Jim Hinch

Category: Uncategorized

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 Faith?

Much of my recent reporting has focused on the uncertain future of religion in America. Most recently, at Zocalo Public Square, I wrote about an immigrant Catholic resurgence in Orange County displacing the county’s once dominant evangelical Christians. In the Orange County Register, I’ve written about Asian-American Christians demanding greater respect from America’s evangelical establishment (here and here); a rapid change in evangelicals’ attitudes about sexuality; and growing resistance in the developing world to American-led Christian aid initiatives. The common thread in these stories is demographic change overturning established patterns of belief. The future of faith in America is increasingly hard to predict.

Wild/Underground/Hip Imams/Immigration

IMG_3630A roundup of recent work. A review in the Los Angeles Review of Books of Cheryl Strayed’s hiking memoir Wild argues that the book, more memoir than nature tale, augurs a decline of nature writing as a self-sustaining genre. Three recent articles in the Orange County Register document an underground movement of gay students at an evangelical Christian college; the rise of hip, American-born imams in Southern California mosques; and immigration activists’ claims that U.S. immigration authorities are attempting to silence criticism of conditions in California immigrant detention centers.

California Dreamers

mlheco-b781096851z.120130418193915000gib1di606.3I 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.

The Future of (Asian-American) Christianity

grandmasterchu

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.

Christians’ Demographic Cliff

 

In today’s Orange County Register:

As sanctuaries fill up for the holidays, forward-thinking church leaders are finding little to celebrate in a growing body of research that shows American Christianity at risk of losing an entire generation of young people, perhaps for good.

A record one-third of Americans under age 30 are now religiously unaffiliated, according to a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That’s up from one-quarter just four years ago. There are now more religiously unaffiliated Americans than white evangelical Protestants.

Sixteen percent of non-Christians under 30 say they have a “good impression” of Christianity, and a mere 3 percent feel that way about evangelical Christianity, according to the Barna Group, a Christian market research organization. As recently as the 1990s, a majority of non-Christians viewed Christianity favorably.

More potentially troubling to church leaders is that half of young Christians have negative views of their own faith, according to Barna.

“It’s the melting of the icebergs, but many people aren’t paying attention to it,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group.

more….

Swerve/Fanboy

Notre Dame Rose Window

 

Two new publications: Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong — And Why It Matters in the Los Angeles Review of Books. And Mogul of the Fanboys in the Orange County Register. The former has inspired much comment (e.g. here). Update: There are reports that this week the Modern Language Association awarded its James Russell Lowell Prize to Greenblatt’s The Swerve.

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.

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.”