As many of us look for the secret to longevity, researchers have found that there is a link between living long and religion. In this episode, Coach JPMD has a conversation with Zach J. Elliot. Zach is a pastor, husband, father, author, and Jesus follower who helps us understand the reasons why he thinks spirituality and religious practices can help populations live long. Coach JPMD has known Zach for many years and admires his passion for fostering relationships and preaching the gospel. Physicians often do not feel comfortable discussing spirituality in the exam room. What if this was one of the key aspects in helping your patient flourish and live healthier lives. Research by Dan Buettner and his colleagues have found that religious practices in the infamous Blue Zones demonstrated a consistent correlation between this and longevity. You will not want to miss this episode. Please subscribe, follow, and share with your friends. It takes a community of like-minded individuals aiming for the same goal in order to help physicians PRACTICE: IMPOSSIBLE™.
Welcome to the Practice: Impossible podcast where your host Jude A., Pierre MD, also known as Coach JPMD, discusses medical practice topics that will guide you through the maze that is the business of medicine and teach you how to increase profits and help populations live long. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to listen and be transformed. Now, here's your host Coach JPMD
Coach JPMD 00:24
Hello, today I will be interviewing Zach Elliot, and we will be having a conversation about spirituality and longevity. Zach is a husband father, speaker, author, and founder of VUVIVO ministries. Engaging the world with a powerful message of hope and restoration in Christ. He served as a pastor and church planter in the Pacific Northwest for 12 years. In 2016, Zach left the Pacific Northwest for Tampa, Florida. He has partnered with a close group of friends and family to give birth to VUVIVO ministries. Zach is passionate about helping people discover life and beauty, even in the most unlikely places. I met Zach several years ago while attending a church ministry group at South Tampa fellowship. And I was instantly captivated by his eagerness to share the gospel. He is the author of "Now I See an Invitation to Life to the Full". Through story and metaphor, ancient wisdom, and modern understanding, we are invited on a journey to understand that flourishing is not about circumstances, but about relationship. So in my research in the medical literature, there have been numerous ties to longevity and spirituality. And I invited Zach to be our guest to discuss his thoughts on spirituality and what his thoughts are on populations living long. I'm super excited to have this conversation. So here we go. So today, we're joined by Zach Elliot, and we're going to be having a discussion on the spirituality and living long. And how Zach thinks that spirituality can contribute to the longevity of our population. So without further ado, Zach, would you introduce yourself and let us know who you are? And what you do? You can call me whatever you want or whatever you want.
Zach Elliot 02:03
Absolutely. Do I get to call you doctor? I love it. Good. It's so good to be with you. Thanks for the invitation. And I love the community that you're bringing together. I think it's so powerful, what you're doing. And in a similar way, I've been a pastor for quite a while. I've been a pastor for I think 17 years now. And my role now is pastoring pastors. So we have a community here in Tampa, where we're doing work to just have fresh conversations about the gospel, engage spiritual conversations, doing all that in culture, where we've got initiatives to fight human trafficking, there's layers to what we do, but at the core of it, it's trying to help people flourish. And one of the ways that we feel like we can contribute to people's flourishing is through their spiritual life. And so we coach pastors, I care for pastors, and the the long kind of downstream effect of that is that they're people caring for people. And so I'm in that people care business. Kind of like you and so grateful to be here. This is a this is kind of the white hot center of the conversations. I love that. Sure, but you were not always a preacher, though. I think, at one point, you were a cop. No? Yeah, yeah, you're going way back in this story to get to those days. But I started out, actually, it was it's part of what I think makes me passionate about people's flourishing is I started out in law enforcement. And I was a forensic evidence technician. So my first job in law enforcement was going to crime scenes. I would go to homicide scenes or traffic accidents. We went to a lot of traffic accidents. And it was actually in the traffic accidents that I first started to ask questions. I was very, very young when I did this when I went into the state police out in Oregon. So the Oregon State Police is where I was a forensic technician. And I would find myself on the side of a road at an accident scene, really scratching my head because you would I remember particularly this one accident scene, an older woman, a grandmother was heading somewhere around the holidays. And in the backseat, there were Christmas presents. And every accident scene, you saw the interruption of someone's life. They were living, and they were on their way or they were in the midst of something. And then tragically, there was a change and you entered those spaces. So early on, that's how I began my career in law enforcement just in those strange spaces that were provoking some deeper questions. And then I went in, did some criminal work on the criminal side, rather the forensic side, worked in narcotics was attached to a narcotics team, and just had a tough time of my life as a young guy getting to be a part of a team like that, and I still did forensic work for them. But that was just the early education before being a pastor I said I'd never be a pastor. And then the long winding road ended up here but that's another podcast for another day.
Coach JPMD 05:06
So, I know you also wrote a book. And maybe we can talk about that at the end. But it's, it's really interesting. I love the book and love what you did with it. And some of the things that are done or said in the book kind of emulates my life and, and even some of the, you know, the, the artwork that we did, looking from darkness to light. And so maybe we can delve into that a little bit at the end. So, why are you here? What can you say about spirituality and long living?
Zach Elliot 05:39
Yeah, it's, I love the idea because there's tension in it. And from my perspective, from the Christian background, which is my faith tradition, and coming from a Christian perspective, there is a tension, because on the one hand, you have the 10 commandments, and you have this exhortation out there. It's the one commandment that has a promise attached to it, right? If you honour your father and your mother, it's going to go well for you. And it's repeated in Ephesians that you'll live a long life is alluded to. And so there's this interesting idea that there is, in the Christian tradition, that there's blessing for obedience. That shows up early on in the Old Testament Scriptures, this blessing of obedience, honour your father, your mother, it's going to go well for you, you'll enjoy long life. And there's this similar thread. And at the same time, that reality is in tension with the fact that life is but a vapour. Don't worry about tomorrow. I opened up here to James this morning and this is a letter written by Jesus's brother, right? And Jesus's brother says, "Now listen, you who say today or tomorrow, we will go to this city or to that spend a year here or carry on business or make money. Why? You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while, and then vanishes". And so in the Scriptures, you have this interesting tension that there's blessing for obedience, and that there can be longevity in our life. And there's ways we can contribute and almost steward our bodies in a way that is good and rightly ordered. And yet there's a tension that, you know, in the Christian tradition, again, because of the fall, there is a there's a finite element to our life. And that's not the way it was supposed to be death is not the way it was intended to be. And yet, it's there dust to dust. Oh, man. So that's why I love being here and having the conversation because we're in that tension of these two realities. And how do we live "well" in that space, so.
Coach JPMD 07:40
Yeah and so some people might be wondering, okay, so I'm a physician. And, you know, I need to teach my patients about this. And, you know, I know that I've done some research and found out that there is some, theres actually one particular study that showed that women who attended religious services tend to live longer than those who did not. So what are your thoughts on that? And in terms of, you know, we talked about religious services versus spirituality versus in just belief of a higher and higher God? Or higher being? Have you seen that translate in the church, as far as like church members that you've seen that are older, in your population? Have you? What have you witnessed?
Zach Elliot 08:26
Yeah, I think in general, just categorically, when you're in a spiritual community, or faith community, there's a literally a dimension to that community that exists in create space. And what I mean by that is, there's a sense of transcendence, rather than just the imminent frame. Charles Taylor, a great Canadian philosopher talks about that. And I think that that's really important, because if you live only in the kind of the material world, and what happens to us is we become more and more the center of that story. And what happens eventually, is that we end up carrying the weight of the world and there's nowhere to transfer that, right? We can transfer it, maybe to our family, maybe to our team at work, maybe to culture in some way, if the right organization is leading politically. But little by little, we end up carrying more and more that way to the world. I think in the spiritual community, there's a recognition that we're really not the center, and that we're in relationship with a God who is kind of holding us and so I think, just first and foremost, that shifting of that way to the world. And I talked about this in terms of vertical relationship. When you're in relationship with God who is other he is greater than you, and nothing that's not greater than you should be a god. But if you have that perspective, you can transfer that burden somewhere els. I think that makes a difference. The other thing is on the on the horizontal plane. Now I'm in community with people who feel they see a dignity and me. They see something about my personhood, that allows them to embrace me and I to embrace them. And I think in the kind of triangulation of that vertical and horizontal relationship, you get human flourishing. And I think I've seen it over and over again, that you have people who maybe are a widow, or they've lost family members, and yet they're immersed in a community that again, gives them relationship, up and out. And that's really the heartbeat for me is flourishing is relational, not circumstantial. And in a spiritual community, the apostle Paul writes this, whether I have all things or I have nothing, I've learned to be content. And I think it's that deeper truth that allows people to experience something in spiritual community that they maybe can't articulate, but it translates to health. And I think it does translate to longevity.
Coach JPMD 11:04
That's interesting, you say that, because as you're saying that I'm thinking about my patients who, you know, are over 90 years old. And I would say the ones that are flourishing with the word that you're using, are the ones that come in with their, their children, their daughters, or their sons, and they have notes, and they're describing what's going on with mom. And mom is kind of agreeing or disagreeing. And it's a caring, it's a relationship that they have as, as a mother, and, and son or daughter that I feel has helped them. And then you contrast that with patients who come in that are at 85-90. And I ask them, how's your son doing? Or how's your, your daughter doing? I don't talk to them anymore. I have no relationship with them. And you can see that they're obese, their blood pressure is high, and they're not happy, they're depressed. So I certainly see that in the practice. And I wonder if I mean, I wonder, I'm sure that that has something to do with the connection and the flourishing of that relationship?
Zach Elliot 12:01
Oh, absolutely. In the Christian tradition, reconciliation, is the story, right, the putting back of relationship. And so the invitation is in the you don't always get that perfectly. But the heartbeat is mother to daughter, daughter to sister, brother to Brother, neighbour to neighbour. If my heart is orienting towards that idea of reconciliation and wholeness, not just for me, but for my neighbor, I mean, we can peel the layers back of what that is doing to us. And I mean, that's on the relational side. I think the other thing that you get in the spiritual community, especially in the Christian tradition, is the right ordering of creation. There's an acknowledgement that there's evening and morning, there is, you know, there's limits to us. And so this translates all the way down to stewardship. How do I care for this body? What is my view of the body, and I think the scriptures give us a tonne of language, the body is a temple, there's meaning and there's dignity to your human existence. It's not a platonic view, despite what some people have kind of read into the scriptures. There's not a dualism that says spirit good body bad. And Jesus takes on flesh. And the resurrection even is an indication that there is a beauty to creation that was originally good. And so it gives us language to say, Hey, don't do these things? You know, the Blue Zone diet, we mentioned things like this. There are habits and practices that are rightly ordered, they seem to be good for the body. And there's a why to it that's just, it's deeper than vanity. It's more about stewardship.
Coach JPMD 13:43
Yeah. And you mentioned Blue Zones. And one of the things that, that they have characterized in the Blue Zones, and for those who don't know what Blue Zones are, but their zones were researcher, Dan Buettner, I believe his name is researched areas where patients or people live to be over 100. More than the rest of the world, who has the highest concentration of centenarians. And one of the things is that in those areas, being religious or spiritual was important. And it showed a deep decreased rate of depression. And they had more social support and had a lower risk of death. So I'm wondering if it because we talked about Christianity, and we talked about Jesus and you know, is there a correlation between other types of religion or other types of practices like meditation? For example, I know a lot of people believe in meditation. What are your thoughts on meditation and that in helping reorient the mind?
Zach Elliot 14:37
Yeah, I think, again, a sense of habit and practice is good. A sense of slowing down is good. A sense of transcendence in your life. These are these are all good things and they may be different in in the conversations I have with different leaders from different faiths. We would maybe approach these different or talk about things differently. But what's true about us as creatures as beings, human beings, I think that goes back to that right ordering. There is a way that we were created to function almost like any other thing that was designed. And when it's calibrated rightly, it, there is a result that does come downstream. And so you talk about meditation, the idea that you would give your mind space and margin, and that it would not be continually bombarded with messaging from the outside, that's kind of distracting or driving your thinking. That practice and even what that does to your breathing into your circulation, you know, these things, but I think the power is, if I, if I see my body as something to steward, then these practices become more than just, you know, I need to do this to try to get through my day. We take a long view of life and say, "I've been given this gift of a body". And there's habits and practices that can help my circulation and my breathing my mental health. And so that's important to me. And so I think you're absolutely right, those meditation, wonderful practice, what it does mentally, but also just physically, the slowing down, is it's so helpful.
Coach JPMD 16:27
So wonderful. Well, you know, we, we have read similar books. And I think one of the books that we've read, and I actually really like is The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. And he talks about, you know, trying to, he talks about extreme peredo and trying to find out, what's the one thing you can do such that by doing it makes everything easier or unnecessary. So my question to you is, what's the one thing a physician can do in the realm of spirituality that can help solve some of the problems that they're facing or the challenges that they're facing?
Zach Elliot 16:59
That is such a good question. I love that exercise, because it does force you to go through iterations. You know, there's the obvious things that jumped to mind, but that exercise forces you to go down and down and down. And, you know, I'm gonna say, this and may be controversial, but I think at the center of my answer would be prayer. And here's what I mean by that, not just prayer, like, "Oh, well, here's this pastor, he's telling me to pray, I'm a doctor, you know, I disagree". Here's my invitation, the invitation is to step outside of center. It's really to say that, that I don't have to carry the weight of the world. And I imagine for your audience, all these doctors, I can't imagine the pressure and the weight that you all feel, not just financially, right? You're running businesses, you're navigating the complexity of billing cycles, and all of these things. I mean, there's an entire ecosystem, that is not medicine that you're having to now deal with. And then there's the sight of a 37 year old mom, who cannot figure out why she is sick, and her husband's worried her kids are worried, and you're carrying that weight. I think the one thing that you can do to increase your longevity is to recognize you're not alone. And that there is there is a transcendent reality, there is a dimension in time and space, where you're not alone. And prayer, I think is the the language, it's the invitation to acknowledge that, you know, it's not like, Hey, I'm gonna read this formalized prayer, but it's Dr. Jude, walking to your car after a really heavy day, and literally confessing, "hey, I can't do this on my own". I think that tiny little microscopic confession is actually one of the healthiest things you can do.
Coach JPMD 18:57
It's very interesting, you bring that up, because in another podcast, I had an interviewer that said, one of the things that we as physicians should do more of is seek help. And whether it be through another colleague, and or through a higher being, because we can't do it on our own. And that's something that I learned over the past couple of years that I can't do it on my own. So I have to hire people that are experts in those fields to help me. And that's gotten me to where I'm now able to host a podcast and interview, you. So this is great. And so it kind of leads into the now I see. Because now I see a lot of things that I didn't see before and that's the title of your book. So can you tell us a little bit about your book because I think it was a great read. And one of my favorite parts about it was the allegory of the cave and kind of looking at oh, I'll let you describe it.
Zach Elliot 19:55
Yeah, Now I See really came, the title comes from a story In the Bible. Where there's a man who's born blind, and he lives his whole life in darkness, and having to kind of imagine the world in a certain way, because he can't see it. And so his experience of reality is, is mediated by this condition that he suffers from. And Jesus encounters him, Jesus seeks him out, heals him, you know, there's a whole great story in that, but he heals him and the man can see. And the the now I see is, "Hey, who did this to you"? He's being pressed about who did this. He says, "Hey, his name is Jesus, you can go talk to him. But here's what I do know, I was blind and now I see". And my book is written, really from the idea that we all live with that. There is a certain conception of reality that we have, that has been built up, it's it's been handed down to us, we've adopted it accepted us, this is where I go into Plato's Allegory of the Cave, you know, we're trapped in this kind of dark space, where we're looking at a shadow reality that's being projected. And all in others, Plato goes into there's a system of merits and rewards exists to kind of keep you chained to that reality. And Plato suggests, you know, what if somebody came in from the outside, and invited you to come out of that, to have a new reality? A new perspective? Would we even dare to leave behind what we know of the cave? And so I pull on that thread a little bit to say, you know, downstream of Nietzsche, we just kind of have come of age, in a secular age that says, God is dead, it's up to us, we're at the center, there is no transcendence. And we feel that weight again, it, it presses down on us, and the physiological effects of it, we're tired, we're exhausted, we're experiencing breaches and damage in our relationships. And what I pull on is, what's the invitation outside the cave? If we can dare to imagine a world that is relational, not circumstantial, and that that relational life is what leads to human flourishing, and that it includes God and neighbor, that that's the way it was designed. And that if we're able to step outside of that cave, and dare to imagine a world that flourishes out of relationship, rather than out of circumstance, which is kind of what we've been conditioned to pursue. Maybe there's wholeness. Maybe there's flourishing that we would have missed otherwise. So that's the book. It was fun. It was so good to write just because I wanted to wrestle through these questions and these ideas. And it's our story. You know, it's the human story.
Coach JPMD 22:40
But you also have a podcast as well, right?
Zach Elliot 22:43
Yes, I do. I do. Yeah, I say, life and beauty. It's LAB The Podcast, and LAB stands for life and beauty. And I'm just curious, I love looking for evidence of it. I love to see life and beauty in the world and say, "What is that?". Kind of what we're doing today. What is it that leads to longevity and flourishing? And if I see it, man, whether it's a doctor or a photographer, an actress, and a musical artists, I want to talk to that person. So that was the heart behind LAB The Podcast. I do it, because I love it.
Coach JPMD 23:21
Yeah. So what a great conversation. Zach, this is beyond what I thought this would be. And I really, really appreciate the time that you spent with us here. And where can where can our audience find you? And yeah, and tell us about your book?
Zach Elliot 23:37
Yeah, for sure. You can find the book on Amazon. So Now I Aee. Authors Zach J. Elliot. Now I See just go to Amazon, you can find it there. That's the easiest. I have a website, it's ZachJElliot.com. You can go there and get more information about me and the book and the work we do. And then social media Instagram, I'm not a big Twitter guy. I like pictures. So and I'm not even a big social media guy, but I am there. Other people have helped me.
Coach JPMD 24:02
I'm with you, I'm with you. I'm letting other people help.
Zach Elliot 24:06
You got to have other people. My brain does not work in that space as well. But, Jude, this is awesome. I think you know, how I feel about the work that you do not just coaching doctors, but your whole community. So I do want to just kind of, um, you can't see it, but I'm clapping and cheering for all of you who are caring for people, especially in this last year. With the pandemic. I know that I have reached out to my doctor, so many times, and we've talked so many times. Just questions that I've been wrestling through for myself, for my family, for my kids. So you all have put in extra in the last year. So we will be praying for you in the community and just really grateful for the work you do.
Coach JPMD 24:52
Thank you so much, Zach, and I'm sure we'll be talking to each other soon.
Zach Elliot 24:57
I love it. Thanks, Jude.
Coach JPMD 24:59
Thank you again, bye. I'm so grateful to have had Zach on the show today. Being in relationship with others has been a recurring theme in our shows. And it was powerful to see Zach tied longevity with being in relationship with God, family, friends, and it's just the way it should be. I'll leave links to Zach's book in the show notes as well as where you can find him. And please don't forget to subscribe, leave a review, and tell me what you think. Thank you for listening to the Practice: Impossible Podcast. See you soon.