We Often Believe We Are the Problem

In the Disney film Luca, the main character names the internal voice that tells him he can’t do something “Bruno.” This internal fear propels the story of the Italian boy Luca forward, with Luca’s friend confidently telling Luca: “Don’t listen to stupid Bruno” and “Silenzio, Bruno!” during their adventures.

But we don’t talk about Bruno.

We don’t talk about that internal voice that many of us have. That voice of doubt. That voice of anxiety. That voice that tells us that we’re not good enough. That voice that hangs on to every single critique and criticism and brings them to mind often. This is the voice of Bruno.

You could have been an A+ student all your life, but Bruno keeps bringing up that one paper you received a B on. You could have played an almost flawless game, but there was that one mistake that Bruno keeps reminding you of. You might want to travel, but Bruno keeps showing you the crime statistics and telling you to stay home. You might want to try something new, but Bruno keeps telling you you’re too old, or too weird, or too whatever.

We don’t talk about Bruno. I know I have Bruno in my mind. You might have an inner Bruno. This is the voice that tells us that we are the problem. There is something within us that is broken or wrong, and it’s beyond repair. We are void. Empty. Worthless. Not just not good enough, but will never be and are incapable of becoming good enough.

Some people are like this. They set standards, and at first, you try to meet them or jump over the bar. And you do that, only to discover there’s another bar above that bar. And sometimes there’s a ceiling between this bar you just jumped over and the next. Some of us keep jumping, because for some reason we believe that is what is required of us. Others who have quit jumping because it’s a hopeless game still feel guilty for not jumping.  And those who once told us we’re not good enough–they become the voice of Bruno.

Don’t listen to stupid Bruno. Silenzio, Bruno! I see the voice of Bruno in the parable of the prodigal son.

This son was the younger brother. He’ll never inherit. It’s a bar he’ll never jump over. Instead of playing the game, he decides to strike out on his own. He effectively wishes his father dead. “Give me what is mine, and I’m going to go do this on my own.”

This is just as hurtful now as it would have been then. When a child says, “I don’t need you,” it hurts. From when they’re walking to working on an art project to learning how to drive to heading off to college or career. Sure, that’s what we want, as parents. We want them to grow up, but there’s still pain there.

This son does this in a hurtful way. In the ancient world, if your father was a cobbler, then you’d make shoes. If your father was a leatherworker, then you’d be skinning and tanning hides. If your father was a carpenter, then you’d build and repair. You get the picture. This son strikes out on his own, defies all expectations and moves away.

I wonder if this son had ill-intentions the whole time, or just fell into it as his dreams didn’t come true. No homeless person I’ve ever met expected to be there. They didn’t write in their school essays, “I want to be homeless when I grow up.” Same with those with addictions. I doubt the younger son had dreams of squandering his property. I wish we knew more, but that’s not the point.

I bet the voice of Bruno was alive and well in the prodigal’s life. As the failures mounted and he lost more and more of his inheritance, Bruno got louder and louder and there was no way to shut it up after his dreams were dashed.

This younger son ends up working with pigs. A Jewish person working with pigs. There’s no further to fall. Yet the voice of Bruno was relentless. “You deserve to be here. You’re worthless. Even unworthy to eat what the pigs are eating. You’re twice as unclean as they are! Look how you betrayed your family, faith, and tradition.”

Then the redemptive line, “but when he came to himself…” When his soul felt its worth, and said, “I deserve better than this!” It’s not a complete liberation. It’s more of a resignation. It’s less a “Silenzio, Bruno” and more, “Bruno, you’re right but I can at least live this way around people I know.” I mean, if you’re gonna be at the bottom of the ladder, at least contribute to the family.

He heads home, speech prepared. He memorized it. Repeated it. Bruno helped give it to him, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

There’s Bruno. That’s the work of Bruno. I am not worthy. I am not your son. Treat me lesser.

Maybe you have this voice. Maybe you’ve learned to ignore that voice. Maybe you were raised in such a way that you were never given that voice in the first place.

I know there was no social media or 24-hour cable when Jesus told the parable. I can get how the prodigal left home for more. He decided to head to LA, become a star. He’d just need the right agent, and everyone would see his star power. But things didn’t work out that way. He squandered his property in dissolute living. He didn’t have a good mentor. Maybe Bruno sabotaged him when he was up for his big break.

He comes home, speech prepared. Ready to grovel. Mistakes were made! I am so sorry, I coulda/woulda/shoulda…

The Father hears none of that. A ring. A robe. A welcome. Silenzio, Bruno! You are my child. You were lost, and dead, and gone. But now you’re here. Thanks be to God.

We believe we’re the problem. We’re worms. We’re sinners. We’re irreparably damaged. Listen, Jesus tells this parable because people are thinking he’s hanging out with the wrong people! God comes to us! God is with us! Jesus thinks we’re good enough. Good enough to come and eat with us. Good enough to tell us this parable. Good enough to sit with us as we ponder this meaning. Good enough to send his Holy Spirit to help us and indwell us and guide us.

Let’s do a little “Silenzio, Bruno!” liturgy here. I’ll say something and you respond with “Silenzio, Bruno!” Ready?

God thinks you’re unworthy.

You squandered what you have been given.

You have sinned against heaven and before God.

You’re just going to fail, why bother trying?

Why show up? You know they really don’t like you.

You don’t belong.

You’re unworthy of love.

Thank you, church. I hope you heard the voice of God in your response. A ring. A robe. God is throwing a party! Hear this good word from the Sufi Mystic Hafiz:

Every Child

Has known God,

Not the God of names,

Not the God of don’ts,

Not the God who ever does anything weird,

But the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying:

“Come dance with me.”




[1] Hafiz, The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the great Sufi Master. Translations by Daniel Ladinsky. Page 270.

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