Crackers Unchained

PETA strikes again. The wild fauna of Animal Cracker fame have been set free on the cover of their Nabisco boxes. Where once they were held captive in cages, depicting P.T. Barnum’s Circus, they now roam unfettered and unconfined. This obviously is a blow to zoo lovers everywhere.

If you look at the new containers, you may be put in mind of the Peaceable Kingdom painting of Edward Hicks. Lions, giraffes, and elephants wander shoulder to shoulder with harmony and purpose. Zebras and gorillas have been thrown in for good measure. I have to say, I wouldn’t want to run into this horde no matter how serene they appear to be.

Apparently, this victory was won at the behest of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Back in 2016, they sent a letter to Mondelez International (parent company of Nabisco) saying the following:

“Given the egregious cruelty inherent in circuses that use animals and the public’s swelling opposition to the exploitation of animals used for entertainment, we urge Nabisco to update its packaging in order to show animals who are free to roam in their natural habitats.”

Interestingly enough, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus folded their tents (literally) the next year in 2017. Now, all the cages are gone—both on the box and off.

One of PETA’s executives rejoiced over the victory by saying,

“The new box for Barnum’s Animals crackers perfectly reflects that our society no longer tolerates the caging and chaining of wild animals for circus shows.”

I’m not sure how accurate that statement happens to be, but the bars ARE gone. She could be right. At least Mondelez thinks so. They ditched a century-old tradition, and all is right with the world.

It just dawned on me that I buy my animal crackers in large, clear, plastic containers. They are packed together, laying on top of one another like sardines in a tin. I’m pretty sure that’s really inhumane. It’s a bit reminiscent of the mass graves in Nazi concentration camps. I wonder if PETA has issued a letter to Costco. If they have, it hasn’t taken effect as yet.

When it comes right down to it, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter how these delectable little morsels are packaged. People will be gnawing on them and biting their heads off however they’re depicted or revealed in the packaging.

And that little fact is probably the real crux of the matter. Pretty soon we’ll all be receiving letters from PETA urging us to become vegans. Animal crackers (at least in the form of beasts) will be banned, and some executive will announce that our society no longer tolerates the eating of animal flesh.

I guess we could blame Noah for all of this. The whole ark thing preserved all the four-legged creatures and such. Ultimately, we’ll have to blame God, however. He gave us the animals for food in the beginning of Genesis 9. What in the world was He thinking?

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

Shot Gun Wedding

Since retiring from my “day job,” I’ve been doing a lot of wedding ceremonies. By “doing,” I mean performing, celebrating, or officiating them—take your pick. It’s been a real eye-opener for me.

I just checked my records, and I’ve done an average of about twenty per year. With all that’s involved with preparation and performance, it keeps me busy. The “eye-opener” is concerning popular wedding venues. I’ve done ceremonies in national forests, municipal and state parks, inns, vineyards, wineries, museums, backyards, family decks, harbors, private homes, restaurants, farm markets, antebellum mansions, hotels, farms, old historic buildings, botanical gardens, resorts, golf courses, bed and breakfasts, country clubs, community centers, and I’ve even done one a few in churches (imagine that).

Scheduled for a Prison

I’ve done them in gazebos, pavilions, log cabins, waterfronts, living rooms, courtyards, basements, historic chapels, in front of arbors and fireplaces, near airports, on riverbanks, beside swimming pools, on rooftops, atop battle site ruins, and recently did one next to a putting green. I also had one scheduled for a prison once, but it was cancelled—not sure why.

The garb has been varied as well. I’ve been asked to wear everything from jeans to a tux, from a clergy suit to a robe, but usually a regular suit and tie. I was even asked to wear my hair in a man-bun once. I acquiesced, but I’m thinking that will be the last time for such a spectacle. I almost forfeited my man-card that day.

I don’t mean to bore you with these longs lists and details, but I personally find them to be fascinating. It used to be that the crowd would gather in a house of worship, listen to the “I do’s,” and move to the place of revelry (the reception). These days, everything is in one place. Hence, it’s not totally uncommon to see a few of the congregants with a beer or glass of wine in their hands. I’m still trying to get over that one.

All Things Nuptial

Regardless of all these new variables, there’s one common thread that never changes. At some point, I’m handed a packet from the county courthouse. This packet usually contains the unsigned marriage license and a variety of other possible items. These can be such things as receipts for the license, applications for name changes and new social security cards, advice concerning babies and blood work, instructions for wedding officiants, and informational brochures on all things nuptial.

I usually take the packet and tell the happy couple I will return anything they might need along with their handy-dandy keepsake marriage certificate by way of the U.S. Mail. This was true of my last wedding as well with one new twist. Among the extras I needed to return were two blank applications for concealed handgun permits.

I must say, this gives new meaning to the term, shotgun wedding. I probably shouldn’t ask them about it. If they tell me, they may have to kill me. Living near D.C. has its drawbacks.

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

Deadrise

My lovely Bride and I were on a short vacation to the home of a couple of friends who live on the river (well, not ON the river, but you know what I mean). They have a boat, of course, so we spent a little time on the waterways of Virginia.

One day, we took a short excursion to an awesome, seafood restaurant (one of my fave things to do—it involves eating). As we were sitting around enjoying our drinks, the sunshine, and the view, my friend imparted a little info to me. He pointed to a grounded fishing boat and told me it was called a “deadrise.” I had never heard the term before and found it to be highly intriguing. I asked him why it was named that, but he wasn’t sure.

Highly Trained

Being a highly trained, technical, twenty-first-century man, I did the logical thing. I checked out one of the search engines on the web. There it was, picture and all.

As it turns out, the term deadrise refers to the hull of the boat. Wikipedia describes these traditional fishing boats like this: “The deadrise is characterized by a sharp bow that quickly becomes a flat V shape moving aft along the bottom of the hull. A small cabin structure lies forward and a large open cockpit and work area aft.” The popularity of these babies is due to the fact that they don’t capsize very easily and are also good for traversing the shallower waters as well. Fishermen, crabbers, and eelers all favor these worthy vessels, and they have been named “the official boat of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Who knew?

As usual, however, my interest in the name of these crafts was piqued by the obvious link to Scripture. Well, it was obvious to me, at least. Any time someone mentions the words “dead” and “rise” together, theological types like myself tend to go in the direction of resurrection, miracles, and revival. I just can’t help it. I think I was a tad disappointed to find out that the term had no spiritual connotations whatsoever, but I guess the secular world has a place right alongside the transcendent. I suppose it would be a stretch to link the fact that they are fishing boats to Jesus’ call on our lives to be “fishers of men.” Still, deadrise is a cool and unique term. It’s one I will not soon forget.

Vindication!

Be that as it may, all this caused my mind to wander back to my trip to Israel a few years ago. As part of that trip, the group I joined took a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. I was curious to see if it resembled the description of the deadrise. I pulled up a few pictures of the boats used for these tours and found one that looked like the one we had ridden. Aside from the cabin up front, it looked like a deadrise to me.

I’ve been vindicated!

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

My New Prayer Language

I’ve spent a good part of the summer traveling back and forth to Florida to help restore a home we’re about to put on the market. While I enjoy that kind of work, it can take its toll. Lately, as I’ve been working on the house, I’ve noticed that every time I kneel down, try to stand up, lift almost anything, or attempt something exertive at all, my body lets out with a pathetic, audible sound. It’s as if it’s crying out to God for redemption, relief, or restoration (the three “r’s” of salvation). It’s like a new prayer language.

I suppose when the Pentecostal or Charismatic brothers and sisters refer to a “prayer language,” they’re not meaning a groan. In my case, however, that’s exactly what it seems to be. But as much as I don’t like it, it appears to be Biblical.

Get Back, Loretta

Ever since we (the human race) got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, we’ve been trying in the worst way to get back. We do it with all sorts of things and in all kinds of ways—the occasional ballgame or concert, a new car or house, or events like family gatherings. Aside from these conscious efforts, however, our bodies apparently have an innate longing to be back where everything was perfect as well.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul made mention of the fact that our earthly bodies “groan and are burdened” and desire to be back to their normal state (or maybe I should say, their ultimate one). On an even deeper level, he told the Roman church that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). So, I guess I’m in good company. If the Holy Spirit (as well as my own body) keeps praying for me, I can’t really complain.

I suppose I need to learn to pace myself. I remember observing my Dad following his retirement. He was a real worker, but he seemed to understand his limitations. His philosophy and practice became his lifestyle—get up early, work until noon, and take the rest of the day off. It seemed to work well for him. Since I’m built in his mold, I should probably give it a shot.

On a Roll

I don’t know if his routine would work for me, but I suspect I could reshape it to adapt to my existence in some way. I don’t want to wear myself out prematurely, so I suppose some changes are in order. It’s not that I’m a workaholic, but I definitely tend to overdo it when I get on a roll.

Somewhere along the way, this old body will finally give out. If I understand Scripture correctly, I’ll receive a new, glorified, spiritual body in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). It sounds like there won’t be much moaning and groaning at that point. Plus, it will be forever. I guess I can put up with my new prayer language for a little while longer.

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

Between Heaven and Hell

During our earthly existence, we live between the concepts of Heaven and Hell. I once heard it said that this life is as close to Heaven as a non-believer will ever get and that it’s as close as a believer will ever get to Hell. I suppose that’s true. Nevertheless, I’ve observed that some days seem to be heavenly while others are like going through Hell itself.

One of our problems in all of this is perspective. While we have certain images floating around in our tiny brains about what Heaven and Hell are like, we really don’t know much about either. The Bible gives us little hints here and there, but there is no definitive description of the hereafter. Much of what it says on these subjects can be viewed as parabolic or analogous—mere indications as to the nature of these states of being.

Tossed Onto the Heap

Jesus compared Hell to the Valley of Ben Hinnom (or Gehenna). This was a place just outside of Jerusalem where garbage was thrown. Like all dumps, it had occasion to burst into flame through internal combustion. The idea of being set out to the curb with the morning trash is, at the very least, an unpleasant thought. We tend to think of our lives as being worth far more than that. If we throw them (our lives) away in non-belief, we are consigning ourselves to a rubbish heap existence. I’ve spent enough time setting out the refuse to know I don’t want to do that for eternity. The stench alone is worthy of the term, Hell.

Then there’s Heaven. The closest ideas we get of eternal glory are the fleeting descriptions and references to the Garden of Eden and the fascinating portrayal of the New Jerusalem coming down from the sky to the New Earth (Revelation 21). Interestingly enough, there is no mention of people floating around on clouds playing harps.

The best, and probably most informative, depiction of Heaven is not so much about the place of Heaven but more about the mindset of Heaven (Revelation 21:3-5). In it, John is told that God is remaking everything and that the new dwelling place will be a sanctuary from things like death, tears, mourning, and pain. The actual thing that makes it heavenly is that God will be living there with his people—undoubtedly in a way that he isn’t present with us now.

A No-Brainer

Whatever descriptions and ideas we have derived from all that (whether mythical or real), two things are for certain. Hell is an existence I’m more than willing to forego, and Heaven is my desired preference after a life of uncertainty here on earth. It sounds like a no-brainer to me.

The real question then becomes, “How do we get there?” Some folks think it’s from living a life of goodness—that we can earn it. To the contrary, the Bible says we are chosen. One thing seems certain. Jesus is the key. Our best bet is to answer his call.

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

In the Grand Scheme

In the grand scheme of things, I’m a nobody. That really doesn’t matter, however, because I don’t live in the grand scheme of things. I live, for all practical purposes, in my own mind. Put another way, I live in my own little world.

As I say that, I realize that will be taken the wrong way by some because it sounds a bit self-centered. And I suppose it is in a way. But what I’m driving at is the fact that each of us (for the most part) has a small circle of influence. We know a handful of people and have a series of acquaintances beyond that circle. The world around us ultimately amounts to a group of a few hundred folks—a few thousand for some of us, suppose.

Our Limited Spheres

There are obvious exceptions, of course. Presidents, movie stars, and major athletes are among those. Their personal worlds are much vaster and all-encompassing, But I suspect that even they have their limited spheres when it comes to actually knowing people on a more deeply personal level.

I’m certainly a citizen of the world, and I take an interest in it. I’m a citizen of the United States and take a deep interest in it as well. Bring it down to the level of the geographical community in which my home is located, and my interest rises even more. Narrow it to family and friends and I’m all ears.

Now, telescope it the other direction. The broader the scope, the fewer people are interested in me personally. As a matter of fact, get beyond my family and friends, almost no one cares about me (or even knows me as far as that goes). I may be a citizen of the world, but the world isn’t going to miss me when I drop off the face of it.

My Speck-ness Will Disappear

All this is not to say that I feel sorry for myself or that I wish I could be more famous (or famous at all). It’s to remind myself that I’m just a little speck on the planet earth and a finite one at that. Soon, my speck-ness will disappear, and I’ll melt away into the vagueness of personal histories. It kind of puts things into perspective.

The really amazing thing about our lives is that even the most famous and infamous of us all is or was a mere blip on the scene. Names might live on in history or in record books, but the humanity behind those names fades like the autumn leaves in winter.

Despite our smallness and insignificance, there’s a God who created us, loves and, and cares about us. The lowliest person on earth has the biggest fan in the universe—God himself. What it all amounts to is that—in the grand scheme of things—every believer is pretty grand in the eyes of the One who really counts. Maybe it’s time to broaden your base. I personally invite you to believe in him today.

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

Hey! Are You Famous?

I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but when I walk through airports, I look for people I know. I’ve been doing it for years, but I’ve yet to spot a friend’s face. What are the chances anyway?

Interestingly enough, I have spotted a famous person or two on rare occasions, but they weren’t interested in speaking with me. Imagine that.

Some Young Guy

On the other end of that spectrum, I’ve been approached a couple of times by people who thought I was someone else. I guess I’m not the only one eager to see someone I’d recognize. One young guy came up to me and asked if I played guitar. I told him I knew a few chords only to discover that he thought I was the bassist for a famous rock band. I forget which band it was, now, but I didn’t have the heart to lie to him. Looking back on it, I suppose I could have made his day if I had done so.

What might be even weirder than looking for a familiar face, there are times I actually expect to run across an acquaintance. Don’t ask me why. I just do. Looking and expecting are two entirely different things in this scenario. One’s a hobby, the other is a tad insane. I suppose it’s good that this has never actually happened. I would undoubtedly miss my connecting flight. Rushing through airports doesn’t give one much time to catch up.

Expecting someone to pop up in this crowded world is a little unusual, I suppose. Still, a lot of us are expecting Jesus to show up one of these days. To those who aren’t, I’m sure we seem more than a bit foolish. After all, we’ve been talking about this for almost two thousand years now.

My Young Psyche

I remember when I first heard someone say that Jesus was coming back. It rocked my world. I was twenty years old and figured I’d make my peace with God somewhere along the way. I was young and had plenty of time. Hearing that his return could be imminent was a shocker. What if he showed up when I wasn’t ready? This posed a whole new dilemma for my young psyche. I can tell you this. That little tidbit of info caused me to begin taking life a smidge more seriously from that point on. I suppose that’s one reason he never told us when the Second Coming would actually occur. It keeps us on our toes.

To be honest with you, the more deeply I live in Christ, the more closely I follow him, the less I time I spend thinking about his return. The way I figure it, he’s given me a few things to take care of, so I should concentrate on the tasks before me. He’ll come when he’s good and ready, and nothing I do or say will change that.

I definitely expect to see him someday. It probably won’t be in an airport, though.

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

Coffee, Tea, or Ze

It used to be that your gender was determined through biological means. Your sex was a product of whether or not you had a Y-chromosome. You were either declared a boy or girl at birth. As far as I can tell, this is the way it was for several millennia.

That, of course, was a tad too simple for twenty-first century schizoid man (if you get that obscure reference, you’re older and hipper than I suspected you were). These days, your gender is no longer a mere biological accident. It’s become a cultural or sociological construct. Certainly, we all like choices. This one, however, is way past this old dog’s capacity to maneuver the maze of modern living.

Looking for Justice

Now, having the option of being male, female, or a plethora of other possibilities, we need a new vocabulary to help us identify ourselves. If you choose one of the non-traditional selections, “he” or “she” doesn’t always cut it. “He” always worked pretty well for males, and “she” was actually quite a handy term. But what if you identify as one of the LGBTQ-CSNY crowd? The whole he-she thing doesn’t always do you justice.

Never fear. Linguists have ridden in on their white stallions to save the day. They have coined a new, third, catchall pronoun that will fill the void that has been created by our new, seemingly endless alternatives. The new pronoun, as I understand it, is “ze.”

I never thought much about it until last week. I only ever saw it in print. Then, recently, I heard a radio announcer use the phrase, “he, she, or ze.” He pronounced it like the letter—zee. Hearing it spoken out loud hit me like a two-by-four upside the head.

Like many of you, I suppose, I’ve had many nicknames over the years—Zuch, Deacon, Preacher, Rookie, Davey, etcetera, etcetera, and etcetera. During seven decades on this earth, one tends to collect these things. One of those nicknames, however, has stuck and lasted about fifty years now. That nickname is “Z.” So, you can imagine how my ears perked up when I heard that phrase, “he, she, or ze.”

Earning the Man-Card

It almost seems as if people have been preparing me for the moment when I could enter into the third category of human being. This is a bit disconcerting considering the pains through which many of us put ourselves as we attempted to earn our “man-cards.” I’m just not ready to give that up. I’ve worked too hard to get it. Truth-be-told, however, I’m not ready to give up the nickname either. What’s a father to do?

Given that the whole gender thing seems to have a lot of fluidity these days, I suppose I can decide what I am depending on what people I’m with. If I’m with the Z crowd, I can use whatever bathroom I feel like using. If I’m with the Deacon crowd, the choice is considerably narrowed.

Whatever happened to, “Male and female he created them.” Sigh…

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

Winning the Prize

There’s a cutesy commercial that I’ve seen several times now. It depicts an elderly couple attempting, for whatever reason, to get into shape. They’re obviously concerned about their health. During the ad, you see them repeatedly walking up and down stairways in what appears to be their home. Very admirable…

I have to confess, I don’t remember what product is being promoted. I think it’s because the end of the advertisement always causes my mind to wander. The final few seconds shows the couple, each clad in their favorite home baseball team jersey, walking up the steps to the highest tier in the stadium. They were apparently getting into good enough shape to be able to make the climb to the spot where their seats were located. Like I said, cutesy.

“I’m not dead yet.”

My lovely Bride and I took a walk just last evening during which we climbed a rather steep hill. Having thankfully reached the top, breathless but without having a heart attack, I gained a new appreciation for the couple in the commercial. They did the right thing. My spouse looked at me and said, “We need to get into shape.” As much as I hated to hear those words, I had to agree with her. As the old saying goes, “I may be old, but I’m not dead yet.” I might add, “Nor do I want to be.”

Most of us tend to have an aversion to the things that keep us in shape. Once we’re out of shape, that aversion inclines to grow. It’s hard to keep in shape and much more fun falling out of it. Getting back into it is torture—particularly at my age. But if I want to see another birthday or two, it would behoove me to get after it.

Switching from the physical to the spiritual (you just had to know this was coming), there’s a common phenomenon in Scripture whereby the Biblical writers tend to use the physical to help us understand the spiritual. It makes sense to use something we can see and evaluate in our daily lives to help explain something that is a tad more ethereal. Preachers (and writers) use that tact to this day.

A Race of Endurance

The Apostle Paul was big on this sort of approach to spiritual matters. More than once, he compared his spiritual life to that of a big-time athlete. He spoke of buffeting his body to run the race of endurance. He was, of course, referring to running the spiritual race of life. He wrote about going into strict, disciplinary training so he could finish the marathon he was running.

He spoke of winning the prize, which to him was the goal of attaining eternal life and entrance to the place we like to call Heaven. He wanted to be in good shape—both physically and spiritually—so he could share the Gospel with everyone else. I’d say that would be a pretty good goal for all of us (despite our tendencies to the contrary).

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

Yes, Dear…

I was watching one of those popular, morning news shows early today. As always, they went outside for the weather segment. That part of the program is the time when all the out-of-towners gather around to get their mugs on TV and yell “Hello” to the folks back home.

That day was no exception. All the rabid glory-seekers were crowding around the host to get their five seconds of fame. The host yelled out this question to the throng: “Any birthdays or anniversaries today?”

The Weather Gal

One older couple was standing there (seemingly much more sedate than the rest of the crowd). They raised their hands in response to the question. They were celebrating a wedding anniversary. The weather gal asked them how long they had been married, to which they responded, “Forty-four years…” She then followed up by asking the secret to their longevity. The husband quickly answered, “Saying ‘Yes’ to her…”

As I listened for his answer, he almost literally took the words out of my mouth. I often kid young married men that the secret to a successful marriage is for the husband to learn two simple words—“Yes, Dear….” While I say that as a joke, there’s quite a bit of truth in that humorous statement.

I suspect a lot of marriages fall apart because people feel the need to have their own way much of the time. We often tend to be stubborn in our ways—even when we’re wrong. The inability (or outright refusal) to say, “Yes,” is probably our downfall more often than we’d care to admit. How many relationships are destroyed by our failure to offer a positive response or to even change our attitude to a more affirmative one?

“I yam what I yam”

That, of course, is the main problem. Attitudinal changes don’t come easily. As Popeye used to say, “I yam what I yam.” We are who we are, and we’re not interested in altering our persona to please someone else. We see a big danger in that. We don’t want to lose who we are in the process.

This innate self-protection might be the key to our disobedience to the Almighty as well. We are no more apt to say yes to him as we are to a spouse, friend, or co-worker. In fact, we might be even more prone to ignoring the word of God as it prods us into an act of obedience. After all, he doesn’t seem to insert himself into our lives the way human beings do.

The real problem, then, becomes our ineptitude in making proper choices for ourselves. When we say, “No” to God (or ignore Scripture altogether), we’re refuting the very one who has our best interests at heart. Not only that, the Lord is the one with enough knowledge, wisdom, and experience to point us in a direction that will best benefit our lives. Failing to say, “Yes, Lord,” just isn’t very smart.

Still, we say, “No,” way too often. Getting to yes is a worthwhile endeavor.

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