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.