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.]

 

Always the Stewardess!

I was talking to a friend recently who used a phrase I’d never heard. He was speaking about pastors usually attempting to be upbeat and personal, and said, “Always the stewardess!”

Even as old as I am, I’ve never heard that term before. I suspect, given the disappearance of the word “stewardess,” I might never hear it again. I don’t think there are any stewardesses these days. They’re all flight attendants (men included). Still, I get it.

Stewardesses Were the Best

In the old days, at least, the stewardesses were expected to be bubbly, smiley, polite and helpful. I don’t know if the flight attendants of today are expected to be the same. For the most part, I’ve not found them to be like that, but I’m not the most frequent of fliers.

Just as importantly, I’ve not found too many pastors who are like that either. I know I’m not. These days, people are more likely to be themselves rather than put it on.

The problem with always being the stewardess is that no one ever knows the real you. Of course, the problem with not always being the stewardess is that people can get put off very quickly. There are expectations, you know.

I remember years ago, I was serving a congregation in a full-time pastoral capacity. Due to the workload, we developed a policy that stated the pastor would only perform wedding ceremonies for people who were an active part of the congregation.

I’m Definitely NOT a Stewardess

One day, a man and his daughter showed up at my home asking if I would perform the daughter’s wedding. I was on my way out the door to a meeting, so I gave them a brochure that explained the policy and asked them to look it over and give me a call.

The man looked at me and said, “You’re not much of a pastor, are you?” I wasn’t in a particularly good mood to begin with, but when he said that, I definitely proved that I’m not “always the stewardess.” I wasn’t ignorant, or anything, but I’m sure my change of tone gave away my displeasure.

This whole train of thought causes me to wonder if Jesus was always the stewardess (so to speak). I know he wasn’t such when he was confronted by his Pharisee contemporaries, but how was he with everyone else? The Bible doesn’t really give us much insight to his actual personality. We can tell that he was kind and compassionate, so our immediate impression is that he was very affable. Still, a person can be kind and compassionate without being bubbly, smiley and over-polite. I suppose we’ll never know on this side of the bar.

The Apostle Paul did tell us things like, “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” He wanted us to be like that, but he didn’t say Jesus was like that. He did add, however, that we should be forgiving like Jesus (Ephesians 4:32).

I guess I should be just be content to know I’ve been forgiven.

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

The DMV Revisited

A few days ago, I wrote a blog entitled My Recent Adventure at the DMV. It was quite an amazing visit and definitely by far my best venture into the forays of institutionalized vehicular management. In brief, it was short and sweet—not something everyone can attest to when trekking there.

While there, I had to fill out a form (surprise, surprise). This brief questionnaire was going to help the State of Virginia do several things for me. It would enable them to renew my driver’s license, change my physical address (I just moved), and transfer my voting registration to my current location.

It was a Governmental Miracle

The fact that one, solitary form was going to suffice for all these things has to be some sort of governmental miracle. Not since Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes (Matthew 15:29-39) has there been a proliferation of such magnitude. The knowledge that the regime devised this magnificent instrument boggles the imagination.

In filling out said form, I had to answer some simple questions to help our local gendarmes properly identify me—should the case arise. Among them, I had to verify my age and my weight. Since driver’s licenses are only issued once every ninety-nine years or so (give or take), both of these things had changed significantly. The weight thing particularly irritated me, but I couldn’t lie. It’s becoming more and more obvious these days that I no longer weight 145 pounds.

But it was another question that really caught me by surprise. There it was—a blank line preceded by the phrase, “hair color.” That’s a simple query—one that I’ve answered a thousand times in my life. I quickly began to pencil in the letter “b” for brown when an unknown force stopped me dead in my tracks. For some reason, it hit me like a sledgehammer that my hair was no longer brown.

No, I haven’t dyed my flowing brunette locks. It has turned gray (which I fully blame on God, himself—if Adam can blame God for Eve’s faux pas, I can blame him for my colorless coiffe–Genesis 3:11-12). I knew this fact before, but having to put it down in black and white (for the government, no less) was a tad unnerving.

“Replete with the silver locks…”

To make matters worse, the young lady assisting me looked at my picture on the old license and chuckled. Then she quipped, “We’re definitely going to have to take a new picture of you.” I’m not sure I saw the humor in that, but I now have a fresh ID photo…replete with the silver locks I now sport.

Just to make myself feel better, I launched into a short rant about how I used to have this wonderful head of hair for which many women would have died. She listened patiently, nodding and smiling as I prattled on. As I look back on it, her patience has to be another DMV miracle. I’ve never experienced that quality from them before. God is good (even at the DMV)!

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

The Decapitated Santa

As we head into the New Year, I have to get something off my chest. I’m married to a woman who is all about decorating. If it doesn’t move, she’ll decorate it. If it does move, she still may decorate it. (If you visit us, make sure you keep breathing.)

Consequently, there are Christmas decorations all over our home. One such decoration is prominently displayed in our living room each yuletide season. It always hangs from the center of the fireplace mantle—front and center.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve watched one too many episodes of Game of Thrones, but this decoration looks like the head of a decapitated Santa to me. There’s no blood on him, but he keeps looking at me with a face that says, “Why didn’t you stop this when you had the chance?”

“He’s right, of course.”

He’s right, of course. I didn’t do the dastardly deed myself, but I’m definitely an enabler. Each year, I carry the box containing the corpus delicti up from the basement and present it to my lovely Bride. Before I know it, our victory over Saint Nick is conspicuously flaunted once again. It’s not on a spike, mind you, but the violent overtones can be sensed as one walks through the room.

This cephalic symbol of the season of giving is rather oxymoronic as far as I’m concerned. We “take” Santa’s head, and (in its presence) “give” gifts to all our friends and loved ones. It’s an overused phrase (but in this instance, a highly appropriate one)—“Oh, the humanity!”

I’ve never brought this up to my spouse. I almost always leave the decorating up to her. Moreover, I just don’t feel the need to place myself in harm’s way over a long-dead head. It might not even be the real Santa, after all. It might simply be one of his “helpers” as they say. Still, it causes an uneasy feeling when I see my granddaughter staring at it.

So, hopefully, my wife won’t read this. I would also appreciate any of you readers keeping this to yourselves. I would hate this to get out. I hear the IRS audits people who keep nefarious heads lying around. We don’t need the authorities sniffing around our digs. I’m getting a bit too old to fight those battles anymore.

“I’m afraid to ask.”

To be perfectly honest, I’m not at all sure how Santa lost his head. I wasn’t around, and frankly, I’m afraid to ask. I just obediently carry the box upstairs in December and back down in January. Mum’s the word.

The whole thing puts me in mind of Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome. You know the one. She asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter (Matthew 14:1-12). It wasn’t her idea–it was her mother’s. Even so, she did what her mother asked. Because of that, she’s the one we remember.

I can see it all now. “Yeah! Dave Zuchelli is the one who used to carry Santa’s head up and down the stairs each year.”

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

Untimely Management

My lovely Bride occasionally tells me I have lousy time-management skills. These sorts of comments really torque me off, and I would muster up a vehement, opposition argument if it weren’t true. Alas and alack, it IS true.

My problem has always been this. The most important thing to me is what I’m doing at the time. I get totally focused, and you’d better not confuse me with priorities. That’s just irritating.

The thing that interests me most usually tops my priority list. The obvious problem with that sort of prioritizing is that the thing that interests me the most is often not the most important thing to accomplish. Anyone else have this problem? Of course you do. That’s why entire seminars and courses are offered in time management.

The old (and often true) statement relays the thought that “time is money.” If our time is mismanaged, we will lose money. Even worse, we’ll lose time—possibly our most vital treasure. As everyone knows, we cannot replace the time we’ve lost.

I say we know that, but we seldom act like we know it. We’re quite good at wasting time (at least, I know I am). It’s a sad fact, but an accurate one.

Happy New Year

So now, we’re heading into a New Year. If I live through the entire three hundred and sixty-five days, I’ll have a lot of time to waste (or manage). I don’t think I’ll be reading a time management book or anything, but I suppose a New Year’s resolution to be better about using my time would be in order. The big problem with that, however, is the fact that resolutions are a waste of time (specifically what I’m attempting to avoid).

Maybe the best thing for me to do would be to look to Scripture for a snippet that would prod me toward the greater good. Lo and behold, I know such a passage. It’s found in the Old Testament book of Esther.

Esther was Jewish and married to a gentile king. She was in a position to attempt to save her people from destruction. Even as queen, her standing was tenuous, and she would be taking her life in her hands to pursue such a venture.

Nevertheless, Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, urged her to use her position to sway the king’s hand in the matter. If she were successful, the Jews would be saved (possibly including her own life). In his argument for her intervention, he uttered this famous phrase—“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

If I could adopt such an attitude, it might go a long way in helping me reform my bad, time-management habits. If I am born for such a time as this, my time must be rather important. If it’s that important, I dare not waste it.

As my Mother used to say, “Time’s a-wasting! Let’s get crackin’!” Apparently, she recognized my lousy time-management skills as well.

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