Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Fatherless Prodigal Son

     Saturday morning I woke up to help George clean up a little bit outside. We were out of trash bags so I walked over to Aldi's to buy some more. As I was walking in, a man walked up to me. He said that everyone had been telling him to (buzz) off and that no one cared about him. I assured him that I would not send him off and was willing to talk with him. He simply looked me in the eye and said "do I look like I could use some help?" I was humbled by his humility and asked him what I could do to help. He said he could really use a hot breakfast. I told him to wait outside as I went in to pick up the trash bags.

     I came out and he and I walked back to Bonhoeffer. On the walk over I learned a little bit about him. He goes by Uncle Jay, he usually stays over in Oak Cliff, and when he fell asleep the night before he lost his backpack which had all of his belongings. We then got back to Bonhoeffer where George had already begun raking up the leaves. Uncle Jay offered to help and so for the next 30 minutes or so we cleaned up the driveway and talked a little bit.

     When we finished up we went inside and began to cook breakfast. George cooked some eggs and sausage from the night before, toasted some toast and I threw on some grits. The three of us then sat down at the dining room table to share a meal and conversation. We learned a little about Uncle Jay, shared a little about our selves, and simply cut up and had a good time. All of a sudden Uncle Jay just got quiet. He looked at George and I and said "If I hadn't run in to you at the grocery store I probably would have just gone off to get drunk to numb myself". It was then our turn to get quiet, we weren't entirely sure how to respond and all we could say is that we were glad to have him with us and that he was our brother. He then yelled out "I'm sick of it! I'm sick of all the drinking. This little body of mine could drink 12 bottles of alcohol like it's nothing. The body isn't meant for that, but that's what I've done to it."

     At moments like that there isn't much to do but to be supportive and to pray. We assured Uncle Jay that we were here for him and if he wanted to break free from the hold that alcohol had on him that we would support him along the way and help pick him up when he fell. At that point we moved into the prayer room and took out our Common Prayer books. We began to go through our saturday liturgy with him. We got to the point in the liturgy for confession and as George began to speak, Uncle Jay cut him off. He said he didn't want to hear any of that. George and I discussed it and we weren't sure what he meant by that. Maybe he didn't think that what George was confessing compared to what he needed to confess, maybe he was afraid that if we were confession then he too would feel compelled to confess, or maybe it was something beyond either of those possibilities. Either way, George stopped and there was a period of silence. Then, with tears streaming down his face, Uncle Jay began to share more of his story. He shared with us that he spent about 12 years of his life in prison for burglary. His whole life he made one bad decision after another to lead him where he is today. He said that he sees himself as the prodigal son, that he squandered away all that he had acquired and it wasn't until he hit rock bottom that he noticed that. He was ready to change his ways and be accepted if those from his past would accept him.

     There is one major catch, however, to Uncle Jay being the prodigal son. Uncle Jay told us that his dad was an alcoholic. He had never been there for him, never supported him, and done far more damage than good in his life. He then told us that his dad also has cancer and is currently in the hospital and most likely not far from death. How can Uncle Jay fulfill the second half of the story of the prodigal son if he doesn't have a father to turn to who can pick him up off the ground, kill the fatted calf, put a ring on his finger and throw a party? How can he return to good graces if he never actually was in good graces? How can his friends and family help him out if they are in similar or worse situations than he?

     Now I know what many of you are thinking. The story of the prodigal son was a reference to God. It means that even though Uncle Jay may have turned away, he still has the chance to be reunited with God. I get that, but what about the part of the Lord's prayer that says "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". Uncle Jay may have a little harder time buying that part of the prayer. He hasn't seen the kingdom come on this earth as in heaven. He has seen a kingdom on this earth but probably more likely one from hell than from heaven. So where is Uncle Jay's celebration? Where is Uncle Jay's reconciliation? Where is Uncle Jay's forgiveness? Where is Uncle Jay's father? Where is Uncle Jay's family?

     I hope that we at Bonhoeffer can be all of that for Uncle Jay. I pray he can continue coming here and that we can support him on his journey. I pray that he can fight his addiction to alcohol. I pray that he can find housing. I pray that he can find a job. I pray that he can regain his name and his dignity. I pray that he can find a family with us and others that can support him. I pray for a miracle.

    Here's the reality check. Uncle Jay said that he would come this morning and go to church with me. He said that he would also go to New Day and try to come to our morning and evening prayers. He didn't show up. Maybe he'll come this evening. Maybe he'll come tomorrow for morning or evening prayer. Maybe he'll come friday for our community meal, but then again, maybe he wont. Maybe yesterday when he left he went straight to begging and then to the liquor store. Maybe he past out and that's why he didn't come this morning. Maybe he's too ashamed to come back. Even worse, maybe he's dead.

     Now I know that this all seems very cynical. Many of you may be thinking that with God all things are possible. I agree with that. I agree 100% that it is possible that Uncle Jay is sober. It is possible that Uncle Jay will be knocking on the door any moment and has a perfectly good excuse for why he wasn't here this morning. It's perfectly possible, but it's not probable. I listened to a podcast by Bart Campolo in which he talked about a story much like Uncle Jay's. What Campolo pointed out is that miracles are miracles for a reason. They don't happen all that often. Now don't get me wrong. I'm praying for a miracle, I'm hoping for a miracle but in the mean time I'm also praying that Uncle Jay, if nothing else, knows that he's loved. I'm doing all that I can to let him know that he is loved and I hope he really does. Even if he never comes back I hope he can remember the time that he came to Bonhoeffer for breakfast, prayer, and family. I hope that this prodigal son can be reunited to his father through unconditional love.

Maybe a miracle will happen. But I'm certainly not going to sit around and wait for it to happen.



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