Much of what you know about wildfires is wrong, according to forest scientists. I explain why — and why it matters — in this Bloomberg Opinion story.
My latest in Boom: A Journal of California, a story about an Orange County mega-church revived by missionaries…from Africa. As America secularizes and grows more ethnically diverse, forward-thinking evangelicals are looking to rapidly growing churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America to help them survive.
A few recent stories about changing faith in America. Decline of the Revival, in The Los Angeles Review of Books, examines evangelicals’ efforts to understand their sudden loss of cultural and moral influence. What Happened to Religion in America? The I’s Have It, in OnFaith, posits American Christianity’s embrace of individualism as one explanation for that loss. Further evidence of religious conservatives’ current struggles can be found in activists’ recent turn to the courts in their fight against same-sex marriage. Faced with setbacks at the ballot box, religious conservatives have begun focusing on legal efforts to shield believers from the effects of what is increasingly considered a lost cause. It’s not all struggle and decline. Here’s a fun story about a day in the life of one of the rising generation of young, American-born imams quietly but inexorably altering the public contours of their faith. All in a day’s work: basketball, frank talk about sex, and instructions for brushing teeth in Ramadan.
I report in the Orange County Register on Terrence Park, a student at U.C. Berkeley who is president of the university’s math club, on his way to graduate school at Harvard — and in the United States illegally. Park is one of at least 220 undocumented immigrants studying at U.C. Berkeley, America’s premiere public university. Life is hard for these kids, as Terrence’s story amply demonstrates. An in-depth look at the human cost of America’s divisive, dysfunctional immigration system.
I also profile undocumented Berkeley student Linda Sanchez in Boom: A Journal of California.
I report in this Sunday’s Orange County Register that O.C.’s Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam, has become an international beacon of Vietnamese culture and enterprise. Vietnamese enclaves, restaurants and businesses around the world have named themselves Little Saigon. Vietnamese expatriates look to Orange County for trends in music, food and commerce. Vietnamese pop music and television shows produced in Orange County are avidly consumed in Vietnam. Vietnamese-Americans have staged protests and hunger strikes to compel city officials to name their communities Little Saigon. “Little Saigon in Orange County is the granddaddy of Little Saigons,” says one longtime observer. “It’s sort of like the mecca.”
Forty years ago four kids from East L.A. forever changed the course of Chicano art. I tell the story of the 1970s Chicano art collective Asco in the latest Los Angeles Review of Books. Glam rock movie stills, fake crime scenes, portable murals, dancing tanks–Asco’s art was avant-garde before there was a Chicano avant-garde. At last the group is getting its due with recent museum retrospectives (LACMA) and magazine covers (ArtForum). Asco’s legacy is complicated. The group invigorated an ethnic art movement at risk of creative inertia. But they were pied pipers, too, inspiring a new generation of young Chicano artists to pursue art world fame–not the political activism once considered Chicano art’s primary goal.
I write in the current issue of Image about El Teatro Campesino, America’s oldest and most revered Spanish-language theatre troupe. ETC is a beacon of integrity in an era of embattled arts institutions. Founded in 1965 during the United Farm Workers’ California grape boycott, the troupe remains headquartered in migrant farm worker country (San Juan Bautista, near the Salinas Valley) and stages a mix of avant-garde drama and traditional Mexican religious plays. Christmastime productions of La Virgin Del Tepeyac, the 500-year-old story of the Virgin of Guadalupe’s appearance to the Indian Juan Diego, are revelatory. ETC is a veteran organization but it represents an immigrant-rich America’s artistic future.
“Jesus says what’s on God’s mind: Your truth is my truth. You are exactly what God had in mind when God made you. You watch a person on the margins inhabit that truth and no bullet can touch it.” Fr. Greg Boyle said those words a few days ago to an audience of more than 300 people at a Santa Clara University workshop I attended on mentoring troubled young people. Boyle is a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, America’s largest gang-prevention organization. Homeboy serves 15,000 gang members and former gang members per year, offering jobs (at a bakery, a silkscreening business, a cafe, a solar-panel installation company and other homespun enterprises), counseling, education, parenting classes and free laser tattoo removal. I met Boyle when I edited a story he told in Guideposts magazine last year. I visited Homeboy Industries then and later went back to write about a Homeboy success story, a former gang member-turned-artist named Fabian Debora. What strikes me about Boyle is that even as he has become famous–his memoir Tattoos on the Heart was a bestseller and he speaks around the country and appears on television–he remains grounded in the belief that there is no distance between the healer and the healed, between the priest and the gang member. Boyle’s aim is not just jobs or better lives for gang members. It’s persuading everyone, everywhere that the love of God is best expressed between people as kinship. “We’ve forgotten we belong to each other,” Boyle said at the mentoring workshop. “We have to move away from judgment that creates a high moral distance.”
Boyle told a story to illustrate this point. (He always tells stories. Every time I’ve heard him speak he devotes three-quarters of his talk to rambling, hilarious, piercing anecdotes about gang members.) The story was about a former gang member named Mario who came to work at Homeboy. Mario was a sweet, reedy kid with tattoos on every inch of his body except an oval around his eyes, nose and mouth. Boyle was invited to speak at his alma mater, Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. He took Mario and another homeboy with him, as he often does on trips, for company and to give gang members a chance to see other parts of the world. One thousand people came to the talk. At the end Boyle invited questions. A student stood up. “My question is for Mario,” she said. Mario, quaking, stepped to the podium. “You said when Fr. Boyle introduced you that you have a son and daughter about to become teenagers,” the student said. “My question is, what advice do you have for them as they head into adolescence?” Mario was quiet. “I want to tell them,” he choked, “I don’t want them to turn out like me.” He began crying. The student didn’t sit down. “Why don’t you want your kids to be like you?” she asked Mario. “You seem kind to me, and gentle and wise. I hope your kids do turn out to be like you.” Mario stared in astonishment. Then, as he buried his face in his hands to hide his tears, the entire audience rose to its feet and applauded. “Mario stands there with his face in his hands, reconciled to himself,” Boyle told the workshop audience. “He’s amazed at 1,000 people doing this for him. In that moment, in that room there was kinship.”
I report in the Orange County Register today that Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County and one of America’s most influential evangelical Christian leaders, has embarked on a first-in-the-nation attempt to heal divisions between Muslims and evangelicals. This follows other Warren-led efforts to change the face of evangelical Christianity, including outreach to AIDS victims and prioritizing international relief work over proselytizing. I’ll be taking a closer look at Warren’s effect on American evangelicalism, as well as ways Muslims are assimilating in Southern California, home to one of America’s largest Muslim communities. Stay tuned….
* Follow-up story here, covering reaction to this story and statements from Warren seeking to clarify the scope and intention of Saddleback’s outreach.
Bureaucracy can be a wonderful thing. Tucked inside a recent meeting agenda for an obscure government agency (the Fresno Council of Governments) is a startling revelation: Planners in California’s San Joaquin Valley are embarking on a massive effort to inventory and map out all of the Valley’s natural resources, its watersheds, open spaces, grasslands, remaining wilderness (if any), etc. The project is called the San Joaquin Valley Greenprint and it follows a similar recently completed Valley Blueprint that inventoried the Valley’s urban sprawl and remaining farmland. Don’t write this off as yet another forgettable government study. The Valley Blueprint has already sparked debate between developers, agribusiness and conservationists as Valley governments, for the first time in history, seek to limit sprawl and preserve farmland. The Greenprint will undoubtedly inspire equally intense discussion. The effort to plan Valley growth matters to all Californians, indeed to people around the globe. Most of the fruits and vegetables Americans eat are grown in California. Loss of Valley farmland will drive up food prices for everyone. At the same time the Valley now has eclipsed Los Angeles as home to America’s dirtiest air. If efforts to rein in sprawl and curb greenhouses gases fail here it won’t matter whether they succeed elsewhere in the state. The Greenprint represents a welcome focus on a crucial and often misunderstood and under-appreciated part of California.