On Thursday, September 9, 2004, the residents of Alabama flocked around their televisions to watch NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and await the segment in which a homegrown celebrity was scheduled to make a highly-anticipated guest appearance. Viewers were not disappointed when the little starlet, clad in grayish-white feathers, hopped onto Jay’s desk and wowed the studio audience.
Matilda, the celebrity in question; was, by no means, your average celebrity. Matilda, you see, was not human; but she was humane—eliciting smiles and applause from delighted audiences, ranging from toddlers in day cares to seniors in wheelchairs. She had earned more than her fair share of “oohs and aahs” as the extraordinary chicken that appeared and disappeared in Donna’s and my magic shows.
Matilda’s claim to fame, however, had nothing to do with her being a show bird, but being the first chicken to receive the title of World’s Oldest Living Chicken. In April 2004, Guinness World Records made it official when Matilda aced, with flying colors (no pun intended), all the prerequisites—receiving, at the age of fourteen, the title.
An Overnight Sensation
The front-page headline in The Birmingham News in Birmingham, Alabama, read:
Bessemer lays claim to world’s oldest chicken ¹
The article spread immediately to the Associated Press and traveled, like wildfire, worldwide.
Matilda, Donna, and I found ourselves plunged into the midst of a media frenzy. We were bombarded with requests for radio interviews and television appearances. The most prestigious invitation was from Jay Leno and NBC.
After receiving two thumbs up from Matilda’s primary-care veterinarian; Matilda, Donna, and I accepted The Tonight Show’s invitation. We embarked armed and ready for almost any conceivable circumstance we might encounter along the way.
California, Here We Come!
NBC spared no expense in ensuring that Matilda, Donna, and I had not only safe and pleasant travels, but also a great overall experience as guests of The Tonight Show. NBC arranged for the three of us to fly, via Delta Airlines, as first-class passengers on a direct flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California.
NBC also arranged for limousines to transport Matilda, Donna, and me anywhere we needed or wanted to go. After leaving the airport; our next stop was at our hotel, the Burbank Hilton, in Burbank, California.
After spending a restless night in which Donna and I were too excited to sleep; Matilda and we were whisked away, early Thursday afternoon, to NBC Studios—where we would tapeThe Tonight Show episode that would air later that evening. The other guests with whom we would appear were Terry Bradshaw, Jim Brown, Howie Long, Kirk Franklin, and Yolanda Adams.
Exiting the limo; we were ushered to our own private dressing-room, which had name placards for Matilda, Donna, and me attached to the door. Inside the room; our dressing table, complete with lighted mirror, was impressively stocked with a variety of beverages and gourmet snacks—but even more kept arriving.
Shortly after settling into our new surroundings, Jay dropped by for a visit. Dressed casually and comfortably in a long-sleeve denim shirt and jeans; he introduced himself, met Matilda, chatted for a few minutes, and had Donna and me sign his autograph book.
Jay exchanged gifts with Donna and me. He presented us not only with an autographed card of thanks, but also a couple of tee shirts and a compact black-leather photo album—all of which boasted The Tonight Show With Jay Leno logos. We presented him with one of Matilda’s feathers, displayed in a sealed glass test-tube, salvaged from one of her recent moults. Jay joked that he was going to have the feather lab-tested to determine the secret of Matilda’s longevity.
Donna and I were given the option of having studio cosmetologists do our stage make-up, and we gladly accepted. We wanted to shine bright (our presence, not our faces) and make Alabama proud. Light applications of face powder did the trick. Matilda looked fine just the way she was.
Our segment producer was also Donna’s and my wardrobe consultant. Donna was instructed to wear her favorite magic-show costume, a short red jacket and black slacks. I was instructed to wear a white shirt and dark suit, but no necktie. The wearing of a necktie was reserved for Jay.
Celebrity Pecking Order
In regard to celebrities, it is a given that there is a definite pecking order. When it comes to order of appearances, the lesser-known celebrities typically precede the famous ones. The former serve as the fanfare, and the latter as the finale.
The Tonight Show, however, graciously gave Matilda, Donna, and me what is considered to be the prime slot in the show line-up. We were the last guests to occupy the two seats closest to Jay and be interviewed by him. Wow, what an absolute and unexpected honor!
Donna and I found that The Tonight Show has big seats to fill! Our segment producer explained that the seats on the set must be capable of comfortably adapting to all of Jay’s guests—from little to large. Hence, each chair has a built-in step, designed to pull out like a drawer. Donna used the step to access her chair, which was closest to Jay.
When we finished taping the show and concluded our session with the studio photographer; Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw came to meet Matilda. Admiring the little feathered-wonder, they each asked permission to hold her. Howie went first. Donna gently placed Matilda into Howie’s cupped hands. As she nestled snugly and contentedly there, he smiled broadly and commented:
She is precious!
Chicken Pecking Order
For the benefit of those with little understanding of “barnyard” terminology; male chickens are roosters, and female chickens are hens. Matilda was a hen. At times, however, she would mimic a rooster by mustering forth a blood-curdling attempt at a crow.
Any farmer who raises chickens will attest to the fact that they observe a definite pecking order—a caste system, if you will. Survival is heavily dependent on chickens’ knowing and respecting their varying statuses within the pecking order. Non-compliance can be deadly.
At feeding time, pecking order heavily comes into play. As a general rule; the larger, stronger chickens are at the top of the pecking order—while the smaller, weaker ones are at the bottom. Thus, the former have first dibs on the food.
In matters of pecking order; hens tend to be more aggressive and more enforcive, particularly toward one another. Any hen daring to overstep her place in the pecking order risks being pecked back into subservience. At times, the attacks can be so brutal that the offending hen can be left featherless, dead, or both.
Pharisees Pecking Order
In my previous post, Malicious Meals, our Scripture text was Luke 14: 1-6. In this post, we are going to move forward to Verses 7-14 and take a look at what Jesus thought about the Pharisees and their strict pecking order. If you have not read Malicious Meals, I would encourage you to go back and do so for a greater sense of continuity.
When we last left Jesus, He had accepted an invitation to eat lunch at the house of one of the chief Pharisees. Here, Jesus had not only met and healed a dropsical man, but also justified having done so on the Sabbath. The next order of business was lunch.
When we think of Jesus’ dining at the Pharisee’s house, images appear in our minds of a Twenty-First Century banquet hall—furnished with long wooden tables of average height and appropriate dining chairs. Quite the contrary, the lunch would have been served in a traditional First-Century Judean or Galilean upper-class dining room—where tables would have been low and guests, two or three in number, would have been sitting, reclined and propped on their left elbows, on couches. The more comfortable couches, intended for influential guests, would have been closest in proximity to the host.
Competing For Seating
Aware that lunch was about to be served, the Pharisees suddenly switched into “come, and get it” gear—pushing each other out of the way and literally diving to get the best couches nearest the host. Normally the absolute picture of decorum in their elaborate robes and prayer shawls, the Pharisees’ descent into utter chaos was truly telling and somewhat comedic for Jesus to watch.
Observing all the confusion; Jesus gave the Pharisees a lesson on the good, the bad, and the ugly of table manners.
Luke 14:8-11 (King James Version)
8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;
9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.
10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.
11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Translated into “airline” language, Jesus was saying to go for a coach seat instead of a first-class seat.
Jesus pointed out the risks of self-appointing yourself to a first-class seat. Jesus stressed the possibility of being confronted not only by the host, but also his honored guest for whom the seat was intended. The host would be well within his rights to downgrade you to a coach seat. Your peers see you go from “fab to drab”.
When seating yourself, Jesus explained why it is better to take a coach seat. Worst case scenario is you are sitting away from the host and other bigwigs. Best case scenario is the host, moved by your humbleness, upgrades you to a first-class seat. Your peers see you go from “drab to fab”.
Every Pharisee at the lunch knew he was guilty of trying to exalt himself and felt a twinge of guilt. They knew they had not only used a sick man as bait to try and trap Jesus, but also scrambled to grab the best seats at lunch. As reality hit; the bread began to lose its flavor, and several guests completely lost their appetites—looking down at the table to avoid locking eyes with Jesus.
Proper Invitation Etiquette
Jesus offered some advice to His host as to whom he should and should not include on future guest lists.
Luke 14:12-14 (King James Version)
12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
Knowing they ran together like a gang, the Pharisees glanced around the room at one another. They felt special not only for being teachers of the Word Of God and the Law, but also their solidarity. Romans and Greeks were making their presence overwhelmingly felt not only in Israel, but also Jewish culture. In an effort to preserve their Jewish heritage and beliefs, Pharisees saw the need to separate themselves from outside influences. Unless you were a Pharisee, you simply were not worthy to associate with them.
Jesus told the Pharisees to invite those most unlike them—those who were in need and unable to reciprocate. In doing so, there would be reward in the resurrection of the just.
Church Pecking Order
In this day and age, there are church people who behave in much the same way as Pharisees. We call them church bullies. Although present in most churches; church bullies are particularly fond of smaller churches, where fewer members mean less resistance.
Left uninterrupted, church bullies become bolder and stronger in their hellbent mission to peck apart anyone who refuses to conform to their regime. Those peck marks penetrate deep into the heart, leaving scars that never totally go away.
Before you can stop church bullies, you have to know who they are. How do you recognize church bullies? There are ten identifying markers for which to look.
- Are power hungry and have no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to rise, as swiftly as possible, to top leadership positions within the church.
- Are usually middle-class and upper-class members and their confidants.
- Enjoy hanging out together—forming a tightly-knit clique of like-minded individuals.
- Wear false airs of righteousness and appear full of good works, but their focus is on themselves rather than God.
- Are loud, outspoken, and overbearing—frequently finding it difficult to hold their tongues not only in church business meetings, but also worship services.
- Appear to be warm and welcoming; but their enthusiasm, unless you are one of them, is more for your weekly headcount and offering money than for you.
- Chase away people who are different and perceived as threats.
- Resent, deep down, the pastor’s authority and will work, behind the scenes, to undermine his or her ministry and build a wall of contention between him or her and the congregation.
- Get furious when you pull off their masks and expose, directly or indirectly, them for who and what they are.
- Always try to shift the blame from themselves to others.
As a general rule, church bullies are few in number; yet manage, for numerous reasons. to stay at the top of the church pecking order.
The shock factor works to the benefit of church bullies. Seeing supposed Christians unexpectedly transform from “Dr. Jekylls to Mr. Hydes” ² takes fellow congregants by surprise—leaving them speechless and unsure how to react.
Church bullies also use timing to their advantage—wickedly and strategically planning major attacks when targets are dealing with personal problems and not in top form. As a pastor’s wife and pastor, Donna and I sustained two such attacks. One came when I was in pain and scheduled for major surgery; and the other when Donna’s father, for whom we are caregivers, slipped deeper into the grips of dementia. Needless to say, we were already overwhelmed and not at our best to fend off attacks. The latter episode is what prompted me to resign.
Many pastors attempt to address the bullying problem from the pulpit. They, being ever so cautious to not name names, serve up a few sermons on the subject. My experience has been that these type sermons hit church bullies hard, but not in the way intended. They become bitter, not better. They resent being reminded, even indirectly, of the error of their ways.
Regardless to what congregants may think, dealing with church bullies does not fall squarely on the shoulders of pastors. If churches belong to denominations, they will advise pastors to stand down and let the churches handle the situations. I know, I have been there.
No one should be expected to stand alone against a pack of cold and calculating church bullies. The single best solution is for pastors and churches to unite, stand with one accord, and tell church bullies:
Enough already! This stops here and now!
Most churches, however, maintain an “elephant in the room” mentality. They do not want to deal with the awkwardness of confronting church bullies—particularly when they are major supporters, both physically and financially, of the churches. Unaffected congregants often opt to keep low profiles and side neither for nor against church bullies, while uninformed congregants cannot intelligently decide one way or the other.
Wearying of continued showdowns with church bullies and lack of action from the churches in question, far too many pastors and congregants walk out of church doors—never to return.
I find it interesting that this post lands in the week when we celebrate our nation’s freedom, which all began when our forefathers decided that they would tolerate church bullies no longer.
When bad men combine, good men must organize ³ .
Having suffered persecution at the hands of the Church Of England; the Puritans, motivated by their desire to worship God whenever and however they chose, fled to America.
As Christians; we find ourselves not only bullied in church, but also society. Bit by bit, our freedom is being ripped away. Isn’t it amazing how unbelievers are supposed to have the right to be heard, yet Christians are told to stay silent? We can no longer, in certain places, freely worship God and express our Christian beliefs.
Drafted on July 4, 1776, and signed on August 2, 1776; the Declaration Of Independence makes it clear that we, as citizens of the United States, have the freedom to not only maintain our God-given rights, but also resist oppression in any form.
Brethren, we need to take a stand and be on the right side of history, and that is exactly what Jesus did. Having obviously never gotten the memo about keeping a low profile; Jesus never hesitated to call right, right, and wrong, wrong! Are we not to follow His example?
Yours in Christ,
To accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, all you need do is open your heart to Him, earnestly repent of your sins, and pray the sinner’s prayer.
¹ Plott, Bill (June 17, 2004). “Bessemer lays claim to world’s oldest chicken”. The Birmingham News. p. 1A.
² Stevenson, Robert Louis (1886). “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde”. Longmans, Green, And Company.
³ Burke, Edmund (August 28, 1910). “Capen Pleads for Reforms”. Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 4.
Featured Image: NBC Studios; The Tonight Show With Jay Leno; Keith, Donna, Jay, And Matilda; 2004