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14 years of catholic schooling, and I just went to church for the first time

I’ve been taken to church a million times. By my parents. By my teachers in grade school, and some more in high school. I’ve been invited to church for weddings and baptisms as a means to get to the reception. But until this past Sunday, I had never gone to church. I, under the power of my own decision, using my own transportation, my own free will, my own time … I went to church.

I won’t climb onto a soapbox and spill all my thoughts about Catholicism or organized religion in general. Sufficed to say, I grew away from it. The repetitious, authoritative, and largely hypocritical aspects eventually won the battle in me against the concepts of faith, love and charity. I didn’t give up on those concepts, I just didn’t care to hear them in a place where Jesus stares at me from his cross. I was cool taking the good without the bad.

At the aforementioned weddings and baptisms, I started to reject offerings of the body and blood of Christ. I passed on offers to go to Christmas Mass. “If I were God, and somebody whom I invited to show up every week didn’t take me up on the offer, and then just waltzed in on my busiest day to eat my food and drink my wine, I’m gonna be pissed.”

That’s from Paul to the Any-Body-Who-Asked.

My wife and I didn’t get married in a church (thank God we were on the same page). We weren’t rebels. We just didn’t feel comfortable pretending. “Oh, yeah, we’re totally coming back here every Sunday. Definitely. It’s in my phone so I don’t forget.”

We talked about wanting to find a church, though. We had conversations about our faith and how we’d want it to impact our kids when we have them. That talk led to finding a new church. One that isn’t even in a church. One that has an app and is on Twitter. One that teaches rather than preaches. One that might just fit us.

We walked up the four flights of stairs at the Auditorium Theater in downtown Rochester with a crowd of others. Young parents with their young kids. A trio of 20-something girls. A couple in their 60s and everything in between. As we reached the fourth floor, you could smell the coffee pots. It felt like parent-teacher conferences at first with so many kids bopping around. Bright signs above three or four rooms laid out where the kids should go by their age, and they scurried to find their classroom for the next 90 minutes.

Caitlynn and I, a pumpkin latte and vanilla coffee in our hands, respectively, sauntered in slowly to take it in and hope that no one noticed the posers that just showed up for the first time. We feared judgement. Was that a hangover from past church experiences? I don’t know, but it faded. It faded partly because it wasn’t a traditional church, it was a theater. A band was on stage ready to play, a projection screen behind them was lit with a timer counting down to the start of the sermon. It was so … young. The pastor was a 30-something-ish bald guy with thick black frames and jeans. His white collar wasn’t covering his throat, it was just the undershirt to his plaid button-down. He made mention at one point that his church–Grace Road–had built a strong following of 20-somethings. Impressive, because that age group is the least religious in the country.

What I saw over the next 90 minutes was, for lack of a better word, inspiring. An image that I knew would last was that of a married couple about five rows up. They were in their early 20s. She was pregnant. And they held hands as they swayed to one of the songs, his left hand raised in the air like he was trying to catch God’s foul ball. Next to them was a woman showing more tattoos than un-inked skin. The band played songs most had never heard before, but people sang anyway with the words projected above the stage like a giant karaoke bar. If you didn’t sing, you didn’t feel bad. If you sang, you didn’t care how you sounded. I watched as people were truly engaged with what was happening in front of them and thought: “This is how the thirsty drink.”

I quickly put that line in my phone to remember it for this blog.

This is how the thirsty drink. How the hungry eat. How lovers kiss. When nothing else in the room matters but you and that glass of water, that plate of food, or that girl in your arms.

When it was over, I dropped my wife off and went to work. I thought about it until I got busy and likely didn’t spend more than five seconds on it until after 9 p.m. when my day was over. It didn’t change my day. I’m not reborn, just refreshed. And a little relieved. Relieved to feel OK about doing it differently. It’s not a hipster thing or a millennial thing or a cool thing. It’s a good thing, even though I’m not sure what it is yet. But we’re gonna go again. Totally. It’s in my phone. Plus, if we oversleep, we’ll listen to it later on the app.

Works for me.

FaceTune: The ugliest beautification out there

Facebook is good for a bunch of things, not the least of which is discovering new products. The ‘Promoted’ posts pop up constantly in the news feed about everything from a new local coffee house to sales at Target. And while the new coffee house is a great find, there’s no stopping very unwanted products from showing their ugly faces.

Enter: FaceTune.

If you’re on FB, you’ve likely seen it. Take a picture of your ugly face, and use this app to smooth it, tweak it, slim it, and look just like the unrealistic magazine photos. Got zits? No you don’t. Got freckles? No you don’t? Got cheeks? No you don’t. Not anymore. FaceTune gives you the tools of a professional Photoshop “artist” so you, too, can look like someone better than you.

This is the lowest of the low. This is not the same as a bride on wedding day asking for a pimple to be smoothed out by an experienced photographer. This is teaching people to change themselves. That they should change themselves. Because your freckles are ugly. Your eyes are set back too far. That scar above your eye has got to go. You’re not right.

On the FaceTune website, you can watch tutorials. Not all are horrible. There’s nothing wrong with changing poor lighting or running some focus filters. But then you come across a tutorial for “Reshape Basics” where you can learn to change your bone structure. What? Changing the lighting only alters the way your face shows up in the photo, but reshaping your face … well … reshapes your face. Other tutorials include “Remove Eye Bags” and “Acne Removal” — both born of the premise that there are things wrong with your face that you should change.

Videos posted from organizations like Upworthy have done a lot over the past few years to show just how much glamor photos are altered, turning average-looking faces into the ones that average-looking people want to have. These posts are done to pull back the curtain; FaceTune is the curtain. FaceTune’s goal is to set society back by reinforcing the importance of not just perfection, but unattainable perfection. People are starting to understand what’s real and what isn’t (at least more than they ever have before) when it comes to images in magazines because of posts from Upworthy. FaceTune’s beautification app is as ugly as it gets.

“Powerful and Easy To Use Portrait Editing App” is the tagline. The sad part is that it it’s accurate. It is powerful. It has the power to stall the development of a society that is inching away from the “perfection-or-nothing” mentality. What’s next? ThighGapp? (Get it? Thigh Gap App? … awful, right?). It’s an ugly thought that comes from the same ugly concept that FaceTune lives on.

Dislike.

Ever wonder what God would sound like if he prayed to us?

I interviewed a monk recently for a story that will be published in the July/August edition of Post Magazine. The story is about how this particular collection of monks has developed a pretty popular brand of bread, Monks’ Bread, and orchestrates a lucrative, high-tech bakery within the walls of its otherwise solemn monastery.

Curiosity wouldn’t allow me to leave without asking my own questions about religion, faith and practice that would find no home in my 700-word article. I don’t often seek out religious figures. I don’t go to church after 13 years of Catholic schooling. My wife and I didn’t get married in a church or by a priest. It’s something we’re still figuring out, so I had take this chance. We spoke for about 40 minutes, which is an immense amount of time out of a monk’s schedule. And among the things he said that stuck with me was this:

“There’s a line in a poem [‘The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot] that says, ‘We had the experience, but missed the meaning.’ This is very true, especially in our very frenetic, 21st-century world that all of us have had experiences of grace, but frequently we miss the moment and it doesn’t have a chance to sink in because we’re already on to the next thing. So, we keep looking for new experiences but the experiences we’ve had haven’t had a chance to sink in and be appreciated. If they had, a lot of our questions may have been answered. In monastic life with a slower pace, these kinds of simple, repetitive manual tasks are opportunities to absorb one’s experiences, to digest your experience. All of us, most of us, right now are going around with these half-digested experiences. We need down time to catch up and let things sink in.”

Father Isaac is as thoughtful a man as you’d expect from a monk, but he didn’t say this–or anything for that matter–in any ‘holy-er than thou’ tone. I may not know what I believe in, but I believe what he said. We have experiences every day that happen so fast we fail to feel them. A conversation, a glance, a song, a breeze–so regular are these that we refuse to notice why each is unique. That it can teach us something. That it did teach us something.

Weeks later, I was at work shooting the shit with my friend, Christine. She and I banter quite a bit from one side of the bar to the other (I tend bar every so often). I couldn’t tell you how we got there, but I brought up the concept of flipping the script on a prayer.

“Imagine how happy God would be if you just started a prayer with: ‘Hey, God, how was your day?'”

She paused and I can tell she likely never considered it (how many people have, right?). I continued the banter as I usually do with what felt like humor but now feels like perspective.

“So there I was controlling the weather …,” I say, impersonating God with my hands hovering over an imaginary Earth. We both start laughing because, ya know, how ridiculous is that? A real ‘What if God was one of us?’ type of thought. It was funny. The moment passed and we went about our work, changing the subjects to drink orders, how slow it is, and how much we can’t wait for summer.

That was weeks ago. And I think I finally felt it: the prevailing wonder of what God would sound like if He prayed.

“I need Your help. I can’t do this alone any more. I feel like there is so much pressure on me to make things right, and I don’t know if I have the strength to do it all without You. I mean, I work so hard every day to be all things to all people, and it’s like they don’t even care. It’s like I’m invisible sometimes. Like I don’t exist. I feel like I have all of these great ideas on how to help people, but no one wants to listen.

Are You even listening?

Please, give me a sign. Just show me that you understand how much I care. You can change things so easily if You want to and I don’t understand why You wait for me. What can I do that You can’t?

Help me. I can’t do this without You. Please.

Amen.”

This makes sense to me. Not an omnipotent, omnipresent God, but a helpless God that needs Us as much as We need Him. He’s busy controlling the weather. And gravity. And throwing more coal on the sun. He is limited by Us and Our dependence on Him to carry Us.

But We are the rock that God himself cannot lift.

Not every moment we digest is religious or spiritual, but the content of this one just happened to be that for me. Others will be about being a husband, or a friend, or a writer. Father Isaac’s words won’t always hit me when I need them because he’s not here to speak them again and again. I have to apply them to moments as they pass to make sure I take what I need to take from them. That was his point, and at least this time I was listening.

All that running and no results: An app-setting development

Runners mingle in the atrium of the Blue Cross Arena just after completing the Johnny's Runnin' Of The Green on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

Runners mingle in the atrium of the Blue Cross Arena just after completing the Johnny’s Runnin’ Of The Green on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

I have two screens in my face at this moment: my laptop and my cell. I had to upload a pic from my phone to WordPress from this morning’s 5-mile run (the Johnny’s Runnin’ Of the Green) in downtown Rochester. It was the second straight year I ran the race with a couple buddies, and both times we drank a bit too much the night before. Not sure if that’s part of the tradition now, but we’ll find out next year.

Normally after a race, runners will make their way to the bottles of water or Gatorade, the bagels and bananas, and then head toward the little corner where the results are posted to find out their official times. I’ve seen sheets of paper being taped to a wall and big screens where you type in your bib number.

Today, there were papers on the wall. But instead of results, there were QR codes. Scan the code, follow the links, get your results. And this brings me back to the screens. Instead of runners huddling up, bending around one another to find their results, they have the convenience of using their smartphones (which everybody has by now, right?). It was the only way they offered to get results right after the race, otherwise you’d wait until they’re posted on a website (another screen).

This bothered me for two reasons: 1) My cell was in my car and 2) where’s the fun in that?

I get it. Everybody has a smartphone and everybody uses it and everybody loves convenience and QR codes and swiping and beep beep bop boop there it is! It’s personal, because it’s your phone and your moment with no one around you. But that’s the problem: there’s no one around you.

I can’t be the only one who likes the scene of people shoulder-to-shoulder bending for room to find their time. I still wouldn’t call myself “a runner” the way some of these others are, but I think I have an understanding of the culture a bit. Runners have built a community with certain traditions, and I guess I’m surprised at how much the tradition of finding your time on the wall was missed today. I have no way of knowing if anyone else — a “runner”, perhaps — felt this way, but my guess is yes.

And it’s not like I’m clamoring for the old days of stop watches, no ear buds and hand-written results. Chip timing and ultra-light shoes are great because they are improvements of the culture with more accurate times and less painful feet. Neither of those improvements come at the cost of the culture (unless someone misses foot pain).

Having the technology to do something doesn’t mean the reason to do it is there, too. I don’t just want my time. I want to see the faces of other people when they find their time. I want to hear their conversations about what they think they did, how happy they are that they did it, and completely unrelated topics — humans being humans.

I’ll let the good people at PCR Timing know my opinion and maybe I won’t be the only one. Maybe nobody noticed. And maybe that’s the worst part.

It’s 4:07 p.m. and the results are still not posted. Not sure how they can post them instantly to an app but not to the website. However, just saw my results from the 2013 race; I clocked in at 40:05, meaning I ran 8:01/mile. I think I was a bit off that pace today, but I guess I’ll find out later…

It’s 4:17 p.m. and the results have been posted. I finished in 42:44.7 with a 8:33/mile average. A little disappointed now that I compare it to 2013. Must be gettin’ old. However, so are the people around me, because both years I finished 50th in the 30-34 age division. At least I’m keeping pace with my peers.

First attempt at a Sketch Guru post

I downloaded Sketch Guru as a virtual drawing outlet for me during downtime at the restaurant. I serve tables and bartend roughly four nights a week. Did I not tell you?

Downtime at a restaurant can be brutal, so I thought I’d draw. My first attempt to post my first sketch resulted in:

I sketch this painting with Sketch Guru on my Android phone 🙂 http://bit.ly/sketchguru

The link went to a place to download the app, not to my sketch or anything usefu

Not sure why, but the default title of this sketch was "recovery" -- I'll take it.

Not sure why, but the default title of this sketch was “recovery” — I’ll take it.

l. So, save to Google Photos, download to laptop, upload to WordPress and attach. Seems adorably antiquated and I probably just am not doing it right or missed a step. Nevertheless, my my first sketch is now public. I don’t have classical training as a drawer or artist of any kind. At best I have classic-ish training, which is to say I draw what I want when I want and if it looks better this time than last time then I did something right.

It’s an outlet, I guess. Not for a specific emotion, but more for a need. A need to feel creative. I’m trying to change that to “A need to be creative” but that’s psychology and I’m not feeling up for it right now.

If anyone is up for it and wants to judge my first drawing as some kind psychological platform, please do. Professional or hilarious opinions only, please.

Time to take back control from Time Warner Cable

image

I, like millions of others, pay too much for cable from Time Warner. I deal with it like most of those people. And by “deal with it” I mean bitch about it on social media. Even as I swipe these words on my phone, the TV is on and my new remote is warm from use.

My cable service isn’t new. Just the remote. I needed a new one because the old one would work for about five button presses at a time, then stop for five minutes, or eight minutes, or just 10 seconds after I give up waiting. Whichever came first.

One of my errands today was a stop at the Time Warner building, my faulty remote in hand. I walked up to the counter ready to wait in line.

“Broken remote? Here us go.”

The guy reached into a drawer of individually wrapped remotes and selected mine like it was waiting for me with my name on it. Done.

Instead of being happy with the quick fix, I’m offended that they know their equipment is so bad that they need a box of extras at the ready. It’s cheaper to make two or three or for bad products than it is to make one good one.

Now I don’t believe in Bill Cowher anymore! That’s on you, Time Warner Cable.

As I started this post, I caught about 10 minutes of a story on the Al Jazeera America channel about a family who cut cable in favor of Roku and Hulu. The irony isn’t lost on me, but Syracuse plays Duke on Saturday and the Super Bowl is Sunday. Sports hold me hostage and then charge me rent for my cage. But after this weekend is my best chance to escape — nothing but the NBA and NHL to keep me locked up.

NASCAR is the guard at the gate you slip past with “What’s that behind you?!” So, that’s not a problem.

Just gotta get out before March Madness … Before it’s too late.

5 Reasons why people love, love, love reading lists (and repetition)

At some point maybe in the last 12 months,  it became official. People love, love, love¹ lists.

“20 ways you know you’re from Upstate New York” or “8 reasons you should be eating MORE bacon” or “15 cats who didn’t land on their feet” — these are the stories we share the most on Facebook. I haven’t seen the shift on Twitter nearly as much, but that gets into the differences between the two social media giants and an entirely different post altogether. (By the way, if you repeated any portion of the last sentence as an homage to the movie Airplane, we should hang out more.)

1) “OMG that’s so true!”: Of course it is! It’s not difficult to write the “10 worst things about winter” and not have most of those things be true for a large portion of people. There’s a reason there are “12 things a guy should never text to a girl” and it’s because they’ve all happened. It’s always relate-able, and that’s the point. They’re like horoscopes in that way. Say something generic about life or change or positive thoughts and you will reach 90 percent of your audience, making them think they’re the one you’re talking about.

2) Stop when you want: Daunting full-length feature articles intimidate readers, especially in the digital realm. If you’re online and particularly on Facebook, you probably don’t have or think you have time to read a 1,000 words on anything. When the content is broken up, you feel more comfortable getting started knowing that there’s a nice clean break between numbers 17 and 18 where you can throw in the towel.

3) Everyone else is doing it: No explanation needed.

4) Copycats: This is actually “Everyone else is doing it” but from the perspective of the producers of these articles. Yes, including myself now. It works for Huffington Post and Upworthy, so let’s cash in on that click bait!

5) Specific and targeted: While the lists may be long, they are typically targeted at a specific audience, sticking to a specific point and hoping for a specific outcome. It’s partly why they’re so easily produced. “12 feel-good foods under 500” calories is not an article to reach the masses, just the specific mass of people interested (or faking interest) in weight loss or health in general. It’s not for everyone and it’s OK with that, which makes readers feel more special (reference “OMG that’s so true!”).

Lists aren’t good or bad, they’re just popular. They’ll fade. In fact, click here for 10 Reasons Posting Lists Won’t Survive 2014.

(made ya look.)

¹love, love, love: meaning ‘love’ but using the word several times for emphasis, convincing yourself that this is totally worth at least three loves. Thanks, Pinterest.

“Advertising can’t bull$#%& anyone any more”

“Advertising can’t bull$#%& anyone any more”

Some time Saturday afternoon, six buddies and I were recovering from a night out in Buffalo, looking to bounce back quickly because about a dozen more people were on their way for a second night on the town. With the remote to the hotel TV missing, this was on. I caught maybe 17 minutes of it before someone who was uninterested found the remote and I was overruled. I managed to remember the title and now can watch the whole thing. Super interesting stuff about the future of advertising. The bottom line still matters most, but it’s no longer the only thing that matters. You can’t just sell the sizzle. You actually have to sell the steak, too.

Martin Luther King, Jr. heard again for the first time since ’62

The New York State Museum in Albany is celebrating an important find on this Martin Luther King Day — a recording of a 1962 speech by the civil rights leader that hadn’t been heard since it was delivered in New York City.

The difference between the definition of a word and its meaning

I’m tempted to use someone else’s words — a quote — to describe how I feel about words. But I have plenty of my own. Might as well use ’em.

Words don’t create meaning. This is a common misconception I’ve found among people who often can’t say what they mean because the meanings of words don’t fit how they think or feel. On the contrary, meaning creates words. Meaning came before words, not the other way around.

Someone breathed and realized that the act of inhaling was a thing. It needed a name. Breathing. To Breathe. I breathe. Before they knew it, the meaning was not just the word “breathe” but also “I” … “I am a thing and I can do something. I breathe.”

Suddenly, I’m a thing, and there are other things I do. And they all need words.

I’m not a linguist, but I hope this is how languages were born:

“When two people love each other very much, and those two people have no clue how to say what they mean, they come up with words that come as close as they can to those shared concepts and agree that those will work.”

This is my evidence that words don’t create meaning. I breathe and you breathe, but we are not the same. I love and you love, but we do not love the same.  Our definitions are similar at best (enough to pass as tools for a society to work) because our individual meanings are unique.  When you don’t have the words to say what you mean, it’s because you’re starting with the meaning of words instead of the meaning of what you think or feel.

Words are given so much power, they are so heavy that we fear our intended meaning is not enough to support them. Love. Hate. Yes. No. Always. Never. But what I meant was …

This means something different to you than it does to me even though we read the same words. It’s not because we don’t agree on what the words mean, but on what I mean when I use them.

I either used 355 words to say something or nothing about words. It depends on what it means to you.

Note: My posts won’t be like this all the time. In fact, this may never happen again. Or it might. I don’t know, I’ve got a lot of words. Sports, politics, arguments that they should change the word “airport” to “plane station” – these all can happen.