There’s a chilling familiarity with the way it’s done. The enemy is identified for us. From the outset they are systematically demonised; portrayed as lacking any trace of goodness or humanity. They are subhuman. Legitimate targets. Why? Because it makes it so much easier for those who move in the shadows and pull the strings behind the scenes to sell us the solution: The enemy must be killed.
No, I’m not talking about the war on terror (though I could be). I was thinking more of about half of my children’s DVD collection. From Disney to Little Red Riding Hood, we seem disconcerting comfortable with presenting the solution of “killing off the bad guy” to the very youngest of children.
So when my son asked me to tell him a story “from my head” the other day, I decided enough was enough. This is it:
In the darkest corner of a dark wood there was a cave. And in the darkest corner of the cave, there was a wolf. He was hungry (it had been a long winter). And he was lonely. Nobody wanted to talk to a wolf. They said he was big. And they said he was bad. So they called him the Big Bad Wolf.
One day the Big Bad Wolf was walking past a wall, scavenging for food when he heard two people talking. “Little Red Riding Hood,” said the first, “Your grandmother who lives on the other side of the wood is ill. Please take her this delicious basket of fruit. And don’t talk to any wolves on the way. They are big and they are bad.”
“Yes mother,” replied the girl’s voice.”
The wolf could hardly believe his good luck. If he played his cards right, this could be a double dinner. And maybe, just maybe this agonising pain of hunger gnawing in his stomach would stop for a while. They would think he was bigger and badder, but they would think that whatever he did, and he was starving.
He quickly scampered off down the path towards the cottage on the other side of the wood, bounded in through the front door and swallowed grandmother whole. On reflection he should have got rid of her reading glasses first, as they caught a little in his throat. But time was of the essence, and he could hear the little girl coming up the path. He was a little less hungry, but the winter had been hard and he could still hear the rumbling of his tummy ringing in his ears. Good food was hard to come by, and he couldn’t afford to pass up this opportunity. He hurriedly put on grandmother’s spare nightie, and eased himself into her bed so as not to scare lunch off.
Moments later, the door opened, and Little Red Riding Hood stood in the doorway. Her friendly look gave way to a quizzical stare. “Grandma,” she stuttered, “What big ears you have!”
The wolf was thrown. Nobody had spoken to him in three years. Oh, they’d thrown things at him and shot at him, but here was a human girl addressing him directly. Confused, he replied “All the better to hear you with.”
“And what big eyes you have!”
“All the better to see you with?” he ventured, unsure of the protocol.
“And what big teeth you have!”
Here, the wolf was on more familiar ground. “All the better to eat you with!” he roared, and opened his mouth wide and dark as the cave he inhabited. But Red Riding Hood was ready for him. She had never bought into the story of “Big Bad Wolf” anyway.
“You stop that this instant!” she scolded firmly. “I know you’re hungry but you can’t just go around eating people like this. You’re better than that!” The wolf was so gobsmacked that he stopped in his tracks. “And it looks like you’ve swallowed my grandma too. Cough her back up! Now!” The wolf did as he was told. The glasses were as uncomfortable to cough up as they had been to swallow, but in no time a bedraggled and bile-covered grandma stood before them.
As grandmother recovered from her ordeal, Red Riding Hood had the wolf help her prepare the delicious basket of food for the three of them to share. All three sat down and ate together, and as they talked, the wolf made the first two friends he had ever had. The wolf never went back to his dark corner in his dark cave. He stayed and lived with grandmother. Little Red Riding Hood visited every day with a basket of food. And instead of calling him Big Bad Wolf, she called him Eric, because that was his name. It was just that nobody had ever asked before.
As I drew the story to a close, I was quite pleased with myself. I had sanitised the story of Little Red Riding Hood of its incitement to resolving issues by force, and I had added a positive spin of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The sanitised gospel
I remained quite pleased with my retelling until I realised that, if that was the best explanation of forgiveness I could give my kids then I had also sanitised the gospel – Jesus’ way of forgiveness – as well. Jesus’ message should be deeply offensive, not because it sees the best in us (which, of course, it does) but because it also forgives the worst. Jesus’ message forgives the unforgivable, and that sits so uncomfortably that even in church we sometimes try to find ways around it.
So if I was telling this story about Jesus-style forgiveness, what would change? Well, the wolf would have spent his life devouring more than he needed, not caring about the impacts on his victims. He’d have terrorised the villages around for the fun of it. He might not have been all big and bad, but he’d certainly have relished the feeling of power from grandma’s terrified scream when he stormed into her cottage.
In Jesus-style forgiveness, this is the wolf that Little Red Riding Hood consciously invites to eat with her. This is the wolf Little Red Riding Hood offers a new start. This is the wolf she chooses to call “friend”. And his name isn’t Eric. It’s Paul.
© Text 2014 Paul Brownnutt
Being God’s Toddler by Paul Brownnutt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Today’s post was brought to you by Romans 5:7-8