Retirement Vertigo

The other day, I was minding my own business when I realized I didn’t know what day it was. I tried searching my mind for a marker of some kind to help me establish what part of the week I was in. As I did, I felt a bit dizzy and disoriented. This only lasted a few seconds until I was able to land on my chronological feet and realize that it was Tuesday.

The only reason I even remember this momentary experience is what popped into my mind as it happened. For some reason, the term, “retirement vertigo,” invaded my brain. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that phrase anywhere, so I’m guessing it’s original with me. There’s nothing like coining a phrase, I always say. I don’t know if it will ever catch on, but it sure described the moment for me.

Retirement is an odd thing. I keep pretty busy, but I do have a few free days here and there.  If I don’t have something on my calendar, I lose my bearings (and retirement vertigo sets in). Sometimes, it makes me wonder if retirement is even Biblical.

Biblical Retirement

As near as I can tell, retirement is only mentioned once in Scripture. In Numbers 8:25, the Levitical priests are told that “at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer.” So, the only retirement mentioned in the Bible is a forced retirement. From my perspective, that amounts to early vertigo. Forced retirement these days is usually at least sixty-five and usually more often seventy or seventy-two.

For much of my life, I worked two jobs—just crazy, I guess. I retired from one job when I was sixty-five. The other was a part time gig, so I hung in there with that one until I was sixty-eight. I’ve now been in full retirement mode for six months, and all is well—except for the occasional retirement vertigo.

I found that what most retirees say is true. “You have to do SOMETHING, or you’ll go crazy.” I had a backyard fence installed a couple months back by a guy who had retired a few years ago but returned to the business because he was bored out of his tree. Frankly, I can’t imagine that happening to me, but I’m lucky on that score because I write a lot.

Keeping Busy

I think the secret to a happy retirement is having just enough on your plate to keep you from becoming disinterested with your life. I always thought my Dad would hate retirement because he seemed like such a workaholic. It turns out that he enjoyed his last years immensely because he did just enough to keep himself busy.

So, I guess the rest of that Numbers passage is important, because it further instructs the priests that, “They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work” (V. 26). Sounds like a plan…

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

40 Million

We, in this country, toss around a lot of talk about racism, oppression, and the vestiges of slavery. Each of these topics is worthy of discussion and consideration—not to mention, action. Still, I’m afraid that they tend to overshadow (even obscure) the fact that there are more slaves across the earth today than at any time in the history of the planet.

I’m not speaking of spiritual slaves (as in slaves to our own sinfulness), child labor, or even sweat shops. I’m talking about literal slaves—people owning other people—people maintaining total control and power over others. In today’s world, there are 40 million slaves.

If you add up all the slave trade that brought people to the North American Continent over the 400 years it was legal to do so, you’d have to multiply that by four to equal the mass of human trafficking that is currently in existence. It’s bad enough that this condition exists—it’s worse that we (for the most part) ignore it or don’t even realize it still occurs.

$150 Billion Industry

Human trafficking currently generates $150 billion (yes, with a “b”) annually. It’s pervasive, insidious, and disgusting. Yet, we hear very little about it. We are tucked away in our own cozy cocoons of prosperity and comfort, so we give little thought to the fact that slavery could be as widespread as it is. After all, we outlawed that in this country over 150 years ago. We fought a war that resulted in its abolishment. It’s a thing of the past, so why worry about it?

Why indeed? When someone in the heart of America can request and direct a made-to-order, online sexual escapade between two slaves (often children) from another part of the world, we are complicit. Cyber-sex slavery is the fastest growing form of human bondage, and powerful western wealth can command a large seat at that table—and normally does.

The victims of this profuse enslavement are usually the poor and weak. Children make up a high percentage of them. The fact that many of us are either unaware, complacent, or even uncaring is a pathetic statement about our willingness to hide in our nests of luxury and well-being and avert our eyes from reality.

Supermaarko

If you’ve got enough courage to take a quick look at a brief story of a seven-year-old boy named Maarko and his little sister, I encourage you to click on this link (Supermaarko). If it doesn’t move you to some kind of action, you haven’t got a heart. The action could take the form of prayer, monetary support, or physical involvement. In any case, a little compassion can go a long way.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks through the prophet and says, “Loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” We’ve been called by God to do this. We have the power to accomplish it. Do we have the will? I sincerely hope so.

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

Losing Your Religion

“Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” ~C.S. Lewis~

I read those words on a Twitter feed this morning, and they hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. They burst upon my brain like a tornado, because they are ultimately true—and seldom considered (at least by me).

We attach our happiness to a lot of stuff. And, from what I can tell, most of that stuff consists of things we can lose. They range from little items, like what we drink, to much weightier things like spouses and health. It seems that we base a lot of our happiness on entities to which we might have to wave bye-bye at any moment. It seems a tad odd that we would do so, but since life is fleeting, apparently our happiness is as well.

The moment I read Lewis’ words, the phrase, “losing your religion,” popped into my head. Don’t ask me why—I’m not sure either. But it probably has something to do with the fact that I (along with a lot of other folks) equate authors like Lewis with our faith journeys. It occurred to me that Lewis would undoubtedly link any true happiness he had with his faith (or religion, as many like to term it). In that case, if you lose your religion, you lose your happiness.

The fact is, however, no one can take your faith away from you. They can steal your spouse, your car, your ID, and maybe even your sanity. They can’t steal your belief system. That, my friend, is yours and yours alone. It is the bedrock foundation of who you are, and it stands in your life when everything else falls.

I’ve seen people of faith go through a lot. The common statement from many of them is, “I don’t know how people go through these things without Jesus.” Instead of the name, Jesus, you can hear other substitutes like faith, God, and the Lord. It all comes down to the same thing. If your happiness is fastened to something you can’t lose, you’ll always be happy.

I Don’t Know How

The interesting thing about all this is the term, happiness. As far as I can tell, we are not guaranteed happiness in Scripture. Still, the thing we probably seek most in this life is happiness. The people who do this include Christians. Somehow, we think if we are happy, God is pleased with us.

The truth is, God doesn’t dole out happiness to those who serve Him best or please Him most. If that were the case, we wouldn’t wind up asking why some of the best people we know go through the most tragic of situations. Yet, we seem to do that quite often.

It’s common knowledge (although our actions belie the truth of it) that real happiness doesn’t lie in the abundance of our possessions. Your happiness lies in the eternal. Just thank God you can’t lose your religion (although sometimes we seem to misplace it).

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

Traveling Northward

As I write this, there is a caravan of thousands marching toward the US border from the south. Depending on who you believe, the number of people heading our direction totals anywhere from 3000 to 7000—in any case, no small aggregate of humanity.

Their stated goal, if I understand correctly, is to seek asylum in the good, old US of A. Everyone, of course, is all up in arms about the whole deal. People on the left are excited about the turmoil this influx will undoubtedly have on the upcoming elections. People on the right are just as excited that the caravan will have a chilling effect on anyone who is suspicious of people breaking into their country, thus causing them to vote for conservative candidates.

I’m not sure what kind of effect any of this will actually have on our elections, but I’d like to put that aside for a moment. I’d like to focus in on the horde traveling northward. As much publicity as they’re receiving, their story is, most likely, largely untold.

Snatched Up

We don’t know who they are. The only thing we seem to know for sure is that it is a concerted effort organized and spearheaded by a former Honduran legislator named Bartolo Fuentes. He, himself, was snatched up and detained by Guatemalan authorities as the throng attempted to pass through that country.

The remaining nameless people in the march to the border will likely diminish for reasons most of us will never consider. Traveling through Central America is fraught with dangers. One journalist reports that “Migrants are frequently robbed, sexually assaulted, and go for long stretches without eating. Some fall prey to human trafficking organizations. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to these crimes.”They might feel like there’s safety in numbers, but unbeknownst to them, some of their traveling companions might be their worst enemies. Suffice it to say,they’re risking a lot.

The worst part just might be that they’re unwitting pawns in a scheme to make a political statement for someone else. They’ve undoubtedly been lured by a promise of freedom and prosperity. For some, it may well end in tragedy.

A Guy Named Moses

A few thousand years ago, there was this guy named Moses who attempted to pull off a similar caravan. He, too, was traveling northward. Before he got to his Promised Land, he was snatched up as well (not by the Guatemalans, but by God Himself). This occurred after wandering around in the wilderness north of Egypt for forty years. His followers became angry with Moses, and the Lord became angry with the followers. They finally made it, but they lost an entire generation in the process.

Maybe that’s what these modern-day Israelites are attempting to do—deposit future generations into their promised land. Like the Israelites of old, they are causing more than a little anger and angst. The big difference, here, is that we probably won’t have to wait forty years to witness the results of their journey.

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

The Big Bird Moment

I just heard that Big Bird is retiring. I guess the lengthy avian is almost as old as I. He first made the scene in 1969 when I was nineteen. I’m not sure how old he was at that time, but I’m pretty sure he was full grown by then. I never actually watched his show very much, but he was still a favorite of mine.

In actuality, I’m guessing Big Bird is going nowhere. I haven’t detected any gray feathers on the old guy. The one who is retiring is the dude who was his voice for almost fifty years, Caroll Spinney. He was also the man behind Oscar the Grouch who was even more favored by me than the large, yellow fowl.

Spinney is now eighty-four years old, so I guess it’s his time. He obviously deserves it, although he says playing the two great Muppets gave him a sense of purpose. Making millions of kids (not to mention adults) happy would do that.

Making Millions Happy

Finding that kind of niche rather early in life is a definite boon. Not all of us are that fortunate. Many of us have to plod through life much longer to hit our stride. Some of us, I suppose, never quite get there.

I started out to become a major league baseball player. That got sidetracked early by a lack of athletic prowess. Then I looked to become a rock star. That, also, crashed and burned. A shortage of musical ability no doubt played into that.

Along the way, I tried various things. Most of them never panned out. I suppose a dearth of real desire contributed to each demise, but at least, I checked them out.

Finally, I became a preacher. The first time I stepped into a pulpit was a Big Bird moment for me. I wasn’t sure what the future held, but I was hooked. The calling of God will do that to you.

Now that I’m retired, that call is as strong as ever—maybe stronger. Our calling never fades—it never goes away. It continues to grow, and the Lord prepares us to grow into it.

It Never Goes Away

You have been and continue to be called as well. Yours might not be to preach. It might be to become a fantastic mom, a reliable plumber, or a steady laborer. How you answer the call is probably less important than the fact that you recognize it and respond. If it hasn’t already arrived, your Big Bird moment is coming.

The call story of Isaiah is a famous one. Hewas already serving Yahweh as a priest in the Temple. God called him to domore. His next step—prophet. It was his Big Bird moment if you will. His lipswere cleansed, he said, “Here am I, send me” and he never looked back.

You and I will probably never be as famous as Isaiah, but our calling is just as important. Answering will become the most fulfilling experience of your life.

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

Hugs All Around

It was an interesting week in politics. Actually, most weeks are politically interesting, but this one was particularly fascinating because of some White House visitors.

There are large groups of White House guests each week, so why was this any different? The variance is certainly not earthshattering, but I found it to be more than intriguing that POTUS was getting extra hugs. The enthralling part is from whom the hugs originated.

180 Degrees

Early on, Kanye West (along with NFL superstar, Jim Brown) called on the President. After a lengthy bombast, West gave Mr. Trump a hug. In case you’re unaware, Kanye is a famous rapper (as in rap music). Not being a huge rap fan, I only knew him from a statement he made several years ago when he brashly announced that (then president) George Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” Now, to see him embrace this president is quite a shocker. Somewhere along the way, he made a 180° turn in attitude. Admittedly, he still might think that “W” doesn’t care about black people, but he certainly doesn’t feel that way about The Donald.

Later in the week, Pastor Brunson (newly freed from a Turkish prison after a two-year incarceration) knelt in the Oval Office, embraced the President, and prayed for him—out loud and unashamedly. I’m sure the separation of church and state folks were a tad miffed, but praying for the President, no matter who may hold the office, should be a common practice among all people of faith.

So, we have the juxtaposition of two presidential hugs. One from a black, Chicago rapper… The other from a white, Presbyterian, North Carolinian… I guess the old saying is true. “It takes all kinds.” Thank God for diversity.

Holy Embrace

The Bible doesn’t actually say much about people hugging each other, but it says a lot about how we should greet one another. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letters to the churches that we should greet each other with a “holy kiss.” He repeated this four times in writing, and my guess would be that he also said it a bunch as he traveled around and preached. Since we don’t use that term much anymore, various Bible translations have rendered the holy kiss phrase as warm greetings, kiss of peace, shake hands warmly, and holy embraces all around. I think we get the idea.

Though Kanye West has since verbally rejected much of his upbringing, he was reportedly raised in a Christian home. And while Christians don’t have a full nelson on hugging, he might possibly have garnered that habit in the congregation of his youth. POTUS became the latest beneficiary.

Pastor Brunson, on the other hand, appears to be steeped in Scripture. He was an evangelist in Turkey for twenty years prior to his arrest. His expressed love for the Turkish people (as well as for the President who brought him home) came through in his hug.

Maybe we should take a cue from these guys. Hugs all around!

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

I’m Seeing Red

When Elizabeth Warren claimed to be a Cherokee Indian, a lot of folks were skeptical. Even the President challenged her on her racial assertions. He stated that, if she could prove she was an Indian, he’d give one million dollars to her favorite charity. Finally, the Boston Globe called her out on it and pushed her to get a DNA test to prove her proclamations.

I didn’t think she’d do it, but there it is—out there for all the world to see. She is 1/1024th Native American. I’m not sure if she thinks this is vindication for her position, but I’d be a tad skeptical about that. Frankly, however, I couldn’t care less.

I think the real question is one that most people are missing. I’ve heard only one commentator even mention this in passing. If white privilege is so pervasive in our culture, why would anyone try to pass themselves off as someone from another race? In Warren’s case, she apparently decided this would enhance her career. It seems to have worked, because, for a long time, she was touted as Harvard law school faculty’s first female person of color. From what I can gather, she made a lot of money for her institution with that status.

Person of Color (Red)

Now, with her DNA test results, we finally know that the claim was true. Well, it was true if 1/1024th qualifies. Who’s to say? Harvard, I guess.

I’m not in a position to judge the good Senator. Even if she did it to perpetrate a hoax on us all, I’m no better. There have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve pretended to be something (or someone) I’m not. The older I get, the less I find myself doing that, but it certainly has happened.

Even if I had never done that, judging someone else is seldom a good idea. Actually, it might never be a good idea. Jesus, in fact, informed us that we should avoid judging others unless we were prepared to be on the other end of that judgment. In the same passage, he made his famous statement about removing the log from your own eye before you attempt to get the speck out of someone else’s optical orb. If I’m going to take Jesus seriously, I guess any judgment of Ms. Warren on my part is out of line.

“Seneca, I Believe”

I can’t help but be interested in her claim to be from an Indian tribe, however. I’m actually married to a woman whose heritage includes a bit of Native American (Seneca, I believe). I keep urging her to go get a piece of the casino pie, but that’s a story for another day.

I guess Warren’s worst sin (if there is one) would be what our society likes to call “cultural appropriation.” In a recent poll, however, we discovered that the bulk of the American Indian population doesn’t care about political correctness (which is what cultural appropriation is). Still, they’re seeing red when it comes to Warren’s political maneuvering.

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

Ignoring the Flight Attendant

As I write this, I’m on a flight northward. Every time I fly, I feel bad for the flight attendants. The reason for this is the fact that no one ever seems to pay any attention to them when they explain the safety instructions. I must admit, however, neither do I. Well, I do every once in a while, simply because I feel guilty (as well as feeling bad).

I remember the olden days when I seldom flew. At that time, I clung to every word they said—probably because I was sure my flight was the one that would go down. I wanted to make sure I had all the safety procedures as memorized as I could. After a few hundred flights (or however many I’ve taken over the years), I’m not quite so concerned. First of all, I don’t think my flight is the one that’s going down. Secondly, even if it did, I’m not sure any of those procedures would actually come in handy. Everyone would shift into panic mode, and we’d all forget everything anyway.

Snack Time

The whole tenor of the situation changes when the flight attendants are delivering the goodies. They announce that they’re about to traverse the aisle with their cart of delectable delights, and everyone is all about paying attention. I’m not exactly sure why that is, though. A soda and some pretzels are even less exciting than the safety instructions.

Sometimes I wish the attendants would just skip their little gyrations with the fake seatbelt and oxygen mask. I suppose there are laws and regulations that force them to go through the motions, but who cares? There is at least one airline (the name of which eludes me at this moment) that shows a video instead of putting the attendants through their game of charades. I’m always relieved when I see the video pop up. It means I don’t have to feign interest when the attendant’s eye catches mine.

My Suspicions

It’s kind of like being in a worship service and mentally drifting off when the preacher is delivering the morning message. The big difference for me is the fact that I don’t do a crossword puzzle during worship like I do when I’m flying. That would really be embarrassing. Another difference is the additional fact that I’m often the preacher. I’ve never caught anyone doing a crossword puzzle during my sermon, but I get the sneaking suspicion some people are playing games on their cell phones. (Actually, that’s not true. I never have that suspicion. But, it might be true nonetheless.)

The Apostle Paul once preached a sermon that not only was boring, but it put a kid to sleep. The young man was sitting in a third story window, nodded off, and fell to the ground. That’s Biblical evidence that it’s important to pay attention—particularly when high altitudes are involved. The fact is, we should all pay better attention to each other. If we did, our world would be a better place.

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

Standing on the Bridge

Some of you may remember the comedian, Emo Philips. He used to do a routine about seeing a guy on the Golden Gate Bridge. The short version went like this:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

If you’re interested in seeing the long version, you can check it out on YouTube. Emo is definitely an acquired taste, but I’ve acquired it.

Too Close to Home

His joke, while funny, hits a bit too close to home. We Christians often wear blinders when it comes to our theology and our loyalties. We seem more apt to hold to the old saw that states, “Birds of a feather flock together” than we are to worship Jesus in unity. We divide ourselves by denomination, theology, practice, tradition, and (even more sadly) sometimes by race.

The late Keith Green used to tell a story about going to perform a concert for a congregation in the northwestern part of the country. He discovered, while there, that the congregation was the result of a church split. They were Baptists who argued over whether the water in the baptistery should be heated or allowed to remain cold. A disgusted Green referred to them as the “hot water Baptists” and the “cold water Baptists.” Need I say more?

Green’s experience illustrates an even deeper divide. We not only carve ourselves up into denominations, but we also seem to do our darndest to pare ourselves up even further. The denomination in which I served for almost forty years is a prime example of this. We are currently poised to possibly enter into a three-way split. If that occurs, it will undoubtedly result in an untold number of splinter groups as well.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder

I’m not a believer in “unity at all costs,” but I do take seriously the Lord’s call for cohesiveness among the brethren. I’m thinking I should be comfortable worshiping with almost any congregation, praying with any prayer warriors, and doing spiritual battle shoulder-to-shoulder with any Christian soldier.

Emo’s joke sheds an uneasy light on our failure to do these things. So, please don’t push me off the bridge.

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

The Politics of Religion

Last week, I wrote a blog entitled, “The Religion of Politics.” In it, I postulated that, for many people, politics has become their religion. I’m not sure how many folks agree with me on that point, but it got a significant number of hits (readers).

Even as I wrote the title, I had to think about whether to call it “The Religion of Politics,” or “The Politics of Religion.” In processing that conundrum, it occurred to me that not only were they distinctly different, but they were both worth exploring. While some people may adopt politics AS their religion, there is no doubt that there are many people of faith who inject politics INTO their religion.

I just came across a Twitter post of a young man who said, “You are finished, (insert name of political party here). You polished the final nail for your own coffins. F**K. YOU. ALL. TO. HELL. I hope the last images burned into your slimy, evil, treasonous retinas are millions of [people] laughing and clapping and celebrating as your souls descend into the flames.”

“Descend into the Flames”

I’ve never done an extensive study of world religions, so I’m not sure how many of them believe in a hell (or a burning one at that). Apparently, this guy does, and his beliefs include burning those who disagree with his politics in the flames of hell. I can only assume he believes he will not be assigned there one day.

I’ve heard other people elevate the US Constitution to the level of Scripture. They believe that both the Bible and the Constitution were inspired by God. They are on an opposite end of the spectrum from our original example, but they are both politicizing their religion.

There are some Christians who believe one must be a Democrat to practice the Christian faith. Others believe you have to be a Republican to be a follower of Christ. I’m not sure where that leaves an unaffiliated soul like myself, but I’ll take my chances.

“An Incredible Phenomenon”

I’ve seen many congregations over the years that have openly supported one political party over another. Some churches split over such affiliations. In my eyes, that’s always been an incredible phenomenon. I don’t recall Jesus getting very political (although there have been books written to propose the opposite view).

The truth remains, however, that following Jesus will get you into trouble with the powers that be—sooner or later. I’ve never preached a sermon that propagated for one political party, but I’ve preached through many passages that would lead us to oppose some of the practices of governments and political leaders. It, inevitably, got me into hot water (or at least a cold reception).

While Jesus (at least in my view) was not political, he was certainly revolutionary. The problem with injecting politics into your religion is that, eventually, you will stop being revolutionary and become more loyal to your party than to Jesus. If I’m not mistaken, God calls that, “worshiping idols.” May it never be.

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