California, Global, Meaning, Narrative, Peacemaking, Ramblings, Urban

Hollywood, Your Neighborhood, and The Great Material Continuum

My wife, Krissy, is in the midst of a beautiful writing project which is giving voice to stories and lessons and joys and heartaches from the last few years of our life. She wrote this piece last year while we were living in Hollywood and it resurfaced for her this week as she’s been processing through #TheLentProject Extras Purge this week with our friends at Open Door.

The Great Material Continuum (Krissy Kludt)

When I was younger, I bought few clothes, and I kept them forever. I still had clothes in college that I had worn in middle school. I had a closet full of things at my parents’ house that I never wore, but kept just in case they would come back into style. Sometimes things do: in high school, Nikki and I gave my dad the hardest time about his too-tight jeans, begging him to get something looser; ten years later, jeans got skinny again. As my dad put it, delighted, “I lapped myself!”

When we moved to Hollywood, I found a new system for clothing. Trends change more quickly here, and thrift stores have an abundance of (almost) current fashions. In Wisconsin, Goodwill has mostly XXL T-shirts; in LA, it’s full of Forever 21, H&M, and Urban Outfitters. Angelenos acquire more often, and they get rid of things more often. I found myself inheriting clothes from friends all the time, many days wearing entire outfits that were cast-offs of Abby’s or Bethany’s. Rather than “keep forever, never buy,” my new motto was “hold all things loosely.” I, too, acquired things more often – at yard sales or thrift stores or from friends – and I got rid of things I stopped wearing, trusting that I wouldn’t regret it.

Dave and I have our geeky moments, and in one of them a couple of years ago, we watched a whole lot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you are less geeky and therefore less familiar with Star Trek, you may not know about the Ferengi aliens and their pseudo-religious belief in economics. The closest they have to a god is their belief in the Great Material Continuum. They call it the “Great River,” believing that all places have too much of one resource and not enough of another, but that all material things flow in the “Great River,” eventually ending up where they are needed. (Ideally, of course these material things flow through the Ferengi and provide them with plenty of cash along the way.)

I have started to believe in the Great Material Continuum. I cannot tell you how many times I have needed something, asked for it (or not asked for it), and waited until it came to me. I needed clipboards for school, but not badly enough to go out and buy any. (This was in our early Fuller days when we lived and paid for Dave’s school on my new teacher’s salary, and cash did not feel particularly abundant.) One day we helped some friends move, and they were throwing out a box of clipboards. I’d wanted an old wooden chest for years, and one day one appeared at a yard sale next door to HomeState. Dave needed more pants, and one day he found a pair of H&M jeans on the sidewalk in his size. It happens to us all the time. I am starting to believe that what you need will come to you if you are willing to wait.

One of my (Dave's) favorite sidewalk finds

One of my (Dave’s) favorite sidewalk finds

There is an economy in East Hollywood of which we were once completely unaware, but we began to observe it and participate in it. There is an economy beyond that of cash and credit cards, when you begin to look.

A few weeks ago there was a family sitting outside of Burger King across the street from us with several large suitcases. They had two small children with them. It is unusual to see homeless kids in our area, so I assumed they had some other story – ended up in our neighborhood off the metro, waiting for a ride from friends, something like that. It turns out they had just gotten off the Amtrak from West Virginia, and were waiting until Monday (this was Saturday) for the homeless shelters to open for intake.

I brought them diapers and a few groceries, sat on a suitcase and chatted with the mother. Their son wore the same sized diapers as Everett. My heart broke for this mother. Our instinct to take care of our children is so strong, and this family was struggling so much to do so. I prayed with them. While I sat with them, one man gave a few dollars to the little boy, a woman dropped off cereal and juice, and another man called the police for them, assuring them that the police department could probably get them into a shelter that night. These people were strangers here, and so alone, and yet their most basic needs were being met by the people walking by.

The next night we went to the Manna Room after our church gathering. The Manna Room is a food pantry that brings in and sorts almost-expired, dented and otherwise unsellable Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s food, and it opens for the church on Sunday nights. After Everett was born and I left my job, we were tighter on money than we had been in a long time, and we were grateful for this abundant provision. Some weeks we found more in the Manna Room than others; some weeks we needed more than others. On this week, we had bought groceries for several people besides ourselves. That night, the Manna Room was overflowing, full of things that were on my list for the grocery store, where I was headed afterward: pesto and goat cheese and diced tomatoes and fiber cereal for Everett. I was full to the brim with gratitude.

We live in an economy of grace. Somehow, our needs continue to be met, again and again, in the most unexpected ways. When I worry I’ve overspent our food budget for the month, the Manna Room happens to have everything we desire. Just when I think I don’t have energy left to make it another few hours until Dave gets home, Everett decides to take a three-hour nap. When my house is a disaster and I haven’t had a moment to think and Everett doesn’t seem to want to ever nap again, one of our housemates shows up and plays with him in our yard so I can do the dishes and sit down for a few minutes.

An economy of grace is an economy of abundance. When we live out of abundance, like the loaves and the fishes, what we have multiplies. We have enough time, enough food, enough money. We have more than enough love.

Am I the woman – the mother, wife, child, friend – I wish I were? Not even on my best days. But I live in an economy of grace, an economy of abundance, and in that economy, by owning my own insufficiency, I become enough. When I choose to live in the economy of grace, when I do the hard work it takes to believe in abundance, joy grows within me, sending roots down deep into gratitude. I have enough. Roots soak in nourishment from that fertile soil and send stems skyward. I have more than enough. Leaves unfold, open to the sky. By grace, I become enough. There will be space enough for growth. There will be room enough for love. There will be time enough for revelation.

One day I stopped to chat with a homeless woman named Amariah who lives in the park up the street. She told me she needed toenail clippers and a jacket, and asked if I had either to spare. She told me her story. Then she pulled me over to her pile of belongings and asked what I needed.

“I don’t need anything; I have enough,” I said.

“How about shampoo? Do you need shampoo? When I get it I pour it out into smaller bottles and give it to the other women in the park. I asked the salon over there if they needed it, but they said no. I gave it to them anyway.”

I smiled, “That’s ok, I really don’t need anything.”

She started rummaging through a suitcase. “Here,” she said. “Take these.” She handed me a pair of jean shorts.

“Really, you don’t have to. I don’t need anything.”

“Take them. They’re nice – they’re Lucky brand. If you have two, you’re supposed to give one away, so that’s what I’m doing.”

I didn’t tell her that I was walking back home from Goodwill, where I had tried on several pairs of shorts without finding any that fit.

“We’re neighbors, you know,” I said to Amariah as I hugged her goodbye.

“No,” she shook her head. “We’re sisters.”

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There Are Stars in Los Angeles

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we never saw any stars. We saw some celebrities, but I’m not talking about that kind of star.

Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, and great cities have great lights. The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful; I love flying back here in the evening because as the plane descends, I descend with it into the endlessness of light.

We live in the shadow of the iconic Griffith Observatory. Sitting atop the Hollywood Hills, the concrete structure is brightly lit at night and, from it, you can see our giant of a city and her magnificent lights sprawling as far as the ocean to the west and as far as you can see to the east and south.

But lights cause luminous pollution – the fancy word used to described the effect of non-natural light on our ability to see natural light. Bright city lights do not diminish the natural light of a Red Giant or the flash of a meteor; bright city lights diminish our ability to correctly perceive that natural light. The lights of a city, in a sense, distract us from the lights of the universe.

Human eyes are amazing. As an environment darkens or brightens and our eyes’ rods and cones adjust, what our eyes see as “black” changes, recalibrating to the ‘new normal’ of our ambient surroundings.

It takes between twenty and thirty minutes for eyes to fully adjust to darkness. Each minute we wait, we can see exponentially more as we give our eyes more time to calibrate to the lights shining amidst the darkness. In darkness as opposed to sunlit conditions, the human eye is up to one million times more sensitive to light.

When we first moved to Los Angeles, the city lights were too bright, and we never saw any stars. 

We are approaching the eight-year anniversary of our move to Los Angeles. Last week, I was outside in the evening with Everett. He pointed up and, in sleepy-eyed wonder, exclaimed “Dada…stars!

Sure enough, I looked up and two bright stars twinkled overhead. He and I spent more time gazing into the luminously-polluted skies high above our home in northeast Los Angeles and, gradually, our eyes adjusted to the reality of the universe blanketing us in light-amidst-darkness.

There are stars in Los Angeles.

To see many of them it’s taken eight years of slow adjustment. But they have been there the whole time, and they will continue to shine once we are gone.

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Inside the Mind of a Hollywood Hipster

This post is a series taken from a DMin project I put together looking at the Eucharist as a paradigm for ministry in northern Los Angeles, with the idea being that while the Eucharist is a simple and common practice of the church, it can provide a pivotal and profound paradigm for ministry in a particular place and time.

Part 1 – A Eucharistic Imagination for Los Angeles: A Bibliography

Part 2 – Bread and Wine as a Paradigm for Ministry

Part 3 – Liturgical Imaginations: Torture, Culture, and Eucharist

Part 4 – The Liturgies of Hipster Hollywood

IMG_7701-2Used as both an insult and a badge of honor, hipster is a defining characteristic of northern Los Angeles. When Forbes Magazine named Silverlake as American’s “Best Hipster Neighborhood,” local blogs received a wide-range of comments. Many were self-congratulatory, noting the many neighborhood features that merited reception of such an award, while others posted derogatory remarks, referencing Silverlake’s “gross hipsters” and declaring “whatever a hipster is or is not, please…go back home.” While not all of northern Los Angeles identifies as hipster or even agree on the exact meaning of the term, it is an underlying reality shaping the area’s cultural trends.

As the label’s etymology suggests, “hipster” (used both as a noun and an adjective) is simply a progression of what is hip. In Leland’s Hip: The History, hip is described as “an ethos of individualism [which] tends to grow in cliques…In relative isolation, a small group of individuals, forsaking the general trends around them, give each other permission to do something new. They develop their own slang as part of their group identity, and encourage each other’s idiosyncrasies as badges of membership.” An accurate description of northern Los Angeles, the freedom and “permission to do something new” is a defining mark of this region’s hipster influence.

The hipster hotbed of Hollywood is a center of creation and imagination. Styles are invented and reinvented and stories are created and recreated in a constant frenzy and abandoned just as quickly. Describing this unquenchable thirst for the new, Leland states “few things are as unhip as what was hip five minutes ago.” In line with this fascination with the new and unique, the neighborhoods of northern Los Angeles are typified by a preference for local businesses (with national or global chains often shunned and avoided), an inventive (and at times bizarre) sense of fashion, and a radical acceptance of new ideas.

Northern Los Angeles has a constant influx of transplants, often arriving to pursue a dream in the entertainment industry. Los Angeles offers a “promise of reinvention: the erasure of past ties, the chance to create a new identity.” Hollywood is a place where people come to experience rebirth and take on new identities, new careers, and even new names. I have met individuals who have (re)named themselves after everything from deities to musical terms; for these individuals, these chosen names are not merely pseudonyms or alter egos but a reflection of their desired identity. Abandoning their former name, they participate in a mythic culture of Hollywood that promises the possibility of freedom from the familial, ethnic, religious, and cultural trappings of their former self. The possibilities are endless and all things can be made new according to Hollywood’s cultural cues.

The ability to rename oneself and find acceptance in the culture of Hollywood is indicative of a postmodern, Derridian understanding of language. Just as “the world is a kind of text requiring interpretation,” so even a name in Hollywood invites interpretation. A new name provides a new interpretive starting point and, following, a new identity and reality. Language matters a great deal to the liturgical imagination of Hollywood, not as a referent but as the shaping and formative starting place for the creation of cultural identities.

Next up: Inside the Mind of a Hollywood Hipster Part 2

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The Liturgies of Hipster Hollywood

This post is a series taken from a DMin project I put together looking at the Eucharist as a paradigm for ministry in northern Los Angeles, with the idea being that while the Eucharist is a simple and common practice of the church, it can provide a pivotal and profound paradigm for ministry in a particular place and time.

Part 1 – A Eucharistic Imagination for Los Angeles: A Bibliography

Part 2 – Bread and Wine as a Paradigm for Ministry

Part 3 – Liturgical Imaginations: Torture, Culture, and Eucharist

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Sitting in a recently-opened coffee shop at the intersection of two of the most iconic boulevards in Los Angeles – Hollywood and Sunset – I overheard a barista describe Los Angeles to her co-worker, a recent transplant from Seattle. “It’s a city built on a fantasy,” she said. “I call it the City of Lost Boys – they are everywhere.”

Philosopher Jean Baudrillard describes Disneyland as hyperreality, an imaginary world that tricks people into believing a fiction designed to appear more true than reality itself.[1] Architectural critic Reyner Banham, in his survey of Los Angeles, describes Disneyland as an “institutionalized fantasy,” a place where “pedestrian piazzas, seas, jungles, castles, outer space, Main Street, the old West, mountains…can be experienced in a single day’s visit.”[2] Banham writes these words as he narrates the role physical structures play in shaping the  ethos of Los Angeles; the buildings and landscapes of Disney’s Fantasyland are but an extension of the myth and fantasy of Hollywood which has shaped and formed Los Angeles since the first decades of the twentieth century.

Building off of Baudrillard’s work, philosopher Albert Borgman describes hyperreality as experientially similar to one’s everyday experience but overly saturated and “glamorous,” Borgman’s shorthand for hyperreality’s overdeveloped brilliance, richness, and pliability.[3] As the barista noted, Los Angeles, and Hollywood in particular, is a city built on fantasy, steeped in hyperreality. Journalist John Leland’s assessment of Los Angeles concurs with Baudrillard’s analysis. He notes that while the first building constructed in Los Angeles was a jail, a chamber of commerce quickly followed promoting “the city’s chief product [of] fantasy;” Leland describes this as “a sales pitch offered as local history.”[4] Still, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce boasts that from its inception it had “the vision to see, the faith to believe and the courage to do.”[5] The endless possibilities, the beautiful celebrities, and the always-sunny weather all mythically describe a city where there can be no room for discontent or sadness.

However, as with any urban center as massive and densely populated as Los Angeles, there is no shortage of problems. While Hollywood portrays a culture of lavish wealth, East Hollywood’s median household income is $29,927 with a higher than average rate of single-parent households.[6] Due to its strict ordinances regarding the homeless population of, on average, 82,000 persons each night, Los Angeles has been named “American’s meanest city.”[7] Duke Law professor Jedediah Purdy writes that “our idea of success is an almost unworldly prosperity and security, our idea of failure the unextraordinary existence most of us actually lead.[8] Despite the unrelenting issues and failures of the city, the hyperreal myth of “unworldly prosperity” persists in northern Los Angeles.

Hipster Hollywood. Mythic and beautiful yet tragically broken.

Next up: A Day in the Life of a Hollywood Hipster


[1] Fitch, David. TM716: Missional Ecclesiology course lecture. January 8, 2013.

[2] Banham, Reyner. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 109.

[3] Borgman, Albert. Crossing the Postmodern Divide. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 88.

[4] Leland, John. Hip: The History. (New York: Harper Perennial, 2005), 99.

[5] Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. “A Bold Beginning.” http://www.lachamber.com/webpage-

directory/about/aboutchamber-125thanniversary-past/

[6] Los Angeles Times. “Mapping L.A.” http://projects.latimes.com/mapping-la/neighborhoods

[7] Pollak, Richard. “Homeless in Hollywood.” http://www.thenation.com/article/158838/homeless-hollywood

[8] Purdy, Jedidiah. For Common Things. (New York: Vintage, 2000), 5.

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Liturgical Imaginations: Torture, Culture, and Eucharist

This post is a series taken from a DMin project I put together looking at the Eucharist as a paradigm for ministry in northern Los Angeles, with the idea being that while the Eucharist is a simple and common practice of the church, it can provide a pivotal and profound paradigm for ministry in a particular place and time.

Part 1 – A Eucharistic Imagination for Los Angeles: A Bibliography

Part 2 – Bread and Wine as a Paradigm for Ministry

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In Torture and Eucharist, theologian William Cavanaugh reflects on the situation of Chile under the reign of Augusto Pinochet. With a domineering military presence ruling the country through a reign of terror, Cavanaugh contends that, for Chile under Pinochet, “torture is liturgy…because it involves bodies and bodily movements in an enacted drama which both makes real the power of the state and constitutes an act of worship of that mysterious power.[1]

Cavanaugh unveils in Chile what is true in all contexts, that there is a liturgical imagination at work revealing what is powerful and thus worthy of worship. This liturgical imagination dictates and guides the social practices and cultural norms that are accepted and understood in a particular place.

James K.A. Smith similarly argues for what he terms cultural liturgies. These are patterns that “command our allegiance, that vie for our passion, and that aim to capture our heart with a particular vision of the good life.”[2] While not as obvious or necessarily violent as the regime of torture in Chile, Smith argues that these liturgies are at work in our cultures, institutions, and communities and play a shaping and formative role.

As in Cavanaugh’s description of Chile, naming torture as the state’s imagination allows the church to both (1) recognize the ways it is complicit and supportive of the broken and twisted imagination of the state and (2) offer an alternative politic and liturgy faithful to Christ for the people of God. Similarly, with Smith, naming the cultural realities that shape the liturgical imagination of a place (such as northern Los Angeles) aids the development of contextually aware and theologically sound practices of ministry.
So, in order to practice the Eucharist in a way that makes sense in northern Los Angeles, you have to understand the cultural liturgies and imagination of northern Los Angeles.
Next up: The Liturgies of Hipster Hollywood

[1] Cavanaugh, William. Torture and Eucharist. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998), 30.
[2] Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom. (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 90.
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Bread and Wine as a Paradign for Ministry

At the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed, Matthew’s gospel records these words spoken by Jesus upon the breaking of the bread: “Take and eat. This is my body,” and these upon the sharing of the cup: “Drink from this, all of you” (Matthew 26:26-28).

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In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he offers comment and instruction on the community’s Eucharistic practice indicating that this practice given by Jesus to his disciples at their last supper together had become a regular practice of the first Christian communities. For these early Christian communities, partaking in these elements was, at a minimum, a simple yet meaningful reminder that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). 

The Eucharist is a simple practice involving the simple elements of bread and wine. The focus of my first large DMin project was looking at the Eucharist as a paradigm for ministry in northern Los Angeles, with the idea being that while the Eucharist is a simple and common practice of the church, it can provide a pivotal and profound paradigm for ministry in a particular place and time.

I posted the project bibliography a few weeks ago and over the next few days I’ll post some snippets of this project that ties together bread and wine, torture and irony, Hollywood and hipster culture.

Tomorrow’s post: Liturgical Imagination: Torture, Culture, and Eucharist

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A Eucharistic Imagination for Los Angeles: A Bibliography

I’m rounding the bend into my second year of doctoral studies in the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller. The DMin program is a practice-oriented doctoral program (whereas a PhD is most often a research-oriented doctoral program). Not to say the DMin doesn’t involve research and the PhD doesn’t involve practice, but they are different programs of and approaches to study.

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My first seminar was focused on ecclesiology with an outward focus: extending the core practices of the church into the cultural situation the church finds itself in. My post-seminar project centered on the Eucharist (Communion or the Lord’s Supper) as a paradigm for ministry in my context of northern Los Angeles/Hollywood.

I’m going to post over the next few weeks a few snippets from my project…but thought it’d be fun to start from the end (“It opens at the close”) and pull the curtain back on the project bibliography.

Let me know if you have any thoughts. While the project is finished and feedback has been received, this is a practical work in progress and hope to continue thinking, reading, writing, and practicing in this area of study.

Banham, Reyner. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Bauckham, Richard. Bible and Mission. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Borgman, Albert. Crossing the Postmodern Divide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Cavanaugh, William. Torture and Eucharist. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998.

Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press, 1949.

Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.

Fitch, David. The End of Evangelicalism? Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011.

Fitch, David and Holsclaw, Geoff. Prodigal Christianity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage, 1995.

Hall, Stuart. Doctrine and Practice. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.

Hauerwas, Stanley. A Community of Character. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.

Leland, John. Hip: The History. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Metzger, Paul Louis. Consuming Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.

Mohr, Melissa. Holy Sh*t. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Kindle Electronic Version.

Purdy, Jedediah. For Common Things. New York: Vintage, 2000.

Smith, James K.A. Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

______. Desiring the Kingdom. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Yoder, John Howard. Body Politics. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1992.

_____. “Sacrament as Social Process” in The Royal Priesthood. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1994. Kindle Electronic Version.

Websites

Green, Hank. Interview with Bill McKibben. http://www.ecogeek.org/ecogeeks/730 (Accessed June 1, 2013).

Holland, Gale and Quinones, Sam. “California Demographic Shift: More People Leaving than Moving In.” November 27, 2011. Available http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/27/ local/la-me-california-move-20111127 (Accessed June 1, 2013).

The Eastsider LA. “It’s Official: Silver Lake is America’s ‘Best Hipster Neighborhood.’” http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2012/09/its-official-silver-lake-is-americas-best-hipster- neighborhood (Accessed June 1, 2013).

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. “A Bold Beginning.” http://www.lachamber.com/webpage- directory/about/aboutchamber-125thanniversary-past/ (Accessed June 1, 2013).

Los Angeles Times. “Mapping L.A.” http://projects.latimes.com/mapping-­‐la/neighborhoods/ (Accessed June 1, 2013).

The Outsiders. “Morley – I Don’t Make Sense Without You.” http://www.theoutsiders.net/exhibition/86,morley-i-dont-make-sense-without-you (Accessed June 1, 2013).

Pollak, Richard. “Homeless in Hollywood.” http://www.thenation.com/article/158838/homeless- Hollywood (Accessed June 1, 2013).

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