Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

‘Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart’ is a triptych of a life

November 9, 2017


Sr Rose Pacatte exhibits a literary painting-a triptych of a life destined for permanent collection: a woman artist, catholic wanderer, and human wonderer. The author reveals a complicated person bound up in the struggles and celebrations of church, higher education, art history, and self. Sr. Rose chronicles her evolution as an artist, educator, and revolutionary mystic with uncommon insight and extensive knowledge of the subject located in both the religious and secular. This book is a magisterial contribution to the series and deserves wide circulation. Miguel de Unamuno, in his Tragic Sense of Life, closes the work with these words from the heart: “May God deny you peace, but grant you glory”. Sr. Rose has issued, in vivid colors, a tribute to Corita that corresponds to Unamuno’s sentiment!
(My review posted at Liturgical Press.)





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

“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!

The Tree of Life – special screening with panel Saturday, January 14, 2012 UCLA

January 5, 2012

The Tree of Life: Panel & Discussion The Landmark, June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011

Urban Mystic

April 26, 2011

Last year Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, interviewed me at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, the flash point for the civil unrest following the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King. The story of my annual pilgrimage to this place was published in the National Catholic Reporter: Urban Mystic at the Crossroads.

This seven-minute video, edited by Chris Gipson, is an outtake from the interview. Many thanks to Chris, Srs. Rose and Tracey, and the board of Culture Connection that made this possible as we approach the 19th anniversary of this pivotal event in the life of Los Angeles.

“Death of the Critic” Reel Spirituality Event April 2

March 11, 2011


Click here to register

Urban Mystic at the Crossroads: an interview with Rev. Scott D. Young

June 12, 2010

The Rev. Scott Young talks about his yearly pilgrimage to the intersection of Normandie and Florence, flash point of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (photo: Sr. Tracy Dugas)

The worst riots in urban U.S. history, or civil unrest as some prefer to call them, erupted on April 29, 1992, a reaction to the acquittal of four white Los Angeles policemen for using excessive force in apprehending a black motorist, Rodney King.

Racism and brutality, the lack of opportunities, poverty, historical and current official negligence on the part of the city governance and police, and reverse racism, all these socially flammable realities contributed to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Most years on April 29, Scott D. Young, an ordained Baptist minister, campus minister, and film lover, makes a pilgrimage to the intersection of Normandie and Florence in Los Angeles’ South Central district, the flash point of the 1992 riots. City officials don’t say “South Central” anymore. They know language and geography are important and by broadening the vast and racially diverse conceptual plain of urban life, perhaps some of the stigma will be dispersed and unrest forgotten. Scott is committed both to eliminating the stigma and remembering an event that cannot be erased.

For the rest of the article, click here

Chatting with some of the people we met at the crossroads

“Traveling Down Boulevards”: an Interview with Scott Young By Scott Kushigemachi

January 27, 2010

The Emerging church should meet Scott Young.  Why?  He was practicing emergence before the words “emergent” and “emerging” became part of the public discussion about the church.  He’s “premergent,” or perhaps “protomergent.”  I met Scott when I was a student at a conservative Evangelical university in Southern California.  I took his “Film and Society” and “Religion and Society” classes.  He challenged our basic assumptions about Christianity and played the role of the provocateur in the classroom.

In addition to having taught at my school, along with Fuller Seminary, and Art Center: College of Design, Scott founded the City of the Angels Film Festival in 1994 and co-directed it until 2005.  Scott’s been deconstructing the spiritual/secular binary for a while now.  And for the last 30 years, Scott has worked as a campus minister with a well-known Evangelical organization.  I found it helpful to hear him talk about living and working in these kinds of communities and not always “fitting in” theologically, ideologically, etc., especially as I negotiate my life as a post-Evangelical in my own Evangelical church community.

I got together with Scott to talk about some of these things in May of last year (2009.)

Scott Kushigemachi: It occurs to me that for a long time you’ve been wrestling with questions that have been taken up by many in the Emerging church movement—the appropriation of continental postmodern philosophy, the deconstruction of certain ecclesiological and theological structures, the suspicion of Foundationalism.  Could you give a broad overview of the shape of your theological/spiritual journey, starting as a student at a conservative Evangelical college, up to the point where you are today?

Scott Young: When I was in college, I started a lifetime of questioning and engaged in what Paul Ricoeur called the hermeneutics of suspicion or Derrida’s sense of deconstruction.  For me it was that my inherited faith structure didn’t make a lot of sense.  The basic foundational pieces that I had been told were indispensable for a life of truth and goodness didn’t seem so essential.  There was a shaking of the foundations, to use Paul Tillich’s term.  Probably the most important thing that happened while I was an undergrad was I had a protracted period of doubt that was both spiritual, intellectual, and emotional.  It was not an experience for which there was a lot of hospitality, or even tolerance, in that place, so it was very privately experienced, but it drove me to the library, and I started ransacking the library for books.  There, I discovered two Christian thinkers who helped me reconnect a sense of intellectual curiosity and vitality with a Christian commitment.

In fact, one of the books was called Christian Commitment, by E.J.  Carnell, and it was Carnell’s first attempt at reflecting on an experience he had encountering Søren Kierkegaard.  I also ran into a book called A Place to Stand by the Quaker philosopher Eldon Trueblood, which was really an attack on Foundationalism without using that terminology.

After my undergraduate education, I attended seminary, which for me was not a time for career training, but an opportunity to continue to explore these questions that I was plagued with.  In seminary, what I was really interested in was theology and culture, including philosophical questions and motifs, but also including the arts and things like street life and pop culture.  Also, having come from a semi-rural area, I was really intrigued by the city, and so while going to seminary in Denver, I became a student and enthusiast of the city.

SK: In describing your life, you draw from Derrida and Ricoeur to help explain your autobiography as though these ideas “fit” the narrative of your lived experience.  How did postmodern or poststructuralist ideas and theologies influence you?

SY: When I had a serendipitous discovery of Eldon Trueblood and E.J.  Carnell, that set a pattern for me for looking for thinkers.  That sent me into a discovery mode that continues to this day, where I consider myself—well it’s in the name of my blog: “culture vulture report.”  I’m a scavenger, and I’m always looking for good ideas, and I have this primal curiosity that isn’t clustered but scattered: it goes in so many different directions.

Having been introduced to Kierkegaard, I later discovered all of Kierkegaard’s friends.  And then there’s another layer after that, which is all of Kierkegaard’s commentators, and then Kierkegaard’s critics.  And tracking that for over 40 years basically introduces you to the entire thought world, to all kinds of boulevards of ideas, and…I like traveling down boulevards.

I’m motoring down those intellectual boulevards, often taking joy rides, and sometimes I get out and window shop, and sometimes I hang out for a while and stop at a park along the boulevard.  If you think of intellectual life as a kind of roadtrip, I’m both a flaneur, an observer and a watcher, as well as a participant—I walk the sidewalks, I get up close and personal.  Discovery of salient thoughts requires both distance and proximity.

SK: If you had to identify where you’re stopping right now, who are you window shopping or hanging out with on that boulevard?

SY: To switch up the metaphors, let’s say I went into a theater for this one.  So I’m looking at a stage, and in this play the marquee level actors would be John Caputo interpreting Derrida and Kierkegaard.  Then there would be Rene Girard.  And then there would be Mikhail Bakhtin.  I’m currently enthralled watching this play in which they are performing the theatrics of thinking.

Paul Ricoeur I already mentioned.  Gianni Vattimo.  Then there’s Zizek, who’s an intellectual celebrity.  I would have to include Cornel West.  It’s a crowded theater—it’s more than three acts, so it’s kind of crowded up there.  But those are some of the key figures.  This gives new meaning to the theater of the absurd.

On the theological side, the powerful influences for me that anticipated this move towards deconstruction or postmodernism, or emergent, or whatever term you want to use, were Paul Tillich, both of the Niehbur brothers, and Harvey Cox.

In addition to that, among the liberation thinkers that really influenced me would be Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese liberation missiologist.  Also, Dorothy Sölle, and I would have to add Gustavo Gutierrez.

SK: Another theme you’ve mentioned is the city.  I know that your love of the city is connected to a sense of social justice.  How did that aspect of your faith emerge?  What prodded you in that direction?  The intellectual curiosities and philosophical questions don’t necessarily lead a person in that direction.

SY: So how did this develop for me?  During orientation week at college in September of 1969, I became the tour guide for a lot of people I met at orientation week who were from the Midwest and had never been to LA.  So I ended up giving tours into the Hollywood Hills, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, but also I would take them to Olvera Street in downtown LA, which is the symbolic starting point, 250 years ago, of the city.

Olvera Steet is center city, so there was a large population of Skid Row panhandlers, the homeless variety of street people.  They’re still there, but they’re more hidden now.  At any rate, I just had a natural compassion—I’m not sure where that came from.  And I went back to the staff person that was in charge of the “Christian service assignments” at my school and told him I wanted to start a ministry to Skid Row people on Olvera Street.  And I can’t believe he said “Go ahead.”

But what I discovered was that there was something needed beyond mere personal charity.  One story to illustrate it: I ran into a former boxer who was obviously an alcoholic.  I promised that I would help him, and I was going to take him down the street to a hamburger joint to get him something to eat.  As I was helping him in his drunken stupor across the street…what the LAPD used to do back then was they would drive up in these big patty wagons and they would literally just throw homeless people, and especially people who were intoxicated, they’d just throw them into the back of a truck, almost like piling trash.  And here I had just promised this guy that wouldn’t happen.  This was my first experience with the LAPD—it was a very negative one.  I realized that personal compassion, caring, acts of charity, thousand points of light—that’s one piece of it…that’s not enough.  I understood that there was something really wrong with the system.

SK: Since you became more conscious of the systemic and structural dynamics of social problems, how did you find ways to act upon that?

SY: My real activist life didn’t kick in until I became a campus minister at Cal State Long Beach as part of an Evangelical organization in 1980. Between 1980 and 1984, which would’ve been during the first Reagan term, the US military interventionism heated up in Central America, and the information about poverty in Africa became even more widely available.  Additionally during the Reagan era was a reigniting of the nuclear arms race.  As a campus minister, the two areas of activism that I became most prominently involved in were peace marches protesting nuclear weapons development and protesting military interventionism in Central America.

SK: It’s interesting to me that your initial activism took root during your role as a campus minister.  It’s a departure from the traditional Evangelical campus minister role.  I’m interested in how you fell into that role.  Not only that, but how did you develop your own version of campus ministry, and how did your understanding of yourself in that role differ from some of the dominant ways of thinking about “Evangelical campus ministry”?

SY: The general conception of ministry of the organization I was employed by was a preoccupation with large group worship and small group Bible study.  Convening and protecting students—it’s almost like congregational life.  It’s about gathering people away from the evils of the university to practice Christian piety.

Fortunately, there’s another philosophy of campus ministry available that views following Jesus to mean social involvement and activism of one sort of the other.  I felt like both of those approaches were legitimate, but I found the pietistic expression to be largely escapist.  I do believe there are aspects of piety that are important, and I did provide those kinds of activities on occasion, but it seemed more important at the time to show that Christians shared a concern for the good society, the good life, the good person.  I don’t think Christianity can be limited to the good or to the moral, but we certainly have a shared interest with other people in it.  Much of my activity was trying to find collaborative ways of working on justice and peace ministry, and the denominational (including Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist) campus ministers shared that vision of campus ministry more than my Evangelical colleagues tended to.

SK: We first met in a conservative Evangelical university.  You have had significant interactions with Evangelicals during your professional and personal life.  I know that our discussions are often critical of that tradition, but I’m curious—what do you take from that heritage that is good and that you still hold on to?

SY: One of the things that Ricoeur juxtaposes with his hermeneutics of suspicions is a hermeneutics of retrieval.  And I often use the terms continuity and discontinuity: what are the things that need to be continuous, what are the things that need to be changed, shaken up.

Evangelical Christianity’s focus on a personal relationship to Jesus and it’s insistence on the individual can be challenged, and there are a number of questions that should be raised about it—but it does highlight a reality for me: the value of the human person.  For all the legitimate attacks on individualism, I do think that there is an appropriate individualism that was accented in my religious upbringing that I think remains important.

I have often said that I have an irreverent piety because I embrace the full use of the English language.  And I like scatological humor.  Granting this caveat, emphasizing holiness and practicing a piety that isn’t judgmental towards the gutter, but is respectful of the human in all of our manifestations and dimensions is a part of Evangelical life I admire.

The politicization of Evangelicalism starting in the late 70s, and the Dobson-Falwell-Robertson version of it (the Christian radio stuff you hear)—changed the whole arrangement.  I have zero interest in, a lack of respect for that version of Evangelicalism.  I find it objectionable in every kind of way, and in fact I feel like practicing my impiety with some choice profanity to communicate my qualms.  In a charitable mood, I recognize this approach appeals to many good people.

SK: There’s a whole area of your curiosity and “scavenging” as you refer to it, that we haven’t touched on, which is your love of cinema, of sights and sounds.  You’ve taught film classes, founded the City of Angels Film Festival, and sat on the jury at the Berlin Film Festival.  Can you comment on the role of images in our culture?

SY: Starting with the “sixties,” sights and sounds, images and music, that is to say popular culture, is the way most people experience reality and make sense of the world.

It’s no longer ideas with images being illustrative, it’s images embedded with ideas in which explanation of ideas are now the illustration.  In my mind, or my eye I should say, the ocular and the auditory experiences are the power agents.  We’re not going back to a logo-centric world.  Ideas, books, words, and print will continue to be extremely important, but they are in the process of losing their domination.  Image makers and sound designers are the agenda setters for the foreseeable future.

SK: What are some particular films that have influenced you?

SY: Taxi Driver.  I really resonated with Travis Bickle, but not at a literal level.  I wasn’t a Vietnam Vet with PTSD, which wasn’t in the language then, but we now know that’s what he was afflicted with.  Travis Bickle saw there was something wrong with the world.  He was frustrated that he couldn’t fix it.  Taxi Driver, being art, uses an extreme story to try to describe how he’s going to change the moral degradation of the city of New York.  But really what it ends up being is a journey into not futility, but inutility.  So Travis Bickle, after all of his efforts at trying to help Iris, really discovers the limits of his ability to deal with how “f …..” up the world is—instead of lapsing into futility he recognizes inutility.

Probably why I prefer film noir, or some combination of that with crime/drama, or what we might just call gritty city films, is the extremes of the criminal world give you critical distance to see how those same dynamics operate in the suburbs or in high society.  And if you have the imagination, you can see the connection points—you have to connect the dots yourself.

Art house or independent film requires a lot of effort from the viewer.  For me they are really powerful spiritual experiences, and more powerful in my case than most of what we would usually think of as sacred spaces or church experiences.  And this goes all the way back to the beginning of this story when I realized I was a theology and culture person.  I’m looking for God in culture, and my most primal and formative religious experiences have always been in the world, in what we would call cultural locations.  This is why I’ve become so interested in cultural/public intellectual life: that’s where I connect up with God.

Scott Kushigemachi is a community college English instructor.  He lives in Gardena, California with his wife Amy.

Theological Vomit: “Dogma” Ten Years Later

March 20, 2009


It has been nearly ten years ago that Kevin Smith’s movie “Dogma” generated a whole lot of heated reaction and added incendiary material to the fires of the culture wars. “Dogma” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 1999 and was released by Lionsgate Entertainment in mid-fall of 1999. Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) is most frequently credited with triggering the upsurge in interest in religion and film. I think a strong case can be made that “Dogma” contributed to the cultural discussion about movies and spirituality that supersedes “The Passion’s” influence. No doubt “The Passion” engineered a commercial interest way beyond “Dogma” but Kevin Smith made a movie that still invokes a spirited debate because the culture war is a protracted war. There seems to be no timetable as to when the cultural combatants can exit the conflict. “Dogma” raises critical questions about the utility of such a conflagration.


In the Spring of 2000, I conducted an interview/conversation with Craig Detweiler (see Purple State of Mind.) I am re-presenting parts of that dialogue which remains pertinent for today.

Craig Detweiler (CD): To me Dogma is a theological comic book. It has its own mythology, its own back story that informs the angels, devils, muses and all these supernatural, other worldly characters which are roaming about. Smith’s format is perfect for a generation raised on comic books. The film is niched for a younger generation struggling with questions of faith and culture, faith and art and the search for God. The older protesting generation either forgot when they went through that phase or have gotten beyond those questions or they’re offended by the way the questions are posed and processed.

Scott Young (SY): I like that point, and I’ll mention that Ella Taylor, in her review for the LA Weekly, made comments similar to yours. She said, “Dogma has all the gruesome cheek of a carton for the under-twenties.” Would you say, though, that Smith’s film, which certainly resonates more with Generation X, doesn’t exclude any generation who wants to join in on the fun?

CD: Not at all. He has raised every theological question that he has ever had. He finds a scene or a character to deal with everything. There are all kinds of unexplained phenomenon and doubts and creeds that probably never made sense to him as a person. They are all dealt with in one way, shape, or form.

SY: It’s kind of a theological vomit.

CD: Exactly. Some probably find it resentful vomit because there’s a lot of talking. It’s a very talkie film about big ideas.

SY: It’s talkie, but would you say that it’s preachy in any way?

CD: No, because I think the filmmaker’s voice keeps shifting. You can’t really tell who is speaking for him and what is really trying to communicate until the last five or ten minutes, which I think are ten of the most beautiful, poetic, profound minutes of film that I have ever seen. It’s one of the sweetest, most tender portraits of God, and in this case, her grace that I have ever seen on screen. You have foul-mouthed characters being embraced and hugged and obliterated all at the same time by a very playful, loving God that when asked a direct question just tweaks somebody’s nose and considers that a sufficient answer.

SY: I agree with you. It is a rather profound moment in film. Film critic Robert Horton says, “So, while the majority of Smith’s characters constitute the chattiest group in movies today, the people with the greatest wisdom are the two who barely open their mouths.” Of course, that’s “God” played by Alanis Morissette and “Silent Bob” played by Kevin Smith himself. Dogma operates on a lot of different levels. That’s one of the greatest features of the film. It’s multi-dimensional in all kinds of ways. But it seems to me that the thing Smith is attempting is an artistic treatise on idolatry: taking beliefs and elevating them higher than God, Himself, which is again back to the last ten minutes of the film.

CD: I think Kevin Smith is saying, let’s put the culture wars behind us. Where has it gotten us? It’s gotten us a lot of anger, a lot of heat and a lot of division. Nobody has drawn closer to God. Nobody is drawing closer to faith as a result of fighting and arguing. Let’s just try the ideas for a change. It doesn’t mean that we are wishy-washy about those ideas. It’s just that we believe in living our faith instead of arguing our faith.

SY: Smith seems to be raising an art form in the film and that’s dialoguing or maybe I should call it spirited discussion, which is a whole other way of dealing with ideas than getting two entrenched opponents and giving them heavy artillery and then seeing who comes out the winner. So instead of culture wars, we are back to cultural debate.