Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Walk About

Madison thru Del Mar thru California to Glenarm over to El Molino then back up Oakland

It's a walk we've made a hundred times or more

And as we walked it this morning beneath a flawless blue sky

I remembered why this place is beautiful, why the neighborhoods south of our apartment are like a hidden garden

Used by movie companies to film their movies, used by us to clear our minds of the urban hustle

Monday, March 27, 2006

America's Americans?

During the doldrums of my Monday morning, a little excitement came walking down Marengo Avenue to provide some entertainment. A large group of students from a nearby high school were out roaming the streets. I sat in rapt attention at my teller window as the students proceeded to scroll past our building for a good five minutes. I knew I was observing something significant though not clearly understood.

The impetus for the great exodus of students out of classrooms and onto sidewalks has been widely publicized the last couple of days. They are reacting to the legislation being proposed in the House against illegal immigrants. They are making the issue of immigration personal – trying to show that immigration is about real families, real people in the American landscape. And, sadly, there are probably many acting selfishly and foolishly – jumping on a bandwagon that means no Algebra class for a day or two.

I can understand the urgency and foolishness of many of these students. I can easily imagine their emotions. Anger and fear at the prospects of being separated from their parents or family. Pride for what their families have accomplished and for the communities they live in.

Then there are the common psychological reasons for wanting to be a part of the crowds. Young adults and kids are notoriously ego driven. Who of us at the age of fifteen or seventeen wasn’t mildly curious if not outrightly obsessed about being on television? There may not be any greater temptation for young people than the combination of fame and acceptance, which these “walk-outs” certainly employ.

But let’s forget for a moment that these peaceful demonstrations are partly driven by adolescent motives. Let’s get back to the heart of the walk-outs: the issue of immigration.

Specifically, I’m interested in the current battle in and between the Senate and the House, which represents yet another in a long line of American “ideal” struggles these days. The anti-immigration side believes that illegal immigrants are putting a heavy and damaging strain on the American workforce and infrastructure (such as healthcare), while the other side (I hesitate to call them pro-immigration) believes immigration plays a positive if overlooked part of our economy and social structure. Plus, there’s a great deal of concern that anti-immigration policy can easily become truly anti-American, which is to say it will restrict individual freedoms and opportunities for the underprivileged.

It can be seen as another “orientation” battle – whether America’s orientation will be progressive/open or restrictive/defensive. Obviously, both sides have some legitimate arguments, and both sides also have some ridiculous solutions to the issue. And, from what I gather, the battle is occurring over the issue of place – where should immigrants be, where should they not be? Some suggest illegal immigrants be allowed to work towards citizenship while staying here while others believe they should be forced back to their native land and go through the proper channels to become a U.S. citizen.

Again, the push and pull of this argument has to do with orientation. How should we view and deal with illegal immigrants? As a Christian, I am inevitably forced to answer this question through the lens of the Old and New Testaments. And while I’ll spare you a detailed theology concerning foreigners and aliens, I believe God makes it abundantly clear that our attitude should be generous and open. Jim Wallace has done much to illuminate this area in recent years, and there’s a great section on the demand for justice and compassion in the Old Testament in Richard Foster’s book “Freedom of Simplicity.”

I’m not saying that a few scholarly names or even a few Bible verses should make our stance to immigration simplistic and easy to hold onto. Quite the opposite! What Scripture gives us as a decree is usually tremendously difficult, but, nonetheless, necessary. Such is certainly the case with justice and compassion.

Sadly, though, as I read the newspaper and discover what the majority Christian opinion is on current matters, I find there to be little concern for the issue of immigration, which is definitely concerned with justice and compassion. Even more sadly, I know it’s not because Christianity no longer has a voice in America. The voice of certain Christian leaders and groups has been made abundantly clear in recent years. But, here’s the catch. The voice of Christians has been predominantly focused on morality issues, while social issues such as immigration remain unaddressed.

Clearly, it’s much easier (and safer) to address a moral issue. It’s fairly easy to draw a line in the sand and build some consensus over what is right or wrong regarding sexuality. Meanwhile, it’s terribly difficult, confusing and demanding trying to address and tackle a social ill. It takes time, discussion, planning and often failure as progress is made little by little. But, however difficult and cumbersome the work is, it was and remains the very work that God and God’s faithful servants were committed to.

In other words, the issue of immigration is not going away – not for our country, and more importantly, not for those who seek to obey the will of God Almighty. It’s also not going to go away from my teller window, because even if there aren’t kids walking past my building in protest, I can guarantee you that some immigrant will come up to my teller window with a check for a job he has done. He will present the check in broken English as well as a “Resident Alien” card as proof of his identity, and I will have to make the decision to either pay him for his service or ignore him. The decision is easy for me. I’ll pay him, and work in the way that I can to make him know he is welcome in my community.

[note: the photo at the top of this article came from's gallery of recent peaceful protests]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

From Generation to Generation

This past weekend, I had the good pleasure of returning to Indiana to visit with friends and family. It was a blur of a weekend - taking me from home to home and city to city. I even had the opportunity to drive down to Kentucky and visit with members of First Presbyterian Church of Owensboro.

But the highlight of the weekend came at the end when I was preparing for my departure. My father gave me a kind letter that included two pictures. The pictures were of my grandfather, Richard Kendall, and myself, which you can see above. The picture of my grandfather was taken in some Indiana forest in the mid-60's, while the one of myself was taken this past fall in the woods of upper Michigan. The similarities should be apparent, and when I showed the picture of my grandfather to Anna she quickly commented, "I've seen you stand in that exact manner before."

I'm drawn in by these pictures as they beg more questions from me than they answer about my ancestors. Perhaps its the realization that I shall soon see my son's face for the first time, yet know that I will recognize features and expressions that I've seen somewhere else before. Perhaps its the power in knowing that my life was begun long before me and will continue beyond anything I will ever see.

Seeds bear fruit in multiples and spread out in unforeseeable ways.

I cannot deny the power of history and family ties. I cannot deny the intricacies of intimacy. Indeed, it has begun to have profound influence upon my theology. I have begun to appreciate and understand why Paul can so naturally reduce all of humanity's ills and hopes down to two men - the first and second Adam. I have begun to rethink and rediscover why baptism is more than a simple story of personal conversion.

And to think all of this came from two simple pictures. But what is a picture after all if not a brief slice of history - captured and suspended as if it were not a living thing. The truth, though, is that all of history is living; it has been created, saturated and accepted by the greatest living source of all: God. So, when I see in my grandfather hints of myself, I also see a grand narrative whose beginning I've heard faint rumors of and whose ending I can only hope to experience. It is, after all, the story of a god who was willing to be known from generation to generation.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

What's in a name?


Last night, we unveiled eight potential names to our friends at a baby shower. Just to be fair, we figured everyone else should get a peek as well. One of these eight is dancing in Anna's belly tonight.


Saturday, March 11, 2006


I have seen people grow tired and people grow faint
From a world where children starve and leaders hate.

I have witnessed the death of a man in the dark of night
From a world of slander, jealousy, vengeance and fight.

I have grown steadily accustom to the rule of the day
From a world full of strangers, where friends betray.

And even then, I have seen few cruelties in a sea of tears,
But I’ve lived long enough to know humanity hurts and fears.

But even here, I know of a promise of ages past,
And the story of a Shepherd that prophets cast.

I have felt the rise of something new in my flesh,
From the pulse of new birth and old refreshed.

I have dreamt of glory spilling over all that’s dead
From the atoning sacrifice of one, “I am,” I said.

I have hoped for reconciliation, redemption and peace
From a savior born child - all prisoners He released.

Friday, March 10, 2006

California Fusion

LA culture is always in search of the next fad of fusion (French-Asian anyone?), so I thought I'd add my own homage to fusion. Below you'll find the combination of two recent topics from this blog: ramen and Jonathan Gold (food critic extraordinaire). Check it out, quality stuff:


Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Unexpected, Untamed, Yet Always Needed Gospel

"Gospel story' is a verbal way of accounting for reality that ... is simultaneously divine and human. It reveals, that is, it shows us something we could never come up with on our own by observation or experiment or guess; and at the same time it engages, brings us into the action as recipients and participants, but without dumping the responsibility on us for making it turn out right ... This is not a text that we master, it is one that we are mastered by.

"In some respects this is an odd kind of story, this Jesus salvation story. It tells us very little of what interests us in a story. We learn virtually nothing about Jesus that we really want to know. There is no description of his appearance. Nothing about his origin, friends, education, family. How are we to evaluate or understand this person? And there is very little reference to what he thought, to how he felt, his emotions, his interior struggles. There is a surprising, and disconcerting, reticence in regard to Jesus. We don't figure Jesus out, we don't search Jesus out, we don't get Jesus on our terms. Jesus and the salvation that he embodied are not consumer items." - Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

I read this section of Eugene Peterson's book over a week ago, and I can't get it out of my mind. It woke me back up to the significance and particularity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was reawakened to how truly different and vital this story is.

Let me explain by contrast.

As I began to consider what the Gospel was, I began to realize how much the Gospel is NOT. Most surprisingly, the story of Jesus Christ has relatively little - if anything - to say about politics, economics, entertainment or education. These four pillars of any society or civilization are after thoughts. They are embarrisingly absent in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, while they daily dominate our newspapers and conversations. And if they are there, it is only as a backdrop or side-story to the greater drama: Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection.

Besides these surprising omisions, the Gospels are also relatively sparse on the literary details that we've come to expect in fine novels or articles. As Peterson points out - especially in Mark's story - the stuff we learn about Jesus makes us yearn to know more, and it by no means allows us to feel like we're done with it.

So, what is the story of Jesus about? As Peterson resolutely explains, it is about salvation. For there are many stories, systems, ideas and tales intended to improve, encourage, entertain or educate us, but when it's all said and done, what we really need is a story that redeems us. That's what a Gospel is about.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Actual Analogies and Metaphors Found in High School Essays

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

11. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

12. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

13. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the
grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

14. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

15. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

16. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

17. Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

18. Shots rang out, as shots are known to do.

19. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

20. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

21. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

22. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

23. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

24. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Silent Screams and Distorted Images

I suggested in the last blog entry that watching the original "Phantom of the Opera" was worth a blog unto itself. I've decided to make good on that suggestion.

First off, allow me to introduce you to Lon Chaney, aka "The Phantom of the Opera," aka the man of a 1,000 faces. He's the creepy-as-a-dark-staircase-in-an-abandoned-house guy who probably gave you a jolt upon returning to "subtle musings." But, more than that, he is also one of the chief characters in the early history of Hollywood and American movies. As the world (and especially America) discovered the magic of moving pictures, Lon Chaney gave them visions of horror and tragedy like they could never imagine. He presented a vast array of emotional depth, psychological torture and physical brutality. He brought the great threads of any good story to life: conflict, love, pain, desire, resolution, triumph and defeat. And, most importantly, he did all of this without once speaking an audible word.

The power Lon Chaney had in eliciting strong internal reactions from me was undeniably. The opening credits of the movie included a ghostly shadow that moved from side to side – eerily foreshadowing the Phantom’s presence in and over the whole movie. And as the movie continued, I began to sense and feel how truly revolutionary and impressive this new media would have been in the early 20th Century.

It’s easy to forget how powerful images are, especially considering how entirely saturated we are by them in the 21st Century. From my youngest years, I’ve been bombarded by images on television, at the movies, on billboards. My goodness, I just think of the number and the pace of imagery my mind sees as I flip through channels at work or at home.

Images today are so prevalent that they begin to lose their poignancy or clarity. They also become fragmentary. You can see what I’m talking about in the way movies and television are shot these days. Take the episode of LOST tonight, which included a number of “sliced” flashbacks from a character’s mind. These images were all powerful and richly packed full of detail, but the viewer never had long to focus on a single one. It’s as though the goal is to give you a very basic thing, which should be entirely self-explanatory (an image), and distort it, fragment it, and take it out of sequence so that it loses all of its clarity or self-disclosure. This allows for a great deal of mystery, drama and speculation. However, it also, I feel, does something potentially very hazardous: it degrades or misinforms us about the power of images. Images can confuse or even inhibit our understanding of reality.

Not the early films! No way, Jose! The impression I got as I watched “The Phantom of the Opera,” was the exact opposite. It was as if the producers and cinematographers understood entirely and deeply how significant an image was. Great attention and detail was given to making sure you felt and understood the gravity of each scene and each character. Such also was the case with Lon Chaney as the Phantom. His presence and disfigurement were never meant to confuse the audience. Rather, his posture seemed to constantly confront and challenge me. He made the whole movie visceral. In fact, the most striking line in the whole movie (written, not said, of course) comes shortly after the Phantom’s face is revealed to the heroine, and he howls, “Feast your eyes; glut your soul on my accursed ugliness.”

It is a line clearly addressed to the audience, unmasking the voyeurism that lies especially behind film and television. There is something entertaining, even thrilling, about watching the Phantom’s monstrosity get revealed. But, there’s more to it than entertainment, which is the important thing to remember. Images carry an incredible ability to communicate and even manipulate us. And, I think (or at least I hope), there was a time when Hollywood tried to remind the viewer of that fact. Hitchcock certainly explored the dangers of entertainment through voyeurism in “Rear Window.” But, it takes a brave soul to critique your own media or industry, so it doesn’t surprise me that directors and movie studios don’t spend a lot of time or money telling us about the ills or downside of images.

Anyhow, this is bringing up a whole host of questions and issues I’m not prepared to deal with here and now (Is this what these modern string of horror movies such as “Saw” and “Hostel” are trying to do? How has the birth of pseudo-reality television such as “24” and crime dramas such as “CSI” inhibited our ability to truly see reality?).

What I really wanted to get to was how “The Phantom of the Opera” ended, which was perhaps the most disturbing part …

In the end, the Phantom is unable to keep the heroine to himself and restore his fallen nature via her love. Thus rejected he must flee an angry mob of men who seek to end his ghastly terror over the opera house. The final moments of the film are very intense and very abrupt. The Phantom knocks a carriage driver unconscious and takes off into the Paris night. He crashes the carriage and then tries to flee on foot. It is to no avail. The angry mob overtakes him on the bank of the Seine.

Then it happens. With pitchforks, torches and clubs in hand, the mob beats the Phantom to death and then throws him into the river.

And then the end credits roll.

That’s it.

Which brings me back to my earlier point about the power of images. For better or worse, the director of this movie obviously thought it was important that the audience experience the brutality of an angry mob. Furthermore, the goal early on was clearly to use the Phantom’s disfiguration to elicit emotions – including the natural emotion of revulsion and fear. The two images – the mob and the Phantom - are meant to ultimately reveal our own fallacies and ugliness. We are forced to watch a terrible conclusion to our first gut reaction: get rid of the Phantom. Hide him, do whatever is necessary to block him from our minds.

We are forced to realize our own aversion to ugliness, our own sinfulness. We are forced to realize our natural tendency to cast our fears onto others and see our fallacies within them.

Thus, “The Phantom of the Opera” is able to use shocking images to undermine and expose the potency of images. It shows images tend to stand in the way of a deeper perception of reality. Strange that the things that we can most easily “see” aren’t necessarily the things we should always look to or believe.

Seems like I’ve heard that advice before … hmm … St. Paul anyone.