Burn Your Flag or Your Jersey: What’s a Mother to Do?

The furor over the NFL’s weak-kneed (pardon the pun) stance concerning the disrespect of the nation’s flag and National Anthem continues to rage on. People are rushing to take sides. What’s a mother to do?

As ever more light is shed on this subject, some strange happenings are taking place. Alejandro Villanueva, the lone Pittsburgh Steeler to emerge from the team’s locker room to stand and place a hand over his heart, has become a national hero. While many Pittsburgh fans are burning their jerseys and other team paraphernalia, Villanueva jersey sales have skyrocketed. Ironically, Villanueva felt the need to apologize to his teammates.

“God Save the Queen”

The Ravens and Jaguars played their game in England this past weekend. Prior to the game, the players stood for “God Save the Queen.” Many of them took a knee during their own National Anthem. My guess is most of them don’t understand the implications of such actions. Ravens fans are less than pleased (at least the ones I know).

The Cowboys, along with their owner (Jerry Jones), took a knee prior to the anthem, then stood for the anthem itself. I guess they were trying to dis the president of the United States while respecting the country itself. No one seems to know for sure. Directv subscribers are calling in by the droves to cancel their NFL Sunday Ticket package.

If you go to YouTube and search for “NFL fan burns jersey,” you’ll find dozens of posts. People are disgusted with their players, their teams, their owners, and the NFL in general. It’s a rather amazing sight to behold.

I used to worry that football (and sports in general) had become the new religion of Americans. I remember, years ago, a group of guys forming the Church of Monday Night Football. I suppose it was a joke of sorts, but they were as rabid as any Wednesday night Pentecostal. It definitely gave me pause.

To see rabid fans turning their backs on their Sunday afternoon heroes gives me a new perspective on Americans in general. It seems there are more important things in their lives. Who knew?

Denigrating the Symbol

One memorable Maryland woman stood beside the American Flag and lectured her team (the Steelers), tore off her Steeler shirt, and burned it along with a Steeler flag. It turns out we really do have American ideals in this country. People, young and old, male and female, seem to have had it with millionaire prima donnas denigrating the symbol of their hard fought battles.

The worst part of it all is how the whole thing has backfired. The original intent of taking the knee has all but been forgotten. The protest has become more important than the presumed cause behind it.

Maybe this Sunday morning there will be a few less people gathering in sports bars to get the best seats for the game. They might even show up for worship. I guess the church is safe for now (even though we take a knee quite a bit).

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

Praying in the NFL

Everyone seems to be up in arms over the NFL and its policy (or lack thereof) when it comes to the posture of their athletes during the playing of the National Anthem. Over the past couple of years, it’s become more and more vogue for players to “take a knee” during the traditional standing for the anthem. It seems to have begun with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and headed south from there.

I say, “headed south,” because it’s become a huge distraction. One of my favorite Sunday afternoon pastimes is to come home from worship, relax in front of my wide screen, and watch my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers chase the old pigskin for three hours. This past Sunday, it was certainly less than fulfilling.

One Lonely Figure

Not only did my boys in black and gold perform with considerably less finesse than usual, they lost in overtime to the lowly Bears. But that wasn’t the worst part. My guys didn’t even show up to the field for the anthem. One lonely figure stood at the entranceway to the locker room with his hand over his heart (offensive lineman and former Army Ranger, Alejandro Villanueva). The team was told to stay in the locker room to avoid team disunity—bad move—maybe.

Frankly, I didn’t care so much when a few disgruntled players from other teams drew the ire of fans by taking the knee. But when my own fan favorites weenied out by hiding in the locker room, I was highly disappointed. I’ve been arduously watching the Steelers since I was thirteen (fifty-four years). For some reason, I just figured they were above such shenanigans. I was wrong.

“The protests became the show…”

Instead of the usual, good natured bantering back and forth by fans, Sunday’s social media exploded with name calling and badmouthing over the efficacy of protesting in this manner. Even my lovely Bride refused to watch the game (and she’s a bigger football fan than I happen to be). The protests became the show, and the games were a distant second to the off-the-field debates.

I’m not exactly sure why the NFL has allowed this to go on. These are the people whose shield is fashioned after the nation’s flag. Check it out sometime. It’s red, white, and blue with a field of white stars. These guys who are taking a knee are wearing the flag on their uniforms. It seems a bit ironic to say the least.

The thing that really gets me, however, is the coverage of these protests. When a player kneels on the sidelines during the anthem, the cameras are all over him. The people who provide this coverage are the same folks who refuse to show the players who take the knee together following each game to pray in the middle of the field. I find that a tad hypocritical. They don’t want to offend anyone by showing those nasty prayer warriors. If anyone is offended by the guys dissing the anthem, however—well, that’s just tough.

Prayer out… Protest in…

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

Don’t Lose Your Phone

A recent Facebook story:

Several men are in the locker room of a golf club. A cellular phone on a bench rings and a man engages the hands-free speaker function and begins to talk. Everyone else in the room stops to listen.
MAN: “Hello”
WOMAN: “Hi Honey, it’s me. Are you at the club?”
MAN: “Yes.
WOMAN: “I’m at the shops now and found this beautiful leather coat. It’s only $2,000; is it OK if I buy it?”
MAN: “Sure, go ahead if you like it that much.”
WOMAN: “I also stopped by the Lexus dealership and saw the new models. I saw one I really liked.”
MAN: “How much?”
WOMAN: “$90,000.”
MAN: “OK, but for that price I want it with all the options.”
WOMAN: “Great! Oh, and one more thing. I was just talking to Janie and found out that the house I wanted last year is back on the market. They’re asking $980,000 for it.”
MAN: “Well, then go ahead and make an offer of $900,000. They’ll probably take it. If not, we can go the extra eighty-thousand if it’s what you really want.”
WOMAN: “OK. I’ll see you later! I love you so much!”
MAN: “Bye! I love you, too.”
The man hangs up. The other men in the locker room are staring at him in astonishment, mouths wide open.
He turns and asks, “Anyone know who’s phone this is?”

Apparently, it doesn’t pay to lose your cell phone. I’ve lost mine a few times, but it’s never resulted in the kind of catastrophe the poor, unnamed guy in the story suffered. Thank goodness for the app that locates it for you.

I’ve lost it underneath the seat of my car a couple of times. The app showed it was at my home, but it still took awhile to find it and almost as long to retrieve it.

Another time I lost it at my sister’s. The app showed me exactly where it was—also under the seat of her car. That one was a bit easier.

The most interesting time, however, was the last time I misplaced it. I left a doctor’s office, stopped off in the restroom, then headed for home. When I arrived, I realized I didn’t have my phone, but I knew exactly where I had left it. I doubled back to the office and headed to the restroom. It was gone (the phone, not the restroom). The office building had no place for lost and found items, so I headed back home, jumped on my computer, and checked the app.

I could see the phone moving along a street. I figured I had lost it for good this time. Fortunately, the app also has an alert button that makes the phone flash and gives the carrier a way to call your home phone. He immediately called me and I drove to meet him and retrieve my phone. What a hassle! I need to get a nerd strap.

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

Saint Bob

I had the privilege of attending a funeral a couple days ago. I say it was a privilege for at least two reasons. Number one: I didn’t have to preach. During most funerals I attend, I find myself standing in front of the family and friends of the deceased, reminding them of the promise of the Gospel. For this one, I was merely a participant in the crowd of worshipers. That alone, was a pleasant change.

More importantly, however, was the second reason I call it a privilege. The person whose life and memory we were celebrating was really one to be admired. Bob is a saint if ever there was one.

I never got to spend much time with him during his days here on this earth. I know other members of his family much more intimately than I knew him. But the few moments here and there which we were together were memorable. They were so because I didn’t have to spend much time with him to realize I was standing in the presence of a godly man.

He Set a High Standard

Bob had one of the sweetest, gentlest spirits I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime. He was one of those guys I would have found it difficult not to like (even if I had wanted to do so). He was warm and engaging, and living up to his legacy will be tough. He set quite a high standard.

One of his daughters once told me about a foray he made into McDonalds. As he was standing in line waiting to order, he struck up a conversation with the strangers behind him. By the time he got to the front to order his fries, he was talking to them about Jesus. That’s the way he lived his life.

Bob always reminded me a lot of the guy who led me to Christ many years ago. They both seemed to be cut out of the same mold. To each of them, Jesus was the ultimate; and introducing people to him was just as important. Guys like them just don’t seem to come around every day.

During the funeral service, one of his granddaughters sang a song entitled “The Promise.” It‘s one of those songs that pierce your heart and land deep into your soul. It captures the understanding that people like Bob have of Jesus. The poignant lyrics convey the promise we all have in Christ.

I never said that I would give you silver or gold
Or that you would never feel the fire or shiver in the cold
But I did say you’d never walk through this world alone
And I did say, don’t make this world your home

I never said that fear wouldn’t find you in the night
Or that loneliness was something you’d never have to fight
But I did say I’d be right there by your side
And I did say I’ll always help you fight

Rest in peace, Saint Bob. Hope to see you soon!

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

Just Say an Act of Contrition

I grew up under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. I can remember, as a youthful sinner, being in the confessional and saying a prayer aptly named the “Act of Contrition.” Being in that box all alone with a priest on the other side of the thinly veiled, sliding window was intimidating enough. Reciting that prayer, which I had meticulously memorized, seemed to add to the aura of godliness on the other side of the wall. Everything was magnified in that humbling situation, of course, because I was guilty as sin. (I suppose that’s where that expression originated.)

Asking for forgiveness from God is one thing. Having to ask for it from a living, breathing, human being is quite another. It’s not something most of us jump at the chance to do.

“I hadn’t seen a need for an apology.”

Keeping that in mind, I found it to be humbling and astonishing at the same time when (on three separate occasions over the past year) different individuals came to me to ask for my forgiveness. I suppose this actually happened to me more than three times during this period. However, those three particular incidents were extremely memorable, because (in each of those situations) I hadn’t seen a need for an apology. None of those folks had offended me in any way (at least not in a way that I had recognized). Still, they each felt the need to come to me face-to-face and ask for forgiveness.

Of course, I forgave each of them and assured them there was no need for an apology. But the result of their actions caused me to take pause and reflect on our reticence (and occasionally, our inability) to humble ourselves enough to approach others with a penitent attitude.

A Contrite Heart

What I immediately noticed was that my respect for each of these individuals grew dramatically. It’s not that I disrespected them before the fact, but my level of admiration for them rose significantly. It seems to me it takes a real man (or woman) just to admit one’s wrongs. But to then approach the wronged individual with a contrite heart would take real humility. It’s a hard thing to do and a hard lesson to learn. That kind of character cannot be found in just anyone.

The other side to that type of occurrence happens when people forgive someone before it’s requested. In Scripture, we see Messiah doing just that. You may remember the passage that describes the scene where a paralytic was lowered through someone’s roof to bypass the crowds around Jesus (Luke 5:17-26). As far as we can tell, the paralyzed man never asked for forgiveness. Despite that, Jesus forgave his sins anyway. The reason given for the Savior’s forgiveness had nothing to do with the man at all. Jesus forgave him when “he saw their faith”—they being the paralytic’s friends.

All in all, forgiveness seems to be a rather complicated subject. We should probably give it a little more consideration in our daily lives. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

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

I’m Sorry. Oh, Wait! I Take it Back

The infamous Kathy Griffin has done an about face. You may remember her from her decapitated president stunt. Following that fiasco, she apologized profusely. Now she wants to take the apology back. I suppose that’s somewhat akin to a golfer taking a mulligan.

She has begun to make the rounds on her new Taking It Back Tour. She says she is “no longer sorry” and has accused the president of committing atrocities. She has added that her previous faux pas was totally “blown out of proportion.” On top of that, she is now complaining that she lost friends over the incident.

“It’s never easy.”

I’m guessing most of you have had to tell someone you’re sorry. It’s never easy. Sometimes it can be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do (at least it can feel that way). And sometimes, you can’t avoid losing friendships. It’s part of the price we occasionally pay for screwing up in the first place.

Griffin, however, has taken things a step further. She is now shifting the blame to… Well, I’m not sure who’s she’s blaming. The media, I guess. The media has blown it all out of proportion. Of course with today’s social media, that pretty much includes all of us. We’re to blame. Sorry Kathy. We didn’t mean to ruin your life.

Her turnabout has caused me to wonder. Is this, now, a new strategy we can use? Apologize one day, set the record straight, then take it back after the dust has settled. I don’t think I’ve ever tried that one. Actually, I’m not sure I’d want to do so. Still, it should be interesting to see how it works out for her. I assume there will be plenty of folks who will sidle up to her and tell her she’s right.

From personal experience in these matters, it would seem to me that she was never really sorry in the first place. I certainly can’t read her mind, but I don’t ever remember feeling remorseful over my sins then feeling all that good about myself later. That’s just me, I suppose.

Doing a 180

There’s an important Biblical concept we find throughout Scripture. The word for it is “repentance.” It means to turn 180 degrees or to change one’s mind. Ms. Griffin did her one-eighty a while back. Now she seems to be repenting of her repentance. I’m not sure you can actually do that.

I can’t imagine looking to the Lord, asking for forgiveness, saying I’m sorry, then later saying I’m not really sorry at all—I take it back. The big problem with that, of course, is God would know I didn’t mean it from the beginning. The Lord would know I was merely attempting to cover my tracks.

Kathy Griffin lays no claim to being a Christian—quite the opposite, in fact. So her reversal is quite understandable. Those of us who do claim to follow Jesus need to heed her example and do the opposite. You just can’t take back genuine repentance.

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

If it Weren’t for Double Standards…

Recently, I heard someone say, “If it weren’t for double standards, we’d have no standards at all.” This was on a political talk show, so the reference was to the political class and the blind spot they have for their own evils. The speaker was noting how politicians are quick to demonize someone else’s presumed wrongs while soft-soaping their own. I believe the general adjective for such actions is “hypocritical.”

I’m assuming the quote was a takeoff of the old saying, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” That’s reminiscent of the old, Albert King, blues tune, “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Sometimes it seems like an all-or-nothing situation.

“Vote them all out…”

Unfortunately, double standards are not limited to politicians. If they were, we’d vote them all out of office. We keep them, however, because we’re just like them. It seems to be part of the human condition.

As Christians, we also are plagued by the human condition. I suppose it’s part of the “old man” to which the Apostle Paul liked to refer. We, too, are prone to double standards. Because we are, we protect and defend the parts of our lives that are suspect. At the same time, we attack the standards of others (or lack thereof) with almost no compunction. We do this while giving it virtually no thought whatsoever.

Jesus was constantly running afoul of the Sadducees and Pharisees over this very matter. He didn’t like their hypocritical attitudes. On one occasion, he invited any of them without sin to cast the first stone at another sinner (John 8:7). At least none of them had the hutzpah to take him up on it. They didn’t seem to learn from it, however. Hopefully, we have (or will).

I have watched over the years as some of my clergy colleagues have been raked over the coals because they, somehow, have not measured up. Not only is this done by the laity, often it’s at the hand of their peers in ministry. Much of the time, the passage of Scripture used for this treatment is 1 Timothy 3:1-12. In this pericope, Paul lays out some guidelines for anyone aspiring to be an overseer or deacon. Such positions in those days were generally held by men, so Paul adds a line or two about women being “worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” In short, these were standards that Paul believed we should all attempt to attain in our daily lives.

“Try not to taint them.”

I use the term, “we,” because these attributes were not a set of double standards. Overseers and deacons were not the only Christians being challenged to reach for these benchmarks. Over the years it has become a double standard because we have made it so.

Most of us have a hard time just living up to the phrase, “temperate and trustworthy in everything.” The rest is almost icing. If you meet someone who’s attained all those attributes, try not to taint them.

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

Hanging Out with the Hoi Polloi

The words, hoi polloi (hoy palloy), are a transliteration of a Greek term that refers to the “common people.” Literally, the phrase means “the many.” It points to the masses or the majority of people who are not rich and famous.

Over the years, it has come to be used as a somewhat derisive term. Elitists like to use it to separate themselves from “ordinary” people. Other phrases have been used as well—phrases such as “the unwashed masses” and “the riff-raff.” The hoi polloi, of course, have countered with equally demeaning terms for the elitists such as “hoity-toity.” We just love to separate ourselves, don’t we?

“A popular sport…”

This separation seems to be a popular sport among people in our society. From lofty politicians down to the man on the street, folks have a tendency to hang out with those who bear the greatest resemblance to themselves. This behavior has come to be expected and even normal. It has become so commonplace that it is prevalent in the church as well.

This is extremely curious when we consider the actions of Jesus. Think of who he is—Savior God, Creator of the world, owner of the cattle on a thousand hills, Master of everything. If there was ever an elite person, it was Jesus. And yet, with whom did he hang out? The hoi polloi… If he was here today, there are many Christians who wouldn’t hang out with him because of the company he would inevitably keep. They would find it (shall we say) less than tasteful. Can we say, “Pharisaical?”

Attend almost any Sunday service in America. What you will often find are a group of people who are less about following Jesus than they are about being “birds of a feather” flocking together. It’s about as un-Jesus-like as you can get. Still, we do it without a thought.

“I didn’t realize you were rich.”

I remember years ago, a friend of mine joined a particular denominational church. When his father found out, his statement to his son was, “I didn’t realize you were rich.” We all have our perceptions, and we often hold to them without variance—right or wrong.

I’m under no grand illusion that writing this little blog is going to change our gathering habits. We should at least think about it, however. A brown man in a tux should be able to sit next to a yellow woman in cut-offs. A white ditch digger should be able to sit next to a red salesperson. In true worship, these differences should not be mutually exclusive. The black preacher should not be surrounded by faces that only resemble his own.

I know this all sounds extremely idealistic. But if the hoi oligoi (the few) cannot be part of the hoi polloi, we are little better than the American Nazi’s and the Anti-Fa’s of this world. If we fly under the banner of Christ, maybe we should associate with the rest of his people. That whole “love-one-another” thing is pretty clear.

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

Poor Me (Well, Maybe Not So Poor)

I’m a servant of God in one of the more affluent areas of our country (and, I suppose, of the world itself). One of the most challenging tasks here is to preach to, and teach, some of the most well heeled people in the world. When Jesus spoke of the difficulties of rich people entering the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:24), he wasn’t making it any easier. As we all know, however, “rich” is a relative term.

When are people dripping in opulence surround you, it’s easy to get caught up in the trappings and leave the Gospel behind (or, at least, move it down on your list of priorities). It can be a very slippery slope. To make matters worse, living in such an area affords you the opportunities needed to become prosperous yourself. Accumulating the “toys” can be heady stuff.

“Spritual smelling salt…”

In the middle of all that, occasionally I’ll run across something that is akin to a spiritual smelling salt—something that jogs me back into Biblical reality. That happened to me recently when I read a short article about Francis Asbury. Asbury was an early leader of the Methodists in the North American Continent.

His earthly possessions were few (rarely owning more than he could carry with him). There is no evidence that he ever took a vow of poverty, but you couldn’t prove it by witnessing his lifestyle. Once, on a trip from New York to Boston, he took a sum total of three dollars to spend. Even in the eighteenth century, that was quite a stretch.

“We’ll keep him poor.”

There’s an old joke about a Methodist prayer that says, “Lord, we want a pastor that’s poor and humble. You keep him humble—we’ll keep him poor.” There was no such need for that prayer as it concerned Asbury. He kept himself poor. As Methodist pastors slowly became more and more affluent, his voluntary poverty kept him above the fray.

Despite having no money to speak of, he traveled extensively. He preached everywhere including remote parts of the American frontier (which in those days was considerable). It is said that he was readily recognized in his day. Someone spotting him on the street was more likely to know who he was than if they saw George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Hundreds of children born in the colonies and early states were named after him.

Asbury was instrumental in aiding in the empowerment of people of color. This was no small feat considering the times. Many people in those days were not living as free men and women. Early Afro-American branches of Methodism arose to prominence in no small part due to Asbury’s fight for equality among all people.

He did all this, and more, without the aid of huge sums of money. In fact, he did it with little money at all. In a day when we measure the success of our congregations by the size of our Sunday offerings, we may want to take note of his example.

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

Glass in the Street: A Repeat

[This incident was replayed in my neighborhood recently, so I assumed it was a sign from God to repost this old blog from a couple years ago.]

It was recycling day in our neighborhood this past Thursday. I put our oversized bin out to the curb early in the day like a good doobie. I had missed the week before for some reason and we were full to the brim.

Later in the day, I headed out to retrieve the bin and saw the recycling truck out front. I didn’t want to be pushy, so I waited in the garage until I figured they were done. Then I headed toward the curb.

I stopped short when I saw the RD (recycle dude) busting his buns to pick up odds and ends off our street. Apparently, he overestimated his reach or underestimated the distance. Either way, he was in a hurry to cover his tracks.

When the truck pulled away, I moseyed out to the curb to finish retrieving my bin. It didn’t take me long to see why the RD was busting his buns to get out of there. What I saw was broken glass spread across the street in front of our home.

I was a little torqued off, but I kind of blamed myself for missing the week before and having so much stuff in my container (even though it wasn’t my fault). So I picked up the largest pieces by hand and then grabbed a push broom from my garage to quickly get the rest of the thoroughfare cleared away.

I got to thinking later how much like life that little incident was. For example: we always talk about congress hurrying to pass laws that have unintended consequences. They want to clear up a little problem that made big news, so they pass a statute to fix it.

In their hurry to do so, they fail to think through the possible results of their little fix. Consequently, they end up causing more problems than they solved for a lot more people than were helped in the first place. Like my recycle dude, they make a hurried mess for someone else to clean up (like another congress down the road).

These things happen all the time in life on a smaller scale. A driver swerves to miss a squirrel and hits another car. A cook takes a shortcut to move a heated dish and burns her hand. A pastor preaches a sermon to address what he thinks is a problem in his congregation and drives ten people away (woops).

A decision made in haste, a thoughtless action taken, a reflexive word spoken without consideration… Each of us has done all these things. Each time we’ve done so, we’ve made a mess. On top of that, sometimes we can’t stick around long enough to clean it up. Other times we’re unable to clean it up. Occasionally we don’t even know we caused the mess in the first place.

In each of those instances, someone else has to clean it up (or at least help). I really hate glass in my street! Don’t you?

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