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Have you ever heard a story that ended with, “And then I found $20”? It’s the mark of a story gone awry. Having lost the attention of the listener, missing the important points, or simply realizing that the story was terrible from the start, the storyteller tries to salvage the story with an exciting ending: despite the boring events, at least the person had some good fortune at the end.

We all know what a bad story sounds like. We’ve all suffered through them, whether it be from a 5-year-old who can’t seem to stay focused on the point of the story or a fully-grown adult who just can’t seem to get to the point. We know a bad story when we hear one.

Conversely, we all know what a good story sounds like as well. We’ve all experienced that person who has amazing charisma, who can make even the most mundane events sound extraordinary. They speak, and we can’t think of doing anything else but listen. What’s going to happen next, we ask.

This week on Everyday Liminality, Br. Tito and I discuss the art of storytelling with two questions in mind: what makes a good story, and more importantly, why do we tell stories at all? You can click the image above to listen or click here to find previous episodes.

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Have you ever watched an inspiring movie of real events only to find out later that Hollywood had “enhanced” part of the story to make it more interesting? For many, watching a movie “based on a true story” means very little other than the fact that the characters in the movie might have existed (but in some cases, even this is not true!) While heartwarming and inspiring, some have become jaded to Hollywood’s portrayal of history, simply expecting that it will be embellished, exaggerated, or just completely made up.

Which is a shame because movies have the tremendous ability both to inform the public of important events and to shape the way we think about them. Art in general, actually, has always had this power. Look at Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle: the predecessor to the FDA was founded in large part due to the public outrage over the events depicted in the book! Almost everything we think about pirates came not from history but from the book Treasure Island. And what about our understanding of biblical events? For most, our conception of angels and demons, heaven and hell, and what God looks like (old guy with beard) comes straight from medieval art.

So much of our own worldview and imagination is formed by what we watch on screen, see in galleries, or read in books. Which presents an interesting question: who bears the greater burden of maintaining the truth, the one creating the art or the one consuming it?

That’s what Tito and I discussed with week on Everyday Liminality

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The time has finally come. Br. Tito and I are talking about Stranger Things on the podcast.

In general, we’re revisiting a topic I wrote about two years ago (when I first watched the show) about the power of nostalgia to evoke memory but also to distort our understanding of the past. Why do we love nostalgia so much, but how might it be a bit dangerous?

 

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After many long and perilous struggles, the prince rides in on his horse, saves the princess from her plight, and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. The end.

Sound familiar? For many a Disney fan, this is what is to be expected at the end of a movie. The “happily ever after” trope. Admittedly, it’s a great one. Who doesn’t like a happy ending? There is something inside of us that wants justice, wants love to win, wants there to be order to the world. When the prince and princess ride off into the sunset, it gives us hope that the end of our story will be happy as well.

On the other hand… it’s also a load of ____. That’s not the way the world works, is it? Any married couple who has ever lived will tell you that life does not get magically easy after the wedding. Anyone who has ever been baptized will tell you that temptation and sin still exist on the other side of the font. In this life, there is no such thing as “happily ever after.”

And as far as I’m concerned, I’m glad their isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that this trope is wonderful in that it provides hope for the future and even gives us a glimpse of what heaven might look like, a world in which there is nothing but joy and love for the Lord. But in our regular, this-world relationships, I know that it is an unfair expectation, and that conflict, believe it or not, can actually make people grow stronger in love. The honeymoon might be the most “magical” time for a couple, but it is also the most superficial time. With time, struggle, and “real life,” love can be actualized in new ways.

That is this week’s topic of discussion on Everyday Liminality. Brother Tito and I, two celibate men, discuss the idea of living happily ever after, talk about our favorite romantic comedies, and even give some marriage advice. What could go wrong?

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Where is the line between good humor and offensive content? How do we measure whether or not something has gone “too far”? Are there things that simply can’t be joked about, or does joking about horrible things help to heal and reconcile what has been broken? Does it matter if someone doesn’t intend to be offensive?

These are the questions that Br. Tito and I looked at this week on our podcast, Everyday Liminality, as we try to come to a coherent definition of “offensive content” in entertainment. What we found was that it is easier said than done, as there are both objective and subjective characteristics to each situation meaning that what is totally normal to one person may be absolutely repugnant to another.

But as I reflected on our conversation, thinking about what we said (and what we should have said) I realized that there is even a more interesting issue beyond simply defining the issue: “Should a Christian ever be offended?”

What I mean by this is that we are a follower of a man who laid down his life, who didn’t defend himself, who taught peace at all costs, and yet remained completely confident in what he did because he could see the whole picture. Someone attacking him with a sword was not threatening to him because he was the King of the Universe and the judge of the living and the dead; the words of a fellow human had no power over him or his emotions because he knew the truth. And it makes me wonder, as his followers today, if there could be anything to truly offend us, to make us feel threatened in such a way that we would need to attack back.

Because, really, isn’t that what the issue of being offended is about? Someone has done something to make us personally uncomfortable—our ego, reputation, comfort, or sensibilities are challenged—and we want to call them out for being a bad person, to stop. Being offended is not about issues of safety or justice, it is not about sticking up for people who are actually hurt or put in danger; these are separate issues. Being offended is about an attack on the sensibilities of our self or culture.

And so, again, I wonder: is there ever any reason for us as Christians to ever get offended, or should we always be a people who accepts abuse with grace, returns anger with love, and lets negativity roll off our back because we know that others cannot have control over us? An interesting question that we might have to discuss another time.