Idols may not be able to move, but they’re hard to pin down. Just as soon as you shut down one series of machinery rolling the little statues off the conveyor belt, the heart increases production on an emergency backup assembly line.
- Celebrities. Worshiping rock-star authors rather than the Author. One problem: the Christian-speculative market is still very small, and our most-popular authors (Lewis, Tolkien, etc.) are no longer living. I could point to other genres — “secular” speculative stories, Christian-romance paperbacks, etc. — but that’s a tangent.
- Niche appeal. “I love spec stories because they’re weird!” Been there, critiqued that.
- Author pyramid schemes. This is closely related to “celebrity.” Even honoring great actors, singers, or novelists would be “purer” if we were sincerely lauding their work. Instead we also want to take their place. “Hannah Montana” (recall that?) would never have been what it was without this projection complex. (She’s so pretty and popular! [Exclamatory textspeak acronym!] I wish I were her myself!) Yet I’ve also already addressed that, as it pertains to potential author pyramid schemes.
Maybe I’ll (re-)explore those in later series episodes. Yet I was leaning first in the direction that commentator Teddi Deppner reinforced yesterday: that for most readers, including myself, the worst potential idol in enjoying speculative stories may be experience.
Idol identified: experience
Without Teddi’s clarity, I might have called this story-worship. However, I doubt that would be accurate. If I’m truly enjoying the story, I cannot worship it. I’m instead desiring the deeper Beauty and Truth the story reflects, and therefore also the Author of that Beauty and Truth. C. S. Lewis would call this looking along the light-beam into the Source.
By contrast, I may be tempted to “[serve] the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). But with stories, I’m really serving/worshiping personal experience.
This not only displeases God, but is silly and self-defeating, if you think about it.
Consider singing-worship in a church service. When I was younger, I would ponder how this magic was done. How did worship “work”? Was it a quiet and somber, “reverential” attitude — a state of Highly Spiritual Quiet Meditation? Was it self-abandon to the point of going insane, like those (supposedly) nutter-bar charismatics? Should I cry? Not cry? Arrange theology in my head? Get lost in some other experiential emotion?
All of that misses the means for the end. For me, it took sermons and good books to define Biblical worship. It is not about experience, or rather not about striving for experience, they said. Instead experience naturally arrives when we’re lost in the wonder, beauty, love, and holiness of God, which can only result from knowing Him better, thanks to His own Word.
Or consider breathing. Try to breathe. Go on, do it. If you don’t keep breathing, you’ll die. (This experiment is more effective during a sleepless night.) Breathe in, breathe out. Keep up that breathing. What happens? Breathing becomes a chore, an almost painful labor.
Living for experience alone will frustrate. You keep craving more and more experience — and thus miss seeing the eternal reality the experience of a truly fantastic story reflects.
Cure: eyes on eternity
Let’s say I receive a new book by an author I know is great. I burn through the book in two days, including a late-night reading binge until 2 a.m. Whew, what a rush. That story-world was amazing and so beautifully described. The plot kept me guessing. The characters — I wish they were real! Such a hero’s courage is just who we could use now, and the leading lady was so strong yet beautiful. Villains were defeated, and peace and glory was restored to the world. Then comes an inevitable sigh and cry: why can’t reality be more like this?
The Epic Story answers: Reality will be. Read Scripture about resurrection — of Christ, souls/spirits, human bodies, and “the creation itself” (Romans 8). Great stories echo eternity. All great story experiences should point us to the Creator.
And in His presence, nearer thanks to Christ taking away our separating sin, we worship.
I’m still convinced “optimal” worship may not always be conscious (after all, creation does this). Yet we may even offer a prayer after a story’s experience. Not to sound devotional-cheesy here, but something like: Author of reality, thank You for this experience. Thank You that it reflects hope that You will defeat evil and restore peace and glory to the world. Thank You for these emotions. Even when I’m not thinking of You and Your Name, let me honor You.
How do you avoid possible experience-worship in your enjoyment of speculative stories?