Reimagining Faith and Culture One Story at a Time
What Inigo Montoya taught me about world-shaping leadership
The common desire of educators, ministers, and filmmakers to influence society for good, devoid of any common understanding of one another’s perspectives, inevitably leads to demonizing and scapegoating.
by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor
“These were the men who came to David while he was banished from the presence of Saul. They were among the warriors who helped him in battle. They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed. Warriors who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”
-1 Chronicles 12
One of my all-time favorite comedic film scenes occurs in The Princess Bride in a duel between two expert swordsmen—Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black (movie clip above). Unbeknownst to each swordsman, both duelists have spent their lives mastering swordplay not only with their right-hand, but also with their left.
As the duel builds to its hilarious conclusion, both fighters quickly realize that expertise in single-handed swordplay is inadequate preparation for facing a true master. Without striving to become a two-handed warrior there is little hope of achieving one’s life mission—whether that mission is piracy, true love, or revenge.
Similarly, the writer of Chronicles informs us that one of the reasons why King David’s army was so devastatingly effective was their ambidextrous fighting abilities. (See verses above.) They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed. If the angle was wrong for a shot with one hand, they could take it with the other. If one hand was occupied or injured, they could quickly switch to the other. Their holistic preparation gave them an advantage over enemies trained only in their dominant hand.
The Danger of One-Handed Swordplay
I hate to push a metaphor too far, but I suspect that many of our current failures in connecting faith and culture suffer from a similar ‘single-handed’ myopia. Few institutions in modern society prepare men and women for holistic approaches to life. Parents and teachers quickly recognized our ‘dominant’ traits when we were quite young, and often set us on paths that all but guaranteed we become proficient in a very narrow range of human experience.
This one-handed approach is perhaps even most pronounced in the realms of faith formation and culture making. Churches, educational institutions, and movie production companies, etc. all desire to shape society for good, but often from drastically different perspectives. Our common desire to influence the world, devoid of any common understanding of one another’s perspectives often leads to the kind of demonizing and scapegoating predicted by thinkers such as René Girard.
Faith-Formation AND Culture-Making
This tension often spills over into our leadership roles as well. Leaders adept at culture making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith formation—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency—are rarely trained in the art of culture making.
It is my firm belief that this dichotomy not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership, it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn. For leaders interested in effecting broad societal transformation, this dichotomy is even more devastating. Like Inigo Montoya or David’s army, the ability to fight with either hand is often a matter of life and death.
An Enriching Conversation that Sharpens
Two Handed Warriors is therefore intended as an ongoing conversation among filmmakers, educators, philanthropists, and faith leaders who aspire to become modern-day Inigo Montoyas: intellectuals, artists, and leaders devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith formation and culture making. Men and women who “understand the times” and therefore know that redefining faith and culture one story at a time is our best hope for accomplishing our respective missions.
Growing up in a warrior’s household, King David’s son discovered that swordsmen attain mastery only where sparks fly: “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17.) My dream is that in helping one another master the art of two-handed swordplay we will not only foster transformational films, schools, and congregations; we will also forge lifelong friendships.
PS After posting this page, a number of readers mentioned Gandalf as a classic example of a Two-Handed warrior. In The Fellowship of the Ring , the wizard prevails over a Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dum, not merely through mastery of the sword, but by taking two-handed warfare to a whole new level with his staff. (Film clip below.)
Up until this moment one might question whether or not having a wizard along on their journey was really necessary. After all, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legalas were every bit as skilled with their weapons as Gandalf was with his. However, by taking up his staff with his other hand Gandalf unleashes a supernatural power beyond anything his companions ever imagined.
I suspect that anyone taking up the mantle of twenty-first century culture making will contend against far greater forces than Balrogs. My dream is that Two Handed Warriors might help train at least a few culture-making Gandalfs who can unleash supernatural power for good.
 Reiner, Rob, William Goldman, Andrew Scheinman, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, et al. 2001. The princess bride. Santa Monica, Calif: MGM Home Entertainment.
 Osborne, Barrie, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, et al. 2002. The Lord of the rings. The fellowship of the ring. [Los Angeles, CA]: New Line Home Entertainment.