Jim Hinch

Category: Los Angeles

The African Future of American Christianity

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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.

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111th Street Jesus

111th Street Jesus

 

My profile of Kent Twitchell, dean of Los Angeles mural art, whose work asks: Can the visual language of photorealism communicate the truth of God? In the arts journal Image.

Crystal Ball

My cover story for the latest issue of The American Scholar shows how the death and rebirth of Orange County’s Crystal Cathedral (which went bankrupt and now is being transformed by the county’s surging Catholic diocese into a regional worship and cultural center) signals a wider transformation in the fast-changing landscape of American spirituality.

The Future of (Asian-American) Christianity

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I report in today’s Orange County Register on next-generation Asian-American churches in Southern California influencing the world. Goodbye, mono-lingual, hierarchical, tradition-minded immigrant churches. Hello, multi-ethnic, multi-media, service-oriented worship. Coming soon to your city, too.

Walking Mural

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.

Abrazos

“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.”

The Holy City

Cardus, a Toronto-based think tank, likes artist Fabian Debora, subject of a profile I wrote in the current issue of Image:

A Spade is Not a Spade: The Art of Fabian Debora and the Mystery of Los Angeles” is, as the title implies, about roughly a baker’s dozen different things at once. Principally, it is about the Los Angeles artist Fabian Debora’s spiritual evolution from hardened street gang member to (locally) celebrated painter. It is also, with a bit of a sideways slide, about a Jesuit priest named Father Greg Boyle who runs an initiative called Homeboy Industries that helps the Debora’s of the world escape the projects, the violence, the drugs, the normalization of murder, intrinsic to gang life.

Then it becomes something else again: a meditation on neighborhood, and on memories attached to the places where we grow up, even when those places feature children who must be taught to sleep in “bullet proof” postures to avoid being killed in their beds by random shootings in the hallway or the squalid apartment next door.

That would be enough for even the most voracious reader, but Hinch goes further yet by tying Debora’s redemption, “Father G’s” saving work, and sense of home that creates homeboys up to the underappreciated, if not unknown, truth that the Los Angeles of all our stereotypes is now among the most fertile spiritual soil in the world.

The immigration that meets the racism that feeds the poverty that fosters the eradication of community that begets the violence is, simultaneously, the source of a 21st Century version of the Great Awakening.

“Newcomers—almost four and a half million, a third from Asia, more than half from Mexico and Latin America—have created in Los Angeles a massive religious infrastructure similar to the network of Catholic parishes and Jewish synagogues that once anchored life in immigrant landing zones such as New York’s Lower East Side and South Boston,” Hinch writes.

“More Catholics pack more parishes and run more schools in southern California today than in any archdiocese in the nation. Mosques in Orange County operate mortuaries and schools, furnish reception rooms for weddings and other community activities. In Hacienda Heights . . . the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere organizes summer camps, teaches Cantonese, produces radio and television broadcasts, raises money for disabled children, operates a printing press and runs and art gallery.”

This is not just interesting information. It is inherently newsworthy of its potential to make all of us new. As we all know, what starts in California, sooner or later starts everywhere else as well. Yet how much room is given to it in a so-called mainstream media obsessed with every burp and tickle in, say, American electoral primaries that will be meaningless in a matter of weeks? None, or next to it.

Contested Visions

Only three days left to catch “Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World,” a stunning exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Four hundred years of art produced in the Spanish-speaking Americas. What fascinates me is how the exhibit highlights both the resilience of native artistic traditions in the face of overwhelming Christianization, and also the adaptability of Catholicism in new lands. A parallel to pressures and adaptations faced by many immigrants in America today. Excellent review by Daniela Bleichmar in the 2/9/12 New York Review of Books.

God, gangs and art in L.A.

Two new publications this month, both about the work of Fabian Debora, a former East L.A. gang member turned painter and muralist. “Pay Me No Mind” appears in the latest issue of Boom: A Journal of California (an excellent and welcome addition to the literature of California). “A Spade is Not a Spade” appears in the latest issue of Image.