Monday, December 19, 2011

Changing the Story to fit the context: "The Great Family"

Well as promised . . . what exactly are Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus doing in the desert with Isaac and Rebekah?

The Godly Play story, "The Great Family", is from the faith genre and helps children deal with the question of identity. It tells the story of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah to make them in to a great nation that would be a blessing to all the earth. The way the story is presented is pure genius and I love telling it. However, as I have told this story the past few months in two different languages and two different contexts, I found the need to make a few adjustments.

The change in the picture above was in the context of an Advent Club for German elementary school children. I chose to tell the story of Abraham and Sarah, because I wanted the children to consider where Jesus came from, what kind of family he was born into, and where he learned to take small steps of faith. This story does a great job of helping answer these questions, especially with the small changes that I made.

Why did I need to make changes? First of all, the German version of the story does not mention Jesus. (Does the original English story mention him? I recently saw Jesus in this story on someone's blog, but I`m not sure if it was added as well.) The German version ends with Isaac and Rebekah having children, their children having children, etc. Then, it mentions that the Great Family produced the Jewish people, that the worldwide Christian Church also came to be as a result of this Great Family, and that the children are now themselves a part of the Great Family. It is an appropriate way to end the story. But for Advent, bringing Jesus into the story sheds a very important light on how the Old Testament is connected to the New.

Secondly, there are children in the Advent Club who don't necessarily believe in God and don't consider themselves Christians. The GP story was originally written for children within an Episcopal parish context with many children who were growing up in the church. The last line says, " . . . and one day your grandparents had children, and then your parents had you, and now you are a part of the Great Family".  To assume that, however, with the Advent Club kids would be to deny their current worldviews and their ability to think and choose.

So . . . after the sentence about the Jewish people arising from the Great Family, I told the children that, " . . . one day Mary was born in to this family; Joseph was born into this family, too; and then Jesus himself, the Christ Child, was born into this Great Family.  Jesus opened the door for everyone who wants to be a part of this Great Family to become a part of it. This is how the Christian Church came to be. And if you wish to be, you can a part of this Great Family, too."

The other time that I changed this story was in November when I told it in a Russian church in Irkutsk. Again, I was in a context where most of the children's grandparents and great-grandparents were / had been staunch atheists.  I couldn't be intellectually honest with my listeners and use the normal text.  So, again, I brought Jesus into the story and told them that He opened the door for us all to be a part of the Great Family.

For me, Godly Play is a tool (a brilliant one!), but not a canon. I would never completely change the stories and still call them Godly Play. However, I do feel that there are times when one has to consider the audience and one's own theological persuasions.


  1. This is a really informative post. I am really enjoying reading your blog! Thank you for sharing.

  2. How nice to be in conversation about how we cope with intellectual honesty, different contexts, and the Godly Play scripts. The original English version ends in much the same way as what you describe for the German script, but without explicit reference to Jews and Christians.

    And no, there's no explicit mention of Jesus in this script - something which had never bothered me or even occurred to me! :) To me, it's partly a story about learning that All of God is Everywhere. It's also a story about how death is a natural thing to happen when someone is old and full of years. Isn't it fun how we can all have different favorite parts?

  3. @ theworkplan - So that this was interesting for you! I really enjoy "We don't need no Education" as well. Do you have a background in Godly Play as well?

  4. @Storyteller - I learned in my GP training that the specific references to the Jewish people and the Christian Church were in the story because of Germany's history. It would be offensive not to specifically give the background on the Jewish nation being a product of Abraham and Sarah's faith. . . . It is great how we all have our favorite part.: )

  5. This is very interesting. When I told the story I felt the same - we are not automatically in this great family but have to choose, like Rebecca did when she went with the servant to become Isaac's wife. So I always end like this "... Now you can be the part of the Great family". But I like your way - how you introduced Jesus through this story. I will use this sometime. Thank you for the brilliant idea.

    1. You're welcome, Anita. I also respect the way that you have chosen to end the story as well.