Career Interrupted: Movies as Companions on the Unemployment Pilgrimage

April 1, 2015


I am now experiencing my second bout with un/under-employment in late career. I have spent most of my working life primarily as a Campus Religious Advisor (Chaplain), part-time (adjunct) College Instructor, and a Cultural Programmer (film festival director). The loss of a job (with its prolonged absence of a daily routine, dynamic interaction with colleagues, regular paychecks, frequent frustrations incumbent in a work situation, anticipations of completing projects or finishing assignments, the satisfaction of making a contribution to a reality larger than self) can be deeply disturbing—really messing with one‘s (my) equilibrium. Many remedies exist to help one get through the fear, stress, anxiety, and depression. I have found some helpful, others not so much.

Myself, like most I surmise, search for companions that can guide, understand, offer insight and compassion. Most find this in other human beings, often those experiencing similar circumstances. Family and friends, can play a significant role in this much needed and desired process. I am thankful for being fortunate to have such people in my life.

I, also, have found reading, culinary adventures, walks, gazing on beautiful images, driving, contemplation, and long naps, even idleness/silence to be reliable partners in surviving the un/under-employment blues. Going to the motion picture theater, I have discovered, delivers the most satisfying resource in the search to locate a vibrant life in the death of a job and interruption in a career.

While, for me, the cinematic experience, in and of itself supplies the life buzz I just referred to. There are, however, particular films that resonate with me as companions on the way to feeling hopeful during the jobless season. In my first episode of joblessness, I screened (several times) “The Wrestler” (2008), and “Crazy Heart” (2009). In my current installment of un/under-employment, I have engaged “Birdman” (2014). These cinematic treasures have provided visual soul-mates that engender some relief from the feelings of misery, self-pity, as well as generating perspective and opening up for consideration the possibility that the glass of life is half-full.


“The Wrestler,” directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, is an aging and over-the-hill professional wrestler whose career and personal life is in disarray.


“Crazy Heart,” directed by Scott Cooper and featuring Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, a washed-up country music performer whose life is the poster image of dysfunctionality.


“Birdman,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and showcasing Michael Keaton as Riggan, an actor whose career is on the skids and in steep decline.

This piece of reflective writing focuses on unemployment and how these 3 films intersect with that reality. It is not intended to give full treatment or summary of each movie. For reviews and descriptions, go to, or www. on the internet.

I selected these films with the three lead characters as examples of careers interrupted. The resulting gargantuan struggle to find meaning, re-invent identity, and re-capture a sense of well-being in the chaos of late-career employment disruptions is the base line story. The movies do project a more or less happy ending with Randy “The Ram” scoring one last marquis match; Bad Blake a headliner concert gig, and Riggan a Broadway play. The narratives of each motion picture differ in several important ways from each other as well as from the details of my life. What I am interested in is how the cinematic experience of watching a film creates an occasion for companionship. The images cast an environment where I am involved in an active dialog with the characters discussing the joys and sorrows of a life that is scrambling to end well. As indicated, the details of each life differ dramatically but the search for significance, belonging, contributing, mattering, connecting, winning is a shared one.

What I am curious about, is how movies more than other story-telling art forms, can produce the intense companion encounter. I am attempting to capture or describe something that is significantly more than the movies just functioning as fellow travelers in a support group manner where the unemployment stories are told and caring and understanding are received. Films don‘t cry, touch, rant or express sympathetic gestures among those suffering the plight of unemployment. So, why is the sensation of these movies as companions so real to me? Why is the public screening in the theater more helpful and preferred than the presence of friends, family, support network, and real human contact? Cinema is not a place of escape but a space for thought, reflection, contemplation, and transport to an alternative location.

It is a sacred space where encountering one‘s interior comes into direct contact with the play of light, the spectacle of sights and sounds that enlarge and envelope one‘s experience. The dismal situation of unemployment, with all of its attendant negativity, is backgrounded as the moving images present lead characters suffering with similar fates are fore-grounded. I am confronted with screen companions—but not only confronted, I am with them on a cinematic-companion adventure. Randy “The Ram,” Bad Blake, and Riggan are not mere entertaining actors on a screen—I have joined with them looking for a future. I have left my seat and jumped onto the screen to share in the quest to keep working – to have a vocation of doing good in the world.


“Why do people go to the cinema? What takes them into a darkened room where, for two hours, they watch the play of shadows on a sheet? The search for entertainment? The need for a kind of drug? All over the world there are, indeed, entertainment firms and organizations which exploit cinema and television and spectacles of many other kinds. Our starting point, however, should not be there, but in the essential principles of cinema, which have to do with the human need to master and know the world. I think that what a person normally goes to the cinema for is time: for time lost or spent or not yet had. He goes there for living experience; for cinema, like no other art, widens, enhances and concentrates a person‘s experiences—and not only enhances it but makes it longer, significantly longer. That is the power of cinema: stars,‘ storylines, and entertainment have nothing to do with it.”

–Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

My views on ‘Killing Jesus’ (National Geographic Channel, Sunday, March 29)

March 28, 2015

Here is a review of ‘Killing Jesus’ by Sr. Rose Pacatte published online by the National Catholic Reporter. I was pleased to contribute my views to Rose’s analysis after we viewed a screener earlier this week:

Haaz Sleiman, center, in "Killing Jesus" (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

Haaz Sleiman, center, in “Killing Jesus” (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

“Killing Jesus” airs Sunday on the National Geographic Channel at 8/7 pm. It is written by Oscar- and Emmy-winner Walon Green and based on Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard’s 2013 bestseller of the same title.

The title is somewhat misleading, however. By the title, you might expect something like Jim Bishop’s 1957 book and 1980 TV movie The Day Christ Died. Instead, this television movie (like the book on which it is based) covers the entire the life of Jesus while leaving out, or rearranging, elements we might expect to see in a certain order, and time-wise making short work of actual the death of Jesus.

The film opens up with King Herod (Kelsey Grammer) in crisis because the prophecies of Isaiah are circulating, and he fears for his throne. He consults with Caiaphas (Rufus Sewell) and Annas (John Rhys-Davies). Then, men from afar visit him and tell him of a special child, and Herod sends his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill male babies.

Meanwhile, Joseph (Yousef “Joe” Sweid) takes Mary (July Namir) and the child Jesus into Egypt.

Herod Antipas (Eoin Macken) is aware of these prophecies, too, and when his father dies, he becomes Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. It is this Herod who deals with Pontius Pilate (Stephen Moyer) when he arrives with his spoiled wife, Claudia (Tamsin Egerton.)

And so on and so forth. In broad strokes, the film follows the life of Jesus, but don’t look for the angel Gabriel and the Annunciation, any hint of Mary’s virginity, the birth of Jesus, or the breaking of bread at the Last Supper, which would have been the Passover meal and as such calls for some reflective moments. Instead, we get a moment of joviality.

My colleague Scott Young thought there was one glaring omission to making “Killing Jesus” a more authentic Jesus story:

“It did not include the start of the public ministry, when Jesus went to the synagogue and read the scroll from Isaiah [Luke 4:17] and proclaimed his mission to the poor. Except for a reference to doing unto others as you would have them do unto you and the Beatitudes in the film, there is no hint of Jesus’ coming to set free those who are oppressed and bringing justice to the social order.”

The most interesting theological issue to me is what Mary and Joseph knew about their son, Jesus, and when they knew it, and what Jesus knew about his own identity and mission and when he knew it. According to Bill O’Reilly, it is John the Baptist (Abhin Galeya) who informs Jesus (Haaz Sleiman, who in real life is a Muslim) and initiates him into the work of the Father. There is no losing or finding in the temple, when Jesus told Mary and Joseph he was about the work of his Father (Luke 2: 41-52), giving some indication of his self-awareness.

Young thought the film moved ahead at a good clip: “I found myself particularly engaged in the high-drama moments, such as Salome’s dance and the beheading of John the Baptist. The scene of Judas kissing Jesus was also believable. Pilate’s hesitation at sentencing Jesus to death seemed authentic; there was a subtlety to it that some versions of Jesus’ life can overdo.”

Certainly coming from the National Geographic channel and with Ridley Scott as one of the executive producers, audiences will see a film with fine acting, crisp dialogue and excellent production values. And National Geographic will never let you get lost; each time the locale changes, the name of the location shows up on the screen.

I hope that someday here in Hollywood, there will be a seminar where Jewish scholars will demonstrate to film and television producers how Jesus and the Jews of his time would have dressed and what their religious and life practices would have been. Here, most of the Jews wear the kippah, or skullcap — but Jesus never does. These men were observant Jews, and by leaving off the prayer shawl and the kippah for Jesus and the disciples, the film, like almost every other Jesus film, lacks historical authenticity. Jesus was not a Christian. Of course, I was 12 when I found out that Jesus wasn’t a Catholic, but you’d think that by now, with all the Jesus movies that have come before and since and the response from the Jewish community when the representation of Jewishness fails, that filmmakers would get it. Alas. Not yet.

Young continues: “As a life of Christ, I found the narrative of ‘Killing Jesus’ too literal; it lacked nuance. It took a traditional approach to the story, so it almost had a documentary feel to it. It deserves credit for the parts of the trial, beating, crucifixion, for not making these as horrific as Mel Gibson did in ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ ”

Both Young and I agree that “Killing Jesus” is remarkable in how it captures the devotional Jesus; it is unremarkable in showcasing the radical Jesus, that is, how he upset the status quo of the religious culture of his day. And it severely lacks the sacramental and mysterious elements of religious faith.

Haaz Sleiman in "Killing Jesus" (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

Haaz Sleiman in “Killing Jesus” (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

Musings on Networking

March 23, 2015



The importance of networking in professional life is dramatized in the 1987 film Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s showcasing of the fascinating world of financial investment. The main character is Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who reigns over an empire of impressive money market monopolies. the stable of people he knows, privileged information he accesses and continuous communication he engages in add up to a network superstar. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) attempts to emulate Gekko in his competence as a power broker and in the networking skills necessary to guarantee domination in that world.



In its exposé of stock market realities, Wall Street demonstrates the inescapability of networking as fixed feature of contemporary working life. Indeed, networking is most frequently associated with job and career environments. But it has evolved as a dimension of everyday life beyond the stations of the workplace. In the busy and segmented urban life of most North Americans, networking is required to find friends and to establish a community of connections. With our nostalgic and idealized notions of relationships, we are apt to suspect networking as too formal and utilitarian for our romanticized aspirations. But in the reality of city life, networking becomes the necessary bridge to identify and nurture meaningful relationships. Whether practiced consciously or accidentally, networking is a relational habit for many people. Networks require a measure of intentionality and civility. Networkers are influential precisely because they know what they want and initiate processes to attain their desires and aspirations. People, called players, who vigorously pursue strategic positioning recognize that in a competitive social setting, civility and a measure of concern for others in networking are crucial for any short-term or long-term gains. Because of the pervasiveness of networking, a moral imagination should be employed to appreciate and assess its contribution to contemporary daily life.


The twentieth century has seen the astronomical growth of large institutions. With this organizational trend has come a dramatic increase in professionals to manage and operate these bureaucratic enterprises. Concurrent with these developments has been the globalization of institutional relations in government, business and ecclesiastical sectors. All of these new realities mandate leadership styles that mobilize networking capacities. Networking is the process of creating and maintaining a pattern of informal linkages among individuals and institutions. In a swiftly changing social environment, new and flexible interconnections become necessary. Leaders must be highly skilled in constructing or re-creating the linkages necessary to function effectively (Gardner, p. 62). The recent proliferation of publications dissecting organizational culture and submitting prescriptions for successful leadership of diverse institutions frequently includes discussions of networking. The near-totalitarian presence of organizational life is the catalyst for this saturation of printed and on-line resources to assist leaders and players to operate with confidence. In today’s entrepreneurial and innovative climate, internal networking emerges as a primary ingredient in being productive. The constant moving around of people and processes means that humans rather than formal mechanisms become the principal carriers of information and integrative links between different departments within an organization. Mobility is a key factor as a network-forming vehicle and thus becomes an admission ticket to the power centers. An organization’s opportunity structure – movement to privileged and prestigious positions – is directly related to the power structure (Kanter, p. 164). Networking has become one of the preferred competencies to contribute to a healthy company and to procure advancement possibilities. The wise executive or manager carefully places in strategic positions individuals who are networkers by inclination. The inclusion of networkers enables the establishment of informal cross-boundary working groups that energize the entire corporate culture (Gardner, p. 163).

External networking is also a work of innovative trends in institutional development currently in fashion. The best companies relate even to their competitors. Building alliances enhances communication and mutuality. In a cutthroat approach to organizational relations there tend to be losers all the way around. Healthy alliance building produces mutual benefits for each partner and for society as a whole. Leaders must nurture outside networks of allies in the many other segments of society whose cooperation is desired for a significant result (Gardner, p. 104).

(c) "The Last Supper" by Andy Worhol

(c) “The Last Supper” by Andy Worhol


Networking is an individual and institutional activity. The movement of structures suggests the inevitability of involvement in networks. The globalization and urbanization of contemporary life also mean that institutions are interdependent and are necessarily interfacing as their respective missions and operations pull them into a marketplace of connections. Organizational life is an extension of the created and evolved world – part of what is often called in Christian theology the cultural mandate. According to the Christian tradition, God, is a Trinity who created the world in a relational manner and wired it to be a communicative network. These relational and communicative processes have been distorted and demented as they moved east of Eden. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ have brought the possibility of a more complete reconciliation into the processes. It is now possible to network in a manner that is reconciling in its intent and expression. Networking is one essential dimension of the ministry of reconciliation the apostle Paul speaks of so intently (2 Cor 5:19). The several implications of the ministry of reconciliation for networking are manifested in Jesus, mandated by the Creator and managed by the Spirit. The primary implication is the deliberate communication to the neighbor, including the stranger. The love of neighbor and stranger that Jesus exemplified becomes the starting point for the networking activity associated with a job and civic life. Networking is that public part of daily life in which we recognize our oneness, our unity, our interdependence to one another. Indeed, we are strangers and likely will remain as such, but we inhabit common space, share resources, convene around mutual opportunities and generally must learn to live and work together. The public drama in which we are all participants reveals a life in which strangers inevitably come into daily contact with other, learn to solve problems together, and generously enrich and enlarge each other’s perspectives. We are all part of a web, linked in a network (Palmer, pp. 19-20). Spiritual life is to be a communion of communions. God has called people together from disparate multicultural environments to be witnesses to human flourishing. Networking is a spiritual discipline of the faith community to celebrate our unity in the gospel and affirm the different ministries in the world of the public. Jesus’ vision of a unified and commissioned people necessitates a spirituality that includes networking as part of its habit of ecumenism and mission in the world (Marty, p. 79). A spirituality of daily life recognizes the vitality of networking in the discipleship of the Christian and in the public vocation of the church.



I started this reflective essay on networking with a reference to the movie Wall Street and it’s dramatization of a superstar networker Gordon Gekko. I then proceeded to register the importance and inescapability of networking in the daily life of humans living in the city, working on the job, and participating in all manner of organizational life. The term “networking” is a metaphor borrowed from business vernacular that reeks of an arid instrumentality. I attempted to invest a spiritual vitality into the term by drawing specifically from a Christian framework (other spiritual perspectives and religious traditions could offer similar and alternative interpretations) that yielded a scale and scope of meaning beyond the technical definition. I will end by invoking another visual narrative from the 2005 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Crash. Director Paul Haggis presents a Los Angeles, and by extension all cosmopolitan centers, a city robust in connections and conflicts. Modern urban life is a polyglot of human interaction replete with a dizzying diversity of political perspectives, cultural rituals, and religious practices. Crash captures on celluloid and provokes in audiences the beautiful sights and cacophonous sounds that make Los Angeles a network of networkers. In the horizon of the movie Crash and the metaphor “networking” is the human desire and demand for collaborating, caring, and connecting.

Note: I originally wrote this essay in 1997 for inclusion in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity. I edited it in 2007 for submission as a writing sample for an academic job application. I have made a few minor edits for this blog-posting edition. There is a notorious omission in the piece: No mention of social media networking. This is deliberate for two reasons: 1: There is a plethora of commentary already in circulation. 2: This submission is intended as a prophetic gesture addressing real people in real-time: A preferred way for networking to be experienced as a professional, civic, personal, and spiritual activity.

References and Resources:

W. Baker, Networking Smart (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994); J.W. Gardner, On Leadership (New York: Free Press, 1990); R.S. Kanter, The Change Masters (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1983); M. Marty, The Public Church (New York: Crossword, 1981); P. Palmer, The Company of Strangers (New York: Crossroad, 1981).

2014 Movies: Critics/Awards/Cinephiliacs

February 19, 2015


2014 Movies: Critics/Awards/Cinephiliacs

The thunderous buzz of film culture has enveloped us yet again. The year-end critic’s top ten lists, the non-stop awards promotions, and the favorite films-of-the-year verdicts of movie-lovers is an annual social ritual that both pleases and annoys. Reviewing, reflecting, rehearsing the good, bad and ugly of cinema is an unavoidable staple of our contemporary culture. This process is pleasing because retrieving the best cinematic experiences is an emotional, intellectual, and moral stimulant. Annoying, because the inflated and outsized importance bestowed on the process is a huge distraction.

This seasonal activity now has the significance of religious holidays—film is one of the world’s great religions. The pilgrimages we make to the theater, video store, Redbox, even the short walk to home entertainment centers are indicators of the religious dimensions of the film- viewing experience. Nurturing the soul and enlightening the mind is more frequently experienced with sights and sounds—the ocular and the auditory—than by printed texts. While the literary arts remain crucial to a vital culture, moving images and rock & roll—film and music—increasingly are where most people connect to things that matter most. The enthusiasm generated during this period approaches the fervor found at a feast, a revival of sorts.

I will join the 2014 ritualistic celebration with my own set of categories and winners. I simply cannot resist the stampede in registering my own preferences and perspectives on the films released and exhibited last year.


Here are the Best Picture categories with top selections:

1. Films likely to be discussed ten years from now (long shelf life):

  • Goodbye to Language
  • Boyhood
  • Nymphomaniac I & II

2. Films that will likely have cult status:

  • Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Birdman
  • Inherent Vice

3. Films that will likely show up in revival programming:

  • Nightcrawler
  • Young and Beautiful
  • Gone Girl

4. Films that did not get deserved attention:

  • The Immigrant
  • Two Days, One Night
  • Venus in Fur
  • The Past
  • Missing Picture

5. Films delivering spiritual vitality:

  • Calvary
  • The Normal Heart
  • Trip to Italy
  • Wild
  • A Theory of Everything

6. Awesome retrospective screenings:

  • Alphaville
  • Babel
  • Dead Poets Society

7. My favorite films not mentioned in previous categories:

  • Chef
  • Gloria
  • The Double
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • St. Vincent
  • A Most Violent Year
  • Noah
  • Foxcatcher
  • Interstellar
  • Gore Vidal: The U.S. of America

* Notable films not screened:

  • Selma
  • Leviathan
  • Whiplash
  • The Imitation Game
  • American Sniper



May 20, 2014


(Apocalypse Now; 1979)

Culture Connection Executive Director Scott Young, in collaboration with Professor Lowell Gallagher from UCLA English Department, is presenting a class entitled “Religion Goes to the Movies: Eating Beauty, Welcoming the Stranger.” It is being offered as a Fiat Lux course in this Spring 2014 quarter. The class is executed in seminar style, involving viewing entire film in class with student interaction posted on Internet discussion board. “Religion Goes to the Movies” is Interdisciplinary & Interreligious in content & perspective. The films selected for screening are:

Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Visitor (2007)

Doubt (2008)

The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

Babette’s Feast (1987)

Critical readings are required in addition to screenings. A sampling of themes to be discussed are: the gaze, hospitality, transcendence, symbol, myth, icons, moving images, the sacred manifested in the secular, and food & spirituality.



May 20, 2014



The University Campus, and its educational culture, is in a protracted period of experiencing a rapidly changing landscape. This includes undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and administration. These processes are both disruptive, requiring frequent recalibrations, and exhilarating, generating new possibilities. There are several trigger mechanisms for this dynamic time of transition including the resurgence of religion in classrooms, residential life, volunteerism, student organizations, faculty research, governance challenges, and campus public squares. For much of the 20th century, religion retreated to the margins of campus life in most universities and to private and parochial expressions. The last couple of decades have witnessed religion demanding a more public profile, sharing with several other major influencers a critical role in how higher education evolves in the near term and far horizon. The implications of these changes in the campus landscape are just now coming into view. Among the many that could be itemized, let me suggest three that, in my opinion, directly address the future of the campus ministry in the university.

  1. Recent studies have documented that faculty are robustly religious and spiritual. Faculty are an indispensable resource for the Multi-Faith/Interreligious mission on college campuses. Faculty participation is a requirement for a vital future of religious experience in campus life.

  2. The entrenched secularism, that has ruled most of the public research universities, is no longer a monopoly. It is not the case that secularity is in retrenchment or disappearing – it is now learning to be more hospitable to and share power with its neighbor, religion. The common understanding has not yet caught up to the new reality.

  3. The so-called Millenials, who make up most of the current undergraduates, graduate students, and younger faculty, are radically different from previous generations. Their religious perspectives and practices are frequently not connected institutionally and are far less provincial in their attitudes about doctrine and ethics. Interreligious dialogue will need to make considerable adjustments to the new class of discussants. A whole new and expanded invitation list is required for the next iteration of Interfaith expressions and projects.

There is a vast vault of literature documenting these volatile conditions: additionally, an ever greater stockpile of anecdotal evidence exists. Two very recent books on this subject are worthy of mention. The first is The Quest for Meaning and Wholeness: Spiritual and Religious Connections in the Lives of College Faculty by Jennifer A. Lindholm (Mary Ries alerted all of us to this work via email recently). The second: No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education, by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen.

In closing, I would like to read a selection from this second recommendation.

Dealing with Religion in a Time of Transition

Given the pluriformity of religion today, it is no wonder that colleges and university are uncertain about how to talk about it and respond to it. We are living in a time of transition. The old rhetoric of religious privatization no longer works, but new and better ways of addressing religious concerns and questions have not yet been clearly formulated. The challenges are immense. The range of religious views in the contemporary college and university world is simply stunning. Most large campuses have student populations that include conservative Protestant creationists and earth-worshipping Wiccans, spiritually inspired vegans and hijab-wearing Muslims, social-justice religious activists and right-wing religious ideologues, spiritual atheists and “believers” who are longer sure they believe in God, new converts who want to share their faith with everyone, and students who have grown up religious but know practically nothing about their own faiths. And all of that just scratches the surface. Many questions naturally emerge from this scene: What should be allowed in the classroom and what should not? What has the most potential to offend, and how can such offense be avoided? What limits should be put on discussions to keep them from getting out of control? What rules should guide student interactions? How should faculty respond to religious comments by students? Should faculty themselves ever reveal their religious or spiritual convictions?

College and university learning should be useful, but it has always sought to be more than merely pragmatic or economically self-advancing. Our hope is that big questions of meaning and purpose, important questions of social norms and values, factual questions about science and society, and existential questions about how people with different ideas, ideals, and life goals can live and work together for the benefit of everyone will be part of every undergraduate experience. Colleges and universities will engage these religion- infused questions in many ways, but choosing to ignore them or pushing them to the educational margins is patently irresponsible in an age when religion remains such a visible and influential part of public and personal life.






The Challenge of “Thoughtful Creativity”

August 24, 2013


I shared the  following remarks as Executive Director to the University Religious Conference (URC at UCLA)  Board of Directors. Although expressed specifically in that context, they are posted here with the suspicion that the content of the essay might have some traction and currency with a wider audience that shares in the vision and mission of the URC:

When I am not involved in Program Planning and in developing policies and procedures to improve the office and building operations of the URC, I am paying attention to the how and why of our mandate and mission. The chore of renovating our organizational operations is a collective and collaborative enterprise involving many of you around this conference table. The adventure of probing and explaining why we are here and what we should concern ourselves with is also a group assignment. I would like to sound a siren of the critical importance of thinking together. As we all know, our society coerces us into a preferential option for doing rather than being, even in the university. I would like to propose a subversive activity labeled “thoughtful creativity” as counter-cultural move to improve the intellectual environment and community both local and global. As an association of religious and community service providers it is my strong conviction that we involve ourselves in “thoughtful creativity” as we perform our duties to provide spiritual guidance and resource the under-served.

In my role as Executive Director, I consider as one of my charges to instigate and implement dimensions that are MIA or are severely neglected. Everyone in this room is compassionate, smart, energetic, and functions as an influencer. The invitation is to find ways, over time, to intentionally think together as we act together. What does this look like you ask? Not sure! But if you accept my solicitation, we will design and customize a new habit and ritual that will revitalize and re-enchant our vocation related to the university and students.

The trigger mechanism that catapulted me in this direction is a recent engagement with the writer David Foster Wallace and his novel titled Infinite Jest, published in 1996. Many readers and critics of novels are of the opinion that this was a game-changer in the history and evolution of the novel. Several felt the novel had exhausted its possibilities. Wallace’s “thoughtful creativity” opened up all sorts of new possibilities. My mind then went racing into the world of the arts where, it seems to me, the most robust “thoughtful creativity” is being generated. Here is a random sampling of persons I experience as practitioners of “thoughtful creativity”:

David Lynch Film director T-Bone Burnett Musician,producer
Frank Gehry Architect Madonna Pop culture icon
Johnny Cash Song writer Beyoncé Soloist
Andy Warhol Visual artist Howard Finster Folk painter
Jodie Foster Performance artist Richard Blanco Poet
Pauline Kael Film Critic Versace Fashion designer
Anthony Bourdain Culinary artist Barack Obama Orator
Barbara Ehrenreich Journalist UCLA: Edward Said Public intellectual
Douglas Kellner Philosopher Robert Heinecken Photographer
Paul Shrader Writer/director Charles Burnett Writer/director
Francis Ford Coppola Writer/director

This is a highly selective and partial list; a very personal one to be sure. I identified these representatives because they significantly alter the manner in which their particular art medium and exhibition was and is being practiced and presented. What can we learn from these “thoughtful creators” or others you would prefer on your own list? Is it time for Interfaith practitioners and community service operatives to have a game-changing moment? Where are the future movers and shakers to be observed and interpreted? This kind of genius cannot be manufactured, but discovered and cultivated. I challenge us to be curators of “thoughtful creativity” as well as managers of an organization. Is this too ambitious? Probably! What do we have to lose in being courageous in elevated ambitions and ideals?

Scott D. Young

April 12, 2013

Navigating Political Craziness: Lamentations and Provocations

October 13, 2012

“The Occupy Movement is about unity. People talk, then they think, and then they act.”

–Guitarist Ry Cooder discussing his new album “Election Special

Election seasons, like the 2012 presidential race, give opportunity to reflect on one’s identity and location on the political spectrum. I experience most of life as an exercise in uncertainty, ambiguity, doubt, and fragile conviction. Certainties and absolutes are not available in this life. Yet, the environment in our society currently is full of expressions of ideological rigidity and political sureties. The few of us (minority it would appear) who have modest opinions and considered perspectives but are not inclined to hold them tightly and are forever editing and revising:  how do we describe ourselves and communicate our complicated and complex understandings in such a hostile and toxic situation? I, for example, would self-identify as a progressive who is registered as an independent voter and draws heavily from anarchist, socialist, democratic, and populist political thought. This cocktail of political influences keeps me relentlessly calibrating my positions.

From this point of view, my sensibilities require me to be exasperated at the Republican Party for its domination by right-wing ideology and propaganda. I find myself being frequently frustrated with the Democratic Party for its continual marginalizing of its more progressive members.

I think it a mandate to have a rich variety of political persuasions debating and dialoging about public policy directions and the problem – solving of economic and social issues. I wish there existed a thoughtful conservatism, a vital liberalism, as well as a robust progressivism to engage in political discussions concerning legislative action and organizational governance. The blood-sport partisanship in play, does not allow for a deliberative process inclusive of all voices. I  am not alone in asking for a verbal de-militarized zone for protecting spirited but civil conversation. We are repeating a bad habit in American political history that historian Richard Hofstadter labeled “The Paranoid Style.”

I strongly suggest that those of us who want to be direct-action advocates, but without the rhetorical bile and true-believerism, should generate political imaginations and develop moral improvisations that encourage economic, political, social, cultural, and religious freedom locally and globally. Peace, justice and equality for all.

 The United States today is not a democracy: at best, it is a plutocracy and tempted to oligarchy. It is time to retrieve our democratic dreams and aspirations. Navigating the political craziness demands confessing laments and issuing provocations. We are inescapably in difficult times stumbling to see some better times. Woody Allen once remarked that we have two choices: “One road leads to disillusionment and deep despair; the other to death and total destruction. May we have the wisdom to choose the correct path.” This election presents us such a fork in the road: maybe we should listen to our artists and poets!

“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

“A Bridge between Landscapes” a sustained gaze

October 7, 2012


I recently visited One Colorado Artist Studio in Pasadena featuring Artist in Residence Gregory Michael Hernandez and his exhibition titled “A Bridge Between Landscapes.” Amidst the impressive and convincing hybrid forms, interactive environment, and beautiful images generating metaphorical flights of fancy sits a ping pong table. Why is this object so arresting and compelling? Is it installation sculpture so ordinary that it triggers queries of a profound nature? Is it simply a playful work station? Is it a respite of recreational distraction from the intensity of the surrounding images requiring viewers to pay critical attention? I wonder if it actually is an alter that summons us to a place of hospitality and generosity? Hernandez’s creations are not devotional or doctrinal in any formal ecclesiastical way. His work is theological in its sublime gesturing toward questions of ultimacy and offering visual gifts to the art lover with a sustained gaze. The ping pong table is a dynamic piece that calls and convenes in its centered placement. It simultaneously encourages return trips to the curated walls that encase it. Sacred Space in a vernacular place!