October 22, 2017

Who Is My Neighbor?

Chaplain Mike presents this original story, based on real events.

Lee was a writer and photographer, the kind of person who drew strength and energy from being alone and working on her arts. She and Frank had been married twenty-four years; it was a second marriage for both of them, each having divorced from unhappy first unions. Neither had brought children to the marriage and, after a few tearful arguments early in their life together, the subject of having kids never came up again.

Frank worked hard, long hours, and provided well for them, freeing Lee to pursue her artistic interests. Then, unexpectedly, a few years before retirement, he was diagnosed with cancer and almost before you knew it, Frank was bedbound and his free-spirited wife lost her liberty. She attended to his needs night and day, feeding him, helping him to the toilet, passing his medicines, and getting him up in the recliner where he watched TV, increasingly distant and dependent. At first she got out for an hour or two here and there, but Lee could see that those opportunities were diminishing; she became more and more afraid to leave Frank alone for fear he would awaken confused and fall out of bed.

And so Lee became despondent. Frank’s constant demands kept her from pursuing the solitude and creative work she needed to refuel her spirit. They had no family to help them, and couldn’t really afford paid caregivers. Lee discovered she had few human supports on which to lean, and she felt alone, helpless and hopeless.

But a new sense of spiritual hunger also grew in Lee. She began reading the Bible and thinking about church. She got some counsel from a friend, who answered some of her questions about what kind of church to look for, and who also encouraged her with the thought that being part of a church family might provide some help with Frank.

As Lee thought about this, she remembered that there was a new, large congregation a few blocks away, on the edge of her neighborhood. You could almost see it from her house. She decided to phone.

“Jericho Community Church,” the receptionist answered. “How may I direct your call?”

“I’m not sure who to talk to,” said Lee. “I live in the neighborhood and I’m wondering if you have anyone who could help me by coming to my house for a few hours to sit with my husband who has cancer.” And she told her story.

The receptionist transferred her to the Outreach Office. “Are you a member of our church?” the woman there asked her. When Lee said no, she offered to send an evangelistic team over to the house to talk with her and Frank. “But that’s not really what I’m interested in,” Lee protested. “Right now, I’m homebound because of my husband’s illness. I hope to visit your church soon, but what I really need at the moment is a volunteer who can help me by coming to sit with my husband for an hour or two a week. Can you help?”

Again she was put on hold and transferred, this time to the Small Groups Office. “Are you in one of our Care Groups?” she was asked. “We care for our members through a network of small home groups. If you come to church this Sunday, we could hook you up with one of our Care Group leaders and maybe you could find a group to be part of.” And once more Lee tried in vain to communicate her need. She finally hung up the phone with a sigh.

She moved to the front window and looked out, wondering where to turn next. As she watched, two men crossed the street and walked down the sidewalk opposite her house. For a moment, they glanced up and saw her lonely figure through the darkened glass. Then, redirecting their eyes, they walked on.

Lee watched until they reached the end of her street, and turned to walk south, to the church at the edge of her neighborhood.

Comments

  1. Good modern day Good Samaritan story. Sad how many churches are self-licking ice cream cones.

    • Self-licking ice cream cones? That’s about the best metaphor I’ve ever seen for what many churches have become. God bless you, Jared, and thanks for the chuckle.

    • I’ve heatd of a self-sucking cow…

  2. Heartbreaking.

  3. This is what concerns me. I’m copying from some saint who said always proclaim the gospel, if necessary use words. They will know we are Christians by our love, yes?

  4. sarahmorgan says:

    In my unfortunate experience, evangelical non-denominational churches don’t teach their congregations to help or even care about their neighbors….church leaders instead are too busy pleasing the congregation (and thereby indirectly teaching them that their own self and their own desires are what matters most). The self-absorbtion is pervasive and toxic. It seems like every thought to help someone is not just intercepted, but obliterated, by thoughts of “How will this affect me? What will other people think of me? What’s in it for me?” And those churches whose members and leaders have somehow moved their concern a bit beyond their own wants & needs tend to put a hard limit on who’s allowed to be the recipient of their sporadic selflessness — typically favored members only, or even only members who have short-term, socially acceptable, fixable problems. It’s not just sad, it’s spirit-crushing. 🙁

  5. That is a sad story. It’s also an indictment too.

  6. A good friend of mine grew up attending a very large and prominent mega church in the Southern Ca. area. His father was a physician and over the years had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to build up and support the ministry. They were faithful attenders and seasoned volunteers.

    Late in life this man was stricken with brain cancer. The church refused to send so much as an associate Pastor to read and pray with him. He and his wife eventually were granted an audience with the head Pastor but had to travel to the church to do it.

    Meanwhile, my friend (who had converted to Lutheranism several years before) told his pastor about the situation. This pastor faithfully visited my friend’s dad every week to read scripture and pray for the duration of his illness, even attending his funeral at the mega church.

    This is what happens when the ‘priesthood of all believers’ comes to mean everyone’s a pastor, and the ‘pastor’ of the church is really a CEO. The sheep are supposed to shepherd each other, but it usually ends up the sheep must shepherd themselves.

    • Two things come to my mind when reading this story:

      1) I dearly hope it is not the church I am thinking about

      2) It’s another church that I expected would give that kind of treatment

      You said “mega church” and “Southern California” in the same sentence which made me think that.

      • Little churches are guilty too. “We ought to form a committee to do something about this.” Sound familiar anyone?

  7. As sad as this is, there are too many stories of this type of thing happening to church members.

  8. This post brings to mind the gospel account of Jesus and the ten lepers. Jesus knew beforehand that only one would actually have a real change of heart, but He still healed all ten. And, don’t forget, He bore the combined sins of all humanity on the cross knowing full well that billions would ultimately reject this priceless gift.
    I believe that God’s love is an inexhaustable fountain that could water every desert and quench every thirst — that is if those of us who have been made vessels of this living water would start pouring ourselves out. Sadly, too many vessels these days are hoarding their water like misers, selling each meager cupfull for exclusive religious rights and long-term contracts. But even living water tends to become stale and polluted when it’s not flowing freely.

    • “Sadly, too many vessels these days are hoarding their water like misers, selling each meager cupfull for exclusive religious rights and long-term contracts. But even living water tends to become stale and polluted when it’s not flowing freely.”

      Wonderful, RonP. You have a great way with words.

      Chaplain Mike…that is a very sad story indeed. 🙁

  9. What does this story say? That someone who doesn’t like ‘new, large’ churches wrote up a parallel of a parable? As it is based on a true story, it is sad that this happened, but to assume – or let readers assume – that this is *because* the church is large or non-demoninational is a fallacy.

    Let’s not preach to the choir here.

    Those of us who follow this site are aware that the failings of the modern church lie as much within ourselves as within any other. There are some popular ‘others’ on this site- mega churches, anti-post-evangelicals, bigots – but the message that keeps me coming back is that we are all broken, all failing, all bad samaritans.

    Surely the message of the parable above is that we should all keep our eyes and hearts open as we walk (not drive – that happens too quickly) around our neigbourhood, and be brave enough to act on what we see.

    • Steve, it would be wrong to limit this story to large, non-denominational churches. The attitude of “Jericho Community” perfectly captures that of the conservative Lutheran church I once belonged to. Even more so, since the pastor informed one car-less member, who’d asked for help finding a ride to church, that he was on his own. The reason? The church helped only serious Christians and this member’s spotty attendance record proved he was not among them.

  10. Ahh, I can see a couple of things wrong with this story. That last line? Hmm, if I am walking through a neighborhood with a friend and I see someone standing at a window, I politely turn my eyes away. In no culture is it polite for two men to stare at a woman in a window unless it is a red light district. Unless the person is overtly crying, how can I tell if they are lonely? And, uhm, if two men see a lone woman in the window and turn to go to the house . . . . she is likely to be terrified and call the police.

    Her call was not handled in the best possible way, but it was handled! Notice that she was asked if she wanted someone from the evangelistic team to come visit her and she turned it down. An offer to come over, meet with her, and pray is not a wrong-headed offer and allows for an initial evaluation. Then, it was explained to her that help was indeed available but was handled through the small group structure. “We care for our members through . . . we could hook you up with . . .” Since she had turned down an initial visit, she was then invited to come to church to be hooked up with a group that could help her. She turned that down too.

    The point of the parable is that the church possibly could have done more. Possibly someone ought to have gone over to do an evaluation visit despite her turning down a visit. But, this is not simply a tale about how a church failed completely. The story shows that that church did not fail completely. It offered help. It might have offered that help in a more communicative packaged, but it offered help. And, the woman twice turned down the offer of help. The woman wanted help only on the terms she had set.

    This parable is subtly worded, but it is not a “moral of the story” parable, it is an anti-large-organized church parable.

    • I am in total agreement with your analysis of this story.

      • You speak wisely, Fr. Ernesto. This story is not meant to provide a simple, clear “diagnosis” of a problem, nor lead to simple “answers.” It is meant to provoke thought on a number of different levels—the loss of human contact and community within suburban society, our blindness to the neighbors who live next to us who are crying out unseen and unheard, the institutionalization of the church and its “program” mentality, and so on. I did not post it simply to get a knee jerk response like: big church = bad.

        BTW, the portrayal at the end is not meant to condemn the men for walking past the lady in the window. It’s just an image. Make of it what you will.

        • Fr. Ernesto, I would disagree that the lady wanted help “only on her terms.” The woman was trapped. She could not attend church. She could not jump through the program hoops that the church required for someone to receive attention. It was as though the receptionist could not envision asking someone personally to contact this lady. It had to be through an official “ministry” of the church.

          We think we are ministering to people by providing “programs.” What happened to simply knowing and loving our neighbors?

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            The impression I got was that the church seemed to be telling the lady that they only helped members. She could get the help, but only by first joining. This may not have been the intended message, but it’s what comes through.

            My second impression is that the church was caught up in its own bureaucracy, which yes, is a function of size. In a smaller organization the lady would have called and gotten the church secretary, who would be only one step removed from the pastor. The call would quickly have been passed on to the pastor, who would be in a position to assess the situation and act accordingly. But with a large bureaucracy there are many layers between the person who answers the phone and the senior pastor, and there are numerous departments with narrowly defined responsibilities.

            This isn’t just a church thing. It’s true of any office situation. In my work I frequently call attorneys’ and medical offices. The small ones are much easier to deal with for just the same reasons.

            I’m not saying that therefore big churches are a bad thing, any more than large hospitals are a bad thing. But it is a fact of life that when you slice of areas of responsibility, it is very easy for stuff to fall through the cracks.

          • The problems of a large church are as old as the Church. Within the first year of the Church, by Acts 6, the “pastors” are too busy to make sure that the church members are taken care of. That is why seven men are appointed and become the prototypes for deacons. Interestingly enough, the Twelve Apostles make it clear that the pastor of a large church need not and maybe should not be available to solve each and every problem. This is a lesson that is forgotten today, where the pastor sometimes even gets told about a clogged bathroom fixture.

            Second, this means that the Twelve Apostles certainly saw no problem in delegating ministry to other decision levels. They also saw no problem in a large church structure. The Church in Jerusalem was, in fact, set up in many ways close to the pattern of some of today’s larger churches. Real-life problems were not handled by the Twelve but by the people to whom they had delegated, the deacons.

            Even in smaller organizations stuff falls through the cracks. In a smaller organization, the pastor is all too often overworked and unable to meet all the needs that pile up on him. Worse, that pastor is actually much more likely than the large church pastor to end up with family issues or children who swear that they will never be pastors after seeing what it cost their parents and family.

            If a pastor cannot delegate with authority, if a pastor must hear every appeal from every delegated decision, if a pastor must know of every need in order to make sure it was handled correctly, then you are going to have one burned out pastor and sooner rather than later.

            The story is useful to make us think through our systems. The lady may have thought that you had to be a member to be helped. The secretary could have been more on her toes. But, this story should not be used to criticize structures that facilitate delegation per se nor should this story be used to try to saddle the pastor with things that the Twelve Apostles themselves said were too much for them to handle alone.

          • “The woman was trapped.” That is precisely the point, is it not? If she were truly interested in making connections with the church in her neighborhood, then why not accept anyone coming to her home to speak with her regarding any topic of conversation. She is lonely and overworked. Once the evangelistic team had arrived, she could have made her request for help “face to face” as it were. People would have been in her home and seen the needs, which is much easier to respond to than a voice on the phone.

            Denial of a visit from any group at that church leads me to believe the need was not as dire as stated and/or the desire to connect with people at that church was not sincere.

    • David Cornwell says:

      To me the point of the story is the fact that this church was attempting to emulate modern cooperate structures and ended up with a very impersonal approach to caring. They failed to hear the desperation in the caller’s voice or to take time to see it in her eyes. She was desperate for help, not for having her call referred up or down a chain. When someone calls 911 they don’t want to have the call routed to a committee for later consideration. If they want to be a corporation, then they need a course in customer service with someone on the other end at least acting as if they care.

      The story rings true. It is my feeling that the church did fail completely.

    • The rub, as is I see it, is that both the woman and the “Church” in question were only willing to offer/ receive help on their own terms. Both were equally stiff reeds. However, with that being said, backing up a bit, I would maintain that the woman, who is and has been for years at this point in the story, in a state of suffering and despair that makes her hesitancy and demands for acquiescence/sensitivity to her situation perfectly understandable. The “Church” in question, however, is without such understanding. Where does this notion come from, that the “Church” demands acquiescence/sensitivity to itself before it will dive in and get its hands dirty!? That the assistance and the help that the church is supposed to be freely and sacrificially offering to the world is suddenly conditioned upon person X or person Y becoming a member of this group or that group, of becoming a member of our “Church” before we help!? I have seen this type of thinking/behavior all TOO much in my experience of Evangelicalism, and I simply shake my head is saddened dismay as trying to reason with such members of the body goes no where. Rather than treating people (specifically non-Christians but certainly not limited to them) with the corresponding compassion/love/grace/mercy/understanding that is theirs, inalienably!, given the fact that they are, as are we, drawing the very Breath of Life, and are so dear and precious in the sight/heart of Jesus, rather than act according to this, many within the crumbling “empire” of North American Evangelicalism employ a Wall Street ethos and view people as an investment that will or will not pay off! All hail the triumph of our Capitalistic ethos over the divine heart of Christ! Sad. The old axiom is true: no one will care to hear what you have to say until they know/believe/experience how much you care.

    • Fr. Ernesto, I tend to agree more with your estimation of this story. While I’m very sorry it even happened to this woman, there are societal issues in play here. Suburbia discourages interaction, America encourages “self-reliance”. If this mega-church was in view of her neighbourhood, chances are that some members/attenders would live close by. But she probably doesn’t know her neighbours, so even they couldn’t help–because they didn’t know. And (at least in California) we’re not supposed to “snoop into other people’s business”, so you’re correct about the walking men.

      The church in this instance clearly failed (it’s a good reminder to actually “listen” to people, not just respond out of habit), but why has she no neighbours (Christian or not) that know of her? Can’t her friend referenced in the story offer a very brief respite while she gets out? Personally, I’d start dialing other churches or groups until one responded.

    • Have to disagree on this a bit. Both parties wanted things to progress on their own terms, for sure. But is that what the church should do? Are we to require that someone in need fit within our predetermined structures or organizational patterns before help is provided? I can certainly see how this might happen in a large organization of any kind, but I’m not so sure it ought to happen in a large church, or any church.

    • I find myself in disagreement with you, Fr. Ernesto.

      In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, when the Lord says ” I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’, and the damned ask ” ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “, the answer is not “When I was a member of a Small Group” but “”He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ”

      The righteous are told “the least of my brothers”, which one could interpret to mean “those within the Body”, but the damned are told “the least of these”, which may mean “everyone, not just those you knew to be formally members of the Body”.

      Now the story above may have been polished up to make it even more pointed, but if the core of it – a woman rang up a church asking for help and was sent from pillar to post – is true, it’s a bad look-out for all of us, megachurch or no.

  11. Louis Winthrop says:

    Okay, so just because she needs something, it’s the church’s responsibility to provide it? And there are absolutely no boundaries on who should be –anybody phoning for volunteer home-based care-givers ought to be able to get one? Sheesh, that’s worse than having a gaggle of beggars hanging around the entrance.

    Like the Good Book says, good fences make good neighbors.

    • Uh, Louis. Robert Frost is the one who said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” And when he said it, he was criticizing those who thought that way, not commending the sentiment.

      • Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to deal with a gaggle of beggars (the least of these?), would we?

    • There are times when churches help others, but for the reason of gaining membership/tithes. I think each church should discern what God would have them do. Obviously, not every need would be a church’s responsibility to minister to. But I don’t think a “policy” answers needs all that well to begin with.

    • “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

      “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

      “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

      “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

      “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

      “Both very busy, sir.”

      “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

      “Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

      “Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      Louis, you’re joking right?

  12. Jason Blair says:

    I’ve been in the middle of program-driven ministry in churches that are medium size and want to “go mega.” What you describe is indeed a potential problem. As I make my way through seminary training, I cringe at the thought of becoming a CEO “pastor” whose only contact with people is from a pulpit once a week. So yes, a good pastor SHOULD get their butt out there and visit people. At the same time, I detect a criticism of the large church model that I’m not sure is entirely warranted. Because it’s a trend in many of these churches to expect the congregation to care for itself (since its pastors won’t), that does not mean that the congregation should not care for itself IN ADDITION to the pastors.

    As Phillip at the BHT is so fond of reminding us, reject the tyranny of the OR and embrace the genius if the AND. Pastors should visit their flock and actually shepherd them and care for them. At the same time, especially if the church is very large, the people (or at least a subset of them, trained if possible) should be doing the same thing. If a congregation is so dependent upon professional clergy to deal with their crisis situations that they simply can’t function otherwise, I have to wonder if the clergy has failed to make disciples.

    • I think that’s part of the point of this story. The church as a whole, not just the pastors, were not incarnationally engaging the neighborhood in which it was located. It’s the attractional vs. missional paradigm. If this church truly viewed itself as “Christ in the neighborhood”, there would have been a greater chance that this woman’s pain and need would have been recognized and addressed even before she had to ask for help.

  13. I thought about the issue of Christian feminism and this scenario would be solid justification for both a rejection of typical Christianity and the married life. This may not be the point of the article, which I believe I understand and wholely agree with, but from a feminist perspective, the real damage was not that the women received no help from the church, or even that a man was dying of cancer, but that her freedom and free spiritedness was greatly hurt by both the obligation to a husband and the lack of help from male-oriented religion. Her coming to Christ was hindered by marriage and the church, not helped.

    In the dicussioin, the woman would have been better off staying single and being free to discover Christ in her freedom instead of being pinned in such an unfair and unjust circumstance where she was no longer free from her husband and only had a evangelical church as an alternative.

    And to reiterate, I understand the meaning of the article. The church was more concerned with their programs and beauracracy than with people (something I have experienced myself) and the strangers on the street did what we want all people to do, mind their own business.

    • IMO, the fact that she was free-spirited and married doesn’t really matter. This still could have happened to her if she were a single woman–it could have been her mother she had to care for.

      Research has shown over and over again that caregivers suffer from depression and are in need of help, regardless of their marital status.

      • Patrick Lynch says:

        I think your example doesn’t make sense.

        Firstly, who ISN’T free-spirited? Man or woman, everybody feels entitled to live their life the way they want – having to work for a living isn’t a crime against our immortal souls, so I don’t at all see how Christian Feminism would have anything to liberate this woman from. Besides, in real life, the circumstances you find yourself in don’t care how you feel, and there’s a word for people who get all ‘free-spiritual’ when their circumstances disencourage it – flaky.

        And having somebody work to support you while you tool around making Art (or ‘art’) all day = win.

        Also, not following you on the ‘male-oriented religion’ thing.

    • MW, would it really have made a difference if she had been living with a partner, not married to a husband?

      She could have chosen to stay with the person she loved, even if not officially married; she could have chosen to leave, even as a wife. Sickness and ill-health do not depend on our convenience.

  14. OT Post. How do you cool people get your photo in there?

  15. At the end of the day if we haven’t cared for someone what are we doing.

  16. A good, sad, thought-provoking story which I imagine accomplishes its goal of forcing us to consider some unpleasant “failings” of the Church, if you will. I was with you until the end when the two guys walked by without doing anything… I understand the attempt to mirror the good Samaritan tale with somebody physically “walking by” without doing anything, but seeing someone beat up lying on the side of the road is quite different than seeing a woman through a window and ascertaining not only that she is “lonely”, but that she is in need of help that they could give.

    Once again, though, thanks for another thought-provoking post that will likely haunt the back of my mind for a long time to come.

  17. I hope you will forgive me if I pick at this story a little bit; there’s a lot of extraneous detail in the story, and it’s easy to get distracted by it.

    My understanding here is that you’re laying this story down next to the story of the Good Samaritan on purpose, so the best way to understand it is in the light of that story and what Jesus meant it to say.

    As I understand the Good Samaritan story, Jesus is responding to a critique of the commandment “love your neighbor as yourself” that asks “who is my neighbor?” by telling a story not about who qualifies (or more importantly, fails to qualify) for neighbor status, but by contrasting religious observance (choosing a priest and a Levite as villains) with a simple act of compassion.

    If I try to cut this story down to fit that model I have to discard a lot of stuff: Lee’s choice of career, any questions about what kind of care she and her husband can afford or their extended family, the size and age of the church, even the fact that Lee had reached a point of spiritual curiosity, even or especially the two men on the sidewalk, unless you expect them to see the woman looking out the window, sense what she needs, and knock on her door.

    That just leaves the receptionist as the villain here, unless you want to make the church the villain, but that’s not what Jesus does in the original Good Samaritan story: he doesn’t make the Mosaic Law the villain, even though his audience would have understood why the priest and the Levite would have been put off by the prospect of possibly touching a dead body.

    So are you faulting the receptionist for being bureaucratic? For not taking personal responsibility for looking after the woman? For raising a barrier (visiting the church, being a church member) to offering care? Even if the church made caring for local people in need its primary mission it would still have to make difficult calls regarding how to manage limited resources.

    Does the receptionist really have agency here? Is it reasonable to expect her to stop doing her job and go take care of Frank?

    I guess what I’m saying here is that while the story of the Good Samaritan raises doubts here it doesn’t necessarily force a conclusion: the two stories aren’t the same. Simply saying “this woman lives near the church and has a need so the church should meet her need” is great as a goal, or a value, but it isn’t practical.

    • I think the issue that the story raises here, what it attempts to illustrate, comment on and draw our attention to, is that THE CHURCH IN NORTH AMERICA HAS BECOME TOO MUCH OF A CORPORATION!! It has given itself over to the cost/benefit analytical structures that govern the likes of Walmart, Best Buy etc.

      An additional comment on what Jesus does in the original Good Samaritan story:

      ‘he doesn’t make the Mosaic Law the villain, even though his audience would have understood why the priest and the Levite would have been put off by the prospect of possibly touching a dead body.’

      I think that that is exactly what Jesus was doing in the telling of this parable. The entirety of Jesus’ ministry was a proclamation of the end of religion! Of how religious mindsets and bureaucratic systems DO NOT represent the heart of God and have no usefulness in the Kingdom that he was proclaiming.

      • Well, perhaps.

        I might gently suggest that the story would end rather differently if the corporation in question had different goals and different departments.

        As I understand it, the woman described her need, and the receptionist described the services the corporation offered, and the story leads to an unsatisfactory conclusion because these two don’t meet.

        ==

        It is a common complaint that a focus on numbers is itself the problem in the modern church: budget numbers, attendance counts, convert counts, what-have-you. Unfortunately, it seems like counting and measuring are processes that once done can’t be undone, and bring with them their own mindset. I have yet to see a coherent discussion of how to uncount or unmeasure a church.

        As far as I can tell Scripture doesn’t give clear guidance one way or the other regarding counting people or money: sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s forbidden, and sometimes Scripture mentions numbers without further comment.

        • The image of a fisherman casting his net on the beach and becoming bewildered about there being no fish in his net comes to mind. I think the church is like this fisherman. We have everything we need in order to catch fish, we even near the water, but we don’t go to where the fish are. Instead, we demand that the fish, rank and file, gladly and happily make their way out of the water and into our nets.

        • Patrick Lynch says:

          I think the receptionist has as much agency as she likes – she’s a volunteer! But when the church starts thinking of itself as a service organization or a campaign instead of a group of people with wits and agency and the priority of sharing and living the Gospel, things get legalistic and awkward real quick.

          Jesus of Nazareth didn’t ‘process’ blind men; he didn’t queue up women at wells to tell them everything they ever did in the most efficient manner possible. Paul didn’t set up an correspondance office in prison for the furtherance of his ministry. John the Baptist didn’t count the people he baptized!

          Christians tend to treat our morality like a second job instead of like a second life.

          • Patrick,
            I agree with you.
            When there are organizations, large or small, mega or otherwise, there is a certain bureaucracy that comes with the fact of an organization. The question is whether the members of the organization will give in to the inherent bureaucracy. It’s not necessary.
            However, the reason usually lies with the leadership who leads out of control and not out of commitment.

    • No one said they were the same story. This is A story, a story that stands on its own. Also, it is a true story with some imaginative detail added. Allusions to the Good Samaritan are meant to be evocative, not to say that the stories teach exactly the same lessons.

      Stories are not propositional teaching. They are meant to evoke various responses by means of painting a literary picture of events and characters.

      I could have simply reported the event and given my interpretation of it and asked for response. I intentionally did not do that.

      I posted this story because I think it prompts us to think about MANY things. It is my hope that the discussion will bring out various facets of meaning and application.

      • I guess I would humbly submit that this is one of the responses this story evokes.

        If there’s another Biblical story you think is illuminating I’d like to hear that too. I am just saying here that this is how I understand the implications of Jesus’s teachings in the Good Samaritan story as it pertains to the story you’ve told.

        • (not InternetMonk, just to be clear)
          MDSF – I think that what you said, that your view is one of the responses the story evokes is self-evidently obvious, if for no other reason than it evoked that response in you! 🙂

          I think Chap Mike’s point was more in response to what you said:

          “My understanding here is that you’re laying this story down next to the story of the Good Samaritan on purpose, so the best way to understand it is in the light of that story and what Jesus meant it to say.”

          He wasn’t purposefully laying the story down together with the Good Samaritan to compare and contrast, and there’s not a particular “best way to understand it,” rather it’s a story that has a lot of points (some evident, some hidden, some inserted by readers), and there are a lot of different ways to dig into it and what it might or might not say about churches.

          • Thanks. I see your point.

            Please feel free to take the appropriate weakening qualifiers as read with my apologies and blessing.

    • But one could pick apart the Good Samaritan parable in much the same way. We don’t know what resources the Good Samritan had, or how practical his decision was, or what circumstances exactly led to the suffering traveler’s being robbed and beaten (Perhaps he hung out with the wrong people, made poor decisions, traveled in the wrong place or at the wrong time, etc.). The Mosaic law may not be the villian in the biblical parable, but a blind adherence to the minutae of it is, and there’s a parallel there to the church’s potential to get lost in organizational structures and policies and forget about the real needs of ourneighbors.

      No, it’s probably not practical to help someone in need simply because of their proximity to us, but I’d argue that it’s exactly what Jesus calls us to do.

  18. At one time I was a member of a church that did not have a professional pastor. Instead, it had a committee on ministry. A friend of mine had moved to another state, but was expecting to eventually come back. She was rather isolated where she was, and wanted to keep up her ties with the original group. So she wrote to the ministry committee and asked if we could correspond with her regularly.

    Good idea, said the ministry committee.

    But wait, said someone else. Surely there are others who do not attend church regularly (for reasons of distance, disability et cetera) who would probably appreciate being corresponded with. Shouldn’t they receive correspondence too? Certainly, said the ministry committee, what an excellent point.

    But really, piped up yet another person, this isn’t just the ministry committee’s job, is it? It’s all of our job as members of the church. Of course, everyone agreed.

    And no one from the church wrote to my friend.

  19. I also appreciate Fr. Ernesto comment. Thing is, it can be easy to see a story like this as a failure on the part of the local church leaders who have set up the “flow chart” of how to handle such a situation. When it comes down to it, though, until someone is willing to put their name down as the person to forward that request to, it doesn’t seem fair much less gracious to cast stones.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

    • Christiane says:

      The story makes the large Church seem more like an organized business. Everyone ‘in their place’ doing their ‘assigned tasks’ , compartmentalized, and secure.
      In short, it sounds like a comfortable place to be.
      What’s not to like, if you are a ‘member’ and on the inside?
      And we don’t want to disturb the order, do we ? Outsiders must conform, or be blamed for the inability to understand the importance of the Church’s structure. An opening here, an appointment there, and if your really lucky, maybe some time before you die,, you get to meet the head honcho. What a privilege. Aren’t you blessed to have discovered our little kingdom?

      A long time ago, Judy Collins had a song called ‘Suzanne’. And one of lines makes a lot of sense: ‘ and Jesus was a sailor, and He walked upon the waters; and He spent a long time watching from a lonely wooden tower. And when He knew for certain only drowning men could see Him, He said ‘all men must be sailors, until the sea shall free them . . . ‘

      Only drowning men could see Him. The broken, the troubled, those who need . . .
      For the rest of us: it’s ‘business as usual’ .

      • Perceptive and well said, Christiane.

        • I’m very late for this thread, but I’ll jump in;

          I think Christiane has captured what I think can be boiled down a moral, or maybe one of them: the sadness of the story is that YES the churdh was willing to help the couple IF the couple could find their proper place on the flowchart. This is like “Hey, you called us, this is what we have…..your situation is not on my answer pad for phone center counselors, sooo….’ YES, the lady COULD have been more flexible and open to receice on thier terms, but why are we (the church) making her jump thru those hoops ? Is her request that unreasonable or out of line ?? why not have the church budge instead of her, and go from there. I think Fr. Ernesto got this one wrong: no one , that I can see, mentioned the pastor being the one who should answer this call (though that happens way too often).

          To be redemptive is to take initiative and act with creative compassion. People should be getting more than our best flow charts and snap answers, and if there is always one of our programs as part of that puzzle, the whole thing starts to smell of religious self-interest. Last I checked, Matt 25 doesn’t include a “the least of these…who are of course keenly interested in our evangelism\small group membership……sub-clause.

          Not sitting on any lofty self-righteous tower , here, either: that less-than-helpful phone volunteer has often been ME.

          Pax
          Greg R

      • Christiane, it’s a Leonard Cohen song, but Judy Collins can sing it ANYTIME 🙂

  20. Steve Newell says:

    One of sad aspects of many of our churches that we no longer view caring for the poor, homeless, the sick, the elderly as part of the life of the Church. How many churches have stated ministries that care for these? We focus on the family, the youth, the child but we don’t visit those home bound or in the hospital.

    For many churches, programs have been the focus of ministry not people.

    • sarahmorgan says:

      Several years ago, in one of the churches I belonged to, when I approached my church’s leaders for help dealing with my overwhelming loneliness and terror that my husband (in Iraq at the time) was going to be killed, I was told to not bother them and to instead go talk to person X (an elderly member of the congregation whom I didn’t know) whose husband had just died the week earlier.

      In another, the youth minister, whose ministry and heartfelt desire to share God’s love attracted a whole boatload of local teens desperate to get some time away from their broken and unloving families, was harshy criticized for not doing enough to bring the kids’ unchurched parents to church (where they could presumeably pay offerings and expand the strained volunteer pool), and was eventually let go, with the subsequent disbanding of his ministry.

      Caring for widows and orphans (husbandless women and parentless children…real, virtual, permanent, or temporary) seems to be one of the few stated Scriptural requirements of the church (James 1:27)….how can churches (large or small) ignore this and still think they’re doing the right thing? I guess it’s a lot easier training people to be kid’ sports coaches than teaching them how to love other people enough to spend a little time with them where they currently are (not where you want them to be).

      • Your youth minister example reminds me of my situation as a youth minister while I was in college. We sent vans out into the neighborhood – poor, predominately black – surrounding the church and brought them back to the church for Wednesday night youth activities. The rest of the church was A-OK with this as the youth space was a detached building behind the main church building. But later the church built a new building in a “better” part of town which incorporated the youth space into the main church building. Of course, we still ran the vans into the old neighborhood. Suddenly I found myself responding to questions from church member such as “shouldn’t you try to attract more white kids?”, and “why can’t you teach those kids how to act in church?”. I should mention that this church is in a small southern town, so we were pushing the envelope of what most people considered normal. But that is precisely what the Gospel calls us to do!

  21. One part of this story that really hurts, is that it could happen to almost any one of us. I know that it could to me. I am active in my parish, but if something happened to me, I don’t know who would respond. Probably not my neighbors in my apartment building (or until my newspapers piled up); etc. It would take at least 1 or more weeks before I was missed at church.

    Another idea that I wish to throw out is that even if Lee were part of a small group, they might not be helpful. She is shy, introverted by nature and an artist. All things that would hinder her from getting to know the people in the group. They might not even notice if she went missing.

    Like one of the earlier commentors, I have my share of Purple Hearts, healed but still scarred.

    • That was me, Anna. Scars take time to heal and wear away. Heck, forgiveness took me a lot of time and work on myself.

      Sadly, we (humans and the church) put too much emphasis on “pastoral duties” and our own pigeonholes that we don’t ask God, “God, I know this is what I’m TOLD to do, but am I hearing You telling me to do something different?”

      I think it would have been cool for the church to send over someone to sit and hang out with Frank while allowing Lee a few hours on Sunday to go visit some friends or even go to the church. Whatever would allow her to breathe and live again.

      Someone else posted earlier about getting the youth to bring their unchurched parents to church and then to encourage giving to the church. That’s backward. That’s actually using kids. The same way we tell them not to be used by others. But we’re adults, so that’s okay, presumably.

      Why does outreach have to be about the coffers?

      • “Why does outreach have to be about the coffers?”

        My wife and I attended a church for about 9-10 months during my first year in grad school. We sang in the choir and had been off and on attenders of Sunday school. No-one from the church (staff or congregation) ever visited us until the 9th or 10th month, in which a church elder (who we ourselves made the effort to reach out to) finally came and about all he really had to say to us was to make sure that we gave our money regularly to support the church.

        • JeffB, that sucks. I’m sorry for that happening to you and your wife. My bride and I look and listen for what God lays out for us as to where to build and support Kingdom work. The local church hasn’t been where we’ve been led (or able for a bit of that time) to do that.

          So, we burned ourselves out on service. Generally in areas where we were talented and available, but not with listening to where God wanted us. And when you go from 20-30 hours of serving a month to virtually nothing, it gets noticed. Not in a good way.

        • I feel your distress. Last church I attended the pastor made it clear that regular giving was a prerequisite for even consideration of using a person in any type of leadership position. Recently heard one radio preacher say the same thing. Problem is, we don’t itemize our tax deductions (standard deduction is greater) and so we choose to give anonymously almost all the time. So though we had much to offer and in fact did teach and help, we were never considered for any official leadership role, and we were almost entirely ignored. Again, seems like it’s so often about conforming to the mold of the system rather than about what really counts.

  22. I once called a church seeking service information in a city we’d just moved to. The person answering (this was the main church number published in the phone book) said, “Yes?” in a gruff and obviously bothered voice, followed by “We’re in a meeting.” Needless to say, I was stunned and chose not to give this church a try. I can’t imagine how much it would have hurt the person in the story to be greeted in that way.

    Actually listening to what people are saying or the needs they’re expressing seems to me a basic aspect of building relationships—herding them into official programs so they can be added to the count of participants, thereby showing how great the church is doesn’t seem to be such a great thing.
    I do think that in the story, easy as it is to criticize the church, a lot depends on the motivations and real spirit behind what was said and done—if the people on the phone were legitimately trying to do their best, it’s hard to really condemn them. It does seem prudent to have people on the phone who are skilled at responding to real needs (not just following a flow chart) or at least having people readily available that can jump in in situations that require greater listening or ministry skills.

  23. I read the story again and I am assuming the friend who recommended she get in touch with a church was a friend who did not live nearby to her, otherwise, that friend could have helped.

    And even though having an evangelistic team talk to her and Frank wasn’t what she was seeking, maybe it would have been a good thing to have them come by anyway and then at least they could get to know her a little and then maybe set something up so that others from the church could relieve her for an hour or two a week. But with her so focused on her need and the folks at the church so focused on how things get set up, nothing worked out. It would have been great if someone at the church had been able to feel the great pain/need this woman had and get someone over there as soon as they could to meet her and arrange for some little breaks for her.

    What the story also tells us is that there needs to be an easier way for people to get help when they are homebound due to a family’s member disease. It shouldn’t have to be just the church that helps. There should be community organizations that one can call in a situation like this.

  24. Another sad thing about this story is that the churches usually culpable about this type of indifference to the suffering of the neighbor are the solid evangelical ones. They are able to draw large crowds every Sunday, have neat bible study classes, have singles fellowship bowling nights, and even have missionary support groups but don’t have a drive for helping out the lowly. I’m not indicting all evangelical churches on this. But I find that evangelical churches fare a bit more poorly than their mainline counterparts on compassion programs. I kind of know why this is too. Evangelicals tend to have more concerns about saving souls than meeting the material and emotional needs of the distressed as shown by more mainline churches. I speak this way as an inerrancy upholding Calvinist evangelical.

    • A fellow “inerrancy upholding Calvinist evangelical” agrees with you.

    • Evangelicals tend to have more concerns about saving souls than meeting the material and emotional needs of the distressed as shown by more mainline churches.

      Yes; as far as I can tell these were the terms of the Fundamentalist-Modernist divorce, and the Evangelicals inherited an abhorrence for anything that might be considered Social Gospel from our Fundamentalist forebears.

      Responses to natural disasters that appear on television notwithstanding.

      • Complete with the occasional foot-in-mouth moments!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …and the Evangelicals inherited an abhorrence for anything that might be considered Social Gospel from our Fundamentalist forebears.

        And fled from a Gospel without personal salvation into a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Say-the-Magic-Words and get others to Say-the-Magic-Words while waiting for the Rapture and THAT’S IT.

    • Absolutely spot on: we who pride ourselves in doctrinal correctness might want to read Matt. 25 a little closer: now what were those six thnkgs that Jesus used as conditions for “goat-dom” ??

  25. I forgot to add. This is why I am set against seeker-friendly prosperity touting churches. The emphasis usually in those churches is what I can get from God than what I can do to love God and love my neighbor. The sad story above is shows us that this is something that North American Christians have created themselves. Many churches these days desire to have their numbers up through preaching a corrupt gospel message that tickles the nerves of the flesh, and the story above is one of the symptoms of this type of preaching.

  26. David Cornwell says:

    One time long ago a boy about 19 or 20 was going to a school (non-religious) in Tulsa. He was a boy with a lot of hurt in his life and had suffered greatly as small child. He became despondent and very depressed at school, and one night, late, called me at home, over a thousand miles away, in north east Indiana. From his confused conversation it was apparent that he had been drinking. Truthfully I feared for his life. I called a large United Methodist Church in Tulsa and explained the situation. There were some young men in the church who went immediately to his apartment, talked to him, calmed him down, and prayed with him. Later they called me at home to report on what they did and what they found. They didn’t solve his situation, but they responded with care and love. That night they made a difference. They were like angels in the night and I’ve never forgotten this.

  27. Donald Todd says:

    My in-laws who were Presbyterian lay missionaries who ended up living with us, by invitation. M father-in-law had demensia and my mother-in-law had Alzheimers, so you can imagine how hard it became.

    A local Catholic Church had a visiting ministry. A mature couple from that Church visited my in-laws for a couple of hours ever week. No requirement for conversion. No demands that the Gospel be read. No rosary beads. They would come and sit. They would talk to people who were pretty much beyond conversation but who needed some bit of attention. They would permit my wife to get a few hours respite from her own heroic effort at maintaining her parents in a modicum of comfort and safety.

    If that couple weren’t quite Mother Teresa of India, they were certainly on the same page. They were generous and considerate with their time, and my in-laws weren’t the only people that they visited.

    I would like to believe that other, similar organizations exist, staffed by equally generous and considerate volunteers who do this simply because they want to serve Christ in the persons who are visited.

    God bless them all for such large and generous spirits.

    • Christiane says:

      The strange thing is that the Catholic couple WERE teaching about their faith, they just didn’t need to use any words.

    • We have many wonderful hospice volunteers on our team who do the same.

      I wonder if churches think this is no longer part of our “mission,” and leave it to hospice and other such organizations? Or if they encourage people to get out of the church’s programs and to begin serving their neighbors through other organizations that are doing good works?

  28. Donald Todd says:

    I went back to see this in case I misunderstood it

    Twice married

    No children

    No real obligations

    Freedom to pursue her own interests because her husband supported her wishes

    Does not appear to have built relationships outside of the marriage (no note of other family or friends)

    Needed a parachute

    Spoke with a church which appears to be unfamiliar with the idea of a service ministry sans membership

    It appears that a lot of opportunities went by the boards for the woman, her husband, and a local congregation which is oriented in a direction other than service, at least to outsiders

    Wow….

    • One thing I learned when studying the parables was that each main character (there are usually three in Jesus’ stories) has something to teach us. A few have made observations in their comments about the woman in this story, but most have focused on the church. What do you think we can learn from her?

      • donald todd says:

        If God is a Family, and that certainly appears to be true, those of us made in His image and likeness find we are made for family life as well. Usually it is the close family where we all catch the cold contracted by the first of us. Sometimes it is a more distant family of brothers and sisters and aunts, uncles and cousins, or perhaps the kinship of friends we choose and keep close.

        Aquinas noted that Love desires Union and Union is intended to bear Fruit. A look at galaxies full of solar systems and brilliant wonders is a peek at that consideration. I have a movie called Floating World that displays huge schools of brilliant fish in tropical waters to wonderful classical music. That is fruitfulness expressed in the nature of our world.

        Fruitfulness does not appear in the marriage above. Someone’s interest appears to preclude children. If she was unwilling to care for children, it comes as no surprise that she is having difficulty caring for her husband.

        Perhaps Providence is opening them (and in particular the woman) up to the idea that their lives are more than they were open to. Please God that they run into people who can assist them which will model a different and fruitful idea of what love is, by taking a turn carrying them in their need. Even better if they find people with a love of God who see Him in them.

        If Teresa of India could convert Hindu women to self-sacrifice in the Name of the Christian God, perhaps some local Christians modeling a timely sacrifice will benefit these people and their souls, please God.

        If Corrie ten Boom could forgive her Nazi death camp guard, and she did so publicly, perhaps the idea of giving or receiving forgiveness for whatever occurred might occur to either or both of these people.

        Please God.

      • What we can learn from this lady is this: if you continually say “no” to people and isolate yourself and yes, indulge your love of solitude, the day will come when you need help and you will look around and see that you are all alone.

        • Knowing the situation as I do, I might be a little more careful passing a judgment like this. People are alone and lonely for all kinds of reasons. Even in church and when they have large families. Scot McKnight recently reviewed and recommended a book on his site that looks at introverts in the church and the struggles they face and how churches can be aware of them and help them. Don’t you think we are called to meet people where they are and not where we think they should be?

          Plus, even if she had isolated herself in some kind of unhealthy or sinful way, she certainly was reaching out and taking some initiative in this instance.

      • The thought hit me that as the story reads, this lady is now at a threshhold: will she call another church or even her friend back and explain what she has tried and how it didn’t work (so far, at least) OR will she choose to cower down and let life beat her up. Does she have even a mustard seed of faith to fuel hope ?? hard to tell from the story as it reads now…….we’re ready for part II 🙂

  29. This story happened just a few years ago. I kept track of who was missing on Sunday at this relatively small church. After someone missed a few times, they were contacted. One fellow had missed many weeks. I did not have a telephone number for him. I asked the pastor if he knew why the fellow had been missing. He said he had heard a few weeks previously that the fellow was in the hospital dying. I asked what had happened to the man. The pastor did not know, but thought he must have died.

    I asked the pastor if he or anyone from the church had contacted or visited the man. He said that no one, including himself, had, as far as he knew. He added that the man was not a member and that he attended only part time. I noted that some of the members also attended only part time.

    Not long after, the person who kept track of who gave money (supposedly confidentially) told me they heard the man had died, and added that it shouldn’t affect the church, since the man only attended part time and did not give money to the church. Not long after that I myself spent several days in the ICU. My wife called the pastor. Even though my life was in danger, no one from the church contacted us. We were not members, you see, even though we regularly attended and helped out in many ways.

    A pastor is the one who cares for people, spiritually and physically, even if they have not been officially given the title. Many of those who have been given the title officially are really preachers and/or administrators. A church is not a building or an organization. It is a group of believers who care for each other and those around them, even if the group does not have the official title of church. Many groups who have the fofficial title are really religious organizations.

    Do you know who your pastor really is? Do you really have one? Are you part of a church or a religious organization?

  30. The story is heartbreaking, and rather than criticize the church for what it did or did not do, I am going to call my neighbor, who I avoid sometimes because she talks on and on about her problems and I don’t have the time to be involved with her.

    We Christians are so good at pointing out the speck in everyone’s eyes. And I do it myself. Shame on me.

  31. I realize this is going to sound like shameless promotion, but here goes…

    I’ve noticed that well intentioned people often do not offer aid because they 1) don’t feel competent, 2) they actually aren’t competent.

    There is a ministry out of St. Louis called Stephen Ministry (http://www.stephenministries.org/). It was founded by Lutherans, and is an excellent ministry for equipping lay people to offer distinctively Christian Care for those in need. It is not counseling, but peer to peer relationships that offer prayer, support, a listening ear. The ministers are trained to recognize and handle a wide array of problems. They are also trained in listening skills, assertiveness, and given a great deal of support. Every Stephen Minister receives 50 hours of training.

    There are about 10,000 churches nation wide enrolled in this program. Our moderately sized church has 16 ministers with 4 more currently in training. As of today, we have a waiting list of people needing help, and are scrambling to meet needs in other ways. I can’t say enough good things about this ministry. If you’re in a church and are concerned about churches bearing one another’s burdens, then you need to look into this ministry.

    If I said something off topic, I accept moderation. 🙂

    • seems very relevant to me and I’ve seen Stephen Ministers be very effective places I’ve been

    • The Stephen Ministry sounds great, Eric R. Thanks for pointing it out. If Chaplain Mike’s story led to you posting this which leads to some people taking this training which leads to hurting people getting help, what a wonderful work the story has done!

    • David Cornwell says:

      The Stephen Ministry is wonderful. My brother was trained in this and it became a very important part of his discipleship and life.

  32. I think it’s not only the church (as in organization) that can learn from this, but the church (as in those of us who follow Jesus). I had an experience a couple of years ago that brought me up short and helped me to try to be in tune with God’s Spirit. I was sitting in the waiting room of the court house with a friend when I observed a family being split apart. A grandmother was in the room with her daughter and two grandchildren. The daughter and older child went into the courtroom. About 20 minutes later the daughter came out without the child and told her mom the courts were taking both children from her and sending her to jail. The grandma sat hugging the youngest child, both of them crying. They then took the child from the grandma. The grandma continued to sit there crying all alone. I felt I should go and reach out to her, but failed to listen to that voice. Afterwards I wish I would have offered a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. I think it was God prompting me to reach out. How many times do we fail to listen to God’s voice?

  33. Louis Winthrop says:

    Come on people, you’re not thinking this through.

    For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that churches can either be large or small. Small churches typically have limited resources, but a more personal atmosphere where people know each other, and care about each other. Large churches are necessarily more institutional, and need stricter internal rules and policies.

    So, how many people can a church realistically help? Let’s arbitrarily set the ratio at one to one: for every member, one person (whether a member or not) can be helped. We can quibble about the ratio (and really ought to specify the degree of help involved), but it should be something on this order.

    Now what happens when a church offers some valuable thing free? In all probability, they will discover that the demand for it is inexhaustible, unless limited somehow–by membership, bureaucracy, personal relationships, or geography. (Would it matter if our little old lady did NOT live near the church, or did NOT catch the eye of the passing elders?)

    It’s easy to feel sorry for the little old lady, but when you consider how many other little old ladies there are–and all the countless other potential drains on time and money the church might face–we can hardly blame it for failing to offer help. A more “social” view of charity would either assign her problems to the political sphere (with all the predictable problems caused by a welfare state), or reconceive the church in a more communitarian direction (which brings us back to the membership issue). Or we could just agree to leave such people to their own resources, if they have any. What we can’t do is expect the church to “give to all who ask” (as some radical says somewhere), and then get all snooty when they discover this to be impossible.

    • Louis, it’s a story. I can hear every Jewish religious official offering the same objections to Jesus in response to some of his parables, including the story of the Good Samaritan—“So what, Jesus? You’re saying that every priest and Levite should stop for every hurting person on a country road? That we should reorganize the whole Temple system for the poor?”

      These kinds of stories are never “practical,” nor are they designed to serve as a prescription for wholesale institutional change. They reach individuals and cause us to think and discuss and maybe make some personal decisions to act differently. They work from the ground up.

    • One more time. Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

      “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

      “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

      “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

      “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

      “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

      “Both very busy, sir.”

      “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

      “Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

      “Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

    • Of course this church, large-medium-or small, could not help everyone. Of course. But everyone did not call: this lady did. This did not set off an avalanche of every old lady who needed her kind of help. Not trying to be all up in your grille here, but your ‘what if ‘ scenario is driven by pragmatism and what’s reasonable. God is not asking us to help EVERYONE, or even the MAJORITY that will surely follow when they find out how generous we are. HE sends us specific “least of these-s”. We aren’t in charge of meeting all the needs or looking ahead to all the what-ifs. Again, the church made an effort to be helpful to a lady who should have been building relationship bridges sooner, I’d admit. But Jesus comes and gets us in our place of need, and we get the chance to be HIS hands and feet….even to the foolish and ill-prepared.

      and sometimes that is US
      Greg R

  34. All stories have two sides and I wonder what the receptionist’s version of this phone call would be.

    She asked if the lady was a church member. This was probably a polite way of asking if the lady was a believer or not. When the receptionists learned the caller was not a Christian, she offered to send evangelists to her house to talk to her. I think this is wonderful and shouldn’t be sneered at. I suspect that if the evangelists had the chance to visit they would have been able to help her with her husband.

    In Jesus’ time, people wanted the goods and services (bread and healing) that He offered but balked when He offered them Himself.

    • Did the Samaritan ask the religious views of the man who fell among thieves?

      • I think “Are you a church member?” was a triage question. It wasn’t a matter of if help would be sent but what kind of help was needed, based on the answer to the question.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      Jesus never denied anybody bread or healing on that basis, so why should we?

      • The point I was trying to make is that the church offered to send people, people who could probably access the situation better in person than the receptionist could by phone.

        You are being too hard on this church and its receptionist, folks. They offered help of a kind (which almost certainly would have led to the kind of help she wanted) but she said “no thanks.”

        • Xenia, I like the fact that you are looking at this from some different angles. We need to think about every person in this story and what it might mean from their perspective.

  35. Lots of great comments. This very issue came for me a few years back. A frantic lady called our church office to ask if anybody could help her move her three bedroom home into storage. I told her i would help and got the info where, when etc. I called a friend I knew who was between jobs at the time. he came we rented a twenty four foot “U Haul” truck. This friend named Orrie, had an awesome skill. As we unloaded her house unto the front yard he would measure each piece and show me where to place it. You got it,all three rooms in on trip to the storage in four hours. point made when she called i said I am not sure we can help. conscience kicked in. this brother was killed in a car wreck 3 months later. I will never forget this lesson.

  36. To donald todd who commented yesterday, “Someone’s interest appears to preclude children. If she was unwilling to care for children, it comes as no surprise that she is having difficulty caring for her husband. ”

    I note that the story says they had some tearful arguments about having children. It doesn’t say SHE didn’t want children. Maybe she did. Nevertheless, even if she did have children that does not mean that now she would not have difficulty caring for her husband. Anyone was who alone caring 24 hours a day for a bedridden loved one would have some problems. If she had children, they could live far away and not be able to help out either.

    It is not for selfish reasons that some people choose not to have children. (I know I may be in a minority position in expressing that, though.)

    • I thought the same thing. And just because she didn’t have children (and may not have wanted them, though the story is unclear, but this is not the point of the tale) doesn’t automatically mean that she was unable to be caring towards another human. I personally know mothers who are continually uncaring and selfish, both to their children and to adults; procreation does not guarantee genuine, loving care in this fallen world, unfortunately.

      Full-time carers of a disabled adult, as in this situation, would be overwhelmed, no matter how loving, or caring, or having had children. I seriously doubt the fact of childlessness was included to say that a parent wouldn’t have this problem.

    • Donald Todd says:

      We know that someone in that marriage did not want children (and someone did want children which is why the contrast was noted), “freeing Lee to pursue her artistic interests.”

      I did not invent the words in the opening to this thread.

      Life is a gift of God. To the best of my understanding, it is intended to be passed along, and we recognize that passing life along in a family is normatively the best means to do this.

      Noting that, I am also aware that there are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God, and in some of the very early times, there were married couples who lived chaste lives for the sake of the kingdom. That does not appear to be the case in this story.

      Two people lived a life that appears to be largely uninvolved with others, and since “Frank worked hard, long hours, and provided well for them” they were perhaps not too involved with each other. By appearances, it was a marriage of convenience where one person (the one who wanted a child or children) acquiesed, which I suspect set the tone for the direction that was then maintained. A bargain was struck that precluded new life and included long hours of work for one and time to pursue artistic interests for the other.

      The way those people lived does sound selfish to me. I had the privilege of growing up in a household where my parents loved each other, and loved us. Often enough it was not convenient.
      I have the privilege of loving and serving my wife and find it reciprocated. We have the privilege of loving and serving our children and find our love reciprocated by our children. It is an amazingly good life, which is however surprisingly inconvenient. But then love has a cost, as the cross denotes. You give up things you want for something else, and in my case, something much better.

      My wife was able to be with her parents until they died and she was present for that for both of them. We got help to get through this. It was inconvenient but necessary. It involved not merely the love of neighbor, it involved honoring her parents, the people who gave her life.

      Love is inconvenient. Children are inconvenient. A sick spouse is inconvenient. Sick children are inconvenient. Sick parents are inconvenient. God is inconvenient.

      Fortunately He does not leave us to convenience if these people’s experience is an indication. He calls over and over. Perhaps in the face of this inconvenience these people will grasp something more desirable than long hours of work and the pursuit of artistic interests. Perhaps they will begin to experience the love of God and the love of neighbor, however inconveniently it occurs.

  37. I think we often forget that we have the small part and God does the heaving lifting.
    As an example, I remember a simple, five-minute act of kindness demonstrated the story of the Good Samaritan to my husband, myself and my children in a way no other thing had. A simple willingness by a complete stranger to stop when he saw us struggling to help us lift a heavy piece of equipment into a trailer It was a very simple solution to a comparatively “easy” problem. (Truth be told, If we had our choice, we probably would have chosen a solution to a MUCH bigger problem–we certainly had plenty of those at that time!) However,we were inspired by this simple act of thoughtfulness (esp. consideration, because we eventually would have found a way to do it ourselves–we would have “muddled through” as we had in many other situations, some very heartbreaking); You see, this was simple and well-timed especially because of an absence of help (this is putting it very mildly) from most of our church-going neighbors. Anyway, this stranger did a small, but very important kindness–he reminded us of the Good Samaritan, the good in every person, the goodness of God. Thank God we were able to recognize this gift and receive it. I think small acts of kindness are very under-rated. Small acts of kindness can be a “drink of water in the desert” to those blessed enough to recognize them (from both sides–giving and receiving!)
    Now I am inspired again by all the good people writing here to do an act of kindness for another sweet person I know that has struggled through something horrific that was caused by some other’s greediness. I don’t know her well, but I know what she did was very brave and honest and cost her dearly. I know I cannot do everything she requires, maybe not even much at all. I know where to start–with a simple gift of kindness, hopefully just bring a smile. I do know I can try to show kindness wherever and whenever I can, which will not be much, compared to what may be required. God will do the heavy lifting of mercy, forgiveness, inspiration and changing hearts.

    To JoanieD, In this huge world, with so many people needing even basic necessities, taking care of your own children and other’s children is the most unselfish thing we can do. I don’t believe just deciding not to bring more people into the world is selfish just by itself–not if it is linked with caring about others who are already here!

  38. One thing that I seem to be seeing in this thread is lack of awareness of how hard some things are for introverts.

    I’ve seen repeatedly that Lee should have stepped out more and then she would have gotten the help she so desperately needed.

    I suspect that many don’t realize just how very hard that is for an introvert. It is almost painful for me to go to a strange place with lots of people that I don’t know and that I am expected to interact with. (And I’ve learned to be comfortable with doing some things like that.) It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand how it is for those who have not learned how. (and it is a definite learned thing ).

    Some ideas about the lack of children. Perhaps one or the other came from an abusive family and did not want to pass the abuse on to the next generation. Or there may have been the possibility of genetic diseases. Those reasons are NOT selfish reasons, but an honest recognition of the facts.

    I can see Lee and her husband just so much in love that they would do almost anything for each other, but now it isn’t enough.

  39. Why are we holding Lee responsible for something that she doesn’t (and shouldn’t, necessarily) know to do? The church KNOWS what to do. And they used their crayons and colored in their lines. And they shared their crayons with each other. But only with each other.

  40. Some additional things about this story. I took it to be a story that addresses problems or common situations. It’s what parable type stories are meant to do. Taking it as merely an isolated incident leaves little or no room for interpretation.

    The men may have done right in looking away out of not wanting to be rude, but that wasn’t the point. That they ended up at the church when Lee was looking out the window wondering what to do next could have been a reminder to her that she wasn’t helped yet by that church. Maybe to her and from her experience, the “evangelistic team” meant bible thumping cultists showing off their well dressed children in an attempt to show just how trees, flowers and chirping birds their religion was. Maybe her reading the bible gave her enough insight into Christianity that she felt she didn’t need to be evangelized. Her past sins may well have contributed to her current state, but that’s not the point, either. She communicated her need to the church in very simple terms, but they were not able to accommodate due to… well, I don’t know what.

    I’ve been on both sides of this issue, as somebody who fell through the cracks of a bureaucratic church structure, and as somebody who was a bureaucrat who watched people fall through the cracks due to limitations of power within that structure. Not an easy problem to solve.

    • Steve, you said:

      Maybe to her and from her experience, the “evangelistic team” meant bible thumping cultists showing off their well dressed children in an attempt to show just how trees, flowers and chirping birds their religion was.

      Cultists? Bible-believing Christians do this just as much as cults do. We believe we have something to sell. But Jesus is NOT for “sale”. He’s for “give” and for “share.” Marketing Christianity… bah.

  41. Loving ones neighbor is a grass-roots movement. It can never be a grandiose church program, nor can it be exclusively a service of the church. We love our neighbor through faithfully performing our vocation, through caring for and defending our neighbor, by not burdening our neighbor, etc.

    There are so many movements now talking about chain-reactions of kindness or random acts of kindness. I think they all are summed up by being a neighbor. We need a wider understanding of who is our neighbor. This we do through the new being formed in us by the Holy Spirit. This is done not out of fear of punishment, desire for a reward, or an effort to prove that we are among the elect; rather, we do it out of love for God and our neighbor. But this we do imperfectly; our motivations will always be tainted by the old Adam. But that shouldn’t deter us from service, but we should instead “love boldly”.

    • One of the reasons I portrayed the woman staring out the window with the men walking by at the end of the story was to make the point that we have many “hidden” neighbors among us, people we walk (or drive) by every day. They may or may not call our churches for help. Especially in the suburban world we have created, we have lost touch with them. It’s not always as clear as the man lying by the side of the road in the Good Samaritan parable.

      The picture at the end of the story was not meant to say that those men should have stopped, or anything like that. Rather, it was meant to raise a question—How do we get to know people like this? How do we befriend them and serve them? How can we possibly overcome all the barriers to love that we have erected?

      How many are there, isolated behind the walls of their homes who need Christ’s love! I for one, am searching to know how to reach them.

  42. To Donald Todd..according to Mike’s story, .the bit about “freeing Lee to pursue her artistic interests” was based upon the fact that her husband “worked hard, long hours, and provided well for them” and not based upon the fact that they didn’t have children.

    And Anna A makes good points about introverts and about some “good” reasons couples decide not to have children.

    (I never am sure if I should respond way up above where the issues I am responding to are located or at the bottom like I am doing now. Myself, I find it hard to find the new comments throughout the whole thread. I have set it up to get “feeds” on comments, but for some reason the feed only gives me maybe half the comments. Darn. So if someone directly responds to me and then wonders why I never get back to them, it is likely that I have missed your comment, not that I ignored you.

  43. I’m late to comment on this post. But I am really disturbed about the many criticisms aimed at this woman (Lee) individually and towards the couple, chief among them that they were somehow selfish people. If giving up your life’s work to care for an ill spouse (one you’ve been with for 24 years!) doesn’t somehow indicate a lack of selfishness, then I guess I’m just confused.

    1. Lee & Frank didn’t have children so they must have been selfish people. It bears repeating that the story doesn’t state the reasons why the couple decided against having children. Perhaps it was the husband who didn’t want them; perhaps, as stated by a previous poster, there were some genetic predispositions they didn’t want to pass on; maybe she was infertile and didn’t want to go through what can be pretty invasive, painful, and expensive procedures to perhaps get pregnant. Who knows? Why does this matter?

    2. Lee pursued artistic interests, and this means she was somehow not really a productive member of society; ie not really “working.” Work comes in many forms, and I’d say that those who follow artistic pursuits often work as hard as others who do the “9-to-5” thing. Do we want a life without art, music, and beauty? Or should those only be hobbies, fit in only after “real” work is done? Actually, nowhere in the piece does it state that she didn’t earn money from her pursuits.

    3. How incredibly selfish to enjoy solitude! I’m not sure what to say about this, except that I’m glad there is work for people who thrive most in a solitary environment. Some of these folks are just incredibly shy or introverted; others suffer from mental illnesses like agoraphobia and depression. What some people take in stride—meeting a new neighbor, joining a church, etc–they might find incredibly painful. Again, why does this matter?

    Frankly, I wonder if some posters have ever had contact with someone who, single-handedly, must care for a severely ill or dying family member, which can be exhausting work. I’ve been a homecare nurse for almost 20 years now, and I work with these folks on a regular basis. No family or friends available to help, no social network to reach out to. The caregiver often feels desperate and depressed. It may take everything they’ve got to actually reach out for help. If turned down once, they may never ask again. That is why it is so very important that our churches, when faced with requests from people like this, respond adequately.

    Lee was that person who finally reached out for help. Her growing understanding of Christianity led her to believe that Christians would help. What does it say about the church that, in this case, she was wrong?

    • Thanks, Deanna. Your perspective as a home care nurse is important for many to hear. I’m sure my response to this story would have been very different when I was a pastor. Now that I am a hospice chaplain, and visit homes like this all the time, the world has a new look to me. In fact, I’m not sure I would have even been able to write this story before doing my current work.

    • As an introvert and would-be artist who’s also one of my disabled father’s caregivers, I thank you so, so much for every last word of this.

    • I agree with you that there is no reason to think that Lee and Frank were selfish and like you, I’m disturbed by the many criticisms of them. I’m not just disturbed because I don’t think the criticisms have much basis, but because they’re entirely irrelevant – if Christ died for selfish people who were his enemies, then surely we as his people who have been rescued from slavery to self are called to help the undeserving and selfish just as much as the deserving and selfless.

  44. Chaplin Mike,

    Good story to generate discussion. To deal with Lee’s immediate request, if there was no one at the church who could assist, she should have been referred to Interfaith Caregivers. They are found in many parts of the US and one of their services is to provide respite care for caregivers. There was a suggestion to use a Stephen Minister. While I think that Lee could benefit from a SM, it should not initially be for respite care.