One site on the internet says that roughly 600 movies are released each year – and that’s just in the US. If you add every other country, you’ll be in the thousands. Then add novels, plays, etc. to the mix, and one thing becomes very clear: stories are powerful and popular. So, what exactly constitutes a story? Why is storytelling essential for the gospel? And why should Christians be invested in both engaging and telling stories? Pastor and children’s book author Casey Fritz is with us to help us through these questions.


 

Who is Our Guest?

Casey Fritz is the Head of Story, writer and illustrator at Patrol. Casey also is the preaching pastor for Collective Church in Los Angeles. His role at Patrol brings together his lifelong love of imaginative tales as well as his theological and pastoral gifts. As Head of Story, Casey works with a team of writers, artists, and other collaborators in order to maximize the narrative power and gospel truths of the books Patrol puts out. Casey is the author of the Cottonmouth seriesGood Night Tales, and The Moonman Cometh.


Episode Links

Find out more about Patrol where Casey is Head of Story, writer and illustrator.

Also check out Collective Church where Casey pastors.

Read It

Isaac:

With me today is, according to his Twitter, disciple, husband, father, pastor, author and illustrator, Casey Fritz. But probably most related to our conversation today, he’s Head of Story, writer and illustrator for Patrol. It’s great to have you on the show with us today, Casey.

Casey:

I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Isaac:

Perhaps in more detail than what I just said, can you just let us know a bit about who you are?

Casey:

Yeah. Do you want me to just go all the way back to birth? I can go all the way.

Isaac:

Absolutely.

Casey:

It’s up to you how far. “When my father fell in love with my mother.”

Isaac:

Of course!

Casey:

No, I am married. I’ve been married for about 13 years. I have two incredible children: my son, 11; my daughter, 9. I’ve been a pastor now since about 2007 at a couple of various different churches for a long time in Arizona but now in Los Angeles area, California for a few years in Hollywood. Now, I am the preaching pastor of Collective Church here in the west side of Los Angeles. It’s been through this entire process of being in Los Angeles and being in ministry in Los Angeles that I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to start stepping more into children’s publishing and children’s illustrating and children’s writing.

Around 2012, I got my start with my very first book. Again, pertaining to our conversation today, illustrating and writing has been also a huge part of my ministry and my time here in Los Angeles and I’ve had the opportunity, the very honouring and humble opportunity, to do about four books with a fifth on the way. I’m very fortunate, totally by the grace of God, that I cannot only just be in ministry but have the opportunity to be also in the publishing world.

Isaac:

It’s not often that you hear someone saying, “I’m a pastor,” especially in Los Angeles, and also, “I write children’s books.” How did you get into writing children’s books? What’s the interest that got you into that?

Casey:

Well, I’ve been a fan since I was a child. I think children’s books are very nostalgic, obviously, and influential. I think everybody has, probably, an affection in their heart for everybody from Shel Silverstein to Dr. Seuss to, my personal favourite, Chris Van Allsburg. People are probably familiar with his works like Jumanji, The Polar Express, and Zathura. He’s an extremely influential author for me.

I would say I’ve always been a fan of stories to children. I think they’re very honest. I think they’re very raw. I’m very passionate about stories in general, but children stories I think have a very special place in all of our hearts because there really are no limits for how we can tell a story to a child.

I would say that for me I’ve been passionate about children’s stories for my entire life. But I’ve been doing illustrations for quite some time, and I always want to do children’s books. I think it’s every illustrator’s dream to do a children’s book. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of offers and I had seen a whole lot of projects that I wanted to be a part of, and so I was like, “All right. Forget this. I’m just going to do it myself.”

I’m not by nature an author. I’m not by nature a writer and so I just started making an attempt to do it. Meaning, “I’m just going to write a paragraph a day, see what happens,” and totally by the grace of God when I was done with my very first project called Cottonmouth and the River, it was decent. I showed it to some friends. By the grace of God, like I said, it was able to get published. It was a whirl. I just got thrown into the wave and now I’m in it, but it was a total whirlwind and connection-based and things like that. I’ve got some really incredible friends in Los Angeles who were fortunate enough to help me out.

Isaac:

That’s so cool. Now, my wife and I just had our first child. As someone that has probably read a lot of children’s books, what is one that you could think of that’s like “It’s a must!”, that we need to buy?

Casey:

Well, that is a great question and I would say it depends on who you are as parents. There are so many different types of stories, so many different types of people. If you guys are looking for a great Christian classic, there are some out there. But if you’re looking for just classics in general from fantasy to ABC books, there are so many incredible stories out there for children that we can go down any rabbit hole talking about. You definitely should be reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderlandbut also at the same time, like I’m saying, Shel Silverstein’s poetry to Chris Van Allsburg. These people are staples for, I think a wholistic children’s library. Absolute staples.

Isaac:

That’s awesome. Well, done. We’ll do that. Now, I recently came across Patrol. I think it was actually in a Humble Beast email that said they were supporting Patrol. I was like, “What is this Patrol?” For those who have no idea, Casey, what Patrol is, how do you explain Patrol to someone? And I know listeners that are unfamiliar with Patrol don’t know what the logo looks like, but I also want you to explain the logo and why it is what it is.

Casey:

Yes. Patrol is for all intents and purposes a content house. Patrol is a fairly recent company that wants to produce really gospel-saturated stories and stories with a bite, stories with high stakes, stories that aren’t afraid to take risks.

Patrol is a company that I am unbelievably humbled to work with. I’ve worked with a bunch of different publishers, but Patrol in general – Patrol as a content house is really, I would say, small enough but at the same time making enough waves to really take risks. Patrol is all about taking risks. As you see, we’re currently, and it’s going to be published here soon, you’ll see that we’re working on Gospel in Color, which is a children’s and family book about racial reconciliation.

We really want to do stories that push the limits. We’re working on our story right now about abortion and the sanctity of life but written in ways that families and children can digest it. Also, at the same time we’re working on a horror book for children, so a Goosebumps, but told with the understanding of Christ at the center, gospel-focused, and gospel-themed.

I’ll just say this, and I’ll wrap it up and I’ll be able to explain the logo. Patrol is all about telling the greatest of stories possible from being influenced by the ultimate story, which is the gospel.

Patrol, as a theme, is all about being on the lookout. That’s where the periscope comes in. We’re all about wanting to be able to be on the lookout, to be able to tell the greatest stories possible on the greatest areas and the greatest needs. Patrol has the submarine periscope as the logo. The understanding is that, really for all intents and purposes, we are out there patrolling for the greatest stories and the greatest needs. I would say that’s the all-encompassing idea of Patrol as a logo and Patrol as a brand.

Isaac:

That’s great. Why did Patrol even start? I guess, what is the problem or what did you see lacking that needed to be addressed possibly that’s why Patrol got started?

Casey:

Patrol was started by a couple of brothers, incredible artists, incredible storytellers, a few years ago, not too long ago. What they set out to do was create a book that was visually arresting, visually beautiful while at the same time gospel-saturated. They are struggling in the Christian market to really find publishers who are willing to take those risks. This is not dogging on any Christian publishers out there at all. It was just going, “Man, we’re seeing there’s a little bit of lag in trying to tell stories,” like I said, with some risk, with some bite while at the same time allowing a lot of creative freedom. As these two brothers, Eleazar and Rommel, were in this boat trying to figure out where to go, what they are on the lookout for (hence patrol), they decided “What if we stepped in to fill that gap?”

I think that is a really beautiful, I would say, understanding and hope for all of us. When they see a need, it’s not just “Let’s whine about it,” but do something about it. They pose a solution. They stepped in and said, “Let’s do this. Let’s make these types of stories.” From there, Patrol has launched a simple book called Golly’s Folly. From there, they launched many more books. We’re honing in more and we are very excited for what future stories we’ll be able to share with the world. God is really doing a number in this little, teeny company that’s expanding – expanding and getting more and more influence. That was, I would say, the need we are trying to fill: try to find the stories that are visually arresting, creatively free and, at the same time, looking to take risks.

Isaac:

That’s so good. Now, to get into our topic: story. When you and I look around today, story is one of the most popular trends. It’s just constantly there. I can’t even say it’s a trend. It’s just always popular. Every Friday, Saturday, people are just busting into the movie theaters to watch stories, stories, stories. We see stories being told, printed and filmed by honest artists and that’s great, but we also see stories sold by marketers and CEOs just to gain more money.

Two questions come to mind when I consider story and its popularity. The first is this, and you can just tell me what you think about this. In your view, what constitutes a story?

Casey:

I would say a story, at its very core, is an individual going through transformation. It’s a transformed individual and I think that’s what we long for the most as people, is, meaningful change, a significant transformation. When we see that in a commercial, in a film, in the Bible, what we long for is to find our story, our own transformation in theirs.

I would say what you’re seeing in every single story is somebody is being transformed. Either they’re being transformed from something weaker to lesser or something from weaker to stronger even if that just means with a brand-new car. What we are watching is transformation, transformation, transformation. What they’re selling us is “This is how to transform. This is how you can be transformed. This is when you can be transformed.” That’s what I would think tells a good story – you’re always going to see somebody go through that process.

Isaac:

If story has transformation and so many of us are just so into stories, what is it about humans that long for transformation? You can get into this a little bit. You’re a pastor. You understand that. Why do we long for transformation, stories of transformation? Why do we want to see that?

Casey:

I think that’s a huge question and I think that has biblical implications, and I think that it’s just, in essence, the way we’re created. It touches on so many little things. It’s really, really big. I think that’s the way, first and foremost, that God has decided to communicate to us, which is through story, but I would say the very essence of this would come down to “We are not what we should be. Thus, we long to become that.”

We are not what we should be. We know that internally. We have that in, you could say, a memory trace or whatever it is. We’re constantly reaching for what we ought to be and what we know to be and what we long to be. If that’s offered in a commercial or Avengers: Infinity Waror in the Bible, people want to experience it. I would say that’s just what we long to be, ultimately, and I think stories offer a glimpse of that and that’s why the best of stories are the most influential and people can be changed from reading a book, from obviously reading the Bible and then even film like you were saying.

Isaac:

Yeah, absolutely. Now, I didn’t give this question to you earlier, but I just want to get your thoughts on it. There seems to be, amongst books, but movies especially (because I think more people will go and watch movies), a strong enjoyment or pleasure from movies that involve sacrifice. I think of The Matrix, for instance. This was a huge movie franchise because of the sacrifice that took place and all these different things. Obviously, we can trace that back to the gospel. Just in thinking about it, just off the cuff, what is it about sacrifice that makes us love it? If someone jumps in front of a car and pushes someone out of the way, we just love that. When movies are based, and stories are based on that, our hearts are warmed.

Casey:

I agree, too. I think every good story has an element of sacrifice. Somebody has to sacrifice something for transformation, so I think transformation comes about from sacrifice, either somebody else’s or your own. I think really good stories are both. But I would say almost that sacrifice is the epitome because that’s where the transformation point is. I think that stands out to us. I also think that’s antithetical to who we are as people. I think that sin has brought us into be so inward bent that we only think about ourselves. When somebody thinks about another, I think we go, “Oh my gosh. It’s not something that would be my natural inclination.” To see that in another person, that makes us long for that. It makes us hope for that and it really changes us, it makes us want to be that. I would say it’s just so antithetical to our nature. When we see sacrifice happen, it really takes us by surprise. Even though it’s in every single story, it always moves our heart every time.

Isaac:

Yeah, absolutely. The evolving definition of story now would be, story is transformation via some form of sacrifice.

Casey:

Always. Your main character has to suffer, has to, and that is in every single – again, I’m going to say it’s in every story, but it’s definitely in every good story. Your main character has to suffer, and we have to, again, like I said, see our story within that.

Isaac:

Now, this next question. How can Christians, so you and I and people listening that love Jesus, how can we better involve the art and power of story, transformation, sacrifice in our own lives? What does that look like?

Casey:

I think that is a good question. I think it comes down to understanding stories. What I mean by that is if they really, a Christian especially, want to understand or take advantage of it, it’s going to come down to them dissecting or doing an internal organ parts check of every single story, sort of cutting it open to understanding it to a greater degree and, especially if you have children, being able to pause a film or be able to read Dr. Seuss, whatever it is, and go, “What about this has transformed them and what can we learn from it?” It’s teaching children. It’s slowing down. It’s watching Wizard of Ozto Avengers: Infinity Wargoing, “How am I seeing myself in the story?” I think it comes down to self-examination.

I think people taking advantage of every single story, including unChristian stories. I would say every story has a gospel element, too, but I think Christians especially have to start watching every genre of story, reading every genre of story and being able to extract from it, “Where is the gospel in this? Where’s the transformation point?” Because the minute we are able to get that greater awareness in those stories we’ll have it within our own lives. I think once we can start dealing with stories on any level and any genre, being able to start doing it more and more in our lives, essentially, we’ll be able to start doing integration, which is one of the most important things. That means you can say, “If that’s true of them, what does that mean of me? If that’s true of him or her, what does that mean of me?” Taking advantage of it comes down to self-examination, story examination. That’s what I would say.

Isaac:

Right. You’re talking to someone about that and you explain that to them and they say, “Well, why, Casey? Why is it important that I’m examining myself through the story? Why do I need to do that? Shouldn’t I just go and preach the gospel and go do missions? I don’t have to worry myself with these things that aren’t even real”

Casey:

Yeah, good push. I agree to that. Sure, absolutely, go preach the gospel, but we have to understand that is the greatest story. We’re still talking about story. All I would say in that understanding, in that aspect of it is, it’s being able to have eyes to see and ears to hear. It’s being able to understand, I would even say, a greater purpose in our time and our world and our humanity.

God obviously is pro artist. God is pro musician. God is pro poet. God himself is the greatest artist, the greatest poet. He has created people, artists, illustrators, poets, writers especially to be the storytellers. Every prophet is a storyteller. People are supposed to hear stories, including Jesus Christ’s story who told parables nonstop. Again, from that, I think if we are able to see stories better on any form and any shape and any genre, we’re going to see the gospel better. Again, examine that, not only self-examine, but also as gospel examination. If you can do that with all these stories like Christ said, he told numerous stories, holy smokes, we are going to be able to completely apply deeper the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Isaac:

That’s so good. As you’re saying that, I’m thinking back to our favourite king and poet and musician, David. David does this horrible sin and Nathan comes in. I love that Nathan doesn’t just say, “Hey, David, you’re in the wrong.” I don’t know if that would have happened, I don’t know how David would’ve reacted. But instead, Nathan comes, and he actually says a story that’s so powerful to David that David is like … He’s up in arms. He says, “I see the injustice in the story!” Then Nathan is able to speak straight into his own life. That’s so powerful.

Casey:

That goes back to your original question. Why didn’t Nathan go in and just explain God’s love? Well, he did, but he did it through stories. Story cracks us open. It talks about transformation and it moves us to greater transformation in and of ourselves. You nailed it. Absolutely.

Isaac:

Casey, how does story in evangelism look? When you do evangelism in LA … I have no idea the culture in LA. Do you integrate story in evangelism with testimonies and things like that? What are your thoughts on that?

Casey:

Well, I live in a storytelling city. All we do is create stories. This is our entire world. People come from around the world to our little, teeny bubble to create some of the most influential stories. We believe here, especially as ministers and embedded missionaries in Los Angeles, that if we can influence the people in the industry, the film industry, then we can truly influence the world. Absolutely. We do believe that.

We believe as pastors or as preachers or as evangelists that if we could tell a good story and the ultimate story, then this is going to just be something unforeseen yet. Meaning, we can’t even know its full implications as far as what stories can do in this way. What I mean by that now is, as far as evangelism goes, I think evangelism is storytelling. That’s all we’re doing in evangelism, “Let me explain to you a God who loves his creation so much to the point that he had to step into the canvas, he had to step into that world, he had to step into the story he created.” It’s an author stepping into his own book to literally be able to redeem people who have gone astray to transform them.

Evangelism is story. Every time somebody might not think you’re a storyteller, you’re not a writer, you’re not an artist, sure, that may be true in some respects. But in the ultimate sense, we are called to tell the greatest story there is. Evangelism is 100% story. If people can hone that by reading stories, looking at stories, understanding stories, their evangelism will only be that much more, in my opinion, increased.

Isaac:

That’s huge. As you’re saying that, I’m literally having an epiphany moment. Take away evangelism from my Bible college class, take away from the systematic theology textbooks, those are all good (we have to learn those things), but at its core, when you’re actually practicing evangelism, you are storytelling. That’s huge. That all wraps up a lot of what you’re saying throughout this whole conversation, that we should be investing our time in children’s books and movies and different things like that to learn how stories are told so that we can best tell the best story to those around us. That’s huge. Evangelism is storytelling. I think that’s the best thing I’ve heard today so far. I mean, it’s only 9:00 a.m., but still.

Casey:

Bringing this back to your original question which is, why even look at other stories? Because we’ll actually be able to contextualize and relate that to people of why they love the sacrifice story. Again, if you’ve been talking about I think one of the greatest stories ever told, which is E.T., that is about a lonely boy missing out, abandoned and rejected and somebody from another world steps into his world and changes him and transforms him and he makes him to start to feel and see the world differently. I think, “Is that not Jesus Christ to humanity?” That is every single story. Somebody stepping in.

What we can do by studying culture, by studying fiction, by studying literature is to be able to draw parallels where people go, “Oh, my goodness. I’ve seen this the entire time. I longed for this. I want this.” Then we go, “It’s true. You can have it in Jesus Christ.” I think when we can do that, that’s evangelism at its best.

Isaac:

I love it. Thanks so much, Casey. I really, really enjoyed that conversation. If you’re listening right now and you’re interested in more, then definitely go check out wearepatrol.com. There you can order books. You guys did an audio version of Golly’s Follywhich was awesome. I hope you guys are going to do more of those.

Casey:

Yes, I’m very excited. Moonman Cometh, my Christmas story which comes out in November will be full audiobook with music and voice actors. We’re very excited about that.

Isaac:

That’s so good. Again, if you’re listening, you can also follow Casey on Twitter with his handle @casey_fritz. I’m sure he’d love that as well. Anyways, thank you so much, Casey. I hope you have a great day.

Casey:

I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.