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Holinger: Let's lighten up on prodigal sons and daughters

Remember Jesus’s prodigal son parable? A father hands his two sons their inheritance. One stays home and works diligently for old papa. The profligate brother blows all his cash in Las Vegas – or the biblical parallel. When broke, the big spender returns home where his overjoyed, loving dad throws him a party, confounding and angering the conformist brother.

The lesson teaches us first how easy it is to appreciate those who do what we expect; what father wouldn’t love his stay-at-home, hard-working son?

What shocks most readers is Dad’s forgiving and loving behavior toward his returning reprobate son. Where’s the rage, the rejection? Instead, he hugs him.

President Lincoln put the prodigal son’s message into practice, after the Civil War, directing northerners to show “malice toward none.”

English professor Grant L. Voth suggests this parable demonstrates “ ... God’s concern for the lost, the lowly and the outcast.” With the New Testament, Voth explains, literature departs from previous Greek and Oriental narratives wherein gods favor the powerful and beautiful Achilles-type hero. The Sermon on the Mount illustrates God’s concern “ ... for the lost, the straggler, the ordinary ... .”

Voth’s lecture put me in mind of the ongoing dialogue in the Kane County Chronicle’s “Sound Off” feature about undocumented Mexican immigrants and Central American child refugees fleeing torture, rape, murder and forced conscription.

One concern related to these issues is the frustration over property taxes funding bilingual education classes. Disgruntled callers insist their parents or grandparents “picked up English when first going to school,” as simply as collecting a dropped pencil.

One summer, my parents enrolled me when I was a pre-teen in a German-speaking Swiss school where I learned firsthand that frustrating, frightening classroom experience; imagine watching a foreign language movie without English subtitles. A bilingual course would have made language acquisition faster – and other classes less daunting.

Besides, home values depend largely on their schools’ performance, as confirms in ranking the Chicago area – in particular, Geneva School District 304 – No. 2 in its “Best Places for Families to Live” in the U.S. listing. This year, District 304 added at least one more bilingual education teacher, whose hiring might just have helped jack up area homeowner selling prices!

Historically, every newly-arrived ethnic population seeking the American Dream experienced pushback. “Irish Need Not Apply” plagued those blokes, and Japanese citizens were caged in internment camps. Most of us surmount the knee-jerk response to stereotype, denounce and scapegoat, realizing instead that diversity strengthens, not weakens, our nation.

Finally, unless you’re a descendant of Native Americans or African slaves, your ancestors showed up at a party they weren’t invited to by those living here first. The American Indian has suffered intrusion gravely. Before complaining about the latest party crashers, shouldn’t we find our own family invitations?

The issue of undocumented immigrants and child refugees demands complex, thoughtful solutions; finger-pointing and pigeonholing divide, not unite, our country, our community.

As one cogent opinion writer in the Chronicle offered, “We are so much better than this pointless fear ... .”

• Rick Holinger has lived and taught high school in the Fox Valley for more than 35 years. Contact him at

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