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I can imagine my life as a movie, but it’s not a very good one.
A new TikTok trend is a perfect example of the “ego-drama” and “theo-drama” that Bishop Robert Barron likes to talk about.
The #MainCharacter trend started when James Ikin posted a video of himself “romanticizing his train journey.”
The 24-year-old showed off his bag as he sat in an attention-getting pose like the main character of a movie. Then TikTok creator @ashlaward enhanced the #maincharacter trend by posting a voiceover that said:
“You have to start romanticizing your life. You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character because if you don’t life will continue to pass you by and all the little things that make it so beautiful will continue to go unnoticed.”
What followed were hundreds of videos using that voiceover, or dramatic pop music, showing TikTok users doing ordinary things but as if they were the center of attention on a movie screen.
It is a remarkable example of what Bishop Barron calls “the ego drama.”
He contrasts the self-centered secular understanding of the human person with the “theo-drama” that faith provides. In the “ego-drama,” my life is all about me. The things — and people — around me are props on my stage.
The “theo-drama,” on the other hand, makes me and everyone I meet part of God’s continuing story of salvation, where we are the supporting cast of the star, Jesus Christ.
Those who have been listening to the Bible in a Year Podcast this year have seen how endlessly interesting the theo-drama is and how imperfect human beings fit into it. Deeply flawed characters like Tamar, Lot, and Jonah are far from heroic, but nonetheless, with God, move the world closer to salvation.
Think of it in terms of two famous Spaniards: Don Quixote and St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Don Quixote, a fictional character in the book by Cervantes, may well be the first #maincharacter romanticizing his life. After filling his head with stories of knight errantry, he imagined himself a great knight, and went off to save the world from imaginary threats such as the windmill he mistook for a giant.
St. Ignatius was also a fan of chivalrous tales — but he is also a real knight in the kingdom of Castile. After a battle injury, he spent his recovery time in a castle reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. He found that when he imagined himself part of the great deeds Christ inspires in the saints he was left more satisfied than in daydreams of knightly heroism.
Where the stories Quixote read made him go crazy, and forget who he really was, St. Ignatius discovered stories that made him more sane, and helped him better see who he really was.
Learning from St. Ignatius instead of Don Quixote can truly make your life more dramatic.
“Man is a storytelling animal,” said philosopher Aladair MacIntyre. “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”
The problem with Don Quixote, and those who follow in his footsteps in the #maincharacter trend, is that they mistake what story they are in.
When you follow St. Ignatius’ method, you find your true story: You see the blessings of your day as loving Divine assistance and the challenges of the day as opportunities to join God’s team.
In the theo-drama, I am not just the mistake-prone me, who has to imagine I’m better than I am. I am God’s personal friend.
The ego-drama me has a life filled with big stresses, small successes, and sorry disappointments. I can imagine my life as a movie, but it’s not a very good one.
In the theo-drama I am a man who gathers with angels at Mass and speaks familiarly with saints in heaven. I am a member of the Body of Christ, given a real task from the King of the universe.
I am not a faceless nobody in an anonymous mass of people fading away into history; I am the advance man God sent to the people in my life because he has big plans that will happen if I let him act through me.
My sins are greater tragedies than I dreamed, and my successes do eternal good greater than I knew possible.
In fact, the worst thing about the swelling dramatic music and evocative voiceovers in the TikTok trend is that they aren’t grand enough. Our real importance is far greater than we can imagine.