Cincinnati

Cincy Hee Hee

Last night the Mrs. and I took in a show over at the Playhouse in the Park. We settled down in one of their smaller theaters (the venue where our friends David and Rachel were wed) and enjoyed The Second City Does Cincinnati. For those of you unfamiliar with the Second City, it's a Chicago-based comedy club which has served as the launching pad for some of the greatest comedians in the industry. They actually teach comedy, specializing in improvisation, and act as a feeder for Saturday Night Live. Back in July, this particular comedy team spent a week in Cincinnati developing material for the show. I'll admit, I was somewhat skeptical that these outsiders would be able to capture the essence of our town, but they nailed it. The bits ranged from short to long, from monologue to song, but they effectively harnessed a Cincinnati vibe and put on some good comedy— poking fun at P&G, Pete Rose, and even the controversial downtown streetcar. My favorite bit was a Westside story spoof, highlighting Cincinnati's Eastside verses Westside debate. They're running the show a few more days (until January 16th), so there's still a chance for you to catch it. While some of the humor is PG-13, there's nothing to salacious for a minister to stand.

Besides a ton of laughs, my take away from the show was one of gratitude for our city. Yes, I've lived here my entire life so I'm a little biased, but this is a fantastic town. Like any other town, we have our peculiarities, but it's a culture of our own. Ours is a great metropolis, one of which we should be proud.

But the least we can do is laugh at ourselves. I mean, we are the city that elected Jerry Springer mayor.

The Fairview Experience (Part One)

Attempting to recap my past weekend is so daunting, it would be impossible to fulfill in just one post. So in the next few posts, I'm going to recall some of the many observations in my great urban camping expedition. In the first two installments, I'm going to go for the overview of the entire experience. Then, in following posts, I'll outline my refined public education philosophy, as well as the spiritual lessons I learned in this process. Since Kaelyn was in her mother's womb, I knew this time would come.

The big issue that many people have with living in the city is public schooling. In the Cincinnati Public School District, you are assigned a neighborhood school for your child to attend. This school is based on geography. For example, if you live in Walnut Hills (which we do), you are assigned to attend Frederick Douglass Elementary School. Over a century ago, this school (started specifically for the local African American community) was a national model of education success. Currently, however, the school struggles to perform and has numerous academic issues. While I would actually prefer that Kaelyn attend school in our neighborhood (we're fully integrated into the life of our community in practically every other aspect, so why not the school as well?) I just couldn't send her to Douglass. My involvement with our local community council has exposed the school's numerous flaws and they frightened me. Understand that I wasn't concerned about Kaelyn's safety; I know that she could exist just fine at Douglass. My fear was the educational philosophy of the school, namely, to merely prepare students for standardized testing. While I'm OK with taking stands for what I believe, such as fully embracing our community, I refused to subject Kaelyn to this in the form of a subpar education. We needed to explore other options.

And fortunately, in Cincinnati Public, there are other options. Even though CPS struggles in the same way that many large urban school districts do, there are superior schools to be found. Many of these are magnet schools. These schools act as a magnet from the neighborhood schools, attracting all sorts of students from various communities towards unique educational models. One of the more popular and academically successful schools for elementary education in CPS is the Fairview Clifton German Language School* (yes, children attending this school begin to learn German in Kindergarten). I became familiar with the school as many CCU faculty and staff have sent or are sending their children there to be educated. Everyone I have encountered who have been involved in the school speaks highly of the education provided there. Honestly, the presence of Fairview gave me confidence in moving back into the city, knowing that there was the opportunity to get my child a strong public education. We've always planned to send Kaelyn there.

Fairview is very popular, but its popularity presents some issues. There is a limited number of spots for students there and it is continually in demand. There are two ways to get your child into the school.

  1. Have a sibling who attends Fairview. Once you get one kid in the school, the rest of your kids can attend. During the first enrollment period, all siblings of current students are awarded spots.
  2. Apply for admission, which is done on a "first come, first served" basis, after the sibling enrollment.

This enrollment period, which used to happen in the dead of winter, now occurs each November. The school announces how many spots are available for Preschool, Kindergarten and First Grade (after First Grade, they rarely admit new students because of the German language requirements); the lion's share of open spots are for Kindergarten. Earlier in the fall, Kelly and I went on a tour of the school and were told by administrators that there were approximately 72 spaces available for Kindergarten. This is a fairly large number compared to other Kindergarten years at the school, leaving me somewhat confident for getting Kaelyn enrolled. But I was secretly nervous, fearful that I might have to camp out to get here in there.

Even though the official registration takes place on Monday night at midnight, people get in line early. I mean really early. In previous years, parents had camped out for a couple of nights before hand to stake a place in line. Camping out has almost become a rite of passage for Fairview parents. Although the district can't encourage this practice, the school won't ignore that it's a reality. The majority of questions asked during our tour was concerning the potential line and the possibility of camping out. During this presentation, I made an attempt to calm people's fears, encouraging people to refrain from camping out as long as possible.

Of course, no one listens to me.

On Thursday afternoon, as Kelly, Kaelyn and I were enjoying a picnic before I taught my night class, Kelly received a call from a friend and current Fairview parent. Already, at 4:00 pm, there were people setting up tents. We were angry, but I still maintained a positive attitude. "There are plenty of spaces available," I reminded Kelly. "And there's no way we're going out there to camp tonight." I taught my class that night but by the 11pm local news, local TV stations were covering the camping parents. Still, my Facebook post that evening was, "I love my daughter but will not abandon logic and camp out four nights to get her into the right school (especially when there are plenty of spaces this year). Now one night . . . maybe."

I know nothing.

As I left for work Friday morning, I assured Kelly that we were going to fine. Still, I couldn't resist: curiosity led me to drive past the school to see the scene for myself. As I turning the corner, I was shocked. There were nearly fifty tents set up and people were continuing to roll in as news vans were parked all along. I quickly parked and checked the list that had developed: it was already over 55 people. Seeing the people continue to pull up and unpack made me sick. I called Kelly and let her know that it was inevitable—I was returning home to grab some things and get in line. By the time I went home, gathered some supplies, and headed back to the school, I signed in.

I was number 68 on the list.

While some of those in line before me were interested in Preschool or First Grade, the vast majority were there for Kindergarten. Fortunately I still had some room to spare. I was somewhere in the fifties out of 72 Kindergarten spots. At the very least, I now knew that Kaelyn was guaranteed to get in the school as long as I made it through the weekend until late Monday night.

So as I set up my tent Friday morning, still overcome by anger, I started to accept reality. I knew that this camping excursion had been coming for over five years now. It was finally time. I had accepted that the next 80+ hours of my life would be devoted to waiting in a line just to get my daughter into school.

______________________

* Fairview was originally located in a neighborhood named Fairview. Located near the University of Cincinnati, the old school building was architecturally attractive but too small. Two years ago, CPS constructed a new, larger building in Clifton proper, but they continued to use the Fairview moniker as well. As far as I know, people continue to refer to it simply as Fairview.

** In case you missed it, as I was getting settled on Friday morning, I was interviewed by an Enquirer reporter. There was even a picture of me published in the print edition. Click here to read the article.

One Pitch

Throughout the fall, I've been teaching a good deal. It keeps me in the classroom until late at night. I knew that this would be problematic this past Tuesday night. The Reds had a chance to clinch the National League Central Division title and I wasn't going to be able to go to the game. But, if I played my cards right, I might be able to work something out.

Earlier that morning, I had picked up a ticket to the game. I knew I'd miss the majority of the game, but if the game didn't progress too quickly, I might have been able to catch the end and, most importantly, the postgame celebration. Sure enough, as I wrapped up class, I checked the score to discover that it was a tie ballgame at the beginning of the 8th. I ran to my car and started the decent from Price Hill to downtown. On the way, I was listening to the radio, hearing that Joey Votto was batting. Even though it might have been magical had he hit a home run, I was rooting against him; I knew I wouldn't be able to make it in time for the end of the game if he did. Votto struck out and, as I hit Second Street, I knew I had a chance.

I parked on the street about six blocks block away. Fortunately, I'm still in relatively good shape so my run to the stadium wasn't too strenuous. I made it in that stadium and discovered that there was a lady in my seat. The seat next to her was empty (and the whole crowd was standing anyway) so I took that place.

I never sat down.

I made it just in time to see Jay Bruce walk to the batter's box, swing at the first pitch, and send the game winner over the fence. I only saw one pitch, but it was the greatest moment in Reds baseball during the past decade. Even though I missed practically the entire game, I hung out for more than an hour after the game ended. I just wanted to soak up the scene. People were going crazy and I couldn't stop smiling. Our city is a much better place when the Reds are playing well. We love our team And I love for what it's meant to me over my lifetime.

  • I was born in 1975, between the Reds back-to-back World Championships.
  • My grandmother (my dad's mom) instilled within me a love for the Reds in the 1980's. Pete Rose, a Westside legend, was her favorite player. And he still is mine.
  • In 1990, I watched almost all of the Reds' games this season on television with grandfather (my mom's dad). I almost view that as "our" championship.
  • In 1999, our first full year of marriage, we watched an exciting team that fell just short.
  • And during my daughter's young life, I've been sharing this love of our local team. She's doomed.

As I walked back to my car, traffic was still gridlocked but no one cared. Downtown was littered with people and the sound of car horns blaring. Regardless of what happens during this playoff run, I've had a great time with this team. Even if this only lasts for the equivalent of one pitch, it'll be yet another memory etched into my mind for the rest of my life.

When Jesus Burns

The interwebs and local media were abuzz today concerning the Jesus statue in front of the Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio (while the official name of the statue is "King of Kings," most locals refer to it as either "Touchdown Jesus" or "Butter Jesus"). A violent storm ripped through the area last night and lightening struck the statue. Apparently the material of the statue wasn't fireproof and the lightening strike ignited it. It burned to the ground. Whenever discussing anything Jesus related, there's bound to be controversy. The statue itself, considered by most to be an eyesore since its construction in 2004, has been the subject of scorn, so its burning was greeted with gladness by many.

Personally (shocker), the statue was not my taste. But I can understand why a church like Solid Rock wanted a large Jesus monument along the highway: they're the kind of congregation that believes such bold statements define faithfulness to God; locals will remember that, long before the Jesus statue, Solid Rock was best known for their extremely bright digital highway sign. There are numerous churches that subscribe to what I call a "flaunt-your-faith" attitude (if you've ever seen some churches in the south that erect huge crosses, you understand what I mean). What I'm saying is this: while I could never comprehend being part of a church who would construct such a statue, I understand the thinking that leads them to building it.

This brings me to has really been bothering me today. My Facebook monitoring has revealed a ton of cynicism by Christian folk who believe this lightning strike was just desserts: essentially, lightening striking the statue, while not necessarily being the judgement of God, was saving us from having to observe this visual vomit. More than this gratification its demise has brought us, we justify this disgust is as follows: Solid Rock Church wasted thousands of dollars on this statue, money that could have been better used by feeding the poor or ministering to the neglected.* While I do agree with this view, we must make sure that there aren't any two-by-four's obscuring our vision.

Ask yourself this: what is your church spending large amounts of money on that could be better spent either on the poor or ministry? Does your congregation own thousands of dollars of technical equipment (intelligent lights, high-defintion projectors/cameras)? Does your church offer free coffee to thousands of people every week? Does you fellowship finance huge children's programs that come with a huge price tag? If so, your church really isn't different than what Solid Rock is doing.

Ouch, eh? But it's the truth.

The Scriptures offer churches latitude in how we should accomplish our mission and, over thousands of years, people continue to view this differently. We spend our funds in ways that help us to fulfill the Great Commission Jesus issued in Matthew 28. Some churches invest in property and buildings, others invest in staff, still others invest in outreach. Churches tend to justify these lavish expenses with the idea that there is no cost too great to win a lost soul for Jesus. But if we are willing to adopt this posture for our own church, then we ought not be too judgmental on how others seek to accomplish this goal.

Even though I thought the Jesus statue was ugly, I have actually met people who decided to attend Solid Rock because of it. Like it or not, it accomplished its purpose, as does top-notch technology, rocking kids' programs, or free coffee.

This is the burden of church leadership, especially in a small church like Echo. I'm continually concerned that we're being good stewards with the tithes of our congregation. It makes me paranoid. I believe that one of the reasons that our congregation has been effective is that we continue to be frugal with our resources (example: we continue to rent our facility which enables us to give almost 20% of our offering to missions). All church leaders need to struggle with this: are we investing kingdom funds into areas that truly need it, or are we using them to perform services that expand our own kingdoms.

So when you decide to look down your nose and scoff at the bizarre burning Jesus on Interstate 75, ask yourself whether or not there's a similar statue in your church parking lot.

And since I've already gone there, why not get really introspective: are there any Butter Jesus' in your personal life?

_____________________

*Does that mentality remind you of something biblical, say this?

Food Inc.

The majority of people who read my blog have no need to worry about food. If you're hungry, and there's nothing in the refrigerator, then you hop in the car and go to the store. Usually, the only concern we have is value and nutrition. And, because of our mobility, we can always find another store the suits our needs. One of the issues in urban communities is the vast amount of people who do not have automobile access but rely on public transportation. When they need food, it's an entirely different endeavor. If they're fortunate, there's a grocery store within walking distance. Otherwise, they're forced to get on a bus and haul groceries in a most uncomfortable way. Because of that hassel, many impoverished urbanites are less inclined to make regular trips to the grocery store and, instead, rely on local neighborhood convenience stores for their food needs. These corner stores tend to 1) charge more for food and 2) predominantly offer junk food. As a result, the people in these communities eat less nutritiously, which negatively affects their quality of life. In order to assist these urban residents they need access to healthy foods, access that could come in the form of a local farmers market or (for an option not affected by the seasons) a local grocery store.

If you live in Cincinnati, perhaps you heard the fervor concerning the Roselawn Kroger Store closing. The announcement caught the communities of Roselawn and Bond Hill by surprise. The corporation cited a significant loss in income last year as the reason for the closing. The communities were given no advance notice that profits must increase or the store would close. They're organizing to try to combat this, but it's too late. The community will lose their grocery store and, most likely, will never get it back.

I find all of this very disappointing. As a city resident, I ask, "What is Kroger's obligation to service these communities?" Your response might be that Kroger is a company beholden only to their shareholders; they are in business to turn a profit and do not need to care for the interests of the community. While this seems to be a logical answer, it ignores the relationship between the Kroger Company and the city of Cincinnati. Our city, through generations of loyal consumership, made the Kroger company what it is today. Yet as the company has grown to become a national business, it has continued to reap the tax breaks and benefits from this storied relationship while ignoring it's responsibility to our municipality. These communities that are losing Kroger stores have shown immense loyalty to the company for decades. But now, as the bottom line becomes the most important thing, they are turning their backs on these customers. But Kroger is OK. Because they can replace that customer base exponentially by opening up suburban megastores. In short, they piss on urban communities.

You might object to my harsh statement, but hear me out on this point. How does Kroger justify these closings? Base economics. "The stores are losing money," they cry. I contend that they want these stores to lose money. These urban grocers were established before the company went national. No longer do they fit the mission of the corporation. To avoid charges of racism (as most of these stores are located in predominantly African American communities) they cite falling numbers, making it an economic decision. But do not be deceived, friends: data can be manipulated. If they can ensure that they break even, the can make the store a hell-hole and keep operating. They difference of overall presentation between a suburban store and an urban store is stark. The product on the shelves at the urban stores are inferior. The selection is sparse. Again, naysayers will suggest that it's because the community won't support it, but it isn't the tail that wags the dog. Kroger is giving up on the inner-city. I fully anticipate a location on the Banks downtown, but this will cater to a higher-income urban-dweller and not the people that need it the most.

Even worse than this is the way that my community, Walnut Hills, will soon be treated. Our local Kroger was recently revamped because the Corryville (UC campus location) will soon be torn down and remodeled; when I say "revamped" I mean they basically repainted. The company will need the Walnut Hills location when Corryville closes, so they can retain some local business. But make no mistake: once the Corryville location is completed, they will close our local Kroger. They will say, as they have cried for years, that the store was not profitable—that people choose to shop in other locations. The truth is, they want this store to fail. And when they do, they'll hold the community hostage.

You see, Kroger has a unique rental agreement in their Walnut Hills facility. When they close up, they'll retain rights to the property and no other grocer will be able to open up shop there for years. Yes, they're preparing to hijack a community's access to food. You see, Kroger knows that our community is rebounding economically, and that new, higher-earning customers are moving into the area. Rather than investing in the community, they're going to try to eliminate it's grocery options, so that people will drive to Corryville and Hyde Park to do their shopping.

And who loses: our neighborhood's elderly and impoverished who do not have automobile transportation. Kroger doesn't give a rip about them, only about maximizing profits.

I spent time tonight writing this because I want you to seriously think about these issues. The next time you're watching the local news and seeing citizens complaining that their grocery is closing, at least try to empathize. For many in our population, this is practically a life or death issue. Where will they get healthy food with which to feed their family? Instead of treating massive profits as the goal, Kroger would do better to invest in these communities and in the lives of the people who remained loyal to their company throughout generations.

Walnut Hills Immersion

Yesterday I worked with Give Back Cincinnati's community immersion of Walnut Hills. The weather could not have been better, and 60 people showed up to do a service project and check out the hidden gems of our neighborhood. In case you're wondering what you missed, here's a list of places we observed:

Had a great time telling our neighborhood's story and learning along side our established community leaders. Better hop on the bandwagon while there's still room. We're going places.

Get Immersed in Walnut Hills

There's a lot that Cincinnatians don't know about the neighborhood in which we live and minister. If you're one of those who'd like to know more, here's your chance. For the past few weeks I've been working with a local group of young professionals who have selected Walnut Hills as a location for a community immersion event. Give Back Cincinnati is an organization that allows people to connect and serve at the same time. This event is designed to inform people about our neighborhood as well as to help give back in a short service project. Activities will start at the Parkside Cafe on East McMillan, head up to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, and make its way back to the Parkside. Food is provided. I'm going to be one of the tour leaders of the event, so I thought I'd send out an open invitation to anyone interested. As long as the weather holds, it should be a good day.

The date is next Saturday April 10th from about 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.. You need to register if you want to attend. Click here to get more information and register.

The Hunt for Reds October

One more quote for today (from here), comparing Cincinnati to St Louis.

Cincinnati and St. Louis are more similar cities than is often noted. A baseball tradition unrivalled by any city other than New York or Boston. An urban sensibility that's both more cosmopolitan and more backwoods that anyone on either side of the extreme is willing to admit. A downtown area that's far lovelier than people realize and vastly underutilized. The impossibility of grabbing a bit to eat past 9:30 p.m. without having to find a casino. A simmering history of racial divisiveness. The color red. The difference is that, baseball-wise, Cincinnati has been dormant as St. Louis has been ascendant; the Reds are long, long overdue. I've spent many, many evenings in Cincinnati, and that town is rabid to care about its Reds again. If they get hot and are close in September, that place will froth into a frenzy. It will carry them.

Even though they lost their first spring training game (note that Arizona Spring Training is killer on pitchers. Zack Greinke had a plus-9.00 ERA in Arizona last year) I'm excited about this season.

The Complexities of the Queen City

This quote from a former Cincinnatian speaks volumes about my hometown:

Sure, there were troubles in Cincinnati, but it also felt more alive in some way. Cincinnati is an edge place. It’s a meeting of red state and blue state, of urban and Appalachia, black culture and white culture, industry and environmentalism.

Everyone should visit Cincinnati.  It’s an important touchstone for understanding the complexity, the challenges, and the hope of America. A perfect place to hone our elemental media, and practice En’owkin, the Okanagan concept that translates as “Please give me the viewpoint most opposite of mine so I can increase my wisdom."

I have to agree with this perspective. There's obviously a distinct beauty to our city, but it's incredibly challenging to build cohesion among our residents because of divergent perspectives. It's yet another reminder for me that doing ministry in our town will continue to be challenging.

HT: City Kin

Bye-Bye BK

One second. That was the difference between Brian Kelly staying at UC or going.

I told Kelly as I enthusiastically pulled for Nebraska Saturday night that this was more than just a football game: it was the future of Cincinnati football. If the Big 12 officials don't abuse their authority by putting that one second back on the play clock, the Bearcats are playing Alabama in the National Championship and there is no possible way that BK can go to South Bend.

Why do you think he didn't seem too torn up about the situation in interviews the next day?

Anyway, the coach leaves, the players and the fanbase feel betrayed, but I can't be too disappointed. UC football is light years ahead of where it was just a couple of years ago. If you had told me then that BK would've only been here three seasons but they will have played in the Orange and Sugar Bowls, I would've taken it in a heartbeat. The facilities are improving (with a new practice bubble that the Bengals will have to rent), they are part of the national conversation, and a symbol of the changing college football landscape, where smaller schools can compete.

"He lied!" people will cry, but [newsflash]: that's what college coaches do. Sure, I'm disappointed that BK didn't have the class to tell his players first, or to at least address the local media before he bolted Dodge, but place the blame on college football. Notre Dame had to hire him now because of the February National Signing Day. This season (between now and February) is actually as important as the bowl season itself; if you can't get the players, you can't win the games. There's no reason the NCAA can't move that date back and protect the student-athletes from coaches bolting before the end of the season. This is why BK left early- it's what the system demands. So like I said, it sucks, but it's the system.

Furthermore, understand that in less than a week, UC will do the exact same thing to some other college program; they'll swoop in, steal a coach, and another group of kids will pay the price. It is a game where the egos of college coaches and the immense amount of money at stake rule the day.

I loved having BK here, but his ego was too large for the UC program. Best wishes to him at Notre Dame. I doubt they'll be sitting at #3 in the country anytime soon. And if he doesn't put the Irish in back-to-back BCS games soon, he'll experience a backlash that he's never felt before. You wanted big-time, BK? You got it.

And now, we look to Mike Thomas, UC's AD and see what's next. My pick is Kevin Sumlin at University of Houston. Whomever they select, they'll inherit an energized fanbase, a town that loves its football, and proof that they could one day be considered among the elite ranks.

Cheer Cincinnati.

Gambling and Jesus

In examining the virtues surrounding Ohio’s Issue 3, we first have to examine the subject of gambling from a spiritual perspective.

There are those denominations, the Methodist Church being the most passionate, who decry gambling as sin. I would suggest that this view is most influenced by that movement’s founder, John Wesley, who held gambling as a vice akin to alcohol; Wesley viewed gambling as a corruptive practice that preyed on the poor. There are others today who claim that the Bible declares gambling to be a sin. This view is problematic as there is no specific verse that condemns the action; true, there are verses that decry the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10) but there are those who never gamble who have violated this provision. There are also verses that speak against attempting to “get rich quick” (Proverbs 10:4) but this could also be applied to playing the stock market. Using these kinds of verses to construct a biblical command like, "gambling is sin," is poor hermeneutic (biblical application). These biblical texts, and others like them, ultimately instruct the believer to avoid the idolatry of money worship— again, something that people who have never gambled can be guilty of.

In short, there is no biblical provision prohibiting government-instituted gambling. There is also no biblical provision that prevents a Christian from gambling. And while it should be acknowledged that Christians should practice moderation in all things (addiction to anything is sinful) this is not a sufficient reason by which to oppose gambling on biblical grounds. Our country’s history has taught us that simply enacting prohibition does not eliminate the problem*

And while I’m on this point, we Christians must be careful of criticizing those who gamble because there are people who can both enjoy it and refrain from becoming addicted to it; it can be a perfectly fine hobby.

I’ll admit, as an ordained minister, that I have gambled before. I don’t do it often or in large amounts because I do not find it enjoyable to flush my money down the toilet. On the other hand, there was a time in my life where I passionate about golfing. I bought golf clubs, magazines, lessons, and played frequently, all of which were not inexpensive. No one would criticize devotion to golf, or boating, or traveling or animal ownership as sinful. Yet all of these activities, like gambling, could be considered to be a waste of money.

So gambling is not necessarily anti-Christian.

I believe it important to distinguish this idea because too often opponents of gambling are dismissed for being prudish or attempting to impose their personal morality on others. As a result, their objections are ignored and the true issues behind them are never explored. I can be a Christian and be opposed to Issue 3 without having to state that, “God says it’s bad.” And you, as a Christian, have every right to disagree with me.

But what I hope to do as I continue this thread is to convince you that Issue 3 is not the best thing for our community— and to do so without having to pull spiritual rank.

_____________

*There are Christians who will counter this objection to prohibition by taking it to the extreme, suggesting then that we shouldn’t prohibit anything at all. That position is ridiculous, and I’m not going to go into that in this post.

Show Me The Money

I caught a glimpse of the movie Jerry Maguire this weekend. I must publicly admit that I bought a reduced price copy of that flick [the VHS version] a few years back. Not sure why I did that; I think it cost the same amount to rent it as it did to buy it, so I just went for it. Beyond Cuba Gooding Junior's catch phrase, the rest of the movie was mediocre, bordering on unbearable.

In our current economic downturn, it seems that many people have assimilated the Rod Tidwell's philosophy: right now, it's all about gettin' paid. It's the motivation behind the economic stimuli. It's driving marketing campaigns. And it's re-enabling a vice that needs no help in dominating our society: greed.

You see, now that people are unemployed, racked with debts, and uncertain how future financial foundations will sit, we're allowing fear to drive us towards greed. This is why politicians and the business community have adopted a similar apologetic: "Because of the present economy, we need to [insert applicable scheme here]." This teleological ethical approach [a.k.a. "the ends justifies the means"] empowers us to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we end up on the right side of this recession.

An example of this [and, quite honestly, the motivation for this post], examine my home state of Ohio. This fall, voters will be asked to, yet again, vote for legalized gambling; more specifically, Issue 3 would permit casinos to be established in four of our state's urban centers, including Cincinnati. Four times in the past twenty years, voters have rejected similar initiatives. "But this time it's different," the masses are informed, "because we'll create over 30,000 jobs in our state." This is the primary rallying cries for the Issue. So if we were to break it down into an equation:

Economic downturn + Need for new jobs = We need casinos in Ohio.

Additionally, the argument is presented that since Ohioans are already gambling out of state, we might as well keep those funds here in state. So again:

Economic downturn + Ohioans already gambling = We need casinos in Ohio.

Or, in layman's terms, "show me the money." It's that easy, right?

But lost in the simplicity of the math are some of the overlooked variables— the actual cost of permitting gambling in our state.

I go on very few crusades, but this is one of them. As a minister, and as a resident of the state of Ohio, I object to Issue 3. And since I know that readers of my blog have varying views on the issue, I'm going to devote a series of posts outlining my position. You might not like me getting political, but I fear for my city and for my neighborhood.

Just because the money is out there for the taking doesn't mean it comes without a price.

7 July

Wha . . . ? Back to back days of posting? What is this, 2005?

Anyway, I had a few more things that I felt like sharing today.

1. Sunday night I preached about people who tend to over-spiritualize their decisions, constantly stating things like "God opened this door for me." I suggested that we should be incredibly careful of trying to force God's hand, giving His endorsements to our decision. Anyway, I came across this cartoon that doesn't exactly speak to my point, but it's hilarious nonetheless.

2. Our city is facing a huge budget crisis. Just this past week two people were killed in a drug deal gone bad in my neighborhood. I'm thinking that honoring MJ is the last thing that our city council needs to do right now.

3. Kaelyn is taking swimming lessons right now. No, she's not really learning to swim, but she's inherited her mother's love of the pool and we're making good use of the benefit of having a community one nearby. Kaelyn, however, is afraid of the boy lifeguards, crying whenever they teach. While this is disappointing, I'd say it'll bode well that she's not yet enamored with boys.

4. Another huge problem in our community, as is all over our country, is absentee fatherism. It was definitely tragic that former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was killed this past week, but sports writer Jason Whitlock says the thing that most of us our afraid to say: the true victims were McNair's sons.

5. Reciprocating the blog love, my friend Dan and I are working on developing a new Architreks tour for Walnut Hills. Who am I kidding? He's developing it, doing all the deep research, and I'm just a sidekick. Still, he's done a great job lately advocating my 'hood, and you should check out some of his latest posts.

6. The Reds lost 22-1 last night. Yes, this is depressing, but this is also baseball not the BCS; there are no weighted victories. The team went out there tonight, broke a tie in the 8th inning, and picked up the 4-3 win. At the end of the year, losing a game by 21 runs is no different than losing by 1.

7. So I've been reading this blog for a few months now. This guy is doing a rehab of an old house off Harrison Avenue on the westside of town. He makes some incredibly persuasive points about Cincinnati's lack of vision concerning abandoned houses; they usually bulldoze them, leaving empty lots. It is pretty ridiculous considering . . .

8. . . . this article and these pictures about the abandoning of the suburban landscape. No, this isn't the end of the 'burbs, but it will be amazing to see what our country's definition of housing is in another ten years.

9. It's been too long since I've linked to this. Trust me, turn down your volume if you're at work.

10. Tomorrow we'll hit the once a century moment where the clock/calendar will hit 12:34:56 on 07/08/09. Go ahead and live that second up.

Don't P*** On the 'Nati

I know quite a few people that read the blog live here in Cincinnati, many in the suburban parts of town. Still, you've tolerated the past four years of my pro-city polemic, listening to me laud the benefits of Cincinnati on a constant basis. So as not to disappoint, I felt it was necessary for me to at least use this space to comment on the recent study naming OTR [a nearby Cincinnati community] the most dangerous neighborhood in America.

My verdict: this is the dumbest thing I have perhaps ever read.

I wish I had more time to deconstruct this article [although you can find some good efforts here, here, and here], but it is flawed beyond belief. All over talk radio and local media people are relying on the claim that "the numbers don't lie." But it is not the numbers lying, rather that the math is an absolute failure. A study is only as good as the academic integrity upon which it stands. There is an inconsistency in number crunching here that should be criticized and yet the media here in Cincinnati is too lazy to do that work.

Why wouldn't the local media try to refute this? Because it enables the stereotyping and demonization of the city that many in the suburbs eat for breakfast— feeding the "thank God I don't live there" mentality. This bad news is what sells, so the local press will avert their eyes to the truth and whore themselves out for the money. It's truly sad that many residents of the Greater Cincinnati area, those who would have nothing apart from the past 200+ years of our city's existence, choose to ABUSE IT and PILLAGE ITS ASSETS rather than acknowledge it as a blessing. Is this city perfect? By no means. But are there people here worth fighting for? Without a doubt.

If you care to disagree with me and are falling for this "study" hook, line, and sinker, I would suggest a wager: I will stand out on a street corner in Over-the-Rhine at night and you can stand out on a corner of my choosing in another major metropolitan area [currently, I'm leaning towards some neighborhoods in urban Detroit]. We'll see who fares better. I suspect I'd live to tell about it.

Look, I'm not saying OTR is the safest place to be, but it is improving. Over the past four years I've met scores of people in tough neighborhoods throughout our city who are trying to make their communities safer. It does a major disservice to their commitment to allow a ridiculous statement like this to stand unprotested.

Finally, if you can't stomach my rhetoric, let me give a personal example. Numerous times this past year my wife and daughter have ventured into this "worst neighborhood" without me. In the midst of this "warzone" is Findlay Market, one of our city's best treasures. As they were there, I did not fear for their safety but was grateful to live in a city where they could have such a unique experience. And I'm sure they'll go back again soon. I wouldn't put my family in harm's way. I wouldn't let my family venture into the worst neighborhood in America without me.

Just because you don't live here doesn't mean you have to hate it.

Double Halfway

Green or white?

The difference isn't as stark until you reach the corner of Woodburn and Madison. Just four blocks north of where our church meets is beautiful DeSales Corner, a hidden gem in our city. The business leaders in East Walnut Hills [those who dwell in East Walnut Hills tend to stress that geographic qualifier] have been investing in this corner for years and it takes center stage during the Flying Pig Marathon.

And that's where the difference between green and white become somewhat important. Those participating in the race are assigned a runner's bib with a number; the bibs are white for those running the full marathon and green for those running the half marathon.

Last year I decided to give long distance running a shot and chose to run the half. Both courses follow the same route through downtown and up Walnut Hills until DeSales Corner. Here the white bibbers turn right to proceed up Madison towards Hyde Park and the green bibbers turn left onto what becomes MLK and return to downtown. I think it was at this point last year that I started to think about going the distance and running the full marathon. As I was preparing for my green-bibbed left turn, I glanced over at the people running the 26.2 and thought, "I could do that." I wondered if that was just the adrenaline/testosterone following that would wane after a few months, but it didn't. It seems like the next logical mountain to climb.

So today, in the midst of our winter storm, I announce my candidacy to run in the Flying Pig Marathon. I'm registering online today so I can get the early bird rate. I started my training this month, not missing any sessions until this snow/ice. So far, so good. Running in the cold has never been my thing, but I've adjusted well to it. Of course, there's still three months to go.

I never felt like my body was built for long distance running, nor did I ever really enjoy it, so I'm not quite sure why I've decided to do this. But I'm going to have a good time with it.

Come May 3rd, I'll be wearing white and turning right.

Cheese With My Wine

Why take pictures? Because you never know when one will touch a nerve.

An employee with Cincinnati Parks was online a few months ago searching for some wintry pictures of Eden Parks. She found this photo I posted to my Flickr account that I took on a snowy morning two years ago and thought it was ideal. I received an email from her asking if the park board could use the pic for promotions. I told her, as I tell everyone when they ask about where we live, our family absolutely loves the park so she could use it for free as long as I had no objections to what it was being used for.

Sidenote 1: I'm not quite sure what I was imagining when a made this stipulation. It's not like there's an Eden Park p0rn festival out there.

The employee let me know that every year the park board releases some holiday wines from a little winery in Hyde Park. They wanted to use my picture for a label on one of the bottles.

Sidenote 2: I know some teetotallers are reading this now, screaming in slow motion, "PLEASE TELL US YOU SAID 'NOOOOOO!'" but you will be severely disappointed. If you're in this camp, you might want to stop reading this post and forget that you ever started reading it in the first place.*

Of course, I said yes. In my opinion, it looks pretty cool [there's a glimpse of the label up top]. We received a bottle for free and they are currently available to purchase from the Cincinnati Parks Board. Honestly, I'm not quite sure how you would go about getting a bottle, but I'd say it's safe to call the park headquarters and someone could help you out with it.

So now I've had my photos published in a book and printed on a wine bottle. Maybe it's finally time to get around to that camera upgrade.

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*Honestly, I know my decision to be associated with alcohol will disappoint some of you who believe that it's the devil's tool and my position as a minister should require that I totally steer clear of the hooch. I don't care to take up the issue of alcohol abstinence here in the blog. If it really bothers you, you should probably drop me a line.

The Church Up The Street

I recently read a quote which opined, "If you're going to start a church, start it in the shadow of a megachurch because you know that God is already working there."

This wasn't our philosophy when we started Echo but even though we are a world away here in Walnut Hills, we are definitely in the shadow of a megachurch. Crossroads Community Church meets only four miles from our current meeting space. It is impossible to miss their influence here in our part of town. They are they cool church and they are the controversial church. Drop the "Crossroads" name around here and you'll either hear "I love them," or "I hate them."

Our congregation is nothing at all like theirs and our services are entirely different. Our approaches to ministry are on different ends of the spectrum. Yet they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have many friends who either attend there or are on staff there. We even checked in with them when we talked about starting our church.

I love Crossroads. They are doing ministry that no one else in our city was doing and they're constantly trying to make themselves better. They take great risks but their motivation is pure.

They made the local news earlier this week in a profile of their senior pastor. I've met Brian Tome a couple of times. He wouldn't know me from Adam. Brian is a larger-than-life character and, as a result, draws a lot of attention. But he would freely admit (this I'm sure of) that Crossroads is much, much more than him. Being the guy out front, all eyes are fixed on him. And as a result he takes a lot of hits. But he loves Jesus, his church, and is using the gifts that God has given him.

I planned to write a post about Crossroads earlier in the week because of these articles, but then came the tragic news that a young lady participating in their Christmas program died in an accident during last night's performance. Our family attended last year's show and it was absolutely amazing. Again, we know people involved in this event and our heart breaks with them today. Our heart also goes out to the woman's family and the church members who will be deeply affected by her passing

And my heart goes out to their church as a whole. As I noted, they are a lightening rod in this community and I fear that people will use this tragedy as an excuse to criticize the church and their ministry. I would hope that such people will be mature, keep their thoughts to themselves, and use the words from their mouths in prayers for the community of believers at Crossroads. As time heals wounds they will need to go on and continue to do what God has enabled them to do.

Until then they mourn, and we mourn with them.

Our family has experienced loss.

Something To Be Proud Of

I haven't written much [if anything] concerning the University of Cincinnati's football team. Until recently, many people in our fine city had no idea a team even existed in Clifton, but on Saturday [or perhaps tomorrow if West Virginia lays an egg] the Bearcats have a chance to win the Big East championship and play in a BCS bowl game.

I've always loved football and, in my formative years, I chose to follow the Ohio State Buckeyes. Sure, when it came to college basketball I always returned to the hometown team . . . um, UC not Xavier*, but football always meant the Bucks. The reason I didn't cheer for UC football is because they played at a lower level; let's be honest: neither the Metro Conference nor Conference USA presented the best brand of football. And I'll admit even this: during the amazing 2002 Buckeye run to the national championship, I was rooting against the Bearcats as my OSU loyalties proved too strong. But I've been tracking the program for years and have watched practically every game they've played this season. This team is pretty good. And it's now an incredibly fun style of football to watch.

But UC's jump to the Big East [thank you, Bob Huggins, wherever you are] was a total game changer for the football program. There was now a BCS tie-in, which even presented the opportunity to compete for a national championship. Two years ago, when Bearcats AD Mike Thomas stated that UC would win Big East championships in every sport, I was sure football would be the last to arrive. And now, it's totally within grasp.

Amazing.

I wasn't sure if they could find someone to take over the helm of the program like Mark Dantonio, but Brian Kelly is on the verge of owning this town.** Sure, the rumors persist that he'll go to some larger program and I wouldn't blame him.*** But if he's patient, he has the opportunity to build a college football power in this town. I'm very serious: this new playing style will attract recruits, the campus facilities [sans the bandbox stadium] are spectacular, and this isn't a little podunk city. Regardless of what happens, things are looking good.

In short, it is a very good time to be a Bearcats fan. And as I continue to sport my practice-worn Gino Guidugli jersey, I embrace this new winning tradition in our fine city, eagerly anticipating a Big East Championship on Saturday.

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*Even though they are crosstown rivals, I've always liked Xavier. I know their are some loyalists who can't fathom that relationship, but it works for me. Even though my future alumni status makes me take a greater interest in the Muskies, my ultimate allegience is still to UC.

**It should be noted that the way the mayor and city council treated Coach Kelly on Wednesday was flat-out bush league. These people need to realize that if you're going to honor someone, don't impose on their time. But Coach used to be involved in politics, so I'm sure he expects it from them.

***While I highly doubt that Coach Kelly will spend decades in Clifton, I just can't envision him going to Tennessee. The SEC is a bad fit for his system, and I'm not convinced he's survive in one of those southern football towns.

It Won't Stop

Looks like I've finally broken through my jam-packed October. Just got back from St Louis from a conference that I'll probably talk about here soon. But I had to get up a post tonight because of some devastating news today.

As of late, it's sucked to be a sports fan in Cincinnati. Look at the Reds and Bengals, even count the Buckeyes' consecutive losses in the national championship, and there's nothing redeemable [sure, UC football could make a BCS bowl this year, but I doubt they'll ever compete for a national championship].

Following my beloved UC basketball has been an especially painful experience since the departure of Bob Huggins. We've endured one season under interim coach Andy Kennedy, where the Bearcats were jobbed out of a tournament appearance, and two abysmal rebuilding years under headcoach Mick Cronin that I will likely forget someday.

But there was hope this year that things were turning the corner. Mick has finally assembled a good recruiting class and is putting his fingerprints on the program. I went out to the summer league a few times this summer and was impressed by the squad for this year; it's a great mix of established players and new, exceptional talent. And considering that Rick Pitino (coach at rival Louisville) stated that this year's Big East could be the toughest conference he's ever seen, you start to realize that we need a good squad in order to compete.

I have been very excited at this young group as I've missed having a winner around town.

But it was reported today that freshman phenom and probable starter Cashmere Wright (cool name, eh?) tore his ACL and will be out for the year. Also out for the year is sophomore Kenny Belton, who wouldn't have started but would have earned considerable playing time.

To say the least, I'm a little depressed. It's not as if UC basketball was going to go all the way, but I think this year was going to be a great vaulting year onto something more. Now Deonta Vaughn will have to run the point which will hamper his ability to score.

Why is there this black cloud over the program? Go back to Kenyon Martin's broken leg in 2000 (I almost cried then), to Armein Kirkland's ACL in 2006, to Mike Williams' ACL last year, and it keeps snowballing. And it seems like I could go much further than this in the mishaps plaguing the boys in Clifton. Since 1992 [when top-seeded Kansas lost to UTEP, giving the Bearcats a trip to the Final Four] nothing has gone right in this program. Perhaps I should call the AD an offer to perform an exorcism.

Still, I think it will be an entertaining season building to something more. But since those Cincinnati sports glory days of my youth [1988-1992], it's been a rough place to be a fan.