Other than changing planes at O'Hare, I had not been to Chicago since 1987. The conference venue was DePaul University in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The hotel for the conference was 10 blocks east, on the West edge of the park. I was in for a pleasant surprise in my accommodations. The Belden-Stratford is a 14-story 1922 hotel, complete with grand lobby. 80% of the building is given over to apartments, while the remaining 20% are offered as hotel rooms. A mistake was made in my reservations, so they had to put me in one of the vacant apartments. So, instead of a single hotel room, I ended up in a 1200 square foot two bedroom, two and a half bath, living room, dining room, full kitchen corner suite, with East views overlooking Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan, and South views overlooking the Chicago skyline. I almost hated to leave the room.
The weather was perfect, crisp temperatures and without a cloud in the sky. The walk to and from the conference each day gave me opportunity to check out the neighborhood. Lincoln Park is one of those districts that has been pretty thoroughly gentrified. Being so close to downtown, it is a desirable locale, and property values reflect that. I am quite sure I could not afford to live here. The homes and apartments differed enough from one another to keep the walk interesting. I noticed that many of the residences boasted large picture windows, and most had their shades open where one could see the artwork and/or decorative items they were sharing with those on the sidewalk. While I liked this, I found it different from most streetscapes, where the blinds are kept closed.
DePaul is a Catholic university where the student body appeared earnest and well-scrubbed. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, met an old acquaintance or two, and even made a few new friends among the academe. The field of Byzantine studies is a rarefied little world if there ever was one. But what a fascinating world it is! Many of the papers were read by graduate students. I wish them all well, though I wonder where they think the jobs will be.
One night, we were all bussed out to the University of Chicago for a lecture. The drive out there, south along Lakeshore Drive as it wrapped around downtown Chicago, was worth the trip. The campus was something to see, as well. The venue that night was the Oriental Institute, where we listened to a talk delivered in an old wood-paneled lecture hall, complete with red leather theatre seats. Afterwards, they treated us with a reception in the exhibit hall, replete with Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian displays. The lamassu there, from the palace of Sargon II, was even more impressive than the one in the Louve. (I'm being a little pretentious here. A lamassu is one of those Assyrian winged horses with a human head. And no, I did not know what the word meant either until I read the sign next to the display.)
We enjoyed a reception at Cortelyou Commons the last night of the conference, where two association officers re-enacted a scene from the play, Theodora. There, I had occasion to speak briefly with Daniel Larison, whose writings I seem to constantly extol on these pages.
Somewhere along the way, I managed to squeeze in a visit to a local Irish pub (Kelley's, established 1933.) Meeting two fellow Orthodox bloggers while in Chicago was an especial treat--as was my visit to Christ the Savior Orthodox Church (OCA.) The temple was located 1.7 miles south of my hotel, and this made a nice Sunday morning walk. The church is in what was once a turn-of-the century Presbyterian church that eventually disbanded. Our Savior's got an incredible deal on the building, as well as the mansion house next door, which serves as their hall. The iconography in the church is almost finished and is beautifully done. I estimated 85-100 at Divine Liturgy, heavily represented by younger families with children. That is usually a good sign, I think.
The Rich Man and Lazarus was the subject of the homily for that particular Sunday. I remember that the priest brought out the fact that the Rich Man (whose name we do not even know) failed to see Lazarus (whose name is preserved for eternity) as a brother. The sermon hit home with me because of an incident that had happened only the day before. I was walking west on Belden, approaching the commercial area at the Clark Street intersection. A disheveled-looking man was standing on the sidewalk ahead, just outside the 7-Eleven. I could tell that he was what we call a "street person." He had a few bags on the ground and his old coat was pulled up over his head. As I approached, I was going over in my mind what I would do if he asked for money. Of course I would give him some, if asked, but then I was wondering if I had any small bills on me and that sort of thing. When I drew even with him, I tried to avoid eye contact and he did not say anything. Phew, I thought, problem solved. A block further on, I saw a man walking his two pugs. I am a pug person, and so I smiled broadly and stopped to admire the two dogs. As I walked on, the enormity of what I had just done hit me squarely in the face. I had shown great affection towards these two pampered pets. And yet, I had failed to recognize Christ in the face of my poor brother on the street corner. I had missed my chance. There was nothing to do now but to repent and try to do better next time. The following morning, before striking off to church, I made sure I had some money in my right pants pocket, just in case. A few blocks before I reached the church, a woman stopped me and asked if I could help her with bus fare. This time I was ready. My gracious Lord had given me a second chance.