The challenge before us is that hearts of children and adults are profoundly distracted in a spiritually dark culture. Consuming faith and virtue filled media evangelizes the imagination, reaching the heart, where the goodness, truth and beauty of God can be discovered anew. Let’s acquire a taste for virtue.
What does our modern entertainment fascination with dystopian worlds full of zombies and vampires, sluts and sarcastic serial killers say about us? When our society forgets about our Creator and what it means that He gave us each a soul, then our lives are naturally all about us. If our beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, feelings and decisions are self-absorbed, our soul dies. But souls are eternal…so we become the “living dead”. Modern media and technology fuels our narcissism. We are consummate consumers ready to eat each other up. And our kids are “wimpy” because their souls are starving.
The good news is that the spark of God inside us is eternal. Our hunger is deeper than our selfish appetite. In an age when everyone truly is doing what is right in their own eyes and good and evil are upside-down, then perhaps it’s the perfect time for the freshly invigorating edgy excellence of virtue.
MSG for our Minds
Truth is, we are what we eat, both on a natural and on a spiritual level. Everyone buzzes about nutritional health, but most of us still eat plenty of chips, sweets and junk food. Both our entertainment foods and our entertainment media are often full of empty or toxic content. Foods can contain addictive chemicals, like Monosodium Glutamate, that have no nutritional value but trigger pleasure receptors in the brain. Prolonged exposure can damage neurons and impair brain function. These substances are sometimes called excitotoxins.
Our entertainment media hooks us with visual and narrative excitotoxins. Artificial and addictive stimulants for innate human instincts of fight, flight, or delight are used to get us to purchase millions of dollars-worth of entertainment that is unhealthy for our minds and hearts. The most commonly used film and fiction excitotoxin additives are triggers for:
- Fight or Flight: Horror, violence and foul language can hurt so good with exhilarating excitement that we are numbed to the toxic effect on our souls.
- Delight: Explicit sex titillates but always leaves a longing for more. Dramatic images of wealth and fame tease us toward greed and envy. Sarcasm’s biting laughter convinces us that humor is naturally enjoyed at someone else’s expense.
Fortunately goodness is real and truth is actually true. We are hardwired to long for both. The media toxins are always a counterfeit for the deeper desires of our hearts. We can put ourselves on a media detox diet. We can chose something better. As we kick the habit, we may feel some withdrawal, but the life of our soul is worth it.
Now consider the books & media that are just fun and have nothing really bad, or really good, in them. It’s just entertainment (just a movie, just a book, just a song, just a game…) right? Our minds and hearts digest everything we experience and all of it affects who we are. If we choose vitamins and food that always and only have the minimum recommended daily amount of nutrients, we will avoid a debilitating death from scurvy but we will not experience good health. If we dined on a steady diet of food filler, we’d be alive, but wouldn’t feel good. In addition, as we fill up on fluff, we lose our appetite for anything more substantive.
The alternative is choosing high potency vitamins and drinking nutritionally dense whole food smoothies…in what we watch, read and listen to!
Yummy Craft vs. Delicious Content
For too long we have allowed excellence in craft to be the standard for what is considered “good” or “great” in written or visual media. Artistic finesse, precise language, and creative ingenuity have clear objective standards for us to evaluate. Considering the excellence of the content appears so subjective. It feels like we are just affirming someone’s opinion. Just as a meal can be created with masterful style that looks exquisitely beautiful; if it is created with sub-standard ingredients, it will fall flat in the purpose for which it was destined: eating. We have done the same with media. Don’t we often content ourselves with a sterile love for impressive craft and abandon love for life giving content?
Choosing faith and virtue filled media reunites genuine truth, goodness and beauty to feed both the mind and the spirit. Growing our understanding of the virtues educates our palate to appreciate quality in both content and craft.
Virtue is the Surprise Inside
Just as the benefits of kale are not appreciated in the first bite, virtue itself is an acquired taste. If we are accustomed to an entertainment diet heavy on intellectual cheese curls, with a side of emotional poison served with a life saver of virtue just to make it all feel good going down, then the crunchy naturalness of faith and virtue filled media may seem bland or foreign at first.
If we are active and intentional about choosing faith and virtue filled media, we will be surprised. We’ll discover how satisfying a steady diet of smiles hidden within frowns, strength forged through weakness, and sacrificial joy as the flip side of pain, without all the other additives, can be. Thoroughly virtuous stories are engaging and exciting, but leave the purity of heart of the viewer or reader intact.
The humble wisdom of the little 19th century nun known at St. Therese of Lisieux is a great guide as we choose to consume healthier media. Therese felt she was a tiny flower in God’s garden, too small to do anything important. She decided to do each small act in her life with great loving obedience to God. What she called her “Little Way” is actually the surest means to enable virtue to flourish inside of us.
We can adapt her little way to grow in virtue through the way we choose our media. Simplicity may be our salvation. The menu of media choices is vast. It’s obvious that the ever-increasing glut of entertainment is robbing us of our time and distracting us from what is important. Can we consider each tiny media selection as an act of love?
Our imagination is actually a sacred space. It’s where spiritually, diet meets exercise. It is where all the media we experience comes together with the longings of our heart and we create our own story. It is also the place where we can see the unseen and can experience God in a profoundly personal way. When the media we consume is bereft of God’s presence or continually contradicts His goodness, we make it very difficult for His Holy Spirit to dwell in us or animate our lives with holy strength.
Rather than a playground for our ego to imagine that we can do anything, or a place to toy with whatever colorful idea occurs to us, our imagination is our spiritual dojo where we train our internal habits. If we allow it, God appoints His Holy Spirit as our personal trainer, mentor and guide. Our imagination is where we sculpt and tone the interior virtues, so that virtuous actions can function in us as naturally as muscle memory.
Love Seasoned with Sacrifice
The early martyrs went confidently, singing songs praising God, to be food for lions in the coliseum. It is a rare person, adult or child, who shows that kind of joyful lay-it-all-on-the-line faith today. Maybe our path to the “no matter what happens” kind of joy of those martyrs, is as simple as laying our time and money on the line. As we seek out and pay for faith and virtue filled media, each small act trains virtue in us and our investment helps feed a starving artist who sacrificially uses their creative gifts to bring faith and virtue filled books, movies and music to the marketplace.
With each $5, $10 or $27 we spend on a holy and wholesome title, often at regular price, we act as a patron of the arts. Our purchase shifts money away from empty or toxic fare and enables authors, directors and musicians to create more of the “good stuff”: the stories that enable us and our children to imagine ourselves living lives of heroic happiness, and if needed, willing to take a bullet for Jesus. Virtue, alive in our imagination, gives us the strength to live, and die, for our beloved.
The Power of Parable
Jesus was the master storyteller. The fictional characters He created in His parables like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Good Shepherd, are some of the most memorable of all time. As we reflect on and identify with the tales, we imagine and try their experiences on for size. We’ve heard the stories dozens of times, yet we can experience them in a new way each time. Our changing circumstances, maturity and faith allow us to see them with fresh eyes and grow from each encounter. Timeless trans-formative power is tucked inside each parable.
Other faith and virtue filled storytelling can do the same. Choosing from the sumptuous banquet that feeds our soul opens us to holy and heroic happiness that most of us can barely imagine is possible. Choosing the fast-food of pop culture is a cheap substitute that always leaves us hungry. Jesus invites us to select a slice of delectable eternal JOY instead.
This blog is my media “manifesto,” the synthesis of so much of what I believe about imagination, faith, God and holiness. I hope it is a help to you.
I’m Cathy Gilmore, inspirational blogger, author, educator, speaker (and saint wanna-be) who cultivates spiritual imagination because our imagination is the place where we can see the unseen, and perhaps…discover God.
Follow me @PowerOfParable on Twitter.
Check out my books. The picture book I co-authored with my sister shows that love casts out fear and makes the Easter Bunny a beloved disciple of Jesus: Easter Bunny’s Amazing Day, and my award winning Christmas parable brings the Peaceable Kingdom to the Bethlehem stable: Little Lamb Finds Christmas. You can contact me to inspire your group at firstname.lastname@example.org.