Andrew W. K., musician known for his songs, “Party Hard” and “We Want Fun,” writes an advice column for “The Village Voice,” America’s first alternative “newsweekly” founded by, among others, Norman Mailer in 1955.
I ran across a posting from Andrew W. K.’s column in the Voice from August 2014, an article published just after the news broke of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. And, it was just a few months ahead of the thumping of President Obama’s Democratic Senate in the 2014 mid-term elections. No doubt, a high-point in political and cultural fever.
The article is in response to what must have been then and what continues to be a common sentiment: the politics of a son are not the politics of his father, and the result is a soured relationship.
I won’t copy the whole article, but I’d encourage you to read it here.
Though the bulk of the article, in my opinion, turns a tad trite, rife with the ill-defined, though tenderhearted “love trumps all” language of the day, W. K. caught my attention with the insight and thoughtfulness of the first paragraph of his response:
Go back and read the opening sentences of your letter. Read them again. Then read the rest of your letter. Then read it again. Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you.
Setting aside ‘the person who created you’ and taking it only for what the author most likely meant (that is, not a reference to the Creator, which is perhaps a deeper metaphor in the context of what this evoked in me), I couldn’t help but see the parallels in this part of W. K.’s response to the Older Brother of Jesus’ parable on the Prodigal Son. The full text of the parable can be found in Luke 15:11-32.
Upon learning that his wayward younger brother had returned and his father had begun the expensive measures of celebration, the Prodigal’s older brother was angry:
“Then [the Older Brother] became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.”
It isn’t clear whether Jesus told this as the third in a string of parables (all found in Luke 15) about the value of the lost, or if the author of the gospel account recorded them together in this way to demonstrate the values of the lost among us to our God. But it makes sense that Jesus would have told them all together in this way, culminating with this story about a father whose younger son took his inheritance early (signaling to the father that the son saw no further value in him; that the son wished the father were dead) and spent it on whores and wild living. When the son has squandered it all and saw he had nowhere to turn, he came home empty-handed, expecting to be treated like a slave, rather than a son. After all, he had dismissed his relationship with his father, why would he not expect the same in return?
But, it wasn’t the father who held the greatest resentment. It wasn’t the father who felt injured at the younger son’s return — and even felt injured at the celebration of it. It was the older brother. The older son of the father. It was the son who had not run off, but had worked diligently for his father and kept the rules of the household. It was “the Pharisees and scribes” (from Luke 15:1, to whom Jesus was speaking when he told these parables of the lost) who “were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”
Imagine welcoming a sinner! Imagine eating with a sinner, as this boy must eat dinner with his father whose political views are so offensive! Imagine a good Jesus, eating with sinners.. and talking with them, and enjoying them.
So it is with us.
We call those who disagree with us “non-human,” because we consider ourselves better. “This son of yours..” “This father of yours..” “This friend of yours..”
I do it. You do it.
But, we would be wise to not call for the kind of love our world has to offer. Look to the love of the Father in Jesus’ parable. This is the image of God that we are left with. It isn’t the image that many of us, right-meaning and well-intentioned, leave with our neighbors. It isn’t the kind that the Older Brother has to give. It is the kind that the Father has to give.
And, thankfully, we know He gives it, because we can trust the word of Jesus. And Jesus deigns to eat with us sinners, even those who sin like Pharisees, following rules that do, in the end, matter to the Father, but forgetting the humanity of our neighbors.