January 18, 2006

Parking Lot Politics

?If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it? (1 Cor. 12:26, 27, RSV).*

1502 page26 capHERE SHE LAY, sprawled amid the late-model luxury sedans, older, modest economy cars, and everything in between. One of the church members had been struck by a car driven by another member. Now she lay, facing skyward, a little blood trickling from the corner of her mouth, trembling and occasionally gulping for breath. As people began to gather, she begged them for help.

What to Do?
1502 page26The members weren?t quite sure what to do. For one thing, none of them had ever learned how to deal with this type of situation. No one had ever earned a degree or completed any type of specialized training in this field. They felt they should just leave it to the professionals. While others agreed that this was a good idea, they suggested that maybe someone should actually call a professional. ?We need those resources to go elsewhere,? was the response. And while the issue was debated, no one made the call.

Some bystanders were offended by the manner in which the injured member lay sprawled in the parking lot, and by the blood. At least she could try to cover up a little, they thought. ?Why, her slip is showing even!? they whispered to one another. One kindhearted member got an old coat from the Community Services Center, silently placed it over the injured woman, and walked away.

Most of the members were wary of getting involved on any level. The car that had struck the injured member was one of the most expensive cars in the lot, driven by someone powerful and influential in that congregation. Nobody wanted to tangle with him. Some observed that the injured member should have had enough sense to stay out of the car?s way. This is just the way things are, they said, and you can?t expect people to change. The church did not seem, anyway, to have a governing body to deal with situations of this kind. And community officials had no jurisdiction in church-related matters.

Slipping Away
The comments about discretion opened the door to a thorough cataloguing and discussion of the injured member?s shortcomings (which the participating members enjoyed quite a lot more than they would have liked to admit).

Questions for Reflection

Or for Use in Your Small Group

1. List three things that prevent you from doing the right thing when some kind of action is called for.

2. Tell briefly an experience (maybe your own) when a congregation?s inaction resulted in hurt feelings or alienation.

3. Tell about a time when someone reached out to an offended member and succeeded in restoring him or her to fellowship. What was the essential ingredient in the incident?s success?

4. Mention five people who are no longer active in your congregation?s life. For each situation, identify a strategy for reclaiming them.

At any rate, once the initial shock of the event wore off and the debates and discussions had played themselves out, most of the members slipped off to their various church activities or went to their own cars and drove home. A few conscientious souls gathered for an impromptu prayer meeting, affirming to one another that the injured one needed all the prayer support she could get. They read Scriptures pertinent to the subject and felt solemnly joyful to be faithfu1ly embracing biblical principles.

The injured member watched the others disappear from her field of vision with tear-blurred eyes. If only someone would help! she thought. If only someone would hold my hand, speak to me kindly, not scold me for my carelessness, and just stay with me for a while!

A presumptuously radical seed of thought germinated in her mind: If only the church would require some account-ability from the brother who struck me! She knew that was a faint hope--the brother in question made generous contributions to the church, was responsible for improvements in its physical plant, and occupied an important position.

I don?t have much to offer by comparison, she thought. She sighed, and gave herself up to her quiet tears.

What Happened?
Some time later the members from the prayer group emerged from the church building and peeked cautiously out into the parking lot. The injured member was gone. Whether she had gotten up and left of her own accord, or whether someone else had carried her away, no one ever knew. It was discussed briefly the following Sabbath in various circles during the fellowship dinner. Some felt sorry and blamed themselves for the injured member?s disappearance. But others contended that if she ?left the fold,? it was because she had never really been one of them.

At prayer meeting the following Wednesday, this theme was echoed in reference to 1 John 2:19. Many of the members groaned inwardly and prayed silently that Jesus would come quickly and deliver them from such a deceptive and dangerous world.

Evelyn Caro lives in Whittier, California, with her husband and their four children. She is pursuing a graduate degree in English at California State University at Fullerton.