Sunday, January 15, 2012

Faith and Values

Sometimes fate seems to bombard you with bits and pieces of life that all seem related. That's been happening to me this past week, so I'm going to try to sort these bits and pieces into some kind of coherent post today, as much for myself as for anyone who is reading this blog.

First of all, there was all the media coverage of Tim Tebow. Now, I don't follow football, but you couldn't escape the stories about this extraordinary young man. And the controversy over the way he prays on the field and thanks his Lord Jesus Christ at every opportunity. It bothers me that there is a controversy over this. After all, isn't freedom of religion what this country was founded on? Doesn't the First Amendment guarantee this right?

I've never considered myself a fan of Newt Gingrich, but his statement during a recent debate about the anti-Christian bigotry in this country rang true for me as much as it shocked and surprised me. It seems as if everyone except Christians is allowed to espouse their cause in America today.

And then I was reading Story by Robert McKee and came upon this quote:
"Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what's worth living for, what's worth dying for, what's foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth -- the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism -- a great confusion of values. As the family disintegrates and sexual antagonisms rise, who, for example, feels he understands the nature of love? And how, if you do have a conviction, do you expose it to an ever more skeptical audience?
 "The erosion of values has brought with it a corresponding erosion of story."
Wow! That is something I'd never thought of. I know I much prefer to watch old movies rather than the new ones Hollywood is making today. I hadn't consciously thought that the lack of cultural values was related to that.  But it makes sense. If you can't write about beliefs, you're left with a special effects extravaganza, which is what we seem to see coming out of Hollywood today. Without writers, producers, and directors who are willing to create new material reflecting their values, we get the third remake of a movie or television show from the past which wasn't so great to begin with.

I think the theme of faith and values is one of the things that made Firefly one of the greatest television series ever. It took me three viewings of the entire series plus the movie, Serenity, to realize that the story of the lead character, Malcolm Reynolds, was largely a story of faith lost and found. That's how long it took me to focus on the scene before the Battle of Serenity Valley where Mal takes a cross on a chain out of his shirt and kisses it. When the battle is lost and he is ordered to surrender, Mal loses faith, not only in God, but in love.

Offsetting Mal's character are the characters of Shepherd Book and Inara, a registered "companion". Shepherd Book appears to have had the opposite change in his life. It's hinted at that he was once an operative for the Alliance, but has found faith and is now a clergyman. Inara, while working as a geisha or call girl, believes in love, hopefully with Mal. Mal is willing to let neither faith nor love into his life. He fights it at every turn.

Yet, at the end of it all, Mal is at least considering the possibility of love and faith. I'm less certain of the second, but his actions say that he has not lost his values. Every member of the crew of the ship Serenity, led by their captain, is willing to sacrifice his or her life to expose the truth. And that's what makes the movie so powerful.

I've never been one to advertise my faith. In the past I've had more in common with Malcolm Reynolds than Tim Tebow. But I'm thinking that maybe, if I want to write good stories, I've got to examine what I believe in and use that in the stories I write.
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