“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:21-24 NIV)
I was listening to a radio commercial a few days ago for a credit repair agency. The service advertised counseling and financial advising as part of their package. While I could definitely appreciate the services this company provided, the commercial began by saying that, “this nation is built on the belief that everyone deserve a second chances.” In reflecting on the commercial, I struggled with the underlying principle, especially since I didn’t agree with the statement on the surface (particularly that this nation actually believes in second chances for “everyone”). Yet I struggled with the commercial, because at the heart of this statement is an idea of redemption- something in which I say I believe. This agency is marketing the ideas that your financial personhood is redeemable if you use their services and that this redeem-ability is foundational ethos of the nation. Both of these I find problematic…
The failure of many in our society, (particularly Christians), to appreciate the real nature of redemption is exposed during some of the most sensitive moments in our communal life together. Case in point, the news from this past weekend. I, just like the rest of the world, was stunned to hear of the death of pop superstar Whitney Houston at the age of 48. Starting at an early age in her church, her career and talent spanned three decades. Her voice and poise served to redefine both the music industry and the role of a Diva in the entertainment industry. She set the stage for the Mariah’s and Beyonce’s of the world. Her awards are numerous (upwards of 400 by one estimate) and her abilities unquestioned in the industry.
Sadly, in the name of ‘journalistic responsibility’, accounts of her demise were almost immediately connected and categorized as being induced by her erratic and occasionally addictive behavior. Despite any evidence, inference or official position on the death, commentators from CNN to Fox to Facebook and Twitter were all interviewing doctors, psychologists or offering answers to questions that have not even been asked (nor was it their business to answer in the first place). Others attempted to analyze, dissect and connect the reports of her death to her already widely reported addiction and the effects of her troubled marriage to Bobby Brown.
In watching the news reports of her death, I found myself being more and more angered at the lack of sensitivity and reflection on the life a human being. A human being who, like many, has flaws and is often challenged. A human being that succeeded at great things but also failed in some things. Ms. Houston was a woman, a mother, daughter, wife and friend. Like any of us in those very mundane roles, she had some success and she had some failures.
Many times the selfish way in which our society approaches the lives of the people who ‘entertain us’, so often includes a deification and ownership that they neither deserve or that society has standing to confer. As a result, when they die we attempt to conduct one of two absurd extremes: we either emphasize the failures of these ‘stars’ in a warped attempt at being fair in their biographical reflection; or we simply create a mythology that we hope illumines the their life even brighter. Isn’t that why we call them stars? Still no excuse…
I think both approaches fail to account for the Christian idea of redemption. True, expecting this nation to ever live up to its purportedly Christian ideals is a bit far-fetched. But if this nation (or at least the referenced commercial) claims redemption as part of its identity (specifically, the idea that anyone can make it in this country regardless of their past), then surely we can account for the failures and successes of individual’s lives in the light of redemption. This is true of someone at the end of life as much as it is during their life. Remembering that the life of any human being is redeemable because of their humanity is an important quality in being a member of the global community. Recognizing that Christ redeems all creation (including entertainers) is to truly live in the light of the Christ.
Redemption is one of the core principles of the Christian faith. The Christian witness centers on Jesus’ ministry that validates the outcasts, restores the lost and heals the broken. Redemption is the power principle that liberates the captive and offers a new way of being in the world. That is what the parable of the prodigal is all about in the cited passage. Another chance is part of kingdom living and Jesus sets that standard as a mandate of the faith. This redeeming principle is the strength of the Christianity as it co-opts the status quo and redefines it through the lens of God’s love.
In fact, the real element in redemption is love. Surprise!! Love recognizes the need for redemption despite one’s condition or circumstance. Love is willing to provide the time and space for people to grow and be better as well as the voice of accountability to prod and nurture. And when we fall, love seeks opportunities to heal and restore. This ethic is true of the prisoner and the least among us, as much as it is true for Whitney. Whitney had a hit that included a line that speaks to a redemptive love when we fail to be all we can:
Where do broken hearts go?
Can they find their way home?
Back to the open arms,
Of a love that’s waiting there?
And if somebody loves you,
Won’t they always love you?
I look in your eyes,
And I know that you still care for me.
Real Love that is present in the heart of someone can never fully depart, and when failure becomes reality, real love is redeeming love. It makes a home for us when we fail or others fail us. Society’s behavior toward all of us who live through the failures of life demonstrates that we have yet to embody the answer to the questions of the above chorus.
The vision of truth for all of us includes remembering and behaving towards all of God’s people always appreciating and honoring the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. We should look for the redeem-ability of one another. In doing so, we can see ourselves in the other and respect the other for the love of God. Remember this when Valentine’s Day has passed and its you who needs redeeming…