When I was 10 years old I payed good money to see Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark nine (9) times in the theater. Regular price was a whopping $1.25 but the matinee was only $.75, leaving money for a soda. That Summer I carried a makeshift whip at my side and changed my name to Indiana. Fourteen years later I found that the movie Braveheart had a similar siren call, beckoning me to see it three (3) times on the silver screen. At the end of each viewing I found myself with my forehead in my hands and tears streaming down my face. My theater chair had become a school desk, the storyline became my teacher, and under it's powerful tutelage my heart was made acutely aware of it's deepest fears:
Living without courage
Loving nothing deeply
Dying without having made any real difference in the world
Looking back, I am convinced that this powerful revelation was orchestrated by the Father who simply used William Wallace's story to throw a warning shot across my bow. I had been living too safely, and it was killing my heart. I now understand what Jesus meant when He said,
"He who would seek to save his life will lose it."
Today, 20 years later, God is teaching me how to use movies like a stethoscope. Under the soul deadening power of the mundane they arouse and refocus me to hear my pulse again, reminding me that my heart is still seeking a larger story to live and die in. The higher the stakes and the greater the courage required, the more my heart gets lit up by a movie. Without a doubt, God regularly commissions Hollywood to make modern day parables that keep retelling and reinforcing the invitation He gave us through Jesus, paralleling the epic struggles between the forces of light and darkness.
Q: What movies or stories have stripped you and left your heart feeling totally exposed?
Were you one of the bazillions of world citizens anticipating the release of this blockbuster? Watch this trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and see if it stirs your heart. If possible, watch it on a large screen and crank up the volume.
(Now fumble to stop the audio.)
This trailer gives me a haymaker to the heart, along with 800 million other viewers. Consider the lines and images the giants of the movie industry have carefully chosen to draw in the billions of movie-goers around the planet:
The heart is confronted with a question...
"Who are you?"
The dreamer responds from the frustration of a small story...
"I'm no one."
The warrior without a battle to fight despairs...
"I was raised to do one thing...but I've got nothing to fight for"
An enemy resolves...
"Nothing will stand in our way. I will finish what you started."
The student starts looking for answers...
"There are stories about what happened...?"
The teacher begins to teach...
"It's true...all of it. The Dark Side...the Jedi...they're real."
An invitation to join the story is being extended...
"The force...it's calling to you...Just let it in."
The most powerful stories are those which most effectively lead us to this conclusion:
This story was made for my heart and my heart was made for this story.
This formula works every time, and better than any other, because this is how God has rigged the world, as Dallas Willard told us,
“We were built to count, as water is made to run downhill. We are placed in a specific context to count in ways no one else does. That is our destiny.”
It's precisely what makes Star Wars one of the world's most successful storylines...ever...in the history of history. It hooks its audience by asking the questions universally frustrating to the human experience. Great stories are attractive only when they allow us to follow and feel the trials and misadventures of other people stumbling around as they look for answers to the same questions we're asking:
Who am I?
What's my purpose?
Why is life so hard?
Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?
We want answers. We want them now. But as Henri Nuowen warns,
"Answers before questions do harm to the soul."
The world doesn't have the answers, but its best stories keep raising the same difficult questions. Through the epic tales that spread across the globe or endure through time, God appears to be inviting humanity somewhere, but the trail is illuminated by question marks and desperation.
Could this be the right way?
Papa, I have followed many voices in my life, but none has ever whispered to my heart so patiently and consistently as yours. You were there in the theater seat so many years ago, revealing desires I have since come to see realized. I have spent many years being frustrated, feeling like I was made too small and unworthy of the large desires you've placed inside me, seemingly to tease me. Forgive me Father. I reject my orphan thinking and simply ask you to pull me in to the story you have been preparing me for since the beginning. I renounce small thinking and I reject the small story of safety and comfort I have flirted and danced with on the edge of that cliff. I want a bigger role in your story than I can yet conceive. Where you are, that's where I want to be. But help me with the desperation. Lift me up above the pettiness of my current affairs. While I want to fight evil on foreign soil, help me see the epic battleground in my own living room. Elevate my understanding. Forgive me for thinking too little of you and too little of myself. I'm all in. I love that you love me enough to invite me, equip me, and even reward me for simply taking the pilgrimage my heart was made for all along anyway. And train my hands for battle and my heart to love.
Your story is made for my heart, and my heart is made for your story.
I'd love to see your comments. What stories seem to be made for your heart? Why?