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Watching stories or making stories

I am most alive when watching TV (said no one ever).

Sitting passively on the sofa while all kinds of action, adventure, creativity, and relational drama unfolds on the screen gives the feeling of living without actually doing anything. It’s all vicarious living. And the more outlandish and exciting the screen lives are, the less interesting our own lives seem.

But that needn’t be the case.

One of the best TV experiences I had was when I was in junior high. We were hosting another family for dinner and I mindlessly flipped on the TV with their two boys after the meal was over. But the older of the two said, “This is boring,” and turned off the sound on the TV.

And then he did something that caught me by surprise. Chris started supplying his own dialogue for the characters on the screen. It was absolutely hilarious. And soon his younger brother and I had picked characters of our own and were improvising lines as well. Neither of us were was good at it as Chris, who’d obviously done this before, but we got better at it as we went along.

In a matter of seconds, Chris had turned a passive, uncreative evening of watching TV into a mentally challenging, fast-paced, and creative evening of story-telling, funny voices, and absurdity full of junior high humor.

The line between active and passive is a very real and definite line, but it’s one that is easily and quickly crossed. All it requires is a bit of intentionality and imagination.

And it’s not just sitting in front of the TV that keeps us passive. There are all kinds of things we do to keep plot out of the stories of our lives. Passivity in our working. Passivity in our relationships. Passivity in our spirituality. Passivity in our diet. Passivity in the ways we decorate our homes. And on and on it goes. We drive in the ruts instead of venturing out on the road less traveled.

So, I’m asking myself: Where do I need to turn off the volume on my TV and start to improvise voices of my own? What new foods are out there for me to try? What less-traveled path is waiting for me to walk down?

When Chris started improvising to that old black and white movie, I watched in awe. I couldn’t imagine being able to come up with so many creative and funny things as he was making up on the spot. And he was so fast and fluid doing it! But as I watched him and tried it myself, I could hear the other two boys laughing at the funny lines I was inserting into the story and I became more confident and absurd.

And there I was, fully alive instead of killing time.