Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Elder Brother Attitude

This weekend I went to visit my parents for Father's Day and attended church with them.

The Reverend preached a good message using the parable of the prodigal son as his main text. But, instead of the typical spiel about the redemption of the young man who left whom and squandered his fortune, the minister discussed the attitude of the brother who stayed home with his family.

The message castigated Christians for having an "elder brother attitude," which was defined as failing to recognize the blessings of God, failing to properly appreciate those blessings and failing to rejoice when someone who is on the wrong road finally sees the light because your focus is on their past missteps.

I really enjoyed the message.

One of the things the preacher discussed was the tendency of church folk to overlook the progress of others in their Christain walk. He said that instead of giving the former wino credit for staying sober five days out of the week, most Christians still whisper behind his back because of the two days he slips up. Far too many so-called Christains love to focus on the negatives in other people's lives instead of the positives because it makes them feel better about their own shortcomings.

This part of the message really jumped out at me because it immediately made me think about my attitude towards white people and racism in this country. Those of y'all who have read this blog know that I harp on the many shortcomings of this country when it comes to matters of race, and I've been known to sharply attack anyone who tries to use the "progress" argument to suppress discussions of racism.

I think too many people people are satisfied with the status quo in America when it comes to race relations, and if they do see the need for improvement, it's not a pressing concern. That's a pretty easy attitude to have when you're white and your race benefits you in most situations, but when you're a minority dealing with minority problems that attitude can be infuriarating.

However, as I listened to the minister speak, I realized that if I only focus on this country's negatives without dedicating some time to appreciating its progress I'm being unjust. It was a hard pill for me to swallow because, thanks to my mother, my life has been steeped in a pretty negative attitude when it comes to race and race relations.

But, what I began to understand was that for my own mental health I needed to let go of some of that pessimism, to acknowledge the good and the bad lest my perception of reality become as skewed as those folks who argue that racism is a thing of the past in this country.

I know this post seems kind of out of the blue, but the minister's words really motivated me to try to be more accepting and more patient with white folks. Things had gotten so bad with this election that my racism gun had a hair trigger and I was willing to fire on any white person with a hint of bias.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share my revelation with y'all because I understand that my daily rantings may have made some of you a little more crazy. My pops always told me that when you make a problem, you need to be ready with a solution.


Gye Greene said...

Good post, as always.

Yeah: the secret seems to be being dissatisfied enough to keep things moving -- but not so dissatisfied that you lead a dreary life.


WNG said...

To see things as they are - instead of through the lens of our own feelings - is nearly impossible, but I think it's great that you're going to try. Yes, things are better, no things are still not good. But I've learned a lot from the high school and college kids i've been working with on this campaign so far and I have some hope.
Maybe you need some time with the kids to help you on your way :)

Big Man said...

Maybe spending time with kids could help. Then again, whenever I talk to the youth I come away worried about the future of the world.


Truthiz said...

Enjoyed the entire post Big Man!

In particular:

"But, what I began to understand was that for my own mental health I needed to let go of some of that pessimism, to acknowledge the good and the bad lest my perception of reality become as skewed as those folks who argue that racism is a thing of the past in this country."

Well said!!!

dp said...

Man I am speechless. I had to read this a few times. It is a well written. I am inspired!

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Big Man!! I am glad you wrote this! I just had a discussion with a brother who was EXTREMELY distraught about one of the many racist Obama acts, the monkey sock puppet. It he was just a little TOO visible shaken. And I told him that his reaction was the very reason why many racist do what they do. I told him that I thought the doll was f-up to, but at the same time I wasn’t gonna let it get at my soul.

I told him I chose to think of some of the positives to ease me like there was a tie where something like that wouldn’t made news and there CERATINLY WAS A TIME when the man who was featured after it, a white man from Utah, would not have been the one speaking out against the act so vehemently.

My thoughts have always been there will always be racism, sexism, classism, ismism…but the measure is to look at how the majority reacts to those things. My goal is that the isms become fringe elements one day. However it is a tight rope we walk in America a place where we as blacks have made significant progress in a short amount of time, with so much more ahead of us.

Good post and thanks for sharing your Aha moment, as Oprah would say. Personal growth is my most favorite human quality in the WORLD!!


sdg1844 said...

Good for you Big Man. I look at stupid racist attitudes and shake my head. It's not that I'm numb and don't care, it's just the fear behind all of it pathetic and sad all at the same time.

Glad you came to this revelation and keep up the good work.

the uppity negro said...

Well, I became just a lil more conciliatory as I challenged myself to be more intelligent in my dissection of all things race, religion and politics in this country and to seriously look at it from white people's perspectives, as difficult as it may be.

Big ups for the revelation.

Anywho, my main comment is about that friggin parable about the prodigal son.

Sorry, I have problems with that text. MAJOR problems. I think Jesus fails to recognize the "elder brother" and doesn't provide the tools within that passage on how to heal the rift between the two brothers, let alone the rift that the elder brother would have with the parents.

I guess, because I've always identified with the elder brother, even though I was an only child. I felt, personally, that I got just a bit more chastised for the bad things that I did, but compared to the things that I didn't do--never once did drugs when i was in high school, never broke curfew, not once did I borrow the car, or anything else...i was a goodie-two-shoes in that respect.

I just feel at dis-ease with that text. I think deep down that its unfair to the elder brother. I think it allows for favorites to be played with the two brothers. Honestly, if I had to preach it, I'd preach against the text and talk about parental neglect on behalf of the father. I think the father outrightly neglects the needs of the elder brother--hell, what about encouraging the elder brother to keep on doing what he was doing.

This is not to say that the younger brother should not have been welcomed with open arms--I'm all for that, but don't do so at the expense of the elder brother's well being. And to me, it seems like that's what the text is teaching.

Not to mention, where the hell was the mama in all of this? Did she not lose a son as well? Did she not mourn the loss of a son? How did she feel about the son that stayed there?

I have so many problems with the biblical text...pray for me saints.


Deacon Blue said...

@ the uppity negro

I can understand your problems with the text, but the point of the parable is really to establish the return of lost souls to God. Those who are already in God's grace shouldn't be getting bent out of sorts that people who weren't as devout as them...or who didn't jump on God's bus earlier...will be rewarded and welcomed back.

And it's a message that we continue to wrestle with at times today, what with folks who say, "I cannot accept that someone who was a murderer or rapist or whatever can just accept Jesus and go to Heaven. It isn't fair."

That's why the mother isn't present because the father is a metaphorical stand-in for God the Father.

Healing rifts between the brothers really isn't the point...the point is that those who are "worthy" of God's grace shouldn't be looking down on those who once rejected it and insisting that THEY should be denied that grace as well and trying to relegate them to permanent "unworthy" status.

WNG may appreciate that distinction since I know she's working through some forigveness issues (I wasn't able to answer all your question in one post, WNG, but I got part one up today and hope to wrap it all up tomorrow...and maybe even give a list of appropriate biblical passages for further study.)

Big Man said...

I knew Deacon would jump on that comment.

The preacher preached the text from the aspect that if you look closely at the elder brother's comments it raises questions about his motivations for staying home and being obedient.

The text notes that the older brother accuses his sibling of living it up with harlots. The preacher noted that nowhere in the Bible does it say that, so maybe the older brother was projecting his own desires on to the older brother.

The preacher also noted that during his brother's abscence, not once did the elder brother, who should have been a protector of his younger brother, go and search out his sibling to check on his well being.

The preacher also noted that when the elder brother had a problem with the treatment of the younger brother, he did not approach his father (a stand-in for God) with that problem, but instead discussed it with a servant.

He also noted that that older brother seemed to have been upset with his father for not providing a specific blessing (the goat) even though the older boy had never asked for such a blessing.

Finally, I am reminded of the parable where Jesus speaks of a vineyard owner who hires workers for his field and promises them payment. He hires workers throughout the day and even hires some people one hour before the workday is finished. When it is time to pay, he pays everyone the same, and some of the people who worked all day become angry. The vineyard owner reminds them that he paid them exactly what he promised them, and then wonders who they are to question how he doles out his riches, and why they are jealous of someone else's good fortune.

It speaks to the mindset of believing that as a Christian you are owed blessings or salvation based on good works, when we all prosper by the Grace of God. I could expound more, but this is a discussion better suited to Deac's blog.

sdg1844 said...

Big Man - Off Topic. Thanks for stopping by and you can use "Black Kool" as the main spot and delete the rest.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

wish i could have heard it

Imhotep said...

Big Man, Acknowledging racism does not mean that you're ignoring progress in the area of race relations. One should not have to lessen the blows of racism by comparing it to the progress that has been made. Racism and white supremacy should not be ignored, neither should they become corrosive in an indiviual either, but they should not be ignored.

I'm with Uppity on the prodigal son thing. It's easy for a mofo to find God when they go out there and f**K-up, fall on their face, and lose their chit, it's easy to come crawling back to God at that moment, see athletes, entertainers, politicians and preachers.

I say throw a party for both sons. Show appreciation and respect to the son that stayed the course and followed the word. For the 2nd son show forgiveness and acceptance. That favoritism shit aint necessary. Super post, dig your work!

Big Man said...

Man, sometimes I wish I could have certain convos in real time. Like this one.

I didn't see it as favoritism. I saw it as a father rejoicing for the wayward son he thought was dead (which the Bible actually says). The father told his oldest son that we don't throw a party for you because everything I own is already yours. Basically the older boy had everything, and he was crying because his brother got some scraps.

The Bible stresses constantly that God is more concerned with saving new souls from damnation then he is with giving out pats on the back to Christians who keep his commandments.

I think the oldest son told his father that he "had not transgressed" basically saying that he was blameless, which we know was a lie. I think the older son had a really attitude.

Imhotep said...

Big Man, I'm not up on the particulars of the story, I only recall the general outline, so I defer to your knowledge on the topic.

I don't recall what caused the son to return home. Not sure if he found God, or was broke, or what the circumstances were that caused him to return home. Seems like the father did not care about any of that, he was just happy to see his son and decided to throw a party. Seems to me the story was more about a grateful father than a wastefull son.

Anyway, I get the bigger point you made with the thread.

the uppity negro said...


"...but the point of the parable is really to establish the return of lost souls to God."

Forgive me if this sounds blunt, but how do you KNOW what the point of the parable is?

I understand it's surrounded by the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke, but I'm sorry, I think it's super-churchy and played out to remotely suggest, even if it was done ignorantly and with good intentions that I misunderstood the point of the parable and therefore had a bad interpretation of it.

I'm at this point: it seems like favoritism to me, and since I identify closely with the elder brother, I have resentment issues with my own parents for the reasons I stated in my previous one and for others not mentioned.

I also think that it shows the flagrant and blatant patriotism of the time to not include the mother in this text. I mean, people love to skip to this passage and identify the father as God, but you rarely hear the woman who lost her coin identified as God...ergo, God as a woman.

I have problems with this text, and I'm okay with that. This clearly isn't the only biblical interpretation I question and wrestle with. I just wish, that we'd move past this "I have the only right interpretation" crap and kind of meet someone where they are. It just comes off to me that you're doing EXCACTLY what I fault the father in the text doing: putting all the spotlight on someone else, but neglecting the true and real feelings of the elder brother. So what if he didn't go out and look for him, neither did his father. Whoop-de-damn doo!

I mean, some kind of encouragement, some kind of acknowledgement for doing something right is NEEDED--especially from your parents. Every child desparately needs to be validated by their parents, even if they would never acknowledge it out loud.

Deacon Blue said...

To Uppity Negro:

If you choose to mark my words as being patronizing and super-churchy, I'm not goign to try very hard to dissuade you, as I suspect you've already made up your mind about where I'm coming from.

Jesus told parables generally as ways to explain issues of the kingdom of God, so it is my general assumption (and no, I don't KNOW for certain) that this story was in a like vein. Could Jesus have simply been teaching people about forgiveness and acceptance within their family? Perhaps. But parables he told rarely seemed to be aimed at issues of daily living and were more often about issues of faith.

But if you prefer to believe that Jesus was being patriarchical and ignoring the mother and was disregarding the needs of the older brother by focusing on the younger...or if you want to assume that someone made up Jesus' words and had a similar agenda...that is certainly your right.

It just doesn't seem like the most likely point of the parable, that's all I'm saying.

WNG said...

I'm staying waaaay out of this one. Except to say that you were looking for post ideas Deacon...

Deacon Blue said...

LOL...You're right WNG...I should probably thank JLL, as he's probably sparked a topic in there somewhere for me to cover.

And to JLL/Uppity Negro...really, I didn't mean any offense. You clearly have some parental things that are heavy on your heart and mind, and it was never my intent to somehow come across as lecturing you. I still don't agree with your angle on the parable, but then again, variety is the spice of life. Again, my apologies for getting under your skin without intending to.

MC said...

Yeah, this is a tough one. On the one hand, I've certainly been the elder son before, complaining about how little brother had it so much better than I did. It's a trap, because then your entire life becomes dedicated to cataloguing rights and wrongs that your brother got that you didn't.

But, let's remember the end of this story. The father tells the elder son "You are always with me, and all I have is yours." The point is, the elder brother doesn't have to worry about his place in the family just because the younger brother gets his own party. As long as the father (God) still cares about the eldest brother, nothing else matters!

Note too that the father does not rebuke the elder brother in the end. He pleads with his loyal son, realizing that his good son needs encouragement and is tired and weary of doing good. Such a son doesn't need to be rebuked when he shows the slightest touch of rebellion; he needs encouragement to return to his good road.

Anyway, liked the post a lot, Big Man, and wish I had come to the comment section sooner.

Raving Black Lunatic