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Sticking It To God: Rebellious Stories As a Cliche to Play Against

“The sacred exists and is stronger than all our rebellions.” Czeslaw Milosz

Skipping the qualifiers, we live in an era where rebellion has been mainstreamed. Rebellion is, ironically, very conventional. Pedestrian even. The pervasiveness of rebellion extends to literature and media for children, driving the stories most kids are exposed to every day. I’ll go on record and say this is mostly horrible. Like, civilization-destroying, enemy-embracing horrible.

We want our kids to be who they are uniquely called to be. We want them to have disruptive imaginations. Of course, it all depends on what they are disrupting. Since rebellion is conventional now, the unconventional thing is to reject rebellion. What we want is to disrupt this very religious, institutionalized, conventional rebellion. We want to object to this tired routine of being out-of-order.

Since we are Christians, we are called to submission. This terrifying word is the primary characteristic of the follower of Christ. It is literally what being a disciple means (to follow behind). We are called to a different story than the conventional rebellion of the ancient dragon in the garden. The story is a familiar one, and here we are, still in it.

At the front of our programs there’s a roster, a gallery of who’s who. There in bold we see that the rebel dragon is the bad guy. All the world’s a stage and rebellion is wicked, dragons are evil, and we don’t have to eat his fruit and so become his food.

And we need not only know the personnel, but their locations.

“God is in heaven, you are on earth, so let your words be few…” (From Ecclesiastes 5)

Listen, oh boy, don’t mean to bust your bubble . . . but there is a hierarchy in creation. God is the boss. And his authority is not a cage, but a key. His authority is an endowment. He is love. And his authority is loving. This also goes for the authority he establishes. Of course, if you’re a parent like me, then it’s apparent we don’t exercise this God-ordained authority with the perfect love of our Father. But we have a chance to deal a counter-stroke in this great battle against rebellion and if we are to do this it must be in and through love.

One avenue of opportunity for this refreshing counter-stroke is in the arts. Not only is rebellion writ large on the calling card of the enemy of our souls, but it’s also profoundly cliche in art. How many more movies do we need where the parents are hellacious buffoons in ties and aprons and our rebellious teenager with ripped jeans, who never makes eye contact (except with girls/victims), is proven to be the truly virtuous one. He followed his dream. The man tried to keep him down. He peels out in his Trans-am. He’s against the system . . . ZZZzzzzzzzzzzz. Wake me up when the formulaic drivel is done.

Caveat: I know that these stories represent a sad and repressive reality in many homes. That stinks. Let’s not do that. Grace and Truth.

Caveat about caveats: I’m trying not to qualify everything, but I give in sometimes.

So, the tired cliche of rebellious victory, or that rebellion = virtue, is pretty well played out, right? Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be. There are some places where the type is actually played against and something like a true nuance is evident (Pixar’s Brave), but it’s still pervasive. I believe it’s pervasive because it is part of our civic religion and our storytellers are writing out of that religious conviction, spreading the “good news” to the unconverted and encouraging the true believers. Down with authority, all the way up. We aim to stick it to “the man,” because we can’t quite get at God with such short arms.

But what an opportunity we have to tell more nuanced stories. See, the answer isn’t to rebalance the scales by always and only portraying parents and other God-ordained authorities as basically perfect. That isn’t honest either. It’s to recapture the comprehensive nature of the Christian story.

Christians believe the world was good, that creation was beautiful, and that harmony is intended. So, when we tell stories about harmony and beauty and peace, we tell true stories.

But there was a fall, and since then sin and death are an unavoidable reality, a loud, discordant note in the symphony of mankind. When we tell stories where things are fouled up, we tell truthfully.

When we tell stories with evil and suffering that resolve in triumph of beauty through self-giving love, we tell perhaps the most truthful kind of story of all.

But they all fit and the varieties possible are almost innumerable. The Christian story is not narrow and confining. The Christian storyteller is not as limited as she has been led to believe. The Christian story has a genuine accounting for the way the world is, as well as for the indescribable longing we feel for resolution. In my view, the Christian worldview is the most broad, comprehensive, and reasonable of all. And the most ripe for tales.

Of course it’s possible to tell stories in a dishonest way about the way God made the world. It’s possible (and cliche, even) to represent rebellion as equal to virtue.

I’m not saying Christians should rally to authoritarianism, or anything like it. Only that we should respect the created order of God’s world. That our expectation of “ordinate” should be what God says in his Word, not what our sentimental (and vapid) civic religion dictates.

I think a couple of things are important to consider:

1) Whenever there’s a deep-seated cultural dogma (in this case, that rebellion= virtue), there’s an honest, artful opportunity to work against that cliche.

2) Christians should consider avoiding championing a cultural dogma at odds with reality (like rebellion = virtue) by attaching Christian language to it.  

I am thinking of many of the same nuances you are. Yes, Christians should rebel against racism, abortion, sexual perversity, and other cultural features which are evil, contrary to Scripture’s teaching, and at odds with human flourishing. But that “rebellion” is really a humble alignment with the ordinate nature of the world God made –and is remaking. It’s conservative in that it holds to truths delivered. It’s progressive in that it clings to a virtue we see ahead in the coming Kingdom of God. It transcends the latest cultural kurfuffles, but does not ignore the evil they embrace.

I do believe God’s loving authority is not a cage, but a key. Storytellers have a unique opportunity to help unbind us from the spell that makes that key seem evil.

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This originally appeared at Story Warren.

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