(This parable was originally my contribution to the discussion of re-imagining Vineyard values over at Jason Clark’s blog, Deep Church. My task was to re-imagine the value, “Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are.” I’m re-posting it here just to add it to my own archives.)
Once there was a royal family who loved their people and ran their city as best they knew how.
They were generous, so they threw regular parties at their royal mansion in the center of town with all the best food, wine, art, and music. It was quite a spectacle. Because most people were fairly poor compared to the royals, everyone wanted to come to rub shoulders with the powerful elite and be influenced by them and, perhaps, gain a little power for themselves. Pretty soon, these parties were so popular that only certain people, from certain families, and dressed in certain fine clothes could gain entrance.
In time, however, the royal family fell on difficult days and lost some of their wealth. The local economy changed, and many of the “common” families made their own fortunes. Many still respected the royals for their heritage, but being royal wasn’t as prestigious as it once was, and truth be told, many resented them for their power. And so, fewer and fewer people wanted to come to their parties. There were other parties being thrown by newly-wealthy families and people seemed less interested in queuing up or wearing pretentious clothes.
Sensing they were losing their power, and desperate to revive their status, the King struck upon an idea: They sold all their fancy furniture and bought affordable Ikea tables and chairs just like the common folks and dressed in jeans and un-tucked Hawaiian shirts. Then they sent out party invitations to the whole city. The invitation read:
“Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are.”
The idea was that everyone would feel perfectly “at home” in the royal residence, and in so doing could, in a way, become like a royal family member too and be changed for the better by the influence of the royal family.
It worked beautifully.
Some still wanted to be like the royals, so wearing the same clothes and sitting on the same affordable furniture made it seem, for a time, like everyone actually was royal. Many people flooded back into the royal mansion and everything returned to normal.
Or so it seemed. In reality, the economic and political landscape was still steadily changing – and with it, the royals gradually lost all their political power until one day the family was overthrown and evicted from their mansion at the center of the city. To some, these seemed like the hardest times they had ever experienced.
At first the old King was determined to gain back their status because he thought that was the only way to continue taking good care of the city. “How can we do what’s best for them if we’re no longer in charge?” he asked. So he decided to keep throwing their once-famous parties right there in their ramshackle hut on the outskirts of town. He rallied all the sons and daughters and aunts and uncles to paint the plywood walls and sweep the dirt floors and they sent out invitations to the whole city, which still read: “Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are.” And they waited.
But nobody came.
For most folks, going to a party on the poor outskirts of town was plainly absurd. And what was all this about “Don’t stay as you are”? People thought it arrogant that the family still believed they had something to offer. Truth be told, they thought the royals were merely trying to win back their place of power and prestige.
Then one night the old King was struck by a realization. So he gathered the old party invitations, scrawled something inside them, and addressed one to each member of his family. The next day at breakfast he carefully handed out the invitations and said, “Our family has been called to care for this city – wealthy or poor, powerful or weak – and there has never been a better time to do so.” At that, everyone opened their envelope and saw that the old invitation, now given to each of them, had been changed:
“Go as you are, but don’t stay as you are.”
And with that each member of the royal family understood that the time for asking people to come had passed, and that it was they who would now be changed.