By Amy Sondova Graduating from high school with a straight D average seems like an unremarkable start for the best-selling author of An Unstoppable Force, Seizing Your Divine Moment, Uprising, and Soul Cravings. Even as Erwin Raphael McManus encouraged himself saying, “I’m gonna prove I’m not mentally ill and I’m not slow,” he found it hard to focus in class as his mind raced with overwhelming thoughts.
Then things began to change for McManus, who describes himself as “on the borderline of being psychotic”. Citing a series of events, which included coming into a relationship with God at the age of 20, he reflects, “I think God saved me from totally dissolving into the dust. It creates for me a massive empathy for people and keeps me aware that people without God have longings to do good, beautiful, and true things in the world. Sometimes you’re just so shattered, you don’t know how to hold yourself together.”
Years later, the pastor of Mosaic, one of the largest churches in the Los Angeles area, can look back on the on his and say, “The things that bring you pain, grief, and disappointment are the things that texturize you.” Originally from El Salvador, McManus is no stranger to pain. Abandoned by his father and neglected by his mother until he was 5, McManus was in professional counseling before he even entered junior high suffering from OCD and severe psychosomatic illness. “There was nothing wrong with my body,” he explains. “My soul was sick.”
It’s the sickness of the human soul that drove McManus to write his latest book, Soul Cravings, which discusses the three basic needs of the human soul—intimacy, destiny, and meaning. Citing the New Testament as his starting point, McManus says, “I took these from the writing of Paul—faith, hope, and love. I kept wondering, ‘Is this a Hallmark card? Is this just a beautiful trilogy or is there something intrinsic here?” After many years of contemplation, study, and observation, McManus further developed the theme into his book, and a short-film series called Crave.
“I wanted to create a gallery of human stories,” remembers McManus, deciding at a young age he wanted to make short films after being captivated by Rod Sterling’s “Night Gallery”, a show which featured short films based on art gallery paintings. Sterling is most known for his show, “The Twilight Zone.” McManus continues, “That’s what I’m doing. I’m the curator of human stories and I’ve invited people into my gallery to talk about humanity.”
The Crave Films were created to do just that—get people talking. The three themes are told with in three separate short films. Each film also includes an intro and outro of McManus speaking on the topic. While the series is designed to be played with or without McManus speaking parts, he says the intro/out also serve as a guide to coach people on how to have meaningful conversations with their friends about the films. Plus, the DVD also includes a discussion guide. “It’s not in-your-face, even at the close of the film,” explains McManus, who cringes at the idea of Crave being viewed as a film version of a track. “The purpose of the film isn’t ‘now you need to give your life to Jesus’. It’s more like, ‘This is why Jesus says this. Consider His wisdom, His thoughts, His words.’”
Instead of being a new form of drive-by evangelism, McManus urges that the films be used as conduits for discussion, “When you think of people preaching at you, they’re usually giving you the answers to the questions they assume you’re asking. The beautiful thing about film, and I think story telling, is that it’s not really trying to give you the answers, but it’s trying to help you reflect and ask the right questions.”
Pouring out of his style of writing and teaching, McManus is often critiqued for not providing enough answers. He shrugs this off saying that he would rather ask great questions, “With each one of these films, we’re trying to get the people watching to ask important questions like—how have I found meaning in life? Am I struggling to make sense of my existence? Have I found something to give myself to that really matters? With the Crave films we focused on three cravings—the craving for intimacy, the craving for destiny, and the craving for meaning.”
The first film, “Pop Star”, focuses on intimacy telling the tale of a British rocker whose hair is accidentally lit on fire while the band practices its stage show, which includes pyrotechnics. Primadonna lead singer Andy, who receives minor injuries at best, is comical as he laments over his fried follicles. Demanding emergency medical attention, Andy discovers that he’s sharing his room with an inquisitive little girl, who finds her way into the selfish star’s heart.
Targeting destiny, “Midnight Clear” tells the story of Michael, an escaped convict who finds shelter with a nervous family. Later, it is revealed that the man of the house is Michael’s brother, which makes for some awkward and intimate family moments. The third film, “Nameless Moment” is about two college students, who discover meaning through an uncomfortable encounter. One of the students is a hapless boy who lives in his car and the other is a beautiful girl who’s sleeping with her professor.
Receiving praise from screen writers, graphic designers, and actors alike, the Crave Films offer inspiration to a culture immersed by images, “We’re in a very visual culture. I think it’s inescapable that film and television are the predominant shapers of the stories that we’re in,” says McManus, adding that the media automatically shapes our value system. Not only do stories shape how we see the world today, story telling has played a crucial role in culture, “If you go back to primal times, people sat around the fire and the shaman or tribal leader would tell and story and that’s how the culture received their values, world views, and beliefs,” he elaborates.
“I’m a person who’s desperate to understand myself and understand humans,” says McManus, who earned a psychology degree from the University of North Carolina. “People have always been trying to identify the core things that drive humanity, that make us human, and explain human actions. Soul Cravings and the Crave Films are, in a sense, about human anthropology.”
Part of being human, then, is to understand that one has a story worth telling, a story about a life honestly lived. Throwing off the shackles of the traditional Christian testimony, McManus boldly states, “We’ve been taught as Christians to tell a story that isn’t true. ‘Before I came to Jesus, I was a sinful, evil person who could do no good. Then I gave my life to Jesus and I became this great human being who’s always happy. The problem is that the story doesn’t even resonate with the person telling the story.”
It’s through telling their story, states McManus that people come to a deeper understanding of themselves, of God, and of their culture. And it’s through his own storytelling that McManus is leading a generation of artists, dreamers, and visionaries to become cultural revolutionaries whose soul cravings are filling with intimacy, destiny, and purpose. In closing, he encourages others to take part in stories yet to be told, “When God puts dreams and visions in your heart, you don’t want to hold on to what you have and lose what you could have.”