Writing Life Scripts

September 13, 2013 — 9 Comments

ben hurI was shaped by the heroic religious films of the 1950s and 60s. The powerful messages of epic movies like Ben Hur, Quo Vadis and The Robe planted within my young Christian heart an awareness of nobility and radical self-sacrifice.

About twenty years ago, I spent a year doing graduate work in education. One of my Educational Psychology classes was taught by a professor who was a devotee of Transactional Analysis. I don’t recall too much about TA, aside from one of its principles that resonated with me.

It’s a concept called Life Scripts. Without going into great detail, it is an often subconscious notion of how we “think” our lives will or should play out. It’s adjusted throughout our lives, but the basic theme is established when we are quite young.*

A recent article says “script is broadly understood as a series of decisions, formed as coping strategies in childhood, which continue to shape the life course outside of awareness.”**

It was only as an adult that I realized just how significant an impression these virtuous stories made on me. I recalled the countless times I lay in bed at night rehearsing the story of The Robe. I was the unbelieving Roman soldier, converted by the gentle witness of the wrongfully persecuted Christians.*** Ultimately, I took my stand with them, defending them and voluntarily laying down my life for Christ.

That same plot line still echoes through my mind and soul.

I consider myself blessed to have been exposed to such positive influences while my self identity was being shaped. And I pray for children today whose parents allow them to be exposed (at terribly vulnerable ages!) to violent, fearful and morally ambiguous influences.

Those precious minds and hearts are scarred by the vulgarity and immorality that are endemic in modern cinema, television and music. May God have mercy on them.

C.S. Lewis lived during the era when the virtuous dramas such as those named above were at the peak of their influence.

In a diary entry from the mid-1920s, he mentions Quo Vadis in passing. He is describing his weekend schedule.

Saturday 22 April: Got up about 6.30 and did the same jobs as yesterday. Was settled to work by 9.5 o’clock and put in an excellent morning . . . Sheila Gonner—jolly child—came to tea. Dorothy is to come back tomorrow: so we shall no longer be servantless. At her request I lent her my crib to Tacitus’ History for her sister Rose— I wonder what makes her imagine that she would like it? Possibly early Christian novels of the Quo Vadis type. Worked again after tea, and from supper till ten o’clock, finishing Herodotus. The last few pages of the IXth Book I now read for the first time, having got tired of it on my first reading . . .

I find this diary passage intriguing, in the way that Lewis posits a reader’s potential interest in classical literature as arising from their exposure to ancient Rome via contemporary novels. That’s precisely where my own lifelong fascination with the Roman empire was born.

If you’ve never seen these three movies, I commend them to you. I would also encourage you to consider reading one or all of the novels. They are available for free download in various digital formats.

Quo Vadis

Ben Hur

The Robe

_____

* I’m a pastor and historian, not a psychologist, so I don’t pretend to understand all of the implications. Because of that, I don’t endorse TA as a fully valid theory. What’s more, in our fallen world it’s obvious that many early “life scripts” can be based on wounds inflicted on neglected or abused children. In such cases, particularly where the scripts are destructive, we are not “destined” to live out a tragedy. By the grace of God, even the saddest of stories can be redeemed and “rewritten” into tales of hope and wonder.

** From “Script or Scripture?” by Jo Stuthridge in Life Scripts edited by Richard Erskine (Karnac Books, 2010).

*** It didn’t hurt that the main Christian disciple in the film was the lovely and chaste Diana, played by the British actress Jean Simmons. But that’s another story, and it’s important to note that these life scripts are pre-pubescent creations, so they are motivated by much deeper impulses than hormones. As the previously footnoted quotation referred to them, they are fundamentally “coping strategies” for survival in the calm (or frequently turbulent) world in which children find themselves.

9 responses to Writing Life Scripts

  1. 

    I’ve never read Quo Vadis nor seen the movie, but I’ve read both other books and seen the movies. Both of them quite caught my imagination as a teenager, as well as the book The Big Fisherman, about Peter. I agree with your comment about the violent things kids are exposed to at such young ages nowadays.

    Also, to harp on one of my pet peeves, there are some modern day Christian writers who have tried to write books in the same vein as Ben Hur and the others, but to my mind they just can’t attain to that measure. They end up seeming sappy and preachy by comparison. Perhaps because Ben Hur was written as a result of Wallace trying to disprove Christianity, so he really wrestled with what he was learning about Jesus.

  2. 

    I read Ben Hur a couple of years ago and found it tough going, mainly because of the style of writing of the time. However I did get a fuller view of the story, and the parts that focused on the dialogs between Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar were very good for the ideas they raised. I’m disappointed that the film pretty much left them out.

    It’s a shame Hollywood no longer makes these type of films. Unfortunately, many of the new Christian films are so didactic they can be painful to watch rather than inspiring.

    • 

      I agree with everything you said. Sometimes the dated style of literature (especially fiction and poetry) deters me from reading. As for Hollywood… And Christian films, you hit it right on the head. I believe you could justify saying there is a direction correlation between the didactic component of a project and its corresponding lack of watchability.

  3. 

    I loved The Robe, and though I haven’t seen the movie since the ’60s , went so far as to try to reread the book a few years ago. It’s not quite good enough, but, yes, these books and movies are inspiring, and The Robe was the first “adult” book I read when I got my adult library card,

    I am very much enjoying your insights on C. S. Lewis.

  4. 

    Sadly I’ve never seen any of those films, but I am prepared to remedy that.

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