*One last piece to look at because I can’t engage in a discussion on getting one’s heart broken without also looking at redemption*
We are hardwired to be both hearers and tellers of stories. In both roles we place ourselves within the context of the story and in doing so discover the nature of our own character. Through this living in a story we learn how to live out our own story. As Amos Wilder stated, “the road to a moral judgment is by way of the imagination” (The Rediscovery of Biblical Narrative). Through this understanding we can see why Jesus was a storyteller, and the Old Testament contains more than the Ten Commandments. When we pay attention to the narrative form of Scripture we can first, read salvation history as a whole story of the covenant between us and God and second, interpret our individual stories in the context of God’s story. In this way, we are both our own character and an embodiment of the characters, promises, and possibilities throughout salvation history.
Carl Fredrickson, in the children’s animated film Up, demonstrates the power of rewriting one’s story in the context of a larger story. The film begins with the meeting of Carl and Ellie, who, as children, share a love for exploring. Young Ellie shows Carl her Adventure Book. The pages are filled with mementos of their hero and the land he disappeared to, Paradise Falls. The last pages were left blank: “I’m gonna save these pages for all the adventures I’m gonna have” she explains, and thus begins their life together.
The movie shows us their life as a series of moments. They marry and buy the house they had played in as children. They have picnics, tea time, and work together in a zoo. They decorate a nursery, but next we see the couple crying in a doctor’s office. The story of their life changes then, and we see them discussing their childhood dream of going to Paradise Falls. Money is saved in a jar, and we watch it accumulate until the jar is broken open as the needs of daily life take precedence over their dream. Storms come, tires pop, and the years progress as the couple ages before our eyes. The day that was supposed to end with Carl giving Ellie the tickets on a picnic, ends instead with Ellie in the hospital. Life once again did not go according to Carl’s plan. Ellie passes away, leaving Carl in an empty house, with a half-filled Adventure Book, and a deep sense of disappointment with the world.
Stories of failed dreams are no stranger to Scripture. With the prophet Jeremiah, we learn that our stories can hold us hostage. His prediction of imminent capture and enslavement had him imprisoned in the palace courtyard. In our own time, the poor communities of Latin America are held stagnant by the changeless story of their existence. Their story is one of oppressive structures, exploitation, lack of resources, and dehumanizing conditions that have shaped the only available endings to their stories (Hennelly, 1990). Yet others are kept from determining the ending to their own stories by the makeup of their minds. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) do not have the same story lines available to them as are available to typically developing children. Social interaction is often misunderstood and limited, and parents watch as the story they imagined for their child is brought to a screeching halt. They are left with Carl, wishing for a different ending, wondering where they went wrong, and if they dare, hoping for redemption.
The wrong ending can be isolating. Carl lives alone. Jeremiah is in prison. Latin America is overlooked by the rest of the world. Children with ASD are often disruptive and not included in play dates. However, the movie Up illustrates that when God rewrites a life’s story, the past and present are redeemed individually and the future, inclusively. Carl takes off in his house for his dream destination, and unknowingly brings along a little boy, Russell, who was standing on his porch. Carl has no desire for companionship and only grudgingly acquiesces to Russell, and later a dog and a bird joining him. The trip in itself is not redemptive for Carl. He has a set plan as to how the events should occur. This is shown through his unwillingness to change or lose anything from his house, which reminds him of Ellie. He even chooses to save his house instead of rescuing the bird Kevin, thereby sacrificing his companion’s safety in order to protect what he sees as the only continuing piece to his story. Russell accuses Carl shouting, “You gave away Kevin, just gave her away.” To which Carl replies, “This is none of my concern. I didn’t ask for any of this.” Carl wanted closure: to go to Paradise Falls, as if that would make up for the adventures he and his wife had never had. Instead, he feels like a failure. Sitting in his house, he picks up the Adventure Book. When he gets to the section labeled “Stuff I’m going to do,” he goes to shut the book, assuming, as always, that it is empty. This time he notices a picture sticking out. Flipping through the book, he sees pictures of Ellie’s and his life together. All the moments that made up their daily life, from photos of their marriage to breakfast time together, were in the Adventure book. On the last page she had left a note: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”
Ellie rewrote their story for Carl. He was waiting for an adventure, and she showed him that they had been living one. She gave him a format for understanding his past in which he had not let his wife down. They had been each other’s adventure. Her last comment freed him to let his future story change. The conclusion no longer had to be Paradise Falls because there were new characters in Carl’s life, such as Russell. In an image showing this new freedom, he pitches all his belongings out of his house, so it is light enough to fly again. With this newfound future, Carl rescues the dog, the bird, and the boy. As the credits roll, we see pictures added to the book of the new adventures that Carl and Russell have together. Carl’s past was redeemed in specific regard to his dream. His future redemption included the boy, who was lacking a father figure in his life and the abandoned dog.
Jeremiah lived out the story of Israel’s future redemption. He bought a field and went through all the ceremonial necessities, as an enemy army approached. His actions told of an ending where their homeland would again be theirs to live in and cultivate. Jeremiah’s past storytelling was specific to the redemption of the people who were living in the land at that time. The future redemption was for all the children of Israel, as God stated, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them.”
Liberation Theology is giving people in Latin America, and the rest of the developing world, a new language in which to tell their story. There is power in their story now as they understand salvation history in light of Jesus as liberator. The words of Jesus that had become spiritualized to exclude the physically poor from the poor in spirit and the actually widowed and orphaned from those who were just less included now encompasses both meanings (Hennelly, 1990). In reviewing Scripture from the perspective of those treated as less human, there is specific redemption for the poor of the world in that the story of salvation is the continuing story of Jesus’ love for the least of these. This story contains the continuing redemption for all the world who are included in furthering the work of God in creation and laboring toward the Kingdom of God on earth.
The life stories of children with ASD are being rewritten through the development of Social stories. Social stories are simple stories, written from an individual child’s perspective that explains a social situation and how one should act and how others will respond in an appropriate manner (Spencer, Simpson, & Lynch, 2008). They follow a set formula and often include pictures, and children can read them repeatedly and apply them to their daily lives. This security in repetition allows for learning when other methods have not worked and only resulted in frustrated parents and screaming children. Research has shown that children with ASD can learn how to initiate play with a peer or how to make it through homework without a meltdown (Adams, Gouvousis, VanLue, & Waldron, 2004; Quirmbach, Lincoln, Feinberg-Gizzo, Ingersoll, & Andrews, 2009). Those seemingly small actions can be large victories in the lives of children with ASD. Suddenly new possibilities are open to these children which include more mutual play, friends, and more positive time with their parents. These stories work with individual children and give them control over their interactions, thereby opening doors for others to enter into their story as well.
This redemption, in works of fiction or the ongoing story of salvation, does not change the past. It instead rewrites how we see the past in light of God’s promises for the future. The redemption of each of our individual pasts involves the specific details where God shows us that we were part of God’s adventure all along. This revision opens up a future where our stories hold all the promises of the story God has been writing all along. This redemption is inclusive, as it invites characters and prophets, liberators and children into a future where adventure, growth, liberty, and community can be part of all of our stories.
Adams, L., Gouvousis, A., VanLue, M., & Waldron, C. (2004). Social story intervention: Improving communication skills in a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19(2), 87-94. doi:10.1177/10883576040190020301
Hennelly, A. T. (1990). Gustavo Gutierres “Toward a Theology of Liberation” (July 1968). Liberation theology: a documentary history (pp. 62-76). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Spencer, V. G., Simpson, C. G., & Lynch, S. A. (2008). Using social stories to increase positive behaviors for children with autism spectrum disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 44(1), 58-61. doi:10.1177/1053451208318876
The Rediscovery of Biblical Narrative. (n.d.). Welcome to Artful Word. Retrieved January 1, 2011, from http://artfulword.org/word/rednar
Quirmbach, L. M., Lincoln, A. J., Feinberg-Gizzo, M. J., Ingersoll, B. R., & Andrews, S. M. (2009). Social stories: Mechanisms of effectiveness in increasing game play skills in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder using a pretest posttest repeated measures randomized control group design. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(2), 299-321. doi:10.1007/s10803-008-0628-9