This month I wanted to begin our conversation with a question, “how do we change culture?” Many of our peers may offer suggestions like politics and other such avenues. However, I would like to offer the proposition that one does it by narrative. Narrative shapes our opinions and beliefs. My friend and author S.D. Smith says, “I sincerely believe in the power of stories to shape our affections in a way nothing else can.” I was reminded of this when I was reading that beloved book by C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. For those of you that may not have read this book yet, I hope this is not a spoiler. However, one character in the book named Eustace, has had a hard time adjusting to his adventures in Narnia. In the first part of the book, the reader actually becomes annoyed with Eustace’s selfishness and pride. These vices lead to a drastic change in Eustace’s appearance—he turns into a dragon. When Eustace realizes what has happened, he longs to be a boy again. He meets the great lion Aslan who tells Eustace to peel off the dragon skin. Eustace attempts this peeling for several tries only to realize that even though some skin comes off, a new skin is underneath and his condition remains unchanged. At this point, the reader comes across a beautiful paragraph describing how Eustace had to willingly let the Lion use his painful tool to get to the heart of Eustace’s problem and strip him of his hard, dragon scales. This excerpt shapes my thinking as a Christian. Knowing whom Aslan represents in the Narnia series, it presents a beautiful picture of how God works in our lives. His work penetrates to the deepest part of our hearts and it produces permanent change as opposed to that which is superficial.
There are many such examples in literature. In the book Cry, The Beloved Country, the reader meets Reverend Stephen Kumalo, who is on a journey to not only help his sister but find his son. Throughout the story, Reverend Kumalo is faced with suffering and much of this suffering is due to seeing the results of poor decisions on the part of both his sister and son. He takes comfort in God, stating, “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering, Umfundisi. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.” Another example is in Old Yeller where the dad explains an important life lesson to his son Travis saying, “What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem might cruel and unfair, but that's how life is a part of the time. But that isn't the only way life is. A part of the time, it's mighty good. And a man can't afford to waste all the good parts, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.” Unfortunately, narratives such as these are being removed from education and we are recipients of the result. Yet these are the very narratives that speak to our hearts showing us time-tested truths. Truths such as change often are painful, life will have suffering, and grief should not overshadow the blessings in life. These stories are teaching children through tangible examples enabling them to vicariously experience these things while also seeing how others respond to them. Conserving these truth narratives for our children hopefully will be the catalyst for the future preservation and in the process create a new hunger in our culture for what is true, good, and beautiful.
Changing our culture is not going to be an overnight process but it is something we can begin today. We need storytellers and narrative promoters. Let us encourage our children to be the creators of the next generation. Let them, through their imagination, logic and rhetoric, shape the hearts and minds of their peers and their children. In the words of N.D. Wilson, “The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”