Bath Tubs and Pain Killers

When I used to hear Pat Boone on the radio in the old days (or see him on TV), I expected to either hear a commercial for a Christian retreat center or a song. Alas, those times are over. In the past two days, I’ve seen and/or heard Pat promoting both walk-in bathtubs and pain relievers. How far we’ve fallen (or aged, as it were).

I remember seeing a young Pat Boone in a starring role when I was a kid. Right there on the enormous, silver screen, he was the protagonist in the great Jules Verne classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth. He and Arlene Dahl journeyed with James Mason to a land beneath our own. It was glorious! Well, it seemed glorious in 1959. That, of course, is the key—it was 1959. I was nine years old, and Pat Boone was twenty-five. Many drops of water have streamed over the proverbial dam (or under its sister bridge) since then.

“It was a bit unsettling…”

While it’s understandable that the eighty-four-year-old Boone would be hawking walk-in bathtubs, it was a bit unsettling to see him in the tub itself. I suppose it will sell more tubs if he demonstrates their comfort and safety, but it’s just one of those things you can’t unsee. Fortunately, you only get to peer at his torso above the armpits. Still, it’s not a commercial I want to watch over and over again.

I don’t mean to be hard on Pat, though. Frankly, I wish I looked as good as he does. Some things in life just aren’t fair. I’m merely using him as an example of how time refuses to stand still.

Dylan and the Byrds

In that famous chapter in Ecclesiastes about everything having its time (the one Bob Dylan and the Byrds made famous in the sixties), the preacher tells us that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” Apparently, though Pat and I are no longer beautiful on the outside, the Lord still thinks a lot of us (and you). It also states in that pericope that God “has also set eternity in the human heart.”

Living in eternity definitely sets things in a different perspective. Pat and I don’t have to be quite so concerned about gravity messing up our fine physiques or addling our brains. We still care about that stuff, of course. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing commercials for walk-in bathtubs and painkillers. Well, HE wouldn’t at least (they’ve never asked me to do one as yet).

Maybe the best line in that entire chapter is verse twelve. It says, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.” I totally agree, and I suppose that’s why Pat is letting everyone in on the tubs and pills. We’re still living, so tubs and pills are yet highly relevant. He’s doing good by informing us of the latest developments in each. Keep up the good work, Pat.

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

Hoagie Fe Street

We went on a short excursion over the recent holiday and had a wonderful, relaxing time. Nothing like a few days on the river to calm the soul. It was superb.

On the way home, we stopped at a well-known convenience store for a little petrol and something to drink. As I walked in the front door, I glanced at the back of the room. There was a black wall above their beverage coolers which they seemed to be using as a blackboard. Across the top of the wall, the following promo was written: “Welcome to Hoagie Fe St.”

Santa Fe Street?

I immediately thought, “What a strange sounding promotion.” But, I’ve seen some that were way out there, so I took it in stride. I supposed it was some sort of takeoff from Santa Fe Street (although I’ve never run across a Santa Fe Street—but I’m sure there’s one somewhere). Being quite unimpressed, I walked away and quickly forgot about it.

I ordered one of those slushy, cold, coffee drinks; took a number, and waited in line for my thirst quencher. As I patiently stood there, I took special note of one of the gals behind the counter. She was wearing a brightly colored t-shirt with the brand of the convenience store on it. And right there in big, bold letters across the front of the shirt it said, “Hoagiefest.” Being the quick-witted person I am, I quickly surmised I had misread the large promo in the back of the store. It hadn’t said, “Hoagie Fe St.” It said, “Hoagiefest.” My bad.

Actually, it was someone else’s bad. They hadn’t taken good care to the spacing of the letters. Like punctuation, spacing can be extremely important. To be fair, I probably was a tad mindless as I read it. Yet, I can’t help but think a better bunching of the letters would have kept me from walking down Hoagie Fest Street in my mind.

Accosted!

Letters aren’t the only things that need proper spacing. People do as well. In recent days, some rather famous folks in our country have had their private space invaded. It has happened in restaurants, bookstores, theaters, and other public venues. They’ve been accosted primarily for their political views, but the reason doesn’t really matter.

I don’t think it’s written in the U.S. Constitution anywhere, but it seems to me that everyone is entitled to his or her proper space. When we stop being civil enough to allow for that, anything goes.

The prophet Isaiah once pronounced a woe that went like this: “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.” (Isaiah 5:8) I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but one thing is clear. Space is important.

To those who would rudely invade the space of another, I say (in the spirit of Isaiah), “Woe to you.” In the words of another prophet, “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.”

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

Leading From Behind: Part 2

In my previous blog, Leading From Behind, I mentioned Professor Hill’s proposition in the Harvard Business Review that future business leaders would “lead from behind.” In juxtaposition to that, Jesus led from in front—in other words, we follow Him. My own conclusion about today’s ecclesiastical pastors is that they should do neither. They should lead from among the congregations they serve.

Because the church came of age in the time and presence of the Roman Empire, she (the Body of Christ) borrowed from the Empire’s model of hierarchy. The Empire had a Caesar, Governors, Generals, and a whole slew of foot soldiers and slaves. Somewhere along the way, the church adopted such a hierarchy as her own. We simply have different names—popes, bishops, monsignors, pastors, and a whole slew of laity.

Along with adopting the hierarchy, we deemed it to be Biblical because such people as elders, shepherds, teachers, and presbyters are delineated in Scripture. There’s one big problem with this. Even though these offices are mentioned, there is no grand hierarchy affixed to their presence in the church. As a matter of fact, these positions (if you want to call them that) are described as gifts to the church. These gifts are present for a purpose. That stated purpose is to, “equip people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:7-13)

No Grand Hierarchy

A close reading of the New Testament gives us a picture of a church serving together, side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm. No one is giving orders, life is shared, and servanthood is the byword of the day. The elders, apostles, and teachers weren’t kings. They were co-workers in Christ. They weren’t generals. They were the servants of all. It’s no wonder their number was added to daily (Acts 2:42-47).

People surrounding them saw a loving, giving group of folks who cared for each other and those around them. There was a strong attraction to such a group. That kind of attraction still exists today.

What doesn’t exist today (for the most part) is the way the church operated in the early days. Back then, preachers preached, teachers taught, encouragers encouraged, administrators administrated, givers gave, those with the gift of hospitality… Well, you get the picture. Everyone played a part, and no one lorded it over another.

Reduced to Two Segments

In today’s church, we’ve devolved into two segments of people. There’s one small group of people paid to do everything (we now call them clergy) and a larger group who chip in a few bucks and observe the clergy (they’ve been reduced to laity). There’s absolutely nothing Biblical about this arrangement.

To make matters worse, many clergy types have become dictators. They like having the authority their congregations hand over to them. They sometimes get burned out, sometimes wallow in their own hidden sin, and always trust in their own ability to lead.

It’s time to put Jesus back out in front where He belongs. He is the only real shepherd after all.

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

Leading From Behind

In her 2010 article, “Leading From Behind,” Professor Linda A. Hill proposed that the most effective business leaders in the future will (as the title implies) lead from behind. She borrowed the phrase from none other than Nelson Mandela. Mandela stated that a good shepherd, “stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

I am certainly not a business leader, so I can’t effectively comment on how such a tactic would work in the world of commerce. As an employee, I never ran into a business leader who employed such a tactic. In the places I used to work, someone told me what to do, and I did it. (Although now that I think about it, there were times when I led from behind as an employee. But don’t tell my bosses I said that.)

Not Everyone Agrees

One of our more recent presidents has been accused of leading our country that way. In fact, Richard Miniter wrote a book with the same title as Professor Hill’s article about that president’s leadership (or, from his perspective, the lack thereof). Apparently, not everyone agrees with Mandela.

From a theological perspective, I find Mandela’s statement to be fascinating. The reason for this is his statement that good shepherds lead from behind—or as we usually like to say, they drive their flocks. He is literally correct, of course, but there is one notable exception to this. In Israel, the shepherds lead their flocks—they don’t follow them. As we know, in the Old Testament, Israel’s kings were called their shepherds. Israel was to listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow him.

Then Jesus came along. He was referred to as the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). Jesus verified this in John 10 when he said (among other things), “He goes on ahead of them.” This metaphor would not have worked in another culture where the shepherd followed.

Then arose the church. Somewhere along the way, the church decided that pastors (another word for shepherds) should be like Jesus—they should lead, and the congregation should follow. Sounds a bit scary, but we basically said, “We’ll pay you to speak, and we’ll follow where your voice takes us.” It all sounds good on paper, but it’s neither Biblical nor practical.

Pastors Aren’t Jesus

First of all, the church is an all-volunteer organization for all things at all times. I’ve never run into the parishioner (let alone an entire flock) who does everything the pastor says to do. Secondly, pastors aren’t Jesus. I’ve never known a pastor who has it together like Jesus.

The fact is (at least as I see it), a good pastor can neither lead from behind nor from the front. Pastors can’t sit back and hope the church does everything right, nor can they bark orders and expect things to happen.

In actuality, a good pastor leads from among the sheep. That pastor understands who he (or she) is. [To be continued…]

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

The Picture on the Piano

Now that I’m retired, I often get to sit beside my lovely Bride during Sunday worship—a perk I seldom had in my long life as a pastor. Another perk, which I relish, is attending worship with a variety of congregations of all sorts, shapes, sizes, and styles.

This morning I worshiped with a few new friends in an independent congregation that gathers in the all-purpose room in a local school. Ah, the joys of independence. Not having your own building can be a pain, but the freedom it affords definitely offsets the maledictions it can bring.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the service, there was a single moment that stood out more than the rest to me. The preacher mentioned something that I think about from time to time. The fact that he mentioned it was not as startling as was the way he said it. If I remember correctly, his words were something like, “Someday you will be a framed picture on someone’s piano.” Let that one sink in for a while.

Four Generations

How many people do you remember from a generation ago—two generations ago? Most of us probably can’t pull up very many memories concerning such people. If you have vivid memories of people from three generation ago, you’re really lucky. Even seeing a photo of a family with four surviving generations is a rarity. That certainly didn’t happen very much in my family, and the opportunity for it happening again is fleeting.

It causes me to wonder how long after I’m gone that my framed photo will last on someone’s piano. How much of an impact did I make (even on my own family)? How much of an impression will I leave on the world? We’d all like to think we have some importance as we journey through this world. But most of us produce far less consequence than we’d like to imagine (Facebook not withstanding).

The Apostle Paul warns us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should (Romans 12:3). Still, since most of us are at the center of our own universe, it’s rather tough to follow his suggestion. Maybe that’s why we take so many selfies. After this morning, I’m tempted to come up with a decent photo of myself and get it copied and framed for all who have pianos. Someone’s bound to get the hint.

“A Distant Relative”

The real problem is that soon there won’t be many people left to tell my story. Somebody might be able to say something like, “That guy was a distant relative.” Beyond that, I will just be another pretty face (quit laughing).

Ultimately, the framed photo will end up in some antique shop. No one will buy it unless there’s something unique about it. Eventually, it will end up in a trash heap. I guess the best strategy at this point is to do the most we can with the time we have left. The good we do just might be the only thing that will last.

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

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.]