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How do we retell our Story?

Director Gary Ross/Lionsgate via IMDB
In “Gamesmakers Hijack Story: Capitol Wins Hunger Games Again,” author and blogger John Granger gives a lengthy but insightful critique of how the film version of Hunger Games changes the story we find in the novel. In particular, he points out how director Gary Ross has changed the story in subtle ways to be sympathetic to filmmakers' art and Hollywood, some things of which Suzanne Collins’ book was critical. Whether or not you agree with all of Granger’s observations and conclusions, he makes a striking point: Ross indeed changes the story, retelling it through a lens affected by his own experience and perspective.
As I read through the article, I wondered if Ross and the screenwriters were conscious of why they made the changes they did. Was it intentional? Or did it happen unawares? Then I started to consider this more personally: how do we retell our own Story? And how aware are we of why we retell it the way we do?

On a personal level, I encountered this issue when I started reading children’s versions of the Bible to my kids. I found myself bothered by how some of the individual stories were retold (or completely left out) and how that affected the Story as a whole. I was particularly bothered by overt threads of doctrine, most often of the Four-Spiritual-Laws variety. Often, the doctrines themselves were not wrong, but they were very limiting to the text. I constantly found myself adding to the stories and doctrine as I read in an attempt to give my kids a fuller version of the individual stories and the Story as a whole.

Recently, I ran into this again when I looked for material for some basic instruction on what it means to be a Christian, baptism, church communities, etc., for my eight year-old son. Again, I found the material limited in scope. Salvation was explained as a matter of forgiveness of sins but little if anything was included about God’s transforming love, the restoration of our relationships not only with God but each other, the power God gives us to live new lives both as individuals and a community, and how to work with God in our transformation. Granted, these are big ideas for little minds, but then so is the justification theory of atonement which played all the way through the material.

Now, lest you think I’m all finger-pointy at the specks in the eyes of others and not able to see the log in my own eye, I readily confess I do this too. We all do. How we understand and retell the Story is affected by a wide range of things, from our own walk with God and those who mentored us to the theology and doctrine we pick up as we go (both intentional and unintentional). Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of how our understanding of the Story is shaped until something causes us to examine it.

Which is why, I’ve discovered, it is so important to constantly return to the Story itself.

It has been said on many occasions that modern generations have the most access to the Bible yet we are the most biblically illiterate. I get that. We are busy. We juggle a lot. Our attention spans are short. We have too much information coming at us from too many directions. It’s incredibly distracting and, in the end, sometimes it’s simply easier to be spoon fed our Scripture from the pulpit than read it for ourselves. And then when we do go to it, we find aspects of it hard to understand. Or it makes us uncomfortable. Some of it we may even find offensive. Again, I will be the first to admit there are far more than a few parts of our Story with which I continue to wrestle and struggle.

Really reading the Bible, it’s hard work. God’s Story doesn’t fit into a neat box. It is wild and alive. It is always revealing, a sharp sword that cuts through the veils of the worldviews we’ve built up. But we need to be constantly confronted with the parts that challenge our ideas of how the world works, who we are and, most importantly, who God is. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis records the sense of God stripping away his false beliefs and understandings—knocking them down like the house of cards they are—and revealing himself instead: “Not my idea of God, but God.” God constantly confronts us with our own limited beliefs and perspectives because he wants to be known for who he is. Returning to the Story is one of the ways we can work with him to do that.

It’s important that we are constantly examining our beliefs and perspectives against the Story because what we understand our Story to be and who we understand God to be is what we will communicate to others through both how we live our lives (individually and together) and what we say. And as the people through whom, as Dallas Willard puts it, God “is tangibly manifest to everyone on Earth who wants to find him,” it’s important that we work with God as hard as we can to get that right.

I appreciate Granger’s article on Hunger Games, not only because it opens my eyes to the subtleties of how we retell stories in general but also because it challenges me to examine my own filters and how I retell our own Story. And that is bringing a little bit of God-talk into these open spaces.