Media

More Than A Story

In November 2001, Jason Chinn drove out of Saratoga Springs, New York, headed west. Hauling all his earthly possessions, he settled into a 28-hour drive to Colorado to marry his lovely Erin. When his old Toyota died east of Buffalo, he ditched it like a bag of snakes and jumped back on the road in a rented car. 

         As a man on a mission, he drove straight through to Colorado Springs. Eight states. No meals, motels, or roadside naps. Just bathrooms, burgers, and fuel. If you knew Erin, you’d understand. 

         I love my nephew’s story. It confirms our Jack and Mary Chinn family culture—we love our mates. We see them as God’s gift, not just to us as individuals, but to our unfurling estate. We know grand passion because we know grand purposes—marriage, family, nation, faith. It’s all threaded through our walk with God. 

         It also reveals life in focus. How long since you knew that kind of single-mindedness; you know, the unrelenting, damn-the-torpedoes, “get-outta-my-way-Sheriff,” or pointing the car west and moving like a bullet?

The Real Story

Have you noticed we all now live in the grip of “the story?” As an editor, publisher, and writer, I understand and love that (it pays the bills). But I’m also concerned about it. 

         Over the past few decades, too many stories have become polluted by the big lie of ME! Insisting that our life experiences, whatever they are, dignify us, the personal story has turned into a tacky float in a long parade of human exhibitionism.

         Any story of enduring value connects us to a higher purpose and pulse. A circular drama that begins and ends in my navel is not only soul-deadening but eye-rolling dull. We need more than our vaccine philosophy, sexuality, religious opinions, political preferences, or self-promotion if we hope to tell a story that inspires others.

         Face it; people may want to hear your story, but they are looking for more than you in it. They want to see through you to the magnificent drama behind all of life. They all want to learn something about their own origins, purpose, and destiny. If they don’t connect with that in your tale, they move along. 

Can We Get Beyond the Templates?

Stories have formed personal, familial, tribal, even national identities for millennia. They pulled people around dinner tables, campfires, road trips, bars, and churches, and opened windows on life’s possibilities. 

         As a publisher and editor of many books, I’ve never heard the same story twice from those who lived it. They are all original. Yet every published, filmed, or staged story seems to conform to the templates formed by media empires. And too many original stories have been hammered into clichéd narratives about contemporary issues. 

         TV coverage of tornado stories, for example, seems to feature the Sunday morning church service following Tuesday’s tornado. Parishioners remind the reporter that the church is people, not this pile of bricks. As we watch a B-roll of teddy bears and hymnals in the weeds, uprooted trees, and splintered pews, the voice-over questions the very idea of a loving God. Not just a stale and tiring angle, but gouge-your-eyes-out-with-a-fork bor-ring.

         What would happen if they let those who survived the tornado tell their own story? Perhaps they would tell one that spins, pops, jumps, and surprises.  

Just Live!

Now, you do have a story. Everyone does. 

         But here’s a secret: living precedes story. A real story does not come by planning; it sneaks up on you. Jason Chinn did not storyboard his cross-country trip. Like him, we all stumble into great stories. 

         That’s because our life (body, soul, spirit) is a true mystery. Somewhat like a murmuration of starlings—it swells, shrinks, oozes, and balloons far beyond the boundaries of our physical self or even our consciousness. 

         Live that life! Live as The Message Bible interprets Romans 12:1— “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering…”

         Do that, and who knows? Somewhere down the road, you may share what happened that night with a stranger on a plane. And he or she will cry like a rainstorm or laugh till a lung pops out. 

         When that happens, call me! 

Radical Insignificance

Did you know that April 11, 1954 was the most boring day in history?

It was according to a Cambridge University project. They fed 300 million historical details about people, places, and events into a computer. And the computer calculated that the only things that happened that day were an election in Belgium, the death of an old football player, and the birth of a future scientist..

So, I wonder if the evening news broadcasts were cancelled or shortened that day? Did John Daly or Douglas Edwards (the only nationally broadcast news anchors at the time) say something like, “Nothing happened anywhere in the world today. So, we’re going to knock off and go home…have a good evening?”

In fact, come to think of it, I wonder why broadcast news programs occupy a specific time window. If the purpose is simply to tell us what happened, wouldn’t it naturally need different lengths of time each day to do that? Could the fact that news programs fill a certain time length each day tell us anything about our subscription to unreality?

And, speaking of unreality, have you ever noticed the oddity of anchor-to-reporter conversations? The anchor will ask the onsite reporter a question. And, the answer always follows the same pattern, “That’s a good question, Dan. My sources tell me…” I’ve never heard a reporter say something like…”What?” “I don’t understand the question.” “Can we talk about that later?” “I don’t know, Dan; never thought about it.”

My point is that we’re gazing into a wax museum. People look real, but aren’t. Yes, I do know this is not a new insight. Many have have written about it in great depth and lucidity. But, I’m just musing on all this as I drink really good coffee so early this morning. I’m in one of my “wish I could sit with you on hay bales in an old barn and talk” moods.

I recently read a Jacques Ellul comment (which he made almost a half century ago!):

Man is living in an illusionary world, illusionary because it is made up of images transmitted by communications media. His world is no longer that of his daily experience, of his lived mediocrity of his personality or of his repeated relationships. It has become an enormous decor, put there by the thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance. They give him the feeling of living an experience, which is worth the trouble, in contrast to the rest of his experience, which is colorless and too plainly unimportant. It is an odd perversion which leads the person of this age to bestow importance and sense on that which does not concern him at all … while rejecting the importance and sense of that which is in fact his own experience 24 hours of every day.

Think about that line: “…thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance.” It seems that we’ve exchanged our real life for the artificial one because we’re jerked (by others) into being aroused, threatened, prodded, glorified, etc.

For example, I have absolutely no opinion about — or interest in — Sarah Palin, the cost or frequency of President Obamas foreign trips, if cell phones explode or cause cancer, or anyone’s sexuality. Zero. I am not going to be “electroded” into “bestowing importance and sense on that which does not concern me at all.” Besides, I have a life: a real experience of interacting with Joanne, friends, family, God, books, music, writing, and cleaning my garage.

It seems that many have decided, as Ellul says, that personal life is just too “colorless and too plainly unimportant.” So, we’re letting (even demanding that) mass culture arouse and threaten us into “radical insignificance.” And, in the process, I think it is extracting our brain and heart and replacing them with a defibrillators. Some seem to sit in a catatonic state until the electrode throws them into animation.

What if we all decided to do something really radical? What if we stepped away from the illusory world and back into the real one? So…this coming weekend, walk in the woods, rake leaves, read a book, make cookies, make love, pray, sing, ride a hot air balloon, build a fire, fire a .45, and encourage someone.

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