When I was preparing to speak at a service in Dawlish on Sunday I came across the recent news story about the father who, frustrated by his children’s failures, lambasted them with a searing email. Telling them how disappointed he was about the way their lives had turned out. His daughter was battered and heartbroken by it, his sons aren’t speaking to him, and one of them has replied with the words, ‘You made me.’
Here’s the email which sparked the controversy and made headline news.
Dear All Three
With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.
We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth…
Having done our best to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them provide happy and stable homes for their own children.
Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped – but as yet none of you is what I would term properly self-supporting.
So we witness the introduction to this life of six beautiful children none of whose parents have had the maturity to make a reasonable fist at making essential threshold decisions.
The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn’t for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you crashes from one cock-up to the next.
It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven and then to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you.
I can now tell you that I for one have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s domestic ineptitudes.
I want to hear no more from any of you until you have a success or an achievement to tell me about.
If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won’t do it by simply whingeing. If that isn’t possible then I rest my case.
I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.
I wanted to use it in my talk as I was speaking about the parables, the soap opera tales Jesus used to help people connect with the ways of God. They are funny, shocking, cartoon stories which were arresting and memorable in their time. On one occasion Jesus says, ‘When you judge others it’s a bit like walking around with a chair leg in your eye, looking for tiny specks in the eyes of others.’ Something like this…
One of the most famous of the parables we now call The Prodigal Son, and this is the piece which contrasts sharply with the email above. A father has two sons and one of them is a massive disappointment to his dad. He steals his money, disowns his family and goes off travelling and wasting the inheritance. He doesn’t keep in contact, and careers from one copulation-driven relationship to another. He warrants the email above. But he doesn’t get it. He has a different kind of father. A father who never stops believing. In the culture of Jesus’s day the rest of the community would have considered the boy dead and gone. Literally, and should he ever return they would stone him as a punishment. Forget savage emails, this boy was looking at a fistful of rocks as his punishment for a wasted life. But the tale takes a naive and shocking turn. Instead of lambasting the boy and pouring out his wrath and frustration the father welcomes him back, runs like an idiot to protect his son from being beaten to death, and declares publicly, ‘Everyone else proclaimed him dead and gone. Not me. Whatever his past I think he’s got a future.’