Hell and Other Bad News

I drive a fair amount in my job.  I like to listen to radio preachers while I drive.  This is odd, considering that I’m not particularly religious nor do I enjoy listening to preaching in church.  There is something about radio preachers that always catches my interest.  My travel is largely confined to Eastern Kentucky (business) and the southern United States (vacation).  These areas are a mother load of radio preaching.

This post is not a theological piece nor is it intended as a criticism–or defense–of Radio Preachers.  Also, please do not take it as some anti-Christian screed.  It just so happens that Radio Preachers are Christians.  That’s a fact.  I’ve never heard a radio rabbi or imam, although I’m sure they exist.  Many of my devoutly Christian friends believe they are persecuted because of their beliefs.  That may well be true, but this post is not part of that persecution.  These are just some of my observations from my years of listening.

Oh, Hell

Radio Preachers enjoy talking about Hell.  Now, whether you believe there is a Hell or not, Hell sounds like no fun.  I guess that’s the point.  While driving through Alabama recently, I heard this description:

Listen to me, young people.  THERE IS NO PARTY ROOM IN HELL! There is no good time!  If you think there is, you are WRONG!  You will be too busy weeping and wailing and burning to have a good time!

Wow.  That sums it up, I guess.  Of course, it got me thinking:  Is there some group of misguided youngsters in Alabama who think–like the great band AC/DC–that “Hell ain’t a bad place to be?”  If so, why?  If you believe in Hell, then you surely know that in addition to weeping and wailing, there will gnashing of teeth and eternal damnation.  You might even tear at your robes (they did that a lot in the Bible), assuming your clothes haven’t been burned off.  None of that will be good.

Hell is the bad cop to Heaven’s good cop. The radio preachers make it clear that it’s really easy to go straight to Hell.  It’s discouraging.

I’ve always been baffled by why Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time threatening to send people to Hell if they stepped out of line.  Even the most casual reader of the New Testament will notice that the Disciples–for all the good they did–were kind of pain to deal with.  Ever notice how many times they question Jesus?  I think this is why he taught in parables.  These guys just weren’t that bright.  Honestly, I don’t think Jesus was all that concerned about Hell.  If he had been, he would have said something like:  “Step out of line one more time, and it’s straight to Hell.  I mean it.”

The only time I think about Hell is when I listen to a radio preacher.  Sadly, they usually convince me that I’m GOING to Hell.  I don’t want that.  It would be bad.  No party room.

Super Jesus

Radio Preachers are always torn between Jesus the man and Jesus the Savior.  Or at least it seems that way.  They always stress that Jesus was (“is”) God’s son, but he was also a man.  As God’s son, He was God incarnate; thus, infallible.  As a man, He was flesh; thus, flawed–but not really, because He was Jesus.  It’s like they want you to know that Jesus was human, but don’t want you to really believe that.  Very confusing.

I figure Jesus was a regular guy.  He was a carpenter.  I’ve known a bunch of carpenters, and they’re all pretty normal.  Jesus probably was, too.  If they had sports, he would have liked them (although, I’m not sure he would have like that “Kick The Goat’s Head” game they play in Iraq).  Jesus was Jewish.  He probably looked like Dustin Hoffman. Radio Preachers, it seems, are concerned that if they make Him sound too human, then they’ll take away his God qualities.  This makes no sense to me, but what do I know?

As everyone knows, the New Testament has a big gap in Jesus’s life.  I figure it’s because he was just working as a carpenter and living a normal life during that time.  Probably not much to report.  He certainly didn’t have disciples charting his every move.

Radio Preachers take everything related to Jesus and make it as dramatic as possible.  Here’s a recent description I heard about the Sermon on the Mount:

And the multitudes had gathered to see Jesus and touch the hem of his garments.  Jesus stood before them.  Oh, can’t you see Him with His arms raised to the Heavens?  Can’t you imagine the glorious moment when He spoke? He then spake unto them:  [Radio Preacher then goes on to read from the Sermon on the Mount].

Now, I really enjoy the Sermon on the Mount.  It’s real preaching, and good stuff, too.  But, it’s pretty clear that the folks gathered there were the sick and demon-possessed.  That means sick and INSANE. And sick means REALLY sick. Leprosy sick. Thanks to modern medicine I’ve never known anyone with leprosy, but back then people were slap eat up with it. They made you wear a big old damn bell around your neck to warn people. Notice what Jesus did? He healed them. He didn’t say: “Oh, don’t worry about that leprosy. Just ring your bell.” Even Jesus didn’t mess with it. He just got rid of it.  Imagine what a motley and disturbed bunch this was.  It would have been horrifying. This is what Jesus was able to draw as a crowd.  This is not a bad thing.  These are the folks who were the outcasts and needed help.  Frankly, that makes for a better story; however, there was probably a certain grunginess to it.

My other favorite Jesus story is in the garden of Gethsemane.  Radio Preachers love this story, especially around Easter.  To me, it’s the story that makes Jesus human.  He’s doing what I would do, saying:  “Hey, I’ll do this if I have to, but I’m okay with you getting me out of it, too.”  Nothing wrong with that.  It’s a great, great story.  Radio Preachers spin it to say that Jesus was REALLY saying that he was ready to roll.  Maybe so.  I’m no theologian, but I don’t take it that way.

Radio Preachers also like to call on Jesus to perform miracles, usually to heal people.  This presumes that Jesus is like a genie in a bottle.  Conjure him up and “POOF!” he takes care of things.  What was Jesus’s first miracle?  I think it’s when he turned water into wine.  Kind of a magic trick really but pretty cool.  Importantly, though, you’ll notice that he didn’t say:  “Oh, and if you ever need me to do any of these things for you, just give me a holler.”  Sorry, Radio Preacher.

God Is A Republican

Radio Preachers don’t hesitate to talk about politics.  In fact, they love it.  I’ve learned one fact which is undeniable:  God is a Republican.  I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but it’s a fact.  He supports Republican candidates for all public offices.  Jesus may have said “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, but God wanted Caesar to join the GOP.

Radio Preachers tell me that I need to pray for God to elect certain folks to office.  Here’s my problem:  If God decides who wins, why do I need to make a request?  Is He really confused?  Does He need MY input?  I don’t think so.  Now, if God’s candidate loses, which happens from time to time, what does that mean?  Here’s what it means to me:  God doesn’t care about elections.

Interestingly, Jesus was Jewish.  Seems like a lot of Jewish folks are Democrats.  It wouldn’t be the first time that a son took a different political view than his Father, I suppose.

End of Days

This is probably the most popular topic for Radio Preachers–the end of times.  Why?  I guess because it’s terrifying and segues nicely into talking about Hell.  Much like Hell, I’ve determined that the end times will be awful.  Just a total mess.

Evidently, we are in the end times, because the world has just gone to Hell (not literally, of course).  There are wars, earthquakes, famines, immorality, homosexuality, abortion and all manner of debauchery afoot.  Really.  We’re probably the 1000th generation who thought the same thing.  Why?  Because we’re alive RIGHT NOW.  Everything going on now is more important, because it’s happening to us!  I find it all rather entertaining, since this presumes that the past was all butterfly kisses and unicorn rides.

Google the word “pederasty.”  That’s a nasty little practice of a grown man taking on an underaged male lover.  Used to be quite common and accepted by polite society.  A harmless relationship between two consenting adults is pretty tame compared to that.  Read the works of the Marquis de Sade.  You’ll be hard pressed to find anything more vile today.  How about slavery?  Witch burnings (this means BURNED ALIVE)? Nice stuff.  There have been quite a few famines and natural disasters throughout history.  Ask our friends in China, Africa and Ireland about famines.  War?  Name a time when there wasn’t a war.  We’re humans.  We like to kill each other, especially over real estate.  The upshot of it is that we don’t have anything better or worse going on now that ever before.  Chill out, Radio Preacher.

I always heard that the end would come when we least expect it, like a thief in the night.  I’m confident that the Radio Preachers don’t know any more about it than the rest of us, but it’s still entertaining to hear about.

One last thing, whenever end times are discussed, the book of Revelation has to be mentioned.  First, it’s REVELATION, as in the Revelation of John.  It is NOT RevelationS.  I’ll stop listening when the Radio Preacher calls it Revelations (which is 90% of the time).  Secondly, let’s all be honest–it’s totally incomprehensible.  Most of the Bible is enjoyable to read, but this book is like something Hunter Thompson would have written in the midst of an acid trip.  If you can figure out the imagery of horses, pale riders, 666, Whore of Babylon, etc., you yourself are a prophet.  If so, please just write something coherent for the rest of us.  I’ll tell one thing that doesn’t help:  A Radio Preacher screaming about it.  It just makes things worse.

Money

Radio Preachers need money.  Your money.  Well, it’s not your money.  It’s God’s money, but God wants you to send it to the Radio Preacher as sort of a trustee for the benefit of God.  God doesn’t trust you with His money.  He trusts the Radio Preacher.  You should, too.

Keep Listening

I’ll keep driving and listening.  You may think that I’m a horrible cynic with no religious faith at all.  Not true.  Okay, the cynic part is probably true.  I have my faith and my views of God, but I’m the type that keeps it to myself.  I don’t really doubt the sincerity of the preachers I hear.  Some of them are quite good and very persuasive.  I’m just irreverent.  As I heard the other day:  “Brothers and sisters, Hell can’t fill up!  There’s always room for one more!”  Ouch.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Eating for One

I’ve been on a road trip this week to Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  My son is playing in a baseball tournament.  I’m flying solo.  The rest of my clan stayed home in Kentucky.  I haven’t seen a whole lot of my son down here, except for his games and when he needs some cash.  In the name of team-building, the players stay together and ride a bus to and from their games.  The result is that I’ve had a lot of “me” time, which suits me to a tee.

I’ve been eating  my meals solo, too.  Yeah, I’m that guy, the pathetic fellow dining alone.  I know this conjurs up images of a serial killer sitting in his tool shed eating gruel from a human skull.  It doesn’t?  Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks about that, but that’s for another blog. I’m quite accustomed to dining out alone.  I travel a fair amount for work, and it’s usually solo.  This time, it’s different.  I’m actually on vacation and eating out among the vacationers.  They don’t eat alone.  But, I do.  Here are a few of my observations from this week.

Where to Sit

Would you like to sit at the bar?  I’m always asked this, and I think I know why.  If you sit at the bar, it’s not obvious to the rest of the diners that you’re alone.  You won’t trouble them by looking like a disturbed loner.  Also, if you eat alone, I suppose there’s a more than fair chance you have a drinking problem.  Sitting you within arm’s length of gallons of alcohol is just good business.

I don’t sit at the bar.  Why not?  First, I don’t drink, so I don’t need access to the bar.  Second, the few times I’ve eaten at a bar, I invariably will be seated next to a talkative drunk.  Mind you now, even though I don’t drink, I have no problem with those that do.  Unfortunately, I don’t like making conversation with strangers or listening to some slurred discourse on topics in which I have no interest.  I know now why people avoided me when I drank.

The exception to sitting at a bar is Waffle House, the poor man’s Cracker Barrel.  Okay, it’s not a bar.   It’s a counter, but it’s the same basic set-up.  You eat beside someone you don’t know and, being Waffle House, he may well be drunk.  I’m okay with it, because it fits the ambiance of Waffle House.  I can also watch them prepare my meal.  It’s like sitting in someone’s kitchen.  Now,the  cooking utensils seem really nasty, but they’re not.  Waffle Houses usually have good health department grades.  Who cares if the cook’s flop sweat occasionally drips into your scrambled eggs?  The food’s good and cheap.  Down here in Florida, I’ve eaten breakfast at Waffle House every day.  Bacon, egg and cheese wrap; side of grits; coffee; and water for $7.95.  Good eats.

I should also note that I do not include fast food restaurants and Cracker Barrel as dining alone, because they are set up that.  No one cares if you eat alone at a fast food restaurant.  People are there to get something quick with the assurance that they know how it tastes.  Cracker Barrel has really good food, and I’ve eaten alone at many of them.  It’s no big deal.  They cater to travelers, many of whom are by themselves.  It’s not a big deal to go solo for a stack of pancakes at 2:00 in the afternoon.

This week has been different.  I’ve been to several sit-down restaurants alone.  I usually have a copy of USA Today and my reading glasses hanging from the front of my shirt.  I prefer a booth.  Why?  I don’t know.  It just seems a little more private, plus the tables usually give me more room to spread out my paper.  It also seems like fewer people are looking at me.  They DO look at me, you know.  All of them.

Attention Please

Dining alone, I never seem to have a problem with service.  It’s odd, because one would think that a large table of customers–and potential tippers–would merit the most attention.  Not so.  I get checked on all the time.  I think it’s because I seem pitiful.  Look at that poor man who has no friends.  We should be nice to him.  I like that.  Coffee and water always topped off.  I never have to wait long for my check. It’s like they opened the restaurant up just for me.

Who are these people?

Of course, I’m not the only one.  There’s always someone else eating by himself.  I say “himself,” because it’s almost always a man.  Even though I am doing the same, I can’t help but think:  What’s the deal with that guy?  Does everyone hate him?  Probably.  Poor, pathetic bastard.  Glad I’m not him.

My reaction is similar to the rare occasion when I encounter the Day People.  You know them.  They’re the folks out doing stuff like shopping and washing their cars during the day.  I always wonder why they’re not at work.  It’s none of my business, so I never ask.  When I get to the age where I can say anything,  I’ll ask:  “What are you doing out during the day?  Don’t you have a job, hippie?”  Something like that.  Again, I digress.

I’m sure these folks look at me the same way and ask the same questions.  I’m just a guy eating dinner alone.  I refuse to order room service or eating crappy fast food just because I’m alone.  Now, leave me alone.

Where do I go?

I’m sure you’re curious about where I’ve eaten this week, so I’ll tell you.

Waffle House:  See comments above.  It’s Waffle House.  It’s consistent.  And I always like it.

BD Pizzeria:  I just ate at this place because it was convenient.  Pizza buffet for $6.99.  Nothing special.

Bridge Street BBQ and Cafe:  I just saw this place while out scouting around.  Kinda of a dump, but it looked like my kind of place.  I was surprised when I went inside.  It was nice, clean and looked like someone’s home.  My waitress was about 70, and I’m sure she must be one of the owners.  She was extremely nice.  I had BBQ pork, green beans and mashed potatoes.  It was nothing special.  The pork was inexplicable chopped into chunks but was pretty good nonetheless.  The beans and potatoes were of the cafeteria variety.  That said, I really liked the lady who waited on me.  There were only a couple of other folks in there.  One guy was clearly drunk and just wanted to use the phone to call a cab.  Of course, they let him.  The other guy is pictured below:

Bridge Street BBQ and Cafe. Note pathetic patron dining alone.

Anglers:  This is a seafood restaurant overlooking the Gulf.  I had bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with crab; garlic mashed potatoes; and green beans. It was all outstanding but a little too pricey for what I got.

The view from Anglers

Mary’s Kitchen:    I picked this place because it had a smoker out back.  I ordered the BBQ chicken/pulled pork dinner with black eyed peas and cheese grits.  The pork and chicken were as good as it gets, and I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ.  The grits were the only thing lacking.  They tasted like they had melted Velveeta in them.  Nevertheless, I’d recommend this place to anyone.  Excellent.

Old Bay Steamer:  I got the one-person steamer:  Snow crab legs; mussels; clams; shrimp; oysters; corn on the cob; and new potatoes.  This was a home run.  Everything was great.  Ronnie the Waiter (who bore a disquieting resemblance to rapper Paul Wall) practically hovered over my table.  My water glass was topped off repeatedly.  Good service and great food.

The Steamer Pot at Old Bay Steamer

I’ve got a couple of nights left.  I’m thinking about steak for tonight.  I might go to Ruths Chris in Destin.  I’m pretty sure Waffle House doesn’t have a steak, but it might.  Wherever I go, it will just be me.  And that’s okay.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Captain America’s Team

My earliest memory of being a football fan was a 1969 Craig Morton football card.  I was seven years old, and Morton was the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.  I don’t know why, but I liked that card.  It was held in almost as high esteem as my 1969 Willie Mays card, which I carried in my pocket.  Because I liked Morton’s card, I also liked the Cowboys.  It was that simple. I wouldn’t always like Craig Morton, but I always liked the Cowboys.

The first football game I remember watching was Superbowl V.  Dallas v. Baltimore, 1971.  It was actually a really crappy game, but I got to see Craig Morton play.  I thought that was cool.  My Dad watched the game with me and talked about the “other” quarterback for Dallas, a guy named Roger Staubach who had served four years in the Navy.  Dad said he was great, so he must be.  Understand that my Dad had been a Redskins fan, because the Redskins were broadcast on WLW’s 1,00o,ooo watt signal, and he heard a lot of their games.  But if his 8 year old liked the Cowboys, so did he.  Plus, Staubach was a military man, which Dad held in high regard.  Alas, Dallas lost when a long-haired kicker named Jim O’Brien kicked a last second field goal.  I hated that dude.  I was crushed by a sporting event for the first of many, many times to come.

I was primed for the 1971 NFL season.  Dallas coach Tom Landry devised an ill-conceived rotating quarterback system with Morton and Staubach, but I actually got to see the great Staubach play.  As much as a 9 year old kid could decipher, he was as good as Dad advertised.  He scrambled, he ran the ball, he threw the ball.  By then, I had also become a die hard baseball fan who worshipped at the feet of Johnny Bench.  Staubach was the football Johnny Bench.

Eventually Staubach overtook Morton as the Dallas starting quarterback. And the Cowboys won.  And won.  The Cowboys were back in the Superbowl.  I watched every dominating second of Superbowl VI against Miami.  Touchdowns by Lance Alworth and Mike Ditka; a 29 yard sack by Bob Lilly; Ditka on an end around; Staubach scrambling; Duane Thomas carrying the ball; Walt Garrison biting his tongue with blood pouring out of his mouth; and Chuck Howley returning an interception only to fall out of bounds when he ran out of steam.  Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3.  It may say something about my life, but I don’t know if any one event ever made me happier than that game.

If you ever see the NFL Films highlights of that game, watch at the end.  When the final seconds are winding down, Craig Morton shakes Coach Landry’s hand and says:  “Congratulations, Coach.  I’m happy for you.”  Morton, who lost his job, was on his way out of Dallas.  He didn’t play in the game.  He had every reason to resent Landry, but he was happy.  I like to think he was a really good guy and worthy of my admiration.

Now, back to Staubach.  I never enjoyed watching any athlete as much as I did this man.  He led comebacks, he played hurt and he was a genuinely good guy.  A lot of folks hate the Cowboys, and–by extension–anyone who played for them.  But, you never heard Staubach called a phony or fake.  He was married, religious and a straight arrow.  If he had feet of clay, he never showed them.

I am over 50 years old, and I don’t remember a lot of details of my childhood, but I remember these things like yesterday:

  • Four Staubach Superbowls
  • 1972 Playoffs.  Cowboys down 12 to the 49ers with 90 seconds to go.  Cowboys win.
  • 1975 Playoffs.  Cowboys down 14-10 to the Vikings less than a minute to go.  No timeouts.  Staubach heaves a pass for the end zone.  Drew Pearson catches it at the 5 and walks in for the score.  (Vikings fans:  Yes, Pearson pushed Nate Wright).  Staubach said he threw the ball and “said a Hail Mary.”  Thus, the Hail Mary pass was born.
  • Jackie Smith dropping a TD pass in the end zone in the Superbowl, and Staubach screaming.  But not as loudly as I did.
  • 1979 vs. the Redskins.  Staubach leads multiple comebacks for a Cowboys win in the best game I’ve ever seen.

Staubach retired in 1979 after multiple concussions.  I was a teenager by then and too cool to be crushed by such things, but I was.  I’ve remained a football fan.  As painful as it is today, I’m still a Cowboys fan, but nothing compares to a kid hero-worshipping his favorite player.  I lived and died with his exploits.

It was in the those days that the Cowboys became known as America’s Team, thanks to NFL Films.  I never thought of them as that.  They were Staubach’s team, and he was Captain America. He is over 70 years old now, which makes me feel at least that old to think about it.  He’s still Mr. Cowboy, beloved in Dallas.  I think he’s still a nice guy, but I don’t really know.  Thanks to modern technology, and I can go on the Internet and watch him play any time I want.  I get to be a kid again.  And that is definitely cool.  Thanks, Captain America.

Thoughts About My Dad

My Dad died in 2008.  I think about him often, but nothing sad or maudlin mind you.  As he said a couple of days before he died: “No one wants to see a middle-aged man moping around about his poor old father.”  I’m glad Dad lived long enough for me to know him as a man.  He wasn’t a saint or perfect.  He was a good friend and father.  He could be funny, profane, impatient and exasperating.  Mostly, he was just nice to me my entire life.

If you didn’t know him, this will tell you a bit about him.  His long-time friend, J.W., tells a great story about how they met.  Dad served in the Navy in WWII and then went to college.  He graduated and joined the Air Force as an officer. In 1952, he was called up to Korea.  The men from Harlan County all got on a bus in Harlan. J.W. was an enlisted man, and the bus was full of men who either volunteered or were drafted.  Dad boarded the bus in full uniform.  He was a lieutenant.  J.W. said they didn’t know what to do when they saw him.  Should they stand and salute?  Now, my Dad was very fastidious about his appearance.  I imagine his uniform cleaned and pressed, his hair slicked back and shoes spit-shined.  Dad took the seat next to J.W. and introduced himself.  He talked to J.W. for the whole bus ride.  (If you knew Dad, that’s not hard to believe.  Someone once said:  “I’m not worried about the Japanese capturing Earl.  He’ll just talk them to death.”)  Dad never lost touch with J.W. after that day.  They remained life long friends, even after J.W. ended up in Arizona.  Later in life, J.W. worked for a clothing store and would send Dad shoes.  Dad died in 2008 with 45 pairs of shoes, most of which came from Arizona.

I probably have some details of that story wrong, given that I heard it second-hand, but the gist of it is true.   I watched a lot of ball games with Dad, talk politics and –when he got old–health issues.  He’d repeat himself and tell me the same things over and over.  Honestly, I got tired of listening to a lot it.  Having said that (one of his favorite expressions), I’d like to have another of one of those phone calls.