When even the weather is #fakenews

So, the Drudge Report has a link near the top of the page today from Accuweather – “Chicago sees latest snowfall in 50 years“.

You’d think that a weather company with weather data deeper than anything I could imagine could figure out that the snowfall on May 6, 1989 happened just under 30 years ago. But that would negate the sensational headline, wouldn’t it?

Update: Accuweather has updated the title of the piece to “Chicago sees biggest snowfall this late in the season in more than 50 years”, which, while more accurate, certainly is a lot clunkier.

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Rahm’s really bad day

Rahm Emanuel, at the beginning of his mayoral tenure in Chicago, promised to be a force to be reckoned with. He had managed to come from being President Obama’s Chief of Staff, after winning a battle to legally prove residency in Chicago (exploiting a law enacted for military who were stationed outside of Illinois to still be eligible for Illinois public office). He was known as President Obama’s “enforcer”. He was legendary for his antics , including sending a dead fish to a pollster with whom he had worked, and with whom he was livid and picking a political fight with a Democrat member of Congress in a locker room and whilst completely naked. John Kass, pretty much the only reason to continue reading the Chicago Tribune, popularized the moniker “Rahmfather” in referring to Emanuel, and it was a persona which Emanuel himself enjoyed.

The election of Emanuel to mayor, like much of politics in Chicago, seemed preordained, that the silly little election was merely a formality, a show for the rest of the country. Sure, it gave Emanuel a chance to get some cash into his coffers, build alliances, and see who his first enemies (those supporting the other Democrats in the race) were, but everything about the campaign screamed “foregone conclusion”, from his campaign flyers “Chicago for Rahm” to his coziness with Chicago Democrat royalty – the Obamas.

The thing was, though, that even with all the inevitablity, it seemed like Emanuel had no great love for Chicago, that this position would merely serve Emanuel’s own political career, feeding his ego, and giving him a platform to launch his next political bid, something more national in nature.

And so Emanuel became mayor of Chicago. He came in with the swagger and the reputation of someone who was completely ruthless. In some cases, he was practical, such as trying to (finally) close many schools which had declining enrollment and were running at well under half-capacity. Of course, this upset the Chicago Teacher’s Union, which is incredibly powerful, and which holds a lot of sway with voters.

However, in the quest to make Chicago more progressive, Emanuel seems to have totally lost any sort of control over lawlessness in the city. With all the howling the progressives made about a proposed Chik-fil-A on Elston Avenue (not even the first one in the city), real crime was exploding. Yes, Chicago has been known for ages to be a very dangerous city, but that’s only half the story. Up until Emanuel’s tenure, most of the violent crime was limited to certain neighborhoods. The mayors Daley understood this. They understood that there was no real “fixing” of culture. Chicago is remarkable in that there are so many groups that are there, or who have come through and left their mark. Every neighborhood has a unique history, attested to, in large part, through architecture. Yet, at its heart, Chicago is a very American city, and also very Midwestern, and outside of downtown, generally very unassuming. Fifteen years ago, the neighborhoods that weren’t plagued by violence were generally as safe as most of Western Europe at the same time, and I remember revelling in the freedom that allowed me as a teenager in the city. Of course, we had to be careful, especially as I lived in a pretty sketchy neighborhood for some of that time, but I stayed away from the gangs and the drugs, and I was left alone. The Daleys understood the city, every corner, I’d guess, and for as corrupt as they were, I believe that they also loved the city, and did what they could to make it as livable as possible for the greatest number of people.

A lot of this extended to people’s political sense. The Daleys WERE the political machine, in a city where Democrat is a default, and those who are outwardly not Democrat could be punished severely. At the same time, they very much represent an older Democrat party, a party who wanted to be seen as the champion of the “everyman”, the party who came to the rescue of those who did not have much. This is a powerful message to a city where a lot of the residents are recent immigrants, the Polish, the Koreans, the Mexicans, etc. Especially for the contingents from Eastern Europe, who often fled from persecution, political, religious, or otherwise, the promise that there was a political party who would “listen” to them, having nothing, knowing no one, etc., is hard to resist. And so the Daleys made sure that although the Democrat grip on the city was absolute, one didn’t necessarily feel threatened for occasionally uttering beliefs countering those of the Democrat party. They were also careful not to follow the lead of Detroit, and while race was certainly a Democrat “issue”, they made sure that it didn’t turn to an all-out war.

However, the new Democrat Party cannot abide by this; it is not enough to have absolute control of the city, but it is imperative that every citizen be inundated in progressive propaganda until each one understands that resistance is futile and full of repercussions. Emanuel is the full embodiment of that, from “little things” like Chik-fil-a to major endeavors such as introducing an “Afro-centric” curriculum to all public schools.

I believe this strategy has backfired for Emanuel, and as he leaves mayoral office, it is done with a whimper, the result of Chicago’s real issues coming back to bite him. With all the crying and screaming about “income inequality”, the bigger story is probably how Chicago’s middle class is disappearing. The middle class, in large part, is made up of families, in large part because they are stable, they pay taxes, they invest in the places where they live, they have children who often also stay and are deeply invested in the city of their birth. This loyalty is not absolute, though, and as taxes go up, crime goes up, the schools get worse and worse, eventually they leave. They leave the city, they leave the state.

The Jussie Smollett case has been a huge black eye to the city of Chicago, and in particular to Mayor Emanuel. No one who lives there believed that this happened. MAGA country? Chicago? You’ve got to be be kidding! The entire incident was completely preposterous from the beginning. 2am on one of the coldest nights in decades? Give me a break! I’m not saying something like this couldn’t have happened, but just like Steinmetz High School supposedly beating Whitney Young in Academic Decathlon,(the story upon which the HBO movie Cheaters was based) it was highly unlikely, to the point of being nigh on statistically impossible. And just like when the stories of the Steinmetz team members were examined, Smollett’s story fell apart under similar scrutiny.

How did this hurt Emanuel? Well, first of all, this didn’t get “fixed” in the early stages of the investigation. Stuff like this is supposed to disappear. Secondly, he was pretty much forced to take the side of law enforcement, if nothing else but for the reason that were he not to, his tenure as mayor would probably be ending in actual unrest in the city. This is not how you want things to end if you’re looking to bigger things.

However, Smollett just happens to be politically connected himself. His sisters have deep connections to Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, and one of them was even a personal guest of the Obamas at the White House. And so when push came to shove, phone calls were placed, the appropriate people were told what to do, and Jussie Smollett walks from 16 felony charges with nothing more than forfeiting $10,000 – nothing to someone making his kind of money.

Rahm, though, is left holding the bag. The decision, apparently, was made behind his back, and announced without his knowledge. Of course, this could all be theater, but I’m rather of the opinion that it was a big middle finger to Obama’s former Chief of Staff, signalling that when push comes to shove, the interests of the Obamas, with all their race-hustling and what have you, trump any loyalty that might have been shown to Emanuel, as Jewish males aren’t really considered a “victim class” in the Democrat party of today. Quite the opposite.

The thing that makes me believe that this may not be just theater on Emanuel’s part is the fact that Emanuel is now attempting to bill Smollett for the costs associated with the investigation. He may think that this move is a bold one, but rather than being noteworthy in the way that the dead fish was, it smacks of desperation, a last ditch effort to come out “even” after losing a game. This is not Rahm Emanuel acting from a position of power, but of someone who has been humiliated. I could even feel sorry for him after this – but figure my emotions are better spent elsewhere.

Everything in Chicago is politics. Where you live, the car you drive, the number of kids you have, where they go to school, the brand of tennis shoes you wear. It’s all politics. It’s a game of who can virtue-signal the best. When you have someone like the Obamas or Emanuel in charge, you never want to be the one to be the first to stop applauding them. Which is all part of the reason that I, as so many others, have left the city, and fight against this sort of corruption in the places we live now.

However, the Machine is merciless; if you’re not clamoring to its levers of power, you’re more than likely going to be eaten up by it. Look at Governor Blagojevich… He thought he played it to the top and could use his position for his own self-aggrandizement, but his corruption was allowed to be revealed for the sake of saving the rest of the corrupt appartus. Who benefits? Time will tell. It’s certainly not the people of Chicago.

A travesty of Orthodox proportions

Cook County, Illinois (where all but a tiny fraction of Chicago lies) is the county in the United States with the highest total number of Orthodox Christian adherents.  As a result, there are Orthodox Churches from almost every jurisdiction imaginable, and a large number of the Orthodox Churches are able to retain a large amount of “cultural heritage” because you still have large communities of “ethnic” Orthodox – Serbs, Greeks, Ukrainians, Arabs, what have you. This can be a beautiful thing, but it can also lead to a lot of Orthodox to largely forget that there are Orthodox outside of “their” church. (With the number of converts now, though, this make less and less sense, as they don’t “belong” to any jurisdiction “ethnically”. )

However, there are groups who do try to reach across those jurisdictional divides, such as Orthodox Christian Synergy.  Considering the history of Orthodoxy in the United States, it’s not surprising that these jurisdictional issues do appear, but it should be the work of the whole Orthodox Church to work on healing these. We are one Church, not Greeks or Serbs or Ukrainians or what-have-you.

For that reason, Chicago’s annual “Sunday of Orthodoxy” vespers is an important event. It is the one time in the year where, at least in principle, all the area churches come together as one to worship. For that reason, this report is especially troubling. In a nutshell, the ROCOR and Serbian parishes are “compelled” not to participate in any event held at a Greek, Carpatho-Russian, or Ukrainian Church.

Now, I know relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are not good. Frankly, from my point of view as a non-ethnic layperson in the United States, there are issues on both sides, and maybe if Church “leaders” would actually address the underlying issues, there might actually be some progress made toward unity. I don’t say this glibly or lightly either. In the meantime, it’s a tragedy that people who are trying to live as an Orthodox Christian minority in a country thousands of miles away are getting dragged into this mess.

When you treat a church as a financial instrument…

…don’t expect that the bank will treat it any other way.

Holy Trinity Hellenic Orthodox Church (http://holytrinitygocchicago.com/) is a parish of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Metropolis of Chicago. The parish was organized over 120 years ago, and for many, many years, the church has been found at 6041 W Diversey Avenue in Chicago.

On December 14th, barring a miracle, the title of the church is to be turned over to a bank, for the church has gone into foreclosure. It’s a terrible tale of mismanagement on the church’s part, but to make a long story shorter, Holy Trinity Church was also the home of Socrates school, one of the few (less than 100) Orthodox Christian schools in the country. As demographics of the city have changed, Holy Trinity purchased a piece of land in Deerfield, a ritzy suburb, in order to move the school there, with the idea that eventually the parish itself might follow. With the move, Holy Trinity would also be handing over its direct control of the school. Although there are some complicating factors (and, now, accompanying lawsuits), the church itself was put up as collateral for a massive bank loan.

Fast forward a number of years, and the church and school cannot make payments on the loan. A lot of people have known for years that the situation of this church has been dire, and the “day of reckoning” was nearing, but no other solution could be found.

Certainly, it’s a sad story, and one that has befallen too many churches over the years.

The part that bothers me, though, can be found in this November 28 article from the Pappas Post (a newspaper catering to Greek Americans). In it, the priest of the church, Fr. Nicholas Jonas, is quoted from a Facebook post, blasting either the bank, or “the powers that be” that the property “will unjustly go into the hands of the bank.”

This is what bothers me. Truly, the situation is horrible for the church and its parishioners. However, when you, yourself, turn a historic church that earlier generations have built and paid for, and turn it into a financial instrument, why do you expect the bank to let you off the hook because it’s a church? Just as we live in two realms, the empirical and the spiritual, so, too, exists a church. The bank only deals with such matters on the empirical level; their interest is to keep the bank running. The congregation’s leadership decided to go to the bank with this proposition, and the bank accepted it with certain terms. That’s what banks do. It is absurd to think that the bank should now consider the property’s importance as a spiritual center as a consideration to delay foreclosure. Furthermore, I should think, the bank being a medium-sized one that caters heavily to ethnic communities throughout the city, that it would be a relief to them if they wouldn’t have to proceed with foreclosure – but a bank can hardly be expected to write off such a large debt!

Again, this is not a situation that is any surprise; it has been looming over the parish now for years. It certainly is true that so many congregations these days, even in grand buildings, survive on shoestring budgets. That being said, many churches do go under due to financial mistakes, and I don’t know that, without the church building, what will become of the Holy Trinity parish. Yet it doesn’t seem like anyone within the Greek community came to swoop in to save the parish from this fate. This is another point altogether, but maybe it’s better so; that if this church does cease to exist, others in such leadership roles in their own parishes will take heed and not tread the same path.

And the church came crashing down

The Chicago Tribune posted the following story: No injuries reported when church building collapses in Wicker Park. Although the church was called the Mision Cristiana Church, as soon as I saw the address of 1905 W. Schiller (which also appeared in the preview to the story), I knew exactly which church this was – it was the church that served as the original home to Holy Resurrection Cathedral, one of Chicago’s earliest Orthodox Christian Churches.

In the late 1800s, efforts were being made to establish an Orthodox Church in Chicago. Of course, being Orthodox, there were plenty of jurisdictional issues. However, out of a shared rental space, three Orthodox Christian cathedrals would be established – Annunciation (Greek), Holy Trinity (Russian/Orthodox Church in America), and Holy Resurrection, under the auspices of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

According to Holy Resurrection’s timeline on their website, California-born Fr. Sebastian Dabovich (now St. Sebastian of Jackson and San Francisco), made a number of visits to Chicago between 1893 and 1905, with the express purpose of helping organize and establish the parish there. The property at 8 Fowler Street (later changed to 1905 W Schiller) was purchased, and the first Liturgy served in its chapel on July 4, 1905. Two months later, Fr. Sebastian was raised to the rank of archimandrite here, and from Chicago he was put in charge of the “Serbian Mission”, whose territory encompassed the entirety of the United States.

The parish continued to operate using the chapel of the existing building at 1905 W. Schiller until the 1930s, at which point the parish won a suit to purchase the lot next to the house that they owned and erect a church on the parcel of land. With the Great Depression in full swing, the Chicago Tribune reported that at this time (1932) that this church and the Post Office are the only buildings being built in the city.

Holy Resurrection continued to call this church home until 1971, at which time they sold the building and broke ground on a bigger temple located further northwest in Chicago. The building was sold to a church called ‘Mision Cristiana’. When the Wicker Park district was being considered for landmark district status in 1991, this church declined to be part of that. Mision Cristiana Church sold the property in 2015 for an undisclosed amount, to developers who were hoping to create two single-family homes from the original buildings, and transform the church itself into a two-unit townhome. (This article here demonstrates the layout of the property fairly well.) However, at about 6am this past Monday morning (24 October 2016), much of what remained of the buildings came crashing down, not only on the property, but on the sidewalk, and into the street, severely damaging cars parked there.

According to the site DNAinfo.com, although several permits had been obtained and work was being done, a stop-work order had been issued in July, citing work beyond what the permits allowed. (Do note that in that same article, there is an interview with “one of a team of 15” who were working on the interior demolition of the church structure.) DNAinfo.com also reported that the city immediately ordered the demolition of the entire site and that the developers will need to start from scratch as far as plans and permits for the site. (More pictures can be found here: http://abc7chicago.com/news/part-of-wicker-park-church-collapses-several-cars-damaged/1570076/.)

It’s sad that the church is gone, even if it hasn’t been the home to Holy Resurrection for many years. However, that being said, I have very ambivalent feelings towards converting churches into townhomes, condos, and the like. It certainly is a trend, not just in Chicago, but in other expensive property markets where congregations cannot support the upkeep of the property anymore. The developers often talk about wanting to “respect” the history of the place, but I don’t know that there’s necessarily a “respectful” way of converting a sacred space to the mundane. (The developers for condos that were created from Our Lady of Good Counsel Church – not far away, at Western Ave. – were given permission to retain the Catholic Charities star in the design of the condos, for example. Artist rendering here) In that sense, and in particular because of St. Sebastian’s influence at Holy Resurrection, maybe it’s for the best that this place, if not retained for something sacred, is a place that needs to be rebuilt anew, rather than ‘converted’.

(H/T to the General Mihailovich blog for info.)