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A Better Dramatic Tension

Almost everything I watch whether in be on Broadway, on Prime, movies, TV, what-have-you, almost anything written within my lifetime seems to have one typical point of conflict: will I get what I want?

Will I get the guy? Will I get the job? Will I get rich? Will I get the dream? The power? The position? The validation? The revenge? The justice? The sex? Fill in the blank.

That sounds pretty normal, right? We’re so inundated with this conflict in every drama we see, whether lighthearted fluff or deeply tragic, that I don’t think we realize how much it’s conditioned our hearts to align with a self-centered worldview. To use an obvious example, every Disney princess or prince wants to get out and see the world before they’ve reached the age of 18. Every rom-com’s plot revolves around winning the affections of one’s soul mate. Some stories even justify adultery for this reason. We want to have the right to be with who we want, sleep with who we want, and have all our dreams come true. And when we can’t, therein lies a deep enough conflict to weave an Academy-Award winning drama.

I’m over-simplifying the state of the Arts, but not by much. There are sometimes deeper conflicts against an unjust system, or some mean, unfair person in power (who is probably white and male). Then we have to seize the day - and win the girl.

We’re so inundated with this conflict in every drama we see, whether lighthearted fluff or deeply tragic, that I don’t think we realize how much it’s conditioned our hearts to align with a self-centered worldview.

I just saw the musical Hell’s Kitchen at the Public Theater which is the best latest example of a work with this type of conflict at its core. A seventeen-year-old protagonist (Ali - representing the young Alicia Keys) wants to get out of her Hell’s Kitchen apartment and see the world - which in her case means seducing a man she meets on the street. Her obstacle is her overprotective mother, Jersey - a single mom who is trying to make ends meet by working two jobs and still prioritizing spending what little time she has each day with her daughter (there’s a commendable conflict). The cast was outstanding and the music and dance were 90’s-hip, sexy, soulful and engaging (as per Alicia Keys’ style), raising the bar on Broadway’s level of cool and contemporary aesthetic. But this storyline.

When the dramatic tension of Act I leads to the climax of our protagonist getting what she
wants (sleeping with the older man), it feels as though the show’s creators want us to feel like this is a good thing, or at least a cool thing, even if it’s a little bad. There are other smaller circumstances surrounding the main conflict - Jersey asks the cops to keep her daughter away from the man, and when it’s discovered he slept with Ali he gets handcuffed, albeit not arrested. This makes Ali mad, and leads to a song about turning her anger into art.

So, not a whole lot in the way of consequences for doing something wrong - illegal, even. In fact, the way the story is presented seems to me to feel like we’re supposed to feel bad for teen Ali that it didn’t work out with the much older guy, even though we sort of reluctantly agree that they shouldn’t be together. In fairness, alongside Jersey’s struggle of trying to keep Ali’s father in her life and probably some shred of the love she had for him alive, the deeper pain comes from love unrealized, and that is a legitimate spiritual struggle.

But the way to overcoming even that obstacle is not, necessarily, as the movies make us think, by finding our true love. Because what is it that gets in the way of perfect love being realized? The true answer nobody wants to hear: our sin.

Let me put it another way. The greatest conflict in our lives is OUR SIN. OUR OWN SIN. NOT SOMEONE ELSE’S. Because it’s our sin that keeps us from knowing God and how truly loved we are. Whether we get the guy or not, we’ll never be secure in anyone’s love if we’re not secure in God’s love for us. And our sin is the obstacle in our ability to fully realize that.

Furthermore, our sin condemns us to Hell. Is there any greater conflict for human beings than that? You want dramatic tension? There it is - from the Garden of Eden to now. We were One with God, and then Eve ate the fruit, Adam blamed her, and then our unity and perfect peace with God were gone, and we were sentenced to Hell. And we still are, except for the Great Hero of our eternal story who intervened with the greatest act of love of all time - that being Jesus, of course.

The greatest conflict in our lives is our sin. Our own sin. Not someone else's.

The conflict is still the same. There is one great obstacle every single human ever born must face, but it is not the obstacles blocking us from getting the perfect romance or the American Dream. It is not one’s social or economic status, their race, their parents, or “the system”. Every single human’s obstacle is their own sin. Whether it’s the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, or the pride of life, it is the obstacle that hinders us from being who we were created to be by God Himself, and living in the fullness of His love. And it will keep us out of Heaven.

The way to overcome it is One Way - faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. There is no other way. But there are many ways of applying that faith and that is where the conflict and tension become personal and can make for more intricate storytelling. Christians, we have so much to work with in order to write stories that can act as the connecting thread for people seeking salvation! Why aren’t we doing that?

Meanwhile, the world sends us the same messaging over and over and over again, and I have been as big a sucker as any for it. We can get whatever our heart desires by being good, by being right, by working hard, by being pretty, by being charming, kind, witty, clever, nice, wonderful, fill-in-the-blank. Our obstacles are fixable by our own efforts, and with a little help from “fate”, or something, which in the movies is usually some force of the universe who wants us to have all our dreams come true by the wave of a magic wand, or some other “magical” intervention. It sounds so wonderful and like a fabulous worldview to hold onto, except for one major problem: it’s all fantasy, or witchcraft even. It’s not Truth.

We wonder why revival is slow to come in our nation. This indoctrination runs deep. Being the voice in the wilderness declaring that repentance is the way to prepare for the King of Glory to enter our hearts invites persecution and offense. That’s not the solution anyone wants to hear. And why would they when they’ve never seen a protagonist they relate to go through such a struggle?

 It sounds like a fabulous worldview to hold onto, except for one major problem: it’s all fantasy, or witchcraft even. It’s not Truth.

The Apostle Paul summed up the great conflict of humankind and its great resolution in two chapters: Romans 7 and Romans 8. The whole of Romans 7 describes his great inner conflict with wanting to do God’s will in his spirit, but not wanting to in his flesh. His inner man knows this should condemn him:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

But thankfully, by the end of the chapter, his great inner conflict finds its solution:

25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

And Chapter 8 begins with the triumphant resolution - our eternal joyous end:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

This should be the plot that wrings our hearts with dramatic tension up until our souls grasp the depth of understanding of the implications of the Cross! No courtroom drama compares. No romantic knight in shining armor did more to win the hand of his beloved. No epic battle was ever won with a more valiant victory. Never. And one never will.

So why are we writing pseudo-plots about far more trivial conflicts? And I’m not even saying to write about the actual Cross unless you’re called to do that. But can we start with the torment of sin that leads to repentance, but without any religious language? Even that of a good person, not merely prototypes of the “good” protagonist vs. the “bad” villain. We are all both, protagonist and villain, and Christ is our hero, our Savior. And the Holy Spirit reveals all truth to us. Please let's write better stories - and by “better” I mean truthful. If we continue rather to go with the flow of what the world considers to be a good story, we are party to perpetuating a worldview that leads people straight to eternal torment. Let the repentance start with us.


The Underground Microphone is a weekly blog and email update for Christian working in or who have a burden for the Arts. These blogs are password protected because they are intended for believers only. The password to access all of the blogposts is BroadwayRebirth. There is also a weekly prayer meeting to pray into what the Lord is saying every Tuesday at 10:00AM EST. If you'd like to join the prayer meeting, please email and you will be emailed a zoom link.

REGA Arts is a Christian Theatre Company with the mission of training and raising up Christians to have a career in the theatre industry, and creating new works of theater. It is affiliated with Times of Refreshing Christian Center, NY (TORCC-NY) as its spiritual oversight, under the leadership of Dr. Robyn Kassas, Dr. Tony Kassas, and Pastor Nathan Kassas.

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