This week I’d like to share a story that was told by a member of the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild, story-teller Madelyn Rohrer.  Madge, as we call her, is an excellent place to begin this story.  She has had a lifelong love for antique cars.  And not just an admiration, (as you would assume due to her gender) but Madge has a get down under the hood, take it for a spin, know every detail love for these cars.  She is so knowledgeable that she has held the title of car club president of two clubs in our area.

Thank you Madge!

The story begins in Western New York in the mid 80’s.  Madge was judging a Grand National Meet.  Making it to the Grand National was no small feat; the car had to acquire a first place junior and senior award.  At this meet, Madge was up to her elbows in perfectly built, kept and maintained antique cars, along with their meticulous owners.  It was not uncommon to see an owner with a cotton swab finishing up the last-minute cleaning of an engine.  It was a place of great energy that day, but no greater energy emanated more than from a particular flatbed that was unloading a 57 Chevy.

The first time Madge was encouraged to take a look, she politely declined, stating that she would see it soon enough when she judged.  After about the fourth invite, she gave in and weaved through the growing crowd that surrounded the tent.  Never before had she seen such a sight!  A perfect 57 Chevy on a flat-bed, wrapped in…Saran Wrap?  Either this man was mad…or a genius!  Madge arrived just in time to watch the owner take out his pocket knife and cut away.  Now I must pause in this story and remind you of something you may have forgotten or something you may not know if you are a younger reader.  In the mid 80’s Saran wrap came in two types, one you could microwave and the other you could not.  If you made the unfortunate choice of microwaving the wrong type, you created a dish with a layer of Saran wrap soup on top.

Now that I have reminded you of the choices of Saran wrap in the 80’s you know how this story goes.  As the owner peeled away the wrap, so came the paint and the chrome for it was a hot day.  At that moment, the crowd of car lovers gasped and fell silent.  A restorer’s worst nightmare had unfolded before their eyes!  The owner sat on the flatbed, face in his hands for what seemed like hours, no one moved.  Another judge broke the silence with a hand on his shoulder, reminding him that the rules clearly state that any damage in transport is over looked.  With much encouragement, the owner kept his car in the contest.  Later that night, as awards were handed out, the owner of that 57 Chevy won a Grand National Award.  The interior, engine and chassis were perfect.  Just as the crowd had stood in stunned silence at his defeat, they stood with cheers at his victory.

Every person in that crowd knew all too well the defeat of an idea that seemed just right at the time yet didn’t pan out, as well as the victory of redemption.  That feeling is called empathy, the ability to consider the humanness we all share and give grace because we understand or we’ve been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt. 

 Empathy is the glue that binds us together in tough situations, empowers us to reach out and comfort, and keeps us from rushing to judgment. 

It brings to mind the scripture in Romans 12:  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.

Postscript:  One would think that ministry is not a competitive place.  We are all on the same team….right?  Reality does not reflect this hope.  Pastors compete by comparing attendance and money, even publicity opportunities. If the competition is not verbalized, it definitely is going on internally. That is why ministry is such a lonely profession.  Finding someone to sympathize with the pastor’s/church leader’s challenges and authentically rejoice in small victories (as the crowd did with the 57 Chevy owner) is difficult .  Pastors and leaders who do not search out this authentic community do not last long in the ministry profession. 

What would our lectionary study groups, district meetings, community ecumenical efforts look like in our community if we could remove competitiveness and truly “root” for one another?  How is empathy expressed in our district meetings, pastor gatherings and study groups?  Perhaps this idea is what the Psalmist had in mind as he praised unity in Psalm 133:1 – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!