Oct 2014

See the USA in Your Chevrolet!


What’s the difference between a 1953 Chevy and a 2013 Chevy? There is a difference, right? No one would have the same expectations from them. They are different machines built by different generations of people and driven in very different towns and cities.

We would not expect even the most ace mechanic of one car’s era to be the best choice for the other. So, if someone were to shrug and say, “WTF… they’re both Chevies”, that might sound a bit stupid. Chevrolet is a brand of ongoing car manufacturing. There is a continuity or unfolding story to see in all the Chevies between ’53 and ’13. It’s told a lot around here. Being Chevrolet the Car Manufacture sustained an institutional memory of car development and built a tall imposing memory bank in downtown Detroit. I have drilled hundreds of holes in the walls of the Amazing Palaces built by the architects and authorities of the world of cars. Even drilling and wiring the Palace of a Chevy Lord built in ’53 is different than a new Palace.

Chevrolet outlets popped up everywhere to serve local communities. After a few generations of jobs and cars to get to them, Chevolet becomes part of the bedrock of a community as seen in logos, slogans and reverence that is unsolicited and freely expressed by the community. It’s not an illusion. If your dad had a Chevy, and you went shopping for a current one with Chevy-like expectations, they would likely be met. There’s something to being a Chevy. There are people around here who wax lyrically about it. It is highly romanticized with images of children urinating on other car logos.

A few take it too far and might even suggest that a Chevy mechanic from ’53 could rely on their Cheviness to see them through the repair of ’13. Anyone who was familiar with the reality of cars would think that was silly. It would make more sense to find a contemporary mechanic versed in another brand. The greater reality is that it is a modern car. Almost anyone can see that. Especially here, where you can often see them at car shows lined up sequentially in rows and spot the discernible stages of development of car manufacturing, at least through the eyes of the people who worked for Chevrolet.

The Ford and Chrysler displays won’t be far away and it is easy to discern the stages they went through as well. In fact, seeing them all at once reveals how there is more commonality in those developmental stages than in the mere shape and branding of the cars. And, unlike branding, there is never any vitriolic urination between say, a primitive aspirated slant-six and a modern semi-electric hybrid. Both hold their honored places in overall car development or, the Science of Cars.


No one would expect even the most beloved and effective priest of 1953 to be entirely in their element serving a parish in 2013. While Catholicism’s branding and logos have changed little, Catholics have changed considerably. There is still something to being a Catholic. It is highly romanticized with images of children urinating on other religious logos. However, dealerships have been closing, the Palaces have become freezing leaking money pits and all the shiny New Palaces belong to other brands. They can be spotted all along Woodward Avenue and Ford Road and Chrysler Parkway and whoops. Sorry.


Even Catholicism’s current architects and authorities would agree that the current troubles stem largely from an inevitable complacency resulting from generations of being part of that comfy bedrock of the community. It tends to put you to sleep. Whatever it is you’re doing, it must be fine because it is what you are still doing since the last time it was fine. There is a sleepy perception of actually being the metaphorical bedrock and a separate thing from the community living on it.

Each generation can reliably find their father’s Catholicism within easy reach. Dad’s long years at Catholicism inspire a loyalty that carries through generations as if coupled to the family bond itself. That leaves them all ill prepared for the inevitable geo-political changes that bring previously foreign religions imported from previously distant countries. That puts new generations within driving distance of alternative bedrocks. These weren’t just differences in procedure and appearance, these religions were built from an entirely different perspective with procedures built from a different generational history. They were fresh and aggressive and displayed much less of the complacency that had clearly come to compromise the performance of what was previously the only choice. Many came specifically to leave that complacency behind. It took very little time for them to establish themselves as part of an interlaced bedrock where freely chosen vehicles travel the common road to salvation.

This inspired a leaner, tighter Catholicism now awakened from decades of bedrock slumber. Even facing controversial bailouts, embarrassed leadership and facility closures, Catholicism always maintained that it was the indispensable bedrock that deserved the same brand loyalty as flag and country. Many observers remarked that this was a mere gut reaction of envy to the clearly more efficient generational turnover statistics of the new competition.

Catholics were at a disadvantage in catching up because they had focused for so long on rules and procedures that actually limited production in both the conception stage and course completion. It took them no less a personage than Lee Iococca to see them through the toughest times. But the times had already changed too much to undo the New Bedrock. Catholics Voltives will always share the road with Hindu RX-7’s and Sihk Turbos and Halal SUV’s and watch out for the Saudi 911.

I can personally attest that Muslims in this area have already experienced an evolution in their outlook and navigational systems. Not from drilling holes, but from firing up their LCD projectors and watching them, as a convention center AV guy, frantically talking about being Muslims in America in ‘03. There is a strong desire to design a new model but no clearly dominant opinion about exactly what kind. A hybrid, or a comfy numbing sedan, or a barely recognizable and futuristic concept model, or a traditional if anachronistic version still dependent on the exports of its oil-rich homeland.

In time, a new generation will find the same festive spirit in setting aside a special time and plenty of orange cones to line up a parade of all religions at all their stages of development in some gigantic room somewhere. Put them all under the bright lights with models in habits and burkas and swimsuits and spacesuits and tinfoil hats and tin-free mitres.

In such a setting it would be easy to discern all the stages of development they went through as well. In fact, seeing them all at once reveals how there is more commonality in those developmental stages than in their mere shape and branding. All could hold their honored places in overall epistemological development or, the Science of Religion.


Part Two

Some of the old timers around here are known to say that the problem with Chevies is always the carburetor. There was a time when that would give many pause enough to consider a different choice. Over time, more and more folks would simply shrug and say, “I have fuel injection. Those issues are behind me.”

One doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of people of any major faith who are prepared to inflict violence, torture and death on one if not many people. It is even easier to find people of the same faiths who are unprepared to inflict any torture on anyone and are horrified at the notion. We might ask, “What’s the difference?” Many kinds of answers may result but all would easily translate as “I have fuel injection. Those issues are behind me.”

To be fair, I shall reference Christianity here because it dun raised me and I did receive its sacramental blessing. I won’t tell you how many times that came in handy. Also, since I presume no Cosmic Reference Christianity, I can define Christianity as the sum total of Christian concepts held by living people who self-identify themselves as Christians. If there’s no reason to worry about which concept of Christianity is correct, then there is no basis for a hierarchy of concepts even if some can be clearly differentiated. That’s a problem.

A new system might start with the simple distinction, Christian A can kill and Christian B cannot. The A category could be broken down into subsets of self-motivated mass killers, obedient when ordered killers, extreme circumstance only killers and more. It’s a pointless and vindictive effort that doesn’t really describe Christians.

In the case of Christianity, there isn’t that much to break down. There’s no isolated island of natives practicing their primitive Christianity. It showed up late in the game and is an adjustment religion. Adjustment religions have Deliverers- those who lead the way out of one religious system and into another. There are few religions that aren’t born of another religion and some of those are merely a common branding of a long history of adjustments.

So, what’s an adjustment? If someone said, I am no longer Religion A and am now Religion B, what changes? Nothing on the molecular level. Yet tangible things like behavior and socialization can observably change from A to B. The change is in perception. One view has been replaced by another. So, categorizing religion is categorizing perception or at least, conditions of perception.

We already categorize religion based on what it sees- how many gods, gender roles, where the soul goes, etc. What about categorizing the manner in which it sees? As in, different manners of using the existing human perceptual tools.

So what basis is there for presuming a difference in manner and not just different piles of beliefs filtering perception in different ways? That may even be the same thing. I offer as evidence the WTF Effect.

For clarity, this is not the loud, punctuated WTF of popular children's’ songs. This is the soft one that actually decelerates as it goes and raises in pitch just at the end.

Many have spoken of how belief affects perception. What happens when you can’t believe what you are looking at? Like when someone is doing something you can’t imagine yourself doing. Acts of religious devotion like nodding and chanting might seem strange to many. Maybe you can picture yourself doing it but can’t imagine what for. Or what sort of interior life this could ever be a part of.

When watching someone engaged in a practice you can’t imagine doing, it is normal to wonder if they are faking or going along with the crowd. Wouldn’t it be neat to know what faking would look like. That might be real easy.

I was raised Lutheran and went to church (in Dad’s Chevy) until the end of high school. I’ve done the Lutheran Rituals and watched hundreds of my fellow Lutherans do them with me. When everybody is faking it, it makes no sense to call it faking it because it isn’t disingenuous. It’s an honest act of something we’ll call worship. We stand. We sit. We walk around in orderly rows. We mutter along with the organ. Sometimes, we line up for a quick breakfast of juice and crackers. As Lutherans, we understand that the juice and crackers are faking it, too. Transubstantiation is something you think about. Don’t expect God to have to provide a demonstration. We’re all on the honor system here.

Lutheranism is neat because it let’s you have your inner life even in church. We’re supposed to contemplate our relationship with God in solitude. Forgiveness is asked directly and personally. That’s cool. That’s means it is all done in your head where no one is watching. One can simply report, “Yes, I begged Our Savior for forgiveness after acknowledging what a disgusting, purile wretch I was.” Okay, next...

Lutherans do the rituals even though we all know we don’t have to. We stand up there quietly and somberly with worshipful looks on our faces as we wait for our snack. My cat can do that. But he can’t fake it. There’s a moment in the ritual where the next orderly batch has arrived and we stand there for 4 to 6 seconds while the Pastor peers at us then gestures for us to get on our knees. The Pastor has no idea who among us is insincerely faking it because we are indistinguishable from those who are sincerely faking it. Thirty Lutherans then kneel with barely a sound.

We assume the Pastor is not faking it but there is no way to know for sure. So nobody has to think about that, just our own inner life with God… if we have one. Lutheranism is an enabler religion. One can be completely secular and “do Lutheran” without breaking a sweat. Lutherans aren’t supposed to sweat. We hold it in until safely in the shower.

In service, one might be among hundreds of fellow Lutherans who summarize a thirty minute sermon down to “Christianity is the Golden Rule. My presence here is a public demonstration of fealty to principles I personally believe in and fulfills my obligations to God for the Deluxe Afterlife. Death to secularism.” 

Many religious adherents with other faith practices might look in on all this and think, “WTF?” All Lutheranism guarantees is that Lutherans will be quiet and well-behaved which is about all most Lutherans ask of Lutheranism in their fellow Lutherans.

Part of religious training is memorization and recital. We dreaded being called upon to recite and resented sweating for nothing when not called to recite. Either way, the RAM space then cleared for the next assignment. Nothing stuck. There was no need to understand anything about it, just say it right when called on. It’s not how we learned to learn things. In math and science, we were encouraged to understand. We were often tested on our understanding and had to make answers in our own words that must not be a mere copy or recital. The next thing we learn may require building on that understanding. Recital and repetition are only a means to that end. In the case of Bible verse, one learned to recite it because the Pastor would roar at you and try to embarrass you if you didn’t. There was no other purpose ever suggested for Bible recital except to not be roared at.

Memorization played a role in our religious instruction but seemed a peculiar vestige of another time and other people. We were fuel injected now, and left all that memorizing stuff behind us. Trading in the old model for a new model was something everyone was acclimated to. Dad got a new Chevy every few years. Everyone understood that the new Chevy was better. The new Chevy was always better. Forget that old Chevy and look at all the new ideas in the new Chevy. It was an attitude that was easy to apply to religion. Our hero, Martin Luther, was the symbol of new ideas that had to be nailed to the factory door in the bad old days long before new Chevies were around.

Our religious instruction was based on understanding things and expecting new things to always be better than old things. That’s what Martin Luther said. Other religious views might say, “WTF? How can new things be any better than old things if old things couldn’t be any better than they already are?” “How can something have always been if it isn’t now and won’t always be?” Or simply, “WTF?”

The goal here is to identify one religious practice from another instead of just one religion from another religion. My time working in Dearborn as an AV guy taught me that it is harder to distinguish the latter. My Muslim workmates were a lot like Lutherans, including scarf-less women who talked politics while fiddling with their car keys. Young lads who complained their childhood left them ill-prepared for modern girls. Bookish adults who bring new ideas to Islam or reveal old new ideas that were waiting to be revealed all along. Be it happily or sadly, they were all forward looking and seeking a new and better understanding of Islam in the wake of 9/11. I met members of the Muslim Brotherhood and activists from Egypt and Iraq and Turkey. I wired Imams for sound. They were all thoughtful people who dealt with understandings and issues and felt they could use 95 new ideas about now. After a weekend of conferences and presentations, all depart with the simple summary, Muslims in America are misunderstood.

WTF? A similar weekend of Christian conferences would likely yield a similar conclusion… Christians in America are misunderstood. The people were the same. All could easily appear to be faking the other religion just as easily as they could appear to be faking their own. There was no questioning anyone’s sincerity in either case, and really no need to.

I never saw a single example of the sort of scary, dogma-hurling fundamentalist that we have come to associate with religious extremists groups. If I were to draw one cultural contrast with Christians, it is this… Muslims are crabbiest when few in number. At Muslim events, the more packed the place got, the more peaceful and polite everyone became. Non-Muslim groups are quite the opposite. But this hardly rates a WTF, which makes it seem like not much of a categorical distinction.

A more useful and telling categorization of religious faith and practice can be found if we know where to look.

It’s at the point where one WTF meets another WTF. The Fulcrum of WTF.


 Part three

My Dad was always comfortable with Chevies. More chushy than a Dodge, less chrome than a Buick. The Lutheran’s choice. My Dad was a comfortable guy and his comfort with Chevies was passed on to me. I’ve had many. My family has had as many as three Chevies in the driveway at once. We have 130 feet of driveway but still it’s a bottleneck for all the Chevies.

Part of the problem is grape ivy. It infests the fence that runs down one side of the driveway. Stiff, pointy branches reach out to scratch the Chevies as they pass by. Creeping loops of roots sneakily hook around your snow shovel and send the whole load spilling down your boots. However, when it leafs out in summer, it makes a nice privacy fence.

Privacy is a normal thing to expect from your driveway. I look around at other driveways, and I think of someone else’s privacy. Sometimes folks around here have garage sales. That’s cool because you get to peek up their driveway without invading their privacy. Otherwise, around here, it is in poor taste to go peering up other people’s driveways. It is likely to garner a strongly punctuated WTF from the neighbors.

With that as background, you can imagine my disorientation that first day I heard the happily chattering Farsi right behind me. Two elderly women with large baskets were plucking the ivy leaves off the fence up near the house and right next to the Chevies. I felt a slow, quizzical WTF? bubbling up inside.

They gave no mind to my presence until I approached them to inquire after their business with my driveway. When I gently spoke, looking right at them, they both recoiled in horror. They made shoo-ing gestures and upset scolding sounds while casting their gaze at my driveway. I persisted and they took their baskets twenty feet or so further down the driveway and resumed plucking away at my privacy. A felt a second distinct wave of WTF. I approached them again trying to express by tone that I was bothered by what they were doing. They recoiled again and backed away angrily swatting the air at me. They turned down the sidewalk with expressions of total disgust. To them, I was WTF?

This occurred a couple more times. It was thinning out the privacy fence and poking at deep primal feelings about my driveway. The whole idea, since I was right there to ask, of not just asking first and getting sovereign clearance to remove an even but not debilitating portion of the leaves… was a total WTF at first. 

Usually, in our neighborhood, older head-scarfed Muslim women are acclimated to Western habits of EYE CONTACT. Obviously, these were some more recent transplants. I am very familiar with the social protocol from working at the hotel and seeing it around my neighborhood. Some women do not make EYE CONTACT with males outside of their family. To provoke them to do so is the height of rudeness and audacity. It’s a fair cup except for the driveway part. That was my driveway. Women, all women, have Constitutional Rights when on my driveway. The Old World stops at its apron.

I’m standing mere miles from where I was born. I pay good money for the ownership and respect of my small rectangle of earth (…that I imagine as a wedge that reaches to the core. I own some of that molten iron down there.) You might think you can push me around downtown, but on my driveway, where I park my Chevies, it’s Kneel Before Zod. Why did these women refuse to perceive my sovereignty?

Turns out, it was a simple perceptual disconnect. Where these ladies come from, there are no driveways. There are alleys. They looked up my yard and saw a hundred feet of public space. They were reacting to my invasion of their space.

My wife got involved and a friendly deal was made that involves getting a dish of whatever it is they do with the leaves.

A daughter of one of them comes around with them now. I met her. She made EYE CONTACT and apologized for the misunderstanding. She wore no headscarf and spoke in plain midwesternese. She understood driveways here in the Midwest. There were no further incidents. We flattened the fulcrum of WTF?

But it brings up two more WTF?’s. Did I say daughter? Were these two perceptions one generation apart? They live in the same house? Jeepers. It is amazing how much can change can occur in one generation. Look at my driveway now. No Chevies. I am proud to say that the last Chevy I owned did not have to be dragged away for twenty bucks. If you look up my driveway now, it’s all Fords. Well, one is a Ford-collaborated Jag (but not one of those Jaggy Fordy X-types) with a F150 engine block. If my Dad were here, he’d be wondering (WTBlazes) if this was even my driveway. It’s amazing how much can change can occur in one generation.


As a post-script, this year we suffered the humiliation of having to break up our whole driveway and drive it, a few dozen chunks at a time, to the Courthouse. It was a witness.