"The villain is the most important part of any story." There was a collective shuffling of feet against dirt. A stray cough & sniff from the onslaught of campfire smoke reaching into lungs and crawling up nostrils. We all nodded our head in agreement.
"Absolutely. The villain has to be the most important part of any story. He's important because we recognize ourselves in him."
We recognize ourselves in him.
Story has structure. Acts. You do not know the complete arch of a story at the very beginning. Although, the best writers will let you in on a couple secrets in some of the first chapters.
The man who takes a second glance at a young girl. The teenager who snickers when another trips and falls. The woman who's hand lingers a second too long on her best friend's husband's arm.
Our hearts race because we know. We recognize the traits of someone who is caught in a tangle of lies.
And so, indefinitely, we'll root for the protagonist but we'll hope for the villain. Just like good writers will let you in on secrets, they will also give you a taste of redemption. There's always a moment where the villain is presented with a choice - shirk your reputation or follow the path you've blazed. We all know which choice leads to destruction.
We're never surprised when the villain chooses his own path.
One of my favorite books is East of Eden. In it, Cathy proves to be one of the most evil & sinister characters I've ever come across. She's vile. Rank. Manipulative. Every step is a contemplative action toward harm. Every word is a honey-dipped lie. I hate her.
But I also know her. She's me.
Far too often, her speech echoes my thoughts. Her actions are just as evil and manipulative as those desires sneaking up on me when I least expect it. Her pain is just as deep as the wounds I continue to lick and refuse to let heal.
But there's a difference - a big one.
I chose a different path.
And this is why we root for the protagonist - because we know what it's like to come face to face with pain and live through it. We know the story of redemption in our own lives: the mistakes, missteps, misunderstandings leading us to the Cross where all of our mess hangs. For those of us who know the story - because it's the gospel story - we know the ending.
Last week, I mentioned the need to sit awhile. I said there were some friends of mine I wanted you to meet. I wanted you to hear their story.
We start Monday.
And I really don't know when it's going to end.
There's a lot of stories out there. A lot of memories wrapped in pain but held in Arms of love. As I've received some of these stories, I've cried. Laughed. Felt the same yearning of the word wait.
We've all been the villain. We've all felt that imperceptible hardness begin to wrap itself around our hearts.
Which is why the beauty of our story lies in the breaking.
Over the next few weeks, some of my dearest friends will stop by and spend some time with you. Some of their stories are harder to hear than others. Some of their stories you'll want to turn away for fear of responsibility. All of them hold the power of a gospel story - redemptive arms reaching into their dirty and bringing them to Rescue.
All of them realizing they are no longer a villain.
Make no mistake. This blog is no longer my blog. I'm not sure what's going to happen - but I do know these stories need to be told and I can't predict the outcome of their weightiness. Sit awhile with them? Pull up a chair and warm your hands by the fire.
We may be here for awhile.