Thursday, June 16, 2011

saying goodbye to socal, part two: music

photo: Sung

One of the things I will miss most about Southern California is the fantastic concerts available down here.

Perhaps the only thing worse than the astronomical rent in Southern California is having to make the decision between a stellar show and paying your astronomical rent.

Radio is ironically terrible in SoCal - as in "Are they serious with this?" kind of bad.  The quality of music on Los Angeles radio clarifies how pieces of trash like Made of Honor get greenlighted.  A city that thrives on creativity sometimes just has to put stuff out, whether it is any good or not.

Fortunately, unlike radio, venues in Southern California are fantastic and plentiful.  With wonderful venues come top shelf musical acts on a regular basis.

By far, one of my favorite memories during my time down here is when Lindsey and I saw Damien Rice at the Greek Theatre.

The Greek is gorgeous and intimate anyway, but the below face-value ninth row tickets I scored off of StubHub compounded the perfection of the environment.

Unfortunately, a loud, intoxicated Latina woman sat down directly behind us in the tenth row.  After three beautiful Irish ballads featured her additional constant solo of, "Ohhhh, Damien Riiiiice, he's so sexyyyy!", I couldn't take it anymore.  Thankfully, some tragic souls failed to redeem the tickets for their fourth row seats, so Lindsey and I upgraded out of earshot of Damien's inebriated admirer.

Damien captured our attention for the rest of the show with magically crafted songs that featured instrumentation so thick it seemed palpable.  His stories amused and connected the pieces to their emotional origin as though Damien was sitting around a living room sharing his new work with close friends.

That night taught me to shoot photos on multiple SD cards because the files became corrupted and left us without any evidence of the evening, but thankfully, it was unforgettable in many better ways.

Lindsey and I got engaged about six weeks after the concert, which meant I would never have to tell another, "It was great, except I was dating _________ at the time" story ever again.  We were madly in love, heard incredible music under a canopy of stars, were surrounded by the lush beauty of Griffith park, and would soon agree to spend the rest of our lives together.  It was by far the best date I've ever been on.

I only ever set foot in the Greek Theatre once, but I will miss it when I'm gone.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

saying goodbye to socal, part one: movies

photo: Carmen

Let's be clear about one thing: I hate L.A.

Shakespeare himself did not write a tragedy so horrendous that it compares to my grief at even the idea of picking up a friend at LAX.  Hollywood is dirty and smelly, and L.A.'s beaches are the spawn of ashtrays and garbage dumps whose only evidence of the Coppertone baby is the soiled diapers left behind.

That said, as I think about leaving Southern California, I am struck with a bit of unexpected nostalgia.

For everything I don't understand about the surf, bro, thug, socialite, or hippie cultures out here, there are a few things I will miss.  Over the next few days, I will feature some of them.

Today's thing that I will miss about SoCal:
People who really appreciate movies.  From the building-sized billboards advertising new films to limited releases and occasional star-sightings at church (yes, it sometimes happens), SoCal bleeds movies.

One of the best cinematic experiences in Souther California can be had at ArcLight Cinemas.

My sister introduced us to ArcLight Cinemas during one of my first visits to see her in L.A.  ArcLight actually has rules (and enforces them) about how to watch a movie.  You can even reserve your seat when you buy tickets online, as though you were buying an airplane ticket.  They frequently have props in the lobby, including the "all spark" from Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen and the red stroller from Away We Go.

Audience members stay to the end of the credits for most movies, not waiting for bonus footage, presumably because they are looking for their friends' names.

Despite this utterly proper ambience for movie watching, perhaps my favorite movie experience there was sneaking Chipotle burritos into the theater and watching 500 Days of Summer with Lindsey and Azina.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

30 days that will change my life

In 30 days, I'm going to do the craziest thing I've ever done.

One year ago, I was reeling from an emotionally exhausting month.  At the beginning of May 2010, we found out that Lindsey was pregnant for the first time.  We were ecstatic, and had been anticipating this moment since we decided to stop using birth control earlier that year.  My teaching job at a Christian school provided a modest, stable salary, and the health benefits were top tier.

Two weeks into May, I had my contract meeting before school.  I expected another year without a raise, noting all the "tough economy" talk that had been going around.  But I knew my job was safe because I was responsible for teaching Bible to every single sophomore and every single senior - half the high school.  Or so I thought.  My stomach sank the second I walked into the principal's office and saw her not sitting alone, as last year, but with the human resources representative.  HR doesn't get called in for good or even normal news.  "Restructuring" in that tough economy had claimed my job - last in, first out.

The layoff was a shock, but Lindsey and I were still thrilled about our immanent bundle of joy, so I purposed about finding a new job to support our growing family.

We went to the doctor expecting our first picture of the baby and the first sound of the heartbeat.  The urine test, numerous questions, and archaic dial-a-date prediction all seemed to take hours before we got to the good part.  Finally, the doctor fired up the machine and wielded the instrument, and he got everything into position on the screen for the big reveal.

Where there was supposed to be a fuzzy, black and white image of our progeny was a clearly discernible hole, an blank space, an empty canvas.  The silence that was supposed to be shattered by the drumbeat of our baby's pounding pulse remained too long and would not be broken.

Doctors rarely speak in definitive statements like they do in the movies, and that day was no exception.  He told us he didn't have good news for us, but he couldn't confirm the bad without further tests.  At 4:55pm on Friday of Memorial Day weekend, we walked into the laboratory sample collections office on feet that felt like stone.

Anxiety replaced the joy that was supposed to fill our anniversary weekend and within a week was transformed into grief.  The baby had miscarried.

Husbands like to fix things, and I am no exception.  I was more determined than ever to find work so we could have health insurance so we could figure out what went wrong.  I applied all over and found myself particularly drawn to a church plant in Kansas.

The church plant job fell through, as did everything else, and I was left broken, face-to-face with my own powerlessness.

Shortly after this depth, I began to feel myself drawn to the idea of planting a church myself, not waiting for some guys in Kansas or anywhere else to adore my résumé and flatter my interviewing skills.  If God had called me to serve Him, He would use me wherever I went.

We gave strongest consideration and preference to places near family, but we found those places either saturated with churches or a poor fit for our personalities.  But late one night, Salt Lake City, UT, blipped across my radar screen as a place in need of a good church.

After some weird spiritual experiences - bad dreams, confusion, and despair - confirmation came.  We had told no one of this idea, yet the monthly prayer service at church happened to fall during that week.  During prayer time, our associate pastor blurted out during his prayer that he believed God was calling someone in the room at that moment to plant a church.  Nothing like this had happened in the year that we had attended this church.  People don't fall down or bark like dogs.  It was a normal church.

We accepted what seemed to be a direct call from God, and we started plotting a course for moving to and starting a church in Salt Lake City, UT.

After a year of training, another miscarriage, losing our team to a different project, and going different directions from our church, we're moving to Salt Lake City in 30 days from today.

P.S. If you would like to subscribe to the e-mail updates for our church planting work, please fill out the form here.
P.P.S. If you would like to donate to help us start our work, please contact me at raj [at] (with an @ and no spaces) or on facebook if we're friends.

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