Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Remembering a Paper Route, Forgetting Human Dignity

When I was 11 years old, I had a paper route. It started near my house, and continued down Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia, right across the street from what was then the practice track for Santa Anita racetrack. The first paper I delivered was the day Robert Kennedy was shot - June 5, 1968. I will never forget that.

I will also never forget what my Dad, a World War II Pacific Theater veteran, used to tell me as we drove past Santa Anita when I was a kid. "That was where they used to keep the Japs penned up during the War", he would say as we drove past the stable, just off Baldwin Avenue. I remember the feeling of being glad we "penned them up", during the War. They were scary savages, according to Dad, and he never really had much good to say about any "minority" as I grew up. I feel like I have spent the rest of my life overcoming my Father's biases.

For several years I would peddle my bike past the past the practice track, and sometimes think about all those Japanese people, locked up there, some 25 years earlier. What did that feel like for them?

Here is a glimpse of what it felt like.....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Not a Shameless Promotion

When you get things for free, for years, why not promote the latest thing they offer you.

I must admit, I love Blogger after this latest change!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The New Puppy, Cinderella Story, Traveling On

My, what a difference 12 years can make. A voyage of a couple hundred miles can feel like decades.

This past Saturday, Nancy, Heather and I piled in the family van and traveled 3 hours north, up the Kern River valley, to Lake Isabella. More than a hundred miles away from home. But I was not measuring the distance in miles. My dimension was in time.

As we left South Pasadena, the weather was cool, bright and sunny; it looked like a wonderful Saturday was in store. About 50 miles north, after an hour of travel, we encountered a wall of clouds near the Tejon Summit on Interstate 5. At first, the clouds spit rain on our windshield. Soon, the rain increased, and in the course of 15 more minutes of driving we found ourselves in the midst of a mid-March snowstorm. Turn on the defroster, there is ice on the wipers! Winter was not yet ready to yield to spring in these hills.

We soon emerged from the clouds, as the car descended down the Tejon Pass, and the California Central Valley appeared in front of us. A familiar sight, one we have seen many times on family trips, dropping the kids off at summer camp, and visits to Yosemite, farther north. Our lives seem marked by these journeys away from home and back again. Before us lay the open Interstate, in my mind this road reminded me of time's passage.

Its like that growing up, and being a grown up. Some days start out sunny, and rapidly go dark on you. Cold and unfamiliar. You find yourself in weather you did not expect, you are unprepared, and not sure what to do next. Being a parent has so often felt that way....where is this road headed, we thought we knew the way there?

There are gorgeous moments on the journey as well. The trip up the Kern River Valley felt like a sudden trip to Switzerland. Steep canyons, green hillsides, the rushing river beside us. Blue Stickseed flowers carpeting the hillsides above us. Wild mustard yellow, and the beginnings of California Poppys. Breathtaking. Surely, God's hand is upon these southern Sierra canyons. Often, being a parent gives you a glimpse of God creating. Every day, as a matter of fact.

This Saturday was, for me, a journey sideways and backwards, altogether in one day. Just a little more than 12 years ago we made a similar but shorter trip, south to Rolling Hills to pick out our first chocolate Labrador, who I wrote about recently, here. Heather, now 16, was very small, just 4 years old, and very excited to be adding a new puppy to our family, after the loss of our first dog, Champ, several months prior.

There she is above, to the left, just four, holding our new family member. In my mind, this is about as cute as life gets. Little girls and little puppies. And there she is again, 12 years later, an amazing young lady, holding our new family member.

And then, after emerging from the storm, there we were, last Saturday at Deltadawn Labradors, choosing from three female chocolate lab puppies. Childhood all over again. I felt like a kid.

Do we need another dog? My wife will take the Fifth on that question. We already have a cat. So another pet, particularly a small one, is a LOT of work, I am constantly reminded. Piddle on the floor, whining at night, lots of walks, another needy little one in the house.

I confess this puppy is one of the more self indulgent things I have done in a long time. And I also confess, this little dog is a form of coping for me. Coping with the sometimes twisting and snowy road of middle age. A way to adjust to the poor driving conditions of one daughter out the door to college, and another getting closer to leaving us each day. I am not sure how I will cope. A furry brown friend (who never offers criticism of my clothes) at my feet each evening might just help.

And so, we drove up the Kern River Valley, from Bakersfield to Lake Isabella, looking for Dad's Fuzzy Brown Coping Mechanism. Perhaps we should have named our puppy Anna, for the daughter of Sigmund Freud, or Evelyn, for Evelyn Underhill, famous female theologian. But, as is often typical in my life, I had no real input into the naming of this brown colored dog. The girls of the family took charge. My voice became small and muted. But the name was not a bad choice.

Our new puppy will be named Ella, which primarily means "she" in Spanish. In medieval France and Germany, Ella is the name given meaning "all". For the part that really matters in our family, Ella is the second part of the name Cinderella. Our last dog, Cindy, was "really named Cinderella", as Heather would put it often to those visiting our home and meeting our old, now gone, brown friend. Heather named Cindy when she was four, and so, when a friend suggested the new pup's name, it stuck. A continuation of a great name. I find it fun that the Cinderella story is also quoted by Wikipedia as a "well-known classic folk tale embodying a myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward."

Will Ella be our families tale of oppression and triumphant reward? Perhaps this means lots of puppy pee/poop in the early months, followed by years of honest, unselfish, lavish love.

I think that might be the story.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Olympics and Denominations

My friend Alan Roxburg has an interesting take on the spirit of the Olympics, and how we need to move forward as communities of faith.

I like the connections suggested here.

And, if you have a half-hour, and want to relive all the fun and pageantry, go here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

This Old Church

Recently, several good friends asked me to write down my thoughts about our church.

They asked me this because, over the past 10 years, I have spent a good amount of time, reading, studying, and thinking about this topic, and how our old church fits into the fabric of Hollywood and Los Angeles. After 25 years (!) of membership I feel mixed emotions about this effort. Sadness and expectation. Thanksgiving and disappointment. And yet, in the midst of it all, hope. Great hope. I must confess that writing this post has been difficult; it's like trying to describe a complex relationship with a family member. There are parts you love so much, and other parts that make you crazy.

An Amazing Place
The First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood is a remarkable place, having been founded in 1906. The founders record in the minutes of one of the first church meetings that, "having viewed several locations in the area for possible church development, of these, Hollywood seemed the least promising". And so, in many ironic ways, this sentiment has reappeared many times over the past century. Hollywood - least promising. Has a certain sarcastic ring to it, no?

The "Golden Years" of Hollywood Pres occurred in the 1950's, as Sunday attendance often exceeded 4,000. Sunday services were broadcast on local radio. Henrietta Mears began a college-age ministry that became known around the country. Actually, church attendance peaked across the country in this time period, never to be eclipsed again. Since those years, church attendance has been on a slow decline, in keeping with many mainline denominations across the country.

But, in the midst of the changes over the years, genuine Christian community still existed. In spite of a decline in overall attendance, many facets of the church's life flourished. The core of the church was vital and active; still seeking after the call and ministry of Jesus. A national media ministry began and flourished for more than 10 years, featuring former pastor Lloyd Ogilvie. A new incarnational ministry, involving young people living in, and caring for the inner city of Hollywood was begun in the 1980s. An extensive feeding and care program for the homeless began, and has continued, feeding hundreds every week. In the 1990s two Actor's Equity theater companies began, in two separate theaters on the church campus; they continue to this day. The legacy of our church has been to proclaim the Gospel, and serve the city, for Christ's sake.

Not Like It Used To Be
The dawn of a new century reveals a church working to find its way in a city that is changing around it. Commercial infill development in Hollywood has increased significantly over the past several years. New residential towers now occupy the neighborhood surrounding the church, and the demographic of the area is gentrifying.

Once thought of as a secondary commercial center of Los Angeles, Hollywood is now becoming the location of choice for both businesses and upscale residents. At the same time, the city around the church continues to struggle with issues of crime and a significant immigrant population. Hollywood Presbyterian spent much of the period of 1970 to 2000 serving as a home base "commuter church" to the larger Los Angeles, area, drawing members from as far away as Orange County. Today, that trend is reversing, and those who call the church home come from closer in, both in Hollywood and the urban core of Los Angeles.

The conclusion that we must face together as our church looks to the future is this: The old ways of thinking about how to “do church better” simply will not work. A new paradigm is needed.

Building a Team
During the past 25 years, the pastoral leadership model at Hollywood Pres has changed and evolved. During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the model was one of a strong pastoral leader - with a subservient staff surrounding him, a Benevolent King, if you will. During the 1990's, the model of this kind of central, autocratic leadership proved painfully distressing for the church, and a painful split in the congregation took place. Something new is needed.

In the current post-modern context, the former models of leadership style also will no longer work. A new leadership model is needed for a new era. A completely new model of "doing church" must be shaped. What do we do when a church’s organization becomes cumbersome or is no longer effective? In the past the church has “reorganized” and formed more committees. Subtly, the church becomes good at church committee work, and slowly loses its ability to care for individual people; to love people for Christ. While we might find strength in our re-empowered governing and overseeing bodies, we must remember how to cultivate and nurture real and genuine personal relationships which love one another as Jesus demonstrated.

The church seeks a leader, and moreover, a leadership team that consists of "player/coaches" who participate in ministry at the grass roots levels, sharing responsibility with the congregation. This is our church together, we can no longer rely on the old model that assigned all ministry to paid staff. Each member of the church must seek out and participate in the areas of their own personal passion for service.

We believe the transforming love of Christ does, indeed, change lives, and can in turn, transform the city around us. Together, we seek to live out the abundant life of following Jesus on a daily basis. In offices and schools, living rooms and coffee shops, work and home, bringing joy, laughter, real love, and hope into the heart of this enigmatic city that surrounds us. We are here, in this city, for Christ's sake.

Could Have Left - But Stayed and Embraced the City
Our church is still here; we have not left the city, and we will not be going away anytime soon. We are tenacious, hopeful, faithful, persistent. We do not give up easily. We will stay involved in this remarkable city around us. We have not given up hope for the city.

We will stay here, in the midst of a noisy, confusing, sometimes stark and uncaring city. We will not leave, we will continue to dream, create and live out ways to care for this city, our home. We believe we are on this street corner for a purpose that is beyond and above us all. We will continue to be here for years to come.

We seek to serve this city for Christ's sake.

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