Saturday, March 6, 2010

Of Prodigal Sons and Worldly Institutions

I've been catching up on blog reading, in addition to catching up on NPR stories. Over at my friend David Eck's blog, I came across his thoughts on the Prodigal Son. This chunk caught my attention: "The key to understanding this part of the parable lies in the two phrases 'this son of yours' and 'this brother of yours.' These two phrases speak volumes about the relationships between the three characters in the story. The first, a statement from the older brother, says he has disowned his younger brother. The second, a statement from the father, is an appeal for their relationship to be reconciled. The story is left opened, and this is a good thing, because it places the outcome of the story in our hands. The challenge of the parable is to act more like the father and less like the older brother. We are called to be reconcilers not disowners."

We are called to be reconcilers not disowners.

I'm surrounded by too many disowners these days. Perhaps the disowners always come out of the woodwork whenever too many changes start to take place. Perhaps it's normal. But I grow weary.

I'm surrounded by people who say, "How can they do this to my church?" (in light of the current National Assembly decision about homosexuality). At work, we're making lots of changes as we prepare for accreditation, and lots of people are saying, "How can they do this to my school?" Often these people talk with high levels of emotion.

Part of me feels strange because I don't feel those same levels of emotion. Maybe that's because I'm on board with the changes, so I don't feel the need to rend my clothes in grief.

But even when my school wasn't making these changes, even when the ELCA did discriminate, I didn't feel this distress that I see others evoking. I've always felt a sort of amused detachment. Is there something wrong with me?

Part of it is my distrust of societal institutions. I don't feel that sense of ownership and investment. I'm a child of the 70's, and I've seen what happens when you put too much faith in the institutions that have employed you--you end up kicked to the curb in your late middle age, blinking with hurt and incomprehension. No thanks.

Jesus warns us about putting too much faith in worldly institutions. Institutions tend to nurture the disowners. Institutions do not usually reward the reconcilers. I'll have to think about those two sentences to see how much I agree.

In the meantime, since I can't detach from worldly institutions altogether, I'll keep remembering that my role in the world is to be a reconciler, to keep my arms wide in welcome.

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