August 12th, 2005

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Being in Las Vegas

One of the pleasures of Las Vegas is that people are interested in your town. One of the downsides is that the image they have of the town was shaped by stories that are no longer true: just as in Chicago, you don't count on going into town to find speakeasies run by local hoods evading Prohibition, so in Las Vegas you don't count on going into town to find casinos run by the Mob trying to take each other over in a hail of bullets. There are people who find danger romantic, but that particular fear is misplaced. Yes, there is crime here: human nature remains the same. But there is also the Nevada Gaming Commission, tasked with cleaning up the casinos, and the interesting fact that gaming is still something that has to be run right to make a profit. Harrah's found that out when they went bankrupt, and since then has developed one of the most elaborate descriptions of how things are to be run.

Part of my enjoyment has been helped along by the many books written about Las Vegas. For those who want history come alive, there are fewer better choices than Sun, Sin and Suburbia, which takes a good tour through the whole town, rather than concentrating, as most guides and histories do, on downtown and the Strip. Think of it has history for locals. It contains what I have come to think of as the most perceptive comment about the city, from UNLV history professor Hal Rothman: "Las Vegas is a hard town that will make you pay for your inability to restrain your desires." Result? Those religions whose training focuses on the ability to mold your desires into the shape required to live a moral life visibly prosper here. There are more churches in the neighborhoods I drive through than I've ever seen before, of different types, from Mormon to Catholic to Muslim to obscure Anglicans like me. It's kind of interesting to watch the balance between hedonistic excess and quasi-Victorian morality, both existing in town, neither really comfortable with the other.

What books and articles brought Vegas alive for you?
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    curious curious
Inspiration

Divorce and Marriage in Las Vegas

Reno made a name for itself as the divorce capital of the United States back when divorce was rarely granted by other states. Las Vegas has the same laws, but doesn't advertise so relentlessly -- and, given the change in other state's laws, it would be useless anyway. I tend to view divorce the same way I do death: I want to avoid it.

When I was first married, I needed an intensive review of George Pransky's book The Relationship Handbook as I started out. It certainly helped me focus on how to be a good husband, and put some perspective back into my life. For the optimists like me, it's fun to note that Las Vegas has a lot of wedding chapels, and therefore, must have a lot of hopeful people.

Hope doesn't work in all circumstances: quite a few people don't seem to realize that sex, like other desires, has consequences here unless properly managed. As noted by the CDC, that means an "all condom, all the time" lifestyle, or, in other words, for the majority of people who occasionally use a condom, it has no effect on their STD rate. Remember the point about learning to mold your desires into the shape required to live a moral life in the prior post? This is just another instance of the "hard town" in action: if you're sucker enough to believe in the advertising myths of free sex and free money, Las Vegas will accomodate you until you're done. But so will other towns, usually in a seedier way.

The way to enjoy Las Vegas? Interestingly enough, begin with a dialogue with yourself: What do I really enjoy? When have I been doing something so enjoyable that time flew past me without my noticing it? Who was I with? Can I get better at it?
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    thoughtful thoughtful
Inspiration

Prayer (Crossposted to Episcopalian)

In trying to liven up my own woefully inadequate prayer life, it was recommended to me that I try the prayer of the hours. My first reaction was that I didn't have HOURS to pray, if I was lucky I had 15 minutes here or there. And after getting over that misconception, I was told to get a copy of The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime (it was August, just like this -- hot, occasionally miserable, and very dry). I begain reading the introduction, and enjoyed the lively discussion of prayer as something that could be fit into a daily schedule, not taking too long at any one time, not straight-jacketed into a schedule so that I prayed while looking at my watch, but with sufficient variety and structure to let me take a moment and catch my breath.

Let me illustrate with today's morning prayer:

It begins with a verse from Psalm 31, a sentence prayer from Psalm 30, a greeting from Psalm 42, gives out the refrain from Psalm 27, has a reading from Mark 8 and Psalm 103, the Kyrie, the Lord's prayer, the week's prayer, and the prayer of the church. Elapsed time: well, my watch said ten minutes, and I read it aloud. It felt longer, and quiet, and kind of refreshing. More to the point, I was better able to deal with the many responsibilities I had to get through before lunch -- when I could take another few moments. My only complaint about the book is that it's not as portable as I would like -- but it turns out to have a permanent place in my briefcase.

There are books for Autumn and Wintertime and for Springtime as well, all keyed to the calendar for those (like me) that lose track of what week it is for the church.

I'm sure you all have recommendations for prayer as well. What is your favorite? How does it fit into your life?
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    contemplative contemplative