So, how fitting. My last post talks about having grace for Christians, and on Saturday, @JesusNeedsNewPR brought my attention to a piece by Mark Driscoll on Poverty Theology. Pastor Mark and I have a history. Some of his offhanded comments about gender were what inspired my first post ever on this blog. Anyway, when I saw this tweet come across, the precise use of scare-quoting set the tone as I began to read it, but my reaction wasn't what you might expect. I expected to find myself flying off of the handle.
But in the end, it just made me profoundly sad.
For those of you who didn't click through and read it, I'll give you a general synopsis. Father gives son a bike. Son feels guilty about having the bike and wants to give it away. Father tries to convince son to keep the bike (using a lot of tortured logic that we'll get into later). Son gives the bike away (which is characterized as disobedience). Father is disappointed.
Disappointed. That his son acknowledged the fact that it is better to give than to receive and acted accordingly.
I have to admit, had I read this post 3 years ago, before having a son of my own and before I had been convicted of my own excesses, my response would have been significantly different (and likely positive). But alas, that was then, and this is now, and my heart, as it has been so prone to do lately, is breaking.
It's breaking for a church that has been deceived into believing and pursuing the "Jesus wants me to have nice things" gospel at the expense of their (literally) God-given right to something greater.
It's breaking for a world of individuals so singularly self-interested that they miss out on the profound joy of giving.
But mostly, it's breaking for the poor, the naked, the hungry, the orphan and the widow, all who continue to suffer in anonymity and isolation while the Church enjoys Her nice things. (More examples of the nice things gospel here, here, here and here.)
So what's so wrong with this particular parable? Well, a lot, actually, but I've identified 3 key points that I think address the heart of what's wrong with it, and I'll walk you through them based on my own personal journey over the last few years.
It represents a distorted view of parenthood.
I haven't been a father all that long, but the proudest moments I have ever had as a father have been when I have seen my son giving and sharing, even when he's not aware that anyone is watching. Those moments are still rare, as he's still learning, (he is only two, after all) but honestly, what kind of father would I be if I expressed disappointment in him in one of those moments? What kind of twisted father would be "grieved" and disappointed in his child for wanting to share and to give? And what kind of power-crazed authoritarian father would command his child to have fun or else, as is implied in the parable?
Additionally, the parable breaks down when other children are involved. Say we add another child to the scenario, and the son wants to share the bike with his sister, would the father still be grieved and disappointed? I have a hard time seeing how the storyteller would justify such a conclusion, and since our actions don't occur in a vacuum, the parable loses all of its explanatory force in the face of rampant inequality amongs the father's children. In the same way, if we choose to give away what we do have in an attempt to better the lives of those we are called to serve, do we honestly think that a heavenly father would be grieved and disappointed? Of course not. Such a conclusion is absurd. (MPT had another tweet that summarized this point quite nicely.)
If the father in the parable knows the truth, that giving is better that receiving, then in requiring his son to keep what is given to him, though his keeping it results in an inequality amongst his brothers and sisters, then the father is robbing the son of what is best and replacing it with what is "fun" and comfortable. Such a father is worthy of neither love nor worship.
It ignores the role of the church in living out love.
This passage exemplifies the error:
The last sentence typifies the justification for the all-too-common attitude of "someone else will do it," made more complex by Christians with the inclusion of "God" in the "someone else." This attitude, in this context, says that "I can enjoy the nice things I have because someone somewhere else will take care of the Other." We use God as a scapegoat for our own indulgences. I know I did (and still do). I would say, "Surely God will provide for those in need." And when He didn't? The justification came easily. "Well, His ways are not my ways, and in His sovereignty He distributes resources as He see fit. I'll give my 10% or whatever, and the rest will work itself out."The Father asked the child what was wrong. The son replied, “Father, I cannot ride the bike. All around the world there are missionaries who do not have a bike. I would like to give them my bike so that they can ride it to unreached peoples and preach the gospel. The Father replied, “If you simply ask me, I am glad to also give you a second bike to give to a missionary.”
Those words ring especially hollow in the midst of the abject failure of the Church to carry our Her charter in caring for the least of these. God's sovereignty does not negate the need for my agency in caring for the Other. If not me, then who? The bottom line is, when I assume that someone else will do it, the bottom line is that no, "they" won't. "They" haven't as of yet. "They" are not likely to do it in the future. It's up to me. It's up to us. When we abdicate our responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, the sad reality is that no one takes care of them. So instead of the "someone else will do it" attitude, I've adopted the opposite "no one else will do it" position.
Put simply, I am the hands and feet of love, grace and compassion in this world. If I'm not doing anything, no one else will either.
Finally, it is contrary to the teachings of Jesus...
...you know, that guy who is nominally the head of our little religious movement. Take this quote for example:
The Father replied, “You could also ride your bike as an act of worship to me, enjoying the gift I gave you to your joy and my glory. Once again, the problem is not the bicycle.”
I'm just curious how that meshes with this quote, which you will likely recognize:
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat,In the context of this parable, when we ask, "When did we fail to do these things for you?" perhaps his answer would be, "You were busy...out riding your bike."
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes and you did not clothe me,
I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me
In the end, I think the underlying flaw in the argument is that it places an undue emphasis on the material as an avenue to wholeness. The hyper-propertarian tone of the article is pretty typical of what we see coming out of most of our mainstream Commoditized™ American© Christianity® .
Blessings don't come in the form of stuff. Blessing comes in realizing you don't need stuff.
But alas, this is a discussion for another day.