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.]

The Dealership

I’m sitting in the showroom of our local Jeep dealership as I write this piece. A couple of weeks ago, I brought my lovely Bride’s Grand Cherokee in for a prescribed oil change. I usually don’t like using a dealer for any work like that, but under our current arrangement, the first few don’t cost anything—at least, nothing extra. I’m sure we’ve paid for it under some other guise. Everyone needs to make a buck, right?

Well, as it turns out, the “change oil” light kept coming on after the new lubricant was infused, and my spouse wasn’t a happy camper—not that I blame her. Those things are always a pain. Out of my infinite wisdom and vast knowledge of vehicles, I told her that they probably forgot to reset something. Actually, that was a wild shot in the dark, but don’t tell her that. 

Lo and Behold

Lo and behold, when I called them to schedule a new appointment, they confirmed my suspicions. They said it was a simple procedure and that I should bring it in for the follow-up reset-ment as it were.  So, here I sit.

This place is reasonably comfortable, clean, and otherwise satisfactory. Still, I’d rather be home as you can imagine. I’m drinking a free coffee (which I’ve probably paid for under some other some other pretext), so it’s not all bad. Well… The coffee is less than desirable, but it’s hot. They didn’t have regular in the machine, so I had to rustle up some decaf. As Steven Wright once said, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” If I’m here long enough, I’ll probably have a second cup. After all, I’ve paid for it—probably.

Despite the positive atmosphere in here, sitting in a place like this reminds me of the many hours I’ve spent over the years cooling my heels in car dealerships. If you’ve had similar experiences to mine, you know that they haven’t always been exciting, pleasant, or ultra-productive. While I usually ended up with a decent vehicle, I virtually always feel like I’ve wasted half my life trying to put four wheels under my tush. 

An Entire Shift

I remember once spending eight hours attempting to procure the ride of my choice. Ugh! Why can’t it be like shopping for groceries? I want this jar of mustard, ring it up, I’m outta here! I’m tempted to buy my next car from one of those auto vending machines I’ve seen advertised on TV. I’m sure there’s some kind of catch, but it just might be worth a shot. I’m seventy years old. I don’t have time to waste an entire shift in the local showroom anymore. I could die while I’m waiting to talk to the manager because the salesperson can’t swing the deal for me. That’s one reason why I’ve kept my same Harley for fifteen years.

The Apostle Paul warned us that “time is short.” (1 Corinthians 7:29) Someone needs to convey that thought to the car dealers of America.

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

Sunshine Patriots

Thomas Paine once wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” This was the first line in the initial volume of a series of pamphlets he authored during the time of the American Revolution. He knew the colonists would never support a revolution without some good, underlying reasons to gird them. Hence, his sixteen pamphlets simply titled, The American Crisis.

Although he was already a well-known author, he signed these works with the pseudonym, Common Sense.” It was a thinly veiled reference to a tract that had given him previous notoriety published in 1776 under the title, Common Sense.

Copies of The Crisis (as it was nicknamed) sold by the hundreds of thousands, but Paine refused to accept any royalties. He wanted them to be sold as cheaply as possible so the common farmer could afford to purchase and read them. 

Put Your Money Here

This is a good example of someone putting their money where their mouth happens to be. By the end of the war, he was penniless and poverty-stricken. He had to accept charity from the states of Pennsylvania and New York to make a new start. PA provided him £500 while NY gave him land to farm near New Rochelle—probably meager recompense for the stalwart efforts and risk he had proffered for the Revolution.

His famous line about trying men’s souls is indicative of the spiritual component contained in The Crisis. Many of his arguments were based on an appeal to his countrymen that revolution was the godly thing to do, and that England was attempting to usurp powers that belonged to the Almighty alone. This, of course, is gold that politicians mine to this day. When all else fails, blame it on God.

Following his statement about times that try souls, he made reference to “sunshine patriots.” His definition of such folks seems to have been that there are those who are loyalists when things are going well. When the sledding gets tough, they fade back into the woodwork. He also called them “summer soldiers.” These are two apt monikers for enthusiasts who are eager to vocalize their feelings but refuse to back up their statements.

At Their Worst

In an era of easily accessed social media, our world is full of these sunshine patriots. Their memes are clever, their quips are cutting, and their sound bites are often ingenious. Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in such theatrics. Bumper sticker politics, like bumper sticker theology, is fun. Unfortunately, it’s also cheap and short-lived. Still, the way our society operates lends itself to such triviality. Even worse, many seem to buy into the brief platitudes that they glean on Facebook or the back of an SUV. 

Some of the most successful politicians of our day are the ones who have learned to harness such tactics. They say things that draw people into their camp, get elected, make a bundle, and suck us dry. These are sunshine patriots at their worst. Do you think maybe we could vote them out?

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

Never Enough

Having been married to my lovely Bride for a couple of decades now, I’ve learned that there are some things of which you can never have too many. I used to think you could have too much of a good thing. I was wrong.

I have discovered that there are three things of which you can never have enough. The three things are, of course, pillows, flip-flops, and picture frames. Prior to being wed to Ms. Denise, I had assumed the only thing you could never have enough of was garlic. My mantra (in the kitchen, at least) was always, “There’s no such thing as too much garlic.”

Not only have I had to add three things to the list, I’ve had to drop the tasty allium from the roster. Apparently, there IS such a thing as too much garlic. Who knew? We still use quite a bit of it, but somewhere, there’s a line that can be crossed.

Silly Me

Not so with pillows, however. I used to think that one on a twin bed and two on a doublewide would be adequate. Silly me. I have learned through the process of marital bliss that having merely two pillows on a bed is a travesty. Now that I am a bona fide househusband, I dutifully place thirty-seven pillows on my freshly made bed each morning. (I might be overestimating that a tad, but not by much.) I admit that we have a king size bed, but we augment that with king size shams. Isn’t that enough?

I once argued with my spouse that we had way too many pillows on our sleeper. But then, I went to an assisted care facility to see an elderly parishioner of mine. She had one tiny room, a closet, and a bathroom. There was barely enough room for her twin bed, a dresser, and a couple of chairs. It was comfortable enough, but the startling thing about my visit with her was the fact that I counted ten pillows on her twin bed. Okay. Maybe I can live with thirty-seven on our king.

Milk and Honey

I ran across a Proverb that says, “If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit.” I don’t mean to gross you out, but don’t you think the same principle might apply to pillows? Obviously, we don’t eat pillows, but I’m guessing you know what I mean. That same Proverb goes on to say, “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house—too much of you, and they will hate you.” I think I see a theme developing here. 

When Moses was leading the people of Israel through the desert, God provided them with manna (bread from Heaven). Each day, the people were to go out and gather exactly what they needed for the day. If they took extra and attempted to store it, it became maggot-infested and stunk up the joint. (Excuse me while I go to the basement and deodorize our extra picture frames.)

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

Blowing the Whistle on Roundball

Mister Rogers might ask, “Can we say hypocrites?” Admittedly, I’m not a big basketball fan. The last time I went to a professional roundball matchup—in fact, I think the only time—was around 1994. Frankly, I haven’t had the urge since then.

Despite my neglect of the game, I couldn’t help noticing the recent dustup between the National Basketball Association and the country of China. This would be akin to Major League Baseball starting a trade war with Japan. I’m not sure what the GNP of the NBA happens to be, but to me, it’s apparent deterioration is TBD.

I’ve heard that China is big on basketball. The NBA has played preseason games there for well over a decade to the roar of admiring Asian fans. Yao Ming (a Chinese native) played in the league for several years and was named an NBA All-Star eight times. At 7’6” tall and weighing in at 310 pounds, I guess that stands to reason—not that size matters, but it certainly helps.

“Fight for Freedom”

Recently, just in case you hadn’t noticed, China became enraged by a simple Tweet posted by one of the NBA’s astute General Managers. The Tweet simply said, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Well, this is where the hypocrisy thing enters. 

When a citizen of the United States voices support for freedom, democracy, and the American Way, it’s often celebrated. Not so in the NBA—at least not this time. A firestorm ensued in which the actual owner of the team quickly Tweeted that their GM, “does NOT speak for the Houston Rockets” and that the team is “NOT a political organization.” Is that some sort of un-American response, a bit of backstabbing, or a stratagem of CYA? (Sorry for all the acronyms—it’s a sports thing.)

It didn’t end there, of course. Everyone else and his brother had to jump into the fray. The NBA itself put out a statement—actually, two statements—that tried to play it down the middle. The Commissioner stated that the original Tweet was regrettable, but that the league does not regulate the free speech of anyone. As he did so, he knew he might be watching a billion dollars go down the proverbial drain.

Who am I to Judge?

That is the sum estimated to be lost if the Chinese rage over the incident does not do a 180. The Chinese Government was quick to denounce the GM’s Tweet as “inappropriate” and hurtful to the fans in China. I’m guessing it was far more hurtful to the totalitarian dictatorship than to the fans, but who am I to judge?

In a move that smacked more of an employer’s directive than a sincere apology, the GM followed up with more Tweets. In them he said, “I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.” I’m pretty sure there was only one other perspective—that of making money.

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