In keeping with the excellent article by Tullian Tchividjian over on the Gospel Coalition site about being self-righteous toward the self-righteous; a song by singer/songwriter Chris Knight came to mind. The title of this post was chosen in order to bring to mind the parallels between sympathy toward “elder brother”-types and sympathy for a more insidious character.
Sometimes we tend to believe the elder brother and “that more insidious character” are one in the same but they are not. Elder brother religion is simply a different manifestation of the same sin nature that produces profound prodigal waywardness. From a standpoint of grace, then, both should elicit compassion.
Chris Knight is on to this. Most Americana/Country outlaw-type artists define themselves against the “establishment” (i.e. their parents… like the hippies) or Moral Majority/upright-types. What is produced can devolve into an unsatisfyingly (and, yet, oh-so-satisfying) self-righteous rant against the right-of-center.
Not Knight. While as friendly to prodigals as anyone, he is also deeply sensitive to the sense of entrapment and limitation that is endemic in the elder brother population. Why would he write such a song when it much more popular to denigrate them? Well, I believe Knight has a real heart and a nose for universal suffering.
The song to which I refer is “Enough Rope”. In it, Knight describes a guy who is sort of “forced” to stay close to home and begin the process of perpetual responsibility (remember Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility from Lake Wobegone?).
Hearing the song brings to mind the actual predicament of the elder brother in Luke 15. Due to his misconception of the father, he feels compelled to stay at home and “slave” for his father. Bitterness and resentment creep in until the whole project of love is thwarted. Some of the same themes can be heard in the song which I believe helps us to connect with the elder brother’s frustrations. Here are some of the lyrics that connect:
She told me she was pregnant on the day I turned 18.
I did what your supposed to do. I bought her a ring.
He didn’t have to ask us, but he asked us anyway.
We stood up and said, “I do.” what else were we gonna say?
What else were we gonna say?
There’s a tavern down the highway, I go to drink some beers
And wash down all I’m missin’ by hangin’ around here
Then I drive back to the trailer; I’ll make up with my wife
I kiss my sleeping children, and I get on with my life
Yeah I get on with my life
And the payoff in the chorus:
… you can’t hang yourself if you ain’t got enough rope.
The result… at least for me… is more understanding and a little more compassion. Sympathy, if you will.