Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Starting to sort it out

A few weeks ago I started going to church in the morning for no real reason, whatsoever.

I've not been very religious i a conventional sense up to this point despite attending a Catholic grammar school and college. I guess on the most honest of levels I seized an opportunity to keep a morning schedule instead of allowing my sleep cycles drift into the 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. zone and figured that attending church certainly couldn't hurt things.

I have started to look forward to Tuesday masses when the school's students are brought in because it seems like the priests bring their A game for that one. There's more exploration, more explanation and it's a good refresher for me as I get my religious feet wet.

Despite mandatory religion classes along the way, there was too much focus on getting the grade or having the lessons disappear as just another class to get much out of them. It has to sound strange to people who attended public school to hear that in first grade "religion" was taught on a schedule just like math or science.

I think that after years of struggling to get a handle on things that they are finally starting to come into focus a bit. While I'm almost sure that the search for one's personal faith is a lifelong path, I'm unsure if there's ever a point where things reach true equilibrium.

The funny thing that I've experienced - especially in college - was that the more study you put into the Bible the fewer answers you seem to have. When you add doses of history and science to that, things get more murky.

Besides, how much trust can you put into an institution that refused to accept fossil records and carbon dating? Intelligent design proponents remain one of the most damaging groups with regards to my ability to accept the church as a serious entity.

As a cynical punk in my early 20s, I was positive that religion was a dangerous mix of fairy tales for adults and a healthy dash of crowd control. Without a God as an interdimensional cop, what would keep people from murdering, stealing and running amok? If actual, earthly punishment couldn't scare people straight, what could be more intimidating than an eternity of some horrible fate?

It was the same college-mandated coursework that turned a lot of my friends off to organized religion and my experience with seminary students that made me even more skeptical. I had an RA freshman year who told us how the "fish on Fridays" principle was an offshoot of an ancient pope who had a fishmonger in the family.

Armed with that information, my roommate and I resumed eating whatever the hell we pleased on Fridays in lent, comfortable to ignore the church for the remainder of our natural lives.

It was essentially the same story after I spoke with one of the priests, who explained how there was nothing wrong with personal celebrations of faith and that Mass wasn't for God's benefit, but for the people in the congregation. I took that and ran with it, choosing to go to church when no one else was there, usually on weekday afternoons when things were quiet.

Knowing what I know now, I'm starting to come around on organized religion and to appreciate what it brings to the community. I found it pretty hypocritical to shake my head at fundamentalists, while holding to the letter and not the spirit of the law with regards to my own expressions of faith.

I wanted the church to be part of the modern world when it came time to accept all involved, but would balk at collections that would be used to fund legal teams to protect rogue priests who assaulted children.

I've realized that I can't have things both ways.

One of the reasons I like our current church is that it is a few blocks from the apartment and tries to take an active role in our neighborhood. The same dated practices of tribalism I used to get nervous about - mainly based on the idea that history is written by the winners and that the church still felt a need to bring the biggest gang to the fight - have given way to seeing that the church that provides for its community is something I'd like to support.

Rather than trying to get away with as little as possible - "Wait, God said I only need to be here once a week on Sunday morning, when there's nothing to watch on TV? And I'll be out before kickoff? Sold!" - I'm slowly learning that there's more for me inside a church than some cheap peace of mind and warm smiles from the elderly.

I'd heard a while back that if you ask God for patience that He doesn't just give you patience, but rather opportunities to be patient. So, while I am still a ways off from being fully back in the fold, I have found enough to keep me coming back each morning.

Regardless of whether I believe that false idols really toppled over or that Jesus actually turned water into wine, I can find a great deal of value in daily reminders to be thankful for what I have, especially in a society that preaches , "Too much is never enough," or to be patient and accept that some things are out of your control, no matter how much you hustle. Whether it's out of my hands and in God's or just out of my control altogether is irrelevant once you come to accept the first half of that premise.

With core valuesof community, forgiveness, thankfulness, love and acceptance being reiterated every morning there are worse places to spend 45 minutes a day. My faith doesn't need to be rock solid to take away something valuable from those discussions.

It's just the rest of the mess that needs to be straightened out.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Self-fulfilling prophecy

I'm looking over tonight and bemoaning the fact that we don't have as much disposable income as we've had in the past. There are a lot of good DVDs on the cheap, but I can't justify spending $50 on movies right now.

I'm working on justifying half that, though.

It reminded me of two things after The Girl chimed in with, "Oh, Cyber Monday!"

First is this tidbit from Al's Morning Meeting on the site:

BusinessWeek discovered in 2005 that not only was the Monday after Thanksgiving not the biggest day for online sales, it was not even in the top 10. BusinessWeek found that the biggest day fell somewhere between Dec. 5 and Dec. 15.

Secondly, it's strange to think that it was just a few years ago that I had to write and editorial explaining why shoppers would choose to shop online versus heading to the malls leading into the holidays.

Some people were terrified that they wouldn't get their gifts in time (if at all) and I had a discussion that was longer than it should have been to defend my position that it was perfectly fine to do all of your holiday shopping online.

Looking back, it reminds me of an ad I saw reprinted in a classic car magazine that was selling people on the idea of the toilet seat.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

At the crossroads - Part I

For those who weren't paying attention - and I can honestly say that aside from the value as a punchline, I nearly missed it - former Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz died a few weeks ago.

In the time that has passed, Bill's son, Rocky, has taken over the team and a few games have made their way to television. Now, Chicago's remaining half dozen hockey fans are waiting to see where this goes and if any significant changes will be made.

It was announced today that Chicago Cubs team president John McDonough will be leaving the North Side for his new home on Madison, where he'll take over as team president for the Hawks.

McDonough is seen as a man of the fans, who introduced the Cubs Convention idea to bring fans in to meet the players and stoke the fires during the wintertime. The Hawks are hoping he can use his bag of tricks to make the United Center warm and fuzzy again for thousands of apathetic and alienated fans.

As a little background here, the elder Wirtz became an evil cartoon caricature by the mid-90s when he blacked out home games (he was afraid that by giving home games away for free that fans would stop going to games), failed to resign the team's established stars, drove ticket prices through the roof and a laundry list of other disrespectful acts that meant Blackhawk fans beat the rush out the door before the lockout killed the rest of the league.

Long story, short, more than one former Blackhawk fan swore off the game until Wirtz died and now it's an interesting time to see how the fan base reacts. In the interest of full disclosure, I have zero idea what has happened in the Hawks season this year, aside from their 5-3 win over Detroit a few days ago. I found that out accidentally.

Today, there was a question posted on the Chicago Tribune web site regarding the McDonough move and what he should be doing for the team. Speaking as the fan that the team is trying to lure back, here's my quick rundown.

* It was never a matter of cash that limited the fan turnout. I think it's safe to say the self-imposed blackouts were the biggest problem the casual fan had with the Bill Wirtz regime. You had a stubborn owner who refused to see things differently and a fan base that eventually threw up its hands in disgust.

Speaking as a former Minnesota Twins season ticket holder, even if you have the financial means, it's virtually impossible to make every game based on time and interest constraints. Now that the team needs to lure back fans, adding television broadcasts will be the smartest move the team makes.

* The Blackhawks are in unenviable position of having hostile fans on top of the disillusioned ones. For anyone who wasn't turned off by the team prior to the strike, there was that to push the remainder of fans away.

This means that the team has all the problems that everyone else in the NHL has in addition to a hostile fan base that was on its way out the door to begin with. Not good.

* It's no secret that I'm a baseball junkie and will go well out of my way for information, but for the breed of fan required to bring the franchise back, that's not going to cut it. Everyone in town knows the business of the Cubs, knows about the Garland trade for the Sox and knows that Rex is slowly killing the Bears as they have a disappointing season.

No one knows much about the Blackhawks and they're not going to go out of their way to find out.

This will be a problem in growing the brand. Short of giving away free tickets, I don't know how they'll address this.

* Finally, the big problem for fans like me is the respect issue. I became a fan in my early teens, when I couldn't afford a ticket, couldn't drive and needed that TV coverage in order to stay in the loop with the team.

It was insult to injury when the team then locked out fans when they were in town.

Add the financial and time pressures and you take what amounts to a blue collar sport and put your fans on the wrong side of the glass.

When you can't make the game and the team decides to dedicate years mocking you for it, that just might be a problem even McDonough and his bag of tricks can't fix.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The System

I know that the city of Chicago does not have my personal best interest in mind in any of the decisions it makes. In fact, I like to think of Mayor Daley as storming around his office complaining about how much better the city would be if there was no one in it.

This was evident this week when I saw the street sweepers pass through and then the tickets for the cars that weren't moved go up after that. Sneaky, sneaky.

I've been on the receiving end of this before, where I saw the street sweepers work and leave and then moved my truck back before lunch. When I came back, the ticket was waiting for me.

I'm convinced this isn't a timing issue as much as policy designed to drive the city's revenue. Bastards.

The story is the same in my monthlong quest for a city sticker. You would think that you'd be able to find a city sticker at the local alderman's office, but you'd be wrong.

Finally, if you want a good laugh, try finding hotel rooms in Green Bay during football season. Craphole rooms that retail under $50 per night are suddenly in demand and the price goes through the roof.

Yes, Frank, I know - supply and demand. I was awake in Mr. Chasey's Econ Class and sitting right next to you every morning - it doesn't make it right.

I'm wondering how much an RV would run me for the weekend.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sometimes hip hop is weird

By now, most of mainstream America is aware that Kanye West's mother, Dr. Donda West, died and that it looks like the surgery shouldn't have happened - at least by the doctor who operated. Expect What Would Tyler Durden Do? to start getting spammed by angry fans within the hour.

I'll say this for the guy - he's got bigger balls than I do for making jokes right now. I just wouldn't want to be in his shoes when Kanye snaps out of this in a few weeks.

I was checking in on, a favorite of Frank the Tank to see if there was any new information this evening after some of the other blogs shut down. While the official statements from the family were all what you'd expect as they're still mourning and making arrangements.

Then, you scoll down to the comments section and there are a whole series of avatars that probably have been screened by the users before they made the post.

While I'm sure Kanye can appreciate the outpouring of support, does anyone want to see an animated .gif of a woman walking upstairs in a thong in a tribute post to their mother?

OK, aside from Larry Flynt?

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Friday, November 09, 2007

The value of a dollar

In the end, it's all about expectations. What I was willing to put up with 10 years ago is worlds apart from what I find acceptable now. It's amazing what a few more zeroes on a paycheck will do for your sense of entitlement.

This has all come about as we get settled into our new apartment and there is a laundry list of problems that need to be taken care of. Some are small, like shelving that looks like crap and contains only one actual shelf per closet and others are more substantial like intermittent electricity in the bedroom that seems to come from the outlet shorting itself out on the box.

Yaaaaay, a fire hazard three feet from where I sleep!

In my college house or first apartment, those are things that you suck up and deal with - by running an extension cord like we're doing now - but I'm finding myself really, really unwilling to do that this time.

It has me wondering if the tenants downstairs - who are in their early 20s - are also causing a stir, as I assume they have the same sorts of problems. It boils down to a question of if I expect more because of age or experience - basically, I know how much a mortgage costs, I know how much I pay for rent and there's a certain level of safety and convenience that should be met by the landlord from that overlap in finances.

I just wonder why it seems that folks in their early 20s let more things slide with a shrug and the acceptance that things can be pretty junky when you're renting a place. Secretly, I think that I stay in more and have nothing better to do that be grumpy about having to run down to the breaker, but I'm not ready to cop to that yet.

It's a very real possibility that all of the time I used to spend being cool, going to see bands and being busy with other things has now been supplanted with being cranky and demanding what I'm entitled to for my monthly rent.

Obviously that bar has been raised.

For instance, I got into a major fight with my college landlord when I refused to pay up for the craphole he rented to us because after the main kitchen light literally blew apart and rained sparks for a few minutes on New Year's Eve.

When it still wasn't fixed in June, words were exchanged regarding the final month's payment. I'd probably be calling the fire and building inspectors within three weeks if the same thing happened today.

Of course, that would be after I called their home line every time the power went out and I'd already paid at least one month in quarters. Like I said, I have more time on my hands, what with not having a social life these days.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

The things they don't tell you

I touched on it briefly the other day in the rush to get the Jim McMahon picture up after the wedding, but one of the big things I learned in the wedding rush a few weeks ago is that your extra-special day is rarely that special to anyone outside of your blood relatives.

I'm not saying that's such a bad thing - I can only imagine how strange the reception would be if everyone in attendance was as high-strung as those directly involved with the day - it just is.

Among the other things I figured out in the three weeks following the wedding:

* Watch your mouth at the reception. You'll be excited to see everyone and suggest that you get together soon. When midnight hits, you're booked for the next six years if you do one dinner every other weekend.

* If you're a male, it's not your day. Don't even think otherwise.

* I'm pretty sure the honeymoon period is a result of the following subconscious thought: "I'm stuck with you now - I guess I'd better be nice."

* Be ready for everything you eat to taste like burning rubber or plastic. All of your appliances are new. They all stink.

* I'm betting it's pretty common for someone to "threaten" the groom at every wedding. Older brothers, drunk uncles, fathers or the clergy, there are plenty of people there to tell the groom to behave himself. Some are kidding, some are not - see if you can tell the difference.

* It goes by very, very quickly. For me, I was so concerned with not developing a sudden case of Tourette's on the altar and not screwing up the first dance that the day flew by as I looked ahead to keeping my shit together. Eventually, though, things reach equilibrium and you can just relax and talk to your friends and family.

* Um, about that. You'll feel like you've spoken to everyone for two or three minutes, but didn't actually get to talk to anyone at all. It's a bummer when you do the mental math on the expense to host a wedding and the outlay your guests are making and you realize that you never really had a good discussion with anyone.

* Kiss your retinas goodbye. Most people own digital cameras now and most have no idea how to work the flash. Your photographer, on the other hand, will have a huge flash and will chase you around like you're a B-list celebrity.

* Good luck trying to find a minute to yourself all day. Sometimes you need to tell people to stick it so you can get a cup of coffee midway through the night.

* Don't forget to square away your music before the final 12 hours. No seriously, go start now. Also, iTunes will screw you at the most inopportune moments - it's in the coding. (Side story: I had to pick out my dance with my mom the morning of the wedding. I spent most of the dance working ahead 15 seconds in the song to make sure there wasn't some problem with the lyrics - either a curse word or an inappropriate sentiment - on the horizon. I would have knocked over an amp to draw attention from the song if the need arose. I am so not kidding on that.)

* You really can't go wrong on the big day. Honestly, it is incredibly difficult to ruin a wedding day without some actual malice and forethought. Well, unless you buy one of these babies. Then, you're pretty much hosed.

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