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As I watched the Oscars Sunday night, I was interested to see what kinds of stories our culture creates and gathers around. Let?s survey the loglines (via IMDb) for a few of this year?s nominees and big winners:

Gravity? A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

Nebraska ? An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

Captain Phillips ??The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Dallas Buyers Club ??In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.

12 Years a Slave ? In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

So just to review, these stories feature characters who are adrift in space, booze-addled and estranged, hijacked by pirates, diagnosed with AIDS, and abducted and enslaved.

Wow. Heavy, right?

You already know this, but let this year?s crop of celebrated films remind you anyway: [quote]The best stories take on the tough stuff.[/quote] There?s no fluff there ??no unicorns or rainbows or happy trees. The characters face conflict, hardship, torture, opposition, betrayal, death, and despair. (As an aside, this holds true for your favorite Bible stories as well.) The protagonists lose hope. The audience doesn?t know how it?ll turn out. The stories that move us are gritty and tense and, at times, difficult to watch. They?re not neat or tidy or predictable.

What this tells us, loud and clear, is that artists aren?t afraid of the tough stuff. Academy members aren?t afraid of the tough stuff. Audiences aren?t afraid of the tough stuff either. The best stories don?t settle for shallow emotional or spiritual crises. In fact, the best stories don?t settle at all. They push past the comfortable, the mundane, the everyday.

The reality is that there are people in your congregation and in your community (and even on your staff) who are going through tough stuff right now. Tell stories that show them how the gospel reaches them there,?even in their chaos and pain and hopelessness. A happy ending is a great way to wrap up a story ? just as long as you earn it by taking us through the valley of the shadow of death first. You may not win a gold statue, but you might move some people in the process.

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