The little engine that couldn't

Through a set of unfortunate circumstances, a vehicle, whose outward appearance was good, but whose motor was bad, temporarily ended up in the parking lot of the congregation I was serving. Because of a little engine that couldn’t, there was a lack of mobility and ability for the vehicle to function.


This vehicle was parked safely in a corner of our parking area. One night someone broke a couple of windows. Within a in a few short days, the blemished vehicle was systematically destroyed by vandalism. All of its windows were broken, a door kicked in, the radiator tires and rims were stolen. The vehicle was stripped of its outward dignity because it was immobile due to an engine that didn’t work. It was victimized by people who had no respect for other people’s property.

When the vehicle was at its worst, a very thoughtful young man stopped by to help with the battered vehicle. He brought some old rims from other blemished vehicles to help our now disabled eyesore. He said if the vehicle were not so damaged, he would have repaired the little engine that couldn’t. But it was now beyond repair. It needed a costly trip to the junkyard.

This object with four wheels represents, in many ways, our tendency to objectify marginalized human beings. Unfortunately, we can make people into eyesores. We can stigmatize, isolate, write off and dehumanize people by seeing them as blemished and therefore not worth our efforts to restore them to wholeness. They become disposable and beyond repair. Thus compassion and understanding are absent. Intellectually we place them in the costly junkyard of life, where dignity and self worth disappear from their lives.

When we stand in judgment, rather than seek common ground, we quickly find punitive solutions that cause irreparable damage. For example, in too many cases, we use the criminal justice system to punish people living with a brain disorder. They deserve a healing solution, not a punitive one. Actions and attitudes that smash the ability to value others, hurt us and others physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Matthew 7:1 reminds us, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

The parking lot of life is filled with potholes. Some think faith eliminates potholes, but if we look at the example of Jesus, we see a life and ministry that was directed very intentionally to those society often view as blemished. The poor, disabled, hungry, and imprisoned were examples of the people Jesus put at the center of concern. Portions of Luke 6:20-22 read, “Blessed are the poor, hungry, those who weep, when people hate you, exclude you, revile you, defame you on account of the Son of Man.”

The vehicle in our parking lot ultimately needed to be disposed of. In the case of God’s neglected people, who by the circumstances in their life are on the margins of society, disposal is not the solution. Our challenge is to repair attitudes we hold that contribute to anyone feeling expendable. As we enter into the lives of those society views as blemished, we find Jesus in our midst. We open ourselves to a new depth of understanding God’s inclusive love. Compassion expands in an ever widening circle when we let God’s love for people guide us in our love.

The little engine that couldn’t ultimately resulted in the destruction of the vehicle that could. An object lost its value. Thankfully as God’s people, we are not objects. We are people who are valued by God and given the mandate to reach out to all people with compassion, caring, and love. What a blessing it is to build one another up rather than tear one another down.

• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.


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