Urine, Urout

Maybe I’m a prude, or maybe I’m a bit too modest. Maybe I’m just way too self-conscious. But, there are some things I just can’t bring myself to do.

I just saw a picture of a public urinal that would take a bit of getting used to. When I say public urinal, I mean PUBLIC! All the correct body parts appear to be hidden from view, but there’s no doubt as to what you’re doing as you’re standing in one of these things.

I’ve also noticed that there are a few different variations on this theme. Some of them have you facing away from the public. Others actually have you staring into the eyes of onlookers. I’m not sure, but I think things would get locked up for me at that point. There would be no flow, as it were. It would definitely be a stressful situation. I just hope I never have to use one.

“They come in handy…”

Come to think of it, I’m not all that crazy about public restrooms either. They certainly come in handy for an old guy like me, but many of them leave a bit to be desired as well.

On the other hand, I’ve been in a few (a very few) that were as nice as my bathroom at home. The problem with those, however, is there is usually a guy at the door waiting for a tip. He usually supplies you with a paper towel and a little cologne. Still, I think I’d rather handle all that on my own.

I guess I’m just a pansy about these things. I’ve traveled abroad enough to know we’ve got it pretty nice in the states. For the most part, public restrooms here are a joy compared with some I’ve seen overseas.

That makes me wonder what it must have been like back in the days of Jesus. I’ve never seen a study done on such things, but it would be an interesting read if one existed. This seems like an important piece of history, and it gives new meaning to the old question—WWJD (what would Jesus do?).

“It’s just a fact of life.”

I’ve heard a few minor discussions here and there concerning the toiletry habits of various cultures. I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of those conversations, but one fact remains. Wherever there are people, there have to be restrooms, outhouses, latrines, or some sorts of waste management systems. I don’t mean to be crude. It’s just a fact of life.

The Bible doesn’t make many references to these sorts of things, so a lot can’t be learned there. There is the occasional mention of dung piles and such, but not much can be gleaned from that. I did find a fascinating website that deals with such subjects. In case you’re interested, it’s called The Toilet Guru. I have to say, I love that name.

I’m guessing it was from the New Testament period that we got the phrase, “Holy Crap!” I could be wrong, however.

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

Memorial Day Way

 

Today, as you all know, is Memorial Day. On this day we’ve got parades, a few firecrackers, picnics, cookouts, races, sales, festivals, road closures, concerts, motorcycle rides, family reunions, ball games, and even some memorial services. These are just to name a few.

The real reason for Memorial Day, of course, is to commemorate those brave men and women who died in defense of our nation. It’s a federal holiday, so most everyone is off work and celebrate it one way or another (whether they recognize the real reason for it or not).

Decoration Day

I remember growing up in a time when lots of people referred to it as Decoration Day. That was its original name, and it was tough to let it go. The big tradition was to decorate the graves of the fallen. This practice evolved into tending the graves of all your relatives. It often resulted in a swing by several local cemeteries to be sure that all the deceased kinfolks had flowers or a flag by their tombstones.

Things have changed over the years, but the meaning still holds. I suspect now fewer and fewer folks actually head to a burial ground on this day. Today, we do it through social media by the posting of a picture and a saying.

Because our society is so mobile, excursions to the family plots are far down our list. There are too many other destination spots available to do that. Consequently, we settle for posting our photographs, artwork, and maxims on social media sites. In a way, that’s rather sad. I miss the old days, but I must say, I embrace much of the new as well.

“I’m stirred by the reproductions…”

Some of the creative pix we see these days on sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Linked-In are rather amazing. A lot of the axioms are just as inspired and poignant. If I can’t get to my Dad’s gravesite, at least I can do it in spirit as I’m stirred by the reproductions I see online.

If you’re in the same boat as I, jump on your computer for a couple moments. Pull up the images and iconic mottos. There are some good ones and some that will burn into your psyche. Here are a few I just ran across:

“Memorial Day: Celebrate, Honor, Remember.” “All gave some… Some gave all.” “Land of the Free because of the Brave.” “They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this Nation.” “To those who courageously gave their lives… And those who bravely fight today.” And then there is the simple but powerful, “We will not forget.”

For me, today will revolve around weddings. I will be performing one in a few short hours and will then be meeting with another couple who want me to do the same for them. It’s not my typical Memorial Day, but at least I’ll be in joyful service to someone.

So for now, I look at the pictures and read the words…and I remember…

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

Here Comes the Bride

Like many of you, most days I find myself surfing the web for one thing or another. A couple days ago I was doing just that when I stumbled across a video that drew my interest. The video was about a bride, a groom, and a wedding.

Normally, I may not have given it a second look, but I recognized the bride’s name. I immediately realized I had performed her wedding (I’m so quick witted and all). So, I clicked on it to see if I had been made a star (I’m still looking for my fifteen minutes of fame).

As it turns out, I only made a cameo appearance in the video. Despite the fact that the bride was the center of attention (instead of the preacher), I not only found the video to be well done, it sincerely moved me.

“It struck me deeply…”

I think one of the reasons it struck me so deeply is that it stands in stark contrast to so much of what we see around us on a daily basis. The songs used as a soundtrack were worth the viewing (and listening) alone. But coupled with the footage of the bride’s preparation, the couples’ messages to each other, the ceremony, and the following celebration, the entire production was splendid.

I had performed this wedding a little over a year ago. Since then, I have officiated at almost twenty wedding ceremonies. Still, I remembered this one clearly (which is not always the case). It stood out in my mind because the venue was an open field in the country. The guys wore jeans and vests (and I got to wear jeans and my cowboy boots). Gotta love me a ceremony like that! I don’t mind putting on a tux, but I’m a ridge runner at heart.

The video took me back to that day in a rush of emotions. A year ago, my thoughts were to provide a simple but meaningful ceremony. The short film gave me a perspective I was not privy to on that day. I seldom get a real glimpse into the things, people, and circumstances that go into a day like that. My role is a small one. I pop in, do my thing, and I’m gone. That made the video even more exceptional for me.

“…a breath of fresh air.”

That video made my day. Actually, I think it may have made my week. I guess I’m just an old softie, but it was a highlight for me. I get a little tired of seeing the nastiness of social media and the way people verbally destroy each other. This video was a breath of fresh air.

As I read the Gospels, the bottom line for Jesus seemed to be one of love. Love God, and love your neighbor. We don’t seem to be very good at that in our society. I urge you to take a few minutes out and enjoy a small celebration of life the way it should be lived. Watch An American Honey Weds.

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

French Fries at the Wailing Wall

I just saw the news that our president was in Jerusalem. The item I viewed told about the security necessary to keep the visit safe. During the news piece, they showed footage of the Wailing Wall (also known as the Western Wall). It reminded me of my own trip to Israel.

Going to Israel was one of the high points of my life. As we like to say, I’d go back in a heartbeat. There were so many emotional moments along the way; I couldn’t recount them all for you. Interestingly enough, the Wailing Wall wasn’t one of them.

I was at the Wall, and I prayed there. I even got my picture taken with my hand on the wall, bowing in prayer. As interesting and historical as it is, it still wasn’t one of the highlights of my trip.

“There are many ignoramuses like me.”

I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I’m pretty sure my headgear was part of the problem. Since the Western Wall is considered a holy site, everyone is required to cover his or her head. There were days on my trip that I wore a ball cap. On this day, however, I went without any head covering.

The Israeli’s are well aware that there are many ignoramuses like me who show up unprepared. In order to avoid any problems, they mete out free head coverings for anyone who doesn’t have one. This is where my Wall problem occurred.

Do you remember the old-fashioned, cardboard, French fry plates? You still see them around once in awhile; but these days, they’ve gone to a smaller, more streamlined version in most cases. When I was a kid, French Fries always came in the old, larger models (primarily because they gave you a lot of fries in those days).

Anyway, the head coverings we baldies received that day were similar to those old French fry plates. In fact, I think they were leftovers from the 1950s. I kept looking around for a hot dog stand, but I didn’t spot any. I was pretty sure my head would be greasy when I was finished praying. A little salt was expected as well.

A bobby pin was in order.

As it turns out, my hair was none the worse for wear when all was said and done. This, however, was not the worst of it. Picture yourself putting a French fry holder on your head.

Putting it there was not a big deal. Even I can handle the logistics of placing a cardboard hat (sic) on my head. The real trick, however, was keeping it there. At least the women could reach into their purses and pull out a bobby pin to hold theirs in place. I, on the other hand, was out of luck.

I spent the rest of my time at the Wall holding on to my hat (literally). I don’t remember what I prayed about that day (probably about ten seconds). All I can remember is, I was really hungry for French fries when I was finished.

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

The Judas Question: Part II

My last blog (The Judas Question) dealt with the issue of Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of Jesus. I postulated that Judas might not have made up his mind to turn Jesus over to the authorities until the moment he was sent out from the Seder meal that fateful night (John 13:18-30). We’ll never know for sure (at least, not in this lifetime), but there’s no question Judas is one of the tragic figures in history.

I ended the blog by saying, “Maybe he really meant it when he asked Jesus, ‘Is it I, Master?’ I sometimes painfully wonder if I could have done the same.” I felt like I should follow up on those words lest they be misconstrued.

The Cesspool of manipulation

It’s not that I think I’m such a bad guy. It’s that, somewhere along the way, I realized I can be very manipulative if I’m not careful. I’ve caught myself manipulating situations, facts, and even people without even thinking about it. The goal is always to get things to turn out in my favor. I suspect I’m not alone in that cesspool.

I’ve worked hard to mend my ways over the years, but I still catch myself doing it from time to time. I sometimes wonder if it’s engrained in me. Maybe it’s a part of my fallen human nature. Wherever that problem stems from, I have to consciously deal with it.

That leads me back to Judas. I think one of the reasons Judas betrayed Jesus was to manipulate the situation (and Jesus). I’m guessing he wanted Jesus to step up, publically announce his role as Messiah, and deliver Israel from the hated Romans. Since Jesus didn’t seem to be moving very quickly in that direction, Judas may have felt a little push from him might be in order. If that was the case, he was being manipulative.

A Common Malady?

It’s a common malady, especially in our day. We’re quick to arrange and rearrange things to get the results we want. There are instances where that’s okay—even desirable. But when we’re dealing with the lives of others…not so much.

This may have been exactly where Judas found himself. He manipulated Jesus into a position where Jesus would either take control or die. It may have never occurred to Judas that Jesus would be so passive in such a situation. After all, he had seen the Lord raise the dead, heal the blind, and walk on water. Why would he stand by and allow his life to be cruelly and unjustly taken from him?

We now know why, and so does Judas. It’s little wonder that Judas took his own life shortly after Jesus lost his. He couldn’t live with what he had done. If only he had stuck around a couple more days.

My final line from last week pointed to the fact that I may have done the same thing of which Judas was guilty. I may have been my manipulative self. God help me. God help us all.

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

The Judas Question

We have very few records of conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot. Conversations with Peter, James, and John are much more prevalent. Consequently, most of what we know about Judas comes from Hollywood. In other words, we don’t know much at all.

When I think of Judas, the setting is usually the Last Supper. Jesus has just announced that one of them will betray him. Judas (along with everyone else) asked, “Is it I, Master?” (Matthew 26:25; RSV) Since I know the end of the story, I look at his inquiry through rather jaundiced eyes. I want to say, “C’mon Judas! We all know it’s you!”

But I get this nagging feeling that even Judas wasn’t so sure—even at that late stage. I suppose up to that point, he had entertained the thought of betrayal. He may have even laid some groundwork for it. But I’m not so positive his mind was set in stone before the moment Jesus sent him away to do his worst.

“I tend to be a big softie.”

I’ve always felt particularly sorry for Judas. You can’t go by my feelings, however. I tend to be a big softie. I’ve actually had moments (fleeting as they were) when I’ve felt sorry for the likes of Hitler and Saddam Hussein. I know, I know…

One of the few things we actually know about Judas was that he was the group’s treasurer. Despite the position he was given, his trustworthiness was somewhat in doubt (see John 12:6). Nevertheless, when Jesus announced the betrayal, all the disciples were shocked to think it could be one of them—Judas included.

If Judas was like most of his countrymen at that time, he was undoubtedly disappointed by Jesus’ actions during the final week of his life (or maybe I should say, “Jesus’ inaction”). Most of the Jewish citizens were probably looking for a Messiah to come and lead a successful rebellion against the Roman Empire.

Did Jesus Live Up to Expectations?

Israel had long been under the thumb of an oppressive force, and people were fed up with living in an occupied territory. In Judas’ mind, if the worst Jesus was going to do was turn over a few tables in the Temple, things weren’t moving fast enough. Here they were—in Jerusalem. It was the perfect setting to get the ball rolling, but nothing was happening. Maybe Jesus wasn’t living up to Judas’ expectations.

Judas was one of the original twelve. He loved Jesus. Jesus inspired him. He believed in Jesus. Maybe he thought, “If I just give him a little push…”

Jesus’ apparent lack of a military approach may have caused Judas to attempt to force the Master’s hand. Maybe Judas’ hope was, by turning the Lord into the authorities, Jesus would take up arms. Who knows?

We’ll never fully comprehend it in this life. But I wonder if the actual betrayal was a last-minute decision. Maybe he really meant it when he asked Jesus, “Is it I, Master?” I sometimes painfully wonder if I could have done the same.

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

The Funhouse Mirror

On the days I get motivated to head to the gym (yes, to work out), I’m always confronted with a rather disturbing experience. Last year, our HOA took on the project of remodeling the facility. Now when I walk into the locker room, it’s to a sparkly, new, rearranged version of its old self. I like it.

Well, I like it except for one thing. Upon making the left-hand turn into the locker room proper, I’m confronted with a large mirror. This, in itself, is no big deal. Most locker rooms have such a feature. We need these to maintain our perfect coifs after we shower and prepare for the cold, cruel world.

The problem here seems to be the amount of money spent on this particular mirror. Maybe I should rephrase that. The problem here seems to be the lack of money spent on this particular mirror. I say that because it has the quality of a funhouse mirror.

“We didn’t have computer games.”

I don’t know if you’re old enough to have ever gone into a funhouse. I haven’t seen one of those in years, so I’m guessing they’ve gone the way of the Dodo bird. Even if you’ve never been in one of those things, I suspect you’ve at least experienced the enjoyment of viewing yourself in a cheap mirror. The old funhouses had various mirrors that would distort your body’s image. One would make you look skinny, another would make you look fat, and still another would give you a big head, tiny hips, and elephant thighs. When I was a kid, this was considered great fun. (We didn’t have computer games.)

The mirror in our men’s locker room has a funhouse feel to it. Unless you really look closely, you might not notice it at first. Once you see it, however, you can’t un-see it. I noticed it early on, and now I see it every time I walk by. It wouldn’t bother me so much if this reflecting glass would give me a true image. It would be even better if I would see a skinnier me headed in my direction. But no, it gives me what one might call a wide body. I can do without wide. I’m already wide enough in my old age without some cheapo mirror producing a gross caricature of my image. I really should sue somebody. This is causing irreparable emotional damage to my psyche.

“I’m better looking than I suppose.”

I suppose I shouldn’t complain, though. Our locker room mirror is really nothing more than a microcosm of the society around me. Our culture has become a dull distortion of what it once was. The image I see at the gym is merely a reminder that things are never really as they seem. We can never quite get the real facts these days, so heading into the locker room should serve as a reminder that I’m better looking than I suppose.

My one comfort is the old hymn that reminds us all, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.”

Performing Weddings

Yesterday, I performed a wedding. It was a very beautiful ceremony. The setting was outdoors on a farm. I’ve done ceremonies in similar venues over the years, and I’m always happy if my hay fever doesn’t kick in until I’m on my way home.

As I was preparing to go, I happened to think about the term we use for what I do on those occasions. Guys like me are said to “perform the wedding.” That’s a bit of a stretch, I think. I certainly don’t think of myself as a performer (or much of a professional for that matter). I’ve been doing these things for thirty-seven years, but if you can read a script and finagle a license from the state, you can become a performer as well.

When I think of performing, I think in different terms. Professional musicians perform concerts. Surgeons perform operations. Scientists perform experiments. Performing a wedding ceremony seems to pale by comparison.

Even Jesus Thought Weddings Were Important

Still, wedding ceremonies are extremely important. Even Jesus seemed to think so. His earliest recorded miracle took place at a wedding reception. You probably remember the story.

Jesus, his Mom, and his disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana. Apparently, Jesus felt it was important enough to make an appearance. We’re not told what his relationship to the bride and/or groom happened to be, but in any case, he honored them with his presence.

Receptions in that culture could last a week or two (quite the party, I’m sure). In the case of the celebration in question, they ran out of wine. That could have been a big, embarrassing deal. It would have been a disastrous event had it not been for the fact that they had invited Jesus. Just as importantly, they had invited his Mom.

His Mom Forced His Hand

He wasn’t going to do anything about the fiasco until his Mom forced his hand (John 2:1-12). It makes interesting reading in case you don’t know the entire story. Jesus announced to his Mom that it wasn’t his time to do such things as yet. Mary must have been a typical mother in many ways. She took charge and Jesus “performed” his first miracle.

And there we are again. Messiahs perform miracles. Preachers perform ceremonies. I suppose it’s a performance of sorts. When I get asked to do a wedding, I often assume it’s because of my years of experience. Truthfully, however, on the few occasions I’ve asked the bride and groom why they chose me for their service, the answer has almost always been the same. “You look like you’re pretty laid back.” If they only knew…

I wish I could take credit for the good ceremonies and bask in the sunlight of my performances. I’m don’t think that would be appropriate, however. Even though I’ve always dreamed of performing, I’m not sure being a wedding officiant qualifies.

One more thing… The last line of the Cana story says they “stayed for a few days.” That must have been some mighty, fine wine.

He Called Me “Thumper”

I was approached by another author with the idea of submitting some of my work to a website dedicated primarily to authors. I wasn’t sure how that would work since most of my stuff has a definite spiritual bent to it. After thinking about it, I decided it was worth a try.

The first thing I noticed about this particular site was most of the posts are totally political. Then I noticed the authors, instead of supporting one another, ripped each other to shreds. I originally had supposed this was due to the political nature of the site. If anyone took a political stance, they were ripped apart by the opposition. Since I seldom take any kind of political stance (at least publically), I figured I was in the clear. This is when I discovered my new middle name—Dave Naïve Zuchelli.

Am I a One-Note-Johnny?

I published a few of my blogs on the site and got ripped for writing about spiritual subjects. One guy jumped on and asked me why I only submit articles that centered on faith. He explained that he was Jewish and never submitted articles about his particular faith journey. Another person jumped in to tell him off and encourage me to write about whatever my passion directed me to explore. I found the former’s remarks to be a bit curious since he only wrote about politics. If I was a one-note-Johnny, so was he.

After a long hiatus from that site, I recently wrote a blog that had no direct spiritual tie-in. It was about Bill Nye the Science Guy and entitled Having Extra Kids. It was a totally secular piece, although it’s topic touched upon ethical, moral, and political subjects. After I had written it, I realized it might be an item that would fit in with the motif of the above-mentioned site.

“I made one critical error.”

So, I looked up the site once again and submitted the article. I made one critical error, however. I included my mini-bio at the end (see the bottom of this blog). The article sparked a little conversation, but one guy just couldn’t get past the fact that I was, shall we say, a man of the cloth. He had nothing to say about the subject of the article (except to say it was “useless”). His only real comment was about who I am.

Here’s what he said: “Another useless ‘article’ by yet another thumper. Yawn. Yuuuge.” There’s nothing like a little constructive criticism, is there?

When I first read that he called me “Thumper,” I thought of Bambi’s little rabbit friend. Then I quickly realized he meant “Bible Thumper.” It actually made me smile. I can’t remember ever being called that before, and I kind of liked it. I answered his little quip with a reply that basically thanked him for the new nickname.

I have to tell you, I’m really tempted to incorporate that nickname into my writings somehow. If any of you want to start calling me, “Thumper,” I’m down with that.

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

Helping Someone Else

A few weekends ago, I traveled out of state to lead a retreat. I went with the idea that I would be helping someone else. The event went quite well. I felt like some goals were accomplished, and that I was actually able to help some else.

As it turns out, however, I think I’m the one who received the most help. I’m not really surprised by that, because (in my sixty-seven years) I’ve discovered this to be true in most cases. Any time I set out to help someone else, I usually come away with the feeling that I was the one receiving the benefit. I’m beginning to get the idea (finally) that the Lord set it all up that way.

The Spirit Really Spoke

Because I preach nearly every Sunday (at least), this feeling happens to me after many worship services. When the service is over, I don’t always know if I was able to help someone else, but I’m sure it helped me. Part of that is because I put in a lot of prep time researching and wrestling with the Scripture passage for that particular sermon. But a lot of the time, it’s the genuine feeling that the Holy Spirit really spoke to me through the very words that came out of my own mouth.

The same sort of thing often happens on short-term mission trips. I’ve taken groups into areas where people are in need. We’ve worked among them, met some of their needs, and reached some of our preset goals for the trip. Inevitably, I get back home with the feeling that I’ve been helped more than I’ve given.

How many times have you heard someone talk about the good feeling they have after having sacrificed time and effort to aid someone through a difficult time? Why would we feel good after having given away something of ourselves? I guess it’s like someone once said, “Love is the only thing you can give away and end up with more than you had when you began.”

Sacrifice is not merely a noble endeavor…

I suppose this is at least partly what Jesus was referring to when he said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29) Not only is sacrifice a noble endeavor; it seems to reap its own rewards. Funny how that is…

It’s certainly not that we should do something merely so we can harvest a return for ourselves. Still, it’s nice to know that our best efforts don’t go unrewarded, as it sometimes seems.

It’s certainly not that we should do something merely so we can harvest a return for ourselves. Still, it’s nice to know that our best efforts don’t go unrewarded, as it sometimes seems.

David Livingstone once wrote, “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny? It is emphatically no sacrifice.”

I think he had it right.

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