every once in a while i wonder why the heck i write a blog. why don't i just walk away from it all. today i was wondering that when i ran across a web site for automatically generating forms ... so, without further ado, here it is, the first ever lingering lemon of death reader survey!
jesus is recorded telling this story, in the gospel of luke:
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
this is called "the parable of the prodigal son" and it is one of the most influential of all the parables. after you've been in church a while, you tend to end up reading this parable one of two ways. as a "prodigal", i.e. a person who is not a "born again believer", or as an "older brother", i.e. a church going christian. you can read this parable and be thankful that the father took you in though you didn't deserve it, or you can read the parable and try to be like the father instead of like the older son.
"we're all prodigals" is a sentence you would be very likely to hear preached on a sunday when this parable is read. and there might even be a time for those who heard the sermon, who saw themselves as prodigals, to come and get prayer, to receive the love of the father that they thought they had lost. and people do respond to that, there are prodigals out there, hoping without hope, yet still hoping that there is a way back home. i know many people whose experience of entering christian community was very much like the prodigal son's journey.
we love this story so much, especially the loving father running to meet his son part, that we have worked very hard to be ready, like the father, scanning for the prodigals, waiting to rush and gather them in, clothe them, welcome them in.
it's all so beautiful except for the reality that there are lots of people outside the church who do not see themselves as prodigals. and we can stand there with robes and sandals for ever waiting for them to admit that they were wrong, and stand, and stand, and stand, listening to the crickets chirping. every once in a while we may actually get to wrap a warm robe around someone who needs it, but most of the time we just sit and wait.
i work in a high tech startup with a lot of human beings. these people are wiser, more generous, friendlier, more easily moved to compassion, more committed to each other in community, and generally better people than i am in many important ways. i learn something from these people almost every single day. they are not going to come running to me, with all my well stocked shelf of problems, asking me for answers unless every other human being on the planet has been turned into zombies and even then they might ask the zombies first, just to be on the safe side.
if i let the prodigal son be my master narrative for the journey towards god, then i have to conclude that i have no real work to do except wait for the zombifying radioactive mistake. in evangelical circles they have various code phrases for this approach "be ready to give an answer" we are told. sometimes when people are telling us to look for "openings" i feel like we are being trained as vultures. or even worse, we are trained that we can't give the robes and sandals to people until they fall at our feet and confess
i'm thinking that maybe we've let this parable speak to more things than we should have. it's really just an answer to the question, "if jesus is from god, why doesn't he hang out with god's people" it's not story about what we must do in order to be saved. it's a story about how it looks in god's kingdom, god's love is lavished on all, not just the faithful.
so i'm thinking, what if, as i read the prodigal son, i decide that i am NONE of the characters in that story. it's meant as a correction to some people who were asking a question that i am not asking. i am left asking MY question ... what stories would jesus tell to the people i work with?
i've been driving around with the cobalt season's latest cd, "In Search of a Unified Theory" in my car for a while, and i just had an opportunity to capture one of their shows on tape, so i have now sat in front of my computer editing video, and listening to every song a zillion times. i think i'm ready to write a review.
i like this album, and think you should buy many many copies, and tell many many friends. seriously though, these people are my friends, so it is hard to write an objective review. i believe what they have done on this album is beautiful and deserves some attention, so i'll try and pretend my opinion matters and write some "reviewer prose"
there is a "bone weary" character about this album. the songs come from a person who's run out of energy to scream, but not out of the energy to hope and to love. in some ways the emotional range is narrower than their last album. but at the same time, this album seems to go deeper, if we could measure such things.
on a quest for the things beneath things, the "unified theory", these songs search for connections , for rhyme and for strange symmetry. "careful not to draw your maps in pen and ink", one song warns the listener, because the journey is going to require some back tracking and erasing of borders and re-naming of mountain ranges.
the most important border this album erases is the one between protest and progress. somehow the angry voice of "american empire" in the last album is no longer trying to find an imaginary country which isn't screwed up, but instead trying to imagine a life which isn't screwed up. it's a beautiful search, and a beautiful album.
here are the 10 songs from their show at goat hall in san francisco. brian graves recorded the sound, and did some wonders in the studio later to make these sound as good as they do. everything else about the videos is my fault. it's the first time i've done something like this, and i had blast, and want to go back in time and do it right this time. i was going to write a sentence here about the one or two songs you should listen to from the list if you don't have time to listen them all. but i can't do it, i think i like them all too much to exclude any one of them. pick some and listen to them, buy the album, tell your friends.
ok, after you've heard a song or two ...
my favorite moments in the videos are the count in for "like jesus" for humor, and the choral sections of "unified theory" which were deeply moving for me, in a way the studio album only hinted at.
"I hear there are people out there who believe that a powerful being impregnated a virgin who gave birth to a son whose later-zombified self is worshiped through an act of trans-substantial cannibalism."