Pastor's Blog

I grew up in the little town of Bally, Berks County, PA, which, at the time, was half-Catholic and half-Mennonite – two very different religious perspectives – and yet everyone got along and each side respected the other.  I belonged to the Catholic side.  My mother’s family came to our town around 1850 and purchased a home on the very street on which I now live.  It's also the street on which my parents now live.  Come to think of it, my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents lived on that street too.  My son recently bought a house -- on the same street -- and my granddaughter is the seventh generation to live not only in our town, but on the same street.  We're an old family in an old town.

My dad, raised in Lancaster County by Mennonite grandparents, in order to marry my mom had to become Catholic and promise to raise his children Catholic.  He made and kept that promise, but being committed to the authority of the Bible, he also taught us to be unafraid to challenge and question our teachers.  Family dinner discussions often led me to challenge my teachers in school the following day.  Every year I seemed to be challenging, questioning, dissenting more and more. 

By the early 1970’s my dad’s faith had grown to the point that he couldn’t remain in the Catholic Church.  His own dissent had grown too strong.  He began attending a local evangelical church.  I kept going to the Catholic Church with my mother.  Since I was at a public high school, however, I had to attend catechetical classes after Mass – a sort of Sunday school to help students maintain their Catholic faith.  I often challenged my catechetical teacher, the parish priest, with questions and arguments.  Apparently the priest had his fill of my dissent and one day embarrassed me in front of the class when he insisted that I “stop being such a smart-a** ”.  Shocked that a priest would openly and shamelessly use profanity (we were taught it was a sin), I refused to go back to his class.  I told my dad I wanted to try the evangelical church.

If you grew up evangelical, you can’t imagine what a shock it was to my Catholic sensibilities to walk into an evangelical church.  EVERYTHING was different from anything I had ever known.   When you enter a Catholic Church, you dip your fingers in holy water and perform the sign of the cross.  Here there was no holy water – and no one made the sign of the cross.  When you enter your pew in the Catholic Church, you genuflect (i.e. you kneel, and then enter your pew).  My dad instructed me that you didn't genuflect at this church.  You just went in and sat down.  There were no candles or statues.  No liturgy.  No rote prayers.  It didn't seem like church.

When the pastor stepped up to preach he wasn’t wearing a robe.  Just a suit and tie, like a regular guy.  And he spoke like an ordinary guy.  And he spoke for a lot more than ten minutes.  But the time just flew by and I hung on every word that he said.  He was preaching through Matthew and explained in detail not only what each verse meant, but how we could go out and live it that week. 

I understood why my dad always came home from that church excited.  He was learning something.  And now I was too.  I looked forward to going to church;  it was more than just duty, more than fulfillment of a “holy day of obligation.”  I wanted to be there.

Twenty-five little life lessons I learned in the trek toward adulthood…

  1. Breaking dirty window panes with a broom handle so you can see out is not the best solution to that problem.
  2. If you let a crayfish pinch your nose, he will not readily let go.
  3. Poison ivy leaves make the worst toilet paper ever.
  4. Learn where the brakes are before you start riding your friend’s motorcycle.
  5. You cannot build a working one-man submarine completely out of styrofoam.
  6. Never swallow chewing tobacco.
  7. The most difficult thing about driving an airborne car is the landing.
  8. You should not drink water that flows in the street gutters.
  9. Never throw stones at a hornet’s nest.
  10. You can temporarily paralyze your facial muscles by repeatedly hitting yourself in the face with snow.
  11. Pond algae is not a suitable bandage for an open gash in your foot.
  12. Never throw bullets into a campfire.
  13. Make sure the girl likes you before you get her a ring as a gift.
  14. Do not attempt to rappel using grapevine that you found in the woods.
  15. If you want a stuffed chipmunk, contact a professional taxidermist.
  16. You cannot pole vault with a piece of deadwood – no matter how long it is.
  17. You can make a car appear driverless by driving it while sitting in the passenger seat.
            a. It is probably best not to attempt #17 with your dad’s car.
            b.  It is probably best not to attempt #17a as you pass your grandmother’s house, waving to her as she stands on her front porch watching you go by.
  18. Wild red raspberries are a fast-working laxative.
  19. Body surfing is not advisable when a hurricane is rolling in.
  20. Doing donuts with a car in a snowy parking is not advisable when a friend is sitting on the hood of the car.
            a. #20 is not advisable when using your dad’s car.
            b. #20a also applies to #7.
  21. Never chase a skunk into a corner.
  22. All the arguments in the world will not convince your mother that doing the Hopi Snake Dance with a real snake in your mouth is a workable social studies project.
  23. If you are riding a speeding sled on ice, roll off before you hit the tree.
  24. If you put a lit firecracker under an ashtray and it doesn’t go off, do not lift the ashtray to find out why.
  25. No matter how much your friend insists otherwise, vodka tastes nothing like water.

 

If I’m blogging biographical tidbits I guess I have to say something about Batman.  Anyone who has seen my Facebook page or attended our church knows that Batman and I have a connection.  But it’s not the connection that you would expect.

The first Batman I remember was the campy TV show that aired in 1966.  I saw advertisements for it and I really wanted to watch it.  For some reason my parents didn’t allow me to watch it the first season.  I don’t know if it aired after my bedtime (I was five) or if they were afraid it was too violent or dark.  In any case, I was allowed to watch either later in the first season or in the second, and I loved it.  But as I said, I was five – and it annoyed me when my parents would sit and watch AND WOULD LAUGH AT THE SHOW!  What was so funny?  Would Batman and Robin make it to the next episode – or would they be sawed in half by the Joker?  I wanted to watch tomorrow – SAME BAT TIME, SAME BAT CHANNEL.

But that season of my life passed – and that’s not really the connection between me and Batman.

Fast forward twenty years to 1987.  I had been called as full-time pastor of Mountain View Chapel in January and my ordination took place the last day of February.  The moderator was Pastor Clarence Didden, the old stalwart of the faith in our area.  He was very dogmatic about his theological positions, especially his view of the end times.  I was proposing a view that stood between his view and the view he opposed -- a middle road.  Pastor Didden argued hard to get me to change my view.  Unable to persuade me to back down, he looked at me with his clear, piercing blue eyes, and said insistently, “Brother Eshleman, there are birds and there are mice.  You must be one or the other.  You must choose to be a bird or a mouse.  YOU CANNOT BE A BAT!”

This was 1987 – and the plans for the Michael Keaton “Batman” movie had the popular culture abuzz with excitement (it would be released in June 1989) and there was a lot of pre-film hype and marketing already under way.  When Pastor Didden said I couldn’t be a bat – I and the whole congregation thought the same thing:  Why CAN’T I be a bat?  There are such things as bats, too!

As a result of Pastor Didden’s comment – and our loving congregation’s support of me and my theological position – people referred to me as “Batman”.  By the time Keaton’s movie was released the connection was complete.  I was Batman.  It was fun so I played along with it and the connection took on a life of its own.  My office is called “the Batcave” and is full of Batman paraphernalia, most of which has been gifted to me by thoughtful and encouraging friends.

For my 50th birthday the congregation presented me with a Batman costume which I have continued to upgrade over the years with better capes and cowls and equipment.  I wear it at Halloween when kids come trick or treating and I’ve worn it in a Halloween parade or two.  Despite requests to do so, I will not wear it for a sermon and no, I do not wish to be buried in it.

Although I have come to love and, in many ways, relate to the Batman character (I love tragic heroes!), what most people don’t know is that my favorite childhood superhero was not Batman . . .

 

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