How to ennoble instead of demean or belittle. Let’s talk.

Often, something I’m hearing in the middle of a conversation reminds me of a profound but simple observation made by Pope Paul VI that has stayed with me for years, decades, about how to reach people with a good message. He said “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” It struck me when I read it in the 90′s, though he wrote it in a compelling Apostolic Exhortation back in 1975.

I could easily get sidetracked on that whole work right now, his writing on engaging modern culture. It seems more relevant now than ever, though it always has been.

I thought of it today when the second shoe dropped on a Breakpoint message-turned-exchange about ‘the importance of story’, or basically how to influence people today. Given our short attention span and gullibility and desire for bread and circuses, the art of storytelling is being lost to clever marketers of grabbable messages calculated to elicit a quick and emotional response.

The first Breakpoint commentary was from Eric Metaxas and it snared my attention because it was called Not Sermons but Stories. Which is what Pope Paul VI was talking about, precisely.

Then another Breakpoint commentary followed that didn’t exactly challenge Metaxas (because he was right) but expanded on his point (which was Paul VI’s point).

Which all makes sense because it’s all about the same thing. If you can, read each of the attached links.

John Stonestreet must play poker, because his commentary “sees” Metaxas and “raises” him for not only storytelling, but for story hearing.

Here’s what I mean. Yes, Christians should be among the producers of great stories, art, books, TV shows, etc. But the fact of the matter is that few of us produce these cultural artifacts, but all of us consume them. Most of us aren’t movie producers, but movie watchers. Not authors, but readers.

And the books, songs, movies and media most Americans, including Christians, choose to consume these days are downright depressing. As Eric mentioned yesterday, the number one and two movies at the box office are ridiculously, almost pornographically, violent movies. And it’s not just violence and sex. It’s also the silliness that wastes enormous amounts of our time and our brains.

I first understood this after reading Neil Postman’s incredible book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” In it, he contrasts the futurist visions in George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

At first glance their visions were similar; but Postman suggests otherwise. “What Orwell feared,” Postman wrote, “were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, because there would be no one who wanted to read one . . . Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture … In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

Yes. This is true, captivatingly true.

In his essay “Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures . . . like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Let me paraphrase Lewis. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with reality TV, cheesy romance novels, and decorating our homes with trinkets—when we could watch great films, read great books, old and new, that accurately describe the human condition and cause us to examine our lives; and feast our eyes on works of art that point to a greater beauty and Truth.”

Dostoevsky wrote “the world will be saved by beauty.” Yes. Bring it.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....