Lately I’ve been reading When Character Was King, a biographical work on Ronald Reagan by his former speechwriter and current Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. One of the main thrusts of the book for Noonan is to show the kind of impact Reagan had on the people in his life, how his ideas and character changed lives. She writes,
But facts, which are good things, are often dry. You have to extend a fact to look at its impact on people, and then it can sink into your brain and your heart. That’s where facts settle in, accumulate, come together and yield, finally, a truth (199).
In other words, abstract statements find vibrance and meaning when they touch the narratives of life, when they are lived and felt and dealt with firsthand. It’s one thing, for example, to say ‘abortion is wrong,’ and then quite another to experience that truth in the storyline of a movie like October Baby—or, better yet, in real life.
I read those words on a plane to Oklahoma, thinking about how the truths of Davin’s life have been on display for those who knew him. It’s one thing to make a statement like ‘Davin was a friend,’ but it’s quite another thing to experience that truth in the narrative form of his life—in the relationships he had with others, in the trials that defined him and in all the gritty details of that grand story.
I think Reagan was right when he said the great crisis of history was really a war of ideas:
The ultimate determinant in the struggle that’s now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated (207).
Because that’s true, we must ask ourselves a serious question: do the ideas we prize and cherish show up in the storyline of our lives? My love for Christ, of his body the church, of social righteousness in the care of orphans and widows and the aborted, my delight in the bond of friendship and the robust family—are these things present when others watch the film of my life? Do the abstract truths take root in the details of my story?
And finally this, that the most beautiful thing in all the world is the perfection of moral principle in the face of adversity and opposition, even death. Great men are men of principle, who swear to their own hurt and do not change. Their ideas, grounded in the truth of Christ’s word and character, are lived out, suffered for, and even died for.
Are we such men? Men of principle, of action, of dedication to the moral standards of God’s character? Is that the message of our lives?