Who Owns a Story?

Mixed Media
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The movie ended and this message rolled across the theater screen: Based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was taken aback, since I thought I had read everything Fitzgerald ever wrote.

So I went home and found, indeed, a short story from his early years called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It unfolded exactly as the film did—except that Benjamin’s mother did not die at his birth; nor was he rejected by his father; nor did he grow up in a retirement home; nor was his family’s business in buttons (they ran a hardware store, and Benjamin worked there); nor was it primarily a love story; nor did he have a daughter (but he did have a son who later disliked him); and rather than travel the world, all Benjamin really wanted to do was go to university and play football.

So is the movie based on the short story? Different plot, different characters, different focus, different beginning, different ending. Whose story is this, anyway?

As a pastor, teacher, and writer, I love stories and have used them all my life to communicate ideas, queries, hopes, and insights. I have a quiver full of them. But whose stories are they? I can tell the best stories of Tony Campolo, Fred Craddock, Thomas Long, Don Richardson, and a host of others. Mostly I give credit when I use their stories, but some tales have grown to be mine, with larger lives than could have been the case in their original contexts.

Recently a student requested permission to use a story I had told him of events in my life long ago. Yet when I saw the incident as he related it on paper, it was no longer my story, but his.

Who owns a story? She who tells it with passion and purpose, I suppose, along with those who enter the tale as if stepping into a world both familiar and fresh. But deception tempts storytellers to claim worlds for themselves that they did not create, and lies may spin lines of truth into webs of manipulative fantasy. So it is the better part of honesty to admit that the premise of a movie like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button originated with F. Scott Fitzgerald.

But it is also a great part of truth to cast, in all storytelling, a vision of the world as God has made and is remaking it. After all, when God wanted to communicate most effectively with us, “the Word became flesh” and came to be known as the greatest storyteller of all time.


The Heretic’s Daughter

by Kathleen Kentreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Author Kathleen Kent’s ancestor, Martha Carrier, was convicted of witchcraft in 1690s Salem. In this fictionalized account, Martha tells her daughter, Sarah, to assent to any charges brought against her because the lives of victims who did so were often spared. Sarah pleads with her mother to do the same, but Martha refuses, saying, “Someone must speak for the truth of things.” Kent’s exploration of a society where the “winds of hysteria” swept away entire families is both terrifying and hopeful. (Little, Brown)

New Surrender

by Anberlinreviewed by Elizabeth Gonzalez

When a good band finally receives a decent record deal, its fans are generally skeptical that the new will be as good as the old. Rest assured, Anberlin has only improved with age. The group’s fourth release, New Surrender, showcases a more coherent sound that ranges from rock anthems to ballads that avoid sentimentality. While they don’t shy away from trials, Anberlin’s sound is more altruistic and optimistic than most musicians of their genre. Through well-played guitars and drums, they avoid clichés in favor of communicating hope. (Universal Republic)

The Great Emergence

by Phyllis Ticklereviewed by Bryan Berghoef

Regardless of your perspective on the Emerging Church or anything “emergent,” Christianity is changing, asserts Phyllis Tickle. In this concise work, the author (and religious editor for Publishers Weekly) lays out some of the larger shifts in the history of the church, comparing today’s changes to the Great Reformation and the Great Schism. The author nicely weaves in social, political, and cultural changes that come to bear on how we view and live out our faith traditions. Recommended for those interested in church history and in the future of the church in America. (Baker)

Christ in the Feast of Pentecost

by David Brickner and Rich Robinsonreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

What is the connection between the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament? The authors answer this question by showing that “as much as the countdown to Pentecost was a time of preparation for the wheat harvest, so for the followers of Jesus we are to proclaim the gospel as we count down to a harvest of souls.” The book also contains recipes for Pentecost celebrations, personal devotional readings, and a Pentecost service. (Moody)

Dailychallenge.org

reviewed by Ray Wiersma

Dailychallenge.org is a social networking site with a straightforward motto: “Do one good, daily.” Visitors can sign up, free of charge, by creating a brief personal profile. After becoming a member—or a “Do Gooder”—you will receive daily “Do Gooder” challenges through your email. You can choose to accept or decline challenges, browse the site for issues that interest you, or submit challenges of your own. This unique and innovative site lives up to its belief that “many people doing small acts of kindness can change the world.”

The Lowdown

Common Grounds: Coffee grounds, available free of charge from your local Starbucks, can be used in your gardening and composting. See your local barista or www.starbucks.com for details.It’s Only Fair: May 9 is World Fair Trade Day, and you can celebrate by using or enjoying some fair-trade products. For tips and product information, check the Fair Trade Resource Network at www.ftrn.org.Purposeful Periodical: Purpose-Driven Connection, a new quarterly magazine from Rick Warren with web-based benefits, offers a DVD and study guide for small groups in every issue. See www.purposedriven.com.

About the Author

Wayne Brouwer teaches at Hope College and Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.
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