Right lane…it’s the new fast lane…

This last weekend I visited some friends in Los Angeles.  On the way down, I finally figured out LA driving.  Traffick started 100 miles outside the city, 130 miles north of my destination.  I was already late leaving, and when the fast lane, where I had been driving, turned into a parking lot with the rest of the traffic, I decided to think strategically rather than get frustrated.

What I saw was that two lanes over to my right was moving faster…consistently moving faster…than the “fast lane.”  I remember what a friend told me months ago, “Just remember, Angelites drift left.”  I waited for a gap and moved one lane over.  I got stuck behind a slow moving truck.  One clever car snuck up and passed us on the right.  Now, in Missouri where I got my liscense, passing on the right is illegal, as is driving in the left lane.  But in an instant I saw it as a strategic possibility, not just rude and illegal, and suddenly everything made sense.  While the Angelites inched their way forward in the left lane, I wove in and out of the right hand lanes, making my way to Huntington Beach through 130 miles of stop and stop traffic, almost in the same time it would have taken me without traffic (if there is such a thing in LA).

Very early in life I developed the world view that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything.  Cleaning, cooking, sewing, school work, ballet, art, music…the trick was to find the right way and do it, otherwise you would be wrong.  Of course as I grew I began to see that there were many ways to approach the same problem, but because it was a world view, rooted in my earliest childhood, I couldn’t really shake it.  Somehow language and spirituality escaped the black and white thinking, but I have still been susceptible to the influence of others who believe there is a right way…or a better way…to keep house, to relate to one another, to worship God.  That kind of thinking will break you.  So as I scanned a quarter mile of five lanes of frozen traffic, something in my brain shifted.  Some people use their signals, some don’t, but I stopped being mad that that guy cut me off without even signaling and started looking for signs other than the red blinking light that someone was going to come into my lane.  I figured it out.  I still use my signal, but I learned to pass on the right, change lanes when I could, and scrap most of the “rules of right driving” (not to be confused with traffic laws…these are things that were NOT in the manual that were part of the “right way” to manage traffic), and drive in a completely different (and changing) culture.

The Prodigal God

Many weeks ago I was considering the story of the prodigal son.  I identified more with the older brother, and I didn’t really want to be the older brother.  That is because I thought “prodigal” meant “rude, rebellious, selfish, wasteful, and mean”.  Turns out that’s not what it means.  It means… 

prod·i·gal

[prod-i-guhl] 

–adjective

1.     wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
2.     giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually fol. by of  orwith ): 
              prodigal of smiles; prodigal with money.
3.     lavishly abundant; profuse: nature’s prodigal resources.

This changes everything.

Now, there is a noun definition that probably came from the story of the son in  Luke 15…and Jesus never uses the word prodigal.  He didn’t open by saying, “Let me tell you the story of the Prodigal Son.” The story is not about the son at all.  It is about the Father.  I am not saying anything new.  I stole my post title from Greg Boyd’s sermon of the same name, and he stole it from someone else.  (Now before you start thinking I’m an open theist, it’s a good message.  Just take the message for what it’s worth.)  It is the story of a man who has two sons.  The younger asks for his inheritance early and squanders it on the high life, then ends up feeding pigs for a living.  The older remains.  One day as the younger son is quite literally starving, he decides to come home.  The father sees him, hikes up his garment and comes running to his son.  It’s a good story.  Greg Boyd tells it better (follow the link above).  Jesus tells it better still.

The thing that stood out to me today was Mr. Boyd’s description of the Father’s household.  In verse 17, the son remembers his father’s hired servants…not the household servants, but day hires–homeless fellows who waited around until someone hired them for the day.  The household servants would go into town, find these folks waiting, then hire a few to do the menial tasks in exchange for wages.  Culturally they would provide their own food, be paid in cash at the end of the day, and then be sent on to make the best of what they could.  So the idea that they had food enough seems to imply that the Father provided food for them.  To provide food was to provide a form of acceptance, to say, “You belong here.  You are welcome.”  This would have been scandalous, according to Mr. Boyd.

I got to thinking about the younger son and why he left the farm for the city.  I thought about how embarrassing his father’s generosity might have been to him.  I thought about the kindness that ignores status and how boring that is for someone who longs for a shiny, fast-paced life-style, for recognition and esteem.  I don’t want the same things as the younger son in this story.  That’s why I don’t identify with him.  People always talk about the cultural implications of working with pigs, and how that would have been detestable to him.  I don’t understand that, and I don’t detest the same things my culture detests, so I have a really hard time wrapping my brain around the significance of the pigs.  But what I see is a man who became the thing he hated most.  I am imagining that he hated farming, hated the hired hands–the day workers, and hated that his father treated them with regard.  So I wonder what he must have been thinking as he stood there, smelling like a sewer, with the Father lavishing kisses on him…

“No…you’re not…supposed…to love…me…you’re…supposed…to despise…me…”  I wonder if he was embarrassed for his father’s public display of affection and yet broken by his need for the father’s love.  I wonder if he was embarrassed by his own need, and then in turn embarrassed by his arrogant judgement of all the hired hands, all those years.

His speech…his famous interrupted speech.  He was all ready to say, “I have sinned against you and against God.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants,” when the Father interrupts him and throws the most lavish party ever, dresses him in his own robes, puts the signant ring on his finger.  This is where I identify with the younger son.  The God of the Universe seems to be hopelessly, extravagantly in love with me.  I stand here, wanting to studder, “But I don’t…derserve…” as He interrupts with joy and love.  The paradox of God’s love is that, no matter how “underserving” we are of His love, the love itself makes us worthy. 

Blessings and peace,
Beth