Kevin was in a bad spot in a Connecticut forest some years before we met. A young and dynamic pastor on the way up, he became too aware of his own giftings and was suddenly forced to watch it all evaporate. His family and career gone, he had no place to go but a house trailer parked in the forest preserve, in the middle of a blizzard, the only heat supplied by a space heater on the floor. He threw the heater through the trailer’s window in rage at the God Who allowed his humiliation. Now fully exposed to the blizzard outside and in his heart, he finally collapsed on the floor to tearfully beg God’s forgiveness.
Kevin’s story ends well. In the wake of his repentance, all he had lost — and more — was eventually restored to him. He was enabled to give tremendous encouragement to people like myself when we needed it most.
It doesn’t always work out that way — at least visibly — but that changes nothing for a Lord who is often more active in the unseen. What do we do about that?
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Davy Crockett was a boyhood hero of mine and remains so today. The congressman, bear hunter and martyr of the Alamo was made famous by the 1956 Walt Disney mini-series and a slew of Alamo movies produced since. His motto, frequently inscribed for autograph seekers during his lifetime, was, “Always be sure you are right; then go ahead.” Amid all the mythology surrounding this larger-than-life character, it is crystal clear he lived by this motto. And things did not always work out for him.
When Crockett — onetime prospective presidential candidate — stood against President Andrew Jackson and the injustice of his Indian Removal Bill, Crockett’s political career abruptly ended. Throwing in his lot with the defenders of the Alamo against the despot Santa Anna cost him his life. As a Christian, he was far more concerned with how he lived than with whether he lived. He understood that it was the quality of his life in this world that fitted him for life in any world.
That understanding separates so-called Christian arts from other artistic cum literary points of view — whether or not they give explicit acknowledgement to God. We are talking about worldview here.
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The ancient world gave us Greek drama through epics about Trojan Wars and Odysseys, along with plays about figures such as Orpheus and Persephone. The mindset of Greek drama sees people at the mercy of the gods and there is little mercy to be had. Our problems are not of our own making — Paris was enchanted into loving Helen of Sparta — and their solution is impossible. Life sucks and that is all there is. Even though Odysseus is restored to kingdom and family, there is untold and unrecoverable damage. Nobody involved in the siege of Troy ends easy, and few end alive.
Human self-understanding made a great leap forward with the advent of Shakespearean drama. The key to this literary artistic form is that we make our own problems. Nobody forces Macbeth to believe the witches when they tell him he can murder the king with impunity; nobody tells hell-bent Caesar Rome will quietly accept an emperor overturning their republican traditions, and certainly no one seduces Romeo and Juliet into suicide. The value of the viewpoint is we are compelled to accept responsibility for our situational crises. Life sucks but we have done it to ourselves. There is no way out of disaster once we are in, but we are not compelled to enter.
Christian drama is introduced as far back as the Middle Ages with the Arthurian legends. In this mindset, we are responsible for the problems we create, but there is hope of a happy ending through repentance and change. This is so in these legends credited with breaking the model from the Greek mold — although people die, the principal characters are reconciled and move beyond adulterous triangles from Lancelot, Arthur and Guinevere to Tristan, King Mark and Isolde. Film stories like The Magnificent Seven come to crisis due to arrogance coupled with apathy in the protagonists, but heroism wins in the end and the three surviving warriors move on. The main character-in-struggle — Chico, who hates his peasant origins — reconciles with his background and comes to love his wife and future family.
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Christian drama is a unique form in that characters must accept responsibility for their predicament but are capable of finding redemption — usually but not necessarily God-made-available — even after passing points of no return. They have no more guarantee of recovery than do any others, but they do have hope for it. And they should — this form actually predates the Arthurian stories by two millennia albeit uncredited by most critics. It begins in the pages of the Old Testament, where every prophet presages disaster for apostate Israel but always ends with the hope of a future grounded in repentance and return to original vision, first love and the only God.
Even the Alamo story — in history and mythology alike — begins with co-commanders defying the orders of their superior to blow up and abandon the fort, a choice they have made to court disaster. Over the course of events they and their men become heroes and martyrs due to their shared commitment to God and one another — and their shared choice to ride toward instead of away from the danger they face. Theirs is a choice to live in repentance. Their sacrifice — the story ends in death for them — inspires the birth of Texas and braces Americans even today.
The beauty of this model is it matches the fullness of reality. In Christian drama, life is hard and often falls to pieces. But there is no foolishness about characters being victims of circumstance — Marxism tries to resurrect the Greek model without success; most people know better. People make choices and choices have consequences. But in this form, our bad choices are not necessarily the last word; there is a God Who redeems. Sometimes He steps up front and center, sometimes the predicament is the result of a choice we have made to serve Him and His Kingdom — as Congressman Crockett discovered. In those times He is most present no matter how the story ends in this life.
I recall preparing to travel to the Philippines in 2006 to participate in a gathering of many tribes from all over the world and conduct leadership training a few days and a few hours’ drive further west. A check of the U.S. State Department website showed Mindanao — our destination — a dangerous place for Americans. But a further check-in with the Holy Spirit told us we were in Abba’s hands with nothing to worry about.
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We had no assurance of safety — although that is the usual understanding of “in Abba’s hands” — but we did have His promise the outcome would be good. As events unfolded we saw scores of people set free from bondage to their legacy of ethnic bitterness and hundreds released to serve their neighbors in the Name of God with authority they had not known was theirs. Nothing bad happened to us beyond a few moments of high anxiety and repentant dependency on our Lord.
Seeking the right of a thing and then going ahead, as David Crockett did and as Kevin ultimately did, comes from a lively appreciation of our fallibility coupled with conviction our foul-ups are not the end of a story in which God is the real protagonist. The arts — when they are honest — declare this reality whether in implicit or explicit terms. They ultimately give God the glory He deserves and we need to recognize.
The United States — and every other nation on this planet — stands at the same existential crossroads faced by Kevin and Crockett in their day. We are challenged to accept responsibility for ourselves followed by repentance and recommitment to our first loves in terms of identity and destiny, or continue to complain we are victims of circumstance. As we Americans inaugurate a new president, the jury is still out.
Returning to Kevin, I have heard his story twice — once from Kevin and the other time from a storyteller, Brennan Manning, who did not realize I knew both Kevin and the story. The striking thing is when Kevin tells the story one is immediately and starkly aware of the great need in each of us to repent and return to the Lord from Whom alone comes life and resurrection. When Manning tells the story the impact comes — solely — from the great love of this Lord for each and every one of us. This love can be neither bought nor ultimately denied.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.
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