But there is another motivating factor that has been just as influential in the process of learning how to and actually writing a book.
I want to be a storyteller.
More specifically, I want to tell stories like Jesus told stories.
Over three years ago, I wrote a post about Jesus the storyteller. In it, I shared this:
I feel like we’ve lost the ability to tell good stories in our Christian culture. This is sad to me. If Jesus modeled communicating His message in story form about one out of every three times, and we are becoming more and more like Him, then maybe a natural result of following Jesus should be that our stories get better and more powerful. Feels like the opposite is happening a lot of the time. We’re great at sermonizing, but we don’t seem to tell very good stories. Not that I have any problem with sermons, I prepare and preach sermons often, and I listen to several every month. But it feels like we’ve abandoned other forms of communicating and put all of our eggs in the lecture-format basket. Even the movies Christians make end up feeling like a 2-hour sermon. Movies are supposed to be stories, not sermons. When I go see a film, I don’t want to be preached to. I want to hear, see, feel a story. I can draw my own conclusions about life, and morality, and God without having them spoon-fed to me. That’s the wonder of the human intellect. That’s the beauty and power of story.
I feel this even more strongly now than I did then.
I’ve never been ashamed of being a Christian, but there have been many times I’ve been ashamed by how Christians tell stories.
It seems as though the most popular stories written by and for Christians in our culture pay no thought to giving people outside the faith a chance to find themselves in the narrative. And this is just unacceptable. How can we alienate with our art the very people Jesus most wants to reach?
Here are two reviews for the recent release, War Room, which is getting a lot of praise lately in Christian circles. To be fair, I haven’t seen the film. And I probably won’t. I’m sure it has its place and if it was encouraging to you, then by all means celebrate it and promote it. But know that, based on most secular reviews, it is in no way accessible to people outside of the faith. Here are snippets from two unrelated reviews of the movie:
- “War Room isn’t really a movie. Instead, it’s just a glossy, elongated infomercial for prayer. And, if you’re inclined to accept its agenda, it works. Because the audience I saw it with hooted, praised and squealed with joy at the right times.”
- “If these films truly want to evangelize, then they must step outside their comfort zone…They must acknowledge that life is far more complicated than the typical Sunday sermon would indicate, and that faith means more than submitting to a controlled existence ruled by fear. They must portray the full dimensionality of the material world before they can begin to explore the spiritual one.”
We need to get back to how Jesus told stories.
This is the heart of how I wrote Remember Jane. I studied Jesus the storyteller. How did he communicate? What were the common threads that wove themselves through most of his tales?
There were many commonalities, but for my book I focused on the three I felt were the most powerful:
- The characters in Jesus’ stories were real. They messed up. They made bad decisions. Sometimes they swore, were immoral, cheated and lied and stole and chose the wrong path. Just like we have. Just like we sometimes still do.
- The settings and backgrounds were familiar to His listeners. He talked about sheep and farming and fishing; about business dealings and eating and family relationships.
- No matter what story Jesus tells, people from all walks of life can find themselves in the narrative, even if they have a different faith background (or none at all).
- God is a character in the story.
- He’s not called God. He’s a “father” or a “judge” or a “vineyard owner” or a “farmer” or a “shepherd.”
- He acts in the story in ways that are at times mysterious or even frustrating. He’s real. He’s active. He’s up to something, even if the other people in the story (or the listeners, for that matter) don’t know what it is.
- A surprise or twist. In almost every story Jesus told, something happens that you don’t expect.
- A father runs (!) and gives his coat (!) to the returning son who had told his father he wished he were dead and then spent a third of his dad’s money on “wild living.”
- People who only worked an hour get paid the same amount (!) as people who worked the whole day.
- The banquet preparer un-invites his distracted friends from the great party and instead orders everyone (!) else to be invited instead.
- One thing is certain about Jesus’ teaching: it wasn’t predictable, it wasn’t cliche, it was never trite.
I certainly don’t want to sound bitter or jealous of the success others have had. I’m not reacting against something as much as I want to get back to something – to model my writing after Jesus in hopes that others will like it and attempt to do the same. There are authors who are already doing this well. William P. Young, Josh Riebock, and Brandon Clements are just three examples of writers who are ahead of me on this path. I’m in debt to them for their courage and influence.
Writing a book is a humbling experience. I have no idea if I was able to do what I set out to do. I have hope and that is all I have.
I hope you will read Remember Jane. I hope it will engage you on a deep level. I hope you don’t feel preached to, but that your heart will be stirred all the same.
I hope you find yourself in the story.
And I hope you find God waiting for you in the spaces underneath the words, between the pages.