Days in Rodanthe

 

A few weeks ago, my clan and I were in the Outer Banks enjoying a family vacation. We were about an hour down the peninsula (or island, or whatever it is) in a little place called Avon. Avon, itself, is probably not all that famous, but just up the road is another small village by the name of Rodanthe.

 

Rodanthe is more recognizable. Nicholas Sparks wrote a book about it that was then made into a movie (Nights in Rodanthe) starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. I drove through it several times during the vacation. Exciting… I’m no Richard Gere, but I did stay at a Days Inn once (not in Rodanthe, however).

I don’t believe we ever stopped in Rodanthe—just passed through. So, I never noticed the bed and breakfast depicted in the movie (it actually exists). But that building (regardless of its existence or nonexistence) was not the important thing in the flick. No, the important thing was not the building (or the town for that matter). The important thing was not a thing at all. The importance of the story was the people, their lives, and their relationships.

Collateral Damage

That’s not at all unusual—nor should it be. When people are pushed onto the back burner because of things (regardless of what those things are) lives get twisted. As I look around, I regrettably see a lot of twisted lives with a lot of collateral damage.

We sort of expect to see that in our society these days. The priorities of many people get placed on accumulating wealth, possessions, vacations, and the

 

satisfaction of lots of human desires. All this, to a great extent, pushes other people into the recesses of their lives and often leaves those folks in the dust.

The real problem for us as Christians is that it’s not only prevalent in society, it’s common in the church as well. Some of us attend (and even join) various congregations merely to make connections—connections that benefit us personally. The church just becomes another piece in our network puzzle. Networking, of course, is the name of the game. The larger, the better, the more elite your network is, the better off you’ll be.

“Jesus believes in networking…”

As I read Scripture, it appears Jesus believes in networking as well. There is one, major difference in his networking, however. Jesus’ network was formed to give him the greatest impact going outward. It was not to see how many followers he could get. It was formed to reach the maximum number of people for their benefit—not his. Somewhere along the way we’ve largely lost that concept. We’ve turned it around and turned it inwardly.

Passing through Rodanthe reminded of the movie, the bed and breakfast, and the story behind it. It also reminded me that there are real people living there—real people whose lives are much more important than the fame surrounding their little burg. I doubt they think very often of the film. They’ve got lives to live.

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

Queer, Black, & Poor: The Metaphoric Jesus

 

I recently read an article that contained the following quote. “All intersections point to Jesus. We don’t know about His personal life – I believe that Jesus was Queer, Black and Poor.” Okay…

Preachers love to speak metaphorically about Jesus. Check out a few sermons and you’ll hear him referred to as “the Rose of Sharon,” the “Lily of the Valley,” the “Lamb,” or the “Cosmic Cowboy.” The list is unending.

 

We do that to help people get a glimpse of Jesus beyond what they can easily imagine. Metaphors help us get a wider feel for the whole of the Savior. Our views can be so narrow that we put him in a box, explaining away much of who he is. It somehow feels safer that way. It’s really quite dangerous, however.

Metaphorically Speaking

The opening quote uses those modifiers for Jesus to help us understand he loves us all. He does so regardless of our sexual orientation, our skin pigment, or our financial status. Jesus identifies with all of us because it was OUR sin that was placed upon him at the cross. In that sense, he was black, white, queer, straight, rich, poor, a lamb and a flower (not to mention a cowboy).

Unfortunately, the opening quote was not presented as a metaphor. It was stated in such a way as to give the impression that Jesus was concretely queer, black, and poor. No Bible scholar (regardless of his or her theological stripe) would literally describe Jesus in that manner. It’s intellectually dishonest. We know he was a flesh and blood man. We know he was middle-eastern. We have a pretty good idea he was from a working class family. He wasn’t simply a walking metaphor or an inspirational man of fiction.

I understand what the guy was attempting to say (I think). Jesus’ cross was his intersection with all people and all of our sin. He was, however, a real time-space, historical being. He walked the earth in the first century (AD), actually spoke sentences (many of which are recorded in Scripture), and passed from this confined, earthly life after thirty-three years or so. To simply reduce him to a metaphor (or even a series of metaphors) does him a grave injustice.

“A real, historical Jesus is a necessity.”

It’s worse than that, however. If he is merely a metaphor, merely a nice thought or a good illustration, he is nothing. And, as the Apostle Paul once said, we are still in our sin (1 Corinthians 15:17). A real, historical Jesus is a necessity. If we reduce him to anything less, we’re doomed. Inspiration is great, but it only goes so far. We all need a flesh and blood Savior. We are reminded of that in a little thing we like to call Holy Communion.

Just to be fair, Jesus was not a straight, white, rich guy either. But to each of us, he’s our all-in-all—everything we need. But let’s not allow that to obscure the facts. We need him just as he is.

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

Shooting Our Wounded

I once heard someone say, “Christians are the only people who shoot their wounded.” While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s basically true. Christians seem to be quick to turn on a brother or sister who has fallen.

By “fallen,” I don’t necessarily mean they’ve openly sinned (although, that could be included in the category). Sometimes, fallen seems to apply to someone who used to be in line with our own thinking and have now deviated from our particular position. As an evangelical, I see this a lot within the ranks of those purported to “be on my side” (so to speak). This attitude is certainly not limited to one segment of the Christian population, however. I see it everywhere. The church (regardless of the labeling) seems ready—almost eager—to pounce on a spiritual sibling who has deviated from the norm (whatever the norm is perceived to be).

“Don’t we have a Savior?”

Frankly, this has got to stop. I understand we’re going to have disagreements. In fact, there are loads of issues on which we’ll never come to terms with each other. That doesn’t mean we have to attack each other in the process. Aren’t we bigger than that? Don’t we have a Savior who denounced that sort of attitude (see Matthew 7:1-5)?

I’m all for a healthy dialogue. I enjoy a good discussion. I learn (sometimes thrive) in situations where issues are debated. However, when these things devolve into name-calling and character assassination, I’m left as cold as a Southern Italian in the Antarctic. It turns me off, and (if I understand Scripture correctly) Jesus isn’t too thrilled with it either.

At this juncture, I want to stop and pat my denomination on the back. We are currently going through a major battle that looks for-all-the-world to be headed toward a definite schism. Whether I’m right or wrong on that assessment of our state of affairs, we seem to be dealing with it pretty well. There’s not a lot of disparagement or derision occurring (at least not from what I can see). It’s an extremely touchy situation, but we appear to be handling it with grace and humility. Even if we ultimately split, it looks like it could be an amicable one.

“We don’t have to pounce…”

I use this example to remind us that, not only does this have to stop, it CAN stop. We have the ability to make it stop. We’re not animals acting on instinct alone. We can think, we can feel, we can reason. We don’t have to shoot our wounded. We don’t have to pounce on those who disagree with us.

It’s bad enough we have to watch this type of behavior within the political class. There’s no excuse for its existence within the church. We should be waging our battles on a much different plane than they currently fight.

Scripture is clear. Our fight is not with each other (Ephesians 6:12). We have a much more serious foe with which to contend. Let’s not waste our time and energy.

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

Blessed Are the Flexible

 I was at a meeting once when I heard someone say, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape.” That statement elicited a lot of belly laughs (including one from me). It keeps resurfacing in my mind, though, and it doesn’t make me laugh anymore. It makes me think.

Flexibility is almost always viewed as an asset. If we’re not flexible, we’re going to limit ourselves a lot in life. I use that word often. People call me and ask if they can make an appointment. My answer is usually in the affirmative, and I tell them my schedule is flexible. Because of that, we can usually meet at a time that’s best for them.

“We strive to be flexible.”

Flexibility is a key to many things. Scheduling, working with others, and trying out new ideas…just to name a few. We strive to be flexible. And if the quote above is correct, we shall not get bent out of shape.

Getting bent out of shape isn’t always avoided through flexibility, however—or is it? How flexible must we be to avoid getting angry entirely? I’m not sure anyone is THAT flexible.

We live in a society where getting bent out of shape seems to be a way of life. We get angry over the smallest things. If we perceive someone has looked at us the wrong way, we get bent out of shape. If someone says something we don’t like, we seldom give them the benefit of the doubt. How do we know they meant it the way we took it? We don’t, but we get bent out of shape. It’s our right, and we’re not that flexible.

“It’s a tough balancing act…”

On the other end of that spectrum, sometimes we’re too flexible. Sometimes we let things slide that should never be tolerated. We allow ourselves, or others, to be hurt (or hurt themselves) because we pride ourselves in our flexibility. Live and let live occasionally goes a bit too far. Sometimes that’s where I find myself, but it’s a tough balancing act to keep from sliding to one end or the other.

I was out in my Jeep running errands this afternoon, and it seemed like every five minutes someone was blaring their horn at someone else. It could be that I simply live in one of the worse traffic areas of the country, or it could be that people behind the wheel are really inflexible (or impolite, impatient, or just plain bad drivers).

I’ve never been able to decide whether that fake beatitude is legit or not. I suppose, if we’re totally flexible all the time, we’ll never get bent out of shape. It’s a non sequitur, however, because no one has ever achieved that (at least no one I know of). Even Jesus tossed a few tables around in anger (righteous as it may have been).

His tirade in the temple gives me hope. Total flexibility might not be necessary. If it is, I’ve got a long way to go.

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