Sunday, February 27, 2011

Finding Space

Finding solitude in Los Angeles can be difficult. But, it is certainly necessary.

Here, there is a deluge of media. Everybody wants your attention and, more importantly, your dollars. I spend a good portion of my time riding shotgun in a minivan scouring the streets for people experiencing homelessness. An unfortunate side effect of this is billboards. It's very common to see between five and eight thousand large, bold, scandalous advertisements at each of the intersections of Hollywood and Vine and Hollywood and Highland, and more in a short stretch heading east out of West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. These aren't the only locations. There are advertisements on the sides of buses, on bus benches, on cars, painted on buildings, and on all the major roadways; there are men handing out fliers on the boulevard, painted helicopters flying stuntmen along the beach, and I've even watched skywriting off my back porch. In Los Angeles, in Hollywood, everyone is trying to get you to look at them.

And, unlike home, these billboards and screaming advertisements aren't to tell you there's a Wendy's on the right at exit 60 or for JR's Cigar World in Burlington. No, most likely these billboards are suggesting that you watch this movie, that television show, or buy this shirt that that model is barely wearing. Or, they're screaming 'Diets don't work, call 1-800-GET-THIN and get LAP-BAND today!' More recently, they are love letters from Ken begging to get the passion back with Barbie.

It's a culture where  your barista and your burger flipper know they're better than you and let their attitudes show it. Everyone is busy, on the go, trying to figure out how they can use anyone else to get a step up the ladder, and they're either in 'the business' or trying to get into it. Or, at least, that's the way it often seems.

Finding refuge, finding time to spend with God is vital and it's hard. This was highlighted by a solitude retreat that my housemates and I went on at the end of January. We went together to a monastery of Benedictine Monks in the desert an hour or so north of Los Angeles and spent the day in silence and mostly apart from each other. Admittedly, I spent a fair amount of time reading Mark Twain's autobiography (Volume One) and a long hour or two napping, but at the end of the day I was in a place where I felt ready to hear God speak (and wishing that the day would last just a little longer). Perhaps the most impacting part of the day was during the time I spent creeping through the dusty hills along a path constructed to take you through Christ's journey to Calvary and resurrection. Towards the end of this path, there is a cross erected in a clearing about halfway up a hill overlooking the abbey with a statue of Jesus, crafted with pieces of twisted metal, nailed to it. There, I sat for an hour or so watching the sun settle on the horizon and mulling over my life. It is times like these, times of silence and in the beauty of God's creation, where I tend to see the how God has worked in my life in both the hard and the easy times.

So, how to find this in the city? I have taken to riding my bicycle. When I was in high school, I used to ride my bike around Odell School Road and through the pasture, among other places. But, since the accident, I stopped riding. When I moved to Hollywood in September, I saw that, without a car, cycling would be the most convenient mode of transportation. So, I taught myself to ride again in a span of about 30 minutes spread over two afternoons. I quickly realized that I would need a bigger bicycle than was already available at the house (after all, my legs are pretty long), so I went out and purchased a beautiful twenty-one speed cream colored hybrid (hybrid in the sense that it's sort of a merging between a road bike and a mountain bike) and I've been using it to piddle around town ever since.

Since January, I have made it a goal to bike to Malibu which is about a 65 mile round trip, so the past few weekends, I've been building up my endurance with 30 to 40 mile rides with some scenic stopovers scheduled in. This past Monday I did a 30 mile loop past Runyon Canyon (a popular hiking spot) taking Mulholland Scenic Highway through the hills before drifting down the north side of the hills into North Hollywood and rounding back home through Griffith Park.

It's a pretty amazing ride. Mulholland is above the stop-and-go of LA and provides a beautiful view over the sprawl and of the distant mountains. Going into North Hollywood was a blast. I took Coldwater Canyon down the hill. It's a steep road with a number of sharp curves and it was so thrilling to come down it as fast I felt safe. I started laughing about halfway down the hill and for a solid 10 minutes afterward. I am so grateful for that, just a silly hill and two wheels to coast on. I felt...on top of the world...and we all know Who likes to sit up there.

Be thankful today. Be thankful for God, his love, and his creation of this universe in its vastness and in its specificity.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. -Genesis 1:31

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crashing Into Walls

We are broken.

I am broken. Finding God seems to be about finding myself, my brokenness, and letting it go, letting it fall into the tender, healing hands of our Father. I think this would be impossible to do alone. 

Here in Hollywood, I encounter the brokenness of others nearly every day. In the face of it all, it can be much too easy to deny my own. I often tell myself that knowing I will have never totally dealt with all of the emotional and spiritual damage stemming from the accident is comforting because, I say, I will never grow complacent in fleshing out these issues and I will find solace in knowing that success is not found in finishing but in merely working.

Still, despite this, I am surprised when I realize how obviously intertwined my behaviors are with some new, undiscovered pain. I am still surprised when I am not done. Even more interesting is how I stumble across some part of my brokenness and immediately attribute it to the fire only to discover that it was there the whole time. This is where I am now.

Like I said, I meet brokenness head-on in others everyday. I see it in our clients on the street and in the kids that come to our house. It's nearly impossible for me to look at one of our kids  and tell him to be himself, to strip away the facade and expose who he is and who he wants to be (more acutely summarized as "Stop frontin' man") without examining myself and the ways I am hiding who I am from the world and the ones I love out of fear or shame.

For the past few weeks,
Ecclesia, the church I attend in Hollywood, has been doing a sermon series entitled Skin: The Body Matters. Primarily this series has dealt with sexual sins and has really been digging into the reasons that we, as humans, look for physical intimacy in and out of the marriage covenant as a replacement for emotional intimacy and as a replacement for our relationship with God. Beyond this, what this series has been speaking to me is how I let my own perceived deficiencies affect my relationships, romantic or otherwise.

Academically, I understand that God loves me in all of my unworthiness. Living this out, as you might be aware, is much more difficult. I think that we all feel deficient, not just when standing in front of God but in many of our relationships, and that we all spend far too much time working to hide these deficiencies instead of handing them completely over to the One.

My experiences here in Hollywood have forced me to confront these issues but also provide a safe and inspiring space to meet them. Not only do I meet the man on the street who refuses to come in to shelter because, this month, his check will come just like it was supposed to come the month before and the month before that; but I get to help the 70 year old move his belongings from transitional housing to his new, permanent apartment or I get to see the first few days a young man spends in shelter and the next week as he's visiting agencies by himself to get the help he wants. Not only do I get to be frustrated with a kid when he throws a tantrum or gets caught tagging a neighborhood wall, but I get to see these same kids in sweet moments of responsibility and I get to see them light up when they understand something they never quite understood before. I get to see the best and the worst, and this blessing helps me see it in myself, however painful or shocking it might be.

But, we are lucky. We have a God that loves us despite our errs and, because of Him, a family of faith to hold us up.


Give thanks for my brother and his recent acceptance to both the University of Kentucky and the venerable North Carolina State University! Otherwise, continue prayer for the community house, specifically for guidance as we try new things and for the help of outside volunteers. Lastly, pray for my discernment as I continue in the process of figuring out what's after this.

When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God. God called to the Man: "Where are you?" He said, "I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid." God said, "Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?" ...God made leather clothing for Adam and his wife and dressed them.-
Genesis 3:8-11, 21