Traveling Northward

As I write this, there is a caravan of thousands marching toward the US border from the south. Depending on who you believe, the number of people heading our direction totals anywhere from 3000 to 7000—in any case, no small aggregate of humanity.

Their stated goal, if I understand correctly, is to seek asylum in the good, old US of A. Everyone, of course, is all up in arms about the whole deal. People on the left are excited about the turmoil this influx will undoubtedly have on the upcoming elections. People on the right are just as excited that the caravan will have a chilling effect on anyone who is suspicious of people breaking into their country, thus causing them to vote for conservative candidates.

I’m not sure what kind of effect any of this will actually have on our elections, but I’d like to put that aside for a moment. I’d like to focus in on the horde traveling northward. As much publicity as they’re receiving, their story is, most likely, largely untold.

Snatched Up

We don’t know who they are. The only thing we seem to know for sure is that it is a concerted effort organized and spearheaded by a former Honduran legislator named Bartolo Fuentes. He, himself, was snatched up and detained by Guatemalan authorities as the throng attempted to pass through that country.

The remaining nameless people in the march to the border will likely diminish for reasons most of us will never consider. Traveling through Central America is fraught with dangers. One journalist reports that “Migrants are frequently robbed, sexually assaulted, and go for long stretches without eating. Some fall prey to human trafficking organizations. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to these crimes.”They might feel like there’s safety in numbers, but unbeknownst to them, some of their traveling companions might be their worst enemies. Suffice it to say,they’re risking a lot.

The worst part just might be that they’re unwitting pawns in a scheme to make a political statement for someone else. They’ve undoubtedly been lured by a promise of freedom and prosperity. For some, it may well end in tragedy.

A Guy Named Moses

A few thousand years ago, there was this guy named Moses who attempted to pull off a similar caravan. He, too, was traveling northward. Before he got to his Promised Land, he was snatched up as well (not by the Guatemalans, but by God Himself). This occurred after wandering around in the wilderness north of Egypt for forty years. His followers became angry with Moses, and the Lord became angry with the followers. They finally made it, but they lost an entire generation in the process.

Maybe that’s what these modern-day Israelites are attempting to do—deposit future generations into their promised land. Like the Israelites of old, they are causing more than a little anger and angst. The big difference, here, is that we probably won’t have to wait forty years to witness the results of their journey.

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

The Big Bird Moment

I just heard that Big Bird is retiring. I guess the lengthy avian is almost as old as I. He first made the scene in 1969 when I was nineteen. I’m not sure how old he was at that time, but I’m pretty sure he was full grown by then. I never actually watched his show very much, but he was still a favorite of mine.

In actuality, I’m guessing Big Bird is going nowhere. I haven’t detected any gray feathers on the old guy. The one who is retiring is the dude who was his voice for almost fifty years, Caroll Spinney. He was also the man behind Oscar the Grouch who was even more favored by me than the large, yellow fowl.

Spinney is now eighty-four years old, so I guess it’s his time. He obviously deserves it, although he says playing the two great Muppets gave him a sense of purpose. Making millions of kids (not to mention adults) happy would do that.

Making Millions Happy

Finding that kind of niche rather early in life is a definite boon. Not all of us are that fortunate. Many of us have to plod through life much longer to hit our stride. Some of us, I suppose, never quite get there.

I started out to become a major league baseball player. That got sidetracked early by a lack of athletic prowess. Then I looked to become a rock star. That, also, crashed and burned. A shortage of musical ability no doubt played into that.

Along the way, I tried various things. Most of them never panned out. I suppose a dearth of real desire contributed to each demise, but at least, I checked them out.

Finally, I became a preacher. The first time I stepped into a pulpit was a Big Bird moment for me. I wasn’t sure what the future held, but I was hooked. The calling of God will do that to you.

Now that I’m retired, that call is as strong as ever—maybe stronger. Our calling never fades—it never goes away. It continues to grow, and the Lord prepares us to grow into it.

It Never Goes Away

You have been and continue to be called as well. Yours might not be to preach. It might be to become a fantastic mom, a reliable plumber, or a steady laborer. How you answer the call is probably less important than the fact that you recognize it and respond. If it hasn’t already arrived, your Big Bird moment is coming.

The call story of Isaiah is a famous one. Hewas already serving Yahweh as a priest in the Temple. God called him to domore. His next step—prophet. It was his Big Bird moment if you will. His lipswere cleansed, he said, “Here am I, send me” and he never looked back.

You and I will probably never be as famous as Isaiah, but our calling is just as important. Answering will become the most fulfilling experience of your life.

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

Hugs All Around

It was an interesting week in politics. Actually, most weeks are politically interesting, but this one was particularly fascinating because of some White House visitors.

There are large groups of White House guests each week, so why was this any different? The variance is certainly not earthshattering, but I found it to be more than intriguing that POTUS was getting extra hugs. The enthralling part is from whom the hugs originated.

180 Degrees

Early on, Kanye West (along with NFL superstar, Jim Brown) called on the President. After a lengthy bombast, West gave Mr. Trump a hug. In case you’re unaware, Kanye is a famous rapper (as in rap music). Not being a huge rap fan, I only knew him from a statement he made several years ago when he brashly announced that (then president) George Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” Now, to see him embrace this president is quite a shocker. Somewhere along the way, he made a 180° turn in attitude. Admittedly, he still might think that “W” doesn’t care about black people, but he certainly doesn’t feel that way about The Donald.

Later in the week, Pastor Brunson (newly freed from a Turkish prison after a two-year incarceration) knelt in the Oval Office, embraced the President, and prayed for him—out loud and unashamedly. I’m sure the separation of church and state folks were a tad miffed, but praying for the President, no matter who may hold the office, should be a common practice among all people of faith.

So, we have the juxtaposition of two presidential hugs. One from a black, Chicago rapper… The other from a white, Presbyterian, North Carolinian… I guess the old saying is true. “It takes all kinds.” Thank God for diversity.

Holy Embrace

The Bible doesn’t actually say much about people hugging each other, but it says a lot about how we should greet one another. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letters to the churches that we should greet each other with a “holy kiss.” He repeated this four times in writing, and my guess would be that he also said it a bunch as he traveled around and preached. Since we don’t use that term much anymore, various Bible translations have rendered the holy kiss phrase as warm greetings, kiss of peace, shake hands warmly, and holy embraces all around. I think we get the idea.

Though Kanye West has since verbally rejected much of his upbringing, he was reportedly raised in a Christian home. And while Christians don’t have a full nelson on hugging, he might possibly have garnered that habit in the congregation of his youth. POTUS became the latest beneficiary.

Pastor Brunson, on the other hand, appears to be steeped in Scripture. He was an evangelist in Turkey for twenty years prior to his arrest. His expressed love for the Turkish people (as well as for the President who brought him home) came through in his hug.

Maybe we should take a cue from these guys. Hugs all around!

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

I’m Seeing Red

When Elizabeth Warren claimed to be a Cherokee Indian, a lot of folks were skeptical. Even the President challenged her on her racial assertions. He stated that, if she could prove she was an Indian, he’d give one million dollars to her favorite charity. Finally, the Boston Globe called her out on it and pushed her to get a DNA test to prove her proclamations.

I didn’t think she’d do it, but there it is—out there for all the world to see. She is 1/1024th Native American. I’m not sure if she thinks this is vindication for her position, but I’d be a tad skeptical about that. Frankly, however, I couldn’t care less.

I think the real question is one that most people are missing. I’ve heard only one commentator even mention this in passing. If white privilege is so pervasive in our culture, why would anyone try to pass themselves off as someone from another race? In Warren’s case, she apparently decided this would enhance her career. It seems to have worked, because, for a long time, she was touted as Harvard law school faculty’s first female person of color. From what I can gather, she made a lot of money for her institution with that status.

Person of Color (Red)

Now, with her DNA test results, we finally know that the claim was true. Well, it was true if 1/1024th qualifies. Who’s to say? Harvard, I guess.

I’m not in a position to judge the good Senator. Even if she did it to perpetrate a hoax on us all, I’m no better. There have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve pretended to be something (or someone) I’m not. The older I get, the less I find myself doing that, but it certainly has happened.

Even if I had never done that, judging someone else is seldom a good idea. Actually, it might never be a good idea. Jesus, in fact, informed us that we should avoid judging others unless we were prepared to be on the other end of that judgment. In the same passage, he made his famous statement about removing the log from your own eye before you attempt to get the speck out of someone else’s optical orb. If I’m going to take Jesus seriously, I guess any judgment of Ms. Warren on my part is out of line.

“Seneca, I Believe”

I can’t help but be interested in her claim to be from an Indian tribe, however. I’m actually married to a woman whose heritage includes a bit of Native American (Seneca, I believe). I keep urging her to go get a piece of the casino pie, but that’s a story for another day.

I guess Warren’s worst sin (if there is one) would be what our society likes to call “cultural appropriation.” In a recent poll, however, we discovered that the bulk of the American Indian population doesn’t care about political correctness (which is what cultural appropriation is). Still, they’re seeing red when it comes to Warren’s political maneuvering.

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

Ignoring the Flight Attendant

As I write this, I’m on a flight northward. Every time I fly, I feel bad for the flight attendants. The reason for this is the fact that no one ever seems to pay any attention to them when they explain the safety instructions. I must admit, however, neither do I. Well, I do every once in a while, simply because I feel guilty (as well as feeling bad).

I remember the olden days when I seldom flew. At that time, I clung to every word they said—probably because I was sure my flight was the one that would go down. I wanted to make sure I had all the safety procedures as memorized as I could. After a few hundred flights (or however many I’ve taken over the years), I’m not quite so concerned. First of all, I don’t think my flight is the one that’s going down. Secondly, even if it did, I’m not sure any of those procedures would actually come in handy. Everyone would shift into panic mode, and we’d all forget everything anyway.

Snack Time

The whole tenor of the situation changes when the flight attendants are delivering the goodies. They announce that they’re about to traverse the aisle with their cart of delectable delights, and everyone is all about paying attention. I’m not exactly sure why that is, though. A soda and some pretzels are even less exciting than the safety instructions.

Sometimes I wish the attendants would just skip their little gyrations with the fake seatbelt and oxygen mask. I suppose there are laws and regulations that force them to go through the motions, but who cares? There is at least one airline (the name of which eludes me at this moment) that shows a video instead of putting the attendants through their game of charades. I’m always relieved when I see the video pop up. It means I don’t have to feign interest when the attendant’s eye catches mine.

My Suspicions

It’s kind of like being in a worship service and mentally drifting off when the preacher is delivering the morning message. The big difference for me is the fact that I don’t do a crossword puzzle during worship like I do when I’m flying. That would really be embarrassing. Another difference is the additional fact that I’m often the preacher. I’ve never caught anyone doing a crossword puzzle during my sermon, but I get the sneaking suspicion some people are playing games on their cell phones. (Actually, that’s not true. I never have that suspicion. But, it might be true nonetheless.)

The Apostle Paul once preached a sermon that not only was boring, but it put a kid to sleep. The young man was sitting in a third story window, nodded off, and fell to the ground. That’s Biblical evidence that it’s important to pay attention—particularly when high altitudes are involved. The fact is, we should all pay better attention to each other. If we did, our world would be a better place.

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

Standing on the Bridge

Some of you may remember the comedian, Emo Philips. He used to do a routine about seeing a guy on the Golden Gate Bridge. The short version went like this:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

If you’re interested in seeing the long version, you can check it out on YouTube. Emo is definitely an acquired taste, but I’ve acquired it.

Too Close to Home

His joke, while funny, hits a bit too close to home. We Christians often wear blinders when it comes to our theology and our loyalties. We seem more apt to hold to the old saw that states, “Birds of a feather flock together” than we are to worship Jesus in unity. We divide ourselves by denomination, theology, practice, tradition, and (even more sadly) sometimes by race.

The late Keith Green used to tell a story about going to perform a concert for a congregation in the northwestern part of the country. He discovered, while there, that the congregation was the result of a church split. They were Baptists who argued over whether the water in the baptistery should be heated or allowed to remain cold. A disgusted Green referred to them as the “hot water Baptists” and the “cold water Baptists.” Need I say more?

Green’s experience illustrates an even deeper divide. We not only carve ourselves up into denominations, but we also seem to do our darndest to pare ourselves up even further. The denomination in which I served for almost forty years is a prime example of this. We are currently poised to possibly enter into a three-way split. If that occurs, it will undoubtedly result in an untold number of splinter groups as well.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder

I’m not a believer in “unity at all costs,” but I do take seriously the Lord’s call for cohesiveness among the brethren. I’m thinking I should be comfortable worshiping with almost any congregation, praying with any prayer warriors, and doing spiritual battle shoulder-to-shoulder with any Christian soldier.

Emo’s joke sheds an uneasy light on our failure to do these things. So, please don’t push me off the bridge.

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

The Politics of Religion

Last week, I wrote a blog entitled, “The Religion of Politics.” In it, I postulated that, for many people, politics has become their religion. I’m not sure how many folks agree with me on that point, but it got a significant number of hits (readers).

Even as I wrote the title, I had to think about whether to call it “The Religion of Politics,” or “The Politics of Religion.” In processing that conundrum, it occurred to me that not only were they distinctly different, but they were both worth exploring. While some people may adopt politics AS their religion, there is no doubt that there are many people of faith who inject politics INTO their religion.

I just came across a Twitter post of a young man who said, “You are finished, (insert name of political party here). You polished the final nail for your own coffins. F**K. YOU. ALL. TO. HELL. I hope the last images burned into your slimy, evil, treasonous retinas are millions of [people] laughing and clapping and celebrating as your souls descend into the flames.”

“Descend into the Flames”

I’ve never done an extensive study of world religions, so I’m not sure how many of them believe in a hell (or a burning one at that). Apparently, this guy does, and his beliefs include burning those who disagree with his politics in the flames of hell. I can only assume he believes he will not be assigned there one day.

I’ve heard other people elevate the US Constitution to the level of Scripture. They believe that both the Bible and the Constitution were inspired by God. They are on an opposite end of the spectrum from our original example, but they are both politicizing their religion.

There are some Christians who believe one must be a Democrat to practice the Christian faith. Others believe you have to be a Republican to be a follower of Christ. I’m not sure where that leaves an unaffiliated soul like myself, but I’ll take my chances.

“An Incredible Phenomenon”

I’ve seen many congregations over the years that have openly supported one political party over another. Some churches split over such affiliations. In my eyes, that’s always been an incredible phenomenon. I don’t recall Jesus getting very political (although there have been books written to propose the opposite view).

The truth remains, however, that following Jesus will get you into trouble with the powers that be—sooner or later. I’ve never preached a sermon that propagated for one political party, but I’ve preached through many passages that would lead us to oppose some of the practices of governments and political leaders. It, inevitably, got me into hot water (or at least a cold reception).

While Jesus (at least in my view) was not political, he was certainly revolutionary. The problem with injecting politics into your religion is that, eventually, you will stop being revolutionary and become more loyal to your party than to Jesus. If I’m not mistaken, God calls that, “worshiping idols.” May it never be.

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

Dox

I was perusing my e-mails this evening and ran across an article that quickly drew my consideration. The attention getter was a word I had never seen before. The title of the article was, “Democratic Aide Arrested for Doxxing…” I didn’t feel too badly about my ignorance, because my spellchecker didn’t recognize the word either.

I looked it up to make sure some inventive reporter wasn’t merely coining a new term, but, lo and behold, right there it was. Dox—to “search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.” The Urban Dictionary had another definition that was a tad more explicit than that, but I won’t run that one by you.

Apparently, this guy found the personal info of some of our governmental representatives and hoisted it up onto the Internet for all to see, glean, and use. This process (which is, evidently, illegal) is referred to as “dropping the dox.” It appears that the word, dox, in this context means documents. So, my advice to you is to avoid dropping the dox on anyone—even on people you don’t like (maybe especially on people you don’t like).

Dropping the Dox

Originally when I spotted this term, I was guessing it came from the same root word as doxology. Doxa is a Greek word meaning glory. Many Christian congregations sing the “Doxology” during every service. They do it in order to give glory to God. Obviously, I was wrong about my initial speculation. There is no glory intended in dropping the dox (at least none that I can see).

In an interesting sidelight, as I was poking around for the definition to doxxing, I ran across another modern term—swatting. I thought I knew what swatting meant—but no. Swatting is now the “action or practice of making a prank call to emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.” So if you can fallaciously goad a SWAT team to someone else’s home, you’re successful at swatting. What sport!

Gin Rummy

Whatever happened to Kick-the-Can, Duck-Duck-Goose, Hide-and-Seek, and other such fun (and physical) games? Have they become obsolete? Have they been replaced by such wonders as doxxing and swatting? Maybe we should issue everyone a deck of cards and teach them to play Gin Rummy. It might keep more people out of trouble.

There’s an old saying propagating the idea that “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” This can be backed up Biblically in verses such as Ecclesiastes 10:18 which states, “Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.” Because of evil games like doxxing and swatting, the house we call America has a few leaks in the roof.

I’m not sure what they’ll end up doing to the guy who was caught doxxing. From what I can gather, though, he’s looking at a jail term that could add up to a lot of years.

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

The Religion of Politics

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but it seems to me that politics has now become the national religion. As I was growing up, I remember the adults around me saying, “There are two things you don’t mention in polite company—religion and politics.” Now, politics IS religion, and we seem to talk about it nonstop.

I remember Hubert Humphrey being locked in a primary battle with Jimmy Carter. As you may recall, Carter was making no secret of the fact that he was a “born again” Christian. Many of us had never heard that term prior to Carter’s statements, but it became a watchword for his campaign.

You’re a Heretic

Fast forward to our current climate, and it seems we are now living in a time when the religion of politics is all-encompassing. Our faith is, seemingly, in the political process. If we don’t like what’s going on, we do whatever we can to derail that process. In other words, “My politics are correct and everyone else who doesn’t agree is a heretic.”

I’m pretty sure there used to be a time when political news and actions were a distant second or third to family, friends, and faith. Now, your only friends are your political allies. If someone discovers you are on the opposite side of the aisle from them, they jettison you. In their eyes, you go from chum to chump in sixty seconds.

I recently read of an elderly woman who supports the current president. Because she does so, one of her grandsons no longer speaks with her. I’m not totally sure, but I think there’s something wrong with that picture. Poor old granny has alienated her flesh and blood by voting the wrong way. What a heretic.

I write this at the risk of exposing my own political bias. I personally don’t like either of the major political parties in this country, but then, political orthodoxy has never been my forte. The only orthodoxy in my life is the belief that Jesus is Lord and Savior. No politician can compete with that.

I Am the Lord Your God

When Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord passed down some tablets containing a famous code. It’s often known as the Ten Commandment. The very first one says, “ I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” We’ve never done very well with that one. Today, we’re messing it up more than ever.

We have set up political gods. Government has become our religion, and we have sold out to the highest bidder. Judge me if you will, but my true Judge is God Almighty and none other.

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

No, It’s Not Octopi

I’m sure many of you were like me. We’ve been running around all our lives referring to more than one octopus as octopi. While it sounds very official, Latin-esque, and scientifically correct, it’s not. The correct term is octopodes. Who knew? I was a biology major in college, and I don’t ever remember coming across this term. I’m totally embarrassed.

The apparent reason for the discrepancy is that octopus is not a Latin term, as many of our animal names are. It’s Greek and therefore has a different plural ending. However, “octopi” is a term that has been mistakenly used for so long, it’s actually listed in many dictionaries. Interestingly enough, my Word spellchecker didn’t recognize octopodes either. You can’t see it, but there’s still a red line underneath that spelling. Maybe I should write them a note of correction.

Cannibals

Still, one wouldn’t have much of an occasion to use either of the plural terms. The truth of the matter is that octopodes are loners. So it seems that we introverts have company (if, indeed, we wanted company). Octopodes don’t even like to hang out with each other (unless it’s mating season). If placed in a container with others of their species, they eat one another. While it’s one thing to be anti-social, it’s quite another to become cannibalistic about it.

Scientists tell us that these creatures are quite intelligent for the type of animal they are (which would explain why they mistrust each other). They are close relatives of animals such as snails and slugs—fauna not known for their highly developed cognitive abilities. The octopodes have come a long way, but they’re still not ready for socialization.

Their loner status reminds me of the price some people pay for fame and fortune. Many movie stars, for example, have a hard time going anywhere without being noticed and swamped by fans and well-wishers. Occasionally, people find themselves on the other end of that spectrum. If they are less than well-liked, they are harassed and attacked when people spot them in public.

Lonely Places

Even Jesus went through that kind of treatment (both for being popular and infamous). There’s an illustrious story that tells about a time when Jesus healed a man of leprosy. He then told the man not to say anything about how he was rehabilitated. Of course, the man couldn’t contain himself, and the news spread like apple butter. The final verse of that account relates it this way: “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places” (Mark 1:45). There’s a cost to being sought after.

While miracles drew admiration from the folks, some of his ideas had the opposite effect. Once while teaching in a synagogue (Luke 4:14-40), he infuriated his audience with his teachings. Scripture tells us they took him to the edge of town to throw him off a cliff (sounds a bit like today’s political climate). That would have been a good time to be an octopus.

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