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
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
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.)