblings. She keeps busy with the last edits of her magnum opus, a WW1 espionage novel, and critiquing various manuscripts for friends and writing partners. Schuyler also authors a blog, My Lady Bibliophile, where she writes book reviews and articles evaluating classic literature. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to Irish love songs, learning Gaelic, and reading too many Dickens novels.