The Intolerant Parable

Imagine we’re all at a party together. Good food, good drink, good music. We’re all just milling about and engaging in random conversations around the room. Eventually we’re all sitting or standing or leaning somewhere comfortable and the whole group engages in one conversation. It’s not politics, economics or philosophy; someone starts the conversation by talking about my dad.

Pretty soon the conversation has gotten pretty lively as everyone has jumped in with their thoughts and impressions about my dad. Imagine one guy who says, “I’ve never met him and I’m not really sure he even exists.” If you know me, you know I’d chuckle over that one. Then imagine another guy who says, “I know him quite well and I can tell you he’s real and here’s what he’s like….” And then imagine my reaction as this guy starts telling the room how exacting my dad is, how angry he is at the things people in the room have done and how they better straighten up and get their act together if they want better than a snow ball’s chance in hell to ever meet him or get to hang out at his place.

Still imagining? Now picture another guy piping up. “No, no, no, I know his dad and that’s not what he’s like at all! He’s super loving, generous, and gracious almost to a fault.” He keeps going, “Listen to this,” he says, “I stole a bunch of stuff out of his garage and when I got caught I just said I was sorry, told him how much my parent’s screwed me up and all was well! He took it so well I still rip stuff off from his garage now and then. He’s awesome!”

One more guy jumps in to the fray before I can say a word. “You guys are both crazy, that’s not what his dad is like. His dad is bigger and more other than you can possibly imagine. Everything he does is based on his faithfulness to his word. He is truly a man of his word.” Everybody shifts in the comfortable spots to hear when this guy is adding to the conversation. “You’ve heard he’s generous. Well, he once said that he wouldn’t be “out given”. If you give him a gift you’re guaranteed to get the same back and multiplied by 10! In fact, he’s so faithful to do what he says that if you’ll give him a gift every week, you’ll not only get it back and multiplied but he’ll keep your car from breaking down, your kids from getting sick and your business will always be successful! Of course, if you fail to drop off a good sized gift every week, well, let’s just say he forgets your name pretty quickly.”

The room is filled with ooooos and aaaaaaas.

If this was your dad they were talking about, at what point would you jump in to this conversation? How long would you keep hanging out with this group of people and still call them ‘family’ even if they all claimed to be your brothers and sisters? At what point do you object to descriptions of your dad that aren’t your dad at all? When is it time to stop tolerating the storytellers and pretenders who are misrepresenting who your dad really is?

The question isn’t whether my dad likes blue curtains or red curtains or no curtains. It’s not about whether he prefers blue grass or country western or Elvis. The question is, when someone is defining the character of my dad to others, even if he claims to be my kin, when is intolerance the appropriate response?


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, denial, faith, Family, God, perception, questions, Reflective, Relationship, religion, theology, tradition, truth. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Intolerant Parable

  1. Vita Consecrata says:

    awesome post!

  2. Claire Muir says:

    Hey Brian,
    I will admit that more often than not I will smile and nod, which is consent I know.
    But inside I’m thinking “Not MY dad!”…fear of man. Nasty stuff that.
    So as this world spins to this crazy intolerable tolerance, I pray for boldness and – gulp, courage…
    Thanks for giving us pause to think on this Brian.

  3. Neil says:

    Brian, it’s not necessarily “intolerance” but calculated silence. The group that is trying to describe your dad is much like a crowd of blind men trying to describe an elephant by only touching one part of its body: none of them get the whole picture and most of what they try to extrapolate is just wrong. The problem is worsened, because, sometimes, we, as his own children, do not really know our dads that well.

    Ultimately, if our dad choses to make himself known more completely, he’ll have to step in himself and show us all what he is like, through both words and deeds.

    • brianmpei says:

      I suppose if my dad were an elephant and those at the party were blind…but I think that’s mixing parables which might be as risky as mixing drinks or metaphors…

      In this parable the child knows his dad, doesn’t relationship require us to respond? For instance, “I know that you have heard it said…but I tell you…” or something along those lines?

  4. Maurice says:

    A serious issue to misrepresent God the Father..I believe it kept Moses from entering in to the promised land. He Struck the rock in anger presenting an Angry God. Apparently God was not angry..Moses was.. I think this is a crucial area of misunderstanding that too easily feeds into our own perceptions as a result of our exposure to faulty image bearers…God help us…we need to get this right..

  5. Nathan says:

    I believe that to some degree or another we’re all one of those people in that room. If the deceiver of the world is any good at his job (which I imagine he is, given his experience and credentials) then each of us has a skewed vision of ‘Dad.’

    Even though I know my earthly father very well and have a great relationship with him, now and then I am still surprised (through various means) to learn that he is a little different than I had thought. (BTW, my dad reads your blog, so “Hi, Dad.”)

    My relationship with Jesus is very similar. Even though I’ve known Jesus all my life and have been in close relationship, I am still surprised to continually learn that he’s different than I had previously thought.

    I can certainly empathize with encountering individuals who present a vision of Jesus that seems contradictory to what I know of him. But then I also recognize, that the vision I present may be contradictory not only to others, but to what Jesus himself reveals to me.

    To answer your question, I’ll offer an observation.

    Jesus is the most intolerant person that I’ve ever encountered. However, he’s also by far the most loving person that I’ve encountered. When I read things like John 14:6, or statements about ‘who will NOT enter the Kingdom,’ or ‘go and sin no more,’ it becomes clear that tolerance was not on Jesus’ agenda. But love was. I see a drastic difference between our hallowed social value for tolerance and Christ-like love.

    (Given the conversation, this could be one area where my vision of Jesus is skewed.)(Ha!)

    I don’t believe the question is about whether or response should be tolerant or intolerant. I think the question is ‘how best to respond in love?’ I agree with “Neil” above. Sometimes ‘controlled silence’ is the wisest and most loving response. Other times, just as Jesus had done, some confrontation is necessary. And of course there’s a whole range of loving responses in between.


    • brianmpei says:

      Let’s take Neil’s parable then and turn the elephant into a tiger. Is it either wise or loving to keep quiet until the examiners finally come across the business end of the beast?

      In my parable I find it disturbing that the virtue of the day is for the guests to gather so comfortably around the same table and claim to know the same dad but ultimately describe someone other than who I know my dad to be.

      I think Jesus made lots of room for those who didn’t believe and for those who weren’t sure what they believed but he seemed fairly, as you say, intolerant of the preachers and teachers of the day who told the masses, “this is what God is like”. I find we’ve done just the opposite. We all agree the prostitute is far from knowing the Father and yet hug each other in our conferences while we spin varied, fanciful and even damaging tales about the Father. We suggest the inability to know perfectly means we can’t act like we know anything for certain.

      I’m not saying that’s where you are Nathan, just an observation of our life together in general.

      • Nathan says:

        Ha! Yeah, if someone’s going to do a “TSA pat down” on a Tiger, that’s certainly a good time to speak up. Though, depending on who you’re speaking to, they may be completely non-receptive to what you have to say – angry tiger warning and all. Pearls to pigs.

        I can see that in our post-modern culture ‘everyone has a voice’ and unfortunately not everyone who speaks actually knows what they’re talking about. But everyone feels comfortable to chime in like it’s some sort of Facebook comment (myself included at times). I love what Helmut Thielicke had written about our cultural acceptance of useless words, but I digress. Other times, we do have others who are ‘well educated’ and supposedly ‘authoritative’ yet miss the mark.

        “We suggest the inability to know perfectly means we can’t act like we know anything for certain.”

        That’s a pretty heavy statement. What do you see as the source for this lack of certainty?

  6. dede says:

    Great post! I cringe at the thought of all the times I have misrepresented our dad. I hope that over the years I have shown a little more wisdom and have had less to say as I know now that I am still learning what He is really like instead of going by the opinions of others or my own misguided interpretations.
    As far as how to handle what others say, well I just try to point out that the dad I know is much bigger than that. More mysterious or beyond understanding than we can ever imagine yet simple. I think it comes down to how it is in most families. All of the children have a different version of the same parent.

    • brianmpei says:

      “All of the children have a different version of the same parent.”

      SO TRUE! So many funeral services I’ve prepared with family who all have interesting and surprising versions of the same parent who has just passed.

      Relationship, in the end, must speak the better word than interpretation!

  7. Judy says:

    Apologies in advance for the post-length response.
    Having had a stint in prison ministry I am not so sure that the “vile sinner” is that far from the kingdom of God; at least he/she doesn’t have to be convinced that he/she has screwed up. Some of the hardest people to convince of the need for intimacy with God are the religious who think they’ve got it nailed (pun intended) – as Jesus well knew. And I think that His children who know Him can all agree – there can be no knowledge of God’s real character without intimacy with Him at some level, the deeper the better.

    The problem, as you state so well, Brian, is the attitudes of those who through visiting His place, hanging out with His kids, and having obtuse dealings with Him, think they know what He’s really like. Nothing short of arrogance – or ignorance (which, when the results are looked at, amount to the same thing) – can produce the kinds of useless arguments and debates that we’ve heard before way too many times, the kinds where neither side is convinced of the merits of the other. The trick is whether we lower ourselves to the level of argument about something God is so well-equipped to prove on His own to those who really seek. (He reveals Himself to [humble] babes and hides His secrets from the wise and prudent). As my hubby is known to have said before when I’d get really upset at visits from well-meaning door-knockers, “God’s a big boy. He’s got broad shoulders; He can defend Himself.” I just wouldn’t talk to those people because I felt that if I lost my temper, I would be a poor representative of the love of Christ. Plus … I felt threatened by their disagreement with my beliefs. Another person might be able to keep his or her cool and be perfectly fine speaking out. I couldn’t. It all got tangled up with my feeling rejected because they were rejecting something I believed in.

    I suspect that God is wise enough and loving enough to use each of us in the way He wants in order to accomplish His purposes, whether by us staying silent or speaking out. So multi-faceted, so unfathomable. Sometimes I can almost hear Him chuckling as we try to figure Him out and think we have Him pegged – and then He does something that is completely unexpected and throws us into a tailspin of “But I thought…” That’s His sense of humour for you.

    The invitation is still open – “Come to Me” – the promise – “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me” – and the warning … is chilling: “Depart from Me, … I never knew you.” The Spirit of God is well able to do His work and I would do well to listen to Him for direction.

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the person I cannot change, the courage to change the person I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me. Heavy on the wisdom….

    • brianmpei says:

      Nice adaptation of the prayer, Judy! I suppose there is no end to the silence of Jesus when he could have spoken. That intrigues me. However, I’m also constrained by his example that “all of these things are not like the others” when he was talking with those ‘in the know’…or who claimed to be! Post long or short whenever you like!

      • Judy says:

        Wish I could take credit for the prayer; I keep a copy of it at work to remind me. It was on a little card my counselor gave me in therapy, specifically designed for co-dependents. (oh how I hate how misunderstood that word is.)

        We each have talents and giftings as God has placed within us; He might lead you to do something totally different from what He might lead me to do. That doesn’t make either of us wrong. He’s just the God of endless variety – and He does that. One of the things I am learning in recovery is that I can’t make someone do what I want them to do and I can’t fix what’s wrong with them, much as I might want to. He, on the other hand, can. So for me, maybe I’d better ask Him for direction before I start tilting at windmills … because I tend to want to control things too much. And if He does tell me to draw a line in the sand in His name – well, heavy on the wisdom…

  8. Heather says:

    Right, so I totally don’t get all that was said in these comments, but let me just say, Mr. Cracked Virtue, you are pretty cool. You get Jesus in a way I want to work toward. ☺

  9. morris says:

    Wow! This was a great read, very thought provoking.

  10. So you’re not talking about Grandpa… right?

  11. greggmac says:

    The “snow” made me think I had glaucoma.

  12. Nathan says:

    I don’t get it.

  13. TJ says:

    The tiger will let them know when they’ve gone too far. He doesn’t need my help.

  14. Rein Vented says:

    “It fell like judgement across my window pain,
    It fell like judgement, but it was only rain.”-Bad Religion

    I think we should meet up with my dad together and chat. I suspect that some would but others not; thereby ridding ourselves of the cousins who pretend to be brothers and sisters.

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