Sunday, August 19, 2007

Leah's Pony: A Word on Community

The ladies at our local library love to see us coming. The reason? We check out lots of books (typically about twenty at a time, not including momma and daddy). This last time we stopped in, my six-year old found a book with a horse on the cover; obviously that makes it worth checking out. The story contained within however, led me to tears for what the church is, and what it has become.

The book she found was Leah's Pony, by Elizabeth Friedrich. The story is set in the 1930's in the Great Plains. Leah has a pony given to her by her daddy. Proudly she rides it until the Great Depression sets in and ransacks the family finances. Add to that a drought as well as an infestation of locusts that finish off their meager corn crop and the family is broke. In order to save the family farm from foreclosure, several items necessary to their livelihood are to be auctioned off by the local bank.

Determined not to let that happen, Leah goes to the local mercantile and offers the owner the opportunity to buy her pony. He does and with the squalid amount she received, prepares her heart for what was to come next. Knowing the tractor was essential to the family's life, Leah bravely makes the first bid.

"One dollar," she said, timid as a mouse. The only one offended by the leanness of her bid was the auctioneer himself, as he scorns her bid, "That tractor is worth five hundred dollars!" However, what happened next is what caught me off guard, my heart genuinely unprepared for what was about to happen.

All eyes were immediately upon Leah as she clutched the ransom price for the family farm, having traded her pony for beans. No one bid against her. Reluctant and renitent, the auctioneer received one dollar for the tractor. As other items were auctioned off, neighbors bid on the family's things for nominal prices and after paying for them, turned them back over to the family.

This is a story of loving, caring community; a story of sacrifice; a story of placing others over oneself; a story of giving. A story of solidarity.

We seem horrified to break into the lives of others, into their pain, into their sorrows and griefs. We become so wrapped up in our own problems, however insignificant they may be, that they eclipse the needs of others; the forest for the trees. There seems to be a gap governed by politeness that keeps us from other people. You don't bother me with your problems and I won't bother you with mine.

And sometimes we rationalize and think to ourselves, "Well, I don't want to be a nuisance; they have enough problems as it is without adding mine." The fact is, the church has become abysmally deficient in developing genuine community among her people. Our cult of individuality and "do it self" mentality holds community at bay. We convulse at the notion that we cannot do it ourselves.

And sometimes, we just don't want to be saddled with someone else's troubles. So what do we do? Offer a half-hearted smile, breathe a good word about God, mouth support, and tuck tail and run. Let's face it: a supportive community is an intrusive community.

By intrusive, I don't mean that you are all up in everybody's business. Having the heart to look in on people that you know are in pain is what makes Christian ministry Christian. And then shouldering that burden, owning that pain with them, and letting them piggy-back on your faith is what fosters genuine community. The pain of life sometimes simply cannot be shouldered alone.

Leah's one small sacrifice led to many others also sacrificing. When the opportunity was there to take advantage and reap a benefit at someone else's expense, her sacrifice emboldened others to do the same. That is a genuine community, a community Christ honors.

18 comments:

selahV said...

Tony, what a wonderful post and great reminder of what we as a church body should be about doing in the world.
I can tell you story after story of how God has used His church to help my family through the years. If it wasn't for their intrusions and interest, I'd be a puddle in a sewer somewhere.
Most recently they have given us the financial help we've needed to make it through the past two months. One fella still mows our lawn. And he's a sixty-year old diabetic!!.

This morning our Adult 2 Sunday School department announced how we needed to help a lady and her daughter re-roof their home and clean it up from the floodings here in our community. they've been washed out 3 times. Our church is a larger church that has multiple ministry teams that help in situations such as these. It is such a blessing to be part of the family of God.

They will know we are Christians by the love we show one another. Hopefully all can come to understand this simple truth Christ began with His complete surrender for our redemption. selahV

Steve Sensenig said...

Great post, Tony. And I love the concept of "intrusive" the way you described it. That kind of community is very healthy, but is also very counter to our culture.

Thanks for this post. It challenged me.

Tony said...

Thank you for those testimonies. I know there are many more stories out there just like those. Perhaps if we concentrate more on those rather than the Wiley Drake's of this world it might foster an environment to develop a more caring and compassionate community.

It is such a blessing to be part of the family of God. I can say it no better than that. I would rather be part of it than not, regardless of all her flaws. Like my grandmother says, "Son, I love you warts and all."

Tony said...

Steve,

Good morning. We posted over one another. Thanks for that word before coffee.

It is counter to what we are used to and I am working very hard myself to get beyond that and develop in the church I serve. We are so naturally self-sufficient, what society praises, that we don't see leaning on another as valuable.

Geoff Baggett said...

Tony
Fantastic post. I submit that one reason that we do such a pitiful job of community in the church today is because of the Sunday School model. We try to pack all of our "ministry" into 45 minutes on Sunday morning ... and everyone is dressed up, with their guard on.

That's why we do small groups in homes. And people just seem to open up more. In our LIFE Group yesterday we opened up about our teen-age children, prayed for one another. One couple brought their adult son, who had just been released from jail the previous week. He even cooked for the fellowship meal!

Seriously, if we could just get the church out of the bland security of the church "classrooms," and into the peoples' living rooms, it would change everything. It has in our church.

Anyhow ... that's how I see it. ;)

BTW ... Leah's Pony sounds eerily reminiscent of a couple of episodes of Little House on the Prairie. I remember where Laura hocked her pony to buy Ma a stove. And another time the town blocked off the road to the auction of the Ingalls' house, bought all of the belongings for pennies, and gave it back to the Ingalls. Hmmm...

Cameron Cloud said...

Love the story, Tony. It's amazing how simple stories can sometimes be better vehicles of truth than the best sermon!

Our community is rural and intricately (though not quite illegally ;) ) related to each other. Sometimes this "intrusion" is inconvenient, but it does lend itself to effective ministry.

Thanks for the good word.

selahV said...

Tony: when we ministered in the rural areas, it was often hard to get folks to see how to reach out to each other because so much blood-family took up the ministry banner. Then it caused some to neglect those who were not blood-relatives because they were so use to only caring for their immediate families. It takes time, because even fellowships made it hard as families grouped with families. I think Geoff has the right idea in life groups. Some churches frown on them because they feel the are not under the uhhum, "umbrella control of the church". How can they be assured that this is good for the body, Geoff?

Back in 1976 we had life groups in New England. In them we followed the same material (unlike S.S. quarterlies) that had ice-breakers, ways to get to know each individual by sharing past histories, etc. Those came out of the Lay-led revivals. Super super relationships forged.

My son was part of a home-life group before he died. It was one of the best things that ever happened for him in his Christian experience. Kinda like having a youth-group comraderie on an adult level.

Our singles department has supper/clubs where they interchange periodically with new folks in the groups as they get to know each other.

I'd love to see these kind of subjects and ideas discussed in depth on a blog series. I'm afraid I went long on this comment, Tony. Please forgive me. selahV

Tony said...

Geoff,

I agree that SS has probably done more harm than good. Plus, as insular and protective as SS classes tend to become, it makes any attempt at ministry counterproductive.

I am a big fan of the small house group model but I cannot implicate it here at our church. They just don't see the need. When I have spoken on it, they see it as duplicating SS and SS is a sacred cow. I don't know if it will ever go away.

And I think the security of the classroom is what appeals to most folks. It smacks against the "intrusive community."

I haven't watched an episode of Little House in years!

Cameron,

You would be surprised (or maybe not, you have small children, don't you?)how much illustrative material I find in children's books. And strangely, they connect almost better than real life stories!

As you know, I also am very rural and everyone if they are not related by blood then by marriage. It taught me very early on not to say anything about anybody. ;)

Selah,

A good pastor friend who just left for a church in SC was told specifically that he was coming to a family church and "I hope you understand that implication." In other words, they did not want to see the face of "their church" change at all. Sad. Very sad.

This post was just inspired after reading that little book with my children so I had not planned on a series, but I may think it through. Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum has blogged extensively on this subject, so I feel I may be repeating a lot of what he has already written.

He has his finger on the pulse of this particular issue in the American church.

Oh, and no need to apologize! You say as much as you want for as long as you want. I just don't promise I'll read it all. ;)

rrbj said...

Bro. Tony,

Excellent post, Waste not and want not ? I remember when I was 6 years old A neighbor farm { 6 in family } was about to go under and the bank was going to foreclose !
My Grandaddy and the other neighboring farms did business with the same bank ! They had 2 plans that they were going to try ?
One was making the rich owners of this independent bank to work with this family or they would carry their business else where ?
There was roughly 19 farms around there and was the main source that the Owners of the bank got rich off of ?
All the other farms got together and decided if the Bankers would not work with the family they would purchase the note and work out a payment plan with the family ? By doing that they could controll the bankers from reselling it with a much bigger profit ? After a big meeting with the farmers and the preacher invited to speak at the meeting the Bankers decided to give that family another chance ! About 20 years later the family completely owned their farm ? A lot of the familys made statement - THANK YOU GOD FOR LENDING YOUR HOLY SPIRIT TO TALK TO THE BANKERS !
There was many more blessings as Selah said that occured in the community ?

Blessings.
Ron.

elder's wife said...

Tony, you said "We seem horrified to break into the lives of others, into their pain, into their sorrows and griefs."
Our local community often hosts fund-raisers for those with (usually medical/financial) needs. It is wonderful to see people from many churches supporting their neighbors in that way. Some of the recipients are Christians, but others are not, so it is a testimony to them of sacrificial giving.
Also, recently, a local Christian man underwent surgery for cancer and will have continued treatments. His family has set up a CaringBridge web site where they leave journal entries and people can sign the guest book encouraging them. It's been great to see signers from a wide spectrum of churches and others throughout the community who have signed with scripture and prayers. God has been strengthening Larry & his family through that means.
That said, I find it's often easier to be part of an organized event to help others than it is to "intrude" on our own. That, I think is pride--we don't want to have our offer rejected.
I wonder if another reason we step back from other's pain and grief isn't because we are afraid to face pain and grief ourselves. By denying responsibility for someone else's pain, we are denying our own vulnerability. It's our defense because we don't want to admit our own weakness.
Selahv commented on my blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/2007/08/carpal-metacarpal-joint-resection-with.html and said "We tend to think we must "do" something for things to happen because we are goal or result oriented. Sometimes we just need to let go of our goals, plans and preconceived results and just let God have them all."
You are so right when you say "Our cult of individuality and "do it self" mentality holds community at bay."
I've been learning to accept my need for other people to do for me what I cannot. And it's a hard lesson to learn, but true community demands it.
And isn't that the heart of the Gospel, after all?
Kat

Tony said...

Brother Ron,

Thanks for that added testimony. It has certainly encouraged me in a dreary day. I wish it would rain!

Sometimes we do just need to sit back and do what God is supposed to do, aren't we? It sounds like you know a little bit about living in genuine community. Thanks for taking the time to share that with all of us. God bless, my friend.

Kat,

Yes it is! So often I hear about folks refusing to help others because they're not members of the church. So what?

A house in our community burned to the ground and members of our church responded with food, clothing, shelter, furniture, you name it. They set the family up for over a month. It was a beautiful sight.

And I think you are right when you say we often refuse to get involved because if we do then it is an open acceptance of our own vulnerability and sometimes we fall prey to the "debtor's ethic" that if somebody does something for me then I am obligated to do something in return for them. It turns into an endless merry-go-round of heartless gratitude and heartless service.

I've been learning to accept my need for other people to do for me what I cannot. Well said. Well said. I bet that has been made quite clear after having hand surgery! :)

Thansk for stopping by.

Everyone, these are wonderful comments to this post. I appreciate your responses and interaction so much. Sincere blessings in our Lord.

rrbj said...

Bro. Tony,

You said it turns into a merry go round of heartless grattitude and heartless service ?
It is not that way with every one Because I'm part of the people who has had to deal with my pride on a regular basis since 5 years ago when I become disabled , and to this day I find it hard to accept from others , but I will give you the shirt off my back to stay warm ? My thoughts which I have lived by all my life please give it to someone worse off !
In the story in 2nd Kings about Naaman , The warrior and proud leader in accomplishing many great things for the king of Syria had leprosy ,and was to proud to do when Elisha told him to dip seven times in the Jordan River and his leorosy would be healed ?

A little story to show how God will relate to his people ? Last year at VBS some of my Sunday School class gave me 35 dollars as a gift with no return of any left to buy enough gas for me to come and bring my grandchildren to VBS . They were aware I could not afford it ? My pride stood in my way and I only used 12 dollars and returned the rest ?
God had not forgotten how my Pride was so this year the couple that teaches my oldest grandson in Sunday School asked him if he was going to come to VBS. He replyed that He wanted to but his Paparon had said that he didn't think he could come but a couple of nights? They gave him 40 dollars and told him to give it to me on the way home after church for gas to come every night ! I confronted them the next night and they said they would not discuss it with me only if I left my pride at home ? Again God was speaking to their hearts and to me about my pride ? By them doing that I was able to go to VBS and attend church the rest of the month !

I have as Kat said I need to accept my need for other people to do for me what I cannot do ?

Blessings
RON.
PS. - I didn't mean to ramble so long . BTW - I love to spread Gods love ?

Tony said...

Brother Ron,

Just to be specific, and I think Kat understood, I know it doesn't always work that way. Some Christians though tend to enter into this horrid cycle not just with other believers but with the Lord Himself. They continually try to "pay back" God for what He has done for them. And the short answer is...you can't!

I always appreciate your stories and I know my readership does as well.

I love to spread Gods love ? Spread it as deep and as wide as you want here, brother! And feel free to ramble; I sure do (hence the name...rambling prophet!)

Anonymous said...

I am saddened to hear comments that Sunday School is a place to hide in a classroom and assume that the lessons are not edifying. We are part of a class that cares deeply for each other and for those not part of the class. It is also place where deep study of the word takes place. My observations of those churches that have cut out Sunday School may only meet the needs of the few willing to make the effort to go to small groups. Some people do not feel accepted if their homes are not as good as the others so it can have some disadvantages also. I'm in favor of both types of meetings with much prayer applied to all who teach and all who learn.

selahV said...

Anonymous...you say it well what pierced my heart over Sunday School. Our Sunday School classes are instrumental in collecting information on who is in need and we as a church body have come together to purchase water heaters for people (who have no way to give anything in return), dinners for invalid folks, rides to doctor appointments, childcare for a mother who had 5 children, a sudden disabling heart condition and a husband in Iraq. We've had folks minister from Sunday School as long as I've been a Christian. While I do believe there are some who sit and sleep through lessons, I believe many seek to serve as the leadership of said classes lead. Like I said before, I could post every day for a year and not cover all the things I've seen God do through His people via Sunday School.

I empathize with Tony on the church's inability to see the blessing of home groups. I would suggest to you, Tony, to start a core group of three couples and then take that core group to lead 3 more core groups. In time it will produce. Don't try to shake all the apples from the tree at once. Not all are ripe enough to fall. Pick a few choice fruit and let God have His way with it.

Jesus picked Peter, James and John. Have any members with those names? :) selahV

Tony said...

Anonymous,

Hello and thank you for your comments. I am gladdened to hear that the SS in your church is "working," though I don't care for that term. :)

With any change there will be positives as well as negatives. I don't know of too many churches that have nixed SS, but I do know of many that are using cell groups, or life groups as Pastor Geoff Baggett (commented above) calls them, in addition to SS and they are VERY effective.

People tend to be a bit less inhibited and feel freer to open up in a small group setting whereas a large SS class has the same intimidation factor as a worship service. I also am in favor of both types, as long as they are done well and Christ and ministry unto one another is kept as the focus.

God bless anonymous, and grace for your evening. Thanks again for stopping in.

Gordon Cloud said...

I'm getting here a little late, Tony, but what a great story this was. Thanks for sharing it.

Tony said...

Better late than never Gordon! I'm glad you enjoyed the post, brother.