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Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Open Thou Mine Eyes" - Humanities Building at UCLA

Royce Hall (pictured, above) is one of the four original buildings at the University of California, Los Angeles. Royce was built in the late 1920's (the UCLA Westwood campus opened in 1929) and was modeled after a cathedral in Milan, Italy.

The Humanities Building, just across the main quad from Royce Hall, in another one of the original four buildings and was the first science building. The inside of the building has recently been remodeled: it now houses Humanities offices and classrooms. Above are a couple of faculty members at the east entrance.

Closer inspection reveals a biblical quote above the east entrance, from the Psalms:

"Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law." Psalm 119:18

As a Christian, I appreciate seeing scripture or Biblical references on public buildings. It's a reminder of the influence Christianity has had in our nation's cultural and educational system. Sadly, it's impossible to imagine a building on a public university built today with any reference to scripture or God.

But is there ever a "down side" having scriptural references on things like public buildings? Maybe.

For me, I can find myself developing a warped, that is, an overly romanticized, view American history. That is everything in the past was good. To be sure, there is so much good about American history. But it needs to be balanced with some of the wrongs and injustices as well.

Second, I can develop a sense of entitlement about Christianity in the public sphere, that my faith somehow deserves special privledges, sort of a "most favored nation" status.

And third, I can get stuck in the past, rather than focusing on the present and the future.

Again, I appreciate public displays of Christian faith, both past and present. I just want to keep them in a proper perspective.

Is the glass half full, or half empty, in terms of Christianity on public universities like UCLA?

An entire blog could be devoted to what's happening on universities but here's something that's rarely, if ever, reported on: the growth of Korean-American campus ministries at places like UCLA.

According to Sharon Kim (Gen X Religion, Chapter 5 "Creating Campus Communities") there are 14 recognized Korean-American student ministry groups on campus. This number doesn't include at least a dozen Korean-American churches with non-recognized Bible Study groups on campus. An incredible 54% of Korean-American undergrads at UCLA are members of an on-campus ministry. At a campus-wide Christian rally several years ago, there were over 1,000 students in attendance, nearly 85 percent of the attendees were Asian- American. There are six Asian-American ministries, and four Chinese ministries. Groups like Intervarsity, Campus Crusade, and Navigators have growing percentage of Asian American (the Navigators is 80% Asian American!).

As a Christian, I am so thankful for incredible things that are happening on university campuses. To be sure, Christians of all backgrounds face challenges in terms of living out their faith on campus.

But as an older professor at USC reminded me, "today, there are so many campus ministries for students to be involved in - nothing like this existed 40 years ago."

In terms of Christianity on campuses here in Los Angeles, the glass is not full, but neither is it empty.

"Open Thou Mine Eyes" to see also the wonderful things happening on campuses here in the city.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Homeschool Drama Class: Dolly Saken School of the Arts in Beverly Hills

This past Spring our kids participated in a homeschool drama class at the "Dolly Saken School of the Arts" located above the Wilshire Theater, on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills.

The Dolly Saken School is run by a Los Angeles based Jewish organization that has a strong interest in drama, music, and the arts. They offer a wide variety of classes, including a drama program for homeschool families - that's why we got involved.

After a couple months of practice, the kids were finally ready for the show: a rendition of James and the Giant Peach. My wife had been to the school every week, but the first time I drove over to the school was the day of the show.

I was reminded of the very strong Jewish community in and around Beverly Hills on my way there. Los Angeles has the world's largest Jewish community outside of New York City. This is one of several synagogues or Jewish schools I saw driving up from the Santa Monica Frwy along La Cienega Blvd.

I had asked my wife "do Jews know anything about acting?" I was kidding, of course. The Jewish community has a huge influence in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

The school is located on the 2nd floor of the Wilshire Theater, just west of San Vincente in Beverly Hills. During the day of the performance I had some time to walk around and explore the neighborhood around the school.

Beverly Hills is small urban (and very wealthy) city located about halfway between downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. It borders the city of Los Angeles on three sides. I remember how a friend from out of town was surprised how Beverly Hills just butts up against the rest of the city.

Down the street from the Wilshire Theater: I had a summer job in this building back in the summer of 1983 when I was a student at UCLA. Very basic - just office help. I think I made a whopping 4 bucks an hour (which was a pretty lousy wage even back then). But the building, located down the street from the Wilshire Theater on the corners of Wilshire, San Vincente, and La Cienega Blvds, has some amazing views, at least from the roof.

This is looking west into Beverly Hills along Wishire, about a block from the Wilshire Theater - you can see the white top to the building. Despite numerous movies and TV shows, Beverly Hills is a real city - with real homes, businesses and offices. It also has a huge Persian (Iranian) community - subject for another blog.

From the same stop on Wilshire, looking east across San Vincente Blvd into Los Angeles. Los Angeles city limits start up again once you cross the San Vincente.

Their sign on Wilshire isn't too impressive. Here's their website:

The school was very basic. Just a large open room for drama, dance, and music. What attracted us was being part of a program with other homeschool families. All the kids were able to design much of the program - which we liked. Our kids worked for weeks on their lines. We also appreciated that James and the Giant Peach didn't have any questionable material for a kids' show.

The homeschool kids were from a variety of backgrounds. Dolly Saken School attracts numerous Jewish families who homeschool, as well secular (non-religious) families. Our family may have been the only Christian (actively Christian) family there.

Just kids in the program and their siblings running around afterwards. We'd consider participating in a Dolly Saken program again.

A Mezuzah on the entrance to the Dolly Saken School. It's often
found on Jewish homes and places of business, and is based on the commandments found in Deuteronomy 6:9. It contains small portions from the Jewish Scriptures.

Our experience at the Dolly Saken School was a reminder to me of the amazing influence that Jews have in American society - a group of people who represent just 2% of the population.

As I Christian, I think there is much that I - and my fellow Christians - can learn from the Jewish people: the ideas of maintaining an identity, of resisting the pull of the dominate culture, of keeping a faith as a minority, of influencing the larger culture. In the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) Daniel and his colleagues in Babylon come to mind as perhaps the best example of this.

Many thanks to Dolly Saken School of the Arts for what I like to call a "L.A. homeschooling experience" - and for a vision how a minority faith community can influence the larger, dominate culture.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


The coastal fog up against the Santa Monica mountains can make for some great photos.

These pictures were taken over several Saturday mornings last summer on both the east and west ridges of Temescal Canyon in Topanga State Park.

On an clear day, the Santa Monica Bay and much of the city of Los Angeles would be visible from these trails. Instead, very low coastal fog (topping off at about 1000-1200 ft) blocked everything below from view.

Seeing the swirling shapes and patterns of the fog rolling up the canyons was (and is) simply breathtaking.

It's also very temporal.

Hiking along these ridges, I was reminded where New Testament describes as our lives in the same way ... as a mist, a vapor.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

As a teenager (and in my twenties) I tended to live as if I'd live forever. Of course, I'd never had actually said that. But actions speak louder than words.

Now a couple years short of fifty, I'm realizing how brief and temporal our lives on earth really are. In light of eternity our lives are a blink of an eye. As I'm commented elsewhere in this blog, I want to leave a legacy in the lives of others in terms of how I invest my time, my resources, and my abilities.

Lord willing, that'll happen, with a few hikes thrown in. Coastal fog and all.


Saturday, May 2, 2009


A couple months back my wife and I took my 9 year old son and our 8 year old nephew to "Philippe's" - a 100 year old restaurant in downtown Los Angeles for lunch. Here's the

Afterwards, we went to Olvera Street (the oldest street in Los Angeles) and then after that decided to walk over to Chinatown.

The day was overcast, crowded, somewhat confusing, and not much for kids to see. After walking a block or so up Broadway (the main drag) I could tell the boys were miserable. Time to head home.

I decided to give Chinatown another shot, this time by myself. I was in the neighborhood this past week and figured I could scope out what see the next time with my kids. And take some pictures for the blog here.

The southern entrance to Chinatown consists to two huge dragons over Broadway.

Chinatown is a working business district with a mixture of both contemporary and traditional architectural styles. The "BC Plaza" here is pretty typical. I like the names of some of the businesses: "United Buffet" and "Honey World Center".

Another commercial center. Apparently, scenes from
Lethal Weapon 4 (which I didn't actually see) were filmed here.

I have no idea what this store sells, but I loved the colors!

I liked the contrast between the Far East National Bank, and the traditional Chinese building.

The Gold Line metro rail (which goes all the way to Pasadena) has a stop in Chinatown.

The Central Plaza. This is what comes to mind when I think "Chinatown." I found this excellent link
It was 6pm on a weekday and very quiet. The Central Plaza (and the rest of Chinatown) are much busier during the day.

The Central Plaza consists of a dozen or more traditional Chinese buildings. It was built as a tourist destination in the late 1930's and early 1940's with restaurants and souvenir shops up and down the plaza and pedestrian street. It's fun, and (important for me as a dad) a
great for kids.

A group of Chinese men playing mah jong in the Central Plaza.

Sure it's a little touristy, but it's also great place to introduce my kids to another part of Los Angeles. Kind of ease them into the whole "cross cultural" experience. They've got plenty of years to experience the more urban side of Chinatown (and L.A.) ... and to
grow in their understanding of other peoples and other cultures.

As a Christian, I'm reminded that God constantly calls me to
grow in faith. To take steps and move beyond what's just comfortable.

For my 7 and 9 year olds, walking around Chinatown and having lunch at a different restaurant (like Hop Louie's, pictured above) is a good first step, at least in terms experiencing another culture. There are so many incredible opportunities in Los Angeles to interact with different people, different cultures. In years to come I hope their experience doesn't end with a lunch at Chinatown.

A last look at the Central Plaza.

Meanwhile, back on Broadway, it was a chance to take in the sights and sounds of the rest of Chinatown. Mmm, roast duck.

Another modern commercial center. According to a professor friend from Cal Poly Pomona (who is from Hong Kong, so I assume he knows what he's talking about) the Chinatown in downtown L.A. was founded by Cantonese immigrants. When Mandarin speaking Chinese immigrants began arriving in the L.A. after WWII, they created their
own Chinese community in Montery Park (which today has a HUGE Chinese population - subject for another blog).

Another small "mom and pop" store. I really wish I had someone to show
me around!

I not sure why I like this photo. Maybe because the architecture looks so "average." Aside from the Chinese signs, this could be about anywhere in Los Angeles.

Now I know where all the Chinese restaurants in L.A. get their lucky cats.

The inside of the store with the lucky cats out front, full of tchotkies and other paraphernalia.

I LOVE this rooster on top of the roof of the poultry store!

Another view of Superior Poultry and the surrounding area.

Across the street from Superior Poultry is Peking Poultry. Both places sell live chickens. The sign in Chinese, English, and Spanish is "so L.A" (so is the barb wire on the right hand sign of the photo!). City Hall is visible in the distance.

City Hall looming over the twin dragons at the entrance (and for me, exit) to Chinatown. Time to head home. I'll hope to be back soon.

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