Sunshine Patriots

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

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

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

Put Your Money Here

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

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

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

At Their Worst

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

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

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

Never Enough

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

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

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

Silly Me

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

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

Milk and Honey

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

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

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

Blowing the Whistle on Roundball

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

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

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

“Fight for Freedom”

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

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

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

Who am I to Judge?

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

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

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

Separating the Kurds from the Way

President Trump recently announced that he was pulling about fifty of our military troops out of Syria. Normally, bringing our men and women home from the field is a matter of great celebration. Not so this time. 

Like most things in the Middle East, it’s far too complicated to explain in a five-hundred-word blog. Allow me to give it a brief try, however. Maybe if I attempt to clarify it for you, it will help me to understand things as well.

Strangers in a Strange Land

There’s a mountainous region where the countries of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria meet. This area has been occupied for centuries by a group of people known as the Kurds. The western world once promised to give the Kurds their own country but later reneged on that deal. This virtually left the Kurds to fend for themselves as strangers in a strange land (so to speak). In short, no one seems to want them. In fact, many of the surrounding people would like to see them become extinct. 

This, in part, helps us to understand why Saddam Hussein tried to gas them out of existence a couple of decades ago. If you were around then, you may remember the gruesome pictures of the dead children and adults found after the gassing. Now, the Turks are after them.

By pulling the troops out of that part of Syria, many claim that the President is deserting our Kurdish allies. The President has responded by saying it’s time to let the Kurds fight their own battles—and besides, he says, we have trained them and supplied them with military equipment.

Leave it to the Experts

Some people, including me, wonder to themselves how fifty soldiers are going to make that much of a difference. I can only guess. My area of expertise is a long way from military matters and the Middle East. I guess I’ll have to leave that to the experts, as they say.

Another thing that piques my curiosity are some of the detractors to our Commander-in-Chief’s pullout. We have the normal suspects, of course. The people who always get labeled as “hawks” are in opposition to the move. Yet, interestingly enough, some of the most outspoken folks are the ones who often branded as “peaceniks.” These are the citizens who are usually marching to “get us out of war.” Go figure. I guess it depends upon who’s making the call.

All that aside, my inquisitive nature led me to research the Kurdish origins. As it turns out, they are descendants of the people known in Scripture as the Medes. You may remember them from history as a part of the Medo-Persian Empire. Cyrus the Great (one of their rulers) is mentioned in the Old Testament as the king who freed the Jews and sent them back home (2 Chronicles 36:23).

From what I can glean, history has not treated the Kurds all that well. A conglomeration of tribes never seems to fare well against the armies of nations. And so it goes.

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

Sex and the Single Accuser

I just noticed a news item highlighting the fact that a well-known actor’s “groping” trial is about to begin. At the same time, a high-profile, TV news magazine celebrity is back in the public eye over new allegations of his already famous sexual misconduct. Coming on the heels of the Jeffrey Epstein debacle, these reminders of our societal trends and sexual mores have not only become somewhat commonplace, they’re downright mind numbing.

It appears as though, the more aware we are of such misdeeds, the more they occur. The question that keeps rolling around in my mind is, “Don’t these guys get it?” Even a timid, pussycat like myself has become acutely aware that there are boundaries. I tried not to cross such lines in the past, but I’m increasingly cautious about what I say and do—particularly in the presence of the opposite sex.

Learn Something

Yet, the frequency of these exposures (no pun intended) looks to be exploding in an exponential manner. Somewhere along the way, somebody should be learning something—shouldn’t they? That’s not the case, however.

Is it that everything is just more public these days? Could it be that we’re just noticing these things and bringing them to light more often? Is it that, in the past, they were always covered up? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I’ve surely been made more aware of my place in polite society. How can any twenty-first century American not see what’s going on? 

Regardless of those circumstances, people seem to be throwing caution to the wind. Is it just that they have no self-control? Have they no discipline? Have they been reduced to mere sexual predation; operating on animal instinct and disregarding common sense? Or, even worse, maybe they just think they can get away with it.

Consensual

All this puts me in mind of King David of Israel. Most of us can recall at least some of his story as it relates to a young lady by the name of Bathsheba. As the king, David had all the power. He saw a beautiful woman, desired her, and took her. Scripture doesn’t give us Bathsheba’s side of things, so we don’t know how consensual their little tryst was. What we DO know is that David was the guilty party. If there had been more social media in those days, all hell would have broken loose.

As it was, David committed murder and took Bathsheba as his wife to cover up his misdeeds (see 2 Samuel 11-12). His biggest problem, however, was that God knew. That seems to be the problem with his twenty-first century counterparts. None of them seem to realize (or care) that God knows. He, after all, is our final judge.

The more godless our society becomes, the more we feel like we can get away with things—not just sexual misconduct, but anything. If we think we can hide our sin, we try it. Sorry folks, but we can’t hide it forever.

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

Stepping In It

Heraclitus, the sixth century B.C. Greek philosopher once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” How philosophical is that? Quite so… However, I beg to differ with Mr. Heraclitus. I come from a place in Pennsylvania where there are a lot of streams. I can unequivocally state that I’ve stepped into more than one stream, more than twice (I hope that makes sense). As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve also fallen into the same stream twice.

To be fair, I must admit that Heraclitus was being far more esoteric than I’m giving him credit for. His point was that the water flows away, and the river (or stream, or creek) is no longer the same. The next time you step into that river, it will be completely different water. He’s right, of course. We all learned about the natural cycle of H2O in junior high school. Unless it occurs by a freakish coincidence of nature, the liquid that passes through our toes the second time we wade into the brook is totally different than that of the first go around.

Highfalutin

If this sounds a bit highfalutin to many of you, join the club. We must remember, however, that philosophers are the same people who like to sit around asking questions like, “What happens to your lap when you stand up?” I can’t answer that query with certainty, but I find it every time I sit down.

It gets worse, however. Heraclitus’ full statement goes like this. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Again, this sounds a tad ridiculous, but he’s got me on a technicality. 

I was a biology major (among other things) in college. As I recall, the human body is composed of approximately thirty trillion cells. Those cells are constantly dying and being replaced to the extent that we get entirely new bodies every seven years.

Not the Man I Used to Be

If you were my friend seven years ago, keep in mind that I’m not the man I used to be. Yesterday, my lovely Bride and I celebrated our twenty-second anniversary. I’m pretty sure that makes her some sort of bigamist. Either that or I’m beginning my fourth go around with her.

Either way, Heraclitus was on to something. We will never step into the same river twice. This is extremely disappointing to all the people who travel to Israel to be baptized in the River Jordan. This is the river in which Jesus himself was baptized by none other than John the Baptist. I, myself, was never baptized there, but I’ve stood in that river thinking it was where Jesus went under. Apparently, we’re all wet—but not with the same water in which Jesus was submerged.

On the other hand, when I took a shower this morning, some of that Jordan water (from 2000 years ago) may have been among the droplets coursing down my body. One can only hope.

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

Some of My Best Work

If you study the life of David (often considered the greatest king of Israel), one thing you come across is the fact that he wrote many of the Biblical Psalms (songs of worship). He is considered to have been a musical genius. One of the things he did with those songs was to calm the riled spirit of King Saul.

You may remember that the king was tormented by an evil spirit sent from God (1 Samuel 16:14). David was called upon to play his lyre (harp) to “soothe the savage breast” as it were. Apparently, David was good enough as a songwriter and instrumentalist to pull this off for a while. Eventually, Saul got worse and worse, and David had to flee from Saul’s wrathful violence.

Inspiration

One of the interesting parts of the story that is never actually stated in Scripture is where David got his material. What was his inspiration? Where did he write these masterpieces? How did he get so good?

If you remember your childhood Bible stories, you’ll recall that David started out as a shepherd boy. He spent much of his time out in the fields with the sheep. From what we can glean and assume, he learned to play the lyre as well as become efficient with the sling shot.

He probably sang his music to the sheep (as well as to the Lord) to calm them after he had killed a bear or lion that was attempting to obtain supper from among the flock. That’s just a guess, but it stands to reason. To be advanced at either the art of self-defense or music, one has to spend considerable time at it. He was proficient at both.

Magnum Opus

If we read his most famous piece (Psalm 23), we get a sense of why his stuff lasted so long. It’s been on the charts for centuries now. He probably wrote it while he was out in the field with the lambs, ewe, and rams. I guess a lot of artists have been inspired by the wonder of a pastoral setting. David probably wasn’t the first, either.

Then, of course, there was the cave. At least two of David’s Psalms were written while he was hiding in a fissure in the mountains (Psalm 57 & 142). Saul was again on the warpath, and David was the target of his wrath. The would-be-king concealed himself in the Cave of Adullam and wrote these magnus opuses. Apparently, fear was also a great stimulus for him and his music.

All of this made me think about where I do my best work. It’s definitely not in a cave and certainly not in a field. Being surrounded by sheep doesn’t cut it for me either. I guess there have been times when I feared I wasn’t going to make a deadline. So, it seems the one thing I have in common with David (aside from our first names) is fear. After all, “I am in the midst of lions.” (Psalm 57:4)

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

A Blass From the Past

I was fourteen years old the first time I saw Steve Blass pitch. He was a young, strapping ballplayer from New England. As was often the case, the Pittsburgh Pirates were in dire need of good pitching. They saw Blass as a part of their hope for the future.

I used to love watching him perform on the mound. He was highly emotional, and he was intense as he was talented. He had a pitch he called a slop drop. I guess it was a curveball, but it was a slow tantalizing breaking pitch that seemed to drop off a table. It used to drive hitters crazy when it was working well.

The Windup

The thing I remember most, however, was his windup. These days, pitchers don’t have much of one. It seems they reserve all their energy for the follow-through. Not Blass. He had an old-fashioned, full windup that was a thing of beauty. It was like watching a ballet dancer at times. The most memorable thing about it was the way he would bounce his right foot two or three times in the middle of his motion as he was rocking back in preparation to deliver the pitch.

At the height of his playing days with the Buccos, he led the pitching staff to a World Series Championship against the Baltimore Orioles. It was 1971, and I was twenty-one years old. My beloved Corsairs hadn’t been back to the Series since I was ten. It was magical.

Blass pitched two superb, complete games against the daunting Birds. They had big hitters like Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. I once ran into Boog (literally) at Camden Yards after he had retired. I was walking through the crowds by the concession stands and accidentally ran into this mountain of a man. My nose came to the middle of his chest. When I looked up to apologize, I realized it was Boog Powell. I also realized I would never want to face off with him—even from 60 feet away on a pitching mound.

The Slop Drop

Powell went 0 for 8 against Blass in that series with several strikeouts as I recall. What I remember most is Powell’s reaction after one of those strikeouts. He just couldn’t hit the Blass slop drop. After a third strike swing and miss, he broke the bat across his knee as he walked away from the plate. It was a sight to behold.

After sixty years with the Pirate organization, Steve Blass is hanging up the microphone. As an announcer, he’s known for his quick wit and his wealth of baseball knowledge and lore. I’ve never met him personally, but he seems like a guy I would love to get to know.

His retirement is nostalgic for an old fan like me, and it’s good to see a modern-day city give one of its heroes an exultant sendoff. It was hard to hold back the tears as I watched his final TV broadcast. Thanks, Steve. You’ve been a joy!

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

Don’t Eat the Cookies

If you’ve ever headed out to Mexico, you may have heard the advice, “Don’t drink the water.” It’s been said so often that it’s become something of a joke—although, as I understand it, it’s pretty good advice. Ever hear of Montezuma’s revenge?

You may have heard similar warmings in other avenues of life. For example: If you’re a member of a cult (or a somewhat shaky religious denomination), you may have heard someone say, “Don’t drink the Kool Aid.” This, of course, is a direct result of Jim Jones and his poisoning of nine hundred plus people back in 1978. Cyanide laced refreshment turns out to be far less than refreshing.

Tureen Dinners

Now, there’s cause for a new warning. This one is for church members who may have occasion to graze at potluck dinners. We used to call these “tureen dinners” back in my hometown. I never questioned what a tureen might be, but maybe I should have.

The new recommendation goes like this. “Don’t eat the cookies.” Yes. You read that correctly. “Don’t eat the cookies.” This comes to me with great consternation. Having been a clergy type for almost forty years, I’ve attended more than a few of these gatherings. I’ll tell you without reservation that there were times when the only things I could get past my nose were the cookies. Now, I’m supposed to avoid them altogether.

What brought all this about? Funny you should ask. I was just reading an article on the subject, so please allow me to elucidate.

Back in 2017, a seventy-four-year-old man was accused of getting an entire congregation high on Mary Jane cookies. If you’ve ever seen the flick, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, you know what that is. In the movie, the brownies were the culprit. They were baked with marijuana as one of the main ingredients. If you need a culinary way to get high, apparently this is a pleasant way to do it.

A Spiritual High

The man in question apparently laced his homemade cookies with THC (the active ingredient in pot). There is some question as to whether he brought said delectables to the church by accident or on purpose. There is no question, however, as to where they originated. He fully admitted to that deed.      

I’ve heard of a worshipful high and even a spiritual high. This latest high, though, takes the cake (or the cookies). Being high on life can often get supplanted by other means, but it occurs to me that we may want to leave those processes outside the four walls of the church dining hall. On the other hand, there is something to be said for being real. This seventy-four-year-old was definitely being real. Still, he probably should have been a little more forthcoming to his fellow congregants about his choice of spices (or herbs, as it were).

Turning water into wine is one thing. Turning Christians into junkies is quite another. Please leave the means of deliverance up to the Messiah, sir.

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

That’s Impossible

Well, it’s finally arrived. The announcement has been made. The Impossible Burger will be hitting the shelves of retail grocery stores. These meatless wonders will soon be a staple among our vast array of choices. The big question, however, is where you can find them. Will they be in the meat section (alongside the dead cows), or will they reside with the rutabagas?

This is an important piece of info if you ask me. When these newfangled products emerge, I can never seem to find them—at least not without a struggle. I still haven’t been able to figure out where to locate the organic foods. Some stores mix them in with the toxic waste victuals that contain fertilizer, steroids, and other hematoma causing agents. Other stores refuse to lay them right beside their malevolent counterparts and give them an entire section

The Detractors

I also am wondering how long these amazing parcels of goodness will last before they are defamed and defrocked. Let’s face it. Nary a product lands on the market without its detractors. Surely, someone will complain.

Take eggs, for example. I had been eating eggs for years (grew up on them, as a matter of fact) when it was solemnly announced that they were bad for me. High in cholesterol…or some such nastiness. It was a shock to discover that I had been slowly killing myself all those decades. But they didn’t simply leave it at that.

They came out with fake eggs. I don’t remember what they were called, but suffice it to say, I couldn’t bring myself to eat an egg laid by a machine. Chickens might be disgusting little animals, but their byproducts (the ones with the shells) are pretty tasty.

A Hunk of Yellow

Then they decided it was only the yolks that were bad. We were told to separate the yolk from the albumen (that’s the “whites” for all you laymen—and laywomen). Yeah. Like I’m really going to do that. I tried it once, but the yolk was on me (sorry—I couldn’t resist). To be fair, they made it easy by selling small cartons of egg white. Frankly, I can’t even look at that stuff. Repulsive… It really needs a hunk of yellow floating around in it to make it somewhat palatable.

Then came the topper. In recent years, they have recanted. You know all that bad stuff we were telling you about eggs? Forget that. We were wrong. Chow down maties.

So what I’m trying to say is, it won’t be long before someone will be telling us that the Impossible Burger (did I mention they’re created entirely with plants) should come with a warning label. What that warning will be is up for grabs, but it will probably say something like this. “WARNING: This product may cause cancer, hepatitis Q, or ingrown toenails if ingested. It has been proven to cause warts in rats.”

No offense to all the well-meaning food police, but I think I’ll probably give the new burgers a shot.

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