Last week, as I rode with 100 other people around the beautiful state of Indiana raising awareness of and funds for Habitat for Humanity, I came across these three fellas sitting in front of the General Store in Union, Indiana. The store was classic. The cans of food on the wooden shelves were stocked only two deep and every item was individually priced with a black marker. It was about as far removed from our super–sized, one-stop, mega-stores as you can get.
When we rode up and I saw these three out front, I knew a conversation was waiting to happen. So I started by asking how big Union was. One of them said, “Well, you’re lookin’ at it.” They went on to tell me that they meet every morning at the general store to see who is still living. A little later in the conversation the guy in the left of the picture said, “I’m 88 years old.” To which the fella in the middle said, “Yeah, he’s really old. We’ve dug him a hole three times but he won’t get in it.” They all laughed and so did we. A little later in the conversation, they asked what we were riding for. I told them about Habitat and how we were riding to help provide simple, decent and affordable housing for people in need. As I was speaking, I noticed the guy on the right in the picture reach into his back pocket and pull out his wallet. He took out a ten dollar bill, gave it to me and said, “I want to give you this ten-spot. We’ve all got to work together to make it a better world.” As we got on our bikes to ride away, these three fellas told us to be careful and how glad they were to meet us.
We are created as social creatures and somewhere within all of us is the desire to know friendship and community. Every day these three men meet together to check on each other, to “cuss and discuss” the things of their lives and the world, and when given the opportunity, to contribute toward making the world a better place. For them this is their life and it is what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote in “The Four Loves”:
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
There is nothing more important to our development as human beings and as people of faith than the relationships we form with each other. One thing that I have often said to the congregations I have served is “More important than anything we might accomplish, is how we treat one another as we accomplish it. Our greatest accomplishment will always be how we treat each other and all others.” Maybe that’s why Jesus said that everything that had ever been taught in the Law and the Prophets could be summed up in the words, “In everything, treat others as you wish to be treated.”
There is nothing else I know about those three old men setting on the front porch of that Union, Indiana General Store. After about twenty minutes our conversation was over. What I know is that they had the sense of a caring community which welcomed the strangers who came by and when given the opportunity to join in with something beyond themselves they took part. I can only hope that those who encounter the church find much the same thing; a caring community where authentic friendship is fostered, a place where strangers are welcomed into the fold, a place where we work together to make the world a better place.