The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 23, 2001 Issue

Don't get 'Left Behind' on good books

Christians have a great history of story telling that goes beyond this one series

By Tom Rinkoski

Summoned to Serve

I received calls (last week) about the popular Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. (It is a whole series of books consisting of catchy titles like: The Mark, Soul Harvest, Tribulation and Nicolae). My son Brian has read most of these books, as have, apparently, many his age. He tells me there is also a movie based on the books.

The caller wanted my opinion about the book as spiritual reading. The caller proposed that the series was a best seller because of a spiritual longing alive in our time. I do not deny there is a spiritual hunger in our time. The hunger for deeper meaning is a part of the human condition, whether in this time or the next.

The books, their plot structure and style seems (to me) a continuation of a great American Evangelistic tradition. The science fiction/fantasy outline of the Scriptural perspective of the end-times is ideal fodder for tastes we Americans have aquired. Planes drop out of the sky, thousands of people die in accidents caused by the rapture, followed by murder in the streets. The mayhem matches the end time scenarios in The Terminator. The plot line gives us a totally evil character, someone we can love to hate. The story strikes me as more American than Christian. As Christians we have so many better stories that speak to themes that are much more essential to the guts of spiritual living.

I do not object to Brian's reading these books, in fact I delight in his observations. We both read science fiction and fantasy novels, and these fall well within that genre. As Christians, we possess much better stories for spiritual reading.

Christians have a long and cherished history of great storytelling. Two weeks ago in my column, I mentioned several children's stories rich in religious themes. Turning to more adult literature, consider Dante's Inferno if you are after tales of hell. Brian and I just re-read C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in the car on our trip to Minneapolis to visit a college. If you need an examination of evil in our world, I can think of no better place to start.

Contemporary authors Graham Greene and/or Flannery O'Connor take on the core Christian themes of grace and redemption, spelling them out in their characters' lives and love. When I read Jon Hassler's book North of Hope, I found a modern Minnesota retelling of Job wrestling with an angel. Fr. Andrew Greeley has been abundantly clear that the purpose of his novels has been to bring Christian themes to light.

I do not need a movie or author to be overtly spiritual for me to draw spiritual life from it. As a Catholic, I believe the power of sacramental signs is not limited. After my sons got me to see The Matrix, I couldn't stop talking about how it reflected scriptural themes in a new and exciting way. The film, The Spitfire Grill, was one of the best reflections on sin and forgiveness I have ever seen. The movie Ground-hog Day with Bill Murray continues to stand as the best story on conversion I know. I could easily use it to teach a whole theological course on the subject.

Theresa and I just went to see the new movie Chocolat, a chilling tale about the sins we clothe ourselves in, and how the Spirit tenderly reaches us when and how we least expect. We are a people of the story. Jesus loved to tell stories, and we should keep up the tradition. I would love to see a moviemaker take the story of the Good Samaritan and wind it around alternative futures, like the movie Run, Lola, Run. Similarly, it would be fascinating to see the Transfiguration retold as a musical. I would come up with something akin to Rent. I could easily see the story of the Prodigal Son (this Sunday's Scripture) fashioned as movie with characters and scenes in it much like the movie Return To Me which Theresa and I just rented. The family scenes in it brought tears and laughter!

For all you Left Behind fans, let's get together and talk. Send me a note about the last book you enjoyed and how you tasted God there. Contact me at [email protected] or (920)437-7531 or 1-877-500-3580, toll-free, ext. 8304. Let this be the beginning of a lifetime of loving the stories of God which can be found in many shapes and sizes.

(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)

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