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.]

A Child Will Lead Them

Well, we’ve just seen another sign of the apocalypse. The Prophet Isaiah foretold of a time when “a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) If you’ve ever seen the painting entitled, “Peaceable Kingdom,” you’ll recognize its depiction of this passage. “The wolf will live with the lamb,” and all that. Obviously, this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. Still, we are hopeful.

Our anticipation has possibly taken one step closer to reality. Recently, newscasts have redounded with the story of a sixteen-year-old girl speaking at the United Nations. The young female’s name is Greta Thunberg, and she hails from Sweden.

The Dressing Down

For some reason, this young lady was invited to address the UN General Assembly on climate change. Apparently, it was part of a world climate action summit. I can’t wait to see what sort of resolution they pass to fix everything. But the big news is the dressing down given to the world leaders by this angry little girl.

Personally, I only saw one, short clip of her speech. In it, she was yelling at the leaders, “How dare you?” I later read an excerpt in which she said, “People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth!” I guess she told them.

It’s a good thing she arrived on the scene. I have to admit that I’ve been enjoying the warmer weather patterns, the longer growing seasons, and the greater abundance of food around the globe. I guess I’ve been way too Pollyanna-ish about the whole thing. It’s obviously time to start paying closer attention to the kids. Since the scientists can’t agree, maybe the children will set us all straight.

A New Superhero

Ms. Greta has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is apparently a form of autism. I know little to nothing about it, but I’m guessing we’ll all know much more soon.  Greta’s mother, a famous Swedish singer, describes her condition as “something like a superpower.” I’m not sure what superpower it most closely resembles, but she definitely has quite a large, superhero-like following.

I’m not sure how this tiny schoolgirl gained such popularity, but it is indeed prophet-like. Isaiah, himself, would be proud. We’ve had many people predicting the end of the world over the years (Hal Lindsay, Paul Erlich, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just to name a few). This one just might be the real deal, however. After all, she’s fulfilling Scripture (maybe).

I realize I might be jumping the gun on this one. The test for the Hebrew prophets was that they were expected to be right all the time. I’m not sure if this fledgling flicka is about to fill the bill, but she definitely has everyone’s attention. So far, she’s spoken before the United Nations, a congressional committee, and has done numerous interviews. I’ve been thinking about buying a lion and a lamb. Would that be tempting fate?  

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

The Church of Climate Change

New congregations pop up all the time. Well, maybe not ALL the time, but often enough. Some of the new churches are Christian while others are of quite a different variety altogether. 

Yesterday, I began hearing all over the radio and TV about a brand-new religion of sorts. Apparently, NBC has prompted its audience to come to their newfangled confessional. The confessional is posted on their website for all to participate. The lead-in to the would-be confessions is not, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned.”

Cleanse Your Soul

The exact wording is, “Climate Confessions: Even those who care deeply about the planet’s future can slip up now and then. Tell us: Where do you fall short in preventing climate change? Do you blast the A/C? Throw out half your lunch? Grill a steak every week? Share your anonymous confession with NBC News.”

So now, we have the Church of Climate Change. If you choose, you can not only join this august body of believers, you can anonymously cleanse your conscience by confessing your climate sins. If you press the “Write Your Confession” button, it will take you to a screen that offers you various categories of offenses. These categories include such evils as plastics, meat, and paper. If you click on a category, you can type in your transgression in the available text box.

As I said, it’s all anonymous. However, there’s another button labeled, “View Confessions.” This is much better than the Roman Catholic Church. The best you can do there is to attempt to stand outside the confessional hoping to get a whisper of scandal. At the Church of Climate Change, you can read the full-on revelations of these evildoers. There are no names, of course, but if you think long and hard, you might recognize the admission of one of your neighbors (or you can simply imagine who it might be).

I Hate to Walk

The individual confessions are rather startling. On person admitted, “I need to be better about using all the food I buy. Try my best but something always spoils before I get to it.” Judging by that one, my lovely Bride and I are chronic offenders. Another sinner confessed, “I commute 30 miles to work every day in a car by myself.” Horror of horrors! I hate to admit it, but I used to commute an hour each way. But I only did it because I hate to walk.

I mentioned earlier that this was a brand-new religion, but that’s not exactly true. People have been worshipping the earth, Mother Nature, the planets, and various other parts of God’s handiwork for centuries. This is merely another extension of an old theme. Worship the creation instead of the Creator.

While I don’t have a problem with taking care of the environment, bowing down to it as if it was some form of deity is a tad over the top. I seem to remember a command that states, “Thou shalt have no gods before me.” Maybe we should adhere to it.

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

A Shot Across the Bow

I received a phone call from an old friend. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I instinctively new what he was going to tell me. Sure enough, one of our old high school buddies had passed away.

Despite the fact that I somehow knew, it was totally unexpected—at least, by me. I saw him not all that long ago, and he looked fine. Unfortunately, as they like to say, looks can be deceiving.

He was part of an inner circle of sorts. There were a few of us that had gone through high school together and, somehow, kept in touch. Some of us had even gone to elementary school with each other.

We were like most people, I suppose. After high school, we went our separate ways. Some to military service, some to various colleges, most of us getting married and having kids… But somewhere along the way, we started getting back together again.

The Unholy Eight

The number of that inner circle fluctuated to about eight guys. I often would refer to us as the “Unholy Eight.” Don’t ask me why. I’m not sure where that came from. But Doug (our pal who just passed on) always called us the “Sons of Light.” I think he came up with that during a period of time when he was reading a lot of Scripture.

Over the past few years when we were gathered together, I would often think to myself, “I wonder how long it will continue to be the eight of us.” It stayed that way for a long time. We were fortunate.

This year, we all started turning seventy. I’m the baby of the group, so I won’t actually hit that mark until January. I suppose all bets are off at that point. Amazingly enough, Doug was the eldest and he went first.

Like every other sane human being on this earth, I’ve always known that death is a certainty. I’ve seen enough people come and go that it should never be a total surprise. My own demise is a sure as everyone else’s. As a wise sage once said, “The death rate is one per person.”

No Stranger to Mortality

I’m definitely no stranger to mortality. Not only have I seen my share of it in my own family, I’m one of those rare creatures who attends a great number of funerals. Being a clergy type, I’ve preached dozens (if not hundreds) of funeral services over the years. It was always a part of the gig.

All that experience told me that one day I would be the person in the coffin. I’ve buried babies, little kids, young adults, and a couple of people who reached 102 years old. It can come at any time, and no one is guaranteed tomorrow.

Despite all that understanding, it has never sunk in as deeply as it has this week. All the other passings were informative. This one was a shot across the bow. Life is short. Let’s be about our Father’s business. RIP Doug!

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

Sequence Failed Continuity

A friend of mine sent me a video today. It was entitled, In My Seat–A Pilot’s Story. I had never seen it before, nor had I ever heard the story. In fact, the scenario retold in the short film had never even occurred to me as a possibility. It just goes to show that we seldom think of everything. This is particularly true when incidents don’t directly involve us.

The account is told by Officer Steve Scheibner, an American Airlines pilot. It’s his story. It happened on September 10 and 11, 2001. He was expecting to pilot Flight Eleven on 9-11. The events that took place seem like drastic coincidences, and maybe they are. Then again, maybe they’re not. Were they part of God’s overall plan? I’m not even going to venture a guess. His testimony of the events and of his life’s goal (before and after those events) are inspiring and are important enough that they should be told and retold.

A Brief Moment

I’ll leave it to you to watch the short, fifteen-minute video (which I strongly encourage you to do). Some stories affect our lives for a brief moment. This is one that will last a lifetime and will possibly affect many other lifetimes as well.

Scheibner came out of this experience as one who now lives his life with a sense of urgency. The events of 9-11 didn’t change who he was, but it changed how he approached what he was all about. Every one of us should live with such urgency.

I can vividly remember, as a young Christian, hearing a preacher quote the Apostle Paul. I don’t know why this particular verse stood out that day and has stuck with me so strongly throughout the years. The quote was from the old King James Bible. He looked at us (the congregation) and very fixedly pronounced, “Now is the accepted time… Now is the day of salvation.” (1 Corinthians 6:2)

“Now Is The Accepted Time”

For whatever reason—probably the influence of God’s Holy Spirit—that verse became the impetus for the rest of my life. Not only did I never forget that moment, it often comes rushing back to me. “NOW is the accepted time.” Not tomorrow. Not next week. God has something for you right now. Don’t put it off.

Frankly, I can procrastinate with the best of them. Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? Right? Seems like a motto by which many of us would prefer to live.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t live by that motto. Jesus came in the “fulness of time.” When everything was prepared and ready, he made his appearance in the form of a man. He taught us, preached the Good News, and died as a sacrifice for our sins. (Galatians 4:4-7) He didn’t leave it for another day (as, undoubtedly, I would have done).

Is there an urgency about your life? Steve Scheibner knows that he’s “living on borrowed time.” We are too, except we don’t know it yet.

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

Like So Many Raindrops

To say that 9-11 is a depressing day is a gross understatement. Because many of us who lived through it are still alive, the memories of that day have barely had time to fade into the recesses of our minds. Today, many of us stare at TV screens as the images of that day are replayed. It’s as though we are reliving it—and in a sense, I suppose we are.

I sometimes think about the people who have been born since that day—as well as those who were too young to have any real recollection of it. I wonder how they feel. To many, I suppose, it’s like most other chapters in the history book they were assigned to read. Unreal, distant, and possibly, without a great deal of meaning… Another day, another assignment, another bit of drudgery without any personal relevance… 

Retell the Story

I hope that’s not the case; but still, I wonder. Has it become like so many other incidents in the saga of life? Episodes that we should learn, but that are so far removed from our everyday existence, they are constantly devolving into the mish-mosh of our collective brains… 9-11 is far too important for that—which is why, I’m sure, we sit and watch as the planes ram into the towers again and again. It’s why we listen to the cries of the people as they run, screaming through the cloud of debris wafting down upon the city like a condensed, toxic fog. It’s why we retell the story each and every year—and hopefully will continue to do so.

For me, some of the more horrific scenes of that day—ones that I frequently replay in my mind’s eye—are the scenes of those in the upper floors of the towers plummeting to their deaths. Oddly, it’s not the sight of them falling through the New York sky like so many raindrops that ultimately pierces my soul. It’s imagining what they were going through in the moments before they made the final decision that preoccupies my thoughts. 

A Heroic Rescue

They knew they were going to die soon. There may have been moments when they imagined a heroic rescue—perhaps by a helicopter crew or a brave soul who knew some secret passageway in the back of the building, far away from the immediate crash site. Any such hopes were undoubtedly dashed quickly as the agonizing seconds slipped by.

They had an excruciating decision to make. Will I die in a fire, be crushed by a collapsing building, or take matters into my own hands? Will I jump to the street below and end it now, or will I fight the flames and fumes until I ultimately lose the battle? I can’t imagine myself in such a scenario.

Jesus once said, “PeaceI leave with you; my peaceI give you…do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) I hope many found comfort in those words that day. I hope we continue to find comfort in them today, as well.

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

Ms. Monopoly

There’s a new game on the market called Ms. Monopoly. Its claim to fame is the fact that, in the game, women make more than men. I’m not sure how that works (or if men are even allowed to play), but it’s a novel idea whose time has apparently come. 

It’s only fair, I guess. If males are going to continue identifying as females and blowing the gals out of the water in high school sports, there has to be some recompense—or, at least, there should be. A game is a game, but an ego is also an ego. (I think that makes some kind of sense.) In other words, the ladies need to have some way to level the playing field. 

A Kept Man

I don’t have a problem with women making higher incomes than men. Of course, I’m retired—a kept man. I’m a stay-at-home house husband on a fixed income. My working spouse hauls in most of the dough. She shows me off in public once in a while. It’s tough being a trophy husband. 

Come to think of it, my lovely Bride made more money than me when I was working outside the home as well. Of course, I was a preacher. Clergy types aren’t known for hauling down the big bucks. That is unless they’re on TV. Now, those guys are worth a little dinero. 

In related news, Pierce Brosnan has put himself on record saying that it’s high time for a female James Bond. I have to say, I’m down with that. It has nothing to do with the whole macho thing for me, however. It’s just that, after looking at Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and that ilk for so many years, I wouldn’t mind seeing a gorgeous woman spy for a change.

They might have to come up with a new name, though. I realize this is twenty-first-century America and all, but James just doesn’t seem to cut if for a voluptuous secret agent. I guess the feminine form of James is Giacomina, but it just doesn’t have the same flow to it. Think of the dialogue. “Who are you?” “Bond. Giacomina Bond.” No. It just won’t do.

Not a Pretty Sight

All in all, we’ve come a long way, baby. Really, we have. If you don’t think so, just read through the Old Testament some time. Women in those days were seldom much more than chattel. They were practically owned by their husbands. From our modern-day perspective, it wasn’t pretty. 

Think about Esther, for example. She had to get permission simply to speak to her husband. He was a king, of course, but still. If I told Mrs. Zuchelli she needed permission to speak to me… Well, I shudder to think what would happen to me.

Jesus is the one who really set the women free to be themselves with the fulfillment of such prophecies as Isaiah 61:1. Sure, it’s taken the church a while to catch up with him, but we’re obviously making strides with Ms. Monopoly. 

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

Soylent​ Green New Deal

Some of you may remember the 1973 movie, Soylent Green. It was a sci-fi flick starring Charlton Heston, Chuck Conners, Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Cotton, and Leigh Taylor-Young (among others). In the story, Soylent Green was a sought-after food source in the year 2022 when sustenance was scarce. As it turns out, the secret of Soylant Green is that it was made from human parts. Gruesome stuff, huh?

Well, we have a few scientists and such who are interested in seeing it come true. “Swedish behavioral scientist Magnus Söderlund has suggested that eating other people after they die could be a means of combatting climate change.” I guess if we stop raising cows and eating our own, it would definitely cut back on the greenhouse emissions problem. I bet the Green New Deal folks are chomping at the bit to try that one on for size. It can’t be too far down the road that one of the gaggle of politicians running for office will latch onto that idea.

Zombies?

When Haley Joel Osment (in the Sixth Sense) meekly proclaimed, “I see dead people,” it was a big hit. I’m not so sure it will be quite the sensation when someone starts admitting, “I eat dead people.” If I remember my sci-fi correctly, it was always zombies who ate dead people (actually, dead people’s brains, I think). 

If the scientists have their way, necrogastronomy might become a thing—and not just for zombies. Don’t bother looking up necrogastronomy—I just coined a new word. It’s the equivalent to cannibalism (which carries way too much baggage to be used in polite society). Necro, as you probably know, is a prefix meaning “corpse.” Gastronomy, of course, is the practice of choosing, cooking, and eating food. Necrogastronomy should fit. You heard it here first.

If any of this is getting a bit too grotesque for you, join the club. All this “green” stuff has gone a tad too far. Now we (the human race—or, at least, parts of the human race) want to take it even further. I, for one, am drawing a line in the cow patty and voting, “No!” I will not eat dead people. Dead cows? Yes. Dead people? No.

Cannibal Stew

God seemed to frown on such things anyway. For example, the Message quotes the Prophet Micah this way: “Listen, leaders of Jacob, leaders of Israel: Don’t you know anything of justice? Haters of good, lovers of evil: Isn’t justice in your job description? But you skin my people alive. You rip the meat off their bones. You break up the bones, chop the meat, and throw it in a pot for cannibal stew.”

So, cannibal stew seems to be out of bounds for God’s people—or anyone else for that matter (green or otherwise). The prophet goes on to say that the Lord will turn his back on such evildoers. Pardon me for getting political, but I’m not voting for anyone who suggests we eat human flesh. Just sayin’…

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