The Parable Of The Seven Sons: A Tale For Leftist Dudebros
How I imagine Jesus may have addressed some of the noxious actions I’ve seen from privileged white dudes on the left…
Being a progressive who really, really loves Jesus often feels like being a dog who really, really loves raw broccoli. It’s never quite what anyone expects; it often makes you into a novelty; and it causes people around you to worry (understandably!) about what will happen next. But yes, I’m afraid it’s true: I’m a big old lefty who grew up in church, loves church, and really, really loves Jesus. So much that I went to Jesus school for about a billion years and got my Ph.D., and now I teach theology at a Christian seminary in Oklahoma.
One thing I love about church, and Jesus, is that they’ve given me certain biblical storytelling conventions that I now carry around in my head: parables, for example. Jesus’ parables were revolutionary and provocative, meant to expose and challenge the reigning power structure. Only later did they get washed out, wrung out, flattened, and hung up on the Sunday school felt board.
Stories about sons and fathers frequently show up in Jesus’ parables, because that’s one of the ways that power worked in the ancient Mediterranean world: men bequeathing things to other men. It’s also one of the ways power works today. So when I looked for a way to put into words some of my frustrations about obnoxious behavior I’ve seen from privileged white dudebros of the left, I could find no better way of beginning my story than the way Jesus often liked to begin his: “There was a man who had ____ sons…"
A rich man had seven sons. The rich man was righteous and feared the Holy One, and taught each of his sons, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The sons grew up and went out into the world.
One day, the oldest son was in the market, and a stranger said to him, “Excuse me, sir; you are standing on my foot.” And the oldest son replied, “I beg your pardon! I have a long and distinguished record of not standing on people’s feet. Everyone says so. I’ve won awards! I’ve published books! I marched with Dr. Scholl! You must be mistaken.”
“I’ve published books! I marched with Dr. Scholl! You must be mistaken.”
A while later, in another part of the country, the second son found himself in a crowd, when he heard another stranger say, “Excuse me, sir; you are standing on my foot. Could you please stop?” And the second son replied, “Look, if you want people to listen to you, you’ll need to say what you’re FOR instead of what you’re AGAINST.”
And so too with the third. One day an employee of his said, “Excuse me, but you’re standing on my foot.” And he replied, “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go. You’re not a good fit for this organization; your negativity really interferes with our workplace culture.”
And likewise the fourth son. One day he was prophesying, and many people stopped to listen to him. One of those listeners said, “Excuse me, but you’re standing on my foot.” The fourth son replied, “I’m disappointed in you. I thought everyone knew that the real enemy is Goldman Sachs. You’re never going to build a progressive coalition if you focus on these little things that divide us.”
And a similar thing happened to the fifth son, who replied, “Since this is an interest of yours, I’m going to put you in charge of the Foot Health Task Force. It entails 10 hours of work a week and does not pay, nor does it have any real power to make and enforce changes. You’re welcome!”
And likewise the sixth, who said, “It’s your fault for having such sensitive feet!” and then wrote a thinkpiece on how today’s young people have coddled metatarsals.
“It’s your fault for having such sensitive feet!”
Some time after that, the seventh son was traveling with a group of pilgrims, when one of the members of the group told him, “Excuse me, but you’re standing on my foot.” And the seventh son replied, “Oh! I apologize! I didn’t know!” and then moved so that he was no longer hurting his fellow pilgrim.
Which one of these sons did the will of his father?