The Road From Dad to Papa

This morning, for some reason, it occurred to me there are now more people in this world who call me “Papa” than call me “Dad.” As a matter of fact, the ones who used to call me Dad now call me Papa as well. I guess there isn’t anyone left who calls me Dad. In some ways, I find that a bit sad. I always enjoyed being “Dad.”

That’s not a lament, however. I’m perfectly content with being known as Papa. In fact, that moniker brings me a great deal of joy. I guess I’ve just moved down life’s road a bit further. So, Papa it is.

I remember the moment I first realized I had become the patriarch of our little clan. It was the day following my youngest son’s wedding. We all gathered in our rented beach house for a time of Sunday worship as a family. As I looked around the room, it hit me. I’m now the old man—the leader of the pack (for better or for worse). My own Mother and Father were gone. I was the one left standing.

We have a picture hanging on our wall memorializing that day. It was taken on the beach following worship. We were all wearing blue jeans and white shirts. Apparently that was the uniform of the day. Each time I glance at that photo, I remember my new station in life.

With the transition from Dad to Papa, I realize that most of the good (or harm) I will do to these following generations of the Zuchelli tradition has already been accomplished (especially for the adult ones). I’ve already helped them become the men and women they will be. I’ve either built up their personae or helped to screw them up. I sincerely hope it’s the former.

“We only get a few years…”

We only get a few years to nurture these malleable young souls, and we need to make the best of it. Thinking back on those times, I’m amazed they turned out so well. Each one of them has become an adult of whom I can be proud to call son or daughter. I guess I’ve won my Papa bragging rights.

Years ago, folk singer Pierce Pettis recorded a frightening song he entitled “Absalom.” The haunting lyrics are written from the perspective of King David of Israel. Absalom was his rebellious son who attempted to usurp the throne while his Dad was still occupying it. On this track, David explains that it’s his fault Absalom turned out the way he did because of the evil he had perpetrated while Absalom was growing up. One of the most excruciating lines states, “All the vanity, cruel arrogance, and greed… Oh Absalom, you learned it all from me.”

The story of David and Absalom (1 Samuel 15:1-14 ff.) should be a reminder to all of us that we each have a part to play in the lives of others—particularly the young. Use your “Dad time” well. You’ll be a Papa soon.

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


The Great Costco Caper

Like many of you (I’m guessing) who live near a Costco, I stop into one of these magnificent examples of retail splendor at least once every week or two. Some of you might not live near one, but I’m surrounded by, at least, three or four of them (not to mention Sam’s Club and BJ’s). It’s a veritable plethora of enormity—big boxes galore.

I’m reminded of this, because one of my avid readers (at least he seems to be avid) sent me the following short story:

Yesterday I was at Costco, buying a large bag of Purina dog chow for my loyal pet, Owen, the Wonder Dog. I was in the checkout line when a woman behind me asked if I had a dog. What did she think I had, an elephant?

So because I’m retired and have little to do, on impulse, I told her that no, I didn’t have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn’t, because I ended up in the hospital last time, but that I’d lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IV’s in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a Perfect Diet and that the way that it works is to load your pants pockets with Purina Nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete, (certified), so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story.)

Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care, because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I had stopped to pee on a fire hydrant and a car hit me.

Well, I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard.

Costco won’t let me shop there anymore. Better watch what you ask retired people. They have all the time in the world to think of crazy things to say.

This story has inspired me. I used to think of my Costco trips as an opportunity for a free lunch. (They usually give away some pretty good samples. And if I circle the store a few times, I can often get my fill.) Now, I want more. I want to see what kind of havoc I can wreak, or how many people I can humorize. (Do you like that word? I just made it up. Maybe we can start a movement.)

I once heard a Christian comedian (while speaking about the Body of Christ as having various parts) refer to himself as the laugh. Biblically, laughter is a good thing (Psalm 126:2-3), so being a part of the body that causes laughter can’t be all that bad. I just hope I don’t cause any heart attacks.

From now on, just call me Isaac.

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

Shame On You!

Each time I perform a wedding ceremony, I give the bride and groom a complimentary copy of my first book, The Last Wedding. It’s a small way of saying thanks for allowing me to be a part of their big day. I also hope they will read it someday and that, maybe, it will touch their lives in a positive way. If nothing else, they can set it on their shelf and point to it as a conversation piece—“We know this guy. He did our wedding. See, he signed our copy of his book.” I don’t know how often any of that has ever happened, but one can hope.

I DO know of one bride who read it for sure. In these days of professional wedding planners, the preacher often doesn’t have to go to the rehearsal. Back in the day, we were in charge of everything that had to do with the ceremony. These days, we just show up, and the wedding planner tells us where to stand. Recently, however, I was asked to participate in a rehearsal. Rather than wait until the wedding day, I presented the happy couple with my book a day early.

She Was Yawning

The next day, I happened to notice that the bride (even as radiant as she was) was yawning. When I teased her about it, she confirmed that she was “dead tired.” When I playfully chided her for not getting enough rest, she said, “I was up half the night reading your book!”

I kiddingly said to her, “Shame on you!” Deep inside, of course, I was quite pleased and gratified that she would take the time on the eve of one of the biggest days of her life to give heed to a few words I had penned. I hope anything she gleaned from those pages made up for her loss of sleep.

The point of all this is the fact that we seldom ever know how our lives have (or will) affect other people. We plod through our days doing the best we can. We try to enjoy life, but also attempt to be a positive influence on others. Sometimes we think we’re accomplishing something. Other times, we’re not so sure.

Don’t Get Too Discouraged

It’s easy to get discouraged. Discouragement has nearly overwhelmed me at times in my life, so I know it’s true. It’s one thing to have a worshipper pat me on the back after a service to say, “Great sermon, Preacher!” It’s another to know I’ve actually touched a soul in an affirmative way—enough to make a difference. I get paid to preach. Actually touching someone in a deep and lasting way is another story—one for which we don’t receive a monetary reward.

Still, our reward is there. Jesus spoke a lot about rewards. In Mark 9:41, he told us that those who belong to him will “not lose their reward.” If we won’t lose it, I guess that means we have one to lose. Thanks be to God!

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

Can’t Wait to Try Those Boy Scout Cookies

I suppose most of you have heard that the Boy Scouts have announced a change in their entrance prerequisite. Soon, they will be admitting girls. This is good news. Frankly, I’ve been getting a little tired of the Do-Si-Dos and the Thin Mints the Girl Scouts sell. Can’t wait to try those Boy Scout Cookies.

I have to admit, however, there’s one Girl Scout Cookie I never get tired of eating—Samoas. Those little caramel delights with lots of coconut and just the right amount of chocolate… Well, as we like to say, “They’re to die for!” What will the Boy Scouts do to top those palatable pleasures? It could be interesting should they try.

Baking Over an Open Fire

My money is on the Boy Scout version of the S’mores. They’ve always been good at cooking things over an open fire. Now is their chance to shine before a watching (and munching) world.

Interestingly enough, the young ladies offer a S’mores recipe using Girl Scout Cookies as an ingredient. Seriously! Check it out on their website. I’d much rather wait for the prepared male version. Making my own from another cookie doesn’t appeal to me. I haven’t tried the recipe, but I can tell you already that I’m not a fan. I’ll leave the baking to an Eagle Scout.

To be fair, the Girl Scouts have been selling cookies for one hundred years. That’s even longer than I’ve been on this earth. Not much longer, mind you; but longer nonetheless. When they started, they actually baked their own sugary patties. Their mothers supervised, of course, but they were produced right in their own little ovens.

I’m told they were uncommonly good. Oh, wait a minute. I think those were those famous tiny elves (not to be confused with Wally Amos—you know, the even more famous one). Sorry. This whole cookie thing can be quite confusing.

Wally, of course, was famous for his cookies (Famous Amos chocolate chip as I recall), which he eventually sold to Keebler where the elves are now taking credit for his inspiration. Amos can also lay claim to discovering Simon and Garfunkel—which is another story altogether.

The Females Have Much More Experience

This brings us back around to the Boy Scouts. Some may think my idea of Boy Scout Cookies to be a frivolous lark. But if the guy who discovered Simon and Garfunkel can go on to bake marvelous (and famous) cookies, the Boy Scouts should be able to do the same. This should be especially true with the addition of the new females who have much more experience in this area.

I should probably add (in full disclosure) that the Girl Scouts no longer personally bake their cookies in their own little ovens. Surprise, surprise, surprise! This ceased to occur back in 1936 when they went commercial.

Maybe the Boy Scouts should start admitting elves as well. It couldn’t hurt to acquire a few ringers and add them to the mix (pardon the pun). The Pillsbury Dough Girl can’t be far behind.

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

Sex and the Art of Growing Old

I would like to take this time to thank everyone on behalf of my fellow sexagenarians and myself for calling us that (sexagenarians, I mean). I realize the sex in sexagenarians is a prefix meaning sixty, but it actually seems to give us a little extra credit for vim and vigor in our old age. It also lends credence to the recent axiom that says, “Sixty is the new forty.”

I don’t know how true that axiom happens to be, but I felt considerably better at forty. I had more energy and many fewer aches and pains.

Forty is Still Forty

I suspect forty is still forty, but who knows? You can’t ask the people who are actually forty—they don’t have anything else with which to compare it. I suppose it’s all what you make it.

Unless you’re some kind of amazing physical specimen with a tremendous workout regimen, you’re probably noticing a few chinks in you corporeal armor. Your metabolism may have slowed a bit, you’ve put on a few pounds, and your youthful physique is beginning to give way to the laws of gravity.

The other side of your life should be beginning to balance things out, however. By that I mean your emotional and spiritual components are more than making up for any physical deterioration. The maturation process works FOR you in these areas (unlike in the physical arena).

Body, Soul, and Spirit

The Apostle Paul made reference to these components of our lives in his famous benediction of 1 Thessalonians 5:23. There, he refers to us as beings comprised of body, soul, and spirit. Because we readily recognize the body (along with all its strengths, foibles, and weaknesses), we tend to concentrate on it—sometimes to the exclusion of the soul and spirit.

As you probably know, the term “soul,” is a reference to our emotional well-being. Our spirit—that part of us that is probably most akin to our Creator—is the real life force within us. Remove that, and we don’t exist as human beings.

Because we can’t readily see the soul and the spirit, we often ignore them. We feed and exercise the body—often with great care. At the same time, we allow our emotional and spiritual health to go down the tubes. At this time in our lives (as sexagenarians, etc.), things should be different.

Even as our bodies are slowing down, our emotional and spiritual states should be in hyper drive. In other words, we should be emotionally and spiritually stronger than ever. Though we are unable to contribute as much to society (in a physical sense) as we used to do, we have much more to offer in the other two areas. In those areas, the maturation process continues to work in our favor.

This all is predicated, of course, on the assumption that we’ve been exercising our emotional and spiritual muscles all along. If you’re just now getting started on those areas, you need to catch up. You’ve got something to contribute. Don’t blow it.

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

I Believe in the Sun

A now famous poem was found inscribed on a wall in Nazi Germany. Varying stories place its location in different spots. Some say it was found on a cellar wall while others say it was on a partition in a concentration camp. Wherever it was etched, it’s powerful, hopeful, and inspirational. Part of it says the following:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God even when he is silent.

In times such as these, we would do well to grab onto such words and understand them as best we can. When lives are wrecked by violent storms and snuffed out by evil men, there are few things left to which we can cling. Often, our beliefs (and the words which represent them) are the only things we have.

One of the phrases Jesus seemed to use a lot was, “Be not afraid.” Depending on what translation of the Scriptures you check out, you’ll see it alternately rendered as, “Don’t be fearful,” “Fear not,” or “Have no fear.” However we translate it, it all comes out the same. There’s much to fear in this world—some of those fearful things are deep, dark, evil things. Hurricanes, wildfires, snipers, and terrorists are among them. In the face of all these things, Jesus (and Scripture in general) encourages us to set our fears aside.

It’s not that we can become incapable of fear. It’s just that we need not allow our fear to become our master. If the unseen Jesus is our true Master, we ultimately have nothing to dread. Mere head knowledge won’t give that to us. Only our belief in the sun, in love, and in God will accomplish that state of mind and spirit.

It’s More Easily Said Than Done

I realize that’s more easily said than done. It takes a leap of faith. It takes a willingness to grapple with life and reach beyond the visible to a power that is unseen and not truly comprehendible. If a Jew in the midst of the horrors of Nazi Germany could reach out for that invisible strength, I’m pretty sure we can do the same.

I’m not much of a hymn guy, but there are certain ones that seem to pierce my soul whenever I hear or sing them. One of those is “It Is Well.” A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a YouTube video of Jonathan Rourke explaining the story behind that hymn. I will leave you with that same video and encourage you to watch and listen to it. It will be well worth the few minutes you will invest.

Is it well with your soul? It CAN be if only you’ll trust in what you cannot see, feel, or hear. It all sounds like a wild proposition in our day of cynicism and skepticism. Actually, it IS wild. Still, it’s all we really have. Blessings on you this day… It Is Well.

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

Bible Thumper to False Prophet in Sixty Seconds

When you publish things with the frequency that I do, you get a lot of varying reactions. You gain a few readers and make a few enemies. You endear yourself to some and grate on the nerves of other.

I write this blog, Local Church Prisoners, three times a week. I also put out an e-letter, Pulpit Man @ Large, every Friday. As a result, I get a considerable amount of feedback.

“I can live with that.”

I’m not sure what most people think of me (or my musings) because most people don’t offer a written response. There are some, however, who make their feelings well known. Earlier this year, I was called a Bible thumper. The perpetrator of that remark was apparently a non-believer who had a bit of disgust for people like myself. I can live with that. It comes with the territory.

More recently, however, I was accused of being a false prophet. My accuser’s exact words were, “You are a false prophet destroying people and leading them into HELL.” I have to tell you, that remark shook me up a tad. It’s one thing to have an atheist call you a Bible thumper. It’s quite another to have a brother in Christ call you a false prophet.

I guess I wouldn’t have minded so much if he had explained his remarks. Unfortunately, he refused to engage me in conversation. Maybe he suspected I wasn’t worth the trouble. I would have liked to know what the error of my ways happened to be. I’ll never get any better if these things aren’t pointed out to me.

Originating From Within the Body

When these sorts of things happen, I try to console myself with the words of Jesus. Toward the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) I just never expect the insults, persecution, and falsehoods to originate from within the Body of Christ. Apparently, I’m naive.

In a case like that, what does one do? The answer is the same regardless of where the insults are initiated. In his first epistle to the church, Peter said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9) So, according to Peter, we have to play nice with the bad guys (so to speak). Peter’s not alone in conveying these sentiments.

The interesting thing about each of these portions of Scripture is how they’re wrapped up. Both Jesus and Peter indicate we will be rewarded or blessed as a result of the insults, lies, and persecutions. It seems like a tough way to be blessed, but I guess I’ll take them any way I can get them.

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

I Just Didn’t Realize…

Last weekend, I made the 4½ hour trek back to my hometown. I try to do that at least a couple times a year, but this particular trip was for a special purpose. Fifty years ago, I graduated from high school with about 125 other young, aspiring adolescents. I’m not sure what all we were aspiring to, but many of us made it back for the annual alumni banquet.

As soon as I began seeing some of those familiar faces from my past, an unfamiliar thought raced through my mind. I just didn’t realize how much I love these guys (and gals)! I hadn’t seen some of them in fifty years. But I quickly realized that the bond was still there.

“It was a bit gratifying…”

I was a shy, introverted, self-conscious teenager attempting to break out of my shell (probably not very successfully at the time). Because of that, there were many of my classmates I never got to know as well as I should have. Still, it was a comfort and a joy to see their faces—not to mention that it was a bit gratifying to discover they still remember me despite my ingrown personality.

One thing that surprised me was how young they all still look. Sure, we had a couple of wrinkles, a little less hair, and a few more pot guts. But overall, we still seem to have it going on. I’m not sure if that’s just my perspective, or if it’s really true. I suppose a teenager walking into that banquet hall would have merely seen a bunch of old geezers. To me, however, we were still teenagers—a tad more mature and a bit hardened by the past fifty years—but teenagers nonetheless.

I tend to be a bit nostalgic anyway, but this weekend was really good for me. I hope it was the same for everyone else. I’m not sure what it is about nostalgia, but it gets me every time. I’m just a tiny blip on the radar screen of life, so it seems like a really big thing to get back to my roots from time to time.

“No one will even remember…”

My life is quickly passing, and in a couple generations, no one will even remember who I am. But while I’m here, it’s good to know I mean something to at least a few people. The folks who came up and gave me a hug and a big smile mean everything to me. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Jesus once famously said that the very hairs on our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30). There might be fewer of them to count these days, but they’re important to him—we’re important to him. When everyone else has forgotten us, he’ll remember—in fact, he’ll never forget.

My classmates (as well as many of the other alumni who gathered last weekend) are a part of me. They helped to make me who I am—for good or for ill. May they always be blessed and remembered.

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

Asleep at the Wheel: The Class of ’67

I’ve become one of those old guys I used to laugh at. You know—the ones who always fell asleep in front of the TV set. Now, that’s me. Oh, the humanity!

By the time this hits the blogosphere, I will be wending my way back home from Ridgway High’s Class of ’67 celebration. It’s now fifty years since we’ve graduated. Unbelievable!

It was only yesterday that I could stay up and watch Johnny Carson (anyone remember him?). These days, I can barely make it through the ninth inning of the Pirate game—especially the way they’re playing. But let’s not talk about that.

“Fifty years seemed like an eternity…”

Fifty years used to seem like such a long time. Now, it’s just a long time ago. When I graduated, fifty years seemed like an eternity. Now, it would be nice to think I had fifty years left. On second thought, I’m not sure I’d want to live to be 117. The pot gut and arthritis would be killers by then—they’re bad enough now.

Since this has been written prior to the celebration, I’m assuming we all had a good time. If there ever was any bad blood among us in our adolescence, I suspect it’s all been forgotten by now. Hopefully, only the good memories will remain to discuss. I suppose we’ll make up a few as well.

I just peeked a glance at the schedule of events for the celebratory weekend. Whoever planned this baby out was definitely on their game. The reunion banquet begins with a happy hour from five to six o’clock. Smart… Most of us will be ready for bed by nine.

“A few old Beatle tunes…”

After the happy hour, there will be a buffet, a program, and a DJ. I suppose a DJ is a necessary evil, but I’m guessing most of us would rather just talk to each other. Dancing to (or yelling above) music will not be a priority. It will definitely give my hearing aids a workout. I suppose some of us will bail (just to have a little peace and quiet). I hope the DJ has at least a few old Beatle tunes in the repertoire (anyone remember them?).

The program should prove to be interesting. I’ve been asked to be the designated clergy (translation: say a quick prayer, sit down, and shut up). Anyone who knew me in 1967 will be shocked to see that I’m the one standing up to pray. I’m a little shocked myself. Things were a bit different fifty years ago. I guess I sort of believed in Jesus back then, but public prayer was definitely not my favorite pastime.

This is not my first go around, though. I once attended my lovely Bride’s class reunion and was asked to give the opening prayer at that event. No one knew who I was, so there was no snickering during the prayer. I’m not so sure that will be the case where my past has been well documented. At least it will keep me awake.

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