Monday, July 26, 2010

If you're a lush, keep the weapons away from your date

In our Bible Study at Saint Stephen's we are studying the Book of Judith. For some reason, the way chapter 12 ends always makes me laugh. Here it is in the King James Version: "And Holofernes took great delight in her, and drank much more wine than he had drunk at any time in one day since he was born." In other words, it was an epic night. Of course, it didn't turn out too well for him. Here is Caravaggio's artistic interpretation of the beheading. I wish I had this for my wall at home.

The Brew City Flood

Thursday afternoon I was just coming out of a job interview on the East Side when the rain started.  About a week earlier we had a good downpour, and so I suppose I figured that at worst it would be like that storm.  In fact, before leaving my interview, which was just a couple blocks from the UWM campus, someone mentioned that there was a tornado warning, but it was for an area out in the far west suburbs, so I wasn't all that concerned about the East Side.  Little did I realize then that the rain just starting would turn out to be one of the biggest rainfalls in Milwaukee history.

I was on foot that day, so I ducked into a bus shelter, hoping it would ease up, since I had with me a folder containing my last few copies of my resume, which I had just printed off that morning on good cotton paper.  I didn't see a bus going my way, so after a few minutes I decided just to protect my folder the best I could, and start heading down Oakland Avenue.  The rainfall was intense, and did not let up until later that night, after I got home.  Before I had gone a block I was completely wet, and I mean thoroughly soaked.  By the time I got to Oakland Gyros my folder, which I tried to protect by stuffing it into my sock under my pants, was destroyed.  So I gave up on that.  Since I saw neither the 15 nor the 21 coming, I decided to keep walking, so I headed west, past Riverside High School, and over the river, to Riverwest.  Almost every intersection I encountered was under several inches of rushing water.  Already, at that early stage in the storm, I saw a vehicle that got stuck in water as the driver tried to back out of a side street that was quickly turning into a small river.

Of course it's no big deal that I got wet.  After the heat of the last week or so, it felt good.  And the lost print-offs of my resume "don't make much for tragedy" either (to borrow from Springsteen).  The resumes can be reprinted, and the New Yorker I was reading can be replaced as well. What this all amounted to for me was really nothing more than an inconvenience. In fact, the situation started to feel comedic.  At one point the unrelenting rain just made me laugh.  Ruth got home just in time to see the storm from inside the house, so I thank God she was kept safe. 

Soon the freeway was closed.  It wasn't just the East Side that was affected.  Streets were flooded on the South Side, the North Side, the Sherman Park area, and elsewhere, causing cars to stall, and basements to become lakes.  A number of houses will be demolished, because the rushing water blew out the basement walls.  Parts of Shorewood, along Oakland Ave and environs, was transformed into impassable waterways.

At some points I couldn't cross streets without getting calf deep in the water.  When I got home, I wasn't about to walk through our living room in that condition.  So just inside the door I divested and doffed, handing Ruth each article of clothing as I proceeded, while she bagged up my clothes.  Later that evening we saw the lights in the apartment go dim, and then immediately come back on.  This happened a couple of times.  Then, all of a sudden, with a loud noise, all the power in the neighborhood went out.  I later found out from WE Energies that there were 1851 homes in this neighborhood alone that were affected by the blackout.  We were only without power for a few hours.  I only hope no one was harmed by the outage. 

One of the effects of that rain is that the sewer system was completely overwhelmed, causing backups in basements, especially Downtown and in Shorewood.  When it rains hard, our place gets a little water in the basement, but it's not sewage.  And our landlord warned us about this ahead of time, so we've got everything up on a couple of wood pallets.  The neighborhoods with the real problem, in terms of sewage backing up in basements, also happen to be the parts of the city which have combined sewer lines, a system which makes no sense.  Milwaukee really needs to improve its overall sewage system.  Obviously, the Deep Tunnel has not eliminated the problem.  Basements still get backed up, at least in a couple of neighborhoods, and then, after serious rainstorms, raw sewage gets dumped into the lake.  Last week more was dumped into Lake Michigan than oil was spilled by BP.  Why it's not a scandal is beyond me.

Oh, and did I mention that the corner of North & Oakland, one of the busiest intersections on the East Side, was transubstantiated into a giant sinkhole, swallowing a traffic light, and a Cadillac Escalade.  The driver was rescued, and is safe.  In the end, what is now being described as the type of rainstorm that comes along about once per century has left the city with an estimated twenty eight and a half million dollars worth of damage.  Today, from the perspective of the street level, not counting the sinkhole (which will reportedly take about six weeks to fix), Milwaukee basically looks like it's back to normal.  The damage remains, however, for many families, and businesses.  Nicolet High School, for example, was overrun with water.  And under the street level, the Deep Tunnel still holds some 370 million gallons of sewage, which means that hopefully we won't get another big rain for a while.

Many homes suffered severe damage, and so the people and families affected are in the prayers of the Church.  Overall, however, as a city, we Milwaukeeans can't really complain.  It's really not in our cultural genes to complain all that much anyway.  In fact, the city is already back to celebrating.  Why?  Because it's the weekend, of course.  GermanFest, the world's largest German festival outside of Germany, is going on at the Summerfest grounds, and on Saturday the Brady Street Festival, one of my favorite festivals, had the Lower East Side more animated than usual. 

All things considered, we do tend to have it pretty good here.  The past couple of weeks it has been quite hot in Milwaukee, and my flesh, ie., the Old Adam in me, has not liked it.  An apartment like ours, with no AC, is hard to keep protected from the heat.  Yet I must remind myself that the actual heat wave affected the eastern and southern portions of the country.  What we felt here was really only a mild version of what others have had to suffer.  And when it comes to storms, besides the towns and areas in this region which have suffered tornadoes, my prayers and concerns are with places like the coastal cities and towns of the Gulf of Mexico, including our friends in New Orleans, where hurricanes threaten at every turn. 

So in the grand scheme of things, a wet July isn't all that serious.  A serious rainfall reminds me, most of all, that in Christ I am saved from the fires of hell.  For by Holy Baptism, by which the sinful flesh is drowned, I am carried along in safety, in the ark of the Church.  And when the waters get so fierce that they turn a gutter or a sidewalk into a rushing stream, that perfectly pictures for us the relentless fount of love, which gushes from the side of our crucified Lord.

Benedicite maria et flumina Domino.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Body of Christ, given for ...dogs?

Hat tip to Father David Juhl for posting this on facebook.  It's really not unusual.  Don't worry, I have not seen the Blessed Eucharist given to dogs and cats everywhere I go.  The reason I say this is not unusual is that it is not different, in kind, from the thinking and practice that is all too rampant in the modern Church.  Namely, this is irreverence, born of a failure to take seriously the true and substantial presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.  On this count the Lutherans are hardly blameless.  More on that later.

Friday, July 2, 2010

a liturgical slight of hand

There is a trick that many churches use in order to convince themselves that their aberrant liturgical practice is okay, beyond criticism, even somehow justified.  It took me a while to catch on to this trick, but after seeing this pattern for some time now, I must comment upon it.  I refer to those churches which have decided that as long as they take their more nontraditional practices and move them over to their nonliturgical space, such as a "fellowship hall," or a basketball court, or multipurpose hall, or whatever it is or is called, then it isn't really the same thing as "church."  It's just something we allow to happen, so that the youth can have something they like, that will keep them from leaving the church.  More and more I hear of this happening. 

Yes, there are indeed churches where there is no longer any pretense of tradition, and so there is no need for this slight of hand.  The Missouri Synod has an alarmingly growing number of places like Hales Corners, in suburban Milwaukee, where there is no need to be concerned with stuffy old things like the liturgy.  This trend requires all the spiritual resources we can enlist in order to answer, fight, and resist it.

However, there are many churches out there, in fact, more in the rural areas than I had thought, where it is believed that to minister to the people effectively the church must adjust its style for each age demographic.  So you will see churches with at least two, sometimes three different styles of worship, one for the young, and something a bit more recognizably Lutheran for the others, though I hasten to add that it is often inaccurately described as "traditional."  And the former, the youth worship, is in many places relegated to the cafeteria, or the gym, or whatever, you know, that large space for which, just a few years earlier, funds were raised, sometimes with the help of synod offices, in order to provide a "needed" new space for the needs of the parish. 

I have seen, to be sure, the same take place in other churches as well.  For example, there are Roman Catholic parishes where the parish "charismatic prayer group" meets in someone's home, or in the basement chapel.  You get the picture.  This is not a new trick, nor is it unique to the Lutherans who think we must be Evangelical to attract and keep the youth.   It is, nonetheless, disingenuous, deceptive, and needs to be called out for the disservice it is to our young people.

Unfortunately, this is not really limited to the parish ministry.  For if we look at many of our high schools, and universities, as well as the worship of certain nonparochial gatherings, like women's conferences, youth gatherings, district conventions, etc, we see similarly disgraceful liturgical behavior.  And in many of those cases, I have heard people make the claim that this is, after all, a gym and not a church, or this is a "celebration" more than a traditional church service.  If it takes place at Mile High Stadium, or the Superdome, then you can't really expect to have people dress up, and turn to Divine Service III, etc.  The space isn't appropriate for traditional liturgy, some will say.  (Isn't it interesting that people who have gone to youth gatherings tell me that the only "mass event" not called a "mass event" is the Mass?)

In fact, it ought not escape our observation that the idea that you can allow inexcusable liturgical practices as long as you move it over to the gym or auditorium is even exemplified by the seminary itself.  Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, for example, has officially convinced itself that allowing the outright unionistic worship of the Society of the Holy Trinity, complete with women "pastors," was permissible on its campus a few short years ago because it took place not at Kramer Chapel, but in the auditorium.  Yet this is the same seminary that, just a few short years before that, took a stand against the Yankee Stadium gathering in 2001.  Yankee Stadium, likewise, is not a consecrated church, so maybe that's why the Fort Wayne seminary eventually even allowed its protest against that affair to evolve into a whimper, and then finally to just disappear.

This theory that a nonchurchly space can be used for nontraditional practices leaves me at a loss, however, to explain a school like Concordia University Wisconsin, where article XIV of the Augsburg Confession (contained as it is in the "Concordia") is routinely disregarded by having nonordained men preach right in the regular chapel services, in the chapel.  Perhaps the Chapel of Christ Triumphant is like a big, macrocosmic example of the same thing, but on a synod scale, so that it is like the Synod's own version of the parish multipurpose room.  What happens with our youth, either down the hall on Saturday nights, or two states away when we send them off to one of the Concordia campuses, is okay as long as it keeps them involved with the church, and of course with "church work."

From such thinking and practice, deliver us, O Lord.

Corinne Bailey Rae - Like A Star

One of my favorite singers on today's popular music scene is surely Corinne Bailey Rae. Her soulful style is a pleasure to experience. And on top of her art, I must say that in the world of the "performance art" of Lady Gaga, and the lady pop singers who fill seats on the shear power of dance moves and sex appeal, propped up by writing teams and choreographers, it is refreshing and welcome to see an artist who is less interested in shocking or scandalizing the public than in pouring her heart into the writing and singing of her music. Girls today need more examples like this, someone who, in neither her writing nor her performing, is willing to either hide or disgrace her femininity. Interestingly, in this love song she even addresses the existential mystery of why a woman at times fights with the person she loves the most. By the way, for any Led Zeppelin fans out there, Corinne does her own beautiful version of "Since I've Been Loving You." Look it up sometime.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The new Humboldt Street Bridge finally unveiled today

In 1954 the old Humboldt Avenue Bridge over the Milwaukee River on Milwaukee's East Side was built.  In October of 2008, just a couple months after we moved back to town, the bridge was closed, so that a new and improved bridge could be built over the river.  Actually, it also goes over Riverboat Road, down in Beerline.  The old bridge was 28 feet wide.  The new one is 44 feet wide, with bike lanes, and an ample sidewalk.  The cost of the new bridge is said to be around $8.5 million.  For those of us who live in this part of the city, it has certainly felt like a long wait.  Today the wait is over.  At about 5 o'clock, post meridiem, the new Humboldt Ave. Bridge officially and finally opened.  The celebration started at Lakefront Brewery, and ended up at Red Room, where free beer and brats were served for the occasion.  The opening of the Humboldt Bridge was a real cause of celebration, which seemed to bring together people from Riverwest (like us), East Village, Brady Street, Brewers Hill, and Beerline.  There was a good feeling in the air, a real sense of community celebration, which seemed almost out of proportion for the occasion of a new bridge, until one remembers that this is Milwaukee.  We really don't need much to get us to celebrate.

Ruth and I were in the crowd, and apropos on this occasion, I saw a number of people drinking their beer even before the local dignitaries finished their speeches. We saw the first car across the bridge, the first bicycle, the first bus (the 10 of course), the first dog, and after a while I even saw the first litter. We were among the first pedestrians across. After the ribbon was snipped, we crossed the bridge, and walked over to Red Room, one of the bars at the corner of Humboldt & Water (where Water Street turns into Kane Place). As I say, at Red Room we were treated to free beer and brats (I had a couple pints of Lakefront's Fixed Gear, and Ruth had some Sprecher Ravin Red soda). What I didn't expect was that we'd also get a free raffle ticket. It was for a new bicycle. The drawing was at 8 p.m. I went back for the drawing; didn't win, but it was a fun scene nonetheless.

And here are some pictures we took. 
The ribbon cutting took place right across from the building which contains Invivo Fitness center, and the Bayou restaurant.  Bayou tried hard to stay open throughout the construction, but in May they finally had to go out of business.  I hope another Cajun restaurant opens in this neighborhood soon. 

The first bus across the bridge.  Finally the route 10 will be back to normal.
Dogs, bicyclers, pedestrians, beer drinkers, all having a good time.  Some were riding their bikes across the bridge with their plastic cup of beer held in their mouth, or held in one hand. 
The first official canoes go under the bridge.
enjoying the view and some Lakefront beer.

the bridge from about a block away.
looking north from Water Street.
The holes in the bridge railing are just big enough for a dog to stick his head through, and look at the river below.
The classic Milwaukee harp lamp street lights.
looking northeast on the bridge.
The sidewalk on the bridge, with a lookout spot.
The next few pictures show the bridge as it spans the Milwaukee River.
As this picture shows, the bridge also crosses over Riverboat Rd.
This is the old Tasting Room, sadly out of business.
Another one of the bars on Water & Humboldt, The Good Life, did not survive the construction.  I hope they reopen, or that another good vegetarian restaurant takes its place.
Also on the corner of Water & Humboldt, this is Red Room.  Red walls and red ceiling, some nice art on the wall, good beer on tap, this was where the biggest post-ribbon cutting scene was.
Also on the corner of Humboldt & Water, this apartment building has on its first floor, Meglio, one of the city's hippest new pizza restaurants.
As you can see, this neighborhood has suffered during the construction of the new bridge.  It is peppered with places that went out of business, but also with some of the old places still open, and a few new ones already opened.  In the long run, this wonderful little part of the East Side will thrive better than before.