Eric the wolf, and the sanitised gospel

The solution
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.

The story

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:

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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.

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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

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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

Theology of a five month old

I like games.  Particularly ones with no physical exertion whatsoever.  And for preference, they should fall into one of two categories:

– Games which are so simple that absolutely anyone can play them – This way I stand a fair chance of finding someone worse than me who I can beat, or

– Games which are so complicated that nobody with any sense would even bother trying to learn them – Meaning I stand a chance of winning purely by dint of the fact I know the rules.

So I rather liked the game I was playing with Elías the other day (it fell into the “Simple” category)

It went like this:  Elías would lie down on the bed, blowing bubbles of dribble at me, and I would hold my thumbs out for him to grab.  He would then pull himself into a sitting position, and look around proudly, before forgetting he needed to keep holding on.  Upon letting go, he would topple backwards and look hurt and betrayed.  I would then hold out my thumbs, and we would start again.

And no matter how many times we played this game, Elías could simply not remember that, in order to maintain his vantage point he had to hold onto daddy

Which is OK, because it’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn too.

The analogy is imperfect.  Elías will eventually learn to sit (stand, run, and wear me into the ground) by himself.  I will always need to keep holding out my hands to the father who, with unending patience and affection, will always pick me back up, and remind me of how good life is when I just remember to hold on.

© 2009 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 9th November 2009]

Disturbing grace

The beginnings of a musing

It’s easy to admit most things these days. Politicians can admit that they smoked drugs at university (or even at a club last week, as long as they didn’t inhale). Teenagers surveyed by pollsters are happy to admit to underage drinking.

Still, there are still some things you don’t admit to. And one of them is liking James Blunt. So I will start with this terrible confession: I like James Blunt.

The reason I mention it at this juncture is that I was struck by some of the lyrics of “Same mistake” the other day, which go something like this:

I’m not calling for a second chance,
I’m screaming at the top of my voice.
Give me reason, but don’t give me choice,
’cause I’ll just make the same mistake again.

Now, far be it from me to second-guess what was going through Mr Blunt’s head in this theme (You’d be disturbed if I could)

However, this set me upon a train of thought… Incidentally, lots of things set me on a train of thought. It’s the price I pay for having the concentration span of a mayfly. Anyway…

Getting it wrong

Of course I make mistakes. This makes me imperfect, and nothing I can do can make me perfect again. And of course I can only rely on God’s grace to give me a second chance to try to get things right. But assuming I accept God’s forgiveness, he forgives me unconditionally, making me, once again, perfect in his eyes.

Now this is great, but if I think about it, it is a more daunting prospect than I care to imagine.

I might like to think I’ll be OK getting things right myself given that second chance. However the reality is that like Mr Blunt, given choice, I will make the same mistake again, which, assuming I genuinely wanted that second chance to get things right, seems terribly unfair and a little depressing. It would almost be easier not to have the choice.

Transform

Fortunately, when God gives me second, third, and seventy-seventh chances, he doesn’t say “Well, you screwed that one up well and truly, so let’s see you prove you can do it better”. On the contrary, he promises to be the means for me get it right.

So here are some quotes from various people whose words express the point I’m trying to make rather better than my own.

Ezekiel:

I will take out your heart of stone, and give you a new heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit in you and move you to obey my laws and do whatever I command.

Garbage:

You look so fine.
I want to break your heart,
And give you mine

Jars of Clay:

Crossing nameless from the one I’ve earned,
To be the one, the one you gave to me

© 2008 Paul Brownnutt

[Originally Published 14th October 2008]