Being from Pittsburgh, I am a dedicated Steelers fan. Like many fans, I have items reflecting my team loyalty - jerseys, hats, Terrible Towels, etc. As I go about my travels throughout Juneau and Southeast Alaska, it is always a joy to run into fellow Steelers fans. Upon arriving back into Juneau after a business trip, I grabbed a cab from the airport to my home on Douglas Island. It was great to see a couple of Steelers decals on the taxi's rear windows and a Steelers cap sitting in the front seat. Immediately, the conversation turned to how the team has been doing and what Ben Rothlisberger is going to do next - either on or off the field.
In 2006 Bishop Michael Warfel, the former Bishop of Juneau, asked if I would come to Southeast to help during Holy Week in a parish that did not have a resident priest. At that time I was working in an administrative position in Washington, D.C. and welcomed the chance to come to Alaska to help. So, I went to the St. Rose of Lima Parish in Wrangell. At the Palm Sunday Mass I introduced myself and told the parishioners that I was from Pittsburgh. Just as I mentioned my home town, I heard a couple people in the congregation "boo" me. I broke out in laughter. It was in 2006 the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. I simply said, "So, I see that there are still some hard feelings." Now, in what I find to maybe a bit of humorous poetic justice, I have come back as their bishop. When I go to St. Rose of Lima, I remind them that they first "booed" me. We get a good chuckle out of it.
One of the things I enjoyed while living in Washington would be to join a couple of friends and stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill on the night of elections. There is a section of trendy taverns and restaurants that attract many staffers from the various legislative offices. On election night, the area is packed. When it is a presidential election, it is like the Super Bowl. With every election result reported on huge TVs, one group of the establishment cheers while the other jeers. But for many of these staffers, they are expressing feelings relative to their future in Washington and job security.
This recent election proved to be interesting. During my trip to the Alaskan Federation of Natives Convention in Fairbanks last month, I saw a number of politicians mingling with the crowd. Their political advertisements aired on a regular basis alternating between identifying their stance on an issue and criticizing the opponent. Supporters, too, often played hardball with the supporters of the other camp. Many supporters showed their loyalty with various political accessories - stickers, pins, hats, signs, etc. In the end, someone wins the election and the others are admired for taking the initiative of getting into the election race in the first place. From my perspective, living a life of a politician would not be easy. They have my prayers.
In showing where my team fidelity lies, I have a Steelers identification tag attached to my carry-on bag. Recently, after having placed it in the overhead compartment and putting my briefcase in the space under the seat in front of me, I was settled in for a flight from Seattle to Juneau. All was going fine prior to departure until the flight attendant in the aisle asked in a stern voice, "Whose bag with the Steelers tag?" Thinking that something was wrong, I identified myself as the owner. She pointed at me and said, "You and the bag have got to go!" Everyone in earshot got a gentle laugh out of it.
With regards to recent ballots, the candidates who did not win the election and their supporters are not going anywhere. We will continue to be neighbors, family members, colleagues and friends. We will also continue to seek what is best for our community, our state and our country. We will not stop addressing life issues, domestic violence, environmental concerns, economics, unemployment, education for our young people, as well as the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse. The issues that are vital to life in Alaska seem infinite. In the end, the community should not be divided into "us vs. them," but rather, it should be evident that we are "one nation, under God."
Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.