Monthly Archives: May 2009

Hyperreality: Las Vegas and Los Angeles

baby jesus at Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim

baby jesus at Crystal Cathedral in Anaheim

I just got back from my annual two week travel class with Creighton students which visits Las Vegas for a week and Los Angeles for a week with a camping trip in Joshua Tree National Park in between. (Its a nice sandwich, with two slices of concrete, neon and plastic surgery on either side of a night in the wide open desert hills– we get to see a bit of what LV and LA were before people started building…) Las Vegas of course has the highest rate of home forclosures in the nation– 13% of homes there are in foreclosure. LA is in California which is facing a budget deficit of over 41 Billion dollars. Both of these cities are known for a certain amount of pretending, as well as exuberant (probably more like irrational) behaviors. They use water they don’t have (from hundreds of miles away), they spend money they don’t have, they get facelifts and artificial reductions and enhancements of body zones which make you wonder what people there would look like without plastic surgeons… One topic we talk about is hyperreality– and there is a lot of hyperreality creation in these towns. A hyperreality is something which immitates reality, but in a way which actually improves on it. For example: the Venetian Hotel and Casino is based on Venice– there are canals and venice-style shops inside– but the canals are filled with clean filtered water, the gondolla boats are motorized, and the boat operators will not steal your money. In short, the Venetian hotel, while imitating Venice, in some ways improves on it by sanitizing the original. Disneyland in California is another nice example– A french philosopher (leave it to the French!) said that he took a ‘huck finn riverboat ride’ in Adventureland at Disneyland, and said that the boatride was a lot of fun. But then he went to the mississippi to get some idea of the original on which the adventureland cruise was based, and found the mississippi to be dirty and stinky in comparison…in other words, the immitation was better than the original reality, and left him a bit dissappointed with reality. Hyperreality can do this– cause false expectations. Vegas is built in some sense on false expectations– the idea that everyone can be a winner (if that was so, why would investors build 12 Billion dollar casino projects like the new City Center on the Strip?) Hollywood in LA is a factory of false expectations through their storybook endings, hyperreal actors and actresses, and their fantasy portrayals of ‘normalcy’. Perhaps a more frustrating bit of hyperreality is the way in which sex is portrayed, through the huge pornography industry in LA, through the airbrushing and special effects redos and reimaging of the fashion and movie industries, through the plastic surgeries, nips and tucks, breast enhancements, etc etc. When ‘reality’ is portrayed and altered by these hyperreality processes, we find ourselves a bit disappointed with reality, with the day to day life of quiet. We come to expect oceans 11 (or 12, or 13) as a daily practice, we come to expect supermodel sensuality as the norm, and find ourselves slightly bored with the reality as it seems to be given off-screen or off-line. But this frustration is the result of lies, in some sense. LA and Vegas, from the Fashion District and Hollywood to the Strip, give us escapes, fantasy worlds, and hopes of something quite different than what we’ve got. They encourage us to desire what we don’t have, and to pursue and escape from it. In this sense, they foster an unauthentic existence, where we spend our days wishing we weren’t living them, wishing we could have what we don’t and really can’t have, and after subtly buying in to unrealistic expectations, wondering why we are frustrated and have a general sense of getting ripped off (“this is not my beautiful house– this is not my beautiful wife” as the Talking Heads song goes…) Now, I’m not advocating lowering your expectations so you don’t get disappointed, in some stoic-protective manner of turning your collar to the cold and damp reality of your life that stinks. But I do think that spending your life gazing at hyperreality and fantasy expectations as a guide to life will more likely than not disable you from authentically engaging in the life you were meant to live– your own life. We are sometimes scared to live our own lives and to face the reality of our own lives. The easiest way to not face that reality is to look away to hyperrealities, but like any life-escape (alcohol, drugs, porn, food-binging, etc) the attempt to escape life makes us lose our lives in vain. I love to go to LA and Vegas each year, in part because they are beautiful cities, with interesting characters and a lot of very alive people in them. But they also remind me to live my life for real, as they confront me with so many hyperrealities that eventually only highlight their own lack of connection to the real world.

Fremont Street in Vegas

  Fremont Street in Vegas

Just a Moment

If you could capture one moment in your life, what would it be? Would it be a moment of regret? Would it be a moment of great joy? That one moment has most likely changed your life. Whether it was a rather mundane moment or an exhilarating moment, it has probably affected every moment to come. Moments aren’t isolated or disconnected from each other. However small a moment might seem, it can have a huge impact on your life to come.

Now think of all the moments lost in your life? Maybe it was a decision that you knew you should have made but failed to do so. Two days ago my cousin Zach and I were sitting on the porch and he noticed an older lady sitting alone on the front steps of the apartment across the street. I had two options that moment: I could walk over to her and just talk and find out her story, or I could continue sitting on the porch and eat our freshly grilled bratwursts. I decided to continue to sit on the porch. It was a moment lost. Had I gone over and talked to her maybe nothing would have happened. Maybe she wasn’t lonely and was just outside enjoying the soft warm breeze. She could have been taking some much needed alone time from a busy life. But I would guess my visit would have gone over only too well. I think that she would have appreciated a young man coming over and just asking how she was and finding out about her day. I think the small act of showing her my compassion would have maybe even made her day. That small moment might have had a greater affect on her life than what I know.

I chose not to act on that moment and have realized I can never get that moment back. That’s the tough things about moments, once they are gone, they are in the past. You can remember moments, but you can’t ever truly relive or change them. I lost this moment, and it’s one I can never get back.

I want to encourage you to take advantage of as many moments as you can. Although moments are as numerous as the stars in the sky, and not all of them are significant, all of them COULD be defining moments in your life. You rarely know the eternal significance of a moment when it happens, but moments can have lasting impact. After looking at all the moments lost in my life, I know that I will be more aware and prepared to take advantage of moments in the future.

A Car Crash Provokes Reflections on Poverty and Community

Yesterday wasn’t one of the greatest days in the life of Ryan Youtz. Quite simply, I crashed my car into the car in front of me. No one was hurt but the fender bender left my car undriveable needing towed to the auto body shop and left the truck in front of me with some minor damage. The driver of the truck was nice enough to let me off the hook, he could have claimed injury or wanted his bumper fixed… instead he said “I’m okay and it’s just my work truck– don’t worry about it.” Wow, nice guy.

I’m sure I still have hundreds of dollars of car repair bills in front of me and initially I became frustrated with the thoughts of most of my next paycheck paying off the damages to my car.

As I stood on the street waiting for the tow truck to take my car away, I began to think about some of my neighbors on Park Ave. I’ve noticed many of them don’t own a car as they walk to work or take the bus. And then I began to think about the even bigger picture, ‘I wonder what percentage of the world’s population owns a car.’ Upon returning home I did a little research and found out that less than 7% of the world’s population owns a car… or to put it this way, if the world were a village of a 1,000 people, less than 70 of us would own a car. But get this, over 20% of the world doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. That would mean, that in that village of 1,000, about 200 don’t have access to clean drinking water. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, other than recognizing that in this symbolic world village, I’m one of the 70 with a car and not one of the 200 without access to clean drinking water.

In church this week we read from the 15th chapter the Gospel of John. Jesus says in verses 12 and 13: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Those two verses have been going through my head since Tuesday night. Jesus commands his followers to love each other. I’ve been asking myself, ‘What does it truly mean for me to lay MY LIFE down for my friends.’ And now, 2 AM, on a Friday morning, I think about my car crash from yesterday. A car crash that has left me recognizing how much I actually have. Jesus also said in Luke 12:48, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return”.

So, I humbly ask our God to continue to teach me what it means to love those around me. And what it means that I have so much. I’m part of the 7% of the world with a car (even though it is all crashed up in the shop, haha)…. what does this mean? Why do have I so much? What can do to love my friends in Park Ave (and around the world) who seem to have so much less? What is required of me? And again, how do I truly lay down my life for my friends?

Just some thoughts… I should probably go to sleep and let the Lord continue to teach me in the morning. 🙂

-Ryan Youtz

Roto-Tilling to a new tomorrow

asm_park-garden-001The last few days I’ve been roto tilling up a lot of yard at the six-plex on Park Avenue and planting potatoes, onions, beans, beets, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, as well as a lot of trees and shrubs. I went out to get this roto-tiller at Sol’s pawnshop, and Sol himself sold it to me. I also got to meet his fix-it guy who seems to be able to repair anything from golfcarts and chainsaws to snowblowers and outboard motors, from the looks of the fixit shop. Of course I liked that guy right away. When I got this 6plex back in August, the backyard was pretty overgrown. We are gradually turning it into a forrest and a garden simultaneously, and it feels good. Tilling up the dirt, planting seeds I know will grow to produce, and planting 4 foot trees which will someday be 40 feet tall seems like something we are supposed to do– something we were made to do. Its an act of hope– especially planting fruit trees which will not produce for 7 years. Of course rabbits and neighbors will probably enjoy some of the fruits of our labors, but thats fine– the cool thing is that we are transforming what was once a weedy back yard strewn with beer bottles into a garden. It is a redemption of the land. The friends who live in the building are getting excited too– some are planting their own stuff, and everyone is offering to help keep it up when I’m gone for a couple weeks. The neighbors are also paying attention and taking notice– they see that we care, and that makes them happy– and me happy.asm_img_08782asm_img_08843asm_park-garden-003