…the tension and transformation of belonging…

“The word belong has two meanings:  First and foremost to belong is to be related to and be a part of something.  Second …[it] has to do with being an owner:  something belongs to me. ” — Peter Block

Yesterday, I talked about the parable of the Prodigal Son and how it represents multiplicity.  I also talked about each person’s underlying unity as something real and worthy of one’s attention – as the living part that mysteriously points to what is larger than ourselves.  My point is that what drives us is not our fracturing divisions, but rather our ability to be greater than ourselves.   Today, I want to look more closely at the parable’s two sons and describe how they set up a tension which requires the father’s loving care and attention.  The single greatest challenge we have to resolve the fracturing divisions created by multiplicity.  And this tension always lies on the cusp of possibility.  The more we are torn between alternative options, the more our decisions will be arbitrary and ungrounded.  Until we can find the living unity (that sense of belonging) that mysteriously points to something larger than ourselves, these conflicting tensions will appear irreconcilable.

I suppose you remember the parable:  The Father has two sons, one who goes off and squanders his inheritance and the other remains behind diligently carrying out the duties of the good son.  The first son, who is presumed dead, unexpectedly returns.  The father orders a celebration in honor of the first son’s return.  The second son bitterly objects to Father’s celebration.  Why should such as “sinner” be given such a celebration?

While the tension between the two sons is obvious enough, I want to expand and broaden the importance of what is at stake. 

The second son, who complains and objects, conserves and judges according to the culture and history.  The second son positions what is at stake in terms of fear and fault.  He wants to attach blame because there are rules and laws.  He leverages self-interest to create entitlement based on history and culture, based on everything that memorializes a community’s “living” agreements.  The second son makes personal the individual and collective history that makes “right” our shared context of responsibility.

In contrast, the prodigal son, who adventures and fails, positions what’s at stake in terms of possibility and fulfillment.  He squanders and wastes by avoiding responsibility.  But implicit in his recklessness is the acknowledgement that life holds infinite possibility, abundant generosity, and gifts that can lead to well-being and fulfillment.

History and culture do not have the last word.  We can willingly choose possibility and fulfillment over entitlement and self-interest.  We need not exact retribution for every transgression, despite the tension it creates.

I mentioned earlier that until we can find the  living unity (that sense of belonging) which mysteriously points to something larger than ourselves, the conflicting tensions, illustrated here, will seem irreconcilable.  The answer, of course, lies on the cusp of possibility.

The father who offers both his sons the testimony of his love  — honors what is greater than all three.  His loving care and attention restores connection, relatedness and the greater gift of shared belonging. 

You see, what’s at risk is not so much our shared context of responsibility, rather it is our sense of shared belonging.  Until we can find what grounds our sense of belonging, our decisions will be arbitrary, our actions will be ungrounded, and our hearts will be torn with unresolved tension.

What higher calling do you have than to self-actualize your belonging?  To what end will you purpose your endowments?  Can you transform self-interest and entitlement into the larger and greater “longing to be”?

Thanks for listening!


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