Don’t Bother to Pray

I usually avoid political stances in my writing. A major exception is when politics and faith conflict in ways that put them on a collision course. Then there are other times when politicians say things that are so outlandish I just can’t help myself.

Today, I can’t help myself. A member of the US House of Representatives recently said the following. “We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.” Are you kidding me?

Tantamount to Censorship

What this person said was tantamount to censorship. She may well have said, “If you don’t agree with us, just shut up!” Her attitude seems to be one of corralling people into marching lockstep with her. If you’re black, Muslim, or gay, there’s only one way to think. If you deviate from that, you’re somehow a lesser person and you’re not welcome.

Well, the last time I looked, this was still America—the land of the free. This Representative wants to herd everyone to a place where they are only free to think like her. Anything outside of that is apparently treason.

Why do some folks think everyone belongs in some thought block and have no business straying to another side of the ideological street? Are we a bunch of automatons who have to be encoded to a certain ideal? If we have varying opinions, are we to report to the master computer operator for reprogramming? This politician seems to think so.

What she said would be comparable to a Christian saying, “If you’re not a Baptist, don’t bother to pray. You won’t get it right.” Another comparison would go like this. “If your theology doesn’t line up with mine, don’t bother attending my church.” I could go on, but I think you get the point.

They Aren’t Cyborgs

People are people. They’re not pawns in a mass, monolithic thought process. They aren’t cyborgs being prepared to do someone else’s bidding. To think that black people, Muslims, or gays must toe the party line is about as anti-American as one can get. It’s antithetical to everything for which we stand.

The Christian church is (or at least, should be) a prime example of how wrong this woman happens to be. Jesus called us to follow him. He didn’t tell us what denomination we should gravitate toward. He didn’t give us a set of rules to follow. He didn’t give us an absolute prescription of how to worship, baptize, or preach. He simply told us to follow him where he takes us.

Consequently, the Body of Christ consists of red, yellow, black, brown and white disciples. They are conservative, liberal, and middle-of-the-road. They are vastly different and are all brothers and sisters in Christ. AND…they speak with many voices—not just one. 

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

God Had Fun

My lovely Bride and I (along with a couple of good friends) gathered at a nearby winery for a relaxing evening. I’m not much of a wine connoisseur, but I love the usually spectacular views these venues present to weary eyes. Just as importantly, the live music is often a treat.

This occasion did not disappoint. Not only did the Lord provide wonderful scenery, but the vineyard owners had also lined up a gifted young woman to play guitar and sing for our listening pleasure. When I listen to a talent like hers, it reminds me why I didn’t end up in the music industry. I could never compete (or even come close).

Classics From My Youth

Toward the end of her last set, she sang some classics from my youth which caused me to drop out of the conversation at our table and focus solely on her performance. I was captivated by her arrangements and lilting voice (not to mention the delightful guitar work). Interspersed among the classics, she did a few original compositions as well.

As she introduced one of her own songs, she used the following sentence. “God must have had fun making you.” Despite the good time, pleasant company, and enjoyable performance that comprised the evening, that single sentence alone was worth the trip to the vineyard that evening. It reminded me of something we seldom (if ever) mull over.

Have you ever considered the fact that God has fun…that he enjoys himself…that he might even find pleasure in us, his children? I don’t think of that possibility very often. I usually think about how we must disappoint him or make him angry. If that was all he experienced, this world might be washed away again. Thank God for rainbows (Genesis 9:14-15).

Making God Smile

In actuality, he probably has a lot more fun than we can imagine. I love the Gianna Jensen quote, “My whole intent in living here is to make God smile.” Once I read that statement several years ago, I immediately knew that’s what I wanted my life’s goal to be—making God smile.

Like most things, however, saying it and doing it are two vastly different things. In fact, if you think about it, it might present itself as a bit of a puzzle. How can we make God smile? So, just for the heck of it, I typed the phrase, “Making God Smile,” into my Google machine. As it turns out, someone wrote a study book with that title.

I haven’t purchased the book, but the descriptions tell me that it’s a study of the “fruit of the Spirit.” In case you’re not familiar with that phrase, Saint Paul wrote a list that included nine things that he labeled, the fruit of the Spirit. Unfortunately, it includes things like patience, kindness, and self-control. Some of us might be in a wee bit of trouble. The good news is, the Spirit can grow these things in any of us if we cooperate. Maybe there’s still hope for making God smile.

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

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Warren Zevon once wrote a song in which he asked his Dad to send “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” It’s not exactly a love song, but I always enjoyed it (despite—or maybe because of—its unusual theme.

I was recently reminded in some twisted way of Zevon’s song by a news item. The clip reported that Oklahoma Police stopped a car because of expired plates. During this routine traffic stop, the officers noticed a large timber rattlesnake in the back seat of the car. The couple in possession of the vehicle then announced that the auto was stolen, and they had a firearm.

Radioactive Uranium

The story would have been odd enough at that point, but there’s more. When the car was thoroughly searched, the authorities discovered a yellow, powdery substance in a container that was labeled, “Uranium.” When the radioactive substance was revealed, the car thieves disclosed that they were attempting to create a “super snake.”

As an anti-climactic side component to the story, the cops also found an open bottle of Kentucky Deluxe whiskey. In light of all the other discoveries, the whiskey was almost superfluous to the strange tale. On the other hand, it might have been the root cause of all the other stuff that happened. That old “demon rum” has been known to be the catalyst of many folks running afoul of the law. Maybe we’ll never know for sure.

It’s for that reason (among a few others) that many Christians and non-Christians alike steer clear of alcohol altogether. There are entire denominations of folks who practice total abstinence from strong drink. When you hear stories like the one I just related, that practice begins to make perfect sense. I, myself, was a teetotaler for many moons. To this day, I can take it or leave it—as people like to say. I usually leave it, but I’m certainly not above taking a social nip now and again.

No Biblical Proscription

While there’s no Biblical proscription outlawing the imbibement of certain adult beverages, Scripture does warn against the overuse of such drinks. Take Proverbs 20:1 for example. It tells us that, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” In other words, it’s a bit stupid to get drunk. A lot of people feel that the best way to avoid inebriation is not to drink at all. I guess I can’t argue with that logic.

Of course, Christians who enjoy the fruit of the vine upon occasion are always quick to point out John 2. Contained therein is the encapsulation of Jesus’ first miracle. You may remember that one. It’s the time Jesus turned water into wine—fine wine at that. It was for a group of people who had probably already been drinking for several days. 

Actually, he did it so the bride and groom wouldn’t be embarrassed for running out of wine at their reception. Scripture doesn’t say, but I’m guessing a few people got stupid that day.

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

The Bug Under the Rug

First, Mad Magazine. Now, the VW Beetle. Oh, the horrors of it all. It seems the icons of my youth are either fading away or crashing and burning. What will be next? Bell bottom jeans? Oh, wait! Those are gone as well (maybe that’s a good thing).

I’m not exactly sure why, but those abbreviated cars were always considered cool when I was a kid. I have a friend who had one when we were seniors. She was the envy of everyone. There was nothing more exciting than stuffing as many of us in the bug as we could. It wasn’t always as safe as possible, but it was definitely fun.

Auf Wiedersehen

I never owned one, although I would have liked to do so. I came close, though. The first car I bought was a VW Bus. Just as cool, but not the same. At any rate, the Bug is done. No more will be produced, and it’s sayonara—or should I say, auf wiedersehen. Now that I think of it, they’ve been produced in Mexico as of late, so the word would be adios.

When I was a kid, some buddies of mine were walking around town one evening and spotted one of the famous Love Bugs sitting along the street. There were four of them, it was dark and late, and they conceived a fabulous idea. They picked up the Beetle and relocated it to a nearby sidewalk. I wish I had been there in the morning to see what happened when it was discovered by its owner. My guess is this event was replayed over more than a few times in small towns all over America—maybe all over the world.

The fact is, however, that even though the last Beetle has rolled off the production line, we’ll see them around for a long time to come. If you look closely and are observant enough, you’ll spot a few here and there from the fifties and sixties still. People just won’t let them go. Despite the fact that their heaters had a propensity for rusting out and their transmissions were a bit Mickey Mouse (as my mechanic buddies used to say), those autos are still loved by many. There are some things in life that we have a hard time setting loose.

The Good Old Days

There’s a great verse of Scripture in Ecclesiastes that says, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” Still, we ask that question (or forms of it) all the time. I’m no exception. I yearn for the good old days and hate to see the Love Bug go the way of the dinosaur.

Still, it gives me great comfort to note that there are enough relics left of the dinosaur population to satisfy my longing for old animals. I’ve no doubt that Beetle relics will linger long enough to satisfy my antique vehicle nostalgia for an extended period of time (Lord willing).

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

A Mad World No Longer

Mad Magazine and I were ushered into this world around the same time. Actually, I’m two years older than the mag, but I can’t remember a time when its dripping satire was not with me. As a kid, I was a devotee of the likes of Don Martin, Alfred E. Neuman, and the rest of the gang. Spy vs. Spy was always good, but the goofy artistry and weirdly spelled out sound effects were classic.

I haven’t read an issue of Mad for decades, but it was a staple of my teen years. The fact that I (along with many in my generation) no longer purchase it has contributed to its demise, I’m sure. Mad Magazine has announced the cessation of any new material. Apparently, it will now feature “golden oldie” stuff only.

All Was Right With the World

Even though I never read it any longer, every once in a while, I would catch myself checking around the magazine section of the local bookstore to see if it was still in publication. When I would see a new copy on the shelf, it would somehow make me feel that all was right with the world. A significant piece of my childhood still lived on. Unfortunately, it is now fading into the proverbial sunset.

It’s a bit sad to see a staple of my youth go by the wayside. It always provided me with a few laughs and gave my friends and me something inane to talk about in our adolescence—not that we actually needed any extra fuel for that. Still, it was always a go-to subject on rainy days. (I almost just wrote, “I will miss it,” but that’s not really true. I won’t miss something I haven’t read in years. I guess I’ll just miss knowing it’s around somewhere.)

I suppose the younger generation has its own satirical literature at hand. At least, I hope they do. It always seemed to me that one has to have a little goofiness in one’s life in order to maintain the proper balance (whatever that means). Mad Magazine was one of those things for me. 

Inappropriate

As it turned out, I’m probably a tad goofier than most. Mad primed my pump, but I think it also supercharged some sort of crazy gene in me. That gene (or whatever it is) has gotten me into loads of trouble over the years and is still keeping me in hot water from time to time. I’m not much of a talker, but when I do open up, it’s not all that uncommon that some Mad-like phrase spills out which is often labeled “inappropriate” by my lovely Bride.

The magazine helped form a generation or two (particularly the male of the species). It was very telling however when, recently, President Trump compared Pete Buttegieg to Alfred E. Neuman. The much younger Buttigieg had no idea what the Prez was talking about. It’s definitely the end of an era. As Al Yankovic said, “Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

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

Marriage on the Rocks

I just perused an article by Mandy Len Catron entitled What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse. As someone who performs a slew of marriage ceremonies each year, I find articles like this to be fascinating. Everyone has their own view of marriage for sure, but (from my perspective) marriage is still reasonably popular across the board.

Catron, herself, is unwed. She has a male partner, but they’ve not come to the point where they think getting married is a plus. She states that she and her partner are in a very serious relationship, and they don’t doubt their commitment to each other. What they doubt is the very institution of marriage itself.

Fatal Flaw

The article is well thought out and researched but is lacking in one overwhelming area. Catron appears to be a woman of no religion or faith. At least, she gives the entire subject short shrift. This, to my way of thinking, is a fatal flaw in her analysis of the age-old institution. The very idea of marriage is based on a very spiritual understanding. Without a God-based foundation, it seems to me to be a baseless practice.

Without spirituality (unless you think a legal marriage is politically or socially expedient), why would you do it? At one time there were some tax advantages, but I’m not sure about that these days. Still, fewer dollars in taxes is a high price to pay for tying yourself to one person for the rest of your born days.

Miriam-Webster defines marriage as “the state of being united as spouses in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.” Frankly, “the law” doesn’t seem to care whether you’re legally married or not these days—at least, not from what I can see. It used to be that living together without the benefit of a marriage license issued by the state was taboo. Now, it seems, most people try it on for size before they even think about tying the knot.

Jesus as Well

I probably marry twenty or thirty couples a year. I’m featured on a few websites as a retired, Christian minister who does Christian marriage ceremonies. When a couple asks me to marry them, I make sure they’re actually looking for a Christian ceremony. My general line to them is simply, “If you hire me, you’re going to get Jesus as well.” Very few of them balk at the idea of the reading of Holy Scripture and a short homily about following Christ in their ensuing marriage.

If they hire me, I gather some personal and ceremonial info in preparation for their wedding day. One of the questions I ask is for their contact info including their home addresses. Almost inevitably, their home address is one and the same. In other words, they’ve been living together as husband and wife (so to speak) for quite a while without the state license. It’s become the way of the world. I suspect the Apostle Paul is rolling in his grave by now.

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

Loving the Haters

Every once in a while, I get “accused” of being a Trump supporter. I place the word, accused, in quotation marks because it’s almost like being indicted for a crime. Such is the atmosphere in which we live.

Truth be told, it’s rare that you’d hear me support any politician. Generally speaking, I view political types as evil necessities. I probably shouldn’t be so harsh on them, but (except for many on the local level) most of the pols that I’ve encountered are less than scrupulous. By my own admission, I’ve become extremely jaded.

Twenty-Five Years Ago

I moved into the Washington DC area a little over twenty-five years ago, and pretty much everything I’ve seen around here bolsters my worst fears about our national leaders. When Trump announced that the Federal government is a swamp, he was probably closer to the truth than even he realized.

I view the word, support, as a significant term. It’s a strong word in my book. For me to “support” a politician, that person would have to impress me significantly. That doesn’t happen often in the political world. I’m probably too idealistic for that to occur.

I’m guessing I get accused in such a manner because I’m not one to pile on. Official records show that Trump gets 92% negative coverage. For me to jump on the Trash Trump Bandwagon seems a tad ridiculous (even in areas where I strongly disagree with him). In 2019, if you don’t revile the Prez, you can easily be viewed as his best buddy. I refuse to become part of the haters. There’s no future in it.

“Two Huge Lies”

I just ran across a telling quote from Rick Warren. He said, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

This pretty much sums it up. Some people would deny that Donald Trump’s broken clock could be right twice a day. I heard a guy postulate that if Trump found a cure to cancer, his opponents would fight for the right of tumors to exist. I actually doubt that would happen, but you couldn’t prove otherwise by using recent evidence.

Not long ago, President Trump stopped into a nearby church for worship. The pastor, upon hearing that the President was in the house, invited him up on stage and prayed for him. Many people were incensed. Frankly folks, that does not make this pastor a Trump supporter. It makes the pastor someone who obeys the call of God on his life. Scripture clearly points out that we, as Christians, should pray for everyone—including those who are in authority. I’m pretty sure Donald Trump qualifies.

On this Fourth of July, how about we set aside our hatred and pray for one another—and maybe love each other in the process.

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

Playing Catch

When I was a kid, I used to love to play catch. I loved it so much that I would always keep a glove and ball in the trunk of the family car just in case I got the chance to have a game of catch with whoever might be on the other end of our trip. For some reason, that memory popped into my mind this evening.

Playing catch is not really a game, though. There’s no winner or loser. There’s no goal or plateau to reach. It’s just you and me tossing the baseball back and forth. Come to think of it, it’s rather monotonous. Still, I loved it.

There’s just something about throwing and catching a baseball. It seems to be the perfect size and shape. It was always very satisfying to be able to chuck the old pelota around. It didn’t matter much who the guy (or gal) on the other end happened to be, but the most satisfying times were when my Dad consented to take a few minutes to placate my desire to heave a hardball around the backyard.

A Bit Nostalgic

Just thinking about it for the past few minutes made me a bit nostalgic for my childhood. If there was nothing else going on, I could always go to one of my chum’s houses, knock on their door, and ask if they wanted to play catch. They almost always did, so I suppose they liked it about as much as I did.

Some of you are probably reading this and thinking that I’m a really boring person. And maybe I am. But I suspect it’s a good thing when you can be entertained by such a simple pastime. Playing catch probably kept me out of a lot of trouble in my early years.

The thing about playing catch is that it’s very communal. You can’t do it by yourself. You need a playmate or at least a willing participant. I’ve had a lot of deep conversations during my times of snagging balls out of the air and returning them from whence they came. What else are you going to do?

Silent Catches

On the other hand, I’ve had a few silent catches as well. Those were solid times of meditation. They were, undoubtedly, when many of my life goals were beginning to be formulated.

Then, of course, there were occasions when no one else was around. I couldn’t play catch during those times, but I actually spent hours throwing a rubber-coated baseball up against a cement block wall. It would carom off in different directions and provide me with a round of infield practice. A lot of imaginary baseball games were played during those sessions.

I don’t play much catch anymore, so I have to find other communal activities and other means of meditation. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever found anything quite as good as having a baseball glove on one hand and a horsehide in the other. I wonder if there’s baseball in Heaven.

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

Concentration Camps

Rosie O’Donnell recently made the claim that “there are over 100,000 concentration camps in nearly every state.” Wow! Who knew? I’m sure glad Rosie pointed this out. I just might have to contact my congressperson.

My question is this. Who are they keeping in these camps? Rosie pointed to another statistic that there are 10,000 to 13,000 unaccompanied migrant children. Apparently, these kids aren’t in the camps. That would amount to ten camps for every child.

The Rise of Anti-Semitism

With the current rise of anti-Semitism in this country, maybe the Jewish people are secretly being shuffled off to these clandestine camps. I have my doubts, but Rosie seems pretty certain the camps aren’t empty. Maybe someone could check on that out.

In a totally unrelated event, the leaders of Iran have diagnosed President Trump as being “retarded.” This, I’m sure will come as a shock to the sixty million voters who cast their ballots for him in the 2016 election. On the other hand, there are a lot of other citizens of this country who’ve been saying the same thing as the Iranians. This would cause me to believe that the Iranian leaders are bucking for U.S. citizenship. They may as well. It seems like everyone else in the world is trying to get in here, too.

Then there was the video of Jussie Smollett that was recently released by the Chicago Police (I also love their other TV show—the one on NBC). In the video, Jussie greets them with a noose around his neck. He claimed he never took it off because he wanted them to see what “they” did to him. There’s nothing like a live demonstration I always say.

In light of all of these crazy occurrences and more, I’m inclined to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” As is occasionally asked, “What is this world coming to?” (Pardon the dangling participle…) The place is becoming a madhouse.

Only One Good Answer

I can only think of one really good answer for all of this. We have seen these sorts of things in history. In toto, they are manifestations of Biblical proportions. As Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters once proclaimed, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!” I am referring to the Book of Judges.

In Judges 21:25, it is written, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” In other words, people did what they darn well pleased. I”m guessing they said what they darn well pleased also. This brings me to our own day and age.

We live in a time when people appear to be acting out the Book of Judges. They say crazy things. They do things with no rhyme or reason. Plus, they often double down on their insanity. People only do such things when they think they’re right. The KJV rendition of “as they saw fit” is “that which was right in his own eyes.” Apparently, you don’t have to BE right, you only have to think you’re right.

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

Go Google Yourself

Someone once told me that I should Google myself every once in a while just to see what people are saying about me. I suppose that’s good advice. You never know what might be floating around in cyberspace about you. The fact that Google has become a verb is a little scary, but I actually do it once in a great while—when I think about it.

I did this recently and was rather surprised as to the places I showed up. My books were being advertised by Target, Cokesbury, and Barnes and Noble (to mention a few). My face, in various forms, is plastered all over the place. I even seem to have a presence on Pinterest of all things. It’s nice to be loved.

I Was a Tad Startled

One shocking revelation, however, was a notice that read, “David Zuchelli has court or arrest records at…” I must say I was a tad startled when I saw that. I hurriedly checked it out to see if there was another Dave Zuchelli hovering around out there somewhere who’s been giving us all a bad name. As it turns out, they were referring to yours truly. Oy vey!

Upon closer inspection (in other words, I took the bait and clicked on the link), it seemed to be an advertisement for someone to delve into their personal, public records (or someone else’s for that matter). It seemed a bit specious to say the least. The advertisement implied that I belong to a political party, am a sex offender, and have been evicted. (None of these things are true by the way, just in case you were wondering.)

One of the more fascinating items on the ad was the fact that they sported a meter to indicate my reputation score. The day I first ran across this baby, I was rated at a 2.60. It didn’t indicate what that meant, but the meter recorded it as “fair.” This was on a scale from bad, to not so bad, to fair, to good.

I’m Improving

I have to admit I was a bit concerned that my rep was rated as merely fair. Just to be sure, I checked again today and I was up to a 2.76. That was still in the fair range, but at least I’m improving. (But I’m wondering what I did in the past couple of days to up the ante.)

After several clicks, tedious waits for the site to accumulate records, and rising anticipation, I came to a screen that said my report was ready. All I had to do was give them some of my personal info and the report was mine, embarrassing as it might be (they actually used the words, “possibly embarrassing”). They already seemed to know too much about me, so I didn’t give them what they wanted. If they’re so good at finding stuff out, they can unearth that info as well. I’m not going to help them. If I don’t say anything, maybe they’ll think I’m dead (Revelation 3:1).

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