Common knowledge would say that people are born, grow up, and then die. But it struck me while studying this week that, in many ways, our failure to grow up is killing us.
The realization formed through a combination of researching the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 (a parable I previously explored) and reading the early pages of Bill Plotkin’s, The Journey of Soul Initiation.
Setting Up The Parable
For those who are not familiar, like the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the parable in response to an interaction with somebody on his long road to Jerusalem. In this case, a young man approaches Jesus asking him to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance after the death of their father.
Implicit in this request is a broken relationship between the two brothers. Ancient custom would typically involve both brothers living and raising their families together on their father’s land. Because of the division between them, one of the brothers, like the younger son in the story of the prodigal father, wants to cash out and go on his way. He is not interested in preserving the relationship, he just wants the money.
But Jesus, wanting to see the Kingdom of God come on earth, wants to see a restored relationship between the two men. For this to happen, first, he must change the heart of the brother who approached him. Dividing the inheritance does not solve the man’s problem as he is still estranged from his brother. So, in hopes of awakening the man’s heart to the deeper issue, Jesus tells a parable about the kind of life the young man’s thinking nurtures.
Jesus’ parable begins with an already rich man’s fields gifting him with a huge crop. This is important for two reasons. One, this is not a parable about provision, but a surplus. Two, the parable invites us to view everything, including what we work for, as a gift from God. But the rich man fails to understand either of these points. Instead, he calls the surplus, “my crops.” He then goes into a conversation with himself about what he should do. Ultimately he concludes that he should build bigger barns so he has more storage space.
Years later the Apostle Paul identifies two reasons people should work. One is to not be a burden on others (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12) while the second is to give to those in need (Ephesians 4:28). Clearly as a rich man, he is not a burden to others, so the mature response to the excess would not be to expand his storage, but as the Church Father Ambrose wrote, to realize that he already “has storage available in the mouths of the needy.”
But the rich man, like the young man who approaches Jesus, is not interested in what is just or good, only what serves himself. This is seen not only in his ultimate decision to ignore the less fortunate in his midst but his failure to lean on communal wisdom to help with his decision-making.
Thinking he discovered the good life, God speaks and tells him that his plans are mindless and that not even his life is his own. He dies that night.
Time To Grow Up
So what does this have to do with growing up?
Over more than four decades, co-psychologist Bill Plotkin developed his eight stages of human development. It involves various life stages each of us must pass through to move towards maturity. Each stage comes with different developmental tasks and a different “center of gravity” or focal point of our self-understanding.
Plotkin argues that Western society invites people to grow no further than unhealthy early adolescence. As you see in the image above, the task at this developmental level is about creating “a secure and authentic social self” based on our connection to our peer group, sex, and society.
The rich man in the parable certainly created a social self but lacked a peer group or an awareness of broader society. As a result, he rooted his security in his possessions which could be snatched from him at a moment’s notice. Yet this is exactly the kind of identity our consumer capitalist culture invites us to create. Perhaps this is nowhere more clear than the “greed is good” speech Michael Douglas gave while portraying Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie, “Wall Street.”
In response to this world we created Plotkin writes:
I believe the root cause of the dire crises and challenges of our time — all of our currently cascading environmental and cultural collapses — is a widespread failure in individual human development.The Journey of Soul Initiation, p1
In other words, we as individuals are failing to grow up.
Grow Up Or Die
Further unpacking the crisis we face, Plotkin writes:
When too many of us don’t grow into true Adults, our cultures deteriorate into immature collectives of dysfunctional societies. Instead of engendering healthy communities that contribute to life and evolution, we end up harming each other and ourselves and destroying the very world that conceived and sustains us — and ecocide is also anthropocide. Contemporary industrialized societies are clear examples.The Journey of Soul Initiation, p11
Society as we know it invites us to be fools. Some of us are rich fools and other poor fools, but fools nonetheless. Whether we find ourselves like the rich man in the parable, the young man who approached Jesus, or in some other variant, the vision of the good life that society offers rarely invites us to grow up. But that is exactly what Jesus does when inviting us to live according to the Kingdom of God.
I will share more on Plotkin’s take on adulthood on the Abundance Reconstructed Discord channel. If you are not a member, all you need to do is subscribe and we will grant you access to join the conversation.