Throwing Out the Baby

I remember my Mom telling me about growing up during the depression. She was the youngest of nine children. There was no such thing as a water heater (at least in their home). To draw a bath, water was heated over the coal stove in the kitchen. It took quite a while—not to mention, a considerable amount of coal. For that reason, everyone took one bath a week—usually on Saturday.

That thought is bad enough for twenty-first-century Americans. It gets worse, however. Everyone used the same bathwater. Let that one sink in for a moment. In my Mom’s home, they had two parents and nine kids. Even using modern math, that seems to add up to eleven. Eleven people using the same bathwater. Thank God for the showers in my modern, super-comfortable home.

The Pecking Order

It doesn’t stop there, though. There was a pecking order at bath-time. The oldest was always the first to get bathed. Once the eldest was clean, the next one in the age line took their turn. Consequently, the baby always got to use the dirtiest water. Yikes!

In my Mom’s home, they would place a metal tub in the kitchen (closer to the hot water). When everyone had taken their bath, the water—now tepid and grimy at least—was finally tossed out. I don’t know who coined it, but someone finally said, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Since my Mom was the baby in her home, I’m glad someone came up with this sage advice.

Like many old sayings, this expression has been adapted and applied to various situations for passing along good-sense counsel. Essentially, in the absence of the communal bathtub, it is now taken to mean, “Don’t eliminate the good while tossing out the bad.” I like it.

A Thousand Reasons

Regardless of the fact that most of us are well-versed in that maxim, we often end up doing it anyway. A lot of people are doing this with their faith these days. Because the church is so messed up in many people’s eyes, they have not only rejected the church herself, they are rejecting Christianity in its entirety. 

As a retired pastor, I could give you a thousand reasons to reject the church. There are things that occur in congregations that are upsetting. In fact, some of them are disgusting, and others are downright vile. Not only are there distressing occurrences, but there are also parishioners—ostensibly Christians—who can be repulsive as well. There used to be a joke among pastors that said, “The church would be great if it wasn’t for the people.”

When I was a young pastor, I had a neighbor (who also happened to be one of my parishioners) who, over the years, had earned the nickname, “The Devil on the Hill.” He was credited with singlehandedly driving out several pastors. Folks like him have been catalysts for others to toss out the baby (so to speak). My simple suggestion—don’t reject Jesus because of the devils.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Twenty-Four

I woke up this morning to the realization that it was twenty-four degrees. That’s twenty-four with a two. That’s Fahrenheit, not Celsius. That’s…yikes! Get me out of here! I’m just not ready for this. 

Next month I’ll be seventy years old. That’s seventy with a seven. That’s human years, not dog years. That’s…yikes! Get over it! You’ve been through this before—dozens of times.

I’ll Survive

That’s true, of course. At seventy, I’ve seen winters come and go. I’ve actually survived every one of them, and I suppose, I’ll survive this one as well.

Most of us like to complain about the weather, and I’m no exception. I’m not a big fan of the cold—particularly, extreme cold. For me, extreme cold is anything under sixty-seven degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, not Celsius). Eighty-degree days are my faves. They afford me great opportunities to hop on the Harley and take long, satisfying rides (I tend to be a fair-weather rider).

I have friends who are just the opposite, however. These folks enjoy the frigid air that descends upon us each November. While I dream of moving south, they are making plans to head north. I dream of spring training baseball; they dream of skiing. 

Another problem I have with this time of year is the lack of daylight. It gets dark at three in the afternoon. Well, maybe it’s not quite that early, but it sure seems like it. I’m more into the season where the sun sets about nine o’clock. It’s just as they say. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” (I know. They’re not speaking of literal sunlight, but I am.)

Unscathed

It sounds like it, but I’m not really complaining—well, maybe a little bit. I will plod through winter and make the best of it. I can do this. I have the technology—not to mention, a lifetime of experience. I’m pretty sure I’ll come out on the other end—virtually unscathed. It’s what I do. I enjoy my summers and survive my winters.

My great hope is found in Scripture. The Prophet Zechariah spoke of a day when, “there will be neither sunlight nor cold, frosty darkness.” That excites me. I’m all-in. He adds that will be, “no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light.” I’m not sure how literal that is to be taken, but I sure like the whole concept of more warmth and less darkness.

Zechariah is obviously pointing to the end of things as we currently know them. He’s directing our attention to a day when “the Lord will be king over the whole earth.” It sounds like another positive side effect will be a disappearance of politics. “On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.”

If you like frigid weather, darkness, and political intrigue, you might not like Zechariah’s message. I can only assume there will be something for you on that day as well. Maybe a secret tunnel to wintertime…

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Some Wish

I usually head back the place of my birth at least once or twice per year. It’s only a four or five-hour drive, so when I have an occasional free weekend, I try to head in that direction. The last several times I went, I stayed at the home of some longtime friends.

The last time I trekked to those northlands, I noticed a plaque on one of their walls. The first few times I passed by it, I didn’t give it a second glance. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to jump out at me. As I recall, the wording went something like this:

            Some want; Some wish; Others make it happen…

When it finally grabbed me, I stopped dead in my tracks and read it over two or three times. As I let it sink in, it dawned on me that the friends in whose home I was visiting were of the third variety. Ever since I’ve known them, they have been people who make it happen—or, at least, try.

Cause Me to Pause

That characteristic is one I recognized in them long before I saw the plaque on their wall. I’ve always admired that quality which is evident in their lives. What their plaque did for me was cause me to pause and ask myself where I stood.

Do I simply want things or wistfully wish for them? Or do I—as do my friends—make things happen? As I stood before that plaque and read it again, it became a sobering thought residing deep in my soul. After that, I didn’t pass that sign again without reading it and allowing it to sink ever more deeply into my psyche. 

As I consider my options in life, it seems to me that simply wanting or wishing for something important is not viable. Being someone who makes it happen is the only way that makes sense for me. On the other hand—and it’s a big hand—attempting to make something happen makes you vulnerable.

Whatever “It” Is

If you’re out to make it happen—whatever “it” is—your attempt will necessarily cause you to take risks. Either you’re risking your reputation, your riches, or your relationships (among other possibilities). One of the largest risks is the risk of failure. I detest failure.

There have been many things I’ve refused to attempt over the years because I was afraid to fail. The plaque on my friends’ wall reminded me of that. It also caused me to think about the fact that the most successful people are usually ones who have failed many times prior to their biggest successes. Investments—whether of time, money, or energy—are ripe for failure.

It’s recorded in Scripture that Jesus once told a young, rich man to invest in heavenly things. His admonition included a guarantee that those kinds of investments “never fail.” We should definitely invest in sure things such as God’s Kingdom. Making it happen in conjunction with God’s will is a no-miss proposition. Try it!

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Breaking News

I hear it every day. I suppose you do as well. Breaking news! This is the short phrase used to grab our attention. Even after hearing it for a dozen years—at least—I still get sucked in…once in a while. 

The fact of the matter is, very seldom is it breaking news—at least, not as I would define it. To me, breaking news should be something I’ve never heard before. It should, as a bare minimum, be something that the least informed individual on the planet probably hasn’t heard. Sometimes, it doesn’t even rise to the level of that low bar.

Statute of Limitations

I heard it this morning and wondered to myself, “When does the statute of limitations run out on breaking news?” Is it ten minutes, five hours, three days? If something occurs on a Friday, it’s breaking news until Tuesday. It’s as if no-one listens to the news over the weekend.

We’ve become a news-hungry society. We act like we’re news starved. We aren’t, of course. We aren’t even close to that. We pound it away into our mental storehouses like a kid chomping on a quarter pounder from MacDonald’s. We can’t seem to get enough.

Even when we’ve gotten the entire picture, we tune in to see how everyone else is analyzing and/or redefining what we already know. If we don’t, we’re afraid we’ll miss a clue or get it wrong altogether.

The Six O’Clock News

When we were kids, we had something called the Six O’clock News. It lasted a half an hour, then Walter Cronkite would tell us, “And that’s the way it is,” or Huntley and Brinkley would say, “Goodnight, Chet—Goodnight, David.” Then, it was over until the next evening. If it was a Friday evening, there was no more news to speak of until Monday night at six o’clock. Today, we’ve got it flaming at us 24/7/365 (or 366, depending upon the year). We’ve got hourly news, headline news, and sporting news—all day and all night.

I have to admit, I’m just as hooked as anyone—well, maybe not anyone. But I watch a lot of it. I find, however, that I have to watch several flavors just to make sure I’m getting a balanced view. I have to watch one network to get the liberal version, another to take in the conservative viewpoint, and yet another to see what the folks who attempt to take it straight down the middle are saying. Frankly, it can be exhausting.

The biggest problem with all this—as I see it—is that we’re so busy getting the breaking news, we find there is little time left to get the Good News. By the Good News, I’m referring to the Gospel—a word that literally means good news. It’s a term that comes from the old English word, godspel. 

I teach a class every Wednesday evening about the Good News. Frankly, it keeps me far more current than any breaking news. I highly recommend it to you.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Austere?

No. I couldn’t believe it either, but there it was in big, bold lettering. The terrorist and infamous leader of ISIS had been tracked down by US forces and he blew himself up. Afterward, The Washington Post ran a slightly understated headline.

The line read as follows: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Austere Religious Scholar at Helm of Islamic State, Dies at 48.” When I heard this, I thought it was a joke. It was the kind of headline normally used by The Babylon Bee (my favorite satirical magazine). But the Post beat them to it. I assumed they were turning to political satire as well.

A Quick Retraction

The Washpo (as it is affectionately called) quickly retracted and changed its headline in the wake of a deluge of blowback from just about everyone. Apparently, it is reconsidering its new format as a satirical paper (much to my chagrin). I may have considered a subscription had they maintained their comedic course.

The headline originally seemed so tongue-in-cheek that it sounded as if they were seeking a few coffeehouse chuckles. Unfortunately, it appears as though they were actually in earnest (which causes me to doubt that they should be considered a serious newspaper). 

Al-Baghdadi, reportedly, not only took his own life but that of three of his young children. There’s nothing quite like dying for the sins of your father. The American troops tried to take him alive, but they understood, going in, that the prospects of that occurring were highly improbable.

While The Post celebrated al-Baghdadi’s austerity, everyone else seemed to be celebrating his death. I’ve seen enough death firsthand to have developed an aversion to anyone’s mortal demise. But calling someone who sought the death of millions of others, austere, is a tad beyond the pale in my book.

Academic Accomplishments

Austerity (while it has a variety of definitions) means “giving little or no scope for pleasure.” Yeah… I guess you’re austere if you want everyone else to die and avoid any future happiness. C’mon Washpo! You can do better than that.

While other outlets were labeling him “a serial rapist and murderer,” one of our most prestigious newspapers was attempting to emphasize his academic accomplishments. I like to “accentuate the positive,” as the old song goes; but I’m pretty sure the evil, in this case, outweighs the good—even in the headlines of an American newspaper.

Among al-Baghdadi’s atrocities were things like genocide, sex slavery, mass crucifixions, decapitations, stonings, and organized rape. Since he did all this in the name of religion, it becomes especially repulsive. Portraying anyone’s rape as a good thing is incomprehensible to most people. This guy was a monster in anyone’s book.

All life is precious, but ridding the world of a character such as al-Baghdadi is not going to elicit many tears—particularly from people of the Western Culture. I’m pretty sure most folks from the Middle East won’t be in very much anguish either. It’s not for me to say, but I’m guessing Revelation 21:8 might apply here.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

She’s A Sex Offender

I was lured by an article claiming that all liars have one thing in common. When I clicked on it, what I found was an article that redirected me to a website that basically allows you to do a background check on yourself. In the reviews, one guy exclaimed, “Thanks for your amazing website. I just discovered that my girlfriend is a registered sex offender!” Imagine that.

I suppose it’s helpful to know what’s out there in the public domain—particularly if it’s about you. It doesn’t hurt to know the truth—or does it? There’s an old saying that goes, “The truth hurts.” Yeah… I can attest to that. I suppose we all can.

The Inevitable Happened

I went to the site, put in my name, and waited to see what bad things can been gleaned about me in cyberspace. I wasn’t too worried about my girlfriend (since I don’t have one—unless you count my lovely Bride). The inevitable happened, of course. I got all the way to the end only to discover that I needed to pay $27.78 to find out what the report had to say. I was a tad disappointed, but there’s another old saw that says, “Ignorance is bliss.” I guess I’ll opt for that one. Even if I pay the money, nothing’s going to change.

Living in ignorance is probably not the best way to travel through life. I remember a guy who showed up at a worship service I was conducting. He had never attended worship prior to that day. When he told me the reason he stopped in, I was a bit amazed.

He said that he was at his job, down in a pit, repairing a machine. He was, in essence, trapped. By that, he meant he couldn’t get away from his work partner who proceeded to share the Gospel with him.

He Never Wanted to Know

Up to that point in life, he never wanted to know. He felt that, if he didn’t hear about God, he couldn’t be held responsible. Once he had heard the truth, he knew it was time to get with the program. For him, ignorance was bliss. Fortunately, the truth set him free.

I suppose a lot of us want to live in the bliss of ignorance. Common sense tells us that it’s a bit dangerous to do so, but many of us still slog along with that attitude. In some ways, it’s just easier. Why go through the process of truth discovery when you can sail along without it? Why indeed.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to remind him about his own former ignorance. He indicated that he was shown mercy despite his ignorance so he might be able to share the Gospel with others that they might be able to overcome their ignorance as well. He makes it sound like we’re not supposed to live in the darkness. The Gospel of John does say that Jesus is the Light that shines in our darkness. I guess he was right.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

I’ll Hold Your Beer

I was watching the fifth game of the World Series along with a few million other folks when it happened. I was also watching live in 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down on national TV. I suppose there were hundreds of other famous, live incidents I was able to see as they occurred, but these two are possibly the ones I will remember the most.

I’m referring, of course, to the now-famous Jeff Adams. Mrs. Adams had stepped out to purchase some food, so her husband was holding her beer as well as his own. Then Yordan Alvarez of the Astros jacked a home run. As Adams spotted the baseball heading his direction, he put himself in position to, uh, catch it. 

A Heroic Move

In a heroic move, he held on to the two beers (one in each hand) and blocked the ball with his chest. The ball fell to his feet, and he was able to retrieve it. Obviously, it was a well-deserved souvenir. The home run traveled over the left field wall going a distance of 405 feet at a velocity of 106 miles per hour. I’ve played enough baseball in my lifetime to know that had to hurt. My immediate reaction was to tell my lovely Bride that it probably broke a rib.

Apparently, I was wrong. Adams was interviewed after the game and said it didn’t hurt because, “the Astros don’t hit that hard anyway.” Obviously a Nats fan… I have to admit, I would have either tossed the beer and gone for the ball, or I would have dived out of the way. I’m just happy for Jeff that the ball wasn’t head high when it reached him—although he may have caught it in his teeth if it had. I would have had to look away if that had transpired.

TV is an amazing invention. We got our first boob tube when I was two years old. My parents told me years later that I was glued to it. That was sixty-seven years ago, and I’ve watched my share over time. Sometimes I’m embarrassed about the decades I’ve no doubt wasted during that era. I’ve viewed some pretty important moments, but I’ve also had to wade through eons of unnecessary drivel to get there.

“I Was Watching!”

With media the way it is these days, I can watch Oswald and Adams whenever and as often as I want. Seeing it live isn’t all that important—or is it? It’s kind of cool to be able to say, “I was watching when that happened!” That’s small reward for losing so much of my life, but that’s the way we seem to live.

Luke tells the story about Mary and Joseph finding the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. He told them, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” It appears that Jesus preferred spiritual matters over TV. I’m not sure how much time he wasted in his short life, but I’m guessing it wasn’t much.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Beyond Perfection

I happened to catch part of an exposé on AXS TV that was featuring Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker. If you’re a music fan, you might recognize their names as the central figures in the band, Steely Dan. The exposé was focusing on their album entitled Aja—released in 1977.

I love watching how professional musicians work. It’s fascinating to see how some of the great recordings were developed. This piece was no exception.

It Felt Natural

I was taken by the comments of one of the studio musicians who performed on Aja. As he described the process, he said that they played and practiced each song until they perfected it. Once that happened, they continued playing it until it “felt natural.” He said at that point it became easy for the listener to enjoy. His phrase for the outcome was that the finished product was “beyond perfection.”

I had to think about that one for a while. Beyond perfection… How can that be? If something has reached perfection, it’s as good as it gets. How can one go beyond that? Apparently, this musician not only felt that they could, but that they did. He felt they had improved upon perfection.

I tried to come up with something to which I could compare that mastery. Then it dawned on me. I found it in 1 John 4:16. That verse contains a simple, three-word sentence that captures the same idea as beyond perfection. The sentence is, “God is love.”

Love is Tricky

Love is a tricky term to begin with. The Greeks had at least four different terms that we translate into the English word, love. Three of them are used in the New Testament. One essentially means brotherly love, another means erotic love, and the third refers to the kind of love God has for us—a perfect love—one with no strings attached. He doesn’t love us if, when, or because. He just does. That’s a perfect love.

John goes even further by telling us that God not only loves with a perfect love, but he IS love. How can that be? How can a being be love? Love is not a being, is it? Or is it?

I look at it like this. Like Forest Gump, I know what love is. I love my lovely Bride. I love my friends. As a matter of fact, I love hot dogs. These are all different kinds of love. I have learned how to love in many different ways. I cannot, however, BE love. Yet, God has gone beyond perfection. He not only can love, he IS love. I can’t wrap my brain around that, but it’s true nonetheless. 

That fact gives me hope. Way back in the Book of Genesis, we are told that we are made in the image of God. That undoubtedly encompasses a lot of things. One of those things is the potential that is ingrained in us—the potential to love others. Maybe we should try to perfect that.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Lynching the English…

I grew up hearing the word, “lynching.” I knew, early on, what it meant. I watched many oaters as a kid. I quickly learned that, in the “wild west,” cattle rustlers and horse thieves were illegally hanged for their crimes. In other words, some unauthorized citizens took the law into their own hands.

I remember seeing show after show where cowboys, ranch hands, and townsfolk decided that a certain individual’s life was irredeemable. Consequently, they found a rope and “strung him up” (the oft-used phrase). They were called, “a lynch mob.” Marshall Dillon must have prevented dozens of these—albeit staged ones on TV.

A Puritan Transplant

The practice of hanging people as a form of capital punishment originated in Persia about 2500 years ago. The Puritans, of all people, transported it to America. It was a simple, public way to punish criminals. It not only rid the community of the perpetrators of evil, but it was considered a highly visual deterrent for any onlooker who may have been entertaining thoughts of criminal behavior himself.

Those hangings, of course, were primarily done within the bounds of the law. Somewhere along the way, people began to step outside jurisprudence and form vigilante groups. When authorities were not providing the oversight and punishment thought to be adequate, these groups would quickly rise up and take matters into their own hands. Often, as in the old west for example, true lawmen and other legal entities were sparse and sometimes nonexistent. Lynch mobs were available, quick, and efficient—often totally unfair, and certainly without due process.

The earliest American thought to have been lynched was a guy by the name of John Billington. He was suspected to have committed murder and was summarily hung by a mob of angry pilgrims in 1630. Possibly, the most famous person ever to be lynched was Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormons). The bloodiest vigilante movement, however, occurred in Montana in the 1860’s. Hundreds of suspected horse thieves were precipitously hung by this form of “frontier justice.”

Racially Charged

The most infamous lynchings, though, were committed against black Americans, most notably in the South. Because of this, the very term, lynching, has become racially charged. Famously, Justice Clarence Thomas accused Senate Democrats of a “high tech lynching” as they fought to defeat his nomination to the Supreme Court.

Recently, the President used the term in a Tweet and has been excoriated by almost everyone (including people who have also publically used the term). He was referring to hearings where he has been denied due process. It’s certainly not a literal lynching, but one can clearly understand the metaphor.

One thing that bothers me about this, as in many other instances, is that we are slowly being robbed of our ability to communicate. The English language itself is being lynched—hijacked might be another appropriate description. If you don’t like a word, I’m not allowed to use it. Interestingly enough, if I drop an f-bomb, it’s widely accepted. Sorry, but I’m just not a fan.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Impeachment Now!

Inspired by the current crop of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, I have decided to hold a behind-the-scenes, closed door impeachment investigation of the entire Congress. I have been conducting secret interviews with all my friends, and the handwriting is on the wall. The results are not in as yet, but it’s pretty clear that we will soon be at a point where we will be able to call for the removal of all 535 Representatives and Senators.

What I am discovering is that there is ample evidence against the guilty parties. They were elected to represent us, but they are doing anything but that. I have documents that prove they are failing in their obligations. I can’t reveal anything at this point, but in due time, all will be disclosed and will prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are negligent in their responsibilities.

It Doesn’t Matter

Some critics have suggested to me that these congressmen and women have not committed crimes. To that I say (along with Professor Corey Brettschneider from Brown University), it doesn’t matter if they committed a crime. They should still be impeached. They have so demeaned their office that they should be removed. The good professor was not speaking about Congress, of course, but about the President. Still, as the old saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

The way I see it, the Dems can remove the president, and the rest of us can remove everyone else. This will leave our new President (Mr. Pence) to be the temporary dictator of these United States. We can give him the authority to appoint anyone he’d like, and then maybe we can get something done. One could only hope, at least.

There is one inherent flaw with all this, of course. In the course of two years, we’d have another election and vote in a whole new crop of phonies, scallywags, and frauds. Then we’d be back to square one. Still, we’d have two years of peace and quiet and would be left alone to live life the way God intended—with no government intrusion.

My Biggest Problem

My biggest problem, however, is that, in order to implement my grandiose plan, I’d have to ignore Scripture. Specifically, the Apostle Paul issued a famous admonition in his letter to the Romans. He wrote in Romans 13:1, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Ugh! No wonder he was always getting stoned (by rocks, I mean).  

On the other hand, there is a Proverb (16:12 to be exact) which says, “Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness.” We could just as easily insert the word, “politicians,” in place of kings. If a politician doesn’t hate wrongdoing and is the wrongdoer him or herself, that ruler is marring the seat established through righteousness. Sounds like grounds for impeachment to me.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]