Jack was probably one of the most honest church members I ever knew. As far as reaching out to new people was concerned, he was clear on where he stood. I was visiting Jack and his wife, when he asked, “Are you the one that wants to get more people in our church?” Feeling rather proud of our efforts, I acknowledged that we were trying to do that. Jack’s response caught me completely by surprise. “Well, I don’t like it!” he said, “I like our church just the way it is!”
Having a mind set of rejecting people who are not quite like us can be hard to overcome. In that small rural community there were the insiders and the outsiders. Outsiders included most anyone that was not born and raised in the community, for at least two generations back. People who lived further from the town, pointed out that it had been a railroad town. There was a period in its history when visitors were not always concerned about the well being of the town’s residents. The town was a hub of sorts which kept the merchants happy, but residents were wary of these outsiders. Sometimes they had a right to be.
That fear of outsiders followed through the generations. Edwin H. Friedman’s book, “Generation to Generation” has been an invaluable help to me in ministry. Systems most often are created because of a personal experience. Systems in churches also grow out of experiences as a collective group of people. Unhealthy systems can point to caustic leadership in a previous period of time.
I’m not sure what really happened in that little church to cause so much fear of the other. I do know that our fear today is creating divisions and cracking our society as a whole. When fear of the other drives our politics, we are suspicious of people who don’t look like us, talk like us or share our cultural background. We find it difficult to welcome “the other” into our homes, schools, churches and communities.
I think that Jesus was intentional in choosing a *Samaritan as the hero and person to emulate in his story about a true neighbor. He was asking us to look beyond our differences. To see our common humanity and remember that all of our blood runs red.