Incessantly Standing in the Way

If you haven’t heard of this guy, you need to check him out. His name is Mason Wells, and he always seems to be standing in the wrong place. He was on the scene at the Boston Marathon explosion, the Paris bombing, and was critically injured during the Brussels terrorist attack. What are the chances?

How could anyone be at all three of these sites of human carnage? Certainly it’s possible due to the time intervals between these events—but probable? I think not. Yet, it’s true.

If I were he, I‘d have a few questions. I’d be asking things like, “Why me?” “Why am I still alive?” “Would anyone care to go for a walk with me?”

Accidentally Present

To be accidentally present for any one of these occurrences would be highly improbable. To be in attendance at all three… Well, you do the math if you know how. Let’s just say, this may be the unluckiest man on the planet (or the most fortunate, depending on how you look at it—he’s still alive, after all).

The real kicker is this. He was an LDS missionary. (No, not an LSD missionary—although, if he told you his story, you might think he was tripping on some hallucinogen). I’m not of the LDS (Latter Day Saint) persuasion; but if I was him, I might consider changing teams. If he were a Roman Catholic, he would probably be canonized already. I’m pretty sure his survival is a documented miracle.

The nice part of Mason’s story is that, although his faith has been sorely tested, it has deepened according to him. I guess trials and tribulations can do that. It’s just that most of our trials are a tad less dramatic than his were. I’ve always heard the third time’s a charm, but c’mon!

Shortly after he began the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said an interesting thing. He told his followers, ““Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11) In other words, if you’re persecuted, count it a blessing.

The Caveat

Well, Mason Wells must ultimately be one of the most blessed guys going. The modern day terrorists seem to be singling him out. If that’s not persecution, I don’t know what is. They seem to have him targeted. Everywhere he goes is ground zero. If it weren’t so scary, it would be funny.

Unfortunately, there was a caveat to what Jesus said about being blessed. Being persecuted alone apparently isn’t enough. You need to be persecuted for his name’s sake. I’m not sure Wells qualifies on that count. Being an “innocent bystander” probably isn’t the same thing. Still, just being there on three separate occasions should count for something. A blessing is a blessing. I suppose he’ll take them any way we can get them.

As for me, I’m looking for an easier route to my blessings. Terrorists aren’t doing God’s work (I don’t care what they say).

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

Sex and the Single Hurl

It’s quite amazing how many dudes are getting into trouble these days over allegations of sexual harassment. To me, the most astounding part is that when one accusation is hurled, dozens seem to follow. Talk about playing the field. Sheeesh!

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to make of it all. It won’t be long before we have no more congressmen or entertainers left to speak of (and the ranks of the Catholic priesthood have already been decimated). What’s a mother to do?

I keep wondering when the shoe will drop on me. Oh, don’t worry. It’s not that I’m a sexual predator or anything. In fact, at the ripe old age of sixty-seven (sixty-eight in fifty-six days—but who’s counting), I’m pretty docile. Still, it seems to be happening with regularity to every possible kind of male. Representative John Conyers is not exactly a spring chicken at eighty-eight. It’s getting to the place where I’m afraid to look at anyone sideways.

No Gesture Too Innocuous

An incident took place in my life about twenty-five years ago that I will never forget. I patted a young lady on the shoulder. I know that may sound rather innocuous to some of you, but a person who happened to be watching made the following comment. “That gesture could be misunderstood.”

I remember being put off at the time (and somewhat incensed) to think someone could mistake my intentions from a mere pat on the shoulder. But now, that comment is making more and more sense to me. I haven’t stopped patting people on the shoulder, but I’m keenly aware of the possible consequences.

To make matters worse, I’m a hugger. I hug everyone—men, women, boys and girls (well, not the boys so much…you know how macho teenage boys are). Hugging someone could get me into even more trouble than a pat on the shoulder—just sayin’.

Dirty Old Men

Things seem to be reaching a tipping point as far as hurled accusations are concerned. It seems like every other day, someone is coming out of the woodwork to point a finger at some supposed perv. Dirty old men seem to be the favorite targets at this point, but I doubt it will stop there.

Don’t get me wrong, though. If these guys are guilty, they probably deserve whatever they’ve got coming to them. But for the sanity of us clean old men, we’d like a few, clear guidelines. We used to have a pretty good idea, but the rules seem to be changing. We would hate to inadvertently cross the line simply because we didn’t know where it was.

I suppose we could all attempt to avoid the opposite sex as much as possible. The biggest problem with that, of course, is that there are more of them than there are of us. Plus, it would make for a very dull existence.

As for me, I intend to continue passing out the pats and hugs. Hopefully, nothing will get hurled at me. I’m getting too old to duck.

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


Netflix Takes a Dive (or Two)

Netflix has recently announced the cancellation of sixteen of their TV shows. The reason given is almost maddening on its face. Series’ (like Bloodline, for example) are being dropped prematurely despite any popularity they may be experiencing.

Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, says it’s because their “hit ration is way too high right now.” That’s like me saying, “We’re going to cancel worship because we’re getting too many people in the pews.” Our solution to that almost unimaginable dilemma would be to add another service—not cancel the one we have.

His reasoning behind that statement is to make room for the company to take more risks. I guess I understand that idea. Risk taking should be a part of the entertainment industry (or any industry for that matter). Still, there’s an old saying that seems to hold true in most situations. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Netflix seems bound and determined to fix it anyway.

“Now I’m beginning to understand.”

Apparently, Netflix is not the only media outlet that’s involved in the cancelation craze. I’ve had a few of my faves canceled from time to time—seemingly without warning. Good, solid shows that were well written and entertaining… There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Now I’m beginning to understand—a little.

As much as I hate to see some good programming go down the tubes at the whim of a network exec, I have to admire what’s taking place. We, in the church, could stand to take a lesson from all this.

For the most part, the church hasn’t changed since the days of the Reformation. Just to remind you of a little history, that was five hundred years ago. I realize most of us resist change, but that’s a bit ridiculous.

It’s become a common theme among pastors these days to make statements like, “The things I used to do don’t work anymore.” So what do we do? We keep on doing the things we’ve always done. Don’t look now, but I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of insanity (doing the same old thing over and over yet expecting different results).

“The good old days are long gone.”

Still, it’s not just pastors who do the same things over and over again. Even when an innovative pastor comes along, ninety-nine times out of one hundred the congregation bucks any new trend. If part of the flock is ready for the change, there are usually at least a few who are willing and able to stand in the way of any variance to the good old days.

The problem, of course, is that the good old days are long gone. We’ve proven we can’t bring them back by doing the same old things. So what’s the solution?

I hate to say it, but the solution just may be to follow in the footsteps of Netflix. In other words, take a few risks. We might fall flat on our collective faces, but we seem to be doing that anyway. So… Does anyone have any ideas? Anyone?

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

Watching Chick Flix (and Maintaining My Man Card)

If you’re a man and married to a woman such as my lovely Bride, you have (at least from time to time) been coerced into watching a chick flick. I used to moan and complain when this occurred; but lately, I’ve given in with much more ease. The reason is, actually like a few of these.

Take, for instance, “You’ve Got Mail.” This innocuous, little flick has an interesting storyline and some snappy dialog. It gets tuned in at our house every time it’s aired. Don’t tell anyone, but I still get a tad teary-eyed when Joe and Kathleen finally get together.

A few others get viewed each time they’re scheduled. They are (in no particular order) “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Raising Helen,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “The Lake House.” I particularly like the later of these because of the sci-fi/fantasy element embedded it. Playing with time the way it does can cause one’s brain synapses to fire at odd intervals. It’s highly stimulating.

James Garner is the Best

Then, of course, there’s my fave love story of all time (aside from “The Natural”) which happens to be “The Notebook.” I’m not sure what it is about this movie, but it tears me up every time I see it. For whatever reason, however, it doesn’t seem to be broadcast with the regularity of the others (which seem to be playing on some channel at least every other day).

“The Notebook” is a fabulous story of l’amour (at least in my view). As an extra added plus, it stars James Garner who happens to be one of my all-time favorites. Ever since my childhood when he starred as Bret Maverick in the old time western TV series, “Maverick,” I’ve enjoyed almost everything he did. He was a master at taking a serious role and making me laugh in the middle of it all. Gena Rowlands does a great job as well. Still, I must admit, it’s just another chick flick.

My son-in-law has threatened to have my man card revoked over things like this. I should say, for the sake of any woman reading this, this is one of the worst threats a dude can receive. We’d rather hear almost anything but that. On some level, our manhood is all we’ve got. Risking it for a few moments of amorous joy and nostalgic emotion can be a big gamble (even if it’s presumably to please your spouse). I try to avoid letting him know when we’ve watched one of these films. It’s just easier all the way around.

Maintaining my Man Card

Of course, I can rationalize all this to my advantage because my lovely Bride also watches baseball and football games with me. A certain amount of give and take can be good for any relationship. As the Apostle Paul once wrote, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) I’m guessing that chick flicks are part of the equation. Amen.

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


Uber and the Care of Souls

I just read a report that states: “Uber is buying thousands of self-driving cars.” Just let that sink in.

Picture yourself riding along, calmly reading your morning paper (or tablet, or whatever you read in the morning), weaving in and out of traffic, while the vehicle you’re riding in has no driver—at least, not a human one. If you can see yourself doing that, more power to you. I must say, I can’t.

I’ve seen these marvelous wonders in action. My gut reaction is a simple, “No thanks!” Haven’t been there, haven’t done that, didn’t get the t-shirt (and not interested in ordering one).

It’s not that I’m unadventurous, but… Well, maybe I AM unadventurous—especially when it comes to bodily harm. Entrusting my physical wellbeing to KITT isn’t my idea of traffic safety. It looks great on TV, but so do imaginary dragons.

The driverless Uber I saw was traversing through city traffic. While there wasn’t a driver, there was…I don’t know…a “monitor,” I guess. Although the car was doing the driving, there was a human being sitting there. I have to ask myself, “If the car is doing the driving, why the need for the human?”

Obvious and Scary

The answer to that one is as obvious as it is scary. The human is there in case something goes wrong (haywire, erratic, nonfunctional). When it gets to that point, we could probably add one more adjective—suicidal.

I know, I know. I’m an old fuddy-duddy. I’m old school. I’ve seen better days. I’ve got one foot in the grave and afraid I’ll step on a banana peel with the other. So, sue me!

I’m sure the next generation will be totally fine with these contraptions and won’t think a thing about hitching a ride in them. I can only say, “My prayers are with you. Godspeed!” Well, maybe you won’t want to go that fast, but you know what I mean.

In many of my blogs, this is the place where I begin to insert some spiritual meaning into the subject at hand. Unfortunately, I’ve searched the Scripture, and there’s no mention of Uber in there anywhere. There are lots of references to chariots, but they all seem to have human beings in the driver’s seat. As we like to say these days, “I got nothin’!”

There is, however, an Old Testament passage that states, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test…” (Deuteronomy 6:16) Jesus, himself, quotes this verse in Luke 4:12 to none other than the devil. He said this when old Slew Foot tried to get him to jump from the highest point of the temple (one of three temptations plied against him during his wilderness ordeal). Even though he was the Son of God whose life could be saved by a band of angels used as a safety net, he resisted.

So, in the wonderful tradition of my Lord and Savior, I will not be tempting God in a driverless car—angels not withstanding.

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


When You Wish Upon a Bone

Leave it to the Italians. We tend to be a superstitious lot. For proof of that, look no further than the cornicellos we like to wear around our necks.

We’re credited with inventing the wishbone (or at least, the tradition of breaking it for good luck). Ancient Romans were the first to see the wishbone as a symbol of providence. Eventually, we added the tradition of breaking it in two. This now gives us the added bonus of enjoying a competition (as well as an opportunity for destruction).

In the early days, two Latin types would snap apart a chicken wishbone while each was making a wish. The person ending up with the longer of the pieces was said to be the fortunate one—wish granted. I’ve also read, if the bone broke evenly in half, both parties would have their wishes granted. Frankly, I’ve never seen this happen; but I suppose anything’s possible.

A Bony Tradition

The Romans spread this tradition as they conquered Europe. What a great trade-off. We’ll take all your land and authority, and will give you this chicken bone to wish us away.

This bony tradition eventually arrived in the continental USA because the English bought in as well. The English-speaking Pilgrims brought it here and made the move from chicken to turkey. The rest, as they say, is history. And here we are. Thanksgiving wishes are part of us.

Interestingly enough, it was never called a “wishbone” until folks in the US coined the term in the mid-1800s. None too soon for the salad dressing company of the same name… Otherwise, their company would be called “Furcula.” It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I suspect the folks at Kraft and Good Seasons would have one less competitor had that been the case.

All this is nonsense, of course. To think that a chicken bone could grant your every wish is a tad beyond the pale. Even a turkey bone can’t carry that much supernatural weight. Still, people are prone (even in our modernistic day and age) to practice such things—eye of newt, and all that.

If you are Jewish or a Christian, you have a pretty good idea that these things are verboten. There’s one verse in Isaiah that clearly lays it all out. The prophet said, “You, Lord, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs.” (Isaiah 2:6) Passages like this don’t seem to stop us, of course. We still wear our horns, throw salt over our shoulders, and eat sauerkraut on New Years Day. All this is done in the name of creating good fortune (or breaking bad luck).

As a preacher type, I suggest we stick to Scripture and leave the wishbones to the ancient Romans (as amusing as it can be). Just don’t be stepping on any cracks in the sidewalk. You’ll break your mother’s back, you know.

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

Thanksgiving American Style

There’s a short video from Prager U entitled, “What’s the Truth About the First Thanksgiving?” It’s a good reminder of the real, historical underpinnings of our annual celebration of thanks. If you bother to read this blog during the rush of your holiday festivities, you might want to take an extra six minutes to view it. It will refresh your memory if not totally enlighten you to the facts.

It’s amazing how historical reality can be replaced by myth, legend, and the slight-of-hand we often pass off as research. Facts are facts, and we tend to put them aside due to a philosophy that states, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

The Name of the Game

Regardless, Thanksgiving shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out. The very term gives it away. Giving thanks is the name of the game—or is it football? We will offer up thanks if and when our team wins. Other than that, giving thanks is not always a part of the holiday set aside for doing just that.

Turkey, ham, football, family… We often have it all on Thanksgiving Day. As it turns out, these are all things for which we can give thanks—these and many more, of course. But do we?

The traditional passage of Scripture used in many Thanksgiving homilies (back when congregations actually got together to worship on Thanksgiving) is Luke 17:11-19. You may remember this as the story of the ten lepers. In it, ten men with the dread disease of leprosy called out to Jesus and asked for healing. In those days, there was no known cure.

As the event transpires, Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. In that culture, the priests were the ones who could pronounce someone “clean.” Since leprosy ostensibly made an individual “unclean” and an outcast, if any healing occurred, showing yourself to the priests was the prudent thing to do.

Along the way, one of the lepers noticed that he had been healed. Instead of going directly to the priests, he was overcome with gratitude and returned forthwith to Jesus to thank him. Jesus’ natural question was, “Where are the other nine?” Indeed. Where were they?

Even on the day of Thanksgiving, we tend to be among the “other nine.” It’s just another day off. A day to eat, hang out with family, and watch football…

Civil Religion

Politicians in this country had tinkered with the date for Thanksgiving for decades. Finally in 1941, FDR signed a joint congressional resolution imbedding it on the fourth Thursday in November (where it has remained ever since). Interestingly enough, his reason for doing so was to provide an economic boost to the country. Years earlier, Abraham Lincoln had tried something similar in an attempt to foster a greater sense of unity between the north and south.

And so, civil religion has given us this day of relaxation. The deity we call government suggests we give thanks. Nice try. Maybe we should just do it.

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

The Amazing Invisible Printer

An amazing (and disturbing) thing just happened to me yesterday. In fact, it’s still happening. I was logged onto my computer, found something on the web I wanted to see in a hard copy, and hit the “print” button. Much to my dismay and colossal consternation, nothing happened.

As I began to investigate the problem, I discovered a message that read, “Printer Offline.” I don’t usually talk to computers, but this was a major exception. I told it how impossible that happened to be. I’d just printed something, and it was perfectly online. Printers don’t just fall offline (I don’t think).

Is My Computer Lying?

As I continued to delve into this mysterious malady in my own, un-technological way, I received other messages. At one point, my computer told me it couldn’t find the printer. This was absurd on its face (and maybe an outright lie). The printer is sitting right beside the computer.

Just to be sure we were both on the same page, I turned my monitor ninety degrees so the screen was facing the printer (only inches away). I still received the same message. I now knew the problem, of course. My computer has gone blind. I can deal with sightless people (if they’re willing to deal with me), but I’m quite intolerant of blind computers.

So, here I sit staring at my printer (which is quite visible to me) and my computer. I have things to print, but apparently, they won’t speak to one another. If they were people, I could possibly reason with them. As it is, I’m at a loss.

Is Patience Fruit or a Virtue?

I suppose I’ll have to break down and take the time to call a tech. I hate doing that for several reasons. Number one, I dislike doing business on the phone. I really prefer face-to-face confabs. Secondly, I’m not good at wading through the various outrageous accents most techs seem to have. Most importantly, however, I really hate spending my time on eternal hold (which is usually the outcome of many of these communications).

I guess my main problem is a lack of patience. Patience is something the Apostle Paul spoke of quite often. In Galatians, he refers to it as a fruit of the Spirit. In 2 Timothy, he tells his young son in the faith to preach with great patience. In the same letter, he tells Timothy that he (Paul) has patience. The big problem here is the fact that he never tells us how to get that patience on our own.

How can we clothe ourselves with patience (Colossians 3:12) if we don’t know how to obtain it? The Biblical implication is that we need to grow patience. Paul calls it fruit in Galatians 5:22-25. The only way I know to get fruit is to grow it. My question it this, however. How do you grow fruit if you don’t have the patience to do so?

Apparently, one possible answer is this: Pray for patience and God will send you a printer and a computer.

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


Casual Friday at Buckingham Palace

There’s a great commercial currently running on a lot of TV shows. It depicts a casual Friday at Buckingham Palace. I call it great; because it’s so absurd on its face it’s funny. The guards at Buckingham Palace could never have a casual Friday. It’s a total non sequitur.

After watching this ad a few times, it occurred to me that virtually every day is casual Friday for me. Unless I’m doing a wedding, you can count on me to be wearing a pair of jeans (or shorts). It wasn’t always that way, but I’ve slowly transitioned into portraying the actual casualness of my life.

It’s not that I’m a total slob (at least, I don’t think so). I try to be neat, clean, and tidy for the most part. It’s just that I don’t think I’m fooling very many people when I get all gussied up. That’s just not me. Never was—probably never will be.

Cleaning Up Well

I’ve been told that I “clean up well.” That’s nice to know. I do want to fit in when those more formal occasions roll around. Still, I’m not one to be caught in a tux very often, although I actually have a couple of those babies hanging in my closet—ever ready at my beck and call.

In preparation for my recent move (see The Move From Hell), I went through every article of clothing in my wardrobe. I got rid of a lot. Largely among the giveaways were my less than casual items—you know, blazers, nice sweaters, and dress pants (not to mention suits). Frankly, I won’t miss a one. It begs the question, “Why did I have these in the first place?”

Thinking back on those purchases, I often picked something up because of one particular occasion that was looming on the horizon. I wore the item once or twice, then it hung in my closet to take up space. I didn’t want to get rid of it because, “You never know when I might wear it again.” Who was I trying to kid? Myself, I guess.

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

I find it fascinating that Jesus explicitly told us not to be so concerned about what we should wear (Matthew 6:25-34). He literally asked, “Why do you worry about clothes?” (V. 28) Yet, we just might “worry” about clothes far more than we do about most things. I suppose it’s because our clothing speaks loudly about who we are to those who don’t really know us. We want all the surrounding strangers to think we’re cool—at least worthy to be treated nicely.

And so it goes. We fill our closets with coverings that will attract, adorn, or otherwise make a statement so people will think well of us. Thus, we become the guards at Buckingham Palace.

I wish I had all the money I’ve wasted on clothing that I never really put to good use. Just think of what I could do with it. Why, I could buy a whole new wardrobe!

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

Replacing the Buzz

In my years as a student, life-traveler, and otherwise nomadic type, I’ve moved more times than I care to remember. As some of you more elderly geezers (like myself) might recall, in the old days, everything went on the move.

“Everything” included large things like refrigerators, washers, and dryers. These days, real estate agencies have come up with a nifty term that alleviates all that backbreaking exertion. The term is “convey.” Nowadays, refrigerators, washers, and dryers all “convey.” This, of course, is a brief but fancy way of saying, “If you buy this house, you’re also buying the appliances (‘cause we’re not lugging these babies up and down any more staircases).

“We were still young and virile.”

When I was young, moving was a matter of a couple pickup trucks, a case of beer, and a few college buddies. Of course, all the move entailed back then was a sofa, a bed, and a few clothes (and the appliances we took with us because they had not yet invented the term, convey). Toting those fridges up and down flights of steps didn’t matter as much in those days because we were still young and virile (or maybe, just stupid).

My lovely Bride and I just moved into a newly built home. We had to buy all new appliances because, supernaturally, our old ones conveyed. My spouse and I quickly noticed that the new appliances no longer have that annoying buzz when the process (i.e., drying cycle) is over. These days when the fridge is left open, the drying is finished, or the washer is doing anything at all, they play music.

Now, instead of that heavy, droning buzz, we hear the light, tinkling lilt of a chime-like instrument going off somewhere in our new domicile. One went off in a far-off room last evening and someone said, “What’s that noise?” Half deaf as I am, I didn’t hear a thing, but I began to explore. Sure enough, when I trod up the basement stairs to the kitchen, I discovered the refrigerator door slightly ajar.

“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”

I have no real beef with this transition to the melodic from the intrusive, startling alarm of days gone by. Still, in the future, I’d like to have a choice of something other than the glockenspiel these appliances seem to play these days. An acoustic guitar performing Slow Dancing in a Burning Room might be nice.

Someone made the following comment concerning the changeover from the disturbing to the dainty. “Today’s little snowflakes can’t take the buzz.” That person might have a valid point. Not to cast aspersions upon the current generation, but sometimes we need a rude awakening in our lives. Maybe those annoying alarms on our appliances were healthy precursors that helped prepare us for some of the more weighty tribulations that tend to interrupt our daily quietude—you know, things like accidents, tragedies, and even death.

I don’t mean to be morbid, but maybe those lousy buzzing noises were good things in the end. At least I could hear them.

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