Is Nothing Sacred?

Mr. Robert Mueller, the special attorney of Russian Collusion fame, submitted his report to his good friend, Attorney General Barr, and went on about his daily life (apparently). Last week, he took his family to a worship service. Since it was Resurrection Sunday, I suppose this was expected to be a part of the routine.

Mueller and his family were attending the service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC on that particular Sunday. I’m not sure how often he worships there, but it’s been reported that Attorney Barr’s wife attends Bible study with Mueller’s spouse. It sounds like the Christian faith plays a part in their lives.

No Comment

I mention all this because of what occurred this past Resurrection Sunday. In case you didn’t see the clip, one of our stellar news outlets got the bright idea to intercept Mueller as he left the church. He tried to avoid them as best he could by saying, “No comment,” to their first question. The reporter continued to hound him, but he kept mum.

Later, all the news outlets got hold of the video clip of the reporter’s actions with Mueller and gave it some airplay. I had a chance to watch it shortly after it had been reported and it was accompanied by an old comment I hadn’t heard in a while. The commentator, after airing the clip, asked, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” Good question…

It’s common knowledge that public figures can no longer expect any real privacy. They get accosted whenever they go out into the community. It’s a wonder that anyone seeks to serve in an overt way these days. Consequently, the answer to the commentator’s question seems to be a resounding, “No!”

Just to be sure, I checked out the definition of the word, sacred. It means, as you probably already know, “connected with God or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.” To take it a step further, veneration means “reverence, respect, or adoration.”

No More Oomph

With all that in mind, it seems that the reporter who accosted Mr. Mueller didn’t think the space or time the Mueller family occupied on their way from worship on Resurrection Sunday was anywhere near sacred. That’s a mouthful, but simply put, “sacred” seems to have lost its oomph.

A cursory reading of the book of Exodus will give you the opposite impression. Almost everything in that book seems to be sacred. Read the rest of the Old Testament, and you’ll be able to make a long list of sacred things—clothing, stones, territory, you name it. My favorite, however, is mentioned in the book of Hosea. The prophet is told that the Lord loves Israel even though the people have turned to other gods and “the sacred raisin cakes.”

So, we seem to have gone from everything being sacred to nothing being sacred. Maybe we need to bring back raisin cakes. It seems to me that something has to be sacred. Raisin cakes might be a good start.

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

Logo Joe

Well, I suppose it was bound to happen. As you probably know by now, former Vice President, Joe Biden, has announced his entry into the 2020 presidential sweepstakes. Anyone who does that sort of thing can expect their fair share of vetting, scrutiny, and criticism—to the nth degree, I might add.

Sometimes, criticism is earned. Sometimes it’s unfair. Occasionally it’s ridiculous. I saw some this morning that seemed (to me) beyond the ridiculous. Lunchbox Joe is now being criticized for his campaign logo. I could understand it if the logo was lewd, unpatriotic, or in some other way absurd. To my way of thinking, however, it’s clever and tasteful.

I Approve This Message

I suppose my taste in art is not the best or most sophisticated. Still, I can’t see anything wrong with Uncle Joe’s logo. Yet, there are people coming out of the woodwork to disparage it. The big complaint seems to be that it’s a rip-off of Candidate Obama’s campaign logo. The secondary complaints are coming from graphic artists who either don’t think it’s clever enough or that it’s a “struggle to read.” One guy stated that it screams, “I’m Barak Obama’s VP, and I approve this message.” I’m no artist, but my guess is that it’s tough being original while working within such a small space. If it’s a copy, at least he’s emulating a past winner.

Don’t we have enough to complain about without jumping on his innocuous ad campaign? For Heaven’s sake! Take a sip of your morning coffee and move on. I’m not sure for whom I might cast my primary vote, but I don’t think Mr. Biden’s (or anyone else’s) logo is going to sway me one way or another. Please get over yourself.

There’s a short, three-word question in the book of Proverbs that asks, “Who has complaints?” In the context of the passage, the question is couched in an invective against drinking too much wine. It’s somewhat rhetorical and implies that someone who has unfounded complaints has probably been hitting the bottle a bit too frequently.

A First World Problem

It seems, however, that, in our day and age, people don’t have to be imbibing to levy inane criticisms. It’s almost ingrained in our psyche. We see something that doesn’t quite hit us where we live and the grievances quickly fly from our mouths (or keyboards). I’m not sure why that is. Maybe we’re bored. If you don’t like Joe Biden’s logo and have the time to openly complain about it, I’m thinking you have too much time on your hands. This seems to be a wonderful example of a first world problem.

To be really honest, I kind of like Joe’s logo. It’s not going to persuade me to vote for him, but at least it won’t irritate me every time I see it. Some logos actually are offensive, bewildering, or just downright stupid. I can assure you, however, I’m not going to waste my time complaining about them. I’ve got better things to do. ‘Nuff said…

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

Grave Robber

This past Sunday was Resurrection Sunday. It was the first time in a long time that I didn’t have to preach at least once during that holiest of days. Sitting with the folks and worshiping as a regular congregant was a treat. Even a diehard parson likes to do that once in a while. That’s especially true when there’s a good preacher delivering the message (which there was this past weekend).

During worship, we sang a tune that I had never sung prior to that service. In the lyrics was a line that referred to God the Father as a Grave Robber. Being a sucker for clever expressions, that stuck out in my brain.

Spiritual How-To

As it turns out, I’m not the only one who’s ever gotten that sensation. At least one other person has written a book, a curriculum, and study materials surrounding that theme. From what I can gather, it’s more of a spiritual how-to book, but the title points to something far beyond anything we can do for ourselves.

Even as Christians, we often forget about the uniqueness of our faith. I used to hear it said when I was younger that proponents of other religions can point to the place where the remainders of their founders are buried. We can’t do that. Our “founder” didn’t stay there long enough for the spot to be permanently identified (although we try). The point, of course, is that he is risen (“He is risen, indeed!”).

We serve a risen Savior. That is matchless. It’s also inconceivable without faith. The grave of Jesus was robbed. No human body snatcher was the culprit, however. God the Father called his Son forth from the tomb, angels rolled the stone away, and the rest is His Story.

American Christian Punk

I did a little research and discovered that the Christian rock group, Petra, recorded a song entitled “Grave Robber” many years ago on their album, “Not of This World.” It was released back in 1983, and I had forgotten all about it. So the concept is not altogether new. Having been reminded of it, I went back and listened to some of the songs. Great album…

Checking further, I found that there is now a group called Grave Robber. They are described as an American Christian punk group who primarily play horror punk. Don’t ask me what that is. I’m definitely out of the loop on that genre. Still, the concept lives on.

If you listen to the lyrics of the Petra tune referenced above, you’ll notice that Jesus is the Grave Robber in their version. The grave he robs is ours. The chorus states:

And the grave will come up empty-handed that day
Jesus will come and steal us away
Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite?
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize?
When the grave robber comes and death finally dies

I guess that sums it up pretty well.

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

Resurrection

Saturday, I did a ton of yard work. You know the drill. Dig, extract rocks, plant, throw bags of mulch around, stand up, kneel down—repeat many times over… If I had been able to finish the entire project in one day, I would have felt pretty good about it. At sixty-nine years old, however, that wasn’t happening. There’s still plenty to do.

The next day was Resurrection Sunday. It has come to be commonly known as Easter, although that label is highly suspect (but that’s a topic for another time). As we all know, it’s the day Jesus rose from the dead. No small feat, of course, which is why it’s the most celebrated day on the Christian calendar. Even many non-churchgoers head off to corporate worship on this day.

Churchgoers

Being one of those churchgoers (as we are often called), I decided to get up in time to head to an early service. In the attempt to do so, I was reminded of the Resurrection. Just getting out of bed was a resurrection of sorts. My body was racked with pain. I was not injured, mind you, just as sore as I’ve ever been. The previous day’s activity in the yard had taken its toll. It made me think of how bad Jesus had it, yet he still got up on Sunday.

The two resurrections are hardly comparable, of course. His body had been scourged, experienced a tremendous loss of blood), pierced, three-inch thorns driven into his scull, hung on a cross, and (after three, excruciating hours of crucifixion) finally suffocated. His torturous time on that day ended with his death. My day ended in a nice, comfortable bed.

Beyond the Grave

When Jesus rose (from what we can tell), his body had no more pain. My pain, on the other hand, was just beginning. As I said before, however, there is no comparison. In fact, the pain this old body is experiencing is a mere reminder of what he went through for the likes of you and me. His glorified, painless, resurrection body is a foreshadowing of what awaits us beyond the grave. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much about a little discomfort in the here and now.

I remember (as I was in the process of growing up) hearing some of the more pious adults saying things like, “Offer your pain as an act of worship,” or “Offer up your pain to God.” I never really understood that until recent years. Our usual reaction to pain is a strong, “How can I get rid of this?” Like my recent soreness, some pain is not going away with a simple pill or a visit to the chiropractor. It’s going to be with us for at least a little while. We try to minimize it, but it’s still there as a reminder of our mortality.

I suggest we take it as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us as well. His Resurrection holds the promise of a much better day.

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

Give the Box Away

I have a friend who is a retired military officer. Like many military folks, he and his wife moved often. They would get reassigned, pack up all their stuff, and get transported to another place. They became quite good at it.

Each time they moved, the military would issue boxes to pack all their earthly belongings. They also received colored stick-um dots to distinguish their cartons from everyone else’s. According to my friend, it was a pretty good system.

They, like everyone else I know, had unopened containers following each move. That sounds odd, but some things just aren’t worth unpacking. I’ve discovered the same phenomena in my life. I, too, have unopened boxes.

Sounds Like a Good System

The dot system employed by my friends began to work to their advantage. After a while, they noticed that some of their unopened boxes had two or more colored dots on them. They finally realized they were never going to open those packages. There was, apparently, no need to do so. So, they made the decision to give away any box that had garnered multiple dots. They were like Salvation Army grab bags with surprises in each one.

While I admire this gutsy move, I think I would be a bit shy to try this. Not knowing what I was giving away would be too much for me. There could be some long-forgotten treasure in one of those bundles. I would have a great fear of that unknown—dots not withstanding.

It’s the same way a lot of people view giving their lives to Christ. To them, it’s a great unknown. What will happen? Will I have to give anything up? Do you think my friends will reject me? The questions are numerous, and there are no definite answers. No one knows what will happen. No one can tell you what, if anything, you’ll have to give up. Maybe your friends can answer the last one, but even that is questionable.

Honored by the Father

Jesus once told his disciples that anyone who clings to the life they have would lose it. However, if they give it up (die to themselves) to follow him, they will have eternal life. The question is not about what we will lose, though. The really important question is about that which we’ll gain. To be honored by the Creator is the benefit of losing it all. Receiving the Father’s honor more than replaces everything we gave away.

Still, there are unknowns. We feel like we’re gambling, and the possibility of losing what we love looms large. The answer to that is faith. It’s not a blind faith to be sure. There is plenty of evidence that would turn us toward a life of serving Jesus. It’s still faith, however.

The author of Hebrews defined faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). It’s not easy placing your trust in someone you can’t see. It’s still the best way to go, however. Give the box away.

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

PEZ

On Tuesdays, I walk my daughter’s dog. I do it as a favor to save them a few bucks (dog walkers ain’t cheap, you know) and to work in some exercise (which everyone tells me I need). It’s not a bad gig despite the exercise part. They live near us, so it doesn’t consume much time; and unless the weather is nasty, it can actually be quite pleasant.

So yesterday, there I was stretching my legs along with the pooch. The sun was out, and we were enjoying our little stroll. As we rounded the initial corner of the first block, I spotted a brightly colored piece of plastic on the pavement. Something about it seemed extremely familiar; so I drew nearer to have an up-close-and-personal look.

It Looked Curiously Familiar

The closer I got, the more familiar it looked, and I took a mental guess as to what it was. Sure enough, I was right. As I bent down to make a solid identification of the gaudy yellow object, I could make out lettering stamped on the side. It was a PEZ dispenser—apparently crushed by an ongoing vehicle.

Since I don’t spend much time at the candy counter these days, I hadn’t seen one of these in years. For many of you, I suppose this would have merely represented another piece of trash. For me, however, it was a reminder of my Mother.

It’s probably not what you think, however. Neither she nor I were fanatical consumers of PEZ candies. In fact, I can barely remember chomping on those dainty morsels of sugary delight. We were more into the chocolate, candy bar confections. It was something entirely different that put me in mind of Mom.

It was the name of those little pellets that jolted my maternal reminiscences. PEZ happened to be my Mother’s initials. Not a lot of people knew that obscure fact, though. She always went by “Ellen” (her middle name).

A Bit Too Matronly

I guess she wasn’t all that fond of her first name, which was Phoebe. If she had been born and named during the current generation, she probably would have worn that moniker proudly. As it was, I suppose, Phoebe sounded a bit too matronly for her when she was young. Cultural norms and styles can do that to you.

So it was. My Mom, Phoebe Ellen Zuchelli, was PEZ. Now that I look back on it, I’m not sure why I never called her PEZ and teased her about it. I don’t know if she would have laughed or told me to knock it off. Either way, my chance is gone. She passed away almost eleven years ago, now.

I guess we need these little reminders from time to time. Whether it’s a broken, discarded PEZ dispenser or a photograph hanging on the wall, it’s a good thing to remember those who have shaped our lives. After all, each of them helped to make us what we are today—for good or for ill. Rest in peace, PEZ.

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

Politics as Unusual

Politicians have always gotten a bad rap (and not without good cause, I might add). They are often called liars, for example. This accusation is, often, not without due merit. I can remember hearing one of our past presidents say one thing one day and proclaim the exact opposite the next. Not only did this happen, it happened often. He was not alone in this, of course. What’s worse, the more these things happen, the less we seem to pay attention to what’s going on.

For the most part, I try to steer clear of political subjects. Unfortunately, it’s not totally avoidable. When politics intersect with matters of faith and spirituality, even a guy like me (who shies away from such mire) should say something. It’s also unfortunate that it’s become a good way to make an enemy or two.

Religion and Politics

It’s no coincidence that I grew up hearing the following advice. “You should never talk about religion or politics.” That got drilled into my head over and over again. Today, however, two of the most important and frequently visited topics are precisely those—religion and politics. What’s a mother to do?

I’ve heard people say that we should use Jesus as an example. They point to him and remark that he avoided politics altogether. To back up their assertion, they quote Jesus’ wisdom about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17). This sounds good and reasonable.

Then, however, we turn around and hear others remark that Jesus was extremely political. In fact, their view is that his preaching about the Kingdom of God put him on a collision course with the politicians of his day—particularly since he seemed to be saying that he was the King. Others add that his personal pacifism was about as political as one could get.

Peace or Division?

And so it is. When we talk about religion AND politics, we even line up on differing sides of Jesus. Again—unavoidable… After all, he did say that he came to bring division. In fact, he was answering his own question when he did so. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (Luke 12:51). This is not the Jesus we like to think about, is it?

But that’s the thing about Jesus. He never seemed to hold back. If the discussion was headed toward controversial subjects, he plowed right ahead. Often he used tact and a lot of wisdom to diffuse the situation. Other times he was like a bull in a china shop—like when he called the Pharisees a bunch of snakes (Matthew 12:34). Jesus is wildly unpredictable and yet unashamedly consistent. If we could only be like him…

That, of course, is the big trick—how to become more like Jesus. With outrageously different interpretations of his nuances, becoming more like him seems like a rough road to travel. I guess that’s why we’re admonished to “live by the Spirit.”

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

The Dust of the Rabbi

There’s an old Jewish saw that says, “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.” It’s a poignant axiom that captures the essence of first century Judaism. Many Rabbis would gather disciples to themselves. The idea behind each small school of learners was that the Rabbi would pour out all his knowledge, wisdom, and expertise into these eager students.

It’s a great visual. The disciples would follow the Rabbi wherever he (there were no female Rabbis then) would go. They would travel up and down the dusty, dirt roads of Israel, and the disciples would stay as close to their Rabbi as they could. One never knew when the teacher would disperse another pearl of wisdom.

Prize Pupils

Thus, the saying had solid roots. If you stuck close enough to your master, you were going to have dust on your clothes that he kicked up along the way. If you were covered in his dust, you were close enough to glean everything you needed to become a prize pupil. It was a great honor as well as a wonderful achievement.

Most Jewish children never made the cut. The requirements were stringent. Just to be chosen, they had to memorize the Hebrew Scriptures as well as demonstrate a keen knowledge and ability to handle the disciplines of learning through the question and answer method. If they made the grade, they too would eventually become Rabbis.

It was a proud moment for Jewish parents when their child was chosen to be a follower of one of the Rabbis. They could wear it like a badge of honor—kind of like the bumper stickers we see today that read, “My child is an honor student at American High School.”

Interesting Criteria

The interesting thing about all that is the unusual criteria Jesus used. He didn’t recruit the “best of the best.” His students were fishermen, tax collectors, and other run-of-the-mill dudes. They were everyday workingmen. They hadn’t made the grade in Hebrew school. Still, he chose them and uttered the simple words, “Come, follow me.” It’s no wonder they dropped what they were doing to follow Rabbi Jesus. It was a great privilege and a wondrously proud moment for each of them.

This whole scenario portends well for each of us. To hear and answer the call to be a disciple of the Christ is not predicated on how smart we are or what our earthly accomplishments have been. In fact, we can’t pile up enough accolades or prizes to merit such a calling. It is a free gift bestowed upon us by a loving and sovereign God. We don’t deserve it, but we can respond with zeal and excitement.

If you have heard that call (in whatever manner he has chosen to offer it to you), I urge you to follow him as closely as you are able. Some folks like the idea of following but would rather do so from a distance. Get close and get dirty. It’s the only way to travel.

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

My New Calendar

I had the opportunity to have lunch with an old friend this week. We hadn’t seen each other in about forty years. We became friends in elementary school, renewed acquaintances as young adults, and (like a lot of folks) lost track of each other. Recently we reconnected on Facebook. (Complain as we might against Facebook, this is definitely one of its perks).

As you can imagine, we had a lot of catching up to do. Marriages, grandkids, life events, etc. were all on the table. We found we still had a lot in common and did a lot of laughing and commiserating while chowing down on some Italian cuisine (a heritage we both share as well).

A Hilarious Time of Life

One thing we found we had in common was our new calendar. As it turns out, we both know the day of the week by using our pillboxes. Discovering that little tidbit of info caused us to break out into a belly laugh. Being sixty-nine can be a hilarious time of life.

I don’t take much medication (mostly supplements), but I always know what day it is because of my weekly pillbox. You may have seen these handy-dandy little inventions. Many of you probably use them. They have seven square compartments labeled S-M-T-W-T-F-S respectively. Since my retirement, they have, collectively, become my weekly calendar. This will probably hold true until my brain faculties begin to fade.

I have an iCalendar as well, but I don’t always remember to look at it. My pillbox, on the other hand, is a staple at breakfast-time. I grab a cup of coffee and my prefilled dispenser of daily supplements. If I hadn’t known what day it was prior to breakfast, pill time usually gets me back on track.

Time is such a funny thing. Like most westerners, I rely on knowing the date and time for almost everything. I’m one of those guys who wears a watch and has a clock in almost every room of the house—including my garage and workshop. I don’t always remember to look at them, but those chronometers are there just in case (and kind of a pain when seasonal time changes occur).

The Church is no Exception

Sometimes, I think we take this time thing a bit too seriously though. The church is no exception. And occasionally, it does more harm than good. I like it when worship services start on time, but there are a lot of inconsistencies beyond that.

For example: We tend to celebrate the birth of our Savior on December 25 regardless of what day of the week it falls on. Why? We don’t even know when Jesus was born (no one has discovered his birth certificate as yet). Why does it have to be December 25?

Conversely, we always celebrate Easter on a Sunday, but it’s tough to nail down. It’s almost never on the same date twice. It can range from March 10 to April 25. Frankly, it’s a bit much. I’m thinking the church should start using a pillbox.

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

The Mane Event

Last week, my lovely Bride took our youngest granddaughter to a local production of Rapunzel. Apparently it was a big hit with her, because she wanted to meet all the cast members following the curtain call. Being just shy of three years old, she wouldn’t speak with them, but she did want them to speak to her. I guess that’s an early form of being star struck.

When I saw her upon her arrival at our home, I immediately said to her, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair!” She just gave me a blank stare like her Papa was losing it. Maybe the new version is different than the one I read sixty-five years ago. People have a way of messing with these Grimm things. It was apparent, however, that Rapunzel’s hair still plays an integral part in the play.

The whole Rapunzel thing got me thinking about the importance of hair in history—particularly, Biblical history. With the big to-dos we make about our own coifs these days (Rogaine and all that), I’m surprised Rapunzel hasn’t made a comeback long before now. I, myself, still have a bunch of it—albeit gray and thinning. A lot of my friends are follically challenged, so I sort of stand out in that arena (everyone should be good at something).

In Bible times (as we like to say in the trade), there were some folks whose hair was their claim to fame. Samson was probably the most famous (or infamous) one. You may remember him. When his locks were lengthy, he had enormous strength. When his gal, Delilah, gave him a clip job, he was weakened to such a point that it led to his demise. It was quite gruesome, so I won’t get into it any further. Still, we should take note of it at this juncture.

Then there was Absalom. Absalom was King David’s rebellious son. He was known for his long, thick mane of hair. He would get it all chopped off once a year simply because it got too heavy for him. Apparently, once when he was shorn, someone weighed it—five pounds. That’s quite a mane. His good hair and striking appearance were the talk of the town.

Like Samson, however, his cephalic mop did him in. Unlike Samson, though, it was because he had too much hair rather than too little. He was riding his trusty mule one day and got his do tangled in the low-hanging branches of an oak tree. As he hung there, David’s army surrounded him and made quick work of him. I’ll spare you the old “hair today, gone tomorrow” quip, but you get the picture.

When I was young and had heavy hair (not as heavy as Absalom’s mind you, but dark, thick, and wavy), I used to kiddingly tell people I couldn’t get it cut off or I’d lose all my strength. I have no excuses now. I’m old and weak despite the hair. Now it’s merely a habit.

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