Eleanor Rigby

lonelyRemember the old Beatle song, Eleanor Rigby? They sang, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? …where do they all belong?” A few years later, the group America sang, “This is for all the lonely people, thinking that life has passed them by.”

There seems to be a fascination with loneliness and lonely people (as well there should be). Songsters write about them, poets romanticize their plight, and preachers expound on the subject. I suppose we all find ourselves in lonely situations from time to time.

“The biggest disease known to mankind is loneliness.”

The Beatles had no answers (at least not in Eleanor Rigby). They simply pointed to her as a fictional example of the plague of loneliness. There was neither a glint of hope nor any silver lining in that song. It was merely a haunting reminder of how an empty life can end up.

America was a tad more positive. At least they urged the lonely people to keep plugging away. “Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup and ride that highway in the sky.” In other words, you might be lonely now, but when you die it will get better (at least that’s how I read it).

Aloneness is a genuinely human condition. It can be almost disease-like in its lonelyboyinsipidness. It can feed on itself until a person’s life is as empty as a discarded cardboard box. It can be experienced in a crowd or in a nondescript room. It can eat away at someone’s very soul.

Psalms speak of loneliness more than once. In that context, the answer to the Psalmist’s condition is God. In Psalm 25, the writer seeks the Lord’s comfort and refuge. His hope is in the Lord.

Psalm 68 refers to God as “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” who “sets the lonely in families.” These are good things for the lonely to know. But what about the rest of us? Friends, family, and the fellowship of other Christians constantly surround me. What do I know of loneliness?

“Do you even know someone who is lonely?”

It has always been my understanding that we are here to be the answer to someone else’s prayer. It’s a privilege and a high calling—an opportunity to be a vessel for the Lord’s grace and presence. Answering the cry of the lonely then becomes an opportunity for service in God’s Kingdom.

Do you even know someone who is lonely? You might actually have to go out of your way discover someone in that situation of life. After all, if you already know them, they probably aren’t lonely.

lonelydiseaseThere may be someone in a nursing home, a neighbor down the street, or even a popular figure who is dying of loneliness once his or her bedroom door is shut. It may be someone you never even liked. You may have to bury a hatchet or mend a fence to be there for them.

Eleanor Rigby is somewhere in your life. Seek her out. It’s God’s opportunity for you (and her).

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Holy Transcendence–Anarchy by Another Name

holy-spirit-wallpaper-pic-0108A few years ago, a nearby church in my denomination decided to buck the system. They chose to go against something that had long been held, formalized, ratified, and institutionalized. It was a bold move, to say the least.

The revolt (if I may call it that) was in an area of belief and understanding that is still a hot-button issue today. Ultimately, in my opinion, it will cause the demise of our denomination. It’s that divisive.

“I applaud their courage…”

While the battle still rages, my attention is drawn to some of the rhetoric that surrounds the controversy. The congregation I pointed to earlier voted by an overwhelming margin (almost unanimously) to rise up against the system. One of the terms used for their action was “holy transcendence.”

While I disagree with their decision, I applaud their courage to stand upon what they believe to be true. What I cannot applaud is the description of their deed.

With a short, two-word term, they were placed above the fray. Their position (at least by perception) was elevated to one of “we’re right, and everyone else is wrong.” Whether it was meant that way or not, on the surface at least, it smacked of arrogance.i-can-t-keep-calm-i-m-filled-with-the-holy-ghost

I point this out not to pick on our sister congregation, but to draw attention to a much larger issue. We’ve become very good at manipulating language to place ourselves in the best possible light. It’s become known as “spin.” I catch myself doing it all the time. It almost seems natural—second nature.

It’s one thing when politicians do it. That’s bad enough. But when we adopt that practice as Christians…look out!

“Holy transcendence” is a really clever term. I could use that baby to excuse a lot of things. I may have to try it sometime.

“A lesbian trapped in a man’s body…”

It reminds me of something a well-known radio host said in my hearing years ago. He simply stated that he was “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” Just think of the things such a person could excuse with that one. I’ve been using it as a joke ever since.

Holy transcendence is much like that. If my denomination wants me to do something (or avoid something) and I disagree with it, I can sweetly pronounce my defiance as holy transcendence. The more honest approach would be to simply say, “I’m out of here.” Of course,   if an entire congregation says that (as opposed to an individual), it becomes a major deal. In essence, it becomes anarchy.

Anarchy is certainly a strong term, but so is holy transcendence. The difference is that the former sounds cold and obtrusive. The later sounds lofty and anarchyspiritual.

It seems to me, honesty and humility would cause one to say, “We strongly disagree, and after much prayer and reflection, we must part ways.” I realize there are lots of reasons to avoid that sort of daring action, but there are just as many to avoid using terms like “holy transcendence.” Just a thought…

 

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Thin Places

AwestruckThere’s an old Celtic term I love. The term is “thin places.” A thin place can be anywhere on earth, really. It’s any location in which the distance between Heaven and earth seems to be greatly reduced. It can be some sort of holy site where pilgrimages commonly occur, or it can be on a crowded subway. For each of us, it’s different.

I’ve thought about where my thin place might be, and I think I have several (which is probably not unusual). One of those places (a place I’ve only visited once) is in Jerusalem.

I was with a tour group walking down the old narrow streets. My mind was consumed with the sights and sounds of the vendors, the signs, the vegetation, and anything else that made the city what it is. Suddenly we took a right turn into a building and headed down the stairs into a vast underground area.

“The sense of God’s presence in that moment was overpowering…”

Having gotten lost in my own little world of tourism, I hadn’t been paying very close attention to the guide. Consequently, I didn’t know where we were. And where we ended up seemed like an unlikely, nondescript place. I figured it must BeautifulFeetbe pretty important, so I readied my camera. I glanced down and noticed we were standing on stone tiles or pavers of some sort. Instinctively, I pointed my camera toward my feet and snapped a shot.

Our guide then informed us that we were standing on the spot where the cross was thrust upon Jesus. It was the plaza from which Jesus began his ascent to Golgotha (the inception of the Via Dolorosa). I broke down and cried.

The sense of God’s presence in that moment was overpowering and unmistakable. It was a thin place for me.

I have experienced thin places at various times and in different locales. In each one, the curtain that separates Heaven and earth was almost vaporized. The power of the Holy Spirit was instantly recognizable, and the reality of God’s presence undeniable—a personal Pentecost. Some theologians call this the “numen tremendum.” The term refers to an awestruck state experienced when one comes into contact with the “wholly other” (God). Numen tremendum indeed… Even these Latin words seem to capture the encounter (at least in part).

Have you denied your thin places?

I don’t know where your thin places are. Maybe you’ve experienced them on literal mountaintops—maybe watching a sunrise over the ocean or listening to a particular musician. Wherever they may occur for you, those are your thin places.DennisMenace

As I relate all of this to you, it occurs to me that there are people who have denied their thin place. That is to say, they have explained it away somehow—i.e., it was the emotion of the moment; it was the wine I had; I was simply overcome by natural beauty, etc. If you’re one of those folks, I urge you to reconsider. It’s a magnificent phenomenon to be confronted by the living God. Embrace your thin place. It’s a beautiful thing.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]