And So It Begins…(Part II)

In case you haven’t read part one of this saga, you may want to go back and check it out (if for no other reason than to set the stage for this amazing ride). If you haven’t got the time, let me just say, “When last we saw our heroes (my lovely Bride and I), they were attending our granddaughter’s day-school Christmas program.”

As I mentioned last time, the program was billed as a musical. I’ll take their word for it. Between the crying babies, overexuberant parents, and complaining grandparents, I couldn’t hear anything that was happening up front. The presenters seemed to be in complete control of their faculties. The audience was an entirely different story, however. The word, “chaos,” comes to mind.

The Grand Finale

When we got to the point of the grand finale, a miracle occurred. First of all, I discovered it was the grand finale only because all entertainment ceased after it ended—all entertainment, that is, aside from watching the audience—which, alone, was worth the price of admission ($0.00). Said miracle happened when a crease in the crowd opened up before me. It was like God parting the Red Sea for the Hebrews. And there was my teeny Gracie in all her mercurial splendor.

Actually, she wasn’t mercurial at all (I just like using that word). She was, in fact, just the opposite. She had a blank look on her expressionless face that I could read from 100 feet away. She was thinking, WTB! (For all you texting illiterates, that means, “What the blazes?”We ARE a Christian family after all.)

For the climax of the musical, they handed Gracie (and all the other kids) a set of jingle bells. At that point, she became animated enough to move her right arm. I’ll let you guess what song they were performing. It was an amazing end to an even more amazing revue.

Still, we weren’t finished. As in every good theatrical endeavor, the director was presented with a token of ourappreciation for a job well done. The pastor rose to thank her and grabbed ascrub bucket from behind a table that was stage rear center (if there had beena stage). In the bucket was a beautiful bouquet of flowers. As he moved in herdirection, I began to think to myself, “NO, don’t do it!” But he did. He handedher the flowers, bucket and all. She had the wherewithal to remove the flowers,set the bucket aside, and thank everyone for attending.

It Was His Duty

I assumed at this point that it was all over but the shouting (which had been continual). But no… The pastor felt it his duty to pray. I know this because I have been in his shoes. To his credit, he was able to shout out a fine prayer over the din of the spectators, and all was well.

At some point, the program actually ended. I could tell this because the few adults who weren’t already standing took to their feet. Our oldest daughter was seated behind me, and as I turned around, she smiled and said, “And so it begins…” I immediately realized what she meant and did some quick calculations in my head. If I live long enough, I’ll probably have about fifteen more of these to attend over the years.

Oddly enough, I’m looking forward to it.

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

And So It Begins…(Part I)

My lovely Bride was on a business trip to California this past week, so on Friday evening, it was my husbandly duty to pick her up at the airport. Fortunately for me, we only live about twenty or so minutes from Dulles International (IAD as we frequent flyers like to call her—the airport, not my wife).

Normally on such an occasion, she would rush home, throw on her jammies, and chill. Not so this Friday. Our 2 ½ year old granddaughter was in her first Christmas program at seven o’clock pm. So, we went home long enough to drop off my spouse’s luggage, take a fast potty break, do a quick wardrobe change, and head off to the school.

The school building (a Lutheran Church) had just been completed recently, so this was their first year. Consequently, it was also their first Christmas program. From what I can discern (and read in the bulletin), it was a musical. I really couldn’t tell from what occurred, but I’m quite certain I heard some music in there somewhere.

Pandemonium Began

It was in an area that appeared to be some sort of multipurpose room. There was no stage, but there were enough chairs arranged in a theater-like style that we all knew something was going to happen in the general direction in which our faces were pointed. Sure enough, some tiny humans emerged from a side door led by several young teachers. Everyone was dressed in red and green (as you might expect) and the pandemonium began.

One enterprising young woman attempted to introduce the event, but I have no clue what she said. It’s not merely that I’m half deaf (too much rock and roll they tell me), but the parents and the little siblings of the performers were making too much noise to make out the emcee’s lilting voice (even though she was shouting). I’m pretty sure this is why they invented microphones, but she didn’t have one.

Typical Church-Goer

The first thing that happened was that everyone in the room with a camera (which, thanks to cell phones, was just about everyone) stood to their feet and began flitting about to get the best shot. Since there was no stage, the wee ones up front were impossible to see.I, like any typical church goer, was seated in the back, so it was even worse for me than most.

They tell me my granddaughter was up there, but you couldn’t prove it by me. In addition to the photographers, half the adults in the audience felt it important to frequently wave to their own special performer (who, in most cases, took the opportunity to violently wave back). Frankly, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. It was funny and disconcerting all at the same time.

I began to think about the halcyon days of my own early parenthood. I must have been to one or two of these when my boys were little, but I couldn’t dredge up any specific memories of such events. Either I blocked them out of my mind, or we actually treated the events like any other normal audience would—you know…sanely. (To be Continued…)

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

The God Hypothesis

When the fathers of modern science began toestablish the kind of learning we now build upon, they had an inherent beliefin a Creator God. Even the ones who weren’t Christians believed there was some sortof vast intelligence behind what we see in the universe.

This all began to change in the nineteenth century with people like Laplace and Darwin who decided that God was a mere hypothesis—and not a very good one at that.

A Direct Contrast

This was in direct contrast to scientists like Newton who felt that the only plausible First Cause had to be a supremely intelligent Being. Their explanations had God woven into their hypothesis. Laplace and Darwin attempted to explain everything absent from such an intellect and rejected the “God Hypothesis” outright.

From that point onward, things in science snowballed to the point where we ended up with people like the ones we came to know as “the New Atheists.” These were thinkers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Whereas the early scientists believed human beings could “think God’s thought after Him,” the new atheists came to the conclusion that science renders a belief in any god to be untenable, implausible, and even delusional. In fact, Dawkins wrote a book over a decade ago (The God Delusion) in which he tells us that the universe only presents the “appearance” of design. His explanation of the order we see in the galaxies is they have come into being by unguided and undirected mechanisms.

I certainly don’t have an intellect that can scientifically answer the claims of the new atheists, but it seems to be a huge leap to say that such order came without any guidance or direction. It actually takes less faith to believe in God. The odds of the accidental formation of matter as we know it are astronomical. Yet, this has become the dominant, underlying thought of intellectuals in our time.

Two Worlds in Conflict  

It’s a conflict of two world views. One says that all things come from God—a preexistent, intelligent Being. The other holds that all things come from particles—preexistent from eternity past. We usually don’t give it much thought, but these two world views are the basis for a lot of the polarization we see in our world today. They are fundamentally divergent and antithetical philosophies. To simplify things, it all boils down to this—God vs. scientific materialism.

I’m not sure which side you’re on, but it’s really hard to straddle the fence on this one—impossible, in fact. There are those who attempt to amalgamate the two. Years ago, I used to be one of them. I, eventually, landed on the side of God, but not without some thoughtful struggles.

The first sentence of the Bible clearly states, “In the beginning God…” You either buy that or you don’t. I do. And because I do, it informs and directs the rest of my life. Reject it, and materialism will be your god—like it or not.

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

My Annual Physical

I went for my annual physical exam today. Truth be told, I was about 2 ½ years late. My doctor cajoled me to make a better effort at showing up every year. (Hey! I’m a busy man! Retirement can be overwhelming at times.)

After much poking, prodding, and…well…other things, I left with a clean bill of health—sort of. At least he verified that I’m still breathing and I’m not getting any younger.

Besides being quite personal and intrusive, these things can be rather scary. At my age, who knows what evil is lurking deep within. Because of this, we golden-agers subject ourselves to physicals, shots, supplements, rectal exams (excuse my language), and the ever-dreaded colonoscopies. As Mick Jagger once sang, “What a drag it is getting old.” Of course, if you’re old enough to remember that song, you’re old enough to schedule regular colonoscopies.

At First Swig

One hasn’t lived until one experiences the joy of a colonoscopy. Actually, the procedure is a breeze (so to speak). The prep for these babies is the killer. It used to be, you had to drink about thirty-seven gallons of foul-tasting, metabolic mixture that was truly a gastronomic adventure. At first swig, you might guess that it came from a toxic waste dump. It’s actually prescribed by your attending physician, so you know it has to be good for you.

You then spend the next several hours displacing any unwanted particles of food (or whatever else you like to digest) from your colon. This amounts to living in the bathroom for what seems like a day and a half with your ankle chained to the toilet. This is not something I would recommend for the first few days of your vacation. Do this on your employer’s time if you can. If you’re retired like me… Well, if you’re retired like me, you may want to avoid the entire experience. You might die sooner, but at least you’ll die happy.

Fortunately, things have improved. I just checked WebMD and they recommend picking up the following items a few days prior to your big event:

  • Prescription for an over-the-counter laxative specified by your MD
  • Low-fiber food
  • Sports drinks, juices, and broths
  • Moist wipes
  • (and last but not least) Diaper cream

This sounded like so much fun, I immediately called my friendly, neighborhood gastroenterologist to schedule one. Can’t wait…

Please, Pray for Me

I hope this all goes well. If I’ve got to do this every year, I might not last to the ripe old age of seventy-five. I’m not sure my innards can take it. As we in the church like to say in times like these, “Pray for me.”

The Jews of the Old Testament used to make annual sacrifices to atone for their sin. In Christianity, we believe that the sacrifice of Jesus cleansed us from our sin, once and for all, eliminating the need for the yearly thing. I believe that with all my heart. But apparently it doesn’t cover colons. We still need to cleanse those regularly.

Cockroaches & Colonoscopies

I was recently watching the news and overheard a U.S. Congressperson lamenting the fact that the congressional approval rating was at 11%. Then he added, “Just below cockroaches and colonoscopies.” That’s pretty low.

In my view (which, I know, doesn’t count for much), Congress deserves that low rating. I wouldn’t place them lower than cockroaches, however. Probably dead even with colonoscopies, though… Still, they’re human beings (I think) and deserve to be seen as such. That alone, should place them in a little better light. The fact remains, however, that they don’t function very well as a body. A tad more cooperation and mutual respect might help, but there seems to be little chance of that these days.

Better Than the Alternative

Most of us are fortunate that we don’t have to stand much public scrutiny. Even better, we don’t have to weather the critique of a poll that rates our competency. Personally, I don’t know if I could take the rejection. While I don’t live for the approval of others, I have to admit it’s certainly better than the alternative.

As a race, most of us seem to be keen contenders for the admiration of other people. It’s often said that women dress for other women. It’s also true that men try to act manlier around other males. We all seem to vie for a higher rung on the social ladder—hence Facebook, selfies, and mechanical bull riding. All of these things are attempts to get a leg up on cockroaches and colonoscopies.

I suppose this is all part of the human condition. We keen contenders can’t seem to help ourselves. We seek the appreciation of other humans when the only real being we need to please is God. If we lose theLord’s affirmation, we’re in deep doo-doo.

Trying to Please People

The Apostle Paul ran into this problem with part of the church in Galatia. People were apparently flocking to other preachers who were laying down a false gospel. According to Paul, theirs was “really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). Rather than trying to outdo the false prophets, the Apostle sought to maintain the approval of God instead of retaining his popularity among the brethren. He went so far as to say, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Something tells me he slipped below the cockroaches on that note (there were probably no colonoscopies in his day).

At this point in my life, I think I’ve finally realized that it’s futile to try to win approval from every soul that surrounds me. It’s even more pointless to try to maintain the admiration I actually have received over the years. People are way too exacting and difficult to please. God, on the other hand, loves me just because. He already knows what a screw-up I am, and He still calls me to follow Him. He could do a lot better, but I’m grateful to be counted in that number—cockroaches and colonoscopies notwithstanding.

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

Freshmores and Juniors

Well, we have hit a new high in political correctness and gender identification. I just heard about a college professor who decided it was way too sexist to call first year students by their old name—freshmen. This, of course, makes it sound like all the frosh are men. Where I went to college, six out of seven of them were women, so I can see his point.

Usually I’m not into the P.C. stuff, but I thinkI like this one. He wants to call the newbies, freshmores. It’s kind of appealing,don’t you think? It’s got a great ring to it, easy to remember (because of the sophomorething), and apparently, it’s already catching on at his school. There’s onlyone problem with it. When I checked the internet to do some research on the professor, I found that “freshmore” is already in use.

Not All Freshmores Flunked Out

From what I can tell, a freshmoreis someone who has already been through their freshman year but doesn’t haveenough credits to qualify as a sophomore. As I recall, there were a lot ofthose in my school as well, but we didn’t call them freshmores. Usually they wereon academic probation, and after one more semester, they flunked out. We thencalled them “gone.” Not as nifty a term, but appropriate nonetheless. Not allfreshmores flunked out, of course, but they were often the ones that took eightyears to finish college. To each his own, but I wanted out as early as possible.I secured the old sheepskin ASAP.

I see another problem on the horizon for theprofessor’s new expression. If we change the word freshmen to freshmore, whatare we going to do with the older class—the juniors? This word is definitelyfraught with sexist overtones. All the Juniors I know are male. I’ve neverheard of a Jane Doe, Jr. (What DO we call females who are named after theirmothers?) If we’re going to come up with a new term for the freshmen, we may aswell go all out and rename the juniors as well. But what should we call them? I’mopen for suggestions.

In actuality, when daughters are named after their mothers, the term Junior can be attached. It seems more of a male thing because it’s relatively rare that mothers dub their girls with the name that they carry as well. Because of that, junior doesn’t flow well with the fairer sex (can we still say that?).

A Lower Ranking

Still, a quick perusal of any dictionary also includes females when defining the term junior. That’s even worse, however. The definition of a junior is “a person holding a lower position in a hierarchy of ranks.” They may trail seniors by a year, but there are still two classes beneath them. As it turns out, junior is somewhat of a demeaning term.

Nevertheless, there’s no shame in being a junior (or a freshman for that matter). Hang in there. You will soon inherit a double portion.

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

Jamais Vu

Most of us are familiar with the French term, “déjà vu.” In case you’ve not run into this handy-dandy concept, it’s the feeling that occurs when you’re in a situation that gives you the sense you’ve lived through that before. David Crosby (of CSNY fame) once wrote a song entitled Deja Vu in which the band repeatedly sang, “We have all been here before.” Catchy, huh?

Some of the “experts” think déjà vu occurs when your brain short-circuits and plays what you’re seeing as a memory. Cool. I’ve had this experience many times in the past, but now that I think of it, I haven’t had it recently. Things must change when you get older and begin losing your memory.

Just Guessing…

There’s another French term that I only learned recently. The term is “jamais vu.” I don’t think there are any songs about it, but that only stands to reason. Jamais vu is almost the opposite of déjà vu. Merriam-Webster says jamais vu is“the experience of being unfamiliar with a person or situation that is actually very familiar.” Now, this is something I suspect I will experience more and more as I grow older. Just guessing…

I don’tknow if it applies, but this is something I often experience when I readScripture. Quite frequently I’ll read a passage that appears to be brand new.I’m pretty sure I’ve read the entire Bible over the years, but there are pericopesthat seem to leap off the page and the meanings appear to be brand new.

Some of the liberal politicians like to say that the U.S. Constitution is a “living, breathing document.” By this, I suspect they mean that the text has new connotations as it is applied to different times and situations. While a lot of their more conservative brethren disagree, it’s a fascinating concept—one that loosely fits the Bible.

It Doesn’t Prove Anything

By that I mean, God’s Word is a living, breathing thing. There’s even a paraphrase of Scripture that’s entitled “The Living Bible.” That, by itself, doesn’t prove anything, but experience tends to point me in that direction. It’s not that the Bible changes or means different things than it used to mean. It’s that our experience when reading God’s Word often develops and grows as we mature in the faith.

We can peruse a passage that we’ve read a hundred times, and suddenly, God speaks to usthrough that passage in a way He has never done so before. It’s revelatory,inspirational, and invigorating. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the Frenchmeant by jamais vu, but it’s not exactly rare that I “experience beingunfamiliar with a [verse] that is actually very familiar.”

It’s this sort of jamais vu that makes Biblical studies so enticing. The Lord speaks to us through His Word more than in any other way—at least that’s my experience. I encourage you to go back and read the old familiar passages with fresh eyes. You never know when jamais vu will strike.

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

Nice and Ignorant

I ran across a rather interesting factrecently. The English word, “nice,” comes from a Latin word meaning “ignorant.”Etymology is always interesting, but this one seemed to be a road too far. Icouldn’t resist, so I did a little research. Here’s what I found.

“Five hundred years ago, when nice was first used in English, it meant ‘foolish or stupid.’ This is not as surprising as it may seem, since it came through early French from the Latin nescius, meaning “ignorant.” By the 16th century, the sense of being “very particular” or “finicky” had developed. In the 19th century, nice came to mean “pleasant or agreeable” and then “respectable,” a sense quite unlike its original meaning.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be a bit annoying. As a matter of fact, I find it to be a tad scary. How can we take a perfectly legitimate word and turn it into something entirely different? A time traveler could get himself into a slew of trouble if he wasn’t careful.

After I thought about it, though, I realized we do this sort of thing all the time. For example, when I was in college, people began to use the word “bad” the same way you and I would use the word “good.” If they heard a song they really liked, they would say something like, “That’s a really bad tune.” Unless you were attuned to their particular vocabulary, you would have thought they hated that music. Of course, you would have been entirely wrong.

These days, this seems to happen a lot in politics.I used to know what it meant to be a conservative or a liberal, for example. Nolonger. These words have been so skewed over the past few decades, I can’t tellwhat they mean anymore. This is great for politicians, because they can liethrough their teeth and come out smelling like a rose if they do it correctly.

That’s bad enough in and of itself. But what’s worse (at least in my view) is the way this kind of spin has worked its way into the church. We seem to have begun doing the same thing the politicians are doing. We’re taking terms and changing their meaning. And while people almost expect that sort of thing in the political realm, they often get blindsided when those tactics are applied in the spiritual realm.

Spiritual Spin

It goes beyond mere terms as well. Sometimes, we’ll take Scripture and twist the meaning to fit our own narrative. You can hear things like, “Jesus said this, but what He really meant was _____ (feel free to fill in the blank). Really?

I’ve gotten to the place where I like to read a red-letter version (where the words of Jesus are printed in red) to remind me what His words really were. That way, when the word twisters start playing their game, I’m on it. Jesus’ words weren’t always nice, but they were never ignorant.

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

Sinners Welcome!

I was checking out the website of a friend’s church recently and noticed an interesting statement. It merely said, “Sinners welcome…others tolerated.” I love that! It sounds quite simple, but there’s a lot of depth there.

It should be every congregation’s attitude that sinners are welcome. Since we’re all sinners, that should be a no-brainer.Unfortunately, that sentiment is often missing in our assemblages. We talk agood game, but when someone comes along and colors outside of our churchpractices (so to speak), sooner or later we give them the cold shoulder. Iftheir sin is not like ours, somehow it’s not acceptable.

Those Other Guys

 Of course, when we cop that kind of attitude, we begin to accept our own sin as okay. After all, we’re normal sinners. Those other guys are beyond the pale. There’s definitely something wrong with them. They need to become more like us.

If this attitude continues, we eventually don’tlook upon ourselves as sinners at all. We merely view ourselves as less thanperfect. We see “not perfect” as good and sinning as bad (as if there’s adifference). Any introspection at all reveals that this kind of rationale isfaulty at best. Avoiding that kind of introspection is imperative to maintainour holier-than-thou stance, so we don’t think about it.

 That’s where the second part of the website statement comes in. “Others tolerated…” If we’re all sinners (which we are), then there are no “others.” If you ARE one of the others, the rest of us sinners will stick around and put up with your high mindedness. This is such a great slogan! I wish I had thought of it.

Probably the one thing most nonbelievers hate about us is that we can be such hypocrites. They think we’re hypocrites because we think we’re better than sinners like them. The real problem is that, half the time, they’re right about us. We can be really good at self-deprecation until we begin comparing ourselves with people we think are below us. Then, all of a sudden, we’re looking pretty good (in our own eyes). What we keep forgetting is that, in God’s eyes, we’re still sinners. We may be saved by His grace, but we are sinners nonetheless.

The Room to be Self-Righteous

 The long and short of it is that we’ve got nothing on anyone else. Jesus tried to help us understand that in various ways. One occurred when He told Peter that forgiveness was something he (Peter)should be prepared to do without limit. When you forgive someone, you give up the right to hold their sin over their head. Living that humbly doesn’t give one the room to be self-righteous. Yet, self-righteousness seems to describe us far too often.

We should always keep in mind that Sinners welcome butted heads with the Pharisees. Why? Because they were hypocrites. They were sinners just like everyone else, but they couldn’t admit it—not even to themselves. Don’t look now, but they sound a bit like today’s church.

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

Donating the Leftovers

We just traversed an interesting series of days that come around each year. It’s a deadly and expensive time. Most famously, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving Day. It’s a wonderful American tradition with copious amounts of food, long hours watching the NFL, and (oh  yes) giving thanks. When I was a kid, this is where it all ended. We had a long weekend, visited a few relatives, and went back to school on Monday.

Things have changed significantly. These days, we don’t have time to allow our massive quantities of turkey to digest. The very next day is a new holiday. Immediately on the heels of Thanksgiving comes Black Friday. It is, indeed, black—as a black cloud on the horizon and black clouds over our wallets. I spend quite a bit just on Thanksgiving. I don’t need an immediate follow-up to double down on my cash outflow. Nonetheless, there it is.

Black Friday is, apparently, the mother ofall sales. It’s called “black” because the retailers go from red ink to blackon their ledgers (at least, that’s one theory). Having once been a retailer,that was definitely true for me. Regardless of the origin of the name, it’s undoubtedlytrue that scads of dollars change hands on that day. Some of them are mine.

Subsequently, we barely have enough time to watch a little more football until we rush headlong into Cyber Monday. This is the online equivalent of Black Friday. We tally up all the money we spent on Black Friday, subtract it from the original total we were going to spend, and ignore the small remainder. Once again, we double down and fritter away our hard earned paycheck (not to mention a few future paychecks) on who knows what. We run up our credit card bills and hope for a Christmas bonus from our employer to cover our sins.

To Our Shame

To our shame (and our never ending sense of irony), all this is followed up by “Giving Tuesday.” Yes, you read that correctly—Giving Tuesday. Some of you have probably never heard of that new invention. I can’t remember ever hearing about it until the last couple of days. Now the term is all over the place. Giving Tuesday… Really?

After spending all our money (and more), weare now urged to ease our consciences with a little giving. As cynical as thewhole thing sounds, I’m very happy we actually have a day with that moniker.Unfortunately, I think we have it misplaced on the calendar. Giving Tuesdayshould fall two days prior to Thanksgiving (or maybe, ON Thanksgiving). Ifwe’re really going to give thanks, maybe we should show it by giving a fewdollars as well. Waiting until our fortunes have been exhausted is a tad backward.

All the charity pleas are beginning to pop up on our phones. I can just hear it now. “I can’t afford to give anything.” This may be the very meaning of the old phrase, “Give until it hurts.”

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