There is a story we all know. It is about a young man who left home some time ago. Early on he spent his days traveling to the places of his wildest dreams. He spent his nights pursuing his own way and doing what he wanted. But in the end he spent countless private moments wishing he could just go home. Listen with me, if you will, as I recount this young man’s tale.
There was once a prominent rancher who had a son. Even though this son was very well cared for and had everything he needed he approached his father one day and said: “Father I don’t want to wait for my inheritance. Frankly, I am suffocating living at home under your rules and your expectations. I want my freedom. I want my money. It is time for me to move out of the house, get my own place, and live as I want.”
Well, the father was broken hearted, but he relented. He gave his son the freedom he demanded. He let his son decide how to use (or abuse) his own inheritance. He permitted his son to leave home. He let his son have his own way.
So the son packed his bags and left. He moved to the city and got his own apartment. There, undisciplined and dissipated, the son squandered everything he had. He had his freedom. He had his money. And, he wasted it all by living his own way.
About the time the son was spending the last few dollars of his inheritance the economy really went south and a severe recession occurred. The son was hurting. Having nothing left, this young man began living on the streets and scavenging in back alley dumpsters. He was so hungry he was now eating garbage in an effort to survive.
Well, this brought him to his senses and one day he said, “All the ranch hands back home working for my father are much better off than me. They at least sit down to three meals a day and here I am starving to death. I am going back home.”
This story of the Prodigal Son causes me to think of today’s colleges and universities.
I think of higher education’s “birthright and inheritance” as seen in the original mission statements of many of our nation’s seminal institutions: Of Harvard’s Christo et Ecclessia, “For Christ and the Church”, of Princeton’s Vitam Mortuis Reddo, “I restore life to the dead”, of Yale’s expressed goal for its students “to know God in Jesus Christ and . . . to lead a Godly, sober life.”
I think of the academy’s prodigal path where schools such as Tufts University, Middlebury College, Williams College, Ball State University, Whitman College, and Grinnell College, contrary to their founding creeds very similar to those cited above, have recently implemented administrative sanctions and even outright bans on Christian fellowship groups and, thereby, effectively excluded traditional and historical orthodoxy from being openly discussed and freely debated on their respective campuses.
I think of the consequences of “living our own way” of eating from “back alley dumpsters”, of the routine reports of drug addiction, binge drinking, date rape, sexual abuse, escalating suicide rates, and the pandemic nature of STDs on today’s campuses.
I also think of our Father, his provisions and his teachings, of Veritas, of “Truth”, of Harvard’s early affirmation on its school shield: “If you hold to my teachings . . . you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Finally, I think of “home” and its safety, security, and the true freedom we have under our father’s roof as opposed to the subjugation we experience in the house constructed of our own delinquency and rebellion.
In the story of the Prodigal Son Jesus declares, “Not long after squandering his birthright, there was a bad famine in the land and the son began to hurt. Having nothing left but his ‘own way’ this young man began working in the fields to slop pigs, thinking he must do so just to survive. He was so hungry he was now eating the corncobs in the pig slop.”
I don’t know about you but as an educator, as one who has degrees from three different universities, I look at the academic world in which I now live and I have to ask myself a few questions. Has “having our own way” resulted in what we expected when we told our father we wanted to move out of his house? Did we get what we wanted when we spent our inheritance? Is our chosen path as much fun to traverse as we hoped? Have “our wildest dreams” led us to where we expected or have we stumbled into a nightmare, wading in fields of pig slop and eating the “corncobs” of abuse, dysfunction, selfishness, and addiction? Did we get the freedom we hoped for when we left home or have we actually become slaves to the consequences of frivolous spending, and childish irresponsibility?
One last question: Is it possible that Dad was smarter than we thought he was all along?
Perhaps it is time for us to leave the corncobs behind and go home.