The Fate of the Union Address

Just like clockwork, the president gave his State of the Union Address last night. The initial, constitutional requirement was a report. In the old days, it was an informal account given to the congress by the president in written form. Somewhere along the way, someone thought it would be a good idea to make a big deal of it.

Now there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance as the prez rides to Capitol Hill and presents it orally. Instead of a few pages that could be read at someone’s leisure, it’s now upwards of an hour and a half of politics presented for us all on national TV.

Every year I tell myself I’m not going to watch. Yet every year, for one reason or another, I still tune in. I’m always glad I did. The reason I’m glad is because of what follows.

Immediately following the speech, the political pundits begin to rate it, tear it apart, and moderate every sentence contained therein. If you flip from channel to channel, the stark contrast is nothing short of unbelievable. As I hear these guys and gals pontificate on the president’s verbiage, I’m often flabbergasted.

Which Version Did You Hear?

The reason for my amazement is the varied and multitudinous interpretations given. I’ve just intently watched and listened to every word pouring from our chief executive’s mouth, and now I’m hearing an entirely different version of what I thought I just saw. To make matters worse, each channel (and each pundit) seems to have heard an entirely different speech than the previous commentators.

Paul Simon once wrote a song entitled “The Boxer.” One of the lines in it has always stood out to me. It explains the phenomenon that follows the State of the Union Address each year. The line goes, “Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” That’s pretty much describes it.

As a tiny addendum to Simon’s axiom, I saw a brief news clip early in the week (a day or two prior to the State of the Union). A film journalist was doing person-in-the-street interviews and asking college students what they though of the State of the Union Address this year.

“I was embarassed for these people.”

Mind you, this was before the speech was given. The answers were incredible. Everyone claimed to have heard it and had an opinion on it. Most hated it. I was embarrassed for these people.

I guess this is what it’s come to. It doesn’t matter what you say (or, apparently, if you say anything). People are going to hear what they want to hear. If this was merely a once a year occurrence, that would be bad enough. The sad thing is, it happens all the time. I’ve seen it happen in my own life.

Maybe this is why the Lord had Isaiah say to his people, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding.” (Isaiah 6:9) If people are determined to put their own spin on someone else’s words, even God doesn’t have the stomach for it.

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

As I Mourn the Passing of Chief Wahoo

I heard breaking news this morning that left an empty space in my soul. The Cleveland Indians are finally succumbing to political correctness and scalping the Chief Wahoo logo from their caps and sleeves. It’s a sad day for many fans in the Mistake on the Lake (as it’s been called).

As for me, Chief Wahoo is all I’ve ever known. He was adopted in 1947 (three years prior to my birth). Seventy years is a long time, but it looks like our toothy, caricature friend is not long for this world. 2018 will be his final season as the face on the Indians’ uniforms.

The Whitest Guy Around

As you probably know, there have been several Native American groups protesting the logo’s presence for a long time. They see the image as demeaning. I’ve never viewed it that way, but I’m about as white as a guy could be, so I’m not sure my vote should count.

In my defense, however, I’m married to a gal who’s part Native American (from the Seneca Tribe, I believe). I didn’t realize it until we went to get the marriage license, and she tried to pay the clerk in wampum. She can get really torqued off about a lot of things, but Chief Wahoo is not one of them.

I have a couple of Indian caps with the Chief prominently displayed, so I went to my closet and donned one when I heard the news. I may have to purchase a few more items with his likeness, just for nostalgia’s sake.

The Chief isn’t actually being banned altogether—just from the uniforms worn on the playing field. So, for us Wahoo fans, we can still get our mugs, t-shirts, and banners with his depiction. Total eradication would be too much to take. I suppose the next generation won’t care, but we have to be weaned off.

Show Me the Money

This decision, of course, has not satisfied the protestors. They can’t understand why his pic will remain on the uni’s for another year. Why not change them now? I certainly understand that question. Could monetary considerations be the answer?

More importantly, (and I’m sure you could see this one coming) they want the entire name dropped and/or changed. The term, “Indians,” they say will still encourage fans to show up at the ball yard dressed in feathers and war paint. I’m sure they’re right about that. I’ve never been one to don face paint and weird headgear, but it does look like fun.

The whole thing causes me to wonder how long it will be before the Cleveland nine will no longer be called the Indians. The change seems inevitable. But what will they be named? The Rock-n-Rollers? It just doesn’t flow as well. Besides that, they’re surrounded by the Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie, and the state of Ohio (all named after Native American tribes).

I suppose they could revert back to one of their original names—the Spiders. Still, I shudder to think what THAT logo would look like.

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

Being Confused at a Higher Level

There have been many times in my life as a clergy-type that people have placed me (at least in their minds) on a higher level than themselves. This is particularly true when they’re dealing with spiritual matters, but it also seems to bleed over into other parts of their lives as well. It’s pretty amazing how often I’ve been deemed to have expertise in fields at which I’m totally incompetent.

The moment they stuck the title, “Reverend,” in front of my name, I was perceived as being all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful (at least by some). The entire scenario puts me in mind of the Wizard of Oz. The Wonderful Wizard gave the scarecrow a diploma, and the man of straw was instantly brilliant. He gave the Tin Man a clock (imbedded in a heart) and tears began to flow. He bestowed the Cowardly Lion with a medal of courage, and all timidity was gone.

“One day I was a normal sinner…”

I’ve never quite gotten the whole reverend thing. One day I was a normal sinner like everyone else. The next day I was “The Reverend.” The weird thing was, it wasn’t because I got a diploma (or clock, or medal for that matter). I was merely hired by our District Superintendent to be a pastor to a particular flock, and everyone began calling me reverend.

If you look up the word in a dictionary, you’ll see that it means “worthy of reverence.” If you look up the word, reverence, you’ll find that it means “honor or respect felt or shown.” Webster and the boys always add the phrase, “title used for a clergy person.” In other words, it’s become automatic over the years. You no longer have to earn the title, you are simply endowed with it in the hope that someday you’ll grow into its full meaning.

You’ll be happy to know that, since they’ve begun calling me reverend, I’ve gotten the proper diploma. I’ve also gotten a clock (although not encased in a plastic, red heart on a chain). Truth be told, I haven’t received any medals as of yet, but stranger things have happened. My day may be on the horizon.

“You can call me Ray!”

I sincerely doubt if anyone ever really earns the reverend moniker. It’s like when Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) He could just as easily have said, “Why do you call me reverend. There is no reverend but God alone.”

In many instances (maybe in most), I’m just as confused about things as you happen to be. As someone once said, “I’m just confused at a higher level.” You can call me Reverend, The Right Reverend, His Holiness, or What’s-His-Face. It really doesn’t change anything. Another person famously said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” We all bow in awe before Jesus.

Remember what the Apostle Paul once wrote. “Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” (Romans 3:4) Just don’t call me that, please.

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

Another Exciting Opportunity

It arrived in the mail yesterday. The envelope was bright and inviting. And to top it all off, there were big, bold, unavoidable letters splashed all over the front. “An exciting opportunity inside!” You’ve got to hand it to these credit card companies. They really know how to grab a guy.

I’ve gotten so many of these over the years that I don’t even open them up anymore. I merely toss them into the trash, unopened, undefiled, and unsullied (whatever that means). Frankly, I’ve gotten too old to bother with these things. Too much excitement is not good for codgers like me.

My Secret Drawer

I’ve thought of saving exhilarating communications like this in a special drawer somewhere. That way, whenever I need a little thrill, I could go to my secret compartment and open one. I’ve yet to do that, but one never knows. I may take a shot at it one day.

I guess the whole subject begs the question, “How much excitement does a body need?” I’ve never been much of a thrill seeker, I suppose. My idea of exhilaration is to go to Home Depot and browse the tool section. There are a lot of power tools I’d love to own, have no space to keep, and would probably never use. Still, I could usher my male companions to my tool room where we could tremble over the possibilities of wielding these potent implements in mighty acts of industrial valor. You know—doing things like building a shelf, for instance.

A close second to receiving these exciting opportunities is to go to the mailbox to discover that you’ve been elevated to the status of “preferred customer.” These don’t arrive quite as often, but they are to be cherished above all because (as you all know) image is everything. We all know this because Andre Agassi told us so. What better image could one possibly attain than that of a preferred customer?

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

In reality, the most exciting opportunity I’ve ever come across is the simple one found in Scripture. You may remember it. It’s the one where Jesus says to us, “Come, follow me.” (Mark 1:17) For us to receive this invitation is the golden opportunity of a lifetime. It means we are, first and foremost, preferred by Jesus. Why else would he extend this invitation to us? Think about it. Who do you invite to your house (or into your life, for that matter)? Only those you would prefer to have there.

In addition, the potential that lies within a life of following the Creator of the Universe is unlimited. Talk about an exciting opportunity! The possibilities are endless, and a lot more stimulating than building a shelf (although, even doing carpentry work in Jesus’ name would be fulfilling—I’m guessing his Dad taught him a thing or two about that trade).

The next time you receive an exciting opportunity in the mail, remember the One who has extended the greatest opportunity of all to you—Jesus the Christ.

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

It Is What It Is

It is what it is! Don’t you just hate that sentence? Well, maybe you don’t, but I do. OF COURSE it is what it is. What else is it going to be? A car is going to be a car, a grape a grape, and a rock a rock. Yes, it is what it is. You don’t have to fill me in any further. I already know that.

It could be worse, I suppose. Someone could say, “It is what it isn’t.” Or maybe it could be even sadder than that. Someone could say, “It isn’t what it is.” Wouldn’t that nick your knickers?

That sentence always puts me in mind of Popeye the Sailor. You may remember him. He’s the one who always used to say, “I am what I am” Phonetically, however, it constantly came out, I yam what I yam (which made him sound like he considered himself to be a tuberous root of some sort). I used to watch Popeye, but I was never his biggest fan. But at least he knew who he was—himself.

Cold Spinach

Maybe that’s why I don’t like hearing, “It is what it is.” Every time I hear it, I picture a guy with pencil-thin biceps who thrives on spinach (straight from a can, no less). It’s all rather revolting in my book.

Unfortunately for me, I really can’t argue with the use of that phrase. It’s Biblical… In the third chapter of Exodus, Moses asks the Lord what his name is. God famously answers, “I AM WHO I AM.” He then instructs Moses to tell the children of Israel that he was sent to them by “I AM” (Exodus 3:13-15). This is why you may have heard God referred to as the “Great I Am.”

If you look in a Bible that has footnotes, you might see that the phrase, “I AM WHO I AM,” has an alternate translation. It could also be interpreted to say, “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” Another way of putting it would be to say, “HE IS WHAT HE IS.” It’s all beginning to sound way too familiar.

No One Can Label God

There are at least a couple of ideas behind this so-called name. First, I think you’d agree that “I AM” isn’t much of a name—at least not in the context of what we like to call a name. Jim, Sally, and Pat are more in our ballpark. Still, we don’t get to choose God’s name. He does. God is basically saying that no one can put a label on him.

Secondly, it denotes several things. It signifies tense, as in past, present, and future. He is who he is, was who he was, and will be who he will be. He always was, is now, and ever will be. You’ve probably heard that one (just add the phrase, world without end, and it will ring a bell for you).

There’s only one thing left to add. “It is what it is.” There! I said it!

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

Hold My Beer

“Hold my beer” has become the thing to say. If I understand correctly, its proper context would be in the heat of a challenge (or maybe a dare). Apparently, it’s an abbreviated version of “Hold my beer and watch this!” People usually say this when they’re about to venture into an ill-advised action. I can’t remember ever having said that, but it might be because I seldom have a beer in my hand. Still, I’ve got it in reserve in case the situation ever arises.

As usual, the rise in popularity of this phrase has caused me to wonder about the life of Christ (surprise, surprise). Think about it. How many times did Jesus wade into a situation that seemed untenable, only to face the encounter and conquer it? Please allow a few examples.

Onlooker: Jesus! Your disciples are out in the boat and I see a storm rushing down that northwest wadi! You’ll never get there in time! They’ll all be drowned! Jesus: Hold my beer…

Martha: My brother, Lazarus, died and was buried four days ago. Jesus: Hold my beer…

Unnamed disciple: Lord! These people are going to push you off this cliff! Jesus: Hold my beer…

Townie: Rabbi! This guy has been blind since birth! Jesus: Hold my beer…

Demoniac: Go away you Holy One of God! Leave me alone! Jesus: Hold my beer…

All this tongue-in-cheek-ness is nonsense of course. If I understand correctly, the preferred drink of the time was wine, not beer. I’m pretty sure Jesus never used that phrase at all. Still, he never seemed afraid to tackle the spiritual challenges that were before him. While the preceding dialogs were written in jest, the circumstances were real.

Jesus did walk on water, raise people from the dead, walk through hostile crowds, heal the blind, and cast out demons. He did a lot of other things as well.

The Real Reason

Besides the fact that beer was not the common drink of his era, there is another more important reason why he would have never used that phrase. The reason is a simple one. He didn’t do any of these things to make himself look good. He wasn’t seeking his fifteen minutes of fame. He wasn’t trying to drum up popularity for himself.

Unlike those of us who say, “Hold my beer” today, Jesus had no ulterior motive. He just loved people and wanted to help them. He had compassion on them. He empathized with their plight.

While it’s the miracles we seem to remember most, Jesus made it clear that’s not why he came. He, himself, told us his prime reason for being here was to preach the good news (Mark 1:21-38). The miracles and other acts of compassion were extras, so to speak. And while those acts confirmed his spiritual authority, they were not his main purpose. He unassumingly met needs where he saw them. No thanks needed… No undue accolades sought out…

He inspires me to do more…even with no beer to hand off.

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

Should We Take the Laundry Pod Challenge?

Well, Okay… Now I’ve heard everything (maybe). I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but I just saw a quick news report about the thing they’re calling the “laundry pod challenge,” or more specifically, the “Tide Pod Challenge.” Somewhere along the way, someone decided it would be a good idea to challenge other people to eat a laundry pod.

The producers of such pods were reported to have expressed concerns over using their products in such a manner. I would hope so. Still, it boggles the imagination that people are actually taking up such a challenge. I suppose it’s simply because a dare is a dare.

By all reports, most of the people who are actually taking up the so-called challenge are teenagers. It puts me in mind of other challenges that have been issued in the past. In the Roaring Twenties, young folks were eating live goldfish—swallowing them whole.

“It became a thing.”

When I was a kid, things had escalated to the point where people were biting the heads off of live chicks (the birds, not the girls). This got started by a rumor that Alice Cooper had done so on stage. He actually hadn’t done it, but everyone believed he did. Hence, it became a thing.

The whole Tide Pod phenomenon puts me in mind of some of the silliest warnings I’ve seen on retail products. For example: containers of Drano warn not to ingest the crystals, chain saws warn not to grab the wrong end, and scooters warn that the product moves when used. There’s even a set of precision screw drivers that warn not to insert one into your—dare I say it—penis. I can only guess that these warnings arose because someone tried using these products in less than safe ways.

There might be a positive side to this laundry pod challenge, however. There was something akin to it that was popular when I was a kid. It wasn’t a challenge, though. It was a punishment. It wasn’t uncommon in those days for our mothers to wash out our mouths with soap if we said a bad word. As I recall, my Mom did that to me once. She never had to do it again (and I will never take the Tide Pod Challenge as a result).

From the things I’ve heard many teenagers utter these days, a Tide Pod in the mouth might be an appropriate action. Of course, it doesn’t stop with teenagers. Adults seem to be even worse. It’s an oral epidemic.

The Apostle Paul was pretty clear about not having a potty mouth. His warning label (Ephesians 4:29) to us was to keep it clean. He urged his readers to say things that would benefit their hearers instead of grossing them out. Many of us totally disregard his warning. For some, it’s like a gateway drug to larger evils. Maybe we should heed the cell phone label that actually warns against foul language “because a partner’s feeling is going to be bad.”

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

No Niños en la Canasta

Since there are only two of us in our household these days, it doesn’t pay to stock up on fresh food. I tried that for a while, but we ended up throwing too much spoilage in the trash. Consequently, I make frequent trips to the grocery store.

We recently relocated, and I’ve been trying on several new food stores for size. While I was checking one out the other day, I spotted an unfamiliar phrase on a small sign in the back of my grocery cart. The sign warned, “No niños en la canasta.”

Normally, I’m totally unaware of these things. I know this because my lovely Bride is constantly reminding me that I need to be “more aware of my surroundings.” I’m not sure if this is a genetic flaw, or if I just don’t care. Regardless, it was a tad unusual that I zeroed in on this tiny warning.

I think the first thing that caught my attention was the word “canasta.” I’m aware of that word because it’s the name of a card game my Mom taught us when we were kids. It seems to be a variety of rummy in which you combine about thirty-seven regular decks of cards, pass them out to the contestants, play one hand all day, and pretend like it’s a barrel of laughs. In our home, however, we were out for blood, so actual fun was not the goal of the competition. Because of that, I always assumed canasta was Italian for “backstabber.”

Professor Gonzales

When I got into high school, I took four years of Spanish. During that time, I got fairly proficient at saying, “Si,” and “No.” The “no” part came rather easily for obvious reasons, but “si” was a bit tougher. Truth be told, however, my real proficiency in mastering that one must be attributed to Speedy Gonzales (from whom I also learned the term, “Yeehaw!”).

Anyway, during one of our vocabulary lessons, I discovered that canasta is not Italian at all (and it doesn’t mean backstabber). It’s Spanish for basket. This is really confusing because we never used a basket. We used a double-dished, plastic container that barely held most of the cards. Apparently, the Spaniards took the time to weave baskets large enough for this purpose. We, on the other hand, wanted to get straight to the bloodletting.

So, seeing this blast from my past, my curiosity was aroused. With my extensive background in the Spanish language, I quickly interpreted the sentence to mean, “No children in the basket.” It also helped that the English translation was printed directly above the Spanish words. With a sigh of relief, I determined I was safe from the Canasta Police, as I had no niños on my person (nor was I playing cards).

The point to all this is my New Year’s resolution from about four years ago—to become more fluent in my second language. I took the canasta thing to be a reminder from God. Look out, Rosetta Stone!

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

Oprah for Prez

I hate award shows. I’m not sure why—I just do. However, my lovely Bride seems to thrive on them. That being the case, I was coerced into watching the Golden Globe Awards a few evenings ago.

During the opening monologue, the emcee (Seth Meyers) joked that Oprah Winfrey should run for president. Even though everyone was laughing (including Oprah), there seemed to be a serious tone behind it. The next day, everyone was talking about it—even the newscasters. They were all asking if Oprah would, could, or even should take the plunge.

Not long after all this transpired, a meme emerged with Oprah’s face and a very telling caption. The wording was as follows: “The same people whining about a billionaire reality TV star in the White House want a billionaire reality TV star in the White House.”

I Dont Really Care

Frankly, I could care if Oprah runs for president. In fact, I think it would be really interesting. I felt the same way when The Donald announced he would run. I didn’t figure he had a snowball’s chance, but here we are. Both Oprah and Donald are American Citizens and have attained the age of thirty-five years. So, according to the constitution, they’re eligible.

The thing I find really interesting about all this is that meme. Regardless of the subject, we seem to have an immense propensity for finding fault with anyone or anything we oppose. Then we’ll turn around and defend someone or something with the identical “faults” merely on the basis that we like them. In other words, we’re blatantly inconsistent.

Another word for it is we are good at upholding double standards. An even worse way to put it is we’re two-faced. Like it or not, most of us fall into this trap in one area or another.

The fact is we tend to have biases that override our sense of fairness, neutrality, and sound judgment. Our biases (or dare I say, “prejudices”) cloud our thinking—balanced arguments be damned. Let’s just say, it’s not a pretty picture.

I’m Such a Hypocrite

Jesus had a solid bent against such thinking. In a very famous passage (one used by Christians and non-Christians alike) he asked the question, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” If you read the entire pericope, you’ll see that he calls such behavior hypocritical. I don’t know about you, but I hate being called a hypocrite (but I AM one, of course—we all are to some degree or another).

Sometimes, our way of reasoning is absolutely indefensible. So often, it’s not reasoning at all. Our decisions are often based on feelings, prejudice, and/or wistfulness. Even worse, the way we defend our decisions make little or no sense. As in the meme, we’ll make the very same arguments for our positions and against opposing ones.

In this case, it all seems quite appropriate. The White House makes for great reality TV.

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


I Kicked a Pile of Dog Poop

“I kicked a pile of dog poop in flip flops today. How was your day?” A friend of mine posted that on Facebook one day. Certainly not the most pleasant image I’ve ever conjured up. I’m pretty sure such an event would get my day started off on a sour note.

How often have you heard someone say, “I’m having a bad day”? More times than you can count, I would imagine. I can recall saying it a few thousand times myself. It’s become a well-worn, overused phrase.

What really constitutes a bad day, though? And, if you’re really having a bad day, what one incident would turn the worst day into a good one? Is it even possible to turn a bad day into one that is worth living?

White Girl Problems

Most of the time, our bad days (at least my bad days) aren’t nearly as unbearable as we make them out to be. Kicking dog poop in flip-flops probably doesn’t make a day untenable (as much as I’d hate for that to happen to me). People have come up with some clever lines for such problems.

You’ve probably heard some of them. They are called “First world problems,” “white girl problems,” or “I wish I had your problems.” Only specific people can use certain of these phrases with impunity, but everyone has at least one they can pull out when necessary.

I was having one of those “bad” days recently when I saw a video of a homeless encampment. The people were enduring sub-freezing temperatures in tents, and they were within driving distance of where I live (all warm and snuggled by my living room fireplace). All of a sudden, my day didn’t seem bad at all. By comparison, I was having a great day.

On the other hand, once I saw that video, it really ruined my day. It ruined my day because I now knew of fellow human beings who needed my help. I tried shrugging it off, but I couldn’t. There were things I could do, and I couldn’t deny it.

Have a Nice Day

It would have been easy to say, “It’s not my problem.” It would have been somewhat truthful to say, “There’s not much I can do.” I could also have said, “I’m surrounded by such problems every day. I can’t fix every one of them.” After all, even Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you…” (Matthew 26:11). Of course, I don’t dare quote that one in context. It would blow my whole argument.

The fact is, these sorts of things ARE my problem. There ARE things I can do. And even if I can’t fix everything, I can certainly fix a few things. (Are these thoughts causing your day to go south?)

I don’t know how many actual bad days I’ve ever really had. In fact, I might have never had a truly bad day. The next time I think I’m having one, I’m going to kick some dog poop just to make sure.

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