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The future is happening in Pittsburgh

bttfBack in the 1970s, I think we all assumed that certainly there’d be flying cars by 2013, if soylent green hadn’t taken over. Okay, so innovation has not really kept up with the imagination of Back to the Future. The improvements in automobile technology in the past 40 years has mainly been in the areas of gas mileage, GPS, anti-lock breaking, air bags, and mini-van movie screens. Oh, and advanced cup holder technology? We haz it.

While most of the futuristic movies (from Back to the Future to Blade Runner to The Fifth Element to Total Recall to The Jetsons) all assumed that cars would fly one day, what they missed on was their assumption that a human being would still have to be behind the wheel. The real future is not in flying cars (well, maybe long after we’re all gone) but in driverless cars. No more drunk drivers. No more texting while driving. No turning the wrong way down a one-way street. No more high-speed police chases. You just get in your car, kick back, and read a book or watch a movie or take a nap, while a computer does all the heavy lifting. And it turns out that this kind of innovation is not coming from Detroit or Tokyo or Berlin or even Silicon Valley. No, it’s coming from Pittsburgh, and faster than you think.

srxcaddy_300x250Yesterday was sort of the Kitty Hawk moment for driverless cars, as the brainiac mad scientists from Carnegie Mellon demonstrated that their driverless car — a very normal looking 2011 Cadillac SRX — could negotiate congestion and highway traffic while safely changing lanes and merging during a challenging 33-mile drive from Cranberry, Pa., to Pittsburgh International Airport. And there were no crash test dummies riding inside. The white-knuckled passengers were U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Barry Schoch, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. A human was in the driver’s seat as a safety precaution, but all of the driving was done by Carnegie Mellon’s innovative software, relying on inputs from radars, lidars (is that a thing?), and infrared cameras.

srxinterior_350x200In addition to controlling the steering, speed and braking, the computers also detect and avoid obstacles in the road, including traffic cones and barrels, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists, pausing until they are safely out of the way. The systems provide audible warnings of obstacles and communicate vehicle status to its passengers using a “human-like” voice. This Cadillac SRX also can communicate with instrumented traffic lights and other vehicles equipped with wireless communication devices to enable cooperation.

No word on whether it can lay on the horn, ride the bumpers of cars that cut it off, or flip the occasional bird to moronic driverless cars around it with sub-par operating systems.

Raj Rajkumar, who directs CMU’s U.S. Department of Transportation-funded transportation research center, says the main goal of CMU’s driverless car is to reduce accidents, thereby decreasing injuries and fatalities. “The car’s electronics are simply more reliable than people and will protect drivers from their own bad behavior as well as those of others, such as drinking or texting,” More than 40,000 Americans lose their lives each year in traffic accidents. Rajkumar suggests that self-driving vehicles will begin to be commercially available around 2020 as near-term costs as well as social and legal concerns are addressed. In other words, the insurance companies have to decide who will be liable when a car’s computer gets a virus and plows into a house. Details, details….

I know there are a lot of people out there who actually enjoy the activity of driving. I imagine that there will be the opportunity for human override as this technology is unveiled. But doesn’t that defeat their purpose? And can you imagine those cross-country trips where the people are sleeping in every car you pass? How weird is that going to be? motorolabagphone2I guess it will be no weirder than it was in the 1980s to see someone talking on phones in their cars. Ah yes, that there Motorola bag phone was some pretty freaky Buck Rogers shit in its day.

So what do you think? Do you embrace the future? Bring on the computers! I can play Words with Friends all the way to work!

Or are you going to go there kicking and screaming and demanding your right to be able to change lanes abruptly and without signaling…? Because this is America, damn it!

My Pittsburgh

Today’s run felt like running through a greenhouse. But as I pounded the pavement (and I pound the pavement!), it occurred to me that it was eight years ago today that I first drove into Pittsburgh to stay. I was all by myself in a big empty house and I knew only one person in the city. It was a lonely and confusing time, but today I know hundreds of people here and I love my neighborhood of Lawrenceville. So I decided to take some pics along my run/walk today.

IMG_1150 This is my main running track — a long trucking lot along the tracks and the Carnegie Robotics Lab (in blue).

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I have a special place in my heart for the houses that survived while all of those around them fell to the wrecking ball. They are like hardened pioneers ready to meet a new century.

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As I run, I like to imagine all the hard working immigrant factory workers who used to live in these buildings. They’d take their turns sleeping after the three shifts they worked. Llittle homes with little rooms. Everything really was smaller back then…

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Lots of urban renewal happening around “Larryville.” I can’t tell if this is an improvement, or not. I guess it is, considering the dilapidated structures and empty lots these homes replaced. But still, they seem to lack a certain amount of character…

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Now we’re talking. Of course, I prefer the renovated structures that keep the old architecture intact. I love seeing an old, neglected property spruced up and reimagined.

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Anything that can maintain the old craftsmanship with a modern flair.

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And provide a palette for local artists, like the Kaleidoscope restaurant.

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While some structures still patiently await their turn to be turned into something more useful.

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While other long dormant structures remind us that even though the neighborhood is filled with hipsters, artists, and yuppies, there were once men with hard hats and lunch buckets who used to climb stuff, so we shouldn’t be such uppity jagoffs.

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And other structures bode to the future. That whole Terminator apocalypse. That’s on us. Our bad.

IMG_1158Especially with cars like this sitting in front of the Carnegie Robotics Lab. It’s a Fisker Karma — whatever that is. Nothing good can come of this. Some millionaire is in there developing his future army, right? This is Bond villain stuff.

IMG_1164I fear that someone in our neighborhood has lost the concept of the “missing” flier. You don’t “find” cats. You find dogs. I can stumble outside my house and “find” nine cats hiding beneath the parked cars and shrubbery. No one “finds” a cat.

IMG_1165And finally, in week 4 of my new workout regimen, I bought myself new pair of shoes. It’s time to retire the old cross trainers on the left with the modern running shoe on the right. Cross trainers were really worthless. They weren’t running shoes. They weren’t walking shoes. They weren’t basketball, climbing, biking, or tennis shoes. They were really good for nothing. Today’s workout was like running on spongy cushions of awesomeness. Thanks, New Balance!

Something smells

As you can probably tell, I’m in the midst of the end-of-summer doldrums. I have no kids to drop off at college or get ready to go back to school. Thus, it’s just that weird period where summer is over but no one has told the weatherman. Football and my beloved Fall temperatures are a few weeks off yet. This September will feature something new for Pittsburgh: baseball relevance. The Pirates seem like they have turned onto Liberty Ave. in the marathon that is the 162-game baseball season. With only 35 games left, they are 8 wins away from their first winning season in 21 years, and 10.5 games ahead of the Diamondbacks for a playoff spot. Not even the Three Stooges could screw this one up. (See me tempting the fates there?) But those things, too, are a few weeks off.

corpseI think it was apropos that the big attraction in Pittsburgh this week was the rare and sudden blooming of the corpse flower at the Phipps Conservatory. I don’t care if it only blooms once a decade. I took a pass at joining the hordes of people who plunked down $15 to go see the phallic flower that smells like rotting flesh. Only at the end of August could something like that become the city’s star attraction. Feed me, Seymour! If I wanted to pay $15 to see something stink, I would have taken somebody to see R.I.P.D. At least that way, I would have gotten some popcorn out of the deal.

Funny, it’s the same thing I thought when I read about UPS blaming Obamacare for dropping health coverage of employee spouses. Actually, the story isn’t bad as it seems. The exclusion is only for spouses who have jobs that offer their own health coverage. Those spouses just aren’t going to be able to choose the UPS plan if it’s better than their company plan. No one here is being denied health coverage.

But still, I thought, Hmmm. Something stinks. Hey, at least it didn’t cost me $15. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of businesses in the next few years that take advantage of Obamacare implementation by doing something they’ve wanted to do for a long time… drop or decrease expensive healthcare benefits. In the past, the company would have taken a hit and morale would have plunged. Now, they can just blame Obama… and save a bundle along the way. Oh, they might pay a penalty if they employ more than 50 people, but I’ll bet the penalty is cheaper than healthcare coverage for employees and their spouses.

Hey, these struggling corporations need the money. As a percentage of national income, corporate profits in the third quarter of 2012 (during the national disaster of an Obama presidency) stood at 14.2 percent, the largest share at any time since 1950. Meanwhile, the portion of income that went to employees fell to 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. Productivity is up. Unemployment is down. It’s just that the profits are not trickling down to the workers. Something is trickling, all right; it’s just not wages.

Meanwhile, Republicans are said to be meeting daily during the recess to scheme of ways to scuttle Obamacare before people actually begin enjoying the coverage next year. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Time’s a wasting. This fall is going to be a cage match. Maybe Republicans would be more cooperative if Obama had proposed the plan of their candidate for the president in 2012… wait, oh yeah…

endwelfareJust a reminder that the stink of politics will be blooming again this fall. There will be fights over debt ceilings, Obamacare, voter suppression, immigration, food stamps, women’s rights, surveillance, and much more. Unfortunately, this is a constantly blooming stink plant. And it will probably cost us more than $15.

There, I just talked myself into enjoying the quiet of late August, as well as the sweet aroma of Congressional recess.

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Three score and three years ago.

This post is partly a Sunday stroll through history, and partly a love letter to my city…

I find it remarkable what the city of Pittsburgh has done in the past 60 years. Like Detroit, the industry that supported it collapsed in short order. It decimated both the city’s work force and tax base.

In 1950, Pittsburgh’s population was just over 676,000 (1.5 mil. in the metro area). It was the 12th largest city in the U.S. Sure, the air was smoky and the rivers resembled an open sewer, but in 1946, Mayor David Lawrence began to enforce the Smoke Control Ordinance of 1941 because he knew that smoke abatement was crucial for the city’s future economic development. This was not a popular move. Smoky bituminous coal was much less expensive than smokeless fuels. Italian-American organizations vigorously protested the move, because enforcement raised the cost of living of working class families and threatened the jobs of their relatives in nearby bituminous coal mines. Still, here was the point in 1950.

1950point

By 1953, many of those buildings near the point would be gone to make room for the construction of Gateway Center.

Today, Pittsburgh’s population is 307,000 (2.6 million in the metro area). We are No. 61 in the nation, slightly smaller than Corpus Christi, Texas, but bigger than Lexington, Kentucky. But we’re #20 in the U.S. in metro population.

And here’s our glamor shot just 63 years later…

2013point

Interestingly, the only building in both shots is the Ft. Pitt Block House, one of the first buildings ever built here. (Small brick building by the evergreens.) While we’re at it, here’s the point and Ft. Pitt in 1776.

1776 point

Those settlers on Mt. Washington are trying to decide where to put the sports stadium.

Now, after sixty years of steady decline, the city’s population has actually increased in the past two years. Why did Pittsburgh not go the way of Detroit? Part of it is due to our many vibrant universities, which bring in bright minds (students and faculty), keep the arts alive, and produce grads who stick around. Also, Pittsburgh never experienced the near complete white flight that Detroit did. A hearty and resilient group stuck it out through the tough times and worked with all the residents to reinvent the city. I know a few of them, who call themselves “urban pioneers.” They tell stories of having dinner parties on tables made of a door on a saw horse as they rehabbed properties while still maintaining a sense of community. They never gave up on Pittsburgh through some very lean and scary years, and today they are reaping the benefits of renaissance.

I love the spirit of Pittsburgh.

In the bag for the NFL

Full disclosure: I’ve not attended many NFL games. I’ve been to maybe three Bears games at the old Soldier Field. (Not Soldiers!!!!!) It was pretty much a horrible experience. You had to walk for miles. And the stadium was built like in the 1920s, so it was low to the ground and went back instead of up. So if you didn’t have great seats, it felt like you were a half-mile from the action on the field. No video scoreboard. You really had to bring a radio to know what was going on.

old soldierLocated right on the lakeshore, more times than not, the weather was horrible, with brutal winter winds knifing right off the lake. Or fog for a playoff game…

fog_bowl_eagles_bears_1988That’s for real, ladies and gents. And in the Loop, a few blocks away, it was clear and sunny. People at that game said you could hear various sections cheering as players zipped by them. Other than that, nobody knew what was going on for much of the game, which was never halted.

Besides that, I’ve been to an Arizona Cardinals game in old Sun Devil Stadium. The only thing I remember was some pre-game filming of a guy in a Cardinals uniform lying down in the end zone. The crowd was told to remain silent. Then he got up and started doing gyrations while they told the crowd to cheer. Came to find out later that it was Cuba Gooding Jr. doing a scene for Jerry Maguire.

The last NFL game I attended was a Bengals-Saints game at the Superdome. One of my best friends from high school was doing play-by-play for Bengals’ radio broadcasts and he set me up with tickets. Once again, I was in the nose bleeds and the game was more like a rumor. At least we had video screens with replays there.

So I’ll admit that I’ve never had really good seats to an NFL game in a nice stadium. Still, let’s face it. NFL games are much better to watch at home, where you can see all the replays, hear the commentary, see what’s going on elsewhere, enjoy some lovely game day snacks, and not sit in traffic for two hours on your way home. Pittsburgh seems a bit different. There’s ample parking a short walk from the stadium, and a college-like atmosphere, from tailgating to the towels to “Renegade.” But in my almost eight years in Pittsburgh, I’ve never been to a Stiller game, so I can’t really speak to that.

But I was rather shocked to hear of the rather draconian bag policy the NFL is instituting this year. No fanny packs, which really should be a rule everywhere and at all times. I have no problems with that. But ladies…. no purses. What the wha!?!?!?!? That’s right, ladies. You have two choices in accessories for your next Steeler game. One is a clutch purse that will fit in your hand…

bag hand nflStylish, but not entirely practical.

Or you can swallow your pride and carry all your lady belongings for all the world to see in vinyl or PVC bags that do not exceed 12″ x 6″ x 12″…

bag_image_v3a_1371166608The league says this is “to improve public safety.” I may have missed it, but has there been a rash of incidents in which people were killed or maimed at NFL games because of items hidden in purses? There must have been, because how else would this “improve” public safety? Improve on what?

Another line of reasoning from the league is an effort to get people into the stadium faster by speeding up bag checks, They’d rather have people buying expensive stadium  beer than the cheap ones they consume in the parking lot.

Of course, the cynical part of me thinks they also want to sell a crapload of those plastic bags with team logos on them. Imagine the fulfillment company that inked that deal with the NFL. Cha-ching!

I’ve also been rather surprised that there hasn’t been an explosion of outrage about this. Oh, I’ve seen a couple of articles about it. But so far, no huge backlash. Are most fans still unaware? Or are they willing to do about anything to avoid that Heinz Field terrorism disaster we had during the Batman movie? Perhaps this is a small price to pay to ensure that something like that never happens again. Never forget.

Hines-Ward-TDKR

Baseball etiquette 101

mccutchenjpg-81624bfc1602f8f5This year, I have avoided writing much about the Pirates because, well… last year… and the year before that.

I’ve attended around six or seven games so far, and I like what I see. But I’ve felt that way before. As we head into the perilous months of August and September — the Titanic and Hindenburg of seasons past — I am cautiously optimistic. I have more confidence because there are more players carrying the load than just Andrew McCuthchen. And, although steady, Cutch has yet to catch fire this year. And the pitching seems to have rock solid depth, even with the injury to Grilli. We need to add a bat to the starting line-up, and possibly some bench depth, but we’ll see what the trade deadline brings.

I am so breaking my own rule by even saying that much. But confidence is high for both a winning season and a playoff birth.

That said, there are problems that come from success. Fan problems.

When the Pirates were just an afterthought in the city, the crowds were small but the people who came out were solid baseball fans. Oh, sure, there were those who came for bobble heads and fireworks, but on a Tuesday night against the Astros, those were mainly baseball people in the seats.

With success come what I call “the amateurs”… bandwagon jumpers, party seekers, front runners, lemming followers, bored teenagers. They come in like they’ve always owned the place. And they can ruin it for the real fans. So, I’ve seen some lists of fan etiquette out there. I’m not on board with all of them, but I’m a big fan of some. So, here are my 9 new rules for Pirate fans:

Rule #9 – Watch the Outfielder!

You don’t have to go out of your minds every time a player hits a fly ball to the outfield. The best way to tell if a hit is something or nothing is by watching the outfielder. If he hasn’t turned and started sprinting like hell to the wall, it’s probably an out or, hopefully, a single. Deal with it. Act like you’ve been there before.

Rule #8 – Stadium hi-jinx

This is more for management than the fans. It’s getting high time for someone in the Pirates’ front office to dig deep and buy an iTunes subscription. I swear, I’m hearing mostly the same music they have played in that place since I started attending in 2005. Can’t we ever change things up a little? Don’t new songs come out like… all the time! And Garrett Jones? You really need to say good-bye to “Jump on It” as your walk-up music. What are you? A 14-year-old girl? Don’t tell me that song fires you up.

And while I think the constant need to have to entertain the masses with some game between every inning is rather “minor league,” my biggest pet peeve is when they start the phony noise meter every time the other team brings on a relief pitcher. Hey, don’t worry your pretty little heads about it. When things get exciting, WE WILL YELL. Until then, stop trying to manipulate things. We know when to yell, and during a relief pitcher’s warm-up tosses is not one of those times. Stop it!

Rule #7 – Cell phones

You’re at the ballgame. Calls can wait. If you have to make or take a call, make it quick or go to the concourse. And if you are sitting behind home plate and get on your cell phone and start waving at the camera, so help me, I will hunt you down and make you suffer. I swear to God.

Rule #6 – Leaving early

Okay, I veer from convention on this one. Most die-hards say you stay until the bitter end, no matter what. Not me. Ninety percent of the time, we stay until the handshakes. But I’ll admit that there have been times when the Mrs. and I have ducked out early. I say, you pays your money, you get to do what you want. Mid-week games can go long. I was at a Buccos/Giants game when the Giants’ hurler was pitching like he was being paid by the hour. It took two hours to finish the first three innings, and there was no score! I did the math and decided that I didn’t want to be there until 11:30. I get up at the crack of dawn. If you’re just leaving early to get a jump on the traffic, then shame on you. But if you’ve got real life reasons, knock yourself out. I may be wrong on this one. So sue me.

Rule #5 – Getting up and down

Newbie baseball fans seem to think this is a county fair or something. They just walk around the stadium regardless of what’s going on down on the field. Like going to the symphony, there are times you walk around and times you don’t. You don’t get up with your brood of children to go and get Dippin’ Dots right in the middle of an at-bat. You wait until between batters or a stoppage in play. Better yet, between innings. Same for returning to your seats. And when you go, do it quickly.

Rule #4 – Jerseys

This one gets problematic. There are two basic rules on jerseys I abide by. rebuilding-pirates-jersey1) Never put your own name on the back. That’s bush league. Honor a favorite player, past or present, but it isn’t a vanity license plate. However, I will allow editorial statements. 2) No jerseys or caps from teams that aren’t on the field. I don’t need to see your Miami Marlins jersey when the Pirates are playing the Reds. Either pick a team that’s playing, or wear something neutral. I’ll make exceptions for t-shirts and sweatshirts, but I’ll still raise an eyebrow and think nasty thoughts. Some people add a third rule: no non-baseball jerseys at the game. I’m pretty sure this is found in other sports. You may get hassled at a Steelers’ game if you are wearing a Garrett Jones jersey. In Pittsburgh, this is more acceptable because all of our teams have virtually the same colors, but still… I will make one allowance for this. 3.) Only wear a non-baseball jersey if that team is playing around that time (and preferably a playoff game). In other words, if the Pens are in the playoffs on a night the Buccos are playing, I’ll accept a few Pens jerseys in the stands.  When I saw the Buccos and Tigers play earlier this year, a guy in front of me was rocking a home Red Wings jersey. We swept the Tigers that day and the Red Wings were eliminated by the Blackhawks just after the game ended. I found that extremely satisfying. Also, give the pink jerseys a rest, will ya, ladies? Team colors or nothing.

Rule #3 – Alternative jerseys

Let’s not get too crazy with our homemade fandom, Mr. Chest Hair…

ChestHairFan

Rule #2 – Grown Ass Men with Baseball Gloves

Two violations!

Two violations!

No. Just, no. You either catch it bare-handed and shatter your metacarpal bones like the rest of us, or you run and hide. And if you catch it, you then give it to nearest child who is under ten. This isn’t fantasy camp. This isn’t Comi-con. You don’t get to bring equipment with you.

Rule #1 – The Wave

This is my pet peeve. No waves. Ever. Period. Not when your team is batting. Not when the other team is batting. Doing the wave says something loud and clear. It says, “God, I’m bored. I hate baseball. It’s been ten minutes and nothing is happening. What’s trending on Twitter? Do they have ice cream here? Let’s do something else. Hey, a butterfly!” Baseball is entertainment enough. I don’t need synchronized fandom. i don’t need my whole section standing up in front of me just as the pitcher is delivering a pitch. Grow up or go home.

stop the wave

That’s enough of a primer. Unless you have some to add in the comments. By all means, go nuts.

I know it’s been a long time for Pirate fans, but let’s at least pretend that this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve got 5 humungous games against the Cardinals next week. We are about to learn a lot about the cut of this team’s jib. Play ball!

A post-church generation

After my bad attitude yesterday, I decided I needed some religion.

With churches and denominations on a steady decline, and young people drifting away from matters of faith in droves, one might fret that this country is heading toward being an agnostic nation.

In 2010, LifeWay Christian Resources (the new name for the old Baptist Sunday School Board) conducted a poll among 18-29 year-old Americans and found that…

  • 65 percent rarely or never pray with others, and 38 percent almost never pray by themselves either
  • 65 percent rarely or never attend worship services of any kind
  • 67 percent don’t read the Bible or any other religious texts on a regular basis

That is a solid two-thirds of American young adults who don’t even have the slightest connection to traditional Christianity. The LifeWay president remarked that if the current trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships.” (At some point, I was thinking about a post featuring photos of all the closed and for sale churches around Pittsburgh — and those that are now thriving as bars and clubs — but I never got around to it.)

St. nicksWell, GM got a bailout and is back. Is any bailout in store for the church?

My hunch is that we are not necessarily looking at a post-Christian generation, but more of a post-church generation.

When I was a pastor, it occurred to me that when someone comes to faith in Christ, they are not so much accepting Jesus into their lives as much as they are accepting “church” into their lives. We just hoped that in the process, they would find Jesus in there somewhere. And that bummed me out.

This church is closed and for sale!

This church is closed and for sale!

Consider someone approaching today’s Christianity for the first time. They are going to be immersed into a “church culture” just as much as they’d be immersed into a “county club culture” if they joined one of those. They will be giving up half a day each week, at least, including a precious weekend morning. They will be giving up their money to the local church, 10 percent of their income is the teaching, the vast majority of which will go toward staff salaries and the building they meet in. They will attend “services” where, as they enter, they will be handed lyrics and told that they will be singing. Where else do we do that to people? What if they don’t like to sing? If public speaking is up there on the list of human fears, where does public singing rate? And a good half of each week’s service will include listening to a “talking head” speaking at you for, normally, between 25-45 minutes. What do marketing specialists say is the average attention span these days? Uh-huh.

Recently, it has struck me as odd to look at what we have done to the Christian faith (I can’t really speak for other faiths). We have taken something that was intimate, relational, and interactive, and turned it into a “show” that is staged every Sunday morning. We’ve taken circular New Testament fellowships and turned all the seats in one direction, creating theater seating and a stage. (The word pulpit derives from the Latin word for “a stage.”) We’ve taken communion — a meal and a metaphor that was meant to be shared all-inclusively in homes — and built a literal fence around it, insisting that clergy are the only ones who can touch it and believers are the only ones that can eat it. And we’ve made clergy the celebrities of the show, dressing them in kingly robes, fine suits, and bejeweled rings, seating them upon “thrones,” and putting the onus of ministry squarely on their shoulders.

This church is a bar and concert venue.

This church is a bar and concert venue.

Much of these changes come in the third century, when the Roman emperor Constantine embraced the Christian faith and mixed it up with the pagan worship that had been so popular. Thus, faith came out of the homes where it was practiced and temples were built. In pagan rituals, priests would parade in from back to front, so that was incorporated, too. And the high, holy day was changed from the Sabbath to Sunday, partly because of anti-Semitism toward Jews, and partly because that was the day of worship of the sun god that Constantine grew up revering.

So much of what we now recognize as “church” did not come from the Bible at all, but was incorporated from pagan practices. That’s not to say that it’s all bad. Most of it has been part of Christian tradition much longer than it was ever a pagan tradition.

This church is a brewery.

This church is a brewery.

Certainly, Christmas and Easter also have pagan roots (see Christmas trees and Easter eggs and bunnies), but they both have been embraced as longstanding Christian rites.

So what am I saying? I guess I’m saying that in times of decline, perhaps we should remember what really matters and not blindly hold on to things that, in reality, have little to no biblical basis in the first place.

If there is any hope in all of this, maybe it can be seen in a figure like Pope Francis. Not to put him on a pedestal – he certainly wouldn’t want that – but to acknowledge his appeal, not just to Catholics but also to evangelicals. Why? Perhaps because he is showing us what is important and what isn’t.

A recent article about Francis in Relevant magazine suggested that the Pope’s appeal among evangelicals is not because he’s doing what we already do, but rather because he is doing what we are not doing but wish we were doing. He seems almost Zen-like in incorporating a simpler, stripped-down version of faith.

foot-washingCarrying on the Jesuit tradition, instead of leading through rhetoric, he leads through deed. Francis has rejected many of the papal perks, choosing to live in humbler guest quarters instead of the lavish, blinged-out crib reserved for most pontiffs. Before delivering his message at the Holy Thursday Mass, most popes wash the feet of cardinals. Francis got on his knees and washed the feet of women incarcerated at a nearby prison, including a Serbian Muslim woman. It was the first time a pope had ever washed the feet of a woman. As the article suggested, “he is breaking the rules in the right places: where they shouldn’t exist.”

He has even been a star on Twitter, expressing simple expressions of faith, such as “The Church is a love story, not an institution” and “War is madness. It is the suicide of humanity.” Honest and frank expressions of faith like that resonate with young people. Hell, they resonate with me.

The article concludes,

I see Pope Francis respected because he reminds us of Jesus, which unfortunately is a bit of a surprise when seen in public religious leadership. He is a breath of fresh air. He did not see the office of pope as something to be grasped, but instead made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, which is an imitation of Jesus Christ. (See Philippians 2:5–11). This adoption of servanthood has turned critics into followers. Because it’s difficult to be critical of someone who serves the poor and spends time with the victims of the world’s worst violences.

Pope Francis reminds us that faith is not about pomp and circumstance, but about people and simplicity.

I don’t think young people are rejecting Jesus. I think it’s more that they don’t really find Him in the lavishness and routines of traditional church. But many of the young people I have met are more than open to a simpler, inclusive, interactive, and more user-friendly faith. Perhaps they can worship in the community of a shared meal as much as in belting out a karaoke song to words on PowerPoint. They relate to Bible stories like the woman at the well or Zacchaeus the tax collector when they include their LGBT friends in fellowship, serve sandwiches to the homeless, or protest perceived injustices. But finding those types of expressions of faith is not exactly easy. “The church” tends to maneuver with all the speed and dexterity of an ocean liner.

And this is not to say that God cannot be found in a vast cathedral filled with ancient liturgy. God is certainly there. And there are many who still find Him there. But there are more who don’t. There is no one way. There is no silver bullet. But maybe there is hope for the future of “the church” if we once again view faith as an every-day relational lifestyle instead of a once-a-week show put on by an institution. Maybe there is hope if we stop thinking of church as a building…

church

and start to see it more as this…

mealor this…

wateror this…

So, a rabbi, a priest, and an imam walk into a bar...

So, a rabbi, a priest, and an imam walk into a bar…

We started to see this in what was called “the emerging church,” but, in my view, they were mostly camouflaged versions of the old ways, with their tendencies toward theological debate, celebrity pastors, and mostly verbal expressions of faith (sermons, songs, and podcasts).

The future of the church is small, not big. It will be decentralized. It will be more anonymous. It will be found in intimate, nitty-gritty expressions of faith. It will be found in alleyways, cafes, and pubs. It will be raw and unpolished. But it will be, and it will be real.

Wednesday Fail

weather failYesterday’s weather forecast, which provided a nice post, proved to be a lot of nothing.

I should have known when at noon, they said the rain would start around 8pm.

By 4pm, that had moved back to 10 pm.

By 7 pm, it was midnight.

I’m not sure what time it passed through. Probably around 3 a.m. Yeah, they only missed it by around 8 hours. Really, what do they have all that radar and doppler and and green screen for if they don’t know how to use it?

weather fail 2

Exactly. We plan our day by these people, and they can’t even call a thunderstorm correctly.

weather fail 3

Yes, I’m in junior high. But you’d be surprised how many horribly embarrassing weather photos are out there that are much worse than this.

sax manSo yes, we made it to the game and home with no problems. It started great. We got through the downtown traffic and made our way to the park in plenty of time. Crossing the bridge, I even tipped the sax man — something I have never done before. He’s always on the Clemente bridge, playing that sax and giving grief to fans of the visiting team. But I figured, why not bring some good karma.

And despite the Pirates win, from that moment on, everything just fed my aggravation. I might have just been in “a mood,” but there was no end to the list of things that irritated me last night.

wanded-by-security-people_originalFirst was the new PNC Park security procedure of wanding. Their first big fail was to start the program on Tuesday night. They probably anticipated the usual small, midweek crowd. I guess they didn’t get the memo that Gerrit Cole was debuting and that walk-up sales would bring a near capacity crowd. I’m told that the line to get in the park stretched down the Clemente Bridge. After the first pitch, they just scrapped the whole thing and let people in.

But wanding is not going anywhere. The only other places I’ve ever been wanded is at the airport and the Allegheny County Jail. Now you can add PNC Park to that list. Jean thought maybe this was due to the Boston bombing. But they already do bag checks. No one could get a bag bomb into that park. Wanding is to find knives and guns. Has there really been a problem with that? Enough that everyone must now empty all their pockets to get into the park? And, unlike the airport, you don’t get a basket to empty out all the contents of your pockets. You have to juggle them while you stand there.

There I stood, ticket and water bottle in hand. Not good enough. I also had to juggle my cell phone, keys, glasses, and a pen. Not good enough! The wand still went off. Sure enough, my company swipe card has enough metal within it to set off the wand. I ask the Pirates… do you really need to treat your customers like potential terrorists? Are we that much safer from the threat of box cutters and Swiss army knives? Irritated!

Then, the Giants’ Barry Zito pitched like he was being paid by the hour. Good lord, it took a full hour to play the first two innings! I did the math and figured that at that pace, a nine inning game would go nearly to 11:30. Irritated! It didn’t help that by the 7th inning, there were already 28 hits in the game. Exciting to be sure, but we were singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at 9:45. Irritated!

Then, there is this “woo” thing going on at the park. Can anybody tell me what this is about? People all over the park just suddenly blurt out a high-pitched “woo” like the wave is passing by. But there’s no wave. Woo! Every 30 seconds of so. Woo! From a different section of the seating. Woo! From a different guy. Woo! Yes, it was always a guy. Woo! Irritated. Woo!

At 10 o’clock, in the bottom of the 7th with an 11-6 lead, we decided to make an early exit. We felt that we had seen plenty of baseball. The air was beastly humid and still, such that a steady stream of sweat was running down my spine all evening. TMI? Sorry. Woo! So we headed for home.

Crossing the bridge back to downtown, we passed the sax man again. I nodded at him, and he started to give me grief!

“Passing right by the sax man!”

I smiled and kept walking.

“Leaving early. Some fans you are.”

We kept walking.

“You’re the reason the Penguins lost.”

He was tap dancing on my last nerve. I just put my hand to my head and kept walking.

“Don’t scratch your head!”

That was it. I turned back and tried to remind him that I actually HAD tipped him on the way in. Not that I ever would again. NEVER AGAIN! But he just kept yelling back at me. I have never so wanted to toss someone off of that bridge, bad saxophone and all. But, I took the high road and turned around. He kept yelling as we made our way off the bridge, my blood in a simmering boil.

Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the Hump Day blues. But between the wanding, the wooing, and the wailing saxophone player, I had had it. It’s probably a good thing our next game is not for a few weeks. The Pirates and I need some space. And I need a time out. Woo!

irritated

I’ll have the derecho with extra cheese

derecho4Wait. A derecho is not the latest reconfiguration of the same ol’ ingredients on Taco Bell’s menu?

Is it the new model from Hyundai?

An energetic, prepubescent new boy band?

No, a derecho is the newest attempt in Mother Nature’s ongoing campaign to return the planet to its pre-humanity existence.

According to NBC, a derecho is “a rare, explosive wind pattern that forecasters compare to the landfall of a hurricane.”

In Wikipedia, a derecho is “a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms….They travel quickly in the direction of movement…except that the wind is sustained and increases in strength behind the front, generally exceeding hurricane-force.”

When I look up images for derecho, I get things that look like still shots from The Ten Commandments

derecho1

derecho3

derecho2

So, yeah, this may be coming to Pittsburgh tonight and I have Pirates tickets. Who wants two? This article says that this storm will affect 1 out of 5 Americans. It’s all that Edward Snowden’s fault, the big leaker.

I had hoped that Seniór Derecho would arrive before game time but, like any rude guest, it is apparently a bit late. That means I have a decision to make. If it’s fine at 6:30, I’m going to feel like I have to go to the game and not just assume that it will arrive later and cancel the game. If I go, and the kraken arrives before 10 o’clock, it will be a wet and wild run back across the Clemente Bridge and three more blocks to the shelter of the Fairmont Hotel parking garage.

I couldn’t have gone last night to see the glorious debut of new Bucco pitching sensation Gerrit Cole. No, my tickets are for tonight, when Hurricane Beat-your-ass is going to debut.

On the bright side, there is no better place to watch a storm sweep across the city than from under the overhang at PNC Park. We did so last year and it was like going to a live concert by the Weather Channel.

Of course, like most weather forecasts, this will probably all come to nothing, which is why I will feel compelled to go to the game. Hopefully I’ll get another post out of the ordeal.

Arrg. Batten down the hatches, Mattey. Looks like we’re in for a blow!

Working the pole

Today, I go from issues of national finance and social injustice to a simple neighborhood complaint.

This has existed around the corner from my house for several months now.

poleAt some point last winter, they put up a new pole, but for some reason, they didn’t completely transfer everything over. So they strapped the old pole — with utilities attached — to the new pole, but existing mostly in the street. Because it is in the street, the workers painted that very helpful “X” on both sides, as if say, “Hey Jag Off! Chawt fur da pole. We’ll be back in cupple tree months or so to take cara dis, n’at. Dabby cool if yinz didn’t hit it in da meantime. Fer cryin’ in da sink, how’s abaht dos Pens?” The lonely orange cone is particularly authoritative.

And there she’s stayed since the winter. Foster Street is a frequently used street by those in Lawrenceville who want access to 40th St. I’ve got to tip my hat to the fact that no inebriated yinzer has plowed into that X. At least not yet. I drive by it every morning and find myself giving it extra attention when cars and trucks are coming the other way.

So, I know we have a lame duck mayor and everything, but if yinz in public works could git aht to Larryville with your tool kit, that would be cheese and crackers! You know, before we have to strap a third pole to that configuration.

Okay, thanks, bye.

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