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Monday, December 31, 2012

Experiencing L.A. at the Union Rescue Mission

Several years ago my wife and kids joined several homeschool families for a tour of the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles. It made a huge impression on my kids and they talked about some of the things for months, really years, afterwards.

My wife and I have had the privilege of helping support the work of the Union Rescue Mission, and I've had a chance to serve there with friends from church ... but never had an opportunity to actually tour their facilities. This past Fall I was back in L.A. and made a point to head over to Skid Row - to see first hand all that the Union Rescue Mission is doing.

Last week I commented about "the least of these" - the words of Jesus referring to the neediest among us. While there are homeless in every city in America ... 

... nothing really prepares you for the situation along San Julian and San Pedro Streets ...

... ground zero of L.A.'s skid row.

I stepped outside on San Pedro Street to take this photograph but was told by the Union Rescue Mission staff not to wander up and down the streets, at least not by myself. 

photo credit:

In addition to serving thousands of meals every day, over 900 people live in the Union Rescue Mission's massive five story 225,000 square foot facility. 

It's incredible, really.

What really amazed me was the partnerships the URM has developed with UCLA, USC, and Pepperdine Univerity.

The URM has a medical clinic through a partnership with UCLA, a dental clinic through a partnership with USC, and provides both legal and mental health services through a partnership with Pepperdine University.

photo credit: Union Rescue Mission

A friend of mine serves on the Board of Directors for the URM. He said the best time to visit is during one of their "graduation" ceremonies - to see men and women who are been part of the URM's one year mentorship program go through a graduation ceremony. 

What I love about the URM is that it is a comprehensive program to get people permanently off the streets. Many people living on the streets aren't just homeless - they're unemployable. Providing shelter and a meal is only the first step on the long and difficult road to being integrate back into mainstreet society. To be able to get - and keep - a job. 

The URM has a 66% success rate; similar programs are half that. 

There are numerous opportunities to serve - either for a couple of hours, or on a regular basis. If that's not your thing, there are opportunities to give financially. Maybe it's just me, but rather than giving a pan-handler $20, seems like it makes a whole lot more sense to give an organization working to get men and women permanently off the streets. And if not the URM, there are other excellent organizations working on skid row. 

Walking around the lobby there's a large wall recognizing major financially contributors. I'm glad to actually know of few of these people. 

One name that stuck out was none other than William Shatner. Looks like James T. Kirk likes what the Union Rescue Mission is doing. Nice. 

Out of respect for the residents, I didn't take a lot of photographs inside. Here's a couple of final pics from outside on the roof. 

The small roof-top garden is used by those in the program to grow food served to those just in off the streets. During the summer, volunteers set up a project and show movies to the kids living there.

A final view of skyline of Los Angels, looking north from the roof of the Union Rescue Mission. 

View Union Rescue Mission, Los Angeles in a larger map

Many thanks to those who serve year in and year out at the URM. Here's a link to their website. 

© 2012


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Experiencing L.A. at the Tournament of Roses

For several years, including January 1st, 2009 we had a chance to experience the annual Tournament of Roses in nearby Pasadena. The 2009 theme (there's always a theme) was "Hat's Off to Entertainment."

Unlike folks who camped out overnight (which I personally think is crazy) we choose to leave our home around 7:30am, arriving towards the end of the parade around 8:30am. For us as family, much more do-able. And this year friends (who recently moved here from the midwest) joined us.

“Bollywood Dreams” - The City of Sierra Madre, a small community next to Pasadena, pulled off this amazing float. It's great seeing smaller cities from the area (Duarte, West Covina, Flintridge/La Canada, South Pasadena, etc) build incredible - and award winning - floats, the vast majority of work being done by volunteers.

The City of Los Angeles has an entry every year, but it's usually not as good as what these much smaller cities do. 

We were on Sierra Madre Blvd, north of the 210 Freeway, sitting on a grass median. We parked (free, of course) in a neighborhood and walked about five short blocks.
Weather was great. About 70 degrees, and sunny. We got to know some of the people around us, shared snacks ... strangers I met ten minutes earlier made sure my kids had a good seat. How great is that?

The parade is six miles long, five miles of which is along Colorado Blvd. The parade turns north at Sierra Madre Blvd. and continues for another mile. Sierra Madre becomes a residential street: it's pretty wild having a parade of this calibre pass by single family homes.

Most floats are simply amazing! Click on any of these photos for a larger (and more detailed) image. 
Considering we only waited about an hour for the parade to start, we had great seats. Most of these photos were taken simply standing (although a couple of times I stood on a metal folding chair). We brought chairs to sit on - which we highly recommend.

These photos are just a few of the 46 different floats that rolled by this year. Every square inch of visible surface area has to be covered with plants, flowers, or organic material.

Back when I was a student at UCLA, a couple of fraternity brothers and I got up early to try and see the parade. It was dark and cold as we wandered along Colorado Blvd around 5am looking for a place to sit. We didn't know what we were doing. I was tired, wished I had brought a chair, and really wished I back in bed. When the parade finally came by, we were on the wrong side of the street -and staring into the sun. Lame. I promised myself I would never go back.

Ten years later a friend suggested we go, but this time he had a plan: show up at towards the end of the parade (around 9:30am) - with step ladders, so we could see. Worked great! I understand Pasadena has since banned ladders - but a metal folding chair can work, too as long as you're behind the crowd and not blocking anyone else's view.

As I said, it was sunny and about 70 degrees. More amazing than the floats is the fact that it's only rained on the parade once in over fifty years. If you're not familiar with Southern California, it rains here in the winter. The fact that the parade has only experienced rain once since 1956 is remarkable.

A few years ago, I began to wonder, "Does God like the Rose Parade?"

Before answering that, maybe a better question is "does God like flowers? Does He like plants, animals ... His Creation?"

I think the answer to that is, "yes."

"God saw all that He had made, and it was very good." Genesis 1:31

Why are there so many varities of plants and animals?

Why are there so many kinds of flowers?

Why are they so beautiful?

The diversity of life on earth is amazing. I remember thinking years ago "God isn't a theologian - He's a biologist!"

The Tournament of Roses doesn't try make any sort of theological statement. Sure, there are little nods to faith, much of which seems grandfathered in from previous generations: the Salvation Army band participates every year, the Lutheran Layman's League has an annual Christian-themed float (this year's theme "Hat's Off to Entertainment" was trickier than usual to work with). Most significantly, the parade organizers have a policy never holding the parade on a Sunday. In our secular, 24/7 society, that's incredible, really.

In a world of war, famine, suffering, and - yes - school shootings ... is it trivial to even ask if God likes something like the Tournament of Roses?

Maybe. But maybe not.


He [God] waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of His work. He makes grass grow for the cattle and plants for man to cultivate - bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that He planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees ..." Psalm 104: 13-16

"The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of goves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the bloosming vines spread their fragrance." Song of Songs 2:11-13

originally published 11/21/09
© 2012


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Experiencing L.A. - Chris Burden's Urban Light at LACMA

Located outside Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Wilshire Blvd is Chris Burden's outdoor sculpture "Urban Light."

The sculpture consists of over 200 restored vintage light posts from around Los Angeles.

My kids (pictured here in 2008 when they were ages 6 and 8 1/2) and I stopped by a couple of times over the years.

Chris Burden is also responsable for LACMA's Metropolis II (which I'd like to blog about sometime soon).

The historic lamp posts and the geometric patterns look neat during the day . . .

. . . but the best time to see them is at night. My wife and I were driving along Wilshire Blvd a few years back when I stopped and snapped off a couple quick pics.

Wish I had some more time - and a tripod!

Here's a link to another site with some significantly better pics of "Urban Light." 
Hats off to photographer David Palmer.

photo credit: 

As a Christian, I'm reminded that "light" is use is a metaphor throughout the Scriptures. The first words spoken by God himself are the famous "let there be light" of Genesis 1. John's gospel describes Jesus as "the true light that gives light to every man." Jesus said of himself "I am the light of the world." The last chapter in the Bible describes God himself as the final and ultimate source of light.

photo credit: 

Some friends of mine used a photo of themselves in front of the LACMA light posts for their Christmas card. It's a great pic - and reminds me of yet another way light is used in Scripture: to describe the followers of Jesus Christ. "You are the light of the world" Jesus said to his disciples, and by extension, to those who follow him today.

photo credit: 

As we approach Christmas, it's a reminder for me to be perhaps less concerned about the twinkling lights around the house, more concerned with my character, my actions, and my involvement in those who Jesus described as "the least of these."

Maybe that's the kind of urban light God wants.

View Chris Burden's Urban Light LACMA in a larger map

originally published 11/21/09
© 2012


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Journey of Faith Flash Mob: Welcoming Christ at Christmas

Two years ago Los Angeles based Journey of Faith Church of Manhattan Beach staged a Flash Mob at the nearby South Bay Galleria. 

Almost four million YouTube hits later, this amazing little five minute video is going strong.

Rather than simply complaining about how "commercial" Christmas has become, they actually did something about it, to the delight of a couple hundred of people at the mall ... and - now - millions of people around the world. 

Meanwhile, several friends have bemoaned the fact that nearby Santa Monica has now completely banned any public holiday displays on public land. Gone is the sixty year old nativity scene from Palisades Park (which apparently has found a home on private property). But does this mean Santa Monica is also banning the public display of a Menorah - as well as a Christmas tree? I have to believe that only the most hardened atheist doesn't find this a bit draconian.

Instead of focusing their efforts at trying to keep nativity scenes in a public park, Journey of Faith brought the nativity to the mall - literally - in a creative, engaging, joyful, and reverent way. 

Many thanks to everyone a Journey of Faith for their outstanding work in putting this together. Here's a link to their church's website.

originally published 12/25/11 
© 2012

Christmas Flash Mob

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Experiencing L.A. - Hanukkah 2012

As tonight, Saturday December 8th, is the first night of Hanukkah 2012, I thought it would appropriate to once again repost this blog post (with some minor edits): 

December 2009, I was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway when I did a double take on what (at 50mph) looked like highway road signs. I actually circled back around to get a photo of the green "Happy Chanukah" sign, and the yellow "lighten up," "celebrate freedom" and dancing rabbi signs. Hey, it got me to stop.

Outside of New York City, Los Angeles has the largest Jewish community in the world..I'm continually impressed by the impact that Jews - who make up less than 2% of U.S. population - continue to have in American society..As I've shared before I'm convinced that I - and other Christians - can learn from the Jewish community in the sense of impacting the larger society from a minority religious position..Here's another link - this one to comedian Adam Sandler's "Happy Chanukah" song. It provides an amazing list of American Jews.

Unknown to many Christians, Hanukkah is clearly mentioned in the New Testament (see John 10:22,23). Here's a fascinating link.

While I recognize that in a pluralistic society, there is a place for "Happy Holidays," it's also disheartening the lengths people go to not say the words "Hanukkah" or "Christmas". 


I love the comment  (above) a week ago from the Los Angeles Times website regarding the governor of New Hampshire insisting on calling the tree in the state capital a "holiday tree." 

It's a Menorah, not a "holiday candelabra."

photo credit:

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, left, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa prepare to light a candle on a menorah during the Chabad Hanukkah Celebration on the steps of City Hall back in 2009. 

From a non-Jew no longer living in L.A. - wishing everyone a Happy Hanukkah.

originally published 12/12/09 
© 2012


Saturday Night Live's "The Californians" - how the rest of the world views Los Angeles

"Saturday Night Live" - the New York based comedy show - recently aired a series of short comedy sketches called "The Californians." It's a five minute routine, in the style of a soap opera, mocking what they (and rest of the world) perceive life to be like in sunny California.

I came across this Hulu Version - love how the actors were barely able to not laugh at their ridiculous lines.

photo credit:

While it's called "The Californians," it's totally an L.A. thing - specifically "the westside."  Creative, and very funny.

I haven't watched SNL in years - but thought this clip was worth watching.  This is also one of those skits that should have been done onceThe jokes, humerous the first time through, get a little stale as SNL has tried to keep this series going for additional weeks.

I think there's something emotionally healthy laughing at yourself, and knowing how you're perceived by others. Even if it's via a silly skit.  

© 2012


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach (Part II)

A couple weekends ago my family and I were back in Los Angeles and had a chance to spend an afternoon at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Here's a link to Part I from last week. 

Above, one of the many lorikeetes (similar to parakeets, but native to Australia). It's something you won't find at most Aquariums. And, thanks to Los Angeles' wonderful Mediterranean climate, can be experienced outdoors year round. 

For three bucks you can purchase a little contained of nectar, which - of course - attracts the lorikeets. Above, my wife and daughter - and two happy lorikeets. 

I love the expression of this kid looking at the lorikeet on my wife's arm. 

And the happy expression of my daughter. 

Neat experience. Putting together this post, I found some pics taken almost eight year ago ...

December 2004. My daughter at the same spot eight year ago, at age 2 1/2

Wow, the years have really flown by. 

Good times. 

My son was at the other end of the aviary, with a happy lorikeet on his arm. 

December 2004: my son eight years ago at age 5. 

My son seemed so "big" at the time, especially compared to his little sister. 

We had a chance to visit and speak at a church earlier that weekend. Afterwards, an older friend, now in his 70's, came up to me and told me that the next few years of our kids lives will go by very quickly. Looking at this photos from just eight years ago, there's a lot of wisdom in that statement. 

As I've shared before, my wife and I have are committed to imparting our faith and our values to our two kids. Now that my son is 13, daughter 10 1/2, we really see the years marching by quickly. 

We were there on a Sunday afternoon. Probably not the best time to go if you want to avoid the crowds, but  in that we're no longer in the area, we don't have nearly as much flexibility. Felt like the staff at the Aquarium did a great job, even on a busy day. 

Another photo from eight years ago, my kids (center) with two of their cousins. 

My niece in 2004, now age 14. 

Divers in the large display tanks. The little boy was fascinated by it, as were my kids when they were his age. 

Pretty cool having these divers talk about the oceans and sealife. Afterwards, the divers gave a high-fives to all the kids through the glass. 

Lots of school groups are here during the week: pretty incredible "classroom." Like other aquariums, the Aquarium of the Pacific is committed to the important work of education and the conservation of the oceans for for future generations. 

One final picture from December 2004: my wife with our daughter (in the bright red pants). 

Glad we started taking our kids to the Aquarium then. 

Glad we took them again a couple weeks ago. 

A view of the lobby, with the massive life size sculpture of a Blue Whale, largest animal on earth. 

Final family photo. Good times. Here's a link to the Aquarium of the Pacific's website. Check on-line for discounts. We save a bit of cash by buying our tickets ahead of time at our local AAA office. 

View Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach in a larger map

© 2012