Planned Obsolescence and Radical Forgiveness – The Ethos of Repair and Replacement

The Ethos of Repair and Reconciliation – A Reflection on

Abba Mios was asked by a soldier: “Father, God then accepts the repentance of the sinner?” The Elder, after counselling him with many instructive words, suddenly asked him:

“Tell me, my beloved, when you tear your uniform, do you throw it away? “No,” the soldier answered, “I sew it and use it anew again.”

Then Abba Mios also thoughtfully told him:
“If you take pity on your clothing, will not God take pity on His own creation?”

The other night I offered a reflection on prayer, fasting and mercy at St. Edward’s Evening Prayer. While working on what I would say, it occurred to me that I thought that fasting was hard… I however had to refocus on the idea that mercy was much harder.

In case I needed any reminding of that, today’s Gospel from Luke is a clear message about what God wants.

God wants us.

In reading the short anecdote about our desert  father, Abba Mios, I really had to pause and think about how the ethos of repair in our culture works its way into the theme of reconciliation.

You may be thinking, “what is she on about now?” Well, here is what I think…

We live in a “throwaway” culture – a culture of planned obsolescence. There is a whole other series of reflections about just that and the mess that our economy and world are in, but I will save that for another day. There are numerous societal, cultural, ecological and economical aspects that can be explored!

In any case, we do inhabit a world in which things are meant to run out of usefulness and break more quickly than they should. That is so that we might get rid of them and go right out and get lots more new stuff that will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.  This goes from everything to clothes and shoes to appliances large and small, houses, cars…

And people?

Well, there is a lot that I could say about people, but I will focus on one aspect and that is forgiveness.

It is so hard to forgive and to be forgiven. What a burden it carries. There is something to be said about going out and just getting some new people. Well – not really, but it does seem that way, doesn’t it. And even if we don’t get some new people, we can certainly find numerous ways to sustain the energy that is required for keeping those that we are angry or hurt with out.

That’s why I think the Abba Mios story is so interesting… It may be harder to comprehend in an era in which our cloak does not get repaired, our sock does not get darned, our torn seam does not get re-sewn… We just get a new one.

However, there are other things that we might expend energy in trying to restore and keep, but either way the emphasis is on things.  Our things mean a lot to us, our stuff.

But what about people?

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, a story so well-known we see a story of truly radical reconciliation.  It is important to have some understanding of Jesus’ time – this kind of event did not happen lightly.

The father is clearly out there waiting for his son… He sees him in the distance! Typically, the scorned father would be waiting inside and might not be all that concerned. This father, who is Our God, is anxiously anticipating our return!

He throws his arms around his son… Another socially unimaginable moment from that time.  The son would, if anything, have to pay the father homage and then maybe get the father’s attention.

No – this father, Our God is elated to embrace us and welcome us back.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

We are not thrown away, we are never thrown away. There is no planned obsolescence for us.  Each of us is God’s unique and loving creation and God treasures each and every one of us.

So I would simply ask you to consider all the things – and people, that you might otherwise throw away. Especially with the people – this might mean:

  • a friend who has offended you so deeply that you will never speak to them again a spouse who has hurt you beyond imagining 
  • a son or daughter who has not quite lived up to your expectations for them
  • a relative who has brought, in your estimation, shame up on the family
  • anyone who disgusts or annoys you
  • yourself

Yes – yourself. We are all called into this radical reconciliation moment by our God who loves us and if we can’t give ourselves the forgiveness needed, if we can’t accept God’s outrageous attempts at such deep love and welcome, we may miss the moment on the road when our own prodigal person returns.

Especially since it might be yourself! We never really know who we will be called on to forgive… and we really can’t imagine how radical God’s forgiveness is. But we can try- and that might mean being merciful and forgiving to ourselves first.

So bear this in mind…  may have to recycle your old iPod, but don’t do it with your people. Or with yourself.

God is always waiting.


13 thoughts on “Planned Obsolescence and Radical Forgiveness – The Ethos of Repair and Replacement

  1. I have to say that when I first read "going out and just getting some new people," I felt something lift. "Yeah, that would be good." It's not that I don't love the people I "have" just the way they are. It's me. Get new people; they won't know how broken and messed up I am. Then I can start new. Then I read on. You had that covered, too. So, I guess what you're saying is, I can move forward with all my defects, and God will welcome me. Pretty awesome. Though I learned that years ago, it's still hard to believe. Thanks, Frannie.


  2. Thanks, Fran. This was great! You know, one of the things that strikes me about our response to this parable is that we often only concentrate on the son who left home and the response of the father. We generally leave the older son by the wayside, but let's look at him. Not only does the Prodigal Son not act as a son should, but neither does the son who remains at home. While the Prodigal Son thinks it's a step up to come in as a servant, the son who remains at home already acts as if he is a servant who must appease the master. He doesn't act like a son should: he doesn't realize that what is the father's is also his. So, for those of us who remain true to whatever–the Church, our family, etc. we need to be always mindful of our intimate relationship with God and with each other and not treat it in such a formal way. We too, when we are like the older son, need to remember that God is not just merciful, but he is also our "daddy."When we don't have that intimate relationship, we shut God out.


  3. I can forgive others, but when they continue to behave in a toxic way toward me or around me, it's up to me to steer clear.If I fail to do so, then I must forgive myself and ask what the payoff is, and if it's worth it.


  4. Forgiveness IS a difficult task. Particularly forgiveness of one's self. But, as you point out, if we can't forgive ourselves, we're certainly not going to get very far forgiving others.Tara Brach came at this from a Buddhist perspective in her book, "Radical Acceptance". The wisdom I found there has made an enormous difference in my life, and is allowing me to start moving past some things that have been holding me back. And now I'm starting to find the same emphasis in my readings in Catholicism (my faith of origin) — somebody (thanks, Fran!!) directed me toward the Jesuit Jim Martin, and I'm really enjoying his take on Jesuit spirituality. Makes me want to read Loyola…


  5. Forgiveness frees our spirits from being quenched by hatred and bitterness. It's not easy but if we don't want to let the enemy of our souls gain a foothold on our hearts.


  6. Excellent post. I taught the same thing to our Sunday School group (high school and middle school kids) and we did look at both brothers and God. The word "prodigal" means "wasteful". We are often wasteful of God's gifts, or stingy with them, in an attempt to earn brownie points with God, but either way, God spends his love very wastefully – loving us as if his love were a bottomless pit – which I imagine it is.My co-teacher empathized with the brother who didn't waste his father's inheritance..saying, "I think I have a problem with this.." And I told her, "I think God would say that was your problem, and not his…"Definitely a hard parable. So much humanity in the space of such a few words.


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