Thursday, August 07, 2008

A simple parable for you in church

(The following is actually an addendum to this post at Bilerico, the link at the very end of which will get you back here.)

Picture yourself ringing the doorbell of a posh address. You've been invited to a fancy dinner party. Your host, whom you have known forever, graciously receives you. You mingle with the other guests until dinner is announced and everyone is ushered into the dining room where they find their place cards at table. Everyone except you. You are seated at a card table in an adjoining room where you can watch the dinner on closed circuit TV. You see the extravagant fare served to the other guests. On your plate is plain hamburger. You slip out the door unnoticed, but word gets back to your host that you were unhappy with the evening. He wants to make amends, and you accept another invitation. This time, you are ushered into the banquet with the other guests and are seated at the table. Something is still not quite right. You notice that the chair you've been given is a few inches shorter than all the others. You get up and leave. You complain to your friends about what happened, and again, word of this gets back to your host who proclaims his love and respect for you, inviting you back for another dinner. You give him another chance and when you are again seated at the table, you find that your chair is as high as all the rest, but when dinner is served, it becomes painfully obvious that the portions placed on your plate are deliberately smaller than those of the other guests. You begin to wonder why you wanted to come to this banquet in the first place. You consider the progress you've made and wonder if you ought to just sit back and enjoy the party. Why quibble? It's not your dining room. Not your house. Not your party. But it's comfortable here. These people are your friends. You feel connected with them on so many levels. Isn't it unreasonable to expect everyone to behave according to your own standards? So you stay, and everyone at table, including your beaming host, breathes a little easier knowing that you can see how much they all really really love you. you decide to keep complaining about your treatment but to do so politely.

One evening, you find yourself again a guest at that same home. You stand up with glass in hand and propose a toast to your host seated far away at the head of the opposite end of the long table. Before you proclaim your toast, you ask your host a question. "Why is it that you never invite my partner? I see many couples at this table who receive joint invitations. Why not me?" There is no answer. You consider grabbing the corner of the tablecloth and giving it a good yank but you don’t bother. You know you aren't coming back.

Years later, you walk by that house and find that it is for sale. It's owner is bankrupt and alone. Your life has been a great success full of happiness and prosperity and better banquets with better friends. But something inescapable hounds you, and draws you back to your earliest days, and so you buy the place. You renovate. You invite all your old friends and family as well as your new ones. One blank invitation left. Your pen in hand. Do you invite him, that man who meant well and kept inviting you back to his table?


Doralong said...

The act of forgiveness graces both the one who extends and the one who receives..

Anonymous said...

YES. You invite him, and you treat him gloriously, placing him at the head of the table. You are genuine in your welcome, sincere in your conversation, and you thank him for coming when he departs. Graciousness will teach a lesson far more acutely than anger. I may be wrong in another's opinion, but that was just the way my mama raised me.

Birdie said...

Interesting timing: I'm leaving this morning for a conference called "The Welcoming Church." I'm going to find a way to read this to them. Thank you for making me look eloquent.

R J Keefe said...

Of course!

sageweb said...

If your heart tells you to invite him you do, if your mind is doing it for other reasons then forgiveness then you talk to your heart.

TED said...

I always get hung up before I get to the point of parables like this one. Why would anyone invite a guest into his home and then treat him badly? More to the point, why would anyone continue to subject himself to bad treatment when there are houses just down the street who will welcome him, and his partner, as equals?

Gavin said...

Oh, my, I'm gonna be the nasty.

No, I wouldn't invite him. Once I'm done with someone, I'm done. His address, phone number, and all things related would have been long gone. And, my mind being the sieve that it is, I wouldn't remember any of it.

Honestly, I would never have bought that house. No matter how fabulous and/or inexpensive. I insulate myself from things that brought me bad feelings. Cut my losses.

I'm all for taking the high road and maintaining my personal integrity. If I met this person on the street, I'd avoid him. If I had to speak, it would be small talk...nothing meaningful, neither good nor bad.

I have limited energy...I'd rather use it with people I like and who treat me well rather than waste it on someone who didn't offer it to me when they had the chance. That would have told me everything I need to know about this person.

Kinda like "Fool me once, shame on you..." This person wouldn't get a second chance. Petty? Probably.

Oh, and karma sucks. The universe took care of this person. Who am I to intervene?

Tony Adams said...

Dear TNWH,
Exactly! Why would someone do that? Actually, it happens all the time. People like us love the institutions we grew up with. They are inescapable. We just wish they didn't treat us as second class members. In the case of the Catholic Church, I predict a day of bankruptcy and weakness. A renewal will happen at that time in which as it says in the Bible: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone". Then, we will have to reread the parable of the Prodigal Son and make sure we are big enough for it.

Anonymous said...


I asked: How? Why? I get it now.

dantallion said...

I love the idea of sincerely welcoming that person back into your home. The lesson was his to learn.

Anonymous said...

No but yes.

No, do not invite him to that dinner party, but yes, have coffee with him and make amends there. Leanr what you while standing a place of forgiveness and openess, and then decide whether to invite him to others.

Anonymous said...

Not only "NO", but "oh HELL NO". That person or institution was never a friend to begin with. I doubt anything would be learned by extending the invitation either.

YvesPaul said...

Tater is right, but the devil in me says to write an extra line just in his card.

"It's a costume party, the more outrageous the better."

Anonymous said...

I think this is an excellent example of how so many people mistake passive-aggressive humiliation for "friendship". The hero of the story needs therapy to find out why he subjects himself to such abuse only to feel belonging to a group that apparently doesn't respect him at all. Manners are overrated.

Tony Adams said...

Dear YvesPaul,
Wickedly funny.

Tony Adams said...

Dear BCP,
Many people do get therapy to deal with institutions and family members who denigrate them while claiming to love them. The extrication process, which was for me rather easy, is painful and protracted for many people. Sadly, they eventually learn that the spots on the leopard never change. I think it is important to differentiate between the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Church itself. The day will come when we will take back that Church and restore it to its basic goodness.

dpaste said...

Very interesting post. I have to abstract it a bit to apply it to my own experience (especially the part about "Why is it that you never invite my partner?" and "Your life has been a great success full of happiness and prosperity") and different faith, but it still has some interesting parallels that I will chew over.

Anonymous said...

It is rather presumptuous to be predicting the decline and fall of the Catholic Church. People having been doing so for centuries, yet it endures. And it will endure long after you are gone Father Tony.
But if it makes you feel empowered and grand to make such predictions, I guess you should do so.
Of course, it was relatively easy for you to leave- you weren't a true believer in the first place. And judging from your past writings, you were there for the wrong reasons anyway.
I think the parable is sophomoric and rather narcissistic.

Tony Adams said...

Dear Thomas Tucker,

I am so happy to hear from you! Where have you been? If this post hadn't have "plucked your nerve", I'd have been worried that it was toothless. Let me address the "delectables" in your comment.

a) The Church will in fact be around long after I'm gone, but it won't be run by you and your kind. You guys have squandered the franchise. You guys have pissed out all the grace that ever entered you.

b) Empowerment, narcissism and grandiosity are not my drugs. If they were, I'd have never left behind what I left behind. I've been humble in ways that no ground-kissing pope-on-the-tarmac could ever be humble. Give me a break here; you know that's a cheap, ad hominem shot.

c) About whether or not I am or ever was a believer, do not be so quick to say there's no gold in those hills. You only get to see the parts of me that I give you - and many of those parts are the stuff of the performer in me. Understand the premise here.

d) A sophomoric parable? Jeez T.T., all parables are like that. They're supposed to be like that. Something tells me that if you had been standing in the crowd when Jesus had told the parable of the Prodigal Son, you'd have sniffed dismissively and said something condescending to your brother pharisees about how childish Jesus was. Oops, there I go again, comparing myself to Jesus. Damn, this narcissism thing is sooo hard to deal with.

You know what I think really scares you, T.T.? The fact that I am not afraid to talk, and that you know in your heart that I'm right.

OK. Your move. Have at.

Anonymous said...

Yow! Some serious shit's pouring down here. The sadist cum host publicly, repeatedly humiliates the willing maso-guest. And then the parable - but not the story - ends with our protagonist owning the home at the stroke of a master's virtual demise?

The invitation to return is equally, publicly humiliating.

(And the dick-in-hand satisfaction at the end of the evening would be the emptiest of orgasms.)

That address certainly won't remain posh for long. The new owner bought the soul along with the house and needs to be very careful: karma's memory is long. I find the victim is rarely the victor.

And all told, it's the house that's the problem, not the occupant.