The West Wing and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!”

It’s Christmas at the White House, and those entering find their eyes treated to festive decorations and their ears filled with the music of the season.

Most folks are enjoying the spectacle. But not Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff in the Bartlett administration. Josh’s nerves are about as frayed as they can get. Though he is well on his way to physical recovery from wounds received weeks earlier during an attempt on the life of the president, it’s becoming obvious—except to him—that his emotional recovery is far from complete.

Josh’s friends and coworkers are worried about him already, but when in the Oval Office he actually snaps verbally at President Bartlett, Leo McGarry, Chief of Staff and a father figure to Josh (and the other staffers) sees that he needs help. On Christmas Eve, Josh finds himself in a Leo-mandated session with a psychiatrist specializing in post-traumatic stress.

That’s the storyline for a great episode of The West Wing. I love the series, though I’ve wondered why. I like President Bartlett, though I can’t imagine I’d have voted for him. I like the series in spite of, not because of, the political views of its main characters, though now they seem “middle of the road” to what we’ve seen in real life.

I like the incredibly well-written, smart dialogue. I feel complimented that those making the series, unlike the producers of most of TV’s vast vapid wasteland, assume that some folks watching might be more intelligent than your average rutabaga.

I love the series because of its amazing setting but mostly because it centers on the human relationships between its characters. I like Leo McGarry, more and not less because he is flawed, a recovering alcoholic who genuinely cares for those who work with and for him.

So, Josh has met with the psychiatrist. A hard but very good Christmas Eve meeting. It’s over. Josh is walking down the hall toward the massive Christmas tree. And Leo is sitting there.

Josh is surprised and says something like, “Leo, did you wait around for me?” In answer, Leo tells him a story:

“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey, you! Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole, and moves on.

“A priest walks by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it into the hole, and moves on.

“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole.

“Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now, we’re both down here!’ And the friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’”

Good lessons here. But the main one I draw myself from this great story and this conversation between two Jewish friends on Christmas Eve is summed up in a song title: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!” Think about it.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at
ckshel@aol.com