Jim Hinch

Category: Religion

Bridge Builders*

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.

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.

Kyung-In

This is Kyung-In Lee. I’ll be writing about her soon. She’s praying in this photo, which she did every morning before preparing breakfast for her husband and seven children. Kyung-In lived in Seoul through the Japanese occupation of Korea, World War II and the Korean War. Her husband, a minister, was imprisoned by the Japanese and later killed (the family presumes) by North Korean communists following the invasion of Seoul. Kyung-In lost four children to war and disease. Her oldest son became a communist. She sent four of her children to live in America, placing them on American cargo ships in Pusan harbor. She lived much of the latter part of her life as a refugee. Her youngest son, Hi-Dong, told me he sometimes found her praying while holding a handkerchief wet with tears. That is the through-line in Kyung-In’s life: prayer. “I used to wake up at night and find her praying,” Hi-Dong told me. “I came home from school and found her praying in a corner of the living room….Through prayer she found strength to go on through the dark valleys of death and separation.” Kyung-In joined her children in the U.S. in the early 1980s. She died in 1987 at age 93. She is buried in Los Gatos, California. Her headstone reads: “She loved unconditionally.”

King’s Way

Wow. Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, home to super-pastor Rick Warren (Obama inauguration, Purpose Driven Life, etc.) has joined forces with Southern California mosques to adopt a three-step plan for ending enmity between evangelical Christians and Muslims. The plan’s first step calls for Muslims and Christians to recognize they worship the same God. Interfaith reconciliation has been proceeding for years between Muslims and more liberal-leaning mainline Protestant denominations. This is the first such effort I’ve heard of by an evangelical mega-church. Many evangelicals regard Islam as Christianity’s number one enemy, and they do not at all agree that the two faiths worship the same God. This is likely to make waves. See news release and pictures at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles.