A Story Parable
By Anthony Casperson

Quite a number of cultural commentators have lamented the decrease of stories that aren’t a sequel, remake, or adaptation of a story from a different medium. The outcry emerges, “Where are the new ideas?”

One such commentator recently spoke about a part of his reasoning why there are so few new ideas while referring to a so-to-be-released movie. He said that this film was “noted to death.” Essentially, an abundance of notes from the producers and studio left the story to the wayside while trying to appeal to the “audience.” (Though, the effectiveness of their attempt is questionable at best, given the direction these moviemakers think the “audience” wants.)

This commentator’s words made me think about how this relates to our culture’s attempts to wrestle meaning away from the author of the words, and thus place the role of meaning-giver to the audience. It seems to follow quite easily that if the audience ultimately defines what meaning a story has, then this nebulous notion of “audience” and their fickle whims must dictate to the filmmakers the type of stories to tell. Each studio note then becomes a dictate from on high.

(For those of you pointing at the role of greed and the “almighty dollar” being the actual reason for the producers and studios sending these notes, I would propose that the two go hand in hand. Those motivated by money believe that they’ll get more if they give into the one whom they believe is the more important side of the author/audience divide. And since they believe that the audience provides the meaning of words and stories, they then place a greater emphasis that direction.)

But this then makes us have to ask the question if the reason for this stagnation of new and good stories is on account of this relatively-recent transfer of the role of meaning-giver from author to audience.

It’s probably pretty obvious where I land in the question of where meaning derives between the author and the audience. I mean, I’ve written a few blogs about this very thing before. But this recent consideration made me realize that there’s a place I can point to that proves I have a very powerful ally in my perspective.

God enfleshed in humanity.

A well-known aspect of Jesus’ teaching is the fact that he often taught in parables. Stories which speak to the truth in a way that illustrates the point. The word “parable” itself comes from the idea of something “thrown beside” to compare and illuminate something else.

These stories of Jesus often have characters and a plot—granted its limitation. And so, we could find a parallel between Jesus’ parables and the stories of which we’re speaking. Thus, the way that Jesus viewed his own parables should show us how he—God—views the role of meaning-giver when it comes to stories.

And we actually get a view into Jesus’ perspective through his words in Matthew 13:10-17.

The verses immediately preceding this passage, Jesus told the parable of the four soils. A sower cast seed onto various kinds of soil: hard-packed, rocky, thorny, and good. The seeds met various ends, but only in the good soil did the seed take root, grow, and bear fruit.

But we also bear witness to the fact that the vast majority of the audience had no clue what Jesus was talking about. Even his apostles—Jesus’ closest followers—were confused about it and needed help understanding his parables.

Notice, that Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh, well, I guess since the audience found no meaning in the story, so my words meant nothing.” No, Jesus goes on from verse 11 not only to explain why he teaches in parables, but also to defend the role of the author of the words as meaning-giver.

Jesus comes right out and says that his purpose in teaching through stories is to separate out those who seek the truth from those who don’t. Those who have been given the right to the secrets of the Kingdom of God (we who follow Jesus) will be given the ability to understand the meaning that Jesus himself wants us to have. He, as meaning-giver of the story, wants to impart onto us some aspect of the truth through the parable.

Yet, for those outside of the Kingdom of God, the stories seem to be nothing but utter nonsense. The plot twist makes no sense. And the characters are considered unrelatable. All because this part of the audience doesn’t want to hear the truth of God.

As Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah, “Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

The audience will always selfishly want stories that allow them to remain in comfort. To not question their actions. However, the truth often calls us to something greater. And this greater will always mean change. Thus, those who don’t want to change will be blind to what is right in front of their eyes. And deaf to the truth screamed in their ears.

Therefore, what the audience wants is not the truth. Not the meaning that will push us to something greater. Truth—meaning itself—must be placed in the hands of the one who calls us to something better. To a life that is more than mere entertainment, but is actually impactful. A good author whose words call us to this better through the meaning they intend from them.

After Jesus’ discussion as to why he speaks in parables, he then goes on in verse 18 and following to explain what the meaning of this parable is to the apostles—which is what he gives for the words, not what they consider it to be. And this explanation allows we who follow Jesus to understand the meaning he has placed in his story.

Where have all the new ideas gone?

They’re waiting for us to realize that stories should motivate us to change. And as long as we’re trying to find meaning from the audience, we will never change.

Find meaning in the authors’ words. And more importantly, find meaning in the words of the Author of the universe. We’ll discover the meaning of truth there. But only if we’re ready to be called to change for something better.