I Hate Christmas

To many, it’s probably surprising–even irritating–that a former pastor would declare that he hates Christmas. I just have to be honest. In actuality, it’s not really Christmas that I hate. More to the point, it’s what Christmas has become that draws my ire.

Several of my friends have posted an article entitled, “In Case You Missed It: Christmas is About Jesus, the Birth of the Christ.” At one point, I sarcastically commented, “Yikes! When did that happen?” The sad part is that it seems almost necessary to remind people of that reality. It IS about Jesus—or, at least, it used to be.

Lost in the Shuffle

Somewhere along the way, Jesus seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. The shuffle I speak of is daily life. Or maybe I should say, holiday life. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that Christmas should be a simple time. It should be a time of worship, family, warmth, and learning. For many—if not most—it has become a time of stress, excessive spending, crowded calendars, and no worship. The only learning that takes place is the knowledge that we’re broke.

I can see how things have gotten out of control so easily. After all, giving presents is a good thing. Still, the whole present thing has become the god of Christmas. That’s easy to spot considering the fact that slews of non-Christians celebrate the season. Unfortunately, Christmas without Christ is merely Mas. My Spanish friends can tell you that mas means more. That about sums it up. We give and get more each year. Frankly, it appears we’re having a lot less fun doing it.

Somewhere along the way, the church chose December 25 to celebrate Christ’s birth. We don’t know when his birth actually occurred, but I suppose December 25 is as good a day as any. While celebrating the birth of the Savior seems like it should be a bigger and better celebration, say, than that of our own birthdays, I’m going to go out on a limb to suggest that Jesus isn’t overly pleased with the way we go about it.

All I Want for Christmas

One of the things that brought all this up for me is the fact that there are now radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music that has nothing to do with Jesus. If these stations were your only source of knowledge concerning the holiday, you would think we celebrate snow, trees, and chestnuts.

I especially took note this year of the old Mariah Carey song, “All I Want for Christmas is You.” That’s all you want? Another human being? Frankly, that seems like quite a lot. Subjugating another human being just doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the season.

I encourage you to, at the very least, take a little time to read one of the Christmas stories from Scripture (Luke 2:1-20 or Revelation 12) and ponder it for a few moments. It might make all the difference for you this year.

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

The Look

When Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the vote for the passage of articles of impeachment recently, an amazing thing occurred. If you weren’t watching it live, you probably saw it amid the hundreds of replays it garnered. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a moment everyone should glimpse at least once. Here’s a link to that moment.

Now that you’ve seen it, I’m quite sure you understand why it got so much airplay. Not only is it memorable, it’s priceless. Apparently the House Democrats were given strict orders to curtail any celebratory outbursts that may have been welling up inside. Despite the edict to remain silent and somber, some of the Representatives just couldn’t contain themselves. They began to shout out with glee—an emotion fitting for the season of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but not for the moment of impeachment.

Unparalleled

Ms. Pelosi put an immediate stop to the celebration, as well she should have. The way she did it, however, was unparalleled. She curtly waved the piece of paper she held in her hand and gave the offending Reps “The Look.” If you grew up in an Italian family as I did, you know The Look. Come to think of it, most families had some version of The Look. 

Usually, The Look was executed by the mother—although some fathers had it mastered as well (my Dad never bothered with The Look—he went straight to the polenta stick). If this move was used in your household, you have no doubt been indelibly marked by it, and you can still remember it to this day.

When The Look was performed, everything else stopped. Screaming children grew silent, and all shenanigans ceased. It was foreboding and final—no ifs, ands, or buts ensued. At that point, it was all over but the shouting (actually, no shouting was necessary once The Look had been detected). Any actions beyond The Look were feared because they could result in some sort of crime befitting capital punishment.

Refreshing to See

It was refreshing to see Nona Pelosi shoot The Look to the culprits. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, and it’s good to know that some people still use it. It was rather nostalgic to watch, but it also caused me to stop what I was doing and do a quick reflection on my current actions lest I be one of the guilty parties. It was also pretty funny to see her give the evil eye to so many adults (I use the term loosely). 

Scripture has revealed to us that we should be disciplinarians of our children lest they go astray (Proverbs 13:24). Ms. Pelosi showed her prowess at such discipline in that fateful moment. She obviously has had much practice over the years being an Italian-American Mama and Nona. When her minions zealously broke into their joyful outburst, it only took one glance to remind them of their three-year journey to “solemnly and prayerfully” impeach the president. Thank God for The Look!

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

Well-Spoken

Wow! Mike Bloomberg (newly announced candidate for president) has apologized to Cory Booker for calling him, “well-spoken.” Horror of horrors! 

SONY DSC

He was criticized for his comment which, to me, sounds like a compliment. Honestly, I would love to be known as well-spoken. But then, I’m not into the whole “woke,” PC thing. Booker was apparently, “Taken aback” by the comment. Critics called the compliment…er, slur…a “racist trope.” 

Quite honestly, I’m more offended by the word, trope, than the term well-spoken (mostly because I don’t know what trope means). I would love to take a vote among all Americans to see what percentage of folks would find it insulting to be known as well-spoken. Things have changed. When I was in high school, my teachers always drilled it into our heads that we should work hard at becoming well-spoken. I never quite achieved that high plateau, but I’m still trying. Maybe I should quit while I’m behind.

Interestingly Enough

Interestingly enough, after Kamala Harris dropped out of the presidential sweepstakes, Booker made the comment, “It is a problem that we now have an overall campaign for the 2020 presidency, that has more billionaires in it than black people.” Bloomberg, of course, is a billionaire. That’s two strikes, Michael.

Actually, I was kidding earlier when I said I didn’t know the definition of the word, trope. But to be truthful, I’m guessing most people don’t know that particular word at all. It’s only come into vogue during the past couple of years. It’s been around for centuries, but very few people actually used it during the course of everyday conversation. A trope is a figure of speech that moves the meaning of the text from literal to figurative. An example of a common trope would be, “Stop and smell the roses.” When you say it, you probably aren’t talking about roses per se. Fortunately, everyone gets it.

Recently, people have used another trope to point to tropes they don’t like. That trope is “dog whistle.” They don’t literally mean dog whistle. They mean that someone is using a trope that only certain people will hear and understand. Understand? I know. It can be confusing.

A Ticking Time Bomb

It used to be that everyone knew a trope when they heard it (even if they didn’t know that the technical name for it was trope). For example: If someone said, “This is a ticking time bomb,” we knew they weren’t literally referring to an actual explosive device. 

Unfortunately, today we’re coming up with new tropes that no-one immediately gets—like “well-spoken” or “hired help.” I once used the term, hired help, and almost got my head handed to me. I had to explain that all of us in the office—including me—were the hired help.

It’s getting to the place where I would like someone to compile a comprehensive list of what I’m allowed to say. One of my pet peeves is having the English language stolen out from under my nose. See what I did there?

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

Low Voltage Atheist

Recently, I was unsuccessful in an attempt to surf the web for a particular article by George Will. I did, however, run across a question someone posted concerning his religious affiliations. As it turns out, he is a self-described “amiable, low voltage atheist.” I was a tad surprised to hear that, but it got me to thinking about my own atheistic friends.

I asked myself this question. Are they George Will types? In other words, are they amiable, low voltage atheists? To answer that, I first had to arrive at some sort of definition for the phrase. It was not particularly easy, but here goes.

Does God Exist?

If I understand Will correctly, his form of atheism is grounded in his conservative world view. He does not ask the question, “Does God exist?” Rather, he asks, “Why does anything exist?” That, in itself, is an intriguing query. It’s one that prompts many of us to answer, “God.” Things exist because of God.

Will says this answer has no hold on him. Yet, as a conservative, he subscribes to William F. Buckley’s thinking that, “A conservative need not be religious, but he cannot despise religion.” He says he has a deep respect for religion as well as deeply religious people (he’s actually married to one). He has been quoted as saying, “The great religions reflect something constant and noble in the human character, defensible and admirable yearnings. I am just not persuaded. That’s all.”

Getting back to my own friends who hold that there is no God, I guess I have a hard time contrasting them against the prism of George Will’s amiable, low voltage atheism. Unless one could plumb the depths of their psyche, they seem almost impossible to analyze—as it is with anyone’s deeply held beliefs. Still, I try.

Faith in Some Deity

It seems to me that my godless associates in life tend to run the gamut. I suspect that at least one or two of them would, indeed, fit the Will mold. They respect those of us who are, in fact, believers. They just don’t buy into it themselves. Some even see the benefit of a society that is grounded by a faith in some deity or another.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who think we religious sorts are the bane of society. We hold them back from the greater freedoms in life. From my perspective, I tend to agree with Jesus on this point. He said, “You are the salt of the earth.” The understanding is that salt, particularly in Jesus’ day, was a preservative. Without salt, things went bad. It is my view that, if we religious types weren’t around, things would go to hell in a handbasket.

I know many of my nihilist friends probably scoff at such a theory. They think religion is retrograde. But I suspect there are some who have a tendency to agree with me—even if they don’t believe in a supreme being. They are amiable and low voltage atheists.

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

Breaking Awful

For the past few years, people have suggested I watch a TV series that ended in 2013. As you probably know, this is now possible through the magic of streaming. Many of us—and probably you as well—have been known to get hooked on old shows that we never saw (or that we want to see again). Services like Netflix and Hulu make it all possible.

Because of these wonderful little inventions, binge-watching entire series has become a thing. I’ve been known to get caught up in such trivialities from time to time when I come across a show that captures my imagination. And now, it has occurred once again.

Terminal Cancer

The series I mentioned in my opening line is Breaking Bad. In case you haven’t seen it, it entails the story of a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has terminal cancer and decides to “cook” meth to make money for his treatment and secure his family’s future. Well, one thing leads to another and he becomes a major criminal.

The thing about this five-year series is that each episode ends with a cliffhanger of a scene. It’s tough to turn off the set until you’ve seen how it turns out. Then, of course, the next episode ends up being another cliffhanger. It’s almost like getting addicted to drugs. It’s tough to quit.

Walter, the main character, starts off as a rather likable guy—sort of meek and mild—a brainy family man who gets clobbered by a tough break. You have to feel sorry for him—even when he begins to cook methamphetamines. You know that he’s helping to ruin lives by supplying all the meth-heads in the neighborhood. Still, it seems like a good cause.

Deeper and Deeper

Of course, he keeps getting in deeper and deeper. As time goes on, more and more lives are ruined, his family is put in danger, and people die—lots of people. Spoiler Alert! On more than one occasion, he personally commits murder. He ends up being a monster of sorts.

The thing about watching this show is that I still root for him to get away with everything. As vile and immoral as he becomes, I still can’t help feeling sorry for the guy. He’s one of those hero/anti-hero types. I’m conflicted and compromised.

This is not the only show like this, of course. I’ve seen several of them in the past few years. One thing they’re good for—aside from the entertainment—is the way they portray the evil that resides in each of us. 

These days, a lot of humanists keep telling us that people are basically good. If you’re a Christian and have paid attention to your own theology, you know this not to be true. Humanity is basically evil, and it doesn’t take much for us to get lost in our own sinfulness. We are a people in need of a Savior. Walter is one of us. I guess that’s why I still root for him. 

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

Quiet Lives

The Apostle Paul once wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, strongly implying that we should live “peaceful and quiet lives.” I have to say, I’m all for that. Peaceful and quiet is right up my alley. The older I get, the more I enjoy that kind of life.

To put it in context, Paul told Timothy to pray for those in authority indicating that the by-product of such prayer would be peace and tranquility. We know he was speaking of governmental authority because he mentioned kings. His assumption, I suppose, was that, if it went well for the king, it would also go well for the king’s subjects.

Ga-Ga Over St. Paul

This seems to indicate that Paul had a somewhat positive view of kings and others in authority. He certainly believed that God put those governmental figures in place and that he did it for our own good (see Romans 13:1-5). This is one of the many reasons a lot of folks aren’t exactly ga-ga over the teachings of St. Paul. Remember—he’s also the one who told women not to wear gold or pearls and to shut up and have children. I’m probably overstating that a bit, but not by much. But, as they say, I digress.

So, we are to pray for those in authority that we might live peaceful and quiet lives. I wish he would have added something about voting for solid, godly authoritarians—people who had our best interests at heart. I will give him the benefit of the doubt on that point because there wasn’t a whole lot of voting going on in the time of Paul. It probably never even crossed his mind that the hoi polloi would be electing their own leaders one day. After all, history showed him that people weren’t particularly good at choosing leaders. Remember that his namesake (Saul) was chosen among his people to be the first King of Israel. That, of course, didn’t go so well. They were better off without him.

Heartburn

Unfortunately, we in the United States seem to be following in the footsteps of those early Israelites. We are constantly electing leaders that tend to give us heartburn. It doesn’t matter what party we opt to place in power (usually it’s a hodgepodge of parties), we end up with more chaos than quiet. So much for living peaceful lives.

I can only surmise that Paul never foresaw a time when we would choose our own Mayors, Senators, and Representatives, et. al. If God was placing these politicians into their respective offices, at least we could blame him. As it is, we can only blame ourselves. And if we could choose a king, I highly doubt as to whether we would do much of a better job than the Hebrews. They begged God for a king. They ended up with Saul who was tall, dark, and handsome (1 Samuel 9:1-2). These are criteria not unlike the ones we seem to use today. Oy vey!

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

Maintaining Happiness

It was recently announced by Bloomberg that Bill Gates (Microsoft Co-founder) has retaken the title as richest person in the world. He rings in at a cool $110 billion beating Jeff Bezos by $1.3 billion. If money could buy happiness, I suppose these two would be the most joyful creatures on the planet. That has not been determined, so I suppose it’s all up for grabs.

I’m not sure about Bezos, but Gates has revealed his formula for happiness. He says he’s far happier now at 64 than he was at 25 (why 25, I’m not sure). Apparently, it doesn’t have much to do with the money.

Four Things

He lists four things that help him maintain his happy existence. They are as follows. “1) Follow through on your commitments. 2) Have a mindset of giving. 3) Treat your body like a sacred temple. 4) Put family first.”

As I read through them, it hit me how Scriptural each of these things happens to be. I guess it’s not so surprising to me that these things make for a more contented life. I was, however, mildly surprised that Bill Gates was the source of this list. He has indicated that he and his family are participants in a local church, but he seems to emphasize ethics and morality far more than the spiritual aspect of the faith.

I don’t know how much of his philosophy of life he’s gleaned from the Bible, but I’m guessing he’s gained a lot by osmosis over the years. That is to say, even if he’s not a believer in Christ, he’s glommed onto much of the Messiah’s teaching—whether intentionally or not.

If he was solidly grounded in the Christian faith, his formula for happiness would probably differ slightly. For example, faith in God might be in the list somewhere—quite probably as number one. I don’t want to be too skeptical about him though. Since number one is following through on your commitments, his commitment to the Savior might be contained in that tenet.

If That’s the Case

If that’s the case, the other three would necessarily follow—Scripturally speaking. Number two, for example, is a strong tenet of Christianity. Jesus taught us to be wildly generous. Since Gates is a multi-billionaire, it’s no surprise that he’s given away $35 billion over the past thirty years. He’s definitely not stingy—at least it doesn’t appear that way.

Number three is a no-brainer if you’re a student of the Apostle Paul. Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Gates fits right in on that one. God gave us our bodies, we should take decent care of them.

His final one is a tad more restricted than the Biblical admonition to love your neighbor as yourself, but it goes along with the general idea. There’s an old chorus that says something like JOY—Jesus, Others, and You—in that order. Even we thousand-aires can do those things and find happiness. 

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

Lowering the Bar

A new District Attorney was recently elected in the city of San Francisco. His platform was rather interesting. It was, in fact, just the opposite of what one would expect. He has promised not to prosecute “quality of life” crimes.

In case you’re not up on such terminology, please allow me to explain. Better yet, let’s allow the new D.A. to explain. In his words, “Crimes such as public camping, offering or soliciting sex, public urination, blocking a sidewalk, etc., should not and will not be prosecuted.” I know what you’re thinking. “He promised this and still got elected?” Why, yes. Yes, he did.

Razor-Thin

It was a razor-thin margin, but he was voted in nonetheless. I have no dog in the hunt, as they say, so I’m not going to put up much of a fuss. The citizens of San Francisco have foisted this upon themselves, so it’s their business, not mine. It has, however, decreased my desire to visit the city where Tony Bennett left his heart (which he may want to retrieve at this point).

Just think about your own neighborhood for a moment. If this guy was your D.A., your neighbor could be out walking his dog and decide to defecate on the sidewalk in front of your home. Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters are in New York, not in San Francisco. It would make no sense to call the police either. Why would they go to the bother of arresting someone who wasn’t going to be prosecuted? It would be a waste of their energy and taxpayers’ money. 

The new D.A.’s stated aim is to help “decriminalize poverty.” I remember my Mom telling me as I was growing up, “You don’t have to be rich to be clean.” We didn’t have much, but I would have been summarily punished if I even approached the behavior this D.A. wants to legalize.

I have no doubt that it would be a very difficult job to clean up the streets of San Francisco as they currently stand. Still, isn’t it worth a try? This guy—and those who voted for him—seem to be giving up.

Broken Window Theory

There’s a thing called the “Broken Window Theory.” Simply put, it’s “a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.” In other words, if you let the little stuff slide, it will lead to things that are much worse. Under that theory, allowing people to use your street as a restroom is a step in the wrong direction. 

There’s an interesting verse in Zechariah that says, “Don’t despise the day of small beginnings.” Another way of putting it would be, “Take baby steps!” Small, positive changes could be good. 

In a somewhat related article, however, a man was handcuffed and arrested for eating a sandwich on the Bay Area Rapid Transit. Maybe it will be more than a small change after all. 

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

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.]