Volume 15, Issue 6: Childer
Loving the Story
One of the principle duties of parents is the inculcation of godly loyalties in their children, and one of the
principle instruments for accomplishing this is a right use of story.
Little children have a hunger to
identify, to take sides. They should grow up in a home where this hunger is
satisfied regularlyand it should be satisfied in a simple fashion when they are young. As they grow older, they should
be growing in maturity so that they are able to see that identifying with a protagonist is not the same thing as approving
of everything he does. Early on, this is a bit difficult for them, but one of the best ways for instilling this kind of
discriminating wisdom is the practice of telling Bible stories that have not been bowdlerized for use in Sunday schools.
Every story has a center, and that center is where the protagonist stands. It is impossible to tell stories to
children in such a way as to leave them detached in their loyalties, and it is pernicious to try. Whenever stories are told,
loyalties form. This is a design feature; it is
supposed to work this way. When stories are told often enough, and told well
enough, those loyalties take their mature form as something we call character.
This aspect of our humanity is why so much parental oversight of popular entertainment is so
wrong-headed. Parents allow children to have their loyalties shaped in a grotesque way, just so long as that shaping in accordance
with alien loyalties has had enough of the cuss words bleeped out. And so, to make up an example, children come to feel
a loyal affection for some comedian smart-ass, and this is thought to be okay because the parents bought a digital box
that will bleep out words like smart-ass. An antidote to corruption has been found, it is thought, when actually the
most potent poison is still there. The issue is always
loyalty, and the thing that shapes and directs loyalties is always the story as
a whole. There is no digital box that can bleep out who the protagonist is.
There must be stories, and they must be of a kind that invite healthy Christian loyalties. Loyalty to
Trumpkin produces Trumpkin-like loyalty. This does not mean that the stories must be explicitly Christian, but it means (at
a minimum) that during the time of a child's shaping of character the protagonist must have stolen Christian nobilities,
so that the Christian reader can steal them back.
By the time a well-taught Christian student is able to read well-crafted stories written by a God-hater, he should
be doing so in much the same way that an analyst with the CIA listens to Al-Jazerrawhich requires thorough training
on top of long-established loyalties. This is why a number of classical Christian educators (in their pursuit of
recovering academic standards) ought to think twice about having their fifth graders read
The Red Badge of Courage or Moby
Dick. It may look impressive on a school brochure, but fifth graders don't have an immune system that can handle the
diseases these books carry. And the "diseases" need to be seen as the alien loyalties they inculcate.
If a story is told badly, the result is that the reader or viewer
wants the protagonist to die, and, if such a
death cannot be arranged, wants to walk out of the theater or throw the book against the wall. But if the story is told well,
the reader or viewer naturally identifies with the protagonist. This identification is loyalty, and when children learn
to identify with fictional characters, their loyalties are in training. This is true whether they are identifying with Lucy
or Trumpkin, Merry or Pippin, Penrod or Sam.
When the loyalties are formed in the reading of Scripture, or post-apostolic histories or biographies, the
loyalties take their place in the real world. Some years ago, a young woman, a friend of our family, was part of a tour group
in France, and they came to a place where the tour guide made some joke about the martyrdom of some Huguenots
many centuries before. For this, he was fiercely rebuked by our friend. "Those were my
people!" she said to the guide. And they were.
But this is why those children who have had their loyalties shaped in this way have to be somewhat careful as
they grow up. If they let it become too obvious, they look a tad naïve, the kind of person who is still taking the battle at
the Alamo personally. But in a real sense, this is what we have to learn how to do. How do we take such things personally
in the sense of being covenantally connected to them, without taking them personally in the sense of not having a grip
on contemporary reality?
So our memories must come down to the present, and the right kind of story-telling helps here as well. The
high water mark of the Muslim advance on Europe in the 17th century was at the battle of Vienna. At that point the
Muslims were turned back, and it has been an ebbing tide for them since then. That battle occurred on September 11,
which was no doubt highly significant to Osama. It was part of the story he is telling himself, and part of the story he is
trying to tell us. But if we want to counter this, there has to be more than a simple
nuh uh on our part. A people who have lost their story cannot fight. Every story we fail to tell our children is a story we have lost. And we lose our loyalties at
the same time.