An Embarrassing Death

I saw a TV show yesterday in which one of the bad guys was executed. Actually, it’s one of those shows in which almost everyone is a bad. The good guys are, in essence, the best of the evil ones. I believe they call them “anti-heroes.” But I digress.

This particular adversary was sitting on the john when he was accosted by our (ahem) hero. The assailer put two or three shots into the man’s body that would not cause death—at least, not right away. After giving up the required information, our villain begged to be allowed to stand up and leave the loo. He didn’t want to die an embarrassing death on the toilet.

Dying Wish

The gunman was not in the mood to grant the antagonist’s dying wish, and he shot him where he stood. Excuse me—where he sat. As evil as this character was, I had to feel at least a wee bit sorry for him.

I’ve never given much thought to how I might leave this earth. Now that I’ve viewed the aforementioned scene, I’m more inclined to peruse the possible scenarios of my future demise. I don’t think I’ll dwell on them, but some fleeting thoughts might be in order. I’m guessing our actions may have a bearing on how we depart this life.

All of that leads me to thoughts of Jesus. If you’ve ever read anything about crucifixion, you know that it was one of the most embarrassing ways to die ever devised. Cicero called it a “disgusting punishment,” and “atrociously cruel.” It’s where we derive our term, “excruciating.” Part of the humiliation was that you were hung naked before the world. The Romans didn’t invent it, but they perfected its torturous details. It was so bad that they made it illegal to crucify a Roman citizen. It was reserved for the lowliest of convicts.

“Let This Cup Pass”

Jesus not only knew he was going to die by that means; he almost seemed to welcome it. He certainly didn’t attempt to avoid it. Other than the prayer to his heavenly Father (“Let this cup pass from me…Matthew 26:39), he did things that led to his capture. If you read the Gospel accounts, you’ll see that he didn’t hide. He sent Judas out to betray him; then he went to an olive grove to pray. He knew his hour had come, and he made it easy for his pursuers to locate him.

Not only was crucifixion an embarrassing way to die, it was an embarrassment to the victim’s family and friends. It was a shameful way to go and a blot on the reputation of anyone associated with the crucified one. Yet, the early church made it a point to laud the cross of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). It has often been referred to as the “Glory of the Cross.”

Only God could turn that kind of embarrassment into glory.

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

Out of Sight

When my lovely Bride and I are separated by business trips and such, we tend to operate a tad differently than a lot of other couples. When we’re about to be separated for a few days, we give each other a kiss, say, “I love you,” and wish each other a safe journey and/or a good time. It’s at that juncture we start marching to a different drumbeat. 

I’ve noticed a lot of friends and acquaintances call their spouses as soon as they arrive at their destinations. Then they repeat the calls intermittently throughout the weekend. Denise and I, for whatever reason, seldom touch base while we’re absent from one another for a few days (unless, of course, there’s some sort of emergency or burning question that needs answering). 

Downright Terrible

A lot of folks think that’s unusual, and I suppose it is. A few people think that it’s downright terrible. We, on the other hand, don’t see the necessity of keeping stringent tabs on each other. I’m not sure if it’s simply a matter of trust or if we just enjoy a little extra independence now and again. Either way, we just don’t take the time to habitually check in with each other.

It’s not a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” We think of each other, pray for one another, and often speak to other people about each other while we’re apart. But when we are out of each other’s sight, we’re not desperately burning to be in contact. The occasional picture on Facebook seems to suffice during those brief times.

Something happened recently, however, to shake up my little world. My lovely Bride decided she wanted a couple of security cameras watching over our property. I acquiesced and mounted them in strategic locations. They work like a charm. I don’t know how much more secure that makes us, but it does make it a lot easier to see what’s going on when we’re not around.

Motion in My Yard

I discovered this weekend that there’s somewhat of a side issue to those cameras. I left town for a few days to attend a writers’ retreat. Everything was going along quite swimmingly until I got a notice on my cell phone app that there was motion in my yard. I looked, and there was my wife. She was strolling around our backyard…without me.

Seeing her there caused me to miss her like crazy. I’m always happy to see her when we’re reunited after a short trip, but while we’re separated, I don’t usually suffer the pangs of homesickness or yearning like I did when I saw her on my phone like that. It was a strange (and new) experience for me.

What I’ve discovered from that occurrence is that I can endure being apart from her as long as she’s out of my sight. Once I see her, however, I want to be with her. I guess that’s a good thing, but I think I liked it better without the technology. 

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

The Flea Market

I recently attended a writers’ retreat near my hometown in Pennsylvania. One of our assignments was to write a one-page piece with a connection to a flea market. Afterward, we broke into groups of three to share and discuss what we had created. After reading mine, someone asked if that was going to be my next blog. I replied that it wasn’t really blog material. Upon further reflection, I decided, “What the heck!” So, here it is.

I hadn’t driven up Route 28 for years, but here I was cruising by the farms and easing through the sleepy villages I had passed so many times in my younger days. As I negotiated the winding curves and climbed the gentle hills, it all came rushing back. Some of the buildings were the same as I had remembered them. Maybe a bit more weathered… But there they were; standing alone like milestones in the history that had been chiseled into my memory.

As I approached the broken-down firehouse where I had set up shop so many times, I wondered if the locals were still sponsoring that old flea market. I drove up over the rise, and there it was—stretched out across the field just as I had remembered. Canopies, trailers, folding tables, tents, and lean-tos crudely arranged like some disorganized patchwork quilt

Twenty-Five Years Later

I just couldn’t help myself. I turned my Jeep into the crowed parking lot, paid the attendant my five-spot, and found my way into the swirl of humanity, junk, and rare treasures hidden in plain sight. Teddy bears, ammunition, leather goods, trinkets, and antique tractor parts…the same stuff I had always seen. Twenty-five years later, these folks were still trying to sell the odds and ends of their lives to other folks who didn’t need someone else’s clutter around their homes. Still, they were there to hunt down the next bargain.

Then I came across a used book table. As I perused the worn tomes, I saw a Bible. I picked it up to see if there was a family tree inscribed on the inside cover. As I did, it almost fell apart in my hands. No family tree… So I did the next best thing. I looked for my favorite verse—Isaiah 49:16. “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” It wasn’t there. The page was missing. 

Four-Bit Bible

I couldn’t pay good money for a Bible that didn’t contain that verse, even if it was only fifty cents. Who knows what else might be missing? So I laid it down—a bit saddened by the knowledge that some of the Prophet’s best words would not be read by a person willing to part with their half-dollar.

Still, I walked away with the knowledge that those words were somehow written on my heart and that I am, indeed, carved into the palms of my Savior’s hands. I jumped back into my Jeep and headed toward my hometown feeling a little nostalgic and a lot blessed.

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

Avuncular

There comes a point in a man’s life when he loses his edge. His good looks are gone (if he ever had any), he’s physically slowed down, and everyone begins to look at him as harmless. Young women are not nervous about riding with him in the same elevator. Older women don’t give him a second thought. Young men don’t even see him anymore.

Many of the guys who reach this stage develop a sense of kindness and patience and become generally more indulgent of people who are younger than they are. When a person reaches this juncture, he is commonly referred to as avuncular—being “kind and friendly towards a younger or less experienced person…like the expected behavior of an uncle.”

Never Trust Anyone

When I was young; my generation developed a quip that said, “Never trust anyone older than thirty.” Apparently, we weren’t looking for an avuncular guy in our lives. Consequently, many of us never found one either. We struggled along, making multitudinous mistakes in our lives—errors that could have been avoided if we had been a tad more open to our elders and their worldly wisdom.

Now, I’m on the other end. I’m over thirty. I’ve been so for almost forty years. I try to be the avuncular guy on the block, but I’m not sure many youngsters are open to my offerings. Still, I see it as my job—even my mission—to pass along the sage advice that one accumulates during years of trial and error. A few actually accept it while many, I suppose, see me as a doddering old man. Putting myself in their shoes, I remember what I used to sarcastically say. “What does he know?”

The lessons of life are often hard to learn. Too many times, we have to repeat our foibles and fall on our faces to grasp the real truth that lies before us. Some of us are so stubborn that we never quite understand our problems and their possible solutions. Others do things their own way and fail rather than stoop to acknowledge they might be wrong. After all, we old geezers lived in very different times than theirs.

Changelessness

Well, I’ve come to realize that those times were not all that different. Sure, circumstances change, but the principles of life are steadfast. When I was young, I wanted everything to change. I wanted revolution in all facets of my existence. I was restless and dissatisfied. Now, I’m much happier with the status quo—changelessness for the sake of serenity.

If you read the Bible from cover to cover, you will notice that “the elders” were always esteemed and respected. They were understood to hold the secrets of life and at least a few answers that the bulk of society was yet to discover. Now, I’ve been thrust into that category due to a bit of longevity. I’m not sure if I want that honor, but I’ll try to be avuncular about it. What have I got to lose?

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

The Runt of the Litter

When the prophet Samuel approached Bethlehem, he had instructions from God to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be king. He was a tad nervous about anointing a new king while King Saul was still alive and kicking. Consequently, he did so under the guise of sacrificing a heifer to the Lord and worshiping with the locals.

Jesse and his sons were invited to the service, and Samuel, seeing what fine sons Jesse had produced, assumed the new king was among them. What he didn’t know was that not all of Jesse’s sons were present. He saw seven strapping young men, but God told him the future monarch was not there. That’s when the Lord issued the now famous statement, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

The New King

When the Lord indicated that the new king wasn’t part of the gathering, Samuel must have been a bit more than confused. He asked Jesse if he had any more sons. There was, indeed, one more. His name was David, and he was tending sheep out in the field. I suspect that the baby of the family often gets left out of such things as neighborhood sacrifices. Still, the Lord had other ideas.

When Samuel heard that there was yet another son, he asked Jesse to send for him. Most English translations of Scripture tell us that Jesse simply told Samuel that “the youngest” was not present. There is one publication, however, (The Message Bible) that quotes Jesse in somewhat of a differing fashion. The Message has Jesse stating that “the runt” was out tending the sheep.

To understand this, we need to realize that The Message is not a translation for study but is a paraphrase designed to be a “reading Bible.” In other words, it is loosely translated in such a way that it can be easily read by laypeople in their own, modern-day language. The rock singer, Bono, from the group U2 has helped to make this version of Scripture famous by endorsing it and its author, Eugene Peterson. Frankly, it is an easy read as compared with the likes of the King James Version, for example.

An Interesting Perspective

Peterson inserted the term, runt, as a translation of a Hebrew word that literally means “the small one.” Most Bible scholars look at that and say Jesse was referring to David’s age. Consequently, they translate it as “the youngest.” And to be fair, David was certainly no runt—as least, not as we think of a runt. Still, it posits an interesting perspective.

Kingly lines don’t generally come from the youngest child of eight males. More often than not, the eldest will become king. That’s what Samuel assumed, but you know what happens when we assume.

I actually like to think of David as the runt. It gives me great hope. If God can take the least and turn him into the greatest, there’s still hope for me. For you too, I suspect.

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

Faster or Further?

I just ran across an article entitled, “Is It More Important to Run Faster or Run Longer?” I had a mild interest in this particular piece because I used to run a lot. That, of course, was in my younger days. I have little, if any, desire to run anymore.

I still run to the grocery store, but I tend to do that in my Jeep. But, when I’m reliving my glory days, I fondly remember that I was a track star (of sorts). I also played a semi-decent centerfield and was known for my base-stealing prowess when I participated in what used to be known as the National Pastime. 

The Proverbial Bridge

All that, of course, is just so much water under the proverbial bridge. If I could find that bridge, maybe I could retrieve something of what I lost. But even if I could, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know what to do with it any longer. Time has a way of doing that to a person.

As it turns out, the author of the article ended by saying that he voted for all of the above. Apparently, one should not only run far but should run fast as well. To me, that was always a non sequitur (especially being a sprinter). When I was in my twenties, I could jog a few miles and I could do the hundred-yard dash in less than eleven seconds. Mixing the two, however, was unthinkable. 

Someone once said, “Speed kills.” I had found that to be especially true when I was attempting any distance beyond 220 yards. I could let it fly up to that point, but beyond that, a jog was all I could manage. These days, walking that far is a chore and a half.

Unfathomable

Still, I’ve always been enamored with today’s long-distance runners. They not only have tremendous endurance, but their times are getting so low they often approach sprinting speed. The whole idea of running as far as one can while doing it as fast as one can…well, that’s just unfathomable to me. My hat is off to those men and women.

I’ve heard that there is a spiritual side to running like that. I can’t comment on it from experience, because I have no first-hand knowledge of it. Some people call it the “runner’s high.” The only high I ever experienced from running was in winning a race. That was as close as I ever got to a spiritual experience from my running days.

Still, like the writer of Hebrews, I’m prone to comparing the spiritual life with racing. For that person, however, it was not a sprint or even a fast marathon. Apparently, it was what my track coach used to call, “a gut race.” It’s long-distance, sometimes slow, and often plodding. The most important thing seemed to be that we would finish—endure to the end as it were. Sometimes I get weary of that race as well, but at least it’s not a sprint.

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

Woodstock (and Other Near Misses)

From what I’ve heard, this weekend is the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock music festival. It was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” I was nineteen years old when that granddaddy of all music festivals took place.

The Brown Acid

The previous spring, an acquaintance at college mentioned to me he was planning on attending. That’s about all I ever heard about it and promptly forgot it entirely. Besides that, I had a summer job, and making money was a tad more important at the time. It was only after the fact that I realized what I had missed. Oh well… In those days, I was much more of a follower than a leader and may well have taken the, now infamous, brown acid.

That event took place during the Vietnam War era. This was another event that I narrowly missed. I had a low number when the military draft was reinstituted. Had I not been in college at the time, I would undoubtedly have been shipped off to the front. Then, when I took the physical ordered by the draft board, I didn’t make the cut. 

There have been moments when I’ve regretted not serving. These moments never seem to last when I realize I was never the military type. Regimentation was not my thing. Besides that, each time I visit The Wall and see the names of guys I knew, I realize my name could be there instead of at the bottom of this blog.

Game Seven

Then, of course, there are three other events I missed attending. These would be the seventh game of the three World Series that my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates won—1960, 1971, and 1979. On October 13, 1960, I was in sixth grade. As I left school that day, all the kids were jumping up and down, screaming about the Mazeroski home run and the Pirate championship.

On October 17, 1971, I was working at a gas station. It was a beautiful, autumn day with sunshine and a gentle breeze blowing the falling leaves around the streets of my college town. Some Pirate fans rode through those streets in a convertible while holding up a homemade sign which read, “Pittsburgh Pirates, 1971 World Champs!” 

Then there was October 17, 1979. It was a Wednesday night game in Baltimore. I didn’t even entertain the thought of laying out the money on top of taking off from work to attend the game. I had kids to feed—boys, nonetheless. I had to settle for seeing it on TV. At least I got to watch it that time.

Throughout our lifetimes, we will have a lot of near misses. Some will be to our benefit while others we may regret. Through it all, I suspect the Lord will lead us to where we need to be when we need to be there. At any rate, rather than dwelling on what we might have missed, let’s live the present moment to the fullest.

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

Fredo Zuchelli

In case you haven’t heard, Chris Cuomo (opinionated CNN commentator), was recently caught videoed as he was engaged in conversation by an unknown bystander. This is nothing new, of course. It seems to be the practice (even sport) of the day. Say something rude, crude, or lewd to some sort of celeb and make sure the cameras are rolling.

Unfortunately for Chris, he didn’t simply pass it off and allow it to roll off his back. He immediately jumped into an animated, curse-filled argument with the perpetrator. The fact that he reportedly had his family with him makes it a bit surprising. Still, if you push the right buttons in someone’s psyche, they’re going to hit the ceiling. 

Highly Bleeped

Apparently for Cuomo, his button has the name, “Fredo,” on it. His interloper seems to have referred to him as Fredo. The troublemaker claimed he actually thought Cuomo’s name was Fredo, but I could not verify his beliefs on Snopes at this time. Cuomo took umbrage at the man’s name for him and loosed a highly bleeped rant in his direction.

One of the things he told the heckler was that the term, Fredo, was an insult to Italian-Americans. He equated it with calling a black man the n-word. Being of Italian descent myself, I was a tad surprised to hear this. Growing up, I heard my fair share of insults, but Fredo was never one of them. Dago, WOP, and Guinea were the preferred offenses in my day. WOP meant without papers. The other two are a tad vaguer. Still, they were used as pejoratives.

Apparently, we were also called goombas. I never found that term to be at all distasteful, but I guess it’s all in the ear of the beholder (or the insulter). In fact, there’s a winery down the road from me with the moniker, Quattro Goombas. I haven’t found the need to boycott or protest as yet. Truth be told, I’ve frequented their establishment on a couple of occasions. After all, goomba actually means “mate” (or sometimes, godfather). We’ve always referred to each other as goomba, so I’ve considered that to be a good thing my entire life.

Self-Deprecating

That brings us back to Fredo. The term, Fredo, didn’t become popular until the movie, Godfather: Part 2. Fredo was the brother of Michael (Robert DeNiro) and was a general screwup. The long and short of it is simply that Fredo is not a racial slur as Cuomo insisted. It IS, however, a personal insult. Interestingly enough, it’s one that Chris Cuomo has used to label himself in the past. As we all know, however, it’s one thing to be self-deprecating and quite another to be the butt of someone else’s barbs.

Since the incident, people have been playing clips of various celebrities hurling the insulting, Fredo, in the direction of other people they held in lesser regard. While I’m not overly impressed with Cuomo’s unchained reaction, it’s certainly understandable. From now on, please refrain from calling me Fredo.

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

Polyamorous

Like most everyone else, I was interested in the background of the two shooters in the recent mass murders in our country. I happened to be reading an article about that topic which quoted the Dayton shooter’s ex-girlfriend in regard to their first date together. It was not overly surprising that he showed her an anti-Semitic video of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting and gave her a play-by-play description. Some first date…

It wasn’t their initial outing that really caught my eye, though. The article mentioned that while she was dating the soon-to-be shooter, she also had another steady boyfriend. The author of the article seemed to take this in stride and simply mentioned in passing that she was polyamorous.

Bi-Sexual?

That term perked up my ears (or my eyes, as it were) and caused me to think. I’m pretty sure I had never heard that term prior to seeing it in this piece. I was so intrigued that I stopped reading the article and went to my trusty Google Machine to see what it meant. I assumed it had something to do with being bi-sexual or some other such variation on human sexuality, but I was wrong—sort of.

I had heard of polygamy, the sixty-three genders, and gender fluidity, but polyamorous had eluded me up to this point. As it turns out, polyamory “is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved. It has been described as ‘consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.’”

At first glance, the whole idea didn’t seem too far-fetched. After all, I suppose a lot of young guys wouldn’t have minded having a harem or two (particularly when they were teenagers). Most people would chalk that up to youth and raging hormones. But the part that tripped me up was the phrase, “with the consent of all partners involved.” That little caveat was (and still remains) a tad foreign to me. There’s this tiny thing called jealousy (as well as possessiveness) that has pervaded our culture for as long as I can remember. On top of that, once maturity sets in, so does reality. One relationship is about all most of us can handle at a time.

Outside the Boundaries

I think we cause ourselves a lot of problems when we stray outside the boundaries of Scriptural advice. I’ve not counted them, but I’ve read that there are at least one hundred verses in the Bible that promote marriage between one man and one woman. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:2 says, “But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”

Apparently, there was some non-monogamous activity happening in Corinth in those days. St. Paul did not approve. I’m a bit surprised that anyone does (with the possible exception of teenage boys). “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4). All the polyamorous might do well to take heed.

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

Fake News You Can Trust

Those of you who know me well know that I love satire. One of my fave publications is the Babylon Bee which is advertised as “Your trusted source for Christian News Satire.” Their motto is, “Fake news you can trust, delivered straight to your inbox.” I’m often found reposting their stuff on my Facebook page.

Recently, I ran across one of their articles named “Why Can’t We Return to How Peaceful the World Was Before Guns?” I didn’t repost this one because I wanted to be sensitive to feelings caused by the recent mass shootings in our country. Many people look at the Bee’s articles and actually think they’re serious, so I refrained.

Merely Satire

I was, however, intrigued by the Facebook thread that followed the satire on removing guns from the world. As the conversation took the usual twists and turns, people had to be constantly reminded that it was merely satire. Yet, as any good lampooning often does, it sparked some extremely serious dialog (not to mention a few arguments). I found the exchange of ideas to be stimulating, educational, and noteworthy.

So satire, at its best, can indeed be fake news you can trust. Unfortunately, there is satire and then there is satire. In other words, any writer of satire needs to be sensitive to the “line.” There is an invisible line that should not be crossed. It’s not always easy to see or determine. The best of satirists are the ones who are able to sense the line and are able to get their point across before they transect that demarcation. They make us laugh and they make us think. If they’re good at it, they cause us to do both simultaneously.

My attention was recently directed to an upcoming movie that is being advertised as “a satire that follows wealthy thrill-seekers taking a private jet to a five-star resort where they embark on a ‘deeply rewarding’ expedition that involves hunting down and killing designated humans.” The designated humans are apparently referred to as the “deplorables” in the movie. Sound familiar…? One character is quoted as saying, “The Hunt‘s coming up. Nothing better than going out to the Manor and slaughtering a dozen deplorables.”

Over the Line

To the production company’s credit (I think), they are pulling the ads due to the recent mass shootings in our country. From what I understand, however, they are not pulling the movie. In all fairness, I (like you), have not seen the movie. But I’m going to go out on a limb here by suggesting this sounds like a satire that’s gone a tad over the invisible line.

As much as I love satire, this one sounds like a real loser. In a time when everyone is screaming about being more sensitive to each other, about political divisions, and about coming together in unity, this release seems to be rather ill-timed.

Who knows? Maybe it will be a lot more positive than it sounds. I sure hope so. Otherwise, we’re neither laughing nor thinking.

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