Example #44 Plot and Choices

What if studying plot explored our ability to choose?

Natalie was exploring plots and alternative endings in English over a series of lessons. She wanted the class to think about choices characters made and how these changed the plot, but she wanted to relate this to students’ lives so that it was more relevant. She decided to use a Bible story in her literacy teaching as part of 'traditional stories', selecting Esther as the character with a choice.

"I started with a short story I had created, telling it as far as the crucial decision point. The pupils then completed the story suggesting what choice was made and the consequences. We classified the different endings suggested by the students and listened to several of them. I told the rest of my original story where the character had made a positive choice but it was difficult.

"I then told the story of Esther up to the point where Esther has to decide whether to help or not. I asked the students to predict possible endings, then I read the rest of the story. This led on to a discussion about our freedom to choose and how making good choices is not always the easiest option."

What’s going on here?

Natalie saw her Christian faith as integral to all her teaching and not just limited to religious education, and saw literature as a place to explore big questions and focus on responsible choices.

She engaged students in actively thinking through possible endings to the story and reflecting on the wider implications and questions surrounding choice.

She reshaped her practice by choosing to frame learning in terms of thinking about choice, asking big questions about faith, life and values and making connections between the Bible and literacy (English).

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Behaviour is sometimes blamed on our genes or our environment and this can lead to an implicit or explicit assumption that: ‘It’s not my fault’. Such an attitude leaves us with little hope. Without denying the influence of genetics or environment, Christian faith affirms that generally we are responsible for the decisions we make, though in some situations our choice and responsibility is reduced. Decisions can be made with God through prayer and with the help of others. This offers hope of making right choices with God’s help.

What difference does it make?

Natalie’s lesson raised awareness of an important issue, rather than it just being in the background, encouraging students to grapple with big questions. By using a Bible story in a lesson that was not religious education, she signalled that Bible stories have something to say in different contexts.

Where could we go from here?

Other issues that are implicit in literacy (English) can be brought to the fore, for example, issues concerning character and which virtues the writer considers desirable and what we, society or the Bible hold up as desirable. How do we decide what is a desirable trait in a literary character?

Digging deeper

Throughout the Bible people are called to make right choices with God’s help. Ultimately people are called to account before God for the choices they make; this assumes a degree of responsibility. If God forced people against their wills or if people had no freedom of choice they would not be responsible.

Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals. Albert Schweitzer

In society there is a way of thinking that sees people as determined by genetics, environment and other factors and with little responsibility for decisions. Within the Christian faith there is also a doctrine, ‘God’s Kingship’ (Isaiah 40:22-23) that can be misunderstood as having the same affect. Christians balance human responsibility for our choices with the Kingship of God. If human responsibility is overemphasised, faith becomes living in our own strength. If God's Kingship is overemphasised then our responsibility is lost. Traditionally, Christians hold the two together: God is in charge but we can make decisions and we will be judged by God for those decisions (Matthew 25:34-36). Charles Spurgeon was once asked if he could reconcile God’s Kingship and human responsibility. “I wouldn’t try,” he replied, “I never reconcile friends.”

God never forces men to act against their wills. By workings of outward providence or of inward grace, the Lord may change men's minds, but He will not coerce a human being into thoughts, words or actions. Walter J. Chantry

Explore similar examples:

What if studying a novel included looking at faith journeys?
What if a literature class helped students to think about choices?
What if a text were explored using the concept of grace?

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1Our God has said: Encourage my people! Give them comfort. 2Speak kindly to Jerusalem and announce: Your slavery is past; your punishment is over. I, the Lord , made you pay double for your sins. 3Someone is shouting: Clear a path in the desert! Make a straight road for the Lord our God. 4Fill in the valleys; flatten every hill and mountain. Level the rough and rugged ground. 5Then the glory of the Lord will appear for all to see. The Lord has promised this! 6Someone told me to shout, and I asked, What should I shout? We humans are merely grass, and we last no longer than wild flowers. 7At the Lord 's command, flowers and grass disappear, and so do we. 8Flowers and grass fade away, but what our God has said will never change. Your God is here! 9There is good news for the city of Zion. Shout it as loud as you can from the highest mountain. Don't be afraid to shout to the towns of Judah, Your God is here! 10Look! The powerful Lord God is coming to rule with his mighty arm. He brings with him what he has taken in war, and he rewards his people. 11The Lord cares for his nation, just as shepherds care for their flocks. He carries the lambs in his arms, while gently leading the mother sheep. Who compares with God? 12Did any of you measure the ocean by yourself or stretch out the sky with your own hands? Did you put the soil of the earth in a bucket or weigh the hills and mountains on balance scales? 13Has anyone told the Lord what he must do or given him advice? 14Did the Lord ask anyone to teach him wisdom and justice? Who gave him knowledge and understanding? 15To the Lord , all nations are merely a drop in a bucket or dust on balance scales; all the islands are but a handful of sand. 16The cattle on Lebanon's mountains would not be enough to offer as a sacrifice to God, and the trees would not be enough for the fire. 17God thinks of the nations as far less than nothing. 18Who compares with God? Is anything like him? 19Is an idol at all like God? It is made of bronze with a thin layer of gold, and decorated with silver. 20Or special wood may be chosen because it doesn't rot then skilled hands take care to make an idol that won't fall on its face. God rules the whole earth 21Don't you know? Haven't you heard? Isn't it clear that God created the world? 22God is the one who rules the whole earth, and we who live here are merely insects. He spread out the heavens like a curtain or an open tent. 23God brings down rulers and turns them into nothing. 24They are like flowers freshly sprung up and starting to grow. But when God blows on them, they wilt and are carried off like straw in a storm. 25The holy God asks, Who compares with me? Is anyone my equal? 26Look at the evening sky! Who created the stars? Who gave them each a name? Who leads them like an army? The Lord is so powerful that none of the stars are ever missing. The Lord gives strength 27You people of Israel, say, God pays no attention to us! He doesn't care if we are treated unjustly. But how can you say that? 28Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The Lord is the eternal God, Creator of the earth. He never gets weary or tired; his wisdom cannot be measured. 29The Lord gives strength to those who are weary. 30Even young people get tired, then stumble and fall. 31But those who trust the Lord will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired. The Lord controls human events
1The kingdom of heaven is like what happened one night when ten girls took their oil lamps and went to a wedding to meet the groom. 2Five of the girls were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps, but no extra oil. 4The ones who were wise took along extra oil for their lamps. 5The groom was late arriving, and the girls became drowsy and fell asleep. 6Then in the middle of the night someone shouted, Here's the groom! Come to meet him! 7When the girls got up and started getting their lamps ready, 8the foolish ones said to the others, Let us have some of your oil! Our lamps are going out. 9The girls who were wise answered, There's not enough oil for all of us! Go and buy some for yourselves. 10While the foolish girls were on their way to get some oil, the groom arrived. The girls who were ready went into the wedding, and the doors were closed. 11Later the other girls returned and shouted, Sir, sir! Open the door for us! 12But the groom replied, I don't even know you! 13So, my disciples, always be ready! You don't know the day or the time when all this will happen. A story about three servants (Luke 19.11-27) Jesus continued: 14The kingdom is also like what happened when a man went away and put his three servants in charge of all he owned. 15The man knew what each servant could do. So he handed five thousand coins to the first servant, two thousand to the second, and one thousand to the third. Then he left the country. 16As soon as the man had gone, the servant with the five thousand coins used them to earn five thousand more. 17The servant who had two thousand coins did the same with his money and earned two thousand more. 18But the servant with one thousand coins dug a hole and hid his master's money in the ground. 19Some time later the master of those servants returned. He called them in and asked what they had done with his money. 20The servant who had been given five thousand coins brought them in with the five thousand that he had earned. He said, Sir, you gave me five thousand coins, and I have earned five thousand more. 21Wonderful! his master replied. You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness! 22Next, the servant who had been given two thousand coins came in and said, Sir, you gave me two thousand coins, and I have earned two thousand more. 23Wonderful! his master replied. You are a good and faithful servant. I left you in charge of only a little, but now I will put you in charge of much more. Come and share in my happiness! 24The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don't plant and gather crops where you haven't scattered seed. 25I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin! 26The master of the servant told him, You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don't plant and gather crops where I haven't scattered seed. 27You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it. 28Then the master said, Now your money will be taken away and given to the servant with ten thousand coins! 29Everyone who has something will be given more, and they will have more than enough. But everything will be taken from those who don't have anything. 30You are a worthless servant, and you will be thrown out into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain. The final judgment Jesus continued: 31When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels, he will sit on his royal throne. 32The people of all nations will be brought before him, and he will separate them, as shepherds separate their sheep from their goats. 33He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34Then the king will say to those on his right, My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. 35When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, 36and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me. 37Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, When did we give you something to eat or drink? 38When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear 39or visit you while you were sick or in jail? 40The king will answer, Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me. 41Then the king will say to those on his left, Get away from me! You are under God's curse. Go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! 42I was hungry, but you did not give me anything to eat, and I was thirsty, but you did not give me anything to drink. 43I was a stranger, but you did not welcome me, and I was naked, but you did not give me any clothes to wear. I was sick and in jail, but you did not take care of me. 44Then the people will ask, Lord, when did we fail to help you when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in jail? 45The king will say to them, Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me. 46Then Jesus said, Those people will be punished for ever. But the ones who pleased God will have eternal life. The plot to kill Jesus (Mark 14.1,2; Luke 22.1,2; John 11.45-53)