I grew up with Robin Hood. My Dad is a big fan of the 1938 movie version starring Errol Flynn. We watched it as kids. The storyline has grafted into my heritage. Then there was the 1991 version with Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. And now ... on Monday nights the phone gets ignored and the video recorder purrs away as we tune into Prime TV to watch the 2006 TV series from the BBC.
What so entices me with this TV series - and so ruins it for anyone within audible range of me as I watch - is that the same old storyline changes so much over time. Take two examples of this: identity and religion
In terms of identity...
In 1938 Robin is chivalrous and heroic. He is a 'for God and King and country' leader of a throng of merry men. He stands on tables and up trees above his people urging them on to greater works of compassion and justice. In 2006 he cuts a more uncertain figure. Looking like he has just stepped out of a boy band, the charm is there but the plans are less grand. At one point Much, the one who knows him best, observes that 'he just wants to be loved'. And his leadership? He is rarely up front or up high. He leads from within a small group of followers.
And Marian? In 1938 she is a mostly passive and refined lady who knows well her elevated place in a hierarchial society. In 2006 the "Maid" has gone! She fights. She handles the bow and arrow. She moves easily between Nottingham and Sherwood. She is still beautiful - but now she is also fearless and smart. Anything Robin can do, she tends to do better. When all is said and done she is more the hero and heart of the storyline.
In terms of religion...
The Crusades (as they had started to do in the 1991 version) with their brutality of Christians towards Muslims hovers over the 2006 version. Friar Tuck, as the representative of Christianity, does not even make the script (and in 1991 he had morphed into a drunken, stupid, and useless bufoon, eclipsed completely by the Muslim Azeem character in the religious stakes).
"For God" is long gone ... and "for King and country" is muted. At one point, when an unlikely pearl of wisdom emerges from Robin he is asked, "Where did that come from - the Bible?". His response? "No, the Koran".
As the series develops - Episode 9 last Monday - the spiritual heart of the movie is carried by a young Muslim woman (Djaq) who enters the story as the leader (how is that possible?) of a slave-gang brought to Sherwood by the Sheriff to work the mines. Djaq is redeemed by Robin and stays on with the group as a Muslim woman, masquerading as a young man. Go figure!? That could never have happened...
It is not difficult to see what is going on here ... but oh, it is such fun! Movie directors are not as creative as they think. They tend to reflect the world in which they live ... and maybe lead it a bit as well. Watch the 1938, 1991, and 2007 versions and we gather insight into the worldview that shapes my parents' generation, my own generation, and now my children's generation (Yes, shades of Robert Webber's The Younger Evangelical book do come to mind!).
NB - the same exercise is almost as fun with Romeo & Juliet and various Disney movies down the years.
And with my childrens' world - both at high school and university - no aspects of worldview are more 'on the move' than identity and religion. These movies are case-studies in leadership and power relationships with 2006 giving prominence to a feminist perspective. These movies are case-studies in religion and spirituality and pluralism, with 2006 presenting this prevailing bias against Christianity. In our universities today the Crusades tend to be mentioned in the same breath as the Holocaust. Christian faith is being humbled and humiliated... None of these features would be anywhere near the original story as the contemporary penchant for revisionist history comes to the fore.
This is all SO useful ... To be effective as participants in the mission of God in the world we need to know our God and know our world and what it is that makes our world go round: worldviews! "To ignore worldviews, either our own or those of the culture we are studying, results in an extraordinary shallowness" (NT Wright). "The critical ideas in society are not the ones being argued, but the ones being assumed" (CS Lewis).
Robin Hood is a big help. We need to know our biblical worldview and let it engage these types of worldviews and find the response which is full of grace and truth. I fear that the christian mysticism spawned by charismatic renewal/contemplative tradition together with the pragmatism to which we so easily gravitate (which together have had such prominence in our NZ church life from 1991 to 2006) just do not have enough grunt for this crucial mission task...