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


  1. Our adult class at Wednesday night DIBS is studying a book by Max Lucado in which he talks about "the sweet spot". Sounds like you found it. Congrats and enjoy.

  2. Congrats on re-learning to ride a bike! I am glad to see that a helmet is also featured in the bike picture. As long as you're wearing it... :)

  3. Did you really mean, "piddle" around town? :) And that spot on Mulholland is right where I used to work. I LOVE coming down Coldwater, all those curves, and on the Beverly Hills side, there are these incredible huge pine trees near the foot.

    I'm putting this on the frontpage, hope that's okay.


  4. Yes, piddle. It's one my dad's most-used words and has trickled into my own lexicon.