Friday, October 9, 2009

Playing to Lose

I've never met Otis, yet he has become one of my literary heroes. He writes well, very well indeed. In a recent blogpost entitled "Failure" he ends a paragraph with these words... "If you measure your personal worth by your professional success, you’re probably going to fail at both. It took me a long time to grasp that". I dropped him a comment immediately and have been chewing on his words ever since.

I've spent the bulk of my working life in an endeavor known as "The Church". It is a vocation in the truest sense of the words. "Vocatio" - a calling, presumably from God, to enter in to the "Missio Dei", the mission of God in the world. It is an endeavor, God's endeavor to make Godself known amongst the inhabitants of the creation. It is noble is frustratingly difficult work this handling of mysteries and pointing others toward God's work shrouded in the ethereal mist. It is a vocation in which "success" is hard to quantify. I suspect that God, infinitely wise, formed the work in such a way that we wouldn't be tempted to deem it either success or failure, just simply be content to do it.

There is something about the human animal which wants to measure, to rank, to form hierarchies, lists, and ledgers. There is something within our spirits which seeks to know how well we perform, and so we tend to want to quantify the unquantifiable. It's a trap. I've known that deep in my heart of hearts for years and years -- and yet it didn't stop me from playing "the game". "What's your worship attendance now?" "How big is your budget?" "Is your congregation growing?" These questions all are asked often within circles of clergy and most definitely on the tinted pages of the annual parochial report. It's a game that, if played, guarantees that you lose. Using a poker term, it is -EV, there is no positive expected value. I've come to know lots of clergy over the course of a 30 year career as a parish pastor, and I've seen all too often how many of us, this sorry bag of bones included, make the mistake that Otis has written about so eloquently. I've known many who have fallen into the trap of measuring their personal worth by their professional success and we appear as charicatures of ourselves -- selves which are poorly individuated and sycophantic (imagine Regis Philbin with a clerical collar).

Okay, so what's the point? There is no point....only that I get it now. Like Otis, it has taken me a long time to grasp that -- a longer time really, as I'm probably 15 years older than he is. Most days now I sit Job-like on my own personal ash heap of a life wrongly valued. On November 2nd I will find myself, once again, without an income. This gig has been great -- it has been fun and Augustana is a remarkable congregation. I filled the role adequately for 5 months without getting caught up in "the game". I was conciously aware that I needed to "check my ego at the door". I'm not sure how others view me (other than my wife who at the moment despises me), and it seems not to matter much. Jesus once said, "you will know the truth and the truth will make you free". For years I've thought freedom to be an elusive quarry, a ghost-like shape-shifter that was always somewhere around the next bend, just a few years ahead in the future. Kristofferson wrote in "Me and Bobby McGee" that, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".

The losses have been many the last half a dozen years. Alzheimers claimed my mother in a most miserable, degrading way..........the business (my dream, really) never made it and went away, taking our home and a bunch of my retirement $$ with it. My own playing of the game and acting out sexually has pretty much guaranteed that my marriage will not survive and I will lose my companion of 29 years and best friend to boot. I'm sure I've lost the esteem of my daughter, though she is so shell-shocked that she doesn't give much away. We've lost a car or two.........and I ride the bus alot these days. I suspect there will be other losses ahead.

I know Jesus is right. He, more than anyone else, lived and died in total freedom. He knew the truth and the truth allowed him to be free. His living freely may have had something to do with folks wanting to kill him -- oh well, watcha gonna do?

I'm hoping Kristofferson is right that, indeed, freedom awaits all those who lose it all. Kristofferson knows Jesus well -- and knows that Jesus loses it all for our sake. Jesus, the biggest loser who never played "the game".

Otis can be found at:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sermons and Stained Glass

Last night I sat in the rear of the sanctuary as Rev. John Schweibert preached during the Jazz Service. I had heard his sermon three times already during the day – it was well worth hearing the fourth time!! I wanted to experience worship from the rear of the sanctuary (as we are definitely “upper front right-siders” in our seating score on the LPSI – (Lutheran Pew Selection Inventory) – which connotes comfortable, life-long Lutherans with moderate hearing loss who need to be closer to the speaker but whose vanity won’t permit them a first or second pew position). I was struck by the simple beauty of Augustana’s Sanctuary – classic, timeless, simple lines which seem to funnel all sight to the Chancel (where the action is). The Chancel area is deep and it reminded me of the depth of the mystery of our faith. The mystery proclaimed regularly that “God Comes Down”. An ancient spatial thought, yes – but one that speaks of the depth of God’s commitment to this Earth and its inhabitants. God, in Christ, leaves it all behind and enters our existence to reveal God’s essence to us.

John got to the part in the sermon where Jesus takes a child and brings it into the circle of the disciples to demonstrate that the community he is forming will be a servant community, seeing to the needs of the weak ones and powerless ones (a community that models what God does in the Incarnation – coming “down” to the aid of a broken humanity which is unable to “get it right”). For whatever reason, as he got to that point in the sermon, I was looking at the stained glass panel of Jesus and the children – located on the south wall, towards the rear. The image was darkened a bit, as the sun had moved westward, but the image stood out nonetheless. Jesus and the children were illustrating the point of the sermon to me. I’ve known that Jesus welcomes children all of my life, indeed, I believe that Jesus welcomed me into the family of God as an infant almost 58 years ago now. It is the notion of that gracious and unconditional welcome which has sustained my faith all these years. And yet, in the dimming light of a mid-September evening, in the rear of Augustana’s sanctuary, I “got it”!! The window spoke it to me – louder than John’s meaningful words.

I believe it is the Masai people of Africa who, upon meeting another Masai, greet one another with the words, “and how are the children?” It is a ritual greeting, to be sure, but they know that the health of their communities can be measured by the well-being of the children. They know well that a healthy village will raise healthy children – they know that, “as fare the children, so fares the community and its future.”

The Oregonian on Friday had an article that said there are 18,000 children attending school in our state that have no home of their own --. As I write this, my gut aches, and I want to weep.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Venetian" Deep Stack Extravaganza" Report

In days past the Imperial Palace faced the strip set back a ways with a few of old Bill Harrah's classic cars lined up near the sidewalk to entice passers-by to visit the collection inside. Nowadays, the IP is hidden behind a facade-like, rock and roll -themed, sports bar where scantily clad women(young) swing from tires and dance in cages while wild-eyed touristas play Beer Pong, watch whatever "sport du jour" happens to be on, and sip daquiris from 1/4 size electric guitars made of plastic with a straw protruding from the top. 32 bucks gets you one of these babies to keep, strap included, and you can get the sucker refilled for 20 bucks. As a former owner of a Rock and Roll-themed eating/drinking establishment I took notice, though I passed on the "foo-foo" drink served in a plastic Fender "Strat" knock-off.

The IP sits about a 7 minute walk from The Venetian Resort and Casino. It's like moving between two different worlds. The IP is small relative to the rest of its neighbors. The casino seems really small, the pit area has, perhaps, 20 tables, most notably the pit containing the "Dealertainers". Dealers who are look-a-likes to the likes of: Michael Jackson, The Blues Brothers, Little Richard, Elvis(young), Dolly Parton(enhanced), Bette Midler(real-I asked), Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin(did her own singing-fabulous), and Whitney Houston (I think they got a real tweaker for this one - nice effect). The best, IMHO, was Alice Cooper. Though he lip-synched, he had the moves and the look perfect -- he even had Alice's nose specially made for a few grand. There were a couple of odd choices -- a Vietnamese J-Lo with no "booty" to speak of and an Eastern European Marilyn Monroe who was working the computerized Roulette Pit. She certainly looked the part but, alas, the illusion was shattered as soon as she opened her mouth, one could easily imagine her eating cabbage and pierogy back in the break room.

The poker room is small with 5 tables and only twice in 11 nights did I see them all filled - mostly with 2-4 and 3-6 limit though they did manage to run a 1-2NL table in the eves.

The Venetian, on the other hand, reeks of opulence and classic design. It has an expansive Poker Room spreading limit, NL, Omaha, and Horse at a wide variety of limits -- I didn't ask what the folks back in the "Salon" were playing at -- "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" probably held true here, too. The room itself probably holds 30 - 35 tables with adequate distance between. This room has become "theplace to play in Las Vegas.

The "Deep Stack Extravaganza" is run 4 times a year for 4 weeks at a time. This was the first session of 2009 and my first experience with the DSE. The attraction, for me at least, was the reasonable buy-in amounts - $300 + 30/ w a $10 staff add-on. You began each tourney with 12,000 in chips and the levels ran for 40 min. Satellite tables filled regularly and paid 2 players so there wasn't that awkward "do you want to 'chop' ritual. It took me two days before I took down a "sat" -- I suffered plenty before I got some lammers (tournament entry chips) -- four times I got my chips in "good" only to be drawn out on each time. I was a bit discouraged after the first days play - but found a juicy 2/5 game at the Mirage and replenished my bankroll. More to come

Saturday, January 17, 2009

PCA Freeroll

I was watching some of the action at the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure last week Thursday. It was the final table of the High Rollers tourney, the 25k buy in. I think Pokerstars TV did a fine job of covering the event - the Brit announcers had a good grasp of the game and several of the Pokerstars Pros stopped by to offer commentary for an hour at a time. Great entertainment on a cold and housebound day.

Pokerstars was offering a freeroll that afternoon. Terrible small prize pool but no buy-in necessary (fits my bankroll perfectly these days.) So I signed on to play while watching.

Dr. Pauly, in his 2008 WSOP coverage, referred to the Amazon Room (the site of the WSOP) as the killing fields. He painted a picture of a room covered with the blood of slaughtered donkeys. I thought perhaps, at the time, he was being a bit "over the top" -- but no more.

The field was capped at 10,000 entries. 10,000 folks signed up to play in this thing and I was amazed. Being a freeroll, the event started out pretty fast - lots of all-ins, folks trying to double up fast, and, with having paid nothing to enter, there was little downside risk, other than getting booted from a freebie.

It was incredible to behold the numbers of players felted in the first hour. Fully 95% of the field was toast in the first 60 minutes. After the first break things settled down and play was somewhat normal with 500 folks left. I played the game I've been trying to play for some time now -- solid, not over-committing, not entering pots with marginal hands or from out of position. It felt comfortable to me to try to keep my stack above average but not get too greedy early on.

I got lucky when I raised from the cut-off with A-10os and called by the blind. The flop came K-10-Q and I bet the pot to find out where I was in the hand. My bet was called and the turn came A. I fired out a bet and was re-raised all-in -- I called with my two pair to find that the BB had flopped the straight with AJ and had trapped me. Oh, well it's a freeroll right? The River is A and I fill up to double up and I never looked back from there.

My final hand played out like this -- QQ in small blind and I raise the BB 3x
(the BB is chip leader and has 2x my stack) simply trying to steal - I had been pilfering blinds regularly with a big stack. He reraised me all-in and I put him on two big cards or a medium pair. I figured that he thought I was stealing with cheese and would back off. Nope - he woke up with AA and I was toast.

My finish ------------------9th!! 9th out of 10,000, needless to say, I was stoked. I've been playing well for a couple of weeks now - spent Christmas week re-reading the Harrington 3 Volume texts and they have helped a lot.

So, with thoughts (delusions?) of grandeur I prepare for the month of February in Las Vegas. The Venetian is having their first "Deep Stack" tourney of the year the 3rd through the 25th. Caesars is also having a deep-stack event which begins on the 5th and ends on the 25th. Buy-ins are reasonable, actually cheaper at Caesar's than the Venetian --. And my plan is iterative. I've committed from the 2nd to the 13th -- should I do well (my hope is to cash in three events during that time) I plan on flying my beloved Paula down for a Valentine's weekend to remember and convincing her to let me stay a bit longer ---- wish me well!!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pokerum Mysterium

"Poker is a metaphor for Life" is a saying that one stumbles upon often when reading in the genus --. It's easy to understand how such a catch-phrase would become popular. One could structure a side by side comparison of attributes of each quite easily. Paul Samuel, in a post on PokerPages writes, "If you want to talk to people use words, but if you want to talk to God use Maths".

I consider myself a person of prayer - I pray frequently, however I use words. Maybe that is why my prayers never seem to be answered in the way I would like, maybe that is why it seems as if my life is "swirling the drain" these days.

I can perform simple arithmetic in my head with pretty good speed. Addition, multiplication, division, percentages have always come easy to me. It's the alphabet soup stuff -- Algebra -- that has always thrown me for a loop. Our daughter is taking two algebra classes this year in HS -- she stopped asking me for help some time ago -- smart kid.

Yet, mathematics is the engine of poker -- probabilities and odds --. It's a wonder it all works, really. Mathematicians have been around for millenia, seeking to explore the universe as they find it, looking for the "end of the string" so to speak, they keep pushing the boundaries of knowledge farther and farther.

And then, there is this simple game which "takes 5 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master (obi wan Brunson)". What makes it so intriguing is the admixture of a fixed universe of mathematics - the odds and probabilities don't change, and an unlimited number of players each with their own style, personalities, assumptions, expectations and wills. These combinations are what make this game so challenging and compelling.

To me, in a "micro" sort of way -- this game mirrors the mysteries of life with its rigid parameters of birth/death, and the great uncertainties which lie between them. "Never draw to an inside straight?" depends.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Vision, Again!!

It happens every so often to me. It happened again this past Sunday. Let me tell you about it............I was preparing for worship, which these days consists of looking through the worship folder to see who needed to be remembered prayer, what was happening in the congregation in the upcoming week, and marking where the hymns are in the worship book so that I wouldn't take half the verses finding the song.

In the front of our worship space is a small table filled with votive candles where people go to offer a prayer and light a candle. As a life-long Lutheran, this practice is not familiar to me as a part of my heritage. My church home now is Lutheran, this is most certainly true, but it was started by Swedish Lutherans who probably appreciated any bit of extra heat and light (especially this time of year).

I was struck by the gathering around that table of small candles on the First Sunday of Advent. Joyce and her grandson each lit a candle and paused for a moment of prayer. Joyce and Roger bring their grandson to worship often -- they are his spiritual mentors it appears. I know nothing of their family situation other than there is a generation skipped when it comes to them worshiping together.

Heather wheeled up in her motorized chair -- a young, pretty woman whose body has been ravaged by a debilitating disease, I'm guessing MS. She is a faithful member of this community and gets herself to church most Sundays. Heather had to stretch to reach the tapers and stretch to reach an unlit votive. I'm guessing most of life is a stretch for her -- it took a moment, but she lit a candle and offered her prayer.

Another woman was there also, a single Mom whose sexual orientation is same sex. She too lit a candle and offered a prayer.

I was struck by the beauty of the tableau. Our congregation prides itself on being multi-cultural and diverse. We see it most Sundays when the pews are filled with all sorts of different folks who come together because they are simply people of faith. The tableau confirmed for me that the faith that draws us and unites us is not simply some sort of ethereal "feeling", but it is trust in something that is real. The thing that is real is God's vision for life on this earth. It's not my vision.......though I claim it sometimes. It is the dream of God about how people are meant to relate to God and to each other. It gets played out in life too rarely it seems, alas, even among faith communities.

But when it happens, it is something to behold!! A vision of the reign of God among people -- plain people who live real lives. Real lives that have been touched by the hand of a Gracious God who loves and redeems them all.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ecce Homo

"Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down". Every once in a while an event takes place which startles the shit out of me. Today's event is the stampede at a suburban New York Wal-Mart where rabid shoppers broke down the doors trying to enter the store to secure whatever Chinese-made treasures their vacuous hearts were yearning after. In the "event", a worker was trampled and died from his injuries. The victim was 34 years old - Black Fucking Friday, indeed.

Events like these hold up a mirror to us. If we are willing and brave, if we are able to distance ourselves from ourselves for a brief moment, if we look carefully into the mirror, we can acknowledge the verity of Walt Kelly's line from the old "Pogo" cartoon from a couple of generations back -- "we have met the enemy, and they is us." It's not just that other person who is part of the mob that rampages when their favorite team wins the championship, or who is so fearful of not getting that $388.00 flat screen at Wal-Mart, or who believes they are justified in their killing because their government, or their religious leader, or their thirst for vengeance says they are. It is all of us who are this strange admixture we call human. Capable of such wrong and harm -- and at the same time able to find within us the capacity to care for one another, treasure life, and even sacrifice our own lives for the sake of another.

In troubled economic times, the concern is which part of our nature will be acted upon most......the rampaging mob part of us seeking to act out of, and protect, our self-interest.............or the part of us that is rarely draw upon in such times, the good, the sacrificial, the "brother's keeper", the authentic humanity we were created to be.

The mirror tells us which one the advertisers and merchandisers would prefer ----

"They is us....Ecce Homo".

Happy Holidays