Friday, January 1, 2016

Incomplete Thoughts #1

I'm very particular about things that don't matter...

What's New Seems Same-Old, Same-Old

I trust your New Year, all two hours of it, has been happy and safe thus far, and I hope the remaining 364 days and 22 hours are just as happy and safe.

I'm feeling a bit glum this go-around, so rather than drag you down with me into my pit of existential, philosophical, middle-age despair, I'll leave you as I normally do at the start of each New Year, with the pithy wisdom of The Dark Knight...

It's a curious existence, isn't it...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Re: The Syrian Refugee Crisis

Photo from Business Insider.

Re: The Syrian Refugee Crisis
Filed Under: This is up for debate?

No matter how my beliefs have evolved or how my worldview has changed, my Christian upbringing still informs everything I do. The values that define me as a person were first taught to me by my parents from The Bible.

These values included: If a person is without clothing, clothe them. If a person is thirsty, give them something to drink. If a person is hungry, feed them. If a person needs shelter, give them shelter.

In other words, help those who are needy. Provide comfort for those whose lives have been upended. Be so unattached to your possessions that they can easily be given to someone else who may need them more than you do.

If you think about it, these are tougher values to live by and to live up to than the usual values that are associated with Christianity. Living up to these values means your personal comfort and safety will be infringed upon at times, and it means that an enemy may sneak through your gates. However, that doesn't mean that you should shut your gates and draw your blinds and shield your eyes from those who need help.

These values aren't unique to Christianity. They're embedded within our humanity. We instinctively know that we are to take care of those around us.

Which is why I'm struggling to understand why we Americans are even debating whether or not to take in the Syrian refugees. These are human beings who are naked, thirsty, hungry, and homeless. Most of us are clothed, hydrated, well-fed, and living under a roof.


Yes, let them come in! Yes, let them share our resources! Yes, let the world see that America--as flawed and bombastic as we can be--is still the place where you go for safety and protection.

I know that some of our leaders are worried that ISIS may slip in, but...

NOT-SO-BREAKING NEWS: They're already here, gang.

Your next-door neighbor might be ISIS. The cashier at the grocery store might be ISIS. The All-American-looking couple who is vegan and goes to kickboxing class three days a week might be ISIS.

You never know. ISIS is already here within our borders. Our flawed, bombastic nation-building misadventures of the past 14 years have created a leaner, meaner, smarter iteration of the enemy we vowed to wipe out.

And because we have adamantly refused to address the issues within our borders that have turned the Great Society into the Desperate Society, ISIS has been able to effectively hijack the hearts and minds of our own people. It's what happens when world leaders clearly communicate the premium value they place upon the One Percent over the 99 Percent.

Which is one reason why I'm hoping that this debate over helping the Syrian refugees isn't a sign of how much of our soul we've actually lost in the last 14 years.

Which is why I'm hoping that we're still capable of showing the world that we can be that Shining City on a Hill, "a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here."

That's what the United States always has been, and that's what I hope we still are.

On the other hand, the terrorist attacks in France happened on Friday, and today, the headlines were hijacked by that refugee from sanity and decency, Charlie Sheen, who's alleged announcing tomorrow that he's HIV positive.

Yeah, see! Now, you're interested.

Go figure...

Photo from ArtfixDaily.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween and Me (Part 2 of 2): Counting to 666

Photo taken from Before It's News.

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”-Revelation 13:18

Halloween reminds me of many things, as yesterday's post indicated, including a Number that has been with me since I was a child.

Growing up in a household that at one time was living within the fringes of Evangelical Christian Fundamentalism, I was aware of the End Times from the beginning of my time on this planet. The Rapture, the Tribulation, the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ, and of course, the Mark of the Beast were the horror stories and scary movies that permeated my formative years. 

In fact, I remember watching an End Times news program every Thursday called This Week in Bible Prophecy that reinterpreted (or misinterpreted, depending on your POV) the major events of the week in light of Bible prophecy.

Well, one view of Bible prophecy, that is. 

When it comes to Bible prophecy, there are more theories and ideas about the End of All Things than there are saints in the Catholic Church. All of these theories and ideas about the End of All Things are right, according to their adherents, and incidentally, the Catholic Church is a major factor in the End of All Things, according to most of these theories.

The churches I attended fell squarely in the pre-Tribulation, pre-Millennial arena of End Times thought, meaning that Christians would be Raptured before the Seven-Year Tribulation immolated the suckers who were Left Behind (see the first movie with big star and its inevitable reboot with bigger star for more information). 


My Pastor Dad believed this, at least in his early years, which ended up being a major problem for one gentleman in particular at one of the nightmare churches he shepherded. 

Aside: I should note here that my Dad did not necessarily believe the churches he pastored were nightmares, but with the exception of one of those churches, his Eldest Son, irreparably scarred by the seedy underbelly of Christianity he encountered in those houses of worship, most certainly did and does. 

This loosely-called gentleman was an adherent of the Amillennial view of Biblical prophecy, meaning he thought the End Times weren't literal. There would be no Rapture, no Tribulation, no Millennial Reign of Christ, and on and on and on and on ad nauseam infinitum. There was some theory he bandied about regarding all of the prophecies happening in the present, but that simply added more infinitum to the already-overpowering nauseam.  

Seriously, if you've ever talked to someone who spends their every waking moment wargaming the End Times--and at this point in our cultural evolution, possibly cosplaying it, too--then you know what it's like to be completely sober, yet glassy-eyed with a hangover headache.

The loosely-called gentleman in question was so adamant about his view of the End of All Things that he would pontificate loudly and obnoxiously during Sunday School classes and after Sunday School classes and before church and after church about his knowledge of events that had not happened yet and still have not happened yet.

He finally left my Dad's church in a Fit of Hell-Raising Rage, his dozen or so kids in tow, and was never seen again. For all I know, he was Raptured on the spot. Literally. 

If so, he's now telling God why his view of the End Times is correct, while God is getting glassy-eyed and nursing a hangover headache. 


Part of this full immersion in all-things The End involved the Mark of the Beast or more precisely, the Number of the Beast: 666.

End Times lore has pervaded the mainstream culture so thoroughly that you probably know the superstition surrounding this number. 

The prevailing version holds that the Heathen Many who are Left Behind after the Righteous Few have been Raptured will take this Mark in order to survive the Tribulation. Taking this Mark will be a visual testament of their allegiance to Satan and seal their fate to eternal damnation. As in, forever. Just in case you didn't catch the "eternal" adjective.

These tales of End Times horror may explain why mainstream horror has never really creeped me out. When your ancient lore out-creeps and influences others' lore, then Stephen King is just a good storyteller, not a Master of Horror.

My awareness of the Number of the Beast and its stranger danger goes way back. Long before I knew my own Social Security Number (which was a precursor to the Beast's digits, by some folks' estimation), I was acutely aware of 666.

Before I had to store away a dozen or so computer passwords in my brain (the development of computer technology also being another sign of the Beast's imminent rise), I remembered the Number of the Beast.

And probably before I even knew how to count to 10, I was able to recite the number 666. 

Aside: It should be noted for the record that Christian school was a must, in part, because of the role the public educational system was playing in preparing people to accept the Mark of the Beast.

As a child who was born in the 80s and became aware of a world beyond his own in the 90s, I also knew that Bill Clinton's favorite number was supposed to be 666 and the favorite number of every other liberal Democrat, for that matter. There was slight suspicion about Bush Sr., since he had uttered the words "one-world government," but in the conservative circles of Evangelical Christian Fundamentalism, it was the Democrats you had to watch out for. 

We'd receive End Times Prophecy mailers at the house in which End Times Experts (great field, I hear...even better than meteorology) would name the names, accompanied by the least flattering headshots, of every famous person who was preparing the world to accept the Number of the Beast. 

It may go without saying that this was practically every famous person ever.

Even Rush Limbaugh. Yeah. El Rushbo was preparing us for the Beast. Or maybe he stood on the scale one day and it sputtered out at 666. Who knows...


So, when Halloween comes around every year and I hear tales of the netherworld of the underworld, my mind immediately races back to the End Times Lore of my youth. 

I recall the sheer dread upon hearing these yarns of terror and damnation. The immediacy of this speculation--the idea that all of this could happen at any time, at any moment, at any place, anywhere--made every day seem a little bit haunted.

And even though we didn't celebrate Halloween, the Horror of What Was to Come, as opposed to the celebrated Horror of What Had Been, occupied my mind more than once a year. 

And even though We the Redeemed were to be rescued by The Rapture, there was just enough wiggle room, just a shred of leftover uncertainty, to suspect that the Dark Side could still rend us from the Light. 

If we weren't careful. 

And because of that, even though I still haven't met this Beast, I know his Number frontwards and backwards. 

Which is convenient, since it's the same both ways...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween and Me (Part 1 of 2): A Devil's Day Confession

Photo from Every Square Inch.

Yesterday's Halloween celebration reminded me of something I wrote way back in 2006 during my senior year at West Liberty State College, now West Liberty University (in name only), when I was a reporter and copy editor for the campus newspaper, The Trumpet. 

I would say that 2006 was an interesting time for me emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually, but most years have proven to be an interesting time in all three respects.

Anyway, in 2006, I decided to use my occasional op-ed column for the paper, "Pursuing the Truth," to go public with a secret I had been harboring for a long time.

I've decided to reprint that column on this blog with embarrassment and amusement at the me from nearly a decade ago. The cultural references are out-of-date; the bitterness over a relationship gone sour is immaturely expressed; the spiritual and political beliefs have since evolved; and in the intervening years, I've gone to rehab for Parenthetical Addiction (and since I'm using parentheses here, I'm obviously still battling that addiction).

But a writer must own his words, even the ones that embarrass him or that he might not agree with anymore or that he might phrase differently if he were writing those words now.

Regardless, here's that 2006 column in its entirety. I trust you had a frightfully enjoyable Halloween...


Okay, gang, it's time for an Office-style confessional.

I love Halloween. Always have, always will.

Now, I don't expect this confession to be of any significance to anyone reading this, but it will be to my parents (provided they actually read my stuff; some kid named Congelio always seems to attract their attention first!).

I was raised in a home that was very conscious of the world's impact on the Christian, which is a highly legitimate point and one I fully support and one that is, admittedly, incomprehensible to anyone but us crazy Christians.

My parents were and are very conscious about keeping Christ at the center of all holidays. And well, all historical data seems to indicate that Jesus wasn't born on the day of jack-o-lanterns, werewolves, sorcerers and demons. (Come to think of it, though, that premise might make a great sequel to "The Nightmare Before Christmas" or a prequel to the prequel of "The Exorcist.")

Nevertheless, most Christian kids have their points of rebellion, especially pastors' kids.

(That's not a stereotype, either, all you Matviko students; it's a fact, and you should also watch out for pastors' grandkids. Sometimes, the second generation pastoral offspring are worse than first generational offspring because they've learned their parents' tricks, and then some! Take my word for it. I, of the first, once dated someone of the second. I learned so much from her...)

Consequently, some Christian kids drink. Others smoke. Some get girls knocked up. Others go to R-rated movies (and download X-rated ones). You know, anything to really stick it to their parents for introducing them to the Savior of the world.

I, too, am not guiltless when it comes to rebellion, but because I'm essentially a pansy and a coward, my rebellion has been pretty much limited to making out in Sunday School rooms (God forgive me) and liking Halloween.

Oohh, wait!! Maybe this is too much disclosure. My parents are learning two things about me that they've never known before, and they're reading about it in the newspaper! I wonder if the rent will still be free? My failure to launch may turn into a forced takeoff.

All that notwithstanding (and my parents are great; I just like to needles them; besides, on a minister's income, there's no will to worry about), I love Halloween. It's not because I'm down with Satan, either. I just love this time of year. There's something magical about autumn. The crispness in the air, the pumpkin pies, the knowledge that the holiday season is right around the's an unbeatable recipe for romanticism when mixed with the unknown, mysterious and downright devilish.

Perhaps I'm too curious for my own good, but I'm always wondering about what's going on out there among the principalities, powers and dark forces of this world. If you subscribe to Christian doctrine (and I pity you if you don't), one is able to better understand the complexities (the "gray areas," if you will) of the world around us. According to the Bible, the supernatural is actually more real than what we perceive to be our natural world.

The true agenda of this world is not determined by the Bushies or the Clintonistas or Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or whichever dictator the United Nations is coddling at the moment. The struggles we witness on a daily basis are really the forces of good and evil battling for dominance of humanity's soul and ultimate destination. When salvation defeats damnation (which, unlike the Democrats' sweeping victory of Congress, is a sure thing), that's when true peace will sweep across the nations, leading the lions of the jungles to lie down with the lambs of the pasture.

See, even on Halloween, when mummies, werewolves, witches and zombies have top billing, I can spin the holiday around to have it centered on Christ, for the demonic always reminds me of the heavenly. And despite my love for the holiday, maybe it will still keep the rent free.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


You absolutely, positively need to drop everything you're doing and watch this !!!!!

Seriously, drop everything because you could die without seeing this , and if you die without seeing it, then you will have lived a life deprived of previously recorded joy, wonder, and ecstasy that couldn't be found anywhere else but in this .

And when you get done with dropping everything to watch that , drop that and don't pick up the everything you already dropped, because here's another that you absolutely, positively need to see, because if you die without seeing it, your life will have been incomplete and a waste. Or even worse, it will have been an incomplete waste. Only wastes that are complete qualify as truly successful wastes.

And then, once you get done with that , here's a list of 2,013 books that you absolutely, positively need to read if you don't want to die an uninformed, intellectually underdeveloped boob.

And then, here are 17 podcasts, each updated weekly (possibly daily), that you absolutely, positively should be listening to...

Hang on! Drop everything! Just saw this that you absolutely, positively need to watch right now in case you die in the next few hours, because if you die without seeing this, you will have been unfulfilled and a failure. Or even worse, an unfulfilled failure, because the truly successful failures are fulfilled in their failure.

Also: Be healthy. Be connected. Be informed. Be active. Be involved. Be social. And get eight hours of sleep a night...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

My Belle Girl

For 16 years, my best friend and I didn't speak the same language, but we still understood each other. Whenever I was feeling down about myself, my best friend would jump up on the couch or the bed or lay next to me on the floor or rub up against me, quietly reminding me that no problem was more important to me than she was.

I used to work the late shift at Wendy's, and she would greet me as I came through the door at two or three in the morning--loudly, I'll add, not giving a rip about the rest of the house being asleep. I was home, and she had missed me, and at that moment, nothing else mattered.

Whenever I was sitting on the floor reading the newspaper or a comic book or a magazine, as I tend to do, she had a knack for knowing the exact paragraph, sentence, and word I was reading and planting herself right on that spot.

When she joined our family in 1999, she was our first pet, and my parents weren't sure if they wanted her upstairs and on the furniture. My bedroom was in the basement, right next to her corner of the house. We locked eyes that first night and bonded instantly. Within a day or two, she took up residence in my bedroom, right before she worked her way upstairs and onto the furniture.

When Bethany first came into my life, I was a little afraid of how my best friend would respond to her. She didn't always like new people and could be distrustful of them. But she treated Bethany as if she had always been around. I think she was relieved that I had found someone.

Wednesday night, I looked at my best friend and knew that this was our last night together. Just as she could sense when something was wrong with me, I was able to sense that something was wrong with her. Too much, in fact, was going wrong. Too much of what made her her was fading. And we both knew that our time together was short.

She sat between us on Thursday afternoon as we were given the final X-rays, faintly purring as we both stroked her regal coat and faced the fact that the inevitable was our only option. She was calm. We were not.

As I laid her down on the table, she and I locked eyes one last time. She gave a final, reassuring meow. Then, she went to sleep.

Sometimes having a best friend means more than just being there for each other in life. Sometimes it means holding them and loving them as they drift off into death.

My best friend's name was Belle, and she was the essence of her name. I miss her so much. I haven't stopped seeing and hearing her since the moment she went to sleep. I hope I never stop seeing and hearing her, because no problem, not even death, is as important to me as she was...