Thanksgiving American Style

There’s a short video from Prager U entitled, “What’s the Truth About the First Thanksgiving?” It’s a good reminder of the real, historical underpinnings of our annual celebration of thanks. If you bother to read this blog during the rush of your holiday festivities, you might want to take an extra six minutes to view it. It will refresh your memory if not totally enlighten you to the facts.

It’s amazing how historical reality can be replaced by myth, legend, and the slight-of-hand we often pass off as research. Facts are facts, and we tend to put them aside due to a philosophy that states, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

The Name of the Game

Regardless, Thanksgiving shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out. The very term gives it away. Giving thanks is the name of the game—or is it football? We will offer up thanks if and when our team wins. Other than that, giving thanks is not always a part of the holiday set aside for doing just that.

Turkey, ham, football, family… We often have it all on Thanksgiving Day. As it turns out, these are all things for which we can give thanks—these and many more, of course. But do we?

The traditional passage of Scripture used in many Thanksgiving homilies (back when congregations actually got together to worship on Thanksgiving) is Luke 17:11-19. You may remember this as the story of the ten lepers. In it, ten men with the dread disease of leprosy called out to Jesus and asked for healing. In those days, there was no known cure.

As the event transpires, Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. In that culture, the priests were the ones who could pronounce someone “clean.” Since leprosy ostensibly made an individual “unclean” and an outcast, if any healing occurred, showing yourself to the priests was the prudent thing to do.

Along the way, one of the lepers noticed that he had been healed. Instead of going directly to the priests, he was overcome with gratitude and returned forthwith to Jesus to thank him. Jesus’ natural question was, “Where are the other nine?” Indeed. Where were they?

Even on the day of Thanksgiving, we tend to be among the “other nine.” It’s just another day off. A day to eat, hang out with family, and watch football…

Civil Religion

Politicians in this country had tinkered with the date for Thanksgiving for decades. Finally in 1941, FDR signed a joint congressional resolution imbedding it on the fourth Thursday in November (where it has remained ever since). Interestingly enough, his reason for doing so was to provide an economic boost to the country. Years earlier, Abraham Lincoln had tried something similar in an attempt to foster a greater sense of unity between the north and south.

And so, civil religion has given us this day of relaxation. The deity we call government suggests we give thanks. Nice try. Maybe we should just do it.

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

The Amazing Invisible Printer

An amazing (and disturbing) thing just happened to me yesterday. In fact, it’s still happening. I was logged onto my computer, found something on the web I wanted to see in a hard copy, and hit the “print” button. Much to my dismay and colossal consternation, nothing happened.

As I began to investigate the problem, I discovered a message that read, “Printer Offline.” I don’t usually talk to computers, but this was a major exception. I told it how impossible that happened to be. I’d just printed something, and it was perfectly online. Printers don’t just fall offline (I don’t think).

Is My Computer Lying?

As I continued to delve into this mysterious malady in my own, un-technological way, I received other messages. At one point, my computer told me it couldn’t find the printer. This was absurd on its face (and maybe an outright lie). The printer is sitting right beside the computer.

Just to be sure we were both on the same page, I turned my monitor ninety degrees so the screen was facing the printer (only inches away). I still received the same message. I now knew the problem, of course. My computer has gone blind. I can deal with sightless people (if they’re willing to deal with me), but I’m quite intolerant of blind computers.

So, here I sit staring at my printer (which is quite visible to me) and my computer. I have things to print, but apparently, they won’t speak to one another. If they were people, I could possibly reason with them. As it is, I’m at a loss.

Is Patience Fruit or a Virtue?

I suppose I’ll have to break down and take the time to call a tech. I hate doing that for several reasons. Number one, I dislike doing business on the phone. I really prefer face-to-face confabs. Secondly, I’m not good at wading through the various outrageous accents most techs seem to have. Most importantly, however, I really hate spending my time on eternal hold (which is usually the outcome of many of these communications).

I guess my main problem is a lack of patience. Patience is something the Apostle Paul spoke of quite often. In Galatians, he refers to it as a fruit of the Spirit. In 2 Timothy, he tells his young son in the faith to preach with great patience. In the same letter, he tells Timothy that he (Paul) has patience. The big problem here is the fact that he never tells us how to get that patience on our own.

How can we clothe ourselves with patience (Colossians 3:12) if we don’t know how to obtain it? The Biblical implication is that we need to grow patience. Paul calls it fruit in Galatians 5:22-25. The only way I know to get fruit is to grow it. My question it this, however. How do you grow fruit if you don’t have the patience to do so?

Apparently, one possible answer is this: Pray for patience and God will send you a printer and a computer.

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

 

Casual Friday at Buckingham Palace

There’s a great commercial currently running on a lot of TV shows. It depicts a casual Friday at Buckingham Palace. I call it great; because it’s so absurd on its face it’s funny. The guards at Buckingham Palace could never have a casual Friday. It’s a total non sequitur.

After watching this ad a few times, it occurred to me that virtually every day is casual Friday for me. Unless I’m doing a wedding, you can count on me to be wearing a pair of jeans (or shorts). It wasn’t always that way, but I’ve slowly transitioned into portraying the actual casualness of my life.

It’s not that I’m a total slob (at least, I don’t think so). I try to be neat, clean, and tidy for the most part. It’s just that I don’t think I’m fooling very many people when I get all gussied up. That’s just not me. Never was—probably never will be.

Cleaning Up Well

I’ve been told that I “clean up well.” That’s nice to know. I do want to fit in when those more formal occasions roll around. Still, I’m not one to be caught in a tux very often, although I actually have a couple of those babies hanging in my closet—ever ready at my beck and call.

In preparation for my recent move (see The Move From Hell), I went through every article of clothing in my wardrobe. I got rid of a lot. Largely among the giveaways were my less than casual items—you know, blazers, nice sweaters, and dress pants (not to mention suits). Frankly, I won’t miss a one. It begs the question, “Why did I have these in the first place?”

Thinking back on those purchases, I often picked something up because of one particular occasion that was looming on the horizon. I wore the item once or twice, then it hung in my closet to take up space. I didn’t want to get rid of it because, “You never know when I might wear it again.” Who was I trying to kid? Myself, I guess.

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

I find it fascinating that Jesus explicitly told us not to be so concerned about what we should wear (Matthew 6:25-34). He literally asked, “Why do you worry about clothes?” (V. 28) Yet, we just might “worry” about clothes far more than we do about most things. I suppose it’s because our clothing speaks loudly about who we are to those who don’t really know us. We want all the surrounding strangers to think we’re cool—at least worthy to be treated nicely.

And so it goes. We fill our closets with coverings that will attract, adorn, or otherwise make a statement so people will think well of us. Thus, we become the guards at Buckingham Palace.

I wish I had all the money I’ve wasted on clothing that I never really put to good use. Just think of what I could do with it. Why, I could buy a whole new wardrobe!

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

Replacing the Buzz

In my years as a student, life-traveler, and otherwise nomadic type, I’ve moved more times than I care to remember. As some of you more elderly geezers (like myself) might recall, in the old days, everything went on the move.

“Everything” included large things like refrigerators, washers, and dryers. These days, real estate agencies have come up with a nifty term that alleviates all that backbreaking exertion. The term is “convey.” Nowadays, refrigerators, washers, and dryers all “convey.” This, of course, is a brief but fancy way of saying, “If you buy this house, you’re also buying the appliances (‘cause we’re not lugging these babies up and down any more staircases).

“We were still young and virile.”

When I was young, moving was a matter of a couple pickup trucks, a case of beer, and a few college buddies. Of course, all the move entailed back then was a sofa, a bed, and a few clothes (and the appliances we took with us because they had not yet invented the term, convey). Toting those fridges up and down flights of steps didn’t matter as much in those days because we were still young and virile (or maybe, just stupid).

My lovely Bride and I just moved into a newly built home. We had to buy all new appliances because, supernaturally, our old ones conveyed. My spouse and I quickly noticed that the new appliances no longer have that annoying buzz when the process (i.e., drying cycle) is over. These days when the fridge is left open, the drying is finished, or the washer is doing anything at all, they play music.

Now, instead of that heavy, droning buzz, we hear the light, tinkling lilt of a chime-like instrument going off somewhere in our new domicile. One went off in a far-off room last evening and someone said, “What’s that noise?” Half deaf as I am, I didn’t hear a thing, but I began to explore. Sure enough, when I trod up the basement stairs to the kitchen, I discovered the refrigerator door slightly ajar.

“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”

I have no real beef with this transition to the melodic from the intrusive, startling alarm of days gone by. Still, in the future, I’d like to have a choice of something other than the glockenspiel these appliances seem to play these days. An acoustic guitar performing Slow Dancing in a Burning Room might be nice.

Someone made the following comment concerning the changeover from the disturbing to the dainty. “Today’s little snowflakes can’t take the buzz.” That person might have a valid point. Not to cast aspersions upon the current generation, but sometimes we need a rude awakening in our lives. Maybe those annoying alarms on our appliances were healthy precursors that helped prepare us for some of the more weighty tribulations that tend to interrupt our daily quietude—you know, things like accidents, tragedies, and even death.

I don’t mean to be morbid, but maybe those lousy buzzing noises were good things in the end. At least I could hear them.

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

The Designated Hitter…er…I Mean…Pray-er

Most Novembers, I try to attend a Veterans Day Ceremony. These are held to celebrate, commemorate, and otherwise remember our vets. Having been a clergy-type for lo these many years, I have participated in myriads of these sorts of observances.

My role is usually one as the designated pray-er. This is much like the Designated Hitter in baseball. The DH’s role is quite limited. He doesn’t play the field—only bats when it’s his turn. The rest of the time, he sits in the dugout mentally preparing for his next moment to shine (or fail).

Like any DH, I had been practicing my swing—offering public prayers for decades. Even before I got out of bed that morning, I began thinking about how I should pray. As the words came, I decided I’d better get them down on paper before I lost them (getting old is such a pain). Here are the words I wrote (and later prayed).

Almighty God—We look to you in times of war and in days of peace. We seek you in years of famine and eras of feasting.

We turn to you when things seem to be falling all around us, and when everything appears to be on the rise.

This day is no exception. So we recognize you once again as the Creator of all, the Sustainer of every life, and the Redeemer of anyone who would seek your face.

There are moments in life when we strive to forget. Yet, in this instance, we ask you to help us remember. We ask this because we sometimes ignore who we really are. And we often overlook the sacrifices that brought us to this occasion.

So today—in this place, and during this hour—remind us of your Word that tells us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.“ (John 15:13) May we be inspired (at least in some small way) to do the same.

We pray and ask this in the name of Christ, and for his glory—Amen.

I batted second in the lineup that day. That kind of prayer is usually called the invocation. I looked up that word and found it means, “to summon the deity.” I suppose that’s what I did. But it seems to me that our Deity summons us (rather than the other way around). Be that as it may, I did my thing and sat down to wait for my next turn at the plate.

 

I was pleasantly surprised when the main speaker glowingly described the Mighty Oaks Warrior Program that reaches out to returning vets with support and healing through the Gospel of Christ. Quite a change from the normal, civic ceremony in which the Deity is perfunctorily summoned then dismissed.

 

So when I got up for my final at-bat (the benediction) I was pumped. I don’t know if I hit it out of the park, but I’m pretty sure I got good wood on the ball.

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

The Demon Crib (and Other Worldly Obstacles to Glory)

If you’ve read my most recent blog and e-letter, you know my lovely Bride and I have recently moved. If you’ve never taken this unspeakable action (which I strongly advice against), please allow me to warn you that the days and hours leading up to move-day are arduous and wrought with discomfort. What we often forget, however, are the trials and tribulations of the weeks following said move.

For example: I was tasked with the job of setting up the nursery for when our grandbaby visits. This wouldn’t have been so bad except for the demon crib I had to reassemble. Disassembly was bad enough. Putting it back together was a feat that took unearthly patience and supernatural discernment. It reminded me of the old quip, “It’s enough to make a preacher swear!” The instructions for these things definitely receive their genesis from the pit of hell. The people who write them are either possessed or sadistic (or maybe both).

The Sliding Double Soft-Close Waste Bin

Then there was this wonderful little invention we picked up at Home Depot a couple days ago. It’s called a “Sliding Double Soft-Close Waste Bin.” Clever name, huh? It’s a very simple contraption with a very useful purpose. I loved this thing. Then I attempted to install it.

You’ve seen the instructions for these types of objects. The illustrations are two-dimensional line drawings endeavoring to depict three-dimensional objects. My feeble brain just doesn’t seem to be able to make the transition from illustration to reality. And the written instructions are even worse.

The key to the entire operation of this magnificent little invention is a small, plastic clip that holds the waste bin cage to the slider (sounds confusing already). Here is the literal instruction for putting the clip into position:

Step 1: Pull Bottom, Push Top

Step 2: Push Bottom, Push Top until it snaps

I have to be honest here. The only thing that snapped was the alleged installer (me). I say alleged, because it’s still not installed.

Some people think the Scriptures are difficult to understand. Frankly, you can give me a Bible verse and I can stand and expound upon it for hours (just ask the bored congregations I’ve served). But the little instruction booklet for this gadget turned me into a sniveling, quivering, pile of spasmodic gelatin. I had to stop and walk away (actually, I was crawling by that time). It’s been two days, now, and I can’t go back to it for fear I’ll lose my religion. What a world! If I do attempt to try again, I think I’ll use the Spanish instructions that come along with it. At least I’ll have a good reason for not understanding what to do.

I’ve run across a goodly number of people who don’t buy into the fact that there are demonic forces working in this world. As for me and my house, we believe. A two-cent, plastic clip has defeated me. That, my friends, is demonic. Where’s the Exorcist when you need him?

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

The Move From Hell

I missed my last blog deadline because my lovely Bride and I decided to downsize. Actually, I missed the last two (but who’s counting?). Last weekend, we moved to our new home, which is 700 square feet smaller than our recent one. It turned out to be the move from hell.

I call it the move from hell for several reasons. The movers we hired arrived promptly on Saturday morning with a rather sizeable truck and began to load our worldly possessions. Lo and behold, one truckload wouldn’t do it. They delivered that first load and placed it into our new abode. By the time that was done, I had had enough. Nevertheless, we all went back for a second load.

A deluge of rain descended upon us as we tackled the second delivery. To make matters worse, we began to realize that a second shipment wasn’t going to do it either. Thank goodness we were only moving a half hour away. As I assessed the situation, I asked my hired guns to get all the “big stuff,” and I’d deal with the “small stuff” on my own. Ugh!

Our Big Mistake

Our big mistake was the downsizing part. We successfully downsized our dwelling but were abysmally unsuccessful in downsizing our possessions. Oh the humanity. The normal move has boxes everywhere, but this one is ridiculous.

There’s an old saying that indicates, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” In fact, Jesus is the one who said that (Luke 12:15). I try to live by his words, but, apparently, I didn’t take this one seriously enough.

Allow me to give you a couple examples. As I unpacked (a process that’s still taking place), I discovered that we own a box of Koozies. I’m willing to bet a lot of you don’t even know what a Koozie is. I don’t think I’ve ever even used one, but I have a whole box of them.

Another example of our failure to downsize properly is our TV situation. We gave one away, and we still have an extra one. Frankly, it’s a tad embarrassing. STUFF! We have way too much STUFF!

Joy of I’ve made several trips to the old house to retrieve some of the “small stuff” the movers left behind. At the ripe old age of sixty-seven, this small stuff isn’t so small anymore. I have confirmed in my own mind that small is definitely a relative term. I feel like the moving van hit me. By my calculations, I have one more trip to make (joy of joys).

I’m sure my lovely Bride and I will be happy in our new home, but true happiness will elude our grasp until we can unload about a third of our possessions. If Jesus is right (and I’m sure he is), we won’t even miss them. Besides that, we just don’t have a place to put it all.

By the way–can any of you use some free, empty boxes? My garage is full of them.

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

You’re Not Right!

There’s a phrase that seems to be popping up a lot the past few years. That phrase is, “You’re not right.” When spoken with the right tone of voice, the cynic can pull this off quite well. Since I’m writing this (rather than speaking it), I can’t make you hear it correctly. So let me just say, “You’re not right” is akin to the old, “You’re not all there.” Most of us are quite familiar with that one.

This is a very convenient barb. It’s short, to the point, and quite cutting. Anyone with the correct voice inflection can stop you in your tracks with it. I, myself, haven’t attempted it, but I keep thinking I need to try. I just can’t seem to remember to use it when the moment is ripe. Maybe, one of these days…

“No one is good…”

For some reason, this phrase reminds me of the time Jesus told someone, “No one is good—except God alone.” (Luke 18:18-19) A religious leader of his day had approached him and asked a question. In doing so, he addressed Jesus as “good teacher.” Before he answered the man’s query, Jesus made it a point to announce that only God is good—no one else.

This would have been a good time for Jesus to say, “You’re not right.” I’m guessing the phrase was not in vogue at that time, so Jesus went a slightly different direction. I think (if I was writing the ZIV—Zuchelli International Version of the Bible) I would insert that phrase—at least in the footnotes if not in the text proper. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus meant.

The reason for my assuredness on this is the fact that none of us are right—particularly in comparison with God. We’re all a bit off. In fact, most of us are off by a few thousand miles (if we can put it in terms of physical distance). We just can’t seem to get it together. Not only are we “not right,” we’re not even close.

We’re Good at Fooling Ourselves

A lot of us try to fool ourselves into thinking we’re okay. In fact, many of us surmise that we’re more than okay—we’re pretty good. In reality, the only thing we’re pretty good at is fooling ourselves. The Bible has a lot to say about fools (i.e., Proverbs 15:7). Suffice it to say, it’s much better not to be one.

Recognizing that fact just might be the first step in getting it right (or at least, closer to right). That move is usually referred to as humility. It is the wise person who recognizes the fact that they’re not right. We are less than we need to be, and there is only one person who can fill in the void created by our lack of righteousness.

From my perspective, that one person is Jesus. He’s the only one who can fill the gap between not being right and becoming right in God’s eyes. We’ll never be right without him (John 3:16-21).

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

Lend Me a Hand

A few days ago, I read a short article in the newsletter of a congregation pastored by a friend of mine. The article was the posting of another good friend (his wife). She does a monthly column called Ponderings From the Pastor’s Partner.

I don’t read church newsletters very often. They tend to bore me. I make an exception with this one, however, because of Cheryl’s articles. I’ve kidded my friend (her husband) about the fact that she’s a much better writer than him, but only because it’s true. I’m hoping she’ll put together a collection of her stuff in a book someday.

I asked her if I could reprint this one, because it struck me as particularly touching, informative, and inspirational. She acquiesced, and here it is. I hope it moves you as much as it did me.

One of the first things you do when you start dating is to hold hands. There’s something very endearing about holding the hand of someone you care about. Chuck and I held hands a lot when we were dating. I have very fond memories of walking the campus of Grove City College, holding hands with the boy who would become the man I married. Back then, we held hands out of romantic love.

After we got married, we began to have children, and with each birth, Chuck held my hand for support. As we took walks with our children, we held their hands…to keep them safe and to make sure that they stayed with us. We used our hands to tie their shoes and to wipe their tears…to hug them and to care for them. During those years, we held hands out of parental love.

Our hands are amazing! We use our hands for so many purposes. Our hands are used for healing, helping and holding. They are used for working, creating and praising God!

There are many references to hands in the Bible as well. Moses held his hands up so that Joshua could defeat the Amalekites (Exodus 17:10-13). The Israelites who lapped up water with their hands were chosen to defeat the Midianites (Judges 7:5-25). David chose to put his life in the hands of God (Psalm 31:5). Jesus’ last words from the cross were committing His spirit into His Father’s hands (Luke 23:46). Now, Jesus sits at the right hand of His Father in Heaven…promising to be with us always…holding us in the palm of His hand with godly love.

We are now empty nesters, and when we take walks, we hold hands out of romantic love, but also to steady each other…especially when hiking on uneven ground. Last Sunday afternoon, Chuck and I spent a couple of hours at Idlewild Park—one last time before they close for the season. I enjoyed walking through the fallen leaves with the autumn sunshine on our faces…holding hands with that boy once again out of a lifetime of love!

[Cheryl Hildbold is a graduate of Grove City College and currently secretary of the Jennerstown United Methodist Church.]

Let Me Count the Waze

I’m guessing many of you are familiar with the travel app, Waze. If you have a smartphone, you may have already downloaded it. It’s one of the few technological wonders I swear by.

This thing is amazing. It not only tells you where to go (in a nice way), it gets you there on time. It accounts for traffic back-ups, re-routes you around accidents, and lets you know when there’s a friendly neighborhood gendarme nearby.

Once, I was going to perform a wedding located down I-95 from where I live. If you’ve never traversed that route, you know it can be less than friendly to the casual traveler. It’s fraught with all sorts of commuter maladies.

I fully expected to spend a little time on that hi-way, but it was more of a mess than usual. I was totally doomed. There was no way I was getting to this ceremony on time. It’s one thing being a late guest, but being a tardy officiant is unacceptable.

I had grave reservations…

Not to worry. My trusty Waze came to the rescue. It took me on the proverbial scenic route. I saw roads, farms, and views I’d never dreamed of prior to this trip. It even took me into a local neighborhood that I had grave reservations about navigating, but it dumped me out on the other side without a problem.

Since I have a terrible sense of direction (and can easily lose track of time), this app is a lifesaver. It’s bailed me out time and time again. For me, it’s become akin to the American Express Card. I never leave home without it. I’m starting to wonder how I ever survived before I possessed such an innovation.

Usually, at this point in many of my blogs, I relate my subject to something spiritual. If you were to take a guess, you might say, “Okay. He’s going to compare Waze to the Bible.” That would be a good guess considering the fact that a lot of folks call the Bible the “Road Map of Life.” In fact, I was intending to do just that.

Then I began to think about it. Waze is very much unlike Scripture. Waze always figures out the shortest way—the way that’s the least painful—the way that is the path of least resistance. Scripture is not like that at all.

Many times, the spiritual journey we’re on takes the long way around. It can often be wrought with pain (or, at least, discomfort). And I’d have to say, we meet a considerable amount of resistance along the way.

Is the Bible a Road Map?

The Bible can certainly be our roadmap. Still, it’s not going to be as efficient as Waze. It’s not always going to get me there on time—at least not by MY time. I will say, however, it always gets me there in God’s time.

I wonder if the Lord would consider sending us a new app? (Sorry, Lord. Just kidding… I like the old one just fine.)

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