Hi. I’m Dave, and I’m a Procrastinator

I have to admit it. I’m a procrastinator. It’s not that I always procrastinate. I’ve actually been able to discipline myself to the point I often tackle things ahead of time just to get them out of the way.

Procrastination is often my fallback position, however. If there’s something more pleasurable to be done, I often opt for that choice. “When in doubt, take the easy way out.” (That might be a good bumper sticker for me.)

“When you’re facing the wall, what can you do?”

In college (and even seminary), I pulled a few all-nighters because I procrastinated. I always swore I’d never do it again, but do it again I did. Losing sleep seldom proved to be the best solution; but when you’re facing the wall, what can you do?

Of course, sometimes it mattered what the task was. If I needed to study for a test, all-nighters were useless. I never studied well when I was tired. No-Doz (remember that stuff) and coffee were never much help.

On the other hand, if I just had to write a relatively short research paper, I could handle that. I could even manage a decent grade under that scenario. I’m not exactly sure how I pulled those off, but I guess I’m just wired that way.

Then there were the times that I procrastinated to the point where nothing could be done. I just had to find some great excuse for not being finished. “The dog ate my homework” was never an option for me—I didn’t have a dog. But I remember coming up with some doozies. I won’t mention them here (it’s too embarrassing).

“They just never got around to me…”

The greatest times were when procrastination turned out to be the best of all worlds. That was when, as it turned out, the time was extended, the project was canceled, or they just never got around to me that day. The fact that my last name begins with “Z” sometimes helped me there.

Procrastination is not something I recommend. It’s just something I occasionally do. If I’m not properly motivated to perform a task, I’ll put it off in a heartbeat. I’m often sorry for that later, but I still often find myself in a pressure situation that I’ve created because of my propensity for deferring the inevitable.

I’ve known people who claim they work better under pressure. Those guys are supreme procrastinators. They put everything off until the last moment. I don’t think I could live like that. Extreme procrastination would give me ulcers. For me, it’s not a way of life. It’s more like a hobby.

On the other end of the spectrum are guys like our new President. He’s trying to keep all his campaign promises in the first two weeks. A little procrastination might do him some good. I’m getting frazzled just watching him.

I guess what I’m trying to say by all this is that it’s good to stop and smell the roses. Just don’t stop for too long (unless you have a dog to blame things on).

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Left Wing, Right Wing: Take These Wings and Learn to Fly

As I view our country in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, matters become more and more unbelievable. Things seem to be said and done without proper deference to the truth or the notion that we’re all in this together.

I won’t bemoan the fact that no one seems to have a simple conversation anymore. I’ve done that many times and have heard the same from countless others. It seems to be a reality that our tactics these days are to either shout louder than the other guys or just call them names. Even the news is not the news anymore. It’s usually two or more people attempting to talk over one another about what they think happened. There have been times when I’ve had to do my own research to find out what the actual event being discussed was. I got all the opinions before I even knew what occurred.

This used to be entertaining…

I used to find all of this to be somewhat entertaining. I guess I still do to some extent. What really bothers me, however, is that these attitudes and actions have spilled over into the church. There seems to be little or no deference left for those of differing denominations, theologies, or Biblical stances. The “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality has become overwhelming. We been reduced to various camps within the faith and have no time or regard for each other. In all candor, that really grieves me. I can’t even imagine what it does to the heart of God.

At the center of Christianity is a call to follow Jesus. If we do that, it becomes increasingly apparent that the path on which he leads us takes us into a commitment to community. Your politics (and even your lifestyle) may be considered left wing or right wing (or some other iteration). You may even label yourself in these terms. But those inclinations of your heart and life should (in my humble opinion) be overridden by your desire to follow the One who saves you—namely Jesus.

From what I’ve seen (and I was a biology major in college) there aren’t many birds around that can fly on one wing. If we have two wings in the church, we’d better learn to use them in concert to ascend. If we don’t, we’re likely to go the way of the dodo bird. We’re seeing the beginnings of that already.

“What I’m saying is nothing new.”

The Gospel of Christ cannot be split down the middle. Jesus didn’t teach a Gospel of social action versus a Gospel of evangelical fervor. He was not a divided Savior. He was not schizophrenic, nor was he double-minded. Neither should we be.

What I am saying is nothing new. I’ve heard it all my Christian life. Still, we are living in days when this message has to be a resounding gong throughout the church. If we don’t begin to take it to heart, the faith community will be left with nothing to say to a dark and dying world.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

The Black and Gold Exclamation Point

Last week was somewhat of a rough one for me. It started out in amazing fashion but slowly faded from there.

My youngest son and his family visited from Florida for the long, MLK weekend. We had an awesome time together, and on Monday (when I drove them to the airport) I could sense the making of a superb week.

“That was not to be, however.”

One of my long-time parishioners had passed away the previous Thursday. I knew I was staring at a viewing on Tuesday evening followed by a funeral on Wednesday morning. And though these things can be very difficult, we knew we would be able to celebrate the life of this saint. He lived to be ninety-two, and his legacy is a magnificent one. Despite the inevitable sadness and mourning, there’s always a certain amount of joy in the passing of wonderful people into the arms of God. Those events went quite well (from my perspective), so the rest of the week figured to be a cakewalk. That was not to be, however.

Thursday night, I went to bed with a bit of a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t think too much of it until I awoke at One A.M. fighting nausea. By three, I was in the bathroom (but I’ll spare you the gory details). Let’s just say, it wasn’t a pretty picture. Friday and Saturday, I was immobilized on the living room couch. I had been reduced to drinking sips of ginger ale and watching hours of inaugural and women’s march events. I couldn’t concentrate on anything with a plot.

The good news in all of this was that I didn’t have to preach on Sunday. We had an actor coming in from Pittsburgh who was doing a presentation during worship. The bad news was, he was also performing at a Coffee House for us on Saturday evening. I had been looking forward to that event for weeks. Much to my chagrin, however, I had to miss it.

By Sunday morning, I was feeling human enough to actually attend worship. I was getting to the place where I no longer felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I was still a bit weak but definitely on the mend.

“Mama said there’d be days like this.”

My last glimmer of hope for salvaging the week was the AFC Championship game between my beloved Steelers and the not-so-beloved Patriots. A Steeler victory would have made it all seem worthwhile. I guess the Pittsburgh Dad didn’t pray hard enough.

The devastating loss at the hands of quarterback Tom “The Machine” Brady put a black and gold exclamation point on my suffering. I think the appropriate saying for such an occasion is, “It added insult to injury.” Mama said there’d be days like this. I hate it when she’s right.

Fortunately, the Word of God is strong. The Psalmist once said, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) Apparently, that applies to bad weeks as well.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Do You Believe in Gravity?

By now, I’m sure most of you have seen (or at least heard) about the woman who was thrown off a plane because she was harassing another passenger for her perception of his political views. In case you haven’t, it’s worth a look-see (video and article). Apparently, the innocent party was on his way to D.C. for the inaugural proceedings and (in response to her queries) told her he was going to “celebrate democracy.” That set her off on a long diatribe.

“It’s the Law!”

During her tirade, the woman implied that man-made climate change was a theory that should be believed. She then told him that gravity was a theory and asked, “Do you believe in gravity?” Of course, she pretty much lost all credibility at that point (if indeed she had any to begin with). As most middle school students can tell you, gravity is not a theory. It’s a law of physics. In fact, I’m obeying that law right now.

This woman reminded me of a lot of Christians I’ve run into. She does so in that she was willing to argue from facts that were not facts at all. When we do that, it all becomes emotionalism (or worse).

My friends in the progressive wing of Christianity basically state their philosophy as an attempt to live according to the teachings of Jesus—the ACTUAL teachings. They make it clear they’re not going to hold to some extrapolations of his teachings or to some assumptions attributed to Christ that are nowhere to be found in Scripture. While I am far from the progressive camp, I side with them on this point.

 What happens when we assume?

Far too many of us are way too quick to pass off some Biblical theory as fact (or some Biblical fact as theory). Often times it’s a result of some shoddy scanning of Scripture on our part, reading between the lines, or assuming something that just isn’t there.

Sadly, our biggest mistake is this. We too often read, even study, the Holy Book through lenses of our own biases. We need to check those glasses at the door when we’re studying God’s Word. They account for a lot of additions and subtractions to the Bible. They muddle our thinking processes. When our Bible has holes in it (or chunks that have been added), we’re slogging into deep do-do. Our theology is then in danger of becoming scatological (sorry—I couldn’t resist).

Still other times we end up quoting something we thought we heard somewhere along the way. If we don’t check the source, we can set ourselves a course that takes us on a tangent to nowhere (Biblically speaking). Many of us are not willing to grapple with the hard stuff of Scripture. By failing to do so, we end up with shoddy theology and misspent time. Can we spell heresy?

I once heard a wise person say, “Rather than interpret Scripture, we should allow Scripture to interpret us.” Now there’s a theory I can believe in.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

The Class and Dignity of Politicians

I came down with some sort of stomach virus on Thursday evening. I won’t give you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I was down for the count. As I write this, I’m just beginning to feel like a human being once again.

Since I was all but immobilized on Friday, I lay on the living room couch all day and watched the inaugural proceedings. Usually I find these things more than boring, but in my state of semi paralysis, I was quite content to lie there in a somewhat comatose state and take it all in.

Pomp and Circumstance isn’t my thing.

For the most part, it was the usual pomp and circumstance with high-sounding words and formal traditions. But when I watch such proceedings, I try to look for the little human elements behind the story of the day. There were lots of them to be sure. But there was one thing that really spoke to me.

I was struck to see Hillary Clinton among the dignitaries sitting behind the president and he gave his inaugural address. I was particularly taken back for a couple of reasons. One: She didn’t have to be there. She wasn’t the outgoing president or vice president. She had no obligation to sit and listen to the guy against whom she had just run such a difficult campaign.

Secondly, the campaign had been such a ferocious (maybe even vicious) one, any wounds opened by the battle couldn’t have possibly been healed already. I can’t say that I would have shown up had I been in her place. It was almost like saying, “Here I am. You can pull a few scabs off if you’d like.”

Another old politician showed up as well. Former president George W. Bush was there with the other former presidents. If you followed the campaigns from the beginning (especially the Republican one) you know there was at least a little bad blood between the Bush family and Mr. Trump. I suppose former presidents normally show up for these things, but like Mrs. Clinton, he had no obligation to do so.

The word that comes to mind is “class.”

Finally (and probably more surprising to me than the other two examples I’ve mentioned) came from the pen of Dick Durbin, Senator from the state of Illinois. Mr. Durbin wrote a letter to his fellow Democrats who made their absence felt from the whole inauguration ceremony. In his words, “it is critical to a democracy that those who lose the election acknowledge the choice of the American electorate.” While no friend to Donald Trump, Durbin chose the high road and put his country ahead of his ego.

The word I have to describe each of these actions is “class.” Clinton, Bush, and Durbin each went out of their way to do what could only be seen as unifying actions. We don’t always like the people who lead our country or the people with whom we have to work. I have to give kudos to anyone who shows a little class.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

When I Become a Nonagenarian

Nonagenarian Betty White

Over the past three weeks, four people have died that have directly or indirectly affected my life. (I’m not including among them Carrie Fisher or Debbie Reynolds.) The three who directly affected me were an aunt, an uncle, and a current parishioner. The one who indirectly touched my life was the father of a girl I dated in high school.

Outside of the fact that their lives somehow touched mine, they had at least one thing in common. They were all nonagenarians. This is a term that is seldom used, but it refers to people who are between the ages of ninety and ninety-nine. In the cases of the four I’ve mentioned, one was ninety, two were ninety-two, and another was ninety-five.

Succumbing to the dreaded “other”

I don’t actually remember stumbling across the term, nonagenarian, until I began to write this blog post. When I did, I also stumbled across these little bits of info. When a person hits ninety, the life expectancy is four years for a male, almost five for a female. 22,948 out of 100,000 people are still alive at ninety (I was a bit surprised it was almost 23%). The single leading cause of death among nonagenarians is (not so surprisingly) heart disease. Thirty-six percent of them succumb to the dreaded “other.”

Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah

Most folks (from what I can tell) want to live a long life. The one exception to that desire in my experience is a lady who always said she’d rather die young. She is now nearing her nonagenarian years and is in a state of health she always wanted to avoid. Such is often the story of our existence.

In a few days, I will hit the big sixty-seven mark. They call guys like me sexagenarians (something of a misnomer if you ask me—that’s what they should call twenty year olds). Like a lot of guys my age, I like to say, “I don’t feel sixty-seven.” Truth told, however, I rarely think about it. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know what a sixty-seven year old is supposed to feel like.

Living to a Ripe Old Age

My philosophy on that subject is this. I’m sixty-seven. I feel like I feel. So I guess I feel like a sixty-seven year old. It’s all wrapped up in the old saying, “I’m old enough to know better.” That philosophy doesn’t always help, however. I still do stuff when I should know better. Oh well…

There was a guy in Biblical history that lived to be nine hundred sixty-nine years old. You may have heard of him. His name was Methuselah (Genesis 5:21-27). I realize those were vastly different times, but I’m guessing his quality of life toward the end wasn’t all that great. As that intergalactic philosopher, Yoda, once said, “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not, hmmmm?”

When all is said and done, I guess I’d like to live to a “ripe old age.” I just hope the ripeness is not a reference to my aroma.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

 

Mediocre Negroes and Old White Hippies

When I read (or hear) the word, Negro, my ears perk up (in a manner of speaking). I’m sure that’s true for many of you as well. The reason that happens is because the term has all but been eliminated from our vocabulary. When I was a kid, it was commonplace. But at that time, it’s what our Black brothers and sisters preferred to be called. That was highly understandable considering some of the other despicable terms that were openly tossed around at the time.

“I was a bit flabbergasted…”

So yesterday, I was a bit flabbergasted to read the words “mediocre Negroes” in print. My immediate assumption was that another Black person had used the term, and I was right. There aren’t too many white journalists around who would have the audacity to toss that word around as far as I can tell (and rightfully so).

Marc Lamont Hill, a CNN contributor, used the phrase to call out fellow Blacks who took the time to meet with President Elect Donald Trump. He called them mediocre because they were not policy makers. He was referring to men such as Steve Harvey (comedian, entertainer, and game show host) and Rev. Darrell Scott (pastor of the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland, Ohio). Apparently, they don’t have enough gravitas or clout to suit Mr. Hill.

When he was called on his use of the expression, he argued that he was not name-calling. Still, he had issue with them because he felt the President Elect and his team was using them as pawns. So, he was not name-calling. He was merely… Well, I’m not exactly sure what he was doing. It couldn’t be name-calling, however, because he said so.

“I was never a hippie.”

Since he is Black himself, Mr. Hill can seemingly get away with what he just said (at least the Negro part—the mediocre portion might be a tad stickier). I, myself, don’t like being called an old hippie (even though I look like one). But another guy with long, gray hair and a gray beard could get away with calling me that, I suppose (he’s earned it). The fact of the matter is, however, I was never a hippie. I’ve never even played one in a movie—thank God. Nevertheless, I am old. Harvey and Scott, on the other hand, are anything but mediocre.

Interestingly enough, a small Twitter war broke out after the incident. It was sparked by Sherriff David Clarke (another Black, Trump supporter) who called Hill an old epithet I just can’t bring myself to reprint in this space. After that, all hell broke loose, and it started sounding like Mississippi in the 1930’s.

Somehow, I can’t see how a national journalist can get away with calling an accomplished entertainer mediocre. And the pastor… His list of accomplishments is a mile long (See Dr. Darrell). I think I understand Hill’s point, but it’s not very well taken. Nor is it very well stated. Methinks he’s looking for specks of sawdust (Matthew 7:3).

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Post-Truth: Are You Kidding Me?

Each year, various dictionaries come up with their word of the year. The Oxford Dictionary states that its decision for that word each year is based upon a spike in the use and popularity of a particular term. Their choice for 2016 was the word “post-truth.”

According to them, post-truth refers to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In other words, people are more apt to be ruled by their emotions than by the facts. Ugh!

UGH! And again, I say, “UGH!”

According to Oxford, post-truth has seen an increase in usage in conjunction with Brexit and the US presidential election. Apparently, the upsurge in its frequency has been sparked by these two major world events. (Time for another ugh!)

If they are correct, two of the most important, life-altering decisions of the year were infused with more emotion than clear thought. Either that, or the fall-out from these events was more reactionary than reasoned. Actually, it could be both.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it a tad disturbing that this might actually be true. (Of course, I don’t discount the fact that my feelings of disturbance may be post-truth itself—my synapses are beginning to crackle and pop.)

Have we actually gotten to the point where most of us make decisions on our sentiments rather than reality? Are our reactions to the events around us now simply cacophonous tirades against things we don’t choose to understand? Have we gotten to the place where logical thought is passé?

Using your brains to love God…

One of the reasons Christianity helped to shape the world in the first place is its propensity to cause people to think. It’s no coincidence that the early scientists were Christians. Faith in God and belief in Scripture sparked humanity to explore creation. If we were to take dominion over the earth and tend the garden (Genesis 1:26), we had to know everything we could discover about it. We’re still doing that (although some of the underpinnings may have been misplaced).

In Deuteronomy, there is a passage that exhorts us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). When quoting that passage, Jesus added one word. He said we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, MIND, and strength (Mark 12:30). In other words, we were to love the Creator by using our brains as well as our brawn and emotion.

If the folks at the Oxford Dictionary are right, we’ve taken a giant step backward. If we’re making decisions based upon our feelings, or reacting to our circumstances in a knee-jerk fashion, it could get real scary real fast.

It seems to me, Adam and Eve had the same problem. They were given enough facts to make the logical decision to avoid the forbidden fruit. They chose to go the touchy-feely route instead, and look at what it’s gotten us. Maybe we should try to avoid the same mistake. Think about it. Truth matters.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Behaving Badly: An Insight to My Psyche

My lovely bride and I have been watching a show this season. Please don’t ask me what a season is these days. If I recall correctly, a TV season used to be from September through May. Then, of course, there were the summer replacements that lasted for three months.

Now it seems that a season is whatever the producers (or whomever) decide it should be. Programs begin at the oddest times and end without warning. I just can’t keep up. This is all leveled by the fact that no one watches anything in real time anymore (at least, we don’t). We jump onto Netflix, Hulu, or some other outgrowth of the DVR generation and binge-watch whatever series we choose to indulge ourselves in at the time. It’s a rather amazing phenomenon.

Anyway…back to the show we’ve been watching. I’m not sure how we stumbled onto this series, but it’s called “Good Behavior.” At least, I think that’s the name of it (I’m not very good with titles). Nomenclature aside, we seem to be hooked on this thing.

Their behavior is anything but good.

The show revolves around two of the most despicable individuals you’d ever want to come across. Well…let me restate that. These two characters do some of the most despicable things imaginable. Despite that, I find myself rooting for them every time. It’s almost embarrassing. If it was a comedy, I could excuse myself—but it’s deadly serious. While I love these TV roles, I wouldn’t want hang around them in real life.

Due to the subject matter, I don’t think I would recommend this show to anyone under sixty. Actually, as a pastor, I’m not sure I should recommend it to anyone at all. Yet, it’s a fascinating study in multifaceted personalities and the-end-justifies-the-means lifestyles.

TV Schizophrenia

The way the production is handled portrays some of its inner conflict. For example: The characters have a propensity for dropping the f-bomb. Interestingly enough, every such occurrence is carefully bleeped out. Yet, every episode or two portrays a few seconds of somewhat graphic sexual content. While they can occasionally display the actions, they can’t allow the crude word that describes what they’re doing. It’s all a bit schizophrenic.

I say all this to ask myself a question. How can I be so sympathetic to murderers, thieves, and all around scofflaws? Is it just the way they’re portrayed that manipulates my loyalties? Or is it simply my compassion for the lost shining through in some twisted way? I’m not at all sure.

One of my favorite parables is the one about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). The upshot of it is that we should see Jesus in everyone. The result of doing that is a desire to help people because, in actuality, we’re helping Jesus.

I guess (when it comes to the folks in Good Behavior) I want them to be okay. If they were real people, I’d want to help fix them somehow. I may be rationalizing, but I think that makes me okay (hopefully).

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

On This Day in 1964

I just saw a news blurb: “On this day in 1964, the Beatles released their first album.” Some of you may remember albums. They were large, flat, vinyl discs about twelve or thirteen inches in diameter. We used to put them on turntables, place a needle in the groove, and the stereo produced sound.

I was fourteen years old when this monumental event occurred. The sound my stereo made when I played this particular album consumed me for the next several years. I was an immediate Beatle fan. I loved their sound, their music, and just about everything else about them.

“I still get a kick out of listening…”

As I look back, it’s seems pretty obvious that they were gods to me. They could do no wrong. Their music was perfect and their philosophy impeccable. That was fifty-three years ago.

I still get a kick out of listening to some of their music, even now. From my new perspective, however, it turns out they were less than perfect. A lot of what they did was wrong, and their philosophy (pick whichever one you wish) less than desirable. They certainly weren’t gods.

Much of what I experienced back then was the emanation of an immature, fourteen year old brain, immersed in the culture of my day. My gods at that time were musicians and baseball players. If I could only be like any one of them, my life would be ideal. At least that’s what I thought.

I spent considerable hours trying to make that happen. When I wasn’t playing baseball, I was playing music. There were times as a teenager I would leave my position playing center field for the local Legion team, take a shower, and head off to a gig my band was playing that evening. I was in Heaven (albeit a Heaven on earth).

Reality soon set in, however. I discovered the hard way that I was never going to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even worse, I was never going to star in a successful rock and roll group. Life can be cruel.

“I have struck out…”

Somehow, I muddled through these past few decades without the glitter of stardom showering me. No aura of fanfare and heroism has surrounded my existence. I have struck out in sports and hit a sour note in music. Oh to be able to relive the glory days of my youth.

I look back on those days with fondness and a little nostalgia. Still, I’m glad they’re gone. I have answered the calling that was placed upon me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I still love a good baseball game and am thrilled by great music. There’s nothing so sweet, however, as the Good News of Jesus to my ears.

Jesus once said that life was more than baseball and music—or something to that effect. (Matthew 6:25) As it turns out, he was right. The gods of 1964 still live in my memory, but the Lord of the universe has taken their place in my heart.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]