LA, HOTH, reputations, & other musings…

HOTHSummer of 1986, I participated in an outreach to Mexico City. The City was hosting the World Cup & our team was helping with a church start that launched during the tournament. On our way to Mexico, our team stopped in Los Angeles for a night… my youth pastor had attended LIFE Bible College when it was in Echo Park,  & he was able to get us a hook up so we could stay in the LIFE dorms for one night for free. The girls dorms. (This blog isn’t about that, but it was a pretty cool experience for a 16 year old boy to open a door to a dormitory & find out he is surrounded, literally, by dozens of college aged women. Makes me smile even recalling that memory.)

My youth pastor had regaled us with stories of how dangerous  Echo Park was… stories of muggings, vandalism, drugs, & burglaries. We were told not to leave the dorm & most definitely DON’T walk the streets. The stories stuck with me for the last 30 years, & in my mind, I have always seen downtown LA/Echo Park as a pretty dicey place, a dangerous place, a place I didn’t want to stop & smell the proverbial roses.


Last week, theBean & I went to LA for a 2-day coaching/mentoring intensive…& it was going to be happening in the “House on the Hill,” (a.k.a. HOTH, not the ice-planet. No Taun Tauns were seen,) so named because its a very big 9000+ sq/ft house on a hill. I knew the house was really nice, but it was in downtown LA.. a block from Sunset Blvd. Echo Park. Lots of crime. Gang activity. Bars on the windows & doors.  After we checked in, we talked with our hosts about the usual important stuff: where can we get food? He mentioned several places, noting that they were all in walking distance from the HOTH.

Walking? As in, walking walking?

Yes. Walking distance. And he told us a story. Over the years, the neighborhood changed. It got better. It became a really nice place to live, whether it was due to gentrificationurban renewal, new people/people groups moving into the area, or something else. I almost couldn’t believe it, & had difficulty trying to imagine the neighborhood being as my host described it, contrasted with the memories & ideas about it that were bouncing around my head at a million miles an hour.


And so we decided to walk to dinner. We’d been craving Italian food, specifically pizza, & of course one of the Best Pizza Places In All The Land happened to be a 15 minute walk away. (BTW – if you are in the area, you have to go to Masa of Echo Park We had the Lots of Meat Chicago-style pizza, & in my opinion, it was the best Chicago-style pizza I’ve ever had. And that includes Chicago-style pizza that I had in Chicago at the Pizzeria Uno. But I digress.) 

It was beautiful.

It reminded me of walking in a German city… the air was fresh & clean, & the streets were filled with  neighborhood markets, mom & pop stores, restaurants, & music shops (it is LA). And a COMMUNITY – a real, tangible community of people. It was obvious that it wouldn’t take too long to get to meet & interact with the people who lived there… the people in the neighborhood, living life, raising their families, & enjoying themselves.

My daily walks with our host confirmed it – we walked for about 2 hours each morning on a trail that took us through Elysian Park (We actually only walked for about an hour, but my host stopped & talked to people in their stores & along the trail so often the 1 hour walk lasted 2 hours. But that’s how he rolls. But I digress.) It is a truly incredible neighborhood.


I think one of the favorite memories I will take from this trip comes from walking the streets of the neighborhood, in Echo Park. The sights, sounds, smells, & PEOPLE of the city. I walk here at home, but its definitely not the same experience. No one will ever confuse Reno with downtown LA.

It also made me wonder. Did I do the same thing with people that I’d done with Echo Park? Here’s what I mean:

For years, I had “known” the bad reputation Echo Park had, & I’d rehearsed it often in my head & in conversations as friends talked about visiting LA… I didn’t need anyone to tell me anything new about LA or Echo Park, because I “knew” everything I needed to know about it. It’s a bad, dangerous, place. I had written it off.

Until reality confronted me – it’s changed. It’s transformed. Its the kind of place I want to take my grandkids to walk around & expose them to a different way of life. Its the kind of place I want to go back to. For the people. The restaurants. The feeling of life in the city.

And if we hadn’t decided to risk & trust our hosts & get out & walk the streets, we would have missed it.

People can get reputations too. One’s they’ve earned. Bad ones. Reputations that make you want to steer clear of them, because you “know” them & how they are. Except… what if they’ve changed? Been transformed? Experienced new life?

It’s worth it to try, to risk, to keep an open heart towards others… to NOT write them off as lost causes. Because God is a specialist in lost causes… in people with bad reputations. And He has a way of making them new.

 

 

Rosarito, Day 5

This is a day late – due to the fact that we rolled into where we’re staying at 10:30 p.m., absolutely fried after a long day. Here’s what I recall:

For our devotions this week, we’re going through the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 120-134. It’s a collection of songs that Hebrew pilgrims would sing as they climbed the hills toward Jerusalem during the 3 major feasts on the Jewish calendar. Each morning, a team member or 2 takes one of the Psalms, reads it out loud, & shares what stands out about the Psalm, what God is speaking to them, &/or something significant. Then the rest of the team weighs in with their own insights. We close with prayer & start the day.


After breakfast & devotions, we headed to Hope Chapel Rosarito to join Emily & our buddy Mario for a prayer walk in the neighborhoods around the church. We broke into 2 teams, & took some ‘invitation flyers’ to pass out to anyone we happened to see, then we headed out. As we walked, we encouraged all of the team members to pray for the people of the neighborhood – that they would come to know Christ & find a life-giving community to be a part of. Over the next 2 hours, we didn’t engage a whole lot of people, but we did cover a lot of ground & spent some time praying over a section of property next to the church… asking God that it would be used for His kingdom & His glory. TheWeez used an app to determine how far we traveled & it turned out we walked about 6.5 miles. No wonder my feet are tired & sore.


 

The afternoon consisted of lunch & preparing for Friday night church at Vista Marina, HCR’s spanish speaking outreach to a neighboring community. We arrived around 4:45 to find most of the church gathered, awaiting our arrival. We played some soccer, gave horsie rides, & engaged the people as best we could in conversation. Service this week consisted of some worship (in Spanish) & an encore presentation of the 2 dance numbers we did earlier in the week. Shake it, shake it we did.

I had an opportunity to speak, & I explained about what we’ve been doing at Hillside – sharing our story, an area where God has intersected our life in a powerful way (based upon the Scripture Revelation 12:11, which says, “they overcame hm (the enemy) by the blood of the Lamb & by the word of their testimony… & they didn’t love their lives to the death.”  Four members of our team shared their stories, & I wrapped up with an encouragement from Matthew 5:14 – reminding each of us that we are the light of the world… & we bring God glory when we let it shine. Further, even if it seems our light is small & insignificant, it shines bright & drives out the darkness.


We went straight from Vista Marina to the beach, eating the sandwiches we had prepared on the way. Beach night means a bonfire with the fledgling HCR youth group & their youth pastors, Jose & Megan. Fire is always a good idea, & when accompanied by marshmallows, chocolate, & graham crackers, it is even better. Add to that the sound of crashing waves & a beautiful night & it was pretty awesome. Most of all, I was so proud of how our team engaged with the others. It made for a great night of conversation, snacks, & burning every piece of wood we could find, culminating in our s’mores sticks. Rolled into the Casa de Descansa (House of Rest) at 10:30, & quickly debriefed about the day, then straggled off to bed.

At this point, we’re tired, sore, kinda stretched thin & worn out. And yet, its a good tired. Feels like significant things are happening with our team, & with our friends at HCR. We’re finding it easier & easier to go to sleep & harder & harder to get up in the morning. It helps that Tony Mac gets the coffee brewing bright & early, & the smell of fresh java makes its way up the stairs & helps shake off the last remnants of drowsiness, reminding us, we’re still on a mission & we’re not done yet.

Please pray for us – for endurance, flexibility, & sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

Day 2 – Deutschland Fall 2010

Today was Eddy’s day off, which perfectly coincided with my day too. I woke up at 7:15 to the sound of the Brandenburg Concertos, my preferred alarm. (It’s hard to be grumpy hearing the sound of Bach, even in the morning when one’s body is telling you that its really 11:15 p.m. & you should be GOING to bed, not getting up. But I digress.)

Laura made pancakes, Eddy-style, meaning they were filled with almonds, apple, & coconut. I ate to my hearts’ content, using syrup, Nutella, & apple marmalade as toppings for different rounds of pancake-ery. Good times. The coffee was excellent as well.

Beings as it was the day off & the two oldest kids were at school, it seemed like a good idea to take a nap. So I laid down on the couch with a favorite book, (Heschel’s The Sabbath,) & read/napped for about an hour. I think. :)

Woke up in time for lunch, which was raviolis. Eddy & family headed off to a birthday party & I set myself for an afternoon of solitude. Which is my favorite. Read & dozed for a bit, then decided to head towards the city, through Bockenheim, which is where the church is located. Walked past the White Tower, which is located near the university. It used to be a watch tower, a line of defense for the city of Frankfurt.

Made my way past the familar cafe’s & university dorm-style apartments towards the city center. It was quite a ways away… further than I’d remembered, which is funny, because I usually take the U-bahn downtown. And now I remember why.

This is the “Hammering Man” – he symbolizes the 24/7 work ethic represented within the city of Frankfurt.

He’s about 45 feet tall – makes me think about the Sabbath & the need for rest. (Probably because this is where God first ‘convicted’ me about my own work-a-holism…) To me, Hammer Man stands for the worst parts of humanity,  Western Civilization & how we so easily work ourselves to an early grave, valuing each other only based on what we make or produce. I know its just a sculpture, but it stands out in my mind as a symbol of what God has rescued me from.

It also makes me think about tomorrow – I’m giving a presentation called, “A Revolution of the Soul” on the topic of living life in all its fullness; talking about rest, life rhythm, & the Sabbath. I have butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it. :) Truly, God’s work in my life in this particular area has been one of the most impactful things that has ever happened to me, & the thought that I get to share what He’s done in me, & what I’ve been taught & what I’ve learned brings tears to my eyes. Sometimes I get weepy. It happens.

Came home from my walk just in time for pizza & movie night with Eddy, Laura & the boys. Then to bed early so I can get good rest & be ready for the day tomorrow.

Blessings to you!

Graduation weekend & other musings…

This last weekend was one of those where we found ourselves running… starting with Thursday evening. The Pasty Gangster was set to graduate on Saturday, & theBean & I wanted to host a graduation celebration. Being in Atlanta for the 4SQ convention the entire previous week didn’t help with our preparations for the graduation… getting the house & yard together, ready so that it would be clean enough & organized enough to host some family & friends.

So Friday was a blur of activity. Took theGiant table upstairs, & then tackled the floors. Vacuumed the tile (so as not to stir up a bunch of dust,) then mopped it. Twice. Using Fabuloso, which, I might add, is one of the best smelling cleaning products in the world. Not that I am a regular sniffer of cleaning products… which would be weird. And potentially damaging to the currently functioning brain cells. But it is wonderful. And purple, which is definitely a plus.


The business of the preparation for the graduation & the after-grad-party made it easier to distract myself from the very real & very powerful emotions that rose & fell in my chest like the incoming ocean tide.

Now, I don’t have any illusions about thePasty being my ‘baby.’ Just my firstborn. Now 18 years old. With 18 years of random memories & life lived that kept flashing back & forth in & through my mind & heart. A few of them…

Holding him in my arms while he slept, not wanting to put him down because I couldn’t believe I had my own kid. The ever-present ball he’d have in his hand, depending on the season. His infatuation with the music of Steven Curtis Chapman. How he watched the “Front Row: Steven Curtis Chapman” Video over & over & over, singing along to all the songs, & even memorizing the banter Steven Curtis Chapman exchanged with his bass player. The binky dance. The worry we had over his eye issues & inability to see… & the day he got glasses. The day he got contacts. The washing of the hands & refusal to open doors with anything other than his elbows. The joy exuding from him every time he participated in a team sport. He’s always been the heart & soul of the teams he’s on… His humor. Determination. Strong will. Compassionate heart. The rediscovery of a love for music. And a girl named Alex…

I stopped & pondered… allowed the rush of images, feelings, thoughts, & memories to flood my brain. I wept. Laughed. And resumed cleaning.

Saturday, the time for graduation came. We found our way through the frantic-ness of Lawlor Events Center, stumbled up the aisles to the balcony seats, & watched the ceremony. Our boy’s name was called; he shook the principal’s hand, went to the top of the steps of the stage & raised his arms in the air & let out a “Whoo!”

It was the same kind of “Whoo!” that we’d grown used to hearing from the football field during the pregame when the team would storm the sideline & jump around, bouncing into each other. I realized the comfort that I’d taken in hearing Pasty’s exuberant yells. And I smiled. And yelled my own “Whoo!”


The recent passing of basketball coaching legend John Wooden, had a profound impact on me… not because of the incredible coaching records that he amassed during his tenure at UCLA, but rather for the way he influenced & affected the people he came in contact with during the 99 years of his life: those that played for him, those he coached with & against, & those in the ever-widening sphere of influence that grew without any intention or design of his own… due to his character, integrity, insights, wisdom, & devotion to his wife, Nell. His “Wooden-isms” go far beyond pithy quotations that would adorn bumper stickers.


My mom sent me this picture, taken at Pasty’s graduation party last Saturday. It’s of Pasty, my dad, me & my brothers Moe & Ben… I’m trying to remember what I was thinking at the exact moment the picture was taken, what was running through my head that is so obvious in the expression on my face… Sigh.