In the Blood

John Mayer recorded a song that’s getting a lot of airplay these days. It instantly became one of my all-time favorites. Not only is the melody one of those haunting, relentless pieces, but also the lyrics are stark and piercing. The song is entitled, In the Blood.

I think it hit me as hard as it did because it asks a question I’ve heard people agonize over many times. Furthermore, it combines elements of life in which I have (at various stages) spent a lot of time studying.

Making up my Mind

When I was in college, my primary field was secondary education with majors in biology and social studies. Even my college professors shook their heads and chuckled when they saw the combination of those two areas of study. They’re not exactly kissing cousins (academically speaking). I guess I always had a hard time making up my mind.

I ended up in pastoral ministry—a third, seemingly unrelated field. Spirituality and biology are sometimes at odds with each other. I guess you could say my education was well rounded.

In the Blood probably hit me hard, because it asks a question that pits genetics squarely against the social sciences (not to mention spirituality). The question Mayer asks is simply this. Am I genetically doomed to be like my Mom and Dad, or can I overcome their worst traits to be something better? People have struggled with that one forever.

I can remember growing up thinking, “I’m not going to be like that.” “That” was usually something I saw in my family I didn’t like. Frankly, some of those things were character traits I worked hard over the years to avoid or eliminate. I think Mayer is asking if that kind of change is even possible.

I’m not going to attempt a plunge into all the social aspects of why we become who we are. I will say this, however. There are days I look in the mirror and see my Father, and I don’t simply mean his physical characteristics. I see the things of him that have become a part of me—some desirable, some not so much.

Overcoming the Blood

There are times I say things and hear my Mother speaking. It’s a bit eerie and somewhat uncanny. These things are ingrained, but can they be overcome if that’s our desire?

People wrestle with this all the time. If our parents were alcoholics, are we destined to be the same? If we come from a broken home, should we avoid marriage in our own lives? On and on it goes.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. One thing I have found, however, is I can be changed from the inside out. I can overcome many genetic and/or social maladies that lie within me. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans about a spiritual renewal of the mind—a transformation (Romans 12:1-2).

The answer to Mayer’s question is, “Yes, John. It can be washed out in the water—the cleansing waters of Christ Jesus. Dive in!”

Bonds of Unholy Matrimony

This past Friday, the title subject for my weekly e-letter was robotics. Coincidentally, this morning I ran across a lengthy article entitled, Love in the Time of Robots. The article is about a Japanese scientist who is working hard to create robots that replicate human beings.

The article is centered on the kind of man the inventor happens to be. In many ways, he seems to be a very sad individual. But the thing that grabbed me was the author’s view of humans in general. When describing human relationships and bonding, he said the following. “As complex as we assume ourselves to be, our bonds with one another are often built on very ­little.” He went on to explain that, because of the thin ice of emotions upon which we build relationships, many of us wouldn’t notice that our new “friend” was a robot.

“I hope not.”

I’ve never really thought much about this before, but I really hope he’s incorrect. I hope we build our relationships on more than superficial reactions to whatever stimuli seem to exist. Bots (who in most ways might appear to be human) could, indeed, offer the proper stimulus to begin some sort of relationship. The question becomes, would they be able to provide the depth of feeling (or whatever else a relationship needs to flourish) that would actually help to sustain that relationship? My gut reaction is simple–“I hope not.”

After reading this article, I found that there are dozens more on the subject of robotic love. It seems there are myriads of people who are taken with the prospect of human-to-machine bonding. There are a lot of movies that portray such a thing, as well. Remember Johnny Five in Short Circuit? Then, of course, there are the Terminator flicks. Who can forget those?

Loving a Robot

I guess my biggest objections to loving a robot (as opposed to doing the same with a human being) would be the absence of a soul. You can love a human soul without a problem, because that soul can love you back. You can love your pet dog, because that dog can return that love (often with a more unconditional love than your own). They’re going to have to go a long way to create a robot that can do that.

The Apostle Paul once told us, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) His mindset, of course, was to give himself away for the benefit of all humanity. I’m not sure any of us could ever go that far with an automaton. Still, my lovely Bride always says “Thank you” to our in-house Echo (Alexa). It’s a bit weird to hear her say that to a “thing” rather than a person. Yet, it seems impolite to simply give her an order and leave it at that (notice, I called it a “her”).

I suppose all this will change, however, when the inventors figure out a way to install a soul into these things.

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

I’m Not Where I Want to Be

A drunken cowboy lay sprawled across three entire seats in the posh Amarillo Theater. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the cowboy, “sorry sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.”
The cowboy groaned but didn’t budge.

The usher became more impatient. “Sir, if you don’t get up from there I’m going to have to call the manager.” Once again, the cowboy just groaned.

The usher marched briskly back up the aisle, and in a moment he returned with the manager. Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move the cowboy, but with no success.

Finally they summoned the police. The Texas Ranger surveyed the situation briefly then asked, “all right buddy what’s your name?”

“Fred,” the cowboy moaned.

“Where ya from, Fred?” asked the Ranger.

With terrible pain in his voice, and without moving a muscle, Fred replied, “the balcony…”

On occasion, we all end up in places we’d rather not be. I’m sure our poor cowboy didn’t want to be broken, battered, and splattered across several seats in the theater, but there he was. We don’t know how he got there, and maybe he didn’t either. He was probably sure of one thing, however. He needed help.

This reminds me of the old Jimmy Buffett song, The Great Filling Station Holdup, which has a chorus line that says, “I wish I was someplace other than here.” Both Jimmy Buffet and our cowboy put themselves in positions that eventually caused their demise. Every one of us has done that.

Jesus once told Peter that people were going to take him to a place where he didn’t want to go (John 21:18-19). This was just before his final invitation for Peter to follow him. The strong implication of that short interlude is that when we follow Christ, we’re going to end up in places we hadn’t planned on being. It seems to be part of the territory.

“I never promised you a rose garden” could have been Jesus’ theme. There are certainly promises in Scripture, but many of them have more to do with our spiritual lives than our physical ones. Indicating to Peter that he would be led off to die at some point doesn’t seem like a good way to attract a follower. Still, the tug toward discipleship is convincing—stronger than the fear of death itself.

A lot of us want to follow Jesus in this life, but we’d sooner do it at a distance. It’s easy to realize that, if we get too close, we might end up in a precarious position—one with which we may wish we’d never become acquainted. Playing it safe is far more comfortable.

Jesus didn’t call us to be comfortable, however. He called us to places like balconies—places that are high up or far off. Venturing into those places is less than comfortable. Unfortunately, they seem to be the places Jesus hangs out.

The plus side…? Jesus is right there to help us cowboys.

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


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.]