I’ve Been Immortalized

As a preacher type, I get asked to perform quite a few wedding ceremonies. I’ve done so many over the years that many of them have been conflated in my muddled brain to the point that I can’t tell them apart.

Every once in a while, however, something happens that causes one to stand out in my mind. For example, there was the time that one of the bridesmaids lost a shoe halfway down the aisle. (This was in a church building where the center aisle had heat registers. The customary white runner was covering them up, and the unlucky lass drove her heel down through it into a register. She walked out of the shoe and left it in the middle of the aisle.)

There are so many of these incidents that I’ve seriously considered writing a book about them. I suppose it’s been done before, but it might not hurt to add mine to the humorous wedding appendix. Let me think a little more about that.

Anyway, I just received an email from a happily married groom who was appreciative of my participation in his big day. He wrote the following:

Hi Pastor,

We really appreciated your being a part of our forever after! This attachment was carved by Harvey, my Best Man, and his wife Angela. Thought you would enjoy your immortalization. I hope there is no patent infringements with the original… LOL.

Again, thanks ever so much,

Jon and Iris

[Names have been changed to protect the innocent.]

I always enjoy hearing from a happy couple post-celebration (well, almost always), but this one was a big surprise. He had attached a picture of a wood carving in the likeness of Yours Truly. If I had racked my brain for fifty years, I couldn’t have come up with an idea like this one.

There I am in full regalia behind my little black preacher’s book adorned with the wedding rings on top. The likeness is rather… Well, it’s rather stunning. I have to admit, however, that it makes me look a little more Russian than Italian. Still, it’s quite novel.

My lovely Bride is always after me to pluck the wild hairs from my eyebrows. I’ve always fought her when she’s come after me with tweezers. Now, having seen the bushy nests above my squinty orbs, I can sympathize with her plight. The whittlers nailed the crow’s feet as well. The eyes have it.

It’s a bit eerie to think that my image now adorns someone’s book case or curio shelf (and probably will do so for the next several years). I can only imagine the occasional conversations. “What’s that?” “Oh, that’s the guy who married us. Can’t remember his name, but that’s what he looked like.”

At this point, I can only hope for one thing better. Someday, I would like to be immortalized as a bobble-head doll. Although I must say, the wood carving could double as a chess piece. I’d make a great pawn.

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

Hunter and the Psychedelic Camel

I was staying at someone else’s home for a short visit, recently. The small concession for doing so was that I had to share a bathroom with the family’s boys—always an interesting experience to say the least.

On the wall of this particular bathroom was, what appeared to be, a page from someone’s coloring book. It was extremely well done (colored within the lines and all that), and it had been framed. It was located to the immediate left of the vanity top, so I saw it every morning when I stopped in to brush my teeth (among other things). It was signed, “Hunter, 2014.”

I found it to be a fascinating piece. Each morning, I would dedicate an extra few seconds to admire the thoughtfulness and artistry which had gone into the coloration of this masterpiece. The camel, you see, was not your ordinary, sandy-colored ship of the desert. This humpbacked wonder seemed to arise out of the sixties with its variations of reds, oranges, pinks, and blues. I became very attached (child of the sixties that I am).

Too Good for the Fridge

I had briefly known young Hunter who had been a foster child living with the family in question. He has since moved on, but at least part of his legacy has remained—albeit in the boy’s bathroom. Artwork such as this often gets posted on a refrigerator then discarded in lieu of the next generation of creativity. This one had been spared such a fate and had become a daily diversion for a week of my life.

One of the reasons I found it so intriguing, I suppose, is the fact that I had a couple of occasions to take a camel ride when I was in Israel several years ago. Taking a camel ride was one of my goals prior to heading to the middle east. I accomplished that goal to my satisfaction. Cross that one off my bucket list.

One of those camel rides was up the side of Mount Sinai. It was an experience I’ll never forget. And while it wasn’t as spectacular as Hunter’s psychedelic camel, it got me to where I was headed (saddle sores and all). I decided to walk back down after viewing the world from on high. I don’t think my derrière could have handled another humpbacked sojourn that soon.

“It was good enough for Moses”

But, thanks to my camel (which I named “Harley”), I stood in the approximate place where Moses received the ten commandments. We’re not totally sure of that location, but I was convinced enough to leave the dust on my sneakers for a long time. I was hoping it would give me a little extra something. As they say, “If it was good enough for Moses…”

While atop Mount Sinai, I didn’t receive any big revelations, but I do have a nifty photo of me which is displayed in our front room. Between that and Hunter’s psychedelic camel, I have some solid reminders of one of the best trips of my life.

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

Pinterest: Man’s Best Enemy

If you’re a married man, you probably know what Pinterest is—even if you don’t have your own account. As a matter of fact, you probably DON’T have your own account. You don’t need one. Your wife shows you everything you need to see.

In the old days, we had what we called, “Honey-do lists.” These lists consisted of the names of items or tasks our wives wanted us to make, purchase, or perform. Now, we have Pinterest. Pinterest not only gives our lovely spouses a new and improved list, it provides them with myriads of options along with detailed instructions as to how we can go about providing them with the desires of their hearts.

Back when all we got was a simple list, we could imagine our own projects, keep them simple, and make our wives happy. No more… If the husbands on Pinterest can do these unpretentious projects, so should we be able to mimic their behavior. Right guys? Right!

Whose Idea Was This?

I’m not sure who came up with the idea of Pinterest. Whoever they are, they’re extremely intelligent. They are also evil. I’m pretty sure the very idea of Pinterest arose from the pit of Hell. Just ask any husband. He’ll tell you I’m correct.

The very idea of Pinterest is to goad every woman into thinking she doesn’t have what she needs. In addition, what she needs is on some electronic page, and her spouse can whip one up for her. All she has to do is show him the picture. It’s that simple.

All I can say is, I never had an ulcer until my lovely Bride discovered Pinterest. It’s a good thing I retired. Otherwise, I could never keep up with all the projects that we, here-to-fore, didn’t realize we had to have.

All this causes me to wonder what it was like back in Biblical times. Everyone was riding around on camels or walking on foot. Many of them lived in tents. Most of them had very little outside the clothes on their backs. They obviously needed a lot, but they didn’t know it because Pinterest hadn’t been invented yet.

The More the Merrier

There were no 401ks or IRA’s either. They worked until they dropped, or their children took care of them. Children were at a premium, and it was obviously beneficial to have a bunch of them.

There were no doctors to speak of, and your choice of career was sorely limited. Bread was the main staple, and they were really happy to have a loaf on the table each day. There was no jelly in the refrigerator—there were no refrigerators to load in the condiments and keep the ice frozen. Most of them never even saw ice.

All this is to say, Pinterest seems to have taken us a step too far. It creates needs where none exist, and it exists to irritate guys like me. I wonder if this is why Jesus asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world?” (Mark 8:36)

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

Nosy Sort

When I fly, the first thing I usually do is grab one of those “Sky” magazines (or whatever iteration is available on that particular airline). I quickly thumb through it until I find the crossword puzzle which is usually in the back somewhere. I often complete the puzzle before we’re in the air. They’re not exactly the New York Times Sunday edition puzzles if you know what I mean.

My last flight was no exception. I grabbed the Sky and went straight to the puzzle. This time, someone on a prior flight had gotten to it before me. I hate when that happens. It wasn’t so bad, however, because this person was obviously not a crossword aficionado. He (or she) had left a lot of blanks, and the ones they had filled in were done in very light pencil. I really couldn’t read their answers unless I really strained my eyes. So, I grabbed my pen and went straight to town.

My Predecessor Was Incorrect

The thing that’s so memorable about this particular puzzle was clue #52 across. The clue simply read, “Nosy sort.” The answer was an easy one for anyone who has been doing these things for as long as I have—“snoop.” My predecessor had gotten it wrong.

Beside the clue, she had written, “our neighbor.” I thought that was pretty funny and chuckled to myself. But when I went to fill in the blanks, I noticed she had written in the name, “Gladys.” It was one too many letters, but it made me laugh out loud.

I don’t know who filled this in, but I now know something about them. They have a nosy neighbor by the name of Gladys. It makes me wonder if her last name is Kravitz or if my predecessor was just a big fan of Bewitched. Either way, it added a little spice to my crossword experience for that flight.

Gladys Kravitz Lives

We all have characters like Gladys in our lives. Some of them are snoops. Others are whiny. Even others are just plain annoying. Sometimes I think the Lord places these people in our pathways just to build a little character inno us as well. All these folks help us to see examples of what we don’t want to be like. They’re little reminders of how we can affect others if we’re not careful. I suspect most of us have a bit of Gladys Kravitz deep down inside us somewhere.

We have a tendency to really dislike those people. Sometimes, we despise them. They have traits and characteristics that bring us dismay. We’d like to take them and shake them. But the fact is, we’re no different. Oh, maybe our flaws are somewhat dissimilar, but they are flaws never-the-less.

While we find some to be irritating, there are others out there who think the same of us. Something about us rubs someone the wrong way. Who? Me? Yes, you! Get the plank out of your own eye before you complain about the speck in your neighbor’s.

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

The Suicide Machine

Recently, two high profile celebrities committed suicide. They did this within hours of each other. While this is shocking, it’s not unusual. In the U.S. alone, there we average 121 suicides per day. It’s an unhappy and morose statistic.

Years ago, I was asked to speak at a fund-raiser for a large church camp. In the days leading up to my talk, there was a teen suicide in the town where I was living. I mentioned it in my talk and intimated that institutions like the church camp we were supporting could, in essence, offer kids hope—hope that might derail any suicidal thoughts.

“It was a little embarrassing.”

I found out later that the deceased boy’s grandmother was in the audience that night. Subsequently, I had a long phone conversation with her, and we prayed together. It was a little embarrassing and a lot sad. She had no answers, and of course, neither did I.

Suicide is a complicated thing—as complex as the people who make the final decision to take their own lives. There are no easy answers—only more and more questions. Depression is often blamed for suicidal tendencies, and I’m sure they play a deepening role in the life of a person who finally succumbs to the temptation to end it all.

One of the most famous suicides in all of history was that of Judas Iscariot. He was so remorseful when he discovered that Jesus was condemned to death, he tossed his reward money at the priests and elders and went out to hang himself. He obviously thought that, by turning Jesus over to the authorities, Jesus would have to stand up and defend himself. When that didn’t happen, Judas knew he had made a miscalculation. His impatience with Jesus’ inaction ended up triggering the opposite of what he had intended. It was more than he could take.

Have we Learned to Live With It?

As we have seen, suicide is nothing new. It’s been around almost as long as human beings have trod the earth. We have, in a small sense, come to grips with it. At least, we’ve learned to live alongside of it. We do our best to avoid it and help others that are tempted by it. Still, we understand that it’s a reality we have to face.

The new problem with suicide is that it has increased by 30% over the past twenty years. People are dying in droves as we flounder to give them hope. And that seems to be the key. When people lose hope, they give up. When they have nothing to live for, they seek ways take their own lives. Somewhere along the way, society has failed them.

Judas didn’t stick around long enough to discover the truth about Jesus. It had been in front of him for three and a half years. Jesus’ resurrection would have confirmed the reality of salvation and given him hope for forgiveness and a new life. We, in the church, need to do a better job of offering that same hope.

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

Riding the Heresy Train

As many of you know, I’m a retired pastor from the United Methodist tradition. Just before I hung up my cleats (so to speak) I had an interesting conversation with my District Superintendent. I mentioned that I used to be something of a rebel. She quickly asked, “USED to be?!!!” Okay, so I’m still a renegade. What can I say?

Maybe because of that, I don’t feel like I have all that much skin in the game when it comes to the current state of affairs in my denomination. I tend to look at all the hubbub from a position of an outsider. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a member of a United Methodist Church or Conference for almost forty years. Mother Meth has been good to me, so I’m not going to trash her. Still, times are tough.

“Jesus is God”

I just read a blog by a United Methodist pastor, the likes of which I thought I’d never see. In his blog, “It’s Time for Progressive Christianity,” the pastor said, “Jesus isn’t God. Jesus didn’t die for our sins.” If you know anything about all things Methodist, you know that this isn’t one of them. If there is one rallying point among the people called Methodist, it’s that Jesus is God and that our sin was nailed to the cross with Him. That’s about as basic and bottom-line as one gets.

I realize we attempt to journey under a big tent or a large umbrella (choose your own metaphor). The tent, however, has walls. The umbrella has an edge beyond which one will get wet. From my little corner of the world, I’m thinking this guy is all wet.

I read the entire blog to see if he was saying this (and many other things) in a tongue-in-cheek manner. It doesn’t appear so. He was dead serious. In the old days, this would have been designated as heresy. Today, it’s simply another man’s opinion. While I’m not looking to bring back the old days, I do think there are parameters to our orthodoxy. The Bible is still the authority over the church (at least among the Protestant brethren).

“We’re in the wrong place.”

This particular pastor is, undoubtedly, not alone in his assertions. The point, however, is not how many share his viewpoint. The point, as I view it, is that he is not a United Methodist—at least not in the truest sense of the term. He, and apparently others like him, are forging a new type of Methodism (if you can call it that). The deity of Christ is what separates us from the Jesus cults, Judaism, and Islam. If we want to embrace a totally human Jesus, we’re in the wrong place.

United Methodists are not alone here. Every old-line denomination is going through the same thing. The more loosely we hang on to God’s Word, the more likely we will lose it altogether. We need to hang on tightly to Scripture, or we will render it irrelevant to our lives.

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

The Hammer

Years ago, I had the occasion to ride home from work on the DC Metro. I usually went by car, but for whatever reason, that day I had to find alternate transportation. It was never my favorite way to travel, but it’s a nice change once in a while.

As I sat in a mostly empty train car, I detected a newspaper lying under the seat in front of me. I picked it up and noticed it was a Washington Post. I never subscribe to a newspaper, so I thought this would be a good occasion to check out what the local pundits were saying. My eyes fell on a syndicated columnist by the name of Charles Krauthammer.

At the time, I wasn’t familiar with his work. So, I took the time to peruse his writing. I was immediately enamored with the way he crafted his article. It was not only well written, but the logic, thought process, and his way of laying everything out was astonishing. I became an immediate fan. Shortly after that, I found out he was often on TV as well.

“I began to seek him out.”

Upon discovering this bit of information, I began to seek him out. It turned out, to my pleasant surprise, that he was even better in person. His insight and lucidity seemed to be head and shoulders above many of his colleagues. To top it off, he had a tremendous wit and a dry sense of humor that was right up my alley. I was, now, more than a fan. I was a devotee.

Over the years, I watched him every chance I got. He is one of those guys who could convince me the sky is chartreuse. His opinions, however, are much more down-to-earth than that, and his well thought out conclusions are inescapable.

What I hadn’t noticed at first was that he always sat in a wheelchair. He was usually behind a desk, so that fact had escaped me. I discovered that he was injured in a diving accident when he was in medical school which paralyzed him from the neck down. The fact that he was paralyzed surprised me, but the fact that he was a doctor surprised me even more. I just assumed he was simply a political pundit.

“He made a shocking announcement.”

Recently, he had been absent from his normal TV appearances. When he was scheduled to begin his return from an illness, he made a shocking announcement. The doctors estimated he only had weeks to live. I was devastated. I choked up when I heard the news—an emotion I almost never have for most celebrities of any sort (for whatever reason).

In his announcement, he wrote, “It was a wonderful life—full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”

May we all live in such a way that we can honestly say those words in the end.

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

The New Ratio

There’s a new ratio in town—30:12. It took Hollywood about thirty years to publicly recognize and denounce a man like Harvey Weinstein. It took them twelve hours to do the same to Roseanne Barr. Weinstein was a predator, using his power to make or break young starlets to pounce on them for sexual favors—or to steal them outright. Barr tweeted a racist joke.

After thirty years of bad behavior, Hollywood finally decided enough was enough. Weinstein was given a perp walk. After twelve hours of living with Barr’s tweet, Hollywood decided that was enough of that as well, and (despite a swift apology) Barr’s show was quickly canceled.

That ratio of 30:12 is really quite askew, however. Remember, that’s thirty years to twelve hours. The actual ratio would be more like 262,800:12 (hours to hours). I guess Hollywood has grown impatient with slimy behavior. No more Mister Nice Guy for them.

They Both Deserved What They Got

I don’t disagree with the final recompenses of either of their actions. It does seem a tad lopsided, though. They forgave Harvey for thirty years. No forgiveness was forthcoming for Roseanne. It can be a cruel world out there. Dog eat dog, and all that…

I can’t help but wonder if the real culprit is the bias that we seem to harbor deep inside. It’s probably true for all of us. There are certain things we’re willing to overlook or easily forgive. At the same time, there are things we’re totally unwilling to excuse or pardon. We all seem to have these blind spots, and we’re about as consistent as Hollywood.

It will be interesting to see what our west coast entertainer types do in the future. The way people toss around insults, degradations, and filthy comments, it won’t take long to find out. I’m guessing that not much has really changed, however. Blind spots are blind spots, and—as it is with a leopard—changing spots is pretty difficult.

“The New Normal”

As a matter of fact, I saw Robert De Niro stand up at an award show recently and flat out say, “F—k Trump!” This would have been a good time for the entertainment crowd to denounce him with a boo or two as well as a few hisses thrown in for good measure. Not only did this fail to occur, just the opposite happened. They cheered him wildly. The Washington Post later called it the “new normal in political discourse.” I realize this happened in New York and not Hollywood. But I’m almost certain this blows the new ratio out of the water.

There’s some very good advice that, maybe, we should all heed. It’s found in the Old Testament, so it’s been around for a long time. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Two very important words—be still. No sexual advances, no vile tweets, no vulgar rants against individuals… Be still… If we can be still long enough, maybe we can know that He is God and we’re not.

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

Gym Dandy

Those of you who read my weekly e-letter know I just joined a gym. I had been inactive (exercise-wise) for about a year and a half. I had also gained twenty pounds. As I have so rudely discovered, these things do not result in all things beneficial.

It occurred to me that I needed to stop living the good life and get down to brass tacks. I’ve never been exactly sure why brass tacks are the epitome of hard work, but I guess it’s as good a term as any for the not-so-good-life. The good life is now behind me, and I have joined the ranks of Charles Atlas and the like (hopefully).

“Endorphins and All That”

I had been away for so long (and had amassed such a lipoid-ridden midsection) that I realized I had better ease back into the aerobic process. After all, I’ve heard one can get addicted to exercise—endorphins and all that (I don’t know what those are, but they sound like trouble). I don’t want to compound my health problems by becoming an addict. I’m hoping to be able to quit any time I want.

So last week I went back to the gym with the full intent of easing my way into things. When I arrived for the first time, I was told to swipe my new ID card, which would acknowledge my presence. That was the only instruction I was given. When I swiped my card, a voice said, “Welcome.” I didn’t want to be impolite, so I stopped and spoke to the unknown host for a few minutes, only to discover I was speaking to an electronic device. I should have known.

As I entered the area of no return, I spotted a bench. This was particularly fortuitous considering I was amped up to take it easy on my first day back in action. So, I lay down on the bench and took a nap. I’m not sure how long I was there, but it proved to be a fine start on my road to recovery. When I awoke, I stood up. Having the sense that all this up and down action had been enough for one day, I did some speed walking—back to my Jeep, which I drove home.

Glory Days

Frankly, I had expected my body to be a tad more achy and sore after my first day in the gym. I was surprised to find that I felt perfectly fine. Apparently, I’m in far better shape than I had first surmised. This isn’t going to be so bad after all.

I should have known everything would be okay. I was an athlete in high school. True, that was fifty years ago, but who’s counting. Certainly not me… The Apostle Paul once wrote, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (New International Translation) Since I’m a preacher, I guess I should do likewise.

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

Caught at a Bad Time

 Sometimes I tend to be a little naïve and a tad gullible. This is particularly true when people catch me at the right time. Occasionally, I’m in the presence of someone who has my full trust (at least on the topic upon which they’re expounding) and I get caught napping—mentally speaking. Consequently, I get sucked in. As the old saying goes, “I fall for it: hook, line and sinker.”

Usually, that’s okay. It’s okay because they are simply having a little joke at my expense. I don’t mind laughing at myself and my naivete once in a while. It actually keeps me on my toes. Most of the time, however, I prefer to be on my game—alert and ready.

“My Frontal Lobotomy”

I was recently at a retirement seminar for wayward pastors when I heard one of the presenters make this statement. “They caught me in a moment when I hadn’t had my frontal lobotomy yet.” This remark drew thunderous laughter from many of us old geezers because we knew exactly what he was talking about.

I forget his topic, but the comment will stick with me for a long time. You have to be clear minded to recognize its meaning, but if you think about it, it hits you where you live. Sometimes we walk around like we’ve had a frontal lobotomy. During those times, we can be had.

In one of his letters to Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns us about people who walk around looking for us gullible types. He states that people do that because they love themselves way too much. They tend to love money, be ungrateful, treacherous, unforgiving, and pleasure seeking (just to name some of their (ahem) attributes).

“We’ve Never Learned the Truth”

Then he gives us a strong suggestion as to why we fall for the wiles of such people. He implies that we’re always on the lookout for some “new” teaching—something that will be sensational, sound good, and make us feel spiritual. The other side of that coin may even be the larger problem. He says that we fall for the fake stuff because we’ve never really learned the truth.

I remember someone once told me the following about a guy in the congregation to which I belonged. He said, “That guy has just enough religion to be dangerous.” He was right. The man of whom he spoke was always off following some new teacher or religious fad. His biggest problem was that he had never been grounded in the faith. He didn’t know or understand the reality of his orthodox groundings. He was vulnerable to “every wind of doctrine” as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 4:14).

Jesus, himself, warned us to be “alert.” He knew there would come a time when many would seek after teachers that would lead them off the narrow path to one that would take them to who knows what. Hopefully, when these guys come around, it will be prior to our having had our frontal lobotomies.

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